One Piece at a Time

We are buidling a barn one piece at a time. Both in the sense of pieces of lumber, and bays of the barn. Eventually, the barn will be 50×12. maybe even 60×12. We are building it in 10×12 bays because that’s all we can afford at a time! The first bay, currently under construction, is to be the Blacksmith shop. Mica is delighted, as this is be the first time he’s ever had a shop all his own. Other bays will be a storage unit, the Pottery, a rabbitry, and a honey house. The possible sixth unit would be for the cow, which is a subject still in debate around here… But plans aside, the Barn is finally rising, smelling of dust and sweat and fresh cut wood. One piece at a time.

We had our lumber cut to order at a local sawyer's. He gave us an excellent price on it.

 

All the wood had to be hauled home. Dad and Mica are very pleased with themselves.

 

Dad says he's going to lengthen this beam.

 

A loose chicken checks out the construction.

 

Dad and Mica got the first wall up in just a couple hours.

 

Mica hauling beams and beaming!

 

The balcksmith shop will have a dirt floor.

 

Johann is going to have the greatest block collection ever!

Herb Garden

I have been wanting to put in a raised bed herb garden for a long time. This year I finally got the opportunity, partly because I’d been able to get 12 landscape timbers for free. Determining where I was going to build the bed was to longest part of the whole process, as I knew I wanted it close to the house, but the east side yard is too shady to put it there. I will put the kitchen garden there instead, so I can grow cool loving plants like lettuce and cilantro longer. I have terrible luck with cilantro, it always bolts right away for me.

So the herb bed wound up on the south side of the sideyard fence, right in front of our heirloom roses. I used six timbers to make it 12′ x 6′. Before I put any dirt in it, I lined it with feed bags and newspaper, as I hadn’t done any prep of the soil under the bed. As this area had both raspberries and goldenrod coming up due to long neglect, I knew even with 8″ of soil in the bed I’d still have weeds coming through without a barrier.

For filling the bed I used mostly the sandy loam we’d had delivered a while back for another project. It was a little too sandy, so I added two wheelbarrow loads of partially composted leaves as I was filling. The added organic material will help retain some water without adding too much fertilizer. I am planting mostly Mediterranean herbs in this bed, and they prefer a sandy, poor soil. Adding rabbit or horse manure to this bed would have given me problems.

Smoothing the bed with an upside down rake.

Once I’d filled the bed which took me about two days working on it off and on, I soaked the whole thing thoroughly. The dirt was close to dry while I was filling, and I wanted to make sure the plants got a good start. Up until this morning, we hadn’t had rain for about two weeks. When I was getting ready to plant, bringing starts over from the greenhouse, Glady came home from school and wanted to help. Kids love planting. Something about putting little green starts into the dirt just makes them happy. I’m not ready to trust Johann with the more fragile starts, but Glady is old enough to learn how to spread pot bound roots, and how to be firm enough to take out any air bubbles in the soil while putting the plant in.

Glady and the planted herb bed

We planted herbs and edible flowers in the bed. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage and parsley for some of the herbs. Calendula, tagetes marigold, pansies and nasturtium for the edible flowers. Also Borage, chamomile and basil. I still plan to put in purple basil, lemon basil and lime basil, as well as pots of lemon grass, oregano, and stevia. I may have to build another bed for moisture loving plants like mints. Oh, and I need to transplant some chives into this bed. See how one thing at Stonycroft leads to another?

This little butterfly was getting drinks from the damp soil.

Planting the Garden and Distractions

I’ve been working on getting the garden planted. I had a ton of melon and squash starts to get in, finished those today. I planted cucumbers, golden and blue Hubbard squash, watermelon sugar baby, Melons Jenny Lind, Crenshaw, Sweet Granite, Pixie, Charentais, and one that Johann lost the label to. I put in butternut squash and zucchini and yellow summer squash. Then I planted four tomatoes from the greenhouse, because we have way too many already, and I’ll put in a few more later today. We’ve put up electric mesh fence around the garden, and I made a big enough enclosure to keep the chicks in the chookabago inside it to keep the fox away. We had the dickens of a time getting the fence hot last night. Our portable charger was corroded, we couldn’t find a battery for another portable, so we finally set up and wired the big one that plugs in. I learned how to use the weed whacker with brush blade attachment. Exciting! Now that we have the enclosure up and hot, I can move all the poultry into it. I also did some prowling around the farm finding birds to take pictures of, we have so many birds.

I started these inside about 2 weeks ago.

 

The garden is now enclosed with electric fence to deter the groundhog and other pests

 

I melted holes in the 6mil plastic with a little blow torch.

 

The baby Phoebes in the rabbitry are getting big - they'll fly soon.

 

The chicks are loving their new freedom and green stuff to eat.

 

I found a Robin's nest in the plum thicket.

Gardening

Dad and I bought a contractor’s underlayment day before yesterday. 20’x100′ of black plastic, 6 mil thick. That was the foundation of my garden. Today I unrolled the plastic, realizing in the process that before today I had no concept of how long 100′ really is. I used the area the pigs have been “tractoring” as it’s $70 to rent a rototiller for the day and $350 to buy a used one. No budget for that, and I had this nicely turned and fertilized ground! Once I’d rolled out the full length of the plastic I cut 7 1/2′ off one long edge for Dad to use to line the troughs in the greenhouse. That leaves me with 12′ x 100′, approximately. I had gone beyond where the pigs were, so I cut about 20′ off the end, which I will put off to one side tomorrow, if I have enough soaker hose.

The intial roll-out and you can see where the pigs have been that I will cover in plastic for the garden.

The next step was to find, fix, and wrestle into place 250′ of soaker hose under the plastic. I’d had to stretch the plastic out to measure and cut it, but this step would have been a lot easier if I’d been able to do it before that. Between the plastic and the soaker, I will have to do minimal watering and weeding. The soaker hose is easy to cut with a shovel, and ours have been mended many times. I fixed one cut and mended a complete break in the hose with a connector.

Anchoring the edges was the hardest task. I couldn’t find enough large rocks to do the edges, which Dad thought I would. Kinda cool, actually, considering how much rock we have in places. Means this garden area will be easy to work. So to hold down the plastic I shoveled around the edge, putting a continuous layer of dirt on about 8” of the plastic. I did this for about 50’, using the rocks I had for the remaining 30’. This wasn’t easy…

Not much to show for all that work - it'll look different in a month or two!

I stopped and took a break a couple times while I was working, and drank liquid. I rarely sweat like that – dripping – but today I was a bit wobbly in the knees when done. I turned on the soaker hose and let it start while I went back to the house for the three sisters seeds.

I planted the north edge of the garden with Mammoth Sunflowers, pole beans, and sweet corn. I did drop in a few pumpkins, which I will have to watch since I don’t want them taking over the garden. The south edge, also where I had trenched to weight the edge of the plastic, I planted to shorter cutting sunflowers and bush beans (which are really old seed, 1996, it’ll be a miracle if any sprout). I plan to plant at least another 20×20 plot not under plastic to three sisters as well. Some of the seeds are really old, so I am heavily sowing. Corn will do all right, I think. Stored dry it will germinate after years. The beans, I don’t know, and the pumpkins that are more than about 3 years won’t germinate, I know from experience.

All that was from 6:00 am to 11:00 am. I can’t work in the heat, it makes me sick. So now I can get dinner in the crockpot (venison stew) and get ready for working at the library. Quiet time! Tonight when it’s cool again I will start setting out some of the starts from the greenhouse into the plastic. Not sure where I’m going to put carrots, that soil is pretty heavy.

Mica thought my bat girl belt was funny.

The little chokecherry tree just to the south of the garden is in full bloom - jelly later.

Bees and Bunnies

Quail waterer in the beehive to feed the bees.

Because it is still rainy – although not cool, at the moment it’s like a sauna out there! I have been feeding the bees sugar water. We use quail waterers to give the hives a solution of one-to-one sugar and water. I did notice that the bees were flying today, which is a good thing, and they aren’t going through the sugar as fast. Today I spoke to our farmer friend who leases them every year and he told me he wants them for his big pumpkin field next month. The bees will increase his yield enough to make our lease fee well worth his while. Beekeepers like the arrangement where they can get honey and get paid for the girl’s works.

Sugar and warm tap water make fine bee food.

This hive has a mason jar with slits in the lid for a feeder.

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We took a closer look at the baby bunnies today. Michael moved fluff and I took a picture, and we were delighted to find we have six in there. As Michael says, they have wee little ears, and round tummies. Although we never see Mama in with them, she’s obviously feeding them. She’s a first time mother and doing pretty well, considering. They are half New Zealand but they are all black or dark grey.

Fat little baby bunnies! They are so cute!

One of the old apple trees on the edge of the garden.

We have a number of apple trees on the property, but most of them are seedling apples, which usually means the apples are small and very, very tart. We have one tree by the house that actually has sweet apples. They look beautiful in the spring covered with pale pink blossoms. I like to stand under them, inhaling the sweet scent and listening to the bees humming in the flowers. If we pay attention perhaps this fall we can harvest some to make apple jelly with, or to mix into the apple cider. We normally let them go and concentrate on the orchard up at Toad Hall, but they are planning to sell this year.

The greenhouse is filling up with green.

We have much work to do in the greenhouse, it’s only about half-ready for plants, but the tomatoes and herbs in there are doing really well. The decked center path will be lined with plastic and filled with water eventually. Dad says that will hold about 1200 gallons of water and may extend our season to almost year-round with the thermal mass. The little wood stove just visible in the foreground will help with that, too. We may try to grow fish in there, eventually. Long term we want to try a polyculture of fish, crawdads, and plants. Dad plans another trough on the North side of the greenhouse that will be pumped up into gutters full of plants. The fish poo will fertilize the plants. We might not manage it all this year, but most of the infrastructure is in place, I just have to follow Dad’s plans. Along with about a dozen other projects. It’s good, though. The farm is happening, inevitably as the grass grows.

The Villain of the Piece

Patiently waiting for his lunch

Lunching at leisure on birdseed

Black bears may look fluffy and cuddly, but they are still wild animals. They can move much faster than you would think, and are amazingly powerful. The bear in the pictures is a second year cub that has been appearing regularly at my grandparent’s bird feeders since his mother brought him as a bouncing ball of black fluff. He showed up yesterday afternoon, casually knocked down the feeder, and lay down to lap up the high protein snack with his long pink tongue. We all stood on the deck and watched him eat.

My Dad has been keeping bees here in Sanbornton, with hives in New Hampton and elsewhere on occasion, for twenty years now. He’s lost a lot of hives to bears. A black bear will casually tear apart a hives for the honey and larvae inside it. We use various methods to keep the bears away from the hives. The recommended method in New Hampshire is to use electric fence, the mesh sort is best. Once the bear has zapped his or her nose, they will keep their distance. Dad also uses a bee house, a sturdy wooden shed. For hives in a fixed location this is ideal. The last method we’ve used I don’t recommend at all…

One morning bright and early Dad woke up to a ruckus in the bee yard. He jumped out of bed, grabbed his pistol and ammo, and ran toward it trying to load 38 slugs into a 44 revolver. That not working, he remembered what he’d been told that a bear will be intimidated if approached by a bigger bear, so he put his arms up in the air and ran toward the yearling bear yelling. He got close enough to plant a good solid kick in the bear’s backside, and then he says the bear “Ran away a little bit, then turned around and looked at me as if to say why’d you do that?”

I don’t think I need to tell anyone they should never approach a wild animal that closely, especially one as large and dangerous as a bear. But Dad gets called Bear-Kicker to this day and he admits rather sheepishly that he wasn’t quite awake and was mad about the bees, or he wouldn’t have done it.

A new colony of bees, sleepy and chilly in the morning.

These bees were not happy to be awakened so early in the morning, even if I was feeding them!

Planting trees

This week I have been planting a lot of things. Yesterday it was raining and I was hurting, so I didn’t do much. Dad and Uncle Mike came down and walked around the garden and farm with Mica and I. Uncle Mike hasn’t seen it in years, as he lives in Wisconsin and visits rarely. Dad had been gone a week, which seems like forever. He was moving a little slowly, but true to form, he wanted to open the beehives and check to see if the queens had gotten out. When you receive a shipment of bees, the queen is kept separately in a tiny cage plugged with candy. Normally it takes 3-4 days for the workers to release her. One of our hives hadn’t gotten the queen out, and it’s been a week. So Dad pried the mesh off one side of her prison and let her free. Now, I had gotten him his veil, but when he started moving beehives I jumped in to help, as he’s not supposed to lift. I got stung right on the upper lip, which made my eyes start to water up a storm. I retreated and got a veil. Bees don’t like being disturbed in the rain, even a light rain!

Christmases yet to come. Planted in an area tilled by the pigs.

I wanted to put some pictures up I took earlier this week, of the trees we were planting. It is soul satisfying to plant trees. They look like sticks now, but I can’t help picturing them when I’m an old lady, tall and stately. I may not be here in NH then, but they will be. The sugar maples won’t be tappable for 20-25 years. Johann will be all grown up and maybe with kids of his own when he taps them some spring. The Christmas trees will see us through all the kids growing up. We got 15 Balsam Fir, and plan to put in another 5 every year to keep our house and a few others in trees each holiday season.

Baby tree... All those rocks came out of the hole I dug for this tree.

The roots of the sugar maples were much bigger than the twigs on top. Pippa had fun helping water the trees and herself!

The pig tractor experiment has been working beautifully. We move the pigs every other day, and in 48 hours, they leave behind lovely turned ground we can plant in. We’ve been using field peas for cover crop and nitrogen fixer. I need to go buy some more seed, actually. The pigs get so excited when we move them they will leap about and frolic, which is funny to see. I don’t know what they are finding under the grass, but I know when we move them to a spot where there’s a rotted piece of wood or log that’s the first thing they go for, crunching it up with those strong jaws to get the grubs that live in the wood. We all like to lean on the fence and watch them work.

Happy pigs in new grass.

Fast Food and Hard Labor

It’s been a busy day. I’d intended to make dinner and put it in the crockpot this morning and slept in instead, so I left for work without doing it. And then I found a craigslist offer of free railroad ties and set it up to pick them up after work. And finally, my other job asked me to come in this afternoon. So I left work in Concord at 1 pm, headed for the ties. Got there and someone else had beat me to them. Mumble, grumble, smile politely at the nice people and chat about the garden they are building. They tell me that they won’t take all of the ties, yay! After they leave I back in the truck (which I hate doing. I’ve only been driving for a year and backing up scares me silly) and pick the first one up. OOF… they must weigh about 120 pounds each. Getting myself and my work clothes (I had dressed casually, but not in grubbies) absolutely filthy and sweaty, I loaded a round dozen of the ties. My arms gave out then, and the poor truck had developed a definite down tilt to the back. I’m not sure what it is rated for, but I’m pretty sure I had a half a ton of timbers in there today. It’s almost 2 pm now. I hit the house at 2, I have to be at the library at 2:30. Wash hands, prep dinner. Fast food indeed – I have 20 minutes to execute dinner, wash, and complete a wardrobe change!

Venison Stew

1 1/2 lbs venison, cut into thumb sized cubes

3 tbsp fat

approx. 1 cup flour

2 large onions, rough chopped

4 carrots, rough chopped

8 oz sliced mushrooms (these were pre-sliced, and I would have added more if I’d had them in the frig)

2 tbsp chopped garlic (yes, pre-chopped thank goodness!)

7 potatoes cut into “spoon size” pieces. I determine how many potatoes by one for each person eating that night, plus one for the pot. I used Yukon Golds, as they were what I had on hand.

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups red wine

6 cups water

salt and pepper

I browned the venison, once I’d cut it, in about 3 tbsp mixed butter and bacon grease (I didn’t have enough butter to hand, so I grabbed my container of bacon grease I always save and tossed that in, too.) I used more grease for this than I usually would because venison is so lean it would have scorched without it. As it was browning I threw in the one onion I’d chopped first, and then a scoop of flour, about a cup. While this was going on, I was chopping the vegies and throwing them with the wine and water into the crockpot, set on High (if you are going to cook this all day, set it on low). It was time to leave, so I scraped the meat, onions, and crispy goodness stuck to the bottom of the 14″ cast iron skillet I was using into the crockpot. I stirred, lidded, and ran for the door. Usually if you are cooking on High, this will take about 4-5 hours to finish. I’d managed it pulled together in 15 minutes. If I had had parsnips, and possibly fresh beets, I would have thrown them in there, too. I did toss in a couple of little tomatoes that were getting squishy in the vegie drawer.

After my work at the library was done – it’s not a long job, fortunately – I headed back to the house. Dinner already smelled divine. I grabbed the shovel and headed out with the bag of Bayberries in hand to plant. Decided I would use them to guild a couple more rocks in the pasture that hadn’t been marked with blueberries. After that, I planted the little figs, which are only a couple of inches tall. They went in a front flower bed for now. It’s on the south facing side of the house, which has a nice micro-climate. It warms up in the spring a good week early. While I was doing that I dressed the bed with mulch and built a brick border. Backed the truck (argh!) into the side yard to off load the timbers, which weighed even more the second time around. But I have enough for a nice start to my kitchen and herb garden now, and all it cost me was some hard labor.

Happenings on and Off the Farm

It’s been a while since I updated, because my attention was elsewhere. Life here goes on, chores have to be done and spring sweeps onward too quickly. But my father, the Farmer, went in to have a kidney removed this last week, and that held my attention much more than the farm. He won’t be home to the Farm for a while, he’s going to convalesce at his parent’s house, but in the meantime, life at the farm must go on. Yesterday I picked up the plants Dad and I had ordered a couple months ago, long before his diagnosis. We’d projected having the two of us to get them in the ground, so we got a little carried away. I planted eight fruit trees, peaches, apricots, and apples and one cherry yesterday as soon as I got home from the sale. They came bare-root and I knew those roots would dry out in the heat of a beautiful day like it was yesterday. Then Johann and I took the fifteen elderberry “twigs” out to the wettest swale in the pasture and put them in around the rocks down there. Dad and I plan to “Guild” the big rocks in our pasture (there are a lot of them – this is New Hampshire!) by planting berries on the south side and fruit or nut trees to the north side. This guild system will mark the rocks, and in a few years, produce useful results. But this swale is so wet that I can’t think of a tree that will be happy down there. We may just let it become a thicket of Elderberries.

Johann's sitting on one of the rocks we are marking.

Also that evening I planted the five lilacs and five rugosa roses up on the area around the house. They will fill in an area nicely behind one of my flowerbeds. I still have a couple hundred plants to put in, though! Sugar Maples, Balsam Fir, Bayberries, Blueberries, Strawberries, Figs, and Asparagus. It’ll be a busy week for all of us. I want to get a bunch of mulch, too, to keep my new babies from being overgrown.

The remainder of the plants waiting for homes.

Worms are our friends on the Farm!

While we were digging holes we found a lot of worms. Here on the farm, we love our worms. They are good to have in the soil, and Johann collects them and adds them to the greenhouse whenever he can. He used to put them in a bucket and called it his worm house, but his Grandpa persuaded him that the greenhouse could be his gigantic worm house, so now the little guy does some of Grandpa’s work for him by bringing them in it!

Popovers and Chicks

Popovers with Blueberry Jam

My popovers didn’t “pop” but they still tasted awesome, especially with the blueberry jam that we put up last summer on it. I think next time I will use a metal pan, the silicone muffin tins didn’t work well for this!

Chicks!

The little golden ones are Golden-Pencilled Hamburgs, and the black and white ones are Cuckoo Marans. The Cuckoo Marans will lay deep brown shelled eggs. Once they are laying, with the green egged Aracaunas we already have, and the Hamburg’s brown eggs, we will have very colorful boxes of eggs to sell! Right now they are just gosh-darned cute.

Rhubarb Hatching

Ok, it’s not really hatching, but it’s cool to see that leaf crumpled up in the cup that forms the base of the stem. They will grow like mad now, and by May we will be harvesting rhubarb. I plan to make rhubarb jam soon!

Tomatoes in the Greenhouse!

Finally able to take the starts out to the greenhouse. It’s freezing at night outside, but they will stay warm enough in there, and we’ve got a huge head start on the growing season. We are harvesting lettuce out of the cold frames at the far end of this bed already.

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