It's Anarchy on the Farm

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

 Farm & Family Goals for 2013

      So 2012 has came and went in a flash. When we moved back to West Virginia in the fall of 2011 we thought that we would rent for 6-12 months before moving into our permanent home. But 18 months later we are still here in our rented doublewide miles from our own property. We have always had such big plans but it has been so hard to bring them to fruition! Every project seems to take twice as long as planned and cost twice as much. There has been long months where no progress was made because we were in between plans. We've decided on one plan and then scrapped it for another over and over again. But we are finally set on the plans for the Earthship so tire collection and construction continues on. We have accepted the 3-5 year timeline that the Earthship construction requires and made plans to move into the old farmhouse until completion. So the farmhouse renovations continue through the winter months as time and money permit.
     Sometimes it is all very overwhelming and we feel like we are in over our heads. There are so many huge projects on the agenda and my full time job keeps me from home more than I anticipated. There are weeks when my work and the kids' extra curricular activities barely leave time to do laundry, cook, and wash dishes. Those are the weeks that I don't even get to step foot on our property, those are the weeks that our dream of a sustainable life seem unattainable, and those are the weeks that I spend time wondering why I left graduate school to come here. The last few weeks were like that and it really started to get me down. I started to feel very "stuck" in our current living situation and it wasn't a pleasant feeling. So today we went on the hill to work on the farmhouse. We discovered that we have a horrible leak in the roof over the kitchen to contend with. So we spent the day moving our new cabinets out of the kitchen. As usual, it's one step forward and two steps back. It put a definite damper on our day but there wasn't any real water damage so we were lucky. After moving cabinets away from the leak I just sat on the porch and enjoyed the cold winter day. It's so peaceful there away from the main road. There were no cars driving by and the only sounds were from the wildlife and the wind. My husband and I agreed that life would be so much better in this serene setting. Although there are only a few miles separating our current rented house and our home on the hill, they are truly worlds apart. So we will be spending every day of Christmas break working on the house in an effort to live on our own land as soon as possible. We have set a move in date of April 1st, 2013 and I've been working on a reasonable timeline to make that dream a reality.
      I've been so inspired by my list making that I have also started setting our 2013 farm goals. So without any further ado, here they are:

~Finish the necessary farmhouse renovations including new electrical and plumbing.
~Move into the farmhouse. This will include purging our current house and letting go of many of our material possessions in an effort to live with less clutter. I come from a long line of hoarders and it is a difficult habit to break!
~Build a permanent chicken coop with a self watering system from rainwater catchment.
~Create raised beds for this year's garden. These can be improved upon each year but we would like to have the basic layout completed this year.
~Start all of our crops from seed this year. No store bought tomato seedlings this year!
~Grow and harvest our own chicken feed for next winter.
~Set up a rainwater catchment system to water our garden. Most of our neighbors haul water in from the local water station. City water is not available that far away from the main road and the wells have to be very deep to supply enough water for household use.
~Add milk goats to the farm family.
~Raise our own hogs to butcher in the fall.
~Work on fencing our land (this is a long term plan as fencing can be costly and time consuming to install).
~Build our greenhouse. I have drawn up plans for an awesome greenhouse made from old used windows and other recycled building materials that we have saved.
~Make whatever progress we can on our Earthship. I have decided not set goals on how many rows of tires to have done by a certain time because we want this to be as stress free as possible. I have come to realize that deadlines and strict timelines should only be used when necessary. And we are going to keep the building process as organic as possible without strict deadlines to meet.

I think that should keep us busy for the next year! I have very mixed emotions about our goals for this year. I am excited to complete them and think that they are excellent goals but they are all too familiar as many of them are the same goals that we had set last year. But if I could impart one piece of wisdom to anyone reading this it would be that it's not a failure until you give up. As long as you're still willing to try then you have never really failed! So we will keep setting goals and working at our own pace towards attaining them. And hopefully one day in the not so distant future we will have all of those goals completed.

Much love from the farm,

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Little Farm Update

I have had a few e-mails asking where I have been so I thought I should check in. I can't believe it has been so long since I posted! Cleaning up after the huge storm this summer was a major set back for us. Our grand plans of moving onto the property before winter were dependent on making massive amounts of progress every remaining day of summer. And it just didn't happen! Two weeks without electricity meant spending most of day hauling water and trying to avoid heat stroke. And it was 3 weeks before power was restored at the farm. That meant no way to charge the drills, no way to run the saws, and no lights to see what we were doing even if we found a project o work on without power tools. It was a very frustrating month long set back. After the power was restored we had to face the reality that we could not get moved in by winter. There simply wasn't enough time left to run water lines, upgrade the electrical, rebuild the completely gutted kitchen and bath, install a woodburning stove, and split enough firewood to keep us warm through the winter.

So it was time to change our plans yet again! As we pondered whether or not we could still manage the move or even come up with the funds to do so, I received an unexpected phone call. Last school year I was on the substitute teacher call list for our county and took one day job assignments for preschool-12th grade classrooms. The phone call was from the county Board of Education and they were offering me a one year assignment as a math teacher at my old high school. After we talked about it as I family, we realized this would bring in the rest of the funds needed to finish remodeling the house. We could work on the house on the weekends through the fall and winter in the hopes of being moved in by the spring of 2013 and be on our way to living debt free in our own home! So, I spend 5 days a week teaching freshman math and 2 days a week stacking tires for the earthship, remodeling the farmhouse, and running the homestead. It was definitely an unexpected change to our daily routine but I absolutely love teaching! It has been a very rewarding experience and I'm so glad it all worked out like it did.

So that's why I haven't blogged in what seems like forever :) We haven't given up on our dreams of sustainable living but we have taken a slight detour. We have still managed to make some progress on the house in the last few months, but not much. We have the kitchen windows replaced and the walls are ready for cabinets at least.
We've went from this:

                     To this:
I know it's far from finished but at least we've got the ball rolling! Now to hang all of those cabinets sitting around the house and we'll be on our way to having this room done. Other than the kitchen, most of our work has been outside emptying out old buildings, removing debris from the property, and just general maintenance. We have found some pretty cool stuff tucked away in all of those closets and buildings that I'll make a post about sometime.

And here's a little animal update. Twinkle the duck just hatched 2 little ducklings yesterday. I don't know how easy it will be to keep November ducklings alive but we're going to give it a try since she decided she needed to hatch some winter babies.

Much Love from the Farm,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Derecho is Coming!

     Run for the Derecho shelter! Oh wait, we don't have one. As a matter of fact, I had never even heard of a derecho until after it hit us. In tornado prone areas, tornado shelters are common and plans are in place to warn residents to seek shelter. Events like this are so rare here that we just don't have warning system or plan of action. Derechos are sometimes called "straight line tornadoes" that have high force winds of 80-90 mph; they are often compared with an F-1 tornado. Those of you from the midwest probably laugh at that, but here in Appalachia we never saw it coming. At 6:00 pm we went to the farmhouse to finish removing on old chimney and cover the opening. When I said we had no idea it was coming, I mean we really had NO idea. Mike was on the roof when the winds started picking up. As it continued to get worse we abandoned the idea of fixing the roof and got in the car. But it was too late to leave, tall trees were being bent to the ground and limbs were crashing down around us. We drove out in the middle of the field and watched the storm with the kids. After it was over we were stuck at the farmhouse; ten trees were blocking the road just between us and our neighbors. We were blocked in both directions and we had no electric at the house, no food, no water, no blankets, and 2 small children. We called my mother-in-law and she said her husband just left with a chainsaw to come get us. Two hours later we could hear chainsaws. My husband's step dad and 2 neighbors he found along the way were freeing us!
Just one of the huge trees blocking our road
     Our family spent 9 Days without electric and some of our family and friends are still without it. The storm took down trees that knocked down electric poles and snapped lines everywhere across the tri-state area (WV, OH, & KY).  We are already working towards living a more sustainable life, but 9 days without electric made us realize how truely gridlocked we are! The storm was followed by a horrible heat wave with 100+ degree temperatures and high humidity. Since we don't own a generator, we couldn't even run a fan and it was pretty miserable. Even after the sun went down it was like the heavy air just held the heat making temperatures linger in the 90s well into the night. 300,000 people in West Virginia, and more in Ohio and Kentucky were without electricity. The outage was so widespread that there was an ice shortage that followed and ice was not available anywhere near us until day 6 of the outage. There was a 45 minute wait for gasoline as people rushed to fill their generators and  people were clearing the store shelves of bottled water, propane tanks, candles, gas cans, and coolers. Wal-Mart was an absolute madhouse! 
The roof of a neighbor's barn hanging on a power line
     And things continued to go downhill. We have well water, so we were without water from day one but those with city water still had water available in the beginning. By the second day, the city water supply in one town beside us was depleted and the boil water advisory started. How do you boil water when the electric is out and you have an electric stove? And we're in the middle of a drought so there is a burn ban in place prohibiting outdoor fires, it really leaves little options. We were going to my mother-in-law's house for water but as I was there filling a few containers, the neighbor came by to let us know that the water was shut off in town and whatever we could run out of the line would be the last of the water until power was restored. And this was only the 4th day of the power outage. They are still without power as day 12 slips away although the city has power so the water is back on.

     During the outage, home robberies were occurring in both rural and urban areas. Generators left unattended running outside were being stolen at an alarming rate and a full gas can sitting outside was a definite no no. With no phones to call for help it was an every man for himself kind of scenario. The National Guard was using generators to charge the phone lines to rural parts of the state, that was until someone stole the generators and we were without phone service again. It sure didn't take long before I realized how relieved I was to know we own guns and ammo! Not that it came down to that for us but if we had went a few more days without power you just never know how desperate people will get.

     It was then that it hit me how truely helpless we were without electricity. We like to think that our family is more resourceful than most and that we could live without power if we had to but clean drinking water is an absolute necessity! And even though we have a well we still need power to get the water to us. In Akron I collected rainwater but we just never set it up here since this is only a temporary home. Oh how that 55 gallon bin of water would have came in handy last week! The drought has left the little creek completely dry and what water is in the big creek is stagnant and nasty. That means I had to find water somewhere for all of these animals. And oh boy did they go through the water! Every time I walked outside the ducks were yelling at me and waddling over to their empty bucket. A small pond on the hill is needed for the ducks for times like this.
     On day 5 Nebulous the rabbit quit drinking. I knew he was in distress and needed an ice bottle to lay with but there was no ice to be had anywhere so I tried to make more shade over his cage. It wasn't enough and there was no refuge from the heat; he didn't make it through the day. Everyone else made it out of the heat wave alive and there were even a few new lives started. On the morning of day 7 I walked outside to find a little chick chirping away in the yard. I picked it up and checked it out. It couldn't have been more than a day or two old and I knew Muffy had a nest somewhere so I set out to find her. The heat index was 110 degrees and the humidity was horrid, but I toughed it out and crawled around under the building and even moved part of the woodpile looking for her. All of the chickens seemed intrigued by the new arrival and followed me around the yard chattering back and forth. After an hour or so I gave up the search and took the little chick inside to get it food and water. All I could think is that maybe Muffy had died in this heat and this little guy miraculously hatched and ran away. Muffy is our favorite hen so I knew the kids would be devastated if something happened to her so I went out looking again. With all of the other animals relaxing and dust bathing under the shade tree, it was much quieter than before and I could hear little peeps coming from up near the road. I walk up the bank and there's another chick, just like the first, standing in the road. I run out and get the little guy and start looking around road. Sure enough, there was Muffy! She has made her nest in the weeds right beside the 2-lane road. As one chick would run out she would rush out to herd it back and another would take off. There were chicks running everywhere. I retrieved a pet carrier from the building and the neighbor and I rounded up Muffy and the babies. There were 13 in all after we scoured the weeds on the bank. I'm so glad that the first little guy rolled down the hill and into the yard or I never would have went looking and who knows how many of them we would have lost. Muffy seemed very relieved to be tucked into the pet carrier with the babies and drank an entire quart jar of water without stopping. Who knows how long she had set by the road without food and water too afraid to try to move her brood of chicks. She is doing great with her first clutch of little ones and is going to make an excellent mother. 
Muffy teaching her chicks to forage in the yard
     The incubator was full when the power went out so we lost all of the developing chicks, but on Monday the hatchery chicks arrived in the mail! I loved the Polish chickens that I had but they are not east to find locally so I ordered the "Top Hat Special" from McMurray. It's a mixed box of 25 chicks that will be Polish (Buff, Golden, Silver, Black, White, or White Crested Black), Sultans, Crevecoeurs, and Mottled Houdans. I also ordered a dozen Ameracaunas as well just for good measure.
Aren't they just the cutest with their little top knots?

     And then the guinea hen reappeared from her month long leave with 21 little keets in tow. So the yard is full of little ones and I think it's just awesome! I feel very lucky for 3 broody hens and one broody guinea all in the same year. I know that I can hatch eggs in the incubator and brood them myself but it's so magical to watch the mother hens teach the little ones to hunt for insects, scratch the dirt to unearth food, and attempt to dust bathe.
Guinea hen with 21 keets
     So things have returned to normal after the storm, but I'm more aware of our dependence on electricity and looking for ways to lighten that dependency. A water catchment system is high on the priority list as well as some sort of generator. Hopefully a solar or natural gas generator, but there is a lot of research and planning needed before we make such an expensive purchase. We will definitely be more prepared next time, but there is a long road ahead of us to get there.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Moving Again

     With every bucket of dirt dumped into the tire wall, I look at the mountain of dirt that still needs moved by hand before we finish the walls. Some people take 5-10 years to build their Earthship but I don't want to wait that long! Even if we make excellent progress, 2 years will be a minimum length of time until it's done. But I don't want to continue renting where we are and not be living on the farm for that long. It's too hard to have animals in two separate places, especially when there is no running water at one of those places. I'm ready to be living on our own property far removed from a two-lane road. That leaves us only a few options: (1) move our family of 4 into the tiny camper we bought this spring, (2) buy a larger mobile home to put beside the build site to live in, or (3) fix up the dilapidated house that is already there to stay in.
     As much as I love camping, the camper is just too small to move our family into for that long. Buying a mobile home would be fine as we could resell it after our Earthship is done, except it would tie up all of our funds and not leave any money to actually build the house. Which leaves the option of moving in the old farmhouse. If you've followed the blog, you'll recall that we bought the property intent on restoring the old home. But the failing foundation, outdated electrical, lack of insulation, nonexistent heat source, and water damage made it unsalvageable. We found out that the cost to fix these problems (mainly the foundation) would be more than the cost of new construction. And even with a $16,000 foundation repair, there could still be future foundation issues since that cost only included putting the house back on the limestone blocks and not building a new foundation. In my disappointment over not being able to salvage the house, I didn't realize that it could still be made livable with some minor improvements. So we've decided to put a little bit of money and a lot of work into making the house livable while we build. Unfortunately, this will put the Earthship build on hold while we run new electrical and water lines and fix some of the major issues. So this may be the 50th time we've changed our minds about our living arrangements, but I think this will put us on the right path towards sustainability.

     Living in the farmhouse will afford us more time to work on the Earthship and allow us to take better care of the property. Instead of caring for the animals here in their temporary shelters, we can build their permanent coops and cages there with better features like automatic waterers and exterior access to the nest boxes for egg collection. I know the house is a little rough and some people wouldn't even consider moving into it but we don't mind a little "character" and it will help us take another big step toward our dream of living a debt-free life and creating our own utopia. Let's just hope we all don't develop a lean from living in our crooked house!

Much Love,

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tires and Turtles

     We've spent everyday this past week working on the Earthship. It is not easy work by any means! We did make a trip to Lowes for some more tools. We needed another sledge hammer so we could both work at the same time so I bought a 6 pound hammer. It doesn't seem like a big difference from the 8 pound hammer I had been using but I can work much easier with it and then just finish the tires off with a few good swings from the 8 pound hammer. It's the little things in life that make me happy! I've learned that we can get about 4 tires completed per day. The house will take somewhere near 1000 tires, so according to my calculations, we're only 250 work days from being done with the walls. Oh my! I think that old fashioned barn raising is in order. We'll call it a build party and hopefully get a good amount of family and friends to come out and swing sledge hammers, shovel dirt, and bring good food. Since most of them think that we're crazy we might wait until we've made a little more progress to win them over. 
     A recent storm brought much needed rain for the garden but also left the building site a mucky mess. The heavy clay soil expands and holds water like a sponge. I still wanted to make some progress so I partially filled the tires and we'll finish them off once it dries out a little.
      The rain also brought out this Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina). This little lady was crossing the road so I stopped to help her along. I just love seeing these turtles out and about but their population is dwindling. I can remember spending days of my childhood going "turtle hunting" in the woods. Everyone would have a different color sticker and if you were the first to find a box turtle then you claimed it with your sticker and kept a tally of how many you found. And of course there were extra points awarded if you brave enough to fish the snapping turtles out of the creek and tag them. We lived in the middle of a wooded area so the turtles were abundant and something I took for granted. It never dawned on me that these seemingly indestructible creatures were really so vulnerable. They are slow to mature and do not mate until 8-10 years of age and even then they lay very few (around 5) eggs per clutch. As their habitat is developed and destroyed, they are forced to travel across roads to reach their nesting sites which is a death sentence for many. So as you travel watch out for turtles crossing the road and help them get safely to the other side if possible but never take them from their habitat. Just remember to wash your hands after you handle them as the wild turtle population often carries bacteria like Salmonella on it's shell.

Much Love from Appalachia,

Linking up with Amy @ for the Homestead Barn Hop

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Earthship Layout

     Today was a big day for us! We took a break from hauling tires and started the layout for our first course. We're using the largest tires with 29-31 inch diameters four our "foundation" course. As we work our way up the wall each course will use smaller diameter tires. Our layout consists of 3 "U" modules. One large U will contain the kitchen, dining room, laundry room, living room, and bathroom, and two smaller U's that will contain the 3 bedrooms and an office. The total footprint of the house will be 68 ft X 42 ft for a total of 2856 sq ft. It seems like a lot more than we need but that will also encase a root cellar in the back and our 408 sq ft greenhouse in the front where we will be able to grow some of our own food year round. 

      After we finished the layout I couldn't resist trying to fill our first tire. We spent an hour swinging an 8 pound sledgehammer and packed 9 buckets of dirt into the tire. Mike looked down the line of tires and decided that we won't finish the house for another 10 years but I thought it was awesome to get started on our future home! Did I mention that Mike did most of the sledgehammer swinging?

Much Love,
Linking to The Morris Tribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Scenes from the Farm

      Yesterday we brought in two more trailer loads of tires. I've learned that if the property owners warn you that you'll need 4 wheel drive it's not a good sign! We drove 45 minutes to the middle of nowhere to a small illegal tire dump but I didn't think we'd even be able to make it up the rocky pass. But Mike has awesome driving skills and we made it up without losing the trailer. We hauled out about 65 tires. There are about 300 more sitting there but today's rain means that we won't be able to access them for another week or so. On a positive note, we found a shortcut that will take about 20 minutes off of the trip next time. The people recently inherited the property and are trying to clean it up. If they tried to dispose of them anywhere else they would be looking at a $1000 fee for disposal, so they were glad that we came after them. One of the best things about building an Earthship is that we help clean up the beautiful country side where all of the tires are illegally dumped and hopefully keep more from being dumped.
Cleaning up an Illegal Tire Dump and Gathering Building Materials at the Same Time!
     Today, we've worked all day on the farm and I worked on sorting all of the tires we have thus far while Mike tried to catch up on the mowing. A spring broke on the brand new mower so I had a little bit of help with the tire tossing. We even took a load to the building site to start the layout but then it poured the rain down so we cut our losses and came home to rest up and rejuvenate. I spent a little time outside with the animals and wanted to post a few critter pictures. They're all little camera hogs.

Remember the snakeskin I found? Maybe it belonged to this guy. 
I caught him sunbathing in the gravel just down the road. 
 Here's our new puppy Rowdy! He was a stray hanging out at a friend's house and he needed a farm to call home. So I brought home what I thought was a little beagle puppy. But in the last 2 weeks his legs have grown twice as long and I think he may be some sort of hunting hound dog. 
We love him just the same though!
And the little ducklings we bought before Easter are now big ducks that 
love to splash around in the mud puddles! 
The Mallard Ducks are growing fast as well. 
 The guineas are just as annoying as the day we bought them. They run around the yard all day screaming "Chi Chi Chi" and "Ba-Chi Ba-Chi Ba-Chi." 
The male makes the one syllable Chi sound and the female makes the two syllable Ba-Chi sound.
 Muffy the Easter Egger is just as curious and sweet as ever. I love her cheek muffs! The last batch of chicks had Barred Rocks with cheek muffs that may have been hers.
Here is a little 5 week old Barred Rock chick. They are one of the 
friendliest breeds of chickens that we have here on the farm. 
Here are two of the 9 week old Barred Rocks, one 9 week old Easter Egger/Barred Rock mix, and one 12 week old Banty hen. She's the little one to the right in the picture.
 Another 9 week old Barred Rock hen sitting pretty for her picture.
 And Chicken Noodle sitting on her first nest. That's her "don't mess with a broody hen" face!

Hopefully we'll be able to get the first course laid out tomorrow and I can post a picture of the layout!

Until Next Time,

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