Alex here, long time lurker, first time poster. Let me start by saying that I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I've posted on a forum (and I was a forum mod on some other place, quite some time ago!). Please forgive the following, I am an awful writer! My thoughts are not well organized.
I found this wealth of information known as permies.com when I was looking for information on seasoning cast iron. I had acquired a nice Griswold skillet and wanted to start it's life with me right. So I followed some information I found here and it is probably one of my favorite cooking devices. Quite some time later, I was looking for information on natural pest control, and lo-and-behold, I found another article on this "permies" place that talked about diatomaceous earth! Something clicked in my head that maybe, just maybe this permies place might just be a place I could enjoy!
So more about me- I have dreams, goals, aspirations, that I would say most people that I know don't share (including my kids, and sometimes my wife). I've wanted land for ages, I want to renew land to a flourishing state. Just recently (like maybe in the last 3 days) I've realized that things held in captivity, or outside of their natural realm are really kind of a PITA. This includes exotic plants that aren't designed to grow in my zone, fields of the same thing, fish in an aquarium, me in my office at work, pigs in a pen. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir- so to speak- but have you ever just wanted to "break out" of the cycle that you're in? Maybe some would call it a midlife crisis, I don't see it as a crisis, as much as a midlife realization, or midlife opportunity for improvement!
For ages I've wanted to get out into the country. Over the last 4 ears or so, the wife and I have scouted out some places, walked around in derelict houses that were probably abandoned for a good reason, hiked into the wilderness looking at sites for us to potentially buy.
Monday, I finally closed on a place that fits our bill pretty well! It is relatively close to where we live now, it is in the heart of Amish country so there is a wealth of reasonable high quality craftsmanship, within 3 miles of an e-way, at the end of a dead end road, woods to the north and west, open to the south and east. 38 acres, mostly wooded. Based on Google's calculations, 8.22 acres are clear, with the remaining pretty dense forest.
I have promised my wife that I will wait at least a year before I do anything on this property, aside from putting in a small kale plot for us this winter. I am going to take this opportunity to observe the way things work on this piece of land- where the water goes, what the soil is like, what types of birds, wildflowers, and other animals inhabit the land. So far, I have observed white tail deer, and mosquitos. I mean lots of mosquitos! I'm certain I donated better than a pint of blood in taking pictures last night.
Mosquitos make me want to try and entice bats to nest in the area.
I stumbled upon this while walking in the woods, and I thought "Jackpot! Ginseng!" Nah, turns out it is just Virginia Creeper, which is too bad because there is lots of it!
I walked to the back of the clearing to take a look back at the barn and house. I found more mosquitos, and a decent stand of blackberry brambles. (looking down at the scratches on my legs as evidence)
I walked just inside the woods and found what looks like turkey tails growing on a dying tree
One thing that I did notice that concerns me a bit is the amount of small trees that are dead/dying. Not in the woods necessarily, but out in the open. They seem to all be covered in either lichens, or a fungus. The bark is peeling away from the wood, and the wood is filled with small holes.
I don't know which came first, the holes, the peeling bark, or the fungus/lichens? Maybe the trees were incompatible with the land, maybe they were planted incorrectly, maybe they were poisoned, maybe they were infected, I don't know!
Anyways, I worked my way back to the house/barn to take a peek inside the "I probably shouldn't go inside" barn. I went inside anyways. It is rough, I would love to save it, but I just don't know if that will be a reality.
This is what the roof looks like. All of the rafters are still there, none are broken. I am going to ask for some advice from my Amish friends on what to do with it.
A perfect place to grow a tree, inside the barn!
Anyhow, this is my new place! Want to hear my dreams?
I would love to accomplish all of the following:
-Make every living thing compliment one another, either with it's needs, or with it's wastes
-Mill lumber on site (although I literally have 10 sawmills within 10 miles, so maybe not a good idea)
-Have a highland bull
-Have a tractor, and a hay wagon to give hay rides
-Host a bluegrass concert
-Host field trips
-Have a big "Abbott Gang Hideout" somewhere on the property
-Keep the money in the black
-Grow mushrooms of the legal variety
I suppose that's all I have for now. I should probably look busy!
Just like I promised my better half, I didn't do anything major for the first year... but boy did I get my feet wet doing lots of stuff right after!
My apologies in advance for any selfies.
I wasn't allowed to do anything before the house was up to my wife's standards. First I started by knocking out all of the walls seen where the studs are attached to the ceilings
This was a super long process that took place every day after work. I'll insert more pictures of the project as it happened as I find them. For now, I'll post the S'Mores I made over a halogen worklight:
This photo was taken in the crawlspace as I was working on some plumbing or electrical (whichever it was, I can't recall)
Here is the interior view after installing windows on the south wall to capture some of that low-slung winter sunshine, and the big woodwork installed
Then we started working on the kitchen. We had an idea in our heads that started with an argument about the layout.
We made a countertop and bar top out of some 3.5" slabs I picked up from my favorite sawmill
Here's a shot after we got some lacquer on everything, looking nice!
Miles Flansburg wrote:Looking good Alex ! Thanks for the update. Have you had any time to learn more about your property? What did you find out about fixing up the barn? Sure would be sad to loose that.
I have learned a LOT about the property. I now know where not to put a compost pile because of the wind/soil making it tough to keep moist enough. :)
We were also able to get a survey done, which answered some questions as to what went where!
The barn, it may be a lost cause :( - I don't think it will make it through one more year. I have begun "harvesting" barnwood, stacking and covering it!
In the spirit of documenting some of our other projects, I will plunk them here!
Firstly we drank wine and smoked cigars. Well, it was mostly me that did all that nonsense!
In addition to cigars, we also smoked tomatoes and peppers for sauce! If you've never smoked tomatoes, I recommend that you do.... it is sooooo good!
Smoking tomatoes doesn't take long, they absorb the smoke flavor very fast. I wouldn't recommend smoking them for more than an hour. We used this time to get them hot in preparation for canning!
Also the hoop house project, this was a fun one that went together in a couple of days:
The hoop house was made with a hoop bending jig, and two pieces of chain link fence top rail per section. The hoop house was set on 2' high risers for a center hoop height of around 8'. The ground dimensions are 12'x32'. The greenhouse plastic is double-layered with an inflation fan keeping an air pillow between the layers. We also got our hands on some 66 gallon food grade black pickle buckets that we filled with water before winter. These 10 barrels were placed inside of the greenhouse with the intention of absorbing and storing some solarenergy. The greenhouse (in February) would sometimes get above 80f on a sunny day! Talk about a welcome break from Michigan winters! With the barrels absorbing the heat, I can count on one hand how many times we had frost in the greenhouse.
We have about 2 acres of "grass" that we actually mow sometimes. I fashioned a stop on the mower deck to blast the clippings into windrows. Then we commandeered some help and pitch forked it into a trailer where it was destined for compost! Our property makes lots of browns but not a lot of greens (yet). Raking the grass was the best, fastest source of greens to activate the compost!
Wildcrafted some St Johns Wort
I am geeked to see this growing all over. I do like to take SJW in the winter when there is no sun for days! The wild stuff has to be better than the old stuff in the pill form, right?
Started some grape cuttings
This variety is called "Steuben" a dual-purpose wine/table grape. I struck up a deal with a friend from across town and she allowed me to take as many cuttings as I could! After bundling them into packs of 20, we ended up with around 200 sticks. These went into the crawlspace wrapped in wet newspaper, inside of a big trash bag.
In the spring, we put them into 5 gallon buckets with water and an air stone bubbling away to get some root development. This works beautifully! I'd say that we got better than 50% successfully rooted!
Prepping the vineyard:
First thing that we did was blast a hole through the wild brambles and install a gate to access the south side of our property.
Then we knocked down the tall grass and raked it for compost
After we took a good look at the dirt and terrain, it was decided that we would put the vineyard in another area that allowed us to get fewer longer runs instead of many short runs on a N/S line. This was decided because of the cost of end posts, as the short runs would take almost double the amount of end posts! So we scoped out the land, and found this spot that gets full sun, and is somewhat sheltered from the north and west winds. Also the dirt is a lot better over there!
We commandeered the help of the neighbor that just bought his tractor and has been chomping at the bit to do some work with it He cut into the sod for us, so we can incorporate some compost and amend the soil based on the soil test results (which I'm doing today!)
And the concert I wanted.... well we had two!
Year one: I asked for ideas in building a stage, and had the prices calculated for lumber and labor to build it. I mentioned it to one of my farmer friends (which admittedly have the simplest, best solutions) and he said "well why dontcha just put two trailers together, you can borrow mine"
So, he gracefully slid two 8'x24' trailers side-by-side and we covered them with decking to the floor was smooth!
The entertainers we had are a band called "Brotha James" and I really really suggest checking them out they are a super-positive act out of Michigan! Jeremy (Brotha James) came up with an idea to get all of the kids involved. Every kid that was brave enough to get on stage, got an instrument and played their hearts out!
The big kid in blue is a pal of mine, Dwayne; He was playing the washboard and loving it!
That fella who took fashion advice from Paul Wheaton is me. I was playing the backup to Robyn jamming on the sax!
The first year was actually held on my wife's 40th birthday, so it was a dually special celebration! I secretly (and let me emphasize how hard this was) created a 12' tall pinata! I wanted it to look like a 40oz bottle of beer
I called in a favor from a friend with a crane. We had the spotlights shining on this magnificent pinata as it appeared over the barn. It gracefully sailed over the crowd, and the kids pummeled it. I don't have any pictures of it mid-air But, here it is after it was smashed!
Year two: We moved the stage because I planted kiwi and gooseberries where it was the year before. We made a back to the stage out of recycled paneling from the house (in post 2). We fashioned it to look like we were having the concert in the basement of a church, or in your moms livingroom!
We also made a backdrop for a photo booth that you could be part of the picture.... see below!
This year I had to go on stage and pander for money. Three things I hate are: getting on stage, speaking in front of a crowd, and asking for money. I did ok.
The bag race was a success! Shout out to the big kids for keeping it fair