Decked Out (Reno Part 4)

The farm offers lots of beautiful views so it’s no wonder the house has so much outdoor living area.  The views, plus it’s just easier to sit outside when filthy.  This house had some serious decking.  There was the front, side …


Plywood walkway had an interesting bounce to it

and back….


Water heater & ac on deck

All in about the same condition.  Bad.  Spongy, unsupported, loose, and dangerous.  For a year we have avoided walking on the deck unless necessary.  The main reason it was still standing is that it is a favorite hangout of the chickens.  Even Taco will take a load off and sit down to rest.  But it was condemnable by human standards.  It also housed some unusual tenants: the water heater, freezable spigots, and the ac condenser.  Not good homes for any.


Scary stairs and posts

So when our efforts moved to exterior facelift, the deck(s) had to go.  (Actually the front deck was removed right after we bought it.  The walkway was too rotted and slippery to walk on.)  The boys thought this would be the project of their dreams – yanking down a deck with the tractor!  But no, the HGTV style demos with sledgehammers and heavy equipment are for show.  This would be done by hand.


Paul starts things off (with help from a hen)








This demo was relatively easy but dangerous.  The soft, unsupported wood came apart gladly but the rusted nails and drunken concrete posts were tricky.  I caught one post across the top of my foot.  Thank God for boots.  Paul started and Spaghetti and I finished the job same day.


A much bigger yard








We were left with room for a new ac unit, a generous new deck, and a bigger back yard for parties.  The hens were sad for the loss of their clubhouse but we have some plans in the works for them.  We will replace the deck in the back at some point before summer (I hope!).  The side deck will give way to a new covered porch.  Coming soon!


Walls & Ceilings? (Reno Part 3)

The farm house is admittedly on the small side – less than 1200 sq ft.  But that wasn’t so much the issue – it felt small because of low ceilings and tiny bedrooms.  The master bedroom checked in at a skimpy 8 x 9′.  Single digits.  Plus a 7′ ceiling (with a ceiling fan!).  Yikes.  Me & the trusty architect scale drew up a plan to annex the adjacent laundry room to open things up.


Master? bedroom

So we shuffled some things around.  (By “we” I mean Gary.  Paul & I choked through drywall dust and falling mouse poop insulation while Gary made things beautiful).  3 weeks later we now have an 11.5 x 11.5′ bedroom with an 11′ vaulted ceiling and an attached 9 x 11′ closet with laundry.  Now we’re talking.  There are still minor weirdnesses – electrical panel above the bed (not worth $4k to move), attic access above the door,  water heater in the closet, but these are things I can work with.


Raining mouse poop (but with stylish curtains)


I feel taller!










Next we turned to the innocent looking living room slider wall.  To enjoy a bigger view of the pasture, we decided to add a second slider and smoosh them together to make a big window wall.


I need more light


Paul & Spaghetti creating open space






These things seem easy on paper.  (Me & my scale again).  But the rot in that wall added some spice where plain vanilla would have been just fine.  Demo went pretty easy; stuff just kinda falls down.  But these were interesting falling things – like live mice!  Plus: 3′ high piles of acorns, abandoned drill bits still embedded in the framing, a high school portrait, newspaper clipped obituary, and a dead anole.  And my photos don’t do justice to the chaos added by 30+ hens constantly wandering in and out of construction leaving their own sort of calling cards.  Shoo!


Chickens love the open concept coop


Done but covered to keep out marauding hens






The living room walls were originally finished in plywood.  I probably would have left it if it weren’t for the rot we were finding.  And isn’t that rust eating through the galvanized sink pipe?  Good eye.  Spaghetti and I got busy pulling plywood down.  If it’s functional we save it.  Not sure why yet, but on a farm you are always looking for spare parts.  Our parts bin is filling up fast.


There is a kitchen here somewhere









The last wall standing was the bathroom (one and only in the house).  Despite it’s size, it was carrying a behemoth walk-in tub.  Paul, Spaghetti & a trusty sawsall freed it from the tiny space which suddenly felt a whole lot bigger.


Bad photo of a ginormous tub

5 weeks later we have no walls.  Well actually we have nice clean framing which is kind of close to a wall, right?  Ok not if you’re trying to use the bathroom but we don’t have heat or hot water so let’s not get picky.  I have plywood and framing.  I’m happy.  No, really I’m tired and sore, but no rest for the weary and the righteous don’t need none.  Next up, we get decked!


On the Level (Reno Part 2)

Part 2:  On the Level  (or Is It Supposed To Slant Like That?)


Momentum is on our side!  No wait, I’m tired.

Eileen!  Of course you do, your left leg is shorter than your right.  Eileen would be right at home in the farmhouse.  There was a definitive dip from the living room to the middle of the kitchen.  You could totally do the Mad About You episode of “whoooa” sliding across the floor.  “Let’s start by seeing what’s going on under there” master carpenter Gary quips.

Of course to get “under there” one must remove everything “above there”.  It seemed like a simple task of pulling out carpet, and padding, and subfloor.  But, oh look!  The subfloor heights didn’t originally match up!  So someone used multiple layers of paneling to even it out.  Paneling that when wet from leaks, fragments into nano sized pieces.  A week of chipping away at shredded cheese sized paneling – in the living room alone.


Note the faux brick disappearance early on

Once we got down to the subfloor itself, another discovery. 60 year old white oak.  Dense like concrete but beautiful. (If you can get the nails out.  Square head nails that are rusted through and break in half when you pull them with a hammer.  Swear meter of 6-7). But valued at $6/board foot, we carefully extracted every last board and stacked them for reuse.  Me + Pinterest =reclaimed wood heaven.  Keep pulling those nails.

Little did I know that we would spend a month at this sawing, prying, nail pulling.  S-N-A-I-L-S pace.  And once complete?  Bizarre, rocky, stinky discoveries:

  • small animal skeletons (possum?)
  • food wrappers & Boost bottles (construction debris or geriatric animal buffet?)
  • random large bones  (grandma?)
  • defunct oil furnace (home to the wild animal kingdom)
  • piles of raccoon poop
  • piles of rock (like Stonehenge exploded)


Oil furnace playing peek a boo.  Note high quality bricks & 2×4 “footing”

“We should clean this out.”  Paul sawed a steel tooth rake handle in half to accommodate the 2- 3′ clearance under the floor joists. Then we strapped on dust masks to tackle the  rock poop graveyard.  Days later it took 4 guys to wrestle the oil furnace out.  (Level 4 of 5 on the swear meter).  1 dumpster filled, 5 sawsall blades broken, and 2 utility knives lost.  Found: 1 diaper pin, a 1956 penny, 1 old school Pepsi can, and a leaky shower drain.    Winner.

All I wanted for Christmas was some subfloor.  After a month of pulling level tapes, we have a floor.  A nice solid, sturdy, LEVEL floor.  Yippee!  That was easy.


Fancy level floors from Santa

Next up?  Walls & ceilings..  That should be easy…right?


Chicken Soup for the Bowl

We had chicken soup this week. That’s not unusual except that this chicken had a name.  One of my goals from last year was to raise meat birds but I didn’t get to it.  It is still on my list for this year.   “Haven’t you people ever heard of a grocery store?” one of our boys’ school teachers once asked me.  Yes, and that’s why I want to raise my own food.

If you’ve ever had the satisfaction of growing a tomato or even a sprinkling of fresh herbs you get it.  Fresher = better.  During the recent snow forecast frenzy, I commented to a grocery clerk that they were out of eggs.  “We can’t get restocked” she told me.  “I have 10 dozen in my car,” I responded.  The guy bagging looked up suddenly and asked “Are they brown eggs?  Local?  Can I buy some?”  Of course!  The grocery store guy wants farm eggs.  Delicious irony.


Standard fare

So we are used to spoiled with fresh eggs.  Our laying hens are dear to us.  And that’s why the rooster had to go.  This new cockerel (raised on the farm by Lily) was big, beautiful but way too rough on the hens.  A few of the young girls were losing back feathers and showing bare skin from overmating.  This guy just didn’t know when to quit.  To be responsible to our hens the roo had to go.  (Our reigning patriarch roosters  Taco & Patton are still in charge.)


Patton – a nice boy

I saw this as an opportunity to test the waters on my meat bird goal.  No sense wasting a 100% free ranged bird.  Paul handled the dispatch quickly and I took it from there.  Because the need arose so quickly I didn’t have fancy equipment.  It was all done by hand (plucking, eviscerating, etc.)  Paul checked in once to see how things were going.  “I found the button that makes it poop!” I replied.  But actually things went smoothly, albeit slowly.  Labor cost on this meat was sky high.  I was drawing on kitchen experience and some faint YouTube memories.  But I got it done.

I was unsure of how the family would react to the idea of eating a familiar bird.  (I do not serve things to people subversively).  They were game.  I can’t tell you how careful I was with the prep.  I spent a full day fussing over the stock.  Several hours building a soup.  This was important to me to do right.  And boy was it right.  It may not look glamorous but a finer soup has not been eaten.  We took time before the meal to humbly, sincerely give thanks for the food before us.  This animal had lived a free, open life scratching, pecking, wandering as he pleased indoors, outdoors wherever.


Homegrown chicken soup

This must be how meat was meant to be.  We are a family of carnivores.  We hunt.  We farm.  We eat.  And for those items we gratefully put on our table, I know how they lived.  And it is surprising how that changes food prep.  No throwing bits out, eschewing leftovers, or cutting corners.  When we produce something, we use it.  (I saved the feathers).  I value the food.  No longer a commodity but a prize.

So I am emboldened to take on my goal of meat birds this year.  I am encouraged that we can add another wholesome protein source to our farm.  And the boys have offered to help.  And I love seeing them value the animals and responsibility of eating.  Who knows, if it goes well perhaps it will become a thing.  In either case it will be good for both the bowl and the soul.  

This Old House

img_4755For a year now we’ve been intentionally avoiding the (proverbial) elephant on the farm. With so many projects to tackle, the house was a low priority.  But with the slow winter season and a growing impatience with the derelict accommodations, I got antsy.  So I’m starting a series of posts on our progress with our little Fixer Upper.  What we lack in Joanna Gaines style, we make up for in desperation determination.

The real debate was facelift or forklift.   To doze or not to doze?  A brief overview of the house’s shortcomings:

  • Gaping holes & rampant rot in the siding
  • Chicken-barn quality roofing, leaking no doubt
  • Moldy carpeting
  • Scrabble tile style kitchen flooring
  • Condemnable deck rot
  • 7′ bedroom ceilings
  • No heat or air conditioning
  • Outdoor water heater (really)
  • Live, exposed wiring in walls/crawlspace

It has good bones.  Really – I found them in the crawlspace.

The usual.  Now this is no condemnation of simple living – no one  grows up disadvantaged because of laminate countertops or faux brick.  But many of these were safety issues.  The most egregious was the power cord for the walk-in tub which was trapped under the metal stabilizer leg – complete with frayed wires and char marks on the floor.  Yikes.


Welcome mat to critters

Back in November we made the decision to renovate after talking with several contractors who agreed that there were somethings worth keeping.  That, plus the upfront $10k demolition.  Can’t we put that money towards improving instead of removing?  Maybe.

Our biggest stroke of luck came through the woods.  We discovered a nearby neighbor with the woodworking skill of Norm Abrams.  “Gary”, as we’ll call him (no real names here to hoard protect the gift), is our leader.  We = hapless manual labor.  Did I mention we are doing the demo ourselves?  All of it.  Paul does the power tools.  I wield the pry bar and wheelbarrow.  The kids stay absent to avoid work.  (Actually Spaghetti likes to get all HGTV and obliterate drywall into dust.  Fun clean up.)


Master bath (also the kids & guest bath)

Our goal is to have the bulk of the work finished before the business of spring planting/ bee swarm season rolls around.  I optimistically asked Gary “February?”  🙂  “March?”  🙂  I finally resorted to bribery, promising a venison tenderloin dinner for him and his wife once the job was complete.  A flicker of interest but no guarantees.   Bear in mind that our portion of = work is being done at night by floodlight or on weekends.  Paul still has a responsible job to fund this venture.  Thank you baby.

So stay tuned to follow our adventure and see where this train takes us.  With any luck, we’ll be in by next November!




Goal Tending

January is a blissfully slow time for us. It is my time for stacks of seed catalogs, cozy blankets, hot tea, and big dreams.  For The new year I don’t do resolutions.  I do goals.  I usually way overreach my time, energy, budget and skill set.  But on paper anything is possible.  (If you’ve wondered where we’ve been, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram. We often post quick new there that doesn’t make it on the blog!)

I’m working on the 2017 goals but it’s not a cut and dry event on January 1. I add and ax goals over the course of the year as I realize what is doable, what I still am motivated to do, and what new ideas have cropped up.  And I checked off one of my 2017 goals by accident yesterday.  But first, my year in review.  Here’s my list of farm goals from 2016 (I actually write them down.  They live on the front cover of my farm management binder in the kitchen so I see it every day. I check them off as I go):

In case you can’t read my writing, here they are...

  • Increase layer flock to yield 10 doz eggs/ week
  • Hatch our own chicks
  • Raise 1-2 groups of meat birds
  • Create & sell milk & ale soaps 
  • Sell quarterly seasonal jams
  • Certify a salsa recipe
  • Add 8-10 hives
  • Catch a swarm
  • Keep hives alive until winter
  • Make a split
  • Achieve Journeyman level beekeeper certification
  • Own beef cattle
  • Establish figs, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, apples, pears 
  • Rehab egg house & derelict farmhouse

I’m pretty amazed when I see how much we accomplished this year.  New readers might enjoy knowing this was our first year on the farm.  86 acres unused for 20+ years = a big ship to turn.  There were so many other accomplishments that happened that I never even wrote down:

  • Added flock of laying ducks
  • Sold produce to local restaurants, farmers markets, and my own local mailing list
  • Raised a few queens
  • Created and sold flavored honeys
  • Used my own produce in canned goods
  • Won a blue ribbon at the State Fair
  • Added awesome retailers
  • Did lots of pollinator outreach events
  • Installed drip irrigation systems in all 3 fields
  • Planted strawberries, grew my own corn, survived an onslaught of cantaloupe and cucumbers 

Good stuff.  My first step in writing the 2017 goals is an honest look at what did and didn’t work last year.  My personal favorite thus far… What worked?  “Moving bees to the mountains for sourwood bloom”. What didn’t?  “Moving bees to the mountains in a car”.   Goal for 2017 – Move bees to the mountains with less stings (aka rent a truck). 

There were a few things we didn’t get to:

  • Meat birds 
  • Salsa (I actually did this  but can’t sell it – yet)
  • Milk soap (shelved until I have a dairy animal)
  • Own a beef cow 
  • Grow an orchard worth of fruit
  • Rehab farm house (in progress and the main reason why I haven’t posted in so long)
  • Farmhouse bedroom. Note stylish curtains amid rubble.

And so it goes.  I’ll post more on our goals for the year in the coming weeks.  I’ll also share the progress on some of the longer term goals.  Enjoy the winter blahs.  For if there is a slow season, a busy one will follow!