Category Archives: Restoration & Preservation

Home Again, Home Again

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Kitchen Before

We returned late last night from our most recent trip out to the new house in New York. All went well. Two of our kids joined us for this trip out (our eldest and youngest) and a good deal of fun was had from both working on the house to the festival that traversed town during our stay.

The festival brought all the locals down town and we heard so many stories about the old house that sat vacant for years. Many people have obviously cared for this place and have spent time volunteering to cut grass or work on keeping it from falling into a state of disrepair and it shows.

Shortly before the fireworks began, we turned on the porch lights, illuminated for the first time in several years. A warm glow fell softly upon the old floorboards and we felt the house whisper, “I’m alive!”

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Kitchen After
Moreover, the place feels like home. We watched as our eldest, who has been livid with me for the decision to leave our home state, relaxed into small town life and the adventure of painting and designing her own room.
My time was spent in the kitchen, painting the cabinets (base cabinets are now strawberry) and walls. Chris installed new appliances with the help of our neighbors (we feel so lucky to have some of the nicest neighbors in the world), and he managed to find time to paint Tohper’s room a light blue. Topher’s response? “I wanted pink!” We promised next time to paint it pink.
I suppose it’s a good thing to now miss that new place we call home. In a week we’ll be there for good. But for now, it’s time to celebrate the end of the school year, birthdays, and good ol’ Michigan.
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Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

The big barn, boar, and our little beauties…

Last night, we moved the alpacas to the large barn. The historic imageCampbell-DeYoung barn was built around 1885 over top the foundation of the original barn, destroyed by fire. It once housed a team of horses and the bull. The animals used a self-watering system powered by the diversion stream that once ran just south of the barn. It’s always nice to see life back in the old barn.

imageIn addition to this small change, we also added a boar to the farm, a temporary resident borrowed from our homesteading neighbor, Levi, who raises pigs. We needed a pig to do the work of cleaning up the former market garden, so that we can put it back into operation next season.

Timagehe boar, “Big Red,” lives in a pig-tractor that is moved daily. He plows up the earth in search for worms, grubs, roots, and greens, and leaves behind manure and soil, prepped for a new cover crop. In the former alpaca pasture, the chickens are now tractor-ed and working hard and revitalizing the soil from years of over-tillage.

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In other news, with the help of a farm volunteer, we have successfully grafted 40 Shiawassee Beauties, from scion collected from the only known (to us) and verifiable Shiawassee growing outside of the park boundaries. The grafts appear to be taking nicely and we look forward to adding these trees to the orchard in the future.

Washing Away the Mundane

-2This summer we tried something new. A family of six went without the modern convenience of washer or dryer for a few weeks. Initially, this humbling experience was to determine how difficult it would be to live in a camper over the summer, but it enlightened us on laundry beyond the soap.

At the start, we asked everyone to pair down to the essentials. A few pairs of pants, shorts, four or five shirts, something warm, and a week’s supply of underwear. This list meant we also had to consider our cleaning cloths and dish rags, sheets and bedding, etc. All else was laundrydaypacked away.

The first thing we discovered that was a bit unexpected was that doing laundry by tub with a plunger was both a great cardio work-out, but also fun for the whole family. While I knew this enthusiasm might be short lived, I basked in the wonderfulness of my kids lining up to get a turn at using the plunger.

The best discovery, however, was all the time spent outdoors playing, splashing, interacting with the kids while I washed, rinsed, rung, hung, and folded laundry. As we have seen with moving in this old fashioned direction before – the mundane becomes something of a social event. Laundry -1is no longer a minute long process of switching from washer to dryer; it has it’s own day dedicated to the task and with it, the interaction of family, of water, of waiting for wind, of grass beneath bare feet.

Of the more practical discoveries, this process would be a whole lot easier with a ringer, but since I had the convenience of the dryer whenever a rainstorm threatened, I wasn’t complaining.

Dried (Really) Goods

thereachThe food dehydrator finally arrived. We’ve been researching the best methods for food storage and it has quickly become one of our favorite tools for preserving the harvest. We can now make jerky, fruit leather, and dry fruit, veggies, and herbs to store for months.

You can even dry sauces and soups for later use (a helpful tip for avid drytomcampers/adventurers).

I wasn’t sure what the kids would think – Would our dried apples compete with the store-bought variety? If the toddler had anything to say about it, I think they exceeded all expectations.

I normally buy dried tomatoes – I love the flavor and texture and it sometimes makes a decent meat substitute. Not only do the tomatoes dry really well, they’re something of a work of art when finished.

applebottomBuying fruit leather at the co-op is a bit costly for this family. Making our own is not only fun, but a healthy alternative. We use a bit of honey to add some sweet to match any tart flavors on part of the berries and can now make good use of all of that autumn olive at the farm.

leverI don’t normally do plugs for commercial products but in this instance, with the limited number of options in our region for food-safe dehydration, this product makes a really nice (and quiet) addition to your food storage arsenal. The Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-5A is one of the higher end models at the lower end of the total wattage spectrum. It’s a smallish unit with stackable trays (up to 12) and very quiet. Highly recommended, if solar isn’t a good option.