Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Full Freezers and an Empty Barn

Ennis, still waiting for the rides I promised her. 

Never in my farm life, have I had such a difficult time keeping up with my blogs. I only have two but still...I'm way behind. It's not as if I have nothing to blog about, I have tons, but doing what we need to do and finding the time to write about it, has become extremely difficult. 

Especially when you take an entire weekend off to run around with your sisters! Inexcusable I tell ya.
It was a grand time though, me and my three female siblings on a road trip with two whole nights away. We spent the majority of the time just talking and eating and driving and talking some more. Oh, and laughing or "cackling'' as our spouses refer to it. Whatever. We had fun.

On The Poor Farm home front however, fall is here with all it's work related anxiety. So much to get done before winter!  We did finally get  some decent rain and with the warm days and cool nights, some renewed pasture growth. A sweet treat for cow Liz, horse Ennis and the steers. Before our two biggest beefy fellows got too comfy though, Keith hauled them off to the locker as planned. While there he picked up our whole hog, which sat curing at the same locker for the last three weeks.

The Boys AKA Rib Eyes and Burger 

As soon as Keith and I got our meat all unloaded and reorganized in our freezers we were frying up the bacon (our first in months) for BLT's. I also set aside some pork chops for my own evening meal and threw a five pound bag of pork fat on the counter to thaw for lard making tomorrow. While digging about in our freezers we found several beef marrow bones so they went into a crock pot to simmer for hours and hours to make beef broth.

This Saturday we start broiler chicken butchering. We have 28 to do and plan to do them in two lots. 14 this weekend and 14 next weekend. Like the pork, we've been without our own chicken for a couple months and refusing to buy store pork or chicken, we've been eating LOTS of beef. So happy to have more variety in the meat part of our diets.


The broilers in their Electrified pen just outside my studio

It's our own fault. Once you start growing your own food it becomes increasingly difficult to stomach factory farmed or restaurant food.

Now, the barn.

Skeletal barn just waiting for it's steel skin.

The framing is complete and limestone has been delivered to go under the concrete which was supposed to be poured tonight for the shop area. Unfortunately the concrete guy has gotten tied up with another job so won't be here until the first week of November to pour the concrete. Ah well, gives us even more time to save up the money needed to pay for said services.



Tomorrow Keith and I will start attaching the steel walls to the outside of the barn, followed by the roof. If the weather holds and we're not pulled in other directions we might have walls and roof attached by the time the concrete guy shows up.

It's a plan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our Foul Little Farm, Dreaming of Chicken Dinners and a Barn Update


The above Monarch butterfly has nothing to do with this post. I'm just showing off because after a week of trying to get close enough for a photo the bugger finally let me close enough for this one today. It is amazing what these little cell phone cameras can do. I take all my photos on my Motorola Droid.

Now, onto birds. Our duck population blossomed nicely this summer. Several mama's hatched out babies and managed to keep them out of the pig pen where they can be quickly consumed as feathered hors d'oeuvres. I hate how much ducks poop but I love their gentle nature and good looks. We'll be decreasing the population dramatically when we sell thirty or so to a fellow who takes them up to China Town in Chicago to sell to the restaurant trade. He says they love muscovy the best and since he pays us by the pound, and the ducks are quite fat, we'll all have a bit of extra Christmas money soon. We'll also butcher a few for ourselves to supplement our freezer chicken.


 In the photo above the old decrepit house is on the left and the current milking shed for Liz is on the right. When our barn is completed, both of those buildings will disappear. Not overnight (I wish) but over time as we'll use good amounts of the wood floors in the decrepit house to build the loft floor in our new barn.





Speaking of which, we're making steady progress on this beast of a building. Keith took a few days of vacation time last week , as did our son Jason,  and so with a five day stretch of fairly unlimited time we were able to put up all the trusses. This week Keith plugged away at the rafters and supporting boards and very soon, we'll start attaching steel panels to the roof. The skeleton of the barn is nearly complete,


 Now, back to birds. Our chickens were also prolific this year gifting us with many new chicks. We'll sell older hens and roosters to the same guy buying our ducks and thus decrease our chicken populations by half or more. The timing is good because they all produce more eggs than we can eat or have room to freeze. Plus in just s few short weeks the flies will be dying off and we won't need so many birds for bug control.





The kiddie pool above is primarily a place for the ducks to splash but whenever I replace the water all the fowl get in on the act.  It's been very hot and dry here for several weeks as storms roll through and spit on us but leave very little real precipitation. It seems all I do is water livestock and then water them again.


 These are our broiler chicks above penned in with electric fencing. We started with 31 broiler chicks but we're down to 28. I think a hawk or two might have picked up the other three when they were quite small. Our Great Pyrenees  does an excellent job of warding off coyotes and hawks but she is only one guard dog. She can't be everywhere, she likes to reminds me.

We ate our last broiler from the 2016  group about 6 weeks ago, so we are dying for more pasture raised chicken. With the 28 we have that means we can have chicken every other week. We'd love to eat it more often but knew we wouldn't have the time to butcher that many this fall what with the barn building. We'll have to console ourselves with the pork that went to the locker 7 days ago and the beef that goes in in about three weeks.

Don't cry for us Argentina.







Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Looney Bin gets a New Coat for Winter





It's more of a pretty mini skirt in mint green, rather than a coat, but still it should keep us warm and hopefully drier.

Last year, perhaps because the winter was more wet than icy cold, we had an issue with condensation gathering around the base of our inside walls. At times it would creep about 12 inches across our concrete floors. We had not noticed the issue the winter before but we had deeper and longer freezing temps in the winter of 2015-16.

This condensation was ugly and although it did not ruin any of our drywall, it required regular wiping up. We had sealed the concrete but not painted it, which was good because the floor was in it's natural ugly state anyway, but we worried that too much moisture might evolve into a mold issue.

But summer came, the weather warmed up and in fact it has been very dry here, so no condensation issues for several months. But, winter is out there, and we needed to get busy on this issue again.

So we asked the opinions of several people, especially those who deal in concrete, and the conclusion was unanimous---no one was sure what the problem was. Nothing like a concensus, eh? So we contacted the folks who did all the inside insulation and asked their opinion. They suggested MORE insulation but on the outside of the looney bin.

You see, when we built this grain bin house, we were making it up as we went. Although there were tons of pictures on the internet and Pinterest, there was very little regarding actual grain bin home construction.   So per the suggestion of the folks who installed the grain bin for us, a deep foundation was dug and a concrete footer was poured. On the outside of the footer we placed two inches of thick foam as a barrier between the back filled earth and the concrete footer. See photo below.



But apparently we still needed more insulation over the edge of the footer that rests at ground level.
Yesterday Sealtite Corporation came and spray foamed a lovely green layer of additional insulation around the bottom of our Looney Bin. It is about 3 inches thick and goes 16in up from our foundation and 3-4 inches out from the bottom.


We could leave it as is...functional but ugly...instead, Keith is returning to the folks who installed the grain bin to get more steel from them to match the rest of the house. It will be curved so we'll run it around the base of the new insulation and built a wood cap or bench all the way around. Will make nice seating for visitors or place for flower boxes. 

This bench will also keep critters like ducks and chickens from picking at the insulation.
Pesky poultry!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The New Barn Reaches for the Sky

A three day weekend. What a blessing. Keith was home all three days and son Jason was also off from his job, so able to help. Sunday evening friend Jay came by and so by today-Monday-some very serious progress was made.

It's beginning to look like a barn!

Prior to starting on the trusses Keith shored up the walls with more purlins, constructed of old wood, new wood and gifted wood. Our oldest son is remodeling his home and gave us several 2 x 4's last week. When added to wood from the building we had dismantled, wood Keith had in storage and newly purchased wood we have a most eclectic building.

On Saturday we started on the roof trusses. Purchased new from Menards, 24 foot long at $103 each, they replace those destroyed when we hired help to take down the machine shed we purchased this past spring. While I lifted the trusses up high in the air, with a little help from a Kubota tractor, Keith and Jason maneuvered them in place with rope.

Ha, I say "rope". In reality they used hay twine because those two use it for everything. It's a miracle fiber they believe.



We did this the same way we put the posts in the ground, slid a long metal pole over the middle fork on the tractor hay spear and attached the truss by chains. Don't worry, I was not driving and taking photos at the same time, I was nervous enough just maneuvering that truss over the heads of two guys I loved very much.

I might also add when two of them were shouting directions to me at the same time, it got a little hairy. Or better yet, one is giving me hand signals while the other is yelling. The yelling was mandatory, the tractor is loud. The hand signals were optional and I'm still not sure they were all appropriate. Still, we got the job done and no one died. Goal met.

Once the truss was in place Keith or Jason would crawl up the side and nail it in place. We managed to get three trusses up on Sunday.





When Jay was able to work with us today he focused on the rafters between the trusses. He's an extremely height tolerate kind of guy. With Keith getting all the wood lined up and Jason cutting it to Jay's specifications, the three of them made short work of the days tasks.





I hid out in the kitchen making pear jam out of the box of pears Jay brought down from his place. And I made breakfast for everyone and lunch. I don't want you to think I was slacking off while the guys kept working. Around noon today they called me out to lift up the fourth truss but winds had picked up and it got a bit dicey as the truss floated forward, then back, then forward. We were all relieved when it was in place and nailed tight.

So tomorrow Keith is back to work at his off farm job, Jason goes back to the Angus farm he works at and Jay flies out of O'Hare for a two week vacation in Iceland and Copenhagen.

Me? I'll spend the day picking up the work site, pulling some nails, burning our wood pile, making bread  and just being the glamourous homesteader I am.





Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Homesteaders Obsession With Food




Lately, all I can think about is food.

How to harvest it, clean it, dry it, can it, cook it, bake it, butcher it and freeze it. Mostly I worry about how to PRESERVE it so we can eat more of our own food and less from some unknown farm 1500 miles away.

Now, at the end of August, we must take account and it's not nearly as good as we had hoped. Excuses. We have hundreds. Keith was working off farm this year, which gifted me with additional livestock chores.  I also got sidetracked with my writing career (which was equally sidetracked by my livestock tending "career"). We were busy building a barn from scratch. We didn't get enough rain. We had family needs, and of course my favorite;

                                                                              the sun was in our eyes.

Where else would it be in summer, I don't know. Regardless, our garden production was about half of what we had hoped. Tomatoes so slow, we're just eating them as they ripen, won't be any leftover for canning. Beans did get canned, but only about 2/3 of what I did last summer. Apple trees produced very little fruit and our sole pear tree died. Peppers are getting there, I may have enough to chop and freeze, but broccoli never really saw the light of day. Beets were planted THREE times and never sprouted. (Bad seed? Bad Soil? Bad Beet vibes?) Onions got in late and are in limited supply. Zucchini died before producing anything. We hardly knew she was sick.



You would think we were brand new gardeners. But no, we've been at this for over two decades. Looking back we've had tons of years with so much garden produce we could've fed five families, so I suppose statistically, we were due for a partial garden fail.

On the flip side: potatoes are being dug and providing great meals. Should have enough to store for a couple months. Sweet potatoes look great, we expect copious amounts. My holy basil and regular basil plants will provide tea and pesto all winter and we ate TONS of peas. Our cabbage patch is producing nicely and today I made sauerkraut. I'll make lots more in the coming weeks. Garlic did extremely well. We'll have enough to plant another fall crop soon and the rest is stored in cheesecloth and hung from our kitchen rafters. Vampires won't have a chance here. Finally, the bees have been very busy. We expect a good supply of honey.






On the protein side:

The chickens are laying well so we have many eggs, much of which I scramble and freeze for baking. Our broilers are gaining weight so we'll have wonderful chicken to last until next fall. We'll start butchering them in October. Two beef are going to the locker in October as well, having grown well this summer which will fill our freezers with burger, roasts and steaks and our three hogs set for the locker September 13, are HUGE. We will soon be flush in bacon, pork chops and sausage.





So I guess we won't starve but how I hate the idea of having to buy any tomato products these next few months. Anyone got a recipe for making spaghetti sauce out of sweet potatoes?

Monday, August 21, 2017

High School Reunions. Why Bother?




I don't do reunions. Unless you count the sisterly kind where my siblings and I go away for a night or two every so often. But that's not really a reunion since we all live in Illinois and see each other often anyway. It's just a long gab fest. I'm talking about school reunions, which I have managed to avoid for decades.

No grade school reunions or high school gatherings, no nursing school get-togethers or college alumni groups. Nope. Not me.

But something happened. People I've known and loved for a long time starting dying. Not in big, Department of Public Health Epidemic number numbers kind of way, but rather here and there, a trickling of disappearances. But, I am closing in on sixty and with the average life span in this country now at around eighty for females and seventy-six for males, it became obvious; none of us are getting out of this life thing, alive.

So, when I saw a blurb on Facebook last year about someone garnering interest for a forty year high school reunion I made a partially interested face, but moved on. Important stuff beckoned, like butchering chickens and rendering lard. Crucial activities. But the next day I stalked that Facebook page again. My days at Joliet East High School were fuzzy, I had barely kept in touch with two of my girlfriends from that era, Ann and Leanne, but around that time another HS friend, Greg, contacted me. Seems his daughter was graduating from UIUC just like I was and he wanted to congratulate me and say hello.

There. Now I had three reasons to attend a reunion. I went back to that Facebook page and did the most insane thing; I signed up for the Reunion Committee! What a maroon, as my sisters like to say. We used to call each other moron, but that's not pc, so now we say maroon because no one gets offended if you're likened to a Crayola shade, right?

This last year, on a monthly basis, this reunion committee met and planned venues, menus and borrowed projectors from nephews. We fretted over invites and emails and my own personal fear, listing the wrong people on the final "In Memory of our Classmates" slide.  Mostly like strangers in the beginning, we became friends again, even though some of us really didn't remember each other all that well from high school.  Hell, at fifty eight it's hard to remember your own birthday let alone who was in your geometry class. Unless it was one of those Bernhard brothers, we all remembered them.

This last Saturday all our work came to a head and eighty or so folks (out of a class of 467) showed up for our fortieth high school reunion. The reunion committee was a bit nervous, arriving two hours early to ready the room, decorate, set up a PowerPoint presentation, harass waitresses (if you could make the room totally dark at 6:45 pm for our slide presentation, that'd be greeaaat) and generally worry about everyone finding the restaurant.

They did.

The evening, like all reunions, started out a bit awkward. Name tags were moderately helpful, but we had to face it, 98% percent of us did not look like we did at age 17-18. Most of us looked way better. And after a few drinks we all thought we looked pretty good. Then the band Strung Out played Come and get Your Love by Redbone, and those of us foolish enough, danced with all the same far out moves we had in 1977.  What a scene, so glad none of my adult children were there. Died from embarrassment they would have. Fer sure.

Keith and I, always on farmer time, bowed out around midnight, but I must admit it was difficult to leave. Some of those people in that room meant a great deal to me in those HS years. I struggled with several home related issues back in the day. I ran away a couple times, got in trouble with the police (more than a couple of times) experienced the death of a sister, and generally was a hot mess as they say today. But I had my people then, and they were far more wonderful and supportive of me than I am sure I ever told them. It was good then, Saturday night, to be able to tell these folks what they meant to me then, what they mean to me still.

There was talk of a forty-five  year reunion and of course a fifty year one. There was talk of maybe taking a road trip together, of getting together at one or another's homes, of keeping in better touch, of not letting so much time go past without connecting again.  I hope we keep those promises, I believe we need to keep them, because it's just like Stevie Nicks says,

Time makes you bolder
Children get older
I'm getting older too


And before we know it, that Landslide will take us all down.




The high school me on left with my two best friends Leanne and Ann, just behind me.
They always had my back.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Family Cemetery: How Not to Get Buried Under the Rules and Regs


View of our proposed family cemetery site
at the south west end of our property

View from within the cemetery area
looking back towards our Grain Bin House
located behind the trees .

All we want to do is dig a hole, and lay down for eternity. That's not so much to ask, is it? Apparently, it is. Last October we started exploring the possibility of permanently hosting our interested family members who'd like to chill out here when their tickers give out, and now ten months later, it's still a work in progress.

I started the effort by calling our county coroner who said he could find nothing to preclude a family cemetery in our county, but still, he referred me to the county zoning board. I did extensive internet research which stated that requirements such as  embalming, concrete vaults or metal caskets were not state or federally mandated but rather requirements of specific cemeteries only.

This was good since we want our bodies to naturally decompose on our property in nothing more than a wood box.

We also spoke with a local funeral home director to get his input, and ask about the less savory details like, "if we die in another state, how can we get our bodies back to The Poor Farm?" The answer: you have to hire a licensed funeral home to do that, hauling us back in the bed of the Ford F-150 is not allowed.

I wanted to ask if it'd be allowed as long as someone tied red warning flags to our toes, but I restrained myself.

It took awhile to get a response from our county zoning administrator, I'm assuming he had other bigger building projects to worry about, but in April we received an "Application for Special Use", which we completed.

In July we were notified that we would need to attend two meetings. The first was the County Regional Planning Commission, held on July 31, and the second was the County Zoning Board of Appeals held last week, August 3rd. All of our neighbors were notified of these meetings in the event they wanted to come for more information or to register their concerns.

Since our property is 1.5 miles from the nearest town, over a half mile from the nearest neighbor, and  surrounded  on all sides by planted fields, I did not expect any neighbor resistance. I was wrong.

Enter the relative of a land owner who lives a mile from us. She arrived at the first meeting and after everyone on the committee was brought up to speed on our wishes, she proceeded to read off a long litany of concerns. Such as:

     Who was initially responsible for the property since we are not married?
          
     Who would care for the property after we died?
           
      Did I know it was a Class 3 Felony to disturb headstones if say we sold the property.?
             
     What type of roadway would we build to access the area?
              
     Did our mortgage lender approve?

     Did I know how it would affect property values?

Her last comment, I believe, was the crux of the matter. She was concerned about resale value of land around us.

When she had her say, the Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously in our favor. However, three days later at the County Zoning Board of Appeals, it went a bit differently. Some of the members of the second committee also sat on the first committee, but some were new. Since it was an official public hearing I was sworn in and allowed to give an overview of our plans again, but this time I focused on the fact that in Illinois, Family Cemeteries are exempt from the rules and regulations that govern the public licensed cemeteries. Specifically the Cemetery Care Act 760 ILCS 100/ and The Cemetery Care Oversight Act of 2009.

Thus, the majority of the concerns voiced by our neighbors relative, were moot points. She did attend this second meeting and she did speak again, but after hearing about our exempt status, she backed off the regulatory issues and focused on property values, tax assessments etc. When it came time for the committee to vote, the ones who were not at the first meeting had all new concerns such as:

     Will there be an easement to allow your descendants access to the property if it is ever sold?

     How will you keep track of where the bodies are buried and how deep?

     How can we get proof that you are exempt?

     Can you move the boundaries farther into your property?

In the end they wanted me to answer the concerns above in writing and present to them again in November. These four conditions are easily addressed and I have faith it will all be approved at that time. My overall impression of the mild resistance so far is this: as a whole we are a death denying society and we prefer to deal with death at a distance. This "distance" is provided by a licensed professional, i.e. a funeral home director and the entire process is greatly sanitized at a very great financial price.

The average person does not want to see the backhoe dig the grave, nor do they want to build their own coffin. (I'm lining the lid of mine with Supertramp Posters and Hemingway quotes and OH YES, the amazing art work of Matt Kish in his book Moby-Dick in Pictures) Nor do they want to think about what happens, natural decomposition wise, to our bodies made of mere flesh and bone. To take control, as much as any human can control anything, of ones own burial on ones own property is foreign thinking in the 21st Century even though family cemeteries existed here, and in other countries, for centuries upon centuries.

I believe about half of the committee felt we were barbarians, while the other half wished they had their own family cemetery. The county admitted that they had never dealt with the issue before and in fact did not even know it was possible to do so. Sad isn't it? One hundred years ago family cemeteries were the norm, and now they are looked upon suspiciously.

So, we move forward with our plans for the O'Shaughnessy-Parrish Family Cemetery. I've warned our interested family members that until November they should drive the speed limit, avoid high crime areas, and limit their intake of McDonalds Happy Meals.