Farm Life

Farm Life

Monday, March 13, 2017

March in Maine

      I love God's creation. He has made spectacular and wondrous things. I love that here in Maine we have four distinct seasons and I am partial to autumn with its crisp air and falling leaves. I love having a fresh beautiful snowfall for Christmas and the winter activities it brings. Mid summer heat is not my favorite, but I love that it makes my flowers grow and brings outdoor adventures to remember. Late spring is filled with new life. Babies are being born and flowers blooming. Birds chirp their approval of their warming environment. It's all good.... except for March. I hate March. March is a month in which God teaches me to be thankful for the other months. March here in Maine is windy, cold, muddy, wet, and miserable. There are days when the sun shines brightly and you think it is mild until you are chased back inside by a biting wind that threatens to take the end of your nose to frost bite. Just recently we had the coldest day of this winter. Near 40 below with the wind chill. On occasion, a beautiful day pops up with 40 plus degree temperatures and sun that warms you through. This, of course, is only a tease, for the next day you are harshly jerked back to reality with sub- zero temperatures and wind that brings tears to your frozen eyeballs. My muck boots work overtime during this dreaded month. Mud season in Maine is no joke. You wonder where that much mud could possibly come from. You have to keep an eye on small children and pets as they may possibly be consumed by an endless pit of brown goo that could suck them in. The next day it is frozen solid and you are tripping over your footprints from the previous day. They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It's all lion here. The lamb is hiding in the barn beneath a cover of warm sweet hay. I feel lazy in March. All I want to do is hibernate. A spot in front of a blazing fire is ideal as I sip a cup of piping hot tea and listen to a pot of hot soup simmering on the stove. Spring seems to be an unreachable dream and impatience for all things gardening weighs heavily on my mind. The sweetness of maple syrup boiling is the only reason not to completely banish the month, and my only hope is in the greenhouse. Sprouts of green and the trapped heat from the sun, mixed with the fresh smell of the soil remind me of what I hope is soon to come. My desire is to dig in the dirt and plant my seeds. I'm ready to hear peepers and the birds joined in a chorus of happiness. I wish to open the cabin door wide and invite the warmth of a gentle spring breeze, but right now I'm in the middle of March. I continue to dress for the arctic as we prepare for a snowfall tonight and I'll be tucking myself away next to the fire. Wake me when this is over.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cabin in the Woods Part V: Our Chinking Process

          Now that the logs were up and the roof was on we needed to fill between our logs with chinking. Because we are building debt free, it makes no sense to take all the money we have saved and pour it into a ready made chinking. After searching the internet, we came up with a recipe that we had success with. We used 3 parts sand, 1 part Portland cement, and 1/3 hydrated lime. I decided to try a little straw in my mixture which gave us a better texture to work with plus added strength. I then added water to make a thick consistency, yet spreadable.
Our Mixing Process
                   To prepare our walls to take the chinking mixture, we first had to drive nails between our logs to give the mixture something to adhere to. This was extremely time consuming. After this I started chinking the inside. When I finished an inside wall we then filled the other side with strips of insulation and then added more nails. The chinking then covered the nails and completed the wall. 
Nails are in and chinking has started.
  The tools that I found to work the best were unconventional, but hey, they did the job well! 
A spoon was my tool of choice.
           Yes, I used a spoon! It worked the best to gently pack the chinking between logs and smooth it out for a clean uniform look. 
Chinking mixture ready to be placed.
              Monotonous does not even begin to describe this chore. I worked at this inside the cabin most days all summer long. A friend suggested I hold a ladies "chinking party" to help finish up the work. I hate asking for help, but this was becoming unbearable by myself. I was overwhelmed! So, I sent out some invitations.....
Chinking Party invitations.
                 My mom and I provided the food and some sweet ladies forfeited their Saturday for a day of hard work. My mom, my sister, my aunt Bonnie, my cousin Elisa, and my friends Penny, and Patty showed up to learn the chinking process. My dad joined us to mix our chinking, and after work Patty's husband, Chuck stopped by and helped out too! The progress we made was amazing! Everyone pitched in and was quick to learn. I am so thankful for their help which was such an encouragement as I saw some of the walls reach near completion!
Insulation and nails complete on outside wall. Ready for chinking.
Driving nails after insulation has been added for chinking to adhere to.
Adding chinking over the nails and insulation.
Chinking.
Strips of insulation hang ready to be stuffed into cracks.
Chinking progresses.
A completed wall with chinking left out for window placement.
                             Our south end still needs to be chinked, but this won't be a huge task as most of the wall will be made up of windows. The rest of the walls are nearly done! And this brings you up to date on our cabin progress. As soon as this massive amount of snow melts and temperatures warm, we will be completing the chinking, adding windows, and closing in the peeks. I can't wait to share more progress! This is the year we hope to move into our cabin in the woods! 




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cabin in the Woods Part IV: Raising The Roof

          Now it was time to get that roof on, so we chose a weekend and got to work. We decided on metal roofing as it would last a long time, and would be convenient in our snowy climate. With a 12' x 12' pitch we certainly wouldn't need to shovel the roof off! First, we covered the rafters with cabin grade pine tongue and groove boards from the outside. These boards were affordable, and we didn't mind all the knot holes. We wanted to leave the rafters and pine exposed inside, and it turned out better than I expected. I just love the ceiling in my house!
Exposed beams, and pine boards for our ceiling.
An outside view of the tongue and groove pine boards going on.
  The next step was covering the pine boards with tar paper.
Tar paper over the pine boards.
                       We purchased used 3" thick foam board insulation, and used two layers. Those of us on the ground pushed the sheets up to the crew on the steep roof. We laid strapping that we milled ourselves over the insulation board to screw the metal sheets to. 
The 2 layers of foam board insulation. Strapping is started from bottom.
                          We then passed the green metal sheets up to the men on the roof. Two of my uncles, my brother-in-law, my son, and my dad braved the roof, while myself, my oldest boy, and my husband hefted the sheets up to the staging, and then onto the roof where they were screwed to the strapping. The day we put the metal on it was quite warm, and the sheets of roofing became hot to the touch very quickly. This became a challenge. The peek was also difficult to work on. 
Attaching the metal sheets with screws.
                   These men from our family worked hard and had the roof on in a weekend. I think it looks great, and I'm glad my husband insisted on this color. I really like it. (I was leaning towards brown.)
Roof complete!
A long weekend comes to a close.

               Up to this point we had less than $3000 in the cabin. This included ground work, purchasing our pine logs, fuel, and all building supplies. I will post a detailed spending list in a future blog.
                      Now that the roof was on, the chinking could begin. Join me for my next cabin post, and see the process we used with homemade chinking.





Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Dancing Cow and the Flailing Farmer

                                            (Excerpt from my unfinished book, "Farm Tails")

                                         
       One morning Dad set out across the dew kissed pasture in his familiar torn flannel shirt, and worn out jeans. It was a comfortable morning with the sun rising from behind the lush greenery that framed the cow pasture. He chewed a blade of grass, and stroked his bushy beard in contemplation as he stood behind a cow with a leg wrapped in a tangle of wire. He needed to free her, but one pull on the wire and she would take off, he was sure. Carefully he began handling the wire in an effort to free the beast when the cow mindlessly plodded ahead. As she jerked the wire forward it became apparent that the wire now had entangled his dusty work boots. He knew that the more he pulled on the wire, the faster the animal would proceed, so he must work quickly to free her, but also keep up with her as she traversed across the field. A kind of dance ensued which drew a crowd of pink-nosed spectators. A nosy bunch followed the activity with big eyes framed by lush lashes. This seasoned farmer, not being swift on his feet due to years of abuse inflicted by, ironically, his dance partner, and her friends, struggled with his steps, and became frantic with his arm movements. Not at all becoming of a dancer. The black and white beauty abruptly decided that she would pick up her pace with finesse, and put some leaps into her routine. Her tail flew high, and her legs imitated the action. Behind her, the farmer, who had never learned the two-step was finding himself doing the one hundred and forty-three step. It would have been impressive had he not looked like a crazy baboon being ravaged by fire ants. Still on his feet, my dad worked feverishly to untangle the moving wire while he ran to keep up with quick-step Bessie. Now, I know this looks as though it cannot turn out good. You think maybe this farmer will lose his footing and it will be all over. He'll be dragged by his feet, as his head bumps through cow patties galore left by his fleeing dance partner. You think that his heals will plow up enough dirt to fill his gaping mouth as he screams for her to stop and that the fast moving earth below him creates enough friction to burn a tremendous hole in the seat of his britches.  How is it then that this time, he unweaves the web of wire just in time as the cow bolts away at a high rate of speed?!?! Well, sometimes, just sometimes, this farmer scrapes by unscathed. He'll surely pay the price the next time around....

 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cabin in the Woods Part III: Ridge Pole and Rafters

          Now that our walls on our log cabin were up we began the process of preparing a ridge pole. This pole had to run the entire length of our home of 24 feet, plus extend two feet out on either end for the overhang. Looking back, I probably should have done a larger overhang, although two feet is sufficient. This massive log of 28 feet had to some how be hoisted to the top of two 24 foot beams awaiting at either end of the cabin. This ridge pole needed to bear the weight of the roof, so this explains it's massive size.
          On the evening of the ridgepole raising we had four men, and two good size boys available. My husband, my father, my brother in-law, my brother in-law's father, and my two oldest boys all took on the task. The ridgepole was first hoisted via pulleys up on top of the log walls. It was then rolled to rest against the two end beams that towered into the sky. My dad then placed a ladder upon the staging, and against the beams pointing skyward. He climbed to the top, and added an extension to the top of the beam, and then attached the pulley system to it. The same was done to the other end. The massive log was then hoisted up to rest upon the ends of the two beams. Once this was done they had to be marked, and then lifted, while my dad cut the underside of the ridgepole with the chainsaw, so that it would sit flat against the tip of the beam. All of this was done while balancing on a ladder high above the top of the cabin walls.
You can see the extensions and pulleys added here.
The pictures do not show the massive size of this ridgepole accurately!
Getting prepared for rafters.
           For the rafters, we ended up deciding on 6"x 8" beams. I really wanted a rugged look, and these would definitely look and play the part. We milled these out, and then myself, and my two oldest boys spent the summer hoisting them one by one up to the ridgepole, where my dad would pin them in place. This was labor intensive, and more than once I wondered why I decided on this size beam! When we had them all up, it was clear that the decision was a good one! They are beautiful! They are left exposed inside against tongue and groove pine boards.
4 rafters added.
Viewing rafters from north end.
Rafters all up!
Pinning rafters to ridge pole.


From here it was time for the roof. I will be sharing all about our roof raising in my next cabin post. 



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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Saying Goodbye to the Old, and Hello to the Newborn

       Growing up on a dairy farm, I learned at a young age that farm animals do not live forever. I am passionate about farming, and the good definitely outweighs the bad, but there is still the bad. It is the most difficult part of farming. You nurture, and grow a farm animal with an investment of time, money, and love. Parting is inevitable, and you know that this relationship will not last forever. The animals that we grow for food have a good life free-ranging on the farm, and we know what their fate is. It is still unpleasant, but that is what farming is about. The more difficult, is the animal that is a friend. That for us is our Belgian work horses. Yes, they serve a purpose on this working farm, but we can't help but become attached to these gentle giants that work the soil, rake the hay, and yard logs from our woods. We work our horses until we feel that their age warrants retirement. We then turn them loose to a leisurely life in the back field. Days of nothing to do and no where to go, freely roaming the pasture as they live out their last days. They are in our lives for many years which forms a bond that only strengthens year after year.
        We purchased Kate when I was a child. I vividly remember going with my Dad to northern Maine to pick her up. She had a reddish hue to her, and was not as blonde as her teammate. She was a beauty. She was probably a year or two old when we brought her home. She would have been twenty-six this spring, but we recently had to say our goodbyes. She was always a hard worker. She could out work many horses, and was always willing. She also had an attitude, and would pull your hat off, and give it a throw every chance she got. When Kate put her ears back she meant business, but what a worker! Many people could learn a lesson or two from Kate for she was not lazy.
Kate is pictured on the gee side (to my Dad's right side).
           Over a month ago, we were blessed with a new life on the farm. Long clumsy legs, and a big nose used to nuzzle under your arm for affection. A mane of fuzzy hair, and a sweet little tail. A newborn Belgian was added to our family right before Thanksgiving. Certainly something to be thankful for! 
Chief was welcomed just before Thanksgiving.
              The end of 2014 brings mixed emotions for us. We have lost a friend. Farewell to a girl that gave us so much. We loved her in return, and our hearts ache at the loss, however, new life kicks up his heels on our farm bringing a flood of happiness to close out our year. So, we say, "goodbye" to the old, and "hello" to the newborn. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wild Harvesting On Our Homestead

          We like to make use of everything that we can here on our homestead. Our wild food supply is quite bountiful, so we take to the woods and harvest what we can as it is in season. Many wild edibles are great for processing, and storing for winter use.  A lot of these nutritious, and tasty foods are often overlooked by people who don't know what they are or how to use them. I am going to cover a few of our favorites in this post in hopes of inspiring other homesteaders to take to nature to nourish their family.
          In early spring we always start out with Fiddle Heads. These unopened ferns are super tasty when boiled, and topped with butter, and salt. My boys like adding vinegar. We trek deep into the woods to fill our buckets with these twirly greens. They grow where it is wet, so we always follow the brook, and have good luck each spring. Not only are they good eating, but it's enjoyable to go adventuring through the woods in search of our supper.

Picking fiddle heads with my youngest.
Some of our fiddle head harvest.
                Then starts the dandelion greens. Good in a salad, but best boiled with butter, and salt. I have been meaning to make dandelion wine, and dandelion jelly. My dad says my Grandmother always canned them, so I hope I can fit it in next spring.

My little helper picking dandelions.
                Mint is one of our very favorites, and grows abundantly in wet spots in our woods. My son gathers it, and we dry it in our dehydrator. It takes a very short time to dry. My son then crushes it up, and puts it in jars for mint tea. What a fresh tasting tea this makes! We all love it, and it makes great Christmas presents. It also has many fresh uses in cooking. You can chop it, and mix it right into  your chocolate cake batter for a mint chocolate cake. Yummm! 
           While we're on the subject of teas, my son also makes raspberry leaf tea, and blackberry leaf tea. It's great that we can use more of the plant than just the berries. Of course the berries always make a beautiful jam, pie, or crisp too!

Raspberry leaf tea.
                  Autumn brings hawthorn berries. They look like mini crab apples, but grow on a thorny tree. These are excellent for lowering blood pressure, but those that do not need to lower their numbers should not consume too many of these. We dry them in our dehydrator for tea. 

Dried hawthorn berries ready for tea.
                     High bush cranberries are a treat, but we find that they are more tart than regular cranberries, and need a little more sweetening. They grow on a tree, and have stems like cherries. They also have pits, so I boil them down, and put them through the squeezo.  I then return them to the pot, and add some organic sugar. The sauce turns out thick, and flaunts a beautiful scarlet color. We can this for future use. It will be a welcome addition at thanksgiving! 

High bush cranberries.
Boiling down high bush cranberries.
Wild high bush cranberry sauce.
Isn't this sauce beautiful?!?!
                   This is a little peak into our wild harvest here on our homestead. This is a very practical way to store up food, and use the bounty God has given us, but it's fun too! I encourage you to learn more about the wild edibles that surround your home. Safety should always be your first concern, so never eat anything that you cannot confirm to be edible. Your local extension office is a good resource, and you can find detailed pictures of everything on-line. Be aware that many plants have look-a-likes that are poisonous. I suggest having your leaves, bark, and fruit available to compare to pictures. If ever in doubt, don't eat it! Happy wild harvesting!!!