I’d like to simply report on some areas we’ve been working on over the winter and address what’s happening here as of today.  I see how easy it is to take a month off of writing and work gets done without the time to take a snapshot and remember the farm in its beginning phases.  I think it is important to see the daily decisions we make and how they stack up and affect what we create.  It is a tool for us to reflect and hopefully others to see and possibly to use.

Big Barn

My favorite place these days is the big barn (56×116) since we are converting it to more useful spaces for farm operation.  We used the first third for workshop to build projects and play a little basketball.  The counters and table are made with studs and red oak plywood and finished with with danish oil.  I made the counters high enough for me (yeah!) and the table the height of the chop saw for easy feeding of wood.  The wall in between the areas was built on the ground as a box of 2x6s sheathed in plywood and pushed up with the tractor and placed ever so carefully under the joists.  I’ll try to insulate and close this area up a bit more before next winter so I can use the radiant heat concrete floor.

The remaining two-thirds will be for the animals and storage.  The four cats (named after the Beatles) have free reign right now, but soon it will contain our 15 turkeys, 40 egg-laying chickens, 3 goats, 2 sheep, and a llama.  We built a hayloft first using timbers for posts and doubled up 2x12s for the outside frame and 2x10s to run the span.  ½ plywood for the floor and a bit more natural look for the ladder made this an easy and fun finish.

Next, we used pine 1x6s, cattle panels, and some chicken wire to fence out the animal enclosures and started ordering fencing for their pastures.  I really like the nesting boxes (vertical knotty pine is a turn on for me), but I still need to build the doors.  In the workshop, we built a chicken tractor for our meat chickens who will be pasture-raised and some brooders for the chicks as they arrive.

Play area in the woods

I’ve wanted to make an outdoor space for the boys since we’ve moved in, but other projects have taken priority and the collective dreams of a treehouse became so grandiose that it became a bit daunting considering my limited skills, large structures in the air, and children.  So I opted for a more simple plan that embraced my recent penchant for building with timber that we are taking down for forest management anyway.  We’ve been trying to take down disease-prone ash, cherry, and elm and allow other trees some space to grow.

​Seeing a gap in our farm schedule, we picked a good spot,  brush hogged some of the area, cut some concerning trees and searched for timber to use.  With this we built two fort areas close to each other, some balance beams, and a series of stumps of stepping and drumming. I’ll probably add to the area over time, though it’s worked well for nerf guns and the imaginations of the boys.

High Tunnel and Garden update

Last November we found a used high tunnel on Craigslist in northern Indiana.  We took it down and moved the pieces back to Verdant Hollow and rebuilt it.  The endeavor has paid off well so far by allowing an early window to seed and grow hardier vegetables when we finished the beds.

To recap, we had a pad excavated that would allow for the 30 x 64 high tunnel (currently) and similar-sized greenhouse (eventually) with about 10 feet in between.  The greenhouse is a slower build, but this area dictated both of their placement by its southern facing slope, excellent soil, and proximity to the house.   We picked this spot for our garden this first season and sheet mulched the existing lawn.  This required 7 tons of manure, hundreds of flattened boxes, 30 yards of wood chips, and 50 bales of straw.  This will help kill the grass and prepare the soil for this half acre vegetable, herb, and pollinator garden.

The high tunnel requires ground posts to be pounded in for the perimeter so the frame can be connected with poles and tek screws.  Tek screws are not fun on thick steel at high heights, pre-drilling helps.  We used polycarbonate for the north wall and have a roll-up side on the southern wall. We roped the plastic and pulled it slowly over the frame and built the ends out of cedar and some timber posts.  The one end we left unfinished because of timing and uncertainty about whether we needed more venting built in.  The channel and plastic worked here for a bit until a windstorm came through.  Another piece of plastic to fill the gap and some clamps has been an easy and effective temporary fix.  Our excavator made paths of limestone and helped move the dirt into rows into the tunnel.  We had a frost proof hydrant put next to it for water access. We built potting tables and seedling tables out of steel frames, studs, and hardware cloth.

The high tunnel’s temperature will get to 120 degrees on sunny days if it’s 50 or 60 outside, but typically hover around 20 or 30 degrees warmer than outside temperature.  At night the temp dips, but we only have had one night where there was a bit of frost, which meant we had to reseed some peppers.  So the temperature fluctuates a bit, but the plants are doing well so far. It’s humid and smells of life.

The Help you need

We’ve been lucky so far to have some great helpers on these projects.  Local excavators and concrete guys have been great.  Our plumber and solar panel installation companies have been very helpful with some of the systems old and new.  Many friends and family have pitched in on projects during a visit or shared ideas of their own interests and expertise.  Steven is always a great “helper guy” on projects and has been exceptionally generous with some tools for the workshop.  Even our goat lady, tree rootstock Amish man, black locust pole local lumber provider (say it three times, I couldn’t resist)  have been good to share their wisdom with novices like us. Yet, I can’t overstate the amount of help we’ve gotten from our farm hand Ry.  He works with Molly and me on Monday and Tuesday, and also he has gone on a few trips with us around Michiana for any given reason.  He is a wealth of knowledge, a great voice to have while planning, and a builder of so much of our vision that it’s indelibly partly his.  He is up for anything and everything no matter the cold of the winter nor the rain of the spring.  We are so very lucky to have him at Verdant Hollow.

Ducks and Goats

Yesterday, we received a phone call from the post office that informed us our ducklings had arrived.  In a little cardboard box with holes, ten noisy ducklings from McMurray Hatchery came into our lives.  Our dogs are very curious about the noises from the basement, but thankfully don’t trust the spiral staircase enough to venture down.  Our brooders were finished and set up for them the day before, and so far it seems to make a comfortable home for them.  We dipped their bills in the water and introduced them to their home where they’ll live for the next six weeks.  Their water mix contains crushed fresh garlic and apple cider vinegar to help build their immune systems.  We are feeding them Scratch and Peck Organic Chick Starter with the addition of nutritional yeast for niacin.  All of us love watching the little yellow puffs of hair make a mess in their “pool”, run around, and join together for a nap.

​We’ve also met the three goat kid girls we’ll have in about six weeks (notice who is always holding the baby goat).  One is from Ry’s doe Uma and is an Alpine / La Mancha mix.  The other two are coming from a farm in Zeeland.  Both are pure breed, one an Alpine for its high milk yield and one La Mancha for its high butter fat content.   Little by little, this farm is coming to life and the arrival of Spring is here.