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Temporary Chicken Yard

We finally got a chicken yard up so the chicks can run free. We’ll eventually build a more permanent structure, but this one will have to do for now. Here’s a picture.

chicken yard

We started by pounding in 6 foot T posts every six feet and then fenced in the yard with poultry wire. The end adjoining the garage in the picture is attached to the siding. On the other side of the yard, the end up against the garage is a gate that attaches to the chain link fence with gate clips. Bird netting has been stretched over the whole yard and affixed to the poultry wire with zip ties.

I’ll be honest -I took a short cut with the end near the garage. I didn’t have any tensile wire left and I was running out of time since we’re leaving on vacation tomorrow, so I duck taped the poultry netting to the garage. I hope it holds. Our pet/livestock/homestead sitter will fix it if not.

The chickens are quite happy. They think it is the greatest thing in the world.

There won’t be any more posts this week. We’re leaving for the beach in 12 hours. Have a great rest of the week!

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(Lack of) Progress on the House

The rain has finally stopped and the sun has been out all day today. I can’t explain the relief I feel at finally getting some sunshine! So much rain did some good, at least; our house is much cleaner and I have finally gotten some reading in. Pre-children I read at least three good-size books and half a dozen magazines a month. Some of the books would be pretty weighty fiction or non-fiction. Since baby T came into the world, I have read three books (count them -three -in a year!) and maybe one or two magazines a month, none of it heavier stuff than Better Homes and Gardens. Not that theirs anything wrong with BHG (I’m pretty much a lifetime subscriber at this point), but I do like reading multiple things.

On the flip side, all this rain shredded my plans for the house and garden for early summer. Alabama has more than the usual 4 seasons: Winter, Spring, Early Summer, Really Fucking Hot, Late Summer, Autumn, and the Rainy Season (which apparently made two appearances this year). It usually doesn’t rain much between the middle of May and the first of September unless a hurricane comes through. Not this year.

My plan was to get the garden in and do a lot of work on the exterior of the house, such as all the painting, between about May 15 and the beginning of Really Fucking Hot, which normally sets in around the 4th of July. That hasn’t happened so far.

I’ve been working on the inside a bit, but nothing spectacular so far. Our young visitor finally went home, so now I have more time. I thought that today I would show you some before pictures of the interior of the house. I’ve already shown you the living room, but here’s the dining room, kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom.

The dining room doesn’t need a whole lot of work. The windows need to be replaced and we need to paint the trim. I would like to replace the bookcases below with some built-ins at some point in the future.

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The balloon is from baby T’s first birthday party. Here’s the dead door into T’s room. There are three doors total into her room; we’ll be walling this one off at some point.

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The kitchen needs a lot of work.

IMG_0292See that? That’s a bad attempt at a DIY faux texture paint job. Notice the seam down the middle. Yes, someone painted over the wallpaper. Here’s what the wallpaper looked like before they painted:

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Yes, they only painted half the kitchen. Why? Did they get bored? You’re guess is as good as mine.

We’ll paint these cabinets and replace the hardware one day, but we’re keeping the cabinets themselves. They’re solid wood, after all.

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The laundry room…well, see for yourself.

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We need to fix that ceiling, rip out the wallpaper, and add some decent storage. The bathroom is the worst room I’m going to show you. I won’t show you the third bedroom right now. It’s pretty horrid. But the bathroom needs a complete overhaul.

IMG_0301That toilet is about 50 years old and doesn’t always flush properly. The $79 on special high efficiency toilet at Costco would be about a 1,000 better. (We’re considering that.) The bathtub and the surround are only about 10 years old, but they were the cheapest model available at the time and improperly installed. The shower rod is rusty and, believe it or not, the previous owner had wrapped it in PVC for showing to make it look better. The vanity is chipboard and is already falling apart. The one saving grace is the open shelves on the left in the above photo. I can’t wait to repaint them and make them into something awesome.

You can see the worst part of the bathroom in this picture.

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That flooring was installed just prior to the sale, which means it’s not even a year old, and it is chipping, peeling, coming up, and just being disgusting. Cleaning it is awful. I only take consolation (small though it is) in knowing that whatever is underneath is probably worse.

There you have it. That’s the house as it currently stands.

In other news, we had baby T’s first birthday party last weekend. I’m going to have to stop calling her “baby” T. Here’s a picture of her before the party.

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Have a great weekend!

The Big, Bad House Projects List Part Two

Here’s the exterior list. It’s not quite as long, but many of these are much bigger (not to mention more expensive) projects than those on the interior list.

We’ll get it all done someday. The kids may be in college first, but hey, better late than never, right?

Pressure wash siding

Repair holes in siding

Repair fascia

Paint front door

Paint front porch

Paint shutters

Paint porch railings

Paint foundation(?)

Install proper doors on crawlspaces

Extend downspout in the back

Add gutters and downspouts all around

Finish back porch

Paint back porch

Paint wooden fence

Cap chimney

Fix fence

Plant trees
Landscaping

The Big, Bad House Project List Part One

Here it is, the list of projects we need to complete to have our fixer-upper farmhouse up to date.  Some of these have to be done, while others are just things I want to do. It will take us a while, and it will be a long time before we get to some of the things that are optional, such as replacing the kitchen counters. The list is so long I’ve broken it up into two pieces. Here is the interior list; the exterior list will follow later.

Living Room

Paint walls

Paint trim

Replace side-wall window

Paint door

Change the ceiling

Extend the hearth

Install and paint floor trim

Replace the heater

Replace the storm door

Build built-ins

Dining Room

Paint trim

Install and paint floor trim

Change the ceiling

Install a new light fixture

Remove door to Teagan’s Room

Kitchen

Remove wallpaper

Paint walls

Install backsplash

Replace kitchen counter

Replace stove

Replace floors

Replace windows

Laundry Room

Repair ceiling

Repair hot water heater (eventually replace hot water heater)

Replace flooring

Build storage

Repair porch light

Fix the dryer vent

Bathroom

Replace window

Replace toilet

Replace tub

Tile tub surround

Replace floor

Paint walls

Paint cabinet

Install and paint trim

Install bead board

Replace shower head

Patch tub

Hallway

Replace heater

Refinish or replace floors

Install and paint floor trim

Paint walls

Master Bedroom

Install and paint floor trim

Replace ceiling

Replace windows

Tear out and replace closet

Teagan’s Room

Install and paint floor trim

Replace window

Finish shelves

Install door

Third Bedroom

Possibly replace windows (or get them to open)

Paint walls

Replace flooring

Install and paint floor and ceiling trim

Install drywall in closet

Add ceiling fan

Attic

Replace window

Install radiant barrier

Install insulation

Overall

Insulate the whole downstairs

Upgrade the electrical wiring (add switches and light plates to all rooms)

Upgrade the plumbing

Fixing the Fence

Our plans for the week have been interrupted by a very important task: fixing the fence so the dogs can’t get out. Take a look at this hole.

Hole in Fence

This is what happens when a 60 pound dog gets desperate to escape an unreinforced chain link fence. Meet Princess, a 9 year old lab mix.

Princess

What’s she mixed with? Your guess is as good as mine. Princess is an adorable, lovable mess of a dog, just like most labs, and like most labs, she has two big faults that training has never been able to entirely eliminate: she’s a glutton and she likes to roam.

As to the former, my beloved mutt will eat anything. I can’t count the number of times she has eaten something she shouldn’t have (or too much of something that’s normally all right) and gotten sick. She’s the sort of dog you have to keep the dog food hidden from, or she’ll eat herself sick.

Her roaming tendencies weren’t a problem for the first 7 years of her life. We lived in a house with a 7-foot privacy fence around the backyard. She knew there was an outside world, but she never saw it, at least from the back yard, and she didn’t care to dig out because of that. The few times she got was through the front door, and it was easy enough to catch her in our quiet neighborhood.

Then we moved into a cheaper rental to save money to devote to our homesteading dream. This house had a chain link fence and a very interesting neighborhood. We spent countless hours and a lot of money patching her escape routes. When we bought this house in August, it had a privacy fence around a quarter of the back yard and a garage wall blocking an eighth of it. We knew we had to put something up in a hurry, and we didn’t have the money for a privacy fence, so chain link it was. We mistakenly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem since we were now in the country and didn’t have so many dogs and interesting neighbors in every direction.

Wrong. Labs love the country. They’re bred to be hunting dogs, after all. It took her less than a day to get out the first time. I looked up and she was chasing a rabbit across the field. We’ve been slowly reinforcing the fence ever since. She created the above hole while we were in the back tending to our trees. She thought she’d join us.

So, to fix the fence. We got this role of tension wire for about $20 at Home Depot.

Tension Wire

(The workbench isn’t always this messy. I promise.)

We’re stringing it through the bottom of the fence to make it harder for her to dig under. It proved to be too tough to bend around the wires and fix the gate, so we fixed it temporarily using wire from some old marking flags. We’re looking for ways to fix it permanently. (Suggestions are very welcome.)

If this doesn’t work, we’re going to concrete the bottom of the fence.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of baby T. eating her first slice of watermelon:

First Watermelon

Help with color

One of our neighbors has a flock of chickens that includes a rooster. I’m not sure which neighbor it is because we are separated by at least 15 acres, but we can clearly hear him crowing every morning. (This would be why roosters aren’t permitted in urban areas.)

He’s normally a polite, mannerly gentleman. Not this morning. When I first took the dogs out at about 6:30 it sounded like he was shouting “I kill you!” “I kill you!” over and over again in chicken. My guess is a predator tried to get to his hens and he ran it off.  Our dog Floyd isn’t exactly the bravest dog that ever lived and this distant cacophony reduced him to hiding behind my legs.

I’m writing this morning because I would like your help with picking colors for the exterior of the house. I need to start the foundation beds soon so I can get all my pass along plants and transplants in the ground and it will be much easier to paint the foundation before I do so, so we need to pick all of the colors now. Here’s a picture of the current exterior:

House

The white vinyl siding is staying for now. The holly tree is going away. The current contenders for the door color are: red, orange, yellow, and green. The shade will be very bright regardless. I would like a deep blue for the porch. That leaves the foundation. Kelly refuses to let me just paint it white. I’m flummoxed.

What do you think?

(Disclaimer: I have NO color or fashion sense. I have been known to wear stripes and plaid together, and I can’t count the number of times Kelly has stopped me on my way out the door in the morning and gently suggested I change clothes.)

Weekly Farm Update March 28

I’m going to try to do these updates once a week. This is going to be a general post about how things are going on the farming/gardening/growing side of things.

After being pleasant all weekend, the weather started to turn horrid again on Monday. The temperature dropped back into the 20s three nights in a row, and the high didn’t exceed 40 until yesterday afternoon. I know everyone in the North would love to have those temps right now, but down here we’re just not used to it. It snowed Tuesday while the sun was shining. The weather finally improved yesterday, but we both ended up spending most of the afternoon at the doctor with little T, who has (another) ear infection.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I didn’t get as much done in the garden this week as I would have liked to. All the rows and paths are marked and the cover crop is going in slowly but surely. I finally got the seed potatoes planted, though I have serious doubts about their viability at this point. It’s notoriously difficult to grow Irish potatoes in this climate, which is why I only devoted one 4×4 bed to it this year, but if they don’t work out I’ll try it again next year.

Most of my starts are up and growing and most should be big enough to start going outdoors next week. The mushroom spawn should be in sometime in the next 7-10 days. The blueberries are trying to leaf out and one of the pears and the cherry already have. Things are really starting to move along!

Last night we had our first meal containing food grown right on our land, though Mother Nature gets all of the credit for this one. Our dinner included a salad consisting of store bought greens and carrots mixed with wild greens from the land, including chickweed, dead nettle, plantain, and dandelion greens. If you are going to forage for wild edibles, be very careful; Kelly is a biologist and still had to double check the chickweed. The other homegrown additions to dinner were chives sprinkled on the baked honey mustard chicken and deep fried dandelion blossoms. Never turn down the latter; they’re amazing!

My goals for the next week include: start building the fence around the back, finish sowing the cover crop, and get the greens planted.

I apologize for the lack of pictures -I’ll post some new ones next time, I promise!

Tilling

The garden is tilled and almost ready to plant! It took a lot longer than expected (what doesn’t when you’re doing it yourself?) but we finished it on Sunday. The original plan was for me to spend all day Friday tilling it myself. That didn’t happen, and quite frankly, I’m glad.

The tool rental place made us a deal: pick up the tiller after 3 on Friday and we could keep it until Monday morning at the one day rental rate. After some discussion, we decided that was the way to go and I’m glad we did. If you’re going to till a new garden area this year, I highly recommend you rent the tiller instead of buying one, unless you have a good bit of cash to spare and can pick up a good one cheaply. The one we rented had about twice the power of one we could afford to buy. Plus, it was considerably cheaper. The cheapest tiller we found that would work for our needs cost $300 new. Total rental cost: $54 for the day, plus $1.44 in gas.

Here’s the tiller when I got it home on Friday:

Tiller Honking big tiller.

We got to work about 5 o’clock on Friday. T spent the night with her grandmother so we had all evening. 2.5 hours later, when darkness closed in, we’d done the first pass over half the garden area. And it sucked. It probably won’t take you that long to till your new garden area; ours is about 1500 square feet, which is considerably longer than average.

How long it will take you to till will depend on several factors: the type and condition of the soil (clay soil takes longer), how long it’s been since your ground was last tilled, and the power of the tiller you use. Always use a front-tine tiller to till an area covered in sod. It’s the most efficient way. You really need to be in good shape to till; if you’re not, consider hiring out the job. It won’t cost you much more than renting a tiller. If you’ll only be tilling a small area it might even be cheaper.

A note for those without much upper body strength: This means the majority of women and small-statured men. Tillers are not built for us. They just aren’t. This doesn’t mean you can’t use one. I did. It just means it’s going to be considerably harder. Don’t give up.

Back to the task at hand. Neither one of us had time to till on Saturday, so we had to get it down on Sunday. It took another 1.5 to finish the first pass. The first pass is the one where you chew up the sod. You may only have to do one pass if you don’t have clay soil.

We aren’t that lucky, but the second pass proved to be much easier than the first -it only took an hour to do the whole plot!

Here are the before and after pics:

Before Tilling Friday afternoon

After tilling Yesterday

Floyd Floyd dog helped take the pictures after rolling in the grass that’s been composting at the back of the yard all winter.

I marked out the rows and paths yesterday. Today I’m hoping to get the cover crop in the ground. It’s slowly coming along!

Expect an update on plants and the house soon.

Our Property

Laughing Bird Farm is our second property. Our first consisted of 10 acres of raw land we purchased in Tennessee several years ago. We were determined to build a house and make a go of it on that property, but we had to live in town for work in the meantime and could only get to the property on weekends. A two hour commute each way is far too long for practicality, and there were no decent jobs in the area. This proved to be infeasible, especially once it got close to time for little T’s arrival, so we sold the property and looked for something closer to town.

This necessitated a lot of trade-offs. Our property in Tennessee cost one-fourth of what we paid for our current land. Of course, it was raw land, two hours from the metro area, and didn’t have a house. Before we started our property hunt we sat down and made a list of the features we needed and wanted. Here’s a short list of the necessities: a house on at least an acre lost, a decent commute time to work, lots of usable gardening space, and no restrictions. Our wish list included lots of storage space, a fenced back yard for the dogs, and a workshop area.

None of this would have been hard to find if we had a larger budget. But we both have modest incomes, and we wanted to find a property where it would be possible to make the payments on one income. This was an absolute requirement of mine; I’m not willing to risk losing our land because we bit off a larger mortgage than we could chew. Our particular wants and our low budget gave our wonderful real estate agent a lot of headaches, but she stuck with us while we looked at property after property over a three month period. We had one deal fall through when the house failed inspection (to the tune of $50k+ of foundation work!) and another when we were outbid. Those properties didn’t work out because the one we purchased was meant to be. I’m not normally a believer in fate, but this worked out nicely.

We found the property late in July. Both of us obsessively checked the online listings several times a day, looking for anything new that might pop up. I had already checked the listings before I went to work, but I hadn’t been there an hour when Kelly called me. She sounded so excited I had a hard time understanding her at first. A new listing had just come onto the site –the posting time was about five minutes before she found it. It looked absolutely perfect and was actually under our budget cap. I called our agent right away and we both took off work early to see it, with our 6 week-old daughter in tow. We submitted our offer right away, at full asking price with only the home inspection as a condition, and waited nervously to hear whether or not it was accepted.

Some back and forth ensued, but the owner finally accepted our offer, and by that time two other couples had submitted offers and there were others lined up! It’s a good thing we jumped on it that morning.

So, about the property itself. Laughing Bird Farm is just over an acre. It’s a mini farm of course, but there’s lots you can do with a mini farm when you do intensive gardening and permaculture. The property is a rectangle running east and west. The east side of the property is bordered by a major road. The north side of the property is fenced off and on the other side sits an upscale subdivision. Other middle and upper class subdivisions are in the area, but our property is located in the county and is completely unrestricted.

The west and south sides of the property are totally enclosed by a thick hedge of hollies, hackberries, roses, and crabapples. Our house sits near the front of the property behind a small lawn. We have an old farmhouse, only 1300 square feet but enough for us. There are three bedrooms (though one is really small) and the house was built in three sections by the family who used to own our land and much of the surrounding land. It needs lots of updates but that’s okay by us. We’ll be doing most of them ourselves as time and funds become available.

Behind the house is a backyard and a garage/workshop that’s almost as big as the house at 1200 square feet. The yard wasn’t fenced when we closed on the house, so that’s the first thing we did. The rest of the acreage stretches out beyond the yard and garage and is perfect for gardening and a food forest.

Our first priorities this year are to get the food forest planted and start our annual garden and our mushroom patch. We have several trees and berry bushes on the way, including pawpaws, pears, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries.

Our adventures have just begun. I’ll post some pictures soon.