Monday, November 29, 2010

And now we are farmers - Part Three

I'm sharing the story of how we came to live on our homestead. If you missed the beginning, And now we are farmers - Part One and Part Two 

Property: check. Job for my parents: check. House for my parents: check.

This is where we last left the story in the year 2005. My parents were on the their way to West Virginia, and working hard to clear a spot for their mobile home, and to get the driveway in shape so the house could be moved onto the property.

My brothers and I are still all in Northern Ohio thinking that we will move to West Virginia someday, but not really expecting it to happen anytime soon. Then my brother sent Tim a couple of want ads that he thought might be interesting to us. Kind of on a whim we put together a quick resume and sent two off to West Virginia. Tim got interview calls from both places.

July 4th weekend we came to West Virginia for a visit, and for Tim to have two interviews. One interview was with a private school for a music teaching position. The other was with Sweetman Music, a company that supplied local schools with band instruments and supplies. Both interviews went well. A week later Sweetman offered him a position. The catch? He had to be there by August first.

That threw everything into high gear. We started making preparations to move from Ohio to West Virginia. My parents started looking for a trailer to move onto the property that was large enough for my family. It was a blur of activity, and in the middle of that Tim and I had some more news. 

My dad and I were talking on the phone about the preparations, plans, and potential houses. I broke the surprise to him over the phone. Causally I asked him, "Do you think there is room for one more there in West Virginia." He hesitated, but it only took him a minute to realize what I meant. Appleton baby number four was on the way.

There was no way we were going to get everything figured out and ready on both ends in time for us to move by August first. Tim moved in with my parents in their trailer, started the new job, and helped try to get the property ready.

They did find us a house, an older double wide for a great price. The catch? (Why is there always a catch?) The owners were purchasing a new double wide to put in the same place. So, any option of us being able to stay in the house, where it was, until the driveway and the property were ready for it to be moved, was ruled out. Things had to move fast. 

Meanwhile in Akron, with three kids and one on the way, I was trying to finalize things and pack. I got our house rented for September first. I knew we had to down size. The new house was about the same square footage, but there was no basement or attic to store all the stuff we had accumulated while living in Akron. I gave away truck loads of items on freecycle. I threw out a ton more, and then tried to get everything else into boxes hoping it would all fit on the truck and into the new house.

Moving day came all too quickly in some aspects, but with our family separated it also seemed to take forever. I remember when Dad and Tim came with the truck, I still had a lot to pack, but was so proud of the whole wall of stacked boxes waiting for them. I think it took them all of an hour to stack away my month of work onto the truck.

The rest of the day was a constant struggle of trying to get things packed fast enough to keep the loading moving. Friends came over to help with the heavy items. Every inch of the truck was packed, and there were still a few things in the basement we had to come for later. Dad headed home. We went to a friends for our going away party. After the party Tim and I went back and cleaned the apartment.

Did we drive to West Virginia that night? Where were the kids? Did we have two cars? For the life of me I can not remember. Also, I have no pictures for several months during this time. We'll have to chalk that up to sheer exhaustion.

Oh, but I didn't tell you the best part of this story yet. Dad and Tim moved fast for sure. The drive was ready for the house movers. The spot for the house was cleared, leveled, and the footer was poured. In fact, the house was moved into its spot. But on the day we moved from Ohio to West Virginia the house was in two pieces.

To be continued. . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It takes a family. . .

Raising animals and raising gardens are no easy tasks. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of muscle. It takes everyone's help from the oldest to the youngest. Even the youngest child can fill the dog food, gather the eggs, or be taught to pick a few berries. Some tasks can be delegated to one person. Others, like baling hay or picking strawberries, are best done in a group effort.

In the years that we have lived here there is no doubt who did the most farm work. Dad was the farmer. It was his full time task even when he worked elsewhere. Without him here we've had to make a lot of adjustments. We've had to fill boots none of us were ready to fill.

We've downsized our livestock quite a bit, but even so there still is a lot to get done. Everyone has had to step it up, do a little more, and push the boundaries of our comfort zones. We are all doing more than we did before the events of this past summer.

I have been especially proud and surprised at how the two twelve year old boys have taken on responsibilities here. They are doing man sized jobs often alone. Kellen has been a huge help with feeding animals. He has learned to check fluids and tire pressure for the vehicles, and has just been a general all around huge help to Mamaw and me.

He and his cousin, Miles, have become quite proficient at electric fencing. They tore down the temporary fencing around the hay fields, and have also built quite a bit of fencing for the cows and pigs. Of course, we have our suspicions that they are eager to help with just about any job that involves driving the four wheeler.

Animals and gardens are a lot of work, but the rewards are worth all the effort. When we all pitch in it makes the load lighter and the tasks more enjoyable. After all, it takes a family to run the farm.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Guest Posting Today

The Cupp Family blogs about their farm at T. Cupp Miniatures & Cupp Family Farm. Each Friday they feature another farmer. Today it is our turn. Find my guest post today at Friday's Featured Farmer. Enjoy it and the rest of their blog.

Consider sharing your farm experiences with their readers. You don't need a blog of your own to share your story. Find the details at Tell Us Your Farming Story.

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

After the Storm

Yesterday afternoon a storm passed through. It didn't last long, but it was powerful with strong winds and heavy rain. After the storm passed, the skies cleared quickly, and the sun after the storm gave a strange eerie beauty to the woods and hills. I wish I had a better camera to capture it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And now we are farmers - Part Two

I'm sharing the story of how we came to live on our homestead. If you missed the beginning, And now we are farmers - Part One.

Buying a property was a big step, and one that happened rather quickly. Turning that property into a homestead, well, that involved (and still involves) a million little steps and a whole lot of time.

When the property, here in West Virginia, was purchased, my parents were living in North Carolina. My family and both of my siblings were living in northern Ohio. None of us had jobs here.

The property was 100% wooded. There were no houses or buildings, no electric, and no running water or septic. The actual property begins over half a mile from the road. The legal right of way to the property was impassable.

Thankfully, there is another way into the property. There is a tower road that comes through the neighbors property to our property line. From that line we were able to drive further into the property on old logging roads, as long as the weather was dry. If it was wet, it was a big old mess. The soil here is predominantly clay. Wet packed clay is slicker than ice. So if your tires didn't get stuck in the mud, they just spun and slid all over the place. I speak from experience.

Using that way in, we came when we could to work on making this place liveable. A permanent campsite was established. We had tarped tents and cook stoves, and all the camping gear. A "composting toilet" was established. It consisted of a five gallon bucket with the end cut off, set over a small hole in the ground. For your comfort, a toilet seat sat on the top of the bucket. The trick was to sit on the seat without it sliding off. After you did your business with the bucket, you threw a little dirt on top. The bucket was moved every few days.

The tasks at hand were getting the driveway open, and clearing trees for electric lines and houses. My parents schedule was such that they had a ten days off at a time each month. They spent them here. My brothers came down to help some. We came down to help some. 

In my mind, it was a long process. My first thought was that two full summers were spent camping and working before anyone lived here. But thinking through it, and marking it the way any young mother remembers those blurred years, by the births of her children, I realized that it really was a relatively quick process. The dates on the pictures confirmed it.

The property was purchased in the summer of 2004. My parents were looking to move as soon as possible. They began looking for jobs here, and put the house they still owned in Ohio on the market. We were not really expecting to move for some time. We browsed through want ads, but didn't make a big effort.

There is a Toyota manufacturing plant near here. It is considered by many as the place to work in this area. Though I understand that the hiring practices have changed, at the time hiring started through a temp service and required a lengthy process of skill testing. My mom made it through the entire process, and she was near the top of the waiting list. Their house in Ohio sold, and they bought a trailer in West Virginia.

The trailer was in a trailer park not far from here. The plan was to live in the trailer park while getting the right away ready, get a spot for the house ready, move the trailer, and keep working from there. Dad hired some to work on the front part of the driveway, but he wasn't satisfied with outcome. True to what Dad always said, "If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself." He began buying equipment for the driveway, and other tasks.

This is the driveway in February 2005. 

Dad and his equipment. He bought a lot of it off eBay. It was all old. He got it all for dirt cheap. Sometimes I think he spent more time repairing it than using it. In the long run, it did take more time, but the cost was far less than hiring the work done. Besides, he got to do it his way, which of course was the right way.

Right before my parents moved here, the temporary agency pulled the rug out from under them. They decided not to hire Mom for Toyota because of carpal tunnel. My parents moved anyway, and luckily Mom was able to find a job at Appalachian Electric Power shortly after. That was not the end of the surprises for the future residents of the 100 Acre Wood. 2005 still had a few things to show us.

To be continued. . .

Monday, November 15, 2010

Red and her Kids

If you've ever raised animals, you know how hard it can be to keep a male animal from a female in heat. Obviously,  we failed at that task over the summer. Dairy goats giving birth in November is less than ideal. We are not set up for winter milking, but I guess we are going to have to figure that out, or pass on months of milk. Most of you know that I am just frugal enough and stubborn enough that I will make it work. Somehow.

Though it wasn't what I'd planned it is hard to be frustrated when the end results are two simply adorable Nubian/Boer bucklings, and fresh milk for us. For now, those bucklings will get all the milk, and I will enjoy watching them. Enjoy these pictures from when they were only hours old last Friday morning.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hit By a Wave

I think about my dad everyday. It would be hard not to with all his equipment, projects, and dreams around staring me in the face. I wonder what he would think about some family situations happening now. I try figure out his opinion about different plans we have for the animals. I remember all the work he did here every day, and occasionally remember how we would often butt heads on certain things. I think about how he died, and still find it hard to believe.

Hardly a day passes that one of the kids don't mention Papaw. They talk about running errands with him and getting treats. They remember stories like how he talked Lydia into going to Bob Evans instead of Mc Donalds by calling it Mc Bobs. They remember all the the things he did here. Sometimes they ask to stop by his grave, and we do for a few minutes.

Most days those memories and thoughts are just part of the day. They are normal, and don't cause a great deal of emotion. Then other days, for reasons I don't understand, I am hit by a huge wave of emotion. These waves seem to be triggered by the most unlikely things.

Last weekend we attended a local farm and food conference. One of the classes I took during the conference was farm record keeping. Seems an unlikely topic to illicit much emotion doesn't it? And it didn't until the end. The last topic was "Who Feeds the Cows when the Farmer is Gone?" The instructor briefly talked about having a will and a plan for the farm in case something should happen to the farmer. Honestly, I can't remember what all he said. I was too busy trying to keep myself from sobbing.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I was writing in my head. I was thinking about a local history story that involved our property. I was trying to remember the details, and work out the wording. Then I remembered when Tammy of the Unusually Usual Farm Chick was here in the spring making a video of our farm and sheep shearing. While shearing, dad shared a bunch of stories about this area. Most of the stories I had never heard before. Sadly, they could not be heard on video over the clippers. As I was driving, I remembered that Tammy mentioned she'd just have to come down and get those stories on tape later. And it hit me; that will never happen now.

I can't remember the stories either. Certainly, I could hear them from John, the same place Dad heard them. I'll never get to hear Dad tell those stories again, or the gazillion stories that we all heard a gazillion times about him growing up Amish. How many times did we hear about his first pizza or his first ice cream cone? Then I realized that many of the important details about his early life are fuzzy to me. I'll never get to hear him explain exactly why and how he left, and what happened in those years.

I don't understand why these seemingly innocent topics hit me out of the blue and turn me into an emotional wreck. It really is frustrating to me. Why can't these waves of emotion hit when I am home and free to throw myself on my bed and cry?! I don't understand it, but I do know I miss my dad.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Their Ruby Red Lips

No, we don't put lipstick on our sows. 


If you caught yesterday's post, I mentioned that I had fed the pigs some beets from the garden. I went out a few hours later, and they were still chomping away at them. They had the prettiest red lips. I tried hard to get a good picture of one of them. Do you realize how hard it is to get a picture of a hog's lips when all they want to do is keep their snout to the food? This picture doesn't even do it justice, but trust me, it was quite comical.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


If Einstein was right and the definition of insanity really is to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then come take me away because I am certifiable.

Every year spring and summer come and go in a blur of gardens and farm projects. Every year early fall is gone in a blink of the eye while Tim works crazy hours and the garden is harvested and preserved, and we begin to feel the pressure of getting buildings and animals ready for winter. And every year we look forward to the months following Tim's busy season telling ourselves that things will be calmer, quieter, and that we will enjoy a restful season. HA! We are certifiable.

Things don't ever really slow down here, they just change. Here we are well into November, well past Tim's busy season of work, and the to do list is longer than ever. Here are some of the things happening around the farm now.

Deer season is here. Tim never did get out last year, and frankly the odds of him having time to hunt this year are not looking good. Terry, a family friend, is here frequently to hunt though. He does the hunting. Tim helps with the processing, and we end up with most of the meat. It is a win win situation.

Then there are those darn pigs.  Mostly, I enjoy our pigs. They are fairly low maintenance most of the year. Fall is prime time for them in the woods. They feast on the nuts that have fallen, and require very little attention from us.

But pigs can also be very destructive. They are strong and will tear up fencing and gates. They also will tear up the earth where they are by rooting for nuts and other food. This is all fine and well if they are in a place you'd like to have rooted up and cleared a bit, or if they are in an area devoted to them. It isn't so good when they are where they are not supposed to be. Say, like your neighbors' hay fields.

A couple days work were spent building a new and smaller fenced area for the pigs, and repairing the damage that was done. And more fence needs built to move them into a fresh area. Good thing those pigs are so cute now, and so yummy later.

The garden is not yet put to bed. Today we dug about half a feed bag of sweet potatoes. Two thirds of them still need dug.This was our first year trying sweet potatoes. Mom actually bought the slips on a whim at a produce auction last spring. I am very pleased with how they produced. Besides planting and digging them (plenty of work for sure,) they required no other care.

We also had a garden surprise this fall, potatoes. Yes, we did plant potatoes this year. We harvested them back in August when the plants died off. To those of you who helped me with the digging, it will be no surprise that we missed a few potatoes. The surprise is that they started growing again.

We let them grow until the frost killed off the plants. Then we dug again, and found a sink full of potatoes. We had some for lunch today, and you just have to love that freshly dug potato flavor.

I pulled the remaining beets today. I'm almost embarrassed to say that I fed them to the pigs. I like beets, but the family isn't so crazy about them. Normally, I would pickle them to enjoy later, but right now I don't have the time. So, the pigs are enjoying them.

The Swiss chard is still producing like crazy. I don't think I've ever had more prolific plants. I've had the kids cut it down to the nub, and it still comes back. Today I pulled a feed bag of it for the chickens. They will be getting a lot more of it in the next few days.

But don't think our chickens are spoiled lazing around getting fed Swiss chard. No, they have their own work to do in the fall. They have been put to work in the garden spot that we are done with. They have done an amazing job of digging up bugs, spreading the manure piles, and turning the dirt. Good girls.

We also have some new little girls. We ordered two batches of mixed chicks. They arrived last Saturday. One group is Rainbow Layers. There should be colored, white, and brown layers in the mix. The other group is Mixed Brown Layers. It consists of a variety of brown laying breeds. I have no idea what all we have, but am having fun trying to guess while watching them start to feather in.

The above babies were planned for. The ones below, however were not. Apparently, Red and the Billy did not share my vision for their family planning. She is ready to pop any day now. Truly, I did not want her to freshen now, and I am still undecided as to a milking plan. Milking through the winter is not appealing, but it looks like that is what I'll be doing. Even though this is a surprise, I'm excited for the kids to arrive. Baby goats are my favorite. I just wish she would hurry up and get them out this week while the weather is so pretty. 

Ever thinking that this time of the year will actually be easier, slower, or quieter, makes me insane by definition. There is no slow season on the farm. The work just changes through the seasons. But please don't come and take me away. I am enjoying this insanity far too much.

Monday, November 08, 2010

And now we are farmers - Part One

It all began one holiday meal. The extended family was gathered and some how the conversation turned to spacious yards, large gardens and tending a few animals. Some of us had once been farmers. Some of us had fond memories of a childhood in a rural setting. Some of us were fans of Mother Earth News. But that day we found that we were all current city dwellers longing for more space, more air, more quiet, and a degree of the self sufficiency that can be found in living off the land.

For most of us sitting around that table eating pie, the talk was of dreams and of some days and of wouldn't it be nice ifs. For my dad that that talk was an idea to grab a hold of and run with. It wasn't long until he had a radius plotted on the map to begin the search for land. He and my mom would spend their free time driving to different states looking for land that would fit the needs of the family and their budget. That spring he had a place in mind.

Our third child was only a few weeks old. At the spur of the moment, we packed the kids and headed four hours south to meet dad and the potential land. We parked our van just a little off the road at the top of hill. We looked over the hollow and as far as we could see. None of this was the land that was for sale. No, this was the right away. It was an old logging road. It was overgrown in spots. It was swampy in other spots, and it would eventually become the road to our home.

We hiked over half a mile, Kellen walking, Lydia in a backpack, and Nolan in the sling, until we came to a small ridge which is where the property began. We walked along that ridge discussing possible sites for houses, buildings, and what it might take to make it all happen. The property was nothing but woods. There were no buildings. There was no water or electric, and the right of way was impassable. Yet, it was beautiful. You truly felt like you were alone in the world as you walked it. At the same time, the property was within twenty minutes of any service, store or restaurant you could want. We fell in love.

My parents purchased the property that summer. The neighbor showed us another way to get vehicles a little closer to the property. Soon family members were camping at the property on a regular basis, and the work began.

To be continued.