Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And now we are farmers - Part Five

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

And now we are farmers....or are we? Or perhaps we are homesteaders? Maybe just crazy people living in the woods with animals?

When we moved here we really didn't have much of a plan for what the farm would be, or really what we wanted it to be. We had dreams. We had ideas. We wanted animals, and gardens. We wanted to build homes; timber frame for mom and dad, earth bermed for us. We wanted to enjoy the land, the quiet, and a more simple life.

Yes, we had dreams, but we didn't have a plan to follow toward the goal. We came here with one rabbit. We added a dog that fall, and soon we were adding animals left and right. Now we have cows, horses, donkeys, ducks, goats, sheep, cats, dogs, and pigs.

Many of our animals were added because people gave them to us. People gave us chickens, a sheep, and ducks. Some of our animals were purchased at the spur of the moment because we found a really good deal on them. In most cases, the animals came first, and then we figured out fencing and buildings for them.

My dad was a tinkerer. The buildings he designed and built are wonderful. We have a rain collection system tied in to a self water for the chickens. The system also can provide water for other livestock and the garden. The pig house is designed for easy farrowing for the sows, and easy loading at harvest time. He always had wonderful, and big ideas. He also couldn't pass on a good deal. As a result, there were always several projects going at once with pieces and parts of several more waiting in the wings.

I think when we moved here I saw us as providing for ourselves. I really never expected to become farmers selling our goods to the public. We quickly learned though that raising animals is expensive. We  like to keep our own breeding stock rather than buying young animals to raise for our use. (I think that desire comes from wanting to be more self sufficient.) For some animals, like pigs, keeping breeding stock automatically results in more meat than we can use.

Over time my thought process about raising animals has changed. I still want to produce enough for us. In a lot of areas we are doing that. We produce all our own meat. In the summer we produce  all our vegetables.  We are still working on getting a larger variety of vegetables preserved for winter, and adding fruit to our gardens, but we could survive on only what we grow here if we had too.

I realize now, though, that we really do need to sell some of our meat and produce to make it economical to raise our own food. Generally, I'd say that is where we are now. What we raise is mostly done with providing for ourselves in mind. What we sell is the surplus.

Putting our homestead/farm together has been a lot of shoot then aim. It has been a lot of figuring it out as you go. There has been a lot of learning the hard way.

I think now we are at a cross roads in many ways. We are still trying to figure out how to make what we have here work with out my dad. He was the main farmer, and none of us could replace the skills and labor that he put into this place. We have downsized quite a bit, but still have a hard time keeping up with everything.

At the same time, interest in locally grown food is on the rise. We've established a nice customer base, and I think that we could make a transition into raising more specifically for other people, while still providing for us, and perhaps making a little profit. We probably need to focus on a smaller variety of animals.We may need to change some of our garden crops. We might need to rethink how we get our products to the public. We definitely need some goals with a workable plan.

We certainly are crazy people living in the woods with animals. I wouldn't have it any other way. We are homesteaders who started with nothing but the land a mere five years ago, and have made it a place to live and provide for our family. And yes, now we are farmers selling our goods to the public, and contemplating where to go with that.

What will happen in the next five years? I really have no idea.I don't think we will be building houses. I do think we will continue to enjoy the land and the hard work that comes with raising food here. I do think we will still be selling to the public. I guess the big questions are what, where, and how much.

Thank you for joining me in my trip down memory lane, and my bit of reflection on the past five years. This weekend a friend of ours reminded me that there are some very good stories in the archives of this blog. Stories that he still shares with other people. That got me to thinking that maybe some of those stories need to be shared again. I plan to pull out some of my favorites to share with you. I'll be posting my Trip Down Memory Lane every so often. For starters, here are some pictures:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Ready or Not!

Here I sit Christmas Eve morning and I can hardly believe that it is already here. In fact, I can hardly believe that it is December. Where has all time gone?

I clearly remember a beautiful summer night. The family was relaxing together with a group of friends. We pulled chairs out onto our host's driveway to watch the fireworks display. It was a wonderful evening.

A few short days later and our lives changed forever. Everything since then is a blur. Since that day there have been a lot of tears. There have been a lot of changes. There has been a lot of work.

It has not all been difficult. There have been moments of fun, of joy, and of laughter. There have been celebrations, and there has been a lot of love. It has just all happened at warp speed. So fast, that it can hardly make an impression on my brain.

Now, here we are on the verge of Christmas, whether I am ready or not, and by many standards I am not. We virtually did no baking this year. Goody trays were not made up, nor sent to their usual places. Fewer gifts were mailed, and those that were sent were of purchased items instead of our traditional homemade things. No cards were mailed. No Christmas projects were completed. It isn't that I didn't want to do those things, it just didn't get done. On many counts, I am not ready for Christmas.

In other ways, though, I am completely ready for Christmas. We chose many years ago to forgo the running around on Christmas Day. We visit with extended family on other days through the season, but Christmas is spent at home. Today and tomorrow will be very quiet days. We will attend a Christmas Eve service tonight, and tomorrow the kids will open their presents, and we will spend a quiet (as it gets) and restful day together. That my friends is something I am very ready for.

May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On a Winter's Day

This winter has come early and hard. Winter care for animals involves a lot more work than the milder months. The very cold temperatures this early in the season caught us unprepared which has caused even more work in the form of frozen and broken water pipes.

Even so, I must say winter is beautiful in its own way. The kids enjoy the snow, and some of the animals seem to thrive in these cold temperatures. Here are a few pictures I grabbed while doing chores this morning.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And now we are farmers - Part Four

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, Part Two, and Part Three

We had to be out of our house in Akron. That week there was a lot of rain which delayed things on the other end. Not only did our new house need to be moved, the hope was to get the house moved and up so the electric company would finish the lines and connect us. The rain made the house site too muddy to work with on the scheduled day. It did finally dry out enough to get the house there, but not at all on the original time line.

So, the day the moving truck left Akron our house was on the property. It was not entirely put together. There was no electric, no water, and no septic. The truck had to go back so all of our stuff was unloaded into the living room. The only thing to do was to stay with my parents until we could get the house in living condition. Tim and I, three kids seven and under, with my parents, in a single wide trailer, in a trailer park. Good times. Good times.

That didn't last long. After a week or so, we were all getting on each others nerves. The double wide was put together though we still had no utilities. We decided we'd make do. So we moved out to the property, and essentially camped in our house for about two weeks. We cooked with camp stoves and grills. Anything cold had to be kept in coolers, and we bought a lot of ice. Water was hauled in with camping jugs. Really, and truly it wasn't bad. It felt good to be out on the property, and if it wasn't for all the unpacking and organizing, it would have felt like a mini vacation.

Then the electric came. We still didn't have water lines, but instead bought a 2100 gallon water tank, and had water hauled in. Wells are not common on this ridge, and county water is a relatively new thing also. Before the county lines were put in many people used cisterns and water tanks for their water. A man nearby hauled in water for us, and still hauls it for some houses that have not hooked into the county lines.

My parents' trailer was moved later that fall, but the water situation remained the same through the winter and into the spring. Our first Thanksgiving here, the water lines froze. The guys rented a ditch witch to get the lines buried better. The first of many working family holidays.

The first winter here was a fairly quiet one. We did get our first animal, a dog. I'd always wanted the kids to have a dog, and finally we were in a place for one. Pac was a crazy half grown puppy when we got him. My dad couldn't stand him, and threatened several times to do him in. Pac was a chewer, and he loved to steal Dad's tools that he'd lay on the ground while he was working. Tim's dad suggested we put a muzzle on Pac for awhile to break his bad habits. We did and it worked wonderfully. Pac turned into a wonderful companion and pet for the kids, and it is hard to imagine the farm with out him now.

But Pac (and a rabbit we'd brought with us) were the only animals. I was very pregnant, and we didn't know anyone. I remember feeling extremely isolated that first winter, and almost bored. Hard to imagine now considering how crazy our schedules have become. Sometimes, I long for those quiet times from the first winter again.

In February of 2006, I started this blog. I named it "Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood" and that is exactly what we've had in the last five years. Later, when Dad needed a legal name for the farm, he called it Mil-Ton Farms. Mil for Miller and Ton for Appleton. There is also a town near us called Milton.

This series of posts brings you up to the time I started this blog. The blog contains many of our stories and adventures. Some of them are fun, some of them are painful, and many of them are stories of lessons learned the hard way. I plan to write one more post in this series. Thanks for following along.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Because He is So Shy

If you know Nolan, or if  you've read this blog for very long, several words may come to mind when you read his name. Words like sweet, loving, ornery, active, and cute are the first  that come to my mind. Maybe you think of multiple trips to the ER, or perhaps his charming smile. But does the word shy come to anyone's mind? Anyone?

Recently, a family from our homeschool band came to help work on the farm. There are four teenage girls.,They've come before to help with chicken butchering and other farm tasks. This particular day they were helping Tim do some winterizing under the houses. At lunch we were all sitting around chatting, and for some reason, Nolan was standing behind a chair, and when I asked what he was doing he  says, "I am shy." I do believe that I actually snorted. The girls laughed too, but you could tell by their laugh that there was more the story than I knew. They shared a story from their previous visit about Nolan.

Their last visit, again at lunch time, Tim and I were outside finishing something up while the girls were in the house with the kids.  Vivian and Nolan were doing their show off for company bit. Vivian was giving a fashion show to the girls with her princess' dresses. Part of the show included her flashing her belly as she went.

Nolan, the king of modesty (um yeah,) decided that he would step in and correct his sister's  immodest ways. As you may imagine this began an argument. As they are bickering Nolan blurts out to the girls, "I fight better naked."  He proceeds to begin the process of unclothing himself for the fight.

Nolan shy? You've got to be kidding me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Tree Adventures

The first rule of driving that I learned after moving to West Virginia was don't try to go somewhere without directions. I know that may seem overly simplistic since you obviously need to know where you are going before you go, but let me clarify. Here, on the rural roads of West Virginia, which is the vast majority of the state, there is no finding your way from point A to point B by figuring it out as you go. Looking at a map to navigate your path is not always reliable, and depending on GPS, Google Maps or other such navigational services is practically a guarantee that you will get lost.

No, when you need to get to a new rural location you have two choices. One is to get specific directions from someone who has been there. (Please understand that good directions likely will include more landmarks than road names.) Your other option is to follow someone who knows how to get there. If you are inexperienced with the winding hilly rural roads of our great state, you better ask them to drive extra slow so you can keep up.

Roads here do not simply go North/South or East/West. Often the same road will take you in a circle around the compass. Roads here often are not marked which is why landmarks make the best directions. Often you'll come to a Y in the road and have no clue which fork to take to follow the road you need. Sometimes you'll go straight only to find yourself on a new road, but you're just about as likely to do the same if you turn. Let's not forget my favorite idiosyncrasy of West Virginia roads. They change names for no apparent reason.

The road we live near comes into Ona as Fudges Creek Road. It crosses RT 60 and suddenly it is Howell's Mill. As the road comes to the ridge it is called Barker's Ridge. Travel a few miles and you'll come to a cross roads. There are four road names there, one for every direction you could turn. The only one of which I know well is Dudley Gap which winds back down off the ridge and is renamed Lower Creek which later (and I have no idea where the change takes place) become Newman's Branch and leads you back to RT 60 about 10 miles down the road from Fudges Creek. Confused? Yep, me too and I live here.

I know the rule. I know if I'm trying to find a rural location, I must call and get directions from someone who has been there. I have broken the rule, and suffered the consequences. Still every now and then I get a wild hair and think that I am above the rule. I can find my way. I don't need help. Such was the case last Saturday when we went to cut our Christmas tree.

Tim and I have had a fresh tree ever since we've been married. Almost every year we have cut our own. It is just a part of Christmas for us, and the kids look forward to the annual event. When we moved here, we weren't sure where to go. In Tim's travels for work, he found a tree farm in the next county. Since we didn't know where else to go that is where we headed.

The tree farm and its staff are very nice, and the trees are reasonable. So, despite the drive we went back to the same place every year. This year a friend shared a newspaper article about local tree farms. It included a tree farm that was much closer. So, we decided to give it a tree.

The article listed the farm as being on RT 60. Kellen googled the farm and found it was actually on Saunders Creek off of RT 60. Figuring "How hard could it be?" (ahem) we headed out for the tree farm.

We found Saunders Creek easily enough. We drove a little, and even saw a few trucks driving down the road with trees in their beds. We kept driving searching the hills for pine fields and the road for a business sign. The road narrowed. We kept driving. The road wound up over a big hill and back down. We kept driving. The road came to an unmarked Y. We opted to continue on the paved road instead of taking the gravel fork. We kept driving. Then the road came to a marked T. The sign indicated that we were on Left Fork Fudges Creek and had come upon Fudges Creek.


We turned around, and retraced our route to the Y. Still no business signs, still no fields of pine. We decided to try the gravel road. It went down. It curved. It went down some more and finally ended at someone's house.


We turn around again, and head back for the paved road to continue on our original route. The kids are getting whiny. The parents are getting irritated. Lunch time is upon us. Still no fields of pine. Still no signs for the tree farm. We are almost back out to RT 60, and I am thinking a tree from Home Depot sounds just fine to me, when I spot a name on a mailbox as we drive by it. It is simply a last name, not a business name, but it is the same last name that is included in the farm name from the paper.

We stop and turn around again, and go back to the mail box. The mailbox is at the end of a driveway. You can not see any buildings or houses from the road. More importantly, you can't see any pine trees either. The last name is fairly common here, but could this be it? Is this the tree farm?

We decide it is worth try. Best case scenario? We come out with our Christmas tree. Worst case scenario? We get shot at, but by this time we are close to desperate to have a tree strapped to the top of our van.

We drive around a bend and there it is, two hills full of pine trees. The whole family is doing the happy dance. Well, at least as well as it can be done while buckled into the vehicle. We barely get the van parked and the kids are jumping out and running up those hills in search of the perfect tree. We found it, cut it down, and had it tied to the van in about half the time that it took as to find the tree farm.

I guess all is well that ends well, and getting our tree this year certainly was memorable. But I think I would prefer the memory that would have been made had I called and got directions to the tree farm first.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Early Christmas Present

Last night was a night of Christmas festivities for the Appletons. Every year the kids get to pick out an ornament for the tree. We mark it with their name and the year. The plan is to someday, when I can bear to part with them, to give each child their ornaments from childhood.

This year the kids wanted to go to the Pottery Place for the ornaments. This is a paint your own pottery place. You choose a piece. You paint it, and they fire it. Then you go pick it up. The cost is reasonable, especially when you consider it as a few hours of entertainment and the pottery piece to keep.

But the real highlight of the evening was the early Christmas gift. From the Pottery Place we headed to the mall, telling the kids that someone was getting an early Christmas gift. That, of course, got everyone's attention. I think by the time we got there, the kids were convinced that we were getting a video game or something along that line. They weren't even close.

We ate dinner at the food court, and then ducked into the first store that would provide what we needed. The boys looked around at all the glittering and shiny items, and asked, "Why are we here?"  The girls however were fascinated with all the bling.

I led Lydia, the intended recipient of our surprise, to a small table with a chair, bottles of cleanser, and a display of stud earrings. She looked at the display, clearly not understanding our intentions. I asked, "What do you think about those earrings?" Her face turned red, she stammered a minute, and finally got out, "Is this what we are here for?"

She has been asking for years to get her ears pierced. To be more precise, she's been asking for years for her ears to be piered. It has only been in the last couple of years that she has gotten the term right. In a phone conversation with Grandma recently, she said she wanted earrings for Christmas, but didn't think we would let her get her ears pierced. Never mind all of that. When I asked her if she was ready to get her ears pierced her reply was, "Can I go to the bathroom first?"

I had a moments panic that our great surprise was going to back fire and turn into a bad childhood memory for Lydia. She was so nervous. You could see it in her face. You could hear it in her voice. She said her stomach was doing flip flops. She asked me if it would hurt. But you could tell that she was trying to pull it together because she really did want her ears pierced.

We walked around a bit, and stopped at the bathroom. It was enough for her to gather her resolve. We stopped at one of the booths, and picked out earrings. She chose her birthstone, a garnet. Then it was time. I think she was still a little nervous. What do you think?

She was so proud and excited after it was all done. She just kept saying how she couldn't believe that the surprise was for her. She was certain it was a video game for the boys. She came home and admired her newly decorated ears in the mirror for awhile. Then dutifully cleaned them and got ready for bed. It was a memorable night for her and for us.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

You Never Know What You Might Find

Before I transfer the pictures from the camera to the computer, I try to remember to look through them to delete any we don't need. Quite frequently I forget to do so, and occasionally when that happens, I find that some little hands have had my camera. They like to have their own little photo shoots. I found these unexpected pictures this morning.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Do you know your chicken breeds?

Our little chicks are all nicely feathered in now. I love seeing all the variety of pullets. we bought these birds in a mixed grouping. They send you a variety of breeds, but don't let you know exactly which breeds they are sending. Some breeds I can easily identify. Some I have a pretty good guess about, but there are a few breeds I have no clue about. How about you? Can you identify the breeds in the picture?

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Cutest Baby Animal Ever!

You may realize that I'm kind of partial goat kids. They are simply adorable, and playful, and fun. Oh I just love 'em!

And it is highly likely that I've already posted a picture on this blog with a baby animal saying that it was the cutest ever. Even so, here I am again to submit, the cutest baby animal ever.

I'm not sure what I like best about her. Maybe it is her sweet little face. Maybe it is her unusual coloring. Maybe it is the way she prances around the goat pen like she is a princess. Maybe it is the way she takes on the older and larger bucklings as if she has the upper hand. Or maybe it is how when she is done with the play and the show she hides under the goat shed where no one can get to her.

Lydia has taken to calling her marble because of her unusual markings. She really shouldn't have any name because we will not be keeping her, but it sure is tempting. After all she is the cutest baby animal ever!