Crossing the Finish Line

Tomorrow is the last day of school for our boys.  The kids are excited about making it to the finish line.  So am I.  Any plans to win the Mom of the Year Award have faded like a chubby girl trying finishing her first 5K.  We’re just hanging on.  Gutting it out.  We've gone from breakfast choices that would rival a Bob Evans menu to me telling the boys to, "Just grab a pack of peanut butter crackers and eat them in the car!”

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Caveat Emptor - "Let the Buyer Beware"

The Latin phrase “Caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware” is a familiar concept for realtors and buyers and sellers of antiques and plain old junk.  Valerie, has had experience with caveat emptor as a real estate agent and as a savant of the second-hand.  After giving up a career to stay home with our son, Caleb, she tried her hand at home sales.  She was beginning to have some success when she realized that being a part-time agent also meant being a part-time mom.  With the arrival of a second son, Jacob, the decision was made and mothering became her profession.

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What the heck are they?

"What the heck are they?"  That's the question I've gotten more times than I can count since we decided to add Alpacas to the farm.  When they first arrived, passersby would slow to a stop trying to figure out what they were seeing.   One lady asked if I had camels in my pasture.  I resisted the urge to tell her that, "Yes, they are minature, hump-less camels imported from South America". 

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After folks figure out what they are, the next question is usually, "Why do ya want them?"  Here are a few of the reasons I think they are such a good fit for our farm:

1.  The most obvious reason...     

2.   They're pretty easy keepers. 

In other words, they are relatively easy to maintain.  Pasture and a small amount of grain keep them happy during the warmer months.  In the winter they require hay.

Their feet are padded, not hooved so they don't destroy the pasture.  It takes very little land to keep them---You can keep up to 8 on an acre of ground. 

They require shearing only once a year, in the spring.  At that time they also recieve vaccinations and have their toenails clipped.

 

3.   They offer income potential.

While we are hobby farmers, our goal is to make our land productive and profitable.  When I was researching alpacas I discovered that not only is their fiber very valuable when sheared, but their manure is highly sought after by plant lovers. 

Like other manures it improves the water holding capacity of soil and adds much needed nutrients.  But unlike other manures, Alpaca poo doesn't neeed to be composted before use.  This means it won’t burn plants.  It is also less likely to contain strains of harmful bacteria, like E-coli, found in other manures.  This makes it perfect for vegetables, house plants and medicinal plants.

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We have been collecting, drying and pulverizing the alpaca manure here on the farm and are now offering 1 pound bags for sale.  This is a wonderful soil condtioner to add to potted plants.  It's also great when starting seedlings.  Or you can add it to your vegetable plants, or flower beds. 

 

 

 

We also offer Alpaca Tea Bags. 

These are cute little biodegradable burlap bags filled with dried "paca poo."  You fill a 1 gallon container with warm water and place the tea bag in it.  Let it sit in the sun and "steep" for 6-8 hours until it turns a rich carmel color.  Then pour over your plants.

Each bag will make 2-3 gallons of liquid nutrients for your plants.

 

 

 

 

 Both of these products can be purchased here.

Cut it, Pile it, Burn it

Two weeks ago we were coming home from church when we saw smoke rising from a neighbor’s hillside.  Fire department and Division of Forestry vehicles and personnel were everywhere.  We later learned that the homeowner had decided to burn an old couch rather than hauling it to the landfill.  Bad move.  The fire jumped from a grassy area and took off up the mountain.  I’m certain the landfill fee would have been much less than the fine incurred.

As we’ve cleared our land we’ve had to burn many, MANY piles of woody debris.  Thankfully, we haven’t had any issues.  This isn’t by accident however.  We take burning very seriously and so should you.  The following are some things to consider before you light that pile…

Know the Law

One key factor to consider before lighting any debris pile is your state’s burning laws.  In West Virginia, for example, our Division of Forestry (DOF) mandates burning brush in the spring (March 1st thru May 31st) and fall (October 1st thru December 31st) is only allowed between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m.  The WV DOF requires a ten foot buffer around all piles and that the person burning is present until the fire is out.  There are hefty fines for failing to obey these fire laws (www.wvforestry.com ).  You should check with the Division of Forestry or equivalent agency in your state for your specific burning laws.

Be Prepared

It kinda goes without saying that burning brush piles get HOT.  You should remember this when determining where you plan to burn your piles.  If the pile is too close to trees, structures, overhead wires, etc. there could be significant damage.  Give yourself plenty of space before you lay down the first branch.

We’ve learned that the key to removing piles of woody debris is patience.  The temptation is to pile the brush and limbs and try to get rid of it immediately.  The reality is that dry, seasoned material burns much better than green material.  One way to ensure you are working with dry material is to cover your brush pile with a tarpaulin (tarp).   

Be Safe!

Rule #1- Conditions must be perfect or don’t even consider burning!  The perfect day to burn a pile of woody debris is a winter day with snow cover and no wind.  This is where the patients comes in handy again.  We would rather wait a few months and know without a doubt our fire is going to stay put.  When we asked our friend Doug Pickens, a retired fireman, about backyard fires turning into brush fires he said wind was the number one cause.

Rule #2- Use a rake and/or leaf blower to clear out a leaf-free buffer zone around the pile.  You want to get down to the bare dirt.

Rule #3- Make sure you have access to plenty of water in case things get out of hand.

Rule #4- Use paper, cardboard, etc. sparingly to start the fire as they tend to smolder and float away.  And whatever you do…DON’T use gasoline or other fuels to light a brush pile!

When it is time to get things going, make sure you have eye protection, leather gloves, a leaf or garden rake and a pitchfork.

You should keep in mind that once you light a pile you are committed.  We’ve had large chunks of hardwood smolder and burn for three or four days.  You can’t light up then take off.

Discourage wildlife

Brush piles are magnets for wildlife.  There are countless online resources with information on how to construct piles to attract wildlife to your property.  The problem is, animals don’t seem to understand that the majority of our brush piles aren’t intended for occupation.  Over the years we’ve seen birds, mice, chipmunks, lizards, turtles and rabbits evacuating as we prepared to burn piles.  We always kick piles to scare any stragglers away but some animals, like the turtles, tend to stand their ground.  The best way to avoid injuring wildlife while removing the piles is to study the construction of wildlife friendly piles then do just the opposite when building burn piles.

The National Wildlife Federation’s “Wildlife Brush Shelters” (nwf.org) suggests using stones, pieces of pipe, larger pieces of wood, etc. to create a base for wildlife piles and covering them with smaller branches.  The larger materials create space the animals need for escape and shelter while the smaller materials provide cover and protection.  If the animals prefer space then burn piles should have as little space as possible.  Begin your burn piles with small branches then stack on larger pieces of wood.  The larger, heavier pieces smash the pile, reducing the free space under the pile.  Animals still loaf around the brush but we’ve seen fewer of them scurrying away once the pile is burning.

 

We hope this info helps you with your land clearing chores.  Clearing land is hot, sweaty work... but we love every minute of it!

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

When we bought this place a few years back, the only heat source was a heat pump. Our previous home had a wood burning stove in the basement so our first winter here was quite an adjustment for me. I like to be warm! After your body has been conditioned to wood heat, electric makes for a poor substitute.

That first winter our electric bill averaged $350 a month.  It was a shock to the body and the bank account!  I knew this was something I wanted to change.

When we moved in, the downstairs consisted of two bedrooms, a bath, laundry and an over-sized, one car garage. 

From the very beginning I wanted to convert the garage to a family room, but now with the sub-standard heating issue, I knew my chances of getting hubby to go along with it were improved.  This would be the perfect place to add a wood burning stove.

Once he was on board with the idea, we found a wonderful contractor,  Jerry Lewis, of Lewis and Lewis Construction in Teays Valley.  Jerry and his wife Rhetta came out and framed in the garage door opening and installed an entry door.  They also did the electrical, drywall and drop ceilings.  Due to budget restraints and my love of a good DIY project, we had them leave the concrete floor bare, and in one corner, the block wall exposed.  This is where the fun began.

I knew I wanted a raised "hearth" type look for the wood stove to sit on.  So I purchased cinder blocks and placed them in the shape I wanted the hearth to be.  Then hubby mixed concrete while I poured it in the holes of the block, bucket by bucket.

After allowing the concrete to cure I was ready to install the stone veneer chosen for the walls.  I went with a precast, concrete veneer (this is just concrete,mixed with color, and poured into a mold to look like cut stone).  With mortar and a little bit of patience, the stone veneer is a fairly easy DIY project.  The idea is to start at the bottom and work your way up, creating a random pattern.  It's like working a really big puzzle!

You'll notice the concrete pad is a deeper gray color than in the first pic due to the application of concrete sealer. 

 

You can buy the sealer at any hardware store to give your project a more finished look, while helping to prevent stains.  The bottom of the hearth, beneath the lip, is left bare until after the flooring is installed.

The next step was to install a wood stove.  We had purchased a gently-used stove but my parents blessed us with a new, more efficient stove as a Christmas gift (truly the gift that keeps on giving!). 

 

Fireside and Patio in Cross Lanes helped us select a Jotul cast iron stove and installed it.  The folks at Fireside did a great job and were easy to work with.

For the flooring, we chose a dark, hand-scraped, engineered wood.  My dad graciously volunteered to take a day off of work and help install it using a glue down application.  It's messy and time consuming but the result was awesome.

After the floor was down, I installed baseboards and the stone around the bottom of the hearth.

 

 

Thanks to hubby, and all his hard work splitting and stacking wood, our electric bill is now hoovering around the $100 a month mark in the winter. And I am warm and toasty!

Our dog, Tug, is a firm believer that we did it all for him. It appears his only job in the winter is to guard his spot in front of the stove.

After all ....you never know when your family might adopt a mini pig that tries to get in on the action.  ;)

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Recycling Around the Farm

One of the best things about living along a sparsely traveled, country road is the seclusion.  However, with this seclusion comes the opportunity for illegal dumping.  Over the last few years we have had a few old tires thrown out on our farm in areas not visible from the house.

While the DEP has been good about picking them up when called, Justin came up with a great little DIY up-cycling project for a few of them.  On one end of our garden is a slope which too steep for the tractor to till.  His idea was to use some of these cast off tires as raised beds there.

He started by arranging the tires to give plants plenty of space to spread out and marked the outlines on the grass.  With a shovel he removed the sod and placed it to the side.  Where the center of the tire would sit he dug down several inches and added some sandy soil from the creek bank to allow for drainage.

Then placing the tire on the flat, sod-free surface, he filled the inside ring of the tire with dirt.  After depositing some seeds and seedlings inside, it was just a waiting game.

Fast-forward two months and the tire beds are overflowing with healthy, happy squash plants.  Cucumbers and cantaloupes are also coming along nicely.

This idea has allowed us to accomplish a few things:

-Utilize tires which would have otherwise ended up in a land fill

-Take advantage of a hilly section of our property

-Save space in our garden for vertical growth plants

At some point I wanna paint the tires some bright colors to add beauty to the garden.

Considering my love for all things junk, I'm sure this will be just one of many ways we will be able to use cast off items to add to the function of our fledgling farm.  I encourage you to be on the lookout for projects that give you the opportunity to breathe new life into old materials.

For the love of goats

 Last spring, after spending countless hours hanging welded wire fence on an overgrown hillside, we brought home our first two baby goats. I found them in a farmer facebook group and picked them up the next day just a few miles away.  We bottle raised them and they followed us around like overgrown puppies.

When they were small, a large doghouse was sufficient housing for them, but we knew the days were numbered on that arrangement.  We began looking at economical ways to build a goat barn. Luckily for us some friends had just replaced their deck and needed the old decking hauled off.  This proved to be a perfect solution and would account for about 75% of the wood needed to build our little goat barn.

I'm blessed to have a husband who (almost without complaint)  was willing to give up many hours to construct a goat barn so his wife could raise goats.  

Once the walls were up, I used black, interlocking foam gym tiles as insulation.  I cut them to fit, then nailed them to inside of the walls with roofing nails.

On top of the decking floor, I glued a sheet of vinyl flooring down and put pine/cedar shavings on top of that.  I figured that should help delay any premature rotting.  For the door, Justin made a "people size" door from OSB and then framed in a smaller hole to give the goats access but still keep in as much warmth as possible in colder months.

The finished product turned out super cute!  Complete with a window I picked up at a garage sale and matching shutters made from discarded wood scraps.