Monday, October 31, 2011

Name that farm!

J and I have been going round about naming the farmstead. I think every place needs a name. We were trying to pick out distinguishing features in the landscape. Using our names. Old stories or childrens books and taking a name from there. Something that captures the essence of the existing place and also the hope for the place. So far, blank. Or at the very least, we can't agree. Hence, J said, put it out on the blog. So... if there's anybody out there, please help us name the farmstead.

One source of consistency has been a hawk that watches us through the window from his perch in the lone tree bordering the corn field. Another is the fox that I followed down the county road for about a quarter mile. Apparently the road was his too. Fine by me. Sharing works (except for the chickens. no sharing sir).

Another is the wind and the amazing views.

So please, spread the word, post ideas in the comments or email us at


Sunday, October 30, 2011

It was a blustery day...

The tree in our sideyard does not typically look like something out of Dr. Suess. However, yesterday we had those lovely Northern Colorado winds for a good part of the afternoon. Luckily, we were putting in insulation in the bathroom wall and drywalling. It cut down on the drafts considerably, with the exception of the nice gaps around the windows. New windows are on order and should arrive around Thanksgiving. While we would love to wait to put up the siding until the windows arrive, it does not appear that mother nature is feeling cooperative this year. The large storm this past week will be followed by another snow on Tuesday.

So, this week we get a new roof (weather permitting), a septic system, and electric and gas to the heater. We are on the look out for a nice used woodstove for the house. It's back to Craig's List for me.

In the local Fence Post, a rural publication for farmers and ranchers, I did find a good price on metal roof panels for the barn. Right now it has a lovely hole in it. The metal has been pieced together over the years and could use some help. The barn also leans. Really leans. So much so there is a gap in one of the sliding doors of several inches (I would estimate around 6 inches). Not so good. J will be calling our friend George to figure out how to square it up again so we can reinforce the walls. George is amazing and has built the coolest tree house ever. Ever! If anyone can figure out how to fix the barn it is probably him.

Friday night J asked me what I wanted to do. Friday night is typically date night. Dinner at Ingredient, salad and brick oven pizza, and then a walk through Old Town and then coffee at my favorite cafe and indie book store. Instead, I said "farm", so we went up and unloaded a truck full of drywall. Note again the incessant moving of large heavy materials. I am now a drywall humper. Or is it one who humps drywall. Anyway, I obtained this new title by moving over a dozen sheets through the snow into the house, with J's help of course. Since the plumber roughed in our new plumbing, we probably won't have a toilet until the floor is tiled. (And, power tools really rock. The power chisel totally worked on the floors!) During the day we hit the portapotty in the fields across the street. In the evening, it is number 1 in the dark behind the barn (note to self if you decide to sit on the ground back there). The portapotty's do have their own hazard. We saw several on their sides as a result of yesterday's wind. Not so good if you happen to be occupying one during an unreasonably large gust.

J went out back Friday night and got quite the surprise. A large shadow was looming in the darkness. At first he thought a prayer had been answered. It was a huge John Deere. But no, it was not a gift. It was next to a huge, yes huge, gaping whole in the ground. J met the septic guy out there on Friday morning. He was raring to go. As a result, our yard was now a very large trench connected to an extremely large pit for the new leach field.
Did I say the dogs love their new sand box? I believe they think it is just for them.

My mother-in-law sent me a book for my upcoming birthday. (Best mother-in-law ever).  She sent me The Dirty Life. It is one of my favorite books, and I didn't have a copy. Love it. J has been reading it. Someone told him about it recently and he asked if I read it. I told him it was one of my favorites. He started reading it and loves it so far. He also said does this mean in 10 years we will be farming full time and selling shares of veggies and such to folks? In my mind I said "hell yeah". In reality it was more like, "mmmm, could be". It is amazing to see a dream start coming into fruition.

Today we also met two of our neighbors. One farms the land behind us for the owner, the other was making cabinets when we walked up to his shop. Both seem like great guys. I look forward to meeting the rest of their families. There are only four houses on the road. It will be important to know your your neighbors, as I am sure my friends and family on the east coast this weekend can attest. (Wicked blizzahd guys).

So now, it is winding down with a movie and the nightly ice cream. Mmmm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baby it's cold outside

Last night was the first snow of the season (the first real snow anyway). Boy, was it a doozy.

Many parts of the state got hit with 6-12 inches of heavy wet snow. Even more in the mountains. At the farmhouse yesterday evening the snow was well on the ground before it started near our house in town, just 12 miles south. Trees are down everywhere and branches are littering  the streets, roofs and folks yards. J went up to the farmhouse this evening to make sure everything was ok. The large farm south of us has no power. About 12,000 in Northern Colorado are out of power since last night.

It's days like this I want to be in the farmhouse with a woodstove, a hot cup of tea and a book. I am in the middle of three books right now. Four Kitchens, My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris; The Backyard Orchardist; and The Basics of Permaculture Design. The permaculture book is blowing my mind. There is so much to consider when looking at your property and developing all these micro-ecosystems in order to create a sustainable healthy growing system. Again, totally wishing I studied Ag in college.

The farmhouse is located in a very windy area. The closer you get to Wyoming, the more consistent the wind is. I believe it takes a certain measure of character to live in various parts of Wyoming. I personally do not have it. With that said, the farm is not in as bad a place as our northern neighbors, but a strong windbreak is in our future nonetheless. Picking trees is the big challenge. I would love some hearty maples or majestic oaks, but this is not New England. And here, something fast growing would be preferable. We will need three staggered rows of trees. Evergreens, taller deciduous and smaller bushes.

The windbreak will also keep the orchard trees and berry bushes from getting the tar beat out of them by the wind. I look forward to having my own little forest again. One thing I miss is the rich earthy smell of a deep forest. It is rare and disarming when I catch that smell here in Colorado. The red dirt here just doesn't have that organic scent. It holds more of a thin dusty note. But here the grass sings in the wind and the sound of the corn rustling is amazing. It is reminiscent of the ocean tide. When you walk our field at night, that sound is everywhere, subtle and constant.

I was discussing the orchard plans with someone today and told her that I think in some ways it is my attempt to create a little piece of back home here, where trees don't hold the same presence. I miss the canopy of them and can't wait to lie beneath the apple blossoms in spring watching the bees get busy.

I've spent so much time day dreaming about creating the perfect farmstead, I find myself impatient to get started. I am a little sad that winter has come so soon. All planting will have to wait until spring. Until then, I guess I am left with dreaming of dirt under my nails.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Go speed racer, go

Things are continuing to move along at quite the pace. We are only three weeks in to owning the farm and we have done so much in just a few evenings and three weekends. Heat is ready to go waiting on gas hookup from the plumber. This weekend we finished getting the outside ready for the insulation guy. Not sure what day he is coming, but we are ready. J also took the chimney down and put a temporary patch in place. All set for the roofer. And hopefully the patch is ready for snow. It's in the forecast for Tuesday.

We still have several feet of brick/chimney under the roof to take down. We cleaned the bricks that J took down so far and stacked them near the back fence. We will be re-purposing them as a fire pit. This past summer our meditation community went camping in Wyoming. The camping hosts' property had this amazing fire pit dug into the ground that you went down several steps to enter into (see below). It could hold about 40 people on 2 levels of seating. It was built that way because it is so windy in Wyoming. We were thinking of possibly doing something similar, though on a much smaller scale. As long as I have a view of the front range, I'm okay with however we decide to build it.

Several people commented this week on how lucky I am that J is so handy. Handy is truly an understatement. If there is something to be done, J will not only figure out how to do it, but how to do it perfectly. I am in awe and feel so grateful that he can help me manifest what I see. I recently read the book Shopclass as Soulcraft. Excellent book, and so reminded me of him. It spoke of the loss of craftsman and tradesman, and how the education system has moved so far toward intellectual trades, that we limit a huge population of people from finding their place in the world, as well as lose our ability to create solutions. We also find that sense of pride in our accomplishments elusive. It speaks to how when we create or repair things, the level of problem solving and the ability one needs for contemplation are at a much higher level of thought than we give credit or place value.

I told someone it was a dangerous book for me to read, as it would make me want to leave office life for a life of work creating something real, rather than cerebral. Not necessarily a bad thing, except the pay doesn't quite equal the value of the work. (2 mortgages right now doesn't exactly help.) I probably read way too many memoirs of folks who leave the big city life in search of an agrarian dream. In reading this book, it touched upon something I think many people long for. Living a simple life of value, where you can readily see the result of your labor, and know that what you did helped others. Like feeding people. What has more value, creativity and beauty than that. Nourish the body, nourish the soul.

I think J is one of those people of lost arts. His skill and soul run deep. I am very lucky.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


J asked me last night what is the first animal I want to get for the farm. I didn't hesitate. Bees. I am utterly in love with bees, and of course, honey. My most favorite class trip was going to the apiary to watch the bee whisperers do their magic. I could watch bees for hours.

In addition, when we plant the garden and when we plant the orchard, the bees will be a necessary partner in producing abundant healthy organic food. And, they will be in additional heaven being so near to the miles of organic farm fields that surround our property. I have been reading Storey's guide to beekeeping. What I thought might be a snooze is actually an interesting read. Bees are an amazing cooperative community.

When we bought the farm, it had been empty for quite sometime. The inspector indicated in his report that the farm had a wasp infestation. I think infestation is a bit dramatic. However...

This is what we pulled down. I wish I had the picture of it up. This wasp hive was incredible, and quite intimidating. The outer shell was layers upon layers of an ash like paper. Inside was several combs. While wasps, if that is what they were, do not inspire the same warm fuzzies in me as honey bees, I do find their industry and skill remarkable. It almost made me wish we had kept the hive up. Almost. When I was a house painter, many moons ago, I was regularly stung on my hands, as they love to make their homes behind shutters.

J said, bees aren't an animal, they are insects. So what animal would you get.

Well, since I am not yet up to the task of getting up any earlier than I do now (5am to get to work 65 miles away, 75 after we move), the milking animals (ie. goats) will have to wait. So, that brings me to one of my next choices. Heritage pigs. Namely, the Large Black.

Anyone who has known me, knows that I was pretty much a vegetarian most of my adult life. But, as is the downfall of many vegetarians (secretly or not so secretly), bacon is close to my favorite food, or at the very least a guilty pleasure. A chef friend of mine used to tell me stories about the vegetarian waitresses sneaking slices of bacon off the trays he was pre-cooking for the shift. They would beg him to keep their secret. Since falling from grace, I would love to actually raise my own meat, as does my friend Mo. She too was a meat abstainer.  We will trade, one pig for a lamb. Another delicacy I have gained a total flavor for.

One issue is, do you name your dinner? My vote is out for the time being. In theory, I think I could. In actuality, who knows. Pigs are intelligent creatures that mirror us in many ways. We shall see how the story goes come spring, and of course, appropriate fencing, as pigs are notorious escape artists. And, I don't believe I am quite up to wrestling a 200+ animal back to a pen.

Monday, October 17, 2011


This was one productive weekend. I never made it to the small acreage livestock workshop. I heard from my friend Mo that it was most excellent and she learned a lot that she can use in raising her sheep. Can't wait to take it next year. The local extension service has been great so far.

We paid a carpenter friend to help us get the furring strips up on the exterior so we could get ready for the insulation. We also had to cut the edges off of the original roof. They left the original roof and just added the sides on at later dates.

Again, most of construction is moving building supplies. Many 2x4's took a tour of the grounds in these hands. But, after sitting at a desk most days, it was welcome, no matter how much I felt the burn.

This is the before and after of the exterior so far..

We had to remove part of the original 2x12 boards in order to insulate on of the original walls and then covered it with plywood sheathing. I tried to save the boards that made it through the removal. I will be building an outdoor farmhouse table with them. I hope that works out.

We also framed in the new bathroom wall to prepare for the plumber.

The best part of Sunday was dinner. My friend Linda, chef extraordinaire, made Joe and I dinner as an anniversary present. She was chef on a small boat in Alaska when we were married and so she wanted to make us a special dinner for our anniversary. Luckily busy schedules pushed it out until yesterday, when a home cooked meal was much needed. We had pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and goat cheese topped with a spicy pineapple salsa, grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes and balsamic plum and goat cheese over arugula. Divine! It was such a treat, as anyone who has experienced Linda's cooking could attest.

It was sad to go back to the office today. I would very much love to spend the next three months just working on the farm and the property. Will be swinging by tomorrow to see the progress.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Whew, and it's only Saturday

I. Am. So. Sore.

Yesterday I woke up bright and early and grabbed my friend Karen for a road trip mission 45 minutes away to pick up a pedestal sink I found on Craig's List. Karen was my backup in case the guy selling the sink was a psychopath. Not so sure how much she appreciated that part, but it was great catching up with her. When we arrived we found a very nice petite European man. When we left I looked at Karen and told her I totally could have taken him. I think she was just a wee bit relived.

The sink, GORGEOUS! While it isn't vintage, it is great. Unfortunately all the vintage pedestal sinks I found were very cracked or very chipped or both. While I love vintage, I do want something nice that will last. The sink sells for $270-$320 retail. Get this....$80 with hardware and faucets!! I love haggling. See horrible picture from the ad. Doesn't quite do the sink justice. (I am still trying to locate the cord which attaches my camera to my computer. Can't share till then.)

After this wonderful adventure, I went up to the farm and got in the way of the heating and cooling guys. They are almost done! I also know why folks have basements. We now have this huge heating system in what was once a front bedroom, which is now the mechanical/laundry room.

I spent the afternoon scraping wall paneling adhesive off the drywall so we can smooth it out. J and I are still debating on hanging new drywall over it, which doesn't make me appreciate so much the elbow grease I put into smoothing out all the rough spots, or skim coating the existing drywall with new mud, maybe in a texture reminiscent of the plaster in the rest of the house. We have time to figure it out.

Then, I went back to the dreaded adhesive on the bathroom floor. It is truly wretched and after an hour and a 1/2 of a square foot later, I said, pardon my french, screw this. I got on the phone to Home Depot asking for tool rental. They have an electric scraper thingy that should do the trick. I told J and he said, oh, I have something like that in my handy stash of tools. (Oh really, and you just thought of this after I have spent some insane hours killing myself??) Oh, the joys of renovation!

We also had a big delivery of 2x4's and plywood. Today, we build the bathroom wall, and then move outside to put up the 2x4's on the exterior in order to have the insulation blown on. We are doing this for two reasons, to encapsulate the lead paint, and to more easily insulate the house without having to either remove the existing siding, or remove the plaster walls inside. Most of the walls have some insulation, and this will add  an additional layer. Then once the insulation is put on the exterior we will sheath it, wrap in tyvex and re-side with James Hardie cement siding. The house, as they say, will be bullet proof with an insulation rating of R-19/R-20. With that and new windows, we will be able to surely withstand the Northern Colorado winds and winter, and reduce our energy expenses/consumption considerably. The cement siding has a very long life and also withstands high wind and hail, of which we will have much of both in our little corner of the universe.

I also think much of renovation is actually moving vast amounts of building materials from one place to another. While we ordered the plywood (a lot of it), we don't need it right away, and don't want it to weather. Had the whole front yard not been trenched from running the electricity underground, I would have had it unloaded in front of the garage (the one that leaks, yes). Since we couldn't they dropped the delivery, literally, in between the house and garage and behind the two dumpsters we have. The bands holding the plywood broke in mid fall and the plywood slid out and moved the dumpsters. They tend to leave things where they fall. When J arrived, we then proceeded to move each piece of plywood into the garage, in the dark, with camping headlights for light. I think in that time we could have finished the exterior! Only, to be moved again in a week. See what I mean. The actual work doesn't take that long.

The one amazing discovery is, the local company didn't deliver everything we needed for working this weekend (totally not their fault. Something was lost in translation.) Not only did someone answer the phone after they closed for the day, they delivered what we needed last night. He also gave us his cell number and said he would be around this weekend if we found we needed anything else. That is why you shop local!!

So, after a very long vaca day, I am very stiff and tired, and ready to start again, after a very hearty breakfast, thanks to "the girls" (my hens).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weathering the Storms

Last night J and I had a bit of a meltdown. Not necessarily a bad thing, and as we have come to learn as this is our second renovation together, par for the course and a much needed release. Although only two weeks in, things are moving quite quickly with the various contractors. Heating and cooling in this week, the electrician starts trenching this week to put the electrical running to the house underground, I had to run around and pick out sinks and faucets for the plumber. I think the sinks and faucets sent us truly over the edge, as the place I was sent to is no mere Home Depot. I got sticker shock in waves. Mostly due to the fact that, while I got a total score on the claw foot tub, the plumbing fixtures are well over a $1,000. It is all just a tad overwhelming. However, once we got our feet back on the ground and our heads cleared, came up with a strategy and realized we might just pull this off with our $33,000. budget.

So, today I go off to where I am truly in my element. Rummaging in resource and building salvage yards to lower those pesky plumbing costs. Mission one - pedestal sink. Possibly doors, of a charming wooden windowed variety circa 1940. And, if dreams really do come true, a stained glass window to replace the small double hung in the bathroom, that has been painted shut over several decades. (Or, last resort, will find one on Thanks for the tip resource guy.)

Also looking forward to this weekend. I tentatively signed up for a full day small acreage livestock management workshop through CSU extension services, pending renovation plans. In the spring my first of many tasks will be to revive the pastures. I see pigs and goats in my future ( as well as bees and an orchard and very large garden). (Oh, and don't worry J, not in my immediate future. I do have some patience).

Once my errands are done, like new checking account for the renovation, hardware store run, and salvage yard heaven, I can then retire to the farm for a leisurely afternoon of removing the crazy superglue adhesive that they used on the bathroom floor, lovingly accessorized in a hazmat suit!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ahh, the beginning...

On September 30, 2011, we closed on a 104 year old farmhouse with a 1,000 square foot home, a two car barn/garage, 4 grain silos and 4.3 acres, connected to a large irrigated field of an organic farm (check out the corners of those pivot fields, total land scores!). We obtained an FHA rehab loan. Total headache to get but totally worth it, so far. This allowed us $30,000 over the asking price to rehab the house. We will spend the next 3-6 months renovating the house before moving in. (Via the luxury of a day job.) With this extra, we will replace the electric, plumbing, heating, add cooling, new windows, new roof and insulation and new clapboard siding, and whatever else we can manage to do.

So, at 6pm that first evening, we went to our new stead and started tearing down the 1970's paneling. The house was originally 1/3rd of the current house. Like a one room schoolhouse on the plains. Since then, we have determined through renovation forensics, that one side of the house was added on later and the second addition, circa late 60's early 70's. (Ironically, that part of the house has not stood up as valiantly as the original section.)

In removing the paneling, we discovered a cutout for an old window and walls of 2x12 concrete forms as sheathing (love this). We decided to put a window back in to allow natural light from the "reading room" to the "living room". Since a previous feline has marked it's territory, somewhat endlessly, on the panelling and subsequently the drywall, the bottom section will need to be cut away and replaced. In its place we aim to put a half wall of beetle kill pine, stained with a pickle wash, in board and batten fashion around the room. (We were lucky to find they put insulation in this part of the house, as the original part, well there is none.) We hope to use as many reclaimed and sustainable resources as possible.

This weekend, we began bathroom renovation. Move over bath crashers! (or please come to help!!) I have longed for a claw foot tub, well, since I last had one. True heaven. J believes it is the true motivation behind buying the farm. He is only partially correct. Several days before closing I found an old cast iron claw foot, in reasonably good shape, at an antique store for $149.00. Total steal! So, while I held off any purchases so as not to jinx the buying, I had to. As it so happens, a five foot claw foot won't fit in a five foot wide bathroom. This weekend, we took down the wall and closet between one of the bedrooms and the bathroom to add 18 inches to the room and a space for the air intake for the heating system.

We also took out 2 layers of bathroom flooring (can you say GROSS), that was over hardwood. J now believes that process took 10 years off our life. Let's hope he is just being dramatic. Not that he does that, too often.

You find amazing things when renovating. We haven't quite found any jelly jars loaded with cash, or savings bonds insulating the kitchen. Though we are still looking, quite closely I might add! We have found petrified mice, of the field variety, mold, and insulation in the strangest of places, thanks to previously mentioned field mice, along with spiders galore. And, after an unseasonable downpour all day Saturday, a seriously leaking barn roof and many large weather enhancing cracks between the siding of said barn. Note to self, no storage there yet.

Well, thanks to Columbus and his merry adventure, I am off to do many errands and many projects. Let's hope I can catch someone at small acreage extension services today!!