We are building a house! For real! We’ve gotten all the way to the framing portion of house building. Jeff is taking off work until the 10th of July (starting tomorrow!), and I’m taking a little time off of market/deliveries to focus on supporting the whole process. As time goes by, I really see how this version of things (and by “things” I just mean everything. all the stuff of our life.) is right. I mean, of course it is, because it’s the only version that *will be* or *could be*, but I guess time gives us insight about the past? I look back at my heartbroken self, just a few short months ago, and it’s as though I’m sending restorative faith-inspiring energy back to her. I see the purpose now in all those heartbreaks. I understand how relative that is, but it doesn’t change the significance to me… It’s about how we take our own pain and struggle and transform it, allowing what has broken down into raw pieces to transform into something that either nourishes or infects us. Just like compost- depending on how we process the remains, in the end we have produced either a rich airy deep food for new life or something that is sloppy and putrefying and stinks up the place… both routes have their place in things, I suppose, but I like to think that I’ve allowed all that was to help me grow new and stronger. I’m still working through my own stuff, of course, but by and large I’m feeling restored and healthy. Forgive my relentless farm/nature/birth analogies! I just can’t help myself.
I figured I’d do a quick farm update and then more house progress.
This year I am just studying. I’m looking at systems, experimenting, making room, allowing for the raw absorption of information to settle in my mind and transform me into whatever kind of farmer/homesteader/person I’m meant to be. I am not interested in struggling or suffering (long farmer work hours and little to no pay, for example), although I won’t shy away from pain or work or investment. I’m learning that there is a pretty distinct difference between those things, and I’m straddling that line all the time. I’m in a very philosophical place right now, but I suppose I have that luxury for the time being. It’ll be another thing when my family or others might actually rely on me for more income or food. Right now, I study. We reap whatever benefit is available. This is work that I love and am so grateful to be able to do. It connects me to people in a way that feels really gratifying and relevant, and I’m not sure I’m interested in anything that shallows that for me. (Example- ditching markets/personal deliveries in favor of more money/simplicity by going through a distributor, etc.)
The microgreens are great, and almost everything has moved outside for the summer. We are utilizing a hoop house at the farm and the micros are loving the sunshine. I don’t necessarily need the hoop for the heat (if anything the heat is problematic, but we keep it all well ventilated and everything has been fine so far), but the cover has come in handy during these storms. Tender micros don’t hold up well in crazy rainstorms!
Milton and I have been enjoying how healthy our weedy patch of land is. Since we aren’t necessarily in it for the pure production value, we have the freedom to acknowledge all sorts of ecological successes that otherwise might have been perceived as a nuisance. We temporarily stored all this burlap from the hydro system in the hoop house, figuring that we’d repurpose it in the garden when the weather turned milder. But soon we discovered snakes living in it, and so we chose to leave the pile, despite the fact that it was in our way and we often had to tip toe around it. We figured that snakes are a valuable predator, and we don’t really want to displace them only to give way to a mouse or vole problem near our microgreens. I witness more and more ecological activity each year I’m out there doing whatever kooky thing comes next. I saw a green lacewing the other day. Praying mantises in higher numbers. Far less pests, although the flea beetles are having some fun with the radishes. But then I think about things like “Do I deserve radishes that weren’t nibbled on by flea beetles? Probably not.” Below is a photo of a card my dad made (he makes these great postcards) quoting a response I gave to him regarding a request for advice from one of his friends who was having some pest problems with his garden. I’m generally not the most straightforward gardener to ask about such a thing.
Anyway, back to these snakes. They became good company when their purpose was acknowledged. I noticed just a few days ago that they’d moved on and I even saw some baby snakes in the garden. We thought that they were protecting a nest in there! I was finally able to clean up that whole area yesterday, and I felt gratified knowing that I’d been their witness for a little while. Anyway, it’s a good example of our general approach these days. Not everything that appears to be a problem actually is. We are working to reserve our judgment and try to find purpose in all parts. (Note: Milton and I had a conversation today about whether or not there was really a nest in there since I saw no evidence of eggs, but I just researched it and garter snakes give birth ovovivipariously– meaning that they hold their eggs inside and give birth to live young! Neat! I did find old snake skins in the burlap, though. Such interesting creatures. I also learned that it’s not uncommon for males to guard the females and young for a time, which makes sense of the pair of them there. Ah, love and spring life. <3)
Below is a good example of what our no-till plot looks like in June, when left relatively untended… We haven’t been able to really pour a lot of time into it, but there is a lot of good coming out of it. Our unofficial motto has been “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”, and oh-my it’s come in handy this year. The garden is actually a bit cleaner looking now that I’ve had some time to work on it, but I wanted to post the raw deal for my own records and thought process. Basically, I used bags of leaves, seasoned straw, and cardboard and mulch to create the garden beds and walkways. We are battling (coexisting with?) quack grass, and so it’s not ever very easy to create manicured rows here. The grass is aggressive and thick, and after a few years working with it I am happy just to obtain a yield. My relationship with this grass has ultimately been a big gift, really. It teaches me about how not to hang on to the illusion of control- cooperation in all things is a better route, I think.
We repurposed these barrels (used to grow strawberries vertically last year) to grow potatoes. They are doing well! We may revisit the strawberries in the future, but the design needs a little tweaking. The holes in the sides just caused the soil to erode, but I have an idea for how to adapt them to hold the soil better. In the meantime, potatoes.
I’m also thinking a lot more about perennial agriculture and what that might look like in my life. I’ve been very thankful this year for the things that are just established, happy in this climate, offering me a harvest without a lot of input. It makes sense on a lot of levels- perennial/native plants tend to be more robust and more nutritionally dense than the annuals we focus on for the bulk of our food. They are easier to tend to, have better root systems, and help to build the soil rather than the constant cultivation needed for some other plants. I don’t think I’ll ever give up growing tomatoes, but I am thinking about incorporating a more diverse and less back-breaking approach.
One of the great things about microgreens is that there is really no waste. The soil and seed is covered in the sale price of the micros, but then the waste (just compost and potting mix and some old seed and roots and stems) gets thrown right onto the garden. I don’t have to spend much amending the garden beds, and I get bumper crops of all the varieties we grow for microgreens in their adult form. This year we’ll have lots of sunflowers, peas, arugula, mustard, amaranth, lemon balm, daikon radish, red and white cabbage, red kale, and broccoli. We just notice when these varieties have taken root and just work around them, without having consciously sown them or tended to them. Below is a cluster of sunflowers and peas.
Below are beds created with old straw and microgreen waste. It breaks down fairly quickly and then can be spread out and planted into.
Anyway, we had a late start due to all the craziness in our lives right now, but things are quickly coming together and getting more established. The summer annuals are taking hold, and I’m grateful for the later start with the late frosts and heavy rains we’ve been getting. It’s all good, really. There is also always fall planting and winter gardens to look forward to.
Jeff saw a tree frog one evening while he was working on the house site. I took it as a good omen. Those of you who know me well know that frogs (tree frogs in particular) are very special to me. I’ve been connected to them for as long as I can remember. Isn’t this one beautiful?
Anyway, since getting the pre-formed walls Jeff has been incredibly efficient, ticking one big thing after another off of the list. First came under-the-slab plumbing. We had a great friend-of-the-family plumber come out and help Jeff plan and get a list of supplies together, but then Jeff did this whole thing with the help of a friend of ours who was just interested in pitching in. So many great people are popping up ready to help. It passed inspection no problem.
Next came the house kit! We are working with this great company called Shelter-Kit, and they’ve been completely amazing. We’ve been able to essentially design our own house through them, and, for an incredibly reasonable price, get the whole house designed and signed off on by architects who know all about new construction and code and all the stuff we’re ignorant of, and then get the house sent to us pre-cut and labeled and ready to snap together, basically. Think Ikea, but a whole house. And one that we designed ourselves. It came in 26 bundles (which you assemble in order, each with their own instructions). We’ve joked about giving each bundle it’s own obscure Swedish name.
Above is the very large truck that came down our narrow road to the house site. It carried 35,000 lbs of lumber! It also promptly got stuck. It was fairly dramatic. It came late in the evening, just before dusk, and we were scheduled to unload it at 10am the next morning. Jeff walked the truck driver down the path and proposed the route in and out, to which the driver gave him a “what the hell!” kind of answer and went for it. Little did we know, the truck was single axle, making it impossible to navigate itself on our hill with such a large load. And so a towing company had to come and winch it out, just to get it to a place where we could unload it. The towing folks said we’d surely need them again in the morning to get him out of there. And that’s when the whole trailer started to tip over… It was close to midnight at that point and Jeff threw up his hands, feeling like there was no way we were going to be able to unload the thing without risking someone’s life were the thing to fall over.
Thankfully, the very apologetic (inexperience was likely his issue) truck driver stayed up until 3am leveling out the trailer so we could safely unload. Whew! And so the next morning Jeff and 15 amazing friends worked for 4 hours unloading our house. I brought sandwiches and gratitude and they just worked and worked. It fills me with awe just thinking about all those people showing up for us. We are so lucky. We have 5 huge piles of lumber, sorted around the work site.
Below is a picture of most of the crew that day. Amazing people from the community and from Jeff’s job. The truck driver even helped! And, amazingly, he was able to get out once the kit had been unloaded. Big relief, and we felt okay about the situation in the end. Jeff was even grateful that he’d gone down and gotten stuck, because, in reality, had he accurately assessed the situation we would have had a much harder job that day loading and unloading trucks and driving them down to the house site. It would have taken all day rather than a few hours. Funny how things are revealed to us in time.
Next came the slab preparations. This includes spreading 4 inches of stone, compacting it, putting up metal columns on column pads to get cemented into the slab. Foundational work!
Thankfully our carpenter friend planned to come up from Austin, TX to visit family for a few weeks, and he agreed to help us with the framing of the house. He got here before we started and just threw himself into helping with all the slab preparations. Below is a beam that attaches to the column, that they had to get positioned right (because there’s no altering that column after the slab gets poured!). Quite an undertaking to position and square a beam that weighs a few hundred pounds 10 feet in the air… So amazed by these strong people!
Despite all the work and Jeff’s tired and frazzled state-of-being these days, he really is having the most fun. This is his dream come true, and I’m thrilled along with him. He keeps coming home and thanking me for believing in him and trusting him to try at this. It’s really pretty easy for me to trust him. I’m an unschooling convert anyway. But it’s been great to know that he reveres this opportunity so, recognizes that he’s doing this all for the first time and wants to do it well, and that he values the family’s investment/gamble in the whole thing too. <3
The stone got topped with some foam insulation by the walkout wall, plastic sheeting, and wire mesh.
We just found out this afternoon that it passed inspection. Yay! So far, so good. I’ve been working to be as supportive as possible, which lands me doing integral but decidely less glamorous work. Like, Lindsay and I organized and purged the kids’ room the other day. Here you see 3 kids clothes all stored efficiently in their closet. Small achievement, but I figure any step towards simplicity and efficiency in the home will benefit the project as a whole. I’m also making food and planning menus, etc. I just froze 3 quarts of soup for easy healthy meals later on. That kind of thing. And I’m chipping away at farm work and keeping kids occupied and happy. Little things, but I know they matter. I suppose Jeff and I are both doing foundational work. I’m hopeful that when framing starts (this weekend!) I will be able to wield a hammer more often myself. I’m itching to get into it.
And now… Asa beat boxing and Vera crawling up the walls.