Category Archives: Building

Rain, rain, go away, come again after about three weeks.

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Garden Elf, reminding us to not take life too seriously.

This is my garden Elf. He was given to me by my mother about 6 years ago. He makes me smile when ever I see him. As I get ready to head to the farm, I know this little guy will help me from getting that overwhelmed kind of crazy that usually envelopes me at this time of year. I had better take him with me, too.
The countdown has started! In a little under three weeks the voyage begins. So, as usual, there is much to do. This year we will take two vehicles, packed to the rafters, and two trailers. I believe I get the easy end of things as I will be taking my son and the trailer with two seadoo’s on it, and my sweetie will take the one full of everything else…. and two great danes. But what we pack in the cars and trailers isn’t really what makes the trip difficult, it’s the weather.

Shredded tarp

Barn underwater


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Last year in particular was a very long drive. Over three thousand miles through Canada and the United States during some of the worst rain, hail, and flooding in memory. Roads were closed or about to be closed. Detours all over the place. Tarps ripped to shreds and the trailer carrying water like a giant bucket. And worse…houses and farms lost. Crops washed away.
What do those poor people do when the livestock has to be moved to temporary housing, or worse, drowned. Their crops are wasted and will have to be replanted if and when the land dries out and if there is time for it to grow then. Buildings completely under water or damaged beyond repair. How do they cope? My heart was sick for these poor people.
On we drove for 9 days, it rained and rained. In places the highway was the only land for a quarter mile or more on either side of it. I have never felt such unease, knowing that if the water got just a little higher, the highway would be washed away and there would be no where to retreat. Helpless. It was a feeling that stuck with me, too. It wasn’t a feeling that would inspire one to action as there was no action that would have made a difference. There was panic, and then there was a form of serenity, because there was nothing that anyone could do. It was unlike anything I have felt before.
The feeling at the farm, when it rains is different. I am grateful the farm is located halfway up a large hill in the Appalachian mountain range. When the rain falls there, it is welcome, needed moisture and it is restful and serene but you don’t have to go through chaos to get there…unless you are driving.

The barn in the rain

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The Wedding

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So I haven’t posted anything about the wedding yet.
I had hoped we would be able to have it at the farm, outside, with guests perched on quilt covered hay bales on either side of a petal covered isle, leading to an alter, with an officiant covered in white robes….but we are still miles away from having comfortable spots for guests to sleep, as well as a decent place to cook for more than 10 people. Wouldn’t it be grand, though, to have some kind of celebration there for our tenth anniversary? Maybe that will have to do.

Enter Loreto Aprutino – A tiny town in Italy, only 30 kilometres from the coast, and roughly 2 hours from Rome, is the magical spot chosen for our wedding.
The bride will be dressed, unconventionally, in fuschia and white with white peony’s and a modest veil; the groom in (of course…) an italian suit, looking every bit the Sean Connery stunt double. There will be photo’s taken outside the town hall, and on the beach and in the cafe and ….. and…. and…. yes, there will be photo’s!
In just under a month, I’ll be there, with my sweetie and my world will begin again. A new chapter that I am excited to read in this book I can’t put down.

After our trip, we’ll be getting ready for our journey east once more. Back to the farm for the summer. Building fences, enriching soil, mapping future pastures and starting construction on the house.
I have been making lists for weeks now, and have narrowed down the tasks at hand, counting back from departure date to now, the things that need to be done. My plate is full, but I like it that way. I can feel the bubbling anticipation and it’s hard to sleep.
Tomorrow is Easter. I have an easy plan for the day. A drive in the country, toss around a glider in the park, pizza and a movie, then sleep. Monday the countdown begins. I’m ready.

Clover Hill Heritage Farm Photo’s

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Mars Hill wind farm,in Maine, can be seen behind us on the ridge. You can make out sticks on the top of the hill that are the windmills.

As seen from our field, this is the barn, built last summer, but the photo was taken in October when the leaves were changing. Behind it you can see through the trees, is the workshop built the year before.

This guest cottage only had two guests last summer. (it didn’t get finished until August) I hope it gets more use this summer. Great for sleeping when the nights are cool, but it sits out in the open, alongside the orchard and heats up during the day – making it quite stifling midday. Maybe we’ll get to insulating it at some point to make it comfortable no matter the time of day. It needs a coat of paint or stain, and a shade tree beside it. It keeps the rain off and the critters out, though.

I loved the whole process of setting up this little cottage. This one was built off farm, and delivered to us on a flat bed truck. It was amazing watching it being pulled off the truck and slid to the level spot chosen for its' view. The next few will be built by us, a little bigger, hopefully, with room for a small fireplace or cookstove, and perhaps we'll get creative with outdoor solar showers, or in-ground bath-tubs! I would like to make a spot for a fire pit to set up a tri-pod and chain to hang a cooking pot. Maybe set up a little oasis back there for private morning coffee. As with everything, the ideas are evolving.

This Coop is 8' x 10'

The chicken coop window boxes

The chicken coop was more or less finished in 2010. It’s been painted, had flowers planted around it, but the nest boxes aren’t done and neither is their screened-in-run. They will free range, but I want a place for them to go to hide if there are hawks, eagles, racoons, weasels, or any other predator that loves the taste of chicken. It’s large enough for 15-20 chickens (although I will likely only have a dozen) and has a spot that would work well to place a brooder. It is tall enough to place a small loft for feed storage, too.

The window boxes have some kind of ornamental pepper in them and another kind of draping annual of which I don’t know the name. I got them from the garden centre and thought they were pretty. I’ll plant seeds in there before the chickens come, and they will be pansy’s and stocks. The perennials along the side are Monkshood, Lily, Delphinium, and Cranes Bill geranium.

Some of these flowers aren’t good for chickens, if they eat them, so they will be moved in front of the house when it is complete, or donated to a neighbour who doesn’t have chickens. The screened in part will be at the back, away from the window boxes and surrounding a walnut tree there.

Farm name chosen !

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Bouncing about with farm names for the last few years now, and it turns out we have one that works. CLOVER HILL HERITAGE FARM specializing in heirloom varieties and heritage breeds.
I like the feel of that. So when we have our goat herd or our sheep flock they will be registered to our farms name when born. A baby goat born at our farm will be named, for instance, Clover Hill Adam (if we are having our “A” year) or Clover Hill Zola (once we’ve been doing it for 26 generations). Some farms do it this way to easily keep track of the year a goat was born. I don’t know if there is another reason for it – there may very well be – but I suppose I will find out soon enough.
Our huge field (about 30 acres) along side our driveway heading up to where the house will be is covered in timothy grass and red clover. In early June, when all is in flower, the scent is intoxicating. And although that field won’t always be in clover, we will have it planted somewhere because our own clover, timothy and other grasses will be baled for winter feed for years to come, I’m sure.

Back at it…

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Back at it…

It’s been a long while since I posted anything. But today, spring is definitely in the air! I am energized! The sun is shining, I have music rockin’, and I’m supposed to be cleaning out a closet, so of course – now is the perfect time to write.

Looks like this summer we will be breaking ground on the house. I am so excited about this particular part of the development for several reasons, not the least of which is progress. We bought the property 5 years ago thinking that in 3 or 4 years we would be able to move. So, 5 years later and looking at a few more years before the transition, could look like somewhat of a disappointment. But it’s not. This dream has evolved drastically in the last 5 years. We have started down a few paths, planning the farm, that made sense until we really did our research. Now, I am confident that when we arrive and dive into the market garden and filling the barn with small animals, the choices we have made are the right ones for us. It is easy to see why some new farmers can get so overwhelmed. I was, and I wasn’t a farmer yet.

Every summer at the farm starts early in the morning clearing, checking, mapping, repairing, building, moving, planting, and ends late, exhausted. This summer we have barn stalls and fences to build as well as starting work on the house. I am reluctant to plan any more than that given that last summer we felt obliterated by the end of it. I would love to have some time to have my sweetie hang out in his hammock and strum the banjo for a while. Oh, Lord, love that sound!

More decisions have been made about livestock. We have determined which breeds of animals will start on our small farm, and all for specific reasons.
Orpington chickens are the breed of choice because they are a heritage breed that still knows how to forage for food, set chicks, and be around people without being terribly flighty or aggressive. They are considered a dual purpose breed since they produce a respectable meat bird and lay eggs on a fairly regular basis. With the proper lighting in the coop, they may lay all winter. But, honestly, I like them because they are really, really pretty!
You can have a look at a really nice one here http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/chicken-breeds-eggs.html

I have located a farm that will sell me hatching eggs of some of the nicest quality birds I have seen. That sounds like fun, huh?

Also located breeders for alpine goats in New Brunswick and nubian goats in Quebec, so shouldn’t have to go far for some quality herd sires and does. Alpines and Nubians are both dairy breeds of goats, and produce enough milk to make cheese and soap. They are playful and sweet and I can’t wait to have goats!

I have been in touch with a few sheep breeders and one in particular that works with icelandic sheep. I have been following this breed of sheep because of what I have read in ‘slow food’ circles and there seem to be a bunch of foodies that prefer icelandic sheep. Their meat is beautifully marbled without being fatty, mild in flavour, and the sheep are small enough to be handled for shearing without too much difficulty. Their fibre is lovely for spinning, too.

I hadn’t initially thought about having pigs, however I do love bacon! The more I learn about pigs, the more I want to learn about them. It seems that the difficulty in raising pigs comes from confinement issues that wouldn’t arise at our farm. We have a lovely sloping spot with ancient apple trees flanking the edge of the forest as it opens to a small meadow. Perfect for pigs to find shelter under the trees, and wallow in the little valley created by the convergence of two hills. There is a spring pond there until August most years. So, we are torn between Tamworth pigs, which are easily attained in the area, and Guinea hogs, which aren’t. I would prefer Guinea hogs since they don’t get as large as the Tamworth and would be much easier to handle for a first time pig farmer. Maybe I’ll turn up a breeder in the area. Keep your fingers crossed – grass fed pork is delish!

After a few years of cheese making and soap making and getting used to the farm schedule, I hope to have time enough to add a cow or two. I am thinking about scottish highland cows because they are extremely hearty and can exist on low quality pasture (not that ours will be low quality, but it may take a few years of pasture management to improve the soil quality) They are smaller in stature and have wonderful furry faces!

Add to these a few geese, ducks, turkeys and maybe a draft horse, and our small barn will be full. In a few years, we’ll have our schedules down, the market garden in full swing and sippin’ sangria on the porch at sunset.(that is, after we lock up the chickens so they don’t get eaten by foxes, called in the sheep and goats, milked the goats and cows, added bedding to their stalls, fed everyone and closed all the gates – ya,…. then, sangria on the porch… while snoring.)

Getting on with it…

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Getting on with it…

The first few projects had some snags, but in the end, with trial and several errors, have worked out quite well. First – the adobe oven.

This was the first attempt at building a structure of this type and although there was some pretty heavy lifting, it wasn’t hard to do. We discovered three huge rock piles on the property. Two of them are on the other side of the road, but one is right here by our big field. Farmers have been pulling rocks from this field for many, many years and I don’t think we are done. This field, as many others do, seem to grow rocks like potatoes. I figured it was good to use some of those.
First, the base is made by stacking 4″x 4″x 4′ posts in a square on a fairly level base of gravel. I drilled holes in the corners and stuck some re-bar in there to hold it steady for the next step. I made our 3.5′ high because we are tall people – you may want to make yours shorter. The thinking is, when you spend three plus hours heating it up for use, you may want to use it for several baking projects, like breads first, then pies and pastries, then roasting meat and vegetables as the oven cools some. So if you are using the oven all day, you don’t want to be bending over to use it. Keep this in mind when building yours.
Then we filled it full of large rocks – the ones we found in our pile. Some of those were as big as my head! So this is where the heavy lifting came in. Luckily we didn’t have to cart them far, just into my wheelbarrow type trailer that attaches to my little tractor and then out again at the oven site.
Then we got out our shovels to cover the bin of rocks with dirt. We used twigs to poke down between the rocks to make sure it was shifting all the way to the bottom and just kept adding dirt until we felt it was sturdy.
Next, after making sure it was pretty level (Rob hates it when I tell him I ‘eyeballed it’!) we covered it with a layer of sand to make a flat surface to lay the bricks. We chose heavy flagstone for our first layer. Then another layer of sand, mostly to fill in the cracks and prevent any shifting. We dusted the top with more sand to give some security to our firebricks that come next.

Base with the top layer of fire brick on - ready for our sand form

Then came our sand form.
The sand form is needed to support the clay walls while the clay is wet. I made this sand form a little small for what I wanted, but at the time it looked almost too big. The sand is quite wet – a little wetter than you would use for a sand castle at the beach – only because you need it to get tall and the wet helps that.

Sand form for adobe oven


The sand form is then covered with newspaper. This is not really necessary for the structure, but it sure does help when it comes time to hollow out the sand. You stop scooping out sand when you reach the newspaper. It is also not necessary to remove the paper as it will burn off in the initial fire. Another tip: it is much easier to cover it with wet newspaper. The dry will fly off in the slightest breeze and make layering it next to impossible.
Now you have a good solid base for the clay.
Our soil has a high clay content so using our clay was a no brainer to me. It stuck together well when moist and I initially thought there was enough sand in it to prevent cracking during the drying process. Turns out I was wrong about that, but the clay was terrific! Next time, I will mix 1 part sand to two parts of our soil and it should solve the cracking problem. A few of our drying cracks were just superficial and not at all harmful to the structure of the oven itself, but two of them were quite significant. These two had smoke coming out of them. Also, after having a few curing fires in this lovely oven, I have decided that the walls aren’t nearly thick enough. They are roughly three inches thick and I believe four and a half would work much better. The walls need to be thick to hold on to the heat for hours at a time. Mine are cooling too quickly, making a constant temperature inside the oven somewhat of a pipe-dream.

There are two of these cracks that threaten the integrity of the oven


Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The clay we used was mixed with a three gallon bucket of straw cut up into finger lengths to help bind it together after it dries, then with enough water to make it like mud. It felt really good to get in there with my feet to mix it around, but not as effective as using a shovel and turning each scoop back into the pile.
I added the clay to the base starting at the bottom and working up. I made sure the first layer had lots of texture so that the second layer would have something to grab onto. Three layers later, I cut out the door. This is our final view before I hollowed out the sand.

Decorations attached

Now with the sand still in there, I let it dry for three days with a tarp over it to prevent sun from beating down and evaporating the water to fast. Then hollowed it out and another three days of drying under a tarp. The cracks were really tiny then and I tried to patch them before we lit our first fire. Unfortunately, they were too severe and shrunk up a bunch to make these large cracks. The cracks didn’t effect the size of the fire, though. It burned beautifully!

Nice fire!

So, to recap, I loved the process of building this fire. I am either going to tear it down and build another, taller, with more sand in it and thicker walls, or I will repair this one. I am thrilled with the way the inner walls turn a lovely terracotta pink after a few fires. I will, either way, be building more adobe ovens, and will definitely be baking bread in them.

Beginnings….

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Beginnings….

Wild Lupins

Five weeks I have been here at the farm and five weeks I have been working non-stop from early morning until almost dark – until my legs give out and my soul is tired.
“So much to do, so little time” my father use to say. Never have these words been so true to me.
We arrived on the 26th of July. We took a brief look around the farm to check for growth and map out a spot for the trailer to go once we pulled it from the workshop. We checked out the progress on the barn and then left for the nearest Best Western.
We were tired then – after nine days on the road, most of them through flooding in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and with a ten year old boy tired of sitting in a car.
The dog was the optimal traveller. She kept quiet just inside the hatch – slept most of the way and ran around gas station green belts in brief spurts before surrendering to the heat in the Kia for another long haul. The occasional Milk Bone seemed to make the trip bearable.
Once we were here, though, our juices began to flow again. We breathed with more determination and spirits lifted.
Set up took much longer than any of us anticipated. New equipment needed to be assembled and inevitably tested before we could get started on the mountain of work to be done.
This part is the most frustrating in any new enterprise and my advise to those in the planning stages of anything of this nature is to wait before inviting company to join in the “FUN”.
We had a bunch of family “helpers” join us during the first weeks of our arrival. We purchased the land four years ago, but this is the first year there is both water and power, making visitors more comfortable and work a lot easier. However, learning our new vocation and how to operate its necessary equipment is unquestionably easier to do without an audience. No matter how eager to help and patiently they await direction, it can be very frustrating for them, as well, when you haven’t the first clue how to start a project until you get in there and try it yourself.
That said, it was gloriously busy and in many cases easier to have someone laugh with you at the end of the day.