Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A little winter weather

A good-sized winter storm rolled through the night before last. We got some freezing rain – about 1/4” accumulation. The ice stayed on the trees until last night, even though it rained all day yesterday. It warmed up a couple of degrees last night, or the rain we got then would’ve frozen also. As it was, the ice melted overnight.

All together, we received just over five inches of rain here. At the end of the storm this morning, the temperature dropped into the upper 20s, and we got some sleet and snow. Just enough to cover the ground.

In other areas of the state, there was more ice accumulation and/or snow. Anne and I were going to drive to Michigan today to deliver a vehicle to the buyer, but we postponed until tomorrow. We would’ve had to have driven through areas in Indiana that got some significant snow. We still may have some icy roads tomorrow, but there’s no rush. We’ll be back home on Friday. The younguns are staying with my parents, and Dad will take care of chores while we’re going. That’s one of the advantages of having a bit of community on the homestead.

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Even though we didn’t receive a major storm here, we were prepared for one. Being prepared is a way of life, actually. We have food, water, and heat. We don’t live our lives with the need to run to the store for every little thing. Running to the store happens as infrequently as possible. That means it will usually be weeks or even months between trips to buy some “necessary” item from the store. With that sort of situation, there is little adverse effects from a severe storm, only some inconveniences (like no internet if the power goes out).

Monday, January 26, 2009

A home heating contemplation

I’ve been thinking more about the work that I have to do on the house this year. There are a lot of details to be ironed out and a lot of work to be done. I enjoy trying to creatively approach some of the challenges of the building process, and it’s great fun trying to come up with ideas for providing some basic services in efficient and low energy input forms.

We heat with wood. We have a nice wood cook stove that is also designed to heat a home. It works well. Perhaps the biggest drawback of a wood stove has to do with distribution of heat. It’s warmest near the stove. That’s not all bad, of course, especially when you come in from outside and want to warm up. The challenge is to circulate that heat through the rest of the house in an efficient and low energy usage manner. Fans help, but they also move a lot of dust and contribute excess noise to the home environment.

So, I’ve been toying with ideas to distribute the heat from the stove into the various rooms and corners of the house, specifically the house we’re building (I don’t want to spend the time retrofitting and building a system for this old mobile home we currently live in). I toyed with the idea of an outdoor wood furnace. There are some nice things about those, primarily that the mess of burning wood stays outside. However, there are some drawbacks. They are expensive to purchase, and building one may require skills I don’t yet have. They can also consume a lot more wood than we currently burn. Additionally, most of them are connected to some kind of furnace-blower system inside, something that requires an amount of energy I don’t want to support. I want some system that will not consume very much energy so that it can be powered in the event of electrical service disruption.

I’m already planning on installing a domestic hot water system that will utilize heat from the wood stove in the winter when we’re using it and that will also have solar collectors for the summer months. We can buy a hot water coil that fits onto our stove which uses the heat in the firebox to heat our domestic hot water. The heated water naturally flows into a tank via thermo-convection, drawing cooler water from the tank back through the coil. It’s a nice system that can produce some very hot water with no extra expense.

So, tonight I got to thinking about how to draw upon this hot water source to spread the heat of the wood stove throughout the house. My idea involves radiant heating tubes installed in the floors (probably only the first floor). However, water directly from the hot water tank would oftentimes be too hot for such an application. So, I envision another tank to supply the radiant heating system. Here’s a diagram of my idea (hopefully, it’s clear enough to understand – you can see a larger version by clicking on it):

water heating system diagram

Does this look like it would work? Any ideas, thoughts, suggestions, improvements? I envision the low-wattage pumps being small enough to be run off of solar power. I would have to determine what thermostatic controls are available and that would work with this system.

I solicit all input. I’m curious about the feasibility and workability of this idea. Someone else may have had a similar one and may have developed it, I don’t know. This is just the product of my thinking this evening.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Firewood and another video

Dad and I cut a truck load of firewood this morning. He posted a photo essay about our wood-cutting activity. We used the 1979 F250, and it worked fine. It’s easier backing it into position than a 16 foot trailer. We dumped the firewood near Danny’s newly constructed wood shed. It seemed like a good thing to do. He “complained” about the work we left for him, but I think he was able to get it stacked inside. He also said that he would be willing to accept some more if we need to get rid of it.

Since yesterday evening, after putting together a video for the first time, I’ve been thinking about making some more videos. Someone asked for some with your younguns. That one will have to wait until I have material together. When talking about using Windows Movie Maker to put together the 1950 John Deere MT video, Mom mentioned the possibility of using it to put together some photos of our timber frame raising. She and Dad took a series of photos at different stages of the raising that flow together to create an animation. So, this evening I put another video together using photos. I think it turned out pretty good.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grandpa’s 1950 John Deere MT

In 2001, I was able to purchase the tractor that my grandfather bought new in 1950. In his blog, my dad wrote about how I acquired it. It was a real blessing in that the exact amount of money I needed to buy the tractor was what I had set aside for it. God was very generous.

The tractor sees regular use here on the farm. It is my primary hay-cutting machine. I have a John Deere 8W sickle bar mower that I use with it. The combination makes it a joy to mow hay. I have to restrain myself so that I don’t mow too much at one time. My old International 45T hay baler just can’t be expected to do too much in one day.

About three years ago, I used the MT to plow two acres of ground. The ground had been in grass. After plowing I planted wheat on one acre and oats and field peas on the other acre. Not having a seed drill, I broadcast the seed with a hand-cranked seeder. The oats and field peas made some pretty good hay – at least the goats sure seemed to like it. The wheat did fairly well, too. After those crops, I planted alfalfa. One acre remains in alfalfa while the other one was a corn field this last year.

While plowing, we took some video of the MT in action. I’ve never uploaded a video to Youtube before, but there’s always a first time, right? (I just figured out what was bothering me about this video – I forgot to put the ‘h’ at the end of Malchiah’s name. Well, I’m not uploading it again to correct it.)

Often, when I’m sitting on the tractor mowing hay, I think of the time my grandfather spent sitting on the same seat holding the same steering wheel. I miss him, but through the tractor I feel a connection with him. I never drove it while it was Grandpa’s, but when we cut firewood when I was a kid, it was there putting away while driving the buzz saw. My younguns like to be on it whenever I let them. In the plowing video (and in the photo below) Malchiah, who was a bit smaller then, was with me. Someday, I expect it will belong to one of them.

I fired it up and let it run a while just the other day. It’s nice to hear its sound. We’re in the middle of winter, but it really won’t be long before it’s time to mow some more hay. I’m looking forward to it.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Political ramblings: hope for America?

Tomorrow is the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. I don’t expect to watch any of the events or pay a whole lot of attention to them. Barack Obama doesn’t encourage me or offer much hope for America, as far as I’m concerned.

empty box

Of course, the Republican Party nominee, John McCain, didn’t offer much either. It was a pretty sad election, I’m afraid, in which the principle choices were two pitiful selections, neither one with any substantive recommendations over the other. It seems that too many people actually believe there is a difference between the two dominant political parties in the US.

The Democrats and the Republicans exist to support one another, and a lot of people seem to believe that one party is preferable to the other. Based upon what they profess as their party platforms, I suppose this is a justifiable belief. However, if you pay attention to what individuals from the two parties actually do, the delineation between them pales. And, these two political organizations have the game rigged so that their candidates receive preferential treatment and access to the ballots, creating a situation in which their candidates are the only “legitimate” ones. If they are each so obviously superior to others, why do they need the systemic advantages they’ve constructed?

I got involved with the local Republican Party last year. I can agree with the foundational and traditional bases of the party and its libertarian roots. I do not agree with its de facto positions as it has rejected its conservative base. My intent was to contribute to efforts to return the Republican Party to its conservative and libertarian roots. Not only in Kentucky, but in many states across the nation, though, the GOP actively, and in violation of its own rules in many cases, resisted efforts to turn the party back to its traditional positions and roots. Change within this venue will be elusive.

I was a delegate to the Republican conventions in my congressional district and the state of Kentucky. The business conducted at each was carefully orchestrated so that voices of dissent would not be heard, let alone be listened to. I didn’t like how the party leadership conducted its business. I guess it’s just politics, but it sure says something when an organization violates its own rules. Most of the time at the conventions was spent listening to individuals tell us about how bad the Democratic Party is and how horrible Obama is. The identity of the Republican Party, as far as I could discern, exists only in opposition to the “dreadfulness” of the Democrats. Why couldn’t they spend time explaining the superiority of the GOP positions and its candidates instead of denigrating the “opposition”? I imagine that the Democratic Party spends their time in a similar manner, but I will never find out first-hand (that holds absolutely no appeal).

Here in Kentucky, and probably most other places, there is a definite team attitude toward one’s political party. The notion is, “My team is good. The other team is bad. I’ll only vote for my team.” This election cycle, very few individuals seemed willing to critically evaluate the “goodness” of their teams candidates. “They represent the team. So, I’m going to vote for them, and so should you,” was the attitude. The nomination of John McCain illustrates just how far the GOP has moved from its roots and the power of the team mentality to thwart critical thought.

In Barack Obama, the voters are getting what they wanted. His election is like a 16_11_51---Barometer_web barometer in that it is indicative of the state of things in this country. I don’t see it as a good sign indicating anything to be hopeful about. I am concerned for this nation’s future, and I believe I would’ve been just as concerned if McCain had won (I had no illusions about that possibility, though – I actually think he was the nominee so that Obama would win). True lovers of liberty seem to be outnumbered at this point in time. Some significant dangers lie on the horizon for the USA and the world, and as these draw nigh, the world as we know it is going to change. The 44th President of the US will continue the course of things, building upon the previous dismal decades, providing less real hope for the future.

So, I’ll not waste my time watching the nonsense and getting excited about it. There are things to do and preparations for the future to be made.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homestead objectives (part V)

skyAlthough you might not be able to tell by looking out the window, we live in turbulent times. I have some very real concerns about where things are headed for our country and globally. I’ve had some of these concerns for a number of years. One of our objectives for homesteading is to be prepared for emergency situations.

There is always the possibility of our utilities being disrupted, whether electricity or water. There are many natural means by which this could happen, and I don’t like feeling dependent upon them. Yeah, we like having the conveniences utilities afford, but when they are disrupted, what then? Years ago, we lived in Southern California. The Los Angeles area is located in what is actually a desert. Yet, there are millions of people living there in a relatively small area, dependent upon electrical service and municipal water. What happens if either of those is knocked out for any length of time? There are earthquakes out there, so this is not a far-fetched idea. Besides, where does the water for the L.A. area come from? There are many demands upon that water source.

Then, there’s the need for food. Seems that just about everyone likes to eat. How much of the food consumed in the L.A. urban area is grown there? I’m using the Los Angeles area as an example, but it’s not the only urban area in which people live with great dependence on services that can be interrupted. Over 80% of the US population lives in urban and suburban areas. It used to be that the cities were surrounded by truck farms which produced much of the food consumed there. That’s no longer the case. Food travels long distances (thousands of miles) to reach the consumer.

I believe that our economy is in bad shape. Ours is a debt-based system, not one based upon savings and sound monetary policy. The over-extension of credit has led to a problem in which we are faced with a major recession or even a depression. Our politicians, rather than deal with the situation in meaningful and honest ways, vote to give yours and my tax dollars to those who are complicit in creating the problems (along with the US Congress and the Federal Reserve). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a GDP growth of 3% and a debt growth of 6% is not sustainable and leads to horrible ends. (You can read more about our economic situation here.)

There are other concerns, of course, that have motivated us to living our homestead adventure. It is part of being prepared for an uncertain future. Not just for ourselves, though. We have a desire to help our families, neighbors, and friends in the event of need. In the event of a major catastrophe, it would be a blessing to those around us to be able to meet some of their needs. So, yes, we are concerned for ourselves, but it’s bigger than that. God wants us to each have a heart of mercy and to love others. Lessening our dependence upon external services and being able to provide for many or most of our own needs means that we can be in a position to help others whenever it might become necessary.

We don’t live off the grid, at least not yet. But, we could if necessary. We heat with wood and can cook with it, too. We have other water supplies besides municipal water. We grow much of our own food and can grow more (we’re working on doing just that). We live within our means, meaning we haven’t developed “needs” that would prevent us from living more simply than we already do.

It would be nice if the only emergency situations we will ever face are of short duration, like the power being out because of an ice storm. However, because we can see the possibilities and potential for much greater social and economic disruption, it makes it all the more important to us to seek to be prepared as well as possible for those eventualities. Better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homestead objectives (part IV)

In my other blog (cedar-ridge-farm), I detail our house-building project. In moving to Kentucky, building our own home was -- and continues to be -- one of our homesteading objectives.

We lived in a nice, two-story, brick house we bought with Bank of America’s loaned money. It had a full basement, a large living room, and spacious bedrooms. There was a 2/3 acre lot that we bought with the house. This provided gardening area. We loved our red brick house, but we wanted to live in the country, not in the city with a busy interstate a stone’s throw away.

Somehow, several years ago I came across a book about building with straw bales. I don’t remember the title of the book, but I enjoyed reading it and began considering building a homestead house using straw bales someday. I also read The $50 Underground House and considered that option.

In looking for property, it wasn’t imperative for us to build a house on our homestead; it would’ve been fine if there was an existing house. But, we liked the idea of building, and not requiring a house on the property provided more options when looking for homestead property. We even thought it would be alright to live in a tent while building our house. I’m glad it didn’t work out that way. We’ve been living in “temporary” quarters for almost six years, thankfully, not a tent, just an old mobile home.

old cabin When we bought this property, there was an unfinished, one-bedroom cabin. We gave that to my parents, and they were quite glad to seize the opportunity to have it, remodel it, finish it, and live here with us. There was also an old log cabin constructed of hand-hewn poplar logs. I don’t know how long it had been standing there, but it was not in salvageable shape, although it was lived in sometime in the last 20 years or so. We pulled this cabin down in early spring 2007.

house site We selected a site for our new home that overlooks our garden area down in the bottom. It’s a great location with a southern exposure and pleasant shade in the afternoons. It also will afford a nice view toward one of our hay fields and wonderful views of our ridge on the other side of the garden. It’s near the location where the old cabin used to sit.

I thought we would build the house with load-bearing straw bale walls, but we changed that plan after doing some more reading. We settled on a timber frame house wrapped with straw bale walls. This would allow the frame to hold the roof, making any future repairs to the walls much easier (the aim is for repairs to never be necessary). We developed our own floor plans which changed several times, but we finally reached a plan that suits of well. It will have three bedrooms, two baths, a mudroom, a large great room, and a wrap around porch.

After purchasing 8x8s and 6x8s from a local saw mill, I began chiseling the joints for the frame. I decided to be a purist and use no metal joinery. It took about two and a half years to get the fraTimber Frame 013me ready to be raised. On Labor Day weekend 2007, several friends assisted us in raising the frame. That was an awesome experience. Since then, we’ve gotten the roof on and have begun working on the root cellar. We hope to complete a lot more work on it this year with the aim of being able to move in by Thanksgiving. God willing, I will be able to add a lot more to my blog on this house project.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heating the greenhouse

The weather forecast says we’ll be a might bit chilly for the next few days. We’ll be in the teens tonight and tomorrow night and down to somewhere around 7 degrees by Friday morning. When it gets cold like that for a few days, it’s hard for the tender greens in our unheated greenhouse to survive. A couple of winters ago, I lost some beautiful romaine when the cold settled in for a few days. I hope to avoid that this year.

I set up a small wood stove in the greenhouse this afternoon. I’ll keep a fire in it while it’s cold the next few days and nights. greenhouse with chimneyWe bought this little box box stove stove through Harbor Freight several years ago and installed it in our fireplace in our home in Illinois. That winter fuel prices went up drastically, and we cut back on heating expenditures by burning wood.

Some of the other uses this little stove has seen include providing some heat in the garage one winter and generating smoke for a homemade smoker last November. Other than that, it’s not been used for anything.

For the greenhouse installation, I used a ten foot length of “stovepipe” I created from a piece of aluminum siding. Tstove in greenhousehis creation was previously used with the smoker, providing an opportunity for it to cool before entering the smoke chamber (I was cold-smoking some cured venison roasts). To this makeshift piece, I attached a few odds and ends chimney pieces that I ran through a piece of roofing metal affixed over the window opening in one end of the greenhouse. In the photo, the thermometer hangs from the ceiling, and there is some smoke in the air, mainly from the paint burning off the two foot section of new chimney pipe I used.

Malchiah and I lit a fire in it this afternoon, and I’ve added wood a couple of times this evening. How well it does tonight will determine whether or not I’ll decide to cover the plants Thursday night. Earlier, it was keeping it 20 to 25 degrees above the outside temperature. That’s not too bad considering there’s only a thin layer of plastic between the inside and the outside. I also set up a box fan in the greenhouse to help circulate the air. 

If the addition of a little heat keeps the plants happy, I’ll be happy, too. It won’t cost me much of anything, and it was easy to install.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What’s up?

Let’s see if I can meet my goal of five posts this week. I let down on the job last week with no good excuse. I just didn’t seem motivated to post. I could’ve found the time, I suppose. Part of the deal may be partially due to a bit of stress. What do I have to stress about? Nothing really, as long as I keep things in perspective: God’s in charge, giving me nothing to worry about.

As I mentioned previously, we live without debt. It’s been a way of life for the last ten years or so. We’ve been without a mortgage for nearly six years now. I’m currently in a situation that is akin to debt in my mind, and I don’t like it.


In August 2004, we bought a 1996 Chevrolet Suburban that had previously belonged to the National Forestry Service. 1996 K2500 SuburbanI purchased it from a dealer off of Ebay who had bought it at an auction. We wanted an all-around vehicle that would serve our family and farm needs. This 3/4-ton Suburban did the job. Until gas prices escalated out of control, the pitiful gas mileage the big block V-8 in it achieved wasn’t a problem. Based upon the amount of miles we annually put on a vehicle, it wouldn’t have saved us anything to have another vehicle on which to pay taxes, registration, and insurance. However, last summer we were offered a good deal on a one-owner car in which all six of us could fit. The extra expenses associated with a second vehicle could be and have been met from what we’ve been able to save in gas.

So, now we don’t need a Suburban for the farm. In fact, a pickup truck would be more convenient. I began contemplating what I really desired and needed from a farm truck, and then I began looking to determine what it might cost. My idea was to sell the Suburban to pay for the truck. But, I didn’t want to be without a farm vehicle in the meantime. It’s convenient to be able to haul firewood and other things when needed or desired.

Then, a truck came up in my Ebay searches that met my criteria: four wheel drive, at least 3/4- ton, dependable, with a flat-bed dump. 1979 F250This truck was a 1979 F250. My dad offered to buy it for me, and after I sold the Suburban, I would buy it from him. Actually, he originally offered to loan me the money, but I felt better changing the terms, even if it really is only semantically different. So, we brought the truck home on January 1, 2009. Since then, I’ve been trying to sell the Suburban. Guess what? It’s not worth as much as I thought, or, rather, people aren’t willing to pay as much as it’s worth.

My stress has been because of the “debt” I feel I am in to my dad. I have to pay him for the truck. Until I do, it’s hanging over me. It’s been affecting me, kind of hanging there low-key. It’s been a good reminder about being in debt, though. For that I’m actually thankful.

The story continues. I listed the Suburban on Craigslist. One guy was interested. He looked at it, but wanted to get it painted. While he was getting an estimate, I listed it on Ebay. Then, it sold the next day for the Buy-it-Now price. The guy who bought it lives in Michigan. Great guy. I’ve talked to him on the phone several times, and I really like him. So, we made arrangements to meet him part way so that he didn’t have to drive the whole 600 miles to get it. He ended up driving nearly 500 miles. The only problem was that on the way to meet him, the Suburban began having some problems its never had before, something computer-related. I couldn’t meet him, and even if I could, he couldn’t drive it home acting the way it was.

So, I called him on his friend’s cell phone to let him know. They decided to head back to Michigan. He couldn’t take the Suburban. It was no longer sold. After it sat at a truck stop for a while, we drove it home with no more problems. I guess I wasn’t supposed to sell it that day. I’m having it checked out in the morning, though, because if it’s fixed and working properly, he’ll still buy it. In the meantime, I still have a truck to buy from my dad.



P.S. I took this photo the evening of January 9, 2008.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

First green salad of the year

We’ve been blessed with some nice, warm weather recently. Today was in the low 60s, although we had a few thunderstorms rumble through or nearby. greenhouse greensThe plants in the green house have been growing nicely. Their growth this time of year seems somewhat slow, but I expect that’s a result of the temperatures dropping down to or below freezing at night. It heats up nicely inside during the day when the sun shines.

This morning I watered all of the plants. We collect rainwater off of the garage roof which we use for watering. The rain fills 55-gallon barrels that sit under the eaves on one side. I don’t have any gutters on the garage at this time.

This afternoon I began thinning some of the plantings. The lettuce and spinach came up a bit thick. So, in order to promote better growth and harvests later, it’s necessary to thin them out a bit. The nice thing is that this process provides some nice tender, young greens for eating. I also picked a few leaves from those greens which didn’t need thinned in order to compile a nice salad mixture.

The salad included three different kinds of lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, radish greens, chard, pak choi, mustard greens, holland tyfon greens, mustard spinach komatsuma, arugula, and some garlic leaves. There were also a few small radishes I pulled.

Fresh greens in the middle of winter are certainly appreciated. They taste so good. They don’t need any salad dressing; just eat them as they are.

It was an excellent salad!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Homestead objectives (part III)

free as a birdThe third objective we have is to live debt free.

Yeah, we could do this where ever we might live, whether homesteading or not. In fact, that would be a good idea, and it’s what we would be doing, I believe.

I grew up in a family that was monetarily poor (we were rich in many other things and ways). Out of necessity, my parents had to manage their money carefully and well. Without even knowing it, I learned some things about money from them. I’ve not been one to go deeply into debt at any time, but I have utilized credit at different times. I worked my way through my first four years of college, graduating without any student loan debt. Anne and I were married shortly after I graduated, and we did accumulate a certain amount of credit card debt and used a personal loan to buy a used car. There were no student loans for my years in graduate school either, thankfully. But, we still seemed to carry a bit of credit card debt through the years.

In 1999 we obtained a 100% mortgage in order to buy a house. Shortly after that we began to get really serious about paying off all of our debts and to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible. We formulated a 10-year plan in which to be completely out of debt, including our mortgage. At the end of that time, we were going to buy some property using our equity and begin our homesteading adventure. God had other ideas. He modified our plan, and it became a four year plan.

Buying our 57 acres was the beginning of truly having no debt. We were able to pay for the property completely with the equity we got out of our house in Illinois and with what we had saved. We had figured early on that one way to be able to homestead involved limiting our expenses. One of the biggest ones oftentimes is a mortgage. So, we didn’t even consider property that was beyond our means which would require borrowed money. Almost six years down the road, we take living without a mortgage for granted.

Debt isn’t even an option. We don’t have any credit cards. We did for a while, paying them off every month. We decided that we didn’t need them. If we want to buy something online or pay at the pump to fill up a vehicle, we can use our debit card. If we don’t have the money, we don’t try to get it from the bank, and we don’t put it on a card.

Debt seems to be a way of life for people all around us. How much of that borrowed money is spent on consumable items that don’t produce anything? Living beyond our means puts us into slavery; we owe part of our lives to the lender until its paid off. There are times when there are not many other options, I will admit, but as a way of life, it is not sustainable. Non-sustainability is a contrary goal to a homesteading objective.

When I walk on our place, I’m walking on my own dirt. I paid for it. Yeah, I have to pay property tax which is like paying rent to the government to “own” my own place, but that’s another issue. I count it a blessing to live debt free, and I thank God for leading us to see debt as slavery and to get out of it. It is much better and more peaceful to be free.

1-1-09 dawn

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