Thanksgiving is here and nearly gone again. The day has disappeared faster than the turkey from the table and I have let out a sigh of calming relief the same way that one uncle of yours lets out his belt before settling down for a post-dinner nap. Thanksgiving started as a holiday where families came together to share a meal and celebrate all of the things they were thankful for in life. Today, it seems that the holiday was designed for afternoon football games, overeating, standing in line at Wal-Mart all night, or sitting in the treestand. Regardless of why we love this Thursday off of work, it is a great opportunity to spend time with the ones we love and think of all we have to be thankful for. We spent the day with some of my wife’s family. We ate the feast. We watched the Lions get kicked by the Bears. We saw the Black Friday advertisements and heard the deer hunting stories. As the day winds down and I write this blog, I see my family resting after a long Thanksgiving day. I see the very reason I get out of bed every morning and I thank God for the greatest gift of all.
When I decided that I was going to try my hand at growing garlic at home, a few concerns about how, where, and when I was going to plant the crop quickly arose. Finding a suitable location to plant the seed cloves was going to be a challenge during what may become the wettest year on record. This time-sensitive crop also needed to be planted at least ten days before the daytime temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Lastly, the garlic I wish to protect the time and money I have invested in the project.
Through a quick Google search, I found that garlic can adapt to a variety of growing conditions with few exceptions. This was wonderful news because I only have a variety of growing conditions. I picture the location of my former garden. I harvested a decent crop of potatoes and onions from it a year ago, but it had been submerged for so much of this year that I removed the short fence that surrounded it and reseeded the area to lawn. A year like this has me wondering if I have a location suitable for growing anything but grass. It seems that the yard goes from one extreme to another. The high and dry areas consist of fine, sandy soil which in itself would be manageable. The issue with these areas is the large conifers that have grown from these light soils for what I can imagine is one hundred years. The long branches reach out in a twenty-foot radius around their sturdy trunks, blocking any sunlight that would have a chance of creeping through to any emerging plants below. The low spots are challenging in their own way. A six-inch layer of heavy black muck lays on top of ever-saturated sand. During a year like this, standing water is a common occurrence in these areas, making them a poor environment for growing crops. To my dismay, the research I completed determined that wet saturated soils are a prime suspect when troubleshooting stunted, diseased, and underperforming plants. I was going to need a better place to grow these plants.
Anyone who follows the page knows that Brittni and I have intentions to move from this property in the coming years. At this point, we are in full-on saving mode and have started to stash away funds like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. We don’t have any specific schedule in mind but may be ready to move as early as next spring if we find the right property. If this scenario were to arise, I may find myself in quite the predicament with a garlic crop growing in the yard of my soon-to-sell home. In the grand scheme of things, a handful of garlic is a small sacrifice to make when moving to a new home, but I hope to not have to. On top of the obvious financial investment of my seed purchase, I have also invested a large amount of time in researching the garlic growing process. If I paid myself minimum wage, the time taken investigating proper propagation of the crop would loom over the measly $65 I spent on seed stock and shipping.
The last concern I had was the necessary urgency of getting the crop planted. With a hard freeze in northeast Wisconsin fast approaching, the cloves to be planted needed time to grow before the daytime temperatures steeped below freezing. The seed stock I purchased did not arrive until the 17th of October, giving me a burst of motivation to get the necessary work done in the following week. However, I was going to start growing my garlic needed to be done in a time-sensitive manner.
What was I going to do to resolve these listed concerns? I continued my investigation of garlic growing conditions and soon found that some gardeners opt to grow the crop in raised beds. The possibility of building some type of bed seemed more probable to me than that of finding a nice dry spot in the sun to plant my seed pieces. Raised beds would be fine but that still didn’t give me an easy way to move the crop in the instance of a move. What if I purchased some type of tote and used that as a raised bed. I looked into caged liquid containers that could be cut down to a couple of feet in height. That would be ideal but the cost of these totes, even used, loomed over $100 per unit. What if I used a wooden crate instead? This would allow me to pick it up with pallet forks if needed. I asked a co-worker in receiving about some small wooden crates but the deposit paid on them was nearly $50. In conversation, he did mention a stack of nice pallets that had to deposit to be paid on them. I decided that I would take these pallets, deconstruct them, and build crates of an appropriate size to be used as raised beds.
The process of building crates from pallets was easier said than done. I had gone to work to pick up the pallets on a weekend and begun my construction process after work one night. I quickly found that pallets do not come apart as easily as they look like they should. Through some mechanical persuasion, I had finally broken enough of the pallets down to begin construction on my pallet-crate garden beds. I had left two of the pallets undamaged and these would be used as the bases of both beds. It took about three hours to build the crates and I was happily surprised with my final product. I filled the beds with clean fill and compost, planted my cloves on a 6-inch grid, and covered them with a thick layer of chopped straw and a layer of plastic to help insulate the soil.
With my garlic seed cloves planted and prepared for what may be my first successful growing season, I consider the result of my combined frugality and free time. I did spend time researching the process, acquiring materials, and building the beds. I didn’t spend money beyond the cost of seed, gas used to pick up the pallets, and some screws that I used to build the crates. I can now sleep easier knowing that the seed is in the ground and that I spent as little as possible doing it. That’s a happy ending for me.
Brittni and I recently went out on a limb and decided to take a look at a property listing in our neighborhood. The property is a fifteen-acre farmette with a 2-story farmhouse, an old tie-stall dairy barn, a pole shed, a large detached garage, and a beautiful ten-acre field currently seeded to alfalfa and grass. It had only been on the market for a few weeks and seemed like it might be priced appropriately. I set up a showing with our realtor and we chose a time that I knew we could fit between our daughter’s morning feedings. We were going to look at our first farm prospect.
The showing was at 10 on Saturday morning and we arrived right on (parent) time at 10:15. Our realtor came out of the house and we began to chat about the property. As she was not the listing realtor, she had only just seen the house before we arrived and we reviewed some of the details outlined in a stack of printed papers she handed me. This was an early 20th-century farmhouse with some mid-century updates done to the main floor. “Had the rest of the updates been done at the end of the century?” I silently hoped.
We entered the back door into what seemed like a large back porch/mudroom hybrid. There was a small bathroom with a stand-up shower in one corner and the washer and dryer hookups were in another. In the center of the room sat a large wooden picnic table. The room had a smooth concrete floor and in the corner opposing the laundry, three steps led up to the kitchen through an opening that looked to be a doorway at one point in time. Our realtor told us that she thought the room was originally an attached one-car garage. Its luminous size and the unfinished concrete floor had me agreeing. Although it was a strange room, I could imagine one wall covered in closet cubbies, a bench where one could sit to remove their shoes, and a counter around the laundry where clothes could be treated or folded. One room into our tour, I could see the potential.
A short walk up the three steps into the kitchen introduced us to the two largest rooms in the house. The kitchen and living room were attached and only separated by a thin silver threshold dividing pale green-yellow linoleum from matted brown shag carpet. The room must have been at least fifteen by twenty feet. I am sure the small and cluttered feel of our current kitchen made the room seem even larger. The center of the room was wide open. There was a door to the front porch on one side, and plain laminated cabinets with faux marble countertops skirting the end opposite the living room. Brittni and I looked at one another and an image of the room with new cabinets and countertops, a large white farmhouse sink, and a kitchen island with a range and overhead hood above flashed through my mind.
A peek into the door to the front porch revealed the original hardwood floor that we soon found was hidden beneath the vintage laminate and carpeting throughout the first level. It was worn from over one hundred years of boots coming and going to the barn and fields. A cool draft drew quick attention to the aged single-pane windows. Duct tape had been applied along the corners of the panes on every window to deter the wind, to no avail. With less inspection of this unheated room, we returned to our tour.
Upon meandering into the living room, it was easy to notice the large single-pane window that covered the exterior wall facing the road. The walls were covered in wood paneling and the old dark carpet had paths where it had been traveled since it was installed in what I can only assume was the year 1970. A glance upward recognized randomly patterned ceiling tiles installed within the same time frame. These features of the home reminded me of the large farmhouse at my parent’s farm where I grew up and I imagine they were remodeled in a similar era. One side of the living room had a door that led to a small narrow room that was recognized as an office by the realtor. It had a small built-in closet at one end and the floor was covered by the same seamlessly transitioned carpet from the previous room. The other end of the living room transitioned into a short hallway that led to the rest of the first floor as well as the stairwell to the 2nd story.
Both the master and the 2nd bedroom on the first floor were similar in size and design. The treaded green carpet had been worn thin from years of trampling and the same duct-tape window repair had been performed in both rooms. Again, it failed to keep out the chill. The master bedroom had an exterior door that led to a covered concrete patio on the front side of the house. Between the two rooms, through paneling covered walls, was the homes lone bathroom. The bath was the only room that had been updated to anything close to a current style. Light tan tile covered the walls of a walk-in shower. The handrail and shower seat were both still installed as the former owner was an elderly man who had recently passed.
The stairwell leading to the 2nd story was wide. Much wider than what would be expected in such an old house. As is common with older farmhouses, the steps were high with short runs. Remnants of oriented strand board and two-by-fours remained nailed to the trim of the stairwell. The framing had been built and insulation had been installed to form a pseudo-wall that sealed off the stairwell and upper level from the rest of the home. Sealing off this portion of the home would’ve been a poor idea in most situations as the upper floor would become too cold and the water pipes would freeze. It was acceptable here as the upper floor contained no plumbing. As we stepped onto the dusty hardwood at the top of the steps, it was easy to see how long it had been since anyone had resided there. A nail barrel sat at the top of the steps along with an antique feed scale and a stack of old paintings. The old plaster had crumbled and cracked from the walls and ceiling, falling from the lattice and steel netting that once held the compound. The handrail around the top of the stairwell opening was only about three feet tall. There were 5 rooms on the floor and they were all very similar. The rooms were empty less a small collection of relics they each contained. Antiquated paintings leaned against the walls. Each room had an old wooden trunk with dark and corroded brass hinges and clasps. Each had a small narrow bed frame with a spring-bottom folded and propped in the corner. The only structural update done to the floor was the removal of two old brick chimneys that once rose from the basement through the roof. The channels they had come through remained unfilled between the bare, uncovered studs. There were no electrical outlets throughout the rooms or the long narrow hallway. The only modern amenity available was one pull-string bulb fixture mounted in the center of each room. Although unneeded at this time, the level needed to be gutted and started from scratch. The idea of starting over seems overwhelming but leaves so many possibilities open for us to apply our design ideas and creative touches.
After meandering the 1st and 2nd floor, Brittni and I could see the potential this home offered. The renovation ideas were rolling through my mind, along with rough number estimates for what the work could cost. The more I considered the renovation costs, the less the price of the property seemed like a bargain. Most, if not all of the windows needed to be updated or the heating costs alone may break the bank. The majority of the renovations beyond windows were livable for the time being. The basement was the last space we needed to inspect in the house.
The doorway leading to the basement was heavy. The solid wood door swung out into the mudroom at the bottom of the steps from the kitchen. We quickly found a light switch and made our way down the thick wooden stairs to a concrete landing. The house had a partial basement while the rest was accessible via crawl space. From the landing, two areas were accessible. The area to the left was beneath what must have been the original house. The joists above were not modern dimensional lumber but instead were hewn timbers. Two furnaces were housed in this area. One fuel oil furnace and the other an old, decrepit wood stove. There was a window well on the far end of the room with a piece of plywood covering the hole where a window had been. It looked as though moisture had been making its way down through the well as the timber that sat atop the old stone wall had begun to deteriorate and crumble. The stone corners around the window well were also beginning to crumble and dissolved mortar and pieces of fieldstone had naturally fallen to a pile beneath the sill. We found similar symptoms of age and neglect in the other portion of the basement. This area was more unusual than the last as there were steps down from the landing into the room and the more modern joists holding the floor above were nearly 10 feet from the floor. The walls on both sides were in disrepair and random stones were strewn about as the foundation withered. This room was a hub for the home’s utilities as the electrical and water were both sourced into the house from this area. The work done here was questionable, to say the least. As far as electrical goes, there was a spider web of wires and extension cords that stretched from wall to wall and led to all corners of the home. At the center of this web, there were two junction boxes. Half of the wires seemed to run to a modern breaker panel. The other half led to a dated fuse panel. As far as water goes, the electric water heater stood in the corner. Next to it sat two pressure tanks. One was connected to an incoming pipe at the wall while the other showed clear signs of malfunction with holes rusted through the bright blue paint on the bottom. As we made our way back up those rough-cut stairs, I reconsidered the amount of money that would need to be spent updating this home. The withering conditions found in the basement had all but killed this dream in my mind.
Our tour was near the end and the baby would need to be home and fed before long. As Brittni warmed up the car and strapped the baby back into the car seat, our realtor and I decided to tour the outbuildings on the farm. We looked at a mid-sized pole shed behind the garage where there would be ample space to keep farm implements and equipment. The current owner’s small collection of Case tractors lined the center of the structure while piles of firewood and an old utility tractor were placed along the walls. We made our way down to the old dairy barn where Brittni and I imagined keeping our barnyard livestock. I am thankful that we looked at the house before the barn as I think I would have turned my head to some of the issues with the house with that barn on my mind. The old milk house was still equipped with a small bulk tank with a flat top. The milker buckets and vacuum pump were still stacked on a rack in the corner and the milker claws still hung in a stainless sink along the front wall. We have no intention to milk cows and this equipment is nearly antiquated at this time but the buckets may have made great flower planters while a friend of mine could use the bulk tank for storing maple syrup in early spring. We walked into the barn from the milk house and stepped down the alley, being sure not to trip on the paddled barn cleaner chain that lay on the alley. As with other old stone foundation barns, the earth laden side of the barn had begun to deteriorate. This seems to be due to moisture soaking through the barn hill that gradually rises to the haymow and permeating the outer side of the wall. At the end of the barn, we came to a large sliding door. I slid it open and took the steps of countless cows before me. The cow yard was impressively engineered and as well-executed as any. It was surrounded by metal poles cemented into the ground that supported steel gates all the way around. The entirety of the surface was concrete and the gates could be swung to divide this large, open area into many smaller corrals. The yard must have been thirty by eighty feet in dimension and ran nearly the full length of the barn. This would be a great yard to keep cattle or stock on during the spring and winter months when the conditions became too snowy or muddy to allow them out into the small pasture area behind the cement pad. This could be the barn of my dreams. As we made our way back to the car, I thanked our realtor and discussed what Brittni and I’s vision for a farm would be. I hadn’t tried to make the fact we were skeptical of the property that apparent but I am sure anyone experienced in the business of property sales can see it in your face.
Brittni and I haven’t written this property off entirely, but the desire has dwindled in the time that has passed since we first saw the listing. The term “money-pit” keeps coming to mind and as I research what foundation and electrical work can cost, the price I would be willing to pay for the property keeps dwindling. Brittni and I have no shortage of vision for this type of property but this one just isn’t meant to be. Although the barn, yard, shed, and fields are all I could imagine them to be, the most important thing for us to consider is that this will be our home long before it will ever be a functioning farm. A farm to raise a family on is very important to us, but that doesn’t mean anything if we can’t afford to heat the house we are raising it in. At this point, our realtor will keep looking and Brittni and I will keep saving for what will be our future farm.
The hens are settled into their new home and seem to be content with the coop and run. They have more space than they had in the past along with grass and foliage for them to forage through. They have begun to roost in the coop instead of huddling up in the corner as a group and have finally started to lay eggs in the bedding offered instead of on the ground outside. To the unknowing observer, everything would seem fine and dandy for these ladies, but I haven’t addressed the elephant in the room, er, the rooster in the yard.
Johnny is an Americauna rooster who was acquired through poor sexing at the hatchery. There were originally two roosters, but Foghorn wandered off shortly after being kicked from the group when he became aggressive and would prevent the hens from coming into the doorway of the chicken tractor. Johnny was a late bloomer though. For the longest time, I was unsure if he was even a he. His comb is but slightly larger than that of the hens and his spurs and saddle feathers are nearly non-existent. Unlike Foghorn, who crowed on the hour throughout the day, Johnny is a silent roo and can be faintly heard between 5:30 and 6:00 on some mornings. The one thing that made me think this Americauna was a rooster was its size. Johnny stands about 6″ taller than the 3 hens of the same breed. When he outgrew the chicken tractor, I pulled him out and he has since been living in an old dog house near the coop. He does not have a run and freely roams the yard. If he remained docile, I intended to keep him until next spring in hopes that we could rear a batch of chicks or two. Until lately, he had kept to himself and still had a slight fear of me coming near. That is until we let the hens out into an open run.
The day I moved the hens from their chicken tractor to their more permanent coop and run, I knew problems were going to arise. Upon introduction to the new territory, 4 hens began pecking the ground and searching for insects, and one, an Americauna named Roxette, paced the fence and taunted Johnny. Pecking and fluttering through the fence was the least of my worries though. Roxette, who I soon realized would have been more suit to the name Roxanne, found her way over the four-foot fence the day after she was moved in. I came home from work to find her and Johnny strutting through the tall grass behind the pen. I approached the two of them and Johnny went fleeing to his home. I cornered her between the fence and the chicken tractor that had been her previous domicile, picked her up, and placed her over the fence. She quickly ran into the coop and began pecking the water trough inside. I guess all those extra-curricular activities made her thirsty.
Stumbling upon Roxette and Johnny became less of a surprise every time it happened. It became such a common occurrence that I arrived home from work one day and found myself surprised that she was still in the run with the rest of the girls. I thought maybe the relationship was just a fling and that she must be over him, but I was mistaken. The next day, she had once again climbed out the theoretical window and snuck away with her beau. I had been keeping an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t brooding or sitting this entire time as the chance of chicks making it through the winter now is slim to none. She seemed to act normal and I hadn’t identified any other issues arising from these co-ed visits, until yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon, I arrived home in the rain and see that once again, Roxette was out and in desperate need of a dry place to go. Johnny was nowhere to be seen, so I assumed he had taken shelter in his home. Like most other days, I approached the cold, wet hen to replace her into the coop. She clucked as she always does in this situation until I set her down in the coop. I slid the deadbolt clasps back into place and turn around to find one very agitated rooster giving me what I can only assume is the cockerel version of a death stare. He reared his head back in what seemed like an attempt at intimidation. While I was gone that day, the two must have decided to go steady and that meant nobody touches his girl. He stepped towards me and spread his wings while simultaneously squawking. I quickly reached for a conveniently placed rake that had been leaned against the garage and placed it between he and I. In all scenarios prior, this act would have him running like the chicken he is, but not this time. Love had flipped a switch inside of him and he had, in turn, taken the stereotypical path of an ornery rooster. As I quickly scuttled to the house, rake in hand, Johnny followed me up past the garage and stopped at the end of the walk to the house. He strutted as if he had won with the upper hand, er, talon.
Love can make a man do a lot of crazy things, and this is no different regarding my rooster Johnny. Roxette has pulled on his heartstrings and he made a choice that has forced a grave decision on my part. I would like to consider my home and yard a safe place for my family to spend time. I don’t need to live with the fear that a decision I did or didn’t make could hurt anyone in my life. I briefly considered building an enclosure for him to live in but the resources it would take to do so would long outweigh the 4$ per chick cost we would pay in the spring without his services. I can’s say that I was ever really attached to him. In a mere few hours, Johnny has gone from our timid free range rooster with a long life expectancy to a wanted felon enjoying the few hours he has left in my yard (with Roxette, I presume.) As for her, she may not stay in the run with the other hens any more than she does now. However, I will feel much safer knowing that I won’t get attacked by her vagrant boyfriend every time I return her to her proper home.
With the lack of an actual “Farm” at this time, Brittni and I have decided to establish ourselves in a way that our current space allows. If you visit the page regularly, you know that I recently wrote a post about growing garlic (find it here ->-> https://brbfarmwi.com/2019/10/03/the-strong-smell-of-success/ ) We have decided to try our hand at growing 6 different varieties of the plant. I found a farm in Washington that grows garlic for seed and placed an order. We will be receiving 1/4 lb. of each variety we ordered. Garlic for seed is very expensive so we will be starting with this small amount in hopes that we get a good yield and can replant our harvest next fall. The only concern we have at this time is finding a prime location to plant our first crop. There is a slight concern that we may find a farm to move to before next August when the crop should be ready to harvest so I came up with the idea of growing the roots in pallet crates. Garlic grows very well in raised beds as is so this will be an easy way to ensure we get to harvest it. I will be getting the crates from my employer as they currently give them away to be burned. Let us hope that our crop is planted by next week so it can begin to develop promptly before the first hard freeze.
Last Sunday was a beautiful autumn day, so I decided to take Georgia to pick her first pumpkin. Although she is too young to understand the experience, getting outside and breathing in the fresh, autumn air would be a blessing to both of us. We were going with a long time friend of mine and had decided to go to Harvest Hill in Seymour, WI. Harvest Hill is know for their great pumpkin patch, corn maze, craft shop, and a large variety of activites and games that are fun for the whole family.
One of the great activities at Harvest Hill is the quaint, little petting zoo. Goat kids, a donkey, a pony, and various barnyard birds call the petting zoo home through the harvest season. Georgia and I got up close and personal with a few of these critters. Although Georgia is still too young to play with the animals, she did get joy out of their shaggy appearances. It seems they may have gotten some joy out of the spectacle of her knit cow hat as well.
Once we had our fill of the petting zoo, we made our way to the craft shed. Here, we found an assortment of fall decor, clothing, and autumn treats to enjoy while at the farm. The aroma of hot, fresh popcorn and warm apple cider tempted our senses as we walked in and perused the selection of home made wreaths, ladders, and rustic decor. At the other end of the shed, excited children wielding paint brushes demonstrated their artistic abilities as they customized the pumpkins they had picked. Speaking of, we still needed to get our pumpkin.
Upon leaving the craft shed, we walked past the children’s activity area. Here, children were playing autumn themed games organized by Harvest Hill. Georgia is still a hip attatchment at this time so we kept moving to the pumkin patch. At the patch, we quickly noticed the large variety of pumkins one could pick. Pumpkins of all sizes were available in red, white, and orange. Without much deliberation, we settled on a small white pumpkin and snapped the stem off about 3 inches from the top of the gourd. More time could have been spent finding the perfect pick, but a cold breeze began to blow and Georgia needed to get back to the calming warmth of the car. As we left the patch, we stopped back in the craft shed to pay for our pumpkin and made our leave. As I placed Georgia in her car seat, she began to nod off. By the time I had walked around the car and climbed in, she was asleep.
Taking my baby to Harvest Hill last weekend filled us with fall spirit. The excitement of the day was enough to put Georgia to sleep for the extent of the trip home. I on the other hand, had gotten a taste of fall festivities that gave me the urge to light pumpkin, apple, and autumn breeze candles throughout the house as soon as I got home. Harvest Hill was a great place to make precious memories with my daughter and I am patiently awaiting taking her back next year so we can wander the corn maze, paint a pumpkin, or play any of the many games for children that the farm offers.
Peace can be found in a lot of places. For as long as I can remember, I have found peace in nature. There is a small river that runs through our back yard and on quiet evenings, I can walk down to the water and watch the currents and babbles flow over rocks and forgotten timber long submerged. That is one place I find serenity. The other place that has always calmed me is the pasture at my parent’s farm. On a warm summer evening, I could watch the cows meander and munch on the grasses and clovers until dark. At dark, I would walk back to the farm by the light of the moon and the subtle tune of crickets. Lately, the places I have found serenity have started to waiver from the stereotypical creek bend or cow pasture.
Brittni and I are truly blessed with the gift of our little girl. Most of the time, Georgia is the sweetest thing we ever asked for. Other times, she can be a holy terror. These sudden mood swings usually arise when it is time to take a nap. (I understand where she is coming from. She has a lot of smiling and giggling to do and an unscheduled nap is going to throw off her entire schedule. She has a bottle at eight that she can’t miss and who knows how long her appointment at the changing table is going to take.) I assume that she gets her smile and positive attitude from her mother and the occasional, unbearable irritability from me. At that, Brittni and I still work hard to reinforce the habit of napping in the crib for at least an hour between meals. This does not go well every time. It usually results in her falling asleep in one of our arms and the inability to set her down, take a leak, or move in general for the next 60 minutes. On the rare occasion that she does remain sleeping when placed in the crib, Brittni and I celebrate. By celebrate, I mean we sit in the living room in silence while staring at the baby monitor hoping we don’t hear any blood-curdling screams come through the tiny speaker. At the slightest movement, we turn and look at one another in what may be the most motionless game of “Nose-Goes” that nobody has ever seen. Amidst the tension of a deep breath, a cough, or the slightest squeak, this is a peaceful time for me. It is not peaceful in the sense that I can sit and quietly read that romantic novel I have been meaning to get finished. It is peaceful because I can do the dishes, cook dinner, fold laundry, or complete any of the other four million tasks around the house that need to be completed without having to feel like I am ignoring the newest addition to the love-of-my-life collection. If I try doing these tasks while she is awake, I do them in a poorly choreographed dance of baby giggles, pots of water boiling over, and forgetting to add soap to the dishwasher before running it. Peace is knowing everything is done correctly and the baby isn’t any wiser of my time not spent with her.
With the recent construction of a new chicken coop and run for my hens, comes a new mesmerizing distraction. Although I have had chickens since this spring, I never got to watch them in a comfortable and open environment where they could wander aimlessly in search of who-knows-what to peck. Upon opening the door to let the ladies out every morning, I wait in silent anticipation to see my hens hop down the ramp to the light and sandy soil where they spend their days. Hop, Step, Peck. Hop, Step, Peck. It is amazing how the rest of the world fades away as I watch them brush by one another in what seems like a silent film. Hop, Step, Peck. Hop, Step, Peck. The other morning, I let the hens out 5 minutes before I needed to leave for work and ended up arriving 10 minutes late as I was taken by subtle movements and fluttering feathers. Although I find peace in it, watching chickens for relaxation seems equal in insanity to taking a yoga class with a goat on your back (Yes, Goat Yoga exists and people pay money for it!)
I have always enjoyed working in the yard. Many of my hours during the non-winter months are spent removing trees and brush, reseeding grass, and most of all, mowing the lawn. Mowing is one of those monotonous chores that I always did, but felt that the time was wasted. Within a week of mowing, the grass will have regrown and the process is started all over again. I tried making the experience more enjoyable by listening to podcasts on my phone, but my earbuds would always fall out of my ears and the volume I needed to listen to overcome 3000 revolutions per minute of a small diesel engine was absurd. Eventually, I became fed up and started looking for a better listening alternative. I ended up finding some BlueTooth earbuds that are OSHA certified, eliminate noise, and can play 10 hours of audio on a charge. These changed the lawn mowing game for me. What was loud and time-consuming is now peacefully spent catching up on new episodes of my favorite podcasts. This just goes to show that peace and quiet don’t always go hand-in-hand.
As life changes, so do the ways we find peace in it. Something as unheard of as watching chickens wander their run can make a stressful morning easier to get through. Things that seem loud and overbearing can be changed and the serenity of any situation can be seen more clearly the farther back one steps. So take a step back and look at a situation from a different perspective. Maybe if you do, you too can find peace in an unconventional place. In the meantime, I am going to start researching the feasibility of chicken yoga. You would be surprised what people will pay to find some peace of their own.
If you are interested in checking out the noise-canceling earbuds I use while mowing the lawn, you can find them on my Amazon store here ->->-> ISOtunes PRO Bluetooth Earplug Headphones As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
After much discussion and deliberation, my wife and I decided we were going to get some chicks this spring. Not knowing much about raising and caring for chicks, we did the reasonable thing and got 10 of them. When shopping for chicks, there are a lot of important considerations to keep in mind. When picking breeds, I was thinking about things like adult size, disease resistance, laying frequency, and longevity. My wife was considering things like beauty, color of eggs, and whether or not they pecked her while she was petting them at the feed store. We ended up keeping things simple and got five Ruff Orpingtons and five Americaunas. I will let you decide who picked which breed.
With our chicks living under a heat lamp in a kiddie pool in our garage, I soon realized how quickly these new feathered friends would grow! I had done some very brief research and decided that I wanted to build a chicken tractor. I sketched up some quick plans and off to the hardware store I went. I purchased a couple sheets of treated plywood, treated dimensional lumber, and steel for the roof. I also purchased the screws I would need to assemble this chicken abode and some wheels to place on one end so I could wheel it around the yard. Construction ensued and for the next week or so, my free time was spent cutting, screwing, and cursing (no one said I am a good carpenter.) After hours of design, construction, destruction, redesign, and reconstruction, my 4′ by 8′ chicken tractor was complete. You may be thinking, “That’s way too small for 10 chickens!” You are correct. We had the intention of selling 3 of our chickens to my brother and sister-in-law once they were big enough to be moved out of the garage. You may be thinking, “That is still too small, even for 3 less than 10 chickens!” You are correct again. We knew that our chances of buying 10 chicks and getting 10 hens were slim to none and our final goal was to have 5 hens of our own. It was soon apparent that we planned correctly as two of our fuzzy little chicks slowly developed into loud, bullying roosters. We now have 5 hens in our 4′ by 8′ enclosure. “Still too small!” you scream in angst at my slight naivety. It was time for an upgrade before winter.
I took my mistakes realized too late and used them to design what I think is a better coop. Realizing that I never moved my chicken tractor as it was, I decided this enclosure would be semi-permanent. I had spent a lot of time designing the nesting boxes in the chicken tractor thinking that the birds would roost on the front lip of them and soon realized that they needed something elevated to perch upon. I also realized that the interior of the tractor was not accessible enough to clean it out, or feed and water my stock. Finally, I knew that the 4′ by 5′ run was far too small for the number of birds I was keeping. I kept all of this in mind as I designed the new aviary habitat. Soon, I had developed what I think, is the perfect coop for my flock. I quickly put pen to paper and started calculating the cost of construction and made the sudden realization, that I needed a big raise at work if my chickens were going to live such a lavish lifestyle. I began rethinking my design but could not find a way to cut costs enough to make the project feasible.
One weekend, I was working in the shop at my parent’s dairy farm and decided I would take a look around the farm to see if there were any materials that I could use for my pending construction project. There is always a lot of lumber around the farm, but I knew that I didn’t want to use anything of value as the good, high quality lumber comes in handy when fences break, calf pens need repairing, or slats break out of feed bunks. I decided the best place to look for old, “unusable” lumber would be in the hay mow. I can remember a rack full of old slat boards that had been stored years before we moved onto the farm up on an elevated platform at one end of the mow. I decided that was where I would start. I swept the pigeon droppings off of the lumber rack and soon found that it was full of old boards. Some of them were solid hardwood 1″ by 4″s and 2″ by 4″s. Others were 8″ tongue and groove siding. All were once painted a bright, barn red. I began sliding the boards out of the rack and lowering them to the mow floor. Upon seeing that the boards had incremental spaces where no paint had been applied, I made the realization that the lumber that was my future chicken coop was actually salvaged from an old wooden forage box. A forage box is a farm implement that sits on a wheeled running gear. Alfalfa or corn forage is harvested with a chopper and blown into these wagons to transport it to the farmyard where it would be blown up a silo. Modern forage boxes are constructed from steel, but vintage equipment was built from wood. Some of the boards had rotten spots or areas where nails had been pulled out of them, but this would work perfectly in my budget. Beyond the old, dismantled forage box, I also found some rough-cut pine 4″ by 4″s that were far too light to be used on the farm. These would be my legs and rafters. I wanted to build my coop on skids so I could drag it around the yard if needed. I dismantled an old dog runner in my yard and used the treated 4″ by 4″ by 8’s that held the cable on each end for the base of the dwelling.
Upon finalizing my design based on the materials I had available, I set aside a couple weekends to complete the build. I completed the main framing on the first Saturday I worked on the project. Building the skid, adding the legs, and framing the roof took about 6 hours. The next Saturday, I cut and installed siding on the back and sides of the coop. I also added additional framing for the front doors. This took about 4 hours. The following Sunday, I installed siding on the front, built the doors, cut and installed the rear door for chicken entry/exit, and installed the steel roof. This took an additional 6 hours.
Although I salvage all of the lumber used in this project, I did need to purchase some of the materials I used for this project. The steel on the roof was at the farm and had been used for wall covering in the tool room of our shop. Three sheets were left over so I purchased them for a cool $10 a sheet. I also had to purchase door latches, door handles, and hinges for both of the front doors as well as the chicken door on the back. I also needed to replace the hardware that I used that was property of the farm. Screws and lags came from the tool room at the farm shop and are frequently needed for on-farm projects. The siding was fastened with my brad-nailer and I already had all of the brads needed for the job. Overall, I spent about $60 on what I believe to be a much more adequate home for my birds. It will be easier to access the nesting and roosting area for cleaning and collection of eggs. I can build a much larger run for them outside of the coop than what was available on my tractor. The thick wood boards used for the project will also offer some much-needed insulation over the thin steel covering used to construct the tractor. Overall, I put much more design into this new enclosure and spent about 1/4 as much money as I did on the previous habitat. I would say that this was money well spent.
Please follow along for a future post outlining the process of setting the coop level, building the paddock, and rehoming my hens!
Last weekend, while working on a chicken coop at my parent’s farm, my father spoke of a newly acquired acquaintance he had met when purchasing some baled hay that morning. This man sounds like quite the personality as he had tried to sell my father on everything but the kitchen sink. He was a retired dairy farmer that had decided to diversify his farm in the time since he ceased to milk cows. He had begun growing root crops and told my father of the great successes it had brought him. Whilst preparing to leave the man’s farm, my father was persuaded to exchange a Lincoln portrait for 20 lbs. of red potatoes. Upon completing his transaction, my father made small talk about crops with the man. The man explained his potato business but there was another crop he wished to speak of far more than spuds….it was garlic. The man explained the methods used to grow garlic and explained the business model surrounding it. As my father retold the ways of the garlic farmer, I became intrigued to do some research of my own.
First, let’s talk about how garlic is grown. Garlic is closely related to onions, and in turn, grows a large root bulb below the soil surface while extending shoots upward to collect sunlight. Depending on the climate zone you are in, garlic can be planted from October to March and is usually harvested 120-150 days after planting. In Wisconsin, Garlic is usually planted in October or November. The idea is to plant the crop 2-4 weeks before the ground freezes. If you plant too early, shoots will emerge from the ground and can be damaged by the cold. Plant too late, and you risk poor root development and the plant doesn’t get a good start in the spring. Garlic should be grown in well-drained soil or raised beds. Plants can be grown at many populations but for larger bulbs, place 1 plant per sq. ft. Garlic plants can be started from seed but growers usually choose to plant cloves as they develop much quicker. Cloves need to be oriented with the roots pointing downward. The seed piece will be covered with soil, then a layer of straw or plastic mulch will be placed on top to insulate the young plant. At this point, the plant is set for winter. At emergence in the spring, mulch can be removed for faster warming of the soil. The plants will develop a pigtail like flower stalk. This curly stalk should be trimmed so the plant directs energy into the bulb instead of into reproduction. Garlic is a Nitrogen demanding crop and fertilizer can be added to increase yield. Insecticide is not needed in garlic crops because garlic is a natural insect repellant. After fertilizing, time is needed for the crop to mature. Once the leaves on the bottom half of the plant have withered, the crop is ready to be dug, hung, and dried for 4 to 6 weeks. Once dried, the garlic is ready for sale or storage.
Farmers in the United States grow between 24 and 26 thousand acres of garlic every year. Of that, only about half of the crop is sold domestically. The average price currently paid for garlic is about $60/cwt (hundredweight). With tactical, fresh local marketing, producers can easily sell their bulbs for $180/cwt to $240/cwt. The yield per acre is greatly dependent on the varieties grown. Including all varieties grown in the U.S, the average acre produces about 15K lbs., or 150 cwt per acre. Even at $60/cwt., that comes out to $9,000 gross profit, making garlic farming seem very lucrative. Let’s try breaking out some of the expense of growing this crop.
Seed garlic, or dried garlic split in cloves, is not a cheap thing to buy. Upon a few searches for bulk garlic seed, I have seen prices varying from $15 to $20 per lb. depending on the quantity that you buy. If planted at a population of 1 piece per sq. ft., you would need 43,560 seed pieces. I picked a very average sized variety of garlic and found that there are 70 seed pieces per lb. If I divide the number of pieces needed by the number of pieces per lb., I end up requiring 622 lbs. of seed. Some quick math using the above figures shows that it would cost at least $9,300 to plant an acre of garlic in seed pieces alone. That leaves us with a net profit of $300 per acre (Not including any expenses other than seed) So how does one make money growing this unusual crop?
After the first harvest of garlic, plants can be dried and stored and used for seed later that fall. The math above shows me that 622 lbs. of seed could result in 15,000 lbs. of harvested crop. That means the quantity of garlic multiplies by a factor of about 24 times. If I wanted to seed an acre of garlic, I could start by planting 26 lbs. of seed this year on 1/24th of an acre. If I wanted to save even more money, I could plant just over a pound of seed on 1/576th of an acre this year and have enough seed to plant an entire acre in two years. That means I could start a long-term investment in garlic farming with as little as $20 and 75 sq. ft. of fertile, well-drained soil this fall. Being the conservative pessimist I am, I am going to assume it will take me $40 and 150 sq. ft. to get half as much yield as projected, but I still like those odds. I think this just became a lot more lucrative than I thought it was one paragraph ago.
In closing, I hope you enjoy this type of article. I am naturally a dreamer and am always trying to research the next baby step I can take to help lead my family to the farming future we are working so hard for. Preparation is key and nothing can be more important than laying the groundwork for the next task at hand.
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