Wacky Wanderers

exploring on the road as a family

More fun with Crow Farm projects

A farm has never ending projects most of which we were fairly clueless of their execution prior to our research. However, it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to get our hands dirty, well actually our whole bodies dirty, and learn something new! It’s a bonus when we can do these things as a family.

Fence:

So, prior to getting our sweet piggies we had to create a fence to complete the one side of the hayfield they would be living in. Justin did his research, which he is so good at, came up with an action plan and bought the supplies. In the project we would be digging 8 fence posts, tensioning wire fencing, bracing the poles and putting in 2 gates. I contacted all our neighbors asking if anyone had a pole digging tool we could borrow figuring that at least one would have it. Well, don’t ever underestimate the handy country folk. ALL of our neighbors had one! Ha! Very smart to have such a handy tool.

As many of you know Oregon gets LOTS of rain over the winter therefore, as you can guess, we worked many days in the rain while making this fence. Messy, messy, messy!! Just 4-6″ down from the surface our soil becomes clay. Clay is not only difficult to dig through but extremely sticky and oh so very messy. Due to the soaked earth our holes quickly became muddy wells which would splash and slosh as we jammed our digging tool in. By the time we had finished our first fence pole we all looked like Dalmatians! It was hard slow work.

When putting up the fencing we soon fell into a rhythm of tensioning and stapling. We found a great technique that allowed us to keep the tension while we pounded in our staples. This was after we tried a couple different methods that ended in failure. You live, you learn, right? We chose to make the gates big enough that our tractor or a large truck could fit through if needed to access the septic or hayfield.

Pig Pen:

We weren’t exactly sure how large we ultimately wanted the piggies sleeping area to be inside the barn. We came up with multiple designs but all involved some major work. While we were figuring things out with the pigs we decided to create a semi-temporary structure that could be easily altered if it needed to be.

Before we could start any of these plans we had to pull up an existing wood platform that was in that area of the barn. In doing so we found that there had been multiple animals living under there at different times. I found the skeleton of an opossum and I’m pretty sure semi-recent cat poo. This makes sense because we have a volunteer barn cat who’s named Clover and roams our place. Don’t worry, she has a couple other shelter spots here on Crow Farm.

Justin built a pen with pallets which leads out the door of the barn to their outdoor pen. It worked out great and seems to be a good size! I’d say my only wish would be that a gate be added in the future. Right now we climb up and over the pallet wall to tend to the piggies. Eventually I’d like this pallet wall to be higher to make it predator-proof. When we do this we will definitely need a gate! When friends came over with their dog, the dog showed us how easy it was to hop over their pallet pen and chase them down! It was scary and gave us good information about how easy it was to get in.

Digging Ditches:

Part of Justin’s internet plan for Crow Farm involved hooking the main buildings up to ethernet (wired internet). This means digging ditches to all those buildings! Luckily we had bought the correct digging tools for the first ditch we dug so the following ditches were easier.

Justin took the lead on this project. First he strung a string and marked the path with a shovel cut. The sod was cut out and set aside and the hole was dug with a pick ax and skinny shovel. Super handy! One of the ditches went from the granny shack to the carport and another from the annex to the barn. Why do we need fast internet at an open air pole barn you may be asking yourself? Well, we wanted to be sure our guests with campers had internet and we could spy on our animals with security cameras. :). Good to know that they are safe and behaving themselves.

Camper Pad:

Because we traveled on the road for 6 month chunks 2 years in a row we were lucky enough to meet some really great folks who are on the road with their families full time. When we were looking at homes to buy we wanted to be sure we had a place for campers to park and be comfortable while they visit.

Crow Farm definitely had the potential for this but it wasn’t quite practical for the big rigs to have space to get in and out with ease. There were two “driveways” at different levels leading to two of the three bays of the barn. This was super handy for moving vehicles in and out of the barn but tricky for a camper to have room to park on the narrow path. It also dropped off quite abruptly to the edge of the north hayfield leaving no room for a big rig to turn around. In an effort to make our place more inviting for our on-the-road friends we decided to widen and level this pad.

This was no small task! The first truck FULL of gravel we got was 15 tons, which sounded like a lot! Well, we learned that it’s not a lot. Not at all. It was kind of like seeing a little ant hill on a beach. Haha. We laughed so hard at us being so naive. Justin calculated out how many tons he estimated us needing and, yikes! It was a lot!! So far we have had 250 tons of fill dirt (which is non-clay dirt mixed with rocks of various sizes; some the size of Butternut!). Justin scooped the dirt piles with the tractor and after he dumped them I spread them out evenly. He then attached a grading tool to the back of the tractor and as I shouted commands (the tractor is loud) we slowly leveled the camping pad. We learned that this is not such an easy task. We have spent many afternoons looking at the pad from different angles and adding or removing dirt here and there. It was a bit trickier because we were not only grading it away from the barn in one direction but also angling it away from the hayfield in another direction. It felt like we were little tiny ants moving the dirt around. Progress was slow to be seen when moving such heavy materials. The last step will be to add a final layer of gravel to the top after the dirt has experienced some more rain and had time to settle. Lucky for us, it rains a lot here!

Pig Pen Mess!

Speaking of rain, in the winter rains our outdoor pig pen quickly turned into a mud hole! A really, really big mud hole that was swallowing us all up alive every time we walked on it. The piggies didn’t seem to mind but we didn’t want them to get hoof rot and thought they deserved a space that was comfortable to lay on and play without slipping and sliding about.

We debated lots of different solutions to this problem but what we ended up settling on was to buy 5 yards of “hog fuel” or “walk-on mulch”. Walk-on mulch is basically just big chunked mulch. We actually used the same stuff on the walking path we made through the woods. There were some down sides to this option: One; we knew after we had put the mulch down it meant that we wouldn’t be growing grass there anytime soon without some major work. Two; the mulch would eventually get mushed down into the mud and we would have to add more to the top to keep the desired effect. The reason why we went with it anyway was because it was a relatively cheap option and would be a comfortable and safe material for the piggies to walk and lay on.

We tractored the mulch into the outdoor pig pen and shoveled it around to create a little island of bliss leading into their indoor pig pen, the gate leading into their outdoor pen and encompassing their eating and drinking area. Since we had some extra hay, we sprinkled that too on some of the muddy mess. For this one day the pigs were in heaven with their clean hay lining the ground. Curly was especially playful doing periodic little jumps, wiggles and dashes into and out of the hay. They all even enjoyed an outdoor nap on it. Within a week it looked like a muddy mess again where the hay had been, but it was fun while it lasted. I figure it probably helped the mud situation a little after it mixed in. So far, the mulch island still stands even with the piggies occasional rooting. I’m hopeful it will last us through the rest of the winter.

One thing I would do differently if we did it again would be to bring the mulch in bucket by bucket. The wheel barrow wouldn’t have worked because the mud was so deep but bringing the tractor in REALLY made the pen muddy. The pigs root up the top soil layer looking for roots of weeds but the tractor dug up much bigger ruts due to its size.

More Secure Enclosure for Animals:

We plan to get ducks sometime soon so we’ve been planning and drafting designs and setups for what this might look like. Justin and I spent many nights debating where our feathered friends would live and how they would live. We finally decided that it would be nice for the pigs and ducks to semi-share a space down by the barn. The enclosure would have a duck house and food/drinking area where the pigs could not get in yet the main living space would be shared between pigs and ducks.

I follow many of the local community networks and there are often people posting stories about their outdoor animals getting eaten by frequenting mountain lions, coyote packs and raccoons. This made us nervous for our pigs and our future ducks. A raccoon or other small to medium animal is unlikely to bother with a pig, but a duck? Mmm, dinner! Once that predator gets a taste of delicious duck we figured it would come back for more and may even be bold enough to go after the piglets. Because of this, we are in the process of creating a tall fenced structure that our pigs and ducks will be in during the winter months full time and at night or when we are away, during the summer months. The ducks will be closed inside their little hut, which is within the outer fencing, at night. The enclosure will have 8′ no-climb fencing all around which we hope will deter most predators.

Back to pole digging we went!! This time things got even messier. The ground had not only had a lot more time to take on water but we were working within an actual pig pen. And guess what? Our fence line goes right along the existing temporary T post and hog wire fence which just so happens to be the piggies poop spot. Just lovely. It went something like this: shovel poop, dig, splash, slip, shovel poop, rinse off boots, dig, splash and slip!

It seemed funny that we thought our first pole digging experience was messy!! Haha. Now our task was to dig holes for 12 fence poles, do a stacked layer of wire fencing and add 2 more gates.

Justin used our trailer to pick up 1 yard of wet gravel, fencing and 15 poles along with some other things in our van. He quickly realized that the trailer was bottomed out and had to move most of the poles and fencing into the van. Even then, when he rolled up the road and hit a small bump I could hear the tire on the trailer rubbing on the wheel well. Next time we’ll have the gravel delivered via a honkin’ dump truck.

When poor Justin was out picking up all the supplies to build this enclosure he ended up lifting something in the wrong way while his knee was bent sideways and ended up ripping his meniscus (we think)!! He heard a crunching sound and…ouch!! We got him a brace which seems to help a bit and he has been healing pretty well. So, between my hurt wrist and Justin’s hurt knee together we made for one useful human! Justin did the ramming of the digging rod to loosen the soil because that hurt my wrist and I did the lifting of dirt, gravel and poles. It poured on us one day during our last pole of the day but for the next it was sunshine. The bright side of working in the rain is that you sometimes get to see a rainbow which we did! There’s always an upside folks!

Lots of work to go on this project but we have lots of time before our ducklings come.

Piggy Saga

How it all started:

Once upon a time there lived a little girl who grew up with a pig. Granted it was only a small portion of her growing up that she was with this 750 lb gentle giant but it was enough to make an impact. This little girl dreamed of growing up and once again owning a pig. Well, 30 years later, this dream came true! Yes, we now have pigs at Crow Farm!! How in the world did I talk Justin into this you might be wondering? Well, I’ll tell you. And this is how it begins…

Justin knew that this day was coming ever since he agreed to buy Crow Farm. We have had the city chapter in our life as well as the travel chapter and here is our farm chapter!

We started by researching different breads choosing breads that were low maintenance, grew to a smaller size and were friendly. This proved to be way too broad. I had never thought about it until then but, I didn’t have the foggiest idea where one goes to purchase animals. I suppose somewhere there are livestock auctions but how do you find out about those?? We turned to something we knew and looked on Craigslist to see what was for sale. There are in fact animals for sale!

One of the pig breads that came up was a Kunekune pig. They are one of the smaller breads with their max weight around 240 lbs, they have hair which makes them able to handle the cold better (it’s not like it is that cold around here but I am always worried of people and animals getting too cold) and protects against sunburn, they are said to be grazing pigs rather than rooters and come up on the top of the list for family friendly pigs. Sounded good to us! We agreed that we wanted 2 pigs so they could keep each other company and stay warm. Well, we found a woman selling 2 Kunekune one-year old sows and 2 piglets. We didn’t want all 4 of them but decided it would be a good idea to go meet them so we could better pick which ones we wanted. This is where it got complicated.

Meet and Greet:

Upon our visit we found that the Mama sow was very skittish and wouldn’t let us get near her, the 2 piglets were about the same and the other sow was overweight but docile as can be. What we really wanted was to get the 2 piglets but when the owner told us they were in a dangerous situation due to her horse trying to kick them, we caved and got all 4! It also made sense to keep the sows around throughout the winter to keep the piglets safe while they were little and warm at night. On top of that, the 4 week old piglets were still nursing some.

After we had agreed to buy all 4 piggies we had to move our little buns to get a space set up for them. We asked for a week to get things ready. We had to repair some existing fencing around the part of the hayfield we planned to keep them as well as build 130ft of new fencing with 2 gates to fully enclose the space. Let me tell you, it was hard, messy work and we learned a lot! Pretty fun experience. We also had to create a pig pen within the barn for the piggies to sleep at night.

We did it and were ready for the piggies! We named the overweight docile sow, Butternut, the Mama sow, Muffin, the auburn with black spotted runt piglet, Curly and the strawberry blond with strips piglet, Mercy.

Escape Artists:

The owner had been using a horse trailer with hay in it as their bed so it was an easy transport as all she had to do was close the door and hitch up. We were so excited! The travel trailer was opened and one by one with a little hesitancy they all proceeded to jump out of the trailer, across our hayfield and out the closed gate on the far side of the field! Haha!! Okay. Lesson number one: Gate ground clearance needs to be altered. It worked to our advantage that the pigs were scared of us so we were semi-easily able to get them back into the field with a herding method. It was hilarious!

We knew we had to change something and fast unless one of us wanted to have a full-time job guarding for pig escapes. The previous pig owner said what she would and has used is electric wire around the bottom of the fence line. Our neighbor who had raised pigs for over 10 years said he uses electric fowl fencing and let us borrow his to try it out until we could get one or figured out what we wanted to use.

Electric Fence?:

There were several more escapes that day which were from under the old existing fencing. Our options were: buy a significant amount of wire and hardware to electrify the bottom of our fences, use our neighbor’s electric fowl fencing or to unstaple all previously existing fences and pound in new staples after lowering and retensioning the fence. We decided to try the electric fence our neighbor let us borrow since we had it. We were against using electric fencing for 2 main reasons: we didn’t want our girls or other kids to get hurt on it and we felt like it went against gaining these piggies trust in us. Previously they had been allowed to roam free with no fences whatsoever so to go from nothing to electric seemed extreme. We were wary but all sources pointed us in this direction.

I won’t go into detail about how horrible it was but sweet Butternut ended up getting stuck in the fence while we fumbled to turn off the power. It was so very sad and traumatic for both the pigs and our 7 year old. Our oldest sat crying in a corner for the better part of an hour because of the experience. We made a mistake. We immediately took down the electric fence and started unstapling the existing fence. We all strongly agreed that there would not be an electric fence around these piggies. It was an all day/night and next day job but we powered through with Justin in the lead. Since my wrist has been giving me such circulation issues he has been picking up my slack where my wrist stops me. As we tightened and restapled the fence the piglets showed us where to fix next. 🙂 Luckily we know the key to a piggies heart is food and thank goodness I had stored away some of our fall apples which are quite the treat for those cuties. I have to say though, when they want to run, they can RUN!

Mama Muffin:

So, within the first day, Mama Muffin with some help from her piglets pealed back a good portion of the top soil in our field to root for weed roots. Justin was beside himself! We chose this breed because they were “grazers” meaning they get most of their food from the grass they eat and yet they were tearing up that very grass. We later read that in the winter the nutrients from the grass and weeds go to the roots as appose to the summer when it is stored in the top greens. Oh dear. Also, what progress we had made in getting the piggies to trust us and let us get near them without fear was reversed after the electric fence incident.

As we got to know these piggies a bit better we realized that Mama Muffin wasn’t as scared of us as she was suspicious. Any time she saw us she would trot over and stair us down in a menacing way. She was extra intimidating when it came to feeding her or being around her piglets. Instead of backing away or scurrying off when we would come near, she was starting to advance forward in a lung-like way. Her unpredictable and threatening behavior made me nervous to have my girls around them. Our cautious oldest refused to go into the pig field unless she was on my back and I always had my youngest at my side with me in between her and Mama Muffin. That pig was too much of a risk so I put her up for sale. By then the piglets were weaned and Butternut could fill the roll of warmth and companionship for the littles.

The prospect of selling Muffin got us thinking about our original plan to only have 2 pigs. After all, we are raising them as pets, not meat so it didn’t make sense to keep more than that. We thought maybe we should sell one of the piglets with their Mama but couldn’t decide. And, if we DID sell a piglet, which one?? I begrudgingly updated my post for Mama Muffin with piglet but didn’t specify which one.

A couple days passed before I had a solid inquiry on the pigs. “Finally!” we thought. We were eager to see Muffin gone. I set up a time and date for the woman. Then we had to decide which piglet to sell! Such a tough decision. After much debate, our family decided not to sell the piglets, only Muffin. The next day I called the potential buyer back and asked if she would still take just Muffin and not the piglet. She did! Hurray! It was settled. We had one more half day with Muffin. That’s what we thought anyway.

The next day something very odd happened which I can only explain by the idea that pigs are smart creatures. I went out to feed the piggies their breakfast at 8am sharp and as usual the pigs were all very eager. However, after Muffin took her first couple bites she tilted her head up, pricked her ears and stood stark still. She refused to eat and even walked away from her food where in the past she would be tossing her babies into the air and plowing down Butternut to get the most. This continues for some time so I called Justin over. Was she sick? We brought her over special grains that she loved and a fresh bowl of water as she stood in a trance. She stood there and let us PET her! Muffin, the previously semi-aggressive pig. What?! All morning it continued like this. She would snort happy snorts to us and trot over and let us rub her face, neck, cheeks, back, tummy, you name it. What had happened? Were the hormones from having her babies calming down? Whatever it was, it pulled at Justin’s heart strings.

Justin agonized over the thought of giving Muffin away that very afternoon! When it was a mere hour before the buyer was supposed to come and take her, Justin could take no more. Sounding like a total crazy, I again called the buyer and this time told her we had seen the soft side of Muffin and we decided to keep her. Good heavens! Maybe we would have 4 pigs forever more.

Well, the next day at breakfast time, do you know who was back? The old aggressive Muffin!! Man, what a smart pig. She played us with a mere hour to spare. Now I felt like she was even more dangerous changing her personality so dramatically like that. So, Justin (I refused to at this point) called back that poor buyer once again and set up a time for them to pick Muffin up. This time, free of charge. After giving them such a run around we didn’t feel like it was right to charge them anything. Ha!

That afternoon/night we set up a fenced in pen within the broader field figuring that having such a large space to run from us in, we’d never catch her. The smaller pen consisted of stiff, ridged hogwire and green T posts. We thought this was also come in handy to give the piggies a more limited space to destroy in the winter and give the field time to recover and grow for summer feed.

The Rodeo:

The next day about the time the buyers were scheduled to arrive a little new Subaro car came rolling into our driveway. “Okay” we thought, “must be one of them rode up ahead and the piggy trailer is on its way. Well, we were wrong! A sweet older couple stepped out of their car in dress shoes and the wife wearing tights, a skirt with a blouse, a dressy trench coat and her hair curled and pinned up into a bun in the back. It looked like she just came from church. The hatch popped open and there stood a large plastic dog crate. “Hmmm, I don’t think she’ll fit in there” I told her. “We make it work” she said. “Eek! It will be really tricky to say to least” I warned. “We do tricky before. It okay.” Okay. She was bound to know more about catching pigs than me so we rolled with it.

The buyers popped on their barn boots and set to luring Muffin into the cage with little luck. They tried bread, we tried cornering her, we tried a funnel trick. Nothing! And let me tell you, this girl was getting amped up as would be expected but boy, she was powerful. Throughout the entire rodeo Muffin wasn’t getting hurt, she was just nervous and kept running away without regard to what was in her way. Though, Muffin never ran AT anyone which was what I feared she would do. The buyers were so calm and confident about the whole thing but, to be honest, I was a bit shaken! I had seen Muffin bust through the barn door from her bed as well as through our various barricades of pallets or plywood. I helped out regardless in the outdoor pen but was hands off during the final capture. The technique that finally ended up working was closing her into the small pallet walled pig pen in the barn and slowly walking toward her with a pallet in hand. When there was just a little space left the cage was put at the opening of the pallet “wall.” At that point she must have accepted defeat or was too exhausted to run anymore because she walked right into the cage in the end and didn’t put up a fight. The buyers then loaded big old Mama Muffin into the back of their car!! It was unbelievable! There is no way someone could convince me to ride in a car with a large wild sow in a plastic dog cage. What if she got out while they were driving??! How scary! I have texted the buyer a couple times to be sure they made it home safely but haven’t heard back. I’m sure they are fine, they were very experienced. Oh dear! What an ordeal.

Settling in:

The 6 week old piglets are getting to know us better and are becoming more and more brave and tolerant of us. It may sound silly but I think singing to them helps. 🙂 Either that or it makes me more relaxed and they pick up on that. Butternut is her same docile self and she let me really take a good look at her. She is visibly overweight and has trouble walking probably partly because of weight and possibly partly because of age. It is unclear how old she really is. But, when I held her face in my hands as I was thoroughly checking her over I discovered something. She has NO eyes! I always joked and said, “Butternut, I can’t even see your eyes. Do you even have eyes?” The answer is, “no!” There is just skin over where her eyeballs should be. This explains so much; why she stays close to the barn, why she is overweight and why she is more docile. She does so well being blind! It is very rare that I see her bump into things. Her sense of smell and hearing make up for her sight. I contacted the previous owner who was free-ranging the pigs and told her about my discovery. She was just as flabbergasted as us!

We will probably stick to our original plan and keep the 2 piglets and sell sweet Butternut in the spring when the piglets are a bit bigger and nights are warmer. It seems like Butternut is on the verge of suffering and that isn’t right but, we’ll see. They are all happy here at Crow Farm for the time being.

Update on Decreasing Waste; backdated from June 2020

As you may have read earlier in our blog posts (LINK) in preparation to coming home and prior to the pandemic we were going to challenge ourselves to decrease our trash waist in an effort to help our planet and get into some better habits with where we bought our food from.  However, pandemic’s change a lot of things including what foods are available and in what packaging they come in.  

At the beginning of March when the pandemic started to become real and we were filling up our pantry with our staples we were sticking to our decreased waist plan and were buying in bulk stores filling our own bags with things like, lentils, oats and much more.  This was working pretty good.

However, as the threat of COVID-19 become more extreme in the US we were coming to the realization that getting to a grocery store in the near future might not be possible, at least on a regular basis.  We found that there were some items that were sold out of stores or simply couldn’t be found in a bulk option.  An example of this was chickpeas, tomato sauce and salsa.  Dried chickpeas were sold out of everywhere and tomato products were not being sold in bulk.  We initially skipped over these items due to our decrease waist goal for ourselves.

I figured for a lot of these ‘hard to find in bulk’ items I would just make them myself.  Well, that’s cost effective if I am the one browsing the grocery stores snagging cheap bags of “imperfect produce” or grabbing a mesh bag of this or that veggie when it’s on sale.  But since we have been ordering our groceries online for store pick-up, browsing for sales is non-existent.  We’re lucky if the things we want are even still in stock.  We have a saying in our house, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”  So, we order our groceries and are thankful for what we get and that we have the option to get anything at all without setting foot in a store.  

For now, we are doing our best to be good to this wonderful planet we live in with the things we choose to purchase but we are making some exceptions with containers to keep up sane, our family eating healthy.  I do primarily make our pasta, tortillas, chips, crackers and our bread but once in a while it has been nice to take the pressure off me and buy a box of pasta, for example.  

After this pandemic is part of our past, whenever that might be, we may try to pick up where we left off with decreasing our waist to the extreme, but for now, what we’re doing suits us just fine.  

Projects coming to Life

Before writing this post I hadn’t realized how many projects we have already done here at Crow Farm. When you get into the swing of things it all just flies by I guess. Here’s what we have done so far:

Canning Shack:

What we now call the canning shack used to be the milk house. It’s unclear if it was used to actually milk the cows in, to store the milk or something entirely different. But, now we use it as a place for our chest freezer and canning supplies and hopefully in the future as our “root cellar” as well. We wanted to be sure to watch the temperature, humidity levels and potential bugs before we put our winter supply of food in there.

The canning shack was in fairly rough shape with mildew covering most surfaces and lots of previous termite damage. There was over 3 inches of termite poo in the bottom of the cement hole that is in the shack due to them eating away at the boards above. Luckily I could rip most of this wood out and repair what damage they did on the interior wall. First came the scraping of the (lead?) paint. Next came the scrubbing of every surface with borax water (this was SO hard to do and gave me frozen fingers!). Then I had to repair the walls with wood filler and fill ALL the seams in the tongue and groove interior panels with caulk. From here I gave every surface but the floor 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of top paint. I am really happy with how it turned out but boy was it a challenging project! Next summer I hope to do the floors.

Internet:

Justin was in charge of internet when we moved in and as you can imagine, he was motivated to get it up and running. The first step was to temporarily clamp wifi access points to all the main buildings which means they were all wirelessly talking to one another. This worked okay but was pretty unreliable, especially up at the schoolhouse where we rely on internet to aid in lessons. After all, the computer is our encyclopedia now.

To make the internet more reliable Justin ran wires through the crawl space under the house and up to a roof-mounted access point. We dug a trench across the driveway to burry some ethernet wires as well. Now, when I say crawl space I mean army crawl space. Poor Justin said he had to weave himself through ducting with his head sideways, cheek in the dirt, and drag his body through some spaces! This sound terrifying to me and I was glad he was brave enough to do it. Of course he was careful and wore a full body suit with goggles, gloves and a respirator. The plan is to slowly dig trenches and bury ethernet wires to the various buildings on the property to increase speed. So far two trenches have been dug. The first was a family event and the other was a lunch break job for Justin.

Driveway Bell:

We quickly realized that in the country you either need a guard animal that will alert you when someone pulls into the driveway or some type of a sensor to tell you. There were many times that neighbors came to welcome us or we got a package that needed signing and we didn’t have a clue they had driven down our driveway and were standing next to our door. It’s just a bigger place. This thought didn’t cross my mind since in the city of course you will see someone approaching your house. They are right next to you! My 7 year old and I weren’t keen on the idea of getting a dog so instead Justin installed a door sensor that rings up in the school house and the main house. This required digging yet another trench and burying the sensor next to the end of the driveway. Thankfully he buried it in conduit since it is pretty squishy ground there in the fall. We are also thankful that we bought the right tools for the job. Using a tall narrow shovel in combination with a pick axe has proved to be a good investment. Every time the door bell rings I think of my wonderful childhood home where we had the same sounding chimes. I love it!

Girl’s Room Window Frame:

When we moved in there was a lot of chipping paint on the girls’ windows. As you can imagine this involved scraping off all the old paint, sanding down the surface, priming and giving it a top coat of paint. All the details about the molding that I loved so much quickly became not so nice while I was scraping the paint off. The girls had to sleep elsewhere for one night to let it air out but it was a fairly quick job since Justin could watch the girls while I worked.

Refinishing Deck:

The main house has a beautiful wooden deck off the back of the house but it looked like it needed a fresh coat of oil before the winter rains came. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that easy. Justin took on the big job of power washing the deck, sanding and then finishing the deck with an oil stain. He’s so good. He bought a belt sander and finished it lickity split. He did run into some issues with ripping the belts when he would nick the side of a screw head. After he figured out the issue of the ripped belts our sweet friend helped him by screwing down all the heads so they would be less likely to rip the sander belts. I think in the end he ended up ripping through about $50 worth of belts! Ha, boy. You live, you learn. It turned out lovely though.

Cleaning Chimneys:

There are a lot of chimneys here, some fairly straight forward and others not so much. We thought to help us gain some knowledge and save us a little money we should give a shot at cleaning the straight forward ones. And by “we” I mean Justin. 🙂 The girls and I gave him pointers and cheered him on. These were important pointers mind you. For instance, I noticed Justin was using a rickety old wooden ladder he had found in the barn and advised him to get a metal one. Just after he assured me the ladder was sturdy as anything his foot broke through one of the rungs and down to the next rung he went. Luckily he was close to the bottom. We all had a good chuckle about that! After that our comments weren’t taken as lightly. Justin did a great job and now can put “chimney sweep” on his farmer resume.

We hired someone to clean our two chimneys in the main house. This is still a very sore subject, especially for Justin so I won’t go into too much detail but lets just say we picked the wrong guy. We basically paid him to break one of our chimneys making the fireplace no longer safe or usable unless we decide to dish out A LOT of cash and tear apart the living room to fix what he broke. It was both infuriating and very sad.

Sensor Alarms for Outbuildings:

Since this is our first winter here and there are various out buildings we wanted to be sure that the temperature and moisture levels in each building was appropriate and that no leaks were occurring without us knowing right away. So, Justin did a ton a research, then researched again…and again. He’s very thorough and takes pride in finding the right product for our needs that is good quality. He landed on LoRaWAN as the technology. Apparently it is designed for commercial remote monitoring or fleet monitoring, similar to a cellphone network but for low power sensors (these are Justin’s words). The batteries on the sensors are said to last 10 years which makes it more likely to be useful when we need them.

Another reason why we wanted sensors in all the buildings is because if we go away (once COVID is behind us all) we’d like to know if there is a leak or temperatures are out of wack so we can ask a neighbor to please check on it. So far, so good! We installed our first route of sensors and have another round on order.

Temperature / Humidity sensors installed so far

Teacher’s Desk:

I had been looking at some kind of a desk or table for me to have up at the school house so I would have a space to lay things out and prep lessons/projects for the girls. I found that the desk style that I was drawn to and would fit my storage needs was an old style teacher’s desk. The kind that has a fold down typewriter table in the middle. There weren’t many for sale but the ones that were were pricey and not in the best condition.

Finally I found one on Craigslist for $50! I popped the girls in the Sprinter and we traveled down a very curvy road with a handful of rest breaks because the girls were both getting car sick. It was a whammy of a road! If I hadn’t been driving I would have needed to take breaks too! We finally arrived and the desk smelled like polyurethane. The woman selling it told me she had just put a fresh coat of finish on it that morning. What timing. It was definitely in rougher shape than the picture showed but, then again, it was $50 so I figured we could spiff it up. We rode home very slowly with all the windows rolled down due to the smell (which did not help the car sickness by the way).

When we got home we looked at the desk in more detail and found the reason for why the woman had so hastily put a coat of finish on. The top of the desk was covered in wood laminate!! I didn’t even know laminate was a thing back when typewriters were being used. Ah! So, over the next week Justin and I scraped all the stinky laminate off the top and Justin sanded and refinished it for me. All in all it was still a good purchase but we certainly didn’t count on taking on another project. 🙂 It turned out great and I LOVE it!

Burn Barrel:

Owning a country home also means lots of weeding, pruning and trimming which equals a lot of yard debris. We also spent a chunk of time taming back the wild blackberry bushes so we weren’t getting snagged while walking down our paths. And what do you do with it all? We don’t have a handy yard debris bin like we did in the city so, we burn it! “Of course we burn it” I thought but the thought process stopped there. It was actually a really smokey job and a tricky balance to keep the fire hot enough (so it didn’t smoke) and feed the fire wet branches enough so my bramble brush pile disappeared. The girls snipped the branches into small pieces as I fed the fire. We were a good trio and got the job done.

Pruning and Training Trees:

Have you heard, we have lots of fruit trees which means lots of pruning! I was excited to learn how to properly prune fruit trees as I had never done it on such a large scale before. It was fun, time consuming and a little scary at first. If you follow all the rules for pruning fruit trees, it feels like you are just chopping the whole canopy down! Our neighbor says the rule of thumb is that when you are done pruning you should be able to throw a cat up into the tree and have them fall right back down without getting caught. Ha! Done.

I have also been retraining the fruit trees to angle their branches back down toward the ground instead of reaching toward the sky. This was as simple as tying weights to the branches I wanted to train. It looks like I’m tying them all down for fear they will run away! This has been true for all of our projects but the right tool for the job really makes a difference. Having a pole pruner made it so I only needed the orchard ladder (another tool that is so helpful to have) for the very top of each clump of branches.

Don’t you worry folks. Many more projects to come! In fact, we are in the thick of some as I type. 🙂

Fall on the Farm

Crow Farm feels like ours now which is a good comfortable feeling. Each season thus far here on the farm is new to us. It brings surprises, projects and new joys.

To start the fall season off, our neighbor’s little girl, who is our oldest’s age, brought over a baby bunny to let us snuggle with. The farm was feeling a little empty with no animals and who wouldn’t be won over by a baby bunny? So, a few days later we went and picked up a bunny hutch and a sweet little white Lionhead bunny. Our 7 year old named her Roseal. She was cute as a little button and a week later we decided to get another from the litter. Meanwhile our old Portland neighbors fell in love with the idea of bunnies as well and had me pick up two for their family while I was at it! The second bunny we got looked identical to the first but turned out to be a boy who our 5 year old named Maple. So, between our Portland neighbors, our new neighbors and us, we took all but one in the litter of bunnies. We are absolutely in love! They are super snuggly and put up with being towed around in wagons, hats, baskets, the girls arms…you name it. A handful of times per week the girls snuggle with their bunnies while they listen to the keyboard, sing and dance. These little fluff balls are spoiled for sure!

We made the best out of Halloween this year at home and distance visited 2 of our neighbors. Honestly, I don’t like the whole candy thing anyway so we still got to do our favorite parts; talk with friends and dress up. The girls also made a great piñata for them to bust open and I got to fill it with lots of fun healthy treats which they were overjoyed to receive. I tell you, miso and oyster crackers are like gold to these girls! 🙂

The colder weather also brought up the subject of chopped wood for the woodstoves at Crow Farm. Easier said than found is what we discovered. Not a lot of people sell wood for a living so getting people to follow through on wood orders and offer good quality wood was challenging to say the least. We had one batch of wood delivered that was unloaded by Justin and the guys who brought it. When the girls and I came out to see the pile our oldest said, “Mama, look at that bug!! There are lots of them!” AHhhh! Termites!!! I started panicking and had the girls keep a perimeter around the pile while I sorted the pieces into piles of “totally infested, probably infested and looks okay.” Having an infestation of termites in our new home is not what I had in mind as a good time. While I sorted and the girls kept a perimeter, armed with sticks to squish the termites, Justin took the totally infested ones and started burning them in our outdoor fire pit. After one particular load was brought to the fireplace I heard screaming from Justin and our oldest. Apparently as soon as the log hit the fire dozens of termites started evacuating!! Luckily, Justin had a blowtorch handy and blasted the stinkers! What a nightmare! We ended up being about to safely save about 3/4ths of the cord. Next year we hope to start our wood hunt in the summer so we have a bit more time to shop around.

With this newly acquired 4 cords from various places we could now have cozy fires to keep us warm. We quickly fell into a routine of Justin, first thing in the morning, turning on the propane stove in his office and starting a schoolhouse fire for the girls and I up the hill. It took a couple of weeks to perfect with number of logs and airflow the fire was getting but now he’s got it down. We had a couple “abort mission” school days where it was too cold to focus on learning up there and also some “panties” school days where it was more like a sauna in there! Haha. We didn’t mind those days. It made for a lighthearted day of schooling. The girls now have two wooden school desks and I have an old teacher’s desk that we refinished. It has been SO helpful to have our own spaces where we can keep our things and the each of the girls can comfortably work independently while I work with the other. When we got our map up on the wall and the desks were in, it felt like a cohesive, comfortable schoolhouse.

Down at the main house we have been keeping the house to 60* from the oil furnace which has been plenty to keep the upstairs to a comfortable sleeping temperature. The upstairs doesn’t have any heat which I was worried about when we moved in but it hasn’t been a problem. I keep a space heater in the girls room for overnight and Justin and I bundle up in warm jammies and big blankets. The kitchen, however, since it is the room the girls and I are in most we heat by wood stove or electric heater. We found that on school days, if we start use the electric heat for a morning blast then start a wood fire just before dinner it keeps the kitchen toasty. There is a curtain that hangs in the archway of the kitchen separating it from most of the other rooms. We went ahead and moved our loveseat out of the fireplace living room and into the kitchen which has proved to be an excellent choice! I LOVE having couches in kitchens! It makes perfect sense!! We try to only use the wood stove on chilly days or special occasions but when we do, it makes me so happy!! There’s nothing like snuggling together as a family on the couch with a cup of tea in front of a fire.

Having fires in the Elf Hut on star filled nights has been a rarity, rainy weather equals cloudy skies, but so special when we can make it happen.

Besides getting and stacking wood (which is really quite fun) we have experiences some other country life living norms such as mowing the yard and doing dump runs. We are just beyond the town garbage pick up limits therefore all trash and recycling we need to bring to the dump ourselves. Poor Azul has is our dump run vehicle of choice. It becomes worth it, money wise, if we wait until we have 6 cans of trash before making a run which means we don’t have to go very often. As a kid we had to do this too but I hadn’t remembered the details of it. You literally just dump your garbage cans over a railing into a giant metal container that waits below. It’s actually kind of dangerous looking and made me wonder how many people have accidentally fallen in there or accidentally dropped personal belongings in. Recycling is free but they only accept items that are actually recycled apposed to city recycling where there is a lot of “hopeful” recycling that is saved to the side in hopes that it can be sold to other countries to recycle or our country will someday recycle it. I kind of like that they don’t take that extra stuff. It makes me think more about the packaging that I buy and how we can reuse certain containers here on the farm. I’ve found that vinegar jugs are helpful to fill with water to train our fruit trees and glass salsa jars are good for To Go liquids or to share things with neighbors.

Something that we noticed that at first didn’t occur to us as anything too extra special is that the grass here on Crow Farm is ALWAYS green!! That’s new and different from our Portland house who’s grass would be brown and scratchy by mid-summer. It is so lush here in part, I think, because of the natural spring that comes through our property from the mountain above. With this lush luxury comes the task of mowing. When we were looking to buy this property the idea of mowing our big yard was daunting to Justin. I assured him that I would be doing the yard work and we didn’t need to maintain quite as much as the previous owners had to maintain it’s beauty. However, we soon learned that mowing is Justin’s passion. That boy loved the opportunity to mow any chance he could get. I think he enjoyed the alone space and time to listen to his podcasts. We teased him about it a bit but it was very helpful.

Another funny thing we have acquired now that we are in the country is a land line. We got it so that if Justin and I are out and about around the farm and the girls need to make an emergency call they always have a phone they know where is. The other reason is to have a phone if cell signal goes down. However, this has proven to be a silly reason since our landline goes down when our power goes out. The phone company cannot explain this therefore does not know how to fix it. We’re thinking of just getting a cheap cell phone using a prepaid plan that we can mount on the wall for the girls. This way they could take it with them if they go places fairly far from us. The perk is, the girls have never used a landline so it’s fun and they get to call Grammy whenever they want. 🙂

During the holiday season the girls and I have been inspired by what Crow Farm offers to create crafts. I was cutting down some tiger lily stems that had passed for this year and got thinking they were a great sturdy but bendable material. This got me thinking wreaths! I figured we have enough doors the girls and I could really get into wreath making but do it for free! The girls helped me gather the old lily stems into rings tied with twine and we decorated them with moss and galls from our trees, found feathers, berries, acorns and a few more little things. They were super fun to make and we were happy to add cheer to the farm.

In the beginning of fall we were able to have some chilly, but nice distanced visits with friends outdoors. It was nice to have some covered outdoor spaces that are open air to make visits safe. Though with the weather quickly getting colder and the rain setting in we had to put an end to those until spring comes again.

With the rain came lots of mushrooms! This place is seriously FULL of mushrooms for better or worse. The girls would say it was for the better. The girls have been absolutely thrilled to find and identify the treasures we find. Spore prints are always like opening a little surprise the day after you find a mushroom. So far we have found one that is edible, and we ate, and only 3 more that we were able to identify without question. There are SO many mushrooms out there and they are surprisingly hard to identify. There are lots of mushroom identification books out there for edibles and poisonous ones but for the ordinary mushrooms, it has been challenging to find good information out there but thanks to a loving husband and friend we have found 2 great ones!

As more rain comes, we learn more and more about this property. It is soggy for sure! So far one porch roof leak, one ground water seepage in the canning shack and one under the door leak. The puddles in our hayfields are nothing to scoff at! We didn’t even go into the deepest one but the one puddle/small pond that formed on the mowed path we made through the hayfield is deep enough that the girls have to be careful wading through or else the water will go up and over their tall waterproof boots. It was in that puddle that I learned one of my boots is no longer waterproof. The girls are thrilled about the puddle splashing they get to do! I am thankful that we are on a rolling hill so only the hayfields get the standing water. The frogs are loving these puddles too! The croaking of frogs is often so loud we can’t hear each other from any distance when outside. I was recording a video of me singing for my Mom and had to stop the video a couple times because the frogs were croaking so loud…and I was in a building with the door closed! I love it!

In a window between rainy days we went on a hike to Spencer Butte. It was a lovely little hike and we were glad we went first thing in the morning. On our way back down we definitely weren’t super comfortable with the amount of people so we booked it down. All in all it was good to get out and pretty!

I don’t think many Oregonians are super excited when the winter rains come but I tell you, the last couple weeks of nice weather I definitely was wishing for a good stay in the house rain day. I loved doing outdoor chores but I also was itching to get some of my sewing projects done as my Inbox was adding up and the girls and I were hoping to bake lots of goodies. My wish, of course, eventually came true and soon I’m sure I’ll be wishing for sunshine again. 😛

So much has happened this year in the entire world and in our little world and I have hope that 2021 will be a brighter year for all.

Exploring Veneta area

The first couple weeks we basically didn’t leave Crow Farm besides running furniture or food errands. There was just SO much to do to move in and get settled. It didn’t help that there was a pandemic going on. This was our first weekend as just our family so we took a day to explore some of the wineries around the area. After all, we can’t recommend places to our Airbnb guests if we have never actually been. We also crammed in a trip to a local “beach” to give the girls a quick dip in the water and grill up some dinner. That wasn’t quite how that plan turned out.

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