Saturday, March 12, 2011


It has been an extremely long 24 hours. I slept a total of 2.6 hours and my rugs need to be washed, but I am happy to report that the problem has been solved! Thanks to the amazing help and unwavering kindness of friends and readers this girl's basement has no standing water at all!

I spent the entire night hauling buckets, by 4:30 AM I was so worn out and sore I thought I would crumble on the old basement stairs. But at some point you just snap out of any sort of stupid self-pity and do what needs to be done. I got my second wind and kept about 200 gallons of water away from my furnace. By morning I was that shaking-tired that infuses the whole body. You feel like one of the characters in some epic movie moving across mountains in a cape with a pony on a lead rope.

But in the morning I got a text from the Daughton Family, my heros. I called Cathy and she told me Tim was coming over to assess the damage and he would be bringing me back to their house for a hot breakfast and then taking me to Home Depot to buy a sump pump. I could have cried. With them in this, I knew I would be okay.

After an amazing meal of eggs, bacon, cinnamon toast and coffee (I was so hungry it was ridiculous) we picked up our supplies in Bennington and then headed back to the farm in the Daughton Suburban. At the front door when we arrived was a site for sore eyes...a black pump and a yellow hose. Someone had just simply come to my rescue without a note. (I later found out it was the gals from Windwoman Farm). If anyone doubts the reality of guardian angels, well, then they haven't tried to run a farm alone....

We spent the day rigging up a water removal system, and it might be what Tim calls "Ozark Engineering" but I'll be damned if it isn't doing the job perfectly. Here's what we did.

Tim drilled several holes in a large 5-gallon buckets bottom sides and then we wrapped it in gardening cloth. The cloth was held in tape with Gorilla Tape, and created a screen to keep rocks and debris from entering the bucket. We submerged it in the lowest part of the basement and stabilized it with gravel. I bought a 1/3 HP sump pump with the auto-start float you all suggested and all the other hoses, clamps, PVC, and other supplies we would need. We rigged it up to shoot up 7 feet (three feet below the 10 foot max) and then ran it out a hole we drilled and threaded with PVC pipe. The hose now sends water from the basement out and away from the house.

Some of it was trial and error, and some of it was luck, but we put away the Shop Vacs by noon. Now the basement has some serious dampness issues, but is cleaned up. I now feel pretty confident doing it by myself or for someone else. A skill I would have never learned away from this house (which more and more reminds me of Maude). I might be dealing with a rough first-year, but this farm has taught me so much. And when I realize next winter I'll already have a 4WD truck, a plow man on call, a year of lambing under my belt, and a sump pump. Hells Bells, there aint nothing I can't take on.

Right now I am beyond tired, beyond hand salve, beyond useful, and beyond grateful. I do not deserve this kind of love from you, but I accept it as gracefully as this clumsy girl possibly can.

Thank you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

the bottom

Rain, wind, melting snow and a 50-degree day have created nothing but trouble. I woke up to the sound of something like a shopping cart being dragged across my outer walls and when I went out to feed the sheep I discovered that the gales had ripped some siding off. It was partially attached, but flapping in the wind. Not a big section, but a section I couldn't nail back on myself. It was near the roof. I don't have a 20-foot ladder. I'm scared of heights. I'm also a klutz. Wonderful.

What started as a little water in the basement is quickly escalating to a stream turning into a pool. I have spent the entire evening running Shop-Vacs full of water up the basement stairs and pouring them outside down from the house. Every time I thought I had it cleaned up, I would return fifteen minutes later to see it even deeper and farther spread out. At this point I panicked and called a half-dozen friends: all of which had the same advice: call a plumber or buy a sump pump tomorrow at home depot. But I am worried the water will reach the furnace, an item I need and can not afford to replace, and so I am taking shifts all night to do what I can to control this. I did eventually find the source in the floor wall, and was able to plug it up a bit to slow it down by piling mounds of wet cat litter over it. I bought five bags at the IGA in town earlier and felt I had to explain why to the check-out 16-year-old that I didn't own a cat, I had water in my basement. The idea of a single woman buying cat litter on a Friday night was just too pathetic to go without rebuttal.

This is wearing me down. I'm hungry, exhausted, and worried. I'm not going to lie, around 8PM I just started crying. I was crying because I was worn down from other things, but also because I knew the rest of the night I would be cleaning the mess the mud made in the house, and taking constant heavy buckets up those stairs. It's part of owning your own house. It just is. I'm not breaking down because of the work. It's the fact that every goddamn lesson there is to learn about houses has happened this year to me: and I have no experience with any of it, and it's just me trying to doggy paddle through it all upriver.

This winter has been so draining on me. Now that it is finally coming to a close it's draining into my basement. This better be the bottom.

A kind neighbor who has a contracting business stopped on their way into town and fixed the siding. They are certainly getting a pie. It's little things like that, that keep me going.

So here's what I am going to do. I am going to clean up this house from the mud, clean up myself a bit, and make something to eat. Then I am going to do another round of hose and buckets. Then I am going to take a nap. Then I'll wake up to the alarm and repeat the whole process over and over. If I let it go those giant puddle will turn into an entire basement full of water.

How much do sump pumps cost? And do they handle shallow water?

wound in bailing wire

Thursday, March 10, 2011

novella's little farm in the city

lambs soon!

We are less than ten days from lambing here at Cold Antler Farm. The shepherd's records for the blackface sheep mark the earliest birth at March 19th. All my lambing books say to take that date and remove three as the earliest birthday. It's the 10th of March and that means by next weekend there could easily be two more sheep at this farm.

Right now all I can do is remain extra vigilant and make sure everyone has what they need to get the job done. Everyone is eating well, has a nice straw bedding in the shed, and for once mother nature is starting to agree with this whole lambing thing. Tomorrow might reach above fifty degrees. Beats being born at -8.

My job when the lambs come is to make sure they are healthy and upright. If a lamb is with her mother, drinking her milk and by her side: we can assume all went to plan. But that still means the sheep needs to be tagged, docked, and looked over. She'll need her cord trimmed and dipped in Iodine. If I come across a lamb in the shed or snow without its mother, I just have to pray that it's still alive and I can bring it indoors under a heat lamb on a blanket and feed it some of the frozen colostrum I have from my friend's dairy goats. Just in case of such events I have special tubes that the lambs swallow down right to their stomachs and formula if their mother's don't produce milk.

My biggest fear is that a lamb will be in trouble giving birth and I won't be able to help. I know that's what vets are for, but if it happens at 4 AM and I'm still asleep...the guilt would be tragic. All I can do from tonight onward is set my alarm at 2 AM and 4 AM to check on things.

Any day now. Any day now....

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

just 5 days left to enter! win your own Bean Blossom Hobo Banjo! For details on the Banjo Equinox blog lessons and giveaway, click here! Winner will be announced on the night of the 15th.

the cambridge kids

On a hay pickup in Cambridge last night I was invited to see the newest members of my friend Jonah's farm. These little twins, a girl and a boy, were under the glow of the heat lamp in the old dairy barn. Being a milking operation: the little ones need to be taken from their mother's right away, but they are doing well on their bottles in their own little corner of the barn. Did you know when you hold them they nuzzle right into your chest? Makes a tired girl smile.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

on the tailgate of his new rig

resting stance

I bought some straw bales to couch up the sheep sheds and make them clean and comfortable as possible. One of the sheep seems to have dropped her lambs from behind her spine down into the lower belly. This means we're T-Minus two weeks around here for some lambs. Everyone is eating well and enjoying their grain rations and minerals.

Last night was a firestorm of work and small emergencies. I was pumping water out of the basement, cleaning the brooder, working out, all over the place. Tonight I was done with errands and chores by 7:30. I was on the daybed with an oven-fresh piece of pizza and homebrew by 8. No working out. No water in the basement to pump. No drama with beasts living or dead...

I'm going to bed early, people. That's that.

Stay tuned for that first CAF lamb....

young generation of farmers emerges

“People want to connect more than they can at their grocery store,” Ms. Jones said. “We had a couple who came down from Portland and asked if they could collect their own eggs. We said, ‘O.K., sure.’ They want to trust their producer, because there’s so little trust in food these days.”

Garry Stephenson, coordinator of the Small Farms Program at Oregon State University, said he had not seen so much interest among young people in decades. “It’s kind of exciting,” Mr. Stephenson said. “They’re young, they’re energetic and idealist, and they’re willing to make the sacrifices.”

Though the number of young farmers is increasing, the average age of farmers nationwide continues to creep toward 60, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. That census, administered by the Department of Agriculture, found that farmers over 55 own more than half of the country’s farmland.

From a Fantastic NY Times piece on young farmers!

all better

Gibson's body is back to normal. Turns out he passed all the staples he ate—and no metal showed up on the Xrays—but What the x-rays didn't show was the popsicle sticks jammed inside him. Two days after we hit the emergency vet he passed a wad of wood and has been acting normal ever since. At the workshop he was piling on top of people and yesterday he spent lunch hour at the office running amuck with an Australian Shepherd. If you want more details on the story and the vet visit, you can follow the comments on the Facebook page and on the ER post below.

Thank you all for your thoughts and support!

Monday, March 7, 2011

five hours

Came home at 5:30. Parked truck outside driveway. Shoveled snow pile road plows built in driveway. Snow was heavy. Pull truck into driveway. Bring Gibson inside to eat his dinner in crate. Take out Jazz and Annie for a short walk. Bring in Jazz and Annie. Feed them dinner in front room. Go outside to feed sheep while still light out. Give half a bale of hay to flock. Separate it into four sections so everyone eats. No more big piles: leaves some out. Give a cup of grain to each sheep at its own station in the snow. Check all ewe's health and general condition. Scratch Sal. Set water bucket at artesian well spout. Stop to be grateful for artesian well on farm. Remind self to come back aftera short while and replace dirty water in heated pail. Go inside to check on chicks. Clean out brooder and replace with fresh shavings. Refill water and feed containers. No casualties for days. All Chicks look good. Vents clean. Eyes bright. Start fire in woodstove. Start a load of laundry. Check emails. See angry vegetarian on Facebook. Feel self-conscious he called me a pig. Let Gibson out of crate to play with big dogs. Check on oil in basement (half a tank) and realize water is all over. Panic. Post about it on blog. Call friends Shellee and Zach for advice. Zach asks if I have a wet/dry Shop-Vac? I do! I spend the next 45 minutes sucking out fifteen gallons of water and dumping it outside back of house, away from house. Feel like a home-owning superhero. Clean floor from basement-to outside trips from mud. Wash hands three times and still dirty. Sigh. Go outside to collect eggs and feed big chickens. Door of barn is frozen shut from ice storm. Pry open door enough to throw in grains for the barn-birds. Has to be good enough. Only one brown egg inside. My hens don't lay for ice storms. Smart. Come inside. Put clothes in dryer. Start to feel tired. Take out all three dogs again. Come inside to check email/delay 30-Day Shred DVD. Change into workout clothes and do level one in kitchen. Gibson lays on my stomach when I try to do crunches. He licks my face during push ups. He is the world's worst drill sergeant. Finish workout and back hurts. Wonder if pigs get back pains? Take ibuprofen and stretch. Change into PJs. Remember I forgot to fetch the sheep's water and look for warm socks. Take sheep fresh water and all dogs outside one more time. Dinner is yogurt and a peach. Drink a lot of water. Crash out on daybed with warm dogs. Put on mindless movie. Pray for June. Set alarm for 4:45.

It's not always like this.

water in the basement

After this weekend's rain and thaw the basement is starting to get water in it. I'm sure this is normal for the house, as the basement is always a little damp, but the water is pooling in just one section, near the holding tank and furnace. The boiler is a good six-inches above the half inch of water seeping in. But the furnace is just an inch or so above it. Can this water hurt it?

I'll call my furnace guys tomorrow to ask, I need to call them about the rattling vent anyway—but does anyone know ways to keep water out of a dirt and stone basement? Do you shovel all snow away from the walls of the house? Do you buy some water-be-gone powder from Lowe's?


Sunday, March 6, 2011

the workshop

I just finished a tall frothy glass of Caribou Slobber and I loved it. The brown ale with the eccentric name was a gift from Sage, one of the workshoppers who traveled to the farm today to dive into the world of backyard chickens. She and ten others came from four different states (and two cities!) to spend a Sunday at Cold Antler and go home with a cardboard box full of future fritatas. It was a wonderful afternoon.

The Chicken 101 workshop was my first since becoming a Chicken Author. I was nervous as all get out. There were things I wished I had planned better—but overall it was a success. Folks signed up to learn about raising laying hens, and between the talks, questions, and conversations: that is exactly what they received. They also left with a copy of Chick Days and their very own Ameraucanas, Buff Orpingtons, and Rhode Island Reds. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday.

Cathy Daughton arrived early to be my saving grace. She brought her beautiful cinnamon coffee cake braid and did everything from dishes to help answer beginner questions. I'm blessed to have her in my life.

Soon after she arrived the attendees started to show up. The recent snow melts of the last two days brought the gift of parking spaces, so everyone was able to squeeze their cars and trucks along the road. Before long the house was full of people eager and willing to see their chicks and talk poultry. We enjoyed a brunch of quiche and Daughton Cinnamon Fanastico and then got into the big show.

We started in the nursery, going over the breeds and brooder basics. As I explained about heat lamps and pine shavings, people got to hold their future employees in their warm hands. After that initial talk from me and a general Q&A we broke for lunch to eat up some homemade pizza. Collin played some banjo tunes while the PBS special The Natural History of the Chicken aired on the used television. After that, we went out into the wind and rain to discuss adult hens, housing, and diseases in the barn. It was like a treehouse club of homesteaders and future farmers. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and kind.

The workshop ended in the living room with more questions and discussion. We went over cleaning coops, predator control, stories, and more. When all of us were spent, full, and excited we filled up their transport containers with chicks and said our goodbyes. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the fellowship and fowl. I felt lucky to host it.

I'll do another workshop like this the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Already we have three folks signed up and I hope more of you decide to join us. It'll be a beautiful spring weekend on the farm, complete with romping lambs, home-brewed beer and a bonfire. And you get to go home with some chicks in a little box. Email me if you want in on the party. There's a great old grand hotel just three miles from the farm.

I didn't tell this to anyone, but the entire time I was handing people chicks or in the barn talking about frost-bitten combs—I kept thinking about a few springs earlier in Idaho. I was in their position in 2006. I had just moved to the other side of the country and wanted to produce as much of my own food as possible. Diana (my friend and mentor) showed me all of the things we covered today. It was a wash of gratitude to realize just half a decade later I was back on the east coast with my own land, flock, and telling other beginners about scratch grains and reference books. I still remember that day I picked up our spring order of chicks and I drove them in the snow to her farm. We set up the brooder, and I watched her open that postal box of babes with the awe of a 6-year-old in a pet-shop window giving away free puppies. After the chicks were settled, I remember thanking her and telling her I hoped some day to do the same for someone else. Today I had that chance.

Thank you, Di and everyone who made my farm a part of their weekend. Let me know how those little ones do.

photo by Alli Schweizer