Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Year and This Year

I've finished my first, full calendar year here, and boy has a lot happened!  Last winter was my first winter in this old, leaky farmhouse and I struggled to stay warm more than anything else.  I had big plans of starting a goat business (on a property with no fences and no barn structures, but hey - optimism rules!).  I wanted to put fences up, have a road and a barn/shed built, get goats, learn how to handle goats, plant a bunch of food, and so many other things!  My hopes were bigger than my ability to make it all happen in a year, but I did get a good start!  Here's a short summary of my 2009.


In March of 2009, my truck was sitting in a small lake, and I could look southward past the truck to see 10 red pines and 6 large spruces keeping the house from getting any winter sun.  In between the pines and spruces was a blackberry bramble patch and some other trees.  I wanted to get the pines taken down, and thought of building a small, tight cabin in the bramble area, so wanted the spruces down also.  I tried to start some plants from seed (peas, basil, tomatoes, rosemary).  I hung a fluorescent light fixture above a tabletop using sawhorses and turned the light on and off giving plants 14 hours of light a day.  I learned how to spin yarn with a drop spindle and then with a spinning wheel, and how to turn raw fleece from the animal into fiber that can be spun.


In April of 2009, I cleared much of the bramble, cut some of the small trees down, and discovered some dwarf cherry trees, buried in the bramble (6 dwarf cherries shown above)!  North of the house, I cleared many small trees in an attempt to give some blueberry bushes light.  I eventually realized that I should have instead been spending time preparing a place to plant all the seeds that I had started, and the asparagus roots that I had bought.  Most of the seedlings didn't make it to planting stage.

In May, I wasn't ready, but had to do something with the plantlings, so I just put them in the flowerpatch in front of the house.  I bought tomato, broccoli, thyme, oregano, basil, melon, and some other plants, and just flopped them in the flowerpatch too.  Since I hadn't done much preparation of the soil or protecting of plants, the peas died just about immediately.

In May and June I took 2 cords of cut wood out of the basement that I had put there in January thinking that's where it should go.  I was wrong.  The wood had started to mold - I spent roughly 6 weeks after work and on weekends using the ATV winch and a home-made ramp dodging raindrops to get that freakin' wood out of the basement and into the woodshed.  I started to use a chainsaw to cut wood for the coming season and found out that the hardware store had sold me a "girly" chainsaw, meant for hobby cutting, not firewood cutting.  I bought a dehydrator and learned how to make beef jerky. I started this blog at the very end of May.

In June, I had the large trees taken down and a horseshoe road built uphill from the house as access for a future barn. The below shot is after all of the trees had come down, except the last big one you see in the picture. On the woodshed I built a temporary roof (over the existing roof) to keep rain off the wood. I hired someone to stabilize the roof of the house for a few years until I can save enough money to replace it.




Over the rest of the summer, I discovered that I have pretty large areas of chives, oregano, and thyme, as well as horseradish, blackberries and raspberries (ironic, since I had bought two raspberry plants before a neighbor told me I didn't need to buy raspberries).  I discovered that in my zeal to clear, I had mowed over a large area that had irises in it.  In the flowerpatch, I had planted where there were peonies before.  I resolved to stop ruining my property before I spent some time watching it to see what was there.  I let some loggers in to clear part of the place out.  I picked blueberries - a TON of them.

My truck died in July because of a mouse problem.  It spent two months in the shop and in August I got 2 cats that are very good mousers.  I found out that one of my rescue dogs likes to eat dead mice. I learned how to dye fiber into interesting colors, and experimented with blueberries as a dye (not good).

I didn't do much in the fall, but loggers cleared about 5 acres south of the house.  One of their guys graded the bramble patch.  I made apple cider with some of my apples using someone else's mill. I built some 4ft x 12 ft raised beds. I discovered about 15 more blueberry bushes on the downhill slope west of the house (that makes three blueberry hills now!). I learned how to knit and knit my first item with yarn that I spun myself.  I prepared the house for winter. The temporary roof on the woodshed blew off in the winter's first storm.

This year has been quite a ride - and I hope the ride is just beginning!  In the picture below, and the one immediately above, one thing has not changed.  In the lower center-right is a large rock with a white post on it, and a sundial atop the post. You can use that touchstone to see how much has changed in the south yard this year (and click on the pictures to make them larger).


So here I am, at the end of the year, looking southward from the house at dormant everything.  Here's what I want to do next year, in no particular order:
-Plant 9 fruit trees in that space just past the raised beds, next to the existing dwarf cherry trees. 
-Put soil in and plant in the raised beds. 
-Rebuild the woodshed with 6 extra feet in back to store the ATV and lawn tractor.
-Build a chicken coop and get about 5 hens
-Learn how to make hard cider
-Learn how to make cheese
-Hire someone to give me structural advice - stabilize the first floor of the house
-Replace the floor, toilet, sink and piping in the first floor bathroom
-Insulate water pipes in the basement, insulate air ducts in the basement
-Go back to sleeping in the bedroom, like normal people do
-Find a better winter sleeping option, one that doesn't completely take over the living room
-Make the front entry room into a workroom, with work surfaces and maybe a sink
-Learn how to preserve food that I grow - can the moist basement be used as a root cellar?
-Learn how to prune
-Improve the condition of my apples by pruning, and doing something about the scab and curculio
-Help more blueberry bushes north and west of the house see the sun, prune some of the blueberry bushes
-Investigate more potential sources of income - herb mixes? fiber? meat? dairy?
-Build a small shed for goats
-Get 2 or 3 goats, maybe dairy to start the grand experiment?

There's 100% chance I won't get all of this done in the upcoming year.  I suspect that the majority of these items will fall this year.  I have the energy and the will, but since I have a full-time job, I don't really have the time.  We'll just have to see, won't we?


  1. I'm impressed with your accomplishments, Jordan. I have a tree issue at my Vermont place. But last time, I paid $4,800 to have 10 live and 2 dead trees taken down. I am assuming that is the current rate, and if so, I'd rather keep the money and the trees standing there. But the man who built the place (actually, built onto and around the first cabin here) stopped by, and told me how he cleared trees by asking a farmer to use a tractor to knock them over..... Sounds like there are options I don't know about.

    You have a big list for 2010! I'd suggest making a priority of the things that take time or matter for comfort or health. Like, fruit trees. New ones take time to grow, and sickly ones can be helped by attention. And stabilizing your house... And a winter sleeping space for you. Did you consider a back up to your wood stove, which would bring heat to your bedroom? I can't remember what else you have in the house, but I thought it was oil. In a tight house, a modern wood stove can heat the whole house, but reality is different for those of us with older places.

    Kind of like taking care of what you have before you add more. Some of these things take more time to think about than to actually do. Winter is good for thinking, in my experience!

    And the garden... No need to start peas ahead of time. Just put the seeds in the ground as soon as you can in May. By the way, I just spread compost thick and called it a raised bed. I didn't enclose it in wood because I am stingy (and didn't know if my '09 places would be my permanent locations).

    You're doing great! I really enjoy hearing how you're thinking!

  2. You have done a TREMENDOUS amount in a year's time. I've known couples (like two people . . . that's twice as many as you!) who have bought into a situation like yours and sat on their behinds the whole first year trying to figure out where to start. Look at what you've accomplished!

    I'm sure 2010 is going to be very productive for you and bring you all that much closer to your goals.

    To quote Bloody Mary: "If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

    Sending best wishes for a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  3. Kate - it's funny you mention things that take time. I JUST ordered fruit trees online this morning (from Miller). I keep remembering and forgetting about getting an electric heater, which is always an option.

    I had my trees pushed down by the guy that built my road. His equipment was already here, and it took him about 3 hours to do all 16 trees. Of course he just laid the trees down, roots and all, and I had the loggers drag them away. I've asked the loggers to clear out about 20 small trees downhill from the house to create a view, but if they don't, I'll take the chainsaw over there and cut them myself, even if it takes a long time!

    Thanks Mama Pea! One of my mottos is "do something, even if it's wrong." (Dennis, oh Dennis, are you reading this???) I tend to wobble into doing something right, because I did it wrong first just to get moving, and learned from my mistakes!

  4. PS, Kate - I did get a quote for about $5600 for the 16 trees, so I think that is the going rate.

  5. My little cabin has a small propane furnace with no modern safety features that previous owners only used for day trips. I used the place more than any previous owner did (all hunters) the two previous winters, but plan to skip most of this winter. Just mentioning it to say I bought a $40 oil filled electric heater and used that when I spent time there in the winter to take the edge off the cold, and I have a fabulous down comforter. It worked well for short (5 days max) winter visits.

    One of these days..... I plan to replace the propane furnace with a new modern one that's easy to turn on. Maybe I'll do it this summer.

    By the way, Jordan, was that $5600 quote for the guy who just knocked the trees down, or was that a quote from someone else you didn't use?

  6. And thanks for the inspiration to place my order at Miller's -- I just did it. I have been thinking about it since last spring.

    I got 8 blueberry, 6 raspberry, 2 peach and 1 cherry. (I have a mature cherry tree at my place in NY.) All for VT. That goes with the 2 apple, 2 plum and 1 pear from last spring, that I got at St. Lawrence.

    This is all new to me, and I am very curious to see if last spring's trees survive a year!

  7. Kate - I didn't use the people that quoted me $5600. I paid (am still paying) the road guy $7000 to build the road AND push the trees down. For him, it was just a few hours of work, since most of the cost was in getting the equipment up there and building the road. He's in Buskirk/Cambridge, NY, so if your Vermont place isn't too far away, I'd recommend him highly. He came recommended to me.

    Nice fruit order! Let me know if you want help planting them!

  8. "Nice fruit order! Let me know if you want help planting them!"

    You might regret saying that!

  9. Jordan-
    You've had an awesome first year and the fact that you have concrete plans for the next year, is great! I just looked a little harder and found my goals sheet for last year and I think I didn't do too bad. Many things that I didn't complete, I at least made an effort in that direction. I'll have to post the closing of 2009 and starting of 2010 on mine