Enough About the Garden Already!

It has just this morning occurred to me, as I fired up the computer and looked over our past blog posts, that I haven’t written anything since June. As in six months ago. Ugh. I mean, it was a busy summer, don’t get me wrong, but really? Thank goodness Lizzy stepped in; if maintaining and updating this blog were solely my responsibility you’d just now be reading about how exhausting our moving day was.

I’d love to attribute my lack of posting to laziness, but there’s more to it than that. I won’t bore you about it now, though.

Anyway, it looks like Lizzy, in her last post, pretty much wrapped up all the garden stuff. If you read it you got the gist: we wound up with boatloads of veggies. Way more than a family of three could ever dream of eating its way through. This is, by now, old news. Still, I feel like I should post one last pic:

Lizzy, do you hate tomatoes yet?
Lizzy, do you hate tomatoes yet?

That’s a lot of tomatoes. I wish I could tell you that was our haul for the year, but no – what you see here represents maybe 1/8th of what we grew. As Lizzy alluded to in her earlier post we dried them, canned them, froze them, made them into paste, threw them at solicitors and, of course, ate them fresh – and still had many tomatoes rot on the vine.

So…maybe next year we’ll do fewer tomatoes.

Anyway, as I said, let’s consider the garden wrapped up. Enough already!

Of the many non-garden related projects we’ve undertaken these last months, the largest by far, and most significant in terms of preparing ourselves for a sustainable life, are fencing the properties and constructing a root cellar in the hill directly behind the house.

I mean, you can’t very well run a farm with livestock and such and not have a bunch of fencing, right? Apparently in many respects farm animals aren’t dissimilar to infant humans: they tend to eat lots of grass and dirt, poop everywhere, tear through neighbors’ living rooms, and then run into the street where they are instantly struck and killed by a truck delivering beef jerky to the liquor store down the road. Our plan is to avoid that sort of thing.

And a root cellar is a no-brainer if every year you’re going to grow and harvest, thanks to a garden plot the size of a football field, enough vegetables to feed the planet several times over. Did we mention that we grew a lot of vegetables? Well, we did. So many, in fact, that had we done this prior to 1984 the super group Band Aid would never have existed. That’s right – no depressing Christmas song thanking God for starving most of Africa. Heck, for all we know Bono might have given up music all together and switched to a more constructive career, like landscaping or owning a car wash. The thought absolutely boggles the mind.

Dammit, now I’m on about the garden again. Sorry.

There’s no way I’ll have enough room in this post to write about both the fencing and the root cellar, so I’ll stick with the fencing. I think we’ve written somewhere that Lizzy had found a good deal on tons of corner-posts, studded metal t-posts, and deer-fencing while browsing the Craig’s List “Farm and Garden” section.

I can't say with certainty that Sarah isn't somewhere underneath all of this.
I can’t say with certainty that Sarah isn’t somewhere underneath all of this.

They were basically half the price of brand-new material, so of course we couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Unfortunately, when I write that it was a “ton” of fencing I’m not being entirely accurate. It was more like two or three tons. The stuff was so heavy we had to borrow a burly neighbor and his utility truck to transport the metal material over the twenty-ish miles from Bonny Doon to Watsonville, and it still took us several trips. Separately, we used our pickup truck to move the corner posts (8 foot, 4×8 pressure treated. Maybe sixty of them) and that took two trips and nearly killed the poor truck. The experience was, in its back-breaking potential, second only to our experiment in building our own garden fence (http://wp.me/p1OmAa-cM if you’d like to revisit it).

IMG_2876But we got it done, and having all that inexpensive fencing proved to be huge for our budget. We did have, after all, several acres throughout two different parcels of very hilly land to fence in. Naturally, we weren’t about to undertake this sort of thing ourselves, so we found a good contractor – a guy who had worked for us before and we trusted – and began the process of transforming our open land into a place that goats and wee lambs can graze and frolic in safely and happily, at least until we eat them.

Each fenced-in section covers about three acres of land: the apple orchard below the house and the “upper pasture” extending from the driveway away from the house. Each has two 14 foot gates (for truck and tractor access) and a couple of 4 foot gates (for, you know, just people). Not included in the newly fenced-in areas are an access road we carved into the hill between the house and the orchard/chicken yard, the front plateaus by the main road (where the vegetable garden, burn pile and future olive grove are) a couple of acres of brush, bramble and eucalyptus behind the house, and the house and yard itself.

So here, at the risk of boring you with pictures of fences, are some pictures of fences:

Just getting started on the upper pasture.
Just getting started on the upper pasture.

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Look closely and you can see the house through the trees.
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The access road between the house and the orchard.
More access road. Access to what? How knows!
More access road. Access to what? Who knows!

So now that’s done. We’re eager to get our animals now, but first we have to provide some sort of shelter for them to sleep in. Of course that’ll involve me, lumber and power tools, so we may wait until this spring, as building anything larger than a coat rack involves more ambition than I have readily available, as well as many hours browsing YouTube for tutorials on how to use a hammer.

Next up, the root cellar!

-J.

First day of Spring!

What a great day we had today!  It was sunny and warm, and we got a lot done on the land – but I also totally scored at Goodwill.  Sometimes, the Goodwill gods shine down upon me, and today was one of those days.  I got: practically new snow pants for Sarah, snow boots for Sarah, foul weather boots for me, lots of shirts for me and for Sarah, sweaters for me and even a parka!  This is all in preparation for our trip to Yosemite next month, during Spring break.  But the best deal of all was a pair of Dansko clogs – the only shoes I will wear – which retail for $125 new.  Guess how much they were?  Five dollars and twenty-five cents.

After the shopping spree, we got to work.  First on the agenda: finally finish moving all the branches that were pruned from the 45 apple trees in January.  We loaded them into the truck and put them in the burn pile.  Here’s truck load number twelve or something (we lost count):

And here is the burn pile, currently.  Actually, it’s the burn staging area since that would be too much to burn at once.  Keep in mind there is also a giant oak tree we took down (not in photo) that is partially chainsawed apart and also needs to be burned.

That done, we worked some more on putting up our garden fence.  We have already put up the 58 ten-foot-tall posts and now it’s time to wrap them with fencing material.  We got maybe 1/4 of the way done today. The brown house on the right is our neighbor’s house.  Ours is the white one barely visible in the upper left.

Anyway, Jason stapled while we both pulled on the fencing, and then I hammered the staples in more tightly.  We had to watch out that we didn’t pull the fencing too taut, because it was bending the posts!

When we’d had enough of that, we took a break and let our almost-three-week-old chicks outside for the first time!  They were hesitant at first, but then came out and had a wonderful time.  And we had a great time watching them!  I did some research on how our breed of chicken -Barred Rock- “feathers out” and then looked at our chicks closely.  Looks like we’ve got exactly 20 females and 20 males!  Here’s a video Jason took of our cuties:

Well, that’s it for today.  Happy Spring, everyone!

– Lizzy

Fence Posting

It’s been pouring rain here the past couple of days, which gives me the perfect opportunity to tell you all about our latest project.

We’re building a fence!

I know – that doesn’t sound like much, but for us it marks a milestone. It’s the first major project that we’ve undertaken ourselves, as opposed to hiring a contractor. We came out here to “homestead,” after all, and if every book I’ve seen out there on the subject is to be believed, homesteaders rarely, if ever, hire professionals. In fact, hardly a week goes by without those people building a root cellar, digging a duck pond or putting up some kind of yurt. By themselves. The least we can do is build a fence, right?

The area we’re fencing is quite large (about a third-acre), and needs to be sturdy in order to keep out deer and any other large animals (this will be our vegetable garden). That means 4×4 pressure-treated uprights, cemented into the ground. Gates will have to be built, and deer-proof fencing material attached.

First Lizzy tilled the ground. Then we flagged off the area, spacing most of the uprights at eight feet apart and allowing for one wide gate and two small. We came up with fifty-eight holes to be augured.

I ordered the lumber and cement at the local builder’s store. The lumber was easy – fifty-six ten-foot 4x4s, two twelve foot 4x6s (for the main entrance), and a couple extra for good measure.  The concrete, though, was a different story. Having never mixed cement before I was thinking, what – one bag per hole?  Maybe two?  Doesn’t that seem like a lot? Should I order the eighty pound bags, or the sixty?

Grudgingly, I ordered a hundred and twenty bags of concrete mix. At eighty lbs. each, that’s a lot of cement. I figured we’d have some left over, but what the heck – we’re bound to use it some day.

It was time to start auguring. We drilled to a depth of about two feet, allowing for five inches or so of gravel at the bottom. The augur is 12-inch in diameter, more than enough space to secure a 4×4.

Before we could start setting the posts each hole had to be prepped. Prepping wasn’t easy, as it entailed cleaning out all the excess dirt from around the rim of the hole, as well as the stuff that never made it out with the initial auguring. Then, in went the gravel (the gravel, at least, was free – we removed it from the back yard as part of another landscaping project to be blogged about later). Once the gravel was in, there was eighteen or nineteen inches left for the concrete.

The smart thing would have been to complete each stage in its entirety before moving on to the next, but that wasn’t how things turned out. We prepped a handful of holes (which is a lot of physical labor in itself), and then started on the posts, which ensured that the job would be stretched out over several days. Unfortunately that left the bulk of the holes to be prepped later, which in our case was after it had happened to rain. And let me just say that if you’ve never had to scoop out several inches of dense, sticky, clay-like mud from over two-dozen holes in the rain then trust me – it’s nothing to write home about.

We were so very lucky to have our neighbors Andy and Dianne lend us both their cement mixer and, for much of the job, Andy himself.  He wound up being on board for close to half the posts, and without him I might very well be in a body cast.

I’m not lying when I say the amount of labor that went into this process was more than I had counted on.  First the cement mixer had to be physically rolled into place each day over bumpy ground (our truck has no ball-hitch). Then the cement, which was staged at one corner of area, had to be loaded into either the truck or the tractor and moved to where we were laying posts. Several hoses had to be connected and run from the nearest water source; extension cords, two or three loooong ones, had to be hooked up.  All of this took a lot of trudging and lugging – two things I’ve never been very good at. On the plus side, though, I did find that I excelled at sweating and grunting.

One the mixer was up and running I had to tear open the bags and somehow manage to get the contents poured into the spinning mixer without covering myself with, and inhaling, half of the bag.Then I’d give it a healthy dose of water from the hose, then another bag, then more water – you get the picture. Once the desired consistency was achieved I dumped the wet cement into a wheel barrel, which I then had to navigate over rough terrain several yards to the hole without losing my balance or hitting a divot in the ground and spilling half the stuff.

There awaited Lizzy, holding the post in place. She had to manage to keep the darned thing level while I shoveled the cement into the hole.

Anyway, I was exhausted, soaking wet, covered in cement, and bleeding – yes, bleeding  – by the time we were finished.

With the first post.

And yes – that single hole required three bags of cement. That’s around two hundred pounds of concrete and a couple gallons of water.

So I ordered more cement. All told, we went through about two hundred and twenty bags of the stuff, though I have to admit I opted for the sixty-pound bags, rather than eighty, for the subsequent orders.  Trust me – you’d have done the same.

We found that we could work only a couple of hours a day before our own physical limitations forced us to give up. That added up to about fifteen posts a day, if we were lucky.

But somehow we pulled it off, and just in time – the rain we’re getting now forced us to finish the final seventeen posts in an hour and a half, without our neighbor Andy’s help, this past Monday.

And if you don’t believe that this was hard work, just listen to Sarah:

I’m only half-way through building the large gate doors, and we haven’t even begun to attach the fencing material, so expect more later. Until then, I’ll be in bed recovering.

-Jason