1/2/08 Prairie update

Had a great meeting with Grant, John, Chris and Frank on 12/27. We walked and talked for about 3 hours and still didn’t visit all the property. I went wondering if I should try and figure out a way to buy the adjoining 229 acres, and left realizing 121 acres was quite enough property to deal with! That said, I’d still like Mr. Darr to sell me his 20 that is wrapped by mine – both to straighten out my property line, and to give me a larger “back yard”. Good thing too – because I had NO idea how I could have raised enough to buy that 229.

Speaking of the Darr 20, one potential change in plans: We are now looking at the south-west section as a potential homesite – up near the Darr property line. Its a lot flatter there, which would be nice for gardening. Its in view of the Darr house, which means Sonny could easily see our place and notice if anything was amiss. Its also back off the main road, which I’m told has less “undesirable” (read thieves and poachers) traffic than the eastern north-south road.

Evia & Gabby walked with us a bit, but Kirksville had its first snow, and she didn’t bring the right footwear. That snow got me stuck twice, once on the eastern road (oddly, I was slipping on the gravel, not the grass I had pulled partly into), and once when I tried to turn around after seeing Sonny just to say “Hi”. He laughed after rescuing me again! At least this time it was in front of his house…

Came home and created a new website: http://www.mysticplains.org It contains photos of the area, links to relevant articles, and the like.

Unfortunately, Justin got bogged down in paperwork back at his office and could not join us. He is talking about writing an article for the MPF Journal though about our efforts.

Near the end of our tromping around we stopped and looked at the original Simler cabin. It had been moved from down by the spring (still not EXACTLY sure where thats at) up to the top of the hill by the road. Alas, the movement wasn’t kind. Not sure what shape the cabin was in when it was moved, but most of the exterior wall boards are now wavy, and all the plaster inside has broken off. There is an old single bed frame, a table, and a few other odds & ends in the place. It can’t be much over 8′x10′ in size – and it has a hole in its roof and missing windows. Its debatable if we should fix it up – might be fun, and honestly, it is about as big as a family tent – it might make a nice place for sleeping bags. We will take a better look and grab some measurements the next time we go up.

Frank and Judy had us over for some WONDERFUL deer chili. We chatted for awhile, met one of Franks friends, and eventually headed off to the Days Inn (its a bit older than the Holiday Inn, and this was our first visit – but we like it better). Swang by Home Depot and picked up 500lbs of sand to add some weight to the truck bed. Good idea… just wish I thought of it before the trip (and getting stuck twice). We had about 5 inches of snow that night, but the paved roads were pretty clear in the morning. Of course, we were running late, and with the new snow it would have been foolish to try and get to the property, but I really wanted to show Evia the potential homesite. Alas, between the two, we decided to head off to Dadant in Hamilton Il and pick up the bee keeping supplies we wanted.

Managed to get all (5) brood chambers and all (10) supers built over the following weekend. We have assembled about 15 frames with foundation as well. Also bought some primer, white exterior paint, and associated supplies for painting everything. Still (20) brood frames to build and (100) super frames, plus some other misc. hive stuff. Good news is that I have several months to get everything ready. The bees are expected around April 9th.

Oh, back to the land: LOTS of lake opportunities varying from a couple of acres to over 10. We spotted two bad erosion areas – those will be the first terrascaping activities we embark on. There are a LOT of small trees, from 1-10 years old that need to be removed. Roughly something like 300/acre – at least on the eastern south side. The pond dams have trees on them as well. Anything under about 6″ in diameter will be cut down. Its going to be a busy spring.


End of January Status

— Jan 30, 2008 —

1) I’ve spent way too much time arguing with myself over a 40′ vs 45′, Regular vs. High storage container. By dropping the rops on the tractor, it will easily fit in a Regular. A 40′ should also offer plenty of space, so I’m opting for a standard 40′ container. Now I just need to figure out where to put it… At 1/10th the cost of a garage, and much better security, this is simply the right way to go.

2) I plan on going with a Kubota M5040 (50hp) tractor. I want a full size mostly for safety – I can spread the tires out, and the unit will have a lower center of gravity. 50hp ought to be enough – if that proves out wrong, I’ll trade it in later.

3) We are proceeding with the fence line cleanup and mechanical tree removal. Cost share paperwork has been signed and sent in. Still awaiting a bid from the bulldozer guy to do the work.

4) Blueprints are being created for our future house based on sketches we provided. The intention is to only build the basement with sub-floor now, and temporarily roof it over – but having the full plans will ensure I get the foundation right! The company doing the work is taking into consideration cost effective building, like keeping rooms to 12′ wide (or slightly less) for carpet, and is designing around the topography of where we are planning on putting the house – including aspects like our desired root cellar and future greenhouse.

5) I’ve started work with Stark Brothers nursery to design our orchard. Looking to have a variety of fruit trees that will bear fruit over as much of the growing season as possible – along with grapes, nut trees, currants, berries, etc.

— Feb 4, 2008 —

Ordered a Kubota M5040 tractor, lift, brush hog, and auger along with a Kubota RTV 900 this past Saturday. Still need to order the steel storage container. Although the rops drops easy enough to allow storage in a regular cargo container – its going to be close on clearing the exhaust pipe. I’ll probably just get a high cube and not worry about it.

We did visit the property on Saturday and determined where we were going to put the storage container, and reviewed our general house location as well.


— Feb 5, 2008 —

Putting the check in the mail today for a 45′ High Cube storage container. It will be placed on the north side of our old hay shed, in plain view of the helpful, watchful, eyes of our neighbor – Sonny Darr. We sent direction and expect it to be delivered well before the other equipment, which will be useful.

Next steps:

1) Await cost-share approval. John Murphy is driving the paperwork. Once approval is received, Donnie will start clearing the trees from 40.5 acres, remove the overgrown fenceline between the Shoops and us, and replace that fenceline once the woody cover is removed.

2) Apply for Soil & Water conservation funds in early March during the sign-up. Our first project will be to address the severe erosion in the southern fields near the creek.

3) Stake out where we want a road. No rush on this project, but it would be nice to have a road prior to building the foundation house. Frank has a recommended contractor for building the road – so this shouldn’t be much more than putting in the guiding stakes, and making some phone calls. Basically, we will come off the Persimmon county road along that ridge, past the old hay shed, past the storage container, and back towards where the house will be.

4) Attend a Burn Workshop on March 8th. This is tentatively scheduled on the Shoop property, probably the section across the gravel road from our place.

5) Receive the tractor, RTV, and other tools.

6) Dig holes for all the fruit trees we are currently planning. Fetch the trees. Plant the trees – primary task for our Spring break week on the property.

7) Finish preparing for the bees. The hives are built, but I have a lot of foundation work left, and painting to do. Bees are expected in April, but everything should be setup well before then.

8) Clean out the spring and see what happens.

9) Start brush-hogging the firebreaks around the fields. This is a “build up fuel” year, so I can work on this all summer long if I so desire.

10) Remove trees from the dams.

11) Perhaps do some lake planning – that will be the next land based major event, but is probably a couple of years off.

12) Build the basement house – maybe this fall, I’d be surprised if we got to it before then.

Frank is also going to take some Amish friends over to the property and see if the old hay shed is repairable. If so, I’ve requested blue steel roofing – that will match our country home in Siberia.

— Mar 5, 2008 —

When the parents of Carrol Simler settled in the area two generations ago, they lived in a small cabin south-east of the tree line intersection in Section 1 (of the John Murphy map). Along that east-west tree line is a small spring. Sonny Darr showed me the remnants: a semi-circle of brick in the hill-side, a few moss overgrown boards and some corner post set in the ground. All rather cool! Apparently this once flowed enough that Carrol’s parents used it as their primary water supply for cooking and cleaning. Sonny remembers going by as a kid, when their was a platform, pipe, and tin-cup hanging nearby. Apparently it was a favorite watering hole for people wanting a cold drink in the summer.

Today its just a wet spot. If the water is flowing, it takes more than a minute or two to notice. I’d like to try and restore it to its former glory, but am unclear if I should just take a shovel to it or do something else

— Apr 10, 2008 —

Just a quick update:

The fence cleaning project between the Shoop property and ours is done with the exception of reseeding (in the works).

Last I heard, the contractor was still waiting for his shearing attachment to be completed, but WCC will commence once it has.

We have a 900′ gravel road in.

The “domestic” area is fenced in with a 6-wire, 6 foot, electric fence.

We pulled position 19 on the MDC SWCD funding lottery. 20 projects are expected to be completed this year, and about that many are held-over from the previous lottery – so we may not get funding in 08, but should in 09.

Bees are expected tonight/tomorrow and will be installed in their new home this weekend.

House Architect is SUPPOSE to show up Saturday to figure elevations and adjust the designs appropriately.

We are expecting to arrive around dusk on Friday to install the bees, and will remain until Sunday early-afternoon.

We have signed the paperwork to get public water installed.

— Apr 22, 2008 —

Two weekend ago we established both bee colonies on the farm. We checked last weekend and one was doing well (combs being drawn, and eggs laid). The queen never made it out of her cage on the other hive. Very depressed workers remaining… We ordered a replacement on Monday and it arrived overnight. We will take her to her new home tonight.

If all goes well this year with the two hives, next year I’ll bump up to five. I’m really not out to maximize the honey (or the work to process it!), and rather hope they swarm regularly. Doing so will help repopulate the local environment.

Eventually, when one of the hives has problems, with five I’ll be able to rebalance them. In the worst case, if one or two die out completely, hopefully one of those swarms will find the empty hives and repopulate them for me!

— May 27, 2008 —

Managed to get off work early Friday afternoon, before the 3-day Memorial day holiday. By 3:30pm we were on our way to the farm! The weather forecast was, however, poor: Partly cloudy on Saturday, Thunderstorms Sunday and Money. Fortunately, the weatherman isn’t any better at forecasting than I am at guessing at the stock market!

Friday evening we dropped off supplies at the farm, then headed to Thousand Hills to check in. This was scheduled to be a bit of R&R along with the work we had planned – at least from a Corporate Work World. The laptop was left at home!

We slept in a bit on Saturday, wondering where the sun was, and eventually headed over to the farm. First things first – we checked out the bees, added more sugar-water to the feeders, and added another hive body on the strong colony. The weak colony is apparently queen-less. I hooked up the brush-hog, wondering if it was too wet, but decided to give it a shot. Bush-hogging went fine. I spent about 6 hours on the tractor and managed to make a half-dozen passes around the inside of the fence, got around the berries, and zig-zagged around all the fruit trees.

Had a nice working dinner with Donnie Yantis, our bull-dozer man, starting cattle rancher, and general go-to guy for getting things done. For instance: last Thursday he ran our water line and installed a spigot for use. That came in handy, the replacement plants we put in, and a half-dozen of the trees, needed the water.

Sunday I was pleased to get my gas string trimmer running. It hadn’t been started in years, but seems to run fine on the 40:1 gas/oil mix the chainsaw uses. Trimmed around the electric fence, found a few problems, and trimmed around the berries and fruit trees. Sun came out in the afternoon – it was both hot and humid. Managed to get nicely sunburned. Finished the day off putting the earth anchors in for the berry rows. Cooked half-pound burgers for dinner and collapsed.

Monday was a beautiful day, cloudy in the morning, but cooler, sunny, and less humidity than Sunday. Stopped by Sonny’s and checked out his few-hour-old new donkey – very cute. Spent most of the day spreading mulch and watering plants. OK, OK. I spent most of the day driving the tractor… Evia and Nastya spread the mulch…

Going to have to read up on colony splitting for the bees. I don’t know if I can get away with splitting once to establish a new hive, and at the same time, combining one hive body with the weaker hive to get it jump started. Hopefully in a few weeks the strong hive will have populated the 2nd hive body and I’ll have that option.

Need to start pushing BigLogs for some blueprints, at least basement ones, so we can get that project started. I’m hoping we have enough left to get it poured, roofed, and weather proofed this summer.

— Jul 16, 2008 —

Had the pleasure of spending two nights over the 4th of July weekend camping on the farm. Got to give Evia a lot of credit, she was 2 weeks away from giving birth to our son and the first night we didn’t even have air mattresses. The weather was GREAT, days in the 70s-80s, clear nights in the uppers 50s – and this in July!

A fair amount has happened since my last post:

1) We have bought some cattle: 5 cow/calf pairs, with 3 heifers and 2 steers. Donnie is running the cattle with his and the combined herd is doing just great.

2) We split and combined the bee hives. 3 weeks after I added the 2nd hive body to the queened hive, it was 90% full. We took that new hive body and made it the base for the queenless hive – using a sheet of newspaper between them with toothpick holes in the paper. We replaced the 90% full hive body on the queened hive with yet another empty hive body. Two weeks later, both hives were doing fine. That’s faster than a new queen could be born, so I’m guessing, just guessing, that the queened hive might have been preparing to swarm and had some queen cells in the making. In any case, we added (3) supers to each a week before the 4th of July visit. I checked them on evening on the 4th visit and both hives were fanning their hives, although the old queened one had a few more bees. A quick peek into the top of the supers really didn’t show any activity, but that was expected after only a week. With luck I will get out there around the 22nd or 23rd and perhaps see more.

3) We have ordered (3) more hives and sent an email to get (3) more packages next spring. Also ordered some ventilated inner hive covers – that should help cool the hive.

4) We have staked out the house, and Donnie (who is my General Contractor) has obtained concrete quotes for the basement. He is still working on septic tank, subflooring, and roofing quotes – but I believe we are getting close to getting started.

The fruit trees and bushes are doing well. 47 of the 50 fruit trees are doing great, 3 are struggling but still alive. MUCH better than expected. One of the three almond trees finally budded out – they are problem children, we have historically had problems with them so I’m happy one made it. One other is iffy, the third is dead. I’ll probably replace all (5) problem trees with replacements next spring.

— Sep 5, 2008 —

Wow – it seems like forever, but its only been 6 weeks since my last post. Lets see… whats changed:

Franscious Harry Carpenter was born on July 17th! That’s by far the biggest event!

My mother-in-law from Russia spend the month of July with us. That was a great help, and we miss her a lot.

I gave up on BigLogs.com ever getting me biddable house drafts. That was painful, since I sent them $2500 in January, and they won’t refund it (admittedly, they have put in work, including a site visit, but still I’m out the primary deliverable).

About 3 weeks ago (August 11th to be precise) I engaged Cyril Courtios at RCM Cad Design up in BC (just across the US Boarder into Canada). Last week he sent me a pair of drafts – one a full log and the other a log first with a post&beam second floor. Although the post&beam option had preliminary bids substantially lower than the full log, Evia and I decided we wouldn’t really be happy with it. So, we will either build the full log shell now, or if it ends up we can’t afford it, wait until we can. I was very pleased with the drafts, spent an hour on the phone with him tweaking them, and received virtually perfect ones two days ago (less than a week later).

I’ve now sent those drafts out to a variety of bidders, including Big Logs, Coast Mountain Log Homes, Summit Hand Crafted, The Log Connection, and yesterday, Yellowstone Log Homes. All of these produce Hand Crafted, Swedish cope style homes. Summit and Yellowstone all produce milled log homes, although it is unclear if Yellowstone pre-builds theirs like Summit can (which means the doors and windows are pre-cut, electrical chases are pre-cut, and the package comes in a couple-of-day reassembly order. Yellowstone has been around awhile, but didn’t indicate which species of wood they used – still, it felt appropriate to get at least two bids for a milled solution.

I’ve received one bid back already, and am anxiously awaiting the others. I need to work up an overall house budget that includes doors & windows, roofing, septic and other basics to make the place weather tight. My gut-call is that our ability to afford the shell now is going to be very, very, close.

Hmmm. The basement is scheduled to be poured the 3rd week of September, if the weather permits excavation and allows the concrete work to start. Yeah, yeah… that means I really need to make the shell call vs. basement house call next week, or very soon thereafter. I know. I know.

Guess that’s enough for now.

— Oct 3, 2008 —

Went out to the farm last weekend. My tractor had received its 50 hour service, and the dealer rebuilt my brush-hog after I snapped the main shaft. Hooked everything up Friday and tested it, went to brush-hog Saturday morning and had a flat front tire. Thorn trees and tube tires don’t go together well. Given that this was my third flat, I punted and had the front tires foam filled. Get to try them out this weekend. Now I just need to worry about the rear mega tires…