sunny days, frozen pipes

Do not worry! Yes, some of our pipes froze.

Yes, I think I mention frozen things and cold enough to make it sound like our house is just a large walk-in cooler. But really, I have been calling things lovely far too much lately, and most of the issues that come up related to heating, plumbing, etc. end up being extremely minor and are mostly amazing learning opportunities, because, as I should have said by now, I have no idea what I'm doing (I speak only for myself here!). Any practice helps. As far as the general cold, it's pretty average for this part of the country, as far as I've experienced living in Minneapolis, and we have now entered the Jan-Feb-Mar sunny winter season. With the amount of bright sun we're consistently getting, it already feels so different from December.

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The fields (both our own and ones we get to appreciate from a distance) are covered in powdery snow, so I continue planning and listing the fun things that will be possible after a thaw, such as burrowing under one of the barns to try and replace a frost-free valve that is old and broken. The thought of constructing a greenhouse in this kind of cold and snow is daunting, but it will have to happen in about 2 months. I am excited.

The plumbing work I focused on yesterday took almost no time, which felt great; it will require some more attention once the world warms up (insulating/sealing a corner of the basement). We didn't consider the potential issues that we'd face with the house that stem from the fact that, I think, humans haven't overwintered here in almost a decade. Combining that with some new plumbing in an area where the basement isn't appropriately protected from the elements produces potential problems.

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Don't ask me what all is going on in here, because I am not sure. What I know is that the sink and toilet stopped working in the half bathroom (we have 2 bathrooms. blows my mind.). The water in the pipes froze and didn't burst, because luckily they're PEX (cross-linked polyethylene), which is a somewhat flexible plastic.

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After mostly draining the system, I cut the affected tubing, installing valves on the supply ends that I closed, and leaving the frozen ends open to slowly thaw and drain. If the brittleness of the tubes wasn't enough to confirm that ice was present, the ice and water trickling out certainly were.

Recap: pipes froze (oh no!) but nothing bad actually happened. I had to buy some valves. Stopped at the library on the way to the store. It was lovely.

In addition to the bright winter sun lately, we've been treated to a glorious winter moon, which was full recently. For over a week, the landscape outside the nighttime windows has been bathed in a dawn-like glow, the bright light of the moon shining down on us and on all of the white snow.

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It is lovely.

-ppp

New Year's Eve!

The new year arrives in a couple of hours! We'll be celebrating hard as always: in bed by 10 after downing copious amounts of water and/or herbal tea. In reality, the transition to 2018 is bringing a bit of anxiety to me, but also excitement. Because the regular growing season at PFP always started at the very beginning of March, I feel a mostly irrational pressure to have EVERYTHING farm-related prepared and ready to run by then. Realistically, this is unnecessary, although having a greenhouse up by then will be immensely helpful (and possible!). Lately, the cold has continued. I don't think the temperature is going to surpass the zero Fahrenheit mark for the duration of this weekend. Still, we've gotten out a tiny bit for some brisk fresh air: we walked south of Downsville on the Red Cedar State Trail, and in the process learned that the 8-mile stretch from Downsville to Menomonie is a dedicated cross-country ski trail during winter, and is even groomed! What this means is: I must procure skis by next winter, at least. I would love to share photos from the trail; however, an allergic condition I've experienced a bit before has flared up now that both the air and water in our house is so cold. When my hands are exposed to rapid temperature changes (and mostly really cold or hot water, I think), hives and swelling develop on my fingers. This means gloves inside when one wouldn't normally expect them, lots of lotion, and fewer outdoor photos. There are a few I recently took on the farm, including this from atop the tower that was once a windmill:

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It's pretty great up there, my only complaint being the thinness of the ladder, which feels as though it will slice through my boot. The boots are strong though! They've lasted since high school and are still in amazing shape, somehow.

What's going on with the farm? First, lots of seed ordering. It's still early, but we've received some of the seeds we ordered, with still a bit more to do, and much perennial research, deciding on types and sources of seed for woody perennials that will supply firewood, mulch, and/or nitrogen fixation. I include this photo to remind myself and others that summer crops will indeed grow again! It seems hard to believe in the midst of such a deep freeze; apples and yarn are present as a reminder of the current season.

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An initial order of irrigation supplies for the vegetable field has been completed, which is super exciting for me. In 1 to 2 weeks we should receive the shipment, which includes most of what we will need to set up a simple system that runs from the animal barn, across the gully, and will supply the field with water using sprinklers and drip irrigation. I am excited to expand the system as we likely expand our growing space for our second growing season; that should require minimal additional material, which is wonderful! N. has been identifying some local nurseries, which I am very excited about, and we have begun thinking about the few varieties of trees we will purchase as we start a very modest orchard in the pasture area.

Finally, Rose has been sleeping ALL DAY lately, and into the night. We've begun allowing her full access to the basement, and her scurrying about suggests that she's busy in pursuit of rodent friends. So far she's delivered 2 specimens and perhaps needs to recharge before a third.

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Happy New Year!

-pppppppp

 

post-holiday break: walking trail!

How different this week feels, already, from the last! A couple of days away to spend some time with lovely people, returning with days when the temperature struggles to reach zero Fahrenheit. This weather is a beautiful setup for some good farm planning. Before this turn to extra-cold occurred, my outdoor work shifted to making this place more livable, and also realizing a dream I've had since I was extremely young! I had no early ambition to become a farmer, but I did strongly envy friends or acquaintances who had wooded space, even small areas, with trails. I remember fixating on the joy of having one's own little trail, which carries on in a love for walking, maybe (or it is a related phenomenon), and interest in walking and thinking, and walking for meditation. Finally, space for trails!

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My primary tool was still the trusty bow saw, and I also used some sharp loppers, tracing a path and cutting through dense brush along a hilly trail that begins (or terminates) in front of the house, continues behind the house and to the highest point on the property, cuts through the middle of the farm and continues behind the dairy barn and pasture, and ends up crossing the gully (where it is quite shallow) and terminating (or beginning) at the edge of the vegetable field.

Here is an extremely fancy map that I made:

Hexagon map with trail

The trail is yellow-green. House = orange; old windmill tower and highest point = blue; cherry trees = red; upper barn (where we plan studios and sleeping quarters) = fuchsia (did NOT know how to spell that); green lines = vegetable field.

The trail is somewhere around/just above a quarter of a mile long, and is important for me not JUST because it was my life's mission (not actually true), but because of the opportunity for solitude and quality time/thought it provides to us and to people who stay here in the future (who will be focusing on their own creative process and life, mostly). 9 acres in not a huge amount of land, but this particular 9 acres offers a rich diversity of open spaces, wooded spaces of different densities, high points with views, and low points. The trail adds another dimension to all of this and I am very excited about it.

This map also gives a sense of our surroundings. Just south of this aerial image are 2 neighbors, each with lots of about 2 acres. To the west is the road and corn/hay fields, and along the curving borders north and east begin large hay and corn and possibly soybean fields. What the crop is at any given time will depend on the rotation being practiced, and I haven't been around long enough to know what that is exactly. Those hills are great, at least, for catching interesting views of our farm and of the surrounding countryside.

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

 

discovery

We continue to discover new things about this property, ranging from furnace workings (as has been shared) to water filtration and old infrastructure. Some outdoor work is still getting done, at least until it turns extremely cold late this week, and some other important work is getting done, including seed orders and continuously crafting our vision for marketing and sales for the farm. I finally invested some time thinking about the water supply in the house, which was somewhat a mystery: the water from the well was running through 2 filters before dispersing to various sinks/toilets/etc., and there was a filter installed on the kitchen tap. The water has always tasted amazing, but we were told that it was quite hard. N and I had mentioned a water softener, but before working on that I learned that one of the filters actually just had a cartridge in it that treats hard water! Hallelujah!

I purchased a new cartridge, which wasn't even necessary, as the existing one was still partially full and the system wasn't working because there was an inch of buildup on the brass jet. It took over an hour, some cursing, prolonged uncomfortable postures, and finally a good deal of vinegar-water spray combined simultaneously with all of the above, but finally water was lightly spraying down on my legs and the floor! I installed the cartridge and sump, and also cleaned out the particulate filter, and I feel like I know things now!

Now, returning to the barns:

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It was almost sunset so this photo is poor, plus I'm not doing anything real in this photo - just posing for N. who had just finished work. We've made good progress cutting down some of the many weed-like trees growing all over the place. I don't know what tree they are, but they are mostly of one type and clog the areas around buildings. Some of them are resting on buildings and a couple of large ones we need to have professionally removed (including one that is beginning to damage a rear portion of the barn in which we plan on having art studios and sleeping quarters.

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The best we can do for a 'before' image is this, which is the south side of the barn, and what the north side looked like a few days ago. Of course the north side doesn't have the scary falling-down roof, but that's another story. The little bow saw we bought for $11 is a good friend.

In clearing the north side of the dairy barn, I discovered more old concrete objects, one of which is a large circular foundation of some sort, possibly a cistern or related thing from the dairy farm era. I at first thought it had been the foundation of a second silo, but the existing silo doesn't have any such foundation, and I imagine if another silo had been there that the pieces of it would be scattered about the area, which thankfully they are not!

We are still enjoying PFP produce that is stored in the fridge (potatoes, radishes, beets, carrots, pears from fruit share) and in bins in the basement (apples, winter squash). We didn't take very much, but we've been using it wisely so as to extend its life as much as possible! I finally threshed the beans that N. and I grew in the community garden plot at PFP; it was not a big harvest this fall, but we collected enough for a bit of cooking and a good amount of planting.

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I am currently carrying out small germination tests (only 20 seeds) on the 3 varieties we grew. I'd like to grow many more of the type in this photo, which is called Hidatsa Shield Figure, which I purchased last year, certified organic, from Heirloom Seeds. These beans expanded significantly when left between pieces of wet paper towel, and didn't lose much of their fantastic color. They are just beginning to germinate today.

Thanks for reading!

-ppp

 

farm planning on the road

Anyone who knows me at all should expect that I will manage to walk to things I appreciate, even if I am (and I almost always am) the only one. Blog dec 15

What I'm astounded by after yesterday is that we (meaning anyone who comes to spend time here for farming- or art-related projects) can exist in a setting that looks like this, and be able to walk in less than an hour to a super cute coffee shop. The morning was truly splendid, with bright sun and a temperature somewhere in the twenties that felt warm enough. I was passed by 1 automobile in the little over 50 minutes I was walking.

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Nearing the center of Downsville, there was a glimpse of a nice train trestle, over which the Red Cedar State Trail runs. After walking essentially the whole way on very quiet back roads, I crossed the river on Highway 25 - there was even a snow-covered sidewalk! - and turned off immediately to Downsville's small main drag.

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Over a scone and some tea, and enjoying plenty of midmorning winter sunlight, I worked on gathering my thoughts so that I can put together an organized vegetable crop plan soon. I am finally looking into organic certification, which means that seed buying will be more challenging than it would be otherwise. I like the idea that requiring growers to use certified organic seed will result in organic seed producers receiving more business! It's not only about our little farm, but the many potential inputs required along the way and how they affect their own producers and environment.

I need to learn more, though, about how organic certification could limit the variety of off-farm inputs that I believe are healthy for everyone, including spent coffee grounds and collected leaves from around town. The person who runs the cafe wants us to have their spent coffee grounds, and I intend to check with a few other places about this resource as well.

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It was considerably cloudier during the walk back and felt cooler, but it was equally peaceful! I was even able to sneak past a certain property without the dogs going crazy as they did on the trip out. Dogs make me nervous (unless they are Penny, Comet, Moxie, Briar, or Lucy).

That's about as good a final sentence as I can imagine. Thanks for reading!

-pppp

learning things!

This is a post that is unrelated to projects that directly impact the farm, because it's really cold out, for one, but mostly because other things have gotten in the way, including a frigid house/broken furnace! Happily, the furnace is not broken at all; I alone caused it to fail repeatedly when firing up, leading to some dough paid to the technician, and all ending with Ted saving the day. For all of you who are unaware of this (which is probably just me and some toddlers), here is some wisdom: there should be some fresh air flowing into the basement. We have an unused chimney that's totally open to the basement and was letting cold air in, so I stuffed the basement opening full of rags to seal it, which worked! Because there is no other fresh air intake, and all the doors are closed, it seems we were not getting enough fresh air for proper propane combustion to happen. I try not to use people's names in my posts, but since Ted diagnosed and provided the solution to this problem in about 3 minutes over the phone, after technicians came to our house THREE TIMES, he has practically earned god status and deserves recognition (at least among the 3.5 people who read this).

The furnace issues have been frustrating, but I'm feeling great about how much  we are learning, and feel like we should have somehow been learning about houses while renting all these years!

Okay, too much text. Here's a nice picture:

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I drove into the city of Menomonie yesterday, and just loved every bit of it. Ending up in our location happened entirely by chance; we're thrilled that we connected with the previous owner, because we're excited about the farm, and I at least thoroughly enjoy Menomonie and the surrounding country. On the way back, I stopped at a tiny access point to the Red Cedar State Trail (the photo above), which runs along the Red Cedar River for a number of miles, passing close to our farm and going as far north as Lake Menomin, which generally marks Menomonie center.

I took several black and white photos of glorious trees (along the riverbank), as usual:

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N. and I have also begun to venture into the farm fields surrounding our property, at least the ones with cover crop or hay production, rather than corn stubble. The land undulates shockingly, based on what I am used to, and there are so many unique views, both across our little valley and further out, mostly to the south and east.

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The photo above, taken from the hilly field behind our property, shows our position on the right compared to the 2 neighbors who are a couple minutes' walk up the hill. Just below and between their 2 houses, in this photo, is the uppermost corner of our vegetable/perennial/straw field.

We've received insider information suggesting that one of these families keeps to itself, while the other is made up of friendly individuals, and late last week we went to the workplace of one of them to introduce ourselves. This sounds vaguely like stalking activity, but said workplace is an incredibly charming coffee shop quite close to our farm, on a very quiet Main St type of setting! WE WILL BE BACK. We are happy to know a neighbor who is so friendly and warm.

In this same town is a pottery studio and self-serve shop. When N.'s family was visiting recently we were lucky to stop in during their lovely open house, where we each wanted to take home all of the things: I chose a ceramic teapot that at least once a day is filled with hot water, nettles, tulsi, mint leaves, and other delights.

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This is all rounded out by the people essentially all around here who are friendly and who tend to listen well. Part of my trip into town yesterday was a search for a new thermostat and a new well filter. I ended up having to buy both online because I was looking for fairly specific qualities in both, but I talked with a lot of sometimes helpful and always friendly people during the search!

Thanks for reading!

-ppppppppp

picture of the winter farm

Hello from an increasingly chilly house in an increasingly chilly landscape! This first week of serious cold has been an interesting one for 2 main reasons: our furnace doesn't work well, and lots of farm-related outdoor tasks can no longer be done because the ground is fully frozen and there is ice and snow on the ground. The furnace will hopefully be more operational soon, but for now it is running with the front panels removed, as well as the burner cover, which makes me nervous. It's set up this way because the system needs a ton of oxygen in order to produce a sufficiently hot flame, which is only possible if the cover is partially removed and the burners open to the room. (Learning about furnaces!)

I've been thinking about the basement lately, and yesterday the crusty ceiling panels in the central part of it were removed, revealing multiple rodent skeletons, some partial dried corncobs (presumably grown across the road), and another long crustacean-looking skeleton. I removed the tees (learned a word!) and discovered the main tee was well attached to the joists with a sophisticated system of somewhat loose screws and wire.

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I also removed about 20 pounds of dust/sand that N. and his father kindly collected before I arrived, and opened the door to welcome Rose, who meowed loudly as always and immediately threw herself down and rolled in the remaining dust.

The crop field feels so different frozen! We managed to mulch our small garlic patch earlier this week, just before the arrival of heavy rains and later snow and cold air.

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Finally, I've shamelessly put up xmas lights, after not having done so in over a decade! We have single-color strands, red, white, green, and blue, and there is one of these on 4 respective limbs of a tree in front of the house. There is also a star on the dairy barn, which out in the country looks incredibly bright, and is quite visible from the road.

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The best part of the star is that I get to take a frigid walk out to the dairy barn each night with a flashlight, which is when it strikes me most how different this setting is from any other in which I've lived.

Thanks for reading!

-pppp

change in the air

Yesterday's balmy temperatures and rain are long gone, with high pressure in their wake: 1 to 2 inches of light snow, strong wind gusts, and temperatures below freezing, at least through the rest of the week. Northeasterners are getting this soon! In fact, I just checked the forecast and it's due to start literally this hour. The resulting cold won't be as cold, though. The cold wind felt rough at first today: I went walking north up the hill with N., the road covered in ice, and much of the sand that was put down blown to the edges. As nice as mild weather has been, I am hoping that we have some average (that is, cold) winter temperatures and plenty of snow over the next few months. Now that we have a well I am in constant (rational? irrational?) fear of depleting groundwater supply. Of course.

chicken coop dusting of snow

I say that we walked north up the hill because the other option is south up the hill. Our place occupies what I'm going to call a micro valley, the road sloping steeply upward in either direction. So if there's a ton of snow or ice, we're staying put.

Lately, including earlier today, the outdoor work we've been focusing on has been clearing trees from all around the farm. The dairy barn and the large pole barn are well surrounded by young trees that are starting to do some damage, and we're committed to avoiding that. Aside from a couple of trees that need to be professionally removed because they are large and inches (or less) from a building, we're taking care of pretty much everything with a very small bow saw, which is labor-intensive but is an excellent way to warm oneself.

snowy dust fields

Another big project is cutting a path to access the vegetable/perennial field, which is separated from the rest of the farm by a gully and thick brush. This isn't a good photo (above) to show the work we've done, but you can at least see the pasture (foreground) and treeline/brush/gully in the middle, and fields beyond that we will want good access to. After clearing, we will be placing tubes in the gully, which is 4 feet deep in spots, so that we can make a bridge!

This weekend we had visitors on Saturday and Sunday! It is so wonderful to show people this place and describe our plans and real work that's been completed. A certain couple from Minneapolis brought chili, corn muffins, and pumpkin whoopie pies/cupcakes! We all went on a lovely walk that was new to everyone, saw confusing farm implements, and smelled the manure.

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Thanks for reading!

-ppppppp

barn stories

You people on Facebook have seen the nice dairy barn photo, which seems awfully cool! The barn is cool, but is sadly way beyond restoration. To take that photo, I leaned a ladder against the front exterior wall of the barn, and it did not feel safe. N. and I were looking around inside on a windy day, and there were far too many noises suggesting it was about to collapse. Here's a view that captures the disarray: P1000356

You can see that the roof arches on this south side have fallen over the cement wall and are on the ground. This seems to have been precipitated by roof damage and water leakage that sped up the deterioration of one of the massive support beams, which is now broken, a part of it resting on the floor of the barn. It is actually shocking how intact the interior still is, including the hay loft on the second floor (I took a photo in color yesterday in addition to the B&W posted on fb). Again, I did not enter this part of the barn, I stayed on a ladder outside, because it does not seem remotely safe.

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N. and I have spent a short amount of time in the first floor of the barn because the well head and pressure tank of our farm well is located in the front corner of the barn. We have been trying to get a very good sense of all the infrastructure here, especially concerning farm irrigation. Early this week we also turned the farm water back on to see what our flow rate will be:

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There is some worry that the barn could collapse and destroy our pressure tank (or at least render it inaccessible for a while), so we may move it to another protected, less threatened area.

Checking out the wells and other infrastructure was part of our first field walk, on Wendesday! It was so fun. We found animal records from the dairy farm and learned that it was an active dairy up until 1995, at least. We also investigated what tools and equipment the previous farmer left behind, and are super grateful! We already have an electric fence, multiple useful tools, and gates/fencing supplies from her.

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The final part of our field walk covered the tillable fields - almost 3.5 acres (above, with me). The rest of our farm, and the house, is visible beyond the field (actually the house is totally obscured by trees here). As you can see, the upper portion is quite sloped, so for a while (or forever) it will be dedicated to straw production, perennial food crops like berries and rhubarb, and/or potentially crops like quinoa or oats, that we'd love to experiment with. More on our planned growing methods later! Thanks for reading.

-ppppp

first days

We're here! N. and I drove to central PA this past Saturday after receiving a ton of moving help from my dad and well-wishing (and travel snacks) from K. and J. On Sunday we completed the trip from Lamar, PA to Menomonie, WI, arriving at 1:30 Monday morning. The weather was mercifully mild, and we unpacked and returned our truck by Monday afternoon. IMG_20171127_081130761

And now work! Our name is Hexagon Projects and Farm, and we will be working on building a business here in Menomonie, which is in western Wisconsin, close to the border with Minnesota and located along the Red Cedar River, which flows south to join the Chippewa before emptying into the Mississippi. South of the center of Menomonie and near Downsville are Hexagon's 9 acres, forming an irregular hexagon, and including a house, garage, 2 pole barns, and a large and beautiful but crumbling dairy barn. About 3.5 acres are sloping tillable field, and here we anticipate a combination of vegetables, berries, beans, and grazing. 2 acres have been nicely grazed by sheep over the past few years, and we plan on continuing this, as well as establishing an orchard. Anything related to animals will require much research and I'm sure will result in constant mistakes!

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The remaining land is covered by buildings or is wooded, and we've worked in these first few days to learn these wild areas and also to figure out where the wells are, how many trees are dangerously close to buildings, and what we'll need to do to keep certain things from deteriorating. This sounds like a downer, but it's amazing work! As we do as much as possible before it is extremely snowy and/or cold, I'll give all the updates. Thanks for reading!!

-pppppp

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