We bought 30 acres a couple of years ago and we sort of figured that would be it. We love the land we have and do not intend to ever leave it. We weren’t looking for any more land, but it turns out that their was another piece of land within walking distance of our original property that came on the market. It’s within decimal places of being the same acreage of the original property and the price was right…so we closed on our second piece of land on our beloved ridge last Friday. I walked the perimeter a few weeks ago and took some cool pics. Now that Spring appears to be here finally, I hope to explore some more and maybe find a hot stash of Molly Moochers!
Now that I look at these pics…meh…but I like the stream for sure and it’s a nice property in spite of these pics!
I have no idea what we are really going to do with the property but if nothing else, the kids can have equal inheritance!
But let me back up. The sorghum grew pretty well once it started growing. I planted a patch around 50’x50′ and it produced a lot of nice canes and beautiful red seed heads. But, of course, time got in the way and it did what sorghum does when you ignore it and don’t harvest when it needs to be harvested. It fell over (which is called lodging). I have read where it might be caused by a number of things but in the end, it adds difficulty to harvesting mechanically and may ruin the canes even if they can be harvested.
Luckily, we got into the field pretty quickly after it started so all of the canes were in good shape although we lost all of the seeds that I otherwise had planned to save and grind into sorghum flour. So, next year I will try to beat the lodging and save the seeds.
So, my brother and I took turns swinging the machete to cut the stalks at the ground while the other stripped leaves from the cane. The leaves aren’t harmful to the sorghum exactly but apparently they add a bitter taste to the finished sorghum syrup. I suppose we spent an hour or two harvesting the patch. It seemed like a small job but it turned out to be a lot more work than we expected. It’s also sticky and dirty work as the sugar content of sorghum cane is pretty high.
We tied the canes into my brother’s trailer and hit the road to my parents’ house around 4pm…their place is around 6 hours away so we rode sticky and sweaty and dirty and had a long day. The plan had always been to harvest and process the cane at our place so we could have an old fashioned neighborhood pressing party like they used to do a hundred years ago. We ran out of time though so decided to have a pressing party at my childhood home where we were planning to visit anyhow. Still, I was on the edge of giddy as I had my first crop of sorghum cane harvested!
I’ll write more in my next post about pressing and cooking the syrup that was in the cane. Harvesting, it turns out, was the easy part!
It seems like we have been caught up in stuff lately and we haven’t been able to make a lot of progress on the deluxe shed. Last weekend we spent all day Saturday doing stuff so I thought I would share an update.
The electrical installation passed inspection. It’s around a 3 week wait for the electric company to run the line from the pole to my meter but I am on the list now! That will make many things different and easier as we work on the place. Eventually we will add more solar and make a run at being off-grid or rather, grid tied but a net producer, but that will have to wait.
Now that the decks are mostly up (but there is still a lot to do…like hook them together and add a railing), we can finish a lot of the outside work we have been putting off. In particular, at the rear of the building, the floor is 9 feet off of the ground. Without a deck, installing the door and siding was going to be a real drag. I mean, I added the sheathing and built the walls, etc clear up to the peak (around 30 feet in the air) without a deck, but I decided I would not be doing that any more work on the back without a deck.
So, with the deck in place, we installed the back door and are about to finish the siding. It’s amazing how much nicer the siding makes the back of the place look. It was pretty well protected from the weather by the house wrap but its lifespan has officially passed even though it looks in good shape. A few more hours and we will finish the siding as well as the soffit and fascia.
You can notice from the pics that I still have to enclose the area under the house. That has to happen before winter as I now have pipes in place that will freeze without protection. Enclosing that space, adding a door into the “basement” and getting a heat source wired in place are the remaining things that must happen before snow flies. My brother is coming in a few weeks and I plan to take a few days off of work to see how much we can accomplish. I’d really like to get this place to a point that we could actually enjoy it some this winter even if it gets cold! We have the best sled riding hills around!
Yesterday felt a little like Debbie Downer so I have some really good news too! Even with all of our soccer running around, we recently got the boot washer hooked up at the executive deer stand! Although it has been fun using the outdoor litterbox, it got a little old for the ladies, especially. I don’t understand but then I am not a lady. I was sort of excited actually when we got the deck built. You can imagine, as a guy, that a high deck and the lack of indoor facilities was a temptation too good to pass up!
The funny thing is that the very first construction we did at the property was install a regulation septic system. It remained unused for 2 years as we built our cabin. I have had the pipe sticking up under the house for 8 months or so. I just needed to complete that final step where we join the toilet to the pipe. With my usual schedule, 8 months seems pretty good!
So, it is functional but we don’t yet have water hooked up. No worries though…we always bring water for washing and flushing. I haven’t installed the tank yet. I’ll get to that after we get the walls insulated and covered with drywall. I don’t care much for wrestling a full complete toilet. I’ll tell you, with the fall muddy season nearly upon us, I am so glad to have the boot washer in place!
I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum. The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed. Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant. Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place. I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment. One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain. Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.
I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to save my life finish tilling the land. Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor. Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes. We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed. Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country. It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks. I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South. Who knows?
So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled dust dirt. Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well. Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.
I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world. Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans. Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations. For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).
So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early. I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months. Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!
Abigail and I went to the cabin this weekend to do a little work on the place. We started out by planting onions. I like onions so we started with 60 sets. Abigail loves to get dirty and Emily hates it when she does, so it was a perfect opportunity since it was just the two of us. I emptied a few new bags of soil and a bag of manure (yeah, I bought it…I hope some neighbors will help me out with some next time around) into a raised bed we made. Abigail helped me space them out and we got as much dirt as we could under our nails.
After we licked our fingers clean, Abigail wanted to take a walk into the woods. It was such a beautiful day, how could I refuse a walk in the woods? We started down a path we hadn’t walked before and found a really great log down on the ground for sitting. We decided to sit a spell. It took a few minutes, but after a bit, Abigail stopped rustling around and it got really quiet. She commented how quiet it was in the woods. It was nice…she turned back to the woods and just sat and stared over the holler without another sound. I suppose we sat like that for 10 minutes or so. Eventually, we got up and spotted a deer trail off to one side and decided to follow it in to the woods.
We stopped again when Abigail spotted a hole in the ground. It was right where the deer trail went so it was easy to find. We stood still for a second and heard running water. There wasn’t a stream to speak of, but we heard running water down in the hole I suppose we discovered a spring though we never saw it come out anywhere. It didn’t matter…we had already cleaned our fingernails anyhow!
We continued on and spotted a small standing pool of water and another spring and an old bleached out turtle shell. We watched a pileated woodpecker for a few minutes and sat a few more spells on a couple of rocks. We saw some really cool trees that looked like birch trees but they were a a lot larger than any birch tree I have ever seen. We talked and picked out our favorite lichens. I must have brushed up against something on our walk as I now have a rash over my entire body. It’s just the price one pays I suppose. It was well worth it to have this great opportunity to spend some time with my daughter when she told me she wanted to go to the woods. It just doesn’t get any better!
It’s been awhile since I wrote about the work we have done on the cabin. Spring soccer season started for both kids so our trips to the country have all but stopped.
Anyhow, before soccer started, we made some good progress on getting siding up on the side of the cabin Emily calls the back (but everyone else calls the front…except me, I support me wife of course!). Siding is pretty easy thankfully so we made pretty quick progress. The plan is to build a covered porch on the back(front) so we sided up to the point where we will tie the porch roof to the house.
We had a covered porch at our place in Nashville when we lived there. Even better than being covered, it was also screened in. We haven’t officially decided whether to screen in a portion of the new place but I suspect we will have some sort of mosquito shelter.
I made the call to the electric company to get power turned on to the place. My original hope was to bury a large portion of the line that crosses our property but the price went up significantly since I first talked with the power company. So, uh, I like the idea of a loverly powerline crossing my view of the forest. Anyhow, we will soon have power to the place which is sure to make the kids happy…they desperately want a fan they can sit in front of while we work. Ahh, the life!
Isaac, my Dad and I hauled concrete block out to the place so we can begin the work on enclosing the bottom of the place as well. There are just so many things that all really need to happen at the same time. It will be an interesting summer of construction!
Our winter was not a winter and I couldn’t be happier! Still, we had to take a break from working on the cabin as the rains and soccer interrupted our schedule for most of January. This weekend was free and absolutely beautiful so we got back to work! Both of the kids came up on Saturday and explored the woods a good bunch with the girl down the road. Emily and I discovered just how out of shape our ladder climbing legs had become. We also discovered just how pasty white our skin had become. I ended up getting another ridiculous basball cap ring from the sun this weekend…geez.
Anyhow, we got the soffit and fascia up on the back end of the house a few weeks ago. This weekend we got it up on both sides of the cabin so now there are no places for critters to get inside. Spring is apparently here and the birds will soon be looking for nesting spots and the open eaves would have been prime real estate. Crisis averted! The drag is, installing soffit goes up 12 inches at a time so getting both sides installed took a million trips up and down the ladder. I just cannot manage more than one piece at a time while trying to hold on to the ladder and the hammer. Maybe I will end up with a yoga booty when this is all done!
Finishing the ends/corners of the soffit and fascia can be done several different ways. I guess everyone has a preference without knowing it…the only thing is, when you see what you don’t like, it stands out like crazy…I think. Maybe I am crazy. Anyhow, we did it the right way so I am pretty pleased with the end result.
Soccer is about to start up again (we play fall, winter and spring leagues…gee whiz…too much soccer) so I am not sure what the coming weeks look like for progress but we will add the ledger boards for the deck (the board that hooks to the house) and then get siding up. Siding should go up fast since we can cover large areas in short time with the long pieces. We have already started to see the effects of UV on the weather guard. The orange plastic caps on the nails we used to hang the house wrap are faded to nearly white on the two sides that get the most sun (the picture right above is a good example…compare the white nail caps with the orange caps in the picture right below). Siding is UV resistant and is critical before summer gets here.
I can tell by the look on your face that you are not nearly as excited as I am to see the soffit and fascia in place, but just you wait until I get my yoga booty going! Maybe I can work on a soffit and fascia work-out tape! Call me the next Richard Simmons!
Is it January? It was beautiful today. The building fates have been with us indeed. We finally made it back to the property today and made some more progress on the deluxe shed…I mean deer stand…I mean the cabin. The weather man assured us it was supposed to be sunny and 60 so we headed out early…way before it was either sunny or 60. It still wasn’t January cold but I could have stayed in bed pretty easily. Anyhow, we drove out in the woods and there were icicles on the trees and everywhere else too. We had planned to install soffit and fascia on the sides of the cabin because the wind runs right up under the eaves and gives me the heebie geebies…like it could rip the roof right off and send it down over the hill. I haven’t hugged a ladder so many times as I have this winter as we work in the wind. It is always windy on top of our ridge but I think winter wind is the wildest.
So we pulled up and saw all sorts of icicles starting to melt and drip right down the fascia board where we had planned to work. Time to change plans. I guess it worked out better because dripping water running down my back would be high on the crap-I-don’t-want-to-do list. We cut a several pieces of soffit at a time but I could only work with two pieces at a time up on the ladder. So, every two pieces I had to climb up and down the ladder. That makes for a slow and tiring day.
Emily and I decided to take a short walk in the woods since we were just so doggone efficient at getting work done. It sounded like it was raining with all of the ice melting off of the trees. It was so cool. The only sounds we could hear were from the forest. I love being out there because it always seems to amaze me. At least as many water drops ran down my back as would have if we had worked on the soffit and fascia on the side of the house. I didn’t mind the water in the woods though. Perspective is sort of funny, isn’t it?
A few folks have asked recently why we built our deluxe shed up in the air on piers. You see houses on piers near the ocean often enough but West-by-God-Virginia is not terribly near the ocean (really, check a map….) Near an ocean, it makes sense to raise your house in the air for when hurricanes blow through or when gators need to mate (more for my bayou friends than my ocean friends).
The first problem we had in building this house is that we had absolutely no facilities to make building a house in the least bit easy. We had no water, no power and no flat land. I studied A LOT before charging head-long into house building and among foundations, it seemed that the post and pier foundation required the least amount of concrete to be mixed and would be the most straightforward for a building neophyte to pull together. All of the concrete for this place had to be hand mixed as there is no driveway or road for a mix truck to deliver concrete.
I figured that pouring one pier at a time would be slow enough to do (unlike dealing with an entire load of concrete on a truck) that I could take the time to make sure that stuff was plumb and level and fixable if I screwed up. It turns out that it is a slow process but definitely not simple. I learned how to tie rebar and how to mix concrete that was not too wet and not too dry and I learned how to keep a sonotube (cylindrical concrete form) plumb even when pouring shovels full of concrete into them.
Our soil is red sticky clay with very little rock. I read a lot about soil types and found that if there isn’t a sufficient base under a pier, the cylinder that is the pier will push down into the soft clay like a pin through butter when the weight of the house is added. Most recommendations suggest that a larger footprint cylinder will prevent the sinking. They make a flared base that expands the footprint of a typical 8 inch sonotube to prevent sinking but I didn’t have those handy. The other option is to use a bigger tube. Twelve inch piers seemed to be the consensus for size and they were readily for sale. Let me tell you, for simple cardboard tubes, the folks that make the forms are pretty proud of their product. Anyhow, in addition to the size of the base, the depth is important. In addition to needing to dig the piers deeper than the frost line, deeper piers provide more contact between concrete and soil. That friction also prevents sinking as well.
Anyone still with me? Yeah Mom, you don’t really count here. Anyone else? Ok, well just in case…we connected 6x6s to the pier with a metal post base which was bolted to a J-bolt embedded in the concrete. In some ways, I would have preferred to pour taller concrete piers rather than add a wooden post but my back wouldn’t take it. I also did not know if I could lift that much concrete over my head to pour it into the forms. Anyhow, the only reason it matters is that the joint between the concrete and wood is a hinge point…a point of weakness. Solid concrete to the base of the house would have eliminated that hinge point.
My goal is to minimize hinging by making good connections, by making things plumb/level/square and by using geometry. I connected 2×6 boards from the top of one pier to the bottom of adjacent piers. By making triangles with the boards, the weaker tops of the 6x6s are connected to the more stable lower portions preventing movement.
So, once all of that is done, I have a pretty stable base on which to build everything else. I am not sure that I made a compelling case for building a post and pier foundation but I have no regrets and it definitely raises eyebrows. Initially, I had hoped to be able to ignore the space underneath but I will definitely have to do something to protect the area beneath our deluxe shed. The wind really howls up there and I have no interest in a Dorothy/Kansas/Toto deal where my house gets carried away by the wind!