Monday, May 30, 2011

Nothing is sweeter than free

Now that we'll be in this house for a few more months, Sarah and I decided to start doing some of the work to the yard and outside area.

So today we set out extra early to start cutting down a section of old chainlink fence that was overrun with hedges. This section was right by the entryway to the back door (which is our main door anyway), and we wanted to make sure it left a positive impression on anyone who visited.

So we cut down the fence and the intertwined hedges, dug up the stumps and cleared off the top of a retaining wall that probably hasn't seen the light of day in decades. In fact, we had a nice little surprise on the top of the wall. Etched into the cement was "Sept 1946", which we assume is when that wall was built. I know the house itself was built in 1940, but we both get so excited to see historical landmarks like that. I was putting it into perspective by being a bit silly. "Andy Griffith was 20 years old when this wall was put in!" "World War II has just ended!" "Our parents weren't even thought of yet!"

But my favorite part of the day was when we went over to get a pickup-truck-load of free hardwood mulch. With the recent storms, the city has been mulching downed trees and dumping the piles in a public area not too far from our house. So we drove over there, shoveled the truck full and dumped it all near our newly cleared retaining wall and walkway.

I'll have to take a picture when we're finished laying the patio stone and planting hostas and bushes in the area. We'll also build a cinder-block retaining wall to replace the cement one that broke when we pulled out the chainlink fence. It should all make more sense when you see the pictures!

Other than that, today is the day we mated our bunnies for the first time. They'll be six months old on Wednesday, and it's about time for them to start earning their keep around here. Right?

I could literally write another entire blog post on how crudely humorous that breeding experience was for Sarah and I, but I'll save that for another day. Let's just say... the male was a bit too overeager.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Now that's community

Yesterday, the family and I headed to a local jamboree in Ringgold, Georgia called 1890s days. I imagine at some point it was a celebration of the town's heritage, but now it's a string of craft booths and elephant ear vendors. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't see much going on from the 1890s.

I think, most importantly, it was really nice to see the town band together and continue on with this traditional festival in the wake of the devastating F4 tornado that ravaged the area last month. My nearby town was just hit by some uprooted trees and blown off roofs, but Ringgold was almost completely wiped off the map. Even with the pain of lost property and lives, it's nice to see that the organizers got together to make this festival happen, to not only take their minds off of what happened, but also to allow others in the area to come see just how bad it really was for them.

Anyway, we had fun. There was a bluegrass contest where people came from all over the state to compete with their fiddles and acoustic guitars. That's the kind of thing I really enjoy the most, because these people have some real talent. It's still so surreal to me to be at an event like this and see people in the audience with overalls and straw hats.

In the 10+ years I've lived in Tennessee, one of my favorite things to do is attend small-town events like this. I love real farmers markets made up of real farmers, flea markets where locals back their trucks up and sell second-hand items for dirt cheap in an old gravel parking lot, and jamborees with talented musicians and friendly people. And I look forward to many more!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Facebook founder kills his own food

I was really pleased to read this story. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of popular social media network Facebook, has decided that he'll kill the food that he eats with his own two hands.

Now, when I tell people that this is the main reason I want to raise farm animals, they usually scrunch their noses up and ask me why I would kill innocent little animals. That's about the time when we get into a discussion about where our food comes from, and I enlighten them that chicken doesn't come from a magical chicken tree in South America.

When I raised chickens, I slaughtered them in my own yard (which probably isn't really legal in this city, come to think of it), but it prepared me for doing so on a larger scale one day. Plus, it introduced me to the fact that this is what our ancestors did for their breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day.

I commend Mr. Zuckerberg for not only taking on something as brave as this, but also publicly proclaiming it. The ironically backward stigmas attached to killing animals for food is frustrating, but Mark is pulling no punches on this one. It's refreshing to read his opinions, because I share them almost to the letter. I don't care what anyone else eats, but I want to know what I put into my digestive system.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I love to tease myself!

Oh thank goodness Blogger is back to normal. I've had quite a time sitting on my hands, waiting to blog this last week while the author tools were down!

So this last week, Sarah and I have gone back to our naughty ways. No, not like that... we've gotten back into the habit of looking at houses again. Let me explain why this is a bad thing.

About four years ago, I finally decided to do something about moving out of this house and into one that I would enjoy, in the country. Of course, this has been something I've wanted to do for much longer than that, but after a bad divorce seven years ago, and some devastated credit, I knew it would be a long time before I could attain my dreams. But four years ago I put my foot down and started the process of rebuilding my credit.

Fast forward to last year, and the process was avalanching forward nicely. I was completely rebuilding this old house, getting it ready to sell, and we were jumping the gun a bit by looking for a country house my fiancee and I would like to one day call our own.

This can be a good thing, as it inspired me to rebuild my current home, but seeing those potential new houses killed me. I would literally find the "perfect" house every few months, only to see them sold away every time.

At the end of last summer, we finally had our house looking like a million bucks (although, not listing it for that) and we put it up on the market. Completely renovated kitchen, new appliances, new flooring, refinished wood floors, new roof, all new windows and doors -- it was a busy summer.

But the house sat with no buyers for six months. Just about every person who came by to look at it said they didn't like the neighborhood. We figured someone might overlook the two condemned properties and the other two on the block with "for sale" signs, but they didn't. We don't mind it so much, because the neighborhood is nice and quiet, but I can see how it'd be a bit of a deterrent for potential buyers.

So when our six-month realty contract was up, we decided not to renew, and instead started looking into renting the house out. I'd considered being a landlord before, but figured we'd try to sell first. This is where we stand now. We had planned to start looking at houses again at the end of June, after our wedding and honeymoon, but now something else has come along to postpone the process a bit.

During last month's tornadoes, a giant oak tree in our backyard fell and completely crushed our neighbor's house. Luckily, the house was vacant (one of the condemned ones), so no one was hurt. Unluckily, the house is city property, so I need to wait for them to clean up their side before I can begin cutting up the trunk in my yard.

Anyone who's ever dealt with any city government can imagine that this won't be a quick process. I've called a few times, and each time they say they don't have any idea when they'll be able to start cutting the tree up and cleaning up the house next door. I'm guessing close to a year, but there's no way I'm staying in this house another year.

So, our moving plans have been put on hold once again. I'm usually a pretty patient person, and I believe that God has a plan for everything that happens, but this is just taking too long. I've been know to have impatient streaks, and this is one of them.

Like last week, when we were looking at houses again. There's one in particular that was for sale last year, and it needed a LOT of work. But it was bank-owned, so the price went down every two months, until it was at a ridiculously low price just 2 weeks ago. I mean, it was so cheap we could have almost paid for half of it with our savings. We were excited about the possibilities, trying to work out buying it now, fixing it up while we wait for the tree damage to be cleaned up, and willing to take out chances if it took another year, just because the mortgage would be so insanely low.

Heck, I was even planning out what I would do with the yard, where I would build the goat house, chicken coop, etc. Big mistake.

I know, I know... my parents DID warn me about getting my hopes up, but I couldn't help it. So as you can probably guess, the house just sold last week. After probably nine months on the market. But like I said, I understand that it's just God's will, and whatever house we're meant to have, we'll have. Eventually.

But in the meantime, I'm going to continue to be a glutton for punishment with these online house and farm listings.

Monday, May 16, 2011

To the Farmer's Market!

Our local farmer's market has changed considerably over the last five or six years, and I'm not sure how I feel about this.

When I first started going, it was a rather small, intimate gathering of like-minded people with the interest of local farming in mind. But recently, it has fallen under new management, and since then, we see more Coca Cola signs, Volkswagen display cars and mortgage company booths than ever before.

On the plus side (I guess, depending on your viewpoint), there are TONS more people attending this every Sunday. In fact, it's to the point of being packed most of the day. This, of course, is great for the local farming economy, but I worry that it's just too much.

Several years ago, it was at a farmer's market that I first realized the connection between my dream of farming and the possibility of making even a little supplemental income at it. This market was so small that it only really sold tomatoes, strawberries, melons and oodles of arts & crafts. I have a particular interest in raising chickens, and I was excited by the possibility of selling farm-fresh cage-free eggs. Now, as you may have guessed, there are at least three farm-fresh, cage-free egg vendors, so that market has been cornered.

I still hope to one day sell something at the famer's market, but I'll have to be creative. I didn't see anything regarding rabbits there, so that's a possibility. Hey, don't steal my idea!

But that's still a very long time down the road. I need to actually buy farmland first, right?

It's just that I sometimes feel like my dreams are slipping away. That the ideas I had years ago are being gobbled up by other people as farmland gets more expensive and everyone's on this back-to-the-land kick.

But I have faith that it will happen for us when it's meant to happen. Patience, Daniel-son!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mending fences

This weekend we've started planning something new for our backyard. With the tornadoes that came through a few weeks ago, the fallen trees have destroyed a good bit of my old, rusty chainlink fence.

I would guestimate that the fence has been there for decades, as it has a few trees growing into the links here and there. Or did the links grow into the trees? Who knows, but the fact is, it will not be fun trying to tear that entire fence line down.

Since we're looking to rent out this house when we buy our dream farm, I wasn't too worried about replacing the fence before. The Uprising of the Ents made the decision for me, though. I worried about the cost of replacing the entire fence, but I do believe I've brainstormed an idea that will both save us money and allow us to get a dog before we move.

Am I losing you here? Ok, let me explain the dog thing. I've tried to have a dog before. The chainlink fence is broken and bent in a few areas, so the previously stray humane-society dogs always hopped over and took off. I gave up for a few years, but that urge for a dog still nags (both from me and the kids), and we had planned to get one at the new house anyway.

So my bright-idea-that-no-one's-ever-thought-of-before-me is to only fence in about a third of the back yard. It's a 55' x 35' section, so it's still large enough for the dog to run around, but replacing the entire fence line wouldn't be necessary. Plus, when we rent out the house, we can allow dogs (which is huge for renters), and their dogs wouldn't tear up the ENTIRE back yard. In theory.

As I tear down the old fence this week and price new fencing, I move on to finishing the rest of our rabbit cages -- six in all. So now we are fully equipped for two pairs of male and female breeders , plus two extra cages for the litters of babies as they grow to maturity.

If all goes according to plan, we should be seeing our first babies around the 4th of July.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Breeding like rabbits

For several years, I've owned some form of rabbit. We had some as pets for a while, I had some from a friend at an old job who didn't want his any more, and now we have some real breeders for meat, fur and fertilizer.

I built a make-shift rabbit hutch when we first had our pet rabbits, and it's worked fine since then. In fact, some recent tornadoes ripped through our area and flipped the entire hutch (bunnies and all!) completely over. I'm no Bob Vila, but I'm pretty proud that the hutch stayed together through that insanity. And the rabbits didn't even get hurt, either, although one of the cages was broken open. I'll let you take a second to imagine me running around in the pouring rain, trying to catch a wet rabbit in the backyard. Go ahead, I'll wait.

So as we plan to start breeding our rabbits next month, I know it's time to start on another hutch. The plan is to have two males and two females, each producing a litter at alternating times. That way, we'll be efficient with the feed and limited storage space while we raise the babies for meat after 3-4 months.

I gathered up some scrap wood, purchased the remaining parts needed, and started on a second hutch.

I'm not too picky on looks, and the old hutch seemed to serve its purpose, so I mainly followed the old plans -- with one modification. The old hutch had 24 1/4" spaces for each cage, and the cages are 24". So it was a tight fit getting those in and out. I decided to give this one an extra inch for each cage.

A few hours later, we now have room for six cages. Unfortunately, Tractor Supply was all out of cages, but I'll assemble the other one I do have, separate the girls (who are sharing a cage now), and have one hutch be for the boys and one for the girls. Then when the litters are born, then can share the remaining two cages (after being weaned from their mommies) until they're old enough to be culled. They shouldn't have a problem with fighting or mating if they share a cage, as long as I cull them early enough (3-4 months).

So that should be plenty of room, right?! I have a feeling I'll be building another one of these some day, but hopefully it's after we move!


As I get settled into my new virtual home, I just wanted to welcome anyone who may have stumbled upon this site.

You can read more about me on the About Me page, but I figured an introduction to my goals for this website would be appropriate.

My name is Shawn and I was born and raised just south of Chicago, IL. I currently live in an East Tennessee suburban city where I dream of moving just an hour away, into a farm of my own.

My fiancee and I want nothing more than to grow and raise our own organic food, creating most of what we eat from our own hands. We want to do this through a combination of new technology and old-world practicality. It's a lofty goal, and already several years in the making, but we feel we're finally ready.

This blog will be a journal of sorts, documenting the trip along the way. Right now, we're at the stage where we'll start looking for our dream farm soon, and we've even been trying to get a headstart by raising meat rabbits in our suburban backyard. I tried raising chickens back there once, but the neighbors didn't enjoy the noise (or the hens curiously exploring their own backyards -- who knew those things could fly over an 8-foot fence!?). If that wasn't enough, the city sent me a nice letter informing me of the "dangers" of raising poultry. Now can you see why we want to get the heck outta here?

So here we are, ready to go in head first. I spend each day reading several magazines, books, blogs, and websites, trying to soak up every drop of knowledge I can about my hopeful future. We're getting married in about three weeks, so right now, that takes priority. But soon afterwards, we'll set out to find that perfect spot of land to call our own. And we'd be happy to have you along for the ride!