Friday, February 24, 2012


In honor of it being Friday, here's a picture of Bonnie eating hay. You're welcome. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An experiment in turbidity

We've been doing our own turbidity study recently. Turbidity is the measure of sediment in water. Water with a lot of sediment is very turbid. Water that we'd consider drinking has very low turbidity. (Oh, I hope our favorite geology professor is reading this!)

So, as you can see our water is becoming less turbid. As of Monday it was looking down-right drinkable. We're not quite there yet though, as it's still cloudy compared to what most of us are used to coming out of the faucet.

Right now the water situation is close to normal at the farm. We use this water for laundry, showers, dishes, and livestock. But, we just fill up some jugs for drinking water when we're in town. If and when the water sediment settles out, we'll run some bleach through the pipes, have it tested, and start drinking water to our hearts' content.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Garden dreams

It's that time of year when our thoughts have turned to the garden. They aren't the same as the garden thoughts during the heat of the summer - what to weed, where to mulch, when to harvest, how to deal with pests. No, our thoughts on Sunday morning were more the dreams of this years perfect garden. I blame it on the seed catalogs. 

Michel Perry says, "Seed catalogs are responsible for more unfulfilled fantasies than Enron and Playboy combined." I think he hit the nail on the head. Around about January our big red mailbox begins to fill with these catalogs. They contain beautiful photos of luscious vegetables, plump fruits and vibrant flowers. In the midst of a cold, grey February morning, Farmer John and I sat down and began to dream that our garden might be able to match these photos. 

We had to narrow down the pile of catalogs. Although we only order from a few, we remain on the mailing list of many others. 

We're into our sixth year of ordering garden seeds. We've had some bad experiences with companies - some of which other gardeners swear by - their products and service just didn't meet our expectations. Our favorite seeds come from Pinetree Garden Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Harris Seeds.  Although we experiment with a couple new varieties each year, the varieties that we know are reliable and tasty come from these catalogs. 

We made our choices, wrote down the product numbers, got online and sent in the orders. There was a certain feeling of completion when I clicked "complete order". But in fact, the work hasn't even begun. The arrival of the seeds will signal the start of the busy season of spring. The gray skies, mud, and chill of winter will soon give way to green grass, blue skies, and vibrant new life. We will carefully plan and work the garden in hopes that this will be the year that our little plot of vegetables will finally match the paradise pictured in our seed catalogs.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

...but not a drop to drink.

Wendell Berry says, "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." 

I'm trying Wendell, really I am. I think if actual chocolate milk was coming out of the faucet that would be better. However, we are going to let bleach and time just do their jobs and hope the water will clear up soon. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Drilling for water

What is that strange thing sticking out above our house?


It's the rig that is drilling our well. Two weeks ago this vehicle drove across our creek and up to the house. The owner of the well drilling company had already come to the farm and found a place to drill the well. This is how he found the spot. 

When the rig arrived at the farm, then pulled in behind the house in the yard by the chickens. The drilling rig  is attached to the bed of this military surplus 6-wheel-drive truck. Farmer John thinks this should be our next farm truck - minus the drilling contraption of course. 

The rig is all set up and towering over the blackberries, chicken coop and surrounding buildings. We've learned that there are several types of drilling rigs. Ours is called a "spud" rig. A large, weighted "bit" is dropped down the hole, making a quarter-turn each time it's dropped. The bit is brought back up and all the mud/dirt/rocks are dumped out. This process is repeated until they hit a good source of water. 

When the rig is running, it's not a quiet process. The chickens aren't very happy about this situation and tend to stay as far away as possible. 

Here's a graphic from Our new well will have screens and casings, which is pretty high-tech compared to our old well. Since the new well will be located outside, if we ever need to work on the pump it will be easier to pull since we won't have to rip up the whole house and roof. Both of these are reasons we decided to have a new well drilled, rather than trying to fix the old one. 

                                                 Well Materials

As of Friday they had drilled 125 feet. They hit water, but are only getting about a gallon a minute. For it to be a good well it should yield about 7 gallons of water a minute. Hopefully they'll hit that level soon. We're pretty eager to have running water once again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

One big advantage to having chickens is their fresh eggs. Fresh eggs make fantastic creme brulee, which will be our Valentine's Day dessert. 

We hope you are having a love-filled day and that you get to hang out with that special someone.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goodbye old bridge - part 2

On the final day of working on installing the new driving bridge, the old walking bridge was taken down. We weren't there to see it, but had representatives on hand to document the historic moment. The first photo was taken after Farmer John made his last trip across the bridge on our way to work. 

The rest of the photos were taken by Farmer John's Dad - I'll let them tell the story. 

Watch your step! The ramps leading up to the main span of the walking bridge are still in place, and a few people have started walking on them before realizing it's not the best way to cross the creek anymore. We'll be working to salvage some materials from the bridge, and the rest will be cut up and scrapped. The walking bridge has been a big part of our lives for the past 6 years, and part of the farm for much longer. We're excited to be progressing to a new stage of farm life. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Is that bridge getting built?" - YES!

We have a bridge! (In the wise words of Meriwether Lewis - Oh! the joy) 

This past weekend Noah and Grant arrived to set the bridge. They worked on Friday to get the bank prepared. It had to hold a much larger excavator than the ones that were here for the original bridge day. 

On Saturday the big event finally happened, the bridge made it from just spanning the creek onto the abutments!

It happened in several stages of being hauled up onto the blocks, one side at a time, then adjusted so it was sitting level and in the right place.

These were taken just after Noah lifted the bridge onto the abutments on the farm side. I was skeptical that it was going to work, so it was a very exciting moment when I saw the bridge spanning the creek and in the right place!

Farmer John was given the honor of the first one to walk across the bridge. He was grinning all the way!

I've gotten so used to looking at the bridge sitting about 15 feet lower, it's a strange sight to see it on the abutments.

Noah and Grant spent the next couple days working on turning a rail car into a bridge. Here, Grant is cutting coupling parts off the car. They also spent a long time working to get the channel tracks cut off the center of the bridge. Although car tires would fit around those, it makes the surface smooth for shoveling or plowing.

This bridge has been well worth the wait. We are very pleased with how this part of the project turned out. The work is not done yet, however. Backfilling, guardrails, painting, and a nice new gravel driveway is in our (hopefully) not to distant future.  Still, we are going to take a moment and crack a bottle of champagne to celebrate this mighty accomplisment before proceeding to the next step.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where's the beef?

Last week, Farmer John and I went for an extremely satisfying road trip. We picked up our beef from the processor.

The trip was tainted with some sadness.We knew and worked with these cattle during their life on the farm. Many justifications can be made, but in end their lives were ended so that we can eat. We were sad, but mostly grateful.

Our trip started in New Martinsville when we borrowed a truck from our friend Mick. The farm truck isn't running so well, and we needed something bigger than my Volkswagen to haul all the beef. It was another reminder that we just can't run the farm without a network of support. Then we headed towards Eighty Four, PA with a stop at a local dairy for lunch.

When we arrived at Eighty Four Packing we were greeted by the owner's mom. Eighty Four Packing is a small, family-run custom processor. They also can have meat USDA inspected. Those are the two biggest reasons we chose to take our beef to them. After she totaled our order, she told us to drive around back and they would help us load the beef. I've found myself in some unexpected places since starting this life at the farm, the back door of a butcher shop is one of them. 

We loaded up 18 boxes of beef, chatted with the owner for a minute and were on our way. What started as a conversation next to the woodstove last year had become a reality. We had butchered and sold some of our own beef - fist bumps all around!

Next came the best part. We were lucky enough to sell some halves and quarters of beef to our friends. As we headed back down the river we got to stop by their houses, help unload their boxes and chat with them. We are thankful to our friends for supporting our farm, it was a treat to share with them something on which we've worked so hard. 

Finally we made it back home and unloaded our half of beef. It filled up our upright freezer out in the shop plus a couple shelves of our kitchen freezer. 

Our beef has an extra label on it. This is for the USDA inspection. Because of the inspection we can sell this beef as individual cuts. 

We haven't eaten very much, but what we've sampled has been very good. It's gratifying to have all the hard work pay off in such a satisfying way. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Re-Post: Goodbye Old Bridge

I've posted this before, but it turned out to be premature. This morning we slid our way across a dark and frost-covered bridge. Then, we finally said goodbye. The bridge crew is planning to remove it this morning. Farmer John and I will be at work and not there to see it go. Which might be for the best considering it's an emotional event for the farm. 

John and I have been walking across this bridge together for 5+ years. In that time, we've made some memories and need to say goodbye.

We've walked across the bridge on beautiful spring days. We've also walked across the bridge in pouring, pounding, torrential rain. We've walked across the bridge when the air was crisp in the fall. We've also walked across the bridge on frigid days in the sleet and snow.

We've re-decked the bridge. We've painted the bridge. We've shoveled the bridge. We've hung electric wire from one end to the other. We've done major construction to make sure the bridge didn't fall down. We’ve decorated the bridge at Christmas.
We’ve carried our lives across the bridge. This includes: all of Mollie’s possessions after college, all of Farmer John’s possessions after college, all of Migrant Farm-Hand Becky’s possessions, the majority of all the food we’ve eaten in 5+ years, the majority of all the beer we’ve consumed in 5+ years, all our luggage and Christmas presents for trips to Illinois, our kitchen table and Mollie’s wedding dress.

We’ve also carried animals across the bridge. This includes: Coco after two different ACL surgeries, several kittens, a flock of ducklings, 7 Australorp chickens in a dog cage and 1 blind calf.

We weren’t the only ones walking across the bridge. Our families and friends have crossed the bridge. Our neighbors have crossed the bridge. The FedEx and UPS delivery folks have crossed the bridge. Utility workers, loggers and gasline right-of-way agents have crossed the bridge. In all that time, one person fell through, one person fell off and one person had a panic attack. Everyone survived with just a couple scratches.

Perhaps most importantly, Farmer John’s family walked across that bridge. Nanny and Pap carried more than us. They saw harsher weather than us. They probably even had some funnier stories to tell than us. It’s because of them that we are on the farm today. And it’s because of them and their family that we will say goodbye to the walking bridge and welcome the driving bridge. I hope that they’d be just as excited as we are.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Under the weather

Sorry for the long delay between posts,  been battling a virus all week. While I've been in bed most of the week, that doesn't mean the farm's been sleeping too. Just to keep all of you regular readers satiated  here is a quick rundown of the happenings here on Jennings Brae Bank Farm (Some pictures and detailed posts to follow.)

  • We picked up our first beef from the processor. Farmer John and I have had a filet and think it's delicious, we hope all our customers do too.
  • K and A, long-time friends and fellow bloggers came for a visit. We hung out by the woodstove, drank tea, ate good food and talked about these strange lives we lead.
  • We have a water well drilling rig set up just outside the back door next to the chicken yard. The rig was only able to drill a few feet before breaking us further evidence that the farm has been cursed this winter.
  • The pipeliners have started work in our hayfield. This marks the first time a tractor-trailer has been parked in that field.  
  • Noah and Grant - the bridge crew from Colorado arrived today. They also have a very large excavator, so we're hoping to see the bridge in place by the end of the weekend.
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