A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pigs, solar panels, vegetables and a ceiling

The pigs arriving by trailer with Teri and Everett waiting in excitement

    As some of you readers may have figured out already (from some photos leaked to facebook… those paparazzi!), everything that I said in my last post about “the pigs not working out” has turned out to be false. The pigs actually “worked out” the day after I wrote my last post. Our not-so-excited-about-more-responsibilities neighbor Brian and I were just breathing a sigh of relief that we had one less thing to worry about this year, just as our pig-enthusiast partners, Mike and Teri, were doubling down on their plot to bring pigs into our homesteading lives. A little ad buried in our local buy/sell newspaper “The Nemo Trader” announced piglets for sale for a buck a pound of body weight and before you know it, they were backing down our driveway: one pig for their family and one for us, as well as one for Mike’s father. For years I have been putting off Mike’s fantasy of raising pigs, telling him, “next year, next year…” so I didn’t feel I could fairly put up a fight against them. But sigh, gone are the pig-free days when I could walk through the meadow without wafts of pig aroma hitting my nose or I could hear birdsong without squeals and grunts in the background. 

The pigs have been working on this synchronized rooting routine...

     Now we are beholden to the pigs, or I should say Mike is since this is his dream. We have opted to let them root freely, which they love and is usually kept in check by ringing their noses. That means however that we have to move their pen and hutch around every few days as they transform their turf into mud in no time (which they also love, but best to have some of both). Mike dutifully feeds them our table scraps and overgrown cucumbers twice a day as well as some grain mixed sometimes with weigh left over from cheese/butter making if we can get it. Pigs are pretty ideal in that their will eat almost anything and require very little in terms of fencing/housing requirements. Brian and Teri and the kids come down to feed them too, and we have pen-moving sessions as well. It all seems quite manageable, but slaughter-day is still looming, which I have my doubts about. If all goes according to plan we will be “harvesting” these pigs around Thanksgiving, once they are very large, and Mike and Brian hope to do some much of the butchering themselves. If we were sensible, we could opt to pay a professional to come and do it, but once again we are testing the limits of DIY culture and planning on the extra mile. Updates to come on how all that goes down, but for now I am determinedly not getting attached… no cute names like “Wilber” or anything.

The demolition post-pig, hopefully a future garden site!

    What else have we been working on? Well, progress has been chugging along on the house. We buckled down to business, making a list of all that needs to be done with highest priority going to those must-haves to get through winter, like “install stove” and “plaster behind the stove so house doesn’t catch on fire”.  The fuzzy area seems to be our water system. We have agreed we need to at least have a functioning drain pipes attached to sinks and tub, but we aren’t sure that we can feasibly get a functioning cistern ready by winter. It keeps raining, our giant hole keeps filling up, we keep draining it, but at no point has it seemed like, “ah, this is good weather to cure concrete!” For two winters now Brian and Teri have figured out a system of hauling buckets of water from the pond and then warming it on their stove for bathing and dish washing or filtering it for drinking and cooking. This is not their ideal, but they have managed it for now, until they too construct a cistern.  We figure if it has worked for them, it should be able to work for us too if need be. Still, water on demand would be nice.

     Some big steps have been crossed off of our house list this past month, and it feels good to have made some progress. Since our insulation was all blown in, we were able to put up boards and a bit of sheetrock on our ceiling, which is now all covered. We procured the tongue and groove pine boards last year (another Nemo Trader score) from someone’s tear-out job. We simply flipped them over to the unfinished plain pine side and we hope to eventually give them a lime wash to lighten up the space. Other parts of the ceiling got sheetrock, where we framed in an attic storage area. After all that, we were done teetering around on ladders and so we started in on our first floor framing and finishing notching in joists to finish the second floor framing. All of this has probably taken as much time scratching our heads as it has swinging hammers, trying to figure out the subtleties of space allocation in a small house: an inch in one direction or another could make all the difference. The big question mark to come this week will be the stairs, a tricky bit of carpentry in ordinary circumstances for sure, but combined with round logs soaring through the house and a rotation mid-stair…. Well, let’s just say this may take awhile. After the stairs however, and our second floor’s sub-flooring, we should be clear into plastering work for another month or more. It is slowly coming together and I think by the time the weather gets nippy again, we should be comfortable and snug inside a relatively finished space.

The second floor joists all finished and awaiting flooring

Recognize a bathroom? Well, maybe not yet...

     The last thing I wanted to mention in this post is how truly wonderful it has been to have a garden this year! I am only frustrated we didn’t take the time to create one sooner! The majority of the work of a garden is on the front-end, prepping and planting beds, and then in the fall, doing a second planting, and cleaning out beds and adding in compost. The summer is mostly a time of harvest and no maintenance as long as you don’t mind a few weeds here and there. The rain has been doing water duty for us, leaving harvesting and keeping up with eating the produce as our only chores. July seems to be the month when everything is ripe and ready. We have virtually stopped shopping, designing meals around what is pouring forth. Last night it was a delicious eggplant parmesan with fresh tomato sauce with a kale-cucumber salad. The night before I was dreaming of a Japanese-style beef stew. When I realized we were out of carrots and potatoes, Mike pointed out that we might have some ready in the garden and sure enough, he brought back fistfuls of rainbow colored carrots and some muddy but huge purple potatoes and some Thai yard-long beans, asking, “can you work these in?” Maybe it is because I have never grown such a range of things before, but I am just amazed by how easy it is to provide for almost all of our food needs with a relatively small space. We end up purchasing meat once or twice a week, eggs from our neighbors, dairy products that keep well (cheese and yogurt), and chips (because, um, fresh salsa? Need I say more?) I can just imagine the grocery bills if we were still buying all of this organic produce from our fancy Philadelphia food co-operative… So all of this is to say that I am feeling ambitiously up for trying to plant a fall-winter garden so that we might continue the harvest into the colder months. It will involve some row covers to keep things warm and a different set of veggies, things like cabbage, parsnips and broccoli that love cooler weather. But the fall/winter garden experiment is underway already as seedlings get started in little cups. It is hard, even with one garden already full planted, not to dream of the next garden to come.

     Last but not least, we have an exciting new addition.... more exciting than pigs you may be asking? Why yes, in my opinion at least. We have a solar panel! This was a gift from some wonderful family members of mine who were possibly concerned for our off-the-grid sanity. And I can truly say that now that we have electricity enough to recharge batteries of all kinds and power a radio, I don't know how we were doing it without one before. It has definitely made life easier. In fact, I am writing this in my house instead of at the library thanks to our solar panel! The hook-up for one panel was very simple and took us only a half hour. It consists of a battery to store power, a charge controller and an inverter. They all hook up in a line and then you can plug in anything that can run on a certain amount of voltage (for example, to run a fridge we would need more panels, more batteries and a larger size inverter). The great thing is we can add more panels/batteries into our system as we feel the need in the future. So we are still off the grid, but with a little more power now. Three cheers for the sun!