Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter arrives, and projects move indoors...

Today saw mostly mid to low-20's here in central Ohio, which meant that my father and I were working on stuff inside where it was warmer.

We had aims to tackle the structural support of the white (animal) barn, which is leaning pretty badly on one corner due to soil erosion caused by lack of a gutter along one side (grrrr), but in the end we decided that it was a bigger can of worms than we were ready to open. At this point, I'm hoping it stays stable throughout the winter so I can come back to it with some custom-formed concrete blocks, a few bottle jacks, and the proper tools to get it stabilized semi-permanently. That said, if it falls down once the first heavy snow settles on the roof, I'm gonna be pissed.

My garage, which theoretically can hold two vehicles but has of late been mostly a dumping ground for all the last-minute movings out of my old apartment and storage building desperately needed a cleaning out. Every morning that I end up scraping ice off my truck windshield before leaving for work makes me feel that much sillier when I have a perfectly good garage sitting mere feet away.

So the majority of today was spent cleaning out and organizing that space. We put a 4'x'8' piece of pegboard on the inside wall, and built a nifty workbench out of an old door and some scrap two by fours. Can't quite park the truck in there yet, but there's always tomorrow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Seed in the mail...

got two of my handful of seed orders in the mail today, from and Bountiful Gardens.

such small packages contain such large potential!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

First mortgage payment...

Dropped off my first mortgage check this evening on my way home from work.

Felt a lot like paying rent, but better.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attack of the bushes, part 2...

Had lofty hopes of getting some more sheet mulching done today on the last day of my November vacation... but the wind was kicking up enough to make working with sheets of cardboard and straw a mess and a nightmare, so I opted instead to finish digging those ancient bushes out of the front yard.

Turns out the ones that had me so irked yesterday were just little eensy babies compared to the ones near the middle. I was pulling beach-ball sized balls of roots out of the ground for each little spurt of leaves aboveground. At this point I feel the need to look up what all these things are/were, so I can assign them a name that I can then curse.

Despite being a huge and undoubtedly nutrient-rich pile of stuff after all is said and done, I didn't want to incorporate it into my compost pile for fear it would survive and thrive. So, I dumped it all in a pile back by the woodline. We'll see about using it when it's safely composted (read: dead).

Now terribly sore (again, I'm learning the level of soreness that signals the proper end to a day's work), and hunkering down for a bit of R&R and then some freelance work.

Back at the real job tomorrow...

Friday, November 27, 2009


After a relaxing and restorative few days spent at home celebrating Thanksgiving in Cincinnati with my parents, sister, and Grandmother, I'm now back up at the farm for the second weekend of this month's vacation before I have to head back to work.

Picked up some neato bookshelves at IKEA whilst I was down there... now my budding all-encompassing reference library has a home. I was worried I wouldn't have enough space for all my books, now it looks like I need more.

Feeling bad about not having been putting in time around here for a few days, I endeavored to dig up some of the more useless ornamental flowering shrub/bush things that are lying wilted all over the front yard by where the original turn-of-the-century farmhouse used to sit, between my house and the road.

There's a row about 20ft long of whatever these are, along what used to be the back of the house... so they've been there since at least 1980 when the old house was torn down. There's a decent chance they've been in-ground for the better part of a century. Having only managed to dig up four of them in several hours, including giant potato-like roots more than 5 inches across, it wouldn't surprise me. Yeeeeeesh. I have the sneaking suspicion I'll be re-digging up stragglers from these things for years, no matter how carefully I try to get everything up out of the ground. They just have that "I spread and survive no matter what you do to me" look to them.

Finally met my neighbor Brian. He's a volunteer firefighter, works with garage doors, and seems like a great guy. The lovely Rhode Island Reds who visit my yard each morning for forage are his, and he offered to get me some fresh eggs in the short term, and some free hens next spring once I'm ready for them. Nothing says "great neighbor" like free chickens.

Headed back down to Columbus tonight to see some friends and get a head-start on cleaning out the last of my old apartment, which has to be done by Monday. Ugh.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You know you've been working hard when...

I actually found straw in my underpants today. That has to be some kind of important farmer's right of passage, right?

Got a tremendous amount of stuff done today. And I am very sore. And a proper update is forthcoming, likely tomorrow night, once I'm too tired to do anything but type.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

first big Work Weekend...

(An awesome antique pair of safety glasses that I found in a box of tools my dad gave me)

My parents came up to the farm to help this weekend, and as a result we got a huge amount of stuff done. Company counts for extra hands, good company, and motivation. And after two days of absolutely busting ass, I'm completely bushed and seriously considering hitting the sack at 7:30. Down at dusk, up at dawn?

I spent Saturday morning shopping for provisions (it's well past the time to actually get some food in the house), and met my parents up at the farmhouse just after lunchtime. I showed my mom (who's never seen the place until this weekend) around. She's no easy sell on anything, but fortunately she really likes it. Anyone who has a mother may well understand that going into 30 years of debt to purchase something your mother hates is a very bad idea.

My dad brought up a sizable quantity of plastic and wooden barrels from his secret supplier back home... the brown ones will be used as rain barrels, the white ones cut in half to make makeshift cold-frames, and the wooden ones just look awesome and will likely become habitats for plants of various sorts. Pleased to say I'm getting them cheap.

After unloading the trailer, we used my dad's van to rip out about 12 dead/dying juniper bushes that had been planted around the house at some point, likely around the time of it's construction. Yanking out bushes with a tow chain and a giant vehicle is a seriously fun process, made even more fun by the opportunity to break out my Fiskars chopping axe and go to town on the root systems to help them come out. In doing so I learned that I have a moderate topical allergy to whatever juniper bushes get on/in you when you get knee-deep in them... my shins have been itching nonstop since I did...

My new truck driving, poop-delivering friend Jim showed up with a truckload of composting manure around 5pm, and dumped it behind one of my barns. Man, what a huge pile of poop!

We took some of the super-awesome sandstone blocks I scored on Craigslist and made a big fire circle around a tree-stump that needs removed. This will continue to be the site of all large fires in the future.

Had the first meal at my new house that night that involved either plates or sitting down. Cooked up a decent meal, had some wine, and hung out and talked with my folks until we passed out (this took approximately five minutes).

First thing Sunday morning (second if you count making coffee) we got a fire going inside the circle on the tree stump and burned up the Juniper bushes. They go up fast and hot, and then are gone in just a few minutes. I'm still amazed that so much bush turned into a tiny little pile of ash.

I got a fair amount of sheet mulching done on Sunday... an area that starts in front of the front porch and curves around the house, bordering the area set to become a brick floored patio next spring after I get the old deck torn off.

I learned that an amount of compost doesn't go nearly as far as you think it will, but an amount of straw will go much farther than you think it will. I'm learning the interesting properties of various materials as I go here.

We were visited mid-morning by my neighbor's chickens (a crew of lovely Rhode Island Reds and the sorriest rooster I've ever seen), who seemed much intrigued by all the new stuff I'd crammed in the overhang of the goat barn...

My dad spent some time digging juniper stumps and regrading some dirt by the house to encourage water to run away from the foundation, rather than towards it. My mom went on her usual cleaning binge and ended up washing all my windows and the entire exterior surface area of the house. Bless her heart! That was pretty much last on my list.

After the sheet mulching wore me out, I got to work wire-brushing my outdoor woodstove so I could hit it with the Rustoleum later. Whatever tiny shred of energy I had left was gone after that, and I was reduced to shuffling and griping for the remainder of the day. My father, of course, helped with that.

They're now headed back home, and I'm blessed with a hot shower and internet access here, both for the first time. It's a damn good thing, as my clothes were dirty enough to stand up by themselves and my inbox was crammed (and yet, nothing important?)

I'm tired as hell and sore as I can remember being in a while, but to say I'm grinningly-happy would be a massive understatement. The work I'm doing comes with plenty of purpose, and that makes hard work good.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Moving, part 2

I woke up this morning, today being my 27th birthday, having spent the first night in the house I now own. Each room features a small shrine of boxes and haphazardly placed furniture. I still feel exhausted, but am surprisingly only mildly sore.

The view out my kitchen window, of the sun coming up across a neighbor's fields and just to the left of my most decrepit barn, was a lovely way to start the day. It was all I could do to force myself into my truck and down the highway to work, away from the house, the rest of the day's usable daylight, and about a million projects that I can't wait to get started on.

Yesterday, after a long day spent moving the remainder of my possessions up to the farmhouse, my dad and I walked the property and spun plans and potential out of what sits there currently... how to best modify my long barn for keeping goats and rabbits, what I need to do to repair the in-ground drainage system around the drip-edge of the roof, where the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing garden paths should run, and what to do with the lousy excuse for a front porch I currently have. The act of walking around, seeing and touching each thing across such a large expanse and having to constantly remind myself, "this is mine" continues to be a surreal experience that I'm not quite used to.

I can only hope that visitors will be capable of seeing the tremendous potential of this place, that I can explain myself well enough to get across what I plan to do and how I hope it will all come out.

I explored the back woods and creek more thoroughly just before sunset last night. I found: tons of rocks that will soon see use as garden paths and accents, enough deadfall wood to last several cold seasons in the woodstove, half a dozen rusted out 55-gallon drums (very much hoping they were just discarded burn barrels and weren't home to some kind of chemical at the time they were discarded), a rusted apart old box spring, an ancient and rotted battery the size of a football (cringe), and two giant pieces of farm machinery mired in the creek near the south edge of my property line. Fortunately they appear to be the kind of thing that gets drug behind a tractor, and not the kind of thing that's been perpetually leaking engine chemicals into the creek since someone had the bright idea of running it into the creek as an efficient means of disposal... but all this is making me think I ought to get the creek water tested before I go using it for anything.

Spending the night in my gutted apartment tonight... after sitting stagnant in the well line for some six months, the water at the farmhouse still needs treated with bleach to be safe. I am in now past desperate need of a shower. While I'm here I figured I'd update the blog and pack a load from the odd and loose bits that always remain scattered about after a move. My bed now 50 miles away in my new house, I'll be sleeping on the floor

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moving and Poop, Part 1

So this weekend began the big move... getting the majority of my huge pile of crap from various points around central Columbus up to the farmhouse (and then later dealing with an actual huge pile of crap). My father came up from Cincinnati with the big van he uses to do antique shows and a borrowed 10'x15' trailer to help.

Yesterday also saw the first non-family farm visit. My friends Jenny and Walker drove up from Columbus to help us with the very urbane task of spreading a giant trailer-load of composting horse manure in preparation for next year's gardening.

I got the manure for free from a local horse farm, who was kind enough to help me load it in my trailer with a Bobcat.

Once we got it to the farm, we made a small pile near the house and then drove the rest out to the flat space which has traditionally been the garden bed on this property. Flat, even, and well drained, it's placement was not accidental, and I fully plan on continuing to keep veggies growing there.

Spreading the mixture out proved a large task, and so my father and Walker decided to employ the van/trailer combo and Walker's body weight to mechanically spread the manure/compost mix by driving over it, an activity which quickly assumed the name "Poop Surfing." Despite being quite amusing to watch, it did a fairly lousy job of actually spreading the stuff evenly, so we took up hand tools and got to work.

We were visited by my Micky, a one year old basset hound that lives next door, quickly followed and leashed by Kristi, my very nice neighbor from next door. Introductions were made, one of their kittens sauntered over, decided it wanted to come be friends with everyone, and (apparently) live in my garage forever, judging by the amount of effort it expended trying to get in there.

In the end, what seemed at first to be a truly epic pile of poop turned out to be barely a thin layer across just that one large garden bed, and I think I may have to take the lady at the horse farm up on her offer to have a guy deliver a dump truck's load of the stuff for $100. I've got many more garden beds to prep, and the more of the stuff I get on the ground, the more I can plant and grow next year. No sense limiting potential this early in the process.

After we got the stuff spread, we ventured out (about 20 miles) to nearby (cough, cough) Marion to grab some dinner. After a gutbusting meal at Ralphie's featuring fried macaroni and cheese, Walker eating three sourkraut-laden hot dogs called German Shepherds, and a dessert so large that four healthy hungry people were unable to finish it, we returned to the farm just in time to receive delivery of 20 bales of hay, courtesy of another local neighbor, Keith.

As of this Sunday morning, we're two huge trips in and still have a ways to go, including a fair majority of my furniture. We went to bed rather early last night, worn out by the long day, but we're up-and-at-em this morning. If all goes as planned we'll get another big load of my posessions moved and some serious planning and garden area layout accomplished.

My father's out of the shower and ready to go. Another day!

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Early this afternoon, I closed on my farmhouse. The big move starts this weekend.

So much work to be done!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

closing tomorrow...

At 1pm tomorrow, I close on the farmhouse.

To say that I'm excited would be a severe understatement. The six months leading up to this point have been filled with a unique brand of stress that I can't quite name and might not wish on my worst enemy.

For the property's grand inauguration of the property, the 'champagne bottle across the bow,' so to speak, I'll be plotting out and sheet mulching next year's veggie garden plots all this weekend, in one smelly extended orgy of composted horse manure, yard waste, and straw. Oh yeah, and moving all my stuff in, too.

Advil, anyone?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Appraisal goes through!

Received word this morning that the house appraised for what I'm under contract to pay for it. With the loan lined up, now it's just a question of getting some title work done and setting a closing date. I could not possibly be more excited!

I'll post some details about the property itself in a future update.

So right about now is the time when those million little plans and projects that were waiting for the location finalization are about to leap up from the background and start demanding time and attention. Lots to organize.

But in the meantime, I'd better get packing. Looks like I'm moving in a couple weeks!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The end of property #1, the beginning of property #2...

Long overdue for an update, but things have been moving fast and I haven't had time. Important facts, in chronological order:

The original property fell through. I was not able to obtain a loan for it because of the home's condition. Just as well, because the more familiar I became with the property, the more problems seemed to crop up with said condition.

I am now once again in contract, but this time on a second property in the same area. It has the same amount of land, and some significant benefits as opposed to the last property. I already have a loan lined up, so the last hurdle with this one is the appraisal, which should be happening sometime this week.

I'll hold off on specifics until I know for sure whether or not this is the place I'll be living.

I absolutely cannot wait to move out of the "dealing with the nightmare real estate market" phase of this thing, and into the "actually doing something productive besides phone bankers and worry about appraisals" thing. Not my style at all...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bank appraisal...

My bank did their appraisal today, so I should hopefully have a decent idea of when I can close/move in either tomorrow or Thursday... hoping I can get moved in by the end of October to avoid paying double rent in December.

My bank appears to be really moving along on my paperwork (at my request). It's so nice to have a bank working for me for a change, instead of waiting around endlessly on someone else's.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Things are speeding up...

After so much time spent in the planning/waiting phase of this, we're finally starting to get some progress made.

My independent home inspection on the property is complete. There are a million small repairs that need to be made, and a few big ones... several bowed concrete walls in the basement, for example. But they are all repairable, and this property is still very much worth it to me.

Spent about 4 hours in and around the property with my father during the home inspection... planning, poking around, sitting by the lake. Even in it's current state, it's quite beautiful.

So now it's in my bank's hands... they need to write up my loan paperwork and do an appraisal. I've expressed to them on a number of occasions the urgency with which I'd like to proceed here, so hopefully they work faster than Wells Fargo did on the other end.

Went to the Springfield Antiques Extravaganza both days this weekend, and picked up a lot of mighty cool stuff, including an excellent condition flour mill ($25), a good condition high-wheel cultivator ($35), a cool old card catalog and some old pepsi crates to store seed in, and some other various practical items. I was supposed to venture out past Dayton to purchase a mint condition Delaval cream separator, but the deal fell through last minute, so I suppose I'm still in the market for one of those. I'm a ways off getting any goats or livestock anyhow, so I've got time.

Speaking of animals, the farm may come fully equipped with a delightful 14 y.o. beagle/basset mix named Noodles. The seller can't take her with him and she wouldn't live long at a shelter at her advanced age. She's friendly, mostly blind, and snores like a bastard, and I can't say no to dogs... hopefully I can help make the last of her life pleasing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

bank accepts my offer...

after seven agonizing weeks of tack-sitting, patience-building, and generalized anxiety, i am much pleased to report that the seller's bank has finally accepted my offer on the farm property.

we do the home inspection tomorrow... hopefully they don't find any nasty or unmanageable surprises. fingers still crossed!

in related news, i finally got around to the part of Raintree Nursery's website where it talks about when is best to plant trees in which climate zone. looks like even if i can get the deed in-hand this month (which is unlikely), it's still too late to get trees in the ground before winter, as their root structure wouldn't have established itself sufficiently to protect them from the freeze.

which means that fall's only real outdoor projects will be staking out garden spaces, sheet mulching, and path-laying. this might also afford me some time to get going on a greenhouse, rabbit hutch, or chicken coop. then, once winter hits, i'll be stuck inside, renovating.

IF, that is, the inspection goes well tomorrow. one step at a time.

also hopefully getting a late 90's Nissan pickup tomorrow. my first truck! big day.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Waiting Game...

It has now been a little over a month since i put in the offer on the potential homestead. Supposedly a negotiator at Wells Fargo (the seller's bank) has it in hand and under consideration, and they will (hopefully) be making their decision soon.

I spent most of last weekend furiously sketching out potential gardening arrangements on a diagram of the property, trying to figure out what goes where.

I missed a free 8'x8'x16' fiberglass greenhouse on Craigslist. drats!

Got my Lehman's grain mill in the mail, and i've got a refurbished Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator on the way.

Things i'm trying to plan ahead for now: buying trees/shrubs, hoarding massive amounts of cardboard for sheet mulching, getting a small pickup truck (Toyota, Nissan, or Isuzu... nothing American, sorry USA), getting a dog, setting up bee boxes, getting a trailer to park by the lake for guests/fun (i'll call it the "lake house"), repurposing part of the pole barn for use as a goat house, building a chicken coop and greenhouse, setting up a clothesline and outdoor shower, walling off the dirt floor area of the basement for use as a root cellar.... the list goes on indefinitely.

I have actually started making physical lists of tasks to be done, so as to better organize my efforts.

Fingers still crossed!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sitting on a tack...

Still waiting to hear back from the bank about my offer... the good news is that they're apparently only considering one offer at a time. Mine was in first, and I have had some small amount of communication with them, although nothing definite.

I've got a million small plans to set in motion once I have a better idea where I'll be living, and nothing that can be done on any of them until I know.

Fingers still crossed!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Look who's farming now...

Great article from and another from USA Today about young people moving into agriculture.

Offer on a potential homestead...

After two showings, the second of which having benefited from having my father (who has owned and renovated several houses) along, I put in an offer on a farmhouse today. It's a great spot with a decent amount of land (6.5 acres) and a lot of potential. The house is 20's era, with three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a summer kitchen/enclosed porch, well and septic. It has a full basement with space for root cellaring, a nice pole barn, a small lake, and a fishin' shed. And there's an established apple tree right next to the house! Just about perfect.

Most of the upstairs of the house (2 of the 3 bedrooms and a bathroom) needs some serious renovation, but the house is fit as a fiddle where it counts... the windows, roof, and siding are all new and well installed.

It's a short sale and there are a lot of other people interested, so there is apt to be some competition. Unfortunately I'm essentially purchasing from the bank and not the seller, which has the potential to turn a short sale into a bidding war that would quickly place me outside my budget.

But I am the first offer in. And I am occasionally lucky. We'll see. I should know in 60 days or less. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

About this blog...

My name is Matt. I'm 26 years old, and as I'm typing this I'm sitting on a small couch in my one bedroom apartment in Columbus, Ohio. I live in the quasi-urban, mostly gentrified arts district known as the "Short North." My apartment is 1/4 of the second floor of an old brick building that once served as a library. The single large window in my living room overlooks High St, which runs North-South through the heart of Columbus, and central Ohio beyond.

I grew up in suburban Cincinnati, the son of an antiques dealer and a stay-at-home mom. I got a full ride to a small liberal arts college in Ohio and came away with a degree in Graphic Design. I'm a self-professed nerd who loves music, modern art, cooking, NPR, and dogs.

I've got a great life. I have a good job, doing graphic design for a major national retail chain. It pays reasonably well. I've made some great friends since moving here four years ago. I live a scant hour and a half from my parents, sister, and grandmother, with whom I'm close and visit often. I can't complain.

Despite this, I've spent the past year laying the groundwork to implement a life plan in which I will switch gears entirely, shifting the nature and focus of my life, towards one that is essentially different, and makes more sense to me than the standard edition of what now masquerades as the American Dream.

Others have done a better job detailing why our once-great nation faces the possibility of decline and hardship; I won't attempt to compete. I will simply say that I believe we now face a crossroads as Americans, and as a species. Having inherited the benefits of past hardships overcome, our once-great national will has soured into complacency, leaving us ill-prepared to deal with the road ahead of us. Most people have no real idea where their food and energy comes from, or the impact it has while doing so. Climate change, peak energy, food/water shortages, and bursting economic bubbles all jostle in line to put an end to the American and First World way of life. What many Americans my age take for granted as the indisputable status quo in which we grew up is indeed only a point moving across a timeline. As is always the case, things can change.

While the circumstances may sound gloomy, the consequences need not. I believe that the problems facing us also allow us a tremendous opportunity to strike out and reclaim what was once the American Dream: the spirit of self-sufficiency, determination, and tenacity that allowed our ascent to such great heights in the first place. The next decades may well be remembered by future generations as the backdrop of a tremendous shift in the way Americans live, the last days of a great and unique age. Each of us may now be offered a potential (if incremental) role in the history that will determine our transition into the next one.

So it is with such humbling thoughts in mind that I commit myself to the tasks ahead. I'm moving out of the city with the goal of true self-sufficiency, in an attempt to learn to live off the grid, to provide for myself and mine in a sustainable way. My immediate goals include a house, some acerage, a large garden based on principles of permaculture, a small orchard, a solar energy and/or wind system, a root cellar, small-scale livestock, a grey water system, and lots of other things which I have undoubtedly neglected to plan for.

I'm planning to keep this blog to maintain a strong link to the internet (upon which I have become so unfortunately dependent), to network with and learn from other homesteaders out there, and to provide a visible measure of my progress for myself, my friends, and my family.

As I write this I am still in the process of hunting for my homestead location, to be located somewhere in rural Ohio. I don't want this blog to be about the trials and tribulations of house hunting in a post-bubble economy, but I will likely be posting significant updates about the process of finding the right place.

Tomatoes, Cherry Red is the title of a story I began writing in college, about a family living on the fringe of a future society that maintains a farm by somehow composting old circuit boards and consumer electronics into a fertile substrate for plant growth. That story remains unfinished, but the concept has remained with me, and it now seems a fitting title for this blog. New things are cycled into old ways, and life goes on.