Adventures in Country Living

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The Fall: The Busy BRB

Where did the last two months go? Haven’t been able to get to this much over the last few weeks due to a variety of reasons. Just plain busy, both by obligation and choice. We’ve enjoyed the beautiful weather that Southeast Minnesota has given us over the last few weeks, we celebrated our first full year at the BRB. October weather in the mid-60’s for most of the month has been much appreciated. We’ve been working on alot of the winter prep around the BRB, cleaning the basement, checking the furnace, getting pellets for the stove, dealing with MICE! Finishing up the lawn and landscaping for year, hopefully we won’t have to mow again but if it meant another couple weeks of nicer weather I’d take it.

The Family: We had my mom, sister and nieces down for a wonderful late summer afternoon a while back. We got to witness my youngest niece take her first un-assisted steps across my recently tidied lawn. Clover helped pull veggies from a productive garden. A good lunch was prepared and the girls got to run around with the dogs. I took my mom and nieces to the state park that’s near by while my sister and Liz spent the afternoon turning a bunch of ripe tomatoes into more salsa for future Football Sundays. It was good to see the little ones but sad in a way, since they visited our house I’ve seen them only once and it’s remarkable how fast they grow and change.

The Garden: Late Sept/Early Oct we got our first partial frost, fearful that it would be worse than it turned out we pulled most everything from the garden, any and all fruit that was approaching ripe was harvested. The rest was left for nature to do with as she pleased. It turned out that we lost only a handful of cucumber vines that were hanging on the ground, some of the larger leaves of the zucchini and summer squash went as well but the rest was left un-scathed. Over the next couple weeks we harvested close to another 150lbs of tomatoes, many of which were given to our friends, family, co-workers and others we care about. We’ve since pulled everything from the garden, bare bones, dirt. Everything that could be composted was, others like the tomato vines were dried and are awaiting flame in the firepit in the back of the yard. My neighbor stopped by one morning with a truck bed full of cow manure of which I was glad to help him remove. That manure along with a good thick layer of fall leaves have been turned into the soil by hand. I am dedicated to the idea that a motorized tiller will not touch the soil we’ve worked hard to make a worm haven, and a worm haven it is. I almost didn’t want to use the shovel to turn the soil after I realized how many worms were being cut in half with my blade. I suppose better a couple than the vast majority. Soon the last layer of fall leaves with be applied to “tuck” the garden in for winter.

The Department: In our absence Liz and I have been busy with a few other non-house related things. 1st on the list would be our First Responder class, required in the State of Minnesota if your going to be on a Fire/Rescue Dept that provides medical assistance. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-10 for the last two months was spent in a classroom learning the skills needed to assist our local department and neighbors with any medical emergencies that may arise while we are home or in our area. We passed our final exams with flying colors. We joined the Fire and Rescue department together as a way to connect ourselves with our neighbors. We both have family within a couple hours but we wanted to have a greater sense of community and this was one way of getting to know those around us. We were a bit skeptical at first if Fire/Rescue was a good fit for us but we’ve been on the department for about 8 months now and are enjoying it, we are both on the Fire and First Responder crews for our department, learning to drive new (much larger) vehicles, learning about our area, the hazards and the responsibilities that come with this kind of service. Since we’ve joined Liz and I have helped save a neighbor’s house from a car fire, put out a brush fire, dealt with a couple medical incidents at ~3am, the usual for the job I suppose. Soon we will be taking Fire 1 & 2, and if things work out right we will be trying for our EMT licence in the spring, again more night class…

The Trout: Aside from class we have spent a fair number of days in the month of October to our south doing what I love… fishing for trout. Liz and I wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and as such a bit of fall camping was in order. Recently we purchased a new fly rod and reel for Liz and now she’s got the itch. We have plans to head south yet again for a couple more days before the end of the year, perhaps maybe a bit of early winter camping will be seen. Liz is a damn quick study and has in a very short amount of time picked up the skills she used to use when she was younger with her father, the same man who motivated me to learn to fish.

Things Not Yet Finished: Got a bunch of crap to finish around here before it gets much colder, the underside of the barn is a flipping mess, garden supplies scattered everywhere, parts for this, that and the other thing lay everywhere. The recycling that I’ve been collecting for a year still sits in the bed of my truck, packed as tight as I thought I could get it without risking any loss to road travel. This must be dealt with, so it goes, hopefully to Iowa where they pay for such items (more than the local scrap yard around here) . We bartered a guitar for a ’94  Saturn that came from a good friend that still needs some TLC, despite my best efforts I have not been able to solve an overheating ailment, I am no mechanic but I could try harder. I’ve got one car that needs to be junked, sick of seeing it collect dust and pigeon crap in the barn. I won’t even get into that disappointing mess, just know that I tend to put things off until I’m properly motivated, then and only then will it will be addressed and dealt with. Needless to say I think the first snowflakes will be my motivator. The snowblower needs to be looked at as well, I think something’s wrong with the carburetor but again… I’m an angler…not a mechanic. If someone was offering that class I’d be there, in the future, if time permits Liz and I have discussed the need for such education, out here you’ve got to be your own everything… including mechanic.

The Random: We’ve been listening to alot of Muddy Waters records lately, something about my stash of vinyl hit me and I started tying trout flies, listening to the crackle and pop of the needle, something about those two things just feels so right. I picked up one of my guitars the other day and couldn’t remember how to play Blackbird by the Beatles… there was a time when I could have done this in my sleep. Sad.

The days are growing ever shorter, right now if we hurry home we are lucky to get two hours of light before the darkness comes. These days are bitter sweet for me, I love the winter, maybe more the change in seasons and not actually winter. We took a walk through the state park last night with the dogs, I guess I could be more accurate and say we meant to take a walk but try “walking” a German Shorthair pointer… basically your dragged. Need to do more of these things, simple things, scared of the winter and darkness, spending too many hours behind a screen. Need to read more, much more and they need to be words on a page, not a screen.

I’ll leave you with words I am currently listening to and have been for several days now.


You know that I care, what happens to you
and I know that you care, for me too
so I don’t feel alone, or the weight of the stone

now that I’ve found somewhere safe to bury my bone
And any fool knows a dog needs a home
a shelter, from pigs on the wing

Pink Floyd: 1977 Animals: Track 5: Pigs On The Wing (Part Two)


Rocking the BRB: Blind Melon

From canning to composting these guys have been rocking my radio for the last couple weeks. I find myself immersing my ears and brain with work from a particular group or artist for long stretches at a time, I’ve been coming back to Blind Melon for a couple weeks now. Music, reminds me of the times in the past that it was prominent, it brings back the memories and emotions attached to it. It makes me smile and sad at the same time, to miss those times, to remember those times and to smile again thinking about them. My first exposure to Blind Melon was from my mother, she rocked some good tunes when I was younger, then when in college they came back for a long time thanks to my good friend Mikey Paul. Shannon Hoon… we miss you and your music thank you for it.


Composting: Round 1

Sustainability. I remember eating dinner with my grandparents when I was young, I remember grandpa scraping any acceptable scraps into a milk jug that had the top half cut off. The jug was used, re-used then used some more. I remember it being stained and kind of stinky but every morning grandpa walked that jug somewhere and emptied it. This is my first memory of anything compost. Composting out here is going to be a necessity, reading more about what my future garden is going to need to be as productive as I’d like is going to require massive amounts of compost. Liz and I have been discussing the location and size of our compost area for a while now, knowing that anything we put in place will serve for a long time we didn’t want to rush things. After a visit to a friend’s compost site I had the motivator I needed to start this task. This was going to require some serious weeding, earth moving and a bit of construction.

My reading has me constructing a three bin composting area made of wood pallets we got for free. For now only two of the three bins will be constructed with the third coming as soon as I can get the remaining pallets needed. My friend Heath joined us for the initial site clearing, with a sharp machete and a weed whacker things were trimmed down to size in short order. The 8+ft tall barn weeds were piled in a trailer to eventually become my (seemingly) annual 10ft tall bon fire. Once cleared Liz and I arranged the pallets and used screws I had on hand to fasten the pallets together forming the first two bins. To promote air flow we used pallets to form the base of the bins as well as the sides, once fully assembled and in place we proceeded to begin constructing our “hot” compost pile.

My limited understanding of the composting process has led me to attempt a “hot” compost pile which if constructed properly should heat to an internal temp close to 160°F and will break down the materials in short order, if done right this process could take as little as a month to complete. To construct the “hot” compost pile we used the lasagna method by layering consecutive “brown”, “green” and soil/compost components making sure to moisten the “brown” layer each time. Our “browns”, which provide the carbon for the pile, came free from the loft of our barn. Old straw and hay remnants layered with aged pigeon droppings should make for composting gold. This was layered roughly 2inches thick each time, my reading says it can be as thick as 3 inches but this straw/hay has been compacted over the years and I did not want to impede air flow. Before building the pile up we inserted a wire mesh cage (made from left-over deer fencing) in the center with a diameter of ~6inches to allow for additional airflow.

The “greens” which layer after the “browns” provide the nitrogen needed, my information says you’re looking for a 30:1 ratio between “browns” and “greens”. The “greens” layer can be between 1 and 6inches thick depending on the materials used, materials that are loose will provide more air pockets can be piled thicker whereas fresh grass clippings which get matted and block airflow can be only an inch thick.  Having let our rhubarb plants go too long we cut them back to the ground and used the leaves and some stems for the initial couple layers of “greens”. The soil component that can be supplemented with compost and topped with just a bit of manure (if you have it on hand) is layered after the “greens” and should be no more than 1/2inch thick, this provides the needed bacteria and organisms that will break the other layers down. We used half composted sod left-over from the initial garden construction. The proper way to compost sod is simple, layer it with the root side up and make a nice neat pile. I did not do this, rather I picked a site out of view and simply dumped load after load of the into what turned into a huge long pile. Despite my “piling” method I removed all the surface weeds to find a moist, almost composted under-layer.

For a “hot” compost pile to heat up to temp the pile must be of adequate size and depth, we are shooting for ~4ft deep. After the first layers we quickly began running out of “greens”, weeds (that hadn’t gone to seed) were pulled and layered along with some fresh grass clippings to help get the pile closer to the 4ft mark. Liz came up with an easy to install and remove front panel consisting of a handful of 1X6 slats of wood (all from scrap wood we had lying around). This allowed us to build the front edge of the pile up without it spilling over onto the ground. When the pile is ready to be turned we can easily remove the slats and turn the pile into the next bin. With the basis of the first pile in place we are now set to install the third bin and continue adding to the pile we’ve constructed with the same scraps my grandpa toted to his pile years ago. The goal for us is to use and not waste any of the energy we have growing or existing here at the BRB. Now weeds and other seemingly nuisance items can serve a purpose and eventually help my garden. Waste not…


August 21st: Sunset at the BRB



Nat Geo at the BRB: The Giant Swallowtail

This video of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly was taken the morning of August, 19th around 10:30am. He was hanging around one of our flower beds with two humming birds, the butterfly was far easier to capture on video. I was amazed the specimen allowed me to be so close for so long to get these shots. Enjoy two minutes of National Geographic at my Big Red Barn.


Skies Around the Big Red Barn