Friday, December 17, 2010

New blogs I've found

I'm exciting to have found several new blogs of folks that are planning relocation to SW Wisc or already have. (Barb and Penny, you may find these folks of interest too!)

SW Wisconsin is becoming a hotbed of sustainable agriculture!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pink Sunrise

Standing on the 'L' platform this morning, I saw a beautiful sunrise. (Sorry for the terrible photo.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It begins for real

Bill has turned his steely-eyed attention to the farm with a vengeance!

Last week our little farm saw the excavator who prepared the new home site and trucked the soil to the new workshop area as well as trenching the driveway.

We also had an electrician remove our overhead lines and bury them in the driveway trench. New 220 service to the barn. New panel in the small house. The rural electric coop also came out to reconnect our service.

Additionally, a concrete truck with 4 yards of concrete. Got the footings poured, reinforced the culvert and the hoghouse. We did not get the buttresses done.

As we pulled out of the driveway on Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. - it started to snow. We finished with no time to spare.

We have a future home site!

Small house with cleared future home site on the right

New homesite tucks into the bluff - we hit stone

Excavating the driveway to bury the electrical lines

Concrete truck

Poured excess concrete on the high side of the culvert to control some erosion

Additional extra concrete was poured around the stone foundation of the hoghouse - this area occasionally has high water (isn't it funny that I have never noticed that bad paint job until I looked at this photo?)

Trenching the driveway

Trench for the electric

Scenic Rivers arrives (our electric co-op). They reconnected our electric service to our new box and panel

New service

No more overhead lines!

The next morning it looked like this -

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Barn photos

The frames are built and just waiting for the expeditor to finish (by that I mean start) so he can dig the large holes for the barn buttresses. Hopefully he will be out the week of 11/29.

Here I am jackhammering (I found this and a lot of other photos on Bill's camera), taken in July. Working on that barn makes me happy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Friday is Buy Nothing Day

The day after the high holy day of local food (as El calls it) is the annual protest against Black Friday. This is one holiday that I do celebrate wholeheartedly....

Stay home. Bake bread. Read a book. Whatever you do - no shopping.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

S510 (The Food Safety Modernization Act) up for vote

S.510 is moving forward and thankfully, the Tester-Hagan amendment is included (albeit somewhat compromised). The final vote on the bill is delayed until 11/29.

Big agribusiness has supported S.510 since its inception. (Illinois Senator Durbin authored S.510; sigh...) I believe that this bill will further consolidate large agribusiness and make it even more difficult (really? is that possible?) for small producers to compete in the market place. Once the Senate agreed to include the amendment to the bill - large agribusiness came out swinging. During these few days between the agreement on the amendment and the final vote, you can bet that the agribusiness lobbyists are working hard to pull or further dilute the amendment.

Best case scenario, in my opinion, would be no passage of this bill; but obviously that is not going to happen because agri-money talks. As a future small producer and proponent for small farms, the best we can hope for is that the amendment is included - not pulled from the bill. has a good debate on the bill here.

Barn Progress Photos

Lally column holding up the floor

3 columns. By jacking up the floor, Bill was able to install a new header over the window

New header

When cleaning off some stone, Bill found initials in a stone

D.D. 1909

Lally Column in the middle of the feedlot door - half of this door is going to be covered by the new buttress

Interior, along the back wall. This will be framed and concrete poured between the framing and the old stone.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Barn Progress

Bill spent 3 days earlier this week working at the farm. I will post pictures when I get them off of his camera. He was able to finish building the concrete forms and was able to lift part of the barn floor (with lally columns) and insert a new header over a couple of the windows and a door. In doing so he also found another place where the stone wall has split, so by putting the new header in it will alleviate some of the pressure on the split wall. He repaired some of the stone and did some tuckpointing as well. We are now just waiting for the excavator to show up. Until he clears the feedlot area for the buttresses, we can't pour the concrete new footings and buttresses. The weather window gets smaller and smaller.... I still hope we can get it done this year, but I am beginning to fear that we have to wait until spring.

In other news we finished construction on and rented our vacant apartment (in Chicago)! What a relief both work-wise and financially. Our new tenant moves in at the end of November which is exactly one year after the previous tenants moved out. This was a huge time and money-suck this year but it increased the value of the building and will cut down on the number of 'fix-it calls' that Bill was fielding from that apartment. We ended up doing an almost-gut rehab so everything is new. It looks beautiful and I rented it to the 2nd person I showed it to.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wisc weekend

I'm off to Wisc tomorrow as it is Veteran's Day so I have the day off (gotta love those bank holidays). I am taking my work laptop and am going to try my first day of working remotely from the local coffee shop in Platteville, WI. I hope this is successful! I have tried it before, albeit on a Saturday, and was able to connect and had access to my work related content so I am hopeful that it will be seamless. Bill will join me on Friday night and while I leave on Sunday to come back to work, he is going to stay and work several days at the farm while the excavator begins.

And we have another pet to bury at the farm. Our cat Gracie was put to rest last week. This is our 4th pet euthansia in four years. For the record, it does NOT get easier. However, it was time and we wanted her to go while she still had some of her dignity. She was always Bill's cat as they had a special bond, and was named after the Gracie family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fame. He adopted her 2 weeks after we met. She was the end of an era. The last of our original pets.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunchoke Bisque

Sunchokes are one our favorites - also known as Jerusalem artichokes, but they are not in the artichoke family and they are not from Jerusalem. They are related to the sunflower and indeed their growing habit is very like a sunflower - they have thick stalks and small sunflower-like flowers. They are beautiful, easy to grow (especially from 3.5 hours away!) and a native. Their taste is nutty and the texture is similar to a jicama. Although considered mildly invasive as once they are planted, it is difficult to eradicate them. I don't understand why one would want to - they are delicious!

I have a large patch of them at the Church-yard. Every fall I dig them up and we feast on sunchokes for weeks. Typically we eat them raw but last week I tried a soup; compliments of one of my heros, Deborah Madison.

Sunchoke Bisque
From Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors

1# sunchokes
1 small onion
3 small red potatoes (I substituted 1 large sweet potato)
1 celery rib (I omitted)
2 T sunflower seed oil (highly recommend Smude Oil for those in the midwest - thanks to Brett for mentioned them in his posts)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 C vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
Milk or cream for thinning
½ C croutons, crisped in the oven
Roasted hazelnut or pumpkin seed oil (I omitted this and topped with a dollop of plain yogurt)

1. Wash all the veggies, then chop into ½ inch chunks. Don’t bother to peel the sunchokes.
2. Heat the oil in a soup pot, add the veggies and sauté over high heating, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 mins. Add the garlic during the last few minutes. Pour in the stock. Add 1 ½ t salt and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 25 mins.
3. Cool briefly, then puree until perfectly smooth (love those stick blenders!). Return the soup to the stove and add enough milk or cream to think it to the desired consistency. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve with a few croutons in each bowl and the oil drizzled in a thin stream over the top.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Iowa disappoints...

I was sorry to hear that Francis Thicke was not successful in his attempt to unseat the Iowa incumbent Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Francis is an organic dairy farmer, holds a Ph.D. in agronomy with a soil science specialty, and is an educator. He ran a positive campaign and believes in local foods, land stewardship, CAFO reform, revitalization of rural economies and alternative energy.

Bill Northey is backed by Monsanto's money.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mother of All Cold Frames

Can a coldframe be art? A sculpture? A thing of beauty? I think mine might qualify for them all. After all, the tagline/motto of 3 Flat Acres is blending food and farm into work - life - art

I've been asking Bill to built me a coldframe for a couple of years - every since I read Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest (*El's recommendation - see footnote for more about El). It took a while but it was well worth the wait. I should note that this is in our Chicago backyard.

The wall frames are constructed with scraps from a ReAdapted project from Black Locust which was sustainably harvested from Western IL near Galena. Black Locust is one of the hardest (and heaviest!) woods to work with. It is similar to Osage Orange and can last 100 years as fenceposts without treatment. The coldframe walls come apart with screws and wingnuts to allow it to be disassembled easily. The glass tops are made from old windows from my friend Mimi's house. She gave us the windows a couple of years ago and we left them outside in the weather on top of a sheet of plastic to allow the weather to do the majority of the paint removal (amazing what rain, sun and freeze thaw can do for you if you are patient). These are old windows and had years of paint (yes, lead paint). The paint flecked off onto the plastic so we were able to safely dispose of the paint chips. Bill then removed the glass from the frames, further removed any remaining paint, sealed them with an environmental soy-based sealer, reworked the frame, and then reinstalled the glass. He sanded down the low side of the window frame to allow water to run off. There are two eyehooks on the backside which, using the chain from the old windows (these are old double-hung windows), can hook on to the eyehooks to keep the frames propped open.

hard to see, but this photo shows the low side of the glass sanded down to allow water run off

I set it up about 10 days ago, and taking some lettuces that had gone to seed, shook the seed onto the soil, topped with a tray of worm compost and it has sprouted already. I situated the set up on top of a couple of kale plants and beet plants (we are obsessed with beet greens) that we have been eating from all summer, and transplanted some chard inside. Oh and sorrel is in there too!

beets in the foreground (sorry about the glare)

We'll see if it can keep us in greens all winter!
* I realize that I quote El over at Fast Grow the Weeds a lot. She is my inspiration on many projects and she is the absolute locavore and lover of real food. If you don't read her blog, please pop over and visit her. The post on eating live foods almost brought me to tears.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The large spruce is down. It really looks and feels different around the existing house. Bill also felled the remaining black walnuts (sad, but had to be done) and I finished taking down the fence between the pasture and the house. Compliments of the spruce, we have some amazing logs that we are going to have milled and use for stair treads, cabinets, etc in the new house. Bill counted the rings and estimates that the tree was about 105 years old. We also cleared the downed black walnuts into a staging area in piles of “future firewood” and “ReAdapted project material” as well as getting all of the brush stacked in a burn pile. (Although now that Bill is reading about Rob's delightful endeavors over at One Straw I bet we chip it instead of burning it! I envision our next purchase will be a chipper that goes on the tractor PTO.)

Big tree behind the house is gone!

Note the stump - it feels so open now

Black Walnuts are down at the future home site

Some of the Black Walnut logs - future ReAdapted projects?

Additionally, we met with a local electrical contractor who is going to take down all of our overhead electrical lines and bury them. The timing works well since soon (hopefully) next week, the excavator is coming to excavate around the house, excavate the new home site, berm up areas to direct watershed from the back hill and install another culvert to direct water away from the homesite. Although we don’t envision starting construction for another two years, we need to know and understand how this watershed re-direction is going to work before we build a new house.

Bury those overhead lines - some of them are bare wire

close up of the spruce stump

Spruce tops

13 ft lengths; one is 38" and clear

with the chain saw for scale (obviously, this chain saw wasn't used to cut them down!)

We also got a pallet full of framing materials delivered for the barn while we were there. We are moving ahead full-steam to try to frame and pour concrete footings and reinforcements before it gets too cold this fall. Bill built about ½ of the frames needed for the buttresses and the back wall framing.

Pile of the frames

We hope to go back either the 1st or 2nd week of Nov for an extended period. The clock is ticking on the weather and our concrete pour window is getting smaller every day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Finished up the jalapenos

Bill said to me Sunday morning over coffee, let's do some canning today. Music to my ears!
We finished up the remaining jalapenos from my earlier jalapeno canning fun. We got 9 1/2 quarts of escabeche. Escabeche is a Mexican pickled jalapeno mix. We follow Rick Bayless' recipe from Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking... Essentially it is a mix of jalapenos, garlic, carrots and cauliflower in a vinegary oregano brine. We typically use serranos instead of jalapenos, but since we were overflowing in jalapenos this year...

Brown the garlic in oil for 3 minutes

Carrots. Unfortunately, from the produce market, not the farmer's market.

Filling the jars

Into the canner

Waiting for the ping. See the cauliflower, carrots and garlic?

Additionally, we roasted 3 tin foil trays of green tomatoes that I brought home from our Wisc garden last weekend and made 12 more pints of roasted green salsa. Roasting green tomatoes on a hot grill brings out the sugars and makes them sweet and juicy.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished product.

I think we are set for spicy food in jars for this winter!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tree coming down

We are having a tree removed from the farm. The large spruce behind the house. It is way too large for Bill to remove so we hired someone.

I love this tree and we tried to save it. But frankly, it is way too large for the space it is in. Additionally, since we are designing passive solar into our plans and this non-deciduous tree is on the south side of the house, it is coming down.

We are saving the wood and going to have it milled into board lengths for use as stair treads and perhaps cabinets.

Some of the smaller trees between the house and the red building (which is now gone) are also coming down
It is being cut today. It sure will look different when we go up next time.