Barn Building Update 2

The Foundation

Work continues on the barn, the start of which is documented in this post.

They had originally been using standard hand-held compactors to compact all the dirt and gravel being laid out as the base, but at a certain point that wasn’t enough and they upgraded to this monster of a roller.

They also started putting in some of the drain tile that will go around the edge of the barn to direct water away from the building. That is that little pile of dirt that seems to be just hanging out in the middle. Still need to work out an overall waterflow and containment strategy for our whole property but drain tile around the barn is a good first step.

After everything was rolled and compacted the equipment people came and picked up the big roller and replaced it with another large machine which they’ve so far been using to unload and move the various materials that have been steadily arriving. From the looks of it I think it will also be the machine that gets the trusses up in the air. They spent the rest of the day measuring and remeasuring and then remeasuring and then just one more time lets remeasure the dimensions of the barn (happy they are being so thorough!) and then made my math heart just sing by using the Pythagorean theorem to square the corners! 

The day after that they went around and measured out the location for every support beam and truss and then two of the crew used an auger attachment to dig holes for each location while the other two painted the bottoms of the posts with white rubber roof coating.

Apparently the first round of holes weren’t deep enough because they dug them even deeper the next day. Not sure if I should be concerned that the holes farthest away from the house have water in them. They also re-marked out the locations of everything and smoothed down the tops of most of the dirt piles.

Then they laid out these short cement discs at each hole location as well as the posts that will go in each hole. I have no idea how they got the cement discs in each hole in such a way that it is sitting level and in the correct location but I’m trusting that they know what they are doing. 

Nate and I spend a lot of time wondering how the heck something is going to work or in some cases what they are doing or why they are doing it. Luckily we have some help supervising the work.

It Begins

We’re Building a Barn!

We’re building a barn y’all! They officially started to build our barn this week. It was a little anticlimactic since we aren’t actually digging anything so there was no official “breaking ground” moment, instead we had a dump truck full of dirt show up very early in the morning; while I was still in the bathroom downstairs, the one without a curtain because we never got around to getting curtains because who’s going to see anything, the corn?  The dump trucks kept on coming for several days with load after load of dirt and then rock.

We have three main workers on the crew who have been spending the week marking out the corners of the barn and getting that dirt and gravel laid out and compacted down, layer after layer.

Not only has it been a bit anticlimactic but it has also been very bittersweet. I have always wanted a barn and more specifically an indoor riding arena because I am an indoor cat with an outdoor hobby. I prefer riding inside even when it’s not dark and snowing because the sun hates me and I hate the bugs. Case in point – Nate and I were out doing some yardwork today for about two hours. We went out at the same time, were working in the same area, and both had sun shirts and jeans on. I also sprayed myself with some bug spray and had my ridiculous “bug jacket” on. When we were done Nate had no bug bites, I had four. wtf? This is why I like being inside. But there are lots of great boarding barns with indoor arenas, and the reality is this whole having our own farm and our own barn thing has been one challenge after another since it all started in 2014. Had I had a different horse, one who did well in a boarding facility, (and there are lots of horses who do great in boarding facilities) I’m not sure I would have kept on fighting for this dream. It would have been much easier to spend the money on a truck and trailer and focus on showing and go on vacations and not work four jobs. But I kept at this dream because Leeloo was not doing well in a boarding facility and I truly felt my only chance of getting her healthy and sound was by bringing her home and having full control of her care, knowing that even then it might not be enough, but knowing that I had to try. So here we are. We’re building our barn, but Leeloo isn’t here to see it and that has made this week very emotional. I am both so very, VERY excited but also so very, very sad. Particularly when some new thing happens and Nate and I find ourselves stopping whatever we’re doing to go look and I have this moment of “I’m sure Leeloo is in her full on watch-horse/nosy-horse mode” and then remember that she’s not here to be nosy with us. But I know she’s being nosy with us wherever she is and because of her I am achieving this lifelong dream.

We’re building a barn!

The Search Continues

Looking for Number Three

As mentioned in this post the original goal was always to expand the number of equines in our care, first with a pony, then with either a donkey or another mare. This other mare would serve two purposes, being a riding horse for me while we got Leeloo sound and to have a few foals that I would train and sell as they got older. That plan has never changed. We did, however, put it on hiatus for a while because Juniper and Leeloo had been getting along better and we were still coming up short in terms of barn building money and having a third horse would not only cost in terms of buying said horse, but also in terms of caring for said horse. I was still occasionally peaking at ads throughout fall but after our first snowstorm Nate came fully over to the “we need a barn and we need one now” side of things so I stopped even half-heartedly looking at horses and focused everything on finding a builder and saving up for the barn.

Then Leeloo had to go and die.

It was only a few weeks after when I found myself starting to look at horse ads again. Which made me feel weirdly bad because I didn’t think I should be ready to look for another horse again so soon and there I was, looking at horse ads and not crying (okay, the first chestnut mare with socks and a blaze triggered a bit of a meltdown), but then I realized I wasn’t looking for another Leeloo, I was looking for that third horse, the babymaker, that I had already been looking for and Leeloo’s death didn’t change that at all. I wasn’t buying a new “first horse” I was buying the “third horse” as planned, it’s just that the first horse isn’t here anymore. 

I was still searching on the downlow though, because I was still feeling oddly guilty about it and we are in fact building the barn and that is going to take literally every penny of our savings so where is the money for this mare coming from Sara?! Then Nate saw my screen one night and asked me pretty much word for word that last sentence “Building the barn is taking literally every penny of our savings and then some, so where is the money for this mare coming from Sara?!” Also not having to feed and care for two horses means saving money which we need to do because the barn is taking up all of our money. These are very good and valid points. But I need a horse in my life and I want Juniper back home. Also finding this mare is going to take time. I do not want a horse, I want the right horse. So just because I’m looking now doesn’t mean I’m buying anything now.

The goal as outlined in that first post is to have babies so I need a horse that is worth breeding. It is shocking to me how many people breed horses that have major faults, things that make them predisposed to injuries and shorter useful lifespans; why are people breeding horses like that? 

So far I’ve looked through hundreds of ads, messaged a lot of people, and met six horses in-person. I’ve liked three of them but am waiting to hear back from some more knowledgeable advisors to make sure I am making a rational decision and not an emotional decision, particularly regarding the mare who has very similar personality to Leeloo; however the delay has meant at least one of the maybes sold before I heard back and so I continue to search while I wait.

I know that right horse is out there.

Edible Forest Garden – Practice Plot – Part 3


As mentioned in the first and second post I was inspired by the books Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II and have been using a sheet mulch option.

We were able to get the first few steps completed on Saturday and had left off with uncomposted manure on top of potentially seedy hay and some very rough path approximations. The next morning we started out with me breaking down cardboard boxes and removing all labels and tape and Nate raking up the leftover hay that the girls hadn’t eaten all winter and spring. My assumption is that since that hay had been left out in ideal growing conditions for the past few weeks any seeds would have taken their chance to germinate and what was left is relatively weed free. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, both tasks took more time than I had planned. As Nate continued to rake up hay piles I brought all my cardboard up to the site to start laying it out. The book has lots of recommendations that I have either done and have been happy with or intend to do next time, but there was one recommendation that I have to wholly disagree with. They recommend laying out cardboard for the paths as well as for the planting areas and to do that right away to help minimize soil compaction. That did not work at all! The other thing they recommend, which I do agree with, is to make sure that your cardboard overlaps by at least four inches and that all seams have another layer on top to make sure the weeds can’t grow through. Great suggestion. The problem is that every time I stepped on my cardboard “path” the cardboard would shift and slip and all my carefully laid out seams would shift and slip leaving many an exposed space; and cardboard with hay on top turns out to be really slippery resulting in several near falls. Will not do that again! They also recommend going to a furniture or appliance store to get really big boxes to minimize seams. This I would 100% support!! It turned out that once I got all my seams covered and made sure my edges overlapped by at least four inches I had barely enough cardboard to cover half my planting area. A few emails and some driving for bigger boxes would have been well worth it and I will definitely do that next time!

Once I had all the cardboard laid out we started covering it with the spent hay. We carted many a load up from the pasture to the planting area. Many a load. As with every previous step I needed a lot more material than I thought I would.

We were finally ready for planting!

The book has lots of suggestions for planting into such a sheet mulch layering and I won’t go into details here but this photo from the book summarizes much of it.

I started by planting the wild plum tree and that was the only thing that required some actual digging into the ground. Another tip from the book was to dig out the soil in layers and keep them separate because different biology is happening at the different layers, and you want them to stay separated so the right organisms are in the right locations to do their jobs. An even better tip was to lay all your dug up soil onto something (sheet, tarp, cardboard, etc.) so that it doesn’t fall into the surrounding soil. That made such a difference from previous times I’ve planted something and then wondered where the hell all the dirt I just dug up went and how come I don’t seem to have enough to put back in the hole?! The hole for the plum tree may not have been quite big enough but it was close enough. I then used our three-tine pitch fork (used to be a five-tine fork but Nate managed to break off two of the tines picking up frozen horse poop this winter) to loosen the soil in the hole. Then I planted the plum tree with some quality compost. We didn’t want to spend too much money so I only bought enough quality compost to put directly around each plant, not the whole space.

Once the plum tree was in I moved on to the lead plant bushes which were the next biggest thing. For them I only had to dig off the very top layer of grass and use the three-tine pitch fork to loosen up the soil. Which managed to turn itself into a two-tine fork by the time I got to the third one; at this point it is clearly faulty craftsmanship and not user error. I also realized that my fourth quadrant landed right at the “door” in our fence and I really couldn’t plant that area until last or I would be constantly trying to not step on my newly planted things and would probably fail.

With three of the four lead plants in I turned my attention to the first quadrant and that was when my carefully laid out plans pretty much disappeared. I just set out the plants in their containers and eyeballed things until I was relatively happy and started planting.

By the time I finished one whole quadrant it was dinner time on day two of my “morning project” and the bugs were starting to feast. I opted to stop for the day to finish up tomorrow.

I did manage to get the other three quadrants planted the next day. The quality of my efforts decreased fairly steadily from the plum tree which I would give myself a B+ on in terms of following all the guidelines suggested by the book down to a D for the last few plants.

All total it took me three full days to get this fruit tree guild planted. These are my big take-aways for next time (there will be a next time!):

  • Have all the various layers and materials ready and close to your site BEFORE you buy the plants! One of the reasons I was in such a hurry is I had already purchased the plants and didn’t want them to die while I got everything else in order.
  • Have more than you think you’ll need, you will in fact need it.
  • Get the big giant boxes!!
  • Do not use cardboard for the paths! My plan for next time is to use these “mud grids” we have for some of the muddiest areas in the pasture that are easy to move and set up nice and rigid and square to use as my initial path for each new planting and then pull them up when I’m done and replace them with a permanent path material. Though I haven’t figured out what that will be yet…
  • Get decent tools. Cheaper tools that break are not actually cheaper in the long run.

It has officially been one week since they were planted and everything is still alive, can’t tell if they are thriving but I’ll take living for now. We’ll focus on thriving for the next one.

Edible Forest Garden – Practice Plot – Part 2

Site Preparation

The books – Edible Forest Gardens Volume I and II have lots of suggestions for proper planting site preparation. These suggestions range from things done one or two years in advance to things done immediately prior to planting. I of course did no actual planning, so we didn’t do any site prep. The books also have a variety of methods and suggestions for actual planting. I decided to go with the sheet mulch option which has the following steps/layers:

  • Soil – amended with mineral powders (didn’t do that..) and heavily watered (did that!)
  • Stubble of existing vegetation, mown hard, cut as low as possible (did that)
  • Seedy mulch, hay for example (we have lots of that!)
  • Uncomposted manure, potentially weedy (we have lots of that too!)
  • Sheet layer, cardboard or newspaper with a minimum of 4-6 inches of overlap of seams (I thought we had lots of that)
  • Compost, seed free (didn’t have that)
  • Seed-free mulch (maybe had that…)

We opted for this method because (A) it is the least amount of work and (B) we already had most of the materials on hand so it would minimize cost, and some of these materials needed to be dealt with anyway, like the manure and the crappy hay so it was a win-win.

Looks pretty simple, shouldn’t take long at all, we’ll be done by lunch time!

Step zero – figure out where exactly this tree guild is going to go and get a fence up around it to protect our money and work from the deer and various other herbivores in the area. As soon as we actually stood on the spot I wanted to plant it I realized that my beautifully drawn circle was too wide for the space. We were hemmed in by the buried power line on one side and a planting of baby pine trees and a half-assed flower bed of day lilies on the other. Ultimately I shifted my circle design over and one of the existing baby pine trees is now in the middle of one of the dedicated walking paths (in an effort to minimize soil compaction you are supposed to have dedicated walking areas) and one of the lilies on the edge was ignored; maybe it will grow, maybe I trampled it, time will tell. The baby pine tree will be moved in the next few years, and I still have other paths so hopefully it will be okay.

One upshot was that since we were running into an already fenced in area we could just use that fence and extend it around to enclose the new planting as well. Of course we were short by about four feet of fence. I had purchased some additional fencing, but Fleet Farm didn’t have the same stuff (the previous fencing was purchased at Menards prior to my FF gig) so I decided to try chicken wire which it turns out isn’t nearly as rigid as the other fencing is. We still haven’t really fixed that, but it is secure enough that animals can’t get in. Eventually we’ll get it finished since the entire roll of chicken wire is still sitting up there in our front yard looking tacky.

Step one – the soil and existing vegetation. Since I didn’t really plan anything out and haven’t gotten around to soil testing yet we didn’t lay down mineral powders to improve the soil because I don’t know what it may or may not need. I did, however, water it really well and mow the existing grass down pretty short.

Step two – seedy mulch layer. We have a lot of the crappy, foxtail infested, stemmy, and apparently not very tasty, hay left so we hauled two bales up and laid that around everywhere. I should have done a good job of breaking apart the bales to get everything evenly distributed. I did not. I roughly shook the bales out and kicked it around until it looked good enough and moved on. I did water it down well, as recommended, since once the cardboard layer is put on water will have a harder time getting down to this layer.

Step three – uncomposted manure. Technically, the manure we used is sort of composted, but it wasn’t hot-composted which means it can still be contaminated with seeds of unwanted plants, so it had to go below the cardboard layer. One of the recommendations the book has for long term planning is to think hard about where everything is in relation to each other. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have your compost pile on the other side of your property from your garden because that means more work hauling it between the two locations. I will absolutely be heeding this advice for long term planning because shoveling the poop out of the compost bays and hauling it up to the planting site took way too long and was way too much work. This was also when I remembered the whole – oh yeah, there are supposed to be paths in this thing! – so you’ll notice the seedy hay layer is covering everything but there are paths between the manure. If I’m being totally honest it was mostly because I really didn’t want to have to haul another load of manure up there and realized that if I left it off the paths I could be done. Yay for being done (with that step). I did set up the sprinkler to water this layer really well too.

At this point it was dinnertime and what was supposed to be my superfast and easy morning project wasn’t even half-way done. Time to break for the day. We’ll get it finished tomorrow. Right?