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Just a Little Update

Well, spring arrived here in Iowa…and then it quickly slipped back into winter. The last couple days temps have plummeted back down to the high thirties. It was seventy-five last weekend, just to give you perspective. And while the rain is keeping us out of the fields, it is a necessary blessing. The radish, carrot and spinach seeds we planted last week have all sprouted, and our broccoli, kale and lettuce are enjoying the cooler weather (although not really the steady wind).

The rain has also given us the opportunity to get caught up on a few things. We’ve been seeding inside the house and repotting transplants like crazy the last couple days. We’ve fallen a bit behind on those things and its good to get that going again. I’ve also gone virtually silent on the blog for the past month, so I wanted to take this chance to catch you up on what we’ve been up to.

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In March we started planting seedlings inside under lights. To see how we do that click here We’ve started around 300 tomato plants, 100 pepper plants, broccoli, melons and a few flower varieties. We have more tomatoes to seed and a few other things that will transplant better rather than direct seeding in the ground. This has been a new adventure for us, as we’ve never really started seeds indoors before. Our basement has been converted into a makeshift grow room! But its been fun, and we’ve learned so much that we will take into next season when hopefully we will be able to add a greenhouse to expand our seeding efforts.

What will we do with all of our transplants? We’ll plant many of them in the market garden, but we also plan to sell some of these at the first couple farmer’s markets of the year.

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In March we also began raising a flock of 15 chickens. These girls (and a few unexpected roos) brooded in our front room until they were big enough to go outside. And just a couple of weeks ago they all moved into their new coop. FYI, it smells a wee bit better in the house now, thank you very much.

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They’ve made the transition without any problems, and they love the new space to roam around. Although it took some coaching from “mom and dad” to teach them how to go in and out of the hen house. I used to think that I would never have chickens. I’ve taken care of other people’s chickens before, and it kind of turned me off on the idea. But there is something to raising our own that has changed my mind. And I can’t wait for those fresh farm eggs every morning!

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We’ve broken ground on the 3 acre market garden. This plot of land had been used for soybeans in the year past, but last year was so badly overtaken with weeds that it was hard to imagine how this could ever become a garden. But we mowed, we plowed, and we ran a disc and a harrow over the ground more than a dozen times to get it in shape for making beds.

Our plan is to put in 10 distinct garden plots made of 12 beds each. Each bed is 100 ft long and 20 in wide, with 18 in space between. This will allow for a 10 year rotation between crop types, which will help alleviate disease and aggressive pest issues.

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We’re adopting a permanent bed model to eliminate compaction of the soil. We’ve tilled each bed this year, partially to help line each one out and to help with weeds, but we hope to move toward a no-till process in the next couple years. Our goal is to build up healthy soil, and limiting how often we disrupt it, or turn it over, will help preserve those beneficial microbes we are trying to nurture that live in top six inches. Iowa has incredible soil to begin with, so we are already starting in a good place.

After each bed is tilled, it gets a healthy application of compost around 3 in thick. Starting next year, we’ll rotate our compost application, giving preference to the heavy feeders like potatoes and tomatoes, while applying every two years to the lighter feeders like leaf crops and legumes. Compost is expensive, and we’ve been bringing it home by the truck load. We have a place locally we can get it, but it would be in our best interest from a cost perspective if we can figure out how to provide the amount we need from our own operation.

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Part of the 3 acre garden has been reserved for permanent crop. We’re putting in almost 60 raspberry plants this year, and will likely double that next year. We’ve also got around 300 strawberry plants coming and about the same amount of asparagus over the next two weeks. We hope to expand on these depending on the market in our community.

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In addition to laying compost, we’re laying shredded oak chips in the pathways around each garden plot. Hopefully this will aid in weed suppression, while also giving the garden definition. Another expensive resource that I need to work on sourcing cheaper. Any arborists out there who want to donate their wood chips?

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Part of our overall plan for the farm is to incorporate fruit trees throughout the property. When we bought the house, everything was so overgrown that it will likely take the next couple years to clean it up the way we want. But once we do that there will be plenty of space for small orchard plots around our 12 acres.

So far we’ve added 10 trees. 4 apples, 3 pears and 3 peaches. We’d like to double this yet this spring, with the plan on adding at least another 20 more next year.

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The reason we named our farm 16 Hands was because we have 6 children. Add me and my wife and that’s plenty of helping hands, right? This is a lifestyle that we are hoping will offer our children beneficial skills and experience that will help shape their character as they grow older. Our greatest responsibility in life is to raise healthy, compassionate children who are willing and able to contribute to their community. I can’t think of a better way to do that than by growing up on a farm and sharing in the daily responsibilities.

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This rain has not only been good for our germinating seed, but look at all the weeds popping up in the field! We’ve got our work cut out for us, and I’ll show you how we plan to handle these weeds a little later. But I’m very excited with how this project it turning out. It’s not easy, but I’ve learned that nothing worth having is ever achieved without working for it. And we’re happy to do so.

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Apart from the 3 acre market garden, we’ve also started to put in so raised beds across the property for extra growing and research opportunities. Right now these boxes have cold weather crops growing in them, most of them direct seeded and started under the hoop frame I built in the picture above. These are great for protecting young starts and for extending your growing season. To learn how to build your own click here

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When I pause to reflect on what we are trying to accomplish I sometimes get overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy that will be necessary to pull it off. But when I look at all we have already done, I’m encouraged. It doesn’t feel like work when its something you are very passionate about. Are there unknown risks? Of course there are. But the reward is greater than any of those risks. And I’m blessed to have the people I love most at my side working toward the same goal.

It’s been a crazy ride, let me tell you. How did we get here? I’m not even sure anymore. But we’re loving it, and that’s all that matters.

To see how things progress, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And if you’re in the Ames, Iowa area, we’ll see you at the market!

 

 

 

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Experimenting with gardening: The Core Method

Happy Saturday! The weather here in northern Iowa has been off the charts. Yesterday was in the low seventies and its supposed to be in the high sixties most of this week. It’s hard to believe we’re still in the middle of February! But we know its only short-lived, so we’re making the most of the sunshine.

We’ve started putting in raised garden boxes, where a lot of our cold weather crops will be grown, with a transition into beans, and I wanted to quickly share the gardening technique we’re experimenting with this year. It’s called the Core Method, and its been around for some time. But this is the first year we’ve used it in our own garden.

The method is simple. The idea is to incorporate organic material down the core, or center, of your raised bed before planting. As this material breaks down it will release vital nutrients to your plants while enriching the soil. Most of the time this is done with rotted straw, but we’re using rotted grass clippings and mulched leaves.

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We have this great space in front of the old brick barn, nestled on the southern side of the hog shed, where the ground is relatively flat. This picture was taken yesterday late afternoon, but we get at least 8 hours of direct sunlight here, and the hog shed provides decent wind break. Our plan is to put in nine raised beds this year, and to incorporate some flowers throughout the space to attract those necessary pollinators.

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Once the box is built and placed, I’m laying cardboard on the bottom, right over the grass. This allows me to not have to dig the grass up (its warm but the ground is still frozen 4 inches below the topsoil) or lay down plastic. I want my plants to have access to the rich soil below and for their roots to not be restricted to the depth of the box (16 inches). The cardboard will kill the grass and act as a weed barrier as it breaks down over time.

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After the cardboard is placed and soaked really good, I’m putting down a thin layer of mulched leaves from our fall pile. Then I’m placing the rotted grass clippings right down the middle of the bed in clumps about six inches deep. The grass is rotting but still green, so it should be a nice source of nitrogen for my spring crop.

Many people use straw instead of grass clippings. I don’t have access to straw without going out and buying it, so I’m using what I have readily available. The important thing to remember is that whether you use straw or grass, it should be partially rotted already. Don’t use it if its wet and slimy, as this will work against the balance you’re trying to create in the soil (think composting; same principle), and could contribute to plant disease or hinder growth. You don’t want to use fresh straw either, as you might not see the benefit of it breaking down until the following year. Using material that is already in the process of breaking down will give your plants a continued source of nutrients throughout the season. Just make sure you don’t use material that has been sprayed with a herbicide, or grass that has gone to seed! (I wouldn’t use hay either, as most hay has seed in it and will create unnecessary weeding.)

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After the grass clippings are placed, I’m adding native soil from the property. Our soil here is a rich blend of sandy clay and I want to use it as much as possible. We had a new septic tank put in last summer, and after the leech field was excavated we ended up with a large pile of black earth. This is what I’m using to fill our boxes.

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I’m starting at the sides and spreading the native soil throughout the box. I’ll cover the grass and mulched leaves and then follow with a layer of compost, which we’re having trucked in from a local business within the week. Once I add compost, I’ll mix in more native soil. Then I’ll be ready to plant.

We hope to sow cold weather crops like kale and radish over the next couple weeks. I’ll put up plastic hoops over the boxes to keep the soil warm and to protect the plants from late winter flucuations in weather. Any snow we get will hopefully serve to insulate the boxes as well. At least that’s the idea!

By the way, you don’t need to have raised beds to incorporate the Core Gardening Method. If you already have or are establishing raised beds on the ground, whether permanent or annual, you can use this method to enrich your soil. This is a neat and organic way to let nature do the work for you, and works well on a no-till garden plot!

Happy gardening!

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Taking The Dream To Reality

 

 

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So we’re starting to figure some things out. When we first started this adventure last year, we only had a vague idea of what we wanted to do with our acreage. We had a vision, a dream, but the details of how that dream would evolve into reality were pretty soft and vague. Over the past couple of months we’ve done a lot of research, talked to a variety of people, and really tried to narrow down what it was we wanted to accomplish this year, while working through the bigger picture of what kind of farmstead we want to build over the next several years. In other words, who are we going to be when we grow up?

We dream big, and that’s good. Dreams are meant to be inflated and conceptual. But when it comes to bringing those concepts to market, I think we have to be intentional about focusing on what matters most to us, which is producing quality food that our family can share with our community.

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We have all kinds of crazy ideas and there are many things that we want to try. We’ve often dreamed of having a UPick location for fresh berries. These operations are very popular and successful back in Oregon, and we frequented them often every summer. Also popular in the northwest are orchards. We come from the Hood River Valley, where a lion’s share of the pears grown for North America are produced. So we’ve always known whatever kind of operation we grow, tree fruit would have a part of it.

We’ve talked about raising goats and chickens and feeding out pigs for meat. We’ve even talked about beekeeping. All of these things excite me. But as we look forward to spring, I have to be realistic about how much time we have to commit, and the scope of each of these projects. Each will bring its own learning curve, which will add to the complexity of its success. If we want to succeed, I believe we have to narrow our scope and hone in on doing one project right, instead of spreading ourselves too thin and perhaps never achieving success in anything at all. That sounds like a good way to burn out to me, and I think it’s where several before us have grown frustrated and quit.

So our primary effort this year will be establishing a sustainable and profitable market garden that will be the centerpiece of our farmstead. We’ll do this on the 3 acres south of us, while planting a cover crop or perhaps alfalfa on the northern 6 acres and reserving it for future rotation.

Proper rotation is a part of the solution to our biggest challenge, which is soil fertility. Building a plan that will increase the quality of our soil over the next several years will be imperative. We have great soil here in Iowa, but the ground we are working with has been used for conventional corn and soybeans for many years, and it will take a little while for us to build the kind of organic matter and tilth necessary to provide a healthy, long-term environment for the alternative vegetables and fruits we want to specialize in.

Most of what we plant this spring will go in permanent beds. The idea behind this is to adapt a no-till strategy that will allow us to introduce organic matter and nutrients to the soil on a smaller, hyper-focused scale and only where necessary, while minimizing weed growth. When you till or deep plow, you risk bringing invasive seeds to the top surface (in addition to losing vital plant resources such as nitrogen). Only disturbing the topsoil at a few inches to incorporate organic matter and compost, you’ll still get weeds, but they’ll be easier to manage . At least that’s the idea. We’re choosing to minimize the amount of mechanized machinery we use (partially to limit compaction as well as cost) and with a labor force of three, we need to keep weeds under control as much as possible. Mulching will also help. We’re still contemplating the best kind of mulch, and where to find it locally in the quantity that we’ll need.

We hope having a good rotation plan will also keep weeds, pests and disease to a minimum. There will be permanent crops, such as raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. We’re also going to grow lavender. But the tomatoes, corn, beans and squash will all need to be on a three-year rotation. This will mean we have to be intentional about where we plant this spring, while at the same time thinking forward to where things will go in 2018.

Head spinning yet?

The breadth of this can seem enormous at times. Once we started to really narrow down on what we wanted to accomplish, it was easy to see there were several parts of the “dream” we had to let go. That’s okay. There will be time to incorporate those things back in, slowly and methodically. The market garden has to flow from year to year, and establishing it right in the beginning is essential. This is the part of the “dream” that can potentially be the most profitable for us, which will lead to growing other parts of the farmstead. So we have to give it every bit of time and energy we have to make it work.

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It’s all good. This whole journey has been exciting to me. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. We strive to be good stewards of what we have been given, to make the most out of these opportunities, and to learn and grow everyday.

I can almost smell the dirt. Can almost feel the spring sun on my face. I can’t imagine another way of living.

 

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This Sudden Change Of Weather

When we first told our family that we were moving to Iowa, my grandpa asked me if I knew that Iowa gets “weather”. That wasn’t the first time we were asked that question, nor was it the last. Even when we finally did make the move, well-meaning Midwesterners asked us if we’d experienced Iowa winters yet. When we said no, not yet, they’d kind of nod and smile with a knowing gleam in their eye. Just you wait, sonny, that look said. You’ll see.

Yeah, Iowa gets “weather”. Summer brought its humid downpours and electrical storms and straight-line winds. But they eventually gave way to an almost uncanny autumn, where temperatures were more than pleasant. It was almost unfair how beautiful the weather was just a month ago, when midday temperatures were still in the high sixties!

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Now comes winter with its hoary vengeance. The temps have plummeted and the ground has essentially fossilized with a frozen rigor mortis. Everything is white with crystalized snow. Yesterday arctic winds drove the windchill down to thirty below, and we watched as drifting tufts of snow rolled across the fields like waves. It was kind of amazing.

Somewhere a seasoned Midwesterner is looking out their window with a gleam in their eye. He’s grinning, I think.

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So we got a little “weather”. To be fair, half the country got blasted with a version of this storm. So the weather fairy seems to be sprinkling her wares less judiciously than perhaps some would care for. However, thirty below wind scald is an all time new thing for this native Oregonian. But it didn’t keep me inside. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t wait to get out in it and mess around.

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Yesterday would have been out of the question. The wind was bitter cold and almost dangerous if exposed to it for any length of time. But the sun was out this morning and all was calm. Sometime in the night the clouds scuttled off and the sky was scrubbed clean.  There was a kind of peace across the land that only a freshly fallen snow at the wake of a storm can bring.

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I took the dogs out and puttered around the property for a while, basking in the solitude, experiencing the bone chilling cold of Iowa winter really for the first time. There’s something incredible about fresh, unmolested snow. Banks of white that kind of soften the otherwise hard angles of the trees and the buildings at the point where they crash into the earth and stab into the sky. And there is a beauty in that breath-stealing chill and how it leaves its mark upon the earth, like time itself has frozen still.

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I took pictures as I walked and while the dogs scavenged ahead of me. While I walked, I thought about how strange this place can be, and how strange it is that we are even here. What’s more, I thought about how strange a thing it is that we are enjoying it all. All of it. Every part. I think maybe there were loved ones that we left behind that had thought, maybe even hoped, that wouldn’t be the case. That’s a sad thought, actually, to consider. But most likely true.

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This has been a year of changing seasons. Not a turning of the page or even another chapter, but more like a whole new book. Written in different language. Its funny, because at the beginning of this year I had the sense that 2016 would turn out to be a year of change, but I had no clue what that could possibly mean.

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But sometimes we need our lives to dramatically change to remind us of the things that are truly important. We certainly have come through some terrible things this year, but we’ve experienced good things too. Great things.

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Iowa may not be heaven, but it has still become something transcendent for me. More than an ideology. More than a place. Its become a medium for reflection and growth. This place, with all its quirky unfamiliarity, has become a living and personal therapy for me. And the changes that have followed us since moving here, personal and professional, have been the best kind of counsel. Stepping outside of what is comfortable and facing the unknown encourages the only kind of evolution that matters. Evolution of the heart.

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There will be weather. But instead of hiding away, instead of ignoring what I can’t control, I want to go out and be in the middle of it. I want to be exposed by it. Because that’s where I am challenged. That’s where I am brought closer to where I want to be.

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And the storms don’t last anyway. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far from living in Iowa. If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it’ll change.

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New Bathroom For Christmas

All I want for Christmas is a…bathroom?

It was one of the first things on the list when we bought the old farmhouse. A hundred years ago, families were big right? Lots of children running around the house. And only one tiny bathroom? Well, they certainly knew how to make do with less back then. For my brood? We need two bathrooms.

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When they added the attached garage to the house in 2006, they left this perfect space for a bathroom addition. This space sits just outside the laundry room (on the other side of the pink insulation) and our weird hall space (behind the wall on the left). On the other side of the wall to the right is the great outdoors. You can see the old siding still left on the walls.

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Kind of a cool thing about this space is the fact that there are two large cisterns underneath the ground here. We pulled back the concrete covers to take a peek and found them to be in great condition. I wish I would have taken pics before they were covered. It’s likely these were used once to capture water from the downspout during storms, but they’re bone dry now. Most people will fill these old cisterns so they don’t capsize. Our would make a cool wine cellar or hidden passage, but we decided to simply close them back up and build over them.

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New plumbing has been put in. Plenty of space for a 36″ shower/tub, toilet, 36″ linen closet and 48″ vanity. We’re also bringing the laundry room wall back three feet to expand that tiny space a little.

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This window will go away and the tub will sit here.

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And this is where the laundry room will come out. Take a look at that cool shiplap we uncovered to the left! This was behind all that old chippy white siding. I had the contractor save what he took out so I could use it later.

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The new fan is vented and the linen closet is framed.

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This will be the door to the house. On the other side of this space is the weird hall I mentioned before. It’s a space that annexes the dining and living room, and is large enough to be its own room. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with it.

This is another good look at the beautiful century old shiplap I told you about. We considered leaving it exposed but in the end decided to drywall over it.

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During the bathroom install we also had the heat pump/AC replaced. The old one was twenty-one years old and on its last legs. We had it moved from the side of the house to back here so we can put a wrap around porch on the house next spring.

It seems kind of strange to put in a new AC with snow on the ground, but we’ll appreciate it next summer for sure.

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Good things are happening to this old farmhouse. We’re slowly making it our own, one room at a time.

 

 

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Down The Country Road

It was one of those days where you just want to jump in the truck and go someplace new. Someplace never seen before. Sunny October days in Iowa are made for exploring, driving down a country road, through cornfields now stripped and barren. And if you’re lucky that country road might just take you to a barn sale where you’ll spend hours rooting through old heirlooms from an era gone by.

Colo, IA is a small midwest town about 30 minutes southeast from our place. Just outside of town you’ll find a place called Leisa’s Farmtiques, which is really just a beautifully restored barn filled to the brim with unique turn of the century furniture, old toys, boutique clothing and ancient memorabilia. When you enter the barn you’ll instantly be greeted by Leisa, the owner of Farmtiques, who is one of the most genuine and knowledgeable people I’ve met.

Sifting through the relics (there are two stories of glorious junk) you’ll find that its easy to get lost. The place is almost timeless. There’s so much detail in the structure of old things, and that detail demands attention. There’s no skimming here. You don’t want to overlook anything. These old things each tell a story, and you’ll find yourself wanting to hear the words, to know those stories intimately, to let them become a part of you. Cool things like these sports memorabilia from the twenties. What happened to the kids that wore those gloves? Who threw the footballs? Used the bat? Where are they now?

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And there are certainly the creepy things that will haunt you. Dolls and old hats. Perfect for Halloween.

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We scored these cool metal chairs for a decent price. When we lived in Hood River, OR we used to go to a farm stand every summer and they had a host of these old chairs, all brightly painted and cheerfully lined up in front of the barn. Everybody wanted to sit in the bright metal chairs! We’ve been hunting for our own for some time now. It’s not that they’re hard to find. We’ve come across them in various places, but haven’t been able to find the right price. Until now! Just a little cleaning and some paint and these two chairs will look great outside the old brick barn.

Another score for the day was this cool sideboard from the late 1800s. Its rough, its primitive and its got character. There are stains on the shelves. The top is worn. The doors don’t close neatly. And its seen more autumn months than anyone still alive on this planet!

What do you do with a sideboard like this? Do you restore it? Do you keep it as it is? I have no idea. But I know its going to look great in our dining room, and its going to be well used. When we choose an antique piece, its got to be functional as well as aesthetic. This sideboard certainly fits the bill.

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A little ways up the road from Colo is Marshaltown. Take the exit off Hwy 30, head through town and at the end of Main street you’ll find Appleberry Farms. Apple trees, pumpkins, holiday decor and crafts. Plus they make their own cider!

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We took the boys here to find their pumpkins and to check out the apple stock for saucin’ and we found a whole lot more.

If there’s something you’re looking for, Appleberry Farms has it. Glassware, old tins, handmade birdhouses, creepy mannequins. Their prices are very reasonably fair. We came for pumpkins and apples and we left with a lot more than that. The owners are friendly too, which is always a plus.

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A short trip through Central Iowa on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and we stumbled on a world we didn’t know was there. We met new people and we came home with more “project” material than we can probably find time for. All because we wanted to go down a country road.

 

 

 

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10 Reasons you may not want to move to rural Iowa (and one reason you might)

 

IOWA CORN

So we’ve been here in rural Iowa for over three months now, and I’ve had some time to reflect on our experience so far. I’m sure if given a year, or even five more, I’d have much more insight to share, so take my perspective with a grain of salt, or perhaps with a kernel of corn. We’re newbie flatlanders after all, and still just gaining our bearings.

When we first told our friends and family in Oregon that we were moving to the Heartland, we got a mixture of responses. Some crinkled their nose and gave us that distinct stink-eye scowl that says “why on earth would you do that for?” Several people, including my grandpa, told us that Iowa had ‘weather’. I had been to Iowa many times before moving and had had the luxury of experiencing some of that ‘weather’ people talk about, but when the warnings came it was like we were being warned of the apocalypse. Everyplace has weather, but obviously Iowa had ‘WEATHER’.

The responses weren’t all ugly. Mostly we were met with indifference and the skeptical misunderstanding westerners carry about the Midwest. Stereotypes are aplenty. We were told how flat Iowa was, how it was filled with nothing but corn and simple hillbillies who like white bread and processed cheese and don’t forget about that weather! It’s likely some of those people couldn’t point Iowa out on the map or tell you which states it borders, but they could find many reasons why we shouldn’t move there.

It’s okay. I get it. We came from a beautiful state and the native Oregonians are very proud of where they live. They have a right to be. Not many states offer beaches and deserts and mountains and lakes all within one border.

But you don’t really know what you’re going to encounter in Iowa until you move here. It’s a land of diverse character, both physically and culturally. And this posting isn’t by any means meant to be taken in a negative way. I could have easily written a post about the 10 reasons why you SHOULD move to Iowa. Others have done so, and who knows, maybe someday I will too. But I write this with those non-flatlanders in mind, hoping to cast an honest light on what it’s been like to live in rural Iowa, in our experience anyway. It’s not for everyone, and that’s just alright.

10. There’s weather here!

Yessir there is. We moved to Iowa toward the first week of July, and things were just starting to get warm in the Midwest. Its not a dry heat, like they used to say when we lived in Arizona. Its a wet, muggy, clothes sticking to your back kind of heat and its goes on and on. But it isn’t just the heat that we had to learn how to live with. Its the thunderstorms and the summer rain (most of Iowa flooded this last month) and the monumental straight-line winds. And do these storms come in the middle of the day? Sometimes, but more often than not they’ll come at midnight. Because that’s the best time for your little two year old twins to get woken up to strobe lights and the sky cracking open outside their window, right?

We haven’t made it through winter yet. But as Jon Snow might say, winter is coming. And its cold, I hear. Yeah buddy.

9. What’s bugging you?

The Iowa country has every kind of flying, creeping, slithering, digging, scavenging insect you can think of. What you probably don’t know is, most of them bite. The flies bite. The mosquitoes bite. The gnats bite.They like to land on the back of your calf or right above your sock line  and dig in. They like to land on your face. They congregate in the strangest places; on the battery charger, on the piece of wood lying in the yard (what?), on the windows in the wood shop and garage. And I’m pretty sure they’re immortal. That means they’ll live forever, in case you didn’t know. Now that the season has changed from summer to autumn, different kinds of flying things have begun to hatch, and others have died off. But the flies? They remain.

Something we didn’t have in Oregon were lightening bugs (they’re not called fireflies here in Iowa, and don’t you forget it). They come out in early summer just as the sun goes down and they really are amazing.

8. Don’t stand downwind.

We’re in the middle of hog country, so you can guess what we’ve got all around our property. Hog sheds. And in case you didn’t know, hogs smell. Hogs are big money here in Iowa. Many farmers have moved toward supplementing their income by raising them, and with corn prices being in the toilet that’s not going to change any time soon. You can walk out your front door and breath in deeply and if the wind is right, or if the clouds are overcast, or if its a day that ends with Y, you’re gonna smell ’em. Its the smell of money. Someone else’s money, that is. And sometimes, when you’re sitting outside at night, you can hear the hogs scream. That’s a frightening sound, especially when you’re all alone.

Best pork chops around, though. And don’t forget about the bacon.

7. Is there something in the walls?

Moving to a farmhouse surrounded by corn fields on every side is an amazing experience. But perhaps you might reconsider if you don’t like mice. They come with the territory, I’m afraid. When we bought our house, it had been vacant for three years. That’s plenty of time for the creatures to get real comfortable. We set out traps, poison baits, and even brought home my mom’s cat from Oregon in our attempt to control the mice population. You can’t eradicate them. Just when you think they’re gone, you’ll see one poking its head out from under your daughter’s stuffed animal on the living room floor. You either get used to them or you get the hibbie jibbies. There is no middle ground.

Again, winter’s coming. I’m sure our battle with the rodents will go to a different level. You’d think, if there was such a thing as poetic justice, the biting flies would get them (see #9) but they’re crafty, these mice. And the flies seem to prefer human flesh.

6. You can see for miles.

We came from the land of giants. Mountains, that is. Even the hills in Oregon are on steroids. Not so much in Iowa. I can see traffic coming down our country road for miles. I can see the Mississippi River from my front porch (said in my best Sarah Palin voice). Okay, not really. Too many trees in the way. Iowa isn’t totally table top flat like Texas or Florida, but it doesn’t have much elevation either. It has its river bottoms, its craggy canyons and its rolling hills. But if you’re looking for volcanoes or year round glacier tops, you’re out of luck.

That doesn’t keep Iowans from mountain biking though, or hiking, or enjoying the great outdoors. I think we’ve spent more time outside since moving here than we did in Oregon. Hmm, maybe its the clean air.

5. The people actually…talk to each other?

Community. Small towns. People. Do these things scare you? Maybe not, but those three words have a different meaning here in rural Iowa. Relationships are deeper here. And an expectation. When you move here, you’ll be greeted with a big ole Iowa welcome. You’ll be asked what church you go to, and what football team you root for. You might get a pie. You’ll be invited to a neighborhood meet and greet held in your honor. You’ll get letters in the mail (actual words written down on actual paper in an actual mail box delivered by a real live person) from people who haven’t even met you yet when word has spread that something bad has happened in your life (my parents died and the community showed up enforce). People will talk to you in the grocery store. They’ll know you by the last resident of the house you bought (you’re the people that bought the old XXXX house). They’ll know you by all the kids playing in your yard. They’ll know you from talking to someone else that drove by your place and saw you mowing the lawn. Your wife will suddenly become best friends with the lady at the State Farm insurance company. Neighbors will show up at your door with fresh sweet corn and pumpkins and maybe even a toy John Deere tractor for your kids. They’ll give you cats.

I can see how these things might seem strange or even backward to some people. When we lived in Oregon, we had a tree fall on our house while I was out of town, and none of our neighbors even noticed! It was a big tree, and my wife was home alone with the kids.Imagine how frightening that must have been. Life went on all around the neighborhood while my wife was dealing with the mess.

It’s different here. They show up with saws and food. Because people matter and people pay attention. Different values. Different way of life.

4. Commuting is a way of life.

There’s nothing close. You don’t just take a couple minutes to go to the grocery store. There might be a small grocery store in the town over, but its likely not going to have what you need, and if they do its expensive. So you drive twenty, thirty, sometimes fifty minutes to get what you need. And that’s all there is to it.

3. There’s a tractor in the road.

Yep.

2. The grass is always greener…

Its because of the humidity. Or maybe its the summer rains that come with the thunderstorms. Or maybe its the organically rich soil. Whatever it is, the grass IS always greener, and not just on the other side of the fence. It never stops growing. Seriously. It must be why everyone has a riding lawn mower. Not just a basic style mower, mind you. Zero turn baby. Even the people in town have zero turn mowers for their tiny lawns. Its pandemonium.

But we must look pretty insane mowing our four acre lawn with a push mower. I have to admit, if feels pretty insane. You mow and then two days later you need to mow again.

So guess what we just bought? Yup. Right from the Cub Cadet factory in Ohio.

1. The sound of silence.

You might like the noise of traffic, the hustle and bustle of things and people endlessly moving around. Maybe its gives you a sense of security with all that sound. Because in the silence there is a reckoning. You must listen, even when listening is uncomfortable.

In the wind you can hear the corn stalks whisper. You can hear the coyote yelp, the distant thunder rumble. You can hear the bats hunt insects, the cicadas buzz merrily in the trees. In the silence you hear the sounds of a world come alive as it spins maddeningly all around you.

So why would you want to move to rural Iowa?

I’ve never felt more alive. That’s it. That’s the sales pitch. Iowa is a beautiful state with spectacular sunrises and sunsets, a diverse landscape and a rich culture born out of faith and humanity and the common belief that people still matter. It’s the people, it’s the corn, it’s the endless blue skies and the fury in the storms and the history in the buildings that have stood throughout the centuries, through it all. It’s the State Fair and the lightening bugs and the long awaited summer day that comes after a storm when there is no humidity. There’s something special about this place. We’re still in the honeymoon stage, I know, I know. But what can I say?

Iowa is heaven, after all. Isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Old School With The Ford Jubilee

In 1953, Ford celebrated their 50th anniversary by launching a new tractor line called the Ford NAA. It was dubbed the Golden Jubilee. Slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor, the Ford 8N, the Jubilee featured a 134 cu inch 4 cylinder gasoline engine boasting 32hp.

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Production actually began on this little gem in late 1952, and the tractor was manufactured through 1954. But its the ’53 model that is often coveted by collectors because of the special nose badge Ford introduced specifically in honor of their anniversary year.

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In a world where much larger 4 wheel drive tractors dominate the ag market, its fascinating to me to think back to a simpler time where these little tractors pulled most of the duty on the farm. They were certainly work horses in their time, and still have their place today. Some put them in the showroom or drive them in the tractor parade during Fourth of July celebrations and county fairs, but we thought it would be cool to bring one home and put it to work on the mini farm.

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To be honest, we were looking for a larger tractor, something like a JD 4020. Something that could pull the 8 row Cyclo planter we have on the farm and a bigger cultivator when we bought one. But when we found this little guy at the right price, we realized there was a lot of things we could do with a smaller tractor. The Ford can pull the 4 row JD 494A planter we have, which is probably a better option for our small acreage than the Cyclo anyway. It can pull a wagon during harvest, a 4 ft Bush Hog, a disc, a small rake and baler, and so much more! Plus its fun for the kids. We’ll probably still keep our eye out for a higher horse power tractor, but the Jubilee will earn its place without a doubt.

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Sometimes going old school is better.

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Iowa Shenanigans

Occasionally we have to pull ourselves away from working on the property, from my job and from the weekly grind. Iowa has so much to offer as far as things to do and places to see, and when the sun is shining sometimes you just have to get away.

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In Iowa, its all about the State Fair.

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From animals to carnival rides to the famous Butter Cow, the Iowa State Fair has it all. Can you say food on a stick? The fair boasts more than 70 different foods that you can eat on a stick, including deep fried Twinkies and pork chops.

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The first State Fair took place in Des Moines in 1854. Since then, it has hosted current and future presidents, movies stars and musicians. It has been the inspiration for three motion pictures, a Broadway musical and the novel that started them all. In 2015, more than 1 million people attended the fair, and with the number of camper trailers and RVs that descend on the grounds, Iowa’s State Fair easily becomes the fourth largest city in the state for its 10 day duration. I haven’t even mentioned the thousand of photographers who compete, the hog calling, the chicken calling contest, insane people watching, the craft beer tents, the hundred of exhibitors and the crazy neighborhood people that open their driveways and yard up for $10 parking. Yeah, they make a killing.

We only went for one day, and we barely made a dent. But it really is a big deal, and its only one of the many things that make summer in Iowa special.

For the twin’s birthday, we took them to the Huxley Prairie Festival. This is a small town event that we happened to discover online. Petting zoo, playground, clogging, food and more. It was a good way to spend a few hours.

I just love how the small towns around us go big with these kind of events. There was something to do for every age.

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Summers were meant for fun, and we’re having a blast in our new community. Iowa may not be heaven, but its pretty close.

Now its time to get back to work!