Monthly Archives: January 2016

Piers day!

January 28, 2016 was a great day – 65*, sunny, and best of all, the day we broke ground on the shipping container building! This is the first building being built on the farm. We were so excited to see it really happening!

We hired RamJack Systems to drill our piers and had a great experience. They sent a crew of five men and a Bobcat with a hydraulic drill attached to drill our 8 piers.

This is at the start of the drilling process.

This is the completed job. In addition to drilling the piers, they busted out their super cool level to cut the piers to level and installed caps. In the foreground you see the two piers with square caps are under a foot off the ground. 40 feet to the south and they are over 2.5 feet tall. I didn’t realize the foundation was on that much of a slope. We are grateful they did the leveling for us!

The next step is to have someone come out and weld the container anchors on the pier caps. Then, on the same day the steel barn is delivered, Andrew is going to move the containers from their current resting spots to their home on the piers. Why on the same day? Because we have to rent the biggest forklift you can rent without needing crane certification in order to move the steel building pieces off the truck. So Andrew figured he’d kill two birds with one stone and move the containers at the same time.

We also will dig out about 2′ around the piers and pour concrete to resist lateral wind shear. Each pier would require 60,000 lbs of upward pressure to move and we have 8 of them supporting the building. This is going to be a great storm shelter.

Another project we worked on was cutting and burning these nasty little locust trees we have growing all over the fields. These thorns are something else. So glad I was wearing my boots!

[Gratuitous photo of adorable two year old making a HUGE mess with a chocolate chip granola bar]

Said two year old also found sticks on the ground and asked “Mama, do you need dese for your garden?” So she helped put more sticks on the hugelkultur beds for us <3

Prep work for the garden and storm shelter

Andrew gave me two Christmas presents this year: A Leatherman Wave multi-tool and a fire ring. Does he know me or what?? I use both of them every time we are at the farm and I love them. Especially the fire ring. It’s so awesome to have a big roaring fire to warm up with and cook our lunch and dinner over!  

We have been making baked potatoes in the fire every week. Super easy and delicious and a great hot lunch.

This is Emily’s version of helping at the farm – she’s making sure our extra culvert is still in tip-top shape.

The girls also both got a nap which was super desperately needed.


Above is what Andrew and his mom and brother worked on all day: continuing to prepare the containers for the storm shelter. Andrew painted and painted and painted. And he welded unistrut to the ceiling of the second container (which was delivered last week) for the lights that will go in there. The above container is his mom’s and the second one is ours. They will form the base of the storm shelter – more on that next week!


In the above two pictures there was no filter or manipulation. It does actually look like this at our farm. I still can’t believe it’s really ours! Above you can see our container collection. The short white one is Andrew’s office. The white one on the right and the yellow one in the back are identical – they will be the foundation of the storm shelter. The orange one is our current storage unit. Once the foundation for the shelter is drilled and the containers are in place, we will move all our stuff into the new one (and get rid of some things and organize it better, I’m sure!)

One of the last things we did was continue to work on the hugelkultur beds. My MIL used the loppers to straighten the beds and trim off anything sticking out between them. Emily and I started hacking away at the pile of dirt and got all of two wagon loads moved onto the beds. It’s a lot of work to move clay soil!

Hugelkultur

There are dozens of articles on the interwebs about hugelkultur so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on what it is, or why to do it, or even how. It’s a very simple concept: pile wood on the ground. Put smaller sticks and twigs on top. Throw on some grass or compostable materials. Maybe add some manure. Cover the whole thing with dirt and commence planting. The idea really appealed to me because we have HUGE piles of brush that are just sitting there, slowly rotting, not very beautiful and certainly not very useful. I was excited to be introduced to a way to turn our trash into something beautiful and edible.

I want to start a series of posts on hugelkultur to document growing in it season after season. Again, there’s a ton of information out there on what it is, why to do it, and how. There’s not a lot of information on hugelkultur results.

Above are my raw materials. The brush pile is over 6′ high at its tallest, and there are plenty of smaller piles all around. There’s also a pile of dirt left over from the driveway work. Right now it’s so hard that I’d need a pickax to get into it. And I might have to use one; I’m hoping for a good rain soon to loosen it up enough to move.

 I don’t have a lot of big logs, but what I did have, I laid at the bottom of the pile. Then I took smaller bunches of the grapevines and thorny junk we cut off the fence during the summer and piled it on top. Plus my mother-in-law was cutting down a thick swath of snow-on-the-prairie the day I was building the beds, so I laid down those bushes on the piles as well.
I also had a bag of compost materials that I brought to distribute among the beds. It was enough for about 1/4 of one bed. My mental garden scale needs to go WAY up – I’ve been gardening in a 15×7 bed for years!

 This is what it looked like when I was so tired I could hardly move anymore. I have one bed ready for dirt, one ready for more nitrogen material, and one just getting started.
 Here’s a closer shot of the dirt-ready bed. My father-in-law mowed part of the field and I raked as much of the grass up as I could and put it on the bed. And you better believe I picked up all the cow pies I could and put them on the bed too. Thanks for the compost, cows!
 The day after I built the beds I pulled out some paper and pencils to plan the garden. Ellie (5) said she wanted to plan a garden too. Hers has a Christmas tree (complete with roots), a pond, and a boat. I think it’s a keeper!

Storm Shelter

Given that we live in Texas, and that we live in a fifth wheel, having a storm shelter in place before we move to the farm is a very important concern for us. We have been through several designs, and I’ll explain what we’ve decided on and why.

Most people, when they think of storm shelters, think of shelters that are underground. This doesn’t work in Texas for a couple reasons. First, tornadic storms are usually accompanied by incredibly heavy rainfall, and the soil in Texas can’t absorb the rain fast enough. We’ve seen our land subject to flash flooding and know that if we put a shelter underground, we might be safe from a tornado, but the shelter could quickly fill with water and drown us inside. As that seems like a terrible fate, we moved on to other methods of safety from storms.

We own three shipping containers; two are 40′ long and one is 20′ long. Andrew built out the inside of the 20′ container (put in insulation and interior walls and an interior door) and will use it as his office once we move to the farm. The other two containers are for storage; one is for our use and one is for my in-laws.

Our current plan is to use these containers for our storm shelter, and to anchor them super firmly in the ground. We debated between traditional concrete piers and helical piers, and decided on the helical piers. The installer is coming to the property this week to have a look at our conditions. We are going to put four piers in the ground for each of the 40′ containers, and cut them to level. They will sit 18′ apart. Then we (and by “we” I mean “the professional we hire”) will weld a 10″ steel plate to the top of each pier. Then we (and by “we” this time I mean “Andrew”) will rent a huge tractor to lift each container into place, upon which the professional welder will weld the container to the pier. And then Andrew will lift the 20′ container on top of the other two so that they make a large U shape. The 20′ container will also be permanently welded in place. We will make a staircase up to the top, and that will be our storm shelter. Each of the piers is rated to hold 20,000 lbs, so if/when a tornado does come through, those buildings are not going ANYWHERE.

We staked out the corners of each container on the ground this past week, and it is exciting to imagine the containers moving into place soon!

Update and Garden Dreaming

We took a super awesome road trip over Christmas so there hasn’t been much to say about farm work. We took our new truck through west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and back through a bit of Oklahoma. It did pretty well until we were in Colorado for several days and the temperature did not rise above freezing. It did not start at all. Then Andrew discovered a built in block heater – bless you, Ford! We got to see many many members of my side of the family and the girls got completely spoiled. When we arrived back in Texas we were a little fatter, a whole lot more rested, and raring to tackle the next steps on preparing our land so we can live there!

We have four more projects to complete before we can pull the fifth wheel to the farm.

-Storm shelter
-Septic system
-Concrete pad
-Electricity

I think I will do a separate post on the storm shelter because it’s going to be a big ole project and we’ve done a lot of revisions on its design.

Andrew thinks he can do most of the work for the septic system. Our county allows the owner of the land to do the work as long as they approve the design. That will save us a lot of money, and plus he’ll get to rent and operate a backhoe, and that’s just fun.

We were going to pour the foundation for the barn and add about 20′ for the fifth wheel to rest on, but it looks like the barn foundation is going to be wayyyyy more expensive than we anticipated. So we will likely do a smaller pour for the fifth wheel to sit on and save our pennies for the barn foundation.

Now for something I’m super excited about: My first big garden! I wanted to do a lasagna bed in the fall to plant in come spring, but that requires running water, which we didn’t have until recently. I didn’t really know what else to do, though. The soil is fairly clayey and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time tilling and amending the existing clay just to end up with barely-adequate soil for growing in.

Then someone on a Facebook gardening page introduced me to the idea of hugelkultur. It’s a German word for mound garden. You pile logs/sticks/branches on the ground, pile grass clipping and leaves and organic matter on top of the pile, and cover that with soil. Well we have all of that in abundance! I was very excited to be able to use the trash brush piles and pile of sticky dirt that was left over from the driveway grading project. We haven’t started constructing them yet. I know that’s going to be a muscle-building project for sure. But I’m still super excited and today I got out all my seeds to look through them. We’re going to need a LOT of garden space…