First Weekend at the Farm

 

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5am view from the front yard

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Finally! After several long weeks of ending each day with a high-five, celebrating that we made it 24 hours closer to the farm, moving day actually came. We packed up the van and drove down to meet with the previous owner. He gave us a thorough walkthrough of the house, talking about chimneys and well pumps and things like that, papers were signed, and then he drove away. Suddenly the place was ours.

For a moment it was surreal, and a bit scary. It almost felt like when you’re going down the stairs and there was one less step than you thought and you try to step down again but hit the floor instead. We’ve been talking and dreaming about doing this for a few years now, and suddenly the time has come to face the fantasy and see if it lives up to our expectations. After just three days on the farm (in summer and off work), I can’t say we have really experienced the reality just yet but we are still fully confident that this was the right move and we will be very happy here.  IMG_7267Overall things seem to be even better than we thought they were when we first visited and made the decision to buy it. I expected that to go the other way.

I am still struggling to come to terms with the downed forest, since that was one of the things I had been most eager about when we were first looking at the (apparently outdated) satellite images of the property. I had anticipated easy access to beautiful forest trails near the house, and to rest assured that nobody would come and chop down my sanctuary. We do still have forest surrounding us in all directions and it is spectacular, but all the land closest to the house has been cleared right up to the edge of the property, so the beautiful backdrop and convenient access to the woods from the house are not ours, and therefore not safe from logging.

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Nope, we didn’t have a tornado.

I have already walked through some parts of the intact forest and it will be hard not to get attached. But as I keep telling myself, what’s done is done and the seventy year old trees (I counted rings) will not return anytime soon, so we have to just watch and admire the way nature slowly rebuilds itself after catastrophe. Tornadoes and forest fires would have had a similar effect, so I try to see humans as a different kind of natural disaster and that makes it a little easier to deal with. The property is still incredible, and with the loss of the forest comes many unique opportunities. Permaculture is about embracing and working with what you’ve got around you, and this is an opportunity to do that.

I would like to let some of it return naturally to wilderness or semi wilderness (zones 4-5 in permaculture design). Ideally we’d create a gradient of management zones, with the most intensively managed landscape closest to the house, and the lower maintenance areas such as orchards farther away towards the wilderness. Our heads are just spinning with ideas and possibilities. I feel like an overexcited kid jumping from one thing to the next, all these years of thinking and wishing for this opportunity are bubbling up and exploding in all directions now that we have actual land to work with.

Moving in

The first night was really weird. We were bringing stuff into the house from the  cars, and it really felt like we were just unpacking for a weekend at the cabin or house sitting for someone, and pretending or wishing we were going to live here. We kept reminding ourselves that this cool place is our new home.

We couldn’t move everything in one go, so meals were pretty basic over the weekend and it was fun figuring out how to do things without all the stuff we are used to having on hand.

IMG_7253We did lots of grilling too which was amazing after living in an apartment for so long and not being able to BBQ on the balcony.

On saturday we realized that we had enormously underestimated the amount of fruit that is already growing here. Plums, two types of gooseberries (stikkelsbær), red currants (rips), white currants (hvit rips?), and more black currants (solbær) than we will ever know what to do with. There are also several large patches of blueberries around, but it seems like humans or wildlife have been into them as there aren’t many actual berries left.

We spent some time picking red currants for eating (great with vanilla sauce and in cereal) and making jelly. I didn’t bring any jars or sugar to make jelly but I did happen have a large container, so I cleaned and froze the berries for later. I used lined cookie sheets to freeze the berries individually in batches, so that they wouldn’t end up in a solid mass. This way I can take out a handful now and then as needed, or use larger amounts to make jelly when I’m ready to do that.

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I had berries with vanilla sauce, and Tux had vanilla sauce with berries.

We have many steep learning curves ahead of us, in all aspects of managing this place. Just from this little berry-picking experience I’ve already leveled up and learned some new things. Next time I will pick the twigs rather than individual berries, so that both picking and cleaning them is easier, and I’ll use a smaller container or pick smaller amounts at a time so the bottom ones don’t get crushed.

There is quite a bit of lawn to maintain (eventually much of it will be gardens) so the lawn mower got some use right away, but there wasn’t much fuel in it and we didn’t think to bring any gas with us so we didn’t get very far.

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The road leading to the farm was closed on saturday, so we weren’t able to go out and get a gas can, then of course it’s Norway so everything is closed on sunday and it didn’t happen then either.

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This is why the road was closed on saturday

Wildlife

There are definitely moose here. Either a lot of them, or a few that visit frequently. We haven’t seen the animals themselves yet, but their presence is obvious. There are moose droppings and tracks all over, including two big plops right on the front lawn. Like many people, I thought moose droppings were always big pellets like those chocolate covered almonds they sell as “moose poop”. At first I was mildly freaked out, wondering what else could have possibly dropped such big piles. Thanks to Google I learned that moose poop can be more like a cow patty too, depending on the season and what it’s been eating.

The tracks are surprisingly big too…

In case that wasn’t enough poop pictures, here is one more. This one I believe is from a deer who I suspect is the reason we don’t have many blueberries around. Hopefully soon we’ll get some pictures of the animals themselves!IMG_7228

There are birds around, but not as many as we had expected. We found a bird feeder on the lawn and put some seed in it, which the local magpies found pretty quickly. I’ve also seen and heard some songbirds and have heard ravens a few times but considering the vast forest around us, it is a lot quieter than I would have expected.

Behind the barn we have a massive ant colony. I can’t say for sure, but I am pretty confident that these trails in the grass are actually ant highways leading to and from the main colony (which surrounds the stump in the bottom pictures). The first time we were here I wandered over there in flip flops and the ants made their presence known immediately, so now I only go there in boots. The colony is pretty fascinating to watch, I just hope they don’t decide to invade the house.

The loggers were anything but gentle here and left behind massive scars in the landscape which have collected quite a bit of water and formed mini ponds. Nature has a way of making things work though, and we have seen some dragonflies patrolling around the mini ponds and by the house. I think this is why there are surprisingly few mosquitoes around despite all that standing water. I thought we would have been smacking them all day but we really only notice them further into the forest (away from the water), and around the house in the early evening when they are normally the worst anyway. Dragonflies are a mosquito’s worst nightmare, hunting them both as larvae and adults. I think we would be smart to work around these wet areas and try to incorporate them into our plans in order to leave the dragonfly habitat intact as much as possible.

Of course, we have plenty of bees and butterflies around too 🙂

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Wild Treasures

While walking through the deforested areas I found a few cool souvenirs. There are large slices of logs lying among the debris, including the one pictured below. I had actually noticed this one at the first showing, noted the location and then went back to get it once we moved in. Sadly that crack you can see at the bottom right has opened into a big split and it won’t work as a platter or decorative piece anymore. I also found several longer chunks of thick logs that we can haul down and set up around the fire pit for sitting.

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In addition to the cultivated fruits near the house, there is plenty of wild food around. There are wild strawberries, blueberries, and a few more berries whose identities I need to confirm before tasting, and the place is filled with mushrooms which I also don’t plan to eat until I can confirm who’s who. There are abundant wild edible and medicinal herbs too, including St John’s wort, meadowsweet, yarrow, fireweed, nettles, and wood sorrel which I love to nibble on while hiking. Maybe someday I’ll do some herbal posts describing these plants and what they are useful for.

It seems like everywhere I look here there is an edible or otherwise useful plant, but there are also some most definitely non-edible things around, like this cool looking but hallucinogenic and highly toxic Super Mario mushroom, aka fly agaric or fly amanita. This one is obvious but I know there are many other poisonous mushrooms and plants around here, so I won’t be tasting anything from the woods unless I know exactly what it is.

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What now?

The next big things on the to-do list are to renovate the shower upstairs (for some reason the drain is on the highest part of the floor…), and to plan and build a chicken coop. Very soon I should have my art studio set up as well, along with my digital drawing stuff. I’m really looking forward to that as it’s been basically impossible to do much artwork in the apartment these last few months and I have missed spending time on that. We have many visitors coming soon to prepare for, and we also have more moving and settling in, of course, and then there is all the general planning and deciding what to do and how to really get started.

It will be pretty busy going forward, but busy in the best way imaginable 🙂

 

 

Plantain Salve for Bug Bites

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Finally, after just over four weeks I’ve decided to harvest my solar infused plantain oil and make a homemade bug bite remedy. The picture above is from when I first added the leaves to oil. I should have taken a picture of the jar before I strained the oil out but I completely forgot. It looked quite different after a month (the oil was more yellow, and the leaves had become very dark).

This project started back in the beginning of July, right after we bought our farm and met the local black flies. When we got home I picked a few plantain leaves from our balcony boxes and dried them in the dehydrator. When they were nice and crispy I put them in a small jar with some oil (just cooking oil, nothing special), and set the jar in a sunny window. Each day I checked the jar and gave it a little shake to mix things up. I doubt that was really necessary, but I liked doing it 🙂

Making the salve itself was actually disappointingly easy. Most of the work was just cleaning wax off of things afterwards.

I forgot to take a picture of the wax before it was was melted but I should have. I sacrificed a cute little pinecone shaped beeswax candle that I’ve had sitting around for years. I still remember buying it, it was at the farmer’s market in the town where I lived for university. It was so cute I could never bring myself to use it but today laziness won. I have been collecting scraps of beeswax from candles over the past few years, assuming I’d one day get inspired to try stuff like this but that collection is currently packed away in a box somewhere downstairs in the storage unit. My little pine cone candle was the only beeswax in the apartment except for a very beautiful (and regularly used) pillar candle that I wasn’t willing to melt down. I decided the pine cone had been sitting around long enough and it was time to give it a new and much more useful purpose.

So into the pot it went.

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I don’t have a double boiler so I put the lid from a jar of pasta sauce in the bottom of a regular pot and set a little pot on top, surrounded by water. As the water heats up the wax inside the little pot is warmed up more gently and evenly than it would be if the small pot was sitting directly on the stove. At first I put the whole candle in but it was melting slower than I expected and I didn’t want to use too much heat, so I took it out and chopped it up into small pieces, which melted much faster.

While waiting for the wax to melt I strained the oil and discarded the leaves.

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Plantain infused oil after one month in a sunny window

When the beexwax was melted, I poured the oil into the pot with it. Most of the beeswax instantly cooled and solidified since the oil was at room temperature.

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I kept the heat on and stirred it until the wax returned to liquid and fully mixed with the oil. It only took a few minutes.

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I was going to put the salve in a jar but a wider container made more sense, so I found an empty Lush soap tin I had sitting around.  By pure chance it just happened to be the perfect size for the amount that I was working with.

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After a while the salve cooled and hardened into something like lip balm.

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It’s actually so much like lip balm I’m now considering making some of that using a similar method.

Now I just need some bug bites to try this stuff on 😉