Monday, August 25, 2014

One day's small harvest

It's been too long since we blogged here.  Time to remedy that.

Now it's August and summer is upon the cusp of autumn.  So harvesting is in the air.

For example, Ceredwyn plucked these from one of our plots today:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Working on structures

Today Ceredwyn and I worked on two very light structures.

First, we finished building a Shelterlogic tent/shed.  This is going to house some of our wood supply.

Ceredwyn and Owain had done a lot of work already: cleaning the ground, connecting metal pieces, assembling the skeleton, balancing and rebalancing the legs.  So yesterday my wife and I threw a gigantic, heavy tarp over the framework, and secured it in place.  We raked out the new floor and set down a huge plastic ground sheet.  Next to come: wooden pallets and, well, wood.
Our house is off to the left.

Second, we worked on the chicken coop.  It's still suffering from last year's bear attacks (June, July; story), which skewed the cattle-panel framework, collapsed an interior support, and shredded some outer perimeter chicken wire fences.  I stood inside and used my back to lift up the roof, then shoved a beam into place to hold it a little higher up. Ceredwyn and I put up a tarp and cleaned up eggs old and new.

Then, just outside the chicken enclosure, we found a surprise next with eggs:
I don't know how the hen found those cinder blocks comfortable, but she must have.

Every chance we get in summer - when we have a little work downtime, when we're healthy, when it's not raining - we work outside.  It's usually this mix of making something new, while maintaining something else.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Accidental COO

It's been a year since we opened Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC. The business went live on June 1st, 2013. So, I thought I'd write a little bit about how that's been going.

We had been planning on opening a consulting business for a while, but the timing was somewhat involuntary. Bryan's departure from his last position, although amicable, was abrupt. We had about a month to put together a working business plan.

Fortunately, this was not completely foreign territory for me. As I said, Bryan and I have been looking at this for some time. With the help of various friends and allies, I wrote the operating agreement, obtained tax ID numbers, insurance of various kinds, business licenses, accounts etc. I searched for and hired an accountant who steered us through the minutia of tax regulations.

Bryan and I delved into books on business how-to's and the nuts and bolts of running a consulting firm. We decided that the name should be Bryan Alexander Consulting due to his name recognition as opposed to the more inclusive but not nearly as recognizable Alexander Consulting.

This has been a little tricky for me, as it has led some people to infer that the business is only Bryan's, however that's been the only downside. The fact is, he sets up his gigs, and does the actual speaking and consulting and I pretty much do everything else. The brand recognition more than makes up for the occasional misunderstanding.

From about June of last year, to the 15th of May, I have been insanely busy. I have had many days that start with 7:30 AM meetings and finish with 8:00PM meetings. Last summer, I took two online business accounting courses to update my skills.  I also took the opportunity to take some of the workshops offered to business owners through the state of Vermont.

Our date nights now consist of going to a coffee shop with our computers, syncing calenders, going over profit and loss statements, and discussing cash flow. Then we still have one child in High School and the other taking classes at the local community college.

In January, I designed and taught a class for Emergency Medical Responders that ran until May. It was well received and teaching EMS classes will likely be another income stream for BAC.

The homesteading mindset has been a huge help throughout these challenges. I always say we're not preparing for the end of THE world, just OUR world. The deep panttry and minimal credit card debt were a real boon; because we had planned for contingencies that might disrupt our income, we were able to start-up BAC with minimal disruption to our lifestyle.

I have had a few people ask me if running a business with my husband affects my marriage. I have to say that it only affects it in a good way. Working for ourselves takes a lot of the tension out of making a living. Now we know our time and talent is going towards our own enrichment, both literally and figuratively.

Going from full time SAHM and homesteader to business owner has had some bumps. We have had some of the "Mom now has a job" adjustments within the family and I have lost at least one friend because she took my sudden unavailability very personally. I find that casual acquaintances reacting more favorably to me is uncomfortable too--it shows how badly thought of stay-at-home moms are. Suddenly, I am a person of credibility because I am doing this for money?

In truth, my job as Chief Operating Officer of BAC and my job as homesteader and mom are pretty much the same. I make sure the bills are paid and that the day to day stuff is taken care of. I keep calenders straight and run the reports. I continue to do my jobs with the Fire Department. I fix the plumbing, make sure the car fleet (we now have 2 cars, so that's a fleet for us) is maintained, maintain supply inventories, and anything else that needs doing.

Last weekend, the projects were planting and chicken coops, on Monday it was insurance and mileage statements. Nothing new here, just more of it.

Here's a video of Bryan talking to Cliff at CNI this year. It's long, but worth a listen if you're into technology and the future.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Working the land on the first of June

Today's the first day of June, a gorgeously sunny Sunday. We basked in the light and warmth, then set to work.

Here's a sampler of our homesteading practice at this time of year:

Bryan hauled some of last year's wood to the house and chopped up the bigger pieces.  Some chunks were already sized for the stove, but others were too broad and needed splitting down into the proper shape.  The results were stacked inside the house, ready to dry in the dehumidified basement over the summer and fall.

A new ax.
He also collected scraps of birch bark, fallen from trees.  These dry during the summer, in order to be stored as excellent winter kindling.

Ceredwyn planted pole beans.  It's finally warm enough to allow this.  She planted the beans, along with a sample of the three sisters, all under a tent to protect them from possibly chilly nights:

Bryan re-dug part of the driveway drainage ditch. He does this every year, repairing damages from winter (mostly trucks crushing it) and clearing out silt from spring rain.  It's about 3/4ths complete at this point, able to catch most rain overflow from the upper part of our land.

Such sunlight allowed us to hang two big loads of laundry.  We've never owned a clothes drier here, preferring to let the sun do its work (or the wood-burning stoves, in winter).  But a week of dismal skies slowed down the rates of clothes drying.

We also cleared up a blackberry patch, staking brambles to get them visible and off the ground.  Hopefully they'll yield more fruit this fall.

To sum up: maintenance, planting, housework, wood processing, all in glorious sunlight.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

It's time to turn the compost: some homesteading practice

We're far enough into spring that it's time to turn out compost piles.

Some words of explanation: it's a very, very good and useful thing to have ample supplies of compost for growing crops.  It's super-soil for young plants, a terrific booster during a short growing season.  So we make compost all year round, building up piles consisting of kitchen scraps, mown grass, some weeds, and plenty of autumn leaves.

It takes 2-3 years for a pile to mature into decent soil stuff.

We structure each pile in a framework made from tree limbs and branches, more or less of uniform length and shape.  They stack in a square, keeping the pile tidy and contained.  Each one looks like this:
We read about this method in the Nearings' books.

Here are our earlier posts on composting.

So what does "turning the compost" means?  We have to take apart the wooden lattice, then turn the pile upside down.  The reason has to do with the process of composting.  All of those scraps, leaves, etc. turn into soil-like stuff gradually, and from the bottom up.  Upend the pile and the last-to-be-transformed materials now receive the fine lower position.

How it's done: I (Bryan) remove the first four or so rows of branches, stacking them on a patch of ground right next to the pile.  With a pitchfork I toss bits of the pile's top into the next patch, keeping the material inside the wooden square.  As I dig down into the pile, I remove branches and add them to the new one.  Eventually a mirror image pile appears.

It takes about 30 minutes per pile, unless the core is frozen, in which case more time is needed.

We usually do this once in spring and once in late fall.

You can buy or make plastic drums mounted on an axle, which can be spun round by a handle.  That's appealing, but we'd need a lot of these for the amounts we use.

How's your composting this May?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Paneling the master bedroom

Ceredwyn has been paneling the house's main bedroom.  First she put up this strips of wood, or "straps":
Next she covered them with shiplap boards, running horizontally:

When we bought this hour the bedroom has serious problems, including some unfinished ceiling and wall parts.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Growing in late May

It's late May, and the temperatures have risen enough to allow things to grow.  All around us the forest has exploded into green, with leaves, grass, and fiddleheads appearing.

Our older apple tree has put forth blossoms:

Today we prepared to put down seeds by repairing the chicken coop.  If Bryan's repairs worked, then the chickens can't escape to devour seeds.

Next up: potatoes.