Floor plan

Who remembers way, way back in April when we purchased beetle-kill planks for the master bedroom and closet? Not us. And who remembers back when building and installing custom bookshelves was the trickiest project we had taken on? Apparently we forgot about that, too. Let us say frankly that laying this pine flooring is by far the most infuriating, the most frustrating, the most demoralizing task we’ve ever tackled here at Quiet Farm. Oh, I know I say this about every project but I am not joking here.

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The planks are “curing.” (They’ve been abandoned in favor of other projects.)

The best thing about this flooring project is 1. it’s finished (mostly) and 2. we learned so, so much about flooring and our own tolerance for suffering. It’s such an honorable, martyr-ish, humble-brag thing to talk about how you renovated your entire antique farmhouse yourself, but this project was truly the closest we’ve come to calling in a professional to bail us out of the mess we’d created. But since you’re already here, friends – who doesn’t like to read about other people’s DIY trauma? – let’s share what we’ve learned.

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Yes, we had to move all of the planks repeatedly. No, that wasn’t at all tedious.

Lesson #1: There is a reason that raw wood (like these pine planks) has been mostly abandoned in favor of engineered or manufactured hardwood. The giveaway is in the name: engineered wood is precisely custom-cut and layered so that each plank is identical and fits together perfectly. Raw, untreated wood is obviously cut from what was once a living thing, and like all living things it has imperfections. These imperfections are gorgeous in a forest, but infuriating when you’re trying to snap them together on an already-uneven floor. All the various imperfections we encountered in the wood (major warping) and in our foundation and walls (not remotely straight or level) didn’t cancel each other out – they multiplied. As N swore during one particularly tough day, never again are we flooring with raw wood. It looks amazing, but the appearance isn’t worth the puzzle-fitting and the stress.

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Look! It’s really pretty firewood!

Lesson #2: When working with raw wood, especially a soft wood like pine, you’ll need a lot more overage than you think. The industry standard of ten percent will not – I repeat, will not – cut it. We spent an inordinate amount of time sorting through planks to find usable pieces, and as a result we have a great deal of scrap. Beetle-kill pine especially is replete with cracks, knots, scars and other damage, as you might expect, but we didn’t know this in advance and as such didn’t order enough wood the first time. When we finally figured out that we wouldn’t have enough wood to complete the closet, we wrestled with installing uncured wood (i.e. it hadn’t sat in the bedroom collecting dust for six months) in order to just get the project done. (You may notice there are no photos of the closet. This is intentional.) We wish our lumber yard had told us in advance that we’d need a minimum of 25% overage, but we’ll chalk that up to a valuable lesson learned.

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It took approximately a decade to progress this far.

Lesson #3: Renting tools is practical for some projects and not at all for others. We rented a skid steer and an excavator when we built the game fence; these are not tools we’ll use on a daily basis and they’re extremely expensive to purchase. For this flooring project we started out renting a floor stapler from our local hardware store, foolishly thinking that we’d be done in a day or maybe two at the most. When by the end of our first day we had only laid about six rows – because fitting the planks together was so challenging – we realized that at our current productivity rate, we could buy about twenty floor staplers for the inevitable cost of the rental. So work stopped yet again while we waited for our newly-purchased floor stapler (and tiny pancake compressor) to arrive. If we had known this in advance, it would have saved us a ton of wasted time and the money spent on the rental.

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Lesson #4: When installing flooring, figure out your transitions in advance – not after everything is installed and you’re forced to custom-build transitions. Not only are there no photos of the closet, but there are no photos of our transitions, either, and that’s because we haven’t yet figured out how to solve this problem. We have to transition between the existing ash hardwood in the main entrance to the bedroom, between tile at the bathroom, and from pine to pine at the closet. Seems reasonably simple, right? OH NO YOU ARE SO WRONG. Because we didn’t plan our transitions in advance, we have what N graciously calls a “sawtooth profile” on the pine planks, making fitting a transition in almost impossible. And did we mention the floors are varying heights? So we need step-downs and reducers, too, all in bespoke sizes and cuts. The lesson here is to make your transitions the first step in your flooring project, rather than the last. We won’t forget this lesson anytime soon, and please, watch your step.

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The before, middle and after. Burgundy carpet and periwinkle paint may be great for some people! But not for us.

Lesson #5: Everything will take twice (or ten times!) longer and cost plenty more than you think. This old DIY adage should be common knowledge for us by now, but we’re still learning. This might be our third floor (our sunroom and our living room look beautiful!) but it was with an entirely new material, and one that we probably should have researched a bit more in advance. The floor is in, and it looks gorgeous, and we’re so pleased with it, but it didn’t come without plenty of sweat and tears and temper tantrums. With every single project, though, we learn and we progress and we become better and better. And that’s all we can ask for.

 

Farm update: January 6

Hello there, and a very happy new year to you and yours. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! If you’re returning after our hiatus, thanks for coming back! We look forward to sharing a new year of food and farm adventures with you.

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Our updated Snow Management Plan in action!

Last winter – our first winter at Quiet Farm – our area received an unprecedented amount of snow. Our inaugural Snow Management Plan was…ineffective, shall we say; we had no tractor and no plow and no way of getting out of our quarter-mile driveway with a foot of snow on the ground. At one point, we resorted to begging a friend with a truck to flatten the snow by driving up and down our lane so we could at least leave the farm (thanks, Joe!). Needless to say, that was not a sustainable long-term solution.

This winter we haven’t had nearly as much snow, but we do have a plan – a detachable plow for our ATV. And so far, the ATV plow has worked like a champion. We’re even thinking of purchasing other implements for the ATV, so that we can use it like a mini-tractor, since we’ve been unsuccessful in finding a reasonably-priced midsize tractor to manage our pasture. Stay tuned.

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Roasted vegetables, quinoa, greens and a bright, flavorful dressing. Dinner sorted.

What are you cooking these days? Just as we don’t celebrate the holidays in the traditional manner, we also don’t punish ourselves in January like most of America. When it comes to eating well, consistency and moderation – neither particularly revolutionary or interesting or profitable – are the keys to success. We eat mostly plant-based, so a plate of raw or sauteed greens topped with grains, a mess of deeply caramelized vegetables and some sort of vibrant sauce, plus nuts and seeds and sharp, salty cheese for texture and contrast, is a perfect meal any time of year. Roast all your vegetables, cook your grains and make your dressings on the weekend, then eat variations for lunch and dinner throughout the week. Remember, cooking and eating well isn’t punishment, and food isn’t supposed to make you miserable.

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An apple a day and all that.

Speaking of what we’re eating, fresh, local fruit is in obviously short supply in deepest winter. We have dried and frozen cherries and canned peaches from last summer, but the fresh produce options in our grocery store aren’t spectacular, to say the least. Thankfully, though, we live in Colorado’s apple basket! Stored correctly, fresh apples can actually last up to a year – and we’re still able to buy a half-bushel (about 25 pounds) from our neighbor for just a few dollars. Last season’s apple crop was badly damaged by hail and other weather catastrophes, so we’re happy to keep supporting local growers however we can. (If you buy an American-grown apple in summer, you’re buying one from the previous fall. Thankfully apples don’t carry expiration dates or everyone would completely freak out about eating ten-month-old “fresh” fruit.)

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Never mind the quilt…just look at that gorgeous deer fence!

Beyond reading and baking bread, winter is also for sewing. Some years back a friend gave me stacks of apple-themed fabrics she didn’t want, and I carefully packed them away. Then, of course, we moved to apple country and so an apple-themed quilt seemed just the ticket. I’ve sewn a couple of quilts previously for family but definitely consider myself merely a beginner; this was the first quilt I made just for me and I’m quite pleased with how it came out. My favorite aspect of quilting is that you take something that would otherwise be thrown out and make it into something warm and comforting and lovely. And yes, I probably should have been born in the 1850s. (Feel free to send me your fabric scraps if you want to see them here in future quilt projects!)

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This bird is rather easy to identify (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

We are excited to announce that we have a pair of nesting bald eagles about a mile from the farm. Last spring we tracked a mated pair up on a nearby mesa, but we’ve never seen any so close to us and we’re thrilled to look for them on chilly walks almost every day. Did you know that the female bald eagle is larger than the male, and that she can have a wingspan of over seven feet? These are truly majestic birds, and seeing them regularly is just one of the many great things about living where we do.

Thanks for reading, friends. We’re looking forward to a terrific year at Quiet Farm, and we’re so pleased to have you here.

P.S. Two years ago we were at the National Western Stock Show! And three years ago we started our round-the-world trip in Japan!

 

Farm update: October 21

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The south lawn of our house makes a peaceful resting spot.

Is it autumn where you live? Is it crisp and cool with bright scarlet and gold leaves everywhere? Is it dark when you wake up in the morning? It is here, and we’re settling into this brief transition season before winter extends its icy grip. Much of our work these days involves cleaning, tidying, preserving, covering and generally setting things in place for the colder months. We try to take advantage of these bluebird fall days for as long as we can; once the snows come, we won’t be working outside much.

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Growing garlic takes forever, but it’s worth the wait.

Ninety of this season’s largest garlic cloves have been planted in a bed newly prepared with lots of rich compost. Last year’s garlic went into an existing cinderblock bed that was here when we moved in; a few weeks ago we broke that bed down and dispersed the soil into new trenches for garlic and asparagus. The cloves will slumber quietly here over the winter, and in the spring we’ll hopefully see green garlic peeking up through mulch and snow. Every year we’ll plant more and more garlic; we eat a lot of it, of course, but since garlic adapts to its unique environment, we want a generous quantity to save for planting.

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The water runs through a culvert underneath our driveway and out into our pasture. You can see our flume in the upper right.

We ran our irrigation water for the first time this season, and it went surprisingly well. Our pasture isn’t planted right now so the irrigation run was more of an experiment to see how the water would move through our gated pipe system. We own shares in a local creek that pulls water from reservoirs on the Grand Mesa; when we want to run water we order a certain amount for a certain period and that water is deducted from our account. This run was for two days (forty-eight hours straight!) and it requires a lot of hands-on management, mainly opening and closing gates manually in the big pipes. When we’re more comfortable with our irrigation we won’t need to babysit it as much, but we’re unleashing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water mere feet from our house, and we definitely want to pay close attention to where it’s going.

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Our tomato crop redeemed itself after a rocky start.

We harvested all of our vegetables prior to our recent hard freeze and brought in just over one hundred pounds of green, unripe tomatoes. In the past I’ve never had good luck ripening tomatoes indoors, but for whatever reason these are ripening quite well. They’re no longer good to eat fresh – the overnight temperatures dropped too low, so the tomatoes taste as though they’ve been refrigerated – but they’re perfect for sauces, soups and purees. A pantry stocked with canned homegrown tomatoes is a winter gift indeed.

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One of our little saplings, hopefully protected from winter weather (and deer). 

We’ve hustled recently to layer all of our fruit tree saplings with warm winter mulch. Some of our little trees look healthy and others are…struggling. We’re hopeful that the mulch blanket will keep the trees protected from our harsh winter weather, since their root systems are likely to still be quite delicate. One of our priority spring projects next year will be to put a drip irrigation system in the orchard so we can stop watering the trees by hand.

We’re back to work, friends. We wish you a good week.

 

Save our seeds

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Our first hard frost is forecast this week, so there is much to be done. In addition to lots of canning and preserving, autumn on a small homestead means saving seeds. We’ve talked about the importance of seed saving previously, and each season we’re working on expanding our seed bank. Never before has it been so important to save our own seeds and thereby take responsibility for our own food supply; as seed companies are again and again snapped up by massive agrochemical conglomerates, our control of our own seeds – our fundamental birthright, and the source of our food supply – becomes ever more tenuous.

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Most lettuces and other salad greens encase their seeds in little windblown puffballs.

As I wrote in our previous seed post, “Today, nearly three-quarters of all seeds planted in the U.S. – both unmodified and genetically engineered varieties – are privately owned and controlled by three large agrichemical corporations. Growing food is a basic human right, and we are quickly moving towards a future in which we will no longer own the source of our food. Lack of food leads to hunger, which leads to unrest, which leads to revolution, which leads to profitable wars benefitting those same corporations. Building our own seed banks, even if technically illegal, means we still have some say in our food supply. Seed saving is a small but powerful act of resistance.”

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You can pickle that

Are you swimming in zucchini and other summer squashes right now? We are, and grateful for it; if not for squash and kale and basil, I wouldn’t have grown much of anything this season. But what to do with all that zucchini, once you’ve grilled it in thick slices and tossed it with pasta and made overly-sweet not-at-all-healthy zucchini bread and so on? Those plants keep producing, even the surprise volunteers that showed up in the potato towers and the compost pile. Well, you could pickle that.

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What to do when the zucchini are threatening to take over.

The Quiet Farm household isn’t a huge fan of traditional cucumber dill pickles. I’ve tried them all the ways over the years – even traditional barrel fermentation, which meant that I once dumped five gallons of moldy, slimy cucumbers and their brine into our overwhelmed compost pile back at our old house in Denver – and it’s never been something that we’ve loved. (One of my sacrosanct rules of preserving: only make what you’ll actually eat.) Our altitude means that canned vegetables have to be processed much longer in a boiling water bath so pickles are almost always soggy; limp, overcooked cucumbers aren’t my thing. Also, even though I adore sharp, acidic flavors, standard vinegar pickles are sometimes just…too much.

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The FAQ Series: Tomatoes

People think of tomatoes as a summer crop – as in June and July summer. And perhaps you live in a Magical Land of Elves and Unicorns (hello, Florida and southern California!) where field-grown tomatoes are available virtually year-round. Here in western Colorado, however, field-grown tomatoes don’t come on strong until August and September – but of course all the food blogs and magazines are telling us that it’s now time for apple cider and winter squash and pumpkin spice everything. It’s a confusing period, this shoulder season.

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Seed packets offer plenty of information – and if it’s an heirloom, they’ll be sure to mention it.

There is no debate that tomatoes are the star of the garden. They’re by far the most popular crop for home gardeners as well as the biggest seller at farmers’ markets, and more tomatoes are grown each year than any other fruit in the world – including apples and bananas. There are more than twenty thousand known varieties of tomatoes, and new cultivars are developed every year.

Like the word organic, the word heirloom gets thrown around a lot in reference to tomatoes. But what is an heirloom tomato, exactly? And why do they cost five dollars a pound?

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Small victories

In ten years of growing food, this is by far the most challenging season we’ve ever experienced. Between punishing hail, voracious deer, late snows, devastating winds, crafty rodents and ten million grasshoppers (I’m certain the locusts are on their way), we feel we’ve taken everything the world can throw at new farmers. We might be down, we might be bruised, but we’re not out yet. And in that spirit, how about we count up some wins?

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Thanks, sunflowers, for cheering us on with your bright faces.

Our farm is awash in sunflowers right now, not one of which we planted. They weren’t here last year when we moved in (historic drought?), but we’re so glad to see them this year. Hopefully they’ll continue to self-seed and their cheerful countenances will be part of every summer here.

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Coming home to roost

One of the many reasons we were drawn to Quiet Farm was its collection of rather ramshackle yet usable outbuildings. Since keeping chickens for eggs (and entertainment) was always a top priority, renovating the chicken house was definitely high on our project list.

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The ‘before’ photo, in bleakest winter.

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The original nest boxes on the far wall indicate that this may previously have been used as a henhouse.

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The Farm Series: I-Guana Farm

As we’ve discussed previously, Quiet Farm is located in the “fruit basket” of Colorado. The Western Slope produces Colorado’s revered Palisade peaches, along with apples, cherries, plums, apricots, table grapes and wine grapes. Fruit grows so well here because the climate doesn’t experience the significant diurnal swings common on the Front Range. (In February 2018, the temperature in Denver dropped 72 degrees in forty hours.) Fruit trees, especially once they’re in flower, cannot survive extreme temperature shifts, so harvesting fruit on the Front Range is hit-or-miss. It’s hit-or-miss over here, too, as all farming is, but with a lot more hits than misses.

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Last year – our first year as official Western Slope residents – we ate ourselves silly on local peaches, plums, cherries and apples. The apricots, though, were lost to a late spring freeze, so while a few orchards had a very small amount of fruit to sell, it wasn’t widely available and we missed out entirely. This year, between our record snowfall and ideal spring weather, the fruit growers in our area have a bumper crop of just about everything, with apricots no exception. We’re even seeing wild apricot trees, heavy with fruit, growing on roadsides around us. It’s been a banner year.

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