Filling the Gap

Sitting at the library the other day I overheard a man telling a boy about a site he had visited in Peru.  “There were stone walls there, stones in all sorts of shapes, not just rectangles and squares, but odd shapes like pentagons and diamonds, all fitted together to make huge, sturdy walls.  The stones were carved so exactly and fit together so tightly that you can’t even slip a butter knife between them,” he said.  I have visited this site in Cusco and marveled at the walls and heard the same comment from the guide who was showing us around.

Although the fellow in the library went on to conjecture that such engineering was impossible for humans to have mastered some four thousand years ago, and therefore proof of alien visits to earth, I know what it took for the ancient Incans to construct the walls.  It took strong backs, master craftsmen, organization, resources, and will power.

It will take something similar to build our farm.  Yeah, alright, something similar on a much smaller scale.  My back is not strong.  I know this as a fact, as several days ago, in the middle of pruning brambles and pulling weeds along the fence line I tried to rise from my squatting position, heard something go ‘crack’ and found myself frozen in pain in a half crouch.  Ow! A day of ice, pain killers and rest, and two days of walking with a cane made me very aware that age is catching up with me.  I do not have a strong back.  The kids are new to manual labor and while enthusiastic (until the heat overcomes them) are also unskilled and tire easily.  We are very lucky that the family member we are staying with, although also suffering from some of the creaks and twinges of age, does still have a strong back and is willing to help us out with the heavy lifting.

  He is also the master craftsman among us – coming up with solutions to the barn repair problems that are more creative and inexpensive to implement than my more mainstream ideas.   Too bad he has a day job!  Thanks to his engineering skills and strong back we have begun to fill the gap below the barn wall.  Soon we will have the first goat pen completed.

  Unlike the Inca Kings, our resources are extremely limited and dwindling fast.  Thanks to the much lower than desired sale price of our old trailer, and the mishaps and additional costs along our journey we arrived with only a very small nest egg.  We have attempted to keep costs low; accepting a neighbor’s help to mow the pasture, borrowing tools, scrounging many of the supplies we are using (scraps of sheet metal, bits of board and concrete) and purchasing others cheaply from the Habitat Restore.

  Nevertheless, some purchases of new material were necessary (330 feet of goat fence set us back nearly $300) and our nest egg is exhausted.  Although we hope to have the pen and pasture ready shortly, we won’t be able to purchase any animals until I find work and save some money.  With any luck (long time readers are rolling their eyes now as our track record with luck is dismal – but perhaps we’ve turned that corner?) that will be soon.  Does will be bred in fall and expecting does are sometimes available in September or October and I’d like to purchase up to half a dozen then.  I’ve applied for half a dozen jobs since we arrived and will be putting in applications for another three or four this week (still waiting on the background check for the substitute teacher application and the college transcripts for the extension agent job).


  Several other aspects of our farm are either on hold, or scheduled for later in the year as well.  Both bees and chicks are more available and easily transitioned into the farm in early spring.  Bees need to build up a honey base to survive the first winter in a new hive so buying them now would be counterproductive.  The relative whose farm we are using has suggested since she has room in her hen house, we purchase chicks in the spring and eventually move them into her coop.  We can share expenses and eggs.  While laying hens are available now, any new inhabitants would need to be quarantined before being introduced to the flock and we don’t have a structure available to do that.  The spring chicks can be easily quarantined indoors until they are ready to join the flock.

Gardening is also likely to wait until spring, although we may try some fall veggies in a modified greenhouse.  Again our farmer relative has suggested we just plant in her vegetable garden, where the soil has already been built up.  A tour of her garden illustrates some of the difficulties of the sustainable life.  The extended heat wave has wreaked havoc with many of the plants, even though the additional watering has kept the plants growing, beans are yet to appear and the tomatoes are slow to ripen. Squash and scale bugs have sucked the moisture from the plants, causing sturdy vines to wither and collapse overnight leaving their stunted fruit marooned on the ground.  It’s a reality check and a different picture than the richly green plants bursting with luscious ripe produce that entice me from the pages of my sustainable living guide books.

So for now we will begin the Boxcarkids Farm in a small way – with a few angora rabbits (the kids objected to raising meat rabbits).  This area is known for its arts and crafts and there is a strong local interest in hand spinning and fiber work.  Since our relatives are very involved in the arts community we have a line into several venues at which to sell the raw angora wool. We are very excited to be adding our first ‘livestock’ to the farm this afternoon.

We will continue to work on the goat pasture and barn and I’ll continue to work on my database of networking activities for goat sales – for example, getting in touch with the local Muslim and Jewish community organizations, and the butchers who cater to ethnic restaurants.  This week is Fair week and we’ll be talking to local families who raise dairy and meat goats, and attending the shows and auctions to get an idea of the characteristics of the best goats and the prices they command. We want to be ready when we have the funds.

We cannot match the Incas; our walls still have gaps to be filled, but we are organized and excited and we have a wealth of enthusiasm and determination!  Stay tuned for further updates and the unveiling of the Boxcarkids Farm Page – coming soon!

 Note – we have limited communication presently, having fallen behind on the phone bills and lost smart phone service, so comments will only be moderated when we are at the public library where we can enjoy internet access.  I’m not ignoring you – just ignorant of your attempt to communicate!  Sorry!

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16 Responses to Filling the Gap

  1. Anne says:

    Re: squash bugs. I’ve had problems with them, too. A friend told me to sprinkle cornstarch on the blossoms. It seems to be working. I punch some small holes in an old, disposable plastic container and filled it with cornstarch. I tend to sprinkle it not just on the blossoms but kind of all over the place. And it seems to be working. I have to do it every few days but am seeing a bumper crop of squash.

  2. Taylor says:

    Hi, I am an avid reader of your blog, but have never commented.

    I was wondering if you have considered planting fruit trees and bushes on your farm? Many trees require minimal care relative to the amount of fruit that they produce.

    I am also going to try to grow my own blueberry plants from seeds. According to the internet (which never lies! Ha.), you can purchase actual blueberries from the grocery store, freeze them, grind or mash them, let the seeds sink to the bottom, and then sow the seeds in a shallow cardboard box, keeping the soil moist.

    Anyway, I thought that might be helpful to you. The more I research blueberries, the more I wondered why every property doesn’t have several plants and every family doesn’t have some. I really wondered when I went to the grocery store and saw the prices for them. And then I really, really wondered when I read all of the studies on the health benefits of the berries. And then I really really wondered about why I didn’t grow them myself, as you don’t have to spray them and can apparently grow them organically or nearly organically with little or no effort.

    Anyway, the plants are supposed to give berries their first year, and after a couple of years, just a few plants are supposed to yield huge crops.

    I just wanted to share, as this might be one of those fun things you could do with the kiddos while getting a head start on the garden.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Odd that you should bring up blueberries – during the tour of her garden, my relative mentioned that they had tried blueberries for a few years without success, perhaps due to the soil. Blackberries and raspberries do well although there is great competition from the birds who also like the berries!

  3. zelda says:

    I have a suggestion for getting you through the winter. If you have access to a sewing machine and if you have some old Tshirts or can go buy some old tshirts or flannels from a thrift store, you could make some homemade cloth diapers. The covers are easy and the liners or prefold diapers are so easy you can make ten or more a night. I made some for a friend of mine as a baby shower gift, and she and her friends commissioned me to make more and since they sell for like 30 bucks for one cover with one prefold, imagine how much money one can make selling them. Take them to a craft fair and soon you will start getting orders. There are tons of free patterns online, but I managed to buy one and made my pattern from the one I bought. I have made tons of diaper covers, all in ones, and prefold soakers. They can be made from old tshirts, flannel pjs, old flannel sheets, or even old towels. Plus, I make cloth baby wipes and they sell as quickly as the diapers. Check on line for free cloth diapers pattern.

    • Celeste says:

      Take a look at the beautiful ones made of premium fabrics on Etsy to see what fetches the higher price, though. There may be a market for ones made of “up-cycled” old t-shirts, but I personally doubt that somebody would pay top dollar for them.

      There is also a market for cloth menstrual pads, something else to consider making if you have sewing ability.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks! Interesting idea. Although we jettisoned many boxes to lighten the trailer load, for some reason we did bring along the kids sewing machine. I’ll have to unpack it and see what I can do (I’m not the best at sewing though).

      • zelda says:

        When I started making the prefolded diapers and the diaper covers, I was only making them for family and friends, but friends of family and friends of friends started contacting me, so I made a variety of diapers from all in one to covers and all the ones in between. What I found is that you can actually use the used material in the inside layers for online sales. My friends and I began making them and while we wanted to get our business up and running online, we have enough business locally. Mostly word of mouth. Typically, when I make those that use recycled materials, I do charge less and I do those buying them that I have recycled. The idea that I am recycling has made the cloth diapers much more appealing to many young mothers. My granddaughter is helping me so she can save money to get her a new bike. The last craft fair that we took our things to, we sold all of our diapers, cloth baby wipes, bibs, and we even sold the recieving blankets that we made and we came home with orders to make more. One of the local churches contacted me to hold classes for some of the women to teach them how to make the diapers and they turned their sewing project into a project to make money for missionaries. They are going strong too. So, it’s a thought. Post on bulletin boards, online, at libraries and local churches. Once you make a few and get them out there, you will see…there will be no stopping you. And, after cutting them out, sewing them up is super fast. I rarely put the snaps on, but mostly use velcro. Most mothers want the velcro. Play with some free patterns using old shirts and when you get it right, put the word out. You will have money to buy your goats in no time.

      • boxcarkids says:

        Thanks – we unearthed the sewing machine (it’s been in storage for 3 years) and I was smart enough to pack it with all the bits and pieces and instructions! I’ll be on the lookout for some fabric and patterns. My daughters want to help – we will see how that goes.

  4. wondering says:

    The weeds are the worst thing, I find. If you are getting into gardening, make sure you have something on hand for mulching: straw, newspaper, cardboard, whatever – helps to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. Otherwise, if you are seeding right into the ground (and not building garden boxes) especially in ground that hasn’t been used as a garden before – the battle with the weeds will be a killer.

  5. Eliza says:

    your farming relatives will probably think this is crazy. Several years ago I bought a couple of pumpkins the day after halloween when they were marked down to 25 cents each and threw them into a corner of the yard. I raked a bunch of leaves over them and left them to rot for the winter. In the spring dozens of pumpkins had sprouted. So now we have dozens and dozens of pumpkins every year, with no labor. I got this idea from a friend who used to have watermelon parties in her yard every year. She’d have all the guests eat watermelon outside and have them spit the seeds into a corner of the yard, and every spring the seeds would have sown themselves and come up. I think this year I will be adding watermelons and zucchini to the mix!

  6. Rachael says:

    The heat wave no doubt will impact your goals. It’s not something you could have known or really prepared for.. just something to deal with now. I wonder if you are doing a siesta type schedule? Wake before the sun to begin your chores, stop by noon and eat, and a good long sleep during the hottest parts, and then evening chores when the sun tips back.

    I would definitely recommend doing a little fall planting. To get your process down and give you an idea of what a big spring planting will entail. I was so proud of myself, this year I sprouted Chard and Roma tomatoes, 1 pack of seeds each, nurtured them in tiny peat pots until after the last frost, and then into the ground, and they are still producing edibles. Go me! You can do it, too 🙂

  7. Rita says:

    Where are you in Indiana. I live here and there may be several people willing to help a little. I hope things get better. It all just sounds to hard in this heat. Many prayers.

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