The sky is white and the trees are bare. The temperature is a bizarre and humid 70 something degrees Fahrenheit. It has been raining cats and dogs for days,and the wind that blows up the ridge is frightening at times. Every day there are new maple branches to drag away to the brush pile. The creek is high and running fast. Josh and I just hiked down to the pasture to take some measurements so we can estimate our fencing costs. We watched huge trees being effortlessly whisked downstream in the muddy current. The bluff on the opposite side of the creek is playing host to several beautiful waterfalls. You could feel the roar of the rushing water. Incredible. I still can't believe we live here.
The farm name we settled on is Cardinal Ridge. One of the first things we noticed after moving in was the large number of cardinals that flock here every morning and evening. I have never seen cardinals come or go in a flock. In a pair, yes. But we easily have about 2 dozen that regularly come like a flock of starlings and visit our bird feeders and bushes looking for seeds. And since our house sits on a ridge overlooking the pastures and creek, we thought Cardinal Ridge was the perfect farm name. So there it is!
After church yesterday we drove around our former stomping grounds to run errands. The place seemed so foreign to me, like we hadn't lived there for years. It's only been a few months here at our new place but it seems like forever because we have been so busy trying to fix up the old farmhouse and settle into the property. We currently only have one exceptionally outdated and tiny bathroom. There are 3 bedrooms downstairs and 2 almost finished rooms upstairs. When we need to replace the roof in a few years, we want to have new trusses put in so we can raise the height of the upstairs room, install dormers to allow more light and air in, and expand the rooms. If it's possible, I would even like to try to install another bathroom upstairs. (I keep referring to the upstairs as "The Dorms" whenever Josh and I talk about moving the kids up there.) I want to combine two of the bedrooms downstairs into one master suite with our own bathroom and leave the other as an office/guest room with a Murphy bed.
Our farm is almost 70 acres. The homestead sits on about 2 acres on a ridge above the bottom pasture. Beyond the pasture is Johnson Creek, a major water source for the area. It is a large, and in some places, very deep, creek the meanders its way along the boundaries of our property. After a good rain, the creek turns an opaque brown color, sort of like coffee with milk, with strong rapids and our pastures become a shallow swamp in many places. Where the yard tapers down towards the pasture is a wooded hill that would be perfect for pigs. I want to thin out the trees and plant some oaks there so that in the fall we can finish them on acorns. The acorns are high in tannins (the compound in leaves that turns puddles and creeks brown, it gives tea it's color) which not only give the meat a delicious flavor, but also help preserve the meat so that lasts longer.
We have already installed new flooring in most of the living spaces in the house to cover the old asbestos laminate. The dark wood paneling on the walls in the living and dining rooms has been painted a creamy white color to brighten up the space. It makes a huge difference in the feel of the whole house. The basement now houses 51 noisy, smelly guinea keets. They will be 4 weeks old tomorrow. They are supposed to be kept indoors for 8 weeks, but the smell is so offensive and they are so big and feathery that Josh is building 2 movable pens for them so we can keep them outside. At night they will be moved close one of our outbuildings so they can have a heat lamp to keep warm. The goal is to have them moved out by Friday. Once they are allowed out full time their job will be to gobble up ticks and snakes around the farm. We will leave them to reproduce on their own and will coop them up at night to try to maintain a steady population. They are also excellent "watch-dogs" and will sound the alert if anything out of the ordinary is going on or there is a visitor on the property.
We also have 3 Silver Fox rabbits, a buck and two does. When the does have reached their mature weight we will breed them to the buck. The babies will be raised and eaten and their pelts tanned to sell to crafters. Josh is also working on building a movable rabbit pen so that they can be mostly grass-fed. Their manure will be a perfect fertilizer for the lawn and pasture. Right now they live in three separate cages outside in our "barnage", (this is the building beside the house that looks like a barn, but functions like a garage.) While they have very sweet temperaments, they are still skittish so we have been trying to socialize them to help them be more comfortable around us.
An order of chicks will be arriving in the middle of February, bees and beekeeping equipment are scheduled for an April delivery and turkeys will join the menagerie in May, just in time to start fattening them up for Thanksgiving! Josh has been taking orders from his coworkers and friends from church have also expressed an interest in purchasing meat and eggs from our farm.
I realize this all sounds ambitious. When I write it all out like this I find myself thinking, "Woah! What on earth are we doing!?" We have previous experience with keeping rabbits, so that is something we are comfortable with. The birds have been pretty simple, and once they move outside will only get easier. Right now we have to muck out their brooding pen (which is delightful), feed them and water them. When they move outside, we will just need to keep their feeders and waterers full and move their coop to a new location each day. No more bedding to lug in and out of the basement and to change each day and no escaped birds to catch and put back in with the rest of the group.
Josh has been receiving trailers of very sturdy wood which had been previously used to hold the large windows being installed in his company's new headquarters being built in downtown Nashville. It is a LEEDS project, so the window company is giving all of the wood to us for free if we just come pick it up when the trailer is full. They are happy to get rid of it. We have already gotten two and there are at least 6 more to come! The building will be about 15 stories and will have lots of windows. It is this wood that we are building the coops out of, and probably will be able to also use it for fencing.
Once the rabbits are in their movable pen, it will be the same thing. Move them to new pasture, make sure they have water, etc. Now the bees are going to take the most work because we have no idea what we are doing. Our neighbor is the head of the Cheatham County Beekeeping Association and is going to help us get going. James loves stinging insects and has asked our neighbor if he would take him as an apprentice. (Weird, I know. But oh-so-handy if you like honey and food. Without bees, there would be neither!)
Josh has been looking for a tractor so he can work the overgrown pastures and prepare them for livestock. He just hasn't found one that fit our budget and our needs and we really need to get working in the pastures. One idea he is pursuing right now is buying a few goats to rotate through the pastures in order to clear the brush and weeds. After the goats go through, he wants to run some pigs in there to let them dig it all up. Then he can go in and broadcast seed by hand and get something growing there for the chickens and rabbits.
We won't be raising any dairy animals yet, so milking won't be an issue. We also aren't breeding any large livestock yet, so we won't have to deal with any problems associated with laboring animals. When it comes to butchering we have a friend who was a missionary in Africa for several years and has lots of experience butchering goats. Our neighbor used to be an avid hunter and now manages the Research Farm for the University of Tennessee, so between the two of them and YouTube, Josh should be able to manage that just fine. There is a smokehouse in the backyard that we are very eager to try out once we have some fat pigs!
We are in the process of applying for a Tax ID and now that we finally have an internet connection (via satellite, since there are no other options out here!), we are researching how to establish a website.
In the future we hope to build some small cabins on the property and offer them as vacation rentals. We have some nice land for hiking and horse riding trails in the back and could cater to that niche. Josh and I have picked out about 4 or 5 different cabin sites, all out of sight and earshot of each other, with lots of privacy and beautiful views. There is one cabin site Josh found two weeks ago up on a bluff. He didn't realize it was on our property until he went out laying boundary stakes with our neighbor. I haven't seen it yet for myself, but Josh said that it overlooks the creek but is high enough to also give views of the surrounding hills. That is where we would like to build a large family sized cabin. All in due time!
Some fun things that have happened or we have learned since moving here are:
1. Josh promised to buy Lydia her very own zebra to raise. (Don't ask...I still have no idea what he was thinking!)
2. Gideon is terrified of any and all insects. Most especially ladybugs. And ladybugs abound here at Cardinal Ridge. I wish I could have recorded his shrieking when he accidentally stepped on a slug last week. It was incredible.
3. We participated in an auction at a home 1/4 mile away from our farm and won 4 beds for a total of $2! We also won a HUGE working chest freezer for $30, a box of cast iron pans for $15 and a glass punch bowl set for $4. It was SO MUCH FUN! (The 2000+ square foot home, workshop and it's 15 acres on Johnson Creek on only sold for $19,000!)
4. We have gotten to know 4 of the men and women that grew up in this house and have learned some fascinating family history as well as local history. Their grandfather's family was one of the two families who founded Charlotte, TN. Their family owned all of the property on this side of the creek, and another family owned the property on the other side.
5. There used to be several county roads that criss-crossed throughout our property. One of them was the road the original post office sat on, and was also the location of the lynchings that used to happen here way back when. (The lynchings did NOT occur on our property!)
6. There are abnormally large and freakish looking spiders here. They randomly hang down on strands of web from trees and catch on your windshield, or face, whichever happens to come in contact with it first. I've also found that the wolf spiders here can survive an entire wash cycle in a washing machine.
7. Our post office, which is a good 20-25 minutes away, is in the town SQUARE. We actually have a town square! This is where our courthouse is, which is special, because it is the oldest courthouse still in use today in the United States!
Now, I have to try to figure out how to download the pictures off of my camera so I can upload them here and show you our little paradise! Once we get a 2nd bathroom installed, call or email to plan a visit!