The Farm Report: Autumn

      23 Comments on The Farm Report: Autumn

Ahhh, there’s nothing like the autumn colors in Tennessee.  Last year the house was still being renovated when the leaves turned, so we had to drive out to the farm to enjoy the colors. This year I was able to just walk out to the pastures.  Here are a few pictures I snapped over the weekend.

Playing disc golf out in the pastures is a great way to enjoy the fall scenery and weather.  My work buddy Jim Taylor (who hosted what my daughter Alana dubbed “The best Thanksgiving ever!” last year) drove down on Saturday with four of his kids to join us for several rounds.  Jim rarely plays, never practices, and doesn’t even own a set of discs … so of course he tied me on our last round of the day.

Okay, this part of the land doesn’t look so wonderful at the moment.   A crew came by last week and told us they’re required to cut all foliage 20 feet back from the electric wires that cross over one of our pastures.

They’re not leaving this mess for us to clean up, fortunately.  I asked what they do with all the downed branches, and the foreman told me they chip ’em up and haul ’em away.  Well, it so happens Chareva was planning to create a wood-chip garden next spring.  She was inspired by the documentary Back To Eden, which explains how a wood-chip garden smothers weeds, soaks up water, forms new topsoil, etc.  We’ve even talked about buying a wood chipper for the project.

So she asked the foreman if perhaps they could haul the wood chips to our back pasture instead of out to some dump.  No problem, he replied, you’d actually be doing me a favor, making it an easier job.  Well in that case, she asked, how about bringing us a few loads of wood chips from the other nearby areas you’re clearing?  No problem, he replied.  So our wood-chip garden project just got a whole lot easier.

Now that  autumn is here we’ve had some chilly nights, perfect for a fireplace or wood-burning stove. The last time Chareva’s parents visited, they brought us an old wood-burning stove they weren’t using anymore.  A couple of weeks ago, Chareva hired a local company called Sweeps & Ladders to install the stove in our dining room.  I applauded her choice of contractors because Tommy Nelms, the owner, is a firefighter with the Franklin Fire Department.  You can bet he made sure the charming brick hearth he constructed for the stove is fire-safe.  The bricks are actually an inch in front of the wall, with vents at the top and bottom to provide air flow and avoid transferring heat to the drywall.

Last winter we experienced a power outage and had no way to cook or heat the house until I ran out to buy a kerosene heater.  Now that our fireplace is working and the wood-burning stove is installed, we’re a little better prepared.  When Chareva’s brother and father got the stove going for the first time on Friday night, it put out so much heat that we ended up opening a window to cool down the room a bit.

Autumn is my favorite time of the year.   All within 2 ½ months, we have Chareva’s birthday, Halloween, Sara’s birthday, my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.   Now that we live in the sticks, I’ll also be celebrating the end of the bug season.  I haven’t seen a tick in a few weeks now, but one bug decided to give me a going-away present.

As I was standing in our kitchen, I felt something land on my neck.  I swatted at it, thinking it was probably a mosquito.  As soon as my hand touched it, I knew it was too big to be a mosquito.  My hand-swat launched whatever it was into a wall, which it struck hard before falling behind a short bookcase full of cookbooks.  A few seconds later I was aware of a sharp little pain in my neck.

What the heck was that thing? I wondered.

So I got out a flashlight and looked behind the bookcase.  There was a wasp crawling in the gap between the bookcase and the wall.  (I have a bit of a history with wasps, which I’ve recounted on my other blog.)  I grabbed a board we use as a barrier to keep the dogs out of our living room and slammed it behind the bookcase, flattening the little winged demon.

Later I noticed an open window in Chareva’s office.  I turns out Alana had opened that window to have an important conversation with the dogs as they romped in the back yard.  I explained to Alana that Daddy really, really doesn’t like being stung by wasps and would prefer she not invite them into the house anymore by leaving windows wide open.  She agreed to honor the request.

I only swelled up a little bit, and the sting wasn’t nearly as painful as other wasp stings I’ve had the misfortune to experience.  I think the wasp probably started to sting me just as I was in mid-swat, then got slapped away before the stinger could penetrate very far.  I hope the first frost comes soon and the wasps go away until next summer.


23 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Autumn

  1. Lobstah

    That’s a beautiful Vermont Castings stove. I’ve used two of that same model in two different homes, and they are truly a joy to own and operate. And yes, they absolutely crank out heat when run in “burn” mode. One addition I’d suggest, if you don’t already have one, is one of the small, magnetic thermometers to place on the flu stack, usually about 12″ up from the stove. Good way to keep an eye on what’s happening, and helps maintain an optimum burn temp in the stove.

    Sorry you got hit by the wasp. They’re a pain, literally.

    That’s an excellent idea.

  2. Mary D.

    Tom, I live “in the sticks”, too, and found that screens in the windows are an absolute necessity! I’m sorry you got stung, but screens are the only way to go in rural areas – especially in the fall when wasps and hornets are fierce.

    We have several windows with screens, but Alana chose to open one without. I’ll fix that soon.

  3. LCNana

    Lovely to see your land and read how much you are enjoying it, Tom. I gotta tell ya though that when I lived in the South many years ago what drove me North again were the bugs! I still have nightmares about the cockroaches we had to live with in Florida and South Carolina – and even in D.C. The Key West people visit now is nothing like what it was 30 years ago!!!!!

    Yes, I now have to live with -20 and lots of ice and snow all winter – but it is a way to kill the damned things!!

    The bugs are about the only thing I don’t like about living here.

  4. chuck

    that wood burning stove is AWESOME! i am so jealous. i know those are heavy. how did your in laws move it? also, choppin’ and haulin’ wood is good old fashioned exercise.

    My father-in-law pulled it up a ramp into his van. He’s 70 but still strong as a chimp. I’ve mentioned him a few times in posts as an example of someone who is lean and strong and has never been fat, yet developed type 2 diabetes. (So much for obesity being the cause of type 2 diabetes.)

    Tommy (the firefighter who owns Sweeps & Ladders) and a sub-contractor moved it from the garage to the dining room. Tommy is built like a defensive lineman. It’s a comfort to meet a firefighter and know without a doubt that he could carry me out of a burning building.

  5. Mark

    Nice place you have there. Here on my side of the state we are nestled right against the mountains. Have already had a couple of nights near freezing. I know how you feel about the wasp. We have European hornets in this area also. Big 2 to 3 inch long behemoths. They definitely make you take notice.

    A run-in with a three-inch hornet would probably produce another scream-like-a-girl incident on my part.

  6. Kathy

    I giggled at Tommy the firefighter carrying you out of a building (I omitted the “burning” part – that’s not funny). Strange the things that give us comfort!

    My dad was a firefighter (fireman, back then) his entire life after getting out of the Army at the end of the war ~ 35 years or so of firefighting. And we have a few firefighter/paramedics in our family now. I have the greatest respect for those who choose that dangerous profession.

    I do as well. After experiencing the surprising intensity of the heat generated by our relatively small burn piles a few weeks back, I can only imagine what the inside of burning building must feel like. It takes a hero to venture into one of those.

  7. Kim

    Love the wood burning stove! That is SO cool. And the scenery around your house is just amazing.

    Also just realized that since you’re in TN, you might be near two places that I love to buy meat from (but being in GA, I have to go really out of my way to get them!). Mother Earth Meats in Maryville carries a wonderful range of beef, bison, lamb, elk, duck … all kinds of treats for carnivores. And Benton’s in Madisonville has some of the best bacon ever – – so smoky you’ll never want to eat grocery store bacon again! I don’t work for them or anything, I swear … I just feel like it’s my duty as a paleo carnivore to tell anyone who lives in TN. 🙂

    I appreciate the tips.

  8. Steven

    With the wood burning stove you should consider installing a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t already have one. They’re required by law in California and they do PSAs about it on a regular basis.

    We do have one.

  9. Jane Reed

    Brava, Chareva, for taking a page from the Back to Eden gardening “book”. I love that film and it inspired me to do more research into mulching and permaculture. I presently live in a townhouse complex in So. Calif. but I have found the city’s mulch dump close to me from which I have hauled many loads to my tiny patches of dirt. The few things I have planted needed hardly any extra water this whole hot summer.

    I’m sure we’ll love it if the wood-chip garden requires less watering.

  10. Jen P.

    One early originator of the no-till organic gardening technique is Ruth Stout:

    She layered hay and compostables all over her garden. I have tried her method and found it terrific especially in dry years. It takes a couple of years to come to maturity, but eventually the first few inches of dirt under the permanent mulch becomes black sponge full of worm castings. If you use this method in conjunction with raised beds that you never step on, your moisture and drainage will be perfect most of the time. I like to set a few bales of hay aside the year before and let them pre-rot over the Winter and Spring. Otherwise the hay seeds will sprout in the garden.

    You might also look up Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza.

    Sounds like an excellent (and easier) way to grow more of our own food.

  11. Gary Rees

    Wood chips as a mulch or a soil amendment tend to be acidic. Depending on your soil type and ph you may need to add some ground limestone (lime)

  12. Exceptionally Brash

    Oh, I loved that movie! One thing I wish they had pointed out more carefully is that he seems to be using more than a bit of manure on his garden. Early-adopters didn’t have the same immediate success with wood chips alone. Lucky for you that you have all that chicken manure.
    This method doesn’t work that well here, either. It can take 5+ years for the chips to disintegrate into decent stuff, two years near areas that can catch some irrigation water.
    I also have my very own copy of the Ruth Stout book. You are almost as funny as she is. Perhaps you can do an update? A movie?

    We’re working on those.

  13. Jen P.

    It’s excellent, but only ‘easier’ if you have a small non-intensive garden and do not practice successive-planting. Just because you’re not technically ’tilling’ doesn’t mean you can give away your shovels.

    I find that I still need to build compost piles and also add a layer of finished leaf mould each Spring (free from my municipal leaf compost center) to keep up the fertility and tilth of my soil. A thick permanent mulch alone will not keep up with the demands of several heavy feeder crops on the same patch of soil year after year.

  14. tracker

    I’m from western North Carolina, and I’ll warn you if you are going to have someone bring you wood, make sure they haven’t been clearing kudzu or poison ivy, or anything else you don’t want or you will never get rid of it. You’ll be fighting kudzu until the end of your days LOL 😀

    They’re cutting and chipping branches that are tall enough to be near electric wires, so there shouldn’t be any poison ivy in the mix … I hope.

  15. ngyoung

    Kinda off topic but have you come across the 3 episode series The Men Who Made Us Fat produced by BBC? I just ran into it on youtube and most of it was pretty good. It was broken into 12 parts on youtube and the first 7-8 had a pretty strong focus on sugar and not fat being the issue and brought up many of the same points that you did in your movie. The host also interviewed Lustig and Taubes. I kinda got disappointed in it by last 1/3 of it when it devolved back into the same fat is bad dogma and then fixing everything through regulation and taxation. It was kind of different also seeing everything from England’s perspective.

    Regardless of the regulation and taxation part I thought it brought to light many good facts that are usually buried by the mainstream. It also spoke to how powerful the food industry has become in keeping food policy in their control. Especially how much food is labeled healthy regardless if it is true or not. I think that was the big sticking point that kept the narration blaming the food industry and removing any blame on the individual. One part I thought was amusing was someone being interviewed saying, “Having the food industry deciding healthy food policy is like having Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

    I’ve heard of that series but haven’t watched it. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that taxes and regulations are the cure. How about getting our governments out of the food and nutrition-advice business to start, then go from there?

  16. junebug

    The farm looks beautiful. I definitely didn’t grow up on a farm, but we had 2 acres of land in what was then ‘the boonies’ (it’s pretty much developed now). We would have to rake the leaves from the lawn and take them out to the back and burn them. Love the smell of burning leaves. My dad would also take the downed branches and make a brush pile to offer shelter for the winter birds.

    If you are going to be using your stove for heat, you can put a pan of water on the top to help humidify the dry winter air. There are also cast iron pots that are made for that purpose. Much prettier than a pan of water.

    Chareva’s parents gave us a cast-iron kettle for exactly that purpose.

  17. Lori

    Re: autumn, I was just in your former hometown (Chicago). Would you believe I saw blossoms on some of the trees in Lincoln Park?

    Yeah, I believe it. I lived in Lincoln Park and used to take long walks through the park for exercise.

  18. Dan S.

    First, let me say you are living my dream; awesome place to live and raise your girls. I grew up in the country and wouldn’t have traded it for anything. My parents have a berm/earth home and a Vermont Casting stove since 1988. The first few winters we cooked ourselves out of the house with how much heat it produced; literally opening the windows in January. I second the thermometer about a foot up the flue. I would also recommend ordering an extra set or two of the plates in the back of the stove. They degrade with time and need replacing for optimum use of the second burn chamber. I think my dad has only replaced them once, but you wouldn’t want them to need replacing during an ice storm. Just a thought. Again, beautiful farm. Absolutely love it and love it more this time of year. Cheers!

    Thanks for the advice.

  19. Nathaniel Russell

    I live in Houston and I desperately want to leave the city. I hope one day I can move my family out and into more open spaces (with trees).

    Good luck. This was the smartest move I’ve ever made.

  20. Lepoth

    Wow, I can’t believe you guys have had the farm for a year now. Time needs to slow down so I can enjoy it a bit more lol

    I feel the same way.

  21. John C Lewis


    I get stung all the time by bee’s, hornets, and yellow jackets. Always running over them with the Tractor when mowing or berry bushes .

    The best ting to do is find or make some mud and place it directly on the sting area. Leave it on the sting for 15 to 20 min and it will never swell up or itch, all you will have is a small red spot.

    My Amish neighbors use cow flop but I’m not that machismo.

    Just a thought from one rural resident to another. Regards: john

    Cow flop? That’s a new one on me.

    1. John C Lewis

      Ya – Cow Flop (noun Slang. cow dung. Origin:1900–05)

      Not to be confused with “Cow Tipping”, That’s a rual sport.

  22. John C Lewis

    BTW: Find a local who is shelling corn and has a pile of cobs left over. Dip the cobs in lamp oil or Minerial spirits (paint thinner) – toss about 8 to 12 on the bottom and cover with small wood and light with a propane torch. Almost instant fire. I heat with wood all winter in Iowa and have learned how to make a fast fire in the cold mornings.

    And the low order 100% minerial spirits works best in the Old kerosene lamps (burns cleaner and brighter) less order. Another Amish trick I’ve learned.

    Regards: john


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