the tiny house : part 1

Last fall we started talking about some sort of structure to build on the farm that we could use as a guest house for visitors and rental income as a farmstay + air bnb. Forever ago, when we were young, we talked about buying an old bed + breakfast as a retirement gig. Our plans shifted, but we still loved the idea of creating + sharing some sort of space here on the farm. Initially we considered canvas tents/cabins. The ease of building only a deck and putting up a structure in a few hours sure seemed nice! But, after weighing options and thinking about it more, we decided a cabin was the way to go for our needs.

At the same time we were dreaming about cabins + tiny houses, our oldest daughter was thinking about her post college plans and we encouraged her to take some time off and live in the cabin. She and her partner (and their two cats!) have been here on the farm with us since late May, just after she graduated unceremoniously due to Covid, and the tiny house project started as soon as they arrived.

Joe looked at a whole lot of plans to come up with his own. 144 square feet is the largest structure you can build without a permit, the cabin is 14×10 with a 8×10 loft (loft space isn’t considered into the square footage). It’s a salt box inspired design, and the loft is six feet at the peak. It’s off the grid, but we have some plans for minimal solar power. We scored some really amazing secondhand items from local friends: a composting toilet, a propane heater, and those lovely 80 inch windows. The cabin is a short walk from our house, but is tucked into a private setting that is very hard to see from the road and overlooks the woods, it’s a really sweet little spot! Aside from the hit our savings account took due to lumber prices being at an all time high (thanks Covid), we are pretty excited about this project.

Here are a few pictures of the process over the last six weeks……..

I’ll be back here soon to share some interior photos with you……

~S

august in the garden…..

Last night I was chatting with my mom on the phone. I haven't seen her for over a year. My parents, brother, and nephews all live in Alaska and our summer + fall travel plans have all been put on hold due to the pandemic. As my mom said last night, "It's hard, but it could definitely be much harder." She's right. She hasn't seen the farm since we've moved in, so I was chatting about the garden and how wild it gets this time of year. Kale waist-high, zucchini tripling in size overnight…..

Our garden last year was four raised beds full of mostly medicinal herbs and just a few basic veggies…..

year one, spring garden

year one, late summer

I shared a little in a previous post about how we expanded things this spring, and now I've finally got some photos to share here. Recent happenings include a terraced row of Munstead Lavender along the hill (righthand side of the first photo below) and the second greenhouse is up. I'm a little late planting for winter, but it's mostly things like radishes and greens, so I think we'll be just fine.

year two, late summer

The original four raised beds are what you can see on the left. Joe had the idea to have these curvy sort of organic-looking beds, which add so much to the magical feeling of the garden this year. You can see three new large beds on the right of the photo. There is a long mostly straight bed at the back with flowers + tomatoes + peppers + culinary herbs, a teardrop-shaped bed in the middle, and a curvy bed on the bottom right. Just out of the frame in the first photo, there is one more perennial medicinal herb + flower bed at the base of the hill on the far right. Also not visible are two 20 foot rows of raspberries to the right of the greenhouse and behind that 15 or so blueberry bushes, 3 rhubarb plants, and a nice two-bay compost setup that Joe built this spring.

second year garden permaculture biodynamic

This photo is looking up towards the house, which is just out of view to the right, you can see a strawberry bed at the top right which will probably become a perennial flower garden next year. I plan to move the strawberry bed into the bottom garden and will likely be fencing it off from our flock of 20+ free-range hens who love rearranging my garden mulch!

The medicinal herbs and veggies are all interplanted in what to some might seem like a bit of a mess, and to others a magical weaving of food and medicine that represents our use of these plant friends…. everything connected and together. Admittedly, this looser gardening style is new to me. In the past, I've been a straight-lines-and-specific-categories type of gardener. But a lot of biodynamic + permaculture reading along with Joe's desire for the garden to feel like it sprung up out of the woods has shifted everything. So far it seems to be working out pretty well…

nasturtium swiss chard rain garden

umpqua broccoli permaculture garden

sunflower rain garden

nasturtium kale chard interplanted permaculture biodynamic garden

green bean flower garden biodynamic permaculture

In between baskets full of harvesting and weeding and preserving food – we're making mental and physical notes of what worked and what didn't. What we need less of or more of next year. It's our first year (ever!) having a garden this size and we've learned a lot about the specific pros and cons to growing food + medicine in this space. I suppose every year will bring knowledge with it, but this first year has seemed especially full of it. 

Here we are though, late August, busier than we've ever been and more times than not still in love with it all….. it's a pretty sweet spot all around.

more soon,

s

grow, harvest, dream…….

Harvest season is in full swing here on the farm. Almost every day we come in with a basket full of something that needs to be dried, tinctured, canned, or frozen. 

Some plants, like Tulsi pictured below, give us several harvests before the cold sets in. I have cut this patch back three times now and I'm certain I'll get one last big harvest. I made a double infused tincture, tulsi glycerine, tulsi honey, and the last harvest will be dried for tea. Sitting in a tulsi patch trimming plants is pure magic….

tulsi holy basil farm

Echinacea Purpurea with a spider friend…… I use the leaf + flower + root to make a tincture each year and add it to our Cold + Flu tincture blend. 

echinacea purpurea spider farm

Harvesting is my favorite part of growing food + medicine. Baskets full of herbs + veggies + berries make my heart sing. I almost always harvest solo and it's such a meditative time for me in the garden or woods. Thinking, giving gratitude, moving slowly. These are the times I notice the tiniest spiders on full blooms, pay attention to the birds singing + chipmunks chattering, feeling present + grounded.

Every other day right now, I pick a small quart basket of Calendula. I've made tincture for anti-fungal blends and the rest is dried in small batches, slowly filling half-gallon jars that will be used to infuse oil that will become skin healing salves and body butters.

sweetbrier farm calendula flower

My most recent wild harvest is Monarda fistulosa from our field. I made an infused honey, it's really lovely for sore throats, and a tincture that we'll add to our anti-viral blends. Lastly, I dried a whole gallon this year to experiment with cold + flu tea blends. If it's tasty, our CSA members will get some to try out in their winter shares. 

While out in the field harvesting and lost in thought imagining ways to use Monarda – a very abundant plant in our field – I wandered a bit far from my basket while plucking flowers and turned back to see this image….

field monarda harvest

A whole lot of wild, a little path, and my basket full of medicine. This is the kind of thing I tuck into my heart + soul in the long cold months of winter. It's the sort of thing my dreams are made of…..

Be well friends.

xo

~s

a few recent happenings…..

Spring was a whirlwind of events here on the farm.

Joe's much-anticipated gathering to celebrate his retirement from the Coast Guard was canceled due to the covid19 pandemic. He packed up solo at his apartment in Massachusetts, had a small informal retirement ceremony at work, and left. Four hours later he showed up at the little co-op I work at in his fancy dress uniform. We took photos at home in the yard, and that was the extent of his day. Definitely not what we expected, but memorable none the less I suppose.

Only a few days after Joe's arrival home, our farm-in-a-box arrived from Fedco with over 100+ plants. This spring we planted 20 fruit trees, a dozen blueberries, 3 dozen raspberries, a strawberry patch, a dozen more medicinal perennials, lots of veggies in raised beds near the house, and rows of potatoes and onions in our field. There were also far more shrubs, bushes, flowers, and medicinal herbs than anyone could keep track of. Something like 500 plants minus the veggie garden. And then it didn't rain for about 8 weeks so we (mostly Joe) spent 20+ hours a week watering all these new little plant babies. It was busy, to say the least. The reward is here though, lush green plants and baskets full of food.

We bought two greenhouse kits this spring, only one of which we got up before the planting extravaganza mentioned above. Soph and I started a couple of hundred veggie, herb, and flower seedlings in it. I'm hoping we'll get the second one assembled soon so we can get winter veggies started in early August for greens and such. My friend Bliss has a lovely little greenhouse that she picks salad greens and kale from all winter. Such abundance in January. 

We bought 8 chicks during the first part of social distancing and we just added another 16, plus four baby ducks. Fluffy = stress reduction! By the time this batch is ready to join the flock outside, the two dozen meat birds chicks will be here. This is our first time raising meat birds and we opted for Freedom Rangers which will grow slower and enjoy foraging.

Infrastructure projects included three new garden beds, cattle panel trellising for peas/beans/cucumbers, a chicken coop, and 300+ feet of deer fencing around the new orchard. Joe used a rototiller to till three forty-foot rows for potatoes and onions in the field next door – and then we spent hours picking rocks out of the soil. So. Many. Rocks. Joe installed recessed lighting in our dining room and living room as the first part of a bigger project – finishing the attic space! We're adding two small bedrooms and storage upstairs. The kids will move into the new rooms, Sophie's loft will become a guest space and sewing nook, and Luke's old room will become a much-needed studio space for Sweetbrier Farms Apothecary! All these projects pushed Joe's garage + pottery studio project off until next spring, he definitely took one for the team putting all of our needs before his, he's like that.

I suppose that pretty much has you up to date on the farm. Oh, one last thing. A sneaky photo taken by our kiddo on a recent sunset walk. It really is a little slice of heaven here on the farm…..

Until next time,

~s

how the farm got a little cabin…..

the road home 

We spent the first year camping and clearing brush on the new land. Watching the sun. Trying to find the perfect spot to build our future home. We walked the logging trail to the back of the lot, through the woods, where one of several rock walls remains. No one builds a stone wall through a forest, these trees were a new growth forest that had sprung up after a pasture was let go. There was a farm here, at least once.

I found plants I knew. My favorite concoction was a jar of tasty late summer edibles – blackberries, monarda, oregano, a wild apple, nettles – topped off with a bit of honey and vodka. When we strained off the liquid come winter, we recognized the smell right away. It was the smell of the field, leaves gently crunching under the tires of the truck, creeping in with the windows down on a warm summer's night after one of our many long drives north….

This smells like home, I remember him saying.

The following December – a year after we had bought the property – the little cabin next door came up for sale. We were surprised to see it - less than 2 years after it sold most recently. We swooned over the pictures and the long winding driveway – but it was a good bit out of our price range and weren't quite ready to leave Massachusetts.

We watched it over the next few months though. Property doesn't move fast up here, and I was hoping it might wait for us. That fall, on one of our visits to the property, the cabin looked empty to me. I coaxed a very reluctant Joe to venture over (he says trespass)

Once we realized it was definitely empty, we peeked in all the windows and wandered around the yard, and took a picture of the sign in the sliding glass window. We found out the owners had to relocate and the house was going up for foreclosure. It could be anywhere from a few months to over a year before it would be available for sale.

Please little house, choose us. If not, please choose good neighbors. I whispered.

I spent the next two and a half months falling asleep every night to the same half dream, half meditation – envisioning myself walking along the driveway, up the three steps to the front door, and into the house. I pulled my senses into this meditation as much as possible. The feeling of my feet on the gravel, the steps, the sound of birds singing, the smell of the forest, the cold doorknob in my hand. While I was strongly leaning towards the house as ours, I held fast to my little mantra. 

Please little house, choose us. If not, please choose good neighbors.

The realtor called the week before Christmas to tell us the house was up for sale. The price and estimated closing costs were just under our budget. Within 72 hours we had driven to NY, visited the house, made an offer, and accepted a counter offer. Woosh. Here we go.

Typing this up now – and being a mama to four – I see the last few years as somewhat of the birth of our dream

Woosh. Here we go.

I look back and am often humbled by the abundance of what I see as magic – divine intervention – whatever you want to call it – at play. A tiny collection of seemingly unconnected bits coming together to be just what we dreamed of. It wasn't exactly the dream we started with, but something about it felt right and we followed. 

Perhaps we weren't two people that found a little old farm…… perhaps a little old farm found us.

We'll see. 

More Soon.
 
~s

 

do this one thing now……

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These pictures are from a visit to the farm in late spring of this year. The leaves were just beginning to pop on most things and the apple tree was full of blossoms. I'm not quite sure if this is an on purpose apple tree or a wild apple tree. I guess mother earth doesn't really differentiate between those two, does she? Just those of us humans hoping for "decent apples" do. Next time I hope to make time (and remember) to look for a grafting scar at her base. This spring, I stood underneath her and looked up at the sky through her branches. Overcast. Damp cold air. Magic light streaming through. Soaking in the energy of the land we will someday call home.

Progress is slow going on the farm. We have cleared brush. Filled our bellies with dewberries. Identified plants we know. Forged paths. Cleared a space for a tiny cabin. It might happen this year and it might not. I'm doing my best to be patient and let it all unfold in its own time. Easier said than done.

Joe & I took an apple grafting class this spring and successfully grafted 10 apple trees. So far they are still alive. I think we'll baby them here over the next year and plant them up north spring of 2019 – the same spring we plan to put the Massachusetts house on the market. We have blackberries, grapes, apple trees and raspberries that all need to be slowly moved north too. And about two dozen medicinal herbs. It's kind of overwhelming to imagine where to put anything on 4-5 acres of pasture. I guess we can always move it again though. Getting it there is the first part. Which kind of reminds me of my current life mantra – do this one thing now. It's easy to get caught up in the millions of things between now and two years from now. And sometimes if I think too much about it I feel the empty heaviness of anxiety pressing on my heart – but one thing? I can do one thing, now. And eventually, all those tiny things will add up. 

Do any of you remember the Shel Silverstein poem, Melinda Mae? It's a favorite of mine…. I'll share it with you (if you haven't shared Shel's poetry with your kids, do check it out. The audio was a favorite of ours!)

 

Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,

Who ate a monstrous whale?

She thought she could,

She said she would,

So she started in right at the tail.

And everyone said, "You're much too small,"

But that didn't bother Melinda at all.

She took little bites and she chewed very slow,

Just like a good girl should…

…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale

Because she said she would! 

    ~Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends)

 

I love it so – a good message for living by.

So I'm just kind of trucking along these days. Trying to remember to do this one thing now, and also to stop and look up at the magic light streaming through the branches.

 

xo,

s

  

up north……

We headed north last weekend and spent some time on the farm…..  

We cleared brush and hauled brush. It was damp and chilly, and we hiked the old logging trail to explore and warm ourselves up. Everything was a lush green and full of blossoms. Lots of little creatures on our many walks, so many blackberries and carpets of oregano. It's really something to watch the whole piece of land wake up after winter. Slowly, slowly we're getting to know her a little more….

We brought Maggie along for the first time, which was the perfect thing for the kids. Somehow she manages to keep the peace between them when they start squabbling, and if one is reading a book in the camper (needing alone time) and the other wants to wander, they can always take Maggie. She's truly the best "kid" dog I have ever had. It makes up for her hound tendencies, because as we were packing up to head home she wandered a bit too far, giving us all a good scare thinking we had lost her. Hound dogs and their noses, I tell you…..

Lunar

Camper

Green

Pink

Snail

Daisy

Oregeno

Strawberry

Magnolia

Purple

Toad

Blackberry

Dragonfly

So many creatures joined us for our walks it felt like the forest had arranged a spring welcoming committee. Every other step one of us was saying "oooh, what's this". If anyone overheard us they'd have gotten a good laugh at our over excitement.

Each time we head up – amongst the work – there is a moment where Joe or I stand in the middle of the field and say to each other…. can you believe this? We both keep saying no.

xo,

s

 

our first night on the farm…..

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I feel like every blog post these days could be started with the last month has been so busy…..

We traded in Joe's jeep for a new-to-us truck. It's been something we've been thinking about since we bought the farm. We didn't want a new one, both for financial reasons and just practicality of use. Those scratches and dents hurt too much, and we know we'll be driving it onto the property and hauling things around with it. So after a few months of looking we found just what we were after. Then we found a popup. Joe was texting back and forth with an old Coast Guard friend who recently retired in New Hampshire, and somehow through talking about the farm Joe mentioned we were thinking of buying a popup or building a small cabin this summer. Our friend mentioned he was upgrading and selling his. He gave us such a good deal we actually felt kind of guilty driving away with it. We had been looking since last fall and we paid about half what it was worth. Sometimes the universe (or a really generous friend) hands you a gift, and all you can do is say thank you.

We picked up the popup two days before last weekend's trip north to attend a baby shower for our nephew. We packed the popup, thinking we would stay at my brother in law's house. The weather was saying 30 degrees and a snow/rain mix, but we had gear if it looked clear. You know what they say about New England weather, it changes a lot. An hour before we got there the rainy slush subsided and Joe says to me, change the address on the gps, we're going to the farm. So we drove through a little stretch of Vermont we'd never seen and arrived at dusk to set up the camper by headlights and the sweet sound of spring peepers. 

This is crazy, I said to him. I know, he told me with a smile.

We drove half an hour north from the farm to visit family for the evening and got back to the camper with two very excited and tired kids around midnight. About 8 deer greeted us as we drove onto the property. The cold had settled in and the peepers had gone to sleep. It was so quiet. Our first night in the popup and on the farm, and the first visit since it was officially ours. The night was chilly and the wind came in along with a dusting of snow. But we didn't care one bit.

In the morning, Joe and I went for a hike while our sleepy heads slept in (after waking at 6 am and being asked to please go back to sleep, we were so glad they did). We wandered around as the sun peeked in and out of clouds and the snow fell softly to the ground. We stood in spots that got morning sun, thinking of house locations and barn locations. We checked on our apple tree (no sign of blossoms yet).

I couldn't help but think about how long it had been since this place had seen children. Laughter. Humans even for that matter. And how even though we're still years away from calling it home, it was already seeping into my heart and making its place. It felt like our first adventure up there.

The first of many more to come, I am sure of.

xo,

s

(ps I forgot my fancy camera and took these all with my phone (!!), goodness phone photography has come a long way!)

a farm walk……..

Some of you know we've been looking for property for a few years, and we've been dreaming of a farm even longer. We found this beautiful piece of land last November. Over the last year we visited it every trip we made north to see Joe's family. Slowly it became more and more perfect. I have so many things to tell you, but I think the best way to start this is to go for a walk together. I need you to dream a little as you walk with me. We'll be looking at our pasture where our barn and animals will be, and for just the right place to build our little farmhouse. We'll start in the large front pasture, wander through the woods and then come back through the small pasture. I hope this is our first farm walk of many….

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We named it Sweetbrier Farms. It got an extra "s" because that was the website address available, and also because I think of "Farms" as more of a verb than a noun.

Joe gets credit for the name. He came up with it when I was thinking of a name for my herbal products, and so it seemed fitting for the farm too, as I have dreams of growing herbs and holding classes here in the future. When Joe & I first met, he was stationed on a 180 foot ship in Cordova, Alaska named Sweetbrier. I was a cashier at the local grocery store. We met, and fell in love, and the rest is history. When we left Alaska and moved to New England the first time, over fifteen years ago, I was smitten with it. The two of us have dreamed of a house in the woods ever since.

This piece of land is located just a half hour from where Joe grew up, nestled in the foothills between the Adirondack Mountains of New York and Green Mountains of Vermont. It was farmland a long time ago, and only the front 3 acres have been maintained as pasture over the years, while the back 26 have grown back into woods. It's rural, a dirt road off of a dirt road. A twelve minute drive to get milk and a half hour drive to go to the food co-op. We think it's just about perfect, and we're so grateful it found us.

xo,

s

 

:wednesday:

wednesday

i sit and watch these busy little bees and dream of a someday farm, garden, rows upon rows of flowers. i think of honey and putting up the harvest. of chickens laying fresh eggs. my heart feels good to carry this dream…..

 

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we’re away visiting family in upstate new york this week, but I’ve pulled together a few photos and little bits to share while I’m away…. I’ll return comments & emails when we’re home~~