Axe Throwing and 18th Century Gardens

One of the things Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer did at Colonial Williamsburg that was extremely fun was learning how to throw hand axes. It’s a small extra charge, $10 per person, but it’s well worth it. It was one of the first things we did on the last day we were at the museum and we were the only two people signed up for that time slot, which meant we got personalized instruction from the two people working the activity and we got to throw quite a bit. It was humorous, fun and by the end of it the Mad Farmer is planning on installing an axe target at the Homestead. At the end of the time there was a contest for the best throws to the target. I’ll give you a hint, Miss Mercy did not lose that contest.

There were actually a lot of really interesting things to see at Colonial Williamsburg. There are many craftspeople who are actually working and apprenticing in 18th Century Trades. We were able to visit, observe and talk with a lot of different people doing a lot of very fascinating things. We spent a long time at the Gunsmith shop, talking with the Smith and his apprentice. The Gunsmith makes both “guns” and “rifles” the difference being that “rifles” are “rifled”. I know, “duh”, but it was pointed out to us that in the 18th Century there weren’t shotguns, and rifles and smooth bores and etc. There were mostly just “guns”. We also found out that Gunsmiths are one of the more versatile trades. They actually do wood working (gunstocks), metal working (barrels and trigger assemblies), carving and horn work (making powder horns), Blacksmithing (forging the barrels and other parts and their own tools) and leatherwork (slings and other items). We also found out that all of the guns made at Colonial Williamsburg are commissioned before they are made and the have a long waiting list of people who want custom made guns.

There are many, many other trades you can experience that are just as fascinating. Wheelwright (makes everything to do with wagons and wheels), Coopers (makes barrels, buckets and wooden drinking utensils), Silversmiths, Tinsmiths (very cool), Joinery (door frames, windows, etc.), Carpenters (saw the trees, make the boards and build structures and items), Cabinet makers (fine carpentry), Printers, Bindery (books), Apothecary (herbs, medicines and what passes for doctoring – specialty leeches anyone?), Shoe makers, Candy makers, Dress makers, Potters, Gardeners, Brick makers, Tanners, and on and on. It really is best to plan on spending more than one day at Colonial Williamsburg. There is a lot of history on display, a lot of things you can learn and it’s all very entertaining.

The last place we happened upon, almost as we were leaving was the Gardens. We had thought that the common growing area was the gardens but that was not the case. We’re not sure how we missed that, because one of the reasons we put Colonial Williamsburg on our visit list was because we had seen a documentary on vegetable gardening and one of the things that was highlighted was the tomato table trellises that are used at Colonial Williamsburg.

Tomato Table Trellis

The Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy probably spent almost 90 minutes just exploring the garden and chatting with the Gardener about fruit tree trellising, their Paw Paw trees, Bell Jars and all the other fascinating things that were going on there. At the end we ended up buying the book “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way” by Wesley Greene. It’s a very informative book and well worth a read. We were sorry to leave the Garden and would definitely like to go back.

One thing we were surprised to learn is that Colonial Williamsburg is a non-profit that does not accept any Government funds. The original restoration project was sponsored by the John D. Rockefeller and he ended up spending something like $65 million dollars on the project before it was all said and done. His wife was one of the early collectors of “folk art” so there is also an extensive museum on site that features many of the items she collected. The current operating costs are covered by visitor fees and donations. We were glad we went and there is very good chance that we will return at some point in the future.

Next up: Cape Charles and the Really, Really, Very Bridge Day

Colonial Williamsburg Day 2

So the Farmer and Miss Mercy got up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (just kidding, we slept in a little bit, we were on vacation) and then used our new electric kettle and our new stainless steel French Press to make our favorite coffee (Seattle’s Best #5 in case you are wondering) before we ventured forth to sample the “Continental Breakfast”. The coffee was fantastic and a welcome start to the morning (we’ll probably never travel without taking our own coffee again thanks Jack Spirko)! Then your traveling Duo went and had “breakfast”.

First, I always wonder what “Continent” the Continental breakfast is from. Based on the strange things that hotels provide now I’m pretty sure it’s not North America. Sadly, I think that Miss Mercy and the Farmer are going to have to start figuring out how to make breakfast on the road ourselves. Hotel fare that is “free with your room” is worth about what you pay for it. Anyway, we muddled through eating “breakfast” while having a discussion about if any of the food was actually food. The outcome of the food conversation was inconclusive so we left for Colonial Williamsburg.

Since we had purchased our tickets the day before we were able to bypass the very long lines waiting to purchase tickets and go right through the visitors center and make our way into the Colonial Williamsburg Living Museum. There are two ways into the history museum, one is to go to the bus stop at the back of the visitor center and take the bus to one of the various stops around the town. The second way is to take the Time Walk Back.

Going backwards from 21st Century to the 18th

The Time Walk has you cross a bridge as you enter the Museum site. Embedded in the bridge are bronze plaques that describe events in reverse order that takes you from the 21st Century back to the 18th Century. The events are things like “TV hasn’t been invented”, “You can only travel 70 miles per day maximum” and finally “You are a subject of His Majesty the King”. A sobering thought to a Midwestern Mad Farmer, but highly effective in changing mindset as you enter the area. In case you are wondering, if you are exiting the site from the other direction the plaques guide you back to the 21st Century.

As you follow the path the first thing you come upon is a recreation of a typical plantation of the times. The entire Museum experience is different than you might think, at least different than the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy thought it might be. The web site describes Colonial Williamsburg as a “Living History Museum” basically stating that the community has been re-created and functions like it did back in the 18th Century. It’s true that people do dress in period costumes and that there are a lot of craftspeople that practice doing things in the technology of the time. But at a lot of the tours it’s people dressed costume saying “Welcome to the Palace”, “Welcome to the Palace”, “Please stand over there”, “Welcome to the Palace”, “I’ll be killing myself from boredom right after the tour”, “Welcome to the Palace”. Okay, not everything is as dramatic as that but we’re kind of used to Cos-Players and Frontier Folk at Silver Dollar City, who live to be in the worlds they are portraying.

Do not take that to mean that we didn’t enjoy ourselves, we did, just somethings didn’t quite make it backwards to the time. We had an excellent brown ale at Chowning’s Pub, but the “Turkey Trencher” we ordered was basically a turkey sandwich on flat bread. Pretty sure that Trenchers were slabs of bread the food was served on and used to sop up gravy and such at the end of the meal, so it was good, but not exactly authentic. They had an outdoor grill area where you could get burgers and hot dogs off a gas grill. Not exactly 18th Century. But the experience was very enlightening and we did learn a lot and there are a lot of things to see.

Next up: Axe Throwing and 18th Century Gardens

Colonial Williamsburg Day 1

We got into Williamsburg a little earlier than expected and decided to go straight to Colonial Williamsburg and check it out, so we would know where to go the next day. There were clear signs from the highway to the Visitors Center and we had the address programmed into Waze as a backup. I typically use Google Maps but we are trying out Waze on this trip. Like Maps and Garmin, none of the travel apps are perfect and Waze has some interesting features and some not-so-interesting quirks. The most annoying of which is repeatedly telling you that you will be turning in 1000 feet, 950 feet, etc. until the last 100 feet when it seems that it forgot to mention that you just passed your turn. I will say that trait, along with confusing a goat path with a highway did not endear itself to Miss Mercy (more on that later).

The Colonial Williamsburg parking lot is easy to get around in and parking was free, perhaps because arrived after 3 pm. Once inside we talked to the lady and gentlemen at the information booth. The first thing the lady attendant said to the Mad Farmer was “How can we not help you”? The Farmer, smart-ass that he can be replied “Don’t want to ruin your record, so we’ll be leaving” and turned around and headed back to the front door. Info Lady started laughing herself silly, Info Dude actually laughed out loud and then the Duo from Kansas was able to ask the questions they came to ask. We were informed that if we purchased tickets after 3 pm that they would be good for either the following day (if a single day pass) or good for that evening and the next three days (if purchasing a multi-day pass). Sounded good to us so we purchased our multi-day pass, looked around the visitors center for a bit and then went to find lodging.

Coming into the park (is it a park? it’s at least a historical site) we had seen signs for “Anvil Camping”. Because Miss Mercy and the Farmer love to camp, and because we haven’t been camping in a while, our gear was in the back of the Truckster. Our thought being if we ran into camping space near something we wanted to see we would save a few bucks and enjoy nature at the same time. A camp ground right near Historical Williamsburg sounded like a match made in heaven so we went to check it out. I admit to wondering what our faithful readers consider to be “camping”? We would love to actually hear from you about this, so please feel free to let us know what you consider “camping” in the comments.

The Mad Farmer thinks of camping as being somewhere secluded, or at least semi-secluded, under some trees, quiet, and, in a perfect scenario, with a brook nearby. A privy or National Forest Service bathroom of some kind is a plus when Miss Mercy or other females are around and the Mad Farmer won’t turn a toilet down out of spite. So, thinking idealistic thoughts, we went to view the Anvil Campgrounds. First, the sign was a bit misleading. The campground is actually several miles away from the historic site. Second, when we turned into the place it looked like an RV park. I don’t mean a wide, sprawling place with plenty of space like some KOA camping parks, I mean it looked like a gravel parking lot for RV’s with about nine trees scattered about, and not a really big parking lot either. You could fit the entire park into the West lot of Sam’s Club back in Kansas. Because we were trying to be adventuresome the Mad Farmer went in and asked about “tent camping”. He was told “of course, we have five sites!” After confirming that some of the sites were actually available I took the brochure and rate sheet I was handed and went out to the vehicle to inform Miss Mercy of our fantastic luck.

According to the rate sheet, in season camping (which starts in April) would cost us $39.95 per night for a camp site. We slowly followed the map (and a happy, but elderly couple, out for an evening stroll with their walkers – there but for the Grace….) and found the five camping slots. The camp sites were approximately ten feet wide and about fifteen-twenty feet deep. Roughly twice the size of a standard parking spot. They were all at one end of the park, sandwiched in between RV slots on both sides with clearances of about two feet. Flashbacks to Christmas Vacation immediately came to mind – you know the scene, where Eddie is emptying the RV septic system into the storm drain and waves? Yeah, you know it. It may have been a fine campground, the fellow campers may have all been upstanding and virtuous citizens (contrary to first impressions) but the concern must have shown on the Farmers face because Miss Mercy suggested we go get gas and take a moment to consider our options.

Miss Mercy and the Farmer gassed up the vehicle then moved off to a shady spot in the parking lot to discuss options. It was decided that for the price, the distance away from the historical site, the number of highways to cross and the overall thought that “camping” in that place was not really camping to us we decided to acquire lodgings at the local La Quinta. We called La Quinta. They had open rooms at a very reasonable rate. We got the address, prepared to go find the place and Miss Mercy tapped the Mad Farmer and bade him to look over his shoulder. The hotel was directly behind the gas station, less than 150 feet from us. Literally the fastest I have ever arrived at a location after making a reservation.

Once in the air conditioning, having a well deserved adult beverage we had a peaceful night and prepared for our visit to Colonial Williamsburg the next day.

Next UP: Colonial Williamsburg Day 2

My Three Things

Sorry about the interruption of the Polyface Farms trip. Since we got back the Mad Farmer has been exceptionally busy at the primary place of employment. It’s sad how taking a vacation somehow results in twice the work when you return. I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work, but somehow, it seems like that does become the end result. Perhaps the Mad Farmer is doing it wrong? Seems likely.

In the meantime the Mad Farmer has started listening to a new podcast – Living Free in Tennessee. The podcaster is Nicole Sauce, who is also an Expert Council member for Jack Spirko at the The Survival Podcast. The Living Free podcast is much like it sounds, it’s a podcast about homesteading and being more sustainable and self-sufficient, right up the Tiny Sustainable homestead alley.

One of the things that Nicole Sauce is a big fan of is something called “My Three Things”. As the Mad Farmer understands it My Three Things is basically about prioritizing the three most important things that you need to get done each day. Everyone is always busy, that’s a side-effect of current life. Everything is fast-paced and it’s easy to lose sight of what your goals are. My Three Things help you keep track of that. Lots of people keep a To Do list, the Mad Farmer keeps multiple lists of all kinds of things, lots and lots of lists. So many lists….

So of all the things you want to get accomplished in a day, pick out the three most important to complete that day and actually write them down. It can be a help if you write them down in a public way. Currently on MeWe (a social network platform that doesn’t have ads and doesn’t sell your info the way Facebag does) Nicole has a group called “Living Free in Tennessee” (anyone see that coming)? On the group page a lot of followers post their three things that they are hoping to accomplish that day. It generates a group encouragement and helps folks to tackle those tasks. Seems like a good idea, or at least a helpful one.

So, the Mad Farmer has started two “My Three Things” lists. One for the homestead and one for the workplace. So far the it’s been an interesting experience. Helpful, not too much different than than all the other lists, but the component that is missing so far is the public posting. The Mad Farmer has started sharing the three things with Miss Mercy, so there is some semi-public accountability. Will it work? Only time will tell. If you would like to hear it in a better and more coherent form, then you can listen Nicole Sauce’s podcast “Balance Your Short Term and Long Term Success with My Three Things“.

I’ll Take “What’s Airbnb” for $100, Alex”

So before we left Topeka we added a couple of days travel time and when we looked at our trip there were going to be four main areas of expenses: Gasoline, Food, Accommodations and location expenses (admission costs, event costs and tour costs). As far as gasoline costs that is not something you can really control if you are driving. You can budget for approximate cost, add about 20% and that will be probably be pretty close. If you know your average mileage (about 18 mpg in the Family Truckster) and the approximate round-trip mileage (about 1,500) and the average cost of gas (estimate the high side, so $2.50 per gallon) so that works out to about $210.00 in gas. Add 20% about $40.00 and we figure $250.00 for gas (I know, you can see where this is going). I’m pretty sure given side-trips, add-ons, and the occasional “did I miss a turn? I missed that turn. Okay, find a place to turn around”, Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer probably will add 500 to 1000 extra miles on this trip.

Admission costs we knew about from looking up ticket prices on the inter-webs prior to the trip. For example, the Monticello Evening Tour tickets were $65.00 per adult (well worth it and will be the subject of a future post). The least expensive tour price, was $20.00 per adult at Polyface Farms (the destination that started it all). Ax throwing added $20.00 at Williamsburg (also worth it). Anyway, admission and tour tickets prices were pretty steady. Food we planned as a mix of self-created meals (sandwiches, snacks, trail mix, buying drinking water in 1 gallon jugs for $1 for use with our water bottles instead of $3 for a bottle of water other places) and purchased meals. We knew going in that eating at destinations and restaurants on the road would be pricey so we planned in a few instances of that (more on the dining experience also in a future post). So that was pretty fixed. Which brings us to lodging.

Usually when we travel we tend to say in clean, reasonable hotels along the way. The last time we did a major trip (to the Pacific Northwest) we mostly stayed with friends and the family that Miss Mercy has in that area. Our lodging costs were very minimal. Given that the Mad Farmers relatives did not come to America until the 1860’s (Miss Mercy’s family history is hers to tell, if she likes), there were not too many relatives back East that the Mad Farmer is close enough with to spend an evening. According to documented family genealogy the Mad Farmers Grandfather on his Mother’s side was related to Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, as an eighth-great cousin or something (if you are really interested let me know and I’ll dig out the exact connection for you). As swell as that is historically, I don’t feel that it entitles the Mad Farmer to show up at basically a random strangers house, yell “Cousins”, hug them and ask to crash the night. So we were looking a pretty hefty budget item in the form of hotel fees.

So, this is where the Airbnb part comes in (everyone heaves a sigh of relief “he finally is getting to the point”). Miss Mercy’s boss at one of her part-time occupations had recently returned from a vacation trip with his wife to attend a Grateful Dead concert in a far off land (remember the reference from the very first post – I was sure it would come around sometime). Masterful Mike (he is a very good vegetable and mushroom farmer) was extolling the virtues of an Airbnb location they had rented while on their trip. Remote location, view over a lake, meals cooked by a chef (okay, I probably added that last part – he was going on a bit about how great it was). Sounded wonderful, Miss Mercy and the Farmer said we might give it a try. So fast forward to the first day of the trip. We’re off schedule and stay at a chain hotel the first night. Because we’ve built some cushion into the schedule the Farmer suggests to Miss Mercy that we try out the Airbnb thing and try and find a place to stay in Staunton, VA, the second night of the trip, so we’re not killing ourselves trying to drive all night and it seemed like a less expensive option than another night in a hotel.

So Miss Mercy is driving the second part of that day. The Mad Farmer signs up for Airbnb on his phone (it can be done, but it’s a bit challenging when the signal drops and you lose internet and have to start over). The Mad Farmer searches the area, as a complete newbie and comes across a listing for a room at a house close to where they will be. New remodel, access to the backyard, kitchen and laundry, not too expensive – great! We’ll reserve it! Get 4/5 ths of the way through reserving the room and the app crashes. Go to re-reserve and the site is no longer available – what! Did we reserve it? Did someone else get it while we were trying to get back online? What is going on? Good news, after 10 minutes of trying to figure out what is going on we get a confirmation from Airbnb. The reservation is ours, instructions for how to get in the house are sent and the address as well – we are on our way. We message the host and tell her approximately when we will be arriving. Everything is going swimmingly.

Then, disaster! We forgot about the time zone change from CST to EST and for some reason all our devices were not set to auto-change time zones. We’re getting in an hour plus later than we thought. Frantically we text the host of the issue – the response “no problem, it’s all good”. Wow, huge sigh. Turns out most hosts have some form of self-check in. Apparently a lot of times people get in late, crash, leave early the next morning and the host never even sees them. We learn this later, but at the time, it was nerve-wracking not knowing if we were going to be able to actually check-in.

We finally arrive at the destination. Self check-in goes smooth. The house is newly remodeled, everything is lovely, the room is nice (although only one outlet – reminder to self, pack an extension cord) and the bathroom is clean, stocked with towels and essentials and has a tub with jets! We’re pretty tired, so we crash and when we wake – we find out we mis-read the communication from the host – she works nights, so we have the place all to ourselves. It’s peaceful, we make coffee in our french press. Have a look at her garden, look at her cookbooks (some of which Mercy owns or wants to own) and then pack up and head out on our journey. Never met the lady, but super experience. Can’t recommend that site enough, a great first experience.

Next Up: Colonial Williamsburg Day 1

The First Travel Day (aka “Have you Made Friends with Construction Cones”)

So as the Tiny Sustainable Household started their trip East to Polyface Farms we expected to run into traffic delays because of road construction in Kansas. We had a hard winter with extreme bouts of “freeze/thaw” temperatures, which tears roadways apart in short order. The current running joke is “Europeans drive on the left, Topekans drive on what’s left”. If I remember correctly our state motto is “Welcome to Kansas, we’re under construction”. So we are used to construction delays in Kansas. We expected some delays in Missouri, both because of construction and traffic. Contrary to belief outside the Midwest, Kansas City and St. Louis are both major cities. Interstate 70 East between the two is the Midwestern equivalent to the I-5 mess between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

What the Mad Farmer did not expect was that the roadways in Indiana would be the best of the whole trip. For the most part, not many potholes in Indiana, things are patched well and the few places that did have construction underway were clearly marked, fairly short in duration (in Virginia we ran into construction zones that were 20 plus miles in length, with a top speed of between 55 mph and zero), and actively being worked on. Never thought I would say it but, “Kudos to Indiana”. So the point to this is we ran into construction zones early and often. A lot of sections of highway that weren’t under construction should have been. So the construction, combined with the rain delay in starting, meant that by the time it got past dark both travelers were weary and ready to stop for the night. We originally had hoped to stop in Lexington, KY. We made it to Evansville, IN the first night.

If you have never been to Evansville, IN it’s a pretty nice town. Evansville is the third largest city in Indiana , about 120,000 people – similar in size to Topeka, KS. We rolled into town about 10:30pm CST and managed to book the last room open at a La Quinta Hotel. La Quinta is in the Wyndham property group, think Days Inn, etc. Usually they are pretty clean, reasonably priced and offer a “continental breakfast”. Almost every hotel out there now offers some sort of “breakfast” for the traveler staying at their facility. If you really enjoy breakfast you might want to consider dining out somewhere else. This trip Miss Mercy and the Mad Farmer splurged on a stainless steel french press (shout out to Jack Spirko of the Survival Podcast and his “Item of the Day“). The press, along with a Hamilton Beach electric kettle that we got for $3 at an overstock store (thanks for the “heads-up” to our good friend Lady Erin of the Mad Shopping Skills), and a bag of our favorite “Seattle’s Best No. 5” we have had excellent coffee on this trip, no matter what “breakfast” is placed in our path

After what passed for “breakfast” the Farmer and Miss Mercy hit the road, and then, once we got into Kentucky and West Virginia, we hit even more road construction. The Farmer really wishes he could grow orange construction cones, he would be rich beyond his wildest dreams, but alas, he can’t. Given the delays, the fact that the trip did kickoff earlier than planned, and, a discussion while driving (many are had between the Farmer and Miss Mercy during these trips – it’s one of the best things about them). It was decided to stop in Staunton, VA and re-evaluate the travel plans instead of attempting to drive non-stop into Cape Charles, VA. So, at this point, where will the intrepid duo stay?

Next Up: I’ll Take “What’s Airbnb” for $100, Alex”

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

General George C. Scott, oh wait, that was the actor. General George S. Patton, once said “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”, or something very close to that. So it was with the Mad Farmer’s travel itinerary. The Mad Farmer hates to work on his birthday, so he suggested that instead of leaving on the original travel date that they bump up the departure and leave a couple of days sooner, so that the Farmer and Miss Mercy would have the opportunity for a more leisurely drive and possibly more time to “vacate”.

Sounds great doesn’t it? It was a great idea for moving the travel plan forward. Alas, General Patton’s observation came into play. In the days prior to the planned departure date the Farmer and Miss Mercy expected to have a couple of days to pack, finalize their plans, gas up the Family Truckster ( extra points if you know where that reference came from) and set on their merry way. Like most things in Life, Life, itself, got in the way. Work things popped up, minor emergencies had to be dealt with, lists were made, reviewed, and left on the kitchen counter or mis-read while shopping. Things that should have been in place weren’t, things that hadn’t moved in years, migrated. All the typical behavior that happens when you are “trying to get ready” and things go normally, instead of perfectly.

No worries really, there have been two days added to the trip, so slight delays shouldn’t cause any problems, you weren’t even planning on traveling on that day anyway, right? It probably should be mentioned at this time that Kansas has had one of the wettest spring/summer seasons in recorded history. Yes, it’s been said that 200 million years ago Kansas was a vast sea hundred of feet, maybe miles, deep. The Mad Farmer and wife don’t live 200 million years ago, so getting constant spurts of 12-14 inches of rain in 5-8 days is pretty unusual. So the morning of the planned departure, because God or Mother Nature (your choice or insert other deity/higher power here – not gonna debate religion today) decided to open the heavens and bless the Homestead with high winds and several inches of rain, massive storm clouds, flash flooding watches and county Emergency Declarations, just when the Homesteaders were hoping to leave. Did we mention the high winds that dropped a good-sized limb onto the Homestead from our Silver Maple? No one or no thing was hurt, but starting out on vacation thinking of the time that is going to be spent with a chainsaw upon return from vacation is not the best way to start a trip.

Finally things ease up. The Truckster is loaded, the coolers are in place (but not as full as envisioned). The last minute ritual shopping trip for last minute items is completed (sorry about the lack of Diet Coke and Frozen Pizzas most beloved Youngest Daughter – those were all on the same line of the list and the Mad Farmer missed them), and the trip gets under way. Because of the late start (or maybe it would be better phrased as “starting later than expected”) the Farmer and Miss Mercy did not make as much progress as hoped. Delays were encountered, which will be more aptly described in greater detail in the next post. All-in-all not a bad start, but not exactly according to the “plan”.

Next Up: The First Travel Day (aka Have you Made Friends with Construction Cones)?

Planning and the Polyface Farm Trip

So, the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy have the beginnings of a trip plan. Historically the Homesteading duo has a destination in mind, including activities they want to pursue and, in most cases, the trips kind of plan themselves by working backwards from the destination activities and the time allotted to be out-of-town.

Side note: Isn’t “Out-of-Town” a wonderful phrase? You can tell people “No, I can’t do that, I’ll be “Out-of-Town”. I’m sorry I cut you off in traffic or did something stupid in front of you, please forgive me I’m from “Out-of-Town”. Where’s a wonderful place to …, I’m from “Out-of-Town”. Some of the best things to do and places to eat have been discovered because it was mentioned that I was from “Out-of-Town”.

So the Farmer is excited to have tickets to the farm tour at Polyface Farms. So that’s set, but the tour only takes about two hours on a Saturday morning, so clearly we have some time to explore the area. It’s been many years since the Mad Farmer has been back East (more of a Pacific Northwest, Parrothead, type of guy lately), so possibilities abound. Miss Mercy was attending a presentation on Presidential Gardens (has it been mentioned she is a Master Gardener?) and Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello were in the presentation. Miss Mercy asked the Farmer if he wants to go check out the gardens at Monticello? “Heck Ya” (sometimes, when the Farmer gets excited and forgets he was born in the Midwest, he slips into a Southern style exclamation).

So putting Monticello on the list brings up other historic places in the area (apparently there are just a bunches of them), so the Farmer is asked “how about Colonial Williamsburg”? Another “Heck Ya” later and that’s on the list. Hey, we haven’t been to the Smithsonian together, and D.C. is right there, and the Ocean is only two hours away, and we could go to Newport News. The Farmer says “I’ve always wanted to go to Kitty Hawk”, then suddenly realizes they are currently only planning on being out “Out-of-Town” for about eight days, including almost four days of travel time. Doing some basic math the Farmer realizes, he won’t get to eat or sleep on the trip based on the expanding itinerary. Suddenly, it doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. So gingerly (because Miss Mercy loves ginger) the Farmer points out they only have a few days to work with. Miss Mercy’s travel balloon deflates a bit, but, because she’s such an excellent wife, she agrees that perhaps a more moderate travel plan might be in order – but hey, we can still go to the beach.

So, it was eventually settled on that the intrepid duo would go to Cape Charles (apparently there is an awesome bridge across Chesapeake Bay), Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello and Polyface Farms (the whole reason for the trip). It sounded like a do-able plan, and so things were now coming together.

Next: No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

The Mad Farmer’s Trip to Polyface Farms

For those who personally know the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy it may come as no surprise that this year the TSL Urban farm duo decided to take a trip to Polyface Farms owned and operated by Joel Salatin. For those who don’t know, or who tune out when the Mad Farmer starts talking about subjects that interest him (but perhaps not the listener), Joel Salatin is a pretty big deal in the world of regenerative farming. He is often a keynote speaker at Mother Earth News Fairs, a sought after guest on permaculture and farming podcasts, the author of multiple books, including, “Confessions of a Lunatic Farmer”, and “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal” (the Mad Farmer’s personal favorite) as well as a bunch of others. He offers a farm tour every other Saturday in the summer at his Shenandoah Valley farm.

Because Miss Mercy might be the most understanding and loving spouse on the planet, when the Mad Farmer came home from his day job (he is an IT professional at a very old and established bank in Kansas) and said “it’s time to get out of Kansas, let’s go see Joel’s farm”, she did not hit him with a rolling pin, have the Farmer declared insane and file for Power of Attorney or throw heavy objects at him, she said “that’s a great idea” (told you she wins “The Most Understanding Spouse” award). For those not familiar with fore-mentioned award the first year it was awarded was when Joel Salatin said to his wife “Honey, let’s start a grass fed beef farm”.

So the Mad Farmer and Miss Mercy started planning their trip to see what a working, regenerative, soil-building, farm looked like. By “planning” we mean that Miss Mercy looked online, saw that tours of the farm were offered every other Saturday in the Summer and the tickets were $20 per adult, asked the Mad Farmer if he wanted to do this, and, when told “yes”, booked tickets. That ticket purchase set in motion two things: One, the most spontaneous and loosely planned trip the Farmer and Miss Mercy had ever undertaken and, two, an instant increase in devotion and love for his spouse beyond what the Mad Farmer thought possible. That statement might seem either trivial or overly dramatic, depending on who is reading it but, for the Farmer, already really enjoying his marriage to his favorite partner and best friend, it was a kind of “Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day kind of moment”.

It is always a surprise to the Mad Farmer that, in God’s infinite mercy, He allows room in the human spirit and heart for growth beyond what you think is possible. When the Farmer’s first daughter was born the Farmer really thought “How could you love anyone more than this tiny child”? When the Farmer’s second daughter was born, he discovered the answer to the first question was “This is how you can love more. You don’t have less love for the first, your heart just grows to hold love for the second”.

When the Farmer met and married Miss Mercy, his heart grew some more. Miss Mercy has put up with a lot of wild goose chases, random quests and downright off-the-cuff projects from the Farmer. She puts on a smile, checks her common sense at the door and either follows the Farmer down the path, or puts bread crumbs on the path back to sanity so, when the Farmer comes to his senses, he has a trail to follow back to solid ground. When Miss Mercy got on board for the trip to Polyface, the Farmer’s heart grew, the Universe made a little more sense and a trail of bread crumbs sprang into existence.

Next: Planning and the Trip

Worm Farming

Yesterday the Mad Farmer Homestead became a vermicomposting homestead. In case you are not familiar with vermicomposting it basically is “worm farming”. Worms are placed in some kind of container, usually with varying types of worm bedding materials and then fed with kitchen scraps, shredded newsprint, all sorts of things really. Once the worms process the input materials they extrude output materials. In case that’s too vague they eat lots of stuff, process it, and then poop it out (I’m not a huge fan of the Oxford comma, but this post feels like it’s going to be peppered with them, so feel free to let me know how you feel about it).

If you know Miss Mercy at all you would know that she loves worms. Big worms, small worms, any worms at all really. Growing up her dad owned a bait shop and because at the time she was young Nike had not yet been accused of using child labor for personal gain, her dad would send her and her brother out after a rain storm to collect Night-crawlers to be sold at their bait shop. Oddly enough, from the Mad Farmers viewpoint, it is hard to reconcile her collecting worms to be used as fish food in her younger years and her current gentleness when planting in the garden and making sure no worms are harmed in the process. The Mad Farmer has plenty of childhood memories that don’t make much sense when taken in an isolated context. There is no accounting for which memories you look on fondly I guess and it’s really more background info at this point.

Miss Mercy is a Master Gardener and is familiar with vermicomposting and, because the Mad Farmer has been researching Permaculture and ways to improve soil and plant productivity, the Homestead has been interested in vermicomposting for a while. The Mad Farmer’s sister, the Swamp Gardener, had gifted the Homestead with a commercially made worm bin. The unit stacks, has a spigot for collecting worm tea (nutrient rich liquid created by the worm byproducts) and multiple trays for allowing the migration of worms to new medium and the collections of worm castings (poop) for use in the garden. A princely gift that lacked two things: actual worms and the knowledge of how to work it (and possibly an overwhelming amount of other projects, but I guess that might be three).

Two years ago the Farmer created a structure at his homestead that he has dubbed the “Pub Shack”. A picture of the structure is the featured image on the TinySustainableLife blog. The Pub Shack has a garden shed on one end, a Key West themed bar/entertainment space in the middle section and a small deck on the far end. In the bar space there is a refrigerator made of a converted chest freezer. The only reason this comes into play is that one day the compressor on the freezer failed. The Mad Farmer had watched multiple YouTube videos on converted freezers to vermicomposting bins so of course the homemade freezer conversion was more appealing to the Farmers “tinkering” nature than the fully functional worm bin that had been gifted to the Homestead.

So fast forward, the Mad Farmer has watched videos, done online research, looked at books, and converted the freezer to a worm composting bin, filled with growth medium, kitchen scraps and set up for success. Squash, carrots and other edibles started growing in the bin, sowed by the introduction of kitchen scraps, but so far no worms. Then, because Miss Mercy has contacts everywhere there are Master Gardeners, worms became available. You might have heard the expression “When the Student is ready, the Master will appear”. The Mad Farmer equates it with “If you Build it They will Come”. Either way, a Master Gardener who was ready to pass on their worms overheard Miss Mercy discussing the project and, suddenly, hundreds of red wigglers appeared at the Homestead.

The worms are currently learning the layout of their new home. The Homestead is excited to have access to worm tea and highly nutritive worm castings. Miss Mercy has been super excited and overly concerned for their well-being. The Mad Farmer is hoping he has better success on his first foray into vermicomposting than he did with beekeeping (you can see why Miss Mercy might be overly concerned). How will it work out? How will worm farming enhance the Homestead? What happens next week on the same Bat Channel? Stay tuned to find out…

P.S. If you are a worm farmer yourself, we would love to hear about your experiences. Just leave us a comment.