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Smiling House - stripped and base coat

What a year 2014 has been. I know there haven’t been a lot of updates on SmilingHouse. The simple reason is, I was crazy busy with projects this short summer and fall. Here’s a quick rundown.

After the sixteenth time our cows decided to barge through our meadow fence, I figured it was time to build a brand-spanking-new fence. Our meadow is around 4 acres, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix. With the best intentions, I began as soon as the snow melted. I cleared the overgrown brush and fallen trees, took all the old wire off and pulled up all the old posts. That by itself took weeks and it wasn’t sequential: often I couldn’t clear until the wire was gone, and sometimes I couldn’t get near the wire until the overgrown willows or giant fallen trees were sawn or chopped out.

By mid-summer I nice neat coils of old wire, heaps of rotten posts and all four corners done. I chose to use 8′ long, 6″ posts for the corners, 7′, 4½” wide posts for the braces, and 6′, 4½ for the actual fence posts. As anyone who has ever done this knows, roots and rocks were my worst enemies. And of course, the biggest rocks were deepest down, so an inordinate amount of time was spent with an armpit full of muck and bracken, trying to reach a boulder that was just out of reach.

Toward late summer, putting posts in, I had gotten over half-way down one side and realised I would never get anything else accomplished this summer if I continued. So I laid aside my trusty auger and chainsaw and went great guns on several new projects – all with a great sense of urgency.

Spanky new fence

The first was replacing the north fence at “the top” where the cows were. (There is a universal rule that reads, “New property owners must spend at least two minutes each day for ten years bitching about previous owners”. Here are today’s two minutes.) The old fence was made up of 5″ posts, 7′ long put only 2′ into the ground. Then, whoever built it, thinking they might want one day to own a herd of styrofoam elephants, proceeded to put three rows of true 2×10″s onto these heavy, flimsy posts. Duh. After I removed the rotting rails, the quick-fix page wire and the desperate snarls of barbed wire, some of the posts I was able to pull out of the ground with no more than a good wiggle. I was able to reuse the posts, which this time were put in 3′ deep with nice new 2×6″ rails.

Cattle shelter

The second task was putting a roof on the cow shed. The structure had been there for a decade or two. The previous owners had hired some sort of crane to pound in true 18′ or 20′ 4×4″s so that only 14′ of them was above the ground. I sawed off the front posts to 10′ and the back to 8′. Then on went the beams, trusses, slats and metal roof. The cows have never been happier. (PS, looking at the photo, I now realise I built that nifty squeeze in the early spring. It works great for our Dexters.)

My third task was multi-part and the biggest of the bunch. It was also the source biggest construction embarrassment of my life.

I had the roof and lumber for a horse shelter lying under tarps since the fall of 2013. I simply ran out of  time to build it before the snow started flying. So I was dying to give our horses a nice house. The problem was that the place where the shelter was so go was currently occupied by the cows. To keep the cows out meant I had to move the waterer and the fence.

Now here’s where my embarrassment happened. I had it in my head that the water and power lines for the waterer only had to be buried two feet because there was heat tape to keep it thawed all winter. So I spent a week digging a 60 foot long trench two feet deep – by hand. Ha! Yeah! No. Thinking I was all set to buy the new water and power lines, I soon discovered I should have dug the trench 8 feet deep. The heat tape only extended 10′ or 12′ directly below the waterer itself.

Feeling like a complete idiot (which I was), I went home, hired a backhoe and had the dang thing dug, wired and backfilled in a single afternoon. Duh. Lesson learned.

Everything was easy after the waterer was moved. I put in a new fence between the cows and horses and finally – finally! – had the pleasure of building my horse shelter.

Horse shelter construction

I had already build the stud walls in the fall of 2013 – back when I was planning to put the shelter together on level ground. But we changed the location after deciding to move the waterer, and the new spot was badly sloped in two different directions. Wanting to use my nice square walls, i ended up building three giant support triangles under the walls. Once they were built, the premade walls went on top. On went the beams, trusses, slats and the metal roof. And then I built a sort of pony wall on the front, so, no matter which direction the bad weather was blowing from, the horses could always get out of it.

Because of the sloping ground, the shelter ended up being around 12′ at the front and 8′ at the back. Unlike Dr. Who’s Tardis, it looks a lot smaller on the inside.

Horse Shelter done!

My last task was to build two horse feeder boxes, 2x4x2′. I built them based on photos from the slowgrazer website. They turned out pretty good, except that I was afraid they’d freeze their little lips on the metal grids, so those will only be used when it’s above zero.

As side note, if you’re interested in why horses should have a shelter instead of a coat and why they should have a slow-feeder instead of a big lump of hay once or twice a day, check out this article.

Gardening-wise, 2014 was both wonderful and disastrous. On the disastrous side, this spring was so wet, my garden was a complete write-off. All my potatoes and pumpkins drowned. Happily, our apple trees and my raised beds were ridiculously productive. We had to buy a second freezer for all the apple-sauce and carrots I processed.

The weeds have taken over my big wet garden. Next year, the plan is to buy a pig or two to clean up the weeds and roots and use either raised beds or nothing there. Since I refuse to use Round-Up or chemicals of any kind, a pig is a great solution.

Nora was crazy-busy outside the farm this summer, but she had one big goal and toward the end of summer, accomplished it. She wanted to rent a power-washer and sprayer and clean and paint the fences and get a base-coat on Smiling House. It took a few days, but the difference is huge!

I’m so looking forward to 2015. The plan is to spend less time on building and more time with my horse. She’s the perfect age to teach and I’m dying to bring her up to speed in all the basics of longing and riding.

In the meantime, here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for a great New Year.