Keeping a Promise (The Treehouse Post)

I explained in an earlier post that this summer we planned to be less preoccupied with farm projects and a bit more intentional about enjoying the summer with our kids.  One of the ways we were going to accomplish this was to build the treehouse we’ve been promising them.

Building a treehouse that consists of more than a few nails and some scrap boards is kind of a big deal.  Ryan decided to take a four-day weekend to kick start the project.  I began referring to it as “The Four-Day Treehouse Weekend” (4DTW).  We cleared our schedules and I stocked the fridge with quick, easy meals along with lemonade and water for refreshing the workers.  We were so excited for our weekend to begin.

Using the plans in the treehouse book Ryan purchased, we selected two healthy-looking, mature trees and began designing the structure.

Day 1WP_20170721_19_10_52_Pro[1]Ryan began by attaching two 2x10s on both sides of the trees with lag screws.WP_20170721_19_12_39_Pro[1] Next he built the platform with 2×8 boards.  The platform is roughly 8×8 feet.  WP_20170721_19_22_39_Pro[1]Ryan, Elijah and I carried this very heavy platform over to the support beams and propped it up.  We weren’t sure how in the world we were going to get that thing on top!  It’s over 7 feet off the ground; way above our heads.  Elijah got on one side with a rope to help pull it (like that was going to do anything!) and Ryan and I heave-hoed the platform on top.  I think we were both surprised it actually worked quite easily.  He had to hop on a ladder once we had it halfway on to push it over.  WP_20170721_20_07_18_Pro[1]Success!  Ryan screwed the platform to the support beams.  And that’s a wrap for Day 1.

Day 2WP_20170722_15_25_54_Pro[1]

Time to attach the corner supports.  Until this step is done, the platform is not safe to be on.  Abigail wished to be a part of the building process, so here she is trying to screw a lag into the tree.  WP_20170722_15_39_42_Pro[1]All four corner supports are now up.  This day was a very slow day, with multiple set-backs, broken tools and a trip into town for more supplies.

Day 3WP_20170723_14_10_48_Pro[1]

Ryan began screwing 2x6s down for the floor.  WP_20170723_14_52_19_Pro[1]As soon as he had a section of boards up, making the platform a bit safer, our oldest son, Elijah, got to join Dad and (very carefully) help screw in floorboards.WP_20170723_15_40_27_Pro[1] Floorboards are all screwed in.

Day 4WP_20170724_19_56_09_Pro[1]

Handrails are under construction.  Ryan used 2x4s attached to 4x4s in each corner and middle.

It turns out that four days is not enough to finish a treehouse project of this magnitude!  By Day 5, Ryan taught me to use the screw driver and drill, and I drilled and attached my fair share of railing boards.  All hands on deck to finish this project!

Finally, after six days, the treehouse is complete!  WP_20170730_17_19_09_Pro[1]Ryan finished the railings with 2x2s, added a gate, built a ladder with 2x6s, and added a bucket on a rope and pulley.  WP_20170730_17_29_27_Pro[1]Lying on the platform and looking up at the sky is one of my favorite features of the treehouse.  WP_20170730_17_20_50_Pro[1]The bucket and pulley was one of the easiest and cheapest additions to the treehouse, but is proving to be a highlight for the kids.

WP_20170730_17_26_18_Pro[1]
The gate makes the platform very safe.  When kids are on the treehouse, the opening can be closed and the gate latched so nobody falls off.
WP_20170730_17_28_31_Pro[1]
Ryan installed handles to make getting on and off the treehouse as safe as possible.
The treehouse is high enough off the ground that it feels quite adventurous (and super fun!) to be on.  WP_20170730_17_25_19_Pro[1]

WP_20170730_17_38_19_Pro[1]
Ryan found a bucket claiming to be “virtually unbreakable” for the kids to use with their rope and pulley.  We’ll see about that! 😉
WP_20170730_17_42_16_Pro[1]When the treehouse was finally complete and the kids came up to check out the new features, Caleb (6) said “We have the best dad in the world.”  ❤ Aww, that’s what this is all about.  The kids will never forget this treehouse and we hope they spend many fond moments in it.

 

But we aren’t done yet!  We have ordered a zip line to add to this “adventure platform!”  WP_20170730_17_21_34_Pro[1] It will run about 90 feet from the treehouse to the oak tree to the right of that white post (that’s actually a bird feeder).  Ryan will need to trim some branches to clear the route, but we are all pretty excited to receive our zip line kit and get it installed.

That’s all for the treehouse this year.  Next year, we’ve talked about adding a second platform on the ground for a clubhouse, and connecting the two platforms with a slide and a speaking tube (you need a way to pass secret messages, right?)

Becca

 

Custom Bunk Beds with Built-in Drawers and Tables

The girls now have a super cute, custom bunk bed all their own!WP_20170722_14_18_37_Pro[1]

We wanted to utilize the area under the slanted ceiling for sleeping space once again, just like in the boys’ bunkroom. Store-bought bunks would not fit in this space, and I try to avoid wasted square footage in the bedrooms as well as clunky furniture taking up too much floor.

So, I designed this bunk bed for the girls to save lots of space in their shared bedroom. I wanted each bed to have a built-in table at the head of the bed where the girls can put a book, a reading lamp, and a special toy or picture frame. I also wanted the beds raised off the floor enough to put in 4 handy drawers for them to organize clothing items, eliminating the need for a separate dresser in their bedroom. I drew up my idea on paper and handed the design to Ryan to see what he thought.

He got to work on the beds and has amazed me once again with making these dream-beds a reality.WP_20170702_16_05_12_Pro[1]  Other than the table and the drawers, these beds were constructed similarly to the boys’ quad bunks, and the project came together quite quickly.WP_20170702_19_16_49_Pro[1]

WP_20170702_20_39_46_Pro[1]The drawers were a challenge as Ryan has not constructed any before, so he took his time on those. WP_20170709_16_02_35_Pro[1]

WP_20170709_20_19_28_Pro[1]The drawers work perfectly!  WP_20170722_14_21_55_Pro[1]I took charge of the finishing work, and we decided to use the Special Walnut stain from Minwax just like the boys’ beds. Once we finish all the trim, doors and window treatments in all the bedrooms, there will be a lot of bright, clean, sparkly white, so I wanted to go with stained wood for the kids’ beds. I love a touch of real wood in each room as it contributes warmth in the midst of a lot of white.  WP_20170722_14_21_18_Pro[1]

WP_20170722_14_18_51_Pro[1]These beds will be getting all new bedding to match the colors the girls have chosen for their new bedroom, including new quilts that I plan to sew with the girls as soon as I finish the four boys’ quilts.  My goal is to get all six quilts sewn before the weather turns chilly enough to need them!

The kids’ bedrooms are really coming together now!  We still need to install new carpeting, trim, doors and window treatments, as well as a few more decorative touches and organization solutions.  However, getting these bed projects knocked off our list brings such a great feeling of satisfaction and relief.

 

Custom Quad Built-In Bunk Beds

Ryan has done it again.  He built beautiful quad bunks for our four boys.  This time, however, he didn’t have any help coming up with the construction plans.  He built these from scratch based on my idea to have two rows of “L” shaped bunks actually built in and secured to the wall studs.  He’s becoming quite the craftsman!  I’m so proud of his accomplishment and I’m crazy about how these quad bunks turned out.WP_20170701_18_14_12_Pro[3]

Having the bunks actually secured to the wall meant we could fit these beds into a space that wouldn’t have been possible with stand-alone bunks.  Not only would they not fit in width and length, but they also would not fit in height.

WP_20170606_12_21_48_Pro[1]
The “before” picture.  This was the girls’ room.  Note the slanted ceiling. 
Our farmhouse has the slanted ceilings on the upper level, which makes using the space on those sides of the rooms tricky.  This custom bunk allowed us to make use of this space efficiently by turning this bedroom into the boys’ new bunkroom.

 

It was fun watching these bunks take form…

WP_20170617_18_30_12_Pro[1]
The basic design
WP_20170617_18_34_38_Pro[1]
Adding the top row
WP_20170617_18_22_48_Pro[1]WP_20170618_16_33_56_Pro[1]

WP_20170618_17_00_25_Pro[1]
We made headboards since this side wasn’t against a wall
WP_20170618_16_37_10_Pro[1]
Adding the ladder
WP_20170618_16_48_22_Pro[1]
Testing the ladder
WP_20170618_17_10_38_Pro[1]
Finished!
Once construction was finished, I sanded, conditioned, stained, and clear-coated the bunks.  I’m enjoying having the chance to learn new skills, too!  I chose the Special Walnut stain from Minwax and gave the bunks 2 coats of gloss polyurethane.  I couldn’t be happier with how the finish turned out.

WP_20170701_18_13_57_Pro[1]

WP_20170701_18_13_51_Pro[1]WP_20170701_18_13_47_Pro[1]

Not only do we have a one-of-a-kind quad bunk in our home, but this thing is SOLID.  The bunks we have purchased from the store and used for years are so wobbly compared to this thing.  These beds do not move an inch while the kids are entering, exiting, or while I climb on top to make the beds.

The boys will be getting new bedding, including new coordinating quilts that I will sew for each of them.

We are all so happy with the new beds, we decided the boys’ room shouldn’t be the only room to feature custom, hand-built beds!

I can’t wait to show what we have cooked up for the girls’ room! 😉

Free-Ranging Broilers

I just returned from dropping off our first batch of 25 broilers at the butcher shop. It feels so nice to drive back into the farm and see less birds hanging around by the coop and water. Less birds means less work, feed, and manure!

We released our broiler chicks, gosling and ducklings from the brooder at 3 weeks of age to have free-range access to our farm.4When we raised our broilers last year, we kept them in a pen and moved it twice daily to new grass. We also allowed them access to feed all the time. This time, we decided to allow them to free-range, and only allow them access to purchased feed twice daily for about 30 minutes.

Allowing them to free-range is not only easier for us to manage, but it allows them more opportunity to use their legs and get exercise. Restricting access to feed encourages more foraging, while slowing their growth so they don’t grow too big for their legs and become immobile. Our broiler flock this year was all feathered out and healthy looking, as compared to last year where many birds were missing feathers.12It took about 2 extra weeks for our broilers to reach butcher weight since we restricted access to their feed. Rather than being ready by 8 weeks, our chickens needed 10 weeks to reach their full size.

We witnessed our free-ranging broilers eating grass and even running! Based on our experience last year, I wasn’t sure if either of those things were possible until we saw it for ourselves. Besides the intense desire to eat and eat and eat, our free-ranging broilers behaved much more like a normal chicken should and they were better able to express their chicken nature.36We got all set up to butcher chickens ourselves this year as we did last summer, however we got 2 birds into the job, and the chicken plucker stopped working.

Nobody wanted to hand-pluck so we hauled them over to our butcher and paid for the pros to finish processing our broilers. We really have to admit it is so nice to drop off a flock of chickens and pick them up all nicely wrapped and ready to cook.

That just may be our new method of operation!

We should raise one more batch of 25 broilers this summer in order to be set with chicken for an entire year. Nothing beats a juicy, home-grown broiler on a hot grill in the summertime!5

Hand-Built Farmhouse Table

For years I have wanted a solid wood, rustic farmhouse table that would comfortably seat my entire family plus space for guests.

A quick internet search would confirm an item like that is pretty pricey.

Thus we began a search for plans so Ryan could build a table for me.  Even better than a purchased farmhouse table is a husband-hewn table, made with love for his family to use and enjoy many a dinner gathered ’round.  Somehow it feels even more authentic.

He found a free farmhouse table and matching bench plans from http://www.anawhite.com.  The dimensions seemed perfect for our size family and the design was simple and straightforward.  He purchased his lumber and got to work.

It took him several weekends to complete, but that’s mostly because he never gets a full weekend to devote to any one project.  There are simply too many other demands on his time.

Once the table (along with the matching benches) were complete, I sanded, stained, and applied three coats of clear coat.  We chose to use a stain called Weathered Oak from Minwax.  It makes the wood have a slightly grayish appearance, and we wanted the table to look like it was made from older wood.WP_20170612_09_59_31_Pro[1] I love my new table.  Our dining room still needs many finishing touches, however having this table as the focal point of the room has gone a long way towards making this space feel more put together and welcoming.WP_20170612_10_02_06_Pro[1] We still need to order two chairs for the ends of the table.  They will be farmhouse-style chairs, but I didn’t want to even try to match the stains.  Instead, they will contrast and be either white or black.  With the chairs, our table can seat 10-12 people.WP_20170604_15_45_13_Pro[1] As someone with little kids, I know how quickly the dining furniture can get pretty sticky and coated with food residues.  The farmhouse table would be hard to clean, especially with the grooves between boards.  A dumped bowl of oatmeal, a spilled serving of tomato soup, or the two-year old smearing a pb&j around the table would quickly find those grooves filled with yucky, sticky muck that would be near impossible to scrape out.  To make this table more kid- (and mom) friendly, we cover it with a $4 vinyl table cloth whenever we serve dinner at our table.  The vinyl tablecloth is easy to wipe clean, then it gets folded and put away so we can enjoy the beauty of our table. WP_20170604_15_45_02_Pro[1] Although Ryan doesn’t have very much experience with woodcraft, he did an amazing job putting this piece together for me.  I am so excited to have this beautiful and charming table and I love that he took this project on to bless our family with something we will all use and make memories around for years to come. WP_20170612_09_58_44_Pro[1]

Spring Chicks

Last week was like Christmas morning here on the farm.  Once again Ryan brought a brown, peeping box home from the post office.  The kids get so excited for “chick day.”  Everyone gathers ’round the box and anxiously waits for Ryan to open it up, revealing little fuzzy yellow fluff balls within.  WP_20170405_07_14_20_Pro[1]Even though this is our third batch of chicks, we cannot believe how tiny and adorable they look.

We are not adding new laying hens to our flock this year, so these are all meat birds.  We ordered 25 broilers, 5 white Pekin ducks, and a pair of white goslings.WP_20170405_07_20_17_Pro[1]

Unfortunately, very soon after arrival, one of the goslings started exhibiting some troubling behavior, and within a few hours it was dead.   Although we’ve only been farming for a year, we are no strangers to loss.  It is always heartbreaking to watch something struggle for life.  We feel helpless, not fully understanding the problem or solution, and questioning our level of intervention.  Not only do I hate watching an animal suffer, I have to guide my kids through it, who are also watching and wondering.  They have many questions and I do my best to answer them.  My honest answer is usually “I don’t know.”

We made up a special box for the gosling in the house with a heat lamp, warm water and clean bedding, away from inconsiderate brood mates.  Every few minutes we’d dip its beak in the water so it wouldn’t dehydrate.  Elijah was monitoring the gosling and remarked, “I don’t like watching it suffer.  It would be better if it just died.”  Indeed, I felt relief when we peered into the box for the last time and found the gosling had finally died.

On a more positive note, I am amazed how resilient and hardy 99% of the chicks and ducklings are when we receive them.  They arrive hungry, happy and healthy.  They immediately begin eating, drinking and growing.  Besides the unfortunate gosling, we have not lost a single animal in this batch.  We have never had sickness or disease go through our free-ranging flock.  WP_20170405_07_39_29_Pro[1]

The chicks, ducklings and remaining gosling continue to grow every day.  These are all “commercial” breeds that grow large quickly.  In two more weeks we’ll release them from the brooder to begin grazing and free ranging on the farm!

Although we just experienced some snow here, new chicks in the brooder is a sure sign of a long-awaited spring.

Becca

A Change of Heart

We hit the ground running upon arrival on our farm a little over a year ago.  We had sheep delivered right away, bought a cow a few weeks later, ordered chickens, turkeys and ducks, planned a massive garden, and began renovating the house and barn to suit our needs.

That’s a lot of work, stress, and countless new things to learn.  We are still in that process of learning and shaping our farm into what works best for us, and will be for the foreseeable future.

However, looking back over the past year, we realized the cost of focusing so intensely on the work that needed to be done.  It’s almost like we wanted to make up for lost time since it has taken us years to finally get the farm of our dreams.  So instead of taking up a sensible jogging pace, we sprinted towards our finish line of having a fully functioning, diverse and multi-tiered farm, while raising six kids and Ryan working full time at a city job with a long commute.  This left very little time for family fun or volunteering in ministries we value.

That is changing.  This summer will not be spent sprinting.  We are scaling back our farm and, in fact, it has already begun.

We sold about half of our bird flock already, including all of our ducks.  WP_20170331_10_08_21_Pro[1]We still have lots of different, beautiful birds that we thoroughly enjoy and collect a delightful basket of multi-colored eggs each day from our coop.  But instead of 3 dozen eggs each day, I’m collecting 15 eggs. WP_20170402_15_07_14_Pro[1] We scaled our 43 hens back to 25.  Much more manageable.  We will still be raising a freezer full of broiler chickens and a handful of meat ducks each summer, but we decided to not overwinter ducks for eggs any longer.  We didn’t get any duck eggs over the winter, so they were another thing to feed and they dirty the water that our other birds rely on for drinking.  Eliminating the ducks simplifies our poultry flock.

Simple is good.

We have marked a handful of our sheep to cull.  One did not produce twins when she should have and also looks a bit thin, one did not have a sufficient milk supply and her lamb died, another is super flighty and nervous and we do not enjoy her in our flock.  So these ewes will be joining the lambs in the freezer this year and thereby reducing the size of our flock and our winter hay bill, while increasing the overall health and vitality of our flock.WP_20170331_10_13_47_Pro[1]

We are postponing honey bees.  I was really excited about adding bees to our farm this year.  However, this would have been yet another new thing to learn and get the hang of.  Already I was feeling the stress and tension.  Instead of adding something completely new, we’ll chew on the operations we already have for a while, and polish up our methods and management.  Honey bees are something we’d still like to try, but we’ll wait until we don’t have quite so much going on.

So what are we going to do this summer?

Ryan and the older kids, especially Elijah (11), are going to be designing and building a tree house in our yard.  It is something Elijah had asked for all summer last year, and our answer was “We don’t have time for that.”  How terrible!  We don’t want another summer to go by brushing off amazing moments and memories spent with our kids.  Of course we made great memories farming together last year, and we still will this year, but we want to do something just for the kids instead of for the chickens, for the sheep, for the house or for the garden. This tree house is going to be so fun, and it gives Elijah the chance to sharpen and hone his building and woodworking skills.  The kids want a zip line, bunks that fold down for sleeping, a slide, swings, and a rope ladder.  Ryan had to buy a book all about building a tree house with all the goodies you can add to make them top-notch.WP_20170402_18_13_39_Pro[1] And even if they get halfway into it and decide to just keep it simple, it will still be an amazing project and bonding time, memories that will last forever and a complete “win” for the whole family.  This tree house has become our top project this summer.

Also, some time for camping and fishing with the kids. This is another priority this summer.

Finally, time for others in need.  We feel we are here to bless and help others, and yet we spent a full year thinking of only our farm and house projects.  God gently revealed to our hearts this winter how much we’ve been focusing on things that are not eternal.  It was a healthy lesson for us to learn, and has reshaped our goals and priorities.

This is going to be a great summer!  Join us as we share the fun!

Becca