The Drama of Taxes: Part 2

To say that this post has been delayed is more than an understatement.  But, sometimes life gets complicated. Sometimes your husband lands in the hospital (he’s fine now), sometimes friends get married out of state, and sometimes urgent projects pop up with little notice. 

In Part 1 I talked about the mistakes Justin and I made with our property taxes and what we’ve learned in the process of fixing them. Today, I plan to tell you about the timber management plan I drafted that got our property re-classified at the lower agricultural rate.

What It Is

A timber (or natural resources) management plan is submitted to a government in order to lay out how a resource/resources on a given property will be administered over a period of time. The government knows that the parcel will be cared for, so in turn, they give the owner a break on their taxes. Win – win. This is a document which is typically drafted by professional foresters (for a fee) but it is possible to compose your own (which is what this determined and tight-pocketed landowner did).

How To Draft Your Own Timber Management Plan

I suggest getting familiar with management plans. Read several so you’ve got a good grasp on what typical plans include and how they’re formatted. I started by googling “timber management plan”. This plan covered all the bases and was the basis for my own plan. This site also provides a solid outline of information to include in your own plan.

Identify your goals for your property. For example, we wanted to keep our land wooded and attract wildlife (for hunting) while still being able to sell the trees that would naturally need to be removed to maintain healthy forests. Your goals will be the guiding principles of the plan and the subject of your introductory paragraph.

Dig out the legal description of your property and include that near the beginning of the plan. The legal description is that super technical (and sometimes nonsensical) way the county refers to your property on your mortgage and deed. (If you’re having a hard time finding it, the clerks at your local Assessors’ Office can point it out for you). Also include the tax map number for your property.

Include any relevant history you know about your property as well. In some cases the historical uses of your property could help you get the agricultural status you want.

Describe your property’s characteristics like the types of timber present and the topography. I broke our property into five different sections, four stands of timber and the area we use for residential and farm purposes. This made it easier to talk about the characteristics of our 25 acre tract. Here, just note any general characteristics of the property as a whole (like erosion in stand #3, a sharp westerly slope in stand #4, etc…). I included a topographical map of our property with our plan. Draw your own here.

I also included a brief soil analysis as that was something most plans I found in my research covered. The USDA actually has a database of soil surveys by state which was immeasurably helpful in giving me the specific soil analysis I was looking for. You can find that list here. To find out what soil is on your property, this site will allow you to zero in on your property and draw your own soil map. I included the map I drew of our property as an addendum to our plan.

The final step is to talk specifically about each section of your property. First, describe the location of the stand in relation to access roads and other features of the property. Really get into detail here about the age, height and diameter of your trees, what you’ve got going on in the under-story and the types of timber you have. Then, the ‘plan’ part of the timber management plan comes in. Describe how you intend to manage each stand individually. Thinning, prescribed burning, fertilization, harvesting, edge management and disease prevention are all things to consider in your plan.

After speaking in detail about each of the stands on my property, I included an excel table which laid out what activities would happen when (year in the left column and management activity in the right). It was all information I had already detailed in my plan, but putting it in table form was a clear way to show I was serious about managing my property (and serious about paying less in taxes).

Final Notes

  • Keep the tone of your plan clear and direct. This is supposed to be a professional analysis and management plan for your property – there’s no need for flowery language here and you won’t get extra points for the length of your plan.
  • Don’t bullshit. This isn’t high school and you are not guaranteed a second chance to get your property re-assessed before taxes are due. If you don’t want to put in the time and energy a real plan requires, then contact a forester to draft one for you. The few hundred dollars it will cost will be well worth it when you’re saving thousands each year on your taxes.
  • Hark back to the composition of some of your high school and college papers. Use page numbers, consistent spacing, and a clear layout. Don’t forget to have someone proofread it for you before you submit.
  • Verify that your plan has been received. Follow up and get a clear answer as to the status of your claim. In my limited experience, you really have to be your own advocate when it comes to dealing with government bureaucracy. Document every step of your claim and appeal and ask questions until you are clear and comfortable with your understanding of the situation.

Drafting this plan took me a lot of time. It has already proven worth it, though. I have confirmed our agricultural status for 2015 and I appealed to have our 2014 status retro-actively changed. We just learned that our appeal was successful (yay!) and we got a check in the mail two weeks ago for just over $2,100.00 in overpaid taxes. Our taxes for 2015 should be around $400.00 for all 25 acres.

Best of luck to all you out there who may be dealing with property tax woes. I plan to be back with some less painfully boring content soon.

The Drama of Taxes: Part 1

There was a long list of things I was looking forward to when we bought our 25 acres: Justin hunting safely on our private land, walking in our own woodlands, room for the dog to run, garden potential, the ability to keep livestock, etc… Getting ourselves into a quagmire of bureaucracy over our property taxes was definitely not on the list.

In my ignorance, I assumed that because our primary residence was located on our plot of 25 acres, our property would be classified as ‘residential’ and taxed accordingly. I was so incredibly wrong.

This post is about to get a bit technical, if reading a wordy post about rural property taxes and land classification isn’t your thing, feel free to skip over this – I won’t be offended. I am making a point of writing this to hopefully help other first time home buyers and/or first time rural property owners out there. Hopefully, by reading about our blunders, others won’t end up in their own battle against tax codes.

Where It All Went Wrong

Typically, when a new deed is recorded, the county will send a property tax survey to the new property owner. This survey allows the owner to tell the county for what the property is now used (primary residence, rental property, business location, industrial applications…). Our county sent this survey to the address of the property we purchased (our farm where we live now). This was the situation from which all of our problems originated. We did not live at the farm until 4 months after we purchased it. So what happened to our property tax survey? It was returned to the sender. We were none the wiser. So instead of being taxed at the rate of 4% with significant exemptions for this being our primary residence, we were taxed at the default rate of 6% with no exemptions.

What We Learned

As first time home buyers, we had no idea how property taxes worked and that ignorance proved to be a problem that has cost us a few thousand dollars.

  1. Your local Assessors’ Office website probably sucks. I’m sure this is not the case everywhere, but with many state and local budgets being perpetually crunched, it is likely that your county didn’t go all out on a website to explain your property taxes to you. Ours certainly left us with more questions than answers. If your county has a decent website without dead links and which defines the terms and codes it uses, count your blessings. If not, you may have to get your buns over to your county’s Assessor’s Office to find the information you need.
  2. Just because you live there doesn’t mean you get a residential tax rate. This was a hard one for me to stomach. In our county, when you own property, the government allows up to 5 acres of that property to be classified as residential. Any additional acreage will be taxed at the default rate of 6% (again, without exemptions) unless you can prove that you’re using it for “agricultural purposes”.
  3. Talking to an actual assessor is the best way to figure our your property’s designation. If you walk into our county’s Assessor’s Office, you will be greeted by a series of clerks. These clerks couldn’t answer the questions we had about our specific property they just kept directing us to forms to fill out while asking “Does that answer your question?”. Note: we eventually learned that it’s actually not their job to answer those questions. My advice here is to skip the back and forth with the clerks and ask to speak to an assessor – these are the people who decide what category your property falls into. They will be able to answer your questions about your specific property and which of the hundreds of codes apply to your land. I got more out of 5 minutes speaking to our assessor than I did from 5 visits to the assessor’s office clerks.
  4. Work the bureaucracy. I only learned about the property tax survey we didn’t receive because, like many cumbersome bureaucracies, our county documents EVERYTHING. The Assessor’s Office clerk was able to pull up records on our property and she showed me that our survey was returned undelivered. This little fact has been the crux of our appeal process. If you are able to see what records exist on your property, you may discover an error which could be costing you money.
  5. Don’t take your time. The faster you can get the ball rolling with correcting any tax mistakes, the better. Not only because you’ll see a monetary benefit sooner, but also because of rollback taxes. Rollback taxes can be assessed (depending on your state) when a property changes from agricultural usage to any other usage. The amount owed in rollback taxes is the difference between what was paid in taxes at the agricultural rate and what would have been paid if the land had not been assessed at that discounted agricultural rate. For example, the prior owner of your land was paying $40 per year in taxes at the ag rate. You now classify the land as commercial (or anything other than agricultural) which is taxed at $60 per year. With rollback taxes you could owe the difference of $20 for each year up to a set number of years (set by your state) prior to your change in classification. Needless to say, ain’t nobody got time (or money) for that.
  6. Appeal! If you do find that your property was taxed at an incorrect rate don’t just get your rate fixed, appeal to get some of your money back. “Appeal” is a bit of a strong word for a process which (in our county) amounts to filling out a bit of extra paperwork. We’ve already gotten some of our tax money from 2014 back and we’re waiting to hear about some more. As they say, it never hurts to ask (especially if you have a lot of money on the line).

Ignorance is rarely a valid excuse in the adult world, so my hope is that some of the above info will help you become informed about your taxes and help you ensure you’re not paying more than you ought.

What’s Next?

In Part 2, I plan to tell you how I put my big-girl pants on and got our acreage taxed at the reduced agricultural rate. Stay tuned for more riveting information about property taxes 😉

Getting Ready for Our Fall Garden

Here in the South, or at least here in South Carolina, we have a long autumn. Our summer heat normally breaks in early September and we don’t typically see consistent freezes until after Christmas. This means that fall is the perfect opportunity for us to squeeze in some cool-weather-loving crops.

This year I’m pretty excited about what we’re planting. We plan to grow lettuce, radishes, carrots, cabbage and kale for enjoying this autumn. We’re also planting leeks and garlic which will over-winter and be harvested next spring (leeks) and summer (garlic). Aside from the garlic and carrots, these crops will be all new for us. I’m really looking forward to being able to grow my own salad.

Justin tilling the garden for fall.

In other garden news, we acquired a wood chipper this past weekend via Craigslist (What?! On Craigslist?!? A huge surprise, I know…). Justin got it running and it’s ready to chip away. I file this in the “garden” category because I’ve been itching to mulch our garden walkways to prevent weeds from taking hold. We’ve been worried about mulching our vegetable garden with pine straw – I didn’t want it to mess with the pH of our soil and I’ll be darned if I pay for mulch (confession: I’m a tightwad). A wood chipper seemed to be our best solution to this mulching conundrum. So when a 13.5 horsepower DR brand wood chipper appeared on Craigslist for $50.00 (because the pull string was broken and a tire was flat) we jumped on it.

We’re ready to roll with this fall garden, keep your fingers crossed for us! We’ll keep you updated with our progress.

New Faces

This week we added two new faces to our gang of critters on the farm. Craigslist pulled through for us again and we found a pair of buns to add to our rabbitry.

You may recall that we’ve been trying to raise meat rabbits and we have able to raise one litter of four rabbits to slaughter in the last year. I am really proud of that litter but the potential of an average doe is at least four litters per year. After trying several times to breed our original pair, Sophie and Riddick, we came to the conclusion that the best solution would be to bring in some new rabbits to try and diagnose the relationship issue they’ve got going on.

Enter, this gal.

Our new girl, River.

I think we’ve decided to call her River (any Firefly fans in the house?). She’s a one year old proven New Zealand White doe. “Proven” refers to her status as an A+ mama. She’s already raised a litter successfully.

We brought home River’s baby-daddy too.

We’ve just been calling him “Big Guy” in the absence of a proper name. We’re pretty creative, obviously.

This guy doesn’t have a name yet (any suggestions?). He’s a two-year-old Flemish Giant/New Zealand White cross. As you may guess, he’s big. He’s about one-and-a-half times the size of Sophie and River (New Zealand Whites are considered full sized rabbits weighing in at 7-9 pounds). The litter he sired with River was on site when we bought them and those little buns were gorgeous.

I’m pretty optimistic about our bunny producing potential with these two added to our bunch. Sophie’s already had a couple of dates with this dude so keep your fingers crossed for some babies!

Worth It or Not Worth It: Homemade Jam

In case you missed my first Worth It or Not Worth It post, in this series I am delving into some of the endeavors that Justin and I have taken on since moving out here to the country. I discuss the whether or not the pursuit has proven worth it for us in terms of time, money and quality.

Today I’m talking jam. Homemade jam was sort of my gateway into the wide world of home food preservation. I used to be pretty intimidated by the thought of making my own canned goods. It was a bit of a mystery to me and I figured it must be hard to pull off. After actually making my first batch of jam, my opinion quickly changed.

Strawberry, jalapeno, and persimmon jam.

The Process

There is an overwhelming amount of information about home canning and jam making out there on the internet. Essentially, making jam just involves your fruit of choice mashed up, mixed with sugar, and cooked until it is as thick as you like it. You then ladle your jam (using sterilized tools) into sterilized jars, seal them, and allow them to cool before storing.

Worth It Financially?

Making your own jam can be as economical (or not) as you make it. Sourcing good fruit at a low price is key to the frugality of jam making. Buying fruit in season and on sale are good ways to keep the cost down. Farmers’ markets and big box stores like Sam’s and Costco are usually good places to find deals on produce.

Let’s use the following recipe for strawberry jam as an example.

Easy Strawberry Jam (by Whole Foods)

1 lb strawberries, hulled

6 Tablespoons Sugar

Place strawberries in a food processor and pulse until just coarsely chopped, or chop them roughly with a knife. Place in a medium saucepan and add sugar. Cover and cook over medium heat until sugar melts and berries soften and release some of their liquid, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, lower heat, and simmer until the berries begin to fall apart and the mixture is thickened and no longer watery, 12 to 15 minutes.

Serve warm, or cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Discard any flavoring ingredients before serving or storing if you wish, or just leave them in for an added boost of flavor.

Where I shop, organic strawberries are $3.99 per pound when in season. When I make it, this recipe yields about two 8 oz. jars of jam. Not including the negligible amount of sugar used, that’s $1.99 per jar. A 16.5 oz jar of organic strawberry jam goes for $4.99 (this is nearly equivalent to those two jars our recipe made). So in this scenario, only $1.01 is saved by doing it yourself (that’s about a 20% savings).

However, if you have a good source of fruit through a neighbor, a U-Pick farm, or your own garden, the cost of that homemade jam will plummet.

Worth It In Time/Labor?

These are the tools I typically use when I make jam.

Making a batch of fruit jam usually takes me between 1.5 and 2 hours including clean up. In my kitchen, that usually involves buzzing my fruit in batches in the the food processor, cooking it for 30 – 45 minutes, jarring it, and washing up (by hand – we don’t have a dishwasher).

Like many other kitchen endeavors, it takes only a few minutes more to make a large batch of jam than it takes to make a small one. It’s generally more efficient to make larger batches if you’re going to go through the trouble anyway.

I am one of those folks who actually enjoys jam-making and working in the kitchen in general, so this time isn’t solely work oriented for me.

Worth It In Quality?

If you have never had homemade jam I encourage you to try some (whether you make it or not). I’ve found that good homemade jams have such a vibrancy of flavor that I’ve not experienced from most store bought jams.

Being homemade, your jam is completely customizable; if you’re partial to more sugar or less sugar you can make those changes to suit your own tastes. Similarly, the sky’s the limit when it comes to flavors of homemade jam; you can mix fruits together and add spices for endless combinations of flavors. Most stores would charge a whole lot more than $4.99 for a jar of specialty ginger strawberry jam or a jar of sweet and spicy apple jalapeno jam. Like many homemade culinary alternatives, the superior quality of homemade jam outshines the mass produced alternatives at the grocery store.

The Verdict

For the 2ish hours of work in the kitchen, I have found it totally worth it to make my own jam. Even though I don’t always save tons of money doing it myself, the huge difference in flavor more than makes it worth it.

If you think homemade jam might be worth it for you, check out this reference for safe home canning practices. If you don’t have canning tools lying around, you can pick up an inexpensive kit like this one, which is similar to the one I’ve started with and it’s worked perfectly for me so far. Finally, here is a sweet little article about the tradition of making jam.

Garden Report: Summer 2015

Even though we’re still in August, which by any measure is still considered summer, our garden full of warm weather crops is pretty much done. This spring, we planted about 10 days before our estimated last frost date (living on the edge!) so our summer veggies have finished their life cycles already.

The Garden a few weeks after planting (May-ish) but before we expanded the fence to include the bean tipis, buckwheat and the area for the corn in the foreground.

We have found gardening to be an exercise in patience and a never-ending cycle of trial and error. Below is the breakdown of this season’s successes and not-successes.

What we Grew

12 Plants of Boston Pickling Cucumbers – We harvested 21 pounds this season! These plants were absolute rock stars and we’ll definitely be planting these again.

4 Plants of Long Cayenne Peppers –  We planned for 16 plants of each type of peppers but only 4 of each type seemed to sprout and survive. C’est la vie. These guys were planted at the same time as everything else but they didn’t actually start fruiting until about 3 weeks ago. They seem to like the heat and long days of late summer. We’ve harvested about a handful of peppers.

4 Plants of Tam Jalapeno  Peppers – Same story as the Cayennes. I think we’ve seen 2 peppers total from these plants.

4 Plants of Poblano Peppers – No harvest yet. We may need to research growing peppers…

6 Plants of Cherry Tomatoes – We harvested 0 pounds of tomatoes because they wouldn’t sprout. I’m tomato cursed; this isn’t the first time tomatoes have refused to sprout for me.

6 Plants of Black Beauty Zucchini – We harvested 26.5 pounds of zucchini!!! We love us some zucchini so we’re pretty happy with this outcome.

7 Plants of Early Summer Crookneck Squash – These guys produced 27 pounds of squash! They grew like gangbusters.

A typical daily harvest from the summer 2015 garden.

6 Plants of Watermelon – So we planted 6 plants and 2 sprouted. Those two plants have produced 0 watermelons to date. We also had a few volunteer watermelons (such are the perils of feeding your rabbits leftover fruits and then fertilizing with their poo) which have also produced 0 fruits.

81 Plants of Pole Beans – The pole beans totally bombed this year. They were completely scalped by deer when they were seedlings before we moved the garden fence to include them. They ended up recovering, sort of. We also grew them in unamended soil since they seemed to do well enough last year. This year? Not so much.

3 lbs Red Pontiac Potatoes – From the 3 pounds of seed potatoes we planted we were able to harvest 9 pounds of eating potatoes. The harvest should’ve been much greater but we had to dig them up early due to a serious grub problem.

14 Cloves Garlic – From those 14 cloves grew 14 full bulbs (about 1 pound) of garlic. Garlic was a great success this year. In fact, we plan to plant 150 cloves this fall.

10 Foot Row of Wild Blackberries: We can’t take much credit for these as we did nothing to earn the bounty they produced but we were able to harvest 1 pound of berries off of this little patch. I do plan to prune this patch this fall so next summer it will yield just as many berries.

1 Stand of Wild Plum Trees: We can’t take credit for these either but we were able to harvest 4 pounds of wild plums from our little overly-shaded stand of trees. We hope to thin out the pine trees surrounding these plums to give them a bit more light so they’ll hopefully produce much much more in the future.

A bowl full of our wild plums. They’re much smaller than plums you’d find in your grocery store, these are the size of cherries or grapes.

2.5 lbs Buckwheat – We grew a 12 foot x 12 foot plot of buckwheat this spring. We were able to harvest a respectable crop, however I’m not finished processing it. It turns out, a lot more goes into producing grains than I thought. I plan to devote a whole post to our experience with growing buckwheat soon.

The buckwheat is the little green carpet of sprouts you can see through the bean supports.

1 Package Reid’s Yellow Dent Corn – One package amounted to about 40 stalks of mature corn. We are allowing it to dry on the stalk and will harvest once the kernels are ‘dented’ and the corn is ready to store. We didn’t water or fertilize as faithfully as we should have so we got a meager harvest of 8 ears which will likely equal about 8 oz of kernels.

8 Plants of Small Sugar Pumpkins – We’ve harvested 14 pounds of pumpkins from our 8 plants. The total would’ve been higher but some pumpkins turned into orange raisins while I wasn’t looking.

12 Slips of Sweet Potatoes – We planted these and they were promptly eaten by rabbits. They were inside our electric fence, but the fence can be temperamental if any grass touches it. It will short out and not work properly. So harvest = 0 pounds.

1 2 ft. x 3 ft. Patch of Basil – Basil gives me such a confidence boost. Whenever I think about the sad state of our corn, sweet potatoes, or pole beans I just remember I grew the thickest, lushest, most fragrant patch of basil this summer. When I harvested the patch for the year for a marathon pesto making session, the haul weighed 3 pounds.

Things to Improve

  • Next summer, I plan to plant some additional zucchini and squash plants 3ish weeks after our initial planting so that we can extend our harvest into August and maybe September.
  • I am thinking I may plan to stagger the planting of our cucumbers so I don’t get 700,000 cukes ready at once. A lot went to waste this year.
  • We will endeavor to get some more manure to amend ALL the garden’s soil and also top dress next year’s corn mid-season for improved yield.
  • One of Justin’s friends recommended predatory nematodes to moderate our grub problem so we’ll be looking into that for next summer’s potatoes.
  • I also plan to lay down some type of weed barrier (likely just some straw) I think the weeds probably had something to do with the lackluster performance of our beans. Also, weeding a 50 ft. x 50 ft. area is a full time job; a full time job that I did not spend the full amount of my time on this season.

Successes

  • Basil. Did I mention that I harvested 3 pounds of it?
  • We’ll definitely keep doing what we’re doing with the squash and zucchini. They overwhelmed me this season (in a good way).
  • The garlic was a great bang for my buck in terms of labor.

In case you weren’t counting, we harvested a total of 106 pounds of food from our garden this summer. I know that isn’t nearly close to the potential of our garden but for a beginner gardener, I’m pretty darn happy with it. This was the first season we really went all in with our garden and we learned a lot; I’m just glad we had a bit of success while doing it. Now on to fall…

 

How We Got Our Camper Home

Some things to note before you read: The camper was wearing her original tires (from 1973!!!) so towing it home on those was clearly out of the question. We REALLY didn’t want to pay to have the camper towed via tow truck ($$$). We had just bought a tire changer a few weeks prior to change the rear tires on our garden tractor. Hopefully those facts will render the following chain of events slightly less crazy to you.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

6:30 pm: We list the Pop-Up Camper for sale on Craigslist.

The old Pop-Up.

9:30 pm: The Pop-Up rolls out of our driveway, sold.

Monday, July 6, 2015

10:24 am: I receive an email from Justin containing a listing of a camper for sale (for $540.00) in Kannapolis, NC.

6:30 pm: We arrive in Kannapolis to look at the camper.

Justin checking out the exterior of the camper before buying.

7:00 pm: Justin and I decide we’d like to buy the camper.

7:02 pm: We learn that the camper has no title or VIN – Joy!

7:15 pm: We take a gamble (pray this isn’t a scam) and buy the camper anyway. We have a handwritten bill of sale as our documentation of ownership.

7:30 pm: We run up the street to Advance Auto Parts to grab a hitchlock, just in case someone tries to tow our new camper away on it’s crusty deflated tires.

8:30 pm: I source 4 new trailer tires on the drive home to replace the tires from 1973 that are currently on the camper.

10:00 pm: We arrive back home in SC (without the camper – we made arrangements to pick it up on Wednesday).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

We spend the day feeling anxiety over the fact that the camper has no title or VIN and wondering how we’re going to get it home.

I also spent the day readying the house for company – my Mom was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening (after we pick up the camper).

6:00 pm: Justin picks up our new tires on the way home from work.

8:00 pm: We pack up the Land Rover with all the tools and supplies we’ll need to install the four new tires, repack four wheel bearings, and tow the camper home safely.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

7:00 am: Get on the road to pick up our camper.

9:00 am: Arrive in Kannapolis and stop by Harbor Freight to pick up a new air compressor and a few other things to help us tow the camper home.

9:30 am: We get to the self storage facility and introduce ourselves to the lady running the office.We feel extreme relief that she has been apprised of our plans by the seller and that this hasn’t been a scam.

10:00 am: We are all set up and spend the next 1.5 hours removing one of the old tires from it’s rim, installing a new tire on that rim, inflating that tire to the proper pressure, repacking the wheel bearing on that wheel, and replacing the wheel back on the axle.

Vintage crusty tire on the left, new tire on the right.

11:30 am: We feel rather daunted that we still have 3 wheels to go. We also realize at this time that we packed plenty of ice water (it was a scorcher) but no food.

12:30 pm: As we finish wheel #2, we feel optimistic that we’ll continue to get faster with each wheel and be able to leave soon(ish) for home.

The tire changer with a new tire on the rim.

12:45 pm: We move our operation into the only shade in the storage yard. (A sliver of space along the fence near the back end of the camper.

1:45 pm: We finish wheel #3! We are starting to move more slowly at this point because we’re exhausted, overheated, and running on low blood sugar.

2: 45 pm: We finally finish wheel #4. We calculated that we only spent about 20 minutes actually working – we were so exhausted that we needed to take frequent breaks and we were moving about as fast as molasses.

3:00 pm: After cleaning up, double checking tire pressures, and installing our magnetic trailer lights for towing, we were FINALLY on our way home.

3:10 pm: We stop at Advance Auto to pick up some zip ties to keep the trailer light wires from flapping in the breeze and some gummy worms to keep us alive until we found the nearest Chick-fil-A.

Portrait taken at our lunch/dinner break at Chick-fil-A.

6:00 pm: We feel extreme relief to have made it home! We also fight exhaustion to do our daily farm chores, shower and wait for my Mama to arrive. Whew!

 

 

Worth It or Not Worth It: Growing Garlic

Justin and I have learned a lot during these past couple of years in the farm project department. Generally, there is a wealth of good information on the internet but here on our blog we thought we would go through a few of our latest ventures to add some real life perspective to the cut and dry info that’s out there.

The first of the topics up for discussion is growing garlic. Last fall,  Justin and I were interested in trying to grow our own garlic and his mom gave us a couple of bulbs of seed garlic to try. We did some research and planted the cloves just to test the garlic growing waters.

Garlic fresh out of the ground.

Garlic, like many other members of the allium family (onions, leeks and shallots), are grown from bulbs and are best planted in the fall for harvest the following summer. After checking with our local extension service, we decided that the best time for us to plant would be the early part of November. I would highly recommend looking up your local agricultural extension. They’ll have the information you’ll need to figure out which varieties to grow and how to best nurture them in your area.

The Process

Those plants in the foreground are garlic plants.

Each clove of the garlic bulb is capable of growing a new plant. We planted 14 cloves (pointy side up) in mounded rows and mulched them with some hay to help insulate the plants over the winter. They actually sprouted in January and peeked above the surface of the mulch, but they stayed pretty small until the warmer weather arrived in the spring.

Once spring hit, we made sure to water the garlic consistently (about once per week) to ensure the bulbs didn’t mature too early in the season (which may have resulted in poor quality garlic).  In mid-June the plants started to die back which is a sign of being ready to harvest. We withheld water when the leaves started dying. Once three of the 10 leaves on the plants were dead, we harvested the garlic.

In order to store the garlic, I cured it in our garage. I laid it out flat for two weeks on top of our chest freezer. I then carefully peeled off the dirtiest of the outer layers of the papery covering. I trimmed the roots and the stems off the bulbs and they were brought inside, ready to use and store.

Worth It Financially?

This first season of growing garlic, we were gifted our seed bulbs so the 14 heads of garlic we harvested were 100% free. For this fall’s planting though, we’re looking to purchase our seed bulbs. Our local seed supply store offers several varieties of garlic for $19.95 per pound (with each pound containing 50 – 60 cloves). We’re planning to plant approximately 150 cloves this fall so that’s about $60.00 in seed garlic. That sounds like a lot of money in garlic, but this amount of plants would yield a year’s supply of garlic, including the following year’s seed cloves. That means we would theoretically never have to buy seed garlic again after our initial $60.00 investment.

Organic garlic at the store I frequent is usually $5.99 per pound with each bulb costing an average of $0.80. So a year’s worth of garlic would cost us $84.00 (that’s 2 bulbs per week) buying from a store. So we would save about $24.00 by growing the garlic ourselves each year.

Worth It In Time/Labor?

Garlic is the easiest, lowest maintenance plant I’ve ever had the pleasure to grow. No insects or critters bothered it.  It did not show any signs of disease. Relative to other garden plants, garlic takes up a small amount of space (plants are spaced at 6 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart). We didn’t actively fertilize or amend the soil before planting. Although, the hay we mulched with was mixed with a bit of rabbit manure.

Aside from planting in the fall and weekly waterings in the spring and early summer, we didn’t spend any time cultivating the garlic at all. Because we mulched the bulbs well, we didn’t have to do any weeding. Garlic is sensitive to weed competition but we didn’t find the weeds to be large enough to merit pulling until the garlic was dying back before harvest.

Compared to every other plant I’ve had experience with, garlic has been a dream to grow – totally worth the relatively little time and effort involved.

Worth It In Quality?

Unfortunately, we’ve lost the cards that came with our seed garlic so I don’t know which varieties we grew this year, but whatever type of garlic it was, it was awesome. There was a noticeable depth of flavor and a bit more sweetness to our homegrown garlic compared to store-bought garlic, not to mention the taste of gratification that’s present when you’ve grown it yourself.

Also, The seed store from where we’re planning to buy our garlic for this fall, offers numerous varieties, whereas the grocery store only offers one (and I’m not really sure what variety that is). By growing our own garlic we’ll gain fresher more vibrant tasting garlic and we’ll have access to many more types than we would have otherwise.

I was SO excited to use our homegrown garlic in some pesto this summer.

The Verdict

So, even though we won’t really save tons of money by growing garlic ourselves, the quality, variety, and the negligible time and effort involved make growing garlic totally worth it for us.

If you’re interested in giving garlic a try (you totally should!) this is the perfect time of year to start planning. Our local seed store does offer shipping if you’re looking to source some quality seed garlic and don’t live close to Asheville, NC. The information we found on growing garlic for our area can be found here and another really helpful article on garlic is here.

The New, Old, and Very Awesome Camper

As I mentioned in the Playing Catch Up post, we bought a 1973 AMF Skamper about a month ago. The story behind the camper is already a bit ridiculous. I say ridiculous  because we bought this camper within 24 hours of selling our pop-up camper. Let me tell you, trolling Craigslist can be a very dangerous pastime.

Actually, the whole experience of buying and remodeling this camper has confirmed what some of you may already know – we are legit crazy. I plan to devote a full post to the (legit crazy) way we got the camper home, but in the meantime, let me show you around.

Please excuse the quality of these pictures, it turns out photographing a tiny space at dusk does not result in the world’s best photos.

Immediately to the right of the entry is the dinette. This can fold down to sleep 2 people.

Just behind the left dinette seat is a hamper and a cool magazine rack. The sconce is one of four – they’ll be reinstalled after the renovation.

Left of the dinette, straight across from the entry is the bathroom.

The psychedelic bathroom in all its glory includes a toilet, sink and shower.

Left of the bathroom door is the heater, a closet, a spot for the refrigerator, and a pantry.

Left of the pantry and closet is a couch which will fold into a bed for 2. Above the bench is a bunk which swings down to sleep 1. On the ceiling is the AC unit.

Left of the bench and bunk is the kitchenette. There is a range with its hood. We hope to clean this up and reinstall it.

The view of the sink and cabinets brings us back to the entrance.

We are beyond excited to remodel this camper. After our experiences with tent camping, primitive tent camping, a one time foray into car camping and camping in our pop-up trailer, we realized that what we’re really looking for in a camping experience is a mobile hotel room.

We are looking forward to ease of set up (perfect for us last minute campers who invariably arrive to our campsite after dark), as well as bathroom/kitchen accessibility on the road. Access to one’s own toilet is not to be underestimated while camping. The kitchen would allow us to skip Chick-fil-A and eat homemade food while traveling. This size camper (19 feet from tongue to rear bumper) fits all of our needs without being too complicated.

At this point you may be wondering why we decided on a dingy 42 year old camper with a nasty roof leak instead of buying new (or newer). Price was the main factor. Even after stripping this thing and rebuilding it completely (making it less visually offensive in the process), we expect to pay less than what similar younger trailers sell for used.

So, now you’re acquainted with our new, old, and very awesome camper. As we progress in our renovation I’ll be sure to keep you all posted.

Our Cast of Characters

Since I’ve been talking all about chickens and rabbits and catching up, I thought an update on the characters with whom we share our farm was in order.

The Chicks

First up, we have our oldest chickies. Katniss, Prim, Johanna and Glimmer are our Buff Orpingtons. They’re just over a year and a half old.

This is one of the two chicks we refer to as “the babies”. They’re Plymouth Barred Rocks and until about a month ago we couldn’t tell them apart. They’re fully grown and now laying eggs but we just got them in January (2015) so they started out as “the babies” and that’s what we still call them (which has confused all of our house guests since April when they stopped looking like babies).

The Rabbits

The rabbits came to us from a good friend a little over a year ago. Our buck, Riddick is a Mini-Rex and our sweet doe, Sophie is a New Zealand White.

Riddick

Sophie

The Bees

We bought 2 packages of bees in March (2015). The two hives seem to be doing well so far, though we can’t really take much credit for that.

 

The Pups

If you read our old blog or have visited with us in the last two and a half years, you know Bella. After initially believing she was a Doberman/German Shepherd cross, we’ve come to realize that she’s mostly Coonhound with a bit of Shepherd thrown in to give her a double coat which sheds a lot.

This guy has only been with us since January (New Years Day, in fact). This is Jake. We adopted him from some good friends while we visited family in Florida over the holidays. He’s totally into farm life.

The Cats

We got these two ladies when we were still in college about 6 years ago. They’re sisters, Lily and Amelia.

Lily

Amelia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace came to us about 5 years ago when we moved up to South Carolina as a 5 week old stray who we bottle fed until she destroyed the bottles.

After living with farm animals who each have a purpose, I sometimes forget why these useless house cats exist. Then they crawl onto my lap and purr, and I remember. Then they poop on the floor, and I forget again.

I have been in contact with a lady via Craigslist trying to get some more rabbits to add to the farm. For now, that’s everyone.