Another Illinois 'stead

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Another Illinois 'stead

Postby mannytheseacow » Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:26 am

I've been meaning to start this thread for a while now. After all I've learned from what everyone has shared on this site I figger it's about time I share a few of my mountains and mistakes.

So, I bought this little place in my early 20's. I wasn't sold on the house, per se, but I liked the fact that it was isolated, had an acre of land, was pretty small and efficient, and had 2x6 construction with great insulation. I didn't expect to stay for long.

I've done a number of improvements over the years and watched the land get eaten up around me by the exports of Chicago's bowels. A little while back I was able to gain another acre from my neighbor so now I'm up to two acres of woodland. I've cleared a small amount to put up some solar panels which produce about 4 times the electricity that I use.
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Prior to that, I put some water heating panels up on the roof to supply my hot water.
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Here's the controls for the solar water heating. It heats my hot water and floors, and I can back-up heat the tank with my wood stove:
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You can see the temp of the tank in the photo is at 138*. Not bad for free energy. Hot enough to burn yourself!!!

Because of the rocky ground up here on the bluffs, gardening is pretty limited. I do put a big garden in at a friends house every year, but my goal is to move it to my house this year. This will require a lot of dirt moving, aka... shoveling by hand. Otherwise, I survive on hunted and foraged food mainly, with some trips to the grocery store once in a while. I trade a lot, too! I like my free range organic food, trouble is I don't like the grocery store.... so I get my free range organic out of the woods. A few turkey and deer each year, and as much fish as I can catch. Morels when in season, black raspberries, apples, and of course the garden stuff.

I put in a raised bed 10 years or so ago with garlic and asparagus. The asparagus has been producing prolifically for the last 5 years and I always have enough garlic around.

I rummaging around at the garbage dump last week and found this cedar bookcase. I thought I could use the boards for something but finally decided to fill it with dirt and plant my cold-weather greens in it.
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You can see what the bluff soils look like around it.

Somewhere along the way I added a bee hive:
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It yields about 60# of honey a year for me. I use about 15# myself which leaves the rest for trading. I used to have chickens and ducks but I finally realized that they were costing me more than they're worth. So now I just trade honey for eggs and it works out well. My friends with birds are still willing to give away the manure. That and my scraps and ash go into the compost. Image The pile finally thawed enough to start digging some dirt out of the bottom to add to my raised beds. I like this picture b/c it shows the cross section of the pile as it sat all winter... crap on top, good stuff on the bottom... brings to mind Gary Snyder's poem, but that's another story.

I've been cultivating mushrooms too. Is anybody else on here doing this? I've got shitakes growing on oak:Image and oysters growing on boxelder: Image
Like the honey, they supply more than I can use so it makes for good trading too.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby mannytheseacow » Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:46 am

One of my favorite features of the house is the porch:
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A few years back a state park had to remove a bridge over a ravine for some liability mumbo jumbo. So I go to work one morning and my assignment is to remove and destroy the bridge. I look at it and I'm like no way, there's nothing wrong with this bridge. So I go get the big tractor and chain the bridge to the bucket. I pick it up and slide it out to the road where I can back a flatbed up underneath it. I drive it home and chain the the bridge to a tree and drive off. Successful relocation. I pulled the railing off the one side and salvaged the boards. Some of them went into adding the railing you can see on the far end. With some levers and logs and some trusty friends and beer we managed to maneuver the bridge up against the house where it sits in the photo above. Of course, it was built by the government so it's ridiculously overbuilt.

As for some other things foraged around the house, we had some major storms in 2010 and 2011 that took some big trees. Making lemonaid out of lemons, we brought the portable mill over and sawed them up... made some stuff and had plenty of firewood with the leftovers.
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The thing I really dig, or rather my goal for this place... is that everything has a story. You know, it's not just like "i went down to the big box store and bought this stuff." But, rather "me and so and so bucked these logs after that nasty storm in 2010 and downed some homebrew.... and that over there was from that old maple down over the cliff that old man Hester planted back in '58... and we dug this clay out of furnace creek over the hill there and hauled it up in buckets to make this rocket stove... that cherry trim came from the old camp south of town when old man so and so put some logs up back in '97....etc. etc." That's what I really like about this website. All you good people's stuff has substance!

So, anyway, that's a quick summary of what's been going on here in Illinois over the past decade. I've been sitting in front of this computer for way too long now. I'll post some more as winter leaves the midwest and drool over all you other's gardens that are in milder climates in the meantime.

Cheers!
Last edited by mannytheseacow on Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby Lollykoko » Tue Apr 02, 2013 12:52 am

Thanks for some news about your place, Manny. That hot water/solar set-up looks compact. Do you sell power back to the grid?

I spent the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law and we spent a lot of time talking about raising mushrooms. I suggested we try out the hardwood sampler pack that has 300 plugs (3 varieties) plus drill, mallet, wax and brush for getting the job done. I'm hoping that BIL will be down soon to take down a couple of oak trees that are in inconvenient spots. The ones that are already dead have been standing too long to be good for culturing fungi. I'm open for suggestions on starting some mushroom patches.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby pa_friendly_guy » Tue Apr 02, 2013 2:44 pm

I love what you have done Manny. I love it, :D The idea of having solar electric is truly fascinating to me. I like what you have done with you heating. The way you use your excess to barter is the way it used to be. That is truly amazing. You have done a lot with a little. I enjoyed the furniture, if I can get a picture of that my neighbor is doing I will post it for you. I have a few pieces like that, my mantel is solid walnut with the bark on, and I have a bench that is from the same piece. I tried to take some pictures of them to share, but I could not get that done. :lol: as a matter of fact, I don't know what happened to the rest of my pictures. ;)
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby matt walker » Tue Apr 02, 2013 5:58 pm

Manny, I'm, uh, speechless! Your place is seriously inspiring, I too just absolutely love what you have done there. I tried inoculating some logs a few years ago, but it didn't take. Your furniture is fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing all of this with us.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby dave brenneman » Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:34 pm

Looks great, Manny. I'd be interested in hearing more about the bees.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby dave brenneman » Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:36 pm

Also, I agree about objects having a story. I find that it improves my opinion of furniture if there's a story behind it.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby Lollykoko » Tue Apr 02, 2013 11:59 pm

I'm glad to be back today, and to see the second post that I missed while writing a reply to the first one. Beautiful furniture, and a nice save on re-using the bridge!

Manny, I've also been yapping about wanting a portable sawmill. I am supposing that you would agree on the benefits of having one available if you have wooded land. Do you have a commercial mill or did you construct one from plans, either purchased or intuitive?
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby mannytheseacow » Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:30 am

Thanks for everyone's kind words. I have several responses here...

Lolly: I'm back and forth about whether to be connected to the grid. I oversized my solar electric system because I was skeptical about how much they could produce, and wow! They really kick out the juice! As Guy says, I'm really fascinated by it, too. The solar hot water makes sense to me, but the electric is kinda like magic. Anyway, so yeah, it produces more than I need, but my local power company has so many fees and services charges that I need to sell them a ton of electricity before I break even. They get you coming and again going. So in the big picture I like the idea of giving other people my excess electricity and then in my little world I also like not having to deal with having a power company. So- I should probably just suck it up.

As for the mushrooms, I'm by no means an expert. What I do know is if you're cutting some fresh oak, let it sit for two weeks after you cut it and then inoculate it as soon as possible after that two weeks. I haven't seen any of the shitakes take yet but the oysters flourish here where I'm at. I also like that the oysters will grow on boxelder 'cause nobody wants boxelder and I don't feel bad about cutting it down. The trouble is, the mycelium eats up the boxelder logs in just a few short seasons where the oak logs will flourish for several years. That said, the oysters yielded a couple of pounds the first fall and I even got half a pound a couple weeks ago when the weather was still 10* and the sun came out nice and intense for a couple of days. Weird. Good luck though! A friend of mine says you can grow oysters on sawdust or coffee grounds too. I'd like to start culturing them so I can cut out the store. I'm open to suggestions if any of you have experience with this.

Dave, I can blab on and on about bees. It's really easy, and pretty important little creature to have around. I bought a starter hive (2 deep boxes, 2 honey supers, and a feeder) and then a small colony of Russian bees (queen and 10,000 workers). After that I haven't put anything into them; they take care of themselves. I went with the Russian variety because they can take the cold winters here, have decent production, fairly docile, and not susceptible to some of the diseases that are affecting other types of honey bees. I can't speak for the other types, I've only used this breed.

Hmm, perhaps a section of this forum could be dedicated to beekeeping if there's much interest in it? Otherwise, I'm happy to answer any other questions you have right here, share what I know, and help figure out what we don't. I just dug into my hive the other day and noticed some black mold in the corners. I'm not too worried about it but that's something I'm looking into.
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Re: Another Illinois 'stead

Postby mannytheseacow » Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:33 am

Oh! And Guy, I'd love to see your furniture and your neighbor's if you can get some photos! I really like walnut with the bark on. That contrast between the dark heart wood and the white pulp wood with the ribbon of dark bark is pretty sharp.
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