Flooding on Gander Hill Farm

Gander Hill Pond flooded My friend Tom called me today and said he went to our property to see if we had any flooding from the recent 4 inches of rain they had there. He said it had flooded and sent me some pictures. It looks like all of the straw we put down over our grass seed has washed away and probably all of our grass seed as well. All the money we spent for grass seed, gas driving there, and motel room has been all wasted. I was hoping it wouldn’t flood until the grass seed had germinated and started to grow so we wouldn’t have much erosion, but we were not so lucky.  I am sure we had lots of erosion as well. It is times like these when I think about selling and buying some better farm ground.

We don’t plan on going back to the farm to put more seed down. What ever seeds the flooding has brought will have to do. One good thing, the pond is now full.

Posted in Farm Report | 2 Comments

Farm Report April 2014


Our pond we had dug out is starting to fill up.

Our pond we had dug out is starting to fill up.

We made it down to our farm recently to check out the pond and to plant some grass seed where we had it excavated. We also checked on our trees that we have planted to see how they fared through the winter and to check on our pole barn and all it contents. I am happy to report all is well.

It was nice to see the pond with about two feet of water in it. There on the farm we didn’t get nearly the snow we did here in Chicago, if it had it would have been full by now.

We put down about 100 lbs of mixed grass seed altogether. My friend Tom put down about 40lbs for us, but  he didn’t think that was nearly enough and he suggested we put at least another 40lbs down. So we drove to the farm and put another 60lbs down.

After putting out the grass seed we then we put 9 bales of straw on top of it to help keep the birds from eating it all and the straw helps keep the seed moist so it has a chance to germinate. It was a lot of work and I hope it gets enough rain to germinate and then grows and gets established before the area floods which it has done at least once a year since we bought the place in 2009. It was a two-day job but we managed to get it done. The soil where we planted the seed looks really good and very black and is some of the best looking soil I have ever seen. It was also light and fluffy and we didn’t drive on the ground to keep from compacting it. I think the seed will grow good if given enough moisture.

Straw on our grass seed.

Here we are starting to put the straw over the grass seed.


There was a little erosion on the embankment but nothing to worry about yet. We have to keep our fingers crossed and hope it all gets established before the heavy rains and flooding comes and causes major erosion.

I took our battery charger with us just in case our tractor wouldn’t start after sitting all winter, but there was no need. The tractor started right up. They only thing that worried me was a mouse ran from up by the engine compartment through my legs under the seat somewhere. I am not afraid of mice for myself but only worried about them chewing engine wires on the tractor. The next time we go back I will need to get something that will get rid of the mice, not sure what to do, I don’t like to use poison because that could kill other animals that would eat the mice. I am thinking my best plan of action is to get several different kinds of traps and use some bird seed to lure them in.

We checked on our tree tubes and fruit trees while we were there and the pvc poles we replaced the bamboo poles with on our tree tubes have held up well. We didn’t see one tree tube toppled over. I am glad we did the extra work and replaced them all, it was well worth the effort.

This is one of the Honey Crisp apple trees we planted last fall.

This is one of the Honey Crisp apple trees we planted last fall.


We also looked at all of our fruit trees while we were there and every one of them including the two Honey Crisp apple trees we planted last fall are looking good. I have to admit I was a little bit worried that when we mowed the fields next to all the trees we planted and cut down all the small willow trees that we might be asking for trouble and all the field mice and voles would head to our trees and girdle them. We didn’t see any evidence of that and will do a better inspection the next time we go to the farm in May.

Every thing is looking good at the farm and we can’t wait until the day we retire and move there for good.

Posted in Farm Report, Tree tubes | 16 Comments

Plans For the Coming Year

We have been dealing with record breaking snows and cold temperatures this winter.

We have been dealing with record breaking snows and cold temperatures this winter here in the Chicago area.

First off, I want to apologize to all my readers for not blogging lately. Writing really doesn’t come easy for me and with me working on a new assignment at work and working 12 hr days for the last 4 months writing is that much harder. I started working longer hours at work to make as much money as I can before I retire so we can save more to build our farm. I have also been very busy trying to keep on a regular workout schedule to get this old body into shape and to lose lbs. that have been adding up this winter. Even with all the snow shoveling we have done this winter, and the work outs, its still been a losing battle. The older I get the harder it is to lose weight and to stay in shape.  I am trying to stay in some kind of reasonable shape so when I turn 60 and retire in less than two years, I can do the hard physical work of building our pole barn house and farm. Anyway, I plan to do a better job of posting in the future and I do have some new developments that I want to share with you all. Dodge TruckFirst, our old Dodge truck that had 160,000 miles on it started having problems so we decided instead of putting more money into it, it was time to buy a new truck. We bought a 2014 Dodge Ram 1500 with the 5.7 V 8 Hemi engine. It is a 4×4 so it will be a better farm truck than our last one. With all the snow we have had this past winter the 4×4 has really been a blessing and we know we need the 4×4 for the country roads in Iowa. We also won’t be as worried about break downs now with the new truck when we make those (300 mile one way) trips to our farm.

Pole Barn House News

We are planning to break ground on our pole barn house in April of 2015, that is little over a year from now. The time is coming faster than I am ready for. I still have a lot to learn about the whole construction process of building these type of buildings and I am happy to say I now have someone that really knows about pole barns that I can turn to for advise.  Robert Turner of ABP Pole Barns has offered to help and told me if I have any questions I can go to him.  That will be a big help and I am happy to have an expert I can turn to for questions I might have. I am a very handy guy but I have never built a pole barn house before. I have only rehabbed homes and this will be the first new house I do from the ground up. The first thing I have to do is finish up my pole barn house plans and get them over to him so he can look them over and see if there is anything I have overlooked or that can be approved upon.

Plans For The Coming Year

At the end of every year my wife and I sit down and plan out what we want to get accomplished in the coming year and there are a few things we need to accomplish this year.

The first thing on our list is ordering 40 lbs. of pasture seed to seed the area around the pond we expanded last summer. I had the seed sent to my friend Tom’s place and he is going to be Frost Seeding that area for us. The specific contents of this pasture grass seed blend are: • 35% Tall Fescue (endophyte free) • 30% Orchardgrass • 15% Perennial Ryegrass • 10% Alfalfa • 10% White Clover

The road way and the top of the embankment to the right of our old truck

The area we are going to seed is the roadway that leads to our pond and the top of the embankment to the right of our old truck in this picture.

The second thing we need to do this spring is have a perk test done on our soil where our septic system will be so we know what type of system we have to put in and we can get some estimates on how much it is going to cost us.


Getting the concrete floor poured this coming year and moving our stuff a little at a time will make our move to the farm less daunting.

The final thing we have planned this year is to have a concrete floor poured in our pole barn that we had built in 2012. We would like to get that done so we can start moving things to the farm on every trip we take there between now and when I retire so that when that day finally arrives we have that much less to move.

We still plan to keep up with the mowing around the trees we planted and maybe plant a few more fruit trees (if my wife lets me), but that will be about it. For the first time, I actually feel that the day I retire and start my career as a farmer is getting closer and will be here before I know it.

Posted in Farm Report, Pole Barn House | 16 Comments

Affordable Iowa Farm For Sale

Bargin hunters Dream

Bargain hunters Dream

For those of you who are following this blog because someday you would like to take the plunge and become a farmer too, here is an affordable farm that would make a great little farm for a beginning farmer.

Looks like the perimeter is already fenced in.

Looks like the perimeter is already fenced in.

This farm is in Lucas county Iowa and is almost 8 acres with a house and farm buildings already in place and priced at only $54,900. Iowa farm ground is a great investment and you can’t go wrong with this farm. As I heard someone once say, “The good Lord isn’t making any more of this stuff.” The house needs work inside and out but with some sweat equity you can make this investment grow.

Barn and farm buildings

Barn and farm buildings

The barn and the other farm buildings need some work, but can be restored for a great little homestead.

Back of House

Back of House

Front driveway leading to the house

This 4 bedroom and 2 bath farm is just a few miles north of our farm and is just a quarter mile off of highway 65, a paved road, and would be about a 45 min. commute to Des Moines.

Brick Fireplace

Brick Fireplace with lots of natural light in living room.

If the septic system is in good shape that is worth 10,000 by itself.

The listing says it had a new foundation not long ago.

The listing says it had a new foundation not long ago.

It has the original wood trim and floors that could be refinished.

If interested in this property, click here for the listing. These affordable places don’t come up often and this one won’t last long. Below are some more photos of this farm.

Affordible Iowa farm 9 Affordible Iowa farm 10 Affordible Iowa farm 11 Affordible Iowa farm 12 Affordible Iowa farm 13 Affordible Iowa farm 14 Affordible Iowa farm 15 Affordible Iowa farm 16

Posted in Iowa Farms for sale | 3 Comments

Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Snowing in Park Forest

Looks like we have at least of foot of snow and its still snowing. With temperatures expected to drop well below zero tonight it should be interesting how our trains will run tomorrow. There is something about sitting in a nice warm house with the smell of a chicken and rice dish in the oven and a bottle of good wine to make a person fill nice and snug with the weather being like it is. Hope you all are feeling the same.

Posted in Ramblings | 12 Comments

Growing A Farm

North Pasture

A picture of our north pasture after we mowed it.

Awhile back one of my readers made a comment about our farm growing and at that time it occurred to me that we are growing a farm and our farm is like a seed we have planted and it is slowly emerging  from bare land. When we were on or vacation in October working on our farm, we saw it grow a little more. I have all ready posted about having our farm pond dug out, but we got  a lot of other work done In spite of being bitten up by chiggers and having the flu while we were there. We were able to use our new mower and mow a lot of our pasture ground to keep all the willow trees from taking over the pasture.

When we were there last year in October we noticed there was thousands of grass hoppers in the tall grass, but this year we only saw a few. I was wondering what happened to them but when we started mowing the pasture we spotted the predator that was keeping the grass hoppers in check. In our tall grass were hundreds of praying mantis that kept flying up as we were mowing. They were huge and we felt bad about cutting down all the grass and taking away their habitat were they had layed their eggs for next years crop. We were also surprised by all the birds who were also living in the 4 foot tall grass. We are trying to make our farm a permaculture  and in our farm design we want to include the birds and the helpful insects that help control the harmful ones. We have decided from now on we will not mow the whole thing at once but rotate the mowing so parts are only mowed once every two years. This way there will always be some tall grass for the insects and other animals can over winter in. We did leave about five acres in the back forty that did not get mowed this year.

Our neighbors cows stopped by to say hi. They have a beautiful Hereford bull that you can see on the right of this picture with the white face looking at us. If you click on picture to get a closer look.

We also planted some more trees while we were there. We added two Honey Crisp apple trees. This gives us 5 apple trees altogether now. I hope by the time we move there in 2 years some of the trees will be bearing fruit.

These are our 2 new honey crisp apple trees we planted in October.

These are our 2 new honey crisp apple trees we planted in October.

Apple trees we planted 2 years ago.

Remember the 2 cherry trees I said were dead from the drought in my last farm report. They are not dead, I noticed new growth on the bottom of the trunk of the trees. I don’t know if they will make it but I am hoping they do. I don’t know what caused them to die back and will do a better inspection the next time we are there.

Blaze Red Maple

Blaze Red Maple Tree that we had grown from seed from trees in our current neighborhood.

We also planted a bunch of baby trees that I had planted in our garden a year ago last fall. I went around in our current neighborhood and found the most beautiful trees with the most brilliant fall color and gathered lots of their seeds. I gathered some brilliant red and yellow maples and some thornless honey locust seeds.

The baby red maples and thorn honey locust trees after I dug them out of the garden.

The baby red and yellow maples and thornless honey locust trees after I dug them out of the garden.

We planted several of the maples up by our building site and the rest along with the Honey Locust down on the bottom ground. We like the honey locust because our cattle will eat the sweet seed pods when they drop in the fall along with the wild life that make our farm their home.  We protected these baby trees with a wire cage around them.

Some of the trees I got seeds from.

Some of the trees I got seeds from.


Sugar Maple

The Yellow maples are Sugar Maple

This concludes this farm report.

Posted in Farm Report | 13 Comments

Earth Tubes: How To Build A Low Cost System To Passively Heat and Cool Your Home For Free

Earth Tubes

When we build our pole barn house we know we want to put in Radiant floor heating to heat our home but haven’t decided on how we want to cool the house. So I have been researching the best option for keeping our house cool in the hot humid summers of Iowa and I came upon a an interesting concept that we might consider incorporating into our building design, Earth Tubes. In this post I will explain what they are, how they work, some of the draw backs, and how I would build a low-cost design.

What Are Earth Tubes

Earth Tubes are a passive heating and cooling technique that uses tubes that are buried at least 6′ feet  in the ground that has air passing through them and uses the constant temperature of 50 degrees of the earth to cool and dehumidify air in the summer and warm air in the winter before entering the building envelope. They are often used as a supplement to conventional central heating or air conditioning systems. They work best in extreme climates that have high heat in the summers and very cold temperatures in the winters like Iowa.

Earth tubes are sometimes not installed correctly because they are poorly misunderstood and are somewhat experimental but are nothing new. They were was first used by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. They also gained popularity again in the 70′s and 80′s but many failed because of improper installation that caused water  (from condensation)to collect in the tubes and after a few years developed mold or bacteria and the air coming from the tube was then unhealthy to breath.

How They Work

In the summer hot humid air enters the tube from the outside and as it goes through the tube, the earth surrounding the tube cools the air and causes condensation to build on the inside wall of the tube. This cools and dehumidifies the air before it  enters the house.

In the winter cold air will enter the tube and the earth at 50 degrees will warm the incoming air before entering the house. This will especially work well with a wood stove or fireplace because they consume lots of air when used and usually cold air is pulled from under your doors and around your windows as well as other places that leak air in the building envelope.

The Drawback of Earth Tubes

There are criticisms of earth tubes and the biggest are the high cost to install a system for something that just supplements your heating and cooling needs and the condensation that forms in the tubes in the summer. The systems that are most cost-effective I have researched calls for a wide trench at least 8′ feet deep with several inches of gravel at the bottom and then several tubes at least 6″ to 8″ diameter and around 80′ long with a continuous slit on the bottom so condensation can drain out and then they must have some type of land scape fabric or sock put over the tube so no bugs can enter the slits in the tube. You can see where this would cost thousands to do. But with this system there is still a concern with Radon entering the tubes from the ground and getting into the house.

a continus slit in tube to allow condensation to escape.

a continuous slit in tube to allow condensation to escape.

How I Would Do It For Less

I think I have come up with a less costlier solution for doing earth tubes and we hope to  incorporate them into our home design if I can get it done at a low-cost. Sometimes the best plan is the most simplest one and mine is very simple.

Our Hillside and Pole barn house

Our Hillside and Pole barn house

As you can see from my wife’s drawing above of our hillside how I would do our earth tube design. My earth tubes will follow the natural curve of our hillside 6′ 1/2 feet under ground and will not have a slit until at the bottom of the hill where the last few feet will have a slit and a fabric sock to allow the water to drain from condensation and to keep insects out of the tubes. Only the last few feet of the earth tube will have gravel under it with another 3″ pvc perforated pipe imbedded in the gravel that goes to daylight to drain. This cuts cost and also stops all worry about Radon Gas getting into the system. I plan to use two 100′ rolls of 6″ non-perforated plastic drain pipe that you can buy at McCorkels in Columbia Iowa for 99 cents a foot and it will be in a straight line, not serpentine like the photo at the top of the page.

100 ft rolls of 6" nn-perforated plastic drain pipe at MCCorkels in Columbia Iowa for 99 cents a foot.

100 ft rolls of 6″ non-perforated plastic drain pipe at MCCorkles in Columbia Iowa for 99 cents a foot.

The reason I chose 6’1/2 feet for the depth of my tubes instead of the recommended 8′ is lots of people do field tile in the state of Iowa and most of their trenchers can go down to almost 7 feet, so I think I can get it done for a reasonable rate. I think it will still work at that depth, any less depth will not have a stable enough temperature during extreme heat or cold to work properly. The whole key to this design is to have the earth tube slopped like on a hillside to a place where this condensation can drain out to alleviate the mold problem. At the bottom of the hill where the earth tubes come out on the hillside will look something like the photo below.

Air Intake of Earth Tubes

It will come out of our slab in the pole barn house like in the photo below.

I would also have a door on ours so I can turn it off if not needed. We would probably only use the earth tubes in extreme weather.

There is some argument whether you need a fan to move air through the tubes. I think in the winter no fan will be needed as the cold outside air enters the tube and it starts to warm from the earth, it will rise naturally like in a chimney, especially with the fireplace going will help pull the air into the tube. The summer is when I think you will need a low velocity fan to pull the heavy colder air up the tube and it maybe something as simple as below.


If we do earth tubes we will have them installed and in place before our pole barn house is built. I think the best place is on either side of a wood stove or fire place, or by your cold air return if you have a conventional heating and cooling ducted system. Another advantage of this design is you could flush these out once a year to get rid of any dust or dirt by sticking a garden hose in the earth tubes from inside the house.

As you can see my earth tube design is a simple design with a simple concept and will not cost much to do. I will let you know more when I find out what it will cost to have the two trenches dug. I think with all the hills in Iowa this design will work for a lot of homes there. I am interested to hear what many of you think of earth tubes and if you think my design will work?


I have talked to one person that does field tile in Iowa and he said he can do it with tube and trench for 2.00 a foot. So if I do 200 feet of earth tube it will only cost 400.00. Now he did say that since it was such a small job they may charge an additional 300.00 just to come out and set up. So I think I can get it done for 700 bucks. Now this has got me thinking, if I do 4 earth tubes which will bring my total to 400 feet, will that still be considered a small job and would they still charge me 300 for setup? If I could get 4 tubes done for 800.00 it would be even better.

Earth tubes

The two pictures above and below are from a house in Missouri. The owner of this house said the earth tubes did not work. The tube is 2ft by 80 feet long. This system failed because the tube was only buried a few feet under ground and the fan he used to pull the air from the tube was a high volume fan. This system would have worked if the tubes were buried at least 6 ft and it would have been better to use four 6 inch  pipe instead of one 2ft pipe.

earth tubes 2

Posted in Building Projects, Pole Barn House | 17 Comments