It’s Always 5:00 in the Cellar


The cellar is a curious little building behind my house, and has (oddly) become one of my favorite places on the farm. I’m not sure how old it is–the barn is from the 1890s and there was an original farmhouse here that burned down. The house where I live was built in the 1930s. I don’t know if the cellar pre-dates the current house or not, but most likely. It was dug in to the hillside behind the house, and at one time was used as cellars were typically used–to hold the bounty of summer in glass quart and pint jars.
The cellar underwent a few changes through the years. At one point, the studio building was built on top of it. Also at some point, someone decided to let some light into the cellar by installing a door with a window and also two windows in the front wall.

This “innovation” ruined the cellar for its intended purpose. It no longer remains cool in the summer, despite its block walls and being mostly underground. Sun comes in the windows, and in the summertime, it can get quite warm in there. The windows also add to cold in the winter, which contributes to pipes freezing. Water pipes for both the house and the studio run through the cellar. I solved this problem first with a space heater then, recently, having a gas heater installed. Since there’s no place to hang the heater on a wall, it’s hung from the ceiling using metal straps. (Ingenious idea of my hired men.) I have free gas, so I can now keep the cellar (and the pipes) toasty all winter and it doesn’t cost me any electric.
The only canning jars I keep in here are empty ones, for storage.

I keep feed here in large trash cans. I also store a lot of over-stock for the house and studio in here, as well as a random multiplicity of parts and pieces and tools and supplies for the farm. It’s the go-to spot for hired men. They arrive at the farm and head straight to the cellar, whether they’re looking for the portable jump starter to get the tractor moving in the dead of winter, or a hammer, or nails, or fence staples, or plumbing or electric parts, or just about anything.

It was, however, a total mess, involving bumping into things, stepping over things, searching through crammed shelves and drawers and even on the floor for whatever they were looking for on a given day. One day last fall, they got pro-active and suggested (emphatically!) that they help me clean out the cellar! Because, pretty much, I think they couldn’t stand it anymore.

They carried almost every single thing out of the cellar and dumped it on the patio. I made keeper piles and burn piles and “do you want to take it home with you, I don’t want it” piles. Then what was going back in, went in, only much more orderly. And there was actually space to sit down, and with the cool weather coming in, soon enough they’d be arriving and sitting in the cellar on turned over buckets to discuss what the plan was for the day.
So I brought them some chairs from the studio.
And soon enough we were all sitting around talking at the beginning of every work day, and at the end, neighbors would stop by and we’d be having a drink. So I started stocking the cellar fridge with all kinds of drinks–bottled water, sodas, and an assortment of alcohol so I had something handy to serve when friends and neighbors came by. And then my hired men said, you really need some music in here.
So I brought in a CD player and some CDs. And then I was taking the Christmas tree down and instead of packing the lights away, I hung them up in the cellar–that seemed like easier storage, they won’t get tangled!

And before you know it, it became the Sassafras Farm Bar and Club. Whether it’s hired men or neighbors or friends, everyone ends up in the cellar. Lights, music, drinks, and there’s even been some dancing.

What happens in the cellar stays in the cellar, so I can’t tell you about that!
But if you stop by for a visit, I’ll offer you a libation. Just don’t mind the spiders.

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Fence Line Feeders, Round Bales, and Stars


Whenever I look at these round bales in the fence line along the road, I remember the night last fall after the feeders had been put in place. It was probably one of my favorite evenings all year. It was already dark by the time they’d finished the construction in the fence line. The sun was down, but it was still warm enough that I wasn’t wearing a jacket. I climbed up on the boards to sit on the fence, watching my hired men come up the road on the tractor with a round bale speared on the back, the headlights beaming up the night road toward me. They shoved the first bale up against the fence line feeder and I climbed on top of the big bale, high off the ground, the stars above me, while they went back and forth with the tractor to bring three more.

And I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this, sitting up on a round bale under the stars along a country road.” You know, with two husky men to watch work, too. Heh.

Those are days I know how lucky I am to be living this life, and those are days I look back on and remember how lucky I am, even when the snow is falling and climbing on top of a round bale doesn’t sound like a good idea at the moment.

Here is how these feeders work.
A section of fence line, between two posts, was cut out and replaced with boards situated for feeding. The bales are easily placed from the road, and the horses (this would work for cows also) feed from the fenceline. They can’t get in to wallow around on the hay.
Two of these fence line feeders, fitting two round bales each, were constructed. Four of these round bales last the horses quite a while, a couple of weeks. When they’re eaten down, the remainder can be pitchforked over the fence to finish it off then more round bales are moved in place. Note that there is also a bit of a slope between the road and the fence line. This slope is helpful.
It’s always optimal to be feeding under cover, which is how I’ve got bales set up in the opened stalls in the barn for the cows. Since I don’t have that option set up yet for the horses, this is working great to keep hay from being wallowed on and wasted, and I can go a couple weeks at a time without lifting a finger.
And though it’s winter now, the memory of the warm autumn night they were built gives me a little smile every time I look at them. Not hefting square bales to the horses on a daily frozen basis ALSO GIVES ME A SMILE!

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  1. IMG_3628

    December 3, 2014 - The Barn Job

    Something is afoot.

    The stall addition to the side of the original part of the barn is getting a facelift.

    I’ve been a bit frustrated with the three stalls to the left of the alleyway ever since I moved in. Dampness has been a huge problem, which I’ve worked on in various ways–it has poor drainage and was built lower … Continued…

  1. IMG_3535

    November 5, 2014 - Reconfiguring

    This is Ross, painting the horse shelter that I had built in the fenceline here a while back.

    You can see a little better here what it was in original purpose.

    It had room for shelter on one side, with a hay feeder, and a small amount of hay storage on the other side…. Continued…

  1. 10665127_4634039665104_7078086931103550324_n

    September 15, 2014 - Scenes from A Retreat

    This weekend was another two-day retreat at Sassafras Farm, with artist Kelly Walker on hand to give primitive art workshops. Attendees painted a primitive farm scene (with my barn in the picture!) on canvas and also painted a metal bucket. (I was SO amazed at the creativity that came out in the buckets!) I gave workshops that included corn cob jelly, burnt sugar cake, taper candlemaking, fall potpourri from the … Continued…

  1. IMG_6401

    September 10, 2014 - One-Day Retreats Coming Up!

    Come learn at the farm!

    Saturday, November 8, 2014 – TASTE OF SASSAFRAS FARM Retreat!

    Saturday, November 15, 2014 – TASTE OF SASSAFRAS FARM Retreat!

    Saturday, December 6, 2014 – HOLIDAY IN THE COUNTRY Retreat!

    I’m offering my … Continued…

  1. IMG_2929

    August 20, 2014 - Big Garden Project

    Out with the old, in with the new!

    The big flower gardens all around the front porch and to the side of the studio looked really nice when I got here. Roses and butterfly bushes and daffodils, irises, and so on. Lovely! The previous owners were members of a garden club and did garden tours.

    This is how the front gardens ended up after putting up … Continued…

  1. IMG_2855

    August 11, 2014 - Party in the Studio

    Workshops are coming up in a few weeks and I’ve been getting things set up in the studio. Before a retreat, I do all the big shopping for food and supplies that I can do in advance. There’s always a last-minute farmers market run for fresh stuff. I get all my tools and equipment in order, and get things set up for the workshops that are part of the retreat that’s coming.

    Then … Continued…

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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