Monday, February 23, 2015

Lil Raisin Acres' 2 Year Anniversary!

Over the weekend (Friday 2/20), we celebrated our 2nd Year Anniversary here at Lil Raisin Acres! We've learned quite a lot over the past couple years, and although we've made a lot of improvements, there are still many more on the wish list! It was certainly a LOOOONG time coming! We had been dreaming of downsizing, moving away from the city, living a slower paced, more self-sufficient lifestyle with a large garden and some backyard chickens for several years before we got here. But, nothing worth having comes too easily, I guess!

Lil Raisin Acres - BEFORE and AFTER
We had been looking around at property for quite a while back in the fall of 2012, but nothing really struck us. We were looking for something around 3-5 acres in a rural-ish setting, with a modest 3-4 bedroom home on it. Either the parcel was too small, or the house was too big. Too close to town, or too far away from Brian's employer.

We'd pretty much given up for the time being, and were preparing for the holidays when my Mom forwarded me a foreclosed home listing a few days after Thanksgiving. It was in a town I had NEVER heard of, and had to Google it! A whole 2100 residents? I liked that idea! Close enough to a decent sized town for grocery shopping, yet far enough from town to not have neighbors right on top of us and 2 colleges nearby for Britt.

The acreage was exactly the right size, the home itself was modestly sized, propane heated and had a private well (off grid features always a plus!). AND, the price was ridiculously low compared to some of the other homes we'd seen! AWESOME! But, why so low?

From the lead photo I could tell it needed a new roof, and it was very dull looking, Not much curb appeal AT ALL, but knew that could be easily remedied, and a roof that size could be replaced fairly inexpensively. And then I started browsing the other photos... The people had literally taken the kitchen sink- not a stitch of plumbing to be found. They even had tried to pry the back splash tiling off the wall. Total disaster, kitchen completely stripped. Oddly enough, though, the fixtures in the bathroom all appeared to be new and in place!

Then I got to photos of the "2 Car Garage", which actually turned out to be an ugly, pieced together normal looking 1 car garage with a DIY horse barn with metal roofing attached to the back. There was livestock fencing snaking across the entire back yard as well. That would certainly be a lot of effort to remove...

My hopes had pretty much sunk by that point, but the price was exceptionally right, so I went ahead and forwarded the ad to Brian, who's employer was only 35 minutes from the property. His first reaction was a resounding NO, but he liked the price, too. That evening he came by here after work, and immediately loved the location. He brought me out over that weekend, and we made an appointment to put in a bid within the week. Thankfully, we went ahead and offered what the bank was asking, for another person tried to put in a bid a few thousand less the next day!

There were many ups and downs through-out the purchase process and at a couple points, it seemed like the deal might fall through. Honestly, it was a more stressful than cheerful time. The realtor and the branch bank were both unfamiliar with rehab loans, which caused a LOT of headache. We were pretty much on our own working out exactly what paperwork was needed to contract the builder to do the roof and kitchen remodel.

The lender took a look at the Frankenstein garage/barn and insisted we put another $2k down in escrow to assure them it would be repaired and painted along with the kitchen and roof expenses which were part of our loan. There was a problem with the well and the water test (house was vacant for a year, winterized...), which we ultimately were forced to rectify ourselves or lose the deal. We were charged $200 for standard door locks we didn't even like or want without any prior notification (we had our eye on some at Lowes that were half that price that we could have bought and provided), and the contractor left the keys on top of the electrical box in the open where anyone could have grabbed them...

When we finally closed the deal, it felt like 392478374 pounds had been lifted off our shoulders. But, there were still many trials to come! When the propane was reconnected and turned on, Britt kept insisting she smelled something funny near the kitchen, though she couldn't explain what it was. My parents stopped by and said the same thing. Come to find out, when the jerks tore the kitchen apart, the gas line leading to the stove was somehow punctured!!! Thank God I had quit smoking, and that we hadn't installed a stove yet, or this place could've been blown apart!

After that, things just got better and better! The week after we moved in, we picked up our first group of 6 chicks from Tractor Supply. You know them as Pecker, Dumpster, Nosy, Athena and Venus. Sadly, we didn't notice that the 6th chick, a second leghorn, seemed to be ill til we got her home. We also realized it had a bum leg, probably a congenital defect. She died a couple days later. Our first taste of livestock reality down on the farm here... Since then, we've gotten 10 more chickens, but have lost 3 of them (Stormy just disappeared all together, Pepper choked on a feather, and Cookie was attacked by a hawk). By accident, we ended up with a rooster, which I swore I would never have due to the crowing... We've also gotten turkeys and guineas, too!

Besides just chickens, we ended up with our late buddy Houdini AKA Deenis the goat when we were talking to folks living next door to the acreage my brother and his in-laws have their campers parked at. We were looking for a small goat, and ended up with a 200 lb whopper with an appetite for anything he wasn't supposed to be eating. The neighbors didn't want to send him to slaughter because he was just so friendly! We also picked up Baa Sheep, the shy ewe who's former owner was no longer able to care for her late last spring. We had an interesting time trying to shear her for the first time last spring. Little Doggie came to live with us last summer, too! She certainly keeps the chickens on their toes! After Deenis died last month, we got Opie and Daisy, our pygmy goats, to keep Baa company. They're very energetic!

Our first year here, I started seeds on a mammoth scale, but came to realize that without a decent tiller of our own, we'd have to scale it down. Renting a walk behind rear tine for a single day once a year doesn't cut it for 1/8th or so acres! This year, however, after inheriting an ATV, it looks like we're going to be in business! We've been looking at pull behind disc harrows, and have already received our rather large seed order! At some point, a green house is in the works, as well as perhaps some raised beds for my herbs and leafy greens.

If we can get this entire enclosed garden area up and running, we hope to start selling at the farmer's market. I plan to specialize in herbs, as there is not a single dedicated seller at either of our 2 closest markets, and I also know how to make herbal products like vinegars, seasoning blends and medicinal tea blends. We do already sell eggs here and there to friends and co-workers, although in the winter we get very few, and most of those are frozen by the time I find them......

Although we've done quite a few physical improvements, we're still lacking in curb appeal due to lacking landscaping. Not my strong suit, but we've been adding things each spring/summer. It is a little difficult when you have free ranging chickens who like to dig and scratch, but we're working on it! I feel like a cottage garden with wildflowers/perennials would be most suitable here. I'm not a huge fan of bushes. I've got several types of seeds I'm hoping will grow for me so I can get started on it!

At some point, we'd like to completely tear down the Frankenstein and build a separate steel barn and larger coop out back and a new garage that actually fits 2 cars in it! But that is a LONG way off (you know, like when we win the lotto! LOL). I'll be happy if we can just properly tie in the roof and get the entire thing done in metal, as well as replace the rickety sliding doors!

I guess the moral of this LOOOONG WINDED tale is to not give up and keep at it if you're looking to down size and be more self-sufficient. Be willing to think outside the box. See things as they could be if you put in a little elbow grease, don't just expect something to be perfect from the get-go.  Don't worry about other people's opinions/criticism of your lifestyle. There is a lot of peace to be found in voluntary simplicity. Be realistic - if you're spending all your money on a house payment itself, there is no room for other improvements or to spend on leisure activities. You might have to give something up to get something more rewarding in return, like getting rid of a second lease car payment in favor of home schooling your kids. The minute you quit pleasing others and live in a way that pleases yourself, you'll be surprised how much happier you will feel...