The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

A farm needs a barn, part 2

A barn with a view

Construction is complete!

Today we had our final inspection and we are so pleased with how everything turned out and so grateful for a competent team of builders who were here everyday weather-permitting, paying attention to every smallest detail.

Second floor under construction

Workers building the roof

Barn stairwell with kids

Second floor without walls

My father-in-law gave us the best compliment when he said, “it looks like it’s always been here.” It’s big, but sits on the edge of our woods, framed by much bigger oak trees.

Barn construction is complete

A neighbor came by and asked Ivar what his favorite part was and he answered, “the big sliding doors” then proceeded to give a demonstration.

Inside of the barn

The most common question we get is “what are you going to put in there?” The traditional layout of a barn has space for animals, machines, and a workshop. And that’s pretty much what we’re planning to house. Before we can take the next steps with our farm, we need a place to put bigger animals and equipment.

Checking out the upstairs

The second most common question is about the upstairs loft and what we plan to put up there. I don’t have a good answer for this. It could be storage. It could be for gatherings. It could be a play area for the kids in the dead of winter (Becca refers to this as the “playloft”). The truth is, we built this space and much of the barn for that matter on faith that it one day will make perfect sense.

A view from the outside

As much fun as it was to watch this barn go up, we’re even more excited to see all the ways it will be used.


Garden Update

Garden beds

Tomato starts

Planting tomatoes in late Spring

Garden update 2015

With the new barn construction taking most of our attention this summer, we didn’t have as much time to devote to the garden. But we still managed to get our favorite crops planted: tomatoes, corn, peas, onions, potatoes, beets, cucumber and another testbed of watermelon (we have yet to be successful with watermelon).

Corn and potatoes

By the way, did you know beets make excellent salads? Just chop up the beets and leaves (throw the stems) and add some dressing. We’ve been eating them daily around here. In fact, beet greens are the healthiest part of the plant and are ranked among the world’s top 10 healthiest foods!

Health Beets

The main lesson I learned from last year was that you can’t slack on the weeding and “make it up on volume”. It’s much more productive to plant a smaller garden and keep it well weeded that a huge garden that doesn’t get tended. The harvest of corn, peppers, potatoes and onions last year was pathetic where I let the weeds take over.

Blueberry patch

Another lesson learned is how incredibly “fruitful” our perennial fruit plants are. The blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and apple trees are healthy, abundant, and require almost no work on my part. Minimum input, maximum output.


This has led us to more conversations about what other kinds of fruit we should be planting. Cherry, apricot, peach and plum trees may be in our future.

The only trick is finding ripe fruit before our kids do.

Picking blueberries

A farm needs a barn

Workers place posts in ground

It has been an exciting few weeks here at the Grovestead. We broke ground on our new barn project in mid-May and, weather-permitting, the activity hasn’t stopped since. In a swift two days the ground was leveled and made ready for construction using 80 cubic yards of clay from our own hillside.

Bull dozer prepares the site pad for new barn construction

Bull dozer pushing dirt

Skid loader smoothes out clay pad

The site was built up as much as 5 feet in some places. But the excavators did such a fine job of smoothing out the hillside where they scooped up the dirt, you’d never know they were here.

Dumping sand

Atop the clay pad was dumped 5 truckloads of fill sand.

Happy boy

One boy in particular was happy watching all the real-life “toys” moving about the property.

Boy atop excavated hill of topsoil

After hours Ivar and Elsie played in the dirt berms and clay pits. This became a smooth hillside 12 hours later.

Kids playing in excavated trench

The workers arrived a few days later and began squaring the site for construction.

Squaring the site for new barn construction

Barn materials arrive

Most of the materials arrived the same day on two flatbed trucks. The posts were so long the forklift driver had to raise the skids 7 feet off the ground to avoid hitting the apple trees 30′ apart.

Materials are carried to site from truck

Holes being dug for posts

Holes were dug and posts dropped into place at breakneck speed, considering there were only two workers and 40 posts.

Placing first post in ground

Overall the construction has been going very smoothly. Only a few minor delays, mostly weather-related. We’ve been holding our breath a lot around here, watching to see how our simple plans-on-paper take shape in real life (“…those are really tall poles!”). But mostly we have been thrilled with the progress.

Posts are finished for new barn construction


Queening the hives

Queen in her cage

Towards the end of last summer we discovered one of our two bee hives was vacant, a victim of Colony Collapse Disorder. We pulled frames with honey and added them to the other hive to give the remaining bees the best chance of surviving the upcoming winter.

But when spring arrived, the second hive had died off as well. We’re not really sure what happened, if it was something we did or if it was just a fluke. They are learning more about Colony Collapse Disorder and the link with neonicotinoid pesticides, one of the reason we started selling neonicotinoid-free flower seeds. Apparently 2014 was the worst year in a decade for beekeepers, with 40% of hives disappearing on average. With only two hives, the odds were already against us.

So that means this year we’re starting from scratch, again, except for the knowledge we’ve gained.  We’ve learned a lot and we’re determined to keep our hives healthy and thriving this year.

First, we relocated the hives from a shady tree-line to the middle of our apple orchard. We think the bees will appreciate the warmer, sunnier location.

Hives moved to a sunnier location in our apple orchard

Added 2 more hives this year

Second, we are supplementing the hives with more food, such as pollen patties and sugar water. There are differing points of view on this, but from the beekeepers I’ve talked to it doesn’t hurt.

Supplementing hives with extra food, like pollen patties

Finally, instead of 2 hives this year we invested in 4 colonies. Two of them came as “nucs”, just like last year, with the queens already included and a couple frames of brood. The other colonies were queenless—part of a split from another hive. The queen stayed with the original hive but I got several frames of brood and worker bees. This required me to introduce a new live queen bee into the hives.

Oddly, like many farm staples, I’m learning, live queen bees are something you order through the mail. I found a dealer and placed an order for two queens on a Monday. On Tuesday morning my queens were at the local Post Office.

New queen bees arrived by mail

Opening the box revealed two queen cages and about a dozen worker bees.

Queen bees inside the shipping box

To introduce the queen to the colony, I had to make room between the center frames, then insert the box.

Queen cage inserted into the hive

That is all there is to it! The queen cages are plugged with a hard-candy substance. Within a few days, the worker bees eat away the candy and free the queen. The whole while, the worker bees are feeding the queen through the screen mesh.

I left the hives alone for about a week and then inspected them again. Both queen cages were unplugged and the queens were out! It took another few days before I could see evidence of new brood. As of the last inspection there was plenty of new bees hatching and honey-making going on.


New arrivals

New litter of baby kittens

We’re +4 at the Grovestead as of this week. Percy had a litter of 4 kittens.

Kids meeting new kittens

Closeup of baby kittens

Mama cat taking a break

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