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Garden Update 10/2 ~ Saving Beans for Seeds

It’s official. I let the weeds get my garden. I dug up all of potatoes and I’m still picking a few tomatoes, kale, broccoli, and peppers, but the nights are getting cooler and my garden doesn’t like it that much. None of my fall plants have done much and honestly, I’m done gardening. I don’t have the time right now.

This is my garden haul from last week. My pepper plants look cold – they won’t be around much longer – and the tomatoes are slowing down too. The kale looks great, though, and so does my broccoli. I’ve got a few fall peas coming – we’ll see if they become anything.

One thing I am trying for the first time this year, is saving a few seeds. Beans seem to be a good seed to start with, so here’s what I’ve done to save bean seeds for next year!

This is what’s left of my bean plants. They look pretty bad, so this may not be the best experiment. They were hit really hard by Japanese beetles. Anyhow, the first step is to check out your biggest and most healthy looking plants – if there are any beans that have dried on the plants, pick them!

If the beans are squishy or not quite dry, leave them. You really want to get the driest beans so that your seeds don’t mold and ruin the batch. You can see a slightly green bean in my bowl – I threw that one out. Shouldn’t have picked it in the first place.

Then, shell the beans and spread them out on a pan to dry. I’m not really sure how long to let them dry. I’ll probably just put them in my cellar and leave them there for a few weeks. Then, I’ll bad them up and save them for next year! I’m curious how it works!

Have you saved your own seeds before? How did it work for you?

Linking up: Tuesday Garden Party;



Top 10 Tips for Saving Money ~ On Utilities


Two weeks ago, I gave my Top 12 Tips for saving money on groceries. This week, I want to address utilities. This topic is hot {pun intended} on my mind because I’ve had two cold showers this week – in part because of my efforts to save money on utilities.

Here are my Top 10 Tips to Save Money on Utilities:

1. Turn back your water heater ~ Not only is it not safe to have your water heater set too high, it also costs more money to keep your water hotter. According to EnergySavers.gov, for each 10 degrees you turn down your water heater, you save 3-5% in heating costs! 120F is a commonly recommended temperature. 120F is hot enough for us in the summer, but I need it a little higher sometimes in the winter because I’m a freak who likes to take scalding hot showers! 😉

2. Turn down your furnace in the winter and turn up your AC in the summer ~ According to the Residential Fact Sheet by the EPA, “in heating mode, reducing your thermostat setting by 1 degree Fahrenheit for eight hours will save about 1% on your heating bill. In cooling mode, each degree you set your thermostat above 75 degrees Fahrenheit cuts your cooling costs by about 3%.” Installing a programmable thermostat can help you better regulate the temperature at your house.

3. On cooler nights in the summer, sleep with open windows and then close them and blinds early in the morning to keep the cool air in your house ~ This might go without saying, but on cooler nights in the summer, open your windows! Get the cool air in your house and then keep it in your house by closing your windows and blinds in the morning.  Keeping the hot sun out of your house during the day is a great way to keep your home cooler without AC. Conversely, let the sun in your house in the winter to warm it up!

4. Upgrade to energy efficient appliances & furnace ~ Not only do more energy efficient appliances save money on energy costs, but they’re also better for the environment because they use fewer natural resources. Energy companies often offer rebates for upgrading appliances and there are even tax credits available. For information on tax credits, read here. And contact your local utility company for information on replacing appliances. If you live in Iowa and use Mid American, you can read about their rebate programs here. We’ve received rebates for replacing water heaters, washer/dryer, and a deep freeze. Don’t forget about rebates and tax credits!

5. Turn off lights and appliances when they are not in use~ This might be another tip that goes without saying, but always, always turn off lights when you leave a room. I’m not sure how much money it saves, but it conserves energy and that’s got to be a good thing! Also remember to turn off appliances that aren’t being used – did you know that even appliances/electronic devices that are plugged in, but turned off, still use a small amount of energy? For sure turn off your appliances to save, but to really conserve money and energy, you may want to consider unplugging items that aren’t in use, too. Does your hairdryer always need to be plugged in, for instance? How about your toaster? If you don’t want to unplug your electronic devices, consider using a power strip and turning it off when not using your devices. Just think how much money and electricity we’d save if everyone did this?

6. Switch light bulbs ~You really can save money by switching to more energy efficient light bulbs. Check out this energy savings calculator to see how much money you could save by switching over to CFLs. CFLs use up to 75% less energy and last 10 times longer so the savings can add up in a hurry! CFLs are also cooler so they’re not added unnecessary heat to your house in the summer.

7. Use cold water for washing clothes ~ According to Energy Star, almost 90% of the energy used to wash clothes goes to heating the water! Switching even a few loads a week to cold water can have a very positive impact on your energy bill – over $200 a year according to this article written for the Christian Science Monitor. And this site claims it costs 26 cents per load to wash on hot and only 11 cents per load to wash on cold! Cold water is also better for bright clothes – it keeps them nicer longer.

8. Turn off the heated dry cycle on the dishwasher ~ Another way to reduce your energy bill is to open the door of your dishwasher once it’s finished washing and let your dishes air dry – or simply turn that feature off. I’m not sure how much this actually saves, but it seems like a good idea! I hate all that steam escaping from my dishwasher, especially in the summer.

9. Use bill pay ~ I love electronic bill pay. I feel like this might be a lazy solution, but not only does it save me money on late fees, but it also saves me time and money on envelopes and stamps. I always sign up for auto bill pay options. This does not mean I can ignore bills as they come in, I always check my bills for errors, but beyond that, I don’t have to think about them much because the money is automatically deducted each month from my checking account.

10. Promptly fix all water leaks ~ I still remember the summer our utility bill spiked big time. The city called us even before bills came out to let us know about abnormally large water usage. Turns out, an outside hydrant we had for my garden had sprung a leak UNDER GROUND! I was so glad they called, because we had no idea. And yet, we had to pay – not only for the extra water we’d wasted because of the leak, but also fees for waste water treatment! It added over $80 to our monthly utility bill – an increase of almost 50%. You might be surprised how much water a leaky faucet or a running toilet wastes! It really pays to fix those problems very quickly.

These are my tips to save money on utilities. How many of these things do you do? What else to you do to save money on your utility bill that I didn’t mention?

Linking up: Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways; WFMW; Taking a Timeout Thursday; Learning the Frugal Life; Life as Mom;

Do You Believe in Ghosts? ~ Barn Renovation Part 5

Do You Believe in Ghosts? In this installment of our barn restoration story, we describe some paranormal activity we’ve had out at our barn! Crazy but true story.

Do You Believe in Ghosts? ~ Barn Renovation Part 5

When I last left off with our barn renovation efforts, we had just pulled the barn from its old home a quarter mile away to its new foundation on our property. When I look back on these old pictures, I cannot for the life of me, figure out what the heck we were thinking. Does this really look like something that ought to be saved?

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

At its old home, the barn was sunk down into the ground. Picture a garden basement, if you will. We wanted the barn to stick up out of the ground further. So we had to build it up quite a high compared to how it had been originally. The home movers jacked it up with their blocks and my husband built temporary supports. It looked like this:

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

Then, the moving company picked their support beams and jacks up, and the barn sat there. For a long time. It had taken all of our money to get the barn to our property and we had to wait a while before we had money again to start rebuilding. We joked a lot that when we had the time to work on the barn, we had no money. And when we had the money to work it, we had no time. It was a vicious cycle.

We moved the barn in August 2009. It sat like the next picture until the spring of 2010 – except without that half of the tin roof or the dormer. I can’t believe I can’t find a picture of the barn as it looked all winter. I know I must have one…

old barn sitting on stilts after being moved

Anyway, here’s where it gets a little freaky. When we bought the property we moved the barn to, we had no idea it was haunted. After we bought the 5 acres though, we heard from person after person that we had bought haunted land. Of course, we just laughed. Really? Ghosts? But our ghost even had a name: Charlie Wacker. And we heard stories of his antics and practical jokes. Vivid stories. It was a little weird. And so many people told us over and over: “that place is haunted.” I tried not to let it bother me.

But back to the barn – 2009/2010 was a super windy winter. The barn was obviously very poorly supported yet it stood. In the spring, our crew went back to work. They started with the tin roof. Getting a tight roof was the highest priority because without a roof, everything would continue to rot – but they only got half the roof on before they decided walls might be a wise decision for the structural integrity of the barn. My husband decided a dormer would be nice so he could look out of the barn and see our future house – it will be built on the east side of the barn. So he built a dormer. Then they went to work building the barn side walls. We debated about using tin or wood for the walls, but we eventually settled on wood.

barn in the process of being repaired

My husband, his parents, and our construction crew worked for a solid week building new walls. They finished up on a windy Friday afternoon. We had several little brush fires burning near the barn that we carefully put out before we left. I went home first and my husband stayed longer to make sure everything was tidied up and the fires were under control, and then he finally came home around 6:30-7:00 pm. We had a late supper and were sitting around talking when the phone rang. Our neighbors (the former owners of the barn) called to tell us that our barn was on fire and burning.

I can’t even begin to describe the sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach. We had paid quite a lot of money to have the barn moved to our property. We had just worked on it non-stop for the last couple of weeks, and it finally looked like it might have a future. We had not insured it. And it was so windy. We knew, without a doubt, that the barn would be pile of rubble and ashes when we got there. And we felt so sick.

We loaded the kids in the van, drove to pick up one of our crew (his great-grandfather had originally built the barn), and headed out to assess the damage. When we got there, we were shocked to see a line of fire trucks – probably 10 trucks lined the dirt road out to our barn. Our town fire department was there and so was the next closet town’s department as well but only a couple trucks were actually at the barn. It was dark, cold, and windy. But the barn was still there. In fact, it suffered very little damage, all things considered. Only the south side burned and it had just started burning the support beams when it was extinguished.

barn after the fire

We were later shocked to find out that the fire department went first to the wrong property and ended up taking 45 minutes after the initial 911 call to get to our property. They heard our last name and headed immediately out to my husband’s parents’ farm. Not that many people knew we owned our land. And it took the fire department 45 minutes to figure out where the fire was and get there.

Of course, after people heard about the fire, many told us that the ghost, Charlie Wacker, was mad at us for moving the barn out there. On the contrary- we felt very lucky and credited Charlie for saving our barn!

Since then, we’ve made a ton of progress on the barn. You can see a pretty current picture at the top of my blog page. We sort of forgot about Charlie Wacker until very recently.

March has been barn month for us. My husband, his parents, and our crew again, have been hard at work finishing the mow so we can move our home building / remodeling company offices out there. One day I went to the barn to see the progress and Dan (my husband) said the guys were freaked out because the big overhead doors kept opening and closing – on their own – and a lot. I looked at Dan- I was surprised to hear this.  My husband is not one to buy into ghosts and such, but he said it was really freaky. He was there and saw it too and said there was no reason those doors should be randomly opening and closing like they had been. I was officially freaked out.

A couple days later I mentioned the ghost to a friend of mine while we were chatting on the phone. She told me in all seriousness that we needed to introduce ourselves to Charlie Wacker. I thought it was a bit strange, but you know what? I told my husband and he did! The next time I was at the barn, I also spoke up and introduced myself, too. I felt a little strange talking out loud to “no one” in the barn, but I said Hi to Charlie Wacker. I introduced myself and thanked him for saving our barn from the fire. I told him he was welcome to stay in our barn and keep it safe. And I asked him to please make sure the doors were shut when everyone was gone.

Since then do you know how many times those big overhead doors have opened and closed on their own? Not once.

So, I’m curious. Do you believe in ghosts? Because I never did before, but I’m starting to now.

If you’d like to read the rest of the story about moving our barn, it’s here.

If someone offers you a free barn…

Is there such a thing as a free barn? Here’s the story of our “free” barn – how we moved it, restored it, and lived in it for over two years. Now it’s the home to our construction company Oak Tree Homes.

free iowa barn

If someone offers you a free barn…

Run! Run far! Run fast! As we’ve learned over the last two years, there is no such thing as a free barn. Unless you have deep pockets and/or a strong desire to preserve American heritage, be very skeptical of free barns.

Several years ago my husband and I bought the perfect 5 acre lot of land to build our forever home on. After following the military around for ten years and moving every year and half on average, we were so excited by the prospect to have a “forever” home.

The land is gorgeous. It has trees. It’s up on a little hill. It has pasture. It’s removed from almost everyone else. We love it except for one thing. It was missing a barn – and any tie to American farm heritage. There were no out buildings on it. And that was a big deal to us.

As fate would have it, our closest neighbors (a quarter mile away) had a round topped barn in bad shape that they were weeks from burning to the ground.

free barn

It was an old dairy barn, built in two stages. The main part was built in 1940s from a kit purchased in Wisconsin. It was built around an older barn dating from the late 1800s. You can see that there were two portions of the barn and that one, the side wing, had collapsed. While the front potion of the barn was still standing, it was in extremely rough condition. The roof was missing a lot of shingles and some siding. There were holes in the floor. Wild animals had taken up residence there.

Still, we fell in love with this barn.

free iowa barn

Where else do you see workmanship and rafters like that? To build a new barn to look old would be outrageously, and prohibitively, expensive.

So when the barn owners said we could have it, at no cost, we were thrilled!! Little did we realized what exactly we were getting ourselves in to.

Next week, I’ll share the story of moving the barn from its old home, to its new home. It was so amazing to watch this huge old barn drive off into the Iowa sunset!

If you’d like to see how the barn looks today, click over to my Facebook page for the most current picture. While you’re there, go ahead and “like” it so you don’t miss any of the story! You’ll find the rest of the story here.

Read the rest of the story here.

Getting the barn ready to move

Moving the barn

Pulling the barn to the new foundation

Fire! and haunted barns

I hope you enjoy this story! We love our free barn. <3