All posts by QueSehraFarm

Resurrecting the Tin Can

When we saw the Spinning Plates farm profile on the WWOOF-USA website, I just knew it was meant to be – kids about Otis’s age, a scrappy homestead started under circumstances similar to ours- and the possibility of staying in a big old travel trailer in need of renovation.

Our own home is a similar structure (albeit smaller, and a few decades older), as is our own WWOOFer dwelling, the Albatross. So we had some experience working on such things, and we also wanted more (as we prepare for an addition to our home’s climate-controlled space).

After stops to visit family in New Orleans and our friends at other farms (Yokna Bottoms in Mississippi, Chastain Farms in Alabama), we arrived in Cedar Grove, North Carolina just after New Years, ready to spend two month living within the project we’d be working on – the renovation of the huge, rotting travel trailer they’d gotten for cheap a year before, hoping it would one day make a goat milking barn perhaps, or perhaps a dwelling for WWOOFers like us.

Tin Can in the background
Tin Can in the background

It was dark when we arrived, and cold. First impressions of the Tin Can were rather bleak. The floor was spongy at best, riddled with gaping holes, some patched with treacherous loose scraps of plywood, others wide open and serving as entrances for the cats. Not that they needed them – the front door frame was rotten and it would not close, and the remains of the back door had not been closed in years. It smelled dank and musty. The windows did not close, and the wind blew freely through the entire structure … chilly, but at perhaps a blessing, as fresh air.

ruin of the back door that had hung open for years

Kristin had a pretty strong opinion about the best, most helpful course of action: “We … should burn this down for them.”

She was kidding … mostly. Maybe. It was hard to believe it could be salvaged, especially by the likes of us. But, we started chipping away at the project the next day, one step at a time. First up was demolition – Farmer Lish explained her plans for the space – where the old walls needed to be removed, where new walls might go. So we started tearing out the interior closets and walls, salvaging what might be useful later, sorting the rest into burn pile and dump piles. Sadly we didn’t take any good “Before” photos, as we were working to focus on the positives …

(*note: we were invited to stay inside the house, but refused – we wanted to stay in the Tin Can all winter!)

We learned where it was safe to step, and where you had to tiptoe across the exposed floor joists. I put my leg all the way through the bottom only once during this training. After the first freezing night, we taped plastic over our windows and started closing up the openings in the walls and floor that let the wind race through the East bedroom (the one that actually had a floor, mostly).

Although it was significantly warmer outside than back on our farm, it sure isn’t balmy in the northern North Carolina wintertime. It rained a lot, sometimes for days at a time. Mud was everpresent, of a slippery but not sticky variety. Sometimes there were ice storms, where the slow drizzle coated everything in a quarter inch of solid ice – causing trees to collapse and shatter under the weight. The power went out for a couple of days as a result. It was … rather exciting really, and strange and beautiful too.

Anyway, the weather wasn’t a really big deal for us, since we were mostly working indoors. We had a propane heater in our room with which to stay toasty at night, and thaw out during the work days. Otis had a new pair of tall rubber boots for mud puddle stomping. Lish and Wayne bought a car port; we set it up out back and moved a whole pallet of 3/4″ plywood into it, where it would stay dry and I could cut pieces down to size as we refloored the entire building. Kristin found a pile of storm windows and matched them to the appropriate holes, Frankensteining them into place as needed. I did some temporary junkgineering to the front door so it would open and close.

Every day from the time we woke up until we fell asleep, at least one of us was working on the Tin Can – and when we weren’t working on it, we were thinking about it. When it was wet out we worked on the interior, and watched the leaks to learn how water was entering. When it was dry out, we worked on the exterior. Honestly, I didn’t think we could get it near a final state during our 2-month stay … but as I mentioned, the Spinning Plates Farm and the Tin Can had felt meant to be from the get go. And as things tend to do when things are meant to be – things just kept falling neatly into place.

We started with the back bedroom, which had already had the particle board floor stripped out. Before we could put the flooring on, we had to address the damages to the subfloor and walls – several studs and floor joists were rotten, and the rim joists (the edge of the structure, where wall meets floor) on both sides of the NW corner were completely destroyed.

So while Kristin focused on identifying and repairing the many leaks that had been letting water into the structure, I learned how to cut out damaged subfloor and framing, and repair it – using mostly salvaged cedar 2x4s from an old outdoor playset. I talked to myself incessantly and wrote notes on every surface with a Sharpie, like a madman. Everything had to line up properly, support the weight of the roof – and provide level, flat surfaces for the replacement floor boards and wall panels that we hoped to install next.

Once that was done, the plywood went in, and we started letting the renovations flow forward from the back bedroom toward the other end, where we slept. Next up was the ruin inside of the missing back door – before we could put a new door in to keep out the rain, before we could build a floor, we’d have to replace all the rotten framing, and expand the doorframe to accommodate the full-size replacement door. Again the rim joist and the attached studs and joists had been totally destroyed – not only by the constant rainwater, but by the termites that the moist, rotting wood had invited in.

We tried to find a replacement door of the same size, without any luck – so they bought a standard exterior door and we cut the metal skin, and rebuilt the door frame entirely to fit it.

From there the flooring project continued – first the old bathroom needed major work – a water heater in a closet had leaked for years and totally destroyed the floor and adjacent sheetrock, and the old toilet drain needed to be cleaned up and covered,

Then forward into the kitchen – where the hidden leak behind the cabinets had destroyed a section of wall and floor.

Around this time, we realized that I had been carelessly inhaling fiberglass stirred up by power tools and demolition. I had a sore throat and a nagging feeling that no amount of throat-clearing would fix.

So I started wearing a mask while I worked … and we turned up the priority of finding new wall panel material to cover all the exposed insulation left from the repair of the framing.

As you likely know, we are into old abandoned buildings – and the area was full of them, especially one specific type that we fell in love with – old tobacco curing barns, used to hang and dry the tobacco crops that once covered the local landscape. There were two right in the woods behind the farm – and when we asked, we learned that the neighbor just wanted them gone. So, of course we had to check them out.

And there beneath the blackened exterior siding boards (the builders had used fire to treat them against decay), we discovered beautiful rough-sawn pine boards, almost an inch thick, 8″ wide, and in lengths from 8 to 12 feet.

I knew this was what we needed – to not only serve functionally and inexpensively as wall panels – but to also build beauty, local history, and style into the structure we were bringing back from death’s door. It took some experimenting, but once I figured out how to loosen a board from the inside and then work the various options of a wonderful Wonderbar, I could quickly salvage the boards without damaging them in the process.

A corner was turned, once these boards started to be deployed – and suddenly it seemed that the resurrected building just might be not only functional … but beautiful, too. Motivation, already high, became nearly obsessive, as the carpentry project blossomed into an artwork, something inspiring to work on and behold transforming.

There was still much to be done – a new front door and frame, repairing the subfloor inside the door, move our whole room out and rebuild the floor before replacing our bed, build an interior wall, source smooth cheap wall paneling from craigslist, panel all the holes in the walls, keep chasing leaks, … Kristin padded and carpeted both bedrooms and rebuilt the ravaged gutters and sanded/sealed the plywood flooring, I added water catchers over both doors, stabilized and leveled the front steps, used junked appliances from the demolition to create a temporary back step and stairs. We cleared away the piles of debris to the dump, jacked up and leveled the whole thing on concrete blocks … and just generally tried our best to make it all useful … and lovely.

And against all odds, it worked. We finished with a day or so to spare before we had to leave to return to the North to start a new season’s seeds – just enough time to throw a little house warming ice cream social, and relax for a couple of nights within the project that had defined our winter. It was intensely satisfying, and we both learned so much … perhaps primarily, about how capable we can be at making it work.

if anyone ever opens the old electrical panel door, they’ll find this.

It was a winter well-spent.

a Post-Season Newsletter

Howdy again everyone! I’d planned to write up a year-in-review post shortly after the Harvest Party, but life took a weird turn and I wound up in the hospital instead. No, I didn’t catch Covid at the party (as far as I know, no one did woo hoo!), but I came down with … well, we still don’t know what it was. If you came to the party you might recall that I had a sore hand, which I blamed on rough-housing with some children the previous night. I thought I’d sprained the tendons in my hand somehow.

Well, it got worse and worse, swollen up like a balloon and excruciatingly painful to the slightest pressure, and by Tuesday I was in the ER and then under general anesthesia for surgery, for debridement of the presumed infection within my wrist joint and tendons. After several days in the hospital on IV antibiotics they sent me home with a port in my arm so Kristin could continue giving me antibiotics intravenously for the next two weeks.

While I’d been in the hospital, winter had arrived for a surprise early visit,  Slowly, the swelling went down and the gnarly incision closed up, and even more slowly, the pain receded and I regained at least some use of my hand. However, the cultures they took from my wrist fluids failed to provide clues to what the heck had gone wrong – a mycobacteria grew from one culture, but was deemed most likely from contamination, and all the other cultures grew nothing at all. So .. we still don’t know what happened. Mystery infection, or some kind of runaway inflammatory process? Time may tell, or maybe it won’t … I just hope that never happens again because it sucked!

With my hand now finally mostly-functional, we are working to get the farm ready for the winter, and next Spring – cleaning up the field,¬†organizing the mess (we got a second new semi trailer … one will become to the garden center, the¬†other a building material warehouse & workshop), getting wood piles prepared for the next three winters, and fighting the endless onslaught of mice, which are patrolling the woods in unprecedented numbers.

Our usual canned goods sale was cancelled due to the pandemic, so once we sell what we can to ya’ll, we will finish buttoning up the farm for winter, and hit the road southward – we plan to spend most of the frigid season in North Carolina, with a couple stops to see family and familiar farms as well.

Next year we’ll be keeping the CSA at roughly the same size again, preferring to maintain the quality and sanity that we have learned to balance at this scale (let us know if you know that you will or won’t be signing up again, when you get a chance!) 

Stay warm, stay safe, and remember to notice the beauty around you and the things you love about your people. Thanks so much for surfing along with us this season, it’s been an honor to feed you and yours.


the Que Sehra Fam

Week 18: Kicking the North Wind out of the bedroom

This week we finally tore into the north wall of our home – the 1953 travel trailer / deer hunting shack.

We’ve wanted to do something about it for years – it was in rough shape, and when the frigid North Wind came blasting across the barrens, you could feel it whispering into our bed. The lack of insulation meant condensation and decay where our hard-earned wood heat passed through the wood sheathing – and we knew it wasn’t structurally sound by the way it would shimmy and shake when we’d bang on it in vain efforts to silence the chewing, acorn-dropping mice within.

With another winter looming, and the Fishhouse vacant, we decided to finally make our move – dismantling our 2×4 bedframe and packing for a few nights “downstairs.”

Of course, this coincided with the coldest few nights around, so we made heavy use of the little sheet metal wood stove that had come with the free structure (an ice-fishing shack that breaks down into a nice flat pile of 4×8 panels for trailering out onto lakes).

Upstairs, the work went quickly; I tore out (and burned) the rotten wood paneling and the small amount of remaining insulation – just a few sad, soggy inches fallen to the floor. One old panel had been done in a quick and dirty spraypaint impression of a camouflage pattern by the deer hunters who’d come before us – nifty for historical context, but pretty fugly too. Most all of the wall consisted of only an empty air space (mouse space?) between the interior paneling and the thin metal exterior skin. The studs had mouse tunnels from section to section, and one spot was completely disintegrated.

While I finished gutting the wall, Grandpa Jim rebuilt the rotten framing. Steffan & Britney had given us some 1″ insulation from their wedding keg cooler – perfect to make our insulation upgrade happen. I cut out the requisite odd shapes to fill each void, and Jim cut new plywood to fit around the walls and windows. Another friend had donated dozens of bottles of Great Stuff foam that had been … although they’d expired in 2008, many were still perfectly functional, perfect for sealing up remaining gaps and cracks.

Uncle Tom had given us some pretty 2-foot carpet squares, which completed the bedroom refresh. I don’t really have many pictures to share, but how much do you really care about this project, really? Sorry about that, but hey – that’s what happened this week! And for us, it was pretty sweet.

Hrrmm, what else … more frosts, even colder than before. More field clean-up. Visited Brandon & Nora’s new baby / Bear’s brother, Jaden. And the town’s soybean farmers harvested their crops, rendering millions of lady beetles homeless … ugh, we’d hoped this year just wasn’t going to feature the standard annual plague, but no such luck!

Beats locusts, anyway.

Inside the Final Box

some lucky person got this whimsical tater
  • Brussels Sprouts – Micro cabbages! If you eat bacon, these pair great with it. And onions. You can roast, pan-fry, or eat em rrrraw.
  • Butternut SquashMake a squash soup with the sage perhaps!
  • Kale (Curly Blue, Scarlet, & Dino) – Might be great together with your sprouts, ie
  • Sage – adds great flavor to stews, classic seasoning in stuffing. You can easily dry it if you want to use it later.
  • Onions – there will be bulk boxes of these available in the after season if you’re interested!
  • Purple Potatoes be like

Week 17: Otis Wants to See a Real Yeti

Fall is falling; in the woods around us, in the field, in our selves. The chicks are thriving. So are we, I think.

This week was quite effective at reminding us all that life is indeed beautiful. I love that. Although it doesn’t really lend itself to words words words.

But: I love fatherhood and partnership, land and family and the sky and the constantly changing flow of life and leaves. Food is good. Sunshine, the unknowable, being alive!


Inside Box 17

Week 16: Phoenix Rising

You may remember a post a couple of weeks back about a hen named “Rabbi Gargoyle,” who was missing and presumed consumed for several days – before showing back up unharmed one fine day.

Well, she’s back in the news again.

Last Tuesday night, we heard her being murdered in the woods. A horrific chicken cacophony, crashing sounds through the brush down the hill toward the coop – where all the other birds were locked up safe – but where the Gargoyle had been sleeping on her eggs, unprotected in the woods.

I threw on a robe as I ran down the hill screaming “ANIMAL! GET OFF!” or something similarly ridiculous. But by the time I got there, her squawking had gone silent, and the nest still held eggs, but no Gargoyle.

scene of the crime

A few feathers were all I could find when I searched the surrounding woods, clucking and calling to no response. Sadly, I gathered up the remaining eggs – I knew the blue ones were her own, so I placed them under other broody hens in the coop, and told Kristin and Marty that the Gargoyle was dead.

But! In the morning she showed up for breakfast, clucking and clearly upset that her nest had been emptied. My best guess is that a deer came through and almost stepped on her, or perhaps a possum came nosing around – and the crazy racket had been her on the attack, chasing something away through the dark undergrowth. So I put her eggs back, showed them to her, and left her to settle down.

The next day I went to check on her – and found two fluffy baby chicks peeping and stumbling around her! Figuring there would be more hatching still, I left her in peace for one last night in the woods, before I’d move the brood down into the truck topper nursery coop.

Or so I thought. When I went to check on them the next day, I was horrified to discover an empty nest. Even the eggs were gone … some eggshells, and one dead chick flattened in the nest. No sign of the Gargoyle, or any chicks. I searched the surrounding woods, the chicken yard, all over. Nothing.

So I brought the bad news back to the crew – it was heartbreaking to lose the whole group, after the scare we’d just had, knowing that I could have moved them to safety sooner, that I had cost a family of our birds their lives by waiting for one more night and believing that “what will be will be” would be a happy ending.

Late in the afternoon, I had a sudden urge to go down and check on the flock, feeling edgy about the presumed predator lurking nearby.

In the chicken yard, inside the fencing we use to segregate the babies from the adults, waiting outside the door to the nursery coop, sat Rabbi Gargoyle, surrounded by six peeping fluffballs.

For the third time, she had shown up happy and healthy after having been written off as certainly dead. And thus the hen with two names gained another, becoming Rabbi Gargoyle Phoenix – the bird who rises up from death’s ashes.

Otherwise, it was a busy, pleasant week. My Dad and his wife visited, we harvested lots of things, salvaging from yet another frost.

Oh! And our two most recent WWOOFers left – and provided us a lovely array of farm photos from their visit, taken by Charlie the Photojournalist Student. I think they really capture what life here has been for us lately, so you might want to check them out here.

Inside Box 16

  • Salad Mix – green ruffled lettuce, red & green tatsoi, arugula, and mizuna
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Bok Choi
  • Beets
  • Onions
  • Acorn Squash – Jester & Thelma Sanders varieties
  • Microgreensradish, kale, or kohlrabi
  • HerbsMexican tarragon & Thyme
Mexican Tarragon
Mexican Tarragon