repurposing for farm use

Reuse – or Rediculous

Our parents were kids during the Depression, and the examples they set fit right in to today’s philosophy of recycle and reuse and don’t waste.

Sometimes we do that on a fairly large scale.  Our men were offered the job of taking down the two story grain elevator in Emerald in exchange for the wood.  Since it had been built flat board on flat board (instead of edge on edge) we gleaned something like six MILES of mainly useable boards.  We re-floored the second story of our barn, able to reuse most of the wood, and then built a very useful shearing area.  Mezzanines were built which immediately filled with ‘stuff that will come in useful someday’.  The shearing area is storage for our Wool Shed products 360 days/year, and emptied for shearing for 5 days of shearing. 

New compost pile framework using off-cuts

New compost pile framework using off-cuts

Our boys learned basic carpentry, being allowed to reuse the broken or too short pieces building tree forts and platforms.

When Jake rebuilt the barn this spring, there was not one significant purchase needed. Virtually everything was scrounged.

A portable saw mill was hired to cut our own logs into boards for our use. It was satisfying to discover how to reuse the off-cuts to make effective compost containment, turning dead plants, weeds and roots into great compost to feed the garden.

A horse-drawn milk wagon became a tow-able warm-up shack for construction (with an old pizza oven for warmth). Parked in our back yard it was reused as a duck brooder, a boys’ clubhouse, then rebuilt into a sauna with scrounged cedar wood lining and another reused wood stove.

Our Wool Shed was once a milk/ice house, then was farm storage, candle production shed, ATV shed, boys’ music room, and now a neat little outlet shop.

Our water wagon was once the body of a neighbour’s dump truck.  (We haul a huge tank by tractor to the field where it is needed.)Auger holding Purple Martin House; milkcart/sauna in background

One loader tractor is an amalgamation of two elderly tractors.  We are now scavenging an ATV and another tractor for parts to reuse.

Scrap bits of metal have been stored for years, then found to be just the thing for some patch job, welded on.  The pole for our Purple Martin house was made out of a grain auger tube.

Wool Shed in winter - "If we're home and awake we are open"

Wool Shed in winter – “If we’re home and awake we are open”

But sometimes we get ridiculous.  Each bale of yarn for the Wool Shed is wrapped with double thicknesses of string.  For some years, we’ve painstakingly saved those, wrapping them in a knot-filled ball, used for tying newspapers, tomato plants, bundling herbs etc.

Our depression-era parents would be proud.

String used for braiding onions

String used for braiding onions


String Ball from yarn bales

String Ball from yarn bales

Barn Repair

The barn at Topsy Farms was built in three stages, starting a long time ago with the most recent work done in the 50’s. 

Over the past half century, the concrete foundation at the N-W corner has shifted outwards because of inadequate weight-bearing base and possibly, the pressure of the materials inside, pushing out.  The foundation shifting has caused the vertical siding boards to shift too, curving out at the bottom.  When the rain comes off the end of the barn roof it soaks the boards which leach the moisture through to the big old hand-hewn wooden beams.  As they rot the barn settles more and the process accelerates.

Somewhat worn out

Somewhat worn out

Eroded hand-hewn beam

Eroded hand-hewn beam

The N-W sides of the barn – toward the prevailing winds – were the worst areas.  We needed to do the best job possible; accomplish the most repairs for the least cost, effort and time.  In the end, we scrounged virtually all the materials – almost nothing was purchased. “Someday it might come in handy” actually works.

Jacob first tore the worst of the siding off by hand and just studied the damage for a few weeks, contemplating the rot, forming a plan, knowing the look of it would drive his Virgo sensibilities crazy.  The timing was good; the end of winter before the lambing pressure ramped up.  Still, the work had to be done in fragments of time.

First job was to tackle the concrete foundation repair.  Where the cement had cracked and separated, he filled the space with wire mesh and injected concrete with special  adhesive properties, mixed in a wheelbarrow.  That was all trowelled smooth, to prevent water getting in further.

Old and new beams, concrete repairs and flashing - photo by Jake

Old and new beams, concrete repairs and flashing – photo by Jake

The beams were next; they needed to be jacked up and repaired.  It was a challenge to locate stable points for the jacks inside and out.  It was necessary to get the beam high enough to remove the old, rotted material with scraper, chisel, chainsaw and wire brush.  These larger gaps were replaced by segments of new/recovered material already in storage – 2 to 3 six foot chunks.  The beams less badly eroded were patched by sandwiching in good wood, using metal plates, screws, bolts and ingenuity.

Flashing was next – it is thin metal cut to length, about 8 inches wide, nailed to the top of the beam.  That was placed onto the beam, overlapping the top of the concrete foundation to direct the flow of any water/ice outwards.

Patching with wood, steel, concrete and mesh and a lot of ingenuity.  Photo by Jake

Patching with wood, steel, concrete and mesh and a lot of ingenuity. Photo by Jake

The siding was all salvaged boards we’d stored when one of our houses changed to metal siding.  The old stain had faded to pink so those boards are on inside out.  The windows were also reframed and flashed, so they are shaped to actually hold a window.

With reasonable conditions, this repair should extend the life of the barn for another half century.

Of course, there is still work to be done…

North side is done. photo by Jake

North side is done. photo by Jake

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