Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Part 3: Reconstruction of the Farmhouse

We can’t leave the Farmhouse in such a state for too long!  All of that deconstruction made way for some major upgrades when the Farmhouse was put back together again-  central heat and AC, excellent insulation, modern plumbing that we won’t have to fix once a month, new standing seam metal roof, new windows that really work! 

Updated appliances, restored chimney,  solid construction throughout,  new bedroom and bathroom upstairs,  modern slope to the stairs-  much safer than the old, steep stairs!

Larger front porch with room to sit and talk, new upper level deck in back,- all these improvements to an old house that still feels old.  I really started to enjoy checking on the progress of the project-  each day brought delightful new details, and the Farmhouse really started to take shape.

Here’s a look inside when the house was partially finished.. the Living Room


Downstairs Bedroom

Upstairs Bedroom in the Original Section of the House

Upstairs Bedroom in the New Wing

The Rec Room

Next Up: Some Before and After Pictures- and the completion of our renovation project.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Part 2 The Deconstruction of the Farmhouse

So here is our list of requirements for our farmhouse renovation:

Keep the character of the original 1830s house
Reuse as much of the original wood as possible
Install central heat and air
Install modern windows
Insulate the walls, crawlspace and attic
Lengthen the ridge to enlarge the second floor footprint
This added an extra bedroom and bathroom
Reduce the steepness of the stairway
Add an upper deck at the back of the house
What we envisioned was an old farmhouse with many of the energy saving features and conveniences of a 21st century house.

This seemed straightforward enough, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the house would need to be deconstructed in order to accomplish our goals.  As time went by, it became somewhat alarming-

First, the siding came off…

Revealing some problems that had been hidden for quite some time…

Then one particularly poorly constructed addition came off; this had been the master bedroom and shed storage area above.

I think this was the low point for me-  the house looked so dejected and sad.  I honestly wondered how it could ever be made habitable again!  I cringed every time I took a good look at it! Of course, all this time, Chris and the crew were carefully salvaging almost all of the wood from the old construction and beginning to plane it down in preparation for re-using it.

Then the reconstruction finally got underway and things started looking more hopeful again. The crew dug under the crawlspace of the house, and laboriously removed large amounts of dirt, enlarging it allow a person to actually get under the house if necessary.  The old, shaky foundation was replaced with a proper new one and additional supports for the first floor were added. 

To be continued...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Our Farmhouse Renovation- Part 1

An Opportunity and a Project

We bought a six acre property, two miles from our home farm in 2009 and started growing vegetables there in 2010. The land slopes gently to the southeast and the soil is good for vegetable growing. There was also an old house on the property that  had some charming features, and also some that needed repair or updating.  
We cleaned it up and painted after buying the property, but decided not to do any renovation work. 


Our friends, Keriann and Jeroen rented the house for 5 years and made it into a cozy home.  

Then in 2015 when Keriann and Jeroen moved their Ecotulips business to Rhode Island, we decided the time had come for a ‘minor’ renovation.   We interviewed several contractors and hired Chris Gilley of Castlewood Construction to be our general contractor.  
Our initial program was pretty simple:
1. Raise the ceiling of the master bedroom downstairs; it was sagging and anyone over 6 feet would have to stoop to walk in the middle of the room 
2. Do some minor renovations in the kitchen.  

Once Chris began investigating, he quickly found out why the ceiling was sagging-  there was very little holding it up!  The joists holding up the floor in the storage area above were just propped on the ends of the siding boards; no beams for support! 

Our minor renovation project soon became a major one.  We decided to see obstacles as opportunities and developed our requirements for the project:
Keep the character of the original 1830s house
Reuse as much of the original wood as possible
Install central heat and air
Install modern windows
Insulate the walls, crawlspace and attic
Lengthen the ridge to enlarge the second floor footprint
This added an extra Rec room and bathroom
Reduce the steepness of the stairway
Add an upper deck at the back of the house
What we envisioned was an old farmhouse with many of the energy saving features and conveniences of a 21st century house.  These posts will trace the progress of our renovation; stay tuned for Part 2!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our First Lamb of 2013 Has Arrived!

One of our older,  experienced ewes, Shirley gave birth to a beautiful ewe lamb this morning.  We raise Tunis sheep- a heritage breed with a long history in Virginia, going back to the colonial period.  We have found them to be healthy sheep- and excellent mothers!  Tunis lambs are a rusty brown color at birth and gradually lighten to creamy white as they grow.  Our new little lamb was already going out to the pasture this evening right along with her mom-  at the ripe old age of 12 hours!

Our guardian dog, Leia was attentive during the birth and got to know the new little one right away. All of our sheep are very comfortable with Leia around-  they know that her job is to protect them!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


We're on the far side of Summer now;  time to pause and give thanks for all the wonderful produce we have been enjoying-  and for our excellent kidding and lambing season and our healthy flock of future laying hens.

We moved the goats out to their summer pasture on the far side of Spring Branch (a small stream that runs through the farm) about a month ago.  They have been feasting on all the grass there ever since- and taking care of some weed problems for us at the same time.  Our final kid count is 23- all are doing very well.  Their moms are still letting them nurse for short periods of time, but over the next month they will gradually wean the kids.  The youngsters are spending some of their day playing, but are settling down more and more into the routine of the herd.  Luke, our guardian dog is doing a great job-  just like a seasoned pro, even though he still isn't quite a year old!
Luke and the goats in the summer pasture.

Our final count for lambs is 7, including 5 ewe lambs!  We will keep all the ewe lambs, since we are building up the size of our flock.  Leia (Luke's sister) has also been doing a super job as flock guardian and adjusted very quickly to working on her own.  The Tunis lambs are a rusty brown color when they are tiny, but their fleece starts to fade to creamy white in a few weeks.  Almost all of the lambs are the same color as their moms now.  They spend part of each day just running around and generally enjoying life- what a pleasure to watch!
Dean and two little helpers feeding the sheep.

Our little chicks have really grown up!  They have almost all of their feathers, and only a little baby down is left.  They still cheep like chicks, but look a lot like miniature chickens.  They have three months to go before they will be ready to lay eggs;  in the meantime, we will be feeding them chick food that is higher in protein than regular chicken food.  We keep our young chicks in the aviary in our front yard until they are full size and ready to join our layer flock- they are safer there (the aviary is completely enclosed in chicken wire) and it is also very entertaining to have a flock of busy chicks where we can see them from our dining room table :)

Visiting the chicks.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Animal Babies at the Farm

It has been a good spring for animal babies at Brightwood Vineyard and Farm.  We began the season with the arrival of our Spanish Goat kids-  all 23 of them!  They love to run and jump from place to place, and 'king of the mountain' is their favorite game.

Next to arrive were the lambs-  six so far with probably one more on the way.  Our Tunis lambs are always a rusty red color when they are born and gradually lighten in color to the creamy white of the adults.  We were surprised when one of our first lambs was white with brown spots-  not something we were expecting!  The lambs are up and nursing within a few minutes of birth and following their mothers out into the field soon after-  pretty amazing!

Two weeks ago we received our  day-old chicks in the mail.  They traveled well and are growing by leaps and bounds.  They have started trying out their new wing feathers by doing a powered run across their cage-  pretty impressive!  They will be moving to an aviary in our front yard this week where they will have lots of room to exercise, and grass and bugs to eat, too!  For this year's addition to our flock, we chose buff rocks, white rocks and partridge rocks as well as some cuckoo marans.  By next spring they will be laying along with our older hens.

Day old chicks

Two week old chicks

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Our new guardian dog pups arrived at our farm in October of last year.  We decided that since we already had an excellent guardian for our chickens (our Maremma, Ben), we would raise the pups, and begin their guardian dog education with Ben as their teacher.  So, we built a moveable pen for the pups near our moveable chicken house. At first, when the pups were really tiny, they spent quite a bit of time in their pen, just getting used to all the chicken activity around them.  Then, gradually, they spent more and more time out with the chickens-  all the time under the watchful eye of Ben.  He taught them to respect livestock- sometimes a very difficult job for energetic puppies surrounded by chickens!  It was by far the easiest training period we have ever had-  Ben was on the job 24/7!  
Ben and the puppies guarding the chickens
Leia watching Miel, a new mom and her kids

After Christmas, we decided that the pups were ready to go to work on their own- when they were only 4 months old!  We moved them to our goat field, and they immediately figured out that their new job was to guard our goats.  All of Ben's lessons about respecting livestock were transferred to the goats and the pups went to work right away.  They got used to life with the adult goats over the winter and were ready for their really important job of protecting our Spring goat kids.  

Now, the goat kids are about a month old, and no longer in danger of fox attacks- soon, we will be moving the pups (who are both around 70 lbs. now!) over to our sheep field to prepare for the arrival of our lambs in a few weeks.  

It is really wonderful to watch dogs at work, doing the jobs they have been bred for.  Our guardian dogs are important members of our farm team;  without our chicken guardian, we would not be able to keep our 135 hens out on the pasture to range freely.  Now we don't have to worry about fox or coyote attacks-  those predators look for easier meals elsewhere.