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Building the Dacha

Not only is our dacha, a Russian expression for a home in the country, a getaway, a garden, and a farm, it is also a concept project for us. We bought this land in southwestern Iowa in April of 2006 and have been busy building on it and developing the farmland for organic crops. We are serious about our motto of "reduce, reuse, recycle" in all that we do here. Very little electricity or water is used. Plumbing is by gravity and hoses rather than pumps and pipes. We compost everything we can, including "humanure". For heat, we burn wood gathered from downed trees on the land. We use low energy, eco-friendly flourescent light bulbs. Also, the entire farm is certified as organic by the state of Iowa. Check back once or twice a month for new progress notes.

Click on each of the pictures below to see many more!
Summer, 2011 Check out the growing kittens and our best garden ever! The vernal equinox signaled the changeover of the compost bin, the harvesting of garlic scapes, lovely lettuce and now sugar snap peas. And all the herbs are coming in nicely!  

October, 2010 Some lovely fall shots for you; the garlic went in; radishes are coming up, children were put to work (and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth); and the final peppers, squashes and herbs were harvested. We also got to chase some cows around one night! (See Liz's blog for more.)


September, 2010 A lot of pictures in one entry...an old friend came to visit with her boys and we did the farm, a baseball game, the zoo, the pools, and had a fantastic time. Tomatoes are about done (they didn't do too well this year) but the peppers and herbs and squashes are still going strong. The fall garden is in and already taking off.

Summer, 2010 Kittens, squashes, pickling and canning keep us busy.  
June, 2010 Double K Farms has its first (and probably last) Field Day!  
May, 2010 See the spring garden, green garlic, garlic scapes, and, of course, new kittens!  
May, 2010 The garlic and potatoes are coming on nicely. The asparagus is in full swing, and the kittens are thriving.  
April, 2010 Life is springing up all around us now. More flowers, more kittens, and a little art punctuate the landscape of our lives these days.  
April, 2010 Ah, the fresh breath of spring! It's great to be outside. The earth is reborn. Easter comes. Work on the farm begins but much is enjoyed, also!  
February/March, 2010 Even though winter is supposed to be a slow time for farmers, we managed to find plenty to do. There was the attendance at the newly founded Midwest Aronia Association in January; the Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin in February, and the tending to inside chores in March.  
January, 2010 Felix gets to go home. The first hint of green appears on our fields. The greenhouse at home makes its appearance.  
December, 2009 Felix returns as winter sets in.  
November, 2009 View the largest turnip in the county! Take a look at the newly built sauna and tub in the banya.  
September, 2009 A fog blankets the farm on a late summer morning. Aronia berries are planted, thanks to the help of many hands. One of BlackBear's fall kittens survives, little Lola.  
August, 2009 With the help of our kindly neighbor, Marlin, we begin the process of getting water in the banya (shower/sauna building) so that we can set up the bathroom there. BlackBear also has another litter, this time SIX kittens.  
August, 2009 We have chickens! The garden is overgrown but the bounty is great. The fall garden gets tilled. And we spend a couple of days at the Page County Fair.  
July, 2009 Our wheat is looking wonderful and we have a new refrigerator!  
June, 2009 The spring garden is in full swing. The first harvest is gorgeous. Kittens abound and both barns are finished, at least on the outside. GodCarol pays us a visit and she and Maya catch our first fish!  
May, 2009 The girls visit the beaver dams. Seedlings are coming along on the deck. The fire pit goes in. Kittens play in the grass. The rest of the barn gets finished.  
April, 2009 You can't see them, but the new kittens are safely housed in the draped raft hanging on the wall of the barn. To get them there, BlackBear carted each of them up the ladder on the left. The birth of spring is seen in the fields, as well, as Andre planted clover and grass seed and the asparagus comes up!  
March, 2009 A new barn for Lizzie goes up. A new tractor for Lizzie is bought! The roof goes on the big barn, thanks to Tyrell and Jake. Potatoes are planted.  
March, 2009 Spring isn't sure it's here to stay. Work on the playhouse begins. Greenhouse activity grows. Work on the big barn continues. We attend our first workshop on aronia berries at Sawmill Hollow Organic Farms in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
February, 2009 Some nice winter shots around the quiet farm and the promise of Spring with the set up of the greenhouse at home!  
February, 2009 Barn progress at last! Last weekend saw beautiful weather (no wind, 63 degrees) and lots of help from our neighbors to get the barn trusses up. Who knows? We may get this thing built BEFORE 2012!  
January, 2009 The brightest full moon of the year. Well, the cats (all but Black Bear, the matriarch) have taken up residence at the neighbors' house; Grandma Jan's old winter coat has been ceremonially enshrined at the dacha; Liz does her best "Sarah Palin" pose on a little hunting trip around the farm; and seeds have been ordered and gardens planned for 2009!  
December, 2008 Battening down the hatches In order to give our beloved farm cats a fighting chance at some comfort this winter, we've put a piece of siding and some plastic sheeting over the entrance to the barn. They seem to appreciate it, especially on those days when it's been in the negative numbers! Things are quiet at the farm these days, but the arrival of seed catalogs hints at spring!  
December, 2008 Gone fishing. On a cold weekend in early December, we tried our hand at fishing. Lacking worms and decent lures, it was an exercise in learning to cast, maintaining silence, and appreciating the quiet of early winter on the farm.  
November, 2008More cleaning up.The cleaning up this time involves hedge apples! It's that time of the year that they are falling off the trees and their bright yellow-green hue makes them easy to spot against the browns and greys of fall. In addition to this cleaning up, we planted a vetch/rye mixture to serve as a cover crop and "green manure" on our vegetable fields.  
November, 2008 The latest installment of news includes a clean-up of the gardens and the planting of garlic. Fall has been beautiful this year and the garden has kept producing! Visit Tomãto Tomäto for some of our goodies, including garlic and herbs.
September/October, 2008 My harvest helpers pitch in to separate herbs. You can see the delivery of the CSA baskets.  
August, 2008 The fall garden is looking picture perfect! We've already harvested turnip greens, radishes, and green onions for our CSA and for ourselves. Click on the picture to see more photos from this past couple of weeks which include Julie's departure to France for the year as well as Amelia's Premier Night as a flautist in the band, and the new addition to the farm -- Liz's tractor!
August, 2008 Losses. The reason for a hiatus in progress entries is a series of losses for us at the dacha. The 30 acres of wheat did not weather the icy winter nor the wet spring well enough to merit harvesting. Besides that, a nasty raccoon has been terrorizing our cats and we've lost some kittens as well as our beloved Murka. But, great neighbors help ease the pain, the fall garden is looking promising, and serious construction has begun on the new barn. As the Russians say, "Hope dies last." Click on the wheat for more pictures and more detail.
July, 2008 This week saw a tour of Grandpa Chuck's chicken/goose/duck/pigeon/rabbit/goat farm. The photographs don't capture the vast number of little houses, small fields and nooks and crannies that the animals have to play around in. It's quite the peaceable kingdom. Chuck also provides lovely summer apples for our CSA. Thanks, Chuck!
July, 2008 The new fall garden is mapped out, tilled, composted and manured! Maya helped Dad shovel on the compost. The herb garden is in full swing. Ground is broken for the new barn.
July, 2008 The Fourth of July brought family to the farm to celebrate. We were in the pool, in the cabin, and on the horses. So sorry about the nasty fall, Juju!
June, 2008 The new garden barn is just about finished. The roof is on and the inside is filled with all the equipment and items that were in the former garden shed and workshop which both got blown away last month. Rain continues which is good for the vegetables to come (tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes) but not so good for the yard (see pics!). The awning is in its final (hopefully) design -- sturdy frame and retractable panels! A neighbor stopped by to say "hello" and offered us some of his ducks for our pond...the next addition of "livestock" for us! Stay tuned for photos of that...they're bound to be adorable.
June, 2008 Rebuilding continues as we finish the rafters on the new barn. Other photos include some of the weather shots we've had lately, the mandatory kitten pictures, and another harvest in the CSA.
June, 2008 Rebuilding begins after the tornadoes and amid the latest flooding in Iowa. Kittens, oblivious to all the human tragedy, continue to thrive and we enjoy their playfulness. Tomatoes are doing better than expected. We can't wait for those first, homegrown taste treats!
June, 2008 There were many items to mention from this past weekend, but the highlight has to be the beginning of plums on the plum tree! We have been trying for fruit for over two years and we now have plums and cherries and pears! In other news, the rains have been unceasing and the flooding is widespread. One of the advantages of our hilly terrain is that we haven't suffered too much because of the rain. Work is underway on the new-and-improved garden shed. The CSA is going great! Kittens are thriving! All is right with the world!
June, 2008 The highlight of this past weekend was the biennial visit from our dear friend, Jayne, from across the pond. But before that, we celebrated Andre's birthday with the planting of a couple of cherry trees and the purchase of matching PJ tops for sitting out on the patio. Murka's four kittens are thriving but Angel's didn't make it (see http://www.pictureofaduck.blogspot.com/) We all went horseback riding, Andre went turkey hunting, and we enjoyed the newly set up pool. The weather was beautiful, except for the small tornado that hit the day before we arrived, and Sunday evening saw the debut of the CSA! Thanks, Jayne, for the absolutely lovely visit!
May, 2008 There doesn't seem to be a way to dig a trench other than the old-fashioned way with a good, ole shovel. So, after digging her little heart out like a prisoner on a chain gang, Liz had two, 50-foot long, 12-inch wide trenches. She then formed mounds of organic fertilizer and peat moss to plant her asparagus crowns. Look for sweet, tender stalks next spring! (And keep her back in your prayers!)
May, 2008 And now for something completely different...Liz dons green nails for spring planting! Photos in this group include close-ups of Maddie S. with each of Murka's four kittens and a shot or two of Angel's brand new four kittens (whom we got to see being born as she had them in the cabin!). Also included are a few of the kids on the neighbor's horses -- always a good time! Also included are a couple of fun shots of the little girls on the way home from the farm after a busy day.

April, 2008 Work begins in earnest, which means recruiting labor! The wonderful neighbor children weeded, helped fertilize, tilled, mulched, and planted eggplant, onions, raspberries, grapes, strawberries, onions, carrots, radishes, and beets. Liz also planted some of her tomato, basil, and pepper seedlings along with ten kinds of potatoes! Garlic and onions which were planted last fall are all coming up beautifully! The early crops of spinach, radishes, turnips, and herbs are making an appearance. Also in this group, you'll see the damage southwest Iowa winds can do, our neighbor doing the last of the dirt work, the thermometer in the heat of the day, a wheelbarrow full of our organic 10-10-10 fertilizer, and some shots of the newly planted fruit and veggies.

April, 2008 Early spring has arrived at the farm, here you can see the beginnings of the gardens, some great moments of watching geese, turkeys, and a great blue heron, and the first seedlings of the year!
February, 2008 Spring has finally arrived in Southwest Iowa! Gosh, it was a long time coming this year. But before we get to the seedlings (I know you're dying to see them!), Liz enjoyed a weekend at the Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. What a difference a year makes! After a year of learning-on-the-job farming, Liz was able not only to understand the farming and organic industries past and present, but also to participate in them and even use the vocabulary...N-P-K numbers and more! She learned more about hoop houses, CSA's (which she is doing full-fledged this year), urban gardening on the gardening side and cover crops, no-till roller crimping and new rotations on the farming side. It was well worth the six-hour trip. Ok. now you can look at the seedlings!

January, 2008 In the latest news, Andre got a nice deer and made loads of jerky with our new dehydrator. If you enlarge the blue-ish pictures, you'll see the deer we enjoyed watching, not hunting, one lovely warm winter morning. We watched for about half an hour before dawn and counted almost 20 deer! Next, you'll see the building of the workshop. We left it finished, except for its main door, two weeks ago. We returned last weekend to the horror of the next few pictures, the ones after the picture of the cat on the snow. If you look at the picture of the interior, you can see the floor diagonal of the concrete slab -- where the shop is supposed to be. It got wind-blown off the slab on one end and the small door was crunched on the other end. With the help of our wise, old neighbor, Marlin, we got it back in place and then Andre and I finished the construction of the big door. The only evidence left of the catastrophe is at the top of the small door in one of the final pictures on the page. So, what seemed at first like a total loss turned out to be an extra day of repairs to our new workshop. Lesson learned: most things are fixable!

December, 2007 Winter leaves time for inventions. With the promise of a workshop in the near future, Andre has converted an old, unused smoker into a used-oil-burning heater! In other items, the kittens are on the verge of becoming cats; the winter ice is threatening the winter wheat but we're hoping for the best; and the beavers have two dams on the creek. The cold of late is turning into the "January Thaw", fortunately! Liz is building a growlight center for her seedlings and is already eyeing catalogs for spring planting.
November, 2007 Harvest is done and before planting our winter wheat we took soil samples. There was also time for a little hunting with the "big girls" and the kittens have turned into cats with the warmth of the summer giving way to warm winter coats on all three of them. Thanksgiving saw one of Liz's little miracles -- all the family together at the farm! And, with a little profit from the corn, we are finally building the workshop.
November, 2007 It's harvest time!!! The photos show the process of combining the corn and filling the grain carts and semi truck for delivery. We did better than break even, so we're pleased. We can go on to farm another year!
October, 2007 What's new this month? Well, a canopy for the "little" tractor to help keep the rain out of the gas tank...some beautiful views on the farm and on the way home to Omaha from the farm one fall evening...a 17-pound watermelon from the garden...Amelia's state competition in band...(I know, not farm-related, but important)...the kitties, of course, the mulched garlic field (400 cloves planted!)...planting some baby pine trees...Maya and half the 120-potato harvest...the day Amelia and Wes visited...some lovely shots of the Hunters' Full Moon...Andre clearing a new field for wheat...some more artsy shots at the end of a beautiful fall in southwestern Iowa!
September, 2007 Even though the main farming is practically done for the season, we're learning that there are always things to do on the farm. The garden is spilling out over its summer borders. In the photos, you can see the new field we've plowed for everbearing strawberries (which are planted in the fall), perennial herbs, and asparagus in the spring. In the field next to the fall potatoes, which are doing well, we are planting many kinds of garlic, onions, and shallots. In addition to the garden expansion, we are enjoying teaching the little girls all about horsemanship and riding. Some friends came out and spent a beautiful day and the menfolk enjoyed some target practice. The awning is in its latest incarnation and may just work for next year. (With the cooler temps, we don't really need it anymore for this year.) Harvesting these days includes German beer radishes, green beans, sunflower seeds (the little girls are great workers on these!), and a few carrots, some watermelon, and plenty of herbs. (I already have 9 or 10 containers of pesto made and in the freezer!). In other projects, we have built a new little wood holder near the house for stoking our new, larger wood stove. We've added a freezer to our utility loft, as well as a guest bed. Even some fall landscaping is underway!
August, 2007 Have a look at our growing kittens, a couple of pictures from the county fair, some goldenrod, a water lily, a campfire, our winter beer radishes, the beans, and the full August moon. Design #4 of the patio awning didn't hold...of course. It hasn't been able to stand up to the 60-mph winds of late. We're building character through the failure. We've moved on to Design #5 by putting two more 4"x4" posts in (we had to dig into the existing patio to do it.) In better news, our Certificate of Organic Operation graced our mailbox last week! Click on the certification to see a larger, more impressive version of it!


August, 2007 Sweet corn was harvested and enjoyed by friends and family. Frog capturing and releasing is a favorite activity. The county fair was very sweet. (The neighbors' boy has a couple of projects going to the Iowa State Fair!) Design #3 on the patio awning didn't make it, but Design #4 is bound to! (Stay tuned.) The pumpkins, the beans, the cucumbers, and the cats are all growing.

July, 2007 Our sweet corn (with its new, electric fence), our booming field corn, the local Fourth of July parade, the first fruits of the garden, the inherited cat family, a new post-and-chain entrance, and the first "real" farmers' market all signal the latest happenings from Double K Farms.

June, 2007 We seem to have inherited a mama cat and her two, adorable kittens. Maddie has claimed one and Maya the other. They live in the house when we are there. Otherwise, they live behind the wood bin. This past weekend, we built a garden shed. The sweet corn is starting to form ears. The farm corn is doing well also. Some artistic shots also included here!

May, 2007 Check out all the wildlife this spring. The patio is completed and a joy to behold and use! The photo to the right is of Liz taking soil samples (all good readings so far). The sweet corn is already knee-high and the 32 acres of farm corn is just up. Next time, we'll have a photo of our wonderful lawn!

April, 2007 The neighbor's cat, Sweetiebear (I love her name!) had her litter of kittens -- five of them! Their eyes are not yet open, but, so far, she is a great mother. Besides the miracle of birth, we've enjoyed the planting of the garden, the disking of the fields, and the making of the patio (for which, Liz learned how to drive the old tractor!).

March, 2007 Spring comes to our little corner of the world. Seedlings are emerging for the organic garden. Tractors and implements have been purchased and are in use...when it's not raining! After the patio and garden are underway, we may have time to build the art house! See Liz's art site for more information on art.

Liz Konstantinov

December, 2006 A few photos of the wonder of winter on the farm. You will also see Maya with an as yet unidentified fruit, the result of the beavers' work, and th venison chili made from the first successful hunting experience!

October, 2006 The main cabin has been stained, caulked, and trimmed. Marlin, our neighbor, is completing the dirt work around the compound so that the water drains where it should. Andre has chopped enough wood to keep us warm through the winter and Liz has built a wood bin to put it all in. We've come a long way! Now we can go there and enjoy it instead of only working on it! We're looking forward to a quiet family time over the Thanksgiving holiday.

October, 2006 The latest pictures show Andre trenching to put in the electrical cable to the house, wiring the house inside, the addition of windows, a little warm spot for the kittens when they visit, our first crop of potatoes and garlic which was planted in mid-August, the new wood-burning stove and its chimney, the one finished loft, the bathroom, the library and the master bedroom. It's all coming along very nicely!

September, 2006 The larger cabin is now done enough to live it! In addition, Andre picked up a wood-burning stove in Des Moines to get through the upcoming cool months. We may get another one to make the sauna. The small ones are enjoying the land, visiting Marlin's kittens, taking a ride on J.T. Next up, wiring the house and building water tanks.

September, 2006 The larger cabin is virtually done! The rapidity of the work over the Labor Day weekend is thanks to many people, namely, Dave, Sarah, Kim, Rick, Amelia, Dec, Michelle, Maddie and Maya! Next weekend, we'll put the red roof and gutters on and then Marlin, our wonderful neighbor will do his "dirt work" to grade around the foundation. (You can see Marlin in the pictures this time. He's the one in the overalls!)

August, 2006 The rafters of the larger cabin are up and a few trees are planted. Here are a few nature shots, too!

July, 2006 Electricity is about to be added to the compound. Andre fashioned the box and wired an outdoor plug for it. He also spent the weekend getting to know the dirt around the house and moving it to be level. The floor was finished and covered with plastic. Our neighbor, Marlin, will mow the encroaching weeds this week and we will all take a small break from "dacha-building" as children go back to school and off to college. Maybe I will even paint something!


July, 2006 The foundation is finished after three rows of concrete block and a skeleton of runner beams. Rural water was added this week in mid-July. Hallelujah!

If you'd like to come and visit us but don't want to rough it so much as we do, our neighbors have a beautiful and affordable bed and breakfast. Check them out!

Iowa Country Cabin
Bed & Breakfast

July, 2006 Storms blew through one evening, but they didn't stop us. We finished the slab for the workshop and began the foundation for the main cabin. We also put together a small pier for the raft on the pond which is teeming with life and stocked now with White Amur (a type of algae-eating carp) and Bluegill. The raft is made completely of reclaimed pieces of wood and the art house will be as well. Special thanks go out to the Huerters for donating many pieces which will go into the making of the art house.

July, 2006 The completion of the first cabin took place in late June. It measures 10 feet by 12 feet and is our home away from home until the larger cabin is finished.


July, 2006 In the beginning was the clearing of a plot of land for two cabins and a workshop. Here is the first, smaller cabin being built. It will house the sauna and shower. In the background, one can see the compost bin. Also seen in this group is our eldest, Julie, and her friend, riding the neighbors' horses.

We bought two cabin kits from the good folks at Deer Run Cabins. Check out their site!

Deer Run Cabins


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