We’ve been pretty busy these last 8 months. In fact, I don’t think we have ever been so busy in our lives. Mike, Everest, and I moved up to the house on Plainsong Farm this past May (2015) and it feels almost as if every waking moment has been filled with something related to weeding, mowing, trimming, pruning, tearing down, building up, lifting, digging, hauling, sweating, cleaning, and creating. The fields, pasture, and woodland of the property had been left to their own devices the last 10 years or so and had lots of time to become overgrown and wild. We knew there would be a LOT of work required to get it up and running as an operational farm but as it always goes (especially in farming) there were a number of surprises and additional projects we didn’t anticipate. Below is my attempt to give a condensed version of what we have been up to since this past May.
In broad terms, we cleaned up and readied our new place for our 2016 planting. It started out with a lot of mowing and cutting in an attempt to see what sort of space we had to work with. The pasture behind the big barn was hiding 5+ full pieces of rusty old farm implements. These were half buried, with all the wooden bits rotted off, and with decent sized saplings growing straight through the middles. Borrowed tractors, truck hitches, hand saws, shovels, and muscle finally cleared the space and allowed us to clean it up for future livestock use. In the end, we scrapped 5 tons of metal collected throughout our 10 acres.
As with the majority of the property, the apple orchard required substantial brush-hog power. After this, Mike happily utilized his new chainsaw to clear out a number of unwanted trees that had grown to block out the sun from our orchard. The latter still need copious amounts of pruning to make them accessible and healthy again, but that is still sitting on our Late-Winter-To-Do List.
The front field, which was to become our growing space for the next season, had a decade’s worth of quack grass stubbornly claiming rights. For those of you familiar with this particular beast, you will understand that in our attempt to avoid chemicals and lacking any large gas-powered implements, the removal of said enemy proved a challenge and took a variety of techniques and weeks of work. Once we finally succeeded, we began building permanent raised beds as a means to implement Bio-Intensive growing methods. These were then generously covered in compost and sown in cover crop to wait out the season. Somewhere in the middle of this process we were able to purchase a Grillo walk-behind tractor with flail mower, power harrow, and rotary plow. Up to this point we had spent months sweating out exhausting manual labor in an attempt to ready our growing space with hand tools. This blessing of an implement suddenly allowed us to do a week’s worth of back-breaking work in about 3 hours. That moment was mind-blowing. We still love our hand tools and of course, manual labor, but we also didn’t have time to spend our entire summer building beds. We had too much to do before winter shooed us inside.
The back field needed clearing, more trees needed to come down in order for the right ones to have space to grow, and the old boar pen needed to be leveled so that small children didn’t venture into its rusty, crumbling depths and fall into the hidden groundhog hole. Don’t get excited thinking that was the end of it. I haven’t even mentioned the garage-sized cement slab in the yard that needed to be unearthed from two feet of dirt and years of weed growth or the two large barns with 20+ years worth of previous belongings to be cleaned out. This last bit was accomplished one long weekend when most of our extended family collected from different parts of the state to help with the overwhelming project (thank you!).The amount of buried barbed wire, old fence posts, random pieces of metal, concrete footings, and our run-in with an enormous boulder buried in the field kept us in a constant state of surprise and possibly exasperation. Somehow, we kept crossing tasks off our list and moving on to the next and slowly the farm started to look lived on, cared for, kept, and really lovely.
By the time winter blew in we had completed all the major projects we had needed to and more than a few of the smaller ones as well. The past few cold months have still be spent outside fixing up chicken coops, building pasture pens, setting up our brooder, welcoming our first chicks, and inside brainstorming our 2016 CSA, crop planning, buying seeds, and setting up our basement with makeshift tables and grow lights. Our family likes to bundle up on Sundays and walk around our piece of land taking in the changes brought on by the season, dreaming and scheming about where to build the pig shelter, how to pasture the chickens, and where the future hoop house might go. The dirt on this place already has our blood and sweat mixed into it. And oddly enough, we can’t hardly wait for the next, even busier, crazier, and likely sweatier season to roll in. Cheers to work accomplished and work yet to come.