A lot has happened this summer and fall and since this blog is about chronicling our journey to the farm we need to fill in some blanks and play catch up. I try to keep up with a lot of farm blogs and listserves and as I get farther and farther behind reading them I have to wonder how these busy farmers have time to blog as much as they do! Their farms are working farms with lots of animals and crops and I know they are busier than I am. They must be able to stay up later than me. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
M already blogged about the construction of our gravel driveway which took a couple of weeks in late September. M took the week off and we camped out out there during the first week. When we weren’t helping our friends S & J with the road construction, we worked on contour mapping the property in preparation for keyline plowing. Keyline design was conceived in Australia to manage water in drought conditions. Although our farm is in an area that receives 57 inches of rain a year, we can have 3 plus months in the summer without any rain at all. and that’s during the prime growing season. Take this year for example – I think we went 82 days without any measurable precipitation. Makes you thirsty, doesn’t it?
M attended a three day Keyline Design workshop in August at Nature’s Permaculture in Boring, Oregon, and was convinced our property would benefit greatly from it. The farm is sloped and there is A LOT of water that pours down our hill, and at times it gushes. Remember the wetlands (see “Slippery when wet”) – they are at the bottom of the property. With tons of water 9 months of the year and no water for 3, we needed to figure out a way to keep more water on the land – especially because we will probably never be able to get water rights. One of the key points of keyline design is to hold more water in the soil. We hope that with keyline plowing – in addition to building swales, hugelkultures, ponds and using cisterns on every building – we will be able to better manage the water and use it to our advantage.
In late September the well was drilled. In an earlier post (see “You gotta have water”) we discussed our well woes, so here we were nine months later hoping and praying that we would actually hit water and on the first try. We would have been happy to get 3 gpm, as that was “the most we should hope for” according to the groundwater survey, but the Gods must have been smiling on us that day as we hit 9 gpm at 70 feet! WooHoo!
While S & J had their heavy equipment at the property for the road, they also dug our first swale on contour near the top of the ridge. You can see the beginnings of it in the well pics above. It is about 300 ft long. The berm will be planted with fruit trees next spring.
Another project we started during the week of road building was to strip bark from the trees we took out for the road. I bought M a bark spud and he was itching to put it to use. We plan to use the posts for building.
We have piles and piles of twisted trees, branches and brush with which to build our first hugelkultures and chippings for paths and roads. Using S’s skidsteer, she and M tossed the larger tree stumps into an area we hope to someday make into a stumpery. I was inspired by a show on PBS about Prince Charles’ country home Highgrove and the stumpery he had installed there hoping that we will someday be able to create a peaceful fern and mushroom filled stumpery of our own.
In late October, Mike from Nature’s Permaculture brought his Yeomans plow up and plowed about 5+ acres following along the contours we had mapped earlier. Since we have yet to purchase our own tractor and needed one with enough hp to dig into the clay loam soil, we had to rent one from the local John Deere dealership. Most equipment rental places for homeowners only rent out the small rigs. I think this one was about 60 hp, but we could have used a bigger one.
In early October, M and I mixed a 1/4 ton of ag lime and some potash into the swale berm as we are planning on planting the first wave of our orchard there next spring. The soil tests we had done indicated a low ph. We also moved a lot of the fallen trees and branches we had cleared and stacked after the storm last January into the swale, creating a bioswale.
While Mike was plowing, M and I followed behind and seeded the fields with annual rye, Austrian winter peas and triticale. The pasture areas of the property are in pretty good shape and the soil test results showed 7% organic matter, but we wanted to perk things up a bit and build biomass before planting any crops and trees.
We also seeded the berm next to the swale with Austrian winter peas and Arlington red clover, then topped it off with 2 bales of straw to keep it from eroding. We used almost 600 lbs of seed all together and did it all by hand.
That same weekend, we picked up our new chipper and chipped the remaining branches and smaller trees from the storm into the swale providing our future orchard with what Michael Philips in his book The Holistic Orchard refers to as “ramial” wood chips which are full of soluble lignins and lots of other good stuff to help build good soil for our fruit trees. I highly recommend his book and his newsletter if you are into growing fruit trees without chemicals.
After Mike headed home, we put in our gate posts at the property entrance. The ground was extremely dry making it very difficult to dig the post holes even using our neighbor’s gas powered post auger. Ironically, those posts were sitting in a couple of feet of water last week. M installed the gate while I was chipping wood for the path to the trailer.
With all of this going on, it’s no surprise we had one of those “cart before the horse” moments and bought over 700 daffodil bulbs with the idea we’d plant them in the berm where the fruit trees will go. We were envisioning a ring of daffodils around each tree, providing a pretty picture as well as helping to deter voles. What we didn’t think through was that we’d have to have to dig our tree planting holes a lot wider (3 ft) than where the bulbs would ideally be planted (1 ft diameter around the trunk). By the time we figured this out we already had the bulbs, it was fall and they needed to be planted. Plan B was hatched. We dug a trench at the base of the swale berm on the downhill side and planted the bulbs.
It will be pretty to look at next spring from the camp trailer. Next fall we can dig them up and plant them around the trees that will get planted this coming spring. No harm – no foul. Except that it was pouring down rain the day we planted and we were caked with very sticky clay mud. Better get used to it I suppose…
After the shipping container fiasco, we whipped out the new chipper again and tried to chip a path over the mud between the end of the driveway and the trailer so we could get the truck over to the trailer for unloading and loading our gear.
That was a lot of work even with a bunch of neighbor’s kids helping haul branches!
I chipped all weekend and barely made a dent, so we had 10 yards of hogged fuel delivered the following weekend and picked up another 3 yds in our pickup last weekend. We could probably use 3 more next time we head down. I think me and the lady at the landscape supply are going to become good friends this winter.
In the meantime, I won’t be leaving home without my muck boots.