When we closed on the place the end of June, the burdock and thistle were already about four feet tall. By the time we mowed the horse paddock and hill in August, the burdock was well over ten feet tall. Needless to say, we have a lot of weeds we’ll have to convince to take up residency elsewhere. Since I have already learned that trying to master these buggers is next to impossible, I am convinced that green manures, permaculture and any other way to strengthen the soil is what we’ll be trying.
If our plans are to use the land to grow food, we felt that we had to see what we had so we could start planning. With the incredible weed bed, we could barely see the barns from the house, and as summer progressed, it felt that the ravine moved increasingly towards the house. We have 15 acres that started to feel like a large suburban lot.
Max used the lawn tractor to mow a trail down to the barn and then on to the ravine so we could explore the woods. With a few trails, we could at least see what we had and get out for a walk. With all the work on the house it wasn’t until Fall that we were able to GPS our property line to see what exactly was ours. It turns out that about eight acres are heavily wooded and seven are somewhat open – “tillable” as they say!
In August, we finally realized we needed to address the thistle and burr. Much of the land had been horse pasture in the past, and the burdock had taken over. Beautiful purple thistle, milkweed and wildflowers grow in abundance where the original dairy barn once stood. One of the stories we learned this summer from a neighbor is that there once was an old barn that caved in and then was burned by the couple that bought the place in the 80s. Indeed, Jeff found foundation rubble when he and our neighbor finally cleared the land. In clearing the land we also uncovered quite a lot of wire, semi-buried tools and rusted metal. At the edge of the ravine we found the junk pile with a hood from a 1940s Chevy truck.
Here you can see the tufts of thistle well past the beautiful purple flower stage and well into the annoy-the-neighbor-farmer stage!
Unfortunately, finding time to clear the land didn’t come until the dry weather had also moved in, so our farm looked like it had a hiney for awhile. The short grass quickly dried to brown and I was sad to see the butterflies and birds move out temporarily. It really was quite shocking to see the flat barren land that had looked so menacing and overgrown.
In addition to junk in the pasture where farm machinery had once been stored we also uncovered a small garden plot with chives, asparagus, and raspberries. These asparagus were taken too late in the season for those who know better, but we just couldn’t resist.
This garden wasn’t so hard to see next to the house, but amazing how overgrown! In the city, my mulched perennial beds wake in the Spring with not a weed to be seen. Here, I was surprised to find landscape fabric and mulch under the weeds! We pulled and dug until the bed was cleared of crab and quack and then laid another six inches (at least) of mulch. Within two days, grass was popping up here and there. From this experience, I know the “weeds” will win. I have to search for another way to garden – to live harmoniously with the weeds or convince them to locate elsewhere!
This is our quiet road with corn beginning to tassle. My grandfather painted a similar picture back in the 40s and I have always called it, “The Road to Nowhere.” Now I have my own road like in the picture, and I know where it goes! I’ve never appreciated this painting like I do now.
Autumn was glorious here. The light and colors were so vibrant and energizing – perhaps the first Fall that didn’t feel depressing to me!
This is the riding arena I mentioned in a previous post. We had no idea what the large bushes were that circled the space, or what secrets lay inside this area behind the garage. It was completely overgrown with poplars, wild blackberry and tall grass. Jeff and Max enjoyed many days of clearing and hauling the scraps to the burn pile. The brush pile had grown to the size of four large elephants and we were excited to have a BIG bonfire in December to celebrate the solstice.
*Since burning the brush pile, I have learned much about Permaculture and see now how the brush could have been used in raised bed berms. Fortunately, finding brush, fallen limbs and logs is not a problem on this property!
Our farmer neighbor has a “skidster” and helped with the burning by first plowing a path and then pushing the pile together over the course of a couple of days. We enjoyed many days around the fire the end of December. In fact, we were surprised that the pile burned for two months! The end of February we still saw tendrils of smoke spewing up from the crater. Now we have a small pile of dirt and ash we’ll take down to the edge of the ravine to bury.
Winter weather was amazing to watch from the huge kitchen windows. We had many days of frost covered trees, drifting and blowing snow from the north and many bright, crisp sunny days. Winter is not the same from the city!
This shot was taken yesterday (4/2/14) . Most of our snow is gone, the winter rye is greening near the barn and many of the trees and bushes have their first burgeoning buds. Today we expect four to six inches of snow, so I’ll have to push my dreams of gardening to rest for a few more days!
As many of you know, my husband is an avid biker. He loves the road bike, but one of his main priorities for our ravine is to establish a mountain bike trail system. He started last fall to mark the trail and even began to clear a bit. This project will not only give us access to the woods, but will help open the canopy to provide light for the cultivation of our sugar bush. There are lots of little maples out there and we hope to one day tap for syrup. My mom made this wall art for Jeff’s garage. I think she intended it as a trellis, but we felt it needed an unobstructed view. This is the view from the farm road, in fact. We may have just “branded” ourselves!