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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Plans for Spring erosion control

Predictions of a dusting up to two inches yesterday turned into yet another winter weather advisory and actual accumulations neared eight inches this morning.  As daylight waned, the quiet of the falling snow was broken only by the hum of neighbors and friends playing outside on their snow machines. 

While watching them travel past the front of the house I noticed that the inches of accumulating snow had only barely covered the extra foundation that had become exposed after years of neglect.  My grandfather fell ill in the late nineties and passed in 2000.  In his years of declining health, the regular maintenance which he had always so diligently attended to, fell by the wayside.  We are guests here and have inherited the long overdue chores required to maintain a 200 year old family farm house.

Built on a slowly sloping hill, behind the house the land raises up to a ridge line which runs south from the Canadian border and Minister Hill continuing past the farm and into the next town beyond.  Gradually leveling out in natural terraces at the ponds behind the house, down more to the relatively flat area where the house and retired dairy barn reside, then gently sloping further down past the garden and across the corn piece until it is met by the water of the spring fed lake. 

Years of erosion have steepened the hill in front of the house and torn between six and ten inches of soil from the yard.  Over the past few years raised beds have been added to the hill in front of the house to supplement the main garden space.  Each is level with the hill at the back of the bed and a three-sided retaining wall  (some stone, some cedar logs) in the front frames each into the hill.  Incorporating the beds have had an added benefit of curtailing the erosion from the yard behind them.  Noticeable erosion continues on either side of them.

As plans for 2013 include additional vegetable and flower crops I am looking into incorporate erosion control into the planning of more growing locations.  Although I have a cousin and other extended family who are skilled in masonry work, cement or stacked block retaining walls are well outside of this fledgling farm's budget.  Perusing the Internet I have found several configurations which include more natural components, although will not last generations like stacked stone would. 

One of the options which looks most promising is something like that pictured above.  It will take a winter of preparation including rehabilitating my abused back and spinal musculature and the procurement of an additional chain or two for the chainsaw.  My chainsaw skills are sufficient to cut up a down tree or clean up some dead branches, but I usually end up with a dull chain or two in the process.  A project like this will require a little saw re-education so that I don't burn out the unit in the process.  And since the terracing will occur on a hill and the resulting spaces will probably be too narrow to hold the tractor, much of the hauling and placing of the trees will occur by hand.  Soil moved to install the trees will need to be back filled and soil amendments (compost, etc.) will be added by hand.

This morning the snow continues falling.  Later, we will head back out into the cold and the snow to clean up the driveway, clean out the chickens and the rabbits, and hopefully take Little Man for his first ride in the sled that Santa brought him for Christmas.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Funny how snowy weather breeds plans for the next season!

As the snow accumulates in our corner of northwestern Vermont, I am teased by the glossy photos and attractive paintings in the twenty or more seed catalogs we have received in the mail.  My garden is inaccessible today less you are wrapped from head to toe in attire fit for the hard core winter sports enthusiast.  The compost pile, which normally is one of the few spots too warm for snow to rest, is completely covered by the eight or so inches that has fallen so far.  I had to leave the farm this morning for off-farm employment, but the local employees of VTrans did a great job keeping up with the weather in the early morning hours.  Little man is home with his father watching the snow blow around the house and perhaps if it lightens up and the wind settles, may even get a ride on the tractor while a pass is made up the driveway.  If my uncle and cousin are working today, after dinner one of us will go out and make the main driveway passable until this weekend when clean up will occur in earnest.

The garden plans are grand again this year, although the budget is much smaller.  Leaving full-time employment to spend more time on the farm has taken its financial toll.  Many, much needed, repairs are set aside to ensure that Little Man is fed and warm - this sacrifice I make gladly.  In designing our limited budget for 2013, I am torn between making much needed repairs to the greenhouse so that we can start our own seedlings or purchasing transplants from a local supplier so that we can get a jump on the season.  Having a greenhouse, albeit a small one, will enable us to extend either end of the season and provide a bountiful market table both in early May as well as late into October.  The hoop-style greenhouse that we built last year sustained heavy wind damage as we did not have the appropriate plastic to go over the the frame.  It was built without supplemental heat, however, there is room to put some in, even if it is only enough to keep the frost at bay.

Some of the other goals for 2013 include:
  • Clean up of the three Christmas tree fields so that the trees can be properly fertilized.
  • Addition of several winter storage crops on top of our usual summer fare so that we might participate in some indoor winter markets for 2013. 
  • Improving the rabbit housing - no, the roof never got finished to the rabbit shed.
  • Working on a more efficient butchering and packaging area for the rabbit meat.
  • Adding some seasonal cut flowers for sale, or to beautify our market table.
  • Revising and expanding the chicken coop to include more efficient cleaning and resolve the roof leaks.
  • Improvements to pig pasture fencing as well as possibly rehabbing pasture that was long ago used for cows to house a calf or some sheep.
  • Building a structure to over winter pigs, a calf, or both next winter.
  • Revisions to our sugaring pan/evaporator to allow us to be more efficient and perhaps have syrup for sale at the market this year.
Additionally, I will be investing some time in the management of our farmers market.  While it might seem like yet another distraction from the to-do list on the farm; it is actually very selfish.  The more successful the market, the more successful my booth at the market.  The more money I make from the farm means less time working off the farm which means more time at home with Little Man.

The plans are grand.
The desire and drive to make a success of this farm oozes out of me.
Little man got a John Deere for his birthday.

I am excited for the new year!

What steps have you taken towards your farm/homestead? 
What are your goals for 2013?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unexpected gitfs

Christmas this year was, as we had planned it, full of the little things that make life grand.  My mother and grandmother were up from Connecticut to share in Little Man's first real Christmas.  At 12 months old there isn't much that is more exciting then tearing paper from the gifts found under the Christmas tree.  The contents of each package were of little interest, but the paper was both delicious and fun to tear to shreds.

The unexpected was at play this weekend as well.  Predictions for a dusting to an inch of snowfall resulted in over eight inches.  Our driveway is long and contains a hill flanked by two ponds on either side at the top.  Generally it doesn't become perilous until later in the winter when the ice takes hold with meaning and any thawing make runners a requirement in lieu of tires.  A newer vehicle with a fancy traction control option proved trying for those of us used to driving nothing newer than 15 years old.  Finally a shut-off option located in conjunction with a freshly plowed driveway allowed my family to return to their hotel.  It isn't that I am not accommodating to house guests, but all of my extra beds are upstairs which can prove difficult to someone in their 80s.

Returning to the farm after working on Christmas Eve I discovered a wrapped package outside the garage door.  'Santa' had visited before midnight to leave it.  I hadn't noticed any reindeer prints in the snow nor any sleigh marks in the driveway.  I collected the package and headed inside, made sure all the animals had food and water and nestled myself into bed hoping for visions of sugar plums.  Christmas morning arrived with Little Man more interested in quality time with mom than the brightly colored packages under the tree. 

After family had arrived, the mystery package was opened.  It contained several items for Little Man either without a tag or noting it was from Santa.  We are especially thankful to 'Santa' for the wonderful and unexpected package of holiday gifts. 

After an eventful year and with recent events weighing heavy on hearts we were truly blessed with generosity, no visits to the hospital this year, good food, good company and much laughter.  Here's hoping the coming year is full of the same.