Amanda and I are finishing a week away from our respective jobs, during which both of us focused on the farm. If this is a foretaste of our lives on the farm, we will enjoy this next phase in our marriage.
I thought about several ways of organizing the week and eventually settled on chronology. So taking it one day at a time:
Monday was a washout for working outside, because the rain from the weekend continued. So we drove in to Montgomery, where we bought a new coffee pot, bought me the first suit I’ve purchased in more than 15 years, visited with Amanda’s mother and several of my family members, met with Scott McGill, our electrician, at the farm, went back to town to pick up the suit, and on the way back to the lake bought a bag of fescue seed and 4 bags of ammonium nitrate.
Tuesday was our first sunny day in several days, and were we glad to see it. At some point, we’ll digress and talk about the accuracy of weather forecasts, but this is not the time. Tuesday we had planned to plant 200 longleafs that I had heeled in the week before. “Heeling in” is the term I learned from Dave Gray for taking young trees and covering them lightly with soil so they’ll stay healthy long enough to plant.
As we got started, Amanda decided that we should clear a spot to the south and west of the barn so we could plant longleafs there. I went along with it for a while, but I got grumpy when we kept expanding the job; I had visions of our finishing the day with no longleaf pines planted, and I knew the soil would get drier and harder to work as each day went by. I was also frustrated because cutting in the brush kept throwing the chain off the bar of my saw. On about the third time I lost the chain, I told her “We didn’t come here today to clear; we came here today to plant longleafs.”
We brought the clearing to a fairly quick end after that and got started planting longleaf pines. We ended up planting all 200 of them in close proximity to the house and barn, including many of them in that little area she insisted that we clear. As usual, her judgment proved spot on.
Our system for planting longleafs is that Amanda carries a bucket or bag of trees and decides where to put each tree. I wield the dibble (a heavy metal pole with a wedge on the end and a bar for standing on it) and punch a hole for each tree. She places the tree, and I use the dibble to pack the dirt loosely around it. Once we get going, if the ground’s not too hard, we can plant a tree in less than 20 seconds. Of course, we spend most of the time looking for the next spot to plant, which is part of the fun of it.
Needless to say, after Lee’s digging 200 holes and Amanda’s stooping over 200 times, we were both exhausted Tuesday night.
Wednesday was not a heavy work day. We got a late start, because I had the chance to visit with Janet Davidson, the Domestic Relations Clerk for Elmore County. In my other life I will be filing my divorce documents with Elmore County, and I had been looking forward to getting to know more about what’s going on there, so this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. Janet and I had a wonderful visit, and Amanda and I got to the farm just in time to eat the sandwiches she had fixed for our lunch. We had a little time to work. Amanda and I lit one of the fires we had laid the day before, and she cleared the area around it while I cut some of the “big sticks” for firewood. Then my brother’s family came to see us. My brother Tom, his wife Martha Lynn, their daughter Jennifer and her two children Borden and Jack, plus Tom’s and Martha Lynn’s other three grandchildren visiting from Houston, Harrison, Ben, and Anna. Play time!
Tom had a good time looking over our firewood pallets. At this point #1 was in use, ## 2-7 were loaded and sitting in the sunshine, arranged in a haphazard fashion on what we’re calling the Planting Area south of the barn, and we were filling #8. He thinks I’m a tad anal retentive for numbering our firewood pallets. When I most needed my wife and companion to come to my defense and explain what a smart and resourceful man she married, she cheerfully agreed with him.
Ben and Jack got a kick out of watching me use Tractor to push a couple of big stumps together in the fire. Then we walked down the trail to the creek. There is something about kids of all ages and creeks that just brings them together, and it wasn’t long before four of the five were wading (Borden being entirely too mature for such foolishness, of course). Amanda stayed with the waders, and the rest of us wandered over to the 3-4 acres we call “No Wheels Land” because we can’t get Tractor over there, at least not now. I actually tried several months ago to get Tractor across the small creek that separates No Wheels Land from the rest of the property when I knew Dave Gray was due with his bulldozer, and his first task with the dozer was getting Little Brother unstuck.
We like No Wheels Land for three main reasons: it feels “wilder” than the rest of our property, it’s the place where we first saw a good-sized turtle, and it’s really the only way to experience the NW corner of our little farm. I must admit, though, that other people, including the Toms, are underwhelmed. Oh well . . .We finished up with rowboat rides for everybody except Harrison, who was busy fishing.
Wednesday night we cooked some chicken for supper with some squash (not bad at all) from Ingram’s Market in Eclectic.
Thursday we got an early start and worked hard all day. We lit the second of two fires from Amanda’s work, and while she tended it I crossed the property to what we call the Greenfield and started in with Tractor. The Greenfield is a plateau just up the hill from Rifle Range Road. It earned its name the first day we saw the property, because someone (we believe a hunter) had planted it with something (brown top millet, perhaps?) that was growing nice and green even in the poor soil of the field.
Last fall Dave Gray and I used the bulldozer and excavator to clean up the Greenfield, pulling big sticks to burn out of the massive piles of debris left by the loggers. In true Dave Gray style, we built a massive fire tower that you could see burning from way out on the bottomland. Then we spread the big piles of topsoil left behind over the Greenfield. The result is a flat field of approximately 2-acres, with rich, aerated soil where we think we will be able to grow most anything we want to that can take the central Alabama climate.
When we spread the topsoil, we had left lots of branches and limbs (6 inches and smaller) littered across the Greenfield. Thursday I used the scarifier teeth on Tractor’s box blade to pull the limbs to a central location, and then Amanda and I pulled them out and built what was for us a good size fire pile. We started burning and kept feeding it as it burned. We were quite proud of the condition of the Greenfield when we finished. Amanda had the silly idea that we smelled bad, but I knew we smelled wonderful. We finished Thursday by spreading ammonium nitrate and fescue over the Greenfield. By the time our work was done we were about to lose our light.
Friday Amanda spread ammonium nitrate and fescue on the area around our front entrance. Dave Gray had cleaned up that area substantially back in the fall and we got some rye grass down on it, but the coverage has been incomplete. We’re hopeful that the fescue will grip better. Its other advantage, of course, is that it’s a perennial. So once we get it established, we hope and expect that the fescue will continue growing season after season.
STOP! Don’t emulate us by spreading ammonium nitrate with fescue seed. Bad idea. You can read about it on Correcting Lee’s Fescue Blunder.
While Amanda did the spreading at the front entrance, Tractor and I lined up the firewood pallets so they wouldn’t be spread so haphazardly around the property. Tom just thought I was being anal retentive before. The way this is supposed to work is that I’ll pull the pallets in order as I need them, starting with the pallet we loaded the longest time ago and working our way to the pallet we loaded most recently. Stay tuned, and I shall let you know if our approach works or just makes Lee look foolish.
After Amanda finished seeding the front entrance, she started working on the area between the house and the barn. For decades Longleaf Breeze was simply timberland with an absent owner, so it became a neighborhood hangout. We think we will be finding other people’s trash on our farm for the rest of our lives. Amanda says there’s a special place in hell reserved for people who throw a glass bottle on somebody else’s property. Here she is picking through the rocks by the driveway for the fragments of broken glass.
And while she did that, I pulled debris on the Planting Area. I finished with several decent piles of rubble that I pulled from the woods. Later we will pick through the piles and build a fire down there. In the process of cleaning up that area, I leveled up (more or less) an area where we plan to plant our first veg garden. It’s not very impressive looking right now, but we have high hopes. We have ordered seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, okra, green beans, summer squash, acorn squash, corn, and cucumbers, and we will plant some tomato plants as well. Nearby, we will plant a small herb garden with parsley, chives, spearmint, cilantro, basil, and rosemary.
Next, Tractor and I smoothed the hillside between the house and the barn, paying particular attention to the little area where Amanda has decided to put her clothesline. Her requirement for not using her dryer is that the grass underneath the clothesline be rich, green, and verdant. She doesn’t want to drop a towel from the line and run the risk that it will land in the mud, and I can certainly understand that. So in that area we’ve worked extra hard to get smooth soil where the grass will grow well. Sure hope it works. I REALLY don’t want her using the electric dryer on a regular basis.
After we had the hillside ready, Amanda spread ammonium nitrate and fescue on it. I like this picture because it shows the seed flying everywhere from Amanda’s spreader. After she finished seeding the hillside between the barn and the house, she spread the same two items, ammonium and nitrate and fescue seed, on the pond dam and the hill going down to the pond dam.
While she finished the spreading, I policed up the shop and greased Tractor. A final sweeping from Amanda on the two open bays of the pole barn, and we were ready to bid a fond but reluctant farewell to Longleaf Breeze, at least for the next several days.
As we look back on the week, we did a lot of things right. We made the best use of the rainy day for shopping and visiting, and we timed our burning well for those days when the conditions were best (a tad cooler, with a gentle breeze). We also succeeded in focusing on those tasks that needed to be done now, namely planting the longleafs and planting the fescue. And we delayed until later the less urgent tasks like splitting and stacking more firewood.
One thing we’ve already figured out is that we’re going to have to force ourselves to make time to relax. Both of us were so happy to have five uninterrupted days to work on the farm that we never took time to put our feet up. Not only was the week beautiful at the farm, it was beautiful at the lake too, and we didn’t stay there one whole day the entire week. We were so focused on getting those longleafs in the ground, for example, that neither of us took any pictures in the process of planting them. So we pulled the pics above from last year’s planting. We’re learning.
We did enjoy our mornings and evenings at the lake, though. Here’s a taste of what I saw each morning before I took Amanda’s coffee to her. This is the unretouched image from our Canon DSLR – no sweetening or dialing up the color saturation.
Now it’s back to teaching for Amanda and family law for me, and dreaming of our new life to come this summer.