Clearing the Land
The summer focus on the farm has been clearing back the land. We've been working hard to cut back brush and turn our acres back to field since last fall, and a year later the land is starting to look workable at last.
Our house and barn sit in the center of our 93 acres, which is divided by a small dirt road. Four fields surround the farm, two on either side of the house on one side of the road, and two on either side of the barn on the other side of the road. This makes dividing them in our minds easy, and we refer to them as fields 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The first field we worked on was to the right of the barn, and was the space most recently farmed. It was used as a hay field as recently as fifteen or twenty years ago, and was overgrown with weeds and small pine trees. We were able to get it cut back with a brush hog last fall, and have kept it trimmed since. Fields two and three were cut back with a brush hog this spring, as they were also in decent shape having been used to farm blueberries a few decades ago. Field four required some heavy cutting work and just about busted the brush hog, since the last farmer tried to put a farm pond in the middle of the field. When the farm pond wouldn't hold water, the whole field was abandoned to a mixture of sizable new growth trees and wet earth.
Maine has been in the midst of a moderate to severe drought this year. The last significant rainfall was over a month ago, and crops are starting to fail at neighboring farms. Our mountainside spring continues to provide us with a plentiful supply of fresh water, and we are thankful and lucky to have Mother Nature working with us. In fact, the drought has meant we can clear land that would not be workable in a normal rainfall year. In nothing short of a miracle, we haven't gotten our tractor stuck in the mud once this summer.
Since we're on a budget, we've been doing all of the clearing with a combination of a chainsaw on larger trees and an antique tractor rigged with a small brush hog for the overgrowth. Rebuilding and reusing old machinery is a great way for beginning farmers to save a few dollars, as there is very little on a small homestead or family farm that cannot be accomplished with a smaller, older tractor. As one local farmer pointed out to us, those are the tractors that built America.
In addition to field clearing, which we hope to finish soon and be able to turn, we are also cutting back the overgrowth along our stone walls. The entire property was once fenced in by large, tall stone walls that have turned into hedgerows with lack of attention. Cutting them back with first a chainsaw and then weed-whacker, and rebuilding the walls that have crumbled over, is an ongoing task that changes the entire feeling of the property as you look across it.
Meanwhile, we're prepping and designing the area for our vegetable garden next year, and brainstorming future pasture space for our ever expanding collection of animals. While clearing the land is some of the most back-breaking work involved in farming, it is also some of the most satisfying. Looking out over fields that were once full of small trees and are now fresh grass, through our own labor, could hardly be more fulfilling.