The land I refer to as this little place here: it is roughly 925' x 1900'. 40 acres. Not so very little, to most people. When I started this blog, I decided to call it "this little place here" for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, because, in the grand scheme of things, it is just a tiny blip. It is nothing extraordinary, just a humble chunk of earth. It is too small, even, to be considering anything by today's conventional farmer. Not big enough to make a living off of.
Yet to us who live here, it is more than just a blip. It is where we live. It is where I do a lot of work and grow a lot of our food. It is more than just earth. It is alive, it breathes, it works, sometimes it sleeps. It is a body made of many parts. Here are some of the parts that make up this little place here.
About ten acres, approximately the back 500' x 925' is wooded. That is composed of a lot of ash--which are now dead thanks to the emerald ash borer going through the area in the early years of this century-- maples, beech, oaks, and either wild apple trees or an orchard that was planted but not tended after the first couple of years. We're not sure whether the apple trees are accidental or intentional, as you can find them in pretty much any section of our woods, yet some of them are scattered far and wide, tall and spindly, and others are in groups that almost look like rows and are much more the shape you think of when you think of an apple tree: squat and wide.
The woods not only provides us with heat via firewood made from deadfall and storm damaged trees, it provides us with food. Many, many deer visit the woods of this little place here, which happen to be located between numerous farm fields. The fields provide food, the woods provide cover. A large portion of the red meat in our diet comes from the woods.
The woods also has many maple trees, which I began tapping in 2010. Making our own maple syrup is something I enjoy doing, and I can't see ever going back to eating that corn syrup and artificial flavoring laden concoction from the grocery store.
Roughly 16 acres is crop field which we rent out to a local farmer. He was renting the land from the former owner, before she divided her larger property and sold off two chunks; the largest chunk became this little place here. Since we didn't really have a use for all 40 acres in the beginning, we agreed to a year-by-year lease of our acreage with the farmer, renting to him whatever portion of the field we were not developing. The soil here is mostly heavy clay, but there are a few sandier pockets here and there. The land itself is gently rolling, very gently, some people might call it flat, but those would be people who live where there are mountains and foothills of mountains. Michigan has flatter areas than this little place here. Then again, it has hillier places too, as DH likes to remind me.
The Hay Field:
This was the first few acres we took out of the field rental. It began, one acre at a time, handpicked of rocks, then hand seeded in a horse pasture mix. The plan was for it to be pasture for my horses when we built the barn, put up fences, and brought them home from the horse farm that I worked at. Years went by, until I had five acres of "pasture" that required brush hogging a few times a year, before we got the money to throw up the shell of the barn. Unfortunately, the economy started to tank and we didn't finish the barn, nor did we put in fences that would have allowed me to bring the horses home (and quit work at the horse farm). Even though we couldn't have the horses graze the pasture, I could still feed it to them if I had it custom cut and baled. So I talked to some of the local farmers, and hired one to cut and bale it for me. It averages 600 bales of first cutting, and about 120 of second.
In spring of 2013, I added on an additional 2 acres, in preparation for hopefully finishing the barn in 2014, fencing in several of the first acres, and bringing my horses home! It has been so nice to feed my own hay, and with so much land, I can't see buying hay from somewhere else once this little place here has horses in residence eating the pasture/hay field.
My garden is bigger than most city lots. In fact, that was the exclamation of a dear friend's wife the first time she came to visit after we'd built our house and moved in: "Your garden is bigger than my whole yard, including my house!!" The garden is 75' x 125', and includes a few permanent beds: asparagus, horseradish, centennial hops, raspberries, rhubarb, and Concord and Niagara grapes. Also part of the garden is my strawberry patch, which changes position in the garden every three years or so. The rest of the space grows sweet corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beets, peas, green beans, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini and summer squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, sweet and hot peppers, winter squash, kale, rutabaga. . . Whew! I'm pretty sure I forgot to list something. Pumpkins! Forgot the pumpkins!
A large part of our field, on the southern end, is fairly wet. In fact, it has standing water in it about three or four months of the year, and after every heavy rain. As a result, the farmer who rents the field is not able to till all of it. The wet part that he cannot get into in the early part of the growing season has grown up in marshy, brushy stuff. Hence, DH naming that area "The Marsh" when we bought the property in 2002. The Marsh is excellent deer cover. And, someday in the future, we will excavate a pond into the lower end of it, making it both good deer cover and good deer watering hole. Not to mention stocking some fish into it, and being able to swim and ice skate right here at home.
The first thing I planted at this little place here, even before we were done building the house, was an orchard. Or, rather, a group of twelve fruit trees arranged just so, that became known as the orchard. My original planting was three kinds of peaches (including my hands down favorite canning variety), four kinds of apples (one for pie, one for applesauce, one because it is our favorite fresh eating variety, and one because it is supposedly a pollinator for the others and I figured I could always throw it's apples into the cider press), two kind of pears, and three kinds of cherries (two tart for pies, one sweet for eating). Two of the cherry trees didn't make it to the second year. I replaced them. They died again. I replaced one. It has struggled, but is hanging in there.
One of the peach trees also died, but then it sprouted from the roots and a strong shoot emerged. I let it grow, and pruned it into shape a little more each year. Given that the tree I had originally planted was grafted onto rootstock, I now have a mystery peach tree in the phoenix that rose from the 'ashes' of the original. This new peach is a very late type, not ripening until the last half of September, but at least it grows and bears fruit. And the peaches, while prone to splitting if I don't pluck them the second they get soft, taste delicious.
In 2013 I replaced the dead cherry, added a few more trees, and another row to my orchard. It now stands at 17 trees: 3 peach, 6 apple, 2 pear, 4 cherry and 2 plum. I can't wait until the day that I get all my fruit for canning and freezing right from my own trees, and have extra to sell or share.