Pleasant Surprises
In My Field

Dateline: 25 June 2015

My Field is an ocean of tall weeds!

June is a month of limitations for me. It is the busiest month for my Planet Whizbang mail order business. Which means I'm working from early morning, into the night, making sure that orders are processed, packaged, and promptly shipped. 

There is precious little time for much else, and anything else (like working in my garden, or writing this blog) must be done at odd moments of the day, when I deliberately take a few minutes to refocus. By the end of the month (right about now) I'm nearing burn out.

So, last Sunday (a no-mail day), in the morning, I fired up Leyland (my tractor) and headed down to my field. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I bought me a field, with some woods, a few years back. Paid cash, earned from selling chicken plucker books and chicken plucker parts over the course of ten years. Land ownership was a dream come true. 

The land adjoins my 1.5 acre homestead plot. But, due to the topography (a deep, wooded gully), my field is only accessible by driving down the road aways, around the corner, and down another road aways. Which means it is not exactly convenient to get to.

My field is about 10 acres in size. And, though I'm delighted to own a field, I'm kind of at a loss to know exactly what to do with it. If it had some fence and some cows, it would make a fine pasture. That would be nice, but I don't feel like I'm near enough to the land to properly tend the cattle. A good portion of the land could be an enlarged garden or a berry patch. But, again, it's not convenient to get there and tend to it like would be needed. I have planted a small apple orchard on the land and it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

The way I see it, I need to live in this field if I'm going to properly take care of it. I know from experience on our 1.5 acres that having a garden real near the house means it is a whole lot easier to take care of. Same goes for having critters. 

So Marlene and I keep thinking about the prospect of building a house in the field. But that's an expensive proposition. The other possibility is that I first build a much-needed barn/building for my Planet Whizbang business. Then maybe the house could come later. But, to complicate matters, a good section of the lower part of the field is wet. Real wet. As in, water continually flowing over the ground wet.

The water comes from a spring on the neighbor's property. It has been diverted underground via drain pipes (aka, drain tile) for decades, but the pipes are inadequate for the flow and the area has been a recurring problem.

It is a perfect situation for making a pond. But I don't have the money to spare for such an extravagance. 

I've been told that there is government money (aka, "grants") available for building ponds (and fences too), and I know neighbors who have tapped into such money. But I don't think it's right for me to take tax dollars to improve my land. Wouldn't that be a violation of the 8th Commandment? (thou shalt not steal).  No thanks.

So, my plan is to someday hire someone with a bulldozer to create an open drain ditch from the source of water at the property line, down through the field to an existing gully. With the amount of water that flows over the land, it would amount to creating a man-made stream. I'll make it deep enough that the field around it can be drained into it. And wide enough that the sides slope down gently to the water. Once that's done, and the field is dry, I can then think about a Planet Whizbang barn, and even a house.

The only problem is my lack of financial resources. I reckon I have enough savings to have the earthwork done, but then I'll have to work and wait a few more years to save enough for the barn. Projects like this take time (a lifetime) when you have to work for your money, and are paying as you go.

In the meantime, my field is getting overgrown with weeds. It has been three years since I cut it with Leland and my sickle bar mower. Brambles are growing, and there are little sumac trees here and there. The field needs to be cut low. I have a person with a brush hog lined up to mow it all down (except the real wet area).

And that's what brought me to my field last Sunday morning. I needed to flag the wet spots so the brush hogger could steer clear and not get stuck.

In the process of pounding posts and putting up strips of florescent tape, I checked on my little apple orchard half way up the field (above the water problems), and I was very surprised to find actual apples on some of my trees!

(click the picture to see a larger view)

I did not expect apples to be on the trees for a couple more years. Altogether, there are ten apples on four of the trees. They are beautiful apples too!

Then along the edge of my field (close to the woods) I was delighted to discover an abundance of perfectly ripe wild strawberries.

I spent some time picking and eating strawberries. 

Another pleasant surprise was an oak tree whip I planted a couple years ago. It was thriving...

I planted a lot of little tree seedlings, most of them maple trees, and most of them have either died or are barely hanging on, but that oak tree is living the good life. 

Seeing as that tree has managed to do so well, it's kind of special to me, and I suppose it always will be. I look forward to seeing it grow much bigger. 

(Note to self... plant more trees)

It was a nice morning. A very nice morning. And I enjoyed myself thoroughly, out there in my field. But I lost track of time. 

I don't wear a watch and I don't have a cell phone. When me and Leyland got home, Marlene came out to inform me that we had missed church. Did I forget? No, I didn't forget. I actually thought I was getting back in plenty of time to make it to church. 

I suggested to Marlene that we could go back up into the field and pick some strawberries. And that's what we did.


RonC said...

I have a similar predicament with our 10 acre farm site we bought a few years back. I have started planting trees around and in the pasture. I found a source for mulberry trees that are hardy to zone 3. I planted three of them in our pasture so that they can feed chickens one day. I took some 3' by 3' pieces of roofing tin that I found stored in a shed and cut a roughly 6 inch hole in the center and then put them around my trees to suppress the grass until the trees can get ahead. I have been using my Austrian Scythe (see "The One Scythe Revolution" Botan Anderson to cut grass and mulch around the trees and allow sunlight to reach the trees. I was looking at some of Botan Anderson's videos to help me with my Scythe form. I noticed he is very slender. I know why too. I've started keeping my eyes open for a Jari Mower. I discovered that they are still being made! And not terribly far from where I grew up in southern MN! I am lusting for one of these with a 60" sickle bar:!/Monarch-Mower-Free-Freight/p/48371467/category=10823089

Lyle Stout said...


As for your water problem - can this water be made potable? If you one day wish to inhabit this land, you will need a water source. Drilling a well is an expensive proposition. If this spring is a reliable source of water, and if the water is or can be made potable via an economical means, than perhaps rather than diverting the water away, you need to install a catch basin to capture the water and then use a solar powered pump to elevate it to a water tower at a high point on your property. Make lemonade, so to speak.

Lyle Stout

Marsh Creek Farmstead said...

you know what they say...

The best time to plant a tree was yesterday, and the second best time is now.


Society grows great when men plant trees under whos shade they know they will never sit.

Plant MORE Trees!!

Is there a simple(inexpensive) way to make the gully into your pond? Such as using existing rocks to build a gabion dam wall.

Pam Baker said...

What about offering the local college or Ag school the opportunity to build a pond? Salatin says if you want animals, a pond is critical. A learning opportunity wouldn't cost you much. Or get a pond raising group, like the Amish do with barns. Are there Amish near you? Might you call upon them for ideas? Maybe swap something of value? Offer to let them use the land in return for assisting or putting in the pond.

Eh, just some random ideas. I too have a similar problem and I would put in a pond in a flash but it is a seep and doesn't produce enough water flow to keep a pond healthy. But the tractor does make deep tracks when I brush hog it.
A solution will present itself when the time is right.
Best of luck, P.

Clinton Johnson said...

Marsh creek beat me too it -> "Society grows great..."

I have a few acres I'd love to fence in and run animals on right behind my own house, but the start up costs are prohibitive, ~$500 for temp fencing alone. I'll be watching to see if you, or anyone else, come up with any good ideas!

RonC said...

To Clinton:

Google English Hedgerow. Most any trees will work. They don't have to be Hawthorn to be effective. Start propagating trees from common easy to grow trees that are native to your area via Hardwood or semi hardwood cuttings. This will take a little time, but no better time than to start now.

Matt the Farmer said...

For your pond water/creek opportunity consider renting a mini excavator. It would allow you to dig either a pond or a creek. In my area, such a machine can be rented for several hundred dollars a day and some places can deliver the machine as well if you don't have a 3/4 ton truck. These machines generally have rubber tracks, so are highly maneuverable and difficult to get stuck. Do your digging in the fall or whenever you driest season is if the field is really wet. This way you can leverage your labor/sweat equity for significant savings.

Melonie said...

Would it be possible to plant edibles in that wet zone? Rice, cranberries, that sort of thing are coming to mind for me. Seems there's got to be something that likes wet "feet" that you could harvest until the time comes for doing a larger project with it. Or that may just be my head in the clouds because we're in a dry area and only getting drier, so I'm jealous you've got a wet spot on the property. ;)

I don't comment often but just have to tell you that your posts about Futureman delight me. I had two girls and now I have a Little Man - it's neat to see young ones through grandparents' eyes.

Herrick Kimball said...

Mulberry trees for chickens. That's an interesting idea. I have never eaten a mulberry in my life, but I used to work with a guy who told me he had a couple of large mulberry trees that were very productive and the berries were very good. I checked out the Jari mower link and it looks like they are all sold out. I have an Austrian scythe and love it. Your mention of it reminds me that I would like to mow some patches of tall clover in my field and put it on my compost pile. Maybe later today... I wish you the best with your field.

The water comes from a steady spring source on my neighbor's property, but the flow runs under his field, which is sprayed with Roundup each year. I wouldn't want to drink it, but I do want to make use of it by putting in some sort of tank to collect it and pipe it down (gravity flow) for garden irrigation or for animal water. Also, the drop is enough that a ram pump could pump could be installed to send the water to a much higher elevation in the field. Perhaps another underground tank from which cattle paddocks could be supplied with water, like Joel Salatin does. There are possibilities there. Thanks for the comment.

Marsh Creek—
Yes, plant more trees. I'm thinking I should plant a couple of mulberry trees now. I didn't mention that the oak tree is kind of special because my wood land has no oak trees on it. I have considered using the gabon cages to help make a simple bridge over the gully. That would give me easier access to the field. But to dam the stream up would probably be against some environmental regulation. The water in the stream at the bottom of the gully is considerable at certain times of the year. The stream turns into a raging river of sorts. A small dam near the top is still a possibility. I've considered it often. Thanks for the comment.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Pam—
We do have Amish in the area, though not real close. I'm pretty certain they would be my shop/barn builders,as I've come to the realization that I do not have the time to spare to do the building myself, as much as I would like to. I don't think they do ponds. But if I understand correctly Scott Nearing dug himself a pond, using a wheelbarrow and a shovel, and a lot of time. I agree that a solution will present itself when the time is right. Those are wise words. The longer I ponder on the situation, the better I'll understand what is best to do, and how to get it done. Thanks.

Yes, I have a good idea for pasturing a cow or two without fencing. You can do what the old-timers did. Figure out a movable tether system. There are some clever ideas for this in my Agriphemera reprint, "625 Whizbang Ideas For the Farm & Household." But a Google search will probably also bring some good ideas. If my field was behind my house, where I could easily get to the cows, I'd start by tethering them, moving them daily, and moving down what they didn't eat (the weeds). This is the way to recover an overgrown pasture. Scott Terry explained it very nicely (how to recover an overgrown pasture, not tethering cows) in one of his radio shows. Perhaps I can find which one. I need to find it anyway because my wife wants to hear it.

Matt The Farmer—
I'll consider it. I have a friend that made a pond himself with rented equipment. But he is experienced with using such equipment and has knowledge of pond making. Thank you.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Melonie—
A cranberry bog! That's really thinking. When I was a kid I spent a couple summers in Plymouth, Mass. and three were cranberry bogs all around there. I think I would like to do that, on a small scale. Perhaps I'll read up on cranberry growing this winter and I'll put that on my list of things to do before I die. Rice too. Why not? Ben Falk grows rice on a hillside in Vermont. So many good ideas.......

Sheila Gilbert said...

First, I don't mean this in a negative way, however it may sound like it, so I wanted you to know it's constructive, not negative. It is illegal for a neighbor to divert water to your property, (in all states) so if your goal is to build a barn for your business first, and then a home, you do have the right to ask that the water be diverted to another location on their own property. So, if your main goals are the two buildings, then I would start with getting the water diverted first. Because it was man made, and has an effect on your land, then you can have them divert the water for you. Of course I also considered that you may want the water, many would, but it is something to consider. They made the situation you have to deal with, so maybe you need to find out just how responsible they are for correcting it. I would also want to know the condition of the water too. Then again, I see a huge benefit from having the water on your property. It's value can be outstanding too. I know one thing for sure. Your apple tree looks Fantastic! and I hope you get to see some huge, delicious apples this fall. I think a barn for your business is a wonderful idea. Even if you don't move the business in right away, it will always hold many items you need for your gardens and the work you do on both your lands. Only one suggestion on the barn, make it as big as you can. Bless, Sheila

Anonymous said...

The 2 properties abut but there is a ravine??? Is there no possibility of getting there via atv? We go over an area like that, diagonally and it is not a bad ride.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts: 1)I've rented mini-excavators several times, they are very simple to operate. Two joy sticks for 90% of the use, just don't lift too much at right angles to the tracks and you'll be fine. 2)Offer the field to local farmer to hay until you have the time to work it. They'll improve the grass and keep the brambles and trees from taking hold. The down side is they remove a lot of nutrients with the hay but maybe they could spread their manure back on the field.

- CJ

Nick L said...

Hi Herrick,

Thanks, I never knew the name of those rock cages. I add to my vocabulary every time I visit your blog. Here's a way to make a bridge without damming the stream.

Would a culvert pipe or several smaller culvert pipes covered with rock work? Found this web site.

This looks easier and cheaper. Then again many things LOOK easy till you get into the nitty gritty.

I like to think things over for a while too. It's a good thing. Great input from everyone.
I always enjoy reading all the comments.

Nick L

Pam Baker said...

I thought of a cranberry bog too but I believe they don't like their feet wet. It is flooded only to facilitate harvest. I also thought, for my own situation, of rice, like Ben Falk but in light of your neighbor's proclivity for pesticide use, not only would I never use the water, or grow food or livestock in the area, I would be actively attempting to persuade my neighbor to stop this insane practice.
I also thought of solar panels. They are popping up like dandelions all over New England.
I also wanted to tell you that your refusal to consider taking public funds just...makes me, I don't know, I just don't have words. I get it. We qualify for several state and fed programs but we don't apply. Just doesn't seem right.
Didn't think there were any folk left that thought the same. Sure feels good to know we aren't alone in our sensibilities.