August was a long, hot month. The hottest August we've had since living in Florida. It definitely gives meaning to the term dog days of summer. In looking back on what we accomplished over the last month it's quite amazing. In no particular order:
While the heat tried it's best, it didn't beat us. We pushed through and made a lot of progress. Stay tuned - September is going to be so much fun!!!
When we were in the planning stage of our farm the possibilities and dreams were endless, almost glamorous I might add. The hard, hot reality didn't take long to set in the moment we started to work. While I am no stranger to hard work, I am a stranger to difficult manual labor. Sure I have worked in our garden and yard on all of our projects, but the type of work we were setting out to do was a concept I was not familiar with.
By the end of our first day, the glamour was over. I was sweating from places on my body I didn’t know had the ability to sweat and there was a strange smell emanating from nearby. I asked Mark if he thought there was a dead animal or some funky plant or something we walked on. He started laughing and said the smell was coming from me. Oh! Ew!
Most of the work we have done over the last 7 weeks has been more of the manual type at its most primitive level. We chose to go this route instead of hiring in a timber company or renting heavy equipment to clear fence rows and paths, because maintaining the integrity of the property is very important to us. We want to keep the natural look of the land as much as possible without rutting and tearing up the terrain.
There have been days after cutting down trees and moving the branches that every muscle in my body screams in pain, but I dig deep and to quote Cold Miser of the Miser Brothers, I “put one foot in front of the other” and keep working. It’s not easy, but I want to contribute as much as possible. You see, I am employed in the traditional manner. I report to an office and suck up air conditioning Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm. I work at our land on the weekends usually from about 7 am until 2 or 3 pm.
I come home bleeding, scratched and bruised – many of which I don’t even remember receiving. My clothes are soaking wet by 9 am and carrying on as planned during a rain shower doesn't make me run for the car or a raincoat.
I will say that I have flat refused to do one task that was asked of me. A few weeks ago we were clearing out some small diameter (6 inches and less) pine trees in order to make room to fell a very large pine tree sitting in the way of our future fence row. Mark cuts the small pine tree down and asks me to drag it down the way about 20 or 30 feet. While this tree was very small in diameter it was close to 15 or 20 feet tall. I kind of gave him “the look’ and he asked me again, to just drag it “over there”. I pick it up, well, I try to pick it up and it wouldn't budge. I try harder and that sucker isn’t budging an inch. I couldn't even get an ounce of momentum on it. I explain myself and someone gets huffy, fires up the chain saw and cuts the top out of the tree. I try again. Nothing, again. This time I hear some cursing being drowned by the firing up of the chain saw yet again and the tree gets cut in half. That should do it. Nope. Finally, he gets on one end and helps me out. We get the tree trunk where it’s intended to go and he tells me, “wow that was heavier than I thought!”
While I can dig deep and do most things I am faced with, carrying whole trees is where I and my body draw the line.
I have learned a lot about myself in a very short period of time. Most important is that I am stronger than I thought I was – physically and mentally. At age 43, it’s not normal for most people to purchase 10 acres, get up off the couch, start clearing land (with a machete no less) and say they are going to start a farm. Remember from this post we are not most people. I have also learned that it’s a rush of excitement to follow your dream and watch how it begins to unfold before your very eyes. It’s scary at first, but then as it starts to take place the fulfilling sense of accomplishment takes over and you realize that the little bit of digging deep is going to pay off well for you!//tr
Today we set our four corner posts. This was a pretty simple task that was made more difficult due to extreme heat conditions and limited vehicular access. We persevered and completed the task.
Our corner posts were purchased through the local dock maker and are basically marine-grade pylons. Each post is no less than 7 inches in diameter and hand dug to a depth of 3 foot deep, back filled and packed tight with a 60 pound bag of Sackrete.
From start to finish it took us about 4 hours to complete this milestone task. Sitting at home, clean, comfortable, and toasting with a glass of wine in the air conditioning, it's starting to really sink about how important this job was for us today. Any good project starts with a solid cornerstone - today we laid four of them. The foundation for our fence and ultimately, our farm.//tr
This video shows the south border and completes the preliminary tour of the land. Next up will be setting fence posts!!!
This tree was 65 feet tall, circumference at cut was 58" and it was only a 42 year old sand pine. Unfortunately, it would impede on the fencing progress, and contribute to fire risk with dropping it's dead, shaggy, dry branches. Such is life, some monuments both made-made and natural must yield to progress. In other words folks, you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet.
This video will give you an idea of what your east border is like. This border sits alongside our road.
The third in a three part series of articles that will give you some insight as to why we chose this particular piece of property.
When chronicling any endeavor or adventure it’s always best to start at the beginning. This certainly holds true when it comes to establishing a sustainable farm in ten acres of heavily wooded Florida pine scrub. Property hunting certainly calls for some selection criteria. It also demands some soul-searching, vision and a very good sense of humor. The property hunt and how we finally settled on purchasing the land we did is as good a starting point as any. Here’s what made our latest purchase the right place at the right time.
This criteria ties a bit back into the access criteria. Elevation in Florida is rare, but is important for all the previous reasons mentioned. Now, couple this with the fact that we wanted to stay coastal (within 20 miles of Gulf) due to sea breeze, and things start to fall apart. Fortunately for us there is a bit of undulation in our county that provides a bit of elevation for safety.
While elevation in a potential hurricane is easy for most to understand, contour--not so much. With elevation comes some contour, but not necessarily a lot. Well, to understand contour as a criteria some local climate experience is necessary past the USDA growing zone guide. What if I told you that the area we’re in gets just as much (if not more) rain annually as Seattle, yet xeriscaping landscape design is still advised? Water conservation in our parts is reality. Capturing and controlling water so it seeps rather than runs is essential and contour makes that possible.
The last criteria was the desired shape of the plot. We wanted to be able to easily subdivide the property into chunks for cultivation and eventually individual livestock paddocks. Badly misshapen lots often make for wasted space with costly perimeter fencing bills. Ultimately contour and usage will shape the internals of the property, but perimeter boundaries are easier to define and maintain when the overall layout is in a uniform shape. Square or rectangular property is just easier to define.
Lastly, a square or rectangular property is easy to separate from the bordering properties (in our case, other heavily wooded and unmaintained lots) with fire lines and roads. In the pine scrub of Florida wildfires start quickly and run rampant through decades of dry branches and matted pine needles on the forest floor.//mr
The next line we worked on getting preliminarily cleared was the west line. This was a lot easier than the north line, by far. Enjoy the tour!
The south line was a beast to clear. It was the most overgrown, the most dense, and the most difficult for us so far. It took three days to clear a path that we could safely walk corner to corner. Stating that it tried our patience is an understatement. Initially we cleared it from the west until Mark was attacked.
By paper wasps.
We decided to call it quits and the next days plan was to tackle the line from the east.
Bright and early the next day we hit the south line from the east. It wasn't much easier, but we knew we would soon meet up with our path from the west. The knowledge of finding that other path came in the form of another stinging hot strike in the neck, again, from the paper wasps. Oh joy! We had to get rid of them, and we had to be creative.
A quick trip to the corner store for a $1.05 lighter. Do you realize that what was once a cigarette lighter in your car has now morphed into a multi-purpose charging station?
Digging around in the rucksack we found some Kleenex and paper towels. We wrapped them on the end of a really long stick (no shortage of those) and secured the bundle of paper with plastic, non-adhesive flagging tape (sorry environment).
We set that on fire and proceeded to rid the path of the nasty little bugs!
MacGuyver ain't got notihn' on us!//tr
In 2014 a couple of 40-somethings decided to make a change. The purchase of 10 raw, pine scrub acres along Florida's Nature Coast started it all. This is that story.