Hard to believe, but as of yesterday, Sarah and I have been living in Vermont for one year. The first 7 months were spent in a tiny apartment in Montpelier, and honestly the time seemed to crawwwwwl while we were there. The last 5 months have flown by, and have been really exciting as we have tried to settle into our new home and new town. Maybe I should say “towns” though. Our house is in Tunbridge, our mailing address is Bethel, and our phone exchange is for Royalton. Having any two of these isn’t that unusual in Vermont, but the trifecta is a bit odd. When someone asks where we live we always say Tunbridge, but if we have to give them directions it almost always brings a quizzical look to their face.
But no matter which village we belong to, we are trying to fit in and become part of the community. And we are grateful that the communities have welcomed us.
With logging, stumping, and grading complete, it’s time to consider how we want to lay out our planting areas for next year. For now, we’ll adjust the soil pH and put down a cover crop to preserve the rich topsoil we have, and consider what we want to grow. Of course, we’ve already done a lot of daydreaming about the types of plants we’d like to put in: more ornamental shrubs and flowers around the house, lots of interesting and tasty vegetables of all types, some berries, and perhaps some saplings that would replace some of the trees we removed and also give us something to eat, either maple syrup or walnuts.
That type of daydreaming is useful and fun, but the next step is a little more difficult: where do we put what? Some of the decisions are already made for us. We didn’t stump the area to the left of the driveway (as you look out from our front porch), so that will remain a wild meadow. We’ll throw down grass and let that compete with the ferns and other naturally occurring plants while keeping an eye out for saplings that might threaten to crowd the driveway again. I’ve dubbed this the “hippie garden,” a place where we can experiment with whimsical features like a gazing ball, yard art, or even a small pond. We might also use it for an area to put our chicken house, if or when we get to that stage.
To the right of the driveway is the much larger expanse of land that runs from the house to the cabin, with a second “field” further off to the right of the house. This second field was an unexpected but welcome outcome from having the area stumped and graded by our contractor, Bob, who really is “an artist with a bulldozer”, as our forester dubbed him. Bob opened up level, firm, rich soil in an area that I, for one, assumed would be too sloping and rocky to be usable. Turns out it was just a big pile of dirt waiting to be smoothed flat. We might use part of this space for a greenhouse or two, but there will be more room for planting as well.
Still a third area that we need to address is the steep slope directly in front of the house. Currently there are some wild blackberries growing there, along with some sumac and various other native…well, weeds. At first, I was trying to convince Rick that we should dig up the weeds and keep the berries, but after getting snagged in their sharp thorns while harvesting the small, somewhat bitter fruits I think it would be better to tear out all the plants and start fresh, either with a variety of cultivated berry with a better taste, or with an low-growing ornamental evergreen like juniper that wouldn’t get out of hand and crowd our amazing view.
Needless to say, we have some ideas but we’re not quite sure how to proceed. Where do we plant the various crops? How large of a vegetable patch should we carve out the first year? Where will the berries go? Do we have a good spot to grow our own hops? (We both have a keen interest in home-brewing.) Luckily, between Rick’s contacts that he’s developed through the Vermont Master Gardeners, our neighbors who have been gardening on a large scale here for over twenty years, and the knowledge we already have from other gardens, we have some good resources to tap into. It just may take a while before we really learn the quirks of our land and this new growing climate.
Months of rain delayed this part of the clearing project, but now Bob Osgood is on site to stump the lower field. Bob will push over the stumps in the north field, rake the debris, and then bury what he can around the perimeter of the cleared space. The southern field was cleared mostly to get sun on the driveway and therefore keep it from freezing up in the winter—in addition to helping to open the view—but Bob will rake the debris on that side and get it ready for field grasses. We don’t have any plans to plant anything on that side; however, we may see if any of our neighbors want to graze their sheep on that side and save us from having to mow it.
While it isn’t necessarily as exciting as the logging part of the project, if you are interested, you can watch the excavation on the webcam.
If you have sheep you want to graze in our field next Spring, contact us.
The only thing that was missing from our checklist of “must haves” when we bought this property was an area to use for vegetable fields. Today that is about to be remedied. Today the logging crew has arrived to cut down, chip, and truck away 2-3 acres of the predominately white pine forest that is our front yard. As tree-hugging liberal, environmentalist types, it is a bit overhwleming for us; but we plan to use the cleared space not only for growing vegetables, but also to plant new groves of hardwood species such as walnuts, maples, and oaks. White pines have been crowding out many of the hardwoods in Vermont over the years because they are a fast-growing tree, and they don’t have much use other than chipping for fuel. From what we understand the trees on our property will be sold to one or more power companies to generate electricity.
The picture here was taken early this morning as the crew was clearing the spaces necessary for the chipper truck, and other machinery. Since then the process has sped up considerably. We have taken the “before” photos, and Sarah has shot some video footage we hope to upload soon. We will document as much of the process as we can. This is only the first step. The next is for a bulldozer to come in to push all the stumps into a ravine, bury as much as possible, move the bigger rocks to create a retaining wall below the leach field, and finally level some of the land. After that it is up to us to start a cover crop to get us through the winter. In between, we will take a soil sample to see what we will need to do to make our new fields as fertile as possible.
Watch the webcam today if you can stand the carnage.
Update: We made a short Quicktime video (with music!) from the footage we shot.
An important factor in fitting into any community is finding ways to participate in the hobbies and causes that you are passionate about. Today, Rick and I took part in a variety of ways:
Green Up Day
The first Saturday in May is traditionally Green Up Day in Vermont. Rick postulated that Earth Day is just too early up here to be able to get out and do much. In April, the ground could still be partly frozen and covered in snow, making it difficult to find garbage to pick up, or start a garden, or plant a tree. But come May, Spring has finally extended northward, allowing Vermonters to get to work.
On our first Green Up Day, Rick and I got a lime-green trash bag from the Tunbridge town office, which we filled with trash we gathered from our road. After taking an inventory of the items we collected, I considered putting forth a proposal that Green Up Day be renamed “Pick Up After Your Redneck Beer-Swilling Neighbor Day”, as over 75% of the garbage was beer cans and bottles.
There were a few plastic soda bottles, some styrofoam cups, a bottle of baby lotion, and one can of motor oil, but it was obvious to me that if someone had curtailed his/her habit of tossing empty beers out the window of their car, there would have been significantly less trash to pick up. Be that as it may, I enjoyed hunting for garbage on a beautiful day, and plan to do this more often than once per year. The only downside is that the fluorescent green trash bags are accepted at the transfer station free of charge on Green Up Day, but we’ll have to pay to drop off trash on other days. Still, it’s a small price to pay to keep garbage off the road and out of the streams.
Once we filled up our bag, Rick whisked me to the Randolph Co-op so that I could attend a dowsing seminar, while he rushed off to the transfer station to dump our trash before they closed. Dowsing is the art/craft/skill of detecting information using more than just the five senses. It is often associated with the act of finding water or well sites below ground by using a wooden stick, but it can be used for purposes other than locating water. When it is used to find water, it’s not just to locate water, but to answer questions about the water source. A good dowser can determine if the water is adequate in pressure, water quality, and accessibility before the property owner pays for expensive drilling.
I really can’t do this art/skill justice without making it sound like some far-out, new-age baloney, but the hands-on experience I got in the class showed me that it is a technique that can be learned, through practice, by anyone. And our instructor gave us other instances where dowsing would be useful: in locating other resources such as minerals or oil, in tracing the path of a buried electrical conduit, or even locating lost objects, pets, or people. If you’re interested in dowsing, check out the American Society of Dowsers, an organization founded in Vermont in 1961.
After a busy afternoon, we returned home and I began preparing a stir fry for dinner. Rick had found some information at the co-op about local farms, some of which accept memberships as part of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. The idea behind CSA is that people pay a flat rate to the farm at the beginning of the season in exchange for a share of the harvest each week. The farmer benefits by being able to use that up-front cash to support the supply and labor needs of the farm, and the customer benefits by knowing that they will be getting their share of locally grown, and often organic, vegetables each week, at a discount from what it would cost them to buy the produce at the grocery store. This method also cuts down on the costs and natural resources needed to ship and market the foods. We’ve narrowed down our search to two local farms, and will probably sign up for one of them next week.