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I finally got the house contractor to move the last of his stuff out of the field right in front of the house last week, and spent the time since then clearing, grading, spreading a dump-truck load of topsoil, and clearing it of rocks as best as I could.

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The soil type right here is called “Braddock cobbly loam”.  The “cobbly” refers to the fact that its almost as much rock as it is loam.  Every time I disced this small area, just more rocks like this above came to the surface.  This is only maybe a fifth of an acre, but I manually picked up five bucketloads of rock like this above before just giving up.

Today I seeded it all with annual rye before the rains tomorrow, Annual rye is a fantastic cover crop for fall seeding.  It germinates in cool soil, and grows even in cool temperatures.  It outcompetes weeds, picks up excess nitrogen, and is a terrific soil builder. It will provide cover for the timothy, red and white clover, and orchard grass I’ll broadcast in the next couple of days.  It’s questionable how much the rye will germinate this late in the year, although I’ve had good success in the past spreading pretty late.  But all the seed should be there for germination in the spring if not now.  And with this last little project, I can pretty well put the farm, and other outside tasks, to bed for the winter and head south.


After a very cool and wet spring, we haven’t had any rain for almost 10 days now.  Local gardeners are starting to worry and complain, while grass-farmers like myself are rejoicing.  It’s been about as perfect a hay-growing year here in Floyd as we can imagine.  The early rains brought all the green stuff along just great, and then quit entirely just in time to bring in the crop.  Many, many years we can get exactly the opposite, resulting in a poor or spoiled crop.

Mowed, raked and baled ’till after dark all week, and finally got the last of it up on the 150 acres or so tonite just as we heard thunder in the distance.  Couldn’t ask for anything more.  Great crop this year.  Floyd cows will eat well this winter.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

The 20 acres or so of bottomland that were just 12′ high in multiflora rose and other undesirable species when I bought the farm 3 years ago are coming along very nicely in the grass, forbs and the clovers I planted, but given their previous state, I decided to once again just mow and lay it down to feed the soil, rather than baling it.  It takes several years to “establish” a grassland, where all the biota are working in harmony to build true fertility and sustainability.  We’ll start harvesting when we actually get to that point.  But I’m not in a hurry – it’s immensely satisfying just to watch the fields get richer and richer without taking anything from them.  If I were any happier, I would have to be two people!


All of the hard work over the past couple of years on the hayfields is starting to really pay off.  Over a hundred tons of lime, overseeding clover, and twice-annual mowing and just laying it down to feed the soil is resulting this year in a very thick and rich clover stand amongst an every-increasing grass stand, and ever-decreasing weed stand on the long-neglected pastures.  I already have all the hay sold on the 150 acres, and what a great crop it should be!  Of course, it hasn’t hurt that we’ve had copious amounts of rain this spring, too.

The red, white, and yellow clover that we have overseeded over the past couple of years, plus the proper management of it has resulted in just thick, thick, thick masses of it everywhere now where it was hardly seen before.  Having too much clover in your field is like having too much money in the bank – the clover provides a free nitrogen supply to the grasses and forbs, and provides more protein than the grass itself.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress.

Mixed Clovers

Mixed Clovers

Proper management of grasslands builds true, longlasting, soil fertility faster and better than anything in the world.  The whole success of mid-west croplands has been entirely dependent on the deep, rich topsoil, (now almost entirely depleted) created by centuries of previously being grassland.  Grassland has in the past built empires, and the loss of them have caused empires to fail.  We’ll continue to maintain our grassland, and continue to build the natural soil fertility of it as best we can.  And clover plays a BIG part.

Now let’s hope that the weather cooperates for the harvesting of this years crop.


Well, Trish and I came back for two weeks to deal with stuff back here, but back here wasn’t very welcoming.  About 4 feet of snow for the winter so far, the 3rd snowiest winter in 50 years for us, who have hardly seen any snow in the past decade.

I was hoping to sell about 80 round bales of hay, but can’t even get to them to speak of. The big thing was to “frost seed” a few hundred pounds of clover seed over the 150 acres or so of pasture.  Doesn’t look like that is going to be possible.

Snow

Snow


We dug the trenches this week for the geothermal heating and cooling system.  The idea is that you bury hundreds of feet of pipe several feet underground, and pump water through it.  When it comes out the far end, it will be at the temperature of the ground, which around here is something like 55 degrees year ’round.  That water has a lot of heat in it.  Extract the heat from it, pump it back out, and the ground will heat it back up.  Rinse and repeat all winter long.  Basically, it’s a solar water heater – it just doesn’t rely on the sun that particular day, but the average sun all year long that warms up the earth.  Somewhere around 70% of our heat will come from the sun through this system.

A closed-loop geothermal system like this does require a good bit of land, though.  We had to dig 5 trenches 6 ft deep by about 150 ft long.

Geothermal Trenching

Wouldn’t you know we would have to put the trenches in this small field next to the house.  The Healing Harvest folks and myself spent hundreds of hours clearing this field, which wasn’t a field at all when we bought the farm, but a tangle of pines, roses, ailanthus, and dying locust.  We had BIG burn piles going pretty much all summer and fall here last year.  The topsoil is a good 12 inches deep, and we did everything we could to preserve it.  When we finished clearing it, I planted yellow blossom sweet clover on it and had a really nice stand going when it was decided to dig it all up.  So we decided to first scrape all the precious and beautiful topsoil away into a windrow first, and then dig the trenches.

Next week, we’ll lay the pipe into the bottom of the 6′ trenches, cover them with 2′ of subsoil, lay another run of pipe, and then fill in the ditches with the rest of the subsoil, compact it all down, then cover everything again with the topsoil.  I’ll then disc it and plant it again, this time probably with a mixture of annual rye, three types of clovers, and timothy, as this field is likely to become horse pasture.


It’s been a great hay-growing year.  We’ve had more rain this spring than any in the past 5 years or so.  And then we had one blessed week break about a month ago where a lot of folks were able to get up their hay.  We missed that window, but were able to get ours up in small stages in between the rains.

Making Hay

Making Hay

In the end we got about 150 round bales.  Not too bad, but too bad everyone got a lot of hay this year, and the price for hay is severely depressed.


Whenever I get depressed about all the work to do to clear the land at CRF, I call the Sutherlands to come out with the BullHog for a few days.  It instantly cheers me up.  It’s just so amazing what they can do in such a short time.

Had them come out last week to do a few things.  First up was to clear the old home site of Noah Moore (see the History section).  I plan to rebuild a log cabin on that site very soon and needed it cleared out of the multiflora rose and other brush.  The result was just amazing to me.

Old Home Site Before

Old Home Site Before

Old Home Site After

Old Home Site After

We also had about 2 dozen big (12″-24″ diameter) white pines in pastures that we needed to get rid of.  Some fellers were clearing a lot just up the road who had humongous equipment, including a tub grinder that would turn everything wood into landscape mulch.  They said they could get rid of the pines for about $2,500 – not really a bad deal at about $100 per tree.  The Sutherlands had a better idea, though, which was to cut each of them down, drag them all off to one spot, use the BullHog to grind down the tops and side branches, and save the logs for the sawmill.  Total cost – less than $1,000.  And on top of it, they ground down the stumps in the pasture to dirt level.  What a blessing.  Initially they didn’t think they could do it efficiently, but we timed it and it proved to be very efficient – only about 2 minutes per stump!  Can’t beat that at all with a stump grinder which can take up to a half hour for each.

24" White Pine Stump Before

24" White Pine Stump Before

Stump 2 minutes later

Stump 2 minutes later

John and his son JR also cleared some other hillsides of rose and bullpine where we plan to plant trees next spring, and rose and buckthorn patches in the woods along the driveway on this job.  It just lifts my spirit so much every time they come out that I have to do it in stages to keep from being overwhelmed.  They’ll be back in the fall to clear some  woods of rose after I’ve killed this all the Ailanthus growing all through it, and probably clear a fenceline and more of the steep pasture for tree planting as well…..something to look forward to….