Since so many of you expressed a willingness to listen to me ramble about my sabbatical on the farm, I figured I would (at least a bit) 🙂
Yesterday was the end of my second week. The start got delayed a bit from what I was originally planning due to stuff I had to tie up at work. My first big task has been to plant my orchard. It’s about 2.5 acres and includes a wide variety of fruit trees: 96 apple, 18 peach, 10 pear, 10 plum, 18 fig, 5 persimmon, 12 pawpaw (a little know native American fruit), 126 blueberry.
I estimated it to be a 2 week task. As with software nothing quite happens as you expect. Overall, I’d say I’m ahead of schedule though. The orchard is basically done – I’m just waiting for the last order of blueberry bushes to come in (about 40 bushes) and I’ll be done. However, I’ve filled in with work I planned to accomplish in my second 2 weeks.
I had lined everything up to be ready for the first week. I ordered the trees last fall and scheduled them to be delivered in late February. I rented a skid-steer tractor and an 18 inch auger to dig the holes.
I started with the blueberry area the first day by spreading sulfer (to lower the ph), spreading finely ground pine bark mulch and tilling it all in. I started drilling holes Tues morning and much to my surprise, I was done before lunch on Wed – 288 holes in just over a day. It went much faster than I expected.
Wed I planted all of the blueberry bushes that I have (about 70). Thursday was pawpaws, plums, pears and about half of the apple trees (that I have so far). Friday I finished the apple trees I’ve received and planted the figs.
Intermixed with some rain days, early last week I finished the remaining apple trees and some peach trees. Unfortunately, the rain showed me that I didn’t pack the dirt in the holes properly and quite a few of my trees sunk. I’ve had to go around and raise most of them once or twice. I think I’m about done but won’t know for sure until after the next rain.
I allocated the next 2 weeks for pasture improvements – fertilizing, seeding, liming, etc. This is the ahead of schedule part :) I’m just about done with seeding and will be fertilizing today. One thing I’ve learned is how unbelievably slow it can be driving a tractor around a field in 6 foot swaths at 4.2 MPH. A single field can take hours.
Yesterday we tried spreading my neighbor’s horse manure compost (he has 25 horses – and lots of manure :)) on one of my fields. Hmm, how can I say that didn’t go so well? There’s a drainage area between his property and mine and (thank heaven) we’ve had a lot of rain in the past could of weeks. While ferrying the 4th bucket full of compost from his pile to the spreader in my field, we nearly got his tractor stuck – it was sunk at least 12 inches in the muck. Needless to say, we gave up for now. It was a waste of 2 and a half hours but it was a good try. I can’t bring myself to wish for dry weather though given the incredible drought we’ve been having for the last year (still short something like 8" of rain).
Another shocking learning for me has been the price of fertilizer. Holy cow! I did soil samples last summer (to determine need) and spread some fertilizer last fall but not a lot. I priced the remaining fertilizer this spring and I nearly passed out. The bill would have been well over $20,000. Unfortunately, the fields have not been well fertilized for many many years. I’m sad to say that I simply can’t afford that kind of money for fertilizer. So I’m getting creative. As you can read above, I’m trying to get horse manure compost from my neighbor – I’d estimate he has about 200 cubic yards. I’m also getting about 50 tons of chicken litter from a guy I know that operates some large chicken houses. I’m only going to spread about 200 lbs per acre of commercial fertilizer (17-17-17). I’m hoping that between all of that plus the cow manure I have from my 11 cows that I’ll be OK for now. It’s still not as much nutrients as I should put down but at those kinds of prices, I’m just going to have to take a multi-year approach to this.
Well, that’s it for now. Time for me to get back out to the farm. Thanks for listening.
Here’s a Visio diagram of my orchard in case you are interested. My hope is to ultimately plant grapes in the "Future space" in the middle.