My path into the new year is not straight, but it is clear.
When city mice like Doug and I set their hearts on turning into country mice, a humorous book often results. Learning from all those books – (ha ha) and then the roof fell in, and then (hee hee) the goats ate our seed corn and we didn’t know you have to ventilate a green house…(ho ho ho).
Knowing that we have and will continue to make mistakes as we go, we try not to make destructive or grossly wasteful bloopers, and that means soaking up info from every source we can find. We often call it the University of 44 Acres.
In 2009 we attended the Midwest Organic Farming Conference, and a day long session of the Invasive Plants of Wisconsin, and another day on native gardening at the UW Arboretum and the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. I attended two Michael Fields Agriculture workshops on growing berries and ground cover. We absorbed the perspectives of many environmental luminaries who have swung through Madison on their speaking circuits and followed UW research at the weekly Wednesday Nite at the Lab presentations. This coming year we will revisit some of this smorgasbord of knowledge, and I am signed up to take the Master Gardeners class that starts in January.
Then there is what you learn when you dive in. This year we surveyed our hilly building site with a homemade water level and contracted with Roald Gundersen to plan and build our dwelling. Our vague ideas and simple sketches have been modified beyond recognition with plans that are so far beyond our imaginings of green – it takes my breath away to think about it sometimes.
We also plunged into the septic system (well not literally). We now have it all figured out how an at-grade drain field will wrap around the curve of the hill just below and to the north of the house site. The plans are submitted to the state for approval.
Next spring we will plunge again by digging in cisterns on two corners of the barn to collect rain water, which we will use to water trees we transplant into future windbreaks to protect the house site to the northwest. The cisterns will also water the greenhouse, the first baby garden beds, the raspberries we intend to plant where last year’s cover crop now resides and an embyo orchard of antique apple saplings I plan to create at an apple tree grafting workshop.
This winter we will firm up the location and dimensions of a rock retaining wall that will be built next summer to define the upper edge of the house site and to help divert water toward the pond. And this winter we will continue clearing out scrubby brush and brambles to expand the savanna along our restored prairie.
Next spring we will plant into the greenhouse growing boxes we filled with 30 wheelbarrows of dirt this past fall. We hope to plant by March 1st. I’ll no doubt be posting about that in a few months.
Poised on the pivot of two decades, we are looking backward and forward at scary times, and every move one makes feels like inching along on frighteningly thin ice. But for me, trying to build a small, sustainable farm where I can contribute something to the local food supply seems a meaningful place to invest my energy.
Wishing you a sense of purpose for 2010.