The first douglas fir hugelkultur bed is done and planted. It took a lot more wood (and time) than I expected, but hopefully it provides many years of service. There won’t be time to get the hardwood bed installed for planting this summer, but hopefully it will be ready before the winter rains start.
Well, I’ve finally given up on the legendary 1995 Ford F250 Powerstroke. Before buying the truck, I did a lot of research and determined that model would be something affordable that should last almost as long as I can probably farm. A year later and I couldn’t go down the highway, and then the neighborhood street, without the truck stalling out. I spent a fortune at the shop on repairs with no luck (one mechanic told me to junk it after charging about $1000 for repairs).
The next year, I spent a lot of my spare time trying to fix this or that and using it around the farm for chores. It was getting so bad, I couldn’t go more than a few hundred feet before it died again. One more tow truck trip (thanks AAA) to a different mechanic to learn it had a terminal electrical condition. So I sold it for a little more than scrap value and will start a new experiment: can you operate a farm without a pickup? Now at least I can rest in peace not worrying how I’m going to get the darn truck running again!
We had our first work party at the end of March. It was lots of fun, and we got a lot accomplished. At the beginning of the week, we borrowed a neighbour’s tractor and rented an auger to dig holes for fence posts and plants. From the forest, we hauled the biggest logs we could carry to serve as the posts for the first section of permanent deer fence around the orchard. The tractor also made quick work of moving an old pile of wood chips down into the new orchard to mulch the trees. By the end of the week, we were ready for the crowd to help us plant the trees and build an 8-foot fence to keep the deer and elk from eating them.
The crew planted over 80 fruit and nut trees, and installed 20 fence posts before lunch. After lunch we slowed down, but got a few more posts and trees installed and then relaxed with some home brew. While the adults were working hard, a swarm of kids were off in the forest making bows and arrows and building a fort with all the limbs and logs left behind from cutting the posts. If only I could harness that energy for my projects…
So, now the property looks like we’re constructing a new prison yard. We had no idea how imposing the posts would be (not to mention how much work it would be hauling those giant logs out of the forest). This seems like a good time to test out several methods of deer fencing. Most resources say an 8-foot fence is the most effective way to keep them out, but there are a lot of other suggestions as well. In addition to the 8-foot fence, we plan to try a double four foot fence spaced about 5 feet apart. We think two smaller fences will be much easier and cheaper to build than one large one, and will look more attractive. It also creates a nice area to run chickens or other small animals when we want to keep them out of the orchard.
As a temporary measure, we will also try using fishing line in small areas to see if it would work in a pinch. The idea is that deer don’t see the fishing line and get spooked when they bump into it. We strung up two rows of 50-lb test line on 5-ft t-posts. The line was broken once in the first week, but hasn’t been bothered since.
There are so many different opinions on what works and what doesn’t, so we’ve decided to do some systematic comparisons side by side. For example, one of our first experiments will be with hugelkultur beds. What are the best methods of constructing the beds? What kind of wood is best? Are conifers acceptable?
We have several acres of 20-year old Douglas fir trees that need thinning, and are going to try using some of them to build a bed, even though many say to avoid conifers. If they work, we’ll have plenty of material for future beds, and a place to put some of those logs. We also enough volunteer deciduous trees where we are planning our orchards that we can use in a second bed right next to the first and compare the results over the next few years.
Then there is the question of height. We started with a 3-foot deep trench with the intent to make the beds 5-6 feet tall overall. After digging half the first trench, it became clear we should verify whether all that crazy digging is necessary. So, half of each bed will be three feet deep and the other half 1.5 feet deep. The height above ground will be the same, 2-3 feet. We’ll plant the same combination of plants in each trial area to compare how they perform. Hopefully the short fir tree bed comes out ahead!
Our goal at Scrumpy Farm is to create a community based farm that improves the health of the land and provides a good living for our family. We know there is a better way to farm than the corporate model and want to show it can be done not only sustainably, but profitably. Through experimentation with permaculture and other ecological farming methods we aim to find the right combination for our farm that will nourish the land and produce an abundance of high quality food. Ultimately, to provide the best food, a good lifestyle for the farmer, and take care of the land, we also believe the local community needs to be involved. In that light, we want to make Scrumpy Farm a destination where like minded people can come to work, learn, and celebrate in a beautiful natural setting. We’ve had the land for a little over four years now, but have been focused on clean up and construction projects. This coming year is going to be a big push to expand our deer protection, get our first section of the permaculture orchard planted, and start a small flock of chickens to start building the soil. We are hoping to have our first work party at the end of March. Please contact us if you are interested in getting more details.