When we first moved to our little farm it wasn’t a farm at all. These two acres held a house, an open garage, and a small outbuilding with no doors that had been used as a tractor shed. There had never been farming of any kind and there really hadn’t even been any gardening, as far as we could tell. The lawn was just a lawn and the trees and plants bore no fruit suitable for human consumption. We were starting at the beginning for sure.
Our first step was to build the hoop house. We did this in the (fortunately mild) winter of 2011. When the ground had thawed in the spring of 2012, we broke ground–quite literally–on the front garden. Over the summer and fall months, we extended the garden with raised beds and a continued removal of sod. This expansion continues even now and the front garden is more than twice its original size.
Last year’s pigs were kept in the back field which had been a sea of goldenrod and not much else. Our soil is unbelievably rocky and so we felt that the pigs would do a better job of rejuvenating the soil than any tractor could. This proved to be the case. Once the pigs were gone, that portion of the back field sat empty and had a loneliness about it that just wouldn’t go away. We knew we wouldn’t keep subsequent pigs on that same spot because it had been overly wet; keeping the pigs dry had been a constant battle. Not having our boots sucked into the muck had been a challenge as well.
In an effort to channel some of the excess water away from the pigs, we rented a small backhoe and dug a fairly deep trench along the length of the area. It ran from up behind the garage, down in front of the pig den, and down the hill into the stream way below our property line. During this digging, Dave decided he wanted a pond.
Oh! the pond. I mean, who wouldn’t want a little pond? They make the view even more bucolic; they provide a home for peepers and salamanders; the occasional heron will catch an evening snack in them… So, Dave dug out a little hole for a pond. It was originally meant for the pigs to have someplace to cool off, so it was only dug out to about three feet deep and maybe 20 feet across. Because last summer was so dry, it was usually not much more than a muddy pit. Occasionally, however, it would fill with muddy water and the pigs would wade through it. It made us happy to have a little pond, such as it was.
The pond has become a bit of a “thing” for Dave. He believes in the pond. He wants the pond to succeed. He sits next to the pond and envisions how to make it better. He has made the pond better.
Part of expanding the front garden was removing the sod. We did this square by square, mostly transporting it with a wheelbarrow. Last year, we created a sod wall around the garden with most of it, but this year, we moved the sod back by the pond and started creating a “lawn” around the edges. Using sod, straw bales that had been left outside over the winter and started to rot, and rocky soil, we bolstered the back wall of the pond (the wall that would fall away under the weight of water otherwise). And now, the pond kinda looks like a nice little pond.
During peeper “season,” we heard hundreds of peepers making their melodic racket in that little spot. We then noticed that they’d departed, leaving behind thousands of eggs. We felt like this was a sure sign of a healthy ecosystem and were happy to see them there. Today, those eggs have become tadpoles. The little pond is quite alive; we’ve seen salamanders in there as well; we’re thinking about getting some goldfish…
And since those piggies did their work so well, the field in front of the pond is no longer filled with goldenrod or rocks (or anything but dirt and pig poop, for that matter). The Back Garden has been born. We rented a wonderful machine called a Dingo from our friends’ store and used it to sift out the larger rocks left behind by the pigs and to move fresh topsoil over the area slated for gardening. When mapping out the gardens for this planting season, we decided that the back garden would be great for those oversized plants that took up so much space in the front garden last year. So, we have now prepared the back garden for squashes, melons, cucumbers, and the like. We fenced it off yesterday to keep the chickens from eating our seeds and will start planting (and transplanting) over the next week or so.