Who needs a gym when you’ve got gardening tools?

We decided to start moving some of our seedlings out to our new land and jump into gardening “in the country”. Where deer and a host of other heretofore unworried-about animals await our leafy little specimens with delight. Where we can’t keep an eye on them on a day to day basis. Feels a little crazy, but it’s what folks with allotments have been doing for decades, and it certainly doesn’t feel right to plant much in the soil of the house we plan to leave soon (if it will let us sell it, which is another story).

Our 28 acres has a patch, kind of in the middle of it, that was fenced in for gardening years ago. The area that is fenced is easily a couple of acres itself, which is way, way more space than we’re going to need, at least in the foreseeable future. So, fence around the perimeter? Check.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that no one has tilled the soil on this land in years. It’s back to being wild parkland that was once home to vegetable beds. So, before we could put anything in the ground, we had to uncover said ground. Enter the mattock (similar to a pickaxe if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and a host of other bog standard digging implements. And a 150m or so walk over to the ground that needed digging from the shed where we are able to store our tools, which is where the workout really began. I strongly encourage anyone needing to get fit to carry several heavy gardening implements over wild, rough ground, including a single rough plank over a stream, several times a day. My upper arms feel incredible!

The mattock worked wonders. It was slow, hot work, but it took off the sod very nicely. After that we needed to dig down around the edges and dig over the soil to break it up, and then a bit of tilling (raking). My new favourite tool is a spade-like shovel that I quite like standing on in the same manner as a pogo stick. Edging is just too much fun! Find the soil under an overgrown mass of wild grass and weeds? Check.

While all of this was going on, our younger son alternated between helping us (he loved throwing all of those clods onto a big heap that has officially become our first compost pile), hiding in a camp that he’s created amongst old equipment that was left on the land by previous owners, and wading in the mud by the streams and pond. Older son had decided he was finally going to site a fire pit and get to work on it (what self-respecting 12 year old boy wouldn’t make somewhere to legitimally set fire to things a top priority?). He borrowed the mattock for a bit so that he could clear the ground around a spot that he’d found with exposed rock for the base, and then set to work to find large rocks on the property to encircle the base. Messing around with an old wheelbarrow and some WD40 before he could do that was fun work.

In a day and a half we managed to make a small dent on our very wild land in the following ways:

– Dug and planted an eight by eight foot bed for onion sets (a variety of globe onions)

– Dug and planted a four by eight foot bed for pole beans and a couple of zucchini seedlings

– Started to dig another four by eight foot bed (four feet is a great width if you don’t want to be trampling down your plants with your own feet and we’d like to end up with a grid of beds of roughly this size)

– Marked off a patch of wild strawberries with posts and string (part of the land was formerly a berry farm and has enormous overgrown patches of raspberries, which represent a huge task in themselves – finding wild strawberries was a bonus)

– Reclaimed a section of the perimeter fence around the “vegetable garden” that had been knocked over by a combination of long grasses/wind/snow over time; this was an all-hands-on-deck effort by the four of us and required a lot of hand work as well as standard garden clippers. Once we could raise this 30-foot long section of fencing, we needed to drive in the metal posts, attach the fencing to the posts with thick wire and then finish conducting a walk around the enter perimeter to check for any other gaps. I’ve heard it said that building and mending fences is hard work, and now I know it first hand

– Sited and prepared a fire pit (entirely the work of older son; I carried a few rocks when he overloaded his wheelbarrow, but otherwise left him to it)

This is small work on 28 acres. Barely a dent. But we feel like we’re getting a foothold, however tenuous. Next up on the priority list?

1a. So, we’ve made it somewhat harder for the deer to continue grazing on our vegetable beds now that we’ve fixed that downed section of fence, but now we need to address the rabbits, moles and countless other smaller critters who will be ogling our produce. We’re looking at erecting a much, much smaller chicken wire enclosure around the beds and installing some form of solar powered electronic pest repeller.

1b. We need to build a small toolshed within the vegetable garden area so that we don’t have to lug our tools back and forth each time we’re there.

1c. We need to formalize the composting area by building it in properly.

1d. Water. Oh yeah, just a detail. We’ve got water thanks to our pond, streams and a currently unconnected well; we just need to figure out the best way to access it while we’re homeless on our land and trying to grow crops (once our house and other infrastructure is there, well, these minor inconveniences will be a thing of the past!).

1e. Ideally the fence height should go up another notch to keep out the deer (currently a sufficiently motivated deer could jump over the existing fence). Thanks to the metal post system that is in place, this shouldn’t be too challenging. Just another job.

2. Our pond, which was created by a beaver dam which is now very much in decline, has lost quite a bit of volume this spring. We need to build a new north wall behind the original dam and get the pond up in volume again. It’s fed by two springs which run all the time, so we’re fairly confident about the results we can achieve, but it will be quite a big job. The boys are looking forward to getting very muddy during this job. We’re all keen to restore the pond to its former glory as it’s one of our very favourite features. Longer term we’d like to stock it with fish, build a dock, etc.

3. The raspberries. Sigh. A lot of bushwhacking and clearing required here. We also need to content ourselves with seeing what grows this year so that we get a good read on the crop that will inform further pruning next year.

4. Well, I’ve got to stop here, because frankly the list is too long for a single post. Let’s just say “to be continued”.

The kind of tired that you get from working over a piece of ground and being outdoors all day is just the best kind of tired there is; the fact that we don’t ever need to consider joining a gym in order to stay fit is just the icing on the cake. Toss that mattock over here, won’t you?

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