It’s been a long, cold winter here at Heavy Hardwood Corner. One of the hardest we can remember. The snow just kept coming and the mercury seemed to have a hard time creeping above zero for months. That’s all coming to an end though. As the robins return along with the geese, we’re beginning to feel refreshed by the sunshine and receding snow banks. The turkeys are making their way back to their mating grounds, and I can hear them gobbling to the west on my brisk morning walks through the woods. The backyard chickens have a little extra pep in their step as they frantically search for open ground to scratch and peck at. We have a little more scoot in our boots, too, as we prepare for the season spent outside. Welcome home, Spring.
The geese return around the same time that the robins do. These migratory birds are looking forward to spring in Michigan just as much as we are.
Our home sits on 10 acres, carved out of the Ausable State Forest in Northern Michigan. We live on a dead-end dirt road that runs out of gravel at the swamp about a mile from our property. The road heads north and makes a sharp curve to the west on the corner of our chunk of the forest. Our mostly wooded acreage fills that corner with mature, mighty oaks and maples, tall, skinny balsam firs, a small swell of cedars and the occasional bare, busted up birch tree. We live in one of the wildest parts of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and I’m convinced it’s also one of the most beautiful. We share the woods with big black bears, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, coons, deer, turkeys and much more. On any given day in the summer, any one of these animals could be seen passing through our Heavy Hardwood Corner.
My wife and I, along with your 2 1/2-year-old daughter have been hunkered down since the temperature dropped last year. The three feet of snow on the ground and constant sub-zero temperatures have made it hard to get much done. Our home is about three miles from the nearest pavement, 11 miles from the nearest town and almost one mile from the nearest full-time residence neighbor. Our road usually gets plowed about three days after a big snowfall, if it gets plowed at all. We’ve spent the last few months ordering seeds, planning the garden, trying to keep the chickens alive and bringing wood to the porch for the indoor woodstove that keeps us warm. We’re ready to welcome home spring with sweat on our brows, dirty fingernails, blistered hands, happy hens and scratches off of our list of to-dos.
The stack of wood on our porch overlooks an evergreen that's still weighed down with heavy snow.
This spring is slated to be our busiest yet. We had just closed the deal on this place this time last year. Last year, in our first spring on the corner, we built a 25-by-50-foot garden that kept us in fresh vegetables all summer long. We planted two apple trees, two peach trees and two pear trees. We planted blackberries and raspberries, and we got a beautiful strawberry patch going. We installed the indoor stove to help us in our goal of ridding our property of its dependence on propane by working for our heat. We did a lot in our first year here, but this spring we have a lot more to do to become more food independent and self-reliant.
In our first year at Heavy Hardwood Corner, we had a 25X50 feet garden space. This spring, we'll build it much bigger.
This year we’ll welcome home spring by ripping out last year’s garden fence and expanding it by more than four times. We’re preparing to build a fence that encompasses all of the vegetables and the fruit in one enclosure. It will be more than 400 feet around. This will give us room to make a huge expansion to the vegetable patch. We plan to get blueberry bushes going this spring along with a second strawberry patch, a few more fruit trees, grapevines and a lot more brambles and berries. The large fence will be built to keep the deer, bunnies and other critters out of it all. We’re using last year’s fencing to make a new run for the chickens. This new chicken playground will be where we store all of our composting material including coop cleanouts. It’s designed to give our hens access to the entire gardening area when we want them to have it and keep them out of it when we don’t want them in there. After the harvest in the fall, all the way until it comes time to plant in the spring, the chickens will be able to work on the bugs and fertilize the garden area, but they won’t be able to pluck the greens and berries when things start to ripen in the summer. We’re also working toward installing an outdoor wood boiler in the next month that will completely eliminate our need for propane and save us thousands of dollars each year, all while keeping daddy healthy and happy to be outside. Raising our first batch of feeder chickens is on the to-do list for this year too. All of these measures inch us closer to our goal of becoming more food independent and self-reliant.
We have a lot of work to do. We’re welcoming spring home because we’re ready to do it. We’re ready to spend sunup to sundown outside in this magical forest we call home. We’re ready to accomplish our goals as a family, made possible by grit, grim, sweat and determination. We’re ready to work together. We’re ready to learn and grow, knowing we’ll make mistakes by doing, not mistakes by sitting idle and wishing we were doing. We’re ready to welcome home spring.
This satellite image courtesy of google earth shows Heavy Hardwood Corner and the Ausable State Forest that surrounds it.