Grit Blogs > Heavy Hardwood Corner

A Labor of Love

Backwoods BrandonThe first 40 hours of the week is spent at work so we can pay the bills. The second 40 hours of the week is spent working at Heavy Hardwood Corner, so we have fewer bills to pay. It's been a sun up to sun down kind of spring. With each project that gets checked off of the to-do list, we inch closer and closer to accomplishing the goals we've had for years. It hasn't come without blisters, splinters and busted knuckles. It hasn't come without sweat, blood and bug bites. But it also hasn't come without smiles, laughter and some of the best family time this group of three has ever enjoyed together. It's a labor of love that we're happy to call our own.

The two biggest projects we've tackled so far this season are building a new fence for our massive garden expansion and getting ready for the delivery of our brand new Central Boiler Outdoor Wood Furnace. We've come to realize that the only way to feel better about the daunting tasks ahead is to put our shoulders down and get to work. When the load seems a bit overwhelming and I start to stress about how it's all going to get done, I just tie my boots a bit tighter. I slide into my most comfortable pair of working jeans and throw on my cleanest dirty shirt. I pull the bill down on my favorite frayed hat, stuff a handkerchief in my back pocket, sheath my knife and get to it. The love we have for what we're doing is what keeps us on our feet every day from dawn until dusk.

We started the fence project by bringing a truck load of cedar posts home from the Amish. After spending five hours stripping 50 posts, it was time to set them in the sandy soil. We ended up fencing in about half an acre of our property to encompass all of the fruit and vegetables. The cedar posts are set over 2 feet deep and we ran 3-feet-tall welded wire fencing around the entire perimeter. Directly above the 3-foot-tall fencing is a hot wire. There's another hot wire at 4 feet and another at 5 feet. This will keep the rabbits out and give a nice zap to any coons who try to climb over the 3-foot-tall welded wire. This system has also kept out the large population of deer and black bears that we share the woods with.

The black bears have been getting curious though. Last week we were woken up by a large bear rearranging the furniture on our front porch. We could hear its large claws and heavy footsteps right outside our open bedroom window at 2 a.m. It was definitely a startling way to be woken up. After making a loud noise to spook the bear off of the porch, I made my way to the kitchen window. Standing there in the glow of the barn's motion light was what I estimate to be a 350-pound black bear. Scurrying into the woods close by was his partner in crime, another big bear. First thing I did the next morning was take a walk to where I saw the bear standing in the driveway. I found some perfect tracks, including one back foot track that measured over 10 inches long. The picture shown here is the front paw of the smaller of the two bears that visited the porch that night. These visitors are going to have a nice surprise if they try to get to our sweetcorn inside the electric fence this summer.

The new fence is equipped with three gates for easy access. There's a picket gate on the east side that we made from repurposed materials for the entry way. There's a 10-foot truck gate on the north end for bringing in loads of compost or mulch and there's a gate on the south end that leads to the fire pit for easy pickin' and cookin' this summer. In our first year at Heavy Hardwood Corner, we had a 25-by-50-foot vegetable garden and six fruit trees including two apples, two pears and two peaches. This spring we've turned the veggie patch into a 30-by-100-foot growing space. We've added four blueberry bushes, three grapevines, two strawberry patches, two sweet cherry trees, a plum tree, a nectarine tree, a pumpkin patch, an asparagus patch and a mini garden/sandbox for our two year old, barefoot daughter. This new electric fencing system will keep all of this food protected and it looks beautiful doing it.

Last week was a big week for us. In preparation for the delivery of our new outdoor wood burner, we dug a four foot deep trench and buried our supply and return lines. While we had the ground opened up, I also ran a water line out to the barn and installed a water hydrant near the slab where the stove will sit. We decided not to buy the pre-insulated stuff that costs nearly $12 a foot for our supply and return lines. With over 140 feet between the house and the burner, that was fixing to get expensive real quick. Instead, we used a closed-cell spray foam to insulate the pipes. I sprayed five inches of foam into the bottom of the trench and laid the lines on top of it. I then sprayed a thick layer of foam around all sides of the lines before backfilling the trench. Thankfully our closest neighbor, who happens to live one mile away, brought his backhoe over to do the excavating for us. After a lot of playing in the dirt, two busted hydraulic lines on the tractor and going elbow deep in hydraulic fluid for three hours to fix it, we had the lines buried. We saved over $1,200 by doing it ourselves.

The next day we built a form for our concrete foundation and poured the slab that the burner will sit on. Now, we're just waiting for the burner to be delivered so we can hook it up into the existing propane boiler in the basement. It should be here any day. It will heat our home in the winter and our domestic hot water all year round. The math says it will pay itself off in just two and a half years. It virtually eliminates our dependency on propane. It’s a long-term, life-changing investment.

Every pinhole in my fingers from stretching fence, every time I got shocked while testing the electric system, all the bloody knuckles, blistered hands and sore backs my wife and I have experienced this spring are all worth it. We love the work we're doing, because it's what will feed our family and keep us warm for years to come. It's the lifestyle we chose and we wouldn’t change it for a thing. It's a labor of love, and that's a labor worth doing.