Getting Dirty and Getting It Done

Reader Contribution by Backwoods Brandon
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It usually takes a while to shake out the stiffness that comes with a winter as long the one we’ve had in Northern Michigan. Thankfully, the muscles I’ve been using to shovel all of the snow and swing my 12-pound splitting maul thousands of times during the cold months, are the same muscles that I need this spring to run a pitch fork and a post hole digger. I’d be awful sore already if that wasn’t the case. The frost is out of the ground now, which means it’s time for our hands to go in.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for us. The plans are coming together, but with each checkmark on the to-do list comes another entry at the bottom of the page. With full-time jobs and all of life’s other happenings, it seems like we never stop moving for long. The splinters in our fingers and dirt under our nails now will turn into baskets of fresh veggies and shelves full of canned goods this fall. We know it’s worth it. It’s time to saddle up and ride.

A few new fruits have been planted here on the corner, and they’re soaking up the late April rain as they settle into the sand. A friendly neighbor of ours, who just happens to have the most impressive garden I’ve seen, gave us a mature blueberry bush. He hooked up to it with his tractor and gently tugged it from the dirt. I had a hole in the ground waiting for it. We grabbed a bucket full of peat mud from the swamp to provide the bush with valuable nutrients to help it survive the shock of transplant. We mulched around it completely with sawdust, and it has already started to bud. It’s going to do well at its new home in the woods.

The same neighbor kindly gave us three Concord grape vines. He knows that if he ever has any extra food, I’ll find a place to plant it. I re-purposed some old deck posts that were no longer being used and buried four of them two feet in the ground, eight feet apart. The posts reach five feet above ground. I planted one new grape vine between each post. I made sure to dump some composted cow manure in the hole first to help the vines get established. I mulched them all with sawdust, and I’ll tie them to wires this summer if they grow tall enough to need support.

We have hundreds of seedlings planted, and they’re doing well. It’s still getting too cold at night to move them to the cold frame outside, but they’re reaching for the sun from the huge sliding glass door inside the house. These plants are almost big enough to transplant into larger square planters. When the temps warm up a bit more, they’ll be moved to their cold frame until the garden is ready to be planted. We are anxiously awaiting some other fruit trees we’ve ordered as well. We have two cherry trees, a nectarine tree and a plum tree on the way. We also have three more blueberry bushes that should arrive at our doorstep any day now. I’m looking forward to getting these new additions into the ground.

We’re expecting another, bigger delivery soon as well. We recently pulled the trigger on our Central Boiler outdoor wood furnace. I think this is going to be one of the most important investments we’ve ever made. I’m chomping at the bit to get this thing hooked up. We can’t wait for the day when we can call the propane company and have them pick up their ugly white tank. We have more digging and building to do first though.

Just yesterday, I stopped at the Amish sawmill and picked up about 50 cedar posts. These posts will hold up all 400 feet of fencing we’re building in the next couple weeks to keep the deer out of our garden. Every night, there are more deer in our yard wondering what we planted that day. I have to get this fence built right away to protect our seedlings when they hit the outdoors dirt in a few weeks. The fence project is on the top of our list. More information on the fence building and installation of our outdoor wood furnace will be available in future posts.

We’ve torn down the old fence that was around the garden, and it’s ready to be re-constructed into a nice chicken park for the laying hens. Two nights ago, we moved our 10 young golden comets into the coop with the fully grown hens. They’re adjusting well, and the old gals haven’t been beating up on them too bad. At a friend’s house a few miles away, we have broiler chickens started. They’re still tiny now, but in a couple months they’ll be excellent grill fare and one less reason to go to the grocery store.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say it hasn’t been all work and no play. My family spent last week in the mountains of North Carolina at my wife’s parents’ place. My in-laws have built something truly special near the Fines Creek area of Western North Ccarolina, called Three Bear Holler. They have three cabins for rent, Poppa Bear, Momma Bear and Baby Bear. We stayed in Baby Bear, which has an excellent mountain view. Sitting on the porch, you can see my father-in-law’s cattle grazing on the mountain side. This is where our beef will come from this fall. Half of one of these steers has our name on it. Homegrown, grass-fed, beautiful, delicious beef. Whenever we head down to North Carolina for a visit, I make sure to bring my fly rod with me. I returned to one of my favorite fishing holes in the world. After a couple of hours trying to figure out what the trout wanted for breakfast, I finally matched the hatch. I started to wear the brown trout out with a little white dry fly, catching more than a dozen in less than 30 minutes. You can read that story HERE.

We’re back in Michigan now, re-energized and ready to rock. I’m looking at the soaked forest as I type this sentence, watching the rain fall in sheets. As soon as it lets up, we’ll be back out playing in the mud, checking off items on the list. In the meantime, I suppose I can strip 50 cedar posts of their bark in the cool, dry pole barn. Somewhere deep on the list of to-do’s, after building fences, planting the garden and installing our new wood furnace, is chopping enough wood to heat the place for a year and setting us up with a station to clean our broiler chickens when they’re ready. One day, one post, one swing of an axe, one checkmark on the list at a time will get us there. Stay tuned to Heavy Hardwood Corner as we get dirty and get it done.

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