Holding On to Our Farm 1

All the rain we’ve had this year has made us tired of watching our best soil wash down the hill into the creek. Saturday we tried to do something about it.

One of the pivotal tasks we have known needed to be completed before we could get final electrical and final plumbing installed in the pole barn was “the chase,” a ditch piping water and electrical services underground between the utility area (where the well is, where the main electrical service from Central Alabama Electric Coop comes in, and where our propane generator will be) and the pole barn.

For us, this meant an unusually rich array of conduits and lines: the main service electrical line at the bottom, a filtered water line for drinking and internal use in the apartment, an unfiltered water line for drip irrigation, a separate and larger water line running uphill from the future rainwater storage tank, and an electrical conduit to accommodate a future electrical line to power the future pump in the future rainwater harvesting tank. I repeat “future” to emphasize the uncertainty we now face about all this. Because of it, we also decided to lay an additional 2-inch PVC conduit for whatever else we might decide to run in the future.

Scott McGill, our electrician, and his friend Joey rented a small excavator and dug the trench for the chase on Thursday. Bless their hearts. They were not able to get the excavator delivered until mid-day, and that meant they were there working on the chase into the evening, and we all know what evenings in September often bring. Scott and Joey worked through the afternoon thunderstorm and, to their credit, covered over the chase at the end of the day.

Saturday, as we saw the newly loosened soil on the hillside above the pole barn and read the forecast for a full week of what our friends in the U.K. would call “soggy spells,” Amanda and I decided we needed to swing into action. We have struggled with this hillside before, and we know it really likes to wash whenever it rains. Instantly, securing that hillside became the task for the day.

We had enjoyed reasonably good results seeding fescue on the areas disturbed by the installation of the septic tank, so we decided to use fescue on the hillside as well. We knew we needed straw, and we hoped there might be some kind of erosion control netting we could get as well. So the first task was to load up in 1-Ho and drive to Farmers Feed in Wetumpka. Farmers Feed has gradually promoted itself to become our “go-to” farm supply store by virtue of being in stock with the products we need, by offering prices as low or lower than others, and by patiently offering truly useful advice about how to solve the problems we face.

When we got to Farmers Feed, Terry and Clint were busy, but Josh could help us. We already had the fescue on hand. No, they didn’t have the wheat straw we had used over the septic tank, but they did have what they called “mulch hay” for $5/bale. We bought six bales. They also had two (but only two) 8-foot wide and 110-foot long rolls of Western Excelsior Temporary Erosion Control Blanket, made of straw woven into a biodegradable netting. $42/roll. With our treasures loaded, Amanda and I headed back to the farm. Not so fast. Amanda suggested we pick up something for lunch on the way, so we stopped at Smokin’s Barbecue on US 231, just north of Farmers Feed. It was early for lunch, but that didn’t slow down the folks at Smokin’s. They were open for business and ready to serve. We each ordered a salad, Amanda’s topped with smoked turkey and mine topped with barbecue pork. And I couldn’t resist grabbing one of their enormous chocolate chip cookies.

When we got back to the farm, Tractor and I set out to bush hog the hillside, but we couldn’t because the bush hog set up a gosh-awful clatter to tell me something was dreadfully wrong. The housing on the back of the bush hog is horribly bent inward, I suspect from my backing into a stump. It must have happened when I was not using the bush hog, because if it had been spinning I think you would have heard it all over SE Elmore County. The bush hog is out of commission now until I can figure out how to bend it back out.

So off with the bent bush hog and on with the disk. My plan was to use the disk to do some initial smoothing of the ruts that have formed in the hillside, and then to bring in enough topsoil to fill the larger ruts that still remained. I only needed to bring in a bucket-load or two of soil, however, because the disk did such a good job of smoothing. As I have said before, I love my disk.

sweet-potato-for-blogWhile I did the disking, Amanda policed up our outdoor work area and checked in on the veg. Another sweet potato had poked its head up, so she gladly gathered it in, along with several green beans, okra, and our first lima bean! Yea! She also began raking and pulling out sticks and roots.

By then it was lunchtime, so we settled down with our salads. Smokin’s is proud to proclaim its first place barbecue rating from the Wetumpka Herald, and we can see why. Both our salads were delicious. And that cookie! Scrumptious, and so huge that not even Lee’s sweet tooth could stand up to it. I saved half for us to enjoy Saturday night.

After lunch, Amanda and I continued the smoothing and raking process, and then Amanda spread the fescue seed using our strap-on spreader. We covered the seed rather thoroughly with straw, because in our previous work over the septic tank, we had decided that the areas that did the best were the ones that had pretty full coverings of straw. The fescue doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding its way through the fronds, and it seems to welcome the retaining of water. We have discovered that we prefer wheat straw to mulch hay for covering grass seed. The straw is coarser and separates more easily. Putting down mulch hay is a slower process, and I tended to leave it in clumps that Amanda was obliged to rearrange.

We then rolled out the erosion control netting. Much easier at the beginning of the roll than at the end, where the fibers in the netting tend to wrap themselves around each other and interfere with the unrolling process. By and large, though, the netting went down smoothly and easily. We anchored each corner with a piece of scrap lumber or firewood. Yes, they’ll interfere with grass growing under them very soon, but we hope by then the netting will be anchored in place and unlikely to move.

The 3 1/2 minute video takes you through the day’s work, showing each step along the way. Nothing about Smokin’s in it, though. Sorry.

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One thought on “Holding On to Our Farm

  • Mollie

    Love your blog. So neat to see some of the progress. I can’t wait to come out with Jeff and tour the land first hand.