Progress this month is thanks to Chris and his ninja lawn-mowing and research skills. Here’s the 5-part update for the past month:
- “State of the Fields” Report: Tractor!
- Building Report: Outbuilding vs. Pole Barn
- Driveway Report: Excavator Waiting Game
- Wildlife Report: Turkey Hunting and Shooting
- Mountain Report: Peaks at Sunset
“State of the Fields” Report: Tractor!
Of our 20 acres, about 5 are meadow, divided into 2 areas. One is the acre+ we’re reclaiming from kudzu. The larger field rolls across the upper face of our mini mountain. Surrounded on all sides by thriving hardwoods, it’s miraculously low on manmade noise. The peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains peer over the trees as we sit in the footprint of our future dome site, listening to the creek and watching turkeybirds strut and fireflies do their disco. It’s our panacea for the modern world.
But I digress. Besides grass, the larger field’s groundcover is poison ivy, oak saplings, and blackberry. Between the kudzu and the snaggy blackberry thorns, both fields were tough to walk when we first closed. Chris had a vision, though, and a plan of attack: mow everything, throw seed down, and keep mowing until the grass takes over. This month, it’s clear his plan is going to work, even with the kudzu. The big field is greener than ever. We’re no longer tripping over little trees or having to extract ourselves from patches of grabby blackberry.
The kudzu field has farther to go, but after that grueling weekend of mowing it flat, Chris threw down grass seed and has been mowing and mowing. Grass has been growing, and kudzu is mostly contained to sprouting only above the crowns (crowns are the ubiquitous root balls that kudzu establishes to increase its footprint).
There’s one hitch: if we don’t mow at least every 2 weeks, we’ll lose the battle. In this climate and with the drought ending, plants seem to double their foliage overnight. Areas around the creek that were fully cleared by April are now waist-high with greenery, like people were never there (which is comforting in some ways). It’s only thanks to clumsy turkeys crushing trails through the weeds and saplings that we can still walk in some places.
Chris’ riding mower is a workhorse, but every round of mowing our rocky, hilly acreage is a full day of risky work. The mower isn’t made for comfort, and only Chris knows how to keep it from tipping over on a couple of the slopes.
Between the flora acting like a scene out of Fantasia, plans to establish gardens and an orchard, our never-ending need to move rocks and trees to keep the land usable…well, we need a tractor.
People have been telling us this from the start. “You got 20 acres? Oh, you need a tractor.” It’s a foreign concept, so it didn’t sink in at first. It’s also such a major purchase that we had to earn it. Which we have, with a lot of hard work.
No matter how much we exhaust ourselves mowing, clearing invasives, removing tree litter, on and on, our labor will never be enough without the right tools. Not to mention that fatigue = dangerous choices, like riding a tippy mower on a slope or not wearing the chainsaw chaps because they’re too hot. By the end of April, we accepted the expensive truth that a tractor is a necessity for our progress, safety, and quality of life. Chris dug into hours of research to figure out which tractor would fit our needs and budget.
Spoiler: We’ve purchased a 25hp Kubota, which will be delivered to Free Stone in a few days. It’s packaged with a bucket, box blade, and bush hog, implements we think we’ll use the most. Others can be rented from the hardware store when we need them.
We’ll write about the tractor after we settle in with it. Chris delved so deeply and has talked with so many tractor owners and dealers that he can discuss any feature and attachment of all the 25-40-horsepower tractors on the market. If you’ve read his article on the turkey hunt, you know he’s thorough, so stay tuned.
In my head, it’ll be like the soda bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy: the miracle tool we didn’t know we needed until it appeared…
- Chris impatiently tapping his foot while I bush-hog a hiking path, then stealing the keys to go rake kudzu crowns out of the ground with the box blade.
- Me pushing him off the seat and speeding away at 7mph to smooth a trouble spot on the driveway.
- Him waiting for my back to be turned so he can hop back on the seat and auger holes for cedar poles for the firewood shed.
- Clearing and tilling the orchard.
- Dragging tree litter out of the woods and chipping it.
- Transporting rocks for walls.
- Seeding the fields.
This could go on all day.
Building Report: Outbuilding vs. Pole Barn
Now that the tractor is purchased, our focus is shifting to procuring dome plans and kit and, more immediately, a 24′ x 40′ structure for secure storage for our tools and tractor, with space for future goats to shelter. Of course, before we put a building in the kudzu field, we need the excavator to grade and set up the retaining wall.
Driveway Report: Excavator Waiting Game
No surprises here. We thought excavation would happen in April, and it’s nearly June, with no date scheduled yet. This is fine. We prepared ourselves for the patience test that is working with contractors, and the extra time helped us understand the job more.
For example, we’ve only known the creek in drought conditions, but spring rains revealed that it has a much bigger footprint than we thought and is also expanding a sinkhole that we hadn’t seen as a threat before. We’ll have to add a larger tile to one area and re-route the driveway slightly. Good to know.
Wildlife Report: Turkey Hunting and Shooting
Besides turkeys, the game cam captured a lot more Free Stone residents this spring. Not pictured in this video from late April: quick shot of a yodel dog lurking by the salt lick (Chris is trying to make the deer feel “welcome” before hunting season in a few months). Check out our Instagram for the coyote video.
Chris took the second tom before turkey season ended. It turned out not to be one of our remaining 3 toms but an interloper, likely trying to fill the position Chris vacated when he shot the first tom. This one’s spurs are smaller (well, spur, in the singular, since the dogs took off with one of the feet while Chris was dressing the turkey).
We’re glad to have more meat in the freezer. Wild turkey is delicious. “Clean” doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s surprisingly un-gamey. But besides the turkey-leg confit, our recipes keep coming out tough. We’ve been polling neighbors and friends at the gym for the best cooking techniques. Frying or barbecuing seem to be the most popular.
Everyone we talk to has a favorite recipe and a full cache of hunting stories, which keeps reminding us that we’re new to this life. While hunting was a key reason Chris wanted to own land, there was a chance that when he started doing it regularly, he wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
Nah. He likes hunting so much he wanted to share the experience with me. I’m not into the last part, but hunting is more than the kill. It’s about blending in with nature. One morning, we hopped up to watch the sunrise from the hunting blind and shoot turkeys with a zoom lens instead.
This hunt wasn’t as successful as Chris’. The turkeys never came close enough to the decoys for a good picture. Eventually, we snuck out of the blind for a few fuzzy pictures. It was fun to watch the sun rise and listen to nature, including turkeys gobbling in the distance. Fun fact: they gobble at the top of their lungs any time a crow caws.
Mountain Report: Identifying Peaks at Sunset
Longer days mean more hikes because we can squeeze them in after work. This Friday, Chris, Clover, and I caught the sunset at a favorite mountain in western North Carolina.
Looking west, we saw something exciting: our mountain on the horizon. That means that on a clear day from the tip-top of our panacea, we can see Max Patch. Bonus!