I mentioned in a previous post, Water, Water Everywhere that our farm, Sledding Hill, is both blessed and cursed with an abundance of water. Well, similarly, we are cursed and… well, maybe just cursed with an abundance of rocks. Rocks of many and various geological origins annually arise from the depths of the earth into our topsoil in prodigious quantities. Big rocks, little rocks, rocks that climb on… rocks… are heaved forth every winter by the frost.
The Bear River area is somewhat infamous for this mineral abundance. Our tractor dealer up the valley in Middleton, frequently greets us with “how’s life down on the rocks?” We’ve also heard the answer “rocks” given to a question about the most common crops grown in our area.
We suspect that back when the Western Land Grants were being offered to encourage settlement in the Prairies, farmers in this part of Nova Scotia likely signed up in droves. We imagine the conversations went something like this.
Government: If you move to Saskatchewan, you can have 1000 acres of flat, rock-free, fertile soil and more sunshine than anywhere else in Canada. Of course, we need to mention that it’s minus 40 in the winter and the black flies in summer can be the size of pterodactyls.
Farmer: You had me at rock-free. Where do I sign?
Government: Right here.
Farmer: Done. (pause) What’s a pterodactyl?
Flash forward 142 years, and here we are, novice homesteaders trying to revive agriculture in a region that previous generations abandoned for land that was easier to cultivate. And we find ourselves, much like earlier generations did, pondering the best way to turn this curse to our advantage, or at least into less of a curse.
Idea 1: Rock walls. We’ve been using them in the landscape to define borders. While earlier occupants of Sledding Hill probably didn’t have much use or time for ornamental landscaping, they certainly had a use for walls, and we do find the remnants of old stone walls occasionally while clearing new areas.
Idea 2: Ground stabilization. Since we have dug our irrigation ponds, we have found that it doesn’t take nature very long to start filling them back in. Cattails intrude, rot, and gradually shrink the pond. Heavy rains erode banks. We’ve taken to laying landscape fabric on some of the more vulnerable banks and covering them with rocks to prevent erosion and vex unwanted vegetation.
Idea 3: Foundations and platforms. While the early settlers used the massive stones here for house foundations, the largest heaved into place by teams of oxen, we use them for more ornamental purposes.
Idea 4: Pure decorative landscaping. This use we brought with us from the West.
In a previous life designing urban residential landscapes, I used to take clients to a rock yard, where we would select boulders much like those plaguing Bear River. The client would pay as much as $0.40/lb. for 3-6 ton boulders, plus $1500 to have them delivered and sensitively placed in their landscape. In some cases, streets needed to be blocked to have boulders craned over homes into backyards. Think permits, insurance, etc. The cost could get quite ridiculous. Here, people push them over cliffs or bury them to create a smooth lawn surface.
Our decision to start placing boulders on our front lawn and re-cast these nuisances as features has prompted a head shake or two from a few neighbours. But, once our plantings begin to mature and more of our hardscaping is completed, we think our intent will be clearer. Maybe it will start a trend.
We’re learning to love being on the rocks. It’s just another unique aspect of life here at Sledding Hill. We’re coining the new saying. “When life gives you rocks, you’re probably in Bear River.”