The week we purchased Sledding Hill, we had occasion to attend a cocktail party. One of the guests… I’ll call him Dr. Caution…. heard we were buying a rural property that we planned to farm and questioned our wisdom in doing so. Do you understand how much work that is? Do you know what kind of equipment you’ll need to buy? He found our answers lacking and seemed determined to make us realize that we were making a colossal mistake. The thing is, we KNEW we didn’t know what lay ahead. It was going to be an adventure for us and we were okay with that. We’re still a little perplexed why it mattered so much to a stranger whether we knew what we were doing. Perhaps he just didn’t want to see us fail.
Well, here we are starting our 4th year at Sledding Hill, and we’re happy to report that we don’t regret a thing – except maybe for not doing this 20 years ago! Not that there haven’t been mistakes and failures… there have been A LOT! But, none have been so catastrophic as to end our determination. Life at Sledding Hill continues to be an adventure. Nevertheless, if we were able to go back in time and talk to ourselves at that very cocktail party, I think we might find ourselves teaming up with Dr. Caution just a littl bit. The amount of work, particularly regarding the reclaiming of land for agricultural purposes, has far exceeded our initial estimation, largely due to challenging aspects of our property itself. Refer to my posts “On the Rocks” and “Water, Water Everywhere” for a sense of some of these challenges. Another challenge is simply keeping the land clear.
Back in Bear River’s shipbuilding heyday, both sides of the river were occupied by productive homesteads, engaged in a variety of agricultural endeavors. While a number of the old homes that ran those homesteads still stand (ours, for example), the land associated with most of them has been allowed to return to its wild state. For those seeking a retreat from urban congestion, owning a property surrounded by acres of bush undoubtedly has some appeal. But, for those seeking a modern homesteading experience, it means a daunting amount of work, plus a substantial financial investment.
We were lucky that at least a portion of our land (10 out of 45 acres) was kept clear. The former owner had not actively farmed the land himself, but had kept the fields cleared. He told us that he appreciated the work that past generations had put into clearing the land and wanted to preserve that. When one considers that those pioneers had no power tools, nor heavy equipment to help them, the magnitude of their accomplishments is truly humbling. We’re grateful to our property’s former owner for honouring that, even though he had no use for the cleared land himself.
Since owning the property, we’ve learned that the work doesn’t stop once the land is cleared. On the contrary, the brush needs to be kept cut. Frequent, short cutting encourages the growth of grasses and clovers, while discouraging woodland colonizers. The edges of the fields are the challenging “front lines”. Thorny, scratchy branches of hawthorn and other understory plants on the forest edge tend to bully timid groundskeepers into mowing an ever shrinking area; meanwhile dropping their seeds in the uncut grass beneath their branches. Even with regular mowing, a field can easily lose 5ft. off its perimeter every year, if the edges aren’t kept at bay.
Clearing land that has already grown in is another matter entirely, as the larger shrubs and trees need to be uprooted, not merely cut down. It took a large backhoe with a very experienced operator almost 3 full days just to clear an acre of land on our property that contained no mature trees, just hawthorn and saplings. Imagine if all you had were axes, shovels and oxen.
The value of cleared land is something we have truly come to appreciate since moving here. While we are thrilled to have wild land as part of our property, we are even more thrilled to have the blank canvas of 10 cleared acres on which to paint our future.
Dr. Caution was right that we had no idea of the amount of work we were facing three years ago. But, we think he underestimated our resolve and how badly we needed this lifestyle change. Knowing what we know now, would we do it again? Absolutely! That’s perfectly clear.