Monday, April 28, 2008

Ah, Spring ... sort of

We hear a lot of these little guys at night now. Ever since the snow melted the spring peepers have made nights very loud and exotic. The sound is similar to Maryland's insect chorus on August nights, but maybe louder. I'm sure we have plenty of tadpoles in the vernal pools in the back 6. The ducks and geese are eating something.

We've begun excavating the garden and planting some cold-tolerant crops (we're still a good 4 weeks from the first frost-free night). So far we have planted sugar peas, two types of chard, mesculin mix, spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, two types of lettuce, mache, mizuna, and beets. The peas, chard, and arugula are all up. Hopefully they will stay up; we're supposed to have overnight lows in the lower 20s tonight.

Digging the garden beds has been a useful exercise. There is a lot of rock. So far the biggest boulder we've unearthed was the size of a soccer ball. The good news is that there is plenty of quality soil between the boulders. The soil maps were generally correct -- most of the soil we've worked so far is silt-loam, but there is a band of heavy clay towards the eastern end of the plot that the soil maps did not mention. We have submitted a sample for detailed analysis, and are waiting the results before we start guessing at soil amendments.

Our intention this year is to grow crops chiefly for our own use, and to get to know the place better. To that end, hand digging the garden beds is possible, even enjoyable for the first several hours. But larger scale production will demand a little more mechanization. That's where this baby comes in:

This is an Italian made "walking" tractor. It's a two wheeled tractor powered by an 8hp Lombardini diesel engine, with pivoting controls and mounts a standard set of implements on quick connectors. Ours is coming with a rotary plow, tiller (pictured), 53" sickle bar, and a chipper/shredder. The advantage of this system is that we buy and maintain a single power plant, rather than buying a separate engine with each implement. In time we can also add other implements -- log splitter and snow blower spring to mind, but they make all kinds of things for these tractors like carts, spaders, finish mowers, and even balers. We could have gone with a small, conventional tractor, but the neighbors have plenty of those for borrow or hire if we need them, and we wanted to be as miserly with fuel use as possible. Here is a link to just such a tractor in action with a rotary plow. I'll let you know how they are at handling rock.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Move to Wallingford

Hi All,

For those of you who have stayed tuned, we are in our fourth inaugural week of living in Wallingford, Vermont. After a lot of time spent on the road, skirmishes with disgruntled owner/landlords, scary basements and weird smells, we found a house in VT that we believe will be the site of our Future Farm. Wallingford is a small town just about eight miles south of the city of Rutland with beautiful views not too dissimilar from Switzerland.

Even though this is great news, it meant that we had to leave Middlebury, a fine town. We had hoped that we could find a new home nearby, but nothing panned out. Although we were intrigued by the area's offerings of vintage farmhouses, most of what we visited was either super new and situated on land inappropriate for farming, or super old, falling down and situated on land that would great for farming...eventually. We truly are going to miss some of the great people we met through the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society and Frog Hollow Crafts Center. Deb and Bud Smith, the owners of our apartment, were essentially our "hook-up" to most things Middlebury. There is a stimulating charge in the air of college towns; and we were most lucky during our six months as residents to have so many cultural events, community activities and great company all within walking distance.

Our move took the form of a two-pronged attack: On March 28, after the closing at the sellers' attorney's office in Poultney, we were able to borrow a van from the sellers' real estate office. We drove the van up to Middlebury, packed our things in and did a drive by the home of Chris and Susan English who had kindly been storing things of ours that were too big to keep in our town efficiency. After the secondary loading, we drove down to our new residence to make the best of the first week. Sans real furniture, it was sort of amazing how much work Ed was able to do. Mealtimes were saved by the fact that we had brought some of our kitchen stuff from the Englishs' pole barn and we had just enough of Yvonne's ceramic pieces to make dinner civilized.

The following Saturday, April 5th, we drove down to the D.C./MD to retrieve the balance of our worldly possessions. We had beautiful driving weather, for a change, and we made great time (about 9 hours). Once again, we were welcomed by our friends Steve and Andrea Matney in Glen Echo. The next day, Sunday, we wisely chose to goof off and socialize. We attended the 10:30 service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring. It was great to see so many people and update them on our travels. It turned out that other UUCSS ex-pats were visiting that day, so it was somewhat like homecoming.

Monday was all business. Chris English also hails from MD, and had arranged to take off time from a family visit to help us load our moving van and his personal vehicle with our stuff. Chris met us at the storage facility at 9:30 on the dot. Because Chris and Susan had moved to VT approximately a year and a half earlier than we had, Chris arrived organized and armed with recent memory of the best ways to relocate everything you own. Except for the fine drizzle that kept up through the mid morning through early afternoon, we couldn't have asked for a smoother transfer of items. All three of us were largely in agreement about the best ways to pack a moving truck (i.e. putting the big things in the truck first and then fitting smaller things around them.) I have participated in moving "parties" that involved far more people and way less competence. The very next a.m., Ed and I were back on the road up to VT.

The turn around time was about 4 days (April 5 to 8). On Wednesday, April 8, we unloaded the van, again with Chris's help (he was on his way back up north that morning), got all the furniture into the house, and made sure that all boxes went either to the basement or garage to shelter them from the elements.

Chris left to rejoin his wife Susan in their home in Cornwall in the early afternoon (we were sorry; we had wanted to share a celebratory pizza with him), and we made it our business to put together the bed and the dining room table. One week's camp-out without them was enough.

At present, we are enjoying our first spring in Vermont. Late-night online seed buying has gotten us enough seed to start exploring what the soil up here will support (besides small boulders. The mineral capacity of VT soil is legendary). The property has a number of blackberry bushes and an established rhubarb bed. Young red shrubs which might be either raspberries or miniature roses (we're hoping for raspberries) are starting to put out tiny little pleated leaves. The lilacs are getting greener every day. The snowmelt lake that had occupied the five acres closest to Otter Creek is slowly evaporating.

We started last week turning over the rich, rocky soil to see the encouraging pink-brown glistening of several healthy nightcrawlers.
So far we've planted arugula, spinach, snow peas, kale, mixed greens for salad and broccoli. Now, to figure out where the asparagus bed will go...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Winter Rap Up

It's been a long winter. This image is my car after a March ice storm (no damage done). Note the spiffy new Vermont tags on the car!

This winter was one for the record books, literally. All-time snowfall records were set state-wide. Burlington, VT (to our north) received 120.2 inches of snow this winter (or about 10" more than the previous all time record). I told folks before we moved here that I only grew tired of winter once in my life. That total has been doubled.

Our last snow (so far) was Saturday (April 12). There was no accumulation, but we had driving snow showers all day long. The snowpack on the mountains is still over 60" in most places, though the snow on the lower elevations has been gone for over two weeks at this point.