Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's New at the Farm? New Fields for 2012 and Stone Walls

As we head into the last days of January, I wonder what the rest of winter will hold for us. Although it’s been relatively mild so far, we could still get nailed with cold temps and heavy snows. Actually we could use some snow to finish filling up our irrigation ponds. Our pond here at the farm is full but our new pond has quite a ways to go. It’s got about five feet of water in it but I’d like to see 10 before we start using it next summer. We’ll see.

2011 is all but wrapped up now and planning for 2012 starts now. Actually it’s already started as we think about where we’re going to plant our crops this year. We’ve added 25 acres to our land base and will get that into production sooner than later. One field we’re going to start using is what we call the “Movie Palace” field. What’s a Movie Palace? Back in the 1970s and ‘80s there was a small store across the road from this field that you could rent videos from. It was called the Movie Palace; that was the only thing around there at that time so that’s how the field got its name. We’ve tried to call it other names but we always come back to the same name. Guess it’ll stick.

The soil at this field is mostly sandy loam. We put drain tile in it last summer to help dry it out in the spring, and dug an irrigation pond to water our crops there in the summer. We’ll also use the pond water to protect the crops from frost next fall if needed. After using a small part of this field for several years, it’ll be cool to see it in crops like it should be. The rows in this field could be around 1,200 feet, but will probably be closer to 900 -- a long row to hoe, ha, ha.

Another field we picked up is a 15-acre field on route 9 in Albion. It’s about a mile from the Big, New Field and we’re wondering what we should call this one? Perhaps “The Really Big, New field” We’ll probably just call it the Hammond Field as that’s who owns it -- the Hammond brothers. It was last plowed in the early 1960s and seeded down with a grass mixture, which has been hayed ever since. Before that there were several years of dry beans on it, so even though it’s been a while, it has been used for row crops. When I asked the local farmer, who seeded it down, if there were any rocks on it, he replied “no more than any other field around”.  It stands to reason that had it been really stony soil they wouldn’t have used it for row crops.

A good way to tell if a field has any rocks in it, how big they are, and how many is to look at the stone walls surrounding it. If the stone walls are large with lots of large rocks in them, well, guess where those rocks came from. If, like this field, the stone walls are small and eventually peter out, chances are there aren’t a lot of rocks there. There are a couple of “islands” of rocks on one side of this field; I assume this is where there were some large, unmovable rocks so they dumped more rocks around them instead of carrying them all the way to the edge of the field. Over time, trees grew up and they became islands enabling wildlife to hide in the middle of a large field.

This new field has about 12 acres that I intend to plow. It has an ever so slight west, southwest slope to it. It should be excellent field for many of our crops. It does not have access to water however, but most of our fields don’t. As the field is square, I think I’ll leave a driveway up through the center and around the perimeter and plow the rest. This year it will get a liberal dose of compost plowed under and seeded to buckwheat to help rot the sod down.  I may plant some squash just to see how they do. I’ll have pictures once the weather warms up some; it looks pretty bleak out there now.

And speaking of stone walls, I have always found it interesting to find stone walls out in the middle of the woods. What a tale they could tell! Last month, under the pretext of bird hunting, I was out tramping around in the woods next to where our farmhouse was when I was growing up. The house and barn are gone now, but the memories remain. Where we played as kids certainly has changed over the years. The farm pond my father dug for water for his cows has been drained and has grown up in little trees. The apple trees next to the pond have been cleared and spruce and pine grow there now. The neighbor’s hen house is gone and his fields have all grown up in pine and other trees. Now, down in the woods, probably 300 feet from anything, is a stone wall that follows the edge of a ridge several hundred feet.

It’s not a big stone wall, not like some of the other ones around, but you can see it plainly. On the north end it peters out and on the south end it cumulates into a large, unorganized pile of rocks. I would guesstimate this was a small, maybe two- or three-acre, pie-shaped field. Like most stone walls at the back of a property lie telltale signs of a dump; old buckets and cans, some glass and broken pottery. Folks had their own dumps years ago and many of these dumps exist if you know where to look. My mother grew up on this farm in the 1920s and ‘30s and she remembers the dump I’m talking about, and also this was a field they used. Many of the trees growing there now are better than two feet on the stump. I think I’ll go back one of these days and poke around some more.

I was in an antique mall a while back and found an old photograph of Fort Knox in Bucksport, Maine. Actually it was the ferry next to the fort. And in the background there were no trees. I’ve read a quote somewhere that described sailing into Penobscot Bay and all the land was free of trees.  The old stone walls attest to the fact there was more cleared land at one time than now.  I’m sure as the fields became woods once again, lots of history got lost as well.  If not for these stone walls, one might think nothing had ever happened on this land. I wonder what mark we’ll leave on the land when we’re gone? Hopefully something good.

Until next week, Brian


jgoodland said...

I thinking about rocks I always liken them to a bunch of corks in a bucket of water, take one out and another moves up in its place. Maybe I could get a federal grant to study it!

Anonymous said...

More people should read this as many think farmers carried the rocks into the woods to make fences. Nice article.

cjb said...

Nice article. I live in WNY in an area that is all woods and hills. Inside these woods you can find many stone walls. I have often wondered why these stone walls were built. Imagine the work!