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Tilling

The garden is tilled and almost ready to plant! It took a lot longer than expected (what doesn’t when you’re doing it yourself?) but we finished it on Sunday. The original plan was for me to spend all day Friday tilling it myself. That didn’t happen, and quite frankly, I’m glad.

The tool rental place made us a deal: pick up the tiller after 3 on Friday and we could keep it until Monday morning at the one day rental rate. After some discussion, we decided that was the way to go and I’m glad we did. If you’re going to till a new garden area this year, I highly recommend you rent the tiller instead of buying one, unless you have a good bit of cash to spare and can pick up a good one cheaply. The one we rented had about twice the power of one we could afford to buy. Plus, it was considerably cheaper. The cheapest tiller we found that would work for our needs cost $300 new. Total rental cost: $54 for the day, plus $1.44 in gas.

Here’s the tiller when I got it home on Friday:

Tiller Honking big tiller.

We got to work about 5 o’clock on Friday. T spent the night with her grandmother so we had all evening. 2.5 hours later, when darkness closed in, we’d done the first pass over half the garden area. And it sucked. It probably won’t take you that long to till your new garden area; ours is about 1500 square feet, which is considerably longer than average.

How long it will take you to till will depend on several factors: the type and condition of the soil (clay soil takes longer), how long it’s been since your ground was last tilled, and the power of the tiller you use. Always use a front-tine tiller to till an area covered in sod. It’s the most efficient way. You really need to be in good shape to till; if you’re not, consider hiring out the job. It won’t cost you much more than renting a tiller. If you’ll only be tilling a small area it might even be cheaper.

A note for those without much upper body strength: This means the majority of women and small-statured men. Tillers are not built for us. They just aren’t. This doesn’t mean you can’t use one. I did. It just means it’s going to be considerably harder. Don’t give up.

Back to the task at hand. Neither one of us had time to till on Saturday, so we had to get it down on Sunday. It took another 1.5 to finish the first pass. The first pass is the one where you chew up the sod. You may only have to do one pass if you don’t have clay soil.

We aren’t that lucky, but the second pass proved to be much easier than the first -it only took an hour to do the whole plot!

Here are the before and after pics:

Before Tilling Friday afternoon

After tilling Yesterday

Floyd Floyd dog helped take the pictures after rolling in the grass that’s been composting at the back of the yard all winter.

I marked out the rows and paths yesterday. Today I’m hoping to get the cover crop in the ground. It’s slowly coming along!

Expect an update on plants and the house soon.

Pictures!

So, last week I promised you some pictures, and here they are. These aren’t the best pictures, because I’m not the world’s greatest photographer, and because I took them in a hurry last night before it started raining with little T in my arms and dinner on the stove.

So, this is the front of our house. It’s an old farmhouse, as I said. It was mostly built in the 1940s. I say “mostly” because the original owners built it in three stages, the last of which was the laundry room (on the far left). They finished the latter near the end of the 1950s. The homestead was 40 acres back then. The farmer who built it passed it down to his son, and we bought it from him. It had never been on the market before. It needs a bit of work, as you can see. Please ignore the couch on the front porch. A friend of Kelly’s mom just gave us a really nice new couch, and we haven’t been able to get rid of the old one yet.

House

Here’s a view looking towards the garage, with one of our vehicles in the foreground. As to why we’re not parking in the garage, well…not only have we not organized our stuff yet (after a mere six months!) but let’s just say getting a 1200 square foot garage/workshop is a lot like buying a truck.

The garage/workshop

The garage desperately needs to be pressure-washed. That’s on the list for this spring.

Here’s the fenced backyard for the dogs. The view beyond is our “field”, where the food forest and primary gardens will be. The orange flags mark the current and future locations of berry bushes and fruit trees. We’ve already planted three grape vines, four blueberry bushes, and two pears. More are arriving next week, and we hope to plant the rest in the fall.

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The next pictures I publish will be much better -promise!

Up next: Moving with a baby…and other signs of insanity.

Our Property

Laughing Bird Farm is our second property. Our first consisted of 10 acres of raw land we purchased in Tennessee several years ago. We were determined to build a house and make a go of it on that property, but we had to live in town for work in the meantime and could only get to the property on weekends. A two hour commute each way is far too long for practicality, and there were no decent jobs in the area. This proved to be infeasible, especially once it got close to time for little T’s arrival, so we sold the property and looked for something closer to town.

This necessitated a lot of trade-offs. Our property in Tennessee cost one-fourth of what we paid for our current land. Of course, it was raw land, two hours from the metro area, and didn’t have a house. Before we started our property hunt we sat down and made a list of the features we needed and wanted. Here’s a short list of the necessities: a house on at least an acre lost, a decent commute time to work, lots of usable gardening space, and no restrictions. Our wish list included lots of storage space, a fenced back yard for the dogs, and a workshop area.

None of this would have been hard to find if we had a larger budget. But we both have modest incomes, and we wanted to find a property where it would be possible to make the payments on one income. This was an absolute requirement of mine; I’m not willing to risk losing our land because we bit off a larger mortgage than we could chew. Our particular wants and our low budget gave our wonderful real estate agent a lot of headaches, but she stuck with us while we looked at property after property over a three month period. We had one deal fall through when the house failed inspection (to the tune of $50k+ of foundation work!) and another when we were outbid. Those properties didn’t work out because the one we purchased was meant to be. I’m not normally a believer in fate, but this worked out nicely.

We found the property late in July. Both of us obsessively checked the online listings several times a day, looking for anything new that might pop up. I had already checked the listings before I went to work, but I hadn’t been there an hour when Kelly called me. She sounded so excited I had a hard time understanding her at first. A new listing had just come onto the site –the posting time was about five minutes before she found it. It looked absolutely perfect and was actually under our budget cap. I called our agent right away and we both took off work early to see it, with our 6 week-old daughter in tow. We submitted our offer right away, at full asking price with only the home inspection as a condition, and waited nervously to hear whether or not it was accepted.

Some back and forth ensued, but the owner finally accepted our offer, and by that time two other couples had submitted offers and there were others lined up! It’s a good thing we jumped on it that morning.

So, about the property itself. Laughing Bird Farm is just over an acre. It’s a mini farm of course, but there’s lots you can do with a mini farm when you do intensive gardening and permaculture. The property is a rectangle running east and west. The east side of the property is bordered by a major road. The north side of the property is fenced off and on the other side sits an upscale subdivision. Other middle and upper class subdivisions are in the area, but our property is located in the county and is completely unrestricted.

The west and south sides of the property are totally enclosed by a thick hedge of hollies, hackberries, roses, and crabapples. Our house sits near the front of the property behind a small lawn. We have an old farmhouse, only 1300 square feet but enough for us. There are three bedrooms (though one is really small) and the house was built in three sections by the family who used to own our land and much of the surrounding land. It needs lots of updates but that’s okay by us. We’ll be doing most of them ourselves as time and funds become available.

Behind the house is a backyard and a garage/workshop that’s almost as big as the house at 1200 square feet. The yard wasn’t fenced when we closed on the house, so that’s the first thing we did. The rest of the acreage stretches out beyond the yard and garage and is perfect for gardening and a food forest.

Our first priorities this year are to get the food forest planted and start our annual garden and our mushroom patch. We have several trees and berry bushes on the way, including pawpaws, pears, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries.

Our adventures have just begun. I’ll post some pictures soon.