Thursday 26 April 2012

Fire for Fruit

Our property amounts to twenty-five acres, which, by homesteading standards, is more than enough land. 
Self-sufficiency is supposed to be achievable with five acres, but that doesn't necessarily include energy needs.
In the reference books, that five acres is flat and arable. 
Of our twenty-five, none of it is flat or arable at this point.

Now, I'm not so good at estimating acreage, but I figure that we have about three acres that we have been working so far. That doesn't include where the pigs are out back. 
Of that three, there is the pond and house, so I think that there is no more than two acres total being worked. 
Of that two, is the hill at the very north-west of the property. We have been working on it for about five years now. 
The hill faces south, has water running through it, is very fertile, but is full of rocks. Unless we use raised beds, the hill is too difficult to work for crops or gardens. 
It was heavily wooded. 
We thought it would work out well for trees; fruit trees.
Felling the bulk of the trees was a challenge. The hydro lines are there. That's why it has been five years of clearing. Little by little though, we have been slowly opening the hill up and planting a variety of fruit trees and berry bushes. 
There is lots of room for a lot more fruit, and so we carry on preparing this land.

Way back when, we would haul the brush out back to decompose. That proved to be an excessive bit of work. Now we burn the brush, and save the good wood for fuel. It's hard work, but it's enjoyable and vigorous labour that gives a sense of accomplishment. 
You start with a mess and end up with a piece of land that you have never really seen before. 
You can sit back, reflect on a job well done, and feel inspired thinking about what might be suitable to plant. 
Our plantings thus far have been somewhat disorganized, but we are gradually improving the overall plan.

Sometimes residents must relocate.

I must admit that we could have been further along if I hadn't been so reluctant to cut down the existing trees. The vision in my mind was never clear and always included appealing, indigenous trees. I have learned however, to cut them all down, and plant trees that provide food. 
Most of the the trees in this location were Balsam Fir, Aspen, and Red Maple. Once I got a look at the heartwood of each tree, I found that their lifespan was going to be short anyways.
The hill will be divided by a fence.  On one side will be berries and shrubs.  This will be the non-chicken side.  It would be great if our hens could eat organic fruit on a regular basis, but they're not well known for sharing. So, on the other side of the fence is going to be the chickens and fruit trees.  
Once that fence is up, our chickens will still be ranging freely, but within a fenced area. There are a number of reasons to contain the chickens and I will go into detail when I write about this enclosure specifically.  The beauty of having fruit trees and chickens in the same area together is that most fruit-tree-eating beasties will become a more integral part of the food-chain before they reach the fruit.  At the same time, the chickens will be releasing fertilizer into the ground. 
Now, I'm not so sure that the hens will eat damaging caterpillars, but I hope that most pests will be dealt with harshly, and in a strictly organic fashion.

There is another challenge that we may face with this hill.  
That is the acidity of the soil.  
We haven't had it professionally tested, but I can guarantee you that it is very acidic soil.  That will be the order throughout the property as a whole. It's the nature of woodland soil to be acidic.  We have no intention of dressing the soil with anything to change that fact.  If anything, we'll look for tolerant plant species or perhaps some ground cover that neutralizes the soil somewhat.  
That is beyond our skill level presently, but that will change as we grow this hill.

Most of the hill will be permanent plantings.  There will no doubt be changes over the years, but this is a long term investment.  
Several years will pass before there is enough fruit to sustain us throughout the year, but one day in the near future, we will be harvesting berries and tree fruit of our own.  
That will supply us with fresh fruit, preserves, juices, cider and vinegar, and maybe even some cash if there is any surplus.
The clearing takes a lot of the time. The fruit trees and bushes take a lot of money.
But, if we're careful and focused, there will be food grown here, where there was little before.

Balsam Bonsai

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