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Homestead Reflections- February 2020

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2020 February Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler

It’s a major transition time here at Wild Browse Farm and we’re feeling both excited and terrified. We have made a commitment to moving and have just finalized a “Purchase & Sale” with a couple of young farmers and their 3 children!  We couldn’t be happier with the future owners, yet we find the transition to be both exhilarating and terrifying, not to mention overwhelming.   Our closing date is May first. Which, when we let ourselves think about it, is just around the corner and alarmingly soon, with so much, much, much, to do in between.  

We’ve cared for this special land since 1980. Between 1980 and ‘88 we cleared land, built soil, planted orchards, vegetable gardens and many permaculture crops, and finally building and moving out of our little camper/cabin and into our “real” house. You can imagine what our next move will entail.  Not only 40 years of our accumulated personal possessions, but also tools, equipment, homesteading essentials, materials and supplies and of course all sorts of other bits & bobs. Everything needs to be sorted, recycled, composted, discarded or moved. 

Luckily, we are only moving next door; 200 feet up the hill into a small cabin, which we’ve rented to friends for many years.  But those 200’ may as well be 200 miles, as we still have to do the same amount of packing, moving and unpacking. 


Woody, our 15 year old Lab, wearing her harness
that helps us lift her when she falls

So, “why the move”, one might ask (including myself on occasion)?  Ageing! pure and simple.  We can’t keep up the pace and amount of homestead work we did in the past.  It would sadden us more to see the homestead deteriorate than it would for us to move and turn it over to new folks with boundless energy and their own visions & dreams. 

Plus, our bodies have also weighed in with their loud creaks and moans.  When we started clearing the land and building our dream, we never thought about the realities of living at the bottom of a steep hill without easy access.  We also built the house on multiple levels to fit better into the hillside.  Ah, youth!  Climbing those stairs between the road and the house has gotten harder and harder.  Watching our 15+ year-old lab, struggling up and down the stairs in the house, gives me pause (not paws) and a possible vision of myself in a few more years. 

The new house is on the same level as the road, so accessibility is much better for ageing in place.  The house needs a small addition to give us a bedroom on the ground floor rather than the present sleeping loft.  We’ve been plugging away at minor changes in the existing cabin to make it habitable in the short term while we wait for Spring and the new construction to begin. 


Pru & friend Gina pruning an apple tree for the new owners

This past summer we built a small barn/garage to store not only building materials, but also our “stuff” while we wait for the house to be ready to receive it. The Eco-Building Bargains in Springfield is an amazing place to get great recycled doors, windows, plumbing & electric supplies and even appliances, cabinets and so much more.  These recycled materials not only save us money but keep useable materials out of the landfill and saves more of the earth’s natural resources than would buying everything new.  

We will continue to homestead, just on a smaller scale.   

About 5 years ago, anticipating the probability of this move, Pru started a small orchard at the new site, which is already producing fruit.   Sad to say, I have not been able to prepare my new veggie garden beds because they would have been destroyed during construction.  Hopefully, by summer, construction will be far enough along so that we can have a garden-bed making party.  My intention is to inoculate each bed with a shovel full of our fantastic Wild Browse Farm microbial soil and then sow a cover crop cocktail to grow and do it’s magic for the rest of the year.  By next spring, I should have a functional space to grow veggies, though it will take some time to reach the same level of healthy soil life as we presently have. 


Buckets of soil amendments

So this year’s veggies will be grown in the Wendell Community Garden and in patches within the orchard.  We might even sign up for our first-ever CSA share!   

We haven’t moved yet and besides packing and sorting, we will continue to care for our WBF garden and orchard so they will be in prime shape for the next generation.   

Soon it will be time to plant those early, cold tolerant cover crops.  As I’ve mentioned before, getting those seeds in early is an important way to create & maintain healthy soil.  Come mid-April I’ll frost-seed oats, field peas & tillage radish into all the beds, except those which the new owners will want available for early veggie crops.  That way, the soil will remain covered and the cover crops will be photosynthesizing until the beds are needed for later crops.   

Along with moving stuff, we also have to move some of our perennials to their new home.  Some of these garden friends have been with me since I started them from seed.  The Siberian iris, lupine, Sweet William & delphinium have moved with me several times since 1979.  The asparagus was the first seed (yes, I mean seed, not roots) planted on this land in 1980.  Peonies, black & red raspberries, and sea kale all have sentimental attachment. These perennials started their lives with us as thinnings, cuttings and transplants from friends and neighbors.  We’ll just take new thinnings, cuttings or divisions of these original plants with us, leaving plenty of the parent stock behind.  


Hanging tools in the new barn

So, as you can see, we have a lot to do to make this a smooth move.  I also want to continue giving my Healthy Gardening talks.  https://www.nofamass.org/content/soil-carbon-garden-homestead.  So, give me a call if you’d like me to make a presentation in your town.  But right now, it’s time for a breather!  We did get 4 inches of fresh snow, so a good cross-country ski is in order!  Hope your winter is going well. 

 

Sharon 

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