Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Soil Toil

People who've never had acreage sometimes think they really want acreage more than anything in the whole world.  I love my acreage, but ...

I worked outside from about noon until dark, with a couple of breaks for food and water.  At one point I was working hard enough that sweat dripped off my nose, my usual signal that I've hit that stage in exercise where I'm actually changing my physique instead of maintaining what shape (or lack thereof) I've got.  What did I accomplish for all this effort?  The individual pieces, clearing about 80 feet of paths, cutting the blackberries from around a bench, and weeding about 500 square feet of garden, sounds like a lot.  When you look at the acreage, though, it's hard to tell the difference between what it looked like yesterday and what it'll look like first thing tomorrow morning.  In fact, I'd have to guide you to the area so you could see it and compare it to the unweeded, uncleared areas.  And when I mean I weeded, I mean I took out the noxious and unsightly stuff.  I left behind heaps of what people would consider weeds, including seedlings that will later need to be pulled, and what I call benign weeds that will stay--various varieties of daisies, native thistles, goldenrod and stuff that either feeds birds or is somewhat ornamental.  If I tried making this all look like something out of a landscaping magazine, I'd be very, very unhappy with what I have.

That's life with acreage.  If I put in a hard day's work every day the weather allowed for a year, and I had enough money or other resources (like donated plants,) this place could be well-groomed, with wild areas that lacked invasive weeds, and little hiding places with seating made from our local rock and downed trees, and there'd be multiple paths down to the woods, and all the veggie and flower beds would be edged so that the grass doesn't grow into them quite so fast.  

But I'd be neglecting everything else to do this.  So I make a little progress every year.  Sometimes for several weeks I'm out there putting in 8-14 hour days so that things look reasonably decent.  Sometimes I have to let it go for a few months, and then I have to make up the lost ground.  Spring is the usual time I lose lots of ground.  It's too wet to mow most days and the grass grows like crazy, and the ground is often too soggy to work in any way, including weeding.  

Strategies that people can use in small gardens are often out of reach here.  Like mulching.  About 5 yards of mulch will put a dent in things.  I'd need twice or three times that to lay down a properly thick bed of mulch that will reliably keep weeds down (and help make the ones that pop up really easy to pull.)  That's just the ornamental part of the garden.  Add in the veggie part and I'd need another 10 yards of mulch to do that right.  Around here (buying a yard at a time) that's over $500 worth of mulch.

The same sort of time/volume things come up for everything--planting annuals, seeding, deadheading, fertilizer, border plantings, edging paths, pruning roses (I have lots, though you can't really tell,) mowing (we have about 2 acres that need mowing,) putting up and maintaing fences, and all that other stuff that helps maintain a property.  Our goats help with keeping the brush and grass down on about an acre and a half, though we still have to pull tansy out of their field.  The rest is all us.
If this sounds like something you want to devote a significant portion of your life to, then owning acreage is probably a great idea.  If you want low maintenance, forget it.  Seriously.  You're better off with a tiny yard with no lawn, just a bunch of shrubs and a thick layer of bark dust (our local term for bark chips.)  Sometimes when I come in, arms scratched and sunburned from wrist (where my gloves end) to shoulder, yanking out thorns from blackberries and roses, a rash below both knees down to my ankles from grass, hands aching, exhausted and thirsty, I long for a tiny yard with no lawn and a thick layer of bark dust.  But then I get a tall glass of cold water and stand out on the deck, surveying my garden, and it all seems worth it.  Even when it's a mess.  Even when it's overwhelming and seems like it'll never be right and beautiful.  
It's the journey, not the destination.


selenew said...

Your place is beautiful!

C.S. said...

"You're better off with a tiny yard with no lawn, just a bunch of shrubs and a thick layer of bark dust..."

Hey, are you pointin' fingers? LOL

Kami said...

Your yard is not tiny, C.S.! And I know the fountain isn't easy to take care of. If I were to point fingers, it would be at one of the McMansions with the 8' wide strip behind the house because the house takes up almost the entire lot. Weirdly, that strip is almost always lawn. What's with that?