Between a rock and…another rock

Rocks 02 sml

Look! A photo of large rocks! Very impressive.

Fitting squarely in the category of Important Life Lessons: if you buy a piece of mostly empty agricultural property that hasn’t exactly been used as a farm, there may be a reason why. In our case, that reason is rocks. Many, many rocks. So many rocks. Big rocks and little rocks and medium rocks. Some tiny pebbles. Some the size of a small car.

Rocks 01 sml

More rocks.

Quiet Farm sits on the southern slope of the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the world. The mesa’s highest point is just over eleven thousand feet, and we’re at 6,300. That five thousand feet between us is comprised of smaller pieces of the mesa: i.e., rocks. (They’re called the Rocky Mountains for a reason.) This is mostly Mancos shale, from the late Cretaceous age; at the rate we’re going, we’ll be in our late Cretaceous age by the time we relocate all of these rocks.

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Have we made our point yet?

We have a lot of rocks. If you put a shovel in the ground here, you are guaranteed to hit a rock. It might be a tiny rock (easy!) or one bigger than you are (not so easy). We have rock walls along all of our property lines. We have rocks lining our driveway, and if you hit one with your car at dusk because you couldn’t see it you will shatter your car’s bumper and you will swear profusely and your husband will come running outside and think that some wild animals got into the recycling bins (merely hypothetical, of course). We have massive rocks out in the pasture pinpointed with bright-orange reflective snow markers because if you hit one with a tractor you will do a lot more damage than just a smashed bumper. We have rocks so large that a semi would have to move them.

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We have to cut a path through here to install our game fence.

The biggest project we’re tackling right now is the building of our game fence, to protect our crops from rampaging deer. In order to install this fence, we have to dig four-foot-deep holes for wooden fence posts. And in order to dig those holes, we have to move rocks. So many rocks.

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The only kind of bobcat we ever want to see on our property.

We rented a mini excavator from a farmer friend, and started moving rocks. We carved a path through this rock wall on our north line, we dug out raspberry and asparagus beds, we trenched our overflow for the irrigation headgate and we removed some particularly stubborn T-posts. Using an excavator is slow, painstaking work, but the majority of these rocks can’t be shifted by hand. It’s heavy machinery or nothing here.

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Now we can install fence posts!

We’ve returned the exacavator to its owner, and this week a skidsteer with a nine-inch auger will arrive. Assuming the weather holds, we’ll dig about twenty-four post holes – and we know we’ll probably hit rock more often than not. If we do hit rock, we can’t drill through it, so we’ll have to shift slightly. The end result might be that our fence will be ever-so-slightly wavy, but we have to work with what we have. And what we have are rocks.

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Some of the treasures we’ve uncovered while excavating. (Yes, we do actually have Prince Albert in a can.)

We hope to shortly share some photos of a successfully completed game fence. It’s going to be a big week – wish us luck, friends!

P.S. Doing some landscaping? We have very nice rocks available. We do not offer free shipping. You load and haul.


Farm update: May 6

It’s been mostly cool and rainy this week. We’re of course grateful for the moisture and lower temperatures, which might keep our snowpack in place longer, but the weather has literally put a damper on our excavator plans. Never mind, though; there are always plenty of other things to do!

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A male black-chinned hummingbird getting its sugar fix.

One of our most successful ventures recently has been installing hummingbird feeders around our house. We’ve been utterly astounded at the sheer number of hummingbirds that have appeared, including both the black-chinned and broad-tailed varieties. They’ve apparently informed all their friends that the bar is open!

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If only we had a wood-burning stove.

We took down two dead pines recently; although we’re not in a particularly wildfire-prone area, there is never a good reason to keep bone-dry brush on your property if you can avoid it. The pine needles will be saved for mulch; the rest of the wood was burned in an old oil drum (as far away from the house and outbuildings as possible). It will soon be too hot and dry to do any open burning, but this cool, damp spring weather is ideal and helps keep us from building up potential kindling piles.

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Looks boring, but is actually very important.

In preparation for running our seasonal irrigation, we took apart our frozen pump. Although N actually broke a chisel trying to remove the face, we were able to get it apart, clean it out, put it back together and get it working again. This was a very successful endeavor and one that left us feeling more confident in our ability to tackle unfamiliar tasks. The hardest thing about farming is that just about every single task is new and challenging and something we haven’t done before, but that also keeps our days interesting. (And thank goodness for helpful customer support personnel and the University of YouTube.)

Mint Sprouting 01 sml

See you soon, mojitos.

A friend gave us some true peppermint, which is more richly-flavored and “minty” than the spearmint most Colorado gardeners have running wild in their backyards. I rooted the cuttings in water for a few days, then transferred the rooted cuttings to pots for planting outside and for giving away. I’ve loved making a simple peppermint tisane by steeping the leaves in boiling water, and I look forward to tall glasses of icy mint lemonade this summer. Mint is practically an invasive weed in Colorado, but since it grows with virtually no help (and no additional water), the deer avoid it and it tastes great in drinks and salads, I consider it a winner.

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This is a large pile of soil – not dirt. There is a difference.

Because we have heavy clay soils here, we have to start with a pre-made blend that we’ll use for semi-raised beds. Before the rains came we had fifteen cubic yards of mixed soil and compost delivered; it’s now sitting in a massive pile we refer to as Mount Doom, and it can’t go anywhere until the excavator has done its work. Since the end of World War II American farmers have mostly doused their soil in synthetic fertilizers that promote excessive growth (think corn and soy) while ignoring the soil’s complex organisms; only recently have farmers come to realize that the soil is everything, and you can’t grow good food without good soil. We’ll add to this with our own compost and other amendments we deem necessary, but we won’t be dousing it in chemicals – and hopefully we’ll produce amazing, nutritious vegetables.

And with that, we’re off to work. Have a great week!