Big news for McCollum Orchards. This fall, we cleared eight acres of overgrown farmland. Over 30 years the property had changed from maintained orchards and farmed land to a scraggly, overgrown wooded area. The land was densely shaded. There were old, rusty trash heaps and burn piles. Beneath the tall swamp maples were rows of dead plum trees. Areas flooded where clay drain tile had broken long ago. Clearing it back to its original plane was the key to bringing the farm back to life. In order to expand production, we need more cleared land to grow vegetables, hops and fruit on.
In October, we hired a crew recommended for agricultural land clearing. It took them a week to clear eight acres. Watching them work was fascinating. A large dozer uprooted the trees, then pushed them over to the excavator. With its claw attachment, the excavator would lift a tree high up in the air and drop it. Repeatedly. This shook the top soil off the rootballs. (Afterward, the top soil got spread back onto the land.) The excavator would then do a maneuver where it gripped the tree in the middle, spun around and tossed it on top of the wood pile. We are stuck with a few, strategically placed, giant piles of deadwood for now. Whatever can’t be used for firewood will decompose. The piles also still provide the habitat that solitary bees need.
Now, the place is starting to look like a farm again. In fact, the clearing uncovered a massive rock wall made with field boulders along the east side of the apple orchard. What we thought was a natural rise on the land is actually a manmade terrace. From the barn, the vista opens up onto the orchards and wheat field and sky. Many neighbors have stopped by to say how good it looks. Seeing the cleared land lets us visualize what the farm will look like in the future. That’s both exciting and makes this whole endeavor very, very real!
With the land cleared, we can move ahead with the next several steps that have to be done before we can actually plant anything. First,we tested the soil on the cleared land and are waiting to find out the composition and if we need to add any amendments. Then, we need to clean up the stray roots and branches that were left behind and pile up the rocks that got upturned. (Ugh, what a big job.) In the spring, we will do heavy discing to loosen up the soil and smooth it out.
Next year, we expect serious weed pressure. The long dormant weed seeds have now been exposed to sunlight. We are already working on a weed management plan with Cornell Cooperative Extensionon how to best manage them next growing season.
Now, we can start to see the forest through the trees, so to speak. The land has taken shape into four main plots. We plan to farm two fields next year and the other two we will prepare for perennial plantings, like berries. We are chomping at the bit to get that beautiful soil back into production.
PS: Things that were uncovered in the land clearing: 1) two metal fire escapes 2) a V-8 Engine 3) a swing set 4) half a pick-up truck (not near the engine) 5) countless beer bottles and cans 6) a broken arrowhead 7) a doll’s head 8) a sleigh bell 9) lots of wild garlic