Where to begin?
If you’ve never been married, it is a lifelong commitment. It involves sacrifice, selfless service, and then needing to adapt to an ever-changing life.
This commitment is what is required when you move out in the country.
I married my bride 14 years ago this September. After seven years, we finally bought a house. It was a foreclosure, and six months after we bought it, my wife said she couldn’t wait to move into the country. Needless to say, I was not happy. In my head, after we bought our house in town, that was it. I would die there.
It was a Cape Cod around 2000 square-foot and had a giant maple tree in the backyard that kept our yard 10° cooler than anywhere else in town. The year we sold the house was the year we finished all of our remodeling. I was so happy that I thought I could finally take a break and just enjoy what we had created, but this was not to be.
My wife found a farmhouse built in 1900 on a little less than 3 acres of land. One acre wooded, and the rest was an open field. There is a single stall garage and a massive pole barn. There was even a wood boiler, propane, and a heat pump to keep us warm. There was even central air, a luxury we never had.
Being a math guy, I predicted it would cost us less than $500 an extra month to live there. I was happy my wife got to get what she always wanted and wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg. I also liked burning wood, having acre woods, and wide-open spaces to start a farm. All for less than $500…
We moved in during the winter. All I had was a snow shovel and a very long driveway. Luckily we had a mild winter, and I only had to pay a plow truck once to clear the icy, snowy driveway.
There is another problem, I don’t have any wood for the wood boiler, and January is not the time to find more firewood. Most people are out, and those who cut would transition to plowing or another means of income. I did my managed to scrounge up some, but there is a huge learning curve, and it turns out that I needed about $1200 and firewood a year to heat the home through Michigan winter.
In case you are good with math, that’s an extra hundred dollars a month that I did not calculate.
Then came spring or nearly spring. My wife got the plant bug again. My wife loves plants, and I mean loves. Our kitchen ends up looking like a greenhouse. There is no countertop space, and she can’t wait to put them in the ground. Because in early spring, Michigan has sudden frosts. It can be really hard on new plants and kill whatever you’re trying to grow before they have a chance to establish themselves.
Solution: hoop houses.
We bought two hoop houses for $500 and some hardware for them for another couple hundred. My wife decided we needed to have raised beds inside hoop houses, so the cost of lumber and soil and compost.
Due to the pandemic, I had the foresight to see that the economy would slow down. We bought everything all at once—dirt, compost, seeds, hand tools, fencing, and a host of other things.
This was thousands of dollars.
My wife started putting in six hours a day, seven days a week, to get everything established as quickly as possible. We built a compost bin, five raised beds, three traditional garden plots, and three raised beds in hoop houses. We also did a drip irrigation system and had to run a ton of hose.
Then there was the windstorm.
I took a $700 loss when the wind through the hoop houses a hundred feet north of where they started in mangled them together.
Then there was the mowing. I had a push mower and acres of grass. It took 8 to 12 hours to mow the lawn. Now I had a new problem: what piece of equipment would do the best for all the different work we needed on the property?
There’s a tractor. You can get a plow for a tractor and a mower. Probably the tractor, though, as I could really use it in the woods. I never use the tractor, and it seemed like a big slow piece of equipment that wouldn’t fit in a lot of our hard-to-reach places.
There’s a lawn tractor. Lawn tractors are faster, they can plow, you can get little trailers for them, and it would fit in the woods. The problem was I didn’t think it would have enough balls to do what I wanted to do.
I have the idea to get a zero turn mower and walk behind a snowblower. Of course, this wouldn’t pull anything. It would still be using wheelbarrows the hall all the dirt compost sticks branches I mean everything by hand.
The last option I saw was an ATV. Their powerful, could fit in smaller places, have a plow attachment, pull trailers, and pull a tow-behind mower.
I choose the last option. I bought a Kawasaki brute force 750 with the snowplow. Then I purchased a tow-behind mower. The cost of that equipment?
The positive thing is I can mow my entire property in about two hours. We’ll have to wait till winter for me to say how well it plows snow. But I have to say it kicks some serious but when a call comes to hauling wood, mowing blazing trails, and making life so much easier on the farm.
Another weird thing I discovered, I have a private electric pole. I found this out because the outside light to the property doesn’t work. I called the utility company told him to fix it. They told me to get a boom and troubleshoot and fix it myself.
No. No, I will not do that while I have so many other things on my plate. The cost of that is undetermined.
Let’s talk about the wind.
My property is surrounded by a field and a dairy farm. All winter long, I had a strong Western wind blowing across the property and making most outside tests miserable. The solution for this is simple, plant evergreen trees. I have the road and a northern wind on the north side of my property, so I need to plant evergreen trees and shrubs there. The eastern side of my property also needs a windbreak because I get a cool breeze from that direction in the spring. This places a strain on the new growth. On the south side, we are going to do evergreen bushes. I love you, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. The evergreen bushes should provide protection for the garden, but not block the scenery.
And then there are the woods…
Right before the woods are three massive beautiful trees. Because there’s so much older than the trees in the woods, they provide too much shade and have changed how those trees have grown. They almost grow at right angles.
To make the woods fruitful, I left the cut down those three trees. That’ll have to cut down, cut up, split, and pull stumps on an acre woods. Why do you ask?
Remember the windbreak?
Those evergreen trees won’t grow if they get too much shade.
This begs the question, how my get a pull although stumps out?
Looks like I’m getting a tractor. I will probably need one with a bucket and a backhoe. If you’ve never pulled the stump, it screws up the entire ground—just a big nasty mess. You have to flatten out, so the land is workable again; otherwise, hundreds of craters will.
The positive thing is that I won’t have to buy firewood for years. The negative thing is it can be a ton of labor.
But just like marriage, farming is a long-term game. So after the woods are cleared, and evergreen trees and shrubs are planted, I will plant fruit and nut trees.
I’m looking at dwarf trees because they produce fruit and nuts earlier. They are easier to harvest because they’re shorter, and I’ll space them to create tons of permaculture food plots.
This has been my biggest take away from my first year:
buying a property in the country is just like getting married. You have to love and cultivate the relationship. You give to the soil, and the earth provides to you. You can do things that hurt the relationship. You can do things that improve the relationship, but you can never ignore it.
If you do, weeds, thorns, and brambles will grow where shade, vegetables, and fruit are supposed to be.
Yes, the money I am spending to get the property set up is more than I predicted. Yes, nearly all of my free time is spent working on the land.
But you know what?
I spend most of my free time in the sun, working with my hands, and building a future.
Just like my marriage, the early years will be expensive and rough, but that’s temporary.
Once you know how to live with something, you know how to work with it instead of trying to bend it to your will. You learn how to give and receive. The best part is there is nothing like eating a home cooked meal that came from your soil.