10 Sep Our First Week on the Farm

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Good Contrivance Farm, circa 1960

If a fortuneteller had waved a hand over her crystal ball–let’s say 10 years ago or even 3–and told me that I’d be living on a farm right now and spending hours and hours every day mowing hay, I would have laughed loudly. But just last night I was riding my John Deere 420 through grasses five feet tall as grasshoppers whirly-gigged and corkscrewed high into the evening air and barn swallows swooped low to make the most of my roiling moil, milkweed down drifting up all around me like snow caught in an updraft.

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Good Contrivance Farm, circa 1900

I have been a lifelong night owl but now, of necessity, I rise at dawn. Out here on the farm, you can’t sleep any later. There’s too much light and too much to do. Ours is the last 6 acres of what was once–160 yeas ago–a one-thousand acre spread. Surrounding us is the last 100 acres, conserved in perpetuity as farmland. That means that, although we are right on the cusp of Reisterstown’s suburbs, it appears that we are deep in rural America.

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the barn apt

We are living in the farm’s barn apartment, where the views are amazing. We’ll be working on the house–which hasn’t been altered since 1960–for many years but hope to move in as early as December. Right now all of our efforts are focused on the land, where nearly everything is overgrown, like the grasses in our field. The farm’s many gorgeous old trees have not been touched in 50 years or more. A few need to come down. The rest need major pruning: they are heaped up with wayward growth, hunkered low under the weight of overladen branches. When we liberate them from their burden, they rise higher (and you can walk under them) and they seem to sigh their relief. We will be pruning for weeks.

 

www.houselove.orgAnd mowing for weeks. And weed-whacking. And digging up stumps. And gathering dead fall. And taking up piles of rotting logs and neglected firewood. Mind you, this is not a complaint, just our to-do list. We love the work. We love how we can see improvements with each passing day. We now own tons of farm equipment: two tractors, a zero-turn mower, big attachments (snow plow etc.) for the big tractor, a vintage Ford 150 pickup truck (with an 8-foot bed), two cargo trailers, etc. Virtually all of it is from auctions.

 

I’ve never owned , much less operated, a chainsaw. Now I’ve got three. The newest one I just ran over with my tractor the other day and smashed to smithereens. Did I mention how dangerous the farm can be? With that very chainsaw in one hand, I fell from an eight-foot ladder while trying to trim a tree. I suffered only a sprained thumb. Oh, so lucky! Another day I parked my tractor but didn’t set the bucket down (acts as a brake) and the tractor started rolling down the hill. I caught up with it, leapt into the seat and slammed on the brakes.

 

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our farm house, circa 1910

While poking around the pig house, Jill stepped on what she thought was a pipe. Turned out to be a six-foot rat snake. Jill hasn’t been quite the same since. Still, she knows we need the snakes to keep down the rodents. This weekend we’re going to get some barn cats to help with that work.

We don’t feel quite at home yet because there’s so much to do and we’re living out of boxes and it’s not clear when our lives will downshift to a more manageable speed. There’s also the fact that this farm was owned for six generations by one family. We feel a tremendous responsibility to do this right. It’s stewardship of the highest order.

This week we’ve had the chimneys repaired, the basement cleared out (this includes removal of the 800 gallon water tank that used to service the farm), had a 500 gallon propane gas tank installed (I’ve got to cook with gas!), jackhammered 40 feet of concrete sidewalk so that I can dig out the foundation and waterproof the very wet basement, mowed-weeded-etc., and got started on fencing the entire property. The other day the fencing foreman (an older man with a skeptical air) looked me and Jill up and down, then he surveyed the surroundings and shook his head in dismay or pity. He said, “Looks like you two bit off more than you can chew.”

What I wanted to say but didn’t was, “We’ll see about that.”

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the farm team reaping hay, circa 1940

19 Comments
  • Stella Fouts
    Posted at 09:55h, 10 September

    Be careful on that zero-turn mower!

  • Elaine Roebuck
    Posted at 11:14h, 10 September

    it doesn’t take long to fall in love with a piece of land that you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into.

  • Patricia Justice
    Posted at 20:10h, 10 September

    I’m a recent fan, having just met you, and your home on wheels, a few months ago I saw pictures of your renovated home that you auctioned. I am very excited to see how you make this home your own. if you need help, give me a holler! I’d love to demolish and sand, etc. I’m not that far away. Enjoy!

  • Carolyn Lieberg
    Posted at 09:29h, 11 September

    Love the tales you’re posting! But such luck you’ve had — only a thumb damaged from a fall off a ladder and a “safe snake” that would raise my blood pressure for 101 days. I hope you decided to invest in some sort of screechy whistles that you both wear when you’re out of shouting distance. Also — sounds like a terrific adventure and a wonderful way to live your lives.

  • rtanner
    Posted at 09:35h, 11 September

    Yes, those things are fast and ultra-responsive! Jill’s better at driving it than I am.

  • Diana Samet
    Posted at 10:23h, 11 September

    Amazing tales of life on a farm. Can’t wait to follow your progress. You two are special and will make your farm a wonderful place to be. Despite the condition, it sounds pretty special already. Love from the West. D

  • rtanner
    Posted at 13:31h, 11 September

    We’re learning that!

  • rtanner
    Posted at 13:31h, 11 September

    Thanks, Patricia!

  • rtanner
    Posted at 13:32h, 11 September

    Thanks, Carolyn: we’re going to get walky-talkies!

  • Dave
    Posted at 19:59h, 11 September

    Wishing you the best in this endeavor, a labor of love brother….We will be up soon to help watch…
    Dave

  • Barney Kirby
    Posted at 10:23h, 15 September

    Exciting to see your move Ron, good luck with the farm, I have no doubt it will be a great experience for you. Another friend made the move to setting up a small permaculture farm near yellow Springs, OH about 5 years ago and hasn’t looked back.

  • rtanner
    Posted at 19:35h, 03 October

    Thanks, Barney. You’ll have to visit!

  • rtanner
    Posted at 19:36h, 03 October

    Thanks, Dave!

  • Cynthia Ferraro
    Posted at 12:53h, 25 November

    Wow! I saw this farm in late 2014 when my husband and I were looking for a bigger home with a few acres of land in the Reisterstown area. I daydreamed about fixing it up and making it a dreamy compound where we could invite friends and family to say in the “guest barn” and keep a few goats, chickens and pigs. My husband gave his best “funny farm” speech and convinced me that it would be a costly and overwhelming project. I dare say he may have been right. ;) We settled on a newer home with “old house” characteristics in the middle of farm country just down the road. Mowing the 1 1/2 acres of grass and tending to our 300 sq ft garden is about as rugged as we can handle right now. I admire your adventurous spirit and will enjoy living vicariously through you both as you continue to provide updates on your progress. Best of luck to you!

  • Luciano
    Posted at 16:53h, 16 December

    I cannot reemebmr if you saw my horseshoe on the old fencepost. It was in my entry for The Weekend in Black and White. Love this one…and you need to post more of them as you come across them while walking about the property. They are such wonderful objects to photograph. This shot is awesome. genie

  • Marjorie
    Posted at 16:58h, 16 December

    Very cool shot, Tricia. I can see why your mom would want “any” of your wonderful pcerutis. Pick one and find a great frame…..they are all great but I am drawn to the one on far right with giant tree over it..beautiful!

  • Popovici
    Posted at 17:04h, 16 December

    Great picture, Tricia… One of my frineds (Larry from Wisconsin) joined your Barn Charm this week… Neat guy–with fabulous gardens.Be sure and show us your Mom’s present when you get it finished.Hugs,Betsy

  • Barbie
    Posted at 17:06h, 16 December

    Una gran fotografeda!!!…muy buen enraduce aprovechando los reflejos dorados sobre el agua…muy bonita, me gusta!!!Un abrazo!!! ;)A big photograph !!!… very good frame building on the golden reflections on the water … very nice, I like!A hug! ;)

  • Marcelo
    Posted at 17:11h, 16 December

    Beautiful shots of the pond… and the same here. So terribly hot this suemmr, it really makes outdoor forays rather miserable. But we’re not far from autumn, my fav season!