Digging in

Digging in

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been more than two weeks since Runamuk and I became residents of Starks. This was our third move in the last six months, and like all of the other moves there has been a period where I was once again without internet access. That, coupled with the business of settling into the farmhouse, getting a garden in and setting up the new apiary–meant that I have not been able to update the blog.

But we’re here now, so get a cup of coffee or tea and take a minute to catch up with me.

Jim Murphy’s farm is absolutely beautiful and I am totally smitten. Early summer is underway, with the lush grasses of the pastures rolling beneath the breeze that seems never to stop. The lupines are flowering around the pond, and the birds and frogs are so abundant that at dusk that one could wonder: is this Maine, or are we in a tropical jungle?

lupines at sunset
I absolutely adore lupines! How many of you have read the story of Miss. Rumphius, the lupine-lady?

The farmhouse is approximately 175 years old and has it’s own fantastic quirks that would be enough to turn many folks off of the place, but for this farmer those peculiarities only make me love it more. She’s an old house, she creaks and leaks, the utility systems installed in it are a little odd and in some cases have been MacGuyvered into functionality; she’s in desperate need of remodeling, but has solid bones and I see lots of potential.

My partner and I are digging in and working hard to bring this place back to life, mowing around the house and gardens, pruning the perennials, and organizing the garage and soon the barn. I see a lot of Jim in the place, it’s clear that he loved this property dearly and he worked hard to build it up.

his books and mine
When we moved in I was given Jim’s ag-books to use while we are here; you’ll never guess which ones are his and which are mine!

A number of locals–seeing myself or my partner outside working–have stopped in to welcome us to Starks, including one of the town selectmen. They all have a connection to Jim and a story to tell, and every one of these visitors say how happy he would be to see someone continuing to farm the property, and they are happy too. It’s wonderful to be so embraced by the community, and as my tools begin to mingle with Jim’s in the garage, my books mixing with his on one of the bookcases he left behind, I hope that I can carry on his legacy and live up to their expectations.

beautiful horizon
With a great view, we enjoy beautiful sunsets over the mountains.

It’s a beautiful property, but even this little slice of heaven comes with its own challenges. The watering system, for example…older New England farms like this one have old dug wells, which can run dry if the water is used excessively. So instead of using the well-water to water his crops, the ingenious Jim Murphy sunk a pump in the pond and runs water from the spring-fed pond. It works, but the pressure is much lower than I am accustomed to so I’m working to adjust my gardening methods to compensate and have plans for a rain-water collection system in the not-too-distant future.

Another challenge that my partner and I are coping with is our lack of mechanical skills. I am not mechanically inclined at all. I have many skills and abilities, but understanding engines is not one of them. My brain does not work that way, lol. So having all of these systems and machines that Jim just kept going by tinkering on them left and right, sometimes jerry-rigging them into working so he could get the job done–is a hurdle that we will have to learn to overcome somehow.

I think the biggest challenge though is a story familiar to most folks: time and money.

tools galore!
Many of Jim’s tools were left behind to aid us in the up-keep of the farm, and our farming pursuits.

It was a miraculous arrangement that I managed to eek out with the Murphys. I am eternally grateful to be here, to be able to farm and keep my bees. But until Runamuk makes more money, I have to spend time at my off-farm job to pay the rent and car payments (my Subaru was a necessary investment, but it won’t be paid for til March of 2016). There are other expenses too, plus the investments in the farm and the expense of maintaining it. Our finances are so tight in this transitional stage that it’s downright scary.

new compost bin
New compost bin! Yay!

To top it all off, I have an incredibly long list of chores and projects that need to be done in order to bring this farm back to life, and to get Runamuk to a point where it is contributing at least a portion to the up-keep of this property. The goal right now is for Runamuk to be paying the rent.

It’s a bit of a balancing act that I have going on. 3 or 4 days  a week at Johnny’s, and the rest of the week in a flat-out run trying to accomplish as much as possible on the farm before I have to go back to Johnny’s on Monday. It’s hard even to pause long enough to snap a picture, and definitely sitting here writing is difficult, though I’ve been longing to share the story and our progress.

Sundays at the farmers’ market is time away from the farm too, but aside from the revenue I generate doing the Bee-Line for the MSBA, sales at the farmers’ market for eggs and soap is the only source of income Runamuk has right now. That, however, is a blog-post for another day, lol.

All in all we’re settling in well, I’m observing the property to learn it’s different attributes–where the wet spots are, where the water wants to run, which direction the wind is most prevalent from, what animals and plants are abundant here. I feel it’s important to evaluate the resources that the farm and property offer so that I might learn how best to utilize and manage the land, to work with the land rather than against it.

So far I’ve found almost all of the herbs that I use in my salve-making, thriving in various areas of the farm. I’ve been able to designate space in the room above the garage for drying the herbs and have managed to go out a few times foraging for future salve-making.

combatting the weeds
There’s still a fair amount of weeding to be done in this first-year garden, even with mulching and smothering systems in place.

The garden is in–two-thirds of it cover cropped, largely with buckwheat, which also feeds the bees, but also with a smaller percentage of mangels and beans. It’s my hope that cover-cropping the majority of the garden this year will reduce weed competition for net year’s garden. The remaining third of the garden I’ve sown my customary vegetable garden; divided into four family neighborhoods, and I’ve used as much mulch and weed-blocking materials as I could get for free, and the rest I’m hoping to be able to manage the weeds on.

Since the garden went in late, and because space and time are issues this year, I focused largely on storage crops, and selected shorter day varieties. So for example–rather than planting 110 squash varieties, I found some that would mature in 85 or 90, and I’m prepared to put row cover over them to extend the season into the fall should it become necessary. I don’t intend to sell vegetables at market this year, but I have high hopes of canning tomatoes and beans, and storing potatoes and carrots in the root cellar.

nucs arriving!
I was so happy to load these nucs into my car and bring the girls home!

And then there are the bees. This spring was the first time I’ve been without bees for 5 year and it felt all wrong in oh-so-many ways. I waited patiently all through March and April, and then waited through May a little less patiently, knowing full-well the kind of winter we’d had and the challenges that local beekeepers like my “bee-guy” face to provide nucs and bees, but I couldn’t help it–I missed my girls! And then when my patience had just run out, my bee-guy called to say that my girls were ready. I was ecstatic.

the apiary!
After a few days I was able to move the girls into their new hives!

The bees are set up, the garden is in, and I’m working on what I’ve dubiously named the “Hoop-Coop”. I’m hoping to move my chickens in sometime in the next couple of weeks. More about that later…. For now, just know that I’m working hard to make something of this property, to make something of Runamuk and myself, and enjoy these pictures of the farm.

The rolling pastures that abound in this area make spectacular bee-forage!
old apples
There are a couple of very old apple trees that reportedly produce delicious, long-keeping apples.
ireses around the well
Irises grow around the old well.


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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm