Now That We’re Buying a Farm: Looking Ahead to 2018

You may be wondering what’s next for Runamuk now that we’re buying a farm. When will we move? What are we going to do with the new property? Will we get goats and put up a high tunnel to start making cheese and growing high value tomato crops hydroponically? What’s the plan, Sam? Read on as we look ahead to 2018.

runamuk apiaries

The Runamuk apiary at Hyl-Tun Farm, early in the spring of 2017.

Firstly, I have to remind everyone that technically this is not a done deal. Yes, I have the FSA’s approval, however it’s all contingent upon the property appraisal, which should be done sometime this month. Remember, the government isn’t going to pay more than what the property is worth, so hopefully the price the Seller and I agreed upon is equal to─or less than─what the Swinging Bridge Farm is worth. If not I’ll have to hope and pray the Seller will re-negotiate with me. I think I’m getting a good deal, so I’m pretty optimistic.

That being said, the plan for Runamuk remains essentially the same as it’s always been: to establish a demonstration farm advocating pollinator conservation and self-sufficiency for a more sustainable lifestyle. To do that I will be employing permacuture principles, working with the land to cultivate a veritable food forest and perennial gardens where my family can thrive in tandem with the natural forces already in play at the Swinging Bridge Farm (SBF). With rambling gardens surrounding the farmhouse and trails throughout the forested hillside, I will create a destination and learning center.

To that end, I’ve created A NEW 5 YEAR PLAN! Yaaaaaaay!

I love me a good 5 year plan lol. I created a 5 year plan for the purchase of a farm for my family and for Runamuk. While it actually wound up taking me 8 years to achieve that goal, in the end I did manage to land the FSA’s approval on my loan request for purchase of SBF. Now it’s time for the next leg of my farming journey, in which I can actually employ the methods I’ve so long studied. I can finally get down to the business of farming for bees.

When do we move?

We won’t know our move-in date for sure until after we officially close on the sale, and that might take months. The FSA waits for their appraisal of the property to come back, as well as the results of inspections, before closing. Sometimes it takes months to get all of the documentation in order. Nathan Persinger (the FSA agent I’ve been working with) was careful to warn me that if the money runs out while we’re waiting on the paperwork, I’d have to wait until the FSA’s funds are replenished in their next fiscal year, which doesn’t begin until October.

But that’s worst case scenario. Things have actually been moving along rather rapidly. The appraisal could have taken up to 3 months to get back, but the job has already been awarded and the contractor slated mid-January for his report to come in.

There’s a small woodstove already in place at SBF.

It looks like I’ll be able to get around most of the inspections the FSA had requested because as no one is living at SBF and the house was winterized this fall. We came up with a list of contractors who have worked on the utilities there in the last few years and Nathan has gotten statements from them regarding the condition of the plumbing, electric and heating systems. So the FSA will waive those inspections, and because of sub-zero temperatures here in Maine I couldn’t get into the well to get a water sample, so they’re waiving the water test too.

That just leaves the chimney inspection, which is hugely important. I want to be able to use the woodstove there and I certainly don’t want to risk burning down my new home, so I’ve been trying to get in touch with the local fire department. I’m still working to connect with someone on this.

The way things are moving along, I suspect that we might close as soon as February, but I don’t dare to believe it just yet. It all still seems a little surreal: am I really buying a farm? Will this beautiful fairy tale really come true? With all 150 acres and so many magnificent trees to befriend? Could it really be?

I’ve set a tentative date of mid to late April for the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter. It’ll be mud-season here in Maine; the Middle Road is a long and winding dirt road. Ironically it’s somehow fitting lol. I’m hoping to rope a few friends into helping; you know I’d do the same for them.

Here’s a basic overview of my next 5 years
at the Swinging Bridge Farm:

2018; Year 1

Hearth & Home: This first year is largely about establishing Runamuk’s Zone 0─my homestead. This move was not for Runamuk alone; this was necessary for my family. Living in such tight quarters at Paul’s I realized how important family space is. What’s more, with a child on the Spectrum having personal spaces is important to the well-being of the household. At the Swinging Bridge Farm each of my boys can have their own room; a space of their own. There’s space for a dinning table, a family room, and a beautiful yard right outside the backdoor where we can put a picnic table.

Observe: I’m pretty adamant about taking time to get to know my new property before jumping into too much without really understanding how the natural processes work there. I’ve moved around enough to know that every piece of land is unique and rain, sun, wind, and snow all affect the landscape differently.

hoop house

The hoop-coop I built at Paul’s, which later became just a hoop-house.

Chicken Housing: The chickens will be housed temporarily in a hoop-house on the spot that will become my homestead garden. Until I get their coop built they can eat the weeds, fertilize and cultivate the soil there. By August I plan to have the chickens moved and that plot will be cover cropped so that next year I can plant my first vegetables there.

Garden Transition: Paul and I have hashed out an agreement that allows me continued access to his garden space at 26 Goodine’s Way. I will grow my family’s food in Norridgewock this year, focusing on crops that are less needy─like potatoes, beans, carrots, and garlic─along with a crop of onions for market.

In year 1 the garden at SBF will consist of just a handful of container-grown vegetables: cherry tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash, and some greens too, while I take this first season to prepare the new garden site.

A Few Projects: I do have short list of projects I want to get to in Year 1. Installing a water cachement system is important for any vegetable production. I plan to inoculate a series of logs with mushroom spawn, mark maples for homestead syrup production in 2019, and I want to reclaim the flower bed in front of the house.

New Apiary Site: I won’t actually be moving all of my hives to the new farm. My best apiary is the one located at Hyl-Tun Farm on Rt 43 in Starks, the home of Ernie and Gwen Hilton, who are devoted supporters of Runamuk. There the rolling hay pastures spread out for miles; such high quality bee-forage is too valuable to give up. This site produces the lion’s share of my honey crop, and Gwen has crafted a haying schedule that protects both my bees, and the local bobolink population. Besides that, beehives are heavy─and filled with bees! They’re not easy to move, so I’m just going to leave that apiary exactly as it is.

I plan to install an ALL NEW apiary at SBF! Yay! more bees!!! There I’ll raise my Queens and build nucs to overwinter. That’s is how I intend to expand my operation to sell Maine-raised bees and mated-Queens, make more honey, and reach more people with my bee-friendly message. It’s a huge step for Runamuk and I’m really excited about it.

preparing bees for winter

Bees do not hibernate through the winter.

2019; Year 2

Zone Mapping: During the 2018-2019 winter I will work out my permaculture maps, designing my zones and sketching out rough layout for the farm and conservation center. The intention is to establish a food forest with an array of fruit and nut trees, as well as a series of 1-acre perennial gardens geared toward pollinators and wildlife. Because SBF is situated on a high hillside amid the foothills of Maine’s western mountains, laying the farm out on contour is going to be crucial for utilizing the water run off, and for preventing soil erosion.

Open 10 Acres: To create the conservation farm I have envisioned will require me to open up about 10 acres around the farmhouse, taking down a selection of trees (meaning-not clearcut). I don’t take that lightly; the trees are a huge part of the reason I fell in love with the property in the first place! What’s more, because my mortgage will be held by the government I have to apply to harvest the timber off my property. The harvesting will have to take place during the winter, so as not to damage the landscape, and you can bet I will be very picky about who does the job and which trees will go.

sbf_apple trees

Apple trees in need of pruning at SBF.

Pruning Apple Trees: There are about a dozen existing apple trees at SBF, remnants of an old orchard standing in neat rows on the hillside behind the farmhouse. Many of these trees still bear apples, but need love─and pruning─to reinvigorate them. In year 1 I’ll remove the dead wood from the canopies of the apple trees. Then in  late winter and early spring of Year 2: 2019 we’ll start reclaiming the gnarly old apple trees by implementing a 3-year pruning regimen.

Gardens! There will be 6 different pollinator gardens in all; in Year 2 garden number 1 is scheduled for cultivation, as well as installation of fruit and nut trees to establish a “food forest”.

The hoop-house will be used for starting all of my own bee-friendly plants: largely perennials, but also some annuals. I plan to use a diverse array of native flowering perennials to cultivate the various pollinator gardens that will become the basis for my pollinator conservation farm. To add to my farm’s income I’ll sell some of my seedlings, but I expect most of them will find homes at Runamuk.

We’ll grow all of our crops in the homestead garden at SBF this year, while smothering a new plot nearby to increase vegetable production. I’d love nothing more than to never have to buy vegetables at the grocery store ever again.

Trail Mapping: The previous owner of the Swinging Bridge Farm maintained a series of Jeep trails throughout the woods there. I plan to mark and map them. Over the upcoming years I’ll create additional trails, including one that runs through the woods to connect with the Wire Bridge Road so that my family, friends and guests can walk to the historical site directly from SBF.

2020; Year 3

Expand Food Forest: I expect these first few years to be a flurry of planting, and then it will slow down some. Knowing me though, I’ll forever face each spring with some new additions to the perennial gardens and food forest.

Gardens: Establishing pollinator gardens 2 and 3 this year. Annual improvement and/or maintenance to established gardens.

conservation driving runamuk

“Bee Hotel” Just one example of a native bee nesting site. Photo courtesy: Flickr.com

Birdhouses & Bee Hotel: With workspace in the barn for assembling hive equipment, I’d like to start putting together a variety of birdhouses to install throughout my 150 acres to further promote wildlife. I’ve long admired the “bee hotel” too, and in year 3 at SBF I’m shooting to finally construct one for Runamuk.

High Tunnel? There may be opportunity to expand my offering of pollinator plants and bee-friendly seedlings. If so, I’d consider setting up a high tunnel at the Swinging Bridge Farm for propagation. Having a space where I can protect seedlings or crops from the elements opens the door to other opportunities too; I could grow more vegetables earlier and later in the season, or I could grow microgreens. It really depends on my income needs, demand, and my internal zeal for the project, so I’m just leaving this on the table for now.

Years 4 & 5

Continue to Expand Food Forest: I’d like to have the majority of the food forest installed by this point, but there may be just a few more additions. Probably mostly pruning, mulching and maintaining plants that are still establishing themselves.

Orchard: Continue with 3 year pruning regimen to improve apple tree health and increase fruit production.

Gardens: Pollinator gardens 4, 5, and 6 are slated to be brought to life in years 4 and 5. I’m hoping to have a “crew” on the farm during the summers─consisting of my own 2 boys, as well as an apprentice and maybe the occasional WOOFER. With extra hands and a careful plan, I hope to get a base start on the gardens which can then can be added to, improved and cultivated in the years to come.

More birdhouses, educational plaques: I aspire to spend time during every winter building a birdhouse or two, to attract new creatures or grow an existing population. I’m hoping my boys might take an interest in woodworking too, but even if they don’t I’ll add to my collection of birdhouses, bat houses, and butterfly houses every year. The plaques will be sited throughout the property identifying the different gardens and habitats, providing information to educate guests. I’m leaning towards having these professionally done.

Education Center: Sharing what I’ve learned about nature, bees and pollinators, and living a more self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle is important to me. Teaching other people to be more bee-friendly has long been a driving force within Runamuk, and with a forever-farm home of our own we can finally begin to get serious about it. I picture a cordwood structure where I can host groups, families, or children on a class trip for workshops or special events. This structure may or may not be hexagonal like a honeycomb lol; I haven’t decided yet.

inspect your nucleus coloniesIn Pencil

There you have it folks. The 5 year plan for Runamuk at the Swinging Bridge Farm. The first 2-3 years are fairly clear, beyond that it’s harder to predict what will be important. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns that all have an impact on our day to day existence. It’s impossible to know what lies ahead. That’s why I like to write my 5 year plans in pencil; so I can make changes when necessary. I’ve learned that the ability to remain flexible─to pivot when circumstances dictate─is an advantageous skill crucial to success.

Through it all I will continue to keep bees, expanding my apiary (more bees! more bees!), producing my own Queens and raising overwintered nucleus colonies for myself and for sale to local beekeepers. I will keep making beeswax soaps and herbal salves, and we will still have chickens for egg production─we’ll just have more chickens lol. The income the farm makes from those operations will be supplemented by some vegetable and seedling sales, and through sponsorship of this blog. None of that will change really, only intensify.

As of right now, the plan is to continue working seasonally and part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds to help cover my personal living expenses, which Runamuk does not pay for. I’m expecting to be trekking back and forth to the office for the next 2-3 years until I can grow my income from farming and writing to the point where I no longer need the off-farm job.

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No where have I included my intention to publish my first book. I’m hoping that with the security and space SBF offers, I’ll finally be able to begin working on the first of what I hope will be many books: both fictional and non-fiction. That would be something new…. But as an untried author I can’t justify including a book in the official plan, and I definitely can’t depend on it as a source of income. This project is on the list, it’s just not penciled in.

We’re on the cusp of a new adventure, something really epic─worthy almost of a Tolkien-style saga. It’s all so exhilarating, but the journey can’t officially get under way until we Close on the sale of the Swinging Bridge Farm. I’m focused right now on just getting through January and this bitter cold, one day at a time. Soon this new leg of my journey as a farmer will begin; I know it won’t be easy, but I’m absolutely positive it will all be worth it.

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You may be wondering what’s next for Runamuk now that we’re buying a farm. When will we move? What are we going to do with the new property? Will we get goats and put up a high tunnel to start making cheese and growing high value tomato crops hydroponically? What’s the plan, Sam? Read on as we look ahead to 2018.

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!