Starting from Scratch: You never know what’s beneath the snow

The Honey House Farm double lot is a jewel. When all the snow was covering the land, it glittered and twinkled, whispering promises of abundance, of smooth-sailing soil. As this glamorous blanket of snow melted mid-April, I went back to see what was beneath it. Little did I know there would be treasures for both hoarders and botanists alike.

One of the many frozen piles of pails, fencing, and overgrown plants.

One of the many frozen piles of pails, fencing, and overgrown plants.

Beneath the snow was a hot mess of plants and clutter. As I waded around, I was overwhelmed to say the least. I tried to move a huge canister – it was still frozen in place. Without digging into the soil, I created an inventory of all the tricks and treats. This list includes but is not limited to:

  • Clusters of nursery trees that have grown through their pots/paint cans

    An old homemade Greenhouse/coldframe

    An old homemade Greenhouse/coldframe

  • Buried stacks of bricks and cinder blocks
  • Wild Strawberries
  • A palleted-greenhouse with large steel trays
  • Wild Onions
  • A couple piles of broken glass and rock
  • Rhubarb
  • 6′ by 10′ slab of 6″ asphalt
  • 10+ Galvanized Trash Cans filled with old plastic trays and pots

While I want to re-purpose as many of the materials on-site as possible, there is not way to use it all while maintaining pervious surfaces and increasing food production. I think we will have to post the piles of usable materials on Craig’s List and give them away to volunteers and neighbors that can use them. Anything else we may have to put in the dumpster (warped paint cans).

Volunteer strawberries growing on site.

Volunteer strawberries growing on site.

As for the plants, they have shown that they are strong enough to survive on this site without any care over the last 8 years or so. They have earned their keep. When spring clean-up starts, we will try to save as many as we can to use in the new farm design. With the exception of the grapes and apple trees, most plants will not be able to stay where they are growing now. We will have to dig them up, pot them well, and hope that they survive until we are ready to plant.

When starting to grow any rural or urban site, it is important to know the history of the place. It is important to visit it as often as possible before the actual soil preparation and planting activities begin to understand what is going with the soil and its inhabitants. Whether it be snow or concrete or  hurriedness, many things can impede our ability to see what is truly a part of our soil – for better and for worse. Take the time to notice the big and little things – like healthy plants and paint cans. These things can indicate the quality of the soil on which we stand.

After this last site walk, I know we will need to take a lot of hardscape and Class 5 soil than anticipated. We will also need to conduct a few more soil tests to make sure we are not dealing with heavy metals in our growing spaces. Whenever you start from scratch with a new space and soil, Observe. Build slow and in a thorough fashion. You never know what’s beneath the snow.


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