Living on 9 Acres

Blackberries!

Our house on 9 acres.

When we moved to Texas about two and a half years ago, I was excited to buy a house with a bit of property. 9 acres! This was a huge step up from our tiny suburban homestead on a third of an acre in Clinton, Utah. Looking back now, I can see just how unprepared I was for the task.

9 acres. It still sounds pleasant. But what I was about to slowly, painfully, realize was that we had moved to a land of scarcity. Many of the conveniences we had taken for granted were no longer available to us. There was no broadband internet, for one. Connection to a public sewer system, nope. No natural gas on-demand. No sprinkler system, or even secondary water for irrigation. There was a surprising lack of trees on the property, except for a corner of unwelcoming and thorny mesquites and the rare and ominous-looking honey locus, a strange, small oak tree in the front, and a handful of crepe myrtles that are altogether too close to the house for comfort. I thought I could plant more trees, as I had in Utah, but this was easier said than done.

With time, the realization of this scarcity began to encroach. Perhaps a better man could have tamed the land where I failed. Numerous trees died shortly after I planted them. The property would be flooded one month, with inches of standing stagnant water, only to become so dry the next that deep cracks would form in the dark, black clay. I stood above such a chasm that first year and watched the stream of water from my garden hose disappear into the endless depth. The land would not be quenched. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around such a thing.

Another important consideration was that I didn’t have access to the resources that I would need to fully utilize a property of this scale, let alone the know-how. To this day, two and a half years later, I still only have a push mower and the grass is an un-tamable beast. The most reasonable solution would be to buy a tractor with the needed attachments, dig a pond for rain catchment and irrigation, and put in a large swath of fencing. But is this what I want?

Is this the 9 acres I want to invest in and live on long term?

The land would not be quenched. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around such a thing.R. Brady Frost

Not all of my farm and garden attempts have failed.

I think it’s important to note here that I haven’t been a complete failure these last few years on our haphazard farm. I have seen some successes on these 9 acres. While I may be unhappy with the rate of improvement, I have actually accomplished a fair number of things.

The Jerusalem artichokes my dad sent me, also known as sunchokes, have done amazing here, and I just found a bunch of blackberry canes we brought from Utah that I thought had been drowned out by weeds. Due to Tara’s insistence, and better judgement, we now have four raised beds up and running. Our patch of blackberries (the ones I bought to replace the ones I’d lost in the growth) has been incredibly fruitful this year. The new variety also has absolutely no thorns, which is a significant improvement to the slightly thorny canes we brought down with us. The tomatoes are doing great. And I just added Eclair strawberries and comfrey to the the mix this weekend (for it’s value in home remedies, animal fodder, and compost).

One of the goji berry cuttings I picked up off eBay has thrives and is doing wonderfully this year, much to my middle son’s delight. I even managed to get three grape vines I had in containers since last year planted. I’ve built three chicken coops and set up an electric fence system so the largest coop can free range without as much worry about being killed by dogs.

On top of all that, I still have several mulberry trees growing in the yard, and while they’re pretty small, they seem to be doing quite well. I think the next lesson I need to learn is how and when to fertilize. Maybe that will help my trees do better in this unforgiving black clay. I’ve lost a nectarine tree, several peaches, a Chinese chestnut, several pecans, a pear, two apples, and a couple of figs, but I’m trying to overcome these losses. One of my saving graces was purchasing several of the trees from Home Depot and then returning their corpses within the year for my money back. It was still a painful experience, but at least it gave me the opportunity to keep trying.

Painting the first chicken coop.
Beekeeping with my kids.
Blackberries!

Where do we go from here?

Much of my recent soul-searching has lead me to pursue an attitude of abundance. That may sound a little ridiculous, but by focusing more on what I have available to me, things have started to change. Since letting go of the list of roadblocks in my path, I’ve managed to find some great resources I’d never have found otherwise. I started looking at the local Facebook groups I’m a member of and reached out to ask for recommendations. The first was a request for info on mulch. I ended up getting in touch with a couple who run a small business building outdoor kitchen cabinetry. They send the rough cut lumber they buy through a planer and they offered up their wood shavings! What a huge boon! Turns out, they were looking for a way to off-load a whole lot of the stuff and were even considering trying to burn it if they couldn’t find someone to take it off their hands. Talk about awesome!

You see, mulch has been a huge problem for us. We’ve called arbor companies and spent endless hours looking for free or reasonably priced mulch that would suit our purposes within the local area. Most of the resources seemed to be in neighboring cities (residents only) or too pricey for large-scale mulching. Tara, my wife, did get the green flag to pick up from a location about a half an hour away and she’ll be experimenting with that on her next specialty grocery run to Winco. But all other attempts had failed up to this point.

Bolstered by my small success with the mulch find, I decided to give it another go. I was pretty sure this request wasn’t going anywhere, but I asked if anyone had an established fig tree they wouldn’t mind providing cuttings from. It took a little while to work out the logistics, but just over a week after my request, I had more cuttings than I could shake a stick at! Now it’s time for me to learn how to root some figs! Heck yeah!

It’s truly amazing what a change in attitude and some hard work can do. Sure, we’ve still got a lot to work through, but things are getting a little better, and that’s something. Maybe it isn’t paradise, but it doesn’t mean these 9 acres shouldn’t be home… at least for the time being.

4 Comments on “Living on 9 Acres”

    1. Thank you, Clint! I’m not seeing that I wrote a reply to your comment. If I didn’t, I apologize. I certainly meant to. And… you’re 100% right. I’ve had much better luck with my trees and garden this year, and most of it can be attributed to attitude. It’s funny what a little shift in the ol’ feelings box can do. 🙂

  1. Nice to read about what you are planting and what has worked and not worked. A different climate from here in mid-northern Ontario to Texas. My Mom is in Florida half the year so I get the report about what grows there. Tulips and some of my other favourites, don’t make it there at all. Anyway, I don’t know what grows native in Texas but there are likely groups/ clubs you could contact and exchange seeds and cuttings with.

    1. That’s a very good point, Laura! In fact, I had a lot of luck asking on a local Facebook group for some fig cuttings. It took a while to work out the arrangement, but I got more cuttings than I knew what to do with! I need to write a few follow-up posts about what I’ve been up to. There’s been a lot of change out in the yard these past weeks.
      I don’t know if you remember from my old blog, years back, but we used to live in Alaska when I was in the military. I often think about going back, but I would be severely limited in the things I could grow. It’s a struggle I wrestle with often. Western Canada was also very pretty when we drove South to move back home to Utah. We looked at property online in different provinces off and on for a few years, but it’s so hard to get a feel for a place through pictures alone.
      What are some of the things you love about your home in mid-northern Ontario?

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