In this 206th Episode of the Small Scale Life Podcast, I am introducing My Farm Journal and Operation WW. These are two new efforts here at our Driftless Oaks Farm and on the Small Scale Life Podcast. Both are directly related, so let’s get into it!
Julie and I purchased Driftless Oaks Farm on June 25, 2021. We moved to the farm in September 2021, and since that time, we have been working on improving this property while observing the land, animals, plants, weather, soil and water in the Driftless Area.
One thing is for sure; Julie and I have a variety of animals, birds and plants here at the farm, and we are slowly discovering what gifts are here by spending time on the property, exploring the land at different times of the year and observing what is happening and growing here.
For me, one way to keep track of what is happening each day, week, month, season and year is to write these observations down somewhere. I forget things over time, especially as life happens, and I get incredibly caught up in details of life and get busy at work or on the Farm.
People have messaged us and emailed us saying that they enjoy following along and watching our progress, so why not have a podcast and article dedicated to our homesteading journey? It would essentially be our online journal.
A journal containing these observations would be incredibly useful as time passes and more information is collected. Trends and rough timelines can be established, allowing Julie and I to manage the property and enjoy the gifts the land has to offer. We will be better equipped to know when the last frost happens, when the hummingbirds and orioles come and go, when the first frost occurs and a number of other events that seem to happen during the year.
My Farm Journal posts, videos and podcast episodes will document our progress and our observations of life at our little Driftless Oaks Farm.
I am planning to have regular My Farm Journal articles and podcast episodes here on Small Scale Life. This is the first official My Farm Journal article and podcast episode here at Small Scale Life, and you will be able to find those articles under the “Homesteading” tab at smallscalelife.com.
Over the past month, you have seen me reference “Operation WW” on Instagram, Facebook, and Telegram. I have yet to explain what Operation WW is, and my good friend the Driftless Organic Mechanic asked me earlier this week:
What the heck is Operation WW?
I am glad he (and you) asked! First, I’ll tell you a quick story to give you the background and some context.
Once upon a time, Driftless Oaks Farm had flower gardens that would have made the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Unfortunately, the former owners who created the multiple Gardens of Eden got old and got sick. They could not keep up with the beautiful and complicated flower gardens, and over the years the flower gardens fell into disrepair and were taken over by weeds.
Like….a lot of weeds!
At the same time, our woods that surround the homestead have A LOT of down timber. It is obvious that the previous owners had a lot on their plates, and getting into the woods to clean up trees and branches was not a high priority. There is a lot of wood rotting away, and we could use that material for firewood and for woodchips.
That’s where Operation WW starts!
“Operation WW” stands for “Operation Woods and Weeds,” which is the codename for attacking and controlling the flower gardens and woods at Driftless Oaks Farm.
For the gardens, we are definitely taking a “less is more” approach with Operation WW. We are going to literally remove the complicated and overgrown flower gardens and replace a lot of it with grass. I can hear you fellow gardeners gasping and recoiling in horror right now, but hear me out:
The weeds have done an excellent job taking over these garden beds. The soil is essentially a thick mat of weeds and roots, and to eliminate the weeds, you have to literally dig out 2-3 inches of soil. It is really difficult to be strategic and precise with this much chaotic weed growth, so we are going to save some cool flowers and remove the rest.
By “removing the rest,” I mean digging up weeds and their roots, removing the debris to a “compost pile” in the woods and planting areas with grass seed. We are saving what we can (like flowers, pavers, bricks, and rocks) and composting the rest.
This also means removing five circular gardens (complete), pavers (complete), a brick retaining wall (in progress) and three non-operational ponds (not started yet). The ponds have Driftless rock around each one, and we’ll have to dig up the rock and use it elsewhere. There are some big boulders that line these ponds!
The remaining flower garden will be simple pollinator garden with a thick layer of woodchips for weed control. In the area where we removed the five circular gardens, I will move my vegetable garden there. This will be my Grow Lab! I have already put down landscape fabric, and we will cover the fabric with woodchips and my various Wicking Bed Systems. Eventually, if things go according to plan, we will have a greenhouse with water and electric near the Grow Lab.
On our 10 acre farm, we have several acres of woods to the east, north and west of our little house. The woods are a mix of ancient oaks, maple trees, box elder trees, red elderberry bushes, walnut trees and cottonwood trees.
A lot of the trees in the woods and along the edges are box elder trees, and they seem to have weak trunks and branches when the strong winds blow. We have lost some along the edge of the Blue Pen during the strong windstorm in December 2021, and my friend Jim and I got them off the fence in June. We have more to clean up along the eastern tree line.
Walking through the woods, I noticed that we have lost some more box elder trees during the spring and summer storms. We’ll work on the down timber later in the fall, and we’ll probably rent a woodchipper to make tons of woodchips. We can use as many woodchips as we can possibly make!
We do have prickly ash and buckthorn in the woods, especially along the edges of the woods and in the back pasture. We won’t be able to tackle those evasive plants and trees until later this fall as well (earliest). The back pasture will have to wait a while!
Julie and I have made good progress so far, but Operation WW has ground to a halt as we have had guests at the farm and my work schedule has gotten extremely busy. Don’t worry: we’ll be back at it soon enough. I really want to get the front garden area completed. That way I can move my various Wicking Bed Garden Systems to the area and build my trellises. The tomatoes and green beans are going to need the trellises soon!
We will get the gardens under control. The woods will be a long term project, but in the short term, we can use the branches for woodchips. We’ll need a lot of them!
As we used to say in Boy Scouts: How do you eat an elephant? You eat it one bite at a time. We are going to be working on Operation WW one weed, one branch a time. It is going to take time.
We overestimate where we will be in a week or month, but we underestimate where we will be in a year, five years or a decade. Driftless Oaks Farm is going to be our “forever home” unless something dramatic happens. I never rule anything out, but this is my mindset today. This is going to be a labor of love. Like…a lot of labor, and we probably won’t love it at times.
The painter creates a beautiful masterpiece from a blank canvas; we just need to get down to that blank canvas to begin painting and creating!
Operation WW is part of the process of healing the land that I talk about at the end of the show. Julie and I will be working on this for quite a while, so if you are bored and need a project, come on out to Driftless Oaks Farm and bring your chainsaw or shovel. We have some weeds and wood for you!
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For Small Scale Life Podcasts, I would like to thank Sean at Osi and the Jupiter for the intro song "Harvest." Sean wrote this specifically for us, and I really enjoy all of his work. You can find more Osi and the Jupiter at their Bandcamp site: https://osifolk.bandcamp.com/
I would also like to thank Austin Quinn at Vlog Vibes for the intro and outro music. For more information abut Austin and Vlog Vibes, please see the Vlog Vibes YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY80LeqtJf-YBzJy2TWKpDw