Backhoe archaeology


I have long been dreading the coming battle against the blackberries. The new farm at Gravel Creek has a beautiful lower field that is about an acre and a half, flat, close to the creek, with good sunlight that is just perfect for the new orchard. However, the entire thing is covered with a dense thicket of blackberries that is literally twelve feet high.

Or, rather, it WAS covered with them. As of this week, that’s all been changed. Our farmer buddy Lance was extremely generous, and offered to let us borrow his Kubota 41hp hydrostatic diesel tractor, complete with front loader and bush hog mower deck. Yes! After cutting blackberries with a machete and hoe for months a few years ago, I can tell you, this is way better. After mowing his field for him as a thank-you, I took that monster across the street and began tearing up blackberries. I have no experience with operating heavy equipment, but had a good time learning. I can see why operating engineers like their job! Once you get the hang of the controls, it’s like being a superhero. You can lift enormous things with hydraulics, and shove dirt around like it was nothing.

kubotaSMI also discovered some tricks that are old news to experienced operators. At one point, I got so stuck that I couldn’t get out with the traditional “rock back and forth” method one uses for a car in deep snow. But with hydraulics, you can literally put the bucket down and “push” yourself out of the hole by pressing against the ground, a rock, or a tree. It’s awesome.

This tractor is also nice because it’s got a hydrostatic transmission. This means that you set the gear, let out the clutch, rev the engine up- and then you control forward/stop/backward with a little pedal on the floor. Easy!

wreckageSMIn the process of clearing all those blackberries, I found some interesting artifacts that had been lost to time and nature. Here we see, if you look closely: a rear differential, a front axle, some cast iron plumbing, a few big pieces of concrete, and a big block engine. You can still see the fan on the engine, which actually wasn’t even bent up until I bashed it around with the tractor as I pushed it out of the field. I have heard from several neighbors that this is the location of the original Hill homestead. One of our friends suggested yesterday that we pop into the historical society and see what they have on file, so I intend to do that this fall when I have some spare time. I’ll let you know what turns up.

We also discovered a patch of bamboo growing on the property. I’m excited about all the possibilities of using it for trellises and so forth, though we will have to keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t spread too much. Many kinds of bamboo grow like crazy and can cause environmental havoc in this ecosystem.

blueberry2013SMMeanwhile, back at the garden, we have blueberry success! After two years of not much, our blues are finally producing. Not a bunch, but definitely enough that the nieces can gobble some down when they come to visit in a few weeks. Maybe their poop will turn blue? My brother got a call at work once to pick them up from daycare due to that particular mysterious illness, and it was hard for him to explain that they were perfectly healthy- they just eat a LOT of blueberries.

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