P+M Upstate Adventure: Removing Grass and Turning Soil for Garden

In case you missed it, Matthew and I bought land in Upstate NY! You can follow the entire series here.   Now we’re ready to work!

Buying land was the result of wanting a garden that came with no rules.   So it’s no surprise that the first thing to build on the land is a garden!  It’s funny to think about where the garden started from.  In 2009 it was 32 square feet and then it became a few hundred square feet, getting bigger by the year.  Now it has a few acres to grow!   

The future garden is 56×40.  That’s huge!   We started smaller but I complained it wasn’t big enough so we expanded another few feet (thanks Matthew!).  Now that I can stand inside the garden space I realize how big it is and how many plants it would take to fill up the area.   Maybe I went a little crazy, but at least we have room to grow!  

It’s hard to figure out what steps to do first when you’re starting from the beginning (and in Winter).   I suppose our steps could have been in a different order to make things easier on us, but with us spending sporadic weekends up there and wanting to use the equipment when we have it to avoid extra rental day costs we’re doing things as we can.  For example, over Thanksgiving we put in the fence posts because the weather was nice and we had a free weekend.  Now that the posts are up, there’s no way a truck is going to be able to empty soil/compost into it easily when Spring is here.  That means they will have to dump it nearby and we’ll have to move it into the garden ourselves.  It’s extra work, but we think in the end it’s going to make the process completed quicker.  Plus to be honest, the process is sometimes much more fun than the complete project.  

With the garden being the first thing we want completed we wanted to get a jump on turning the soil.  We rented a skid steer for a weekend to remove the top layer of grass and turn the soil under neath.  We are in the Catskills so we knew it was going to be rocky but we weren’t sure how rocky it was going to be.  Our land is former farm land, but it sure is rocky too.  Over the next few visits we’ll be removing as many as the rocks as we can.  There’s lots of rocks. I guestimated millions.   There’s no way we are going to be able to remove all the rocks, but there are some big ones (that I can’t even lift) that need to be removed as well as endless smaller ones.  The goal is for every rock that’s larger than a tennis ball to be removed.  You might think this sounds easy, but there’s tons of rocks and we dug deep to turn the soil… so rocks are everywhere. I see them in my nightmares!   I tried to find a easier way to do this but without some heavy duty farm equipment, it seems by rake and hand is easiest.  You’ll see me sitting in the dirt often in the next few months.  It might look like I’m not doing anything but I really am!  I’m going to become a expert rock picker.   The rocks are going to be used to line the exterior of the garden too, we’re trying to give back to the land whatever we dig up.  We think lining the outside of the garden with rocks will help keep pests from digging into the garden.  Since we won’t be able to guard the garden on a daily basis we’re trying to protect it however we can.  It’s going to be a learning process with some heartbreak involved. 

In the pictures below you’ll see our garden posts up.   I’ll be doing a whole series on how we built our garden fence.  Right now the fence posts are in (hard work).  Next, the fencing material and wood needs to be attached to make a complete fence.  This is going to take time, some friends and some hopeful warmer days.  I’ll be documenting all the steps so by end of Spring you should see a entire DIY fence post coming!  

Now let’s first see the damage we did over the weekend.  

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Once you start digging, there’s no turning back!

It’s funny.  Matthew and I were plotting out a work driveway and then suddenly the delivery truck came with the skid steer on it.  As soon as it parked, Matthew ran up, signed for it and drove to the garden.  I was still standing in the future driveway with posts in my hand.  Needless to say, we didn’t look at the driveway for the rest of the weekend.  Also Matthew never came out of the skid steer.  
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Because I’m been giving costs on everything, the skid steer cost 637.84 to rent for the weekend.  We have been renting our equipment from Windham Eqipment Rental.  The bad thing is that we don’t have a equipment rental dealer very close to us, so the actual delivery is about the same price of the equipment.    This is something that isn’t ideal, but we have to deal with it.  

Matthew was very excited for the skid steer.  We were also very worried.  We knew that when putting in the fence posts it was going to be rocky underneath but we were still unsure of how rocky.  We went back and forth with either renting a skid steer or a excavator.    We asked people for advise but everyone told us opposite thoughts.  Eventually we just went with the skid steer and crossed our fingers that it would be able to dig into that rocky soil.  Unfortunately the rental place didn’t have a bucket with teeth so that was another big worry. Good news, it worked out, skid steer did it’s job and did it really good!

And now the moment of truth… first dive into the soil.  Would it work?
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Excited Matthew.
Matthew is a boss.

First strip is done lightly and then Matthew goes over it to go much deeper to turn the soil.
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This is another example of if the posts weren’t there it would have been easier…. but it all worked out.
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I waited my turn.
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But it took a long time because Matthew won’t stop.
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When it turned dark and I dragged him out of the skid steer then we said goodbye to the land for that day.
Now next day!  Today it was about really digging into the soil and getting it all flipped.    You can see below in the pictures how deep we were going and how rich the soil is.
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Run! Skid steer is coming (just kidding, noone is in it, safety first).
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After it was all dug up then we had to start the job of removing the rocks which will be continued throughout the next few months.
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There’s small rocks.
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And there’s big rocks (some are bigger than this).
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This looks like a still from a horror movie.  That’s what it felt like too. My back hurt like heck.
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Picking rocks…..forever.
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I was without our cats for a few days so I was excited to find some worms to say hi to. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

For the smaller rocks, I filled up a 5 gallon bucket and then would drag them out of the garden.  A few times I got tired and threw the bucket.  It happens.
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After we finished turning the soil then Matthew threw in the last few fence posts we had to do to complete the weekend goals.  I make this sound easy but putting the fence posts (and digging out the ground) a few feet into the ground is hard work.  I’ll get into this more in the DIY fence post.  
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The garden doors are going to be where the open spot is below.  You can see we dug deeper in this area to allow the doors to be able to swing.  
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I forgot to mention that all the top layer of soil that was removed was moved to a pile that eventually will be used to build small hills to plant trees along the driveway entrance.  This is much future thinking, but that’s the plan for now. 
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It was a successful weekend!  We went from the beginning of the weekend…
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To the end of the weekend of having the posts in and the garden dug out!
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It was fun, we worked hard and we got to get dirty. I was basically a mud bear.
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High 5, garden warriors!
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PS. Bye bye from me on the skid steer…. until next time!  
Pamela driving skid steer.


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