40 acres and a mule

Polaris Ranger 800 EPS

The 38.5 acres listed on the house’s ad was certainly appealing and definitely a big reason for buying the house.  But what the hell were we going to do with it?  We had absolutely zero idea.

Pre-buy visits were done when there was nearly 2 feet of snow on the ground so we had a false conception about how much “yard” was actually there.  Even in May, when we moved-in, things weren’t fully grown.  By July you couldn’t even walk 20 feet out the back door without a chainsaw and machete.  It become clear we were going to have to get our hands dirty.  But still, what the hell do we do?

Notice how close the vegetation is to the house. With 38.5 acres this is a little too cramped
Notice how close the vegetation is to the house. With 38.5 acres this is a little too cramped

Obviously some clearing needed to happen, so I invested in some hand saws and loppers.  In a week paths and small openings beneath the canopy made walking around much easier, but this manual work wasn’t going to chew through 38.5 acres (36 of which were wooded) anytime soon.  Enter my newfound drug dealer:  Harvest Equipment.  Okay, they don’t sell drugs there; they sell John Deere, Stihl, and Honda.  Those are my kind of addictions!

What was to become a deep relationship, with Harvest Equipment, began with a Stihl FS90R trimmer armed to be a brush cutter.  That cut a week’s worth of work into hours.  But the brush cutter doesn’t tackle things thicker then three inches.  Hello Stihl MS 261C-MQ with your 50cc power and 16 inch bar.  This saw opened new doors into online forestry forums to learn techniques and do further research on “what the hell to do in that yard?”  One important thing I learned from the various forums is anyone doing significant forestry work should have 2 saws.  So back to Harvest Equipment for the Stihl MS461R with 76cc’s of cutting force.  I love all my equipment, but the 461 is my favorite hand tool!  With two saws one can apply the smaller saw to jobs that require a lot of movement, like delimbing a fallen tree.  The larger saw is excellent for bucking work.  It is especially good at bucking when you have a 24 inch bar because you don’t even need to bend over.  That’s a back saver!

I worked from August through November 2014 and was able to thin/clear a little more than 1 acre using hand tools.

The wood chipper and log splitter
The wood chipper and log splitter

Utilizing the “scraps” was a goal that developed after bringing the chainsaws into the arsenal.  To “process” the limbs and saplings into wood chips for gardening and decorative purposes I use a DR Power 16.5 hp chipper.  The chipper came with an Ariens 32 ton wood splitter for handling the bulk of the trees.  Although it was mainly purchased for driveway plowing it definitely logs more time hauling things around the woods.  The Polaris Ranger 800 EPS is absolutely my favorite wheel barrow.  It is also a lot of fun to play with.

We burn up to 2 cords of wood per year and have been donating up to 10.

With the thinning/clearing happening in the latter part of 2014 we were in for a nice surprise come Spring 2015.  All the downhill drainage emptied right into the area we were trying to turn into useable yard.  When a couple feet of snow melts and your house sits a few hundred feet downhill it takes a few months for things to dry out.  Fortunately, the drainage around the house and original grassy yard is excellent.  Our wet issues were in the new sections.

Back to Harvest Equipment.  I brought my favorite power tool of all time home in August 2015 and logged 80 hours on it within 6 weeks.  The John Deere 4052M is AMAZING!  I don’t know how we lived a full year without this incredible tractor.  Not only has it become the true “mule” on our 40 acres it has made our yard vision easily attainable and far better than we ever imagined.  Yes, with the addition of the tractor we have finally figured out “what the hell to do.”

The Deere has completely cleared over 2 acres in 2 weeks.  French drains now line the entire perimeter of the newly cleared acreage.  Land leveling and the removal of a few more stumps are all that’s left before it is time to spread grass seed.

Contracting day at Harvest Equipment
Contracting day at Harvest Equipment
The stumps are finally losing!
The stumps are finally losing!
Dressed for forest duty with a Wallenstein FX90 and John Deere 60" root grapple
Dressed for forest duty with a Wallenstein FX90 and John Deere 60″ root grapple
The Ranger couldn't do this!
The Ranger couldn’t pull this!
  • I failed to mention in this article that our woods have received 2 years of severe storm damage. Mother nature made it so I only had to cut down 2 trees in order to free up the space we now have. Those two trees were in bad shape too. One was leaning over so far it was just waiting for the next storm before toppling. And the other was a pine that only had needles left at the very top. Like most of the pine, on our property, it was being choked out by younger hardwoods.

    I’m happy to say my tree removal has yet to be at the expense of a fully healthy tree. Yes, we had a few healthy ones removed professionally because they were threats to the house. But I have only taken down the dangerous leaners and dying ones. Unfortunately that is A WHOLE LOT, and I haven’t even put a dent in things.