Sugar Mountain Farm on the Map

Sugar Mountain Farm Field Cut 2009

We’re on Google Maps! I just noticed that Google Maps have been updated with a more current photo of our farm. The previous ariel photo was almost a decade old. We’re out in the sticks so I guess they don’t bother flying over to check us out very often unlike urban areas that regularly get remapped.

Last fall we had cleared back the re-grown forest from what had been pasture lands long ago so I had been hoping that they would get around to doing a new photo as I wanted to see what our field clearing project looked like. This will help me with farm planning since the GPS did so badly.

New Field Cut with Shade Trees Left

We don’t need this much field this year but as we increase our herds of pigs, bring back the sheep and perhaps add cattle we’ll need more grazing area in the future. To have fields ready then we must start the process of creating them now since it is a multi-year effort to create pastures, especially if you do it the slow way without heavy equipment.

“Why don’t you use a bulldozer?” you might ask. An earth mover would make the fields look “House and Gardens” pretty in short time. One person has complained that the fields look bony, but bony it is. I like my top soil.

We have a lot of boulders and now with out the woods those boulders are visible. Pushing them out of the way and digging up stumps would merely remove the little bit of top soil we have. Far better to have the livestock eat around the boulders and stumps. They’ll browse down the regen that will come up. In time the dead wood on the ground and the tree stumps will rot away into the soil, part of the natural cycle that will enrich our soil creating richer fields. For fields that I want to hay I will need to do some serious rock picking. But that is not here or now. When the time comes I’ll do it using a trackhoe with a thumb for the really big boulders rather than a dozer in order to save the soil.

Big Rock – Grasses Growing

See back on this post about the Perimeter Walk with Hope where it showed another photo of this “Big Rock” before the grasses came up. Previously this was deep in the woods. There were only leaves around it. Yet now after becoming exposed to a little sunlight the green plants are shooting up.


Most of the green on the forest floor was mosses in the past. But the seeds of many other plants have been there for 70 years or more just waiting to sprout up.

Native Grasses from the Seed Bank

Native grasses quickly made a quick appearance along with various herbs like lambs ear and thistles. The alfalfa, clover, turnips and new grasses we seeded this spring were slower to sprout but are coming along now.

Wild Plants

Regen from the stumps, tree seedlings, ferns and a tremendous number of strawberries, raspberry, blackberry and blueberry plants are sprouting in the new fields. Their seeds have laid dormant for decades waiting for the sunlight. When a forest fire rages through it releases growth like this just as our clear cut for the fields has done. All part of the cycle of forests and fields.

The amazing thing is that in just a few short years the above clear cut will look like the photo below…

Sows in South Field*

This area was forest in 1999. By 2001 it was lush pasture. We had cut off the trees back to the field’s original stone walls. No bulldozing. No tilling. We simply broadcast seeded with grass and clovers. Then a year later we had chickens and sheep grazing. The pigs have been grazing that pasture since 2001 as well. In a few years the new fields will be lush pastures too.

Growers in South Field

This photo is from further down the south field, visible in the far left back of the other photo. These growers are enjoying the grasses, clovers and herbs that grow lushly in section three. Fields are divided up into sub-paddocks for rotational grazing. Behind the pigs you can see some poplar and maple regen that provides cover for the pigs in the heat of the day. Grass grows under there. It is a beautiful space, easily walkable because the sheep trimmed the branches up high.

Sugar Mountain Farm Field Cut 2009 – Repeat Image

But back to the aerial photo… What can we see from up so high?!?

Riddle Pond Road is marked in yellow running diagonally down from the top (north) to the right (east).

The blue lines delineate the possible future field boundaries. The east field continues up the road for a goodly ways. At this point Ben and Will have seeded all the fields. We’ve finished fencing the perimeter of the fields on the house side of the road, about a mile and a half and 23,000 feet of fencing. We are just starting on doing the interior divisions.

The south portion has been fenced off and will be allowed to stock grow to provide high forage in the fall and when early snows are on the ground. As the snows get deeper the pigs will be less willing to go out that far and start depending on hay. By stocking those areas we hope to cut the hay use a bit.

Looking very carefully at the aerial image above I was able to pinpoint that it was taken after we had completed the primary cut on our side of the road and finished skidding those trees down to the landings. The trees on the other side of the road were cut and laying ready to skid. Just above the photo crop I can see the cutting machine parked at the logging landing along the road opposite our sugar shack which is just north along the road. The cut trees look like lots of little parallel marks in the photo. This and the fact that the water line cut has not been made helped us pin down the date to about August 1st. Looking at the shadows of the trees it is about 9 or 10 am when the photo was taken.

Top Plateau Seen from North End

The overhead aerial photo makes our land look very flat. It is anything but. Rather the only flat portions are in the East fields and the Plateau at the top of the ridge. The plateau is at the top of the ridge and ironically our flattest piece of land. When it was forest I did not realize this. The trees were so dense I didn’t get an appreciation for what was there. Now with the trees gone I can see that this was hay field. The stone walls show it clearly. There are some large boulders but with a scythe I can see how people 200 years ago would work right around them.

Slope of the land in High North Field

The Orchard, High North and High South are all steeper, getting worse in the Far South end. We’ll likely put orchard in these areas. They are east facing, medium to steep and in the middle – all good orchard reasons. The primary purpose of the orchards will be to feed the animals late season and winter fodder.

The North, Home, South and Far South fields are all rolling to fairly steep except where I’ve terraced them. Looking closely in the home field area you can just barely make out the edges of the terraces. I was surprised that the much larger terraces in the South field are not visible in the aerial photo. The pumpkin patch plateau is under of the ‘S’ in the South field. The photo above shows the slope much better although it feels worse than that in person. I would not want to drive my tractor on the steep sections even with the wheels fully extended to 8′ wide as I have them. It’s just too rolling and I would rather not.

Shade, Fence Posts and Forage

Throughout the fields you can see strategically left trees. These will provide shade, nuts, fruit and fence line anchors. The latter is quite important as this saves us a lot of work in fencing the fields. Trees are generally very solid anchors, although not always.

A funny thing – I am unconsciously tilting the camera in the photo above. Hillbilly level as we like to say. Lean into the mountain. I often do this which makes the land look less tilted. The tall tale trees tell the truth. Ah alliteration…

We ran our perimeter fence lines through the woods around the fields so as to add a little bit of forest to the field areas. This mixed use was recommended by our county forester. He had read of doing this with cattle. I know from experience that the pigs enjoy the cool of the wooded areas during hot summer days and heavy rains. The sows generally build their farrowing nests in brush, thickets and under clusters of trees for protection from not just the rain but also the summer sun. Then when they want they lounge in the sun for warmth – the best of both worlds.

Italia’s Nesting Area in High North Verge

Yesterday while out walking the perimeter fence Will discovered that Italia, a new sow, had farrowed at the far end of the High North field in a most excellent nest just inside the edge of the forest. A practically perfect piglet place.

Other things of note as spotted from the air:

Butcher Shop – At the time this photo was taken we were beginning the process of tearing down the old hay shed so the butcher shop project isn’t visible yet. In fact, I think the debris is making that area blend even more.

Farm House – Clearly visible in the photo but marked with a symbol to be sure. The old farm house is now our shed for farm tools, animals who need special shelter, seed and such.

Big Log Pile Landing – Just across from the farm house is the landing by the road where the huge pile of logs was that was visible in some of the photos last year.

I would dearly love to see a photo like this now that the field cuts are complete – we did a little more after this was taken – and then one every year and even in every season. But the cost of such aerial photography, about $300 a pop, is too expensive a luxury – that’s half a pig. I’ll just have to content myself to when Google Maps releases the next update from what ever source they get it. I have maps from previous decades going back to the middle of the past century. It is fascinating to watch how things change and how much they are like they used to be again.

Now in June of 2010 the turnips, grasses, alfalfa and clovers the kids planted last fall and this spring are shooting up out of the ground. The fields that are so red in this photo are greening. Raspberries, blueberries and herbs are bursting up, released from the cover of the forest canopy. It is the first stage of regeneration, of renewal. The wildlife is enjoying it as much as our livestock. Forests have low bio-diversity compared with the mix of the margins between fields and woods. With more light hitting the ground more plants are growing and with them the animals that feed on their growth. We’ve been through this cycle before, when we cleared the south and north fields over a decade ago. Those fields are now lush. The transition is amazing and wonderful.

While we are on the topic of maps, check out how the BP Oil Spill Project is relative to your home. What astonished me was I accidentally zoomed out and realized just how insignificant man is. Even our worst ecological blunder is nothing on the face of the Earth. Gaia, I apologize for those lame brains at BP and am glad they did not hurt you badly. She shall prevail.

Outdoors: 59°F/39°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 69°F/66°F

Daily Spark: I squandered all my money on land.

*The sky looks funky because I was trying to get it to come out better in Photoshop since the exposure had not come out well.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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7 Responses to Sugar Mountain Farm on the Map

  1. Dan Baston says:

    Walter, there was a really nice flight done of our area in 1939…I can help you get an photo of your farm from then if you’re interested.

  2. Bill Harshaw says:

    You might check with the Farm Service Agency office serving your county. FSA has done aerial photography at regular intervals for many years, most recently they’ve upgraded to a GIS system. Don’t know when your aerial was last flown nor what they might have available on the office’s computers, but if you’re in the town anyway, stop by. Or check this site

  3. mellifera says:

    “How do you make a small fortune by farming?”

    “Start with a big one.” Yuk, yuk, yuk.


    In the grand scheme of things the area of the oil spill may not be that big. But nasty gunk in the ocean has a way of not staying all diluted and spread out like we’d like. Bioaccumulation works wonders. It works best on substances that are very hydrophobic, too, like… the miscellaneous mutagens and carcinogens in petroleum. The water in the open ocean clears up pretty quickly, but humans don’t deal much with open seawater– we deal with the fish that came out of it, or the goo that’s accumulated on the seashore. Plus, the area of the slick itself isn’t a total indication of how much crap is in the water– the dispersants may have caused some “homogenization” leading to plumes up and down the water column, so the slick may wind up just being the top of the oil spill as it were.

    (If we hadn’t already bulldozed most of our coastal wetlands for McMansions and shrimp farms this wouldn’t be as much of a problem.)

    Gaia will get over it just fine, in a century or two; in the meantime the people in the Gulf region just got a big economic suckerpunch and lost a pretty major source of food. It’ll be interesting to see what goes on with the fisheries– if they’re officially closed down, or fishing just dries up due to bad publicity and people going out of business; and if fishing pressure does go down, what’ll happen to the ocean ecosystem. Bikini Atoll seems to have done pretty well for itself 65+ years after nuke testing, although again, the people there sure got screwed.

    …pardon the token pissed-off Floridian…. that’s MY water they’re leaking in.

  4. Micah says:

    Thank you for all the great posts! This one is explicit. I look forward to reading more interesting topics.

  5. Farmerbob1 says:

    Good stuff here Walter!

    With the number of commercially available camera drones going up, prices have come down. It might even be worth the money to invest in a small camera drone for yourselves. Will, Ben, or Holly could, perhaps, be able to use such a thing for a income source, or just use it as a favor-trading operation with local neighbors who aren’t as tech-savvy as you, but would love aerial images of their land.

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