Thursday, March 14, 2013

Clearing the Land

We made all sorts of poor choices in the beginning of our land clearing efforts. Our land had, at one time, been treed pasture. But a previous owner had moved away, leaving the land to over grow and become brushy. Weedy young trees sprouted up and grasses grew over six feet tall!We had no experience with this sort of thing, but we didn't want a bulldozer involved that would result in soil compacting. Plus being newcomers, outsiders, the neighbors were not all that willing to offer advice. We were such "newbies" and totally ignorant about Hawaii that we made plenty of bad decisions.

In hindsight, we should have brought in a bulldozer to push the land. It would have been faster, far cheaper, and would not have caused the compaction that we feared. But being stupid, we tackled it by hand. The only benefit is that the job physically whipped me into shape and knocked forty pounds off my flabby body.

The first item we purchased was a "billy goat" string weedwacker. Totally wrong for the job. It was difficult to maneuver, constantly got jammed, and was a disaster among the California and guinea grass. We tried driving the truck around on the shorter (three foot tall) grass then used a lawnmower on it. Worked but was difficult on the lawnmower, but gave us mountains of clippings that we used to make much needed compost. We stopped doing this when the truck ran over and into a few large lava rocks and narrowly missed plunging into a truck sized, unseen hole.  Next, on the tough grasses we tried a hedge trimmer. It wasn't strong enough to cut the thick stems. So out came the chainsaw. It cut everything fine, but the grasses jammed it up really fast. On top of that, lava rocks dotted the land. Hitting one with the chainsaw instantly killed the chain. By now we had struck up a bit of a neighbor relationship with the people next door. They suggested the strongest weedwacker we could afford to buy. Well, after wasting our money on the billy goat trimmer, hedge trimmer, chainsaw, and several lawnmowers, we just shrugged and bought the best weedwacker available. Finally! Something that worked. Yes, the bulldozer would have been better, but we hadn't smartened up yet. 

It took two years of working an average of 15 hours a week. Whew!  See? The bulldozer would have done the entire land in one week! In those two years I got the basics done. For the next eight years I've been fine tuning the landscape, still clearing a bit here and there.

But there were benefits of doing it by hand. I acquired tons of compost.  I was able to improve the soil in an acre for successful gardening. I became fit. I got to know our land intimately. I carefully thinned out the trees, saving wood for future poles, trellises, and crafting wood. I piled rocks and set them aside. They eventually were incorporated into a lovely rock wall. Most importantly, I have the deep satisfaction of knowing that "I" accomplished that.

Recently we purchased an acre of raw land down the road from our farm. This time around I hired a bulldozer to push it. Afterward I keep it under control using a weedwacker. I use this land to produce seed, but if I didn't I would run sheep on it to keep the grass down for me.

I was 55 years old when we started the homestead project here in Hawaii. I was still young enough the take the physical beating. Funny thing, but I feel younger now than I did back then. But I can no longer take that sort of physical beating. I've replaced the giant weedwacker with a mid-sized model. Easier for me to handle and it handles the maintenance work just fine.


  1. Really really interesting. You should write a book. But I guess the locals would not appreciate it letting people know how to do it best. However, you might scare off people who otherwise would come thinking it was going to be easy. We're both 64 but where we can't work that hard we work smart.

  2. GREAT story! I'm 74, got here 9 years ago, and started tackling 14 acres of jungle above Wainaku (up the Hamakua Coast a bit). Because I moved here after 10 years in Aridzona (spelling error deliberate), it took me a while to realize that "all that's green is not golden." Since my 14 acres are on 25' of clay soil, the jungle is King, and knows it. Yeah, it's amazing to me how much I didn't know at my age, but I've never lived in a jungle. But still, I LOVE it, wouldn't trade it, and wish I'd gotten here about 30 years ago. I now have a couple (much younger) work-traders helping me and we are actually making progress. Some days. It's all good.

    1. Your story is great too. And I totally agree with you that I wish I had arrived here sooner. It's been a good life.