Working Outdoors: Perennial Plants, Trail Building and Cutting Firewood

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

Much of the pre-construction process for our home-to-be has focused on maneuvering zoning regulations, bank loan requirements, and 2-D house designing. As hands-on, outdoorsy people, Tyler and I have made sure to add in some projects on our land that result in visible, tangible progress that require physical labor and provide straight shots of vitamin D. Below are three activities we’ve undertaken to help prep our future farmstead for the big move-in day later this year.

Planting native perennials. One of our long-term goals is to transition the pasture area of our land to native perennial species. We plan to seed grasses and forbs in earnest this fall, but have started the process by adding some native flowers to the property to, in the least, support the pollinator population. From the Grasslands Heritage Foundation, we purchased bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) plants — one is pictured above — and from Monarch Watch we ordered several types of milkweed (Ascelepias tuberosa, A. syriaca, and A. incarnata). The Editor-in-Chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Cheryl Long — a.k.a. my boss — provided us with some rose-scented monarda from her garden. Although non-native, this particular bee balm provides a natural insect-repelling bonus because of its especially high concentration of geraniol (a compound that smells like roses). We planted the flowers near an area we walk by often, and will purposefully loosen and spread the seeds to encourage a slow spread across the property.

Trail building. We’d previously built a campsite on our land, but we took advantage of the winter months (less foliage) to remove some of the thorny brambles, greenbrier, and underbrush to create some nice walking, running and biking trails through our woods (photo below). We ordered a special ditch blade for our scythe, and Tyler made the first pass through by cutting manually. I followed with loppers to clear the brush along the edges of the paths. Tyler and his dad further cleared the trails with regular old push mowers. The front part of our property has somewhere between a half to a full mile of nice, clean paths that will be so useful when the brush grows in, leafs out and becomes nearly impenetrable throughout the rest of the woods. “Useful” here means “we will be able to walk through without getting stickered, bloodied and generally impeded by vines and bushes.” We hope to work to expand the trails so that we can get our trail-running and cross-biking impulses out without having to leave our homestead.


Cutting firewood. We found a downed oak tree at the edge of our woods, and Tyler has since been obsessed with dedicated to chainsawing and then splitting the tree into firewood for our future woodstove. We should have a nice, large stack of wood all nicely cured to efficiently heat our home come next winter. I’m doing all I can to fuel his fire (sorry, couldn’t help the pun), as he’s even stoked about building a small, three-sided shed to cover any wood he cuts and keep it dry year-round.

The satisfaction of taking care of the property and making it our own has really pulled us through some of the more tedious parts of the house-building and land-zoning processes. With spring’s impending arrival, I imagine we’ll be camping, walking and generally taking full advantage of our winter labors.

Photo of bee balm by Jennifer Kongs; photo of freshly mowed trail by Tyler Gill.

Next in the series:Finalizing Our Passive Solar House Design: Minor Tweaks and Major Planning Tips
Previously in the series: How Do We Finalize Our Home Construction Loan? 

Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!