Sunday, July 10, 2011

The real work begins

Today was the fourth day on the new Valhalla property and we've been working hard to start cleaning up the front, side, and back yards immediately surrounding the house. Note that for the time being we're ignoring the house itself, which is stripped to the walls and completely empty, since little can be done with it until it's painted inside and out. Due to the heat it wouldn't be reasonable to organize a painting party until the weather cools in September, so our focus is on beginning to rehabilitate the outside areas in the vicinity of the house.

Just a few of the dozens of new piles of leaves which will be carefully composted to eventually harvest their many nutrients for soil improvement projects in the coming years. It's extremely labor intensive using just a rake, yet the dirt underneath is compacted and basically dead (not a single earthworm or other sign of life beyond ticks and beetles) so we're "sucking it up" and soldiering on to get it done. Burning all those leaves sure would be a joy, but quality compost for a project of this size is already badly needed. 

Because everything has become overgrown, the property is understandably a magnet for chiggers and ticks -- they're everywhere! The first step is to eliminate their habitat by raking up many years worth of leaves and also pruning countless trees. The ticks and chiggers will die when they're composted with the plant matter, and over time we'll eventually be left with nutrient-rich soil to use in gardening projects.

Helmet Guinea fowl photo courtesy of  Wiki Commons
Because of the chiggers and ticks it will be essential to immediately build accommodations for Guinea fowl keets this coming week, and then strive to acquire about 20 of them post-haste. Guinea fowl are among the very best for controlling both pests as well as other insects. Unlike chickens, adult Guineas can roam free with minimal supervision and mostly sleep in the trees, although they must first arrive on the property as keets (that is, Guinea fowl "chicks") to learn where they belong. It will take about a month for the keets to grow large enough to (mostly) fend for themselves while further bringing the chigger and tick problem under control. Even as adults they will require additional assistance to thrive through the winter, but this won't be a problem.

The six turkey eggs we nearly drove over: wildlife everywhere
Valhalla's new property certainly isn't all about chiggers and ticks of course. While touring around in a four wheel drive Jeep with Hal and Barb -- two of Valhalla's original civilian volunteers and now very dear friends -- a turkey suddenly exploded into flight from almost directly under our vehicle near a pond. Hal stopped the Jeep immediately, Gordon leaped out, and almost stepped on the six eggs that the turkey hen had been brooding. She'd flown into the woods, and after taking a quick snapshot we very slowly and carefully drove away.

Later while pruning a small tree we then found a beautiful caterpiller which will probably become a swan-tail butterfly soon (see the photo on the left).

There is no question at all that the soil here is extremely bad, but it certainly can and will be improved dramatically in the coming years -- and very essential portions of the overall Valhalla Project programs will include promoting the growth of native grasses and wildflowers that will quickly attract butterflies, humming birds, and bees to pollinate the vegetable gardens and orchards.

It will be a lot of work, but the work has already started in preparation for receiving post-911 Soldiers and combat zone civilian workers who will ultimately make it all happen for themselves, their buddies, and future generations that will also need a unique project of this kind to call their own -- and come back to if they want, year after year. It has to start somewhere, so we've started with raking an unimaginable amount of leaves!


Our IRS application for nonprofit status is being processed, 
yet you can still donate to help Valhalla today!

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