You’ve been living the urban life for thirty years and dreaming of retiring to the country someday. Every weekend you drive down country roads and imagine that it’s you on that tractor, riding that horse, tilling that garden. Now it’s time to make it happen and you jot down your priorities. They have mostly to do with peace and quiet, character and charm, reaping what you sow.
Here are a couple of things I’ve noticed that are sometimes overlooked:
Soil: It’s easy to be impressed with bright green grass jumping up from freshly raked soil or golden grasses swaying in the summer breeze. It could be that green grass is just winter rye enjoying a heavy dose of fertilizer and that golden grass may well be broom sage indicating acidic soil.
If you are planning on using the land in some specific way, planting grapes perhaps, raising livestock, growing Christmas trees, the soil underneath it all is a critical component. Grapes need well drained soils and elevation, livestock need good pasture and water, Christmas trees can thrive on marginal soils found in the mountains.
There are excellent resources available to help you understand the soils best suited to your requirements. There are detailed soil maps available through your local extension service office and Virginia Tech has volumes of information on agricultural suitability.
It’s pretty safe to assume that if you are in an area where horse and cattle farms are common that the soils are suitable but it makes sense to do a little research and confirm what lies under all that grass. Here are a couple of links that can help.
It’s easy to be wooed by a low price per acre. You can find farmland for $3,000 an acre but you may not be getting the bargain you think you are. Marginal areas are slower to appreciate and if you over-improve your property with a nice house and stable you may have a harder time recouping that
There are lots of reasons to appreciate rural Virginia but make sure you weigh the
importance of having access to amenities like those found in Charlottesville and any of the charming
small towns within her sphere of influence. It may make more sense to settle for less acreage in a great
area with good resale potential than a larger property out in the boonies
Want a horse?
All land is not equal when it comes to keeping horses. It is possible to find land in the Charlottesville area that is absolutely perfect for horses. It would consist of a nice deep soil with few if any rocks. It would be gently rolling and well drained and it would already be in good grass, your horse’s favorite food.
This is horse country and a horse can thrive here and live entirely off the land for most of the year. It’s not all horse country though so do your homework. Up close to the mountains the pasture will be rockier and harder on your horse’s feet. That beautiful flat bottomland along the creek looks great when dry but will often be a wet soil that can also be unhealthy for hooves.
Clearing woodland to make pasture can be done but it takes years to build up the grass to compare with established pasture. If you want to breed horses you’ll want to look at the type of grass growing in your fields. The fescue grass found in much of this area needs to managed if broodmares are grazing on it. Finding a place that is already fenced and has existing stabling is usually the best buy and finding a place that allows riding off the property can be a huge benefit in how you can enjoy your horses without trailering.
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