PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
September 4, 2018

Technology can do so much these days. It seems like there’s a device or an app that can help us with just about anything. For example, have you ever pondered putting a GPS to use on your farm?

It might not seem like a GPS device (GPS stands for global positioning system) would be useful for farmers. Aren’t those supposed to be for travelers to guide them down the right roads, or for explorers in the wilderness to prevent them from getting lost?

Well, yes, but the abilities of a GPS extend well beyond keeping you aware of your location in the world. You might not get lost wandering around the far ends of your farm (or at least, we hope not), but if you want to plan out a large project, you’d be surprised at how useful a GPS can be.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I embarked on creating a large-scale orchard/landscape garden covering about 1.5 acres. That’s a lot of ground, and the scope of the project meant that I couldn’t rely solely on intuition and my eyes to determine the perfect spot for the foundation trees. I needed to measure the prospective location for the project, ensure that opposite sides were parallel, then mark the corners and center so that I could outline the project on graphing paper and translate my chosen locations for trees into the real-life locations in the field.

Now, a GPS is only accurate to a few feet, so if exact precision is needed (as would be the case if you’re laying out the foundation of a building), it’s not the best choice. But for a 1.5-acre plot, where a few feet either way on the corners won’t make a noticeable difference, my GPS was the perfect tool to help lay out my project.

It was remarkably simple. After choosing the location for the southeast corner, I walked directly to the northeast corner, measuring the distance with a long tape measure while using the GPS to ensure that I stayed on a direct north/south line. After marking the northeast corner, I proceeded along to mark the remaining corners, then used the coordinate data from those four points to calculate the center of the field. Having established all of the needed measurements, I translated the field on to graphing paper, with each box on the paper representing 10 square feet.

Then came the fun part—marking the location of the foundation trees. I enjoyed envisioning what the project would eventually look like while using colored markers to distinguish different types of trees. Once the locations were determined, I took my map out to the field and used a combination of my GPS and tape measure to work outward from the center of the field, carefully marking the real-life tree locations while keeping everything aligned in all directions thanks to the GPS.

I’ve already started digging the holes, and by the time you read this, the first trees will have been planted. I plan to eventually create numerous rustic fences, walls and small structures, some of which (if they turn out like I hope) you might get to read about. Each location will be carefully planned and plotted beforehand thanks to my trusty GPS.

Suffice it to say, if you’re planning any similar large-scale projects, consider using a GPS during the process. These devices work great and can save a lot of time and effort.

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