Snapshot

Red sky over the pond at sunset

Late fall sunset over the pond.

Red sky at sunset

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Burning tree stumps

Let’s go back in time. Waaaaay back to my second month of blogging and my 20th post ever.

On a foggy spring morning, I snapped a photo of this old stump covered in moss and mushrooms.

Old stump

While I certainly appreciated the natural beauty of the stump, I didn’t appreciate its location in the middle of the “yard” (can’t really call it a lawn back then) between the driveshed and the garden.

My strategy was to make the stump into our firepit.

Burning a stump

That was in spring of 2013.

Burning a stump

Now, in the fall of 2017, I can finally stay the stump is officially gone. On the weekend, I shoveled up two years worth of ash (I’ve done this cleanout once before) and leveled the ground.

Surprisingly, remnants of the stump were still there. It was very squishy and rotten, so I easily hacked it down with my shovel (here’s how I keep my shovels sharp). Then I raked everything level.

Burning a stump

After Matt hit another stump with the mower over the weekend, we have a new candidate for the next firepit. We also happen to have no shortage of brush and deadfall, so stump removal 2.0 is now underway.

Stumps to be burnt

Burning brush at the farm

Tree maintenance is ongoing at the farm.

Do you have a firepit at your house? Have you ever burnt a stump? Any techniques or advice for removing stumps?

If a tree grows at the farm…

Maple sapling alongside the driveway

Three and a half years ago, we got four maple saplings from Lowes. They were free and part of a giveaway in response to the ice storm we’d been through the previous Christmas. Three of the trees have survived, but interestingly they’re growing very differently.

We planted most of the trees alongside the driveway to further my ambition of having beautiful big branches arching over the driveway some day. One of these trees is the one that died. We planted the final tree on the turnaround. We already have a huge old maple that I love on the turnaround. But I’m worried that some day it may come to the end of its life, and I’d like to have a new tree established at that time.

The trees were all very, very small when we got them from Lowes, but they were all roughly the same size.

No longer.

For some reason, the tree on the turnaround is growing big and fat, while the two on the driveway are still fairly spindly.

Observe the one on the turnaround–with a handy maple leaf for scale.

Maple tree trunk

And now let’s walk down the driveway with our same measuring leaf.

Maple tree trunk

Does it seem weird to anyone else that these trees are so different? They’re supposed to be the same type of trees (red maples), planted at the same time on the same property and cared for neglected in the same way.

As I’m writing this, I’m looking out the window at the turnaround, and I’m wondering if this tree is different from the others. You can see in the photo at the start of this post that the driveway tree sports a crown of beautiful red leaves. The turnaround tree–which has many, many more leaves and branches–is still completely green. Hmmm. That would certainly explain why it’s growing differently.

Any other ideas? Any tips for tree care? I admit, my usual approach is to do nothing.

Sawing through the honey-do list

Since moving to the farm, I’ve discovered a few new favourite tools. One of these is the chainsaw. However, in our house the chainsaw is Matt’s and he’s the one who wields it. Due first to Matt’s broken arm and then to a hole in the oil tank on the saw, we’ve been chainsaw-less so far this year.

Matt’s arm is healed and almost back to full strength. He and his Dad fibreglassed the oil tank back together. And over the weekend he finally fired up the saw.

Low hanging branches, small trees that sprouted up in unwanted spots, dead wood have all been trimmed. Best of all, Matt went through the meadow and down to the pond.

 

Matt cutting suckers from an old stump

My view to the pond is continuing to clear. It seems like as soon as I abandoned hope of clearing the pond shore this year, that’s when we finally started this project.

Baxter looking down through the meadow to the pond

The pond

A few hours of work netted us the biggest burn/brush pile I think we’ve ever had. A tractor-size one. We also left a bunch of brush down at the pond to burn there.

Matt on the tractor in front of our burn pile

Collecting the brush was Mr. B’s favourite part. Or the trailer ride to get the brush was.

Baxter and I having a trailer ride

How was your weekend?

Finding our waterfront

Remember how clearing the pond shore was my one and only outdoor home goal for this year? And how at the mid-year report I said it wasn’t going to happen?

It’s happening, people.

Our keen 17-year-old nephew who loves being at the farm had a day off from his summer job, and he wanted to learn how to drive the tractor. If you’re driving the tractor, you might as well learn how to use the front end loader, the new rotary cutter and tow the trailer.

So I went through the basics of a hydrostatic transmission and what levers did what. We hooked on the rotary cutter and I pointed him at the pond.

Here’s how things were looking after last weekend’s mowing of the meadow. I swear there’s water on the other side of all of that grass and brush.

Overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

I was super impressed with our nephew. He was calm and confident and careful.

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Mowing the overgrown grass around the pond

Loading firewood with the front end loader

A morning of work cleared about half the shore on the east side. The remaining thickets are hiding all kinds of logs and stumps. So we have more work to do, and I need to set Matt loose with his chainsaw, but the progress is awesome.

This vantage point still doesn’t show you much of the water, but I swear it’s there.

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

Clearing overgrown brush on the shore of the pond

This deep in the summer, the pond is a little mucky, but it’s still my favourite part on the property.

Pond in the summer

Pond in the summer

Our nephew totally made my summer.

Little green apples

Little green apples on our old apple tree

A big ancient apple tree stands right in the middle of the meadow. Now that we’ve mowed some of the grass, I can actually get to the tree to see that it’s loaded with little green apples.

We have apple trees sprinkled around the farm, but we’ve never done anything with the fruit. Maybe now that this one tree is accessible this will be the year.

My friend made an amazing apple butter for us last year that Matt went bananas (does that even make sense?) for. Plus, apple sauces and butters and jellies don’t care how pretty (or, let’s be honest, not) our apples are. And these are pretty homegrown looking.

Although I don’t think I can take any credit. This tree has been doing very well all on its own.

Do you have any apple trees at your house? Any tree care tips to share? What about favourite recipes?

Making room to run

Back in the spring, I stopped in at our tractor dealership. I love our tractor, Wiley. I particularly love his attachments–mower deck, front-end loader, snowblower–and covet more–backhoe, auger, rotary cutter.

On this particular day, I was particularly coveting the rotary cutter.

A rotary cutter is a heavy-duty mower, sometimes called a bush hog. It can go through thick brush. It can hit rocks and stumps without breaking. It can even take down small trees.

In our constant campaign to beautify/tame/maintain the farm, clearing brush is an ongoing undertaking.

The thing about anything to do with the tractor is it isn’t cheap. So when I came home and told Matt I’d gotten a quote on a rotary cutter, I wasn’t sure what his reaction would be.

His exact words were, “You’ve been talking about this since we moved here, woman. Just buy it.”

Alrighty then. One rotary cutter coming our way.

Woods rotary cutter

It took us a while to get the rotary cutter running. Eventually, our tractor guy came out for a farm call to walk us through it (five years in and we’re still country newbies). But last weekend we got cutting.

And Matt loved it as much as I did.

Matt did the septic bed. He wanted to cut the little trees so that their roots don’t get into the drainage area. It’s hard to see, but at the top of this slope behind all of those weeds is the house.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

It took Matt very little time to get his confidence. While I avoided trees that were more than a couple of inches in diameter, Matt had no hesitation about mowing them down.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

The puppy liked all of the new smells that we uncovered.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

We also uncovered a few rocks and stumps, but the cutter powered through.

Rock scraped by a mower

Matt soon had the septic bed nice and clear. (The house is behind me in this shot.)

Cleared septic bed

After Matt had his turn, I took mine in the meadow. This is what happens when I ask my husband to take my picture. I end up with puppy butt.

Baxter watching the tractor

He did manage to resist Baxter’s charms long enough to get a few action shots.

Clearing brush with the rotary cutter

At the end of the day, there was plenty of space for the puppy to run.

Baxter running through the meadow

And a nice clear view from the pond up to the house. Well, clear except for the pines, but there’s no way we’re taking those down.

The mowed meadow

Real life in Illinois

Unfortunately, nothing seems to be going well right now for Sarah in Illinois. But philosophically, she says, “That is life!” She is here today with a chicken, fruit tree and garden update.

I’d love to start this post with a tale of how I walk out into my back yard, with my dog at my side. We walk to the chicken coop where we lovingly pet the chickens, gather more eggs than we could eat, then walk over to the garden. We pick multitudes of strawberries, sugar snap peas, rhubarb and gaze at the full garden of healthy, thriving plants that will soon provide healthy vegetables to all of our meals.

Unfortunately, this is real life. And life doesn’t care about your plans.

This post will be full of things that have gone wrong. But I promise, I am keeping a positive outlook.

Chickens

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know what I am going to write here. One of my chickens died. I don’t know what happened.

Last weekend our neighbor texted Steve and said that she had some type of predator that has been getting in her barn, and it killed two of her young kittens. So Steve went to help her, and the plan was to set a live trap and hopefully catch the culprit.

The next evening I went to close up my chickens and I found the Rhode Island Red dead in the corner of the coop. The other three chickens are perfectly fine.

I inspected the coop and run and found no point of entry. There was no blood and no damage to the body of the chicken. So even though I have been on alert with my neighbor having an issue, I really don’t feel a predator killed my chicken. I think it must have had some problem that I was not aware of. But believe me when I say, I am keeping a much closer eye on the coop.

Fruit Trees

I posted a few weeks back that we had planted two cherry trees. I had ordered them through a seed and plant catalog, and they came bare root. If you have seen a small bare root tree, it basically looks like a stick.

I had confidence that with all the rain (more on that below) I would see some sort of life in our two “sticks,” but after about 4 weeks they showed no sign of life, no leaf, no bud. In fact one was very brittle and Steve was easily able to break the top off.

One day we were at our local “buy everything in one stop” store and there was a 4-foot cherry tree with healthy leaves and even a couple cherries hanging from it.

We decided it was time to give up on our “sticks” and purchase trees that were about 4 years further along in the growing process.

While we were there I told Steve that we should go ahead and pick up a peach tree. They looked healthy and peaches are Steve’s favorite fruit. He looked them all over, made sure the leaves looked healthy, made sure the trunk was straight and we made our purchase. When we got home, we dug a hole and when we lifted the tree to set it in, we saw the tag hanging off of it: Apple Tree ‘Pink Lady.’

We got a good laugh out of how both of us could inspect this tree so closely, look at the leaves that were obviously not peach tree leaves and still bring home an apple tree.

The next day we went back up and picked up two peach trees. We checked and double checked the tags this time.

Garden

In my last post, I talked about how much rain we had.

In 6 days we measured 9.7 inches of rain in our rain gauge. Since then I haven’t kept as close record, but I know for certain we have had at least another 3 inches. I looked online and our average rainfall for the month of May is 4 inches. We have had over three times our normal rainfall.

As I write this, the forecast is calling for 80% chance of thunderstorms tonight and 50% chance tomorrow. So the fact that I have ANYTHING growing in the garden is close to a miracle.

I have had to replant potatoes, but thankfully the second crop has broken ground and is much more likely to make it.

We also replanted cucumbers and sugar snap peas, and they also look much better.

Remember last year when I overdid it on the radishes? We we took a much better approach this year, and my crop is a lot more manageable.

However, our tomatoes and green peppers are showing signs of stress from the excess rain. The leaves are starting to yellow. We planted 2 green peppers on little mounds hoping that would help, but I am still not sure about them.

As you can see, our garden is struggling a little bit. But it is still early and I have high hopes that it will come around. Looking closely at my pictures, you can see I have some weeding to do.

As soon as it is possible we still need to plant green beans, squash, cabbage, watermelons and sunflowers. I will plant pumpkins sometime in early July for an October harvest.

That looks so, so soggy, Sarah. You’ve had some tough breaks. I love that you can still laugh about apple-peach trees and look ahead to a successful harvest.