Winter isn’t really happening much…and a barn cat!

Some of the mess that we left behind in the walnut grove

This seems like the winter that just won’t materialize.  Sure we’ve had a little snow, but the temperatures have been way above normal.  Unlike last year when there were a couple of months that we could barely get into the farm this winter has been lots easier.  It helps that we can remove snow from the farm driveway now, but we’ve had to do that only once.  That’s made it easy to get into the orchard to prune the apple and pear trees and not worry about tripping and falling into a snow bank while trying to lug a ladder around.  We spent Christmas day doing that and we also spent a weekend early in January on the same project.  There might be one more weekend where we prune apple trees and we have a bunch of stuff to clean up, but the orchard is a lot more manageable now.  That weekend in January, we even managed to burn two piles of debris from some trimming we did last year.  No snow at the time, so we hauled 20 gallons of water up there to make sure it didn’t get out of control and to ensure we could put the fire all the way out before we went to bed.  Then we took a much-needed weekend off and last weekend we figured we’d get in there, even there was snow on the ground.  When we drove up, we couldn’t get the car off the road right away because of the wall of snow that the plow left at the end of the driveway.  We’d expected that and we’d brought our snow shoes which we didn’t end up using and a shovel.  I hiked in to the chicken coop shack with a backpack containing a change of socks, many glove and hat options and enough water for me to drink as well as for us to make tea or cocoa later and some other snacks.  I also took the rifle with me as well as another bag of materials for fire starting.  The walk in wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t challenging enough to make me turn back for snow shoes.  Soon after I had a fire going, D. arrived up at the shack having shoveled enough to get the car off the road.  His plan was to get the snow blower from the barn and clear the driveway so that he could at least drive in to the barn.  My plan was to walk to the back of the property and burn the buckthorn piles.  I realized that all the gloves I had were fleece instead of work gloves, so I stopped in to the barn storage room to get some gloves.  Before I got there, I saw D. getting ready to clear the driveway, but I also saw that it was “raining” straw behind him from the upper level of the barn.  Sure enough, there was a raccoon in there.  I could hear more noise in the loft of the barn and I wasn’t sure if the wind was just banging the sliding door around or if there were more raccoons up there.  We dispatched the first raccoon and headed outside and around to the front door of the barn.  I opened the room at the front of the barn to see a raccoon escaping through the hole in the back of the room, but realized it had climbed up on to the top of the room.  D. climbed onto a pile of hay bales and took a couple of shots.  He said there were two raccoons up there.   Then he came around to the other side and stood on top of the picnic table stored inside the barn for the winter.  I stood well out of his way, but I could also see all the way to the wall behind where he was shooting and I saw a raccoon jump down and run for a hole in the floor.  I thought it had gone outside and we looked for any sign of new tracks or a wounded raccoon on the move.  Nothing.  I walked back into the barn and looked at the ledge where the loft floor meets the concrete wall and there it was.  All in all, we shot four raccoons that afternoon.  It wasn’t pretty, but with the abandoned farm-house and all the hay left in the barn, our place is way too attractive for them.  They chew wood and they defecate all over the place.  They pollute our spring water and they try (sometimes successfully) get into the walls of the building that we stay in.  One mother raccoon even had her kits in there last spring forcing us to wait to seal up the known breaches in the walls.  We really just have too many raccoons.  If we had a few and they were satisfied living in trees that would be one thing, but such a large population living in our buildings is unhealthy and potentially dangerous for us.  This weekend, our search of the barn turned up no raccoons.  I was startled however when a black and white cat ripped out of the loft past me, but I take it as a very good sign that a cat was hanging out in the barn since I don’t think the cat would have been in there if raccoons were present.  We’ve seen this cat on and off since late summer, sometimes in the field north of our land and most recently in the meadow west of the orchard early in January.  Back to last weekend, my attempt at burning the piles of buckthorn was a complete bust.  I couldn’t get together enough other fuel to make a hot enough fire to really burn the buckthorn which is still kind of green.  Eventually, I gave up and hiked back in since I was hungry and had only water with me.  After lunch, D. and I took advantage of the snow cover to burn one of the piles left from the springtime cleanup after the willow fell, as well as getting rid of some of the mess left behind when the power company and the electricians disconnected the power from the crappy farmhouse back in November.  Without the snow cover, we never would have burned on such a windy day and it was great to have that much wind to fan the flames and still not worry about the fire getting away.

We’d thought that we would burn the second pile this weekend, but found that we had no snow cover around it.  We didn’t dare light it up.  Even as wet as all the dead grass around it is, a large fire would have easily dried it out in short order and we would have had little hope of controlling the fire.  Instead, we had a look in the house to figure out whether or not any raccoons were holed up in there.  We didn’t look hard, but we didn’t see or hear any and we discussed tools that we’d need to remove all the electric wiring and PVC pipe from the house.  D. had little enthusiasm for attacking that project yesterday, so we decided to prune and thin the walnut grove.

The trees in the walnut grove are fairly young and they are planted on a grid fairly close together.  Only a few of them are large enough to produce nuts and we’d like to see them produce both nuts and wood.  Someone must have planted them in the last 10 years or so and the crowns are beginning to overlap.  Because we’re also looking at producing wood, we’d like to keep them fairly close together so that they produce dense wood and so that they continue to grow straight up.  Some of the trees have split into two main branches instead of one straight trunk at a fairly low height.  Those trees will be eliminated this year or next.  We also trimmed branches off the trees up to a height of at least six feet as long as that wasn’t removing too much of the volume of the tree.  The sap was running pretty fast and we tasted it.  Just barely sweet…  We probably made some mistakes, but our hand was sort of forced since at least pruning if not thinning was overdue.  The walnut grove is on a north facing slope and the snow was deeper there and D. moved his tools around using a sled that he bought more for work than for play.  The project took longer than I thought it would, but it still went a lot faster than pruning apple trees went.  We didn’t have enough time to work on cleanup so for now, there are trimmed branches littered throughout the grove.  I hope to work on cleanup in the walnuts next weekend, and in the orchard.  In both places we should have some pretty great firewood once it’s cured.

I sure hope that cat comes back to the barn.  Actually I hope the cat is a female and has kittens in there.  I’ve always wanted barn cats, it just didn’t occur to me that they could show up on their own.

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