2012 Wrap Up, Looking Forward to 2013 and Beyond

ImageImageImage2012 is the year I almost killed the blog.  On my fourth and last post of the year, we were looking forward to a great year of gardening.  Things went well early on.  I remember scraping lots of mud off my shoes on one weekend of weeding.  And then there was no rain for weeks. The watering nearly killed us.  We had only one kayak outing this summer.  Even if we’d had time, the rivers were so low, river trips would have proved challenging.    We still had some luck with tomatoes and a lot of blossom end rot.  The strawberries and leeks were both a total loss.  The garlic was early and plentiful.  Butternut squash was plagued by vine borers and the yields were low.  Yields on lemon cucumbers were pretty good despite the cucumber beetles.  Onions and potatoes were really small and harvested early.  The apple harvest started early, ended early and was small.  Furthermore, the apples were really sweet.  Our 2012 hard cider is in bottles and though we sampled some at dinner last night and found that it really isn’t ready yet, it is promising.  We planted close to 100 evergreen seedlings and lost more than half of them.  In the fall, we replaced a good number of them and we had some rain and now a thick blanket of snow, so hopefully they’ll have a better chance in the coming year.

Once the growing season was over, we turned our attention to demolishing the farm house.  We removed all of the windows, saving the ones that are intact for cold frames, we saved some of the boards with the name of the old lumber company.  D. salvaged quite a number of newer 2″ x 4″s from the upstairs, the metal roof and some 4″ x 4″s from the porch, we pulled out all of the electrical wiring and electrical boxes out as well as a small amount of copper piping and all the PVC pipe.  Some for recycling or scrap, some just because it doesn’t need to go up in flames and emit toxic smoke when the fire department gets around to using the house for a practice fire early in 2013.  By far the most difficult thing that D. did and which we needed to do before the permit to burn the house could be granted was to remove the asbestos siding.  It took him about four different days to pry it off.   Outfitted with a respirator and gloves, he ruined three Tyvek suits in the process.  Near the end of November, he boxed it up in a plywood box that we’d built on a pallet which was loaded onto our trailer and we drove it away and paid for it to be properly dispatched.  All 1820 pounds of it.  Then we turned our attention to the small barn on the hill whose foundation is failing.  It’s a quaint little barn, but we can’t save it.  The best we can do is to salvage the upper door and its hardware, some of the siding and the beams.  These things will all reappear in some form or another when we build.  Maybe a mantle and book case, a headboard for our new bed and who knows what else if we can get the siding off without breaking it.  The good floorboards will end up in the existing barn where some of the floor is in need of repair.  Some of the metal roofing or siding will likely be used to repair the pig shed which has problems but isn’t beyond hope.

We’re beginning to assess building sites and thinking about what we’d like to and can afford to build.

I’m cautiously hopeful about 2013.

Posted in Biodiversity, Ecology, Gardening, Invasive Weeds, Kayaking, Prairie Restoration, the farm | Leave a comment

Mid-April Update, Runaway Spring

The garden before tilling. Some of it was cover cropped with Winter Rye. Some day the crappy old house will be gone.

We didn’t have much of a winter this year.  Spring showed up early, fast and really hot for a while before getting a little normal.  We didn’t have much snow this year and then we had a week in March with high temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  The trees started to leaf out.  We heard that maple sugaring was short and not so good this year.  We started to worry about whether or not the blossoms on our apple trees would survive the occasional nights of frost after they started blooming.  So far, so good, but we’re not out of the woods yet.  I’ve never seen a year like this.  I’d say it’s pretty close to no one alive can remember a year like this.  I recall my dad saying that one year when he was a kid, the trees leafed out in March.  I flat out didn’t believe him.  Now I’ve seen it for myself.  Now I think the year he was talking about was 1934.  He turned 14 years of age that year.   This year, like that year, was another  la niña year.  Right in the middle of the dust bowl in the case of 1934.

I believe our garlic was up in March.  We planted potatoes last weekend.  More than a week ahead of last year.  We could have done it earlier if the seed potatoes had arrived earlier.  And last year it felt like I might have done it too early.  In addition to the garlic planted in the fall we did a spring planting too with garlic that we had left.  We planted too much garlic last year and apparently the obvious remedy for that is to plant even more this year.  We’re going to have to start selling it this year, or at least start giving more of it away.  The one thing that we have resolved to do now is to save our own garlic for planting.  That’s one thing not to pay for anymore.  We also planted more potatoes (and more kinds of potatoes) this year and hope to save our own seed potatoes too.  After difficulty with onions started from seeds getting lost in the weeds last year, we’re starting onions from onion sets this year.  There too, probably many more than we need.

We’ve gotten no closer to naming the farm despite blog comment suggestions, suggestions on our Facebook pages and a few suggestions received via email.  The early warm weather has kept us busy.  Plus we had a quick trip to San Francisco, after which I was sick with a really nasty cold after not being sick at all for two years.  While we were in San Francisco, we had a chance to walk through Golden Gate Park, we spent a day walking around in the Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais State Park.  We had an exceptional dinner at Delfina with friends that up to that point, I’d only known online, but it felt like dinner with old friends and we had another great dinner at Firefly after which both my friend Curt and I proclaimed that we were done with winter food.  Of course I wasn’t quite done with winter food.  We still have one rutabaga and we’re still finishing the very last of the potatoes.  The farmers’ market starts this weekend.  Thank goodness.  We’re totally out of pork and chicken.  We still have some beef, some elk and lots of venison despite eating venison at least once a week, if not twice.  I’m kind of sick of red meat.  Even though it’s really good red meat and I don’t think there is anything wrong with eating venison or grassfed beef often.  I’m just tired of it.

I’ve tried to make some contact with the fire department regarding burning down the house.  There seems to be something wrong with the email addresses listed on line.  I need to phone them.  No one answers the phone at the fire house.  I need to either leave a message or call either the chief or one of the deputy chiefs on one of  their mobiles.  I haven’t decided what to do.  Regardless, we’re not quite ready.  We want to remove all of the electrical wire an all the PVC pipe from the house.

In addition to tilling the garden and planting potatoes, we’ve dug out honeysuckle plants and multiflora rose.  D. hit a couple of the fields where there were significant numbers of the roses.  Then one day we walked toward the back of the property with shovels and made a point of digging them out of the path.  We didn’t get them all, but we have a good start.  We’re also keeping an eye on the weed problems including multiflora rose and wild parsnip where we took out the buckthorn in the fall.  It’s going to take some work, but we’ve already done things we thought we couldn’t do.  We also scared up a coyote that day.  Literally scared it.  Which is good.  I’m glad the coyotes are there.  I’m also glad they fear us.  I’ve also considered whether or not I should be armed if I walk by myself in the more remote areas especially near dawn or dusk.  So far I think not.  I hope I’m not wrong, but I’m not really enthralled by the idea of carrying a rifle or pistol with me most of the time.  I don’t like guns that much.  Sometimes they are necessary tools.  I guess I’d see it differently if I lived in the world of my grandfather, circa 1923, driving a wagon drawn by horses into Regina, Saskatchewan from nowheresville,  and back in a day only to have wolves circling the wagon by dusk.  But he lived in that world and I live in this one.  Coyotes are not wolves and I’m fairly sure they are well-harrassed on all the neighboring farms.

I’ve spent some time looking for shed antlers this spring.  And I’ve come up empty.  I’ve run across two deer skeletons.  One in the thicket down the hill near the creek and another in the woods on our southwest corner.  I have no idea how long those bleached bones have been in either place, but apparently no antlers at the time of death.  I’ve found a few more native plant species in my wanderings.  Blue Cohosh,violets, buttercups,  some kind of fern, and Jack in the Pulpit.  I also see invasives like buckthorn, garlic mustard, multiflora rose, and nettles everywhere I look.

This weekend, we hope to get the onions planted.  And I hope we’ll finish building the Leopold benches that D. cut a couple of weeks ago.  A lot of people would call this a good plan for Earth Day.  I just call it another week at the farm.

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Naming the Farm

Our barn with the bright red roof is an unusual feature.

Since we bought the land, we’ve talked on and off about naming it.  Nothing has really grabbed us.  At least nothing that isn’t taken.  Then we joke about names we’d never use.  38 Back Achers.  Willow Springs Raccoon Sanctuary.  Money Pit Farm.

We don’t now have a specific single product and when we are really ready to market things, we’ll probably have diverse and seasonal products.  Eggs, garlic, onions, potatoes, asparagus and other vegetables.  Apples and maybe pumpkins.  The raspberries we planted last year once they really take off.  Strawberries that we haven’t planted yet.  Black walnuts and ground cherries.   On my bigger thinking days, I think maybe I’ll have a small flock of goats and make goat cheese.  Other days the laws pertaining to cheese-making and the expense to build what we’d need to satisfy sanitation conditions make me think any cheese I make will be strictly for our own use.

I do like the idea of naming the place after a land form or after prairie plants or trees.  Two nearby farms are called Shooting Star Farm and King’s Hill Farm.  I love both of those names.  We have many bur oaks.  We have a lot of black walnut trees.  We have a small orchard and lots of deer.    Our farm is definitely in a valley.  We’re in the Town of Willow Springs.  We don’t have single willow.  Our small, unnamed stream has multiple springs.  I’ve never been able to count them all.  I’m not even sure that the number is constant.  It may depend on the level of the water table.  Pre-settlement, our land would have been prairie and savanna.  What is sometimes referred to as “Oak Openings”.  I don’t think we’d name it after the road we’re on.   It’s a common English word, but it is also the last name of the farmer behind us after whose family the road is named.  It would be cool if we were on nearby Furnace Hill Road, or Fort Defiance Road.  Obviously to be defensible, a Fort would have been high on a hill.  The historical marker for Fort Defiance is high on a hill. We are not.

We’re in no hurry to name the farm.  While we may come up with something in the near future, we also may not bother with a name until we have something to market and therefore need to brand ourselves.   Whatever we pick, we’ll live with it for a long time.

Posted in the farm, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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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Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Baked Eggs with Spinach and Cremini Mushrooms w/Clausen's Sourdough Rosemary Toast

This morning, I made my breakfast based on this recipe from January’s Bon Appétit.  Both in print and online, the magazine includes this grandiose quote from the chef: “American and British cooks don’t know how far you can take an egg dish.”  The magazine’s copy goes on to state, “Here, he deftly elevates it to a different realm by flavoring spinach with leeks and scallions, baking the eggs on top and finishing with a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of butter spiced with a smoky Turkish chili powder known and kirmizi  biber…”  I guess I must eat a lot of egg dishes in that “realm” because while good, his recipe looks like nothing out of the ordinary for me.

My version included red onions, scallions, spinach and cremini mushrooms added after the onions but before the spinach, because, really, what isn’t better with mushrooms?  I could also see bacon in the vegetable mixture.   I chose to flavor olive oil instead butter with chili powder.  The original dish includes both olive oil and butter at different points.  I halved the recipe making this a two egg breakfast for myself.  I’m not sure D. would appreciate the dollop of yogurt.  I think he’d like the rest of the dish just fine.  I did use his trick of seasoning the yogurt with garlic (removed before serving) and kosher salt.

When I make this again, I’ll bake it in oven safe serving dishes or a small cast iron skillet.  I baked it in our smallest Calphalon skillet, but that has a non-stick coating and while it looked pretty in there, I realized I didn’t want to eat out of a non-stick skillet with a fork.  I did transfer it to a plate without breaking the yokes, but it wasn’t as elegant once transferred.  Many, many recipes I have seen for baked eggs involve ramekins, but the only ramekins I have are really tiny and intended for rich, fancy desserts.

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2011 Meme

Ariat Boots in Winter Sun

At the end of 2010, I wrote that I saw all sorts of possibilities that I hadn’t seen before.  Now that we’ve had the land for more than a year, it’s really clear that it has changed our lives.  In reviewing my answers to the meme, I actually see that it’s become our life and that’s a good thing.  One of my friends, visiting us out at the land and talking about what she and her husband do on weekends and what D. and I do on weekends, said that her husband plays soccer and other sports and that she often shops.  And then she said, “And you do this.”  And it’s true, without reviewing what we do out there, it’s hard to see our accomplishments because there is so much to do.   If you do the meme, let me know.
1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
I participated in deer hunting.  I didn’t pull the trigger, but I helped with everything else.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I’ve never made resolutions.  The closest thing we have now is a running list of things to do at the land.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I know quite a number of people who had babies this year, but no really close friends.  Two close friends are expecting babies in 2012.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No one close to me died this year.  A number of people I knew died this year.  The one that bothered me the most was a man I used to work with.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years.  He’d been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  He’d been a very active cyclist and kayaker before this disease took hold.  He left behind a wife and a daughter who is currently attending college.

5. What is the most interesting new place you visited?

The Seed Savers Heritage Farm near Decorah, Iowa in October.  Their orchard, in particular, was amazing.  I’ll definitely want to go back at other times of the year.
6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
A fence to keep the deer out of the garden at the farm.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I don’t remember the exact dates of our trip, but one of the best things we did this year was get back to Arizona.  It was great to see my friend Melanie and her family and to get to some back to some parts of Arizona that we didn’t have time to visit in 2005 as well as some new places.  Dinner and breakfast at  La Posada’s Turquoise Room  were possibly the best meals we ate all year long.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Really good potato and garlic crops.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failure to outsmart raccoons.  Again.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Ariat Fatbaby boots.  Yay for comfortable work boots without laces in which to get burrs all tangled.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

D.’s.  I’m so glad to have him as a partner in life and as a partner in the land project.  I’ve sometimes worried that I’m dragging him along on my ambitious view of the land’s future and all the work that it entails, but he’s right there with me with ideas, knowledge, skills and strengths that I don’t possess.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the Republican presidential candidates for the 2012 election.
14. Where did most of your money go?

The land.  A pretty good chunk of funds went for paying the electricians for our recent upgrade.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Cider making.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
“The Cave” by Mumford and Sons or any of Adele’s over-played but excellent songs.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
a)happier; b) about the same; c) Kind of depends on how you calculate it

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Hiking at State Parks.  This year, we only visited one State Park, once.  We never even bought an annual sticker.  On the other hand, we hiked our land frequently at different times of the year and different times of day.  We’re getting to know it really, really well.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Losing my temper.  I probably shouldn’t kick cars when their drivers “park” them across the bike path where it crosses Regent Street because they’re too lazy to stop before they pass the solid line behind which they are supposed to stop.  Which is a good Six to eight feet before they roll past the line that puts them IN the bike lane.  I did that twice.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Having celebrated Christmas a week early in Minnesota with D.’s  parents and his brother’s family, we joined our friends, Celia and Dave for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Christmas morning after making an omelet for breakfast we headed out to the farm to prune the apple trees.  We’re not done with this job by any means and we definitely left a mess behind, but at least we have a good start on it.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?

Maybe with a plan for a house to build on the land.

22. What’s the strangest thing you cooked this year?

We cut up, marinated and grilled  the heart of the deer in November.  Ours was a fairly simple preparation involving thyme, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.  I got the recipe from Field and Stream.  When we get a deer some other  year, I’d like to prepare the heart more like Peruvian anticuchos.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The unfortunately named, but hilarious  “Cougar Town”.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?


25. What was the best book you read?

Probably “Deeply Rooted” by Lisa M. Hamilton.  I also really enjoyed “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball and “Coming Home to Eat” by Gary Nabhan.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Identifying the eerie owl sound we sometimes hear at night.  It’s an eastern screech owl.

27. What did you want and get?

Better apples from the orchard than we got in 2010.

28. What did get, but not want?

Baby raccoons.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

The only movie I saw in a theatre was “Sherlock Holmes”.   It’s safe to say that if I’d managed to find time to see Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” that “Sherlock Holmes” would not be my favorite film this year.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
My 43rd birthday was on a Sunday.  I can’t recall what we did.  I’m sure we were tired.  We spent that early spring day before it out at the farm after a winter of too much snow to drive in.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If we’d managed to get rid of the house at the farm.  Actually, I guess that’s kind of measurable.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

I’ve completely lost it since most of my newer clothes have come from Woolrich or the Duluth Trading Company and are meant for outdoor work.  I doubt that comparing the merits of various work gloves can be referred to as a “personal fashion concept”.

33. What kept you sane?
Out door time, some evidence of progress with the weeds, books and my bike commute, excepting the two times I kicked cars.

.34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I hate to say it, but Ron Paul is growing on me.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Recall Walker and Kleefisch.  I signed the recall petitions the first day it was legal to do so.

36. Who or what did you miss?
I miss the time that I wrote anything I wanted on this blog.  I need to find a different outlet for writing about the things that annoy me the most.
37. Who was the best new person you met?
My friend Melanie’s friend Kelly.  Kelly is a single mom, very committed to the Pro-Life cause, she’s a veteran of the USMC and a Mormon.  On the face of it, with my lack of children, my unwavering Pro-Choice stance, my lack of military service and my essentially complete lack of religious beliefs, you might think we’d have little common ground.  And you’d be quite surprised.
38. What’s the best thing you learned in 2011?

That we have more native species on our land than I previously thought  This includes Indian grass, phlox and shooting stars.

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And a Porcupine in an Oak Tree

Porcupine in an Oak Tree

After a break from the buckthorn project during the gun deer season, and with unseasonably warm weather at the beginning of December, we returned to buckthorn cutting.  We have some really big piles of cut buckthorn now and hope to have decent snow cover at some point so that we can light them on fire to dispose of them and return their nutrients to the ground.  The early December weekend that we returned to cutting buckthorn, Saturday was a little challenging because the Roundup stored in the barn was a little on the slushy side to begin with the temperature hovering at the freezing point, the Roundup was well on its way to being solid and my sponge paintbrush was freezing up and getting stiff by late in the afternoon.  Sunday morning promised to be warmer, so we figured we’d get back to it and really make some progress.

When we woke up on Sunday morning I was thinking about pouring our coffee into our mugs from Mulberry Pottery, but D. said, “Weren’t we going to go for a walk?”  I had less than great enthusiasm for our previously agreed upon plan, but chose to keep up my end of the deal and instead poured it into the travel mugs and got dressed to go outside.  We walked out along the trail and took the spur down closest to the stream and past the coyote den before rejoining the main trail to the back.  We didn’t hear much and the sunrise wasn’t spectacular, but we did scare about four or five deer out of the thicket at the bottom of the valley.  I didn’t get a really good look at any of them because my view was obscured by trees until they were well up the hill in the neighbor’s field, but D. swore he heard antlers crashing against something before they cleared the woods.  Maybe.  We definitely heard a deer snort, so I’ll bet that big buck is still out there somewhere.  We cut down to the bottom of the valley and I noticed a tree that was kind of hollow at the bottom with lots of evidence of traffic around its base.  Sure enough there was a raccoon in there doing its best to sleep.  It startled me a little and I just stepped away and around the other side of the tree.  Much as raccoons are not welcome in or near our buildings, they are part of the ecosystem and if they’re willing to live in trees, I’m willing to leave them alone.  We made our way back up the hill and I started studying one of the oak trees.  I saw a huge lump on one branch that perfectly matched the color of the bark, but it was so round, I just couldn’t believe it was part of the tree.  Our first thought was “raccoon” since we have such an abundance of those, but no ringed tail and no little bandit face.  Also not right for an opossum.  Porcupine, yes.  Porcupine.  Everything I’ve been able to read suggests we’re too far south to be in the range of porcupines, but I’d say this picture suggests we are not.  Another interesting animal and one with which I do not intend to tangle.  I also hope that somewhere down the road I never have to pull porcupine quills out of a dog either.

D. on the edge of the buckthorn project, looking west

We walked back and cooked breakfast and then stopped through the barn to get our tools and head back to the buckthorn.  Porcupine still lying on the branch and completely nonplussed by us, by the hawk that flew over and screamed, or the murder of crows making a racket as they flew south toward a different patch of woods, possibly intent on harassing an owl that was only trying to get some sleep.  We spent a good part of the day cutting and stacking even more buckthorn.  It was considerably warmer and I had no trouble with freezing of herbicide or paint brush.  It was actually warm enough not to want the jacket I would have preferred for this task.  I also learned that D. is willing to walk a mile to bring me a tweezers.  Well I suppose that is the easy way out if the other possibility is to fireman carry me out half that distance.  But I do appreciate it.  I guess I’ve also learned that I should always take my Swiss Army knife out there.  One never knows when a tweezers or scissors will come in handy…

While we didn’t quite make it to either the north or east property lines, we did finish off this particular stand of buckthorn and for the first time, I really think we can win the buckthorn war.  It’s early though and while we think we have this area cut and poisoned and we’ve scattered some prairie seeds, it’s too early to say that our work is done.  I suspect it may still take years of maintenance.  It’s already looking more like the oak opening it’s supposed to be.

More Buckthorn Piles. We'll try to save the small oak in the foreground.

Posted in Biodiversity, Ecology, Invasive Weeds, Prairie Restoration, the farm | 2 Comments