Archive for July, 2010


Monday, July 19th, 2010

garlic1.jpgLast night I was too tired to compose a post. I’m pretty much too tired tonight too, but I’ll give it a shot. We harvested our first crop yesterday… garlic. I started out with the shovel and bare feet, but only got partway through the first row before I wimped out and got some shoes on. It went much faster then.

Once harvested, I tied them into 2 bundles of 6 and hung them in our storage shed. I usually leave them out there for a month until they dry, then trim off the roots and tops and store them in a mesh bag in the basement. We got about 6 dozen cloves this year. We still have garlic left from last year at this time, and besides a green circle in the core of each clove, they are still perfect and tasty. garlic2.jpgAround October, I’ll plant next year’s crop. They are the first things up in the spring, and thrive and survive bad frosts. Occasionally the deer try some of the green parts, but often give up after a few mouthfulls. Garlic is great stuff!

I also emptied and refilled the compost tumbler. We have a Kemps tumbler, which used to be advertised in all the Garden Way literature. Our first one lasted a number of years before the metal parts rotted away. When that happened, I looked around for parts, and learned Kemps had gone out of business. compost.jpgFortunately, the Internet pointed me to an outfit that had bought them out, and they were able to sell me a kit to replace almost all the metal parts of the drum. So now we are working on our second incarnation of the Kemps Compost Tumbler.

The way it works is, you put in leaves, sawdust, food garbage, and water. Then close the door and crank the handle to mix everything together. Once a day, it needs one revolution to keep things mixed up. I peek in every week or so to see if it needs more water. Once my 2 – 5 gallon pails fill up with food garbage, it is time to empty the drum and charge it up with another batch. We’ve used this for years, and have saved numerous bags of garbage over the years from going to the landfill, and we keep the stinkiest stuff out of the trash as well. I usually plow the compost into the buckwheat side of the gardens each year.

Today we went into town for errands as usual for Mondays. Of note was my purchase at Walmart. They are closing out all their landscaping supplies for the season, and their peat moss was half price. I got 8 bales. We happened to be in town with the truck because we hauled our Monkey Puzzle tree into town to donate it to the on-campus greenhouse at MTU. The woman that runs the greenhouse met us there and was very happy to get it. I’m sure it will be in good hands, and we can see it whenever we get lonesome.

Once home we had some lunch and I headed out into the woods. I finished roughing in the farm trail by the sugar shack, and then drove the Scout and yellow trailer out there and started loading it up with firewood logs. I ran out of time around 5:30, and walked back home. Alice and Franco met me on the road and we went out to the dock on the back pond for our daily “dock-sit.”

turtle.jpgWe’ve befriended a turtle that seems quite curious about us, at least until Franco jumps into the water. Alice has named him Speedy, but I just call him Turdy. Our dock-sit is becoming an important part of our day, and one of us often reminds the other that it is almost time. Sometimes we sit with our feet in the water but mostly we sit in our folding camp chairs.

More Firewood

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

I’m working in a nice place in my woods right now. The canopy is very high, and that means few branches on the trees until they are way off the ground. The advantages to this are 1) there are fewer branches to entangle the neighbors when the tree falls, and 2) bucking the trees up to length is easier because of fewer branches. I had another productive several hours sawing and bucking to 8′ lengths again today. I’ve gotten enough done in the past two days that I think I will start hauling soon. I don’t want to cut down any trees I don’t need.

So after a few tanks of chainsaw fuel, I decided to sit on the dozer for a while. The farm road right by the sugar shack takes a 90 degree bend, and right there it gets wet and there are ruts. So I had to find a place to get some dirt so I can build up and sculpt the road. I found two places for dirt. The first one was pretty easy, but there wasn’t much dirt there. The second place is right where my big burn pile was, and had a large stump in the middle of it. So the first order of business was to dig out the stump. Even with the dozer it was a big job. But I finally got enough roots broken so I could get the bucket under it and pop it out, then push it out of the way.

dozer3.jpgThen it was a matter of digging bucket loads of dirt from places where I didn’t need it, and plopping it in places where I do. The concept sounds simple, but it has taken me years of experimenting to get to the point where I can even half do the job properly. I’ve learned the bigger the machine, the faster you can screw things up. I had to quit before I had the bend in the road the way I wanted it, but hopefully you can see how things are starting to shape up.

Why They Call Them Widowmakers

Friday, July 16th, 2010

This morning I spent my time on the computer with financial stuff, and I also took a short nap. After lunch, I walked out to the woods to start felling trees for this batch of firewood. I’m about a year ahead, so this batch will be for the winter after this one.

treemark.jpgI had some acreage marked several years ago, and I’m slowly working through that. I burn 4-5 full cords of firewood a season. I had staged the dozer and my saw and other tools in the woods earlier. I spent probably 4 hours sawing today. I cut the logs into about 8′ lengths, and using the dozer forks, load them onto my funky yellow trailer pulled by the Scout. I haul them close to where I’ll stack them, then cut them to length and split them by hand. If I keep at it, it will be a couple of weeks of pretty solid work. The satisfaction of getting this project done each year is hard to describe.

trees.jpgToward the end of the project today, I was faced with a dilemma. There was a pretty good sized horizontal branch about 30′ up in the canopy, and all that was holding up was a tree that was marked. I had hit this aerial branch once already with another tree I felled. It did not come down, but probably became much more unstable up there. I had no choice but to take it down because it was a danger to me out there. Fortunately, the tree that was holding it up was right next to a substantial maple tree. I considered getting the dozer, attaching the winch cable, and just pulling the tree down that was holding it up from 100′ away. As I looked at it, though, I felt safe enough to cut down the tree while standing behind the safety tree that was between me and the big hung up branch.

The first cut did not bring the tree down. Now everything was very fragile. I raised my saw and made another cut, making sure I knew were I was relative to the trees that were about to come down. I made myself look up as I sawed. When it let go, I saw something I’ve never seen before, and probably few people have. The situation transitioned from two stable trees to utter chaos for a part of a second. The horizontal branch suddenly had nothing holding it up, and is skated down my safety tree a few feet from my body at an amazing rate of speed. My instinct was to run away, but I had conditioned myself to stay behind the safety of my tree. It was over so quickly that I wouldn’t have been able to run more than a step anyway, but seeing that branch crash to the earth a foot from my body was an experience I’ll never forget. The hardhat I had on would have been child’s play to that mass and inertia.

Franco and Peas

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

frank.jpgAlice and I try to sit out on the dock for at least some time every day that weather permits. The wind was perfect for me to throw Franco’s stick a long way from the dock today. That way he has to run around the perimeter of the pond and then use his nose to find the stick. It gets him some exercise, and he really enjoys it too. Occasionally the stick falls short and goes in the water. This dog taught himself how to swim early in his life, so he plunges in without a second thought. Once he is wet, we’ll often throw his stick off the end of the dock and watch him dive in to get it. He is a very strong swimmer. On his way back with his stick, he has a peculiar snort he makes when some water gets in his mouth. Franco makes us laugh loud and often.

Franco and I did our two miles with the backpack after supper as usual tonight. I am carrying along a new lightweight tool on my hikes now. It looks like a cheap racquetball racquet, except it is really a bug zapper. You press a little button on the side and swish it through the air, and any deerfly that blunders into it gets zapped. Bwahaha! The two nights I’ve used it I’ve gotten 6 flies per walk. I don’t know about your feelings towards deerflies, but I am personally not fond of them. They like to land on my back between my tshirt and backpack, and bite there. I find it hard to dislodge them, and when I manage to poke my walking staff up in there, roadcopper3.jpgthey just lay low until I’m done, and then go back to their drilling as soon as I start to walk again. So having a tool that occasionally catches them between two charged meshes of wire with a satisfying ZAP is worth the extra weight. Franco is a little afraid of it. The deerflies like him especially, and I try to get him to come near me so I can sweep him with the thing. Maybe he can detect the electro field of something.

On our walk we found one piece of road copper that was pretty small. It looks a bit like an upside down puppy to me.

peas.jpgAfter the walk I watered the hanging tomatoes and the greenhouse garden. Things are going great in there. This is the first year we’ve had peas that have trained up a trellis. We’ve tried various techniques over the years, from just letting them tangle themselves up on the ground, to other hanging wire mesh. This year I built a 1″x1″ frame for each row of peas, staked it down and tied it up along the greenhouse ribs, and worked on training the peas up it when I walk by. These guys have climbed up so straight that you could put a carpenter’s square on them, and I’ll bet they wouldn’t be far off. And the pea pods are starting to come along too. We have lots of green tomatoes and a jillion blossoms too.

Rake, Seed, Fertilize, Mulch, and Rain

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

grass.jpgAfter yesterday’s trip to town, I had all I needed to fix the scar I left in the field when I built the farm road last summer. My friend Rosemary mentioned last night that rain was predicted for today, so that got me going this morning. I raked everything as smooth as need be, then using my hand held broadcaster, I fertilized and seeded the entire area. Using the 10 bales of straw I staged at the site yesterday, I mulched almost everything. It was so tantalizingly close to finishing the mulching that I started thinking about other resources. I remembered a partial bale of straw I’ve been keeping in my garden tractor shed for probably 10 years now. I’d been there so long I was using it as a shelf for stuff out there. So I drove the Scout back home, loaded it up, and using it and the last few sprinkles in the back of the truck, I finished the job. Now I needed rain to come before the wind blew it all away.

Rain it did, about 2 hours after I came inside for lunch. How often does this sort of thing happen I wonder; that you get the amount of rain you need when you need it.

spag.jpgI had a fire department meeting at 6:00, so we worked on an early supper. I concocted a spaghetti recipe I found in one of my backpacker cookbooks, and darned if it didn’t come out pretty good. We had about half of it for supper, and I’m dehydrating the other half so I can experiment with rehydrating it later on. The plan is to pack most of our own dehydrated food for the Grand Canyon trek planned for mid October, and I feel it is better to try these things out at home first, rather than trusting it to luck on the trip. There are no restaurants in the Grand Canyon back country, so you’d better have enough food that you like.

I’ve been noticing the level of our front pond has been dropping lately, but I’m hoping this lovely rain today put it back over the top. I guess you know you’re a farmer when you walk outside and encounter a rain storm, and smile.


Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

First thing this morning I called the post office and asked about modifying the envelopes from the mailing to add the postage section. I am happy to report the bulk mail specialist said it would be ok. So I printed enough mailing labels to complete the job, and while I was doing the paperwork for the mailing, Alice was kind enough to stick on every one. Then we headed into town and had breakfast at the Suomi as usual. We’re becoming regulars at that place.

straw.jpgAfter breakfast I dropped Alice off at work and dived into the days errands. Since we generally only go into town once a week, I pack a lot in while I’m there. I am happy to report I finally found a bug zapper racket. The deer and horse flies are bad this time of year, and neighbor Ray said he has had good luck with the zapper and deer flies. We tried it out on our walk after supper and I can report that 5 deer flies paid for harassing me with their lives. Bwahahaha.

One of the errands involved a stop at Ericksons for some pasture seed and straw. I recently smoothed the dirt next to my new farm trail with the dozer, and now I need to seed and mulch it. I picked up 10 bales of straw and paid $6.50 per bale! We also stopped at Karvakko’s on the way home, and learned roadcopper21.jpgthey also sell straw for $4.50. I don’t know if it is just that I don’t remember correctly, but the straw these people are selling seems much smaller and lighter than I remember it when I was a youngster.

After we got home and unloaded, we only had a couple of hours before we had to take off again to do our highway cleanup and then the monthly meeting of FOLK, the outfit I mailed the newsletter today for. It was a good cleanup and a good meeting.

Today’s piece of road roadcopper11.jpgcopper (see the 7/1/10 post for more about road copper) was a neat one. It almost escaped my notice because it looked like a piece of bark, and even when I poked at it with my staff, it seemed too thin to be copper, but copper it was. The question is, what is it?

Buckwheat and Newsletter

Monday, July 12th, 2010

buck1.jpgOne of the nice things we saw when we came home from our trip to Lansing over the weekend, was the second crop of buckwheat in the greenhouse garden coming up. I super-watered everything before we left, and it really paid off.

This morning I rototilled for the second time in the buckwheat part of the outside garden, and then planted, shallow-tilled, and watered. I think some gunk must have gotten buck2.jpgsprinkler head, because it mostly misted, and with the wind we had, a bunch of the patch did not get watered. I cleaned out the shower head and will try a rewater soon.

Today I also put the finishing touches on the FOLK newsletter, printed everything, and spent several hours with Alice folding, inserting, and tabbing. Near the end of the project I noticed that a change I made erased the text box that contains the permit number on the upper right corner of the envelope; a serious mistake! Alice and I quit folding at that point, because we may have to redo everything. I plan to call the post office in the morning, and ask them if I can print the permit imprint on some mailing labels and stick those onto the envelopes. I hope they say yes, because it would be pretty demoralizing to redo the whole project from scratch. I still very much hate junk mail, but you do have to respect all the work that goes into those mailings.

Alice and I are still out of sorts from our trip. We both slept pretty well last night, but just couldn’t seem to get things going today. Part of it may be torpor. We’ve both been watching our diets for the past month or so, and when you deny yourself, you often binge when the opportunity arises. Well, binge we did while we were “on vacation.” Now I think we’re paying the price. I think we’ll make it.

Back Home

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

We left early Thursday morning for a trip to Lansing to visit my parents. By early I mean the alarm went off at 4:30. We (Alice, Ted, and Franco) are such a well oiled machine that we were on the road by 5:00. On the way down we didn’t stop much and arrived at my parent’s place a bit before 3:00. We had a very nice visit, but we were glad to be back in the car heading north at 5:00 this morning. francoring.jpgThe only mishap we had on the way home was Franco’s beloved red rubber ring that we play toss and tug with went into a deep mud puddle behind the Hardees in Munising, and even though I took off my shoes, rolled up my pant legs and walked around its murky depths for 15 minutes, we couldn’t find it and had to abandon it there.

Franco charmed everyone he met as usual. How could anyone refuse to throw the red ring when confronted with such an imploring face? At first grandma and grandpa gpa.jpg said they’d just watch while Alice and I threw the ring, but after about a thousand times of him bringing the ring to them, they both gave in. We all had fairly clean clothes when we went out that evening, but were all pretty thoroughly slimed by the time we came in. I suppose all dogs produce this quantity of saliva, but gma.jpgit seems to me that Franco is about as lavish regarding the sharing of his saliva as any dog I know.

Mom and Dad’s place is right on the Grand River in Dimondale, and they have a nice fire pit and swing outside which they enjoy most evenings. The live in a very pretty place. The subdivision is pretty quiet, and we took several walks around the block each day to give Franco some exercise. He thought the smells were quite nice and lingered long and often before making his own contribution. Franco is a spectacular traveller. We almost never hear a peep out of him until we stop.

Strike the Tipi, Garden, and Road Copper

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

We are leaving in the morning for a trip to Lansing to visit my parents. So today has been all about trying to get ready. First thing I drove to the Pelkie Post Office and mailed all 670 letters for the fire department fund raiser. I had dreams about stuffing those envelopes last night. It was good to get them to the post office and be done with them. Once home I called Dohrenwend’s to see if today would be ok for me to take down the tipi. We’ve been waiting for the right weather so the cover would be dry enough for storage. When I got up there, I discovered that the bottom of the cover was touching the ground in several places, and that the cover was wet there. So the cover was spread out in the hay loft to dry. The tipi went down in about an hour with no help. That involved putting all the poles away in the hay loft too. I was struck once again at the elegance of this system of housing the Plains Indians developed.

Once home from that project, I hooked up the sprinkler and did the entire greenhouse so it will hopefully last until we get home on Sunday.

roadcopper2.jpgAfter supper it was raining, so Franco and I did a 1 mile hike instead of the normal 2, and I did not put my backpack on. I’m not sure how I rationalized not wearing the backpack, but what’s done is done. Very near the end of the walk, I found this piece of road copper (see the July 1 post for more about road copper.) This one looks like one of those “we’re number one” gloves people wear to sporting events. On its side, it looks like a guy with a very large nose.

Cherries, Buckwheat, Stumps, and Mailing

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

robin.jpgToday we picked about half the cherries from our sour cherry tree. This poor tree has been through it, I can tell you. The beavers got it once and mowed it just about down to the ground. I caught it before they got the whole tree and protected it with wire fence. It looks kind of funny, but we do get cherries from it most years. This year a robin flew away and scolded us when we arrived. I figured we were interrupting its meal, but once I got up on the ladder, I discovered an active nest with a very young chick and two unhatched eggs. We did our best to hurry so the nest could get covered again.

buckwheat.jpgI rototilled the buckwheat half of the greenhouse garden, planted the next crop of buckwheat, and tilled in the seeds. It was time to till in the buckwheat on the outside garden too. I’ll go over that again tomorrow with the tiller, and then plant it too. We are getting good buckwheat plants this year for green manure. Usually the greenhouse buckwheat is a lot ahead of the outside garden buckwheat, but this year they were pretty even. The nice rains we’ve been getting in June have really helped I think.

dozer.jpgI also drove the dozer out to the woodlot and did some work where I got the dirt for the farm trail I built across the swamp last year. We burned the pile of brush earlier this summer, so I had to move the one big stump that didn’t burn. I wrapped a chain around it and hauled it with the dozer to the stump pile. Then I leveled the field out and it came out pretty well. I hope to seed and mulch it soon so it can turn back into a field.

firehall.jpgOur local fire department meets the first Tuesday of the month, so I had to go to that tonight. Alice and I made a very good quiche for supper, and after that I loaded up the truck and drove to the firehall. For the last several years, I’ve been coordinating the fundraiser we do each summer. We send out about 675 pieces of mail, and I print all the envelopes and letters, and buy all the stamps. Tonight’s regular meeting ended about 8:15, and we worked for the next two hours to put together the letters and get them sealed and stamped. I’m always glad to get this part finished. Now all we have to do is present them to the post office and hope some money comes in.

The chief announced that we may in fact get started on our new firehall this summer. There are a lot of decisions to be made, but I think we are moving closer to a new building.