Monday, March 30, 2009

Bluebird rescue continues

Our physician son has taken over bluebird rescue duties at Deerfield during his visit. It's a family affair.

Nelly stands vigilant watch by the stove to alert us when there's a bluebird trapped.

This morning's rescue was particularly satisfying. When Lem released the bluebird on the porch, it was enthusiastically greeted by its relatives and welcomed back to freedom with loud chirping and fanfare. The birds played tag in the woods and then merrily went on about their business.

We are three out of four on stove rescues. Bluebirds have friends in Deerfield.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sleeping, creeping and leaping

Among the things learned Saturday at a UT Extension Course on gardening:

* We are in the 6B-7A zone of the USDA Cold Hardiness Map. That zone is able to grow more varieties of plants, but the extremes of heat and cold mean we may not grow all those varieties in the best quality.

* Count on three rotations (early spring, summer, fall) in the vegetable garden with May 1 to Aug. 1 as prime growing season.

* Vegetable garden needs 1 inch of water per week to thrive. (Tip: If a sprinkler must be used, put old tuna cans in the garden to measure water.) Soaker hose is always the best.

* Ideal organic matter percentage for garden is 16%-20%. More or less equally can be a problem.

* Plan on three years to make a garden. The first year it sleeps, the second year is creeps and the third year it leaps. As usual, I'm pushing the envelope.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rain and a little rest

With two days of rain behind us (1.3 inches) and two more on the way, not much will get done this weekend. Getting all the brambles, berries and grapes in the ground was a good move. Sunday night low is predicted to be near freezing. I cut up four old cotton curtains to cover the blueberries just in case.

I helped a neighbor haul lumber for a building project. He will be at the ready when I need him.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Our son from Minnesota is coming in tomorrow for a week, so I'm not sure how many posts there will be in the coming days. This is his first time home in nine months.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Broadband berries

I think my trellis system will serve our berries and grapes well. Remember I told you that the wire strung across the posts is actually old coaxial cable that our provider tore out when they were trying to solve our broadband problems.

The 18 posts are landscape timbers which I found on sale. They are sunk two feet in the ground and set in concrete.

I know you movers and shakers out there have your Blackberries. Mine are lowercase and suit me just fine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brambles, blueberries and grapes planted

We're getting serious now, folks.

Just finished planting:

* (8) Ouchita thornless blackberries
* (8) Red damron raspberries
* (4) Carlos muscadines
* (3) Concord seedless grapes
* (1) Jumbo bunch grape
* (7) Rabbiteye blueberries (4 Powderblue, 3 Tifblue)

The brambles and grapes will reside on 200 feet of trellis.

Most of the planting was done in a soaking rain. Should be a good time to get plants in the ground. We are in for three more days of rain.

Photo above is of a raspberry plant. If all goes as planned, next year we'll harvest several gallons of berries from this puny little thing.

I asked Gabe, my preceptor at the nursery, if there were any tricks I should know about planting brambles. He said: "Just stick 'em in the ground. Anybody can grow brambles."

We shall see, Gabe. We shall see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A tale of two bluebirds

Our dog, Nelly, knew something was amiss in the cold ashes of the warm-morning stove in our breakfast room. She kept pawing and whining at the stove and brick hearth. Then we heard the chirping.

I opened the door of the stove this morning to find two bluebirds -- one dead and one very much alive. I removed the dead bird and carried it to the woods. I stroked the feathers to find they are very much a beige with with just the tips costuming the bird in blue. Its burial place was a nice pile of leaves. I see why John James Audubon shot and trapped the birds he painted (photo from a print we have). That's the only way you can really take a close look at one. Inquisitiveness has its price.

I gently corralled the live bird and took it to the front porch. As I went to put it down to see if it might survive, it took flight to the woods, apparently no worse for spending the night in the stove.

I thought the cap on our chimney was bird proof, but bluebirds have a way of sneaking into small spaces. Next time I'm on the roof I'll check it.

One bluebird gone, but one survived. Small blessings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Play day

Even though there's quite a bit to do at Deerfield, I played hooky today so I could have a round of golf with an old newspaper friend from St. Louis.

For the record, post-hole digging, chainsawing and log splitting do not improve one's golf game.

Back to trellis building tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three signs spring has come to Appalachia

The first sign spring is here are mayapples (lower photo) that spring up in the woods. Also known as the umbrella plant, the plants shoot up almost overnight and ever so slowly unfold their leaves.

The second sign are the beautiful trillium (above) which pop about the same time as mayapples but in fewer numbers. Trillium are sensitive plants. Step on one and it quickly shrivels and dies. If you are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don't dare dig up one. It can cost you a hefty fine.

The third sign is my first yellow jacket sting of the season. My hand swelled so badly I couldn't get a glove on. After a dozen or so stings last year, I always keep the Benadryl close by.

If we have to have stings, it's also nice to have mayapples and trillium.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh, my aching trellis

My master plan calls for three 64-feet rows of wire trellis for my brambles and grapes. That means sinking 18 posts in the ground with concrete. I laid out all 18 posts and managed to dig six and pour concrete before my back gave out.

My neighbor has an auger on his tractor and has offered to dig the post holes for me, but I was anxious to get started so I used my manual post-hole digger. After two hours of digging, I'm not so anxious now. I'll save the remaining 12 holes for my neighbor and his tractor.

When finished with the three rows of trellis, I will have room for:

* 8 thornless blackberry
* 8 red raspberry
* 4 muscadine
* 4 Concord grape

Once again, the photo is not too striking, but six months ago there was a solid wall of trees and undergrowth where the camera is looking.

RECYCLING NOTE: My gardening books say to use a vinyl coated wire for the trellis. When the cable company was trying to figure out what was wrong with our broadband, they tore out about 200 feet of co-axial cable. I saved it and that's what I will string between the posts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The fruit trees are in the ground

After all the preparation and buildup, I finally put the shovel in the ground and planted six fruit trees on the north-facing slope above what will be the garden. Two each of:

* Macintosh apple
* Bartlett pear
* Early Richmond cherry

The surrounding land in the photo looks a little disheveled, but keep in mind just six months ago this was woods so thick you couldn't walk through it without a machete.

The composition of the dirt was a pleasant surprise. It was more loam than clay and had a nice texture. I added a little organic compost but it probably wasn't necessary.

I have on order some garlic clips to put on the trees to try to keep the deer away. I'll also spray the logs I placed around the trees with Liquid Fence. My hope is that grass is so plentiful this spring that the deer with graze elsewhere.

Tomorrow: Building wire supports for the brambles and grapes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

An embarrassment of (walnut) riches

My intensive clean-up of the garage recently reminded me that I still have about 80 pounds of black walnuts which have been husked and dried but not shelled. The thought of cracking and shelling that many walnuts threw me into a depression. What to do?

Solution: I packed 40 pounds into a bag and offered them for free on craigslist. The posting had not been up 10 minutes when I got the first call.

I specifically said in the posting that the walnuts were husked but not shelled. I even posted a photo. The caller's first question was: Do I have to shell them?

"Yes," I said. "My generosity only goes so far."

Anyone who has tried to shell black walnuts knows wherewith I speak.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Much mulch

The nursery man who has been helping me select my fruit trees and berries was off today, so I didn't get my plants. Instead, I bought two tons of much which I spread on our 9 flower beds. (Note to self: stop building flower beds.)

We have a 50% chance of rain tomorrow so I put the mulch down at a good time.

I will get something in the ground this week during the cool snap. My planting window for trees, grapes and brambles is slowing closing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mundane, but necessary

So, I went to the garage to clean up some grass seed I had spilled behind the workbench. Six hours later, I have a clean garage. Not very satisfying work, but necessary.

I start planting tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Take that, Bucky

R. Buckminster Fuller, the visionary architect who invented the geodesic dome, said there are no such things as right angles in nature. He never saw the trees in Deerfield.

The photo is one of my favorite trees along our gravel driveway. I have other photos of trees bent in all types of condescending shapes, but I will save them for another day when I can't get outside.

We had another 1/4 inch of rain today, giving us something over a half inch for the past four days. Grass seed is springing to life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rain gauges don't lie

The rain from the massive cold front started Friday around 10 p.m. and lasted until noon today. That's 38 hours of rain. While it may have been a drizzle at times, I never saw that it had stopped raining. Yet, both my rain gauges show only 1/3 inch of rain. I never knew it could rain so long yet so little.

My grass seed and freshly prepared garden areas needed the rain badly, but there's good news. The 300 pounds of grass seed I planted 18 days ago is starting to emerge in spots.

The warmer weather expected this week should help push the shoots on up.

When I complain about mowing in August, remind me how badly I wanted to see the grass in March.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A terrible waste

Every time I pass the sawed-up cherry logs stacked by our driveway, the rich red wood calls to me. I think about all the beautiful furniture that could have been made from this tree.

The tree toppled in a winter windstorm, and my only option was to saw it up. Hiring a truck to transport a single log is cost prohibitive.

I'll season the wood and reserve it for fires on special occasions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A good rain is in order

Even though January and February had frequent rains, we are more than 1 inch behind on rainfall for the year. That should be fixed by the time the weekend is over. We are in for three full days of soaking rain.

It comes at a good time. The grass seed I planted two weeks ago needs a boost. The garden plots have all been plowed and could use a good soaking.

I'm trying to find aluminum sulphate to distribute over the blueberry patch, or, should I say, where the blueberry patch is going to be.

It's a good feeling to have your land reading for planting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The reason it's called Deerfield

Driving on Deerfield this afternoon, I glanced to my right to see a full-size deer flying through the air toward my truck. The grown doe hit the top of my right front fender, bounced off and landed in the grassy shoulder. When I got out of the truck the deer began pulling itself with its two front legs into the woods. I'm sure it's back was broken.

I was safely within the 25 MPH speed limit on Deerfield, but it wouldn't have mattered what speed I was going. The deer T-boned me.

We love to see the deer grazing in Deerfield. We have seen as many as seven in a neighbor's apple orchard. We sometimes see them from our kitchen window.

Buzzards and turkey vultures will start circling the woods in Deerfield soon. I'll get the truck fixed and life will go on -- minus one beautiful creature.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Toolbox memories

I logged several hours in the tractor seat today preparing the new ground for planting. One of the minor improvements I made to my John Deere was attaching a small plastic toolbox on the right rear fender to hold miscellaneous tools, spare parts and sundry. It keeps me from having to go to the garage every time I need a tool or a nut and bolt.

The toolbox brings to mind the magic one on my grandfather's Ford 8N tractor. The metal box rested underneath the cowling and very close to the engine block. The only things I can remember being in the toolbox were some rusted bolts, an adjustable wrench, a pair of pliers and some baling wire. It seemed much of the tractor was held together with baling wire.

What made the toolbox special, however, is the way it warmed our lunch in the field. My grandmother would take leftovers (ham and biscuit, tenderloin and biscuit, ham and cornbread) and wrap them in waxed paper or a brown paper sack. Aluminum foil had not made it to the Vawter farm in West Tennessee yet. My grandfather would stuff the goodies in the toolbox and take off for the field. After strategically placing two fruit jars full of ice underneath a shade tree, the day of plowing would begin. I would hop on and off the tractor, sometimes untangling roots from the turning plow or chasing baby rabbits along the fence row. The scrumptious smells coming from the toolbox were never far from my nose.

My grandfather would glance up at the sun to make sure it was noon and we would proceed to the shade where the feast would begin. A ham and biscuit cooked for five hours in a tractor toolbox has no epicurean equal. Ice water from a fruit jar on a 90-degree day is the nectar of gods. There's no better luncheon companion than a grandfather for a 10-year old boy who has trouble talking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winter's damage

Today's 75-degree day was spent cleaning up ice and wind damage in the woods around the house. My neighbor and I felled about a dozen trees that were either dead or that had fallen and gotten hung up in the branches of other trees. When I pulled out a sassafras stump with my tractor, it smelled like I had knocked over a root beer stand. I brought part of the stump in to the back porch so the dogs could sniff it.

I roughed out on graph paper some possible planting scenarios for blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, muscadines and concord grapes. My books say these need to be in the ground by March 15. Just like the newspaper business, another deadline.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where the wild garlic grows

All this time you probably thought that the weed that comes up in your yard in late winter is the mundane wild onion. Not so, says the UT Agriculture Extension Service. In this part of the country it's actually wild garlic.

The lawn maintenance seminar that my neighbor and I attended a week ago had several bits of information like this. My neighbor said that his yard could be a laboratory for weed sciences since it contains every weed the instructor displayed.

Personally, I would love to have some more weeds in my yard in place of the mud. My place is so shady that it's hard to get anything started. I'm not looking for a pristine carpet of grass, just something underfoot so the dogs won't get muddy when they go out.

The grass seed I sowed should start sprouting in the next week or so. If not, does anyone know where you can buy weed seed?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Correction and direction

The sharp-eyed Sam Venable informed me I had misidentified the hawk in my Feb. 27 post. What I purported to be a red-tailed hawk was actually a red-shouldered hawk. I checked a secondary bird book and Sam was spot on. The red-shouldered hawk is a mite smaller than the red-tailed and has a rust-colored breast instead of the red-tail's light-colored breast.

I was explaining my faux pas to a neighbor when he asked a tough question: Why do you write Deerfield Diary? A good question without a ready answer.

Ernest Hemingway said that you can only know something if you write it or paint it. Since I don't paint, writing is my outlet. I believe I was placed here on this scraggly but very-alive 10 acres in East Tennessee for a reason. It seems only fitting that I should pay close attention to what is likely to be the last chapter of my life.

When I swing a leg over the steering wheel of my tractor, I'm taken back to summers on my grandfather's farm in West Tennessee. When I plant something, I think about the miraculous cycles of life. I walk the woods in wonderment, mulling over how much I have to learn about the ground under my feet. I grow younger as I age.

This piece of earth teaches me. Where else would I have learned the difference between a red-tailed and a red-shouldered hawk and that the wood from the lowly locust tree is the prime wood in the manufacturing of xylophone keys?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nice set for Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Just before sunrise when I go to the road to get the newspaper, I'm struck by the grove of locust trees at the side of our house. The crooked trunks and tangled limbs silhouetted against the sky have always reminded me of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the famous short story by Washington Irving. I half expect to see the Headless Horseman galloping out of the woods.

Locust trees get their wild shapes because they have a growth spurt in their juvenile years which magnifies any bends or crooks. The most frequent uses for the extra hard wood, especially the black locust variety, are fence posts, railroad ties and xylophone keys. It once was the primary wood for pegs or dowels used in ship building.

Ichabod Crane signing out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Locust Hill won today

Using a chain saw on a hill with a 60-degree slope is harder than I imagined. You have to balance and saw at the same time, putting an extra strain on the back and legs. After 7 hours of sawing, I retired to the house for a double round of ibuprofen.

Not sure I can work tomorrow, but I will live to saw another day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Battle of Locust Hill begins tomorrow

The timber cutters who were here last fall had to leave behind some black locust trees. The pulp mill doesn't like black locust, plus it's too crooked and gnarled to load systematically on a log truck.

I have one hill that looks particularly bad (above) and that's what I'm going to tackle tomorrow. My plan is to cut the trees into proper firewood length, roll them down the hill and then split them.

It will take several days to clean up the hill. If I were feeling extra energetic I would say "that's no hill for a stepper," but I won't say it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Giving Ember Days a shot

Sam Venable, columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, makes a big deal out of reporting Ember Days, four sets of days each year on which you can cut brush and weeds and they won't grow back.

The first Ember Days of 2009 are March 4, 6 and 7. It's always a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Farmer's Almanac lists the days, but the origin of the mysterious practice goes back to 400 A.D. in Rome. Ember Days apparently started as a religious period of fasting. How it made the transition to brush cutting escapes my research.

Folks today in the Ozarks are adamant about Ember Days. Ash and privet are two troublesome types of brush in the Ozarks and around East Tennessee. Any person who is in the know cuts those types of brush only on Ember Days.

So, tomorrow is the first Ember Day of the year. I have on my calendar to whack away at the brush all day. Sam, if the brush doesn't come back, I'll buy you a lunch. If it does return, bring your scythe over here next March and help me.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wish books

The seed catalogs are coming in like dandelions on a suburban lawn. The printers must saturate the ink cylinders when they print the catalogs. The colors are so vibrant it's almost like the plants are growing right out of the box when I pick up the mail.

The catalogs make for nice bed-time reading when the overnight temperature is in the teens. I will overdo my garden in my dreams, but maybe I can come back to reality when the actual planting starts. Sweet dreams.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Now, it's up to the seeds

While we aren't going to get a snow pack to push the tiny fescue seeds deeper into the ground, the last two days have brought almost two inches of soaking rain. I did a spot check and the grass seeds have disappeared in all but the hardest and barest patches of ground. I'll try to sprinkle some organic matter over those in the next few days.

A neighbor and I attended a continuing education class yesterday on lawn maintenance at the University of Tennessee. The two hour session was primarily for those with established lawns, but I learned that I had done a few things right in trying to re-establish my grass.

Germination should take place in 10 to 14 days. Only thing I can do now is something I'm not good at -- waiting.