Thursday, April 30, 2009

On February 10 I posted this picture of one of my brush piles. It was about the size of a 2,000 square foot house. The fire has been burning now for 96 hours and the brush pile seems to be about 90 percent consumed.

I will be glad when the fire goes out. The smoke is starting to give us headaches, and no matter how many showers I take, I smell like wet ashes.

I will spread the ashes and charcoal over the lower garden area. American Indians used charcoal for fertilizer. Hope it works.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An eternal flame?

As I look out of my upstairs window, I see flames from our burn pile. It has been going for 72 hours and shows no signs of going out. I spent the day pushing the brush into the center of the pile with my tractor. The hot embers ignite the fresh brush and here we go again.

There are forest fires in the area, but I was careful to clear a 20-foot firebreak around the pile. I also called the U.S. Forestry Service to get a burn permit.

The forecast was for rain today, but it was bone dry. We need a good shower.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dining at the hawk buffet

For the past two days I've been burning the huge brush piles created by our tree clearing project. The piles have been burning for 48 hours with the brush about 75 percent consumed.

When I started the fires I noticed field mice scampering for safety. Then the hawks started circling and watching the rodent frenzy from nearby tree tops. I never saw a hawk swoop in for a kill, but this afternoon while pulling off my boots on the back porch I heard at least three different hawks giving their victory cries. It's one of the most distinctive bird sounds you'll ever hear.

Fewer mice means fewer snakes. It's a win-win for me and the hawks, not so good for the mice. Such is the natural order.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Who wouldn't like lamb's ear?

Reading a gardening blog the other day, I was surprised that some folks think lamb's ear is on a par with kudzu and needs to be eradicated. There were several tactics listed to keep lamb's ear at bay.

We have a thriving bed of lamb's ear which is pretty and absolutely no trouble. Occasionally it will escape its boundaries but it's easy to dig up and put back in it's place.

Remember when I went off about the sumac tree and was chastised by a reader for belittling the tree. I get a dose of my own medicine. We just all need to get along.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A special shade garden

I never met a rock I didn't like. My son and daughter will testify that in their younger days when a rock on the side of the road caught my eye, I would stop and toss it in the trunk of the car. Oh, what an embarrassment their old man was.

When a neighbor asked if I was interested in some boulders he was digging up on his property, I jumped at the offer. It took both our tractors to haul them over to my place.

I wanted to plant something special around them, and today the perfect plants dropped in my lap. Our friends from church, Bob and Suzie, knew how much I admired the wildflowers in their beautiful log cabin compound, and out of the blue Suzie showered me with three celandine poppies and a healthy viburnum. I planted them in the little shade garden near the road where the boulders stand sentinel.

In photo, granddaughter Keaton inspects our afternoon handiwork.

Rocks, plants from friends and a beautiful granddaughter, three of my favorite things.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gardening tip of the week

I'm sure many Deerfield Diary readers grow flowers or vegetables in clay pots every summer. If you do, you know that in the heat of summer the plants have to be watered every day and sometimes twice a day if the temperature gets above 90 degrees. The potting soil dries out quickly as the heat extracts the water from the clay.

Solution: Before you put in the potting soil, line the pots with several layers of newspaper. This will cut down the water evaporation and your plants won't need watering as often.

If you don't have a newspaper, go to the store and buy one. Believe me, your newspaper needs the revenue.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ember Days validated

TO: Sam Venable
FROM: Vince Vawter
RE: Ember Days

Your continuous seasonal promotions of Ember Days inspired me to attempt to validate in a scientific manner your supposition that brush cut on those days will not grow back as rapidly and enthusiastically as brush cut on non-Ember Days.

Not that I suggest that you would ever exaggerate, customize or generally belie the truth in any manner.

On March 4, 2009, the first Ember Day of the year, I cut brush on the south side of my driveway. On March 5, a non-Ember Day, I cut the brush on the north side. The brush in question was mostly of the hated common privet variety.

Herewith, I enclose ground-level photographic evidence that Ember Days do appear to have some basis in reality and are not a figment of the heralded Venable imagination. As you can see, the privet in the second photo has not re-emerged. This is the side of my driveway cut on an Ember Day. The privet in the first photo is up and running. I cut this on a non-Ember Day.

Once again, your column gives solace to the lazy of our tribe who would rather spend the afternoon on the couch rather than wielding a sling blade in the hot sun.

Congratulations on yet another contribution to the nurturing of mankind, and if you’re not doing anything in the next few weeks would you mind helping me cut the brush on that north side of the drive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

We struck black gold!

The landowner in back of us keeps a few head of cattle on his 240 acre farm. He invited me to come over any time and scoop up all the cow manure I wanted from his cattle barn. I got my first load today and will be going back soon for more.

I was worried how I was going to amend the soil in my garden and this should do the trick. Never was I so happy to see a big pile of . . . manure!

(No photo for obvious reasons.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

I took off from my Deerfield duties to spend the day with granddaughter Keaton. Time well spent.

Monday, April 20, 2009

100th Post: A warren of rabbits

Springtime means bunnies, and we certainly have our share in Deerfield. My neighbor found a nest of five in his yard. Soon they will grow up to eat our vegetables and flowers, but they are little darlings now.

I named them Fiver, Hazel Bigwig, Blackavar and Silver. Those who read "Watership Down" by Richard Adams in the 1970s will recognize the names. I remember reviewing the book for my newspaper and wondering if it would become the classic I thought it would. For the record, it is Penguin Books best-selling novel of all time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pruning by the book

In my February 7 post ("A better home for butterflies"), I noted that I was hesitant to prune our butterfly bushes like the book recommended. It advised to cut the canes back to within 6 inches of the ground. My pruning record is not that admirable, more chainsaw than scalpel as it were.

However, the book had it right. All three of our butterfly bushes are coming back healthy and stronger looking than ever. Left photo was taken after pruning. The right photo is today's plant.

Looks as if I get to keep my pruning shears for another season.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A few more "hickory chickens"

We have found another half dozen morels around the place, but they are small and look like they need rain.

We found one stand under our biggest hickory tree. In Kentucky morels are known as "hickory chickens" because legend has it that they grow near hickory trees.

I cross-plowed the garden today in anticipation of rain tomorrow. As usual the plowing brings old roots to the surface. In the last two months I'm sure I've carted off 50 wheelbarrow loads of roots.

I should have some vegetables planted by now, but I'm still prepping.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easy as 1-2-3 and 4-5-6 and 7-8-9 and . . .

The 21 post holes for the garden fence were dug. The posts were in their holes. All I had to do was align the posts, pour the concrete and I'm done.

Well, eight hours later, I'm done.

Seemingly simple tasks get so complicated. First, the tractor auger does not dig to exact measurements. I had to fill and then dig out other holes to get them exactly 24 inches deep. Also, the auger makes a larger hole than hand digging. It takes more concrete. I ended up pouring 1,200 pounds on the 21 posts when I had planned on just 800.

Instead of using good lumber for supports while the concrete was drying, I used old 2 X 4s which were hard to work with.

What I thought would be an easy half-day job turned into an all-day marathon. But the posts are in and straight.

Now all I have to do is add the 72 1 X 6 X 8 stringers, attach 160 feet of chicken wire and build a gate. That won't take long, will it?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The bleeding heart that keeps on beating

The first time I saw the bleeding heart plant it was poking its head up through a pile of cedar shakes that the roofers had thrown on it at the side of the garage. This was in 2006. I knew it would not survive the roofers, so I moved it to a back corner of the house. It lost its bloom and I thought it would soon die.

The next spring it bloomed in its new spot, but I had planted it in a bad location. Even though I piled rocks around it, I kept hitting it with the water hose. I sheared it off at the ground with a jerk of the hose one day, but I decided to take another chance and move it to the corner of the patio. In 2008 it didn't bloom, so I forgot about it -- until a few days ago.

To my surprise it is thriving at the corner of the patio. I'm going to give it a break and not move it this year. It just hope my old ticker is dependable as this plant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We're talking turkey here

This old fellow (or gal) was cleaning up the seed around the bird feeder when Betty went out to snap its picture. Camera shy, he ambled down the driveway.

We have seen more wild turkey this spring than ever. We hear them gobbling in the woods in the morning and evening. We had to wait on one to cross the road recently in front of our house, the only "traffic jam" we've ever had in Deerfield.

Maybe the word is out on the turkey grape vine that Vince is planting a garden?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Preparation of morels

Aficionados of morels say the best time to eat them is when they are fresh, but we wanted to save our small cache for a special occasion.

The two choices of preserving morels are drying and freezing. Since our oven would not set for 110 degrees, we decided to freeze them. Per instructions, we washed the morels in salt water, sliced them length-wise and dried them on paper towels. We then rolled the mushrooms in seasoned flour and quickly plopped them in the freezer on cookie sheets. The next morning we packaged them in a freezer bag.

We're searching recipe books and online sites. The best way may be just to sautee them with chives and eat them as a side dish. If anyone has a good morel recipe, please pass it on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

BULLETIN: Morels found in Deerfield!

Walking the dogs along the driveway this weekend, I happened to look down to my left to see a stately morel. (Photo at right). A morel is a rare mushroom found in some parts of Appalachia. The fungus is prized for its taste and texture. A quick look on Amazon told me that dried morels are selling for up to $440 a pound. (That's not a misprint).

I quickly scoured the decaying leaves and picked out 14 of the sponge-like beauties in a patch between the driveway and creek. The area was about 6 X 20 feet. Later, I made a diligent search along both sides of creek for about a quarter mile. No more morels to be found.

Morels are mysterious. They cannot be cultivated. They grow only where they want and they may or may not come back in the same spot next year no matter how carefully they are harvested. Research on the Internet tells us morels grow when redbud trees bloom. Ours are at their peak. In second photo, our granddaughter, Keaton Link, tries to figure out what kind of Popsicle her grandfather has given her.

The history of the morel is interesting. In Kentucky they are known as "dryland fish" because if you fillet one it resembles a fish in a frying pan. Another name is "hickory chickens." Stories abound about mountain folk subsisting on morels during the Great Depression. (Maybe they only grow when times are desperate.) West Virginians call them "molly moochers."

In parts of the United States and Europe, professional morel hunters search the woods for morels each spring. The hunters pay special attention to land that has been ravaged by forest fires. Morels apparently pop up two or three years after an area has been burned.

I'll have more about the harvesting and eating of morels in future posts.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A tale of two cherry trees

My two Early Richmond cherry trees seem to have made it through the cold snap and downpours better than any of the newly planted fruits and berries, but they have strikingly different attributes.

The tree on the left has been full of beautiful blooms. The other one is not very pleasing to look at but the trunk is stocky and healthy looking. I noticed when I planted it that the roots were big and well developed.

I planted the trees closer than was recommended at the bottom of the hill so they could feed off each other and keep each other company. Possibly each will take something from the other.

The Early Richmond is a sweet and tart cherry. My books say cherry trees bear for many years if they are taken care of. That’s my plan.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Two fronts 12 hours apart

Two fronts moved through Deerfield today, one at 5 a.m. and one at 5 p.m. The first brought a half-inch of rain and the second promises even more. We can do without the high winds and tornadoes that have been part of the fronts across Tennessee. We have tender plants trying to get established.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Anemic pears; God bless the auger

I gave the Bartlett pear trees a good dose of iron sulfate at the suggestion of Gabe, my nursery guru. I hope this shot of iron brings their droopy leaves back to life, but at 62 I'm beginning to know the droopy feeling. Pass the Geritol, please.

When I dug the 18 holes for the trellis posts, it took me about 7 hours over two back-breaking days. I had nightmares (not to mention back spasms) of dark holes caving in on me. Today, my neighbor with the tractor-powered auger came over and drilled the 21 holes for my garden fence in about 45 minutes. On the northeast corner of the garden we hit heavy clay which would have made hand digging even more miserable. If the garden doesn't work out, I can always try pottery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Living on the edge of a hard freeze

The low last night at Deerfield was 34, so we didn't suffer a hard freeze. The straw mulch helped to keep the low plants safe and warm.

The apple and cherry trees kept their blooms, but for some unknown reason the two Bartlett pear trees lost all their blooms and the leaves have started to close up. I have a call in to Gabe at the nursery to see how concerned I should be. Are pears more susceptible to the cold than apples?

It's touch and go for the dogwood trees. The blooms are beginning to show a little brown around the edges, but they are hanging on valiantly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Plants all snug in their beds

We got a reprieve last night on the freeze. The best I can calculate it got down to only 35 degrees. A hard freeze is forecast tonight. Don't let the blue skies in the photo fool you. It was spitting snow even as I snapped the picture.

I got moving today and bought some straw to put around the young berries and grapes. I'll cover plants around the house with old curtains I saved just for that purpose.

Nothing can be done for the brilliant dogwood blossoms. They were nice while they lasted.

Monday, April 6, 2009

It's 10 p.m. Know where your blueberries are?

Tonight's forecast is 28 degrees with possible snow. I went down to cover the blueberries with old curtains, but the weight of the cloth was too much for the young plants. I feared the cloth would do more harm than good. A quick call to Gabe, the nursery guru, confirmed my thinking. I should have gotten some straw mulch, but it's too late.

So, I will let the blueberries spend the night without any protection. I feel like a bad parent.

The dogwoods around the house and in the woods are a brilliant white. They may be a dirty brown when we wake tomorrow.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The plot thickens

I completed the layout today for my vegetable garden. I've had to move it several times because I'm finding areas of my land that do not percolate well.

The final plot is 48 X 32 (1536 sq.ft). It will have a 6-foot high fence built on 4 X 4 treated lumber posts. Each 8-foot section will have three 1 X 6 stringers wrapped with 48-inch chicken wire. Around the top of the posts will be a wire to which I can attach aluminum pie plates if the deer seem to want to get inside.

My neighbor with the auger attachement is on call to dig the 21 post-holes, but it is still too wet for the tractor. More rain is expected tonight.

I have been trying to amend the soil with organic matter (dead leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, ashes), but I have a long way to go. I will wait until the first week in May to start planting. I should have the fence completed by then.

I have not decided exactly what to plant. Any suggestions besides the normal tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The grass is always greener . . .

The fescue seed I planted on Feb. 25 is up and has about 2 inches of growth. Even though I double-sowed the seeds, the patches continue to look a little thin to me, but I'm not complaining. This is the best germination I've had of any grass seed I've planted. The plentiful rain in March obviously had much to do with it.

You can see for yourself. The photo below was taken before I planted the seed in a shady spot on the west side of the house. Photo at top right was taken today.

I'll be fertilizing it soon. Will it last through the humid summer? Only the fescue gods know.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rabbits and Deer: BEWARE!

The spring weather has brought to life the wildlife at Deerfield. We have seen all manner of deer, rabbits and wild turkey of late. One turkey had the audacity to leave a rude deposit right in the middle of the driveway by the house -- while we were watching, no less.

To protect our young fruit trees and plants, I have attached garlic spikes (see photo) to the branches. These spikes are made from garlic oil, the scent of which is said to be 1000 times stronger than plain old garlic. Also, on the timbers surrounding the plants, I sprayed a product called Liquid Fence which is made out of (no kidding) rotten eggs, garlic and sulfur. I spilled a few drops on my hands. When I got to the house Willie was giving me funny looks.

FAMILY NOTE: We said goodbye to our son today who will spend the next week in Seattle before he returns to work in Minneapolis. What a pleasure to have Lem home, to attend concerts and go on hikes with him. It was also funny to watch the last episode of "E.R." together, a TV show we haven't seen since Lem was in high school. He explained all that doctor gobbledygook which, it turns out, is real stuff.