Friday, July 31, 2009

Going to pot

Deerfield is green, almost too green. There's just not much color in the summer so I find myself placing pots of impatiens at strategic places.

The pot at right is where the gate would be on the driveway if we had gate. The one below is at the start of the switchback at the driveway going up to the house.

Green is good, but a little magenta or puce is a relief to the eye.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ferns know their place

The Fernbank is a museum of natural history in Atlanta that had its beginnings when a naturalist named Emily Harrison became enamored with a forest creek bank covered with a variety of ferns. The museum sits in Fernbank Forest, 65 acres just east of downtown Atlanta. It's the largest old-growth Piedmont forest in the country.

Deerfield has its own fernbank. While it does not have the notoriety of Miss Harrison's ferns, it's mighty important to me. The ferns on one side of my driveway keep the steep slope from eroding. I don't know if the ferns were strategically planted there, but it's the thickest growth of erosion fighters anywhere on our property. I prefer to think they found their place naturally, just like Miss Harrison's favorite ferns.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Interesting weather facts for July

I'll explain the above photo at the end of this post. First, here are some weather facts:

1. July has only had one day of 90 degree or above temperatures -- Saturday, July 25, when it hit 91 degrees.

2. Of the 210 days so far in 2009, there has been some form of precipitation (at the airport) on 112 of those days, meaning that it has rained more frequently than every other day.

3. We are more than 3 inches ahead for the year on rainfall. Technically, we remain in a drought.

On January 9 of this year I told about tree ferns I found on the limb of a black walnut tree about 35 feet in the air. The tree had toppled in a storm. I surmised that the ferns would probably die after I chopped the limb off. With the abundant rainfall this year, the ferns seem to be doing fine. As usual, Ma Nature proved me wrong.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

To heal up and harrow over

A former colleague of mine in the newspaper business had a saying when someone had their feelings hurt. He would say that the person needed to "heal up and harrow over."

I tried to find the origin of that phrase without much luck. The best I can tell it seems to be an old farming phrase having to do with letting plowed ground lay fallow so it can be planted once again.

When the timber cutters came last fall with their heavy bulldozers and giant log skidders, it tore up Deerfield mightily. I wondered if the land would ever heal.

Not to worry. The hillside in the photo above looked barren of all growth in October. It's difficult to walk through now. By the end of summer, it will be impossible to tell that big machines had ever been here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Deerfield's Biggest Loser -- Week 1

Last Saturday, my 63rd birthday, I told you I was going to start a diet lasting for two months. I would report each Saturday where I stood.

My weight loss for the first week is 9 pounds -- from 224 to 215. The bulk of that loss is from fluid reduction. That always happens when I reduce intake.

I'm really not on a specific diet, just eating like a normal human being. I cutout ALL between-meal eating and had only two desserts, both related to birthday celebrations.

I had a headache on the second and third days, but have felt fine ever since. I'm down in the back, but that has to do more with bad posture while digging out a hickory stump.

I expect my weight loss in the next few weeks to be more in the range of 1 or 2 pounds per week, if I stay out of the peanut butter.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Say goodbye to Three Feet

The first night the trap was set, Three Feet took the bait. Marshmallows.

I found him in the trap this morning looking sad and downtrodden.

I took the trap, loaded it on the back of the hooptie and took him to a nice park near the Tennessee River. When I opened the cage, he limped into the woods without looking back. He'll have a good home, but he will have to learn to get along without raiding bird feeders or stealing dog food. He has a belly full of marshmallows to get him going.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Different worlds, different mysteries

My tech-savvy daughter taught me how to do something called “hypertexting” where you link to something else on the Internet from your blog and the reader can go there with a mouse click. I used it in yesterday’s post.

I continue to be amazed at the World Wide Web and what it can do, but I’m just as amazed at nature’s goings-on at Deerfield: Three-footed coons, mesmerizing butterflies, magical ferns that grow 30 feet up in walnut trees, giant volunteer sunflowers that pop up in the middle of a briar thicket and blue skinks that re-generate their tails.

There’s a mysterious World Wide Web in cyberspace, but also one right under your feet if you look closely.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Old Three Feet is getting to be a problem

Raccoons have long been part of the night in Deerfield. Our first year here it was not unusual to see three or four of the masked bandits hanging off bird feeders when we came up the driveway after dark.

Lately, only one coon visits and it is liable to show up at any time of the day even though we may be on the porch or out in the yard. It has wrecked several bird feeders and the hummingbird feeder. I first wrote about Three Feet on my post of May 20. While it drags its right hind leg, it was able to climb a tree without any problem.

On Tuesday, however, I chased Three Feet away from the bird feeders. Instead of scurrying off it just limped slowly into the woods. I got within five feet of it and it refused to go up a tree. Instead, it just growled. Yes, raccoons can growl.

Three Feet doesn't look healthy. I'm afraid it might be diseased, so Three Feet will be leaving. My aunt has a live trap that should do the trick, and then I can take it away from Deerfield. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mother Earth News revisited

I recently had a massive library clean out of books and other items that filled 15 large boxes. One of the boxes held my collection of Mother Earth News magazines from the mid-70s. I was a fan of the magazine when it first started publishing.

The monthly publication started out as a subscription-only back-to-the-land magazine for hippy-types and then drifted a little more to the middle of the road. You could find articles ranging from chicken raising to building a composting barrel to solar heating.

It’s a slick publication now found on supermarket newsstands bearing little resemblance to its first issues.

I’m not sure what first appealed to me about Mother Earth News. Was I a hippy in hiding even though I never owned a tie-dyed shirt and I certainly couldn’t grow long hair?

I guess some part of me always knew I wanted to get back to the land. Here I am, Mother Earth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Confessions of a flower-bed addict

The arrangement of potted black-eyed Susans at the luncheon table was pretty. The host said the centerpieces could be purchased for 3 bucks. Good deal, I said.

We got them home, fertilized them and kept them in the pot for about a week. They started to get root-bound and the leaves were turning yellow at the tips. Had to find a good spot for them.

Black-eyed Susans need full sun. The ones we have around our shaded house barely make it. There was a good spot down by the road at the entrance to our driveway, but there was a 18-inch hickory stump exactly where the new bed needed to be. The stump was nestled in between two boulders.

I took a look at the stump. It had started to rot. How hard could it be to pull out a rotting stump? Four hours, two tractors and four logging chains later, the stump is gone. I cut all the protruding roots with a chain saw, but we had to pull out the tap roots with the chains hooked to both tractors.

I had some large rocks left-over from my wishing well (see post of June 19), so I outlined the bed between the two boulders. After a tractor scoop of topsoil and a scoop of compost, the bed was ready for black-eyed Susans.

Another simple task takes up six hours of my time when I need to be doing a thousand other things like finishing the garden fence. I may have to join Flower Beds Anonymous. "Hello, my name is Vince and I can't stop building flower beds."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Deerfield's biggest loser

I’m 63 years old today and weigh 224 pounds. I can’t do anything about the first number, but I’m going to alter the second.

While I haven’t watched the “Biggest Loser” shows on TV and have never been a member of Weight Watchers, I understand the premise behind both endeavors is to declare your weight publicly and then go about changing it. So, to all my thousands of readers . . . OK, hundreds . . . OK, dozens . . . I have declared my weight and here’s what I’m going to do.

Every Saturday for two months I’m going to weigh myself and report. Friday, September 18th, will be my last weight report. I promise not to fudge the numbers. (I shouldn’t say “fudge.” Make that “cheat.”)

My weight issue come from eating between meals. I always eat three healthy meals a day, but I’ve been known devour a full sleeve of saltines and peanut butter at night without even thinking about it. I never pass by the kitchen without grabbing a handful of something. It’s more habit than hunger.

Ironically, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since I trained for a 10K in 1999. My stamina is such that I can walk behind a mower for 6 hours or cut firewood for several hours without stopping. But I know my weight is taking a toll on my mangled knees and arthritic ankles, so it’s coming off.

From experience I know that I will see a huge loss on the scales the first week, and then it will level off. So, don’t be alarmed by the first week’s number. I won't waste away, which reminds me of a 4-XXL T-shirt I saw. It read: "I beat anorexia."

I struggled with whether or not I should make this post because I try to keep personal items out of Deerfield Diary, but then I reasoned that frequently I write about the tools I use at Deerfield, and a healthy body is just one more tool.

So, pass the scales and hide the peanut butter.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The de-tailing of a skink

“Eeeek! A lizard.”

That’s a cry heard many times by visitors to Deerfield, but what they actually are seeing is a “skink.” Technically, a skink is a type of lizard, but they have no definable neck and short legs. Lizards run on their legs solely. Skinks slither like a snake more than they use their legs.

Skinks are good to have around because they eat all manner of insects and don’t bother the plants.

Our Boston terrier, Nelly, is an inveterate skink hunter. She can watch them for hours from behind the screen door on the back porch. She pounces on one every chance she gets.

There are several skinks running around here without tails, but, not to worry. Skinks can re-generate their tails. Not a bad skill to have in the 21st Century.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

'Bump it with a trumpet'

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim has Mazzeppa tell Gypsy Rose Lee in the Broadway musical "Gypsy" that "if you want to bump it, bump it with a trumpet."

So, that's what I'm doing.

We have a prolific trumpet vine by our lower driveway that sends out runners with a vengeance. Rather than just mowing over the runners, I've started transplanting them to strategic places where they can climb, such as the woodshed posts, the cedar fence by the HVAC units and the infamous fence made from hackberry trees (see post of 5/7/09).

We had trumpet vines, also known as "trumpet creepers" and "cow itch vine," in Indiana which framed our front door. They can by invasive like kudzu if you don't cut them back. Wikipedia says a trumpet vine should pruned "ruthlessly."

I've transplanted about 20 of the runners. If you don't hear from me in the next few days, come running with pruning shears.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Appalachian Electrician

Meet John, the Appalachian Electrician. That's what he calls himself. His truck is his rolling supply house. He can put his hand on any kind of switch, fuse, relay or wire in there that you might need.

Last year Saturday Night Live did a sketch entitled "Appalachian Emergency Room" in which they made fun of we'uns. It's OK if we laugh at ourselves, but nobody else should. We should be laughing at the New Yorkers. They tore down the House That Ruth Built and put up a monstrosity that they will be paying off for the next 100 years.

If you need a good electrician, you can usually find John's truck parked in front of Lowe's or Home Depot. He's inside restocking his supply truck.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The rains came and the drainage worked

We received almost two inches of rain last night in three to four hours. I checked the recontoured drainage around the garden this morning and I think we have the majority of the problem solved.

Just to the left of the well, you can see that the land slopes gently down to the creek. In the back of the garden (outlined by the posts), the water is directed away from the garden by a small levee at the side of a freshly cut road. I couldn't find much new silt in the garden.

There was no standing water this morning even though the ground was thoroughly soaked.

I will be planting grass on all the bare spots this fall, and the garden fence will start going up this week. Only four months late, but who's counting.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Using fertilizer twice

Although it makes for a longer mowing time, I've started bagging all the grass clippings from the yard around the house and depositing the waste in the vegetable garden that is to be.

Each small wagon load holds about 10 bags of clippings. A full bag weighs about 15 pounds. I estimate I've put at least 25 wagon loads of dead grass on the garden this summer or about 3750 pounds. The dead grass is rich with 10-10-10 fertilizer and it adds much-needed organic matter to the dirt.

I've spent so much time and energy getting the garden plot ready that the first radish that grows there will seem anti-climactic.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Butterfly Days: No. 4

Notice that this Monarch butterfly is on one of our white butterfly bushes down near the edge of the woods.

This particular butterfly was amazing. I shot this photo with one of my short lenses. I walked right up to it. He stared at me. I stared back. We played chicken for what seemed like minutes and finally when I flicked the branch, it leisurely lifted off for flight like it was almost ignoring me.

This will be my last butterfly post for a while. Getting locked in a trance with an insect is a little unnerving. I think I'm spending too much time in the woods.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Butterfly Days: No. 3

This photo is of a Tiger Swallowtail, I think, but just as sure as I positively identify a creature, someone let’s me know I don’t know a butterfly from a shutterbug.

Your run-of-the-mill swallowtail butterfly doesn’t appear to be as peripatetic as the Zebra Swallowtail, but they still are not as laid back as the Monarch.

There are 550 species of swallowtail butterfly. It lives on all continents except Antarctica, and if global warming keeps going the way it is, don’t be surprised to see it there too.

Some of you may be getting tired of my butterfly photos, so I have one more to go tomorrow and then I will get back to less flighty subjects.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Butterfly Days: No. 2

The Zebra Swallowtail butterfly obviously suffers from attention deficit disorder. While the lackadaisical Monarch butterfly will perch on a flower for several minutes, the Zebra only dwells 2 or 3 seconds on a flower and then is off to greener pastures. I had to chase this fellow from bush to bush to get this photo with my 300mm lens.

The only time the Zebra seems to be less excited is when it flies to a leaf on a tall tree where it looks as if it's catching its breath.

By the way, the Zebra Swallowtail is the official butterfly of the state of Tennessee. Why didn't the big orange Monarch get that distinction?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Butterfly Days: No. 1

The purple butterfly bush near our front porch seems to be Grand Central Station for all the butterflies in Deerfield. For the next several days we'll be talking about these unique creatures.

First up is the ubiquitous Monarch. It's known as the "wanderer butterfly" in Europe and Australia because it's one of the few butterflies that can make transoceanic crossings. The wings are tissue-thin and translucent as you can see in the above photo.

Monarchs in our neck of the woods skedaddle down to Mexico starting in September. The ones that make it back reproduce and then go to butterfly heaven.

Monarchs are even showing up in Bermuda these days. Once they get to Bermuda, they reproduce there and don't leave. Butterflies aren't stupid.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bulldozer dreams

In several posts in April of this year I told about burning several large piles of brush and stumps where I had cleared the land for the vegetable garden. The piles burned for more than two weeks leaving large deposits of charcoal and about a dozen mud-caked stumps.

The only good way to dispose of stumps is to bury them, so I had a bulldozer come in on July 3 for the burial. The operator dug out a hole about 10-feet deep and 75-feet long. He pushed the stumps and charcoal-impregnated dirt into the hole and covered it with top soil (see photo above). While he was at it, he changed the drainage routes around the garden and re-cut some roads going to the top of my property.

I watched him all day. Seeing my intense interest, he asked if I would like to take a couple of passes on his Caterpillar D4 bulldozer. I thought he would never ask. I only made a few backward and forward runs with it, but it fulfilled a longtime wish of mine. I've always wanted to run a piece of heavy equipment like that.

In my younger days I used to have dreams of running a bulldozer. Often the bulldozer would lift off the ground and I would be flying on it. Dr. Freud will have to explain that one.

This real bulldozer stayed firmly on the ground. I was surprised to learn that a bulldozer has no clutch and that it does backward faster than it goes forward. When I got back on my tractor is was like driving a plastic toy pedal car. Everyone needs to drive a bulldozer once in their life.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Happy Raspberry Fourth of July

I've written too much already about my meager crop of raspberries, but the handful of berries was made even more brilliant when I saw my 18-month-old granddaughter pick and then devour all the berries. Keaton picked them like a pro and then downed them with a little yogurt on the side.

A happy Fourth of July to all.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 7th habit personified

Sharpening a chain for a saw is a slow and meticulous process, two traits in which I'm usually lacking. The only thing worse than sharpening a chain is trying to cut a tree with a dull chain.

When I'm in my neighbor's workshop sharpening my four chains on his bench-mounted grinder, I find my mind wandering. As I slide the grinding wheel down on each chain tooth, my mind's eye becomes fixed on a scene from almost 50 years ago.

My two cousins and I are hoeing corn with my grandfather in the hot July sun. He will give us 10 cents a row if we manage not to chop down too many stalks. We three young bucks start out like balls afire. We soon take off our t-shirts and wrap them around our heads to keep the sweat out of our eyes. We race each other down the long corn rows.

I look back to see my grandfather in his long-sleeve khaki shirt moving down the rows with an easy efficiency. He stops every 20 minutes, reaches in his back pocket and pulls out a file to sharpen his hoe blade. He seems to move almost in slow motion, but nothing is wasted. If he is sweating you can't tell it by his khaki cap and clothes.

My cousins and I wrestle with our hoes which have become as heavy as telephone poles. Our water jugs are empty and soon we beg to go to the house where we drink Kool-Aid until our stomachs hurt and then we collapse on the shady front porch.

My grandfather comes in for dinner. He pays us each 40 cents for our four rows. He has hoed probably 25 or 30 rows without breaking a sweat.

The 7th habit of Stephen R. Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is "sharpening the saw."

Vilas V. Vawter Sr. was highly effective with his sharpened hoe long before Stephen Covey collected his famous habits.

That's what I think about as I sharpen my chains.