Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas, for sure!

The snow started in earnest about 8:30 a.m. Not blizzard like, but a steady fall. The ground was covered in less than an hour, and we had an official white Christmas.

Lem and Alice, visiting from Minnesota, took Willie and Nellie for a walk. Our dogs, Southern born and bred, get a little crazy in the snow. We heard on the news that the Twin Cities got six inches yesterday which makes 33 inches for the month.

Our few inches isn't much compared to our northern neighbors, but pretty just the same. Atlanta had it's first white Christmas since sometime in the 1800s.

OK, we've had our white Christmas. Now . . . it can stop.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our friend, Slick

It’s often said that dogs take on the personalities of their masters.

Take Willie, for example, my white boxer. Everyone who knows Willie would agree that he’s impetuous, impatient and always looking for his next meal, not at all unlike yours truly.

Slick, accordingly, was the image of his master, Larry. Calm, genuinely inquisitive but always measured. A medium-sized black Labrador, Slick walked many miles over the years in Deerfield with Larry at a steady gait. Willie and I would occasionally join Larry and Slick on a walk with Willie invariably wrapping all four of us up in his leash while he dragged us down the road. Slick would remain unperturbed.

Slick, like Willie, was a housedog, but he was occasionally allowed to stretch his legs and roam Deerfield on his own. One of Slick’s favorite pastimes was to jump in Deerfield Creek and wallow in the mud shallows, usually right after Larry or daughter Angela had given him a bath. Slick would high-tail it home, clamor on the front porch, anxious to show the family his refreshing mud-bath treatment.

There are other black Labs in Deerfield, but the friendly Slick could not be mistaken. He had a crook at the end of his tail that almost did a 90-degree turn. You always had the feeling that Slick was pointing at something.

Dogs in Deerfield have lots of acres to call home, so most are protective of their large territories. Slick was the only dog that had carte blanche everywhere. Dogfights are not that uncommon in Deerfield, but Slick always kept his head and was welcome everywhere.

About 18 months ago a large cancerous tumor appeared on one of Slick’s rear legs. Larry took him to the veterinarian to have it removed. Slick improved, regained most of his strength, but earlier this year a growth sprouted on the other rear leg. Over the last few months Larry and Slick made trip after trip to the veterinarian. He grew weaker by the day. Larry said last week that he came to realize that what he was doing was more for himself and the family than for Slick.

The beautiful photo above of Slick in front of the living room stove was taken in October 2009 by Larry and Marilou’s son, Jeffrey. Slick’s peaceful eyes say more than many of us can convey in a lifetime of words.

In a freezing rain, Larry took Slick on his last walk this morning before the final trip to the veterinarian. I’m glad I got to pat him. We will miss Slick greatly and wish him a place where the stoves are warm.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Ice flowers' are back with a vengeance

In January of this year I wrote about the "ice flowers" or "frost flowers" that pop up in Deerfield after the first extra-hard freeze. This latest numbing freeze has brought them out again.

The "flowers" occur when the cold causes the sap in small woody plants to ooze out of the stem. The sap then freezes and expands. There's a good explanation of the phenomenon in Wikipedia. Some spots around here look like a box of Kleenex has exploded.

There's much to be said for these flowers. They don't have to be fertilized or tended to, and then they go away on the first warm day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finally, a full deck

After about 200 hours of work, 1,600 board feet of lumber and 27 pounds of screws, the deck rebuild is finally finished. I knew the task was going to be lengthy, but I didn't know how much it would test my short attention span.

I had a few hours of help on the front end coming up with a design and some good help on the back end from neighbor Larry who designed the bench structure. The middle, for better or worse, was all mine.

In my post of October 25, the photo shows that the original deck was built on a radius with California redwood. Going back with redwood was impractical, so the challenge was to turn a "round" deck into a deck with angles and make it look like it belonged there. If I do say so myself, the feat was accomplished. In my mind, the angles of the deck actually match the house better than the radius.

I will wait until late spring or early summer to stain the deck. The yard from which I purchased the treated lumber receives their material straight from the treatment vats. The wood is so wet that it oozes green stuff when a screw goes into it.

So, one of my biggest construction projects is complete. Now, I'll start planning my retaining wall.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First loaf of persimmon bread

B rose to the call and baked our first loaf of persimmon bread. It's much like pumpkin bread, but to my taste, is a little more tart. I can eat persimmon puree with a spoon. I would never attempt that with pumpkin-bread makings.

I'll have at least one more good harvest of persimmons to fill our freezer for the winter.

(Food styling for photos is an art. My attempt was meager, but an attempt nonetheless.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Persimmon plans

My son, never one to let me get away with anything, asked me what I was going to do with my embarrassment of persimmon riches.

Well, the first ten pounds went to a friend who has her own plans for her batch. I harvested another five pounds this morning and turned them into a persimmon puree (at right in photo). As best I can tell, five pounds of fruit yields about five cups of puree. One story on the internet said you should peel the persimmons before freezing them because the skin contained tannins. There's no way I'm peeling persimmons, so my wife suggested using a food mill (at left in photo) and it worked beautifully (after she showed me what a food mill was.)

The puree is so sweet it can be eaten with a spoon. I'm not worried about tannins. In the past two weeks I'm sure I've eaten several pounds of raw persimmons right of the ground with no ill effects.

I'll freeze the puree in plastic bags and we should have some good persimmon bread during the holidays. Now, son, pester your mother about making persimmon bread.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bumper crop of persimmons this year

Deerfield persimmons are plentiful and sweet in 2010. The three trees in our front yard -- each at least 75-feet tall -- shower persimmons on us every time the wind blows. When I get serious about harvesting I just go out and bump the tree with my tractor. (Note to self: Wear a hat next time, dummy.)

On Sept. 14, 2009, my diary entry told the story of the Legend of the Persimmon Seed. For some reason that entry leads all the Deerfield Diary posts in the number of page views. Folks out there just seem to be interested in persimmons.

For all you city slickers out there, a warning. Never take a bite out of a green persimmon. You have never before puckered like you will pucker with a bite of an unripe persimmon in your mouth.

Monday, October 25, 2010

All hands on deck for a major fall project

The photo above is one reason I've been dilatory of late in making posts to the Deerfield Diary.

We have a deck that surrounds the part of our house that the architect chose to call "the retreat." The deck is more than 600 square feet and is (was) made out of California redwood. California redwood is great if it stays in California. When the wood is placed in the humidity of the South, it gives up eventually and rots.

The deck is only 17 years old and I thought I could get by with replacing some boards, but a closer inspection told me that what I needed to do was rip out all the decking and start all over. Thankfully, most of the substructure that is made out of treated pine is in good shape. The tear-out of the decking filled up a 10-foot trailer three times. The tear-out was made additionally challenging because the structure was put together with galvanized ring-shanked nails. I had to use a four-foot crowbar, a cat's paw, a metal-cutting grinder and a chainsaw.

As you can see in the photo, the deck was designed with a radius. If redwood is kerf cut it can be bent into smooth curves. Unfortunately, kerf-cutting decreases the life-span of redwood even further. It only made sense to go back with pressure-treated decking. Unlike most decks, the flooring of this deck uses 2-inch lumber instead of the normal 1-inch. Every piece of decking must be cut on a unique angle. My one class in geometry in 1962 is being severely taxed. I've been working on the deck off and on for a month and I hope to finish before cold weather arrives for good.

The eternal struggle

Our place in Deerfield, depending on your viewpoint, is blessed or cursed with intense vegetation growth. Clear a spot, turn around, look back and the new growth has taken over once again.

About the only way get ahead of the undergrowth is to bring in a serious machine. The one above is an ASV Forestry Mulcher which essentially is a stump grinder on steroids. It can do in a day what would take me six months to do by hand. The beauty of it is that it does not tear up the ground like a dozer would. Root systems remain to hold the soil in place and prevent washouts.

I had the mulcher in several weeks ago to clear about four acres on the summit that overlooks our property. If I don't start bush-hogging the area next spring, the brush will be back with a vengeance and I will be back where I started. My neighbor, who took the photo of the mulcher, likes to call it the Battle of Vawter Mountain.

More happiness for bluebirds

Several times a year our Boston terrier alerts us to commotions in the woodstove where we usually will find a bluebird trapped in the soot and ashes.

While cleaning out the flue this year I added some hardware cloth (screen mesh) to the flue cap to keep out our feathered friends.

If the bluebirds are happy, we're happy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fun with fungi

I continue to be amazed on walks through the woods at the many different types of fungi. A dead limb may fall to the ground and just rot away, or it may host fungi with beautiful colors and shapes.

I'm reminded of the morel mushroom. You will never get one to grow where you wish it to grow. Morels pop up when and where they choose.

If I see a fungi-laden piece of wood, instead of putting it on the burn pile, I let it lay in hopes it will surprise me again with a new pattern on another day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The woodshed is full . . .

. . . and all is right with the world.

However, all is not right with the Tennessee Valley Authority. We are going to be hit with another 12 percent rate increase this year, and I've heard my utility company say repeatedly that TVA is just passing along its additional cost of generating electricity as a fuel surcharge.

Bull feathers.

What TVA is passing along is the billion dollars it spent mitigating its gigantic coal ash spill on Dec. 23, 2008. East Tennesseans don't need to go to the Gulf of Mexico. We have our own BP right here in the form of TVA. At least the CEO of BP lost his job over the travesty. As far as I know, the TVA chairman got a pat on the back. You're doing a great job, Brownie.

Enough editorializing. I best go see about my kindling box.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A bountiful harvest of sunflowers

While my vegetable gardening skills leave much to be desired, I did hit a home run this season with sunflowers. I think just about every seed I planted blossomed into a full sunflower head. As you can see, the heads filled up the front-end loader on my tractor.

Many people say that harvesting the seeds is a chore, but the secret is waiting until the back of the head turns black. At that point, the seeds almost fall out on their own.

We will store the seeds and feed the birds all winter with our largesse. Unfortunately, the 'coons and squirrels will probably get more than there fair share.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A plague of frogs on our house

Actually, it was just one tiny little tree frog trying to escape the frog-strangling rain we had Wednesday night. The little guy just showed up on the glass pane in our front door. I would like to say that my photo captured him in the brilliant moonlight, but that's just the reflection of the flash.

Report card for summer garden

It's time for a play-by-play critique of my summer garden:

Tomatos -- B -- Plenty for the season, but plants had too much bottom growth. Should have pruned better.
Onions -- C -- Tasty and green onion but never matured.
Turnips -- B minus -- Not bad in early summer, but a little on the small side..
Radishes -- B -- Tasty, even a little too tart.
Yellow squash -- B -- All the plants made it through the summer.
Zucchini -- C -- Plants not very productive, but fruit was good.
Cucumbers -- A plus -- If U.S. went to a cucumber-based economy, I would be rich!
Bush beans -- F -- Learned my lesson.
Sweet corn -- B -- Ears weren't very pretty, but they had a good taste.
Okra -- F -- didn't make.
Sweet peppers -- C -- Small and few, but good taste.
Hot peppers -- C -- Okay, but what do you do with them?
Cantaloupe -- F -- no shows.
Watermelons -- D minus -- small and bland tasting.
Pumpkins -- D minus -- not any better than watermelons.
Raspberries -- B -- enough for a pie or two and tasty.
Blackberries -- D -- only a very few.
Muscadines -- C -- still coming in but not productive.
Sunflowers -- A -- birds (and coons and squirrels) will have full tummies this winter.

I'm not sure if I will plant a fall garden. I should spend my time improving the soil for next year. And . . . it's only 13 weeks until the average first frost.

Construction complete --Hurrah!

In July I told you about a construction project at our house to repair the built-in gutters on our back porch. Gutters would seem to be a simple repair, but not when they are built-in.

The galvanized gutters on our front and back porches are 7-inches deep and are constructed out of metal that is 24-inches wide. The downspouts run through the large support columns on each end of the porch. The metal on our back gutters had failed and had been leaking into the soffit and facia. The caused damage to the 6 X 12-inch header running 40 feet across the porch. The construction crew actually had to jack up the porch, build a temporary wall and then replace the header. It was major construction. Each piece of the new galvanized gutter had five bends to it. This type of gutter is used commercially but is rarely seen in residential construction.

Happily, we are back together and better than before. I had them replace the 2 X 3-inch galvanized downspouts with 4-inch PVC pipe. This also resulted in a new trench and outflow pipe to the side yard. The photo above was taken a couple of weeks ago right after the header had been replaced.

I spent two weeks doing the final trim work, screen replacement and painting.

Let it rain.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's nice to have a neighbor with an apple tree

Our neighbor, Angela, is staying with us for a few days, so we decided to lighten the limbs of her family's apple tree. Angela, 14, not only furnished the apples but she made and rolled the crust which turned out pretty enough to be in a magazine. Angela said she learned to make pie crust in the Girl Scouts. I told her I learned how to eat apple pie in the Cub Scouts.

This is a good year for apples in Deerfield. The deer are filling their bellies at all the orchards. They even got a few little apples from my puny trees.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hail to the lowly cucumber

My garden has produced an embarrassment of cucumbers this year. Friends and family have been inundated with my cucumbers for almost a month now.

One friend, a recipient of my cucumber largesse, said he gained a new appreciation for cukes after reading on the internet about them.

Here, then, are a dozen reasons to appreciate cucumbers:

1. Cucumbers contain most of the vitamins you need every day. Just one cucumber contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B5, Vitamin B6, folic acid, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

2. Feeling tired in the afternoon? Put down the caffeinated soda and pick up a cucumber. Cucumbers can provide that quick pick-me-up that lasts for hours.

3. Tired of your bathroom mirror fogging up after a shower? Try rubbing a cucumber slice along the mirror.

4. Are grubs and slugs ruining your planting beds? Place a few slices in a small pie tin and your garden will be free of pests all season long. The chemicals in the cucumber react with the aluminum to give off a scent undetectable to humans but drive away garden pests.

5. Looking for a fast and easy way to remove cellulite before going to the pool? Try rubbing a slice or two of cucumbers along your problem area for a few minutes. The phytochemicals in the cucumber cause the collagen in your skin to tighten, firming up the outer layer and reducing the visibility of cellulite.

6. Looking to fight off that afternoon or evening snacking binge? Cucumbers were used for centuries by European trappers, traders and explorers for quick meals to thwart off starvation.

Have an important meeting and you realize that you don't have enough time to polish your shoes? Rub a freshly cut cucumber over the shoe. Its chemicals will provide a quick and durable shine that not only looks great but also repels water.

8. Out of WD 40 and need to fix a squeaky hinge? Take a cucumber slice and rub it along the problematic hinge, and voila, the squeak is gone!

Stressed out and don't have time for a massage or visit to the spa? Cut up an entire cucumber and place it in a boiling pot of water. The chemicals and nutrients will react with the boiling water and be released in the steam, creating a soothing, relaxing aroma that has been shown to reduce stress.

10. Just finish a business lunch and realize you don't have gum or mints? Take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds to eliminate bad breath.

11. Looking for a green way to clean your faucets, sinks or stainless steel? Take a slice of cucumber and rub it on the surface you want to clean. Not only will it remove years of tarnish and bring back the shine, but is won't leave streaks.

12. Using a pen and made a mistake? Take the outside of the cucumber and slowly use it to erase the ink. Also works great on crayons and markers that the kids have used to decorate the walls.

So, no dissing of cucumbers around here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An eye-opening encounter

All forms of wildlife are abundant in Deerfield, but an animal we have not seen much of, thank goodness, is the skunk.

I was walking Willie shortly after daybreak this morning when he pulled at his leash and stood on his back legs. I turned to see a skunk at the base of a tree about eight feet away. With 75-pound Willie trying to attack, the skunk did an amazing thing. He started coming straight at us.

Willie was straining at collar and wanting more, and I was wanting much less. I finally managed to turn Willie around into a retreat. Only then did the skunk amble back into the woods.

A little research on the Internet informed me that Mephitis mephitis will often make a frontal attack against a dog to lure it forward, and then turn tail and spray it. Willie would be a prime candidate for such a bait-and-switch attack. He always jumps first and asks questions later.

My theory is that the strong storms and rain we had during the night pushed our striped-friend into unfamiliar territory. I'm glad Willie didn't get showered. His aroma is strong enough without any outside contributions.

After I got Willie back in the house, I began sawing up the fairly large trees that had fallen across the driveway during the storm. I could tell about the long black snake's tail I saw slithering out of the barn when I opened it to get the chainsaw, but I have a feeling I will be seeing it another day and that's another story.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This is how we do bathroom additions in Deerfield

In last Wednesday's blog, I noted that a crew was coming to start a major construction project involving the built-in gutters along the back of our house. I predicted that the start of the project would end the drought. We've not had a measurable rain in more than a month.

The crew arrived at 7:30 a.m. The deluge started at 7:35 a.m., so everything is right on schedule.

As you can see from the photo, the crew brought their portable potty with them and stationed it next to the garage. The flowers at the side are my decorator's touch. Like the green color palette?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The sunflower also rises

About a week ago I had sunflower stalks measuring almost 10-feet high -- but no sunflowers. I was beginning to think I had planted some type of infertile seed.

Almost over night the sunflower heads began to pop out. The honey bees must have been anxiously awaiting the flowers. The swarm over the flowers all day.

We hope to dry the heads and use the seeds to feed birds this winter.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Scorched earth

Deerfield has not had a measurable rain in more than 30 days. The ground is cracking beneath our feet like in some big-budget disaster movie.

I tried to keep the vegetable garden going, but when the first water bill showed a 400% increase over the average, I shut off the spigot. I'll keep the tomatoes watered, but that's it.

I know, however, that it will start raining on Monday morning. That's when the construction crew comes in to fix our built-in gutters on the back porch. They are scheduled to be here all week, so I'm sure that's how long it will rain. I may try to wash my car Monday just to make sure we get the rain.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Calling all arachnologists

I was greeted in the garage early this morning by a spider larger than any I had ever seen outside of a tarantula exhibit at the zoo.

I photographed this big dude twice and noticed when the flash went off the second time that something protruded from its back side (top photo) that looked like a threatening stinger. It may have just been "spider juice" for web-making purposes. I didn't get close enough to inspect it carefully.

My research on the Internet tells me it probably was a wolf spider, a type of a garden spider. They can grow to 4 inches from tip to tip of the legs. That's exactly the measurement I got from this one (a rough measurement to be sure.) Wolf spiders usually hunt at night and stay away from humans. They bite but the toxin is not particularly harmful to humans.

I don't like to kill creatures of any kind, but I was getting ready to rummage around the garage and wasn't looking forward to having this dude drop down on me. I dispatched it.

I hope its brothers and sisters got the message.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gertrude Stein, where are you when I need you?

The oft-misquoted Gertrude Stein wrote: "Rose is a rose is a rose."

I counter that when you're transplanting a rose in the 98-degree heat, Rose is not a rose is not a rose. It's a strength sapping monster.

It all began when my daughter and son-in-law informed me that they were having a new patio built and their beautiful Knockout rose was going to be yanked out and taken to the dump.

I jumped on it like a duck on a June bug. Three hours later the rose has been transplanted in our front yard and I'm 10 pounds lighter due to dehydration.

My gardening book says you should not transplant anything when the temperature is over 75 degrees. I only missed it by 23 degrees. That's how I usually roll.

I had help digging out the rose bush, but still it took a good 30 minutes with three of us working at it. When I got home I had to dig a 4-foot in diameter hole about 2-feet deep. With the drought on top of my red clay soil, I should have used a jackhammer instead of a shovel.

In the cool of the evening (that's a joke) we will prune the rose severely so the roots won't have so many leaves to feed while they are settling in. I'll let you know if it lives.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First tomato of season (trust me)

I harvested the first Better Boy tomato today, June 21. It was fully ripened on the vine. I was going to take a photo, but before I could get my camera Betty already had it in a salad.

This is the 12th straight day with temperatures over 90. We only had 11 all of last summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

For whom the bells toll

I have only four bell pepper plants, but they seem to be producing a good number of the sweet bells. I thought the bugs were getting to them a few weeks ago, but the insects must have moved on. The plants look healthy now.

The other peppers are banana peppers. I don't know what to do with them, but they are nice to look at.

First official raspberry harvest

Last year when I was deciding what kind of fruit trees and berries to plant, my mentor at the farm & garden store declared that "anybody can grow brambles."

I countered that he had not met an "anybody" like me, a would-be gardener with no patience and the touch of a lumberjack.

It turns out that Gabe was right. Even I can grow raspberries. This is the first full growth season, and I should get at least this many more from my eight raspberry canes.

My blackberries should be almost as healthy. They should be ready around July 4th. I have the thornless type of blackberries, which is quite a change from my raspberries. I spent about 15 minutes gathering these berries and another 15 minutes picking the tiny sharp thorns out of my hands.

Such is the life of a bramble grower.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cucumber explosion

This is what happens when it rains for a couple of days and you don't harvest your cucumbers. I had to throw away about a half-dozen that were approaching football size.

We can't eat enough salads for all of our cucumbers, so we like to eat them on sandwiches for lunch. We spread a bed of cream cheese on a pita-type bread and pile on a bunch of sliced cucumbers. Makes a very nice meal.

Just got off the turnip truck

The cooler weather and rain have encouraged my crop of purple-top turnips to come on strong. I should have turnips for at least another three or four weeks.

I think turnips are best harvested when they are about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. I won't bother harvesting any greens until I sow another crop in the fall.

All I need now is a skillet of cornbread.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reader request

A faithful reader (son in Minnesota) requested photos of the garden, probably to make sure I didn't buy the produce at Kroger that was pictured in an earlier post. So, here it is.

Photo at left is inside the fenced garden. Foreground is cantaloupe, then zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Photo below, from left to right, are sunflowers, onions, radishes and turnips.

The photos were taken today right after a nice rain of about 45 minutes. It was needed badly.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Life is a (small) bowl of cherries

Our surviving Early Richmond cherry tree gave us enough cherries in the second year for a couple of quarts of cherry ice cream. The cherries are small, but tart.

Top photo shows a closeup of the fruit. The tree, shown in the bottom photo, stands about five-feet tall.

I had to replace a twin cherry tree that didn't make it through the first year. I'm hoping it will come around for it's sophomore season.

The apple and pear trees just up the hill from the cherry trees are not fairing as well. Even though I put garlic spikes on the limbs, deer still like to chew off the ends of the branches. Also, some gnawing animal is attacking the bark at ground level.

If the fruit trees make it until the fall, I think I will transplant them to an open spot closer to the vegetable garden. It may be open enough there that the deer won't be so bold. I don't think I'm going to be building anymore 8-foot deer fencing.

A passing grade for this year's garden

Although a river of clay runs through it (see earlier post), our vegetable garden is furnishing us with a modicum of produce this year.

We will have plenty of radish, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet peppers, yellow squash, turnip greens and sunflowers. The sweet corn is about 4-feet high and there might even be a watermelon or two in the offing.

We are hurting for water at the moment, so I've been doing a little drip irrigation early in the mornings.

I think my 8-foot fence has solved the deer problem, but if the drought persists the coons and squirrels will start eating the tomatoes for hydration. Also, as soon as the sweet corn tassels, coons will gather from all over the county. A family of coons can take out a row of sweet corn in a single night.

The only real solution to the clay is to dig it all out this year with the tractor and replace it with new top soil. I'm thinking of a new book: The $300 Tomato.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dolphins in Deerfield

The dolphins have landed!

In 2004 my neighbor Larry was traveling in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and saw a stone carving that he just had to have. Vietnamese craftsman had sculpted the three dolphins from a solid slab of rock. He bought it on the spot and made arrangements to have it shipped to the U.S. After several months it made its way across the Pacific to the West Coast. Another few months and it had arrived in Knoxville at a warehouse.

Larry had the stone carving brought to his garage where it rested for five years in its heavy-duty crate. In a post last year, I told you about Larry building a mongo gazebo at the side of his house. The floor joists of the gazebo rest on a massive concrete column, the perfect resting place for a dolphin sculpture that weighs more than a 1,000 pounds.

Getting the sculpture from the garage was an engineering feat to say the least. A commercial Bobcat that was on the premise doing some driveway work was commandeered to move the stone to the edge of the gazebo. Today, Larry and I used an engine hoist and a tractor to position the carving in the middle of the gazebo.

The dolphins at last are in their final resting place. Did I ever tell you about the 1,000-pound eagle carving with wings spread that we put in Larry's Africa room?

Friday, May 7, 2010

A special hike -- 40 years later

While I usually keep my diary posts strictly related to the goings on at Deerfield, I occasionally take the liberty for personal tidbits. This is one.

On April 27 the temperature in the lower elevations of the Smokies was a balmy 50 degrees with a light rain. The three of us -- my son, Lem; his girlfriend, Alice; and yours truly -- started the ascent to Mt. LeConte at around 11 a.m. Two hours later, the temperature was in the 30s and it was either hailing or sleeting. We couldn't decide which. When we reached the top of Mt. LeConte (6,800-feet elevation), the temperature was 22 degrees and we were hiking in four inches of snow. This is on April 27, mind you, in Tennessee.

Thankfully, Lem and Alice, veterans of Minnesota winters, had talked me into buying a pair of rain pants in Gatlinburg before we left. Lem and Alice made the 10.5 mile hike (roundtrip) in their open Keen sandals. I kept referring to the snow as a "blizzard," and Alice kept snickering. Four inches is merely a light dusting if you grew up in Wisconsin like Alice.

We were one of the first groups to arrive at LeConte Lodge. A propane stove awaited us. (The propane is brought up to the lodge by helicopter. The food and supplies are brought up by llama teams.) We enjoyed a hot dinner of beef tips, vegetarian meatloaf and hot vegetables. We played Scrabble by kerosene lamp in the meeting room and listened to stories from those who had made the climb as many as a dozen times. We heard about the guy who carried his 94-year-old mother up the mountain on a chair strapped to his back.

Alice woke early the next morning to retrieve face-washing water in a bucket. She announced that she was going to jog about a mile or so to the other side of the mountain in the snow in her sandals to catch the sunrise. Lem and I, hardy souls that we are, cheered her on and went to the toasty dining hall for a cup of coffee. We enjoyed the beautiful photos she brought back.

Despite the snow, sleet and/or hail, freezing temperatures and slick mountain trails, the hike was glorious. This was my second journey to LeConte, having hiked it as a student at UT. The first hike in 1970 was magnificent, but 40 years and good company have a way of multiplying the enjoyment exponentially.

Going for a whole muffin this year

When my first crop of blueberries came in last year, Betty commented that we probably could get at least a half a muffin from the harvest. While my eight bushes look a little scrawny, they did survive the tough winter and they have a lot of blooms.

I remember hiking on on Charlie's Bunion last year in the Smokies and seeing blueberry bushes more than 6-feet tall. They probably had never seen the first pinch of fertilizer, compost or iron soil supplement.

Here's hoping for a full muffin this year.

'Even YOU can grow brambles'

When I was planning my first plantings at Deerfield, I consulted with my friend Gabe at one of the Knoxville garden stores. He forgets in one day more than I will ever know about horticulture. We discussed apple, pear and cherry trees. We discussed the different kinds of grapes. When I mentioned I might like to try blackberries and raspberries, his famous quote was: "Even you can grow brambles."

Gabe appears to be correct.

My thornless blackberries make up the top row (photo above) and and the next row are my raspberries. This is the second year for both and they are full of blooms. I hope the deer appreciate the lack of thorns.

Draining the earth

Since my neighbor was going to rent a Ditch Witch to do some rerouting of water in preparation for his new driveway, I decided to get it on the action and try to drain some perpetual wet spots that haunt my precious flat land. As you might have guessed, flat land is at a premium in the hills of East Tennessee.

I put in about 125 feet of 4-inch perforated tubing on a bed of gravel and then covered the black tubing with gravel. In the photo, not all the tubing is covered yet.

When I dug down about a foot, the trenches filled with water. I had to hook my truck winch to the Ditch Witch in order to dig through the muck. It's the first time I have ever Ditch Witched. To those who run one of those ugly beasts for a living, I salute you. I got the Witch back to the rental place as fast as I could.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda

Because almost half of my garden plot was virtually impossible to till and plant, I tilled a 15 X 40 foot patch of land just south of my fenced garden. The soil is perfect. I planted radishes, okra, turnips, onions and sunflowers and it all seems to be doing fine. I added not one cup of organic matter to the soil.

If I could just move my fence 30 feet to the south, I would have a good garden. Close, but no cigar . . . or bush beans for that matter.

Bad spot for a garden plot

In several posts last year I related how I carefully went about picking a spot for our vegetable garden. I had the soiled analyzed and was told the only thing wrong was that it needed more organic matter. I proceeded to haul almost a hundred cart loads of leaves and clippings into the site. The 32 X 40 foot plot is surrounded by an 8-foot deer fence and the bottom 4 feet is covered with chicken wire.

The problem is that a swath of the nastiest clay and gooiest muck I have ever seen runs through the middle of the garden. The highest part of the garden (top photo) seems OK, but the middle third (bottom photo) is better suited for earthenware pottery than plants.

My plan of action now is to watch my vegetables die this summer, and then in the fall take my tractor scoop and remove the top 18-inches of soil. I will replace it with new topsoil.

If I were to calculate the money and time I've spent on my ill-fated garden, I could never eat another home-grown tomato. Every time I get the hoe and start chopping up dirt clods, I get this feeling that the Deerfield wildlife are snickering in the woods. Or it may just be that giant sucking sound of my boot trapped in the muck.

Egress and ingress

I finally got around to installing a dog door from our backyard onto the porch. Our two dogs, Willie and NellyBelle, could always go out the screen door, but they had difficulty coming back in.

Nelly (the Boston Terrier) learned to use the door quickly. It took her about a day to teach Willie, the white boxer. Willie is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he makes up for it with his charming personality. He got out of obedience school with a GED.

Now, my task is to fix the other three screen doors on the porch that Willie has gone through a various times. A flimsy screen door is no match when Willie sees something on the other side that interests him.

Welcome back, Cecil Brunner

Last year in several posts, I related how I pruned our 12-foot high Cecile Brunner climbing rose and promptly killed it.

I also told how we planted a new one in its spot and were hoping for the best. Wonder of wonders. Our Cecile Brunner (above photo) is only a year old and it is healthy and budding like crazy.

If you remember, the rose is planted near our septic tank. Some formulas never change.

New posts coming your way

I hereby and forthwith repent from my slovenly ways. I plan on barraging Deerfield Diary readers today with a host of new posts. Hang on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oh, my aching back

It seems all I've offered so far this year is a bunch of excuses for not getting much accomplished. So here's another one: I've been severely down in the back since March 28.

After several sessions with my primary care doctor and then a spine specialist, it appears I had a severe lumbar strain. The way my back was hurting, I thought sure I would need an operation, but all I'm facing is new some stretching exercises.

As a testament to how far behind I am, I share the photo of 15 truck loads of wood-chips that have been sitting by our driveway for a month. I plan to use them for garden paths and trails through the woods. The wood-chips were free of charge from a tree-trimming crew in the area. They were happy not to have to haul the chips a long way.

A word of caution about green wood-chips: Never use them as mulch or compost. It takes many years for the chips to decompose.

There's much to be done around Deerfield, but I'll take one more week off before I start back-breaking tasks. Wish me good luck.