Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘property management

Clearing Branches

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For almost a year the branches lay in the section of woods beside our driveway, between the house and the barn. They were from a large oak tree that was already misshapen by previous storm damage. The lopsided section that had mostly survived the first incident many years before, tipped over about two stories high and required professional help to bring down the rest of the way.

I had the tree service do the minimum work of bringing the tree to the ground, but nothing more. We could do the rest.

Talk is cheap.

There was a lot of work left to be done, which is why it has taken almost a full year to come close to finishing the dispatching of all those logs and branches away from the scene. Yesterday, in the last days before the woods will become thick with green leaves, Cyndie and I finally cleaned up the area where the debris was spread.

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And we are not even done yet. There remain many standing trees with red paint on them which the DNR forester marked as threatening to the health of larger oaks around them.

Today’s inspiration is to cut those down and use the biggest sections to replace the creosote-soaked fence posts in our garden terrace walls. It will mean the wall won’t last as long since the tree trunks will rot sooner than the fence posts, but we think they will last long enough to allow collecting rocks for reinforcement over time.

I know cutting more trees down will create a lot more branches that need to be dealt with, but while we are in that mode I’m hoping momentum will keep progress flowing and not leave them laying in place for a whole year.

The challenge will be in splitting time between working on the garden terraces and clearing the new piles of branches created.

This will not be a one-day project, we know that much.

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2020 at 8:57 am

Bridge Built

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It hasn’t started raining today yet, but precipitation is on the way. Knowing that, yesterday I made it a priority to finish the bridge I started a week ago. I wanted to get it done while the weather was nice. I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story:

Once the frame was complete, I used the cut pieces (previously employed as shims to level joists during assembly) for reducing friction when I single-handedly dragged the base across the gorge. It was heavy!

For now, there will be a step up onto the deck, but at some point in the near future, I plan to dig down so the ends will be at ground level so the lawn tractor can roll smoothly up and over.

I wonder how heavy it is now.

If we get too much water flowing, the whole thing will get pushed out of position. However, if that happens, we will have other flood-related problems to deal with that will make the shifted bridge a minor concern.

I’m going to bank on the likelihood that’s not gonna happen.

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Written by johnwhays

March 28, 2020 at 9:23 am

Working Alone

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My high hope of building a footbridge in a single weekend fell victim to my need to accomplish all the tasks without a helper and also my being the sole entertainer for Delilah’s high-energy needs.

Add in the less-than-ideal windy and cold spring weather, plus the limitations of the batteries for my cordless circular saw, and my inability to finish by the end of the day yesterday was not all that surprising.

I resorted to two different solutions for supporting the long boards that I cut. That treated lumber is really heavy compared to the remnants of the old cedar deck boards I’m using for bracing.

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The pallets had a tendency to collapse, so I switched up to plan B on the second day: old moldy hay bales. That provided welcome consistency.

Because the bridge will end up being very heavy, I decided to build the frame right next to the washout I’m covering and then drag it into position.

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I was able to haul the boards down by the fence and begin to screw some of the cross-supports into position but quit when the time had passed for Delilah’s dinner. I’ll leave the finishing until next weekend.

Trying to screw the pieces together square and true proved challenging on the uneven ground. I want to give that the time and attention necessary to get everything precisely the way I want it. Then I plan to move it into position before screwing down the floorboards.

I’m not sure I’d be able to lift it if I waited until it was completely built. I mean, not without someone with a strong back to help me.

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Written by johnwhays

March 23, 2020 at 6:00 am

Pandemic Loneliness

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It is hard to predict what the situation will be 10-days from today but based on comparison with geographic locations where the coronavirus outbreak is that far ahead of here, it seems that people who don’t feel sick now may have symptoms by then. That really does make it feel strange to carry on with life as usual.

Sure, the odds go down if you only expose yourself to a handful of people every day, but what good does that limitation do if one of those people have the virus and don’t know it? So, the safest bet is to stay home entirely. All by myself.

It feels a little apocalyptic.

I’m going to build a bridge.

While Cyndie is hunkered down with her parents in Florida, I’m alone to pick eggs and walk the dog. Between tending to animals, I’m going to try solo construction and use leftover deck lumber to make a bridge over the eroding drainage swale. It will take some ingenuity to manipulate 16-foot boards into the chop saw all on my own, but I think I can figure something out.

The muddy effort we put in to re-establish the concerted flow of the drainage swale across our land appears to have paid off.

That provided motivation to get on with this bridge project sooner than later. Actually, I have a little extra time before the primary need arrives. During the growing season, I cut the grass along the strip just beyond the pasture fence to maintain a walking path, and the erosion blocked my ability to drive the lawn tractor beyond that point. The bridge is a solution to that barrier.

I won’t need to mow for a few weeks yet. Look at how little in the way of green growth there is to be found in our current landscape.

That will change real soon.

A lot like the looming intensity of a certain virus outbreak underway.

I wonder what our landscape will look like in 10-days.

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Makin’ Mud

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When the snow disappeared from the ground in our hayfield, the ruts from the tractor that had picked up the round bails during winter became clearly visible. Those tire tracks weren’t a concern for me until I could see the drainage swale water was following them instead of flowing straight in the direction we want.

Then I had an “aha moment.”

If the water was following tire tracks, I just needed to make some new tracks.

I decided to try using the ATV. Knowing it wasn’t as heavy as a big tractor, I accepted the chance it might not make the impressions I wanted, but it was safer than bringing out the diesel and getting it stuck in the mud. The surface is already too soft to be in the field with the big tractor.

With the plow blade still on the front, I added cement pavers to the basket on the back for added weight and headed into the field. Back and forth I drove, working to re-establish the track we want the water to follow.

The ATV, plow blade, and I got splattered with mud, even though the path was grass-covered, but I think I succeeded in creating a new preferred route to the curving ruts left by the hay bale tractor.

Now we just wait for the next dose of precipitation to see it work.

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Written by johnwhays

March 16, 2020 at 6:00 am

Buckthorn Season

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In addition to looking for antlered bucks in the woods this time of year, I am also hunting for buckthorn. Common buckthorn is an invasive tree that I strive to control on our property. In the fall, buckthorn holds its deep green leaves longer than most other growth in our forests, making it easier to spot.

It’s not foolproof though, because I always seem to find a large enough tree that reveals I must have missed it the year before. I think the main reason for this is buckthorn is not the only growth that still has leaves after the majority of the forest turns brown and barren. There is at least one other bush that confuses my hunt.

The main difference I have found is the relative color of green, as can be seen in the picture I took yesterday while Delilah and I were forging our way off-trail to dispatch every invasive we could find. The batch of leaves on the left are a buckthorn I just cut down that must have been missed the year before. The noticeably lighter green leaves on the right are the primary bush that complicates my identifying the unwelcome buckthorn.

When I look into the trees on my neighbor’s unmanaged land, there is an obvious spread of green growth, but ours holds just a fraction of that, only a few of which are the deep green buckthorn.

With this year’s quick jump to Arctic cold and several doses of early snow, the buckthorn hunting season has been shortened. Luckily, I had already done a first-pass through to address the sprouts of growth that are small enough to easily pull by hand before the ground started to freeze.

At that time, I didn’t have my hand saw with me, so I took a mental note of the larger trees I wanted to come back to cut down. When I set out to do that yesterday, I almost failed to find that tree shown in this picture. I needed to get to a place where just the right angle of view made it stand out.

Delilah loves that we need to roam into the middle of the areas we rarely visit, as she is able to find all sorts of disgusting things left behind by the wild forest animals that romp around on our land.

I’m satisfied with the progress this year and ready to consider the hunt complete. There was less growth than previous years, so our efforts are definitely paying off. The view into the adjacent property confirms it.

Our woods look distinctly more managed and that makes trekking through them for year-round forest bathing that much more rewarding.

Huzzah!

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Other Diversions

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While I have been consumed with our deck refurbishment it might seem like nothing else has been happening around here. That’s almost true. Even though I haven’t touched a vast number of the other projects deserving attention, there is one exciting thing happening that doesn’t require any effort from us at all.

Sunday afternoon the neighbors renting our fields sent someone over to do a last cut of hay after the first frost. I don’t know how it works, but we are happy that our fields will be cropped for the winter months.

There is some evidence that the tractor tires found a couple of muddy spots, but to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The ground is still as wet as a spring day in our region.

I will be very curious to watch how the rest of the raking and baling process plays out. The 7-day weather forecast looks promising for lack of precipitation, other than the light snow flurries we received after dark last night.

When they tried baling during the summer, it rained almost every day and the cut hay never got a chance to dry. That was when they gave up the cuttings to a beef farmer who rolled some ugly round bales out of the mess.

This hay will go to feed llamas. I’m going to guess they aren’t as picky as horses can be about the hay they are served in the dead of winter.

The air on Sunday was filled with tractor sounds as our neighbor to the north was harvesting his field of soybeans at the same time our fields were being cut.

The neighborhood “Next Door” app is popping with a rash of new members signing on in what I assume is a renewed push by someone to generate interest. We posted some of our “for sale” items there and enjoyed meeting several people who stopped by to shop. This weekend we are hosting a dinner with one couple to get to know them better.

In no time the earth will be frozen, snow will cover the land, and everyone will retreat to their winter cocoons for months of semi-hibernation.

It always amazes me we can live so close, but rarely cross paths with most of our neighbors, even when the weather is inviting. Winter just amplifies the rarity of interactions, beyond the sympathetic waves of acknowledgment when plowing out the ends of our driveways.

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Written by johnwhays

October 29, 2019 at 6:00 am

Freeze Prep

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I put these chores off for longer than usual this year, but the time finally came last night to blow out the underground water line down to the labyrinth garden and remove the pond pump and filter. We also brought garden hoses into the shop in preparation for this morning’s freezing temperatures.

When it warms up tomorrow or Saturday, we’ll lay those hoses out on the driveway incline to assure they drain and then we can coil them up for winter storage.

I almost forgot about the waterer in the paddock, but Cyndie thought to mention it. We hadn’t been checking since the horses left and rainwater had collected because we didn’t think to pull the stopper out of the drain. The water had gotten a little green.

Thankfully, Cyndie remembered to dump the rain gauge down by the labyrinth so water won’t freeze in there and crack it. We learned about that the hard way. This happens to be plastic rain gauge number two down there.

It feels good to finally have these little chores addressed.

I’ve been a little neglectful of other things around here during the long days of focus on the deck. With the late first freeze, I’ve been able to get away with it until now. The average first freeze for the Twin Cities is October 11.

While working on the waterer in the paddock, my hands got incredibly cold, giving me a vivid dose of the discomfort which awaits in the coming days. That classic biting sting of freezing fingers.

Time to dig out our gloves and mittens.

Brrrr.

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Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2019 at 6:00 am

Digging Out

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I’m not confident this is the final chapter of our woodchuck pest, but yesterday I dug out the window well to reclaim our egress space for the basement bedroom. You may recall I posted this image of the early evidence of a burrowing invader making a mess outside the window.

We did eventually enlist the services of a professional with wild animal extraction expertise, but the results weren’t exactly what we had in mind.

Initially, he set a trap across the opening of the hole. When that didn’t do the trick and the displaced sand filled over half the height of the window, he came back and added a second baited trap.

Days passed with little evidence of activity, but one trap tripped. The trail camera he added captured one image of the critter going under the little opening beneath the plastic cover over the window well, so he suggested we block that with a piece of wood.

The plan was to reset the trap one last time with the opening blocked. If there was no activity, we could assume the pest was on the outside and would no longer have access.

While he was setting things up for that last time, Cyndie warned him to be careful of the wasps showing up nearby. He spotted the ground nest a few feet away and offered to take care of it, at a discount, since he was already on site.

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Ultimately, those ended up being the only pests he visibly dispatched.

Yesterday, we noticed he had removed his traps, as planned since there was no additional activity. That was my cue to dig out the well and replace the cover.

I sure wish I could put all that sand back where it came from, but hardly any of it fit back into the hole in the corner. The rest had to be hauled away for use filling various washout voids around the yard.

In the absence of an actual capture, I will not be surprised if new burrowing shows up someplace else around the house.

It’s becoming pretty much the norm around here.

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Written by johnwhays

September 21, 2019 at 10:05 am

Trailer Appreciation

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Boy am I ever glad to have a trailer for the ATV again. This weekend I put it to good use hauling logs out of the woods and cleaning up failed attempts at round bales in our fields.

The neighbors who rented our fields this summer did not have much success trying to get bales out of it. I feel for them. There never seemed to be enough consecutive dry days to finish the job. Instead, the cut hay got soaked by rain. They tried raking it out in hopes of drying the cut grass, but then it rained on the windrows.

Eventually, they enlisted a beef farmer to claim the wet hay, because cows are a lot less picky about moldy hay. He created some relatively ugly looking round bales, maybe since he was working with old, wet hay. By the time he finally tried picking up the bales and hauling them away, five of them fell apart. He just left those where they lay, creating dead spots in our fields.

I guess that is the land owner’s responsibility.

My first challenge in removing the old piles was forking the heavy, wet, moldy hay into the trailer. The second challenge was figuring out what to do with it. I generally use old hay as natural fill, but none of the many spots where we could use fill are easy to reach.

The worst spot was along our property line behind Cyndie’s perennial garden. Instead of being able to dump the load all at once, I needed to empty the trailer one pitch fork-full at a time, carrying each about 35-yards through an obstacle course of low hanging branches and a single fence wire I needed to duck under.

I only bumped my head about 3-dozen times while making repeated trips in and out.

It is super to have the trailer again, but it doesn’t fill or empty itself automatically and it can’t navigate the obstacle course behind the garden. I guess I wasn’t thinking about how much work I have to do whenever I endeavor to use the trailer.

It has me thinking I should have given more thought to that desire to replace the one Cyndie sold.

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Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2019 at 6:00 am