Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘property management

Red Marks

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For months now we have been walking past trees in our woods that are marked for removal with a red spot. It was more subtle when the forest was lush and green. Now that there aren’t any leaves on the trees, those red marks are impossible to miss.

When our local DNR agent responded to our invitation to walk our woods, we learned our most valuable trees are the oaks, and that they will be kept healthiest if we remove competition growing directly beneath their canopy. I mentioned it would be a challenge for me to identify what is good and what is bad.

You know how much of an aversion I have to cutting down live trees.

He was quick to volunteer to return later and mark trees for removal. Most of them are relatively small diameter and will be easy to bring down. Cyndie and I decided yesterday was a good time to start on the project.

Heck, I can’t drive the tractor anywhere yet, so we may as well create piles of branches to be chipped at a later date.

About those red marks… When you get a chainsaw in your hands, suddenly trees with red dots show up at every turn. Maybe that is because I just chose to start with the trees right below the driveway. Some of our biggest oaks are right there (hence the thick carpet of leaves that land on the yard) and that meant a lot of trees to be culled all the way around each of the large oak trunks.

I took some solace in being able to see visible evidence of just the problem our DNR forester described. Oak trees stop feeding lower limbs when other growth begins to encroach from below. That can lead to a lopsided or top-heavy oak.

When we pulled down the smaller trees, it was easy to see the number of bottom oak branches that had already been left for dead.

Unfortunately, we grew weary after just a couple of hours of cutting up and piling branches of the easiest trees felled. Several substantial sized red-marked trees remain. That will be a project for another day.

I may just move on further into the woods where I know there are a lot of small (easy) red-marked trees, before returning to take down the larger diameter encroachers by the driveway.

That project will be delayed a little bit now, though, as the more immediate pressing need is for plowing and shoveling snow. We received a decent amount of sticky flakes yesterday afternoon and overnight.

So much for easily spotting those red marked trees…

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Six Years

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Somehow, six years have passed since we moved from our home of twenty-five years in a suburb of the Twin Cities to this amazing property in western Wisconsin.

Happy 6th Anniversary, Wintervale!

What an amazing time we’ve had figuring out a completely different life from the one we had previously known.

Looking back on our arrival here, we now laugh about the week-long struggle we endured to accomplish the actual closing on the property, while being granted access anyway by the sellers and moving our furniture in as if it was already officially ours.

We put our trust in a local fencing company to help design a layout for our paddocks and pasture fences and were rewarded with a much-loved result. They also helped us accomplish the addition of the hay shed, overcoming repeated weather delays caused by one of the wettest springs locals had experienced.

Five years ago September, our horses arrived and really brought this place to life. That started an ongoing lesson in the art of composting manure, among many other more romantic attractions of owning horses.

This time of year, we are probably composting as many leaves as we are manure.

We are in our second year of having chickens around to control flies and ticks, while also enjoying the secondary benefit of unbelievably great eggs.

We have learned a lot about baled hay and forest management.

We dabbled a little in trying to launch a business.

We’ve stumbled through trying to train our first dog, while simultaneously working on keeping one of two house cats we adopted from a rescue organization.

Every time the leaves fall from our trees and cover the trails six inches deep, it throws me back to that first year when we arrived.

That leads to thoughts about all the things I’ve listed above and gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the number of things we have accomplished since moving here.

I also have a tendency to contemplate what life might have been like had we not made this move. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be in as good of shape as I am now. Caring for animals and managing many acres of hilly fields and forest has a way of keeping a person off the couch for long stretches of time.

I wouldn’t trade this for anything. It’s been a great six years.

Here’s to diving into our seventh with wonder and glee over whatever adventures it may bring!

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Written by johnwhays

October 24, 2018 at 6:00 am

Early Success

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Part of me is hesitant to claim success about a recent transplanted tree, well, trees, but we have decided to enjoy it while it lasts. The truth really won’t be revealed until next summer, as to whether the four oaks we hastily decided to dig up and move out in the open field beyond the paddock ultimately survive the transplantation.

In the weeks since we moved them, these four oak trees have barely showed a symptom of shock. Now they are displaying the best of fall color, just as if nothing had happened to disrupt normal routine.

I don’t know if this apparent good health is a valid indicator of the overall success of our bold plan. I am prepared to discover otherwise next spring, but for now, we are tickled to see the normal fall behavior playing out.

If these work out, I will definitely be emboldened to do more of this to expand the range of oak trees on our property in the years ahead. There are so many little volunteer sprouts that show up every spring where they aren’t wanted or can’t be allowed to grow to maturity, we always have many opportunities from which to choose.

It is part of a long game, dreaming someday of tall trees that will provide natural cooling shade under which our horses can benefit.

It all starts with acorns and involves a little effort to nurture young trees in new locations.

Here’s hoping for success.

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Written by johnwhays

October 14, 2018 at 9:59 am

Temperature Driven

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Some chores don’t wait for a time when I actually feel like doing them. Draining hoses is one of those chores. Of course, who decides to coil up their garden hoses when it is warm and sunny outside? Not me.

It would be a treat to do it while the hoses were still pliable. That’s never been my experience. More often than not, I let the chore wait until the forecast suddenly predicts sub-freezing temperatures for the coming night.

Yesterday, that led to my needing to wrestle stiff coils in the damp and chilly fading daylight after I got home from work and tended to the animals.

Can you say, long day?

Delilah was very patient and stayed out with me while I worked, even though it pushed back her dinner to a later than normal hour. It demonstrates how much she treasures being out with us on a task. It is distinctly different from going for a walk.

She totally understands we are ‘working’ on something. We walked to the different locations where the hoses were being used, and after dragging each one back to the shop, she would look up at me to determine if it was time to go in the house, or if we were setting out after another hose.

After letting her in the house to have dinner, I stepped back out before it got dark to bring the air compressor up so I could blow out the buried water line that runs down to the spigot at the labyrinth garden.

With that chore accomplished, the only task left in preparation for serious freezing temperatures is to pull the pump and filter out of the landscape pond. I’m not worried about that for this first freeze tonight, because that water is moving and is unlikely to lock up with this first, brief dip below 32°(F).

For this night, we are now prepared to experience the possible freeze worry-free.

I think I’ll be a little disappointed if it doesn’t end up actually happening.

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Written by johnwhays

October 11, 2018 at 6:00 am

Inspiring Start

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Cyndie snapped a shot of the morning sky yesterday, shortly after the sun broke the horizon. It provided inspiration for our continued efforts to accomplish the most possible while weather was favorable and our energy held out.

With the temperature climbing as fast as the sun, I hopped on the diesel tractor to mow with the brush cutter. Knocking down the tall grass along the hay-field and back pasture fence lines was a minor goal that made it convenient to achieve a major goal.

I haven’t cut the drainage ditch along our southern border all summer, so it was seriously overgrown. It’s a chore that requires enough days without rain for the ditch to completely dry out. Yesterday was perfect.

It is late enough in the summer that I’m hoping I won’t need to bother with it again before winter. It’s a great feeling to have the ditch looking ready for whatever nature dishes out, be it heavy rain this fall or spring runoff next year.

While I was out there, I also mowed around the gazebo and along the alleyway between the paddocks and the arena. I parked the tractor and got back inside half way through the first quarter of the Vikings/Packers football game. Too bad those few hours ended without a victory, despite the last chance to kick for a win.

Cyndie came in a short time later, after using the power trimmer to cut the grass beneath the fence.

Little did we know what inspiration yet lie ahead for us.

With Jackie registering her intent to move out, Cyndie opened up interviews for new candidates to do some house & animal sitting for times we would like to get away. Two appointments were scheduled for the afternoon.

In a blink, it seems we are back to having options for coverage that will allow us occasional weekends away from our paradise. Good thing we are refining our landscape management skills to get a month’s worth of work done in one weekend.

That’s what it will take if we continue to be away as many times as Cyndie shows planned in her calendar.

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Written by johnwhays

September 17, 2018 at 6:00 am

Pulling Vines

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We are in the time of year when the vines are making surprising daily progress toward swallowing everything they can climb. Heck, some of the vines aren’t even climbing, they are simply smothering the grass.

While I was away this weekend, Cyndie pulled some weed growth near the edge of mowed yard and discovered it was a compound web that had already eliminated much of the grass beneath it.

My drive to and from the lake this weekend offered a wide variety of examples showing the aggressive reach of Wild Cucumber. Both trees and farm equipment were getting swallowed in multiple locations.

I have my eye on two spots where this vine has shown up near our north and south borders. My goal would be to keep them confined to the neighbors’ side of the property line.

I always pull wild cucumber vines out of our pine trees the instant I notice them. In the case of one of our neighbors who has done nothing yet to protect a prominent pine in the front of his lot, the front of the tree is covered all the way to the top, and beyond.

I check it every day that I drive past.

Because the wild cucumber is so pervasive, I did some research to identify it. I wanted to learn what I might be risking if I leave it grow on the north border, where I am slowly developing a natural hedge wall.

I have been piling pruned dead branches along this section, and welcome any safe growth through the tangle —it’s been mostly tall grass up to now— that will help hold soil in place during heavy downpours.

Cyndie and Delilah joined me in a walk to that spot to confirm my research findings. Passing many other varieties of vines along the way that didn’t have the same leaves, I was happy to see my suspicion was spot on.

I’m going to leave it, for now, partly because wild cucumber is native to Wisconsin. If it were an invasive, I’d be less inclined. There are no valuable trees growing along that natural hedge I’m forging, so I’m game to let the wild selection play out with a survival to the fittest mentality.

On our return trek toward the house, Cyndie took a couple of stabs at pulling other vines out of trees.

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We could spend a couple of days wandering the property with a sole focus on vine removal this time of year.

With plenty of other things commanding our attention all the time, saving our preferred plants from vines tends to happen in small, spur of the moment bursts whenever we spot them. It’s generally subject to whether we have available hands while en route toward other tasks.

Vine pulling work is never done.

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Written by johnwhays

August 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

Another Cut

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I’ve written about our frustration over waiting for our hay-field to get cut before the weeds had a chance to go to seed. Now that those fields have been cropped clean, my attention turned to knocking down the weeds and troublesome invasive plants growing rampant on the other side of our driveway.

When I finished mowing, I took a picture.

A day later, Cyndie showed me a photo album our friend Melissa shared with pictures from her visit, days earlier. I couldn’t resist grabbing Mel’s gorgeous image from a similar vantage point, taken before I had mowed.

It causes me a little regret, because the visual of the before/after doesn’t necessarily look like an improvement. There are a few butterflies that aren’t very happy with me, as well. I’m hoping they will find their way over to Cyndie’s other gardens where she has offerings that are desirable to both us and them.

As much as we love the natural look of our uncut field on the north side of our driveway, it contains problem plants that we don’t want migrating across to the hay-field we have been working to improve for years.

One future possibility we are considering is doing a prairie restoration. That process starts with a prescribed burn, which makes it a production that we can’t accomplish all on our own and will need a fair amount of planning and follow through to bring to fruition.

It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it is involved enough that it won’t just occur on a whim.

Until then, we will continue to periodically cut down the growth as a way of controlling the weeds from completely taking over.

Sorry, butterflies.

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Written by johnwhays

July 29, 2018 at 10:02 am