Well Hello There Ol’ Chap!

img_3287Following the close call with the chainsaw (read about it here), I needed a new set of chainsaw chaps.  As I began looking for a replacement I knew that I wanted to add a helmet and face shield to my safety gear.  I spent some time looking on line and in stores.  What I finally decide to go with was a kit from Forester.  I found it on amazon for what I thought was a very good price.  Actually the price was quite a bit cheaper than what I was able to find the same kit for locally.  At this point I have only spent 2 days cutting firewood using this gear but I am initially impressed.  I like the integrated hearing protection and the face shield.   Time will tell how well it will hold up but at this point I do not have any concerns that it will not fully meet my needs.


Chainsaw Safety!


So it’s the time of year that I most enjoy getting the bulk of my firewood cutting done.  Others might disagree but I think it is the best time to do this kind of work.  So I took a trip out to the woods to drop some trees.   My goal was to get several on the ground and get them limbed before I called it a day.  That is not exactly how it worked out.


Things started out pretty good.  The first tree dropped just like I wanted it.  But the second one was not going to cooperate.  I misjudged the lean of the tree and despite cutting the wedge in the direction I wanted the tree to fall; it turned some and got hung up.  With a little help from a cable winch and a rope I was able to get it to move but it hung up again.  This time it settled in a forked limb and all it took to get it safely down to the ground was to remove one of the limbs.

Well that episode may have fatigued me a little more than I expected.  I guess I got a little sloppy when handling my chainsaw and I got the chain into my left thigh.  Luckily I was wearing my chaps and they stopped the saw instantly.  I was shocked at how fast it took place.  I actually did not realize what happened until I looked down and saw the white threads wrapped around the bar and sprocket.  The hole in my chaps was small but the chain grabbed enough threads to make it come to a screeching halt.


Well after all of that commotion it was time to take a coffee break. I was never a fan of instant coffee until I discovered these little Starbucks packets.  They are a little on the pricey side but when you need some coffee it is the best thing next to fresh brewed.


I sure am glad that I was wearing those chaps.  Since I have to replace them I am going to go with a kit that has a hard hat with integrated face shield and hearing protection along with chaps.  I used to never wear chaps but I am glad I was that day. If you find yourself out there cutting firewood please be safe.


Propagating Blackberries

The time has come this summer to prune my blackberries.  The few berries left are not nearly as good as the earlier berries, and the new canes are so long and lanky. They get in my way of mowing.  Instead of throwing the clippings on the burn pile, I am going to turn this material into new plants.  Propagating blackberries is relatively easy, and I am going to show you how I do it.

Start with a shallow plastic tote. Drill several holes in the bottom for drainage and fill with peat moss.
Take 4-6 inch cuttings from this years growth and remove all but 1 or 2 leaves.
Utilizing rooting hormone is not totally necessary but I feel it will help my odds of having success.


Dip the end of the cutting into the rooting hormone powder and the tap it on the side of the container to remove the excess. The powder only needs to be lightly applied.


Place the cutting in the peat moss with the treated end down.


All of the cuttings have been placed into the peat moss. The piece of tape is so that I can tell that the cuttings came from different varieties.


Water the cuttings in well the first time. after that you want to keep the peat moss damp but not wet.  I have heard that it should feel like a damp sponge.  After that place them in a shady place.


In just a few weeks this is what you will have. The cutting will begin to create new roots and you will have a new plant that has the same characteristics of the plant that it came from.

It is really as simple as that.  By the time fall rolls around, I will be planting these in the ground.  The cooler weather will allow them to become established before winter hits and they should be ready to take off growing in the spring.

Woodlot Management and Life

IMG_0603One of the things that I always wanted in life was to own some wooded property. A little over a year ago we were able to make that dream a reality. Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that we have some grand forest. Much the opposite. It is just a small section of wooded property that is in some serious need of management. It has been neglected and abused, but I can see the potential in it. With some effort, I hope to get it back into a state that will maximize its productivity from a wildlife, timber, and recreational standpoint.I also find the parallels between nature and our lives very interesting.  If you stick with me through this blog post you will see what I mean.
It may come as a surprise to some that a piece of property that is not managed properly will be much less productive than it could be otherwise. This was the case with our woods. The gentleman that we purchased it from had plans to build a home and raise some animals on the property. When he sold the land to us he was no longer able to do much with it due to health issues. As he took me around the property I could tell that he had at one time really enjoyed owning this land and he seemed a little surprised at the way it had grown up. There were some parts that were so thick that we had trouble getting through.  He pointed out an area where he had planned to build a home and we came up on the remains of the barn he had built to house his animals. As we walked around he relived the past 30 years of owning this piece of land.
One of the first things I did after purchasing the land was to contact the local forester to do a walkthrough and develop a management plan. We spent an hour or two looking the property over and discussing some of the things that were observed and then in a few weeks I was mailed a large packet of information that contained information related to all aspects of the property. There was information about the soil types, plant life, water, endangered species, and invasive plants and animals. I have read through this report a few times and each time I glean new information from it. When preparing the report, the forester asked about the intended purpose for the land to help guide the owner in the proper steps in land management. These goals can include managing the land for wildlife, recreation, and timber. I chose to take a balanced approach and not put too much emphasis on any one area.

Wild grapevine can cause trees to fall erratically wen cut down for timber or firewood

One of the areas in the report focuses on invasive species. There were specific invasive species identified which include Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, and multi flora rose. Each of these species was introduced to this area for various reasons,but later on it was discovered that they could negatively impact areas if they were allowed to get out of control. If not managed through mechanical or chemical methods, the growth of these plants will outpace that of the native species. Although I am not a huge fan of synthetic herbicides, this is the method I choose to employ when dealing with these plants. Mechanical removal is very labor intensive and that limits how much land I can reclaim each year. Utilizing chemical herbicides was certainly not a choice I took lightly, but based on the amount of work that needed to be done I saw no other alternative. According to the foresters report, I could utilize Glyphosate for all three invasives so that helped to simplify the process based on is availability.

Multi Flora Rose

The multi flora rose is the most problematic plant we have. It was intended to be used as a dense living fence that would contain animals. The multi flora rose does not have a pretty flower like other rose bushes but it does share the thorns. The characteristics that made it a good choice for a living fence also makes it undesirable in a woodlot. We had sections that were nearly impossible to access due to the number and size of these bushes. When birds eat the fruit of these plants the seeds are spread far and wide so this makes eliminating it nearly impossible. The best you can hope for is to control it. I have sections of the property that are nearly impossible to navigate due to the thick growth of this plant. I had never seen such large masses of plant matter before. Many clumps of this stuff are larger than a full sized pick-up truck. The good thing is that Glyphosate will reduce it to a bunch if dried up canes in short order, and with the aid of a shovel or garden hoe, I can break the canes down and reduce it to almost nothing. What a difference it makes eliminating such a noxious plant.

Russian Olive

The next plant that is present on our property is the Russian olive. This is a large shrub that is very common to see in this area, in fact the state used to cultivate and sell it as a forage plant until just recently when it was classified as invasive. This plant adapts well to poor soil and is a good food source for a wide variety of animals. Around here it is common to see this plant used on old coal mine ground. For me, this is not as high a priority to eliminate, based on the fact that it does provide a good food source for many animals and is a good habitat for birds. I was given the choice to remove it or leave it alone and I believe that I am going to try to allow some to remain but I will be keeping the spread of it in check. The problem with this plant is that it will spread to the point of choking out the other growth and it can make navigation difficult if it gets too thick.

The final invasive that the forester identified was the Japanese honeysuckle. This is a

Japanese Honeysuckle vining up a small sapling

plant that is commonly sold as a ground cover but it is that very characteristic that makes it undesirable in a woodlot.  This vine will blanket the floor of the woods, forming a thick mat of vines that can make walking difficult and choking out other plants.  It will also vine up small saplings, bending them over so that they will never be able to develop into a productive tree.  The forester explained to me that this plant likely took off after the property was logged years ago.  The increased sunlight allowed it to begin growing at a more rapid pace.  The strategy for eliminating this plant is a little different in that you wait until cooler weather to spray it.  Since Glyphosate is a foliar spray, meaning that it is applied to the leaves, you want to wait until the plants in the woods have dropped their leaves and then spray. Japanese honeysuckle retains its leaves late into autumn or early winter, and this allows the opportunity to treat it without harming other plants


IMG_0702Another aspect of woodlot management, where I have much to learn, is the selective removal of trees. A woodlot that is left alone can produce too many trees or the wrong kind of trees.  Since I decided on a balanced approach to management I need to look at the timber potential vs.the wildlife benefit of a tree before I remove it.  So, initially, I have been looking to remove trees that are misshapen and would not bring any money as a saw log.  I also want to make sure I do not allow an imbalance in a certain species.  For example, we have an abundance of poplar trees.  These are some of the biggest and straightest trees we have, but I don’t want the majority of the trees to be this one species if I am trying to promote wildlife habitat.  I will also need trees that provide food, such as oaks and persimmons.   The woodlot should also be thinned to a point that trees can grow to a good size , thus demanding a better price form a logger.  The canopy of the trees need to be exposed to adequate sunlight, and removing less desirable trees allows the more desirable trees to flourish.  To keep wildlife in mind, I will leave some dead or diseased trees standing.  These trees will become a haven for bugs, and thus a smorgasbord for the animals that feed off of them.  Selective cutting truly is the most complex aspect of management for me, and I hope to become more knowledgeable about it as time goes on.

Managing our woodlot is honestly one of the chores that I love to do most around our place. The slow and steady process of taking an abused and overgrown property and turning it into something that is more useful and productive is quite rewarding. Life is in so many ways like our little woodlot. It starts out with dreams of what we want and then things that initially seem good or harmless, if left unchecked, can eventually strangle productivity and vitality to the point that we no longer reach our fullest potential. The “invasive species” of life are numerous and can be difficult to identify at times. It is at that point when we need a “forester” to lay out a plan for us so that we can regain the productivity, life, and vitality that we were meant to have. As we strive to live a more simple life that is pleasing to God, we need to evaluate what we are allowing to grow in our lives and realize how this is impacting not only us but those around us.

Mason Bee Update

As I was at work planting some of our garden this week I happened to notice that there was a bee flying into one of the holes in the nest block that I built over the winter.  Upon closer examination I saw that several holes that had been capped off. I am sure that these bees would have done just fine without me building them a place to raise their young. The nice thing about it is that I will now benefit next year with an increased population of pollinators that will gladly help me in producing some food for my family.  The natural world that God created is truly amazing.IMG_1250

Mini Greenhouse

IMG_1156Today the weather was not what one would expect from February and it gave me the desire to be outside and even work in the garden. I am always trying to push the limits when it comes to planting our garden and I am often met with failure.  My father always told me to just wait until the first of May and it would be alright.  Well that does work but I have a hard time waiting that long and that also limits the productivity of my garden to some extent.  A greenhouse would be nice to extend the growing season and provide a place to hang out in the winter but right now I do not have the time or resources necessary to take that project on.  So the solution to my problem is to build a mini greenhouse.

I have seen all sorts of articles about doing this and they all try to take a slightly different angle on it. Really the concept is simple and that will be my angle.  First off, this little plastic covered hoop structure is not intended to grow tomatoes or other heat loving plants.  Its only purpose is to get a few weeks head start on the planting of cool weather IMG_1161crops.  It could also be used to harden off some of the plants that you start inside if you choose.  I like simple and easy so for this project to work for me it will need to be both.  There are all sorts of various modifications that can be done with this type of structure but I am only going to attempt the most basic of designs today.

First I started with some ½ PVC pipe from the hardware store. I stuck it in the ground 6 inches and set the other end 4 foot away and stuck it in the ground 6 inches.  I repeated the process at 2 foot intervals until I had a 12 foot row of hoops.  I then raked back the mulch that I had covering my garden to expose the soil, removed the weeds, and loosened the soil with a stirrup hoe.  A garden rake was then used to smooth the soil and break up the larger clumps of dirt.

The seeds were planted in a broadcast fashion. I did not spend time making rows or spacing the seeds perfectly.  Once the seeds sprout I will run the garden rake thought the plot just one time and this will provide an adequate thinning for  these plants. I  decided to plant beets, turnips, various lettuce, carrots, and spinach. I left the last 4 foot unplanted so that I can do some succession planting in a week or two so that that we will have new crops coming up as the season progress.  Once the seeds were in place I used the hoe to gently tamp the seeds into the soil.

Once the seeds were all taken care of, I draped a piece of clear plastic sheeting over the entire structure. The plastic is 10 ft. by 25 foot so it will be adequate in covering the remaing 9 foot of exposed PVC with a little extra to secure it from blowing away.  Once it was trimmed to length I place some old pieces of scrap lumber around the edges.  Not the most decorative of methods of securement but it is functional.  The plastic needs to be easily removable so that on warm days the structure can be vented.  One thing I will do to help with the venting is to use some large office type clips to hold the plastic on the ends back when it sun is really shinning and the temperature gets a little warm in the hoop.  That is it!

Management of the mini green house will be a learning experience for me but I am looking forward to the fresh vegies that this little structure will produce. I hope that I will have some success with the mini greenhouse but if not it was a great way to spend a beautiful day in the garden with my son and teach him a little bit about gardening.  That actually makes it all worth it.IMG_1165

Bees Without the Hive

The finished Mason Bee nest block securely attached to the side of our shed.


If you have been reading this blog, you may have seen the posts about building a bee hive. I have been interested in bees as pollinators for some time, and I can appreciate the role that they play in pollinating our crops.  I remember when I was a kid having a yard and garden full of bees but that seems to have changed.  We are also are hearing of this decline in bees mentioned in the media.  People are becoming alarmed at the decline of the honey bee but did you know that honey bees are not indigenous to America?  European settlers actually brought the honey bees with them when they settled this land. Another fact is that there are 4000 species of bees that are indigenous to North America?  With all of these indigenous bees surely we could utilize them to pollinate our crops, right?  That is exactly what I am going to wright about today.

A blog post certain is not the place to discuss 4000 species of bees but I would like to discuss the one variety that got me interested in bee keeping and that is the Mason Bee. Mason bees are one of the first pollinators to emerge in the spring.  I often see them on our Bradford Pear trees since they bloom fairly early.  When the days are sunny and the wind is low, there will be what appears to be thousands of bees swarming around our trees. A close looks at then will reveal an insect that looks much like a miniature honey bee but is darker in color.  As the season progresses, these bees will migrate from our back yard to our mini orchard, which is situated in the northeast corner of our property.  There they get to the task of pollinating the numerous blooms on our fruit trees and berry plants.  As quickly as they emerge and get to work, the Mason Bees seem to disappear as well.  They are only active early in the spring for a short time.

So how can a person promote a healthy population of mason bees? Simple, build them a house to live in.  Mason Bees will lay their eggs in holes they find in wood created by other insects so all you need to do is get a piece of wood and drill some holes in it.  OK, so there may be a little more to it than that but not much more.  There are several different was that I have seen Mason Bee nests constructed such as the previously mentioned wood block or there is paper straws placed in some type of container.  I have also seen nests constructed on bamboo as well.  I much prefer the wood block method just for the protection and durability that it provides for the eggs.

How do go about build a nest block?  you will need to start with a block of wood; I happen to have some untreated 4 x 4 lumber that I use. Drill some 5/16 inch holes ¾-1 “ on center.  Hole size is said to be important because it can influence the sex of the bees.  Drilling them smaller will increase the percentage of males.  Next, add some type of roof to your block to shed the rain from the top of the nest block and then attach the nest block to a sturdy south facing structure.  In the past I have attached it to the side of our little shed.  It is said that is important to attach the nest to a solid structure because the bees do not like a structure that is subject to movement.  That is pretty much it for Mason Bees.  Some people will choose to refrigerate their nest block or move it to a sheltered area to protect it from predators after the mason bees become inactive but I choose to leave mine in place all year.

If you are looking at a simple way to increase the yield in your garden this year, there are easier ways to do it besides a honey bee hive. Find a block of wood and drill some holes and you can be on your way to increased productivity in your garden using an indigenous pollinator.