Nyssa Sylvatica

Happy Earth Day! We’ve been in the house exactly one year today. Well a year and a day but I use Earth Day as our house anniversary as it’s the first full day we were here. I am exhausted having celebrated today by planting trees.

Our new trees were delivered today, about mid-morning. We didn’t waste any time spreading them out, taking each to its new location per the stakes we laid out yesterday. One unique find while running around the yard was a dead mole that my oldest son discovered. It was over by the garage path. A lot of things die over there, a turtle last year for example.  The mole looked like it was sleeping but it never moved all day so I don’t think it was just sleeping. I took a picture. My wheel barrow and I went past him all day long. I got to thinking, mole fur looks really, really soft. I did not reach down to find out though. Maybe tomorrow.

I would come up with something monumental to write today in honor of Earth Day but as usual when I work outside all day, I’m just too tired. Generally speaking it was just another day. I did apply to a job, which was so involved that it took easily an hour to fill out the application. Other than that it was pretty much me in the yard, digging holes, hauling soil and mulch, and generally wondering if I was going to pass out from exhaustion at some point.

As for the trees, I examined the planting sites and started in on the first one before lunch; the sun warming me up on what turned out to be a beautiful day to be outside (and alive….sorry mole). I planted five black gum trees (Nyssa Sylvatica aka tupelo trees) per our landscape plan.  Black gum trees, native throughout Ohio, are known for their spectacular fall color. They grow to be over 60′ tall and are one of the oldest living trees in the Eastern US, living upwards of 650 years.  That’s kinda cool from an immortality standpoint, the five little trees I put in the ground today, might actually be there in the year 2500 A.D. Birds love their berries in the early fall. And bees love making honey from these black tupelo trees. Did we mention we’re waiting for our bees?

Also, for giggles, we picked up, and I planted, a river birch tree (Betula Nigra). This multi trunk tree is native to much of the Eastern U.S. In Ohio its native mostly down south or along Lake Erie, but you’ll find it in everyone’s front yard if you drive through a cookie cutter suburban sprawl neighborhood.  We just happen to like birch trees. There isn’t one on our plan but who cares, sometimes we go off plan.  Christine says she likes it because it is like a little touch of “us” on the land.  You have these big woods and meadows and then a little baby river birch plopped down in there.  It makes us smile.

I assessed the first planting spot for my black gum and noticed two trees in the way. Any sane person would have cut ’em down, as one was a thorny scrub brush looking tree and the other was just a 1.5″ caliper tree about the size of the tupelo tree I was about to plant. Well it being Earth Day and me being certifiably insane I transplanted both of them. We had success transplanting trees last year when we clearing the playset area out.  So I figured it was getting to be old hat for me to do so.  Boy is it back-breaking work.  My nephew transplanted a couple larger trees last year; man I could have used that dude today.  By lunch I was dry heaving as I pulled the last one out of the ground.  The wife and I could barely lift it out of the hole. I planted them both over at the edge of the south meadow. First the skinny tree, I think it’s an ash, or oak tree. Then I transplanted the thorny tree. Finally I planted the river birch nearby as well. Note in all of these tree planting spots I used the trimmer to cut away the meadow grass and I laid down some mulch. I’ll plan on maintaining these areas at least until all the trees and transplants are established.

Next on the list were the five black gum trees.  Boy oh boy I was exhausted beyond belief by time I got done.  I had to haul a ton of top soil back there, often running the wheel barrow through soggy, wet, muddy grass since a swale runs through that area. I just laid down on the couch and mentally cried to myself when I was done late this afternoon.  My eye sockets even hurt, that’s how sore my whole body was.

So in total, on this Earth Day, I planted six new trees and transplanted two others.  Not to bad, that should take some CO2 out of the atmosphere and provide some habitat for mama bird and her baby birds.

Look we all don’t necessarily have the time, interest or know how to make sure the planet is worth living on, long after we’re gone.  I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have my good days (I recycle the little plastic caps on milk containers) and bad days (I cleaned out the fridge and threw a bunch of old food out – I have mold issues). “Less bad” isn’t the answer but it’s a start, so if you’re at all interested, start there. And if you’re reading this you’re most likely employed, unlike the slacker that I am, so you probably didn’t have time to plant a tree today. Well it’s okay, I got at least five or six of you covered depending on how you look at it. Just tell ’em Chris planted a tree for you today.

But hey, maybe sometime this Spring or Fall, or next year, or whenever, if you have some free time maybe plant a tree yourself.  Make it a little one if you want.  I saw at least two of the baby pines I planted last year are still doing fine, and our Christmas tree has little grown nubs on it I think. Literally grab a shovel, go out and plant something.  I don’t care if you’re nine or ninety-nine. Give it a shot. If that doesn’t work for you tie it into something you like to do. I go shopping for LED bulbs, and plants with a fierceness I would pit against any crazed shoes-shopping woman. Anyway, whatever you do, do something. And don’t do it for anyone but yourself if need be. It’s fun, rewarding and you don’t even have to tell anyone (or tell me, I’d love to hear what you did).  Point is, just do something positive for the planet. Trust me, you’ll really enjoy it.

Even if it exhausts you.

Mama Bird

Sunday was sort of a waste of a day at the homestead. But I suppose Sunday is supposed to be that way, and any day you’re this side of the horizon is far from a waste.  We awoke and did our typical Sunday morning ritual of newspaper and CBS Sunday Morning, coffee and a little cereal. Disappointingly there was frost outside. But alas no snow in the air like the day prior.

Late morning found me in my studio rearranging some things, getting organized for our first art show of the year down in Fairfax, Virginia next week. I really wish I had my shelves designed and built for all of our art paraphernalia. I have it fairly well-organized, but some wood shelves would mean I don’t have to stack everything on top of each other.

After lunch we swung by Lowes on the way to the in-laws to pick up a couple veggie plants: presents to the boys grandpa on his birthday.  I also begrudgingly picked up a $28 bag of grass seed, the fancy kind with the mulch and fertilizer mixed in.  With the rain washing away the orchard and turning it into concrete, I had to add that back onto my “to do” list….boy I hate redoing tasks.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  We also picked up another raspberry bush. There is a little space at the end of the row to squeeze in one more bush back by the garden gate fence post.  I’ll plant that and my patient boxwoods tomorrow; I ran out of time to plant anything today.

We lazily drove over and dropped the boys off so their grandmother could exhaust them in play. Taking the opportunity for an hour solo, the wife and I headed over to the garden center to look at trees.  We wanted to plant a tree for Earth Day tomorrow. It’s our plan to plant one every year on the property. If you remember our plan is to do the same with our Christmas trees as well…get a live one and plant it every year. So every winter a non-deciduous tree and every spring a deciduous one.

As we walked the aisles of baby trees, one lined up after the other, we came upon our crown jewel tree for the front yard.  Actually the only trees called for in the plan of the front yard besides our apple trees; which ended up in the back yard. I pulled the card up from the branch of the tree and sure enough, Nyssa sylvatica….black gum or tupelo depending on where you’re from. As you know we’re trying to stick to the exact species called out for on our plan and that’s what I had my hands on.  This particular specimen was tough to come by, the only place we found them were at a nursery on the east side where, while larger than these, were significantly more expensive.  Long story short a handful of these baby trees will be delivered tomorrow along with a baby river birch tree, which while it is not on the plan at all, is one of our favorites so we could not resist. The birch is my wife’s mother’s day gift / birthday gift from me. She likes listening to the wind rustle through their leaves and looking at the flaking bark. So instead of one tree for Earth Day tomorrow, we got a few.

Speaking of mom’s, yesterday while working on a design for a client I was distracted by the rhythm of birds chirping outside my office window.  Looking over my shoulder I could see my mama bird cheerfully hanging out in her nest. And then another bird would stop by. I called the wife and she explained to me that the daddy bird actually feed mama while she sits on the nest.  I had no idea.  Guess I never thought about it.  But sure enough, every twenty minutes or so all morning he’d swing by and feed her.  I’m not sure what kind of birds they are; I think some sort of song sparrow but it’s tough to tell.  I’ll have to look at my bird book again.

One other note, there is another nest on the adjacent column but I don’t think it’s occupied.  The other day there was a broken egg on our deck.  Not sure which nest it came from but someone is missing an egg.

Returning home we staked out where the gum trees will go and did a quick walk around the property.  Everything is greening up nicely, and thankfully this includes all the trees we transplanted from the playground area last year, as well as most, if not all, the ribboned flowering trees we saved or transplanted during construction.

Before we staked out the trees, I spent some time garden weaseling the orchard in hopes of driving the lifeless grass seed into the hard ground, giving it a second shot at growing. By time I made it around the orchard I settled in on my knees looking at the hard as concrete ground before me.  I was totally disgusted with the tan lifeless landscape before me.

Then it caught my eye.

Lots and lots of thin little shadows cast by the setting sun, like little dark hairs cast on the ground. Looking more closely, nearly on my hands and knees now I could see them. Little translucent green blades of grass. First a couple, then dozens…then hundreds.

My grass was growing!

Just then our household “mama bird” stuck her head out the door. I called her over to show her the grass.  She knew all along it would grow, she has so much more patience than I do. She proceeded to point out grass was growing everywhere on top of the raised portion of the orchard. It was amazing.

Alright, my kid is screaming for popcorn…I had promised I’d make some tonight. So with that I’m off for the night. Check in tomorrow to see what we’ve planted and how it went.


Party Of One

Well It’s been raining pretty much all week, wherever I go. I was in Chicago for a trade show throughout the middle part of the week and it rained there two of the three days, including a four hours of driving through a down pour from the Windy City to Toledo.  It was nice to come home to everything greening up around the homestead though.  Everything looks to be budding and turning green.  The yard is filled with clover and a little grass.  The walking paths and planting beds all have “weeds” growing up, and pushing aside the freshly laid mulch.  Only disappointment is that none of the grass I planted in the orchard took.  That big storm washed it all away or into little mounds and rendered all the clay I had roughed up with the tiller into concrete.

We were informed today that bee delivery has been pushed off until the end of April.  With the crazy weather and whatnot they are behind, and at least one shipment (presumably a tractor-trailer load in my mind) was lost to the bad weather.

Before I left I spread plant food and mulch around almost all the plants we’ve planted since we moved in last year.  And like I said they all look good for the most part. We even picked up a couple more baby boxwoods at Lowes.  I’ll plant those tomorrow or Sunday, and work on a couple other minor yard chores.

While I was in Chicago I did have the opportunity to eat dinner at a couple nice little bar like restaurants.  Both nights I ate by myself, and both meals were exquisite.  I selected both restaurant based on location, as each night I had a party to go to afterwards, and based on the perceived atmosphere.  Here’s my stab at reviewing my meals, on the off-chance you find yourself in Chicago sometime.  I recommend both places, especially the first, and especially if you’re a loser like me who has to eat dinner alone because you lack a friend in this world or at least Chicago on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Farmhouse – 228 W. Chicago Avenue – Because I’m a cheap skate I walked pretty much everywhere in Chicago. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart which is on the west side of the city right near the river.  Tuesday night I had to walk about eight blocks north to a night club for an industry party.  I poured over Mapquest looking for a place to eat beforehand and stumbled upon the Farmhouse. From their website:

“Farmhouse Tavern is a Midwestern Craft Tavern specializing in local food and drink. We are a farm to tavern restaurant, making all of our own burgers, condiments, and sodas from scratch. And with more than 28 craft beers on tap we are sure you will find something special to wash it all down. We are also the only tavern in the country to serve great Michigan wines on tap.”

I like the look of the place online and loved the fact that they use locally sourced ingredients in all their meals, as well as their beer and wine menu.

I quick phone call and I had a reservation for one that evening.  Chicago is a great walking town so I set out, following my phone’s map in unfamiliar territory.  I literally walked by the place, its facade is so unassuming. Stepping inside I was greeted by the young lady I had spoken to on the phone just 45 minutes prior and she showed gave me my choice of single seats at the bar.  I was loving the intimate setting right from the start. Despite its wide selection of local brews, it didn’t come off looking like your typical brew house, nor was it trying to be something in authentic or pretentious, rather the atmosphere was inviting, and psychologically secure, insulating me from the orchestrated chaos just outside its front glass windows.  We’re I there with “friends” or family there were a variety of great seating locations, including a welcoming long table up front from which a group could drink frothy beers, exchange the day’s work related drama and watch the world go by.  The restaurant is not large by any scope of the imagination but it never felt cramped.  Even the obligatory farm decor references, i.e. small tractor models, were subtle, tasteful or at least innocuously executed.

I was promptly welcomed to my seat at the bar by the tender as she handed me a simple menu and drink list on clip board.  Not caring to wade through the selection I asked for and received her recommendation of a Solemn Oath Oxford Comma draft which I found most delightful after a long walk, with its variety of spices and lemon zest. As with my drink I did the same with dinner, having never been to the Farmhouse before, I relied on my guide to make a solid dinner recommendation as well.

For starters I had a Farmhouse chopped salad featuring tavern nuts, prepared vegetables, Michigan dried cherries, and a creamy herb cider dressing. Instantly I was transported to another place.  With every bite the cocooning embrace of a warm house on a cool rainy day enveloped me. I had not a care in the world.  I usually don’t like nuts in anything but found myself foraging my salad, oscillating from crunchy saltiness of the crusted nuts to the chewy sweetness of  the dried cherries.  Washed down with sips of my Oxford and then eventually my next recommended beer, a Solemn Oath Yarnbomb.

For an entree I entrusted the banishment of my hunger with the, once again, recommended boneless short ribs.  Looking at the online menu now, what I had was slightly different from what I see now.  Had I know I would have taken notes but I figured I could look online for reference once I got home.  It’s irrelevant though, for whatever I ate was the most incredible meal I’ve had in a very long time.  I’ve eaten meals that cost three times as much and were half as good. I usually eat one item on my plate completely before moving on, but between the short ribs, mashed potatoes and kale, each bite was better than the one before it.  At one point the smoky flavor of the kale made me feel like I’d just stepped in from the cold and I could feel the warmth of the fireplace back in Ohio.  I was home.

For dessert…well I was so full having essentially licked both plates clean, I drank my dessert, finishing off with my trusted guides last call (for me at least) a New Holland White Mad Hatter.

For the price, atmosphere and their belief in serving not only world-class food and beer, but also helping the local food market, I would recommend the Farmhouse to anyone visiting Chicago.  And you know what, maybe go by yourself because the food is so good you’re probably not going to want to be interrupted mid bite.

Public House – 400 N State St. – With a party at the House of Blues approaching I once again found myself hunting down a place to eat nearby on Wednesday night, and once again was able to land a one man reservation on short notice.  Fortunately for me I have a lot of experience walking fast, for by Wednesday the rains had taken hold of the city as I sprinted down the half dozen or so blocks from hotel to the restaurant.  Somewhat soaked I stepped inside to find a larger, more sports bar like atmosphere (compared to the night before), but inviting none the less.

Once again I relied on the server to make recommendations and once again was met with a meal that exceeded all expectations.  Drink wise I consumed three different beers.  One was a Goose Island Brewery Matilda.  Another was a Bell’s Brewery Seasonal out of Kalamazoo.  And finally a Kona Big Wave draft.  All three were delightful and mated perfectly with my meal.

Speaking of my meal I started out with a nice little side salad, consisting of fairly standard salad ingredients and I nice but not overpowering champagne tripel vinaigrette dressing.  For dinner I had the Steak Frites, which was 10 ounces of medium cooked, herb marinated skirt steak, topped with a couple dollops of butter and a roasted garlic aioli (presumably the sauce on the side, in the little cup…I’m not a food expert, only I know what I like). Finally a little cup of seasoned crisp fries sealed the deal. If the night before’s dinner was comforting and exquisitely crafted, this dinner was all out food porn and equally executed with skill and attention.  My steak melted in my mouth with buttery sinfulness.  I found myself dipping each bite in the side sauce even though it probably didn’t need it, but I needed it.  I took my time and enjoyed every bite.  It was wonderful.

I would recommend the Public House as well, especially with a group. They have tables with pour your own taps, so if your glass runs dry or you want to try a few brews or spirits you’re not at the mercy of the waitress.  Additionally there were plenty of screens to catch the game on tv (I watched the Sox beat up the Jays), or you could sit and just chat with a friend at various two person tables.  While essentially a sports bar the atmosphere and definitely the quality of food elevate the Public House to the level of fine dining at a reasonable cost and once again with out the pretentiousness so often found in the haunting grounds of traditional “foodie” cliques.

My dinner at the Public House.  Yum.

My dinner at the Public House. Yum.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually have no problem hanging out by myself.  I prefer it in many regards to be honest with you.  And exploring the culinary delights of an unfamiliar city, finding two gems all on my own, was extremely rewarding. Just wish the weather was nicer so I could have explored more and taken more photos.

Okay, that’s it for tonight.  Back to work tomorrow.  Stay dry and stay safe.


Garden Posts

The weather has been crappy the last few days but I still went out in the yard and worked most of my weekend out back. This weekend’s project has been establishing the vegetable garden. With all the deer and other critters around the property we need some sort of fence to keep them out of the veggie part of the garden. I decided to erect a four foot tall fence around our 20′ x 40′ rectangular garden plot.  Technically to keep deer out the fence has to be something like eleven feet tall but I’m not putting that high a fence in our garden.  If four feet isn’t enough then I’ll revise it in the future. My theory is that there is so many other good things to nibble on that the deer will hardly know we have a garden in the first place. 

I was going to use natural tree branches as the fence posts to add a bit of rustic aesthetic to the back yard, and save money since I could create them from down timber we have on site.  I awoke Saturday, got bundled up and went out to the septic field to gather tree branches, logs, and trunks that were all about three inches in diameter and six feet long.  I cut nearly a dozen by hand and dragged them to the garden.  They looked okay but eventually they’d rot so after some more thought I decided to go with treated 4×4 posts. Plus I knew there was a 4×4 post I wanted to use for he berry patch. I had one crooked twelve footer left over from construction, so I hauled it into my shop and proceeded to copy a style of post I saw online, at the Chicago botanical gardens.  I made two and they’ll be used to train my raspberries and blackberries. At that point I finalized my decision that all the posts in the  rest of the garden should be 4×4’s as well. We drove up to Lowes and loaded up four more twelve footers on top of the RAV4. The rack flexed but held and we got our posts home.  I then cut them to six feet long; the corner posts with a 45 degree house themed angle at the top, and the intermediate posts just with a square cut.

I read up on using treated posts for gardening and decided to wrap the bottom of my posts in plastic that we had leftover from the house build, the same 6 mil stuff from under the cement slabs. They treat post lumber now with a chemical composed of a lot of copper.  In the past (before 2003 or so) they were treated with arsenic. Research shows that they are a lot safer now, but you still have to landfill the dust and leftover boards and cutoffs, and the posts shouldn’t be near plants you intend to eat, especially root plants like carrots or beets.  Organic farmers aren’t even allowed to used treated posts. A good alternative is cedar, or other naturally resistant woods, but I don’t have the cash nor a readily available supply of that type of material so I did the next best thing. By wrapping the bottoms in plastic the wood doesn’t come in contact with soil, where the copper can leach out into the roots of plants. As an added level of defense most of the posts have concrete around them between the plastic and soil.  In some articles regular people worried about plastic contamination but I don’t think it’s an issue.  I’d rather it was plastic than metal contamination.  Generally speaking I think plastic is better and less risky.  

So I have all the posts set.  Next will be fencing in the coming weeks.  While at Lowes thirteen little baby green velvet boxwoods followed me home today. They were so cute and at four dollars apiece how could I resist.  I planted them, per the plan, over by the orchard. Also next up on the chore list is planting wild flowers.  We have a ton of seeds and a lot of big areas to rough up and plant them in.  Tomorrow should be nice so I think I’ll sneak out in the morning to wrap up a few things outside.

The wife started all her seedlings today too.  She did a really cool thing and put all the seedlings in empty clear storage bins we had lying around.  Turned upside down and placed on a window sill they create a half dozen little greenhouses for her seedlings.  Very cool idea she had.  

More Sprung Spring

Update: we’ve gone from Spring bliss to April non-stop showers and cooler weather. The front yard looks like a swamp. I lack all desire to go outside, though I could see through house and car windows that more leaves are emerging everywhere. The orchard is holding up well in the wind and rain as far as I can tell. Tomorrow and the weekend return to lows in the 40’s and 30’s eek! I’ll be working in the yard regardless on Saturday (unless I have to build an ark).

My next big decision is what to use for garden fence posts. Stay tuned and find out on Saturday.

Spring Has Sprung

There is something about this screwed up year, twenty-thirteen.  The first quarter has been remarkably miserable… incessant crappy weather, my career laid asunder for no logical reason, living a new reality where I’m not sure how I’ll support myself, let alone a family…but hey, that’s life right.

Just in time to raise spirits, and my salvation, the real Spring arrived this week.  We had the aforementioned (in other posts) nice warm days and have spent those wisely working out in the yard. We’ve been walking the land and looking at all the plants budding. Remarkably all the thorny bushes budding first, the more beautiful flowering one still slumbering. And today we had our first rain.  Of course, just like last year and on par for twenty-thirteen, the first rain was a monsoon rain instead of just a calm little Spring rain. Last year a huge rain storm washed away all my grass seed in the front yard just two days after it was planted.  I watched apprehensively out the window today as a drizzle grew to a downpour. Watched the air outside turn green and the sky grow dark. I watched as the large drops fell on the powdery, grass seed infused, blanket of soil in the orchard. Surprisingly I think the orchard held up well. The line of delineation between the front yard and front plant bed on the other hand filled up like a  swimming pool. Nothing too worrisome but something to address on my “to do” list.

My home office (I’m now a design consultant by the way in case someone wants to throw a project my way, I’m not proud) is in the corridor between the front hall and my studio. The last two days I’ve been able to turn off the HVAC and open the large three-foot square window in my office. Instead of my wearing my headphones and listening to music I’ve been listening to the plethora of bird noises, and today, the sound of a thunderstorm rolling across the valley. The fresh air breeze has been nice as well.

Yesterday I heard the consistent beat of feathers behind me as I sat at my desk. Turning around I observed a small brown bird making a nest atop one of the porch columns. I thought to myself that she would be as happy as I was it was finally Spring, were she not so focused on her task at hand. I marveled the next day when I could see her nest constructed up there, little branches and twigs gathered lovingly from our front yard. At one point her beau stopped by to inspect the nest. Her patience worn thin she quickly rushed him away to the cistern cherry, and returned to the task at hand…or beak. So we finally have a “nest” for our house, it’s just not some trendy thermostat. Instead it’s something real, authentic and unique.

So Spring is underway, and this year more so than any other I’m really engaged in it. I have to be. With all the upheaval and uncertainty, I need something to grasp. Plus I have to work doubly hard, so I appreciate any down time that I do get. And taking time to smell the roses, or at least watch a bird build a nest, is something that most people forego in their endless life pursuits. I’m pretty lucky I guess.

Well if tomorrow is nice out I’ll inspect the orchard. This weekend I’ll start working on the vegetable garden and feeding our berry bushes. And of course we’re patiently waiting for our bees to show up.

Allegheny Serviceberry

I don’t even know what day of the week it is anymore. One month since being banished from corporate america and I’ve essentially gone native so to speak. Or at least my concept of days of the week is totally deconstructed.  I think I’m on day three or four, in a row, of working from dawn to dusk. I think today was Saturday. Yes, two days of building the orchard.  Then today, bank to go over some business for the new consulting firm first thing. Then off to a friend’s house to help install a lift kit on a Jeep, which really wasn’t work because I basically stood around, pointed at stuff and generally joked around. I had one beer so not all was lost. Exiting early I hastened over via Rabbit to Lowes to pick up a new electric tiller. I reluctantly purchased the only one they had available in store, as I needed one today. At least it was lime green in color so not a complete was of $169. Getting home around mid afternoon I assembled said tiller. I had a sneaking feeling it was a less than stellar tiller based on the incorrect instructions (I figured out how it should go together despite the red herring instructions). Then I was off to the orchard for day three of work.

I used the electric tiller to rough up the entire 40′ x 40′ orchard.  About five minutes in my new tiller lost it’s pin and cotter pin holding the level / transport wheels in place.  I looked but the pins were buried somewhere and I didn’t have time to look for them. Off with the training wheels and start using the tiller like a man. I was not happy with it at all but I will say, it tilled 1,600 square feet nonstop without dying so it was one up on the electric tiller I broke the day before. In hind sight I like the Sun Joe Tiller I broke, as opposed to the Greenworks tiller I have yet to really break.

After tilling I raked the area, trying to slope everything so that rain water will exit the orchard; I won’t know how well a job I did until it rains.  Over the prepared soil I spread grass seed everywhere in between the apple trees. I then watered the grass area which took forever because we have zero water pressure in our household. Well it allowed me time to meditate and raise my blood pressure at the same time.

Yay! Apple orchard complete.

With a few hours of daylight left I turned my attention to the five plants who have been waiting upwards of a week to be planted.  First up were our Allegheny Serviceberry trees. Our plan called for two specimens to stand guard at the west entry of the orchard. Amelanchier laevis look like bushes but they really are multi-trunk small tree. The have flowers in the spring and then produce berries in June (sometimes called june berries appropriately enough).  Birds love the berries so that will be nice to see birds in that part of the yard. The berries are edible for us too, so we can make pies, jam and jelly too if we were so inclined (which we are).

Flanking each of the serviceberries are two spiraeas.  The two on the left are Vanhoutte Spiraea, and those are the two we had purchased already. The other spiraea, of the crispa variety, are on order. I planted the two I had on hand to the left of the serviceberry; not digging the hole too deep as I wanted to plant them higher up.  The reason is because eventually the bed will be a “raised” bed, but for now, lacking enough top soil to make the entire bed raised I had to improvise.  I think it’ll be fine; I mounded enough top soil and native clay soil around so that the plants should be fine.

Last but not least I planted a French Pussy Willow (salix caprea).  My sons really wanted one when we were at the garden center getting our serviceberries.  The pussy willow is an invasive plant that can get unwieldy at 12′ tall and wide or larger.  I’ll keep it on a short leash and trim it back as necessary.  I planted, per request over by the playground, in a spot where it can act as a nice focal point as your walking the north path from the drive to playground. Finally I spread mulch around all the newly planted specimens.

No rest for the weary as we’re helping the in-laws move furniture tomorrow and then I’m back in the “office” Monday working on a couple prospective new projects. I see no end in sight and no light at the end of the tunnel but I probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

These are long days indeed and we’re not even close to the longest days June has to offer. The last couple days have given me an appreciation for farmers and all they do. I mean real farmers, not the corporate kind, and probably not the trendy, modern, “ooo I’ll call myself a farmer” farmers (i.e. me).  And I have no idea how they farmed the midwest in the 1800’s, breaking sod by hand and hoof. I could have never done that. Despite that reality I’ve found my work the last couple days to be most rewarding none the less. More rewarding than most anything I’ve ever done. It’s going to look really nice when it’s all done someday.

As the sun dipped behind the clouds rendering the landscape milky grey I found myself walking my paths. Tools all put away, I should have gone inside…more time with the kids, get something to drink, watch tv. But of course the land beckoned so I shirked my obligation and stayed outside just a little longer.  I wandered over and sat upon a weathered wood pallet and gazed out across the freshly planted orchard.  My eyes now walked as my legs finally enjoyed their day’s reward. Hat in hand I rubbed my head and rested my eyes upon the little bushes across the way. Everything looks so orderly now; from what was once a dismal clay wasteland. I imagine the plants green and grown up. My mind stands up and wanders past bushes and trees. Sun light reappears and casts wind dancing shadows on neon blades of grass. Turning to my left I admire the angle and color of the house from my low vantage point. The cedar brown is about the only thing loving this  time of year, as even in the dim April evening light, it glows with nothing of color to compete against. I imagine where the summer shadows will fall and like to think the house will somehow guard my apple trees from the worst of the afternoon heat.

I sit still, for the first time in days, maybe weeks….god, could it be for the first time in a years? I listen and hear something.  I look to the woods: just  a series of grey tree trunks and tune my ears a little. I can pick up the faint chirp of frogs in the distance.  A sign that there is reward for hope even in this lifetime. Suddenly I collect the sounds of birds; different types of birds depending on which wood one looks towards. I feel like a thief stealing the sound and texture of life right out from beneath the world around me. As I sit on my pallet I’m in on a secret. And I think to myself, this would be a great place for a bench.

I smile a little and  deep inside I realize I’m on borrowed time.  The setting sun means someone is going to come looking for me, if for no reason than to check if I’m face down on the ground, pick ax in my hand, coughing my last breath in a tiny puff of clay dust one could barely see. Sure enough looking back at the house my office light goes on, I can see it’s filtered glow through my studio window. I access my options and figure it best to arise from my ground perch. I stand up slowly, the aches of the real world return to me as I put my hat on and try to look busy in case my studio door should open. I glance down.

Two minutes and forty-one seconds.  Not bad.” I think to myself.

Stepping in my studio door I set my hat down upon the painting table.

I was just coming out to check on you.” She says, half into her shoes.

Thanks, I was coming in. All done for tonight.” I reply with a smile. 

nine apple trees

I’m very sore, having not swung a pick ax in some time, up until the last two or three days. But it’s done. Almost a year to the day since we moved in, we officially have an orchard.  Nine little apple trees now dot what was previously just a big square of dried mud.

Nine apple tree orchard.

Nine apple tree orchard.

First off we decided to turn the outdoor wine / sculpture garden into our orchard.  We figured it’d be twenty years before we could ever build, need, use a wine /sculpture garden and we didn’t want to obscure the front view of the house with apple trees. Plus there isn’t enough space in the front yard for nine trees anyway.

The wine garden area had a nasty cut in the ground from where they had started to, but never finished, grading. So my first job was to try and even out the terrain.  I dug into the fairly hard clay with my pick ax and then raked it down to try and smooth things out.  Back breaking work to say the least.  I borrowed an electric tiller from the in-laws to churn up the veggie garden soil, so I used that to great effect in the orchard as well. At least until I broke it (it overheated and gave up the ghost). Then I had to rely on just my pick and determination.  Most sane people would’ve rented a piece of equipment or hired someone to do all this but not me. I needed the exercise and needed to save a buck.

I went to the garden center and picked up some Tree-tone, compost / manure, and was sold on some fertilizer (I’ll have to look up what I bought).  To plant an apple tree you need compost and fertilizer.  I also got these little root fertilizer packs with the trees as well. In addition to all that I picked up some grass seed and grass growing fertilizer. I’ll plant grass throughout the orchard (though each tree gets a circle of mulch). One other thing I picked up, just cause they were so darn cute / cool looking, were some of the new Miracle-Gro Growables seed pods for our vegetable garden.  I figured I’d try them.

Back at the orchard I dug up four-foot diameter holes for the trees.  I spread some Tree-tone plant food, the two fertilizers, compost and some topsoil together. I hammered in a wood post 2-3 inches from where the tree was going to go, on the side where the wind most likely comes from.  The posts were about 4-5 feet long and I sunk them 1-2 feet into the ground. I used 1×2 pieces of wood left over from construction.  I’m thinking round stakes would be better but it’s not a big deal. When I was ready to plant I made sure my trees had been soaking for at least a half hour in water (I unpacked and soaked them as soon as they arrived actually). I pulled a tree out of the water and placed it on a little mound of dirt in the center of the hole. I then tied it off to the stake with pantyhose. Next I spread out the roots and covered them in my soil and compost mixture.  Beyond that more top soil with the clay and what not that I excavated previously from the hole.  Some watering and mulch and I was done.

Tomorrow I’ll secure a new tiller from somewhere and rough up the ground, rake it and then spread my grass seed just in time for next week’s rain.  I also have a few other plants to plant, they’ve been waiting oh so patiently. Until then, I need to get some rest. Never a free moment it seems.