Cold End and Start

131121(1)This time of year it’s always a more difficult decision to go to Rowe for an overnight and come home.  It’s not that I don’t relish the quiet and solitude, I just have to relish it in a dark, freezing cold house.  That’s always part of the thinking process – do I really want to freeze for an hour when I get there?

Yesterday I decided to go.  I wanted to see how long it would take to heat the kitchen when starting with a cold wood stove and then see how long I could keep the temperature up in the house using the stove through the night.  You know they tell you all kinds of things in advertising, I just wanted to see if it was true.

Chester and I arrived at about 4:30, the sun was down and it was getting dark fast.  Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike this time of year – for that reason – the days are too short.  I grabbed an armload of wood on my way through the shed and proceeded to build a little fire in the stove.  It wasn’t as easy a task as I had anticipated but finally kicked in.  Within an hour it was cranking and three hours from arrival the kitchen was over 70 degrees.  I had bought a kinetic fan that is placed on top of the stove and that was blowing the heat towards the other rooms (and it’s fun to watch – who needs electricity?).

When I had walked into the kitchen with my load of wood it was below 50 in the kitchen and the furnace was running.  It was just below freezing outdoors. Without the stove I would have been listening to the furnace kick on and off all night and the temperature in the room would never have been above 62 or so, no matter how high you turn up the thermostat.  I had all of the other thermostats turned to 64.  The furnace didn’t come on until around 4:00 this morning.  I got up to make my coffee around 6:30 and the little fan was still moving, a testament to the heat still in the stove.  I threw a piece of wood on the remaining coals and poof!, roaring fire.  It’s a good feeling when you know that a major investment of time and sweat is going to pay off.

I spent the evening twisting fringe on a throw that will be a Christmas present and thinking about how many other things I can make and have ready for the holidays.  Chester spent his evening on the floor in front of the stove.

With the payoff in the stove experiment fresh in my mind I took Chester out for the morning walk about and was soo glad I had come up.  It may have been cold (19 degrees)  but it certainly was beautiful.

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Gold in the Back Forty

131027 Mushrooms This was an amazing sight to me the other day when I walked into the back forty.  It has been COLD for the past week and it was more than unexpected to see mushrooms growing.  The photograph doesn’t really do justice to how beautiful they are.  They are iridescent, like a pot of gold by a stump. They glowed on a cold, overcast day.

These mushrooms are called Honey Mushrooms (Armillaria mellea). I had to ask my sister for a direction in identification and after a little research found a great description on The 3 Foragers.

As beautiful as they are the thought of cooking and eating them never crossed my mind.  The extent of my foraging is stumbling upon mushrooms of some sort, looking them up to see what they are and moving on.  “Mushrooms are poisonous” was drilled into my childhood brain.  Even mushroom foragers have a saying –  there are bold mushroom hunters, and there are old mushroom hunters — there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.

Words to live by.

Fall is Here

130915 (1)See that weed infested mess in the foreground – it’s gone!  We pulled up the stakes and mowed it with the lawnmower.  Yes, that is how weedy it was.  As a matter of fact it looks like the rest of the lawn.  I’m sad that garden season is over but I’m not sad to see that garden gone.   Bill started building a fire pit in the middle of it for the upcoming Harvest party.  I figure if nothing else the center of the garden will be weed free next year.

In Between Seasons

130912 Morning Storm Clouds (1)The past two days have been hot and humid, the cicadas buzzing away.  I brought the dogs out at 6:30 this morning and this is what the sky looked like.  Something you normally see as the clouds build on a humid summer afternoon as the thunderstorms roll in.  It feels like July.

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This kind of weather does something to my brain – I can’t quite comprehend the garden being done (yes, other than digging potatoes and rutabagas it’s done). My mind has moved onto Fall jobs.  Bringing in and stacking wood, that’s what I should be doing but not it this heat.

Then I look out over my newest garden, still ablaze with color,  everything taking on the ochre colors of autumn and my mind knows that winter is coming.

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Family Affair

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The wood still needs to be cut and split and we had some help on Sunday.  Daughter Amanda, her boyfriend Yusuf and sister Sue all were all there.  I can’t tell you how much you can get done with helping hands.  The saying “many hands make light work” really rang true.

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Each person had their own job, depending upon their skill level with pieces of equipment.  Well, everyone can use the splitter but not everyone can wield a chainsaw (that’s the piece of equipment I stay away from).

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Chester just likes to be in the thick of things.  He’s not afraid of the noise of the equipment or tractor (although he stays away from the chainsaw as well).  The splitter is a real godsend to people our age or anyone for that matter.  The pieces of wood that were dispatched were large, some 25 to 30 inches across.  If they weren’t full of knots they were spit with ease.

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The wood we split Sunday was ash and cherry.  I love splitting ash, it’s beautiful and splits easily.  Cherry on the other hand . . .

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By the time we were done we had a wall of wood over 25 feet long and 5 feet high.  All in all a great days work.

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Of course this was happening all day with anyone that was near him.   Chester had a good day too.


Changing of Seasons

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There comes a time every summer when you feel it, you know fall is just around the corner.  The leaves on the ash trees are beginning to turn, the maples are taking on that olive tone.  We are fortunate to be experiencing beautiful weather right now – cool and clear.  With the realization that the seasons are beginning to change also comes a little panic feeling about what needs to be done before winter gets here.  On the top of the list is cutting and splitting wood.

The weather was just amazing and we have been taking Mondays off in lieu of a week’s vacation, the idea being that we would take the boat to the lake for a little R&R.  Winter is calling though and our shed has a limited supply of wood stored.  The house would be quite frigid in January if we couldn’t at least put a fire in the big fireplace in the living room.  Instead of boating yesterday Bill and I cut and split about a cord of cherry and ash that was sitting in the back forty.  It’s work, but it’s satisfying seeing cord wood in a nice stacked row drying out.  Having a splitter makes it possible for us to do the work, if we had to use a splitting maul and ax I’m afraid we would have to hire a much younger man to do the job.

It took us only 3 to 4 hours to cut and split what we did.  When we came up to make dinner I was concerned with just how achy I was and thought about getting out of bed this morning.  You know that feeling when muscles are screaming as you put your feet to the floor?  Or going down the stairs heading for that first cup of coffee?  I was pleasantly surprised this morning.  I felt good, like I’d done an honest day’s work.  I told Bill I could do that everyday (it’s nice working hard and having something to show for it).  Now we will see if it hits me tomorrow, sometimes it takes a day.

A Rough Couple of Days

130726 Chester SleepingIt’s difficult for a dog that wants to be a mean, protective guard dog to be afraid of everything.  That’s my theory on Chester’s exhaustion this morning (other than the fact that he’s lazy).  We went to Rowe on Wednesday afternoon and the first disconcerting thing to happen was a neighbor and her daughters walked their two horses by the house on the road.  Chester lost his mind (from afar).  All of the hair was standing up on his back, he barked his scariest howling bark (which we now recognize as his I’m really scared bark).  They finally disappeared down the road (well, they were out of his sight because he wouldn’t go close enough to the road to see where they went).  Whew!  Into the house he went, didn’t go out again.

Thursday morning at around 5:00 I heard a bear coming up through the woods – I’m assuming it was a female talking to her cub(s).  Chester was on the end of the bed – all perked up, hair standing on end.  He never made a sound, just listened.  The bear came across the road and through the side yard under my window talking the whole time.  Finally she went over the bank into the back forty.  I stayed in bed for another hour or so then got up, got my coffee and went outside with the dogs.  Chester, hair standing on end, ran crazily towards the back forty on what I’m assuming was the bear trail.  He was doing his best sniffing but you could tell just by his stance that he was a little freaked out.  He immediately came into the house when I did.

I have to tell you that having a dog that weighs over 50 pounds may deceive you into thinking that they will protect you.  For my money the Schnauzers are much better protection.  They weigh much less and are not afraid of anything.  In fact I really have to be very aware of what they see as a threat because they think they are much bigger than they are.  Sophie thought nothing of attacking Chester when we first got him, Chester on the other hand is afraid of cats – won’t come within 100 feet of one. I like to think this speaks to his intelligence but others just think he’s chicken.

Little Nest

130707 Wren's Nest

I plucked this nest out of the branch of the pear tree in the back forty over the weekend.  I’ve been watching it for over a month – there hasn’t been any action.

It was difficult to see nestled into the leaves at the very end of a long, low branch.  My sister and I laughed about the wild ride that bird had to have taken on a windy day.

The nest is quite small, the cup itself no more than three inches.  It is lined with dog fur and sheep’s wool, a testament to the animals in the area.  It amazes me the way it is constructed – almost totally of various grasses from large on the outside to fine in the cavity itself.  It is so perfectly round.

I have quite a collection of bird’s nests.  Some, like a robin’s nest are heavy and substantial.  This one is light as air.  It was tucked right into the small branches that hold the leaves on the pear – it wasn’t going anywhere.  This is the kind of nest you find in the fall, blowing around in the field, let loose my the dropping of a tree’s leaves that once held it tight and close.

I’m unsure of the type of bird that made this nest.  I thought it might belong to a wren but after doing a little research I’m not so sure.  There are so many different birds out back it could be anything.  I like to think of these nests as little gifts they leave behind.



130615 BlueberriesThe rain has stopped – for now.  In doing my morning walk about I noticed how well the fruit on the property was doing.  The blueberry bushes are loaded this year, last year I didn’t get a single berry.  It warmed up to abnormal temperatures in February 1012.  A week or more of 70’s and 80’s fooled every early flowering plant, tree and shrub into thinking spring had arrived early.  The temperature then dropped to below freezing (where it should be that time of year) and froze every blossom on the fruiting trees and shrubs.  It also completely messed up our sugaring season.  In 2011 we made well over 100 gallons of maple syrup, in 2012 maybe 30. Our pear tree had 3 pears, the deer ate two and my sister picked the last one.

Losing your entire fruit crop is distressing in many ways.  You’ve already made plans for what you are going to put up based on previous years and suddenly you realize there will not be any fruit of any kind.  This year the pear tree is loaded once again and I’m making plans for what to do with the hundreds that will be available (barring any extreme weather event from now until frost).  I often wonder about people who plant 5 or 6 of a kind of fruit tree.  This one tree, in a good year, produces enough for a few families to eat fresh and preserve. I find that at times it has really stressed me out because I feel like I’m wasting good food by not putting more up but honestly you can only do so much.  The deer eat the drops and the ones hanging from the lower branches. I try to give them away.

I have to say that one of the favorite games for the dogs involves that pear tree.  When the fruit starts to drop onto the ground we go down to the tree and I toss the pears as far as I can in rapid succession in different directions.  Buddy will chase a couple, then settle down to eat one.  Sophie will run after one, tag it and run back.  Chester will fetch them all day long, every so often taking a bite out of it but always bringing it back and dropping it at my feet.  The only problem is he likes the game so much that he continually goes out in the field and brings pears up to the driveway and the lawn.  A lot of fun when you’re mowing the grass.

130615 PearFruit is always a long term endeavor.  I planted a row of raspberry plants that Carmen had given me last year.  I got a couple of berries in July (I probably would have picked more but caught Chester picking them, apparently he finds them tasty as well).  This year the patch is twice as large – raspberries propagate readily sending shoots up all over the place once the plants get going.  I will probably have enough berries for a couple of pies and maybe a small batch of jam.  I transplanted more canes this spring doubling the number I had.  I’m looking forward to a crop large enough to put up for the winter.  Now that I can see the potential for this patch of fruit I’m happy that I did it.

Growing these types of long term crops can be a difficult decision to make.  You always have to create a new bed for them and put it in a place that you know will be dedicated to that fruit.  Trees are the same way and even longer term considering how slowly they grow and the years it can take before they bear fruit.  Once that tree is planted it has to stay there, that’s a commitment.  I planted a bed of asparagus this year at the end of my vegetable garden knowing full well that it will effect how I till for years to come.  I will not be able to eat anything from this bed for another two years but once it’s going I could potentially have a healthy asparagus crop for another thirty.  I’ll take that and leave it to my kids.



How Chester Spends His Days

130615 Chester in the brook

We have a small brook that runs the perimeter of part of the field in the back forty.  It’s been raining buckets the past week so the brook is running well through the weeds.  This is truly one of Chester’s favorite spots.  He walks the entire length of it – in the water.  There’s a small pond on one end and a culvert that goes under a dirt road on the other.  He doesn’t like the heat much so this is where you can find him on any warm sunny day.  He’ll happily play fetch if you are willing, and will play with the girlfriend next door but it’s always interspersed with a walk in the brook.  He must be part lab.