Monday, May 11, 2009


This morning, as I was pulling out of the driveway for work, I spotted something moving in the far corner of the property. The groundhog population has been on the rise and I've got holes in the ground all over the place so I first thought it was the groundhog I've been after for a few weeks.

I watched for a few seconds and it wasn't a groundhog. I wasn't sure what it was, I could only see the top half of it because the ground drops off right where it was standing. It didn't move quite like anything I was familiar with so I kept watching. A minute or so later I realized it was a raccoon. Odd to see a raccoon in the day time and this one wasn't acting very raccooney. Slow moving, almost staggering, didn't seem to notice the cat that was watching it from only 30 feet away, didn't seem to notice me. I called the house from the driveway and told my wife to keep the kids inside and call the cat in. We've had a few cases of rabies in our area in the past few months and I didn't want to take any chances.

I was trying to deciding if I had time to go back into the house and get a gun when the raccoon started across the field. By the time I got back it would have been gone so I just watched to make sure it kept moving. It did. I left for work.

Later, I got a call from home. Raccoon's back. Cat's in the house. Wife called the township to get in touch with animal control. Now we don't actually have animal control but there's an animal shelter not too far away and the guy that owns that will come out if the county calls him. Nobody at the township answered the phone so the next call was to me.

That's probably best, I called the guy a few years ago when I thought we might have a rabid skunk. He suggested calling the state police to shoot it. I told him I can shoot it, I just thought somebody might want to check to see if it's rabid once it's dead. He wasn't that interested so I just shot the skunk.

Animal control wasn't coming out and there wasn't much I could do about a sick raccoon from work so I suggested calling my dad to shoot it. I assume he did because my mom called and said that the crisis was over and I noticed a bunch of turkey vultures eating something in the back field this evening.

Which leads me to the real reason for today's post: We've got eagles. They've been a township over for 20 years but just started venturing out this far a couple of years ago. We see them more often every year and today there were two birds out at the carcass that didn't look like vultures. I got the camera and crept as close as I could get to get some pictures. I crept from tree to tree for cover and tried to hide behind a brush pile but eagles have good eyes and he spooked before I really got close enough to get a good picture but here they are.

Bald eagle in the field

spooked (by me)

perched in a dead tree waiting for me to leave

A slightly closer view of the tree

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Lost My Hidey Hole

Years ago, when my wife's sister was staying with us, we put up a wall in our very large living room to make a temporary bedroom for her.

In the 6 or 7 years since then, that temporary room has been my permanent office. All it had in it was a book shelf, desk, and the computer. We left the door open but had a gate across the door to keep the 2 year old from breaking the computer.

The time has come when he needs his own room. And the only available room in the house is my office. So we moved me out and moved him in. He's got a new room with a fire truck big-boy-bed. I've got a desk in the middle of the dining room. It's a big dining room so there' s room but there's also people. I used my office to get away from the noise and wildness of a house filled with wives and kids. Now that's gone.

My old quiet office

In fact, I'm typing this now with one kid trying to wedge himself between me and the desk and another telling me over and over in my ear that there's somebody on TV doing something. I don't know what because I'm trying to pay attention to my typing. If I say "okay" over and over, I'm hoping she'll be satisfied and go back to watching TV. I can't act like I don't enjoy the other one wedging himself between me and the desk because if he realizes it annoys me, he'll make it his mission for the day. Since this move, he's started proudly announcing several times a day that he's "pestering dad now". I have to just wait for him to give up on his own.

This sucks. I want my hidey hole back.

my new office (children removed for the picture)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not This Year

I'm not going to garden this year. I did it for the past several years and I didn't like it. I did it to learn, not for fun or to eat. Like most projects I take on, I absorb all I can until I've reached the point of diminishing returns, the point where another year of trying it won't teach me enough more to make it worth the effort.

I could learn a lot more but I'm way too lazy. I only learn things during the steep part of the learning curve. I make up or guess at the rest.

scientific proof that gardening
is no longer worth the work

Even if I'm not putting in a garden, I've still got all of the fruit trees, grapes, blackberries, asparagus, strawberries, and rhubarb. This stuff will be around for a long time so I'll keep working at that. When the country eventually runs out of other people's money, I'll need to eat something.

The lone surviving pear tree has a lot of pear blossoms this year. I got 3 pears last year.

little pears

The peach trees are starting to drop flower petals.

peach blossoms

And we cut asparagus for the first time this morning.

asparagus and rhubarb in the background

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A New Batch of Trees

I was at a conference in Baltimore Md this week. I was sitting at a table taking a break between classes and a walk through the exibit hall. A guy walking buy asked if I minded if he sat down. Of course I said "No, have a seat." He was also waiting for the exibit hall to open and we started chatting.

This was a trade conference so he and I had work in common, even though he worked in Austin TX and I work in NJ. We had almost an hour to kill so the conversation eventually made its way to the economy, politics, and lots of other stuff. At one point, he confessed that he had bought several acres in Pennsylvania with a plan to farm if the economy really went south. I was suprised. I've got lots of close friends who are making similar plans: buying wood stoves, stockpiling supplies, buying small farm equipment, and stashing cash. But this was the first time I heard someone I had just met say the same.

I told him that I started planting fruit trees, grapes, and lots of other stuff a few years ago. At the time, I told my wife that I was worried about the economy. I had a bad feeling that Americans were letting themselves get too far into debt and that eventually the bottom would fall out.

I also told him that I had been planting a big garden every year, even though I don't enjoy it because I was concerned that I might need the skill sometime soon.

I really thought I was the only survivalist nut around. It was a surprise to hear it from somebody else.

Well, it's rare that I'm right. But it looks like I was right about this one. You can be sure that I'll be bringing that up for the rest of my life. I've got a few more crazy predictions but I don't want to sound too crazy so I'll just write them down somewhere so I can get the book out later and say I told you so.

As a continuation of my paranoia, I placed an order for several more trees. I got the delivery this week. I was away at the conference when the boxes arrived so I didn't get to really deal with the boxes until today. They sat for a few days in the cool attic stairwell but seemed to be in good condition.

new fruit and nut trees in the box

Most of what I ordered was bare root plants wrapped in saturated newspaper for delivery. A couple of the nut trees had the roots wrapped in plastic bags filled with peat moss. We measured and marked out the locations of a couple of new fruit trees with mark-out paint and planted everything this afternoon.

I'm still waiting for one more peach tree that hasn't shipped yet but the total order included:

Two peach trees. I already have two semi-dwarf peach trees. One was a late ripener and did very well since the peaches came on last year after most of the insects were gone. The other ripened in the heat of the summer and the insects got just about everything. So I ordered two late ripening varieties this time. I also ordered standard size trees instead of the semi-dwarfs I already have hoping that I'll eventually have more fruit.

One full size apple tree and one semi-dwarf. I've got two dwarf odd ball 5-in-1 apple trees with several varieties grafted onto one tree. All I've ever gotten off of those is golden delicious. I also put in a semi-dwarf Fuji apple last year that I almost lost to fire blight disease. One of the new apples is a full sized Jonafree red apple variety and the other is a semi-dwarf Red Rome which I planted in place of the pear tree I lost to fire blight last year.

I also ordered two more walnut trees and two pecan trees. I've got two Walnuts that I planted a few years ago and have gotten a couple of hundred walnuts the last couple of years. I don't know much about the pecans but I know there are a few in this area so it's another experiment. As for nut trees, I've also got two chestnut trees that I planted two years ago. These have been very slow to take off and aren't much more than 3 feet tall now. It will be a long time before I have any nuts if they ever take off.

So, when the rest of my predictions come true, I'll have fruit and nuts. I figure if it gets really bad, I can grow, build, or kill just about whatever I need to survive until the war's over...oops, wasn't supposed to say that out loud.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March Snow

We got snow. It's not supposed to snow in March but it did.

I supervise a crew of guys that becomes the snow removal crew whenever it does snow so I'm not crazy about snow. I spend snow days handling phone complaints, welding broken plows, swapping parts, beating things with hammers and hacking together broken equipment to get it back on the road as quickly as possible, while checking road conditions, monitoring the weather, and managing minor disaster after minor disaster. Snow days are stressful days. I really love what I do but If we never had another snow day, I wouldn't complain. (Come on global warming!) At 5:30 in the afternoon, after 14-1/2 hours, it was all over and it was time to go home.

I live in a rural area about 20 miles from work, an area with open fields, high banks on the side of the road, minimal coverage by the county road department, and prone to high snow drifts. Really high snow drifts. I had to be back at work at 4:00am the next morning so I took on of our work plows home to make sure I could get in in the morning since I expected the 20mph winds to cover some of the roads with snow drifts overnight.

I had been so busy all day that I hadn't eaten anything since the apple I had on the way into work at 3:00 in the morning. I stopped and picked up a pizza on the way home. A few minutes later, I got off the highway and headed for my house. I reached my road okay and realized I couldn't turn right. There was a snow bank several feet high that was all the way across the road. The road was also drifted in to the left but not nearly as bad and looked passable as far as I could see. So I went left.

The road as it looked today, after the county got it cleared.

The snow was up to the truck frame in spots, I kept moving so I wouldn't loose momentum and was doing okay. Once in while, my raised snow plow blade would dive into a drift and send snow cascading over the hood and I'd travel a hundred feed completely blind but I was the only idiot on the road so that wasn't really a big problem. Then it happened. I spotted another truck facing my way.

According to my wife, who had been home all day, the last time our road had been plowed was 9:30 that morning and the county had only made one pass opening up only one lane. With show piled up on both sides 4' high and snow drifted in up to 2 feet high in the only open lane. There wasn't much chance of me and this other guy passing each other. So we stopped, bumper to bumper. Stopping was bad. Stopping meant I lost my momentum. I was stuck, he was stuck. I called home to say I would be a little later than I thought and then my phone battery died.

Fortunately, he had shovels. He was traveling down my road to rescue his son-in-law who was stuck on the other end of the road. Like me, he was going to have to find another way around, assuming we could get ourselves out. We made a plan and dug my truck out hand. It was windy, cold, and we were being pelted with stinging drifting icy bits of snow. It sucked. I don't know how long we dug but we eventually got me free. Since I had a plow, I was able to push my way past him and clear a path for him to get free with a lot more shoveling, pushing, and spinning of tires.

Back on the road, with my now cold pizza, I looked for another way home. I had to drive around through the next county over to find a passable road to get me out to the other end of my road. If I couldn't get in from one end, I might be able to get in from the other. I stopped at the other end to survey the scene. I saw 3 vehicles stuck in the snow. This wasn't going to work either. I don't get 3 vehicles in a hour on my road at 8:00 at night, especially on a snowy night, so I know these had been there for some time and they were blocking the only lane.

I abandoned my mission to drive home and headed for my parents' farm instead. I can see my parents farm across the field from my house. I got to the the farm, offered my parents some very cold pizza and warmed up for a few minutes inside.

I then started the long walk home. Across the field, through snow drifts, in the cold wind, being pelted with ice chunks. I didn't bother to bring my cold weather gear home from work since I was so confident I wouldn't get stuck in my work truck. Poor planning meant I trudged along in just my light coat dead reckoning for the yard light in the distance.

The walk wasn't so bad, the white snow made it just bright enough to see where I was stepping, even at 8:00 at night. Once home, I got a few hours sleep and was up to make the 3:00am walk back across the field to get the truck to go back to work this morning. Surprisingly, it's a lot darker at 3:00am than it is at 8:00pm. This time I wasn't having as much luck avoiding drifts. As I would walk blindly in the dark the snow would start getting deeper, sometimes up to my knees and then would start getting shallower again. At a few spots, I was obviously getting into some drifts that were too much to handle so I'd turn around and head back to the last manageable spot and randomly pick a new direction to go. I was glad to finally make it to the truck.

Another day at work plowing, salting, and cursing at equipment and it was again time to head for home. A call home verified that the road was better today. The county had been out with heavy equipment and had things clear enough for me to make it this time. The driveway wasn't passable yet but the road was. This time, I could take the car. There was no point going right home. When our driveway gets drifted in, it can be 5' deep. It can be 5' deep the full width and length of the driveway. I headed right for my parents again and this time borrowed a front end loader to open up the driveway and see if I could find my mailbox.

there's that mailbox.

Tonight, I'm warm at home, I found the mailbox but gave up on actually getting it uncovered, even with a front end loader it isn't worth the hours it would take. I don't like the mail anyway so I'll just do without mail until this all melts. I did get the car in the driveway. And now, I'm going to bed.

the driveway, almost clear

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pruning Day

I checked the weather yesterday and it looked like it wasn't going to get really cold for the next several days. Fruit trees should be pruned in late winter, a few weeks from now but I'm not a patient person. And, I had a 3 day weekend and was looking for something to do. If it gets really cold soon after pruning, you can loose some flower buds but, like I said, the weather said it wasn't going to get real cold. So I did some pruning yesteday afternoon.

Of course it's 24º now, 16 wind chill, and it's supposed to get down to 20º overnight. Did I mention it wasn't supposed to get cold? This is my whole problem with the global warming thing. The same people that can't tell me if it's going to be cold tomorrow somehow know that the polar ice caps will be melted in 10 years. Of course it's not "global warming" anymore. Now it's "climate change". It's good to hedge your bets.

But I digress.

I pruned the peaches and apple trees.

The apples were the worst. I bought a couple of "5-in-1" apple trees a few years ago. Five different varieties are grafted onto one trunk and they're supposed to grow 5 varieties of apples. Not knowing which branch was which, I haven't ever pruned these the way they should be pruned. I was afraid of cutting off a whole variety. But I've only gotten golden delicious apples so this year I pruned. It will take a couple of years to get them right, if I ever do.

apple tree before and after

When trimming peach trees, the goals are to open up the middle to let sunlight in and allow air circulation, reduce the amount of fruit so the tree isn't overwhelmed, and keep everything at picking height. A wide, open, weird looking tree is what you're going for.

peach tree

The real trick is to just cut off almost everything that's growing upward. All of the branches pointing toward the sky were new growth last year. I'll cut the same off again next year.

another peach

I know the "after" picture looks worse than the "before" but that's how the experts do it and they must be right or they couldn't be experts...just like those weather guys.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Help Wanted

Completely unrelated to gardening. But is is January and 32º outside.

I've got a position available for a maintenance mechanic at work. I'm reviewing the roughly 80 applications we've received so far for this position and thought I'd share a few job hunting tips while they're fresh in my mind.

This batch of tips is about filling out the application:

Tip #1: Never say "None"
You know that line on the application that asks you to list your skills? Well you must know how to do something. I would like to have you write that you can troubleshoot something, preferably stuff with important sounding names but I may settle for less. I know you have some skill. Obviously you can write if you're filling this out so write "read and write English" or anything. Don't write in that you have no skills. Even if it's true, leave this line blank.

Tip #2: You may have to embellish a little.
If you've had 6 jobs in the past 3 years, and were fired from each one, find a creative way to say that. Don't lie, I'll call your references and find out but at least a creative answer may get your foot in the door. That little box that says "Reason for Leaving" can be the end of your chances if you write the word "Terminated" six consecutive times on the same page. Tip #2a. Writing "Terminated because I don't have a ride to work" is also a poor idea.

Tip #3: Color inside the lines
I have 80 applications to look at. Each application is three pages. That's more reading than I did in my entire education from Kindergarten through College. If you write more, I won't read it. We give you enough space to make your point, be conservative. Don't waste paper, it doesn't grow on trees. If you make your three page application 6 pages long by adding more stuff than fits, I will assume you have a problem following directions or that you might not do well working in an environment with rules. But mostly I'm going to think that you're an awful bore and I don't want to work with you.

Tip #4 Don't confuse me
Writing "I grew up learning everything I know" makes me think that your learning may have stopped early. Both because you say so and because I can tell so.

Tip #5 Anticipate my questions.
If you live in a different state, not even one that's within a full tank of gas from the job, why are you applying?