Tuesday, December 31, 2019

And then we have lights!

You may remember that we had planned to go see the Festival of Lights over the weekend, but we were thwarted by Gemma's upset stomach.  We decided to try again today as our New Year's Eve celebration.  (Thus ensuring that we can all go to bed at a reasonable time - lol!)

The Festival of Lights is a 2.5 mile display of lights that you drive through.  Traffic was nonexistent this late in the season, so that meant that we were moving a bit too fast for pictures to turn out well.  But I got a few to give you an idea of the types of lighting displays.  I also took a video of my favorite section to give you a better idea of the movement that some of the displays include.

The displays aren't always Christmas-themed.  This one is from the Wizard of Oz - the blurry orange thing in the bottom right is the Cowardly Lion and if you look closely, you can see a witch flying around the castle.
Santa's Toy Co.

And so ends 2019.  Thank you for following along with my journey, as erratic as it can be sometimes.  I really do appreciate every single reader.  I'm always surprised by how much simply writing about a situation can make it seem so much better.  And I really do love writing, so it's wonderful to have a place to share.

Here's to another year gone by, full of experiences that a younger version of myself would never have begun to guess at.  And as difficult as life can be sometimes, I'm still always very glad to be able to participate.  See you next year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Fun Way to Track Miles

I first read about an app called Walk to Mordor on Ashley's blog:  https://gopony.me/2018/12/30/walk-to-mordor/.  While I enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies, I have to admit that I haven't read the books and I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan.  But the idea of tracking my ride miles in the context of Frodo's epic journey seemed kind of cool.  So I downloaded the app, and I've been using it all year, with the exception of entering my miles from this month, which I'll probably do later this week.

The app doesn't track your miles based on a GPS-type technology; rather, you just enter your miles manually for a given date.  So it actually works for hikers, runners, bikers, and riders.  What I've been doing is entering my miles every few weeks based on what I recorded in a Traveler's Notebook that I made.  It's kind of fun to watch things add up.

Here are a few screen shots to give you an idea of what the app looks like:

The Home Screen tells you how many miles you have to the end of the journey as well as to the next milestone.
The distance log is where you enter your miles by date.
There is another screen that shows progress by milestone.
You can click on any milestone to get a short narrative.
Because I'm not a hardcore fan of the LOTR trilogy, I'm not sure how accurate the information in the app is.  But one thing I do know is that it is good that the people of Middle Earth are not relying an me and Nimo to get to Mordor, because we aren't getting there anytime soon! (ha, ha!)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

For the love of art

When I first started thinking about homeschooling my daughter, I did quite a bit of research on educational philosophies and even looked at private schools in our area.  The Montessori method is quite popular, but I found myself drawn to the Waldorf method.  I really liked the focus on creativity, experiential learning, and interdisciplinary projects.

So I bought a pre-school curriculum to try.  As it turned out, it was good that I did not commit to more than one year of it, because I ended up hating it.  The exercises were so archaic that it felt like I had been transported back to the 1800s.  For example, we would sing songs about threshing wheat.  Not that threshing wheat is an inherently bad concept, but let's be serious.  We don't thresh wheat now and we haven't for a long time.  I really believe that it is important for kids to be exposed to the language that is used now and the concepts that are used now.  History or maybe science class is fine to learn about the way we used to do things, but I can't see why I need to be explaining threshing wheat to a 4-year-old.

The other thing that frustrated me was the art.  I had gotten this book that was supposed to cover art from Kindergarten through 6th grade.  I was especially excited about trying watercolor painting.  But OMG, the methodology for painting was so complicated that we spent way more time setting up and cleaning up than we did painting.  And Gemma only got to use one color.  Seriously?  Kids want to use all the colors.  They are not going to be happy painting with one color at a time.  I ended up scrapping the whole curriculum after a few months because it was just awful and not a good fit for us.

I did find better curricula for future years, but one thing that was still lacking was art.  Gemma loves to create, and I wanted to make sure I fostered that love.  Eventually I stumbled across a company called Let's Make Art that sells watercolor kits and provides free tutorials on YouTube.  I ordered a single kit back in March of this year and we tried it out.  And we had so much fun!  (This is the tutorial we did:  Rainbow Wish.)

This is my effort.
I've never considered myself artistic.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I've often wished I had more skill at drawing or painting, but the sad truth was that I rarely even doodled because I was so embarrassed about my lack of ability.  Stick figures were about the extent of what I could do.  But I had really enjoyed painting the dandelion, and I figured continuing with the tutorials would be a great way to spend time with Gemma and make sure she got a tiny bit of more formal art education.

Over the next few months, we did tons of watercolor paintings.  Some worked out better for me than others, but I got addicted and soon I was knee deep in Daniel Smith watercolor paints.  We were also getting some liquid watercolors with our Let's Make Art kits, but I found myself wanting to explore and use really high quality paint.  I had previously bought some books by Gina Rossi Armfield, and I was in love with many of her methods, but too scared to try them on my own.  Armed with the knowledge from the tutorials plus Armfield's strong recommendation for using DS watercolors, I built up quite a collection.

And the DS paints are gorgeous.  They create amazing colors on the paper and they do things like granulate and sparkle and separate in cool ways, which gives amazing effects if you learn how to use them.  But I felt like I needed more.  I ended up finding Amy Maricle's website and related Facebook group, which was so helpful.  Her focus on creative self-care was the final push I needed to dive into really creating art, not just doing an occasional tutorial with my daughter or reading books but being too scared to try anything.

In August, I hit my stride.  I started creating something everyday.  At first, it was simple stuff.

The first page in my new art journal.  If you can't read the writing, it says, "I was drawn to horses as if they were magnets.  It was in my blood.  I must have inherited from my grandfather a genetic proclivity toward the equine species.  Perhaps there's a quirk in the DNA that makes horse people different from everyone else, that instantly divides humanity into those how love horses and the others, who simply don't know." Allan J. Hamilton in Zen Mind Zen Horse
Another page in my journal.  This one is original - I used a technique I'd learned in one of the Let's Make Art tutorials and it turned out just like I imagined in my head.  Later I ended up coming back to it and writing in the spaces between the petals (or the wings - not everyone sees the same thing when they look at it).
I made these flowers on 3" circles of watercolor paper.  The flowers are based on a tutorial by Let's Make Art.  They might be my very favorite thing to paint because there is so much you can do with water and paint.  I think I painted at least 20 of these.
Another page in my art journal.  I used gel printing techniques to create the backgrounds.  The photo is from the dressage show I did in July.  The quote is, "Spiritual growth doesn't happen when you're meditating or on the yoga mat.  It happens in the midst of conflict - when you're frustrated, angry or scared, and you're doing the same old thing and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently." Andrea Mills
An exercise from Jean Haines' book, Paint Yourself Calm.
This is my attempt to copy one of Jean Haines' paintings.  She is creates stunning work and I cannot stop looking at it.  This painting was so fun to create because I had to work quickly to use the water before it dried and I was using so many colors!
This painting was done with three colors of DS watercolor paint and I based it on a tutorial by Let's Make Art.
Another layout from my art journal in honor of Back to Hogwarts in September.  I'm a huge Harry Potter fan and the quote comes from Sirius Black - "We've all got both light and dark inside of us."  I had a great time designing this layout and finding the right paints to use.
I was terrified to create this painting.  I had this vision in my head that wouldn't go away and I finally got it out on paper.  This is done with one color - Daniel Smith hematite genuine.  I used the paint blowing technique I learned from Gina Rossi Armfield and worked loosely from a picture of a Friesian.  It was so gratifying to see this come from me.
This was another milestone painting for me.  I started with a simple exercise from Jean Haines' Paint Yourself Calm, but it left me unfulfilled, so I started adding things, and it turned out so well.  It still makes me happy to look at it.
Another one color painting.  I think I used Pyrrol Orange.  I remember I had to experiment with different pigments to find one that would react just right to the salt.  The dandelion seeds were created by applying salt to wet paint.  Such a cool effect, and a nod to my first painting back in March.
I became briefly obsessed with painting huge poppies.  This one is probably 10 x 11".
Another exercise from Paint Yourself Calm.  That book is the best at really getting you to explore paint and water.
One day I painted seven different paintings, which were all variations of a single rosemary sprig that I picked from my garden.  It was another exercise from Paint Yourself Calm, and I was so amazed that I could paint something that looked like this that I just kept doing it.
Lest you think I was neglecting my daughter's art education, let me assure you that she was painting right along with me.  I painted this flower based on a tutorial that she designed for me.  She narrated it live (and was definitely making it up as she went along) and I painted based on what she told me to do.  It was really a lot of fun!
And then the day came where I finally felt brave enough to tackle drawing a person.  I found a tutorial by Jane Davenport, and gave it a try.  This was my first attempt.  I was delighted that it did not even remotely resemble a stick figure!  Who knew I had this inside of me!
And then I found an artist named Tamara LaPorte.  She offers mini classes as well as a big year long class called Life Book.  I took one of her mini classes on painting Quirky Birds so I could expand my ability to work with mixed media.  And I was so hooked.  Quirky birds are so fun to create!  The quote on this journal page is, "In a world full of people who couldn't care less, be someone who couldn't care more."
After Quirky Birds, I took the Beautiful Bugs class, also by Tamara LaPorte.  Again, so much fun.  And you guys, I drew this bee.  I'm still in shock that I can draw anything that is remotely recognizable, much less something that actually looks like the reference photo, or in this case reference painting.

Another quirky bird and some practice doodling.  I will note the appearance of a dragonfly in my doodles.  I've never really thought about dragonflies much before.  But all of a sudden, I couldn't stop seeing them.  Dragonflies are often viewed as a symbol for change, although I didn't know that until I kept getting beat over the head with seeing them EVERYWHERE, including one that landed on the railing right in front of me on the deck.  I'm not even sure if I'd ever seen one in person before.  So I started paying attention and did some research.  I don't think there can be any question that all this art was changing me from the inside.  And the quote reflects my realization that it's OK to do stuff even if you aren't the best at it, "The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang the best."
I started another class offered by Tamara LaPorte.  This one was specifically billed as art for healing.  I don't think I would have done it if it hadn't been free.  And when I started creating this layout, it was hard.  I won't go into the details, but there was a lot of emotional reflection that had to be done before I could create this page.  The quote I ended up choosing was the one that spoke to me the most about the process, "May you have the courage to break the patterns in your life that are no longer serving you."  I need to hang this on my bathroom mirror, because YES, so yes.  I have some patterns that need to be broken.
This lovely reindeer girl is the last piece of real art I created.  I finished it on November 30, and it was a great exercise.  I used collage to make the layers of her scarf and it was amazing.  So meditative.  A lost myself in the process for over an hour the first day I worked on it.  I've never liked collage before or had much luck with it, but it clicked for this lesson.
So you can see that I evolved from a focus on watercolor and more abstract things to working with mixed media approaches.  I really love the mixed media work - the paintings typically take a few days to a week to create, so it feels really rewarding to finish them.  But I've been missing my Daniel Smith watercolors a bit, so I suspect that I'm going to try to find a balance between using mixed media and watercolor.  And the watercolors work great for days when I want to finish something quickly.

I think one reason I felt so stressed this month was because I didn't have any time to create art.  I had gotten used to having it in my life almost every day, and it's absence had a strong impact.  I am definitely committed to keeping the art in my life - it is stunning to see the things I created when I look back on them, and if there is a lesson here, it is that it is never too late to bring art into your life:)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

So you get a picture of my fish...

I had originally planned to post lovely pictures of our annual holiday lights festival.  However, on the way to see said lights, our daughter felt sick and vomited all over the car.  It turns out that there is a limit to how long the average human being can smell vomit without wanting to rip their nose off, and that limit is less than the amount of time that it would have taken for us to complete our journey to see the lights.  And then we would have had to drive through the miles-long light display before going home.  We decided that even though Gemma said she felt much better, we would try the light display another time.

When we got home, my husband handled cleaning up in the car while I got the child cleaned up.  (I totally got the better end of that deal, especially because the car she threw up in was his.  Sometimes karma smiles upon me...)  Then I had to hang out with Gemma for awhile because she said she was feeling sick again.

So the best I can do for you today is tell you a little about one of my fish tanks, which is completely and absolutely unrelated to horses in any way.  We have a male betta named Stanley.  He lives in a 10 gallon tank in our family room, and I think I've had him for a little over a year.  He's a delightful little fellow who never gets upset about anything and will absolutely take food off of the tip of your finger very gently.  He's so chill that I've contemplated the possibility of putting him in with other fish.  Usually male bettas will rip other fish to shreds, but Stanley has never so much as flared a fin at anything and he seems very comfortable with snails.  On the other hand, I worry he might not get enough to eat because he is so gentle.  My rasboras literally attack the food when I put it in the tank and they are tiny pigs about it, so I suspect they would not be good candidates for Stanley's buddies.

Anyway, the interesting thing about this particular tank is that it has evolved (or some might say devolved).  It is a planted blackwater tank, which is common enough to have a few Facebook groups devoted to the concept, but isn't really mainstream yet because it doesn't work well with what most people consider to be an aesthetically pleasing aquarium.  Most people struggle with plants that get out of control and they don't like the tannin-stained water either, even though tannins are really good for most fish.  In my opinion, planted blackwater tanks should probably be the goal for most freshwater fish owners because they have the capability to function as ecosystems and meet fish needs so much better than the sterile and clean environments that most people seem to prefer.  Plus, once they get set up, they typically require less maintenance.  But it can be really intimidating to set them up and most live fish stores don't keep a lot of the things needed in stock, nor do their staff have the expertise to advise new fish owners.

I set my tank up with plants and wood and leaves and seed pods and rocks and then sort of let it go.  It's been fascinating to watch.  I was a little concerned when it went through a crazy algae phase, but an accidental snail infestation fixed that problem.  Then I had the snail infestation, but that resolved on its own as well.  The tank seems pretty balanced now, with a crazy tangle of plants both below and above the water, a few snails, and almost zero algae.  (Who knew aquatic plants could produce purple flowers in their emergent state?)

I feel like the tank is at least in the ball park of what a wild betta could experience and Stanley seems to love swimming amongst all the plants.  Plus the plants handle the nutrient overload from the fish and the snails.  And the snails eat the algae.  As a bonus, I'm growing duckweed on the top of the water and guess who gets the extras when I pull it out of the aquarium?  (Apparently it is called duckweed for good reason!)  So I don't have to do all the water changes and algae scraping that are typical fish tank maintenance activities.  I can just enjoy my lovely fish:)  And I might be strange, but I have come to love the unkept look of the tank.  It seems more like getting a glimpse of a natural habitat than looking at a display.

Hey human, do you have any food for me?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Remineralizing the Soil

One thing that I hoped would happen after I moved the ducks out to our acreage was that I would be spending more time out there and start to feel more comfortable being out there.  I suspected that without the daily draw of the ducks, I would not go out there much.  And I really wanted to put myself in a position to start really seeing the land and planning for a horse barn.

For once, my plans worked out really well.  Because I'm out at the acreage at least once a day, I'm starting to get the hang of the rhythm of the property.  I see what parts stay wet after a rain, which parts really need more soil brought in, and which parts I need to prioritize the next time I rent a brush hog.

I was so inspired by being out there that I ordered a couple of pear trees from a nearby orchard to plant at some point before March.  I also started working on diagrams of where other fruit trees might go as well as figuring out the possibilities for a garden.

As part of my interest in a garden, I remembered an ebook I had purchased quite awhile ago.  It covered the concept of a minibed garden on plastic.  When I first bought the book, I think I had been thinking of using the ideas within the context of the few raised beds I keep in my front yard.  But I ended up putting it away and not really doing anything with it.  Then, all of a sudden, I realized that the concept would be perfect for our acreage.  Unlike the yard at our house, which is uneven and slopes quite steeply, our acreage is reasonably level.  And unlike the yard at our house, which is populated with huge rocks, our acreage has no rocks, so it isn't so hard to plant and doesn't need raised beds to make gardening bearable.  Not everyone is crazy about the idea of using plastic mulch, but I have to admit that after many years of dealing with weeds that seem to grow a foot overnight, I'm ready to try something different.  I would rather get good food using plastic than lose most of my crop to weeds.

When I started re-reading the ebook, I knew I really wanted to try the concept out this coming spring.  I also happened to have another book by the same author, Herrick Kimball, called the Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners, and I skimmed through that one as well.  Kimball wrote about the concept of remineralizing the soil and he referenced a couple of books on the topic.  I found The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon and The Ideal Soil v2.0 by Michael Astera to be fascinating reading.  One thing that disturbed me quite a bit was the analysis of the nutrients in an apple grown in 1914 as compared with one grown in 1992.  The amounts of Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, and Magnesium were so much lower that I wonder what the point of eating an apple is.  The way farming has been carried out has damaged the soil so much.  The other thing that I really took away was that simply adding compost to your soil doesn't necessarily do much good.  Soil, especially neglected or mismanaged soil, is more complicated than that.  And if you want to grow nutrient dense food, it is important to pay attention to the nutrients in your soil.  You simply cannot expect to keep growing things and removing the harvest without putting something back in to replace what was lost in a targeted way.

I decided I wanted to put the information I'd read about to the test.  I ended up getting a soil probe, and my daughter and I went out one day to take soil samples with the probe, so I could have a soil test done.

Using a soil probe is harder than it looks!
I mixed up the samples we collected and sent off a package to the soil lab recommended by Astera.  I got my results back really quickly by email.  See below.

One of the most important numbers to pay attention to on the report is the Total Exchange Capacity.  I'll spare you the scientific explanation, but it essentially means how much fertility the soil can retain.  When I sent my results to Michael Astera himself to be analyzed and get fertilizer recommendations, he said that my soil was among the lowest fertility soils he'd ever analyzed.  That isn't surprising actually, because the soil on our acreage is composed of what is considered ancient clay.  This clay has been around for a very long time and with the high rainfall in our area, much of the minerals have been leached from the top soil.  And I already suspected the soil wasn't that good just based on what I've seen growing there, which is a lot of scrubby, brushy things.  These scrubby, brushy things probably have extensive root systems so that they can draw nutrients from the subsoil instead of the top 6-12 inches, which doesn't have much to offer.

What this means is that I have my work cut out for me if I want to make our acreage a productive place for growing fruit trees, a garden, and a horse pasture.  Thankfully, as long as I keep my soil improvements concentrated to smaller areas (like a half acre), the soil amendments that I need to add are affordable.  I really should have limed my field with what might seem like an excessive amount of lime already (1,750 pounds for a half acre!).  This high amount is partly to address the fertility issue, partly to address the pH issue, and partly to address low Calcium.  These three issues are likely connected to each other.  Plus, we have high rainfall, so anything I add will be leached quickly until the soil develops the capacity to retain it.

Typically liming is done in the fall so that the lime can leach through the soil a little before spring.  (And there is a chemical reaction that really needs to happen which takes some time and helps improve the soil's ability to accept additional minerals in the spring.)  Unfortunately, by the time I'd gotten the analysis from my soil test, it was a bit too late.  The ground was alternating between being frozen and wet enough to have standing water.  Neither of those conditions are appropriate for spreading anything.

So I will try to get it done in March, and I'll add the lime with all the other amendments and till it in.  I think tilling is not always recommended, but in my case, my soil is really hurting and if I want to try to grow anything on it besides brush and weeds, I have to get the minerals in the soil.  Plus, when I contacted a local feed store about purchasing lime, I discovered there was a study by Virginia Tech that found that it takes lime about a year to leach down through one inch of soil.  If you can't till because you have pasture or an orchard, you have to live with those slow results.  But I can till, so I can get minerals into the top six inches pretty quickly, although it will still take some time for the chemical reactions that need to happen in order for the soil to actually start improving.

I really like the idea of leaving our acreage in better condition than when we got it, so this spring you will find me behind a spreader and a tiller as I happily distribute minerals throughout my soil:)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Planting a Fencerow

I'm sure you are familiar with the saying, "Good fences make good neighbors."  You might also be familiar with the one that goes something like, "Good fences are expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating to build if you do it yourself and even more expensive if you hire someone to build them."  Which is why I thought the idea of planting what is called either a fencerow or a hedgerow was particularly brilliant.  If you don't know, a fencerow is basically a mix of trees and shrubs that are planted along the property line.  It creates a great place for wildlife as well as delineates the property.  In some places (particularly European countries, I think), the fencerow is called a hedgerow and it is a bit more of a formalized process that involves piling dirt several feet high and planting specific kinds of trees and shrubs.  There is also a technique used to basically graft the trees/bushes to each other, which creates a stronger fencelike structure.  Virginia was colonized heavily by European settlers, so that style of property division is common in many areas.  We already have a fencerow on one side of our front acreage, and while I thought it was ugly and messy at first, I've come to appreciate it for the habitat it provides for wildlife as well as the visual and physical barrier it sets up.

The reason a fencerow appealed to me is that it is relatively inexpensive to buy bareroot trees and shrubs and plant them close together to create a fencerow.  Some types of trees or shrubs (like willows) are particularly good because they can be grafted together or even woven amongst each other as they are growing to create an almost impenetrable fence.

So this spring I decided to buy 300 Osage Orange trees as bareroot stock and plant them along the 300+ property line of our front acre.  I choose that type of tree because it is known to create a fence that is "horse high, hog tight, and bull strong."  Its wood is incredibly strong; I learned that it makes longer-lasting fence posts than cedar does, and it is covered with thorns that are big enough to dissuade even the most determined of predators.  I figured it would be a great experiment and I was armed with a few bits of knowledge from YouTube and a diagram from Pinterest, so what could possibly go wrong?

I mean, how hard could it be, given these pictures???
First off, the plants arrived on a Friday right before I had a clinic to go to with Nimo over the weekend.  So I ended up not being able to stay after my rides and watch others.  Instead I had to had over to our acreage to start planting the trees because the box was really clear that they needed to be planted IMMEDIATELY.

There are 300 trees in this box!
Of course, I was completely unprepared and hadn't even marked the property line yet, so that was an exciting exercise in what should be easy but isn't.  We had two end markers from the survey and a middle one.  But we couldn't find the middle one and our string kept snagging on grass and blowing around, so it was hard to get a straight line from end to end.  Finally, I called it good enough.  I was planting the trees about 3 feet in from the boundary, so I figured if we made a minor error, I had some room and the neighbor that owns the property next to us would not be upset if we accidentally planted a tree on his side of the line.

Then I had to figure out exactly how to efficiently get 300 trees planted.  I had watched some YouTube videos where people dug a long trench, but that was too much to do for us.  I had also gotten a couple of recommendations to use a sort of auger that attaches to a drill.  You drill the auger into the ground and then use the slim hole to put the tree root into.  That method sounded logical, so I got the auger, attached it to a drill and prepared to plant a whole bunch of trees really fast.

Yeah, so heavy clay soil is probably not the target for that particular product.  And it might be that it is designed for a hydraulic drill rather than an ordinary drill.  What happened is that I couldn't get the auger more than a couple of inches into the ground.

So I decided to flip the auger over and use the long, straight part that would normally attach to the drill.  I wrapped the tree root around the metal and pushed it into the ground.  My thought process was that I would push the root into the ground with the metal rod and then pull the rod out while leaving the root in the ground.  That worked OK a few times, but I had trouble keeping the root wrapped around the rod while I pushed it into the ground.  And sometimes the root would get damaged in the process.

Take 3 ended up being my husband's suggestion.  I used a shovel to split the ground open, then I tucked the root into the opening with my hands and stepped on the split to close it back up and seal the root in the ground.  That worked pretty well, and after using it over 400 times, I can say that it would be my method of choice in the event that I am ever stupid enough to order 300 trees that all need to be planted quickly.

Now you might be asking, why would you have used it over 400 times when you only bought 300 trees?  That is an excellent question.  Remember I said there was a middle marker that we never found when we were marking the property line?  Well, I found it about halfway through my little project, and I realized we had really screwed up our line.  I ended up going back and pulling out all but maybe 10 or 15 trees that I had already planted and moving them about 3 feet over.  So I planted closer the equivalent of almost 450 trees by the time I was done.

It was not particularly difficult work, but it took awhile to get used to avoiding the thorns on the trees.  Even tiny, bareroot saplings were loaded with evil thorns.  Handling them carefully became my number one priority after touching a thorn the very first time.  I was impressed.  If the fencerow grew as planned, I couldn't imagine anything getting through those thorns.  It was also was time consuming just because of the sheer number of trees.  I got to the point where I could plant about 25 trees every half hour for up to two hours.  After two hours, I would start to drag and really slow down.  So I spread out my effort and went out to the acreage every day for a week and got all the trees planted.  I was pretty proud of my effort.
All my little trees are planted!
I was especially excited when I went back after about 3 weeks to check on them and it looked like 95 percent of them had leafed out really well.  And that was regardless of the method I'd used to plant them.  I had hope that my little trees would be tough enough to withstand my lack of a green thumb and the not-so-great growing conditions.

In late October, we went back out to the acreage to brush hog in preparation for the ducks' arrival.  That is a great time to mow one final time because there typically isn't much growth until spring.  So we went to Home Depot to rent a brush hog and drove out to the acreage expecting to spend several hours clearing as much overgrown grass and brush as we could, so the ducks would have room.

Imagine my complete shock when we got out to the acreage and discovered that it had already been brush hogged.  I realized with a terrible feeling that we should have told one of our neighbors that we had planted trees.  I had left my orange stakes up to mark the approximate location of the trees, so we wouldn't accidentally mow over them, and also so our neighbor wouldn't mow over them.  But he must not have realized the significance of those and in his thoughtfulness, he had mowed both his acre and ours, probably thinking he was doing us a favor because he has a tractor with a pull-behind brush hog that makes short work of an acre.  And he did a really good job.  He got so close to those orange stakes that only a few blades of grass survived.  The only trees he missed were the ones near the road that I had mulched.  I had meant to mulch the whole line of trees, but it was an expensive and time-consuming process, and I kind of gave up on it after I got through about 10 trees.

So the moral of this story is really that good fences do make good neighbors.  It's possible that some of the trees will survive being cut down.  It's also possible that they would have died anyway given that we had a fairly lengthy drought this summer and I didn't have a good way to water them (I do now, though!!!).  In fact, I'm not sure the trees I mulched fared very well even without competition from grass and the mulch helping with water conservation.  I'll have to see what happens in the spring.

In the meantime, I am planning on getting started building a fence this spring.  While I very much appreciate our neighbor's thoughtfulness, I don't really want to have to call him every time I plant something to make sure he won't mow it over, especially because I've got much more expensive fruit trees ordered for spring planting.

I had been putting off building the fence because I was thinking it was going to be this big ordeal.  We'd have to either hire someone (I don't know if I can deal with a contractor again!) or we'd have to rent a hydraulic fence post hole digger and be prepared to dig as many holes as possible and fill them with posts immediately.  Having almost 100 heavy duty fence posts bought and ready to fill holes is a bigger project than I want to think about.

But I recently realized that I could use metal t-posts instead.  I originally expected to use the front field as a horse pasture, but I'm definitely changing direction a bit on that.  It's fairly marginal land and it is going to need a lot of help (I'll post more about that maybe tomorrow).  Plus it has a tendency to be quite wet, which means it isn't going to work well to have horses on it very much, except if we have a drought or during July - September, when we typically get less rain.  For horse pasture, I would have wanted sturdy wooden posts.  But for just regular use like as an orchard and garden, t-posts should work just fine.  And they are much easier to install and cheaper.  And I could literally just do one or two a day over the course of a few months instead of having to put in a concentrated effort.  I could always add an electric component to it in the future if I decided to put horses on it or I could even replace the posts.  The most important thing is that I get the fence set up in some form because I definitely want to get started planting this spring.

And so the adventure continues...:)

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

It's Christmas!

At long last, the destination day is here!  All the presents were wrapped, all the decorations were hung, all the cookies were made, all the cards were sent, and Santa made his annual delivery on schedule.

I'm pleased to report that I got several hours of relaxation and family time in today.  After all the gifts were opened this morning, my husband asked me if all the work and stress was worth it, and I have to admit that maybe it was.  It was so fun to hear Gemma's screams of delight when she saw the giant stuffed rainbow unicorn next to the tree that Santa brought her.  And it was even more rewarding to hear her as she distributed all the presents to all of our pets before she opened her own.  She loves to give as much as she loves to receive, and the dog and cats were delighted with the gifts she picked out for them, although we are still waiting for the guinea pig's assessment of the hay tunnel she got:)

And so, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!