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Fulfilling the 5 year plan

Posted 3/31/2021 11:32am by John Eisenstein.

Hello Gentle Readers!

I will have been sixteen years on this farm this coming April, and although 16 isn't commonly considered a big anniversary, 16 is 2 to the fourth power, and so perhaps it should be.  In any case I was doing some reflecting on the many twists and turns over the last decade and 3/5, and what strikes me more each passing year is that I had no idea, really, what I was getting into back in 2005, and its just now that I'm beginning to realize what I should have done differently in the first few years.  It's not solely because I was impatient and inexperienced (although I certainly was those things and doubtless my 66 year old self, in 16 years, will feel that way about who I am now).  It takes a while to get to know the land, its characteristics and challenges, and then there is the human element as well.  For what is farming if not an awful voyage of self discovery? 

            Most people, when agricultural pests are mentioned, think of insects, but for us, by far the worst pest is deer.  Given our picturesque location at the foot of the Tuscarora Mountain, surrounded by woodlands, its hardly a surprise, but we must take measures.  Here's a picture of some baby chicks being mothered by the hen for those of us with short attention spans and don't like long blocks of text:

So cute right?   Ok back to the deer.  We must take measures, as I said, or they eat me out of business.  For a while we had dogs, and they did a good job chasing the hungry ungulates off, but dogs can't be everywhere at once, and they need to sleep sometimes.  As the amount of land in production grew the dogs (actually it was pretty much one dog, Kelly.  Sparky was sweet and loving but didn't chase many deer) had a hard time of it.  The other problem with dogs: they grow old and die, and then I'm heartbroken.

The next measure we took was to install an electrified deer fence, pictured here.  

I don't know why it's on its side. Kindly tilt your heads 90 degrees to the left.  There.  It was a major undertaking, and costly, but it was fast and does a good job-- at least until the electricity goes out, or the charger breaks, or a tree falls on it.  Also, it needs the most maintenance when we are busiest, in May and June.  It's not particularly pretty, and I always worry about little children or aged grandparents getting zapped with 9.9 kilovolts.  Ouch!

So here's my next project to address the problem.  It costs nothing in materials, is quite beautiful, will add to the biodiversity of the farm and create habitat for squirrels, bugs, gastropods and birds, and, if I do it right, will be 100% deer proof.  It starts out looking like this: 

I'll tell you what those are, in case you don't recognize them: osage orange fruits, in various states of decay.  An incredibly versatile and useful tree or shrub, the wood is greatly prized for making bows (like for bow and arrows) and woodwind instruments (like for playing music).  The lumber is highly rot resistant, stronger than oak, and has the highest heating value of any North American wood.  But even better, from my perspective, the osage orange-- or "hedgeapple", as it is sometimes called-- when properly managed and pruned will form a hedge said to be "horse high, bull strong and pig tight".  Not only is the wood super strong, but it is covered in big, sharp thorns.  It was commonly used for making hedges in this country until the advent of barbed wire in the 1870's.  Not an improvement, in my opinion. But then, I wasn't consulted.

Here is a picture of the trusty shovel I am using to dig up the ground.

Next year, when I'll be better prepared, I'll use some sort of tractor implement, which will be faster.  And here is a picture of the seeds and some rotting pulp in the furrow:

The fruits exude a smelly, sticky latex fluid, which makes the job even more pleasant.  Once the seedlings emerge, I'll post another picture, and regular progress reports.  I'm only planting a couple hundred feet this year, so I can learn what I'm doing, but I plan on surrounding the whole field in five years.  That's the official Jade Family Farm Five Year Plan.  Although, given my track record in estimating the amount of time it takes to complete a project, it'll probably take ten.  After that, I'm off to France, to spend several months backpacking around Gascony with only a small guitar and book of Rimbaud's poetry.  But that, Gentle Reader, is a tale for another day!

Meanwhile, Spring has arrived.  Here's a picture of emerging rhubarb to prove it:

and some foolhardy apricots that decided to bloom early.  I told them to wait, as we are expecting 23 degrees tomorrow night, but they persisted: 

We planted these trees in 2007 and gotten a total of three apricots from the two of them, but it is worth it just for the scent and sight.

 This skunk cabbage is my favorite harbinger of spring.

Do not eat!   Mildly poisonous and/ or extremely yukky.

And finally, another baby animal picture!  I just couldn't resist!   

That's it for now.  Drop me a line if you want to and let me know what you think about my five year plan---



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