Monday, August 03, 2009

Hell Week...

...wasn't so much hell week as it was Hell Weekend.

The early part of the week was spent taking care of our neglected land. Mowing, weeding, transplanting, tweeking... Dealing with the bats that still roost on our eaves, catching a couple of gophers (not at all a dent in the gopher problem, but I leave the dead gophers out as a macabre, if useless, warning) and dealing with the ants.

Ants are amazing creatures. They are organized and intelligent. They will "farm" aphids and scale bugs for the sweet sticky stuff they excrete. Some colonies are miles long. (Just found out about this. I also found out this summer that they smell like turpentine when squished. "What? You didn't know that?" asked Big Dog incredulously. "No. Who goes around smelling squished ants?") A few of our fruit trees were infested with these bug farms that made the leaves curl up and die.

"We have this, here." The helpful lady at Farm Supply showed us the ant poison you could spread around the trees. "But it IS poisonous. If you can find the nest, pouring boiling water into it works well. Or you could use Tanglefoot."

We opted for the sticky ant barrier. It's sticky and goopy and very messy, but at least we aren't putting poisons in the ground.

Then came Hell Weekend, otherwise known as Wood Chipping Weekend.

We had mountains of twigs and branches out in our pasture, collected over the last 3 years of pruning and general maintenance. They had been piled up against a hill until the late spring when a neighbor offered to bring his backhoe over so we could pull it away from the hillside for a burn. Well, we missed burn season (and I never wanted to burn those piles anyway -- too much smoke) and the piles were still all over the pasture, so we decided to rent a wood chipper. But first there were guests, and family visiting. Or getting the irrigation system in. Or packing for our trip north. Then, the trip itself. Funny, though, how you eventually run out of excuses.

"Just bring it back by 9am on Monday," the rental guys said as we rattled away with the chipper towed behind our truck. It was a one-day rental for the weekend, but 8 hours of operation for the one-day rate.

"Can we chip all the wood in 8 hours?" I wondered.
"It's going to take what it takes," sighed Big Dog.

I know now why most people don't do this at home. An industrial wood chipper is a very efficient machine, but the work is dirty and potentially dangerous.

"I look like I've been fighting with a wild cat," laughed Big Dog at the end of the second day, looking at the scratches all over his arms. At least he still had his arms!

Every time we stopped to take a break, we'd have to shower off the layers of wood dust. BLACK wood dust because some of the piles were already decomposting.

"I hate to think what's in my lung," I grimaced as I coughed, again. Somehow, that was much worse than all the scratches from the branches and bruises from bashing my arm against the machine as I chucked the piles of debris in.

The noise was horrific, too, and by the second day, I had added earplugs to my workman's outfit (shades, doo-rag, long, baggy pants.)

And then, there was the pressure of the eight hours. We worked with a rabid single-mindedness, chucking in load after load of debris as fast as we could, pushing them in with armloads of branches.

3 days later, with 8 hours and 10 minutes on the chipper, the 8 hills of branches and twigs have turned into 5 hills of mulch. Not the clean, even-sized mulch you buy at nurseries, but "mulch" the size of dust to long, stringy shreds to branch chunks 3 inches long. Will we shovel those mounds into the barn? Or will we just scatter the mulch over the pasture? Stay tuned.

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