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Saturday, December 19, 2009

This would be the year for that

We need to renovate the south "pasture" (we're talking about less than 1/4 acre here) a bit, but it is going to take some doing.

Sixteen years ago, there were a few blackberries, several cottonwood saplings, and some Japanese knotweed (we didn't know what that was) along the creek bank, and there was a cow fence along the property line. We installed a duck fence along the cow fence, turned the corner at the far end, and followed the creek back to the shed, which we were converting into a small barn and potting shed.

The pasture has served well, but it had its weaknesses. There was no keeping up with the blackberries and Japanese knotweed, which eventually engulfed the fence on that side. And deer and assorted predators were hopping the fence on the property line, to roam about and do the things they do. The cottonwoods grew into, for us, monster trees over sixty feet tall, which, if we ever wanted to firewood them, should come down before we re-fenced. And they were well guarded by the blackberries, with the steel 2X4" mesh of the fencing hidden among them.

We deer-fenced the property line last winter, and that has been a moderate success, but the new fencing stopped, half-unrolled, in the corner, waiting and waiting for us to do something about the creek line. This would be the year for that.

We've determined to proceed in this order: 1) Bush-hook the blackberries and the Japanese knotweed all the way from the barn to the corner where the creek comes in. 2) cut the three cottonwoods. 3) Cut up and stack the cottonwoods to season for use a couple of years away. 4) mulch various places around the property with the trimmings. 5) pull the old fencing out of the blackberries with cable and block-and-tackle. 6) Cut up the fencing to recycle as chicken barriers around fruit trees. 7) gather old five-foot steel fence posts for use in the gardens, etc. 8) Set eight-foot fence posts. 9) finish the deer fence.

One roll of six-foot orchard fence and two strands of wire to a height of seven feet, with flagging, seems to stand up to the deer pressure around here reasonably well, and holds predator traffic to a trickle. Right now, though, as we are only up to 3), things are wide open along the creek and some kinds of traffic are to be expected. Marley the cat met something big last night, and instead of plucking the screen door to be let in, she climbed halfway up and screamed. So, we're going to hurry this along.

The cottonwoods had put on so much weight in a decade and a half that the fourteen-inch electric chainsaw was put to some trouble to get them down. If your saw does not reach through the tree, you must make six cuts, in matching pairs, instead of the usual three. This increases the likelihood that the tree will not go exactly where you want it, and we had a crabapple, a rushing creek, and a fenced property line to miss -- not to mention not letting them go over backwards, which would hit a hot fence in a pasture full of horses.

Insurance was provided by a wire rope, stretched from a clump of willow coppice and tightened by a come-along, to encourage each tree to follow the cable down the middle of the pasture. They pretty much behaved themselves.

The cottonwoods had become the perch of choice for hawks to read the chicken menu, being the right height and distance for a perfect glide path, coming out of the sun for surprise, with enough gravity-assisted momentum to do the job.

After the last tree came down, I gazed bemused at the featureless sky where all the bare branches had just been. The big redtail came along, momentarily moderating steady wingbeats as it approached the spot -- then picked up speed again and flapped off for greener pastures.

"Yeah," I sent after it, "you do that."


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