Friday, February 22, 2013

Clearing The Orchard

This introductory song, Helplessness Blues, by the Fleet Foxes, mentions orchard somewhere along the line in there lyrically, like "If I had an orchard I'd work til I'm sore...", which I have done.  A few days now.   And I just love the harmonies these guys produce.  I was introduced to this song by the legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG, who what which has turned me on to substantial amounts of new, great music over the last twenty or thirty years.  Legendary.

I have this bit of ground down by the county road.  I call it the lower lower forty, just because it's the lowest ground we got.  It's between that parking area I had to dig the culvert for and the county road, to be more specific. 

This last autumn saw a lot of action in that nape of the neck of the woods.  We cut down a total of twenty-two trees, from six inches in diameter to fourteen or so, ranging in height from twenty to forty feet and probably a little more.

My brother in law took down a couple larger oaks when I was still recovering from my Achilles tendon problem.  Then I jumped in when it felt like my Achilles problem felt better.  Which it did.  But fifteen downed trees, four new ones planted, huge brush piles burned, the clearing, wrangling and burning of manzanita and other brush on the upper forty and I am back in the damn walking cast and on pain meds again.  Tra la la.  Lucky me.

Here's the Lower, Lower 40 when we first moved in, thick and lush with scrub pine and oak:

Here's a few more shots as we plowed through with our handy dandy chain saws:

Here's what that brush pile above looked like after a few hours of mondo nuclear warfare.  It was about eight feet tall, fifteen feet wide and forty feet long. 

Live Action.  I wanted this Digger Pine to go a specific way.  It was just tall enough to top out in the road or get hung up in the lower oak, which can get extremely dangerous.  So I tied it off to my car, made my lower, directional cut towards the car, and then just cut about half way through on the top cut on the other side.  Then I turned on the car, put it in drive and proceeded about five feet forward.  She came down right where I wanted her to.

I plan on grooming the existing cedars and planting a few new ones in the bare spots below and turning them into a hedge.  As you can see by the open space, a fairly large oak prevented any further cedar growth both here and a couple other places.  I will be planting about six to eight more cedars to fill the gaps.  I will also be topping the existing ones, and eventually hope to have about a twelve foot high cedar hedge running along this side of the orchard.  This will also take the lower parking area and propane tank out of street view, and provide a sound buffer from the road.

Here's a clearing sequence looking north:

Both corners of the drive at the road are sporting regalia's of daffodils. Some were planted in 2011, some last November.  Both corners should be alive with dancing yellow daffodils in a few short weeks.

And then, splash, hey!  Let's paint in a Honey Crisp Apple Tree at the north end of this row, and wrap it in a little six foot high cage.  There will be three other varieties of apples to join this intrepid adventurer soon.

And looking south:


I think I'll eventually have either six or eight trees in this upper row, next to the cedar hedge.  The new tree in a cage at the south end of the top row there is a Santa Rosa Plum.

Then there's room for another six or so in a lower row, with that oak kind of in the center.  He was too picturesque, I couldn't take him down.

I also kept one other smaller oak at the far south corner of this 115x50 foot space.  He was right on the top of the embankment, and I decided to leave him there for erosion control.  I will be planting some form of deer resistant hedge along the road embankment as well and then have it curve up towards the cedar hedge where the daffodils grow.  I'm also making this up as I go.

Anchored in the far south west corner is the oldest fruit tree I had in a pot, my Perez Peach.  It is so named because a close friend gave it to me on my 55th birthday.  Three years later he's finally out of the pot and can actually take root on planet earth.

 You'll of course notice the 6' high deer wrapping.  This area will remain unprotected until the hedge gets underway, which will take 3-4 years.  Of course, by that time the fruit trees will be just about tall enough to forgo the cages anyway.   Each tree will have to be individually wrapped for deer protection until then.

I also have another peach in the ground.  I missed the timing for bare root delivery, but I will still hopefully get a few more in the ground this winter.  I plan on having a total of sixteen to eighteen fruit trees, with many other types of fruits to come.  Apricot, cherry, pomegranate, pear, more apple, etc.  Unfortunately, the winters are too cold here to grow citrus without protection here, but I do have a Meyer Lemon I started from seed in the house.   Eventually I'll make a protected home for him somewhere outside, as part of a greater green house extravaganza.  Or shack.  It will amble and ramble in some sort of lovely, ambient fashion.
The first and hardest part of this particular operation is done.  I dropped, brushed and bucked about twenty trees myself, ranging from 6-10" in diameter and 20 to 40 feet tall.  One Digger in the corner by the Perez Peach was quite a challenge.

Like the Digger I tied off to my car, this one had the potential of falling into the road, only about twenty feet more so.  He was too far off in the corner to reach by car with the rope, but I tied a rope around him anyway and let it hang.  Just in case.

I made my low, directional cut so that he would drop eastward right along the property and fence line.  Then I started making my upper back cut and got him cut about 3/4 through without movement.  Since the top part was leaning towards the road to begin with, I was concerned about the tree rocking back on the chain saw at any moment.

So, I ran the rope off, squared off on a tree stump and gave a mighty heave ho.  The tree came slowly towards the me and the lower cut, and then rocked back and sat right on my upper back cut.  And it just stayed there, balancing on that thin cut like a fifteen hundred pound hulking gorilla ballerina.

When it first started rocking back I was afraid it was going to drop in the road.  Now, instead. and much to my chagrin, I still had a pretty dangerous situation to contend with.  I had a forty foot tree with all the trimmings essentially just standing there and connected to nothing.  A stiff breeze in any direction could cause it to fall. 

I looked it over and decided further cutting would be too dangerous.  I would do that as a last resort.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any more rope.  Another sixty feet could have reached my car and then no problem.  But I only had fifty, so I had to make that work.

I grabbed the rope, went back to my stump and dug in.  I gave a mighty heave ho, brought it towards me but couldn't snag it and let it slowly rock back.  Then in synch, I gave the mightiest of mighty tug while on the stump back and got the beast suspended momentarily.  I dug my feet in again and gave it my all, finally falling back on my ass as the last tug hit it's mark and the mighty beast fell right along the fence and manzanita line, right where I wanted it to.  Touchdown! And I wonder where I might have re-injured my ankle?

Now that all the lumber is down and there is no fear of falling behemoths smashing fragile new plantings, I have the rest of my life to dial it all in.  Actually, all the fruit trees will be in no later than next January, 2014.

There's still plenty of work and clean up to do.  I've got to bring up about a cord of already bucked oak for next year's heat, and all stumps will eventually come out.  I've also got to take out a few existing bushes.  Some of the native plants will stay, but some will need to go.  And get a hedge started. 

I've got a water spigot about ten feet away from the cedar hedge, so it won't be a big deal to get irrigation down to the orchard.  That will be a spring time chore, as well as more deer fencing.  And dialing in another area in the back of the house, which will be major.  Minor excavation, minor construction, concrete, lawn etc.  I'm sure you'll hear all about it.  Once the Achilles heals. 

Chicken Update

Goldie and his Harem are doing fine.  We've been averaging about six eggs a day out of nine layers, which I understand is pretty good since most layers slow down a bit in the winter.  They all perch up in the outside cage, even when the night time temps have gotten down to 27-28 degrees.  They have a nice, insulated mansion, replete with perches, yet they all have chosen to stay out all night.  Party animals.

They are a mixed heavy breed bag, good layers and less susceptible to cold than other breeds.  That was one reason I bought that variety, but I still would have thought they'd mosey inside when the temperature got below freezing.  I guess a layer of thick feathers will keep tails warm all winter.