Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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5/27/2015

Hen and Chicks Closeup 

It was a visit to a small organic farm high in the Yatsugatake Mountains in central Japan that opened my eyes to how incredible eggs can be. Our professor had taken a group of us students to visit the farm to learn about issues facing farmers in Japan. On this unconventional farm, they raised pigs outdoors in tall grass so thick you couldn’t see the pigs. You could hear them rutting around, and the farmer showed us the deep ruts they dug with their snouts.

They also had chickens which roamed around freely. During our discussion, the farmer served us some of the eggs, and we were shocked at how brilliant their yolks and firm their whites were. The taste of the eggs was so intense that we couldn’t stop talking about them.

That was back in 1981. Ten years ago, my husband and I moved to the country, and I finally had a place to raise chickens. I started raising chickens nine years ago. I didn’t think anything of buying hatchery chicks and raising them. I always wondered why they peeped so much. I kept them nice and warm with plenty of food and water.

In 2009, one of the Buff Orpington pullet chicks I purchased grew up to be a rooster. We named him Billy, and he set in motion a chain of events that dramatically changed how I raise chickens, and my understanding of these remarkable birds.

Lessons Learned from Hen-Raised Chicks

In 2010 when we came home from a vacation, Madeleine, one of the Barred Rock hens was missing. We looked all over for her, but couldn’t find her. We were sad, thinking that a coyote or eagle had nabbed her.

A few days after returning home, we discovered her under a porch. She was sitting on a clutch of eggs, thanks to Billy. When her chicks hatched, and she brought them out from under the porch the day after they hatched, I was amazed at how much she cared for them and how much her chicks loved and adored her.

The little chicks didn’t peep anything like the hatchery chicks I’d raised. They were much calmer. The only time they peeped like the hatchery chicks was when they got separated from their mother and were calling for her. It was then that I realized that hatchery chicks peep so much is because they are calling for their mothers who never come.

 

I watched Madeleine raise her chicks for a full month. By then, they had learned enough to be on their own. Instead of running after her when she walked, they started running ahead of her, and eventually, it was Madeleine who was having trouble keeping up with them.

When she was done raising her chicks, Madeleine went for a long walk in the woods. It was as if she was taking a congratulatory stroll.

How did we come up with this notion that chicks don’t need mothers? Since 2010, I’ve had many hens hatch and raise chicks. The mother hens will do anything for their chicks. When you have a mother hen, you don’t need to worry about keeping the chicks warm. I’ve had hens hatch chicks in early spring when mornings are still frosty, in late fall and as late as December. With a mother hen, the chicks are never cold. They have her warm body to keep them toasty.

You also don’t have to worry about getting chick starter. Their mothers break apart grain which is too large for the chicks to swallow. Within a few days of hatching, the mothers have the chicks outdoors, teaching them how to scratch for bugs and worms.

The mothers raise the chicks for one to three months. Each hen has her own style of child rearing. Some are very strict, keeping their brood in line. Others are more easygoing, letting their chicks run all over the place.

Momma Hen and Chicks 

Eschewing Industrially Hatched Chickens to Maximize Happiness

I have no allusions that commercial farms will ever turn over their chick production and rearing to mother hens. They have schedules to keep and billions of birds to ship. The breeds they raise don’t know how to hatch and raise chicks.

Yet, the only poultry and egg option for consumers can’t be just industrial-scale chicken. Somewhere, there have to be places where people can go and buy mother-hatched, mother-raised chicken and eggs. Instead of chicken breeds which balloon to butchering size in just eight weeks or so, there must be places where people can still get chickens which takes six to nine months to grow to full size, chickens that have spent their entire lives outdoors, running through grass, chasing butterflies, hunting frogs in streams, nabbing field mice, and scratching for bugs and earthworms in the forest. Chickens that get to experience romance.

A Man and His Hoe is one of those places. Instead of maximizing profits and products, the goal here is to maximize happiness: my happiness, the happiness of the chickens, and the happiness of the chicks who get to grow up under the warm wings of their mothers.

Photos by A Man and His Hoe®


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5/21/2015

Ahh, the glories of spring. Morel mushrooms. Dandelion bacon salad. Mornings with extended sun. Frisky livestock. Weekly lawn mowing.

OK, so maybe I could go without the lawn mowing, but I suppose it’s a small price to pay for nutritious and growing pastures and plants (and correspondingly animals).

In my neck of the woods, spring is also a time for the annual ritual of reflecting on one’s school years. This year that reflection is an incredibly rich mix of joy and regret and memory. Maybe it’s because my wife is a teacher. Maybe it’s because I can’t believe my boys are already concluding their third and fifth grade years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting ready to attend my 20 year high school reunion here in a couple of days.

Regardless, I’m feeling a swirling bundle of thoughts pertaining to what it means to grow up in farm country in today’s world. The complexity is interesting.

Take the graduating class of souls at the little country school where my wife teaches art, creativity, open-mindedness, and lessons on growing up in the city (my wife is from St. Louis originally). There are seven graduates. Yep. Seven. It’s a class filled with good kids most of whom have grown up on multi-generational family farms. They have been expected to work with their families to help out where they can. They have learned skills regarding mechanics and biology. They have absorbed worries of economic disparity in the farming sector, moral questions about how to be a good person, confusion about an urban dominated media landscape (local radio and TV stations are sent out to us from Kansas City) and tenuous positions as modern teens trying to figure out what they should do next.

In most ways, they are similar to graduates of public schools in small towns before them. In other ways, I feel like they face some important differences. Mostly, I am feeling a bit of despair for them as they struggle with questions of continuing their education, getting into the workforce, or joining the military.

I should say now that no one gave me a word of caution when I came up through my small town school about whether or not I should attend college. I didn’t give a minute of concern as to whether or not I would be able to pay for it. My older brother was in college, and we were the first generation in our family to attend University. I was a good student, got good scholarships (the best I could get from Missouri’s public University) and still left school with thousands of dollars in student loans.

The big difference is that these 2015 graduates fully understand their possible college debt load. They’re scared of it, and rightfully so. They’re making some important considerations for what this debt load would mean for them in their life to come. That’s a good thing for these students. Remember, we’re talking about seventeen and eighteen year old kids here.

My big questions to throw into the great bonfire of public discourse here are: how do we as a society help a gang of confused Farm Belt graduates make good choices within the parameters of their understanding? Do we want to maintain the status quo of developing a pipeline of military prospects from the places with questionable economic futures? Or should we rethink our educational system and try to develop new pathways of economic opportunity for the future leaders coming up through our public school system every year?

The choice is an important one. And the lack of a public dialogue about these important issues is disturbing. But maybe this, like the issue of student debt, is something we can illuminate in the important years to come.

There is much, much more to write about this topic. I’ll keep thinking about it as I attend graduation and alumni and reunion festivities over the next few weeks.

My hope is that society will do the same.

Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: Field, Kurt; Tractor, Richard Maxwell

This post originally appeared on Homegrown.


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5/19/2015

baby chick newly hatched

The call comes at 6:30 in the morning.  Only the first rays of light shift the deep blues to a brighter haze.  A bit of hoarfrost coats the branches, while the robins begin their daily rustle amidst last year’s leaves.  I bolt out of bed and rush for the phone, “Yes?”  The cheeping in the background lets me know the cause of this call before the lady even speaks.  “I’ll be there right away.”

Throw on something, grab my glasses, and thump downstairs to make certain all is ready.  This time last year, with the early spring, the hens were already on pasture and the brooder boxes were set up in the chicken coop.  This year, the hens haven’t left the coop due to the late snows, the garage is stubbornly cold…so the boxes are in our house.  Long rows of refrigerator boxes on their sides that had been saved for us by the local hardware store stand ready for their precious charges.  The red heat lamps are on, warming the shredded newspaper bedding.

I fill the feeders and waterers, grab some towels, and head for the car.  It’s chilly outside, and all I can think about is those little chicks, cold and scared from their long journey through the postal system.  Mom cranks up the temperature to almost 80 degrees as we near town, hoping to lessen the stress of the additional half hour it will take to get home.

Clutching the towels, I chase after an employee punching in their access code, but I still have to wait outside, expectantly.  It’s hard to keep still, watching my foggy breath and peering in through the little strip of window in the heavy metal door.  I can hear all 200 of them--cheep cheep—as they round the corner inside.  Two four-compartment boxes bound together (a stack almost bigger than the petite postal worker) emerge through the forbidden door, with a “Here you go!”  I toss the towels on top to keep the chicks from shocking in the cold and waddle beneath their bulk back down the ramp to the car.  It’s chick season!

Mail-Order Poultry

Our first batch of chicks in the mail, the summer of 1999, was just a little box of 27 hearty souls sent from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa.  Just a little one-compartment cardboard box with round holes stamped in the sides and lid.  The curious beaks poked through, reaching for my sleeve and fingers, a fuzzy wing popping out here or a little taloned toe there.

These poultry arrivals were introduced to their broodering ring in our first chicken coop (a former shower house from a resort), where we had heat lamps and folding chairs set up to spend the night watching over the precious clutch of fuzzballs.  It was mid-June, but oh was it cold out there that first night!  We shook and shivered and piled on winter clothing and blankets, while the little chicks dozed and scuttled without so much as a care.  Their little micro-world was nice and warm, despite our misery.

Invariably, chick season also happens to be power-outage season!  A freak ice storm comes through or the line needs repairs and everything shuts down.  In our first years, we’d frantically pile the chicks into a box and cram ourselves into the cab of the farm truck, cranking up the heat while idling.  The chicks were as happy as could be, but we were miserable beyond imagining—pressing our faces against the cold panes of glass to try to relieve ourselves from the suffocating heat!  It was time to buy a little generator, at least for getting us through those dicey moments.  When you reach 200 chicks at a time, they don’t fit into the truck cab very well!

As our laying flock grew, we were ready to experiment with hatching.  First, Star (a black-and-white Aruacana hen) went setty, puffing and huffing when anyone came near her nest.  We gave her a dog kennel and a nice clutch of eggs to hatch, but after two weeks she simply gave up—tired of just sitting, sitting, sitting, with nothing else to do.  The next year, she grew broody once more, so we tried the routine again, showering her with chicken delicacies (bread, oatmeal, clover) and plenty of privacy.  But a few days before hatching, one of the eggs cracked, and the sulfurous rotting stench was enough to put us and Star into a frantic panic.  That was it, she had had enough!  We’d have to find another way to hatch our own eggs.

Incubators

Learning to operate an incubator is part science and part art.  There’s turning, temperature, humidity, candling, and other factors to learn.  These days, with one incubator in degrees Celsius with a wet bulb to monitor humidity and the other with a digital thermometer in Fahrenheit with a hygrometer reading moisture percentage, I keep cheat sheets and charts perpetually posted on a bulletin board above the incubation station in our walk-out basement.  It’s a juggling match of keeping all the conditions just right for the fertile eggs to transform into soggy little balls of peep that chip their way free.

Last spring, our interns oogled over the half-fogged-up Plexiglas window into the incubator, cheering the hatchlings on.  “Come on!  You can do it!”  The chick finally pushes out of the wide end of the shell then flops exhausted at the exertion of it all.  Such a small creature but so determined to survive.  His damp fluff clings to his tissue-thin skin—a far cry from the pictures of clean, white-shelled eggs with a fluffy, dry chick standing in the middle.  Birthing is a much messier process!

Having the incubators in the house is convenient on many levels, including the need to check on hatching chicks every two hours (including through the night).  The loud, frantic chirp of a terrified chick that has flipped on his back alerts the need for help, and the scuttle of feet lets me know that a new hatchling is ready to graduate from the incubator to the brooder.

This spring, the first chick hatched from our incubator pipped nearly ten hours before any of his friends.  Rambunctious and ready to go with dark fuzz and furry feet, he wriggled expectantly as I nestled the little fellow in amongst the warm bedding of the brooder stove box.  He blinked his dark, beady eyes and began to cry, “Ree-kee-kee!” as though it were the end of the world to be alone in such a place.  I finally found a stuffed toy to place next to “Reekee” so there was finally some hope for a bit of sleep.  While he wasn’t eager to sit next to the furry object, it did calm the crying.  The next morning, a blond chick was ready to join the brooder, blissfully unaware of its predecessor’s existence.  Reekee scurried right over, flapping his little wings as if to say, “I LOVE YOU!”  The blond chick went buggy-eyed and gave Reekee a hearty peck on the face…so much for a happy little pair.  Sorry Reekee, guess that’s life.

Between the incubation projects and the chicks arriving in the mail, our house has been converted into a cheeping extravaganza.  As the little birds peck and scratch, their eager antics make me smile each spring.  They may still be tiny, but their tenacity shows their exuberance to explore their world and grow strong through the sunny summer months.  Small but mighty; they seem to sense this of themselves.  Just wait until I grow enough wing feathers to fly out of this box! 

Yup, it sure is baby chick season around here.  See you down on the farm sometime.

A fuzzy fellow hatched in our home.  Photo by Garett Egeland.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453.


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5/18/2015

It’s already been a very busy bee season this year.  Was very pleased to find—after this unusually cold winter—that my girls were doing fine and ready to start the spring hub bub!  Back in April, my friend Michael and I grabbed one of those few-and-far between warm days to do a quick inspection.  I had combined a couple of my hives last fall to make them stronger, taking the advice from our NC State Bee Inspector, Adolphus Leonard, “Take your losses in the fall.”  Well, it paid off this past winter because upon inspection we found that the combined hives were very strong and could easily be split, giving me back my five hives!

Michael

Last Saturday, one of my hives swarmed!  And after-swarmed twice more!  Although they were 30 feet up in a tree, once again thanks to Michael (he’s a tree-climbing fool!) we were able to recapture and hive two of the three swarms. . .the third and smallest escaped our grasp despite 3 attempts to hive them.  They headed to the woods; hope they’ve found a nice home.  As a thank you, I gave the first swarm to Michael for all his hard work.

The second swarm/first after-swarm is now residing at Bees a Charm

So today I thought I’d take advantage of the sunny skies and a day off from work to see if the girls needed me to do anything.  I had been watching and had some ideas of what might be going on (i.e., hive 1 (the after-swarm) looked problematical; hives 3 & 4 looked “swarmy”) so I was prepared!  Here’s what I found:

Before I go hive by hive, I think it should be stated that all hives have white wax and plenty of nectar, capped honey and pollen!

Hive #1

Started out as two colonies:

1. Bottom colony is that split mentioned above from about a month ago (1 medium). Was concerned by the diminishing number of bees at the entrance and was assuming a laying worker hive.

2. Top colony is the swarm mentioned above, residing in a deep box. The swarm is doing well.

In light of my concern with the split, I initially merely stacked the swarm hive (entire sbb, deep box, inner cover and outer cover—on top of the swarm--no interaction at that time--with the thought that when inspected, if the split had laying workers, I would use Adolphus’ method of remedy[i]. However, when I inspected the split, although I found no sign of a queen or brood of any age, I also did not find signs of laying workers.  Checked the swarm and they were doing well.  My thought was to combine outright, but on the chance there was a virgin queen, I opted to separate the two hives with a double queen excluder[ii] and check back in a week or so as to whether I should combine or keep them as separate hives.  Figure by then, if the answer is to keep them as separate hives, the workers will be evenly distributed between the two boxes and I will need only to move the top hive.

Hive #2

1 deep, 1 medium

Going Gangbusters.  Left them alone.

Hive #3

2 deeps (as of today), 1 medium

Going Gangbusters. Very crowded; no swarm cells; added a deep

Hive #4

3 mediums (as of today)

Going Gangbusters. Above average population for 2 mediums so added an additional medium. No swarm cells.

Hive #5

2 mediums

Another split from April with no sign of a queen (no brood), but more populated than Hive #1.  Gave this hive a frame of larva/eggs from Hive #4.  Shook all the bees off, including nurse bees, for fear of missing the queen.

Throughout my inspection, I saw no SHB; no varroa or “iffy” capped cells.  Everyone looks very healthy and is in a very good mood despite the many gray clouds that shadowed us out every now and then as we worked together.

Looks like it’s going to be a very good year! Let’s hope so!

[i] Put the laying worker hive on top of a healthy hive with a queen excluder between the two hives.  The workers in the good hive will smell the laying worker pheromone, go up into the laying worker hive and kill the laying workers.  After a day or two, remove the queen excluder.

[ii] Should two queens exist, the double queen excluder provides enough separation to prevent the queens  from stinging each other to death while still permitting the workers to freely move throughout the two colonies.


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5/18/2015

May 15 001.jpg

When we bought our land in the mountains we looked to see if it would accommodate building our home and only gave it a casual glance. There were other things that we should have noticed but failed to. As it turned out they were no big problem for us but just a small annoyance over the years. When we came out from Pennsylvania to examine our land we only had a short time and truthfully we did not know what to ask or look at anyway. We observed the obvious but overlooked some important elements which we should have noticed or given closer attention too.

As we were building our home we never were at our property in the early spring. When we moved to our new home full time we noted things that should have been more apparent had we been more observant. It is important to look at the contour of the land for small gullies or water routes when the snow melts and run off begins each spring. We have two springs that flow all year long but we did not know about the disappearing springs that only last for two or three weeks. We would now know more of what to look for.

Our home is situated at 9,750-foot elevation and the mountain top is at 10,500 feet according to our USGS map. From the back of our property the mountain ascends at a more steep incline. The top of the mountain is an accumulation of loose shale and regular country rock that makes walking across loose rock hazardous and tricky. While it is only a 750-foot increase in elevation from our home to the top it takes a good hour to make the strenuous climb. Coming down takes about half as long and is easier. The loose jumble of rocks seems to serve as a naturally filtered drain for higher snow melt. I believe the water from the seasonal springs on our property comes from that snow melt at the higher altitude. Since we all know that water flows down hill it ultimately ends up on the up side of our driveway. As can be seen in the photo our driveway is nothing short of sheet flow that comes from the snow melt at the higher elevation and then percolates down to our level.

We believe the two year around springs come from the aquifer which our geologist well driller says runs the entire length of our mountain. Those come up from below and hence run all year as opposed to the disappearing springs that only run for two or three weeks each year. During that two or three weeks our driveway is nothing short of continuous sheet flow and we try to stay off it as much as possible. The disappearing springs or seeps appear suddenly and are gone just as suddenly. They do not run every year but we have noticed that when we have a normal or heavy snow year they do run with regularity. One year one of the disappearing springs ran so forcefully that it shot out of the ground a foot. That was the year that the hydraulic action of the water ended up washing a 1 ½’ deep trench across our driveway as opposed to the normal sheet flow.

If you check your proposed mountain property and see what appears to be a water route then it probably is where water flows. Most people look at their property in the summer when it is more accessible and fail to consider 200 to 300 inches of snow may have previously been on it over the winter months.

Altitude sickness is another issue that is not seen readily or anticipated. It does not effect all people but for those whom it does it makes them miserable. We did not feel or notice the effects from the high altitude but some of our visitors have. Since it does not effect us we never gave it a thought until one of our visitors had it and it pretty much immobilized him for several days. The headaches, lack of energy, and feelings of nausea should have been indicators but it took a few days to figure out what was going on with him. Altitude sickness is more common when a person goes above 8,000 feet in elevation from a lower elevation. Our guest flew into Denver from Orlando (at sea level) and drove directly to our house at 9,750-foot elevation. His body may have adjusted properly had he stayed in Denver a night before driving to our elevation. Drinking a lot of water and avoiding alcohol is always helpful to stave off altitude sickness. I have chronic asthma and seem to do much better at high elevations which is contrary to what one would expect.

Before moving to the mountains it would be important to determine that you do not suffer from altitude sickness. It can make you miserable and everyone around you miserable as well if you are one of those people who are prone to altitude sickness. Common sense and a prior visit can help you gauge what if anything that you need to do before making it a permanent move.

Leaving the children home while you go check out mountain property could be a big mistake especially if one may be subject to altitude sickness. Visitors would most likely cut their stay shorter or going to a lower elevation but if you plan to spend more than a few days at high elevation having a sick family member can put a severe crimp in your recreation activities. Usually the sickness will resolve in a few days but In some cases altitude sickness can be quite severe and potentially dangerous. Most people love the mountains but it can take on a different flavor if you are sick or slogging through water for up to three weeks.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle go to McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.


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5/15/2015

On the first gray and wet day in April we finally got to plant the first trees in our new orchard. It's been a long time coming but by letting it take so long, we've also been able to observe the land and improve some of the original ideas.

The inspiration for this orchard came when we visited our friend John Bunker in Palermo, ME. He is establishing an orchard, or rather an edible landscape, that in many ways goes against the traditional “fruit trees on a mowed lawn” idea. This acre is wild looking, with numerous other berry shrubs, herbs and flowers growing in a jumble among the fruit trees and the stumps and the brush from the cleared trees has been left right there, with the intent to mimic a natural landscape. He's reasoning is that nature can take care of itself and that fruit trees grown in a polyculture often needs very little human care (spraying, for example) to do well. But mostly what I saw when I looked at what he'd done was the chance to turn that God-forgotten piece of land in the back of our clearing into something, a project that up until then had felt so overwhelming, I couldn't even bring myself to try. When seeing John's place I saw that even the least amount of effort would not only be okay, but in some ways desirable.

Here are 5 steps that we took to create our backyard orchard.


 

1. We cleared the trees. Very few of the living trees in this area were worth milling into lumber so almost all of them got cut into firewood. At any given year, we don't fell more trees for this purpose than we have time to process and that we can fit in our woodshed so this alone stretched out over almost 3 winters. Some of the dead wood we stacked in a long mound along the back line and some we simply heaped together in a big pile right in the orchard.


2. Get scion and graft. For most of the apple trees that we planted we gathered scion from trees growing on the island and we grafted them all on standard rootstock. The best time to gather scion is while the trees are still dormant and then keep the scion cold until April when the grafting takes place. We could certainly have planted the newly grafted rootstock immediately but since the area has not been ready until this spring it gave us a good chance to grow the young trees in a nursery in our garden to be better able to keep a close eye on how they were doing and have them be better protected from deer and rodents.

3. Observe the land and act accordingly. More than anything, this long laps in time between deciding to do an orchard and actually planting the trees gave us the necessary time to observe what the land looked like and how the water flows. Had we planted the area that first spring we would have missed the fact that this is a very wet area and we might have ended up loosing some of the trees because of that. Twice now we've had a friend with a small backhoe improving the ditches around the area and still more drainage might be needed.

This realization, that the seemingly slow pace of this project allowed us to do it right from the beginning, is a good reminder that homesteading is a long term commitment and a long term lifestyle and that major project, like an orchard, should be viewed in the same prospective.

4. Determine the grid. The size of the area lent itself to a 25x25 feet grid in which to plant the trees. Apples grown on standard rootstock can get impressively big if they are let to and this is really the closest they should be planted to allow for full size growth. As of now, we can fit 6 trees, with more to come once we've opened up for more sun. In this grid we also plan to grow peach trees – they are small and comparatively short lived (12-15 years) so they will not crowd the apple trees and will die before the apple trees crowd them.

5. Make the sites and plant. Due to the wet ground in our orchard we put some extra effort into the actual sites where the trees were to be planted. Instead of just digging a hole in the ground we built it up as a sort of raised bed to elevate the young roots away from the wetness. We used the half rotten logs that we had piled up on the side, pieces that were roughly 8-10 inches in diameter and 4 feet long. They formed the base of a square that we built up with thinner pieces laid out diagonal across the corner and then we beefed the whole thing up with brush. We took soil from the excavation of the ditches and put around the square so it looked like a mound and once we stuck the tree in the middle filled in the hole with a mix of the same soil and compost. As the grand finale we mulched the whole site with seaweed. To make a raised bed like this will hold the soil in place better than a mound made from soil only. Over time the brush will break down and provide nutrients for the trees.

 

While the actual planting of the trees that day in April felt like the biggest and most significant step, much of the possible successful outcome will be thanks to the preparation and thought that went into this space long before this spring. The work in this area is far from over, even though for the moment we greatly enjoy the sight of the tiny leaves forming as a beacon of hope for homegrown fruit for generations to come.


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5/15/2015

 bear

I've gotta repost this bit of wisdom, that appeared in Michigan Out-of-Doors Magazine, 30 years ago. "I once published a true story about a moron, a friend of a friend, who was, shamefully, from Marquette, MI. There were open dumps in those days (1985), and people would park there at night to watch bears feed on trash. This guy was drinking beer (and driving, so you know how smart he was). The more beer he consumed the more convinced he became that he could overpower a bear.... He was, after all, considered a real tough guy in local taverns. My friend, in the seat beside him, told Mr. Tough that he didn't think that wrestling a bear was his brightest idea. Mr. Tough took that as a challenge to his manhood. He exited the car, sat his beer on the fender, and approached a smaller (he wasn't that drunk) bear, crouched low, like a WWF wrestler, as he approached. The bear let him approach to 6 feet, then, in my friend's words, "...it just unwound." Faster than the eye could follow, it slammed him in the chest with a forepaw, shredding clothes and skin with it's extremely sharp claws, knocking the 200-pound man back a half-dozen feet, until he was stopped by a pile of garbage bags. He should have lay still, but the guy squalled like a baby, flailing his limbs, and the little bear took that as a sign that he still wanted to fight. The little bear leapt atop him, grabbed his thigh in its paws, and sank its teeth fully into the meat. The guy really squealed, then, and the bear, satisfied that he was now harmless, ran into the forest.

At the hospital (Marquette General), the new one-time Rabies vaccination had just been introduced; but the doctor thought it best that this genius receive the old treatment, which was one injection in the stomach, with a very long needle, every day for 10 days - just to be sure, you know (and, I think, to make the experience as unpleasant for Mr. Tough as possible). I only LOOK brave when I chase a bear off - in fact, there's no doubt in my mind who's more able to win a fight. I just know bears."

Read more of Len's adventures in The Tracker's Handbook.


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