The Winter That Isn’t: Spring Ramblings of a Missouri Homesteader

Reader Contribution by David Boyt
article image

February has been a long month.  Maybe it’s the extra day the leap year gave me.  I’m still waiting for winter, though the trees are budding, daffodils are in bloom, and the spring peepers are in full voice.  This will probably be remembered as “the winter that wasn’t.”  At most, Becky and I burned through a half rick of  wood, and that was mostly scraps from the sawmill.  We haven’t touched the big round pile that we stacked in the Scandanavian style.  It doesn’t have a great air flow, so it will take longer to season, and will be just about ripe by next fall.

Maybe if I put it out there in a blog where people read it, I’ll actually follow through on my resolution to build raised beds this year.  There is a good supply of post oak that needs to be thinned out of the woods.  Our place had been logged over twice before we moved here, and the less valuable post oaks were left, so thinning them out should help restore a better balance and diversity.  Post oak is in the white oak family, so it is pretty durable, but tends to twist and warp badly.  It used to be favored for fence posts–hence, the name.

This is also the best time for pruning.  Over the years our family (starting with my father) has planted over 10,000 walnut trees, and at least twice that number has come up from nuts.  Fifteen minutes of attention now can make the difference between a $500 tree and a $2000 tree in about 80 years or so.  I can only imagine what our trees would have been like if someone had bothered doing this back in the 1930s, but people had other things on their minds back in those days. Pruning is the opposite of what most people think.  Conventional wisdom is to remove the lower branches, but it is much more effective to look at the top, or the “leader” first, and work down from there.  Where a tree forks, I cut the more crooked side so the tree will straighten out.  It is amazing what corrective pruning can do.  Some of the trees we planted years ago are over 20 feet tall, straight, and producing nuts.

Trees are relatively easy to work with.  They put down roots and stay put.  Not so with children, and there is always the question of who, if anyone will benefit from the work.  My son lives nearby, and talks of moving here onto the family farm with his young family.  But like a dandilion seed, the winds have carried my daughter to the west coast.

The constant clatter of a bulldozer on our neighbor’s property across the road is a grim reminder that not everyone shares my respect for the forest.  He is stripping bare 160 acres to make more pasture for his cows.  I hope y’all like hamburger!  If smoke from the brush fires isn’t enough insult to the injury, he called a couple of nights ago and asked me to check on the fires.  It has been dry and the wind would push any escaped flames in our direction.

I made two trips to Joplin last weekend, and “rescued” a couple of pretty good-size logs.  My old ’87 Chevy flatbed and goosneck trailer make a good log-hauling combination, though I can’t come close to matching what the big boys can move down the road.  The larger was a 44″ diameter by 10′ long black oak.  A ring count indicated it was 98 years old when the tornado uprooted it.  My best estimate is that it weighs nearly 6,000 pounds.  The smaller is a 37″ diameter sweet gum log.  To me, the challenge of finding, loading, and hauling logs this size (safely) must be similar to reeling in a big one while deep-sea fishing.  All the log moving is done with a chain saw-powered winch, a ramp, and a lot of head scratching.  Next step is milling them out.  The plan is to cut wide slabs with natural edges.  I’ll post photos when I do that.  I’m already thinking about making wide slab tables, and looking forward to making some good come of the loss.