Crops – Trees

June 8, 2014 – A Walk Around the Back Pasture

Today was a good day to get things done on the farm. It was only about 70 degrees, Linda offered to take Martin to Decorah for his music camp, so I was left to catch up on all those things that never seem to get done. But first a break as we check out the back pasture.

This wonderful little pond was just a black dirt mudhole when we moved in. We fenced it off, planted some wet prairie/marsh seeds, and now it does its part to clean water as it runs off the neighboring fields before heading down to the gulf.

One of the beauties is this blue flag iris.

The pond gives us great evening sounds, among other things – we can fall asleep to the sounds of the frogs and toads in their little home. Today, however, I was in for a surprise when I scared up a snapping turtle about the size of a dinner plate.

The alleyway of trees we planted in the middle of the pasture are close to creating yet another micro-environment on the farm. The walnuts, bur oaks, and black cherry are really starting to take off.

January 8, 2014 – View from Above

I thought it was time to see what our place looked like in Google Maps, and thought I’d show it on the blog. It simultaneously doesn’t look as open or tree-filled as it does from the ground.

Now, for a view with some annotations of some features visible from the air.

1) Fruit Trees (3 groups)
2) Annual Gardens (2 groups)
3) Burn Piles (5 groups)
4) House Windbreak
5) Field Windbreak/Christmas Trees
6) Native Hardwoods
7) White Pine Windbreak
8) Native Marsh planting, with willows to the south of the box
9) Tractor ruts from a bad experience!
10) Raspberries and Blackberries
11) Giant Rainwater tanks (2)
12) Animal Composter
13) Chicken Tractor (can see the daily “tracks”)
14) Old Granary
15) Barn
16) Hog Barn
17) Corn Crib
18) Machine Shed
19) Chicken Coop
20) Old Machine Shed
21) House
22) Garage
23) Wind Turbine
24) Cranberry Hedge

November 30, 2013 – Last Day for Christmas Tree Sales

We made one final trip to Wheatsfield Grocery in Ames to sell Christmas trees. As in final-final. When we planted our field windbreak years ago, we planted the trees 5 feet apart instead of the usual 20 feet apart to account for trees that might not mature or get thinned for Christmas trees. The windbreak is now pretty much thinned and/or the remaining trees are too large.

It’s a great experience to have in December. I sold trees as a college student, I sold them now as middle-aged, and with any luck I’ll be able to sell them again as an old man.

April 3, 2013 – Willow Revenge!

Many of you may remember that last year when I was cutting down the willows, the chain saw took a slice out of my leg (allowing me to recover and watch the first weekend of the NCAA BB games without guilt).

No such luck this year.  After donning the chaps and steel-toes, I was able to cut down all the willows.  This is a shot after the fact as we are collecting them all for the burn pile. I’m keeping them coppiced for ornamental and forage purposes.

August 15, 2012 – Hazelnut Harvest

Like many things, hazel harvest seems a bit early this year.

basket of hazelnuts

Here’s the yield from about a 15 foot row of hazelnuts.


Some of them are completely dried down, others have a bit more time to go, but with the recent spotting of a new squirrel in the yard, it was time to pick (the squirrel can have all the acorns and walnuts).

boy picking hazelnuts

Martin picking the low-hangers.

Linda looking at the higher nuts.

November 29, 2011 – Christmas Tree Season is Upon Us!

This year, we will be once again selling Christmas trees at Wheatsfield Grocery in Ames and off the farm.

Weather depending, we’ll be at Wheatsfield Sat Dec 3 from 10-4, Sunday Dec 4 from 12-4, and Sunday Dec 11 from 12-4.  The trees will be cut on Friday December 2, so they’ll be a much fresher than the ones at Menards and Hy-Vee that were probably cut early to mid November.  We’ll also sell them from the farm as cut your own by arrangement.

October 18, 2011 – Fall Color

Here’s the little tree we planted in the front yard – growing up quite nicely.

We planted an ash, maple, and oak along the north side of the driveway many years ago to grow up to replace the old spruce, and two maples.  With age and all the wind of late, the spruce tree blew down this summer, and one maple is down to about 25% of its original branches from storm damage.  So, it looks like these trees might add some meaningful shade on the south side of the house by the time the other trees are gone.

one year ago…”Mini-van Driver No More”

March 25, 2011 – Spring Put on Hold

After a nice week last week, we have plunged to days 15-20 degrees below normal.  Some days it’s struggled to get above freezing (when it is “supposed” to be in the 50’s).

It looks like the maple flowers might have taken a bit of a hit.

This flower is rather bizarre looking – with all the flowing red tentacles it wouldn’t look out of place in a deep sea documentary.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #201″

February 22, 2011 – Tree Down

Wow, the giant tree was felled!  I wish I was home to see it crash to the ground (and not on any buildings).

Martin stands by the trunk for scale.

It was a whopper of a tree and provided lots of shade for grazing animals in its day.  Looks like there will not be a shortage of wood for winter bonfires.  I think I’ll also get a bit of firewood from it, and a bunch of mushroom logs as well – think of it as a kinder, gentler version of the Giving Tree.

The space around the tree – compare to yesterday’s post to see the last known photograph of the tree.!

one year ago…”Snowbanks Along Hwy 20″

February 21, 2011 – Uh-Oh

When we started tapping trees, I noticed a big uh-oh on one of the giant silver maples near the back pasture.

The tree on the left is the tree that is about done for the world.  It’s about 15 feet in circumference at my chest, which makes the diameter about 4.5 feet across!

On the back side, a new crack has developed along the portion where the two main trunks split. Much of this potion overhangs a shed. These maples are inherently weak, so I had a tree service out today and it’s scheduled to come down tomorrow. Better now than falling on the shed, or breaking the fence when the animals are out and we’re not home.

one year ago…”Old House Problems”

February 15, 2011 – Footprints in the Snow

Isn’t the world’s most popular poem about footprints in the sand? Well, there’s not much sand in Iowa in February, unless it’s clinging to dirty snowbanks on the side of the road. But there is snow – and footprints.

Martin and I went on a surveying mission in the back pasture yesterday.  The day before this photo, he walked through the back “pond” through many feet of snow.  When we came back the next day, we saw his footprints led to nowhere, for if you look in the center of the photo you can see the dark remains of footprints that were implanted in deep snow the day before are now under water.

It’s a good time of year to get out and move around a bit.  Water needs to be channeled and drained, trees need to be  checked on for winter rabbit damage, and boots need to get wet.

The foreground of this photo shows some of the willow cuttings I just stuck in the ground in this low area and didn’t mow or graze the last year. They were able to compete with the dense sod just fine.  So, I will continue this spring with their advance down this drainage.  Goats will be very happy to have browse!

one year ago…”Feeding Chickens in Winter”

December 22, 2010 – Finding a Home for the Trees

Now that Christmas is almost upon us, I have about 10 trees that remain unsold.  Most people preferred to cut their own tree, even when they cost $15 more.

I contacted the Salvation Army and listed them on Freecycle, with no takers. I finally contacted a church in town and they were thrilled to take them to give to folks who couldn’t afford a tree this year.

one year ago…”Ice Luminary”

November 30, 2010 – Christmas Trees in the Wild!

OK, this week the first Christmas trees will move from High Hopes Gardens to Wheatsfield Co-op in Ames. We’ll be there 9-3 or until they sell out on Saturday the 4th and Sunday the 11th from 11-4 or until sold out. We’ll also have our gift baskets for sale. We really don’t know what to expect in terms of transport, selling, etc., but it promises to be fun.

Here’s a look at the densely planted windbreak – in need of thinning now that the trees are growing together..

one year ago…”Mark Gets Month-Long Sabbatical”

April 2, 2010 – Willow Season

Today I finally got down to the gooey willow nursery – figuring it wouldn’t dry out any more before it was too late to coppice (prune back to the ground) the ornamental willows.

These are irresistibly soft and such a sign of the season.  The willows have been a great addition to the farm.  Next year we’ll have to do a better job of promoting the willow bouquets!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #160″

March 30, 2010 – Winter Damage

Now that we are getting out and about, a couple of crops have taken a significant hit from the deep snow and drifts this winter.

Many of the blackberry vines were bent over and cracked.  In some ways it greatly simplified pruning – just getting rid of the damaged vines accounted for much of the pruning.  The patch should survive the damage just fine, however.

The white pine Christmas trees are another story.  I’d say at least half of the trees were damaged beyond repair.  Here’s as example of the type of damage.  The Canaan Firs held up much better, probably due to their nature and the fact they were a couple of years ahead in growth to the white pines.

one year ago…”Willows Emerge”

March 13, 2010 – Tree Pruning

The sun peeked out unexpectedly today!  Our week of fog and overcast is coming to an end.

Tree pruning brings many decisions.  Here is Linda scoping out a tree for the next cut.

Later on, in a different tree, she takes to tree climbing for a better stance.  This tree is a great example of the effects of a microclimate.  It is planted due west of the sw corner of the barn.  When we get an east wind, the breeze funnels around the barn on this spot – so much so, that the tree has grown with a distinct lean to the west.

one year ago…”Getting Bees Ready for Spring”

January 23, 2010 – The Ultimate Christmas Tree

Now that we’ve grown our Christmas tree, dug it out of a snowbank, dragged it into the house for the holidays and decorated it, it’s time for the 2nd to last use of the Christmas tree.

Here it is after the animals had a chance to browse the branches and even chew the bark off the tree!  The last step will be for the tree to be dragged to the site of next year’s burn pile to be the base for next December’s bonfire.  Certainly the high hopes version of the giving tree!

one year ago…”Laying Hen Update”

December 18, 2009 – Now this is A Christmas Tree!

This is the year we have been waiting for – the first Christmas tree grown on our farm. This summer Martin and GJ put an orange tag on the best tree after much deliberation.

girl on snowdrift over fence

On our way down to get the tree, we thought we might be in trouble when the snow started rising almost high enough to bury the fenceposts!

When we got to the tree (or at least we thought it was the right tree because the orange flagging was buried!) we saw we were in for some digging!

With shovels and hands around the branches, we started trying to release the tree from the snowbank, being careful not to break branches.

The digging crew after they had dug down to the ground.

Martin stands in the excavated hole where the tree used to be. After we dug down a couple of feet, we found the orange flagging!  In addition, there was a bonus as there is a bird nest in the branches.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #146″

December 13, 2009 – Snowbanks

I think the winter is here to stay – we’ve not been above freezing for about 10 days now and the cold weather continues.

Martin went to check out how our natural windbreak worked – and here are the drifts to show that it is working.  Years ago, we’d have to put up an take down snow fences – one less task now that the windbreak trees are doing their job.

one year ago…”Lumberjacking Christmas Tree”

April 1, 2009 – Wind Turbine Output Update

On March 18, our wind generator guy stopped by to upgrade the software in the turbine to allow it to spin at higher RPMs before shutting down in self-defense. It now can go in a wind 10-15 mph more than the previous cut-off and this month, it made a big difference. Until this month, the most the turbine produced was about 360 kwH. In March, only having the update for 12 days, it made 482 kwH.

So according to our meters – the power company says we used 668 kwH off the grid, but we returned 178 kwH, so we will be billed for 490 kwH, much less than our pre-turbine billing use of 900-1400. Someday when I have more time, I’ll put out all the numbers month-by-month.

one year ago…”Coppicing Willows”

July 15, 2008 – Willow Nusery on Track

In the spring of 2007 we planted seven different varieties of ornamental willows in a low section of the back pasture.  (Varieties  –  Planting   –  Washout)

Although it is hard to discern from this photo, the willows have all taken off – we plan on using this as a nursery to propagate more willows further down the wet stretch of pasture. 

This early spring we coppiced (pruned) all the willows back to the ground and for an experiment, wanted to see how well they’d root without any attention or care.  We we took some cuttings, found some soil that was unfrozen and stuck about eight pruned sticks right into the ground and forgot about them until recently.  Nearly everyone survived – even though they were just stuck into the ground in an established pasture, they rooted, and grew under the cover of grass that was not mowed.  Now we now that they are rather self-sufficient, next spring we can go nuts and start propogating many more from the nursery we’ve established.

one year ago…”Saying Good-Bye to Kawishiwi”

April 23, 2008 – Trees In

It was finally dry enough (barely) to plant the trees that have been sitting in the basement for the last week, waiting for a window in the rain to get in the ground. It’s a “climate change” collection – trees that we are marginally in the growing zone. I planted some Michigan Pecan, Persimmons, Paw-Paw, and Heartnut.

I’ve had persistent problems with rodents eating young trees, so I thought I’d try the tubex tree shelters with bamboo poles for this batch of trees.

It was a wonderful few hours – I had all the materials I needed (didn’t have to take a trip back to retrieve anything – I guess some good things come with experience – I’m probably in the golden age until I start forgetting what I need!) The meadowlarks and red-wing blackbirds were the soundtrack for the afternoon, a warm breeze swept over me, I was digging in luxurious black soil, and using water collected from a tank off the roof of the corn-crib which was closer than any other source of water.

Today was the 2nd try for pouring the wind turbine foundation – but it is still too wet as a cement truck would just sink in the soft ground. So, with more big rainfalls in the forecast the next few days, it’s postponed indefinitely. The good news is the turbine has been improved to increase the top speed from 27 mph to 30 mph – which means it will run more at high speeds and potentially give 15% more production over the course of a year.

one year ago…”Apple and Nectarine Blossoms Appear”

April 14, 2008 – Christmas Tree Pruning

A few Christmas trees are a new crop for us, so I am learning as we go. I had a vague notion that as the trees got bigger, they should be pruned in late summer. Well, it didn’t happen last summer and the trees shot up some leaders that were 22 inches tall. I called the nursery I bought them from asking if I could still prune and got the go ahead – so pruned the top leader and started shaping the trees.

Here’s a before pruning photo.

Here’s an after pruning photo.
one year ago…”Finally, A Day”

March 15, 2008 – Maple Sugaring

Today we had a bit of a treat with an introduction to maple sugaring at Morning Sun Farm.  It looks like I’m following the sugar – a few weeks ago we walked through a sugar cane plant, now through maple syruping in Iowa.

Here the “Sapmaster” and one of his daughters check on the sap flow.  The sap flows best on days that are above freezing and nights that are below freezing.

Trees are tapped in a path throughout the woods.  The buckets (in this case milk jugs) collect the sap until the collectors come around.

Here’s a picture of a tap in a tree – if you look closely, you can see a drop near the edge.

Here Martin pounds a tap into a tree.

Here Martin pours sap from a tree that has been previously tapped into the bucket for transport.

This bucket is about 3/4 full of fresh sap.  I was amazed how crystal clear the sap is.

This is an old bulk tank salvaged from a defunct dairy used as a holding tank after the sap is collected, but before it is boiled.

Here is the sap boiling in the evaporation trays.

The sapmaster with his homemade boiler – consisting of an old fuel oil tank and other parts cobbled together.  He’s leaning on the cover that goes on the top.  You may also notice the scaffolding that he uses to support wind block in the case of strong, cold winds.  It is entirely wood-fired and about 8 gallons an hour evaporate.

Since the season is just beginning, I don’t have any photos of the next part of the process, nor the end product, but we have been able to put our stamp of approval on the final product in years past.

one year ago…”Red House Records Night at SXSW”

February 16, 2008 – Thinking Ahead to Spring…

After a few years of planting “safe” trees, this year it time to go out on a limb in a manner of speaking and try some more unusual varieties.  It was prudent to start with native trees for the bulk of the planting, but now it’s time to experiment a bit a push the growing zones a bit.  All the following photos and descriptions are from Oikos Tree Crops in Michigan (I like to get trees from north of me, to help with hardiness, although I know that most of Michigan is a zone warmer than here due in part to the Great Lakes).  I ordered four of each to start.

New northern pecan selection created by using wild tree germplasm from across the U.S. Selections were based on the early ripening characteristics, so all seedlings would fill nuts every year in southern Michigan. Special thanks to the Northern Nut Growers Association, and some of our more nutty customers, we were able to obtain seed from Minnesota to northern Illinois. Some of this strain has its origin near the ancient portages on numerous Midwestern rivers and streams. It took about 25 years to evaluate this strain completely. In the last 10 years of nut production, there was only one year that the nuts didn’t fill. That was the same year the Concord grapes didn’t reach their normal sugar count and we had a frost at the farm on the eve of July 1. Besides that one extreme, we always have trees producing in our hedgerow. Starting in early October, the nuts will begin filling and be completely out of the shuck throughout the month of October and early November. Although many of the original seed trees have perished on the Mississippi flood plain, we are fortunate to grow and offer these as progenitors of a new generation of the most northern hardy pecan. Height to 60 ft. with equal width. Hardiness -35 °F.


Next to the English walnut, heartnut is the easiest of the walnuts to use for nut production and edibility. The flavor is very mild, similar to cashews. Clusters of nuts are produced in profusion near the ends of the branches. The nuts are fairly easy to crack and come out in halves and wholes. The trees are easy to grow as a yard tree and will develop a wide spreading crown with horizontal branching. Young trees can bear nuts when only 4-6 ft. tall. A few insects attack the tree, but resistant to all fungal diseases that attack butternut or black walnut. Hardiness -25

The American persimmon is one of the most luscious and sweet fruits containing up to 30% sugar. ‘If not ripe,’ said Captain John Smith of Jamestown, ‘it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.’ ( Hmm – Similar to eating my grandmother’s corn relish.) And that’s the real challenge of growing persimmons north of their native range. Unripe fruit will make it difficult to use them for anything except frozen golf fruit balls and possibly feeding a few birds and deer. As the fruit ripens the astringency decreases and the sweetness increases. Trees can grow throughout the north even in Minnesota or Maine but in short season areas the fruits will not be edible to humans. Contrary to folklore, frost has little to do with ripening. Having a long warm fall something like an Indian summer really does wonders for edibility. About 25 years ago, we began surrounding our property line with American persimmons from different northern seed sources. Today we have many trees producing a wide variety of shapes and sizes of fruit. Ripening occurs from mid-September through late November. After the leaves fall, the fruit hangs on throughout the fall and winter. All types of wildlife consume this high-energy fruit either in the tree or on the ground. A favorite of deer, persimmons are a strong attractant and will bring them in quantity to your property. Deer rarely browse seedling trees since the foliage is poisonous to them. Persimmon is in the ebony family and the wood is very valuable for special uses like golf club heads. Dark heartwood. Persimmons will grow in a variety of soils, including clay, sand or wet muck. Tolerant to shade and competition from grass or other trees. Trees begin producing at 6-8 years of age. Dioecious-male and female flowers on separate plants. A seedling population will contain a 50-50 mix. There is no way to know ahead of time what sex the tree is until it flowers. Space 10-30 ft. Height to 50 ft.-30 F hardiness for our strains.

The largest native fruit – up to one pound – with a rich, custard-strawberry, banana flavor. Purple orchid flowers in early May. Best growth in a rich, moist high-organic soil, although tolerant to sand and clay. Grows extremely well throughout North America from Florida to Maine to Nebraska. Some commercial growers are found in California too. Two are required for fruit set. They need each other’s pollen to produce. It takes 4-8 years before fruiting begins. Slow-growing at first, established plants average 1-2 feet growth. The Louisiana Indians wove the inner bark into fiber cloth. The fruits can be made into jam or custard and mixed to make cookies and cakes. The fruits can be eaten fresh after they become soft and fully ripened in September and October. The seeds are lima bean shape and contain alkaloids that are not ingested by birds or mammals. Raccoons and possums are frequent visitors to the groves we visit in the wild. Deer never eat the foliage of the plant. A pyramidal tree to 20 feet. Plant 10-15 feet apart for a dense grove or 20 by 20 for an orchard. Great understory tree with oak, hickory and maple.

one year ago…”The Cast”

February 12, 2008 – Mystery Package

Everyone, including the delivery driver, didn’t know what to expect in this 6 foot high package that was dropped off while I was at work.

Even though it was about 6 feet tall, the shipping charge was only $10.16.  The family is never too sure what might be in the mail at high hopes.

Mystery revealed – some tubex tree shelters and bamboo stakes – all at what I thought was very reasonable prices – a buck each for the tree shelters in packages of 5 that are usually $2.50-$3.50 each and the bamboo stakes were 6 foot for $0.30 each.  They’ll be used for something – perhaps a trellis or something else – it will just be good to have some around.  Thanks to Ray’s Supply Company for the quick delivery as well.

one year ago…”SXSW Draws Near”

July 24, 2007 – First Hazelnut!

We also planted a half-dozen hazelnuts years ago to see how they’d like living at out place.  They have been very slow to produce – this year the first nuts have appeared.

I’m not sure if this is normal for first fruiting but 4-5 years seems a bit long – we have peach trees that have produced fruit faster than that.  We may have a place for them as the shrubs below the understory in the developing shade strip down the center of the back pasture.

one year ago…

June 30, 2007 – Trees Gone Wild!

The trees that are in their third year in the ground at high hopes are really taking off this year.

This tree is typical of that year of trees.  It has sent a leader skyrocketing 21 inches-many of the other trees have experienced similar growth.  This year’s seedlings, while not sending up that much, have 3-4 inches of growth.  They must be happy with the intermittent, but heavy rains we’ve experienced this season.

one year ago…

June 5, 2007 – Farm View Series #2 SE Corner

Today is the second in a series of views of the farm. I went to each corner of the property (and the midpoints) and took photos in different directions. The following views are from the SE corner of the property.

This is from the SE corner shooting diagonally towards the NW. You’ll notice the corn crib is reroofed and all but about 80% of one side resided – that’s a fall/early winter project. The project that is next outbuilding-wise is the renovation of the south side of the hog barn – the north side is tight and re-roofed, but the south is falling apart.  Right now my time is devoted to the house, so it will sit a bit longer.

This is the view looking due west from the SE corner. Just over the rise is a small orchard, trellised berries and a garden.

Finally, this is the view due north from the SE corner. It shows the first row of trees along this boundary.

one year ago…

June 4, 2007 – Farm View Series #1 NE Corner

Today is the first in a series of views of the farm.  I went to each corner of the property (and the midpoints) and took photos in different directions.  This view is from the NE corner of the property.  I did some of this a decade or so ago, but wish I had been more thorough as the shots are kind of hit and miss. 

This is from the NE corner shooting diagonally towards the SW. You can see the brush piles from the ice storm and an old granary in the back pasture.

This is the view looking due west from the NE corner.  It shows three rows of trees, this year’s planting furthest to the left.

This is the view due south from the NE corner.  It shows the first row of trees along this boundary.

one year ago…

May 19, 2007 – Trees all Tucked in

A couple of weeks ago, most of the trees were mulched.  It’s those last 20 that take so long.  The supply of chips at home was exhausted, so it was necessary to load and haul chips from the Marshalltown compost facility.

Here’s the look at the north border – the row on the furthest left is the newest row.

Here’s the new row along the east edge of the pasture. Linda contnues to get more seeds planted in the garden.

one year ago…

May 2, 2007 – Tree Mulching

The tree planting is the easy part! Now comes the mulching. We mulch because I think it may be less work in the long run and we don’t have to use herbicides and worry less about watering in dry periods. Today was the good mulching day. The fastest equipment was put into force today. Below is an old animal chute that I rigged up to hold mulch. It pulls with the tractor, drives over the rows and holds enough mulch for about 180 feet of row.

I also have some old barge wagons that I use, but they aren’t quite as handy. But these contraptions are nice since I can load them up in the late fall so they are ready to go in the spring. Today, I ended up getting 60 trees covered in the morning. Last Monday I got 35 trees done and suffered from equipment failure, equipment stuck in the mud, and smaller-scale haulers. The temperature was near 90 on both days, along with up to a 30 mph wind, so I spent some time watering as those are about the worst conditons you could imagine for newly planted trees. Now I’m on the lookout for a small low, trailer that the garden tractors can haul – the one I got at an auction 8 years or so ago to use to put the stock tank on to drag water on, was one of the equipment failures when the axle snapped (with an empty load, thank goodness).

one year ago…

April 28, 2007 – Starting to Plant 150 Trees

Over Saturday and Sunday, we managed to get 150 white pines in the ground.  All the kids were out of the house on Saturday night, so after a leisurely breakfast on Sunday morning, we got 55 in before heading off to church!

Here’s Linda near the end of the row along the east pasture.  Notice the two boards used to measure the distance between trees and the distance from the fenceline.

Stage two is watering the trees – the mobile water hauler (stock tank and garden tractor) work better than the big tractor when it is this muddy and wet.

one year ago…

April 18, 2007 – Martin Brings Home a Tree

Today Martin brought a tree home from school.  He said everyone got a tree in his class.  He didn’t know what kind it was.  sually, the kind of tree would determine where to plant it – how big it may get, its effect on other plants etc.  He said there was a note on the tree.  The note said it was in honor of Arbor Day and was donated by the Izaak Walton league and if it isn’t planted today, keep the roots wet.  No mention of the type of tree on the note. Â Not wanting to discourage the budding arborist, we found a place for it.


He was sure we could find a place for it on the farm as he remarked “Dad has planted millions of trees.”

one year ago…

April 3, 2007 – Willow Varieties

Yesterday I planted seven different willow varieties. Let’s fast forward to what the willows will look like in the future. We’re thinking these will be a great addition to the farm as they fulfill the “rule of three.” We like each element of the farm to have at least three uses. The willows can be used as goat browse, woody ornamentals, and basket/furniture materials, all while growing in a moist spot of the pasture. We purchased all these willows from Bluestem Nursery – the folks have a wonderful web site. All the following photographs and descriptions are from the Bluestem Nursery site.

Salix udensis ‘Sekka’

Common name: Japanese Fantail willow, Dragon willow

Description: Large shrub; 10 m (35′); dark maroon-black new growth; very bright fall colours; highly ornamental.

Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’

Common name: Black pussy willow

Description: Large large shrub; 7 m (23′); rounded form; slow growing; showy black catkins appearing in spring; highly ornamental. Black pussy willow will often bloom (display its catkins) before the snow melts. No other willow compares to the display of orange anthers against the jet-black catkins. Slow-growing and easily controlled by selective pruning, ‘Melanostachys’ is suitable for smaller areas.

Salix triandra ‘Black Maul’

Common name: Japanese Almond leaved willow

Description: Large shrub; 10 m (35′); dark maroon-black new growth; very bright fall colours; highly ornamental. Probably the most widely used willow for baskets with varieties growing throughout Europe, Britain, the Middle East and into central Asia.

Salix koriyanagi ‘Rubykins’

Description: medium, many branched shrub; 4 m (13′) in height; reddish-green annual growth; young leaves pale pink, turning to dark green and grey beneath; sways nicely in a breeze. Used extensively in Japan for fine basketry. Naturally grows long, very flexible rods. Basketmakers will want to coppice annually in late winter. Native to Korea, but very hardy in our cold climate.

Salix babylonica var. pekinensis

Common name: Curly or Corkscrew willow, Peking willow

Description: Small tree; 6-9 m (20-30′); contorted reddish-gold new growth; outstanding ornamental throughout the year. There are many varieties of the larger Peking willow. However, this is a smaller clone preferred by the Japanese for flower arrangements, where it is used both fresh and dried. In colder climates, it is not as prone to die back, thus preserving the twisted golden branches. Highly ornamental and non-invasive, Tortuosa can be used in smaller areas. Nonetheless, one would wise to keep it well away from septic fields, which is the case with any tree. S. babylonica var. pekinensis will grow to a height of 15 – 20′ in just 3 to 4 seasons, then slow down and fill out, eventually reaching around 30′ after 8 to 10 years. There are two ways to grow this plant – pruned or left to grow to its natural form.

Salix viminalis ‘Superba’

Common name: Common Osier

Description: Tall shrub; 3-9 m (10-30′); yellow to olive-green branchlets; conspicuous yellow blooms, often before the snow melts. For basketry, plant in fertile soil, space .5 m apart and space rows 1.5m. Keep well watered and weed free for three years. Prune annually to encourage long straight rods that quality baskets require. There are two ways to grow this plant – pruned or left to grow to its natural form.

Salix caprea ‘Select’

Common name: Goat Willow, French Pussy Willow, Great Sallow

Description: Large shrub or small tree; 6-9 m (20-30′); reddish-brown new growth; leaves broadly elliptic or obovate, grey-green. This is one of the larger willows not associated with water. The natural habitat is the woodland edge and in the lowlands. In early spring, goat willow or great sallow produces an abundance of nectar and pollen on the many fat catkins (see them developing at the leaf junctions in the picture). Bees are greatly attracted to these catkins. This is one of the famous pussy willows of the floral trade.

All descriptions and photos from Bluestem Nursery where this is only the tip of the iceberg in willow varieties for sale.

one year ago…

April 2, 2006 – Willows in the Ground

My day was outlined for me when the mailman brought a package of willow cuttings.

Tomorrow, I’ll go into more details about the varieties, but today it was important to get them in the ground.  (Note to self – they are planted in the order of the photo.)We have a wide swath of lowland that is temporarily wet in the spring and after a big rainstorm.  We hope to start a small nursery here where we can propogate the varieties that do well for us as ornamentals, goat browse, or willow baskets/furniture (or all three).

I was lucky today was not windy, so I could get the landscape fabric out without turning it into a sail.  If you look closely, you’ll see little sticks poking out of the fabric.  To plant, when it is this wet, just stick them into the ground and they root. 

The completed (except for fencing and more mulch after the willows grow) willow nursery.

A little time, mulch, and some wet and muddy knees, and the willows are tucked.

one year ago…

March 24, 2007 – Getting Piled up Chores Done

The weatherman promised rain most of the day, but it really didn’t seem to come as heavily/often as we were led to believe. That gave us a chance to get some much-awaited spring chores done. First was overseeding the back pasture.

Martin’s job was to reseed the cow trail. He did a good job and seeded all the way to the property boundary. We spread about 25 lb of seed over the 2-3 acres.

I’m also behind on fruit tree pruning. Between the cold until early March, ice storm/snow, and week away, it is a little later than I’d like.

I was able to get 90% of it completed. Linda started all the seeds that need a jump – flowers, tomoatoes, peppers, etc.

Martin was a good helper, filling the peat pots for Linda. I also got new fittings on a water tank, so it comes out a one inch hose instead of a garden hose. So the things that had to get done, got done today.

one year ago…

February 28, 2007 – Storm Aftermath

Today gave us a chance to catch our breath before the next storm approaches. I was able to walk around a bit more and check out some of the damage I haven’t shared yet.

This is one of the white pines we planted about 7 years ago, snapped in half.  At least the goats will enjoy the browse.

We lost two peach trees that split down the middle – this one was due for a big harvest this year.

one year ago…

January 9, 2007 – Pasture 2.0

Here’s a look at the furthest east side of our pasture. You can barely see the rows of Christmas trees on the far side and you can see the fencing of the hardwood trees on the left side. For now we’ve decided pasture is not the highest and best use of this ground since we have so little land and need a higher return than we can get from a few grazed cattle.

There’s a bit of higher ground on the far east side, and you can see where a couple of rows of Christmas trees will go. Down the center of the picture, we are investigating woody ornamentals that can stand wet feet. They’re in a low spot that floods maybe once or twice a year if we get a quick, heavy rain in a short time when the crops aren’t in the adjacent field. It doesn’t stick around for long, but does move through pretty good.

We’re looking at curly willow and other brightly colored willows and perhaps some marsh-loving plants like iris in the low area. The willows can be mowed every year and as a side benefit will offer great goat browse as well. I must admit – I do like researching and planning a farmscape like this. A great advantage of doing something totally different than the rest of the county is we’re the only one doing it. Of course, the disadvantage is that we’re the only ones doing it! I do however like the diversity and experimentation that we can indulge in on our little piece of old prairie ground.

one year ago…

December 30, 2006 – Pulling Fence in December!

It’s not often December 30th brings 50 degrees – we used the opportunity to get a start on some work that is usually done in late March or early April – pulling up and putting in fence. We’re moving the entire line of fence on the north side out another 10 feet so we can plant another row of trees in the north windbreak/Christmas Tree patch.

Here’s Marty working the post puller. It was actually so wet, that we didn’t need this – the posts could just be pulled out.

There’s something about working in a warm rain – I’m not sure it reminds me of camping, or if the rain provides a slight sense of urgency to get done before the rain increases. It was not unpleasant and good to get out.

one year ago…

December 27, 2006 – Fencing Me In

Now that the cows are gone, the tree-destroying job has evidently been passed onto the rabbits. I noticed some chewing around the base of the trees, particularly the maples. So, now we are starting to put chicken wire around some of the trees.

Today the girls made the cages, pounded the stakes in, and protected 17 trees. More to do tomorrow!

one year ago…

August 7, 2006 – Grazing Example

Although it might not be as noticeable in this late evening, low-light photograph, this shows how rotationally grazed pastures can hold up better in a drought.

In the center there is a long rectangle fenced off from the rest of the pasture where we have planted trees. The grass outside of the fenced off area is continuously grazed. Inside the fence simulates rotational grazing (periodic mowing). The grass is much happier (and greener) since it has a chance to recover between grazing episodes.

If a tuft of grass is eaten once, it grows back – if it is eaten a second time, before it has had a chance to recover and grow, its roots can’t keep up and it gives up. The lush grass in the middle shows the power of periodic, instead of rotationally grazing. The net effect is the same amount of pasture can maintain more grazing animals and be healthier.

June 17, 2006 – Takin’ Care of My Babies

Today was mowing and trimming day – got the pines and the hardwoods all mowed and trimmed. Also got the two thistle patches in the pasture mowed down.

The pine trees look good do far – all the new ones this year now have a drink.

The hardwoods are looking good as well – many of the trees that were eaten by rabbits have resprouted.

The rain still dances all around us.

May 22, 2006 – No Flame Decals on that Tractor!

Today, the tractor was ready to be picked up at the John Deere Dealer after they fixed the problem that filled the crankcase with gasoline. They didn’t have the ticket written up, so they let me drive it home without paying for it (yet).

They drove it out of the shop and noticed some gasoline was leaking around one of the newly installed parts. They went to fix it and the service man was fiddling with it for a few minutes, when he suddenly runs away from the tractor and grabs a fire extinguisher to put out the flaming engine block! I’m sure that flaming tractors in the lot are not good for advertising! It was extinguished in moments. The gas that was leaking out was ignited when a wrench arced across a wire that was missing its plastic coating.

After it was all fixed, I had a 12 mile or so tractor ride home. I lost my fondness for ever participating in the “Great Tractor Ride Across Iowa.” Twelve miles was enough.

I’ll leave you with one picture for today – the minty new growth on the concolor fir.

The last 2 weeks, the trees have really taken off with spring growth – some of the black cherries and bur oaks already have grown 4-6 inches.

May 16, 2006 – Acorns to Mightly Oaks?

Here’s a look down the alley of hardwood trees we planted in the pasture. The fence is to keep the cows out. It’s hard to see much yet as this is just the 2nd year in for the trees.

This will be the centerpiece of a rotational grazing system that the animals will rotate around the oval with the trees in the middle and be moved to a different section ahead every few days. We planted walnut, sugar maple, bur oak, and black cherry with a few chestnuts thrown in. So far, the black cherries have taken off the fastest.

April 8, 2006 – Trees Tucked In

This morning after dropping Claire of for her ACT test (yes she’s in 8th grade, but was suggested to take it), we started to mulch the trees. I’ve gathered mulch over the winter and had two wheeled contrivances full.

The first step today is to put the landscape fabric into place (a great Costco bulk item and the 220 foot roll wasn’t long enough!) and cut an “X” where each tree is. Then the trees peek out and the fabric is ready for the mulch. Even though it was in the 30’s for a good part of the morning, it was still, clear, sunny, and the spring birds were calling.

Here’s the cattle shute, filled with mulch. See its conversion into a mulch wagon last October.

Martin helped get the mulch in and here he helps shovel it out.

Finally the boy gets a chance to pretend to drive the tractor.

In the evening, I dropped Claire off in Ames and got another load of mulch to replenish the area under Martin’s playground. We also made the “TCC” Total Chicken Containment area complete – those birds love to dig in the mulch and doesn’t make me quite to happy – so we stretched a bit of chicken wire along the cattle panels.

A note – I bought some of the newfangled plastic chicken wire last week to try – well – DON’T do it. The chickens pecked right through it.

March 20, 2006 – Tree Cutting

This morning was a morning of efficient town trip. I ordered some mushroom spawn (shittake) and need some logs to inoculate with the spawn when it arrives. The three old apple trees near the driveway need to go away – they take so long to prune and only one produces decent apples. When we moved in they were old and had reached about 8 feet over the power line and I had pruned them back to 5 feet or so under the wires, but they were a lot of work to keep there and produced lousy apples. The other two just make windfalls that have to be constantly picked up. So, they’ll be cut down and used for multiple purposes – spawn logs and goat browse. One of them will be grafted onto new rootstock for a new tree.

So, I wanted to make sure my chain saw blades were sharp and one was dull and the other was quickly dulled by cutting up the remains of a big walnut that blew down in a big windstorm years ago. I cut until the blades were dull. It was one of those things that is “on the list” it doesn’t necessarily take that much time, it’s just that so many things are on the list! So we got all but the biggest log sawed up.

Then we took the truck and dropped off the load of scrap metal, dropped off the chains, stopped by Big Lots going out of business sale and by a stroke of luck, bought a split queen box spring as our box spring will not fit up the stairs to the attic after the remodeling is finished. Then off to the lumberyard for more cedar for another raised bed.

We had our first appointment regarding Emma’s orthodintia and one of the options was to saw her jaw, move it forward and re-attach it. That didn’t sound like a great idea, even if it would immediately “fix” her mouth. Since there is not a health reason, just a cosmetic reason, we all agreed it was a bit excessive. Emma was very relieved. So I took her to the ISU women’s NIT game and watched them lose in OT to Marquette – but it was a hard-fought, exciting game.

December 3, 2005 – Snowfall

The computer is now back online. In addition to fixing the problem, I added a firewire card, network card, upgraded to Windows XP and added a DVD burner.

We had some nice gentle snowfalls the last few days. This is the earliest we’ve had lasting snow in quite a few winters. Now there is a big cold stretch, with lows about 0 and highs in the low teens for the week. This puts an end to any work with the soil, although there are still things to do on warmer days in terms of interiors of outbuildings
The new pine trees are all tucked in the the snow now.

October 5, 2005 – Jinxed Myself

On Monday I wrote about the trees. Today, I was at work and Linda called to report that part of the fence was down and some of the neighbor’s calves and bull were in the alley munching on the new trees. She tried to shoo them out, got the calves out, but the bull was not interested in moving. Then she remembered all the stories of the farmers being killed by their bulls and thought better of her approach. So she went to the apple tree and picked some apples and coaxed the bull out with apples (thank you Emma, for starting to feed the cows apples many years ago!) For the most part, it looks like it was just a light browsing on mostly the oaks, I don’t think there is much damage to the trees as a whole.

October 3, 2005 – Getting Trees Ready for Winter

Martin and I finished mowing and hand weeding around the trunks of the new trees. I want to make sure there are not good mouse/rabbit hiding places in the the tall grass, so out it comes. Then we distributed one truck load of mulch to about half the trees. They are looking good. I has been very warm the last few days – 88 today and humid – more like August than October. By the end of the day I was wiped out as your mind doesn’t wrap around the fact that it really is hot out in October.

One of the baby Bur Oaks, the state tree of Iowa and the central feature of native prairie savanna.
A southward look at “hardwood alley” the center of our back pasture planted with bur oak, sugar maple, black walnut, black cherry, and chestnut. Perhaps someday it will become the nexxus for a raceway rotational grazing track.
An eastward look at “conifer alley” on the north edge of the pasture, perhaps offering Christmas trees and/or a windbreak.

July 12, 2005 – New Trees Gain a Foothold

So far, so good on the new trees planted this spring. Until now, rain has been plentiful (I’m grateful I’ve only had to water once) and they’ve put on inches of new growth. Virtually all have survived. The next step is to get them through the heat of summer and through a winter to see what rodent damage may be. Next year, I’m planning on planting more.

May 23, 2005 – Lofty!

Today Lofty came to the farm. To those without a youngster in the house, Bob the Builder is a toddler construction hero supreme who has a wholesome motto of “Can we fix it, yes we can! Lofty is a crane, there is also Dizzy the cement mixer, Muck the bulldozer, Scoop, the bucket, and the favorite – Lofty.

Lofty came to help haul away the tree trunks I didn’t want to cut up for firewood from late winter’s tree-cutting near the power lines. Here’s lofty lifting a big trunk up.lofty 1

It was a fun day for Martin to have lofty come so close.
lofty 1
This is almost the last chapter of that work – much of the wood has been squirreled away in the shed, the branches have been mulched and distributed on the new tree planting. It’s kind of sad in way for the trees to have stood so long and be cut down before they naturally fall. The combination of being able to get them cut for free and have truckloads of mulch delivered on the property – free – helped sway my decision. The clincher was they are helping a new generation of trees get started. If only we could all be so useful. The only thing left is to rent a log-splitter some day I’m bored and out of things to do and split up the logs.

April 18, 2005 – Finishing Up Mulching (sort of)

Today, I finished distributing the last of the mulch. Everybody’s tucked in, but I could probably add another truckload to make some thin spots a little thicker. Here’s a look at the pines completed

pine planted
Sharp eyed readers may notice that some of the trees are protected by a fence and others are not. No, this is not the Sven and Ole planting, the nursery sent us about 20 extra trees, so I started an unplanned row and have to move part of the fence over. I’ve also got about 1/4 of the fence around the hardwoods to complete – then I will be done with this project except for watering.

The trees are in full bloom – here’s a peach blossom on a tree in the ground at high hopes for its third spring.
peach blossom

April 16, 2005 – Just one more…

Today was the tree planting day. The trees were mostly all too big to spade an and some were 3-4 ft tall, so we ended up digging a lot of holes in the black soil. It was rainy/drizzly most of the day until about three. So we went through 2-3 sets of clothes through the day and didn’t have any pictures in the rain, but took a few in the afternoon.treescene

We had reinforcements come near the end of the day for that last boost over the hump.

tom and linda

We even let Kraig take one break in the afternoon.


A special thank you goes to Emma, who spent many hours with us digging holes and fetching water!

April 14, 2005 – A Good Day

Today Linda burned up a use it or lose it personal day. It was a pleaseant, not windy, sunny day. We ripped out most of the fence around the cement animal lot and put in a new one. We mulched the remaining unmulched chestnuts and put fence around the ones along existing fences.

The first fruit trees are setting out flowers. Here’s a cherry tree showing off its splendor.
cherry bloom

In preparation for the tree planting, our neighbor came over and loaded all kinds of conveyances for hauling wood chips (saves us a lot of scooping). wood chips

The first things are coming up in the garden – spinach, radishes, lettuce, and onions. onions

The rains of the last few days filled up the mudhole, but did not flow through it, which I’m hoping is good for the marsh seeds I planted the morning before the rain.

The girls were exploring the drainage a few hundred yards downstream from the mudhole and found a big crayfish. I didn’t think anything was living in there!

March 30, 2005 – Rhubarb!

Looks like the rhubarb is ready to take off:


It’s a low energy day. I’m fighting a cold and don’t have the usual get up and go. So we vacuumed under all the couches, pruned some of the windbreak trees to a single leader. Here’s a before photo:

Here’s an after photo showing a single leader. This will prevent a crotch low on the tree and a future weak spot and place for rot and wind to snap it off.

Also had a kind gift of a goat stanchion today – fetched it between thunderstorms and it was ready to go except for building a feeding tray on it. So when Paullina births, we’ll be ready to go!

This evening was a Wholesome Harvest board meeting. It’s always an exciting and challenging time to be part of a start-up company.