Agroforestry, Cornell nuts, and me

Thanks to the emerald ash borer, I now have several acres of woods in need of restoration.  The woods are bottomlands along a creek, and overgrown with invasive bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and other invasive species.  Last year, I planted paw paws, a native tree that thrives in bottomland woods like mine.   I buy paw paw seedlings from Edible Landscaping.  The Edible Landscaping catalog made me wonder what else I might grow in the woods, and so I bought a book on agroforestry:  the science of raising food in the woods.  The authors, Dan Mudge and Steve Gabriel, are from Cornell.

Among Ivy League schools, Cornell University holds several distinctions.  It is the largest school in the Ivy League, and the only Ivy League school with a college of  agricultural sciences.   Among other things, Cornell’s ag school runs the MacDaniels Nut Grove, a “forest farming and agroforestry research and education center located in the Cornell Plantations Upper Cascadilla Natural Area.”   The nut grove is named after Laurence MacDaniels, a Cornell professor who planted hundreds of nut trees on the land surrounding Cornell in the first half of the 20th century.  After Dr. Daniels retired, the nut grove was forgotten, and gradually filled with invasive bush honeysuckle.

Mudge and Gabriel have restored the MacDaniels Nut Grove, transforming it into an agroforestry demonstration site where they grow mushrooms, ramps, berries, paw paws, and medicinal plants.  Their work has given me lots of ideas, and I’ve already ordered a few medicinal plants to test out in my woods. (Ahem.  Growing them, not using them.)  One word, though, has truly captured my attention:  hugelkultur.

A  hugelkultur is a raised bed for growing annuals and fussy perennials.  You dig a hole or make a frame, fill the frame with logs, sticks, and compost, and cover the whole thing with soil, creating a raised gardening bed.    The compost, sticks, and logs decompose at different rates; the compost decomposes in a year or two while the logs will take one to two decades.  As a result, the bed never needs fertilizer.  The hugelkultur needs less watering, because the buried logs absorb water during rainy spells and slowly release it during dry ones.

I have everything I need to build a hugelkultur. (Or 20 hugelkulturs, for that matter.) The emerald ash borer has left me lots of logs.  The invasive species are an endless supply of sticks and compost.  I even have lots of topsoil, left over from our recent driveway project.   The only thing I could use is a Bobcat to help move the dirt around.  This year, I’m building two hugelkulturs: one in the front yard, behind the garden, and the other in Arborgeddon Ground Zero, where downed logs have formed a natural frame.   As the spring and summer progress, I’ll fill the frames with sticks and compost, and then next fall, I’ll cover them both with top soil.   Next May, I’ll plant vegetables in the hugelkulturs.

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Pumpkins and Tomatoes

Molly’s Pumpkins, year 3!  This year, Eric started some of the seeds he had saved from last year’s crop, and Molly sent us a packet of pumpkin seeds.   This was a banner year, with six pumpkins.

The real story, though, is tomatoes.   In Spring 2015, Lisa’s school welcomed our family with an heirloom tomato plant, grown in the school’s greenhouse.   When ripe, these tomatoes are big, yellow, flavorful things.   We planted it, amazingly, it grew.  When ripe, these tomatoes are big, yellow, flavorful things.  We harvested a half dozen ripe heirloom tomatoes, and several dozen unripe green ones.  Eric saved the seeds, and started them early, in the hope that the plants would have enough time to ripen.   We plant our vegetables in  the front garden, amongst the daylilies.  (Some people call it “edible landscaping.”  We call it “planting fussy plants where they won’t die.”)

We didn’t hoop the tomato plants, and they spread throughout the whole garden.   Tomato plants make a lovely ground cover, and this summer we had a nice mix of tomato leaves, wild jewelweed, and daylilies.    We only harvested one or two yellow tomatoes, and it was a bit of a disappointment.

I went out of town this week on a business trip, and when I got home, I noticed that a hard frost had killed the tomato vines, and now my front garden looked like someone dumped three tons of boiled spinach on top of a family of giant tarantulas.  I pulled it out, and underneath the mess were several dozen green tomatoes.  We made garlic-and-green-tomato spaghetti sauce.

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The Interview

I have to take Tuesday off work next week.       Eric and I have rented a cabin for a weekend in June, and the cabins don’t allow dogs, and so we need to find a place to board the dogs.  My dogs have an interview at a local kennel.  I am as nervous as a Manhattan mother signing her kid up for preschool.

This is no ordinary  kennel.   This is the Google of dog kennels, the Ivy League of dog kennels.  I really want the dogs to go there – Brownie, in particular, needs lots of daily exercise – and they won’t let me book the weekend until after the interview.

I hope the dogs will get in, but right now, it’s a little iffy.  They’re usually good with other dogs – unlike Bear, who loved to show who was top dog, especially with Golden Retrievers and similar tough cookies.  But..come to your name?  That’s a tough one.

Then there’s the pit bull thing.  No pit bulls.  No pit bull mixes.  No dogs that even remotely look like a pit bull.  Brownie is clearly not a pit bull, but Cocoa?  The dog that every canine professional looks at, shrugs, and says “mutt?”   The Dean of Admissions said that a brindle coat means Cocoa is either part Boxer or part pit bull.   (Or Whippet. Or Bulldog.  Or Great Dane, Greyhound, or Tennessee Brindled Treeing Hound.  But never mind.)    I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that a dog that looks like Yoda coated in tiger fudge will pass as a Boxer mix.

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An Easter to Remember

We used to be able to let the dogs run, but about 6 months ago someone dumped half a deer carcass on the road near our house. Now when Brownie gets out she heads out to the road, so we can’t let them out, which is a problem, because Cocoa has to be walked every 90 minutes or else she pees in the house.

Eric has spent the last month building a fence, and on Easter he finished it, just before dinner, at about the same time I had converted the Easter eggs into deviled eggs. I put them in a Tupperware container, set it on the dining room table, and went out with Eric to check out the new fence. When we came back in, Cocoa was on the table. She had opened the Tupperware and was eating the deviled eggs. She had eaten 10 of them & would have polished them all off if we hadn’t caught her.

At the end of the evening, at dusk, when we normally walk the dogs on leashes, Eric said “Let’s let the dogs out in the back yard!” One of the gates hadn’t been latched firmly, and unknown to us, had blown open. Cocoa saw that, made a bee line straight through it, and headed off for the woods along the driveway. She found a racoon, and instead of running up a tree, the racoon ran all the way to the end of the driveway.

When we finally found them, they were inside a 12″ concrete drainage culvert that runs underneath our driveway. Cocoa was barking her head off inside the culvert, and the racoon was blocking the nearest exit. The only thing worse than hearing the occasional yelp was when they would both go silent. We stood there, in the dark, trying to figure out what to do. I don’t think I have ever felt as stuck as I did then, with my dog inside a concrete culvert with a racoon.

After about 30 minutes, the racoon makes a break for it and runs through the trees & bushes near the B&B, with Cocoa tearing after it. Instead of climbing a tree, the stupid racoon circles back and goes into the culvert AGAIN, and Cocoa went right back into the culvert after it.

Fortunately, this time the racoon knew it could get out of the culvert, so after 5 minutes or so, it came out. It started to head for the bushes again, but this time Eric and I were blocking it’s path, and so it turned left and ran across the road instead instead. Cocoa came out more slowly, and we were able to grab her and carry her back to the house. Amazingly, she was unhurt, except for a few scratches.

My sister had the perfect response to this story: “..And now we understand how she ended up alone and abandoned in a state park. “

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Pumpkins, Year 2!

Two years ago, Eric’s cousin Molly sent us some pumpkin seeds.  We planted them and, much to our surprise and delight, got 3 pumpkins.   Eric saved the seeds from those pumpkins, and we planted pumpkin seeds again this year, some in the front garden (for lack of a better word), and others in a clearing created by all the dead ash trees that were cut down during Arborgeddon.

The front garden vines produced 3 pumpkins again this year.  These vines died early, and we’ve harvested the three pumpkins:

porch pumpkins

The vines we planted near Arborgeddon took some time to get their legs, but one sure did:

pumpkin vine

We have three more pumpkins suspended from the vine that has climbed all over Arborgeddon:

pumpkin 2pumpkin 3pumpkin 1

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Night Critter

At about 7:30 tonight, Brownie wanted to go for a walk.  Normally I’d just let her outside and let her run, but Eric had just fed Willow, the outdoor cat, and I didn’t want Brownie to steal her food.   I put the zip lead onto Brownie and opened the door.  Our new dog, Cocoa, heard the door open and came running.   Cocoa (unlike Brownie) stays near us when we go for walks, so I waited, with the door open, for her to come.

I wasn’t holding Brownie’s leash tightly, and when she saw something outside, she bolted for it, ripping the lead out of my hand.  She tore into the brush, barking madly, dragging the zip line behind her.    To make a long story short, Nathan caught her, and noticed that she had treed something.  By this point it’s pitch dark.  Nathan took this photo of the critter:


We have no idea what this is.  Cat? Raccoon? Ewok?

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The Moose are a Lie.

We just got back from vacation: two weeks camping, hiking, biking, and kayaking in Northern Ontario.    Northern Ontario is a beautiful, wild area, and one of our favorite places.  This is our sixth trip there in 12 years.

All along the roads in Northern Ontario, there are signs warning about moose.  Simple moose crossing signs like this:

and evocative, glow in the dark signs, like this:

I would love to see a moose in the wild.   We’ve driven all over Northern Ontario, past countless Danger! Moose Crossing! signs.   In 12 weeks of driving around Northern Ontario,  I’ve seen at most, one moose.  This one:

Algonquin Moose

Which, you’ll notice, bears a distinct resemblance to an old  stump.

I want to believe it’s a moose.   I really do.  But I have to be honest.   We don’t have moose in this area, but we do have white tailed deer, and lots of deer crossing signs, too.  I guarantee you — if a Canadian family spent 12 weeks driving around here, they would see plenty of deer, unmistakable, side of the road, in your face, deer.  Not one, off in the swampy the distance, that kind of looks like driftwood.

It saddens me to say it, but I’m forced to come to one inescapable conclusion.

The moose are a lie.

It’s a conspiracy of the Ontario highway department (the OPP) and the Canadian tourism industry.   What better way to keep tired drivers alert on a lonely, empty highway, except signs urging them to keep alert for moose?   And moose —  moose calendars, moose posters, moose pens, moose tracks ice cream — sell.

It’s true, Canadians tell great stories about the moose — the night they saw 14 moose on Highway 17, the bull moose that jumped through a windshield and impaled the steering wheel on his antlers, how “no one sees moose now, because they sleep in August.”    That’s what’s Canadians do in the long, cold, dark, snowy winter — they enter  Tall Moose Tales competitions.  The winners get a cash prize from the OPP and a free moose mug.    An entire industry builds fake moose and plants them in the swampiest, most bug-infested parts of Ontario.   (Where? Moose Factory, of course.)

Yes, I know there are countless photos of Canadian moose on the internet.   It’s amazing what you can do with Photoshop.

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