This Weekend Was Very Chipper!

Fourteen hours of chipper work to be exact.

The time had come to clear up the dead and downed trees so we rented a chipper and set to. Goggles on, earplugs in and we were off, seven hours later we staggered out and viewed our handiwork. The new field area was almost clear, almost, but not quite and we still had quite a bit of work to do on the other side of the electric fence.

Chipping was our last resort. I wanted to use a lot of the dead trees to make bio charcoal to put on the fields. However after working solidly for a whole weekend moving trunks and dead branches to the drying racks we looked at our meager progress we had made and realized that this was not going to work. We had only made a small dent in the project and the racks were full. It had taken us a lot of time to do very little. It was not productive and it was wasting time.

So chipping was the only option. We started by renting a chipper from Home Depot. However that was an abortive project as the feed on it did not work and Steve had to take it back after an hour and get our money back. Yet another delay.
Finally we located a larger chipper for rent but it was an hours drive away. So Steve had to get up at 5.30am to get there for 7am on Saturday morning when they opened and drive it back. We ate breakfast and started out around 9.30am. It was overcast and threatening rain but the rain never came, the clouds stayed most of the day which was great as it kept the temperature down.

Dead and cut trees before we started.
The area before we started, lots of cut and dead trees.

Much of the time was spent dragging dead trees to the chipper and watching them get chomped into chips. I have to admit its pretty satisfying to watch. However the chipper would not take the large trunks of many of the trees so we had to cut them down to size and chip only the top portion of the tree. Then all the smaller branches had to be cleared up and run through the chipper. That was the job that fell to me, mostly because I was not strong enough to haul the larger trees with all the branches still attached to the chipper. Clean up was essential as moving around with a chain saw to cut up trees with lots of loose brush on the ground can be dangerous. I moved the smaller trees but Steve did the larger ones. Only the two of us available for the task this weekend, but to be fare more than two and there would have been a lot of standing around waiting for the chipper to be available to chip your contribution. With two of us one was at the chipper while the other went for more to feed its hungry maul.

area mostly clear of trees
Area at the end of day one. 3/4 cleared.

At the end of Saturday we were both very tired, sore, stiff and aching.
But next morning we were up again, and after a bit of creaking and hobbling got moving and put in another seven hours to almost finish the job off. Sunday was bright and sunny, the temperatures were not as high fortunately because it was hot work in the sun, dragging trees around.
We finished off the main area behind the fence, the dropped the electric fence and dragged the trees from the second area to the chipper too. Most of the trees in this area had been cut down but there were still a few dead ones standing. Fortunately they were mostly dead and smaller so Steve cut them down and I dragged them straight to the chippers maul. There are still a few left, some are large and need cables to help bring them down safely and not hit our new hoop house, others are holding up the electric fence so cant be cut down until we get the fenced moved to its new route. There area also a few dead ones on the perimeter of the chosen area. Until you get them down its hard to see that there are yet more dead trees behind them that need to come down.

We did not get everything done that we would have liked. I would like to have cleared up more of the fallen branches from our grove and under the white pine stand, plus we still have a couple of older brush piles that have accumulated over the past few years. Those need to go too, but fourteen hours of chipping is enough. The rest can wait for another day.

Monday I went back out to take the after photos and count the stumps, the only real way to determine how many trees we cut dragged off and moved. Some stumps are a bit rotten as the trees fell over on their own, others are pretty easy to spot.
The main area we set out to clear had 106 stumps from trees we removed. The area on the near side of the fence had 54 stumps. This count does not include the ones we had already put on the racks, or those taken down last year to help clear space for the new hoop house.
That comes to 160 trees that we dragged, cleared and chipped in a fourteen hour marathon chipping session.
That number did make us both rather chipper! Stiff, sore but chipper!

Finally cleared. 106 trees cut and removed from this small area!
Finally cleared. 106 trees cut and removed from this small area!

Who needs a gym?

When you have a farm.

Why spend a whole bunch of money on a gym or fancy exercise machines? All you need is a small farm. OK there is not so much to do in the winter months but come spring its get out there and work, at least we are in the fresh air.

With the beginning of spring comes the compost work. Every year we put more organic mushroom compost on our field rows. This year we are also redoing some of our perennial rows since its time they were changed around. This work in our ‘main field’ (named because it was the only field we had to start with) is easier than our side field (named because its on the side of the main field). We can take the tractor down the rows rather than having to barrow it in as is needed in the side field. However its still a lot of work and exercise.

The process is.

  1. Drive the tractor to the compost pile, which is at the front of the property, the only place the tractor trailer has access to dump the load when they deliver it.
  2. Dig the compost pile out and fill up the cart behind the tractor.
  3. Drive the tractor to the row and slowly add the compost to the row.
  4. Do the whole thing again until the row is finished.
  5. Start on the next row.

We tend to buy a load of compost about every two years. Why mushroom compost? Because its cheap. Here in New Jersey we are fairly close to the mushroom farms in Pennsylvania and they always have a lot of spent compost. Its fairly cheap to buy a whole truckload, actually it costs a little more to have the guys truck it over here than the compost itself costs. But it’s the cheapest good organic material we can get.

When it first arrives its wonderful stuff, all light and fluffy and easy to shovel. Like shoveling soft ice cream. The downside is that its light and fluffy so you need more of it to do the job so you need to dig more cart loads of the stuff.

After its settled which takes about 6 months it gets harder and more compacted. You actually need to put your foot on the shovel and dig it out. More like shoveling hard frozen ice cream. Its tough but the upside is you don’t need to shovel as many cart loads because its more compacted.

Even so there are a LOT of cartloads need to be moved. This past Sunday we did 7 cartloads, I had already don’t 3 on my own last week. That did the two perennial rows in the main field.

Why add it every year? Because we are on really poor sandy loam soil. When we moved in there was almost no organic material in the soil at all. It was terrible and had no soil structure at all. Now with the addition of compost to the rows every year its beginning to form a reasonable structure and retain more moisture. It’s a slow job but we are getting there. For most of the rows where we grow annuals we don’t need to add that much every year. For perennial rows they get a really heavy addition every time they get changed which can be anything from 4-8 years depending on the species. Anything that is being put into production also gets a hefty addition since its going to be in pretty poor shape otherwise.

This year we are moving some perennials around and thus redoing some rows in the main field this has to be done early so we can get the plants moved before they grow too much. This weekend we prepped two rows.

We have another two there to do. Then all the rows in the side field where we grow the annual plus the new extension we are adding this year. Today I am stiff and aching, wont get out there to work again until tomorrow. By the end of the month I should be back in shape and used to digging. Keeps you fit and its free.

adding compost to field
Adding compost to our main field from tractor cart.

Hooray for the power company guys.

While they did not come in record time it was hardly their fault. I always feel these guys do a really wonderful job, the come out in all weather, clean up the problem and get the power flowing. Three cheers for them

The problem lies with the schedulers. They seem to be there to waste the time of the hard working guys and to frustrate those whose power is out. We have run across this countless times but it never changes.

This time Steve called and I insisted that he give a really throughout account of what the problem was. We needed a tree crew to come and get the hanging fallen tree down and clear up the line before we could do anything. He called three different times.

First time they just seem to log the call, even though we told them the line was down and the tree had fallen.

Second time, ‘Oh there is a down cable, we don’t have that here.’ – Update the listing.

Third time. We need a tree crew don’t forget. ‘Sure we get it’ Right!

8.20pm the door goes. It’s the power company. Surprise! They don’t have a tree crew so they cant do anything. Not to mention its dark now there is no way it would be safe to work on that tree at night.

What a waste of the power crews time! They came all the way out here but could do nothing because the idiot scheduler still had not logged that we needed the tree dealt with first.

I am sure these guys have a lot of people to help, a lot of power out, they don’t need to be sent somewhere that they cant do the job because the idiot scheduler had not logged the problem correctly! It must really annoy them.

Monday morning the scheduler calls to ask if our power is back. Of course its not! Does he think the tree magically vanished in the night? Every time we have a downed tree they call and ask if its magically been fixed. I really wish we did have a magic tree removal service. The whole tree problem on the farm would be dealt with by now.

The tree crew came shortly after with a huge bucket truck, chopped up the tree in no time and got our driveway cleared. Three cheers for them. The power crew arrived shortly afterwards and fixed the line. Hooray for the power crews, Boo to the schedulers!

removing tree from driveway
Power company crew removing tree from driveway

High winds bring down the power line.

They predicted high winds for our area and we got them. First of course we got heavy storms which kept everyone awake for the first part of the night, then around 5.30am the wind really came up. It roars around our house, with all the trees around our little farm it makes the wind sound a lot more ominous than it would without them. The roaring woke everyone in the household but we all tried to sleep again.

Then the power went out! Great! The UPS started beeping and woke everyone up again. I waited, sometimes it will flick back on again, but not this time, so we are up with flashlights turning off all the power we can, shutting down the computers (not the internet servers) and reducing power while Steve went and switched over to the battery backup from the solar panels. Oh how I love those solar panels, and the batteries of course, solar is really no use at all for holding your power without the battery backup. We shut down and all went back to bed ignoring the raging wind.

Several hours later we finally emerged to check the new day. The wind was still raging and roaring around but the sun was up and shining brightly. That’s good we are getting good solar generation. Having checked our output we added the heating to the mix – although its oil heat we still need electricity to run it unfortunately. I went just outside the front door and listened. Its my first test of how bad the power outage is. If we can hear the generators of our neighbours then its widespread, if its silent then its most likely a problem just for us. Silence, Great, its us.

Togged up we went to examine the driveway. Our driveway is 125 yards long and runs through a band of trees. We have our own personal power line and even our own electricity pole near the house. Today there is the top of a large tree had just snapped off and dropped across the driveway ending up in the top of the tree on the other side. It brought down the power line when it fell and is now lodged at least 15 feet above the ground with one large branch open like a fan down to ground level. The power line is curled along the edge. This is a big problem, the tree is stuck up off the ground so its not easy remove, the power line is down so we cant get near it even if we wanted to work on the tree and its blocking the driveway so we can’t get out. So we are stuck here until the power company comes to rescue us. Fortunately there is always more than enough to do on a small farm so we can all keep busy, its just that our agenda will have to change from what we originally planned.

Hopefully the power company can get to us soon. Tomorrow is Monday and some of us have to work off farm during the week. A downed line they often do but its going to depend on how many other problems there are. One small rural farm does not come high on the priority list. We could be trapped for a while. Thank goodness for solar!

wind snapped tree
Wind snapped tree, brings down power line and blocks driveway