Our Dirty Little Secret

What a snowy, cold winter we have had so far. I remember the forecasters started to predict an unusually long, cold winter around the time the acorns were falling last autumn, so I guess they have been right about their prediction so far and we all have a new phrase, Polar Vortex, to add to our vocabulary! Although we are not quite as active outdoors during this time of year, Dave has managed to take advantage of some of the milder days and accomplished items on the upkeep list. He has taken some of the mowing equipment in for yearly servicing and has scheduled appointments for the tractor and some of the rest. He has continued to take the old fence posts to the recycling center after diligently cutting away the concrete fill.

Other perimeter fencing has needed recent repairs. Sadly, about 18 of our deer fence pickets were recently downed. Yes, the deer found a way in and and we lost two trees this time; one arborvitae and one apple tree. As frustrated as we get by this, we were glad to report that the plant damage was less severe than it has been in the past and this was a fairly isolated invasion. We worry though that the deer are creatures of habit and often travel the same paths with a certain blind regularity. We certainly don’t want them making themselves at home in the orchard so the “Faux Fence” as we call it was promptly re-secured with heavier clamps where possible.

We also had a coyote wandering in the back easement and around our trash can area so I guess they are desperate for food. If only they would concentrate on taking out some of the deer! Farley was quite spooked by the scent of this rascal one night whose tracks were evident in the snow. It has given us pause before letting Farley out without his leash even for potty breaks!

Besides fence repair, we have been working on some other small projects, one of which is kind of embarrassing to write about. In fact, I think of this as the ‘Dirty Little Secret’ of Seven Oaks Farm. Let me back up before I get too defensive. When we moved here three years ago, among the many, many, many items on our to do list was to get a decent compost system going. In fact we drew up plans for an elaborate, three compartment, walled, bin type of compost area that would accommodate a small tractor! This would have been dandy but we didn’t want to build it until we got some other things in position. So, in the meantime, we have been composting in large trash cans with holes in them. This has actually served the purpose to some extent but last summer we started to look for a more efficient, (smaller scale than previously planned) set up to purchase since it was becoming obvious that if we composted absolutely everything, it would be a full time job!  We could not find an adequate solution last summer and of course were so busy that we just kept using our trash can system and our shredder to make do. There were times when we had to be happy with shredding and dumping dead plant material directly back into the fields where it would wait to be plowed under.

So with a little more time on our hands, Dave found an adequate twin compost apparatus that would at least address our kitchen production waste. After much debate about what size to get, we ordered one. The problem with these is that if they get too large, they are too heavy and cumbersome to turn properly. So we got the twin version from Mantis Co. that will allow us to have two batches of decomposition going at different stages at the same time. Each bin has a 12 cubic foot capacity or 10 bushels, or 30 gallons. We hope this will get us started! Happy Early Valentine’s Day to Nancy and Dave!Twin composter

In other news, we have finally cleared the work bench of the fence posts that were being drilled for the deer fence, so Dave was able to install the bench grinder for our sharpening demands. I bought this at a garage sale last year and we will put it to good use keeping our tools sharpened in house.IMG_5222

Speaking of tools, I’ve been making regular trips to a small, local printer in Webster Groves, Acme Printing, as I work on Kate and Jason’s wedding invitations. I couldn’t resist taking this photo of some of the printing equipment there. Fascinating!IMG_5192

We are also experimenting with some Moroccan cooking in our recently purchased Tagine, which is a type of cookware that is made of glazed pottery and acts as a small steamer. It has a deep bottom and a conical “lid” that has a small aperture in the top to let out a bit of moisture as it cooks. Here is the one we bought.Image 6

We made a chicken dish the other night that had all types of unusual spices as well as preserved lemons and olives on top of a thick sauce and we served it over Israeli couscous.IMG_5221

We are getting terribly excited about the coming bee hives. I attended my first monthly meeting of the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association last week. I was rather amused that they had a social hour before the meeting started (which I skipped). Wouldn’t you know, as I sat reading my new Beekeeper’s Handbook the next morning, one of the first paragraphs in the book talks about the importance of the social aspect of a bee community…theirs AND ours! So, the social hour was rather purposeful after all! Note to self: be more social.  Here is the text book I’m reading but due to the density of information, I can only plow through a few  pages a day. It is fascinating reading and I’m sure I’ll share more of the details here in the future!Image 3

Plant Protection Time and Bee-utiful Weather

The weather forecasters have been very busy predicting the winter storm and severe cold for this weekend. We have been anticipating it for days. It was hard to believe it was really coming with the sun shining brightly and the thermometer readings of nearly 40 degrees yesterday! We decided to take heed of the warnings since the national news was confirming heavy and drifting snow followed by an arctic blast tonight and tomorrow.

The majority of our trees and shrubs are going to have to fend for themselves. We are hoping that the more established plants will fare well since we are far from spring and in no real threat to the buds. We think that the newest trees we planted are in a dormant stage that will also keep them protected. Our biggest worry is for the specimens that don’t really love the harsh cold but have come to thrive in our relatively light, previous winters. In the orchard, these would be the peach and nectarine trees and in the landscaped front quadrants, these would be the Japanese Maples and Portuguese Laurels.

So we devised a plan to create a wind screen of sorts for the laurels and were able to extend it somewhat to help protect some of the azaleas as well. The Japanese Maples may benefit from some of the wind barrier as well, but frankly, we ran out of time and burlap! Here were some of our essential supplies. Wooden stakes, burlap and a staple gun.IMG_5159

First we hammered stakes into the area in front of the plantings and added some bamboo poles that we had on hand to help for the shield.IMG_5154

Then we attached the burlap to the stakes, wrapping it from pole to pole. IMG_5157

Our arborist, Jon, advised us not to let the burlap touch the plants since the expectation of heavy snow could weigh on the burlap and actually do more damage with broken limbs. IMG_5161

Sure enough, the snow started early this morning and has been steadily falling and accumulating. We have been out most of the morning plowing, shoveling and gently brooming off the snow laden limbs to keep them from drowning in snow. Here are the Boulevard Cypress shrubs, laden with snow that fell in a mere 3 hours. IMG_5172

Here they are after I managed to broom off much of the snow. IMG_5173

I’m sure I will need to do this several times today, but I may have to quit with the photos since taking my gloves off to use my iPhone proved to be too much for my fingers after a short amount of time. Since this will only get worse, future photos may be taken from the warmth of the doorway!

All this time, Dave was out with the tractor, trying to make a little impact before the snow became too deep and the temps too challenging for even riding around on the machine! IMG_0903

Our new driveway is a dream to clear compared with the former pea gravel. IMG_5169

We have shoveled the front walks several times already so that our short legged Farley can manage to do his business without getting buried! I think I will have to get his winter coats out and let him model some of them in the next few days. For now, he is happily encamped as close to the fireplace flames as he can get and he confirms this by occasionally letting out a little sigh. For once, he is not particularly clamoring to join us outdoors but when he does, he can wear his, shearling wool coat, his down vest or his Gap hoodie! IMG_5179IMG_5180IMG_5183

As usual, I saved the best news for last! Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from J&H (it was actually from H) alerting me to a day-long workshop on beekeeping being offered by the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association in February. I immediately signed up for the beginner level and will look forward to this educational outing.IMG_5178 2

We then met long time friends (sounds better than old, eh?) Tom and Joan for a pre-blizzard, post-holiday dinner and we had a little gift exchange. They were right on target with the bee theme…this is what we found in the box for the Sauerhoffs: A pair of gorgeous, goatskin beekeepers gloves and three types of honey (spring, summer, fall?) from local, Clayton, Missouri hives and aptly named ‘Stinger’s Honey’. I will be delving into lots of reading about beekeeping before the workshop and will dream of the buzzing of future hives! IMG_5177 2

Luckily, I have plenty of knitting to work on in between outings of plowing, shoveling and brooming of plants!  IMG_5175

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve got no place to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!!