‘Persuaded’ to Plow

OMG, today was a perfect day for plowing the fields at Seven Oaks! We are usually complaining about the weather getting in our way for early spring tasks but we could not have been happier today with the conditions that allowed us to get into the fields with the tractor to get the plowing done. Of course we took plenty of photos of this, but before I show you the easy part of plowing, let me explain what takes place before the wonder blade hits the dirt.

As everyone knows, we bought a John Deere tractor after we moved to the farm which is something that has made life easier in so many ways, but it also gives us a whole new challenge when it comes to switching around the implements we use with it. Our tractor is equipped with a PTO or Power Take Off which is a drive shaft that spans the distance between the tractor and the rear implement. I always thought PTO meant ‘power train operation’ since this is what comes to mind when I consider how this operates. Anyway, the PTO transmits power and torque from the tractor to the implement you are dragging behind when that piece of equipment needs to rotate. We have four rear attachments for our tractor: a mower, a tiller, a box blade, and a plow. (We also have a front loader which is used to move dirt or plow snow, but that is another story.) The mower and the tiller use a PTO since their blades require power to operate where as the box blade and plow are just dragged along behind and only raised and lowered to accommodate their use. Since we cut all of our own grass, the mower is used constantly all summer long and is helpful to us because of the width of the cutting swath and the fact that when it cuts it also mulches the grass. It looks like this.IMG_5513

The tiller is also really wide so we use it in the fields where it is more appropriate than our smaller sized one. It looks like this.99579_655_tiller_642x462

We used the box blade to pull out tree roots and other nasty overgrowth which was all around here when we first moved in. We called those areas “scabs” since they looked like eye sores in the landscape. Dave has nearly completed the removal of the last, nasty scab in back but it has been a challenge since it was full of poison ivy. You can also drag the box blade through a field to help pull out things that you don’t want to grind into the dirt. The box blade looks like this.BB2060

So the plow was the attachment of choice today but it meant changing out one of the other pieces of equipment which is not as easy as you would think. Dave has gotten much faster at this, but it always helps to have an additional pair of hands and some tools to accomplish this, especially for the first time in the new season when things have been sitting out in the elements. (The tractors has a parking spot in the garage but at this point the other features do not.) Here are the tools of importance when taking the connecting pins off and on between the hitch and the implements. Our favorite is the big, red, metal hammer which we call “The Persuader” since it is used to finagle the pins in and out of position. IMG_5508

We use a large tube of black grease as well to use as lubricant but some days it seems we get as much on us as on the machinery. Let me tell you, it is very difficult to get it out from under your fingernails! So after a quick change of implements this morning, the plow was in place and ready for action.IMG_5512

When we trotted out to the fields to get started, we marveled at the plants that were still thriving in the ground…both kale and spinach greeted us as well as some random cabbage and carrots! IMG_5474IMG_5475

This is the third year we have had the plow to use and I think we finally did it justice with the perfect depth and direction of passes. Here is Dave getting us started.IMG_5500

Of course we took turns since plowing is a lot of fun, especially if you aren’t doing it all day long in the heat and you have a powerful machine to do all the work. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought of my dad and his youthful days of plowing by walking behind a mule or even a pair of mules.photo 1

Our two plow-able fields were finished in a matter of a couple of hours. The freshly turned soil will dry out over night and we will change out the plow for the tiller tomorrow and continue with our field preparation and start planting right away!

There were numerous other chores to attend to today in addition to the plowing. I took the blower over to the strawberry patch and got rid of the leaves and other debris that had blown in over the winter. Strawberry plants are capable of being cleaned out early whereas we are keeping other landscape plants snuggled in their ‘beds’ a little bit longer.

We also started the rose pruning today. We had been holding off on this prickly chore due to the long winter and late spring, but their leaf buds are sprouting and we have so many rose bushes to tend to that we started on the first 16 today and will tend to the remaining 29 another day. They looked naked after we were finished! Our roses are all the Double Knock Out variety which are very hardy and bloom all summer until frost so we typically give them a pretty aggressive pruning so that they don’t become too leggy by the end of the season and this year was no exception. IMG_5505

We did some additional clean up of winter leaves from the terrace and the pots and had Farley tagging along most of the day before building a fire in the outdoor pit. We are trying to use up some of the old woody trees we have chopped down over the years and it was nice to sit for a few minutes to reflect on the days accomplishments! Of course we also use the ashes from our wood fires to augment the plants in our landscape beds so it seemed like a win – win activity. IMG_5510It is on days like these when I am most glad that we put so many “meals” into the freezer last summer to eat during the winter. I think our quantities worked out pretty well since we have plowed through (haha) all of our prepared eggplant slices that were breaded and frozen. These we often ate on hamburger buns with our home-made mustard, pickles and ketchup…they made the best veggie burgers!  We are still working our way through the frozen green beans and peppers but the frozen carrots are long gone. We are down to nearly the last of the roasted vegetables which I froze to use with our rich tomato pasta sauce. We are still enjoying our fresh potatoes, as well as the frozen strawberries with our morning cereal and yogurt, but are saving the last bag of precious blueberries for next week when Kate and Peter will visit the farm.

First Day of Spring

It is always confusing to say that March 20th is the first day of spring when March 21st gets a lot of press under that same title but of course the difference is that March 21st is the first FULL day of spring. We are so desperate for Spring to arrive around here that we welcomed today and the mild spring weather that went along with it.  Despite the light frost that covered the ground early this morning, we had a sunny, breezy, 70 degree day which was perfect for our outdoor activities. Our hawks have been watching all the activity as well. Here is a young one, getting the lay of the land. IMG_0974

We’ve been watching carefully for a day just like this one to spray the orchard with a dormant oil mixture. They say if you are only going to spray your orchard with one item, this would be the most important one to apply since it suppresses insect infestation by smothering the overwintering adult insects and the eggs they’ve laid. It is considered a natural product which is why we use it and although applying it doesn’t insure we won’t have insects, we should be ahead of the game when it comes to controlling red mites and scale. The reason it is called dormant oil is because you spray it when the trees are still in a dormant stage, meaning the buds have not burst out with visible new growth. The timing is tricky because you also need to apply it when it won’t rain or freeze for 24 hours after spraying but if done too late, it will kill the new growth.  So despite the light breeze, today was the chosen day to spray. I had a bit of the oil leftover from last year’s spraying but needed more and had some difficulty finding it locally at first. IMG_5453

Its not hard to mix up a sprayer full and get started. The worst part about this today was the blow back in my face as I circled the tree with my spray canister. It didn’t take long to figure out that jabbering to Dave while on the east side of the tree was a mistake; a mouthful of the oily mess was a quick lesson but the need to spray on that side was still necessary so I managed to shield my face while still watching where the spray was going. Not unlike the day of pruning, this is a once a year chore that is fun because it is finished in short order but has  a big impact on the success of the orchard.IMG_5457

The other feature of the farm that will soon have great impact for the orchard is the coming of the bee hives. J&H, our bee mentors, dropped off materials to build a nice, large hive stand last week and they came over late Saturday afternoon to put it in place. It could hold 5 hives, but we will most likely be starting out with 3 this year. J is doing a split on some of his hives to accommodate these new ones so we will see how many are actually going to arrive after he does the split. Here is the stand, (installed on the south side – just inside the fence line), ready and waiting for the hives. More on the bees and hive placement details after they arrive!IMG_5467

Since the last post when the new fencing went up, we worked hard on getting the deer fencing in place and the wire installed. We broke this into several days worth of chores since the weather was chilly and the hands need to be bare to work with the wire. IMG_5376

Dave was able to continue to remove the old steel fence posts. This time there were eleven posts to remove, some harder to get out than others so the tractor became an important aid in the process. We wanted to get this finished before the bees arrive since they probably wouldn’t take kindly to their new digs if we were making a commotion while they were trying to settle in. IMG_0715.JPG
These efforts produced another pile of posts and old, rotting rail road ties.IMG_5425Which Dave has been cutting up into reasonable sizes…IMG_5464In order to haul them away in the truck to the recycling center. The last truck load was between 1,000 – 2,000 lbs of concrete which was pulled from the fence post holes and dropped at a construction dumping spot. These were good winter chores that make us feel as if we are making progress with the land. photo

We have also been working in the front around the area of the new trident maples. Our arborist, Jon, is helping us to reset the mowing stones which were completely buried beneath the overgrowth of the old tree beds and are now nicely exposed and re-aligned. Boy, what an improvement! Can you spot the new tree guards? Lets hope they keep the deer from scratching away at the trunks!IMG_0988


We are also getting his help with forming new beds with stone edging behind the terrace wall in back. As soon as the weather allows, these beds will be planted with a couple of layers of green matter with crepe myrtles being the main component. IMG_5469

Finally, a shout out to our daughter, Kate, who celebrated her 30th birthday yesterday! She and Jason celebrated with cousins Sarah and Henry over a cozy dinner that Kate cooked for all. Happy Birthday to the bride to be!