31 March 2007

200/201 = 99.5%

I checked on the trees. We lost one. I'm guessing that a gopher was responsible as there is no evidence that the tree ever existed. There is just a blank square of scalped earth with no tree.

I watched a gopher eat a flower last year. The flower kept getting shorter and then just disappeared into the earth. I felt like I was viewing a time-lapsed video sped up and played backwards.

Corinne (& Mike)

28 March 2007

Elk on Camera

I guess we didn't have to wait until next year to get some elk photos after all... we ran across the herd again on our drive home from work, and we happened to have a camera in the back seat. So we turned around and drove back to the spot along the road where they were eating. They seemed pretty content to continue lounging in the small clearing by the side of the road, until of course we stopped the car to take photos. At that point, most ran back into the woods, with one left behind as a lookout.

The photos aren't terribly good; we were trying to do take photos quickly, and the light apparently was dimmer than we thought. But at least we have proof!

- Mike (& Corinne)

25 March 2007

Planting 201 Ponderosas

A week ago we spent 7 hours over two days preparing part of meadow for our first tree-planting experiment. Now the trees have arrived, and the next step was to put them into the ground.
The weather was perfect for planting - perfect for the trees, that is. The temperature was in the 50s, but most importantly, it was overcast and drizzling all afternoon. The roots on young tree seedlings can dry out very quickly if exposed to sun, heat or dry air, and this day was lacking in all three.

The seedlings we bought were probably 2 years old. Ordered from a local nursery, our trees were stored in a cold storage trailer in Bingen until we were ready to plant. So Corinne drove in to town, picked up the trees, and we were on our way.

There's no magic to planting trees: make a hole deep enough so that there is enough room for the roots without bending them; place the tree in the hole so that the right amount of the stem is exposed (you can usually see where the original soil line was); then fill the hole back up and move on to the next tree.

We borrowed yet another tool from our friends at Underwood Conservation District: a hoedad. A cross between a pick axes and a hoe, the hoedad is specifically designed to make deep, narrow holes in which to quickly plant seedlings. Unfortunately, the only hoedad that UCD had to loan us was a bit short for our task, so each hole took 4-5 swings before the hole was suitably sized.

I would make the hole, then Corinne would follow behind me to plant the tree and replace the soil. We didn't get started until ~4pm on Saturday, and we just managed to finish planting all 201 trees before we lost light, at about 7:30pm. It works out to about 1 minute per tree, which I think is pretty good for our first attempt. (Of course, that doesn't include the site preparation time, which actually took longer.)

Site preparation: 7 hours
Planting: 3.5 hours
Total trees planted: 201
Total area planted: ~1/2 acre
Total cost: $86

So far, so good: after 24 hours in the ground, we have 100% survival rate. Between gophers, deer, elk and other assorted wildlife, we'll see how long that lasts.

- Mike (& Corinne)

20 March 2007

Presidential Foods

In spite of all of our forestry activities, we did take a few minutes to celebrate the fact that I've lived another year. Birthdays are nothing if not an excuse to eat whatever food you want. So now that I have celebrated my Presidential birthday, I give you a rundown of this year's celebratory foods:

  • Home-ground beef chuck hamburgers, with par-cooked bacon ground into the meat, grilled over charcoal. (Leif gets the credit for the bacon-in-the-meat idea)
  • Chocolate sunken "lava" cakes w/bitter orange ice cream
  • Chocolate chip cookies (simple but still the best!)
  • Baked, breaded lemon-caper chicken
  • Banana cake w/chocolate sour cream frosting

Corinne made all of the desserts, and they were all quite delicious. We also had a small gathering at The Logs where we played pool (I was beaten by a 9-year old!) and enjoyed all things fried. A good time was had by all.

- Mike (& Corinne)

18 March 2007

200 Scalps, 1 Dead Deer

Our entire property is under a "Forest Stewardship Plan". Our management plan has a 10 year outlook and delineates the things we plan to do during that 10 years to maintain and improve our forest land. We agree that the ultimate goal of managing our forest is commercial timber harvest; in return, the county taxes our property at the lowest available tax rate, with the idea being that they'll make their money back with excise taxes on the timber when it is sold.

When we purchased the property last January, we were required to submit a management plan to the county. So we took the plan that the Clausens had last written, did some routine updating (average tree diameters and ages, etc.), and submitted this plan. (Read the full story in this post.) And the county promptly rejected it.

Huh? This was a plan that was perfectly acceptable when the Clausens submitted it, and nothing significant in the plan had changed. So what was different? Their objection: not enough of our property was forested.

From Washington RCW 84.33.035:

"Forest land" is synonymous with "designated forest land" and means any parcel of land that is twenty or more acres or multiple parcels of land that are contiguous and total twenty or more acres that is or are devoted primarily to growing and harvesting timber. Designated forest land means the land only and does not include a residential homesite. The term includes land used for incidental uses that are compatible with the growing and harvesting of timber but no more than ten percent of the land may be used for such incidental uses. It also includes the land on which appurtenances necessary for the production, preparation, or sale of the timber products exist in conjunction with land producing these products.

This law hasn't changed recently, so it appears that the only difference between our submission and the Clausens is enforcement of that law. Anyway, the long story short is that we have three years to plant our southern meadow in trees or decide to take that portion of the property out of our management plan (and pay the associated back taxes on it.)

This year we decided to do an experiment in forestry. The biggest cost is not in the trees, it's definitely in the labor. For this first year, we decided that we would do all of the preparation and planting ourselves. So we ordered a small number of Ponderosa Pine seedlings - 200, to be exact - from our friends at the Underwood Conservation District, at a total cost of $80. We borrowed a few of their tools and headed out into our meadow to do some site preparation. Grasses are one of the biggest enemies of young trees; grasses can drink all of the water that falls on an area before that water can get to the tree roots. So the key pre-planting step is to "scalp" the grass off of the ground around the area where you plan to plant a seedling. Then repeat 199 more times.

The weather was great for working outside, so we took our time. We opted for a "pseudo-random" planting of about 8-12 feet spacing, rather than more of the exacting rows in which our current trees are planted. In all, it took us about 5 hours over 2 days to scalp the grass from 200 circles, including the time we spent relaxing on the ground. Estimating that each scalped section is a 2.5' square, we scalped over 1200 sq ft of ground. We plan to pick up and plant the trees next weekend.

We'll now leave you with some shots of the remains of a deer. We first encountered this skeleton last November when it was considerably more "fresh" (i.e. not yet entirely a skeleton), but he has since been picked clean. Many of the other bones - leg, vertebrae - are still in the field as well.

- Mike (& Corinne)

12 March 2007

Deer! No, Elk - Lots of Elk!

Watching out for animals on our drive back and forth from home is a requirement. There is no question in my mind that the wildlife outnumber the people; we are definitely in their territory and not the other way around. With deer being the most frequently sighted along the road, I was not surprised when I heard:

shouted from the passenger seat last evening. But it was quickly followed by:
No, Elk - lots of Elk!
It's quite interesting watching the wildlife change with the seasons. During the winter all of the animals shift down in elevation; the deer which would normally hang out at our house (in our garden) migrate down the mountain towards the river, in order to find some ground not covered in snow. So the elk, of course, move down into our area.

While we've seen elk before, in the past they have been off in the distance, or covered by the dark of night; this time they were right in front of our car, crossing the road. Let me tell you: they are some big animals, at somewhere between 500-700 pounds. (For a reminder of what they can do, see our Mending Fences post.)

Anyway, back to the story. As we approached the crossing herd, the animals that had already crossed the road quickly continued into the woods, and the ones that hadn't yet crossed TURNED AROUND and went back into the woods. And that's the moment that I knew elk were significantly smarter than deer.

Now that the warm weather is returning, that may be our last elk sighting as they move back up Mt Adams to the colder weather. One of these days we'll have our camera with us and at the ready when we spot them. Maybe next year.

- Mike (& Corinne)

11 March 2007

Preparing for Spring

Spring has spring, or at least that's what it feels like this weekend. The temperatures climbed into the 60s this week, and most of the snow surrounding the house has melted. While we're excited for spring to arrive - as long as we still have the option to drive to Mt Hood for some snowboarding! - the snow is no longer around to cover up the multitude of tasks spring has waiting for us.

The first glaring task: raking leaves. We kinda got a bit lazy last fall, and so we never did rake the leaves from any of the areas around the house. Now that the snow has melted, this was the perfect opportunity to clean up before the grass is stunted. We only managed to get about a third finished in the three or so hours before we exhausted ourselves, but it's a good start. The leaves we did clean up went straight into the garden; some will be matted down along the paths between the beds, and others will be turned in a few weeks before planting.

All I can say is: thank goodness most of our trees are evergreens.

It's nice to be able to spend time outside after winter, to smell the scents of the new season and enjoy the cool breezes and warm sun. It's a transition period, with plenty of signs of the seasons past and what is to come.

To the left, the lone hazelnut tree in our orchard holds on to its catkins produced in the fall; it doesn't have a mate, so unfortunately doesn't produce any nuts.

And on the right, the first signs of the bulbs we planted begin to poke through soil and open their petals. We originally though this was a cluster of muscari (grape hyacinth), but now that it has opened more it looks like something else.

- Mike (& Corinne)

03 March 2007

The Fiddle Concert

On a recent trip to my local coffee shop (actually, my "preferred Mid-Columbia Washington-side coffee shop", since there are of course many in this area), I noticed a flyer on the wall for a "fiddle workshop and concert" in Hood River. As soon as I read the information, I knew who the organizer was: Denise, our superstar realtor and local business-woman. She not only runs her own realtor business, but she also publishes Gorge Living magazine and runs the Oak Street Hotel, a small boutique hotel in Hood River. A few years ago, her son started taking fiddle lessons, so Denise took up fiddle as well. (Astute readers may even remember that we got a performance in our own home.) They've been attending workshops and traveling to concerts ever since, and we were sure that this was her doing.

We don't get many fiddle concerts in Hood River, and since we enjoy fiddle more than your average person we figured we had to go. April Verch plays in the Ottawa Valley fiddle style, which I'm sure you're all familiar with. Yeah, we didn't know Ottawa was in a valley, either. She and her 3 piece band put on a great show, and it was a fun night out. Anybody who plays fiddle like that, and can also step dance, and then can top it all off by doing BOTH at the same time, is okay in our book.

- Mike (& Corinne)