Clean up: west fence line and maple grove

Today turned out to be too cold and damp to do the mowing between the trees I cleared last year, that I hoped to do today. I thought I might be able to at least use my reciprocating saw to cut some of the smaller stumps of trees I took down last year to ground level, so I could mow over them. In the end, I decided it was just too damp to drag out the extension cords and use electric tools.

Instead, I worked on an area I left partly unfinished last year; a double row of elms leading to the garden gate at the west fence line.

Here is how it looked before I started.

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Just a bit more…

I wasn’t able to get back to working on getting the tire planter out (I can wiggle it a bit more, though! 😀 ), but yesterday evening I decided to deadhead the spirea by the storage house.

I also cut them back from the grapes they were starting to encroach on again.

As I was doing that, I noticed some dead branches and figured I may as well take them out, too.

And those other ones.

Oh, and there are a few more…

Just a bit more…

The next thing I knew…

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Unexpected Clean Up: pruning apple tree losses

Yesterday, I heard some odd meowing noises out my window, so I went to check it out.

I walked right by one of the apple trees by the old kitchen garden, completely missing it was the source of the meowing!

The base of this tree is one of the cats’ favorite rolling-in-the-dirt places. When I first spotted them, though, he was mostly hidden behind the tree. It was his Aunty Beep Beep that had me laughing. It looked like a pair of eyes was watching me from the ground!

Then she rolled around some more; the epitome of grace. Not. 😀

Since I was there anyhow, I stopped to take a good look at this apple tree.

You can see one branch is hanging quite low, weighted down by apples as they get bitter.

Much if it, however, did not survive the winter. It wasn’t doing well last year, and I guess that polar vortex that kept hitting us was too much for parts of it.

As you can see from its base, it has been cut back a few times. I don’t think there’s anything left of the original graft. The two main trunks that you see in the above picture seemed to be dead. With living and dead branches so entwined together, it was really hard to tell where one branch started another began. I couldn’t tell if they were completely dead, or if they still had a live branch or two on them.

Either way, down they came.

Not a living thing on either of them.

I cut them at about 3 feet above ground, with the intention of cutting the remains, further down. Instead, I decided to make use of them.

I took the branch that was hanging down the most and braced it against one of the remaining trunks. It had a secondary branch that immediately began leaning over in the other direction, so I used rope and the remaining trunk pieces to support them. If they survive, with this support, they will continue to grow stronger, upwards.

This is not a healthy tree, however, so we shall see.

This is how it looks now.

It’s hard to tell, with the maple grove in the background, and with the dead wood gone, there’s surprisingly little left. Basically, they’re just suckers that have survived while the rest of the tree has slowly died.

After finishing with this one, I turned to another apple tree next to it.

This tree had quite a bit pruned away, but also had signs of a fungal disease.

The branches that had the most signs of disease seem to have died.

Once again, with how twisted the branches were around each other, it was hard to see how much of any particular main branch was dead.

I ended up taking out three major branches.

One of them did have a still-living off shoot, but…

The part of it closest to the main branch is blackened. It almost looked burned.

One of the dead branches I cut out was so intertwined with others, it was really hard to pull out of the tree, with several dead branches breaking off and staying stuck among the living.

After cleaning it out, one of the living branches ended up hanging down almost to the ground. It turns out to have been supported by one of the dead sections. I could have mucked about to give it support, but in the end decided it would be better for the tree to take that weight off completely.

There was a third apple tree, growing between the plums, with a dead piece I cut off as well, though I neglected to take photos of that one.

I haven’t done much beyond maintaining what I did in this area last year, trying to focus on the East yard and the spruce grove, instead. Even so, I can see how the trees that seemed the weakest last year are either struggling even more this year, or have died outright. The row of apple trees to the north of the spruce grove is no exception. I don’t think we’ll be getting many apples this year. Not just in quantity, but they bloomed so late, it’s unlikely they’ll have time to ripen before the cold sets in. One that had been pruned back the summer before we arrived had started to recover fairly well, but not enough to survive this past winter. Others in that row have lost quite a few branches. Those, I think I’ll leave pruning back until next spring or so.

Something we will have to keep in mind as we plant more food trees: either they will be varieties hardy enough for our bitter winters, or we will have to ensure they get extra protection wrapped around them in the fall.

The Re-Farmer

Work done, things found and kitten fix

While doing my rounds yesterday evening, I decided to prune away the dead parts of the mock orange at the clothes line platform.

It did so well last year, it’s a shame so much of it died over the winter. At the same time, I was happy to see the tiniest of leaf buds struggling to emerge from some main branches. I pruned all the dead stuff off and cleared out some Virginia Creeper that was trying to re-establish itself. That’s a wheel barrow full, right there. Now that it’s all open and pruned, I’m thinking it will recover quite well.

While hauling this away, I also started picking up branches in the West yard that had come down in the storms. I kept finding more and more branches – most were just small enough to be hidden by the grass, but still be enough that I wouldn’t want to hit them with the mower! I probably cleared another 2 wheelbarrows worth from the West lawn, including the section behind the storage house. I found more in the maple grove. I’m glad I was able to mow as much as I did, as it made it easier to find the fallen branches. Branches that had fallen into the areas I still need to get to with the weed trimmer were almost completely hidden! I’m also glad I brought my pruners with me, because I ended up cutting away spirea and caragana that was trying to reclaim the spaces between the lilacs, plum and apple trees again. It’s going to be a constant battle to keep those under control!

Then I checked on the transplanted raspberries and found a surprise.

A single asparagus spear!

It wasn’t there a few days ago. It wasn’t there last year.

It may be that, after having cleared away the weeds and mulching the area, a hidden root was finally able to grow.

Of course, I did have to go into the sun room to get my pruning sheers, and managed to get this adorable picture.

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Things have been rather hectic the past couple of days, to the point that I even missed yesterday’s critter of the day photo – I ended up driving my mother to the emergency and staying with her until she got the all clear to go home. She is fine, but she was scared about some chest pains. They never found what caused the pains, but once again, her heart is checking out just fine. They couldn’t identify what was causing the pains, so she had to go a regular doctor to start that process. :-/

In the middle of this, the girls took down a branch from the Chinese Elm in front of the kitchen window. The outside cats are going to miss their last easy access to the roof!

Getting it down took some doing. While one person used the extended pruning saw, the other pulled on a rope that was slung around the branch. This way, when the branch finally fell, it wouldn’t land on the roof, but get pulled away.

It worked. It landed right on my mother’s fancy lilac bush, but when I checked it later, there wasn’t a single broken branch on it! Very flexible branches!

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Clean up: spruce grove fence line, more progress, part one

The chilly weather we’ve had for the past few days has really got me wanting to finish this fence line along the spruce grove!  As long as I can clear to the driveway gate before winter, anything else is gravy! 🙂

I took a whole bunch of photos, so I’m splitting them into two posts again.  Here is the first section I worked on.  With how I was finding things, I decided to go with before, during and after photos.

This is where I left off, last time.  I was able to leave the oaks, just pruning them a bit, for transplanting next year.  They are really leaning towards the fence, where they would have been getting the most light, but once they are planted somewhere more open, they should start growing straight again.

Over the years, I could see that someone had trimmed branches back from the fence line.  A lot of those have died, but are high enough and short enough that I will leave them for now.  I pruned the undergrowth only as much as I needed to, to clear the fence and access things.

That meant cutting away some of the things growing in the juniper, as well as some of the dead juniper branches.

The ground cover (I am not 100% certain that they are juniper, but that’s what I’m calling them for now) stayed as well.  I had to walk all over them, but they can handle it.  They did make working in the area more treacherous, though!

I know these have been growing here for a long time, but seeing this stem really shows just how long.


It takes a lot of years for these to get such thick stems!

Clearing this first section revealed enough that I took before and after photos of the next section, too.  Which will be in my next post. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Clean up: spruce grove fence line, part 1

I was able to get back to working on the fence line of the spruce grove today.  I got quite a bit of progress, so I’m splitting the before and after photos into several posts.

I also came back to some updates about my mother, and am happy to hear her surgery went well and she is recovering quite nicely.  She is in good hands, too. 🙂

Here is the progress I got done in the first section.  For these pictures, I propped my phone up on a fence post near where I left off last time.

To the right of the fence line, I’d already done some work clearing things around the trees, but not so much the fence itself.

I decided to clear the trees growing on the road side of the fence.  One advantage of having barbed wire fence.  It’s easy to get through.  Handy for work like this, but not very secure.

I discovered something while clearing the trees on the road side of the fence.

Someone had tried to do this before.


Many of the saplings were like this; new growth out of the remains of an older little stump.  None of the stumps were cut, though.  From the jagged edges, I wonder if someone just broke them?

The pile at the bottom of the tree in the after photo is what I tossed over the fence while clearing on the road side.

Almost all of this was done using pruning sheers.  Which is much more time consuming! A lot of what I was clearing was wild roses, and my goodness, they are a pain!  Literally!  Those skinny little thorns like to slide right through the rubber palms of my gloves.  Then, when I try to toss them onto the pile, they stick to the gloves, instead.

I used the extended pruning saw to take down some of the low hanging dead branches as well, though I am not doing this as thoroughly as I did previously.  I can come back to do the rest later.  I just want to focus on getting that fence clear as quickly as I can, while the weather is good.

Now to process the next set of pictures. 😀

The Re-Farmer

Clean up: Spruce grove perimeter, reaching the fence!

It’s been a while, but today I was able to continue working on the perimeter of the spruce grove.  I started off at the little maple I had stopped at, last time, and made it to the fence line. 😀

The last time I went through the area, looking ahead to what needed to be done, it was still green.  The leaves are completely yellow, now!

Here are the before and after pictures. (click on the images to see them better)

The cluster of trees is made of up 3 poplars and 2 spruces.  One of the poplars has lost its top, and I’m pretty sure that’s what’s lying on the ground near the little dead spruces I took out.  There is some dogwood at the bottom of this group of trees that I cleaned up a bit, but otherwise left to grow.  It’s one of those things that will spread quite handily, given the opportunity.

The next section is an open, mossy area.  I’ve been using it to turn around with the riding mower.

Most of the clean up here involved pruning shears instead of saws.

Once that was done, I was at the fence line and had to make some decisions.  How far to the north did I want to go?

In the end, I decided I needed to at least clear out a dead tree that had fallen on the fence, so I could access it for repair.

Though the dead tree was a big poplar, the remains of two other trees had also fallen on it.

The poplar itself was growing on the outside of the fence line.  There are a few larger trees on the outside that I will have to leave, but I will be taking out any smaller trees on that side, as soon as I am able.  I’m not sure about the bylaws in regards to municipal land along the roads, as far as who is responsible for keeping it clear, but I don’t want it to become overgrown with trees like it has on the other side of our gate.

I didn’t do much more in this area, as I want to focus in the other direction, so this section is unfinished.  There are a couple of trees that will be taken out, because they are too close to the fence line.  Otherwise, it’s mostly undergrowth that will need clearing and cleaning.  There seems to be some juniper in there that I intend to leave.

Moving southward, now.

There are some pretty massive spruces here!  There isn’t really a lot that needs doing with the trees themselves; a few low hanging branches and dead branches to clear out.  I could see that, at some point – long ago – someone had gone through and cleared the lower branches, so they were already pretty good.  Again, I spent more time with the pruning shears!  There are quite a few poplar on the outside of the fence that I will have to go back to, later.

If you look in the before picture, at the big spruce to the left of centre, you can almost see a potential problem.  The top of this tree is broken off, and its top is still there, hanging upside down.  I have no idea how long it’s been like this, but at some point, it’s going to fall.  Ideally, we’d get it down before it falls on its own and potentially damages something, but for now, it will have to wait.

It’s starting to open up quite nicely.

Though my priority is clearing the fence line, so it can be accessed and repaired as needed, I might have to clear out some of the dead wood further into the grove.  There is a large spruce that has come down in the area that I am leaving for next year, but I might have to cut away at least some of the branches, just so I can drag out some of the stuff I know I will be dealing with, further down.

And that is my progress for today!  It might be another few days before I can work on it again, so I’m glad I was able to at least get this little corner done.

The Re-Farmer

Clean up: spruce grove perimeter, start

I got a few hours work on the spruce grove this morning/afternoon, and plan to head out again, but here’s progress so far!

I’ve started at the north west corner, where the stone cross is.

This is more or less what we see out of our living room window.  I went farther into the underbrush than I intend to, elsewhere.  This is part of the reason why.

That’s the top of the dead tree we watched come down in a storm this past winter.  The top alone is bigger than some of the dead trees I’ve taken down!

Here’s another view of the corner.

The topsoil here is decades of decayed spruce needles, so it’s quite loose.  This meant a lot of the spirea I cleared out could be pulled right out of the ground.  Every  now and then, I’d find myself yanking out anywhere from 2 – 8 feet of rhizome!

After this, I started working my way down the north side of the trees.

After clearing the lower hanging branches from the first couple of trees, I found a whole crop of little dead spruces that I cleared out.

Of course, there is always going to be some unusual finds!

The first was what I think is the top of an oil drum that was half buried in the needles at the base of a dead spruce.  I pulled it out, then took the photo of it right where I found it.

Then, as I was finishing up for the afternoon and bringing the wheel barrow over, I found the glass jar.

I expected it to be broken, but when I pulled it out, it was fine.

I have to say how much I appreciate my girls.  While I was working in this, I left what I cut or pulled out, off to the side.  My older daughter came out and started hauling it away for me – a much bigger job than the clean up!  My younger daughter didn’t have a shift today, and between the two of them, they took care of the household stuff, like cooking, washing dishes, laundry, etc., freeing me up to do the yard work.

We’ve started a new wood pile outside the yard for this.  It’s kinda in the middle of the outer yard, between house and barn.  This pile shouldn’t need to be moved, when we are ready to burn it.


We do plan to rent a chipper, but there’s only so much we can chip!  Plus, even the biggest ones only do up to 4 inches in diameter.

It’s going to be much bigger, before I’m done!

Now, back to see how much I can get done, before it gets too dark. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Clean up; west fence area trees

We had another cooler day today; after this it’s supposed to heat up again, so I took advantage of it to continue in the west yard trees.  I am so close to being finished here (I’ve decided not to do the rest of the fence line itself for now), I’m getting excited, because it means I can finally move on to the spruce grove perimeter. 😀  I’d like to get as much as I can done there, before I have to stop for the year.

The first thing I did was finally take down the two dead trees by the smaller willow. (The before and after pictures are taken from opposite directions)

The one that was about midway between the two willows was a bit of a job.  It was tall enough, and leaning enough, that it was well into the branches of the big willow.  Which means that, after I cut the trunk, the base just swung over to the big willow, and there it hung.  It did not want to come down!

The wood from these trees is going to be kept for the fire pit.

The tall stumps are being left until we get a full size chainsaw.

On to the next area…

There’s not a lot of visible difference here, since I worked in this area yesterday.  I took down the dead half of the maple trees.  After that, most of what I did was take down dead branches from above, except from the one mostly dead spruce that will be taken down entirely.

Next areas; the last of those rows of spruces!

Also, I found a third little tamarack hiding in them.

It really looked like a spindly, dead spruce.  I honestly probably should have taken it out, but I really want to keep the tamarack. I also should probably have thinned the spruces out more, too, because of how close together they are, but they look strong and healthy enough to make it.  So for now, they will stay.  Next year, perhaps, we can transplant the tamarack, instead.

After this, I finally got to working among the beeches.

The before picture, I’d taken yesterday.  If you look along the beeches, you can see a single trunk, slightly out of line.

It turned out not to be a trunk at all.  It was a branch that had fallen straight, and was standing there, held up by the other branches!  You can even see the broken bit it had come from.

I’ve been finding quite a lot of dead branches held up by others.  One I pulled down earlier and moved out today, filled the wheelbarrow all on its own!

In the northernmost row, I found another Colorado Blue spruce, with an elm tree growing right next to it.  Well.  Two elms, really, right up against each other.

The spruce was planted deliberately; the elm would not have been.  Because of how big a Colorado Blue can potentially get, I took out the elm and some small maples near it as well.  I probably should have taken out the maple to the right of the foreground in the after photo too, but it seems to be doing okay.  We’ll see how the spruce survives.

Here’s another view of the rows.


By this point, I didn’t really have the energy to keep breaking down the cut pieces and hauling them out of the yard, or dragging out entire trees.  I opened the gate at this end, so I wouldn’t be weaving through trees to the gate by the fire pit, then around the pile.  Instead, I was pushing my way through really tall grass, and wearing down a path.  As I was taking down bigger and bigger dead branches, and thinning out more trees, I just started piling it all in the space that had been plowed.  I will drag it out another day.

The row of trees closest to the beeches appears to be all crab apple trees.  Most have no apples, and the one that does, has almost none on it.  This is not a good place to plant fruit trees. :-/

Moving along the rows…

This area is not complete, though I might not do much more than this, this year.  The elms in the north row needed to be thinned out; one was right up against another, and it turned out to be dead.  The larger maple to the right in the photo will also be thinned down.  The side branches would have been suckers that never got pruned back when they should have.  The main trunk in the middle is suffering for it.  I wasn’t able to get all the dead branches out of it, and won’t be able to reach a lot of them until the side trunks are cleared out.

Once that is done, it will allow more light to reach the apple trees, too.

Speaking of which…

This is where I was working when I stopped to take a phone call.  Which was well timed.  I was at the point of telling myself it was really time to stop for the day, but I kept doing just a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit…  and before I knew it, an hour had passed. 😀

I don’t know that I’ll be able to work in here again over the next few days, but when I do get back to it, I will continue thinning the crab apple trees out.  There is a big one at the end, with large branches reaching towards the power pole.  That part of it is covered with apples (it looks like another of the ornamental apples trees, they are so tiny), but only where the morning sun touches those leaning branches.  The rest of the tree is struggling, with few leaves and many dead branches.  It’s all just too crowded in there, with elm and maple tangled around each other in the canopy, blocking the light for most of the day.

The eastern end of this area of trees is where they are growing under the power line, and where the arborist will be trimming some of them back.  They can do the tall stuff.  I will do the short stuff! 🙂

When I came out after my phone call to get the last after pictures, I got a couple of others of interest.

Last month, I decided to take down a small elm tree because it was growing directly under the power lines.  As I have been doing in many other places, I left a tall stump to go back to later.  You can see it here, next to the spruce tree I’d pruned the lower branches from.


This is what it looks like, now.


Maples and elms are very resilient trees.  You can cut them back like this, and they will start growing back!

I could leave it to grow, and just keep pruning it short so it will never reach the power lines.

I don’t know if that’s a good idea, though.

A decision I can make another time.  For now, I will leave it and see how it does.

Later, while visiting Beep Beep and her kittens by the old garden shed, I saw something I’ve been finding in a number of places around the yard.


A whole bunch of holes, dug into the ground.

I’ve found some in the open area between rows of trees behind the storage house.  Now that I’ve cleared up so much of the trees, I’m starting to find them there, too.  I am guessing it’s a small animal digging up insects or grubs?  Some of the holes are quite deep.

Anyone know what might be making these holes?

The Re-Farmer