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January 2009

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A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
Thomas Jefferson

Week starting 5 April 2009

#### Week of 5 April * Greenhouse cleanup & startup * Pond Day * Yard Chores * Rain

Week of 12 April

Week of 19 April

Week of 26 April

1 April

Report of Meeting with Local Power Generating Company

Background: A mile and a half to the north of our farm is the current boundary of the mine that supplies coal to the LPGC's generating station. The mine is a very large scale industrial operation creating assorted dusts, stinks, and noises.

The power plant is just west of the mine, about five miles as the raven flies from my house. Coal has to be hauled only a few miles.

Last week Laura and I received an invitation to participate in one of the meetings that the LPGC to involve the community in its decision making. In general the community cannot change what they do. Power has to be made somewhere, and as long as it's coal, some people are going to be affected. However community involvement can affect how they do certain things.

These meetings are mostly to inform us of what's in the works, but also to to find out what our concerns are about the process. The LPGC gets kudos for this.

L and I have been invited to two of these. Since each one has one company representative for every 3-4 community members it is expensive for them to put these on. Both sessions have had workgroup segments where a few community members could meet with one or two reps and get everyone's issues addressed. These sessions have been good, although it's too soon to tell if anything will actually come of them.

Mine expansion.

This was the bad news. Nice present for April Fool's Day. The current mine is 28 sections (square miles) of land. A good chunk of this has been mined already. At the current rate of use, the coal under this land will be used up in another 15 years. The process of mining coal responsibly is not trivial.

Whew! To give the Large Power Company and the Larger Mining Company credit, they've done a pretty good job. I can fuss about how boring the reclaimed land looks, but it grows decent crops.

Anyway, the company is starting the process to secure a supply of coal that will take the power plant to 2050. For this, they want to add another 16 sections of land to the mine permit area. This will bring the edge of the permit area 800 yards north of my house.

Worse than that, they are adding a mile wide strip to the northeast. This will put me in the wind cone from the mine, with its dust, and dirt.

Some of my neighbors at the meeting are in the present wind cone from the mine. They do not have nice things to say about the constant dirt.

I'm apprehensive about this on several fronts:

A tree farm has a long crop cycle. 3-4 years for poplars, willows and larch; 5-6 years for some pines; 7-10 years for slow spruce, and even longer for slow growing trees such as bristlecone pine.

I'm now starting to sell the first trees I planted 5 years ago. And currently I do all my growing in pots. Moving my present operation is a lot of work, but it's not impossible. I'm looking at putting some of my larger potted trees out in the field to get big enough to interest landscape contractors. If I do this, then moving the tree farm five years from now will be a lot harder. Fifteen years from now if I have fifty thousand caliper trees worth a couple hundred dollars each, it will be very expensive for the LPGC. Finding similar land the same distance from my markets will also be expensive.

Frankly, I don't want to have to rebuild my infra-structure from scratch 10 years from now, or whenever they decide that the time is right to buy me out.

Stay tuned...

First Geese

3 April

Geese & Ravens

Yesterday after supper I went out to the willow thicket to take a look at pussy willows. While I was working there, I heard honks.
Looking around I spied a couple of geese flying south. Missed that batch with the camera (which I had with me for inventory purposes.) But a couple minutes later, I caught a small wing of them.

I don't know if these are true migrating geese or if they are ones that overwinter on the cooling pond at Epcor.

A while later Abby, our border collie gets in a real tizwaz. I listened, trying to figure out if she was hearing something unusual. Then laughed. The ravens that live in a nest across the road were back, and fussing.

Abby is normally a pretty level headed dog, but something about ravens pushes her buttons. They are nearly as smart as she is, I think, and there has been some teasing.

Pussy Willows

Two years ago, I marked 15 willows in big willow patch, marking them for have better than average catkins. Last year I marked another batch. This year I went out. Some of the marked ones have few catkins. Some unmarked ones are excellent. I wonder if they are like apples, with good and bad years, or if there is enough variation in season that some just aren't ready yet.

I know that last fall I saw some willows blooming in late October. Maybe they are just confused.

If it's a matter of timeing, then by selecting the proper specimens to clone I could have an extended season of superior pussy willows for the floral trade.

4 April

Land anxiety.

This is going to be a common headline until we know what's up with Epcor.

Spent a fair amount of time the last two days looking for possible properties for when we need to move. It won't be easy. I've contacted a broker in Stony Plain, and one in Thorsby. I've given them the following requirements.

Almanac re-organization.

Redid the Almanac so it reads frontwards. I'm writing more now, so I've broken it down to 1 week chunks instead of 1 month chunks.

Greenhouse -- such a mess

Last fall I was so tied up getting the trees put to bed, that I only emptied the green house, but didn't clean it up. The bins are peatmoss, vermiculite, sand, and the current mix. They are kept in here deliberately over the winter so they are close to being thawed when I start bedding plants in February or, if late like this year, March.

5 April

Greenhouse hot

Last night I plugged in the electric heater for the greenhouse, and started doing the cleanup. Today everything that has true leaves on it moves out of the dining room and into the green house. I've got 6 weeks to get these plants ready for the first farmer's market. Not sure if I'm going to make it.

My front yard -- Pines in winter

Maybe I'm jumping the gun just a bit. This part of the yard doesn't look much like spring.

Spring is wonderful, but it is such a time of mixed messages. In our front yard, the snow still blankets the ground a foot deep. Here it's protected from the wind. Anywhere there is an edge of trees, there is a strip of bare ground. Trees are brown, snow is white. The trees get warmer from the sun than the snow does, and warm the air around them.

East edge of my west field

Most of the field is still snow covered. But here at the edge, the trees catch the sun, and create a microclimate of warm. Here the ground is thawed and water is running.

Pond at beginning of thaw

Spring here and there. Melt under the slopes of the bowl start to collect in the middle.

Big Culvert is flowing

Culvert is flowing. But notice that the volume is small, and the water is clear. The suds are natural, caused by some of the same decay products that give soil its crumb. They don't last long. By the time the water has flowed 40 feet all the bubbles have popped.

6 April

Pond day!

The creek is running. I heard it as I went out to feed the dogs this morning. After lunch and a recharged caffeine circulation system, I took my camera and snapped these pictures of spring.

It's amazing. The picture of the empty pond is less than 24 hours ago.

On the north east edge of my back field, and running into my neighbour's field is a patch of peat. This may be the source of the 'tea' color in my water. Or it may just be tannins from all the vegetation on the field from the past three years.

Pond day is one of the first true signs of spring here at Sherwood's Forests. It has to be warm for several days in a row to melt enough snow to soak the ground enough that some can run off.

Pond Day

Once the creek starts flowing it doesn't take long for the pond to fill up and overflow.

Dahlias in the Greenhouse

7 April

More Greenhouse.

I've read about reducing temperature swings by adding mass to a greenhouse, so I ripped out all my shelving and started again. I scrounged every 5 gallon bucket I could find that had a lid. (I'll find a few more when the snow melts.) I also had three 50 gallon plastic barrels that originally held laundry soap, scrounged from the school I worked at. So now I have twenty-two 5 gallon pails and three 50 gallon drums of water in there. About a ton of water. And a big box fan circulating the air so that as the green house warms during the day, this water will pick up some of the heat.

As a side effect, I can now place 36 trays, all with good sun exposure, or at least better exposure than they get in my living room (my wife calls it the dining room, just because we eat there. Phht).

9 April

Yard chores

Today was a gloriously warm spring day. The snow is gone from the open fields, but still hangs on anywhere that doesn't get full sun.

Could NOT find my red basil seeds. Went out to the patch where they were and Lo! some were sprouting already. So I did 2 trays (72 plants) of transplants, and scrounged enough seed to start two more trays from seed. AND we have a delphinium poking its nose out.

Had to water again in the greenhouse. I've taken to putting a half inch in the bottom of each tray in addition to top watering. It's all gone in an hour. I suspect, however, I need to cut a bunch of wood scraps to shim the trays closer to level.

Noticed that the greenhouse is dying. One chunk of floor has broken. I think I will just take out the entire floor this fall. It would effectively give me more thermal mass, and another 4 inches of head room.

Picked up the junkyard in front of the greenhouse, so most of my pot collection is put away. Some of last fall's mess was frozen to the ground.

10 April

Rained last night. The world is filled with the cool damp soil smell.

16 April

Visitors coming.

My in-laws are celebrating their 60th wedding aniversary. As a total surprise to them, Laura phoned a cousin (who is the spitting image of my in-laws' 2nd son, Jayme). Hugh decided to fly over from England for the celebration. So far Laura and her siblings have kept all of this secret from Alastair and Beth. The current plan is to have Jayme and Hugh walk in together.

Meanwhile, this has been the impetus and the excuse for spring cleaning. So most of the house right now looks pretty good. But it does mean that I've been behind on this blog.


Dug up the delphinium bed, split the best, and repotted fragments. (One more thing for the farmer's markets.) I keep finding fragments. Originally I had 8 pots extra. I think I'm up to 19 now.


I've found out that delphiniums are regarded as short-lived plants. Hmm. My Pacific Giants last year were 8 feet tall, and lush. This is their fifth year. However, one clump was 18" across so this year I divided them.

Of course I get them all lifted out of the ground, and it starts to rain. Miserable ice water rain. Yuck. Delphies are tough, so I let them sit there, and I retreated to the warmth of a fire in the stove. That night the rain turned to snow. We had about an inch and a half of wet slop by morning. Continued thorugh the day, melting about as fast as it fell.

Snow is magic in the fall. By April it is just a nuisance. That said, however, an inch of water will do us good.

Yesterday the snow had melted, so I split and replanted the delphiniums. Ended up with 8 extras


Part of my survey project is to get pictures of the better willows. While many of my photos are shot with an eye toward beauty or compostion, these are documentary. The clothes pin, although hard to see against the sky, acts as an element of scale. And it doesn't fall, slide, or lose itself in the dead grass.

Willow Survey Redux

Spent another half day in the willow patch, marking and taking pictures of pussy willow. Between having at least three species in the patch, and the normal variability, I've got a fair variety of catkins. I've been taking pictures and tagging trees to see if I can track from year to year. Ideally I want the following:


Last week when I was cleaning up the delphinium bed, I found a raft of red basils sprouting. I transplanted two flats of them. They are all doing well. The dahlias are doing quite well. Some have 3 pairs of leaves and are 6" tall. A few of the marigolds have buds on them.

Alas, the dianthus are not doing well, but they aren't dying either. They get about half an inch tall, and fall over, but still remain green. Fusarium? May need to water with a fungicide.


Mist yard. Only part way done. I still have to tighten up the plumbing, attach the nozzle, and the timer.


Last year I had a tiny mist yard stuffed between two trees. I had pretty good success with it starting willows. But the wind plays games with the mist, and it's a bad spot for overwintering plants, because it is so close to the edge of the spruce forest that snow melts early there, and plants with developing roots can dry out.

So this year I'm making a 6 pipe by 30 foot mist yard. If I keep all the plants in about 3 feet from the edge I'll still have 12 feet by 24 feet that will get misted in all but the worst wind.

Week starting 19 April 2009

What a week!

I've spent an evening putting together a good wordy ad for Kijiji. Spent the 13 to keep it at the top of the list. I've been getting 3-4 phone calls or emails per day. Never have had an ad that worked so well. I've got the same ad on Craigslist, but it's not getting nearly the attention.

Alas many of the phone calls are for stuff I don't have, or don't have enough of. One contrator wanted 500 pussy willow and a thousand dogwood.
Lots of people want large trees. 6'-8'. One guy wanted fifty 15 foot trees for the edge of his yard as a privacy screen. I explained about small trees, but no, they wanted instant forest. Sigh.

Spent a half day getting the water system on again, because I was worried about my seeded plants drying out. Last week ended with balmy warm weather.

This week, I've had to supplement the electric heater in the greenhouse with a kerosene heater.

Spent some time in the willow patch cutting trees down to the ground to rejuvenate them. I'd like to selectively kill some of them, but I don't know how to do that.

Camera was on holiday this week. Whenever I thought about it the weather was crap, and right now wandering around outside with a non-waterproof camera when it's either raining or sleeting is not my idea of fun.

#### Week starting 26 April 2009

Monday: More thinning of the willow patch. The small chainsaw that my brother-in-law, Drew, gave me is turning into a boon. Had to pull about a million times to get it to start, but this is common in a saw that has been napping for a long time. And the chain oil filler cap is directly under the handle, which makes adding chain oil messy.

But that said, it's small, it's light, once warmed up it's easy to start. And for cutting out small brush it is easy to use. Definitely a keeper.

Thanks Drew!

Did a run to St. John's to fix their computers. Picked up a trailer load of pallets and buckets too. Talked to Blaine and made arrangements to harvest small spruce. (I've got two orders for a dozen 4-5 foot white spruce. None of mine are big enough.)


I've often seen two robins on the lawn. But never a crowd like this. You're seeing only the brave ones that remained while I snuck up on them.

Tuesday: Harvested a bunch of golden willow. Mostly to get them ready to grow rods. Gave up on the Canadian Tire loppers. Ordered a new lopper from Lee Valley.

I've got an idea: What if I take 3 willow rods, and braid them. Then plant them. Can I get a more regular version of diamond willow? Gotta try this.

Went to pick up the truck to go to St. John's to harvest trees.
Oddest sight: A flock (they were on the ground. Herd?) of robins. Never saw that before.


Bob Brown at CRS Brown called me today. He was browsing Kijiji and saw my ad wanting pots. I got a couple loads of pots from Bob two years ago, but last year when I called they didn't have any. And I forgot to call them in the fall. I figured they had sold them to someone else.

Anyway we had a good chat, and I'll be going there Friday to pick up pots.

Started out the morning by planting my 'ripped from the earth' spruce from SJSA. Planted them on 15' intervals more or less on the north side of the pond. I figure I can do an experiment: A: Do RFTE spruce survive B: What is the effect of carpet mulch. (I'll do half with mulch.) C: I'll put in another row of white spruce, babies from my latest batch, and see if they actually do catch up with the 4 and 5 footers I put in. Entertainment in slo-mo.

Went back to SJ for anaother load of spruce. This time got 26. Two root balls disintegrated when I lifted them. (Sandy...) I wrapped them in plastic and brought them home anyway, and added them to the east end of the row by the pond.

I really don't mind the hard work of lifting the trees. But those *(&(^!@^ wild roses...

Tired, back hurts. (26 trees at 60-80 lbs each equals pooped.)

Thursday: Meeting with the big power company again. Looks like we won't be turfed any time soon. Reading between the lines, while the boundary of the permit area is 800 meters north of us, the actual hill won't be removed -- just too much dirt. In effect this gives us a mile.

Eileen and John came down from Barrhead this evening, originally to buy spruce trees. Alas mine are natural spruce, not pruned, and so they aren't full enough. But they left with a load of birch, and they want info about the ornamental willows as they come on line.


Went to Leduc to pick up pots from Bob Brown at CRS Brown. I was also going to pick up a roll of fence wire at Peavey Mart, fuel at UFA, an inner tube for the garden cart at Canadian Tire, and float money for the cash box.

Wasn't even in town when Laura called. Computer problems at Saint John's and two calls to return.

I loaded my pots. Takes about two hours, mostly because not all two gallon pots are the same size, and so there's a lot of cut and try to get them to nest well. But I came home with about nineteen hundred 2 gallon pots, five hundred 1 gallon pots, and a couple hundred 2 quart square pots. (good size for selling perennials.)

Derrick from Calmar came after lunch. Interested in Poplar. Spent some time looking, and talking. Went away with a price list. I think he'll be back.

Birgit came by after supper. We had done email correspondence for some time. They left with 14 trees, and said they would be back when the shrubs are in leaf.

Saturday: Gary from Tofield came. I said 20 each on the phone for the trees, and I stuck to that, even if he ended up getting about a foot more tree than we'd agreed to on the phone. Still, I'm trying to build a reputation for delivering more than asked.

Wow. Three sales in three days. Never happened before.

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