Bees, Forestry, Silvopasture and Agroforestry, Wildlife

Farm overview of my favorite time of year: Fall

Fall has always been my absolute favorite time of year. If it were socially acceptable, I’d disappear into the mountains until the amazing holidays promised by that fall fell upon us.

The first signs of autumn are the “THUNK, THUD, THUD” that occur roughly every few minutes or so as the walnuts fall from the trees. Following a windy day, I can fill a 5 gallon bucket with walnuts in about 2 minutes. After removing the husks, they are used to tan deer capes ensuring minimal waste when I kill the animal. Similarly, most tree crops are harvested in the fall including most pome and stone fruits as well as almost all nuts. Fall is when my foraging skills are best utilized mostly because my knowledge of trees is much greater than that of fungi and herbaceous plants. Plus I can plant garlic, salad greens and my favorite brassicas into the garden.

Second, the morning cadence of sounds shifts. Instead of songbirds chirping their morning wake up alarm, migrating birds dominate with a more steady and droning rhythm that closely resembles the sound of rain falling on the metal roof. Every day this week I awoke thinking more rain was falling.

Thirdly comes the autumn favorite of everyone: vegetative changes as plants harvest back mobile nutrients in preparation to winter. Black gums and sourwoods seem to catch on fire turning a ruby red followed by similar colors in maples and viburnums. Walnuts then turn gold then lose their leaves all in one swift action. White ashes usually turn yellow with a few extraordinary specimens turning burgundy. Elms (well… hackberries in my case), birches, hickories and beeches turn a similar gold. Lastly, the oaks will turn a rich, deep burgundy that signals peak autumn color season. Similarly, the undergrowth and herbaceous plants die back for the year making outdoor adventures all the more fun and accessible.

Fourthly, fall seasonal beers are my favorite as long as some balanced specimens survive the craft scene’s gold rush to put out the most heavily spiced, bitter or over the top beers. Similarly, autumn contains my favorite holidays either celebrating harvest or appealing to my morbid curiosities.

Most favorably, bugs start dwindling! ***

Finally, If I had to pick a singular activity as my favorite, there is not a shred of doubt that it is deer hunting. Sourcing healthy and clean meat in a humane, sustainable manner is very important to me. Last year I reached 85% of my meat consumption sourced from white tailed deer. That figure of wild game consumption would be 100% if American Buffalo had not been extirpated from the region. Since that is the case, my cattle will fulfil the ecological niche of the extirpated Bison while chickens fill the niche of Buffalo Birds, now called cowbirds since there are no more buffalo. I personally fill the niche of controlling population numbers to ensure species survival/health formerly held by wolves and mountain lions; both of which have also been extirpated.

Bam… You just learned why I hunt and why I farm in one, uncharacteristically concise paragraph!

***I have to qualify the bugs statement after this year. Those in power in our society will never cease to amaze me at their sheer stupidity or stubbornness or greed in globalization that is destroying our natural resources. They haven’t learned from chestnut blight, dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease, white pine blister rust, hemlock wooly adelgid, Ailanthus aka Tree of Heaven infestations, Royal Paulownia infestations, kudzu and wisteria infestations, Autumn Olive, asian citrus psyllid that could end citrus production in Florida, mimosa trees, japanese beetle, stinkbugs, avian flus and many many more.

Holy moley the bane of my existence is out in force this year: brown marmorated stink bugs. I get swarmed by these pests constantly while deer hunting. Last night I was drawing my bow on a mature buck when one landed on my nose and one on my thumb. I’ve even taken videos in my treestand of the pests with their thunderous and clumsy flying skills. I know they are harmless to my person and I even have zero fear of bugs with a fearsome reputation, but try to sit still and not startle a herd of deer when what sounds like a cargo plane [or less hyperbolic: a hornet) flies into your face! If I have to find a silver lining, it would have to be the constant scent cover provided by these foul pests. Furthermore, there is a new biting stink bug invasion on the horizon following the spread of a [surprise surprise!] another invasive species. 😦

Similarly, my bees are complete assholes now. Sorry for the language, but there is no getting around it. Understandably, they are in full defensive mode to protect their vital winter stores which is a great and beneficial behavioral habit. However, this also means they shoot at my protected face like bullets and have taken to following me and my truck hundreds of yards away from the hive constantly trying to sting which prevents me from being able to de-suit! Luckily, I really only have to feed them until it gets cold which is not invasive to the hive. Once it gets colder, I’ll put some newspaper in the hive, give them a pile of granulated sugar to munch on, then seal the hive up for the winter and hope for the best until spring.

In the end, I’ll happily take the bad with the good. For the bad, the USDA has put its top minds on the stinkbug issue and has even identified an attractant. In regards to my bees, their defensiveness helps ensure that they can defend the hive from invading robber bees. Plus I have some of my favorite beers to knock back and calm the nerves after the peace of deer hunting is compromised by stink bugs!



Little victory for the day

I was having a tough day last week. When I need to blow off stress, my typical avenues are working out or something equally physical. Destruction is also a cathartic activity but for obvious reasons, not typically prescribed.

However, wood needed split on the farm that combines all of the aforementioned activities. In an effort to keep this post educational/relevant to the blog, I have a tip to share whose source is long lost. Some time ago I learned to split wood inside of a discarded tire which keeps the log upright, lessens the need to reset the log and just all around makes the process more efficient. Granted my physical fitness level is nothing exceptional currently, that gained efficiency was lost to frequently needed breaks!

A challenge was presented by one large piece cut near the base of the tree that threatened to be unsplittable. Combining that size, with the opposite branching habit of Fraxinus trees and the brittleness only years of hanging dead drying in the air could yield, I feared I would not be able to split the log.

Yet it proved no match for my 205 pounds fueled by negative emotions behind an 8 pound maul. Winning the challenge help turn my day around, bad emotions were alleviated and applied to a destructive purpose in a healthy manner, and I have renewable heating fuel that didn’t require refining or shipping across oceans.



Note: the diameter of this log prevented use of my tire trick.


Of course this nice seasoned wood got 3-4″ of rain in 24 hours starting the night it was stacked. Now they are calling for up to 15″ more with a Nor’easter and a tropical storm bearing down. Hopefully I can get it covered!

Note: I wrote this offline last week during the extraordinarily high rain events. Final rain totals were 5-6″ over the last 14 days, according to NOAA. Average historical monthly rain totals were reached in the first 3 days of October! This is with no additional rain from the tropical storm that veered off its first projected course.

Forestry, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Getting tree planting sites ready for next spring

My oft spoken modified proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time in 1 year from now”

Laying down a mulch of shredded wood at least a year before planting a woody species will create an ideal soil habitat for the plant whether it be a bramble, shrub or tree. Plants uptake nutrients via a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. A layer of woody mulch well before planting facilitates the fungal dominance in which woody species thrive as well as invigorate soils with nourishment from the decaying wood.

Plus some of my trees planned for next year need a sulfur application to acidify the soil lowering it to the ideal pH for that species. Sulfur needs months to be broken down in order to actually have an effect on the soil.

My process was as follows:

Weed wack all plant matter to the ground, rake out the clipped plants if they are significant

Apply the calculated amount of sulfur (tables can be found in this post)

Return any raked clippings (if applicable)

Lay down cardboard or paper to smother the existing turf. This biodegradable barrier will breakdown to humus given time!

Pile on as much mulch as you can spare

Come spring time, your back will appreciate the more workable soil (although I don’t recommend amending the soil or loosening it mechanically by digging an oversized planting hole. See here)


Removing most of the above ground vegetation:


The clippings are then raked out, sulfur applied (for the sourwood planting sites), then the clippings are returned.

Cardboard or sturdy paper (paper grocery bags in my case) are laid down to smother the vegetation then mulch is piled on top.

The [almost] finished site looks like this:


More info:

More tips to ensure success with trees

Where to find mulch for woody species

Fungal basics of mulching

How to think like a plant to be a successful cultivator

How to think like a plant to be a successful cultivator part 2

Mulch Matters 2: Different Types of Mulches for Different Types of Plants

Compost Matters: Garden Compost vs. Orchard compost


Native tree harvest update

Last year held a gigantic bounty of persimmon fruits. It must have been a bumper crop because this year is promising much less fruit. I quickly manipulated the saturation and exposure to make the fruit more visible. Don’t worry, this image is not going into any photography portfolios!


The walnuts on the other hand are showing a moderate yield:


My one lone autumn olive tree is loaded as usual. I’ve never really kept track of its production in the past so I have no idea if this is more than usual or if my beehive 50 feet away had any effect. I also like to think I have a good handle on the tree population on the farm, and this is my only known autumn olive. It is pretty obviously self-fertile!



Can’t even be mad at the deer for this one

I’ve been flagging all the Ailanthus trees (tree of heaven) in the pasture so I can take them down this winter. There are a few that are a bit more pressing so I took them down by hand while I wait until I have access to a chainsaw.

This tree was located on the edge of my wildlife plot and blocked my bow lane from a treestand. With a hand saw the tree was felled. Leaves are left on the tree as they continue to transpire pulling water from the stem which aids in the drying/seasoning process.

I returned the next morning to find this:


The deer had stripped off every single leaf leaving only the winged samara fruit. Glad something enjoyed the tree at least. More importantly the deer, hopefully goats in the future as the two animals share much of the same browsing habits, will be allies by consuming tree of heaven seedlings that sprout in the future!


How much is a tree worth? Emerald Ash borer

Atop a rise at the edge of the pasture sits a massively sprawling lone wolf tree. With nothing behind it except the view of the valley floor below, the tree has become ingrained in the identity of the farm itself. The spectacular image to which the tree contributes is one that begs the question: Will the farm be the same without it?








With Emerald Ash Borer confirmed in the closest city of Harrisonburg, this tree has an expected life span of only 10-15 more years. Remaining a part of the farm will come at a high cost. But what exactly is that cost?

The expertise of an arborist and tree service company was called upon. Measurements revealed that the lone wolf White Ash tree is 44” Diameter Breast Height (DBH) which is used to calculate how much treatment is needed, thus the cost of treatment.

So how much is a tree worth? Thinking entirely pragmatically, the tree is actually costing feed value due to shading out the pasture grasses. Are aesthetics and sentimental value worth $330 per year in treatments?

Forestry, General Pasture, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

A new to me tree complete with a feral beehive

Part of my year long to do list was to remove the entire population of invasive Ailanthus (tree of heaven) that have creeped into the pasture. Tree of heaven is incredibly hard to get rid of once the roots are established as they will continuously send up new stems.

Three of these specimens are right up against a power line so I called an ISA certified arborist to come give me an estimate on their removal. Unsurprisingly when two tree lovers meet for the first time…well we spent about 3 hours chatting about trees, sharing news, discussing my master tree planting plan and about 10 minutes actually discussing the project that brought him to the farm. In the end, he added me to their list of free mulch dumping sites, a stern warning that there is little chance my sourwood plans will work in the alkaline soil of the Shenandoah Valley, news that Emerald Ash Borer has been confirmed in nearby Harrisonburg and taught me a new tree I had been mis-identifying for years.

There is a large oak species that makes up much of the older forest on the property that looks like a chestnut oak, but with white oak bark. I was content in thinking it was a chestnut oak but the arborist informed me it was a chinquapin oak. Even better, as we approached one so he could teach me the identifiable characteristics, we noticed bees flying in and out of a hole about 25 feet up the trunk. Feral Honeybees!

So next spring, I am going to set up a swarm trap in case that feral colony splits as honeybees typically do each spring. A swarm trap is basically just a box coated with scents that lure the bees scouting for a new hive location. Once the swarm arrives, the bees can be transferred to a new hive.

Back to the subject at hand: the arborist recommended I paint the exposed vascular tissue of the freshly cut Ailanthus stump with roundup to kill the entire root system. While I typically avoid –icides, that sounds like an acceptable use of synthetic chemicals as I apply it directly to the target plant, have no chance of overspray, won’t contaminate any animal/pollinator food supplies and will prevent these badly invasive species from seeding or cloning thousands of new trees.

Forestry, General Pasture

My plan for dealing with the Tree of Heaven Infestation (Ailanthus altissima)

I’ve covered why these plants truly deserve the invasive status. The plan is simple but labor intensive. It is the same as the plan I use to control johnson and crab grasses in the garden and bull thistle in the pasture:

Cut down any growth before it reaches maturity and seeds.

For any plants that spread via rhizomes, green growth like leaves are power plants to fuel root growth. Every time these generators are removed, the roots use emergency stores of energy to reinitiate growth expecting those emergency stores to be replenished by new leaves. If the green growth is continuously culled before it can fuel the roots, energy will eventually run out resulting in the death of these hard to kill plants.

It will take time and labor, but the biological approach to pest control is vital to the success of the farm.

Also I apologize for getting sidetracked over the holiday weekend. I went home to visit with friends and family and explored some of the national park nearby so my attention was elsewhere!

Forestry, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Tips for ensuring success with planting trees

Having studied urban forestry in college, I figured I would caution against the most common mistakes and share some tips to properly establishing trees.

Chances are the window has passed for the season on planting trees. But I hope use can be found by the readers in northern climates or those who like to crawl end of season nursery sales like I do. Otherwise I may re-post this in the fall and spring to align with tree planting seasons.

I have broken the tips down into categories based on how involved you wish to be with your trees:

Tips for casual tree planters:

  1. Mulch as deep as you want at the site of the planting well ahead of planting time. If you plan to dig the holes with a shovel, you will be vastly assisted by the change this brings on in soil composition and elimination of turf.
  2. Don’t bury the stem too deep. If grafted, keep grafting mark above the soil or else the roots will send up stems of their variety negating the graft.
  3. Don’t use ANY mulch at the base of the trunk. Leave a void to keep the base of the tree dry but pile as much as you want on the outer areas of the root zone.
  4. See here for mulch sourcing tips. Never under any circumstances use dyed mulches. Avoid most bagged mulches as they usually come from conifers like hemlock or other cedars, spruces firs or pines. Conifers contain high amounts of substances that inhibit deciduous trees allowing conifers to form dominant stands in nature.

Tips for a more involved tree planter:

Follow up to point 3 above, use fine gravel extending from the base of the trunk to the mulch. The source that lays out this recommendation and justification states any gravel smaller than 3/8 will keep the wood dry and rot/disease-free.

If possible, apply mulch or bury it at planting site well ahead of the actual planting. This will cultivate the fungi-dominant soil that trees require. Try to do this at least a year ahead of time, but don’t sweat it if you can’t.

Apply fresh mulch only a 90 degree arc around tree each year to give the tree access to nutrients that at are found in various stages of decomposition. Note the extra pile of mulch on the north side:


Don’t stake! Use very young trees so their stem can develop strength of their own through wind exposure. If you injured your leg and refused the doctors orders to work on recovering from crutches, your muscles would atrophy. Trees are similar.

If you must stake, us a large, rigid loop that doesn’t actually touch the tree but rather float freely to catch a tree when it sways too much in any direction. At the very least, make sure any part of the staking system that touches the tree is designed for that purpose to prevent injuring or girdling which can be fatal. Succinctly, no exposed wire and no wire wrapped in garden hose!

While contested in the arborist community don’t fertilize trees at the time of planting and don’t excessively water. Try and make a depression near the tree as a catch basin for water. Let the roots become established before adding extras.

Fertilize from the top only! Let the soil microbes and invertebrates make the nutrients bioavailable to the tree like natural cycles in a forest.

Don’t automatically pull any weeds! Plants with a taproot can help cycle nutrients are various depths in the soil. Others can provide a living mulch while not competing for the nutrients specific to woody plants like trees.

If you really want to get carried away, in early spring spray every surface from root zone to trunk to the smallest buds with a microbe-encouraging liquid like compost tea or fish meal. This will give the beneficial microbes a boost at colonizing every crevice of the tree allowing them to outcompete potentially harmful and destructive microbes in turn leaving no entry points for more serious pests. This is especially important for fruit frees! Think biologically, not mechanically!

Every fall, pretend you are Tom Sawyer and cover every bit of bark you can reach with a whitewash of interior paint and equal parts water. This helps prevent winter injury caused by pest (both bugs and microscopic types) from entering the woody tissues.

Learn how to properly prune! Basically, prune only during the dormant season and prune branches outside of the branch collar (show below). The tree will naturally callous over the exposed wood in an effort to heal itself.

Retrieved from Red lines added by me in MS Paint

Retrieved from Red lines added by me in MS Paint