The opening photograph was taken during the controlled burn of Field D ahead of plowing. Even though the field is surrounded by the earthen firebreak seen in the photograph, firefighters from the St.Tammany Parish District 11 Fire Department stand-by on site should a real crisis develop. Since the tree farm crew is highly experienced at executing controlled burns, the feared catastrophe has never occurred. So once the field perimeter has been ignited, there is ample time for visiting and storytelling about events of times past while watching the burn proceed.
The burn always begins as a backing fire meaning that the fire must advance backwards into the wind. The windward side of the field is lit first. Once the fire moves sufficiently far from the firebreak, fire is strung along the edges of the field more aggressively and finally ends as a heading fire. Heading fires advance forward with the wind from the lee side toward the windward side of the field. In the fall of the year mid-day wind speeds tend to be low, so even heading fires move slowly. A slow burn produces the best results.
The controlled burn is followed by the application of commercial fertilizer and natural minerals to adjust pH. Lime raises soil pH and sulfur lowers it. Local soils tend to be acidic, so 12,000-lbs. of lime were applied to Field D along with 1,000-lbs. of custom formulated commercial fertilizer. Plowing mixes the lime, fertilizer and nutrient rich ash from the burn deep into the soil. To learn more about planting preparations Shady Pond style, visit Cultivation on the tree farm's main web site.
Coyote activity has been all but nonexistent for the entire year. Their population seems to have returned to more normal levels; thank goodness. The coyotes have been replaced by foxes. The fox sightings have been numerous and occur at fairly regular intervals. One passed near the main house in late spring apparently in transit to the woods on the far side of the pond. He appeared truly bewildered with ears down (to the sides not the back which would signify anger). The source of his torment was almost immediately obvious. A Blue Jay was flying right behind him pecking his rump. The bird probably had a nest in the area and was intent on protecting it. The fox knew there was no way to avoid the harassment. He would simply have to endure the pecking until he was sufficiently out of nest range. So, size and strength do not always determine who will prevail.
But, Christmas is coming as it always does. So, we hope to see each of you again this season.
Shady Pond Tree Farm
Christmas Tree Varieties:
a stately beauty from England.
a unique tree from the Orient.
a selection from New Zealand.
the aroma of lemon and mint.
For the past half-dozen, or so, springs there has been a significant battle in the utility room in the main house at Shady Pond. The combatants include myself and a pair of Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus). These two are really quite bold and amazingly skilled. They formulated a method of accessing the utility room at will. And once inside, they behave as if it had been deemed their domain. It was a kind of secret hiding place that only they could enter and the other of Nature's creatures were unable to find them there since none but the Wrens knew the way in.
In the beginning when I would find the little intruders in the utility room, I would open the door to the garage and chase them out thinking that they would need the entire passage to effectively exit. But on one occasion as I raised my voice instructing them to leave and before I could reach the door to open it, they slipped under the door with truly impressive dexterity. The little critters were moving in and out of the house with almost no effort. The fact that the door was even there meant nothing. For the Wrens, the door served no purpose whatsoever except to conceal their secret hiding place.
As the first few days passed, their persistence was unwavering. And regardless of how many times I insisted that they depart, they returned over and over again. Actually, it was not until mid summer when I discovered that they had built a nest in an open cardboard box sitting on a high shelf. The box contained a supply of rather delicate parts needed for an upcoming repair project. Seriously annoyed with the birds, I removed the nest materials, cleaned the box and parts with compressed air, closed it and returned it to its assigned location on the shelf. Hopefully the Wrens would not be able to open the box although had they done so it would not have been a great surprise since the little monsters had been quite resourceful in the past.
The following spring I decided not to battle the little birds but rather to provide them with a selection of nesting locations in the garage. I placed a number of small boxes, just like the one used the previous season, at various safe spots around the area. I hoped that they would select one of them and each of us could have at least part of what we wanted. The Wrens would be protected in the garage and I would not have them in the utility room. They rejected the plan immediately and headed directly for the crack under the door. So, the battle resumed. They built nests and I removed them. The Wrens and I set a record that year. They built and I removed 3-nests in a single day. It was a real marathon. I had no idea that these birds could put nests together as fast as they did. There was a nest in the window then they moved to the washing machine outlet box and finally to yet another open cardboard container. I am sure that they had a brood that year but it was not in the utility room; I finally prevailed. Now understand I was at war with creatures that weighed only about ½ ounce, feathers and all; one six-thousandth of my body weight.
It really never occurred to me that all this interaction was creating a level of familiarity well beyond the norm between human and animal. Even though our relationship appeared adversarial on the surface, it resulted in significant confidence and understanding between us as I would later learn.
In late winter this year, I began work on a small number of structural modifications to the rear wall in the garage. To complete the task, I removed some of the interior paneling which of course exposed the insulation batts in the wall. And yes, you guessed it. The Wrens decided that the insulation would be an excellent place to build their spring nest. How could I object since the garage is where I wanted them to work from the beginning. Unfortunately, the nest location was directly in front of the right headlight on my F-250. And each time I would park the truck in the garage after dark, Mama Wren would poke her head out of the insulation and peer over the hood apparently to be sure that I was aware that she did not appreciate the fact that the halogen headlight was shining in her nest. Nonetheless, the brood seemed to be going well.
Then one morning at a point in time that was nearing the end of the incubation period, Mama Wren left the nest and perched atop a small stack of dimensional lumber acquired for the garage project and stored on the floor. I could not help but notice her standing there since it was totally out of character for the little bird to remain in such a place. Then she launched into a rant that was really something to behold. Looking directly in my face, she unleashed an oral lambasting that included a complex combination of chirps, squawks, and whistles that apparently meant something to her but not to me. She went on and on, and added head and wing gestures to emphasize what ever it was that she was trying to communicate. She appeared very agitated and left me feeling that she intended to give me a good tongue lashing about something of which she did not approve. Actually, 'beak lashing' might be a more appropriate term. But once she got her obvious displeasure out in the open, she flew away and did not return.
Several hours passed before I discovered the reason she was so upset. A snake was in the garage. And worse yet, it was a Rat Snake known to be one of the Wren's natural predators. Mama Wren had apparently detected its presence and had concluded that it was my responsibility to get rid of the snake. She wanted to make absolutely sure that I understood that this would not have happened if their nest was in the utility room. And since I had insisted that they nest in the garage, it was my job to take care of them and dispose of the Rat Snake before he could eat them or the baby Wrens. I am sure that a deadline for the completion of this task was part of her comments although I had no idea what it was. What Mama Wren failed to realize was the fact that I did not want the Rat Snake to remain in the garage any more than she did.
After a comprehensive search of the building, I found the snake quietly hiding under one of the circular saws. The snake was obviously young and smallish for a Rat Snake, only about 3-feet long. Since the garage at Shady Pond is filled with lots of 'stuff' as garages often are, the challenge was to devise a plan to encourage the snake to depart on its own rather than moving most of the 'stuff' in an attempt to catch the critter. I decided to use my air lance to blow compressed air on him hoping that he would leave voluntarily. It worked and the snake quickly slipped out the back door of the garage.
Once outdoors, the snake seemed rather disoriented. I assumed that it had just returned to normal existence after a winter's hibernation and that the transition was not yet totally complete. It appeared a bit groggy. So, I coaxed it along to an area with thick vegetation where the snake would be protected and possibly even find a rodent for a long awaited meal.
With the Rat Snake gone, living conditions in the garage at Shady Pond had returned to normal. All was well.
The encounter with the Carolina Wrens has proven to be one of those rare and wonderful gifts from Mother Nature. Although they and I began at opposite ends of the spectrum of acceptable behavior, we were able to craft a shared point of view. And I know with near absolute certainty that Mama Wren was sure that her oral rant would eventually lead me to take the needed corrective action.
A day later as I continued to work near the garage, the Rat Snake returned. Since I was intensely focused on the task at hand, I failed to notice that it was crawling between my feet. I was startled and froze until assessing the situation was complete. Now snakes are nearly expressionless creatures but not totally so. Their body configuration is usually the key to knowing their mood. A strike recoil indicates fear or hunger depending on the circumstance. But the Rat Snake had not taken a strike position. He simply slithered along and moved through my feet and around a circular saw then over the tools on the ground and behind a bag of screws. He continued along a brick chain-wall then on to the azalea garden west of the house; the same spot I had guided him to earlier. His journey through the area was so deliberate that I had to conclude that he viewed the route as a short-cut from one point to another. After all, traveling long distances is not the easiest thing for a snake. They have to get all those stomach muscles coordinated and doing the right thing at the right time; a real challenge after just waking up from a 3-month nap. So, taking the shortest path was the obvious choice.
* To learn more about Bonnie Barry and see her exquisite Acadiana portfolio, visit RedBubble or Fine Art America.
Those of you unlucky enough to be at Shady Pond on opening day last season had the singular opportunity to witness one of the tree farm's more embarrassing events. The processing crew got a huge Leyland stuck in one of the balers. They pulled and pulled but the monster tree would not move in either direction. Since both tractors were busy transporting trees from the fields to the check-out area, the uncooperative tree had to be pulled through the baler with two pickup trucks. If you happened to have photographed the fiasco, keep the image file safe. A repeat is doubtful.
To eliminate the problem, we contacted the folks at Howey Tree Baler Corporation in Michigan and they built a hydraulic baler that will make its debut at Shady Pond this season. Steve Howey assures us that the machine will pull a tree through the cone in 3-seconds. The hydraulic drive is powerful enough that when it exits, the tree will either be netted or all the limbs will have been removed.
In addition to the baler, Howey provided a two station hydraulic tree shaker. The shaker will simplify cleaning and expedite things in the processing area.
These sizable devices were transported here from just south of the US/Canadian boarder by FEDEX Freight in a dedicated road trailer. Try to guess the size of the freight bill. And the folks at Griffin Crane Services received the machines and provided off-loading.
This new tree processing equipment further expands one of Shady Pond's defining features:
Last season we installed QR code signs at two locations; one at the entrance gate and the other at the 'Start Here' sign. When scanned with a smart phone that has a QR code reader installed, the code links the phone to Shady Pond's web based Welcome Page.
The Welcome Page provides answers to the FAQ's from many customers. It is obviously a major benefit to new customers. But it is also an excellent 'refresher course' for repeat visitors at Shady Pond. The Welcome Page explains why we do what we do. This is particularly helpful to those who are not familiar with production agricultural operations like the tree farm.
Knowing what to expect during the various phases of selecting and cutting your tree will reduce the confusion level significantly and make your time at Shady Pond much more pleasant. It will also help you to choose the best time and location for taking those pictures that are truly worth sharing.
There are many QR code apps available at the various app stores. Neoreader is one that we have actually tested and its performance is really impressive. It can be downloaded directly to your phone from several app stores, or access http://www.neoreader.com/.
Be sure to contact Nate Fleming for your firewood and smoking wood needs for this winter. He has an excellent stock of split Oak for the fireplace as well as smoking woods for the grill. Contact Nate at 985-285-0802.