Sunday, June 10, 2007

The plot so far ...

In earlier posts I described progress on our property in 2004, 2005, and 2006. We've made steady progress starting with the yard immediately around the house, then improving the pond area, and creating an orchard and pasture. Here's an annotated version of the plot plan; the box shows the location of the house. I've also posted an aerial photo which matches the plot plan nicely.

The orchard contains mostly 1-year-old apple trees, which will not bear fruit for some time. There's also a strawberry patch. Last year we wrote it off as deer food, but this year it has rebounded to produce nice berries. Of late I've been out there weeding like mad so the berries can thrive even more.

The pasture is in process of being enlarged and will be fenced as soon as we can get someone here to do it.

Spring 2007: wildlife sightings

We've had some interesting encounters with wildlife this spring:
  • Groundhogs - there seems to have been a population explosion. We've seen mature, fat groundhogs scurrying across the driveway, and smaller ones burrowing around in the orchard. They're cute, but I wonder why there are so many?
  • Osprey - We see lots of birds, and until recently the most unusual was a blue heron, who is now a regular visitor to our pond. But one spring day we saw a bird we didn't recognize. Consulting our field guide we determined it was an osprey. Now that was a surprise! It spent most of the day sitting in a tree looking for food in the pond.
  • Fox kits - foxes are commonplace (see: ducks), but coming across fox kits was a real surprise. One day in April, Chris was mowing the pasture, and came across a kit sitting out in the open. He and younger daughter J convinced it to go back into its den, and Chris stopped mowing for the day. The next day we went out to see if all was clear. Looking into the den, we saw two tiny pairs of eyes peeking out at us! Chris decided to mow away from their den. At one point he turned around and both kits were out, sitting next to their den and watching him mow! He later saw their mother at the edge of the pasture. We haven't seen them since and expect she may have moved them to safer quarters.

These three sightings were what ultimately inspired me to start this blog.

Pasture, pond, and other developments

There has been a lot of activity around our property this spring. Chris has enlarged the pasture area by clearning more -- wait for it -- multiflora rose. We have come to realize that all of the lovely, "wooded" areas of our property are covered in multiflora rose that has slowly but surely strangled & killed off many, many trees. Clearing rose and dead trees has been Chris' raison d'etre for several weeks now. The goal is to have a clear view from our house, beyond the pond, into the pasture where we will keep our two horses. Here's a what the view looked like before this project started, in winter & in summer:

Our ducks are still around, but far fewer in number. Their survival skills are not very strong, and many have fallen victim to foxes. As of this writing, the "beak count" stands at 8: 2 pekins, 3 khaki campbells, and 3 cayugas. Canada geese fare much better. Over 3 winters we've come to expect large numbers of geese for Christmas, a couple pairs in the spring, and 8-12 goslings every year. They're wonderful!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

2006: Trees & Bees

In 2006 we decided to clear a southern section of the property to create an orchard. Like most of the property, the area we chose was completely overgrown; It took several days with a tractor to clear the multiflora rose away. We planted about several varieties of heirloom apple trees (about 20 trees in all), and started a berry patch. Deer management has been the greatest challenge. Each tree is enclosed with a wire fence, helping it to get a healthy start.

We were also able to capitalize on a local nursery that was closing, offering its entire inventory at half price. We bought several trees for the back yard, including cherry, ginko biloba, and bald cypress. We were also able to pick up a number of plants for the front garden (rhododendron, holly, roses, etc.)

Chris also started a bee colony, with mixed results. The hive is located in the orchard, ideal for both the bees and the apple trees. While it thrived initially, by autumn it became clear the colony was no longer viable. Was our hive affected by whatever has caused the alarming decline in bee populations across the country?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

2005: Beginnings of a wildlife habitat

In 2005, we decided to introduce more "wildlife" to our property and purchased several baby ducks (pekins, cayugas, and khaki campbells). We kept them captive until they were a few months old, and then decided to release them into the pond. This was easier said than done! We naively thought that after opening their enclosure they would march in a neat parade down to the water. Instead they took off in all different directions, ending up deep in weeds and multiflora rose. One by one we extracted the ducks and carried them down to the pond. They were slightly shocked, but quickly got over it and began to enjoy their new habitat, including a wonderful duck house built by Chris.

Most of the geese that visited over Christmas left in early spring, but a couple pairs stuck around and then one day, there were families! Goslings had arrived! We have also been thrilled by visits from a blue heron, who really enjoys hanging out by the pond.

A plethora of pets

The first fauna to arrive on the scene were domestic. The cast, in order of appearance:

Snowball & Muffin: Two cats adopted from the SPCA in 1999. Snowball was 1 year old at the time, and Muffin was a kitten. Snowball loves to go outdoors and brings "presents" back to us. Muffin is an indoor couch potato.

Midnight: adopted in England in October 2002, after a barn cat at our local stable had kittens. Midnight is pretty aloof but is the best at giving chase when it's time to go to the vet.

Lily: a British Kennel Club registered chocolate lab, joined the family in March 2003 at 8 weeks of age. Boisterous, adorable, and perpetually challenged to keep her weight under control. Lily's name is a nod to our English experience -- short for Lilibet, Queen Elizabeth's childhood nickname.

Pumpkin: the only male in the menagerie, he adopted us in September 2004, just as we were leaving temporary housing to move into our current home. Despite being the last to join the family, he asserts his dominance at all times.
Matching names to pets in the photo is pretty easy, with the exception of Muffin, the grey tabby.