First Time Back On The Property-updated

For the first trip up to the property, I just took Claire.  We would have rather all gone, but between work back here, the logistics of coordinating the whole family on a trip, the cold (still winter here) in regards to camping (we stayed at a friend’s home) and the limited amount of work that could be done (ground is still frozen) it was just the two of us.  She read Robert Heinlien’s Revolt in 2100 aloud in the car, as this one has no radio.

On the way up, there were a lot of deer looking for any green they can.  These are from along highway 23, near Willow River.  (We took a scenic rout north).

First trip of the year, and saw the first wolf of the year.  Out on the ice pack of the south shore of Lake Superior, west of Port Wing, about a quarter mile out on the ice.

I shut the truck off in order to reduce camera shake by bracing it against the windowsill.

We were very happy to see that Don Pratt had got the whole south end (17 acres) mowed and rolled.  He did not have the goldenrod side all moved and stacked for a compost pile yet, but my worries of the meadow voles having places to hide for the winter was placated.

We still went and checked all of the caged trees.  We found no new damage on the big ones which was a huge relief.

The one piece of work we could do, was the repair/pruning of the bear damaged apple tree.  From the ground I cleared what I could, and then Claire scampered up to do more.

Quickly though we found that she just did not have the upper body strength to go through anything larger than about .75 inches, so once she had cleared what she could I got myself up in the tree.

It is still cold up there too.

That is just a shot of the high fence area we had the seedling grafts in.  We did lose a few in there, as the voles found a half dozen of them.  But overall, that is not too bad.

There was some parts, way up high, that I was not going to climb up to get.  We need to invest in a ladder specifically for getting up higher in the trees so we can remove branches and make harvesting from them manageable.

Claire wanted a campfire, so we had the first of the year.

Then we took a stomp around the perimeter of the property.  We could hear wolves howling north east of us, up the hollow, the whole time.

North east corner, looking to the north east.

North east corner of the property, looking to the south west.

A big ant hill we found back there.

Just a shot of some catkins on a wild hazelnut.

Very north side of our property, looking south.

Walking back to the campsite we were suddenly hit by a snowstorm I had not been aware was coming.  We quickly collected scions from the to big apple trees for grafting, packed things up, and headed out.

The ground was quickly covered, which worried me, as we were driving a rear wheel pickup, and I had no added weight in the back.

We got to the outer edge of that storm by the time we were back in Cornucopia.  Stopped to fill up water bottles at the artesian wells and walk the ice out a ways on the lake.

We drove back into blizzard 90 miles south of Duluth, which was a complete white knuckle drive with accidents happening all around us.  At about 7 pm I pulled into our driveway, safe and sound.  We will be back up in a few weeks.  Wish we had seen the property with a lot of snow.  At it’s height, apparently, there was 90 inches.  I have not seen snow pack like that in a long time.  It is also why I think I can get away with growing a lot of perennials that in most circumstances cannot be grown that far north.  That much snow insulates things in ways they are not here.

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Saving Trees/Regrafting

So for those of you that follow the things we do, I had an earlier post on damage from rabbits in our backyard this winter.  It was a first for me here.  They have typically ended up as cat or dog food as soon as they showed themselves.  Apparently the cats and dog slacked this last winter.  Or perhaps we have a population spike.

They ate this one damn near down to the ground, but the trunk is still green and alive.

So, first step, I removed the tops to just below the lowest damage with a pruner.


Then I split it down the center with a grafting knife.

To make the connection, you are using the pressure of the trunk like a vice to hold the wood you are grafting to it.

It is the green cambium later, just below the bark, that has to be touching so it can grow together.  I shaved the scion wood (the variety I want the new tree to be, one year old wood) so that it can be wedged in.

That is what it looks like after you insert it.  I used the grafting knife to hold the cleft open in order to push the piece in.

That is just a shot of another one.

So once wrapped in parafilm, and the tip sealed with pruning sealer, that is what it looks like.

Ten new grafts.  Six Kleffman and 4 Cortland. We will see how they do, and hopefully we are digging them up next spring to move up north to the orchard.

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Pruning The Big Apple Tree

Has been three years since I pruned the tree really, and not as heavily, ever, as I should have been doing.  Also had not been physically up to doing what needed to be done.  Today though, I felt pretty good.  I wanted to take more than half of the canopy out of it.  We need more wind and sun penetration for the tree.  Left to its own devices, it has developed a half dozen central leaders internally in the tree.

I pruned from the ground until it was open enough on the lower scaffold for Nell to scamper up into it to start working on bigger stuff from the inside.

By the time her arm got tired from the pruning saw, she had it open enough that even I could get up into it.

We also plan on bending branches down with ropes attached to hooks on the ground.  I want the tree to grow more out than up, and this one is vigorously reaching for the sun.  When the wood softens later in the spring we will start working on that.  If they are moved over the course of the summer to the positions you want, and harden off that way in the fall, they should stay in those horizontal positions.

Once we were done, Violet wanted her photo taken with her in the tree too.  She is not tall enough to reach the lower scaffold branches so I gave her a boost up.

Our last task with this, was gathering scion wood for doing bench and field grafts later.  I will trim all of these down, pack them in a zip loc bag in the crisper, and they will be fine for later.

So that is what it looks like now, and maybe I should have taken even more out of it, but I think 50-60% is enough to remove for one year.  Spreading out the branches is going to give it a lot more width as well.  I am going to move the compost pile to the north side of the tree, and plant tomatoes where the compost pile used to be.

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Second Run

This is what I came home to.  Every bucket within a few inches of the top.

They are bleeding faster than the spiles can direct the sap into the buckets.

The early run we had gave us just over 3 quarts of finished syrup.  We will see how this one goes.  Sap is running cold and clear.  Nice to see.


Getting close to 10 pm, and I have 12 gallons reduced to about 2.  There is going to be more to cook down tomorrow.  Buckets filled to where I had another full (combined) before the end of the evening. Spoke with a friend of mine this evening who taps far more trees.  He pulled in 105 gallons today, which combined with his early run, means he is going to have a record year.  The early shy run scared me.  Glad we get to partake in both of them.

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Continuing Class: Chip Bud Grafting

Last summer, we not only planted a lot of fruit trees;  we also worked at making a lot more.  see

Today was a continuation of that project.

Unlike the dozen in my yard that got eaten by rabbits (and I am going to have to get creative to save) the 95 apple trees I grafted at the Adickes farm appear to be fine.

Claire made the run out there with me today, and we got through all of them with the Adickes boys help.  All were cut just above the grafts that took last year, and then the cut was sealed with pruning sealant.

The pruning sealant serves a couple of primary purposes here.  First, it prevents the sapling from drying down past the graft and killing it.  Second, it creates hydraulic pressure when the sap moves up the tree, in the same way that it hits the primary bud (if you don’t cut it off) along with all of the growth hormones the tree sends up to move growth upwards.  In this way, we are hoping to make the tree turn that grafted bud, into the tree.For about 60 of the trees we had a good system going, where one of the boys would remove the protective screen tube, I would cut the top off above the graft, Claire would paint it with the pruning sealant, and then the boys would replace the tube.

At the bottom of the hill was a lot of ice, and the boys moved off to play their own version of Crashed Ice while Claire and I finished off the shorter second row of trees.

After all of that, Jerid and I worked through their orchard, working out pruning strategies, figuring out what made it through the winter, what needed to be repaired, and ultimately, we pruned all of the saplings they planted last year.

On the way back up to the house afterwards, I got a cute shot of Junior by one of their maple tree taps.

So that was the day.  My body made it through 130+ deep knee bends and though I sure know it, I also seem none the worse for wear.  For the moment.  I will need to do the same thing to the bud grafts I did up north at the property as well.  Still need to finish pruning the big trees.  But this part of the project has moved on to its next stage.


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Trees Are Running!

Our extended forecast looks good.  Highs in the mid 30s to 40s, with night time temps dipping below freezing.  Right now it is 44 degrees and all 4 taps we have in are running well.  They had just started up again yesterday evening, and by noon today they were nearly a quarter full.

We had an early run which I posted on.  Not enough to fill the buckets all the way up before it froze solid again, but I have to tell you, when we cooked it down, it made the lightest colored, sweetest, buttery maple syrup I have ever had.  Just one big jar of it.  Not even a full quart.  But good lord is it wonderful.

It has me convinced to watch the weather closely, and get some taps in early if we are going to have an early freeze-thaw cycle.

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Holding Patterns

This is one of those between times in the year.  It is a bit too early to be starting much in the way of tomatoes or peppers.  It is also early to be gathering maple sap, but the buckets had a good amount frozen into them, which we are cooking down today.  Temps will not get back above freezing until tomorrow, and the buckets will back on the trees.  As things stand now, what we have would reduce down to one and a half pints of finished syrup, though I will not cook it down that far right away.  Just need to reduce volume.

I made a drive out to Fairhaven Orchard on Saturday to meet with Dave MacGregor.  He was involved with the early side of cold resistant grape vine breeding and general viticulture for the upper mid west along with Elmer Swenson.  We spent time reviewing the property my family purchased, talked about ground prep, varieties to grow, and in general had a great afternoon sitting in front of a fired up wood stove, talking about growing things.  I have a list of books, authors, and specific topics to research on my own for a few weeks.

The eagles pictured, I pulled over and took a photo of, where 14 runs into 55 from the south.  I stopped and got out of the car to get the pic, and got to hear them talking to each other.  They are waiting for spring as well.

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Making Willow Trees

IMG_9289Claire wanted to go for a walk this evening, so we did a little project together, which is just a continuation of lessons in clonal reproduction of trees.


This is a big willow next to a retaining pond near our home, tucked back in a marsh.

IMG_9291 IMG_9292

We collected a bunch of green cuttings from it.


Tucked them in a wide mouth quart jar,IMG_9294

filled it with filtered water, and covered with tinfoil to keep lights off the roots, then put it on top of the fridge, at the back, where it would stay warm and out of direct light.


Nell and I did much the same a few weeks ago, from an ancient weeping willow on my parent’s old property.


3 weeks out from taking those cuttings, and 2 of them were developed enough to warrant being potted up.  You cannot do this with all trees, but if you have a willow you want more of, or want to save for whatever reasons, it is a fun project to do.

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Corn Flour (Red Speckled)


I have been asked what we do with all the corn we grow.  Well, the popcorn is pretty self explanatory, as is the sweet corn, but when you tell people you primarily grow flour corns, you get an odd look from most.


We have a variety of mills we have picked up over the years, from a cast iron double cone behemoth with flywheel, a standard hand crank double plate, and a coffee mill.


The soft flour corns will give you consistency as light as smooth as pastry flour.


We double bag it to prevent insect damage.  Corn left as whole kernels are fairly immune to all but rodents, and it lasts pretty much forever.  Once you grind it, the kernel has been killed, and it will go rancid in time.  We do a couple of gallons at a go, both corn flour and corn meal, and pack the equipment away until we run out again.  This is corn from 2015, that we just ground, so nice to know we have a couple of years worth of corn before we are close to running out.  I would have done a photo of the corn bread, but that did not last long enough to get photos this time.

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For Holly: Saving Grape Vine Prunings To Start New Vines

So a friend of mine asked, after the last posting, for me to do a more detailed post in regards to what I do to propagate grape vines.


Step 1:  You need wood that is approximately the width of a pencil, and last year’s growth.  In the picture above, there is 2 year old wood, thicker, and with bark that is peeling a bit, running horizontal.  There are 1 year old canes growing out of the top that I want to save for rooting, which is a way to clone the original varietal vine, in this case, a Bluebell eating grape.


The first cut is just below the first primary bud on the cane.


You ideally want 3 or 4 buds left on each piece, and each piece to be 10″-12″ long.  When you eventually plant them, only the top bud will be exposed.  The other two will be buried, and will send out roots instead of leaves.


The next cut is done at a diagonal, leaving about two inches of cane above the top bud.  This is because when you eventually plant it, the exposed top will dry back a bit, and cutting on a diagonal makes it obvious which end is the top.  (It is not always obvious looking at a piece of cane, removed from the perspective of the whole vine, which end is “up”).


You need the saved cane to not be winter injured.  Here, this winter, we got to -30F, and there was some cold injury to some of the vines.  The one on the left, above, is healthy.  The one on the right has died.


Just showing the cut end of the vine, left one is alive, while the right is spongy and brown.


Where I cut the vine just below the first bud is also healthy and green.


As you work your way through your pile of prunings, it is a good idea to have a bucket of water you can put them in that keeps them upright, and separated by type if you are doing more than one kind of grape vine.


For longer term storage (because this is January, and they will not be planted out into the soil for months) I place them butt end down in moistened peat moss (not sopping wet, I have soaked the peat moss, and then squeezed the water out) inside a 2 gallon heavy duty plastic storage bag.


This bag of 50 cuttings is ready to sit in the fridge for a few months.  When it is getting closer to the time to plant them out, I will take the bags out of the fridge, and place them, butt end down, on top of the fridge to warm them up, for a week or two, and then soak them, submerged in water, overnight, just before planting outside.  I will try to remember to add those photos when that time comes to pass.

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