Filed Under (my country home) by admin on 19-05-2008


My daughter has expressed considerable interest in owning a horse. I like the idea, but balk at the expense and at the amount of work involved. My dream, when we left the city, was to move to a farm where having horses would have been a minor additional load—once you have a pasture to provide food, and a barn to provide housing, moving a horse in is a small step. However, if you live in a house in a subdivision, you must buy land, develop pasture, add a barn, drill a well, pay to have electric service added, and otherwise toil to prepare for a horse… unless you buy a farm—but then why did you buy a house in a subdivision?

So, there is a major intersection between my daughter’s dream of owning a horse, and my dream of living on a farm. But my daughter hasn’t been particularly whiny or persuasive about her dream… in fact, while she’s shown a lot of interest in horses, only recently did she start making bold, declarative statements about her wants—statements such as, “I want to own a horse,” and “We should live on a farm.”

So, to entertain our mutual dreams, on our way back from my daughter’s last horse-riding lesson, I took her for a drive past some of the farms I find particularly appealing. Along the road leading to my last sight-seeing destination, we came upon a large fenced pasture with a farm pond and a bunch of cows hanging around in the shade of a wooded area. On a hillside, far from the crowd of cows, was a small evergreen tree that had the attention of a solo cow who was enthusiastically rubbing its head in the branches of the tree.

My daughter and I watched for several minutes, musing about the cow’s relationship to the tree: Does the cow rub its neck often, we mused, or is this a rare treat that we happened onto at just the right moment? Does this cow have exclusive rights to the tree, or do the cows take turns scratching their heads and necks? Does the poor tree sometimes suffer abuse from several cows at once?

After a time, we noticed evidence that that lone tree drew considerable attention from the cow—or cows—in the pasture: there was a dirt track worn on the ground around it. Someone has spent enough time at the tree to kill off the vegetation that grew at its roots.

I imagine that being hairy and standing around outside most of your life might result in at least some skin irritation. I think if my cow spent so much time scratching itself, I’d take a break from the rest of the farm work, and give the poor animal a bath.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,



Filed Under (rural life) by admin on 14-05-2008


I hate house sparrows. These beasts, also called English sparrows, are an invasive bird species that aggressively abuses native birds. A house sparrow is a rather drab brown and tan bird. It’s small and fearless, nesting among humans in just about any available nook or crevasse.

If a house sparrow has a song, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. I have heard a house sparrow’s annoying, persistent chirp—the same grating tone again and again and again. A house sparrow chirps this way as it blockades entries to nesting boxes; impedes access to feeders; and generally harasses other birds, squirrels, chipmunks, dogs, and people.

In contrast, there are several bird species native to the United States that have all kinds of character and color. For example, the robin has its trademarked red breast and, while it also will nest anywhere and chirp harassingly, it tends to ignore birds or other species, and it offers up real songs from time to time.

There are far more exciting natives, and from occasional articles in the local paper, you’d think these birds would be easy to attract… actually, they are easy to attract. I hung a nesting box one spring, and almost immediately a bluebird couple moved into it. Another spring, I raised a twelve-room purple martin condominium twenty feet above my back yard, and purple martins came! (Purple martins are swallow-tailed birds that are blue on top and cream underneath–well, the adult males are all blue. They soar and swoop over a neighborhood, chowing on insects and flashing purple when the sunlight hits them just so.)

Most cool of all: every season that we’ve bothered to hang a hummingbird feeder, hummingbirds have come. When the garden fills with blossoms, we don’t even need a feeder to attract hummers… they arrive anyway.

Now for the ugly part: within a day of the bluebirds moving into my nesting box, house sparrows started harassing them, and a day later the bluebirds left. Within a day of the purple martins moving into my condominiums, house sparrows harassed them and a day later the martins were gone. (Thankfully, house sparrows care nothing of hummingbirds.)

This spring, a pair of Carolina wrens discovered the purple martin condos (now standing only six feet above the yard), and nested in one of them. A Carolina wren is a very small brown bird with a tight, intricate pattern woven into its feathers—as though it’s wearing a fine tweed. Wrens actually sing, and they’re uncommon enough, that it’s always a pleasure to see them flitting around the garden.

Of course, the bad boy house sparrows descended on the purple martin condos, strutting in front of the entrance to the wrens’ home, and chirping that bone-headed chirp. The wrens—smaller birds than the sparrows—stood their ground. They didn’t directly challenge the sparrows, but they stayed on the nearby garden fence, on the play set, and on the ground beneath the martin condos. The sparrows carried on for hours, but I saw the next day that the Carolina wrens were still coming and going at their purple martin condo home.

I’m glad that some native American birds can hold their own against house sparrows. The bird books encourage: If you encounter these bad boys of birds, kill them. I haven’t figured out how to do that without breaking a law. But, when I find house sparrow nests in my yard, I destroy them repeatedly, seeing the sparrows rebuild day-after-day until finally they leave, or they build somewhere else out of my reach.

Technorati Tags: , , ,



Filed Under (my country home, rural life, rural living) by admin on 16-04-2008

The leaves of Zoysia grass (top) have the unfortunate characteristic of dying during the winter. A Zoysia lawn is brown for the first month or so of spring. My friend’s discarded sod on the bottom right is weed-free. It may never look as good as my kidney-shaped patch of Zoysia, but it smothered, perhaps, 130 dandelions like the ones on the left of the lower photo.

As I admitted in an earlier entry, I’m not fond of yard work. In fact, I mow the lawn only when its length threatens to choke the mower. There have been years in which I’ve fired up the mower only a half dozen times… though in rainy years, it’s been as often as weekly. After mowing, it’s a shooting match whether any other lawn maintenance happens at all.

My lack of interest in yard work led me some years ago to plant several hundred Zoysia plugs in the middle of my back yard. You might have seen ads for Zoysia grass. They promise a lawn so dense that the grass chokes out weeds. They promise green when other grasses are dying because of drought. They promise a lawn that endures cold winters and hot summers. They promise a lawn that you only need to mow a few times each year!

The product seems to have delivered: I now have a healthy, kidney-shaped patch of Zosyia grass in the middle of my back yard. It’s thick and soft and nearly weed-free. Thing is, it would take several thousand Zoysia “plugs” to plant the entire yard, and quite honestly, putting 600 plugs in the ground was not fun. I now officially offer the non-Zoysia area of my lawn as a test plot for Zoysia Farm Nursuries. Please, Mr and Mrs Zoysia, send a crew and demonstrate to future customers how easy it is to plant a third of an acre with plugs. In the meantime, most of my lawn is a mess with dandelions, crab grass, and bare spots.

Good Rural Living

In contrast, I have a friend who very much enjoys yard work. Several hundred square feet of grass in his yard had fared poorly through the years because it received almost no sun. This spring, he rented a machine that cleanly slices the grass—and about an inch-and-a-half of roots and soil—away from the ground. His plan was to load the old sod onto his pickup truck, and pay $24 per ton to unload the truck at a municipal dump. I figured to save him the dumping fee as well as some gasoline.

So, this morning I helped lift dozens of chunks of sod off the ground onto a pickup truck in my friend’s yard, and then lift it off the truck onto the ground in my yard. There’s a lot of slope in one corner of my yard, and for years I’ve wanted to add topsoil and level things out—but doing that is more yard work than simply mowing, so it wasn’t going to get done… until the topsoil practically fell into my lap.

The way we unloaded it in my yard, I don’t expect the sod will grow into a gorgeous carpet of grass—it will never match the Zoysia kidney about ten paces away. But the unplanned half day of yard work has gotten me closer to my dream of a level yard; if my buddy wants to replace the rest of his grass with new sod, my yard has a low corner waiting to hold the old stuff.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,