Archive | November 2016

Stump Experiment Revisited


Subject stump 9/2015

Last September 13, I posted about an experiment I decided to conduct on a method for naturally removing tree stumps.  The subject stump is of a sweet cherry tree that had recently been cut.  There were several of the same species in the area so I used one as the experiment and one as a control.a1

The experimental process involved drilling several holes in the subject stump and filling them with 45-0-0, or full nitrogen, fertilizer.  The stump was then watered and covered with a plastic grain sack.  The covering was held down with rocks, but not made air tight.  The control stump was just left open to the air and not touched in any way.

This past year had warmer than normal temperatures throughout the seasons with two months of extreme drought in July and August.  No new growth sprouted from either stump, so I believe both are dead.  First we will look at the control stump to gauge any changes.


Control stump 9/2015


Control stump 11/2016

This stump has darkened in color and the oozing tree sap is gone.  Otherwise, the control stump looks pretty much as it did last fall.  The wood is still hard and solid.  It is not possible for me to push a screwdriver down into the wood.


Control stump 11/2016

Peeling back the old plastic grain bag reveals that the experimental stump has undergone some changes.  While the wood is not soaked, it is uniformly damp.  The surface has a powdery coating that seems to be made up of dirt-like material.  Fungus is thriving on the surface, including an orange fruiting body of a mushroom-like fungus.  Much of the surface of the stump is soft. a2
When I drilled the holes in the stump, they were made in solid, hard wood. The wood in the areas surrounding the holes is now soft and punky. I can push the screwdriver at least 1/2″ into the surface near the holes.a5

Around the outside edge of the stump the wood is still mostly solid.  The hard wood extends about 2″-3″ into the stump before punky wood starts.

It seems to me that there is a definite difference between the subject and the control.  The subject stump is decomposing more quickly.  There is no way to be certain that the accelerated rotting is due to the added nitrogen, the plastic covering, or both.  I should have used a third stump that had nitrogen in drilled holes, but no covering to be more certain of the results.  The fact that the wood around the drill holes on the subject stump is all soft now could indicate that the added nitrogen does speed the decomposition process.

The results of the experiment are enough to convince me to treat all the remaining cherry stumps to a dose of nitrogen and a plastic grain bag.  It certainly couldn’t hurt!

First Snow and First Eggs


Time to finish cleaning up the garden!

We awoke today to the first measurable snow of the season, about 1/2 inch of wet accumulation.  The white won’t last long.  The next few days will have temperatures in the 40sF with rain.  It’s pretty to see, dusting the trees, carpeting the lawns.  A warning of what is to come.


Winter dusts the harvest decorations


Snow never stops Otto from enjoying his favorite ball

The first snow of the winter is later than last year by about three weeks.  We have enjoyed a very warm autumn.  The ground has not frozen yet.  I am still harvesting the late apples and they are in good, hard condition.  I also collected my hazelnut crop, a total of eighteen nuts! b6

Next year should bring a better harvest.  Only the largest hazelnut bush produced nuts.  Hazelnuts require good cross pollination.  There are two other hazelnuts struggling to produce flower catkins.  They should provide enough to fertilize my largest plant next spring, as long as the deer don’t chew on them again this winter.  I trimmed my husband’s hair last night and collected the clippings.  Legend holds that hanging little cloth bags of human hair in the branches of trees will stop the deer from eating the twigs.  I’m giving it a try.b1

The pullets hatched in May and June have just started laying.  There are a total of thirteen hens.  Every morning the lights in their pen come on around four.  This gives them enough supplemental light to stimulate laying during the dark, dreary days of late fall and early winter.  We are getting an average of eight eggs per day.

b5The shell color on the eggs being produced by these young Ameraucana hens is lovely.   My latest flock is all silver or black plumage color.  I believe the blacks produce the deepest blue shade on their eggshells.  I breed specifically for the bluest shell color and things seem to be heading in the right direction!


Grim Mouse Tale


While I’m off traveling the world, or at least to Britain to see Mum, my ever loving husband keeps an eye on the house and feeds the animals.  Normally I return home to a freshly vacuumed place, with clean sheets, washed dishes, well-fed pets and livestock and a smiling husband.  This time things were a bit different.

Husband meets me outside.  Following the welcome home hug tells me there’s good news and bad.  Happily, the mouse the cats were tearing up the house to catch earlier in the week is dead.  Sadly, although he has searched everywhere, my dear cannot find the moldering little body.  So I should prepare myself for a less than savory olfactory atmosphere inside.

He was right.  The place stank.  I could scarcely accept that one tiny rodent would create such a powerful putrescence.  Yet, my husband was certain there was only one dead mouse.  I had just finished an entire day of travel, crossing five time zones.  My body thought it was midnight.  I was too tired to search for the corpse and the stench made no dent in my sleep.  When I woke at 3 am, with my brain believing it was eight-o-clock and time to be up and about, the smell of dead mouse was nearly overpowering.

The stink was strongest in the woodshed attached to the rear of the house.  I opened the outside door into the frosty morn so the offending odors could disperse as much as possible.  All the rooms continued to reek of death.  Before I tackled a house-wide search, I needed sustenance.  With my four cats sitting there staring at me, I had some coffee.

All the cats love the game of catch and release.  They go outside to their enclosed wire run, capture hapless creatures, carry them in the house and let them go.  The next several hours are spent chasing a poor animal until finally someone chomps down too hard and the game is over.  Since the enclosure must ooze of eau de feline, it amazes me any mouse would be dumb enough to enter the confines.  Yet they repeatedly do so, and are caught with regularity.

The two in the above photo, Cary and Kai, are the biggest culprits.  Cary, in the front, is worst of all.  He brings anything in the house.  Even pine cones and bean pods from the black locust tree are carried onto the livingroom carpets where they disintegrate under his onslaught of abuse.

Whenever I spot them at this nasty game, I put an end to it.  My poor husband tried twice to get the mouse from the cats to no avail.  The last he saw of it, the critter scampered under a door and hid behind a heavily laden set of shelves.  He said he searched fruitlessly for hours trying to find the rodent before and after it became deceased.

With our noses leading us to the woodshed, we set about the task of moving a full-sized refrigerator and a chest freezer half-filled with frozen beef.  Still, no deceased mouse to be seen.  Finally, I crouched down and searched the tight confines of the freezer compressor recess.  There, far in the back, behind wires and intimidating electrical configurations, I spotted some brown fur.  The poor injured mouse had crawled into a warm, dark place to expire.  The air current created by the freezer’s operation assured rotting carcass scent wafted far and wide.

With the help of a long, flex-handled clawed retrieving tool, I grasped the body and extracted it from the freezer workings.  I disposed of it in a rock wall far from the house where the dogs couldn’t get at it, thinking the odor would not be detectable outside.  Wrong.  My husband happened to drive by the area later in the day on the farm tractor and quickly noticed the corpse’s presence.  Oh well.  Hopefully neither of us will need to go that way for a while and nature can finally put the poor mouse to rest.  And I can enjoy a more pleasingly fragrant homecoming.


Botany Bay Kent UK


Along the coast of Kent between Margate and Broadstairs is Botany Bay.  This bay has a long, yellow sand beach, chalk reef and towering chalk cliffs with some sea stacks.  Today I visited the bay with my mum as I enjoy a UK vacation.


My mum’s dog, Archie the Westie, patrolling the cliffs

Infamous as a landing place for smugglers in the 18th century, the beach was actually the site of a clash between smugglers and Revenuers in 1769 that resulted in several deaths.  The encounter has come to be known as the Battle of Botany Bay.  It involved Joss Snelling and his considerable band of smuggling cohorts known as the Callis Court Gang.  The Revenue Patrol ambushed the gang as they unloaded their goods and shooting ensued.

Smugglers cut caves and tunnels into the soft chalk cliffs to use as storage places for the contraband and as escape routes.  The closed-up remains of these caves and tunnels can still be seen today.  The most well-known features of Botany Bay are the impressive chalk sea stacks.  These free-standing towers are the remains of cliffs that have been cut away by the endless wash of the sea.a8

Newly eroded chalk is pure, blinding white in the sun.  It quickly weathers to a gray-white and is often colonized by algae.a9

If you move up close to the seaward side of a cliff you will find the rock is riddled with holes.  Limpets creep into the holes for safety during low tide.  It is remarkable how well they fit the holes.a6

a7This part of the English coast looks out across the Channel toward France.  There is a huge windfarm off-shore.  Cargo ships often shelter on this side of the channel when it is too choppy for crossing.  It is not uncommon to see several large ships close to shore.a4


Skate or ray egg case and whelk egg cases


Whelk shell

Strolling the beach revealed a healthy population of whelk and some type of skate or ray as evidenced by the plethora of eggs.  The strangely shaped black ray eggs are also called mermaids purses.  There were numerous egg cases to be found, along with shells of the large sea snails.

With the great expanse of fine sand, the impressive cliffs and the safe waters with a mild current, it is easy to see why this beach is popular in the summer.  And also why smugglers found it a convenient spot to ply their lucrative trade.

This article contains interesting information about the Battle of Botany Bay:

Epple Bay in Kent, UK


Greetings from Kent, the Garden of England, where I’m staying with my mother in Birchington-on-Sea.  Birchington (for short) incorporates a small inlet of the English Channel near the Thames Estuary called Epple Bay.  That is where I went today, to pass a breezy fall afternoon.

a2The ocean is strong here when the wind rises and the tide runs high.  Without the concrete fortifications, the chalk cliffs would long ago have been broken, taking valuable Birchington real estate with them.  Even with concrete barriers and the wide promenade, the waters sometimes rise up to batter the cliffs.  The recent very high tide with the super moon left sea weed markers and broken chalk in its wake.a3
The entire seabed in this area, and all the underlying ground in general, is chalk. The land has a layer of fertile humus over the chalk. Where the ocean roils, the water is a white hue from the dissolved mineral.a5
The chalk formed when all this land was under an ancient sea. Marine algae, when they died, drifted to the floor and their skeletons formed dense layers of white. Interspersed in the chalk are globular chunks of rock called flint, a type of chert.a8
It is believed flint forms as a breakdown product of chalk. Flint is popular in this part of England for use as building material. It is embedded in walls or roads and spread in driveways. The top of this wall is armored with a line of projecting flints.a10
Along the promenade at Birchington there are several deep cuts that allow access through the cliffs to the sea. One can get a good idea of the depth of the chalk and the fragile nature of the overlying thin layer of living soil.a6

Trees and plants that edge the cliffs are in constant danger of having their roots exposed by subsiding chalk.  This fine limestone is also very porous.  It does not retain water well. This is why Kent is often affected by drought before other parts of the country.a9

Westerly from Epple Bay, seven miles out in the ocean, is Thanet Wind Farm, one of the largest off-shore wind farms in the world.  Some of the windmills are just visible in this shot.  Over the years of visiting my mum I’ve watched this farm grow.  It must be very successful.  There is certainly a copious supply of wind in this part of the Channel to fill the needs of the farm.a4

The weather is holding decent, especially for England, not too rainy, some actual sunshine and temperatures in the 50sF.  I hope to make another trip to the sea before I leave and to post again about the interesting Kentish Coast.

Time to Abolish the Electoral College


A nice, calming photo to help me reach tranquility.

The 2016 Presidential election results are nearly counted and the outcome appears to be that Clinton won the popular vote, yet Trump is President thanks to the Electoral College process.  While I was not enthralled by either candidate, I did decide to vote for the first female president and what I believed to be the sane candidate.  No matter which way the vote went, it feels intrinsically wrong that the winner of a simple majority of the popular vote does not become the chief executive.

If the final tally of this election holds Clinton as the winner of the popular vote, she will be the fifth person in our history to enjoy a majority of the voters’ approval yet not gain the highest elected office in the land.  The last time this occurred was in 2000 when Gore fell to Bush.  It was not right then and it is still not right today.

In a democracy, for better or for worse, the majority is supposed to rule.  To see the people’s chosen candidate thrown down inspires voter apathy, not to mention disgust.  The new President enters office with the knowledge he or she does not enjoy the support of a majority of the voters in the country.  I find it hard to consider such an official to be a legitimate representative of my country.  It is time for the Electoral College in the United States to go the way of other out-dated concepts removed by constitutional amendments.

Amending the Constitution is no small matter.  The process requires an act of Congress, no less, or two-thirds of the states may call for a convention to propose an amendment.  The amendment passes when the legislatures of three-fourths of the states in the nation vote to approve.  Such a task seems insurmountable, yet it has been accomplished numerous times.  The Congress actually proposed an amendment to do away with the Electoral College in 1969.  The proposal passed the House, but not the Senate.  It would have allowed direct election of the President and Vice-President with a run-off vote if no candidate received more than 40% of the vote.

The State of Maine, where I live, just approved on Nov. 8, citizen initiative legislation that creates a ranked voting system.  Because our last few gubernatorial elections have been split by three candidates, the resulting governor did not receive a simple majority approval.  Maine wants her top elected official, and federal congressional members, to derive authority via the support of a majority of her voters.  Each voter selects a first, second, third, etc, choice.  If there is no majority winner, the candidate who receives the least votes is eliminated and those votes go to the second choice on each voter’s ballot. The rounds of voting continue until a majority winner emerges.  In this manner, voters need attend only one election to select a clear winner in a close three-way race.

Ranked voting would also work for the Presidential race where there are three or more strong candidates.  This method is easier to understand and fairer than the rules and outcomes of the Electoral College.

Guess it’s time for me to start agitating my Congresspeople for an amendment.  If millions around the country did the same thing, we could have direct election of our President and Vice President.  Perhaps we would even feel our vote meant something since the person we elected would get to take office.