Those Spoiled Ducks: The Pond

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Gladys and Amelia are indeed as pampered and spoiled as any fat Pekins can be. Which was of course entirely predictable due to my husband’s tendency to spoil his pets unmercifully. Gladys, in fact, still insists on being tucked in to the coop every night, and she’s pushing 15 pounds of what one of the grandsons calls “Jabba The Duck.”

Thus it was over the last couple of weeks when the bitter cold gave way to days in the 50s and 60s, that the family was called together to finally finish the duck pond project begun last spring and not finished beyond a hole big enough for the plastic kiddie wading pool that served as bath until now. In this picture you can see my elder daughter the experienced labor straw boss overseeing the elder grandsons as they widened and deepened the depression that would hold the pond liner.

spoild ducksNow, any project that requires more than a year’s worth of planning – usually over beers around the campfire across the back yard from the someday pond – can’t just be as easy as digging out a hole, laying down the liner, and filling it with water. Because it’s a duck pond, and ducks poop in their ponds just like bears poop in the woods, it has to have drainage capability that will allow it to be emptied and hosed down occasionally (I figure from size and depth about once a month). This means the deepest part must have a drain mechanism and a stopper on a chain we can pull, plus a length of pipe extending through the back dirt wall to channel the dirty pond water to the downslope. From a year’s worth of kiddie pool clean-outs plus filling and draining the pond-pond as we engineered over the past couple of weeks, there’s already a water-cut arroyo bisecting the back-back yard extending past the shed to the drop-off at forest edge.

Pruning Grapes and Fruit Trees

It’s into February now – the longest month of the year psychologically, so the shortest month numerically – and pruning the fruit trees and grape vines is the name of the game in my region. Even as we’re facing yet another nasty winter weather ‘event’, this one scheduled to dump a foot or two of snow on top of ice that will no doubt interrupt electrical service and make the animals miserable. Though it should be melted off by the weekend, when we’ll be back to more normal 50+º days. At least it won’t be bone-chilling cold as it was twice last month. Which is good, since we just finished replacing the incoming water pipes due to freezing…

Last spring and summer my region got so much rain that the apples and peaches went crazy. About 20 inches above what is considered ‘normal’ in this microclime, and this microclime ‘normally’ gets a good inch of rain a day (average) from mid-March through June. Anyway, two of my apple trees were so overloaded with heavy fruit that big limbs sank onto the grape arbor, and finally broke off altogether. The peaches – first year the volunteer from a seed in the old compost bin had produced full fruit – ended up with its limbs sunk onto the pumpkin patch, not broken off, but split along the bends. And the grape vines, which daughter had over-pruned the year before so I hadn’t pruned before season, were so thick I had grapes growing on the ground, even as sturdy fence poles supporting the arbor sank low over the upper end of the mints below.

So I’ve got the clippers, loppers, hand saw and chain saw set out on the shed workbench and ready to go to work once the snow’s melted. While grandson and/or hub are armed with the chainsaw, I’m going to finally get rid of the ugly back yard he-holly I’ve been hating for years now, and about half the boxwood out front that blocks way too much sun from the solarium.

Figure I’ll just cut the apple trees in half. They were originally those nifty Stark “columnar” apples I ordered on line nearly 20 years ago and planted too deep. Instead of being a 10-foot tall central, vertical limb with apples all around, they reverted and got 25 feet tall with branches everywhere straight up. Too tall for me to reach, I engineered a hand-claw onto a big plastic drink cup and duct taped it to a long sapling pole so I could pick ripe apples in the upper reaches, but I’m thinking just cutting them short should encourage more low level fruiting. If not, I’ll just take ‘em down and plant new apple trees on the upper terrace above the driveway next year.

The peach is trickier, because ‘m just not sure how to prune it properly. It’s nearly 30 feet tall after 4 years, so I figure it’s probably not a true mini. I’d like to encourage it to be short and thick, though, more spread out but less likely to droop to the ground when full.

I already know that any removed large limbs or portions of upper trunk need to be slant-cut so water won’t stand on the ends to encourage rot, and that I need to paint those cuts to seal them. But planning what cuts to make is a thoughtful job, for which it’s best to follow the advice of agricultural ‘experts’. For that purpose I’ve gathered some good sources – complete with detailed illustrations and instructions – and offer them below. Will take pictures of the before and afters, with more to follow at mid-season and harvest to show how well the project works for what I’m aiming for. Stay tuned, and if you will be pruning your fruit this month or next, please do check out the sources at the links below. They could help salvage older trees/vines, and increase your harvest!

Useful Links:

NC CES: Training & Pruning Fruit Trees
NCSU: How to Prune Peach Trees
Stark Bros.: Successful Fruit Tree Pruning
How to Prune a Grape Vine – Illustrated
Pruning Grapes in Home Gardens: Some Basic Guidelines

Antioxidants vs Radiation: Lemon Balm!

Lemon_Balm!Most of us who are committed to the homesteading lifestyle are committed because we perceive the value of living closer to the earth, taking responsibility for ourselves per the ‘conveniences’ of life, and care a great deal about the general health and well-being of ouselves, our families and our communities. A lot of us grow a lot of our own foodstuffs so that we can know “what’s in it” when we eat it, and some also raise their own livestock to receive that high quality protein from a source unconnected with the impersonal death industry that meat and dairy production has become in this modern age.

And for the general robustness of our bodily defense and repair mechanisms – so important to maintaining health and promoting longevity – the value of antioxidants is something we’re familiar with. Antioxidants serve to reduce the amount of “free radicals” in our bodies. Free radicals are loose, fast-moving electrons (and sometimes positrons) that damage molecules and cells by knocking electron shells of atoms out of whack, thereby disrupting molecular bonds. And while a certain amount of oxidative reactions are part of normal metabolic processes, excess amounts of it can cause all sorts of problems. So plants and animals maintain multiple types of antioxidants to balance the processes, such as vitamins C, A and E, glutathione, certain enzymes and peroxidases, etc. which protect against oxidative stress which can cause neurodegenerative diseases, the ailments of aging, and even cancer.

A great deal is known from medical research about antioxidants and their protective uses, and a great many people take supplements or choose high-antioxidant foods as part of their healthy diet. Here is what some doctors have to say about it…

“Free radicals appear to play a central role in virtually every disease you can name, either directly or secondarily.”
Russell A. Blaylock, M.D.

“There is now overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants and take antioxidant supplements will live longer, healthier lives.”
Lester Packer, PhD.

Okay, okay. We’re convinced. Many of us even know which of the foods we choose to grow and/or eat pack the most antioxidant whallop. But what about antioxidants that are used to prevent damage from oxidative health hazards most of us are not all that familiar with? Like, say, radiation exposure.