email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Monday, August 31, 2015

Groundhog Update

First, if you just can't stand the idea of destructive suburban yard varmints being "eliminated", don't read further than this paragraph.  No pictures, and I won't be detailed about their fate, but I don't exactly "adopt them out to loving families". 

So, last post, I was seeking to capture the groundhog who was eating my garden melons.  I have 3 sizes of hav-a-hart cage traps (small, medium, and large - what else?).  The small one is good for squirrels.  I was using the medium cage for the groundhog (it seemed smallish), but apparently it was too small.  The cage doors kept being closed, with the bait pulled out, so the groundhog must has been able to back out of the cage before the doors locked on it.

I brought out the large cage trap  2 days ago.  It has only 1 door (the medium size has 2) and the trip lever is father in.  The groundhog has to be entirely inside to step on the trip-level.  I baited it with one of the melons only nibbled on.  I stepped on the melon to break it into pieces.  One small piece was at the entrance for enticement; a larger piece was inside the cage just beyond the trip-lever.

The next morning, the groundhog was in the cage.  It is "no longer with us".  I thought that was the end of the problem.  I've never had more than one adult groundhog here at one time before.

Wrong!  I stepped outside quietly to do some yardwork after lunch and to my surprise (you saw this coming, right?) saw a larger one running away from the garden.  I even heard it moving around among a serious bramble patch where I assume it has a burrow. 

I rebaited the trap and out it in the path I saw it run in with some of the remaining half-eaten melon.  And I made sure to put it where I could see it from the house.  Nothing like trying to see into my house from cage level...

An hour later, I saw another groundhog in the cage.  It is also "no longer with us".  It is late in the season for young groundhogs, but I will set the cage trap up again in a few days.

The good news is that I have an excavator arriving tomorrow, and the cage would be in the way of excavating equipment, so I have to wait.  The arrival of the excavator is surprise good news, but I will post about that tomorrow. 

Today was about the groundhogs...

I do want to say that I do not have an special dislike for "varmints" in general.  If I could look down across the street to some large field where groundhogs and rabbits happily ran around living their lives eating meadow plants, I would enjoy watching them and I would leave them alone.  When the squirrels used to be here just eating and burying acorns, I never bothered them.  When the rabbits contented themselves eating the plentiful clover in my organic lawn, I did not bother them.  I'm not sure what groundhogs eat that isn't damaging, but if they did, we would co-exist. 

But any common varmint that gets at the things I value, I will rid my property of them as humanely as possible and at no threat to wandering pets (no poisons, no snap-traps).  If there was such a thing as a "Golden-Eared Groundhog" that was endangered, I would catch it and offer it to whoever cares about them. 

But anything that eats MY food is asking for it...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Good and Bad News

The good news is that I found a residential excavator who is willing to come some distance to do most of the work I need.  I'm at the edge of his regular service area.  He'll do the leveling of the 6'Hx50'Lx15'W ridge and haul away the brush and gravel/clay soil, but he really isn't into bringing in topsoil and raising the front lawn level.  Well, I can get THAT done locally.  It will be 2 weeks before he can arrive though.  At least he assures me he WILL arrive to do the work.

The bad news is that I was a bit casual about finishing the garden enclosure and left some small seams open while I fussed around with getting the enclosure door  to fit (it kept getting out of square each day as the posts settled and the soil around them dried).  And then I had the tree removal crew here for several days and spend time after that cleaning up (they cleaned up, but there were still piles of ground-up tree stump chippings for me to spread out and such).  And I wasn't seeing any varmints bothering the garden.

Well, the varmint situation changed overnight several days ago.  I walked quietly into the backyard one late afternoon and caught a glimpse of a groundhog running away.  There were a few melon leaves nibbled off nearest the enclosure door, so I set up a live-trap cage in the barely-open doorway.  I didn't catch it, but there was no further damage.  So I figured it was both suspicious of the trap AND baffled about getting in otherwise.  The other open seams were way around the back of the enclosure. 

Foolish me!  I went out yesterday afternoon and found my 2 small (unripe) dwarf watermelons and 2 of my 5 (unripe) honeydew melons completely gone, and another half-eaten.  It had obviously found the backside openings!  I closed the enclosure door and set the baited cage trap closer to the path it must have taken to the back with a part of the half-eaten melon (a trapping website said to use whatever is being eaten as bait - though melons were usually best).  So melon was best for bait of both counts. 

This morning the cage trap was sprung but no groundhog.  But the bait was pulled out, so it must have reached in carefully and tripped the lever while still outside the cage enough to get free.  Well, I've never thought that varmints were exactly dumb; if they were, they would be extinct.  The idea is to use their habits against them.  I set up a "V" of upright 2"x12" boards to "guide" the groundhog to the trap.  That has helped in the past.  and I covered the cage trap with landscaping fabric to make it look more like a safe tunnel.

I'll bet it doesn't work.  But I did finally lock the enclosure door frame in place and seal the chicken wire seams around it, so that's no longer and problem.  There are still 2 more opening in corners, but it was dinnertime today and I was starving!  So I put a piece of chicken wire over the remaining melons, piled some melon leaves (which it also seems to eat) at the remaining openings (for distraction bribes) and called it a day. 

If I don't catch it by tomorrow morning, I have pieces of leftover chicken wire cut to size to seal the remaining openings.  After that, my garden area should be safe anyway. 

I still need the groundhog gone.  It will eat flowering plants too, and I can't protect everything.  In past years, a groundhog would show up in Spring, I'd trap it and relocate it.  Or find it's burrow and dump used cat litter into the hole until it fled in disgust.  But this August appearance is a surprise and I can't find the burrow (it may be in a neighbor's yard).

That melon-eating varmint has GOT to go, one way or another.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mild Underved Destruction

One of the things I had to do when I expected the excavator contractor to show up "any tomorrow" was remove the birdfeeder.   It wasn't easy.  Try setting a pipe 3' deep in the ground for almost 30 years and see if IT is easy to pull out! 

It took work.  But I did it.  But then I had this thing with a 24" saucer under it and a 18" baffle below  (successful squirrel baffles) and no where to put it.  So I set it against the deck where the 24" saucer fit in tight.  Seemed safe.

Nope!  I went out today and the whole thing had fallen over.  And falling over, it broke!  I don't think it is repairable.  I'm going to have to build a new one.

Now, on one hand, I'm sad it broke.  It lasted 20 years (all cedar) and the cardinals and finches loved it.  On the other hand, I wanted to improve it a bit anyway.  I'd rather it had stayed intact, but I'll take advantage of the damage to build it better. 

A lot larger to begin with, and with an interior slope to make the last seeds go down to the feeding tray. 

But I wouldn't have to worry about this if the excavation contractor who said they would be here had come here instead of begging off for better jobs.  I'm still p&*@ed about that!

I hope the new feeder is as well-built as the previous one.  Some things just go better the first time around and you can't duplicate it.  So maybe the new one will be better and maybe not.

We'll see...

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Yardwork Excavation Contractor Blues


I spoke to the excavation contractor early today.  I'd been patient.  They (Della & Son) said on August 14 that they would be out to do the work "next week" (Aug 17-21) with a day's notice "because some jobs go way faster than others and some way slower, and to keep the crews busy they have to juggle the schedule".  OK.  Well, it isn't exactly urgent, like plumbing or roof repair work.

But when I didn't hear from them all last week, I called.  It seems they are no longer interested in doing my work.  They are "busy".  Good for them.  I suggested keeping me on their list, but they said they probably wouldn't get aroubd to my little job this year.

Stunned silence on my part...

I asked if they had decided their job estimate was too low; they said it wasn't, they just weren't going to be able to schedule the job.  And didn't want to keep my job on their list.  So, like "goodbye, and don't call us again".

Wow!  I was disappointed that they wouldn't do the work, but worse, it left me kind of out of options.  There are 2 kinds of businesses who do yard grading work.  One is excavators, the other is landscapers.  And all the others of both types had not been very interested. 

Excavators want to move around a lot more soil in open areas.  Landscapers are more used to residential grading, but their main thing is to plant the new area.  My job doesn't quite fit either.

The Della & Son proposal was perfect.  They would scrape off the plants (English Ivy, Poison Ivy, vines, and 3' tree saplings) from the surface of the ridge and dispose of the material.  Then depending on the quality of soil beneath that, they would either move it to the sunken front lawn, or haul it away as "fill dirt" (used to fill up ravines or to level under parking lots, etc).  If required, they would bring in topsoil to raise the front lawn above the height of the drainage easement.

No one else I talked to was willing to do that.  I was so pleased, I accepted their proposal on the spot, and we shook hands on it.  I am considering trying to shame them into doing the work anyway.

But I found another residential excavator today (Cornerstone Excavations).  His ratings are "A" in all categories and no one who wrote a review has been displeased.  Unfortunately, I am on the far edge of where he will travel to for work.  He won't travel to provide a firm quote.  He won't do the entire job (the spreading of soil on the sunken lawn isn't stuff he does).  But he does have the light equipment sufficient to scrape the ridge level and dispose of the unusable ivy and saplings without tearing the entire backyard up and he does the work himself.

The Della & Son proposal for the whole job was $3500.  While Cornerstone can't give me a firm price ahead of time, he estimates $1000 to scrape the ridge and $350 per truckload (estimate 2 truckloads) to dispose of the material.  He said I would get a much better deal having the topsoil to raise the sunken lawn done locally, and I think he is right.

Hoping that his estimate of $1700 doesn't suddenly become $3000 when it is done, I've agreed to send him pictures of the worksite and schedule the work.

Now, back to "shaming" Della & Son...  They gave me a written proposal and I accepted it, pending only a one-day notice for them to show up.  And they backed out.  I got their name off Angie's List (an independent contractor rating site).  Contractors care about their ratings there.  Della & Son have a straight "A" rating (price, quality, professionalism, punctuality, etc).  I'm going to give them a negative review.  Contractors often respond to reviews there.  I would still like them to do the whole project, because they had seen the work to be done onsite, described the work to be done perfectly, and given a firm quote.

We'll see what happens...

Friday, August 21, 2015


Stream of semi-conciousness, "day-in-the-life" stuff...

And waiting, and waiting, and waiting.  For what?  Oh just the excavators who gave me a quote for scooping off the backyard ridge.  Why am I waiting?  Oh because they said they would be here "sometime this week" with  day's notice and "this week" is pretty much over now. 

OK, I actually needed some time.  It's amazing how much stuff needs to be moved to prepare for destruction.  I had to dig up 12 daylilies and pot them up for later replanting.  THey wren't happy where they were anyway.  And there were all those leftover posts and boards from the deck rebuild last Fall.  One can always use big chunks of lumber for "something".  I had to drag about a ton of THAT away from the ridge.

And then there was the birdfeeder on the pole in the ground.  Had to pull THAT up.  It wasn't easy.  It's been 3' deep for 20 years.  And just figuring where to PUT it during the excavation work was a trick.  I eventually did some minor repairs (well, as long as it was there, you know?) and propped it up against the deck.  If they get THAT close to the deck with their equipment, I want to know anyway.

Oops, I forgot the pots I sunk in the ground to make the stepldder level for refilling the birdfeeder.  Had to dig them up.  And, oh lord, the vinyl-coated wire cages I used to support the pepper plants last year were buried under wild vines, so they had to be cut loose with pruners. 

Wow, I forgot about the old heat pump support base that I used to help support the stepladder,  AND the old cement base that used to be a boot scraper and I'll-repair-that-someday.  Yeah right, but I had to move it.

So I'm ready.  Oh blast, the side of the slope is covered with flagstones from a previous project and I NEED them to make a stepping-off point for the new deck when I get around to THAT!  And dang, they are buried in vines.  So I need something to cut the vines and expose the old flagstones.  Ecxept the sickle is dull and needs to be re-sharpened. 

So into the basement I go with it to the grinding wheel.  2 minutes and you could dismember a mean bear with it.  Not that I have anything against bears, you understand, just a metaphor.  Or is that an analogy? 

Anyway, I start chopping vines with the newly-sharpened sickle.  Works great.   I can see the flagstones again, first time in years.  Woah, what if there are snakes under those flagstones?  Better go get the leather gloves.  Where DID I put those?  Oh yeah, in a sealed tub so that spiders wouldn't crawl in.  You laugh?  I have black widow spiders around here.  And I'm not allergic to MUCH but I don't want to stretch it too far.  Just in case, I stomp on the gloves a few times...

So, with leather gloves on (and nothing wet inside), I go after the flagstones.  Oh damn, there's poison ivy growing in there and I'm wearing shorts.  So into the house to put on long work pants...  That being done, back out to the flagstones.  Oh wait, where are the gloves.  Back in the bedroom where I changed into long pants. 

So now I'm at the flagstones (really finally).  I lift them up, one by one and toss them onto the lawn.  Something is weird about that.  Not only no snakes but no ant nests or anything.  I check...  The dirt is oddly solid. 

Whoa, there is carpet under the flagstones!  I forgot about that.  Old stuff to supress weeds.  I can't pull it up; the vines have sent roots through it, nailing it to the dirt below.  I think I will just let the excavators take care of that part!

So now I have 3 dozen flagstone pieces sitting on the open lawn, I'm drenched in sweat (yes real salty sweat - my maternal grandmother would have been offended "animals sweat; people "perspire" - yeah right)),  and the wiping towel I have with me is as soaked as I am.  Time to go inside.

Inside, I collapse.  So it starts to rain.  Oh damn, I have a radio outside.  Up I jump to retrieve the radio.  With that in the basement, I go out and look around for other items.  While I'm out there the rain stops suddenly.  Not even 1/8th inch...

So... I decide to try an save some azaleas.  Noyt to dig them up (there is way too much poison ivy around them) but I can try some cuttings.  Even THAT was tricky.  The poison ivy is thicker than I realized.  But I get branches cut off of 3 bushes that I think I recall being one each red, white, and pink.  Maybe. 

I'm starving.  When did I eat last?  Lat night.  I don't bother with breakfast much and I think I skipped lunch to get the worksite ready.  So I eat a whole peach, a plum, a handful of grapes.  And brew a cup of green tea to keep me going...

Its not enough and it is close to dinnertime.  I feed the cats a LOT more regularly than I do me.  So I feed them and then look in the fridge.  I have cooked hot italian sausage, so I can make sausage stew. 

Don't laugh, its good.  Coined sausage, sauteed green peppers, minced onion and carrot for sweetness, and cannelini beans (OK white kidney beans), tomatoes and tomato juice for broth.  OK, its more a soup than a stew.

So I decide to change my usual recipe to a true stew.  Hot water, flour and chicken paste. 

I cook for myself.  Have done it since I was in college.  Not having any criticism is nice.  I know what I like to eat.  BUT!  You know how sometimes things don't come out as planned?  Well, I eat it anyway.  But sausage SOUP is good and sausage STEW is horrible.   Don't EVER add a flour-based thickener to sausage.  *I* sure won't ever again...  Worst meal I've made in a YEAR!

The meal was sort of saved by the salad I made of 2 heirloom tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and shaved carrot with Italian dressing.  And an ear of corn.  And 3 chocolate truffles...  And another peach, plum, and some strawberries.  And more wine than I usually drink.  I deserved it...

And I'm STILL waiting for the excavators to call me about the proposed schedule for removing the ridge!

Good thing I'm finally ready for them to arrive...  Finally.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Garden Enclosure Screen Door

The garden enclosure door is giving me trouble.  The posts holding it keep getting out of alignment.  Sometimes the top sticks.  Sometimes, the latch won't catch.

I've bought some additional pvc pipes to help hold it in place, but I had to get the frame in alignment first.  One post had to be raised 1/4", and that was trickier than I thought.  Since it is stuck in the ground 2', the idea was to pry it up 1/4" and then hold it there while nature lets the soil below it expand and fill in.

So the first part was to lift the post.  Easier said than done.  I dripped water in around it for an hour, and that did loosen the post.  But lifting the post isn't just pulling it up a bit.  There had to be something to hold it up the 1/4".  And I don't mean to suggest that I am strong enough to just pull it up that much.

I had the idea of screwing a 2x4" board to the post and prying on the bottom of that board.  That would work, but how would I hold it there?  I tried putting a 4x4" post against the top of the frame and then lifting it with shims.  I did that, but the frame didn't rise.

All I was doing was pushing the post into the dirt...


And if I put a board under the 4x4" post, that was too tight to make it fit under.  I had to re-think it.  And the 4x4" post I was using to raise door frame was the wrong length by 1".

AHA!  I set a scrap piece on board in the screen doorway and set the post that was "just" too long on the board at an angle.  Pounding that 4x4" post that was at an angle, toward the post I wanted to lift worked!

Look at it another way.  The door frame post and the ground made a right angle, with the bracing post resting on a board at the bottom making the hypotenuse.  By pounding the bottom of the bracing board with a small sledgehammer, I pushed the top of the door frame up the required 1/4".  Hurray!

But how to hold it up?  The bracing post prevented the door from closing...

Well, that baffled me for a few minutes.  But then I realized that if I screwed on a board near the bottom of the door frame post  on the opposite side, it would hold it up for ever.  Well, I didn't need "forever", just long enough for wet soil to settle below the door frame post.

SO...   I set a cinder block next to the door frame post, stomped on it a few times to settle it into the soil so it wouldn't sink under pressure, and put a scrap piece of 2x4" board atop the cinder block.  And I screwed that board into place.

So the post holding the latch side of the screen door (that I had just raised 1/4") won't settle back down (the piece of 2x4" is resting on a cinder block that won't settle into the ground and the 2x4" board is screwed solidly into the door frame post).

I can leave all that in place forever.  Its not in the way of the door closing.

But the latch doesn't "catch",  I can solve THAT.  A small piece of aluminum fill fix that.  Actually some would a plastic credit card.

Just accept that the door and latch will now work, and that the screen door closes as smoothly as silk!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tree Removal, Day 3 (Part 2)

Well, OK, time to wrap this up. I'm ready to start posting about other projects...

A 2nd crew came out for the final part.  They had a different tree trunk "grabber".  The previous day's grabber had hydraulic problems.  So did the new one.  Apparently, from what I overheard, the hydraulic lines can fall loose and then get cut if the crew isn't careful.  I have some square foot spots with hydraulic fluid on my lawn which can't be good for the grass.  I will have to replace some soil...

They finally had to use a small fork lift attachment (which must have used a different set of hyrdaulic lines) to move the last sections tree trunk away.  It worked well enough.
BTW, see the shadow in the lower right above?  That's my deck, with me resting my camera on the deck rail for stability, and me wearing my straw hat.  Cool!

With the last pieces of tree trunk removed, the crew brought the stump-grinder into play.  It a 2' diameter circular saw but with teeth like a small T Rex.  The operator hanles 3 joy-sticks like some super arcade-game-player.  He stands behind a shield, and wears super goggles for protection. 
I found that hilarious.  He wears the goggles because he can't see through the viewing screen in the protection door.  He can't see through the viewing screen because all the flying wood chips abrade new ones in just a few days of use.  Doesn't seem like a really well-designed product to me...

Anyway, the grinder blade is moved back and forth, up and down, forward and back (three directions, so 3 joysticks) and can take off about 1/2" of wood at a time.  So 10" of remaining tree trunk and going 6" below ground level took a while.  2 hours or so, actually.  It finally looked like this...
Well, they did remove the other tree pieces, but I can't find the good picture of the "after" right now.

The grinder guy wasn't thrilled to have to go below ground level on the stump (all that extra work), but I had made sure that was part of the quote, so I insisted.  Getting the stump below ground level hastens rotting and prevents the roots from sending up endless shoots.

They insisted that they had to spread the wood chippings out as company practice, so I didn't argue.  I'll take care of that later. 

All the gardening experts say that raw wood chips are NOT good for spreading around plants and shrubs.  First, the decomposing wood uses up all the nitrogen in the soil.  Second, it attracts slugs and snails that will eat your plants.  Third, "artillery mushrooms" love to grow in it and they spread their spores by exploding (hence the name "artillery") and the stuff leaves bright sticky pink material up to 4' away.  Not a problem where my chips are, but I've seen pictures of the stuff staining cars and house siding.

They did a great cleanup job!  They not only raked the entire worksite of all leaves and sticks, they got up on the roof and blew all the debris off there.  Then they even swept the gutter screens clean!  Finally they blew the sawdust and debris off the deck. 

Even with the delays from the equipment hydraulic lines on 2 pieces of equipment, they did an outstanding job.  I'll forgive the small puddles of hydraulic fluid leakage on the lawn as collateral damage and repair that myself.  The compacted soul from the equipment running all over it needs repair anyway.  I'll dig up the oily spots and trash it, then work the entire area over with my roto-tiller.

And I have an excavation crew coming in next week.  Maybe they will do that for me as part of the project.  I mean, they are digging up soil and disposing of a lot of it (a ridge of weeds, clay and gravel) anyway, and then bringing in 2 truckloads of topsoil to raise the sunken front lawn, so a bucketloader could dig up the "soiled soil" and replace it with a little of the new topsoil.

We'll see.  They are coming out here next week (day unknown).  Their work is tricky to schedule as sometimes other jobs go fast or slow, and I get only a days notice of when they will arrive. 

More about THAT next time!

Tree Removal, Day 3

By the end of yesterday, they had the oak tree completely cut down.  As I guessed, at some point they would simply cut off the trunk at the bottom and let it fall over.  It's sure easier to hold those big chain saws and cut down rather than sideways.
The rope at the top is so the guys can pull the trunk over away from the fence and deck.
And down it comes!
They went right at the trunk to cut it into manageable sections.
And there it is in pieces.  
Looks like one of those 6' party subs cut into individual parts...
The view is sure different!  There was sunlight on the ground where there hasn't been for at least a century.  
But it got a bit humorous after that.  The boss came by and told them to cut the stump lower because it would take too long to grind it all down.  Then he told me a stump grinder crew would by here "tomorrow" (today, now) for the grinding and final cleanup.  Then he left.

It wasn't the best decision he ever made.  They cut off 1' of the stump easily enough.
But the next foot drove them crazy.  And their problem baffled me too.  First, one guy cut all around the trunk as he had in the upper foot section.  But it just wouldn't come loose.  Well, his circle around the trunk was more of an upward spiral.   It was like 2 teams tunneling through a mountain and missing the meeting point by a few dozen yards.  So he went back at it.  And missed again...

This went on for 30 minutes.  I watched from the safety of the deck.  Far be it for me to tell them how to do their jobs.  Though I did wonder a bit watching one guy who didn't quite seem to know how to use the grabber point under the chain saw to lever it for best cutting and I saw another guy trying to give him advice.  I couldn't understand what they were saying (the crew is hispanic - more on that below).

Their problem baffled me at first.  I could see that the 3' chain saw blade could easily reach to the middle, and they had a couple wedges in place to keep the weight of the cut portions of the trunk from pinching the blade.

They finally tried wedging the uncut portion loose.  But they only had 2 wedges and that wasn't working.  So I went and offerred them my 5' iron breaker bar which they accepted gratefully.  Even that wasn't enough.

I could see from the deck that the cut section would rock east/west and north/south and I went down and showed them where the uncut part had to be.  Well, you don't have to be a tree removal expert to understand basic mechanics...  But I wasn't able to communicate that well enough with hand gestures.  So I tried another series of gestures suggesting they cut the top piece like a tic-tac-toe board so they could find the uncut part.  Now luck with that either...

Here's the part about my spanish-speaking ability.  I took Spanish in High School.  I could speak the written words well enough, and with a passable accent.  But that was 50 years ago, was mostly written, and I barely passed the class then.   So my ability to speak to the crew was limited.  I remember some phrases.  The most useful one for me is "Yo hablo muy muy poco Espanol" ("I speak very very little Spanish").  One guy asked "Como Esta?" (How are you"?) in the morning and it was an hour before I remembered the correct reply ("Estamos bien, gracias" - "I am well, thank you").   I used that to him later and got a smile and a thumbs up.  Well, at least he didn't laugh.  And when one of them waved at me and asked "agua?, I brought out a pitcher of cold water. 

So I watched them struggle with it for another 45 minutes.  I wish I had thought to bring out my laptop and use "google translate" to get some simple phrases that would have helped, but that only occurred to me after they left.

But they did finally manage to break the uncut part loose.  Do I need to say that the uncut part was exactly where I pointed to earlier? 
The 2nd half of Day 3 tomorrow...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tree Removal, Day 2

Ok, actually, I'm starting with the work done yesterday.  The first day, they got the sweet gum tree removed, and the lower half of all the oak tree branches.  It looked like this after Monday...

I couldn't even close the fence gates to let the cats outside for the late afternoon.

The pictures of the guy climbing to the top of the tree didn't come out at all (drat) except for this one, and you can't see much there.
 But by the time he was done (took about 3 hours), it looked like this...
Then the bucket crane guy went to work again.
The trunk got lower and lower.  And when THOSE chunks hit the ground, the cats hid deeper in the bedroom.
A piece falling, and that's 3' in diameter...
A dragonfly took advantage of the rope...
And I'll stop there for today.  The final pics tomorrow (I hope)!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tree Removal, Day 1

This has been quite an adventure.  It's taken longer than I thought (or that the contractor estimated).  Part of the problem is that the "grabber" (the equipment that grabs chunks of cut-down trees in a huge metal jaw) developed hydraulic fluid problems, and in spite of their onsite attempts to fix it, it just wouldn't work properly.  Their other grabber was at another job today, but will be here tomorrow.

I've been taking pictures all of both days, and will be posting them here now and for a few days to come.  Here is the original view of the massive white oak...
They started with the sweet gum tree, since it was in the way of the large equipment.  I'm glad I wanted it removed, since they couldn't have gotten to the oak with it there anyway.

They cut off all the side branches first.
That tree was easy and they had it down in just over an hour.  That bucket crane goes REALLY high!
I got a nice action shot of them cutting the trunk down in pieces.
And there goes the rest of the trunk...
 The stump color surprised me.  The core is a small light brown area, then there is a dark area, then a light one.  It must have had some extremely different growing conditions that changed suddenly.  My guess is that the light area represents the tree getting a lot more sunlight after I moved in and had 2  shading big oaks removed.
But, it developed some problems later.  I suspected, and the cut sections showed, that the tree was dying from the top down.  So better it was gone now...

Then they started on the oak.  Now, these guys have see a LOT of trees, but even they were impressed!  I hated to have it removed, but it has been dropping more and more 6' diameter branches the past coule years, and I was becoming convinced it was dying and would fall over on the house (as the prevailing winds would blow it in that direction).

They cut off the smaller branches and push them in a safe direction.  The larger branches take a bit more preparation.  They tie a rope (which is looped up over higher branches) to the branch, twist the rope around the tree trunk (for friction), and then just one guy can can the cut branch from falling while releasing the rope slowly.  A couple other guys grab the branch near ground level and guide it to a safe landing (away from the house and fence).  I thought I had a picture of the twisted rope trick, but I guess that was one of the dozens of blurry ones I had to delete.

They use a neat knot I am familiar with from Boy Scouting called a "bowlin-on-a-bight" .  It makes a loop in a rope that it tight under weight, but undoes easily afterwards.  It is the knot commonly used to lift people from cliffs and such.  Its one of those "the rabbit runs into his hole, circles around, comes back up and then dives down again" kind of things.  There is an odd pattern of wrist looping movements that I recognized.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tree Removal

My back yard is semi-wild.  I like it that way.  I hate removing trees, though I have removed a lot of them over the years.  When I moved here 29 years ago, the backyard was mostly filled with too many junk trees, too closely spaced for their own health.  I thinned out the smaller junkiest ones (especially a type of locust tree with thorns like needles all around the trunk).

At the same time, I looked at the drainage easement along the property line.  For those of you not familiar with a "drainage easement", it is an artificial rainfall control channel that leads to a natural body of water (in my case a swamp across the street).  But the drainage easement wasn't the natural drainage.  There is a 3' deep ravine that cuts across the neighbor's back yard and used to cut across the side of my front yard.  The county-mandated artificial drainage easement that goes between our property lines cut my part off.

So I first just wanted to fill in my ravine, and I did so with a full dump trick load of average fill soil.  I spread it all out myself.  It was some bit of work, all with rake and shovel.  But there were 2 fully mature oak trees right next to the new drainage easement, and I realized that the roots had been entirely sheared away on one side.  I had them removed so they wouldn't fall over on the house.  I left the 3rd oak tree standing because it was farther from the drainage easement and I wanted the shade on the roof (passive cooling was a big idea at the time). 

Then I thinned out some that were just too shaded by larger trees to ever thrive.  That still left a complete deep shade canopy across most of the back yard.

But even the larger trees were still "youngish", and didn't stop growing.  10 years later, I had about half of them professionally removed.  Later, one of the larger trees leaned over enough to fall in a windstorm and the top half of another snapped off and a 3rd one was starting to lean, so they had to go.

But lately, I've become obsessed with the idea that the remaining massive oak will fall on the house.  The past 5 years, it has been dropping 6" diameter branches and I doubt its health. It's only 20' from the house, and the prevailing winds would push it in that direction.  Given the estimated weight of the tree is at least 3,000 lbs (6,600 kilos), it would pretty much crush the entire house (and likely myself as well).  I can imagine the newspaper headlines.  "Local man has tree fall on house, drowns in his own waterbed"...

I'm having it removed tomorrow along with a large sweetgum tree that has been leaning over slightly.  I talked to my home insurance agent about it.  He admitted that should the tree fall onto the house, I was 100% replacement-covered, but it could take months of reconstruction and I would probably need to move out during the reconstruction.

It seemed like a great property when I chose it 29 years ago.  But having lots of mature trees near your house is over-rated.

It will be an adventure watching this oak removed.  I wasn't at home to see it's 2 siblings removed ( I was supposed to, but they arrived a day early and when I got home from work that day, they were just GONE!  The other trees I've had removed have been nowhere near as large as this one.

The tree guy says that the upper branches will be removed first by a combination of a crane and tree-climbers, and lowered by rope for eliminating collateral damage to other trees (and the house and deck).  The massive trunk itself will be cut off (lowered) 8-10' at a time and will be carried off by some sort of "grabber" to a flatbed truck.  I hope that's not "hype".  I will be taking pictures all the way and will post them.

The good news is that they will be taking down the sweetgum tree first.  It's small than the oak, and I will see how carefully they do that job.  If they seem careless or find that tree difficult, I can tell them to stop before they start on the much larger oak tree.  They have a "A" rating on Angie's List, but not a LOT of reviews.  It's possible they got their "A" rating from smaller simpler jobs.  I'm being careful.

There is some deconstruction work involved at getting at the massive oak tree, too.  At the least, 2 sections of my 6' shadowbox wood fence have to be removed (the tree is just inside my fence), and it is possible a gate and a concrete-set fence post will have to be removed (they suspect not, but if so, their "grabber" can just pull the 6"x6" fence post right up out of the ground without even damaging it and it can be set back down into the hole afterwards as sturdy as before.

I actually believe that last part.  I've set enough posts into the ground without concrete myself to know how well clay soil hardens around any bare post in plain clay.  One with an 12" cylinder of concrete around it should settle in better.  And it might be an improvement.  That post leaned slightly after being installed 25 years ago and the connections to the fence sections are loose anyway.

For generally useful information for anyone considering this kind of work themselves, the quote is $5,500.  As I understand it in very general terms, $500 is just for bringing all their equipment (a crane, a "grabber", and 2 flatbed trucks) and crew from 15 miles away to the worksite, $4000 is for the massive oak tree, and $1000 is for the sweetgum tree.  The cost includes detailed cleaning of all debris, removal and replacement of fence, and grinding both stumps 2' below ground level.  It seems worth it...

So anyway, tomorrow is going to be VERY interesting.

I will be watching them through the entire process of course.  Partly for knowing what happened if there is some accident, partly just out of fascination for a process I can hardly imagine, and partly because it is a rare opportunity to take some really interesting pictures (for my scrapbook and for blogging - one never wants to miss a chance at great pictures to blog about, LOL!).

But one can't spend the entire day taking pictures and hoping no one falls out of the trees.  So I have saved some yardwork for myself to do while the tree guys are doing their thing.  It is all stuff I can do while keeping an eye of the tree-work while being safely out of the way.  I have the garden to water, some trellises and screen door supports to install in the garden enclosure, and if that takes less time than I expect, part of the far backyard is getting overgrown with blackberries, thistles, and  and I have a gas-powered weed-whacker with a steel blade I need to start using.

And after that is done, I have excavation work to be done in the backyard!  The ridge in the middle of the backyard is going away and the sunken area of the front yard (that gets flooded every thunderstorm) will be raised 18"!  That's to be scheduled after the trees are gone.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Been Busy, Part 3

Getting rid of old pressure-treated lumber and boxes...

When I busted up the 25 year old garden beds last Fall, I collected them in a corner of the yard.  And there they sat.  Meanwhile, thinking I might move, I was collecting boxes that were of same shape.

This past week, I decided the old lumber had to go, and I wasn't going to move.  It was time to bring stuff to the landfill and the recycling center...

I did the old lumber debris first.  I was surprised at how much I had.  480 pounds of the stuff according to the landfill scale.  1/4 ton almost...  It took some work.  First, I had to haul all the 480# from the far backyard to the front yard.  Then into the hauling trailer.

Then drive it all 10 miles to the landfill.  Then drag it all out of trailer into the landfill disposal area (with dinosaur-sized bulldozers screaming around me barely 2 meters away).  And it cost $16 just to get rid of it.

And THEN I had a basement nearly full of identical boxes in 2 sixes.  One group of 4 dozen wine boxes and a group of 10 boxes.  I was going to store them all in my attic, but decided "why".  So I packed those all into the back of the Highlander SUV.

They never would have fit by themselves into the car.  So I got inventive.  The boxes could hold 3-4 wine boxes.  But there were still wine boxes left over.

I am spatially creative.  I looked at the leftover wineboxes and thought for like 2 minutes.  It hit me that a little reshaping of the wineboxes might fit them into the existingly-packed ones.

I crushed the narrow sides like paper grocery bags fold, and darn if they didn't fit right down into the other boxes!  Two boxes in the space of one and 2-3 pairs of boxes inside the larger ones

I filled up the back of the SUV and drove to the recycling center.  Free riddance of reusable materials!  There were even guys there so bored that hey emptied my car for me...

Getting rid of 480 lbs (1,056 kilos) of old lumber debris at a reasonable cost and 58 boxes for free is a good day!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Been Busy, Part 2

Part B) of the projects this past week...  The PVC pipe frames for the concrete 6" mesh wire...

It was an adventure cutting, drilling, and marking the 1" PVC pipe for the trelises.  The cucumbers and pole beans are wandering around the garden surface looking for something to climb.  I thought the pole beans would climb the cornstalks happily, but the corn is a short bicolor variety  and the pole beans need higher supports.

So I'm late in adding the trellises to the enclosed garden.  But maybe not TOO late.  I tested a pole bean and it can be unwound from the corn stalks.  I'm barely getting to the trellises in time!

My delay was due to the difficulty in getting at the concrete mesh.  I stacked in against the fence last Fall to get it out of the way, and the Evil Vines from the neighbor's yard have entirely taken them over. 

It took several hours to rip the D*** vines loose from the wire mesh 2 days ago.  And things are so tight between the new garden enclosure and the fence that I cant just pull out the 30' of concrete mesh to cut it apart on the open lawn.  I'll have to do it where it is.

Fortunately, I have a saws-all.  The metal blade cuts through even concrete mesh like a hot knife through butter.  But I have to construct the PVC frames the comcrete mesh will be attched to first so that I know exactly what sizes to cut.

And that means making the PVC frames first.  I have them in pieces.  Tomorrow, I'll attach them to the framed garden beds.  When the PVC frames are attached solidly, I'll cut the 30' of old trellis concrete remesh to size. 

Pictures will follow...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Been Busy, Part 1

Well, OK, I always TRY to stay busy doing something useful around the house each day, but some things aren't worth reporting on.  I'm pretty sure no one cares that I mopped the floors, did laundry, paid bills, weeded gardens, cleaned litter boxes, etc.  Not that those things don't take time and have to be done, but they aren't generally things I bother to post about. 

So, having been busy with such routine things, I haven't posted for a week.

I am pleased to say that the last 3 days have been at least a bit more busy on interesting things.  They fall into 3 categories:  Garden, Clutter, and "Other Stuff".  And because each part gets a bit long, I'm going to address one of the 3 parts in separate posts.

First (today) is the garden, and there are several parts to that work over the past week. 

A) While I was pleased to announce that the free-standing screen door to the new garden enclosure was finally completed previously, it apparently wasn't quite.  The posts have settled slightly, and even with metal corner braces, the door rubs on the top of the frame, and I can see that heavy rains will always make it a little bit loose.  So I designed some support structures of PVC pipe braces that should help.

B) The climbing plants need trellises to, well, climb.  Pole beans and cucumbers mostly.  So I designed some basic PVC pipe frame that can support concrete mesh wire.

C) The vining crops like melons spread out in all directions and need to be constrained to their own framed beds.

D) Raising one side of the frame 1/4".  That doesn't sound like much, but it is the difference between the door sticking and not.

So, a week ago, for part A) I went shopping at the Big D-I-Y stores looking for the parts that would brace the free-standing screen door.  I don't want to get overly detailed, but the idea was to attach 2 PVC pipes from the door frame to the nearest upright PVC post on each side of the door, and 2 from the horizontal post above down to the top of the door frame.  It was just a best guess of holding the free-standing door frame in place. 

The D-I-Y stores didn't have the right attachments, so I improvised.  That didn't work.  Part involved cutting the upright posts to add a "tee", and I realized that the upright posts were so locked in place by the chicken wire enclosure that I couldn't get that tee installed.  There is something called a "snap tee" that doesn't involve cutting the upright posts.  Literally, you just cement and push the snap tee onto a pipe. 
FIMCO FIMCO Drain Tubes & Fi…
But that part that sticks up in the picture has to fit into another pipe, and somehow it just wont.  I suppose it is designed for some other purpose.  Then it struck me that a connector fitting (intended to attach 2 PVC pipes together) might work.

 It wasn't tight as if designed for the purpose, but close enough to cement after several applications.  And if the cement doesn't hold, I can put a bolt though it to get the same holding effect.

The trellis frames, part B) were a lot easier.  They are just an upside-down "U" of PVC pipe with the bottoms attached to the outsides of the framed beds in the back of the garden (so as to not shade the other lower-growing plants).

"Easier" doesn't mean "easy" though.  I still had problems.  I wanted the PVC pipe uprights to be solidly attached to the framed beds so I could then attach 6" grid concrete mesh wire to them.  I wanted them to be level up and sideways, and 2' below the top of the enclosure (so the vines wouldn't crawl up through the top). 

So I made a cardboard template that was even to the top and side of the frames.  Repeatability is wonderful.  I used the cardboard template to mark drilling spots in the frames.  I then used the template to mark drilling spots on the PVC upright pipes. 

Since the uprights had to be 7' (from a 10" PVC pipe, they had to be cut.  I tried clamping the pipes to 2 sawhorses, but the vibration from my saws-all
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kept knocking the clamps loose.  I had to bring the 6 pipes inside the clamp them to the sturdier workbench.  Cut to 7' lengths, I then had to mark the spots to drill holes to match the pilot holes in the garden frames.  That's where the cardboard template helped A LOT!  The same holes in the cardboard HAVE to match up to the pilot holes in the garden frames, right?

We'll find out tomorrow...

Part C) was serendipitous.   I needed a whole lot of small bamboo stakes to keep guiding my free-ranging melon vines back into the beds.  Packs of 25 bamboo stakes cost about $7 and I need a few dozen.  But I was shopping at Target today and found 12" kitchen bamboo skewers 80 for $1.27.  That works for me!

One of the most useful discoveries I've made in life is that products meant for a purpose are expensive, but very similar things meant for another purpose can be quite cheap.  My favorite example is a plastic scoop.
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Not the exact product, but an example... In a pet store, it was $6.  In a hardware store, it was $3.  Same thing, different customer...  *I* use the scoop to transfer the kitty litter in the 35# buckets into more wieldy smaller containers.

But back to the bamboo skewers...  I want to guide the melon vines in circles to keep them in the beds and out of the paths.  The 12" skewers will work just fine for that!

Part D), raising one side of the door frame 1/4" is a bit trickier.  I've figured out a way to do it.  I'm going to screw a short scrap of 2"x4" board near the bottom of the post I want to raise 1/4".  I will put a brick on the ground and stomp on it hard to make sure it won't settle deeper.  Then I'll use another 2x4 to use as a lever to pry the attached 2x4 1/4" higher.  I'll clamp it temporarily until I can wedge shims between the brick and the screwed 2x4.

That will hold the post up the 1/4" I need.  But it is going to have to stay there for months until routine ground expansion and rain fills in the spot.  Bet it is still there several years from now, LOL!

Despite the 4x4 posts being set 2' deep in the soil, I bet I'll always have to adjust the screen door frame from year to year.  Some things never stop needing attention.

I originally got the idea of building a chicken-wire-covered garden enclosure from a website HERE 

But I found some problems with the design, and fixed them for myself.  Well, I hope everyone improves on construction ideas they find on the internet or elsewhere, mine included.

You would be amazed at the way things travel around the internet.  

Next posts:  "Clutter" and "Other Stuff"...