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Fencing ~ Tools ~ Helpers


Wild or Tame, keeping Animals in and out of the Fruit Trees and Berries.


Tools for the healthy Backyard Orchard and Homestead Food Forest

Lilli in pear tree

Four decades of Growing Good Food in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thought


April 7, 2021 -- House Cleaning Timebirdhouse in April

I had on my list of things to do to clean out the birdhouses but hadn't gotten to it. This early spring weather (and a lot of hiking days!) has scattered my schedule . But today when I walked into the orchard I heard a new bird voice, familiar and happily welcome - the bluebirds were back! I didn't see them but I immediately changed my plan, got ladder and tools and went to work cleaning out the birdhouses. We have eight on the fence around the acre orchard/garden, four along the south and center are the domain of the bluebirds and barn swallows, each with their favorites, and the other four varies as to occupants. As I pulled out old nesting materials of the first four I was happy to find apparently successful nests, used and empty, or made but not used. The bluebirds and swallows had a good year, and we sure appreciate the work they do.

Our houses are of two designs, the older ones I have to take off the tops, hence the ladder. The newer ones are of better design and one screw allows a side board to be opened from the bottom, hinged at the top. When I got to the 5th box, on the far east fence near a white pine woods, I pulled up the side board (no need to climb the ladder for these) to find a nice pile of grass. Obviously this box had been filled but not used. I put my garden fork in to pull the pile out and instead out jumped a surprised mouse, onto a VERY surprised woman. Down she went (the mouse, not me) and immediately ran back up the fence post and into her nest. I wish I could have taken a photo of her because she was a beautiful beige white footed mouse. Well. I debated, very likely babies were aboard but I didn't really want to house a mouse. So I went and got a bucket and lid, carefully scooped mouse and nest in and moved all to what I thought might be a nice place under a large low on-the-ground fir branch. She, of course, scurried off but hopefully returned to repair and re-establish her nest somewhere else to her liking.

The other three boxes were uneventful. The one by the north fence gate was full of twigs as it often is, the domain of a local wren. The last box is one of the newer ones, down at the northwest corner, not used its first year two years ago. There is more traffic here and near to the woods and more shady so not likely to be as popular. But I had noticed chickadee activity last year and sure enough they had built, and used, a cozy nest full of moss and feathers in this box. Mostly the chickadees nest in the plentiful woods so it will be interesting to see if anyone uses this box this year.

My job done I headed out the gate and as I did I saw the male bluebird, landing briefly on that last nest box before flying back into the woods. I like to think he came out to say Hi and thanks for the house cleaning job.

August 13, 2017 -- The Corn is Secure!

garden orchard fenceWe had finished a significant part of the new fence -- posts and fencing -- the end of May, securing the garden and orchard from deer intrusions and anything else that might wander by but not be of the climbing sort. Off and on over the next months we worked on other odds and ends of finish work, removing the old fence posts, filling in the holes, tying poultry wire to field fence, eliminating gaps, finishing the gates. But we hadn't yet done the big, important last part -- the electric wire. From long and painful experience we knew that without it there was little chance of us harvesting our corn, or cherries (when we once again have cherries), and maybe other fruit. Thankfully the raccoons hadn't shown up to go after the strawberries or blueberries or raspberries. They must have been busy elsewhere. But the corn was ripening, so we went to work.

We sorted through the old insulators for those still in good shape, bought new ones. Went back to get the RIGHT new ones. Went back again for yet another bag. Screwed insulators to wooden posts, finaglednorth fence gate appropriate ones through the poultry fencing onto the metal posts, untangled and strung out miles (it seemed) of electric fence wire, went around again and again and again making sure the electric wires weren't touching the poultry fencing which had a tendency to bulge out at the wrong places, tying it back to the sturdier field fence or a stake where necessary. Around and around the fence pulling tall grass and weeds out away from the wires. Figuring out how to electrify the gates without electrifying us whenever we went in or out. Turn on the fencer, find out why it wasn't working, what was shorting out where. Pound in extra rebar 'staples' to make sure the fence was well grounded, and make sure there were no gaps for someone to slip under. A few days of intense long hours but in the end - hurray, five bright lights on the fencer tester! We slept well last night, and are looking forward to the first ripe corn soon.

corner fence postsORCHARD - New Garden/Orchard Area Enclosed! - May 15, 2017

new orchard map



There is still a lot of work to be done on the new fence (and removing old fence posts) but the new area is now enclosed, and it feels good! We've been working on it over several weeks but the big day was when we had to take down old fence and re-install it in the new form. Once we started it had to get done that day to keep the old garden/orchard secure from interested deer. These things seem to always take longer than one thinks, but it was done before dark. And we're satisfied with that.

ORCHARD - New Fence Stage 1 - April 30, 2017north fence line cleared

Buds are swelling, daffodils and Spring Beauties are blooming, wood ticks have arrived, and in a few weeks it will likely be warm enough to graft all those seedlings and trees waiting for new varieties. There’s still snow in the air sometimes, frosts at night, many cold north winds, and many beautiful days. Spring comes slowly up here, but that’s just the way I like it. And now Stage One of our new orchard fence is complete. This has been one of the big projects for both of us this month -- clearing the fence-line. A lot of large chainsaw work, small lopper work, and a fair amount of chopping and digging; cutting down/out trees, shrubs and brush, hauling it off to create yet another new brush pile, just in time for the sparrows and other small birds (and other creatures) to claim as new home territory. Pre mosquito and black fly time is great for this type of work.

At the north end I had to move an old brush pile that was in the line and discovered a gold mine (if one is a grower of plants and trees) of well rotted stuff at the bottom. Well worth the work! At the south end I found (unfortunately with the lawn mower!) a nice rock, maybe 10” sticking above a raised area. Since we’re collecting rocks for our someday pond this was a good find. It was mostly buried, and I had to flatten that area anyway, so I got the shovel to dig it out. Surprise! Turns out it is maybe 3 feet across, and who knows how deep -- I didn’t go that far! So I dug out around it and we have a nice “point of interest” along that part of the fence. Thankfully the chosen fenceline runs just north of it. The large rock is a companion to our old “snake rock” about 100 ft away. This one is mostly above ground (actually, we don’t know how much is below ground). In our early years here we saw a garter snake sunning itself on this large rock and henceforth it has been Snake Rock.

This new area adds about 30% to the size of our current garden/orchard, making it about one acre total. I think this will be a nice size and we’ll certainly be eating well when all the new fruit trees start producing! The next step now is Lilli in pear treeto move some of the old fence and install new fence posts and fencing. Steve’s had to fit this work into the building of his kayak so it’s been a busy month. It’ll be nice to have it completed before the weather warms up, the kayak is finished, and we’ll be wanting to get out on the water. Plus the swallows and blue birds returned to find their old nest boxes moved in anticipation of taking down part of the old fence. So It’ll be good to get the fence done and the boxes put back up before they get too serious about their nest building work. It sure was great to see and hear these old friends again.

Every project needs a friendly supervisor. Our resident rodent harasser LilliB enjoyed surveying the job I was doing for a short time. But she soon turned her attention to more interesting endeavors.

Steve cutting hay with scytheThe Scythe and the Power Mower

Whether you're growing a small patch of grain, cutting some hay, or just wanting to keep an area mowed without a gasoline engine flapping in your ear, the scythe is a great tool. We managed to get a good one many years ago, and I recommend it enthusiastically it if you can find one similar.

We first had one of those heavy, hardware store models -- which was a joke, though not a very funny one if you were trying to do any serious work with it. Then we splurged for a model purchased from Smith and Hawken (this was way back when they sold quality tools, no relation to the current catalog by the company of the same name). Our scythe was made by Hand & Foot Ltd, Green River Rd, PO Box 611, Brattleboro, Vermont 05301. After almost twenty years, it is still in great shape, though much broken in.

The snath (the wood part) is straight with movable handles to fit different sized people. This part would be easy to make. The blade is of high quality steel, thinner and lighter than the hardware store monster. It sharpens well to a razor edge. This would not be easy to make, unless you were very, very skilled in blade making. Keep an eye open for a good one, new or used. It will be worth a hundred bad blades.

The tool is a real joy to use, even if you aren't that proficient, which I'm not. I've been tempted when I've finished mowing a section with the scythe to take the power lawnmower to it to hide the terrible haircut, especially when it is right next to Steve's neatly mowed patch! But I enjoy it anyway.

Learning to use the scythe is more a matter of loosening up and letting the tool do its job, joining its rhythm. Don't worry if you don't quite have the muscles for it when you begin -- they will come!

This is a tool for the grasses, not for sapling and brush. But it is very handy, even if you aren't cutting hay or grain. We use it for what might loosely be called "lawn mowing", as well as for mowing mulch hay, cutting down green manure plots in the garden, knocking down various "weedy/light brushy" spots, around the fruit trees, and grain harvesting. It is handy, peaceful, fun. It's a very satisfying tool. Good exercise, too!

For years I'd read that you had to keep the area around my garden well mowed to keep the insects and weeds back. And for years I did just that. We had (and have) very little mowed area around our home and "yard" (actually fields between forest), but the area around the garden was well shorn.

When we had chickens they enjoyed this mowed area, especially as I was mowing (with a gasoline mower). They would come running when they heard the machine and would scramble all around after the grasshoppers and other insects that were flushed out by the roaring engine. You had to be careful not to mow a chicken a two. But when the hawks and owls came around, the chickens were much safer in the tall growth around the edges.

The chickens are gone many years now, and I don't mow as much. The field/lawn often grows tall around the garden and orchard. Sometimes it is cut it for mulch, sometimes left to flower for the pollinators. Now I mow paths and patches -- around the garden, to and from the garden shed, the windmill, the fruit trees, the gate. Wherever we traverse often. We enjoy the paths more than broad mowed areas.

I mostly use an electric battery powered mower now, one that can be charged up from our solar electric system. It isn't any faster but it's more pleasant than the gasoline and is my first choice. These mowers have come a long way since our first ones. They are much more practical. However, when growth gets tall it's more than the electric can handle so the old gasoline mower, which has been asked to mow things more than the manufacturer planned I'm sure, comes to the rescue. I use whatever tool makes the most sense to me, and what I enjoy the most. 

We had many insects and weeds before, and we have many insects and weeds now. No better, no worse. The garden is full of insects in fact, and occasionally a new weed or two. It's interesting, it's fun, and the garden produces more food than we can eat in spite of what I do, or don't do.

And besides, I'd rather watch the insects than mow any day.   

* * * * * *

P.S. - For many years after Smith and Hawken changed their direction and dropped those great tools they used to carry we couldn't find a source for these excellent scythes. But this was before the internet opened up the world for those of us in rural areas. It seems that almost anything you want is available somewhere now! Go for a good one, it's well worth it.

Copyright Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.