Construction · Pests - General

Filling in trenches!


First trench
Case backhoe

A few weeks ago, hubby dug the trenches for our water lines.  The piece of equipment he wanted wasn’t available, so he got the Terramite backhoe way in the back of the picture to the left.  It managed to dig out the packed clay, but stumps defeated it.   Our wonderful neighbor, BH, came over and offered us the use of something a little bigger.   Hubby had lots of fun digging with this one and managed to get over 400 feet of trenching done in two days. We finally have the right water pipes, have them installed, pressure tested for leaks, marked well, and we are ready to fill in the holes.  The first thing we tackled was the break in the driveway as we either had to carry everything over the trench or take the long way around with the four wheeler — which I won’t drive cross-country!    I’m still getting used to it and have only reached a maximum speed of 7 m.p.h. on the driveway so far.

Water line inside a sleeve
Pipes clearly marked

BH suggested that we feed our water and power line to the well through a larger piece of PVC pipe in order to protect it some from the pressure of us driving across the section that runs under the driveway.  Most of the damage he sees to underground pipes stems from rocks abrading the plastic and that is more likely to happen under a heavily traveled area.  Other suggestions that he made were to wrap the pipe in caution tape and tie wrap the electric line so that it stays under the pipe.   That way, if we forget where the lines are and start digging, the first thing we’ll hit is the water and that’s only if we don’t notice the caution tape.   The next step was to rake soil around and under the pipes so that when we backfill the trenches, the pipes are supported and the soil immediately around them is clear of rocks.  That was my main job today, and I only got a short run finished.  Guess what I’ll be doing tomorrow?

Back to the driveway….

Hubby rented a soil compactor so that the driveway remains stable over the long haul.  Haul is a good word as we pretty much had to haul the darn thing up the trench and sometimes give it a helping hand on the downhill run too!   That’s why I’m back at the RV typing instead of still digging and raking out in the 97 degree weather with the men.  (8 hours of that was enough.)  It was an interesting and tedious experience, but I know that section of driveway isn’t going anywhere.

Woodford faucet

The outdoor water faucets hubby installed drain when you turn them off, releasing the water back into the soil and preventing the faucets from freezing.   They are available in a variety of lengths so that they can be buried deeper in colder regions.  The ones we have are buried two feet in the ground.   The base is surrounded by drainage rock so that water can drain easily, and hubby covered the exit with fabric to prevent dirt and roots from entering.   We have other faucets at intervals along the long run of pipe so that we can attach drip irrigation lines eventually, but the main water sources for the RV and the workshop are these very robust ones.  (The drip irrigation faucets will be low to the ground and easy to cover in winter.)   Another of BH’s suggestions for these long runs of pipe was to install telescoping repair couplings at intervals to enable expansion and contraction without the pipes having to bend.  This afternoon pipe that was straight in the morning was significantly bowed by 3:00 p.m. and the installation of couplings like these took care of that.

We also installed a spin down water filter on the main water line coming from the well.   (I’m not sure if it’s the same brand as the one in the link.)

Spin down water filter

This style was the third filter we tried on the irrigation well at our house after having non-stop problems with sprinklers not shutting off and other zones not turning on. The more traditional filters clogged too easily with the fine sediment, but this one worked perfectly.   It also doesn’t require any additional purchases, like replacement filters.  When it becomes clogged, simply turn the handle and it flushes out.  We had to do this multiple times a day for the first month we had the irrigation well, but only flush it a few times a year since we had a heavy rain flow that apparently flushed out the water table.   We have a bucket with gravel underneath it as water rushing out onto bare ground created a muddy mess, but we have been very happy with the system.

When hubby rented the soil compactor from Taylor-Foster Hardware, he also rented an Outback Brush Cutter for me.    My first hour with it was a little hair-raising as I felt like it was in control and was intent on dragging me into the woods!    After that, I simply slowed it down to a pace at which a snail could have easily passed me and then I didn’t stop until it ran out of gas.   It did a great job clearing brambles and other weeds.   I’d planned to use it along our fence line today, but never made it out of the trenches  until I made my escape to the air-conditioning.  (I’m preparing to teach a unit of World War I poetry, so thoughts of trench warfare are always hovering around somewhere in my brain.)    The brush cutter certainly did a better job than the weedeater and in less time.  Each one puts a different muscle group to work, so maybe I need both after we find gold and can afford a $5,000 piece of equipment!

Until we find that gold, we’ll definitely keep renting equipment and shopping for supplies at Taylor-Foster in Manchester, GA.   The people there are always so friendly and helpful and they have an amazing selection of supplies for a small town store.  They also have an ice-cream freezer right next to the checkout counter, and you won’t find that at the big box stores.   We bought plumbing parts yesterday and then bought strawberry shortcake ice cream bars for lunch!

The bees continue to do well here and are bringing in lots of pollen.  The city bees abandoned my lavender for Echinacea while we were away.  I spotted 5 different bee varieties on the Echinacea and Pholx in just a couple of minutes.   The bees are happy.  We are happy.   Life is good!


Bees on Echinacea, July 2016
Business Planning · Farmers · Government Agencies


Bee on lavender, June 2016

The school year is over, JROTC camp is over, hubby is on vacation, and we are very much looking forward to waking up on our own land.   We still have water and septic lines to finish up and bees to move, but when a friend told us about a couple of workshops this week, we felt attending them was well worth delaying other projects, and we were right.

Yesterday we attended the Team Agriculture Georgia (TAG) Workshop for Small, Beginning, and Limited Resource Farmers.   We learned a lot about the resources (financial and other) available to us.  Even though hubby’s degrees are in business, farming is a different kind of business than the ones he studied in school.  AgSouth offers many courses at no cost to farmers, some of which help you qualify for FSA loans.  I have four typed pages of notes just about creating a business plan.   One of the things that stood out to me from the AgSouth presentation is that we need to move our mindset away from bee-keeping as a hobby and toward bee-keeping as a business.   While I’ve thought of it as a business, the presentation made me realize that I was actually still mentally in hobby mode.   Our conversations since yesterday have been productive.   Something as simple as setting a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding, and timed  (a SMART goal) instead of having a general goal of wanting “more” bees and honey has made me think deeply.

The afternoon session we attended informed us about USDA programs available.   The Natural Resources Conservation Service is there to help private landowners make good conservation decision, and they will come to your farm to make suggestions about all kinds of things.  One of the things mentioned was “herbaceous weed control” and we’re wondering if they’d have suggestions as to how to get rid of the blackberries and those spiny vines!

The first session we attended was about honey bees and other pollinators.  While we already knew much of what was discussed, we did pick up some good additional information and it stroked our egos to realize how much we do know!   We also got some ideas about services we can possibly offer to farmers and beginning bee-keepers in our area.

Today we attended an AgAware Marketing Seminar that was replete with information and resulted in another 4 pages of typed notes in addition to hubby’s notes.   When he finally makes it home through the wind, and the rain, and the downed trees, and downed power lines (it’s been a long, interesting trip home for him), we’ll combine notes and discuss which of the many things we want to research from both days to prioritize.

If anyone is interested, I’d be glad to share my notes, but I strongly recommend attending workshops like these, especially if you are just getting started, or even just thinking about, building an agriculture business of any size.   We learned so much and we are so excited to refine our business plan.

Other news that I still need to blog about:  we harvested our first honey, we waterproofed the RV roof, we dug trenches for water lines, and we drank from our well.  It’s been an exciting few weeks!  My brain has been rebelling against putting anything into complete sentences or proof-reading, but I’m ready to start writing again now.

Construction · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary

Thinning Trees

While we are hesitant to lose our privacy, we know that our trees are overcrowded and therefore not healthy.  We could probably have left them alone for another year or two, but as we need egress for the power company and a space on which to start building our cabin, we decided to have the trees thinned now.   Heathier trees are more able to withstand pine beetle attacks and thinned trees will grow faster the remaining trees have less competition for nutrients.

This is a good time for us to thin as we will not have to deal with having the heavy equipment and tree branches once we start living there — whether on a permanent or vacation-only basis.  We plan to mulch all of the trimmings, although we realize all may be an unrealistic goal!   We just think about how much mulch we were able to generate from one downed Bradford Pear tree a couple of years ago and envision a thick mulch carpet under the power lines along “Bee Lane.”   A little voice keeps telling me that there are going to be more branches than we can possibly grind up over spring break and that those branches are ideal hiding places for snakes, but I’ll put on my snake boots and we’ll do what we can!

We have heard some horror stories about more trees being removed than agreed upon, damage to land, and missing hardwoods when “only pines were harvested.”   We strongly recommend using a certified timber harvester and asking neighbors who they would recommend.    Our harvester, Scott Smith, was recommended by many people that we and our brother-in-law know and we have  not heard a single negative comment.   Scott originally came out and tied pink tape onto trees to keep in a small section of our land so that we could see what his recommended thinning would look like.  We liked what we saw, so, before his team showed up, he painted every tree that is to remain and painted boundary lines where the harvesters should stop, which is especially important to us as the land transitions to hardwoods as it nears the creek.    We walked our property boundary on Saturday — something we had planned to do over winter break but could not do due to the incessant rain.  We looked at the marked trees and tried to envision what our land will look like by the end of this week.  We found some more springs, some amazing boulders, and a couple of open areas that will be perfect for planting our seedlings.    Our long-term plan is to transition the land to half pine, half hardwood, but our plans are constantly evolving so may change again in the next five minutes — or at least after we see what the land looks like.

I headed straight back to the city on Monday, but my husband took a side-trip to see the harvesting in progress.  He got to see the first load of trees leave our land and took pictures of the harvesting process.  The way he described it, the man running the loader was able to snap a branch off with the grapple on the loader  more accurately than I can do with my little chain saw!   He was simply amazed at the skill and efficiency of the team.    We did not realize that they would even out the loading deck and driveway with a bulldozer to make their lives easier, and we are very happy with that added bonus.

I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will take a load of daylilies with me spring break and start to turn the loading deck into a garden.   We have already taken our leaky RV and turned it into a home, although we may not be able to move it to our land until summer.  The proceeds from the trees should be enough to pay for electricity and a well.  Our home site is more visible from the road now, but we know we are heading in the right direction.   The dream is becoming a reality; life is good.

Nature · Pests - General

Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home.


Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.


Lady birds (lady bugs to Americans) have long been known as beneficial insects that eat aphids, pine  beetles, and other annoying pests.  Each lady bug eats thousands of aphids, so I have often thought about buying some to protect our rose bushes without the use of chemicals.   Young Harris College is working in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service and the Georgia Forestry Commission to save hemlock trees from the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid by distributing lady bugs, one of HWA’s few natural predators.   Clemson University recommends using them to treat scale on oak trees.

I tried to keep all of these benefits in mind as we installed our gate last weekend, but it’s hard to think of lady bugs in a totally positive light when working in a swarm of them!   For one thing, they bite.  It seems that the more yellow they are, the more they bite.   And, as you can read on Garden Insects, “[w]hen disturbed, they may secrete an odorous, distasteful fluid out of their joints to discourage enemies.”   I ended up with many bites and smears of the “distasteful fluid” any place they could access.

  • Tip 1:  don’t wear a v-neck t-shirt as they appear to be curious little critters who are less likely to find their way under a higher neckline.
  • Tip 2:  be short.  Now, I don’t have enough evidence to conclusively say this is a benefit, but both my husband and BIL ended up with dis-taste-ful lady bugs in their mouths a few times while I did not.  Maybe the ladybugs are misandristic, but I like to think my height (or lack thereof) gave me an advantage that balanced out the v-neck disadvantage.
  • Tip 3:  stay in the shade as much as possible as they love the heat of the sun, especially on a November morning.

If they are protecting our trees from pine beetles, I will come to love them again, …..just as soon as these bites stop itching!

Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary

Driving a tractor

My husband and brother-in-law (BIL) both have the amazing ability to treat me like a princess while concurrently challenging me to expand my horizons.  They also know that while I am likely to insist that I  just want to watch first if my husband shows any intention of getting me to try something like using a circular saw or driving a tractor, I am far less likely to stubbornly wimp out in front of my BIL!   I don’t know if they had this in mind when my BIL told me which side of the tractor to climb up on and then calmly proceeded to instruct me on how to start it, move it, and use the implements.

Once I had the basics, I was tasked with picking up a wood post with hay forks.  After what seemed like a 500-point turn, I had the tractor perpendicular to the post and BIL kept motioning me forward, and forward, and forward……   Now, on one level I knew that he could move out of the way if the tines came too close, but my English 4 students have been watching A Knight’s Tale, so I could not help but envision the impaling of BIL by my mechanized jousting horse in a A-Knight’s-Tale-meets-Christine video clip that insisted on running through my head.  He patiently and fearlessly stood there and then celebrated my small success with me once the post was on its way to wherever I took it next.

Patience:  I think I value and admire it so much because I have so little of it myself.  I do have a hidden well-spring of it that opens up when I am tutoring a student, but most of the time my husband has to endure lots of huffing and eye-rolling when he’s being detail oriented and I’m just wanting to jump in and figure out the details as we go!

Back to the tractor.  I drove it uphill and in reverse out of the woods the next day, which was a little scary because it tilts a whole lot more than feels safe.  If it were a motorcycle, it would have keeled over, and I know what that feels like!  I will come to trust it in time, but for now rough terrain makes me very nervous.  I spent a good bit of time on level ground breaking up piles of tree branches that had been decomposing for years and then picking up some of the trash (tires, mattresses) that had been dumped in the clearing.  I earned some undeserved praise for fortuitously spearing a Cola can that I couldn’t even see with a tine on one of my many attempts to spear a tire that had been irritating me for months.  I was so happy to get that tire out of there and gained confidence in use of the tractor controls when I subsequently had to shake the thing off onto our trash pile.

Tractor controls still baffle me to an extent, as do many other mechanical things.  My inability to remember whether the clutch or the brake is on the left on a motorcycle is the reason I no longer drive my motorcycle and the reason I know what it’s like to fall off one!   When my husband or my BIL motion for me to raise the bucket, I look like I’m crossing myself as I try to remember which direction does what and then I still get it wrong most of the time.  I keep reminding myself that it took a while for shifting gears in a manual transmission car to feel natural and to not let my lack of patience with my progress defeat me.

As a tilting tractor still makes me nervous, the men took care of bush-hogging the deck and the front of the property.  It’s simply amazing what a difference that makes.   The deck is larger than we thought and we will have more than enough room there for gardens, orchards, and greenhouses.  The erosion ditch running outside the tree line at the front of the property is not as bad as we thought it was.  The culvert up by the road is in good shape.  The tractor work this weekend answered so many of our questions about the land.   The gate we built  makes it less likely that anyone will add more trash.   There’s one more trash pile to clean up, and then we’ll be mattress and tire free.  The spooky blue bag that I suspect belonged to Bluebeard will soon be gone and my imagination will no longer have to wonder just what is in there!

We are making progress.  And maybe, just maybe, parallel parking my car will not seem so hard now that I’ve driven a tractor.

Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary

Embarking on the project

Next week, we will take the second major step in our journey toward retirement in the countryside on what will become Magnolia Hill Farm — closing.  The first step was finding the right piece of land.   Our real estate agent, Kent, Morris, not only helped us, he has also restored our faith in real estate agents in general.  We highly recommend him to anyone looking for land around Pine Mountain.

Finding land is a lot like dating — you are unlikely to find the right one without first finding a lot of wrong ones.  Land that looked wonderful on Google Maps turned out to have been bulldozed and then left to whatever managed to grow on it afterward.  Land that was supposed to have mature hardwoods had a few scraggly scrub oaks and a couple of damaged trees that were probably beautiful before the invasion of the bulldozers.   Then we found “the one!”  We could not believe that the last piece of land we looked at on a long, discouraging day was a little slice of heaven.  Well, maybe not heaven — there are enough briars growing to make walking through some parts of it a painful process.  Then there are the current inhabitants — but more about that later.

The land is mainly planted pines, but as the land slopes sharply down to a creek on two sides of the property, beautiful old hardwood trees predominate in the areas close to the creek where neither our neighbor, a timber company, nor we can harvest trees. We love this harvesting restriction as we know those two property lines will always be as beautiful and peaceful as they are now.  The loading deck created when the pines were once thinned does not currently make the best first impression when driving onto the land, but we see such possibilities for that area.  One of our first chores will be to clean up the weeds, tires, and dumped mattresses to see what we really have there.   It’s a very small eyesore on a large piece of land, so we see its future rather than seeing its current state.  Our plans have so far included a little red school house to store garden equipment, a greenhouse, a shipping container for storage, a garden and an apiary.  And, of course, this entry to the rest of the land will be a home for all the magnolia seedlings I hope to have by spring so that the name of the farm makes sense!  I’m sure those plans will continue to evolve until after we at least have a place to sleep and bathe!

We think we’ve decided on our future home site, but we’ll make our final decision after closing and our meeting with the power company next week.  We’ll refine our ideas over Thanksgiving Break and then finalize them over Winter Break.   It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will be good exercise and great stress relief!

Oh yes — back to the current inhabitants.  We know we have deer, wild turkey, and some wild pigs.  We also encountered a huge rattlesnake on our last trip.  I am now looking for a pair of knee-high work boots to wear and I also pay far more attention to where I am going!   It’s going to be an adventure full of surprises.