Logsplitter Woes

A big part of our life every summer and/or fall is splitting wood for the winter. If we’re ahead of the game, it gets done in the summer. If not, we’re scrambling to get it done in September and October. This past fall, in 2014, we were delayed because we had ordered a new logsplitter from the DR people, which was an electric, Rapid-Fire, kinetic logsplitter. So it has a flywheel that propels a ram against a wedge and is supposed to equal a 22-ton hydraulic splitter. Uh-huh. Let me just say that our 10-year-old 4-ton hydraulic splitter does a better job than this new-fangled kinetic one. It just can’t handle splitting a log in one pass.

Steve had to make several, sometimes as many as six, hits with the ram to split a dry log that was less than 10 inches in diameter. I couldn’t even use the splitter because I don’t have enough strength in my shoulder to whack the ram arm that many times in a row. This is a far cry from their advertising claims. We love the DR products, don’t get me wrong. We have a Powerwagon that we bought in 2000 and it’s still going strong in 2015. Our first brush mower lasted 11 years with heavy usage. And as I mentioned we have one of their 4-ton hydraulic splitters. I just think they missed the boat with this Rapid-Fire kinetic splitter. You’re better off going with a gas-powered splitter or an electric hydraulic splitter. It’s useless to us if I can’t even use it as I’m supposed to be the one doing the bulk of the splitting. Steve cuts and moves the wood, I split and stack.

Steve and I are not newbies to splitting wood, needless to say, and we know what works. We need a machine that’s going to perform whether we are splitting a 12-inch round that has been sitting around for two years, or a 14-inch green round from a tree that blew down a few weeks ago. It’s no fun to split green wood but sometimes we have no choice.

Maybe someday we’ll decide that cutting and splitting our own wood is just too much trouble. I hope that day never comes since it will mean that I’ve gotten OLD.  :-)




Deer-proof plants – yeah, sure…

When we first moved to Montana we didn’t realize how hard it would be to live with the deer, in terms of gardening, that is. After a few years of gardening in denial, I finally realized that I was going to have to fence whatever I didn’t want the deer to eat. I used to buy plants that have that nifty little symbol of the deer in the red circle with the line across it, meaning the deer wouldn’t eat that plant. Yeah, right.

Bleeding Heart. They grow well with ferns as both like shade and moisture. And they grow really fast!

The only things my particular deer population won’t eat (so far as I’ve discovered) are Bleeding Hearts, ferns, daffodils and lavender. And sweet woodruff, which is a groundcover that has pretty white blooms. And lambium, which is also groundcoverish and has pretty pink blooms. So okay. There are a few things I can get away with outside my fenced area, and in 14 years this is all that I found that is safe. Luckily, all the greenery looks good against the cedar-stained siding of my house. I could also have white daisies but they are considered a weed here and they take over everything so I now pull those without ceremony.

We’re on a deer super-highway here, meaning that their daily migration pattern goes smack dab through our property. It’s most evident in the winter when you can see the trail they use. My big garden complex sits right in the path of their trail, of course, but I’ve got it properly fenced and white-flagged, and they leave it alone. Someone once suggested planting orach for the deer, which is similar to spinach, but I didn’t think it would be a great idea to give them an excuse to hang around more. I’ve had deer walk up on my front porch and eat my potted flowers! I mean, I like the deer and all, but really…



Spring has sprung! (Really)

Spring in Montana is always an interesting time. For instance, the other day we had sunshine, wind, rain and snow. All at once. It makes it a challenge to garden here. I’ve already put out some cold-weather plants: lettuce, radishes, peas and onions. Some I’ve started inside and planted, and some are seeds that are just now starting to come up. It’s a good thing they make frost blankets. :-)

There’s nothing quite like spring in Montana. The air warms up, the earth thaws and on sunny days a sweet vanilla scent wafts around from the warm pine trees. It’s not uncommon to see me or my husband sniffing a pine tree that’s been warmed by the sun. The wind brings a scent so fresh and clean that it makes your brain sigh with happiness.

The tulips are up and already fading. The rest of my flower garden is starting to come to life. The boy turkeys are chasing the girl turkeys around the pasture with their tailfeathers on display. The stellars jays are yelling at me from the tree tops. But the number one sign of spring for me:  the hummingbirds are back!



A Close Encounter

Yesterday we had a close encounter with a deer. I walked out on the back deck to play with the dogs and heard the tell-tale squeak of the fence, which meant that a deer had just jumped over it and hit the wire. Usually, no big deal. However, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that a deer was actually caught in the fence. I saw him frantically jerking his leg trying to get free of the fence. I went into panic mode and ran in the house calling for Steve.

I immediately called my next-door neighbor, who’s an outdoorsy kind of guy, and asked his advice. He said he recommended throwing a blanket over the deer if we were going to try and rescue it, simply to protect ourselves from flailing legs. Then he said to call Fish & Wildlife, who would send out a game warden. While I was looking up the number and telling all this to Steve, I realized it was too late in the day to get the game warden out here, and there was simply no time to wait. In the meantime, Steve had donned gloves and hat, grabbed a blanket, and was headed outside (my hero!).

I put my gloves on and followed him. The deer became agitated as we approached and he heard our voices. Several of his family members were standing nearby. At this point, the deer was basically hanging from the fence, jerking his leg occasionally and generally freaking out. I was really worried that he was doing a lot of damage to his leg and we were anxious to get him free. Steve threw the blanket over his head and he immediately went still. Bonus!

We saw that he had caught his foot in one of the wire squares of the game fence and in the course of jumping over had twisted the wire around his hoof really tightly. There’s no way this little guy was going to get free on his own. We fiddled with the fence and luckily his little hoof slid free pretty quickly. I gently lowered his hoof to the ground, trying to make sure his whole leg was in a fairly normal position. It didn’t feel like anything was broken and because the fencing is made from heavy gauge wire it didn’t cut into his skin at all.

We kept him covered with the blanket and he just lay there panting. At this point he was on the other side of the fence from us, so I just kept a hand on him through the holes in the fence. After about a minute he stood up and bolted, taking the blanket with him. The blanket fell off and he took off with his family. He looked to be in okay shape and his leg seemed to be working.

What a relief! If I hadn’t been out back just at that time and seen the deer caught in the fence, we probably never would have noticed him since he was caught in a place that we can’t see from inside the house. A thunderstorm blew in less than an hour later, so he would have hung in the fence all night and died from exposure. I’m so glad we were able to rescue this little teenager. The deer have been hanging out in our pasture a lot recently, so we’ll probably see this guy again.

We took down most of our fencing last year since we don’t have livestock and the fence was constantly being knocked askance by the deer. We didn’t have barbed wire or anything. The fence this deer was caught in is the remaining fence that separates our property from our neighbors property. Nothing like this has happened in the 14 years we’ve lived here. Once a moose got turned around in the back part of our pasture, but he simply kicked the fencing until he made a hole. :-)

We’re glad it all turned out okay…



March in Montana

At last! A buttercup!

The First Real Sign of Spring

If February is the desperate month, March is the hopeful month in Montana. A few days ago, we saw the first buttercup emerge in the pasture. This is always our sign that spring is truly on the horizon. No matter what happens after this sighting, we know spring is on the way.

Snow? Really?

True to form, the weather did a reverse thrust back into winter last night when we got 4 inches of snow. It wasn’t the light and fluffy type that melts quickly the next day. It was the wet, heavy type that you still have to shovel and plow (darn it!). This is March in Montana. Hopes are raised and quickly dashed, only to be raised again the next day. If you don’t like surprises, don’t even think about moving to Montana.

My Life is Rocks

Although my life probably won’t be trees this year, it’s definitely all about rocks. If you have peeked at my gardening blog (link up top on the header) you’ll know that I’m undergoing a major garden bed revision, which includes taking border rocks off, installing new, bigger border rocks and then surrounding each bed with driveway rock that isn’t being used on the driveway (a 4-foot high, 6-foot diameter pile). I’m also going to be building two new garden beds and pounding a bunch of new stakes for an expanded fence. Can you say owie? The one good thing about this type of exercise of shoveling small rocks and moving big rocks with a handtruck is that I’ve developed some baby-sized guns! I hope to turn those into respectable-sized girl guns with a few more months of garden work. I’m lucky I have a live-in chiropractor!

Babies and Burning

The other sign of spring in Montana is that people burn their fields to get rid of excess dry grass before growing season and to clean up fence lines and ditches. It can be disconcerting to drive along and see a whole field on fire, but there is usually someone tending the fire with a rake and/or hose. Sometimes those fires get out of control and the fire department has to step in (we have personal experience with that!). The other thing you see is a lot of black and brown lumps appearing in the cow pastures. The cows start having babies in February and by March they are all over the place. This early in the year, they pretty much lay around unless they are feeding. In a month or two they’ll be walking around more and playing chase with each other.

Buttercups, baby cows, and black fields. Yep, it’s definitely spring in Montana!



Is it spring yet?

The Big Tease

This is the time of year when the slightest rise in temperature makes my heart go pitter-patter with the thought that spring is near. Inevitably, temperatures plummet and hopes are dashed. A lot of Montanans take off for Arizona or Costa Rica about this time of year, but we can’t do that with Steve’s business. It gets even harder in April, when we can get a genuinely warm day, followed by a blizzard. Mountain life is not for the faint of heart.

My Life May Not Be Trees (This Year)

Since we’ve been cutting up and burning construction scrap wood in our woodstove this winter, we’ve only gone through a cord and a half of the split wood stacked in our woodshed. Usually by this time of the winter, we’re starting on our fourth cord of wood. The good news is that Stevo probably won’t have to do much chainsawing this summer. The bad news is that he’ll have to find something else to do for his summer exercise, like mountain biking! Wait….that’s good news too….

The Slow Life

One thing we decided to do when we moved up here was to slow down. We started to drive slower. What’s the point of rushing when there’s no where you have to be? We’re lucky that our businesses are home-based so we can set our own schedule. I used to spend all day running errands when we lived in the big city. Now I “go to town” once a week for the big shopping. Nowadays I get nervous if I actually have to be somewhere at a particular time. Excitement for us is sitting on the porch with our coffee in the morning watching the deer. It’s all a matter of perspective.

The Mighty Huntress

The other sign that it’s almost spring is that our hunting cat, Little Miss, starts hunting again. She spends the winter yowling for me to feed her but once it starts to thaw outside she’s back at it, keeping the house and barn safe from pesky rodents. Right now she’s on a two-a-day schedule, but during the warm months she’ll be up to four or five a day. We’re thinking of putting her in a program. The other day I saw her sitting on the front porch, I walked in the house, and less than two minutes later (literally) she came in the dog door with a mouse. She must have mouse houses scoped out ahead of time and when she gets hungry she stops by one of them for a snack. She’s kind of scary…


The best thermos ever!

This is the kind of thing we think about since moving to the country:  you gotta have a great thermos. Steve recently found the Stanley brand thermos at a local store. We went to a weekend seminar and wanted to take some coffee with us. We poured the coffee in hot at 7:45am, after warming the thermos with hot water. We each had a cup at lunchtime (still hot) and then put it away for the afternoon. On the way home, at 5:00, we had some more and it was still hot! I don’t mean warm, but steaming hot. I was amazed that it was hot after nine hours. I’ve never had a thermos do that well. So if you’re looking for something for a fishing, hunting or camping trip, I definitely recommend the Stanley thermos! When I lived in the city, I never got excited about a thermos…  😉


A little breather

We’ve had a break in construction thanks to the snow. The boys are waiting for a dry spell to measure for the roof metal and then install it. We’re not in any hurry for the banging to resume, so we’re enjoying the cozy house and our new skylights. We have had a bit of an issue with our new stamped concrete, though. We sprayed some ice melting liquid on it and it has subsequently started to breakdown the top creamy layer of concrete. Live and learn, I guess. We should have tested it on a small patch first and let it sit for a month or so. At first it didn’t seem to do anything but after about a month we started to notice the top color layer flaking off. Now there are actually spots where you can see the rough concrete underneath. We used a product called Bare Ground, which always worked great on our plain, old gray concrete, but I don’t recommend using it on stamped concrete.

We’ll have a challenge in a few months getting our decorative plant beds and lawns back in order. Everything was pretty much torn up during the construction so around April I’ll probably start trying to put it all back together. They still have to build our portico outside Steve’s office and the porch along the back of the office, but they’re working on some other projects at the moment. Like I said, we’re in no hurry. :-)



Winter weather

Here’s one part of the concrete I don’t have to shovel anymore, thanks to an imbedded heat mat. It’s wonderful!

We’ve had snow, then rain, then more snow lately….The Big Thaw and The Big Freeze played out over and over again. Our driveway now has several layers of ice. The other day it rained and melted much of the snow on the driveway, then it froze, creating a skating rink. I spread sand over most of the parking area to prevent any slip-and-fall scenarios, and then that night it snowed, covering up all the sand. (!)  We’ve gotten about 7 inches of snow in the past two days, and today Steve plowed the driveway, uncovering….ice! My back got tired from shoveling, since most of our concrete is still uncovered. Once the remaining two porches are built that chore will go away.

I bought three bags of traction sand today and I’ll be out there again tomorrow spreading sand. We put our YaxTrax to good use in this weather – they allow us to comfortably walk up the road without feeling like we’re walking on a tightrope. We were walking the other day and got about 1/2 mile up the road when we heard gunshots. There are almost no restrictions on where you can shoot here so many people do target practice in their yard. Well, when we heard the shots we turned right around and headed home. I’ve got nothing against owning a gun, but I don’t trust that my neighbors are being careful about which direction they shoot. :-)

I’m mentally preparing for February and March, when we typically have our coldest weather. Luckily, the boys installed our new dog door, taking much less time than Steve and I would have, and it has cut down considerably on the cold drafts we were feeling. At first the dogs refused to go through, but then I put them outside and it was pretty cold, so they got over themselves pretty quickly. :-)




The Big Freeze (told ya!)

Part of our back yard

Yes, the day after I wrote about the Big Thaw, we had the Big Freeze. A couple of inches of snow and the temps started to plummet. It’s currently about 6 degrees out as I’m writing this (nighttime temp) and it gets up to 15 or so during the day. We’re spending a lot of time indoors. The dog walks have been shortened to a run to the mailbox.

The house is staying cozy with our newly insulated roof, but suddenly we are aware of small, cold drafts coming from other parts of the house, namely, the dog door. We have a homemade dog door in our back door, which we built many years ago with the help of a friend. We were convinced that a store-bought dog door wouldn’t last long with our big dog Charlie running in and out. It’s not a well-insulated opening, however, so we recently broke down and bought an Extreme Weather dog door (size large). But, it’s been too darn cold to take the old door out and put the new door in! It’s supposed to warm up later this week so maybe we’ll get a chance to put our new, magnetically sealed, insulated dog door in.

Our dog door doesn’t always close properly when someone goes in or out, especially when Sammy sticks his head out for a quick visual inspection and then pulls it back in, so our new door will be appreciated. If we ever get it put in.