Some Progress

A little more than a year ago (August 18, 2017) I began this chronicle type of blogging to keep track of the purpose, processes, and progress towards changing our property from a manipulated and manicured piece of land back to its more natural state. If you have kept up with my entries, you will recall that Regina and I have decided to slowly allow our little piece of the Earth to become what it wants to be.

The progress has been slow, and I realize my entries may have been even slower, but now I would like to catch up a bit, and share some of the changes that have happened, as well as some of the failures.

As you might imagine, Mother Nature, and especially the rain she provides, has a profound influence on the amount of progress. Since my last post at the end of March, we have had some rainy times and some dry times. In April and May, which should be some of our best rain months, we had only two and three quarter inches of rain total. June, by itself, gave us more than the two previous months combined, with three and a half inches.

Then came July. Boy, did we suffer during July. It was seasonably hot, with temperatures hovering around 100 for a lot of the month, and only three eighths of an inch of rain, and that was a generous reading of the rain gauge. Sometimes you want to see more rain in the gauge, so you just fudge a little.

August, so far, has been a pleasant surprise. During one eight day period around the middle of the month, we actually had seven and one half inches of rain. I know, that is hard to believe, but it was a very welcome relief, and the plants showed their appreciation as well.

I do think that our lack of rain during April and May hampered the growth of the wild flowers we tried to seed. There were also a couple of windy days before the rain when a lot of the seed was probably blown away. We need to plan this better next Spring.

The plot in front of our house has done very well. Of course, that area is watered. As you can see in the photo, the Sun Flowers have grown tremendously tall and dense. Somewhere in there are the two Plum Trees that we planted. I am afraid the Sun Flowers have stunted their growth a little, but they do look healthy. That area also had a lot of wild flowers, which have already been through their cycle of blooming. The Peach trees did themselves proud again this year. I think we need to be a little more aggressive in our bud-thinning on the those trees next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our experimental pasture has really become quite a field of natural beauty, and the trees we planted out there seem very healthy and happy. Even the Northwest pasture has grown a lot, since we have not had any animals grazing it this Summer. We continue to water the new trees in the experimental pasture on a regular basis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we have stopped the weed eating around the ponds, the dragonfly population has grown exponentially. This morning, Regina went out to get some photos, and I went along to get some shots of her doing her thing. They are really fun to watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Incidentally, we have applied for certification from Texan by Nature, a conservation organization dedicated to developing projects just like ours. This is an organization which is endorsed by Laura Bush. I will let you know soon about our progress with this certification.

Meanwhile, just remember, none of us is responsible for fixing the entire environmental situation, all we can do is take care of the little bit we own, and encourage others to do the same.

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And The Beat Goes On

Well here I am again with my latest update to the process of changing our environment. It is now the beginning of April, and things are beginning to happen. Green is becoming more prevalent all around, birds and bees are showing up in larger numbers, we are able to open our windows to breathe fresh air and sleep with the sound of the wishing well fountain, and we are excited that Spring has sprung.

Honey bee on clover blossom

Regina picked up four native trees from the Denton County Soil and Water Conservation District – two Mexican Plum and two Vitex (Chasetree Berry), which I planted in the experimental pasture. These are small, but are already putting on growth.

 

 

 

 

Manual labor

Last month we cleaned out some dead stuff from the section in front of our house and planted three elderberry trees. Elderberry Wine anyone? Regina also spread some new wildflower seeds in the area.

Elderberry tree – look closely

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in the Fall, D&L Feed hosted a honey tasting event. It was an enjoyable evening with good food, wine, and plenty of honey to taste from local beekeepers. Several years ago I thought it would be a fun hobby to have bee hives and collect the honey.  I found out quickly that beekeeping is not a hobby, it is a job! It was very interesting to learn about bees and their behaviors, however the hardest part is suiting up in your overalls, gloves, and veil when the temperature in July is 100 degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I digress.  At the event at D&L we met one couple who have a bunch of hives in the area close to us. The conversation eventually came around to exploring the possibility of putting some of their hives on our property. The first hive arrived on Thursday, with two more coming soon. The bees seem to be very active and happy. Now this is the way to have bees!

New bee hive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also hope to have some native bees (honey bees are not native) to help with the pollination. Their accommodations are ready and waiting.

Native bee habitat

 

 

 

Native bee habitat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far, there is not much activity from the wildflower seeds we spread in the fall, but it is early, and we have to be patient. We had seven and a quarter inches of rain in February, but only two inches in March. Hopefully, we will have the “April showers that bring May flowers.”

 

 

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BIENVENIDO

The designation we received from the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat can mean many different things.  It can mean you just have a sign posted on your front fence, it can mean you have good thoughts toward wildlife, or it can mean you have honorable intentions toward creating a habitat that is actually beneficial for wildlife. But none of that matters unless you actually have wildlife taking advantage of this new habitat.

Learning how to make an area beneficial and attractive to wildlife is a process. It involves such things as planting trees and flowers that are enticing, but it also involves leaving the environment as natural and untouched as possible.

The area just in front of our house is a good example. We purposely left it “messy.” It was a great temptation to get the weedeater and mower out there to clean that area, but we resisted the need for tidiness that we have been taught all our lives. It was not what we would have done in the past, but things are changing.

Yesterday, we bought two plum trees to plant in that area.  It was necessary to clean off the  spots where the trees were to planted, so out came the weedeater.  While I was digging the holes and planting the new trees, Regina took advantage of the fine weather, and decided to prune the two peach trees.  They produce better with some careful pruning.

Since the grass was thick around the base of the peach trees, Regina got into a bed of fire ants. These little guys can inflict a lot of pain very quickly. In order for her to be able to see and avoid the ants, I used the weedeater to clear away some of the grass. Lo and behold, I uncovered a burrow under one of the trees.  I regret that I exposed that burrow, but in my defense, I just didn’t know it was there.

For some time we have had another burrow under the driveway behind our garage. We are fairly certain it belongs to a skunk. Now skunks are not our first choice of wildlife, but one can’t dictate who does and doesn’t pick our habitat. We just have to be careful, and devise creative ways to keep it out of the chicken yard, and keep our dog from discovering it.

I don’t know whose burrow I uncovered yesterday, but it just proves that we are on the right track.  Someone else has decided that our habitat can offer safety and comfort. I hope I didn’t scare it away.

Welcome little one.

 

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The Next Chapter

It is time once again to update our progress on the conversion of our property.  We still feel very strongly about the need to return our pastures to their original, natural condition.  Come along with us as we detail our process.

We have now prepared two additional areas for wildflower and native grass production.  Agustin “scalped” and aerated the area in front of the large Pecan tree in October.  Regina followed behind him to spread Poppy Seeds and Sideoats Grama Grass.  I then put the sprinkler out and hopefully watered in the seeds before the wind blew them away.  We will see in the Spring.

    

The other area is over by the fence of the southwest pasture.  Part of this area had already been left natural, so Agustin had a little more difficulty mowing it. In this plot Regina spread Native Wild Flower Mix and some Sideoats Grama Grass.  That was also watered with the sprinkler.

These two areas are not regularly  watered, so we will be relying on Mother Nature to do the honor.  It will be interesting to see how theses areas develop as compared to the first plot that is on the sprinkler system. We are not getting any rain right now, only a little less than 3″ in the last three months. What we need is a good all-day three inch soaker, but that doesn’t show up in the immediate forecast. I know she is angry now, but I keep hoping Mother Nature will smile on us.

On November 17, we had a pasture consult. This was a very helpful event.  Three gentlemen came to our property, free of charge, to look at our pastures, listen to our plans, and make recommendations.

Ricky Linex, author of “Range Plants of North Central Texas,”  wildlife biologist, and representative of USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service was basically in charge of the consult.  With him were Steven Ray, the District Conservationist of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, and T. J. Helton, NPS Program Coordinator for the Denton County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Needless to say, the information we received that day will be invaluable as we continue on our journey to return our pastures to their natural state.  As we walked through our pastures, the gentlemen identified many plants and trees that are already growing and thriving.  We were pleased to discover that most of these plants are native.

One of the first recommendations was to not cut the dead and dying plants in the first area we planted last year.  Letting those plants decompose and drop seeds where they stand will be beneficial.  Another recommendation was to close off the southeast pasture, and allow no animals in that pasture for grazing.  That pasture has been available to our two big horses in the past, but the southwest pasture that has also been available to them, and still is, has ample room and forage for grazing.  The only down side to that limitation is that BJ will not have access to her favorite scratching tree. She does have another scratching tree in the front pasture, but, as with her mom, she needs options.

As the consult progressed, there were recommendations for native tree species. Almost immediately, we went to Meador Nursery in Denton, and purchased one Red Bud, two Mexican Plum, two Sumac, and two Persimmon trees, which are now planted in the southeast pasture.  We also purchased a 15 gallon portable water tank, and rigged it with a soaker hose, for the weekly watering required.

The southeast pasture will now be our largest experiment for converting our land to its natural state.  Wish us luck.

 

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Pasture Management

As part of our commitment to keeping our environment as healthy as possible, we have, for many years, rotated our fiber animals (plus two donkeys and a miniature horse) between two pastures.  This rotation helps each pasture recuperate for a few months while not in use.

The “back pasture” is used during the warm months, so the Alpacas can go into the large pond, also known as “Lake Regina,” to keep cool.  Our miniature horse will also get in the lake from time to time. This pasture is about four and a half acres. There is plenty of good grass for grazing, and the animals have access to the shade and fans in the round pen for afternoon naps.

When the weather starts getting cooler, like now, we move everyone to the “front pasture.” It is fun to watch the Alpacas on the first day.  They love “new digs.”   There is a lot of hopin’ and boppin’ – or as we call it “boinking.”  There is also a pond in this pasture, but the entry into the pond is steeper, and the boys don’t feel the need to go for a swim.  This pasture is about three acres.

Because we have not done any mowing in the “front pasture,” it has grown up beautifully with grass and wildflowers galore.  In fact, the foliage is so deep the baby doll sheep can easily get lost.  Luckily, they have Philipe (our single goat) to follow.

So, this morning, Regina drove the Gator ( a small four wheel utility vehicle) and marked trails for paths through the tall grass.  Agustin followed right behind her on his mower, and paths were created, including one to the water trough.  Agustin was in “heaven” – he loves to mow.  It was really great to see all the bugs, bees, and grasshoppers who had taken up residence in the tall grass.

                       

We will keep these paths mowed, and sometime this Fall we will aerate them and spread the cuttings from the wildflower patch in front of our house along the paths, in hopes that some of the seeds will catch and grow.

Stay tuned.  We are just getting started.

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The Rationale For Change

Last week I wrote about the changes we are planning for our little piece of the Earth, but I failed to mention the rationale for such a change.  We understand that we cannot make a huge impact on the whole mess of global warming, environmental distress, or any of the other many problems that face Mother Earth, but we believe, as individuals and as a couple, we can do our little part.  Through these changes, we hope to make our small contribution to improving the environment.

Aside from the damage I was doing to our pastures by spraying herbicides, spreading fertilizer, harvesting hay, and burning a lot of fossil fuel, which I discontinued many years ago, there is another, underlying rationale for the changes we propose.

Age – Both ours and that of our animals

We are at a point in our lives where certain tasks are becoming more and more difficult.  It is not that we are getting old, we are getting smart, and selective. For instance, when an animal dies on our property, we grieve, we celebrate their life, but we don’t replace them.  In most cases, we couldn’t replace them if we tried.  They each have very unique personalities.

We currently have nineteen  animals grazing our pastures.  For the most part, these animals are getting to the limit of their expected life span.  Certainly, the animals living at Song & Dance are well cared for, and most live well past their prime.  We like that, but we also realize they will all be gone someday.

Our largest group of animals is our alpacas.  We have eight.  The life expectancy for alpacas is 15 – 20 years.  At the present time, they range in age from 10 – 17 years old.  As you can see, they are creeping up on that time.  Without their protection from coyotes, every other small animal’s life span on our property may decrease.

The next group is the horses.  Two quarter horses and one miniature horse have an estimated life span of 25 – 30 years.  That seems like a long time, until you realize that their ages are 20, 25, and 26.  Oops!  How time flies.

           

We have two angora goats that are both on the outside of their expected life span of 9 – 11 years.  One is 11 and the other is 14.  They both seem healthy now, so don’t count them out just yet.

                                           

The four Southdown Babydoll sheep and the two miniature donkeys will most likely outlive them all.  The average life span for a Babydoll sheep is 15 – 16 years.  Right now, they are 5 and six years old, but a couple of them are already suffering from arthritis.  The miniature donkeys are expected to live to between 25 and 30 years.  They are currently 10 and 6 (mother and daughter), and if loving has anything to do with it, they have a long way to go.

  

I realize that all this talk about age and mortality may seem a bit morbid, but planning ahead has its benefits.  It was interesting for me to put all this in perspective.  By the time we have no more grazing animals, our entire property will be eco-friendly, and we will be happy to sit on our porch and watch the wildflowers, butterflies, bees, birds, and dragonflies do their thing, and be thankful that we don’t have to feed, shear, trim nails or treat ailments.

We will miss all of the animals who have graced our property through the years, but, at least, we will still have our chickens.

 

 

 

 

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Change 2

Back in March of 2014, I wrote a post about change.  In that post I said there are some changes that we cannot control, and some that we can.  Waking of the Bear is going to take on a new direction.  It is going to change.  In fact, it is going to be about specific change.

A couple of years ago, Regina and I decided to begin a process that will eventually change our twenty acres of hay producing, grazing pasture into a natural, wildlife environment that welcomes birds, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, rabbits, frogs, moles, possums, skunks, – well you get the picture.

                                      

   

This year we applied for, and were granted the designation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, from the National Wildlife Federation.  The plaque on our front gate states, “This property provides the four basic habitat elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.”  We will honor that designation.

Little by little, we are changing our little piece of the earth into something very natural.  Wild flowers, weeds, and natural grasses will be living together, as they were meant to be.

So, this blog site will become a chronicle of the process and progress of this change. We will continue our practice of no chemicals – herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers –  on our property.

We started with the small area in front of our house, an area that was watered and mowed on a regular basis.  First we mowed the grass very low, almost to dirt.  Then we aerated it and spread some wild flower seed mix.  After that, we just let nature do whatever it wanted.  The result, as you can see, was very pleasing.

              

In the Fall or Winter, we will cut back all the growth, put the remains in the spreader, and spread it in the northwest pasture.  We will also scrape, aerate, and plant another area in front of the big tree.  These areas will not be watered regularly, and will rely solely on nature’s rains.  It will be interesting to see the difference.

            

This year we had an unusually large amount of rain during the Summer.  Other years may not follow suit.  We will try to keep up with that bit of information also.

Stay tuned as we go through this long process.

 

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