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Voices From the Farm: How NOT to Move a Tree!

2003: Early Winter

Since I sold all my ewe lambs to the young Amish man from Iowa last fall, I had only my mature ewes lambing this year. We sheared in February as usual, and lambing followed in March. Things went well and it was relatively easy, except for long cold nights in the barn, waiting for a lamb – or lambs – to be born. However, that goes with the territory! And, unbelievably, I wound up with only one bottle lamb!

By mid-April the ewes and lambs were out of the barn and grazing. I had some time to spend on my house, which was in dire need of it, as the three or more weeks devoted to the lambing can lead to total chaos back at the house! One only goes there to get supplies or to thaw frozen ewe colostrum so you can stomach tube a weak lamb and get it going quickly. And of course, occasionally, to sleep.

In no time at all, it seemed, the asparagus was sending up shoots. Yum! Asparagus Vinaigrette, Creamed Asparagus on Toast! Following shortly, the rhubarb provided ruby red stalks for Rhubarb Crisp, Rhubarb Cream Pie! More yums!

During the winter, I had ordered 50 young Red Twig Dogwood trees to add an inner row to the windbreak, and also 25 new perennials for the flower beds, so I had plenty to keep me busy through early spring. If I had known what was to transpire later in the year, I might have thought twice about the perennials!

By early May all the debris that fell from the big old oak tree during winter had been cleaned up, the lawn raked, and ready for the weekly lawn mowing… a job I enjoy, except for starting the mower: an old, stubborn, gas-driven push rotary, but it keeps me in shape! The early vegetable garden was in, and we were beginning to enjoy early lettuce and radishes. Nothing beats a radish and lettuce sandwich with a little vinegar, salt, and pepper sprinkled over it. Another yum!

We had a beautiful spring, with plenty of rain, but we were spared the violent weather that much of the country suffered. Our pastures were lush, and even the daily fence moving was a pleasant task.

On an especially nice morning, after the chores were done, I decided to take a break and enjoy all the beauty around me. So, I took my cup of coffee out to my little bench on the north patio where I could watch the birds at the feeders for awhile. Then it occurred to me that I could use this time to write my contribution to the family Round Robin Letter, which was already long overdue, and still enjoy the morning. I got my scratch pad, and started scribbling… planning to redo the letter on the computer later, as my handwriting had become deplorable.

I sat there with the scent of lilacs wafting around me, and hundreds of daffodils dancing in the light breeze. All was right with my little corner of the world. At least on that particular morning!

About 40 feet from where I sat was a huge old Russian Mulberry tree. While almost all the trees and shrubs were well-leaved out by then, the mulberry was barely showing the start of tiny green leaves. It was perfect though, as it allowed an unimpeded view of all the birds coming and going from the six feeders suspended from its lower branches.

On that morning there had been two pairs of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, innumerable Gold Finches and Red Finches, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Blue Jays, a Red Bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Chipping Sparrow, and a Cardinal. Just occasionally we were treated to the gorgeous iridescent blue of the Indigo Bunting, but not that morning. A female Oriole flew into the tree and sat picking at a bud, a male Oriole sang somewhere nearby, the Wrens were singing on the fence by their bird house, and a Brown Thrasher sang from the top of a huge Black Cherry tree.

Who could want more? Well, it would have been nice to have the Bluebirds nesting in their house at the top of my flower garden. They had been here for several days and started to build their nests, but as happens every year, the ubiquitous English Sparrows showed up and pestered them until the Bluebirds gave up and went elsewhere to nest. Then the sparrows proceeded to build their messy nest in the house.

I tore it out periodically, until the sparrows finally give up and went elsewhere to nest. By the time the Bluebirds returned for their second nesting, the sparrows were occupied elsewhere, and the Bluebirds could build their nest and raise their brood in peace.

Anyone who enjoys feeding and watching birds should really plant a mulberry tree… not a tame variety with those huge succulent, overly sweet, and messy berries, but a Russian Mulberry, which has smaller purple berries beloved by birds. Almost as soon a s the leaves appear, the tree is covered with tiny green berries, and by early June it is thronging with Robins, Jays , Orioles, Catbirds, Bluebirds, Cedar Waxwings, Flickers, and all manner of fruit loving birds. The Cedar Waxwings are especially fun to watch, as occasionally you may see 7 or 8 of them siting in a row on a branch passing berries down the row… very polite birds! The mulberries ripen into August, and if you happen to have a cherry tree you may actually be spared some cherries, as the birds prefer the mulberries.

Mine was an old tree, but the birds planted seeds here and there around the yard, so I always had seedling trees, and have given away many, mostly to people who have fond memories of coming here as children to ride ponies, play, and climb in the mulberry tree and eat berries.

Ewes harvesting the acorns 1I still have a mental picture of our first big mulberry in the corner of the yard, long gone now, when it was full of kids eating berries, but all you could see of them was their bare feet and legs on the lower branches, while the rest of their bodies were hidden in the bushy upper branches where they were stuffing their faces with berries.

Lest I have led you to believe that I live an idyllic life, watching birds and smelling flowers, I will fill you in on how the rest of that day transpired.

After lunch, I decided to tackle the lawn mowing. I got my trusty mower out, checked the oil, filled the gas tank, set it to the highest cut, primed the engine, and proceeded to pull to start it… and pulled, and pulled, all to no avail.

I thought maybe the air cleaner was plugged, so after getting the manual out – because I had forgotten the procedure – and hunted around for wrenches and screwdrivers, I got the air cleaner off. It was not the least bit dirty. I put it back on and tried again to start the mower; pulled my heart out, but it would not start.

By that time I was mad enough to chew nails and spit carpet tacks, and needed something on which to vent my anger. Since the adrenalin was pumping pretty good, I decided I would move the mulberry tree that had been growing on the edge of my vegetable garden for 3 or 4 years, and should have been moved a couple years before.

I began digging carefully to save as many roots as possible. Having only had experience at digging up young mulberries, I had no idea of what I was up against. I would dig until I found a root, then tried to follow it to its end without destroying all the feeder roots along it. Most of these roots went along horizontally for 2 1/2 to 3 feet, then suddenly turned and headed straight for China! In addition to all these side roots, there was a huge central root, shaped like a ball and about 2 feet in diameter. To further complicate things, the tree was growing right at the edge of a lime pile so the roots on that side grew out and under the pile, so I also had to dig through the lime pile!

About 3 1/2 hours later, I finally had the tree out, the garden looked as though a bulldozer had been in there, and I was exhausted! Don’t ask me why, but I still felt I had to dig a hole for the tree down in the SE corner of the yard, where at least the earth was easy digging, except for all the raspberry roots in the area.

By the time the tree was planted , staked , and watered (again, don’t ask me why!), it was getting dark, I still had to give my bottle lamb her milk and creep feed, give hay and water to the rams in their pen, fill the water tank for the ewes and lambs on pasture, then take a shower, eat a quick supper, and fall into bed.

I was stiffer than usual, the next morning, but I crawled out of bed, pulled on my clothes and yelled at Sean to start the mower before he left for work. I managed to wolf down most of a piece of toast and peanut butter, and a few gulps of coffee, before the mower roared into action. Despite the grass being long and very wet from a heavy dew, I actually got almost all the lawn cut before the mower ran out of gas.

I wasn’t worth much the rest of the day!

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3 comments to Voices From the Farm: How NOT to Move a Tree!

  • Kristine Dunlap

    What a wonderful story….great memories of eating those mulberries on the back of a shetland pony with a giggling girl or too…thanks for the delicious loving memories!

  • Okay, I won’t ask why! I will, however, wonder where you get your energy from and what movitivated you at that peaceful time to tackle such a task. Next time, just enjoy your idylic moment.

    • Lea McEvilly


      I don’t usually have that much energy, but I was so mad from trying to start the mower that I had to work off the mad somehow. You are right, I should have just stuck with my idyllic moment. If there ever is a “next time” I will!

      We sure missed you and your kids at Thanksgiving! What a bummer to have the flu bug hit you at that particular time of year! Too bad, but it left MORE FOOD for us to bring home. My fridge was absolutely groaning.

      Thanks for the comment!