Well the 1st cut hay at the ranch is now complete. We snapped this picture from our upper pasture as we were returning from checking the growth of the chestnut trees and the plateau food plot.  You can see the hay drying in windrows in the upper left of the picture, while Eric is working the bailer in the field just below the house.  I really enjoy the early spring cutting.  Everything's coming alive, our work projects are under way and all the farms are bustling with activity.  It's been such a wet spring that it looks like the 2nd cut is just around the corner.  We should easily get 3 cuts of hay this year, possibly 4!  

Last year we planted two locations with WINA (Whitetail Institute of North America) products.  In a small field that we called the "lower bunny ear", we planted Imperial Clover.  While the "graveyard" field was planted with a clover and chicory mix called Extreme.  Maintenance on both plots include mowing to "top off" the vegetation and promote luscious new growth for the deer and turkey.  Grass and broadleaf weeds will be controlled by Ag. spraying the acres.  We've only sprayed the clover for grass control so far.  We're using an ATV/UTV mounted spraying unit we picked up at Earley's Farm Supply in Waterville.  It has an electric motor with leads that attach to the vehicle's battery to produce a spray with the touch of a button.  We loaded the sprayer into the bed of the mule, mixed our herbicide, plant oil and water in the tank and headed out to apply it to the clover.  This will suppress grass growth, not affect the clover and is safe for animals.  We need to continue this in the Extreme food plot and then spray both again, to control the broadleaf growth in both fields.  A boost up application of fertilizer is the final touch to ensure a healthy, nutritious food source for our game animals.   

This year's plantings were truly a gargantuan undertaking.  Jake and Kellen drove to Ohio with the pick-up, towing a trailer, to a nursery I found that specializes in blight resistant Chestnut trees.  They stayed overnight in a nearby town, then early the next day loaded 45 trees all total (25 Chinese trees @ 8' tall and 20 hybrids @ 4' tall) into the F-150 bed and onto the trailer to drive another 8-9 hours to deliver them to Red Hand.  Marian and I drove up that night so we could plant them the next day.

The following morning Richie and Matt showed up early with a backhoe and a tractor that had a 12" diameter auger attached to the PTO drive.  Man, that auger made the planting easy.  We buzzed in all 45 trees in a couple of hours.  Richie had prepared the area by bush hogging, plowing, discing then finally cultipacking the "upper bunny ear" field.  What was barren looking ground was now a hillside orchard!  Trees all evenly spaced approximately 25' on center in nice staggered rows.  It looks great and gave me an especially rewarding feeling at what we had accomplished.  Marian and I the following week, placed grow tubes around all the trees to protect them while in this vulnerable stage of growth from animal predation and buck rubs. 

It is now weeks later and all but three of the small trees are showing excellent leaf growth.  If we only lose those three trees to transplanting shock it will have been a very successful venture.  I look forward to future harvests of chestnuts as the trees mature.  The nuts are excellent sources of complex carbs and protein.  They will attract deer and turkey as well as supply our dinner table with seasonal treats.  Years from now we're hoping to harvest enough to sell some off to help pay the taxes around here.

My maternal grandfather roasted chestnuts every fall well into the Christmas Holiday season.  I wish he could have seen this.  He was a classic tough old Italian and we got along well together.  Made his own wine, grew his own vegetables, had 2 fig trees and 1 very productive cherry tree.  He would have loved Red Hand.  

More about the new spring 2012 plantings in a follow-up blog.

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