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Blackberry Lines (March 2016)

Once you've experienced trying to harvest blackberries from native, thorn-ridden plants; you come to realize that management of the canes is in your best interest.

I attended a class on brambles and decided to change to a recommended management technique. The hubby came on board last year (Spring 2015) and we moved the plants we wanted to keep and mowed down the others. The first group of photos are from 2015.

Originally, the blackberry plants were a walking mowers width (about 2 feet) away from the fence you can see to the left of the new posts and lines.

After putting in the posts and lines, we transplanted canes from the preferred plants centered on the posts every few feet along the length between T posts.

A close up of the west end of the structure.

The canes will get heavy with blackberries and it will be unevenly spaced, so we used the plastic covered wire that used to be the fence for the horses to tie the canes to.

The T post has U-nails at each end to guide the wire.

The wire is attached to a spring adjustable tether so that the wire can be tightened or loosened as needed.

There is another post with a cross piece to keep the T posts in place (not sag toward the plants due to the tension of the wire).

The east end, same set up as the west.
Transplanted canes, they surprisingly produced a few berries.
These transplanted canes were not tied to the wire this year.

New plants from roots.

Since blackberries grow in the first year and bloom/fruit the second year, these are the canes that will get tied to the line and produce next time.

And here it is Spring 2016. The old, dead canes are removed.

The 2nd year canes are tied to one side and will continue growing and produce blossoms and fruit.

New canes will grow untied.

It's much easier to see how the canes are leaned to one side and tied to the line in this image.

The whole reason for this is management. After these canes fruit, they will die.

Come winter when it's time to tie the new canes to the other side, it will be easy to tell which ones are old. The old canes tied to the wire are cut at ground level and removed.

All that are left are the new canes and they are leaned to the other side and tied off.

Some people tie the young canes to the other side as they grow. Same results, different process.

The goal is that the canes have plenty of light and space to produce lots of flavorful berries. AND that it is easy to harvest those berries. AND that it is easy to remove the dead thorn covered canes.

Compost Hay (May 2016)

These photos and the actual spreading they depict happened in late March or early April (should have written it down, LOL).

As you may already know, this winter I purchased big, round, bales of hay for the cattle and we gave them access to it in an alley setup. (Click here to see pictures and read about that.)

Regardless of how you provide hay during the winter, you end up with uneaten hay that has been "supplemented" by the cattle because they decide they don't want to eat it and then walk and defecate on it. I will admit that the small, square bales left less waste than we had this winter. BUT! all that lovely composting hay will be lovely to use to prepare new areas for planting, fill in holes in the pastures and the rest will go into the ditch to reduce erosion.


The hubby had already gotten a load on the trailer before I made my way out to direct where it goes.

From here it just looks like a pile of hay, but it is ever so much more than that!

First stop: under the ShelterLogic Garage structure. Since we didn't have chickens this winter (see all the unused equipment being store in the overwinter field), it is easy to access this spot.

Between the chickens and storing one of the trailers under this structure, the ground is devoid of turf and last summer the weeds were thick in there.

It took two (2) loads to cover the area and while there will be weeds and grass etc growing through some of it, the compost hay will be a great first amendment so I can turn this into a shade structure for plants in 2017.

I have lots of paper seed bags to anchor over the compost hay.

Here it is all covered with compost hay.

Eventually, I will be applying the compost hay to the places where the chicken equipment has been.

My plan is to make raised beds throughout this area.

It is quite a job, removing the soiled hay from the cattle overwinter area. There is at least one reason that lightweight hay 'pitchforks' are made with curved tines; it help keep them from digging into the ground when sliding the fork through the compressed hay.

We definitely need to get at least one more pitchfork.

Let's see, this is two (2) trailer loads removed.

Another load removed.

I'll be spreading seed in this area to aid in it's recovery.

Another angle of the area.

We figure the trampled compost hay is between 6 inches (closes to the grass) and 2-feet thick (right next to the remaining hay bales).

As I recall, this was five (5) loads removed. Probably about the same remaining at this point.

We removed all the wire and t-posts as the last chore on this day.

Moving hay is hard work! Moving compost hay is heavier work!

It's definitely going to take us longer than I anticipated to get it all moved out to the pasture and ditch.

We should have some lovely worm population in this area.

Pokeweed vs. Elderberry (August 2016)

My parents used to make "balloon wine" (you can look that up if you aren't familiar with it -- I'm not going into wine making at this time) from a wide variety of sources; most of which were free to us. You know... from friends with bushes or trees they didn't want to harvest themselves or weeds that grow in ditches... that kind of free. So I had early lessons in identifying edible vs. poisonous fruit plants/weeds.

Many, many years later, a friend pointed to a plant growing in her front yard saying how excited she was that this volunteer elderberry had decided to grow there. Um, sorry to tell you, but that is NOT elderberry... that is pokeweed. Oh, no, she said, another friend had definitely identified it as elderberry. So, long story short, not much later I met this friend and she "knew" the plant that is actually pokeweed as elderberry and her mom used to make jam out of those berries. Wow, I said, if you survived pokeweed berry jam, nothing is going to kill you! (It's entirely possible that the woman couldn't tell the difference and her mom could and what she served as elderberry jam WAS, in fact, elderberry jam. We will never know for sure.)

And now, because of that interaction, I allow some pokeweed to grow in close proximity to my elderberry plants SPECIFICALLY so I can say: "See this? It's Elderberries. See that? It's Pokeweed. Elderberries are good for you and Pokeweed berries are poisonous."

Since not everyone can come to the farm to see the difference, I am including this batch of photos so you can see for yourself. By the way, both plants are poisonous to eat (from different toxins) and some people are sensitive to pokeweed the way people are sensitive to poison ivy.

Remember, both have deep purple berries and the stems get more red as they ripen... so get to know the differences!


Sambucus canadensis is the variety that I have on the farm.

This is elderberries ready to be harvested.

The big clusters of tiny berries are so heavy that they pull the stalk over.

The berries are deep purple and shiny.


REALLY close up of fully ripe berries. See how they are clusters -- that is an important identifying clue.

It is important to note that while the flowers and RIPE berries are edible, the rest of the plant is poisonous.


Here you can see several bushes.

There can be both ripe and green berries on a single branch.

And just because one bush is ripe, doesn't mean the one next to it will be ripe.

Some links you may find helpful:


These are mature, up to 8 foot tall, pokeweed plants (phytolacca americana).

The berries grow along a single stem and look VERY different from the clusters of elderberries.

As the plants mature, the stems get more and more red.


Every part of the pokeweed is poisonous.

Here are ripe berries. They are MUCH bigger than elderberries.


You will find information about eating the leaves and stems... this is true, but only VERY young plants before you see any red in the stems. And even then, the plant is boiled (and the water disposed of between) at least twice before used in a recipe.

There are excellent reasons to live and let live in regard to pokeweed especially if you are into dye making.

Removing them is tricky. Since they die back to the root every year, I just cut them out in the spring before they get big. I don't use poisons, so I depend on vigilance on my part. If the root doesn't receive nutrition from leaves, it will (eventually) die.


I think the plants are beautiful. Birds are not affected by the poison and the bare plant is a great place for them to perch during the winter.

I came across this excellent link that you may find informative:

Witch-Hazel (August 2016)

There is an area on the farm near the road where the previou owners decided to create a pond. They didn't do a very good job... it leaks. So the best you can say about this area is that it makes a good rain garden. They had planted forsythia on the dam (along the road) and day lillies at the south end (farthest from the road/dam) in addition to a couple of red bud trees.

I opted to turn the area into a rain garden for wildlife and leave it as uncultivated as possible.

Mother Nature planted wild blackberries among the daylillies and lots and lots of poison ivy. She also planted cat tails and some other water loving ground covers that I haven't identified yet.

I planted some cottonwood saplings, false indigo and witch-hazel bushes. The bushes act as the outer boundary on the east and west. South of the day lillies/red bud trees, I planted pawpaw trees and elderberries.

I chose witch-hazel bushes because I use the astringent made from them and thought it would be nice to (someday) be able to make my own.

Also, these bushes bloom during the winter. Here are some of the flowers in February of 2016.

If the bees happen to be able to get out of their hives in February, there is pollen because of these plants!


I wasn't really expecting to see seed pods, but here they are!

From what I can find on-line, the seeds are edible (supposed to be similar to pistachio).

They are harvested just before the pods are set to burst open.

I'll keep an eye on them, see what I can harvest and when.

Crossing fingers and toes!

Hamamelis vernalis is the species on my farm.

The plants themselves are much bigger than I had envisioned when I bought the seedlings. And they are really pretty!

Not a lot of information on the species I have, but here is one link:

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