Tag Archives: garden

The Joy of Owning a Wood Chipper

I can’t say that many nick names have stuck with me over the years. The name André doesn’t really shorten all that well.

Some have tried calling me “An” which sounded awkward and too short for a nickname, if that is even possible. “Dré” gained traction with some of my friends and I would still respond to it today, but due to the pandemic, no one has called me that for some time.

But now, if someone decided to call me “Chip”, it would be totally justified, thanks to my favourite new garden tool: our electric wood chipper.

If someone had told me just a few years ago that someday I would own a wood chipper, I would have recommended that they seek medical attention or to review the dosage of their meds.

From my vantage point, there was no way in the world that this city boy would ever own a wood chipper. To me, that was a tool reserved for properties in the deep woods and as props in movies like “Fargo”.

Never say never.

Here we are, living in the country, and I am now the proud owner of a wood chipper.

Regular readers might recall my blog post in 2020, “Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks”, which described how our “tree lined lot” had indeed lots and lots of trees. There were also lots and lots of dead twigs and branches that would get shaken out, even during the most gentle of breezes.

At that time, my new hobby was a resurrection of the game called “pick up sticks.” While working from home, the opportunity to step outside during breaks and lunch time and gather a little bucket of branches was also a welcomed opportunity to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

But the big question was what to do with the piles of branches that had accumulated. At that time, chopping them with the help of my chainsaw and pruning shears and placing them into paper yard waste bags seemed like the best option. It was a slow process, but it was effective.

Not too long ago, my partner was hunting for yard equipment on various hardware store web sites when a light duty wood chipper caught his eye. What a life-changing discovery!

We compared a few models, checked out a few videos on YouTube on how to use them and settled on this particular model from our beloved Canadian Tire store.

Let’s be honest. This wood chipper would never become the subject of a Stephen King novel or a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s just a little one, but it offers the functionality we need.

The user manual says that it can handle branches up to 1 1/4 inches, which is perfectly fine as that accounts for maybe 95% of the twigs we accumulate.

Anything bigger than that goes into a little woodpile that I am slowly building. The free firewood might come in handy if we ever decide to get a fire pit for our patio.

I truly believe that my office experience with shredders was an excellent prerequisite for working with a wood chipper. I seem to have a good intuition for when a handful of little branches might be too much, in the same way as knowing the right amount of paper to feed into an office shredder without giving it indigestion. Only on a couple of occasions have I had to unplug the chipper and open it to remove an obstruction.

At the bottom of the chipper is a nifty plastic box to collect the resulting chips. We have been able to turn them into free home-made mulch addressing the problem of one of our shade trees that has become home to a variety of weeds over the last two seasons.

One lesson I will have to learn is how to navigate breathing while operating the chipper. After my first few sessions, my lungs felt rather ticklish for a day, producing a mild cough, but it went away. (Note: It wasn’t Covid-19. I ran weekly rapid tests, just to be sure.)

After any session in the garden, I tend to use a neti pot to rinse out my sinuses and keep the pollen count in my nose as low as possible. The first time I used the neti pot after a chipping session I couldn’t get over the particles I released, in the same shade and colour as the mulch I spread under the tree.

Clearly I have two choices, hold my breath (not really an option) or wear a dust mask in addition to the eye and ear protection I am already wearing. It’s a glamourous look… watch for it on the runways of Paris for next spring!

Just recently, I noticed that the machine seemed to be losing its appetite for processing the branches and twigs. I suspected that the blades had gone dull, given how much I had used it in clearing our backlog of branches accumulated over the winter months.

After a thorough consultation of the user manual, I succeeded in opening the chipper and changing the blades. After that, the branches were going through like a hot knife through butter. I was overjoyed at being able to add another new skill to my CV of rural property maintenance!

Even though we have only had the wood chipper for a month, I am convinced of its merits as it has already found an important place in our routine for maintaining the curb appeal of our little country home.

I don’t want to play favourites among garden equipment, but I really appreciate this practical tool!

As a result, if you start calling me “Chip”, I will be sure to respond.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Trouble with Walnut Trees

When we moved to our country property, I really had no idea what a non-stop learning experience I would be encountering.

With a fascinating collection of trees growing throughout our little lot, technology became my best friend for identifying and researching each type’s unique characteristics and needs for proper care.

The first time I heard of black walnut trees was when we contacted an expert to examine a couple of trees that looked like they were having near-death experiences. He suggested that the reason for their illness was the black walnut trees that send a poison through their root system to kill off neighbouring trees, thereby hoarding water and nutrients for itself. It’s mean but that is the way that species of tree operates in the spirit of self-preservation.

I have to admit, I was such a novice in the gardening department, I was surprised that our cold weather and relatively short growing season would support any kind of nut tree. I thought that they only grew in warmer climates. You learn something new every day!

The first growing season after we moved in, we experienced a drought that seemed to put all of our trees in survival mode, as we didn’t see much action from the apple trees nor the black walnut trees.

The second year was a completely different story. One of our apple trees was beyond generous, as I described in my posts, My First Apple Tree (Part 1) and (Part 2).

When fall rolled around, it was the black walnut trees’ turn to deliver. And wow, did they deliver! It was a nutty time.

While I could just leave the nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks to stash away as their winter food, or leave the nuts there to decompose, the reality is that there were just so many of them. Plus, I assumed that we likely wanted to avoid having them take root in the lawn and risk killing off other beautiful plants and shrubs. We started moving them to a temporary pile, to gradually incorporate them into the garbage or in preparation for the dump.

I discovered that there was no use in putting them in paper yard waste bags until the day we were ready to dispose of them. Our badass chipmunks completely destroy the bags to get to the nuts. That being the case, I didn’t want to risk putting bags in the garage either for fear of attracting them and causing collateral damage.

At first, the walnuts fell at a pretty manageable rate. I could scoop them up with a great tool I picked up at a local hardware store, without straining my old back. But given the sheer magnitude of the trees, after a few weeks, it became a losing battle as the slightest breeze could knock the nuts out by the dozens.

They were falling so quickly, I tried to keep the cat away from the trees during our supervised walks, but you know what happens when you say no…

As she stood under one of the trees, sniffing away at the raw nuts that smell like a stronger version of Ivory soap, I often found myself sheltering her little head with my hands, to protect her from falling nuts. Next year I may need to invest in a cat crash helmet, just in case.

Given the consistently heavy downpour of nuts, it was time to revert to the wheelbarrow to collect them up and transport them to the temporary pile.

The sad part is that our neighbouring petting zoos aren’t interested in these nuts in the same way that we were able to unload our excess apples to be happily enjoyed by their pigs and goats.

As for human consumption, I checked a few online videos describing the process to take a raw black walnut and to prepare it for cooking and baking. Let’s just say that I did not retire from a full-time job to take on the full-time job of processing and drying nuts.

Unfortunately, when collecting and transferring a heavy bucket of nuts into a garbage bag, I sent my back into a level of distress I haven’t experienced in many years. The backache was not fun, but thankfully it sorted itself out within a couple of weeks with a series of gentle stretching exercises.

As much as I love the beautiful canopy of our black walnut trees, providing wonderful shade on the hottest of summer days, there is a price to pay for these natural beauties.

Keeping up with the avalanche of nuts this year was a lot of work, far more than I envisioned. However, looking on the bright side, I have to count my blessings that this tree operates on a different timeline than our abundant apple trees, offering us a break between both harvests.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, your likes and shares are most appreciated.
If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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My First Wheelbarrow

It is hard to believe but at age 55, I am the proud owner of my first wheelbarrow.

I may need to qualify that further by saying my first wheelbarrow in my adult life. In my childhood memories, I do have glimpses of playing with a little plastic wheelbarrow but I don’t vividly remember whether it was mine, was it at a babysitter’s, or was it at a friend’s place. I don’t remember one being around our house, so it must have been at someone else’s house.

That being the case, I was no stranger to the benefits of a second class lever system, even if it was just to transport a haul of precious cargo like teddy bears, super-sized packs of crayons and the absolutely essential Fisher Price telephone. Even back then, I wouldn’t leave the house without being just a phone call away.

But fast forward several decades and here I am again, hauling stuff in a trusty wheelbarrow. What a full circle moment!

When I told my partner that I was writing this post, he asked if I mentioned how I was initially unconvinced when he first proposed it. I thought it was a good point to add. In never using one in my adult life (to this point), I truly had no sense of its potential.

I didn’t need one during my apartment years since I had no responsibility for the surrounding land or garden.

And for the last 20 years I was living in a condominium where pretty much all exterior landscaping was up to the property management company. I had responsibility over my 15 feet by 15 feet backyard, but let’s just say I never needed a device to haul things from one end of the yard to the other. Even just standing still, any given wheelbarrow covers six square feet, so it was hard to justify getting one.

In our rural property, I am surprised how we survived our first year without one. The reality was we didn’t have a garage in which to store it securely and to shelter it from the elements.

Once the garage was finished, the next hurdle was waiting for the pandemic lockdown to be over to be able to go buy one. Of course we could have purchased one from Canadian Tire with their super-efficient curbside pickup, but we wanted to get a good look, to see a few up close and to test some before committing to a purchase. Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 2)

After a few weeks of non-stop activities surrounding the apple tree that wouldn’t stop dropping bushels of apples, I finally got a day off thanks to thunderstorms.

I took a moment to realize what a struggle it had become to wedge in the apple picking, the sorting and the distribution, between everything else I needed to do and before it got too hot and humid outside. I had to suspend pretty much all other garden maintenance work when I had only a limited window to work with in the early morning.

With the apple tree still dropping apples faster than we could collect them and everyone’s hands cramping from peeling the apples we gave them, I was feeling stressed.

With bags of apples accumulating quickly, getting progressively larger and waiting for the next “disposal”, we were attracting more than our fair share of insects and possibly fauna as I kept spotting partially eaten apples showing up in random parts of the property nowhere near the apple tree.

Funny enough, I realized that in the recent rush of apple activity, I was too busy to notice that my legs and glutes weren’t burning anymore. I guess the body adjusted to the intense activity… hello bright side!

When I took to the Internet to do some research, I discovered that yard work can burn about 300 calories per hour. That seemed to bring a whole new perspective and positive mindset about the time and effort I was devoting to the apples. When stretching, squatting and moving bags of heavy and wet apples was part of my daily morning routine, who needs a gym work out consisting of stretches, squats and weights? Continue reading

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Garden Weeds

In declaring my independence from the city and moving to the country, I felt a sense of renewed freedom that was truly hard to describe.

Regular readers and my inner circle of friends will recall that in the city, I have had more than my fair share of lousy neighbours. Over the years, I have endured blaring music till all hours of the night, my backyard being used as a dog’s toilet and my driveway being used as a visitor’s parking spot, among other not-so-neighbourly infractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had exceptionally lovely neighbours as well and I miss them dearly, but the nuisance ones occupied significantly more of my head space than the delightful ones.

The move to a rural property meant less need to compromise and to accommodate the impingements of self-entitled neighbours in the name of “staying on good terms”. With so few neighbours, I had the distance I needed to breathe and to heal.

But in the country, there is a different impingement that has become an almost daily preoccupation: garden weeds.

When we arranged a first visit to see this property, it was mid-February and the 1.4 acre parcel of land was covered by snow. We knew that the place had a garden, as the listing referred to the patio as an “oasis”, but that was the extent of what we knew about the state of the landscaping. Continue reading

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Country Living and Non-Stop Pick-Up Sticks

When I first read the real estate listing for our home-to-be, one of the details that stole my heart was the mention of a tree-lined lot and the picture of mature trees surrounding the little house.

Even though I am not what I would consider a winter person, when combined with a fresh February snowfall, the house presented all of the elements of a charming country retreat. A couple of friends mentioned how it looked like the kind of house you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Having grown up in suburbia, I wasn’t a stranger to trees. We had a weeping willow, a crab-apple tree, cedar hedges and a few shrubs. There was even an apple tree on the property line with one of our neighbours. But as a kid, I never really thought about them. I just remember climbing them or making them into a big prop in whatever game my playmates’ imagination came up with.

Then came a decade of rental apartments, where trees were there for shade, shelter and beauty, but I never really gave them much thought. Even in the townhome where I lived for 20 years, the condominium corporation took care of the trees. The most I ever did was rake a few leaves.

Now, in a home with a tree-lined lot, I see trees differently, both literally and metaphorically. They are a source of pride and joy and we are so fortunate that our property has such a variety of beautiful trees. But the reality check is setting in: ongoing maintenance.

Sadly, there are a couple that aren’t doing well that will need to be removed, but that’s just nature and the circle of life at work. At the same time, we have a few majestic ones that we were told by our tree expert were probably standing since our great-grandparents’ days and will probably outlive us.

In having so many trees around, in various stages of life, I understand that getting acquainted with each variety individually and understanding their respective needs will be a project in itself.
But the one thing that doesn’t take a tree expert to realize is that when you have mature trees around, falling twigs, sticks and branches are a fact of life. Continue reading

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The Hunt for the Perfect Lawn Chair

There is nothing more relaxing than enjoying a warm summer day in the great outdoors, in the company of friends or family, feasting on barbecued food and sipping a frosty beverage… until your back locks up and you can’t get out of the freaking lawn chair.

Or conversely, to not be able to get out of bed the next day from lower back pain.

This happened to me a while ago which had my normally brisk walking pace down to a slow shuffle much like the character Tim Conway used to play on the Carol Burnett Show. I was back at my trusty chiropractor’s office for a few sessions to get things back to normal.

Since that time, it has become an annual ritual: testing lawn chairs in the hope of finding… THE ONE!

If you have been around for a few decades as I have, you’ll probably remember that the worst thing that used to happen with lawn chairs was to get up and having a funny checked pattern imprinted on the back of your thighs from the plastic webbing. I miss those days of plaid thighs. But it wasn’t the challenge that it is today.

I’ve accepted the reality of blood circulation randomly deciding to cut out, grunting when I pick up things from the floor and discs degenerating by the hour. These “joys” are tempered by the bright side that waking up with a new ache or pain is actually a sign of still being alive to write about it. Continue reading

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When Vacation Time Becomes Home Maintenance Time

Maybe it’s a product of having a busy life and many interests, but I long for the day when I can take a vacation and for it to be entirely made up of time to put my feet up, read a good book and just relax in well-earned peace and tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a home owner. I also love taking care of my investment. The problem is that through a normal work week, when you factor in time for social activities, writing, cooking, cleaning and laundry, there isn’t much time or energy left to bring out the power tools and the paint cans to knock things off my home maintenance to-do list.

And even when I do set aside time for do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, I want it done right the first time. I don’t want to rush the project and risk making a mess. For that reason, it needs a generous time allotment.

It would be one thing if I had no natural inclination for DIY projects or if I hated them, but I don’t. I actually think they are a joy and a privilege.

The worst part is that I am responsible for the to-do list and I tend to expect a lot of myself, so the list does get a little ambitious.

That being the case, the list of projects often get deferred to the only time where time and patience are in good supply: vacations… or should I say, stay-cations. Continue reading

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The Wisdom of Flowers

FlowersThis past week I was most excited to come home from work and to be able to snip a few stems of fresh lily of the valley. While I understand that some people might classify these on the same level as invasive weeds, to me they are the ultimate example of why flowers are important and how flowers speak to us.

First, the wonderful fragrance of lily of the valley is a throwback to childhood memories of a simpler time. When it would peak in mid to late May, Mom would bring a bunch into the house, filling the room with that aroma that became synonymous with joy and the messages “end-of-school year” and “summer is almost here”, a Pavlovian trigger that remains with me today.

As an adult, I continue to appreciate its gentle whispers and reminders:

Hope: When we are in a winter that seemingly never ends or a spring that never seems to arrive, flowers are a reminder that at some point, the seasons will indeed change and the crocuses, tulips, lilacs and lily of the valley will be in full bloom. The eager anticipation for the sights and perfumes of flowers in bloom, to me, is synonymous with “good things come to those who wait” and “hope springs eternal”.

Carpe Diem: With lily of the valley, the window of opportunity is perhaps 10 days and takes a concerted effort to keep checking on them to not miss their peak. If you snip them too early, they aren’t fragrant. If you snip them too late, the fragrance starts expiring and then they dry out and die. The expression “stop and smell the roses” is a thoughtful parallel to the transience of life and how the good times are meant to be savoured.Lily of the valley

Adversity: To me, lily of the valley have been a source of fascination. When it came to experiments in my own garden, I tried growing some in rich soil but to poor results: they don’t seem to grow the fragrant bells, only the green stems. But when I plant them in poor quality, sandy soil (one foot away), they thrive and rise like a phoenix. Lesson learned: even in adversity, beauty and abundance is possible.

The cyclical nature of life: The beauty of gardening is when you can have a fun mixture of perennials and annuals reaching their peak of blooms at different times, providing colour and entertainment throughout the growing season. Lily of the valley might bloom early, but it is easy to find plants to backfill for them, and stagger the beauty of the garden throughout summer and fall. To me this is a floral reflection on “not having all of one’s eggs in the same basket” and that “variety is the spice of life”.

Surprises: Every now and then, I have been surprised by plants either blooming longer than expected or coming back for another round of late blooms well into the fall. I live for those serendipitous moments, not only in the garden, but in life as well.

Did you enjoy this post? If you did, please know that there are plenty more where that came from! If you haven’t already, you can check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.net. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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