Life



A few months ago I was traveling through McKean County in Pennsylvania on my way back from a job. Years ago in McKean county there was an old railroad bridge that stretched across a great divide.

Here is a quick description from Wikipedia: ”

The Kinzua Bridge before its collapse. www.alleghenyratraid.com

The Kinzua Bridge before its collapse. http://www.alleghenyratraid.com

The Kinzua Bridge or the Kinzua Viaduct (/ˈkɪnz/[4] or /ˈkɪnz.ə/) was a railroad trestle that spanned Kinzua Creek in McKean Countyin the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Prior to its collapse in 2003, the bridge was 301 feet (92 m) tall and 2,052 feet (625 m) long.

The bridge was originally built from iron in 1882 and was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World“, holding the record as the tallest railroad bridge in the world for two years. In 1900, the bridge was dismantled and simultaneously rebuilt out of steel to allow it to accommodate heavier trains. It stayed in commercial service until 1959 and was sold to the Government of Pennsylvania in 1963, becoming the centerpiece of a state park. Restoration of the bridge began in 2002, but before it was finished, a tornado struck the bridge in 2003, causing a large portion of the bridge to collapse. Corroded anchor bolts holding the bridge to its foundations failed, contributing to the collapse.

Shortly after the tornado. www.bradfordera.com

Shortly after the tornado.
http://www.bradfordera.com

Before its collapse, the Kinzua Bridge was ranked as the fourth-tallest railway bridge in the United States.[5] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1982. The ruins of the Kinzua Bridge are inKinzua Bridge State Park off U.S. Route 6 near the borough of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania.

Now, what’s left of the remaining bridge has been turned into a vista where you can walk out over the edge of the hill and have a scenic look at the remains and the surrounding hills. It really is a sight to see. I would encourage you all to make a trip to it whenever you can. It would be a great trip for the fall when the leaves on the trees are most beautiful.

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Scenery

The walk out to the edge.

The walk out to the edge.


I am not sure how many of you follow me on Facebook. If you do, then you know all about where I work.  Almost 2 years ago I left my position as Director for Tioga County GIS and joined the team over at Wildlife Specialists, LLC. My good friend, Merlin Benner, began the business in 2007 after leaving his position as a Biologist for Pennsylvania DCNR.

Wildlife Specialists, LLC was founded in 2007 to provide clients with comprehensive wildlife assessment, planning, and monitoring services. A lot of our work is with endangered, rare, or threatened species. We also provide nuisance white tailed deer and feral hog management.

Timber Rattlesnake tracked, tagged, and released via telemetry

Timber Rattlesnake tracked, tagged, and released via telemetry

Long story short, after talking with him, they asked if I would join them to help their GIS program and also their Nuisance Deer/Feral Hog Management program. After getting certified through the Game Commission as a Nuisance WIldlife/White Tailed Deer Agent, I joined them formally as their GIS manager in March of 2012. Since moving over, I have enjoyed a great many days in the field rather than in a stuffy office in front of a computer every day. I have gotten to learn so much about the various species and habitats that we work with.

I have had the chance to work on Timber Rattlesnake habitat surveys, Goshawk

Telemetry equipment picking up a transmitter frequency inside a rattlesnake.

Telemetry equipment picking up a transmitter frequency inside a rattlesnake.

surveys, wetland delineation, rare plant surveys, invasive plant studies and removal, rattlesnake telemetry studies, Allegheny Woodrat habitat improvement projects and so on. This is the kind of work I have always wanted to be doing.

Timber rattlesnake marked.

Timber rattlesnake marked.

Consequently, a lot of the work has come from the natural gas activity in the area. As that slows down, so does the work. We are still keeping relatively busy and hope that New York will soon open up for natural gas drilling. Pennsylvania has really benefited from all the survey work that has been done due to the gas industry. The records of what is really out there in the wilds is now more robust and better documented. And I am glad to be a part of it and see it all for myself out in the woods.

The timbering gear that we carried up the mountains for woodrat habitat improvement.

The timbering gear that we carried up the mountains for woodrat habitat improvement.

Woodrat habitat improvement. Steep rocky terrain!

Woodrat habitat improvement. Steep rocky terrain!


This is an update as to what I have been up to lately. We have about 6 new chicks (1 mo. old now) out in the coop. We have 5 Khaki Campbell ducks on their way in late may, and 4 of our goats are pregnant and due in late June.

My next project is to tear down our existing sheds and build sheds made out of pallets. This would be our garden shed (may also double as sugar shack), and our goat shed. I’d like to make it bigger and have dry space for hay and feed storage.

We also had a great sap season. I gathered 400+ gallons of sap which returned 14 gallons of syrup. I boiled about 15 gallons of sap at home after my boiler friend stopped boiling. We got 1.5 quarts from doing that over the fire pit. The kids loved it!

Boiling sap at home

We also received a baby Sannen buckling from a friend. He was a week old in mid march and we are bottle feeding him currently. I also built a goat milking stand for when our two goats, who are half dairy breed, freshen. The other two goats are Boer goats so we will not be milking them. =)

Goat stand from scrap wood.


I just got home from a screening of “The Economics of Happiness”. We watched it at a local restored theater in Blossburg called the Victoria Theater.

This is what it looked like for many years until a local man who used to frequent it as a boy, bought it and brought it back to life.

Anyways, the documentary was basically about how globalization has pretty much destroyed the local community. That in fact, there is no more local community. The globalization of most products and their marketing has destroyed the sense and “need” of local economics. The products you purchase that are grown or made on one continent and then shipped to another for finishing touches and then sent to another for assembly or packaging then shipped to the nearest merchandiser for you to buy has somehow ended up cheaper than buying that same thing that was made or grown down the road. All done by over regulating and taxing the local producer, and subsidizing every facet of the product that traveled the world over to get near you.
This fact does have some troubling repercussions. It drives much of the population into joblessness, poverty, stress, and depression. Many politicians and big corporate business owners would have you to believe that globalizing helps create jobs locally and in the third world. It may create jobs locally but its taking advantage of and manipulating the people and cultures of the southern hemisphere. Putting them to hard labor, pulling them from agriculture and self sustaining livelihoods and bringing them to shacks in the big cities to live in slums to earn a slaves wages. Locally, it does the same thing. It draws people to big cities which then increases the demand for resources to support the population. They pay is usually lower end and they end up working their lives away for meager pay.

Now, having said all that, I did watch the film with somewhat of a critical mind. What I mentioned above is a broad brushstroke. I understand that without some globalization we would not have many things such as many electronics and other technology, coffee beans and other products not grown locally, cars (need rubber from somewhere), and many other things that are mass produced to fill demand. The population on Earth is exploding. But this gets to the core of the issue…do we need all these things to make us happy? Or would a general happiness index find that a simple life (how simple?) results in greater overall general happiness.

It was stated in the film that 1 acre of land could feed 20 people. The general feel of the point was that local small farmers can out produce large monoculture industrial farming. I don’t doubt that’s true, but with the rising population, can that really feed EVERYONE? I don’t know. If everyone moved out of the cities and spread out throughout the land….how much open land would really be left? How much of open land is actually habitable? I guess if the Ladakh people of Tibet can live where they’ve lived for the past 500 yrs without any outside influence, then no doubt there is a lot of places people could live self-sustainably. How much natural resources would need to be removed for that to happen? Is there enough room to have farms outlying the cities to feed them? I think an unspoken message in this movie was that the population is getting dangerously too large and that something needs to be done to control it. That was an unsettling thought to me.

Then they began talking about transition towns or cities. This idea has me intrigued. The idea is to develop whole communities that are less dependent, or not dependent at all on globalization or petroleum products. Sounds like Utopia, but I don’t believe Utopia will ever exist here on this earth. But I do believe that living wisely and being a good steward of your local environment is a good thing to do. So just because I don’t believe that heaven will ever be here on earth, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to live in a way that conserves the environment and a moral economy.

The best quote I heard in the documentary was from an Indian gardener:  “We can not live infinitely on a finite earth.”


Snowshoes

Hey Folks! Its that time of year again. The days are getting noticeably longer and the temperatures are a tad above freezing but still below freezing at night. That means the sap is starting to run up the sugar maple trees. Its time to put your taps in and drain a little out for your pancakes!

New tubing zip tied to high tensile wire

The snow here is still quite deep so I have taken to snowshoes to make the trek out to the sugarbush a little easier. I have been taking any spare time to go out and string up a new addition to my system. My friend is making available his high tensile wire. So this past weekend I ripped out all my existing tubing and taps and put up high tensile wire. Now I have a “backbone” to attach my new lines to. This will keep my tubing from sagging as it has in the past.  Sags in the lines do not allow for good sap flow. Its best to have as straight a line as possible always in an unlevel position to let the sap flow down instead of collecting in the sags. This has always been a problem for me.

The trick to no sags!

I am also adding about 30 more taps this year. I am very excited about these as they are nice big trees. Half of these will be collected by drop lines into buckets. In the past those bucket lines have produced so much that the buckets were always overflowing by the time I got back from work that afternoon. This year I am going to split the line right before it drops into the bucket so that I will have 2 buckets per one tap.

Hurry before the sun goes down!

I also have new tubing and taps which will cut down on the bacteria being introduced into the tree which would increase the speed of healing of the tap hole. As you can assume, the faster it heals, the shorter the time you have to collect sap from that hole. Sometimes you can freshen up the hole again by reaming it out if you still have good weather approaching but it is often considered not a good practice. I have done it in the past and it allows for more sap to flow for a few more days.

In the next few days I plan on hanging all my tubing and then hopefully tapping this coming weekend. I will post pics as I get them.

A beautiful day.


Hillside Pasture

I was flipping through a “Hobby Farmer” magazine the other night and realized that the whole idea of hobby framing is really aimed at those who have an expendible income. The advertisements are full of expensive “farm toys”. The articles talk about high bloodlines and innovative ideas…if you have the money to implement them. You hear stories about “When we moved from our city house to our cute farmette in the country” or “we moved from our suburban 3,000 sq ft home to our country estate/cottage to enjoy country life”. I don’t know what part of farming was done for just enjoyment. Yes, an agricultural lifestyle can be enjoyable and fulfilling…due to the hard work. But it was mostly born from necessity.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a very interesting magazine and you can get many ideas from it.

I thought it was ironic though that hobby farming is basically for the “rich” these days, when in times past, that’s how the poor lived.  Making the most out of small rural acreage.  In these economically hard times, hobby farming should be aimed at doing more with less….less money that is. I can not say that I live on a farm, nor that I am a farmer. We only own less than 1.5 acres. I have a regular job that pays the bills…barely, and a side business to make extra money to fill in the gaps. We do live in a rural area but that is only because I made the choice to go to college in a rural area. It’s the first place I settled before I even had a family of my own. So we had that going for us from the beginning I guess. I don’t think we could have afforded to “move to a country lifestyle”.

That’s the whole reason that my wife and I decided to pursue raising our own food. At least as much as we could handle doing ourselves. Each year we have expanded to do a little more. We increase the garden every year, we are increasing the diversity of animals we raise as well. Each one has its own function in the process of raising healthy food. We have a garden, so compost and insect control are a must. We have chickens that take care of the bugs (and the tomatoes too unfortunately). We have goats that provide us meat, and milk will be flowing next year hopefully. The chickens also take care of mixing in the goat droppings with the grass and dirt. We take out the goat shed bedding to the compost pile since its basically hay, wood shavings, and goat droppings. The chickens provide us with eggs and an occasional chicken dinner. Hopefully in the spring we will also have two piglets to raise. They will be placed where our current garden is. Pigs do a great job mixing in compost while providing their own manure into the garden. We can fence in the current section of garden space for the pigs, then rotate the next year.

Pig/Garden Rotation (www.cricketbread.com)

All of this is done with minimal expense.  I use old second hand items when possible. For instance, our current goat shed is the old metal shed that came with the house. I asked a farmer about a broken calf hutch one day and he said I could have it for free…in fact I got two and let my friend have one. Two lengths of our electric net fencing were basically given to us as long as I went and ripped them out from being buried under tall over grown field grass…It was literally a treasure hunt! Our neighbor graciously lets us use the steep hillside along our house to pasture the goats. I think he is just glad to have the hillside mowed and rid of multiflora rose.

If anything needs to be bought, I ask around first to see if anyone nearby has the item and aren’t using it. If I cant find it, I search for used items on the internet. My last resort is to buy  something brand new. We cant afford tractors and other large motorized farm tools, nor do we have the room to store them. Once you can afford to buy the equipment, you have to afford to build outbuildings to store them in. So our work takes longer and gives us more exercise. It also will hopefully instill in our children a good work ethic. That is the second reason why we chose to start raising as much food for ourselves as we can on a low budget.

So, I think there needs to be a magazine focused on low budget hobby farming. I am sure there is one somewhere already.


Tilling with helpers.

It has been a rewarding growing season so far. Just the right amount of rain and sun to get our plants bursting out of the ground. To me its a miracle when every seed produces a plant that will feed us in some fashion. I have also enjoyed having my boys help out in any way they can. Both my boys love the tiller and want to help, they also like digging and planting.

Corn Garden

Corn Garden

After we tilled this section of our garden, we had to “pick rocks”. This garden is full of them. We are using this garden for our heartier plants like corn, rhubarb and squash. They seem to do well in all kinds of soil. Over the winter I have added ash from our wood stove and other organic material to this garden to help sweeten the soil a bit more.

We have planted: Peas, romaine lettuce, string beans, carrots, broccoli, kale, spinach, celery, herbs, corn, various kinds of squash, eggplant, rhubarb and various kinds of tomatoes, grapes (already started from 3 yrs ago), and red raspberries.

Raised bed progress 2

Raised bed progress 1

Picking ROcks

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