Upcycling

Turning trash into useful items.

Over the past year or so, I’ve really embraced the idea of upcycling to make useful things around my home.

According to Wikipedia, coined in 1994, the term upcycling means

the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

Why Upcycle?

I like the idea of upcycling for several reasons:

  • Upcycling really appeals to my scavenger instincts. For most of my life, I’ve wanted to gather discarded items that I think have some use. Hell, back in my college days, I furnished my dorm room with perfectly good items discarded by departing students, including an area rug, lamp, and table with chairs. You know what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • Upcycling enables me to have more for less. With my recently limited budget, I have to make do with less money. While that often means doing without, it could also mean building my own solutions.
  • Upcycling reduces waste in landfills and recycling centers. Seriously, don’t we put enough crap in landfills and the ocean? Upcycling is better than recycling because it makes something useful without it first going through a waste stream. That means no transportation costs, no sorting costs, no remanufacturing costs, etc.

First Projects

Coop Construction
A look at my chicken coop under construction.

Pallet Garden
My first pallet planter makes an excellent strawberry patch.

I blogged about my first upcycling project before I even knew the word upcycling existed. In “Chickens Again, Part II: The Coop,” I wrote about the chicken coop I made, in part, from wooden pallets I’d scavenged. Two days later, I wrote “The Pallet Planter,” which showed off one of eventually three raised garden beds I’d built with more scavenged pallets.

Why Now?

All this is pretty new for me. In my old, half-dead life in Arizona, I wasn’t motivated to do much of anything — there just didn’t seem to be a point. And even if I did want to make or build something, I didn’t have tools or a useable workspace.

But here in Washington, things are different. I feel like I have a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning and make things happen. I also have a lot of free time on my hands that’s not filled with the need to try (and mostly fail) to make someone else happy.

I began acquiring decent power tools about a year ago — through purchases and hand-me-downs from friends — and have most of what I need to get projects done. And I have plenty of space; with my RV garage still mostly empty and my shop laid out to give me the best access to tools and workspace, I can tackle almost any sized project.

More Projects

As I work on my home to do all the wiring and plumbing — more on that in other blog posts — I take time out to get creative with “waste” materials.

Rolling Workbench
My first rolling workbench is a masterpiece of usefulness, built with a discarded crate and scrap lumber.

My favorite project to date is turning crates into rolling workbenches. There’s a business I pass when I go into town that gets engines and other parts on pallets and in crates. They discard the pallets and crates on a corner of their property near the road, under a sign that says “Free Wood.” If I’m driving by in my truck and there’s something worth taking, I pull over and load it up. (I actually keep work gloves in the truck just for this purpose.)

Small Rolling Workbench
I built this smaller rolling worktable yesterday. The only cost was the wheels, which I bought for about $10.

I picked up two large crates a few months back and turned one of them into a stand for my garden beehive. The other just sat in the dirt for a while, occasionally used as a work surface for cutting wood. When my building shell was finished, however, I got a brainstorm. Why not lay it on one side, add plywood shelves, and put wheels on the bottom? I had all the scrap wood and even the wheels that I needed. The resulting mobile workbench is perfect for woodworking projects and storing my power tools in a handy place. I even made a smaller version just yesterday.

Woodshed
Yes, I did mark the length of each piece on the end and sort them by size. That makes it extremely quick and easy to find just the piece I need.

Because I’m such a scavenger and because I told the builder to leave behind any scrap wood, I needed a place to store the useable pieces. That meant a sort of woodshed. I built one out of pallets (again), scrap lumber, and leftover metal from my building. The result is a 4 x 10 sort of lean-to with shelves that keeps the lumber out of the rain and snow. And yes, I filled it almost immediately — it’s extremely handy to be able to quickly find exactly the piece of lumber I need for other projects. Best of all, it matches my building so it isn’t an eyesore from the road (which it faces).

I’m also working on glass projects, although I don’t have any photos yet. I start with discarded wine bottles which, because of the sheer number of local wineries, I can get in any number I need. I’ll be melting down glass rings in a kiln for use in wind chimes. And I’ve also been cutting the bottles in half and finishing off the cut edges to make drinking glasses and vases. This is time-consuming, tedious work that I’m not exactly excited about doing. But the results are impressive. I expect to make an entire set of drinking glasses for my new home out of wine bottles. I’d also like to melt small glass pieces in a kiln to make jewelry; we’ll see where I go with that.

Creativity Can Be Rewarding

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these silly little projects. Seeing waste turned into something truly useful that makes my life better or easier is extremely rewarding. Knowing that I’m the one who thought up the design and executed it makes it even better.

What have you upcycled lately? Use the comments to brag about it!

Some Things You Probably Don’t Know about Growing Apples

Getting up close and personal with commercial orchard operations is a good way to learn about real-world agriculture.

Yesterday, I did a charter flight for one of my favorite clients, a company that owns or manages cherry, apple, and pear orchards throughout central Washington state. Throughout the growing season, they often need to visit one or more of their orchards for any number of reasons. Yesterday’s charter flight was to take one of their lead horticulturists around to meet with orchard managers or growers, so I landed in four different orchards.

Helicopter in Apple Orchard
My first landing zone yesterday was a gravel staging area on the north side of an irrigation pond.

I took Penny the Tiny Dog with me yesterday, which I don’t often do. She curled up on a dog bed in the back seat during each leg of our flight and then kept me company while I waited for my passenger to return to the helicopter landing zone from his business elsewhere on the orchard. She also gave me an excuse to go walking while I waited. Together, we walked on the dirt roads around the orchard blocks.

This isn’t something new to me; I’ve been doing this since my first flights for this client two years ago. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how various fruit is grown, both by observation and by asking questions when possible during flights. I think some of the things I’ve learned are interesting and, after getting some photos to illustrate what I’ve learned, I thought I’d share them here.

Apple Orchards Need Cooling

Food for thought: Apples bought in the spring or summer are not “fresh”

No matter where apples are grown in the U.S., none of them are picked before August. August through October is apple season. Apples grown in the U.S. and bought any other time of the year have been stored since apple season. There are huge concrete buildings all over apple country called CA (controlled atmospheric) storage in which apples are stored until they’re shipped to stores. There’s nothing wrong with these apples — CA storage is used because it works — but don’t think that the apple you buy in May has been picked off the tree earlier that month. Unless it’s grown south of the equator, it hasn’t.

Apples are among the last fruit to be harvested. Long after the cherries and apricots have been picked, the apples continue to grow and ripen. Some early varieties are ready for harvest in August, but most are harvested in September.

Of course, that means that apples are on trees in the hottest part of the summer. And in this part of Washington — the dry side of the mountains — they’re pretty much baking in the hot sun throughout July and August.

Extreme heat isn’t good for apples. To combat the heat, orchards use evaporative cooling — they have sprinkler heads mounted high above the tree tops and turn them on periodically on hot days. This significantly cools the orchard air.

Where do they get the water for this? Orchardists pull water from sources according to their water right limitations and use it for irrigation. Excess water is stored in ponds on the orchards and used for cooling, as well as for warming during frost season.

I should mention that grower with very deep pockets will sometimes erect shade structures over entire orchards to keep apples out of the hot sun. They sometimes also use crop-dusters to spray chemicals on apples to protect them from sunburn. This isn’t necessary for all apple varieties, however.

Reflected Light Helps Evenly Color Apples

All fruit shipped to market has to meet certain standards. Among these standards is color — red apples need to have a certain percentage of their surface colored red to be salable.

Apples get their red color by exposure to the sun. In a perfect world, apple trees would be widely spaced and pruned so that every apple on the tree got full exposure to the sun. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where farmers need to maximize profit on their land to survive. As a result, they plant the trees as close together as they can and prune only as much as necessary to get a good crop.

Gala Apples on the Tree
Typical bunch of gala apples growing on a tree in the Ice Harbor area of Washington.

Mylar Sheets between Apple Trees
Mylar is commonly used on the ground to reflect sunlight back up to the bottoms of apples.

To maximize the amount of sunlight on each apple, growers occasionally use reflective material such as mylar or white sheeting. The growers refer to this as Extenday, which is actually the trademark of a company that makes this material. They roll these sheets out under the trees between every row or every other row, anchoring them with piles of soil. This is done with a tractor and specialized attachment, which I got to see for the first time yesterday. The sheets are removed and discarded before harvest.

Spreading Extenday
Yesterday, I got to see them spreading mylar sheets in an orchard using a special tractor attachment.

It’s interesting to note that Rainier cherries also require a certain percentage of red color. Reflective sheets are also used to help get that color during growth. In fact, that’s usually how I know I’m flying over Rainier cherries when I dry them — because they have more delicate skins, I need to fly higher to prevent bruising.

Some Apples Require Cross-Pollination with Other Varieties

Not all apple varieties can pollinate themselves. Delicious apples, for example, require cross-pollination to bear fruit.

Orchardists commonly use different varieties of crabapples for cross-pollination. These trees are planted within the Delicious apple orchards — perhaps every fifth tree every other row — so that during pollination season bees can spread their pollen around.

Of course, after pollination season, crabapples grow on these trees just as Delicious apples grow on the trees around them. But because there’s no ready market for crabapples, they’re left behind at harvest time to basically rot on and around the trees. This is unfortunate because although they don’t taste very good, they can be used to make other products, including hard cider. Unfortunately, because they’re so tiny and yield such a low financial return, it’s usually not profitable to pick them.

Crabapples
Crabapples growing in a Delicious apple orchard.

Again, some varieties of cherries have the same cross-pollination requirements. Bing, for example, require cross-pollination. Some orchards will plant a less desirable cherry throughout the orchard and leave those cherries behind at harvest time; others will plant another desirable cherry, such as Rainiers or Lapins, and pick them separately.

Bees Can Be a Nuisance to Organic Apple Growers

As a beekeeper, I’m always interested in placing my bees in a location where they get an ample food supply. Earlier this year, when I was touring cherry orchards with a new cherry drying client, I noticed a bunch of beehives in a field. I asked him about it and was very surprised to learn that organic apple growers don’t like bees to be left behind past pollination contracts.

During pollination season, all apple growers rent beehives to ensure pollination of their trees. Non-organic growers don’t care how many successful flower pollinations there are. When the bees are gone and the fruit starts to grow, they spray a chemical that forces a good portion of the fruit to drop off the trees. This ensures that the fruit left behind gets more of the tree’s resources and grows well.

Organic farmers, however, can’t spray that chemical. As a result, they try to limit the number of apples on the trees by limiting the amount of time the bees are present. When a beekeeper removes bees from an orchard but keeps them in the area — perhaps a nearby field — the bees continue to pollinate the trees. As a result, there are too many apples on the organic trees and they need to be culled manually at a great expense to the grower.

So organic growers simply don’t want the bees around any longer than necessary.

Grass and Weeds in Orchards Help Bees Survive

Most orchards have strips of grass and weeds between rows of trees. This is impossible to prevent given that the area is irrigated, fertilized, and cleared of pests. The trees aren’t the only things to benefit from this. The grass and weeds can grow quite luxuriant.

This is good for bees, especially when those weeds produce flowers such as dandelions. In late summer, long after the fruit trees have been pollinated and fruit has begun to grow, other food sources such as wildflowers become scarce. Weeds in orchards sustain the bees.

Flower or Mushroom?
I still don’t know if this weird thing was a flower or a mushroom.

With colony collapse disorder (CCD) killing off bee colonies worldwide, growers are encouraged to leave the grass and weeds in orchards as long as possible to help the bees find a food source. Unfortunately, most orchards are mowed before the pickers come in to make it safer and easier for them to move and position ladders and get around the orchard.

Still, yesterday, I was reminded of this as I wandered into the tall, thick grass and heard bees flying all around.

More to Know

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you’ve learned at least one thing about commercial fruit growing: that there’s a lot more to it than simply planting and watering trees and picking fruit at the end of the season.

When we go to the supermarket — or even to the farmer’s market — to buy fruits and vegetables, we have no idea what the growers did to make that produce grow and get it to market. The next time you’re at a farmer’s market chatting with a real farmer, take some time to learn more about the food you’re buying. If you’re like me, you’ll find it fascinating and get a lot more respect for them and their efforts.

Another Reason Why I Love It Here

Wildlife watching from the door to my front deck.

I’d been told that there were bighorn sheep in the cliffs up behind my home. And more than once I’ve heard them knocking rocks around up there as they move along the cliff face. And occasionally Penny will bark like a crazy dog at the cliffs, obviously hearing or seeing something I can’t. But despite purchasing and using a set of binoculars last autumn, I haven’t been able to see the animals up on the cliffs.

Until last week. That’s when Penny’s urgent barking caught my attention and I spotted three bighorn sheep — two adults and a yearling — in my neighbor’s front yard. I rushed Penny into the RV to shut her up and grabbed my binoculars.

Unfortunately, I got more of an eyeful than I expected. Not only did I get a close look at one of the animals, but I also got a too close look at my neighbor, who’d come out stark naked to photograph them.

Life’s different out here.

Today, more barking got my attention. And this time, when I rushed Penny into the RV, I grabbed my Nikon, 300mm lens, and monopod. Then I went into my unfinished building, climbed the stairs, and opened the door to my future front deck. I zoomed in on one of the animals grazing in the yard. Her head was down but I waited. No sense taking a picture of her back. After about a minute, I was rewarded. She popped her head up and looked right at me.

Bighorn Sheep
Captured in pixels from the door to my future front deck.

This isn’t the only interesting animal we have around here. There are also golden and bald eagles and other birds of prey that I see daily. There are quail — which have youngsters right now — as well as robins, magpies, and hummingbirds. I hear owls but have never seen one here. There are coyotes, which I occasionally see but more often hear at night. There’s elk and deer in the area, but I’m not sure if they ever make appearances near my home. And, of course, there are bull snakes and rattlesnakes.

It’s nice to live in a place that’s remote enough for wildlife viewing out my window without being too remove to take advantage of the conveniences a small city like Wenatchee has to offer. I really like it here — I only wish I’d moved here sooner.

A(nother) Full Day

Sometimes I can really pack it in.

Yesterday was one of those days when there’s simply no rest. Here’s a quick rundown.

A Natural Alarm Clock

I woke at 3:50 AM. It was the sound of three drops of rain hitting my RV roof that woke me. This was an unusual sound that I hadn’t heard in weeks and it took a moment for my sleeping mind to register why it was important.

Rain.

I’m on contract to dry cherries.

I was wide awake in a flash, reaching for my iPad, summoning the radar. Yes, it was drizzling on me, but was it raining on my orchards 5 miles to the west?

Not yet, the radar told me. But there was rain in the area.

I lounged in bed for a while, reading, catching up on Facebook crap (which I’m convinced has become a sick addiction for me, since I get very little pleasure out of it), and checking my calendar for the day. I had three things scheduled: a meeting with my earth-moving guy about the ground work for my utility connections at 7:30 AM, a charter flight at 8:30 AM, and an invitation to help a friend pack Rainier cherries at 10:00 AM.

But the rain made things a lot less solid. Getting called to dry cherries took precedence over anything else I might have to do.

Earth-Moving Plans

Jeff Parks, the guy who had installed my septic system last year and did all the earth work in preparation for my building, arrived at 7:30 sharp. By then, it was drizzling again.

I outlined what I needed and he suggested ways to get the job done. That’s one of the things I like about Jeff — if you want to do something one way and he has a better way, not only will he suggest it, but he’ll explain why it’s better. He’ll also take the time to go over the pros and cons of the different materials that can be used.

In my situation, I need to run a water line from the city water source to my building and my shed, an electric conduit from my transformer box to my building and my shed, and a septic system line from the takeout near the building to the building. I also wanted to install a second takeout near the shed so I could create a complete RV hookup there for guests. I wasn’t in a hurry to get this done, but I did hope to have it finished by August month-end, which was fine for Jeff.

We decided that I’d buy the materials with a shopping list he provided. I already had much of the conduit and pipe I needed. He’d get back to me with a solid estimate.

The Charter

My charter client knew I was a cherry drying pilot and called while Jeff was there to make sure we were still on for the flight. I told her we were, then told her that I’d call her cell phone if I needed to cancel.

But I didn’t have to cancel. At 8:20, I said goodbye to Jeff, locked Penny in the RV, and hopped into the helicopter. Ten minutes later, I was shutting down at Pangborn Airport across the river, ready to greet my passengers.

My passengers were two fruit buyers from the midwest that my client was entertaining during a visit to the orchards. I’d done short tours for a handful of the client’s guests last year. This year there were only two of them and the client didn’t mind my one-hour minimum. I’d pick them up at Wenatchee Airport, take them on a scenic flight around the area, and drop them off at Quincy Airport where my client would be waiting.

My passengers were pleasant men who really seemed to enjoy the flight. They asked me to show them a new orchard being planted north of the airport on some old wheat fields — I didn’t even know it was up there! Then we headed down river, past the Rock Island dam. I pointed out the features now visible due to the low water levels. (The Wanapum Dam is still being repaired so the lake level is extremely low and closed to the public.) We saw Crescent Bar, the Gorge Amphitheater, Cave B Inn and Winery, and Sunland before turning and heading back over Frenchman’s Coulee, Quincy Lakes, and Quincy. One of the passengers obviously knew the area very well because he kept pointing out various orchards and packing/storage facilities around us. After 45 minutes, I landed at Quincy where their ride was waiting. The last 15 minutes of their hour would get me back to Wenatchee.

Packing Cherries

Of course, I didn’t go back to Wenatchee Airport — or home. Instead, I flew to the orchard where my friends Donn and Kathryn were using their cherry packing line for the very first time. The reason I flew instead of driving there was because there was still rain possible and it would have taken 30-40 minutes for me to drive home (or to the airport for that matter) if I were called out to fly. By flying there, the helicopter was only 5 minutes away so I’d be able to respond quickly if called.

The Cherry Packing Line
Packing cherries can be labor-intensive, too.

The packing line was set up in a new building near their house on the orchard. There was a huge walk-in refrigerator where cherries picked the previous day and that morning had been stored. Then a conveyor belt that would take cherries from an ice water bath past quality control people who’d pick out the bad ones. Finally, the cherries came out on the far end where they fell into plastic-lined boxes.

Cherries Dropping into Box
At the end of the line, the cherries dropped into a box.


I shot this little video to show how the cherries moved down the line.

The quality control people worked at a feverish pace, picking out cherries that weren’t “perfect.” They checked for things like size, color, splits, bird pecks, and mold/fungus. Even stems — if a cherry didn’t have a stem attached, it was rejected. (I ate a lot of those.) The line moved quickly; we probably packed at least 10 pounds per minute.

My job was to work with Kathryn to fill the boxes, make sure they weighed 16 pounds (15 pounds of cherries plus the weight of the box and excess water), close them up, and put them on a pallet. The trickiest part was pulling one box away while putting an empty one in its place. It required the two of us to work in harmony to prevent cherries coming off the line from falling on the floor. It took us a few tries, but we finally got it working perfectly. We joked that she was Lucy and I was Ethel.

Drying Cherries

It started to rain while I was there. Then the inevitable phone call from one of my two clients still on contract. Could I dry, please? Fortunately, my helicopter was parked right across the street from the orchard. I excused myself from Kathryn and Donn and walked down the hill to where I was parked. On the way, I ran into the orchard owner. I told him I’d been helping with the cherry packing in the new shed and expected rain so I’d flown over.

I was airborne when the second client called. I was now responsible for flying over about 90 acres of cherries — about my limit for the 2-1/2 hours allotted.

I called Mike, my backup pilot. Although he was off-contract, he was in the Quincy area and could, theoretically, fly up to help out. But he was having engine trouble with his motorhome and needed to sort that out. So I tackled it on my own.

I flew until I was low on fuel — remember, I’d burned an hour’s worth that morning — then refueled at the airport 5 minutes away and flew until I was done. I explain what cherry drying is all about in other blog posts; click the cherry drying tag to learn more.

Back to Packing

No Swimming
I don’t know…do you think swimming is allowed here? Sky looks nasty, huh?

Afterwards, I landed back near Donn and Kathryn’s house, but this time on a dam around a reservoir in the orchard. I walked down to the packing shed where they were all still working. Kathryn took one look at me and asked, “Are you hungry?”

“I was hoping you’d ask,” I replied.

She brought me into the house and let me loose on salad fixings everyone else had had a while earlier. I made myself lunch and ate it alone while she went back down to work. Then, after a quick trip to the loo, I went back out to help.

Other helpers had taken my previous job so I filled in where needed, giving people breaks as they needed them. In the end, I wound up right where I’d started with Kathryn beside me. That’s where we were when the last few cherries came down the line. We all cheered. They’d packed 420 15-pound boxes — over 3 tons of cherries.

We cleaned up immediately. Extra cherries were handed out. The packing line ladies left. I passed on the cherries, preferring to come back later in the week to pick my own from the same trees — pickers aren’t always thorough. I’d get some blueberries that day, too. Kathryn invited me to join them for dinner in town later on. She’d text me. I looked forward to it, but not nearly as much as I looked forward to taking it easy at home.

When I flew off, the refrigerated truck that would take the cherries to Seattle had just arrived.

A Short Rest

At home, Penny the Tiny Dog was happy to see me. She always is.

I took it easy for a while. I made some soup and watched a documentary about abandoned cities on Netflix.

Kathryn called to tell me they’d decided on Pybus Bystro at 6:30. I told her I’d come if the weather held.

A friend called and I spent a half hour chatting with him. Then I noticed the weather was changing again. One look at the radar and I cut the call short.

I went outside and topped off the helicopter’s fuel tanks with 100LL from the tank on my truck.

I texted Kathryn and told her I wouldn’t be joining them after all.

More Cherry Drying

My other client called first this time. It was about 6 PM when I launched. The second call came while I was enroute.

Track
I hadn’t gotten very far when it started raining. Again.

The orchards are only 5 minutes away by air. I settled in over the trees of the big orchard and was at work for less than 15 minutes when I decided to track the flight with GPSTrack.

I was only 16 minutes into the logged part of the flight when it started to rain. Hard.

I flew over to a friend’s house and landed in his driveway, knowing he was out of town. I called my two clients and told them that I’d wait until it stopped or 7 PM, whichever came sooner. If I re-started after 7, I’d never finish before it got dark. Even then, it was iffy.

It was still raining at 6:55 PM when I started back up.

I speed-dried. I knew I’d never get it all done thoroughly, but I figured I could get most (or all) of it done if I was a bit less thorough. The result wasn’t as good, but was better than leaving 20 or 30 acres completely uncovered. Partial coverage was better than no coverage. Besides, rain was expected overnight and I was likely to be called out first thing in the morning.

Speed Drying
In speed drying, I go down every third aisle instead of every second. Sometimes I do every third one way and every second the other. Less coverage is better than no coverage. Keep in mind that this satellite image is three years old; the orchard configuration is a bit different these days.

I got through all of the big orchard and one of the two smaller orchard’s blocks. By then, it was getting dark. The sun had set around 8:45 PM and clouds on the western horizon made it darker than it would normally be. My landing zone at home wasn’t lighted and I really didn’t want to land in the dark. I also didn’t want to hover five feet over cherry trees in hilly terrain in semi-darkness with a windscreen full of raindrops. So I let the last orchard block go.

It was drizzling when I headed home.

Home

The helicopter was lit up like a Christmas light parade float on the flight home. Strobe light (required during flight), navigation lights (required after sunset), landing light, pulsing lights on my skid shoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if neighbors called me in as a UFO. But it felt good to get on the ground, especially since I knew I was done for the night.

I shut down, let Penny out for a run, and then went in. My friend Bob called while I was pouring a glass of wine. We chatted for a while and I invited him to join me Thursday evening to pick cherries and blueberries. It was after 10 PM when he reminded me that I’d probably be up early.

I finished my wine and went to bed, exhausted.

It had been a very full day.

The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.