Building the Tree Boxes

Originally i had planned to winterize the property by the last day of September. That did not happen. Procrastination was not usually my thing. I was the one who showed up 50 minutes early to every appointment and 15 minutes early to every social gathering. I was the one that began studying for the certification exam intensively every day 4 months before the scheduled exam date. I was not usually a fly by the seat of my pants, last-minute preparation type of person. However, this time i was. As i’ve mentioned before, i have a day job in health care that keeps me pretty busy throughout the week. I get two days off each week to work on the property and during september and the first half of october, i spent those days being beyond sick. Every week i would go to work, manage to stave off sickness until my two days off, and then collapse in grossness and agony, wasting my available days to winterize the property. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to operate a power drill while feverish and vomiting. I thought that might end in stupid mistakes and bloodshed. So i put it off. But winter was coming. Whether i was ready or not, October brought freezing weather in the hill country every year and i knew my luck was going to run out soon. I had to get the boxes built for the baby fruit trees so that i could clamp the heat lamps in their windows to keep them warm in freezing temperatures. Without boxes the young fruit trees would not survive the winter. I should stop and address something before moving forwards with this story. When i say “tree”…think “stick”. Many friends and coworkers had laughed hysterically and asked why on earth i thought trees needed heat lamps. Short answer; they weren’t trees, yet. There were 3 main reasons i had planted really young trees. #1. Cost. A mature tree cost 100s of dollars. A baby pomegranate tree cost 11 bucks, a fig 15, and a lemon 20. #2. Portability. Whatever i wanted to plant, i had to be able to lift, carry, and fit in the back of my suv. I couldn’t do any of that with a 20 ft tree. #3. Limestone. The hill country was full of it. In fact, that was pretty much what the hill country was; rolling mounds of limestone covered in short and scrubby trees. Any hole for a tree had to be dug through solid rock. The more tree there was to admire, the more roots there were to bury. I was good with a 6 inch pomegranate. But, 6 inch trees were fragile. They were not well established. They couldn’t recover from stresses as well as older trees and their roots were still pretty shallow. 6 inch trees could freeze. I had made my choice and now i needed to follow through. If i failed to get the boxes erected and the heat lamps up and running by the first freeze, the money i spent on the trees, the season caring for them, and the effort spent digging the holes would be wasted. I knew it would be cold on halloween. It always was. I just hoped the weather would wait until then.

Each box took me around 4 hours to make. I used wood scraps in the shed left over from various previous projects for the first box. When i figured out what the box was going to look like i went to the home depot in kerrville and bought some more of each kind of piece i had used. I hung pieces of wood off the open edge of the shed porch and anchored them with my boot to saw them into smaller pieces. I measured pieces of wood by holding them up to where i wanted to put them and marking them with a sharpie. Then i sawed them into the size and shape i needed to fit the space i was looking at. There was no blueprint or diagram. I had an idea in my head and i was going to carry it out.

I used what i had. I used the scrap wood in the shed and i used the 3 inch screws. I didn’t want to pay for brand new materials when i had things i could make work in the shed. However, the 3 inch screws were way too long for the project at hand. I had to drive them through the wood and into the dirt beneath to get the screws tight enough to hold the wood in place. Originally i had thought it was a bad thing to have 3 inch screws sticking out of my boxes in various places but in the end, it proved an ingenious way to stick the blanket on the boxes when i had to go to work and could not leave the heat lamps on in the day time. The wind could not blow the blankets off once they were snagged on the nails. I finished the first box on October 21. The weather had been in the thirties but not yet under 32. One morning i did wake up to ice all over my windshield but the trees seemed unbothered so it must have only been freezing for a short time. I was pushing my luck by counting on october to be above freezing all throughout. I needed to build the other two boxes.

I started on the second box the very next day. I had intended to finish both of the remaining boxes to be built but after 4 hours of bending, sawing, and drilling i was not physically able to do it again just yet.

I made the second box bigger than the first. I had gone to home depot and had access to larger pieces of wood than had been lying in the scrap pile in the shed. The first one would have to sit on the pomegranate tree, the shortest of my fruit trees. I would build bigger boxes for the fig tree and the meyer lemon tree. I used the wheelbarrow in place of a second person to hold the pieces of wood against each other while i drove a screw into place attaching the pieces together. When all was said and done the top piece didn’t line up quite right so i opened the extra tube of tar left over from repairing the roof and put tar in the thin gaps around the edges of the top piece of wood. Then i stood back and looked at it. My 2nd box was better designed than the first.

I had an electric hand saw but i refused to use it unless absolutely necessary. This was why. At times, when working on projects, i tended to nick myself. When i did suffer a cut i wanted it to be at the hands of a manual, hand-powered tool rather than an electric one. For this cut i didn’t even need a band aid. If i had been using the electric saw i would have had one less finger.

I didn’t get around to building the third box until October 28. There was a freeze and i had to just cover the trees with blankets. Luckily, it was short lived and they survived unscathed. On the morning of October 28 i told myself that all 3 trees would be in boxes with heat lamps and fencing by sundown. No excuses. No unfinished pieces. The property would be winterized by sundown and that was that. It had to be. This was getting ridiculous. Winter was coming…should have been here already. If i didn’t get things in gear i was going to lose those trees. I wore my apron for the pockets but otherwise i was in boots and pajamas. There was no time for showers, or breakfast, or lunch. This had to get done. I didn’t even take very many pictures of the third one. I was busy, as usual, trying to damage control Cashew’s ever-present desire to “help”. Only, now it would be november in a matter of days. Time was running out, stress was high, and my patience more thin than ever. Every time i cut a piece of wood that dog ran off with it. Any time i dropped a screw that dog took it. If i laid down something sharp she had to go stand on it. Then i had to drop what i was doing and go rescue her before she got in over her head and really injured herself. I would lift her off the saw and carry her away from my tools, one arm underneath her pits, back legs swinging in the air as i hoisted her to safety. “How many times have i told you dog? Do not stand on the saw!” I tried to lay it up on the railing of the shed porch but the wind blew it down and it cut into the floor boards of the porch when it landed. Every time i turned around Cashew was behind me. She was always in my way. I knew she wanted to help but this was the kind of project that really required opposable thumbs. The dog seemingly had a death wish, or at least zero survival instinct. Whenever i ran the drill, she tried to bite the spinning part. I was trying to finish this box and she was trying ****** hard to make sure that never happened. As long as i worked on it she was never more than 8 feet from my project. The bees liked it too. Any time i ran the drill they would arrive in groups of 3 to 5 and buzz around my project until they were satisfied there was no flower to be pollinated. I wasn’t sure how i was calling them with the power drill but i was. Occasionally i had to chase Cashew around the yard and pry a bee out of her mouth before it stung her. Like i said; no survival instinct.

During the construction of all 3 boxes, Sili sat far away from the bees, the power tools, and the wrath of her mama, frustrated by time and weather. She had known me longer than our new puppy and she had no desire to be in between me and the mess i was working on. She stayed out of my sight, sun bathed in the yard, and helped herself to the water bowl on the porch when she was thirsty. When Cashew did something inadvisable like eat bees or try to bite a running power drill, Sili looked on from a distance with a certain expression on her face that seemed to say, “dumbass”.

When i built the boxes i constructed them next to the power outlet on the side of the house. Then i stored them in the shed until i had all 3. The second and third box were built with thicker wood. They were taller, wider, and heavier. I couldn’t lift them. I turned them on their sides and dragged the boxes out of the shed, down the stairs, and onto the ground. Then i tipped them up until they were standing. I lifted one corner of the 2nd box, leaving the box standing on the adjacent corner. I advanced one side of the box towards the fruit trees. Then i swung it around and landed on the opposite corner, and then back to the first corner. In this way i “walked” the box from the shed to the fruit trees. It took all my strength and i was sore for days after. When i finally got the box up to the fruit tree i wanted to cover i took a hair tie out of my pocket. I gathered the tree’s branches and secured them loosely in the hair tie. Then i laid the box on its side and got it as close to the base of the tree as possible. I tipped the box up, bringing it down over the little tree and suddenly it was in the center of the box. I removed the hair tie and wrapped the fencing back around the new wooden box to keep the deer out. I repeated this ritual 2 additional times. An hour later i would add the lamps. I clamped each one to the window in each box. I found a large rock to sit the extension cord union onto to get it up out of the dry grass. I threaded the heat lamp cord through the fencing for each tree and attached it to an outdoor extension cord. I then ran 100s of feet of extension cord back to the house where i had a piece that if plugged into an outlet would support 3 different devices. Ultimately the 3 lengths of extension cord would be plugged into this piece which was then plugged into the outlet on the side of the house. The bulbs would turn on and i would collapse in relief in the rocking chair. The property was officially winterized. During the months of november and december i put the heat lamps on at night any time the forecast called for 40 as the low. If the weatherman said 40 you could count on it being 31 or 32 when you awoke and the car would be covered in ice. At 4:30 in the morning i would pull on my coat and scarf and head out to switch the heat lamps out for blankets before i went to work. The dogs would always accompany me. Sili for moral support and Cashew so that she could attempt to shred and sometimes sit on the blanket you were trying to cover each plant with.

Three days after i finished the last of the tree boxes the hill country experienced the first hard freeze of the year. Just in time.

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