Sunday, June 23, 2013

mother nature is not amused

our roof- after a big branch went through it early friday morning

I haven't been here for a few weeks, but the time has been anything but uneventful.

We've had a series of big nightime thunderstorms over the last few days, which have dropped large, heavy tree branches on our house and in our yard.  One of those branches cut a nice sized notch in our roof and took out most of the soffit on that side.

So we're now working through the process of finding a roofer and of making an insurance claim- the first one ever on our homeowners insurance- and waiting to find out what will happen.

This isn't something I enjoy, and really don't want yet another project to work on, but there it is.  There's no way around it.

Other than that, there's been the normal rush of spring planting all in one or two weekends- this year complicated by rainy and cool weather for all of what should normally be spring.  My peppers I started from seed have all died, and the tomatoes are struggling.  Fava beans, which like the cool, wet weather have been doing well, but were all plastered flat to the ground by wind and hail this weekend.  They've survived, but are now growing in a weird L-shaped form, with 6 to 8 inches flat on the ground, and the rest standing up to catch the sun.

this one thankfully missed the house

I spent a good chunk of the day today cutting up wood, pulling more of it off the roof, making firewood and putting the rest in a brush pile.  This will keep us in maple for barbecuing and smoking for the rest of the year, if it'll stop raining long enough for the wood to dry.

So now I have to think about what the future holds for the big maple tree growing three feet from our house's west wall.  I've been the main advocate for keeping it-- that is,  not cutting it down-- in our household for 7 plus years now.    With the fairly significant damage to the house that we have had over the weekend, I'm not in a very strong position to argue for keeping it anymore.

I love the shade from the tree.  It's a silver maple, which are notorious for dropping branches and damaging stuff, but it keeps our front yard cool.  We were also able to tap it for syrup two years ago, and I'd miss not being able to do that again.

But there's the issue of being safe in our home-- We slept in the basement Friday night, during the more violent of the storms, wondering if we'd get another branch through the roof.  And I'm wondering if we'd be up to repairing the roof again if we had to.  Once is bad enough.  With the age of the tree, it's pretty sure to drop some branches again, and pretty soon.

I suppose this would be an easy decision for most people.  Cut the dang thing down.  But being a homeowner is more than purchasing a collection of inanimate objects for your own enjoyment.  Even on a little eighth acre city lot, there are a slew of plants and animals that are in the care and shelter of the nominal owners, and the owners' actions- whether to cut a tree or not- whether to apply poison to the lawn or not- make a big difference in the lives of the other residents of the lot who aren't carrying a 30 year mortgage.

So I look at the tree- a proud but aging elder who has likely been here for most of the house's 104 years and have to consider what I'll do.  It won't last forever, and its death could lead to serious danger for my family.

Which, in the final analysis, is my highest priority.  If I can't keep my kids safe, I'm not much of a father.  I have to respect the tree, but I have to protect my own first and foremost.

I'll have to start calling arborists tomorrow.


  1. We had two silver maples, old ones, in our yard when we bought our house. Many more such trees can be found in yards up and down the street. When we moved in, we had the one that was about 10 to 15 feet west of our garage pruned by an arborist. We left the one in the backyard that posed no danger to any buildings alone. The one near the garage provided shade to our patio most of the day so we had no plans to remove it and hoped the pruning would help keep it from dropping limbs.

    Today, eleven years later, both trees are gone. The one next to the garage also happened to be underneath our electrical service line. Not the right place for a silver maple. In July 2006, we experienced two severe thunderstorms in less than 36 hours. That silver maple dropped a huge limb onto the garage and electric service line, damaging the garage roof and pulling the electric meter box off the house wall. We had it removed the following December. Now I have a sunny herb garden next to the patio and we've put a tarp over the patio for shade.

    The one in the backyard shaded the vegetable garden in the afternoon, but that's not why we had it cut down last year. It was because I realized that it was in just the right place for a garden shed. Not only does the garden get more sun and no competition from tree roots, but we are hanging gutters on the shed that will be connected to a 500 garden tank for collecting rain water that will gravity-feed to the vegetable garden.

    While I think silver maples are fine trees in their proper ecological place, that place is not an urban or suburban yard, even an acre yard like ours. After a minor tornado passed within a few blocks of our street on May 31, most of the properties on our street had silver maple limbs scattered across them. We were one of the few who didn't now that our trees are gone. The county is still removing tree limbs from our area. No telling how long the county will have the funds to do that whenever we get hit by severe storms.

    1. It sounds like you went through the same thought process that I'm going through right now. I stay up on stormy nights worrying about a branch going through the roof into my kids' room- but I still love the big trees' shade.

      I'm working on seeing the bright side- more sunny garden space. The thing that gets me is the realization that I'll never be able to grow a tree this large in my lifetime- that once a big tree is gone from this space, it's gone- for at least as long as I'm around. But I plant for my kids and grandkids. Maybe I'll put in an oak in its place.

  2. Hey Jeff - I say cut down the tree, and make it your goal to plant 3 times as many in the following year - on your land, or friends land, or public land, or wherever you can find the space.

    While I hate cutting down trees just to cut them down, I have had my fair share of time behind a chainsaw, clearing out my new (4 years old now) lot. If the wood can be used to cook food, or heat your house, I believe it is a fair trade off, as long as you can plant a few trees each year to replace it.

    Good luck Amigo, and happy gardening....

    1. Hey Andy,

      I like your perspective. By that measure, I'm doing OK- I've planted 10 trees at least in the last 5 years at our house and rental place and have cut far fewer. But it's hard to see a big one go.

      I'd like to keep the wood from this one. I wonder if there are any arborists who will cut up the wood into firewood instead of hauling it away. Then again- where would I store it? We had a dead elm cut down and chipped last year, and we kept the chips to mulch the yard of the rental. A medium-sized elm generated a pile of chips eight feet tall, and about 12 feet around! It took me forever to spread it all. Now that I have, the area looks great, but I'm wondering how much wood there is in this 80 foot tall, 3-4 foot diameter maple. Probably a lot more than I have room for.

      I already have a nice sized stack of wood that I cut with a hand saw from the branches that fell. Interested in some fresh maple?

  3. Offer the wood on CL for free! People will come and get it and use it as firewood or whatever. Brian might grab some, too!
    I understand your thinking. I want to plant some appletrees in our yard, but there really is no room. Brian suggested to cut some of the "useless" trees down. But I don't want to do that. It would make me feel bad to cut down a tree just because I want a "better" tree.


    1. I like the idea of putting the wood on craigslist. I might have to try that!

  4. We have a couple of older aging silver maples too, and I agree with above, that in some settings trees can outlive their neighborhoods--we have tons of overgrown arborvitae on our street too. It's nice to hear your thought process about it--we had a really ancient and fairly invasive honeysuckle bush we took out a couple of years ago, and while I felt justified in it I couldn't help but think of all the critters that used it, it was an entire ecosystem. But (like you) we've created so much more plant diversity on our property since we've moved in, I think it balances out.

    1. Hi s,

      It feels really good to hear from so many others going through the same process. We have a honeysuckle too, right on the property line. They grow like weeds in Minnesota- to the point where they crowd out natives in the local forests, so I don't feel too sympathetic toward it. Still- it's a beautiful plant- and the birds love it. So it stays, for now.

  5. Is it possible to just have it trimmed or trim it yourself every few months or so? It would really be a shame to cut it down. But if there are no other alternatives, home safety would have to come first, especially since you know what a few big branches falling down can do, let alone a big chunk of it if a big enough storm hits.

    Lino @ Arrys Roofing

    1. If I could climb 40 feet of trunk, I suppose I could trim it. If the branches were lower to the ground, I suppose I could coppice it like they do in Europe. But it's an enormous tree. While I'm willing to do a lot of things myself, I think this may be beyond my abilities.

  6. Big falling tree branches are a nasty business. You’re probably right in deciding to cut the trees down for safety, but you must also consider not only the branches, but the roots that you’ll have to remove or that will rot away once you cut the trees down. I’ve seen houses’ tilings and floorwork get compromised because the rotted roots were burrowed underneath the house and it gave way after a few years.

    1. That's a good point. The tree is literally within 3 feet of our house. I'd like to try growing some edible mushrooms in the stump, truth be told. I know I could have the stump ground out, but if I'm going to have a rotting stump in the side yard, might as well have something tasty causing it to rot.

      Just a thought.

  7. It seems like the right choice, especially since it looks like the tree is looming over your roof. One bad weather can send those big branches crashing down your roof, which is definitely not a good thing. Do you get lightning storms in your area? That might also be a thing to consider in keeping the tree up.