In olden times (how I love to use that phrase) one of the folkloric ways used to repel insects from one’s abode was to put Osage orange balls (hedge balls, we call them) in the basement or around the house foundation. I thought that was only in the sweet bye and bye, but my son, a home remodeler, says he has found forgotten old hedge balls stashed away in basements even today. And, I’ve learned, you can still buy the things online! [http://hedgeapple.com]
The subject came up because a close acquaintance of ours had just purchased several acres of old pasture and woods long ago forsaken by active farming. On it, he found lots of Osage orange trees, one of enormous proportions— twenty-some inches in diameter. I didn’t know they grew that large. The wood, very hard and yellowish in color, will not rot much faster than steel. Traditionally it has been used for archery bows. Such bows, still being made by woodcrafters, are breathtakingly beautiful and in demand if you’ve got the money. Any woodenware made with Osage orange is ultra-striking— jewel wood, I call it.
I tried to clean out an old Osage orange hedge once— very hard work, very hard wood, lots of thorns. If you try to burn it for fuel, it snaps and crackles like popcorn. But it packs a lot of heat and if you could sell the hedge balls, for say two bucks apiece, well, my friend has a lot of loose cash lying around his new property. If you can find the right woodworker, a log might be worth more than black walnut. Otherwise you’ve got fence posts that will last forever if you can get a staple into them. And be prepared to sharpen your saw frequently.
The point I’m trying to make is that small, landlocked acreages here and there and everywhere have been abandoned to farming because they don’t lend themselves to industrial grain farming nor to livestock pasture. They are growing up in old trees, young trees and brush. Many of us treasure these neglected groves (we bought one to live in) because they can provide fuel, fence posts, lumber, and all sorts of mushrooms, berries, nuts, teas, and fruits like pawpaws and wild peaches.
Yes, wild peaches. I’ve written about them here a couple of years ago. We built a chicken coop in our woods. The hens get all the table scraps including the leavings from peaches we used to buy. Sure enough, the peach seeds started sprouting in the clearing around the coop. We’d been told that trees from seeds would not come true to the variety, but most of these seedlings have yielded good quality peaches. The trees produce fairly well in our climate which is not generally favorable for growing peaches. We think the surrounding hardwood trees might protect them from spring frost a little. The chickens also seem to control peach borers. Will some enterprising homesteader adapt this idea to forest farming? Some farmers here in Ohio are turning paw paws into a commercial crop. Why not wild peaches which taste a whole lot better?
Right now however, this hedge ball thing has me intrigued. Do they stop termites perhaps? Did those oldtimers who stowed them in their basements know something we don’t?