January 20, 2018

Hoping The Bucks Will Stop (Rubbing) Here At Wolgast Tree Farm

Like farmers everywhere, Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary has dealt with conflicts concerning white-tailed deer.  We’ve never had an issue with deer eating (browsing) our Christmas trees, but buck rubs are another matter.  A buck rub is created when a male deer uses his forehead and antlers to rub up and down the trunk of a tree which scrapes off the tree’s bark and branches and sometimes even breaks the tree in half.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera.  A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera. A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

Bucks do this as part of the white-tailed deer breeding season (also called the rut) to communicate with other deer.  Other deer not only see the damage to the tree but they smell it.  Bucks have glands at the base of their antlers and near their eyes which produce their own unique scent.  This scent is left on the tree so that other deer know who’s handiwork it is.

Just what is a buck that rubs a tree trying to say?  Well, to the other male deer he is saying something like, “See what I did to this tree?  You better not mess with me or you’ll get the same thing.  Leave all the girl deer for me!”  And to the does he is saying something like, “Look what I did to this tree.  Aren’t I big and strong?  I’d be a great father to your fawns!”

The rut for white-tailed deer generally reaches its peak on November 10th here in New Jersey, but bucks rubs are among a variety of rut activities that start long before that.  In the space of about 20 seconds a single buck can rub out years of work that we’ve put into producing an individual Christmas tree.  One year we counted over 70 buck-rubbed Christmas trees.  That’s a lot of damage, especially for a small family-owned farm like ours so we use a variety of preventative measures to keep damage to a minimum.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant.  It's very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well - until it rains and gets washed off.  Then we have start all over again.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant. It’s very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well – until it rains and gets washed off. Then we have to start all over again.

One of the things we do is use backpack sprayers to spray deer repellant on our trees in September just before bucks typically start to rub.  The label on the repellent package says the formula is only supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees (which deer around our farm don’t seem to do), but we’ve found that it seems to keep bucks from rubbing trees as well.  Spraying each tree is a big effort, but we think its worth it so long as it works.  Problem is, when it rains the repellant gets washed off and we have to spray the trees all over again.  During some seasons we’ve had to re-spray our trees five times.  That can get pretty old.

This past summer we read about a new kind of repellant that is supposedly longer lasting (up to 6 months).  They are called “Whiff Bars” and they were developed by an orchardist to prevent deer browse damage to fruit trees.  They look like those small bars of soap that hotels put out for guests.  When we opened the box that they were shipped in the aroma smelled like your great aunt’s perfume.  I know if I were a deer I wouldn’t feel like nibbling on trees that had them, but here again, our problem is rubbing, not nibbling, so whether they’ll be effective for what we want we’ll have to see.   We think its at least worth a try.

Earlier this month Len went out and attached the bars to our most vulnerable trees (Canaan, Concolor and Nordmann firs, White Pines and Norway Spruce).

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant "Whiff Bars" to our farm's trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs.  The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep buck from rubbing them as well.

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant “Whiff Bars” to our farm’s trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs. The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep bucks from rubbing them as well.

They look like little Christmas ornaments and we’re sure they’ll be a conversation item when folks come out to the farm and wander the fields in search of their family tree come Christmas time.  Like the deer repellant we spray, we don’t smell anything when we walk near the trees with the bars, but deer have a sense of smell that is much more sensitive than ours so its probably very apparent to them.  At least we hope that’s the case!

We like having deer around here at Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary, but we aren’t so thrilled with buck rubs on our Christmas trees.  We hope that between spraying deer repellant and outfitting our Christmas trees with Whiff Bars that we’ll be able to make sure that the bucks will stop (rubbing) here.

Jersey Grown Christmas Tree Headed For The White House!

Wolgast Tree Farm and other New Jersey Christmas tree growers are proud and excited that one of our fellow Christmas tree farmers, John Wyckoff of Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm in Belvidere has won the 2013 United States Grand Champion National Christmas Tree Association Contest.  Winning this great award by itself would makes us Garden State Christmas tree growers proud, but as a consequence of his win John will travel to the White House this December and present the National Christmas tree to First Lady, Michelle Obama!

Having first-hand experience with all the years and effort that go into producing a single Christmas tree, John’s win at National is no small achievement.  He was able to enter the National Christmas Tree Association Contest because he won New Jersey’s Grand Championship in 2012.  Below is a photo of John and New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association (NJCTGA) president, Christian Nicholson, presenting John with the New Jersey Grand Champion ribbon and plaque at the 2013 NJCTGA’s Winter Meeting this past January.

Wolgast Tree Farm is absolutely thrilled for John and his family for having won this prestigious award, and for putting New Jersey grown Christmas Trees in the spotlight.  Congratulations Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm!!

John Wyckoff (left) of Wyckoff's Christmas Tree Farm accepts the awards for winning the 2012 New Jersey Grand Champion Christmas Tree Contest from Christian Nicholson at the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers' Association Winter Meeting this past January.

Junco Joys And Other Variations On A Theme at Wolgast Tree Farm

Over 180 species of birds have been observed from the grounds here at Wolgast Tree Farm and while it’s always exciting to see a species we haven’t seen on the farm before, we still enjoy observing the “regulars.”  One of the “regulars” during the winter months are Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis). 

A dark-eyed junco belonging to the slate-colored race which is commonly seen on our tree farm during the winter months.

Dark-eyed juncos like to hang out on the ground around the brush piles and thickets we maintain on the farm. They are also frequent visitors to our bird feeders (fortified with an old Christmas tree nearby to help provide the cover that they like).  Most of the juncos we observe belong to a race known as slate-colored, but for the last two weeks we’ve been watching a bird that looks like the Oregon race of the Dark-eyed Junco, a race commonly seen in the Pacific Northwest.   

The Oregon race of dark-eyed junco that's been visiting the farm for at least the past two weeks.

We’ve seen the Oregon race on the farm before (for one day last winter), but this bird has been an almost daily visitor to our bird feeders and is a real standout as it forages among the more numerous relatives.   


Sometimes we’ll see birds that have patches of white feathers on their body that would normally be a different color.  Since these birds still have some colored feathers they are said to be leucistic rather than albino (a true albino bird would have all white feathers and have red eyes).    Birds with feathers that are abnormally white are thought to have a genetic defect that prevents melanin from being properly deposited in those feathers.  Sometimes when birds exhibit these white feathers it can be pretty discreet.  For example, below is a dark-eyed junco that has a white “eyebrow” over its left eye that photographed last week. 

A dark-eyed junco with a white "eyebrow" over its left eye caused by white feathers. The feathers are white most likely because the bird has a genetic defect that prevented melanin from being properly deposited in the feathers.

We photographed a bird last winter with the same marking which makes us think it could be the same bird but we don’t know for sure.  The majority of song birds hatched during a given season don’t live beyond a year, but some do and perhaps this bird is an example of that.  We’ll probably never know for sure.  Picking out birds with unique plumage, especially when it’s so subtle is one of the many pleasures of bird watching.  

A more obvious example of leucism that we observed on the farm a few years ago involved a red-bellied woodpecker.  We think red-bellied woodpeckers are already striking birds, but seeing one that was almost all white really caught our eye. 

This photo is lousy, but this leucistic red-bellied woodpecker was a cool-to-see visitor to our farm during the winter of 2010-2011.

We first saw the bird (a male) on Thanksgiving morning in 2010 and observed it every day up to March 25, 2011.  Then it was gone and we haven’t seen such a bird since.  If you look at the photo very closely you can see the red belly feathers that give this species its name just below where the feet are clinging to the tree. 

Early on we figured he would get picked off by a Cooper’s hawk or another bird of prey since he should have been easy to pick out, but surprisingly we actually saw red-bellieds with normal plumage get taken first.  Predation is part of the natural cycle of life, but we’d be lying if we told you we weren’t “rooting” for this bird to make it.  In fact, keeping tabs on this bird probably accelerated our own “leucistic transformation” (gray hairs) as we sometimes fretted over its fate.  Whether it ultimately got killed by a hawk or something else, or just moved on, we don’t know, but we certainly enjoyed watching him while he was here and we consider it one of the highlights of birds that have visited Wolgast Tree Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm Joins Farmers Against Hunger in “Pounds for Pennies” Fundraiser

Join the Farmers Against Hunger "Pounds for Pennies" holiday fundraiser at Wolgast Tree Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm, along with other participating members of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association, is joining the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s Farmers Against Hunger “Pounds for Pennies” holiday fundraiser.  Farmers Against Hunger was started in 1996 by local farmers who wanted to donate their surplus, locally grown produce to Garden State soup kitchens, food banks, emergency feeding organizations and the like to help meet the nutritional needs of needy New Jerseyans.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are often lacking in the diets of those who are hungry or food insecure.  By linking farmers who have locally produced surplus fruits and vegetables with over 60 service organizations this critical nutritional need is helping to be met.  Over 15 million pounds of produce has been provided to some of the neediest in our state including children, seniors and the working poor since 1996.  For every dollar donated to the “Pounds for Pennies” campaign Farmers Against Hunger will deliver 10 pounds of fresh produce to a needy person in the Garden State.  It is the aim of Farmers Against Hunger to provide fresh produce to those who need it 52 weeks out of the year – a huge challenge, but one they can achieve with your help.  To learn more about the Farmers Against Hunger program, visit the New Jersey Agricultural Society webpage at www.njagsociety.org and click on the Farmers Against Hunger link.

Since we’ve participated in the “Plant A Row for the Hungry” program in our own garden for a number of years, participating in the “Pounds for Pennies” campaign this holiday season at a time when our garden is more “quiet” was a natural fit.  Whether you come out to Wolgast Tree Farm for your Christmas tree this holiday season, or visit another grower who is participating in the “Pounds for Pennies” fundraiser, we hope you’ll consider putting a dollar or two (or more!) in the jar in support of this worthwhile program and the giving spirit of the holiday season.

Planting The Future At Wolgast Tree Farm

Some of the 700 trees - in this case Colorado blue spruce - that the two of us planted in early April.

 We spent the early part of April “planting the future” here at Wolgast Tree Farm, which means we planted young trees that we hope will grow into beautiful Christmas trees several years down the road.  The two of us hand-planted seven species – Canaan fir, Concolor fir, Turkish fir, Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce, White pine and Scotch pine – for a total of over 700 trees.  When they’ll be a size that folks would like them to be their Christmas tree depends on many things.  Pines tend to grow the fastest (about 6 or 7 years to reach 6 feet), but a heap of things figure into how fast they’ll grow such as where a tree is planted.   It’s important for a tree to be planted on a site that helps it to grow rather than stress it.  Fir species generally won’t grow well in wet, clay soils so we don’t  plant firs in those spots on the farm.  Pines, however, are usually more tolerant of wet spots so that’s where we plant them.  Choosing the proper microsites so the trees have a better chance of being healthy and better able to fight off insects and diseases is part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.

Other things that can stress the tree and make it more vulnerable to diseases and such is how it is planted.  We trim the roots to fit the depth of the hole

Trimming the roots to fit the depth of a hole.

and are very careful to make sure all the roots are facing down.  Roots that have been planted with the tips facing up will stress the tree, so will planting the tree too deeply in the hole or too shallow. 

 We use a special piece of equipment to make the hole that the trees are planted into called an Auger Transporter.  It drills a hole into the ground which creates a better environment for the roots to grow compared to the planting bar that we used in the past, which is more restrictive to the roots.

Lenny using the Auger Transporter to drill holes for planting trees.

The Auger Transporter is quite a piece of machinery.  We’ve always thought we could use it for ice fishing but we haven’t tried it out yet!

Much less rain fell during the early part of the spring than usual and we worried about all the young trees we just planted.  The soil had been very dry – like ground up chalk – and that wasn’t good for those young trees.  They wouldn’t be able to develop healthy root systems in dry soil or they might even die.  Thankfully we got some rain now, but to hold them over before that happened, 

Watering newly planted trees.

we went up and down the rows with a bucket of water and a plastic seltzer bottle with the neck cut out to water each tree that had just been planted.  We could target just where we needed the water to go, but it was a lot of work.  We think it may have saved many trees that would have died otherwise.  Hopefully we were right!

Praying Mantis Egg Cases Now Available At Wolgast Tree Farm!

Praying mantis egg cases are now available at Wolgast Tree Farm!

Chinese Praying Mantis Egg Case.

        If you’ve ever been on one of our farm tours during the fall, you’ve likely seen one of the numerous Praying Mantises that call our farm home foraging for insects among our Christmas trees and elsewhere.   We think they are among the coolest-looking, most interesting insects in the world, and now we are offering for sale Praying Mantis egg cases that we collected on our farm. 

A Praying Mantis showcasing its cryptic coloring as it waits to grab its next insect meal.

We have mostly Chinese and European Mantids on our farm, and both species have ravenous appetites.  We’ve seen them snacking on all manner of insects including grasshoppers, wasps, hornets, biting flies and even brown marmorated stink bugs (too bad they don’t only eat stink bugs, because if they did I think they would wipe out the stink bug population on our farm!).  Because Praying Mantises are considered generalist predators they probably don’t have a huge impact on insect pests of Christmas trees, but they definitely eat some and are part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan for our farm which includes encouraging the presence of beneficial insects.  Beneficial or not, we admire their sleek, cryptic look and we love to see them in our fields.  

European Praying Mantis Egg Case.

I’ve spoken with gardeners who’ve seen them eat tomato horn worms and other garden pests, which probably explains why so many home gardeners find the Praying Mantis to be an appealing addition to their yards.  It should be noted that their legendary appetite isn’t just limited to pests and if they are hungry enough they will even eat their own kind if given the opportunity.  Talk about a dog-eat-dog-world!

Raising Praying Mantids from an egg case can be an interesting and fun classroom project as well.  To learn more about Praying Mantises, check out this link from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service:  http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/entfactpdf/ef418.pdf. We think it provides a nice introduction to this fascinating and beneficial insect.

We have egg cases from both Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis) and European mantises (Mantis religiosa), the European egg cases being more limited in supply.  The egg cases were produced on our farm this past fall and cost $3.72 each, plus tax ($4.00 each total) – less than half of what many others are selling them.   Folks who would like to buy a praying mantis egg case (or two, or three, …) are welcome to call and make an appointment for pick-up, or we will mail as many as you’d like as can comfortably fit in a US Postal Service Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box with some padding for $6.00 in the continental United States.  Because we have no idea how the egg cases will be handled once they leave our possession, we do NOT guarantee  how many praying mantis nymphs will hatch or that they will even hatch at all.   What we will guarantee is that the eggs were  laid in the fall of 2011 and kept in refrigeration after they were gathered.  They will be available for sale between now and mid-April, or while supplies last.  We’re not set up to take credit cards, but we do accept cash (in person) or checks.  Contact info@wolgasttreefarm.com or call 732-873-3206 for more information.  Always include a phone number at which you can be reliably reached with all correspondence.  It helps to move things along.

We like that Praying mantises are part of the scene at Wolgast Tree Farm. They fit right in with the bluebirds, honeybees, snapping turtles, and all the other creatures that call Wolgast Tree Farm home.  Maybe a Praying Mantis or two would be a nice addition to your “back forty,” too!

A Praying Mantis eating an insect on the farm this past fall.

Wolgast Tree Farm would like to offer a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who came out to the farm this year, and wish you all a New Year filled with health, happiness, good fortune and love.  It was wonderful to see so many returning customers and to catch up (when we had a moment!) with your family goings-on.  We enjoyed too, meeting lots of new faces this past season.  That some of you even brought us gifts was extremely thoughtful and touching.  Without a doubt we have the best customers around and we feel honored that you chose our Christmas tree farm to be part of your holiday celebrations.  We really are lucky!   

We’ve already started to get ready for the growing season next year. 

Clearing around stumps.

Even before Christmas, we were out clearing around stumps to cut them flush with the ground so we won’t hit them when we mow during the summer, and to clear the way for planting seedlings next to them this spring.  Soon we’ll be calculating how many seedlings to order and how many of which tree species we should purchase.

Len planting a Scoth pine seedling given to us by a customer.

In addition to clearing around stumps, the last thing we did in the field today for 2011 was to plant a Scotch pine seedling that one of our customers had given to us a few weeks ago.  Apparently, this person’s mother was growing the seedling in a pot and could no longer look after it, so they gave it to us and asked that we plant it in our fields to grow as a Christmas tree.  We walked the rows and picked out a spot we thought had the best microsite conditions that would help the tree to grow its best.  Time will tell if we were right!

Once again, our sincere thanks to everyone who came out to the farm this past Christmas season, and our best wishes for a 2012 that far exceeds your expectations!


Wolgast Christmas Tree Farm Open For The Holidays!

The Huntington Family of Hillsborough were the first visitors to our choose & cut Christmas tree farm this year.

Wolgast Tree Farm officially opened its doors to Christmas tree hunters across central New Jersey and beyond last Saturday, November 26th, but we’ve been so busy making fresh wreaths, grave blankets and meeting with tree customers who made appointments to visit during the week that only now have we had a chance to showcase the first family to get a tree this year:  the Huntington family of Hillsborough! 

The Huntingtons have been coming to our choose and cut Christmas tree

Taking turns holding branches out of the way and cutting the tree with a bow saw at Wolgast Tree Farm.

farm for many years.  They found a lovely Nordmann fir to help celebrate Christmas.  Everyone took turns holding branches out of the way and cutting the tree with the bow saw.  They did a great job!

Although many people like to cut a tree themselves, don’t worry if you’d rather not get down on all fours.  We have helpers who are happy to do the cutting for you and help get the tree to your car.

Whether you cut your tree or one of our helpers does, wear clothes and footwear that you don’t mind getting dirty, especially if its wet out. 

And here’s another important tip: most ceilings are 8-feet high, so your tree should probably be between 6 and a half,  to 7 – feet tall if you want it to go floor to ceiling and still be able to accommodate a tree topper and a stand.  For some reason Christmas trees look much smaller in the field than they do once they are brought into your house.  Remember, you don’t have to take the entire tree.  We’re happy to cut it to size so it will fit in your house.

The Christmas tree stand that Len used when he was a kid!

And speaking of Christmas tree stands, take a look at this tree stand we found hidden in the rafters of our outbuilding.  It’s the Christmas tree stand Len used when he was a kid!  We looked for a manufacturer’s name on the stand but couldn’t find one.  It’s at least sixty years old and charming to beat the band, but from the looks of it not as easy to use as the Superior Tree Stands we have at the farm.  Many people who have bought the Superior tree stands have said it prevented many family arguments it was so easy to use.  They liked the large water reservoir too, to help keep their tree fresh.

Between discovering Len’s antique tree stand and seeing the return of so many farm visitors who have been coming to us for years, we’re really in the holiday spirit at Wolgast Tree Farm!

Phillipsburg High School FFA Visits Central Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm

Members of Phillipsburg High School's FFA Chapter visited Wolgast Tree Farm last Saturday.

Members of the Phillipsburg High School FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America) traveled from their haunts in Warren County to visit central New Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset last Saturday.  This was the  third year that Phillipsburg FFA has visited our farm to get trees they will use to make grave blankets, and we consider it one of the highlights of the year when they do.  They are enthusiastic, hard-working, and well-mannered kids, and they instill a lot of hope within us about the future and character of today’s young people.  That they have an interest in agriculture and the outdoors is even better!

Before they headed out to the fields to cut trees, the students got a short tour, “A Year in the Life of a

Len shows members of Phillipsburg High School FFA what bucks can do to Christmas trees with their antlers (make a "buck rub") and how we try to prevent the damage by spraying the trees with deer repellent. This didn't work as well as it might have this year because we had lots of rain that washed the repellent off.

 Christmas Tree Farmer.”  Len discussed how we plant seedlings, control weeds and insect pests, and shear Christmas trees, as well as prevent and correct damage to trees caused by male white-tailed deer.    The chapter was invited to return in the spring to get a more detailed tour that would cover how we use Integrated Pest Management (IMP) on our farm, why our farm has been certified as being “River-Friendly,” and how we’ve integrated wildlife management into our operation to enhance the kinds of wildlife that visit, while aiming to minimize wildlife-caused damage.

 After the tour, everyone rolled up their sleeves and set about to cut 25 Douglas firs, the greens from which the students will use to make grave blankets to sell as a fund-raiser. 

Phillipsburg High School FFA members hauling a Douglas fir out of the field.

It was a big job.  The trees were cut, hauled out of the fields, and the branches were removed from the trunks.  The branches were tied into small bundles, and loaded on to trucks and a trailer, and brought back to school.  What made the task especially demanding was that the trees were very big. 

Bundling Douglas fir greens that Phillipsburg High School FFA members will use to make grave blankets that they will sell as part of their annual fund raiser.

Some of the trees were close to 200 pounds each!  They had grown so large and heavy because some had double and triple trunks and weren’t suitable to be Christmas trees so they kept growing over the years. Rather than throw the trees away, they are used in other ways.  The greens from these trees are beautiful, and we have been using them to make  grave blankets and wreaths on our farm, and marketing them for the same purpose to others, like Phillipsburg FFA.

The crew of the Phillipsburg FFA bundling & loading Douglas fir greens from Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset, NJ.

Despite being physically demanding, it was a fun day.  The students have said their visit to our farm is among their most favorite activities of the year.  From our end, we appreciate  their interest in our trees, but even more we enjoy sharing our interest in agriculture and the outdoors with others, and the opportunity to see young, industrious people in action.  It’s always a delight to have Phillipsburg High School FFA Chapter visit Wolgast Tree Farm!

Hurricane Irene’s Aftermath At Wolgast Tree Farm

It’s been over a week since Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey and although many areas are still dealing with serious problems caused by the storm, and now even more rain, Wolgast Tree Farm was very fortunate to come through virtually unscathed. 

Honeybees bringing nectar & pollen back to the hive after Hurricane Irene.

Our bee hives stayed upright and “the girls” (worker honeybees are all female) were out and about looking for pollen and nectar by 10:30 am Sunday the day after the storm.  

To our amazement, none of the trees that line our driveway blew over.  

Cutting a blown over tree for firewood

Some of our maple trees that we’ve tapped in the past to make maple syrup lost many branches, and one had the top broken off completely, so syrup production will likely be lower in 2012.  

One cherry tree by our house had blown over, but missed power lines and other structures so it wasn’t a big deal.  We cut it up for firewood.

White pine seedling with "donut hole" around its base.

So far, the only storm-related problem with our Christmas trees involves the seedlings we planted this past spring.  The heavy rains saturated the soil and that combined with the severe winds to whip the seedlings around which created “donut holes” around the base.  These openings are a problem because the roots are more likely to lose moisture when its dry, and during the colder months the roots can be exposed to freezing.  Both can stress the seedlings and hamper growth.  We’ll need to walk the rows and check each seedling for any gaps and close the ones we find. 

Rains from Hurricane Irene caused our Shiitake mushroom logs to fruit.

One tiny positive that came from Irene was that the rain she brought caused many of the logs we inoculated last year with shiitake mushroom spawn to fruit.  Sautéed in butter and garlic, or prepared a zillion other ways, shiitake mushrooms

Headed for the frying pan!

are a tasty treat. Having produced them ourselves brings a sense of satisfaction, and puts a little twist on the adage of making lemonade when life hands you lemons.   

Wolgast Tree Farm feels very lucky to have made it through Hurricane Irene with so little damage, and we keep in our thoughts the many others who had, and in many cases continue to have, great difficulties as a result of the storm.  We hope everyone is safe and that life gets back to normal as soon as possible.