Friday, February 25, 2011

Spring Gardening Update

Its February...its spring! We had saved up for a tiller for the tractor but had been putting off the actual purchase until we researched all of the brands, found the best deal, and figured out how we could get it home (they weigh about 600 lbs). So we ended up with a King Cutter II 48" tiller that has a geared drive instead of chain and it came with a slip clutch for the PTO shaft. Its not all shiny like a Landpride or one of the Italian makes but its built like a tank, works great, and we ended up getting it new for $300.00 off the list price.

We had them load it on our quipment trailer with a forklift towards the front so it would ride better on the trip home (remember its 600 lbs) and then we had to use a bunch of Rube Goldberg efforts to get it off the trailer. It was in a wooden shipping crate and the loader on the tractor couldnt go high enough to lift it from the trailer. We looked at driving under a tree and using a come-along or a block and tackle but ended up tying a rope to the tiller and loader and then dragging it to the back of the trailer. Then we used the loader to help slide it down the ramps but the crate started to come apart and it got hung up. Needless to say we jimmied and pryed and in the end I was actually able to lift the thing off the ramps myself (and didnt pull out the hernia stitches!!). Holly got onto me about it but you know, digging all those post holes by hand is helping.
The tiller was at the front of the trailer and we pulled it to the back and then finally got it down the ramps and off loaded. In my mind the trailer was lower to the ground when we had them load the tiller and the loader was taller or I would have planned better.

Its a mud bog all over rural Missouri right now and in another indication of my lack of planning I never got around to getting the gravel laid last fall. Thats still an upcomming project.

And the machine in question.

6 heavy duty and replaceable tines per wheel. Tilling depth is adjustable down to 8" deep.

At the same sale we were able to pick up a middle buster for less than a C-note.

In addition to greasing the zerks on the tiller (green grease of course) and adding high pressure gear oil to the gearboxes the PTO shaft needed to be cut down. I took it appart, carefully measured for the maximum and minimum distance from the tractor PTO shaft and tiller at various lifting points, cut an equal amount from each half of the PTO shaft, trimmed the shield and then reassembled the thing and hoped I didnt royally screw it up. It worked perfect and in this photo you can also see the slip clutch just to the right of the saw handle.

I dont have live PTO so the tractor has to be engaged for the PTO shaft to work. I put it in 1st gear low, let out the tractor clutch and get the rpms up to about 2800 which is the 560 rpm point for the PTO and then come up to the tilling point and slowly drop the tiller.

I always keep the tractor in 4WD when doing ground engagement activities and I still need to add fluid to the tires but the tiller really didnt need any help and it worked flawlessly. The slip clutch even worked as it should when I hit a rock.

This was set at 6" depth and it came out like you had just layed 6 inches of topsoil on the ground out of a bag. We will be using it to prepare planting fields and tilling in various organic compost and green manure.

We just tested it for now. This is two passes side by side and the reason there are no tractor tire tracks is because the tiller is offset to the right to cover the right rear tire track.

And we have some of our onion starts planted already and doing well.

We seriously underplanted onions last year and this year we aim to correct that. We have several bags of onion sets to plant yet.

Our spinach patch from last fall survived and is producing again (yes we need to weed it).

The thyme is already going strong and we have planted other herbs in the greenhouse.

We plant many different varieties of vegetables and herbs for our own use and sale in addition to fruit trees and berries but we also plant a lot of flowers and ornamentals. Additionally, this year we have continues to expand our foray into grains and plants to act as deterents to animals and insects like castor beans, marigolds, etc.

Our early seed starts are doing well in the greenhouse even though its still getting below freezing at night (the greenhouse is heated).

We like the peat cups for most things as they can be planted directly into the ground and its less stress on the plant. They are also environmentally sound which is never a bad thing.

Many, many , many more to go.

And finally, we have a skunk and rabbit problem and we will be relocating some with these live traps.

Update on the Pond Project and Site of Pole Barn

We continue to clear brush from around the pond in anticipation of eventually building a small shed, deck and picnic table up there. We also plan on finding a 10 foot skiff for the pond and stocking it with fish  but if you followed earlier posts you remember it was so overgrown you couldnt even see the pond and the pond itself was choked with algae. We have made some progress in fixing all that and I expect we should be able to start stocking fish in April. There are also some pictures of the site of our new pole barn shop. It will be a 24x32 with an 8' wide lean-to on one side to use as an equipment shed and a 5x8 covered patio on the otherside that overlooks the farmhouse for lounging. It will have a concrete floor with drain, two windows, a man door out onto the covered patio, and I think we are going with a roll up door rather than a slider. We will also be doing a rainwater collection system off the roof that will be plumbed to a deep sink that will in turn drain to a grey water leachfield in the pasture. At least thats the plan...we are still waiting for the contractor to give us the estimate so that may get pared down.
We got rid of most of the algae with an organic cleaner that isnt suppoed to harm wildlife though it could kill fish because all the dying plant matter would suck up oxygen but we dont have any fish that survived to my knowledge.

You can see where we cleared brush and limbed up some of the cedars. We decided to leave most of the cedars and just limb them up so we will have shade. The shed and windmill (to aerate the pond) will be to the left in this picture.

Looks a bit better no?

These pictures are taken from the proposed site of the pole barn where the covered patio will be. We moved the building site a bit further back than originally intended to save money on excavating. We took a transit and found this site was fairly level with less than a 12" deviation in elevation at any corner of the proposed building and two corners were within a couple inches....thats a good thing as Martha Stewart would say. In this picture we are looking west.

Looking south, the old building in the next pasture is an old hog barn and the pond is to the left of those cedars.

Looking north we have views of pasture and the cows come up to the fence and stare at you. One of our neighbors owns the land on the side and back of us and like us likes his privacy. His wife is also related to the original owners of this entire old farm (her grandfather built our house) and he said the other day he bought the other property in back of us just to keep anyone from ever getting too close. We like that.

Looking east down our pasture towards our tree lot. We wont be able to see this from the patio of course because the pole barn would be in the way.
And I am posting this picture of the farm wife because I think shes purdy...

Winter Bird Feeding

We have numerous bird feeders out and feed a mixture of millet, cracked corn, black sunflower seeds and we also put out suet. These are just a few pictures of our views and hopefully you can see why we enjoy them so much.

We get Mourning Doves, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouses, Juncos, Finches, Blue Jays, and many other species (including crows).

View from the kitchen.

View from the spare bedroom.

We really enjoy them.

Cardinals dont migrate and they really add color to the winter landscape.

The Great Blizzard of 2011

The tone of the news and weather warnings about this impending storm had us a little concerned so we made all the preps. Tested the generator, filled the oil lamps, got the propane stove ready, batteries in the flashlights replaced, and we filled our many water jugs with both drinking water and water to flush if needed. And then we waited, we watched, and we enjoyed it,

It started with high winds and then ice pellets to about 1.5 inches deep then it snowed about 6 inches and for several days there was virtually no traffic, no sound, and I even only had to respond to one wreck with the ambulance. Basically, we stayed toasty warm, we baked, we cooked, and we played in the snow and had a blast. School was out for 14 days and they even cancelled church two weeks in a row.

We did end up getting some 60mph gusts and it snowed hard for most of the day but luckily we never did get the icing that was feared and we never lost power.

It seems strange that this amount of snow would completely shut things down but apparently this amount of snow here is very unusual and they just arent equipped for it.

It was quite peacefull

Looking north

And then the sun came out a couple days later!!

The MoDOT did a great job on the hwy...kudos for them.

The neighbors access gate to their pasture and horse barn. They couldnt get up the road with their rig so every couple of days we hauled hay and feed for them in the GMC.

I still cant get over having blue sky even in the winter, too many years in Southeast Alaska!!

What do you do when there is snow beside shovel?

Why sled of course!!

We tried to find sleds but were told by most places that it usually doesnt snow enough for sleds so they dont carry them. Cardboard works well though.

A 2 wheel drive ATV is a lot of fun on snow and ice.

Serious fun!!

Fencing Project

To us the winters here are mild and we have been doing projects outside pretty much all winter long. Folks around here say this is a 100 years bad winter with a blizzard, extended cold weather, lots of moisture etc. and they hate it. We have been having fun sledding, getting stupid on the 4 wheeler, and believe it or not we even have a bit of a tan. It will get cold and then snow then it gets sunny and then 3 or 4 days later its in the 50s or 60s. I will post pictures of the blizzard that shut schools down for 14 days, froze everyones pipes (we didnt have a problem even with the trailer) and was called snowzilla on anothe post to follow so to put this in perspective this is the end of January when we worked on the fence.

The week before the big blizzard was sunny and it got into the mid to high 60s a couple of days but it was windy. Everytime we post pictures of digging post holes by hand we get comments that we should get an auger...we know and we have access to a 3 point auger for the tractor. Call me crazy but I like the exercise involved with punching through rocky soil with a breaker bar, a post hole digger, and a shovel. We set the posts about 3 foot deep and set them in concrete (we get the concrete for $1.00 an 80lb bag at Lowews by purchasing torn and leaking bags they are trying to get rid of).

It was a beautiful couple of days and everyone participated.

Judy wanted me to be sure and point out she fully participates in the projects and indeed she does, she often embarrasses us with her stamina but it motivates us to keep going.

You get a great upper body workout digging by hand like that but I cant imagine doing it for a living.

Making progress. We only put an 8 foot gate on this end of the barn because we are no longer going to be driving anything but the tractors through here. There will be a separate vehicle gate through the pasture fence in back of the oak grove that will be accessed seperately.

We are trying to make it functional first of all but also we want it to look decent. Fences are also good for planting against and this entire fenceline between the barn and pasture fence will be covered in flowering vines and bushes.

Judy wanted a people gate through the fencve as she often sits under the oak grove (you can see the bench in the background) where its cool in the summer. This part of the farm is always a bit cooler and usually has a good breeze.

In prep for the blizzard where they were predicting high winds, ice, sleet, hail, snow, and 30ยบ below wind chills we trimmed some branches overhanging the garage and house. I had a ladder in the back of the GMC and was very careful but of course one branch hung up, swung in almost slow motion....and doink put a small dent in the truck.

The dastardly branch!! It was just a small dent but you know we try and maintain our stuff and we tend to keep things forever because of that.

Here is a progress photo taken today. Its been slow going because I hurt my shoulder and have had other projects getting in the way of finishing this. We still need to finish the part on the other side of the people gate and tie this into the pasture fence.

We decided to use cattle panels for this part of the fence...better for the vines.