Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Survived the Big Storm Last Night

We had very high winds, heavy rain, and large hail last night that left a swath of devastation and death across several states including Missouri. Locally, there was damage to several residences and shopping areas in Lebanon, some damage in Conway, Branson was hit hard, and Buffalo was smacked hard. Even our little berg had some damage but we came out of it pretty lightly and I mostly slept through it.

We were lucky....this was the extent of our damage. I am not making light of what some have had to go through, just trying to put some family members at ease and make them hopefully understand that its a real crap shoot. A mile away from us a trailer was seriously damaged while we didnt really even notice the storm until morning.

So spring is here, at least for now. Tornados, hail, thinderstorms, unstable will be 73 degrees tomorrow. And the early spring flowers are blooming...

Daffodils are up, the crocus' are up, the Iris' have their leaves in full march towards the sun and even the Hollyhocks are leafing out.

These little guys are Autumn crocus' which around here are called Naked Ladies. They have these green leaves that sort of look like Iris' and they sprout up for a couple months then litterally disappear all summer. Come fall a stem will shoot up overnight (no leaves) with a delicate pink and white flower.

We continue to get the new chicken coop ready and thankfully we didnt put stuff off. We anchored it to the ground with 4 three foot ground augers that were through bolted to the runners and we nailed heavy hardware cloth all around the bottom (to help keep out predators) that was then filled with a cubic yard of #1 gravel. Needless to say it held up to the 71mph max gust we got last night rather well. We (Holly and Judy) have also begun painting the roosts and nest boxes to make cleaning easier.

The ground anchor you see in the background (black square) has a 3 foot auger that is burrowed into the rocky ground and then bolted through the side runner of the coop...and we have 4 of them. These are the same type of augers they use for mobile homes so we feel pretty secure that its not going to fly away. Best advice I can give here is to not delay these projects.....our storm last night would likely have destroyed this coop if we handt taken these precautions. The hardware cloth is nailed all along the perimeter pressure treated wood we added to deter burrowing predators.

We then took a cubic yard of gravel to put on top of the hardware cloth. Chris is currently going to truck driving school and still working his old job but he got pressed into service here and we got the job done in short order.

In the coop itself, we will top this gravel with dirt and then a layer of wood shavings and in the outside run the gravel will be covered with sand.

Mother and daughter hard at work painting their coop...their enthusiasm and participation in this grand adventure is very very satisfying to me and the fact that we can all share this is just..perfect.

I just had to include this picture of my best friend and beautiful wife. After all these years she still makes my heart sing.

While the gals were busy with the coop I had some projects of my own to tackle. I decided to stick close to the house and put off more fencing because I wasnt feeling very good (and may want to wuss out) and for the fact we have been called out multiple times a day lately for brush fires (low humidity, very dry). So on to the well house renovation project that has been put off for far too long.

The windows were completely gone and I had to do some mortar work and add some wood framing to get the new windows in.

I am one of these people who seems disorganized but I have a method to my chaos. Here is a tool bucket, water bucket and mortar bucket along with the new window and an old folding chair marked for an Army National Guard Unit that was disbanded during the Viet Nam war.

Once you get the window framed in you have to put the new window in then trim it out inside and out. In this case, because this is an old stone building with no straight lines or right angles it was a bit of a challenge and I ended up chiseling out a lot more stone and mortar than contemplated to make everything fit.

Looks better than a gaping hole ne'?

I am still in the process of re-tuck pointing the mortar in this building and once that is done it will be sealed and the color will all blend into the house ad look nice. The windows will remain white but the wood and the mortar bed I redid around the window will be hunter green. 
And the other side of the building is complete (as far as the window anyway) as well. All of the mortar between the stones will be redone, then sealed and painted to match the house. The roof doesnt leak and I am debating whether to just recoat it and paint it or replace it. The front (towards the right in this picture has a door I am repairing and it will be painted hunter green as well and the back (to the left) has a 4 light paned window that I am repairing and it will be white mullions with the hunter green trim like the side windows. All the door and the paned window neds is a little repair and some glazing compound...too easy.

Tools of the trade. If you are going to own a stone house or do much concrete work (and we do a lot) get some basic tools. For re-tuck pointing and jobs like this these are my basics. And if you get to a point where you are tempted by the cheap tool bins at Lowes or Home Depot or anywhere else run away. You will note my mortar point and trowel are Kobalt which I find makes a good product even though its sold at Lowes but for the most part I purchase top quality tools because they last.

And at the end of today (it got up to 63 degrees) we BBQ'd some ribs. Start with a dry rub and smoke over a smoldering fire that you have loaded with wet oak chunks you cut yourself...

About an hour or an hour and a half later take the ribs and put them in tin foil and add some of your favorite BBQ sauce (this is ours) and wrap them up and return to smoke heavily for another hour...

And...perfection. A fitting end to a productive and enjoyable spring day. I can hardly wait to tackle the things we have planned for tomorrow!!!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fencing Repair Project and the New Chicken Coop

Last spring we did some fencing where we drilled into what at the time seemed like solid concrete to set corner posts. It was so solid I (and it was my mistake and I take the blame) decided we didnt need to set them in concrete.....big mistake. Over the year the soil off and on would become saturated and the posts gradually loosened which has bugged me for about 6 months and to be honest embrarassed me somewhat.

But you learn from your mistakes and instead of moping about it we finally decided to fix the problem as you will see below. And along with that project that has been put off for far too long was my 2 year old promise to Holly and Judy to build them a chicken coop. Ahhh you may be thinking....he finally got off his duff and built it for them. Not exactly. Last Friday we went to the Spring Farm and Garden show in Springfield where I thought we would spend no more than about $5 - $10 on some small trinket or something to eat. But as soon as we walked in there it was; a 12 foot long chicken coop in our farm colors (hunter green and cream), it had 6 nesting boxes, an enclosed chicken yard, two walk in people doors, windows for ventilation, and all for not a whole lot more than it would have cost me to build it from scratch (picture a lightbulb going off right above my head at this point). Poof - a 2 year promise fulfilled!!!

We all pitched in and dug out the posts, mixed the concrete and poured. I used the Kubota with a chain hooked to the bucket to pull the posts into line and hold them while the concrete set and it worked great.

We should have done this in the first place and I wont make that mistake again. Some folks just pour sackrette into the holes dry (it will eventually set up from the ground moisture) and they even make a post setting mix that has no aggregate but I prefer quick setting concrete with the aggregate and I have found better success with actually mixing the concrete and then pouring wet. Its a personal preference deal as there are likely several variants that would work but I tend to stick with what has worked for me in the past.

I will tell you that if you are contemplating owning a little bit of property and can afford only one piece of equipment it ought to be a small utility tractor with a FEL (front end loader). We use the little Kubota for all kinds of things around the farm and even though we have a couple of larger tractors for plowing and such, this one gets used the most.

Holly poured the water into the bucket, I handled the 80lb bags of concrete mix and added it to the bucket to get the consistentcy I was after and Chris had the hardest job of mixing everything. As for consistency of the mix, I go for a pancake batter consistency which I have found works well for setting posts.

We slowly worked our way down the line of posts. Past this point we will be driving T-Posts to continue our pasture fence and this will become a turnout pasture or isolation pasture.

It sure feels good to be working outside again and doing physical labor. We have been lifting weights and running which has us in pretty good condition for the start of spring and with my back in pretty good shape now I plan on getting lots of projects completed this year. Being layed up most of last year with the spinal surgery was a bummer.

And thar she blows (appolgies to Capt Ahab). It has a nice coop with man door for easy cleaning and a 6'x6' chicken yard which we will eventually expand.

It was dropped off in the drive and we dragged it to here with the tractor (its on skids...thus portable....thus not subject to property tax!!!). The coop itself has an opening window on each end for ventilation, a skylight, and chicken doors so they can move from the coop to the yard and from the chicken yard to the outside if we want to let them free range (which is our intent).

Inside has roosts and a hanging feeder...

And six nesting boxes.

The nesting boxes can be accessed from outside for egg collection.

We chose this spot because it will have shade in the summer, I can run electricity to it from the greenhouse, it is next to a frost free water hydrant, and we can see it from the house (lots of coyotes and other predators around here).

The bottom will be completely encased with heavy wire mesh to keep out racoons, opossums, etc and we likely will have to just keep on top of the snakes. We have a lot of snakes and in general I like them and dont mind their presence but snakes like eggs and chicks so.......the barn cats will have to earn their keep.

And there you have it, Miss Hollie's and Grandma Judy's beginnings of a chicken empire. I have a lot of work to do to finish setting it up for them (gravel, flooring, a waterer, running electricity to it etc) but we think it looks good and it will be ready for the spring chick delivery.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Winter Storm Fun and Chris Buys a Car

Winter finally arrived here in the Ozarks and we got about 3.5 inches of snow and some cold weather yesterday. So boom, we had winter and today its mostly all melted and temps will be in the mid 50s by the end of the week and through at least early next week...this is my kind of winter. Chris also has gotten tired of walking since he wrecked the Ranger and saved up enough money for a car, it has a bajillion miles on it but the engine has been rebuilt and its not really in that bad of shape for $900.

We give the girls an extra hay ration when the snow covers their winter forage or when its really cold and they really go at it. These are bales from our first cutting last year and they are lush and green still.

The snow came in quick and it was blowing and cold. It was kind of nice though since I had Monday off and we could just relax and enjoy it.

Literally everything around here shut down....schools, stores, factories, the Interstate  about 25 miles away.

The cows have plenty of cover and shelter to hunker down in but they seemed to enjoy froliking in the snow...and of course they didnt want to miss out if we brought them extra hay.

But Maybelle really doesnt like snow at all...we tried to explain how good she has it and pointed out how all the cows in Minnesota somehow survive a little snow but she didnt care and bellowed all day.

She is such a mooch

It looks worse than it really was, by this point it had warmed up to about 30 and the snow was wet and sticky.

Now that the snow has just about all melted this area has turned into a mud pit.

I like this view from the mid pasture towards the pole barn in any weather but this is the first time we have had enough snow to see it this way since we built the barn early last year. Its very peaceful and just satisfying for me. If you own land you will understand what I mean and if you dont yet have your dream place all I can say is there is nothing like working and enjoying your own parcel.

We had a lot of fun feeding the animals and birds with the 4 wheeler and then playing around on it in the snow. Its just a little work horse that also happens to be a blast to ride.

So Chris found this 97 Grand Am locally and it has good tires....

Good glass and body work.....

Everything works on it....

And he passed inspection right away and got it licensed and insured.

The interior shows a little wear but its not bad at all and for 900 bucks it will do him fine.

The engine is the venerable 3100 V6 and has been rebuilt. It seems to be in excellent shape and is quiet and powerful. The transmissions on these cars arent the best and this one is showing the dreaded P1870 code which indicates a slipping transmission but its not noticeable and he will run it until it drops. Overall he did well with the amount of money he had to work with.

So now we have 5 vehicles on the farm, we officially had our winter yesterday, and now we are ready for spring!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Myriad of Things

Well here is a shotgun blast of things from the last week or so. The blue Ranger passed inspection with no trouble and it been used to commute to work and for running around locally. It runs well, it gets better milage than the GMC and we will just continue to us it in that capacity. We ran into a bit of a snag with replacing the GMC bumper as you will see below but it is just a time delay as we have to wait for some fasteners.

The pasture has started to green up a bit, the Daffodils continue to sprout and evn some blackberry bushes are starting to show leaves and yet this is still winte so that isnt good. In fact the weather has taken a turn colder today and we may even get a sprinkle of snow tonight. Holly and I and sometimes Chris continue to work out 3 times a week and I have been able to run and do cardio on the treadmill and eliptical machine and we all feel really good if a little sore now an again. Total weight loss so far for me?....zilch. But I am going into my second month with no chewing tonbacco which feels really good and I know the weight loss will follow.

We had to put the new bumper on without the lower cladding because we found we just couldnt re-use the clips that held it least we can drive the truck for now and wait for the clips to arrive.

These clips arent much but if we re-used these the cladding would never be tight enough to the bumper for me and though most people would not know the would bug me. Unfortunately we will have to remove the bumper, install the cladding, and then re-install the bumper.

And the new bumper is made in Taiwan also...something is wrong with this picture. I mean I understand why its happened, I understand that if this was made in America it would cost a lot more, but fundamentally I just feel like this should say something like "Proudly made in the USA".

Bandit was close by supervising as always. He is getting on in years and isnt as rambunctious as he used to be...he prefers to be close by and laying in the sun while we toil away rather than do a lot of direct supervision. He just comes by to check the final product and offer encouragement.

This is the inside of the GMC "Made in Taiwan" bumper after close to ten years.

And for a change of pace; we were looking for a new or used microscope to evaluate livestock fecal samples (ahhh the glamor of owning livestock), do some projects with the pond, conduct some further on-going amature research and experiments, and generally enjoy exploring nature in a smaller scale.

And I mentioned on the Homesteading Today website that I was looking for a metal bodied microscope and one of the members had one and sent it to us for a great price (thanks Pheasant Plucker). Note the wide slide base and heft of this thing. Its a Wolfe from the Carolina Biological Supply Co and it perfectly suits our needs.

It has three different optics magnification levels and important to me, a main focus and fine focus knob....just like I remember from my first forays into biology in college.

I am in the process of ordering flat and concave specimin slides and cover glass, pipettes, test tubes, droppers, sterile petri dishes with agar agar, a specimin slicer, and some chemicals and we dont have anything right now so these pictures wont be that clear but this is a picture of one of my wiskers. 

This is a fly wing at lowest magnification...

and the same wing at the highest magnification.

and finally, this is a little blurry because I cant keep the specimins flat without the slides but this is something common from the kitchen that all beginning biology students look at under the microscope..anyone remember or care to guess?

We found this old abandoned farmstead not too far from our farm. I am really curious to know when it was last occupied because it looks like the folks just walked away or died. In this picture your looking through a gate and you could see where there was a gattle guard for the driveway, gardens, etc but the place looks really old.

This was the old barn that was with the place, as you can see at one time this was a fairly prosperous farm but there is litterally nothing showing that it has been used for decades.

This old abandoned house struck me because it still has straight lines but was completely abandoned with not a speck of paint left. What kind of stories does it hold?

This cool old barn is still being used for hay storage but its not being kept up and will soon go the way of most wodden barns around here. This one has a unique couploa and must have been a useful barn in its day.

This poor barn is on its last legs and has been stripped of most of its barn tin. I absolutely hate to see this happening all over this country but its just too expensive for most people to maintain these structures.

Now for a couple plugs for reading material I think are worth highlighting. The Missouri Conservationist is free to all Missouri residents (one subscription per household) and there is a companion publication for the kids (kind of like Ranger Rick). If you from Missouri you wont be disappointed and free is good. If you live outside of Missouri and are interested in the state or live in an adjoining state the magazine can be purchased for a modest subscription fee.

Rural Missouri magazine is an award winning publication of the state's Rural Electrical Cooperatives and as members we get a free subscription. But this is another publication that would be worth spending a few bucks on. It covers everything from points of interest, human interest stories, history, the Civil War, recipes, out of the way restaraunt reviews, etc.

And finally, my most favorite magazine of all time...Farm Show. You dont have to be a farmer to enjoy this one. Its full of ideas for repurposing things, modifying equipment, garden tips, folk lore, recipes, and product reviews. If you have a shop, even just a small one in your garage, you will love this magazine.

So this was all over the map subject wise but we are sure enjoying life right now. The maagazines I highlighted can be further researched by Googeling them and I only mention them because they really stand out to me, they are free or low cost, and I found out about them from others as they dont do much if any advertizing. The only paid subscription we have in this household is Farmshow and we enjoy all three of these magazines every month so I hope that is helpful if you were not aware of these previously.