Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Its Almost April

Normal temps for this time of year in our neck of the Ozarks is in the mid 60s and last year we were a couple weeks already into 80 degree temps. This year we are still stuck in winter and its currently 23 degrees out as I type this on 26 March and we have significant snow cover...and the wind has had wind chills down into the teens.

We are all ready for spring and this is a bit frustrating...we are tired of loading the outside wood boiler, we are tired of the mud during the frequent snow melts, we are sick of the incessant wind, we are anxious to get rolling with the many spring activities, and to top it off, we usually get sunny days even when its cold and snowy but this year has just been a grey gloomy overcast mess so far.

Most of the northern hemisphere is experiencing similar weather this year so we aren't alone but enough is enough!

Its a heavy wet snow too and late March just shouldn't look like this.

Because of the snow cover we are also still feeding hay to the cattle but at least the snow is good for the pastures and when we get a snow melt they really look in much better shape than the disastrous drought pasture we experienced last year...and hopefully the blast of cold after some relatively mild temps will cut down on some of the insects.
The other night we got almost 7 inches of snow and we were in blizzard conditions. It also doesn't help that we are at almost 1200 feet in elevation which means we get a heavier snow fall than even areas 20 miles away.

Last week it was still a bit cold but we were building raised beds, plowing, and enjoying being outside again but its pretty hard to get much useful completed outside in this sticky wet snow. So we have been catching up on paperwork in preparation for filing our taxes, we have almost completed the revised business plan and we dream of warm spring days with all that promise of growth and productivity. In Alaska we would still be looking at a month and a half or so of cold and snow but we have gotten spoiled..Come on Spring and warm weather!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wildlife, and Maintenance, and Planting Prep

This time of year I am often left wondering if our Simple Life tag might be a bit of a misnomer. Just in the last week I have continued my classes for Emergency Medical Responder, got re-certified in CPR and AED, we got the car fixed, finished the repair of the IH 424, got notification that a grant I wrote for the Fire Department was approved (which now means more work to satisfy the requirements of the grant), I was appointed as Training Officer for the Fire Department, I wrote another grant for the Lions Club, Holly has been busy putting together fund raising things for both the Fire Department and the Lions Club and she finished all of the spread sheets and documentation for our 2012 taxes and the books and tracking documents for our corporation. On top of all of that we did the initial plowing for spring planting (with the newly repaired IH 424), we got a load of top soil for the raised beds, prepped for the installation of one of the new greenhouses, used a bunch of old tires from the barn to make potato beds, and did some fencing.

Our days are long and physical this time of year and the weather has been interesting. Warm and sunny one day and the next its rainy and doesn't get out of the 40s but the rain is welcome after we had such a severe drought and we are fast getting back to normal precipitation. One of the things we enjoy is to take a break once a day and go for a walk just to take in the natural beauty of our area and hopefully see some wild life.

Of course our cattle aren't wild life but we certainly enjoy watching their antics and I find it is immensely satisfying watching them. Each one has a distinct personality and they provide a sense of security and well being for us that's hard to explain.
On this day in the back pasture, we found a lone wild turkey probably contemplating the upcoming April hunting season. We also saw a couple deer and a bunch of rabbits but the old camera didn't cooperate on getting pictures of them.
You can see the standing water in this picture, so far in March we have gotten over 7 inches of much needed rain and the pastures are starting to really perk up.

I am not sure if this is relevant but we live in a very sparsely populated area with a lot of open space interspersed with wood lots and it seems like the wild life is much more accessible. This small squirrel came right up to us in its quest for acorns and didn't seem at all bothered by our presence.

Its so quiet in our little patch of woods other than the sound of the wind and the birds and we like to sit for a while and let nature do its thing. I have found that after a life of constant stress and a career where violence was everywhere that I am in increasing need of the solace that nature gives me.
We have numerous bird feeders, bird houses and suet feeders all over the farm and I never get tired of them. And when we see a group of Starlings (an obnoxious European import), Grackles, or cow birds I still don't mind. We often enjoy the memory of my father who on his only visit to the farm was enjoying a warm afternoon on the back patio when a huge flock of Starlings flew over and I made the mistake of saying "Hey dad, look at that"...he looked up and immediately got nailed by a gooey dropping right on his glasses. He was a great sport about it and we all got a laugh out of that and I cant even look at a flock of Starlings now without that fond memory.
Like a lot of plans, my big project to paint the tractor and do a lot of other stuff was overcome by events (or OBE in military jargon). We ended up foregoing the painting of the front end and other repairs because we had a weather window pop up and we needed to get some plowing done.

I wont say it all went back together easy but in the end everything works great, the tractor is back in full function, and I am pretty pleased with the outcome.

One thing about an old piece of machinery, you just cant go down to the store and buy ready made repair items. When I was scraping the old gasket off the mounting plate I realized the mounting plate to the engine block was a separate piece (not shown in the shop manual) and so I took that off as well and found out where the big leak was coming from. The gasket between the block and the mounting plate was completely gone at the bottom and of course they don't make them anymore so I made a new one.

I also highly recommend Permatex (in this case #2) when mounting your gaskets. Trying to get a gasket to fit properly and adhere to a vertical surface while your holding a 15 pound fan assembly and trying to thread a bolt into the bolt hole without cross threading it is challenge enough. Using the Permatex allowed the gasket to stay on the assembly until it was mounted and it provides an extra insurance against leaking...you don't want to use too much but its a good product and after 8 hours of hard use of the tractor since the repair, no leaks.
This view from the barn shows the extent of the first plowing for the north market garden and Holly's potato planting scheme.

Right behind Rose the Farm dog and between where Judy is in the back left is the location for one of the new green houses. We have a load of gravel coming next week that will be used to level and prep the site.

The old Alis Chalmers WC is working its way up the ladder for its rotation in the shop and I hope to get it back into use by the end of summer. It needs new back tires, some seals replaced, fluids changed, etc. and I miss its distinctive sound but since it doesn't have hydraulics, its not as useful and has taken a back seat to other maintenance projects.

We also did the initial plowing of the gourd and pumpkin patch..

And started the plowing for the corn.

The back fencing has been making slow progress because our part time hired hand had to leave for a couple weeks but Holly and I concreted the last two posts (the one in this picture is surrounded by a cattle panel while it dries to keep the cows from rubbing against it). The old gates in the back in this picture will be replaced which will allow movement of livestock and fire brush trucks between our neighbors pasture and ours if the need arises.

And this will be where the big gate into the new pasture will go. If you talk to 5 farmers or ranchers they all will have very strong opinions on how to fence but we set our wooden fence posts in concrete, then we cross brace them, and we use 5 strands of 4 barbed 15.5 gage Gaucho high tensile wire. A lot of old timers think its too thin but it has a 1400 pound breaking strength, it has the highest level of zinc anti corrosion coating available, and it doesn't stretch like conventional wire. Its been around for about 30 years but some still see it as new...but we like it. I will also say that cattle seriously dislike the sharp barbs and they leave it alone.

Gaucho is however dangerous to install and you absolutely need to wear all personal protective equipment including eye protection, a heavy coat and leather gloves. Being high tensile steel it has a wicked coil and if it ever lets go you getter be on the post side of the fence or it will wrap you up in a nice bundle of sharp barbed wire that will require a rescue effort to save you. It also is bad to snap back at you when you cut it and there are plenty of one eyed farmers and ranchers around who lament not using protective eye wear. I highly recommend it but I have a few scars from it and you just have to use some common sense when installing it.

We are in year 3 of trying to build the soil tilth through the addition of compost and other soil amendments so we are still deep plowing and picking rocks. When the weeds die out from this plowing we then go over it with the 3 point tiller and then plow our rows but we plan on eventually switching to just using a sub soiler and a no till method. We are also experimenting with the use of plastic mulch row covers to cut down on weeding (we don't use chemical weed control in the vegetable plots).

Holly had this idea to use the old tires in the barn (and the rear tires from the IH 424 we replaced last year) to anchor the side of the mound we built for the raised beds (we used the excess dirt from the sewer project) and we have started that project.

We set the tires staggered into the side of the hill and they will get filled with top soil and then we will plant potatoes in them. We firmly believe in using and reusing what you have and re purposing things.
And finally for this post, we had a dump truck load of the most rich loamy soil we have found in the area and we are in the process of filling our raised beds with this excellent soil. All of this has been in the last week and next week is even busier...we love spring.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Trying Week

Holly and I both lost friends this week and in my case, a fellow Fire Fighter. I helped give CPR to him for over an hour and though those things are always hard, its harder when its someone you know. He had a Fire Fighters memorial service and the next day a grave side service where we were all in uniform, trucks from several neighboring Fire Departments were in the procession and all draped in black bunting, and at the very end they played taps and toned out his number on the radio as a last call. It was very moving and reminded me of the all too many services I attended in the military. He left us way too soon but I think he would be pleased with his send off.

During this entire time it was snowy, bitter cold and very windy and we are drained. I also started my Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) certification training which runs through the first week of May and to be honest I was really not feeling like going to class after the services but its good training and if your a prepper at all you can never have too much medical training. I have given CPR numerous times (over a dozen), used an AED several times, sewn stitches (mostly on myself), given IVs (any Army Vets remember Combat Live Savers?), delivered 3 babies (including our youngest son and most recently last year on a back road in the front seat of a Ford F-150), pulled teeth, bandaged several gun shot wounds, and did the Heimlich maneuver last year (it works...ask Judy!). If you live remote or travel to remote areas its just good planning in my opinion to have some basic medical training and I plan on continuing my formal training and certification and to get Holly and Judy through at least CPR.

So after all that, yesterday we got a flat on the car...you know, blowing a right front tire on a front wheel drive car while driving down a narrow country two lane road coming out of the apex of an off camber downhill curve and heading for a narrow bridge....one of those butt clenching deals. We put the spare on and limped to the next town that sold tires (24 miles) and found out that the wheel was cracked and besides the $500 for four new tires the Ford dealer said a new wheel was $300. We needed the new tires but the wheel was unexpected and we aren't talking about fancy aftermarket wheels here, that was $300 for a factory wheel and I bet somewhere on it will be "made in China". Since we were at the dealer I just told them to replace the throttle body and install new struts...what the heck is another $1200 at that point eh? Actually we like the car, its paid for, and its so smooth and quiet we cant hear it running at idle but with 103,000 miles on it it needs some service. Once we get it back it should be good for our trip to NC for youngest son Al's graduation from UNC and for our trip to Minnesota for daughter Jenny's marriage, it just seemed that the timing couldn't have been worse.

But life goes on and its not all doom and gloom. I think its easy to read some of these blogs and get the impression that life is pretty easy or that some people are just lucky and never have bad things happen but of course everyone has their ups and downs; its how you react and deal with the bad that differentiates happy people I think.

We have now filed for and been granted our standing as a Licensed Limited Corporation and our farm is now officially "Stonehouse Farm, LLC". Its a big step for us and at least we have made our CPA happy!
I had mentioned in a previous post that the water pump needed to be replaced on the IH 424 and since it came in the mail a couple weeks ago its been sitting on my desk looking at me and saying "replace me" in a very irritating voice so I got to it yesterday.

Its a relatively simple procedure...if the tractor were new, but its old, all the bolts were rusted and hard to get off and the admonition in the shop manual to take off the fan blades and pulley prior to pulling the water pump was a "yea, right" deal.

The fan assembly was rusted on (almost welded) to the water pump so I had to remove the fan shroud, part of the governor, and the alternator and do some acrobatics to get it out as one unit. Then I still couldn't get the fan assembly off the water pump and since I could not find a replacement anywhere on the magic Internet I was afraid of bending or breaking it. Tonnes of PB Blaster and judicious use of a hammer on the impeller finally broke it free but I was sweating it for a bit.

The new cast water pump has an extra intake port (its the slightly larger port on the top right in this picture) that my tractor doesn't require so it has to be plugged and the other top port needs a new overflow tube so there is another bit of fabrication but I'll make it work.
I couldn't resist this picture of my buddy Bandit, he likes to hang out in the shop with me and if there is a spot of light he will find it. I have to say, when I get stressed or down I can go up to the upper shop and just work on stuff and it puts things into perspective. I kind of needed that this week.

This is the old water pump that was giving me so many problems. The round piece with the four bolt holes was what the pulley hub and fan was rusted to but it doesn't look that bad now that its all apart.

I ended the day sanding and painting the various parts IH Red using Valspar tractor and implement paint which is excellent if you can get it. I got it at Tractor Supply Company last year but they have now switched to Majjic brand paint and I don't like it as much.

The gals have been busy too.

Holly and Judy have so far started 16 different vegetables, flowers, and herbs and they are anxiously awaiting the installation of the two new green houses...patience ladies.
At the end of the day today, we fed the cattle and rode out to the back pasture and saw 4 deer, then on the way back a rabbit darted in front of the four wheeler and stopped about 5 feet away and just let us watch her and finally tonight we watched a couple crows chase a hawk all around our barnyard. Spring just has to be near!!