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 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.

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