Wrong Direction Farm

Red Tractor Blues

I kinda miss my 45-year old Case 530 backhoe.  It was always either broken down or on the verge of breaking, but the business ends of the machine (the implement attachments) were built much tougher than anything on our new tractor.

The new Case 65A has a 25% horsepower advantage, far more traction and stability, and a lot of other advantages going for it.  But I wonder what kind of longevity it will realistically have.  With just 80 hours on the clock, I tore the front loader bucket off while doing some not-especially-taxing loader work.  I don’t think it is unrealistic to expect a machine to last more than 80 hours before needing its first repairs.  Since it wasn’t like I was abusing it ramming tree trunks or something like that, the bucket and loader should have been factory-designed to handle the stress that this machine is capable of putting on them.

The quick attach tab on the loader cracked and bent.  Rust at each end indicates that this problem started earlier, probably as early as I started using this tractor.

The quick attach tab on the loader cracked and bent. Rust at each end indicates that this problem started earlier, probably as early as I started using this tractor.

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The other bracket hadn’t bent, but cracks are starting to form at each end.

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The mating surface on the bucket stretched out of shape when the quick attach connection failed. I hammered this flange flat again and then welded a 2×2 angle iron across the entire flange.

After investigating my neighbor’s skid steer and its bucket, I found that the connections on this tractor are (1) too flimsy, (2) lacking reinforcement at critical points, and (3) not wide enough.  I can’t do anything about 1 and 3, since there is no straightforward way to thicken the metal on the hitch or to widen the attachment pads.  But I could add some reinforcement, so I did the best I could with that strategy.  I reinforced the top flange on the bucket with a 2×2 angle iron.  Then I welded a 5/16 rod on the inside cove of the loader’s attachment tabs.  My welder is a bit underpowered for this kind of work, so I took it slow, gave the machine plenty of rest, and built up the welds in steady layers until I filled in the entire cove.

Here is what the the repaired loader tabs look like.

Here is what the the repaired loader tabs look like.  It will take a lot to collapse this bracket now.

One final observation:  the hydraulic hoses on the loader are already starting to wear through.  Two hoses are worn down to the reinforcing wires.  Replacing hydraulic hoses isn’t normally a difficult task, but the inconvenience of a disabled machine and the hassle of making a trip to a shop to get a new assembly is not trivial.  It is ironic that this machine was so poorly designed that the hose guards actually caused premature wear to the hoses.  On a well-designed machine, hydraulic hoses easily last a decade or more before weather degrades the rubber.  Failure in a few months is unacceptable.

Note the wear on the hose on the left and on the second from right.  The rubber is worn down to the reinforcing wire on both hoses.

Note the wear on the hose on the left and on the second from right. The rubber is worn down to the reinforcing wire on both hoses.

Gardening Bits

hot peppers

If garden weeds make you squeamish, stop here.  My one woman campaign against 6000 square feet of them hasn’t gone well, but we have harvested enough vegetables to make a significant difference in the grocery bill.

My haphazard techniques have come back to haunt me in a variety of ways, but I’ve gotten enough experience over the last five years to know where I want to go next and generally how to get there.  I’ll leave those plans for another post. For now, you may view high summer in my garden.

We ran a long narrow garden next to the front fence.  Since we carved it out of pasture and the pasture grasses surround it, I'm not sure we'll ever make much progress against the weeds.

We ran a long narrow garden next to the front fence. Since we carved it out of pasture and the pasture grasses surround it, I’m not sure we’ll ever make much progress against the weeds.

Three varieties of bush beans and a climbing bean sit between the corn and nasturtiums.

Three varieties of bush beans and a climbing bean sit between the corn and nasturtiums.

I am loaded down with beans. A thistle patch on the other side of the fence coats most of them with white fuzz, but these are beautiful.

      I am loaded down with beans. A thistle patch on the other side of the fence coats most of them with white fuzz, but these are beautiful.

Nasturtiums are not only lovely, they are edible and make good companions for green beans.

Nasturtiums are lovely as well as edible, and they make good companions for green beans.

Spaghetti squash is coming along nicely.

The spaghetti squash is coming along nicely.

My kitchen after a morning harvest

My kitchen after a morning harvest.

I am eager to turn this beauty into kraut.

     I am eager to turn this beauty into kraut.

I pulled the garlic this week.

     I pulled the garlic this week.

....and hung it in the barn to dry.

….and hung it in the barn to dry.

One end of the 6'x800' strip garden.

One end of the 6’x800′ strip garden.

A Genetically Modified Blog Post

I’ll state that I’ve never been enthusiastic about GMO labeling laws.  My experience as a farmer and food producer has shown me that laws and regulations always disproportionately burden small producers.

Despite not being a cheerleader for GMO labeling laws, the passage of the absurdly misnamed H.R. 1599: Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 certainly rubs me the wrong way.  The bill is offensive because it has no other raison d’être than shielding the GMO industry from exposure to the vicissitudes of public opinion and market economics.  It certainly reveals the the disingenuous stance of many of its supporters who, despite lip service to the ideal of supporting states’ rights over federal rights and to the goal of smaller government, signed on to a bill specifically crafted to simultaneously undermine laws in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont and to grant additional authorities to the FDA and the USDA.

The message to all of us is that the food and agricultural industries aren’t going to look after us.  Elected officials and state laws apparently won’t serve us any better.  If we want to know what is in our food, we’re each going to have to be more involved in putting it on our own plates.  As with all important revolutions, this one won’t be televised either.  It will happen on days like today with a shovel in hand and a blazing July sun overhead.  It will be live.

Red potatoes freshly dug.

Adirondack Red potatoes freshly dug.

What are you doing to take control of what you eat?  Let me know; I’d like to hear.

Drying Herbs

Allie is preparing parsley while AJ is bagging up the frozen blueberries from Ingall's Blueberry Hill in Cooperstown and Harry is preparing the corn we bought from a neighbor.

I have a small dehydrator I have kept going just about every day this summer.  Mint, parsley, chamomile, thyme, oregano, lavender, rosemary, tarragon, basil and whatever else I feel like makes its way in. I realized this week it is a simple enough job that I can hand it all over to the kids. They feel accomplished now and will be proud to pull out the jars when we need them in the winter.

Then again, handing it over to the kids means I have one less excuse to sit in the shade under our apple tree.

Then again, handing it over to the kids means I have one fewer excuse to sit in the shade under our apple tree.

dill...and lots of it!

dill…and lots of it

dried winter savory

dried winter savory

Every year I have needed more parsley than I've grown. This year I did it correctly.

Every year I have needed more parsley than I’ve grown. This year I did it correctly.

Racing Stripes

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Some of our black piglets have red stripes on them when they are little.  No, not this kind of Red Stripe.  We call them racing stripes, and although we can’t be certain that the pinstripes actually make them go faster, it at least makes them look faster.  Von Dutch would be proud of the detailing on some of these pigs.

By the time they are a month or two old the piglets lose the red and become solid black.  We don’t notice the comparable transformations in piglets who are born with other colors, but we can usually count on one or two of our black piglets starting out with stripes.  I’ve read some details about this, but apparently the genetics of the striping aren’t fully understood.  This is a residual gene from their pre-domesticated past, since all wild boar piglets are born with stripes.

I can understand the survival advantage from the camouflage striping patterns, but that leads me to wonder why adult pigs all lose this pattern as they mature.  If the camouflage helps the piglets, why doesn’t it help the adults?

Bridge Building

We’ve been building a bridge over the last two weeks.  We replaced a culvert with a small span, crossing a seasonal stream in the middle of our land.  The stream runs most of the year, drying up for a week or two most summers.  It never gushes, but we’ve had problems with the culvert plugging with ice and shifting out of position during the spring thaw.  The bridge should allow us to span the entire streambed and thus avoid the freeze problems.

First we had to pump some of the water out of the small settling pond on the upstream side.

First we had to pump some of the water out of the small settling pond on the upstream side.

We over-excavated and backfilled with gravel under the abutments.  We found that it was easier to pump the water level down just to the point where the excavation was flooded, thus giving ourselves and easy method to judge when the footings were level.

We over-excavated and placed gravel under the abutments. It helped to pump the water level down to the point where the excavation was slightly flooded, thus giving ourselves and easy method to judge when the footings were level.

The abutments were all placed as half-sized "mafia blocks" (for those of you not from New Jersey, you might call them waste concrete blocks or ecology blocks).  We backfilled with more gravel behind the blocks.

The abutments were all placed as half-sized “mafia blocks” (for those of you not from New Jersey, you might call them waste concrete blocks or ecology blocks).  The backhoe couldn’t lift full sized blocks, so we wen’t with the lighter 1,900 lb size.

At this point, we hit a roadblock because our old Case 530 backhoe died a sudden death.  The engine started making a terrible banging clatter and I was only able to run it long enough to get the bucket and outriggers retracted so we could tow it out of the way.  I’m pretty sure a rod is thrown, which means the backhoe is finished.  It needs a new clutch and a lot of hydraulic work, so I think it is time to ship it off to the auction.  I had to rent a pricy but very capable mid-size excavator to finish the project.

The bridge is built on I-beams and decked with 4x6 timbers.

The bridge is built on I-beams and decked with 4×6 timbers.

The approaches still need to be graded, the embankments still need to be armored in rip rap, and the decking still needs running boards, but it is good to have the bulk of the project in place.

The approaches still need to be graded, the embankments still need to be armored in rip rap, and the decking still needs running boards, but it is good to have the bulk of the project in place.

Carrying Coals to Newcastle

During the summer we feed the pigs a fair amount of vegetables.  These are waste products from produce wholesalers and farmers markets, unsaleable due to discoloration, bruising, and freezer burn (when the coolers accidentally go below freezing).  Sometimes the fruit sports a light fuzz of white mold, but the pigs don’t mind that.  Feeding produce scraps is a time-honored, environmentally sound use of food that no longer is acceptable for humans, but still has too much value to be converted directly to compost.

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When I pick up the produce, I take whatever they have that day.  Some days we really hit the jackpot with high-energy or high-nutrition foods like pallets of over-ripe peaches, sweet corn, or pumpkins.  Some days we end up carrying coals to Newcastle.  Such was this week’s haul:  pallets of lettuce.  Lettuce is certainly more digestible than mid-summer grasses, but there’s not a lot of qualitative difference.  Bringing lettuce to pigs with plenty of lush pasture is kind of a silly exercise.  But we have a partnership of sorts with our produce folks:  we save them their disposal costs, they save our feed costs.  We’re in it for the long haul, so we willingly take low-value loads along with high-value loads.

The pigs welcome the lettuce anyway.  Romaine and green leaf were on the menu.  Most of the heads were still crisp with just a little blackening on the edges.

The pigs investigating the lettuce. Romaine and green leaf were on the menu. Most of the heads were still crisp with just a little blackening on the edges.

Triple Threat

In a three way fight, who wins in this sequence:  bald eagle, Coopers hawk, or redwing blackbird?

My camera couldn’t resolve the pictures of these birds in flight, but you might be surprised that the little blackbird came out the ultimate avian champion.  A bald eagle was soaring overhead today, but apparently it was in a hawk’s territory so the hawk kept flapping and pestering until the eagle left.  In the struggle against the eagle, the hawk encroached on a blackbird’s nesting site and a diminutive blackbird used the same techniques the hawk had employed seconds before.  Actually, the blackbird was more aggressive, not just creating interference, but dive bombing the hawk repeatedly.  And once again, the harassment was effective and the smaller bird chased off a much larger opponent.

If I were Malcolm Gladwell I would use this observation to give you insight into the competitive advantages that blackbirds have over hawks and eagles and then I’d explain how this has analogs in the ways successful people comport themselves.  But I’ll let Malcolm do that stuff.  I’m just working on my 10,000 hours

Solar Powered Trailer Trash

I built a portable high-power solar fence charger mostly from parts and scrap.

I’ve been using a 2 joule solar fence energizer from Premier for four years and it has worked well when we need a temporary fence out away from our main fences.  But since the Premier fencer is in use over by the pigs and chickens, we needed another solar energizer.  Eventually we hope to extend our perimeter electric fences to the back fields, but that is a project for another year.

The energizer I started with is a 6 joule Speedrite AC/DC energizer.  This was our main fencer before we upgraded to a much more capable 32 joule energizer, so the most expensive component was already on-hand.  I also had a small trailer, a deep cycle battery, and offcut wood and metal scraps.  I bought a 100W solar panel and charge controller.  Like most of our projects, it dragged along for months as I found time to work on it.  Without all the starts and stops it could have been a quick project, but quick projects are rare phenomena here.

Here’s how it came together:

Starting with this cart.  I bought this old fire pump a few years ago, but unfortunately is really only effective as a transfer pump and I needed something that could pull more suction.  Anyone need a nice old Wisconsin engine?

I started with this cart. I bought this fire pump a few years ago, but unfortunately is only effective as a transfer pump and I needed something that could pull more suction.  Anyone need a Wisconsin engine?

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The solar panel mounts on the back and all the electronics are inside the box on the front. Getting it out to the pastures with all our recent rain proved to be a messy chore.  So much for the paint job.

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Regulated 12v terminals at 12 o’clock, battery at 3 o’clock, fence energizer at 7 o’clock, charge controller at 10 o’clock.

I broke the first charge controller.  It may have been defective to start with, but while connecting and disconnecting wires while I was trying to figure out why it wasn't working, I snapped off a screw in the wiring terminal block.  I bought the controller shown above as a replacement.  My color blindness makes it hard to distinguish between red, green, and yellow LED flashes, so I'm much happier with this unit.  There is no mystery and no need to consult a manual to figure out what each blinking light pattern signifies.

I broke the first charge controller. It may have been defective to start with, but while connecting and disconnecting wires while I was trying to figure out why it wasn’t working, I snapped off a screw in the wiring terminal block. I bought the pictured unit as a replacement. My color blindness makes it hard to distinguish between red and green LED flashes, so I’m much happier with this unit. There is no mystery and no need to consult the manual to decode blinking light patterns.

The total out of pocket costs were $225 for the solar panel and two charge controllers (I could have saved $30 if I bought the better controller at the beginning) plus $10 for hinges and stainless nuts and washers for the battery terminals.  Obviously all the other parts have value, but those were paid for years ago so I’m not counting them.

Hurry up, goldenrod!

Remember when Han Solo yelled at C3PO, “Hurry up, goldenrod”?  That always struck me as a strange word choice, considering that the story happened in a galaxy far, far away and especially considering that the characters in question were on an ice planet.

The cattle would love to hurry up and get out of the goldenrod and back into nice pastures.  They look askance at me and mutter imprecations under their ruminating breath.  I just keep reminding them that this is for their own good.  Next year when they come back to this pasture, they’ll find abundant grass and clover because they are doing such a good job of trampling the goldenrod while searching for edible plants in the understory.

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Just two more weeks and we’ll knock out this goldenrod and they’ll be in some great looking clover-filled pastures.  In the meantime, hurry up!

Looking over the previous day's grazing while doing the morning pasture rotation.  It took a long time this morning for the mist to burn off.

Looking over the previous day’s grazing while doing the morning pasture rotation. It took a long time for the mist to burn off.

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