A Weekend of Preparation – Hay for the Winter

In the recent past our friendly neighborhood farmer would cut our hay fields for us and he would reap the whole harvest as we had no need of it. Now that we have the animals it is going to be important to store up some hay for the winter. The problem was that we have no means of moving the large round bales. I mentioned this to him when he came to cut the grass this time and he said, “Not a problem. I have an old square baler that I haven’t used in years. I’ll just bale you up some of those.” And so he did! When he was done baling there were 20 large round bales and 56 small square bales on the ground.

WhirldWorks Hay Field

WhirldWorks Hay Field

First thing Saturday morning we borrowed our neighbor’s flatbed trailer and I began loading the bales. Our youngest son saw what I was doing and he was not about to be left out of the action. He climbed aboard the trailer and as I threw each bale on he would pull it into place. That was until it got to the second level and he couldn’t pull it anymore. From that point on he gave me direction in the proper placement of each bale in order to create a huge nest. Indeed we did! The bales ended up stacked three high, but at the center was an opening for the nest.

Once fully loaded, we backed the trailer to the barn, but unfortunately there isn’t a gate in the fence wide enough for a truck and/or trailer so I had to park it about 15 feet away from where it was going to be stacked. Little man tried hard as he may to carry, drag or push the bales along the ground, but despite his best determination he couldn’t help with this part. One by one I offloaded the trailer and stacked the bales under the barn overhang. They didn’t seem quite so heavy at the beginning but by about the 20th bale they began to get heavier and heavier. By the last bale I hardly had the strength to throw them to the top of the pile, but made it through and ended up with a winter’s worth of stored hay!

WhirldWorks 2016 Hay Storage

 

Whirld Wide Wednesday – Johnny Appleseed Goes to Jail

© stockdotOne of the greatest American stories is that of John Chapman, known commonly as Johnny Appleseed. Johnny is remembered in our American lexicon as a man passionate about apples and apple trees. He traveled far and wide planting apple tree nurseries. His devotion to sharing nature’s bounty carved him a permanent place in our history. Unfortunately, had Johnny been born about 230 years later his actions just might get him thrown into jail, or at least into some pretty severe legal troubles.

If a Johnny Appleseed in today’s world devoted himself only to planting and growing apple trees, he would be relatively safe. However, the day he bit into one of those apples, took out a seed and handed it to someone else he just might be in violation of the law in most States.

The various State Agriculture Departments impose a strict permitting process for producers and sellers of seeds. The permitting process requires distributors to properly test and label their seed varieties to ensure that consumers are protected from fraudulent business practices.

Unfortunately for smaller, non-profit operations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, the local governing authorities are applying this law to their operations as well. In doing so, the community seed libraries are being suspended or shut down altogether in the name of a fight against “Agri-terrorism.”

The irony I find here is that there are a very small number of extremely large agricultural corporations distributing untested “franken-foods” into the marketplace without receiving so much as a second-glance from the same officials shutting down these community libraries.

Thankfully the actions of these government agencies is getting more and more attention. There is a gradual up swelling of citizen opposition to these overreaches and now there is a nationwide campaign underway to allow seed exchanges or libraries to operate without being required to submit to the burdensome costs of permits and regulations.

If you would like to find out how to support the seed-sharing movement and to sign their petition, please visit: SaveSeedSharing.org

In addition, if you’d like to get even more involved on an actionable level, you can learn how to start your own Seed Sharing Library or discover if there is already a nearby library that you could get involved with, visit: SeedLibraries.net

Before you go, here’s a short video that I remember from SOOOO long ago about the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

Whirld Wide Wednesday – A Farm For the Future

This wonderful documentary examines how a well established farm that has survived several generations must go back in time to restore and enhance some of the more traditional methods of farming in order to survive the demands of the future.

What I found most striking was the comparison in past pictures of the field’s vast biology to recent times as a result of years of plowing up the soil.

Baling Hay By Hand

Before we dig into today’s topic I’d like you give a quick update for those following our progress. I wish I could say there was good news on the selling of our city home, but unfortunately I cannot. For whatever reason the house remains on the market and we are anxiously awaiting a buyer. The longer this drags on, the further out our moving date will be due to the added expenses of paying for two homes. Now, with that out of the way, here is today’s topic:

Baling Hay by Hand

Our goal has always been, and probably will be for quite some time, to operate the farm as frugally as possible. Without a big purse available for purchasing things such as tractors, implements and the like, our intent is to look to the past for solving today’s challenges. One item we know we will need on the farm is fresh hay, cut and baled from our own field. Without fancy contraptions such as sickle or disc cutters and tractors, the natural solution is a hand powered solution. A suitable degree of research online yielded two devices that appealed to us. These are a hand-held scythe and a home built hand baler.

The Scythe

There are surprisingly numerous options available, even today. Choosing a particular style of scythe wasn’t easy but the choices were narrowed to either the American Scythe or the European Scythe. Ergonomically, the European Scythe appears to have the advantage between the two, but weight was also a huge consideration. Knowing that I am not in the physical prowess of a full-time homesteader, I believed the most important factor was to find the lightest weight, yet best rated scythe out there, that we could afford. Through my research I settled on an American Scythe composed of  the Seymour SN-9 Aluminum Snath and the Seymour 2B-42G30 30 ” Grass Scythe Blade. Combined, these two items are about 9 pounds lighter than their traditional wooden counterparts.

While on the farm and just after a hearty breakfast, I headed out to a section of our pasture that had the most consistent area of good, tall grass and set to work. Let me say that the YouTube videos out there that show people using a scythe make this look deceivingly simple. Either that or our grass is much stronger than the grass harvested in those videos. I will also attest that the sharper the blade, the easier the task. I currently do not have a nice wet stone grinder to sharpen my blade and thus had to rely on the hand-held scythe stone. The more attuned I became to the simple nuances of the stone and blade, the sharper it became and the easier it cut. Still, once I had cut about a 50×50 foot area of grass, I was done for the day. We spread the hay out to dry for several hours, then began piling it up for the next stage in the process.

The Hand Baler

Choosing a hand baling method was another interesting research project, but in the end I settled on building a version of the Pine Straw Hand Baler. This version appeared to be the prominent choice of the numerous hand baling videos and discussions I found. It also helped that the website that describes this baler included a link to plans on how to build it. I downloaded those plans and coming from a background working with engineers and designers, what they provide as plans aren’t necessarily just that. They include a picture of the baler and an incomplete list of materials needed.

Because this was to be a prototype of what is to come, provided the trial was a success, I opted to use materials I already had on hand, which included a few sheets of OSB planking. I wholeheartedly do not recommend building a hand baler from the particular parts I chose, especially if longevity is the goal, but the materials I had helped me decide how to better build a later design I have in mind.

Overall, the hand baler worked like a charm with a few caveats that have been noted for version 2.0. We piled in the hay (even our 2 year old got in on that action), compressed it with the plunger and tied it off. The very first try yielded what actually looked like a bale of hay! It wasn’t as compact as I thought it should be though, so for the next bale we added even more hay. I was concerned that perhaps the plunger might not hold up under that amount of pressure, but in the end there was actually room for more, should we so decide later.

Picture Galleries

I didn’t do a good job of videoing the action because I was more focused on whether or not this idea would work, but here are some pictures to give you an idea of the fun we had this weekend baling hay by hand:

 Cutting the Hay

Baling the Hay

Well, well, well…whataya know?

© danist07While we progress to spending more and more time on our land, one thing we absolutely need to gain access to is water. There is a coop water line that runs parallel to our property and we will eventually tap into it. However, the cost to do so really struck me as almost prohibitive until we actually being building our home site.

To add, we know we want to add a well to the property for the main purposes of watering crops and livestock without the coop water expense. But that will come later. What we are trying to decide now is if it is feasible to dig a shallow well for our recreational use. I have looked at the sand point drilling (more like pounding) technique and there is some promise there.

I’ve probably watched every video on YouTube about this process and I think the sandy loam we have will allow this kind of well drilling. The part that I need clarification on is properly locating the well itself along with estimating how deep we will need to go. Perhaps this is a trial-and-error process, but It would seem to me there is a little more logical way to plan this thing out.

We do have a “creek” that runs through our property, but with the drought being what it has been it really is more of a seasonal creek that runs a little during storms and then collects shallow amount of water in pools along its length.

Any of you homesteaders out there who have drilled.dug your own shallow well, please feel free to comment or contact us about your experience(s).

Waging a war on two fronts

Last weekend we got to “play” out on our property clearing brush and such. This weekend we were back home getting things ready to try to get our home prepared to sell. My chore for the day was to do some cleaning up of the trees in our back yard in order to let a little more sunshine hit the ground as well as stop the Arizona Ash from crowding out the Texas Ash.

For years I dreaded doing brush work at the house, but I guess all that time clearing fences last week put some fire under me. I got to hackin’ and whackin’ at the trees and before I knew it the back yard was looking more like our property than a clean suburban retreat.

It was a full day’s work, but thankfully the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds most of the day. In the end, the yard now looks much bigger than it did before and I was rewarded with a delicious dinner!

I always look forward to the work we know we have to do on our property, but the reality of having to get the house ready to sell is starting to sink in. Thankfully we kept up with the home while we’ve lived here! There is still quite a bit of work to be done to get it ready for the market, but knowing that the ends justify the means has helped encourage us to “press on towards the mark” and get things done on both ends.

Easter Weekend on the Farm

We took off from work on Good Friday to prepare for a weekend on the farm over Easter weekend. When we arrived at the property I thought it would be a great idea to widen the path to the clearing so we could get our popup camper to it. Getting through all that brush was a bit more work than I had expected, but we did manage to get the camper into the clearing. It was very nice to have a much more secluded campsite with the trailer, but come Sunday evening we realized just how little space was available for turning around and getting out. We’ve all heard about the “three point turn,” but this turned out to be more like about 30 or 40 turns. We did get the camper out, but if we are going to do it again there will need to be a bit more planning.

Some of our family came out to visit us at the farm for the first time around lunch and we enjoyed the visit. Once they departed it was time to get to work.

The bulk of the work Saturday, for me, was continuing to clear a four to five foot path alongside the fence line that borders our woods. I spent several hours hacking and sawing away all the while dodging green briars and the increasing amount of poison ivy that is emerging with the warming weather. Thankfully I am not all that reactive to poison ivy, but WomansWhirld is very sensitive to this little devil of a plant, so I bought some coveralls at the Army-Navy store.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it to the back of our property, but near the end of the day I reached that goal and we were finally able to get to an area we had yet to access. In doing so we did discover that although the fence posts have been put in place, there is no fencing along that side of the property. We had assumed as much considering the number of cow hoof prints we continue to find in and around the creek bed.

As the day drew to a close, we each took our turn under the cold water of our solar shower (apparently I had forgotten to place it in the sun…oops). We sat around the fire and cooked a delicious meal and then put our little man to bed. Just as the light began to fade, I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, persecution and death. The depth of his love for us was closer that evening as we watched the stars poke through the night sky one by one.

Sunday morning we got dressed for church and visited a local congregation for Easter morning worship. It was a wonderful time of meeting new believers and celebrating the resurrection of our Savior! On a side note, I now know there are at least two indications that a person is visiting a country church: 1) More than half of the vehicles in the parking lot are trucks, and 2) There are hat racks just inside the front door for all the cowboy hats 🙂

We returned to the farm after service and the mood was a little somber because we knew that at the end of the day we would have to leave. We spent some more time walking the property trying to figure out what kind of trees and plants we have and I can tell you it is not an easy task for two people who know very little about trees and plants.

On our return to camp we stoked up the camp fire again and cooked a delicious meal of lamb chops, asparagus and potatoes with a tasty treat of grilled pineapple for dessert. WomansWhirld sure knows how to plan a camping menu!

We let the fire die down a little more and realized the inevitable so we packed up our belongings and (after a laborious effort to get the camper oriented for a safe exit) and headed for home.

It has been quite a busy week so far so we haven’t had the time to process our photos and videos of the weekend, but I will update this post once we have the chance to do so.