The many updates for Spring 2017

I have long admired those busy homesteaders and farmers who are able to manage their time well enough to be able to blog often. There has been so much going on here that I have thought many times, “This would make a great blog post.” Unfortunately I don’t often take time away from the tasks at hand to take pictures or note the details of what is happening. By the time I get beck to the house it’s usually so late or I’m so tired I never make it to the computer. Well my homesteading friends, it now looks like I’ll have quite a bit of downtime for writing.

A Farming Accident

We are expecting a delivery of a dump truck full of sand this week and I decided that using the rear blade on the tractor would help move it around. As luck (or poor planning) would have it, the blade was behind the barn and we have built up fences and gates too small for my tractor, thus trapping it. The blade weighs a little under 200 pounds and I figured I could move it the 20 feet or so to get it through the gate. I made it about half way and the blade was in a rather precarious position just as our dogs decided to start wrestling next to me and bumped me. I lost my grip on the blade and tried to get out of the way, but it landed on the tip of my boot.

The pain was pretty bad, but I figured since I had my boots on that it would probably be a bad bruise. I tried to take a step and almost fell over in pain. I took off my boot and discovered my right big toe was severely severed, hanging on by just a portion of its former self. A visit to the emergency room revealed that the bone was completely broken as well. A few hours later my bone was reset and my toe sown back together. This happened from late Saturday night into early Sunday morning and I am still in a bit of pain, as would be expected. I’m now in “dry dock” until my wound heals enough for me to return to my normal duties.

The Garden

Our garden is flourishing after a few false starts. The spring has been considerably cooler than many I remember in the past and I believe that has been key in our success thus far. The squash plants are already outproducing our ability to consume, the corn is getting tassels, and there are blooms on some of the tomato plants. We’ve eaten one of the beets and are looking forward to the beans, celery, broccoli and other yummy goodies almost ready for harvest. The pocket gophers have left most of the garden alone, that is except for the potatoes. They’ve done quite a bit of damage to our potato crop and I’m not certain we’ll have much of a harvest.

 Tractor

Our Massey Ferguson 205 continued to give us problem after problem and we finally decided to take it to the shop. The resulting repair quote was way more than I paid for the tractor in the first place and more than it would cost to buy another similar, used tractor. Thus we are the proud new owners of a 1984 International Harvester 284 Diesel Tractor. It runs much smoother and quieter than the Massey ever did. There were a couple of times it has stalled out on us, but a quick check of the sediment bowl revealed some dirt and one time a spider. We’ve run it through this was a few times now and the sediment is almost completely gone. Hopefully we’ve reached the end of this issue.

Livestock Additions and Sheep Shearing

As you may have learned from previous posts we added two new male lambs and a male kid to our farm at the end of winter. To our surprise, our other female goat gave birth just a few weeks ago to a female kid. We’re now at 6 sheep, 5 goats, a donkey, two LGDs, and 5 chickens.

We were able to have the sheep sheared a few weeks ago and most of it has been picked over and cleaned. In fact, we sold our first full fleece last week! The wool is amazing stuff I can tell you that. My wife is the resident expert on wool in our household and she is certainly impressed. I may not know much about wool, but I know this, our wool is very soft and fluffy.

Wanda's First Lamb

Wanda’s First Lamb

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Winter’s End and the Coming Spring of 2017

Dear readers, we’re very sorry to leave you hanging for so long since our last update, but rest assured, there’s been much going on around the farm.

Plus Three Minus One

We made it through our first lambing/kidding season with three new babies, two lambs and one kid, all boys! It has been entertaining to watch the youngsters bound around the open field and their mommas all have done a great job in raising them so far.

Unfortunately we did suffer the loss of one of our male goats a few weeks ago. We came home late one night and went to bring all the animals in, but Lewis didn’t come home. I got everyone else situated and went looking for him. I found him laying on his side in the pasture in convulsions and not really responsive at all. We put him in a quarantine pen for the night and tried to get him to eat or drink, but except for breathing and a heart beat it seemed there was no hope. The following morning poor Mr. Lewis died.

We assume he suffered from some sort of parasite or worms even though we had the animals on a worming program. His death set us into motion to step up a more aggressive worming plan with the other animals and so far everyone else is still healthy.

Garden

We managed to fence in a 50×30 area for a garden and began planting some over-winter plants. Now that the weather is warming we have begun the process of Spring planting. We’ve planted many different varieties of plants in order to determine what works best in our location. Our current planting list includes:

Artichoke Beans (bush and pole)
Beets Bell Peppers
Blackberry Blueberry
Carrots Cauliflower
Corn Grape
Jalapeno Peppers Kale
Potatoes Raspberry
Squash

We’ve also planted several varieties of flowers to help with pollination, pest control, and ground conditioning. One thing is pretty evident in this experience and that is making this garden work is going to take quite some effort. The ground we’ve been preparing was covered in weeds, Bermuda grass, and other grasses. These ground covers have been so persistent that whether trying to cover the ground with cardboard (in some areas) or completely tilling other areas, the grass comes back almost overnight.

We bought a wood chipper to make use of the vast amount of fallen trees and limbs in our woods. Hopefully soon we’ll have enough mulch to begin to fight the grass into submission throughout our garden.

Equipment

As mentioned, we added a chipper/shredder to our equipment inventory and look forward to the opportunities it represents. Our tractor has died again and we’re considering taking it in to a real mechanic as my engine skills have reached their limit with whatever problem this MF205 might have. We are considering the possibility of even selling this tractor off for scrap, depending upon the cost of repair, and purchasing a better and more reliable workhorse. Either option represents a considerable expense we have been hoping to avoid, but such is the farming life.

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).