When I moved into my new home, I had a half completed project waiting for me in the background. This structure was originally intended to be a horse barn, but I’m not the type who enjoys feeding animals everyday nor do I enjoy making or stacking hay in the hot summer. So, I’ve decided to finish the building for use as [ Continue Reading at: http://itfarmersblog.com/?p=2807 ]
For the past two days, I’ve had one item which has topped my agenda: Finishing and testing out the cider press I’ve been working on. A good friend, Adonica in the picture above, heard about my project and … [ Continue Reading at: http://itfarmersblog.com/?p=2502 ]
Over the weekend, Rob and Maurice were cleaning up the horse pasture, and piling up the manure. After seeing the pile, I rushed off the get my tractor and connect the manure spreader. The manure spreader is a fancy wagon that is capable of carrying about a half truck load of manure from the field to my garden. The machine saves a great deal of manual labor, as in the past I had to shovel the manure into a truck, then shovel it back out. With this spreader, Rob could load the manure with his tractor, and I could use the flinging capacity of the spreader to apply a thick layer of organic fertilizer to the garden without touching a shovel.
On our first use of the machine, Rob loaded it up so that the manure towered nearly a foot over the edges. We all assumed that the tractor could pull the wagon heaping full of manure, and it worked with some rough driving. In order the steer the tractor I had to use the rear brakes, as the front end tended to lift itself off the ground. Then just as I passed over the small rock wall on the edge of my garden the manure spreader experienced a mechanical malfunction: The hitch separated from the spreader.
The spreader was constructed with a hitch and a handy built on spacer that keeps the hitch from laying on the ground. The whole hitch assembly was held together by four very rusty bolts which snapped as I tried to pull the wagon over the small rock wall. Luckily we found four bolts in the barn that fit the assembly.
After reconnecting the hitch it was time to try out the spreader. At first the machine seemed to be working with all of the gears moving but no flying fertilizer. Soon we found a mechanism which advances a track system in the wagon. The tracks force the load back at 1/2 inch intervals, and when the manure moves back far enough, the rotating spikes in the tail end fling the manure in every direction.
We all decided after the first load to fill the spreader only half way, since the tractor had trouble negotiating the hill with such as heavy load. The lighter loads helped smooth out the whole process, and before I knew it I was gaining confidence in this new tool. All was well until I noticed the tires inner tube bulging out the side of the wheel. I knew this could be a show stopper as flat tires don’t tend to turn well, but I kept on driving and kept constant watch. After nearly half of the work was done, I noticed the bulge in the tire missing, and curiously the tire was only about half flat. If the inner tube was punctured, the tire should have lost all of it’s air, but it did not. I decided not to wonder why it was still inflated, and figured I’d just be happy and keep working.
When the whole garden was covered, I took this picture which shows the layer of fertilizer covering the garden. The garden begins along the row of trees on the left, and runs behind the greenhouse out to the edge of the field where the poles are sticking out of the ground.
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While finishing up mowing the field which surrounds my garden, I got the bright idea to make a movie of the tractor ride. I used the shoulder strap to hold the camera in place just below my chin, so the video is a little bumpy.
There’s a new tool on the farm, one that’s been needed for far too long: a John Deere tractor. Now that it’s finally here, it’s time to get serious about spreading manure. The manure spreader has been on the farm as long as I can remember, but it was never much use without a tractor to get it moving. Before we could use the spreader, it needed to be oiled up, and prepared to work. The machine has been sitting idle for years, so we had to knock off some rust here and there, add air to the tires and replace a few pins.
The bucket on the front of the tractor is very useful for getting giant scoops of manure and plopping them into the holding area. When it’s full, simply pull it to the field, and flip a lever. The cart then uses the rotating motion of the wheels to power a series of gears which fling the poo everywhere, and in just the right amounts. Manure should be allowed to rot for a year before spreading it, or spread it at the end of the season. I can’t express just how much work this tool has saved me, as I used to do all this work with a pitch fork !
After all of the progress in the garden, I finally got around to planting these “Black Raspberries”. My sister gave them too me last year, and they have been sitting in buckets next to my walkway. When they were in the ground, I mulched then with some straw to prevent weeds from growing nearby.
To replace all of the energy I expelled during the day, I figured it was time to try out something new. In the fall of last year we bought a “half-cow” or all of the meat cuts from the animal. Since I’m not used to the names of the different cuts, it’s been a trial and error learning process about how to cook it. I like to keep things simple, so a frying pan, and some butter seemed appropriate. I then cut up the “English Roast” to help it cook better, and tossed in a few Stuttgarter onions from last years garden. Just as I was about to finish up, I ran out and grabbed some Chard, and added it before calling the whole concoction “edible food”. I really enjoyed the taste, so I thought I better add this to my blog so I won’t forget how it’s made.
Kids: Don’t try this at home ! If the gases do not properly escape during heating, you will be in trouble.
Somewhere during my life, I either learned this lesson myself, or picked it up from others: “The longer ahead you plan, the greater the reward”. I decided this weekend to plan ahead for the days when snow will fall, when everything pertaining to the outdoors will become more difficult. I’m starting early this year by re-digging the pit where my Bio-Char barrel resides, and gathering some sticks and other burnable materials. This Bio-Char cooker is a big part of my commitment to lower my Carbon Footprint.
Above is the most basic form of Bio-Char cooker I could find online. It’s terribly simple: Place a metal barrel over a fire, with some holes in the lid. In a normal fire, the Carbon would bind with Oxygen atoms, and create Carbon Dioxide, or if the wood is left to rot, it will decompose into Carbon Dioxide and Water. By keeping the wood in the barrel it will cook all of the gases out, leaving mostly Carbon behind. The Carbon is then added to the soil, where it will be trapped for hundreds of years, and this carbon won’t contribute to global warming as CO2. It’s also very good for soil once it’s been activated.
When the gases cook out of the wood, they expand due to the heat, and they’re flammable. Prepare to see these jets of gasses burn out of the holes like afterburners on a jet. If your thinking of trying this your-self, I would recommend bigger holes in the lid !
When it’s time to light this candle (after some snow falls), I’ll stack wood all around the base, and under the barrel. The setup requires about four times as much wood on the outside which will be burned then what will be converted to Bio-Char. Even though 1/5 of the carbon in all of the wood will be removed from the carbon cycle, the 4/5 burned will make it into the atmosphere early, perhaps by a few years. In the future, I hope to expand the ratio of Bio-Char to Carbon Dioxide by stacking several barrels, and using the flammable gases from the lower barrels to cook barrels on the top. For now, I can bury a little carbon, and at very least, lower my impact on the warming planet, while improving my gardens soil.
It may still be fall for most people, but for this IT guy there are two seasons: Winter and Growing season. Winter is a time for restocking, weather it be nutrients in the soil, or tools for the next year. This is a time to think about what has worked, and what has not, a time to plan what next years harvest will include.
As far as tools go, I lucked out recently when shopping at the local dollar priced store. You see, I was going to purchase these mechanical timers a few months ago, when there was a 50% off sign nearby. When I got to the register, they rang up at full price: $6. The frugal man in me proclaimed that they were marked half off, to which the attendant explained this item was excluded. I felt I had been the victim of a bait and switch, and even thought the items were worth the full price to me, I declined the purchase.
Then this last Friday, while my nephew was paying for his usual skittles and soda, I spotted a shopping cart marked “90% off” in the same store. I looked inside to find these Mechanical Timers, which contain water valves. If you set them to 30 minutes, the valve will be open for that amount of time. These would be a perfect addition to my watering habits. I can now set the sprinkler in the middle of the garden, add the appropriate amount of time, and walk away ! No more trudging trough mud to turn the water back off, and no more missing bits of my favorite shows. The best part is, after tax, each timer cost a whopping 63 cents.
Later in the weekend, Jenny and I were surveying the odd vegetables available to our climate, and made a list of new items to grow next year. Top of the list: Pak Choi, followed by colorful Swiss Chard, Purple Carrots, Bird House Gourds, and maybe even some…. gasp…. Brussel Sprouts.
When picking the final peppers before the first hard frost of the year, I found this pepper plant with four small peppers. They were too small to harvest, but too big to ignore. I dug up the plant, and placed it into an indoor pot, and set it by a large window. The plant is growing quite well, and I’m hoping to get four large purple peppers smack dab in the middle of winter. If it grows as well as the indoor pepper plant I had last year, I may replant it back in the into the garden in June 2011. That should really turn some heads if I can get fresh peppers before the end of June…. I guess well see.