Retaining Walls, Rubble, and the Roundabound

Free!
Free concrete rubble.

Free is not free.  You have to load it, unload it, get it stacked and placed. Thankfully my core has been strengthened recently or I would be writing this with 3-4 ibuprofen in my system. I am guessing we have loaded and unloaded 4-5 tons of rubble. Some of it has been used to build a retaining wall where our building site has a steep slope.

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We also added a round about, which after watching Darth Vader give directions we constantly refer to as the “roundabound” in our best baritone voices and giggle a little.

Our truck has a 30 foot turning radius and with a trailer attached it is a real pain to get pointed the opposite direction on our driveway. I’m a better trailer-backer-upper than a year ago, but we needed a better solution. We measured it out and went to work with the tractor.

Then we tested it and fine tuned. The low spot gets a little soggy so we added lumber wrappers, (free) for weed control in lieu of geo-cloth and dumped two loads of rubble before ordering rock.

As usual what seemed like huge loads barely make a dent here. The scale of what we are doing always surprises us.

After a lot of back blading with the tractor and a few ferocious trips around the circle with the truck, tractor, and our little Land Cruiser things started spreading evenly and packed down. We’ll cap it with some 5/8 inch crushed rock when we are done messing about on it and when it rains a bit.

 

The trouble with collecting materials like this is than now I keep a weather eye for useful stuff. But we have to have someplace to put it, preferably neatly and close to where we intend to use it so we aren’t moving it two or three times. When I spotted a pile of bricks at our friends’ farm I had two plans. We could use the broken bits for fill, and the salvageable bricks seemed useful for a patio or fire pit. With the help of my daughter we filled the truck and trailer – with broken bricks toward the back to make unloading more orderly. Then I piled the usable bricks in a tarp and we had a little work station. At some point we’ll have clamp-on pallet forks and I can move the neatly stacked pile to the work site with our tractor.

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Roll, Roll, Roll in ze Hay!

Hay and straw. Now we have a reasonable supply.

Around here this is the season for haying and everyone is getting rid of last year’s stock trying to free up space in their barns. We WANT last year’s hay and straw, we have a lot of projects that benefit from it and since we are in the soil building stage every we grab every bit of extra nutrient we can.

We decided to store it under cover and although our chicken area wasn’t designed with this in mind we have it filled with year old hay and straw. Once again we moved things twice instead of once. (This is my newest pet peeve.) After we had loaded 48 bales of hay we got word that our organic dairy friends down the way were unloading last year’s 500lb bales so we moved the hay down the line and added 8 big bales.

Not only are they awesome people, it is a joy to be able to talk about soil biology and pasture health with someone who is interested in it too (and doesn’t just roll their eyes). LeFemme even got to bottle feed a calf.

Unloading was easier using the tractor. Last year we did it by hand.

…but it was a tight fit.

After breaking a bale trying to grab it from the narrow end I got smart and used a chain to get it into position.

Double wide stack of hay closer and 8 big bales of barley straw farther away.

Now we have a handy pile to use for carbon in our compost and mulch for plant beds. Tidy and dry. My daughter suggested that she could sleep on the fluffy pile but it is a 6 foot drop if she were to roll off. Besides, this is organic hay and straw so there are the occasional thistles and sticker vines to make things interesting.

 

Posted in Barn, Compost, Mulch, Permaculture, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Getting to Mow You…

“…getting to mow all about you”. While the diesel engine rattling along our grassy hills was hardly the Sound of Music it was nice to be able to knock down the grass and continue building our pasture without having to borrow or rent.

Since L had gone down a day before me to take delivery she also took it upon herself to break it in and begin mowing.

 

…and in 5 foot swaths it took 16 hours to do. Why mow at this great expense? Until we have animals on the pasture doing the job we want to maintain the pasture. Leaving 6 inches of grass in place ensures we don’t have much root shear and actually encourages grass and forb growth that evolved with massive herds munching them seasonally. It discourages plants like thistles and bear grass which really can’t manage getting hacked repeatedly. Cutting long grass puts down a decent amount of organic matter too, so it helps rebuild soil that has been depleted by years of haying.

It rained while we were mowing putting our fancy sun shade – rain shade to the test. It kept us surprisingly dry.

I also scythed several truck loads of canary grass to mulch our garden beds. We may be the only people in the world who see that tough invasive grass as a resource.

With all the mowing and scything, and pitching and spreading we were pretty tuckered out by the end. On the trip home we blearily discussed timing and order of our digging projects.

New tools mean more work.

 

Posted in Farm Machines, Mulch, Permaculture, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Truck Unloader-ator

We picked up a new gadget at Harbor Freight the other day after a neighbor mentioned it. For the price, we figured it was worth a shot.

Worked great for chips, a little less so with our long canary grass which tended to wrap around the roll as it came off.  Logs need to be pulled away from the wheel well indents so they don’t hang up on the wheel wells. I am pretty confident it will work just as easily with gravel. We are keeping our fingers crossed for dairy cow poo which is a smelly, hour long and back breaking chore to get out of the truck bed. The hour long part might be made easier… smelly is just the price of high quality nutrient in our compost piles.

I’ll update this post with the poo video after the weekend, but I recommend you finish your lunch before watching. :-)

Posted in Tools | Tagged | 6 Comments

Does That Come in Blaze Orange?

Blue skies, 68 degrees, a beautiful day to weed whack around the fruit trees on the swale at the top of the hill. I was at the farm by myself  weekend before last as M needed to stay home to finish putting the Land Cruiser back together after fixing an electrical problem.

After I finished weed whacking, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and snapped a shot to text M. I like to keep him apprised of my progress lest he think I’m out here sipping mint juleps on the veranda [that we don't have yet].
As I walked down the hill back towards the camp trailer, I remembered there were some native lupines I wanted to make sure didn’t get cut down when we mow the fields (I’m saving the seed to sow in the food forests as they are nitrogen fixers). I traversed back and forth trying to remember where I had seen the lupines before the grasses took over. My how things had grown in just the last week! I found several lupines and whacked a wide area around each one so they would be easy to spot from the tractor [that we don't have yet].
I continued on down the hill, went straight to the shed and put the weed whacker away. I reached into my pocket for my phone to text M the picture and IT WASN’T THERE!
I could not figure out how my phone could have fallen out of my pocket – I was wearing cargo pants with super deep pockets and there were no holes. I went up and down that hill at least twenty times trying to retrace my steps. I also went back and forth along the swale and even retraced steps I was sure I had taken before I had snapped the picture. After two hours of searching, I jumped in the truck to find a neighbor so I could use their phone to call M at home and have him call my cellphone about a zillion times as I retraced my steps yet again.
No answer on his cell phone. No answer on the home phone. I left messages, but all I could hope for was that he’d get the message right away and start calling my phone as I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the field (it’s about 3 acres) wondering if he was trying to call or not. To add insult to injury – we have very poor cell reception at the farm, so even if he did call my phone might not even ring.
Can you see it?

Do you see it?

My neighbor didn’t have a cell phone, but said his wife would be back in about an hour and she had one. Not too long after that they showed up and we tried a few spots, but got nothing. They insisted on leaving their cell phone with me because they didn’t want me to be by myself without some way to call for help in the event of an emergency. It sure is nice to have good neighbors who barely now you [yet] and still care about you. After they left I retraced my steps calling my cell phone every 10 feet straining to hear that tune my phone plays. Nothing.
I finally got a hold of M later that evening and he said he’d try the cell phone locater feature. Once it locates the device it sends you an email.  By this time it was 930 pm, dark, I hadn’t eaten anything, and the neighbors cell battery was just about to give out. Luckily the phone charger we keep in the truck fit the neighbors phone. So I had to call it a night and hope that the phone locator service provided a location with enough accuracy that I could actually find it.
M called at 11:00 am the next morning when he received the cell locater email. It’s a satellite picture showing the location within 20-30 feet, but I can’t receive it so he has to describe it to me over the phone. It sounded like the area I had been focused on, so I got down on my hands and knees and crawled all over that area combing through the grasses. Still nothing. I hiked back down the hill and grabbed a rake. I combed through everything again. Nothing.
satellite image of phone location

objects may appear larger than they are

I hiked back down yet again and brought the weed whacker back up to cut a wider swath. I cut all the way to the ground. NOTHING!  aaarrrggghhhh. I also brought up a shovel and poked around in the swale (which has filled up with water from the pond overflow). Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Do you see it now?

Do you see it now?

At this point I’d spent the better part of the weekend looking for my stupid phone so I called off the search, returned the neighbors phone and got back to work.  Despite the unproductive time spent searching in vain, I shoveled out a truck load of cow manure building up 4 x 8 compost pile, emptied five 5 gallon buckets of chick manure into another compost pile, washed those buckets out, weed whacked all around the camp trailer and equipment shed (not to mention the weed whacking around the fruit trees that started this whole fiasco), sowed more seed on the hugels, peeled logs and scrubbed them down with a borax solution to kill the mold, and pruned the deadwood off of the fruit and nut trees.
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The following weekend with M and the satellite picture in tow, we headed down to the farm. M is the finder of lost things. He has found rings on the side of the road that flew off of my fingers while pulling off a glove riding on the back of his motorcycle (more than once), so he was pretty sure he was up to the task.  Of course, within ten minutes he found it. and of course it was but a couple of feet from where I stopped the whacking and searching.  Talk about a bittersweet moment.  I was thrilled he found it as I, being the finance manager on the team, didn’t want to have to spend the money to replace my smartypants phone, but ding dang it – I spent hours and hours looking for the darn thing and it was literally right in front me.  What’s that saying – if it had been a snake it woulda bit me.
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M marched back down to the tool shed and a little while later presented me with this
I guess orange IS the new black

I guess orange IS the new black

He paints his tools with blaze orange paint so he can easily spot them in the grass.  Smarty pants.
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The Tractor Factor

We have been hemming and hawing about getting a tractor for over a year. There are projects galore we could use one on. Rototilling, digging ponds and swales and trenches for water and sewage lines, turning our massive compost piles, moving drainage rock, and getting the last nine logs we harvested in September under cover. We need to mow now before it gets too tall to do it in a single pass.

We don’t have a flatbed trailer either which complicates things.

Risk of breaking down and the threat of another project has kept us out of used and inexpensive tractors. I don’t need another mechanical project, I have quite a few and they are no longer relaxing. They are gumption blockers that feel like emergency quick fixes and just add to the pile of anxiety and get in the way of getting things done.

I would love to have the time and mechanical skill to get an old Ford or Massey Ferguson. I would also love to convince myself that a subcompact 25-27 hp could do the job. We’ve been looking at 30-35 hp models with enough weight to pull a subsoiler and carry a 20ft log safely, the difference in price is significant, and that eats into money earmarked for home construction which I know we have underestimated.

The allure of a shiny new package deal is strong. Warrantied and cared for properly is a big deal. Buying used has the looming specter of a tractor that might look good, but was “rode hard and put away wet”.

Backhoe
Yeah we have a lot of digging to do. 600 ft of well line, 300 feet of septic line, ponds, ponds, ponds. Swales might be doable with a loader bucket but only with a bigger tractor. We could rent a ditch witch. If we stuck with a big name brand we could dig until we are done and sell the backhoe.

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Magpie at the “pondle”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grapple
Having had a friend’s Bobcat with a grapple we have found it invaluable for limbs, logs, and turning compost. Given the amount of selective logging and small road clearing we will be doing for years to come, this has moved high on our must have list.

skidsteer

Loader
Dirt, back blading, cheater swale digging, gravel moving, feed lifting, and just to use as a counter weight with pulling a disc or plow or subsoiler. This is a non-negotiable integral part of the tractor for us.

Mower
Needs a stump jumper, and having enough cutting power to get through two inch debris is important. Clutches and shear pins help keep the shaft and moving parts from breaking when things get bogged down. We need to mow down to 6″ to drop grasses down to add organic matter to the soil and not damage roots.

Buying New
So not wanting another project and not finding a used tractor that was significantly cheaper than new, we started digging deeper into new tractors. We looked at Deere, Kubota, Mahindra, Branson, Jinma, and Bobcat. Evenings were spent comparing tractor specs and crunching numbers.

After more than a year we finally made a decision. The Kioti CK30. I wish we didn’t have to use a tractor, but I’m glad we finally have one.

Posted in Compost, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

You Say Raised Bed and I say Hugelkultur

You say tomato and I say tomater. Sing along with me now…

Since building the hugelkultur beds was somewhat of an unplanned event (we were trying to take advantage of having use of the trackhoe and skid steer), I didn’t have a planting plan for them. With it being the middle of winter they couldn’t be planted out anyway. And then before you know it early spring arrived and I still didn’t have long term planting plan worked out.

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Not wanting the pasture grasses and weeds to take over, I needed to get something growing on them asap.  I had cover crop seeds I purchased last fall but was unable to get them sown when the barn construction was delayed, so in early March I sowed them in the zone 1 area along with Alsike and Ladino clovers, a mix of mustards, buckwheat and daikon radish. I sowed clovers, mustards and daikon on top of the hugels along with some fava beans.

Clovers coming in and a "creative event" (bird poop = phosphorous)

Clovers and daikon coming in plus a “creative event” (bird poop = nitrogen and phosphorous)

Since I had a lot of potatoes left over from the harvest last fall, I also planted them in the hugels in late March.

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What a mucky, messy job to do in the rain.

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I was surprised at how many potatoes I still had on hand as I originally only planted 40 pounds of seed potato last year. These are the varieties and yields from the harvest last fall:

German Butterballs – planted 10 lbs/yielded 65 lbs
French Fingerlings – planted 5 lbs/yielded 27.5 lbs
La Ratte Fingerlings – planted 5 lbs/yielded 57.5 lbs
Yellow Finn – planted 5 lbs/yielded 18.5 lbs
Yukon Gold – planted 5 lbs/yielded 22 lbs
Rio Grande Russets – planted 10 lbs/yielded 46 lbs

I started out with 40 lbs and ended up with 236.5 lbs. While not HUGE yields, keep in mind I used the dry gardening method (from Steve Solomon’s book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades) which yields smaller numbers of tubers but a much more nutrient dense potato than those grown commercially with lots and lots of water. You space farther apart between potatoes as well as rows. Since they are planted in spring when we get lots of rain, they get off to a good start, then they are on their own after that. Mulching after you are done hilling up really helps. If you think about where potatoes originated – in the Andes where it is a very dry, cool mountain climate –  they are able to forage for water quite well. Steve Solomon founded the Territorial Seed Company, sold it in 1985 and now lives in Tasmania where he continues to write gardening books.

I planted more seed potato in the hugels this year than I started out with last year AND I still have a lot of potatoes leftover, despite the fact we have eaten more potatoes this past year than ever before. Most of what was left at the time of planting the hugels were pretty shriveled and soft with lots of sprouts, but I have at least 15 pounds in pretty good shape that we are currently eating. They are quite surprisingly very flavorful even if they aren’t the most attractive potatoes in the bin. They beat a store bought spud hands down. Although I won’t be hilling the potatoes on the hugels or watering them, I expect to get enough potatoes to keep us in spuds until next spring.

To fill in the rest of the hugels, last week I sowed small sugar pumpkin, pink banana, sugar hubbard, crookneck and zucchini squash seed. With the two hugels being about 220 feet long combined and sowing the seeds at different levels on the slope, that works out to be 220 row feet of potatoes and 440 row feet of squash! Too bad I’m the only squash fan in the house.  I really just wanted to get as much coverage on the hugels as possible and since I had a lot of squash seed from previous years leftover plus saved seeds from the four gigantic pink banana squash our good friends S & J gave us last fall – I thought that should do the trick. If we have an over-abundance of  squash that actually ripen, we will donate them to local charities/organizations that could use them, give them to friends, share some with the chickens and I’m sure the wonderful lady we get our Tamworth pork from would be happy to feed some to her hogs.

The idea behind burying the wood in hugelkultur beds is that the wood will soak up moisture holding it in the soil and slowly releasing it as the woody material breaks down, providing the plants with long term access to nutrients and adding amazing amounts of organic matter to the soil.  This works well for us given we are only able to get to the farm on weekends and especially because the possums ripped out and chewed up our drip irrigation lines last fall. Those little rascals…

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Posted in Crops, Gardening, Permaculture, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments