Between a [lot of] Rock and a Hard Place

We’ve had a hard time finding a well company to help us with our off-grid pump and line install.  We’ve been strung along all summer by two different companies who in the end decided off-grid was not their area of expertise.  Thanks for wasting our [very little to spare] time.  We are on to well company number three – they actually carry the particular type of pump we want to use and so we are keeping our fingers crossed they will come through for us.

While we wait for the well stuff to get worked out (fingers crossed) we decided to switch the order a bit on some of the other tasks we need to complete asap, so I started getting the materials together to button up the curtain drain.  That seemed easy enough.  Or so I thought…

I had to head down a day early as plumbing supply and gravel yards are only open during the week. Then I had to pick up the supplies from three different places enroute to the farm because, of course, none of them had all of the items we needed in stock. The gravel pit ran out of 1 1/2 inch drain rock and was short a truck but said they might have 1 inch rock and would try to find a contract truck. They would call me back the next day. It wasn’t until 5:05 pm the next day when I realized they never called back. Dang!  We are over two hours away, plus there were the three stops along the way. In order to be at the farm in time for 60 yards of rock to be delivered (5 dump truck loads) – I would have to leave by 630 am that morning just in case they could deliver.

Needless to say I was a stressed out mess, trying to coordinate everything (which includes the usual weekend prep work of packing everything we might possibly need including tools, food, supplies, getting the animals that were staying home set up, filling propane tanks and diesel tanks, etc… ) – but in the end they did find a truck and had enough 1 inch rock. Whew! Another crisis diverted.

I get down there in plenty of time to meet the driver. The bit of rain we had earlier in the week made the ground just mucky enough that the truck was unable to dump the rock at convenient locations along the curtain drain and so had to dump most of it in a single location.

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Mid-way through rock deliveries the driver was called off for a “rock emergency” (must have been the county project that used up all of the 1 1/2 inch rock!) and they asked if they could bring the rest of the rock the following Monday.  Aaaarrrggghhh!  If we lived there – no problem, but ding dang it – I’m going to wear myself out before we ever plant a vegetable! They must have sensed the panic in my voice (I had not been well all week and had not slept well either – making things seem a lot more dramatic) and was able to squeeze in another delivery at the end of the day (I hope the driver got OT for that one) for which we were extremely grateful and much relieved.

Over the weekend we were able to get all of the drain cloth in, all 380 feet of drain pipe installed, plus a couple of feet of rock on top of the entire run.

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The next step is to fold the drain cloth over the rock, secure with landscape staples and top off with more rock.  We were able to do this step on about 1/3 of the curtain drain before we had to pack it up and head home.  Not bad considering things seemed to be falling apart at the seams (no pun intended!) a couple of days earlier.

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The following week I planned to head down again on Friday morning so I could pick up a box scraper from the tool rental place. We would use it to re-level the site so we could then backfill the curtain drain with the excess dirt and hopefully have it ready in time to sow the 100 lbs of cover crop seed I ordered a while back.

Again – simple enough. The weather was cooperating and it felt like we were getting back on schedule. I planned to get there early enough on Friday to put a big dent in closing up the drain cloth and topping everything off with the rest of the rock, leaving most of Saturday and Sunday for re-leveling. Since the rental place is closed Sundays, I would have to stay over to Monday morning to return the box scraper.  When I have to be at the farm on a Friday to take rock deliveries, etc…, M rides his motorcycle into the office and then heads down to the farm after work. We have a motorcycle carrier that hitches up to the truck so we can ride home together on Sunday evenings if I don’t also have to stay over to Monday.

So far, so good. I pick up the box scraper, button up most of the curtain drain and spread a decent amount of rock. M will be pleased when he gets here.

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M called that evening and told me that as he was heading out the door at 4:58 pm he was waylaid to do a last minute project at work.  He didn’t get down to the farm until 1030 pm that night. That is a long, cold ride at night –  but he arrived safe and sound.

Saturday morning we are finishing up the curtain drain when my back goes out and I’m in excruciating pain. I’m trying to take it easy but it’s hard as I’m [again] so frustrated and stressed out about everything that needs to get done. See how pain and lack of sleep change your perspective?  M assures me not to worry – he finishes up the rest of the curtain drain that afternoon and gets ready to take the backhoe off of the tractor to hook up the box scraper.  Despite the pain, I’m starting to feel better and better about getting get caught up. We are making progress. We always make progress – in spite of the bumps in the road along the way. I just have to keep reminding myself of this.

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What’s that saying – don’t count your chickens before they hatch?  Arrgghhh.

The hydraulics that operate the backhoe suddenly quit working and he can’t get the backhoe off. Even if we could somehow get the backhoe off without the hydraulics, the PTO isn’t working either so we can’t use the box scraper. The weird thing is – the front hydraulics are ok. It doesn’t make any sense.  M checks everything he can think of but being new tractor owners – that knowledge is somewhat limited at this point.

Well, maybe things got a little overheated and it just needs a cool down. We wait awhile then try it again but it still won’t work. It’s pretty late in the day at this point so we might as well call it “beer-thirty” and enjoy the lovely evening. After all, tomorrow is another day and by then the tractor will be completely cooled down..

Next morning – Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Crap. It’s a Sunday, so no tractor shops are open.  I remind M that his little brother (who lives in Illinois) is a diesel repair guy and didn’t he work on tractors when he was in the Marines?  M eventually gets a hold of him and they troubleshoot several different scenarios throughout the day over the phone but still nothing.

Now it’s late Sunday afternoon and M needs to hit the road. He’ll have to call the tractor dealer Monday morning and see if they have any ideas. We are still hoping it’s something simple that we are missing and that M can fix it because the logistics of hauling this thing out of here to the dealer is a nightmare at best.

Well, to make a short story even longer – M talks to the tractor guy who suggests it may be a pinched line or a blown seal.  M grabs more tools so he can take the seat off to access the rest of the hydraulic lines and heads back down to the farm after work on Tuesday evening. He has to use a headlamp to take the tractor apart and inspect the lines for pinching, blown seals, etc… as we don’t have any power in the barn yet.  Good times.

At 1030 pm that night I get a call saying he can’t see that anything is amiss so we will have to take the tractor back to the dealer. As it is still under warranty, we need to go to the dealer we purchased it from – a good 2.5 + hours from the farm. And we don’t have a trailer yet. M rode down on his motorcycle and I am at home with the truck. Blerg.

So, I get up at 500 am, feed and secure the animals and head down to the farm. We borrow our good friends (and constant saviors!) S & J’s trailer (they live about 15 minutes from the farm), load, strap and chain the tractor up and hit the road. Me in the truck hauling the tractor and M on his motorcycle heading to work.

I dropped the tractor off about 1230 pm Wednesday.  The tractor guy says it might take them a few days as they have never encountered an issue like this before – the front hydraulics operating but not the rear. I don’t leave there feeling too confident about getting the tractor back by Friday so we can use it this weekend.  I try reciting my new mantra “we always make progress – in spite of the bumps in the road along the way”, but man the bumps lately have jarred me so much I have a constant buzzing in my head (and low back pain too!).

Oh well, there’s a super awesome taco truck across the street from the tractor dealer. A couple of tacos and some sopes will set me to right. Then it’s back in the truck and the long journey home…

 

Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | Tagged | 6 Comments

Using Your Noggin

Or looking for a Darwin Award Nomination?

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I’m not sure if the picture shows it clearly enough, but neither of the rear tires are touching the ground.

No worries. It was all part of the plan…

There is a pretty steep descent down to the curtain drain that we needed to trench through for the well line. The always clever and innovative M decided we could chain the tractor to the truck and ever so carefully back down the hill together, me in the truck and M on the tractor.

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Once he “straddled” the curtain drain, I unhooked the chain, drove the truck around to the other side and we hitched up again to pull the tractor onto terra firma.

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I have to admit I was skeptical and a bit worried. I even tried to talk him out of it, but M was pretty confident the plan would work. And it did. Thank goodness.

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Posted in Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | Tagged | 2 Comments

Time. Is It On My Side?

Let’s hope the Rolling Stones were right as we have a lot of plans for this fall and they are going to run smack dab into the all of the summer projects we are trying to finish up.

Summer projects included getting anything done that required dry, firm ground for the tractor. Oh, and can I say how much we LOVE having a tractor?  Digging holes, trenching, moving logs, grabbing huge piles of branches, turning compost piles, moving dirt, lifting straw bales – all thanks to our trusty tractor Wiley (he’s a Kioti you know). We debated long and hard about whether or not we should get one, and man are we glad we decided to bite that bullet.

So to recap the summer to-do list, we moved the rest of the logs under cover, got in two mowings (it takes about 16 – 18 hours to mow our property), the roundabound is 98% complete, retaining wall is built, built a couple more large compost piles, thinned out the woodlot and secured this coming winters firewood supply, limbing up Douglas firs to prevent frost pockets and chipping the branches is getting under control, and we are in the middle of trenching for the well line.  Speaking of thinning the woodlot, we just heard back from the county and our forest management plan was approved so we should see a significant break on our property tax bill next year. Yay for us!

This weekend M reached the end of the swale and made the turn down hill towards the barn.

It's all down hill from here

It’s all down hill from here

Once he hits the top of the curtain drain (just beyond the Douglas fir behind him), he needs to stop trenching for a bit while I have a zillion yards of drain rock brought in.  Once the drain cloth, perf pipe and rock are installed in the curtain drain we will backfill on top with dirt and then re-level the site to ensure water moves away from the barn and the future house site.  M will then finish trenching from the curtain drain down to the barn and God willing – we will have running, pressurized water!  Woo Hoo!

Another project we are trying to finish before the rains set in is caulking the underground cistern.  It’s about a 20′ section of an old grain silo we put in the ground last winter and plumbed our barn roof runoff into it.  Within a month of installing it, a section of metal crumpled from the force of the water (an underground spring?) about halfway down. No one saw that coming, but yet it holds water up to that point.  From there up it seeps out (all underground and on a downhill slope), so we are sealing all of the seams and bolts and hoping that will keep more of the water in.

Now I know there is nothing lurking at the bottom, but there is something a little creepy about lowering myself into that cold, dark water…  It was about 90 degrees this past weekend, so I quickly got over my creepies and enjoyed the cool respite.

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We’d like to dig in another swale but not sure we are going to have enough time to get everything else on our plate done, and as we had to learn the hard way with the first swale – you need to plant it out completely so the pasture grasses and weeds don’t take over.  And you also need to fence it to keep the deer from devouring all of your freshly planted trees and berries…

Next week we will be digging perc holes for our septic permit. We need to get those dug while the soils are dry and the water table is low.  We also want to get our septic design submitted and our perc holes inspected now to make sure we won’t have any conflicts when we are ready to start the micro-hydro project.  Our septic design guy has convinced us we can install the septic system ourselves (his wife installed theirs!) but thankfully we won’t need to start on the install until next summer.  It just means another long, wet winter with the composting bucket…[heavy sigh]

On the fall to-do list is to sow more cover crops in the zone 1 area to help build that compacted clay soil into something more hospitable for our eventual gardens.  The Chicken Food Forest is also going to be staked out and the perimeter fencing installed so I can get the trees, shrubs, vines, etc… I’ve been growing at home planted this fall. Not all of the plants will go in the chicken food forest – we need nitrogen fixers and other supporting plants for the nut trees, and some of the Black Locust and the Paulownia’s will be planted in various spots around the property for their quick shade and mulching properties.

Finalizing our design and filing our permit to build out a section of the barn for an eventual processing kitchen and a bathroom is next on the list. If we can pull that off we will spend the wet months framing the space out so we can install our solar battery bank in the space above and hang the solar panels on the roof of the barn. Hopefully by next spring we will have power in the barn. Imagine that – running water, electricity and dare I say it? – a flush toilet!

Posted in Barn, Construction, Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Water Management | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Taking Stock of the Nursery

I’ve been growing more trees, shrubs and vines for the farm here at home from seed (saved and purchased) and some from cuttings of plants I already have. From seed – true comfrey, sea buckthorn, Szechuan pepper, paulownia, osage orange, black locust, copper sedge. From cuttings – white concord grape, golden hops, golden raspberry, rosemary, bay, hardy fuschia, lemon geranium, hydrangeas. Plus I dig up the alder, hemlock and cedar seedlings I find in my home garden and hold them in a raised bed until I can plant them out at the farm.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I'll be able to save my own seed this year.

True Comfrey grown from seed. Some are flowering so I’ll be able to save my own seed this year. I’ve been feeding the chickens armloads of this stuff all summer.

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

Purchased Weeping Mulberry and Fig with lots of Black Locust grown from saved seed. I have 48 seedlings out of 60 seeds sown earlier this past spring

More Black Locust

More Black Locust

I also have some fig and mulberry trees I purchased from a local nursery using my customer appreciation punch card, so they were “practically free”.  I earned a bunch of points and then spent them during their big 40% off fall sale.  Trying to stretch that dollar every chance I get.

More purchased figs.

More purchased figs.

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Szechuan Pepper with Osage Orange in the background – both grown from seed

More Osage Orange

osage orange

The plan is to plant my stock out this fall.  What I didn’t factor in was how ding dang big and fast everything would grow! The $64,000 question is how the hell am I going to get those trees transported without destroying them? They are 6 and 7 feet tall and seem to be growing by the hour.  It’s a 2.5 hour drive in a pickup truck.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers.

Paulownia aka Empress Tree. These are fast growing, coppicable and wonderful mulch makers in addition to being a beautiful shade tree with lovely flowers. I grew these from seed last spring. They died to the ground over winter and came back with a vengeance! I thought I was going to have another year of die back but the trunks are pretty substantial.

These trees are only a little over a year old - look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures.  See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

These trees are only a little over a year old – look at the size of those leaves!! They will only get bigger as the tree matures. See what I mean about being excellent mulch makers?

My yard and deck feel like a jungle but I know as soon as we get everything transported to the farm, it will only be a drop in the proverbial bucket.  This will be a whole lot easier when I have a greenhouse, nursery beds and easy-to-access water for getting plants established directly on site.  Just another layer of complication when you are split between two locations.

Posted in Gardening, Mulch, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Damn Backseat Driver…

 

Anyone remember the pushmi-pullyu from Dr. Dolittle?

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Kind of how I felt this last weekend trenching for the well line.

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M thought it would go a lot faster if I moved the tractor forward when he was finished digging a section with the backhoe, but I’d have about 20 – 30 seconds of work and then wait what felt like 10 -15 minutes (M says it was only 3 – 5 minutes) while he dug the next increment.  It did not feel like the most productive use of my time, so M just switched back and forth on his own.  It was definitely slower, but then I was able to chip piles of branches and fill the cargo trailer with more compost and mulch material.

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Starting at the well. Only 597 more feet to go… You can see the barn in the background – that’s where he’s headed.

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By the end of the weekend M trenched about 175 feet. He’s almost to the end of the swale and then he will start to head down the hill towards the barn.

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He didn’t spend the whole weekend trenching as there were plenty of other tasks to be undertaken like greasing the backhoe, and then running around the countryside trying to find a zerk to replace the one that popped out in the process.  Oops.

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M is getting pretty good with that backhoe. I’m hoping now he will use it to scoop cow manure out of the back of the truck so I don’t have to pitch fork it out anymore!

Posted in Farm Machines, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Water Management | 2 Comments

Keep Them Loggies Rolling

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Another weekend and more fussing with giant logs. This chore is part of our resource accumulation for future projects. These logs are the raw materials for posts and beams in our future house. If we can keep them dry, remove the bark (a nutritious hiding place for agents of decay) and keep them covered we will have a useful stockpile of lumber and posts.

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Now that we have a machine to move these big boys we want to get them under cover and debark them so they can dry rot free. It is far from a one person job even with the machine, chains need to get hooked up, and to operate the backhoe the hydraulics need to be swapped from the grapple. Most importantly someone needs to spot while 1500 lbs are being hoisted and moved. We would like to not damage our new barn or ourselves.

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One of the biggest logs will need to be milled in place, I have a little chainsaw jig that will do the job, but it is petty tedious and time consuming.

We have four logs that we can’t put on the pile until this latest batch is peeled.  Unfortunately in their not-so-green condition it will take a bit longer.  At least we hauled them out of the field and placed them on stickers near the barn so we can easily maneuver them on top of the others later.  Now we can mow the field!

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The tops will be used for fence posts and other small building projects.  Not sure where we are going to stash these in the meantime.  I suppose we could put them inside the barn since they are easier to maneuver than the big boys.

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I can’t wait to start building a house, if only to get the shed back for more utilitarian uses.

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Posted in Barn, Forest Management, Homesteading, Preparing the land, Sustainability, Tree Care | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Barn, Construction, Preparing the land, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments