Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spreading more compost

It didn’t rain last night (there was a chance). So, this morning, I spread compost on the small field near the orchard, at the end of which I planted the 50 asparagus crowns earlier. My compost spreading process involves two tractors, 003a manure spreader, a loader, and a field cultivator.

This is the field before I started. I disked it a few days ago. Last year, we tried to grow corn here, but the crows and other varmints interfered with that. The soil doesn’t have a lot of humus, appearing to be mostly clay. Like much of the other ground on our farm, it was used to grow tobacco in the past. There were tobacco stalks in it when we moved here almost eight years ago.

I took compost from the piles at then end of the field. Yesterday, 005I used from one of the piles for spreading on the garden.

The manure spreader that I have is an old one that I bought last spring. Of course, it’s not as old as the one I used before I got this one. I’ve only been able to use this one the last couple of days even though I bought it a year ago. Thankfully, it worked fine today. I pulled and powered it with my 1966 International 424. 008This has been a very good tractor since I bought it 7.5 years ago. I use it for just about everything.

Part way through the process, I took a photo of my progress. I’d already spread 10 loads at this time, and the first pile was completely removed and I had started on the second pile. I loaded the spreader with the loader tractor. 011I would’ve liked to have used the Bobcat, but it needs the battery charged. The voltage regulator doesn’t work on it. I ordered another one. Hopefully, that will keep the battery charged.

In all, I spread 13 loads on the field. I estimate each load at around 3,000 pounds. Since the spreader is PTO powered, I ran the tractor in first gear to allow the compost to be spread as thickly as possible. I also went over the same ground at least twice. It’s amazing how little it looks like when it is no longer piled up.

Once I finished spreading, it was time to rip the compost into the soil. I didn’t want to leave it on the surface to dry out and lose some of its goodness. 013Thankfully, most of the time while I was working it was also overcast.

The field cultivator I used has seven shanks and does a really nice job. This ground was a little harder than the garden I worked yesterday. So, I couldn’t get it to go in quite as deep. Almost as deep though.

It started to rain a little just as I finished working the compost into the ground. I considered that a blessing. It wasn’t much rain, but it was nice to have a little to wet the compost into the ground a bit.

The final photo is of the field after I finished. The soil doesn’t look much darker than before in the photo, but it is a little. It will take several years of working in compost to get it where I would like it to be.


We’ll use this field as a second garden area. I don’t know that we’ll use all of it this year. What we don’t, I hope to sow buckwheat or some other beneficial cover crop on.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warm and dry in March

Last post I mentioned how we usually warm up and dry out in March. It happened again. We’ve been experiencing summer-like weather for the last few days, and it’s been keeping me busy.

On Sunday I had 50 asparagus crowns to put in the ground. I put lots of compost into the trenches I had already dug and set the asparagus crowns in it. I was able to get them all bedded, and hopefully they’ll be happy.

I also plowed an area for our field corn. It’s not a very big field, but hopefully we can grow enough for corn bread. Last year the crows ate the seed out of the ground and then the raccoons and deer tried to demolish what the crows missed. Hopefully, we’ll do better this year. I’m going to spread a good bit of compost on the soil before it’s time to plant since this particular plot has some poor soil. I actually plowed it a few years ago but didn’t plant anything in it. So, it’s had a bit of a break. I think it previously had tobacco planted in it, as just about every field here has.

Yesterday, I planted the nine cherry bushes that were anxiously waiting to be set in dirt. I put two in front of the house so that we can enjoy their blossoms in the spring. The other seven I set out in a row near the new asparagus rows – they’re on the edge of the orchard. I used the 12” auger on the tractor to dig the holes which was much easier than using a shovel. I dug them deep and put lots of compost in the holes before planting.

Yesterday afternoon I spent working on the manure spreader. I bought the spreader last spring, and the first time I went to use it, the apron chain broke (that’s what walks the material to the back of the spreader). I’ve been needing to fix it, and it’s been waiting patiently. In anticipation of spreading some compost on the gardens, I decided it was time to get it done. I took the chain out, replaced the floor with some new beech boards I had (it had a plywood floor with a few holes).

After buying the necessary hardware and links for the chain, I bolted the floor boards in, repaired the chain, and put it back in. I wasn’t able to try it out until this morning. It seemed to work fine, though. However, on the second load, another link in the chain broke. So, I had to shovel everything out. It occurred to me that at that point, I had shoveled more stuff out of the010 spreader than it had actually spread for me. I replaced the broken link and made a few adjustments, and then it worked fine.

I spread the pile of manure and bedding we cleaned out of the barn last fall – that was the accumulation from the winter before. Most of that I spread with the loader tractor and a grader blade after the manure spreader broke. I used a friend’s field cultivator to rip the material into the dirt and work up the ground. Then, I spread several more loads of compost from another pile on the garden and ripped it in.

I’ve got another garden area to spread compost on and to work up. If we don’t get much of the rain that’s possible tomorrow, I’ll see about doing that later this week.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Putting plants in the ground

It felt a lot like summer today. Our high was about 80 degrees. We had rain a couple of days ago, but the warmer temperatures and breeze that has been blowing is beginning to dry things out. Usually, there are a couple of weeks in March/April that it dries up enough to work the garden and begin getting some things planted. It’s till too wet to work up our main garden area, but maybe we’re getting closer to that drying period.

001I did work in the dirt a bit yesterday and today. A couple of months ago, I ordered some plants. They arrived this week. So, I thought it would be a good idea to get them in the ground.

Yesterday, I planted three Rosa Rugosa plants that Anne ordered free from Gurneys. I planted some in front of the house we lived in before we moved to Kentucky, and we enjoyed them. One of the reasons for getting them now (besides the fact that they were free with the Gurneys’ promotional coupon) is that Rosa Rugosa produce many nice-sized rose hips. We want to harvest them for tea.

009Also yesterday, I put six hazelnut trees in the ground. We would like a good nut source. The wild nuts around here are hickory and black walnut. Primarily, we’ve used hickory nuts.

I’ve been digging into one of my compost piles, the smallest one actually, for these plantings. Today, I dug into it a bit more for the strawberry beds. I finished my work on the Bobcat earlier in the week and was able to use it for moving the compost. 005About three years ago I framed two beds about four feet by 50 feet using some cedar boards and slabs. I added some compost to them and planted strawberries.

We had a few strawberries the next summer, but the deer and weeds were hard on them. Few actually survived. So, yesterday, the boys pulled out all of the old weeds from the beds to get them ready for today. This morning, they dug out the few remaining plants, and I filled the beds with compost. I would say the layer of compost was 6 to 8 inches deep. We then used grub hoes and then the tiller to work it into the soil in the beds a little.

Once the beds were ready, we planted the 100 strawberry plants that arrived two days ago. We also replanted the ones that survived from the previous planting. Later, after they are established, we’ll mulch the plants well to help keep down the weeds. 011I think weeds are the greatest problem with growing strawberries.

We still have 50 asparagus crowns to put in the ground and some cherry bushes, too. This afternoon, I disked the area where we tried to grow corn last year. At one end of it, I used the turning plow to dig two ditches. 014On Sunday, we’ll put compost in the ditches and plant the asparagus in them. We’ll also put the cherry bushes in the same area – it’s actually on one side of our small orchard which seems like a good place.

Later, I’ll put compost on the ground I disked today. We’ll use it for garden along with the main area in front of the new house which will also receive as much compost as I can spread on it. I can see already that I won’t have enough compost and that I need to haul in a lot more stuff.

We’re enjoying the spring weather, for sure. Next week, we ought to be able to get the cows out of the barn and back on grass. They’ll appreciate that, I’m sure. It’s really nice to see things greening up and the early spring flowers. One of our plum trees just bloomed today. There will be a lot more blooms on other trees soon.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mechanical project (Bobcat M500 tear down)

Last spring I purchased an old Bobcat M-500. The guy I bought it from sold it cheaply because he wanted it out of his barn. I paid to have it hauled from his home in Michigan to here (about as much as I paid for the machine), but I deemed it a good buy since it ran and worked. I was able to play with it a few days and was pleased with it overall. It had some issues, but it seemed like it would work fine for my purposes.

Then, it wouldn’t start. There was a click when I turned the key, but the starter wouldn’t turn. Since I was busy working on my house, I parked the Bobcat in the barn until I could devote some time to remove the starter. Finally last fall, I found time to remove the starter, only I couldn’t remove it without pulling the engine out. I was able to get the solenoid off of the starter without any problem, and I thought that it was probably the culprit anyway.

I took the solenoid to the local guy who works on starters. He said solenoids like that one rarely if ever go bad, that it was probably the starter. If I’d bring it in, he could check it out. I didn’t really want to have to remove the engine, but the machine continued to sit there waiting for me to do the job that needed done.

So, last week, I started on it. It became clear that I would need to remove the lift and everything else off of the Bobcat in order to be able to get to the engine. Although I’ve been working on it at what seems like a slow pace, everything is going well. 001I’ve broken a few bolts which I’ll replace with new ones when I reassemble everything. I pulled the engine this week – I have a chain hoist secured to a metal truss right above the Bobcat. That made it easy to lift things up and off.

It was easy enough to remove the starter and also the generator (it’s questionable that the generator has been charging as it’s supposed to). I’ll be taking both of them to have them checked out and repaired.

With the engine out, I could see I’d need to pull the flywheel because a couple bolts on the side were loose. Thankfully, I was able to get the flywheel off without too much difficulty, and I’ll only need to replace the bolts with ones a little longer than the originals. As I was loosening the flywheel, I realized that the head gaskets (there are two – one for each cylinder) weren’t holding the compression – I could hear air escaping from the head when turning the flywheel (the pistons were pushing air out at the heads and pulling air in on the return stroke). I just ordered new head gaskets this morning – I was amazed I could find a set since Kohler no longer supports this old engine.

Before I reinstall the engine and put everything back together, I’m going to give the old machine a good cleaning and spray on a new coat of paint – nothing fancy, though. I’m hoping that the engine will run better when I’m all done without leaking head gaskets and that the Bobcat will prove to be a useful tool around here. The starter problem which prompted this project is 006a blessing because it revealed other repairs necessary and is resulting in cleaning up and getting the old machine back into the useful shape it ought to be in (I was just going to use it dirty).

On another note, our pond is once again full. We had enough rain at the end of February to top it off. It’s nice to see it full once again – it’s been several months. I’m hoping that the water won’t seep out of the bottom like it did last year, that it will hold water better this year.

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