Sunday, April 17, 2011

Compost & mulch in the orchard

Things are really greening up around here. It’s so pretty with all the new leaves coming out on the trees. Spring is a neat time of year. Around here it’s also a wet time of year. We received nearly five inches of rain during the last week. The ground is saturated, but it’ll dry out before too long.

There are a lot of jobs that need done around the farm during Spring. I keep plugging away at the things that need done. Last week before some of the rain, we composted all of the blueberry bushes and mulched them with wood chips. I worked the compost into the soil around each bush before putting the mulch around them.

Today, I worked in the orchard. Last year I didn’t give the fruit trees the attention they needed. With plenty of compost available this year, I didn’t want to neglect them again. I was going to till around each tree, but the pull rope on the tiller broke. I’m going to have to fix that and a couple of other things on it tomorrow or the next day.

So, instead of using the tiller, I used a grub how and worked in a circle around each tree, working up the soil out to the drip line of each tree (as far out as the branches extend). There were 14 trees, I think (I forgot to count to make sure). Once I had the ground worked up around all of the trees, I mowed between the trees with the bush hog. 010Then, I hauled compost to them. I put half a loader scoop at the base of each tree.

I used my grape hoe to spread out the compost. It ended up being 4 or 5 inches deep around each tree. Then, it was time to mulch them. I put a full loader scoop of wood chips at each tree and spread it out beyond the composted area for each one. A few of the trees didn’t need a full scoop of mulch. So, 008I put the extra around the little hazelnut trees I set out a few weeks ago and a little bit around the cherry bushes.

The orchard looks nice and neat now, and I hope the compost gives the trees a nutritional boost. The wood chips will keep the weeds down and will provide nutrients as the break down over the next year or so.


The children and I have hunted for morels several different days during the last couple of weeks. We’ve looked for them in previous years, too, but the most we’ve ever found is about 20. 002I’ve read about where to look for them and have tried to note where we find them growing, but there’s been little consistency. Basically, they grow where they want to.

Last week we did find about three dozen of the tasty little buggers. We’d had rain a couple days before with some cool weather. As it warmed up, some Morels popped up. We probably spent two and a half or three hours looking on our ridge to find these. The photo shows a few of the ones that we found that day.

After washing them and cutting them in half lengthways, I sautéed them in butter, and we enjoyed them as a special treat for dinner. They were very good!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cows on grass and gardening

We moved the cows out of the barn and back onto grass this week. They seem happy, and our milk production has gone up. 025I’ve provided them with some hay to make sure they have enough roughage as they transition back onto green stuff, and they are doing well.

After I moved the cows out, I started cleaning out the barn. They were in the barn for four months. I used straw and saw dust for bedding while they were there, giving them fresh bedding every day and letting it accumulate during the entire four months. 028Two full grown cows and two young steers can make a lot of manure mixed with bedding in four months time.

I used the Bobcat to start cleaning it out. The way the barn is set up, I can only get the Bobcat straight in from outside and clean a pathway across the cows’ area inside. There isn’t room to turn and clean out the rest mechanically. We’ll have to clean out the other 80% by hand, or at least loosen it and throw it into the middle so it can be moved out with the Bobcat. We’ll complete this work over the next couple of weeks, I hope.

On other blogs, I’ve read about people starting their garden plants inside over the last couple of months, 015but I didn’t get any of starts going until yesterday. I have no place inside our current home for starting seeds. In the past I’ve started seeds in the basement of a previous home under grow lights or in a greenhouse. I don’t want to use the power to keep a grow light on with our electrical system now even if I had the space/place inside for it.

Without a place for starting seeds and with the length of our growing season, I’ve not worried about having not started my seeds yet. So, yesterday, 014I mixed together some growing medium (one part compost, one part peat moss, and one part rich dirt) and planted some seeds: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. I put them in some flats I had from last year and set them under a makeshift greenhouse.

The makeshift greenhouse is a metal framework with plastic stretched over it. When I checked it a couple of times today, it was nice and warm and moist inside. I think with the warm weather we’re having, the seeds should sprout fairly quickly. I don’t plan on setting plants out until mid-May. So, if all goes well, they should be ready by then.

Then, today, the boys and I planted some things in the garden. First, I worked up an area about 30 feet by 30 feet. 020Using my grape hoe (an wonderful tool), I pulled dirt into four ridges. I filled the trenches left from pulling the dirt together into ridges with wood chips about 6 inches or so deep. This makes nice walkways with material that will break down over time, feeding the worms and adding to the soil. Then, I smoothed the tops of the ridges with a rake, making rows about 18 to 20 inches wide for planting.

This afternoon, we planted several varieties of lettuce, spinach, beets, swiss chard, and carrots in these wide rows. 023We also planted several rows of sugar snap peas in another area right beside the first one. We’ll be planting a lot more things in the coming weeks.

I had an interesting experience while using the Bobcat to the wood chips from the big pile to the garden: a wheel fell off. Apparently, the lug bolts had come loose, they worked themselves out. I hadn’t noticed this was happening. As I made a turn to head into the garden, the wheel fell off, and the Bobcat sat down on its haunches. I found three of the bolts and borrowed one from each of the other wheels to reattach it before continuing with the work.

After finishing the planting, the children and I went for a swim in the pond. It was a bit cool, but we all enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Bobcat M500 back together

A few weeks ago, I wrote about working on my Bobcat M500. I had to take it apart in order to pull the engine so I could get the starter off of it. The starter was in need of repair – the brushes were completely worn out. I also had Jack (the local guy who works on starters) check the generator, and it tested out fine, thankfully. That meant that something else was causing it not to keep the battery charged.

While I had the Bobcat taken apart, I cleaned it a bit. It had quite a bit of grease and grime on it. It probably could’ve used a good power washing, but since I didn’t have access to a power washer, I used soapy water, a brush, and a rag. I also purchased some cans of cheap spray paint and gave it a new coat of paint. It was nothing fancy, just something to cover up some of the scratches and places where the metal was bare.

While I had the engine out, I discovered it needed new head gaskets. Amazingly, new ones are still available – Kohler doesn’t support the engine (K662) anymore, but they apparently still have some engines that use the same head gaskets.

After getting the new gaskets installed and the repair starter on it, I completely rewired things. I welded a corner of the operator’s cage which had come apart 015(it’s home-made by a previous owner) and gave it a new coat of black paint. I also painted the wheels and rear weight red.

Putting it back together went well. I had to replace a few bolts that hold things together. Of course, when I had the engine back in and before I had all the other things put back, I checked to make sure it would start and run okay. It did.

After getting it all back together, I had to run it and check things out. It worked well, but I noticed the batter wasn’t charging. I suspected the voltage regulator, and, when I tested it, it was clear that it wasn’t working (it regulates the voltage from the generator for charging the battery – alternators have built-in voltage regulators). 017So, I ordered a new one, and when I arrived I put it on. it solved the problem.

The only other problem I had was that the air filter needs replaced. I still have to find one or figure out a way to put new filter material in/on the current one.

Since I got it back together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve used it around here some, and it is quite handy. I’ve moved compost and have loaded some manure and bedding into the truck to haul it to a compost pile. The only complaint I have about it besides that it’s almost underpowered (it is amazingly strong for its size and small engine) is that it drinks gas at an alarming rate. These old Kohler engines aren’t known for being fuel efficient.

Yesterday, I hauled the Bobcat to the stock yard in town. The company that owned the stock yard went bankrupt. So, it’s closed. Anyway, before it closed, the guy who ran the place had the power company tree trimmers dump several loads of wood chips for him to use in their back lots instead of rock (wood chips would keep the cows out of the mud). I liked this idea (it was my idea), because I intended to get the wood chips and manure later on.

However, since the place closed, the pile of wood chips has just sat there looking forlorn and lonely. When I asked, I was told that I might as well get the wood chips if I wanted them. So, I used the Bobcat to load them on my truck and bring them home. I used my smaller truck and trailer to haul the Bobcat, and then after bringing home a small truck load of manure/bedding (all that I hadn’t already gotten – I left it in case anyone else wanted it, but it was still there after four months), I drove my big truck back. 007I loaded and hauled six loads with the big truck, approximately 72 cubic yards of wood chips.

They’re all piled nice and neat here on the farm, now. It’s very satisfying to push things into a nine foot tall pile for some reason. We’ll use wood chips for garden walkways and to mulch around trees. When I get some more manure, it can be mixed with them. If they’re just left to break down, they’ll make some excellent compost on their own.

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