Friday, May 28, 2010

A welcome rest at the end of the week

It’s been a good week. Lots of work. I’m glad that it’s the end of the week and we have a day of rest – a welcome respite every week. Normally, I don’t like to post without photos, but I decided to go ahead tonight, mainly because I didn’t take any pictures this week.

On Monday, my friend Jon came over (he’s coming over on Mondays and Wednesdays to work with me), and we dug footers for the porch and kitchen on the new house. We also planed some boards that will be used for the upstairs subfloor.

On Tuesday, the children and I worked in the garden. The potatoes were really needing weeded. The children worked on weeding Monday and Tuesday. Then, I tilled between the rows. The potatoes in this particular plot haven’t done as well as I would like. I think the wet weather after they were planted didn’t help. In the morning on Tuesday, I also bought 100 80-pound bags of concrete mix in order to be ready for pouring the footers on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning was the scheduled delivery for our coop order. Thankfully, Danny offered to get it for me. I had a few things to do to be ready for when Jon arrived. Once he got here, we began mixing and pouring concrete. Thankfully, I bought an electric powered concrete mixer from Lowes a few weeks ago when we started working on the cistern again. It worked great powered by my Yamaha generator (which is so quiet you couldn’t hear it over the noise of the mixer).

We started with the footer for the kitchen. I ran the mixer while Jon dumped the concrete and tamped it down. It took 54 bags to finish it, mixing two at a time. We used three bags of concrete for each of the porch footers (one for below each post). The mixer was just able to hold three bags worth, and we were able to position the mixer for each one so that we could dump straight into the hole. It all went very smoothly. We mixed 98 bags of concrete and got the job done. I was a little tired at the end of the day!

On Thursday, I cut some wood for the cookstove, and then the children and I worked in the garden. We planted some sweet corn, more green beans, zucchini squash, and cantaloupe and set out another 100 sweet potato slips (we now have 300 sweet potato plants growing). I also bush hogged where the cows have grazed during the last two weeks, mixed some manure with wet hay, adding to one of the compost piles, and tilled the field for growing beans and squash. The children and I ended the day with a swim in the pond, the same as we did on Monday and Tuesday.

Today, I replanted the corn field because it looks like only about 1/3 of the corn we planted two weeks ago came up. I don’t know why it didn’t germinate well. It may have been too wet. I do know that crows ate a good bit of it right out of the ground. I used the garden planter to replant today. It took a bit of work since I didn’t work the ground first (I didn’t want to disturb the corn plants already up). Hopefully, what I planted today will germinate and grow well with little interference by pesky crows.

I also planted our dried bean seeds. The rows in this field are 80 feet long (give or take 15 feet). I planted 4 rows of small kidney beans, 12 rows of pinto beans, 12 rows of red beans, and 12 rows of horticulture beans. I also planted several kinds of winter squash, some pumpkins, okra, and cantaloupe. Then, this afternoon, I went to town and bought some concrete blocks and mortar mix to be prepared for more work on the new house on Monday.

Oh, I also completed some class work (I’m teaching a six-week section during the summer session) in the mornings before everyone else got up. There are a few other things I did during the week, but the ones I’ve mentioned are the major ones. It was a good week with lots of things accomplished, and I’m glad that it’s Sabbath now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The cistern, continued: ferrocement construction

In March I posted about working on our cistern. Since then, I’ve been able to work on it a few more days. My good friend Jon has come over to help in the construction. He’s actually helped with some other projects to and will continue to do so through the summer.

Before the cistern project, I had never attempted the construction of a ferrocement water tank. I first became aware of this type of construction through my dad who found information about it online. It seemed like a neat concept, so I did a little research on it myself. I found a book online that provides instructions. The strength of a ferrocement water tank is provided by a steel armature which is the plastered with a cement sand mixture.

At the time of my last post about the cistern, we had completed the floor framework and poured the concrete for the floor. I was concerned that the floor wasn’t going to set up as it was supposed to. It acted differently than concrete I’ve worked with before. But, it did set up quite nicely. So, construction has continued.

cistern 004After the floor we began building the walls. The process involved putting welded wire around the perimeter. Then, we added vertical rebar and horizontal rebar. Then, we began framing the roof of the tank.

  The book details the building of a round tank. Because of where I’m building our cistern and the amount of water storage I desired, I decided to build an elongated tank. It is 9 feet wide and 14.5 feet long. I’ve calculated the cistern’s capacity to be 5,300 gallons of water. I changed the plans to suit my application, opting for extra steel in the armature cistern 003to make sure the strength will be more than sufficient.

For the roof, we bent sections of 1/2 inch rebar that were wired into the frame all the way around. Each of these sections was bent as identically as possible. There will be an opening on top. Rather than make it round, I designed it to mirror the shape of the tank. It will be about 2 feet wide by 8 feet long.

Today we finished installing the rebar in the roof, including horizontal rebar. The next step will be to put another layer of welded wire on the inside of the walls and on the roof. Then, we’ll put on some poultry netting and expanded metal lathe before beginning the plastering process. It’s coming along nicely, but it will still take a few more days of work to complete it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summer kitchen

We’ve been keeping busy around here. There is still quite a few things to plant in the garden, but there’s still plenty of time. We’ve set out tomatoes, sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, and broccoli plants and planted some peanuts, squash, cucumbers, and beans. That’s not counting the potatoes, peas, onions, and salad greens we planted earlier. We’ll be planting more squash, summer and winter varieties, more beans, okra, corn, etc. as we’re able. It rained today, so we’ll have to wait for the garden to dry out a bit. I also planted nearly half an acre of corn last evening. Today’s rain should help it germinate quickly.

I have a friend who is coming over here to work on house-building-related things with me a couple of days a week now. That helps to keep me on task so that we can get things done. There are so many different projects to do that it can be difficult to focus specifically on just one. Some things get put off when something else demands attention. With Jon coming over to work, I’m forced to focus my energy and efforts on some specific projects that need completed.

016This week we worked on the summer kitchen. We’ve been using the wood cook stove on the porch quite regularly since I set it up a few weeks ago. Our plans were to enclose the porch, making it into a summer kitchen.

We built walls (only needed on two sides) on Monday. On Wednesday, we put on siding, screened window openings, put trim around the window openings on the outside, and reglazed some windows. I have seven windows that a friend gave me two or three years ago that have been stored in the barn that we’re using for the summer kitchen. We hung one window – the others will be002 installed in the coming week.

With the walls and screen, a lot of bugs will not have easy access. That’s a good thing. I have to do something about the leaks in the roof. The roof has leaked since I put it on when I built the porch a few years ago. I’m pretty sure that most of the leaks originate in the junction between the porch roof and the house roof. The shallow pitch of the roof also has an effect. I’ll attempt to rectify the leak situation soon. With the rain today, we didn’t have rain blow in the windows, just leaks from the 005roof in a few places, especially when the rain was pouring down hard.

We acquired the sink and cabinet from a friend who removed it from someone else’s house. It’s a single sink with double drain boards and a white metal cabinet. I haven’t hooked up water to it yet, but I’m going to. We’ll run the drain outside and use the water for irrigating Anne’s flower garden.

You can see my clothes hanging up to dry in the last photo. I got soaked doing chores this morning. I had to chase the neighbor’s cows (10 Holsteins and a calf) off of our property (I hope he fixes that fence sometime) while it was pouring down rain. Then, I set up some more paddocks for our cows since I was already wet.

We’re already pleased with our summer kitchen. It’s going to work out quite nice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

General update: rain, compost, & cows

It’s a beautiful spring on the homestead. We’re keeping busy, of course. There are always more projects to do than it seems possible to get done.

There is still a lot of gardening to be done. We got in some early stuff a few weeks ago like potatoes, salad greens, onions, and peas. I’ve been waiting until May to put in the other things like tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, etc. We had some much needed rain(three inches) a week and a half ago. This last weekend we received another 11 inches of rain, 8 of them during the day on Sunday. That was more than we needed in such a short period of time. We didn’t have any flooding here, but the small river in the local town flooded several places.

One of the blessings of the flooding in town has been a lot of extra composting material to be hauled from the sale barn. They were underwater, The pilefive or six feet deep in places, on Sunday. So, they’ve had to clean out everything. They called me yesterday morning to ask me to help haul away wet hay and manure. I hauled yesterday afternoon, all day today, and will be hauling more tomorrow. The guy who regularly hauls off their manure and bedding brought out several loads today, too. So far, I’ve put together a nice little compost pile.

On April 28 Josey, our Guernsey, had a calf. She was due to freshen by the end of April, but she just didn’t look pregnant. Smokey the calfEven though she hadn’t been in heat, I began to wonder if she was actually going to have a calf. She had a little bull calf. We let it nurse for the first 2 or 3 days and then took it off to bottle feed it. It still gets milk from Josey, not milk replacer. I would have left him with Josey, but I don’t want weaning problems later on. She never weaned her last calf, and he was 20 months old when we butchered him. Ramiah named the new calf Smokey.

I also finally got the cows out of the barn and back on grass this week, Monday evening actually. I was regularly cutting them fresh grass to eat every day for a while while they were still in the barn. One of the things that made it so late for getting them out was preparing the milking shed. I don’t want them coming back to the barn to be milked. It’s too far from their pasture and creates other problems because I need to be able to drive where the fence would need to go. Stanchion in milk shed

I had already built a shed to use as a milking shed a couple of years ago, but I had never put it to that use except for a brief period of time last summer. I’ve fenced in a small area to hold them at milking time and constructed a milk stanchion. It’s worked pretty well so far this week.

One of the things I’m doing this summer is rotating the cows onto new grass each day. In fact, my goal is to rotate them twice a day. Since I have to milk them twice a day, I will bring them into the loafing area, milk them, and then put them in a new paddock. I’m going to make use of fenced corridors from which they’ll access paddocks I’ll fence off. While they were in the barn, I fed them hay twice a day, morning and evening. It seems to make sense to give them fresh grass to each on the same schedule, kind of like green hay still on the plant.

One of the challenges for me in terms of intensive rotational grazing has been water. This summer I’m going to haul water from the pond in a tank to fill a trough for the cows. Their water trough will be in the corridor so that I don’t have to move it and so that they will have access to it.Today's paddock

So far, Josey, Tilly, and Buster (our beef steer) have been on four different paddocks. You can see how they grazed today’s paddock (photo to the left). Happy cowsThey were happy to have fresh grass this evening. Moving them twice a day won’t create much more work than moving them once a day since I have to bring them in for milking anyway. I’m hoping that it’ll work out well.

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