Archive | May, 2013

Green Machine Farm gets a new Green Machine

26 May

Ok, so we felt a little silly having a farm named Green Machine Farm while driving around a blue Ford/New Holland tractor.

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Sure it’s a good tractor, but it’s clashing with the whole color scheme we’ve cooked up here.

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See, isn’t that better?

There has been lobbying going on for a while for a 4 wheel drive tractor. The snow, mud and all that slippery stuff has moved 4WD from the “would be nice” column on over to “need.”
Plus this tractor has a grand total of 95 hours on it. For all of you non-tractor folks, that’s like buying a used car with 2900 miles on it. It’s not quite due for it’s first oil change.  It still has that new tractor smell (it’s like new car smell, but with notes of hydraulic oil, manure and dirt).

So the new tractor ought to be with us a good long while.  We’re just itching to put it to work, although some modification of our current equipment (namely the front bale spear) will be required first.  Oh well, chalk it up to the price of progress.

Hammer fail

23 May

We were pretty happy with our newfangled Propane Hammer postdriver.  Our big steel drill-pipe fenceposts were going in well, but then we ran into a bit of a problem.

You see, the pressure of the propane determines the fuel/air ratio in the propane hammer.  So if the pressure isn’t in it’s optimal range (around 55psi) then it gets all wonky, meaning that is usually won’t fire more than 1-2 strokes at a time.

So you can imagine our concern when we pulled it out to drive our third post, and it wouldn’t fire.  The pressure was completely off.  After switching the cylinder for good measure, we checked the pressure, and cranked the regulator wayyy up to get it into the optimal range.

Once adjusted, it worked fine to pound in 2 more posts.  Except for the liquid propane that, as we noticed, was spewing from the center of the pressure regulator dial.   Not good.

A call to Tippman got us the explanation that “something gets off-center in the regulator” and we could pull it apart to fix it.

After voicing objections to having to “fix” a brand new expensive tool, they promptly sent us a whole new regulator assembly.

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With the new regulator, it works like a champ.  We’ll keep an eye on it and make sure it behaves itself.  But now at least we have a spare regulator to “fix” in the event that this little problem recurs.

Reseeding pasture on the cheap

22 May

If you remember from way back this past fall, I might have mentioned something about having a barn with a hayloft full of old loose hay and straw.

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This wasn’t a big deal until spring came, and we decided that it might be nice to have the hayloft cleaned out so we can actually use it. The hay and straw is a good 6-12″ thick in most of the barn, so that’s a lot of stuff that’ll have to go. We’re using the straw to mulch the garden. A few of the bales of hay are still in good enough shape to feed to the cows, but most of it’s so old that it’s junk.

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There’s some old alfalfa hay, pretty bleached out and brittle by now.

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And some old timothy & orchard-grass hay that’s past it’s prime.

So what to do with it all?

Well, I remembered something that I heard during a farm walk with the Green Hills Farm Project. I can’t remember exactly who, but the farmer was talking about how he’d buy old hay specifically to roll out on his weakest pastures. The cattle would then stamp it into the ground, adding organic matter and seeds.

Wouldn’t you know it? I’ve got a little bit of old hay to spare.

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And I know of a few spots in the paddock just over the hill from the barn that could use a little help.

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Sometime back before the 1960’s the state built up Highway 52 through Zumbrota to it’s current divided-highway size. In so doing, they built an overpass about 1/2 mile from our farm. Apparently, most of the fill material needed to build the overpass was taken from our farm, leaving a big gash in the otherwise good soils of our pastures.

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Most of the “gash” has healed itself fairly well over the past 50+ years. But the hillsides, like the above specimen, haven’t fared so well. It’s all exposed rocks, sandy soil, lichen and weeds.

So one load at a time we’re going to try to bring this particular pasture back.

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Old hay spread over the weak spots, cows trampled it in, and just in time, we got some rain.
Now we need to follow it up with a few laps of the pastured chicken pen and we might get this paddock back into shape.

Cows on grass

21 May

We did it!

It’s nearing the end of May, but we finally have cows out on grass.

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As I remarked on another blog, we are more constrained by fence (or lack thereof) than the condition of our grass. Sure, the grass was late in coming this year due to our rather excessive and persistent winter, but grass without fence is of no use.

So we’ve got our first official paddock, a nice little 2.4 acre deal just over the hill behind the barn.

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The cows are quite enjoying themselves. Just after being let into the new paddock, they commenced to running, jumping, kicking and generally partying like only cows on fresh grass can do.

Garden’s In

15 May

We’d located the old garden plot next to the driveway, but it had been quite some time since it had been tended to.

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The front-tine tiller wasn’t exactly cutting it. Luckily, we saw an ad in the local paper for garden tilling. Upon calling, it turns out it’s our neighbor (on the NW corner) and he stopped by 5 minutes later to take a look at the spot we wanted tilled.

The next day he showed up on a sub-compact John Deere tractor with a 5′ tiller, and proceeded to till up a nice big garden plot for us.

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4 rows planted so far, Brassicas (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), peas, beets, tomatoes, lettuce and probably more stuff that I can’t remember at the moment.

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The peas are trellised with a few T-posts and some twine.  The Tomatoes are being trellised with more T-posts, a high-tensile wire up top, with twine strung down to each plant (all 100 of them).

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Oh, and there are a few of these spiffy Honeycrisp apple trees, it’s only fitting, as they are the state fruit of Minnesota.

So that’s what we’ve been up to around here in the past few days.

First chicks of 2013

12 May

It must be spring, cause we got our first batch of chicks.

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Hard to believe these little peeping puffballs will be weighing in at 6# in 6-7 weeks.
There are only 50 chicks in the first batch, we’re hoping to gauge interest with these chickens. We need to figure out how much interest there is, what size birds our customer prefer, etc.

Much better to figure that stuff out with 50 birds instead of 5000.

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So there they are. Cute chicks hanging out under their hover brooder and being cute for at least for another week, at which point they enter their “awkward teenager” phase and their cuteness evaporates.

Chicken Mega-Waterer v1.3

11 May

Ok, so this is a pretty minor update, no major overhauls or anything.

Even with the adjustments that I did last time with the Mega-waterer, we still had a problem with excess moisture making it’s way into the bedding. It’s not that the nipples were leaking, but the chickens weren’t the most efficient drinkers.  The chickens peck at the nipple to release water.  Unfortunately, they don’t drink every drop that they release, and a few drops end up falling down into the bedding.

A few drops isn’t a big deal, but multiply those few drops by 50 chickens drinking several times per day, and you end up with enough water to cause a problem. Ideally I could just get smarter chickens that would figure out how to drink more efficiently, but chickens aren’t exactly known for their mental prowess.

If only I could come up with some sort of pan to catch the drips that’s slightly larger than the (21″ diameter) barrel.

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Say maybe a 24″ water heater pan?

$9 and done.

Despite the best efforts of a flock of ornery chickens, the bedding remains dry, the drain pan stays just damp.

Oh, and having just been through one of the longest Minnesota winters on record, I’m happy to report that the Mega-waterer (in all it’s iterations) performed admirably in below-freezing temperatures.  Throw a stock-tank heater in there and nary a single frozen nipple was witnessed all winter long.

Farmers Market Trailer: Part 3

9 May

As I wrote about before, we’ve been hard at work getting our farmers market trailer up and running.  It’s nearly there.

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After a lot of strategic cutting, caulking and cursing the dairyboard walls and ceiling are all finished. The linoleum floors are all done too. Very spiffy.

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Meanwhile, up in the nose of the trailer, the magic happens. That’s a nice little electrical outlet (110v) and light that we’ll use to power our freezer and refrigerator.

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There is a corresponding outlet on the outside of the trailer that allows us to plug in to a power source with an extension cord.
While we’re on the road we are supposed to be plugged into a generator, so the freezers are always on. We got our hands on a nice little Honda generator, but we’ve got nowhere to put it while on the road.

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But after one sheet of expanded steel, two pieces of angle iron and some crappy welding (mine), we’ve got a place to put just such a generator.

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After being postponed once last week due to 14″ of snow, we finally got our appointment with the MDA inspector. She spent approximately 5 seconds looking at the trailer and gave it her stamp of approval. She jotted down the make and model of our fridge and freezer, took my $85 check and issued our Mobile Retail Food Handlers License.

And with that, we’re ready for market and moving on down the to-do list.

The swallows have arrived

1 May

This morning I noticed a bunch of small birds flitting about over the neighbors pond across the road.

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After a while my curiosity got the better of me, so I walked down to the road to see if I could get a better look. They were still too small, too fast, and too far away to identify.
But I took a few shots with the telephoto lens.

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Sure enough, blue bodies, white bellies, slightly forked tail. The tree swallows have arrived.
I hope they all stick around, build nests, and keep eating flies.

Encouraging these little birds to hang around is our form of Eco-friendly fly control.  Instead of treating our cattle with a broad-spectrum insecticide that kills beneficial insects as well as flies, we build birdhouses. Tree swallows eat flying insects, and a lot of them.  The beneficial insects, like dung beetles are unharmed, and through their natural dung-burying behavior, also help to reduce the number of flies.