Friday, October 29, 2010

Hillside Mulching

So there's a lot of bare ground on some hilly slopes as a result of the logging for pastures this year. We haven't had very much rain since spring - just enough to trick a little bit of seed to sprout her and there. Poor sprouts, must be getting pretty thirsty.

So I found a guy in Elkins who'll sell me round bales of hay for $5/bale. They a year old, and have sat out in the rain. He's got dozens of them, and will sell me as much as I need/want. The bales are easy to spread...just push them out of the truck and let 'em roll. I'm doing three things in one here, for really cheap.
  1. I'm protecting soil. I'm concentrating on the roads the skidders used to haul logs out. They're compacted, and are chutes for erosion. The hay covers the soil and stops run off.
  2. Seeding for pastures. The hay came out of cattle pastures - mostly fescue, ryegrass, clovers, foxtail, etc. This is grass that grows well here, even in a continuous grazing system. The first step is to get grass growing to hold the soil. Maybe in a couple of years we'll worry about the finer points.
  3. I'm fertilizing. Believe it of not, hay has a lot of nutrients - actually comparable to an equivalent weight of chicken litter except that litter has more nitrogen than the hay and the hay has more potassium (K) than the litter. The hay, as it slowly breaks down, releases it's nutrients over time instead of all at once like chemical ferts and can be taken up, even by the small seedlings. Essentially, I'm mining nutrients from someone else for $5 a pop.
Getting the hay efficiently is yet another challenge. It doesn't make sense now to buy a trailer - it would tie up a bunch of money for something that would get used only occasionally (although greatly appreciated when used). Some day, we'll end up getting one, but for right now, it makes sense just to trade firewood for trailer use with a neighbor. I've got an abundance of wood, but a paucity of trailer.

The ball sizes were different, so while Carla and I double teamed the hitches to get 'em changed. I was pretty impressed with her strength...she's one good-lookin and strong lady.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hay Wagon on Blocks

So I bought a very old, very neglected haywagon off of Craigslist last week. It's around 60 years old and spent the last decade or two rusting in a pasture. The boards and tires were rotted out and, needless to say, it is in sore need of some love and care.

Late last night, I headed out to southern Washington county and put the wagon chassis on blocks. Before that though, I had to bust the lugnuts loose. The guy I bought the wagon from had rigged up an electric impact wrench for me to use, which sounded like a good idea.

Unfortunately, decades of neglect and rust made the only feasible way of busting the lugnuts off human power, more specifically Spence-power. Taking care not to blow my back out (thank you Operation Iraqi Freedom), I was able to use my weight to bust the nuts loose (the tires', not mine!).
Some were in there VERY securely, like the one above. I actually sheered the bolt in two us. Yeah, I got super-strength. So what?

I'm taking the rims into town on Monday and see if I can find some used tires somewhere. I doubt it, but it's worth a try. I'm not sure if I'm just going to rebuild the wagon or turn it into a Eggmobile. Probably the former. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lost in Translation

Truck means jungle gym in goat speak

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple Picking

So a week ago, we headed out to a co-worker's organic apple/pear/fruit orchard. He and his wife used to run a mail order nursery a while back, and he's an amazing resource on all things fruit. It was amazing to see what he built on his hilltop.

Northwestern Arkansas was at one point the heart of the nation's apple industry. At the start of the 20th century, there's account of nearly the whole county being bathed in white when the apples bloomed in the spring. Cider abounded, pigs gorged themselves on apple millings, and apples were packed into barrels and shipped all across the country.

Then the fruit industry packed up its bags to the Northwestern States, where the grass was greener...or at least fireblight and cedar apple rust free. The mills shut down, the factories closed, and the orchards were neglected and eventually cut. The ban on unpasterized cider in the 90s killed the last vestiges the local apple industry.

But these trees soldier on, and produce even through summers as tough as this years. I really need to plant some fruit trees...

Apples, Here we come!

Asian pears...the drought proof fruit
This is us - the Spencers

This is the usual course of family outings these days...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tarp Goat Damage

So apparently, a bent cattle panel covered with a tarp, like the one on the pen below, is an irresistible climbing challenge for a goat.

For weeks, I couldn't figure out why my tarps were falling apart. It's not like we've had any hail (or rain) in months, so any weather-derived pounding was ruled out.
What the ?

The culprit, as it turns out was an adventerous (or onery depending if you're human or caprine in nature) goat. I was feeding the layers one morning when a goat just ran up and over the hoop pens. The goat's sharp little hooves punched right through the tarp, but up and over she went. It reminded me a lot of running through snow that has a crust of ice on top.

The goat herd up on the hill, no doubt enjoying my consternation

Three steps forward, one goat hoof back.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Willie Nelson at FarmAid

So work sent me to FarmAid. I met some really awesome people there. The show was at Miller Stadium in Milwaulkee, where the Brewers baseball team plays.
Front View of the StadiumLot's of room inside - around 35,000 people came
I ended up doing an interview over Sirius radio, and luckily the interview was backstage. The DJ doing the interview was from a small town in the Ozarks in Southern Missouri. When he found out that I was from a small Ozark town in Northwestern Arkansas, I was golden. I ended up staying backstage, and the producer to me to one of the best spots in house, and told me to enjoy the show. I did.From left to right - Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews throw down to "Homegrown". All together - Pretty neat!

There were a lot of bands there, but the headliners were the board members for FarmAid - Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews. It was pretty cool. Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) dropped in for a song as well. Unfortunately, my view was blocked by a piano.
His mouth scares me
Considering that the pics were taken with my iPhone, you can tell how sweet my view was. Despite how cool it was, I would have preferred to stay home and hang out with Carla and the boys. We had turned our last batch of meat birds out onto pasture just the day before...well, I don't have to explain - it's my life and I really dig it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Batch of Meat Birds on Pasture

Well, the last bunch of meat birds have hit the grass across the holler up in the pasture.
I'm doing some new things this batch. I've rigged a switch that enables me to use the perimeter fencing for the electric poultry netting. In the past, I've used solar/battery chargers that have had 3 faults off the top of my head:
  1. Drained batteries - lespedeza, fescue, and various other grasses and forbs conspire to short out a weak charger, but they are absolutely no match for our high joule, low-impedance perimeter charger. No more electrically dead netting.
  2. Grounding - with a portable charger, I was always having to move grounding rods, hammering into rock-hard soils, or else I was stringing out grounding wire all across the pasture. Now, I can just use the grounding off of the perimeter fence
  3. Heavy Batteries - There's no heavy solar "portable" chargers with marine cycle batteries anymore. Woo Hoo!The birds now are on the second bench of the pasture, the middle bench about half-way up the hillside. Having the new truck, with 4X4 capability makes such a huge difference, it opens up so many more possibilities.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

On a radio show

On Tuesday, I was a guest on a radio show/podcast - Sustainable Agriculture Highlight. You may find it interesting. I stumbled over my words quite a bit, and I think it's horrible, but some others think different, so if you're up for it, feel free to download and listen.