Saturday, October 19, 2019

Small Repairs: Implement Jack

I try to repair as much as I can around here, even when it doesn't make economic "sense". One of today's little projects - fix a seized acme thread on an implement jack. 

I made little copper soft jaws from pieces of old pipe, heated up the nut with the torch, then turned the nut. Put grease on the thread and reassembled the jack before reattaching it to the implement.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Site Prep for the New Pole Barn/Machine Shed

The site preparation for the new pole barn is done. It will be 50' x 80'  with 18' ceilings. I need more space for equipment, in particular the new combine - probably going to buy a used John Deere 9560 -  which will be too tall for the old shed (which is seen in the back of the third picture).

The contractor used his bulldozer to make a new level pad in the field adjacent to the existing buildings and then covered it with gravel, compacting as he went. I'm now getting bids from contractors on the building itself.  I had hoped to have it built this year, but I ran into some zoning issues which took a while to resolve. The plan now is to have it built next spring/summer.

(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)

Looking south at what will be the main entrance to the shed. There will be three sliding doors: one, measuring 25' wide x 18' tall, on each gable (north and south) end. Also a larger, 32' wide x 16' tall on the east side (the left of the above picture).

Looking west. The building site is behind, and to the left, of the pile of gravel that is in the upper right corner of the picture. The old silos are buried below the exposed dirt on the left side of the picture.

Looking southeast. I had to add some 1 1/2" gravel to the old easement to firm it up.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Working on the Farmhouse - Putting Up Siding

Today might have been the third or fourth day this year that I've done any construction work on the house. That wasn't the plan this spring when I was hoping to pick up where I left off last fall and finish up some of the major jobs.

The farm is my priority. I like that work, it's more interesting to me. Construction is something I've done a lot of and doesn't offer anything new. Well, aside from a habitable house.

I'll mention this here as well - Living "out in the middle of nowhere" has it's disadvantages. One of them is that there aren't a lot of carpenter/contractors floating around available to do work. I end up doing it myself.

Putting up new building felt/tar paper on the second story of the south facade, then topping that with 1" rigid polyiso insulation was the job. I used the boom lift as well as a couple extension ladders. My dad went up, briefly, in the boom lift to help put up some long strips of felt. Working around the power line, even when it's disconnected, made it hard to maneuver the lift, so things take a bit of time. I hope to finish the insulation tomorrow. Then it's time to put up the siding.

Once the south facade is finished I have 5 more windows to make openings for in the old frame and install the windows. I need to strip two layers of old siding off of the second story (east and north sides) and then put up polyiso insulation there as well as new siding.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Using GPS/Autosteer: Ag Leader 1200

I bought a fairly expensive bit of hardware and software to help me with planting and cultivating.  The monitor takes in a gps signal, received via a modem in the tractor, and sends out signals to a small ring gear that's bolted around the steering column.  This technology lets me "automatically" drive along a line I choose and is accurate to within 1/2". The monitor will also be hooked up to my 6 row planter; each row has a light sensor and I'll be able to tell if the seeds are actually going in the ground, as well as making adjustments to the planter in real time.

Here are a couple of short videos I shot about a month ago while using the autosteer system for the first time, mowing down a nurse crop of oats so that the red clover that was underseeded with the oats can get more sun.  The clover will return again next year, growing all year, putting carbon and nitrogen in the soil.

There are so few chances - due to the weather - to get cultivating (pulling an implement behind a tractor that leaves the cash crop intact while removing weeds) done in early summer, I'd often want to cultivate at night. This is very hard, if not impossible, to do without any type of gps/guidance system. Planting for that matter as well.

Autosteer is a bit of a misnomner, as the operator actually has to steer around the headlands/endrows as well as turn the tractor/implement around and get it parallel to the previous line/row.  The program says that it can track on headlands but I've been told not to expect very good results on curves. That said, it makes my job a lot easier, as I can watch all the other gauges and performance of the planter/implement without having to stay on my line. Reducing fatigue is important, but for me the main reason I bought it is that the system will let me save the pattern I use when planting and recall it when I cultivate. This means I can run the cultivator shovels right next to the cash crop plant, "automatically". Again, reducing fatigue/stress, which will add up as I cover more acres.

Converting land to Certified USDA Organic is a 36 month transition process, which I'm using to reduce my weed seed bank (by mowing) and boosting my soil biology/fertility with the oats/clover. No cash crop/income for two years. Just expenses - seed, manure, diesel, equipment, etc. In 2021 this ground will be planted to corn and harvested as USDA Organic that fall.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Mowing the Red Clover to Get Rid of Weed Seeds

About 5 weeks ago I mowed the oats, which had been underseeded with medium red clover, so that sun would get down to the clover.  Some of the weeds which had made it through the oats were cut off, but many survived. I mowed these fields, using the Deere 520 Flail Mower, again today, cutting them about 6" tall.

There were a lot of lambs quarters, a few pigweed, and an occasional giant ragweed. The idea is to cut off the seed head before those seeds are viable. This reduces the number of seeds in the fields "seed bank", making future cash crops easier to cultivate.

These fields, approximately, 90 acres, are in the first of two years of transition to USDA Certified Organic. The clover is thick and well established. It should overwinter and return stronger next spring, fixing nitrogen throughout the summer. In late summer (of 2020), I'll probably disc harrow the dying clover into the soil and plant a "tillage radish", which itself will winterkill.  The following spring (2021) these fields will be planted to organic corn.

Right before I drilled the oats/clover this past spring, I threw about 30 lbs of "bird seed grade" sunflowers, a handful at a time, along a 200 yard stretch of the easement (aka private access road) that goes through one of our fields. A lot of them germinated - I love looking out and seeing all of them!

Taking Down the Old Silos

There are three old silos that surround the foundation of the old, long since burned to the ground, dairy barn. The spot is the only suitable location for a new pole barn (50'x81'x16' ceilings) that I need to have built to house the new, larger, equipment that I've bought.  This means that the old silos had to come down.

The contractor, BS Construction of Elmwood, WI, has knocked all three of the silos down, and they're now buried in a trench they dug. The site is roughly graded for the new pole barn, though the contractor needs to come back for another day to finish the job.

The 20' W x 70' High old silo was 1/2 full of old compacted silage. This presented the contractor with a problem - if he proceeded normally, as if it was empty, when he punched a series of holes around half the perimeter, there was a high likelyhood that the old silage would hold up the concrete silo, a very dangerous situation. So he punched a big enough hole in the side to let him scoop out enough silage to safely go ahead.

I've applied for a zoning permit. Once that is approved, I can get a building permit and start the construction process.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Oats ready to be Mowed (and Mulched)

On the farm there's about 120 total acres in their first year of transition to certified organic production. The regulations require a 36 month period between the time of the last "prohibited substance" (in this case it was a herbicide that was applied last June) and any USDA certified organic harvest.

Oats and red clover were drilled together earlier this spring on roughly 90 of those 120 acres, with the oats acting as a "nurse crop". Now that they've done their job of helping to establish a relatively weed free stand of clover, I'll mow them and leave the residue in place to act as a "green manure". There is no economic benefit to harvesting "conventional" oats. Also there is a potential boost to future cash crop yields by leaving the chopped oats in place. So I'm not combining the oats.

Next year the clover will return, fixing additional nitrogen for the corn that I'll plant in the spring of 2021 and that in turn will be harvested as USDA organic in the fall of 2021.

Tomorrow morning Nick, from BP Ag Solutions, will come to the farm and install autosteer/gps along with a planter monitor in the 8100 tractor (pictured below, hooked up to the Deere 520 flail mower I'll be using to cut the oats).

I'll be using Ag Leader products. Specifically, the monitor is a InCommand 1200 and the RTK guidance system is a GPS 7500 with OnTrac3 Assisted Steering.

Here's a short video, not mine, showing the technology in use.

I'm going to use the technology for at least two things. One, so I can repeat my passes precisely, within a 1/2", between different activities in the field. When I plant, I want all the 15' wide passes to be exactly 30" apart so that when I go through the field 3-5 times cultivating I can follow the exact same route. This lets me put the metal shovels of the cultivator, which remove weeds, within an inch of the cash crop plant I want to thrive.

Secondly is so when I'm planting I know exactly how many seeds, how far apart, are going (or more important to know, not going) into the soil. After you go over it with a planter, a field looks exactly the same whether or not the right number of seeds have been planted per acre. A good seed monitor is essential.