Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Planting is Done. Time for a Few Repairs

I'm pretty proud of my repair on the 4020 lift link (the arm that lifts the 3 pt hitch).It was bent many years ago,which made it very hard to remove from the tractor. I had to lengthen it in place by turning a threaded casting, but it was frozen. A combination of hardened grease and dirt. Plus 50 years. I soaked it with brake/parts cleaner then made an improvised vise to hold the shaft while I put a big wrench with cheater bar/pipe on the casting. It slowly turned. Now I can set both lift arms to the same height, ensuring that future passes with the rotary hoe and row cultivator will be done with the implement level (and the implement will dig down to an even depth across its entire width.)

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I also had to fix the rotary hoe stand, which slipped through its mount on the hoe while I was using it a few days ago. (When not attached to a tractor the stand has the flat plate on the ground. When using it behind a tractor, I invert it and put it in the same sleeve.) I didn't hear a thing, and am lucky that it didn't wipe out entire rows of corn. Fortunately it bent in such a way that it didn't hit the implement either. The culprit was a faulty cotter pin, which came off allowing the hitch pin to work itself out. Then the stand hit the ground.

I took the bent stand off the rotary hoe and made, then installed, a new one.

Dad and I got all the grass waterways and buffer zones, around 8 acres in total, planted on June 1st. A handful different types of grass, either alfalfa or clover, with oats to act as a nurse crop.

My 61 acres of organic corn is up, it looks like I've got good germination. The rows are pretty, the little plants are 1-3 inches tall, and the weeds are almost non-existent.  I'll rotary hoe it 2 more times in the coming weeks, timing my field work as the rain and weed pressure dictate.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Brillion "Sure Stand" Seeder

We need to seed grass waterways, about five acres of alfalfa/hay, and some grass border strips. Our friend and neighbor, Jeff, said we could use his Brillion Seeder. I hadn't seen it until I picked it up, but it was in pretty rough shape. As Jeff said, it works, but I guess I like fixing stuff.

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 I think they'd backed over the tongue with a tractor. It made it almost impossible to get attached to my tractor/truck and more importantly changed the angle that it rode on the ground. The back cultipacker wasn't really doing much.

Tonge and wheels off. 

I made a new tongue out of 4" steel channel. Drilled holes in the right places and painted it. 

The axle bearings were bad in both wheels. Two bearings, two races and one seal. To transport the seeder you jack it up off the ground and put the axle stubs in each end. Because the bearings were bad, when we got it the wheels were stuck (at a slight angle) in the seeder hubs. Took some pounding to get them out. 

The pin through the axle, nothing more than a 3/8" bolt, holds the axle in the seeder.

We've seeded about an acre and it works great. I had to make some adjustments to the seed meter, but I think the rest of the grass seeding will go smoothly. As a side note, I love using those fiberglass lunch trays to hold parts and tools while I do repairs. Most of the time its done in dirt or grass and its very easy to lose vital bits. Thanks to Art and H2 for giving them to me!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Test Runs With Rotary Hoe and 6 Row Cultivator

Just a quick note to say that I got all the various linkages to work and took both for a test run in an untilled field. They seemed to be running smoothly, with the fine tuning to be done when I'm closer to using these two pieces. That'll be after planting, in about two weeks.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Repairing the M&W Model 1815 Rotary Hoe

It was in need of work - the spoons on the wheels were worn away; 7 of the torsion springs that provide downpressure on the wheels were broken off; one arm/row was missing.  I bought 18 new wheels (at $42 each), new springs, and made a spacer for the missing arm after I couldn't find another one (new or used).

To put the new parts on I had to take off a section, which is held in place by the springs pushing the cast arms up against the bottom of the 4"x4" steel toolbar.

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The spring cups around the back of the curved arm, while the top of the curved arm presses against the bottom of the red steel toolbar. The other end of the spring is vertical against the face of the toolbar, effectively pinning the arm, under tension, in place. The effect is to allow the wheel/arm to bounce up and down while maintaining downward pressure on the soil.

I still need to bolt on the new wheels, as well as replace bearings on a few of the old wheels. That is relatively easy now that I got the hoe back together.  Once all the parts are in place I'll take it out for a test spin.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Two Day Old Chicks, Poults, Goslings, and Ducklings + Machine Shed Tour

At 6am this morning I got a call from the Post Office asking me to come pick them up. They're from McMurray Hatchery, what they call a Homesteader's Delight. They mix and match their leftovers; I get to watch them run around for the next 6 months.

I ordered 30 guinea fowl to help eat the deer ticks (Lyme!) but they won't get here until the first week in June.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spring Tillage and Equipment Repair

It was a long cold winter, followed by a very short spring. We're about a month behind, weather/temp wise.  As soon as the ground was dry enough I disked the ground that had the heaviest remaining clover residue as well as the area around the old homestead that was previously fallow.  I used the Case 7140.

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The blower on the fan/vent was squealing badly, so I needed to open the windows to get some fresh air, as it was about 80º outside. The dust got everywhere.

Next up is getting the field cultivator ready. The old sweeps, the part that actually turns the dirt, were badly worn and needed replacing. Forty one of them.  Dad/Gramps and I did that yesterday. It still needs work, a few of the shanks need to be stabilized by welding them to the cultivator frame.  I'll use the field cultivator to bury the turkey manure (applied at 3 tons/acre, for $30 per ton) about 5" below the surface of the soil. That manure should be spread in the next week. Then I'll cultivate, then pick rocks that are pulled up by the field cultivator.

The first thing to plant will be about 8 acres of hay/alfalfa/oats/grasses in various buffers and grass waterways that are needed for conservation/management of water. We'll plant Dad/Gramps' soybeans soon, followed by corn by the end of May. I need the soil temp to be around 60º for the corn to germinate; that's still a ways off.

  I bought the rotary hoe (above on the back of the Deere 4020 tractor) used from a dealer near Dubuque, IA, after seeing a picture and hearing from the farmer that it "was in perfect condition".  Not true. It needs 18 new wheels (at $43 each) as well as a bunch of torsion springs and bearings. So I've been working on that as well. The rotary hoe is used after planting corn and beans to dig up weeds that are in the row of the planted crop.  It's used before the corn/beans emerge and until the plants are 4" tall. Then a row cultivator takes over.

Old wheels taken off. The tips, or spoons, had worn away and as a result wouldn't do the job. There were plenty with bad bearings as well.

New wheels 

Rotary Hoe parts ready to be reinstalled. The hoe was missing one of the cast iron arms, three are shown on the right, and I couldn't find a replacement so I made a little metal spacer from steel plate and tubing to take its place before reassembly. The missing wheel will be in the center of the row, the weeding it was responsible for will be done with later passes of the row cultivator.

Carl hanging out on the bed.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Picking Rocks

Some people wonder if "picking rocks" is something that actually happens. To a non farmer, or even a farmer who doesn't have rocks in his soil, the whole thing sound absurd. You mean pick rocks, like picking an apple?

Kind of .

My land is full of rocks. Most around here is. If you don't have residue, or last years dead plants, on the surface, it's possible to use a rock rake and a rock picker to get up most of them. Because I'm trying to keep as much residue on the surface as possible, for as long as possible, neither of those pieces of equipment fit with my farm. So, they need to be picked up by hand. One by one. Anything bigger than a softball can damage equipment, that's the short answer to why the rocks need to be removed. Frost heave brings up new ones every year, as does any type of tillage. Both happen on my land.

My dad, Gramps to some of you, has spent the last couple of days with me picking rocks. I hope to find a few other people (paid) to help me in the future. This used to be a job done by high school kids, but they have other options/things to do with their time, and its a demanding task.

We went across the land, back and forth, one on the little loader with a rock bucket attached, the other walking and picking the rocks and throwing them in the rock bucket as we went. We'd cover a 40 foot wide strip, then turn around and go back, scanning/picking another 40 foot strip. Over two days, ten hours of work as the days are short because of the demanding labor, we picked over about 15 acres.

We dumped the rocks in piles at the edges of the field. Here, where my land buts up against a cemetery, you'll see a brick post marking the border of the cemetery. If you look in the underbrush you'll see huge piles of rocks that have been put there over the years.

A couple years ago one of those big rocks broke off a row unit on our seed drill. At the time I put a wood stake with a flag on it to mark the location, intending to come back and dig up the offender. I never did, but while walking this time I saw what turned out to be the "tip of the iceberg" . While digging around it with the shovel I found a remnant of the wood marker, a short piece of wood lath.

Kind of like finding a needle in a haystack. Makes me wonder how many more like that are out there.

After doing some calling around I've line up a crew of three to help me pick the rest of the rocks. Gramps might help, but it'll be limited to driving the loader.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

For the past two weeks I don't think the temperature has gotten above 0º F and its been going down to -20º most nights, roughly 25º below normal. This has been unpleasant.

My masonry heater has been working overtime, usually three firings (each time using 50+ lbs of dried oak) a day, but even with all the insulation I've put in the floor and ceiling it can't keep the temp in the house above 50º.  With this cold weather the only way I'll be able to get the whole house "habitable" is if my insulation is perfectly placed and there isn't any outside air infiltration. That's not the case right now with the farmhouse still under construction. 

For the more technically minded, the heater puts out roughly 20,000 BTUs/hour.  The question of sizing one is complicated.

Just before its time to light another fire, and lighting more than a fire every eight hours will cause the refractory mortar in the firebox to fail, the inside temp at the outer reaches of my first floor is right around 32º. Cold.  I wear a lot of layers, including a hat, and sit most of the day on the heater's bench reading online and watching soccer matches. Carl stays on the bed under the covers.

I run three little electric space heaters under the water pipes down in the basement, where the temp is staying in the upper 30s.  I bought a little hand held infrared thermometer to help me find, and plug up, the cold spots.

I'm also concerned that my septic system could freeze up. There are only about 5" of snow outside, not enough to insulate the below ground drain pipes much.  There isn't an easy way to tell if the system is plugging up, short of it coming back up through the drains, so I'm limiting how much I put down the drains. That means minimal toilet flushes and showers, as well as collecting all my dishwater in a stockpot so that I can dump it outside. If my septic tank fills up due to the outlet pipes being frozen, I've read I can call a guy to come pump it out. I'm not interested in trying to clean it out myself. That sounds like a nightmare.

Another problem caused by the cold is that the loader, the tractor that I want to use to clean the snow off of my drive so I can get my van or truck out on the road and go to town, has sprung a leak (hole?) in the cooling system, dumping antifreeze on the shed floor. I'm going to need to figure out what is wrong and, once it warms up a bit, go out and fix that.

I was hoping to get a lot of work done inside the house this winter, choosing to stay and work instead of going to Mexico. I'm not going to lie, its pretty rough here right now; a bit like camping where you can never really get clean, or warm.


(a slightly longer version of the above is here.)