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 - (update 11-20-19, I did) 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.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

My Morning Routine: Letting Out the Birds

I also put down some straw to cover the manure they leave overnight, fill their waterers, and make sure the feed is topped off.

Machine Shed Tour

Plus a few birds at the end. My version of the old silent Super 8mm movies.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Taking Down the Old Farmhouse Chimney

I'm using the Genie Z45/25 Boom Lift to safely take down chimney that's above the roof line. The part that remains below the roof line will be disassembled from inside the house using a scaffold.

The chimney consists of a concrete block exterior and a clay tile liner. The total length of the chimney is around 35 feet. A lot of material. We'll take it out and dump it in the old silo, which itself will ultimately be taken down and buried.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Planting/Drilling Sorghum Sudan Grass

Gramps, Max, and I, over the past week on approximately 95 acres planted sorghum sudan grass. Prior to planting, “drilling” is the more accurate term in this case, we first had to combine about 4 acres of last years standing corn, then we could go over the 18” tall weeds and stubble twice with a disc harrow to kill the weeds and to get a rough seed bed that I could drill the seeds into.

Sorghum Sudan is an agronomic choice. I have a lot of foxtail and canadian thistle (weeds) that I’m trying to crowd out, caused in part by compaction/poor drainage and sorghum sudan is supposed to help with that. It is an aggressive grower and can reach 10’ tall in about 8 weeks. If I don’t sell some of it to a local organic dairy, who would in turn have to hire a “custom” hay/baleage/silage cutter to harvest it for him, I’ll mow it down and leave it in place when it gets about 4’ tall. The mowed/mulched sorghum would in turn feed soil microbes, who then "excrete" nutrients for future cash crops.  I’ll have to mow it twice I think, as I don’t want it to go to seed and become a “weed” itself.  Next year all these acres will go into soybeans.

65 of the acres are certified USDA organic, the other 30 are in their first year (of three) of transition to organic. Both fields are about 13 miles south of the farm in Turtle Lake, making it a logistical challenge to move materials and equipment down there.

I’ve put up 3, one minute long videos on youtube that show a bit of this.

I used my new (to me) Deere 8100 tractor and 750 no-till grain drill to cover about 185 acres this spring - 90 in oats/red clover and 95 in sorghum sudan. It’s been a good experience. This week I’m talking to a technology provider about putting gps/autosteer on the tractor to make everything go a little smoother.

p.s.  Big (public) thanks to Dad/Gramps and Max for their help!

Friday, June 7, 2019


On the riding mower, I removed the mowing deck so I could  replace an idler pulley when its bearing failed. While I had it apart, I changed the belts and mower blades.

I bypassed the "safety" switch so I can back up and cut at the same time. In place of the temporary clamp I drilled through the switch body as well as the moving switch pin, hold it "closed" with a cotter pin.

Some kind of critter ate through the fuel line this past winter. The grommet/gasket between the fuel tank and fuel line was leaking as well, so I pulled out the old one and put in new parts.

The 6620 had damage to the grain tank. The 1//8"thick top metal rail was bent in about 1" and the wire mesh was split in several places.

I used the hydraulic press and oxy/propane torch to get it reasonably straight.

Also on the 6620 the left rear wheel had a split in the rim. I jacked up the combine, took the wheel off and dropped it off at the tire shop (20 miles away in Barron, WI).
The split is about 8" long and an inch above the edge of the joint between tire and rim, unhelpfully hiding in the glare of the sun in the pic above.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Moving Birds Outside for the Summer

They're about 5 weeks old and have enough feathers to stay outside overnight without the supplemental heat they get in the brooder. I bought two of the "Homesteader's Delight" packages from McMurray Hatchery.

They'll stay in the coop all the time for about a week, enough to establish a sense of place, then I'll let them roam around during the day. I have to lock them back up at night because of raccoons, mink, weasels, foxes, and who knows what else might eat them. My dog does a fairly good job of keeping them "safe" during the day. I think, or want to believe anyway, that they'll eat ticks. In the past years I've raised guinea fowl, but they're hard to get from the hatchery in early spring. By the time they're big enough to eat bugs the summer is almost over.

In the fall I'll slaughter and freeze the birds, giving them to friends and family.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Oats and Red Clover Are Out of the Ground

You can’t see the clover, but it’s there, about 1/8” high.  The oats are in rows 7.5" apart and about 4" high. 80 acres of this are planted. My tractor sprung a hydraulic leak this past Sunday, causing me to delay getting the last 15 or so acres in. I hope that in a few days things will dry out and I can finish the job.

It’s been a very cold, and wet, spring.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Planting Oats and Red Clover

I'm planting oats and red clover on 90 acres. This land is going into certified organic production, with the first cash crop, corn, harvested in the fall of 2021. The oats are a place holder, crowding out any early flushes of weeds, which gives the red clover a chance to get established. The clover will be mowed, to kill any weeds that make it through the oats, at least once this summer. The clover will return next year, fixing additional nitrogen from the atmosphere that is needed for a healthy corn crop.

The John Deere model 750 no-till grain drill holds about 1500 lbs of oat seeds in the main hopper and roughly 120 lbs of clover seed in the small seed box. I'm putting about 57 lbs of oats and 10 lbs of clover on each acre.

(click on any image to make it bigger)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Field Work Ahead of Planting

This video does a great job of spelling out the things that I'll be doing soon.

My new tractor and stalk chopper/mower were delivered to the John Deere dealer today, joining the seed drill.  Next week they'll change hydraulic fluid and engine oil (filters too). It'll probably be around $700. A little more expensive than going to Jiffy Lube. Then I'll bring them home and put them to work.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Spreading Turkey Litter

I buy turkey litter from the nearby Jennie-O Turkey "plant". They dumped the litter in piles in the fields last fall, intending to spread it then, but the weather was bad. They came back yesterday and spread it at a rate of 2.5 to 3 tons/acre.  In the video I think there are 8 semi-loads. At 22 tons per load that's about 175 tons. I pay by the ton to have it spread. For the relatively small amount I need there's no way to justify buying my own spreader and loader. Unfortunately that means I need to wait for them to come and spread it. It was so wet this spring, even if I had my own equipment I couldn't have got out into the field any sooner.

Now, weather permitting, I'll work the litter into the top layer of soil using a field cultivator, killing any weeds at the same time. I'll follow that up by drilling, the same day, a mixture of red clover and oats. This is what I'll grow on these fields for the next two years as part of the transition to organic production. If all goes well, in the third year, 2021, I'll plant corn, which will be harvested as a certified organic crop in the fall of 2021.

Baby Chicks Are Here

I bought two mixed packages of chicks from McMurray Hatchery and they arrived at the Post Office this morning at 6am. They called me and I went over to pick them up. A few minutes later I shot this

There are 20 chickens, 4 geese, 4 turkeys, and 4 ducks.  They'll stay in the brooder for 3-4 weeks, until they get their feathers. Then they'll go outside in the coop.

Saturday, March 9, 2019


It's snowing in Turtle Lake tonight. Today we got about 5-8" of wet heavy snow on top of what you see below.  Tomorrow night the temperature will drop to 9º (F).

Meanwhile, further south, it was 85º today in San Marcos, TX.