Saturday, August 28, 2021

Latest News from the Farm

 It's been a while since I've posted, mainly as I've been busy. A couple nights I got home around 2am after a long day in the tractor with no lunch or dinner (sad face). 

Before the "real work" could start I was repairing equipment so that we could harvest wheat, followed by... harvesting wheat; after that I decided to have the ground disc-ripped to break up a hardpan layer (responsible for much of my foxtail pressure), that process dug up a lot of big rocks (one shown below) that needed to be removed. We then disced that soil down to break up most of the residue after which I drilled a cover crop of winter peas, turnips, radish, sorghum sudan, wheat, and sunflowers. 

We brought the equipment home and I've been going over it - cleaning (How to Clean a Combine!) then repairing. The drill needs an overhaul; after that corn head needs the snap rolls put on it prior to using it later this fall.... you get the idea.

(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)


One of the many things that I need to fix, and part of the reason there haven't been any recent updates to this site, is my broken phone that I use to take pics and movies for the farm site (the above were taken by my Dad). The battery on it has failed, causing the screen to pop off. I have a replacement battery though still need the specialty screwdrivers ("precision pentalobe") that I need to get inside the case. 

In crop news, the cover crop I drilled is just coming up and the corn planted this past spring looks good -  nice big ears. We're making plans to get a 27 foot diameter 11,000 bushel grain bin built to hold/dry down the wheat, oats, and Kernza, a newly developed perennial grain, that we'll be growing.

Next year we'll add about 25 acres of Kernza, (field day info here), to what we're growing. In the spring there will be peas drilled, harvested in August, with the Kernza drilled into the residue. It will stay in Kernza for the next two years. 

Carmen Fernholz, my mentor, is in the video below talking about their experience growing Kernza.


 

We're joining a Kernza co-op to market the grain. As with any new ventures, there are problems along the way.



Saturday, July 31, 2021

Wild Turkeys Through My Window

Most of them (all?) had "beards". 

A Wild Turkey’s “beard” is the tuft that looks a bit like a miniature horsetail dangling from its breast. Year-old males have beards up to about five inches long, while toms three or more years old can have beards that are 10 inches or longer. Rarely, a tom will have one primary beard and one or two smaller beards just above it. About 5-10 percent of female turkeys may also sport short, thin beards.

The bristles in the cluster of stiff filaments are hair-like, but they are not hair. They are feather-like structures called mesofiloplumes. Their structural proteins are similar to those of feathers, but they lack a follicle and other characteristics of most feathers. Unlike feathers, turkey beards grow continuously. However, they suffer from wear and tear, so beards longer than 12 inches are not common.

Interesting history on turkeys in Wisconsin. 

Wild turkeys are native to parts of Wisconsin, in an area roughly south of a line from Prairie du Chien to Green Bay. They served as an important food source for settlers and Native Americans alike. But, by the year 1881, wild turkeys disappeared from Wisconsin. Settlement and an increase in farming and logging led to the clearing of the state's oak forests. The raising of domestic birds resulted in the spread of diseases to wild turkeys. Unregulated hunting also took its toll. The last turkey sighting in Wisconsin was near Darlington in Lafayette County in 1881.

In 1976, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources made a trade with the state of Missouri in order to bring wild turkeys back to Wisconsin. We gave them ruffed grouse; they gave us wild turkeys. The first 29 wild Missouri turkeys were released in Vernon County. The turkeys thrived in their new home and began to breed and increase their population. As the number of turkeys increased, the DNR began to trap them from areas with lots of turkeys and move them to other good turkey habitat areas. Over 3,000 turkeys were trapped and relocated in 49 counties. Turkeys moved into other counties on their own.

In 2014, the latest figure I could find, there were 7.3 million turkeys sold in the State of WI, most of them raised within 50 miles of our farm. Jennie-O is the big operator.  I buy turkey litter from them and have it spread on our fields as fertilizer.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Before Wheat Harvest: Repairs to Deere 625F Bean/Grain Header and EZ Trail Header Cart

Many of the problems that we face are analogous to the "Fox, chicken, and a bag of feed" puzzle, in that the practical steps leading to a solution are often "hidden".

A farmer lives on a small plot of land next to a river. One day, he travels across the river in a small boat and purchases a fox, a chicken, and a bag of corn from a feed and supply store. When the farmer returns to his boat to cross the river again and go home, he realizes he has a dilemma.

The farmer can only take one item in his small boat at a time, otherwise he risks capsizing. He cannot leave the fox alone with the chicken, because the fox will eat the chicken. He cannot leave the chicken alone with the corn, because the chicken with eat the corn

How does the farmer successfully get all three items across the river?

 

The sickle bar on the bean head had a few broken teeth and knife guards, Dad/Gramps has been replacing them. There are a few other things to fix: The Crary Air input shaft needs to have the clutch repaired. I think there's a faulty hydraulic cylinder on the main reel as well as a leaking hydraulic hose that needs attention. Quite a few of the fingers on the auger need to be replaced. When all that is done we'll go over the sickle bar adjustment procedures in the Operator's Manual to make sure everything is running smoothly.

After repairs are finished the head will be used to harvest the spring wheat, which will be ready in about ten days. Right now I think, because of low weed pressure in the wheat, I can direct cut it with the bean head, rather than swathing it in windrows then using the pickup head to combine it. Assuming we get a little bit of moisture in the next couple of weeks I'm then planning on putting in a cover crop of peas, turnips, and radishes, as the berseem clover I underseeded the wheat with back in May failed to get established, I believe due to lack of moisture later in the month of May.

The original welds holding the tube to the cart were broken and the angled support bracket had been pushed about 1.25 inches toward the rear of the cart. Could have been caused by improperly putting the header on the cart, we're not sure.

I pushed the support bracket back in place using a steel wedge and rewelded the joints. The cart still needs to have two of the tires replaced: one is the wrong size, the other is bald/worn out.

(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)

I welded a piece of scrap 4x4 tubing below the cart's 4x6 beam to act as a brace I could push against with the metal wedge in the next pic. Other pieces of scrap metal were clamped on to either act as spacers or to distribute the point load from the wedge along the length of the cart's vertical brace/leg.


I added some little gussets to help prevent any future cracks. There's a lot of stress on that little clamping plate. I'm not surprised the original welds cracked. Glad to have it taken care of, as having the head slide around while going down the highway would be a problem.



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Repairs While I Wait for Some Rain

 We've had less than 1" of rain in the last 6 weeks. It's sprinkled a bit today and the forecast calls for a 50% chance an inch or so tomorrow. I hope we get it, as everything is already crispy and the forecast goes on to say the next 10 days will be 80º and sunny.

There's not much for me to do but get equipment ready.

 
My first attempt at welding cast iron. I've brazed it before with some success, this is going to be an experiment on a "low value" part. I'm using the Shark brand 11087 0.125" rod at 80 amps (220v). Any higher and I burned through. I increased it a bit on the following passes.  Looks like I should have used a carbide burr to widen the crack, not a grinding wheel. I went back and cleaned it up a bit before I added more weld.
 
Pics of the finished repair. Pretty happy with how it looks, there's a bit of weld undercut where I was too hot. The spatter/beads are cosmetic. The real test is to see if it holds up.
 
(Click on either picture to make it bigger.)


 



Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Update on Corn and Wheat

 The corn is 3 to 4 feet tall and looks good, especially considering we've had roughly an inch of rain here in the last 5 weeks.

Here's what the corn looked like on June 10th, nine days after planting and six days after the first pass with the tine weeder.

 
 
 

Here's a video taken after the second pass with the row cultivator, June 28th.


 

In this video the corn has canopied, my cultivation is done for the year. Now its mostly out of my hands until the end of October and harvesting.


The spring wheat looks good. I have some issues with canadian thistle that I manage with cutting/chopping. First I tried by hand, with a Stihl FS 130. There's too much to do that way, so I was hoping to hire the landowner to bush hog them. He was unavailable and I ended up driving the 12 miles down there with our little open station tractor in some miserable heat to do it myself. We have a trailer that I could have used to haul it down there - however it needs to have the wiring for the turn signals/flashers redone/repaired. I didn't have the time to do that.

 
 
I expect to harvest the wheat in mid August, with some luck I'll be able to sell it as "food grade". I had underseeded the wheat with berseem clover and was hoping that would act as my cover crop after the wheat came off. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have established itself, possibly because of the very dry conditions we've had in the last 2 months. As a result the preexisting foxtail is coming on strong under the wheat. It looks like I'll have to disc that down and drill in another cover of something like radish/oat/peas after the wheat is harvested.

Next up is getting the combine ready to harvest the wheat. I also have about 20 repair projects to start in on. My new (to me) Deere 693 corn head is waiting to be picked up at the nearby Deere dealer. I've bought the Calmer replacement rolls to put in it.



Thursday, June 10, 2021

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Corn is Out of the Ground: Time to Focus on Repairs

 Three days after planting I did the first blind cultivation with the tine weeder. That went well, after some glitches, and the corn is about 3" tall. It's been a very dry year; hardly any rain in the spring, no rain the last 10 days and the forecast shows a 50% chance of getting a total of 0.25" of rain in the next 10 days.

We could use some rain.

It's been very hot, with highs in the mid 90s. I work early in the morning out in the shop to avoid as much heat as possible.

(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)

I pressure washed the disc, planter, and 7140 tractor.







The original support stand was too short. It holds up the back of the tine weeder when it's off the tractor. Attaching the weeder "leaning back" causes three point hitch to bind up when taking the weeder off the tractor as well as putting a lot of pressure on the bottom tines. I welded a length of tube on the existing stand and still need to drill some holes in it. Ultimately I think I'll get a Gnuse hydraulic top link to make this all work better. In the meantime...

I think this will work. The stand is meant to slide into the vertical sleeve - the roughly 10" long red square tube just above the stand that has a hole through it.

I bought Calmer rolls to replace the ones on the new 693 Deere corn head (not here yet) I bought. Once the head gets here I'll install them.


The old shed is getting a little crowded. (The modified tine weeder stand is in the foreground on the little welding table.)

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Finished Planting Corn

It took me three days to plant the corn, Albert Lea Seeds "Viking" O45-88-P, on 100 acres. 

I planted 33,000 seeds/acre at a depth of 2.25 inches. There was moisture at this depth, and this will give me a few days to get the first tine weeding pass done. The soil above the seed, in the row of corn, will have a lot of tiny ungerminated weed seeds in it. In the next 3 days I'll go over the fields with the tine weeder set to about 1.25 inches deep and hopefully get rid of most of those potential weeds.

The planting went well. Dad did the final tillage pass with the disc the day before I planted. The weather and machinery cooperated and things look good.

A couple short video clips from the tractor.

 
 
(Click on any image to make it bigger.)
 
A view of the split computer screen in the tractor. On the left side is the path taken by the GPS to guide the tractor (I'll save the map so I can return to the same lines to row cultivate); on the right is a seed monitor for the planter. It shows the real time data of each row of seed as well as how close I am to my goal of 33,000 seeds/acre. "Doubles" means 2 seeds getting planted at once. "Singulation" is what you want - 1 seed placed.


Our Deere 7200 Planter. It lets me plant into the rough seedbed made by the last tillage pass of the disc. In doing so, I'm making its "No-till" design work in our production system.

The 7140 Case, our "workhorse" tractor, is attached to the disc. In the background, to the right, I've hooked up the tine weeder to the same tractor (Deere 8100) I used to pull the planter. As I mentioned above I'll use the GPS map/paths I created when planting to guide my (probably four) weeding passes.

I have some minor repairs to do to the planter and disk. They'll get pressure washed and put away for the year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Rocks

 (Click on any image to make it bigger.)


Show and Tell (or Complain, You Decide): Yetter 6200-184 Tailpiece/Closing Wheel

 

From a relevant thread on the New Ag Talk Forum:

Before buying ANY closing wheel, or even using the OEM wheels, release the spring pressure on your tailpiece and try to move the tail piece from side to side.

As the center to center distance at the tightest point on most closing systems should be just a tad more than your seed depth especially for corn, if you can move your tail piece more than maybe 1/4" side to side THAT should be where you put your money before buying any brand of closing wheels and before planting any $150-$300/bag seed!!!

Lateral movement of the tailpiece means that your closing wheels are not centered over your seed slot much of the time.

The last 7200 was manufactured around 1996 or 18 seasons ago. Most are over 20 years old. The 7200 OEM tailpiece was manufactured out of relatively thin sheet metal.

Most 7200 tail pieces I've seen should be replaced before putting one seed in the ground.

The idea that people will plant hundreds of acres of expensive corn seed but balk at the idea of spending $50-75/row to replace or rebuild the closing wheel tail piece on their 20+ year old JD 7200 or 7300 planter defies logic.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Spices: I'm Glad I Learned How to Cook

 I'm still dragging a bit after getting my J&J/Janssen Covid-19 shot, so staying inside and doing something comforting is what I want to do.

I like to make, and use, spice mixes. I noticed I was low on a few and decided to fix that. I started with Garam Masala.


I buy bulk spices online and store them in Mason jars.

Recipes for almost every mix are online.

I toast the spices on the stovetop. Once cooled I'll grind them into a powder.

Next up is making "Chinese" 5 spice powder and Baharat.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Digging Up a Tree Stump

After I got the new adapter that allows me to attach my skid steer "quick attach" style rock bucket to the Deere model 741 loader, I wanted to test it out on something. 

A couple of summers ago when we had tornado like straight line winds (a derecho), a big pine tree blew over right next to my house. I cut up the trunk soon after but the stump remained.

(Click on any image to make it bigger.)


 

Next up for the rock bucket is digging up two big, how big is hard to say as they are mostly buried, rocks, maybe 3 foot diameter?


Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Beautiful Day: Time to Walk Around the Farm and Talk

 


Working New, Rented, Pasture and Tillable Ground

 The neighbor to the north of us offered us the chance to rent about 28 acres that's been in their family for generations. There's about 15 acres of "tillable" and 13 acres of hilly "hay" ground. I've been working to get them into organic production.

In short: The tillable is going into corn, the hay will be reseeded and rented out to another neighbor,Rodrigo, who will graze organic sheep. 

After having soils tests done, all the acres need fertilizer (turkey litter) and ag lime.

(Click on image to make bigger.)


Dad and I used his old 3 bottom plow to plow up about 15 acres of old pasture, labeled "Corn-Tillable" in the picture above. The field is just north of, and contiguous to, land that we own and we'll plant the new, larger "merged" field with organic corn, probably by the end of May.

After plowing, I disked it twice, the first time at a 45º angle, the second at 90º to the original furrows. We're having turkey litter spread on it tomorrow. Right after that we'll incorporate it by making another pass with the disk, as there are still a lot of clumps of sod in the soil. The goal is to get the pieces small enough that I can use my tine weeder and row cultivator without them plugging up.

Side note: I'm occasionally asked about "no-till" ag. There have been a few attempts at organic no-till, though they are very difficult/risky to make work and have primarily been done at the research level. "No-till", as it's commonly practiced is reliant on herbicides (and if needed, pesticides) to kill weeds as well as the cover crops that are grown before and after the cash crop. For me, right now, no-till is incompatible with staying organic. In the meantime I minimize tillage and do my best to keep a living root in the ground, year round.

 
 

 
The "Hay" ground in the picture at the top of this post was reseeded with oats, medium red clover, and Organic Pasture Mix.




Thursday, May 6, 2021

Spring Wheat (and Clover) is In the Ground

I'm happy with how it went, aside from getting stuck twice. I have a few bags of wheat seeds left over, probably 5% of the total - getting the seed drill to meter properly is a challenge. I need to bring the truck as well as the tractor and seed tender home as they are still in the field about 12 miles south of here.

With a bit of luck I'll have some food grade organic wheat to harvest in August. The clover will really take off once the wheat is gone. It will be my nitrogen fixing, soil building cover crop - one that winter kills - ahead of 2022's organic soybean planting.



I still need to finalize where I'm selling the wheat. I hope to have a signed production contract in the next week. 

UPDATED 5/13/21: Ardent Mills will buy the wheat for $13/bushel. I'll harvest the wheat in August, put it in a grain bin and run air over it for a week or so and then send them a sample. If I meet their specs, one of which is a protein level of 13%, I'll have the roughly 3,600 bushels (or 210,000 lbs) of organic food grade wheat trucked to their mill in Mankato, MN.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Fertility: How Much Turkey Litter to Put On

 A friend, Rodrigo, asked me some basic questions about fertility for organic corn. I emailed a response to him and then thought it was worth putting it on the site as well.

Copy and Paste =>


Hi Rodrigo,

It turned out that I had more to say on the subject... You might already know all this. But if nothing else I find that it clarifies my thoughts when I explain what I do to other people.


……………...

This is what I do to figure out how much fertilizer I need. A rough estimate is 1 pound of N for every bushel/acre of corn you want to grow. In my case I estimate 140-150 bushels/acre. So I need 150 lbs/acre of N for that year.

First I subtract any nitrogen credit that I get from growing clover the previous year (See this on our rotations).  I conservatively estimate that I’m getting 60 lbs/acre of nitrogen from the clover that I underseed my wheat with in the growing season before I plant the corn. A good chart on legume nitrogen credits is this one, from U of Wisconsin. It's in a pdf called "Nutrient Management Fast Facts", linked here





I found out from Jennie-O what the nutrient content of the litter they provide is. Every year it’s slightly different, but it’s usually about the same.
Last year they told me this - 

The average for 2017 was:

  • Nitrogen    51 lbs per ton
  • P2O5        41 lbs per ton
  • K2O        30 lbs per ton
  • Turkey litter runs about 3 pounds S per ton, and averages ~0.11 pounds Boron per ton


The other final piece is that only a certain percentage of the N is available to the plant the first year.  It’s somewhere between 45-70%, depending on how soon you incorporate it into the soil after it’s been spread.

(Chart below is from Calculating Manure Application Rates | UMN Extension)


 

To summarize:

I want 150 lbs/acre N to grow 150 bushel/acre corn.
I reduce that by 60 lbs/acre N, the credit from the clover.

So I still need 90 lbs/acre of N from turkey litter/other sources of fertilizer that aren't "synthetic".


I decide to put on 3 tons of turkey litter/acre, and this (from the info provided by Jennie-O) has:

3 tons x 51 lbs/ton = 153 lbs of N
I take the middle value of how much is available the 1st year, 60%.

60% of 153 = 91.8 lbs

So I’m getting 91.8 lbs from the turkey litter plus a 60 lb credit from the legume, giving me roughly 150 lbs of N.

If you didn’t have the clover you’d have to add more turkey litter. BUT, many places already have too much phosphorus in their soils and turkey litter has plenty of phosphorus in it. Jennie-O is legally required to have soils tests done, that the farmer pays for, that shows that the soils that are going to take the turkey litter don’t have too much phosphorus, which is a pollutant, running into the water.

I’ve been told that for organic rotations the best thing to do is continue to grow legumes in a rotation to build up N naturally as well as increasing the ability of the soil to “mineralize”, or create, more organic matter that feeds the microbes that in turn excrete more plant available N.  A kind of manure from bacteria that the plants then eat.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Putting the Seed in the Ground is the Easy Part

 We just finished the third day of drilling spring wheat and clover; Dad makes a pass with the disk to kill any weeds as well as smoothing out the chisel plow furrows from last fall and I follow right behind him with the seed drill.

For the most part it's gone well: 55 acres done and I still have about 35 acres to drill. Dad disked that today and its still a little wet so I'll wait until tomorrow to drill the final bit.  The only real question at this point is if I've calibrated the drill correctly: am I going to run out of or have extra wheat seed? The drill settings shown in the charts of the operators manual are only a "suggested starting point".

The not so good things - from the perspective of the guy doing it - getting the drill stuck (twice) and having to dig/yank a giant rock out of the ground with a shovel, chain, and truck. (The adapter plate that will allow me to use the rock bucket on the big loader to dig out some tough rocks is sitting in Eau Claire, WI, waiting for me to pick it up.)

I'm learning how to improvise.

When I got stuck the 2nd time (shown in the video below) it was at the end of a long day. It happened at the end of a 1/2 mile field and from there it was another 2 miles back to the truck. It was starting to rain and getting colder; I only had a t-shirt. If I couldn't get the unhitched tractor unstuck from the muddy ruts it was in, I had long walk to my truck.

 
 
(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)
 

In order to hitch the tractor back up you need to support the heavy tongue so you can back the drawbar on to it. I was pretty proud of my 2 board, 2 rock prop.

 
 
The exposed part of this rock was the size of a football. Tip of the figurative iceberg. It probably weighed 150 lbs.  I ended up getting a chain around it, pulling it out of the hole I'd dug and over to the edge of the field.


 
p.s. The next morning I pulled the stuck drill out.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Improvised Coffee Maker

 My old drip coffee maker broke down so I came up with this. I like the contrast between all the different elements.


 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Hurry Up and Wait

 We're so close to getting this organic spring wheat in the ground. Two days ago we starting taking equipment and seeds the twelve miles to the fields, but it started to rain, making it impossible to continue. It's been a couple of days of light rain, with up to 1/3 inch tomorrow, but then there should be 3-4 days of sun and temps in the mid 60s, which should give us a chance to drill the wheat.


 
 
(Click on any picture to make it bigger.)
 



 



The wheat will be underseeded with Berseem clover via the grass seed box on the drill.
 
To give you a rough idea of our plans: The approximately 15,000 lbs (or 250 bushels) of wheat seeds should yield around 225,000 lbs (3,750 bushels) of wheat at harvest. We're planting the "Bolles" variety which will give us the best chance of making "food" grade, for which we'll get paid a premium above the "feed" grade. I wrote more on that here.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Loading Seeds into the Tender

 A long couple of days. I'll come up with a less taxing way to do this in the future. I'm hoping that the rain holds off tonight and we can drive everything 12 miles down the highway and drill the 90 acres of wheat over the next couple of days.


Forgot to say in the video that I'll be underseeding the (hopefully) food grade organic wheat with Berseem clover. Once the wheat is harvested in mid August the clover will continue fixing nitrogen and stabilizing the soil until its winter killed. In 2022 I'll plant organic beans on this ground.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Seeds Delivered Today

After getting an unexpected call this morning that the delivery semi-trailer was five minutes away, I went out and started up the loader tractor.

(Click on any image to make it bigger.)


First off the truck were six pallets, holding a total about 15,000 lbs of organic wheat seeds. Shown in the picture below, they will get drilled - and underseeded with Berseem clover - on roughly 90 acres. As soon as it dries out, probably in 3 to 4 days, Dad/Gramps and I will get that done.

The seeding rate for wheat is much higher than for corn.  The corn seeds pictured on the pallet below, roughly 2200 lbs, will cover about 100 acres. They won't get planted until the soil is much warmer, probably at the end of May.


Below is the invoice for all the seeds I bought, which includes grass/hay and oat seeds in addition to what is pictured above. The grass/hay/oat seeds will be used to rejuvenate a small area of pasture. My neighbor, Rodrigo, of Cala Farms, has plans to rotationally graze sheep on that ground. Before that can happen I want to improve the ground, first by adding lime and turkey litter that the soils tests require and then reseeding it with the Deere 750 no-till drill.

I wrote a little bit about how I chose all the different seed varieties, here.


Monday, March 29, 2021

Time to Sell the Boom Lift - (updated: the online auction will be May 17, 2021)

 It's a 2006 Genie Z45/25 with ~4550 hours. I had the local Genie shop repair several things on it last spring - injectors, muffler, cam sensor - see the work order below. I haven't used it much, though it was invaluable when I did, so I think it's time to sell it to free up money and space for other equipment.

The money I've spent on repairs, as well as the potential loss from selling it, is probably about what I would have spent to rent one.  On the positive side, I've learned a bit about a different kind of equipment and gone a long way toward overcoming my fear of heights.

 



The above work order took about $1800 to clear up. Aside from the small leak in the timing cover gasket, things seem to be running as they should.

One of the few jobs involving the boom lift that I filmed was taking down the old farmhouse chimney.  You can see that, here.