Monday, November 26, 2018

We Survived the Blizzard

We Survived the Blizzard!
The Farm Report 11-26-2018

Whew! We survived the Blizzard of November 2018! And let me tell you, it was a 'doozey.'  

I actually felt pretty smug because this blizzard was predicted. The Saturday before it hit, it was in the 50'sF and I was in the woods cutting fire wood. Actually, I cut 3 loads with Henry Ford's help and hauled them down to the outdoor boiler. So with a big fire roaring, and 800 gallons of water heated to nearly boiling, I felt I was ready to go in and sit out a real blizzard. 

Much like a hurricane, this storm was predictable. Though it was in the high 50'sF all day Saturday, the skies were dark and ominous. The light was low and there was zero wind - which is unheard of at Oakdale Farm. Eeeerie. This pic was taken before 4:00pm, when it should have been much lighter out. Lows that night were supposed to be in the teens F. I had 14F the next morning.

There is something about a storm. It puts you on edge. You're looking to the north here, and it is as if you could see the trouble if only the trees would duck down for just a minute. You can almost 'feel' the evil spirits swirling. 

The morning after the storm, things looked pretty typical. During the night, the winds howled out loud. The house creaked and begged for the 50 mph winds and horizontal snows to let up. We had rain to start with, so there was ice underneath it all, too. My compost bale has never had a chance to begin heating up. Patience, Tim! It will cook eventually. It always does. 

The winds blew over my 'shade house' there in the distance. I use this little structure to harden off new plants and to keep house plants outside during the summer. They mostly don't like full bright light, so the shade and shelter of this house helps them thrive. Rebuilding committee needed! 

So this is what I thought I would be reporting on for this issue. This is the 17th year I am heating the house with this outdoor wood burning boiler. The fire is in the little green house, which is actually a 400 gallon water tank with a fire box inside it. The nearly boiling water is pumped underground up to the house and then through the radiators - and then back again to the boiler for more heat. (OK, so there is also a propane boiler IN the house which can heat the water too - if I get lazy and don't burn wood out here. I love burning wood though!) The house was originally heated with wood but the original wood boiler is long since gone. There is another 400 gallons of water up there. That makes 800 gallons in all, joined into one system. That much hot water will keep me warm quite a while.

How do I get the wood to the boiler? Well, you've gotta have some equipment! Henry Ford is one of my favs. I built this hauler box to mount on the 3-point hitch behind. I can raise and lower it at will - almost effortlessly. And yes, that is two! chainsaws in their custom built holders. You need to carry two so you can be sure you'll have ONE which will work. 

On the front end, I built a carrying box that mounts to a front hitch I welded on. The saws, oil, gas and 'cuss box' are all inside that. If you don't know what a cuss box is, then you've never had to do field repairs and maintenance. You're blessed.

Sometimes I go to the woods and cut and split up there. Other times, I cut a log and drag it back to the boiler to link it up. Here, I'm using a cable to pull the log across the field.  I try to have some logs dragged in near the boiler for my winter 'savings account'.  I usually try to wait until the ground is frozen so I don't make tracks.

See that shiny sharp chain tooth? The secret to success cutting wood - or I suppose anything else for that matter - is SHARP tools. I like my chains razor sharp. I want to see wood chips when I cut, not sawdust! I sharpen frequently, so I cuss less often. 

There are some other wood cutting tools you need to know about if you decide you want to be a lumberjack and heat your house with wood. The tongs are a big help when I lift logs to drag them. I have another tool bar that fits on Emmie's 3-point hitch that uses these tongs. (Emmie, as you'll recall, is my 1947 Farmall M. It is a bulldog of a tractor and will pull anything I need pulling.) 

The next up are some hand tools. What we have here is a 'hookaroon' and a 'pickaroon'. They help me move logs and log sections around without so much bending over and gnashing of teeth - or pinching of fingers! 

This pickaroon  is my homemade version. I like to make my own tools, and this is one of 'em. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. The day I needed this tool, I just happened to have a broken maul handle (Swing and a miss!) and a bolt. A little brazing and some grinding, and presto! I didn't have to spend an extra $50 bucks.

This is a hookaroon I did spend actual cash on. It is heavier, like an ax, and can actually stick into the end of a cut log section. The pickaroon is light, and I use it to mostly stand up log sections and pitch them into the hauler. It works like an old fashioned biblical sling. The hookaroon is a beast. I wham it into a log, and like magic, the log has a handle on it. 

The hookaroon handle sticks enough to let me lift the log up into the boiler. Then, with a smooth 'all in the wrist' action, it comes off and leaves the log on the fire. 

Fire! This, after all is said and done, is what we're really after. Nothing better than building a nice fire, closing the door, and heading for the nice warm house knowing we're set for another day - or two. All that hot water will heat us for a long time. 

Wait, you can't go to the house though until the chickens are fed and watered. To her surprise, Zoey found out that snow drifts are not easily seen until you're butt deep in 'em. Especially if you're almost 15 and have cataracts. I'm OK though! Hope you are, too. And if I leave you singing the Monty Python 'Lumberjack Song' well, we'll both enjoy the laugh. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Spud Buster!

Spud Buster!

The Farm Report 11-09-2018

"There's more than one way to skin a cat," I always heard as a kid growing up in Iowa. Here are two ways to dig potatoes: one is the 'old fashioned' way. Potato forks have their place. 

Here's my version. When the farm store sold me the attachment, they called it a 'Middle Buster.' I added my own homemade potato digger, and voila! now it is a Spud Buster. Eat your heart out, Red Green!

You really didn't think I would use a fork to hand dig spuds from rows this long, did you? What do I do with all the 'taters? Murphies are good for lots of things including baking, but I enjoy giving away a lot of garden produce. Since I have the room, why not grow 'em? 

Henry Ford is quoted as saying that 'Generally, a man with a machine is more productive than a man alone.' I agree. This little 1952 Ford 8N is not only fun, it works, too. 

I like to wash off the excess dirt before storing. I have a constantly cool dark room where I can keep them, usually all winter long. The left-overs will go back into the ground next March to seed the new crop. 

Ready to go nite-nite for the winter.

Over the years, I've learned (the hard way) that the storage containers need to breath. I use a hot soldering iron to perforate the plastic lids and sides. Don't forget to make drain holes in the bottoms, too. (Juicy rotten potato soup collecting in the bottoms isn't pleasant! Ask me how I know....) 


That's right; it is just exactly what it looks like. This is a modified cement mixer/tater washer.  

I don't watch Red Green for fun. It is instructional TV. I know that because it used to be on ETV - Public Broadcasting at its University sponsored finest. How do you make one? First, get yourself a cement mixer and take out the mixer paddles inside. Then, cut a plastic drum to make a belt that can fit inside where the paddles were. Drill out the plastic belt and add rubber chicken plucker fingers. You get 'em on ebay. 

When everything is locked and loaded, add your spuds. Fill it with water and Turn It On! 

This is a video. I hope it will play for you. Believe it or not, this thing works! What do you do with all those golf ball sized little Murphies? Slick 'em up in the Buster, and then grate 'em into hash browns. See it on Youtube.

Here's a batch cleaned and ready for the kitchen. 

How could you not want one? 

Alternative November Calendar Picture....
Compare last week's 'Official' November shot to this one. It is supposed to get to around 14F tonight with high winds. (Editor's Note: It actually got down to 6F!) One month ago, October 3, actually, it was 92F and I was running the AC. Iowa weather is just something else. Warm and cozy here at the farm. Oakdale is for teaching the ebb and flow of the seasons - and reminding us we are just along for the ride. Have a great week! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Going, Going, Gone.... The Farm Report 11-02-2018

Going, Going, Gone....
The Farm Report 11-02-2018

Going, Going, Gone.... The growing season, that is. Fall has taken over; the leaves are falling, and we're ready to be off to the next season's fun here at Oakdale Farm.  This is the lane that leads us into the woods and my favorite 'fantasy land.'

The gardens have been plowed. The cover crops have been turned under to compost in place for the winter. Soon, I will re-plant more rye and oats on this plowed ground to make even more 'green manure' for the earth - and food for our table next summer! Hopefully, it will be a sea of green before the ground freezes hard for the duration.

This is the 'East Forty'. The green row by the poly tunnel is my new strawberry patch. 

Plowed ground was common when I was a kid. Every farmer plowed his fields in the fall. It is not the best practice. We know that now. Of course, the Romans knew this centuries ago when they 'invented' cover cropping! We live and learn though. This is what my corn fields look like in the fall now. That green is cereal rye that has been planted as a winter cover crop. It was planted by airplanes before the corn was harvested so it could get a head start sprouting. As soon as the corn is out - and the light gets in - the little rye plants are already germinated and ready to spring into action soaking up and holding nitrogen for next year's crops. 

The Two Henriettas and the Replacement Brigade prefer plowed ground though. The hunting is so much more fun, and the worms are so much easier to get.

So now that the gardening season has pretty much closed, I can begin to go back into my woods. This is one of my all time favorite places to be - but not in the summer. It is like a steam bath jungle in there then.  

Zoey thinks running up the lane to the timber is great. It is about a quarter of a mile each way, but she loves running it. That's my 1947 Farmall 'M's nose you're seeing.   

It was almost like Zoey was saying, "Yahoo!" when we entered the clearing where I drag logs to cut up and split. Joyce always called this 'Picnic Point.' There is too much poison ivy on the ground to actually have a picnic there, but it's the thought that counts.

The only problem is, Zoey can smell the coyotes a mile away. And she smells 'em now. 

Which means she is more than ready to get the heck out of there as quick as she can! That little tiny black dot down by the bushy trees is Zoey leading me home - on the run at full speed. Sometimes we make this trip 6 or 8 times a day. No wonder she needs 'Doggy-Profen' at the end of the days. She's almost 15 after all. 

But wait, that's not all! One more garden chore. It's time to make compost. At Oakdale Farm, we do it a little bit different out here than they might do in townie gardens. Emmie is up to the challenge.

Recipe: First, get a junk Big Round Bale. Next, flip it on end, jelly roll side up. 

Add Water 

Add lots and lots and lots of water. I will let the hose sprinkle water to soak the bale. The water will run all day for a couple of days; this will trigger the composting reaction to begin. Pretty soon, I'll show you a picture of this bale giving off steam some cool morning. When these compost, they get HOT! inside - which cooks the weed seeds and grows all that good ooie gooie bacteria and fungus which the plants love. 

Anything new brings supervision from the troops. 

And here is the November calendar picture for the month. Grey November. The light is not only shorter each day, the brightness is going away, too. Time to go indoors to plan out next summer's garden and look at the seed catalogs which will be coming soon. The cycle of life continues, and all is quiet at Oakdale Farm. Have a great week!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Nodding Off: The Farm Report 10-26-2018

Nodding Off:
 The Farm Report 10-26-2018

As we near the end of October and the days get shorter, everything is beginning to nod off. The garden seems like an old man who just sat down in his chair for the evening. When he sat down, he was still full of energy and ideas; but then as the hours waned, he began to drift a little. We went from this picture two weeks ago... this. The buckwheat has been killed by... 

...This! Snow! In the middle of October! We went from no frost to inches of snow and ice cold temps overnight. And I don't mean that figuratively. I mean OVERNIGHT! 

If you're not a gardener, you've never tasted the sweet goodness of fresh broccoli. If you're not a stubborn gardener, you've never tasted the special sweetness of broccoli after a frost. 'Cold?' asks the broccoli? 'We didn't notice it.' My 'sconie' days are showing, but I'm hungry for cheesy beer and  broccoli soup! (That would be 'Wisconsin days' for those not from there.)

The Michigan State University carrot project is still waiting for harvest. I usually try not digging the last of the carrots until just before the ground freezes. Sugar is Mother Nature's anti-freeze, and it makes the late carrots soooo sweet. Carrots like cold weather too.

After all the heat we endured this past summer, it is amazing that I have any strawberry plants at all. But! 'Hope springs eternal!' and I do have a really nice strawberry bed heading into next spring. 

Watermelons don't like cold at all. But the chickens do like cold weather melons. I pop one open for them every day or two. It does cause them some 'problems' which are unspeakable for here. But it is funny to see them poop water! I'm scheduled to have a colonoscopy in a few weeks, so maybe I shouldn't laugh. Karma?

This one little sad rose is all that survived from Joyce's Rose Bed. It had one more little perfect red rose bud growing on it. I was anticipating bringing it to you as a cover shot. 

So then one morning when I was out on my coffee/garden stroll I glanced over at it to see how it was doing. 'THOSE BASTARDS!' I shouted!!! The deer had leaned over the fence and clipped it off like they used scissors - and ate it for desert.  All they left me was the stem.

This pretty much tells all about the season. Time to gather in and close up. 

Sorry, Beth, but the snow took a tole on the muskmelon project. One bucket is still trying, the other is now planted to parsley. If we can't have melon, then we'll have delicious potato soup - with parsley. 

The lettuces inside the greenhouse are thriving! This one is 'Little Gem.' 

This one is 'All Year 'Round' 

This one is a romaine type called 'Little Caesar' 

The roots they grow in the hydroponic sweater pans are amazing. 

Even though it is cold and the season is ending, there is always a place for an afternoon in the sun. They just laid there and soaked up the last of the heat. 

Chickens in the road!

'Big Daddy' has had about all the crap he's going to tolerate from the diva, Silver Henrietta. It has been fun to watch him come into his own as the Sultan of the Flock. He's still being nice, but it won't be long before he takes up his scepter and orb.  This is all that remains of the season's flock: The Two Henriettas and the Remnant Brigade. They spend nights in Super Max High Security Jail. Last night at about 3:00 in the morning, Seth!, there were 5 coyotes running right where they are standing. All is right with the world here at Oakdale Farm, but slowing down.