Sunday, June 26, 2011

A long trip and some clipped wings

One of the good and bad things about being an academic is that you have to go to academic conferences. This can be fun, like a mini-vacation, and I always enjoy learning new things, but I do very like being home too.

There wouldn't be much point to keeping up an old Maine farmhouse and farm if I didn't like being here better than other places.

So I don't like to go to conferences that much. Enough to get me out of the door, but I tend to hurry back. Aimee likes it a good deal more than I do, and will often linger for a day or two.

Whatever happens, one of us has to be here to tend to the farm animals.

Accordingly, Aimee got back from her trip to the ABLE conference in New Mexico on Tuesday, as I was getting ready to leave for the AESS conference in Vermont on Thursday. Aimee came home two days late. I left a day late and come home a day early.

But even only three days instead of five was enough to make me feel like things were getting a little out-of-hand at home. I left with the barn literally groaning with hay, hurriedly pushed into the downstairs where the animals need to live, and my truck was full of wood off-cuts from the barn-building project at the college, just now getting done after nearly three years' on-and-off work.

The garden was OK when I left but pretty weedy when I got back. And the chickens were still getting out regularly, although they haven't threatened the neighbors' gardens.

So I sorted the hay and tidied up the wood. Aimee read up on how to clip chicken wings and we performed the operation yesterday afternoon, and now only one bird is regularly escaping instead of three. The top photo is of them free to wander a little in the North Paddock (west) now their wings are clipped. This paddock is fenced with chicken wire, and so they can have the run of it.

The pigs are no bother, as long as they're fed several times a day. They got the pizza I brought home from my trip, but forgot to unload from the car.

Finally, I went out to Reny's store in Belfast and got some new green wellies, my old black ones having developed leaks.

So, with all that and a little tidying around the house, it's feeling much more organized around here.

Here's one of our chickens brooding in the new hay.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hay there

We had about seven days of dry breezy weather, with a high pressure ridge lingering over the great State o' Maine, and so it seemed that the whole state set about making hay.

That much reliably dry weather after a spring in which we got both sun and rain in abundance, and not too much of either, will mean a bumper crop, too.

Accordingly, on Monday night my own phone rang and I heard the high reedy voice of a fifteen year-old Amish farmer with an offer of hay.

Timothy is following in his brother's footsteps and learning to make a living from the land. One of his other brothers is an extremely competent self-taught wind power engineer, but that's another story. Timothy and James, brothers two and three (out of thirteen siblings total), have opted for the farm rather than the workshop.

I was scheduled to be busy with my crew all day Tuesday, so I arranged to come get as many bales as I could on Wednesday.

This, of course, is not the way you do hay, being picky about schedules like this. You drop everything and make and put up the hay while you have the weather to do so. But I have a crew to run, and so can't drop everything.

But, when a little more weather-luck and a serious but fortuitous snag with Tuesday's wind power research job left me free Tuesday afternoon, I showed up a day early at the farm with my truck and a borrowed trailer, and Timothy and I labored together to load the first hundred bales while his father drove a two-horse team around the field dragging an older baler with a large single cylinder Wisconsin engine, making a fresh bale every twenty or thirty seconds.

Not too shabby a productivity rate for horse power! It took both of them to get that old motor running, though. There's just a flywheel to spin by hand, no starter motor or pull cord, and even working together they could only push the crank through one ignition stroke.

Think of it: Only one chance for the engine to catch on each try. When you start a car the starter motor can turn the engine through as many ignition strokes as are needed.

It was a bit like prop-starting one of the old Chipmunk trainers we still had in the RAF in the 1970s and 80s.

And any baler is so heavy you need the most massive horses to pull it, especially when you also tow a hay wagon and load at the same time.

It's quite the system. But it works. And picking the hay off the field saved me fifty cents a bale, even though I had Timothy's help to pick it.

Actually, towards the end of the first load a crew of Amish youths from a different family showed up to help, and one of them came with Tim and myself to put the bales up in my barn.

This was the first time any of our local Amish had traveled to our own farm, although I've visited most of them at their farms for one purchase or another.

Their verdict? "Cute." Our place is small and only lightly productive by their standards. But it's obviously well managed, or at least they thought so.

I only required a total of two hundred bales, and the day was wearing on with the driving back and forth very slowly, our old farm truck carrying and towing three tons of hay at a time. I had the two youths load me another hundred bales as I drove around the field, planning to off-load them by myself.

Just as we were finishing our second load, the shear pin connecting the Wisconsin engine to the baler severed with a loud bang, and I watched as their father threw the mechanical clutch, replaced the pin with the engine still running, and then started the baler again.

Most balers have a shear pin somewhere, in case a big rock or piece of iron is encountered in the windrow. It's easier to replace a small pin than it is to repair the damage to the baler mechanism.

That old Wisconsin must truly be hard to start, though, to require the pin be replaced with the engine running. I think I would have shut it down, even if only to have a minute's peace in the hayfield while I switched out the broken shear pin.

A starter motor would be nice.

Back home with the last of the bales at about five-thirty, I struggled to get them into the barn attic by myself. The hay door is eight feet off the ground, and having already loaded and unloaded a hundred bales, I was pretty tired. The bales were a good solid forty pounds each, and some were much more. I managed to get half the load in the attic. The rest was temporarily stashed on the ground floor.

But that was that: The hay was in, safe, out of the weather. The important part was done. This was a nice bit of good luck.

Of the several big farm jobs each year: shearing, firewood, hay, all but one are done now. I've made a start on firewood, but I still need three more cords.

Aimee will have to help me get the rest of the hay up to the attic this weekend sometime.

Despite the fact that we will have to move some of this hay later, this was still the most efficient hay-day we've had since we bought the farm.

Thanks to some good weather and a very young Amish farmer.

Wouldn't it be nice if all youngsters were as helpful and as productively engaged?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rose by name

This is a quiet weekend around the farm. Aimee is off to a conference in New Mexico, although not near the brush fires, but at the other end of the state. I have a long to-do list, but with a busy week ahead, I'm not working very far down it.

The sheep went onto the New Paddock this morning, while I cut some firewood out of their main enclosure, the Back Forty. That left a bunch of ash and birch branches with lots of delectable leaves on the ground, so I was sure to let them back in as soon as I was done with my trailer load of wood so they could chow down.

Then it was time for a hoe-down. With only one of us here since Tuesday, the garden had been neglected most of the week. It took a good couple hours with the scuffle hoe to get it back in shape.

The potatoes, onions, and Aimee's lettuce are all doing fine, but the tomatoes haven't really gotten going yet. The nights haven't been that warm. Tomatoes won't really get a move on until the nights exceed 60 F.

That should come soon, with the advent of July.

Here's one of my favorite garden plants, the Rosa rugosa outside our front door.

I think it's actually two different bushes because there are both white and pink flowers.

Either way, it's pretty. I love roses, and hope to have quite a few more one day.

Our peace and serenity was shattered when the phone rang this afternoon, and a lady with a pronounced southern accent was on the other end of the line.

She wanted to know if our surplus ewes were still for sale, and if so how much did they weigh and how much meat could she expect to get off one?

At least I thought that was what she said. Like I said, she had a thick accent. I don't always understand southerners that well, whether British or American ones.

We do have an ad on Craig's List and on the Maine Sheep Breeder's Association web page, for several of our two and one-year old ewes. We have too many sheep for overwintering, and would like to part out our flock.

I explained fairly gruffly (I'd been woken from a nap) that they were not for sale except for breeding purposes. She was disappointed and whiny. I hung up on her.

A few minutes later the phone rang again. The same voice on the other end wanted to know, right off the bat, if our ewes were "for sale for meat, since the last guy she spoke to wouldn't sell her any."

I explained as patiently as I could that I was the same guy.

"Well, what're you doing with two phones then?"

I was too dumbfounded to hang up again.

Finally, I told her to read the ad, where it says clearly, "Animals will be sold to well-managed farms only, for breeding purposes only, not for meat or lawn ornaments."

Then I hung up.

There are two reasonable explanations for this telephonic visitation:

1) This was a crank call, and someone is winding me up, or

2) This was a really stupid person.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Living the (not so) simple life

It took me three days, working on and off, to get into proper shape to start the firewood chore for the year. I was able to replace the bottom of the wall easily enough, but I decided I needed to repaint the whole wall, and that was when I found that the soffit was rotting out quite badly behind the guttering.

I though I was being pretty smart when I put up that piece of guttering to keep the rain off the wood pile, but it looks like the rain managed to get behind the gutter and ran into the soffit, and so a whole length of soffit board and faceboard had to be wrecked out, replaced, primed, and painted.

Then the gutter was refitted, set up a good deal higher, right under the drip edge.

This time I used caulking to seal the gutter to the drip edge.

This wasn't such a lot of work in any given step, but it was a lot of steps.

What a complicated start to getting the firewood in! So much for the simple life.

So I was pretty glad to put the last touches to the whole repair and finally make it into the woods to cut firewood. I was very careful to keep the log cribs well away from the newly repaired wall.

I cut down ash, some cherry and one aspen that was in the way. Only a third of a cord, but a start.

The cherry had a big burl on it, which gave me a chance to use my new log splitter. Works pretty good.

I checked the blog. Last year I didn't start cutting firewood until later in June, mostly because I was in Britain with my sister Carol, burying my father.

It doesn't feel like a year since my dad died, but I guess it must be.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sorry siding

I needed to get our firewood cut, split and stacked for the winter, but the garage wall where we keep the wood was in sad shape.

Even though we place pallets between the wood and the wall, the extra moisture was causing the paint to peel and the siding to rot.

So I took my Skilsaw and somewhat unskillfully cut out the rotten sections of boarding and replaced it with some better lumber I had lying around.

The replacement material had been wrecked out of one of the two sheep shelters I had demolished earlier as part of the Great Chicken POW Camp Project. The sheep lumber was hemlock, as was the original garage wall. Eastern hemlock is a pretty stout and rot-proof, locally-grown building material, cheap and abundant around here, but these particular boards were also pretreated with lanolin from the sheeps' fleece.

I decided I couldn't possibly go wrong with lanolin-impregnated hemlock.

Maybe I should market it.

After fitting the new boards, I scrubbed off some of the remaining loose paint with the rotary wire brush head on the angle grinder, and gave it a thick coat of anti-mold primer, which left the building looking kind of piebald, but good to go structurally for a few more years.

Now I need to go to the hardware store tomorrow and match the finish paint color.

Ordinarily Aimee would not trust me to do the color-match thingy, and for good reason.

Aimee, and indeed most other females of the species, seem to be able to discern about a thousand more colors than I can. I can just about keep the primary colors sorted, and then things get kinda fuzzy.

But Aimee says (does anyone else miss the awesome British TV public service announcement cat "Charlie says"?) that Home Depot now have a machine to match colors for you, so errant husbands can now be sent to the paint department unaccompanied.

Now that's a very good thing, because if the machine matches the paint, and the paint is still the wrong color (as it surely will be), then the husband cannot be blamed!

Or can he?

To be continued.

Watch this space for another exiting episode of Mick Fixes the Garage next week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rough roof and ruff ruff

A long time ago I told myself I would put a metal roof on our barn. The cheap and nasty composite roll roofing we have on there has tended to blow off in storms, and there is at least one bad leak and probably several others. I had stashed away some large pieces of gash roofing at college -- stuff that would have been thrown away otherwise -- and finally found the time to cut it to size and fit it.

("Gash," as in "gash roofing," is RAF engine fitter and general service slang for metal waste, or just about any kind of junk, or when used in the phrase "gash jobs," it means odd, usually unpleasant, jobs that you have to do.)

This roofing was dirty and already had screw holes in it, and not particularly evenly placed ones at that, but it was free, and will look fine after a few rainstorms and a little sun-bleaching. I just put new self-sealing screws in all of the old screw holes. There's plywood under the roll roofing so this was fine. If there had been purlins instead, this wouldn't have worked.

I need another 150 running feet of roofing, but only 27 of those need to match. You can't see the top of the gambrel roof from anywhere on the farm.

Except, well, from the top of the gambrel roof.

So pretty much any color and style of metal roof could go up there. I have calls into a couple of guys with classified ads for second hand, and offcuts of new, roofing. We'll see what we can do. I should be able to find something.

The recently-sheared sheep have grown out a quarter-inch of new fleece already, enough to keep the bugs off, and are much happier with life: lots of green grass, cool weather, and no hot heavy fleece to carry around!

The blackflies are all but gone anyway, and although we have had some no-see-ums, the mosquitoes don't bother us much here on the breezy, sunny knoll that is the Great Farm, so that's the worst of bug season over. In other parts of Maine, of course, the air is still thick with skeeters, but here it's nice out now here, and has been a very comfortable temperature the last couple of days.

Two chickens have been consistently getting out of the new chicken pen.

They must be the stars of that movie, Chicken Run.

Aimee took pictures while Haggis and I caught them this last time. They went to ground under the Christmas spruce in our front yard. Haggis likes to show his chicken herding skills off, so it's fine by him if there are chickens to catch.

Sheep are another matter. This morning, as I was moving them from one paddock to another, he just turned his head away in shame.

What a sorry sheepdog.

But what a fine chicken-dog. Just look at those moves!