Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Toad-ally soaking wet through

I guess I should always remember the old adage "Be careful what you ask for."

We needed some rain. The garden was bone dry and I didn't want to have to dig out the sprinklers and wotnot.

But then it rained for three days and nights, more or less. Only thirty-seven to go and we'll have a proper Noah's flood. There have been about five inches total in the sheep's food bowls in the last forty-eight hours alone.

The sheep are most unhappy with all the rain.

Other animals like it.

Aimee, who had been away on a molecular biology course, came home Saturday. The next day (during a break in the weather), she was working in her herb garden and found this huge toad. He was living in an earthern crack under one of the baulks in the retaining wall.

I expect he would have had to leave his spot, which gets very hot and dry in full summer, had it not rained so much.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Watching the satellite

There should be a rainstorm or thunderstorm in an hour or so. That little red blob to our west.

Good, because we're bone dry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A hot day

It's a hot day, 86 F at the airport in Bangor, perhaps a little cooler here up in the Jackson hills. I've been working outside, but I came in seeking a cooler place. A good time to post an update on the blog.

Here's the south side of the house, with the herb garden and the wall where Aimee has been shingling. This is her own private project. I'm not allowed to do any of this work except to set the scaffold, staple the construction paper, and paint the trim.

I had been told by her Aimeeness a few days ago that I'd have to shift the scaffold and brace it a little better. Apparently it had been a little wobbly of late.

I waited for a day with a little cloud because in the very direct sun that we've been having, this spot would be a heat trap. This morning dawned a little foggy, and so before that burned off, I'd have a window of opportunity. I put up the last of the construction paper on the left and this was enough to tell me, yes, the scaffold was a bit wobbly. So it was off to the lumber yard for some two by four material to use as braces and as a safety rail.

That chore was followed by lunch -- with a ham sandwich of our own ham, as well as snap peas and radishes from our garden, and a half glass of rhubarb wine. Then I puttered in the vegetable garden, pulling weeds, watering, and fitting tomato cages. The garden is looking fairly good if I do say so myself. We should have some new potatoes in a week or two.

The rhubarb wine is another recent project. We have a good crop of rhubarb which we use for British style desserts like rhubarb crumble, but I though we might also have some wine out of it.

This is the finished product below. It's a little cloudy with pectin, but tastes just fine.

At least, I think so. But I'm in that self-satisfied mode I get into whenever the first harvests begin to come in, so I'm biased.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The mother of all grills

I was happy to pick up a used oil tank the other day. I'd been wanting one for a while, to build a grill and smoker for lamb and fish. 

These are very common metal tanks for home heating oil, and most Maine homes have one or two. We have one in our basement. The metal is one eighth inch mild steel, which has numerous uses here and there around a farm and can even be sold for scrap, so they're worth salvaging just for the steel. You can cut it with a circular saw, if you have the right kind of blade.

This particular one had about five gallons of black oil sludge left in it, a potential environmental hazard that would need to be dealt with first. You could see why it had been replaced. Although the metal was sound, the sludge had blocked up the outlet, so it would not have been serviceable. 

Disconnecting an unblocking the outlet, I collected the oil in an old paint bucket to take to the recyclers, and then sprayed a few gallons of water over the inside to dampen down any sparks. Heat oil is not particularly volatile, as petroleum products go, and twenty gallons of water was enough of a dampener to be able to cut the thing up safely. It did take about ten blades for the circular saw, each one being good for about four feet of cutting.

I took off the rounded ends and hinged them together on a stand to make a very solid grill/smoker combination. The next job will be to fire it, to burn off the oily smell. Then I will need some actual grills, from an old oven or similar. Then watch out! Grill city, here we come. I have a stash of apple wood logs saved up just for the purpose. For smoking, we'll start a small fire in one corner and keep the lid closed and the draft shut down.

In other farm business, we've been waging war on the thistles. Aimee has decided, in her wisdom, that a donkey, or even two, may be needed around here. Apparently donkeys like thistles. Who knew?

A pair of donkeys have therefore been found and booked in for a few weeks of thistle eradication duty. Be sure to tune in for future news about these additional farm beasts later in the year. I'm sure they will be very newsworthy.

Especially if they actually eat the thistles. I have my doubts.

In the meantime, I've been mowing thistles. To begin, with our old Bolens riding mower's cutting deck out of action, I used a push mower, but that got old fast. I then went out and bought the bush hog in the last post, but although that equipment does a number on thistles, as well as the sumac and other noxious weeds we have, it isn't maneuverable enough to get all the thistles I need to get cost effectively. Some smaller unit was needed, something in between the push mower and the bush hog.

I decided to rebuild the Bolens deck. I figured this would be a good investment, and it was. These old Bolens mowers are very sturdy, a serious bit of equipment not at all like the plastic s**te you find in Home Despot.

I had to somehow track down a new spindle shaft, blades, and pulley for an old Bolens 18300 deck. I don't know when these machines were made but I'd say the late eighties or early nineties. Bolens was long ago bought out by MTD, and the new parts would have been several hundred dollars. As it was, the hunt for secondhand parts took several hours of Internet, about a hundred miles of driving, and $130 dollars, all for a box of nasty, greasy, mower deck pieces.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Here's the rebuilt mower with deck fitted. A solid beast if ever there was one. And it cuts well again, almost as good as new. I think $130 is a lot better than the couple thousand we might have spent on a new mower, which would probably only have lasted a few years.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Piglets and tillers

Our piglets arrived last Thursday, a day earlier than expected, but nearly three weeks later than in previous seasons. We'll have to see how well we do at getting them up to butchering weight by Thanksgiving. 

This year we bought Berkshires, from a young Amish farmer in Unity. They seem fairly happy to be here. At their first home they were facing some pretty stiff competition for food, so this is the easy life. Plus they get treats, like Aimee's watermelon rinds and so on.

We also went out Saturday and purchased a bush hog. Not a different kind of pig, this is a piece of farm equipment for clearing brush. We were able to get a good condition four-foot Land Pride bush hog for $400, a bargain, and, what is more amazing our tiny 12.5 horse 1973 Kubota B6000 tractor can actually run it. I had some doubts, having spent a day earlier in the week trying to run, as an experiment, a much heavier unit that I'd borrowed from a local farm organization. The older heavier model couldn't actually be lifted with the tractor's hydraulic three point hitch, but the new one could. If it hadn't worked, I'd have had to sell the new one right away and go back to the drawing board, but all was well.

There were some difficulties on the equipment front, though. On Saturday our tiller shed its pulleys. Not the one I'd been expecting to fall off, but the engine pulley. The bolt had sheared off in the drive shaft end, and would have to be drilled out.

This created an occasion for me to use my engine-basher skills from the RAF. I removed the motor form the chassis and, it not being such a big unit, was able to fit it directly onto my drill press and make a nice precise 7/64ths hole in the sheared bolt. A quick twist with an #2 Easy-Out, and all was ready to reassemble. Very satisfying.

Maybe I should give up the teaching lark and start a machine shop.