Friday, May 30, 2014

DownEast dickering

Aimee and I went on a shopping trip this Memorial Day. We needed to go check out baby stuff at the big box baby store in Portland. But we also wanted to check out a hay elevator I found on Maine Craigslist

We came back with a little baby stuff, but more elevator. Thirty-two feet, to be exact. The price was steep too, even if that is a poor pun, but working hay elevators are hard to find. I'd been searching the classifieds for weeks trying to find one. There were only two available in the whole state of Maine, and the other one was brand new and twice the price. In my own re-enactment of the new History Channel show about Maine, Down East Dickering, I managed to get a two-hundred dollar price reduction. This was fair, considering how rusty the unit was, but I think I still paid too much. I had to replace all the rusty bolts holding it together, paint it, grease it, and tinker with the motor before I was satisfied with it. I also removed an eight-foot section, making it only twenty-four feet, so it could be stored in the thirty-foot long barn attic. It will need a second coat of paint later this summer, if I can find the time.

Even so, I'm looking forward to putting up hay without breaking my back this year. That's routinely the hardest day's work of the year for me, since I'm the one that has to boost the bales into the attic door, nine feet off the ground.

I'll still need to find a hay vendor that is willing to help load, though, or hire a helper for the day. Aimee's in no position to help load hay, even with an elevator. Luckily, there are still some students in the area who might like to earn some extra money.

The other job we're working on is siding. This is part of the Grand Plan for the extension. Aimee wants a deck. I want one too, to round out the nice new living experience we're having with the extension. I can also imagine a toddler playing in the sun on said deck in a couple years' time, and it will make it fun and easy to get outside with the baby to get some sun.

But before we can have a deck, we need siding.

Here's my spray station for the eight-by-four foot siding boards. The rest of the house has coated cedar shingles, and the extension will eventually have those too, but it's one of Aimee's jobs to fit them and she's in no condition for ladder work right now, and may not be ready to go back to the shingles for a year or two.

Although lots of Mainers seem to leave off working on their houses at the Tyvek stage, that wasn't for me. I wanted some protection on those walls. Siding sprayed the same color as the shingles seemed a reasonable compromise. Each board takes only a few seconds to spray. I can do six at a time. The hard part is keeping the sprayer, a small Wagner airless, working.

Then the boards get screwed in place. Here's the gloomy corner between the shed/garage, the kitchen, and the extension. This is a small dead-end space that we created when we built the extension, and doesn't get much sun. It needs especially careful attention to water sealing. I also added another inch-and-a-half of foam board insulation behind the siding on the house. That will complete the house insulation project started in 2006. It's only taken me eight years to super insulate this old farmhouse.

We've neglected the garden for a couple weeks, while working on the hay elevator and siding projects, but the weather has been damp. Too damp to weed or hoe. That ended yesterday with a cold front. We even got a late frost the night before last (May 28th, for the record). There was cold ice on the Camry's windshield, but the garden was spared.

I'd like to get right back to siding, but the lambs need tetanus booster shots, and then two lambs have to go to our friend John and Nancy, where they will mow the lawn all summer before getting the chop in the fall.

The ewes will be upset.

Bad lamb stealer man Mick, again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Honey-do husbandry

This is why we're NOT going anywhere this summer, never mind that I'm not taking my six-month pregnant wife what will almost certainly be a terribly uncomfortable and dangerous car trip for her on the roads in the evil lower 47 where car accidents and road rage shootings and Republicans happen all the time.

Anyone who wants to see us can bloody well come here.

(Expect to do some work while here. That's what I'll be doing.)

In order of priority:

1) Help wife keep up with doctor's visits and other preventative health measures
2) Maintain and prepare four vehicles for Maine's winter, emphasis on safety, including rust prevention for all four, two safety stickers, one timing chain, one (more) brake job and servicings and oil changes
3) Maintain aging stock of tools and equipment to achieve what follows with less hand labor. Includes
  • transmission job on Bolens tractor
  • new engine for wheeled weed whacker
  • annual service for 41 year old Kubota
4) Extend septic tank drain field by 300 square feet
5) Put siding on the extension and the back of the main house and paint said siding. The extension currently has none
6)Build 300 square foot deck, with safety fence suitable for toddler, and various bells and whistles. Aimee is particularly looking forward to this, and planning out the bells and whistles for me
7) Build new better-looking sheep fence around the deck
8) Put up two-three cords of firewood
9) Keep sixteen sheep, including six lambs, healthy and strong
10) Put up at least three hundred bales of good hay and enough oats and other feed to last winter
11) Towards end of summer: Cull said sheep by selling live or as meat, get down to five or six for the winter
12) Breed remaining sheep in the fall. Sell or cull ram thereafter
13) Grow garden, harvest, put up usual amounts of healthy, non-pesticide sprayed, no chemical-containing food for wife, baby and me. Shift priorities somewhat to foods suitable for toddlers: Apple sauce, carrots, etc
14) Maintain four and a half acres of woodlot and pasture.
  • Remove weeds weekly, don't let them get established and set seed
  • Clear dangerous snags and drops
  • Top off firewood pile
  • Fight sumac grove for (yet) another year -- the Thirty Years War
15) Clean out barn for winter, compost bedding, a three-day job made harder by no pigs this year
16) Tidy up dangerous piles of tools and parts in the shed, make safer for eventual toddler
17) Last of all: get house ready for onslaught of family visitors. That's why we built that spare room
 I think I have my work cut out for me, don't you?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The big news

Aimee says she never reads the blog, but I expect we'll soon find out. This piece of news has been "embargoed" for months, mostly for privacy's sake, but also in case the baby wasn't "all right," requiring some more drastic thinking on our part. I expect most families have much the same set of concerns in these days of fetal ultrasounds and maternal genetic counseling. Most of those worries seem past us now.  

Deo gratis.

Aimee is still not particularly interested in telling folks, even folks who probably need to be told for one reason or another, mostly because she hates all the "OMG" shrieking and back-slapping that goes along with this kind of news. In a revealing series of facts, she has prohibited all talk of a baby shower, has not bought a single baby item yet, and hasn't even had one conversation with me, her husband, about baby names. As a partial result, I'm now in some awe of my wife's amazing uniqueness of personality. Although if I reflect on other experiences, I expect I knew it would be like this, or something like this.

However, and almost certainly in spite of her objections, pictured above for blog readers to admire, is the newest Womerlippi, albeit still quite firmly part of Aimee.

Things sure are going to change around here.

They already have.

For one thing, my honey-do list is now even longer and has a firm deadline. Everything that would normally be done throughout the summer and early fall, as long as the weather remained suitable now has to be done by the middle of August or sooner. All of it. All car work, all building work, the new septic extension, the deck, all the firewood, and as much of the food preservation as we (I) can possibly do. Never mind the repair of the secondhand crib that now sits in our spare bedroom, and other more directly related handiwork.

For another, any work or service organization colleagues that thought they were going to get any particular help out of me this summer and fall, whether it was college work or the large amounts of wind power science and service work I normally do, are already or soon to be sorely disappointed. I'm not going to a single conference. I postponed a much planned formal paper writing up my anemometry results from the last three years, a decision made easier by our ridiculous current Maine governor's Koch-funded opposition to wind power, ensuring the findings would fall on deaf ears anyway. Next year will have to be soon enough, when there's a strong likelihood that the next occupant of the Blaine house will be more reasonable. I cancelled the planned extension of said anemometry work into Downeast Maine, a cancellation made easier by poor planning and unresponsiveness to emails of some landowners, who may now whistle for their wind power studies. (Since they are rich private island-owners, it gives me extra satisfaction to write that out loud -- that Sheffield lad chip on my shoulder again.) I shut down all progress on two of three major college committees of which I'm chair. I removed myself from my MASAR Resource Officer, Duty Officer and training duties, and arranged to start the RAF Mountain Rescue Journal editing a month earlier and get more help. And, I'm afraid to say, we've planned a rather severe cull of our sheep herd, to get the numbers down to something more manageable over the winter in terms of materials processing and hay storage and so on. If you wanted a starter flock of cross-breed sheep or know someone who does, let us know ASAP.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

But we have other things on our minds right now.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lamb daze done and other news

Wednesday was shearing day at the farm, the biggest sheep management day of the spring season. Our shearer is Edi, a UMaine agriculture student with a talent for efficiently and gently removing all the fleece from a ewe or ram. First up was Shawn, who met his match and lived up to his name. Then we ran through all the ewes and ewe-lambs, finishing with the last three thought-to-be-pregant ewes, only to find that all was not as thought to be.

In fact, they were not at all pregnant. Not even a little bit.

So much for Shawn the home-grown ram. Growing your own is clearly not always better.

But poor Shawnie. He's probably sealed his fate at that. No-one will buy him if we can't point to a good lambing rate, so he'll have to go to be ramburger. He has one more season on the farm, but we won't want to keep him around after that. Even if he does better he won't live long enough for us to find out how well he did. It's just too much trouble to keep a ram you don't need anymore.

If Shawnie had done a better job, he would have had a better chance of being sold on to another farm.

Before another horrible anti-farming, anti-meat activist sends us snotty comments, think it through. This is not as horrible as it sounds. Our experience is that sheep tend to die pretty painful deaths at eight or nine years of age, if you keep them around to die of old age. A few good years of good health, all the feed and sunshine you want, the chance to reproduce, and then a quick clean unsuspecting death is not all that bad. And where do you think the manure comes from for the compost used in organic farming?

As for me, I get to sleep through the night now, after nearly five weeks of night checks every night.

Here's Quinn with her two black lambs, one boy and one girl. I only have pre-shearing pictures because my camera batteries died. I need to pull out the charger and charge up some. Still, you get to see how strong the lambies we do have are doing. They're very sturdy, all the troubles with white muscle disease left far behind.

Here's Flamie very excited by the sheep and lambs being put out to graze for the first time the other day. The grass has taken quite a while to grow, and is not at all up to snuff, but we decided to let them have a go at the island paddock. They were getting very tired of hay.

Finally, here's the "new" Nissan pick-em up truck on jackstands waiting for a new muffler, having failed inspection on that count.

I'd asked the mechanic, Mr. Thompson on the Valley Road in Brooks, if he would weld the muffler while he had the truck on the lift to change the tires, but it was cracked in more than one place and he gave up on it, telling me I had to get a new exhaust system from the catalytic converters back. Then followed a fairly hectic few days of mechanical work for me as I tried to cut the old system off, and then locate all the pieces needed to make a new exhaust system.

The problem is, as a long bed and four-door model, this truck's body style is fairly rare, and there are several different after-market exhaust system configurations, some of which don't have the same parts. The Nissan place in Bangor was no help. They didn't have as much as a single gasket on hand. In the end I went to CarQuest in Bangor for the muffler, tailpipe and intermediate pipe, ordered online for the crossover pipe, went to NAPA in Belfast for one gasket, all they had, and Autozone in Belfast for gasket material with which to make my own second gasket.

I still need what looks to be (from online parts diagrams) a long-bed extender pipe, which no-one seems to supply. But I also noticed that the old muffler, not original but after-market, had used a second intermediate pipe for this purpose, so wonder if it isn't just the same thing, and that's why no-one has it. If I do this I need to cut the rear flange off the crossover pipe, but I think it will work. We'll find out when all the parts get here.

In any case, all the work came to a temporary end after I managed to get a hot shard of steel embedded in my right eyeball. I needed to grind off the rusted bolts on the old muffler with the angle grinder, but at one point forgot to lower my goggles. This is an easy mistake. Getting middle-aged as I am, I can't actually see that well for close work anymore with either my glasses and googles on, so I'm in the habit of pausing work and lifting them from time to time, to be able to actually see what I'm doing. Sometimes I forget to lower them again. In this case I was rewarded with a very nasty injury to my eye.

This was a particularly painful splinter, as I couldn't get it out for several hours. It was tiny, but had penetrated the cornea and was stuck hard. Aimee, with her usual good timing, had left for the day to do fieldwork with her friend Pam, and so I had no-one to help me. In the end, after a couple hours of sporadic attempts to clear it, interspersed with attempts to continue work, it came out after a lucky swipe with the edge of a towel soaked in hot water, but the eye was still very sore.

It didn't help that the second job I wanted to do, with the muffler all off, was to spray phosphoric acid on the rust and bare metal, where I'd been using the wire wheel on the hand grinder to remove the big flakes. The breeze was light but variable and the acid mist kept drifting my way, coming through the holes in the side of my goggles. In the end, after washing off several times, I persevered and got the whole frame properly etched and ready for POR 15 paint, but I probably added slight acid burns to hot steel shards on my list of eyeball injuries.

You really need a full protective suit for these kinds of jobs. And a lift.

After a particularly painful evening in which I resorted to lying on the couch with my eyes closed listening to a radio play -- Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood on BBC Wales -- rather than watch TV, I went to bed with some Ibuprofen, and awoke to be much better although still not a hundred percent. Today is graduation, so I think I'll take it easy. But it's also a good day for transplanting starts, so we'll see.

This is a lot of effort to go to for this truck. I'm starting to think I made a mistake. The price given for this truck in the Kelly Blue Book, assuming good order, 144,000 miles, and no major defects is $6,800, for a private sale. I've invested around $6,700 already, and still don't know if the timing belt was properly replaced at 120,000 miles.

Still, with a bit more work I'll have it where I need it to be, assuming my eyesight holds up. If nothing else shows up to confound my plans, we'll not be too far over the target price. Certainly we'll be under the dealer price for the same truck, and I'll have the security of having confidence in the work, having done it all myself.