Posts Tagged ‘Farm Visit’

Iris cristata

We got back from the Farm late last Saturday night, escaping the onslaught of rain heading up from the South that turned Derby Day into a mudfest.   Of the eight days there, four were entirely rain-free, which is as good as it gets, though we made good use of our time, rain or shine.

My primary project this trip was restoring (sanding, grinding rust, and painting) the 19 corral panels I’d hauled down from the pastures in February and stacked in the shop.   They’d been out in the weather for years, and were rusting in many spots and badly in need of a good coat of Rustoleum paint.  I regret not taking before and after pictures, as the transformation was amazing, and made me feel good about spending the time and effort to do the job right.

I didn’t get them all done, just 7 of the 19, but I’m all set up now with my grinder and sawhorses and techniques, so everytime we visit I’ll try and knock a couple out, so that when I’m finally ready to set up the round pen/handling pen, they’ll be ready too.  What a lot of work it was!  I started by washing them down with a sandpaper sponge to get as much dirt, rust and oxidized paint off as possible, then took the grinder to every last little rust spot, then applied a coat of primer to the bare metal exposed by the grinding, then a lovely green coat of Rustoleum.  Laid horizontal on sawhorses at waist level, the panels were easy to work on, but the enamel paint had to dry overnight or all day in between coats, which was the bottleneck of the whole process.

So I was grateful to get done what I did, and most of it was inside shop work while the rain came down, a very good use of time.

We had a couple of sunny days following the rain, which allowed me to finish pulling fence posts up on the pastures, removing the last of the ill-placed and unused lanes and gates that surrounded the Big Pond.  We never could figure out why the old man had set everything up so close to the pond, the ground was mucky in spots and not even close to level.  I’ll find a better place for a handling pen and loading chute as the design of things unfolds, and yes, it’ll be a lot of work to set it all back up again, but I’d rather do that than keep using a setup that makes no sense and doesn’t work well.

I spent a day fixing and cleaning house and shop gutters, right before the big deluge came, before we left.  Good work to get done before loads of rain arrived.  And we found someone to mow the grass, which is a blog post all in itself, about meeting neighbors and being embraced by the local community.

A good visit, all in all.  My camera came out only once, I regret, to take pictures of wildflowers in late-April bloom.  I think I got lazy about photojournalizing my work projects, which I’m kicking myself for, but the work got done, whether you have pictures of it or not. 

The wildflowers were astonishingly beautiful.  More photos to follow.


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I must admit, I enjoyed the taste of a winter wonderland at the Farm.  My apologies to all of you in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Oklahoma who are still dealing with a super abundance of the white stuff and are sick of it.  We only had a couple of inches there in south-central Kentucky, starting the third day, and it was gone by day six.  Temperatures in the teens and low twenties ensured our winter working visit was sufficiently wintry, requiring the donning of insulated coveralls, vests, multiple hats and gloves for all the outdoor work, but thankfully the snowfall was limited.

The cold kept my photo-documentation of this trip to a bare minimum, I’m sorry to say.  It was too cold and I was too busy to set the camera up for self-shots; too cold also, to get the Bear to lend a hand and work the shutter.  So it goes.  I managed a couple of stomps around to take a few pictures of the wintry roads, the house and shop, the icicle-adorned creek, the snow-frosted pastures and pond, but of the projects and work accomplished, nothing.

I’ll do better next time.  But the work got done, pictures or no.  It was a very good Farm visit.

I had hoped for dry weather and lightly frozen ground so I could chop down the summer’s growth on the pastures with the tractor and bush hog – work that should have been done in September or October, but we had fences to build and gates to hang in September, so the pastures hadn’t been mowed since spring.  Not the end of the world, pastures don’t always need mowed to do well; but the cover is so thick and ungrazed on mine, the dry matter left standing at the end of the growing season is too substantial to break down without some mechanical shredding.  I figured a winter mow, though unorthodox,  might work.

I got lucky this trip.  Conditions weren’t perfect, but I did get all but the little 3-acre west pasture mulched down, ready for the rains to work the chopped material into the soil where it can feed my micro-livestock there.  Unchopped, untrampled forage held above the soil by height or bulk, may take several years to decompose, even in Kentucky’s rain-blessed environment.  Soil contact is essential, and the bush hog does a fabulous job of shredding the grasses and pushing them down to the surface for the new grasses to grow through.  Grazing animals would, of course, be the ultimate pasture management tool, but until I’m there full-time, my little tractor must suffice.

It was a good opportunity to observe the wet areas between the ponds, where surface moisture persists in scattered depressions in all but the driest months.  The folks had mentioned standing water in the fields over the years, but I’d not had the chance to assess the boundaries of where this occurs; this trip I was able to see the acre or so of what may very well be permanent wetland that appears to be spring-fed, draining slowly to either side of the crest of the top pasture into the two ponds.  I will stake it out in the spring when we are back, and let it alone to see what it does through the seasons.  It may be an ideal place for a wetland hedgerow of native plants; though it would take some pasture out of production, there is much benefit to be derived from the diversity of another plant community on the farm.

Before I could start the tractor work, though, we had to drain the hydraulic fluid as it checked white and foamy, indicating water had seeped in.  I believe Bobby had left Jack out in the rain last Fall – old tractors like this aren’t weatherproof, and water will get in unless the housing is covered.  So we did that, along with the rear differential, because the PTO wasn’t disengaging properly and we thought it might be a fluid problem.  It was.  The shop manual sent us on a goose chase for the rear differential’s check plug that ended up being a hidden screw on the side of the housing behind the brake pedals, which had to be loosened and moved out of the way to access the screw.  It didn’t appear to have been opened in a long time.  We drained approximately 6 gallons, and the book said that was the capacity; but filling it took only 5 before the fluid started coming out of the check hole.  The front end loader added to the system probably accounts for the difference.  We think it was overfull the entire time, getting filled to the recommended amount without checking the level, which would explain the constant leakage underneath and the PTO malfunction. 

So a day of tractor maintenance, and evenings cleaning and setting up the shop was time well spent.

Heading up to Louisville on Thursday for our flight home, we had no idea that Dallas had received a foot of snow and the airport had cancelled all incoming flights.  With no TV, no Internet, no national newspaper, and just radio news, which focused on the snow being dumped on the Mid-Atlantic but never mentioned Dallas, it didn’t occur to us to call and check before we left.  So back to the Farm we went, and the next morning’s flight was cancelled too, leaving us with a flight out on Sunday at the earliest. 

I confess I was not very upset to have to return to the farm for another couple of days.  My job list for our Spring trip includes repainting the corral panels that have been sitting out rusting for 8 years or more, so Friday afternoon I was able to get them all moved down to the shop, ready for sanding and rust treatment and painting come April.  Saturday was cold and cloudy with scattered snow flurries, but I bundled up in my insulated coveralls and spent the day taking down (finally!) the barbed wire lanes that surrounded the pond and corral.  Posts will get pulled next visit, and mowing should be infinitely easier without the fences and gate setup that was no longer in use and badly situated to begin with.

Returning to San Diego on Valentine’s Day, the captain announced our descent into Lindbergh Field around 5 pm and noted the temperature:  72 degrees.  I smiled, and thought of the frosty fields, snow-kissed woods and frigid temps we’d just left, and of all the good work we got done.  And the little farmhouse, buttoned up behind the gates and fences, with lights that come on in the evenings, waiting for our return.  I can’t wait to get back.

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We’re flying out this morning for a few days at the farm to knock out some maintenance projects that I’d rather not leave until Spring.

I know, it’s the middle of winter.  And yes, there’s a whopper snowstorm of epic and historic proportions clobbering the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic but I am hoping the worst of it will pass well north of the farm.  It’s snowing there right now, but only lightly.  Nothing like what will fall further east.  

I had a tip-off that there would be a dry spell for our location into next week which is turning out to be innaccurate, but you have to make travel plans and reservations in advance and so, this was the best I could do.  I was hoping I could do some off-season pasture maintenance.  We’ll see.  So far the 10-day forecast on weather.com predicts 30-40% chance of light snowshowers mid-week; not exactly a dry spell.  I’ll keep my expectations low and do what I can, weather and ground conditions permitting.  There’s always something that can be done.

Bear will be adding extra dead-bolt locks to house and barn doors, and we were excited about the arrival of my newest piece of work equipment, a 6X4 Diesel JD Gator, ordered from the local dealer and scheduled to be delivered on Monday, but it has been delayed.  So we’ll have to pick it up on our Spring trip. 

This little rig will be my salvation when I get there, toting me and my tools and fencing supplies etc up the hill and around the pastures like nothing else can.  I’m down with getting lots of exercise walking everywhere but the hill road is a steep quarter-mile and the pastures are flung out like a giant’s hand; I’ll appreciate a vehicle that can carry a load and go everywhere without batting an eye and with minimal impact.

So, wrapping up here at Bear and Thistle West and heading east to the Farm.  Blocks for Wall #2 are stacked and ready for my return and the three-day weekend that follows.  Good work, and I’m looking forward to all of it.  

I’ll update on Friday when we return; stay safe and warm, all.

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Fencing crew and fence

September, nearly over now, was stacked to the rafters with doubled-up activity; a month that should have been two, in all fairness.  It goes that way sometimes.  I dove in headfirst beginning in early August, planning the Farm trip and project, chasing endless details that shifted priorities like dune edges in the wind, trying, as they say, to keep my eye on the biggest alligator closest to the boat.

Added complexity sprang from the background of an increasing workload at the squadron, fueled by end-of-fiscal-year deadlines and requirements.  It really wasn’t a good time to be away for 10 days, but the timing wasn’t flexible for what needed done.  And so we got it done, and done well, but my reporting of it languished horribly.

Thank you Jeff, for checking in to see if all was well and asking for an update.  I am long overdue.

The fence and gate in the picture above are not the whole story but they represent the satisfactory completion of what we set out to do this visit:  make the property secure for the periods of time we will not be there.  It is good we stuck with this objective, as Bobby and Alene made one more trip out to Oklahoma while we were at the Farm, bid on a house while they were there (telling us nothing about that as usual, until weeks later when their offer was accepted) and have finally, finally, decided to move completely out of the area.  Apparently Alene’s desire to be closer to her kids and grandkids won out over Bobby’s preference for remaining in rural Kentucky.  And so it goes.

My sister found time to travel out from Colorado to help me with the fence and gate project, five working days the likes of which I’d not experienced in quite some time.  We were determined to have both gates and at least a section of fence up before she had to leave, and worked like monsters from dawn to dusk – my gratitude is unending for her contribution of time, talent, and extraordinary effort.  Lord knows I could not have gotten the job done without her help.

For the fence and gate posts we found good-sized cedars in abundance on the south slope just up the road from the shop; I cut and she skidded, earning the nickname Skidder in my post-trip photo captions, and so Skidder is how you’ll know her here.  She brought her camera too, so we were able to capture most of the project from start to finish, from laying out the postholes to hanging the gates and building a log rail fence from my own trees.

My better half pitched in with the breaker bar on some of the gnarly holes – Kentucky has more than its share of rock – and helped me punch the six postholes for the stretch of fence alongside the road; but his major contribution was culvert maintenance, both on the road up the hill and at the driveway entrance to the state road, where July’s flash flood had washed things out and nearly buried the culvert to the creek. 

(One of the great surprise discoveries about my husband is his affinity for running a shovel.  You wouldn’t know it to look at him, you’d think he’d be allergic, but he’s taken on this culvert maintenance thing with an impressive level of initiative, for him.  I do not argue, I praise.  And happily go about my building projects, asking for an extra hand only when absolutely necessary).

The house and shop now has an alarm system installed, with a loud siren that goes off when it’s activated, as well as a monitoring service that calls the local Sheriff as well as my cell phone.  We accidentally tested that feature when Derril showed the folks how the system works; he set it off without calling the monitoring company and a cruiser with a big burly deputy showed up in five minutes.  Nice feeling, that.  I apologized and assured him we would call first next time, but it was good to know the response will be there if and when it’s needed.

I will have to make a quickie trip back out mid-October, once the folks have moved out, to set up the inside timed lights, set the alarm, make sure the gates are all locked, and transfer the electric service over to my account.  Since it’s a rural electric coop, I have to apply for membership in person, and I didn’t get that done this last trip.   Bonus for me:  the leaves will be turning, a sight I’ve never been there to see.

I mentioned pictures and this report is only a snippet of all the fun we had; you can see them all on Flickr by clicking on the “more pictures” link at the right, at the bottom of the B & T Farm Photos strip – then select “sets” on the top of my Flickr page, and look for “Farm gates and fences.”

I’m also going to rework the farm website’s  project page (see A Farm of My Own: Bear and Thistle Farm, at right) and post a detailed description there with photos, as it was a huge learning experience for me and I was delighted with how all the tools performed.  This blog post would be enormous if I were to lay it all out here.

More to follow, then.

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How I wish I were back at the Farm right now.  Just look at the grass starting to green up, the trees yet to push leaves, still waiting for the days to lengthen enough to be safe from sudden frost.  Someday soon, I’ll live each day of each season there, noting the subtle changes in every living thing as the planet hurtles back around its yearly orbit, tilting the Northern hemisphere once again toward the burning star that makes all this wonderful stuff happen.

I have 30 days left over here in this East African desert; 44 days to being boots on ground right there (points to photo), in the middle of that very pasture, surrounded by the green grass and budding trees that wait patiently for me.  Oh, my farm is my lover, my waiting woman, beckoning me home with graceful arms and bountiful curves, life springing from her soils and grasses and forests and creeks.  How I yearn for her presence, her sounds, her smells, her touch.

This trip I will rescue the corral from certain death by weathering.  It was assembled perhaps 8 years ago, used only once, and put up too close to the Big Pond.  The panels are rusting and in dire need of a new coat of paint; I’ll attend to that then tear the whole thing down and stack ’em in the trees under a tarp, until I’m ready to set it back up again in a better location.  We’ll be there 10 days, so I’ll have time to sand and paint 20 8-foot steel panels.  I hope.

We’ll see if I can get Derril to take some pictures this time, to help illustrate the project story.  Bobby and Alene are thinking of taking a trip to see their kids while we’re there, since our stay is so long; it will be nice to have the Farm to ourselves for a change, and be able to power through the work without keeping a meal schedule or just being dang rude for not coming down off the hill until dark.  I’m bad about that.

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We’re almost three years into farm ownership, and still a long way from actually having “boots on ground” and starting operations, but the story of building our little farm has begun, so I’d like to share it as we go along.  Some of the chapters are already on the farm website; brief descriptions of why and where we’re doing this, and an overview of the projects we’ve accomplished thus far, but I will fill in details and more of the personal background here as I get time.

So expect a little jumping around, and I hope it doesn’t make you too dizzy.  I’ll tag and categorize as best I can, and add links to the webpage where the two threads coincide.  Ultimately this blog will be my regular farm-journal-with-musings, and the website will be the more permanent show-and-tell forum for the farm.

What’s going on now:  I’m currently deployed to Djibouti, Africa, with three years remaining to retirement from the Navy.  The folks at the farm are doing well, and are looking forward to our upcoming visit in January, during my furlough in the States.  We’ll stay a few days and knock out some of the upkeep chores like cleaning out gutters, adjusting the shop door, clearing leaves from culverts, that sort of thing.  Biggest event this year is my purchase of two Suffolk mares, which are going to be trained and kept in Virginia by a young couple starting out as Biological Woodsmen horseloggers, until I am moved to the Kentucky farm.  We hope to pop in on them on this trip, so there will be lots to blog about, and pictures, too.

Check back in with me later…

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