Posts Tagged ‘winter on the farm’

Creek high from rain

Over three inches of rain have fallen here in south-central Kentucky since this weather system moved in on Friday.  On and off, sometimes gentle, sometimes a downpour, and it continues to rain lightly today.  An inch already since sunrise.  The creek that runs in front of the house is running high and fast and greets me with the sound of rushing water when I step outside.  Blessedly, the temps have not been at all wintry – 60’s mostly during the day, and mid-fifties at night – so the misery factor’s been low.  But that’s all about to change.

Falling temps 10 Dec 2012

By early morning it’s supposed to be 28 degrees, and will probably be colder than that down here at the bottom of the hill where the house is.  With everything and everyone wet up on the pastures, it’ll likely feel colder than that to the livestock.  So I’m taking a tip from Sandra over at Thistle Cove Farm and will head up this afternoon to unroll and lay out a couple of worthless hay bales (another story, another post) for dry bedding in their paddocks.  The pastures are just soaked.  The little ones especially may appreciate a dry spot to lay on tonight.  They have their winter coats on already, but that wet ground can suck the warmth out of a polar bear, I’m sure.

Down here at the farmhouse, we’re staying dry and warm, with a small fire blazing since the temperature started dropping, christmas music playing, and a cup of tea at hand.   The little stray kitty is snug in her box of rags and sweaters under the porch woodpile tarp, the dogs are curled up in their usual daytime snoozing spots, and I am doing inside work, until time for pasture rounds.


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On the road

This past week I have been in Nashville attending a conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort.  The conference organizers were able to host this year’s gathering at this deluxe hotel due to the bargains they were offering to keep it open following the flood.  Otherwise I might never have seen this place. 

It is beautiful, and amazing, and completely over the top.  I didn’t take a single picture worth posting so you’ll have to google it if you want a glimpse of the opulence and fabulous gardens and waterfalls.  Just imagine acres and acres of gardens and man-made rivers and waterfalls, under 9-story high greenhouse domes, every nook and cranny filled with palm trees, orchids, and other exotic plants.  I can’t even imagine the amount of energy required to maintain the tropical environment inside.  We’ve walked around with our jaws dragging on the floor all week, and though I have enjoyed all the beautiful indoor scenery the meals have been wickedly expensive and I’m quite ready to go.

My two travel companions are flying back to San Diego today; I am taking a detour over the weekend, driving up to the Farm for a quick look-see and a day or so of project time.  Wish me luck on ducking winter storms, they’re to the south and to the north this morning, but the hundred-thirty miles or so of highway I’ll be on are presently clear.

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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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A Little Snow














The Blizzard of ’09 missed south-central Kentucky, as near as we can tell from Alene’s reports and pictures.  They got a two-inch dusting at the farm, just enough to look like winter for awhile, then the sun came out and it was gone the next day.

I am not unhappy that this area doesn’t get regular deep snows – one of the deciding factors for choosing this place in Taylor County, Kentucky, was the moderate highs and lows throughout the year; both Derril and I spent childhoods in long-winter states (he in Ohio, I in Colorado) and remember well the cold and endless months under snowpack, waiting for Spring to arrive.  So finding a place to live the rest of our lives with definite seasons (San Diego has nothing of the sort) but without a preponderance of winter was an agreed upon objective, ruling out many alluring properties that presented themselves in Idaho, Wyoming, and upstate New York.

We’ll have to treasure every little snowfall we get once we’re there.  And I’ll never have a sleigh; one horse-drawn vehicle less to fill the equipment shed.  I’ll have to put sleigh bells on the horses’ harness anyway during the winter, though, just to enjoy the seasonal effect.  And take lots of pictures when a storm of white comes through, to savor the beauty before it disappears.

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Before we left the farm for Virginia on our last visit, we took Bobby up to the pasture edge to mark a couple of hickory trees to cut for firewood.  He’d talked about wanting some hickory firewood the entire time we were there, and although there are many trees already blown down that would make perfectly good firewood, by gum it was hickory the old man wanted.  Said his daddy burned hickory and it was the best firewood ever.  Needed a couple of years to season, so he wanted to get some cut right away.  Even though we haven’t put a stove in the little house yet, and they only use the fireplace if ever the power goes out.  And he has a stack of oak all put by.  Still, he wanted to cut some hickory, and I like to keep him happy, so I said I was sure there were a couple that could be culled for such a purpose.

Rather than leave him to decide which trees to cut, I said we’d go mark a few for him.  He couldn’t understand why I cared about hickory trees, said they weren’t valuable as lumber, no one would buy them.  To which I replied, I have no intention of selling any of my trees for lumber; I’m building a barn and a house with them, thank you very much, and a good saw log is a good saw log, whether it’s hickory or oak or poplar or maple.

So we drove on up and started around the pasture edge, and I asked him to point out any hickories he saw.  Bobby knows his trees, that’s for sure.  Can tell them apart by the bark, at a distance even.  We came up alongside three trees growing close together right at the pasture edge, which he said were all hickory but the one in the middle was a shagbark.  Well shagbarks are good nut trees, one of the best, and this one was growing straight up and had about 14-inch diameter already, but the other two were right next to it and sharing water, sunlight and nutrients.  Cutting them would leave the good grower to prosper by itself.  So we marked the ones on either side, and I said they’d give him more firewood than he would know what to do with, and vetoed his suggestion to cut the huge leaning hickory at the corner of the field, pointing out the three good saw logs in its lower trunk that may someday take their place in the bents of my big barn.

A week later they had a couple of days of good weather, and Alene emailed me that he’d got them felled and was busy cutting them into stove-length logs.  He dropped the first one right into the pasture, but the second one he felled into the woods behind; I would not have, I would have directed it out to the pasture as well, it was only leaning a little.  No telling what good saplings were crushed as it fell, but it was only one tree and he drug it out with the tractor by its butt onto the pasture, so minimum damage was done.

I don’t like that he doesn’t wear any safety equipment when he operates his saw.  He’s a careful old man, and seems to know his limits, but he does things the old way, especially if there’s much money or trouble involved.  You won’t catch me running a saw without chaps and a helmet with a faceguard and ear muffs, and I could buy all that for him but I doubt he’d wear it.  He cuts up quite a few trees and branches that fall across the paths and into the fields, so it isn’t like he wouldn’t get some use out it, but he’s a stubborn and tough old country boy.  Reminds me a lot of a hickory tree.

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 Last Tuesday’s ice storm through Kentucky and surrounding areas hit the Farm, but not as bad as it could have.  The folks were without power for an hour and a half, they said, and had to burn quite a stack of wood in the little fireplace to keep the place warm.

It’s an all-electric double-wide trailer house, on a permanent foundation, with good 6″ walls well-insulated, but you know, with electric heat and an electric stove, you’re just screwed when (not if) the power goes out.

We’re planning on installing a little wood-burning stove where the fireplace is – probably do that next Fall.  By the time I move there, I’m going to be heating with wood, and might even get a propane stove put in, too.

But the folks are ok and the temperatures are climbing again, so for now, disaster has been foiled.  A friend up in the Louisville area wrote about this ice storm up there, and spoke of one a couple of years back, down in Arkansas where they used to live, that snapped big beautiful trees with the sounds of gunshots.   I do not like to see great living things damaged like that, but if they do go crashing down, you just make more firewood, I suppose.  And any good saw logs can be made into lumber, if you have the means to do that.

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