Posts Tagged ‘DIY spring development’

Wednesday, October 24:

Last year at this time we were in haste to develop the spring which now waters the big barn in all but the longest of cold snaps; this year we are hurrying to finish the water system that will keep the steers frost-free this winter on the monastery pastures.  One of these days, maybe, we will run out of big projects needing completion before snow flies.   Most of today was spent gathering supplies for the tire tank we hope to build this Saturday under the west pasture spring; here the water runs fast enough that we hope, by keeping the water underground before it enters the tank, to keep the flow from freezing.  That would mean being able to run the steers on grass at the monastery all winter, saving the baled hay for the milk cows in the home pasture.

The last few preparations for the winter gardens are gradually being made.  The bed is composted, tilled, and raked for planting next year’s garlic; ashes in buckets wait in the barn for someone to spread them over empty beds to be tilled in the spring.  Hoops and sandbags for the high tunnels are spread on the lawn in various states of incompletion.  Every length of row cover or clean six-mil plastic film that can be found is hunted out and examined for holes.  Only the warm weather of the last few days prevents us putting the first layer of protection on the winter carrots and salad greens.

Next to the river the poplars scarcely admit of the season by the yellow cast of their huge leaves, but on the bluffs above the maples are bare and only the oaks keep their foliage; this is shades of russet and brown, with the occasional deep scarlet of a lover’s rose.  Elsewhere the woods have lost their impenetrability, black boles standing out against a carpet of yellow.  In the ditches sumac, blood-red, flashes like a heliograph when it catches the sun, and now is the time to mark out patches of wild asparagus, clouds of ferny yellow, for spring foraging.  Our family news is like the weather, warm and cold by turns; one son has left us to return to Minnesota with his lovely family, while another proposes bringing home as his wife a woman we have long loved and admired.  We are joyful and sorrowful.

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Wednesday, May 10:

We never buy garden hose.  We use a lot of it:  our stock watering system, a complicated use of simple technology, is almost entirely above ground, with only the spring itself, the settling tank, and the pipe to the reservoir by the barn, being underground.  The rest is made up of half-barrels, low-pressure valves (look up Jobe floats and Hudson valves), and garden hose.  Miles of it.  But as we say, we don’t buy it; we scavenge it on trash pick-up days.

Let the squeamish log off and take The One Cow Revolution out of their bookmarks.

People throw away a lot of hose.  Often the spray attachment is still on it.  Some of it is shoddy, but frequently when we get it home and test it we find it to be in perfect condition.  What is it about throwing away perfectly good garden hose?  Is it too much trouble to work the backward twist out of it?  Or is some other color fashionable this year?   And why, having condemned the hose, do people throw away the sprayer as well?

We bring the hoses home, cut out the leaky parts, if any, splice them (the parts can be obtained cheaply at the hardware store) and add them to the watering system.  With five or six hoses we can gravity feed water to anywhere in the pasture from the water hog at the top of the hill.  Low-pressure valves plumbed into a half a fifty-five gallon barrel control the water level, and the entire thing can be carried by a single person when empty.  Generally we only have to move a tank less than fifty feet at a time, to keep up with the animals we are rotating around the pasture.  If a system made up of recycled garden hose, half-barrels, and toilet tank valves could be called elegant, this would be elegant.

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Friday, March 23:

Let no one disparage the minions of the government indiscriminately.

Last night the grassroots Eastern Ohio Grazing Council held its March meeting in the back room of a little restaurant in Carrollton.  Fifteen or twenty farmers of various ages, sexes, and backgrounds ate a little dinner, drank a little coffee, and reviewed the past three years in which they and many other local farmers of modest means have met, to walk one another’s farms and study grass farming and the responsible stewardship of the land.  Our leaders in this enterprise are six or eight young farmers who, in addition to farming, work for the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), the University of Ohio Extension Agency (“the Extension”), and, yes, even the USDA.

In other words, the Enemy.  The Government.  The cause of our taxation.

We find friends in the strangest places.

Don’t think of them as government employees.  They are farmers, some of the most determined and informed graziers we have met in person or in print, and they are devoted to making their experience and learning available to the rest of us.  They are committed to the renewal of our soil, the responsible use of our water resources, the husbandry of our animals without pharmaceuticals, in a word, to sustainable, local farming.  They are just like us.

I wonder if The Gubment knows.

With the warm winter and this strange, early spring, many of us are thinking ahead to a summer which may strain our water resources.  One topic addressed last night was a review of the various ways we farmers sequester and utilize water for our stock.  The term “jury rigging” might have been coined just for the farmer’s vocation, and this is no more evident in anything than in our methods for accessing water.  Gravity-fed systems and powered systems of many kinds and hybrids deliver water to the grazier’s livestock.  Since there are resources out there describing water systems conventional, creative, and downright ridiculous, we will leave you to investigate these on your own, and describe here the system we presently use.  You can decide for yourself to what order of creativity it belongs.


These were our first resource for watering livestock, twenty years ago when the livestock were goats and chickens.  Two small, rainwater and spring-fed streams enter our property from the north and west to merge about half-way across, flowing thence another mile and a half, to the great Ohio River.  In the beginning, all paddocks and tether radii had to include a section of riparian water.  In the driest summers we set half-barrels in the creek beds and filled them by directing water from higher up into our vessels through gutter pipe.  As many as eight or ten goats and kids might at one time have accessed the creek, and our concern for the integrity of our stream banks put fuel to our search for watering alternatives.


We presently sequester rainwater from two of our barn roofs, catching the runoff in BCI’s (these are those aluminum-reinforced plastic containers with a capped opening in the top and an outlet with a tap at the bottom).  The roof downspouts are directed into the BCI (hereafter to be referred to as “water hog”) and the overflow does just that – overflows.  Not a very sophisticated system, but as each hog will hold 275 gallons, this rainwater cachement means we can water stock for about two weeks in the absence of any other water source, and with two creeks on the property we are seldom in the absence of any other water source.  Actually, the water from these hogs is used mostly to irrigate the gardens when necessary, but we mention it here as part of our overall water system because it is our backup for watering livestock.



Technically speaking, our principle source of stock water is not a developed spring, which would imply water rising of its own accord from one or a few fonts, but an improved seep.  An improved seep, again technically, refers to a French drain laid down above a wet place on a slope, with the collected water running into a tank or a series of tanks.  This is our piece de resistance, and our most complicated hydro-technology.  Our collection pipe is about thirty feet long, passing at its lowest point into a settling tank.  From there in the winter the water passes through twenty feet of solid pipe thirty-six inches underground to rise in a collecting tank at the back of our barn.  Two outlets from this tank feed, one, the pig nipple in the pig pen (this is a stem valve watering device for use with low pressure water) and two, to a French drain under the barnyard that empties at the confluence of North creek and Jeddo’s run.  A third outlet is planned to feed a stock tank we will sink in the hillside a few feet from the collection tank.  This in the winter.  In the summertime, the settling tank empties into a water hog also behind the barn which, when full, is emptied by a jet pump into yet another water hog up the hill from the barn.  From this we run flexible hose to any point in the pasture, where it fills a half-barrel through a jobe float valve, another device for controlling water under low pressure.  The half-barrel is dragged along when we move the polywire temporary fencing that encloses each small paddock in the summer.


We have one small spring-fed pond, from which the animals water by preference when we don’t fence it off.  When they do water there they break down the banks and muddy the water, so we usually keep them out of it.  Plans this summer include directing the overflow of this pond through a half-buried seventy-five gallon stock tank, so as to make yet another water source available when needed.  The pond itself is a good place for ducks and frogs.  It is these latter that sing us to sleep on spring nights.

So much for our water system.  It has the virtue of being almost off-grid, it does not utilize fossil water, and, being from a number of sources, has many insurances against failure.

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Tuesday, December 13:

   In the Roman calender this day is the feast of Sta. Lucia, an early Christian martyr.  The young Franciscan priest who said mass at seven fifteen was vested in red, and we broke meditation to whisper anticipation of our morning cinnamon rolls, which turned into afternoon ones because the morning was so full.  Normal things, mostly:  laundry and dishes and the daily chore of lighting a fire under the big copper kettle outside and cooking ten gallons of swill for the pigs and chickens.  A trip to the recycle bins, a stop at the library, another to post Christmas cards, and it was almost eleven, and just time enough to roll out the dough, spread it with soft butter, cover that with a thick layer of brown sugar and cinnamon, roll it, slice it, and set it to rise, before the wolves were howling for their lunches. 

   In Europe there is a traditional sweet roll called, we believe, a luciakattern — ? – prepared for the breakfast of this day.  Twenty-some years ago we found a recipe for it, along with a description of the ceremony for its distribution, which includes girls with wreaths of lighted candles on their heads.  Having no girls at the time, we did not have to make up our minds whether to risk burning their hair off, and by the time we had daughters we had already come up with our own traditions.  We are not by nature adventurous about foreign foods, so it was easy to substitute cinnamon rolls for the luciakattern, and we keep the candles on the table, where we can enjoy them without risk to the girls’ coiffures.  Our traditions, festive though we find them, have to fit into the rhythm of seasonal work and the comfort zone of a mother who sees her children taking enough risks to life and limb in the course of our daily farm work without absolutely tempting fate.

   Demands of the university are beginning to wind down and the men were outside for several hours today making room in the big garage for two of the three deep freezers presently lodged in the basement.  Lumber and scrap metal were shifted down the hill, and equipment shoved around.  Electrical bills have been outrageous, and, always slow to respond to stimulous, we are, after hosting furnace/freezer duels in the basement every winter for twenty years, taking advantage of the low temperatures to help ice down the masses of beef and pork we are putting up.  The second of three steers is hanging in Barry’s barn, almost ready to cut and wrap, and if Nature can help freeze it, more power to Her.

   The buck S-4 brought down a week ago is now marinating in a witches’ brew of every spice and sauce in the kitchen, and will go into the dehydrator in small batches over the next few days.  We sorted the winter squash and pumpkins, sadly few because of last summer’s plague of squash bugs, and brought up one that was compromised to cook for dinner.  A single pumpkin, deceptively round and bright orange, was found to be in an advanced stage of decomposition, and the boys launched it off the back of the hill as a sort of wet pinata for the chickens’ pleasure.  Large-scale, long-term food storage requires regular quality checks to prevent spoilage from spreading. 

   The spring tank on the back of the barn is running at a good rate, and the floating thermometer reads just at forty degrees.  S-3 and 4 plumbed the new pig nipple through the back barn wall, only to find that the instructions for theuse of the three-foot length of pipe heater we bought to keep it from freezing warn against flexing the element or wrapping it around the pipe.  As the extension for the nipple is only eight inches long, this leaves us with almost two and a half feet of element we have to find something to do with.  We have had no experience with electric pipe heaters, but are pretty sure that if we don’t use one on the galvanized metal extender it will freeze.  We are also thinking of floating a stock tank de-icer in the spring tank if it looks like freezing in January or February.  The use of these gadgets will be worth the compromise with technology if they help keep running water in the pig pen for the bulk of the winter.

   The moon is past full, standing out brightly against a slate-blue early morning sky and setting two hours after sunrise when no one is looking any more.  At five o’clock this morning it poured over our frosted fields in a silver wash like snow.  Isabel steps painfully over the barnyard where the pocked mud is frozen hard as iron, and we could use a few inches of snow to cushion her footing.  The sliding manger, really just a roofed hay-rack on skis, is pushed around the pasture to ensure even distribution of waste hay and manure; it too will be much easier to move once we have a base layer of snow on the ground.  The hens don’t like snow, and put themselves to bed early in this cold weather; eggs are getting scarcer.  It’s about time to eliminate the remaining three-year-olds, and put up some canned chicken and broth for hot soup on cold days.

   Some chores are full of satisfaction.  The Rube Goldberg chicken house door closer — sixty foot of string through a series of staples and eyebolts, with a  wooden handle at the end on the woodshed — gives a most satisfying thump when you yank it.  This, we consider, is an appropriate application of technology.

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Sunday, December 11:

   Finally the temperature has dropped below freezing and the mud which people have been bringing in on their boots is turned to iron in the barnyard.  We dropped an aquarium thermometer into the spring tank to see how close it was to freezing too.  Someone had left the cover off the tank, and still the temperature of the spring water was forty-three degrees; we put the cover back on and will check it again tomorrow.  Our goal is frost-free water in the coldest weather; we’ll settle for half that in cash.  

   The steer we split and hung last week is half-cured.  The cold weather removes any worry about aging it, and it is to be cut and wrapped on Saturday.  This is a long and weary job, made less so by camraderie and cinnamon rolls and coffee, and will probably take all afternoon.  The morning is reserved for deer hunting, and goodness knows why, with four hundred pounds of beef already on gambrel hooks in Barry’s barn.

   We have been enjoying our winter carrots; the lettuce in the low tunnel is good, but there are a lot of waste leaves, probably because of all the rain we have had.  Perhaps too the low tunnels don’t provide enough barrier to the cold, since the pocket of air between the plastic cover and the spun-bonded fabric is so much smaller.  In the high tunnel the lettuce and spinach seem to be doing well, so we will hold off harvesting them until we have used up the produce in the low tunnel.

   At five in the morning the full moon makes diamonds on the frosted grass.

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Friday, November 25:

  At long last we see the end of the spring project.  For the better part of a month it has absorbed our spare energy and time, what there was of it, and now at last it is about done.  The process of transforming a wet place on the side of the hill into a stream of running water flowing at the rate of four or five gallons a minute has been long and uncertain.  Deep ditches miles long had to be dug and tiled (“tile” here means perforated pipe, like in a french drain system).  The part most fraught with difficulties was the plumbing of intake and overflow and cleanout pipes into the settling tank and stock tank; as Shawn observed, when you cut holes in the bottom of a barrel, you just have to expect it to leak.  We will post a more detailed account of how the project was carried out when we get time, and we apologize in advance that we are not more committed to picture-taking, but we mostly forget until the interesting part is done.

   The long warm autumn is giving us time for a lot of cleanup work we don’t usually get done before snow flies.  The chicken house, built this summer and sided with clapboard, but not battened, got its cracks covered with batten boards and its windows covered with six mil plastic sheeting.  This, and the dry floor, should mean cozy chickens this winter, and I’m trying to forget for the moment that they need to be culled soon.  Culling chickens, around here, means we try to determine which hens are not laying, and can them.  Literally.  Old laying hens are butchered and put up in mason jars – perfect for making chicken enchiladas.

   The new woodshed – not to be confused with the old woodshed, still doing duty outside the basement door – is not only keeping next winter’s wood dry, but provides a roof to keep the weather off our rare luxury, an old but seaworthy pop-up trailer which has many times paid for itself in saved hotel bills when some of us have to travel.  The trailer has been stored previous winters in the lane in the woods by the creek, where the local squirrels were sure to find it sooner or later and maybe move in.  In the big new barn – it was a summer for construction, because of the sawmill we acquired last November – hay and feed and pigs will keep dry and warm.  Isabel and Baby Belle and the steers will probably lounge in the middle bays of the barn when the truck isn’t in the way, which will make a mess, but what is a barn for?  And the running water to the pigs will mean someone can keep his feet dryer when feeding them this winter.

   The gardens have actually been cleaned up, and two low tunnels and one high tunnel are protecting carrots and lettuce for our winter use.  The low tunnels are just six mil plastic over hoops of wire or PVC, and the high tunnel is plastic over stock panels, high enough for a person to walk into.  We made sandbags out of woven plastic feed sacks containing about ten pounds of sand, rolled like a jelly roll and tied in several places.  These are used to weigh the sides of the plastic sheeting on the low tunnels, and seem to do the job of holding it down very well.  To harvest the vegetables inside, we just move a sandbag, lift up the plastic, and reach in.  Since we seldom get as much as two feet of snow laying at a time, we think this won’t be too inconvenient.

   Today was warm and beautiful and we took the opportunity of the men being off work for Thanksgiving to backfill the ditches on the hill and move the potatoes into the cooler of the two root cellars.  In the one we call “the cave” some of them were already getting little sprouts, which we rubbed off as we sorted them.  Any that looked compromised we put in a bucket to cook for the pigs, but there was less than half a bucket of these.  We are going into the winter with about six hundred pounds of good potatoes, which should carry us well into next summer, without touching the potatoes set aside for seed.  Stored food gives one a feeling of security.

   On the frivolous side, we piled up all the scrap lumber and trash wood we had flung into the bonfire pit, and we are ready to bring in midwinter with a blaze big enough for the cops to see it in town.  We like their visits; they are an intelligent force, only stopping by to say hello in a disinterested way.  This year we hope they come while the doughnuts are still hot.

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Monday, October 24:

   Okay, sometimes we’re not frugal.  This part of Ohio gets cold in the winter, and people who do a lot of farm chores need warm feet.  Muck boots are the best tool we know for keeping feet warm and dry in winter, but warm feet are running $100 a pair now, and there are nine pair of feet on our farm.  We bought two pair for the growing feet which had none, but we are darned tootin’ going to figure out how to patch Muck boots, because we don’t spend that much on our complete wardrobe in a year.  Ouch.

   Ouch number two would be the cost of all the PVC fittings we just bought for the spring development, but it is easier to see that as a capital investment, because God willing we won’t have to do it again in our lifetimes.  Tomorrow we plan to take a bunch of pictures of the ditching, and more as we lay in the pipe, gravel, and geotextile fabric.  If this project means we have running water in the barn all year, or even almost all the year, it will be worth whatever it costs.

   Isabel is down in her production today, and skittish.  This makes us nervous that she may have failed to conceive to the artificial  insemination in August.  A cow not bred will not be dropping a calf in the spring, so her milk yield will not go up; in fact, it will probably go down.  Many years ago we had a failed AI breeding, and in the spring there was no calf.  That time, we didn’t dry her off  as we normally would  before calving, and she continued to give us about five gallons a day for the second year.  We bred her back in the late summer and got a little heifer the next spring, so all was not lost; but she’s not going to miss calving this year if we can help it.  The only way we can be sure whether she’s bred or not is to palpate her, which is to make a rectal examination, feeling her uterus through the rectal wall to see if there is a calf inside.  We can picture this, in theory, but are a little uncertain that we’ll know for sure what we are feeling when we are actually inside.  Don’t expect pictures of this one.

   The threatened frost of last Saturday failed to materialize, saving the green beans for another picking.  The beans are beautiful this year.  We will get all we can off of them in the next few days, but we are pulling three or four plants a day to feed to the pigs, who love them.  We’d like to feed all one hundred row feet to them before they freeze and are worthless as pig food. 

   The pigs are too fat.  They have to go on a diet, which is all to the good, because it means the dairy waste and slops will go even farther.  We would like to reduce their bought in grain feed to the smallest possible number.  To date they have had about one hundred seventy-five pounds of feed since they were bought in early August.  Just for comparison, the four pigs we raise on commercial feed with our wonderful neighbors have eaten over a thousand pounds.  As we get  a firmer grasp on the rate of feed for milk waste, we expect we will be able to make the process even more economical.

   Rain much of today, but the clouds have passed off, and a few bright stars stand out in the misty sky like lamps in far-off windows.  Tomorrow is supposed to be clear, and we hope to move the spring project a long way toward completion.

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