Getting Ready For Winter

After a cold and rainy day I realized I really need to get working on getting ready for winter. I still need to cover 2 1/2 sides of the chicken coop with some meta that I have from an old shed.  This will keep the wind off of the birds for the winter. Further I need to decide where they will spend the winter and get power there so I can run the de-icer for the water and also have some supplemental light. Also close to the house would be nice when it comes to stomping through the snow to take care of the birds.

I don’t think I have enough wood for the winter and you really need to let wood season (dry out) for at least a year before trying to use it in the wood stove. However I have located a couple of dead standing trees that I think would be good for burning this winter. One looks like it has been dead several years as all the bark is gone. The wood is still solid and hasn’t started to go soft. I need to get it cut down, cut up, split and up by the house. Our wood stove is in the basement, but is very to the center of the house and the chimney goes up through the center of the house. The chimney radiates heat into the two story great room.  I am very please with how it is working.  I can keep all the wood mess in the basement and on the concrete floor. Since the basement is a walkout I have a relatively easy way to get wood to the stove and ashes to the outside.

Our Elec-Track came with a snow blower, but it needs some work.  It sat outside for 20+ years and it doesn’t turn.  According to the internet it might just be the drive chain rusted which would be the easiest fix. However it could also be the bearings or electric motor, which will be harder and more expensive to fix. I’m hoping that the fact that it was designed for the harsh conditions that a snowblower has to operate in will mean the motor and bearings are sealed.

There is also the matter of things that I have left here and there laying around that will covered with snow in about two months. Not the smartest thing I’ve done but I get busy and leave something where I had been using it, a habit I really need to break. So I’ll also need to spend some time going around and picking everything up.

I’m sure there are more things to do but these are the major ones.

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Black Walnuts – What To Do With Them

I have 20+ black walnut trees on my property and each fall they drop hundreds if not thousands of nuts. If you’ve never seen a black walnut it is about the size of a tennis ball and is covered with a thick green husk that will stain your hands and everything else it touchs a dark brown/black like you have never seen. It is a very persistent stain that will require you to just wait for it to wear off your hands and for your clothes, forget about it they are stained forever. Even after you get the husk split open and the nut out there is still a bunch of gunk you have to get off.

Whole black walnut with husk intact

Whole black walnut with husk intact

 

 

Black Walnut

Husk split open to reveal nut In shell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In doing research on the internet each fall for the last couple of years the best I had found was put them on the driveway and drive over them with your car. Since the hardness of the black walnut shell is legendary you will strip the husk off and leave the nut intact. A pressure washer is then a good choice to clean the off the sell of the nut the rest of the way. Other options are to drill a hole in a board the size of the nut and his the husk with a hammer freeing the nut to pop through the hole. Both methods have been too much work for me.

States to the west of me have buying locations for a company called Hammons and they have de-husking machines and will pay based on the weight of the nuts without the husks on. You bring in your black walnuts in the husk, run them through the machine and get paid. The 2015 rate is $.14/lb.

This year however I did make contact with the Michigan Nut Growers Association (MNGA) and found out that there are a few members with black walnut huskers, one about an hour away from me. I’m afraid I didn’t make the connection quite early enough this year as the squirrels appear to have made off with most of my crop after I left them on the ground. I think next year I make better plans so I can harvest this crop that currently is going to waste. I’m thinking to fill up a trailer and take them to the husker and see what I can get. Of course the next problem to solve is how to crack them in quantity and then separate the shells from the meat. Rumor has it that the MNGA also has a cracker after the nuts have dried a bit, but hasn’t come up with a mechanized way to separate the shells from the meat. I’ve got a year to figure that one out.

Another interesting video about people gathering black walnuts for extra money in the Ozarks.

 

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Chicken Killed Last Night

We heard some commotion late last night and I went out this morning and there was a chicken dead and partially eaten in the coop. I checked and the electric fence was still on and surrounding their area so I assume it wasn’t a ground based predator. I haven’t been closing up the coop at night, mainly because I don’t want to go out every morning and night and open and close a door. However I guess I’ll have to re-think this.  I would love an automatic door, but those a re a bit pricey. I’ll have to look around the internet for a more affordable option. There was a lot of brush in this area before the chickens were moved there and I think that protected them as there wasn’t a good landing place inside the fence.  However chickens doing what chickens do the area is opened up now.

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Big Toad

For some reason I am seeing more frogs and toads this year, maybe because we are actually living here. I’m happy as this indicates to me a healthy eco-system.  Today I stumbled across the biggest toad I’ve ever seen.

Big Toad

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Time To Split My Tractor

My 1964 Ford 4000 shreds the starter gear and according to the Internet the ring gear needs to be replaced. While gear is a very reasonable  $30, you have to split the tractor, which for a person like me that hasn’t done it before sounds like a day to take it apart and a day to put it back together.

image

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Chicken Coop – Rebuilding the Roosts

With the size of my flock increasing I didn’t have enough roosting space. Also I got a 10 spot nest box from Craig’s List that I hadn’t planed for when I build the coop. Therefore I decided it was time to re-work the coop a bit. This involved changing the direction the roosts went and hanging the nest boxed on one end wall and adding sheet metal on that end wall. I still plan on enclosing 3 walls of the coop with this metal that came from an old shed that was being torn down. The birds have done quite well through 2 Michigan winters (some of the worst on record) in this coop with the 3 walls covered with plastic or a tarp, so I’ve decided to make it a bit more durable.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to make the walls removable, I like the air flow they get in the summer with only the 1 wall the nest boxes are up against.

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Beehive Update

Went out to check on the bees today.  There still appears to be a lot of activity, bees flying in and out.  This has been a crazy busy year for me so I did not give them the attention I should have.  I hope to focus on them over the next six weeks or so and get them ready for winter.  I’ve had such a problem with mice that I’ve decided to go with Michael Bush’s recommendation for a top entrance as you can see from the video below.

 

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Husqvarna Axe Review

After buying several Axes on the cheep and being very disappointed I decided to get something of quality. A well know manufacture of quality tools is Gransfors Bruks, but they are well over $100. While I’ve no doubt they are a fine tool, I just couldn’t justify the cost. In doing my research I found that Husqvarna brands a line of axes that were receiving good reviews online from people that were actually using them. Further the price was much more reasonable, about half.

Multipurpose Axe
I started with a 26 in. Curved Handle Multipurpose Axe. The handle is a bit short for heavy chopping, but I don’t plan on using it to cut down trees. My intended use is for taking off small branches for something that has already been cut down. Granted I could use my chainsaw for this, but I find a sense of satisfaction in using the axe, plus it is much quieter.  I’ve also used it in clearing paths in my woods.  I have several machetes, but I’m finding they don’t work as well against the thicker, woody brush in the under growth in my mid-western woods.  This axe has worked quite well in this work.  It also came very sharp and I’m finding it easy to keep sharp.  I’ve been very happy with this axe.

Hatchet
Next I got a 13 in. Curved Handle Hatchet just because it was on sale. My son likes it better as he finds he can control it better after his growth spurt. I find I use it most near the wood stove to split off small bits of kindling to start the fire.  Again it came very sharp and I haven’t had to sharpen it yet.  Another recommended buy and I consider this a great value.

Splitting Axe
I finally got a Large Splitting Axe (3.3 Lbs) With 30″ Handle. A splitting axe is different than a maul in that it is lighter and has a sharper edge.  To be sure I didn’t really need this as we have a 22 ton log splitter, however I enjoy splitting nice straight grained wood.  If I have to split everything by hand it would be a lot more work.  Some of the trees I’ve ended up with do not split well and have a lot of branches and forks that make splitting then hard even with the hydraulic splitter.  But I’ve found with the easy stuff it actually takes less time than using the hydraulic splitter.  If you have access to a log splitter than this is more of a “nice to have”.

Summary
I have no regrets in buying any of these items and will never buy another cheep axe from a chain store and I recommend you do the same. These are tools that can last generations. If I could only buy one it would be the multipurpose axe in that unlike other things labeled “multipurpose” it really does do most jobs fairly well and if you find yourself needing to pack tools into your work site you would only need to bring the one item. These heads are hand forged in Sweden which appeals to me as the blacksmiths arts always interested me. This does make the finish of the metal a bit “rough” compared to other tools, but I like it better anyway.

 

Multipurpose Axe

Small Hatchet

Splitting Axe

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Electric Tractor Update

After chasing down poor connections and bad spots in the wiring the Elec Trak is in much better shape.  We had a broken steering shaft due to a front spindle getting very hard to turn.  I never realized that the steering wheel could exert enough force to snap a steel shaft.  However in looking at the shaft there is a hole through it one way and a key cut the other way that intersect causing a week spot.  That has all been sorted out with a new (to me) shaft installed.

E-20 RelaysWe got some rebuild kits for the relays that basically consist of new leafs and contacts.  This has resolved the problem with the PTO contactor dropping out.  They were very easy to replace, just being held in by a metal clip.  Notice the shinny ones on the left..  I think I will go ahead a replace the rest of them the next time I work on it.

E-20 Back TogetherSince all of the problems (other than the brakes) have been solved I put all the covers and panels back on.  This is the first time they have been back on since the day we brought it home.  All things considered this has worked well for us as a mower and it is nice to not have to buy gas to to cut the grass.  It is almost quiet enough to listen to music while mowing without ear muffs, however the noise of the mower blades moving is just a bit too loud, think of a fan.

 

 

 

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Fungal Activity In Wood Chips

About a year ago I got several truck loads of wood ships dumped on my property from some tree clearing that was being done about a mile away.  I’ve used some of them around various plantings I’ve done, but barely made a dent in the pile.  My wife got some roses that me and my son planted by the front porch and we decided to put down a thick layer of mulch to help keep the area moist.  SWMBO approved of a base layer of these wood chips from tree clearing and we will come back with a prettier layer of mulch to top dress it.

However as I was digging into the pile I fond an area that was dense with mycelium hyphae and I was very happy to see this.  Having a fungal web in the soil is supposed to be very good for plants so I started putting one scoop of the dense white stuff in each wheelbarrow full of wood chips.  This should help to improve what is basically yellow sand as soil in the planting bed.

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