Rolling with the Challenges on the Farm

Some days are easier than others. Being flexible helps turn a frustrating day into a productive and happy one! The zero turn is fixed and the garlic bed is weeded and hay put down around the garlic.

Time to pull the scapes
Nice to see the garlic doing well

The blackberries are starting to fruit!

Planting Time

The last two days have been a blur. We have been busy. Even with 4 people on the farm working hard, we still have more stuff to do before everything is been planted.

We are on still on a rapid learning curve as we work hard. The garden area in the pictures below was pasture for decades so we had to work to plow up the grassy area and then build new beds.

Using the BCS Tractor

The BCS tiller was also a new piece of equipment for us. The biggest challenge we’ve had with the BCS is laying out beds so that the rows come out the width that we want. Our BCS tractor has the 5.5 inch extensions added to the the 749 tractor. This makes the tractor wider by 11 inches.

The vegetable garden beds are on a sloped face. To help minimize any erosion issues during rain events, we kept a 10 foot ribbon of grass between each plot. Each plot was laid out to have 2 rows per plot (30″ wide rows) with an 18″ wide walkway between each row. When I added up 3 walkways plus a quantity of 2 of the 30″ wide rows, then we should need a plot that is 9.5 feet wide. In practice, it just isn’t working out that way. I suspect we’ll have to till and hill a plot and measure to see where I’m off in my estimation of the total width of each 2 row plot. There is definitely a learning curve to becoming a better farmer.

Trellis

We just installed rows of trellis for pole beans and tromboncino squash. We are using a curved trellis for the tromboncino squash and pole beans. I keep seeing videos and picture of the curved and over trellis configuration, so we wanted to see at try and find out if it works as well as we keep hearing. The curved trellis (when covered with tromboncino squash) should provide provide shade for the young rhubarb.

One of my projects for this summer is to install posts in the field, near the rows, where we can hang the cattle panels (used in the trellis) this fall after we take the trellis down and store it for the winter.

This is our first year of using an arched trellis
Trellis for climbing beans

Tagging Each Fruit Bearing Tree and Bush

One of the projects this month was to map and tag each fruit bearing tree and bush. My wife took this project and ran with it. We now have a map that shows the location of each fruit bearing tree and bush, indicated by a unique tag number. The unique tags number are recorded in a spreadsheet. Information about each plant is recoded with the tag number, such as variety and date planted. This will also us to track historical data about each plant. This data is also useful when we propagate cuttings, allowing us to properly identify plants for sale.

Elderberry with drip watering tree ring and metal tag

Covering the HugelKultur Mound

Let’s start off with what is a Hugelkultur mound. Here is a great video that explains Hugelkultur

Our First Hugelkultur Mound

Hugelkultur mound in the garden at our house

We built our first hugelkultur mound in our garden at home. The mound is about 35 feet long and used trees that we had cleared on the back of the property. It has worked great for growing squash. We use drip watering to keep the plants watered. We have noticed that the hugel mound requires more water than the conventional garden areas. I expect that to reverse as the logs in the hugelkultur mound (about 1-2 years since the trees were cut) decompose.

The Hugelkultur Mound at the Farm

My original goal with to build at least 2 large hugelkultur mounds on our hobby farm property. We had a great growing experience with the hugelkultur mound at our house, so why not try it on a larger scale.

When we put in the driveway, there were two problems what we were able to turn into opportunities. The first is what to do with the top soil that was removed before the membrane and gravel can go down. We also had to decide out what to do with the tree trunks and limbs from the trees that were cut down to build the driveway.

Perfect Opportunity

There was never going to be a better time to build the first hugelkultur mound on the new property. So we used the logs, limbs and top soil to build the first one. The mound ended up being 85 feet long, 30 feet wide and about 8 feet tall.

The hugelkultur mound starting to come alive

We installed drip irrigation and planted winter squash, watermelons, pumpkins and cantelopes. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of winter squash and pumpkins.

Getting Ready for the Growing Season

One of the tasks for Saturday was to cover the entire mound with a 35 x 100 foot silage cover. Of course it wasn’t windy until after we started spreading the silage cover. Do you remember going out into the parking lot in elementary school where your class surrounded a parachute? This felt pretty similar with the wind getting under the tarp.

Chasing the bubble where the wind got under the tarp
The wind did not make this any easier. But we were making progress

You can see the bumps where the wind kept getting under the tarp as we were getting it in place and held down.

Much better

Once the tarp was in place, we’ll leave it there until just before we plant at the end of April as way to suppress any weeds.

Making Horseradish

My wife and I have this love / hate relationship dynamic with horseradish. We only eat a small amount of it, but we have several family members and friends that really like it. We mostly use it in Connie’s homemade cocktail sauce or on roast beef. Here is a chart showing the pros/cons with horseradish. This should help you decide if you want to grow it. My suggestion is to give it a try, just grow it in an area where you can mow around it to keep it contained where you want it. It will outgrow many garden plants, including asparagus – sorry Connie.

One strategy is to have enough plants that you can harvest about every 3 months. That way you can always have fresh horseradish on hand. The spring and summer harvests may not be as strong as the fall harvest but fresh still wins.

ProsCons
Easy to GrowCan be mildly invasive, best to grow it somewhere that you can mow around (easiest way to contain it, in my opinion)
Roots did deep in the soil, which is good to breakup soilIt can be invasive, so you need to make sure it doesn’t spread into unwanted parts of the garden
Very hardyIf it spreads into an unwanted area that you can’t mow then you have to week that area to control it
Deep roots help breakup soils to a depth of 1-2 feetHave to dig deeply to remove the roots for processing. Takes time to eliminate from an area because of the roots you miss when digging the plant up to process
Tastes great in cocktail sauce or on roast beef. Stores about 3 months (refrigerated). Very easy to grow and you can dig it up any time to make more horseradish sauceLimited uses. No way to preserve long term after processing (if there is, please let me know)
Easy to processCan be time consuming to peel smaller roots
Medicinal uses None
Can be harvested any time in the seasonBest if harvested late in the season for best flavor, but not a requirement. Look for yellow leaves, usually after first frost.
Limited storage life after processingEasy to store in the refrigerator
Plant pulls minerals from deep soil None
Leaves are mineral laden and make great compost, just leave them where they fallNone
Leaves are great supplement for chickens – https://tinyurl.com/2p85yuuzNone

Processing Horseradish

Step 1 – Wash roots and peel

I washed them outside first (they can be pretty dirty). Then wash them again in the sink. Make sure to remove any dark veins. Use safety glasses and good ventilation to protect your eyes.

Horseradish roots cleaned and ready

Step 2 – Chop the roots up so they fit in the food processor

Step 3 – Pulse in food processor until finely chopped but not mushy.

Wait at least 2 minutes before adding the vinegar. The longer you wait the hotter the horseradish will get.

Chopping it up in the food processor

Step 4 – Take one lb of horseradish and add 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1 cup of cold water. Add approximately 1 teaspoon of kosher salt (adjust to your taste preference

Ready to pour into jars

Step 5 – Pour into jars – we use smaller jars because most of the time the amount of horseradish used is fairly small. These are great Christmas presents.

Filling the jars
Ready to go in the refrigerator

Enjoy!

Note – we’ve had limited success vacuum sealing the jars. I suspect that we would need to do the vacuum sealing process fairly slowly to avoid making a mess.

Great NC Hike – Up Grandfather Mtn via Boy Scout Trail / Grandfather Mtn Trail

If you are looking for a great hike that is challenging and very, very beautiful then this might just fit the bill. This is probably one of the most technical hikes in NC, but there is view after view after view.

Connie dropped us off on the Blue Ride Parkway and picked us up at the top of Grandfather Mountain, which turned out to be a good thing. There was a lot of traffic on the Grandfather Mtn trail and it was slow going at times. The hike up was about 6 hours.

If you want to do the hike up the mountain only, then you will need to arrange for a ride or have someone pick you up at the top of Grandfather Mountain. If you want someone to pick you up on the top of Grandfather Mountain, you’ll need to buy a pass, well in advance. There are a limited number of parking spots, so they sell passes with a window of time on a specific day to enter the park with a vehicle. You can purchase the pass to Grandfather mountain here. You don’t need to purchase a pass to hike in the park, but you will need a pass to enter the park with a vehicle. Grandfather Mountain does operate a shuttle service up the mountain, but I’m not sure how that works.

Alltrails.com is a great resource for hiking in this area. Click on the image to read about the trail and the hike.

The Daniel Boone Scout Trail portion of the hike is not very technical and the climb is gradual throughout the trail. The first part of the hike is on the Tanawha Trail. The Scout Trail turns right and heads up the mountain after a short hike from the parking lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The only gotcha on the Daniel Boone Scout Trail is the trail markings and trail configuration just past the trailhead (leaving from the parking lot on the Parkway). The signage is a little confusing where the Scout trail turns off the Tanawha Trail.

The Grandfather Mountain portion of the trail gets very technical in spots. There are lots of spots where you have to be very careful because of the steep drop offs and slick, or even icy, rocks. There were icy spots during our hike in mid-Oct. There are ladders and very exposed climbs, but it truly is beautiful.

One option to consider is just doing the Grandfather Mountain Trail. You would start at the parking lot near the swinging bridge, and do the trail as an out and back (returning to the parking lot on the top of Grandfather Mountain).

The plane crash site is pretty neat, worth the short detour.
Lots of ladders

Building our Campsite / Overland Destination – Evening of Day 1

We accomplished a lot on Day 1. Most of the stumps were removed. The brush and logs that were left from the last trip were cut up and pushed into piles on the side of the property. I also was able to start cutting some of the unhealthy trees on the perimeter.

The brush piles are good for the wildlife. They provide shelter for birds like grouse. They also provide places for a momma deer to stash a young fawn while she feeds else where. My wife was pulling brush into a pile (on the previous trip) and suddenly realized the was a fawn tucked away just a few feet from where she was working. We had been working in the area all day and the fawn had been there. We didn’t realize it until Connie saw it.

Tommy (with Bluff Mountain Nursery) started pulling stumps at the bottom and worked his way up the hill
Tommy is working his way up the hill.
Some of the stumps were easier to get out than others. There are 58 stumps to remove
The apple tree in the middle of the property had a bunch of apples on it

The apple tree in the middle of the campsite has been a subject of much discussion. The tree has struggled to survive under a canopy of faster growing Ash and Poplar trees. We cleared the trees that shaded the apple tree earlier in the year. The apple tree has put on a bunch of new growth with the extra sunlight hitting it.

The challenge is that the apple tree is in a spot that it is exposed to vehicular damage so we had to adjust the plans for the driveway to protect the apple tree. When we discussed the tree as a family, the consensus was to cut it down. I was the lone hold out to keep the tree. We’ll need to top the tree next year to keep it healthy and trim away growth that isn’t good for the tree long term.

It is important to note that those green apples are sooooo sour that the deer are even reluctant to eat them. You’ll see an apple on the ground with a couple of bites missing, like the deer tried it and walked away. They are cooking apples, just way too sour to do anything else with.

The saga of the apple tree continues, well see how it goes.

Building our Campsite / Overland Destination – Morning of Day 1

We’re working on the campground. Join us to see how it looks before the heavy equipment arrives.

Where we started. Thanks John Burwell for mowing the grass and cleaning the shoots off the stumps so we could see where they were. That made things to quicker.
Lot of stumps to remove before the new water lines can go in.
The teardrop is so handy for trips like this.
Cool picnic table provided by John Burwell!

Staying safe from Covid-19 While Camping

Thinking about going camping soon? The video below shows how we tried to stay safe last weekend and avoid the Covid virus while we were camping at Grandfather Campground in Banner Elk, NC.

The goal was to not enter the shower or bathhouse. Instead we used our pop up shower tent and portable, propane hot water heater to shower at our campsite. We used our portable poop bucket for those needs.

Stay safe out there!

Pimping the Teardrop Trailer

The teardrop trailer has been a work in process. We’ve wanted to add more capability and storage, but I didn’t want to have a big impact on ground clearance or break over angle. Moving water, propane and the spare tire to the trailer means more space in the tow rig (either or Wrangler TJ or 4Runner).

Another challenge is the 200 lb tongue weight limit on the Wrangler. Once we get everything loaded on the trailer, I can check the tongue weight. I had relocated the battery to the rear of the trailer and that will help off set some of the additional tongue weight that we are about to add.

Items for this round of upgrades:

  • propane tank for use with the oven and especially the shower water heater (which can use a good bit of propane)
  • 2 jerry cans for water or gasoline
  • winch for the spare tire – wanted to tuck the spare tire between the structure so it didn’t have a big impact on the ground clearance and breakover angle
  • go to a larger jack on the tongue so i could use a two wheel roller (this part didn’t turn out like I hoped)

First step was to trip check that the bumper on the tow vehicle wouldn’t hit the jerry cans at the minimum turning circle. That also required a Bojangle biscuit since I was already in the Bojangles parking lot. This was just before the virus hit.

Last check of the clearance when the tow vehicle steering is at the maximum travel
Removing the old jack alignment plate
Ready to start the fabrication process after touching up paint that wouldn’t be affected by welding or grinding

Once we had the lower guide plate for the jack removed we could start verifying the layout of the can holder, tongue jack, propane tank and spare jack.

Important to test fit the location of everything before welding

Next step is to fabricate simple brackets to attach the tank holder. Then the brackets were attached to the tank holder and squared up before welding the brackets to the trailer frame.

Test fitting and aligning the mounting bars for the jerry can racks

One of the challenges was attaching some sort of frame to the front rail of the trailer frame without getting the weld bead too close to the blue skin and causing heat damage to the skin finish.

We also found a structural weld that was not adequate and could have caused a failure on the trail. The tire winch mount is bolted along the top and welded along the bottom. The weld pattern also addressed the frame weld issue and fixed the weak spot with the bad weld.

Support for propane tank is in place and the support for the jack
Propane tank rack in place. It took a little work fit everything in limited space and allow for the motion of the tank closure
Jerry can mounts tacked in place prior to final weld
Now we just need to add the tire winch mount and paint
Winch mount in place and painted. Need to grind and add final welds.
Welds and final paint almost complete
Painted and ready for final assembly
Next step is to add the tank, racks and spare tire

It was a lot of work. It would not have happened without Maverick Metal Works

Once we have the trailer out and outfitted, we’ll take some pictures and show off the new gear.

Corona Virus – Minimizing the Impact to Your Business and Family

Here are my thoughts on

  • how NC and Wake county are misleading us and not being consistent with CDC guidelines
  • why the Corona virus is a threat to your employees, you and your bottom line
  • why you should send your employees home sooner, rather than later, to protect your business and bottom line – especially employees that can work from home
  • reducing the chance of infection by reducing the potential R0 in your business
  • remember as the commentator on PeakProsperity.com says the pattern of the virus is case, case, cluster, cluster, boom

Our local disinformation from the state / county / public schools is so bad that PeakProsperity.com was pointing out the inaccuracy of info provided by Wake County public schools and the Wake county health department in conjunction with NC DHHS.

I’m not a medical professional, but I’ve been following the virus very closely. I hope this helps you make proactive decisions that could save lives.

Maker Faire is Coming, Maker Faire is Coming on Jun 7th


Are you a maker? Who are makers? Lets spend a few minutes and explore this amazing and sometimes wacky world. Keep in mind that the makers are influencing how you do business and that influence is rapidly growing. According to Wikipedia:

The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.

Makers are people how build stuff. Some of these makers are just hobbyists and crafters who use technology to create their products. Other makers are entrepreneurs who use what is now common technology to build innovative products in their garage. It would probably surprise you how many individuals now have CNC machines or hobbyist grade 3d printers in their garages. Over past ten years several technologies and enabling products have had a huge impact on democratizing design. These enabling products and services include:

Electronics Development Platform
Raspberry Pi – http://www.raspberrypi.org/
Adurino – http://www.arduino.cc/
 

3D Printing
MakerBot – http://makerbot.com/
RepRap – http://www.reprap.org/wiki/RepRap
 

Laser Cutters

Epilog –
http://www.epiloglaser.com

CNC (Computer Numeric Control) Machining
Shopbot – http://www.shopbottools.com

Online 3D Printing and Laser Cutting Services
Fineline in Raleigh, NC – https://www.finelineprototyping.com
Ponoko – https://www.ponoko.com

There are even networks of makers like 100K Garages (http://www.100kgarages.com/).

Many people don’t realize that this community even exists. It’s important to keep in mind that this community is and will impact your business and how you do business. A great way to connect with the community is at the Maker Faire at the NC State Fairgrounds on Saturday, Jun 7th, 2014. This is a fun event, and it is guaranteed to show you the coolest innovation and innovators around. Check out the Maker Faire at www.makerfairenc.com!

See you there!

About this blog’s author, Montie Roland and his business Montie Design Montie Design is an innovation and commercialization firm with core competencies in mechanical engineering and industrial design. Active in the product design, defense, and technology sectors, we leverage years of industry leadership and extensive technical capabilities to help clients take products from concept to marketplace that are economical to manufacture, elegant and robust. Montie Design is a North Carolina company headquartered in the Research Triangle region with clients across the country and overseas. We are dedicated to economic development throughout our home state and furthering excellence in design and engineering. For more information, visit www.montie.com or download the capabilities statement in PDF format here.