April 30, 2008 – Wind Turbine Foundation Poured!

After the 3rd scheduled attempt, today was finally dry enough to get a cement truck with 5 yards of cement back to the wind turbine site without sinking out of sight.

Todd and James set the layout for the tower and four guy wire supports. A perfectly flat site is ideal, but hard to find, even in Iowa.

Setting the auger in the appointed location to dig out the first footing.

Great fertile, black Iowa soil coming up from the deep.

Setting and leveling the form for the footing.

Martin takes a peek down into the ground.

All five holes are laid out and dug out, waiting for the cement truck to arrive.

The bottom 1/4 or so of the hole is filled with cement.

The rebar form is set into the hole.

Cement is tamped in as the hole fills up.

Final finishing and troweling of the top of the footing.

The tie-down bolt for one of the guy wires is set into the footing.

The finished footing. Now we wait for 30 days or so for the footing to cure before arranging a time for the tower to go up.

It was a bit of a symbolic day to install the wind turbine footings as it was also the day the Iowa Utility Board approved the construction of a coal-burning power plant 15 miles away from us. The permit did come with some aggressive conditions, including 10% biomass fuel in the plant, and a 25% renewable portfolio for the power company by 2028 and 10% before the plant is built.

one year ago…”Blossoms at Sunset”

April 29, 2008 – More Loader Benefits

I don’t have a long trailer, so when I fetch cattle panels (16 ft long), I usually put them on racks on top of the pickup and topper. It’s kind of a pain to load and unload from such a height, but it was the only way to get them home. When I went in to get the wood pellets, I saw them loading some panels in a truck without a topper by arching them in the box of the truck by pushing them in with a forklift. Of course, the problem is getting them out, as they are under much force and could really cause an injury if you just opened up the tailgate end watched them spring back.

I thought I’d try it. But I had a better, safer, and quicker idea than racheting them together before opening the door – I’d have them rest against the tractor loader and slowly back up to release the pressure.

It worked like a charm.

one year ago…”New (old) Bookcases”

April 28, 2008 – Hot Chicks and Cold Nights

I wonder how many googlers will be very disappointed in viewing real chicks after searching for “hot chicks” in a search engine!

I’ve found over the years the most reliable predictor of unseasonably cold weather is the day chicks arrive on the farm. This year is no exception – we expect a low in the 20’s tonight and our county has a freeze warning and a flood warning – now there’s a combination that sounds like fun!

The chicks came at an unexpected time, so being the good farmer, I just used whatever I could find lying around to help keep the heat close to the chicks. Linda says these chicks must feel like they’re “living in a van down by the river” due to their ramshackle accommodations (apologies to the late Chris Farley). There’s a piece of leftover metal siding, an old storm window screen draped with one of the circa 1972 draperies that graced our house when we moved in, another more modern screen with an old sheet, and a salvaged window out of an outbuilding.

I must admit, I’m partial to the genius that is the old window over the makeshift brooder as it keeps heat in, while offering a peep in at the peeps.

one year ago…”Starting to Plant 150 Trees”

April 27, 2008 – A Constant Battle

There’s always something to do on the farm, but eventually the most urgent things spring to the top of the list.

One of these items is this fence. We’ll call it the “Leaning Fence of Melbourne.” It’s a bit of a pain to tear out the old, but this one is way past its prime.

Tearing out woven wire fence involves pulling out fencing staples from old posts, pulling the old posts out of the ground and ripping the old wire away. The wire is usually the hardest part as commonly there is of soil and grass above the bottom wire of the fence that makes is hard to pull up. Here’s some detritus from the old fencing – the salvageable woven wire will be turned into tomato cages, the rest to the recycling at the landfill.

A section of new fence, standing tall and proud.

one year ago…”Not in Our House”

April 26, 2008 – Stocking up on Fuel

We’ve always bee forward-looking about having supplies for future times. Years of canning food for the winter, buying meat by the hundreds of pounds at a time, and most recently signing up for a wind turbine. Now, I’ve locked in most of the fuel to heat the house next winter. There’s no one who predicts that the pellets will be cheaper next fall than they are now – so “investing” in this cost now will probably beat money invested in the market! With corn prices rising with no end in site, it will not be cheaper to burn wood pellets rather than corn in the corn stove.

We hauled home 4 tons of wood pellets home today – this is about 1/4 of the pile – these are tucked in the attached garage.

There is a bit of a strange warning on the bag:

I’m glad that the “Not for Human Consumption” warning was on the bag before I drizzled the wood pellets with a light raspberry viniagarette dressing for my daily requirements of fiber.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #69″

April 23, 2008 – Trees In

It was finally dry enough (barely) to plant the trees that have been sitting in the basement for the last week, waiting for a window in the rain to get in the ground. It’s a “climate change” collection – trees that we are marginally in the growing zone. I planted some Michigan Pecan, Persimmons, Paw-Paw, and Heartnut.

I’ve had persistent problems with rodents eating young trees, so I thought I’d try the tubex tree shelters with bamboo poles for this batch of trees.

It was a wonderful few hours – I had all the materials I needed (didn’t have to take a trip back to retrieve anything – I guess some good things come with experience – I’m probably in the golden age until I start forgetting what I need!) The meadowlarks and red-wing blackbirds were the soundtrack for the afternoon, a warm breeze swept over me, I was digging in luxurious black soil, and using water collected from a tank off the roof of the corn-crib which was closer than any other source of water.

Today was the 2nd try for pouring the wind turbine foundation – but it is still too wet as a cement truck would just sink in the soft ground. So, with more big rainfalls in the forecast the next few days, it’s postponed indefinitely. The good news is the turbine has been improved to increase the top speed from 27 mph to 30 mph – which means it will run more at high speeds and potentially give 15% more production over the course of a year.

one year ago…”Apple and Nectarine Blossoms Appear”

April 22, 2008 – Claire Strikes Again – Awarded a Trip to Washington DC!

As if earning the trip to Arizona yesterday wasn’t good enough, today Claire found out that she won an essay contest from the local Rural Electric Co-op and earned an all-expenses paid+ trip to Washington DC this June! It is part of the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Here’s a brief description from the Youth Tour web site:

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has brought high school juniors and seniors to Washington, D.C. every June since the late 1950s. Students compete for slots for this unique opportunity and are selected for this program by their local electric cooperative. Usually the selection process takes the form of an essay contest, personal interviews or a speech contest. The selection process is different for each individual cooperative.

Students on the tour learn about electric cooperatives, American history and U.S. government and walk away with a greater understanding of their role as a citizen. They participate in National Youth Day, visit with their representative and senators and explore the sights around the nation’s capital.

Congrats Claire!

one year ago…”Plums Out of the Gate”

April 21, 2008 – State Envirothon Champions!

Today the Marshalltown high school Envirothon team won the state competition! It means Claire and her teammates get an all-expenses paid trip to Flagstaff Arizona later this summer to participate in the National Envirothon Competition. Here’s a part of the press release:

A team of five students from Marshalltown Senior High School beat out 14 other teams to win the 13th annual Iowa Envirothon contest held Monday, April 21, at Springbrook State Park. Marshalltown won or tied for first place in four of five areas of competition, edging out the Decorah Propaganda Pandas from Decorah High School for first place overall.

Marshalltown will compete at the national competition, the Canon Envirothon, held at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz., July 28-August 3. In addition, each member of the Marshalltown team received a $500 scholarship from Iowa State University. The Envirothon tested the student’s knowledge in the areas of aquatic ecology, forestry, soils, and wildlife at stations throughout Springbrook’s Conservation Education Center. Each team also gave an oral presentation on “Recreational Impacts on Natural Resources.”

Judges said the key to Marshalltown’s victory was a dominating performance in the oral presentation, easily outscoring the competition. The Envirothon is North America’s largest high school environmental competition. The goals of the contest are to increase students’ knowledge and awareness of the interrelationship of our natural resources; promote environmental awareness and stewardship; develop students’ critical thinking, cooperative problem solving and decision-making skills; present balanced options for management of natural resources; and provide awareness of and accessibility to resource organizations offering assistance in environmental issues.

(Photo from Iowa Envirothon)

I must say it is not surprising that the team did so well with a member of Two Friends Farm (and state speech winner), along with Claire who gained much experience in debate and mock trial. We look forward to hearing more about the details of the upcoming trip. I tell Claire it’s important to be well-rounded and diversified (if you look at the previous day’s entry, you’ll see how well she goes from manure shoveler to state champion in consecutive days)!

one year ago…”First Round of Garden Planting”

April 20, 2008 – Manure Handling 101

Even though the ground is still very wet, we couldn’t put off cleaning the hen house much longer. The last few years we were able to do an early spring/late winter cleaning, but this winter did not provide that opportunity.

We had a better system this year – to keep the scoopers engaged the whole time, we alternated between loading the tractor bucket and a small trailer – while one was off dumping, the other could stay and be filled.

We also moved much of the winter household compost as it never really heated up this winter and acted more as a storage area than true composter. This bin is designed with removable panels, so here it is with the front panel removed, ready for scooping.

The resulting pile ‘o stuff – soon to be properly turned and magically turned into black compost for future gardens.
one year ago…”Putting Down Roots”

April 19, 2008 – Moving Fence

After another rainy week, it’s important to keep moving ahead, even though the saturated ground prevents us from getting the new trees and grapes in the ground. So today, we moved a fence to enlarge an exclosure in the pasture to accommodate the trees, even though we can’t plant them yet. With saturated ground, it was easy to pull and set the fence posts. It was foggy and drizzly in the morning, but stayed relatively dry in the afternoon.

Linda’s working with the post puller. This is one of my favorite pieces of equipment – it’s easy to use, virtually indestructible, and hard to lose! Since we don’t have much land to play with, we’ve opted to use cattle panels for much of the interior flexible fencing. We like the ease of installation and don’t have a lot of permanent fences, except the property boundaries, so even though it is more expensive initially, we never bought too much at a time, so the extra expense is worth it to us in ease of installation and flexibility.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #68″

April 18, 2008 – I Feel the Earth Move

Last night was the 5.2 quake centered in Illinois. It was felt west of Des Moines, so we were in a place where we could have felt it. We think we did, but never would have thought twice about it and didn’t realize it at the time. We both woke up (this was at about 4:30 am) and it sounded like a large animal was chewing on a door or some woodwork. Linda asked what it was – I said “It sounds like a big animal chewing on the door” and not wanting to actually find a big animal in the house chewing on the door, rolled over and went back to sleep, chalking it up as “old house” or “farm noise.”

Milo is having some troubles. This morning he looked dead, with a faint heartbeat. We brought him in the house and for the first time, tubed an animal. That involved taking a tube and shoving it down the kid’s mouth about 10-12 inches down into the stomach and them injecting milk from a syringe into the stomach, via the tube. It’s one of those things that is a bit unnerving the first time you do it – put it accidently into the lungs and you drown the goat. But this goat was virtually totally unresponsive and we had nothing to lose by trying.

So Linda gave it a try. Milo laid motionless for about two hours after that on a heating pad in the house. Then he blurted out once and I was able to get him to drink some more out of a bottle. He then actually got up. Then he slept for a few more hours and ate again and seemed miraculously vibrant. I thought since he was walking around, he should go back to momma, so brought him back in the barn – but within a few hours later, he was cold and sleepy again, so he came back into the house and was used as a “lap goat” on the couch and spent the night in the house.

one year ago…”Martin Brings Home a Tree”