Contraptions/Handyman Hints

May 9, 2012 – Big Gardening Day on the Farm

It was a great “getting things done on the farm day.” It was the first day that Linda and Claire were home all day, so the garden and other things were transformed.

First, Claire volunteered to clean out winter from the hen house. About five overflowing loader buckets (liberally soaked with water to aid the composting process) and the hen house was ready for fresh bedding, and next year’s compost is on the way.

Many plants and seeds and mulch found their way into the garden as well. We got the recycled lumber tarps out of the barn, Linda planted a bunch of peppers and tomatoes. I went to the neighbors via the bumpy dirt trail between the crop fields and retrieved two loads of loose straw from the loft of their barn and put the tomato cages on, pounded the stakes in, spread the mulch and wet it all down.

This photo shows some hearty garlic on the right, a cattle panel trellis that we put up this weekend.  It has pole beans on the outside and lettuce and spinach underneath, hopefully to last a bit longer into the summer with the shade of the beans.  To the left of the trellis is some space reserved for viney plants before a row of tomatoes.  It’s nice to have that mulched portion of the garden already weeded for the whole season!

At the end of the day, I took some time to pull thistles from the pasture.  It appears that last year’s pulling them out by had greatly reduced the population in the paddock we tested last year.  We’ll continue that on the other paddocks this year.


August 28, 2011 – Iowavertible

There’s likely not too many 4×4 convertibles on the road, and likely fewer pickup convertibles.  Although, technically this doesn’t count as a true convertible as it can’t convert back to having a roof, it’s not doubt a fun beating around the farm truck.

The cab was crushed in the storms in July and the owner just sawed it off.  He thought he might put a roll bar on the back and add a snap canvas top to it as well.  But at least for  a dry August, it’s stylin’.

one year ago…”Linda Recognized as Outstanding Ag Educator”

June 3, 2011 – Window Dolly

We’re slowly taking on remodeling of the last untouched room in the house. All the windows in the house are new except for the side door entry room. When we moved it into the house it was the laundry room (always nice when first thing visitors see is your piles of laundry!). We moved that to a new location on the main floor and just painted over the dark green/brown paneling and made it an office – but it’s best use will be a pantry/mud room. The first step is new windows, so to make them match the rest of the house, I ordered them unfinished and am finishing them now.

I happened across this great time-saving attachment to paint window sashes – set them on a carpeted furniture dolly – you can finish both sides and easily turn them around to get all four sides.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #211″

March 28, 2011 – Hooking Up

When you hook up, it’s very important to get the connection correct.  Of course, there are a number of ways to hook up, some better than others.  It’s time for another irregular handyman hint.

This shows hooking up the chain one way – with the link  inserted perpendicular to the hook.

Another way to hook up is to insert the hook into a link. One method of hooking up is much better than the other.  Know which one?

The top one is superior as it is easier to unhook after tensioning the chain in the chain, the bottom one can get the hook stuck in the link.

one year ago…”Vote for Eliza”

November 7, 2010 – Passive Solar Stock Tank

Just in time for the colder temps forecast for later in the week, the passive solar stock tank is complete.  Like the Dude, I abide with Joel Salatin who advocates for things that work, rather than look pretty and painstakingly built to perfection.  We have heated water buckets that use a lot of electricity and don’t seem to last very long.  I found some designs for passive solar cattle and horse tanks, and used those as an example to build one for goats and sheep.

It’s not rocket science – build a box with insulation and seal up all the cracks you can with insulating foam.

The tank was black, I spray painted the interior black and made one major adjustment from the horse and cattle heaters I saw.  I didn’t think this one had enough height to get much solar gain, so I made an additional clear partial top on a frame that is not attached to the box, so I can take off the top polycarbonate lid out easily if I need to remove the tank.  I also cut a piece of foam and painted it black and snugly fit it on the top of the left 1/2 of the tank or so (you can’t see it here, because of the glazing cover).  The glazing is polycarbonite panels I got dirt cheap at the Farm-Tek store in Dubuque because they were odd sizes.  Since the tank is designed for goats, I reinforced the top panels with some rebar crossbars in case the goats jumped on top.  I also added some insulated lids to set down at night to keep the heat of the day in.  If needed, I can run a tank heater in on the coldest days of the year to keep the water from freezing. I didn’t want to use treated lumber, so used cedar and finished it with an outdoor polyurethane.

The only thing I might do different is to try to find a tank with a drain plug in case I need to drain it.  I might also make a bed of sand or gravel to set it on so if any water leaks out of the drain holes drilled in the bottom of the box, it will have an easy escape.

one year ago…”Garlic Tasting”

November 5, 2010 – Nifty Animal Separator

In the fall/winter, we have a special ration we feed the sheep, but have had trouble keeping the horse from taking more than her fair share.

Linda had an idea to put a board across that the sheep could go under, but horse not get through.  So, a couple of 2×4 brackets inside the door, a 2×4, and there you have it – sheep running in for a treat.  It won’t prevent the door from closing and  is easily removed by just sliding it out of the brackets.

The horse can just sit and look – rebuffed from the treat inside!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #183″

April 28, 2010 – Urban Gardening Technique – Bin/Tire Potatoes

Another old gardening technique that has yet to come to high hopes is growing potatoes in straw.  Many people grow them in tires and keep piling tires up and adding straw as the potatoes grow up.

Instead of using tires, I used some old pallets wired together instead of tires.

Martin went in and laid down some newspapers and a bit of compost to give the taters a head up on the grass.

Martin is like “Jim” from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom – he goes in and does the hard work while I stand and watch!  These potatoes were left-0ver from last year and had already started growing.

Straw on top, and the pallets afford the straw to keep piling up as the potatoes grow.

one year ago…”Claire with More Opportunities”

April 23, 2010 – Urban Gardening Technique – Wading Pool Gardens

I ran across a novel idea for urban gardens (not that I won’t try it on the farm as well).  This may also work great for school gardens as well.  One of the banes of suburban existence is the leaky kiddie wading pool.  Well, esteemed soil scientice Joel Gruver at Western Illinois, documented a great way to turn them into gardens.  I’m sure of all the research and outreach Joel has done in soil science, he’d like nothing more that to be immortalized on the high hopes blog as the person who brought kiddie pool gardens to the readers of this blog!  Check out the many pictures of Joel’s pools with actual before and after photos at his flickr page.

The first step is to gather the ingredients.  I went to our nearest municipal composting facility to get a utility trailer load of compost (it’s free there!)  I mixed some for this project and spread the rest elsewhere.  Here, I filled a couple of 5 gallon buckets about 2/3 full of compost.

I bought some bagged sand ($1.50 a bag) to make a 2:1 mix of compost and sand.  I filled the buckets that were 2/3 filled with compost with sand to the top.  If you were doing a larger area, a trip to the local gravel pit and pickup may be more thrifty.

I didn’t have any old leaky kiddie pools, so I just cut a 55 gallon plastic barrel in half, drilled some extra drain holes in the bottom and mixed the sand and compost in here.  Just for reference, filling these two halves of a barrel used 12 five gallon buckets (about 3 bags of sand and the rest compost).

One advantage of this technique is that the crops are relatively weed free – so are excellent for hard to weed crops like carrots – which are destined for these barrels.  I placed them close to the rain collection tank for easy watering.  I’ll report back later in summer on the results.  As a bonus, if it works, and after the soil media tires out, I have many low spots that could use fill, so I’ll refill them and start over again!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #162″

January 30, 2010 – Easy (and cheap) Row Covers

I’m not shy about stealing great ideas from others, so if you are looking for a cheap and easy row cover to protect your  insect-prone crops like squash and cabbage, check out Herrick Kimball.

The Whizbang Row Cover System looks like a great way to protect your crops at a reasonable price.

Herrick is a man after my own heart, with his ingenious, practical, and cheap ideas and plans. Just to whet your appetite, the photo above copied from his web site shows his homemade clips using old bicycle tubes and scrap wood.

one year ago…”Repurposed Solar Landscape Lights”

January 16, 2010 – Need to Cut Metal With Circular Saw?

Here’s another handyman hint.  Don’t want to buy an expensive metal cutting diamond-tipped blade for your circular saw!  Just run an old, dull wood blade installed backwards on the saw.

This blade has cut through many pieces of metal roofing/siding, and it is finally time to retire it.  But no need to throw the dull wood blade away – it will last through many metal cutting episodes.  Be warned that it is very loud and wear ear protection!  My Dad would be happy to see this saw – still cutting 22 years since giving it to Linda for her wedding shower!

one year ago…”Photo Friday – Meditation”

January 12, 2010 – Cheap Chicken Heater

It seems like all the chicken waterers we buy do not last long enough for what they cost (at least in my eyes). The plastic waterers with a built in heater are either nearly impossible to fill, or if they do get unplugged or there is a power outage in cold weather, they are cracked and useless. There are also heated metal bases, which don’t seem to last more than a couple years and cost 40-50 bucks.

So, it’s time to enter the world somewhere between  Red Green and Eli Whitney.  I took the two non-working old metal base heaters,  used the cord from one, attached an outdoor electric box, socket, and heavy duty light bulb inside the top base, drilled holes in the bottom base to drain water if any dripped in, and connected them together with a combination of sheet metal screws and Gorilla tape.

Here’s the completed base hard at work in the coop.  I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea to wrap some of the metal-foil bubble insulation around the unit and the waterer – at about -10 this one still freezes up.

one year ago…”PFI Conference Wrap-Up Part 2/Nellie’s Gone “

March 24, 2008 – High Hopes Handy Hint

Maybe I’ll start a “handy hints” category.  I’ll see if I come up with more, but we’ll start with this one that works for farm and town.

Whenever you need to bring a propane cylinder to town to refill for the grill, set it in an old milk crate.  The tank won’t roll around in the back of your truck or in the car!

one year ago…”Getting Piled Up Chores Done”