Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lo-chete Mk II

In the midst of cleaning out my garage, I came across the upgrade blade I had purchased for my original Lo-chete. Having also decided to start making video, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to play around with more equipment (decided against future use of the blue tooth headset) as well as more shots, camera angles, lighting, etc.  Still not a high production value composition, but several improvements to the method came about between Episode 1 and 2 of Random Fortification.

The steps involved in stripping down a one-handed loping tool and make it work with the Lo-chete are covered in detail in the video, but in general, a strategy for removing the old handle from the new blade was needed, sizing the holes in the tang of the new blade to the old holes in the handle was required, and then I had to find some random bits of hardware to put it together.

It feels really solid in its finished form and I hope to use it as soon as I can.  Maybe I will enlist a helper for some follow up video on the Lo-chete in action.

So - what do you think?  Video a more interesting and useful format than long format blogging?  Would you rather watch a video or see sketches and pictures with written explanations?

Let me know - I'm always looking to make what I do useful for my readers and viewers.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Random Fortification - Episode 1

I decided to take the leap and try my hand at making videos.  I actually have a degree in this stuff, but haven't made movies since analog linear editing was state of the art.  For now I'm just using my iPhone's built in mic and camera as it's actually much better than what I was trying to do with a blue tooth headset mic and the same camera.  I plan future upgrades for hardware including a dedicated video camera, a lav mic, and a shotgun mic.  I also need to get the lighting sorted out where I'm going to be doing most of my shooting.  Lots of stuff to do, but I wanted to get episode 1 in the can and on the screen to both encourage myself and start getting some feedback.

In this episode, I talk a little about my plans for the immediate future of the shop in general and show off my "floating shelf" stock rack that uses lap joints, hidden flush mounts and strong ties.  I have an idea that I can augment what I do here, on the blog, with the videos, or the other way around.  For example: I thought about drawing up a cross section of the floating flush mount cut with dimensions and putting it here along with the video.   Does that sort of two-part media seem useful or better than just a blog + vlog?  I'm curious to know what people think.

So here it is:

Please let me know what can be better. I listed the things I can think of but a good film maker listens to his constructive critics.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Standard Railroad Tie Raised Bed

It's December, but it's not yet too cold for me to work outside.  One of my long range plans came to fruition today with the completion of a raised bed for our garden composed of 6 railroad ties and 5 straw bales.

Standard US railroad ties are 8' - 6" long (most of the time) and range in width from 8-10" and run about 8" deep for the most part.  I picked up 6 this summer as part of a little horse trading with the idea that I would make the raised bed pictured above.  I also obtained about a dozen straw bales for free from work after they had an outdoor festival and no longer needed the bales.  The Wunder Wagun (tm) was crammed full to the ceiling to make that haul.


Raised bed gardening has been around for  along time.  From Portugal to ancient Peru, agronomists have recognized the favorable conditions obtainable in a raised bed where the soil is otherwise poor.  Extreme examples can be seen at Machu Picchu.  The famous terraces on the mountain tops there were not just aesthetic, they provided arable soil in which to grow high altitude crops for sustenance.  A raised bed improves soil drainage and reduces infiltration from varmints.  It can aslo provide an extended growing season when used as shown above with thick, insulating timbers which will keep the perimeter soil from freezing too soon while raising the crops up above the cold air that may settle on the ground during Spring and Fall frosts.

The straw is another story.  Used as a planting medium, it provides both superior drainage and root depth.  What it lacks, however, is high nutrient content.  We will be adding that through a couple of successive steps of decomposition through natural processes.  Right off, the straw is already sprouting and providing growth medium to wheat grass.  I'll be adding some bone meal to provide phosphorus and protein to the mix.  I might try to get some mushrooms established early in the spring by purchasing some spore or seeing what I can get ahold of locally through foraging that can be positively ID'd as safe to eat.  A simple tarp and a bit of water will be all we need to add to this for growing mushrooms.  

Once the straw has broken down over the course of the first year, we'll begin sowing seed directly into the straw.  I will most likely start with crops that will be good to leave the roots behind, like swiss chard or beans.  Regular crop rotation will apply thereafter, perhaps favoring those things we wish to grow for early and late crops.


To make the bed, I cut two of the ties into 51" lengths, then laid out the first level in a butt-and-pass fashion.  The second level is the same, but flipped around to provide overlap at the corners.  I then drilled holes and drove 12" galvanized nails into the corners and middles of the top timbers to keep things from falling over.  I had considered more elaborate lap joints at the end, but decided the time to do those along with the need for additional fastening on the lower level before installing the second level was overly complicated for such a simple structure.


Railroad ties are incredibly heavy, and soaked in creosote.  They are rot resistant but do decompose over time.  Coal-tar creosote is generally considered toxic in high doses.  It is used as a pesticide, with the proper license, and can cause kidney or liver damage or death when eaten.  Why am I not worried about that here?  These railroad ties are very old, to begin with, and have been exposed to the elements for 20 years or more already and much of the actual creosote has leeched away - they have practically no odor.  The amount of creosote that can leach from these ties into the straw and then into the food we may grow here is extremely low.  One good tell as to whether there is an appreciable amount of creosote entering my soil is the health of the plants grown there.  If the plants become ill as they develop roots that reach the perimeter of the bed, we'll know the soil is not good for food stock and will switch to growing flowers there.  I suspect, based on years of my own observations, that these will do just fine though for vegetables.

That said, the weight of the ties, the difficulty in obtaining and transporting them as well as building with them make them something of a novelty here.  I'll probably not replicate this project.  We will instead next time look at using red fir, which is naturally rot resistant, though in terms of cost, it may be more expensive.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raising Poultry

The first project is in the books here at the farm.  We raised our first batch of chickens over the past two months, culminating with their delivery for processing this evening.  Tomorrow, I'll go pick up plucked birds that have been cleaned inside and out.  15 will go in my freezer (and then some of those go to friends) and half go to my investor who purchased the chicks for us.

We started our adventure by picking up 33 cheeping yellow fuzz balls in a cardboard box at the post office.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for live chicks to traverse the local post office as the postal employees found this to be completely normal.  My investors total outlay for the birds was $68.

At the farm, which yet lacks a barn (in the planning stages), I prepared for the birds ahead of time by taking eight 8 ft long deck boards, cutting two in half, and putting 1 1/2 " notches 2 " from each end on both edges.  This created a jumbo set of crafting sticks from which I was able to assemble a rapidly deployable brooder box.  Straw lined the bottom and heat lamps provided the warmth for the chicks for the first three weeks until they had put on some weight and feathers began to grow.

For starters, the birds only needed one water dispenser and one feed dispenser.  This quickly doubled by the end of week 2.  By week 4, I needed a third waterer and feeder to keep up with their demand for daily feeding and by week 5 they were being fed and watered morning and night.  The last two weeks we had the birds, weeks 6 and 7, they went through 100 lbs of feed each week, and the last week could have easily been 150 lbs if we hadn't taken them off their feed yesterday in preparation for slaughter.

Our cost per bag of feed was $18 for "chicken grower" quasi organic crumbles.  The feed and water dispensers ran about $20 each, and the heat lamps were around $10 each (we had two in use).  So our project costs were somewhere around $400 to raise 30 meat birds to slaughtering weight.  As these were technically free range (weather permitting) and definitely not cage raised, I could compare them to organic free range birds at about $25 for a 5-6 lbs. bird.  Our theoretical profit is somewhere shy of double our costs, so we feel this was a good investment.  Additionally, it was a learning experience for the kids and we got exercise from hiking up and down the hill to the chicken coop.


Chicks in the brooder box.

Chickens at 6 weeks

Off to the processor! Everybody buckle up!

As you can see in the last picture, the brooder box came back into play for getting the birds transported.  I put down a tarp in the back of my wunder wagun and we all went for a stinky ride about 20 minutes away from here.  Our processing costs will be $2.00 per bird at a very kindly Amish farm.

Next spring, we intend to bring in some layers and start producing our own eggs.  After that, we are considering sheep or goats, but will wait until the barn is built to settle on that decision.  I like the idea of having milk goats, but you have to keep your milk goats breeding to keep them lactating, unlike cows.  So I will also need to develop a taste for goat meat.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quick Patch and Paint Tricks

The first project in our new home has been to add some fixtures to our somewhat austere bathroom.  We wanted to upgrade the light, add a mirror, a hand towel loop and a couple of towel hooks beside the shower.  This led to some unplanned paint and patch work.  Initially I was fearful this would turn an afternoon project into a multi-day project, but my stash of supplies saved me and produced a technique I will use again in the future, and recommend to you now.

Removing the old light fixture revealed a white rectangle on the light green bathroom wall.  The new fixture mounts to a circular plate only, leaving a big white area to contend with, as well as some screw holes and surface damage from removing the old fixture which was painted in.

Normally I would use plaster or mud for this, but these products take up to 24 hours to dry enough to become workable with sand paper.  By the grace of God, I had no mud.  But, I did have some Elmer's quick set wood filler and the previous home owner had thought to keep and leave the paint they used 4 years ago.  The wood filler dries quickly and can be sanded after 15 minutes of cure time.  Using this, and a hair dryer to quickly dry coats of paint, I was able to sand high spots with my shop-vac sander, fill holes and divots, sand again, paint, sand, fill and paint once more in the space of about 2 hours.

Had I used mud and let the paint air dry, this would have taken a couple of days of a tool strewn bathroom and disgruntled wife.  Thank God for Elmer's wood filler!  Having figured this process out will greatly accelerate future patch and paint work around the house.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Home, New Projects

I had just laid plans for how I wanted to finish my garden shed when we became the proud parents of our third child.  This was not unexpected, but it put a strain on our living conditions that was somewhat unexpected, but mostly just something we were ignoring.   During that time we were approached by a buyer.  I had mentioned the idea of selling the place years ago and recently as well and word had gotten round to a serious buyer.

This put virtually every project I had lined up for this past summer on hold and totally changed my planning.  But it was a welcome, though not a struggle free change.  First we discovered water damage in our old house and I was fortunate to be referred to a very competent builder experienced in rehabbing box windows, like ours, with water problems.  Then we discovered a problem with the septic field being too wet, but more regular mowing and some switching of the diverter box resolved that issue for the most part.  Finally, we were able to sell the home, but it took a whole month to get our heaps of junk out (Mostly all of my scrap lumber).

But, gradually we are settling into the new place with more acreage and a practically blank canvas to work with.  The house was move-in ready with little needed but for some bathroom fixtures.  The property, however, is almost 100% clover and wildflowers.  We are carefully planning out a mini-farm that should keep me busy for years to come.  I expect a lot more projects will come your way through these pages as a result of this move and I look forward to sharing them with you.