Archive for September, 2013

Serious About Pallets

Friday, September 20th, 2013

pallet1Today I finished sawing the pile of logs that have been in my way all summer. It was a great moment. I had run out of space for firewood in the two pallets I’ve made so far, so I just made a pile of the firewood on the ground as it came off the splitter. It became clear to me that I would soon be needing a lot more pallets, because once the next large pile of logs arrives by logging truck, I’ll need to have a place to put it all. So today I got serious.

One very time consuming part of making these pallets is getting everything square. I’ve learned over the years that if things are a bit out of whack, you wind up fighting yourself in unexpected ways. Up until today, I’d start building the pallets by laying 3 4′ 2x4s on edge on the garage floor, and futzing with them for quite a while to get them parallel and square to each other. Then the building could begin, as long as I didn’t touch anything.

pallet2I’d bought a sheet of plywood on one of my recent trips to town, and as is often my habit, I had spent a chunk of time thinking and planning how I’d make a pallet jig on this plywood sheet. By drawing a line and putting two cleats down on it a while back, I managed to streamline the constructions of the pallet sides greatly. Today’s job was to get the bottom part of the pallet jigged up.

pallet3Once I’d figured out what I wanted to do, it was pretty straightforward. I stuck corners where two of the three 2x4s had to go, and a couple of cleats where the middle one went. I tested it out when I had everything screwed down, and it looked pretty good. An unintended advantage to the project was that, propped up on my sawhorses, the pallet building was now at a comfortable working height, and I had a nice place to put my tools and fasteners.

One worry I had after I had the top of the pallet constructed was whether it would come out of the jig. I’ve heard horror stories about fiberglass boats that have been built in expensive molds, only to learn that the wouldn’t come out once the glue hardened. My pallet flipped right out. In a few minutes, I’d stapled the bottom boards on, and went to work on the sides. Pallet number 3 took me a couple of hours to build. I’m thinking I’ll be able to cut this down by half once I get organized.

Chainmail

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

I had an interesting phone conversation the other day about objects we carry with us. Keys come and go, wallets wear out, driver’s licences get replaced, favorite t-shirts wear out, and on and on. One object that has been on my person almost continuously during my waking hours is my chainmail keychain fob. Steve made this for me around 20 years ago, I think. He was interested in chainmail, and pretty much figured out on his own how to make the links and weave them into a vest he was making.

chainmailOne father’s day I woke up to find this lovely fob sitting on the dining room table. I put it on my keyring, where it has stayed until just the other day. One thing I’ve learned about chainmail over the decades is that it does morph while riding around in my pocket. I’ll take it out to use it, and two links from different parts of the fob have hooked themselves together. Or worse yet, some links have come apart, or come out completely. I am not a chainmail expert, but have managed to cobble it back together pretty much until recently.

The other day, I took my keys out, and the poor chainmail fob had some completely apart at one end. I had known it needed attention, but didn’t know that things had reached such a critical stage. I contacted Steve and asked him if I could mail it to him for repair. He said sure as long as I sent him some needle nose pliers and some extra links. I wound 24′ of wire on the jig he and I made all those years ago, pulled off the coils, and cut them with a cut-off blade on my angle grinder. I quickly boxed everything up and shipped it to him. In about a week, during which I had a funny empty feeling in my right front pocket, the package came back. I opened it up and found a completely refurbished fob. Steve said he had to replace about 1/3 of the links.

I put the fob back on the keyring where it belonged, slid the thing in my pocket and said, “ahhhhh.”

Slabwood

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

syrupwoodProgress is slowly being made out at the maple sugar operation. I’m a bit behind this year in making the firewood for the coming maple syrup season. Once I stacked the slabwood shown in the picture, I had 3 complete piles and one more nearly complete. Last season I think I used about 5 piles, so I have a ways to go before I feel comfortable that I have enough. The challenge is to fit everything in during this busy time of the year, but somehow I always seem to manage. I also have plans to elevate my gathering tank so I’ll be able to add directly to the evaporator with gravity. We’ll see how that goes.

Protopie

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

pieIf there is any finer sight in the world than the work area of the kitchen being covered with the makings of a blueberry pie, I’d like to know about it.

Onions

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

onionsWe’ve had a couple of hard frosts during the past few nights. The potato plants suffered, but the onions seemed indifferent to the whole thing. Interestingly, I decided to harvest the onions and leave the potatoes for a while.

I waited for a sunny day and pulled the onions. I’m always interested in this process. Some of them practically jump into my hand, and on examination, have only a few roots holding them upright. Some resist my efforts to pull them. I can usually tell when I need to excavate beneath them, although every year I do pull a few stems off accidentally.

aliceonionOnce I have a good bunch in my hands, I walk over to the lawn and line them up in the sun. About mid-day, I go out and flip them all end for end, so both sides get some sun and air. Once that part of the yard is in the shade, we grab the binder twine and tie them up in bundles. These are brought into our entry-way and hung up for a month or so to complete their drying. Once this part is done, they’re put in mesh bags and put in out basement for use all winter.

Coming up soon (I hope): the potato harvest.

Squashed

Friday, September 13th, 2013

squashAlice and I worked in the garden this morning. I did the watering and picked the sweet onions; a small crop this year with some monster onions. Alice picked beans and a few remaining blueberries, and made helpful suggestions of ways I could spend my spare time in the garden. Isn’t it just like human nature? It is always more obvious what someone else should be doing. We also picked a few semi-ripe tomatoes. There are still quite a few green ones, but the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. We’ll see what this fall brings. The winter squash plants are only now starting to produce little ones.

fingerBut that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Yesterday I got back on the firewood project. I have a small pile of logs to process so the logging truck can start hauling all the logs from the powerline project. I was sawing and stacking, somewhat absentmindedly, I’ll admit, when I squashed a finger on my left hand. I started dancing around, which must have made Franco excited about my newfound energy, because he immediately moved his stick closer to me and looked at me expectantly. He is difficult to resist when he looks with those big brown eyes, so I tossed the stick for him.

What I find interesting about this injury is the nail seems to be doing fine. It is usually the nail that suffers, but this squashed finger seems like the meat side is showing all the symptoms. Live and learn, and then throw a stick.

Trailer Deck

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

I have the honor of owning the ugliest trailer in the neighborhood. If there were a competition, I could probably take the all-UP honors as well. I bought this thing for $40 some years ago. I had sat in a farm field for several decades before I was lucky enough to buy it. The tires were shot, and were, of course, obsolete. I searched the internet and came up with The M. E. Miller Tire Company, which specialized in old obsolete tires, especially for farm equipment.

trailer2I gulped when I learned the price for a new pair of tires for the trailer… $200! This $40 bargain was starting to cost some money. As soon as the tires arrived and were installed, I purchased and installed some RV tire covers so the tires wouldn’t rot away in the sun. I used the trailer for many years without any sort of deck, and it worked out ok for me.

Well, this summer I decided it was time to put a deck on it, since I needed the trailer to haul pallets of firewood from the powerlines project. Step one was to locate some lumber. I found some nice 2″ x 12″ x 14′ long slabs in the lumber pile I’d made with my sawmill, carried them to the shop, and cut them to length. I was about to paint them when my neighbor stopped by on his vintage John Deere A tractor (out here we don’t even bat a lip when our neighbors drive up on 50 year old tractors.) As we got talking, he asked about the trailer project and I told him I was about ready to get out the paint brush.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Used motor oil is your friend.” He explained how when he was a lad working on the farm down the road, they always treated their trailer decks with used motor oil. He said if I added a coat every spring, it would hold up for decades.

trailer1I happened to have some used motor oil and a brush, so I took him up on it. As he predicted, the lumber was very “thirsty.” I did all six sides of each plank, and by golly, by the time I was done, that trailer started looking pretty good.

If I don’t watch myself, I may lose my standing as the ugliest trailer in the UP!

Buckwheat

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

tillerThe time came to till our second planting of buckwheat under. I have a lot going on this summer, and it seems like I have limited patience when equipment doesn’t work. And equipment being what it is, can sense this and gets sort of snotty. I don’t blame it though. I’d act exactly the same way if I were in its shoes.

It was one of those deals when I had an hour before supper, and if things went like clockwork, I could get it done and put away just in time. Dodging the wasps that have made an active home in the green building where I store the rototiller, I put the tiller in neutral and dragged it out of it’s storage place. I lined it up, and pulled the starting rope. Nothing, but that isn’t too unusual. I pulled a dozen more times, and the same nothing happened. Sigh.

I took the air cleaner off and looked inside the carburetor. It was dry. I walked to the workshop, got my squirt can, loaded it up with gas, grabbed my emergency starter battery, and walked back to the tiller. I hooked up the battery, gave the carburetor a squirt of gas, and turned the key. Baroom! Bla bla bla die. I gave another squirt, another start and the same thing. The next start I had the squirt can ready, and as long as I continued squirting gas the tiller ran fine. “It’s almost like someone shut the gas off,” I thought to myself.

I walked around to the gas tank side of the machine, and saw the fuel shutoff. It was shut off. I then noticed electrical tape on the fuel line, and it all came back to me. The fuel line had leaked, and I “temporarily” repaired it with some electrical tape. It got the job done. But when I put the tiller away after that job, I figured I’d better shut the fuel off so it wouldn’t leak out through my makeshift repair. Then I forgot about the whole thing for a month until just recently.

Not surprisingly, when I turned on the fuel, the tiller started right up. It didn’t even need to warm up, because it was already warm from its squirt starting earlier. The tilling went without a hitch. In the next day or two, I’ll give both buckwheat halves of the gardens another tilling, and then plant annual rye for their winter blankets. Perhaps this time I’ll pull the fuel line off and take it to town with me and replace it. That way the tiller will be ready to go the next time I need it.

Cheeky

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Since I don’t drink the wine I make, I rely on my in-house wine critics. As I recall, the verdict on last year’s chokecherry went something like this:

A cheeky yet brooding dark wine that was somewhat of a surprise from this unknown vineyard. The fragrance suggested a fine manchego cheese smoked over a dark hazelnut shell fire. But the flavor! At once subdued yet vibrant. The shame was in the bottom of the bottle, when no more could be drunk. I kept the cork in the freezer and took it out for a sniff once a month just to remind me…

No, that wasn’t the one. I think I must have read that one online in one of those list thingys; you know, like the top 10 most ridiculous paragraphs of all time. The actual verdict went something more like this:

It tasted like cough syrup.

OK, I can take it. You win some you lose some. Would you say some of the tastiest cough syrup you’ve ever drunk, or on the other end of the scale?

Anyway, undaunted, I picked a batch of the nicest chokecherries I can ever remember today, and processed them into a new batch of chokecherry wine. We’ll know in about a year how this one turns out. Just in case the worst happens, let me know if you feel a cough coming on, and I’ll send you a bottle.