Thursday, October 22, 2015

Puffballs and Hazelnuts

Yeah, I know, the first thing that came to your mind from reading that title was the lesser known hit from the Strawberry Alarm Clock when they were going through their back-to-the-land phase.   (Hmmm, can't seem to find a link for it on YouTube.  Oh, well.)


At some time in late August or September, after the ground gets a good soaking, the puffballs appear in the pastures.  I knew they were edible but hadn't tried them until the county sanitarian, who was mapping the septic field for my in-laws' house, dropped by and dared/offered me to try them.  I did. They were good.

That was earlier in the summer.  When this later crop popped up in the pasture, I picked some firm, lightbulb to softball sized, specimens and headed for the kitchen.  If you are going to try them, make sure they are a homogenous white inside.  If there are some glow worm tunnels you can cut them out and you will be ok.  (well, that is what I did.)   I washed them and sliced them into thin pieces, the thinner the better, since the thicker slices got a little soggy.  I fried them in lots of butter until golden on each side.  I also had to add a little water to the pan to keep things sizzling rather than smoking.

They are really good.  Not "I'm eating wild food off my land so I'll put up with this not-so-great food".  They taste like regular mushrooms but have a lighter texture.   We will do this  again.

That's a picture of puffballs and mutton chops.  A one-pasture meal.

and Hazelnuts.

Something went terribly right this year.   We have a lot of wild hazelnuts on the farm and occasionally you see a few nuts on the bushes but not many.   A couple of years ago I planted a couple of cultivars, Jefferson and Theta, and, for kicks, I transplanted a wild one from the edge of the woods about 50 feet away to join them.   This spring I was going to pull up the wild one until I saw it was covered with nuts.  I had never seen this many nuts on a wild hazelnut.  I'm not sure why, was it the full sun?  Anyhow, it seems the cat patrol kept any squirrels away while I watched the crop ripen. I didn't pick any until I noticed a few clusters fell to the ground in early October.  That was my queue to pick all of them.  

I put them in the house to dry in a couple of cardboard boxes by the windows.  They are small but quite good.

Since we already have the Jefferson variety and this is Jefferson country, an unnamed family member said we should name this native variety Sacagawea.  The full name is NutSacagawea  but the "Nut" is silent.

Friday, August 28, 2015


We'll start this off 'Wordless Workshop' style.

The design was determined by the available steel pipe and angle iron in my junk collection.  The 6x6 was a piece I had saved when I built the chimney for my house about 16 years ago.  The 3 ton chain hoist was $85 from Amazon and was worked it into a free-shipping order.  The ten-foot treated 4x4s cost $12 apiece.  Then there was about $5 worth of hardware and recipro saw blades.  That adds up to $138.

The milling machine weighed around a ton as best I can guess.  I'll look around for an exact weight.  I figured I could build the gantry over a weekend.   ONE MONTH LATER, I finished it while the mill sat on the trailer under a tarp.  More on the mill after I clean it up and remove the extraneous junk bolted to it.

I was obviously concerned that the gantry wouldn't hold a ton given that I was doing gut engineering but, under load, there was no sign of bending or straining.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

5.75 x 75cm height x 500 rpm PTO x 3rd gear=40 lbs/ac 10-10-10

Since I fenced the big pasture last year, we have been able to do some actual pasture rotation for a couple of the smaller fields.   Our soil is not naturally productive, so this year we decided to make the investment in fertilizing the pastures, just not all at once.  We have done some fertilizing in the past but it has been sporadic and when we did we had Southern States use their truck.

A couple of years ago I sent a sample to the Virginia Tech soil testing labs.  The report the came back suggesting we apply approximately 40 lbs/ac nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK).  Well, that would be easy enough.  A 50 lb. bag of 10-10-10 has 5 lbs. each of these nutrients.  We would need 8 bags, 400 lbs, of 10-10-10 per acre.   At $11.50 a bag, the cost is $92/ac.

I have an AGREX spreader that did not come with a manual.   However, we did find a manual online.  Since this is an Italian implement, the spreader tables were in metric.   I spent a bit of time with the spreader table, calculating PTO speeds and travel rates in the various gears, converting feet to meters and kg/ha to lbs/ac and came up with a setting of 2.75.   When I looked at the spreader, I  noticed that the bottom does not open until around 3 if you measure from the bottom of the handle, which, by the existence of the pointer, made me think that was where one should take a reading.

Well, this problem was going to have to be solved empirically.    I did learn from the spreader table that medium-grained fertilizer will spread a 16m (52.5 ft.) swath at a PTO of 500 rpm with the spreader disk set 75cm above the ground.   Ok, that's useful. 

Using 100 lbs at a time and setting out 1/4 acre (207.4' x 52.5') test plots with a couple of orange traffic cones, I found, through trial and error, that with the tractor in 3rd gear at a PTO speed of 500 rpm, AND with the spreader disk 75cm off the ground, that I can spread at a rate of 40 lbs/ac with the spreader set at 5.75.  That's the magic number.   It takes about two minutes to spread a full hopper, about 300 lbs.  Only takes an hour or so to fertilize a couple of acres and most of that time is spent loading the hopper and mapping out the bombing runs.

I should probably write "5.75 x 75cm height x 500 rpm PTO x 3rd gear=40 lbs/ac 10-10-10" on the side of the hopper instead of relying on a blog post to record what I did.  You know, with the burning times coming and all that.

Here's a picture of a recently mown, fertilized, sheep-free pasture (in the foreground) taking two weeks of R&R.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Heating half inch steel plate with the coal and the forge

The problem was this. I welded up a vise stand for my son-in-law but I didn't realize the amount of warp in one of the plates.  I should have straightened it on the hydraulic press before I welded it to the tubing.  Since I was going to bolt a cast iron vise to the plate, if I tightened the bolts I was probably going to crack the base of the vise.  I needed to straighten the plate a bit and for that I needed heat.

I scooped up about half a gallon of coal and got it started with a small stick fire.

Set the corner to be bent into the heat.  (This was a posed photo.  In other attempts, my hand on the moving crank was blurry.  There was much more flame, like the photo above.)

And bend.  (I'm all blurry cuz I'm moving like The Flash!)

The plate is straighter now, not perfect, it's a little wobbly, but I can bolt the vise on now.  Amazing what a lick of paint will do. Eh, Grommit?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Coal N.R.G.

Coal energy, I has it.  I built a forge a couple of years ago but haven't used it owing to difficulty in obtaining coal locally.  I'm building a vise stand for my son-in-law and one of the plates I welded was a bit warped. I needed some heat to straighten it out.  I might have been able to use the oxy-acetylene rig to heat the piece but that would have eliminated my excuse to finally get some coal.  After reading the blacksmithing sites, we found that the nearest coal monger is Monger & Sons in Harrisonburg. They have "stoker pea" by the #50 bag or by the loader bucket full.  Since Harrisonburg is two and half hours away I figured I'd get a bucket load to make it worth the trip.

I hitched the utility trailer to the Cherokee and strapped a 100 gallon steel watering tub to the bed, threw a plastic 20 gallon container into the tub, and headed up the road.  I had a doctor's appointment in Charlottesville which was an hour in the right direction.  After that, I headed north another half hour,  then took a left turn to go over the Blue Ridge and into the valley.

A Bobcat loader bucket's amount of coal was 785 lbs which at $0.13/lb, cost $102.05.  That is with no sales tax because coal is a heating fuel.  The 785 lbs filled the 100 gallon tub and the 20 gallon container.

So, I was thinking, how cheap is coal compared to gasoline?  I did a little research and came up with the following calculations:

21.652 million BTU per short ton of coal (2000 lbs).
114,000 BTUs per gallon of gas.
21,652,000 BTUs per 2000 lbs = 10,826 BTUs/lb
that works out to 10.53 lbs coal = 1 gallon of gas.

This makses 785 lbs coal = 74.55 gallons.
74.55 gallons*2.25/gallon = $167.74 if I were buying that much energy as gasoline.

I paid $102.05 for the coal so the price per "gallon of gas energy equivalent" is $102.05/74.55 = $1.37 per gallon.

If you take away the gas tax in Virginia at 38.6 cents that works out to $2.25-.386=$1.86 per gallon.
$1.37 vs. $1.86. That is cheaper, not orders of magnitude cheaper, though.

Friday, February 20, 2015

10 below zero this morning and my titanium spork is missing. I blame the Russians.

10 below zero this morning. The coldest I've measured here in seventeen years in the clearcut. 

My titanium spork is missing.   The spork and a stainless steel coffee cup have been my constant companions for the last 4 or 5 years since  I received the spork  as a Christmas present. I love it very much,  light, tough, with a lovely patina of tea stains.  It could stop a .22lr round if  carried in a shirt pocket and one happened to get hit in that pocket.

I make at least 10 trips a day between the office/house and the house/house and I take the spork/SS cup with me for coffee refills.  Starting yesterday, it has been so cold that the air moisture in the office has condensed on the storm door latch making the catch sticky so the door won't stay closed.   To fix the sticky catch, I have had to turn around on the landing and breathe on the latch a few times which melts the moisture and allows a sticky catch to unstick.  Of course, this adds more moisture to the works but I'm in a hurry. I need my coffee!

Last night, while doing the breathing-on-the-latch routine, I set my cup and spork on the landing railing.  The landing is a bit wobbly and needs leveling.  As I turned around  I generated a bit of wobble that launched the cup and spork off the railing and into a deep pile of snow that  has accumulated at the edge of the house.

I found the cup ok, it may be a couple of weeks until I find my spork again, if ever.

Why do I blame the Russians?  This record cold originated in Siberia, came over the pole like a fleet of invisible Tupolev bombers and dropped some record breaking nuclear winter over the eastern US.  This could be the start of a new cold war.  Also, we built the SR-71 from Russian titanium to spy on the Russians and that has to mean something.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

First Crop of 2015

"He didn't amount to much, but he sure knew how to grow some herbs in a five gallon bucket."  
If anybody says that about me after I'm dead and gone, well, that will be OK.   On December 20th, I did a little cleaning in the garden and pulled out the weeds, and dead cilantro and basil stems from three of our herb buckets.  The plants had gone to seed and died a natural death.    I brought the buckets in the house, set them in a south facing window and added water.   Here we are on February 16th.   The cilantro is rocking.  The basil is not liking the cool conditions so much.  
The third bucket was also cilantro but apparently none of the plants produced viable seed.  I should probably replant that one now to try to stay in continuous cilantro production.
On Sunday, we had nachos with fresh chopped cilantro.  Chana masala is next on the menu.  Ah, home grown herbs, literally. Made from recycled dog breath.
I was going to do a post on the potatoes we grew in chicken feed sacks and dog food bags.  I'll just summarize it here. Two lbs. of overpriced, organic designer spuds in and 9.5 lbs out.  That was pretty much a failure.  I think our soil was too moist. I probably needed to add sand.  Also, instead of burying the plants up to their necks when they first sprouted we just buried them -that was a mistake.  Maybe I'll try it again this year.