Category Archives: Big Blue

Gathering Fertility, Making Top Soil

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“For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow.” is a quote from one of my favorite movies.  I agree with Bilbo, there is something about things that grow.  But in order to grow, you need soil fertility and top soil.

Quail Run farm is in the middle of the Utah High Desert.  Yes, we have access to water, and can change our environment some to help encourage plant growth, but our biggest hurdle is soil fertility.  Soil fertility is the part of the soil that allows for plant growth.  In the desert you have a hard time growing things because of the lack of soil fertility.  For plants to thrive, they need to have nutrients, minerals, organic matter, and moisture.

Because of the lack of vegetation in the high desert, it is hard to build the top layer of Organic material that plants need to thrive.  We have started to use a few techniques on the farm, from hugelkultur, permaculture, and Back to Eden Gardening.  In short,  Back to Eden Gardening, is the process of allowing the land to take care of itself, by mimicking the way that nature preps the soil for plants.  Basically God set the Earth up so that it could take care of itself, and we are just trying to mimic the way God has setup fertile areas in a not so fertile area.  And to do that, we need a lot of mulch.  It is suggested to have a deep mulch, and by deep mulch we are talking about 6-8 inches of mulch.

Mulch has several different purposes.  Mulch is used to conserve moisture, improve soil fertility and health, reduce weed growth, and increase the visual appeal of the area.  If you go into the forest, and look at the soil horizon, you will notice that the forest has a nice layer of mulch on top of the soil.  This layer is what we are trying to reproduce.  The mulch layer can be made from a lot of different materials.  You can create mulch from leaves, grass, peat, woodchips, bark, straw, pine needles, or most paper products.  One of the most common forms of mulch used in the urban setting is that of not bagging your lawn clippings.  A lot of people use a mulching mower and don’t even know the benefits it is giving their lawn.  On a larger scale, you may even see what is called Forestry mulching.  A lot of farmers do this by cutting and chipping trees, and brush and the leaving it where they chipped it.  You may have even seen them do this along roadsides to clear brush as well.

The problem we have, on Quail Run Farm, is that there is not a lot of tree litter.  Because there is not a forest on the property, we don’t have an abundant source of mulch to use for our gardening.  So we have decided to create our own.

First, we have to spend some money and buy some equipment.  We use Big Blue (our 1973 Ford Tractor, that has a bucket) to haul the mulch around and do any heavy lifting that may be needed.  We purchased a 5 X 10 foot utility trailer so we could collect the material that we are going to convert to mulch.  And we purchased a chipper/shredder to be able to convert the material we gather into mulch. (We looked into renting or borrowing the chipper and trailer, but after crunching the math, we came to the conclusion that it would be cheaper in the long run to just purchase the equipment.)

The chipper/shredder.

The chipper/shredder.

Second, we needed to collect the material that we wanted to turn into mulch.  So I put the word out on a local community on Facebook.  I basically asked for anyone who was going to throw away leaves, trees, bushes, and like to give us a chance to come collect them before they threw them away.  We had a lot of people respond.  (And we still have more to go collect and to get back with.)

A bunch of juniper trees a developer removed. The resident said we could haul them off.

A bunch of juniper trees a developer removed. The resident said we could haul them off.

Loaded trailer with the juniper trees.

Loaded trailer with the juniper trees.

Kids helping secure another load from several different houses in Eagle Mountain.

Kids helping secure another load from several different houses in Eagle Mountain.

Pile of trees, and branches ready to mulch.

Pile of trees, and branches ready to mulch.

More stuff waiting to be converted to mulch.

More stuff waiting to be converted to mulch.

This bark was left over from some trees we had cut into firewood. We will also be converting it to mulch.

This bark was left over from some trees we had cut into firewood. We will also be converting it to mulch.

Third, we need to convert the material that was collected into mulch.  To do this we used the chipper/shredder we purchased.  It works really well.  I would usually do a bag of leaves and then either the bark or the branches we collected.  Once the shredders bag was full I would then dump it into the bucket of Big Blue and then transport it to the garden area.

Chipping some of the big stuff.

Chipping some of the big stuff.

Shredding a bag of leaves.

Shredding a bag of leaves.

Emptying the bag into Big Blue.

Emptying the bag into Big Blue.

Forth, we need to use the mulch.  Once we have the mulch created, we then would put it on the garden beds, and in between the rows of already planted spring crops.

Mulch over garden bed, getting ready to plan.

Mulch over garden bed, getting ready to plan.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

Mulch between rows of plants.

As a note…  Sometime things don’t go as you plan.  For instance, don’t let the chipper/shredder run out of gas in the middle of chipping a large tree branch.  Parts of it will get stuck in the chipper, and it will require you to remove the blockage before you can use the chipper again.

Cleaning the chipper after it ran out of gas in the middle of a large branch.

Cleaning the chipper after it ran out of gas in the middle of a large branch.

 

Big Blue make over

mike_tom_tractorOn the farm, we have our animals, and our human resources.  But we also have some heavy equipment that we use.  When we moved into our house we purchased a tractor.  It is a 1973 Ford 4500 industrial landscaping tractor.  It does not have a PTO, or anything fancy, it just has a really nice bucket on the front, and a custom made counter weight.  It has become a part of the family, and has been used to do a lot of heavy lifting.

12046603_10153704848916584_4759011426577120850_nThe neighbors now hear its noise and see it as background noise, like the noise of the rest of the farm.  It has been a silent partner in several photos.  Bottom line, this tractor has become part of the family.

During the course of its use, it has had some problems arise.   Like anything that is 40+ years old, it may need some help to get things done.  Big Blue has been a little under the weather.  It has been having a hard time getting up the power to do some tasks.  It works great for short hauls, lifting and digging, but does not like to drive long distances.  So I went to the internet, to see what may be the problem.  First thing suggested was to check all the fluids and change them all.  Lucky for me, big blue uses all the same type of fluid for transmission fluid, hydraulic fluid, and engine oil.  So I bought two 10 gallon buckets and started to change the fluids.  Well….  Big blue holds over 20 gallons of fluid.  So it took a little more time and a lot more fluid.  Big blue also does not like to tell you what his fluid levels are at.  No dip sticks for any of the levels besides the engine oil.  So both transmissions have to be filled, until a bolt you remove starts to leak, then you know it is full.

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Changing the fluids did not fix the problem, so then I went on to fuel lines.  So we changed the fuel filters.  This is the main point of this journal entry.  It would be quicker and easier for me to just hurry up and change the fuel filters myself, but I decided to take the time and teach Tom and Emma how to do it as well.  (Bear in mind, this is my first time as well, but I found a great video to show me how to do it.)

I can now tell you that my 9 Year old son and 11 year old daughter can change the fuel filter on a 1973 Ford tractor.  They know where all of the gaskets and O-rings fit.   It was one of those days that I will remember and I am sure they will remember as well.  We even had some help from the 4 year old as well.

IMG_5847 IMG_5845 IMG_5843 IMG_5842 IMG_5838 IMG_5837 IMG_5836I changed the first one to show them how to do it, then gave them the tools and let them do the second one.  The only part I had to help with was starting the bolts and tightening them.   I was amazed at how easily the little fingers could remove the old gaskets and fit the new ones.

I was impressed with how these two kids, who have never done anything like this, were willing to give it a try and had no reservations to get to work, get their hands dirty, and try something new.  I at times would not start projects like this, because I was afraid I would fail.  Neither of these kids had that hesitation.

As a side note, the fuel filter was not the problem.  But I discovered that if I backed up when it lost power and then went forward again, it would go for a little while then would have the problem again.  The solution I found was to put it in a higher gear, and leave it there.  Big blue now has a hard time backing up, but he keeps going for the distance.  I now think the problem is with the transmission, so we will probably just keep running big blue until big blue can’t run any longer.  We already have plans for putting big blue next to our barn (when we eventually get one) when he can’t work anymore.  Hopefully at some time we will have a son/daughter, or grandson/granddaughter that will want to get Big Blue working again.  Until that time, Big Blue will continue to haul manure, level ground, and move things around the farm.

Even with the bad transmission, Big Blue was able to haul 12 loads of manure from our neighbors back yard to our garden and our soon to be bamboo field.  I have a feeling that Big Blue will continue to serve the farm for years to come.