Sunday, November 29, 2015

"what does this button do?"

Pretty frustrating day today.   Perfect weather; clear and cold.  Ground is frozen, which is great because I'd like to combine a bunch of corn.  

Yesterday I discovered that the fuel gauge on the combine is inoperative.  It reads 3/4 full no matter what the fuel level is, and I discovered that by running the combine out of fuel.  Now that's not a small thing when it comes to diesel equipment -- the take home lesson is that you should never, ever let the fuel run out, but it did, and the combine stopped, and I walked home last night really questioning why I never noticed the fuel level changing.

Someone added this.  the bad handwriting is mine

No matter, up early, with the diesel-out-of-fuel starter kit:  3 cans of starter fluid (ether), a bunch of small wrenches, an air compressor, air line, and a roll of plastic bags and a bag of rags.

I'm not going to go into the first two hours, but at the end the batteries were low, so back to the house, where I got the big battery charger, jumper cables and the gasoline generator to add to the pile of equipment on the back of the truck, and back to the combine I went.

this lever, factory equipment, works just fine.  why mess with it?

It's turning over, but won't sustain.  So I grab a soda and think about it, and decide that it's probably a blocked fuel line.  I detach the fuel line at the bottom of the tank, and sure enough, no flow from the tank.  Blow air into the tank, clear the blockage (make note to myself that I have to empty and clean the tank later) and then notice there's a shutoff valve right there.  And it's halfway "off".  So I open it, and optimistically hope that fixes it.  Back to ether, cranks but no joy.

So I've cleared the line from the tank to the sediment trap, and next I check the line from the sediment trap to the priming fuel pump - a little tiny fuel pump right at the bottom of the fuel tank.  it's fine.  Then I check the line from the priming pump to the main fuel filters (there are two of them), and I have fuel there.  
documentation is something i learned as a software engineer

I'm not going to go into how hard it is to trace these lines through the depths of this machine; everything is painted green, and it's all got dust/mud on it, and it's often behind things.  no  1 hour... two hours...

So then I check the line from the fuel filters to the main fuel pump.  it's good, fuel there.  Then the line from the fuel pump to the injectors.  No fuel.  What?

The fuel line goes behind the engine block, and there's some white and yellow wires going in there too.  I check the manual; nothing there.  What is that?

So I unscrew the fuel line on both ends, and carefully pull it out to find something called a murphy valve (I think that is what it said on it).  A 12v fuel cutoff solenoid.  When its got power it's on, and when it doesn't its off.    I pull it out, apply 12 volts, it works.  I check the wires with the ignition key on and off.  No power.  How did the combine work without power before?

So I look in the cab and find the red box that someone has installed.  And on that red box is a button.  And the red button apparently got pushed at some point, and that turns off the power to this thing, and THAT BUTTON WASTED A WHOLE WORK DAY FOR ME.  ARRGGGHHH!

So I carefully re-install the fuel line, but one of the ends is a bit stripped and won't thread back on, and so I end my day with a trip to the hardware store for a $1.30 replacement part, and I write with a sharpie, carefully, "fuel cutoff solenoid"

And I guess I'll finish that corn tomorrow.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Learning to farm, going against the usual rule

A lot of my early farming was spent looking at other peoples operations and learning from them.  Good and bad, true and false, I basically approached farming as a complete unknown, and 10 years ago it was.  My family history has farming in its background, but neither my mother or father farmed.
So I'd look around and see someone doing something, and genrally speaking I'd do the exact same thing, which meant I did some odd things.  Later, as my learning progressed those things didn't seem so odd anymore; it just took a while to figure out why it made sense.  

combining winter corn from bruce king on Vimeo.

And this applies to crops, too  If you look around in your area you'll see crops and farming activity, and usually it's because that particular crop or activity is well-suited to the environment.  So I never tried to grow pomergrantes here because I didn't see any.  

So this year I went against that basic rule, and planted grain corn, which is corn designed to be harvested for the corn kernels themselve, instead of the entire plant and kernels for use as animal feed.  I'm still going to use the corn kernels as animal feed (although they'd make great organic corn everything!) but I wanted a crop that I could grow somewhere else and only have to transport the highest-value portion - the kernel - to reduce my costs in bringing it back.

The grain corn that I planted this year was planted on a schedule so that it would be physically mature on september 1st - at least according to the seed vendor.  As you've seen, I watched and watched and watched the corn as it matured, and then dried.  

Despite having a warmer-than-usual year, the corn matured 2-3 weeks after the stated maturity date, and really didn't get dry enough to combine until 2 months later, around the second week of november.  

golden grain pouring into combine from bruce king on Vimeo.

During that time we had lots and lots of rain, and two floods, which I was sure would be the end of my corn, but surprisingly enough, the fields where I planted aren't in direct current -- the water rose and fell pretty gently, and for the majority of the corn, the water didn't get high enough to touch the ears.  Tall corn is good!

The corn is coming in somewhere around 23% moisture, but will keep best at 15%; so I'm using small grain drier to dry 5,000lbs of corn at a time.   The high-moisture corn can be  used as feed pretty much straight out of the field; the dried version will probably need to be rolled or ground or something to make it more digestible for the animals.  

I'm going to call this against-the-grain a success, and given that the corn is still in pretty good shape despite floods and rain... well, I think that I'll be planting corn somewhere on my fields from here on.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Farm venture fundraising - but what?

So I'm reading through the fundraising post of a farm venture, this one wants to teach people to farm, and I'm all for that, and I run across this:

First, I'm pretty skeptical that crowdfunding donors actually get good value for what they donate.  Dont' get me wrong - these crowdfunding efforts are GREAT for the farmer - they get the money and have few or no restrictions on it, and in my opinion don't have to ever complete their stated project, or if they do, they can do it on their own schedule -- like sugar mountain that has slipped their schedule between 3 and 5 years so far, and it's slipping further as time goes by.

"young female farm manager" - not the best qualified, or the best fit, but the age and sex is specified.  That's pretty amazing to me.  Imagine if I posted an advertisement like that for my farm:

  "Hiring a farm hand.  Males only, women need not apply, and no one over 20"

I'd probably get viral status, don't you think?  And the headlines would be great.  Maybe you can suggest a few in the comments.

With this sort of fund raising request, there's no backup for the things you'd normally see in a grant request, or a proposal to a bank for a loan.    Stuff like a business plan.  A copy of the most recent results.  Even the biography of the founder of this farm is blank:

If you want to rely on the good intentions of generous individuals I think that you have the responsibilty to use their funds in an appropriate manner.  Discriminatory hiring and black-box numbers don't really leave me with the impression that they've really throught this out.  And the leave the prospective donors with no way to verify if the proposed changes were made, or in fact if there's any progress at all.

Here's where I will give Walter Jefferies full credit:  Despite being years behind in the schedule he's doggedly pursued completing his project, and has posted many updates showing the projects status and the milestone passed.   And that's wonderful, and basically missing from most crowdfunded projects.

While I did donate to Sugar Mountain, I'm not going to be donating to Tricycle farms.  I'd prefer they get their training wheels first.