State of the Homestead

Things have started to cool off around here. I never did get around planting a late garden of greens and whatnot for the chickens. Partly because I now only have three hens after losing seven during the heat of the summer, and partly because of issues I had with the jet pump I had set up with my rainwater collection and irrigation system. A simple pump rebuild didn’t fix it, so I picked up a 1/2 HP 110V submersible well pump and plumbed it into the pressure tank, removing the jet pump for troubleshooting at a later date. Then I found that one of the contact terminals on the pressure switch was severely overtorqued and impossible to remove without causing damage. So I bought a complete new pressure switch. By the time I got all that done and back together, there just wasn’t enough time left in the growing season for anything to mature. So I’ve started overseeding the yard and using the irrigation system for the barest spots. I’ll continue to put more seed down as we move into autumn.

After a couple months of constantly hanging out here, my one remaining rescue cat has turned traitor. At first I thought he’d gotten himself killed because he went from present for hours every night without fail to gone for five nights. Then he wandered back up on the back porch on night six, but didn’t stick around long enough to eat. Then crickets for several days until we saw him last week late afternoon. He circled around the back of the house, bypassing the porch, and went up the driveway. We happened to see him in real time on the camera, and watched him wander up the driveway to the road. He nonchalantly wandered out into the middle of the road, slowly circled for a bit, then continued across the street. We were sure that a car was going to turn him into roadkill, but none did. This time. I assume he’s found something there to make him call that home now.

Since his departure, two other cats that had been occasional visitors in the past have become regular fixtures, showing up separately a few times each night. I’m disappointed that none of our four rescues stayed, but the goal was a regular feline presence for rodent control and deterrence. I don’t guess it really matters which cats they are.

We finally had a predator breach the chicken run two nights ago. I’ve taken to only gathering eggs every other day, and the day before yesterday there were zero eggs instead of the usual four or five. There was what appeared to be the remains of two eggshells on the floor in the open area of the coop. I didn’t see any obvious entry point and the camera that I have in there refused to play back the recorded video, so I couldn’t identify the problem. Yesterday, I relocated the camera from inside the back door of the house to the coop after verifying that its record/playback functions performed properly. This morning at 0425 it dutifully recorded a possum entering the coop, nosing around the nest boxes and the coop proper and exiting just before 0500.

I never put a door on the chicken entrance to the coop. I felt the run was secure enough and at that time I left for work around 1700. Wife will not enter the coop for any reason, so any door I put in place would only be closed on nights that I didn’t work. Well, I’m retired now and a critter has found it, so my initial evaluation is no longer valid. This morning found me building a way to block that hole.

I also noticed a small area at the edge of the run’s fence near said coop entrance hole. It doesn’t look big enough for a possum to crawl under, but nowhere else is even remotely disturbed. I’ll seal the entrance for a few nights and hopefully mister possum will move on to greener pastures. If not, I’ll set up my trap and stay up all night to catch the fucker. One way or another, I’m going to maintain use of the eggs that my girls produce.

When I bought my tractor, I had a finish mower included in the purchase. For those who don’t know, a finish mower is pretty much a heavy duty (and larger) version of the mower deck that every riding mower on the planet uses. The only real difference is that it is built to attach to a standard three-point hitch and be powered by the tractor via a PTO driveline. Mine has performed well, but it eats up blades. Only once have I been able to make it through half of a mowing season with reusable blades. Every other time, the ends that should be squared off are broken and jagged. Obviously I’ve been hitting stuff and ruining blades without realizing it. At eighty federal reserve notes per set of blades, that adds up, and once the blades go bad, the neat and clean cut also goes away.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to buy a rotary cutter, better known as a Bush Hog. These are a heavier duty machine designed to cut brush and other heavy growth. They don’t cut as cleanly as a finish mower, but are much more forgiving of hitting stuff. They even come standard with pans underneath that are called stump jumpers. The only problem is that they come with a learning curve. Finish mowers have wheels on all four corners and follow the ground with no input from the operator once the height is set at each wheel. Rotary cutters have a single wheel in the middle at the back of the machine.

My dumb ass didn’t think before firing it up. I set the rear wheel height then dropped the hitch all the way like I do with the finish mower, engaged the PTO and took off. It immediately caught some overflow gravel that had migrated from the driveway into the yard and commenced to throwing rocks everywhere. It didn’t take long to realize that I have to adjust the front height with the hitch. Dropping it to the ground makes the edges dig into the ground and causes the blades to scalp the ground. It’ll take a couple more runs to get it right, but by the time I finished the yard I’d gotten it dialed in reasonably well.

There was an aftereffect from that initial learning process, though. I’d moved the truck a little ways up the driveway as I always do before mowing. After the job was done, I moved it back to where I normally park it. I heard a weird tinkling noise when I closed the door, and it seemed louder than usual when I started the engine. It didn’t take me long to figure out that one section of the rear window had shattered. Presumably, some part of that initial barrage of leftover gravel had impacted the window with enough force to break it. I don’t maintain full-coverage insurance on a 20 year-old work truck, so that was a five hundred dollar learning experience.

The rotary cutter definitely has potential. It is the same width but takes less power from the tractor and it doesn’t miss the tall sprigs that the finish mower takes two or three passes to completely take down once the blades are no longer pristine. It doesn’t leave the grass with a golf course perfect finish, and on unlevel ground the unevenness is more noticeable because the tractor (and by extension the hitch height and mower height) varies more than a finish mower with wheels on every corner, but it gets everything in the first pass. A fifty percent or larger overlap is unnecessary. This results in a much higher area per hour with only a minimal loss in cut quality. I’m liable to sell the finish mower if the performance trend continues.

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