Splittin’ Wood

We partially heat our home with wood, which we burn in a non-Catalytic EPA-rated woodstove. It claims to put out about 50,000 BTUs. Let’s just say it produces enough heat to warm our ~2000 SQFT 150+ year old brick farmhouse until the temps dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Below that temperature, the propane-fired forced-air furnace kicks on, and in our climate this is pretty effective: the woodstove allows us to overwinter on our summertime fill of propane, and the furnace keeps it warm if we forget to get up early and fire up the woodstove. The woodstove also provides a backup when electric power or the furnace fails. We went a whole week in January on just wood, getting up every couple hours in shifts at night to keep the stove fueled, due to a furnace failure last year.

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My usual wood-splitter, a maul. A total no-go with that terrible Ash.

Since there are very few fuel-wood trees on our property (we have one dead Ash to come down next year), I either buy or scrounge wood, and I burn about 2-3 cords per year. I buy most of my wood from a fellow that works at a sawmill and takes home the bads and ends to split into cordwood. The cordwood he produces is excellent. It usually comes from big old trees–Hickory, Walnut, Oak, Beech, Cherry, Maple–that are harvested for lumber locally. It’s always a pleasure to burn these, and sometimes you come across a piece of cordwood with such excellence I keep it for for carving into pistol grips, rifle stock end-caps, spoons, candle-holders, and other household wares.

The trees I scrounge, usually dead trees people want cut and removed, are usually trashy trees like Elms, Sycamores, Yellow Poplar, Ashes, Locusts, and Sassafras. Still, they can be great trees for cordwood, though some have horrible twisting grains that can be awful to split by hand with a maul. Early this past spring I had the misfortune of picking up some already bucked up Ash that had died. I thought it would be great. Already bucked (so no chainsaw work) and Ash usually splits easily. I was doubly wrong.

 

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Irony or ironies. Using internal combustion and hydraulic technology to burn wood, something we’ve been doing since, well, before anyone knew how to write!

It looked nice and straight. Well, I got it home, and took my maul to it, and it was like hitting a lump of iron with the maul. I tried another piece. Same deal. So I went and put the wood to be split on a nice slab of beech that I use to help split stubborn pieces. Didn’t split. Wailed on it as hard as I could. Didn’t spit. Tried another piece. Didn’t split. None of the pieces split. So I let it sit out for a couple months on my porch. Sometimes drying the wood some helps it split. Still, nothing split. And worse, whoever bucked it must not have had a clue, or was doing it in haste. Some pieces were no more than a foot long, others two. Cordwood should be split into 16-18″ lengths, since this is the easiest to reckon for prices (three 16″ ricks to a cord) and easiest to fit into wood stoves. So I gave up and phoned my father-in-law, who I admire greatly since he was nearly 60 before he set the maul down, to borrow his gasoline powered hydraulic woodsplitter.

Well, I must say these things are great. They are noisy, and in some ways poorly designed, but they make quick, easy work of stubborn stumps. Though I do feel a bit silly burning gasoline to split wood which I will burn in a stove. I guess I shouldn’t really feel any sillier than buying wood and driving it home in a gasoline powered van. I suppose if I can hold off buying a hydraulic spitter attachment from my Grillo tractor, and I am forced to borrow one, I will eliminate this source of temptation to waste fuel and avoid the exercise of splitting by hand.

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Posted in Home Economics | Leave a comment

Hurricane Harvey Wasn’t All Bad

What brought 50 inches of rain and disaster to Texas has brought two to three inches of gentle rain to Indiana, just what we needed after a dryish August.

I am fully expecting strong autumn growth of cool season grasses, legumes, and forbs.

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Sometimes I wonder if our agricultural obsession with corn really makes much sense. Sure, corn grows faster, yields more, and produces more biomass than any crop, perhaps more than any terrestrial plant (I think Kelp may exceed it in biomass production and growth rate), but nobody’s corn will benefit from this rain. Corn has already finished growing around here, and it is in its dry-down phase. In fact, this rain, so beneficent to pastures and hayfields, will do some harm to the corn, promoting rot and pests that afflict it, and, at the very least, slow drying and delay harvest. Corn, in fact, looses about 1//3rd of the growing season in the areas it is planted because it needs warmth to grow and has finished its lifecycle by August. Hayfields and pastures (or pasture/hayfields) make use of almost every available growing day, providing a much more steady stream of food for man and beast.

Likewise, I sometimes I also wonder why people insist on building cities and homes in places we know are devastated by Hurricanes with regularity. Merely 100 years ago a more powerful hurricane destroyed almost the same area, only it caused less damage then, because not as much had been built. There is plenty of land in the middle section of our vast country to build cities and homes; land that I think is far better than any in Texas. Yes, tornadoes occur in some of this area, but tornadoes are never as vastly destructive as hurricanes.

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The Miracle of Mowing

Mowing is something that should be generally avoided, but can be just the right prescription if weeds or over grown pasture plants are what ails you.

Mowing uses fuel and time, puts wear and tear on machine and man (or beast), and there is the upfront cost of having the equipment to mow with. In general, most people mow WAY MORE than is necessary or healthy. Lawns by no means need to be mowed with the frequency commonly observed. I think far too many folks are ruled by conventional thinking that if you don’t mow your lawn every week you are poor and/or trashy. I certainly thought this way in the past.

In most ways a pasture is just a lawn, but with a nutritional as well as a recreational purpose. And pastures too can be over-mown, yet they seldom are. I will confess to letting mine get overgrown occasionally. Since pastures are large, mowing them takes time and is tiresome, and few people are impressed with an evenly mown and attractive pasture (though I am). Fortunately, mowing is far more beneficent to a pasture than it is to a lawn, and most sick pastures would do well to have a solid dose of mowing before any other renovation scheme is undertaken.

Since ideal pasture plants are generally low-growing and tolerant to grazing they are also tolerant to mowing. Mowing therefore “sets back” almost all weedy plants that like to colonize pastures relative to the good pasture plants. Even Canada Thistle cannot survive frequent mowing and the competition of grasses like bluegrass and ryegrass and Timothy and legumes like white clover or red clover for long. Mowing helps keep pastures “clean.”

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There different mowing intervals are in this picture. The upper left was mown about 1 month ago, the upper right was mown last week, and the foreground was mown two months ago.

Mowing also resets the biological clock of most good pasture plants. If you have grasses in flower, mowing them makes the plant think it needs to renew its vegetative growth (the touchstone of herbivore nutrition) in order to send up another flower in order to set seed. Often, all it takes is a single mowing mid-summer (and some rain) to get pastures to “renew” themselves and make all those little charts you see in extension service bulletins about the “summer slump” look silly. That is just the time of year when it can go without rain, and when people get lazy about mowing. If you get rain and mow there is hardly any “summer slump.”

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Overgrown grass, weeds, and ragweed stubble…oh my! Mow this and in a week it will look great.

There is a cost to mowing. Not only time and wear and tear, but also fuel (if machinery is used). And mowers vary greatly in their relative fuel efficiencies. Sickle-bar mowers are very efficient. Since all they do is cut and let gravity do the rest of the work, they get much more mowing done per gallon of fuel. In fact, I can mow an acre with my sickle-bar mower using only a quart of gasoline (sometimes less). Rotary mowers (bushogs, regular lawn mowers, disc mowers) are always less efficient, because fuel is doing much more of the work. Rotary mowers not only cut, but also lift, move, and discharge. All these steps, though small, when multiplied by billions of grass blades, turn out to be considerable. My rotary mower easily takes 3-4x the gasoline to mow an acre, and I am certain that if I was riding on a four-wheeled tractor which had to push much more weight around, that it would use about an equal measure of fuel just propelling itself.

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This pasture was weedier than one one above, not it looks great. If we get some more rain, it will look like springtime again.

I’ve always liked watching a horse or pair of horses pulling a ground-driven sickle-bar mower. Though almost all of these implements are going to be old, and are now probably junky, there is no reason why excellent modern ones can’t be made. To me, this is the ultimate in efficient mowing, and it would give horses something to do. But in general, to mow pastures more and lawns less would be my recommendation.

Posted in Dairy Cattle, Grass, Pasture Farming, Rotational Grazing | Leave a comment

Forgotten Cartridges of Merit

Just about every time I open a gun rag (magazines dedicated to firearms shooting or handloading), I see some article promoting a new rifle cartridge. It’s not like I am opposed to new cartridges. I happen to think there are some niches that may not yet be filled by what is out there, but they are NICHES.

Yet most new cartridge introductions are aimed at mass market popularity, and usually fail to achieve this, because there is almost no way to significantly improve on the mass market popular cartridge offerings. The basic science behind how smokeless powder works, and how bullet aerodynamics work, were all determined back before WWI. There have been only increasingly small improvements made since then. There is no new-fangled high-powered 30 caliber cartridge that can do anything signifgantly better than .30-06.’ And if you are sold on the benefits of short actions, then you have .308, which is merely an attempt to match the .30-06′ in a smaller package (and it falls short, by the way). There is no small bore high powered cartridge that can do anything that a .243 Win or 6.5×55 can’t do (‘ya hear mean 6.5 Credemore fanboys). There is no smallbore intermediate cartridge out there that is significantly better than .223. A new varmint cartridge you say (‘ya here me 204 Ruger fanboys)…I reply with a yawn.

 

Now, there are niches out there, and I think new cartridges should fill these. There are also old and not so old introduced cartridges (not talking Wildcats here) that have merit, yet seem to be forgotten. It is one of these I would like to focus on: the 375 Winchester.

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From left to right: 30-30, 375 Win, and 45-70 Government.

The 375 Winchester is theoretically a modern update of the 38-55 which was originally loaded with black powder. The 38-55 is actually a sort of parent to the venerable and popular 30-30 Winchester and the 25-35 Winchester, both offered in the very popular Winchester 94 rifle. Since the 30-30 became enormously popular in the 20th century, while the 25-35 and the 38-55 sort of died off (though have experienced a sort of revival as of late), I consider the 30-30 to be the true parent of the 375 Winchester, while the 38-55 is like great uncle that’s just the spittn’ image of the boy.

Indeed, 375 brass is drawn from the same coins on mostly the same machinery as 30-30. The only differences are in the final drawing and bottlenecking and trimming steps. The 375 is basically a straight-walled 30-30, though the pressure specifications are a bit higher, reaching into the 50,000 PSI zone, whereas 30-30 is 45,000 PSI. In fact, one can blow out a 30-30 case to convert it to a slightly short 375 case, as seem below.

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Because of the greater surface area of the bullet of the 375, the greater pressure, and the greater case volume, the 375 Winchester outperforms the 30-30, pushing bullets about 25% heavier at the same velocities. The whippersnapper surpasses its lookalike the 38-55 by about 600 FPS at a given bullet weight. Since the 375 Winchester is basically the same size as a 30-30, it fits into the same basic platform–the lever-action carbine, the Winchester 94, Marlin 336, etc.

Now, when the 375 was introduced in the late 70s, a “big bore 94” was introduced along with it, and it featured beefed up areas in the receiver, making it stronger. Whether this was really necessary or marketing stuff is unclear, because the Marlin 336, which is a less strong design than a regular Winchester 94, had no such beefing up. Apparently the only difference was a heat-treatment that left the 375 chambered 336s slightly harder than the 30-30s. And re-boring a regular model 94 or 336 to 375 Winchester is a common and accepted practice. In fact, I can think of no better project to commit a 30-30 rifle with a rusted or worn barrel in otherwise good condition to.

Well, you might ask, this is all interesting but what merit does the 375 Winchester have? The 444 Marlin, 45-70 Government, and later 450 Marlin outperform it, and they are really “BIG BORE.” 375 caliber is normally considered medium bore. And therein lies its merit. Big bore stuff is really overkill for anything besides dangerous or potentially dangerous game. It’s hard on your shoulder, it isn’t very fun to shoot, and to get a bullet with good sectional density and ballistic coefficient you have to get so heavy that it is often quite slow, which means difficult to estimate rainbow trajectories at longer ranges.

I am a fan, for non-dangerous medium and larger game (Whitetails to Elk), of medium bores, which I define as between 30 caliber and 40 caliber, so 338, 348, 357, 375 calibers basically. I think they have a wonderful balance of being a bullet large enough that one doesn’t have to rely upon expanding bullets (and can opt for inexpensive homemade cast bullets) to produce adequate wound channels, but not so large that they are punishing, yet still retain respectable velocities around 2000 FPS, which delivers a flat enough trajectory out to 150 yards that holdover is unnecessary, but doesn’t cause unnecessary meat damage observed in many high-velocity cartridges.

I suspect that if more deer hunters butchered their own deer, instead of taking it to a processor, that they would abandon the use of cartridges like .308, .30-’06, and the “explosive” small bore high-velocity .243 Win, 6.5-284, 270 Win, etc. Entire sections of meat are destroyed or bloodshot by these high-velocity cartridges. Medium bore bullets have decent ballistic coefficients, and in the 200-250 grain weight range, have adequate sectional densities to pass completely through medium to large game animals. The medium bore slug goes in at moderate speed, makes a nice fat wound, and exits on the far side leaving two holes to bleed out (better blood trails and quicker death of animal) and deposits no bullet fragments in your food. The flat points needed on these bullets (because they are usually loaded in tubular magazines) improves the ability of the bullet to “mushroom” and lose velocity inside the body of the animal.

Another advantage they have, to my mind at least, is that they are easy to work with. Mid bore barrels are easier to get a brush and rod down. If water gets into them when you drop them into a creek, the water pours right out of a medium or larger bore (anything smaller than 30 caliber and this is questionable). And it’s easier to see the holes in a paper target, too.
375 Winchester is about the only cartridge that I can think of that may be a better on Whitetails than the 30-30 (though 35 Remington and 357 Herret may be, too), and it has the advantage of being truly able to deliver on Elk at shorter range, while still not being overkill on the Whitetails. I think its utility on ornery and/or large hogs would surpass the 30-30 or 7.62×39. But alas, the shooting public disagreed. Perhaps enamored with the big bore 444 Marlin or the resurgence of 45-70 in lever guns, the medium bore 375 was forgotten. Today, with the popularity of cowboy action shooting, the 38-55 is considerably easier to find, and the excellent 220 grain flat-pointed Hornady bullet designed specifically for 375 Winchester has been discontinued. I would like to see it once again factory chambered in the lever guns it was meant for, or in adequately strong single shots like the Ruger No1 and T/C Contender and Encore.

For residents of Indiana, 375 Winchester is particularly enticing. Being just over 2 inches long, and straight walled, the case can be cut down the 1.8″ (making it Indiana-legal on public lands) and still loaded safely with plenty of surface area to grip the bullet, and without much reduction in case capacity (simply seat bullet about 2/10ths of an inch further out). Since 375 headspaces on the rim, it will chamber safely in a regularly sized chamber with the cut down brass. The only problem may be some feeding problems in repeaters, but if the bullet is simply seated out further, roughly matching standard overall length for the 375 (which is the same as 30-30), it shouldn’t be a that big of a problem.

Posted in Guns, Hunting | Leave a comment

Zanon Lawnmower

I recently purchased a 40″ Zanon lawnmower for my Grillo 110 two-wheeled tractor. It is a very impressive (to me) machine, and it really makes me wonder why they are not more common stateside.

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The Zanon coupled to the G110 outperforms any riding lawnmower of similar deck size, and it is far more maneuverable. The steering brakes on the tractor enable one to nearly do a “zero turn.” The gearing, weight, and swiveling casters allow the operator to work along a very close edge, too. Since the wheels of the tractor are narrower than the swath cut by the mower, it can be used to “mowhawk” a treeline under fence like the sickle-bar mower.

It is really impressive how what heavy herbage the Zanon eats up. I plowed right into some overgrown pastures that had too many weeds. Mowing them this time of year with a lawnmower mortally sets back most weeds but will actually stimulate grass and white clover growth (if we get some rain, we’ve been in a mini-drought for 4 weeks now). In third gear at about 7/8ths throttle it goes right ahead. Very thick stands of red clover were subdued at full throttle in 2nd gear.

One important way where lawnmowers like this differ from sickle-bar mowers, and why I think it is nice to have both (but if you can have only one get the sickle-bar), is that sickle-bar mowers are very efficient, consuming a fraction of the amount of fuel, while the lawnmower  chop up the herbage much better and leaves a finer finish. Since I do not need any more hay this year, I think it is better to let that herbage break down and get re-asobred buy the earth, and this will go more quickly if it is chopped up more.

A while ago I broadcast Timothy seeds into the pastures. I don’t think they’ve done anything since we’ve not had rain since I broadcast them. The mower will have knocked them down if they were caught up in the taller grass, and it will have essentially mulched them with grass/clover clippings. This way, when rain eventually comes, the Timothy will already be in closer contact with the soil and will have a light layer of duff on it to help retain the little moisture that falls in September and October (the two driest months in our climate).

Posted in Grass, Pasture Farming, Rotational Grazing, Weather | Leave a comment

A beautiful pepper

Really happy with New Ace peppers from Fedco. I mean, just look at this thing.

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They have superb flavor as well. The rich and somewhat mottled deep red is just gorgeous. I don’t care if they don’t get as large or assume as “perfect” of a shape as the store bought peppers. The plants yield well, are tough enough, and are relatively easy to grow.

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Great American Eclipse

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Our best photo of the eclipse. Where we are located about 92% of the sun was obscured.

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I actually think this is a much better photo because clouds were obscuring the eclipse. It gives a pretty good impression of how dark it became, though none of our animals acted abnormally.

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