November 13, 2011

Breaking News and Harvest Time

A family friend, Thomas, saw me trying to disk our hard ground a couple of weeks ago.  He had come over to pick turnip greens from Dad's fall garden.  We planted lettuce and bok choy and spinach, but then Dad scatter-sowed the turnip greens and they choked our stuff out.   Scatter-sowed is just what it sounds like: you put the seed into this mechanical thingie, turn the handle, and seed goes EVERYWHERE (including your mouth, your eyes, and I even picked some out of my ears once.)

Anyway, even with the several hundred pounds of oak tree on the disks (see previous post), they just weren't cutting it (get it? "cutting" it? OK, bad pun).  So Thomas offered to sell us what's called a "breaking plow". 

This is yet another ancient, wicked-looking, solid iron implement that hangs off the back of a tractor.  The plow heads are shaped a lot like the grass cutter we had so much success with trying to dig a water line trench (that worked out well - not!) but there are two of those devil's tail-looking things and they're a LOT bigger.  Plus, they turn the sod over so the grass roots are exposed, killing the grass.

Thomas is tricky; when he told me he had one I said something to the effect of "Gee, that's nice."  He then went to Dad and said I had mentioned how nice it would be to have one and would Dad like to buy his?  Of course Dad did, because he's really gung-ho about us trying to raise crops, and the ground really needed to be broken, and so he practically stole the thing by giving Thomas $60 for it.  I promptly insisted that Dad take a check from me for it - I wanted that plow for myself; plus, it's going to be used for our business (we lease land from Dad for our plantings).

It's a perfectly good plow even though it's pre-WWII, and worth a lot more than $60, so I went behind Dad's back and gave Thomas an extra $100.  Hey - it's a tax write-off as well as being a necessary tool.  I swore Thomas to secrecy about the $100.  Dad gets upset when we spend money on farm stuff even though I've told him a dozen times it's a tax write-off.  He's a stubborn guy, my Dad.

That week Dad went and got the plow out of the brush at Thomas's place.  (He just lives around the corner, which equates to about half a mile one-way.)

Last Saturday dawned bright and clear.  As usual I was doing my Happy Dance, excited to learn how to plow.  But wait - the tractor wouldn't start.  It took three people twenty minutes to decide to check the battery and sure enough, it was almost dead.  (That's Thomas on the right.)  So it had to be jumped off.  Done!  Now the tractor's running, and I can go learn how to plow.

Um, no.  When I was pre-tripping the tractor (kinda like truck drivers do before they start their day), I noticed the hydraulic fluid was low.  That's not a good thing.  Hydraulic fluid is necessary to lots of things on tractors, and if you run out you're screwed - it messes up some stuff inside that takes a pro to fix.  I've never torn into the guts of a tractor and I hope I never have to.  I know there are things that require special tools, and great big heavy wrenches, and - it's just not my thing.

So anyway, it takes two people to add hydraulic  fluid; one to hold the almost-useless-wrong-tool-for-the-job funnel, and one to pour the fluid from a 5-gallon bucket.  This results in pouring about 3/4 of the fluid into the tractor, and the other 1/4 down the outside.  (Gotta remember to get a big transmission funnel!)  Thomas had come over to teach me to plow, so I roped him in to helping me (for once, Dad wasn't lurking about).  It took us fifteen minutes to try to get that thing filled.  We finally figured there was enough because we couldn't find the dipstick is to check the level.  It should have been marked, we thought, so maybe there isn't one. (Yeah there is, so we're the dipsticks!)

OK, now I've got hydraulic fluid.  Engine oil's fine, it has fuel - I'm ready to go!!  

Nope. I took a pass around the tractor, inspecting everything from tires to, well, everything else.  I noticed hydraulic fluid dripping from one of the hose connector plugs in the back.  And no, it wasn't from spillage.  See, the tractor has what's called a "PTO" which stands for power takeoff.  Things that hang off the back and need the tractor to power them have hydraulic hoses that plug in to the back.  To keep dirt out, we keep those plug-ins, well, plugged.  (Just FYI, if something on the back needs electrical power to operate, it has its own motor.  Which often doesn't work, but that's another story.)

I tried re-seating the leaking plug; no luck.  By the way, hydraulic fluid is yucky stuff, it's slimy and won't come off without GoJo.  I'm not a girlie girl but ewwww...I wiped my hands on my sweatpants and now that crap won't come out.  I guess I was too dumb to put on my work gloves first.  Hey - this farming thing is a learning experience! 

Thomas decided he was going to show me how to plow anyway, although we concluded that I couldn't do much more than learn until the leak was fixed.  Around this time Dad came out to see what we were doing.  He pointed out the dipstick for the hydraulic fluid to us dipsticks.  Which of course took a wrench to get it loose because it hadn't been checked in God knows how long.  I went and got the wrench, got it loose, and the hydraulic fluid was still low, so Thomas and I had to put more in.  Another 20 minutes gone.  (We didn't mention the drip.)

Then, since Thomas was going to make the first pass with the plow, Dad had to show him exactly where we were going to break the ground.  Even though Thomas was standing there last weekend when Dad and I worked it all out (again), Thomas had to be informed (again).   Dad stood at the end of the first row so Thomas would know exactly what to aim for.  (That little white dot under the trees down there is my Dad.)  You can see the dead grass where I disked last weekend.

Thomas ran the first row just fine, but when he turned to come back the tractor got stuck.  It shouldn't have.   

And look how deep that sucker goes!  Now THAT's what we need to break up our clay and aerate it.  (I went over that area 3 times with the disks, didn't even kill most of the darned grass.)

The tractor got stuck because of the hydraulic fluid.  It was pissing it out now instead of dripping, and we had to stop immediately.  Can you see the steam starting to come out of my ears?  I wouldn't be learning to plow that day.

So here we go with another one of our Famous Farm Confabs.  Dad called in Jeff and Doug.  Thomas was there too.  With me that makes five people scratching their heads and looking dumb.  The guys had to each take a turn at re-seating the plug and eventually confirmed what I'd found - it wouldn't seat properly.  In fact, by the time everybody was done playing with it hydraulic fluid wasn't pissing any more - it was gushing.  The tractor was out of commission. (Remember, Lisa, you can't get there from here...)

After twenty more minutes of discussion with some arguing thrown in, it was decided that Jeff would take the leaky plug loose and run to the tractor supply place to get another because the rubber seal was shot.  Dad argued that the plugs couldn't be bad - he'd just put them on about 10 years ago...Dad volunteered to go pick up the plug instead, so we gave him the leaky one with instructions to get one JUST LIKE IT - that's why he was taking it with him.  (By the way, the tractor only pissed fluid when it was running; once we shut it off there's no pressure in the system.)

We moved on to other things - Jeff was doing I-don't-know-what, and poor Doug went back to working on the water line.  I went out to take pix for this blog.  

After a while, Dad came back.  With the wrong plugs.  He hadn't showed the guy at the tractor supply place the one we sent with him.  Shit.  So Dad got on the phone with another parts store, told them what we needed (oh, no, bad idea).  The parts place was closing in 20 minutes but they'd charge Dad's farm account and hang it on the fence so we could pick it up later.  (That's the country way, folks.)

We were at a standstill as far as plowing.  Dad went in to nap.  Jeff and Doug and I had a confab to decide what to work on.  The biggest chainsaw had died and been taken to the shop, so working on the old oak was out.  We stood around picking our noses for a while and jawing.  (OK, we weren't really picking our noses, it's just an expression.)

Then I remembered something: while I was out taking pix, I had noticed a lot of pecans on the ground and it hit me: oh, shit!  It's harvest time!  Two hundred plus trees.  (Isn't that a pretty picture?  It only shows about 12 of the trees.  The working orchard goes waaay farther back, then hooks right.)

And around and behind the pond are another 200 or so trees...but they're not accessible due to 10 years' worth of undergrowth.  Damn.

I freaked.  We weren't ready.  None of the equipment had been serviced, the grass in the orchard hadn't been finish-mowed, the storage area for the harvest hadn't been prepared.  We thought we had at least a couple more weeks but the nuts came in early this year.  And it looked like we had a good crop of them, too.  Which is amazing considering Dad didn't put any pesticide or fertilizer out this year.

I went in to tell Dad it's harvest time.  He wasn't convinced, so we had to walk through the orchard.  He said he still wasn't sure.  (While pecans were crunching under our feet and I picked up a whole Walmart bag full without even trying.)

By the way, can you find the pecans in this picture?  There are three. That's why we need to finish-mow before we shake the trees - so we can see the darned things.

I guess Dad went out and looked at the trees again later in the day, because he conceded that yes, it might be harvest time.  But there were things he wanted to do to make sure. (Of course.)  

Meanwhile, while Dad was ruminating, Jeff and I decided we had to run to town to pick up something at Home Despot, so we'd get the plug off the fence at the parts place while we were at it.  Guess what?  They were the exact same plugs Dad had got from the tractor supply place, only these were red instead of black.  The wrong plugs.  Again.  Fortunately that tractor isn't used for harvesting, and Dad had to order the plugs from John Deere 'cuz that tractor's at least 50 years old.  Forget about that anyway, it's harvest time!

There was still a good bit of daylight when we got back, and Dad had vanished into the garden to pick peanuts.   (That's a pretty good pic of his butt...and no, he doesn't have a tail.  His pants fit funny.)

And here he is with a plant ready to pick the nuts off of.  My Dad's a "goofy hat" guy.  And, he wears a belt AND suspenders.  How tacky!

Did you know that peanuts grow on the roots, underground?  I didn't.  I swiped some from a bucket he had near the big house (his, ours is the little house).  Unfortunately they weren't dry enough and YUCK.  Freshly picked peanuts don't taste good at all.  That's what I get for "stealing".

While Dad was out picking peanuts, Jeff, Doug and I decided to install Doug's hot tub in Dad's back yard, next to the swimming pool.  As you can see, we had to clear out vines and stuff that had grown up through and on the pool deck before we could place the tub.  (I had to force my way in, on the pool deck, to take this pic.)  That's a corner of the deep end peeking through the vegetation.  It's a 20x40 in-ground concrete pool, and I spent a lot of my childhood in it.  Somebody once asked my mother why her daughter looked like a prune...

And we had to get power to the hot tub.  It's a little one, supposedly seats 4, but it's great.  And really, really nice of Doug to put it in our back yard instead of down by the trailer where he's staying.  This is Doug with his tricked out bike, that I'm extremely envious of.  Gosh he looks great on it!  He looks good for a 59 year old dude, doesn't he?

So Doug went for the bucket tractor and Jeff and I started pulling stuff by hand.  Yeah, OK  - that stuff was dug in good.  I gave up.  Then Doug hit the power line to the whatchamacallit light - the bright one that comes on automatically and is mounted in the black walnut to light up Dad's side door area because home invasions are becoming more common and he's an old guy and...anyway.  Fortunately the wire didn't break, it just pulled loose from the house.  Dad had gone off somewhere in the car so we had to wait til he got back to turn off the power to the light.  

When Dad got home he turned off the power and oh, by the way, since you're going to be up on the ladder, Doug, would you put the plastic cover over the vent?  Unh-unh.  Doug doesn't walk around on roofs, he's scared of climbing on & off it, and Jeff flat refuses to have anything to do with getting up on a roof. 

Guess who did it?  And I'm scared of ladders too!  But I learned while putting up Christmas lights one year that bare feet are the absolute best for walking around on steeply pitched asphalt shingles, so I got up there, crab-walked across the roof and covered the vent.  Then came the hard part - getting off the roof and onto the ladder (that's the scariest part for me).  Doug guided my foot and all was well.  I went in to change my britches from where I'd peed myself in fear.  (Just kiddin' but it was a close call, let me tell you.)

Doug fixed the wire to the light and went back to clearing the pool deck.  I couldn't do anything, plus I was exhausted, so I sat in a rocking chair cracking and eating pecans while watching the guys work at clearing.  What a luxury!  I was picking up the pecans around the big tree in the back yard and they are some kind of good.  (Poppy the beagle likes pecans, by the way.)

We got the tub installed after much discussion about its placement, and after Jeff suspiciously and carefully rewired the switch for the pool lights to make a 110 receptacle.  There was much shouting to and from the kitchen of the big house, where the breaker box is (and the ground wires, which the first time around Jeff missed installing.  Hey, he's not an electrician).  But he persevered, got it done, and we started filling the tub. Hopefully it would be ready tomorrow night.

We called it a day.  I had a pot of chili simmering on the stove and the three of us pigged out.

Sunday dawned beautiful and sunny.  I found Dad and, being my usual nutty self (OK, another bad pun, guess I'll just give up), I was hopping up and down with excitement.  I asked him what-all we needed to do to see if it really is harvest time.  (Yes, sometimes I act like a 4-year-old.  But a lot of this farming stuff is like Christmas morning is to a kid!)

He asked me to pick up the small limbs around 8 or 10 trees so he could finish-mow.  Then we'd see what was already on the ground.  (He'd already mowed with the Monster Mower that will chew up just about anything under the trees, but in the meantime more limbs had fallen.)

I hopped on my trusty riding mower with the cart, and made passes picking up limbs ahead of Dad on the mower.  At some point I'd misplaced my gloves, so I was working bare-handed, in shorts and a T-shirt.  Bad idea - every time we passed each other I got pelted with bits of tree coming out of the mower.  (And at some point I got into that creeper I'm so allergic to.  My arms look like they've been burnt and my God!  The itching!)

After I picked up the little limbs in the test area, Dad asked me to go pick up the big stuff in the rest of the working orchard (the 200 or so trees).  With the bucket tractor.  Woo hoo!  For once I could hop on a tractor and just go!  

I had a blast.  It was scary, too - that part of the orchard is hilly and a leaning tractor scares the crap out of me.  I figured out how to get to the dump site for the limbs without going crossways, though, so once I had that down I was flying.  I was pushing down big limbs that were stuck in the trees and hauling them to the rot pile.  (Gosh, I love destroying things with the tractor!)   Some of those limbs were the size of small trees - that's how old and huge our pecan trees are.  Dad planted them in 1960 or so.

I worked until almost dark, enjoying every minute although I didn't get finished cuz I got the tractor stuck in a little ditch that I didn't even see.  (Sheepishly I went to get Dad, who tried to use the backhoe to pull the thing out backwards.  No luck.  Oh, well, we'd tow it out tomorrow with Big Daddy.  I still felt like a complete idiot.)

After Dad got the test area mowed, and we'd tried to get the tractor out of the ditch, we decided to call it a day.  As I walked alongside Dad, he told me the story of three trees we were coming to.  They were the very first trees he planted.  (They're the ones on the right in the pic.)  They came from a very old orchard nearby and they're the first of the Stuart pecans he planted.  Stuarts are an heirloom variety; they've been around forever.  Most of our trees are Stuarts.

Those three old trees are gynormous.  And covered with nuts except there's a problem - the squirrels seem to prefer those nuts to the others.  I found a buttload of empty shells under the trees.  Time to put some squirrels in the stewpot!  (Hey, don't jump me about it - yes they're cute but they're eating our profit...and squirrels that have been eating pecans are yummy.)

Dad said he'd start servicing the harvesting equipment this week, and by the weekend we'd be ready to shake trees and pick up pecans.  (Oh, dear, I though to myself...)

That night, Jeff, Doug and I got in the hot tub.  Naked, 'cuz you don't want fabric fibers clogging up the filter.  The tub promptly overflowed.  No big deal, we thought.  We enjoyed ourselves, relaxing and jawing, but when Doug got out to go home, the water level dropped significantly.  Also, the water temperature had dropped because as the jets run, the water cools.  Jeff and I stayed in a bit longer but when we got out, the water level in the tub dropped to below the jets - half of the tub's water was gone!  Hmm, guess that tub's not meant for four (it's pretty small).  Although I do displace twice the amount of water that a normal person does...

Never mind.  It was a good weekend with a lot of hard work and a relaxing soak at the end.  I couldn't wait for the coming week - we were going to get ready to harvest (my) very first pecan crop!

If we can get there from here, y'know...

PS:  Here are the hidden pecans from the pic above:

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