Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rancher Ron Tractor Meltdown

Well, it's my first anniversary as a country boy, and even though I bought a tractor months ago, I never got around to getting an a brush hog to mow our secondary fields. They get pretty wet in the winter, so we fenced it off from our main pasture for the horses. Needless to say, the grass got a bit too high - about 8 feet tall in places - and I borrowed a brush hog and wanted to get this thing under control.

Let's just say that the ol' tractor was straining to keep up with the amount of grass I was trying to mow. The exhaust was a lot darker than usual, and I had to open the engine up almost all the way to have enough speed on the blade to make it through the dense grass. It was pretty crazy out there:

I got about 3/4 of our front field done when the dashboard lights on the tractor lit up like the 3rd of July. I shut her down to this - major over heating

There was a lot of steam coming out the side of the engine. I went and got some anti-freeze this morning and filled it back up. I got through the front field pretty much, and started on an area we have out back before it over heated again. So I guess I've got about a 30 minute window of running the engine all the way open before things over heat.

Maybe I shouldn't wait till the grass is over my head to do this next time? Go Figure.

See You Next Time

Monday, July 28, 2008

"She's My Cherry Wine..."

The latest endeavor out at the ranch is a batch of cherry wine. My brother bought me a beginners wine making kit for my wedding once he saw that we have 3 cherry trees and 3 apple trees. He took one look at the mini orchard and proclaimed, "You can make wine out of all this fruit."

And so it begins.

Somehow I recruited my neighbor to help with the cherry pickin'. Sucker. I even got him to go up on the ladder, while I stayed on the ground and got the low hanging fruit. We needed 6 pounds of cherries for two gallons of wine. It took us about 45 minutes to get all the cherries we need.

This part put a smile on my face. Last year, we were so busy moving in and trying to get the ranch fenced in for the dogs that we let almost all of the fruit just go to the birds or fall to the ground. So it felt good to be able to use it this year.

As part of my novice winemakers education, a copy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garey was procured.

I've seen it in all the winemaking shops that I've been in since starting this batch. If you want to make fruit wine, this is the book.

Here's part of the basic kit we got. It was under $200 at a local wine and beer supply store. It also came with a few glass jugs, another 5 gallon bucket, and a corker. I had to buy the yeast and a few ingredients that the cherry wine recipe called for, but it was only a few dollars.

Here's a link to an online kit if you don't live near a wine supply shop.

It was pretty straight forward at first. First, wash all the cherries. Then, put the cherries into the mesh bag and hold the bag over the bucket. Squish them up really good with your hands. One thing I like about this recipe is that you don't have to pit the cherries. That saves a ton of time.

You add some water, and some yeast food and let it sit for 12 hours. The next day, you have to check the sugar level. The wine kit comes with a hydrometer. It's simple to use. Just fill the cylinder that the hydrometer comes in with wine and drop the hydrometer in. Where it floats to is the sugar content, or "PA" as they call it: potential alcohol. I was told to get it to about 11.5 - 12%. I had to add a few cups of sugar. Then add the wine yeast, and make sure the bubble vent thing has some water in it... the directions don't really tell you about that, but the water makes it air tight. Fill it up about half way.

And now we wait for a week or so for the yeast to do their thing. A few days in and it was really bubbling. It's been about a week, and it's slowed down quite a bit.

I'm going to pull the bag of cherries out in the next day or so and get ready to "rack it" the first time.

Here it is fermenting in my room:

I'll put up a new post when I get to the next step.

See you next time:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Class of '88 - Visit to my brothers ranch for my Reunion

My 20th High School Reunion was last week down in Albuquerque. I wasn't able to get to my 10th, so I thought I'd go down and do this one. This video just about sums things up. We all look 20 years older, and yet in your mind, everyone is frozen at 18. Weird.

While I was in New Mexico, I stayed at my brothers place. Him and his wife have 50 acres in Stanley.... about 50 miles outside of Albuquerque.

They have an amazing view of the desert landscape. Great sunsets almost every night. They are definitely out in the middle of nowhere. But I have to say, "Somewhere" has been getting a lot closer over the last 20 years or so that they've lived out here.

In fact, a Walmart went in about 10 miles from their house. Progress or the end of the world depending on your politics, I guess.

One thing he had that I really want to install at my place was a drip irrigation system.

Oh, and I'd kind of like a new barn with a workshop like they have too. That would be nice. They have 3 horses and one mule in there, along with a brand new 32 horse John Deere Tractor. I'm jealous.

My bro is the one that convinced me to get a bee hive this year. Here's a quick look at his hive. He's down to one. One of his hives starved to death last year. That's what we think happened, at least.

He also is trying to turn me on to Wine Making (more on that in my next post...) He's had some triumphs and tragedies over the years. He won best of show in the NM State Fair one year for non commercial wineries - that's kind of a big deal.

He's also thrown away more than one batch after a year of work. It's tough making great wine, especially with New Mexico grapes. But on average, there's more success than failure.

I also got to check another James Beard Winning Restaurant off my list. We went up to Santa Fe for the day, and stopped at Cafe Pasqual's. What can I say, there's a reason the folks at James Beard gave them the award. It's some of the best Mexican food you can find anywhere.

As you can see, I hated it.

You owe it to yourself to stop here if you ever find yourself in Santa Fe.

I can also wholeheartedly recommend The Shed. You can't go wrong in either place.

Here's the cookbook if you love Mexican Food:

Over all it was a great trip. I guess this means I'm knocking on 40's door... ouch.

See you next time

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Second Inspection Of The Bee Hive

It's been quite a while since I did the first inspection of the bee hive, about 6 weeks. So I really needed to get in there and see what was going on.

That's my niece Mackenzie, she wanted to take a peek at the bees too, but from a distance.

I have to say, at this point I still feel like a bee owner more than a bee keeper. I'm reading through Bee Keeping for Dummies, and I've watched a few DVDs, but it's a totally different ball game when you have that hive opened up.

One of the main missions you're suppose to accomplish, according to everything I've read, is to find the Queen. Easier said than done. There are a tremendous amount of bees in this hive, and even though I haven't been able to isolate her, I'm assuming that the Queen is alive and laying a bunch of eggs.

The other thing everyone says to look for is to make sure the hive looks "healthy." Again, even when I have the frame in my hand a few inches from my face, I can't be totally confident that I would know if there was a problem. I think after today's visit, I'm going to see if I can get a master bee keeper out here for a little one on one training.

I also had more problems getting the smoker lit than I ever had before:

When my brother was out a few weeks ago for the wedding, we put a shallow honey super on there since there is so much activity in the hive and all the blackberries are starting to bloom out here in the valley. The girls have not drawn any comb out on the honey super, but the top brood box I installed 6 weeks ago was almost completely filled with comb and a lot of cells were filled too.

I realized that I need to buy a bee brush. Once I got the top brood box off the bottom, there were just a tremendous amount of bees. I was trying to clean up some of the frames and scrape some rogue wax, and I ended up taking a few bees out in the process. I'm sure you can never do it perfectly, but I think a bee brush would help next time.

I think I had the hive open a bit too long. Or maybe it just felt that way. I took out and inspected every frame in the top box, but not every one in the bottom box. I felt like I would kill too many bees. Plus, there's some wax build up and uneven wax on a few frames that I want to ask someone about. It may be normal, or I may need to do something... I just don't know.

What I do know is there are a ton of bees in there, and they are still drinking sugar water. I hope we get some warm weather, and a big blackberry flow so I can get some honey this year!

I'm on my way to not just owning bees, but keeping bees... I'll just need a bit of help!

See you next time~

Trail Riding on JB

One of the good things about living out here in the sticks, is that when all the stars align: i.e. it's sunny, we both have a day off with nothing scheduled, and we a horse didn't throw a shoe - me and the Cowgirl can go for a trail ride.

This is the trail where these videos were shot. It runs next to the Maple Valley Highway. There is a nice gravel parking lot on the south side of the river where we parked, then followed the trail south for a few miles.

June Bug was strictly a Reining Horse before we got her, so even though she's highly trained, she hasn't been on a lot of trails. Most of her stuff was done in an arena. So it wasn't surprising that she did NOT want to cross a bridge the first time she saw one. Especially one that 40 feet above moving cars and trucks. I had to dismount and the Cowgirl walked her over the first time, but she learns quick.... the horse does.... and the Cowgirl too, I guess. I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

The next obstacle we encountered was a tunnel under the road:

And here's the big pay off, just like a really low budget, really slow moving action movie.

I took my first lesson today, after this ride, so on my next video, I'll have some more skills.

There are tons of horse friendly trails around Maple Valley, I'll make sure we shoot some more pics and video as we explore. The one on this trip is nice for a beginning rider like me. Relatively flat and paved, so not very technical. A good beginner trail.

See you next time~

Solar Mole Chaser - Did It Work?

A few posts back I told you about my latest attempt at tackling our mole problem. It was with a Solar Mole Chaser.

They were $10 a piece at Harbor Freight. I got four. On the box it says it covers a 6000 sq ft area, or a litter bigger than a 40 foot radius circle, if my high school algebra memory is still correct: pi r squared.

To sum up: Solar - yes. Mole Chaser - not so much.

Take a look:

Save your money. If you're keeping score at home that's Moles - 4 / Rancher Ron - 0.

See You Next Time ~

Honeymoon In Oregon Wine Country

Just got back from a great week in Oregon for the Honeymoon. Quite frankly, I just didn't have the energy to plan an elaborate honeymoon. I was sent this book at work a while back, and it had some really cool ideas in it. If you're a foodie or are looking for some good weekend trips, you should really check this book out.

I was thumbing through the chapter on the Willamette Valley, and ran across Abbey Road Farms. It's a small goat cheese farm on a beautiful piece of property. Sounded perfect for us. Wine and goat cheese, what's not to love.

Here's the new bride checking out the new baby goats. They had 4 babies and 4 milking goats.

They even let you milk a goat or two in the morning if you want to. Ricardo, their expert goat herder, shows you exactly what to do. He's a one man wrecking crew when it comes to managing this farm. Ricardo can do it all. Much respect to his skills. I got a couple of good squirts from this goat. It's harder than it looks.

The Cowgirl tried her hand at goat milking:

And here's how a pro does it:

One other thing that we did that was amazing, besides plenty of good wine and food, was to do a wine tour by horseback. There's a guy called Jake Price who happens to be a Three Time World Champion with Tennessee Walkers. He's worked out a deal with three wineries so that he can do a guided horse tour with tastings. You get to ride through the vineyards. It was by far the coolest ride I've ever done. The Cowgirl agreed. Jake is a riot. Really fun guy, and he puts any wine you buy in his saddle bags for you till you get back. It was my first time on a gated horse. Wow, what a different feel. It was the smoothest horse I'd ever been on. The tour with three stops at different wineries cost us a bit over $200. Well worth it. If you ever get close to here, look Jake up. It'll be worth your time and money.

We also went out to the Oregon coast and checked out a light house. Very pretty country. I'd definitely recommend doing it in the Summer. It was still windy and could get cold quick, and this was the end of June. I can only imagine how cold it is in the Winter.

It was interesting to see the old pictures of the families that manned the lighthouses. They were completely isolated from the rest of the world. The got a fuel delivery every so often, and got their food staples every few months from the government. Other than that, they either were cleaning or lighting the house. What a life.

Overall, it was a great week. My folks took care of the farm while we were gone.

Here's my mom with her update on the garden and the strawberries:

See you next time ~

Wedding Is Over - Why Are These Chores Still Here?

Sorry it's been so long since the last post on the Farmer Ron blog, but the entire last month was pretty consumed with planning and executing the wedding. Then the honeymoon, then trying to catch up with everything that I was neglecting with wedding duties.

But I'm back, and the list of stuff to do surprisingly didn't get any shorter while on the honeymoon.

First order of duty... actually we did it a few weeks ago ... was to get some new gravel down in the horse stalls. It got very muddy in the spring, and we bought one load of 5/8 and one load of 3/8 gravel for the runs. The 3/8" minus pretty much just turned to mud, so I got 33 tons of 5/8" minus delivered to the house.
Free Plug for Jim's Landscape Supplies. I called him on a weekend, and he had it delivered that day. Good guy. His number is 253-639-2200.

I gave our neighbor Dwight some money to help wheelbarrow it in, and Neighbor Bill couldn't pass up the chance to tool around in the tractor. We got a 4" layer spread in a few hours. I tried to get a bucket full and just dump it over the 5 foot fence directly into the horse stalls. The ground was kind of uneven and it didn't work. So Neighbor Bill came over and tried to do the same thing. I've learned to just let engineers figure it out for themselves. So once he verified that the fence was too high to dump, he and Dwight devised this system. Bill would get a load, and then dump in into the wheelbarrow while Dwight centered it and held it steady. Dwight would run it over to the stalls where I spread it out.

June Bug is a major league pacer. So she has already made a track around her stall in the few weeks we've had her. It's almost time for me to add another layer of gravel. I've been talking with some folks, and it seems like the theory is that the ground can only hold so much gravel before it becomes "saturated" with gravel and will stay that way for a few years. We haven't reached that point yet. So it's more and more gravel till we stop seeing mud.

See you next time~