Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The season of mud

One thing you learn quickly when living and working on the farm is to not only to read the weather but also the soil. The weather, aside from affecting your personal comfort and what you should wear, also affects the soil.

You spend a lot of time deciding what your soil will be doing on any particular day based on the weather and what you are hoping to do.

We are currently entering what we call the 'season of mud'.

The red clay of Frederick County, while rich in micronutrients and minerals, has all the negatives of most clay soils. When wet, the small molecules lay flat and hold water between these layers. This slippery, gooey mess is what most people refer to as mud.

Later in the summer, when the heat and droughts that have plagued us for the past 5 years have removed all the moisture in the soil, we have what most people would refer to as a brick.

We learned this lesson the hard way a few years back when we were trying to drive fence posts in the summer. ' You can't build fences this time of year' said one of our neighbors, 'It's not fence season.'

Fence season !? Huh? Did we need a permit?

Not sure what they were talking about, we merrily went on with our plans to knock off a large section of fencing using an auger and some really nice black locust posts we had to order to West Virginia.

[As an aside, in olden times, posts were commonly made out of local rot resistant woods like black locust, osage orange, and eastern red cedar prior to the advent of pressure treated pine. Pressure-treated lumber has been on the market for about 60 years and for most of that time, was treated with arsenic to preserve the wood, obviously unacceptable to us as organic, all-natural producers. In 2002, to address the dangers of arsenic leaching into soils and exposure from direct contact, pressure treatment was converted to a highly-concentrated copper or ACQ compound. These compounds address the dangers of arsenic poisoning but have other issues related to corrosion of metals coming in direct contact with them]

Two auger bits and about an hour later, we had successfully placed one post - only 2000 more to go! Clearly, this was not going to work!

So we waited, and in the fall, after a few good rainfalls, when the air was crisp and the ground had softened but was dry enough to take heavy machinery on it, we rented a fence post driver and tried again. The pounder, a beautiful piece of machinery, held the post in position behind our tractor and then slammed down onto the top of the post over and over again.

We watched with amazement as the post slid gently and smoothly into place in a matter of about 15 or 20 seconds! A day later and we had placed hundreds of posts without so much as breaking a sweat (or an auger bit).

A few years later, I was talking with one of my sheep customers on a hot August day. 'Anything interesting planned for the weekend?' I asked. 'Oh, I plan on doing some fence posts', he replied.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, there's a right time to do things the easy way. Great story. I found your blog when I was searching chicken tractors. That is one terrific chicken tractor you have.