Friday, March 16, 2012

We Finally Did It!!!

 We finally purchased some buildings to allow us to bring our packing and washing facilities up to a level that meets the quantity and quality of produce we grow and deliver.
 For years we have been working under less than ideal conditions while we planned and saved to be able to afford this much needed improvement.
 We closed yesterday on a property less  than a mile away with two metal buildings on it.
 One measuring about 4000 sq. ft., the other about 2000.
 We are sooooooooooooooo excited to move our washing and packing indoors; It means better conditions for the folks doing the work; warmer, brighter, safer. It also means we can finally put our newer bigger cooler to use. All this adds up to a much more comfortable and more manageable post harvest handling function.
I am meeting with the dry-waller "Three Day Kelly" an old friend, in about 1/2 an hour to go over the immediate plans for taping and paint, then Heidi and I will start planning the lay-out with input from the rest of  the people here. You will be hearing a lot about this project as it continues.

Time to Index the Seeds

 Ever wonder what our seed order looks like? It has grown slowly over the years and I hardly take note of the fact that what I used to do on the dining-room table, then the living-room floor, now requires a full bay of the shop. We purchase somewhere in the neighborhood of 200lbs of peas and a few more beans, about 1.5 million carrot seed, and 500 thousand beets not including the specialty varieties. But the process remains pretty much the same.
I roll up my shirt sleeves and start in once the office becomes so full of boxes that I cannot see out the window. I am being serious. I check the seed varieties and counts against our order, cross reference the pack slips, and lay everything out by type; roots, greens, transplants, etc. Then I try to organize everything into a series of coolers so that when I haul them out to the field it makes some sort of sense. Even though I have been doing this most of my adult life, every time I finish, I find myself standing there staring at a pallet of coolers full of seed. The short hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I consider the fact that we will feed so many people, and cover so much ground, with this pallet of seed; so much hope, so much faith. It is nothing short of miraculous.

SA#2 Gets New Rings

 Aaron had been complaining that one of our Super As was smoking badly this past summer. It got to the point that it was becoming difficult to start and consistently showed signs of oil in the front cylinder of  the engine. We often had to pull the spark plug and clean it and warm it up a bit to get this tractor to start. So since we are not busy in winter, Aaron pulled it apart the other day.
 We sent the head out to a machine shop for new valves and guides and removed the pistons. Overall everything looked pretty good when we got inside the motor. However, when I talked to the machinist, he said the heads where in really good condition. Normally you would consider that good news, but it meant that we had not yet discovered the cause of the problem. So...
Aaron pulled the pistons and we removed the rings. In a nut shell; the pistons are that part of the motor which create the suction that draws air and fuel into the cylinder, they then compress the air and fuel mixture, and after ignition, they are thrust downward and that energy is translated to the crank shaft and from there transferred to the transmission, then the wheels. The pistons have to create a tight seal inside the cylinder walls to function correctly. To do this, each piston has a series of rings set into grooves. These rings are placed so the gap is staggered, and it is actually the tolerance of these rings relative to the cylinder wall that dictates how well this element of the system works. To test whether this relationship is within tolerance, we remove the rings from the pistons, and use the piston to place the ring in the cylinder from which it came.
 With the ring inside its cylinder, we then measure the gap between the two ends of the ring; you can see  the gap here at 9 o'clock. Tolerance? .018" Ours? .042-.048"

That's not good. We are hopeful that is wear on the rings and  that we can simply hone  the cylinder walls and replace  the rings. Once we measure the difference between the cylinder walls and the pistons themselves we can ascertain whether or not the cylinder walls are worn. If they are we will have to replace the sleeves and pistons. One nice  thing about these old tractors is that the cylinders are sleeved; which is to say that there is an iron sleeve fitted inside the cast block of the motor. If the sleeves are worn they can be removed and replaced along with a new set of pistons and rings. We will know more later.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

 I recently had the pleasure of a visit from an unlikely group of world travelers. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program, and coordinated by the Washington World Affairs Council and World Learning, this group of weary travelers came down to the farm to stretch their legs after enduring many professional and office appointments in DC, New York, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. They were a fun and engaging group of entrepreneurs, innovators, and rural business developers. They also held some very lofty titles and many had a veritable alphabet of degrees behind their names. I was largely outclassed by this gracious and eager group.

"How did this happen?" you might ask. Well, an acquaintance at the State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation flattered me with big words like diplomacy and entrepreneurial acumen. I must say I was a bit skeptical about his decision to ask that we host this visit, but was immediately swept away by the enthusiasm and honest interest of this group, not to mention their fierce sense of humor.

 I fielded a lot of questions, not just about farming and our farming practices, but about how we use social media and technology at the farm. We talked about branding and marketing strategy. We laughed at my poor grasp of the English language.

 If you are out there, thank-you for a memorable afternoon. I needed the break and the good company at least as much as you did. It was a great pleasure to have met you all.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

If I had a dime...

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that I have more time in the winter...

Winter is a much busier time here than anyone could ever imagine. As the seasons go by we have grown as a farm and as a business. Heidi and I spend an unbelievable amount of time working on the business of farming during the winter months. We go over safety policy and procedures, review employee performance and job descriptions, attend conferences, plan the planting schedule, order seeds, look at sales figures, advertise, spruce up our brochure and web site... In the shop we are also busy fixing everything we broke last year and breaking everything else. Not really. We spend a lot of time servicing and upgrading equipment and getting new equipment adjusted and ready for the coming season.

Aaron Wilson has been my right hand man since early spring of 2011. He has been a real asset; even tempered and excellent with machinery. I simply must capture him on camera, but recently he has been able to avoid getting his picture taken.

For the past week he has been working on replacing the clutches in our John Deere 3020. Our shop is small and splitting a tractor this size in there has been pretty challenging. We had a very difficult time getting it to go back together but after a few failed attempts and some careful reflection on the technical drawings we finally mated the two halves and rolled it out of the shop late yesterday afternoon.

We had not even turned the John Deere off before we rolled one of our Farmall Super As in to remove the cylinder head and get it ready for re-machining. Among other chores we hope to have the Super A buttoned up by the end of next week.