Archive for Preparation Stage

Crabgrass is coming, but it’s not too late to stop it!

For any readers in the MD/DC/VA area, if you haven’t had time to put down pre-emergent, it’s not too late.  There are several different methods for determining when to apply crabgrass preventer.   There are certain plants that bloom just prior to crabgrass, and I always forget which ones they are.  There’s also the technique of looking for young crabgrass sprouts on the edges of your driveway or house, since the thinking goes that crabgrass needs warmer temperatures to germinate, and those locations warm up faster.

However, it you’re like me and you forget to look around your driveway or against your house before you leave for work every morning, there’s a handy little website that tracks historical data and will let you know when you’re getting close to crabgrass germination time.  Now, it’s not live data as far as I know, so unusually warm or cold springs will be off on the forecast pictures, but for your average working stiff, close is good enough when you have other things to worry about than total crabgrass annihilation.  The important thing is not to apply too early, since the pre-emergent only lasts a few weeks in the soil; and not to apply too late, because there’s nothing the pre-emergent will do if the crabgrass is already germinated.

Before I post the pictures, I’m also going to give you the link, since it’ll be easier to go directly to that website to get daily updates, and also so I don’t violate any copyright laws by posting someone else’s property.  Technically, I’m pretty sure merely posting the heat-map pictures will get me in trouble, but to Syngenta’s lawyers: “I don’t profit from this blog at all, I think I have about 4 people that read these blogs.  Not only do I not profit, I don’t get any money period.  It’s a hobby, like growing vegetables that die or get eaten by deer, and trying to build things but giving up and buying it at a home improvement store.”

So here’s the link to the crabgrass outlook map: http://www.greencastonline.com/tools/PestOutlooks.aspx?po_id=6

4-8 crabgrass

 

 

Today’s crabgrass cast means that there’s still time for people north of Virginia to get that pre-emergent down.

 

 

 

 

4-10 crabgrass

 

But by Friday, it’s looking like this weekend will be your last stand.  After that, it’ll be up to you with a crabgrass spray can spot-treating all summer until you give up and wait for it all to die after the first frost.  All those brown patches are a pain, so do yourself a favor and catch it early.

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Guess who’s out of hibernation?!

*Yawn*  What have I missed?  A lot of potential opportunities to post here, for one.  Now, I’m a cold weather person, I tolerate hot and humid days because my tomatoes love them; but let me join millions of people across the country in saying “Go home winter, you’re not welcome here anymore”.  Partly the reason I haven’t posted lately (months??) is that there isn’t much to talk about in the winter, the other reason being it’s hard to write when you’re depressed and cold.  However, the days are getting longer, and I’ve started my tomato and pepper seedlings so there’s something to talk about.  Indoor greenhouse

I’ve rebuilt my “greenhouse” in my basement, and that’s good enough until I can get a real one outside.  I was able to reuse the solo cups from last year, so hooray for frugality.  To start the seeds, as I’ve done in the past, is to put them on the little Jiffy peat tabs in the covered greenhouse tray.  I put the heating mat under that, and while some heat escapes through the bottom, it’s warm enough to germinate the seeds (one rather spry tomato popped up in two days).  If you wanted to, you could cut a thick piece of packing Styrofoam and put it under the heating mat to hold the heat better.  Once the seedlings get bigger, usually when they hit the top of the cover or the roots start poking out of the peat pot, I transfer them to the solo cup to continue growing under the grow lamp.

Let’s see, what else?  I suppose in another post I can talk about my food storage plans and progress.  I’m working on cleaning up a mess of a pantry in the basement.  I can’t seem to get out of Sam’s Club without spending at least $400 and coming home with a 50 lb bag of something….Last time it was sugar, the time before that, flour.  I’m not sure if I’ve shared in the past my organizational goals, so I’ll post them again.  Eventually I’d like to have a good long term storage and short-term rotational plan.  I’m not a crazy end-of-the-world prepper or extreme hoarder, I just believe in the old boy scout motto “Always prepared”.  After losing power for a week after hurricane Irene came up the east coast, I’ve learned that it’s good to have some non-perishable food on hand; candles/oil lamps in the closet; and even a generator if you can afford one.  Non-perishable food isn’t totally necesary if you lose power, since your first priority would be eating yourself through your frig/freezer anyways.  Having a gas range is good, since I’ve never had the gas go out on us.  Things would have to be pretty bad to lose that supply.  Anyways, there are plenty of examples in the recent past where events have shown us the only one you can really rely on is yourself.  I trust the Government to go to war often, fix the roads eventually, and at the very least fund itself and keep the lights on….mostly.  But my blog isn’t about the Government or politics, it’s about growing food and finding peace in your own backyard.  So, here’s my pantry plan, I’ll get there some day, the best way to build up an emergency food supply is gradually, it takes the pressure off the wallet, so to speak.

Shelf_Reliance Jug_Storage_6_months

I’ve already started gathering the jugs, not exactly like the picture though.  I really liked the idea of the handles to make it easy to grab, but after searching for weeks/months I couldn’t find ones I liked.  I found half gallon and gallon sized jugs, but I didn’t like that the plastic was PP (polypropylene or number 5 on the bottom of the jug), PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride or number 3), or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene or number 2).  HDPE has BPA and phthalate , and can leach endocrine disruptors (which is basically a fancy way of saying it can mess with your hormones in high enough quantities).  PVC also leaches phthalates , which studies have shown can be bad.  PP is one of the safer plastics to use in long-term storage, but it’s not clear, so it doesn’t look as nice on the shelves.  I know, silly excuse not to use it, but hey, if you don’t mind translucent jugs, go for it.  Eventually I went with PET (or PETE, plastic number 1), it is the type of plastic used in water bottles and soda bottles.  It too can leach chemicals (plastic is basically a bunch of chemicals anyways, somethings bound to breakdown in it eventually), but I’m only using it for dry food, so I figure it’s the best of the 7 plastics.  The safest material of all to use?  Glass, naturally.  Glass doesn’t survive falls or clanking together though, so while I could have used half-gallon or gallon mason jars, I opted for plastic in the end.  Hell, glass is heavy too, I’m a guy, so it wouldn’t be too bad for me, but a gallon of salt in a mason jar would be a heck of a workout bringing upstairs.

Finding PET jugs with the handles proved fruitless, GallonJugI tried 4 different plastic companies and couldn’t find any.  So eventually as I was walking the aisle in Walmart I came across these jugs, and they won by default.  They’re gallon sized, PET plastic, and they have an easy-grip side, so it’s dang close enough.  You can’t buy them online, so you’ll have to troll the aisles over the course of several weeks to get a large supply of them.  At my Walmart they’re $2.97 each, so not too expensive, but considering these things probably cost 30 cents to make (if even that), that’s a pretty hefty profit margin for the Waltons.  I’d love to find their supplier, but since I’m not about to buy a pallet of them (as most plastic suppliers require as I’ve found) and pay the freight for said pallet, I believe I’m getting a deal at Walmart.  Below is what it looks like all happy and full of egg noodles.  I printed out some 2×4″ labels and they fit nicely.  My only complaint is that the way I put the labels on.  As you can see, the label wouldn’t fit on the grippy side, so to look pretty on the shelves, you can’t easily grab the jugs.  But I’ve found it’s not that hard to turn around the jugs to get to the grippy side.  They have little ridges on them too, so it really is easy to pick up.

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Okay, I tend to get carried away when I finally get around to blogging, so I’ll wrap it up for now.  I’ll be back again soon to post my raised-bed garden expansion plans and more pictures of the seedlings.  I’ll leave you with my recent purchase from Burpee.  I’m going to try growing some lemongrass, lemon balm and spearmint.  I drink a ton of tea in the winter, so I’ll let them grow nice and big this summer to give my tea a nice herbal minty/lemon taste.  New seeds 2015

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The Raised Bed Project

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Just kidding, not that kind of raised bed.  Rather, a raised garden bed to avoid some of the pitfalls and nuisances that I experienced last year (weed creep, bad soil, insects, deer, myself, etc.).  I decided on a simple 4’x8′ raised bed for 3 reasons.

1) 4′ seems to be the internet-agreed-upon width that allows you to easily reach into the center from either side.

2) Most 2×6 or 2×8 boards come in 8 or 12 foot lengths, making less waste in the end.  (Note:  I did get stuck with 10′ boards for one of the beds because that’s all they had, so I had some 2′ sections left over, still looking for something to do with them.  I did eventually find 8′ boards at the other home improvement store.)

3) They looked good in my “raised bed master plan”, meaning, inline with my usual “Go big or go home” mentality.  More to come on that later.

I decided on Douglas fir as my wood because it was cheap and readily available in 2″x8″x12′ sections.  The 2″x12″ boards were very much more expensive, relative to the 2×6 and 2×8’s, but I wanted my beds a little deeper than 12″.  Two 2×8’s stacked would get me about 16 inches, which I thought would be good enough.  I wanted to go with cedar or redwood, since I heard they were rot and pest resistant, but the cost in the end helped me decide.  They weren’t available in the local home improvement chains, and the lumber yards wanted one of my arms along with my credit card.  I figure I could replace the beds every 3 years (if I even needed to that early), and it would still be cheaper than cedar or redwood in the long term.

Eco Wood TreatmentI did splurge on some wood treatment, and I came across this stuff, which is pretty highly rated.  It’s called Eco wood treatment, and it’s supposed to protect against mildew, rot, and pests.  From what I researched online, it contains iron oxide and “other proprietary” ingredients, all of which is supposed to be environmentally and human friendly.  That was the main reason why I avoided pressure treated wood.  Even though they stopped using arsenic in the chemical treating process, they still use copper, and I’d rather not have those chemicals leaching into the soil of plants that I will be eating.  I’ve read that pressure treated wood is generally safe, but I’d rather go with something that says it’s definitely non-toxic.  It is expensive, but it’s supposed to protect the wood for years, it’s made in the USA, and it stained the cheapy-looking Douglas fir boards to a nice aged look.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures all through the process, but I did take the pictures of the final beds.  I decided towards the end that I wanted a little ledge on the beds to rest tools or whatnot, so I nailed some 2×4’s on the sides.  I used pressure treated wood for that, since they don’t directly touch the soil. I also added 1/4″ hardware cloth under the beds to keep groundhogs from burrowing up under my bed. They’re a problem where I live, so I figured the extra measure of protection was warranted.

IMAG0957Here’s the picture of the stained wood after the Eco treatment.  It looks rather dull and splotchy, but the color evened out and looks really good.  Much better than the bleached framing boards that I started with.IMAG1001

I started off with two beds for this growing season, but never fear, I have big plans for my suburban farm.  The white PVC pipes you see on the inside of the bed is for adding floating row covers.  If I need to add a frost cover or insect barrier, I just insert a long length of 1/2″ PVC pipe into the 1″ sections to form a loop over the bed. I can then attach the covers to those loops. I didn’t use it this year, but I figured I might as well install them now in case I need them.

IMAG1038IMAG1043 …and here is the first bed with my sad looking plants. That’s a story for my next post, but I didn’t really do a good job in raising those little seedlings on account of not setting up my indoor greenhouse in time this year. They didn’t get enough sun and were stunted for at least a month (hence why I just started getting tomatoes in late July) I planted 5 tomatoes, 5 bell peppers, and there are two eggplants in the middle of the bed. Once everything started growing, I also tossed in a packet of basil, since all of the plants in this bed are complementary. It worked out great, since the tomato and basil are great with some mozzarella cheese.  For my lessons learned post, you’ll learn why square foot gardening might be a better idea to follow.  I might have packed the plants in a little too tight.  You can’t tell from these pictures, but it became more evident as the summer went on.

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For anyone that’s curious on what I have planned for my suburban raised-bed farm. Here is the master plan. I hope to add 2-4 beds per year, that way I can stagger the replacement of them when the time comes, which will spread out the time and cost associated with that.

Garden layout designs
Why the weird design? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because I now have the opportunity to think about that. I’m not sure. I didn’t want just a bunch of raised beds in a row. I wanted something to be visually pleasing to look at. …and I wanted a dwarf fir in the middle that I can decorate with lights every Christmas, hence why I labeled it a “Christmas tree”. Maybe I’ll get bored this winter and build more than two. It’s a long winter, and I prefer the cold anyways.

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Planting update: Three sisters garden and cherry tomatoes are in

So I’ve been a little busy this weekend. My new John Deere riding mower was delivered, so now I can *finally* mow the lawn. I should have posted pictures of the jungle in the back, the grass was already waist high. I got a D140 from Lowes, and so far it’s pretty nice. It has a 48″ cutting deck, which should make quick work of my half an acre.

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Also, I have planted my “three sisters garden”. The three sisters are corn, beans, and squash, and it’s based on a native American planting method that takes advantage of each of the plant’s characteristics. The corn provides a strong pole for the beans to climb up, the beans provide nitrogen for the squash and corn, and the squash’s prickly leaves deter rabbits and raccoons while also blocking weeds from growing. You mound up dirt into piles and then alternate between corn+bean and squash for each mound. I’ll re-post the graphic from my earlier post so you don’t have to go searching to find it.

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The cherry tomatoes I plant in containers since they do really well in them. I always put one tomato plant and one pepper plant in each container. Pepper and tomatoes are companion plants, so they do really well together. I know from experience that beans and peppers do NOT go together, and will stunt the growth of the pepper plants. I put the containers out front, since we don’t have a deck yet. This way when we get home each day, we can check for tomatoes and pluck them for nightly salads and stuff.

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Cherry tomatoes in planters

Cherry tomatoes in planters

..and finally, here is something you can do with a plastic 55-gallon rain barrel. I cut the top off of one, and then put about 6 inches of dirt in the bottom. I drilled some drain holes in the side near the bottom so that water doesn’t pool up in the barrel, then I put a sprouting potato into it. Now, normally when you plant potatoes, you have to dig a hole and plant the potato in really loose soil. Then since the plant can start growing new potatoes near the surface, where they can get spoiled by getting sunlight, you have to keep mounding up the dirt around the plant. Then, when it’s harvest time, you have to dig it all up, missing some potatoes and not getting the full harvest. It’s this reason and the fact that they’re pretty cheap at the store that most people say not to grow potatoes. I say “Go ahead and try, ambitious farmers!” This is where the barrel comes in. As the potato plant grows, you just dump some more dirt in the barrel. Eventually the plant keeps growing higher in the barrel and you fill it up with dirt to the top. When harvest time comes around, you just kick over the barrel and out comes all the potatoes!! No digging or missing spuds, everything is right there in the barrel. Just make sure to rotate the dirt out and put that in your garden, since it could contain potato molds or diseases that could affect your plants the follow year. Use fresh dirt each year in the barrels.

A new 55-gallon barrel

A new 55-gallon barrel

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it's journey upwards

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it’s journey upwards

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Success!

So, using the CR-V as a mule (since I never did find the Avis rent-a-mule office in my area) worked nearly perfectly. I worked on the tiller, and my wife (who is awesome for doing this by the way) drove. Now, a car goes faster than a tiller normally does, even when you just take your foot off the gas and let it coast, or even while keeping a little pressure on the brake, so it was definitely challenging The ground isn’t perfectly flat, or level, so while you’re coasting at a good speed one minutes, your stuck in a mound or rut the next, and having to give gas to get over it. After I realized it wasn’t my wife driving like crap, and it was the terrain  I was a little more pleasant to be around. She was doing me a huge favor, as she reminded me several times while I was fussing at her about her driving.
Now that the tilling is done, I can spend the rest of the year working on the tiller at a leisurely pace. Taking my time with the transmission, since I hear there are a lot of parts, and you don’t want to forget how to put it back together once it’s in 100 pieces on your garage floor. I remembered to take pictures so that you can fully appreciate the genius and hilarity of the whole situation, and can image what my neighbors probably thought when they saw me out there like that. Luckily, since the neighborhood is still under construction  I don’t have a neighbor in front of me or to the side of me yet, but I’m sure they’ll get to know me quickly because of my crazy antics.

So here are some helpful tips if you too want to ever try this:

-A rope is good for pulling, but backing up is still a pain. Since we figured it would be easier to just keep going forward and reverse, rather than turning around the car, I still had to pull the tiller back to the starting point at the end of each row. Luckily with the tines spinning, it kinda pulls itself a little if you don’t put too much pressure on it.
-Make sure your rope is long enough. With the car backing up to the start point, it ended up driving over the tilled dirt, compacting it again. Now, with the thick layer of sod broken the hardest part is done, I can go back over it with my smaller Mantis tiller. But if you want to avoid your nice fluffy dirt being pressed back into clay, make sure that the rope has enough length to keep the car out of the garden.
-Get a whistle. Figure out a “tweet” system, since hand signals are difficult when you’re holding a tiller that’s chomping through the ground, and shouting is inefficient, confusing, and pretty frustrating. The car and tiller make quite a bit of noise.
-Take your driver out for a nice dinner, some ice cream, or a beer afterwards. Tilling is hard work, but being shouted at by the tilling-operator while sitting in a car without the music, on going back and forth for 1-3 hours is a different kind of hard work and should be rewarded.

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Now, the tilled land does look messy, but that’s mostly because I just tilled the weeds and grass into the soil.  The weeds haven’t gone to seed, so I should have to worry about them coming right back immediately, and the main thing is that the ground is now broken up and soft.  I’ll post more pictures when I’ve cleaned it up a bit, and I’m ready for planting.

 

 

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We have ignition, and lift off!

Well…kinda. So I finally got the tiller running. I had told my wife and anyone else around that I knew what was preventing the engine from running was going to be something so simple, I was overlooking it for that very reason. I had disassembled the carburetor at least a dozen times, cleaned it just as many, and still no power. I knew it had to be something wrong with the carburetor also, since even with my limited mechanical knowledge, I knew the engine was working. When I sprayed engine starting fluid into the carb, it would fire a few times until the fluid was consumed. So the spark-plug and cylinders were working fine, it just wasn’t getting gas. In exasperation on Sunday morning, I had declared to all that would listen to me that I was giving up and would just sink the money needed to get it repaired. I knew it would really suck, since after buying a new home and still paying a mortgage on our other home that isn’t rented out yet, we are kinda cash-strapped. Well, dedication…or maybe just plain stubbornness drew me back out to the garage again later that day. My neighbor, who I will just call “J”, stopped by after most likely hearing the string of curse words coming from my garage. We sat there and talked about how I still couldn’t get the damn thing running, and that it had to be the carb, since it would run just long enough to consume the starting fluid and then die. My other neighbor “R”, was nice enough to take my carb and use his air compressor to try to blow out any debris from the carb valves. It looked like everything was clean, I had run a wire through all the fuel valves countless times. It was good knowing that I wasn’t crazy, since they were telling me what I was expecting this whole time. Well, “J” and I headed back over to my garage to look at the tiller again. While we were sitting there, I had a stroke of genius (luck???) This whole time I was looking at the carburetor and wondering why fuel wasn’t getting into the cylinder, but there was one part that I kept overlooked. To understand why I missed it so many times, I’ll post some pictures of the carburetor. The carb itself is pretty simple. Air intake, the main channel, fuel bowl, output to engine. Fuel comes into the bowl and fills it up, a needle and float stops the bowl from overflowing (that’s what caused my leak in the previous post, the float was stuck so the fuel intake valve never closed properly), and then fuel goes into the bottom of the bowl, up a shaft and up into the main channel to mix with air and then goes into the engine. If you look at the pictures carefully, you’ll see a little notch in the shaft. That’s where I assumed fuel would go through to get up into the main channel. Well, one thing was bugging me, that’s also where the screw that holds the bowl goes. It kept nagging at me, the notch would let fuel in, but not with the screw in place. I finally picked up the missing piece of the puzzle, the screw itself. I took a good long look at it. Just a normal screw, one thing that was weird about it was it looked like there were two pits on the side of the screw and on the bottom of it.

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“…no, that couldn’t be it, could it??”

I looked at “J” and asked, “you don’t suppose fuel goes through this screw, do you? “. He took a look at it and tried to blow into it. Nothing.

Well, wouldn’t hurt to try something, so I took the screw and submerged it in carb cleaner. I swished it around for about 30 seconds and noticed something magical (not really, just pretty cool), gunk was coming off of the screw….a LOT. So I took out the screw and got a small length of wire and tried poking it through one of the pits on the side of the screw. THE DAMN THING WENT STRAIGHT THROUGH!! So then I look at the bottom of the screw and poke the wire though, it breaks through a layer of grime and goes right to the part of the screw where the side holes where. The screw was hollow!! The fuel goes into the notch on the main shaft, INTO the hollow screw and up to the main part of the carb. I give the newly cleared out screw another soak in the carb cleaner and then put it all back together. We both kinda held our breath as I got ready to put the starting cord, since this whole mess really got us fired up. I gave the cord a pull…

IGNITION! The engine started up on the first pull. I looked over at J with wide eyes…Holy crap, it works! I ACTUALLY fixed something with moving parts in it! We let it run for a few minutes and then finally cut it off when it seemed pretty apparent that it was running beautifully. I thanked J for all his help, since it was technically “we” fixed it. I can’t remember what he said, but it was right before I picked up that screw and took a look at it, so it had to have been something that got me thinking about it. Well, after the handshakes and back slaps, he goes back home and I get ready to start the actual work gardening, the tilling itself.

I shift the tiller to “forward” and squeeze the drive control bar. The tiller pulls forward about three feet….and then stops. “hmmm, that’s not right”. I shift to neutral and then back to Forward, and pull the drive bar again. Nothing at all. I shift to the “forward tilling” gear and try that . The tines spin (yay!) but still no movement. Now, for those who haven’t seen or used a tiller, it’s like a very large push mower. With large push mowers, many of them are self-pulling so that you aren’t throwing out your back trying to push the mower around. Without the self-propelled aspect of the tiller, doing any work with one would be very difficult (more like impossible as I was to find out).

“Well great, I got the engine working, but now my transmission is F’ed up?” A tiny, simple carburetor got the best of me for 3 weeks, how in the hell am I going to overhaul a transmission? Not only that, but the parts for the carb were $70, anything other than screws in the transmission STARTED at $50 each. It is going to get expensive fast if, when I open up the transmission case, it looks like how I think it’s going to look. As I went running back to Google to find out more about the transmission, I found out that the craftsman tillers have a major flaw. There is a gasket (or paper donut as some people online described it) that when water pools in the tiller, when it is left outside perhaps, it dissolves away and lets water right into the transmission. Well, water and metal don’t get along very well, and you now have rusted out gears.

“Crap, taking apart a transmission was not was I was expecting, and this is going to take longer than 3 weeks”. The entire growing season is likely to pass me by. So I got back out and try shifting into neutral. I gave it a push and the tiller rolled along, as expected. “Well, that wasn’t too hard to push”, so I shift to “forward tilling”. The tines start spinning and give the tiller another push. It rolls a little as I push it. Now, I’m pretty sure the wheels should be engaged to the gears, so the fact that it’s acting like it’s in neutral is NOT a good thing.

….but…if I can push it while the tines are spinning….maybe I can just muscle the tiller around like a non-self-propelled mower. I push the tiller to the back and start on a row. The tines dig into the ground and start busting up the hard layer of sod. “Sweet, this isn’t so bad” Wrong. Only a few feet into tilling, I’m starting to sweat. It’s HARD work pushing a tiller while it’s chewing up dirt and weeds. Then the tiller started rolling back into the tilled dirt behind it, creating a little ditch. I found out quickly that trying to push the tiller out of the self-created ditch was getting more and more difficult. I gave up in exhaustion and dragged the tiller out of the row that I was working on.

Wow….one half of one row. I had made it 10 feet in 45 minutes, was thoroughly exhausted, and my back was killing me (previous injury, that story is going to be a whole other post). Wow, so I only had another 790 feet to go. I slowly pulled the tiller, which felt like it weighed at least 1000 pounds at this point, back to the garage. I sat around the rest of the night wondering how much it would cost to have a transmission repaired, but also relieved that I didn’t send the tiller to be fixed, only to have the technician say “we fixed the tiller, it was a clogged screw, that’ll be $300”.

The next morning I woke up with a crazy idea, much like I do every single day. It’s tough being me with all these wonderfully crazy ideas running through my head, since my loving wife usually steps in and prevents me from injuring myself, lighting myself on fire, getting myself blown up, or just plain dying. Well, the crazy idea that morning was in the category of the “just crazy enough to work”

To digress for a moment, I have two types of crazy ideas. Sober crazy and drunk crazy. The drunk crazy ideas never get an audience from my family, since they’re usually along the lines of “Maryland law states you can’t discharge a firearm within 150 yards of another resident, without their approval….wouldn’t it be AWESOME if I went door to door asking the neighbors if it would be okay to shoot at clay pigeons in my backyard. They’d of course be welcome to join me, it would be fun!” Luckily most of those ideas are lost in my hangover the following morning. Now, the sober crazy ideas are “crazy like a fox”, and involve more brain cells since they aren’t drowning in rum.

So, back to my sober crazy idea. Since the tiller engine runs, the tines spin, and I can move the tiller like it’s in neutral, I just need a method to pull/push the tiller. Human power just wasn’t cutting it, so what about getting a length of strong rope/chain and hooking it up to the back of our CR-V? Then with my wife drive the car, and me working the tiller, we would just need to work out a start/stop communication method. I figure a whistle would work, with one tweet to stop and two tweets to go. Then just blowing on the whistle we could use the power of the car to get the tilling work done, and then after that, I can take all year to fix the transmission myself. There’s plenty of room where ”the farm” is being set up, so driving the car back there won’t be a problem at all.

A few days later, I was talking to J about my idea, and he just looks at me kinda confused and says, “why don’t you just rent a mule?”

Rent a MULE? I know I’m in the rural-suburbs here in Howard county, but I didn’t know you could still rent a friggin’ mule! I didn’t ask him where one could rent a mule from, but I guess I’ll keep that in mind if towing the tiller with the CR-V turns out to be a disaster, like most of my sober crazy ideas end up. I’ll be sure to post pictures of that this weekend if I succeed in convincing my wife that it’s a good idea. The thought of fresh veggie might entice her enough to consider it.

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Batteries not included…

So….with spring finally here, and my tomato, eggplant, cucumber and pepper plants growing by the day, I decided to pull out the Craftsman rototiller out to get “the farm” ready.  I filled up the gas tank, changed out the oil, and gave the pull cord a hardy pull.

…and nothing.  A couple more pulls….nothing.

..oh, what’s this?  *drip* *drip* *drip*

*sniff*  Yeah, totally gasoline dripping out of the tiller.  So I open up the part of the engine where the dripping is coming from to see gas spilling out of the carburetor (??maybe??)  

At this point I’d like to point out that my father was a mechanic.  Not really, he was a small business owner/entrepreneur that had 20 years of mechanic knowledge under his belt, much more accurate.   When I was young, he would want to show me how to tune up a car (back before they were all electronically controlled and CPU monitored), change the oil, fix the timing, or just tinker around under the hood.  I on the other hand kept wanting to find out why I kept going to castles that didn’t have the princess in them.  

“Another castle?  Then why the hell did I stomp on countless mushrooms and turtles to get here?  Why haven’t they invented GPS yet???”  

So while I was busy guiding Mario, Link and Samus to victory (not really, I never beat any of those games), I could have been learning how to fix a 2-stroke engine or troubleshoot a leaky carburetor.  So the irony was not lost on me as I was staring at a metal thingy that was dripping gasoline.  The gasoline was the only thing I was sure about, because that’s the primary thing I used to ignite the holes in the ground that I had dug in my parents yard as a child (boys, eh?).  So gas was dripping out, and I triumphantly managed to find the gas shutoff valve!  

“Hooray!  I didn’t lose all that gas that I had just put in the tank!” (it’s the little victories in life that matter)

So what’s someone like me to do when faced with a problem I don’t know?  Google to the rescue!!!  Unfortunately Google didn’t help me too much.  So I dug back into the tiller and just started doing what anyone without any knowledge in mechanics does.  

I started unscrewing things. >.<

Now, I did put the screw back where they were after a panel had been removed, so I wouldn’t lose them, and I was actually smart enough to take pictures of the before and after, so I wouldn’t forget how to put it back together (or have “spare parts” left over).  What I discovered was that the carburetor seal was dry rotted.  I haven’t been living under a rock for the last 30 years, so I do know what dry rotted rubber looks like.  So, with the new found knowledge that my seal was bad, I decided to order new seals, and air filters while I was at it, since they looked pretty old too.

Well, they finally arrived today!  I was so excited to finally get my tiller working.  I installed the new seal after spending the last week  researching how tillers work and the mechanical workings inside them.  

The good news? It started.  The bad?  It stopped pretty soon thereafter.  It’s still leaking fuel out, so I *think* it’s a “float valve” issue, but it could just as well be a widget is jumping around inside my engine making the gasoline gods angry.  So now I have to spend tomorrow trying to learn what I can about engines from Google….oh, and I have a 2-stoke Mantis tiller (completely different, but the same that at least it doesn’t have a computer controlling it) that isn’t working that I’m trying to fix too.  I’ve narrowed that down to a fuel line….or spark plug…or air filter….or flywheel.  

YAY!  Farming is fun, and I haven’t even dug into the ground yet.  I could do it by hand, but 800 square feet of land isn’t easy to do by hand with a broken back.  OH…That’s a post for another time….

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