I have thousands of seedlings to plant and it would be backbreaking work to do it with a small shovel on hands and knees or to bend over and plant each one. In my research into broadacre permaculture systems I came across a tool known as the "Pottiputki" which is a reforestation tool used to plant seedlings on a large scale. Unfortunately, I could not find one for sale in the USA, nor does anyone seem to ship them here. They also cost $300 and the shipping from Europe would be a mint so I went ahead and made my own from off the shelf parts at Lowes for about $60.
The main body consists of a stick of 2" electrical pipe (emt) with the digging end made from heavy duty galvanized 2" rigid electrical pipe.
I marked the 2" rigid with electrical tape to make the cut for the main body of the digging end and cut it with a 4" grinder with a cut off wheel. A miter saw with a metal blade would have been a better tool for the job.
After fabricating the main body of the digging end, I test fitted it onto the 2" emt pipe. I split the digging end at the narrow and spread it open slightly for it to fit over the emt.
I used the other half of the digging end cut off to make the opening part of the digger. I then welded on a length of 1" bar stock for the foot pedal and began to shape it to go around the main body of the tool.
Here is the business end of the tool with the shovel body welded up and the opener/foot pedal assembly bolted in place with short carriage bolts. I used a 110v wire welder that I got on ebay for $100 and, as you can see, you don't need to be the world's best welder to make it work. Below is a video showing the final bits and pieces and some tips to make it all work.
I start most of my trees and garden plants from seed. I would rather start them in place from seed outside but we have these creatures called field mice who do not appreciate me growing trees in their field and tend to eat them soon after they germinate. Part of the fencing plan on this farm is to plant hedges in order to eventually replace as much of the fence as possible with a permanent living fence. I therefore need a greenhouse large enough to hold thousands of seedlings per season as a hedge requires a tree every 12-18 inches. I settled on the above design because it is large, relatively inexpensive, and very sturdy compared to a regular pvc or metal hoop house with the hoops spaced a few feet apart. Credit for this design goes to TexasPrepper2 and can be seen HERE.
I built the greenhouse under a nice old box elder in the backyard so I don't need shade cloth. I started with a 2x10 pressure treated box 7' wide by 16'7" long on the ground. I then bowed the 50"x16' cattle panel to form an arch over the box and stapled the bottom of the arch to the frame with fencing staples. When all 4 panels were attached, I tied them together with baling wire.
I then built the end frame for the door on one end and a window on the other end and cut an old garden hose in half to protect the plastic from the sharp edges of the cattle panel. After stretching the plastic on, I brought 3-55 gallon black plastic drums filled with water into it to regulate the temperature. After that I built shelves and put an automatic misting system into it with parts bought on Amazon.
Field mice will not only eat sprouted seedlings, but they will also enter your greenhouse and dig up EVERY SINGLE SEED out of your trays and eat them. Even the ones on shelves 3' off the ground. It is extremely frustrating to come into your greenhouse the day after planting 1000 seed cells and finding them disturbed, dug up, and the seed eaten and the shells strewn all over the place (ask me how I know). I decided to staple and bury a 6" barrier of wire cloth to the base of the greenhouse and run a piece of smooth wire over the plastic to prevent mice or mole or voles from entering the greenhouse and wasting my time. I have had no critters since the installation of these 2 barriers and would highly recommend making sure your greenhouse is critter tight before using it.
This is what it looks like inside after a full season of growing. I have a mix of Osage Orange, Black Locust, Honey Locust, and Mimosa ready to go out. I estimate that I have 2000 trees here on my first try at planting trees from seed in a greenhouse. With further optimization and lessons learned I think I could fit 4000. Ill do more on plant starting in another series of posts.
Making this place into a farm is more akin to starting a farm in the wilderness because of the predator pressure in the area. Except for the 30 or so acres of pasture here, this farm was used as a hunting property and is mostly surrounded by other hunting properties. This means that the protection provided by being in a more traditional farming area where the land is mostly flat and cleared and fenced is nonexistent. Coyotes, grey fox, raccoon, bobcats, feral cats, stray dogs, possum, snakes, hawks and eagles live here in large numbers.
Out of the first 100 chickens I raised, only 68 made it to harvest or laying. This seemed unacceptable to me but I would rather not have chickens than keep them confined. The only solution was a good fence and some Livestock Guardian Dogs. I did some research and chose to get Great Pyrenees because of their size, disposition and local availability.
We kept them in the electronet with the chickens and our predator problem immediately stopped. Even as puppies, nothing would come near. They would occasionally playfully chase the chickens but I have never seen them hurt one. Now that they are older they don't play with the chickens anymore but spend the day sleeping or patrolling. I will go more in depth about the dogs in a separate section.
When raising birds, you can keep them in one place and bring food to them and carry the poop away, or move them often to a clean area. I would rather move animals than clean up poop. I also want the birds to forage for as much of their own food as possible. This means that I need a portable chicken coop with a mesh bottom for the poop to fall through. I wanted one big enough to comfortably house 50 birds with a nest box for between 5-7 hens per box. I also wanted it to be light enough to be moved by 1 person. The above shows the coop before the metal skin went on.
Shown above is the finished coop. Notice the 2 levels of 7 perches and the removable nest box cover over the 8 nest boxes. The top sides can be open or closed depending on the weather. The 1" mesh floor allows the poop to fall onto the grass below the coop. The 10" pneumatic tires make it so it can be moved by 1 person.
I thought it would be less stressful for the birds to let them come out of the brooder on their own so I put up electronet fencing around the brooder and the coop and opened up the brooder. After about 2 hours, I ended up getting into the brooder and moving the birds out of it that didn't want to leave. I moved them around in the yard at first before moving them into the pasture.
I highly recommend not doing it this way. The birds got used to being near the house, and it has been somewhat inconvenient ever since. Even 2 years later we still have 4 birds which refuse to go to the coop at night and sleep on the back porch. I now take the chicks out of the brooder in a cardboard box and carry them to the coop which should be FAR from the house. I then feed and water them in the coop for a few days after which they happily go into the coop on their own at night and (mostly) stay away from the house.
Before getting our chicks, we needed a brooder where they could live until they were mature enough to survive outside. Our brooder shown above is 8'x8' which could theoretically fit 120 chicks at 1/2 a square foot per bird. We filled it to about 10" deep with sawdust from a local sawmill. The sawdust will absorb the bird droppings and hold the birds off of the cold ground.
This is what 10 bucks will get here locally after filling the brooder 8'x8'x10"deep. What a great resource!
Here is the brooder with the metal sides on ready for birds. The feeder is my own design made from 3" pvc and a 2x4. The tall white cylinder is a hover made from some plastic wall covering I found laying around. The heat lamp shines directly into it and it will be much warmer (90-100 degrees F) than the rest of the brooder. It has a hole cut in the side so the chicks can go to where the temp suits them best. The waterer was bought at the co-op and I eventually hung it off the ground to keep it cleaner.
We got our first 50 Black Jersey Giants from Mount Healthy Hatchery and brought them home from the post office. The cookie sheet above is full of creek sand covered in feed to get grit into the bird right away as this is how they "chew" their food. As you can see, they mill around from the food and water to the hover to warm up. They stayed in the brooder about 4 weeks until they were feathered out enough to handle the cool early spring night temps. The next post will get into the mobile coop construction and moving the birds into it.
The standard H frame corners used for barbed wire and welded wire fences are not ideal for high tensile electric fences. The H corner requires 3 posts and holes and 2 cross braces while the floating angle brace corner requires 1 post, 1 hole and 2 braces. For the 5' tall fence shown below, I used an 8' 6" cedar post with 2 - 10' angle braces.
The angle brace MUST BE at least 2 times the length of the height of the top wire ie. for a 5' fence the angle brace must be at least 10' or you WILL end up replacing the corner when it pulls out of the ground. I found this out the hard way and redid many corners once I started pulling and tightening the wire on the posts.
I set the post 3' deep with no concrete and tamped the fill back in place a few inches at a time. Then just below the top wire, I cut an angle out of the post on both sides. I then cut the end of the angle brace to match the cut in the post.
Then set a flat rock or concrete block into the ground and cut the other end of the angle brace to lay flat on the block. Notch the end of the angle brace and pound a staple to hold the tension wire.
Wrap the tension wire around the post and brace and staple it to the post as tight as you can get it by hand. The tension wire is smooth 12 gauge high tensile the same as the fence itself.
Put a stick in between the wires and turn it until the brace is tight into the notch in the post but not fully tensioned yet. Repeat for the other side then tighten them both until proper tension is achieved. Make sure the wire is holding the stick into the side of the brace post opposite from where you are going to string wire.
Here is the finished product with the author/builder for scale. When properly constructed, these corners perform very well. They cost less time, labor, and materials to install and you only need to dig one hole. If you have lots of cedar or some other fence post wood the corners are nearly free.
On the farm, there are many hills and valleys. If the hills are large and long enough, they form wet weather ditches at the bottom of them. The ditch shown above is about 12' wide and 6' deep and needed to be fenced to keep my dogs in. I watched how others fenced ditches and creeks in the area and it usually consists of a cattle panel jammed into the creek or ditch which gets clogged with junk and blocks the creek causing the bank to erode. Eventually the panel gets washed away leaving a gaping hole in your fence.
Since the fence already had to go over the top of the ditch, and the fence is electrified, I thought the ditch could be blocked by hanging some light metal chain from the lowest wire to a few inches above the ground. The chain had 6000volts on it and it looked like it would work until Dude, the fence testing dog, walked back and forth through it without getting shocked. I also began to worry that an animal could become tangled in it and die a terrible death. I added more chains and it worked better but I was not satisfied.
I then came up with the idea of hanging light duty Red Brand welded wire sections to the lower wire. The roll was 4' wide and 100' long so I cut sections out of it, cut it to fit the contour of the ditch, and hung it from the lower fence wire which made it electrified to 6-7000 volts. Dude the fence testing dog didn't even try to get through it. Any animal coming up to this will have to put their nose on it to push it up and walk under it. Before the spring floods come, I will attach some sections of foam pipe insulation to the bottom of it so in a flood situation, the sections can float up on an angle with the current instead of hanging in the water, getting clogged with debris, and pulling the fence down.
I needed a fence that would keep the neighborhood dogs from coming around and chasing my chickens, children, or my mom and that could reliably hold in whatever livestock I decided to get in the future. The time and money budget was limited so I read all I could about farm fencing and found that high tensile electric would be the best for a perimeter fence around these 96 acres. Compared to barbed wire, In my opinion, high tensile is much safer and more effective for animals. It is also much easier to work with and less expensive than both barbed or woven wire. In some places on the farm, I was able to go 60' between posts. Woven or barbed call for a post every 10' regardless of terrain as it needs to be a physical barrier and not a psychological barrier like electric. High Tensile Electric is about 30% cheaper than barbed and woven wire would have been 3x the cost just for materials. Not to mention that woven or barbed require much more labor and time to install. Also, maintenance seems to be much easier. I go out each morning to look at my fence charger and judging by the readout I can tell if something fell on the fence or not. To determine this with woven or barbed, you would need to walk the entire fence or wait for the call from your neighbor that your animals escaped. Several times trees fell on the fence putting all the wires to the ground and once the tree is removed, the fence springs back to its original position. I doubt woven or barbed would do the same.
This was not a "beginner" fence. There are wet weather ditches taller than me that needed to be fenced. About 90% of the fence is installed through some really wild woods on rolling to steep terrain. I had to make a bulldozer trail around the perimeter before beginning to install it. There are some crazy steep parts that I couldn't put the dozer on so the trail was made with a chainsaw.
The bit exposed to the road is 5' tall with seven 12 1/2 gauge 200ksi smooth high tensile wires. The rest through the woods is 4' tall with 6 wires. I originally installed it as a 4 wire fence but my official fence tester dog, Dude, jumped right through it like it wasn't even there. I then installed 2 more wires to make it a 6 wire fence with 6-8" between wires. The fence is powered by a Stafix x6i 6 joule 12v dc charger that can power 60km of wire and came with a remote. It puts between 6 and 7000v on the fence depending on how wet or dry it has been.
I will discuss the materials and methods in detail including corner construction, wire tying and terminating, insulators, ditch crossings and the charger wiring in future posts.
I'm picky about the water myself and my family drink. I want it to be as close to wild natural water as I can get it. This house is fed by a spring that comes right out of the ground about 300' from the house near a beautiful rock bottom creek. The problem was that the pump was broken, the wiring was really rigged up and the pump was sitting on top of an 5' pile of cinder blocks inside of the spring house. This pile of block closely resembled a critter high rise apartment with many nests on each level with the poop and pee going directly into the water where the pump was fed. I don't know how the people drinking from here survived the many pathogens which must have been present in the water. My Dad had a local well installer replace the pump before we got there and I redid the wiring.
The structure itself consisted of a concrete box poured into the side of the hill with the water entering under the wall on one side. On top was a dilapidated rotten plywood structure with a piece of sheet metal on top. Obviously this all had to go.
Here's me getting all that block and the mechanicals out of the hole. I love this stuff!
Then I dug all the muck out of the bottom of the house in a thunderstorm.
Then I put it all back together in such a way that not even spiders get into it. After flushing the whole system, having the house itself re-plumbed, and installing a UV filter in the house the water tested good at the local municipal water department. Its real good water. It's spring water and I can really notice a difference in how I feel since drinking it exclusively. It also is great for bathing/showering and leaves no soapy film behind.