Woodhaven Place

Your Neighborhood Farm

Month: November 2015

Quick lawn tractor trailer hitch ball

How many times has the utility trailer been in the wrong place and I don’t want to take the truck out back? Maybe I want to haul a little something from one side of the yard to the other, but it is a bit much for my little dump trailer?  I want to move the boat on flat ground maneuvering it sharper Problemthan the truck can turn.  I’m getting tired of carrying the 100# or so tongue weight (not to mention I’m not getting any younger).  How many scenarios are there where I need a trailer hitch ball on my lawn tractor to make life easier, but I don’t have one?  All mine are 2 inch with ¾ inch bolt.

I have two old Cub Cadets which have plenty of power and will hold my weight plus a couple hundred pounds without a problem, but, they both have a 5/8 inch hole for a hitch.  I called my local supply/hardware store and all their balls have at least a  ¾ inch bolt.  Looking online, I see Tractor Supply has SKU #18990199 which is a 1-7/8 inch ball with a 5/8 inch shaft for $9.99 and Lowes has a similar Item #: 80454 for $7.98.  Since Lowes is 2 gallons of gas (round trip) farther than Tractor Supply, I head out for the $9.99 model.

Not that I lack the ability to properly plan, but, I think spontaneity is just more fun, don’t you? (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)  Did I bother to call ahead to see if it was in stock? Of course not.  Did I prepare to get this trailer interface device before I actually wanted to use it, so they could order one? Same answer.  Now, here I stand in the middle of this magical store full of all kind of wonderful things, but not the one item I wanted.  What happens? Rule number one kicks in: “never buy what I can build.”  I start thinking I can cut the bolt off, drill and tap a 5/8 inch a hole???  Cut off the bolt and weld a 5/8 inch bolt on???  I could buy a ¾ inch drill (with a tapered shaft, which costs more than the ball and gas to Lowes), stress both me and my cordless in an effort to open the hole, which removes the hole’s flare, permanently weakening the hitch.  I could machine the shaft small enough to fit the hole and re-thread the new shaft.  Brain running out of control, stop, think.  What I need  to start, is a bolt that will fit the hole in the Cub, so I go to my favorite isle, bulk hardware.

If you look at your used trailer hitch ball, it is usually rusty except in a couple spots.  I deduce that no matter how round the ball, it only contacts the hitch in a couple places, and that’s after miles and miles of hard use.  I don’t need 2000 pounds of strength, just to maneuver a trailer a few feet, or to cross the yard a couple times, so maybe I can weld that good.  (I’m not going to take this on the road, in traffic or even attach it to a vehicle, if you are, please stop reading, this is not safe enough to take off the grass, or driveway).

I need a 5/8 bolt and nut.  Next I want a washer for the nut side.  Lookie here.  Lots of washers, and lots of sizes.  There are 2-inch washers with a 1-inch hole and my trailers all have 2-inch hitches.  If I put a couple of them in the middle, then a couple smaller ones . . . To get even smaller ones, I switch to a ½ inch bolt, then a couple smaller ones. I hand tighten a nut and even the big washers with the big hole don’t slide.  I take off my glasses; it looks almost like a trailer hitch ball.  Hey, this could work!

Side by sideassembledI take less than $2 in hardware home figuring I can always order a real ball online, or go to Lowes later if this doesn’t work.  I slip this almost-a-ball into the trailer and to my amazement, it latches.  It feels pretty good and the nut is only finger tight.  Now, I’m getting excited, thinking this really could work!  Are all trailers this rusty? Maybe a little PM is in order, but Locked in placethat will have to wait.  I analyze where the hitch captures the washer-ball and determine I don’t think the hitch can get off then pseudo-ball accidentally.  (at .3 MPH, I don’t expect much bouncing anyway)

Now for the tractor connection.  Looks unusual, but once I put a wrench on the thing; I don’t think any washers should shift, at least not enough to matter, considering how it is gripped by the trailer.In placeNow for the test.  Hook up the utility trailer and finally get it as close to that tree as I want it.  OUTSTANDING! Maneuverability behind such a short wheel-based tractor is amazing.  Now I see how truckers turn and twist semi-trailers into those places some people couldn’t drive a car.  Not that I’m that good, but I see a new level of maneuverability never realized backing up boats, campers, and utility trailers.

OK, it is time to spread some truth here; I parked and leveled the camper in a place which does not permit me to pull the boat out of the garage because the truck is too big.  Remember that old “two objects in one space at one time” thing?  It seems real enough at this point. The mother of this project (Necessity is the mother of invention) was to pull the boat out of the garage, missing the camper.  The testing is over.  The terrain is pretty flat.  Here we go.


Hot dog, it fits.  Good thing too, because I tried backing up just to see if I could, slightly up hill, and no dice.  As expected a 2000 pound boat balanced on a tandem trailer may have proper tongue weight on the taller truck, but at this height, only about 100# of tongue weight didn’t afford me enough traction to go up hill in gravel.  Luckily I had enough grip to tow and brake, but that is all I needed in the first place.  If I couldn’t make the corner like this I would have and to park it, move the camper, and use the truck to get it out.

Since the commercial solution of driving to Lowes to get a real Garden Tractor Trailer Hitch ball is so reasonable, maybe this project is a little tongue in cheek, but it did uphold rule number one: never buy what I can build.  However, I cannot over emphasize this solution should never be used where safety could be in question.  I had assistants standing by with wheel chocks in case I got it started downhill and couldn’t stop it.  My lawn tractors are of senior vintage which is important for a couple of reasons.  They were built strong back then and, although I’d hate to lose one because I overstressed it, that would not be like losing my only, or more costly lawn mower (not to mention boat or camper).  I would not haul anything which I could not lift the tongue.  The 650-pound camper tongue weight will not be attempted on these little guys.  As usual, understand your tools, machines, and their abilities.  Always staying within their, and your, safe limitations.


The Coop – Prefab Shed to Chicken Coop Conversion

This year we changed how we house our chickens.  Since the beginning, we have housed our chickens in two chicken tractors.  We really like the tractor method, but we wanted to consolidate all the birds into one coop and the tractors were not large enough to do that.  We have also had some predator issues this year and letting the birds free range was no longer an option.

Because of these problems we decided to move to a more traditional coop and run method for managing our birds.  The run for the birds is very large, so we do not feel bad about them being fenced in, and we plan to set up a rotational grazing system to help keep things interesting for the birds.

Shed Stock Photo

We chose a premade plastic shed to use as the coop.  We got lucky and Home Depot was having a sale on their out buildings.  We picked up a Suncast Sutton shed for a good price.  The shed went up really fast and We have been customizing the shed to function as a chicken coop.

The shed is made of resin and has an air gap between the layers of plastic that make up the walls.  This made cutting holes in the walls a little challenging.  The things that the shed needed to convert it to a functional coop were nesting boxes, perches, and a chicken door.  Everything else is just a bonus.

The shed came with plexiglass windows for the doors, but ventilation is important in a chicken coop so we used aluminum window screen in the holes meant for the windows.  The decorative grating was more than enough to hold the screen in.

Light is another important factor in a goodWindow Frame coop so we used the plexiglass from the kit and built three small one foot square windows.  We mounted two of these in the South wall and one at the peak of the East wall.  The windows were very simple.  They are nothing more than a wooden frame with a groove that holds the plexiglass.  We then used furring strips along the inside to hold them in the hole.  After everything was mounted we used white window caulk to seal around the outside of the window.

With the large run, the chickens are very happy and we have not had any more losses since we moved everyone into the new coop.  We have plans to run electricity and water to the coop, but that is a post for another day.

Maple Syrup – 55-Gallon Drum Evaporator

It is starting to get cold in Ohio and that means the sugaring season is right around the corner.  In 2014, we tapped our first maple tree and processed several gallons of sap in the house.  We learned a lot that year, like to not process sap in the house.  The syrup we made was great, but we knew we needed a better setup if we wanted to produce enough to make it worth our time.

In 2015, we decided to build a syrup evaporator out of a 55-gallon drum.  It was a relatively easy process and the results were far more effective than the previous year.  Like most homestead projects, there is always room for improvement and we are already cooking up ideas for the 2016 season.

For those out there that want to process aDrum gallon or two of syrup for use throughout the year, this type of evaporator is a good place to start.  The materials list is short and simple.  First we start with a 55-gallon drum.  The drum will need both ends and preferably ends that are attached to the barrel.  Like most projects we waited till the last minute, so this evaporator was build in about four hours two days before we wanted to start processing sap.

Step 1:  Making the door.

This project was the reason that I acquired my new favorite tool, the angle grinder.  The order that the cuts for the door are made really matter. With a cutoff wheel in the grinder cut the hinge side of the door.  After this cut is finished attach the hinges.  This keeps everything square and makes the process much easier.

After the hinges are attached cut the remaining three sides of the door.  Once the door is cut you are going to need some sort of latch.  I used an L bracket and a clip for attaching electrical conduit to a wall.  They were spare parts that we had laying around and it worked just fine.  We were rushing to get this project done so whatever we had laying around was what we used.

Step 2: Cutting the holes for the steam table pans

Drum Pan Hole

The secret to a good evaporator is surface area.  The goal is to have as large of a surface as possible so the sap will evaporate as fast as possible.  We chose some large steam table pans.  The 55-gallon drum had enough room along the top for two pans.  We used pans that were 20-3/4-inch length by 12-3/4-inch width by 6-inch heigh.  The challenge with this step is that the pans are tapered.  I traced a rough outline on the top of the drum and cut out the hole.  I then trimmed the hole larger little by little till the pans fit snug.  With two pans, we had a little over three feet of surface area to work with.

Step 3: Legs

This step was easy, and an accident.  I needed a way to keep the drum from rolling while I worked on it, so I stuck it between a few cinder blocks.  I wanted it up off the ground so I shoved some scrap steel through the holes in the blocks and a stand was born.

Step 4: Chimney

To get the firebox to draw air in and exhaust the smoke up and out, we needed a chimney of some sort.  We created one by using duct work.  We only needed two pieces.  One 90 degree boot and one piece of pipe.  We cut a square hole the size of the boot in the back of the drum and attached it with self-tapping screws.  The pipe was then set in the boot and attached with more self-tapping screws.

Finished Evaporator

Step 5: Setting the firebrick

The final step we did once everything was back in the woods next to our holding tank.  We needed as much heat as possible directed up towards the trays holding the sap, so we lined the inside of the drum with firebricks.  All things considered, the evaporator worked very well.

Evaporator In Action

Flame On – Red Dragon Flame Weeder Review

Weeding the garden is not something I would say we enjoy doing.  We spread wood chips in the garden for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is weed control.  The wood chips make it easier to pull the weeds up, but it is backbreaking and dirty work.

This year we wanted to try something different.  The way we have been weeding the garden requires pulling up the weed and as much of the root as possible.  This is slow and causes two problems in the garden.  The first problem is the piles of weeds that end up laying in the rows and the second are the holes where the weeds use to be.  This fall we decided to skip weeding by hand and try using a flame weeder.

We ordered a Red Dragon Flame Weeder from Amazon.  The flame weeder is not Flame Weeder Partsmuch more than a valve with a pipe.  The weeder comes completely disassembled and required about fifteen minutes to put together.  The parts are sturdy and the fittings are all brass.  The kit came with everything needed to assemble the weeder including a small pouch of liquid pipe sealant for sealing all the connections.  All you need is a wrench or two to put it all together.

Flame Weeder 2The weeder went together really easily.  It comes with a good length hose and connects to any standard propane tank.  The theory behind a flame weeder is not to burn the weeds to the ground, but to cook them just enough that the leaves can no longer perform photosynthesis.  I will admit going all scorched earth on the weeds growing in the cracks of the driveway was overly satisfying.  Heating concrete can be dangerous so do it at your own risk.  The theory with a flame weeder is once you cook the leaves the plant cannot feed itself and will wither and die.   Multiple applications could be needed to kill the tougher weeds.

The final hurdle is lugging around the propane tank.  Flame WeederThey make a backpack so you can wear it, but we did not really feel comfortable with that.  Our solution was simple and free.  We simply sat the tank on our two-wheeled dolly and strapped it down with a bungee cord.  This works fine for the time being.  The hose is long enough that you can weed a good sized area before having to move the tank.  I don’t know why but I just feel better with the tank a few feet away instead of strapped to my back.

Our final opinion of the Red Dragon Flame Weeder is very positive.  It is easy to light, it even comes with a lighter, and easy to use.  We have used this weeder a few times over the past few weeks and it works great.  I can see flame weeding becoming less of a chore and more of a break from other tasks.  Not to mention I see this being a great way to get a younger generation to help in the garden, once the kids are old enough .   I see a time where the boys argue about who gets to use the flamethrower!

Please remember to read all instructions and warnings provided by the manufacturer and follow them accordingly.

Flame Weeder In Use

Evil prickly weed around the garden well. Now they are all dead and returning their nutrients to the soil.

Wells Lamont Premium Leather Gloves Review

After the failure that was the “rugged” wear gloves from a few weeks ago, we found another type of glove to review.  These look more like what we are used to and like.

We are fans of leather gloves because they wear well and last a long time.  During our last trip to Costco we found a three pack of Wells Lamont leather work gloves.  Normally a good pair of leather work gloves costs more than $15.  Finding a three pack for less than $30 was very exciting.  Doing the math that is less than $10 per pair of gloves not to mention we now have enough pairs to put one in the car, one in the barn, and one in the garage.  No more running around the property looking for my “good” gloves.

To be fair, we did perform the same tasks as we did with the rugged wear gloves.  The big difference we put in three times as many posts and moved a lot more fence.  It is not fair to even compare these two pairs of gloves.  The Wells Lamont gloves are hands down a better product.  The single pair that was pulled out of the package has been in constant use for the past two weeks and they are just not showing any wear.

At less than $10 per pair, these are definitely the way to go if you need affordable gloves for the homestead.   Wells Lamont offers these gloves in multiple sizes from medium to extra large.  They even have a useful outlined hand diagram on the back of the package to help determine what size will fit you best. I will be buying gloves from Wells Lamont from now on.  Another bonus you can order these gloves through Amazon, so there is not even a need to go to the store to get them.

Got a tractor? Stick a fork in it.

Turn My Tractor Bucket Into A Forklift

After obtaining a tractor with a front end loader to move mulch, gravel, and such, we realized it didn’t move things that don’t scoop well.  Wouldn’t it be cool to use the tractor‘s loader bucket to move non-loose-stuff, like things on pallets, logs, etc.?  Could we repurpose it into a fork-lift?  A little Web work found Sears has Item #SPM8069033429 Model # 145200 for a couple hundred dollars.  Looks like a good solution, but two things concerned me.  First, I don’t buy what I can build, and second, although I’m no engineer, I didn’t like the localized stress on the bucket, at least my bucket.Forks 1

The Sears solution says it is good for 4000 pounds, but my compact tractor can’t approach that, nor does my need.  I move a few hundred pounds of logs or a pallet occasionally.  I want it to snap on and off easily.  I also don’t want it to stress my aged compact tractor.  As mentioned, I wondered, can I make this myself?  A trip to Lowes found rigid conduit lots more expensive than galvanized “water” pipe, so I chose a ten ft. length of 1.25 inch galvanized water pipe for $24.  I had about seven ft of 1 inch galvanized pipe lying around, for miscellaneous braces, and went to measuring.

As a young welder, I remember saying I can weld across anything I can step across and weld anything but the crack of dawn, but, it really is easier to weld pieces that fit as well as practical, especially pipe where it is very easy to burn the edge away, leaving you a hole to plug.  These pictures from our “Chain Link Gate” project show that just a little hammer work makes the job easier.  1) The butt joint between a straight cut and a round pipe creates the “crack of dawn” scenario. You could use your angle grinder to cut a concaved end to the pipe, but I find this trickier than it sounds.  2) What works well for me is to slightly flatten the end of the pipe which is to welded to the round edge 3) almost closing the “crack of dawn” before striking an arc.


So, what is our goal?  Looking at the diagram, where blue represents the shape of the bucket, we want the red fork assembly to snap into place.  The key is to have pipe ONE forward of pipe TWO, so downward pressure from the top lip of the bucket places down-force on the forks ahead of the back “pivot point.”  That way, if you bump the tips of the fork downward or drag the forks (within reason), the fork assembly doesn’t just pull out of the bucket.  Pipe TWO and pipe THREE hold a rectangle rigid so the forks are always straight and at the wanted distance apart, 27 inches is perfect for me.Forks copyPipe ONE and pipe THREE distribute their loads so as not to stress pressure points on the bucket.  Pipe ONE spans nearly the full width of the bucket, not only to hold the forks in the middle of the bucket but because the “sheet metal” bucket is not as stiff as the digging edge.  Pipe THREE rides directly on the digging edge since it is reinforced and is the stiffest part of the bucket.

With an angle grinder, welder and about $35 in pipe, I ended up with this.  The first reported use was described as “Works like a charm.”Forks 2

In useCAUTION, PLEASE READ AND HEED:  Be careful not to overload either the pipe or the bucket.  I saw over 200 pounds standing on the end of these forks that extend 3 ft. out of the bucket.  I figure by that, it will handle 300 pounds or more properly distributed over the forks.  If this pipe isn’t strong enough, a 1 inch galvanized pipe slides inside the 1.25-inch pipe to add strength.  Also, I recommend adding a couple vertical pipes for “roll-back protection” and to control tipping the load back onto you and the tractor if you lift such things.  You may also find the hydraulics on a front end loader type bucket far touchier than a real forklift, so please learn the machine and its limitations before placing it under a load.


Fall Garden Prep

The weather is quickly turning cold and wet now that fall has officially arrived and we lost our garden to a hard frost 2 weeks ago. Now we are in full gear putting the garden to bed for the winter. To help the spring planting run as smooth as possible, there are some things that we try to do every year before the snow starts. It takes us a few weekends of work to accomplish everything however we are happy to have put the work in once spring arrives.

First we do some general clean up; putting away tarps, looking for any lost tools, folding up row covers, and pulling up stakes. We do not remove the dead plants unless they are diseased. Bean roots are fantastic nitrogen fixers; tomato plants get 20151017_125259pushed over and then are left to breakdown over the winter; and our ducks help clean up the garden by enjoying a smorgasbord with most of the other plants. We do flame weed any patches that are particularly bad to help kill them off for next year.

Second we sheet mulch the entire garden. This is a huge task and takes quite a bit of time however saves us from many weed issues in the spring. This coming spring we are changing the sizes of our growing beds. We are going from a 4 foot bed width with 4 foot walk ways to 2 ½ foot beds with 2 foot walk ways. This will allow us to have more growing space in the same garden and 2 ½ feet is a standard industry

The clean up crew

The clean up crew

size for row covers and equipment. Because of this change, we are laying down a very thick layer of much over the entire garden to kill any weeds that have popped up in the rows and to give us a healthy blank slate to work with next year.

Small-bed backyard gardeners can do the same thing. Lay a good layer of mulch, compost, or leaves over the entire area or just the beds if you do not have a lot of material to work with. It can be quite thick because organic matter breaks down quickly and anything left over in the spring can just be raked to the side.

We are friends with a local tree trimming company and they dump truck loads of 20151101_131038wood chips for us to use. If you do not have that much room, try calling a local tree company and see if they would be willing to drop off a half load next time they are near your house. If you see a tree trimming truck in your neighborhood working, stop by and ask if you can have the chips, most companies are happy to help out.

The third fall garden task we do every year is plant garlic. Planting garlic in the fall is garlic-hardneck-drawingfantastic because it over-winters beautifully and takes one thing off of the spring to-do list. We are going to do an entire post on our garlic planting process in a week or two so stay tuned. You need to put garlic in before the ground freezes hard however after the temperature is consistently cold at night, otherwise the plants can sprout early. Fall garden prep can easily be put off after a long harvest season however the effort will make life so much better in the spring.

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