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Bourbon and Bookkeeping [Farming
Posted on February 14, 2018 @ 03:56:00 PM by Paul Meagher

I just finished doing my year end accounting and tax return for an incorporated business I own and am getting ready to get started on the year end accounting and tax returns for a sole proprietorship business and a farm partnership business (with my wife). A downside to running multiple businesses is the amount of accounting and tax work involved. It can consume more and more of your time if bookkeeping is not properly managed. Every year I try to get a little better at it but I still have alot to learn. I am therefore on the lookout for palatable videos on bookkeeping and accounting and thought I would share a recent find with you.

I called this blog "bourbon and bookkeeping" because the 2 book authors in this discussion, Curtis Stone (The Urban Farmer, 2015) and Julia Shanks (The Farmers Office, 2016), agree that you may need liquid motivation to get exited about accounting work.

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Wine, Music & Nature [Farming
Posted on October 31, 2017 @ 12:56:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've been busy processing my 2017 grape harvest into wine (vinification). Just 20 more gallons of crushed grapes to process. My garage fermentation room is starting to reach its limit as shown in this video.

Two days ago, I had the opportunity to see a brief free concert with one of my favorite local artists, Matt Mays. NYC Girls appears to be the song that he wants to feature first on his new album, Once Upon A Hell of A Time.

I'm also really liking another new song, Sentimental Sins.

Here is a photo at the farm in the early morning just after harvest time. This time of year these magical morning fogs blanket the forest valleys.

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The Production Target [Farming
Posted on May 8, 2017 @ 09:56:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Last week I travelled to the farm and was busy adding collars to the grape vines. The exercise of adding the collars around the grape vines is teaching me some lessons in scaling up production. The main lesson is the importance of knowing your production target.

Last year, I developed a prototype for a collar that I want to install around my grape vines. It consists of 4 inch Big-O drainage pipe cut into 5 inch sections with a slit in the middle so you can install the collar around the vine. It also requires 2 pins that mount inside the collar and secure the sides of the collar to the ground. Finally, for good measure I add 2 pieces of geotextile fabric with a slit in the middle around each plant, one piece from either side. The collar is then mounted over the geotextile and both are pinned to the ground. The idea is that I should have very little hand weeding to do and when I maintain the rows with my string trimmer I don't have to slow down as I can run the string into the collar without damaging the plant. This is how I hope to remain an organic vineyard without having to do alot of hand weeding. The jury is out on whether this will work or not.

As the spring arrives and the need for hand weeding started to emerge, I decided to pull the pin and to attempt to roll out the prototype for the whole vineyard (going too big too fast without adequate growing feedback is something I worry about). I had gathered pinning material, some rolls of geotextile, and a large roll of Big-O drainage pipe. I lined up two helpers and last week they started installing the collars. The two helpers installed an average of 250 collars a day.

I noticed that my supplies were being used up quickly. I had to make a run for two more 250 foot rolls of Big-O pipe and this weekend I was sourcing more pinning material. I think I'm good for the geotextile material for now but I'll need more. I'll need more of everything.

How much more?

You can't answer such questions without doing alot of counting. In this case, I needed to actually count out the number of vines in the vineyard and the number of apple trees and pear trees I also wanted to collar. The tally comes to approx 3000 plants.

With that number I can now be more realistic about what materials I will need to complete the job, how much money I will have to pay out for installing them, how long the project might take. All these things were vague guesstimates in my head when this project started. The number 3000 focuses the mind and helps me to do more realistic planning. For example, if each collar is 5 inches long and I need 3000 collars, then that equals 15,000 inches. Divide that number by 12 inches and you get 1,250 feet of Big O drainage pipe. I will need 2 more rolls (250 ft per roll) to complete the job (purchased 750 ft to date). I'll have to budget for that cost.

Likewise, anyone manufacturing a widget should define a production target and then build a set of production and cost numbers around that target. It would have been nice to have known what my production target was before going into this project so I could have had necessary parts ordered and ready and some idea of what my total costs would be. The production target doesn't have to be fully accurate and exact, it just needs to get you in the ballpark so you can start estimating costs and requirements. When rolling out a prototype into larger quantities you also have to cut yourself some slack because there are lots of unknowns and the first time through the production cycle will be when you grasp more of the details of the production process.

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Resilience Thinking [Farming
Posted on April 20, 2017 @ 07:52:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I've been spending the last week at my farm property juggling the work of managing these websites with the work of pruning 2 acres of younger grape vines (6 years or less). I haven't had much time to blog this week but am waiting for temps to increase a bit before I head out for a couple of hours of pruning.

I waited until now to prune because I can also use my cuttings to replant where vines have died, gone missing, or are not doing that well. My usual routine was to prune earlier than this, turn my cuttings into started vines in my greenhouse, then plant them out around the end of May or early June. This was necessary when I was adding new rows to my vineyard, but now I am done planting out new rows and just have to make sure all slots in the rows have vines growing in them. Easier said than done.

Because we get high winds in winter and are at the edge of the growing climate for cold hardy wine grapes, I have adopted an aggressive replanting strategy. That means for every missing slot I plant 2 vine cuttings and plant cuttings where a vine is not looking very promising.

Planting two cuttings per slot is still no guarantee the slot will catch as some slots may be plagued a suffocating weed, poor soil condition, heavy accumulation of snow, in the path of a wind funnel, near a rodent habitat, in an erosive downhill area, or subject to some other affliction that renders it less likely to able start a vine.

The word resilient is used alot these days and I guess I'm looking for ways to make the vineyard more resilient against macro and micro-climactic conditions. I'm less concerned with resilience against rising temps than resilience against harsh winter winds that also like to topple trellis posts. I'm starting to reinforce my wooden posts with metal t-bars to make the trellis system more resilient against high winds.

Resilience is about looking around and looking ahead for things that might do harm to your business and adopting strategies that will eliminate or reduce the liklihood that it will cause harm. Optimism is what made me plant this vineyard in the first place, but resilience thinking is what will help to ensure it will persist.

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Loss Prevention [Farming
Posted on September 23, 2016 @ 09:43:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I implemented a security upgrade to the farm this morning. I installed an outdoor video security system so I can remotely monitor the farm when I'm not around. The farm is not my primary residence.

I felt the need to add the video security for two main reasons:

  1. Reports of an increased incidence of summer cottage break ins as people are spending less time in the countryside.
  2. I stand to lose alot of invested money if there is damage or theft. This would be a business fault of my farming enterprise if I did not address the risk.

One way an asset-owning business can suffer catastrophic loss is not to secure their assets. Failure to protect those assets could be considered a business fault if their loss results in a major impairment to that business. See my discussion on the importance of avoiding business faults in my last blog. This is a relatively cheap way for me to help insure against potential theft or damage. Health insurance, proper legal documents, limited liability company structures are other measures we might take to insure against other forms of potentially catastrophic loss of income/investment.

The incremental cost of adding video security to the farm was $120, which is the before tax cost of a refurbished DCS-2330L D-Link Outdoor HD Wireless Network Camera. I purchased it at Walmart via their online site with free shipping to my post office box. I previously used all D-Link components to deliver internet connectivity through the farm so adding the camera to the system was not difficult. I just had to press the WPS buttons on the D-Link router and D-Link security camera to sync the camera to the farm network. I used 2 D-Link Powerline Adapters to create a hardwired route from my house where the router resides to my barn where the security camera is mounted overlooking the house and driveway entrance.

The house and barns run off the same power meter so I can use powerline adapters to deliver "hardwired" internet connectivity to every outbuilding. The security camera is not using wireless to deliver AV signals to the router as I found it easier to directly connect the security camera to a dumb D-Link Powerline Adapter via a CAT-5 cable. The CAT-5 cable and a power cord are coming out the back of the camera and through a cut in the window screen. I would have had to cut the power cord coming from the camera and then repair the power cord to neatly wire the camera into the building via a small drill hole. This ugly hack will suffice for now,

I'm currently testing the outdoor performance of the camera. It is raining today, heavy at times, but the camera lens is shedding the water ok. I intentionally angled the face of the camera down a bit so this might be helping it to shed water. Could have put a box around the camera to help keep rain/wind off it but I'd like to see what it does out of the box. Haven't tested nighttime performance yet.

My D-Link based network would allow me to easily add more D-Link cameras to my D-Link Cloud Camera login. In my D-Link cloud login I would see tabs for each installed security camera and click on the relevant camera name to see what is going on from that viewing perspective. I could also be monitoring bird pressure on the grape vines I planted to see if flocks of birds are eating my grape crop. I put up some bird netting on some of the older producing grape vine rows but there are lots of unnetted berries for birds to eat. I might be ordering another D-Link outdoor camera soon... Maybe a loud horn.... Hmm.... Remote-controlled farming...

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Urban Farmer Curtis Stone [Farming
Posted on May 10, 2016 @ 12:49:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Today I am using a strirrup hoe to remove some weeds from my suburban garden beds so I can get them ready for planting. We are still at risk of frost so I have to be careful about what seeds I plant out first for a salad mix. Fortunately, the Urban Farmer, Curtis Stone, has some good advice on salad mix varieties to plant out first (e.g., Red Russian Kale, Arugula,Spinach, Mustard Greens, Tatsoi, Beet Greens) and why Salad Mixes are an important product for his urban farming business.

As I prepare to enter into my vegetable growing season, I'm sure I will be checking out Curtis Stone's YouTube Channel for timely vegetable growing advice and inspiration. Curtis Stone is an innovative and entrepreneurial urban farmer so watching his videos satisfies my desire for high quality veggie-growing and business-growing content.

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Market Gardening Toolkit [Farming
Posted on February 24, 2016 @ 11:44:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This morning I became aware of a new project by market gardening guru Jean-Martin Fortier and his wife Maude-Hélène. They are crowdfunding a video documentary that will allow us to see exactly how they run their successful microfarm. Sometimes words are not enough.

I have purchased and read Jean-Martin Fortier's book The Market Gardener so purchasing the Market Gardening Toolkit video was something I would have done anyway. I hope to incorporate some of their market gardening techniques (e.g., stale seedbed, flame weeding, biointensive planting) into my own growing practices. They are quickly closing in on their funding goal and I hope this posting helps them achieve it.

If you are not familiar with the Fortier's market gardening system, you can get started with a recently posted 5 part video series of Jean-Martin talking at an event in Vermont. In addition to being great market gardeners, the Fortier's are also smart business operators so you come away from Fortier's videos not just with farming knowledge but some practical business insights as well. Here is the first video in the series:

It is also noteworthy that the Fortier's have teamed up with Possible Media to create this video documentary. Possible Media is doing alot of excellent work these days that appeals to my Permaculture addiction. They have found an interesting niche for their videographic skills. I am looking forward to the video documentary.

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Physical Assets [Farming
Posted on November 19, 2015 @ 09:36:00 AM by Paul Meagher

One of my goals at the end of this farm season is to add my old truck to the list of farm assets. This will be a truck that stays at the farm to be used for hauling stuff around and transporting farm workers around.

I'll be driving it back from the farm to my main residence to have the a clicking sound near the torque converter looked at in a transmission shop. I debated whether it was worth keeping my 1996 Mazda B3000 on the road after I was confronted with $1800 worth of repair bills (not even counting the transmission) but have opted to keep it on the road by finding ways to reduce the repair costs substantially through the help of a retired mechanic and an informal network of repair expertise.

That same retired mechanic also got my 1974 135 Massey Ferguson tractor working again last night after it sat outside for three months awaiting promised repairs that never happened. Again the informal network of expertise kicks in to save the day. With a cleaned up carberator and a repaired and timed distributor, new plugs, and new lines to them the tractor is running with alot more power than it has all season.

Having a dedicated truck on the farm opens up the possibility of having workers at the farm and that can take care of themselves and haul stuff around in my absense.

In farming a common goal is not just to grow a certain amount of crops or animals each year but to add to your asset base each year - a new tractor, a new piece of equipment, more land, etc...

One of the first physical assets any business can add to their company is a company vehicle. It makes alot of sense accounting wise and all maintenance costs can be expensed to the company. It seems stupid for me to own two vehicles for myself but that is the wrong way to think about it. The farm owns the truck now and I use it when I am able to come down and work it.

Often when you are investing in hard physical assets like a truck or a tractor the investment can be partially justified by the value of the material assets themselves. If you can't meet your cost of ownership then the financiers can repossess those assets.

When you invest in an idea or non-material asset it is often hard to repossess anything.

I do not want to downplay the importance of ideas, creativity, teams, and management as the driving force behind startups and businesses. I do, however, want to recognize the importance of building up a base of physical assets as an important component of growing a business. You need the equivalent of tractors and trucks to add to your physical asset base each period. The physical asset base helps to embody the value of your company. I don't think they have to be top-of-the-line assets. Stuff that gets the job done is sufficient - old trucks and tractors that work well.

Farm soil is also an important physical asset. Improving soil each year is more important to some farmers than buying a tractor that might be detrimental to their soil improvement goals. I still think these farmers are investing into growing their physical asset base by taking care of the soil. There is real value in good soil when proper soil web accounting is done. The financiers might not see it but those wanting to buy or lease the land in the future might be convinced to pay for that value.

Sometimes figuring out what counts as a "physical asset" can be tricky. Also, just because something is physical does not mean it is an asset. A broken down tractor is physical but is it an asset?

Here is my revived tractor (asset) with bush hog (asset) attached. Hood removed because we are still tuning. Custom square gas tank because it used to be an ice rink tractor running on propane before it was converted back to gas again. Previous owner was a welder. Issue around the manifold making it louder than it should be.

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Machine Breakdowns [Farming
Posted on August 10, 2015 @ 08:34:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This morning I'm doing some more research on the topic of machinery breakdowns (see previous discussion on breakdowns). Here is a top ten list of machine breakdown causes by farm machinery salesman Luke Gierach:

  1. Not reading the operator's manual
  2. Improper maintenance
  3. Poor electrical connections
  4. Overrunning machine's capability
  5. Not replacing worn parts when needed
  6. Tightener misalignment
  7. Improper storage
  8. Improper weather-related use
  9. Ignoring warning signals
  10. Asking untrained personnel to operate equipment

Another suggestion is to keep a machine log to record maintenance and repairs on a machine.

I did some preliminary searching for data on the frequency of machine breakdown over time. I would like to know whether there are general rules that would enable us to predict how much maintenance might have to increase per machine as it ages. For most people, an autombile is the piece of large machinery whose breakdown schedule they might be most familiar with and from which they might draw their own conclusions about the reliability and expense of maintaining machinery.

All of my farm machinery for making hay was purchased through online classifieds and all are over 30 years old so they are probably subject to more breakdowns per unit time than new machinery because so many parts of it are in a condition of being worn. The hay baler has performed without any major issues which I attribute to the care taken by the previous owner who fixed all the issues he inherited when he purchased it. He was very mechanically adept (owned a mechanical company). So even old machines can perform well if good maintenance was done on them in the past. Entropy, however, always has the last laugh.

The need to consider the failure rate of machinery can be quite important to include in production models because the assumption that all production machinery will operate without issues is unrealistic. Operations research has lots of techniques you can use to think about and incorporate machine failure into production scenarios.

Even when machines breakdown the job can still get done if there is enough redundancy in the system. My two hay mowers broke down but we still were able to mow some grass because we used my father-in-laws mower. His mower had a broken drive belt but still worked because it used three belts on the same pully system. We could operate it until we got another belt to replace the broken belt. The internet itself is subject to lots of noise but has so much redundancy and checks built into messages that messages generally make it ok to the receiver. So production scheduling to be accurate will often need to include some machine redundany planning in the models and in reality.

It is also important to keep machine failure in mind when purchasing machines. What types of breakdowns tend to occur in this machine? How easy will it be to fix when the machine breaks down? A mower conditioner is a step up from a disk mower but there are lots more things that can go wrong, and when they go wrong, you might need someone's help to fix it. Considerations like this might make you prefer one machine design over another. So thinking about the modes of machine failure can help you make better machinery purchase decisions.

A good piece of machinery that is well maintained and works without too many breakdowns can be very profitable to its owner. Many livelihoods have been based upon the purchase of the right machine operated and maintained properly. Conversely, the wrong machine with lots of costly breakdowns has been the bane of many entrepreneurs.

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Everything Breaks Everywhere [Farming
Posted on August 4, 2015 @ 08:39:00 AM by Paul Meagher

For the last few days I was trying to make some hay at the farm. Unfortunately, my mower-conditioner broke down and then my backup sickle mower broke down. When I emailed my wife about my woes with my mowers, her comment was that "Everything breaks everywhere during haymaking".

The phrase "everything breaks everywhere" is a nice way to summarize the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy. The fate of all matter is towards a greater state of disorder and all that stops it are our energetic interventions in the form of maintenance and repair.

The amount of entropy you must deal with goes up considerably when you own a farm (or any business with a significant number of physical assets). All the buildings and all the machinery are wearing down each year and choices must be made as to which degrading asset is the most important to maintain, fix or replace. The law of entropy is recognized in our income tax forms when we claim depreciation on our buildings and machines.

I try to keep a cool perspective on breakdowns and look for opportunities to learn from them. The old mower-conditioner I purchased a couple of years ago worked mostly without issue last year. This year, a bearing on the steel roller used to "condition" the hay (rinse moisture out of the hay like an old-time washing machine) could not take any more abuse and popped the drive belt probably because it was too hard to roll it with a faulty bearing.

I learned how to remove jammed hay from the front of the mower that probably occurred because the faulty bearing caused the drive belt to slip and the rotating drum with teeth that removes it (see below) not to rotate. You have to move systematically from the one side to the other removing hay as you go. If you attack the problem of removing jammed hay willy-nilly from different areas that look the easiest you could be there all day trying to remove the hay jam. Here I started removing jammed hay on the right side and am progressing towards the left pulling out the hay jammed between the cutters and the drum as I go.

After removing the hay, the drum still did not rotate so I measured the drive belt tensioning spring which was supposed to be 5.75 inches long and it was 8 inches long (2.25 inches too long). When the spring failed last year we put in another one in that was not the official sized spring but it worked. To tension the belt more I made a spacer and used it to increase the spring tension. The drum above the cutters rotated after this fix. I will remove it after I eventually fix the bearing to see what happens.

All of this seams like a waste of time when I could be mowing but the truth is I probably would continue to be fairly ignorant of how my machinery works without these breakdowns. In farming as in other businesses we learn from our breakdowns. Entropy sucks but it is a great teacher. Each breakdown teaches us a little bit more about our machinery and the types of things we need to do to better protect it from breakdowns and what parts we should have on-hand because they are prone to breakdowns or their breakdown will cause the machinery to become completely useless (e.g., drive belt). Some breakdowns such as hay pickup teeth only have a minor effect on efficiency when they breakdown so can be ignored until you have time to address them.

By early next week (when the steel roller bearing arrives) my mower conditioner should be back in action cutting hay again.

In the meantime my hay-making partner is using his mower to take down the hay in this field and we'll start putting square bales of hay in the barn today.

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Planting Time [Farming
Posted on June 15, 2015 @ 09:50:00 PM by Paul Meagher

The conditions were right today to start planting out some vegetables. I have a handful of yellow beans and I'm getting ready to plant them into mounded rows on the right that I prepared for them.

The mounded rows on the left are where I planted Spanish onions.

Me and my brother also planted out some potatoes. Here is a strip till that is prepared for planting a long row of potatoes. Strip tills were plowed a couple of years back and rototilled each spring. The trench is dug and the potatoes need to be laid in the trench and then covered over again with a rake. Later they can be hilled to create more growing area and cultivate around the plant. I have a hiller attachment that I'll be using when that time comes.

Here is some of the equipment used to plow the furrow and transport the potatoes to be planted. My brother directed the plow as I drove. Worked ok but would only work right if we plowed from the bottom of the hill to the top and not from the top to the bottom. This is a small plow that I had for a walk-behind tractor that I attached to my farm tractor.

Each year I have a friendly competition with my father-in-law on who will get get the best yield of potatoes. I've had some low yield years using hay-based growing media (still experimenting with it) but this year I'm also going old-school but using a strip-till approach. Planted 75 lbs in the strip-till so we'll see what my return on investment is.

The final veggie I was able to plant today was some romaine lettuce. I like romaine because it doesn't bolt when it gets hotter and I can keep harvesting through the summer. With one packet of seeds I planted 3 mounded rows each 5 feet long (stick is 4 feet long for comparison). 15 feet of romaine will produce alot of lettuce.

I did some funky earth mounding around the romaine bed to help retain rain water and dew.

Tomorrow I plan to plant out some sweet corn, green beans, snow peas, beets, and carrots. I also have a few experimental plantings I want to try (confrey, diakon radish, fenugreek).

The guru of market gardening, Elliot Colemen, made a remark that I carry with me as a would be farmer. He said something to the effect that you should only become a market gardener if you know what you are doing. It takes a long time to figure out how you should grow various types of vegetables but each year is a new chance to test and refine ideas. I'll be sharing some gardening results as the spring/summer wears on.

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Spring Flush [Farming
Posted on May 28, 2015 @ 07:26:00 PM by Paul Meagher

For the last 2 days I've been busy planting trees. Two days ago I installed my first nut grove consisting of 21 hazel nut trees. Installed it into a v-shape piece of land. Today we planted 35 apples trees and 6 pear trees. These were two year old trees that came from Oregon and were quite a bit bigger 2 year olds than I was used to getting.

Farming is a tough business to make a profit at especially when you are planting tree and vine crops that take a longer time to mature and become productive. I convince myself that the yield is not just money but physical health and working outside. Tomorrow is a day of whipper snippering around some 2 yr old grape vines so I can bring a post hole digger in on Saturday to install the trellis system. More physical work tomorrow.

Small mosquitoes are eating us alive. I wasn't properly dressed for the onlslaught today (only emerged in the last few days) but tomrrow I'll have some deet and long sleeve shirts and pants. My legs look like I was hit with a shot gun (specks of blood from all the bites). I've been bitten lots before so I don't notice them much.

I still check my email throughout the day to monitor the network but I'm not available by phone much if you are trying to reach me that way. This situation won't change for the next few days.

We are in the period of the "spring flush" where the landscape explodes with growth. It is hard to keep up but with the help of my brother I think we'll get through it.

The only general lesson that might be relevant is that when you are starting up a business it is nice when you and your workers only put in 8hr days. If you work longer it doesn't give you much time to do setup work for the next day which can lead to lots of inefficiencies. Whenever your are in high work mode you need at least 2 hrs to deal with stuff that breaks (order new parts), get gas, figure out a plan, and deal with a bunch of other stuff that doesn't get done during the workday. In a startup that means you work 10 or more hour days. I'd like to keep it as low as possible so I can have a life outside of farming or to enjoy aspects of the farm that you can't when you are always working.

I'll be starting to direct seed some gardens in the next few days. With the situation in California, it will become more important to garden this year. El Nino might not help either. I'll be doing some container gardening for herbs. I had big containers for my apple trees that will make nice containers to grow herbs in. Haven't grown many herbs in the past - only enough to know they can be invasive if not contained so container gardening makes more sense for me when growing herbs.

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Paper Pot Transplanter [Farming
Posted on May 22, 2015 @ 05:02:00 PM by Paul Meagher

The Paper Pot Transplanter is a new system for transpanting that makes the job of transplanting alot easier. The use of this transplanter is demonstrated by Quebec microfarming guru Jean Martin Fortier:

This machine saves a microfarmer a huge amount of bending over work. It is interesting how we keep innovating even at tasks that we've collectively done trillions of times in the past. Innovation doesn't stop happening even for basic tasks. The other aspect of this technology that interests me is that it is a good example of Appropriate Technology which I have blogged about in the past. What makes it appropriate is that it is human powered, it is human scale rather than industrial scale, it makes a hard physical job easier, and the technology is potentially accessible to a microfarming entrepreneur without a large outlay (although this machine and associated paper pot tech is not cheap - around 4-5k).

3-D printers might also be considered an Appropriate Technology for a similiar set of reasons. It will allow a new group of entrepreneurs to emerge because it doesn't involve a big capital outlay and it is accessible way to get into manufacturing.

I learned about the Paper Pot Transplanter while listening to Curtis Stones week 6 podcast on Permaculture Voices.

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Crushing Red Grapes [Farming
Posted on September 23, 2014 @ 08:42:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Busy the last couple of days harvesting some grapes I grew on a farm property we own. This is the first year of production. I transported the harvested grapes 140 miles (or 225 km) back to my suburban home and setup the crushing operation in my garage. In the video, I'm putting the red grapes into the crusher, my Italian friend Malcolm is guiding the grapes into the crusher, and my son Seamus makes a grape tasting appearance. Total end product is estimated to be around 4 glass carboys of wine (around 20 gallons). The grape vines should produce more grapes next year as they mature and I'll have more grape vines coming online next year. I'm happy that things are a small production this year as I'm still learning the ropes on the process of growing grapes and turning them into a decent wine.

The night before I harvested the grapes, I watched a Netflix documentary called A Year In Burgundy that filmed the vineyard and wine making operations of 5 farms in the Burgundy region of France. It was useful to see how they obtained, trained, and treated their harvesters (many of whom appear to be university students) when it came time to pick the grapes. There was also one quote that I found very interesting from an eccentric old woman who sells some of the most expensive wine from the region - she said "The yeast is the winemaker". She downplays the role of the winemaker per se, instead emphasizing the role of (wild?) yeast to turn her carefully nurtured grapes into a product with alcohol content so it can be called a wine. Because she loves her grape vines and their product so much, she does not want any other influences on her wine than the action of the yeast to convert it into wine. It may not that simple (does she add preservatives?), but it suggests an approach were you place less emphasis on additives and specialized techniques to achieve the perfect wine and just let the yeast do the winemaking and take what it delivers.

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Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 3 [Farming
Posted on August 29, 2014 @ 10:19:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is the third blog in my video blog series on the "Joys of Hand Weeding" (see Part 1 and Part 2). In this blog I want to point out a couple more joys associated with hand weeding, namely, taking breaks in nature and taking time to observe what is happening in your weedzone.

To hand weed with maximum joy you should take fairly frequent breaks to rest you hands and mind from the routine of pulling weeds. When it comes time to take a break try laying down and feeling the wind blow over your face and cool your body, feel the sun on your face and the sounds of nature twirring around you. Let your body and mind recover and the stress roll out of your body. Sometimes the most joy you will get out of your hand weeding is the pleasure you get when you take a break from it for awhile. You often don't have to go far to enjoy your break. I recline in the grass beside my grape rows and relax there. I probably don't take enough such breaks because I'm too task focused.

After you have taken a break for awhile, you might want to spend some time observing the microcosm of nature that is happening in your weedzone. In my case, I had noticed quite a few times as I was weeding that there were ladybugs in the weed vegetation I was removing. I thought it might be a good idea to lie down sideways in the field and watch a ladybug for awhile - Ladybug TV. The reason I wanted to watch the ladybug was because they are considered "beneficial insects" that are useful for reducing the number of bad insects, especially aphids. Aphids are bad news for apple trees, sucking the life out of the blossoms and the leaves. I have planted lots of apple trees, so I like having ladybugs around and would like to know what I might do to encourage them to stay. I figured observing them for awhile might yield some clues. I'm glad I decided to dedicate some time to observing a ladybug moving around in my weedzone because I came away with new questions about ladybug behavior, that led to internet searches, that led to some insight into why the ladybugs were in my weedzone and what effect they might have been exerting on my 1 year old grape vines. Before I get into this, however, you might watch my video where I make some of these points and discuss some of my ladybug observations.

I did some internet searchs on ladybugs to learn more about them. This research reinforced my belief that they are a good biocontrol for aphids. I learned that the ladybugs are probably hanging around because there are some aphids around for them to feed on. Although ladybugs do eat other things, aphids appear to be one of their primary food groups. What this could mean is that if the ladybugs weren't hanging around in the weedzone of the 1 yr old grape vines, the grape vines might not being doing nearly as well as they are - the leaves could be dying on them and stunting their growth or the grape vines could be dead if the number of aphids was too high and completely defoliated the plant. Usually I associate aphids with apple trees but they do hang around grape vines as well. Because I want Ladybugs to hang around my vines and apple trees, I ended up leaving some weed vegetation around on one side of the grape vines (the trenched side). I mowed down the weeds and grass on the other side of the cultivated grape vine rows (the slightly mounded side) to let light shine in better. As the season progresses and gets cooler I'll probably mow the other side as well (to protect from rodents over the winter), but for now I want the ladybugs to have a habitat next to my grape vines so that the 1 yr old grape vines finish out the season strong and with fewer aphids around next spring when they can also do heavy damage (e.g., they kill apple blossoms). Would be nice not to have to use sprays to control aphids.

I wish I had taken the opportunity earlier in my 5 day hand weeding project to relax and observe ladybugs. Had I done so I might have come accross the internet video below that discusses how to manage ladybugs you might purchase to biocontrol aphids in your garden. This video made me think that I should have been collecting some of the ladybugs I was observing so I could release them at my main residence which is 225 kms away. I have aphid problems there and the soap-based sprays are not that effective. The video below provides useful information about how to store your aphids until needed and how to release them so they stick around your property.

In conclusion, a couple more joys of hand weeding involve 1) taking breaks and enjoying the nature you might find yourself in, and 2) spending time in observation mode studying your weedzone up close and personal to stimulate learning and to increase your appreciation of how nature works. Don't be so task focused when you are weeding that you don't take time to relax in your surroundings and observe more closely what is going on around you.

Correction? In my video I theorized that the Ladybug was eating the Aphid eggs mostly because the Ladybug was not spending any time in apparent battle with Aphids. I though they might have time to slurp up some insect eggs on the vegatation as they were travelling about. The video above tells us that the ladybug is eating up to 50 aphids a day (how do we know this?), however, I haven't found disconfirmation of the idea that Ladybugs might be preying on Aphid eggs as well (although they would be denying themselves a future food source if they did). It does make a pretty big difference if Ladybugs do prey on the eggs in terms of how Aphid population control works. Aphid reproductive strategies are quite varied so I recommend scanning the Wikipedia page on Aphids to learn more about how these pesty little critters multiply.

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Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 2 [Farming
Posted on August 27, 2014 @ 07:46:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is the second blog in my "Joy of Hand Weeding" series. I created a few videos while I was hand weeding my grape vines to highlight the different joys that might be experienced while hand weeding. In the first blog of this series, I discussed the joy that is associated with being out in nature and getting some green exercise. I also provide some tips on how to hand weed properly to help ensure that you get the greatest possible joy from the exercise. In this blog, I want to discuss another type of joy that comes with hand weeding, namely, getting to know some of the biodiversity around you. Part of getting to know nature involves giving a name to plants you encounter on a regular basis, knowing what to look for in order to identify a plant, and combining this intellectual knowledge with an intimate knowledge of the habits and culture of plants that you acquire as you weed them. For me there is still much to learn about some of the weeds that I'm removing from my vineyard rows. The presence or absence of weeds might be telling me something about the character of my soil, what it needs or what it has plenty off. I don't know the reproductive strategies some of them use and I don't know what would happen if I selectively removed some weeds and left others as a ground cover. Some have medicinal uses and some can be eaten. There is still much to learn but that learning often begins by giving weeds a name.

In a previous blog I discussed the idea of a Nature Smart Entrepreneur and wondered at the time what exactly a nature smart entrepreneur was smart about. If you plan to make money off your knowledge of nature then the bar for "knowing nature" has to be set higher than the bar that most people have for knowing nature, otherwise, why would they want to accept your expertise? For me, setting the bar higher means getting to know all of the biodiversity that I'm encountering as I weed my vineyard. By that I mean I should at least have a name for most of the plants I'm encountering and appreciate some of the habits and culture of these plants.

The main book I use to assist me in identifying weeds is Weeds of the Northeast (1997) by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal, and Joseph DiTomaso. It is an excellent reference for indentifying any type of grass and/or weed you might encounter in the Northestern parts of the USA and Canada.

Hand weeding can be as mindless or mindful as you want it to be but I'm advocating a certain amount of mindfulness at times to attain another type of joy from your hand weeding - an intellectual pleasure in knowing more about the specific plants you are interacting with. If you want to be a nature smart entrepreneur, then mindfulness about the names and habits of plants it is probably a requirement. So without further ado, you can watch the video below if you want to see me try to identify some of the weeds I'm encountering, and their habits, as I work through hand weeding 750 one yr old grape vines planted in the spring. I'm wearing my signature headphones so that I can listen to music as I do my hand weeding.

I'm demonstrating a bad habit in these videos of carelessly tossing weeded plants away from the area I'm cultivating. It would probably be better to be selective in what plants are tossed and what plants are kept in place to mulch the soil in the area between the vines. A young weed plant that is not putting out seeds, or which does not have roots that can easily re-establish upon contact with the soil, are good candidates for leaving around the vine as mulch that might help fertilize the soil, retain moisture, encourage worms, and protect the soil over winter.

When you hand weed you hold alot of power in your hands to control the environment of your grape vine plant. What if I didn't weed out the plantain and removed everything else? Perhaps this would be better than doing a clear cultivation all around the plants as weeds will eventually come back? Perhaps it would be better to select the winning weed myself instead of letting nature decide in a way that doesn't respect my desire that the grape vine be the preferred plant in the soil? You can't make these selective decisions if you are spraying herbicides, using a whipper snipper, or some other cultivation machinery that lacks the incredible precision of the human hand.

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Joys of Hand Weeding: Part 1 [Farming
Posted on August 25, 2014 @ 09:04:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm at the farm this week doing some work in my startup vineyard. I have 1, 2, and 3 yr old grape vines growing. My 3 yr olds should produce some juice this year so I'm hoping to make some wine from scratch with my own grape juice this fall. My current project, however, is weeding my 1 yr old grape vines. I rooted the grape vine plants in my small greenhouse at my main residence. In the spring and early summer I drove down to the farm on multiple occasions and transplanted them into strip tills that I prepared in the previous fall (plowing) and spring (rototilling). Just before planting them out, I rototill the soil one last time to delay the emergence of weeds. I spent little time weeding my 1 yr old grape vines this year - about 1 hr walking beside each of my 7 rows (about 750 plants) and removing some of the big obvious weeds that were starting to take off. This is the first time that I am doing a full hand weeding of the rows and I suspect it will be the last time this season as temperatures start to cool and hopefully slow down weed growth.

In the video below I'm demonstrating the fine art of hand weeding 1 yr old grape vines. In many vineyards there might be a machine for this but oftentimes a herbicide is used to keep the row of vines completely clear of any weed pressure. I don't run such a large operation that I can afford any mechanical weeder and I'll stay small enough for awhile (not expanding my vineyard much next year) so I can get by with hand weeding and mulching (with rotted hay). I want to keep things as organic as I can.

Generally when I'm weeding I wear hearing protectors that include a radio that I listen to while weeding. I'm listening to the radio as I'm talking and weeding in the video - you may notice me bobbing my head as I work because a good tune is playing. I'm obviously not wearing a suit and tie and that suits me just fine :-) I do wear a pair of blue jeans that has good thick material so the knees don't wear out right away. I also wear a long sleeve shirt to keep bugs from biting me and to protect me from the sun. Also, sunglasses and a golfing hat to collect sweat from my brow as I'm working and release heat. My headphones fit over a golfing hat nicely.

Hand weeding for 1.5 hrs is comparable to running 10 kms when you are not in that great a shape. You weed faster at the beginning and may forget that you are even weeding/running, but as you continue on and start to notice your muscles working more, you begin to set mini-goals to get you to the finish line. There is a mental game of weeding that you also have to master. Most people cannot master the mental game. They view the work as beneath them. I don't mind that the work is literally beneath me and that it can become so mindless that your mind wanders to ideas for blogs, ideas for short YouTube videos on grape growing, enjoying tunes, and generally losing contact with the world outside of the microcosm of nature I'm working in.

This type of work might be viewed as an example of "green exercise" (see my Nature Smart Entrepreneurs blog for further discussion) where you are out in nature and engaging in meaningful work that requires physical strength and stamina for an extended period of time. You would be hard pressed to find exercise that can work your hands and upper body in the way that hand weeding does. It can be a real drag hand weeding in hot temperatures so do it as early in the morning as you can. Hand weeding gets easier later in the summer when temperatures get cooler. If you do this work for many days for as long as you can go, you start to feel like the hulk after you finish working. Your hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, chest and upper back are tired after a days work but as they start to recover you start to feel strong and wanting to move heavy objects. Making square bales of hay on a farm also gives you this feeling. Hopefully I will get this feeling as I accumulate hand weeding time in the vineyard.

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Redundancy Analysis [Farming
Posted on July 15, 2014 @ 08:31:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This is a follow up blog to my last blog, Redundancy Gets the Job Done. I felt it appropriate to provide an update to the hay making project as I made some pretty strong claims as to the importance of redundant capacity in getting time-constrained projects done on time.

On monday afternoon we had 900 square bales of hay in the loft of the barn.

We are about 35% done the making hay for the year. We'll make hay again when we have a good stretch of sunny dry weather.

All of our major pieces of machinery (two tractors, balers, rakes, and mowers) functioned without any breakdowns, however, one piece of machinery we didn't have an immediate backup for was a hay conveyor, more specifically, the motor on that conveyor because the heavy steel frame is very unlikely to fail. A bearing in the electric motor driving the conveyor mechanism gave out so we had a critical piece of equipment down while we scrambled to find a replacement motor. After some trial and error, we got a 1/3 hp motor to work (higher torque than 1 hp motors we tested). It was quite a bit slower than the 3 hp motor that failed, and it heated up alot while it worked, but it got the job done for us.

So it appears we didn't do a deep enough analysis of the redundancies we should have in place to ensure completion of the project in a timely manner (we lost a few hours in a very time constrained project). A hay conveyor breaks down so seldom that we were not thinking about it as possible point of failure in the process. It is an interesting point to ponder how we can become blinded as to what elements make up the critical path to completing a project. We can be blinded by the reliability of an element to the extent that we don't consider it something that requires redundant capacity. A more formalized process of mapping the critical path might have made us more aware of the importance of the hay conveyor in the process and the consequences of it not working properly. Perhaps we would have had redundant capacity in place.

We have an old 4 hp motor from an air compressor that we are getting ready to adapt to the hay conveyor. If we can get that working as the new motor, and fix the bearing on the old motor, then we should have enough redunancy capacity to keep going through most machinery failures on the next round of hay making.

Googling the term "Redundancy Analysis" reveals that it is mostly used as a label for a statistical technique that has nothing to do with project planning. Too bad. I think we should appropriate the term for a more useful role to describe a type of analysis that should take place before projects begin where we examine the critical path to completing the project and make decisions as to which elements of that path require redundant capacity. Redundancy analysis can get a bit involved because redundant capacity can also slow down certain types of projects such as software projects. We might think it is a good idea to have multiple programmers working on a project, and in many cases it is, however, as the number of programmers goes up, the amount of communication required to coordinate the coding effort can increase to the extent that it slows the project down to add more programmers (see Mythical Man Month). Making hay is a different type of project than a software project. I'll leave it as an open issue as to what features of a project make redundant capacity a good thing and how much redundant capacity we should have in place for certain projects.

One final observation. Why do most North American families have 2 vehicles? In part is has to do with parents both working and needing two vehicles, but even in situations where only one parent works outside the home, there are often 2 vehicles. Transportation is such a critical element of modern living that we probably recognize, at some level, the need for redundant capacity in our means of transport. Satisfying the need for redundancy, while having only one piece of equipment, is a large area of opportunity for many entrepreneurs and helps the environment by not requiring multiple copies of each piece of equipment (current solutions include equipment rental or sharing, farm machinery cooperatives, car sharing, etc...).

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Redundancy Gets Jobs Done [Farming
Posted on July 11, 2014 @ 08:37:00 AM by Paul Meagher

During the summer months I spend more time at my farm property. I come in regularly to check on the sites I manage and deal with issues then return to working on some farm task. The next major task is making hay. Last year I invested $750 into purchasing an old Massey Ferguson 725 Sickle Mower Conditioner. I made the hay last year for the first time with an old sickle mower my father used to use. It was frustrating as the hay got caught in the sickle blade alot which required getting off the tractor and clearing the hay from the blade. The "new" sickle mower I purchased still cuts the grass using a sickle motion, but it has tines which take hay away from the sickle blade and sends them in between two rollers that presses out some moisture then shoots it to the back of the machine in a windrow. I tested it on a higher-powered tractor and it appeared to work ok. Yesterday I got two hydraulic hoses made up so that I can connect it to my own lower-powered Massey Ferguson 135 Gas Tractor. This is me testing out the machine for the first time on my own tractor beside a field I will be starting to mow today in preparation for baling on sunday, weather permitting.

This is not exactly modern machinery. My rake and baler are also old pieces of equipment but worked well last year. No guarantees they will do so again when put to the test. I could cross my fingers and hope everything works as planned but I prefer to hedge my bets and involve my brother in-law as a partner in this venture. He has a modern tractor, just purchased a drum mower, and has all the other square baling equipment as well. So when something breaks down, and it probably will, then the show can go on. The show must go on once started because making hay is an opportunistic endeavor that depends on having a forecast of good sunny weather for a few days which is the forecast now. Sucks if you start the process and can't complete it before the rain hits again.

So the general lesson from hay making that applies more generally is the importance of incoporating redundancies into your project planning. If you do not incorporate such redundancies then there is a good chance you will not complete a complex project in the projected time frame. Don't just cross your fingers and hope the gods are with you, have backup plans and redundancies in place that will ensure project outcomes happen within the projected time frame. Newer machinery also helps, but the old stuff can still do the job, might fit the budget better, and can generate more profits (because of less debt) if it proves reliable. We'll see....

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