Monday, June 22, 2015

The Apple Orchard - Mowers Behaving Badly

Long time readers may remember our Apple Orchard.  The orchard used to be overgrown and unkempt which we remedied with several day's hard work.  And we have been trying to keep on a mowing schedule so that level of disaster never happens again.  With this in mind, we have collected a fleet of farming equipment for maintaining the orchard.

The Orchard in it's previous disheveled state 2011

In the past, Tim had been driving his tractor over 8 miles and back whenever we needed to do work on the farm.  Or, my step-father, always helpful, would take time out of his busy schedule to run through with his brush hog.  This winter we bought a Ford Jubilee tractor, old Oliver brush hog and acquired, through charitable swapping with a neighbor, a pretty good 24hp lawn mower which had been used and abused to the point that it no longer either started or mowed but was quickly resurrected in Tim's Tractor Triage.

Then we cleared out space in the family barn across the road, brought a selection of tools and equipment to store there, and set about to farm on a regular schedule.  The idea is we have a free afternoon with nice weather, and we just show up and have all the equipment we need all ready to go: shovels, rakes, pruners.... metal detector.  Booze. You will understand why in a minute.

Shiny New Radiator (and gas cap chain)
 It hasn't been easy.  We've mowed the heavy spring grass in the orchard twice this year and it's taken us about.... six weeks.  There seems to be some sort of mower curse over the property.  I know my uncle always seems to be having lawn mower breakdowns, and now I think - it's not entirely his fault.  The only piece of equipment that is behaving herself up there is the little dump trailer Tim picked up at a Tuesday auction.  Everyone else has been behaving badly.  Very badly indeed.

The tractor liked to boil over whenever you shut her off, and has cast off her gas cap.  The day after we gave her a whole brandy new cooling system (yesterday), she promptly sprung a serious oil leak (today).  The brush hog pooped out it's blades one day.  Just dropped them right off - KaBLAM!  Tim went back with the metal detector two days later and found the main castle nut three circuits of the field back.  How that 75(?) pound disc and blade assembly managed to stay on, and cutting, for about 15 minutes, with nothing but sticky old grease and centripetal force to hold it up, is anybody's guess.  And the next important question was:  How is one man supposed to lift the blades back up on the nut and screw it back on under there?  Well, it takes an engineering mind, some determination and not a little bit of BamBam

Gas cap #1 is still MIA and evading the metal detector (gas cap #2, also rattley, has been chained to her post like a prisoner).  The weekend after that, the lawn mower picked up a rose root, jammed the blades, bent a spindle, smoked the belt and then vibrated the main engine pulley right the heck out.  Tim reinstalled the pulley, and replaced the spindle, but the battered blades are just going to have to do their job as best they can,

The Oliver bush hog with blades safely contained.... for now
It's just one thing after another.  And these venerate old gals have been gone over, sweet talked, adjusted, greased and pampered. There is no reason for them to be shedding parts and fluids, like dirty underwear, all over the orchard!   We have not gotten through a complete mowing without some sort of problem or annoyance.  When we do finish we can't even admire our accomplishment, we're too busy making a list of parts we need.  And the parts....  after you figure out what you need (it was very helpful to find that old worn out castle nut so we could hold it up and say "I need one of these") ...after you figure out what you need, you can be sure that the new parts, even OEM parts, won't be exactly the same as 60 year old parts.  And if they are, they still won't fit right or the threads will be worn, or the nut will be in an impossible spot.

Tim says that's the risk you run when you're using old equipment,  Quite frankly, the orchard isn't something you would subject new equipment to.  It's hillocky and rolling.  There are hidden rocks and roots and fallen limbs in the grass and woodchuck holes big enough to swallow a wheel (a big one).  The bottom quarter is wet and the upper quarter is rutted.  It's not your typical lawn mowing job.  It's a bit of a challenge.

Still, when the mower fleet is running well, things are great.  And half of the orchard is flat and wide open, a pleasure to mow.  There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than mowing in the shady, bucolic countryside.  I start with the mower under the low limbs of the healthy Cortland and Spy trees while Tim takes the Jubilee and brush hog up and down the long rows. Then I criss-cross in a grid two mower widths beside each tree to catch the grass left by the slalomming path of the wide hog.  I finish up with a trip round of weed whacking and get the golden rods that are hugging the trunks, fearing for their lives.  The orchard grass is heavy and thick, and the golden rod and multiflora rose are in abeyance.  The orchard looks cared for.

The orchard after it's first serious haircut in decades 2013.
It looks even better now, but we're too busy meckanicking to take pictures.
There are a few trees that need to be cut.  I planted 4 new ones last year and they all survived the winter.  More are on order for this fall.  When the apples start to ripen I'm going to mark the trees that need to be taken out and that will be another weekend project.  In the mean time I'm collecting fallen limbs and taking them to the burn pile.  I don't even need to use a chainsaw.  There are dead limbs 8 inches or more thick that I can pull down by hand.  There are really many more than a half dozen really productive trees.  The rest are sort of  there for atmosphere.  But it's a nice atmosphere... apart from this whole mower curse thing.


  1. Jason and I can relate to all of this. Sometimes even new equipment gives you a WTF moment.

    I was mowing our front yard a couple of weeks ago on the zero turn when one of the wheels fell off. I was in the middle of a flat open area and had been for awhile. Even Jason could find nothing I had done wrong and he tried HARD to make it my fault.

  2. The wheel fell off? I hope that doesn't happen. At least it wouldn't be hard to find!

  3. Yes, it just fell off. As you know you can't make this stuff up! Surprisingly it was an easy repair. Who would've thunk it?!

  4. Not that you didn't before but now I think you really understand just how much time I might spend trying to keep everything together and running while looking after a few hundred acres of God's good earth...... :)