This is the first year I’m bringing our IH674 diesel tractor out of Winter hibernation. Not being raised on a Farm and having limited experience with tractors of this size, I was nervous as all get out that I hadn’t prepared the tractor properly for the long Winter sleep, or I hadn’t tarped it properly and it had water damage, or even possibly that an entire family of muskrats now called the engine “home”!
As it turns out, all was just fine. However, a small mouse had made a home in the volleyball I place over the muffler to protect the tarp from ripping on the metal. He didn’t get in the muffler or the exhaust system itself, but he did craft for himself a pretty awesome “man cave” in that ball. I went about untarping the tractor, checking for any water damage, leaks, etc. Next up was draining the oil and replacing the filter and getting it refilled to the proper level. Pretty basic stuff and that went fine. I then reinstalled the battery which has been sitting in the warmth and dryness of the basement.
My next intended task was to replace the primary and secondary fuel filters, something that I was advised didn’t necessarily need to be done, but being the neophyte I wanted to do it myself at the start of the season. Well, looks like the guys at the Case/IH dealer I work with sold me the wrong fuel filters, so back they’ll go. I also noticed the transmission fluid was low so that’ll be on the list for next week as well.
I wanted to fire it up just to see if in fact these old diesels are as reliable as I’ve been told. And sure enough after I dropped the battery back in place, pressed down on the clutch and turned the key…it kicked over like I’d just had it running yesterday. Purrs like a kitten…Sweet Jesus that’s a good feeling!
Next up was a walk of the hopyards, small and large. Even though technically it is Spring, here in Saint Marys the hops like to take a longer Winter nap than say down in Centre country, or towards Pittsburgh, out in Eastern PA…ok well, just about anywhere else here in the Commonwealth it seems. It’s still been rather cool and wet, and as such they’re taking their time to emerge. I few more have begun to shoot up in comparison to last week, but the vast majority have not. This is fine as the fields, hills and rows, are still soaked with water, particularly in the large hopyard. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t safely get the tractor and the crow’s nest in there without tearing it all up.
I’ve also been debating whether or not I want to finish placing the flexible cable anchors we’d purchased last year. These anchors are situated right next to the hops and are used to tie the coir onto. The coir is coming down from the support cables high above in the rows. Most hopyards use “W” clips which are small pieces of aluminum in the shape of…you guessed it…a “W” that are pushed into the ground with a special tool. Wedged underneath the clips then goes the coir. My fear was year after year placing all the metal into the ground. Additionally, using the flexible cable theoretically allows us to hang the coir sooner as we won’t have to wait until the hops emerge, we’ll know because the anchors are already in place. Ask me in 5 years if it was the right decision 😉
After the walk in the yards, I then turned my attention to prepping the area where we’ll be placing our compost/mulch piles. Luckily for me (not so much for my Dad and brother Mike!) we generate a ton of grass, leaf and stick debris from the mowing all Spring, Summer and Fall as well as leaf cleanup before the snow falls. That creates a lot of organic matter we can use in the hopyard, potentially saving us thousands of dollars on mulch and compost. However, there are a couple issues we face. Currently, these materials are piled in areas that are most convenient to dispose of them during mowing and leaf pickup, which means there are about 3-4 piles scattered throughout the property and most of them are closer to the house versus our hopyards. My first order of business was to create an area where I could place three unique piles for these materials so that they could be turned and rotated. Sounds easy…right?
Well, we had 4 remaining black locust poles that were extra from the new hopyard installation, so I thought “Huh…I’ll just use these as the basic dividers.” Every tried to move a 24′ black locust pole on your own with just a peavey and kant hook? It’s not fun or easy, but somehow I got it done. The next step will be getting our old Billy Goat leaf shredder back in action. We’ll then move it around the yard with the Bolens to vacuum up, chop and shred and collect these materials in the back of some vehicle or trailer I haven’t quite figured out yet, and transport them up to this new area.
So that in a nutshell was the day’s work. The weather was quite cooperative and it’s a great feeling having warm air blowing down your neck again versus ice pellets. Come July in the heat and humidity, I might not be so pleasant while weeding all these rows of hops, but that’s part of the deal. And in the end, I do love it all…blood, sweat and beer – which by the way if you haven’t seen the movie with that stellar title (I’m not that creative), you should…it’s awesome!