Keeping Cool at the Farmer’s Market

I had a brainstorm a couple of years ago about the problem of keeping fresh eggs and frozen broilers cool at the farmers’ market: salt-water ice. A saturated solution of salt water freezes (or melts) at zero degrees Fahrenheit. Not only is this cold enough to keep frozen broilers frozen, but it’s cold enough that water condenses as frost, not water, on the sides of salt-water ice containers, and frost doesn’t drip onto the egg cartons.

(One the ice inside the container melts, the ice on the outside will melt, too, but it works like a charm until then.)

This works so well that I’m surprised everyone hasn’t always used it. Blue Ice, for example, claims to be “colder than ice,” but it doesn’t seem to be. (Condensation drips off Blue Ice, rather than forming a layer of frost or ice.)

Used plastic soda bottles make good salt-water ice containers. To make a saturate salt solution, add one four-pound box of pickling salt to 1.5 gallons of hot water and stir until as much of it has dissolved as is going to. Pour into used plastic soda bottles and freeze in a freezer that’s below zero F. When you need to keep something cool, toss these bottles into the cooler, then back into the freezer when you get home. Simple.

Welcome to the Blogosphere

After neglecting my email newsletter for some time, I’ve decided to throw in the towel and go to a blog format. This frees me from all the distribution headaches of maintaining a mailing list with thousands of names on it, and makes it easier to get material up on the Web where it belongs.

All the back issues of the newsletter are still available. Thanks to everyone for your interest in it over the years, and I’m hoping that this less-grueling format will allow me to provide you with plenty of interesting material.

The Joy of Tractors

I like mowing. My parents built and ran a campground in the Redwoods when I was a kid, and mowing was my favorite chore. These days I mostly mow my pastures using a real tractor. You have to keep the grass short for the free-range chickens.

My tractor is a 1957 Ford 640. I’ve had it for over ten years, but it wasn’t until last year that I was really getting my money’s worth out of it. It was very hard to start. Changing it over from 6V to 12V and adding electronic ignition helped, but what really made the difference was having the tractor repair guy take it away and fix every single thing that was wrong with it. (John’s Mobile Tractor Repair of Lebanon, Oregon — highly recommended.)

As it turned out, the main culprit all these years was the non-working fuel shut-off valve, which resulted in water and varnish, sludge and rust in the carburetor. By shutting off the fuel line after use, I suddenly had a tractor that started instantly whenever I wanted it to, and my productivity went way up.

I think a lot of things are like that. You let little problems pile up without fixing them, and after a while the machinery doesn’t work right and you start yearning for a fancy new machine you can’t afford. Far better to fix what ails your existing stuff.

(See my other tractor pages.)

I live in a part of the country where grass growth is slow except April through June, where it’s insanely fast. There’s no way to put it all to use except by making hay with it, which I don’t do (haymaking machinery scares me; too many people get injured by it). So I mow.

Back in the early days of poultry science, free-range was still practiced, and at least one Experiment Station did experiments to see how high the grass should be for best results. The answer was “two inches.” Tall grass prevents the chickens from traveling freely, and short grass didn’t provide enough supplemental nutrition. (Sorry, this is from memory. I don’t have a reference.) I see the bad effects of tall grass now, which is why I’m trying to spend an hour a day mowing. It takes me about four hours to mow my chicken pasture the first time. This involves some time spend gathering up the equipment that got scattered during the non-mowing season (October-March) and at least one stop to repair a broken water hose. If I cut up only one hose with the mower, that’s victory.

A mistake newbies sometimes make is to buy a fake tractors. Lawn tractors and garden tractors are just riding mowers — they aren’t tractors. Real tractors are water-cooled and weigh more than a ton. If you want to do anything on ground that isn’t a lawn, get a real tractor.

I mow with a bush hog — a rotary mower. This is a very rugged implement that can deal with brush, briars, and saplings as well as grass. It’s essential. The other implement I find essential is a rear scraper blade. A front blade would be even better.

If I were to do it over again, I might have spent the extra money for a tractor with four-wheel drive, power steering, and a bucket on the front. Those three features are something of a package deal, I’m told — you want the power steering and 4WD so you can handle heavy loads in the bucket.People who have such tractors use the buckets for everything, including carrying injured sheep or driving steel fenceposts.

But now I hear the pasture calling. Time to mow! …