Our seed order is placed and we've poured concrete piers!

Last week we had four days of rain so we used this time for seed planning and then finally placing our seed orders. Early January we decided that we would decrease our production level by half with hopes that we will be able to juggle production along with building the farm vacation cabin rental. Then the catalogs arrived in droves, complete with mouthwatering photographs of incredible looking veggies, all with the caption; “Best Tasting, Highest Yielding, Grows in any weather condition.”. So yes, of course we had the urge to grow EVERYTHING in the catalog. That is winter for you – when it is cold and the weeds aren’t growing – one thinks they are capable of doing almost anything. Quite a few hours into our planning session we knew we weren’t actually cutting back on our seeds and varieties, so we took a break to regroup, and started the process over. I am proud to say that we ended up decreasing our seed order by 1/3rd which is a HUGE accomplishment for us!
This past summer while we were sawing our trees into lumber for our timber-frame projects, we noticed that our lumber was not consistently sized. Meaning that when we had plans on cutting an 8x8x12, it was actually 8x8x12 in some places, while in other places it was 7-3/4x8x12 or 7-7/8x8x12, with varying sizes along the length of the timber. What does this mean from a sawyers perspective? It means that we had either sawn through knots, were using a dull blade, that our saw mill wasn’t level while we were sawing, or all three of these. The beautiful thing about building using timber-framing construction is that your lumber does not need to be consistently sized because the size is factored into the layout for the mortise, tenon and dove tail joinery. These timber framing techniques were probably designed this way because our forefathers were using hand tools and I expect it was nearly impossible to obtain consistently sized lumber when hand hewing logs.
What we noticed during our limited time sawing so far, was that we would level our mill which has 8 leveling feet with 4 on each side, before sawing each tree.  When rolling a tree onto the mill, the mill would slightly move, probably because our mill was leveled onto cinder blocks directly in the ground, therefore offering a little flexibility from the weight of the tree onto the mill. We even noticed that if we were able to roll a tree onto the mill and the mill remained level, then after making the first cut and using the winch to turn the tree for our next cut, the mill would slightly move because of the force of the tree. We don’t think we would have this problem if we were sawing smaller trees.
So after we finished edging our backlog of boards with live edges, we decided to take time out of our schedule to pour concrete piers that will allow us to bolt the mill onto the piers, hopefully yielding more consistently sized timbers. Before making the decision to build concrete piers, we discussed our plan with Edward Zimmerman who designed the mill, as to whether he thought it would be structurally sound for the sawmill to be bolted onto piers because we understand that one wants a little flexibility with mill movement so that large trees do not break the sawmill frame. Edward thought it would be fine because he has already designed this needed flexibility into the leveling feet so that our sawmill frame should withstand the sized trees we are sawing. I will post his design feature in a following journal entry once we get around to bolting the sawmill to the piers. We know that our lumber will never be perfect because we are working with mother nature. And although accurately sized lumber is not important for timber frame joinery, we like consistent lumber for stick building, and it seems we always have a building project in the pipeline for this type of construction. Not to mention, since we are not very experienced at cutting joinery for timber framing, consistently sized timbers will speed up the labor spent on layouts. These aforementioned concerns was our justification for pouring concrete piers.
In preparation for pouring concrete piers, we moved the mill, which was fairly easy because our mill is portable. After that, Carl graded the pad using our tractor so that the individual piers would be easy to level with one another and the mill would be positioned at a height allowing us to easily move trees onto the mill and lumber off of the mill. Normally, for any construction project, Carl likes to make batter boards for squaring a pad; however, I was pleased to say Carl relinquished a bit of perfectionism for this project and we simply put nails in the ground to square the area for the piers. We then dug 8 holes so that we could poor a pier for each of the leveling feet. When we built our equipment barn, we made wood forms for pouring concrete piers; however, this time we purchased cardboard forms from Lowe’s saving us a bit of time.  After setting the cardboard forms, we mixed concrete and poured the piers, and now they are curing while we wait for warmer and dry weather to move the mill back onto the pad.
Moving the Sawmill
To move the mill we first use the log turning winch to jack the sawmill up so the wheels could easily be attached. We leave the bolts for fastening the wheels to the sawmill in a bracket on the wheels otherwise we may not find those bolts amongst our gazillion parts on the farm. The winch is positioned opposite as it is used for turning logs.
To move the mill we first use the log turning winch to jack the sawmill up so the wheels could easily be attached. We leave the bolts for fastening the wheels to the sawmill in a bracket on the wheels otherwise we may not find those bolts amongst our gazillion parts on the farm. The winch is positioned opposite as it is used for turning logs.
Carl bolting wheels to the sawmill while it is jacked up. Once the wheels have been connected, we raise all the leveling feet so they don’t drag the ground. One would want to completely remove the leveling feet if the mill was to be hauled on the highway.
Carl bolting wheels to the sawmill while it is jacked up. Once the wheels have been connected, we raise all the leveling feet so they don’t drag the ground. One would want to completely remove the leveling feet if the mill was to be hauled on the highway.
Once the wheels are attached, while the jack is still holding up the mil, you want to slide the engine to the back of the mill and raise the trailer hitch. I don’t have a photograph of this because we forgot to do this! After the trailer jack is sturdy, you want roll the sawmill engine to the center of the mill and bolt the engine to the frame. The bolts are left in the sawmill frame so that they can be easily found when moving the sawmill.
Once the wheels are attached, while the jack is still holding up the mil, you want to slide the engine to the back of the mill and raise the trailer hitch. I don’t have a photograph of this because we forgot to do this! After the trailer jack is sturdy, you want roll the sawmill engine to the center of the mill and bolt the engine to the frame. The bolts are left in the sawmill frame so that they can be easily found when moving the sawmill.
We used the tractor to move the mill out of the way while we pour the concrete piers.
We used the tractor to move the mill out of the way while we pour the concrete piers.
Site Preparation and Digging holes for Piers
Normally Carl builds batter boards when pouring concrete footings or for building structures. This time we simply used nails to mark the corners and squared the site using these.
Normally Carl builds batter boards when pouring concrete footings or for building structures. This time we simply used nails to mark the corners and squared the site using these.
We marked the center of each footing with a flag so we had an idea as to where to dig the two foot deep hole for the footings.
We marked the center of each footing with a flag so we had an idea as to where to dig the two foot deep hole for the footings.
For each hole we start out using the PTO auger on the tractor but end up digging the old fashioned way with the digging bar and post hole digger. Here Carl is using the digging bar for loosening dirt and rocks. Someday I am going to count how many holes have been dug on this farm between 2 deer fences, our equipment barn, greenhouses, and a wood shed. Perhaps we might qualify to be in the Guinness World Records for digging holes.
For each hole we start out using the PTO auger on the tractor but end up digging the old fashioned way with the digging bar and post hole digger. Here Carl is using the digging bar for loosening dirt and rocks. Someday I am going to count how many holes have been dug on this farm between 2 deer fences, our equipment barn, greenhouses, and a wood shed. Perhaps we might qualify to be in the Guinness World Records for digging holes.
Carl using the post hold digger for removing loosened rocks and dirt.
Carl using the post hold digger for removing loosened rocks and dirt.
All the holes dug for the footings after only a day and a half of work.
All the holes dug for the footings after only a day and a half of work.
Leveling the Forms and Pouring the Concrete
After the holes are dug we used our laser level to check that the depth of the holes were close enough to begin setting the forms. We either added dirt or dug out additional dirt out depending on the level at each hole.
After the holes are dug we used our laser level to check that the depth of the holes were close enough to begin setting the forms. We either added dirt or dug out additional dirt out depending on the level at each hole.
We then set each form into the hole and added removed dirt until the form was level. We back filled around the form preventing it from moving when filling it with concrete.
We then set each form into the hole and added removed dirt until the form was level. We back filled around the form preventing it from moving when filling it with concrete.
We used our laser level to verify the final height of the form and adjusted it according to if we needed to push it further into the earth or if it needed additional dirt to bring it up. This form we added additional dirt into the hole.
We used our laser level to verify the final height of the form and adjusted it according to if we needed to push it further into the earth or if it needed additional dirt to bring it up. This form we added additional dirt into the hole.
We bought a concrete mixer to mix the concrete.  I should count how many tons of concrete we have hand mixed on this farm. We finally justified purchasing a mixer because it will be needed for block work when building the foundation for the farm vacation cabin rental.  The concrete can mix while we are doing other jobs allowing us to multi-task.  We also have plans on using the concrete mixer to add in micro-nutrients into our soil mix.
We bought a concrete mixer to mix the concrete. I should count how many tons of concrete we have hand mixed on this farm. We finally justified purchasing a mixer because it will be needed for block work when building the foundation for the farm vacation cabin rental. The concrete can mix while we are doing other jobs allowing us to multi-task. We also have plans on using the concrete mixer to add in micro-nutrients into our soil mix.
All the concrete piers filled! We finished the first four the previous Sunday afternoon and then had 4 continuous days of rain preventing any outdoor work. This Sunday on Jan 20 we finished the remaining 4.
All the concrete piers filled! We finished the first four the previous Sunday afternoon and then had 4 continuous days of rain preventing any outdoor work. This Sunday on Jan 20 we finished the remaining 4.
With temperatures expected to drop down to the teens after finishing these last 4 piers we decided to cover with hay for additional warmth hoping that the concrete sets and is strong enough to prevent our sawmill from moving when dealing with heavy trees.
With temperatures expected to drop down to the teens after finishing these last 4 piers we decided to cover with hay for additional warmth hoping that the concrete sets and is strong enough to prevent our sawmill from moving when dealing with heavy trees.
We also used plastic hoping to get a bit of thermal gain with the sun. We have not yet uncovered them to find how these last 4 piers cured.
We also used plastic hoping to get a bit of thermal gain with the sun. We have not yet uncovered them to find how these last 4 piers cured.
In between seed planning and setting piers we have been using a bit of our off season to enjoy hikes in the woods. Here the sunshine made an incredible appearance through the forest after 4 days of rain and a dusting of snow.
In between seed planning and setting piers we have been using a bit of our off season to enjoy hikes in the woods. Here the sunshine made an incredible appearance through the forest after 4 days of rain and a dusting of snow.
Harmon giving us that look that suggests that we quit taking photograhps and actually hike!
Harmon giving us that look that suggests that we quit taking photograhps and actually hike!

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