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Yard work!

Hi all! It's Steve and this is my first blog. Tara has taken care of all the previous blogs and since she has been in San Jose most of the year fixing a children's hospital, getting it through it's initial The Joint Commission certification (which they recently succeeded on first try, so proud of her!)... our blog has been a bit tardy of late and since it's a rainy day..... I thought I'd talk about the yard work and the equipment used to get it done.

As you can imagine, taking care of 77 acres is a lot of work. Granted about 50 acres are just woods but with over a dozen structures, miles of fencing, a mile or so of gravel drive, a couple miles of trails, lots and lots of trees and flower beds, that other 27 acres is a handful (or 2!). Obviously it's a lot more work from April to November than it is in the winter. Which explains why my most asked questions in the winter is "how did you retire so young?" and the most asked question in the summer is "you take care of all this by yourself?" :-)

The Equipment

It takes me about 20 hours a week to cut all the grass and I don't know how I could do it without my Grasshopper 725D. What a great mower. 25hp diesel with a 61" deck. I considered the 72" deck, but thankfully the guys at Little Tractor in Harrisburg explained that a deck that wide makes for uneven mowing and a lot of skimming (getting into the soil) when dealing with uneven ground.

Grasshopper 725D with 61" deck

This mower is an absolute beast. In the fields, I can mow about 2-2.5 acres per hour. I try not to let the grass get too tall because that looks bad and then it looks bad after it's cut because of all the clippings. I do have a big catcher for the mower but it's big and bulky and just makes it too hard to mow around all the obstacles and it's too much of a pain to put on and take off for just the fields, so the catcher never gets used. The front mount is such a plus. It saves me sooo much weedeating time. Being able to mow under brush, bushes and under the fence line.... no chance it could get done as fast or as well with a mid mount mower. The power lift deck also makes it a breeze to change/sharpen the blades (which I do about once a week). I have 2 sets of Oregon Gater mulching blades which are a thicker heavier blade (not a problem with a 25hp diesel) that provides better inertia when going through the real thick stuff and can use almost as a bush hog (clearing smaller debris) when needed. To change them, simply power the deck up, take a bolt off all three blades and put the new ones on, power the deck down and go. Only a 5 minute job. Nice! I try to never mow around a cabin when there are guests present since the mower is so loud and I've been pretty successful except when one guest is gone in the car and another stays back ( i feel terrible when that happens0. Once or twice I've had to just mow around the cabin when guests are there simply because of circumstance (weather and length of grass). I apologize if that's happened to you.

Shindaiwa T242

My weedeater is a Shindaiwa T242 (23.9cc). Love it. Very powerful, great throttle control, can go hours on a tank of gas and it always starts. What more could you want. And it has an easy string load system. I cut about 6' of string (Stihl CF3 Pro .095"), thread it through the head (without having to remove anything) until i have two equal lengths and then twist the head until it's all loaded on. Easy 1-2 minute job. When weedeating the trails, I can fill up with gas and tuck a couple extra lengths of string in my pocket and go. It's very easy to hold the throttle at 1/4-1/2 power and "sweep" the trail. I like to start out going uphill clearing the left 3/4's of the trail and the left edge and then coming back down hill and hitting the other side. Then moving onto the next section. Along the fence line, since the mower takes care of most of it except around the fence posts, I just go from pole to pole and whip a bare spot around each post that generally will last 2-3 weeks (hate using vegetation killer unless absolutely necessary). I've mulched around most of the trees to help cut down on that weedeating. I don't know how it compares to others in weight, but if cutting down into a ditch, I have no problem sweeping a hill one-handed to get extra reach. I also have a pole-saw attachment for the this. Very easy to change out and it has had no problem cutting any branches I've been able to reach. Very handy. I spend 4-5 hours a week weedeating.

Our private trail

I have an Echo Timberwolf CS-590 (59.8cc) chainsaw with a 20" blade. Super powerful but it has been a little finicky. I have not had much experience with chainsaws before this one but it's been a little hard to start at times and when using it a lot and it gets hot, it sometimes just runs at full throttle (without my finger on the throttle) and to shut it down in those instances, I have to flip the kill switch AND pull out the choke. Since I have gone to strictly can gas which has no ethanol and higher octane (but is anywhere from $17-$30 a gallon!), it has been better but it has not been my most reliable piece of equipment. It is very powerful though. There is no bogging this thing down.

And the last piece of equipment to talk about is our 2004 Polaris 2x4 Ranger 500 that we got from Bob and Dixie. The thing is a workhorse. Never had any issues with it other that a leaky tire. Love having the enclosed cab with windshield which helps in the rain or going through the trail (we have doors but have never put them on). Even with just being 2 wheel drive, if you lock in the differential, it can go almost anywhere. I can fill the bed with gravel and go around fixing potholes, I fill the back of it up Sanford and Son's style with debris and branches. The dump bed can be super handy. It's been a great and reliable vehicle. We are looking at getting an electric golf cart though so when we have to run to a cabin at night (or anytime), it's quieter and less bothersome to our guests.

Ok, I lied. I also want to mention my lops. Fiskars 32" loppers. Great "reach" and I think they open to about 2" but anything I can get them around, I can cut. And for $35, it sure beats a similar sized pair of Stihl lops that are around $100. Last fall and winter I trimmed most of the cedar trees along the road and 95% of it was done with these lops (rest with chainsaw).

Tara thinks I'm crazy, but one of my favorite things to do when I get done taking care of the property.... is to go work on the trail at Rim Rock and Pounds Hollow. I have a volunteer agreement with the Shawnee National Forest but I can't use power tools over there. So those Fiskars lops come in handy over there. I also just pull a lot of the weeds over there with my hands... I like the old plain yellow rancher style leather gloves. They are cheap and hold up better than the fancy ones with stretchy material or pads built into them. I try to keep the trails over there (and here) cut back pretty far to help keep people from getting ticks, poison ivy or a face full of spider webs. Which brings up 1 more tool (sorry!), the Rogue Pro Hoe/rake.

Thick steel with a 7" wide blade and 54" handle. It works great for fixing trail beds. I use the rake to clear off all the vegetation and debris along the side of the tail and then use the hoe to dig in and pull over the gravel and dirt over to level the trail and then it also works great to tamp down and compact the trail. Also use it to create some drainage ditches to get the water off the trail which is the first order of business. No sense leveling the trail if a big rain storm moves in and washes out all your work! I can also whack through some pretty thick roots when need be!

Anyway, that covers just about everything except my rakes and shovels and pitchfork and fence puller and...... don't get me started. Lol. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and if you are here and wanna test drive the Grasshopper for a couple hours..... :-)

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