Friday, June 26, 2015

The Front Fence Offensive

Like the adroit military commander I am not, I somehow planned with reasonable forethought and abundant amplitude the exact measures needed for me to make a final and decisive push to keep those brazen, marauding, flea ridden plant parasites out of what will soon hopefully become a beautiful parcel of flora and fauna.  A haven for bees and butterflies.  A little organic food producing paradise.  A munching mecca of vegetative delight.  An oasis for fruits and blooms.

The back and both sides of this rectangular piece of property have already been hill billy fenced with style and finesse.  You can read all about many of those exploits here: Bambi Can Eat My Drawers.  I had naively hoped that would have been enough, but those doe-eyed decimaters of all that is green simply made a trail around the end of the fence where the steep slope meets the road.  Like mountain goats on a cliff.  It's been an ongoing battle for me since we moved here, it was finally time to let our roses out of their cage and set our bushes free.

I have considered the location of the assault and studied my adversary for a couple of years now.  The route was chosen to take advantage of the natural slope of the land.  Where it was most level and most visible I planned on sinking about fifteen 10' 4x4's.  Where the slope gets steeper and the fence will be less visible I planned on sinking in T-Posts.   The feasibility seemed sound, it was just choosing the optimum time for the actual assault.

I sent my recon team down way back in January to assess the pernicious nature of the dead pan that existed on the future battle ground.  I came back to me with one essential suggestion, hit the dirt NOW while it was still saturated with water.  Soft, moist and decently slippery.

I had to sink fifteen 4x4's a couple feet in the ground.  It was either hit the dirt with a shovel then or I'd need a truck full of dynamite to accomplish the task later.  I thought about renting a two person power post hole digger, but then my helper kind of disappeared on me.  Like Bill Murray in Caddyshack after he blows his first hole.  Looky look left, looky looky right.  Soft shoe shuffle into the night. 

So I brought out my old trusty trenching shovel and banged out three to four holes a day, depending on how agreeable they were.  Half were real quick and easy, the other half not so much.  I'd get a few inches down and then have to add some water.  Hit it again the next day and so on until they were roughly two feet deep. 

I also pounded in about forty T-Posts along the steep embankment on the other side of the drive while the ground was still soft.  Then I let the posts and the holes sit a few months, I had a few other battles elsewhere brewing.  But their turn finally came around, so I gathered my fence offensive gear and prepared for battle.   

I took the 4x4 posts down from their delivery point and over the course of  two days concreted them in.  Level and pretty darn even.  Here's a shot of my Pole Hedge on the lower forty.
Then I let the poles sit for a few days to let the concrete set.  The surest way to bang up and crack your newly laid concrete is to start messing with it too soon.  48 hours would be minimum, 72 to 96 better.  The bigger the hole, the more concrete, the longer the cure time.

Prior to putting up my six foot high welded wire, I did some strategic strata-sizing and conversed with a couple friends.  I learned a mere human can't simply yank a fence straight.  A couple mere humans pulling in tandem can't yank a fence straight.  You can yank things with a straight face, or a marginally maudlin one, but I don't care how strong you are, you can't yank a fence.  Straight.

You need a Fence Stretcher, which is not human by the way.  Because if you were listening, a mere human can't yank a fence straight.  Even if they have a title.

There are a variety of fence stretchers out there, wherever they are.  They aren't very expensive, from forty to a couple hundred bucks.  The stretcher attaches to the fencing in some fashion and then you have to attach the stretcher to something that can actually provide tension to straighten the wire.  If you're in a meadow that's drivable, you can use your truck and a wench.  If you have a truck and wench.  Or, if you're in the middle of Botswana like me, you can use a Come Along, which is essentially a stand alone manual wench.   You can take a Come Along anywhere and attach it to almost anything that's sturdy, like a tree, a car, fence posts or John Wayne.  I borrowed my son's and put it (and myself) to work.

The first thing I had to do was roll out some wire.  It felt like I was dancing with a four hundred pound grizzly bear on tranquilizers when I started tangling with the 100' roll of 6' high welded wire fence all by myself.   I quickly discovered.

That was the hardest thing.  Dancing with the bear.  Unrolling it all in a semi plausible fashion.
So I rolled it out about 35 feet to the gate location and chained the bear to a post.  Just in case he decided to make a roll for it.
Then I attached my home made fence stretcher.  Yeah, I could get one online for forty bucks, but the two hundred dollar one looked better.  And was much more expensive.  So I just took 2 six foot 2x4's and sandwiched the fencing.  Then I screwed the 2x4's together with the wire in between with 4 three inch screws.

If you don't apply some sort of stretcher you would end up blowing out portions of your fencing since single strands could not handle the tension that's necessary to straighten the entire fence out.  By attaching a stretcher all the tension is on the stretcher, or in my case, the 2x4's.

Once the stretcher was on I wrapped some chain around the middle and attached the other end to the come along.  The other end of the come along had been previously attached to another run of chain that was wrapped around a 4x4 up the line.  Once all the pieces were together I ratcheted the come along handle until the fence wire was taut.  It worked like a breeze.

Then while the come along was tautly engaged I tacked the wire to the posts.  Easy peezy.
Once that portion of fence was tacked up I broke down my block and tackle come along assembly and moved it on up the line.  Utilizing the same strategy I put up about forty to fifty feet of fence at a whack, having to set up my block and tackle assembly a total of four times for about 180 feet.  It took two days, but this old man got 'er done.

Next I attached two runs of single strand wire about a foot apart above the welded wire.  That was done on the more level portion of ground, bringing the fence height up to eight feet.   Oh yeah, I also added a gate.

Then it was off to the driveway embankment and T-post time.  After pulling it taut, I wired the fencing to the metal posts.  The six foot welded wire should be all I'll need since the slope runs anywhere from four to eight feet below the fence.  I'm fairly certain they're not jumping that.  Unless there's a new breed of deer that's been bred with kangaroos.

With that portion of the offensive complete, it was time to turn my gaze towards the drive way gate.  Not to be satisfied with a simple farm gate, my lovely wife desired a little style.  And a lot of height.  After all, all this work was being done to keep them dang deer out.  I did my fair share of gate research and I eventually came up with an online presence called Aleko Gates.  They have a variety of styles and options and utilize powder coated aluminum, making their gates substantially lighter than a wrought iron replica.  And substantially less expensive.

They also have a variety of power options and gate entry options.  Since our gate was going to be several hundred feet down our Lombard Street Drive solar power was going to be the only option.  All was so ordered from Aleko for around $1,500.00 with free delivery.  Now you're speaking my language.

Having gone through the entire install process I can honestly say the only negative I encountered was the free delivery podunk delivery company.  A week after I ordered the gate the delivery company called and left a message stating they wanted to set up a delivery time.  I returned the call the same day.  I left a message for the person who called me, Lorraine, because apparently she was the only person out of a bank of eight who could decipher the English on my paperwork.  Lorraine called again a week later and left another message stating that we had to take care of this right away and if I don't respond they're going to charge me a storage fee.

Ahem, what?

I hadn't been pushing, I was busy.  But I did return her first call the same day.  When I called the second time Lorraine was not there.  Again.  However, one of the bank of eight figured out he actually could decipher the English on my paperwork and took it upon himself to set up delivery.

Delivery of just about anything here is a challenge because of our steep Lombard Street Drive.  We have learned to express this hazard to delivery folks right away.  Trying to express this to Scooter was ridiculous.  Since he apparently just discovered he really could understand his native language he was about as excited as a frisky pup, he was gonna get this thing done.  Yahoo howdy.  Somehow in the frenetic one-sided conversation that ensued it was established that the driver would call me the next morning to set up a time for delivery.

"What just happened?" I inquired to myself when I got off the line.  "I was just railroaded by a rabid Chihuahua." 

I called and actually spoke with Lorraine the next morning trying to head off the forthcoming cluster fuck.  When I re-confirmed with her that their semi size truck would not make it up our Lombard Street Drive, Lorraine said, "Oh dear."

She asked if I could meet the driver at the street.

I said, "With what?  My wheelbarrow?  I told Scooter I could get my son's pick up truck Friday.  But he insisted your guy come today."

"So you can meet the driver on Friday with a pick up?" Lorraine asked, belying notes of efficiency.

"Yes," I responded.

"OK, great," she said.  "I'll contact the driver, cancel the delivery today and have him call you Friday morning with a four hour window."


"Alright", I thought, "Lorraine's got it together.  She's efficient.  Scooter needs to be housebroken, but no harm no foul.  The situation's under control, no CF today."

I wandered about my day, feeling right that a catastrophe had been avoided.  Until about two that afternoon when the driver called stating he was twenty minutes away and ready to deliver.

War is hell.

Fortunately the driver had a brain.  After spending yet another few minutes describing the above conversations the two of us made arrangements to meet that coming Friday.  We kept the Hole in the Head Gang back at the office out of it.

The solar power box and automatic opener had come via Fed Ex a few days prior.  In regular like looking boxes.  Nothing strange.  Or large.  The gate itself, however, was something entirely different.  We had ordered a fourteen foot gate, and even though I knew it would be divided into two 7 foot sections nothing quite prepared me for the box size.  They were massive.  You could play a ping pong tournament in either one.  Or set sail to the Bahamas, like, if you had a sail and the metal floated.

When I pulled up in my son's Toyota Tacoma at our predetermined rendevouz location, the driver said, "Well, this is going to be interesting."

Then I saw the boxes.  There was no way I could get those roller rinks home in the back of my truck.  There was absolutely no way to safely tie them down for the several mile journey back to the ranch.  I was gonna need a much bigger bungee cord as well as a couple of those pilot cars with the little yellow lights on top.  And a flat bed truck.  So we decided to offload at our drive.  Homeboy followed me home, going above and beyond his call of duty.

We had to block a lane of the road for a few minutes but we were able to offload the Olympic sized swimming pools onto the top of my truck's bed rails.  The boxes extended beyond the sides and back a couple feet all around.  So I took some rope, tied up on one side mirror, then around the middle hitch on the back of the truck and around the opposite side mirror.  It wasn't pretty, but it did allow me to get the Serengeti out of Tanzania and up into Kenya, if you know what I mean.

Here's another nod to Aleko.  When I finally unraveled the two big mysteries, I found they had been packed with excellent care.  They were within a soft, velvety plastic sheathing and then covered with two layers of cardboard, enough to make a dollhouse the size of Los Angeles.  Every inch of both sides of the gate were perfectly unscathed.

With the help of the good friend who helped demolish the old back deck, I sank and leveled both eight foot heavy metal posts.  This was not going to be any old simple fence post sinking, off an inch or two on distance or height.  These two had to be perfect.  Three feet deep perfect.

Prior to my bud coming over I had already started the holes.  Which my recon team forgot to tell me about back in January.  Instead of slicing like butter, the ground this time of year is like concrete.  You need dynamite to get anywhere, that or water.  Since dynamite is a bit of a fire hazard, I scrapped and juggernauted a few inches down for each hole.  Then I filled both little indentations with water.  The next day I labored them down a few more inches and so on over the course of several days until they were about a foot deep.  The night before the full assault I filled them with water and let them soak.  Espionage, those holes never knew what hit 'em.

My Bud brought over his off-set handle post hole digger, which worked well, especially carving out that last foot.  Fortunately we didn't encounter any rocks the size of Arkansas.  It was still a bit of a workout though, three feet is a long way down.  Halooo China.

We sank the first post, leveled it and then attacked the second.  We ran a tape measure bottom to bottom, it had to be just over 14 feet.  Then we ran a line level across the top and found we had to toss a few inches of dirt back in the second hole.  Once comfortable with all our distance and leveling changes we dropped in the post and filled the second hole with a couple bags of concrete.

The posts ended up being fourteen feet one inch apart, near perfect.  They might be 1/8 inch off on their height, which is quite livable for me.  Not bad for a couple rookies.

Once the posts were set I let the concrete cure for a week.  Yeah, 72 hours is great but a week is even better.  Big holes.  Lots of concrete.  Plus, I still had plenty to do.  Like set the post for the solar panel and let that cure.

The solar set up came with pretty decent instructions.  They also had really great diagrams, which is where I usually go when trying to figure things out.  Folks have a weird way of saying things sometimes, if there's a picture it's worth, well, a thousand words.

While everything was curing I made a little wooden box out of scrap wood and material to house the battery and a couple other sensitive electrical doo-dads.

A week after the posts were set my strong, able bodied son helped me put up the gate.    

The gate location was determined because of the driveway slope and the fact it is on a straight portion of the drive.  Once the gate was up I completed the fencing on both it's sides and then completed the final run up the other side of the drive.

We opened and closed the gate by hand for a few days while I waited for an extra part was necessary for my particular install.  Typically gates open inward.  I can't do that because inward here is on an up-slope.  I was going to put the opener on the outside so that it would pull open and then I discovered there is a push to open method of install, only I needed a different bracket. 

Once the bracket arrived it was time to get crazy.  Geometric configurations and electrical connections.    


I had already installed the solar panel on the post and dug a trench from the pole to the box, of which I had also drilled a hole in the bottom.   I had also already installed the exit wand, a contraption that will live about a foot deep in the ground and four to six inches from the drive.  Its mission will be to sense large metal objects inside thus prompting the gate to open.  That trench had also been dug and the wire was at the box.

I had also already hooked the solar panel up so that it was powering the battery.  I wanted to make sure there was enough juice so that I could keep things cooking once I got started.  All electric connections were a breeze, there was an excellent diagram.  

Getting the gate arm dialed in was a bit more of a challenge.  A day and a half challenge.  It's all about the angle of the dangle.  There's a variety of holes to contend with on the brackets, and figuring out which one to use also indicates where holes need to be drilled on the gate to hold the gate bracket.  More or less.

It was a process, and without going into extreme boring details I now have the gate opening and closing just about near perfect. 

Now you need a code to get up the drive, which I'm not posting here.  You'll have to call me.  Or email. 

We've got a lot more privacy now, no more dealing with religious enthusiasts in my boxer shorts.  And so far, knock on flea infested hides, we have not had a nocturnal deer visit since the gate's been up.  Been over almost four weeks now.  And trust me, we'd know.  They were munching plants on our deck the night before we closed it. 

Fowl Update

We have lost a couple hens over the last six months.  Some malady of an unknown origin.  No fowl play, just extreme lethargy and difficulty walking.  Then death.

I suppose I'm a bit pragmatic when it comes to the hens.  I have difficulty taking a bird that cost under three bucks to the vet.  Yeah, there's been food spent on them, but.   And it's not like they're sleeping with us.

I did a fair amount of research on potential maladies but could not figure out what was detrimentally affecting them.  It was never a rampant disease, just one hen affected at a time.  Then several months later another one bit the dust.

And then it hit the rooster.  Now trust me, I have a very sturdy love hate relationship with that bird.  On the one hand, he helped start this blog.  He is also a beautiful, glorious bird.  On the other hand, he can be quite aggressive.  I've sent him flying with my foot on more than one occasion.

I considered an antibiotic, but after some research and then conversation with folks at Ridge Feed I decided against that.  But there on their shelf they had an organic water soluble powder that included Oregano.  I had done some reading that one poultry farm back in Vermont has added Oregano to their bird's diet because of the herb's antibiotic properties.  I bought that instead.

Besides lethargy and difficulty walking, the birds have also had sort of a distended under belly.  Goldie exhibited all this, and his usually flamboyant tail feathers were quite droopy as well.

I mixed up a batch of Oregano water for the entire flock.  With my lovely wife's assistance we corralled the rooster.  It wasn't too hard, he was moving real slow.  Then, with a needle-less syringe, we hand watered him a couple times a day for four straight days.  He actually showed improvement on the second day.  We no longer had to hand water him after day four.

I don't know if it was the fact we just got some liquid in him or if it was the added Oregano that did the trick, or both.  It doesn't matter.  At least I have a direction to go if this ever happens in the future.

The Oregano water is now part of their staple diet.  I interchange that with another organic water soluble powder called Rooster Booster.  An ounce of prevention is totally worth twenty pounds of cure.

Goldie had a pronounced limp for a couple weeks after he regained his health.  Therefore his progression for potential attack was slow as well.  I thought, maybe, this experience might have changed him.  But I can honestly say he is totally back to his regular ornery self.  His instinctual, aggressive bird brain has completely forgotten about the hand that not only feeds him and his harem daily but also hand held and lovingly nursed him back to health.   

What's wrong with this picture?   Am I suffering from some sort of fowl, masochistic tendency?  Do I need to flock to a mental therapist?  

Speaking of fire season, it's here.  During our Father's Day dinner, which was being consumed outside on the new back deck, we heard the air attack spotter plane fly overhead.  That was followed shortly by a fire retardant bomber.  We locals here in Nevada county intimately know those sounds, an air attack base is located at Grass Valley Airport. 

As I was explaining the sounds to our city dwelling son in law, comments were being made that no one could smell smoke, so we should be OK.  Some one was trying to pull up, which is a fabulous resource for relatively up to the minute emergency reporting.

In the meantime, as I was about to say, "We really don't need to worry much unless we start to hear choppers," I heard the chopper.

"OK then," I said as I put down the rest of my burger to head out front.  There, on the ridge top across our small valley was a rising plume of smoke.  The spotter was circling high overhead, a chopper was en route with a big bucket of water and a bomber was making a turn mid range eye balling his drop.  This aerial ballet was taking place about two miles from the house.  Flames weren't visible yet but there was a slight wind blowing in our direction.

Ah chi mama.

I hustled back to the assembled masses and informed them that if we see flames we need to get to work.  Fast.  I have a plan. 

This house and property are just about as fire safe as can be.  There's hardly any underbrush remaining and many of the trees have been thinned.  Nevertheless, depending on which way the evil comes, a little dampening isn't going to hurt.  And two folks were going to head out and alert neighbors.

We're fortunate here, we have a pretty expansive view south, west and north.  Most of our neighbors are down in the valley and probably had no idea what was potentially on the way.  We all scampered out to the front just in time to see the first of two drops by the bombers.   A long plume of bright red retardant fanning out and then raining down on the front line.

Two bomber drops was all it took.  The chopper made about four more drops of water and we watched a second fire engine heading towards the diminishing smoke to help mop up.  It fortunately looked like our show was over.  But not before we whooped and cheered each aerial drop by the bombers.  Those were better than any super bowl touchdown could ever be.

I'm so hoping that's as close as it's gonna get.   Stay cool out there, summer is upon us.