Thursday, May 28, 2020

Annie Moved Out! The Farm Report 05-29-2020

Annie Moved Out!
The Farm Report

Before I tell you about Annie Oakley moving out, let me show you Sadie's great news! After a long long time trying - for the past several seasons - Sadie finally got herself a turkey from the timber at Oakdale Farm! I don't know who was happier - her Grandpa Ron, her Dad, Sadie herself, or me. Don't let anybody tell you the 'kids of today' are just trouble. Kids are always trouble - it's their job to test the limits and explore new horizons! But today's kids are some of the best ever. Here is one to prove it. Determined, patient, dedicated, and able to smile and put a smile on your face for you too, if you need help. I'm not going to put the 'final' video here, but I've seen it. That bird never knew what happened. Dead shot, no questions, bang! turkey dinner ready for the table. Congratulations, Sadie!

Well! It has been a month since I last posted. Time has just flown by! I'll try keeping this post short(er) but let me tell you it has been an eventful spring month. All the planting and spring work has been happening of course. But also, Annie Oakley decided it was time to move out!

She's still here at the farm, but she declared 'summer rules' one night, and moved out. Moved out of the house that is. As my regular readers know, Annie doesn't like TV, and has been spending 'quiet time' by herself in her shop kennel in the prime time evening hours. I go out and bring her in to her 'inside' kennel when I'm ready to go to bed - usually about 10:30. The other night I went out to get her, and she refused to come in with me. This was a first. I bribe her with a nightly hard boiled egg every night and she loves it. Up until now, it was a race to the door to get inside the house. But that night it was just beautiful outside and Annie didn't want to come in. She is an outdoor dog. I couldn't blame her really. Problem is, she isn't very street smart. One night out and the coyotes would make minced meat pie out of her. I had to get tough to catch her and by the time I did get her corralled, I'd had enough. We were right by the shop door so I pushed her in and wished her luck. I went in to bed. I'd spent about an hour playing 'you can't catch me' with her and I was all done. Next night, it was the same again. She just refused to come in. This time, it was easier to catch her, and I decided she could just stay in the shop kennel again. Well guess what? She prefers it! Annie loves being outdoors, and she apparently likes the freedom of roaming around my shop and the company of my shop cat, 'Miss Kitty' better than O.J. So for now, Annie's permanent summertime APO is 'The Shop.' She still likes to come in with me in the mornings for coffee time and a play before work. We'll see what she decides to do when it gets cold. My bet is she'll still be in the shop. My other dogs lived overnight in the shop. I didn't think I snored or made rude noises in the night, but maybe.... Whatever the reason, she's out. Stay tuned!

Joyce moved these Star of David flowers to the farm when we moved here from Wisconsin. They were thick all over our lawn there. These are surviving, but not as happy as they were in 'Sconie.'

Bud's Red Weigelia are in bloom. So pretty. Thanks for the start, Chris.

The hydroponic strawberry patch has been a learning experience. Beginner's luck is a dangerous trap! My first plants did SOOOOO well. I was enthused!

We used a little horse hair 'softener' brush I have for gold leaf work to pollinate the blossoms.

They set fruit and began to bear these huge - and I will add my personal testimony - delicious berries.

But I wasn't paying attention. See the burnt edges of the leaves? Note to self: This is not good!

And then it just got worse. By the time I came to my senses and realized that my plants were dying, it was almost too late. Actually, it was too late for the other new plants I set out. 

What happened? I quit reading the book before I got to the end. You can look back at the last posting and see a picture of this setup. At the end you'll see that I was using a 5-gallon bucket for the recirculating reservoir to pump water and fertilizer solution to the tubes. Two goofs: One, as the water was being consumed, I added more fertilizer solution. Wrong! The books says it best. Plants drink lots more than they eat! I should have been adding just water. I concentrated the fertilizer so much it burnt the plants. Two, the book says I should have about a half gallon of liquid per plant. With 72 plants in this unit, 5-gallons is NOT enough reserve. Oh, and THREE: I'm supposed to totally change out the water solution every two weeks to one month. Flush and start over. I had been running all these plants out of a 5-gallon bucket for nearly 3 months. The technical term for the toxic buildup in the water is 'plant goo' but whatever you call it, it needs flushed and cleaned. Now I know.

Plants are amazing though. I added a 55-gallon drum for my solution, added an air stone for oxygen, and committed to change out monthly. The strawberries responded well, and now I'm in 'rebuilding' mode. Actually, the strawberries are in rebuilding mode. I'm trapping their new runners and letting them make new plants. The berries (Seascape) are super good and they're supposed to bear until fall.

This is Rex buttercrisp lettuce. It is really good.

Paris Island romain. It is good, too. All hydroponic from a Kratky sweater pan.

Summertime head lettuce in a dutch bucket. The hole is where I add water. There is a wick inside that draws the water up to the plants.

Here is the Summertime lettuce 4 weeks later.

The outdoor strawberries are looking great, too. These are all June bearers. One heavy crop and you're done until next year. Delicious!

There's trouble in the 'tater patch. We've been LIED TO! Remember back when I said I could plant regular store potatoes and they'd grow OK? I've planted store spuds for years. This year, no growth. I dug up some starts, and they were OK, except for no sprouts and no growth. HMMMMM?????? I was VERY careful to pic spuds that said '100% natural - no additives' when I bought them.

So, when my originals didn't grow, I went back and got some more (I'm stubborn if not brilliant). This time, I picked ORGANIC spuds to be sure they hadn't been zapped by the sprout police. As before, I washed them and soaked them and this time, I even put in a little rooting hormone in the soaking water.

And the sprouts died. And the cuttings shriveled up and died. What happened?! Well, according to my reading, even though they were 100% natural, they had been treated chemically to NOT SPROUT! The non-organic ones get zapped by chloroprofam CIPC  to keep them from sprouting. But why didn't the ORGANIC ones sprout? Surely they're not chemically treated. Wrong! Organic spuds are treated with clove oil compounds. Soooooo, none of 'em will grow. 

Want to know why I garden? Fun is the obvious first choice. Having my own pure food to eat and knowing what I'm eating is the second reason! Boy am I mad! The only spuds that did grow were the leftover mummies I found in the bottom of the box in the basement. Lucky I didn't throw them out. I'll have a lot of potatoes, but not as many as I wanted. I planted them to have some to share, and when I planted them, the COVID-19 issue was just peeking over the horizon. But golly! What a disappointment.

Out on the tarp garden things are doing great! The tomatoes in the solar cones and Wall-O-Waters are fantastic. These were planted just 4 weeks ago. Now, the 'maters are sticking out all over the place.

The wind whipped off some of the solar cones, but you can see how it works.

Here's my trick, by the way. I cut the bottoms out of 5-gallon buckets and use that to hold the W-O-W heaters up. Without the bucket, the W-O-W are prone to blow over onto the plants.

I'm also building an 'Iowa' version of a Victorian Lantern Cloche. It is just concrete reinforcing wire bent to fit. The lid is held on with hog rings. Keep it Iowa!

I'm putting egg plant and peppers in these. When the plants are established, I'll remove the plastic.

Four egg plants per lantern.

Four peppers, too.

The Grosbeaks are back! They are so pretty, but so mean! They use their hard/sharp beaks to cut away the nest shells I have out - and then they eat the young ones they find inside!

The tree frogs are out, too. 'Kermit' is usually green, but today he's hiding and grey.

And even though Annie Oakley has moved out of the Oakdale Manor house, she's still on duty here at the farm. Who is happier here? Anything for a Ranger ride with kids! Natalie makes her mind, and she loves it; Bentley wants to ride her like a horse, and she loves that, too. Grandpa just thinks the whole thing is a fun circus - and so do I. All is busy here, but all is well. Be safe and have fun! 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Belt and Suspenders: The Farm Report 04-24-2020

Belt and Suspenders
The Farm Report

Bugles! Drum Roll! Ta Da! The mini-beds on plastic garden is now all set up and neat and pretty. Belt and suspenders? My new mini-bed garden on plastic mulch is going to be great. I can just feel it. But I'm also an old Iowa guy; so off to the right is my classical garden where I'll 'parallel' plant a lot of things and also raise sweetcorn and potatoes, etc. Both systems have their own merits. Why cut off your nose to spite your face? I'll probably always keep doing both ways of gardening, but I'm really looking forward to the chem-free weed control the plastic mulch will give me.

'Straight as a string' isn't just an old saying. It is the truth! Laying out the mini-bed frames with builder's string was much easier and much better than doing it with a ruler.

Working alone (I'm in isolation now; of course, I have been in isolation for the last several years, but when I tell people now that I'm in isolation, they seem to have more empathy. I enjoy it, really. I don't have to remember to be polite!  Remember, I live in a very rural county in Iowa where they struggle to keep a straight face when claiming to have a population of 1000 in about any town in the county.  It is almost 15 miles for me to drive to get a jug of milk, and a real 'town trip' to Omaha ends up being about a 100 mile rounder for me. The whole county can't claim more than 7500 people and the average age is over, well, let's just say it is 'over'. "Doesn't anybody ever have a baby out there to increase the population?" Well, yes they do but every time some woman gets pregnant, some guy moves out and goes far away. So the net population never changes much. I'm sorry. That joke is as old as it can be, but it still makes me chuckle. Cabin fever anybody????) anyway, working alone meant that I had to make a lot of walking trips back and forth through the beds to get the strings laid out where they needed to be.

No need to wait. I'm right at it starting to plant tomatoes. I drove little pieces of plastic tubing about a foot long down into the inside corners of the wood frames to keep them in place. Then I cut an X where I wanted the 'mater to be, and folded the corners back underneath the rest of the plastic. Once the to-MAHHH-to was in place, I poked in bamboo stakes at strategic locations.

"He's gonna be using water for this. I just know it!" That was Annie's reaction to the whole circus when she magically appeared out of nowhere - when I got the hose out. She was excited and she was right. She loves water - and anything that has anything to do with water.

My earliest 'Official' frost free date is actually May 10. We had 8 to 10 inches of snow here just LAST WEEK. So this is pushing it a little to plant to-MAAAAY-toes on April 23. I use a product called Wall-O-Water to give my little sprigs a head start. You fill the outer cells with - What Annie? - Water! It acts like a heat-sync and mini-radiator. I've used them for years, and they really do work. I put a bottomless 5-gallon bucket down around the plant, then fill the W.O.W. When it is filled, I pull the bucket out and move on to the next one.

Warm 'maters is happy 'maters.

But wait, that's not all! as the pitchman says. I'm also using Herrick Kimball's solar cones. That's what the bamboo stakes were for. My solar cones are made from common builder's plastic. They won't last forever, but I get several seasons out of them, and they are cheap this way. And for my regular readers: Yes! I sew them up on my sewing machines! You can sew plastic just fine.

There is a trick to using these solar cones. The bottom has to be sealed so air can not circulate up through the cone. If it can, then the cone becomes a giant solar drying oven. If the bottom edge is sealed, then the cone is a big plastic terrarium. Terrarium good; solar dryer bad. I just put garden soil over the bottom edges of the plastic to seal it in.

Four 'maters in, more to go. I think I'll set out a dozen in the beds, and then put out more in the regular garden. Contests are fun!

Annie wasn't really uninterested in what I was doing. She's looking over there at the hedge row where the coyotes live, watching out for me. Coyotes are a huge problem for me here at the farm - and for my chickens.

See the mud tracks and scratches on my car? I came out one morning and immediately blamed Annie Oakley! Then I got to looking closer. Annie has much bigger footprints than these ones on the car.

You'll just have to believe me on this. Annie was barking at something out in my front lawn that morning. I didn't pay much attention and went to work. When I went out to the shop was when I saw these mud markings. Well, later that evening when I walked home from work (Joke!) I walked out into the front lawn where Annie had been barking. There was a dead fox laying in the grass! It's back leg was broken with teeth marks all around it. I'm sure the coyotes had cornered that fox on or around my car in the night before, and had messed up the car trying to catch the fox. I DID hear coyote growling and howling right under my bedroom window in the night that night. I hear that sort of noise a lot though, so I just rolled over and played 'possum.' Well, I can't prove nuthin' but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And just for the record, it was only one week ago - ONE WEEK AGO! - that we had 8 to 10 inches of heavy wet snow on the ground! That's the mini-bed 'mater garden over there on the left.

What's a guy to do alone on the farm in a snowstorm? My schoolmate and good friend, Cheryle, did a Facebook post about Runzas. Why not! If you're not from here, the Runza (which is a Nebraska specialty also known as a bierock in other places) is like Nebraska Fast Food Heaven. A requirement for Nebraska football games. Filled with hamburger, cabbage, onions and cheese if you want it - and some sauerkraut and pickle juice, too! - these 'sandwiches' are then wrapped in a soft eggie dough and baked.

I hadn't had a Runza since I was in school at UNL a LONG time ago. Cheryle mentioned to me that they were easy to freeze and reheat. Sold! So I tried some and she's right. They are really good - if you like 'em.

The hydroponic strawberry project is really coming along great! The first plants (Seascape) are in bloom and the berries are setting. Some are swelled to the size of a gum drop already.

I filled the rest of the tubes with two other types: Quinault and Albion. We'll see which ones do best, and taste best. Sometimes that is two different things - which is why I plant more than one kind.

Don't they look great! This one is for you, Ron. You could do this in a 5-gallon bucket on the patio, too.

So here's what it looked like yesterday afternoon. Beautiful.

We heard crackling noises and looked to the west. The guys were burning off my Indian Grass terraces. Yeah! If you've read 'Little House on the Prairie' stories about prairie fires, believe them. If you haven't, then let me tell you, they burn HOT and FAST and create their own wind. Why burn 'em? The grass needs it to survive. Plus, burning also destroys Eastern Red Cedar trees which are a weed problem here. Plus other weed plants, etc. It lets the native grasses survive and thrive for the birds that nest in them and other wildlife that will make the area their home.

NoodleSoup and Annie are still at it. I haven't been able to let the chickens out in the afternoons because NoodleSoup will pick a fight with Annie. She's pretty tolerant, but I don't want to let him goad her into becoming a chicken killer. NoodleSoup, methinks, must soon live up to his name. If you look into the background a little, that is a head of iceburg lettuce on a string back there. I put one on a tether in the afternoons sometimes and enjoy watching the chickens playing tether ball with it. It makes a fun way to get greens into their diet. Don't ask - I got a deal on a bunch of lettuce. 'Nuff said.

One week ago! Annie was like Nanook of the North. "What the heck happened?"

So in that context, let me end with a little comedy at Annie's expense. Annie is a lightning fast muscle chunk, and likes wet. O.J. is an old guy who has never really found the joy in anything cold or wet. Annie caught him sunning himself on the nice dry concrete in front of my shop that afternoon. 'Time to herd cats!' was Annie's reaction.

O.J., on the other hand, had other ideas. 'Maybe it is time to herd silly foolish Aussie Heeler dogs and teach 'em a lesson,' was O.J.'s reaction. You can tell by Annie's ears that O.J. meant business, and Annie knew it, too, as she tried to circle out of his way. Notice who is in the cold wet snow, and who isn't.

'Come over here and let me show you something,' O.J. was trying to communicate to Annie. I couldn't get the camera to go off in time, but let's just say it was a big round house punch that landed claws out exactly on Annie's beak where O.J. had planned to plant it. Ouch!

I enjoy watching and listening to Dad's Army. It was a long running BBC spoof about the home guard during  WW II. If you haven't seen it (or heard it - the BBC also did a radio version of the same shows and they're all available free through or on Youtube.) you should look it up. One of the main characters is Captain Mainwaring (pronounced Manaring). He is pompouos and incompetent, but thinks better of himself than everybody else. One of his underlings in the home guard platoon is a limp-brained kid named Private Pike. Mainwaring always refers to Pike as, "You stupid boy." Well, when I saw this final chapter of the Annie/O.J. story that afternoon, all I could think of was O.J. saying under his breath, "You stupid dog." Who would think an old neutered tomcat could make a young Aussie Heeler sit in the snow and like it? O.J. can! And he never got a foot wet in the snow doing it either. Once again, skill and determination trumps energy and attitude. Better days are coming. All is well at Oakdale Farm.