Wednesday, September 27, 2023

I Give Up - Sorta: The Farm Report 09-28

 I Give Up - Sorta

The Farm Report

Loyal readers will remember from last spring that I was pretty disgusted at the herbicide applicators bombing my gardens! To say the least.... No grapes again, dead fruit trees on the 'field' side, half my potato rows bombed out, new raspberry row wiped out. You get it. I don't want to relive it. So what to do? No sense fighting it; I give up. At least, I'm giving up trying to grow grapes and raspberries where the chemical guys go.

What will grow here? IRIS! Iowa Orchids. They will even withstand mild doses of Roundup. They're tough, and they produce beautiful flowers. After having about a hundred bucks worth of fancy raspberry rootstock killed by the herbicide applicators, I decided to just buy a box of raspberries at Walmart and go a different direction.

I thought it was nothing more than appropriate to buy an Iris rhizome named 'Immortality' to start off my new project in the 'poison fields' as I'm going to call them. The fields (gardens) aren't poison - they just get poisoned every year by the field guys. The iris rhizomes in the first pictures are the free ones I've scrounged from my sister and my friends' gardens. This one, Immortality, is one I paid for. This little dried up root cost me about $18 bucks. So - I'm not saving anything, I'm just hoping to have a little more fun along the way doing it.

I like to keep things labeled as much as I can. My label of choice? Old throw-away aluminum or vinyl mini blind slats and a #2 lead pencil. I staple them onto a wooden stake or use a zip tie and I'm good to go. The pencil marks last forever and never fade away.

Out on the garden, I'm planting fall cover crops on the bare areas. I use a walk around whirligig seeder mostly.

What to plant? Whatever is available and cheap. For a long time, I thought the seed choices touted in gardening magazines were the only way to go. Now, I realize that just about anything green and growing will work as well. So, for me, I use oats and soybeans; because I have them. Neither of these will winter over and cause problems next spring. Since they will kill out from cold weather, in spring, the ground will be nice and mellow - and ready for some seeds!

And for proof that gardening will keep you humble: These little plants are carrots. I prepared a new seed bed for fall carrots; fertilized it and tilled it. I planted with a fancy seeder just for the purpose. Nothing grew. Not one. What are these then? I had  6 year old packet of carrot seeds I found at the bottom of the seed box. "They'll never grow," I said to myself as I pitched them into the garbage bin. Then my Iowa gene kicked in and I pulled the seed package back out of the bin. Why not? So I took them out to the garden and poured them into my hand. With a wild Whooop! and a hardy backhanded swish, I hurled them into the wind. "Good luck!" I said. And so they grew; every one of them so it seems - with absolutely no soil preparation or welcoming party whatever. Beat that.....

My fall onion curing project seems to be paying off big time. These are the prettiest crop of onions I've ever grown.

Since I'm an old guy with a sewing machine and not enough education to know what I can't do with it, I got some burlap and made some fancy hand-made onion sacks. I even cut an oak leaf and acorn stencil to doll 'em up a little. Sticky stencil and a can of brown spray paint.

I even put velcro closures on the top of the sack to keep the onions in there where they're supposed to be. Go big or go home!

We had a rainy weekend, and my champion Megaton Cabbage heads split wide open. Kraut time! This head weighed in at over 15 pounds.

Part of the fun of making home made kraut is getting to use my Great Grandmother Amanda's old kraut cutter. (The other part is eating homemade kraut. If you've never had it, you're in for a treat. It isn't at all like the stuff from the store.) I added the little wooden legs so it wouldn't slip off the top of the 5-gallon plastic bucket I shred the cabbage into. The board tipped at an angle in the middle is so you won't make kraut out of the ends of your fingers!

It's an absolute original Keen Kutter patented kraut cutter. The patent was registered in  1910. My house (her house) was built starting in 1903. So the timing is right. That kraut cutter has probably been out here ever since the house was built.

That's the blade you're looking at. It is a real one; razor sharp and ready to shred anything that passes over it, including your fingers. No safety gear included.

Here is a look from the bottom side. This is a serious thick tempered sharp cutter. No kids, please.

It only took about 20 minutes to shred 30 pounds of cabbage ready to become sauerkraut.

You can't beat it for shredding cabbage, and you can't beat homemade kraut. My recipe? Simple: Weigh your nice clean fresh heads of cabbage. I probably could have put 45 pounds of cabbage in one bucket. I stopped at 30. Next, weigh out your salt. I always use pure canning/pickling salt because I don't want bitter 'off' tastes that might come from table salt treated with iodine etc. It is really - really! - easy to get too much salt. Weigh the cabbage and then weigh out a little over 8 grams of salt per pound. In other words, about a heaping teaspoon full of salt per pound of cabbage. Sprinkle the salt on as the bucket fills with shredded cabbage. No need to add water or anything else. When we lived in Nebraska, we learned to add a little caraway seed if we wanted 'Bavarian' style kraut. I like it best just plain.

Next, cover and press the shredded cabbage down nice and tight. Lay a clean cloth over the top and tamp it in all around the edges to keep the kraut shreds from floating around.

Like my Grandma Chlorus, I use a paint stick (new one) to tuck in the edges of the cloth. Good night sweet kraut. Have fun little lactobacillus bacteria; we'll be back in a few weeks to see how you did.

In the old days, my aunts and grandma's used to put a plate over the top of the cloth and weighed it down with a rock or a brick. I checked the calendar, and it is indeed, the twenty-first century now. So, I just filled a giant zip-lock bag with water and laid that on the cover cloth to weigh down the brew.

Over that, I new bonnet of clean fabric tied down so it can't get off, and so nobody else can get in, either. I let the whole works happen in the shop sink because I've done this before. If things get going too well, it can be like a party of high schoolers at home when the folks are out of town. Spewing can occur!

While that's all going on, I took a stroll through the sweet potato patch to check progress. I decided to see if the vines would root for me. This is day 1.

This is day 2. That's right; the very next morning!!!

Day 3. All I did was break off a piece of vine and put it into a jar of water. Nothing more.

Day 4.

Day 6. Amazing.

So, these will become house plants for the winter. Then, next spring, I'll start cutting new slips for the garden. I spend about $50 every year with Tator Man's mail order business. I'm getting cheap in my old age I guess. Tator man will be fine. I'll still probably order some 'new' varieties from him next spring. This year, I have Georgia Jets and Vardaman plants. Keeps me off the streets and outa the bars....

More stuff to spend seed money on. I'm so hooked on dahlias! These are all Wally's 3-for $5 dahlias, but my oh my there are some gorgeous ones on the internet - for gorgeous prices, too! Come on Powerball!

Kelvin Lights: They are HUGE, and last as cut flowers in the house for nearly a week.

How could you not like these?

Color Sensation. Almost as big as Kelvin Lights, but prettier.

My dining room table, with dahlias and roses.

Single dahlia blossoms floating in a fancy cup are great.

Annie Oakley says, "Okay, Tim. We get it that you're all enthused. They are pretty, but they don't have any fragrance and Randy just got here to work on painting the house. I need to get out there and see about him. Bye."

Yep! So in answer to 'What else ya been doin?' Well, we've been painting Oakdale Manor. My painter, Randy, and I started kindergarten together, so we're two old guys plugging along. Actually Randy is doing the work, and I'm the head cheerleader and banking resource manager. We just started with the idea of painting the porch floor, but we haven't found a place to stop yet. We will though, and I'll show you pictures next time. It looks fantastic.

Cheers from the crew out here at Oakdale Farm. All is well.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Farm Report

New Harvest

"Hey Tim, buddy! I loves me some dat sweet corn!!!"

Annie isn't kidding. She was running out to the sweet corn patch every evening and coming back with her own personal ear to munch on while I listened to Andy Devine on Wild Bill Hickock on old time radio podcasts. She really does love her sweet corn. Look at her face, and that tongue isn't hanging out because she's out of breath. She loves it.

Unfortunately, Annie isn't the only one out here who likes it. In fact, I had to fight like Billy Heck in order to have some for myself. Coyotes, Fox, Raccoons and 'Possums were all in there at night. So in a fit of frustration one morning, I decided to just pick the whole patch and be done with it. I took the wheel barrow and cleaned one row at a time.

I followed that row picking with one of the most valuable tools any gardener can have: A great big lawn mower with an attitude. Yep, Pick a row; mow a row. Pick a row; mow a row.

The corn isn't quite to the maturity I like best, but at least I got some for the freezer this year.

I've shown you how I do this before, but my 'new' method is soooo easy and good, I think you might need a refresher on my methods. Step A: husk the corn - CLEAN, no silks.

Step 2: Get out the old trusty Lee Brand corn cutter and go to town. Obviously from the picture you can see that it splatters a little. Don't do this where you can't clean up. These cutters are the way to go. Once set up, you never need to fiddle with it. Keep it sharp and keep your thumb away from the cutter.

Most important Step III: All the credit for this goes to my Sister, Beth. She said one day, "You cook in those bags, why can't you blanch sweet corn in them, too?" Well, you CAN! I put the corn - measured out with the same amount in each bag, into the bag and vacuum seal it. FIRST. Then, the whole bag and all goes into a pot of boiling water for the blanching treatment. (If you don't do this, the enzymes in the corn will make it taste starchy and 'ordinary' after a few months in the freezer. If you do blanch it, the corn will taste just as good as the day you picked it a year or more later.) After about 3 minutes in the boiling water, the bags come out and land in a sink full of ice water to chill and stop the cooking action.

Out and dry, ready for a sticky label and a trip to Freezer Camp!

As Uncle Red Green used to say on his TV shows, "It's just that easy." and it is.

While I was out mowing off the sweet corn, I got the bright idea that I could mow off the weeds around my wonderful onion crop, too. I set the mower deck up as high as it would go and down the row I went. It wasn't until my garden started smelling like a salad that I remembered I had planted my onions on a raised hill last spring. Yep, I sliced some of the great big ones the John Deere way. We used them as best as possible, but it does make for a big helping of humble pie.....

All in all, I'll have onions all winter. Remember, I have already frozen about two dozen bags of sweet white ones. They don't keep otherwise. My trusty potato fork is great for picking up onions without me having to bend over. Every gardener should have one of these.

I've never had any luck storing my onions. They always rot. Then, reading and talking, I discovered that you have to 'cure' them first. Who knew? So, another 'new' thing for this old gardener. I turned them upside down and they fit perfectly into the slots in this old pallet up in the greenhouse. This time of year, the doors are open 24/7 and I have shade cloth over the top. It seems to be the text book perfect place to do the curing step. In about another week or 10 days, I'll bag 'em up and take them to their wintering home where it is cooler.

See that red machine down there at the end? All the bare earth you see is what was that weedy onion patch a few hours before. I challenge everyone to try gardening without a powerful easy way to control the weeds and till the soil. I get the argument against tillers. If you run the tiller every night all summer, you're going to end up with concrete for garden soil. But I only use it maybe one time before planting/harvesting each crop. In the spring, I don't even do it then. Without a machine, I'll show you would-be gardeners who take up interpretive dance as their new hobby next year!

That white sprinkle stuff? Well that's DE into which I added new beet root seeds for my fall crop. I soak the seeds, then put them into some DE (or sand) and shake that up in a quart jar. When I walk down the row sprinkling the DE, the seeds spread right in with it - A little rake in, and Bob's your uncle. Job done.

The old beet root crop is now in jars on my pantry labeled 'Harvard Beets.' Easy and delicious.

It's mater and cuke season, too. I love eating fresh out of the garden.

But I know where I live, and eating fresh isn't possible here for about 9 months out of the year. This year, I'm trying a new twist with my tomato juice. I found my Dad's old Vita-Mix blender one day and thought to myself, "Why not?" That machine will liquify concrete, if you're curious, and you've never used one. I do this in the shop where Annie can supervise me.

After washing and coring the tomatoes, I put the 'whole hog' into that Vita-Mix and hit the switch. This is essentially a blender attached to a router motor. It takes no prisoners when it is turned on. Seeds, skin, pulp and all become pure smooth tomato juice. We'll see how it goes when I make chili this winter.

I really like Deli Garlic dill pickles - fermented the old fashioned way. First, I clean 'em and cut 'em into halves. Then they go into a salt water/vinegar brine with spices and dill and garlic. They sit under water (brine) for a week or two at room temperature until they are 'fully soured.' The brine will get cloudy and funky, then it will clear up. That's the cue to go ahead and jar them up.

Dahlias are my new favorite flower. Walmart/cheap. Beautiful. No scent.

This is why you need to prune your fruit trees. The fruit is always out on the far ends of the branches. Guess what happens?

Exactly! The weight of the fruit all the way out there breaks off your limbs. My Dad was a vicious radical pruner. He would always say that 'You can prune the tree where you want to cut it, or you can let Mother Nature prune it for you. You will do a neater, better job.'

Never the less, these plumcots are fantastic. (Good Neighbor Ron and I snuck into town where this little tree lives last spring and sprayed it - while the owner was at work.... We now have permission to prune as we see fit. It's all good. Guerilla orchard spraying is more fun though. Sorta like how a stolen watermelon is sweeter - or so I've been told....)

What to do with them? Since they were really clean and bug free, I just washed them and inspected for 'rots and spots' then put them into the steam juicer. Easy as pie.

I now have over 5 gallons of pure plumcot juice bagged and in the freezer waiting for better weather. I like oriental food, so an Asian Plum Sauce is high on my 'things to make with it' list.  What to do with the other 4.75 gallons? I'm not sure yet.

"Annie told me about O.J. being killed, Tim. He was here longer than me, and he was the King of Oakdale Farm," said Miss Kitty. I've always been amused that the bottoms of her feet are black. She's the one who lives in the shop with Annie.

'Wait! So, I guess that makes me the new Queen of Oakdale Farm, Tim. The King is dead, long live the Queen! It was sad, but he had to go sometime. It will be good to be Queen. You can pet me a little if you want - but not too much. I have my new position to consider, after all.'


And that's how it is for this month at Oakdale Farm. Hottern' the hubs of hell one week, after a cold rainy week the week before. Hurricane season is on us, then the weather will close in and start to get chilly. I'm already starting to shop for fancier dahlias for next summer's garden Aren't they pretty!

All is well at Oakdale Farm.