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.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

My Hat! The Farm Report: 04-16-2020

My Hat!
The Farm Report

Well, here we go again. We had a big wind and my outdoor lawn mowing and general purpose favorite old straw hat blew off. When I looked out the shop door to find it, here is what I saw. Two pointy ears sticking out of my hat!

This is what I really saw from the door. Annie stopped long enough to look back at me to make sure I knew she had my hat. She even sat down and waited for me! "Nah nah nah nay-ya. I've got you're haaaaat! And you can't get it!"

As soon as I started to approach her to maybe - just maybe! - get what was left of my hat back, she headed for places unknown. And my hat was now making a major step back toward what it once was; a pile of straw. I really needed a new one anyway.

So we're needing the Super Zoom Biggie Sizer on this one. I've been having a lot of fun watching the Cedar Waxwings this week. That's an Eastern Redbud tree you're seeing with the pinkish blossoms. It is right outside my kitchen window. I see them when I'm making coffee first thing in the morning. There are actually about 16 Waxwings in the trees in this pic, but they're really hard to see. They're here at the farm year around. I always hear them before I see them. They make a high pitched whistle, and they're always traveling in groups. 

Here's an internet picture of one. They're beautiful up close; they look like any other brownish bird from a distance.

Audubon 'embellished' them a little in his prints, but they are pretty.

 Here's a bigger pic if you want to try blowing it up to see them. They're eating the blossoms. Did you know the Eastern Redbud is in the same family as peas? Did you ever hear the one about.... Sorry. I promised to stop telling pea jokes. I apologize.

Annie needed some outdoor action, and it was a nice day, so I took her up to the creek in The Timber. She loved it. WATER! Oh Boy! So far, she hasn't gone in for a swim, but it is only a matter of time.

After a self-inflicted disaster with my original strawberry plants up in the Hydroponic Strawberry Patch, I'm thrilled with the recovery results. Just look at 'em!

Blossoms! Now for another dilemma: How to pollinate them? When the weather is nice, I'm leaving the doors wide open now during the day. Bees fly in and can do the job for me. But right now, we're having a winter re-do. I think I'll take a little paint brush up to the greenhouse and I'll be the bee.

I can't get over it. I just planted these new plants a few weeks ago, and they all are showing big blossom buds and lots of them. Stay tuned!

'Rex' Hydroponic lettuce. These are just in the soup for a few days.

Here are the roots going down into the wet goodness after just 4 days. Lettuce loves passive hydroponic growing. One method uses a one gallon milk jug with the top cut to fit one of these little net pots. Yield: one head of lettuce. Anybody can do this.

Fast forward. This is what the lettuces will look like when they're nearing harvest time. Actually, these are hold overs from last fall. They made it all the way through the winter this time.

This is what their root system looks like.

Spinach likes it too.

I use old tire sidewalls for garden plant surrounds. Annie has decided they're better dog toys than a frizzbie, and they're tougher too.

You can bite 'em, chew 'em, toss 'em and run with 'em. Perfect!

Doggie 'Hula Hoops?'

Doggie 'Ring Toss?'

Doggie 'You can't catch me?' She thinks they're great. Unfortunately, she has been getting them by pulling them off Joyce's roses! The roses are still dormant, so we have time to recover. What's a farm dog to do on a nice spring day though?

Annie is now 10 months old. She's still full of it, but she's settling down. She'll make a nice dog.

This was Annie at her Kindergarten Graduation in September. That was just 7 months ago. My how she's changed. Another thing that has changed is that her adult teeth are not like the mouth full of little baby teeth 'fish hooks' she had back then. I'm all healed up now, but I can still show you the scars!!! She is mouthy like a labrador retriever. Still is; probably always will be. That's one reason I don't mind her chewing and tugging on the tires sides. Better them than something important.

Can you say, "Intense!" That's Annie Oakley. She is a ball of energy, playful and fun, but INTENSE! She's looking at my phone/camera as I'm trying to take a selfie. Whatever it is we're doing, she thinks it is serious business! The mail lady brought a package up to the shop the other day. Annie was out on the lawn when she drove in. I think she looked like this to the mail lady. If you didn't know, you might think this was her 'mean' look. Annie is pushy and assertive, but there is no meanness in her. She's a happy dog. The mail lady understands these farm dogs though, and when she got out and said her name, Annie was instantly a ball of wagging tail and jumping beans. She loves everybody - and expects them to love her right back, too! 

Well, I had intended to end with the picture of Annie above. But this afternoon, April 16, 2020, we're having a snow storm. They're saying 5 to 8 inches by this time tomorrow. Annie and I are both about over having fun in the snow for this year. Ah, Iowa! We built a fire in the outdoor wood boiler this morning, and we have the greenhouse heater full of fuel for tonight. We're all set, so we're just going to enjoy this one last time. Then it will get hot. Cheers from the farm. Stay home and stay safe! 'It ain't over 'till it's over.'