Friday, December 17, 2021

One Last Gasp: The Farm Report 12-18-2021

 One Last Gasp
The Farm Report

One Last Gasp for 2021 that is. The sun is setting about as low on the southern horizon as it gets now. It goes to bed early and gets up late. Kinda like me! Annie enjoys it, too.

I've started working on next year's garden. Preparation in the fall means everything to a great garden next spring. This was the 3d year on the billboard tarp garden. The tarp is getting a little ratty where I've made holes for the plants. Also, I haven't done anything with the growing soil beds for 3 years.

I decided I needed to help Ma Nature a little, so I cut a flap in each of the 40 mini-grow beds and opened it up so I could amend the soil. I used a broadfork to just lift and aerate the soil - no real digging. A also added some fertilizer and then shut the flap and put it to bed for the winter.

I'm using sod staples to hold everything in place. If you're watching our weather out here in SW Iowa, you'll know we just had an official derecho storm night before last. Fifty to sixty mph winds, and between 80 to 100 mph gusts. AND... Drum Roll... everything stayed in place - even the greenhouse survived it!

Here is the genius of Herrick Kimball's mini bed tarp gardening technique. To renew the plastic, I don't have to replace the whole tarp. All I'm doing is lifting the wooden frame, laying down a new piece of black plastic, then laying the wooden frame back in place. Next spring I'll make new plant holes and the circle continues. I've adapted Mr. Kimball's techniques a little to suit myself, but his system is just genius.

More 'Fall Work' to get ready for the next growing season. I've been making up a ton of potting soil. Next year, as we gardeners say, I'm going to be doing a lot of gardening in big grow bags. I need a bunch of good potting soil for those bags and I'm not made of money. Plus, I like making things myself.

Here is my setup: I use the green gizmo which is a string whip leaf shredder, to pulverize rotten/composted hay. Then, I add some hay, some of my own garden soil, some peat and some DE to the cement mixer and let her rip.

One rotten big round bale of hay becomes super duper rich compost.

It all goes into the HF cement mixer, and 'round and round she goes.'

Just about everything you read advises against putting in actual dirt into your mix. Phooey. For houseplants, I agree. For big potting grow bags, I think the plants do better with some of the 'real thing' for them to sink their teeth - I mean roots - into.

There is good research suggesting the benefits of diatomaceous earth as an amendment to potting soil. It is natural, it adds silica, it holds water, it is all good. Garden supply store DE is expensive! Auto parts stores sell it for soaking up oil spills in garages. It is the same thing and it is cheap. I've used this for years, and it works for me.

Per the label, it is all DE. I've never had a problem with it. Be sure you don't buy the old fashioned grey clay 'Floor Dry' stuff for your potting soil. That is just a big bag of Fuller's Earth - CLAY! You don't want clay in your potting soil.

Oh, and there is one other Tim Inman trick to this. I throw in a brick while the cement mixer is churning away. The heavy brick tumbling around in the mix really helps break up the clods and the clumps. Any port in a storm, you know. I 'discovered' this when, in a fit of angst that my mix was lumpy and not mixing right, I just pitched in the closest heavy cheap thing I could grab. When it isn't doing potting soil mixing chores, this is the brick that holds my greenhouse door open.

Fall is for smoking! I got the smoker out and 'double smoked' a little ham. What that means is that I bought a ham at Walmart, then brought it home to smoke some more. This one was sliced, so I used butcher's twine to tie it all together. Delicious!

My neighbor brought over some ostrich legs to smoke again. JOKE! They are actually turkey legs, but they were so big they looked like ostrich legs!

Following the food safety book to the letter, we brined and cured them overnight, then added a nice rub before we headed out to the smoker.

A few hours later and the magic happens. These are delicious. I think that if you didn't know you were eating turkey, you would think you had some of the best ham you've ever tasted.

Here's another last gasp. An abandoned 'airplane plant' got lost under the benches in the greenhouse. I'll make starts from them before everything freezes.

In October when I dug the sweet potato (NOT a typo. I only got one this year!) I cut some slips off the vines before I plowed them under. I just popped them into a can of water and left them to their own devices. Presto! They have rooted. They will be in the house with me all winter entertaining me as houseplants. In the spring, I'll have enough vines to get serious and make more slips for the crop garden. These are Georgia Jets - a tasty favorite of mine, and one that will grow even when it is a cool start and short season like where I live. 

Chieftan! These were tossed in the back of the fridge in September. It is now December, and they are as good as when we picked 'em. I'll save more next year. This is a fantastic apple.

My sister's hibiscus needed a haircut. We pruned it back at Thanksgiving so people could get to their chairs around the turkey table. I brought the cuttings home and made rooting starts out of them. They have already rooted! Keep your fingers crossed that they don't get some disease before they grow new leaves! They are rooted in pure DE, from the auto store.

I have agreed to do a presentation on grafting for the spring Master Gardeners' conference. I went to my timber and found some multiflora rose canes. (These were once encouraged as wildlife plantings by the Iowa DNR. They are now against the law to grow in Iowa....) They make great hybrid tea rose roots though. So I braved those nasty thorns, and cut some canes.

I make a cut just below a leaf node, then scar up the tissue around it. This will make the plant want to heal itself. The scar tissue that grows is called 'callus' because it looks just like a callus that you would have on your heel if you've ever had a blister! Actually, it is more like plant stem cells. The callus will turn into roots if all conditions are right.

These are apple cuttings. Same song, another verse. Hopefully, I'll have some rooted cuttings by March for my class. Following a bulleting I found on the internet which was published by UC Davis Extension in 1965, I soaked the cuttings overnight in rooting hormone, then stuck them into a pan of DE from the auto store.

Per the UC Davis bulletin, I'm using bottom heat, but with a cold top. This little probe is the temperature sensor for the electric heat pad controller. The darkness is where I've added a little water.

All set and ready to put to bed. I'll water the whole thing before I leave it. I drilled holes in each corner about 1 1/2 inches up from the bottom. This will let water stay in the bottom of the pan, but allow it to drain above that so we don't drown the cuttings. The controller is set to keep the bottom at 70F.

Pop on the ventilated lid and go away. No heat in the greenhouse until February! Root! Root! Root!

I have spent a little time with my kids and grand kids in Wisconsin. It was great to be with them and to be back in the area where we lived and raised 'em. I hadn't been back to Wisconsin for several years. I enjoyed my trip, but of course, I enjoyed coming back home, too. O.J. guarded the house while I was gone. Annie Oakley guarded the shop. Annie had visitors every day to play with; O.J. works alone. They were happy to see each other when I got back. In fact, before I could get my bags out of the car, they were saying, 'Hi.'

This is how I watch football games on the weekends. She will do this for the whole game if I let her. It is a weird feeling to know you're being watched this intently. It's like Annie is saying, "Tim. Buddy. We could be outdoors doing something. Why don't you get up off your lazy butt and get out there. This game is boring, and you don't care who wins it anyway. C'mon. Let's go do something!"

This is how I dream of having a canine companion. It doesn't happen often. It does happen though - for a moment sometimes.

One morning Annie and O.J. looked at each other and said, 'Merry Christmas' to each other - or something like that. I'll do the same for you, too. Here's to a merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all. Then, like Annie and O.J. - I'll roll over and go back to sleep for awhile.

Cheers from Oakdale Farm!

Friday, November 12, 2021

In With The NEW! The Farm Report 11-12-2021

 In With The NEW!
The Farm Report

'Out with the old,' is usually how the expression starts. I'm sick and tired of the 'old' so I'm starting with the NEW! Here is part of my new potato crop for 2021. All washed and ready to store away for winter. That handle Annie is wanting you to see is my new potato rake. It has tines about 2-inches apart, and it's bent so I can pick up spuds without ever having to bend down. Everybody should have one. I learned about them from Ruth Stout's 'No Work' gardening books.

In some circles, they recommend against washing potatoes before storing away. I'm not in that circle. I like clean when I store stuff. It seems to keep better for me, and I don't have to fight grime when I want a spud.

I'd pay actual cash money for more of these storage bins. We've used 'em for years. They are on wheels so they're easy to move, and they stack. I love them. I have a cold room in the shop where I store spuds. I put an old sleeping bag over them to keep out the light and keep in the cold. They will store until I plant the remains next March or April.

The bird house gourds are all picked up and curing. We got about 75 if you're counting.

Remember last summer when I just plopped down some throw-away lily roots? Well, they grew in spite of the terrible summer. Now, I'm going to clean up the roots and store them inside until spring.

Ever protective, Annie wants to be sure nobody gets to her big bucket of new day lily roots. After I get them washed up and trimmed, I'll set them in flats of moist peat and put them away where it is cool and dark.

I'm all chuffed! I got the whole tarp garden cleaned off! Here is the sage hanging outside to begin it's preliminary drying. Thanksgiving turkey dressing, here we come!

Sage is more-or-less a perennial for me. This ratty looking mess is the roots of the sage. This patch is now 3 years old, so we'll see if it makes it through the winter for a 2022 crop.

More good news! I made these strawberry markers about 4 years ago. They are nothing but lathe boards with a glued-on label name. I print out the names in 'reverse' mirror image on my toner printer, then stick the paper, print side down, into yellow glue on the lathe. After complete drying, you just wash off the paper, and the toner remains behind stuck in the glue. Four years and still going is fine with me!

Cheap thrills - or winter therapy? We have been bulb forcers for decades. There's nothing like a big pot of happy daffodils to warm your heart in the middle of winter. Ya gotta start 'em now, though. There's still time if you want to do some for yourself. It isn't hard.

Step A - go buy some bulbs. Cheap is fine because they won't make it past the forced pot stage. One bloom and they're out. All you do is put some potting soil in a pot. Crowd in the bulbs shoulder to shoulder and cover them - just. I put the whole shebang into a black garbage bag to keep the moisture in and the light out. Set it in a cool/cold corner somewhere like the garage floor (but where it doesn't quite freeze). I put some of mine in my shop fridge. There's not much else in there this time of year anyway.

Along in late January or early February when you've got cabin fever, take out a pot and watch it bloom for you. You'll be glad you did.

As advertised, here is part of my 'how to make plastic pots look like old bronze pots' tutorial.

First, give 'em a good screwing! (OK, I'm still a 7th grader, and proud of it...Sorry.) I put these four screws into the  base to anchor the concrete we're about to pour into the bottoms. They will keep it from falling out later.

I want to screw the top on too. Those screws will have to go down through the inside of the top into the base. I don't want to have to try driving these screws into concrete, so I just stuffed some paper toweling into the base to make a cavity for the screws.

Like so. It don't have to be pretty to work.

Next, buy a bag of ready to go concrete mix. Juice it up and pour it into the pot bottom. Level it off as best you can, and go away for a few days. It will set up and be hard as a rock when you come back.

Presto! Now we have bottoms that weigh about 25 pounds and only the screw heads remain as evidence. A little paint, and you'll never notice them. These pots will NOT blow away in the wind.

"Tim! There's something down in there!" Annie is always on the lookout for something that needs her herding management skills.

I'm always tickled to have her on the job. In this case, who needs a compost turner when you've got a Texas Heeler on the job.

Under the classification that says it is always better to be lucky than smart.... This is the potato row I dug to get my Ranger load of spuds. I was disappointed in the yield. However, see where Annie is standing? Well, I forgot I had planted TWO rows of spuds. Annie is standing on the mother lode! When I plowed the rest of the garden, luckily!, I hit the row perfectly and popped out another fifty or seventy-five pounds of taters.

One wonderful thing about gardens: Next year is always going to be better.

All is forgiven by the edict of the plow! Weeds are gone, grass is gone, messiness is gone. Promises of next year firmly installed. 

I have a little 'landscape rake' that fits on the back end of Henry Ford. It is just the ticket for cleaning up the garden and making it ready for next spring's joy.

We planted a couple bags of oats and some buckwheat seeds on the newly prepped ground, then 'scratched' them in with the landscape rake. Goodnight sweet garden, goodnight.

And then I planted my garlic to start the 2022 garden season. It is a never ending circle of fun!

"Is this where you want the Ranger, Tim, or should I pull it up a little?" Annie would be driving the Ranger if she had thumbs and a driver's license. She never NEVER misses a Ranger ride. This time, we're out in the orchard setting in 4 new super-duper apple trees.

Not being a stranger to these parts, I'm no optimist either. I put the little trees into the ground, then put cages around them. Then I put cover cloth around that to keep out the deer, mice and rabbits. And wind. The tires help keep out the deer; they smell of sulfer, and that reminds deer of their dead friends' decaying bodies. The grass and stubble helps keep out the rabbits. The posts keep off those little year old bucks with pongee antlers who want to rub out my trees! Venison sausage anybody!?

This year's apple plantings include 4 trees that are a cross between some University of Minnesota winners and some old standby heirlooms. The catalog said they were spectacular - so I had to buy 'em, of course. Time will tell.

What I see every morning. That's Annie's ears, and O.J.'s backside.

Annie is 2.5 now. She's beginning to enjoy a mid-morning nap while I read. She likes her favorite pillow, too. We're both happy about that.

And, I'm learning how to make my own hot dog an hamburger buns. Why not? What else is an old guy to do? (HINT: I'm also learning how to make my own cheese and sausage, too.) Keep following along and I'll share the good parts with you. Annie gets the losers....

Cheers from Oakdale Farm. All is well.