Monday, February 22, 2021

This Week's Temperature: 76F: The Farm Report 02-23-2021

 This Week's Temperature: 76

The Farm Report


Oh, Wait! That is a typo. It should have said, "This Week's Temperature SWING: 76." I live in a tough climate. My weather resembles Minneapolis weather. I'm in the area the USDA weather zone maps used to call 'The Hook.' It is a little comma shaped spot that has just miserable weather changes and high winds. Last week on Tuesday morning, Alexa told me my outdoor ACTUAL TEMPERATURE was -27F. That is, if you've never experienced it, what puts starch in the old saying, 'Colder than a well digger's arse.' I mean, it is really really cold. Just for fun, I took a cup of hot coffee outside and threw the coffee as high in the air as I could. It is a physics trick. POOF! The hot coffee vaporizes instantly into a cloud, and no liquid hits the ground. I'm a kid at heart, so I did it three or four times. It was neat. Annie looked puzzled, and then lost interest after the first one. The thermometer in the pic shows the temp inside the greenhouse. At the time I took this, it was still -20F outside, but the sun was shining. Greenhouse effect?! So, of course that put me in mind that it was time to be seriously getting to work starting seeds.

Why start seeds when you can just go to Home Depot and buy plants? Two reasons for me: One, I like to do it and it makes the tail end (that is a pun if you work on it.... ahem) of winter more tolerable. Two, there are some plants I want that just never seem to show up on the plant stands; Ailsa Craig onions being a case in point. These onions get huge, and they are sweet. They are not good for keeping, but they make great steamed or fried onions.

I'm wanting to put some seedlings up in the greenhouse as soon as I can. Still, I need to protect them from frost, and I also need to protect my bank account from the fuel bills. What to do? Here's my latest idea in the works. I started with a cheap plastic storage box from Wally's Chinaworld.

It just fits my foam 10/20 seed starting flats. Upside down, it isn't a storage box anymore, it is a greenhouse mini-dome.

Here's the scoop if you want to play along at home. When I started to buy a storage bin, I thought this one was just way too huge. The next size down seemed a little small. Measurements scribbled down on a piece of paper beforehand would be good, but hey, anybody can do that. I just go for eye measurements. Anyway, when I got home with the one I thought was going to be just too big, surprise!, it was just right.

Next comes ventilation. I'm not much for being ingenious when it comes to designing things, but I can copy with the best of 'em. I'm using a design made and sold by Vitagrow in England. The UK folks are the REAL gardeners among us. The price to buy a genuine Vitagrow is nearly a hundred bucks here though. This project cost me less than a tenner - as they say.

I poked two holes in the back of the top.

Then I poked two holes on the bottom edges opposite. One for 'In' and one for 'Out.'

Then I also cut bigger discs from another source of cheap plastic (the lid from the dishwasher soap bucket). One cheap stove bolt per and just the right amount of tightening, and Bob's Your Uncle for a draft controller on each opening.

Down for a little, up for a lot. I'll put this up on the bench in the greenhouse with an electric heat mat laying on the foam tray. The seed flat will sit on top of the heat pad. At night, I can throw a blanket over the whole contraption for added cost savings and insulation. A little thermostat keeps the heat at the 'just right' temp I tell it to.

I live in Iowa, but I'm only a few miles away from the Missouri border. I'm close enough to use the Missouri, 'Show Me' mantra. Last time, I was saying that a heat mat for seed starting was a real plus. Here's some proof. These little lettuces were started 1-27.

Here are their roots in the Spaghetti Jar Hydroponic System I showed you last time. Nice roots, and nice plants. If my math is close, I think that was 26 days ago. They were on a sunny window sill in my shop office.

Here are some more starts. These guys were all started 2-11; Ten days ago.

Ten Days Ago! Nice plants, better roots, less than half the time. Try taking my seed starter heat mats away from me! Lettuce is easy to start. The harder things like celery and parsley need this heat control even more. I bought some really expensive impatiens seeds for Joyce's shop planter boxes this year. I'll be sure to use the heat mats for them.

Here is my coffee can net pot with a spider plant/airplane plant in it. I broke this off 10 days ago and pushed it down into the potting mix. It had NO roots and just little swollen buds where the roots should be.

Hey Presto! Ten days later and look at the roots coming out through the net pot slits. If you look closely, you can see the wick in the background. It is just a piece of hydrophilic landscaping cloth. Don't overthink this idea though. My great aunt Irene did this same thing back when my grandfather was in France fighting the hun in WWI. She use a piece of old woolen sock. Same old idea, new high tech supplies.

'Tim! Did you just see that? That darned cat gets away with murder on me!' Miss Kitty had just taken a roundhouse swing at Annie's nose that Muhammad Ali would have been proud of. Like a cat, she already had her escape route planned and was on the way out like water running towards the drain by the time I looked up. Annie was shocked. Shocked! I'm tellin' ya. So we begin a new season and prepare to let go of the old one. All is well at Oakdale Farm. I hope it is well with you, too.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Wintering: The Farm Report 02-04-2021


The Farm Report

I recently came across this book: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. It was written by Katherine May. I haven't read the book yet, but I'm intrigued by the title. It speaks to our times, and it speaks to maybe the reason I like winters so much. I think I've been 'wintering' all my life. Winter can be such a quiet and peaceful time. For me, it is a time to ponder, plan for the new gardens and new projects, and just rest up. Whooof! Especially right now, we all need a 'winter' to just let it all get back together. Joyce used to say we need time to 'ideate.' She liked words like that. When I was a boy, I ideated a lot - and sometimes got scolded for it. Who knew it would be the hot new thing to do in the 2000's?

Of course, one can 'winter' even when it doesn't really seem like winter where you are. People in Florida I know do that. But here in Randolph, Iowa, we don't need stage props to remind us that it really is winter!

This is Annie's second winter. She likes snow about as much as I do. She loves to go out and play in it. When she was a little pup, I was concerned that she might not have the hair coat DNA to be warm enough in the winters here. She's a 'Texas Heeler' girl after all. Well, I didn't need to worry. She has papa's Aussie Shepherd hair. That includes a fine under coat of extra insulation. Sometimes I look outside to check on her, and she'll be laying on top of the snow watching the birds and squirrels in the valley. 

Ya Gotta Have Equipment! I showed you my little Ranger blade last time. Well, here we go again! I love to cuss engineers. They so deserve it sometimes! But when they get it right, I should say that too. Two pins - located in a very easy place to get to, I will add - and pop! The blade is off or on. Hook the winch cable hook on the blade and off we go. I love it. Annie does too.

Now I'm going to tell you this, and I know I'll get 'comments' but Annie loves to fly out of the Ranger and jump into the biggest snow drifts as we whiz by them. I know. It is dangerous as heck. But it is so fun to see her having fun, I let her do it anyway. She spots 'em and waits for the 'moment.' Then BAM out she goes like a flying dog, and, like a kid at the swimming pool doing cannon balls, she splashes into the drifts and then comes charging back to jump up into the Ranger and take her Shotgun Seat, and wait for the next one to do it again. Over, and over.

It is surprising how much snow that little Ranger blade will do.

"Our truck still needs work, buddy." Patience, Annie. Patience.

But wait, that's not all, there's more! I kept my Official Wisconsin Snowblower when we moved back here to the farm. That has been a long time ago now (although it seems like only a few weeks sometimes). It still works like a new one. What the Ranger can't get, the Blower will. I'm set.

Logging firewood in the snow isn't as much fun as one might think. It is pretty, is wet and dangerous. I don't mind the dangerous part so much as I don't like being cold and wet. So I pass. That's what the propane tank and the new gas boiler are for.

Well, not everybody agrees, of course. I'm blessed to have the absolute best neighbors and friends a guy could ask for. Yesterday, the high was in the mid 40's here and it was sunny and still. The lows this weekend are to be in the single digits or below with nasty wind and ... winter. My neighbor, Ron, thought I needed to get stocked up on firewood for the coming deep freeze we're predicted to have. So, we cut and split and told stories and had fun all day. When we were done, Emmie (My 1947 Farmall M) had all the wood load she could handle and we are ready for some chillin'.

Let me say that another way: Emmie could handle the load just fine. Tim! had trouble handling the load. You see, all that wood is heavy; very heavy. Stacked this high, the 3-point hitch hauler is really draggin' a load back there; you're looking at a little over a half cord of hard wood. Gravity being what it is, this weight becomes a counterbalance for the tractor's front wheels. (Think 'rear axle be fulcrum!') I knew when I got on Emmie to move her and her load away from the splitter and over to the boiler that I was in for some fun. Why? I had power steering! If you're into old tractors, you'll know that Farmall M's didn't come with power steering. B-17's needed a strong crew of men to fly them because they had manual controls. B-29's had hydraulic controls and were much easier to handle. Since I'm the only 'crew' onboard Emmie, I usually have to have 'Armstrong' power steering. Well, when I got on and the steering wheel was spinning around effortlessly, I knew my front wheels weren't on the ground. I had to steer with the brakes to get her into her parking spot by the boiler - on ice, uphill, and ... oh well, you get the point. On one try, when I hit a tree with the bucket on the front end because the brakes didn't work right, I thought Ron was going to be willing to pay for an admission ticket to watch the rest of the show. His expression was priceless - and he said my expression was priceless, too! Fun on the farm with big boy toys.

And speaking of Big Boy Toys: This is my latest 'iteration' (Joyce would like that word, too) of How To Get Big Wood Into The Boiler without breaking your back (or turning your foot purple for the rest of the winter). The components include a jib crane mounted on a 3-point hitch, a handy 1952 Ford 8N with said 3-point hitch, an electric winch and - wait for it - a fencing staple and some twine. Red Green was my mentor. I just drive a fencing staple into these gnarly crotch pieces and wrap a bunch of twine through it to make a strong loop. Then I put the cable hook through the twine and lift the beggar into the boiler. The staple and the twine are sacrificed to the fire gods, and I get heat. I have more ideas for this theme, but I'll show you later. What could possibly go wrong?

Time to start some seeds! I'm using hydroponic net cups to start my seeds this year. These are lettuce and boc choy for the Kratky pans up in the greenhouse. The idea is to let the roots either grow out into the fertilizer/water solution through the net openings, or let the seedlings 'root prune' themselves when they hit the air so they don't have so much shock when I transplant them. Stay tuned. I'll let you know how this works out. I'm starting them in a pan of water so they are constantly moist. That black cable sticking in the pot on the left is a temperature sensor probe that controls the heat mat underneath them. It may seem like overkill, but it isn't. Seeds started at the right temperatures take off like a shot and do better all summer long. Plus, I like doing it this way.

This is the scoop on my pots for anybody interested. Amazon or ebay.

Mini-Kratky Little Gem lettuces. The black stuff on the outside of the jar is to keep the light out of the root zone. FYI, a 2-inch net pot fits an old spaghetti sauce jar perfectly!

I don't put pictures of me in this blog very often, and for good reason. When did I get to be this ugly old guy??? But it amused me that when I was getting ready to take Annie out to blow snow, I looked so much like a stereotypical Iowa farmer that I just had to snap it off. I'm really a lot younger and more handsome looking than this picture shows - I hope.

We're past Groundhog Day, and spring is coming. I have two former workmates who stay in touch. One still lives in Wisconsin, and one lives in the Ozarks. Jerry put a picture of some daffodils poking out of the ground and announced that it was a sure sign that spring was on the way where he lives. In Wisconsin, Dick said that he was seeing signs of spring, too. The mailboxes, he said, were beginning to poke their heads up out of the roadside snow drifts. And so it goes. All is well here at Oakdale Farm. Sort your seeds and get ready. Next thing you know, it will be so hot you can't breathe.