Monday, April 26, 2021

IOWA - WTH?! The Farm Report 04-27-2021


The Farm Report

What the heck?! Welcome to my world in sunny southern Iowa. Annie and I sat out watching this late snowstorm the other afternoon. Crazy - but typical Iowa.

To be precise, it was April 19, 2021. "Oh my, but maybe it will only be a light frost," I said to myself.

But then a few days later, this was the temperature Alexa was so happy to tell me about when I got ready to make the morning brew. 28F. Fruit trees can take a frost, but at 28F, according to my books, about 10% of the fruit will be lost. Today, four days later, the high will be almost 90F and winds in the gale force zone;  'taint no place for sissies where I live ....

I'm the eternal optimist, and here's a reason why. When I went up to feed the chickens and open the greenhouse vents the next morning, I spotted something out in the cornfield stubble that caught my eye. A flower?

Yep! How it got there, I'll never know. Right out in the open cornfield - where all manner of farm equipment, and chemical fertilizers and weed killers have found their way over the years - there was the most beautiful bright yellow daffodil waving at me.

Three weeks ago, I cut the spuds and made ready to plant. Life interfered, so they're still in the buckets. At our low and cold temps, I'm not terribly disappointed. They'll catch up when I do eventually get them planted. One year, we found some seed potatoes back behind a bench. We planted them on the Fourth of July, and had 'new' potatoes for Thanksgiving Dinner. Taters is forgiving.

The flowering almonds are beautiful this year. I'm going to try to propagate some later on - when the wood is right. 

This year I'm using my soil block maker to make little 'soil block' starters for the indoor sweetcorn kickoff. It is like playing in the mud, but with a purpose and a special tool. A perfect thing to do for a 70 something year old guy who thinks he's still a kid.

Presto! The sweetcorn germinated really fast in the warm moist greenhouse. We'll set these out in a week or two - when the frosts are REALLY gone. Getting sweet corn to sprout in cold ground is a problem. Once it has sprouted though, it will grow on in cooler weather. So, I've learned to sprout some early corn indoors.

This is what sweetcorn looks like after it has sprouted and the mice have discovered it. Duh! Why didn't I think to put the flats up on the slick plastic buckets BEFORE the mice found it. "Too soon old, too late smart."

The ginger project took a vicious turn. Remember me showing you the spike that had started growing on my 'Grow Your Own Ginger' project? Well, here it is a few days later.

Look at those roots! Hydroponic ginger - from a Walmart ginger root/rhizome. I was thrilled beyond belief. Then I said to myself, 'Gee, that looks a lot like corn.' Then I realized it was corn. A kernel of sweetcorn had dropped into the potting soil. I never give up, so I'll get another root and try again. The old one had rotted - too cold I think.

Dutch bucket Boc Choy. Above the hole in the bucket is a false bottom and the fabric soil liner. Below the hole is just water and fertilizer solution. A wick inside feeds the solution to the plants.

Same song, different verse. For these Dutch buckets, I'm using hydroponic air pot lids. The 'soil' is only a 6-inch air pot. I put a wick in to draw water up to the soil for starters. Then, the plant's roots will grow out into the solution. These are broccoli.

The outdoor stuff is growing like fire. The cups are all tomatoes of one sort or another. Joyce always wanted me to plant 100 tomato plants. This year, I think about 2 dozen will do it for me. When she canned tomato stuff, she didn't want to fool around waiting for fruit. She wanted enough plants so she could head out to the garden with a couple of 5-gallon buckets and come back ready to go. Me too. Plus, you gotta love BLT's all summer long.

These are geraniums from seed. I've never done that before. Last night, I learned that the Japanese Beetle's most favorite of all plants to feed on is - you guessed it - geraniums! I've got ideas for 'em though. Stay tuned. And my ideas don't involve a tweezer and a bucket of soapy water either!

I've discovered self-watering wicking trays for seed starting this year. I make them from simple food storage boxes I bought at the Dollar Store. You could use anything. I cut a slot at both ends and there is a piece of fabric running  up into one slot on one end, across the bottom of the tray, then back down into the bottom through the slot on the other end. The fabric tails dangle in a pot of water under the planter tray. Works like a top. More geraniums to transplant and - AND! - my celery has begun to sprout. That's it on the left.

I biggie sized this for you, but you may want to do more so you can see 'em. Celery is slow to sprout, and when it does the little plants are not much bigger than a whisker. I love having celery in the garden just for the smell it gives the whole garden in summer. Otherwise, celery is a buck a sprig at the store. Mine is mine though!

Hydroponic strawberry patch in March

Hydroponic strawberry patch in April.

Hydroponic strawberry patch last night! This morning, some of those berries are beginning to show red. This is working!!!

In other areas of my goofy life, we spent time this past winter making copies of my electric razor strop/sharpener for my neighbor, Ron, and his grandson, Tate. My goal was to see if we could make them out of nothing and spend nothing doing it. We got pretty close. The wheels were cut from a sheet of plywood. (Before Canada got mad at us and raised the price of plywood!) The axle is a piece of electrical conduit. The bearings are pieces of plastic water pipe, and the pulley is made from wood, too. The frame is left over concrete lumber, and the motors are salvage scrap from who knows where. The wheels turn 'backwards' from ordinary grinders, and they are surfaced with leather and canvas webbing. The one on the right side is abrasive, then you work your way down towards the left with finer and finer abrasives until you come to the last one, which is loaded with red rouge. Razor sharp, no steel wasted.

And after fighting with 'Old Red' for too long, I have a new (to me) land rover for farm duty. It is a strange world we live in. This is a Toyota, but it was made in Indiana. My good old GMC van (which had almost 300,000 miles on it) was made in Canada with mostly Mexican parts. Joyce's favorite little blue Honda was made in Tennessee. We are all part of an international community now - and we're all the better for it as far as I'm concerned. No man is an island. With this new blue rig, I can go someplace, and reliably expect it to get me back home, too! On the same day, and without the use of a tow truck. This was becoming an all-too-frequent issue with Old Red. So, all is well here at Oakdale Farm. I'll put the AC unit in the house window next week - right after the fire burns out in the boiler. Cheers.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Everything Went Boom! Then I Found Heaven: The Farm Report 04-03-2021

 Everything Went Boom!
 Then I Found Heaven

The Farm Report

My Dad used to say that if you wanted to give the calendar an enema, March would probably be where you'd stick it in. August runs a close second for me, but this past month has just been horrible!

I went to the basement to get some food from the freezer down there one night, and there was water all over the floor. I now have a new water heater. Fortunately, the guys from the plumbing shop had big rugged trucks and were able to blast their way in through the snow drifts and ice to bring it in. Mission Accomplished. 

Next, my trusty (NOT!) old pickup decided to leave me high and dry out in the middle of the country - AGAIN! So now I have a new (to me) truck to replace it.

The power decided to go out suddenly one night. That was fun - in the winter! I had forgotten that I have little LED night lights hidden around, so the house is never totally dark. That night, it was BLACK! dark. In my optimism, I had put away all the oil lamps. Even more fun playing with oil and fire in the dark, in the winter. My cell phone depends upon my WiFi signal, and of course without power, I have no WiFi signal. What could possibly go wrong-er???

Oh, and did I mention that I have a new transmission in my 'good' car? Well I do. Yep, stranded in super low out on the road again. Of course, when I Googled this problem, the nice reviewers said the motors in cars like mine will run for 'hundreds of thousands of miles' but the transmissions will regularly fail at about 140,000. I only had 139,000 on mine, but still. Engineers! The bane of modern man. Apparently that -27F weather we had in February took a bigger toll than I thought.

And other stuff. March - Good Riddance!

But then I found heaven! I live alone in a giant old farmhouse. It is/was one of the secrets to a long and happy marriage. We both had our own space. It seems like yesterday, but my dear sweet sweetie, Joyce, has been gone 3 years now. I'm still a little shell shocked around the edges, but I'm trying to live life and enjoy it. Cleaning house is not one of my specialties. I was digging around in one of the closets the other day looking for something else, when I found the basket in the pic. Ah Ha! So that's where she was putting them. I'm no clothes horse, and I do like my comfort. It seemed to me that just when my cotton tee shirts were getting really comfortable (although with some stains and holes that really didn't bother me) they would disappear. I would ask Joyce what happened to my good old shirt? She would grin and give me the 'eye' and say, "I think maybe it went to heaven." I thought she meant she had taken it to Good Will. Nope! Heaven, as it turns out, is actually a laundry basket tucked deep into the back of the upstairs hall closet - where only the faithful ever go. Now I know. She cut them all up into neat little squares though, so no fashion show is possible.

Right after we got the new hot water heater, I came downstairs one morning to make the coffee and let OJ in. When I opened the back door, this is what I saw. OJ got down off his settle blanket, put his tail straight up in the air and walked - I repeat, walked! - into the house. The victor. There had been one heckova cat fight in the night. OJ won. But Oh My! That is all kinds of cat hair on the rug, and not much of it was OJ's. I'm betting with spring coming, one of the feral tomcats came calling and challenged OJ. He's an old guy, but he knows how to fight, and he wins! There was some 'other stuff' mixed in with the cat hair, too. I'll let you use your imagination to figure out what OJ scared out of the other tom.

OJ now has a new notch in his ear to prove his prowess.

He was stiff and sore for a day, but he's fine now.

No good deed goes unpunished. I bought Annie a squiggly ball toy for fun. She spent an hour in this pose. She doesn't know what it is, and she doesn't trust it one bit. Blue Toy has too many moving parts.

We've been having 'field fun' too. Farmer neighbors are mostly great people. They are people though, and there is always one in the mix somewhere that can make an exception. We had one of my mother's fields surveyed to establish (again!) where the property lines actually are. The farmers are putting in wooden posts everywhere the surveyors left stakes this time. Neighbor has agreed to keep a 10 ft grass way on his side this time, too. (That would be the side on the right hand side of the stakes.) We'll see....

Meanwhile, the spider plant is rooting nicely in the wicking pot.

Hydroponic wicking is an amazing 'gardening' technique.

Here is my Wally World homemade propagator at work.

Fantastic results so far.

Just as a reminder, the planters are sitting on heating mats. I just bought 2 more for under $25 for the pair including shipping (would that be $12.50 each?). They only draw 20 watts and they work. Hint!

These are Boston White lettuce plants ready for transplanting.

Here they are planted out in 'pool noodle' plug holders ready to live their life out in the Kratky hydroponic pans.

View from the bottom. Professor Kratky developed this no-pump, no fuss system to help under developed areas in the world grow their own food. It works like a top! You can see more and read more by just looking up the Kratky System on the interweb. It really, truly does work.

Here we are a couple of weeks later. Lettuce grows fast!

The root system is actually more amazing to me than the tops. See how the roots have reached out and are holding hands with each other? I do think they might graft together and form a symbiotic relationship. But I'm a furniture guy, so what would I know?

The 'with pump and fuss' hydroponic strawberry patch is doing well.

Strawberry blossoms in Iowa in March! If they're anything like last year's, they'll sure be delicious.

You can't let all the static around you block out the seasons. All the new plants and varieties to try this year! I get excited every time.

While the seeds are sprouting, I'm busy sewing. One of my grandfathers was an old time blacksmith. He always said there wasn't anything too much worse to cause problems than a farmer with a welder. Maybe a farmer with a sewing machine might run a close second. I'm sure people who actually have sewing skills would be rolling their eyes with my techniques, but who cares!

I'm using my trusty Singer Heavy Duty to sew ground cover fabric to make wicking beds for my little plants. That square white stuff is a section of a florescent 'egg crate' light cover. I'll put it in a little pan, and the water in the bottom of the pan will wick up to the plants as they need it.

Here's another new idea for me. Kratky rain gutter downspouts. Again, simple, passive, cheap and effective. I love it!

Bok Choy. My sister likes it, and I'm about to drown her in it. Stay tuned!

You might have to 'Biggie Size' the pic to see the geese, but they have been flying. I live in the Missouri River Flyway, and we get the spring and fall migrations every year. Thousands and thousands of snow geese this day. Some people call 'em flying rats. I think they're pretty.

Annie does too. She watched them all afternoon.

So if you don't think dogs are smart, let me correct your thinking. Annie Oakley has now trained every delivery guy, the Post Office delivery folks and anybody else who comes to the farm that she needs to have a belly rub before anything else can happen. Ellie was her latest trainee this week. Of course, Ellie didn't really think it was a hard chore. Annie was almost in a trans.

And the crocus Joyce planted for me are in bloom. So, even though everything went Boom! this month, the world is still round and circling the sun in a predictable pattern. All is well at Oakdale Farm, and I am too - but my bank account sure is sore! Cheers until next time.