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!