Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Well Dang! The Farm Report 03-30-2022

 Well Dang!

The Farm Report

Or words to that effect....! I've been enjoying Joyce's Greenhouse so much that this year I decided way back at Thanksgiving time that I would start the greenhouse heater early and enjoy life a little more in the artificial climate it provides. So I did. February 1, I started the heater; just enough to keep it from freezing at night, but still. Heat was on!

I had acquiesced to the fact that it was entirely my fault that oil prices had skyrocketed. Kind of like when you buy a brand new snow blower - and then it doesn't snow for 3 years. Well, once I was committed to keeping the greenhouse frost free, I was committed. Oil shot up! I was committed though.

To help make myself feel better, I bought a brand new state of the art digital thermostat to control the greenhouse heater. Accurate to within one tenth of one degree! the advertising said. Like heck!!! I went in one very cold morning and what you've been looking at in these pics is what I saw. Yep. You're right. Those are ice crystals in all my water pans. Ice! Me: Not Happy At All. "Well, Dang!" I said. Actually, that is not what I said at all. But I won't tell you just exactly what I said because it would make you think less of me if you really knew what I said. Your guest script will be pretty close though. "*&%$#@#$$%%!"

This pic was taken 'pre-failure.' I wanted to be able to show you the loads of strawberry blossoms that were setting on the hydroponic strawberry plants. LOADS! of 'em.

But now this is what I have to show you. Wilted over, sad strawberries.

And their little blossoms have turned black inside. Frozen off.... Well Dang!

They have recovered and are re-blooming now, but....

It got so cold in there it even stunned the peas and the radishes.

I didn't think peas could be zapped by a freeze. It turns out, they can.

The spinach did better, but it even said, "No, Thank You!" to the cold.

New thermostat installed, and we're back on the program.

Trouble comes in threes, they say. 

It was a very cold morning, and Miss Kitty and I wanted a fire in the stove. I loaded it up just like every other morning of the winter world, and lit it off. Plumes of thick black smoke started coming into the shop room. Well, Dang! - again. 

Every fall, I have to take down the stove chimney pipe and clean out the birds nests that have accumulated over the summer. It is a passing of the seasons ritual. I don't like doing it, but I have always felt good that at least once a year, I take the stove apart to clean and inspect for wear and tear.

I have never had to clean the pipes in mid winter though. Until now. So, up on a tall ladder (my ceilings are 14-feet in the air) and apart comes the pipes.

This is what it looks like when the chimney is clean and you hold your phone camera directly underneath the tube. You WANT to see that bright light up there at the end of the tunnel.

Roast bird, anybody? I had hesitated to show you this pic, but well, dang! You need to know what I'm fighting out here. The birds fill the chimney tube with grass and whatever to make a nest. That all slides down into the chimney tube because my chimney is usually clean - and slick. So then they add even more grass; repeat ad nauseum. I can't say I'm happy this starling 'bought the farm,' as they say. I can't say I'm sad about it, either.

I should have put a bird proof screen on the outside chimney cap years ago. Now I have one! And for all my worry wart friends and family out there: No! That is not me up on the roof. Good friend, good neighbor and good farmer Sterling helped me out on this one. Thanks Sterling!

Somewhere in those numbers and letters is a DOT code that will tell you the age of this tire on my trailer is about 24 years old. Why is that important? Well, Dang! Trailer tires don't wear out, 'they say' - they rot out. Another fun fact I proved while using the trailer to go get the 14 foot rental ladder so I could fix my stove. Flat....

All fixed now with a brand new tire. Rental ladder delivered back safely. I'm warm and Miss Kitty is purrrrring in the shop.

For you Little House on the Prairie fans, it is grass fire season here. Burning off the grass and little trees on the terraces is an annual event. Prairie fires are real, and they are scary! They burn like you can't imagine. Laura Ingles Wilder was not exaggerating about them in her stories.

In the Good News department, I've potted up some new Caroline red raspberries to set out later. I really like using these fabric pots to start things. The plants seem to like them, too.

Cup half full or half empty? These coleus have made a great start, but half the pot damped off. Fingers crossed we'll have nice plants later on.

This is our favorite all time sweet corn. It is wonderful. Sweet, and it actually tastes like corn.

As you can see, it is expensive, too!

I've started several flats of Ambrosia sweet corn for an early start. We're hoping for sweet corn by the Fourth of July. This year, I'm following Charles Downing's system of planting in clumps. I have 3 kernels of sweet corn in each of the plug spaces which will make a 3-stock clump in the garden row. Stay tuned.

What do you do with an old Crock Pot? They just never wear out, and they won't quit. Sweet potatoes love heat. They will produce 'slips' if you can put the mama potato where it is warm and moist. So...me thinks to me self. An old crock pot full of damp sand and....

...and a digital temperature controller to keep them from cooking. I'll bet this works, and I'll bet I wish I'd thought of it years ago. That Crock Pot was a wedding present we received 51 years ago. It still works. It will never die. It owes us nothing. It may be our new secret weapon to get sweet potato slips!

Ron, Rudy and Annie Oakley all in a Ranger. All in ANNIE'S Ranger to be more precise. Rudy is a German Shorthair pointer pup. He's under Ron's arm wishing he was somewhere else. Annie is wishing Rudy was someplace else, too. She's in her seat secured by her 'No Jump' jerk strap. Annie's look says it all. "What does he think he's doing in MY Ranger?" It ends up being sort of a clown show, but we all get in and away we go. We all have fun doing it, too. Annie supervises.

Well Dang! It has been a long hard week out here on Oakdale Farm. And to make matters worse, O.J. moved in on Annie's couch and the new fleece spread I bought to protect the couch. Annie wasn't pleased about that. After O.J. had accomplished his mission to annoy the bejabbers out of Miss Annie O, he slowly and very deliberately got down and left.

Annie moved right in and just collapsed. It was like she was saying, "Sheesh! What a week, Tim. I'm exhausted." She got her fav pillow in the right spot and just chilled out for a nap. I hope you can do that too. Other than that, life is good here at Oakdale Farm - until the next thing goes FFFFUUTTTT! Then I'll say, "Well Dang!" and deal with it. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Onward! The Farm Report 02-28-2022


The Farm Report

Onward and Upward! Winter isn't over yet, but we're ready to move on to a new season. To spur things on, and improve my attitude at the same time, I've been growing amaryllis flowers. 

This one is a little reluctant. I'm pretty much starting over, as I let my old bulbs decline during the time Joyce was sick. The bulbs will go out into a nursery row in the garden as soon as the weather settles down (no frost!). They will regenerate and be even better next year.

'Daffy Dills' as my Dad called 'em. They are fun to force into bloom too. Remember when I showed you the bulbs in the pots a couple of months ago? Well, here's the reward.

Of course, not everything lasts forever. My living room isn't too bright, and the bulbs kept getting taller and taller. Eventually, after several coffee mornings where I said to myself, "You need to stake those up," but didn't, they finally fell over. Usually, I throw these bulbs on the compost pile. They do not recover like the amaryllis bulbs do. But, this year, I have put the pot into the greenhouse to see if they can get a second wind. Time will tell. Never give up!

One week ago yesterday, it was so warm I took off my jackets and split wood in a sweat. One week ago today, it was becoming cold and miserable. One week ago tomorrow, it was 0F and the ground was white with snow and ice. It isn't summer yet....

We have had some nice days though. I'm putting a fresh coat of paint on the Kratky hydro-grow pans. Why? These are just cheap Walmart sweater pans. They will absolutely fall apart after just  a few weeks in the sunshine if the plastic isn't protected. Plus, if light gets into the fertilizer and water solution, green slimy stuff grows, and that kills the roots and the plants. 

Another project to be listed under the 'Never Give Up' header: The 'protected air space' garden on the south side of the greenhouse has been a disaster since the beginning. Weeds! Weeds! Weeds! My climate here is so unpredictable and changes so drastically (see weather notes above) I have not had success growing hybrid tea roses. In Wisconsin, I raised bunches of them. HT roses are my favorites. Well, the idea of creating a micro-climate intrigues me and that is why I put up the shelter fence, etc. on the side of the greenhouse. So far, the weeds have enjoyed it more than the roses. I don't give up, though.

I have decided to put landscape fabric down where the weeds once grew. Of course, there's always something! My greenhouse is 25 feet long. Exactly. The roll of ground cover I bought said it was 50 feet long - NOT. See that gap? Well it is over a foot long. That means my roll was really only 48 feet long! Those cheaters! So for every two dozen rolls they sell this way, they're getting an extra roll free to sell to some other sucker! I'm an Iowan born and bred. Cheat me once, and I'll never forget your name; cheat me twice and you'll never forget mine!

Another laugh on me. I thought I'd just go ahead and set the fabric down nice and tight with landscape staples. I forgot that even though the day was nice, the ground is still frozen like a rock.  Duh.....

I laid wooden deck planks around the perimeter to keep the edges neat. That was part of the original plan anyway.

Much to my oldest son, Chad's consternation, I keep some old tires around the place just for times like this. They are keeping the fabric down while the wind is blowing a gale.

Inside the greenhouse, the rose canes are beginning to root out. I'll use these as rootstock for my new batch of hybrid tea roses later on.

A problem being a long-time seed saver is that I have a ton of 'old' seeds in my archives. Sometimes they need a little 'tonic water' to help 'em get the spirit and grow. Giberellic acid is one of the tricks I use on hard to start seeds. Too many years in the chemical manufacturing business is showing, I'm sure!

I put the seeds on a damp paper towel and put that inside a cheap, thin, sandwich bag. This is important, because the thin plastic will allow oxygen to flow in and out of the bag - which helps get better germination.

These little 'wicking pots' are a magic plus when starting seeds, too. The bottom pan holds water, and there is a wick at the bottom of the top pan. It sticks through holes I cut in the pan so the wick can dip down into the water. Steady constant moisture. This one is Dakota Pearl onions.

Success! Ailsa Craig is a HUGE bulb onion. Fun!

A plug tray full of spinach and radishes to start in the hydroponic system later. 

And here are some pics that are sort of 'bass ackwards' in order. This is a finished and planted hybrid rain gutter hydroponic system. The top part with the white stuff is an actual plastic rain gutter. It also has a wick in the bottom. The wick goes through holes down into a section of down spout which holds water. Set it and forget it!

The gutter is filled with potting soil. Why so many peas? They are about 6 year old. If any of 'em grow it will be a miracle. Maybe a few will. If they all do, then that is what 'pea greens' in salads are for.

Here is the wicking material at the bottom of the gutter.

The wick goes down into the water pan below. If all goes well, and I want to set the peas out into the garden later, then I just unscrew the wooden end cap and slide out the peas into the garden row. Easy peasy.

"Tim, this is boring." Annie isn't into gardening as much as I am.

And we're off and running the Hydroponic Strawberry Patch again! Earlier than ever before. I'm enthused. This year, I have Albion, Seascape and another new strawberry variety. My favorite grand daughter (my only one!) is named Evie. When I found Evie-2 hydroponic strawberry plants available, well of course, I had to have some. They're looking great.

Here's the downside of feeding road kill deer to eagles. Annie thinks we did this all just for her....

Annie and her Ranger are never far from what I'm doing. She watches me like a grade school teacher watches her class. When Joyce was still teaching, I always felt like I was in permanent 6th grade anyway. Not much changes....

OK, Chad! Here's another use for those ugly old tires I keep around the farm. Putting the logs up on the tires keeps my saw chain out of the dirt.

Zip, Zip, Zip and the logs become firewood links.

A little later and the links become split firewood. Annie would drive the Ranger if I let her. I think she's smart enough to learn how. She doesn't have thumbs though, so I don't know how she would steer.

This is what I saw a week ago tomorrow. It was cold, but sunny. I had pruned off some limbs from the black walnut trees near the house. A glint of sunshine caught my attention. What's that? Tree sap ice cycles! The sap is running. Walnut sap makes great syrup. In Iowa, though, the season is only measured in days! Our 'sugar season' is probably less than a week long. So, it isn't a product you'll see on the shelves any time soon. You can make your own though, if you get at it quick.

Then since it was 0F and winter outside again, I moved inside and did some cooking. I got out the old fashioned pasta maker and made some homemade noodles.

You can't beat home made egg noodles. And if there's a machine to do it with, what more could you want on a cold winter day. The radiators were nice and toasty, so the noodles dried right out. They'll be good later on, too.

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and.... I've been trying to figure out ways to incorporate more veggies into my meal plans. Egg rolls are on my favorites list, so I made up a batch of veggies and steamed them to give things a head start. One of the benefits of the internet age is blog friends. One of my blog friends is a vegetarian. Where else could you get better advice about using vegetables than that!? She pointed me in the direction of this website: https://www.aveggieventure.com. It is spectacular! Thanks Michelle!!! I put in some pork sausage and some shrimp, but still.... Very tasty indeed.

That's Annie Oakley down there by the bushes. I couldn't get pics, so I'll just have to tell you the story. I have a falcon out here. The sparrows and little birds are terrified of him (and for good reason). At night, they go into the bushes for shelter and safe hiding. Annie heard them chipping at each other one evening and immediately went over to supervise. All at once, she POUNCED. After a little while, she came out of the brush with a bird in her mouth. 'Last call for that one!' said I. Well, Annie is a control freak, herding dog. She isn't a killer dog. Annie went over to the driveway and put the little bird down. The little bird had not been hurt, and just picked itself up and flew away. I was amazed, and Annie was put out. She wanted to play!

"Tim. This ain't right." said Annie.  "I'm the only one who is supposed to be up here on your lap. He's in my place. Isn't there something we can do to get rid of him?"

We all live here, Annie. We all do our part, and we all try to get along. Some of us more than the others. Nobody is leaving. Get over it.

And so, there you have it. Another little glimpse into my days. All is well, and spring isn't far away. I hope you are all well, too.