Friday, June 2, 2023

Ground Cover: The Farm Report 06-02-2023

 The Farm Report

Ground Cover

Time to put out the Official Shop Flower Box flowers for the season. This is the year for marigolds.

This year, I'm using a permeable ground fabric for my weed control tool. It is non-woven 'spun' cloth made from powdered milk jugs or something like that. It resembles thin felt, and water can go through it. In years past, I've just used black plastic. It works, but I had trouble with the flowers getting enough underground moisture to let them thrive. So, New Year, New Ways.

That handy-dandy yellow tool is actually a slide hammer ice chipper my brother gave me. It works a treat to tuck the loose fabric edges down to make 'em neat and pretty.

Always better to be lucky than smart, I say. I learned that I could just jam the ground cover fabric right down on my wire cages and THEN put the whole works in place. Why didn't I think of this before?

Like This! Next step: Fire!!!

A Harbor Freight flame thrower, a new bottle of propane gas and a match, and we're ready to do some damage. I use an old piece of steel conduit for my burning tool. 

After I flame the conduit and get it good and hot, I just melt holes in the fabric (remember, the mfr says it is made from recycled plastic). Nothing to it. With the fabric down, it is easy to get the holes where I want 'em.

The plug flat tray of new marigolds got a little 'rooty' on me. Marigolds send roots down to China, and here is a look at how they do it.

One thing I like about the lowly Marigold is that they are tough as nails. I just ripped off the excess roots and pulled the plugs ready for planting.

And here once again is a look at my Homemade and Handy planting dibber. Yep, it is a broken spade handle with a piece of rebar drilled through for a foot hold. This one is perfectly sized for my plug flats.

As Red Green says, "And it's just that easy." Plunge the dibber down through the holes, drop in a plug of marigold and go to the next one. Sometimes I tamp them in a little, sometimes I don't.... Marigolds don't care.

In less than an hour, I had all ten flower boxes covered, pierced and planted. You can't beat that. Plus, the ground cover means I really don't have any weeding to worry about for the rest of the summer. I like that.

Out on the tarp garden, I'm pulling the same trick, with a twist. The tarp is waterproof. The idea is that underground moisture will find its way under to the plant roots. Last summer, it was like the Sahara Desert out here at Oakdale Farm, and we proved there is a weak link in the idea. So... This year, I pulled up the wood frames and cut out a flap just a little smaller than the wood sqaure. I stapled the same fleece like ground cover material I used for the marigolds onto the bottom of the wood squares. Now, water can freely go through the fabric if/when I want to water my plants.

After I made bigger holes for my bigger tomato plants, instead of packing in soil to cover them, I just poured on a handful (or two or three) of common sand. It packs itself around the plant and lets water go through easy. The 'maters love it.

Ahem! Last year, I bought into the idea of biodegradable net bags to start my plants in. The idea was that the net bags would break down and return to Mother Nature, and the little plants could go happily on their way. Well, BALONEY! I suppose these bags will break down and compost - someday. But not in the next decade! Every - repeat, EVERY - one of these I planted came right back out just like it was when I planted it last year. They showed no sign of being any worse for wear having been buried in the garden for a year.

Potting soil and all. I was disappointed. That's my Biggie Size bulb planter tool you're seeing, by the way. I use it to make a hole when my dibber isn't up to the job.

Just look at this mess! Anybody want a deal on a whole bunch of net grow pots? Act fast, because I know a place to put 'em, and they're going there soon.

This year, it's 'maters around the outside perimeter trained onto the cattle panel fences.

This is what sweet potato slips look like a few days after they arrive in the mail. They don't like traveling any more than I do. But like me, they survive it. I soak 'em in a pot of water for a couple of days to give them a drink and welcome them home to Oakdale Farm.

Beauregard and Georgia Jets this year. I like the flavor of Beauregards best, but Georgia Jets are  
always reliable in my 'northern' climate. They do indeed grow like jets!

This is what those exact same slips looked like a little over two weeks later. I put them into a coffee can full of Diatomaceous Earth (Fancy floor dry from O'Reilly Auto Parts - NOT the ordinary mechanic's clay floor dry!). They root like crazy. See that little stick with the notch on the end? That's my Official George the Tater Man slip planter. I'll put a little video on here so you can see how it works.

It is hard to see in the little video, but I have a nice hill mounded up for the sweet potatoes. I lay the slips out almost end to end, then as you can see, I just pop them into place. It is exactly as easy as it looks - and if you're in Permanent Fifth Grade like me, you will be giggling to yourself all the way down the row. I'm easily entertained.

A whole row in and ready to grow. My sister really likes sweet potatoes. I'm OK with them. But they are so much fun to grow. Everything brown in this pic will soon be green covered with sweet potato vines. They grow like nobody's business. (Now, if I can keep the deer and rabbits off!)

In the greenhouse, I'm converting the strawberry tubes over to become my hydroponic herb garden this year. This is celery. I did that last year and the celery loved it. I start my seeds (tiny!) in little half-inch cubes. That's the mini-blocker cube maker behind the celery pack. Then, once they're growing, I move them into bigger soil blocks. See that lighter colored one? I have discovered I can make up extra soil blocks and just let them dry. Later, when I need a few, I have a box full ready to go.

The roots do sorta grow together if I wait too long to transplant, so I just use a good sharp knife and cut them loose.

36 plugs of celery ready to grow up into hydroponic net pots.

Basil is another tried and true hydroponic lover. I like to make my own pesto, and fresh basil is key!

This year, the pizza lover in me started some oregano starts. Same drill: Half inch mini blocks to see which seeds really want to grow, then the winners get to move on up into bigger blocks for transplanting later into the hydroponic net pots.

Dill! Yes! I have read that dill loves to be grown hydroponically. Why not? So, again, little mini blocks to get started. That's my home made 'scoopula' full of DE to cover the seeds. I put my mini blocks in a small wicking tray to get them going. There is water in the pan underneath the one you're seeing. That way I don't have to worry about the little baby blocks drying out.

As the late E.B. White said, "One man's pain is another man's pleasure." This pot had a broken ear - or nose or lip or something. Anyway, it had been pitched toward the garbage heap. I rescued it, and am intending to make it a wicking marjoram pot.

Hole in bottom will accept wicking material. In my case (since I'm a cheapskate) the wicking material is a piece of cast off Walmart polyester polar fleece blanket.

Wick installed and ready for filling.

Inside, I pull up extra material so there's plenty of surface area for the capillary action to happen.

Filled with Pro Mix and ready for sets. Once it is set with marjoram (or something) I will water it in, and then set the whole shebang on top of a five gallon bucket filled with water. It becomes a self-watering pot.

Have you ever heard a cat puke? Well, if have you know the sound. If you haven't, it sounds like the cat has been possessed by an evil spirit from a bad Svengoolie movie skit. It is an unmistakable horrible sound. Also, once that sound gets your attention, you do NOT have time to evacuate said cat from the premises before URP!/UPCHUCK  and the whole works spews out. And I hadn't even had coffee yet. And how does a cat know which Persian rug is the one with the most expensive silk and pure wool weave - the hand tied one? Why not puke on a cheap rug? Oh No! That would be beneath the station of the King Of Oakdale Farm. He must puke on the good stuff.  Cripes!

Miss Kitty says, "Don't even think about blaming me for that. I use this cheap shop rug for my nest, and it's just fine. I even keep my sword hands curled up just to be nice. Buzz off."

So, here's another view of 'Ground Cover' that I like. The Timber is so pretty this time of year. In a few weeks, it will be like a jungle sauna in there, and I won't go anymore until fall. Right now, it is gorgeous. Sometimes, I even see some wild turkeys when I go down this lane.

All for now. All is well - and all is cleaned up! O.J. is fine. Only the rabbit's hair was ruined in the making of this blog. See you next time. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Everything Breaks! The Farm Report 05-15-2023

 The Farm Report

Everything Breaks!

'Tis the season. Everything either breaks or needs attention. All the outdoor power equipment needs an oil change and lube. My tiller decided it had sore feet, and needed new shoes. Henry Ford got one new rear tire and tube, and a 'newish' front tire and new tube. I got all the bills....

I'm an old guy, but I'm not ready to just haul everything to town for repairs yet. I like doing my own thing. But I'm an old guy - so I don't like to (can't) bend over anymore.  Well, truthfully, I can bend over, I just have a harder time getting back up! What's a guy like me to do? Get a crane with an electric winch to lift said offender up to eye level where we can have a meeting of the minds.

What could possibly go wrong? An 800 pound Gorilla Tiller, and a little tiny cable, and.... So I used my trusty engine lifter to pick up the tiller, then when it was up in the air, I backed Annie's Ranger underneath it. When all was in alignment with the world, I gently put the tiller down on the bed of the Ranger to act as my workbench and away we went. 

I don't know if you've ever tried changing a lawn mower or tiller tire, but let's just say 'the air was blue' and leave it at that. It took me two days (one day per tire) to get it done. No, I didn't start at sunrise and quit at dusk, but I gave it all my back and my vocabulary could stand - and it worked out to one tire per day was the quota.

Once the job was finished, I reversed course and got the tiller up and off the Ranger. As with the 'on' step, I just lifted the tiller up and drove the Ranger out from under it. Then, with Annie's supervision, I gently sat the tiller back on the ground. Job done!

Great news on the Cave Project! Due to great neighbors and pure luck, I was able to get the old cave bermed back up the way it was meant to be. When the cave was built around 1903, this would all have been done with men and horses - and days of time. With one neighbor's equipment and another neighbor's skilled use of same, we got this job done in an hour or so. Wonderful wonderful wonderful!

You already know I'm a machine guy, and I appreciate watching skilled people do their thing. But this was special. Ben was able to actually 'flip' the bucket to spread the soil like you would use a shovel or trowel to shake dirt out over the mound.

When it was all said and done, everything is mounded up and ready for another 120+ years.

I'll get some better pictures as the summer goes on, but this is a distant view of the final result. The vent in the back, remember, is a 4-foot piece of pipe down into the ground. The actual root cellar is about two feet below the grass line you see. So now, everything is at least 3-feet or 4-feet below ground. From top to bottom it is more than 12-feet down. Perfect for food storage, nursery stock overwintering or maybe even a cheese cave! I love aged cheese!!!

Good news/bad news on the hybrid tea roses. I thought they had overwintered in their grow bags. Nope! Only one survived. What happened? Well, I think - I think - what happened is that the root ball froze and thawed in the late winter and spring and that killed the plants. The tops were green and looked healthy, but they never broke dormancy. Next fall, I'll put these new ones down in the cave for their winter's nap.

I use my handy dandy Harbor Freight cement mixer for making potting soil more than anything else - except maybe for peeling potatoes. I make up my grow bag soil by mixing some Pro Mix potting soil (because it has soil microbes in it) with Peat (because it is cheap) and ground wood mulch (because it is even cheaper - WAY cheaper). Then, I add some 'amendments' like plain old fertilizer, some Epsom Salts (for the magnesium - Epsom Salts is a fancy name for magnesium sulfate, and it is easier to say), and some ag lime to keep the pH where we want it. Once everybody is in the hopper, I hit the switch and 'around and around and around she goes' as the saying is.

As a point of reference, this is a sample of the hair root ball that came out of the old rose bags. The entire bag was filled with these little feeder roots! No wonder they did so well last year. I'll treat them better this fall and see if we can't get them over into their second season this time.

"Tim, this is dumb. Everybody can see you set me up and posed me for this shot. Real Texas Heelers don't do roses." Well, no they don't Annie, but I do - and you're part of my show. So, you've gotta just play along and at least act like you like it.

"OK, but oh crap - you caught me with my eyes closed. Retake that shot, Tim and I'll ham it up for you. I'll put my Hollywood Glamor Girl look to work for you."

"How's that for a glam shot modeling the rose project, buddy!?" OK Annie. I get the point. Nobody is going to believe that shot was actually your idea either. But folks, this WAS Annie's idea. She just sat there and held this pose for me while I got the camera out to take the pic. She's a natural ham!

Up at the garden, Mr. Troybilt and his new shoes got to work making a trench for my onions. I dig a nice trench, add fertilizer, etc. and then lay out the new onion plants along the side of the trench.

Once they've all been laid out and spaced, then I use an old fashioned garden rake to pull the nice soft soil up over the roots from one side.

Then, I go over to the other side and pull the whole works back into an upright position. This makes the onions mounded in their own little hill. As the summer wears on, the soil will pull itself away from the onion base and when it is time - the onions know when that time is without ever reading a manual! - they will make bulbs. Big Hamburger Slicer bulbs if I'm lucky.

Sweet potato slips are in, but it ain't time yet. I will keep these slips - Beauregard and Georgia Jets this year - in the greenhouse until the night time temps stay above 60F. Then, I'll make a hill and put 'em out. 

You'll need to Biggiefy this pic, but if you look really closely at the base of the stems, you can see new little dahlia plants taking root from a leaf cutting! I'm enthused. I like flowers in the house and in the garden, too. If you don't like flowers, there's something wrong with ya.

Grow bag radishes from the greenhouse! These are Golden Globes. They taste like any other radish - but Ron says 'they're cuter.' I ate too many all at once, but they were delicious.

Well, after all that work, O.J. and I decided to call it a day. I had a glass of heart medicine and a salad, O.J. found a warm corner on my lap - and we both pretended to watch an old movie. He wasn't really much more interested in it than I was. 

All is well at Oakdale Farm. I hope it is with you, too. And yes, that is a new ear scar for old O.J. He's 20 now, but he is still the king of the heap - and he's been back to working outside at night. A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do, I guess. Tomcats like to fight.