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.

Monday, May 8, 2023

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


 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.

Monday, May 1, 2023

MAY DAY, MAY DAY! The Farm Report 05-01-2023


The Farm Report

MAY DAY! So, do I mean 'It's May!' or am I using the International Distress Call? Maybe both.

The Redbud Trees are in full bloom, the fruit trees are blooming, and it is just a beautiful time of year to be in Iowa. Mostly.

It can also be a panic time of year. My hydroponic lettuce project has been outstanding this year. In spite of really COLD nights and hot days, the lettuce pans have produced and produced. Unfortunately, they drink like drunken sailors when they are in full GROW mode. I forgot to keep this pan watered, and it was all wilted down by the time I found it. It did recover, but lesson learned.

O.J. didn't seem nearly as worried over the wilted lettuce pans as I was. He is not a worrier.

Fingers crossed! This is my Danube cherry tree in full bloom. It is a cross between Bing and Ballaton, and makes a fantastic cherry. I freeze 'em whole (pitted) and with just a tiny bit of sugar, they make a desert dish for me. 

More proof of the lettuce success. The Walmart sweater pans last pretty well because I paint them. I do that to keep the sunlight out of the water so the roots don't grow algae. The lids don't get painted, and they only last a season (or less) before Old Sol destroys them. A new lid made from a piece of foam board seems to me to work even better - and lasts for years. Ice Queen on the left, Tom Thumb (my new fav!) on the right.

Hydroponic roots are amazing. If you look, you can see two different root types. The 'net' is water roots; the 'fuzzies' up top are the air roots. It takes both to make a go. A spoonful of hydroponic fertilizer and a tub of plain old Aqua Sinkus (water), and you're good to go.

The heat spikes a few weeks ago 'singed' the lettuce tips, but this Tom Thumb makes the sweetest tasting little butterball head you've ever tasted. 

Outdoors, the turkey hunt is on full swing. This year, it seems the wild turkeys are thick as fleas. I'm not a turkey hunter exactly - but I have a lot of fun with the crew who does hunt them. I joke that I have all the fun they do - but I don't have to get up at Four O'Clock in the morning to do it!

My Master Gardener lecture programs interfered with my spare time, so I haven't written to you for awhile. I promise to do better and keep 'em shorter. But, for the record, the spuds are in and the waiting clock is running.

I got out my 1928 Planet Jr. double wheel hoe to cover them again. I don't know why, but I get a peculiar kick out of using that old antique rig every year.

Carrots and beets are in, too. This is how I plant them. First, I get the seeds. I like both Danvers Half Long and Royal Chantenay. I mix them together in a jar of fine sand. They grow together fine, and I don't have the need to keep them straight. I put as many seeds into the jar of sand as I think I need for the row alloted. Then, with the jar filled with sand and the seeds mixed in well, I screw on my homemade salt shaker lid and head for the garden.

I also use plain old field 'horse' oats as a nurse crop with my carrots. Orscheln's, feed oats - NOT steamed. No reason for anything fancy here. I just need something like oats that will sprout ASAP and make a protective 'nurse' cover for the tiny teenie little carrots while they get their legs underneath themselves.

Oats are really easy to kill later on. They do not like to be mowed or bent over, so I usually just weed whip 'em into submission when the carrots are big enough. I learned a long time ago that carrots don't care if they get mowed off. They'll come right back fightin' mad and do fine.

After the carrots, oats and sand are all scattered in the row where I want them (I like a row about a foot wide for this) then I use another antique to scratch them into the soil. This old Kentucky High Wheeler is probably about the same age as my Planet Jr, but I can't prove it. World War 1 veterans would have been very familiar with both models. 

Inside, I've been making capillary wicking pans for my seed starting. I've been learning about this from the Brits on Youtube. So I guess you have to pronounce it 'ca PILL ary' pans. In Iowa, we just say Capillary. Works the same either way; tomAto or tomaato?

I'm using a piece of 'egg crate' fluorescent light fixture plastic for the tray bed, with a piece of cheap polyester fleece as the wicking mat material. You can actually pay cash money for the real stuff if you want, but not if you're from Iowa. We prefer to think of it as being 'thrifty' - not cheap.

A plastic tray full of water, a supported egg crate bed with fabric over it and hanging down into the water is all it takes. The ends of the fleece go into the water and become the wick. The whole thing is nothing more than a wet blanket when you're done.

Neat 'n pretty. Ready for some seeds.

I use this little baby soil blocker to start a lot of my seeds. Especially the tiny ones.

This is what a WHOLE PACKET of oregano seeds looks like. They're finer than dust.

I put the baby soil block pad on a piece of fabric so I can move it around then set it onto the wet blanket under grow lights - and wait.

And wait - until this happens! It works.

The little lettuce roots grow out into the air and then stop. The whole little half inch cube of soil becomes a root ball. I transplant that into a bigger pot or block.

After awhile, the greenhouse gets crowded and space is at a premium. I love it. I even start my onions in plug trays. It is so much easier to plop an onion plug into the ground than a spindly little sprout.

BZZZZZ. I'm the bee again. The hydroponic strawberry patch is off and running. I have half-sized strawberries already set. Since there are no bees inside the greenhouse somebody (me) has to take a fuzzy brush and pollinate the blossoms. My morning ritual - at least one of 'em.

I made a new propagator for the greenhouse. It is made from leftover greenhouse plastic and concrete wire. The one I made a year ago from an upside down Walmart tub didn't last the season. The plastic disintigrated into powder after only a few months of sunshine exposure. This plastic is guaranteed to last 5 years outdoors. I have a smaller greenhouse that is going on 11 years now with the same plastic on it.

Six by six concrete reinforcing wire and a roll of tape, and I can do miracles!

I've decided that this year I'm going to grow more flowers and less food. I'm an old guy and I can only eat so much before I get sick of it. You never get tired of pretty flowers though. So...Dahlias it is! My new fascination.

Plus, I have learned (thank you Monty Don and BBC Gardeners World) that it is easy to take cuttings from dahlias started in the greenhouse to multiply for the season. This fits in with the Iowa rule about making things out of nothing, and it is fun. 

A little light surgery, some rooting powder and a dibber is all it takes. In only about 3 or 4 days the new cuttings will heal up and start to get right with the world again. Some say these rooted cuttings actually have better flowers than the saved tubers. 

Another try at a raspberry patch. I never give up.

This time, three Killarney reds and three Anne golden raspberries. Gee I hope they'll get the spirit and grow.

"Tim, he's going to try to git me isn't he?"

Well Annie, judging from his Sword Foot, I'd say you're right. He is thinking about how he can get you - with the least possible effort on his part. I'd stay back if I were you.

Carola and my German Family have been having fun helping me learn about a new (to me) food that is popular in their home country. Currywurst! I even bought a bottle of special Currywurst Sauce through Amazon. It is a new taste for me. I'm learning to like it. I think four or five more plates like this and I might have a new favorite food.

So that's about it for now. O.J. isn't too enthused with Spring yet. He'd bury his head even deeper into the covers on my bed if he could. 'Tomorrow is another day,' he said. Yes, but it will be a busy one O.J. - for me. Cheers from Oakdale Farm. All is well.