Friday, July 28, 2023

A Sad Report: The Farm Report 7-28-2023

A Sad Report

The Farm Report


From the view off my front porch at Oakdale Manor, I have sad news to share with you today. I'll keep it short, but I know you would want to know. O.J. has gone on to the Kitty Kingdom in Heaven.

Although this isn't a very good photo, it is the last one I took of him hard at work. This was just this week. It has been very hot here, and I have been concerned about him. Neither he nor I like heat. Every summer for the past 20 years he's been the King of the Land here at Oakdale Farm. He has lost weight and become lethargic every year, then recovered in the fall. But this time, it has been different. His hair coat was getting ragged, and he just wasn't himself. Good appetite, but just no spiz.

Annie Oakley was even worried about him. 

So what happened? I can't be 100% sure, but I think I know. O.J. (short for Orange Julius) spends nights outside in the nice weather. It is not by my choice. He just will not! come in. He's sneaky about it. When I try catching him unaware and shutting him in earlier in the afternoons after he comes inside for lunch, he just stops coming in for lunch. He has breakfast with me the next morning, then a nap.

Well, he has passed up his free meals for the last two days. That is never a good sign on the farm. This afternoon, I found his remains laying out on the edge of the field near the peach trees.

You don't need to see what I had to see, but maybe I can explain what I'm pretty sure happened in the hope it will help my 'city' friends understand what goes on out in the country.

O.J. has been enjoying a pretty steady diet of bunny rabbits. He catches them at night. It appeared from the CSI evidence that O.J. had captured a bunny, and was beginning to enjoy the spoils of his conquest. Then, an owl decided that he would rather have that bunny. It happens. Owls are huge silent predators. From the wounds, O.J. was blasted from above by a very big owl and passed without a fight or struggle. He may not have even known what happened. O.J. was too big for the owl to move. The bunny was not. (Even at his slim summer weight, O.J. still clocked in at over 15 pounds.) So, the owl eliminated the original predator, and swiped the meal - then flew off with it.

Owls are vicious large predators who fly silently. They do not read books and wear horn rimmed glasses. They have talons that rival bald eagles. They are serious predators. We have lots of them here in the timber. It is a fact of life. 

So our Oakdale Farm Report has one less player in the cast of characters. In a way, it is a sort of relief for me to know O.J. has come to a noble end. He was always a hunter and fighter of the first order. At twenty, I have been concerned he would succumb to some disease that would make his last days miserable. We're all sad, but there is some comfort in how it all ended. 

O.J. died with his boots on.   

Monday, July 24, 2023

Tool Time: The Farm Report 07-25-2023

Tool Time

The Farm Report

Tool Time! This time, it is with Tim - me, not Tim Taylor of TV fame.  I get questions about my favorite garden tools and which ones I have. So, I thought maybe it would be good to take a little time out and show you some of my favorites. Some you buy, some you make.

Everybody has, or has seen, one of these old fashioned hoes. They are a dime a dozen at garage sales and farm auctions. They are NOT a dime a dozen at the new hardware stores! This one, as shown is NOT my favorite. I don't know how they ever came to be so widely accepted.

This is called a 'Dutch' hoe or push hoe here in the USA. It is much more practical and common sense. The old fashioned one relies on your arm muscles and vocabulary of cuss words to make it work. It gives credence to the old expression, "You looked like you were killing snakes out there," when somebody sees you out in the garden trying to whack out weeds. The Dutch/push hoe uses the mass of your body and the inertia of pushing towards the weed. Once you get going (especially if you're a big old guy like me) the weed can't stop the forward progress and the hoe - kept SHARP! - simply slices the weed off at ground level. When it 'fits' you right, the blade just slides along the top of the soil much like a shuffle board pusher works.

I think I may have mentioned on here once or twice that I am a native born Iowan, and that gives me license to be 'thrifty.' I've wanted one of these Dutch hoes for a long time. But gee whiz! Pete. These things cost almost a hundred bucks. Too rich for my blood.

What to do? Ask Good Neighbor Ron if he might happen to have a used auction hoe laying around handy, fire up the torch, and make one of your own. Yep! That is a picture of the old standard hoe with the crook in its neck bent out straighter. It don't look so fancy, but by golly, it works!

This is the angle I bent that fits me. I keep it super sharp with a handy bench file, and away we go. I can scoot it along on the top of the soil, I can use it to jab down hard on a stalk, and I can use it to bend a single weed over in the melon patch before I give it the Anne Boleyn decapitation whack! And, best of all, it didn't cost me a hundred bucks.

That tub is my first onion harvest. These are the Texas Grano 101's; at least some of 'em.

This is a lazy way out, but I'm trying to show you the Ruth Stout potato fork I use to 'pull' the onions. With this tool, I don't have to bend over. I use it to pick up potatoes, too. Ruth was the sister of Rex Stout - author of the Nero Wolf mystery books. Ruth was a character and a true master gardener. She pioneered the 'No Work' garden system of heavy mulch. She was a writer in her own rite, and published a number of garden books. If you don't know about her, or if you do and it has been a while since you've read her stuff, then it is time to do it. Refreshing and valid to this day. I love her attitude. She's been gone a long time, but her books are still available. You can actually see her in a Youtube interview. She always went on patrol in her garden carrying one of these little forks. I do, too.

Click here to watch Ruth Stout

A bucket of onions! These are not keepers, but they are sweet and good.

After decades of trying to grow and keep onions, my sweet mother told me one day - as I was expressing frustration - "Oh, why don't you just freeze them? They freeze really well." Thanks, Mom. Well, better late than never I guess. So, I tried freezing onions and Mom was once again right. They DO freeze well and keep a long time, too. Perfect for winter cooking. I sit on the shop park bench and peel the onions before I take them into the kitchen for chopping. I put two cups of chopped onions in a bag.

More food toy tools! After a good wash, I slice the onion into good half-inch thick slices. That's usually three or four whacks per onion. Then the fun happens!! I put my French fry cutter on the counter (it has a suction cup foot to keep it locked in place). I get it up as close to the sink as I can. Then I put a big plastic bowl down into the sink to catch the chopped onions as they EXPLODE through the cutter. You can't stop laughing, even though I've done it this way for years. Permanent 5th Grader....

I say they EXPLODE into the pan because you can't just push the handle down gently. It won't work. You need to BASH that handle down with a high speed flick of the wrist. Bam! Sometimes, the onions actually shoot all the way across and get into the other side of the sink. But it works.

Twenty-seven bags later and we're ready for winter. I like to vacuum bag my onions before I put them into the freezer. Two cups (about two medium onions) per bag. The vac bags won't let the onion smell get out into the freezer. I've mentioned this before, but the real secret of vacuum bag storage isn't actually the vacuum - it is the BAG. Plain old ZipLock bags are made of polyethylene plastic. It is water proof, but water vapor will go through it. ZipLock freezer bags are thicker to make it harder for the water vapor to exchange, but it still does. Vacuum bags are made of laminated plastic with a nylon layer in the middle. Nothing goes through nylon. And they last and last. I found some onions 2-years old laying in the bottom of the freezer and guess what? They were just as good as when they went in. 

Not all of the Texas Grano 101's went into the freezer. Homemade French fried onion rings are to die for! Couple that with some real brats and a dash of Martin and Carola's recommended German Currywurst Sauce and you're ready for Heaven. Or a long nap anyway. Delicious!

Back to the 'truth in lending' department of Oakdale Gardens. This is the carrot row. On either side of the carrots were the onion rows. These rows were/are three feet apart! The Texas Grano's were about one third of each side. They are gone now to freezer camp. The rest of the onions on down the line are sweet yellow Spanish onions. Interestingly, the Grano's had given up; their tops flopped over to tell me they had spent their time in the garden. But the sweet Spanish onions are still growing. I'll let them go a while longer to see how big they'll get. They do keep pretty well, so maybe I'll try to save some of them for fresh onions into the fall and winter. Or until they rot in the bags ... again.


My spring green beans just did not like the hot dry spotty weather we had. They were woody and irregular. I mowed 'em off. Then, I planted these. I mixed three different kinds of POLE green beans in the planter and put in a nice long row for my 'fall' garden.

That is MY fall garden. As you can see, Mr. Bunny Rabbit thought they were for HIS use. NO. That little yellow wire is my way of telling him that, too.

Another important garden tool is electricity. You don't need much of it, but you do need it to be VERY HIGH VOLTAGE. Inside the buckets is hidden the electric fence charger. ZAP! Mr. Bunny. Take a hint and go someplace else.

All you need is an insulated wire and some clips to get the Zappifier connected to the fence. I use cheap Walmart battery jumper cables. The red one is the HOT wire; it is connected from the charger in the bucket to the insulated fence wire over the bean row. The black jumper is the GROUND wire; it is connected from the charger to the steel fence post that is driven into the ground. When Mr. Bunny (or Annie) touch their wet little noses to the wire, the path to pain follows from their nose down through their toes and back to the connection on the post. ZAP! Message delivered. For a permanent 5th grader, this is a hoot to watch. It looks like something you might expect to see in a Road Runner cartoon. Feet spinning a hundred miles an hour. A mammal that shouldn't be able to that is flying, and the fur is standing on end with electricity coming off it. Yes, I have touched it. Yes, it hurts. No, it doesn't do any long term damage. But Yes, it will get the message across!

I don't know if this is a 'tool' or not, but it is handy. These are actually two cattle panels held up for the beans to grow on. A steel post at each end and some plastic zip ties and you're good to go. No bending over to pick, and I think pole beans are more flavorful, too. Stay tuned.

I'll be planting California Zinnas again next year. If you look way down there at the end, you'll see the remains of the blown over sweet early corn rows. We all had some to eat. The raccoons and Annie Oakley got more than their fair share.

No picture, but another top 10 in the must-have garden tool list is a big strong mower. I mowed out the spent sweet corn, and I'm getting ready to move the fencer over here any day now. The bunnies have been 'messaged' as we say in the modern world, and it is now time to 'communicate' with the possums and raccoons. 

I make these little wind jammers from 2-liter soda bottles and a piece of bent wire. They make noise when the spin in the wind. I think it helps keep the 'coons and deer out of the garden at night.

I got the idea and copied the plan from Mr. Sam the Allotment Man on Youtube. You can learn a lot from Youtube.

This mess is the musk melon patch. I left 6 feet of space for them, but they've taken 12 or 15 feet! There are a lot of melons hiding down in there. I can't wait.

Here is my cucumber fence. Another cattle panel job. That's my cheap 'Iowa' Dutch hoe leaning there with another neat little tool. It's a 'tying stapler' I paid actual cash money for. With one whack of the handle, it will wrap a neat little strip of bio degradable plastic around the fence and the plant vine, then staple it and cut it. In one whack! I used to use twine and tie it, but when there's a tool, I say go for it!

They're all over the internet. I think I got this one from eBay.

So I do have a lot of cukes coming on. This is the hydroponic dill project. Actually this is the hydroponic dill project that went FFFUTTTT! A big disappointment, but now we know. I've got friends who have lots of dill for me.

Tools you can make from nothing. This is just a plain old coffee can with a wire bail put on it. The bail lasts, the cans don't. I carry new potatoes, a few cukes and whatever into the house with it. I know... but still - it is fun to do something with nothing.

You just bend the wire, poke it through a hole in the plastic and then give it a kink with your pliers. Easy peasy.

There you go. The roses are not quite what I'd hoped for, but they are blooming. We're at the end of garden planting time, and the days will soon be getting shorter. We've had a coolish summer so far and that's just fine with me! All is well at Oakdale Farm.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Everything's Growing - Including the Weeds: The Farm Report 07-12-2023

 Everything's Growing - Including the Weeds

The Farm Report 

I turned my back on the garden for just a minute, and this happened. Weeds everywhere!! What to do? Get out the trusty garden machines, of course. That red handle is my Troybilt Horse tiller.

There is a current trend in gardening to Poo Poo the use of tillers. Well, to that I say, POOOOO! Without a good way to go after Mother Nature's misplaced energy, you're sunk. A hoe and a wish might be OK for a square foot garden, but that's not me. With my big tiller and less than an hour's work, I got things back under control again.

I like calendar picture gardens as much as the next guy, but I'm also a veteran gardener. I know 'stuff' happens out there - and a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do to stay on top of it.

The beets, onions and carrots are doing great. Without a good and easy way to be the weed boss, people quickly get discouraged and quit gardening. What a shame. I say, 'Get a machine and use it!'

Of course, Mother Nature is really truly always in control. My first planting of sweetcorn didn't like the big winds that hit it. It DID like the rain, but not the wind. We're now bending over to pick sweet corn.... It tastes good though.

And yes! the Danube cherries are producing like crazy now. Danube is a cross between Balaton and Bing, as I understand it. Big, dark juice, sweet/tart. My favorite cherry.

A half hour of picking and a big pot of cherries to put into the freezer. THIS is one of the reasons why I do it.

'There's a machine for that,' to paraphrase Steve Job's words. This cherry pitter sounds like a machine gun going off when it is set up and working right. It pokes out the pit without smashing the cherry, leaving a big whole perfect cherry to float around in my pies and winter jello - or just in the dish with a bit of sugar.

Pitted and ready to bag. As an old chemical manufacturer, I always scale off my stuff. I put 450 grams of cherries into each vacuum sealed bag. In the vac bags, the cherries will be good for a year or more with no loss of anything good. I got 27 bags in the freezer before I hit the bottom of the pan.

"Tim, is this where we can start making the P jokes?"  Well, yes, Annie. We're both sort of still in permanent 5th grade, so picking and shelling peas led to more P jokes than you can tell. They're mostly 5th grade jokes, but sometimes they're Dad Jokes, too. "Pick the peas, shell 'em and then P in the yellow bucket...." You get the idea. Incredibly boring, but still, you gotta laugh when you can. "Are we gonna do all this P-ing for Beth, Tim?" Yep, mostly.

Peas are one thing that I don't think is very much better home grown than store bought frozen. They're fun to grow and they are a little bit better. They are fantastic made with a white sauce and NEW POTATOES from the garden.

Here's a 'How I Do It' tutorial. Out on the tarp garden, I have been putting ground fabric on the bottoms of the wooden squares to mark out the planting spots. To know exactly where to dig in my Dahlias, I put a stick down through the fabric right where the X crosses.

When I lift off the frame, the stick stays stuck in the ground. Thus - I know where to dig in the Dahlia.

Once planted, we can then put the 'lid' back on to stop weeds from growing - mostly.

I use my trusty knife to cut an X across where the stick hole is.

Like this.

Then when I pop the frame back on, the Dahlia is right exactly where I want it, and the hole in the ground fabric is exactly where it needs to be to let the little plant stick through.

Dahlias are brittle and tall. So, to keep them from breaking off when the wind blows 'em over, I have been using my left over tomato cages to hold it all together.

"Tim, let's not waste time on this. These are for pickles aren't they?"
Yep! I'm doing hydroponic dill this year. These little pots are the starters for the Kratky Pans.

A week later, and we're ready to head on up to the greenhouse with them.

They don't look like much, but time will tell. Under the pink foam board is a Walmart sweater pan full of water and nutrient solution.

The Pizza Pot is doing well. Oregano.

I have replaced some strawberry plants in the hydroponic tubes with pepper plants again this year. The root system is always amazing to me. They love it!

The strawberries this year just seem to refuse to come to a halt. I've been picking a short pint like these every two or three days since they started bearing back in April. I'm sick of 'em, frankly. Into the freezer? Make jam? Give up? Well, I never give up! So I'll find something to do with them. Now, of course, I'm challenged to see how long into the fall they'll go and still bear fruit.

Zuke's in a bag in the greenhouse. Outside, they get away from me and become zucchini baseball bats before I find them. I like these little cigar sized ones best anyway.

The roses have started. This one is 'Ring of Fire.'

Peach Swirl. It is the MOST fragrant hybrid tea rose I've ever grown.

'Don't look at me, Tim. I didn't do nuthing. I'm just mindin' my own business here.'

'Those things are Murder Mittens. She has switchblade knives hidden in those cute little paws, Tim!'

Annie and Miss Kitty live together in the shop at night, and they get along pretty well. I guess maybe that's because Miss Kitty isn't threatened by Annie Oakley one little bit - and Annie Oakley is smart enough to respect Miss Kittie's natural talents.

'O.J. wants to be left alone right now, doesn't he?'

Correct answer. O.J. doesn't suffer fools lightly, and he isn't into Public Relations events either. He'll come to you when he wants to.

So that's how it is. When it is July on the farm, and you're a 20 year old tomcat, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. A nap on the park bench might be enough for one day. Or two.

"I like attention though, Tim!' Annie Oakley is always ready for some interaction. Even when I'm not. 'Let's go out and do some stuff Tim! We're burnin' daylight, pilgrim!'

I'm another year older today. Not quite ready for the Diamond Jubilee yet, but getting closer. It is raining, and the sun will shine and get us up into the 90's today. It happens every year. Every year, it rains on my birthday. Every year. No wonder I like winter!

Other'n that, all is well at Oakdale Farm. Cheers!