Wednesday, February 28, 2024

ANNIE'S NEW RANGER: The Farm Report 02-28-2024

 The Farm Report 02-28-2024 

"Hey, Tim buddy! Whadya think of my new Ranger?!"

Yep, that's the old dead Ranger back there in the background. Annie convinced me that we really needed to move up and get her a new machine. This one is a 'Chinese' Ranger from Tractor Supply, but it will keep her happy for awhile. If she had thumbs and a driver's license, she'd be driving it, too.

Good Neighbor, Ron helped us drag it home from the store one day a few weeks ago.

Annie immediately knew it was her new fav machine.

"We're cookin' with gas now, Tim. This unit is just perfect for us out here at Oakdale Farm."

February has been one of those 'Iowa' months so far. When we brought the new Ranger home, it was wet and sloppy. Then, NOT! Major snows and major cold, oh my! It lasted for most of the month of February.

Here's the Oakdale Rose Garden, hip deep in snow.

We went into town and helped prune up a little plumcot tree that had broken itself down due to neglected pruning chores last summer when it was loaded with fruit.

My Dad was famous for saying you could prune your trees yourself, or let Mother Nature do it for you. He insisted that when he did the cutting, it was neater and cleaner than when MN did it herself. He was right for this little tree. It had so much heavy fruit last summer (which is the most delicious sweet candy you've ever picked off a tree!) it broke itself. The best, biggest and most fruit is ALWAYS way out on the end of the branches on the new wood. Physics lesson: the farther away from the trunk of the tree, the more leverage there is on the limbs and the more likely they will break. Which they eventually will do.

The remains of the day. It isn't all for naught though.

We harvested some really nice grafting scions from the prunings. Stay tuned, we'll be doing some spring bench grafting in a week or two. Hope springs eternal out here. New trees soon to come.

However.... All that deep heavy snow cover and the super cold temps set the rabbits off with a hunger passion. The only food they could find was the sweet bark off my sweetest apple trees. I think this old knobber is a gonner.

So's this one, I think. They didn't get the bark all the way around the trunk though. I might try what is called a 'bridge' graft before it breaks dormancy. Bridging is grafting new wood from the bottom over the damage and back into the good cambium at the top. Nothing to lose if I try; everything to lose if I don't. 

I have empathy for the hungry little bunnies, in a way. I really wish they hadn't eaten my trees though!

Oh well.... Life on the farm. So, instead of whining too much, I decided it was time to start some seeds.

I'm doing two sets of lectures for the Iowa State Univ. Master Gardeners' conferences this spring. One is on hydroponic growing. So, I'm trying to get a head start on some lettuces for that talk.

Once the little seedlings have sprouted and proven themselves, I transfer them into 'net pots' which will then go into the hydroponic water pans up in the greenhouse.

I like to use soil blocks for this. The seeds start in little tiny blocks about 3/4 inch square. I use a home made set of 'tweezers' instead of my big ol ham fisted fingers to do the transfer.

If there is more than one plant per block, well, it won't be that way for long. Only one plant per net pot is allowed.

Don't forget to label! When I put in the seeds, when I transferred the blocks.

Net pots transplanted and sitting on a heat mat for awhile under LED lights.

In just a few days, the little lettuces had put out roots searching for whatever it is that roots search for. Time to move on out.

It is really too early to get the greenhouse going, but hey, what the heck! So, I put out the water pans and moved the little starts into their new home.

Like me, they need an extra blanket on those cold winter nights.

New onion varieties started at the same time. Onions from seed is one of my new fun things to do.

It's amazing how fast they grow. These are also sitting on a heat mat, and behind them is a greenhouse 'cloch' that I pull down at night to keep 'em warm. The cloch is like a wire framed tent.

Speaking of warm.... I have a new little diesel heater for the greenhouse this year. These are sold as 'parking heaters' for semi trucks and boats and RV's etc. They burn diesel fuel and run on a 12v battery. Unlike my old heater, which also burns diesel, this one is vented so there are no exhaust fumes inside the greenhouse. See that little brown tube going out towards the door? Yep, that's the vent tube.

Here's a better look. These heaters use an idea that was cooked up in the 1930's. In fact they were used as heaters for air cooled VW Beetles back in the day. I know - I HAD one. Bugs were notorious for being cold. They were air cooled. The engine cooling air took a long time to warm up, and when it did it was usually pretty stinky from all the oil etc. on the outside of the motors. They sold add-on heaters like this one for the VW Beetles. Mine was a gasoline version, and it made heat instantly. The updated version I have now burns diesel fuel - AND it has a brain. A cute little microprocessor keeps track of the temperature I want and the difference between that and the air temp around it. It then adjusts the fan speed and the burn rate accordingly. It is amazingly efficient.

So why not start up a little earlier? It is burning about 1 quart of diesel per night right now. I can swing that without feeling like I'm eating gold lettuce in my salads.

Two days ago, it was 79F here. Perfect timing to get out the Oakdale Hydroponic Strawberry Patch and give it a good old fashioned washing down. Whoda thought you could play in the water in February in Iowa? Annie was so hot she was panting while she was supervising me.

Here's a part of the OHSP you usually don't get to see. This is the 'Mother' barrel that holds the water, pumps and nutrients for the system. It sits down under and behind the strawberry tubes. Usually it is hidden under layers of black plastic (to keep the light out) and hay (to keep it cool). I stripped everything off to give it a cleanup as well. I discovered that 'hard water' (ice) had done some damage, so next I'll be taking it up and doing the repairs.

Well, that's all for now. Speaking of things you don't see much - that's me! And by the way, for my far off readers, the day after the 79 degree day - the very next day! - it was 10F. I live in a very harsh climate; almost 70 degrees change in one day. Keeps the riff raff out though.

Cheers. All is well - and Spring is coming!