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!


  1. Darrel here, Tim.... as good as a refinisher as you are I got to say you got the major green thumb. My parents were like that but me not so much. They raised all their own food including some cattle for beef every few years. Funny, I was looking at those vehicles at Tractor Supply a few weeks ago. There not bad for clones and honestly most of the mechanicals for those only come from a few manufacturing plants anyway... Can't wait for Spring!

    1. I'm with you on Spring! These TSC 'Rangers' are basic, but I could buy 2+ of these for the price of one Polaris Ranger - and Polaris is mostly from China, too. I've had so much problem with the real thing, I decided to step sideways. So.... My Chinese Honda clone Chonda engines on my splitters and tillers are great. I thought I'd give it a go. Gardening is my 'Godfather' retirement hobby. It's hard for me not to go all in on whatever I seem to be doing at the moment! Cheers

  2. Well, well, well; congrats to Annie on her new wheels! 😉 Michelle @ Boulderneigh

    1. Annie truly never misses a ride. And I do use it every day. Cheers

  3. Way to go Annie! Enjoy your new wheels! Love this update, Tim. You are such an interesting guy with all your projects. Also thinking of starting onions from seed, as the price for sets is getting a little ridiculous. As far as the weather goes...this winter has been nuts, nuts, nuts. We also had temps fluctuate from balmy to sub-zero in the course of a few hours. (The balmy bit is highly out of character for Feb. here.) Thanks for reminding me about the pruning. We have a few fruit trees to tend to, mostly apple. They are very old and established, but a bit of pruning really makes a difference. Happy spring! (Google is messing with me. This is Rosalea from the Great White North.)

    1. Prune! My Dad was ruthless. I always thought he was over zealous with his pruning, but he had the most beautiful fruit from his trees. It's like cutting off my babie's arms when I prune, so it is hard for me to do - but we must do it. Our fruit trees are domesticated. They are not 'wild survivors.' They need us to help them - and they will reward us for it. Cheers

  4. Tim, I enjoyed reading this. It sounds like you don't do anything half-way. You certainly find enough to keep you busy and fulfilled. I'm impressed that you are speaking at the Master Gardener's Conference. You must have enough experience and knowledge that everyone will be glad they attended and will go home with many new ideas to try. It's good to hear from you.

    1. I really enjoy the Master Gardeners' program. Not only is it university based with good information, the people who do this are generally very positive uplifting folks. Good to be around 'em.

  5. Congratulations on the new Ranger. I've never seen rabbit damage on fruit trees. Hopefully, your grafting solution works well and the trees continue to produce fruit for you. Look at all that February snow! We got a few inches and I hope for no more. It appears you've got a good start with seedlings and your harvest will be bountiful.

    1. I fight deer and rabbit damage all the time. Usually the pressure is most severe in the prime growing season. They want the sweet new little tips. But when the snow is totally covering any and every edible thing they could eat, they go for the tree bark. Like everything else, they always pick the sweetest and most tender ones, darn it.

  6. Dad and I read your post on his iPad. He’s always interested in reality shows. Say hi to Annie.


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