PLOWSHARE THURSDAY – My new best garden friend!

We are a natural farm. I am pretty sure that the pests – weeds and bugs – in the area know this. The reason I know this is because we have so many on our property. The bugs are controlled via natural methods:

• Salt, soap, & vinegar solution.
• Companion Planting.
• Creative natural habitats to encourage good bugs (bad bug eaters).
The more difficult to tackle is the weeds. Heavy mulch works to a point; then other methods must be enlisted. This week’s plowshare…The Hand Hula Hoe!

hand hula hoe(Handle length is about 18 inches total)
What a God send this little hummer is!
We have had the original version for over a decade:

hula hoe original

This one is perfect if you like to stand/walk and weed around your plants. The blade scoots just beneath the top layer and slices through the weed – woo hoo!
Me, I prefer to get closer to my subjects. I get down on the ground, so I am at about eye level to my plants. The thing is for years I have used the old “hand hoe” and would not feel like I was getting very good control of things. The old ones that we have are like this:

regular hoe
with variations like these:


None of these is a bad method, just not the one that I/we prefer.

I have a dear friend that swears by her garden shears (scissors) and will sit beside her beds and nip off the weeds with them just below soil level. Nice, but tedious. This beauty does the same bit only much faster!

I still use a jar of vinegar for my bindweed as it comes back way to fast. This is one that I love to get right into the root. However, sometimes they move faster than I can keep up and will wrap around my amazing veggies – grrr! This is the perfect time for the vinegar!
It is easy to do:

  1. Find a loose branch of your runner vine or unwind some of it from your beloved plant.
  2. Open your jar of vinegar (we put ours in a mason jar because it is easier to use and seal).
  3. Place the separate vine into the vinegar for just a second or two.
  4. Pull it up allowing the excess to drip back into the jar.
  5. I like to put down several layers of newspaper or a thick cardboard before laying that dipped vine back on the ground (just like to make sure I am not leaking to anything good). Place the vine back down and let Mother Nature do her work.

The vine absorbs the liquid to the root and viola’ – dead vine! Two things to be aware of with this method:

  • Make sure you do not set the vinegar part near a good plant. It may seep into the soil and kill it as well.
  • Make sure you are going to have at least one good dry day to allow the moisture to go into the root. DO NOT WATER THAT AREA THAT DAY! You are trying to make sure the plant absorbs only the moisture you provided.

Hope this helps in your gardening adventures! The hand Hula Hoe can be purchased almost everywhere now. It is carried in most home and garden centers. Happy Gardening!
6-6-17 mock orange ours (2).jpg                               (Our beautiful Mock Orange Bush just two days ago!)

PLOWSHARE THURSDAY- Good Bug, Bad Bug – Who’s what?

I must give a major shout-out to MNN.com again!  They seem to be providing the best info at a perfect time!  My helpful hint from them this week is much more than a hint:

Good bug, bad bug: How can you tell the difference?

Not only did they provide outstanding specific information on the good vs. bad critters; but they also shared closeup pictures as a visual aid.  KUDOS guys!!

They only list six descriptions, but these are some of the biggies (at least they are for the U.S.).  We have issues with Squash Beetles every year.  Every year we have tried something new to, at least, limit their numbers.  It has been (in our experience) impossible to completely eradicate them, and I am not really sure we should.  We use completely chemical free methods in our garden workings. Some years this is a very hard thing to do.

The huge farm fields around us are mainly hay and pasture (we are half lucky here).  The pasture is great! No one sprays their pasture unless the Canadian Thistle comes back and then you only need to kill the individual plant before the flowers die off (like a dandelion).

Here in northeastern Colorado, they grow to about three feet tall, and they’re a major pain – in more ways than one! You can see from the pics they have needles and will spread like dandelions after blooming.  Our non-chemical method is time-consuming but very effective.  We wait till they flower, then cut off the blooms and spray a mix of vinegar, salt, and dish soap on them (our “go-to” natural spray for bad weeds).

The reason I stated that I am not sure we should eliminate a bug completely is also for natural reasons.  They are here for a purpose.  I do not know what every single one of them does, but I do know that most are food for something else.  I do believe in limiting their numbers by whatever natural means you have at your disposal.

I am still trying to find the purpose for the Yellow-Jacket’s.  Unless they are some specific food for something else, I have no need of them AT ALL!  Personal experience has taught me:

  • They will attack for no reason.
  • They can sting again and again (do not die as a bee does).
  • They might do a little pollination, but nothing to the help from our Bees.
  • They make their nests in the worst possible places.
  • Lastly, they are ALWAYS in my way when I am gardening.

It never fails!  These beasties are worse than our Red Ants!  The sting/bite is about equal, but the Yellow-Jacket can travel from my front yard to my herb garden in a heartbeat (And I know they are watching me planning their next attack!).

Oh well, just had to throw my own two cents in on this one!

 Bee=good.                                           Wasp=bad.

NEED SOME HELP? PLOWSHARE THURSDAY:

Those of you that have never been fortunate enough to live on a farm, plowshare (according to Merriam-Webster definition) is a part of a plow that cuts the furrow.  It cuts through the old stale gunk that may be devoid of any nutritional value and gets to the good stuff.  Starting this Thursday – May 25, 2017 – I am going to try to plowshare with you, my friends, family, and readers.

First and foremost, I want to make clear is I do not get paid for sharing this information!  I have no connection to any of my finds except that I approve of them because I use them and they work.  I only want to share the things that we personally do or use.  If some part of it didn’t work, I would share that too.

The subject today: Tomatoes.

tomato variety 2017

Since my blog is Helbergfarmstories, I will stick to the farm/gardens aspect of these shares. (I am developing a new blog just for human nature/survival items and will let you know when that is ready.)  The share for today is about growing the best natural tomatoes you can do at any place you have.

I love PBS (Public Broadcasting System), and our local station airs a show called Growing a Greener World.  I just finished watching Episode 803- Epic Tomatoes with Craig LeHoullier (dated by GGWTV on 4/29/17, but I tape all of them then sift through what we can use here in Colorado.).  I actually learned several new things and just couldn’t wait to share!

It is spring here in Colorado.  I have already put all of our seed starts from February into the greenhouse and outside gardens.  Since watching this program, I want to go back and do it all again.  I like to think that my sister and I know what we are doing (hahahaha – ok, stop laughing), but there is always something new to learn.  This was one of those “how could I have been so stupid for this long” moments.

The creator of the show, Joe Lamp’L, describes and share all the ins-and-outs of his garden (which, I must say looks pristine!?!), but he also interviews other influential people in the natural and organic gardening arenas.  Episode 803 what a hit and an eye-opener for me!

The first thing that caught my attention what the man he was out doing the interview on, got to name the “Cherokee Purple” tomato, which happens to be one of our most favorites!  Then I saw that he was doing most all of his gardening in his driveway!   WHAT??  Now we use pots, and plots, and rows, and have even grown in straw bales – but a driveway?  Well – IT WORKED!

The setup he has is amazing!  Everything from where and how he sows his seeds, to the layout in his driveway truly surprised me (not easy to do with this old lady!)!  Here we have been meticulously separating all our tiny little tomato seeds to carefully get only one in each little honeycomb space.  Now I see WE HAVE BEEN DOING IT ALL WRONG!!!

I fell in love with this guy’s methods and reasons for them!  However, I have a new problem…I want to do more!

  • I knew about pruning the tomato plants as they grow. Have known that one for decades.
  • I know about the value of the heirloom breeds also from experience. This experience was best proven by the taste method.

One year, about ten years ago, a good friend of ours decided to try his hand at growing heirloom tomatoes.  He builds a perfect setup in his heated garage and then proceeded to plant every single seed in the tomato packets AND about 20 different breeds of them.  This led to tomatoes coming out the windows – literally!  He didn’t know what to do with them all, but he knew we had much more room than he did.   Of course, we said we would take as much as he wanted to toss our way – oh silly us.

heirloom seed packets

We worked rigorously for several days straight to create our first two – hundred foot rows.  It was worth all the effort as we had no greenhouse at that time to extend the harvest.  Everything had to be done NOW – dig and weed the plots, put in the t-posts, hang the field fencing wires, layout the walkways around everything.  They were beautiful!

best tomato rows 2012

It was worth it!  That was the best Pico, salsa’s, and sauce’s that we ever made!  I also took it upon myself to taste-test every single one of those heirloom tomato breeds, and I quickly found my favorites.

  • The Cherokee Purple beat out my Black Krim (both are good, but the purple has a stronger flavor).
  • The Brandywine did not grow many (one more thing I learned, it is a heavy vine plant), but they carried a much sweeter flavor.
  • Then there was the Kellogg Yellow – less acidic so perfect for our friends that love tomatoes but can’t do the acid.

There was just so many different sizes, colors, flavors that I got lost in enjoying tomato salads all fall!  We froze and canned all that we could but gave away tons to others as well.

tomato salad

Episode 803 has now inspired me to revisit that year.  The fire took all my notebooks, but I still have great memories of it all.  This program also showed me some additional steps to help get the best tomatoes I can through the season, not just at the beginning.

I hope you all take a moment or two to watch it – well worth the time! Who knows, you may just learn something new?

never stop learning

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Friday fun: WHO NEEDS A GUARD DOG?

I was wondering around the trees and bushes to the south yesterday.  I needed to see if I should water anyone just in case the storm scheduled to today (it came) missed us again.  I was not paying attention to where I was walking because I was checking the base of the plants when “OUCH” – SOMETHING STABBED ME!  Not a poke but a nasty stab.  This was the culprit:

5-1-17 thorns on locust tree

I purposely left this picture larger than most, just to try to impress upon you the length and effectiveness of our locust tree spikes (the minimum length of these spiky behemoths is three inches).  Yep, this monster has gotten very dangerous indeed!

If I ever run out of yarn, sewing, or darning needles; these suckers would be perfect!  They are as strong as steel, sharper than a knife, and more vicious than a guard dog.

Somehow in the next few days, I need to figure out how to get near it to do some trimming.  Pretty sure I will at least need body armor.  We used to have a long-handled hand saw to do things like this, but my grandson decided to try jousting with it – and lost.

One of my grand delusions is to have a huge four-foot-thick castle wall around our property (because too many people find us to be the Colorado Information/Gas Station/Potty Stop Center).  Now I think I will try to grab some suckers off this beastie and try to root start them.  Wonder if a huge hedge of them, totally surrounding our property, would keep the uninvited out?  Hmm, something fun to ponder this Friday!

Aubrey 2

(Hee, hee – next best thing to Aubrey 2 – LOL)

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DO YOU EVER GET CARRIED AWAY IN THE MOMENT?

Happens to me every fall.  I just can’t help myself.  I have tried. I keep myself busy with harvesting and crafting and food processing – but it just can’t stop it.  Those pesky childhood memories come flooding back every fall.

There is so much work that has to be done right now.

  • Canning, cooking, freezing, dehydrating.
  • Digging up old and prepping for new in the spring.
  • Start or end projects for the holidays
  • Then there are all the decorations – dig it out, put it up, take it down, pack it away.
  • Clean up/out the house for winter ready (basically the same as spring cleaning, but now is more to get the dust out and keep the bugs out.).
  • Pack away the spring/summer clothes and get out the fall winter clothes – and don’t forget the boots!
  • Finish any critter roofs that need to be tacked down and/or sealed.
  • Shear up any walls that got knocked around by winds.
  • Mow everything one last time (that takes two days in itself).
  • Get the tank water heaters out and make sure they are working (for critters and the fish pond in the front yard.).
  • Fix any doors, windows and shutters on all buildings.
  • Re-insulate, caulk, or trim any place that may have lost it over the summer.

This is just part of my to-do-list before the first frost hits.  One weather forecast said colder than normal; the other said warmer than normal, pretty sure I do not even know what NORMAL is anymore?!

I started to water what is left of the gardens, and heard some kids (very young) laughing as a truck drove by; and that was all it took!  I had to come in and write up my last blog (cool dad #2) while it was fresh in my mind.  (OH, for those wondering – the memory is great – only lasts about 5 minutes, but it is great! Lol)

Then I realized I left the water running in the strawberry plot – oops!  Oh well, been meaning to do that anyway.  The temps are still in the mid 80’s here during the day, and only dropping to around 40 at night (actually just before dawn), so they are safe with the flooding.

This weekend is supposed to be a bit cooler.  We have “volunteer” trees that have to come down, and some nasty rats that need some bubble gum!  I just hope my mind can stick to the task at hand?  Fall and Winter are my most favorite seasons simply because of all the delightful memories!  How about you?  Do you get carried away in the moment too?

dsc_0003  (Too many volunteers right on the fence line – both sides!)

dsc_0005   dsc_0004

dsc_0006

(You may not be able to tell from these pics, but each hill from the rats is about a foot tall!  They have even invaded our corn patch – jerks!)

I JUST HAVE TO BRAG UP SMART FARM/GARDEN PEOPLE!

The fact that these smart people also happen to be some of our dearest friends is purely coincidental.  We love to think- outside-the-box; you know, look at a stick and see a staircase type of thinkers.  Maybe this is why we have the best close friends in the world, we all think like this.

First example, our own greenhouse.  When we (my sister and I) initially thought about our new farm life, one of the things we knew we had to have was a greenhouse.  If you have the money and the space I highly recommend getting one.  It does not have to be as big as ours, but you need a place to grow your own foods. DSCF5121

I picked this picture to show you that we did build it ourselves (you can also check out my posts from 2012 for a lot more details).  This also gives you an idea of just how big it is.  The out-of-the-box thinking here (Kudos for our friend for thinking of this) is why it is 3 feet in the ground.  You actually have to step down 2 steps to get into it.  The friend also discovered a stellar insulated siding to pour the cement into that gives it a triple insulated side wall on all 4 sides.  The reason for this (for those asking) is to keep it warmer in winter and cooler in summer – on its own – with little to know help needed sometimes in the year.

Well the friend that helped us with this is ALWAYS thinking outside the box.  He came up with a couple of amazing simple things to help on their beautiful gardens.

HAIL – a harsh topic for anyone that loves plants.  You can spend days, months, and years working on your plants, trees, bushes, lawn, gardens and in an instant – HAIL – will destroy all or most all of it – grrr!  Fortunately, (knock on wood) we have not been in the path this year (yet), unfortunately our friends have been for the last several years (major bummer!).  So, Mister Think-Outside-the-Box came up with this nifty idea:

knj garden1

He is (they are) just so ingenious!!  (deserve many, MANY more exclamation points here but my writing checker won’t let me do it – boo hoo!)  Take a good look at this pic.  Not the raised beds, not the walk ways but the top and the slanted boards.  They placed wire hog/field panels (like this):

field pannel

The hole size in the squares is about 4”x4”, some have narrower holes toward the bottom to keep baby pigs in)

All over the tops of their garden spaces.  Then covered that with a finer mesh wire like this:

rabbit wire

Some people call it rabbit wire because the square holes are smaller than the holes in chicken wire and rabbit feet won’t fall through.  These are only about the size of a dime.)

NOW HOW BRILLIANT ARE THEY!!!

Then (like the top wasn’t enough smarts), check out the boards that are slanted in the raised bed.  They also have the hog panels attached to them – FOR THE VINING PLANTS NO LESS!  HOW DO THEY KEEP DOING IT?

They just keep coming up with these outstanding ideas.  How many years have my sister and I cried over lost crops to hail damage, but we never once thought of something so simple (almost seems like it should be common sense – LMAO), but so right?  We have hog panels all over our place, mostly for fencing.  There are some that have been damaged to the point of not hanging on a fence anymore, so they are just lying around – OH DUH!?!  (OK, can’t stop giggling at myself now.)

We have seen the panels used for gardening at this angle:

field panel in use

But never once thought far enough outside-the-box to come up with the perfect ideas that they did (yes, a bit of jealousy here – but just a bit because they are dear friends!).

I know that some of you (my Blogging Buddies) have seen some pretty nasty hail this year (maybe in past years also), so I wanted to share their smarts with those of you that have the same issues with your gardens.  I also wanted to brag up how beautiful their work is:

knj garden 2

Makes you want to just grab a lemonade, pull up a chair and watch the bees and butterflies do their thing.  AND THEY DID IT ALL THEMSELVES! WOW!!  This is not the work of a landscape specialist, it’s just them and their marvelous brains (more exclamation points – can’t help it – I’m just so excited for them)!  They work hard but they also work smart.  They deserve this Kudos!

I love my friends