Plowshare Thursday 10-12-17: TO SEW OR NOT TO SEW?

To sew or not to sew?  To use standard seed start containers, or to purchase the fancy setups with all the extra thrills and frills?  So many questions and so many answers.  Where do you begin?

We begin with the end – where will the mature plant end up growing.  We still have many years where we over-start on our seeds.  I blame it on all the great food produced the year before.  It is usually only a few months from harvest/food processing time until our next year’s seed start time. (Processing usually ends in Oct. or Nov., and seed start is usually end of Jan. first part of Feb.)

This year will be no exception.  We have received such a bounty from our work and the bartering with our great friends, that it will be impossible to not dig into starting a ton of seeds asap.  Right now, we still start ours in the house, and it is a joy to see.  Plant setups all over the place.  Grow lights glowing until after dark (got to get those eight to ten hours of light in).

We have found, through a ton of trial and error, that the type of plant needs a certain type of container or all the magic grow methods in the world will not save it.  Here are the things we have found:

  1. Plastic trays: Usually with the cover to help heat them up and keep the moisture levels up. They are great for smaller starts. Usually, flowers as most of their seeds are tiny.  If you do not have the covers (after a while ours all split, so we used them as extra support for the trays), plastic wrap works.  You must watch the growth carefully.  If you do not take the top off soon enough, your starts can get spindly.   You can use a cut up the straw to prop up the plastic higher over the trays to allow more growth space (do NOT use toothpicks).

germination-station-400x400- trays

  1. Pressed cardboard cups: This is still our medium of choice for any plant that does not handle transplanting well.  Usually, we will tear the bottom off or splice the sides before we put it into the ground.  This allows for easy root expansion as it grows.
  2. Newspaper DIY:  This is more earth-friendly than the cardboard ones. However, they do not usually hold up as well.  If you are going to use these, make sure you have a good, strong support under them; and do not get them too wet.

newspaper-pot-maker-400x400

  1. Wax-lined disposable drinking cups: (like Dixie brand) We discovered this by cruising around on Pinterest.  I was not sure it would work at first.  I was afraid the plant would flood (they are meant to “hold” water), but then found that if we simply poked a hole about the size of a pen top in the bottom of the cup, place the planted cups in a tray, then water when needed – works great!  We got a ton of cheap cups from the local dollar store.  We used the flat trays we already have.  Moisten the soil before planting and – ta-da – great seed start setup.

dixie cup

We also tried the major dispersement method this last year.  That is where you take a ton of smaller seeds like tomatoes or carrots and throw them spread out over a prepped soil flat tray.  As the plants start coming up you simply thin out the grouped bunches to just one or two.  The only thing this went well for us on this method was the chipolini onions (FYI – small but outstanding flavor!).  We decided that we loved our tomatoes and carrots too much even to toss out just a few.  Broke our hearts – and tummies.

In conclusion, my plowshare Thursday note to you would be, decide where you are going to plant something before you start your seed sewing.  If it is a large plant in need of full sun – try the cups or cardboard.  If the plant does not like transplanting, start it in an earth-friendly container like the cardboard.

My very last tip for you is Beat the Snot out of it while you are planting it!  We do this on everything we plant – no wimps here.  This may just be our experience, but we have also seen how plants that get the snot knocked out of them during an early spring hail, usually come back great-guns after that.

Whatever you choose, make sure you do it with love, fun, and a bit of singing or humming never hurts (plants love music).

Happy Gardening!

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PLOWSHARE THURSDAY – Do you have one?

There are so many times that I have been asked for help, or asked someone else for help and got hung up on the description.

“WHAT IS THIS GROWING ON MY HERB LEAVES?”
“WHAT KIND OF BUG HAS WINGS AND IS EATING MY PEPPERS?”
“WHY IS MY PLANT DYING?”

Sound familiar? Either you have confronted someone with these issues (and more), or someone has approached you is just as vague. This brought me to my plowshare today – cameras.

Yes, it sounds simple enough, but try to remember it every time you go outside or to your gardening area. I usually take my cell phone with me. However, when I go out to water, I don’t (fear of getting it wet). I finally figured out that’s a dumb thing to do. When I am watering is when I am up close and personal with most all of my plants. This is usually when I spot something I need help with, or that I can use to help someone else.

So instead of being afraid of getting it wet (yes, I get carried away with water, and I am proud of it!), I am now trying to remember to bring it with me outside more.

The biggest reason for this change is (after whacking myself in the forehead a few times) physical proof. It doesn’t matter if you are using your cell phone, an Instamatic, digital, or even an old-fashioned camera; just as long as you can get a clear picture.
I can not believe how long it took me to figure this one out, especially in light of my home repair methods. Decades ago I taught myself an invaluable lesson:

When needed a piece to do any home repair work – remove the old one and take it with you.

This has become my subconscious creed. It is automatic for me to do this anymore. So, duh, why am I not doing the same in my exterior areas as I do in my interior areas. Both are in need of a variety of maintenance procedures. Well, as of this fall all that silliness has ceased. I now either carry my phone or a camera with me every time I go outside, even if it is just to sit and relax for a nice evening, a mode of picture capture is in my grasp.

I hope that all of you reading this, begin this habit IMMEDIATELY! I wish I would have years ago. I would have enough pics now for a full book on problems and conditions in gardens and what to do about them. Oh well, life goes on. Happy gardening!

leaf-bug-10-3-17.jpg

(Leaf Bug – first year on our farm that I have ever seen them – woo hoo!)

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WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?

Just when I thought there were very few things left in the food processing world that would surprise me, this happened:

LEFT RED RIGHT YELLOW SAUCES(yes, these are two completely different types of tomato sauces, sort of.)

Now don’t be fooled. The one on the right is NOT our normal pasta sauce. The one on the left is.
We began using several varieties of heirloom tomatoes years ago. The mixture of flavors was such an outstanding taste we just kept doing it. Well, now we have some friends and family members that cannot do the normal red sauce anymore. The higher acidity of the red tomatoes does not sit well with their digestion. This year we decided to try something to help them enjoy pizza and pasta again.
PRESENTING: ALL YELLOW TOMATO, FROM SCRATCH, HOMEMADE PASTA SAUCE (which just so happens to also be perfect for pizzas or a dipping sauce for bread, cheese, and veggie sticks.).
Our older sister’s husband happens to be one of the people that cannot do the reds. We gave them a ton of our yellows when they came to visit a few weeks ago. She decided to try to make her own sauce for them to use. She called me and said that it turned red – what? This threw me for a loop, as I had always just assumed that using all yellow tomatoes only would produce a yellow sauce.
I forgot to ask if she used any red tomato paste in her sauce. Well, my Co-Farming sister and I decided to give it a shot. We gathered a ton of our yellow tomatoes (note: this is a mix of several heirloom varieties, and we do NOT use chemicals on any of our foods), and started up a batch. Now, this is where it freaks me out:
LD 7
You can see that we have separated the beauties into three groups:
• All red heirlooms
• All yellow heirlooms
• The back bag is a mix of tomatoes with two varieties of Roma’s for tomato paste
We took yellow only and put them through the food strainer to pull out the skins and seeds. When that was done we put it all in the same canning pot we used for the reds:
yell tom b 4 cooking
Then add the same spices as the red mix, we started to heat it all up. You can see it IS yellow when we started.
Here’s where it gets weird – step 2, starting to boil:
yell tom start to boil
Was it turning orange while boiling?
Step 3 – done cooking and ready to jar it up:

yell tom ready to can up
WHAT THE HECK? WHERE DID OUR BEAUTIFUL YELLOW GO?

I have never claimed to understand Mother Nature in the least. However, this was just crazy. We did not use any reds anywhere in the process, yet the sauce turned out deep orange. Here are the two jars now side-by-side:
LEFT RED RIGHT YELLOW SAUCES
Left is our classic Red Sauce, the right is our new Yellow (or Orange) Sauce.
We decided to force ourselves to do a taste test – just to make sure it was all ok to eat and share. Well, the darnedest thing was discovered, the classic mix of all the heirlooms was a bit sweeter than the yellow only.
That part I can kind of understand. I love eating all tomatoes fresh off the vine. I have found that I appreciate the taste and texture of the darker tomatoes much better than the lighter ones (God forbid I have to give any of them up – eeek!). The Black Krim or Cherokee Purple are two of my most favorites.
The yellows have a much milder taste and seem to have more meat in them like a Roma. They are great on sandwiches since they hold together so well. But when it came down to just eating them, the dark ones are my winners.
I guess this was sort of a surprise to me because I based my original thinking on the smaller “snacking” tomato varieties. I have always loved the small yellow tomato much better than the red cherries. I do enjoy the smaller red variety labeled the “grape” tomato. But my very favorite small snacking tomato is the orange – which, unfortunately, is hard to find.
So my bit to share today is don’t freak out when your yellow tomatoes cook up orange, they are still perfectly yummy.

variety of tomatoes

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PLOWSHARE THURSDAY – COMPANIONS.

The thing I am most grateful for in our gardening endeavors today is that we learned how to use “companion planting” to our benefit!

Those that may not have heard of this before: It is the method of planting that puts one or more plants next to each other, to naturally protect and strengthen them.

What this means is very simple:

  • Plant carrots with tomatoes.

carrots n tomatoes

  • Plant dill with just about everything.

dill-in-gh.jpg

  • Plant marigolds with just about everything.

marigolds

  • Oh, and when possible, leave a place totally natural – untouched!

wild plant area

The last one is a HUGE secret that we found out about last year.

The fire three years ago set us back on all of our normal routines.  The biggest damage occurred on the land and gardens.  To have something, anything, for harvest in the fall of 2014; we chose to let parts of the farm and gardens go natural.

Then in 2015, we were still trying to get a handle on things, and I was still doing surgeries.  Since I am the main person working on the farm and gardens, I was in no shape to keep up with it all (and we only garden on about 5 of our 20 acres.).

It was summer of 2016 when it came time to finally tame the whole area.  We have one long field that is about 100-feet wide by about 200-feet long.  It is the length of the whole main area of our farm.  Nothing is growing in there except weeds and wild grasses.  The chickens loved roaming around in there after bugs and worms.  The problem by mid-summer is that we could not see the chickens in the tall grasses anymore – HUGE DANGER FOR CHICKEN FARMERS!

Even though we had not seen or heard a coyote or fox in a couple of years, we did not want to take the chance.  Thus the major mowing finally began.  My sister was smart!  Out of the fire funds, we managed to purchase a John Deere Riding Mower – best investment ever!!

I put on my pretty sun hat (not – but it works- ha ha), doused myself with sun screen and bug repellant started the monster up and away I went.  What fun it actually was!  I could get pretty close to things so we would only have to push-mow a few spots when I was done.

When I got to the long field, I went around the first corner, and a praying mantis landed on my arm!  I stopped mowing, caught it with my hand and put it into the greenhouse.  It took me about 3 hours that first day to clear that long field (normal is only about 1 hour), due to the friendly critters!

We then realized that the corner where we had a pile of old wooden posts had attracted a bunch of bad bugs, which then attracted a bunch of good bugs – viola – natural pest controls!

We used to trim up everything thinking that this would keep the nasties away – nope, the best we ever did was to leave the woodsy area alone.  Most of the long field gets mowed now, but a large section with the wood gets left untouched.

Companion planting works in the same manner.  You plant things next to each other to deter the bad bugs and naturally attract the good bugs.  I even let the dill in the greenhouse run amok this summer.  It is over five-feet tall.  Has seed heads the size of basketballs, and attracts the aphids.  I have no clue why they love the dill more than all else, but they do.

I can now plant dill in succession and simply cut down and bad the old buggy stuff and throw it in the trash.  The plastic bags will suck out the air and kill them, or they will be moved to the dump when the trash guy comes.

I can still find a bit on my food plants – but not as much and it is easy to take care of with wash or wiping.

Hope this helps – happy gardening!

(If you enjoyed this bit of humor, please feel free to visit my latest blog: Life Lessons Lived  to get more laughter in your life!)

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PLOWSHARE THURSDAY AUGUST 17, 2017:

I was away for a bit, but am now back.  Since I was also away from my gardens and garden work, I had a TON of catching up to do.  Funny how falling out of sync for just one week can throw your gardens into an ugly frenzy!

My share today, because of the garden frenzy, is this great little invention:

y-faucet connectorHere we call it a Y-connector.  Most people will attach it to their outside faucet to obtain the ability to water two spots at once.  We go the next step.  We have drip lines EVERYWHERE in our gardens.  They are most helpful in the greenhouse as there is no rain to supply backup water in there.

Even with our whole end swamp cooler going, the plots in there can still dry out pretty fast.  Especially on those 90+ degree days with full sun.  When we initially started up the greenhouse, everything was watered by human power.  Dragging a hose with a nozzle on the end of it up and down, over and under all the plots and plants – not a good thing Martha!

Then (as it always seems to happen) we got smart!  Drip lines were installed.  We tried several different types with several different connections and extensions.  Over the years, and a ton of trial and fail, we came up with running two long lines about six to eight inches away from the edges of the plots the full length of the plots.  Since the plots are about forty feet long and the lines are about fifty feet long, we looped the ends to come back into the center of the plots.  We used to connect to each line one-at-a-time – DUH!  Thus the inclusion of Y-connectors.

We now have both drip lines connected to the same single y-connector.  The end of that has a quick-connect attachment which we can then simply snap on and off each plot for easy, even watering.  We have our own well, but I set a timer for everything I do.  The normal time of each plot is thirty minutes.  This manages to place the water right where the plant root systems are set.  We also (just this year – another “get smart” idea that came to us) set the lines about two to three inches below the surface.  This has managed to deep water beautifully!

We used this maneuver on one of our outside tomato lines for the first time this year – outstanding results!  Before this, we would just place them on the top of the soil near the plant stalk.  It never appeared to be providing the amount of water that we wanted.  By setting them up “BELOW” the surface, the results have been amazing.

It should be noted that we do not use any type of poking device to make a hole for the initial sets transplants.  Hands work just fine, and my finger nails get a strong dose of great minerals that make them stronger (don’t know how that works, just that it does?).

Please feel free to comment any questions you have in our method(s), and I will be happy to share our secrets with you.

Happy Gardening!