WITH ALL THE BAD COMES SOMETHING AMAZING!

With all the bad, scary garbage going on in the world, I love reading my emails from places like: SMITHSONIAN.COM.  It is a free signup for their newsletter and it is so full of “other stuff” that keeps me grounded.

One recent issue offered an article about something I have never heard of before – nanowood?  The story not only explains exactly what it is, but how it can be used to replace things like Styrofoam (something I have protested since the 1970’s).  It comes from trees.  You can read the full article here: 

Could ‘Nanowood’ Replace Styrofoam?

nanowood

The first think I thought was what an outstanding contribution to saving our environment.  There is no Styrofoam in our home nor do we support it.  I have recycled plastics into tons of great farm ideas, and gladly purchase recycled plastic containers, but no to Styrofoam. This new source/substitute sounds awesome.

The second think I thought was it came from the University of Maryland – yes, Maryland here in the United States – WOW!  There are still scientists here in the US that are trying to think of ways to help not harm our planet – congrats people

Right now, it’s still in the early learning stages, but one day it could prove to be an outstanding insulator as well.

It is wonderful to know that there are those out there that still care.  Makes all my hand weeding feel worth-while

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ONCE MORE WE TRAVEL INTO THE LAND OF THE LOST.

I was not sure how to approach the interesting thing that happens this time of year.  Yes, it is a new year, but it is also re-visitation time for garden prep season.  With this season comes the attack of  The Gardening Catalogs from Hell – dun dun daaa!

seed catalogs

Those of you that have been gardeners for more than a year are fully aware of this danger.  You receive so many catalogs, filled with so much fun stuff; you become a Seed Catalog Junkie.  Sad but true, this is a disease.  I have been lucky enough to not become infected.  I limit myself to the task of making only the final decisions.  My sister, however, is severely infected.

The ritual is for me to pick up the mail and gently place all garden and seed catalogs into her favorite chair.  Her fav chair is on the mud porch (where she smokes – yuckie I know, but another bad habit she has), where she is solitary most of the time.  Friday nights we hold game night in there, and the dogs get to stay in there at night or days that are super cold.

In her solitary confinement, she meditates on the varieties, colors, sizes, shapes, prices, and shipping.  All of these things are used in determining who will be the prize winners and receive our selections.

1st place winner-ugly dog

It must be noted that all of our entries are from organic, natural, and mostly heirloom variety sellers.  We do not get into anything GMO and only look at hybrids in flowers.  Each year we try to select something that we have never tried to grow before (Last year was melons and winter squash – in the greenhouse.  Had some tricks to learn, but it worked – woohoo!).  Tried peanuts once – big mistake but an interesting grow.  Until we tried, I did not know that they had to grow up, down, back into the ground to create the peanut.  Weirdest thing I have ever seen a food plant do.  Not much for peanuts anyway (love P.B.J. though-yum).

peanut plant

My secluded sister spends about two months going through all the catalogs (starts around Thanksgiving) and then presents me with her selections about mid-January.  The poor thing comes to me like the Hunchback of Notre Dame; all bent out of shape, glazed eyes, staggering – it’s sad.

hunchback   (yes, hee hee, her hair does look like that – she’s gonna kill me for this post.)

I gingerly accept the catalogs and various spreadsheets from her (including all the scribbles, highlights, and sticky notes) and quietly slip into the office to review.

I then have to remember to ask her if she checked all her findings against our current seed collection.  You would think by now either she or I would remember do to this first – not.  Angry, frustrated, and mentally over-worked she snatches back the documents and heads back to her solitary confinement.

angry kitty face

Once again she emerges from the bowels of the porch and presents me with the “updated” documents, and once again I gingerly accept them.  I do fail to mention that I have, while she was re-working everything, dug up last year’s seed order inventory, compared it to our spreadsheets on planting and growing progress, and created an updated inventory with which to begin this new year list. Finally:

TADA –  HOUSTON WE HAVE LIFT OFF!

AB snowman

Gold stars all around! 

This new year’s seed orders are complete and thus sailing into charted waters and:

our bounty 2016    A boon be the bounty ahead.   Arrrgg Matie.

 

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PLOWSHARE THURSDAY – NOVEMBER 16, 2017

Today I am not endorsing any specific idea or product.  Today I have decided to do something a bit different.  My Grandson decided, all by himself, that he wanted to gather up some of our leaves.  Not to help me mind you, but to help himself.  He said they were getting in his way.  So he grabbed one of our leaf rakes (at least he grabbed the right kind), and began wrestling with it and the leaves.  So, to pay homage to the poor rake because he beat the snot out of it:

An Ode to the Humble Rake.

(Please sing to the music of Moon River.)

Humble rake, ever you’re on call,

Always in the fall, you’re used.

You leaf raker, my heart breaker,

Forever the one, the one that I choose.

 

Two huge trees, litter up the ground,

There’s such a lot of ground to see.

We’re after the same goal my friend, rakin’ up the bend,

My gardens you help tend, Humble Rake and me.

Today’s Plowshare is simply to acknowledge that the leaf rake is one of the most used, and abused items in our gardening armory.  My Grandson was a bit overwhelmed by all the leaves and quit after only an hour.  I found the rake, on the porch, leaning against the house like this:

our leaf rake after N done

I hope that my share today will help you to appreciate your poor gardening tools.  They do so much for us and ask so little.

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HOW COULD WE HAVE A WORLD WITHOUT THESE?

Those of you have been following me know that I am a “natural” nut.  Our farm and gardens are all grown using natural methods.  We do not like or use chemicals, nor do we care for hybrids (as most will not produce viable seeds for the next year growth), or GMO’s.  We grow mainly heirloom fruits and veggies, and we try to encourage the natural vegetation for our area (Even the bindweed as long as it stays out of my gardens.  It passes that line, and I feel I have a right to use all the salt, vinegar, and soap as necessary.).

I also subscribe to emails from the Smithsonian, and the Health and Science section of the Washington Post. (Nothing with politics as it stops me from sleeping.)  The email I received on 10/12/17 got me all upset.  This was the headline:

BANANAPOCALYPSE:  The race to save the world’s most popular fruit.

had heard about a month ago, the threat of a disease to the crops in South America.  I also know that is where the US gets the majority of its bananas.  I am a self-proclaimed banana-holic.  I love the darn things in so many different ways:

  • Banana bread (the obvious choice)
  • Strawberry-banana smoothies (Grandsons favorite choice).
  • Frozen Bananas dipped in chocolate (These were called “Monkey Bars” at a long-gone little drive-in, in Wisconsin, called the Tinker-Tot.).
  • Bananas sliced on cereal with milk cold.
  • Bananas sliced in oatmeal with a bit of honey and milk.
  • Banana malt (milkshake to most, however, I prefer the malt flavor best).
  • Just plain old bananas.

They have got to be my most favorite fruit, and they help keep up my potassium levels (bonus!).  So I am very saddened to hear of this latest epidemic.  I hope you all read and share the full article, then pray for a natural miracle.

I did not read in anywhere in the article if they have discovered where the TR4-resistant strain (disease) originated?  My first thought was if you know what it is, and you know what it does to the target plant (in this case my lovely bananas), then why wouldn’t you spend the scientific time and money to figure out how to kill the fungus in its tracks?  What good is all their GMOing if it just the fungus just catches on and comes up with its own new tweaked version of attack?

I do not want my amazing bananas to go away completely nor forever, but I also am not thrilled about the method the people in the know are taking to try to help.  I do not believe that in the long run, splitting and splicing, mixing and matching, is not the answer.  They knew that this first appeared as TR1 discovered in the 1950’s, found a unique variety in China and cloned it – why haven’t they been working on a cure for the fungus since then and not just a disease resistant temporary fix banana?

To me, it is like using makeup to cover up acne.  The condition maybe masked but it is still there, and without the proper medication it will continue to thrive.

Then again, we still do not know how to cure a common cold – oh well.

Thank you for allowing me to share my soapbox with you.

silly bananas

 

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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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HOW DANGEROUS IS YOUR GARDENING?

This question came up while I was driving by a farmer the other day.  He was out on one of their huge new-fangled tractors (you know, the kind with the cab over it for heating and A/C), with the strangest thing I ever saw behind it.

My father’s influence made me pull over and watch it for a bit.  He is long gone now, but I still look at all the newest farm stuff with him in mind.  The thing behind the tractor, at first, looked like a normal plow – no way.  It turned out to be anything but “normal” in my eyes.

(ours – pretty close anyway)                     (the newbies)

We used to have to take wide swatches when we plowed because it was not easy or safe to turn a tractor pulling any heavy equipment in tight formation.  So, the common practice was to begin in the center of the field, plow through it and along the far side bottom to the farthest corner.  Turn and plow up to the top, across the top, then go back down next to the row you first created.  You simply drove in a type of rectangle/circle formation moving one row over each time until you got back to the gate where you entered the field.  It worked perfectly fine.

Well, this new creation would have made my cousin squeal with joy.  Before he even got his drivers license, he was elected (pretty sure he didn’t volunteer for the job) to plow up one of our fields.  He was kind of cocky so when he got the general gist of the project he took off.

We happened to be riding along the lane next to the field when it happened.  He was going too fast and not paying attention to the plow in the back.  Took a corner too fast and too tight, and the tractor wheel got caught in the plow and lifted the front end of the tractor right up off the ground.  Luckily he was so scared and shook up that he took his foot off the peddles too fast, and the tractor quit right there.  He could not get it all undone by hand and had to go, teary-eyed, back up to the house for dad’s help.

I am glad I was there to see it. However, this new-fangled plow would never do that.  The farmer had some type of hydraulic system that actually picked up the plow into the air, flipped it around, and set it back down.  He was able to go whipping back-and-forth, up-and-down through the whole field with barely slowing down – AMAZING!

Pretty sure my dad is in heaven somewhere, wetting himself, watching me watching that.

angel dad humor

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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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SEASON TWO – WOO HOO!!

It’s time for the next game-plan here on our little slice of heaven – food season!

The grandson started school this week. Therefore I now have more time to spend on/in the gardens (can you hear me jumping for joy?!).

First thing I am working on is revamping the greenhouse.  It’s been going well for the last five years, but it’s time for some improvements, at least I hope they will be in the long run.

  1. Tomato Racks: We have tried a number of ways to work with our tomatoes to get the best results:
    1. Wire tomato cages – not good in the greenhouse. The weather in there makes the cages fall apart after only a couple of years.
    2. We took an idea from our local Corp. Hydroponic Tomato Plant. They “hang” their tomatoes on long lines.  Once I understood the necessity of trimming off lower branches and useless branches, hanging seemed like a great idea.  Nope, the ropes disintegrated, and wires cut the stalks.
    3. Let them lay where they will. VERY WRONG IDEA!  Yes, we had tons of tomatoes, but we could not find most of them until too late.  Either they would rot or get stepped on.  Unless we could see them, we would lose them (and we lost too many for our liking!).
    4. Now we think we have a solution – a wooden rack:

 

So far, so good!  The only issue we have is that I thought of it too late.  The tomatoes in the background (pic on the left shows best – the walkway disappeared – hee hee), are how long and bushy we are already.

We had to go on one row/side of the plot and flip all the branches over to the other side.  Then we installed the rack.  Once in place, we very delicately found each vine and hung it on the rack.  There is a metal field fence (has 4”x4” squares to it) piece attached to the wooden rack for us to build the vines on.

They went into a bit of shock right after propping up; however, it has been about two weeks now, and they are starting to bounce back.  During the whole time, we had plenty of tomatoes.  We had enough that we can begin our barter time:

  • Eggs for tomatoes.
  • Squash for tomatoes
  • Fruit for tomatoes
  • Even got a new thermostat on the truck for a loaf of bread and a bunch of tomatoes (tiny eaters and large sandwich type).

We hope to have the three racks installed in that row by the end of the month (mid-September at the latest).  The front faces west which is our most intense heat.  This leaves the east side in full to partial shade by mid-afternoon.  Carrots, lettuce, spinach are going in there.  We are also building frames to go over the racks for extra cover on really cold nights.  One other year we had tomatoes through Christmas. Hope we can do that again this year.  Fresh tomatoes make such a great gift!

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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