IT’S OFFICIALLY HERE!

The Farmers Almanac winter 2018-2019 predictions.  (In case you have not read my other posts, I love the Farmers Almanac!)  Considering the spring and summer we have had; I was not really surprised by their predictions.

They call it their “Teeth-Chattering Cold Ahead” report.  I take issue with that statement.

I love fall colors and changes in the temps.  I love the snow even when it gets feet-deep (Anyone that has kids or still feels like one must – snowball fights and snow fort building – woohoo!).  My favorite holidays are all after October first – Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and new seed catalog shopping (yes, that is a holiday in our house).

The issue I have is the “teeth-chattering cold” part of their prediction.  I am a huge fan of cooler temps, 75-55 degrees and I am in heaven.  This bit about dropping below freezing is not so hot – bad pun intended.  I lost all my long-underwear in the fire and have not gotten around to getting new just yet.  Guess this is my incentive.  And we all know what a stunning creature anyone becomes in long-underwear!

(Why do they look so cute on babies, but so dorky on adults?)

Before the tornado, we were revamping our old chicken coup into a new garden/tool shed.  We even did some insulating and moved an old cast-iron fireplace into it for winter.  Perhaps this was our women’s intuition kicking in.  If we get enough cold and snow that the power goes out, our little shed may become home – eek!

cast iron fireplace(Close to ours but no brick wall behind it, and ours is much older with claw feet.)

Then there is the critter worry.  The dogs and cats would most likely join us, but I draw the line on the chickens (sorry Mark and Kristie).  I don’t care how spoiled your pet is, if it can’t go outside when nature calls, it does not need to be in the house!

(Looking for house chicken pics, I found this great oldie by Gary Larson.  Had to add it just because it makes me laugh!)

I hope you are all prepared for this coming winter if not, you are not alone.  If you want to check out your area here’s their link:

Farmers’ Almanac 2018-19 WINTER OUTLOOK

(P.S. – have you started your Christmas shopping yet?  OH NO I DID NOT SAY THAT!)

winter wonderland

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SPIDERS – FRIEND OR FOE?

If you are squeamish about spiders, I suggest you move on now!

Living on a small rural farm, we tend to get tons of spiders.  The spiders and I have an understanding: You stay up on the ceiling, and you live.  Come down to my level, and you die!  It is working, for the most part.  I recently read a new article shared by my friends at the Smithsonian…Why Should or Shoudn’t You Kill Spiders in Your Home by Joanie Faletto of Curiosity.com.

I love to share the stuff I read, especially when it includes something that I did not know before.  This article explained that what I call Daddy Long Legs is actually called a Cellar Spider.  The interesting part is these friends of mine (yep, I even hold them to move them to plants that need more natural protectors)  kill Black Widow spiders (one of my long nemesis).

I have seen many of both.  Thankfully never been bit by the Black Widow (knock-on-wood), but have been bit by the Brown Recluse – nasty monsters!  Now that I know my friendly Daddy Long Legs can keep at least one of the monsters at bay, I will have to bring many more up around the house.

This is what the Recluse looks like – remember it is a very semi-small spider.  No bigger than the Black Widow:

brown recluse spider

(Sometimes called the “fiddle back” spider – look close on the head area and you can see a type of fiddle)  This is what the bite on my leg looked like just before I finally went to my doctor about it:

Brown-recluse-spider-bite-1

I am a tough old bird, and I have my mother’s high tolerance for pain.  I tried just using peroxide as I do with most cuts, that was my downfall.  According to my doctor, the peroxide and bandage did the wrong thing – kept it moist – instead of keeping it clean.  When moist, it will just get worse – and it did.

This is what it looks like now:

scar-now.jpg

I think, at least for now, I have decided to continue to allow the spiders in our home – within reason.  Recluse beware – I will destroy any and all I find!

cartoon squashed spider

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Plowshare Thursday – Watering Help.

What a wild planting year we have had:

  •  It was cooler than normal spring.
  • Wind gusts that decide to get nasty and take off half our greenhouse roof.
  • Now the intense (constantly increasing due to climate change – yes, I do believe in it.) heat is on again.

The year we bought our farm (August 2000) was the first year in 100 years that Colorado had a serious drought. This drought went on for another two years. It was a good thing, back then, that we knew something of water conservation. Luckily, several elderly farmers in the area shared lots of their conservation ideas.

Since we love to try new things, we decided to give some of their methods a go.

  1. We were just using a sprinkler type system that worked fine in the city of Denver, but out here on the plains with drought conditions was not a great idea. We then purchased a huge drip irrigation system. This was the, most costly, investment in our new watering methods. It was also the most time-consuming.
    1. Main connector.
    2. Mainline with all its t-joint connector lines.
    3. Row lines connect, again with t-joints, to the secondary lines.
    4. Row lines tapped with a special hole-making tool to install the drip line(s).
      That first year took forever to get it all installed, but it worked well. The next hard part of it was uninstalling to put it away for winter. Since it was all above ground, it all had to be taken apart, drained and sheltered for the winter. The next spring, we brought it all out again.
  2. We tried digging trenches like the big farms around us do. They then place short tubes into irrigation ditches. The tubes carry water from the ditch up into the fields. This idea didn’t last long with us. It just felt like too much water was being wasted.
  3. Next, we tried a bunch of different mulching methods.
    1. The first was the cheapest, but the biggest disaster. We have a local hydroponic tomato plant that uses coconut husks for mulch. When they do a “change-out” of plants and start newbies, they throw out all their old tubes of mulch. This was then free for the taking – so we did. After putting it around almost everything, we noticed some things were dying. We lost our first huge strawberry bed to this mulch. Gave away everything we could gather and never used it again.
    2. The next was “free” hay. Those that do not know, there is a difference between hay and straw mulch. Thick packing of hay can really help to block out the sun and kill weeds, just make sure you do not have weed seeds in the hay. That was our mistake. It took us future years of spot burning to get rid of all the Goathead goathead pic 1 (The cute little green pods become dry hard “spikey” beasts!)
      goathead pic 2(This is a younger full-size plant – the cute yellow flowers will become the green pods which, in turn, become the ugly beasties!)
      and

      sandbur weed grass . (Up close and nasty – the fuzzy end is not soft but spikey painful sticks to EVERYTHING – ugh!)

    3. After years of burning the sandburs and trying to coax our chickens, ducks, and geese to eat the little yellow flowers (best way to stop the Goathead from spreading). Our local energy company sent some tree cutters around to trim up the lines. They happened to stop by one day when I was in the garden and actually ask if it was ok to come onto our property (they have a “right-of-way” on file ) which I thought was very nice. I asked them what they were doing. Then I asked what they were doing with the wood chips. We now have a great agreement. They dump several piles of wood chips on our property for free. We get some awesome compost within just a few years. The piles cook down into the most beautiful dark dirt. We have learned how to use the older stuff as both new, good soil and great mulch. The one thing we did learn about wood chip mulch is that you cannot place it close to the base of a plant, bush, or tree.
    4. omewhere along the way, we started buying clean (no weeds) straw and found that using our Sucker/Blower (what we call our leaf blower) to chop it up into smaller pieces and mix it in with our wood chip mulch. We now have some stellar compost piles.

My whole share for today is to try to extend to you the opportunity to find new ways to use and save water. We all need to do our fair share to help. Conservation methods – even trial and error will help. Mulching, planting more items that will keep our earth cool, build shade covering where you can, building or creating spaces that provide use and beauty without wasting or using too much water. These are the methods we adhere to now and hope that you will too.

Happy Gardening!

PS: Here are some other helpful places to learn about using water wisely:

MNN: How to water your yard during a drought

The Spruce: Drought Tolerant Landscaping: What You Should Know

Gardening Know How: Xeriscape Design Ideas
High Traffic Lawn Options: What Are Some Lawn Alternatives In Play Areas

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Uninvited Guests That Never Leave!

City gardens are so different from country gardens with one HUGE aspect – weeds.  The farm garden when we were kids never seemed to have as many weeds or so fast.  I remember weeding, but it was a fun thing to see who could (not would) get the dirtiest.  Usually, my younger sister won just because she would be found sitting in a mud puddle before the job was done.

I remember my beautiful corner backyard garden in Denver, but again, I don’t remember this many weeds.  I would blame it on the birds, but I love all our birds – domestic and foreign.  Instead, I am now blaming my weeds on the winds.

This has got to be one of the weirdest growing seasons we have ever had.  Yes, we have some winds on-and-off every year, but this year has been just nuts!  Wicked enough to rip off our double-layered greenhouse cover, just a few weeks ago.

We have always had winds out here, just not so long, or so rough.  When the huge windmills started popping up across the U.S., Colorado was all in for that.  We have fields of them not far from our home.  I guess that is a bit of an indication on the strength of winds we get here.  The weird part is how long they are lasting now.

It was never unusual to get a gust here and there.  Even the occasional “micro-burst” would happen – but only in summer (still think they are mini-tornados that just didn’t finish forming).  Now we get the “sustained” winds.  These suckers come in without warning and last 12-48 hours.  Very unusual.

When we moved here in 2000, our biggest task was learning how to water everything using the best conservation methods.  Now, it is how to stop our plants from ending up in Kansas.

wicked winds 2(“I don’t think we’re in Colorado anymore Toto.”)

We have installed pound-in rods, rows of field fencing, and extra windbreaks all just to keep our plants from having the snot knocked out of them.  If the Hail King wasn’t bad enough, we now have the Wicked Wind of the West to contend with – eeek!

wicked windsHappy Gardening!

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SHOULD-A, My New Worst Friend.

I have realized, just this year, that the phrase “should have” (“should-a” in gardener-eze) has become my worst best friend.
• Should-a put the vinyl lattice on the outside of the fence to start. On the inside, the dogs have destroyed almost half the panels.
• Should-a put the drip/soaker likes for the plants under the soil by the roots. As hot as it is here on the Colorado plains, most evaporates before it gets to the roots – even early morning.
• Should-a bought a backup greenhouse cover when we purchased the first. (Cuz you know plastic does not last forever – ocean dump zone excluded.)

I think this phrase has haunted me most of my life. I get these great ideas, just way after the fact (we’re talking YEARS after).

Should-a turned the little grey shed into a garden potting shed when we moved in 18 years ago. No, we had to turn it from a horse tack room, into the chicken barn. Then, when we decided to build the greenhouse, we knew the chickens would not work being that close to it. So, we moved them, but then just started piling all kinds of stuff in there instead of just the garden stuff.

While working on the greenhouse, more and more things got thrown into that poor little shed. In 2017 we finally go around to cleaning up our “should-a” and decided it would be a perfect garden shed. Then the kids happened. My daughter needed a place to dump her and her stuff, so our should-a got elected.

A couple of kids from Michigan ended up in our driveway (that’s a whole other story), and they were actually living in it for a bit.

Well, this year, right now, we have finally gotten back around to our little grey shed should-a and it’s looking great! We do not have it painted as we want yet, but I will share the finished product pics as soon as it is beautiful. That is as long as another should-a doesn’t come along.

perfect garden shed
(Hee, hee, nope this is not ours – just my dream of what I hope ours will look like in the end.)

Happy gardening guys!

(Oh, wait – just got another should-a: put a piece of that huge plyboard my sister got from work onto the back wall. That should keep out a big part of the north wind chill in winter. See, happens all the time – grrr!)

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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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