Category Archives: gardening

Busy Week

The Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

It was a busy week for the Hain farm. After getting the crops out and the soil testing done, I got all the corn ground chisel plow on Saturday. Bailey rode with me all day.

Sunday morning it was warm enough I could use a hose and jet nozzle and clean off the chisel plow and tractor. (Pressure washer is already put away for winter.) I also finally got the garden fence taken down. The garden had been done for a month of course and I left the gate open so the chickens have been in there scratching around, I just hadn’t time to get the fence down. And it was bugging me so I’m glad that’s done.

I ran out of diesel fuel in the barrel when filling the tractor on Saturday. Off road diesel fuel is dyed red and can only be used in off-road equipment like tractors, combines, or construction machinery. The point of dying it is because I don’t have to pay quite so many taxes on off-road fuel.  As I understand it, a DOT inspector might check the fuel tank of an over the road truck and if there are traces of red dye in it you get a hefty fine. Gasoline I pay taxes, but I also get them refund on my tax returns for the gallons used on the farm. Hence we don’t fill the cars with gas from the barrel. When I was a kid we did, then the tax laws changed. My cost for a gallon of diesel is $2.50, it’s about $3.54 in the stores around here. My big tractor holds 140 gallons of diesel. I know the big 4 wheel drive tractors might hold 350! Crazy. I had the delivery truck fill the tractor, too. There is a long story about summer diesel and winter diesel I’ll skip. I use an additive to make it winter diesel and prevent gelling.

I got 200 gallons of gasoline (a couple of the older tractors, the swather, the lawnmower, the four wheeler, the gator, chainsaws and Weedwhackers’ use gasoline) and 500 gallons of diesel for the two main tractors.   

Also Monday, the quarry and the co-op arrived to spread lime. I was at work but Kelly got some photos for us. A semi would deliver and fill the spreader using an elevator. Then the spreader had the computerized mapping software integrated with the soil tests so they could applied as needed.

I took Wednesday off from “Work” work.  I was able to get my brush mower fixed. Got the blades fixed, and I also realize the timing of the two sets of blades was off. They need to be at 90° to each other. And that was simply a matter of removing one chain, getting them aligned, and reinstalling the chain. Much easier than I had expected. Got the roadsides mowed down, mowed two little parcels that are going to be planted to native grasses next spring, cleaned everything off, and got the mower put away. Hooked on the snowblower and move that into the machine shed.

I hope I don’t need it for several months, but at least it’s in. Got the grain drill all put back together

and tucked that back into place. What a good day. 

The theater renovation is finally wrapping up. I was waiting on one final approval from the fire department about a sprinkler head, which would then let the city inspector sign off on the final permit. I started this the first part of November, some minor corrections to the work done and some bureaucratic red tape means it’s Wednesday before Thanksgiving and we have an audience that night and I’m still making phone calls and poking people to approve this! I did not sleep good Tuesday night. It’s so nice that everything is online these days, finally about 1 o’clock Wednesday I see online that it has all been approved. I did a happy dance in the tractor.

Man, maybe I can sleep again.

I know some of you get so excited about the seed catalogs coming. Hoovers Hatchery has announced their 2022 catalog and a couple new breeds of chickens they’ll be carrying. Maybe I should get some of the Buff  Chantecler or Black Minorca! The ducks and chickens are still good. I notice Rooster #3 has got some size on him and he’s not shadowing Boss Rooster anymore. I haven’t heard him picking fights, but I think he’s strategizing.

We had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat* and had a nice relaxing day. A few minor odds and ends to do at the theater for opening on Friday. Saturday daughter and I will get driveway markers put in. Kelly and I would prefer a nice day with no wind to get snowfence up. Maybe middle of next week.  

Twisted any arms? Talk about when that’s gone poorly. Or well.

How do you feel about Alice’s Restaurant?

*Anyone catch that reference? I listened to it Thursday morning.

Brrrr…..Wind

The Farm Update comes to us from Ben.

It sure has been windy the last few days. No matter what the temperature is, a wind like this makes it colder. I’m lucky we haven’t had trees down over our road or any of the township roads… knocking on wood.

Ducks and chicken numbers are status quo. But I’ve noticed the black and white ducks are getting a green tint on their heads.

A little research shows they’re “Black Swedish” breed. Back this summer I ordered ‘Mixed Ducklings’ so really didn’t have any idea what I was getting. The cream colored ones are “Saxony” and the ones with the pouf are “White Crested” of course. And the ones that look like mallards but are a little heavier and don’t fly are “Rouen”. It seems odd to me they don’t lay nearly as many eggs as the chickens. Just seems like they should be laying more than they do… usually come spring I might get one or two ducks that lay eggs for a while. Usually out in the middle of the yard. Then it depends if me or Bailey finds them first.

And now that the weather is cooling the turkeys have started grouping up. It won’t be unusual to see a group of 30 or 40. Saw this bunch in the fields yesterday

Dumb turkeys… Once there is snow cover, they’ll be down in the yard eating under the bird feeders in the backyard and trying to get the corn I put out for the ducks and chickens. The dogs love chasing them away, but those stupid turkeys are smart too. They know Humphrey is in the house and Bailey is sleeping out front, so they sneak in the back. And when we do chase them away, they’re back in a few minutes… rotten turkeys. I haven’t even mentioned the herds of deer.

I think most of the redwing black birds have moved on now. Caught a cool picture of them on a trailcam the other day.

I get pretty excited when the birds return in the spring. The Red Wing Blackbirds, the Killdeer, and, of course, our favorite, the barn swallows. Even the turkey vultures returning is another sign of spring.

The Co-op called; they finished the grid sampling and said I could go ahead and chisel plow now. My plan is to spend much of Saturday out doing that. Due to crop rotation, every other year will be more soybean acres than corn acres and soybean ground doesn’t need to be plowed up in the fall. This was a soybean heavy year, which means I don’t have all that many acres to work up. In the old days (the “old days”) it was done with the moldboard plow and it made the ground all black because it turned over ALL the residue and buried it. That black surface is great come spring because it allows the soil to warm up sooner and that’s still important. Then we started doing ‘Conservation tillage’ and leaving more residue on the surface, which is important to prevent wind and water erosion plus it conserves moisture underneath. But too much trash on the surface keeps the soil cooler and wetter come spring. Conservation tillage doesn’t use the moldboard plow, it uses a 4” wide twisted ‘Shovel’ to throw up some dirt, but not necessarily bury it completely. The Chisel plow I use is like that. The last few years the hot new term is ‘Vertical Tillage’. I’m still not sure exactly what it is. But there’s a whole new line of shiny equipment to help me do it!

Photo credit: TractorHouse

It’s more about cutting up the residue and burying it a little bit to help decomposition over winter, but again, not turning the surface black. And again, we do want at least a strip of black soil to warm up and dry out for earlier planting in the spring. So there are ‘strip till’ machines that can make a strip a few inches wide while doing the tillage. And then in the spring the idea is to plant into that same strip. You’ll really want GPS and auto guidance to make that work reliably.

I read an article the other day that The Honeyford grain elevator, North Dakota’s oldest cooperative elevator, is the first elevator south of the U.S.-Canadian border to load an 8,500-foot, 1.6 miles-long train. I only cross one set of railroad tracks between the college and my house. About 9:45 PM there’s a train that occasionally keeps me waiting. Some seem long, but not 1.6 miles I guess. It was interesting to read about the elevator and the train. Imagine the parking lot needed to handle that sheer number of cars let alone getting them filled! It just reminds me there are so many things that I don’t know I don’t know.  It does say Honeyford Elevator is in the middle of the prairie and the nearest town is 3.5 miles away. Here’s the article: https://tinyurl.com/uys4s7rx

What’s the longest straight road you’ve been on or know of? I know one that’s 13.6 miles.

Where No Ketchup Has Gone Before

“First came the billionaires, then the movie stars — now ketchup is making its mark on the space race.”  (CNN November 8, 2021)

At first glance, this seemed like a silly story – Heinz had made “Marz Edition” of their ketchup using tomatoes that were produced in a controlled environment similar to what plants could expect if they were growing up on the Red Planet.

But turns out this was a serious experiment by 14 astrobiologists as part of long-term food harvesting  strategy for NASA.  I guess astronauts and Mars pioneers need a little more than freeze-dried ice cream (which is awful, by the way) to get by.

The ketchup will not be available to the public but there will be a big taste test tomorrow – if you are Twittered or Instagramed, you can watch it at 10 a.m. ET.  For the rest of us, we’ll just have to dream.

If you have a couple of Martian acres, what would you want to grow (and would you want to garden in person or from a distance)? 

Simple Gifts

Husband and I finally had time last weekend to see to the garden to trim the irises, peonies, and day lilies, roll up the soaker hoses to store them in the basement, and take down the bean poles and tomato cages. It has been very cold at night here, with lows of 20°F.

Despite the cold, the spinach and chard have thrived over the past few weeks. Our next door neighbors, whose children help us in our garden, love chard. I only grow it to make a couple of Italian pie of greens each summer, and freeze some for pies in the winter. We always have more than we need, and the neighbors take the fresh chard we gladly give them to extended family gatherings where they cook it up and sprinkle it with vinegar. It is their family delicacy.

I thought I had picked the last bit of chard a couple of weeks ago, but during our garden clean up I noticed that the remaining chard had grown some pretty big leaves. I asked the neighbor if he could use some more, and he and the children came over and clipped the chard to the ground for one last autumn feast.

Husband visits a couple of our Lutheran congregation members who reside in an assisted living community to bring them communion. There is always an exchange of their homemade pickles and slices of pie for our pesto sauce and pastries. Simple gifts that mean so much.

What are the simple gifts that are precious for you to give and to get? Have any of your pets brought you “gifts”?

CPU

I learned frugality at my mother’s knee so sometimes it’s hard for me to part with my hard-earned cash.  I have a good friend who sometimes gives me grief about this.  Her view of life is all about CPU… cost per use.  If she purchases something and then uses it a lot, the CPU gets smaller and smaller.  She taught this life view to YA early on, so I am exposed to the theory on a fairly regular basis.

The one place I have been good at applying CPU is with the Minnesota Zoo.  I have an annual membership so when YA and I go to the zoo, we don’t have to pay anything.  It’s obviously not free but it feels free at the time.  We go enough that the annual membership is less than the full price and parking we would have to pay.

I have another friend who has been a supporter of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for many years and have always urged me to get a membership.  But at $60 I knew I’d have to go at least 4 times a year to justify the CPU.  This past spring, this friend called me to tell me that the Arb was having a membership sale.  Just $30 for the annual membership.  Right up my alley.

Now that I don’t have to pay every time I go, I’ve been to the Arb a few times.  Twice this summer I even parked myself in one or another garden with a good book.  In October they had their annual Scarecrow exhibit so last weekend, I made some space in my Saturday and headed out.  I strolled about, checking out how things are changing now that the big blooms of spring and summer are over.  (I even got a gardening tip; I noticed that in the Peony garden, they have chopped the peonies back.  This is not something I have ever done but the afternoon after my visit, I chopped all my own back!) 

The scarecrows were a lot of fun.  Most of them were up on the hill and it was almost like a fall festival – lots of kids and lovely autumn displays – not to mention a gorgeous sunny day.  I normally take the tram ride but since it’s done for the season, I drove slowly along the Three Mile Drive myself with Enya playing on my phone.  I’m sure it’s the lowest my blood pressure has been for years!  They were starting to put up the lights for the Winter Lights Walk so as soon as I got home, I ordered tickets for that.   The CPU will be seriously low this year.

I was thinking as I enjoyed my day that even if they raise the price of membership on me next year, I’ll probably renew anyway.

How do you decide if something is “worth it”?

The Quiet Time

Husband and I were struck by how quiet it was as we travelled to South Dakota on Saturday. It is a remote area, so there never is much traffic, but it seemed as though there was much less than normal. We saw herds of cattle and sheep, a few mule deer, and some eagles, but people were absent. Wheat had been harvested, and hay was put up. There were a few fields of unharvested sunflowers. There wasn’t much activity at any of the farmsteads that were close enough to the road for us to see. It was as though everyone was inside taking it easy.

Husband commented that the weeks between the middle of October until Thanksgiving in November is his favorite time of year. Everything seems to slow down. There isn’t much snow, the garden is done, and we have time to sit and breathe after a busy summer and fall. Yesterday I was able to take stock of my Christmas baking supplies (I needed glacéed citron, orange peel, lemon peel, and cherries, as well as sliced almonds for Stollen). As a child, I suppose that December was my favorite month because of Christmas, but now I appreciate a time that I can stay home and be a little more still. We have decided to not put up a Christmas tree this year, as we will not have any company and are spending Christmas in South Dakota with our son and his family. That will make for a more peaceful December.

What are your favorite times of year? Got any holiday plans in the works?

Industry

I was tickled last week to see this story from Fargo, about a guy who has problems with an industrious red squirrel.

https://www.inforum.com/community/7213005-42-gallons-of-nuts-Red-squirrel-stuffs-Fargo-mans-truck-with-nuts

For one thing, I am amazed that a walnut tree could be so prolific. I am also pretty impressed by the tenacity and single mindedness of the squirrel. I truly can understand this from the squirrel’s point of view. I don’t know what it is about having fresh produce, but every time we swear that this is the last tomato or eggplant or green bean we will pick, Husband and I automatically start to think of new ways to use them or preserve the ones that still are coming. We give what we can to the food pantry, but they are only open two days a week.

Husband picked a bunch of Spanish Giant sweet red peppers yesterday, and swore that he was going to pull up the plants. He didn’t, though, as he decided that would be wasteful. So, here I am, watering the garden again as it is going to be in the 80’s this week, because the peppers and tomatoes are loaded with fruits yet to ripen. The lack of a killing frost has made the garden last far longer than usual. I made two spanakopita on Saturday using up three pounds of our garden spinach leaves. There is a feverishness to harvest. Sometimes I think we are nuts with our garden. I lay the blame on our parents and grandparents.

How did growing up with Great Depression-era parents impact you? When have you been industrious? Got any good squirrel stories?

That Fall Smell

The farm report comes to us from Ben

Had a good rainshower Monday afternoon. One of those downpours where traffic slows, and windshield wipers are on high. I could see it coming, I was several miles from home and the sky was dark and I was hitting Every. Red. Light. At one point there was some pea size hail, just a few stones, and I was considering my odds… can I make it home? Where should I park otherwise? But I thought I could make it. (Risk taker, remember?)

And then I could see the rain coming. Boy, just a few times in my life I’ve been in rain that heavy. Thankfully only lasted a mile or so. We ended up with .87”. Thankfully no hard winds with it in our area. I did hear reports of funnel clouds in other areas.

Rain like that in the fall is tough; the crops don’t really need it anymore, and the weather is cool enough it doesn’t dry as fast as it would mid-summer. The corn is tall enough the sun can’t hit the soil and it stays wet for a week. And it just makes harvest harder because now there’s mud to deal with. So, we’ll see how that goes.

I was out checking crops last evening and I noticed that fall smell in the air. The beans are coming along. I saw several farmers out harvesting soybeans in the area today. Soybean pods are fussy; they dry out in the late morning or afternoon, but they’ll pick up moisture after dark or with the dew. Plants along the edge of the field might still be soft and mushy, but the rest of the field is dry, and the pods crack open easy, which is what you need to harvest. The corn is still looking good, it’s roughly 30% moisture which means the ears haven’t tipped down yet. Too much rain and it gets down inside the husk and can cause mold issues on the kernels. Once the corn dries more and the ears tip down, rain won’t cause mold issues.

After the discussion last week on PTO shafts, I was thinking about how some other things have changed.

Hooking up wagons or implements is different these days. One of the greatest inventions is the extendable wagon hitch. LIFECHANGING! Back when tractors were smaller and didn’t have cabs, it was easy to just look over your shoulder and you were almost looking right down at the hitch (called a drawbar) so backing up to a wagon was easy and we got real good at getting lined up so the hitch pin would drop right in. And the tractor or wagon was small enough we could nudge it a little bit to make the connection.

With a cab, sightlines changed and sometimes it’s harder to see the hole in the drawbar, so it was harder to get lined up right. Some people have added mirrors to the rear window so when the window is open, it allows one to see the hitch. (I need to do that on one of my tractors).

But now, with extendable hitches, as long as we get close, we can extend the wagon hitch to connect it, then we back up and it locks back into place. It’s wonderful! Especially when hooking a wagon to another implement, so I’m guessing where that hitch is way back there; the extendable tongues are life savers!

I remember the first wagon Dad bought with an extendable hitch. It was a remarkable thing.

Hitch pins too – at first, they were just pieces of straight rod with a washer welded on the top. Or even a large bolt if you were desperate. But again, machinery got bigger.

I made a couple hitch pins in high school welding class; that’s where I learned about hardening and how to temper them so they didn’t wear out so fast.

I had no idea I had so many hitch pins until I got them all together for this photo.

Then seed dealers started giving away hitch pins with an ACTUAL HANDLE on the top! That was another wonderful revelation! Course, on a hill it was easy for that hitch back there to drag on the ground and push the hitch pin right out. I ran one wagon through a fence and down into the calf pen when the pin came out… didn’t break anything or lose any bales, just the wagon. (And had to fix the fence). Lost the pin on the grain drill one day and didn’t notice until I got home and didn’t have a drill behind me anymore. One time the anhydrous tank came unhooked from the applicator. Knew that right away and thank goodness I was on flat ground and thanks goodness for the safety disconnect valve that separated. But getting it all hooked back up again was a struggle.

If you wanted to be safe, you put a clip in the hole at the bottom of the pin. If there WAS a hole for a clip. IF it stayed when going through cornstalks.  Again, tractors and implements have gotten bigger Now I use locking pins that might be 5/8” or even 7/8” diameter. And the big tractor has something called a ‘Hammerstrap’ hitch that’s about 1 1/2” diameter. And it will actually drop itself in! (if I back up straight and hit the hitch of the implement just right. It works pretty well and it makes me laugh when It does).

In this photo the PTO shaft is the round thing above the hitch.  Bigger tractors might have a pin as big as your wrist. If you imagine the pull on these machines when they’re in the ground, you can imagine why they might need a pin this big.

Duck Report. The three older ones and the younger ones are just starting to hang out together. And nobody goes in the pen anymore; they just hang out down here by the pond.

I saw a duck get a little air the other day… just a few feet, but I’ll bet it’s coming soon.

What do you remember changing your life? What’s coming soon for you?

In Search Of. . . .

I decided many years ago that I was tired of wasting garden space on pickling cucumbers, and I was tired of making pickles. This year, Husband had some cucumber plants leftover from the Church veggie garden and planted one in our garden at home. All the resulting cucumbers went along to the food pantry with the rest of the Church produce.

That wily cucumber vine grew about ten, well concealed cukes under a bushy tomato plant, and Husband thought they were the perfect size for bread and butter pickles. He found a nice refrigerator pickle recipe, so at least I didn’t need to process them in the canner. We had all the necessary ingredients except for Pickle Crisp, calcium chloride granules that, well, keep pickles crisp. This turned into quite a search.

We searched in Cashwise, Family Fare, Walmart, Tractor Supply, Runnings, and Menards before we found some at Ace Hardware, the very last possibility.

Once Husband starts searching for something, he never gives up until he has exhausted all options. He was apologetic but determined, since he really wanted to make pickles. They now sit in jars in the downstairs fridge, pickling and crisping up, for two weeks before we can try them.

What lengths have you gone to find something you needed? What are your favorite pickles?

September Farm

The farm report comes to us from Ben.

We had some friends and their kids visit and we had a good time giving tractor rides and gator rides and collecting eggs and seeing cows. It’s always fun giving farm tours.

I finally got around to working on the brush mower. I had to order bigger sockets to get the nut off the broken spindle on the big spinny thing. (It’s 45mm by the way) And then trying to get the gear box off the mower deck, I didn’t have the right size sockets for that either. It’s 30mm. I am getting more and more metric tools, but I didn’t have anything that big. I have a 3/8” drive socket set that I use for a lot of things. And a 1/2” drive set for some of the bigger stuff. And then I started buying 3/4” drive stuff for the really big stuff. (I mean the size of the square on the head of the ratchet is 3/8” or 1/2” or 3/4”). Then I put a 3’ long pipe over the handle to get enough leverage to get the nuts loose. Took the gear box up to John Deere for them to fix.

How’s that go: Every job is an opportunity for a new tool. Worked here.

On the way home from John Deere I stopped at a farm stand and bought 4 dozen ears of sweet corn. A couple kids run this stand and it is really good corn. Got that frozen and it will be really good this winter.

My mom has a possible Covid exposure from one of her physical therapy people. I had seen her on Sunday, and she found that out on Monday. But she hasn’t tested positive herself yet and they all wear masks and mom is vaccinated and I’d think the PT person was too. So hopefully she stays good. She needs to isolate in her room, which she isn’t very happy about. And her food comes in a Styrofoam container with plastic cutlery and that’s her biggest complaint. We had a care conference Tuesday and there seems to be exceptions for everything so she’s gotten real plates now. Hope that keeps up.

Monday was Labor Day and I wondered if I should really take the day off or do some work. If I didn’t do anything I’d feel guilty. I took a nap first off. But then decided to clean up the swather and get that put away. I washed it off and oiled the chains, loosened some belts, and filled the gas tank and added some ‘Stabil’ to the fuel, and tucked it into the shed for winter.

Then decided it was a good day to burn a small brush pile behind the shed. Got that burning and cut some grass while keeping an eye on it.

We’re having a little experiment with the ducks. When they go into the pen at night, they can either walk up a ramp or they can hop up onto a block and then into the open door. Most of them seem to hop in. One day I had not put the ramp in the door, it was sitting down on the block. Everyone had gone in except one black duck and two brown ducks. They were very distressed to be outside on their own and I finally went down and put the ramp up and one brown duck went up the ramp and the other two hopped in from the block. Hmm, were the other two moral support for the ramp duck?

This is very curious, so the next night I also left the ramp down and everyone had gotten in except a black duck and a brown duck. I put the ramp back up and both ducks hopped in without using the ramp.
The third night I put the ramp in the door right away. About dusk everyone heads over to the door and the white ducks always go first and hop on the block and up into the door. Might take them two tries, but they make it. Eventually the ones waiting got tired of waiting in line and they all went and got a drink and then came back and some more hopped in, and again, the remaining few got tired of the queue, went and got another drink and then came back and no one used the ramp and everyone hopped in. Evidently the ramp is more emotional support or a guide? It’s very interesting.

FOURTH NIGHT! I had the ramp up and I watched closer; they seem to use the ramp as a guide rail. A few actually use it, some bump against the side while hopping in, and some jump up onto the ramp about 1/2 way up. Very curious. And when they come out in the morning, it’s last in, first out.

When I got home one day, all the ducks were out of their pen. We’d been talking about letting them out; they’re old enough and big enough, but being ‘adolescent’, they don’t always make the best choices and we lose a few to coyotes. That day they found a hole – or maybe ‘made’ a hole and they were all close, just on the wrong side of the fence. It wasn’t too hard to round them up, patch the hole, and get them all back inside. And then I noticed one of the white ones has a wound under one wing. Neither Kelly or I were working from home that day which makes me wonder; maybe a coyote came in the yard and caused a commotion which is what scared them out. Kelly says every day around noon there is some kind of commotion, and the dogs bark and guineas get upset so there’s something going on.

I showed Kelly how to fire the rifle and the next day, when the noon commotion began, she fired a shot. We never see anything, but we’re trying to scare it– whatever “it” is– away. Kelly really wants to shoot a coyote but she’s having trouble making the scope work for her. She is just hoping for plain, dumb luck. And she’s going to work on firing from the hip.

Chickens; they get into the ducks pen, but they can’t ever figure out how to get back out…

BONUS! Two Sandhill Cranes standing in the field when I left for work the other day.

There has been a pair here all summer, we don’t see them, we only hear them. I’m guessing this is another pair passing through.

Can you fire from the hip? And accomplish what you are trying to accomplish?