Category Archives: gardening

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?

Feeling Needed

Our son and daughter-in-law are moving into their first home this Friday. We won’t be able to get to see them until October, over the long weekend for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As usual, my job when we get there will be to hang the pictures and other decorative things on the walls.

I don’t know why they always want me to do this. They say I know how to center things so they look good. I just make a point of measuring and marking where the hangers should go. It isn’t that hard, but they appreciate it.

Husband is the family go to guy for landscaping advice. Son and his wife have a huge yard at the new house with no plants or trees or flowers. Son has been asking for landscaping advice already, and Husband has some ideas for him. We plan to bring all our flower and seed catalogs. It should be a fun visit.

What makes you feel needed? What skills do you want to teach others so they aren’t lost? How do you go about hanging things on the walls?

Fall is in the Air

This weekend’s farm report comes to us from Ben.

Fall is in the air this week. It’s good weather for sleeping; I love it. The soybeans are starting to turn yellow, and they’ll be losing their leaves soon. And with the recent rains the pastures have greened up again. Another inch of nice, slow, steady rain here recently.

Remember a few months ago I left the top lid open on the feed bin and had to spend an afternoon clearing out the rotten corn and gunk. And it was almost empty, thankfully, and there was still a bit of rotten corn stuck to the sides at the bottom. Since I needed to order more feed, now was the time to clean it all out. I wanted to knock loose a little more good corn so I’d have enough to feed the chickens and ducks for a couple days.

First thing I did was drop my long stick into the auger and jam it up. Belt squealing and I’m 15’ feet up the bin so I carefully, hurriedly, scramble down and turn off the breaker. Then I turn the auger backwards, back up the bin to remove the stick, back down to turn on the breaker again, and back up to finish knocking some corn down.

The bin has an 18” opening at the bottom and then a transition angle attached to that which turns it vertical, and then the auger attaches to that. I removed a clamp and the auger attachment, and the auger slid down and out of place. That’s going to be a problem when I get to putting it all back together. The auger is 4” diameter and about 10’ long and goes up through the wall of the feed room with the electric motor attached to the end of the auger in there. I removed the clamp and transition attachment, and then I put a tarp under the opening and climb back up the bin with my stick and start knocking corn off the walls. I’d knock some loose, pull the tarp out and dump it in the loader bucket, then put the tarp back down and knock more corn off. Took 4 cycles.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. But getting it all put back together took two people, a strap, some C-clamps, a stick, some muscle, and some time.  It might be the first time I’ve cleaned the bin out in 20 or 30 years. Good for another 30 years.

Kelly helped me get the seed cup put back on the grain drill and the 44 bolts reinstalled, so that part is ready to go. I still have some other work to do on the drill, but I can manage that on my own. The 44 bolts took two people with one inside holding the wrench on the head, and me outside tightening the nut. Replacing the seed cup means I don’t have an excuse for leaving gaps in the field anymore. Next year if there’s a gap between the rows it’s my fault for not driving straight.

The next thing to repair is the ‘big spinny thing’ under the brush mower. I got the blades and broken shaft off the spinny part. Now I need Kelly’s help again to get the 8 bolts off the gearbox and take that off the mower itself. Maybe this weekend.

The former oat fields are getting a lot of weeds growing in them now. Bailey and I got them dug up. It needs to be done before they get too big (and before they go to seed) or they will plug up the digger. I try not to go the same way across the field every time I work it up. My fields are not square, and while I’m still trying to follow the contours, it helps to start on the opposite end of the field sometimes and just break up those ridges underneath the soil.

I had the co-op come and take soil samples off the oat fields. Normally you need to do that either in the spring or the fall after the crop is off. Can’t test during the growing season of course but since the oats is done, it was a good time to do those fields. I haven’t seen the results yet.

The remodeling work at one of the local theaters continues and there’s been a good crew in helping with that. If we ever get the flooring done (Thanks to Wes for advice), the bathroom stalls will be the next major job. They came in two dozen pieces and multiple bags of bolts.

In class this week the lab was on topographical maps and reading the contours and an online test on seafloor spreading and continental plates. I learned about Earthquakes, Volcanos, and the Earth’s magnetic field being generated in the core of the earth and that the magnetic field has changed polarity multiple times over the years. The last change was about 1 million years ago.

The only thing we are managing to produce out of our garden is cucumbers.  I make a lot of refrigerator pickles. Neither Kelly or I learned how to can things or preserve things and it’s probably not hard, but it is hard to find the time. At least I can grow cucumbers. Something has gotten in the garden and ate all the potatoes and kohlrabi. All summer something has been in there and I can’t find a hole in the fence, but they leave the cucumbers alone.

And the ducks. They’re getting real nice ‘poofs’ on their heads and some are off to the side like a jaunty little chapeau. I spend a lot of time just watching the ducks play in the water. They are good jumpers being able to hop into one of the water containers. I spend a lot of time watching the ducks.

Got any stories about magnets? Our son stuck one on the TV and messed up the picture and we had to buy a new TV.

Have you been in an Earthquake or seen an active Volcano?

Fill of Berries

I made my annual pilgrimage out to the farm for raspberries last week.  Beautiful day for picking – sunny and not too warm.  A little muggy from the big rain the two days before but after our dry summer, I am NOT complaining about rain.

Since I was the first one out in the field, they stationed me at the far southeast corner of the biggest patch of canes.  Pretty shortly after, they started to put someone opposite me (on the other side of the line of cane I was working on) and she protested that she didn’t want “to be near anybody else”.  I told her I didn’t take it personally and that I had a mask in pocket if needed.  She moved on to another line.

An older couple were then placed opposite of me.  They didn’t even look toward me and so I knew there wasn’t going to be any chatting.  (This turned out to be OK because pretty soon a VERY chatty woman started picking two lines away and even thought she was speaking to the folks near her, I could hear her clearly!) 

I expected that the couple across from me would move ahead of me fairly quickly.  Two people picking together are always faster than just one.  Except this time!   The gentleman stayed pretty even with me and the woman lagged behind.  This was so different from what I usually experience that I started to pay a little more attention to them.  The woman was digging thoroughly through the canes, clearly searching for every single viable berry she could find.  The gentleman was not as thorough.  I soon realized that another reason they were slow was the amount of time spent moving their hands from the canes to their mouths.  The farm does encourage folks to taste while they pick, but this couple was taking it to new heights.  They quit picking before I did with less than a flat of picked berries and I’m sure it’s because they were full! 

So far I’ve made my freezer jam, added raspberries to pancake batter and, of course, enjoyed fresh raspberry shortcake!

How do you like your raspberries?

Exciting Appliances

It has been an endless source of pleasure this summer to watch our son and daughter in law and their joy at the purchase of their first home. Son has sent multiple photos of the flowers, trees, and shrubs he wants to add to the landscape in their huge yard. The property is a quarter of an acre (or hectare for European and Canadian Baboons). Their new home is only three years old and they have rather nice, new appliances, all save for a washer and dryer.

Son researched all the best shades and grades of washers and dryers, who in his South Dakota town sold and serviced them, and who would reserve them for him until their closing and move-in dates in early September.

I advised him to go with a local appliance dealer, not the big box home improvement store, since they are neighbors and have to deal with them on a personal basis outside of the store. Son did his research and did as I advised, since the repair person for the big box appliances has to come from over 50 miles away, and the local dealer would set aside the ones they wanted until they closed on the house. The washer and dryer are really fancy-schmancy, and both have steam options for cleaning and dewrinkling. Who knew? We haven’t bought a new washer/dryer for more than 15 years.

There has been appliance excitement here, too, as Husband decided last night that we absolutely needed a grain mill attachment for our Swedish mixer, and that we would get it for our 38th wedding anniversary. This is slightly more romantic than the meat saw he got me for our 35th anniversary. He wants to make his own rye chops and coarse grain so he can make rye bread just like they did at the City Bakery in Winnipeg.

What is the most exciting appliance you ever purchased? What are your memories of you or your parents purchasing a first home

My Favorite Insects

Having a lot of flowers and vegetable plants to care for has been a relief in some ways lately, since it has kept me outside the house and off my phone looking at news feeds and becoming more and more despondent. Between drought, excessive heat, the pandemic and all the associated idiocy, Afghanistan, and US politics, it has been a heart-heavy summer.

The other morning I was turning the sprinkler on the dahlias when I saw a perfect dragonfly perched on the fence. I like dragonflies. We only see them here when it is sufficiently humid. It is sometimes humid here in the early morning. I love the way they tear around. I also like hummingbird moths and their imitation of hummingbirds. They are a rare sight here, too. I saw a Tiger Swallow tail last weekend, and that always cheers me up. On the rare nights it has been cool enough to have the windows open and the AC off, I even have enjoyed hearing the crickets, unless they are frogs, but I think they are crickets.

What are your favorite insects? How to you cope with bad news? How can you tell a frog call from a cricket chirp?

Crime Scene Investigators

Last Thursday in the late afternoon, Husband and I went to our church to water the vegetables that we and others have been growing there. All the produce is taken to the local food pantry. The veggies are grown in six, 3 ft. high raised beds that you can see below. The rest of the garden is taken up with flowers and shrubs, with walk ways and benches for rest and contemplation.

Thursday, everything looked good. There were six nice cantaloupes about the size of soccer balls but still needing to ripen. The squash bed had one hill of bush butternut squash with four nice but still ripening fruits. We had reseeded in the carrot and beet bed as well as the sugar snap pea bed after harvesting the first crops, and all those had germinated and were growing well.

Husband went back to the garden on Friday, and texted me at work to say that half of the cantaloupes were missing. I am sorry to say that when I got to the garden after work, the Lord’s name was taken in vain and a tool was thrown down in anger as we discovered that three of the butternuts were gone as well. You can see the remaining ones.

Nothing else was missing or damaged. I covered the cantaloupe bed with bird netting and stapled it onto the wooden bed so that it would be more difficult to abscond with the remaining melons. Then, we started to hypothesize.

The incident occurred Thursday night. It would be a lot for one person on foot to carry all the melons and squash, so we figured it was either more than one person on foot, or perhaps one or more persons in a vehicle. We drove around the surrounding streets and didn’t find the produce smashed.

Husband wondered if the fact that they didn’t take any cucumbers or green beans, both of which take time to pick, spoke to urgency, which to him suggested possible amphetamine addiction. It was also presumably dark, so that the beans and cucumbers would be harder to see. I wondered if they knew little of gardening, as they took produce that wasn’t ripe. We have two Little Free Pantries on the edge of the garden, I wondered if people availing themselves of the food there thought that the produce was for all to take. We continue to speculate.

We had beets and carrots disappear in the night at times this summer. They were ready to harvest. My reaction to that was “Bless you. You need it more than we do”. I think the reason this recent event made me so angry is that the melons and squash weren’t ripe, and so they were wasted. As James Crockett comments in his Crockett’s Victory Garden, there is no remedy for finger blight.

What have you investigated recently or in the past? What kind of detective work would you like to do? Who is your favorite literary detective?

Plants on the Move

We grow shell out beans and green beans on poles in our garden. It is fun to watch them vine up the strings that we lace from top to bottom for them to cling to. By the time the beans are to the top, it looks like we have a collection of Cousin Its in the front yard. All they need are bowler hats to complete the image. Those are kohlrabi and orange beets in front of them.

The beans always grow beyond the top of the poles. This year I was amazed to track the highest tendrils as they moved from pointing one direction to completely the opposite direction in the space of 30 minutes. They weren’t following the sun, by the way. Husband thinks they were growing and twisting because they are vines, and they grow in a circular fashion. I have no idea. I just liked finding them pointing in a different direction after turning my back for just a few minutes. I hope the following pictures give you a sense of their movement.

The beans pointing southwest at 7:54 AM
The same beans pointing northeast 8:26 AM

I know that sunflowers follow the sun until their heads get too heavy and stiff. I have seen our bush cucumbers appear to tilt with the sun. The beans astounded me, as I never saw them rotate so fast or so surreptitiously.

What is your favorite plant to watch as it grows? What natural mysteries have you noticed lately? Any hypotheses about our moving beans?

Lending a Hand

On Saturday morning, Husband and I were in the garden preparing to remove our spent peas plants and the wooden frames we had erected for the peas to grow on, when the 5 year old plant scientist from next door asked if he could help us pull weeds. We said of course he could, so over he came, and began pulling pea vines out of the ground and manfully carrying armloads of them to the garbage bag Husband held open. Of course, any time we spied a viable pod we shelled it and gave him the peas to eat.

Our young friend loves to help us in the garden, and wants to know everything about the plants. He has shown an intense interest in gardening since we met him when he was 3. I explained that the white dust accumulating on our clothes was powdery mildew from the pea vines. He alerted me to the presence of flea beetles in the kohlrabi. He took great delight in the small green caterpillars he found where the pea roots had been. We then searched for butterflies in the Cone Flowers, and I reminded him that he and his sister were welcome to come over and pick the red currants from our bushes. We predict he will become a horticulturist at a major university.

Later in the day, his mother decided it was time to clean the small storage shed in their back yard, and his father had him pick up small twigs and branches from the front lawn. He was far less happy doing that than helping us. Husband commented that it is always more fun helping adults who aren’t your parents.

Who were the adults you liked to help when you were a child? What were your most disliked chores at home?