Category Archives: gardening

Garden Preparations

This weekend Husband and I plan to order our seeds for the garden. Husband has picked out three varieties of zinnia seeds. We will have our usual San Marzano 2 and Brandy Boy tomatoes which we will start in March. I found a source for the Doux D’Espana red sweet peppers. They are unavailable from our usual suppliers, so I hope the new source is reliable. I have no idea why they are in such short supply. We will also grow New Mexico Joe Parker Anaheim peppers.

Husband wants to plant turnips this year instead of kohlrabi. He will have them all to himself, as I don’t like turnips. I don’t like kohlrabi, either. He also wants to grow 12 heads of Alcosa savoy cabbage. We agreed on growing more Hamburg turnip-rooted parsley, as it is so good in soup and stock. We will grow our regular peas, Italian giant winter spinach, chard, Hidatsa pole beans and green beans, Italian parsley, and butternut squash. I am feeling tired already!

What are your summer garden plans? Any travel plans? What flowers do you like to grow? Any opinions about turnips?

Safe From Marauding Trees

Guinevere is not a guard dog, despite her desire to be one.  When I spend time downstairs, especially if I’m hanging out on the sofa, she feels the needs to watch out the windows and alert me to the existence of dangerous dogs walking by the house, mutant squirrels touching any of our trees or bushes and any other life-threatening happenings out front.

So it wasn’t a surprise when she reacted to some tree work going on across the street.  It was fascinating; they had one of those big cherry pickers that had to anchored on both sides, two other big trucks on the street (which made the snow emergency a little tricky) and six guys that I could count, mostly up in the tree.  For a bit I was thinking they were taking the tree down with all that equipment and all those workers but it wasn’t an elm and otherwise had appeared to be fine.  After a couple of hours it was clear that they were just pruning and trimming.  The project lost a little luster for me at that point. 

But then I looked about a bit later and saw the strangest sight.  They had dragged all the bigger branches away to the chipper and were cleaning up…. using rakes!  Obviously rakes were the correct tool but you just don’t expect to see anyone raking during a snow emergency, the day after 10+ inches to snow.  (I know the picture isn’t great… I wanted to make sure that you could see that it was actually a rake.)

How can you identify a dogwood tree?  (All bad tree jokes and puns welcome!)

Urban Agriculture

Ben wrote this weekend of how expensive things were getting. One thing that hasn’t seen a price increase is the composted manure at Stockmen’s, our local stockyards. The stockyards folks have neat piles of manure in various stages of decomposition, and are happy to supply urban gardeners with very affordable fertilizer.

Husband and I drove to the stockyards last Friday with his pickup, paid $22, listened to a lot of mooing, and watched as his pickup bed was filled up with some really nice manure. It was a great deal. It would have been really great had it been sheep manure, but our stockyard deals mainly in cattle.

It is very well rotted and crumbly, and mixed with good clean dirt (no weeds or seeds). We spent Saturday morning shoveling it onto our vegetable garden. It had to be done this fall, as it is such a rich mixture it needs a winter to “cool”, as it were, or it will burn young plants. We do this every other year. We had enough to add a 3 inch layer of it to our garden. I will till it under in the spring. The only downside was that it was a lot of work climbing in and out of the pickup bed, raking and shoveling it, filling up the wheelbarrow, etc. We eventually backed the pickup into the garden and unloaded the manure right off the tail gate. We were both really stiff and sore by the time all the manure was unloaded. I think we used every arm, leg, and shoulder muscles we possess getting this done. I look forward to really big veggies next summer. I am glad I don’t have to do this for another two years.

What is the most physically exerting activity you have done in the last while? How do you treat sore muscles? What fall tasks do you dislike the most?

Falling Weather

The weekend Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

Rosie and Guildy are still good. They look like they’re finally growing. They’re still spending most of the day hiding under something, but they do come out and go in by themselves morning and night so that’s progress.

We lost one of the creamy colored adult ducks. Still the two black and white, one creamy, one poufy, and 6 mallards. And two guineas. And roughly 52 chickens. Daily egg count is somewhere between 7 and 12, down from summer peak. Newest hens haven’t started laying yet; late October they’ll be 6 months old and they start laying somewhere in there.

This is Rooster #3 — Kelly calls him ‘Top Gun’ because he thinks he’s hot stuff.

Some of the latest batch of chickens have more black around their eyes than other years. They are ‘Black Australorpe’ breed and they have good longevity, but they can be kind of ornery. I like them. Most chickens in a close up just look ornery.

I’ve been busy at the theaters this week. The HVAC being installed brought in a scissor lift and I use it when they’re not. Replaced a bunch of non-functioning fluorescent lights in the theater with LED retrofit kits. Pulled down all the cables for the stage lights so we could redo them. (It just turns into a rat’s nest after a while. Good to pull down and start fresh.)

Created some new doorways and redid other odds and ends over the summer break between shows. On Saturday all the platforms for the seating are going back in place so I must finish the bulk of the work that I want with the lift before that.

I’ve been saying there’s not much happening on the farm. That’s not true. I’M not doing much on the farm, but there’s a lot happening. The corn and beans are both maturing and drying out. Beans are losing their leaves and drying down, corn is turning brown, maturing, and drying out. Birds are migrating, bees are busy, deciduous trees are turning colors, the world rotates, planets are moving, the moon changes phases… there’s a lot happening. Just not by me.

I watch some youTube farming channels; they’re busy getting things ready for harvest. Soybeans could be going in our area in another week or two.

The pod right in the center of the photo has 4 beans in it. BONUS! Most only have 3. Four isn’t unusual, but it’s not the normal either. See the pods at the very top of the plant? Those are the ‘bonus’ pods. Not only because the deer didn’t eat the buds off the top, but the plant develops from the bottom up, so the better the conditions, the better resources the plant has, the more pods it can create. It’s looking like a pretty good year for my crops. Knock on Wood.

WHO HAVE YOU KNOWN, OR DO YOU KNOW, THAT LOOKS ORNERY BUT WASN’T OR ISN’T? 

OR ARE THEY?

DO YOU HAVE AN “RBF”?

Is It Fall Already?

The weekend Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

The days are clearly getting shorter. It’s a little discouraging it’s already dark by 8PM. The barn swallows have moved on and the hummingbirds seem to be gone. Maybe the RedWing Blackbirds too. I do enjoy fall. I really like the change of seasons and fall and spring are my favorites. I enjoy the fieldwork and planting crops in the spring, and then fall and the harvest and doing that fieldwork and completing the cycle for another year. Not everyone in the house appreciates the earlier darkness and cooler temps. It’s all good.

Healthwise I’m improving. After feeling like I plateaued a few weeks ago, I can tell a difference again. Got the kidney stone removed a couple weeks ago. Got the stent they placed after that removed the other day (Lots of new experiences!) I can stand on one foot for a few seconds. Left knee will hurt until I get it replaced, but I’m walking better and driving and even climbed up on a box to reach something the other day. I even went to the car with both hands full one morning! AND I stepped over the dog in the kitchen! Getting there!

The sandhill cranes were out in the pasture this past Thursday. It was really nice to see them. Thanks to Steve for sending them our way…

Header photo is neighbor Dave’s cows. Kelly took a walk one night and was talking to them.

Chickens and big ducks are doing well. I went out to do chores and they came running.

We’re having a tough time with the ducklings. Down to two.

The one with the bad leg didn’t make it. And one day I let three out, and an hour later, one of them was dead. I don’t know. Fingers crossed for these two.

Crops are looking good. Corn stalks are starting to dry out and the kernels are dented. There’s still milk in the kernels, but it is coming along.

Multiply the rows around (16) and kernels in the length (36) = 576 kernels on this ear. Then we count the number of ears in 17.5’ (remember we counted the plants this spring. That’s 1/1000th of an acre) and it will vary, but roughly 30 ears per 17.5’, x 1000 = 30,000 x 576 = 17,280,000 kernels / acre divided by 80,000 kernels / bushel and that gives us 216 bushels / acre. Which is way too high for my farm on average. Factor in the deer damage, corn on the edges that the trees impact, ears that aren’t so good, hope for a late freeze, and well, we’ll see at harvest. But it does look like a decent crop this year.

Who were your neighbors when you were growing up?

Not Much Happening

The weekend Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

Really not much happening this week. I’ve been at ‘work’ work. Young Padawan started school so he hasn’t been out. We haven’t even got the grass cut in the last couple weeks, but it really needs it and one of us will have to get on that.

I haven’t even taken any pictures of anything farm related this week.

The adult ducks are still well and chickens are all fine. Our duckling number is down to 4. Not sure what’s happen to the others. Plus, mom abandoned them last week. She just flew the coop and joined the other older ducks. One of the four ducklings has a bad leg. Not sure what happen too it, but one leg is bent up over its back so it struggles around on one leg and it’s belly. Been doing that for at least the last two weeks and somehow still managing.

It seems to be a tough time for pets lately. I’ve got a friend whose cat is having health issues and another who just had to put their dog down. The dog people accepted what they had to do even while they cried about it. The cat person doesn’t want to let go and is just angry about everything. It’s hard that we love our pets so much that losing them hurts so much.

I got a call last week to be the ‘Certified Lift Operator’ for an install at the college sports center. The public school district had a ‘welcome back’ meeting last Monday (Public Schools in Rochester start Tuesday the 6th) So a local production company that I work with was hanging a video screen and needed someone to drive the college lift so they could hang the video screen. Back when I was working as a stagehand, there was one old guy that just ran the forklift. I felt like him; I can’t do the harder physical work at the moment, but I can drive the lift! Went back the next day to drive the lift as they took it back down. LED Video screens were just becoming a thing when I quit being a stagehand, so it was really interesting to see how it all assembled (24 – 18”x 18” LED panels that all clip together and then they daisy chain cables for power in and out of each one and another cable for data in and out to each one.) And these screens have become so bright they only run it at about 10% intensity. Full intensity could light up an entire stadium and burn out your eyeballs. 

On the farm I think about how thing have changed. My dad went from horses to tractors. In the winter he put a ‘heat houser’ on the tractor. There was a bit of a metal frame around the seat area, and then heavy canvas wrapped around the engine to sort of funnel the heat back to the seat area. Of course, the back was wide open, but still, it warmed you up as it blew by. There was a plastic windshield too. I remember using that and it was certainly better than nothing. 

We added a cab to one of our tractors when I was maybe 15 yrs old. It didn’t have heat or AC but at least you were out of the elements. In the summer we took the doors and back window off so that was the AC. And I guess technically it had a heater and somehow the hoses connected to the engine, but it never worked. It didn’t blow any air, hot or cold.

When I bought my first tractor in 1986 it had a cab with actual working heat and AC. But dad hated AC and he’d drive with the doors and windows open anyway. Which really made the inside of the cab dusty. He said AC gave him a cold. These days there is so much electronics in the cab, you wouldn’t dare drive with the doors open like that.

The header photo is a group of neighborhood men. I got this photo from a neighbor who knows a few of the men. We’re not really sure what year it was taken or who most of them are.

The drill we use for oats. As a kid I remember an old wooden drill that Dad used. It had big wood wheels and cranks on the back and I think he said it used to be a horse drawn implement and he had rebuilt the hitch to pull it with a tractor. Eventually he bought a different drill. Neither one of them held much seed and he would load the truck with seed and park it at the end of the field, walk back home for the tractor and drill, drive to the field and make about 3 rounds and fill up the drill again. Then move to a different field and go get the truck again.  I remember riding in the truck and moving it up the edge of the field as he needed seed. When I took over, I’d put a bicycle in the back of the truck so at least I could ride that back home for the tractor. (See, I didn’t like walking even then! Huh.) Later on, I traded that drill for a bigger one and it held maybe 15 bags of seed, so I could fill it at home and plant enough that I would just run home again to refill. And a few years later I traded that in for the drill I currently have, and it holds about 22 bags of seed. Again, easier to just run home. Plus, now I have the cameras on it so there’s that.

Our crop timeline here in SE MN is later than farmers to our South of course. Different timelines and different weather. Some farmers are already chopping corn silage or finishing up 3rd or 4th crop hay. Guys are prepping machinery as they could get started on soybeans by the end of the month. Soybeans respond to the length of daylight, so even though they were planted later this spring than last spring, they’ll still ripen about the same time. I’ve seen a few beans starting to turn yellow. Some varieties will ripen sooner than others, but it won’t take long now. Within a couple weeks the leaves will all fall off and the beans will start drying down.  

2427 GDU’s to date. 127 over normal they say. I really have a hard time believing that as cool as it’s been the last month. I’m not sure the online meteorology class I’m taking will cover that. Haven’t read about it yet.

I got a call from the farm co-op saying the price of urea fertilizer is going up and did I want to prepay some now for 2023. Wow. I haven’t thought much about next year’s crop yet. I decided not to prepay yet. If I figure an extra few months of interest against the cost savings, how much would I really save? And it’s possible the price might come down by December. Not likely, but possible.

I learned a new word: “Defenestration” – The action of throwing someone out a window. Seems to be a problem in the USSR.

I did finally get some grass cut. The last few years I’ve been mowing more and more areas out behind the sheds and such. Easier to do that than let it all go to ragweed and wild parsnip. Way off in the boonies I found a garden hose all coiled up and mostly buried in the dirt. Luckily the mower didn’t cut it, just grazed it. Why is there a hose there?? All I can think is, 40 some years ago mom and Dad planted a bunch of trees up there and I remember them watering them the first year or two. Must have coiled the hose up and left it there. It’s a nice rubber hose. The ends still look good and I think it will still hold water! Boy, that’s a good hose!

WHAT DO YOU SEE OUT YOUR WINDOW? TALK ABOUT A RONCO PRODUCT.

Paradise Farm

Because our green beans were hailed out in June, we went to the local farmers market to get some. Green beans from the garden are so good.

It was a busy day at the farmers market, as the local tomatoes are just now coming in, and there is lots of other produce. The high school marimba band was playing as a fundraiser, so it was even more festive than usual. I can’t imagine the amount of work that these local gardeners have to do to get their crops to market.

I find a lot of peace and satisfaction gardening. I wondered what life would be like if I gardened full time and became a market gardener.

Hard work, but fun. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to make a living doing it. In my garden fantasy I see us putting in a couple of acres of butternut squash and cantaloupes, harvesting lovely, pest free crops and selling them to happy, grateful consumers. A dream, I know, but nice to have when life gets hectic.

If you were a farmer, what would you want to grow and produce? What is some of your favorite marimba, xylophone, or vibraphone music and musicians?

Pushing Yourself

This gardening season has lacked much of a strategy except the constant drive to weed and water.

We typically are more planful in terms of weed mitigation in the spring, laying down wet newspapers in the rows and covering it with topsoil, making sure all the soaker hoses are laid down, etc. I suppose having the new puppy slowed us down somewhat, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t until last weekend that Husband decided enough was enough and he bought 30 bags of black cypress mulch to spread in the flower beds.

It was really hot on Sunday but he insisted he was going to get it all spread out, and so he did, all 56 cubic feet of it. He told me he pushed himself as hard as he could, more out of a sense of pride than anything else. He is not happy with the changes that age is exerting on his body, and wants to be able to work like he did when he was younger. He needed a nap on Sunday after all that. He was so tired he forgot to take his wallet out of his jeans pockets, and it got laundered. I should also add that over the weekend we vacuumed and dusted and made two kinds of corn chowder, potato salad, cherry strudel, and chicken enchiladas. Don’t ask me why. It just seemed like a good thing to do.

I tell myself that once we are both fully retired we will have the time to garden and cook at a more sedate pace and we won’t be so worn out all the time. This habit of pushing ourselves is getting tiresome.

How do you push yourself or pace yourself? When are you likely to overdo it?

Salad

Well, I learned something this week. I found out that what we consider the typical American potato salad with mayonnaise is not American, but from Northern Germany. That is fun for me, as all my people come from the north of Germany.

Richard Hellman he of the mayonnaise company, immigrated to New York City in 1904, married a young German woman who had a great mayonnaise recipe and parents who ran a deli, and the rest is history. He was from Prussia, in Northeast Germany. My research tells me that most North German potato salad has mayonnaise and always has had mayonnaise, and that only the South Germans, mainly from Schwabia, have hot potato salad with a vinaigrette on it. Northern Germans apparently eat this stuff by the gallon. I guess that the number of immigrants to the US from Northern Germany influenced potato salad culture here.

I found a terrific Northern German potato salad recipe and made some this weekend.

North German Potato Salad (with a cool Hack)

Husband had four bowls of it after he did his yard work on Sunday, and his people come from Schwabia!

What are your favorite summer salads? If you immigrated, what recipes and traditions would you bring with you?

A Sense of Community

Last Friday morning we got a call on our landline from a retired Lutheran pastor named Roger, who wanted to know if one of us would be available later in the morning to give his horticulture club a tour of our church garden. They were touring several local gardens as well as the NDSU Extension gardens in town. I had time, so I met him and his group in the garden along with our senior pastor, Lisa. It was a blast!

I have known of Pastor Roger for years, as he worked in some smaller communities south of us, and also was a licensed counselor. We often referred clients to one another. He is retired and lives in Medora, our cowboy town in the Badlands. He is kind of a character. As Pastor Lisa said “You never know what Roger is going to ask you”. I had never met him in person, though.

Roger and about 25 retirement-age garden club members arrived at the church garden, which is located just behind the church parking lot. Some club members were from as far afield as Valentine, NE and Hermosa, SD. I knew several of them as former foster parents . Most lived in smaller towns in our region. Lisa and I told them the history of our garden, and then the questions started.

Our garden consists of six, waist high. raised beds for vegetables, a central space with a fire pit and benches for gatherings and contemplation, and walkways with flower beds. Husband and I primarily take responsibility for the vegetable beds, all the produce going to the food pantry. We invited the congregation to adopt a flower pot to plant flowers in this spring, and there are about fifteen pots lining the walkways. We planted everbearing strawberries that are spreading all over. The children like to eat them after services. As hard as we try, there are weeds, and congregation members weed sporadically in the flower beds. The questions were numerous.

“Why don’t you have fruit trees? You should plant fruit trees. There are disease resistant varieties, you know. You could have a grape arbor, but if you plant pear trees, make sure you plant two. What kind of cabbages are those? (They are savoy cabbages). What do you cook with them? Cod bundles? Minestrone? How interesting! Where did you get the recipes? What do you use for cabbage moths? Bacillus Thuringiensis? That is organic, isn’t it? What seed companies do you get these from? Do the people at the food pantry even know what pattypan squash are? Cold hardy spinach? How do you spell that variety name? Oh, come here so we can take your picture as we give you this gift card”. I answered the best I could. I was thankful I had reminded myself of all the vegetable variety names ahead of time.

All through this barrage of questions, the club members couldn’t stop themselves from pulling up every weed they saw and pinching off the spent blossoms from the flower pots. It was as though a swarm of weeding locusts had descended on the garden. Roger lectured every chance he got about the link between horticulture and spirituality. Husband and I are now invited to his house in Medora for supper. He has some white iris to give us for the church flower beds.

I love being part of a community. I chuckled all Friday about the meeting with Roger and his group. With Pastor Lisa’s blessing, I plan to use the gift card for more iris.

What communities are you part of? What do you have a hard time stopping yourself from doing? Who were the “characters” you remember in your life?