Category Archives: Seasons

Summer Garden

In most summers, we would be at the height of flower and fruit production. The roses and peonies would be at their best, the veggies in the garden would be thriving, and we would have an abundance of strawberries and rhubarb . Well, this summer is different.

Our garden beans are finally setting out new leaves after the hail storm last week. The rhubarb was shredded by the hail, and it has been pulled and cut back. The strawberries that we just planted in May survived the hail, and are in their first year of setting out runners. We are clipping the flowers off to stimulate runner production, and there will be no fruit until next year.

Depending on where the flowers and shrubs were planted, they either were shredded or are in full bloom. Prior to the hail, Grover Cleveland, our earliest and most lovely peony, was in bloom.

I love his very deep red color, which is rare in peonies. Grover was hailed out. We also have some Japanese peonies in the front yard, which are spare and ascetic and a contrast with more traditional peonies. They were protected from the hail by the house.

We planted more traditional peonies in the church garden a couple of years ago, and they were protected from the hail by some Siberian elms.

I am happy that our raspberry bed was protected from the hail, and we anticipate a stunning raspberry harvest in a month or so. They are only a few feet from the rhubarb, but they were protected by the hail by our neighbors’ awful ash trees. How ironic!

What are your favorite summer flowers? If you were to redo your yard, what would you plant or change? Any good raspberry recipes?

Yard Work

Last night after work, Husband and I finally got our cabbage and cantaloupe plants into the home and church gardens. It has been a weird, late, planting season. I hope it isn’t too late for them. The replacement tomato and pepper plants go in tonight. We have to work quick, as our puppy has learned to scale his outdoor play pen walls, and we can’t have him outside with us in the front yard anymore. He howls if he leave him safely in the back yard. He just wants to be with us, but, being a terrier, he might dash across the street to get some prey, and we need to keep him safe.

One reason we have a vegetable garden in the front yard is so we don’t have to mow the lawn. Husband got a reel mower last year, but decided a cordless electric one would work better, and he got that last week. He still has this odd sense of pride about a neatly manicured lawn (although we have very little lawn to manicure). I am Dutch enough to pull every weed I see, but I don’t feel too overburdened with them.

I was saddened to hear that ND Senator Cramer is convalescing at home after a serious accident while he was doing yard work. I don’t agree with his politics, but any Senator who does his own yard work and gets his hand crushed by a boulder while moving it has my sympathy. He may need fingers on his right hand amputated.

I would like to see the neatly manicured lawn go the way of the Dodo’s. I detest the chemicals and water that are wasted on them. What grass we have looks awful, but people see our vegetables and flowers, not the turf.

What do you think is a good alternative to a lawn? What are your favorite and least favorite yard tasks?

Crop Update

Today’s post comes from Ben

Crops are in. Finished up Monday, Memorial day. Just had a few acres left so I got to run the big tractor myself. Of course with Bailey; she never misses a ride. Got a flat tire on the digger, won’t be too hard to get off and fixed.

I went up to plant and had Kelly meet me later with more seed. There was a little confusion about where she was meeting me. All my fields have numbers and I have maps of the fields in the tractors and a photo of the map on my phone. And she knows I was going up the road to start planting, but I would be ‘Above the barn’ when I was ready for seed. I texted her something about meeting me at the gates, which, I knew was a pretty vague statement as there are gates all over the farm and the one I meant hadn’t exactly been a gate for 15 years, so I shouldn’t have even called it that. To add to the confusion, the FSA office numbers the fields one way, and the Co-op has decided to number them a different way. So, I have two maps to keep track of who’s calling what field what number. Anyway, we found each other. Here’s the last pass of beans to plant.

Corn is all emerged, soybeans are coming. I’m worried about the first field I planted because we got a hard rain after that and it really crusted over. Some beans were coming up, but the fields planted a week later look about the same as this one. I finally made the decision to drag that first field. Last week I mentioned how I like to drag them, but I knew these beans would be coming and I wouldn’t want to risk breaking them off with the drag. Well, it seemed like less than 50% had emerged, so if dragging it breaks up the crust and the rest emerge, I’d be ahead, right? We’ll see what happens or if I need to replant.

Now’s the time we’re watching all the fields closely to be sure everything is emerging. If there’s any issues and we need to replant, it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s already late for most crops. The Co-op has been out scouting for weeds in order to  know what to treat for. I’m looking at germination and seed placement in the corn. At the rate I plant corn, a planting population of 35,000 seeds per acre (determined by which gears I install on the planter- to adjust the speed of the row units), in 30” rows, there should be a plant about every 6”. And if there’s not, why not? Did the seed not germinate? Did the planter miss it or drop a double at the next place? Seed placement and germination are critically important to the final yield. In the perfect world, all the kernels would emerge within 36 hours of each other. A kernel that comes out 4 days later than its neighbors will be behind all year and will not make as much grain as the others. There are examples of flagging and marking the plants from emergence to harvest, and the plants that come out later never amount to as much as the rest. It’s fascinating! Next week I’ll measure out 17’6” (that’s 1/1000ths of an acre) and count the plants to get final stand populations.

Remember, the corn grows out of the kernel, which remains in the ground. Soybeans, the seed comes up as it emerges. I just geek out over all this!

GDU’s are 487 to date, +71 over normal. Won’t be gaining many this coming week… rather cool forecast.

Oats is growing well and the rows are filling in.

Had another oil leak, this one in a hose in the tractor. All I could tell was it was dripping underneath. And if I got down there, not sure I’d be able to get back up. And you can’t see anything anyway. I called John Deere and a nice mechanic named ‘Cutter’ came and fixed it. A hose for the power steering. From the hydraulic pump in the rear of the tractor, under the cab, up the dash to the steering wheel. He pulled up the cab floor and removed a lot of other stuff to get it done. Haven’t seen the bill yet. Somewhere between $100 and $10,000 I predict.

I have two, 250 gallon bulk oil containers: One holds hydraulic oil and one holds 15W40 engine oil. I just ordered another 100 gallons of hydraulic oil. That will last me a couple years. Didn’t ask the price of that either. It just is what it is.

Chicks are really enjoying being outside. Ducks are still hanging in there although one of the black ones has a sore foot. And there’s one of the creamy white ones trying to hook up with a female mallard. She already has a mate and he dutifully tries to chase the other guy off. This creamy one, he does have a mate; she’s sitting on the nest. Hmmm, little inter-breeding going on there in the first place. Wonder if he’ll be a good father?

We have ducklings! Mama (one of the mama’s. It seems to be a community nest) was out in the yard with 9 ducklings this morning. Kelly had a good idea to just put her in the pen with the chicks.
The kids are so small they can get through the holes in the snow fence for now, but they also won’t go too far from momma, so they should be OK. This protects them from dogs, Or falling in a hole, or whatever momma might get into. So we’ll see.

Meanwhile there’s STILL a white duck and brown duck sitting on a nest so I don’t know what’s up or who’s hatching next.

There was a dead raccoon in the field the other day. Turkey vultures were circling. And the next day, a dead turkey vulture was there. They may be vultures, but they’re not cannibals. Which reminds me of a joke. Two actually. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”.


Summer of Love

Today is the first day of “Summer of Love”.  Ten years ago, the owner of my company unveiled a summer employee appreciate program.  The main components are no dress code (seriously – the printed instructions say “if you can’t get arrested wearing it, it’s good”), 7 half Fridays off with pay, food trucks on Wednesdays and dogs allowed on Fridays.  There are usually three summer concerts as well on the big lawn of Building One, complete with snacks and beverages (of the alcoholic sorts).  Most years we’ve received t-shirts or hats.  It’s a lot of fun.

For opening day of Summer of Love I’m in shorts and one of my State Fair t-shirt collection.  YA actually went to the Memorial Day Mini State Fair yesterday.  Friends had gone the night before and said it was more robust than last year.  But in looking over the website, it didn’t look that much more robust to me, so I passed.  I don’t need any pretend state fairs… I can’t wait.  (I already have tickets for this year – bought them in January.)  YA has reported that the mini state fair was exactly that – mini.

And, of course, zories (flip flops).  To get ready for spring and Summer of Love, I got my zori bin out and straightened it up and re-organized it by color.  My current zori count is 45, although unbelievably enough I don’t have any red ones; the red ones bit the dust last summer.   Guess I’ll have to make a trip to Old Navy soon!

What are you looking forward to this summer?

Corn is Up!

The weekend Farm Report comes to us from Ben.

Corn is up! The first stuff was planted Saturday the 14th, saw it poking out of the ground Wednesday, the 25th.

I planted it 2.5” deep. I’ve heard a lot of guys saying they only went about 1 ¾” deep because it’s late. Valid point, however, there’s a lot of summer and fall to go yet before we know what the crop will amount to. You don’t want it too shallow or it won’t develop the brace roots later on.

Remember, corn grows out of the seed and the growing point on the corn is still down in the seed and will be for several weeks yet.

A soybean pushes the seed up out of the ground as it grows.

Been cool and rainy the last few days. A wet chicken is a pathetic looking creature. Especially the roosters with their tail feathers all flopped over. Missed the photo, but trust me. They look terrible.  With the hot weather predicted, everything will take off. 

I need about one day yet to finish planting soybeans, whenever it dries up. I had the co-op spread fertilizer for the soybeans and it was incorporated with pre-emergence herbicide. That’s the best way to do soybeans; a pre-emerge spray for grasses, then a later application for broadleaves and whatever else is growing. Never used this method before so I hope it works.

Most guys, after planting soybeans, they go over the field with a big roller to press the rocks down into the dirt, and firm up the seed bed, and just level out the field so that you can cut closer to the ground when harvesting this fall. I don’t have a roller, but last year I used a drag and went over the field to kind of do the same thing, or at least, level it off. This year, I was just trying to get everything planted first and then was going to go over it. Now that there’s about two weeks between the first field and the last field, the first field might already be growing and I don’t want to hit that with the drag as it would rip all the plants out. So that may not get done this year. 

Using my ag cameras system again to monitor the beans in the drill. It’s pretty slick. 

We got the baby chicks outside on Friday. Kelly built an awesome fence and I sat in the gator and offered unsolicited advice.

The lilacs are lovely this year.

We’ve lost one of the black ducks and that’s a bummer, we really like them. 

I’m leasing straw bales to a friend to use for seating at his daughters wedding. We really hope the weather is nice, both for getting the bales picked up here, lying on the ground there, and picking them up again after the wedding and returning to me. We don’t want them rained on. 

It’s been pretty quiet here this week with all the rain. Not much to report. 

Kelly’s Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bill used to have a big picnic and all the families were there. We tried to keep it up after they passed but people get busy and, well, it doesn’t happen anymore. 

Enjoy the weekend!

Talk about a memorable Memorial weekend.

My Un-Monty-Don-Esque Woods

Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.

Monty Don, of craggy face and deep rich voice and calm confident demeanor, is the BBC’s in-house gardening expert, worth knowing if you are a gardener. And worth knowing if you are into travel. In addition to his weekly garden show, he has done several series where he helps non-gardeners develop their small yards and, my favorite, when he gives tours of great gardens of different countries, such as France and Italy. Of those I love the French tour most, in part because he travels around in post-WWII era Citroen, one of the more visually memorable cars. The French gardens are the highly structured masterpieces of topiary and shaped hedges and large fountains and looping pathways. The Italian ones are about as structured but do not appear to be so, cultivated randomness.

But it is the old English gardens which impress and irritate me. Garden on the English tour means large expanses of hundreds of acres where every tree, pathway, line of sight and folly has been developed to look ancient and natural, when it is not. The long lines of sight built into the landscape are masterpieces of faux natural. The beauty impresses me, but the bending of will to man irritates me, done by genius such as Capability Brown (1716-1783), original name Lancelot Brown. (Marketing was an art even in the 18th Century.) Brown’s face is shaped much like Monty Don’s, by the way.

Then there are the woods 20 feet off my patio, owned, except for the first 5-6 feet, by the city. Capability would rub his hands in glee on how he could change that abhorrent disarray. Not that I do not have a similar impulse, having been raised on a farm where the woods were managed as graze and woodlot. Our roads through the 85 acres still appear in my dreams.

My woods here is as wild and uncontrolled as woods in a city could be, mostly because of the ravine. Various parts of both Mankato and North Mankato are designated as Upper and Lower, meaning on top of the bluffs or below them where the ancient river Warren carved out a deep and wide valley in a matter of a few days.

The header photo shows the tangle at its worst or most glorious. They are the end of the woods where they point out into a small field of corn or soybeans, a la Ben. Those trees are not shaped that way by the wind, in fact they are bent right into the prevailing wind. I assume their need for sunlight made them arch out and away from the tall trees. It is a favorite place for deer to bed down. But even they struggle to navigate through my woods. There are several tall trees reaching their full maturity, about which there is a mystery I will not delve into. But when the leaves are gone (I took these pictures in April.) you can see the tangle of fallen and rotting trees down the sides of the raven, which gets deep very quickly, or up among the standing trees. Or you can see my corkscrew trees, as I call them, species unknown to me. They reach up like a middle finger in the face of Capability.

Trees are in all stages of life and decay.

Many visitors live or walk through the woods or the apartment building’s strip of grass.

Just three days ago I realized that at the base of one of the mystery trees a pair of squirrels have raised almost to maturity a litter of, I think, five kits. I caught them venturing out to explore, but only on their tree so far, and took this photo through the window above my computer.

I have sketched several parts of my woods. These two trees now are mush on the ground.

This spring a thick branch on one of the mystery trees broke in the high winds and got caught as a squirrel beltway. The next day the squirrels tested carefully before venturing out on this wonderful shortcut across an open space in the upper trees. Now it is their jousting ground and a trysting place, observation deck, escape route and attack route.

I could show and tell more, but I have overstayed my welcome.

Thoreau said he had traveled much in Concord. In what small area have you traveled much?

Making Progress

All things do eventually arrive. Even good weather.

The corn is all planted and we’re working on soybeans. Growing Degree Units for my area are at 317; about 90 above normal, which, I’m finding hard to believe as cool as it was this spring. But I read it on the internet so it must be true.

I’m still struggling with the pinched nerve and I’m lucky my brother has been coming out and helping do fieldwork the last few years. He and Kelly got to work last Saturday with me pointing and giving instructions and they took the loader off the tractor, hooked up the corn planter, got it all greased, filled it with seed and started planting corn. Several times it became clear to us how many things we just do, without thinking about them, and then have to explain to someone *how* to do it, is much more difficult. Communication people, Communication.

Kelly planted the first field of corn. Again, so many things to watch, that I do automatically, but trying to explain it all to her…well, one thing at a time. It wasn’t helpful that sometimes I change my mind in the middle of what’s happening. But she did it! I knew she could! She just hadn’t had too before. Eventually I discovered I was able to get into the tractor and I was able to do the planting. I have more corn this year than normal, partially because the co-op and I had a mix up of maps and they weren’t spreading the fertilizer where I expected them to spread it. A few phone calls and texting photos of maps back and forth solved the issue. I’m still not sure what happen but it’s OK and I’ll verify next year before we start.

Several very fortuitous things have come about this year. We bought a gator two years ago; one of those side by side utility vehicles. I’m able to get in that and drive it. I can park it at the back door, I can drive it through the fields, and into the shed. It’s been very valuable. And the decision last fall to have the co-op spread all the fertilizer, while at the time was more about precision application of nutrients, certainly became valuable this spring as I wasn’t trying to explain how to run the fertilizer wagon to Kelly. Not to mention having to refill the planter so often. With the co-op doing it, all the corn fields are fertilized at once and I just have someone add seed to the planter and I can go many more acres before needing a refill. Ah, those decisions we make without realizing their full implications.

The barn swallows returned the first week of May and a pair have built a nest on top of a wind chime outside our front door. This has been a regular occurrence the last few years. We’ve learned to put some cardboard down to collect all the droppings. And a Robin is building a nest on top of a gutter downspout where it angles under the eave, at the back door. I enjoy watching the swallows fly around me when out in the fields. I’ve been seeing pheasants near the CRP, (Conservation Reserve Program) fields. He doesn’t seem to be very afraid of me in the tractor. One day daughter took a walk and said she saw an owl. I thought that was kind of unusual and figured she meant a hawk. Two days later, Kelly and I were going to get the mail, and there was an owl! Daughter was right.

Planting corn was almost without issues. On the second to last field, the planter settled to the ground by itself once and I thought the hydraulic valve on the tractor must be leaking. (It’s hydraulic oil that holds it up). When I got to the last field, I realized there was an oil leak and that’s why the planter had lowered itself. Oh. Heck. I tried to finish planting but it soon became apparent I was losing too much oil. Making a run for home, I almost made it before running completely out of hydraulic oil. The next day we found the leak and my brother got it apart, I found a replacement, he reassembled, and we finished planting corn.

The chicks are growing up; they’re kind of at that awkward teenage phase.

I watched a pair of guineas the other day. I’m not sure if they were fighting or playing or mating.

When have your intentions been misunderstood?

Farming This Week

The weekend farm report comes to us from Ben.

Another Minnesota spring, jumps from rain and cold to 90°. Bailey still has her winter coat, she needs to start shedding soon. 

Remember the three Roosters? The dynamics are changing. Number Three is the boss now. Number Two can hang out with Three, but number One has been outcast. And three is kind of a bully. One and two got into it a while ago, full on neck feathers raised and jumping at each other with their claws. Bailey ran over and broke it up. Later, all three of them got into it. Again, Bailey ran over and broke it up. 

This week was supposed to be all about commencement. Turns out I spent more time at the doctors office than I did at commencement. The backache became a kidney stone, which became legs and feet numb. Lots of tests that are negative so far but I’m having kind of a tough time getting around.

Commencement went well, it was a real team effort and it wouldn’t have gotten done without student worker April, my brother Ernie, my theater partner Jerry, and Kelly, who drives me everywhere and helps out before going to get Amelia and doing all the chores at home. 
The lights were rented from a local guy, and he even offered to deliver them, which was a huge savings especially since I’m not driving. Had all the helpers getting things set up, hung, cabled, and focused. I was there some of the time pointing and giving helpful suggestions. Some phone calls, one video chat, and several text messages later, April is running lights for the nursing graduation and she did good and it looks great! 
Had help to take it all down again and the local guy picked it all back up. I am so lucky to have friends like this. 

Weather looks to be nice now for a week. Get my brother going in the tractor and I’ve talked with the neighbors about planting my corn.

Ducks and Chickens are still good and hanging in there. With the nicer weather, we could open the screen door so the chicks get some sunshine and fresh air.

When was the last time you stirred up trouble? Was it worth it?

Chomping at the Bit

Chomping at the bit.  I think this is a horse reference, right?  I’m not a horse person but I’ve heard this phrase my whole life; I can see a horse chomping at a bit in my mind’s eye and I can certainly understand the feeling.  Something between your teeth that is driving you nuts and you can’t do anything about it.  I’m right there.

Although we’ve had a couple of superb days, the wait for days warm enough for gardening has been tough.  It’s been too cold (and/or rainy) to get out and do anything.  A few mornings last week as I was fertilizing and watering my bales, I felt like an idiot out there.  One of the mornings, it wasn’t even above freezing and it seemed like a fool’s errand to be preparing bales when I was sure it would be at LEAST 2 weeks until I could plant (I almost always plant on Mother’s Day). 

YA and I did hit Bachman’s on Sunday, but all the flowers and veggies are in their little pots, sitting on the front porch in those cardboard boxes that Bachman’s uses.  They’ll have to be watered a couple of times before we get to planting.

I’ve been busy enough at work that I couldn’t take any days off this week and both of my upcoming weekend days have an engagement right in the middle of the day!  So I either go out and get dirty, get cleaned up, then go out later and get dirty again or I only get work done in the yard in the morning or the afternoon.  Maddening.

What spring routines are you chomping at the bit to get to?

Grading on a Curve

Today’s post comes from Ben

After last week’s blog title, “April, Not Farming Yet”, I got to thinking, I really am “farming” every day. I could say I’m not “planting” yet or not “doing field work” yet, but it’s a bit of a misnomer to say I’m not “farming”.
And this week, I’m still not out in the field and I still haven’t planted anything. The co-op spread oat fertilizer Thursday afternoon and while the fields weren’t very dry, I was going to try Friday morning to get them worked up and then plant Friday afternoon. Then we got an inch of rain Thursday night. Again. I don’t wanna complain about it raining, but I would like to get something planted. 

I have been getting things greased up and ready to go: checked tires, pulled the drill from the shed to the barn and back again to be sure all the chains were moving and it appears to be working.

I pulled a muscle in my lower back while clambering under the soil finisher checking tires. Every year that job gets harder. Kneeling on the gravel is no fun either. And trying not to use the one shoulder too much. And the one knee hurts anyway. It was kinda funny all the noises I made under there.

Got the camera’s working in the drill box, just need to finish securing cables. It sure is something to think it takes a week for a letter to go across town, but I can order rubber grommets from Amazon and get them from Louisiana the next day. Or the extension cable from Ohio the next day.

I took the new rear blade out to grade our driveway. There is a real skill and art involved in maintaining gravel roads and my hats off to the grader operators who can do it well. I can’t. I know how you’re supposed to do it and I understand the principle of the thing…but I sure can make a mess of it.

OK, the first grading of the spring is never good anyway. Some of that is my fault, some is just the way it is. This first grading, even on our township roads, one of the things is to cut down the edge, so rain water will run off the sides and not down the road. Plus, that pulls back in some of the gravel that got moved off the road by the snow plow. However this also brings a lot of dirt and grass onto the road. Typically, the good grader guys will leave this mess off to one side, and in a couple weeks it will have broken down and it can all be graded back into the road.

I got this new rear blade that can offset, angle, and tilt up and down. All by hydraulics. Three functions! I only have two hydraulics. (I’m hoping to add a third hydraulic to this tractor.) Plus it’s much heavier and cuts much better than my old blade. It sure did cut the edges down! And drag it into the middle of the road. And raising the right edge angled this way, is backwards when angled the other way and watching the left edge. I had my hands full. And it’s all behind me. And I sure made a mess of the road.

It will be better when I grade it again in a couple weeks. Fingers crossed. Kudos to Parm, our township grader operator.

New chicks are doing well. Growing and eating a lot. Duck numbers are holding. Had a concert at the college and prepping for commencement in two weeks.

This photo is the ‘patch’ for the lighting we’ll be using for commencement.

This right here is about the most important information I will use all week. It tells me everything about the lights and how to hook them up and make them work.

Made a mess of anything lately? What’s the most important thing in your life this week?