Friday, July 30, 2021

The Veggies of Our Labor

Finally, I'm getting to the good part of last trip to the farm with scenes from our harvest. Above is a shopping bag full of green beans (unseen on the bottom), tomatillos and a handful of okra. One of my favorite things to make with tomatillos is enchiladas verdes. 

The cherry tomatoes are really starting to turn but I was really surprised to see four nearly ripe regular tomatoes as well. I picked those to finish ripening on our counter and will hopefully make some sandwiches out of them.

 Our potatoes are done for the year and the plants all dried up. We were spent so we dug the row that we have been pulling the potatoes out by hand for several weeks (easily due to the muddy conditions earlier) and still came up with nearly a bushel. We will probably dig the second row on our next trip. 

Also, I didn't take a picture but I tilled up enough of where our spring stuff had been planted (mostly beans that never grew) to plant a couple more rows of beans. I've never planted anything in a garden in July so I don't know how they will fair. But we had the seeds and the space so it seemed prudent to experiment.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Garden Update


After planting the new trees, we all did quite a bit of hand weeding our disaster of a garden this year. But despite the excess weeds (oats sprouting from our mulch), we are still having some successes along with some failures. We planted three batches of beans at the first of the year and this is the only batch that grew. The first batch never even sprouted, preferring to rot in the cold, wet mud. The second batch a week later sprouted a few but not worth growing so I mowed them off the prior week. The final batch we planted grew and are pretty healthy. They are starting to put on beans and we picked a mess of them.

Our various squash/pumpkins have had a hard go of it thus far but are starting to perk up now that the soil isn't wet anymore and the summer heat has arrived. But this is now the start of our dry season and they aren't nearly as far developed as they normally would be at this point so I'm not sure what if anything we will get from them. They are starting to set a few fruits. We may have to water these to get them to maturity.

Above is a picture of our sweetcorn and dad's popcorn. It is a weedy mess due to the mulch and we just haven't yet made it through that part of the garden to weed it. The sweetcorn will be over soon and I can just mow the weeds there once the stalks are removed. I'm still hoping to do some weeding of the popcorn yet when we get caught up. 

We probably won't harvest any sweetcorn as the coons have found it by either scaling our wire panel fence or crawling under it somewhere. I saw signs of a few nibbled ears that are still in the growing stage. It's too late at this point to do anything about it but perhaps next year. I personally am not sure if it is worth raising as we usually just eat it when we can get it fresh and there are always lots of people selling fresh sweetcorn locally when in season.

Above is the start of our berry patch with two black raspberry, two golden raspberry and two blackberry plants planted a month or so ago. We ordered them last fall but didn't get them until really late this year and not in very good shape at that. The two golden raspberry canes look like they were dead from the get go but the black raspberries and blackberries are showing a little life though are hard to see in this picture.

A picture showing one solitary grape vine my wife found somewhere and brought home. With nothing planned we stuck it in the ground next to the other berries and it is still surviving though getting eaten up by some bugs. Right now we are just letting nature taking its course but someday we would like to grow a few grapes on the farm so I will need to figure out what is eating them and put a stop to that.

Along with the berries we ordered from a catalog last fall, we ordered some strawberries. When we ordered, the catalog said they would ship them when they became available in the spring. Spring came and went and we didn't receive them until late June when others were already harvesting strawberries. Not only that, they looked horrible and despite immediately planting them the next day, perhaps only one plant in both strawberry beds survived enough to put on a few leaves. My wife has plans to get a refund of our money back on them. Since my wife's father raised strawberries before he died when my wife was 10 years old, these strawberry beds have meant a lot to my wife and so have been a bitter pill to swallow. Next year we hope to just buy them locally when they become available. 

Our various pepper plants are still around though very stunted after our cold wet spring. On a good year, our pepper plants generally don't start producing until the last couple months before frost hits. With these stunted things, I'm not sure we will get any peppers before then or not but I'm hoping for a few.

Out tomato and tomatillo plants have been going to town however and are looking good. Above is a picture after we picked them for ripe tomatoes and tomatillos. 

Not pictures is the trellised area where my wife and MIL are growing some sort of vining Filipino veggies. As expected, they didn't do well with the cold wet start and aren't much to look at yet. I was too tired anyway to take a picture by that point but will try to get one the next time.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The New Orchard

As part of our farm garden project, we fenced in some land for an small orchard. It was formerly a buffer strip of land next to Cook Creek which is not even a trickle of water right now and only a small trickle during wet times of the year. We found bought three trees at a nursery outside our normal range of travel but definitely much cheaper than our local nursery and stuck them in the ground earlier this spring with hopes of getting more when the nurseries started putting end of the year discounts on them. This spring they looked so good and they have looked pretty good until the last several weeks which saw several torrential rains. Above is how we found them on an early morning visit to the farm and I'm guessing two have definitely succumbed to the excess moisture.

Above is the sour cherry tree which only has two discolored leaves that aren't fully brown.

Above is a plumcot that has a few green leaves still. I'm hopeful that it might have enough of a chance to pull through it things go better during the last half of the year.

This is the other plumcot tree and it looks like a goner. Of all the nursery bought trees, these three represent the only ones I have ever lost so I hope it is just a fluke. I think they came with a one year guarantee where we might get 50% of our money back but I have to find the paperwork and see if it is even worth the cost of gas to drive up there and back just to claim.

As depressing as it is to lose all the trees in the nursery, we haven't given up yet and while strolling through our local nursery using up some coupons they give us all year round only to be used in July before they close out their fiscal year, we ran across four pear trees that were marked 50% off. Since it would be four days before I could get a chance to go down to the farm, I didn't buy them that day and went back the night before I was going to the farm. There were still three left and since there was only two more days before the fiscal year ended, I negotiated them for 75% off. The next morning we were up at 4 a.m. and with the trees in tow, headed to the farm where I planted them as dawn greeted us. Being cheap, I stole the support stakes and rubber tie downs from the three dying/dead trees and staked these down. We are now a week from out last rain so the soil was nice to work with. There is no more rain in our forecast and since this is typically our dry part of the year, I now will probably have to water them myself the rest of the year but at least I can hopefully control that more than mother nature and they will survive.

 One more look at the makings of our orchard with the dead and the new trees with the rising sun in the background.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Spring Failures

 Once again, for perhaps the third time in my life it has happened. My garage door spring let loose. Like previous times, I was somewhere in the house (in this instance in my office) when I heard a terrible clatter. This time is sounded like someone took a metal ladder and threw it down on the floor with enough force to slide clear across the room. The previous times I have been alone at the time and so inspected for the noise immediately but this time both of my daughters were in the house so I just assumed it was something they dropped and promptly forgot about it.

Later that day I went to go get some wood for a project I'm working on and the garage door would only open about two inches and then stop. Repeated pressing of the button didn't get it to work. So I checked the sensors and saw they looked fine and then based off past experience, glanced up at the springs and immediately saw that one spring was now in two pieces. It was time for new garage springs. 

Unfortunately, the contractor that roughed in our addition two years ago and tried to play shenanigans with the final bill, also bought out two of the three garage door companies in town, including the one that installed our garage door. So I was only left with one option to call and it would be five days before they could get there. Meanwhile, my vehicle was stuck inside the garage. 

Our garage door is a double wide garage door and well insulated so it is extremely heavy. The spring that broke was on the side that our minivan is parked and with the use of a parking laser, I park it so there is literally less than six inches between the back of it and the garage door to maximize the room in front of the van to walk by when parked. I'm telling you this because in order to get my door open with a broken spring on one side, I have to be able to access that one side to be able to lift and balance out the pressure the other, non broken spring was providing. I'm not less than six inches thick. 

What came next was a half hour test of will. I settled on a floor jack because my car jack was in the back of the minivan and I couldn't open the door until the garage door was open. A real catch 22 situation. With the floor jack, I was able to crawl under the back bumper of the car and jack up that side of the door about six inches. Then with a long 2x4 to use as a lever (give me a big enough lever and I can move the world), and a chunk of firewood, I was able to go around to the outside and pry the door up to firewood height. Then, I was able to muscle the door the rest of the way up, just barely. Once the first couple sections curve in, it becomes a much easier task but by then, the door bottom edge is almost waist high. 

Leaving the door open, I drove and got my wood and put it back inside the garage and reversing the process omitting the floor jack step, got the door lowered back down in place with the van parked on the outside of the garage. Fortunately the garage door company finished a job early a day later and a half hour later I had new springs and a working garage door.

I did ask if it was unusual for spring to fail after only 3 or 4 years, thinking perhaps I need bigger springs but was told that most garage door springs only have a life of 10,000 cycles. Just the average Joe going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening would put nearly 1500 cycles on per year. With two kids in schools and various other extra curricular activities, I'm sure we more than double that and possibly triple that during several months of the year. I could leave the doors open but I am loath to let field mice gain any entrance to our home if only the garage and so I will probably be on the hook for some more springs in another 3 or 4 years. Hopefully next time it happens when the cars are parked outside or at least on the opposite side of the garage as the failed spring.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Garden Eats

 Despite the depressing weed situation, we were able to harvest some cherry tomatoes from the garden along with a couple pods of okra and dug up a couple hills of potatoes. The cherry tomatoes went into a tart seen above which we had for supper the next evening. It is easy to make and a favorite between my wife and I. 

Although not from our garden, we did obtain some local blackberries and nectarines that my wife turned into another form of a tart. It tasted as good as it looks too.

I didn't mention this on the last post but my dad mentioned that our newly planted fruit trees that had been doing so well this spring might have died. I'm guessing it was probably due to too much moisture like everything else in our garden. I didn't walk over there to look as it was way too muddy and I was way too depressed. Maybe next time. Our local nursery has a few pear trees on discount this week and I may stop in later in the week to see if he wants to make me a deal for the remainder of them and perhaps we'll try again and hope the remainder of this year is more kind.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Keeping Us Humble

The first year of our expanded garden is definitely keeping us humble for a number of reasons, one of which you can see above. This is what we came back to after three weeks of being away. I'm not sure why the photo ended up like I did but I'm guessing it was humidity build up on the lens after just stepping out of a nice air conditioned vehicle.

Humble lesson one has just been the weather which we can't control. It was a very unusually long cold spring and so what we did get planted early was stunted at best and in some cases never came up. We lost a couple rows of beans and my dad lost his first popcorn planting. All the squash, tomatoes, peppers, etc were very stunted and only now in recent weeks seem to be gaining ground. 

Humble lesson number two was our mulching choice. We got some oat straw that unbeknownst to us was chock full of oat seed. So full that every time it rains, another round of oats commences to growing over every square inch of our garden. Fortunately these oats never really root into the dirt, instead rooting into the wet straw, so it is fairly easy to pull and not have to worry about coming back. Compared to normal weeds rooted in our wet garden soils that no matter how hard you shake the root ball, the wet dirt remains stuck to the roots and unless tossed completely outside the garden boundary, just re-roots itself back into the soil the next rain.

So upon seeing the above mess, we decided that we were going to cut losses a bit and worry about just preventing the weeds from seeding for next year instead of trying to pull them all up and shake the dirt off the roots. So I hopped onto the lawn mower and proceeded to mow the areas not yet filled in by squash and pumpkins until I buried the lawnmower twenty feet later. A half hour later, with about every chain on the farm and a tractor, I had the lawnmower freed and instead resorted to a weed eater. After that, we just pulled what we could up close to the plants until we were tuckered out and called it a day. You can see what we accomplished below.

Since we have a week with no rain in the forecast, for probably the first time this year, I plan to let things dry out a bit and hopefully go back and mow the rest of the garden area that I didn't get to this past weekend. 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Vacation Recap: Part 2

After a well rested stop at my brother's house, we set off for Savannah, Georgia. All along the trip thus far, we had been forewarned of the massive crowds that would be clogging the roads leading up to the fourth and including this day, the day after the fourth, but never saw any of that. Instead the roads seemed very sparsely populated with traffic. Perhaps all the dire warnings scared people off?

We made it to Savannah in good time and were soon enjoying the parks with all the live oaks garnished with Spanish moss that they are known for. We spent all day there and then headed out to the suburbs in the evening for a more reasonably priced motel room.

The following day we set forth north with big plans to see Charleston, South Carolina and indeed we made it there and walked down their famed Market Street for awhile. However as we set forth to go see other areas of town, I inadvertently parked too close to a curb that had been lined with large pointy rocks that poked a hole in the sidewall of my front tire. For the second road trip in a row, I was driving across town on a run flat tire that was flat (our vehicle has no spare), to the nearest Toyota dealership who is the only place that stocks these things and throwing myself at their mercy since I had no appointment. The Charleston Toyota dealership was quite busy but were able to get a new tire put on (after 28 cars ahead of me got serviced) and even gave us a ride to a local seafood place to cool our heals and eat a shrimp boil while waiting. Four hours later we were back on the road but due to Elsa on our heals, we no longer had the time to spend in Charleston and headed north. We did stop and see the Angel tree, names after the former owners of the land, which was evidently quite well known judging from the crowd there. Personally, I would have fenced everyone clear away from the tree instead of allowing people to roam all around it and posting a park ranger who had to shout at people every 15 seconds to not touch or lean against the tree as lots of signs had warned not to do. 

We put in a long evening driving after leaving Charleston because the following day, we had a ferry appointment to catch a ride out to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This had been the part of our trip that had been iffy with Tropical Storm Elsa but it had slowed down and was only just making landfall in Florida as we enjoyed a beautiful 2 1/2 hour ferry ride out.

I had pictured the Outer Banks as a place with lots of ocean views while driving and indeed one could see the ocean if you pulled off the road and walked over the dunes but from the vehicle, we mostly could just see brush and sand dunes. So we juggled stopping and making distance during the heat of the day for a few ocean views. We also got some very fresh oysters for a late lunch.

Just thought I would include this GPS screenshot which is something I never see on it back in Iowa. The second ferry we took was supposed to be an half hour long but took almost an hour and a half. As you can see above, we were quite a ways outside the marked ferry route. I suspect that a previous hurricane probably rearranged the shallows quite a bit which lengthened the journey.

Towards evening and near the end of our Outer Banks journey, we did stop at beach for awhile for a swim in the ocean. That evening, we ended up in Chesapeake, Virginia where some distant cousins of my wife lived and had invited us to stay for a couple nights. They took us smelt fishing in the evening and had planned on taking us crabbing the next night but by then, Tropical Storm Elsa caught us and the day was rained out. Instead they drove us around showing us the sights from their vehicle.

 At one point, in-between bands of rain from Elsa, we did stop at another beach where we watched crabs from a distance and the girls swam. The next morning, we finally turned our vehicle back towards the west and headed towards home. Like we sometimes do, we got to the point where sleeping in our own beds became more attractive than sleeping in another strange bed, despite the late hour. So with an hour and a half stuck in a traffic jamb east of Indianapolis, we still made it home a few minutes before midnight and spent the night in our own beds, a day sooner than we had planned. It was worth it.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Vacation Recap: Part 1

 In the time of Covid, we have been limiting our vacations to ones where we can self contain ourselves in a vehicle versus flying with many others. So we have been crossing off some long road trips that would have been further down our list of things to go see had times been different. One of the things my wife has always wanted to see was Savannah, Georgia and so that became our goal for this trip. But as I stared at maps looking over routes, it became clear that we could combine other things into this trip since we would be already nearby.

But two days before we were set to leave, Tropical Storm Elsa made her presence known and apparently was heading for many of the same destinations as we were. Fortunately however, at the time we were packing up getting ready to leave, she was visiting a couple days after us so we decided to proceed with the trip but with some alternatives in case she sped up her arrival or we got delayed.

Our first official stop was going to be to visit with my brother at his house in Alabama but since he was away fighting wildfires, we didn't push to make the 12 hour drive all in one day and instead swung a bit wide and ended up in Tupelo, Mississippi our first afternoon. Although not high on my list of things to see, it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity so we drove to see Elvis's birth home (after the museum and other activities on site had closed for the day) and just walk around the area now preserved. 

Even at six in the evening, it was still blazing hot out so we didn't linger long unless under some shade. The above statues show the progression of Elvis from a boy to man.

The next day being Sunday, we were looking to find a church along our route and found the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament seen above. I had no idea of the significance of it or Mother Angelica who founded it but it meant a lot to my mother-in-law and so it made her day. We attended mass, walked around a bit and then hit the road towards my brother's house. Although he wasn't there, his wife was and so we planned to spend the evening celebrating the 4th of July with her.

I received this in a meme and couldn't help but think of Yorkshire Pudding

We spent the day with my sister-in-law who fed us and allowed us to stay for the night in her guest room and the bedrooms of her two adult children who no longer stayed there. The girls swam themselves out in their swimming pool and I helped her shoot off a small fireworks display purchased for the occasion by my brother who couldn't ended up being gone on a fire detail. All in all, it was a good start to our vacation.

Friday, July 2, 2021

On the Road

We are on the road for a summer vacation and I don't have any pre-written posts so the blog is on hiatus until my return in a week or so. 

Hope everyone has a Happy 4th of July and beyond!