Cold Spring

I started a fire in the wood stove this evening. It is May 16. This might be the latest in the year I have had a fire going. It is not that cold out, in the fifties. But it is chilly and damp and my wife requested it.

I looked at my tomato plants a little while ago while picking some lettuce. They look sick. They are not that big yet but the lower branches are turning brown and just the top part is still green. I do not know if it is the cool wet weather that is making them suffer or what. I guess we will find out. My green beans have come up and the sweet corn is peeking through. So we need some sunshine to make things grow.

It has been a good stretch for the potatoes, cabbage, second planting of lettuce, radishes, and spinach. I do not think it is supposed to get real warm very soon so maybe that salad stuff will do good. It would be nice to have a nice bunch of spinach. My first planting did not come up very well and I am only able to pick a few leaves every couple of days for a salad.

I have been thinking about getting a small freezer. I have not looked at them but think it would make a nice addition and allow us to preserve or store more of our garden produce. Our electricity is absurdly costly. We are on Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative and the monthly cost is high compared to most places, even rural places. I think now it costs $30 a month just to be a customer. They decided a few months ago to charge every one who has a security light a couple of bucks a month just because you have one. Security lights are those lights on a pole out in the yard or by the garage that come on automatically when it gets dark. One of the first things we did 30 years ago when we moved into this house on the farm was have the security light removed. If I want light outside I will turn my own light on. They are one of those things people accept without even thinking about it, and it seems, the monthly charge was something the accepted without even thinking about it.

Well let’s hope it gets sunny and a little warmer.

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Sweet Corn Recovered

Sweet corn recovered from storm winds

Remember the sweet corn that was blown down. Well, it stood back up pretty nicely. Some of it is a little bent at the ground but it will stand just fine and produce as if nothing had happened. 

If you look inside the top of the corn plants you can see the tassel just getting ready to emerge. This part produces the pollen that falls on the silks that come out of the ear. I won’t be long now. 

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Corn Storm Damage

Sweet corn after a storm and heavy rain

This happens about every year. Some time during the growth of my sweet corn it gets blown over by a thunderstorm. Below in the pic is what it looked like yesterday evening. We had a big storm come through yesterday afternoon and sheets of rain were blowing from the west and the wind was swirling around. So the corn wound up partially blown over. This happens in part because the ground is so saturated with water it cannot support the plant. It is better this happens at this stage of growth because it will pretty much stand back up when the sun comes out. In fact, this evening it has pretty much stood back up because we had some sun for a while this afternoon. That is all it takes. But, it could very possibly happen again. It is worse when there are ears on the plants. Then they do not stand back up very well. 

We have had a continuous parade of storms the past week. Every day or night some big rain rolls through. It is very wet. The past weekend it was very humid. While working on the porch construction it was just hot and humid and my clothes were soaked. My garden is full of weeds and grass, some of which is starting to put seeds on. We need a couple of weeks with no more rain. I can not even get out and mulch my tomatoes. I think everything would benefit from some dry weather rather than more rain. Things are growing. We had broccoli tonight from the garden. The green beans are blooming. The potatoes don’t look so hot though. Not sure how they will turn out. 

Something that is especially disturbing about the big heavy rains is the amount of erosion they cause. I know I have said before the agriculture is inherently destructive and row crops are probably the worst. Modern agriculture puts profit ahead of everything so everybody looks the other way and they plant on about any surface the machinery will roll over without falling over. So we have all these fields that are not flat and you wind up with what looks like the pic below. And it is only June. There are months to go in this crop year. 

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Dirt Weed Killer

I use the dirt itself to kill weeds. Look at the first picture on the left and you will see a row of sweet corn with small grass growing in among the corn plants. I have run the tiller between the rows and loosened the soil and chopped up the weeds and grass growing there. So I go down the rows with a hoe and pull the dirt in around the corn plants to cover the small weeds growing there. It works pretty well. The broadleaf weeds and grass have to be fairly small and the corn has to be a few inches high. But you can hill the soil up around the corn. it likes the whole process.

I started doing this a long time ago after driving a cultivating field corn with a tractor. At the time I think I did 6 rows at a time. You go rather slowly with a cultivator behind the tractor that is a series of small shovels. They are spaced on a bar to work the soil between the rows right up to the plants. They also move the soil into and around the corn plants as you go along on the tractor. You adjust your speed and depth of the cultivator to make sure you do not bury the corn. Also you have to pay close attention to make sure the cultivator does not just dig out the corn as you go along so it is an arduous job to do all day long. Farmers don’t do any cultivating now. At least the ones around here don’t. They rely entirely on chemicals to kill weeds. But, that is a whole other story and I do not want to get started on that.

This method of cultivation will work with green beans, okra, onions, or anything big enough to have some dirt piled up around it. It does not work well for young carrots because they are too small. I usually crawl along on the ground and pick the weeds out of those.

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Wildlife

I discovered some deer visited the garden sometime in the last couple of days. In fact, it may have been last night. They nibbled off some of the green beans. Then, strolled around a bit and left. I was lucky they did not eat the whole row of beans, or my cabbage plants. They walked right down the cabbage row for a ways. Rabbits probably would have eaten the whole mess. They probably were not that hungry because everything is lush right now from all the rain. But, they may become a problem. they nibble the leaves off the top and move on to the next. You can see in the pic below the next leaves growing out and the plant will survive and continue to grow but it will be stunted. 

The telltale track of deer. The two lobed elliptical shaped indentations. If you are missing some plants and you have these tracks in the dirt you know what it is. 

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Rain in the Garden

I went out to look around after last nights big rain.

I mentioned it yesterday in a post that it was supposed to rain some more and it did. I have heard as much as 5 inches fell in this county last night. It was just a steady rain for hours. There are small lakes in a lot of fields in the area and the creeks are busting out. We noticed our young plum tree in the front yard. In the pic below you can see how the top branches are just drooped over. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it is because there is so much water in the branches and leaves that they just could not support the weight. This tree should have been pruned this past late winter but I did not get it done because I have been so involved in work on the house. 

I also mentioned earlier about my tomatoes looking sick. I have about 9 various tomato plants of the common variety you can buy anywhere and they look sick. I have three heirloom tomatoes, Cherokee Red, that look much better. Check out the pic below of my sorry looking tomato. It must be the cool wet weather. But I have never had them just turn yellow and die back like this. 

It is a sad thing to see. Along with the big rains comes tremendous field erosion. Below is a pic of the corner of the field right where we turn into our yard. This corner washes out like this and the farmer goes over it with and implement and levels it up and another rain does this again to it. There are numerous places like this on this farm and lots of other farms as well. There is only one solution to the problem and that is to stop farming it. Nothing else will correct the problem. Agriculture in inherently destructive. Little work has been done to alleviate that destruction. When I first moved here and worked on this farm most of the fields had grass waterways where the water collected and drained off. It did slow down the erosion. The grass waterways have been removed and replaced with these little dam like dirt structures with a drain pipe and tile line. This allows the ground that had grass to produce a money product instead of protect the field. There are lots of factors and influences involved here that had brought us to the current situation and it is too involved to get into here. Suffice it to say that it is the same situation as so many other industries that are after short term profit with disregard for the consequences. 

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Garage Lumber

My garage is full!

My garage is so full of lumber, windows, trim, clapboard siding, and assorted building materials I cannot hardly even walk into it. I have places to step while crawling over stuff. It is one of my storage places for all the stuff I salvage from other places. I have quite a bit of stuff in a large machine shed over at my mother-in-laws place also. I salvage it all to use it. We have an old house and we have rebuilt parts of it and added on to it and we use as much recycled lumber as possible. I am building a new solar collecting front porch right now. I am building soffits on it to look somewhat like the original soffits on the house. I cannot duplicate what is there because I cannot get the old moldings used back then. The earliest part of the house is about 150 years old. 

I also have a nice pile of bricks which I should have taken a picture of but did not. They do not have to be inside like the lumber. I intend to rebuild the old fireplace in the living room this summer. It will be a big job. I have built one fireplace in the dining room that works great so am looking forward to this job.

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Mulch

It is supposed to rain today but the sun is shining this morning although it is cool and breezy. It was supposed to frost on Saturday evening but I think it only got down to about 37 degrees. I had covered some of my tomatoes and peppers but it turned out it was not necessary. It was real windy Friday evening and into the night. I came out Saturday morning to find most of my paper and straw mulch on my potatoes had blown off. It was a mess so I spent Saturday morning redoing it all. Below is a picture of the finished job. I have used this brown paper before to mulch my potatoes and it works well. I was not going to spend the money on the stuff this year but we had this covering a newly refinished floor at the Old School Museum where I work part time. We removed it all and I brought it home. Problem was I did not have it all weighted down enough. So when I redid it all I shoveled dirt onto a lot of the edges to hole it down. Once it rains on it it will be pretty well stuck down. The problem with putting dirt on it is you invariably are putting some weed seeds on top of the mulch and they will sprout and grow thus making the mulch effort somewhat pointless. But it beats cultivating the entire row and all that space in between the rows. I only had two bales of straw on hand and the farmer I get hay and straw from was most likely working in his fields when I first did this so I wasn’t going to bother him for a couple of more bales of straw. 

I have been very diligent in putting up and keeping up my chicken wire barrier around my spring garden. If I don’t the rabbits will just eat it all off. One evening there were two rabbits just hanging around out there probably wishing they could just get over that fence. They probably could just jump over if they thought of it but they don’t. They will go under it though if there is an opening so one must maintain a vigil to make sure there is no where they can get under it. I use metal fence posts, bricks, and pieces of firewood to make sure it is held down. I bend the fence in a sort of arc with about 3 of 4 inches laying flat on the ground and the rest kind of arched back over and then stake it with various small electric fence posts. I use one inch mesh wire. Anything bigger and the little baby rabbits will go right through it. The wire I use is 2 feet tall so it actually is not that high once it is staked. It does the job though against rabbits. It is worthless against deer or other animals like ground hogs. So far I have not had any trouble with them.

I got my tomatoes and peppers set out. I bought 3 heirloom tomatoes at the Organic food store where I shop. They are Cherokee Red or Purple. I have never raised this variety before but have purchased the tomatoes at the farmers market in Springfield so I am looking forward to having these to eat. Then I planted some of the common varieties so we can can tomatoes this summer. Our canned tomatoes from last summer lasted until about February or so. I also planted some green beans and sweet corn. Neither has come up yet but if it starts raining, and the forecast is for rain for the next 4 or 5 days they should come up just fine. I thought I had some okra seeds on hand but I didn’t so I have not planted any of that yet and I am waiting to plant cucumbers and squash. The later the better for those. If you wait until about June or so to plant those then you do not have the bug problems that ruin those crops every year.

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Spring Garden

A new season and new challenges

A new season. Actually, this time of year is when winter chores overlap with spring jobs. We had a fire in the wood stove yesterday afternoon just to take the chill off. Last Sunday we cut some more firewood to stack for next winter and I will do more if we have the chance. It warmed up quick in March and then April was warm and dry so I got some stuff planted and a lot of it is up. But, I made a mistake that may have been avoidable if I had been willing to wait. I planted right before it rained. The ground was working well and it was warming up so I planted some potatoes, onion sets, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and leeks. We then had a big rain and the ground got so hard the seedlings had a hard time getting up through the crust that formed on the surface of the soil. The lettuce and radishes made it up because they came up while the ground was still wet. The spinach did poorly and there are just scattered seedlings that made it up. The onions were slow but they made it. I had to go out and chip the crust over where each potato plant was trying to come through so I could have a good stand of potatoes.

I had some collard plants that wintered over but they are pretty much just going to seed. I think I will try to prevent them from going to seed this year because they can become a problem weed it you don’t watch them. So, after some rain and more warm weather in April I put out some cabbage and broccoli plants. Last year we made sauerkraut from a few cabbages and it was so good we are going to make more this year. I have out 20 cabbage plants and 6 broccoli plants. I planted some more radishes, lettuce, and spinach. We have had a couple of rains on this stuff since I planted it. It is too muddy to go out and look to see if the spinach has come up yet. The cabbage looks good and I have the whole thing surrounded with chicken wire to keep the rabbits out. I also had a guy come with his small tractor and till up an area that I used to garden in years past to give me some more space. If we get rid of our last remaining horse I can expand even more. So, we will see. 

So we are off and running with this new season. It seems like it all came up rather quickly. I was winter then all of a sudden it warmed up and things started growing and greening up. The trees are leafed out. The yard has even been mowed once. Asparagus has come up. We don’t have much asparagus left growing. We had a nice patch of it and most of it died off and I don’t know why. We had another big rain Saturday afternoon and everything is wet today and will be wet for a while. It is cool and cloudy so it will not be drying up real quick. But, I have plenty of other things to do, like work on my project on the new porch, but that is for another post.

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