Category Archives: Gardening

Planning Ahead

This week I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future.  I’ve been thinking about a whole bunch of different things, none of which I’ll bore you with right now.  But I did want to mention, I ordered a bunch of seeds this week.  I was thinking; if the economy gets a lot worse maybe people will be more interested in planting crops next spring, and if that happened there could be a potential shortage of seeds.  I know there was with Y2K, and if there was a sharp demand the seed companies wouldn’t be able to keep up.

So, I ordered up $75 worth of seeds from Seed Savers.  This is something I usually take great joy in doing in the winter in front of the corn stove.  But I’m just not so sure that they’ll be available next spring.  If you are already growing food for your family maybe you might want to think about picking up some seeds that might last you for a year or two.  At least until we have a better idea what the future holds.  You might be surprised to realize that if you started growing a serious portion of your family’s food your seed needs go up by more than you would expect, at least mine do.

I’ve got some beans still hanging on out in the garden.  I think I’ll let those dry and save those for next year too.

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Perhaps my New Favorite Garden Toy

OK, most of you are probably thinking I’m going to talk about a tool, but actually I wanted to mention Jerusalem Artichokes aka Sunchokes.

I planted some of these this year for the first time ever, and I’m impressed with them.  They grew fantastic, made nice flowers on the top, provided a huge amount of food to the chickens and in the end, gave me the tubers you see below.  This bowl is full from half of the section I planted.  I created a bed on the south side of my compost pile that is between 3 and 4 ft long.  I planted the Sunchokes in double rows within that bed.  I didn’t amend the soil or anything.  I just dug a trench, put in the tubers and filled it back.

Now, being on the south side of my compost pile probably provided a fair amount of runoff fertilizer, but I’m still amazed at how bountiful they produced.  The bowl below is 7 lbs worth.  (my scale measures in whole pounds)  They don’t seem to produce on the scale of potatoes, but this is still something considering that they are basically plant it and forget it.  I just hope we don’t have trouble digesting them like some people say can happen.

Later this fall I’ll harvest the remainder and we’ll see where we end up.  I dug these up because I cut back the plants as they were all over the place and I was anxious to see how they did.  I hear that if you wait until after there is some frost they sweeten up.  We’ll see if that’s true.

Where ya at?

You may be wondering where the heck I’ve been for the past month or so.  Hard to say.  Things are just moving and I’m trying to keep up with the flood.  Been busy putting up food, even though I look at what I have and it seems completely inadequate, although at least twice what was there last year.  The freezer is a lot more full than last year, and about to be really crammed when the cow and pigs come home, so to speak.

I was afraid that this Sat would be the last farmer’s market of the year but I see they go on until late Oct this year, so I still have time to pick up a few more squash and apples.  Picked up 100 lbs of taters the other day for $50.  Felt like I should pay her at least $70 but she wouldn’t take more.  (Probably because I buy some of her really overpriced tomatoes early in the year)  I buy quite a bit of stuff from her.

Overall I was pleased with how much food we ate from the garden this summer, although the spring was a lot better than the late summer and fall.  Tomatoes were down this year with the cool weather.  I didn’t get any squash this year (didn’t plant any so that makes sense) and most of my potatoes and sweet potatoes were flooded, so I was forced to buy them, but that’s not so awful, well couldn’t buy sweet potatoes because no one has any.  Didn’t get as many beans as I would have hoped this year, but mostly because one of my packages was mislabeled and by the time I realized it the pole beans were going and making a big mess in the garden and I didn’t have much energy to wade through it and sort them out, so they weren’t picked as much as you would hope.

My harvest totals seem small, but I did the best I could to keep them up to date with all the stuff I have going on.  Perhaps I should just give up on that.  I’m never ever to keep it up.  Been delivering a mad amount of food for the food kitchens, but haven’t put the last couple up.  Maybe I can find them and get them up.  I’ve already delivered the totals to the farmer and unless I have the e-mails they will be gone.  I’ve been happy to be involved with doing that this year.  A lot of food was put to use that would otherwise be wasted and we’re going to step it up with some planning meetings this winter to do even better next year.

I’ve been so impressed working with her that I’m going to sign up for a CSA share next year with her.  I haven’t done that in the past because I’ve always felt like I wouldn’t get enough for my money, but seeing what she gives out if we get half of what is distributed she is still giving out too much.  She doesn’t charge organic prices either for most of her food items.

I’ve been following the financial markets very, very intensely.  Been spending some time managing money for ourselves and others to try to stay a step ahead of the market.  Sad to see it appears that the Senate is going to push through this bailout…er…financial rescue plan (ie a turd sandwich) even if their citizens don’t want it to happen.  And now they’ve added all kinds of other crap to the bill to bribe enough people to vote for it.

We’ve also, for some reason, been spending a fair amount of time entertaining ourselves.  Having friends over, going clubbing, going on a few trips, etc.  I’m not sure where this is coming from, except perhaps an understanding that this will probably happen less in the future so maybe we should get some of it in now.  Don’t know?  Maybe because our kids, and our friends kids, are finally older and now we can do more things as humans instead of just care giving machines.

Obviously starting up another school year and all that entails can be quite challenging.  I wonder sometimes about homeschooling the boys, but by the time I think we can do that financially it will be a few years and by then do I want to pull them away from school and their friends?  I don’t know.  I do know that I could do a much better job of teaching them, at least so that they learn a bigger variety of information, but the energy it would take and removing my salary (which isn’t large but is big enough) from the income stream is a big step.  We’ll see how it goes.

That’s all for now.  Make sure to talk to your Congress people about the bailout package.  One section of it specifically details how foreign companies will be allowed to sell their bad investments to the Treasury so all us taxpayers can pay for bad decisions made by the finance people in other countries.  Good times.

Amazing what they can eat

Admit it, you thought I was going to talk about the chickens didn’t you? HA! Not this time. This time it’s kids. We eat veggie meals in our house maybe 2 or 3 times a week. Tonight we had nothing but veggies. I boiled some new potatoes (about the size of a large egg) and steamed some corn on the cob. I also served some canteloupe and tomatoes from the garden. The kids didn’t think this was enough for them so I also made them 1 slice of bread with PB&J on it.

And they ate it up. Amazing how many veggies kids can eat when they want to. My oldest had two bowlfuls of cantaloupe, 1 ear of sweet corn, his PB&J and 2 potatoes. The youngest had 2 ears of corn, a shitload of tomatoes, 2 potatoes, PB&J and 1 bowl of cantaloupe. I’d say they easily got 4 servings of veggies/fruit in just this meal.

In other news I had this conversation with my youngest when I was picking tomatoes, or trying to pick tomatoes.

Ethan: Ever wonder why there aren’t any tomatoes on the plant?

Dad: Well I figured there was a tomato monster eating them. Do you know what happened to them? (I know he’s been eating them)

Ethan: There is. I saw him. It was me. I’m a tomato monster. Grrr. (Then he grins) I sometimes eat the green ones but they don’t taste as good as the orange ones. Now I wait for them to get orange. (They’re Sungold tomatoes)

If you knew his grin you’d probably laugh about this. He looks like a Cheshire cat, only he’s got an ornery glint in his eyes.

Time to dig the taters

There was a TV commercial from the 80s which featured a Dunkin’ Donuts guy waking up early in the morning and he would cheerfully say “Time to make the donuts” as he rose from bed. My mom use to make donuts. No one she worked with was that cheerful that early in the morning. I think it’s just a TV thing.

Anyway, the potato vines died so it’s time to dig the taters. I wasn’t sure what to expect this year. Most of my potatoes washed down the river with the rest of Iowa, but I have a few stashed here at home as a backup. I planted a 4×4 square and a 2×6 with fingerlings. Also, I planted my neighbors tractor tire flower bed with potatoes. Seriously, here in Iowa a tractor tire can also double as a flower bed. Anyway, the fingerlings worked out to about 8 lbs, I think because I dug the 2×6 bed too early so none of them sized up. But the 4×4 bed did pretty good. Not as good as Red Pontiacs but I can live with it.

I thought fingerlings were supposed to be some super great tasting potato, but I like small red potatoes better, so they’re probably making their only appearance in my garden this year.

The plants in my neighbors tire didn’t produce jack shit. I think they were too shaded. The soil there was great, but by the time the trees leaved out I just don’t think there was enough sun. I got a few Yukon Golds but I gave them to her to enjoy.  The vines weren’t completely dead so maybe I dug them too early.  Or maybe they needed more nutrients.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll try it again next year.

I still have one container full which is still flowering since I’ve covered it up with more leaves to produce more spuds, hopefully. I also planed more recently to harvest later this fall, and I have a few more sprouting which I’ll put in the ground soon too.

I hate digging potatoes because it causes me to do two things I hate to do, turn over the soil and step on the garden beds.  I do what I can to avoid stepping on the bed, but I can’t do anything about turning over the beds.  I’m a firm believer in layering.  I never till or turn over the soil.  I don’t think it does anything, with the soil I have, so why do it.  So, when I need to add compost I dump it on top.  Mulch goes on top.  When I need to plant I pull back the mulch and plant, then move the mulch back over.  Everyone has their own opinion on what works, but I try to mimic the way nature builds soil.  This means I don’t till it up and I just add layer after layer after layer of organic material to the tops.  Essentially building the soil from the top down.

I hope you all had success with your potatoes.

It’s Contaminated I Tell You!

Danger Will Rogers!  Danger!

The city has posted “keep out, contaminated soil” signs at the garden plot.  So now I’m wondering if I should really be concerned or if I should sneak back to plant something.  I see other people back there planting things so I’m not sure.

If I don’t plant any food perhaps I should plant some cover crops?

Do any of you have any opinions?

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Man, tons of updates.

OK, sorry to disappear for so long but it is sooo crazy around here right now. What have I been doing?

Friday, Sat and Sunday I helped demolish the interiors of 2 houses. The houses were ripped down to the studs. Immense piles of rubbish were piled on the curbs. Have you ever used a wheelbarrow inside a house before? It’s interesting. Makes it easy to haul out the material, especially when you have a 4 ft high ramp down the front stairs. As we said while were were doing the work; if it wasn’t such a tragedy we’d say we were having a good time. We had a lot of help which helps the work go fast. I hope all the volunteers don’t burn out too fast though. This recovery will take a long time and we’ll need everyone for a long time to make it happen.

I’ve got more thoughts on the flooding, but too much other stuff going on. This is a critical time in the rehab because the houses have to be torn up and opened up to dry out to keep away all the mold and other bad things away. My sister is trying to organize a mission trip up here from AR, which would be very good for all of us.

When I wasn’t doing that I was too damn tired to do much else. Between those three days I spent about 22 hours yanking apart houses and picking up trash. Enjoyed some nice lunches which were donated by the Red Cross and area churches. I need to get on my church about why churches that are flooded can provide food but my church can’t, or hasn’t so far. I have to tell you, we hit a Mexican place Friday night with some friends (1 couple that is flooded out that we helped on Sat and Sun and our friends that they are staying with (flood victims brother)) and I have never had a beer taste so good as that night. Man, that was a good beer.

While this is going on my wife decided to paint the family room. Yeah. Really. So the house is torn apart and the room is partially done. It does look better already with trim and some primer in place, but bad timing I’d say. This weekend we might be able to get it finished. When the demolition at the houses is finished then they are left alone to dry for a while.

When I was at home I tried to keep up with the garden. The rabbit and woodchucks are eating too much stuff, so they are going to have to be removed. My wife is getting a trap and we’ll trap them and move them down to the nearby park or creek area. Things are coming along very well out there, not withstanding the rodent damages. We are being well supplied of lettuce still. The warm weather plants are growing well even though it’s been cooler than normal. When I have a few hours I’m going to get back to the garden plot and get some things planted. Specifically the long season plants of melons and squashes need to get in the ground soon. I have to worry about how contaminated the soil might be though.

Then of course one child had a stomach bug yesterday, but seems to have kicked it in one day (I wonder if it was something he ate at Grandma’s as she was sick too and he got better as soon as he starved all day). And the other child came home with critters in his hair. So massive cleaning, delousing and haircutting was undertaken last night. Oh, and it’s VBS week so that’s going on from 6:30-8:30, so both kids are up later than usual as the younger one won’t go to sleep until the older one gets home (mostly) and the older one goes to bed around 9 now instead of 8. Even though kids having critters is “normal” it still makes me feel like a failure as a parent.

Whew, I’m tired just writing that. I was able to can 7 pints and 7 half pints of strawberry jam last night. And I just found a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb jam (from the Zahn Zone) which I’ll be trying this week with some of the remaining strawberries. I’ve eaten so many strawberries lately that I think my hair has been replaced by a green stem. At least I don’t have to worry about strawberries not being available this year.