Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winter Sowing

I have found a new interest ..... Winter Sowing!  I know this sounds crazy, but I ran across this on Facebook and it has opened up a whole new world for me.  The rationale behind this concept is that in the natural world plants grow from seed, bloom, make seed and die.  The seed lie on the ground through the winter, through rain, sleet, snow and freezing weather.  Then, when the time is right, they sprout, send down roots and the whole cycle begins again.

It is thought that seeds which follow this cycle and are outside to endure the cool evenings and warm days during the early spring form stronger plants than those that are coddled inside under lights and warm temperatures.   This makes a lot of sense to me.  In fact, there is a website devoted to the concept which gives suggestions and ideas about how to do this.

It appears one of the most prevalent ways to accomplish winter sowing is to use gallon milk jugs.  I started saving milk jugs weeks ago, but when I was ready to start my seeds, I didn't have enough, so I went to a couple of the local coffee shops and asked for their empties.  Aspen Coffee gave me a whole trash bag full of empty gallon milk jugs!

The first step was to rinse them out and cut them around the middle with an X-acto knife, leaving a small "hinge" at the bottom of the handle.

 Here is a closer look at the hinge.

Then make drainage holes in the bottom.  There are several ways to make the holes.  One is to heat a nail over the stove and melt a hole in the plastic.  However, I used a Dremel tool fitted with a small drill bit.

Once the holes are made, then it is time to fill them with potting soil.  Be sure to water the soil well before you plant the seeds.

 Now sprinkle seeds on top of the soil and cover them with a small amount of soil.

After the seeds are planted, close the jug and seal it with duct tape, like this.

Label the jugs with a felt-tip marker and set them in a sheltered place where they will get some of the winter sun.

The general rule of thumb seems to be that you can use the winter sowing method to start perennials in January, but should wait until mid-February or early March to start tender plants.  I didn't know this at the time and planted all mine in mid-January.  Even so, I have one annual that has come up already and seems to be doing fine, even though most nights have been below freezing.

Once the plants are up, you will have to keep a close eye on the jugs to make sure they don't dry out.   Also, when the days are consistently warm and sunny, you will need to open the jugs up to keep the little plants from cooking.   There will be a period of several weeks where you may need to open them during the day and close them again on frosty nights.  You should not have to re-tape them, but just use a short piece of tape to close the jugs for the night.

After thoughts.....  In retrospect, I believe I cut some of my jugs too shallow.  They need to be deep enough to put 2-3 inches of soil in.  Also, I ran into problems taping the jugs shut because of the indention that many jugs have in the side.  

A solution to both of these issues is to cut the jugs at the top, like this.

When cut this way, the jug is deep enough so you can put in as much soil as you like and it also avoids the problem with taping over the indentation in the side.  It also uses less duct tape.

It will be interesting to see how this works.  Judging from the one jug of annuals that are already up, I know I put too many seeds in the jugs.  I'm sure I will have to thin the plants and only keep the number I need. 

It is still not too late to give this a try.  All the seeds I have planted so far are flowers of various sorts, perennial and annual.  But, I want to try starting a few tomatoes and peppers with this method and compare them with the ones we normally start in the basement under lights.

My biggest problem is going to be where to plant all these flowers, if they all come up! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Update on the Peacock

It is about time that I gave an update on PeteyPi, our peacock.  If you have forgotten how he got this rather odd name, here is my original blog about him.  

So, here he is today.

If you recall he was only 2 years old when we got him and won't be 3 until this spring.  Because peacocks do not get their full tail feathers until they are 3, then he still has a way to go.  But, he is getting there.  He has a few "eye spots" and they are beautiful.

Because he is such a large bird, we installed a couple of 2X6s in his shelter as roosts for him.

Here he is jumping from the top roost to the bottom.

Today I decided he needed a better feeder.  His old feeder was made of plastic and was too shallow.  A lot of food was knocked out onto the ground and wasted.

So, I bought him a bigger feeder that is made of metal and is deeper.   He was very curious about it.

And, walked all around it.  Even jumped up on the straw bale in the corner to get a better look at it.

Finally, he decided to try it out.

Then, I cleaned and refilled his water dish and he tried that out too.

 I have gotten quite attached to this silly bird.  I sometimes give him treats, like this lettuce that I recently had left over from a salad.

 It is amazing the things he can do with his neck and head.  He can stretch his neck out long, like the picture of him on the straw bale, or scrunch it up, like the above picture.  He can also turn his head 180 degrees!

So, that's the latest on PeteyPi.  Hope you enjoy the pictures and find him as beautiful as I do!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Turnip Greens

About a month ago, I took you on a tour of what winter looks like on the farm.   

One of the pictures I posted in that article was of our turnip patch.  

Both the leaves and roots of the turnip plant are edible.  But, turnips have a bad reputation because of their strong taste.  However, when cook just right, they are delicious.  Here's how I cook the greens.

First, remove the tough stems of the bigger leaves, wash well and drain in a colander.

While they are draining, chop some onion and saute in a large pot along with some chopped bacon.

You'll need a large pot to start with, but the greens cook down to a fraction of their original size.  I like to use a cast iron pot like this enameled pot.

Once the onions are softened and translucent, add the turnip greens.  You will need to stir them ever so often and watch them carefully to keep them from sticking.  I usually add a little extra water or broth.

Cook over low to medium heat.   They quickly wilt and cook down, like this.

Now, put a lid on the pot and cook over low heat until tender. 

Add salt and pepper to taste, put them in a bowl and enjoy!

I like to add a dash of hot pepper sauce and eat them with cornbread.  Some folks add a teaspoon of vinegar.  These are a meal in themselves.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Attracting Native Pollinators

Back in June of 2016, I wrote an article about the Native Pollinator Workshop we attended at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.   Native Pollinator Workshop

I recall at the time I had intended to write some more about what we learned in that workshop, but, alas, we got busy with the garden and I forgot about it.  Forgot about it, that is, until this past weekend when we attended the annual Horticulture Industry Show.  This was the topic of my last blog entry.  HIS meeting

During the meeting I attended a session on providing habitat for native bees.  I posted a note about the session on our Windy Acres Natural Farm Facebook page and someone asked me if I could share some of the information I learned at the session.  This reminded me that I had intended to share information from the workshop we attended in June.  So, here is that belated post.

The Europeans brought honey bees to the new world and since that time, we have become dependent on them to help pollinate our crops.  However, before the Europeans arrived, there were already many native insects that did the job of pollination just as well as honey bees.  Now that honey bees are being decimated by disease, it is more critical than ever that we encourage preservation of our native pollinating insects.  

In addition to pollination, many natives eat pest insects.  For example, the larvae of many syrphid flies eat aphids.  The adult fly fuels itself by eating sugary nectar and then searches for plants with aphids on which to lay its eggs.  When the young flies hatch, they patrol the plant looking for aphids to latch onto and suck dry.  

So, how do we encourage these native pollinators in our yards?  Here are some tips.

  • Avoid using pesticides, but if you must, try to avoid letting the pesticide spray drift out of the area you want to treat.  Use low pressure and avoid days when the wind is blowing.  Even light wind can cause considerable drift.
  • Create a pollinator-friendly landscape.  Unfortunately, this does not go hand-in-hand with large manicured lawns.  Some lawn may need to be sacrificed to create suitable habitat for beneficial insects.  One can do this by creating flower and herb gardens that contain plants that attract butterflies and native bees.  Here are some recommendations for flowers and herbs that are good to plant.
    • Native wildflowers are excellent for attracting pollinators.  A short list of these includes Asters, Beebalm, Goldenrod, Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Sunflowers and Spiderwort.  There are many domesticated varieties of these you can buy at garden centers.  As I have mentioned before, we have a couple of large areas we only mow a couple of times a year to encourage wildflowers.  In one of those areas we have some beautiful native milkweed called Antelope Horn Milkweed.  Here's a picture of it.

    • Herbs include Basil, Lavender, Mint, Rosemary and Oregano.  Here are some pictures of my basil patch from last summer.  I let it go to seed during the latter part of the summer.  It was literally covered with bees.

    • Garden flowers include Mexican Sunflower, Cosmos, Russian Sage and Borage.  I grew Mexican Sunflowers this past summer and plan to plant them again this year.  In addition to attracting butterflies and bees, they are also a beautiful red color with yellow centers.  
  • Provide suitable nesting sites for native bees.  There are a couple of ways to do this.
    • About 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground, so they need access to bare ground.  Clear the grass from an area of your yard.  An obtrusive corner where you might situate a few large rocks so that it looks somewhat landscaped would work well.  The site should be open, sunny and have good drainage.

    • Other native bees are tunnel-nesters.  They generally nest in abandoned beetle tunnels in stumps or dead trees.  But, you can simulate these sites in several ways.  Here are pictures that illustrate how to do this.

The Xerces Society has excellent information on building nests like those above.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Horticulture Industry Show 2016

Goodness! Here we are in 2016 already. When did that happen? The past few weeks have been a whirlwind with family coming in for the holidays and a birthday for Tom thrown in there as well.  

However, we have one more activity to get out of the way this month before I feel like the gardening season can truly begin.   The Horticulture Industry Show is an annual event that is a joint meeting of growers in Arkansas and Oklahoma.   Each year the location alternates between Tulsa, OK, and Ft. Smith, AR.  Oklahoma State University bears a lot of the responsibility for organizing the event.

Here is a link to this year's event:  HIS meeting  

The theme this year is "Building Soils for a Secure Future" and the keynote speaker is Jeff Moyer from Rodale Institute.  He is a world renowned expert in organic agriculture.  

Rodale Institute was founded in 1947 by organic pioneer J.I. Rodale to study the link between healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people. He moved from New York City to rural Pennsylvania in the late 1930's where he was able to put his ideas and principles into action.

He learned about organic food-growing concepts and theorized that to preserve and improve our health we must restore and protect the natural health of the soil.  When World War II caused a sudden shortage of nitrogen fertilizer because it was diverted to making munitions, the natural nutrient poverty of the nation's soil was revealed.  Developing and demonstrating practical, non-chemical methods of rebuilding natural soil fertility became Mr.  Rodale's primary goal during World War II.

Rodale Instutite's website contains a wealth of information on topics ranging from herbal gardening and apple tree pruning to organic gardening and maple sugaring.  I hope you will check out their website below.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Freezing Rain and Tomato Decisions

Two days after Christmas and we are having our first big winter storm of the season.  We are sitting right on the freezing line in the state with the temperature hovering around 32 degrees.  To the west of us, they are having high winds, blizzard conditions and icy roads.  To the east of us, it is mostly just rain.  We are in the middle, where rain is mixed with sleet creating a slushy mixture on the ground.  If the temperature sinks into the 20s (as they are bound to do this evening), then everything will be covered with ice.  It is at times like this that I am so thankful that we have a warm house with electricity and running water in which to wait out the storm.  Here's the top of our greenhouse.

Days like today are good days to dig out the seed catalogs we have been getting in the mail for the last few weeks.

Today, Tom is trying to decide what varieties of tomatoes to grow next year.  Here's his list so far.

Well, he doesn't have the best handwriting, but as long as he can read it.....that's what counts!  Ha!

There are several favorites he picks every year, such as Bush Early Girl, Cherokee Purple and Sprite.  We lean heavily toward the heirloom tomatoes, though.

A short lesson on hybrid versus heirloom tomatoes.  Hybrids are a cross between two varieties of tomatoes and require human intervention to produce the seed.  If you save the seed of hybrids, whether it is tomatoes, peppers, beans or whatever, and plant them the next year, you will not get a plant that is like the hybrid plant.  This is because the seeds "segregate" out into plants that resemble the original two plants from which the cross was made.  Heirloom varieties, however, are not the result of crossing two other varieties.  They are pure lines that have been passed down for years and whose seed will produce plants exactly like the parent plants.  

Unfortunately, because our society has graduated away from the farm and most folks do not have home gardens from which to save seed, hundreds of these old heirloom tomatoes have been lost.  Even home gardeners tend to buy hybrid seed because they have been bred to produce better and to be resistant to common disease problems. Seed catalogs have to offer the seeds that their customers want, so they drop heirloom varieties and these are eventually lost to history.  

But, I digress, so back to my original train of thought.  It is very difficult to decide on which tomato varieties to grow because there are literally hundreds of them to choose from.  For example, in addition to your regular red tomatoes, there are white ones.

And there are black ones.

And bi-colored ones.

And orange ones.

See what I mean!  We even have a book on heirloom tomatoes.

Tom likes to try something new every year.  This year he is looking at this tomato.

I can't help but wonder how this tomato got its name.  Someone named Kellogg developed it and because Kellogg is a breakfast cereal brand, they decided to call it this?  Or is it because tomatoes are excellent accompaniments to eggs for breakfast?

Whatever the reason, writing this entry today has really made me hungry and it is almost lunch time.  So, I'm off to find something to eat.....preferably something containing tomatoes.  Chili sounds really good on this cold day and I have all those packages of tomatoes I froze last summer for use in soup and chili.  Yum!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

December Picture Tour

Only two more days until the first day of winter.  So far this fall the weather has been relatively mild and most days have been warm enough to allow for going outside with just a light jacket.  Today is overcast and it looks cold.  But, in reality, it is not that bad and I decided to head outside for a walk around the farm.

I walked past the hoophouse.  Tom put new plastic on it this year and has piled bags of leaves along the sides to keep wind from blowing in along the bottom and for a little extra insulation.  He has all kinds of nice cool-season greens growing inside.  By the way, we did not rake all these leaves ourselves, but have recycled them from curbside.  It's a win-win.  Keeps them out of the landfill while giving us material for our compost making and valuable mulch material.

We still have a bit of garden cleanup to do.  Below is the pepper patch.  We grew several kinds of bell peppers this year, along with pimento, jalapeno, cayenne and poblano peppers.

There are a few green and growing plants in the garden, though.  These are turnips.  They don't mind the cold weather.  Both the leaves and roots of turnips are edible and they are quite nutritious.

Tom always plants cover crops during the winter to help renew the soil and keep it from blowing away in the wind.  Here is a blog I wrote about cover crops a few years ago, Cover Crops, and below is a picture of one of the fields with Austrian winter peas planted as a cover crop.

The peach trees are dormant now.  But, they produced some really good peaches this year.  Peaches are my favorite fruit and I am already looking forward to peach season next year.  But, for now the trees need to rest and renew their strength.  We humans could take a lesson from them.

Sally Dog went with me on my walk.  She enjoyed checking out the compost pile.  Not sure what she found so interesting, but here she is.

There was no activity around the bee hives.  Our beekeeper says the bees will venture out on warm sunny days during the winter, but today they were snug inside their hives.

On that note, I'm getting a little chilled and think I will head on back to my hive and get warmed up!