Sunday, February 28, 2010

Soil Comparison

We follow organic and sustainable practices in our farming endeavors and, therefore, do not use chemical fertilizers.  So, we have to look for other ways to amend the soil and give our plants the food they need to grow.  We do this in several ways.   First, Tom plants "cover" plants in the fall that grow over the winter.  These are usually rye and Austian Winter Peas.  He then tills them into the soil in the late winter/early spring to add organic matter. 

He also grows legumes (beans and peas) to add nitrogen to the soil.   All legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root systems.   These leave nitrogen in the soil after they have died.  He rotates legumes with other crops so the crops that follow the legumes will get an extra dose of nitrogen.

We maintain several compost piles that we feed all the exhausted plant material that comes out of the fields at the end of the year.  I keep a compost bucket under my kitchen sink where I put all the vegetable waste from the kitchen and Tom goes by Star Bucks frequently to collect used coffee grounds.  They actually package these up and put in a bin by the door for people to take and use in their gardens.  These can go directly into the soil or can be added to the compost piles.  Finally, we collect bags of leaves that people set out for the trash.  These can be used as compost material or as mulch.

Below, on the left is a picture of a new cold frame that Tom built.  To the right is a picture of one we have used for several years.  Notice the difference in color of the soil.  The one on the left is a reddish color, thanks to the clay soil that is so abundant here on our acreage.  The one on the right is the same clay soil that has been amended over the years with compost.  This has broken up the clay and added a lot of much needed organic matter to the soil. 

The black jugs you see here are just milk jugs that Tom has spay painted black.  These are filled with water and absorb heat during the day.  This heat is released at night to help keep the temperature in the cold frame a little warmer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seed Savers Exchange

A few weeks ago we joined Seed Savers Exchange.  In their own words they  are "a non-profit, member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations."  Their web site is 

You don't have to be a member to order from them.  However, members have many, many more varieties of seeds available to them than just those listed on their web site and catalog.  And, I like the idea of supporting an organization who has a goal of saving heirloom seeds.  It is sad to think that many of the varieties of vegetables that our ancestors brought to this country are being lost as seed companies shift to more profitable hybrid varieties.

Heirloom varieties are "open pollinated" which means if you save their seeds and plant them, then the plants that emerge will be exactly like their parents.  Hybrids, however, have been developed by crossing 2 different varieties.  So, if you save the seed of hybrid varieties and plant them, then they will "segregate" out into the varieties from which they were crossed. 

Today, I order several unusual items from Seed Savers.  First is a Sakata Sweet Melon.  The online catalog says this melon is a small golden yellow, softball- sized melon that has crisp, refreshingly sweet flesh and that it has been grown in the East for centuries and is now just starting to appear in American markets.   Here's a picture of it. 

The next unusual thing I ordered is a type of cucumber called Crystal Apple.  This cucumber is originally from New Zealand and is apple shaped when mature. It is suppose to be very tender with creamy white skin, have mild flavor, be great for fresh eating and very prolific.  Here it is:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Continuing Education

It is raining yet again!  Is it ever going to dry up enough for us to get any work done in the fields?   Oh, well...... we try to make the most of the down time that we have in the winter.  Rainy days can be put to good use as you can see below.

Tom has been a frequent visitor to both the OSU and Stillwater Public libraries the last few months.  He has found some good books on organic and sustainable methods of farming.  Here he is with "Lizzy", our beagle.  She is a stray that adopted us several years ago.  Tom is not actually reading to her....she just thinks that is her chair and she does not understand why Tom is sitting in it.

Here are a few of the books Tom has checked out to read this winter.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Arugula is Up

It is amazing how quickly some seeds sprout and grow while others take up to 3 weeks.  The arugula that I planted on Monday is already up and going strong.  However, we don't expect to see the parsley for a couple of more weeks.  Here's the arugula:

In a couple of weeks these little plants should be ready to set out in one of our cold frames or in the hoop house.  This time of year is so exciting when, with spring just around the corner,  and we are beginning to start seeds and plan what and where we are going to plant things.  I know we have more winter weather ahead, but today was sunny and pleasant and you could tell that the worst of the winter is past.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seed-Starting Central

Today, Tom started a couple of trays of parsley (both flat leaf and curly leaf).  Supposedly, the flat leaf has more flavor and is prized by chefs, but I can't tell any difference.  We will sell a lot of potted parsley plants at the farmers market this spring.  But, I will plant a lot of it in my herb garden and sell it in fresh cut form later in the summer.  Parsley seeds take a long time to germinate.  So, we needed to get these started early before we get into starting tomatoes and peppers.

I started some arugula and kale.  Arugula is also known as rocket or roquette and is popular in Italian cuisine.  It has quite a "bite" and is wonderful in salads.  Like most salad greens, Arugula is very low in calories and is high in vitamins A and C.  Kale has double your daily beta-carotene and 6 times of the recommended amount of vitamin K.  It’s also got plenty of vitamin C, calcium and potassium.  Kale can be used in salads when young, but also is good sauteed and cooked in soups.  Below we have arugula pictured on the left and Red Russian Kale (the variety I have) pictured on the right.

Most of the time today was spent getting organized for the season.  Below you can see our basic set-up.....a card table and some selves hung with fluorescent lights.  This is located in our small basement.  The lights are on timers.  Right now we are concentrating on cool-season vegetables; things that we can set out before the last frost date which on average is April 15 here.  In March we will start on tomatoes and peppers and these shelves will be full.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wildlife Camera

It is hard to believe that we have been living here on our farm for almost 3 years! I grew up in the "woods" in southern Arkansas and was looking forward to being back in the "country" after living in town for 25 years. Granted the forests of southern Arkansas and the open country of northern Oklahoma are quite different. But country is country and I'll take either one.

I don't think I fully appreciated the quiet beauty that country living offers back when I was growing up. So, I was excited about moving out here to the farm, and I had visions of looking out our windows to see raccoon, coyotes, deer and all sorts of wildlife everyday. Turns out we don't see too much wildlife, but see "signs" of where they have been, like deer tracks in the garden and holes dug in the yard by armadillos during the night. We occasionally hear coyotes, but never see them.

Not to be outdone, I decided we needed a wildlife camera. So, for my Christmas present that first year we lived here, Tom bought me a Moultrie wildlife camera. Here is a picture of it.

It is housed in a weatherproof box that can be left outside day and night and in all kinds of weather. It is motion-activated and has an infra-red flash so as not to scare the animals away at night. I've published a lot of pictures taken by the camera on this blog. So, you know how much fun we've had with it.

At first, we just hung it on a tree to see what animals came by. There were a lot pictures of birds and squirrels during the day, but not much at night. Then Tom decided to buy some "deer corn" and focus the camera on it. That did the trick and we started capturing pictures of raccoon, rabbits, possums, deer, our cat and an occasional coyote.

I have a feeling we may have to repair or replace the camera in the coming months. It has an LED screen you use to set the time, date, etc. But, it appears that this screen is going bad. Not surprising considering that it suffered through temperatures ranging from -27 degrees last winter to 110 degrees this past summer. From what I have read, trying to fix the camera may be more expensive than just buying a new one. For now, it is still taking pretty good pictures. So, I think we'll take a "wait and see" approach.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Leeks in the Making

You can't have Leek and Potato Soup without leeks.  Leeks are in the allium family and look like green onions on steroids.  They taste like a mild onion but never make a bulb.  The unfortunate thing about leeks is that they take SO LONG to mature.  If you waited until you could sow the seed outside, you wouldn't have mature leeks until well into the fall.  For this reason, Tom starts them in trays under lights and then transplants them into the garden early in the spring.  Below you can see the baby leeks that he sowed several weeks ago.  They are doing nicely and will be ready to transplant into the garden in March.  What we really, really need right now is for it to stop raining/snowing and let the ground dry out so we can get in there and start planting next month. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Winter Farmers Market

Our farmers market is fortunate to be able to meet in the wintertime due to the generosity of Northern Oklahoma College letting us use their facilities which are located on the OSU campus.  We have vendors selling eggs, cheese, bread, beef, buffalo and goat meat, fresh salsa, canned goods, herbs and a few cool season crops, such as lettuce, green onions and kale.  Today we had lettuce, green onions and sunflower sprouts.  It was a busy day and we were sold out by 11:00.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sunflower Sprouts

We are always looking for new products to take to the Farmers Market, especially in the winter.  So, I am trying something new that I will have at the market on Saturday, Feb 6 . . . . . Sunflower Sprouts!  Tom found a book at the library on growing sprouts.  There are lots of different kinds of seeds you can sprout.  I decided to try sprouting sunflower seed since we already have a whole bag of them that we are feeding  the birds.

The process is fairly easy.  You take 2 cups of sunflower seed and soak them in water over night in a quart jar.  The next morning you drain the water off and set them on the kitchen counter.  You then rinse them twice a day for 3-4 days until they start to pop open.  At this point you spread them out onto a tray to which moist potting soil has been added.  Turn another tray upside down on them and protect them from light for another 3-4 days.  By this time they should be putting roots down into the soil and you can uncover them and set them under a light.  After another couple of days they are ready to cut and use in salads.  Here is a picture of our sprouts:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Right in Style

Today saw significant melting of our second big snow storm of the winter.  We'd barely begun to dry out from the first one when this one arrived.  The ground is soggy and there is mud everywhere.  Tom has a pair of knee-high rubber boots that he wears when he goes out, but I didn't have anything that would remotely keep my feet dry if I were to try to walk out to the garden and herb bed.

So, on the way home from work today I decided to stop by Atwoods to see about getting a pair of rubber boots for myself.  Well, apparently the person who orders rubber boots for Atwoods thinks that only MEN wear them.  I looked through 2 shelves of knee-high rubber boots and the smallest pair I found was a men's size 8.  I need a women's size 6.5.  So, I went to plan B and started looking for anything that would keep the mud off my feet.  I ended up buying a pair of Tingley "Weather-Tuff Stretch Rubber Overshoes". 

I was somewhat skeptical as to whether these would really work until I tried them on.  Looks like they might.  What do you think?

Monday, February 1, 2010

PVC Hoophouse

I mentioned in my post titled "How we got our name" that we had built a small hoophouse made of PVC pipe and plastic in our back yard when we lived in town.  I'd like to elaborate on this in case any of our readers want to do the same. 

The first thing you should know is that your taxes will go up!  The tax assessor apparently looks at aerial pictures of your backyard to determine if any permanent structures such as storage buildings have been added.  We had NO idea that this PVC pipe and plastic hoophouse in any way qualified as "permanent".  But, it did and our taxes went up something like $15 per year.  Okay, so that is not that much.  However, I was surprised to know that "big brother" was watching us!

Next, there are lots of free plans on the internet...just search for "pvc pipe greenhouse plans".  We embellished ours somewhat by adding some wood framing to make it sturdier.  There are some things the free plans may not tell you.  One is that PVC pipe and plastic don't like each other.  They react chemically so that the plastic disintergrates after a few months every where that it touches the PVC pipe.  We learned this the hard way.

We tried a couple of things to keep this from happening.  First was to get some of that foam pipe insulation and put over the pipe.  That worked okay, but the foam did not hold up very well in the hot Oklahoma sun and pretty much fell apart after the first summer.  The next thing we tried was more successful and that was to paint the PVC pipe.  Since we had to replace the plastic anyway after it lost its battle with the PVC pipe, we painted the pipe before we put new plastic on.  We had no problems after that.

This is a picture of our "homemade" hoophouse that we built in our backyard when we lived in town.