Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Garden Bench

My sister and her husband built a new house several years ago.  One day when the house was almost finished, they were showing me around the construction site and I spied a couple of large white plastic, PVC-type pipes that were in the throw-away pile.  I wasn't sure what I could do with these, but they definitely looked like they might be good for something.  So, I took them home.

I can't remember it was me or Tom who came up with the idea to use them to build a garden bench.  It turned out to be a really simple structure and very easy to make.  Here's a picture of the completed bench.

The only tricky part was how to get the seat to stay on it without sliding off.  Here's how we did it

The seat basically consistes of 2 boards nailed to cross pieces made of 2X4s cut just short enough that they fit down into the openings in the pipes.  Once the seat is fitted onto the pipes, it creates a surprisingly sturdy bench.  And, it is easy to move around.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pineapple Sage and Hummingbirds

I couldn't resist checking out the herb plants at Atwoods this week and came away with 2 new ones, pineapple sage and chamomile.   I've had chamomile before.  It is famous for the wonderful herbal tea that can be made from its flowers.  I'll elaborate on chamomile a little more next time.  It's the pineapple sage that I am most excited about. 

Most sages are perennials.  I already have a perennial variety that makes a small shrub and is the typical sage you think of using in stuffing at Thanksgiving.  Pineapple sage, however, is a only "half-hardy", meaning in Oklahoma it won't survive the winter outside. True to its name, it does have a wonderful pineapple smell and I think will make a great tea.  But, better than that it is supposed to produce scarlet flowers that will attract hummingbirds!  Here is a picture.

I really got into feeding hummingbirds last summer.  Recall that we had only lived here on the farm about 3 months at that time.  But, one afternoon I was out on the south patio, when a hummingbird flew up right in front of me and basically asked me where the feeder was.  I had a feeder at our old house and remembered unpacking it and putting it somewhere.  Uh...where had I put it?  Finally, I found it, cleaned it up and made some sugar water for it.  You should never put red food coloring in your hummer feeders.  It is bad for the birds and the color that is on the feeder itself is all that is needed to attract them.

Before I knew it I was having to fill the feeder daily and finally bought another larger one to supplement it.  There were times when there were 4 -5 birds feeding at the same time, but the most I was able to photograph at one time was 3.  See below.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It is important for anyone who works out in the sun to take precautions.....long sleeves, sun screen and a hat. Tom is a red-head. Uh...that is WAS a red head until he turned gray the last few years. At any rate, he still has the sensitive skin that usually accompanies red hair and, therefore, takes these precautions seriously.

Several years ago my sister gave him a hat for Christmas. It was a sturdy cloth hat with a wide brim and Tom wore it all the time. Ever so often, it would get dirty and stained with sweat. That never seemed to bother him.   But, then I'd notice how bad it had become and would ask him, "You didn't wear THAT to town, did you?!!"  And, I would throw it in the washing machine and hang it in the sun to dry. Over the years, after many washings, it grew pretty ragged and, for Christmas, I "hinted" to the kids that he needed a new one. Sure enough, he was presented with a brand new (clean and unstained) hat.  See old hat and new hat comparison below.

I think he misses his old hat and he still wears it around the farm occasionally, but at least now he has a new one to wear to town without embarrassing me!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Tom has never taken much of an interest in my herb garden until the past few months.  Maybe it was all the work he did making those raised beds out of cement blocks that has spurred his interest.  At any rate, he bought some borage seed and planted it in plug trays.  The seedlings are now about 1.5 inches tall.  I think the real reason that he selected borage is because the flowers are edible and are good to mix into salads.

In the past, I have grown several different kinds of lettuce and salad greens that I mixed together to sell as "spring mix".  This was a highly popular item with our farmers market customers.  Last year, however, was kind of a bust in this area because I was not able to handle moving AND taking care of my salad greens.  So, most of them perished due to neglect.  Tom, I think, is determined to help me out this year and has planted some arugula, kale, beet greens, and several kinds of lettuce in addition to starting these borage seedlings. 

So, I have been reading about borage.  If you want to know what it looks like, here is a picture.  Notice the lovely, cheerful blue flowers.

However, from what I am learning about borage, borage has other uses as well as its flowers.  Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states that borage "brings joy as a flavoring in foods" and that "it has a crisp cucumber flavor".  The leaves can be used raw, steamed or sauteed like spinach.  The stems can be peeled, chopped and used like celery.  The flowers  can be candied and used as decorations for pastries.

Several sources I read mentioned borage being used as a cure for melancholy and to aid courage.  One said that borage "brings peace to the home".  Whether or not those things are true, the fact that borage is almost constantly in bloom makes it very attractive for bees and other pollinating insects (which are very important to a garden).   So, I think Tom made a good choice and I'm looking forward to growing it and enjoying those beautiful little blue flowers in my garden.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Potatoes and Pepper Transplants

Activity is really picking up these days.  There are hardly enough hours in the day to get things done.  Tom planted potatoes today.  His dad always planted potatoes on St. Patrick's Day.  So, he is following the tradition.

Another thing that needs doing is the peppers that I planted the last weekend in February (and many of the tomatos that were planted a few days later) are ready for tranplanting.  (See March 3rd blog entry)  Tom and I  have both spent a lot of time the last few days transplanting the little plants from the clear plastic boxes into the small pots where they will remain until they are sold or planted in the field.  This is where we run out of room.  We start with a small box of plants like this:
Each plant then gets transplanted into a pot.  The pots are put into flats like this:

Keep in mind that each clear plastic box of plants will produce 2 - 3 flats.  The picture below shows just the tomato plants we have left to do.  We have already transplanted about this many pepper plants.

There are 10 boxes in this picture.  YIKES!!  It is way too cold to put the plants out in the hoop house yet.   There is a small room at the end of our garage that has cabinets along 2 walls where Tom has rigged up lights and set some of the flats.  He has also set up several card tables and borrowed some lamps from the house.  He has flats sitting on every available inch of space.  So far, I have refused to allow the kitchen counter to be used for this purpose!  But not sure how much longer I can hold out.  HELP!!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


We always had a small compost pile in our back yard when we lived in town.  It was nothing fancy.  Just a semi-circle of wire held up with t-posts and tucked back between some redbud trees.  All my kitchen waste, along with garden debrie, leaves and grass clippings went into the pile.   It is amazing how much rich, black compost we were able to generate each year from this backyard setup. 

When we moved and were getting the house ready to sell, we obviously had to dismantle the compost pile.   Unfortunately, not many house buyers want a compost pile.   We pulled up the t-posts, rolled up the wire and hauled it all over to the farm.  What was left was a tall mound of finished compost and partially composted material.  My first thought was to spread it out over the yard, but I couldn't bear to see such good compost go to waste.  So, we ended up shoveling it into 5-gallon buckets and hauling it over here to the farm.  It was put to good use on the new garden beds here which are in desperate need to organic matter since a lot of the soil here is clay.

Tom has built some new compost piles here at the farm, much bigger than the one we had in town.  Here's a picture of 3 he has built that are side-by-side so that he can turn one into the other easily.

He got industrious today and turned the the one on the right into the middle one.

Before long he had a couple of helpers:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Herbs and Aloe

The main things that I contribute to our Farmers Market offerings are herb plants and fresh cut herbs.  I mentioned in my blog on "Spring Weather" that I was working on getting a new herb garden started here at Windy Acres.  But, that is going to take a while, so Tom suggested that I take some aloe  to the Farmers Market. 

Usually, we think about herbs only in terms of cooking with them.  But there are many herbs that have non-culinary uses as well.  In fact, aloe is listed in Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs as having medicinal, ornamental and cosmetic uses.  It is famous as a burn remedy.  But, Rodale says that Cleopatra massaged fresh aloe gel into her skin every day and that Josephine, wife of Napoleon, used a lotion prepared of milk and aloe gel.

Our aloe came from Tom's mother.  She died a couple of years ago at the age of 92.  I knew her for 40 years and over that period of time I grew to admire, respect and love her.  She had an enclosed back "porch" that had several sunny windows.  It was the perfect spot for house plants and she always had a large pot of aloe back there.  Before she died, she passed on many of her plants to me, including her aloe.

Last fall, Tom divided the aloe into smaller pots and has been growing it under lights this winter.  I will be passing some of these on to my daughter and daughters-in-law as a tribute to my mother-in-law and will be taking some to the market this spring.  Whoever buys this aloe will be getting a special plant indeed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


When I was out in the field taking the picture of Tom's pea fence (see previous blog entry), I noticed that our garlic had grown tall enough you could see it through the mulch.  We plant garlic in October, mulch it to protect it for the winter and harvest it in June.

There are a lot of different types of garlic and, to a garlic novice, like me, they seem awfully complicated.  For example, there are porcelains, rocamboles, artichokes, Asiatics, turbans and Creoles.  Some of these are soft-necked and some of these are hard-necked.  The soft-necked types can be "braided" into ropes of garlic.  Some of the varieties are hot and some are mild. 

Last year, we grew a variety called Romanian Red, a porcelain type, that the catalog said was "hot and pungent with a healthy, long lasting bite".   I was afraid that nobody would want to buy something that strayed so far from what we are used to buying in the grocery store.  But, we found that it was the first to sell out last summer at the farmers market.  So, we made sure to order more Romanian Red for this year.  We also have Creole Red, Persian Star, German Extra Hardy, Ichellium Red and Elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic believe it or not!).  I'm not sure what variety is pictured below, but here is what the garlic looks like at this point.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Weather

It was a beautiful, spring-like weekend and we made the most of it gardenwise.  I got the tomato seeds started.  I think there were 13 varieties in all.  I used the same process to start them that I used to start the pepper seeds last weekend.  See the post on "Pepper Planting" to read about that process.  (BTW - The pepper plants are all up now.) 

I also did some work on my new herb beds that I am trying to get established.  At our house in town, I had the usual culinary herbs: thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, fennel and the like.  These are all perennials and come back year after year.  I transplanted as many of these as I could into pots and brought them with me when we moved.  However, I was so overwhelmed with moving and getting settled that I was unable to get a new herb garden going here at the farm before winter set in.  So, they over-wintered in pots in our hoophouse.   Last fall, Tom built several raised beds for me and now I've started working on getting the herbs transplanted into their new home. 

Tom started planting onions.  We usually buy the small onion plants that are bundled together in bunches to set out.   You see these for sale at various places around town, even the grocery stores.  However, we bought a crate of them in OKC last weekend.  I'm not sure how many he got planted, but it will likely take him a couple of weeks to get them all set out.  He also planted Dwarf Gray Sugar Peas and erected a "pea" fence for them to climb on.  We've not had real good luck with snow peas and sugar snap peas in the past.  I'm hoping that we got them planted early enough this year and that the weather cooperates so we have a nice crop this year.

Here's Tom's "pea" fence:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pepper Planting

We grow our own tomato and pepper plants from seed.  For one thing, it is cheaper.  But, it also gives us access to varieties that we cannot buy from local nurseries.  This past weekend I started our pepper plants for the season.  If all goes well, we will sell about half of these to our customers at our local farmers' market. 

The varieties of peppers that I started include the usual ones:  California Wonder (green) bells, Cayenne, sweet banana, jalapeno and Ahaheim.  However, I also started Golden California Wonder (a beautiful yellow bell pepper), an orange bell pepper, miniature yellow and red bell peppers and Blushing Beauty (a bell pepper that starts out an ivory color and then "blushes" to light red and orange-red and finally to deep scarlet). 

Finally, I started a couple of sweet peppers that I have never tried before.  I ordered these from Seed Savers Exchange (see earlier post).  They are "Healthy" and "Napolean".  Healthy is a Russian pepper with "sweet wedged-shaped fruits, 2½" at the shoulder by 4" long, ripening from yellow to orange to red".   And Napolean that is "mild as an apple. Fruit about 8" long and 4" in circumference, standing upright until they get so heavy they sometimes droop."  How could I possibly resist?

Anyway, here is a picture of the way I started the peppers. 

The clear plastic boxes are the boxes that we put blackberries in to sell. I discovered last year that these make excellent seed starting boxes. I cut newspaper to fit in them and fill them with seed starting medium. Then I sprinkle the seed over the top of the soil, cover the seed with a shallow layer of potting soil, water well and close the lid. Most important is to label them correctly. I cut a slit in the lid and insert a plant stake on which I have written the variety, date and seed company from which the seed came. These boxes are then place on a heated seed starting mat under lights until they germinate. After germination, they can be taken off the heated mat.  Then it is just a waiting game of keeping them under lights and watered until the plants are big enough to transplant. 

I'll keep you updated on the progress of the peppers as we go along.  This coming weekend I need to get the tomato seeds started.   Fun!  Fun!