Friday, April 30, 2010

Yikes! Snake!

If you work out in your garden much at all, then I'm sure you have run across them.  You pick up a flower pot that has been sitting in one spot a long time or turn over a brick and there it is....a snake!  Why is it that even though I know it is harmless and is more than likely just as startled by me as I am by it, but my first impulse is always to SCREAM.  Most of the snakes I run across are these little, grayish black snakes that sometimes look more like large earthworms than snakes.   Here is a picture of one I found this week.
I'm sure if my daughter-in-law reads this she will more than likely have a fit at the idea that I actually picked this one up and put it in this bucket.  Angela, if it makes you feel any better, I did have leather gloves on!

I've found quite a few of these little snakes out here on the farm and got to wondering what kind they were.  So, I did a little research and found this web site that has a lot of good information about Oklahoma snakes:

If you click on the "Solid" tab and scroll down the page, you find that this is a "Rough Earth" snake.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


The last time I told you about the battle I was having with Johnson Grass.  What I failed to tell you about is my secret weapon.  I'm not sure what this thing is called and can't even remember where I got it.  But, I'm sure it looked like something that might come in handy sometime.  I can't remember ever using it before and had decided some time ago that I had wasted my money buying it.  But I have now decided it is a great weapon in my war against the Johnson grass that has invaded our hoop house.  Here's a picture of it:

Doesn't it look lethal!  Johnson grass grows in the same way that Bermuda grass does in that it sets down roots and forms a central clump.  Then it sends out runners from there (see previous post).  This is handy for hacking down under the central clump to get under it and then using its curvature as leverage to help pull the clump loose.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Devil Grass

Since we don't use herbicides to kill the grass and weeds in our gardens, we have to resort to other means to control weeds.  I do a lot of weeding by hand in the raised beds and cold frames.  These are relatively small areas and it is easy to pull up grass and weeds while I am harvesting.  As long as this is done every few days you can stay ahead of the weeds.  A little bit of time every few days can save major problems later on. 

In larger areas, we use mulches.  Tom picks up bags of leaves that people set out for the trash in the fall.  He used a bunch of these to mulch our potatoes last week.  We also buy wheat straw and use it for mulch.  The problem with that is that it usually has a lot of seed in it and we have volunteer wheat coming up everywhere.

Mulches work very well to eliminate most kinds of weeds.  The 2 exceptions are Bermuda grass and Johnson grass.  I've learned over the years that mulch will help smother the Bermuda grass and if you just keep at it and pull up the blades that come up through the mulch, then you will eventually win the battle.  But, I've never had to deal with Johnson grass until this year, and I've decided this is truly the Devil's grass!! 

Last year during the melee that ensued after we moved out here to the farm, our hoop house was totally neglected!  I knew we had Bermuda grass and Johnson grass that had crept in under the sides and gotten a toe-hold in there.  But, I tried not to think about it and determined that I would deal with it this spring.  Tom is busy with other aspects of the farm and isn't really very good at keeping the weeds under control unless he can till them under with tractor or some other piece of equipment!

Once we get the hoop house cleared out for the summer, I plan to kill most of the grass in there using solarization, a technique that I'll discuss in a future blog entry.  But I still need to manually dig out the grass around the edges and so this weekend I decided I'd spend some time doing just that.  And, that is when I encountered my first Johnson grass.  This stuff is like Bermuda grass on steroids.  

To illustrate how awful it is, I took pictures of some of it.  Pictured below are some runners (above the yard stick) and a piece of root (below the yard stick).  Notice the runners are over a yard long and the root is between 12 and 18 inches.

Not only do the roots go down into the soil a foot or more, they are huge!  The one below is at lease half an inch in diameter.
The grass itself can get 5-6 feet tall.  Stay tuned for updates on my battle with the Devil Grass!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring Mix

In the spring, I like to put together a "spring" mix that consists of lettuce and other greens.  Here is a picture of the spring mix that I took to the market today:
On Friday afternoons, I pick the greens in individual buckets or bags.  Then, I mix them together in a big tub of water.  This helps keep them fresh and seems to keep them from bruising.  After they are mixed, I dump them on a large screen that is framed with boards and allow them to drain.

The mixture varies from week to week, depending on the greens I have available.  The mixture in the above picture consists of red and green leaf lettuce, mache (also called corn salad) , kale, spinach, arugula, mizuna (a mild mustard green) and chive flowers.

Friday Prep for the Market

Fridays are busy days because we are harvesting and getting ready for the farmers market on Saturday morning.  Here's Tom getting some leeks cleaned and ready to go.

It's nice to have a big shade tree we can work under, especially in the summer when it is really hot. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dogs and Cats

No farm is complete without a dog and cat.  We have 3 dogs.  But, the one I want to tell about today is Sally.  

Several years ago, Tom found a black dog laying in the storage shed.  This shed was once used  by a previous owner as a stable for a horse and has large fenced in area attached to it.  The dog was a female, apparently very weak and possibly sick.  The cat (Isabelle) was sitting on top of a straw bale in the shed and appeared to be "watching over" the dog.  Tom gave the dog some food and water and shut the gate to the pen so she could not get out. 

I came over to the farm after work to take a look at the dog.  She had eaten all the food and drank some water.  But when we came into the pen, she slowly slunk around behind a stack of boxes and wouldn't come out.  We gave her some more food and when Tom checked on her the next morning, it was gone too.  This went on for a couple of days with Tom feeding her twice a day.  All this time, the cat never left her side. 

I came over each day and talked to her, slowly gaining her trust to the point that she started wagging her tail when she saw me coming.  She remained wary of Tom, however.  As she gained her strength, I began to walk her around on a leash.  It was obvious that she was not used to a leash, but she did pretty well.  I noticed that her right front leg seemed to be at an odd angle to her body causing her to have a pronounced limp.  I resolved to somehow get her to a veterinarian, get her spayed, vaccinated, checked for heartworms and get that leg examined.  Then, I would find a good home for her.  She actually seemed to be very friendly, eager to please and be petted, and she was gradually warming up to Tom.  By this time the cat had lost interest in the dog and resumed patroling for mice or sunning herself on the roof.

I didn't know how the dog would react to riding in a car, so I first coaxed her into the back seat with some food and just drove her out to the road and back.  This seemed to work pretty well, so I drove her around the section.  The next day I made an appointment to take her to our vet. 

She struggled a little bit with the vet tech when I took her into the vet's office and she realized that I was going to leave her there.   After lunch the vet called to say that she had made it through surgery just fine and that she did not have heartworms.  Thank goodness for that; treating heartworms is expensive.  Then he told me that the reason she limped was that she had a bullet in her shoulder!  The bullet had broken some of the bones in her shoulder and they had healed in such a way to cause her leg to stick out at that odd angle.  He said trying to do surgery to fix it would, most likely, make matters worse.  So, the best thing to do was leave it alone.

I was dumbstruck.  First of all, I cannot understand why anyone would drop a dog or cat off in the country thinking they could survive on their own.   Domesticated dogs don't know how to hunt food for themselves.  Humans bred that trait out of them thousands of years ago.  Also, Coyotes will kill dogs if they encounter them, and there are lots of coyotes out here.  Neither can I understand how anyone could shoot an animal like this.  This dog was obviously not vicious or aggressive and probably just wandered onto someone's property looking for food.   So, their solution was to shoot her.  How inhumane and mean must one be to shoot a poor, innocent creature who is lost and scared?  Thank goodness whoever it was was a bad shot!

At any rate, after hearing this news of her having been shot, I knew I could not subject her to being given away to yet another human who might or might not be good to her.  I think Tom had known for quit some time that we would probably keep the dog.  At any rate, he didn't seem surprised when I asked if we could keep her and said it was okay with him.  So, I named her Sally and here she is:

She is kind of funny looking at first glance. She has big, stand up ears like a German Shephard, but has a body more like a black Lab.  Although, she's not as big as a Lab.  Our son-in-law refers to her as the "bat dog".

One final note . . . .  We have wondered many times how Sally was able to survive out here in the country, alone, having been shot, without food, long enough for her wound to heal and the bones to knit back together as they had.  And, what enticed her to come up to our place and go into the shed where Tom found her?   Could it be the cat found her, maybe even brought her mice or other small animals she caught?  Perhaps Sally then followed her to our shed.  The cat was a good mouser and once I saw Sally eating a dead mouse she found that the cat had left laying around.   Yuck!

I don't know.  But, Sally is a good dog.  Loyal and friendly and  I'm glad we have her.  She is, however, afraid of storms and does not like to go out far from the house in the dark.   I'm sure this is a hold-over from the days and nights she spent out on her own at night and in the rain.  I keep telling her she has nothing to worry about now.  She has found her "forever" home.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Airing Out the Hoophouse

I've talked a lot about our hoophouse.  We are quite proud of it.....mainly that we were able to put it up all by ourselves!  (Well, we did have some help from our son-in-law. )  

We bought it from American Plant Products, a wholesale company in Oklahoma City.  They make a delivery to Stillwater every week, mainly to OSU, I think.  When we need potting soil or pots or plant stakes or whatever, we usually just go down there and pick them up ourselves and use the trip as an excuse to eat at PF Changs or one of our other favorite places.  But, I digress.  The hoophouse was another story; we had to have them deliver it. 

When it arrived, all it consisted of were these huge metal arches.  Tom and our son-in-law set these in concrete, built a frame around the bottom, added 2X4s midway up the sides to attach the plastic to and covered it with these huge sheets of plastic.  Let me tell do not want to try this on a windy day.  You'd be surprised how easily the wind can catch a big sheet of plastic and lift you off the ground!

Last summer, the hail storm punched some holes in the plastic, but this did not seem to hurt much.  We were still able to grow lettuce in there all winter.  Now that the weather is warming up, we have to have a way to cool it off inside.  We do this by rolling up the sides.  See the picture below:
The plastic is attached to a long metal pole that is used to role it up.  It is amazing how easy it is to do this.  I was able to role it up this far alone. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Redbud Time

After the long, hard winter, spring is finally here and the redbuds are blooming.  There is a creek that runs on our neighbor's property, just across the fence from us.  There is a small grove of redbuds along the creek that make me happy every time I look out my back door.
These small trees never cease to amaze me.  During most of the year, they are just non-descript little trees.  Then for about 2-3 weeks in the spring, they burst out of their shell into the most amazing shades of lilac and are just beautiful.

By the way, have you ever wondered why they are called "red" buds when their flowers are this beautiful shade of purple.  It is because the actual "buds" are red during the winter before they bloom.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The lettuce grows.... and grows .... and grows

Early in this blog (January 26), I showed a picture of Tom in the hoop house covering tiny lettuce plants he had set out with a light, airy fabric called a "row cover" to protect the little plants from the cold.  Remember a "hoop house" is not heated like a green house.  The little lettuce plants survived just fine under their cover and on March 7th, I took the following picture:

Now that the weather has warmed up, the lettuce has really started growing.  On March 30, I took this picture.

Believe it or not, it is even bigger now.  We have more lettuce started outside.  It has started getting too hot in the hoop house for cool season crops, like lettuce.  So, we will be clearing this bed of lettuce out over the next couple of weeks.  We will then plant sweet potatoes in this bed in the hoop house.  Sweet potatoes love hot, humid conditions, both of which exist in the hoop house in the summer.

The black flats of pots you see lined up along each side of this bed are parsley plants that we started from seed back in January.  They were some of the first bedding plants to be moved to the hoop house from inside.  Parsley is a biennial and, once established, will survive fairly cold weather.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shade Cloth

We have many of our early season, cold-tolerant crops planted.  These include lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach and mache which I hope to mix together to create a "spring mix" that I will sell at the Farmers Market in a few weeks.   Hot weather usually puts an end to these crops and they quickly go to seed when the weather turns consistently hot.   In order to extend the growing season for these plants, we cover the beds they are in with "shade cloth".

They have mostly been planted in the raised beds that Tom built out of cement blocks last fall and over the winter.  In order to put the shade cloth over them, Tom bought small diameter PVC pipe and curved it into arches that fit over the beds.  Here's a picture of how it looks:

The PVC pipe is held in place by 18 inch pieces of metal rebar that has been driven into the ground about a 10 inches in the holes in the cement blocks.  If you get the right size PVC pipe, it will fit down nicely over the rebar which will keep it very sturdy.  We then attach the shade cloth to the arched pipe with clamps.

In the background, you see some black plastic bags.  These are leaves that we scavenged last fall from around town.  They will come in handy this summer to use for mulch.  Mulch is another topic that I will address later in the summer.