Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rose Cuttings

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  So, today we drove down to the Cyril  to visit Tom's brother and put flowers on the graves of his parents and grandparents.  His grandparents are buried in a cemetary near Cement. 

While we were there, I was struck by all the beautiful rose bushes that were blooming in that cemetary.  Many of the newer cemetaries won't let people plant flowers and bushes on the graves because it complicates mowing and upkeep.  However, this was an older cemetary with many of the graves dating back into the early 1900s.  It was such a beautiful and peaceful setting.  In addition to the rose bushes, there were many very old cedar trees with trunks 18 inches to 2 feet in diameter.

I decided to take cuttings from some of the rose bushes and see if I could root them.  I'm not into "fancy" roses that take a lot of care.  I figured if these were growing out in an old cemetary with no care, then they were MY kind of roses.

My middle son likes roses and I have watched him take cuttings.  So, I kinda knew what to do.  I borrowed Tom's pocket knife and took cuttings of about 4-5 inches long from the tips of the branches.  Then I put them in a sandwich bag I found in the car and poured a little water in with them to keep them moist until I got them home.  

On the way home, I called my son to see what to do next.  He usually uses 2-liter pop bottles that serve as a "mini" greenhouse to start his cuttings in.  But, since we don't drink much pop, I had to come up with another plan.  I ended up using clear plastic disposable cups that I filled with potting soil and put the cuttings in.   Then I put the cups into gallon zip-lock bags.  Here is the end result:

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these make it and I will have some beautiful rose bushes, like the ones in the cemetary, in a few years.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I've been admiring the many different wild flowers that are blooming around our land.  One that I think is really beautiful is hairy vetch.   It is a vining plant that produces pretty purple flowers.  There is a very nice bunch that is growing on our eastern boundary fence.  Here is a picture of it:
Vetch is a "legume", a plant which has nitrogen fixing bacteria that form nodules on its roots and add nitrogen to the soil.  Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plant growth.  Therefore, vetch is widely used by organic growers in the United States as a winter cover crop, as it is both winter hardy and can fix as much as 200 lb/ acre of atmospheric nitrogen. 

Vetch produces tiny pods that contain several seed each.  These tend to dry up and pop open early in the season, thus dropping the seed  onto the ground.  These in turn come up as volunteer plants the next season.  So, it can turn into a nuisance in a field.  But, Tom uses buckwheat and Austrian winter peas as cover crops, so we've not had that problem. 

I do, however, enjoy the bunches of wild vetch, like in the picture above, that grow here and there.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


One of my favorite plants in my herb garden is sage.   I think of this herb most often in association with Thanksgiving since it is the main seasoning in my recipe for cornbread dressing.   Fresh sage leaves can also be laid on a pork roast before cooking to giving the roast a wonderful flavor.  And, they can be deep fried and used as a garnish for meat.  There are savory bread recipes that use sage as well.  It's culinary uses are many.

Sage is also treasured by many cultures for its healing properties.  The word "sage" derives from the Latin verb salvare, to save.  In the 10th century, the medical school at Salerno, Italy, coined the phrase, "Why should a man die, when he can go to his garden for sage?"

Native Americans mixed sage with bear grease for a salve they claimed would cure skin sores.  They also used it as an infusion for baths and as a sort of leafy, disposable toothbrush.

There are many different varieties of sage:  purple sage, clary sage and golden sage to name a few.  My sage is just the regular garden (common) sage.  It has light purple flowers and becomes somewhat woody after several years.  At that point, I will take cuttings or "layer" the branches to make new plants.  Here is a picture of my plant. 

I dug it up when we moved last year and it spent the winter in our hoop house.  It looked rather  ragged when I set it out in the garden this spring.  But, now it has perked up and is looking good.  And I am looking forward to Thanksgiving and using it in my cornbread dressing!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


One piece of equipment that makes our work easier is our tractor.  We didn't have it the first few years we had our farm.  Then when Tom's mother died, she left us a little bit of money.  Rather than just put it in the bank, I urged Tom to buy a tractor with it.  He looked around at several different brands and finally settled on a Kubota tractor. 

He also bought a roto-tiller implement to go on the back.  It works off the PTO shaft of the tractor and does a great job of working the ground up getting it ready to plant.  He also bought a front-end loader (FEL for short).   Here 's a picture of the tractor (with me driving it).  You can see the roto-tiller on the back and the FEL on the front.
Today I used the FEL to haul some straw bales and compost from one side of the property to where Tom was mulching tomatoes.   The straw bales have been setting outside all winter and were wet and very heavy.  It would have been back-breaking work to move them without the tractor. 

Although we've had the tractor for several years, I'm just now learning to drive it and use the implements.  It takes a little practice to learn how to maneuver things.  But I felt like I made a lot of progress today.   I learned that you have to line up with whatever it is that you are going to pick up with the FEL, lower the FEL just to ground level and slowly drive forward scooping up the object and raising the FEL in one motion.  Here's what the last pile of compost looked like from the driver's seat as I was lining up to scoop it up.

You have to keep the FEL up high while you are driving so you can see where you are going.  Then there is a lever to the right of the steering wheel that you use to raising and lower the FEL bucket and maneuver it to pick things up. 

The tractor has a "clutch" that you have to push down to start it.  But, then you don't use the clutch after that because normally you don't shift gears.  There is one pedal that you push to go forward and another one you push to go backward.  The tractor only has 3 speeds....high, medium and low.  Tom keeps it set on medium most of the time and medium is pretty slow!  But, that's okay because it is a very powerful machine and you don't want to go racing around too fast or you could do some pretty serious damage. 

Here's a picture of the "dash" board.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Our potatoes are looking good, but we have to be vigilant for potato bugs.  The adult bugs themselves don't bother the plants.  It is their larvae that do the damage.   Here is one of the adults that I found on a potato plant last week:
Tom walks through the rows of potatoes every day.  He carries a can of soapy water and brushes any potato bugs he finds into the water.   Another way we fight the potato bugs is to plant the potatoes in a different field every year.  But, we also have a powerful ally in our war against these critters.  The same day I took the picture of the potato bug above, I also found a bunch of the little bugs in the picture below:

I'm sure you recognize the ladybug on the potato leaf.  These are voracious little insects that just love to eat potato bug eggs and larvae.  This little ladybug was so industrious that it took a while for me to catch her still long enough to take her picture.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Herb Garden

I've grown a lot of herbs over the years and had a nicely established herb garden in our backyard when we lived in town.  Most herbs are perennials and take a couple of years to get established after they are planted.  So, last year when we moved out here to our farm, I had to start all over.   Since moving and getting situated took up most of last year, I really didn't have much time to spend on starting an herb garden.  But, Tom built me some raised beds last summer and fall and things are beginning to look hopeful.  Here's a view of the south end of one bed:
In the lower right corner is a clump of spearmint.  The grayish, green clump to the left of that is sage.  Then you see some small green clumps of parsley and some red and green leaf lettuce that I used as filler until the herbs mature and spread out some.  About half way up the bed is a clump of sorrel and some chives.   The north end of this same bed looks like this:

On this end, I have thyme, chives and chocolate mint (top of the picture).  I planted the chocolate mint late last summer right after the bed was built.  It just sort of sat there and did not appear to be growing, but as you can see, it spent most of its time growing underground runners and has gone crazy this spring.  The thyme was planted this spring and should fill in this end of the bed over the next couple of years.

Here is a closer picture of the sorrel: 

Sorrel is not an herb that is commonly used around here.  The name comes from an old French word "surelle" meaning "sour".  And, it is indeed sour to the taste.  Young leaves can be used  in salads and stir-fries.  There are also many delicious recipes for sorrel soup, like the following:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Geothermal - Part 2

After the trenches were dug, then the tubing had to be connected together.  This was done with the aid of a little piece of equipment that heated the ends of the tubing to a very high temperature.  I'm thinking they told me 500 degrees!  Once heated, the ends of the tubing could then be put together with various kinds of connectors.  These 2 guys had the dirty job of having to get down into the hole where all the trenches came together and join the pieces of tubing together.

Once this was done, then they covered the trenches.  As you can see, these take up a lot of space and it will take a while for the ground to settle.

The last step is to bring the tubing inside the house and connect it to the heat pump units.  Our main unit is in our basement.  Here's a picture of the finished system:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Geothermal - Part 1

If you have ever thought of installing a geothermal (ground source) heat pump, this is the year to do it.  The federal goverment is giving you a 30% tax credit.  There is no limit on the geothermal tax credit like there is with installing energy efficient windows and doors where the maximum you can claim is $1500.  Also, if you are a rural electric coop member with Central Rural Electric Coop, then you can get $750/ton back provided you have the required amount of insulation in your attic and walls. 

The whole idea of a geothermal system is to use the constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool your home.  A good site for understanding this concept is this:

In order for this to work, they either drill wells or dig trenches in the ground in which they insert tubing that is filled with water.  The water circulates and picks heat from your home and disperses it into the ground.  The opposite happens in the winter time.  (Honestly, I don't understand the "heating the house in the wintertime" part, but I've been assured that it works.)

Apparently, drilling is more expensive than trenching.  Fortunately, we have a large enough area out in front of the house that we were able to go the trenching route.  Air-O is the contractor we selected for our geothermal system.  They have a big, honking Ditch Witch trencher they brought out to do the trenching.  Here is a picture of it in action. 

Once the trenches were dug, tubing was laid in them.  Notice below there are 2 in each trench, one going in and one coming out.  They form a closed loop that is filled with a mixture of water and anti-freeze.  One tube brings the water mixture  from the house out to the ground where the heat exchange takes place and the other returns the water to the units inside the house.  Also, notice the water in the bottom of the hole.  It has been a very wet year!

Some of the trenching had to be done by hand.  We have buried electric, cable and telephone lines that were marked in advance by "Okie".  Then these 2 guys had to dig the trenches that were going to be in the vicinity of those lines.  I baked them some cookies because they worked so hard!  Way to go guys!!

That's about all I have time for tonight.  I'll finish up with pictures of the finished excavation and of the inside units later this week.  Stay tuned!