Monday, March 28, 2011

Winter Cover Crops

During the winter, Tom plants "cover crops" on the fields.  Cover crops serve two purposes.  First, they keep the soil from blowing away in the wind which is definitely a problem here in Oklahoma.   And, second, they add nutrients to the soil.  Here is a picture of one of our fields where Tom planted a cover crop this winter.

There are actually 2 different cover crops interplanted on this field, rye and Austrian winter peas.   The rye is a cereal grain that is suppose to secrete a substance that inhibits the growth of certain weeds and can also help in nematode control.  The Austrian winter peas are "legumes" whose roots contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria that add nitrogen to the soil.

Here is a close-up picture where you can see both types of plants.  There is some henbit in there, too.  Just forget that is there.  Obviously, THAT is not one of the winter weeds that rye is suppose to kill!

In the early spring, Tom tills the cover crops under.  You can see an example of this in the top picture.  The solid green in the foreground is the part of the cover crop that has not been tilled.  Then there is a strip of land where he has run the roto-tiller over a section of the cover crop.  He does this 3-4 weeks before he plans to plant the field.  This gives the plant material time to disintergrate somewhat so it does not interfere with the planting process.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mulching to Kill Grass

All the gardens I have ever had have "evolved" over time.  Rather having a plan, I tend to pick a spot for the garden and dig up an area, starting small and enlarging it each year.  Sigh.  I know this goes against all the garden books and magazines, but that is just the way I work best.  It is difficult for me to "imagine" what something is going to look like until I actually get the area worked up and put plants in it.  If something doesn't work out, then I can always dig it up and put it somewhere else!

To me that is the great thing about gardening.  It is like an oil painting.  I've heard that underneath certain paintings by some of the great artists, they have discovered areas that have been painted over.  So, perhaps even da Vinci and Rembrandt made mistakes or changed their minds and had to redo their works.

Anyway, to get to the point, this past weekend, my garden experienced another evolution.  There is an area between the raised beds that is covered in grass and is difficult to get to with the riding lawnmower.  So, we have to use the push mower to mow it and it just did not get mowed as often as was needed. 

All winter, I pondered what to do about this area and decided to try to smother the grass out with mulch and newspaper.   Here is what it looked like about a fourth of the way into the project.

I had a stack of newspapers I'd saved over the winter.  And, Tom had some bags of leaves he collected last fall that he was willing to donate.  I laid a layer of newspapers 5 - 6 papers thick on the ground making sure that I overlapped them at least 6 inches.  Then I dumped bags of leaves on top of the papers.

I figured out pretty quickly that I could only work a small area at a time.  Otherwise, the papers would blow away, even with just a light breeze, like this:

I used bricks and whatever I could find to weight the papers down to keep them from blowing.  It took a couple of hours and here is the finished project.

There is still a small strip at the far end I want to cover with mulch and I haven't quite figured out what to do as an edging between where the leaves end and the grass begins.  But, that is something I can ponder on this week and work on next weekend. 

Like I said.....a garden is a work of art in progress.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Tribute to Kelsey Dog

This blog is mostly about our farming adventures, as well as my own attempts at recycling and sustainable living.  Since we have pets (2 dogs and a cat currently), I sometimes include stories about them, too.  They provide us with many hours of companionship and enjoyment.  Maybe they fill a hole left in our lives when our kids grew up and left home.  At any rate, they are very much a part of our lives.

About 6 months ago, one of our older dogs, Kelsey, died.  She had been having health problems for a year or so and I knew it was time to let her go, but it was difficult, none the less.  Shortly after she died, I wrote this tribute to her that I have decided to share here because I'm sure others have gone through the loss of a pet and have felt the same way.  Here is a picture of Kelsey and her story follows.

The first time I saw her was at our local Humane Society. It was summer, probably June or July, and she was lying on the cement floor of the kennel panting. She was a long-haired, matted mess of a dog, and you could tell she was hot and miserable.

I was there because I had decided to become a volunteer. I was in my late 40s. My kids were all grown and this seemed like the perfect time to volunteer for a worthy cause.
So, here I was and here was this dog. In those days, the shelter was terribly overcrowded. I was supposed to take the dogs out and walk them and this dog certainly looked like she could use a walk. So, I put the leash on her and off we went. You could tell that she was happy and thankful to be out of the pen. But, she didn’t pull and strain on the leash like most of the dogs. She bounced around and kept looking back at me, waiting for me and seeming to enjoy my company.

I went back a couple of times that week. Each time I checked in on her and took her for a walk. I worried that she would not be adopted because she looked so bad and smelled even worse. Finally, I asked the shelter manager if there was any way we could get her cleaned up and groomed. He said there was a groomer in town who would groom the dogs for free; we just had to find transportation to take them there. I told him I would be happy to take her to the groomer. So, he arranged an appointment and I took her to be groomed.

When I went back to get her, I could not believe my eyes. Here was this beautiful dog with long silky hair that smelled wonderful. It was getting late and the shelter would be closing soon, so I used that as an excuse to take her home with me to spend the night. I insisted to myself that I would take her back to the shelter the next day. And I did.

However, they had already placed another dog in the run where she had been. So, I had to leave her in one that did not have access to the outside. I hated to leave her there again as she looked at me with those big brown eyes. I knew it was only a matter of a few days until she would be a dirty, smelly mess again.

I can’t remember how long it was before I went back to check on her. It may have only been a couple of hours, but for sure it was less than 24. At any rate, I took her out of the kennel and into the shelter office. The manager asked if I was bringing her back. I told him NO that there had been a complication. The complication being that I wanted to adopt her. He wasn’t going to charge me the full adoption fee, but I insisted on paying it because they needed the money and she was definitely worth it.

Her name was Kelsey, or at least that is the name they had given her at the shelter, and it never occurred to me to change it. So, Kelsey she was. Her background was sketchy. She was a young dog, probably less than a year old.  She was a mixed breed, but a little research quickly revealed that she was “mostly” Keeshond, thus the long hair and the spectacles around her eyes.

She came into a household that already had 2 other dogs. Lucy Dog, a little rat terrier mix, ruled the roost. She was a stray who had followed our son home from school one day, won our hearts and stayed. And, Cardinal, another shelter dog we had volunteered to foster, and who we eventually adopted as well.

Kelsey was the youngest one of the dogs and had the most energy. She used to lie under the wind-chime and chase the reflections that it cast on the ground in the sunlight. We found that she would chase flashlight beams as well. She never quite knew what to do when she actually caught the light, but she liked to play these games for a couple of years until I guess she outgrew it.

Our lives get busy, life goes along and slowly slips by. You begin to notice things about your dogs that make you realize they are aging …. a graying of hair around the muzzle, they no longer are able to jump up on the bed or the couch, they need help getting in and out of the car. You wonder how this has happened without you being aware of it. Where has the time gone?

Kelsey died last week. She was 13 or 14 as far as we could tell. Lucy and Cardinal preceded her in death.  But, Kelsey’s death kind of marks the end of an era. The “era” being the time of my life between when my kids left home and the age at which I am beginning to think about retirement.  Maybe this is what is making Kelsey’s death so hard for me to accept, the fact that with this dog’s passing, I see my own life slipping by as well.

I know there are people who would not understand my sadness at losing Kelsey. I also know that these people have missed one of God’s special gifts to humankind, the gift of loving and being loved by a pet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Start Your Own Seeds

You don't have to be a professional farmer to start your own tomato and pepper plants.  It is easy.  Here's how you do it.

1)  Save one of those clear plastic boxes like cherry tomatos come in at the grocery store.

2)  Cut some newspaper to fit the box.  I use 2 layers of newspaper in each box.  Trim the corners and cut slits in them so they will not bunch up in the corners.

3)  Put the liner in the box.

4)  Add potting soil to the box and sprinkle a package of seed on top.  Be sure to make a tag to identify the seeds. 

5) Cover the seed with a little bit more potting soil and water well.  Then, close the lid, cut a slit in it for the tag and place the box on a heating mat under a light.

6)  After a few days you will see tiny plants poking their heads up through the soil. 

Once the plants begin to get their second set of leaves, you can gently separate them and plant them in larger pots.  Then, it is just a matter of keeping them watered and watching them grow!