Sunday, January 26, 2020

Winter gardening at the Urban Ranch

The New Year is already slipping away. As we rush toward February things are happening in the New year. New eye clarity from cataract removal, new kitchen furniture, and garden plans started.

It's an amazing thing to have clear vision again. The dim world creeped up on me without my knowing that it did. About three years ago during a routine Medicare wellness check, I discovered that I couldn't see out of the left eye. Yeah, couldn't even see the Big E on the eye chart.  Yup, nothing but a big white blotch. So I struggled along for another two years before it became so bad that driving was a little dicey. I probably should have had them removed long before I did but I'm a typical guy and drag my feet on doctor stuff longer than I should hoping that it won't get any worse. So now that the dingy sight has been corrected every one looks so much more beautiful and handsome. Colors are ever so much more right and beautiful. In fact I have to re-learn colors because I've been so used to seeing them through a fog that I've forgotten exactly what they're supposed to look like. 

In the last blog post I talked about the new kitchen look with new paint on the wall and new furniture. When I got my new eye vision, the wall color looked so different that I thought it was lavender. I had my daughter take a look and she said, "No Dad it's blue just like you thought." So now I really can't trust my colors until I get used to seeing the true colors again. The only change since the last post is a 6 mil plastic cover over the table, the runner, and mats. That way I can just wipe down the table and not worry about having to clean the runner or mats. It works great. I picked up that tip from my sister in Nevada. She always has such a beautiful table decorated for each holiday and covered with a clear plastic cover. 

Gardening has started in the basement seed starting station area. In the gardening world there are seed trays with cell inserts to fill with seed starting mix in order to grow plants. For the deep rooted plants like onions there is what is called a root trainer. The trainer cells are about $12 for 32 of them.

As you can see the trainer hinges open for easy access to the root ball and the plant can be taken out to put in the ground or a bigger pot. Nice concept but expensive. Of course my brain thinks about ways to improve or do things myself that would be cheaper. So my solution involves PVC pipe. A ten foot stick of PVC costs less than $4 and a roll of duct tape costs about the same.
The first step in making my own trainers was to split the PVC pipe length wise. The next step was to put duct tape around the split pipe with the space of a saw blade between the wraps. The final step was to cut the pipe into 2 inch sections which just happen to be the width of the duct tape.

When it's time to put the plant into the ground or pot it up into a bigger pot, the tape is cut through one side of the tape and the plant root ball is fully exposed for easy removal. The root trainer can be reused almost indefinitely with minimum cleanup and a small piece of tape to close up the pipe section. The beauty of these home made trainers is that they can be any diameter from 1/2 inch to 6 inch and any depth.

Onions are going into the tray of root trainers but won't be planted until Valentine's day. It takes about three months of growing inside before the onion plants can be set out in the soil outside. They can be set out earlier than the last frost date of May 15th and light frosts won't kill them but in my experience the plants just kind of sit there and shiver until the soil warms up. So they might as well stay inside and continue to put on some healthy weight.


I've been doing some research on growing vegetables in my basement during the winter months. This is the experiment of lettuce. These are 12 ounce cups. There are two cups stacked inside each other. The inside cup has holes in the bottom and soil in the cup. Seeds are planted and every day the inside cup is pulled out of the outside cup to allow about a half inch of water to be poured into the cup. When the soil cup with holes is then set back into the cup with water, it wicks the water up through soil to the top of the soil cup to keep the seeds moist. When the plants start growing, about once a week the water will have a bit of liquid fertilizer is added. According to my research, the lettuce plants can be harvested four to six times before replanting is necessary. So it gives me something to do in the winter to get my hands in the dirt.

So that's what I've been doing .... well between shoveling snow and working on Valentine's cards that is. What's going on in your part of the world.



Monday, January 6, 2020

The year 2020 has begun

The New Year has started and as always great anticipation of all that will be accomplished roams around in my head. The list of potential projects for the year increases in length every day. As I look through the window to the outside, visions of what it will look like by mid-summer dance through my thoughts. Some how as the year grows older reality sets in and energy wanes away. But for now I will enjoy the thoughts of accomplishment with joy and wild abandon. The mind never grows old and never gets tired. So it could happen and that's what I'm hanging on to for now.

This is the before picture of the wall that was riddled with nicks, scratches, and gouges from the 35 years of living. This was the décor from my wife's design from probably at least 25 years ago. Some of the things I'll reuse but many will not be used. I'm trying to make it my design. So we will how that goes.

The first thing was to remove the décor and give the wall a good wash. Splatters from 25 years were a challenge to scrub off in some spots. Then the patching of the spots that were damaged came next. Sanding and washing again was required before the painting completed the prep. Two coats of Kiltz primer and two coats of Heavenly Blue renewed the wall's life.

The room really isn't that dark but in order to bring out the heavenly blue color the artificial lights have to be off. I did reuse the spice cabinet and actually put a good number of spices in the cabinet. It's not only a decoration but functional.  The switch and plug covers are new and almost perfectly match the trim. I love it when a plan comes together. I'm not sure what else will go on the wall but it will come to me in time. I'm not in a hurry about it.

The kitchen has some new additions that I'm excited about

I found this table and chairs at the thrift store for $29. A quick sale; load up; and home it came. The area is starting to look and feel more like me. Some would say to refinish the top and make it shine but I kind of like the old cabin/lodge look. I'm sure this table could tell some stories by the look of wear and tear on the top. It's a bit wobbly but a couple of unseen braces under the table will make it very solid. It's still very usable as it is. I always like to over engineer.


The touch of place mats and a center runner with Dicken's porcelain buildings adds a good touch. I will change the center with different arrangements as the seasons change. A good plastic clear cover over the table will keep the mats and center runner clean and in good shape. 

The next addition was the couch seen in the background. It came from a ReStore (Habitat for Humanity). I found that piece for $49 and left the table that used to be there at there donation center. The walls beside and behind the couch will be the blue color as well. The space beside the couch will have a stuffed chair and to round out the area a coffee table will go in front of the couch. That's the plan for now but my mind keeps churning and in my mind's eye it's changed looks many times. So until the actual design is finished it's always open to change.


So just to keep my strength up I made a crockpot of chili. I do love soups and chili is one of my favorite. It's not any thing special. It's just the recipe from the McCormick seasoning pack. While it's hot I put it in canning jars and it will seal up tight. Then it goes in the refrigerator and will keep for quite a while. I've never tried to keep it more than 4 weeks and if I wanted to keep it longer it would require a pressure canning process. Chili is very versatile. It can stand alone as a main dish but it can be used many other ways. A couple favorite ways for me is to enhance hotdogs and use it on pasta instead of spaghetti sauce. One of my favorite ways it to mix the chili with Mac and Cheese. I see lots of chili meals in my immediate future.

I hope that your new year has started out as well as mine. I'm going to try to blog more about my excursions this year. So get ready for the good, bad, and probably down right ugly ride.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer  


Sunday, December 29, 2019

New Year thoughts and reflections of last decade


The time between Christmas and New year has been a time of relief from that big push to Christmas celebration as the New Year looms on the close Horizon. This year not only is there a new year but also a new decade. It got me to thinking about how life has changed over the last 10 years. Let's jump in the time machine and travel back to 2010. I was about nine months into retirement and still figuring out just how to live with being paid once a month and budgeting.  Those that have been following my excursions over the years know that I was big in email stories and adventures. An amazing technology came on the scene called blogging. I jumped on that with relish and wild abandon. Then came Facebook, twitter, snapchat, and all the other digital social media inventions. I have not fully integrated into all the social media platforms but there's still hope that will eventually happen. I seem to always be behind the technology curve even though I made a life career in it. 

The farm genetics kicked in and satisfaction came from the two backyard raised gardening beds that quickly turned into five. Rain water catch system was developed and still used today. Soon that was not enough and a foreclosed vacant lot was purchased from the city and garden took on a whole new look. Fences were erected and more raised beds were built over the next four years. That expanded into 12 raised beds with room to expand. Then a couple years later another vacant lot was purchased just for chemical free grass mulch. About three years ago, the backyard patio became a patio garden containing tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Most all of produce is given away. I do save enough for me. I've had to think about why I garden and why so much. Well, the simple answer is I just like to grow plants and experiment on new ways to do it. It's been an exciting decade for that.

Many short term mission trips to help with hurricane, tornado, and flood disasters were taken. Tons of projects both house, garden, and yard related were accomplished. It truly has been an abundant life for the last ten years. The most surprising thing that's happened to me is the relationship with GRIT and Mother Earth News magazines. Never did I ever think that something I wrote would appear in my favorite magazines but it's happened. I'm always surprised when my ramblings appear in print.

So what will the next decade bring. Well, simply an aging me. By the end of the next decade I'll have a good start on the 80s. Hopefully, I'll still be stomping around in the garden with great enthusiasm and wild abandon. My mind never stopping thinking about how to improve all things. I reckon it's just part of my Dad coming out of me. He was a fabricator. If it couldn't be done by anyone else, he could figure out a way. I am definitely not on the same level as him but it does show itself through me on occasion. So there's a continuous stream of ideas inside my brain.

When I was in high school, scientists talked about flying cars by the year 2020. So where's my flying car? I suppose I'll have to settle for an autonomous self driving car. Most are afraid and don't want one but as for me, I hope I live long enough to own one. Driving used to be exciting and fun but as I age it's just a means to get some where and not really fun any more. I'd just as soon take a nap while I'm getting there. Gosh,that sounds old. I would like to have the garden set up to where I would only have to do gardening and not building but I think it would be boring and probably will always be pursing new and better ideas. There's always some way to improve it, don't you think?

The new decade will start with inside and outside house renovation so I'm hopeful that by 2030 that will be done. Never fear there's probably enough to keep me quite busy for the entire decade. Hopefully, by the end of the decade I'll still have good health and probably no wealth but more relationships all across the globe through social gardening media. So far it's reached Canada, England, Switzerland, and New Zealand. Yeah, that's kind of my Mom coming out. She was big in penpals and would love this new world of social media instant communication. She passed right in it's infancy.

So what's on tap for your next decade?

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September 2019

September 11th 2019
Here we are in the middle of September. Time just seems to be traveling a break neck speed for me. Fall clean up continues. Those little nooks and crannies of the yard that get over grown every year have out done themselves once again. Even the tomatoes in the compost pile tried to take over the area. The thing about volunteer tomatoes is the season isn't long enough for them to produce much. The plants are very strong and robust but they are two months behind in growth compared to those started indoors. By the time they start producing the season is almost over. Well, that's how it works here in Nebraska anyway. 

Yard cleanup continues. I'm almost done with the backyard but the side yard needs attention as well. This year has been the worst year for out of control weeds. Time for me was premium for other things and weather conditions were very favorable for weed growth. The garden I did have got off to a slow start with cold weather continuing into June. Then it turned super hot with temps in the upper 90s every day for a couple weeks. Garden plants as well as people didn't know what to think. Starting about the middle of July things kind of leveled out and relatively mild weather was on tap for the last part of July and August normally our hottest months. Snow and rain has kept the moisture above normal all year.
There's a big cottonwood tree about 10 feet away from my picnic table at Terra Nova Gardens. It provides wonderful shade for the table but as you can see there's an issue with the tree. It's been pointed out several times that this is poison oak. I've not been bothered with it in the almost nine years of working at Terra Nova Gardens but others might so I have decided to tackle the death of poison oak. I don't like chemicals so my thought is to chop out a chunk of the main vine at the base and let it die on the tree. It has been symbiotic with this tree so long that some sections of the vine is buried in the tree. The tree has actually grown around the vine. So I'll dress up with old hat, face mask, long sleeve shirt, thick gloves, long pants, and old shoes to face the task of killing poison oak. Immediately after the deed is done, a total clothes change will happen. The old clothes will be bagged up and thrown out. When I was young, poison ivy didn't bother me but I've heard that as we age that could change so I'm not taking any chances.

This weekend is moving time for my youngest daughter. They are moving from apartment living to a modular home rental. One step closer to having their own home which is the ultimate goal. Fortunately she had hired movers for the big stuff. I really don't like to personally move but do like to help others move. I've lived in my present place 35 years and don't plan on moving any time soon. One positive thing I have noticed about moving is that it forces a cleansing of unused stuff. Lord knows that I have plenty of that hanging around. I am trying to get better at giving away or throwing away unused stuff.

I've begun the preserving of the tomato harvest. It's trickling in slowly. I've tried a new method of preserving this year. When I get a few tomatoes I chuck them up and throw them in the crockpot skins and all to simmer for a few hours. Then I put them in jars. The hot liquid will seal the jar for temporary storage in the refrigerator. When there's enough for a full canner of tomatoes (8 quarts), the tomatoes will be opened, heated up, and simmered again before putting in the Ball quart jars and canned in the bath canner. When ever I use tomatoes they are always blended so after all that processing, I'm thinking leaving the skins on won't be that much of an issue. It's a whole lot easier that skinning the tomatoes before canning. I have found my steel 10 quart pot that will heat of the tomatoes for the final canning. I was just outside for a watering spree and found that there are many more tomatoes to be processed. Yum!! It looks like there will be a lot of tomato based soups this winter. My favorite is chili. 👍 I'm waiting for a cool day to fire up the stove for canning tomatoes. It usually takes a couple hours to do a batch but it might be less since they only need heating up and put in the jars. It takes a long time to bring that big water bath canner up to boiling and keep it there for 30 to 40 minutes. Really all that's required is 10 minutes if the tomatoes are boiling hot but I like to error way over on the side of safety.


Wednesday September 18th
I helped with moving my daughter this last weekend and am now recovering from a back strain. I just don't learn and this is not the first time I've had to slow down and recover from a back strain. It usually goes away in a week or two. In the mean time things that need doing that are not getting done. I gives me a humbling perspective on what it's like for those that get laid up with injuries. 

Life goes on with taking care of the aging dog twice a day for my cousin, shopping for my Mother in law, getting my grandson home from school every day, and help my aging neighbor that can't drive get up to see his wife in the skilled nursing facility. Some say I try to do to much but I kind of like being on the go and staying busy. Some day I'll have to slow down but just not today.

So until the next time, I'll be cleaning up the garden in the backyard, canning up more tomatoes, mowing grass, and helping who I can with their needs. Have a great Fall. 

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Sunday, August 25, 2019

August Update

August Update
August is fast disappearing. The nights are cooling down and the days are very tolerable to be working outside in the garden and yard. The tomatoes are winding down and any thing that has flowers on it will be trimmed off to put the last thrust into the tomatoes already formed on the vines. It's been a fairly descent year for the backyard garden. Most of the big lush tomatoes have been picked and given away. Only small tomatoes are left to pick at eat or process.  I have processed three quarts of tomatoes to be used for soup. 

It seems that August is always yard cleanup. Even with the good intentions of Spring and a determination not to let the yard get out of hand, stuff happens. The mother in law's shoulder injury and the responsibility of helping her recover allowed two months of prime yard and garden time to be all but eliminated. So once again August has become a cleanup month. Oh, my mother in law has fully recovered from the injury and is back to her independent self once again. She's quite an amazing gal.

So far I'm up to 13 bags of yard waste that's come from back yard cleanup. I still have three areas to cleanup so there will be at least three more bags. Yes, it was in a really bad condition. Well, then there will be all the garden cleanup very soon. 

I haven't been to Terra Nova Gardens in two weeks. I would suppose it is just as bad as the back yard. There just wasn't any time this year to put into gardening there. Maybe next year. It is a disappointment for sure. There might be some onions and potatoes to harvest and maybe a tomato and bell pepper or two but mostly weeds abound once again.

I've been toying with the idea of planting a small fall garden. Not much just some radishes and maybe greens of some sort.


I was at the gas station; filled the car with gas; run through the car wash; and was just leaving the station when this happened. I didn't see it coming. A Chevrolet Avalanche backed up away from a gas pump and bashed me in the side. It made a loud racket and I was expecting it to be much worse. Still the estimate was $2200. Since the car is a 1997 with 110,000 miles, I'm expecting a settlement and no fixing of the car. I'm still going to fix it up. The car is in great shape and very clean with a lot of life left. It kind of sad that older cars are just written off even though they are a nice car. So now I get to go through the whole process of dealing with an insurance company and getting the car fixed. Oh, well, life goes on. Been there done that before.

I made it through another birthday without too much hula-ba-loo. I'm really not much for birthdays. After 72 birthdays it's not a big deal any more. It's just not the same as when I was 10. The only thing I have to say about birthdays is they just come too fast. They need to slow down a little. I am indeed thankful for good health, a goodly amount of energy, and a mind that still works …. well sort of. 😀

I hope everyone's having a great summer as Fall bears down on us. I saw a couple trees today that are already starting to turn colors. It seems a bit early but this year has been a strange weather year for sure.

Be well. God Bless. I'll catch up with you later.

Friday, August 2, 2019

August 2019

August 2019
My goodness the summer is almost gone. A lot has happened since May. The biggest event was my Mother in law falling and injuring her arm in the latter part of May. She is just now getting back to normal so the most important gardening months were off the grid. Since I'm the only relative she has, the responsibility of caring for her was mine alone. She cracked the ball in the right shoulder into three pieces. The good news is that she didn't require surgery. She didn't need to leave home. All the care for showers, therapy, and strength building was done at her apartment. After two months she's back to being as normal as she wants to be. Some things will never go back not because she can't do them but just because she doesn't want to do them any more. She's a tough old (92) gal but I can totally under stand not wanting to do every thing she did in the past. It's time to slow down and take life a little easier. So I'm the number one on the list speed call person for any thing she needs and it will most likely remain that way. I like helping her out. 


The poor man's patio has really put on a show this year. I plant it the same every year but this year it's really strutting its stuff.  This year I have close to 30 flower pots blooming. The front area on the ground was the spring flower bulbs which all die off during the summer leaving this area dull and drab. I decided to punch it up with flower pots that can be removed in the Fall to make way for the Spring bulbs to flaunt their colors next spring. It's a way to have it both ways Spring flowers and summer color. I'm going to have more flower pots to set around the property next year. I like the idea of moving the flowers around until it looks just right. I have in the past set up automatic watering but this year I didn't. I think I like the manual watering better. I get a better relationship with the plants. Every day or so I'm up close and personal with every one. When they were watered automatically, I just gave them a glance as I walked by but never really gave them an up close look. Maybe the special attention is why they are doing so good this year. 😊

This is what happens to a garden when it's neglected for two months. This is extremely embarrassing. There is a raised bed under all the growth. This August will be weed cleanup month for sure. It does clean up quickly as the roots of these weeds are in loose soil so a hefty tug and out they come in big clumps. I spent an afternoon for a couple days and filled up five yard waste bags of weed material. 

It's amazing what a little effort can accomplish. There's still much more to cleanup. I only planted one bed out of the four with a couple tomatoes and holly hocks and cosmos. The cement blocks were free and I have visions of replacing the rotting wood around the raised beds with the blocks. The wooden timbers lasted about 10 years but I'm trying to think ahead and not ever have to deal with rebuilding the beds again. I can't see myself in ten years in my 80s rebuilding raised beds again. It's a different kind of mentality when aging into the senior years. The thoughts gravitate toward, "How do I do this so I don't ever have to do it again in my life?"

Sadly I had to retire the old stock tank that stored my rain water that is caught from the roof of my house. Every year I had issues with leaks and it was just costing too much to patch it up every year so I bit the bullet and bought a nice shiny new one. So I won't ever have to do that again. 😃 As with all things, it was smaller than the old tank. I was thinking about that a few days ago and marveled at how society just excepts false advertising. Lumber comes to mind with a 2X4 that actually measures 1 1/2 by 3 1/2. Every one knows it and just excepts it. My water tank was advertised as a six foot tank and measures 5 foot 8 inches. The old tank was actually 6 foot. The old tank would hold 400 gallons of rain water but the new tank only 350 gallons of water. There's false advertising all around us but everyone knows it and just accepts it without question. When did that start? I did some research on the lumber and I might have known that in 1969 the U.S. Commerce department set the standard for a 2X4 as 1 1/2 by 3 1/2. It gave leeway to kiln drying shrinkage and smoothing the sides. I'm not sure why the water tank shrank though. There's no kiln drying or smoothing sides on galvanized metal.

I looked into painting the tank green and stenciling flowers on the sides. Because of galvanizing an oil film is put on the metal to help keep it from rusting. To paint the metal the film has to be removed with an ammonia soap solution, then rinsed thoroughly, then roughed up with sandpaper, and given a good coat of primer before painting. Wow, what a process. Yeah, I'm going have to think about that some. The fountain is active now to keep the water moving and mosquitoes from breeding and the top is covered with scrap wood to keep the sun from growing green slime. It's about 3/4 full and once again life is good in the world of catching rain water.
It's block party time again. Tomorrow the street will be blocked off and tables, chairs, and grills will be set up for all to enjoy each other's company. I made ice cream a few years ago and everyone demands that I make it every year now so as I'm writing this blog the ice cream freezer is grinding away outside my front door. I make two batches every year. One is vanilla and the other is chocolate. Vanilla always seems to be the biggest hit. The egg toss generates family competition as to who has bragging rights for the next year. I'm not too good at it and probably won't be doing it this year. My cataracts just don't leave me with very good depth perception.

>School starts soon so that will tighten up my schedule with a pickup from school for my Grandson every school day. My daughter has a work schedule that's either from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Neither of which allows her to pickup her son from school at 3 p.m. I guess that's what retired grand parents are for, don't you think? I don't mind. It gives me contact with him every day and Fridays are special with a treat from Dairy Queen on the way home from school to celebrate the end of the school week.

Here's to August and the waning days of summer gardens. Be safe and I'll have more for you later.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Thursday, May 23, 2019

May Gardening
May has been quite the month. The weather has taken wild swings from 95 degree days to freezing nights. Hopefully now that the last frost date has passed, the weather will settle down into some warmer weather without the threat of frost, high winds, or hail. The topic of severe weather has been in almost every discussion between people lately.

The major accomplishment for May was the building of a raised bed for potatoes and onions. The sides are recycled pallets from a granite countertop company. A double layer of weed barrier was tacked to the back of the pallets then buried about ten inches into the ground. Garden cleanup waste and dirt were layered into the bed to fill it up. 
Apparently the potatoes like it. They jumped out of the ground in just a few days. I'm hoping for a good harvest. I'm not sure if I'll make another bed like this because it's uncertain just how long the sides will last before the need of replacement. I have been given a huge amount of concrete blocks which will make for much more longevity for raised beds. However these pallets make great looking fences.

I'm planning on more attention toward the backyard patio bucket garden this year. Right now there's tomatoes and bell peppers in the garden but cucumbers will be added real soon. 
The beauty about bucket gardens is that they can be some what mobile when needed. The threat of high wind and hail gave a new meaning to the term kitchen garden. Well, the severe weather didn't happen but it was nice to be able to safely bring the plants inside. They are once again back outside where they belong.

Lots of weed control has taken up most of the time at Terra Nova Gardens. My 400 gallon rain water tank in my backyard has sprung a leak and is now drained down. I've patched the problem area but now need to wait for the gooey roofing tar to set before filling the tank once again. It looks like the rain will be in abundance for at least another week so maybe next week I can start allowing the tank to fill up. It's a good time to clean up the inside of the tank and replace the cover while the tank is drained.

The first real harvest of the season, Yes, it's time to start eating the harvest of the backyard raised bed built last year. I was going to get some mowing done but it looks like another storm is bearing down on the area. Boy, it's a good thing I got the tank patched today and Terra Nova Garden trimmed yesterday. Weeds and grass absolutely jump out of the ground with this rain and now warm weather. 

I am going to work on raised beds and pathways at Terra Nova Gardens this year. The plan is for more construction and less gardening. Hopefully, I can get much done in the formal part of the garden. I have materials and now just have to do the work. It's going to be a good summer.

Be well and good fortune to all readers of this blog. What are your plans for the summer? Something fun, I hope.

Nebraska Dave 
Urban Farmer