Friday, January 8, 2021

January 2020

Good golly where does the time fly to. The holidays flew into the new year and the first week of January is history. I finally got to have a family holiday dinner in my house after 20 years of quiet holidays. It was just immediate family which is total of four people but it's a start. I'm hoping to eventually start hosting dinners when all this crazy virus stuff has been declared to be over. I'm not sure that will be any time soon. 

I tackled a major project in December. The kitchen cook stove had oven issues for .... 20 years. 😮 It's a good thing I had a microwave with a convection oven and stove top burners that worked. So with determination and wild abandon I decided to see if I could fix the oven. The broiler element worked just fine but the bottom oven element would barely warm the oven. After YouTube research, I broke out the small socket set and Philips screw drivers and set out to conquer the stove. The first and simplest thing was to take out the element and test it with an ohm meter. Of course the easiest thing is never the fix for me. More YouTube research followed. 
After careful consideration, I decided that the selector switch was most likely the bad part. Now as you can see this stove is not a modern day stove. The house was built in 1965 and this is the original stove. Why you might ask don't I just replace it? Because I'm a cheap skate and well .... I kind of like the challenge. So we are looking at finding parts for a 56 year old stove. That could have been the biggest challenge of all. Needless to say I had my doubts when I called up my favorite appliance place. Much to my surprise they had one but they would have to bring it in on the truck. It took a week of microwave meals and sandwiches before the day came for the part's arrival. I was hoping it wasn't a replacement part for the original but the actual original part replacement and it was a perfect match to the old part. The only modification was to shorten the stem for the dial to fit down close to the stove. The repair was a great success. 

Well then there was this. Yeah, a little neglect. For the 20 years that the oven was not used. So with EZ Off Oven Cleaner and .... a lot .... of elbow grease. The oven was finally usable again. It worked perfectly for the Christmas ham family dinner and hopefully another 56 years. By then it will be some else's problem. 

Now comes a real challenge. Old houses have many.
This is a drain in the laundry room. It's been totally clogged for ages. I suspect maybe at least three or four years. I've been fortunate that nothing has happened that would require a drain in the laundry room. I don't know how it got clogged but it's time to start the process. So wish me luck and hopefully in the not too distant future I'll have a free running drain.

Have a great New Year.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Friday, October 23, 2020

We are deep into the month of October. Still no rain which is putting us into the extreme drought category. It might continue into the winter months with little snow as well. Most folks would love that but it's a bit concerning to me that the ground is almost powder for several inches. When building the Urban Ranch garden bed the dirt wouldn't even pack down it was so powdery. This has been an interesting year for gardening. The plants did survive but much watering had to be done. My Urban Ranch water tank ran dry the end of July and was supplemented with city water.  It has never done that before.
Bed 1 at the Urban Ranch was finished this month. I've decided to put brick facing on the bed. Here is the finished bed on one side and the path between the two rebuilt beds. I decided to just go with wood chips and not be to fancy with a brick path as well. It's much easier and cheaper as well. The path was 24 inches wide but I widened it to 32 inches. It gives me a little more room to move around with this old rotund body of mine. The bed itself is four by eight feet but the growing size of the bed is a little smaller at a little over 9 feet long and 32 inches wide. My reach isn't what it used to be. It is really turning out good. I have two more to rebuild. 

The basement garden will become more of a focus now that the outside gardens are coming to an end. Lettuce and radishes are still growing and have been growing all summer. This picture is sorrel with is supposed to be a sour green. I'm going to expand the basement garden with sorrel, spinach, and maybe carrots. I will use a 2-liter bottle with the top cut off for growing carrots. It would be awesome if that works.

The water tower at Terra Nova Gardens is getting closer to being finished on one side. The X-bracing is really making it sturdy. This has been a summer project and has taken much time away from the actual growing of garden plants there. I'm hoping to use this side of the water tower for watering and giving more attention to the actual gardening there next year. Both the Urban Ranch and Terra Nova Gardens had extensive garden projects happening. As I look back on the summer activities, it's been a productive year for gardens. 

This is the end result of a summer of working on a new water tower. The entire tower is not finished just yet but this side of the tower is usable. I will start filling it up on March 1st. I might flush it out again but it's pretty clean now. The tank had some kind of soap in it so I'm not too worried about it being toxic.  I was going to paint the structure but as I look at this tangled brace mess, I think a better solution is to just hide the whole thing behind some lattice work. This has been many hours of work to get this far and I'm quite satisfied with the progress. Next year I won't be putting so much time into the tower and concentrating more on the beds of the garden. They are in terrible shape. This month is almost gone and I still have work to do cleaning up. 

This is the last harvest from bed two of Urban Ranch. The bed is cleaned up and ready for winter. I have decided to cover the outside edge of the raised beds with a fake brick facing to give a little better look.  Next year I'll rebuild another bed and maybe two which will be the end of the rebuilding of the beds. It all depends on how much time I'll have to spend helping family and friends.

This is the resulting processed tomatoes of the last harvest at the Urban Ranch. I still have some from last year so this will be plenty for a reserve in the storage room. I try to plan a two year supply in case a bad year happens. My canning technique is a little different but better for water bath canning. I use the pressure cooker but don't tighten the lid so there's not pressure in the cooker. The water bath canner doesn't have quite the depth to cover up quart jars with water during the processing. With the cooker, the water level can be two inches above the jars as recommended. The process begins by filling the jars with hot water from the tap and putting them into the pressure cooker. Then using another jar or in my case a spray attachment from the kitchen sink, fill the cooker to two inches above the tops of the jars. Set the cooker lid loosely on top of the cooker. Put the lids and rings in a pan of hot water on the stove and bring it to a boil. When the water in the cooker begins to boil, set the timer to 10 minutes. After the 10 minute sterilization time, take the jar remover and carefully remove one jar and pour out the boiling water. Using the canner jar funnel begin to fill the jar with the tomato mixture that has been brought up to a boiling temperature as well. When the jar is filled, wipe the top of the jar to make sure it's clean and without any tomato debris on the rim. Secure the lid and ring. Replace the jar in the boiling water and repeat for up to seven jars in the cooker. When the water once again comes to a boil, set the timer for 10 minutes. Once the time has expired, remove the jars and set on a towel on the counter. Within five minutes all the jars have popped their lids indicating that they have sealed. It's a much faster way to water can high acid vegetables.

Bell peppers are a little different. They are blanched and frozen. The peppers are cut up in chunks of what ever size that is desired. They are put in a large pan and brought to a boil. After 10 minutes, the hot water is drained off and they are put in cold water. Some folks use ice in the water but I just use cold water. After a period of cooling down, the peppers are bagged and put in the freezer.  It's a very simple process.  I use them in soups. My mother in law uses them in scrambled eggs.

Over all this month has been a productive month. I hope and pray that yours was as well.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Saturday, September 19, 2020

September days are here again

Sadly I had to say goodbye to August as the hint of fall starts the cooling process with temperatures in the 40s during night time hours. I have lots of green tomatoes but I've read that it takes night time temperatures above 50 degrees to ripen a tomato. I can believe it because I haven't harvested a ripe tomato for some time now. The plants are looking quite sad with dried up leaves and bare looking stems. I always try to nurse the last of the tomatoes to harvest but I don't think I'll be getting many more this year. When this time of the year comes, it always makes me think about how quickly the summer has past. My thoughts are always about how I didn't get enough done but as I browse back through my daily journal, I find that I have accomplished much more that I remember. This is the season with the temperatures in the 70s that is more favorable for hard labor outside projects to get finished up for the season. So I guess the month of September would be "Finish it" month.

At the beginning of every year I have an ambitious garden bucket list to accomplish by the end of the year. Of the 10 items on the list only one is completely done.  The picture is the rebuilding of one raised bed in the backyard where I live. It's nearing 1/2 completion and I'm hoping to get it done by the end of September. It will allow me once again to use this bed for growing. It was a rubbish pile most of this year. The Terra Nova Gardens water tower project continues. I alternate between that project and this rebuild of the backyard raised bed. 
This is another row of post supports done and actually I have next row to the right done as well. So the support blocks are all in position for this side of the water tower. So the next step will be to get the support posts strapped in position and braced. From research I've learned that each post can support 2,000 pounds. Because I have nine posts under each tank, each post will supporting 250 pounds. Yeah, just a little over engineered but I want it to be safe and sturdy for as long as I live.

On the family local front, I finally solved my Mother in law's TV issue. Some weeks ago, the cable company sent her a letter saying that she needed to upgrade her cable box or some of her channels would not work right. After the new cable box was installed, the TV would randomly shut off during the day. The remote that came with the new box has many small buttons on it. It's a challenge for a nearly 94 year old person with failing eyesight to figure out which button to push, so she would just randomly start poking buttons hoping the TV would come back on. Well, it never would turn out well and I would have to straighten it out for her. After much research, I found that in the settings of the cable box, there is a setting that was set to auto power off after four hours. So if there was no activity on the cable box, after four hours it would shut off because I suppose the thought was that no one was watching the TV and it would save electricity. It created havoc in this old woman's life until I figured out how to cure it. I was glad to restore some peace in her life because at 94, TV is about all she has for entertainment. 

Even though the Governor lifted more Covid restrictions the city where I live did not. We are under a face mask at all times in public if the six foot social distancing can't be maintained. All stores are requiring face masks for entry. It really looks like this is going to continue on into the next year. This has been a year that we all will remember. Fires ranging in California, Oregon, and Colorado; hurricanes pounding our coastlines; and another 4.6 earthquake in southern San Fernando Valley. Unrest and violence is causing chaotic actions all across the country. I have given up cable TV and live by what I hear from friends and neighbors for news. It gives me enough information to know what's going on in the world without the gory details played over and over. 

Gardening has kept me calm and anxiety free through out this troubled time. I could say that it's my sanctuary.  It's just good to know that some things are as they should be. Seeds are still sprouting and growing to maturity; wildlife still think I'm growing a buffet for them; and weeds are as prolific as ever. All is right with the world, it's just the people that live it that are having issues.

I hope and pray that all is well in your world. Have the best day that you can in the garden.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Monday, August 31, 2020

August came and went almost over night or so it seems. The 90 degree days just kept on coming with some being above 95. Although we danced around the 100 degree mark I think we only actually made it 100 degrees a day or two. I am glad to see that the days are beginning to cool down and the nights are quite pleasant. Neighbors are starting to light up the firepits and summers stories are told around the crackling fire as marshmallows are melted and stuffed between chocolate and graham crackers. I love a good fire on a chilly evening with stimulating conversation. I'm a little sad to see the summer slowly slipping away but am ready for the fall days. It's one of the things I really like about where I live. Each season has its fine things to enjoy. Chili season will soon be upon us. 

One of my friends was concerned about wind causing them to move or be blown off the platform. Well, it was tested. A derecho blew through my city with winds up to 60 MPH. The tanks were empty and didn't move at all. That was with only four legs of support and light weight empty tanks. With water in them they definitely won't move at all. It seems like a lot of work and it is but I'm hoping it will outlast my lifetime.

In spite of the lack of rain, the garden just keeps on producing. At Terra Nova Gardens the sweet corn is done and the fence is open for the raccoons to cleanup the corn. The cucumbers and tomatoes just keep on producing even though I haven't watered them since I first planted them. That trench composting must really retain the moisture. Back at the Urban Ranch where I live my 390 gallon rain water tank ran dry and I had to start using city water for the gardens. I've never had that happen before. I think we are about 11 inches down from the average for this time of the year. The long range forecast doesn't have any rain for the next 10 days. It seems rain all around us this year but not here.

Have a great day and I'll catch up with you soon. 

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Summer gardening and projects

August is here and harvesting has begun. The onions are drying on the rack; the sweet corn is being processed; the cucumbers are becoming refrigerator pickles; and the tomatoes and bell peppers are on the verge of turning red. This is the month that all gardeners covet. All their diligent work and sweat is finally paying off. Preserving and storing the harvest is foremost in the minds of those that garden. This is what it's all about. Canning, freezing, drying are all procedures that allow the tasty summer goodness to be enjoyed in the cold freezing winter months. 
August is project month. The neighbor across the street from Terra Nova Gardens gifted me with a pile of treated 4X4s some 12 foot long. I decided to use them for a new water tower stand which will hold two IBC tanks. These are 250 gallon tanks. This is the basic frame to hold these tanks. I will be putting many more legs under the tanks to make sure that the platform will not buckle under that much weight. I may have as many as seven more legs under the tanks.

Here's the frame up on the ground supports with only the corner legs. There's a bit of tweaking the level for the platform. It has to be extremely level when water is involved. Water will seek it's own level so if the platform isn't perfectly level and very stable, it just won't be very effective. I'm hoping that all will work out and by next year I'll be using the platform for the next level of garden watering. I am working toward automation of the watering from the tanks. Filling of the tanks will begin March 1st. It will take the entire month of fill the tanks. I will have to take the tanks to a car wash and spray them out. The tanks had truck wash in them which is basically soap. I want stair steps up to the platform for maintenance on the tanks and the water pipes. The tanks will be filled from the top. There will be a solid floor platform between the tanks where the work area is. 

Here is one of the pilons for the leg support for the platform. Two cement blocks are buried in the ground with a concrete deck support on top for the leg to set on. I will have a total of 18 of these to put under the tanks. I have figured out that each leg will support 250 pounds which is think is extremely over engineered. I want this structure to last forever. 

Friends have been hearing about the basement salad garden that I've been cultivating over the last six months. It's a simple method and works really well. I'm hoping to expand the plants from just lettuce and radishes to many more varieties. One lettuce plant can be harvested many times. It takes 25 days to grow a lettuce plant to harvest and probably three or four salads can be harvested from the plant over the next three to four weeks. This picture is a 16 ounce plastic cup that I've burned drain holes into the bottom with a small project soldering iron. This will also be the cup that's filled with potting mix soil. Regular garden soil is too compactable to use for this type of growing. 

Another cup of the same size will be needed for watering. When watering, this cup will be used to hold a small amount of water. I usually put about 1/2 inch of water in the cup. Then the cup with the soil and plant will be slipped into the watering cup. The water in this cup will wick up through the soil and keep the plant watered. Watering must be done every day or the soil will dry out and the plant will wilt. The good news is if this happens as long as there's still life in the plant a good dose of water will bring the plant back to a healthy state. These plants are durable and will snap back if given a chance. In my experience, the lettuce plants take about 25 days from planting the seed to the first salad harvest.

This is the soil cup planted with one lettuce seed and the water cup with the small amount of water in it. The lettuce seeds are extremely small but I've found that one seed can be planted with a little patience. All that's needed is a very little soil over the top of the seed and just enough spray bottle water to moisten the top of the soil. The seed package says there's 250 seeds in the pack but I think there's way more than that. Even if that's true, 250 seeds times about four or five harvests would be over 1000 salads in this package. When I start harvesting the lettuce leaves of one planting, I plant the next group of cups. That way I have a continuous supply of lettuce.

The planted soil cup is set inside the water cup and now all that's needed is a few days of keeping the top soil moist and waiting for the lettuce seed to sprout up through the soil. Once that happens it's time for close proximity grow lights. One thing I've learned is that it works better to start with fresh soil each time and to clean the cups.
I suppose that should be a given but I have a tendency to learn the hard way. Short cuts hardly ever work out.

This is about four or five days after planting. This was the very first planting and as you can see there's more than one seed in each cup. I only plant one seed now and if it doesn't sprout like the upper left cup. I just plant another in the cup. Even if that plant is a little later is ok as once the lettuce gets to harvest stage, it's good to have a couple slower growth plants. These plants I transplanted into their own cups and they were just fine. There's really no room for more than one plant per cup.

This is about 14 days from planting the lettuce seeds and these plants are well on the way to harvest. They could be harvested at this point but I usually wait a few more days for a bigger harvest.

It's day 25. Time to start harvesting and planting the next wave. The leaves on the plant can be harvested down to just a couple small leaves. The plant will recover and look like this again in about 8 to 10 days. Each harvest will be the same only with a longer main plant stalk. When the stalk gets so long that it falls over, the next wave is ready to harvest so I just pull the plant; dump the soil to go to the garden bed; clean the cups; and start over again.
Radishes can be grown as well and could be grown the same as lettuce but I've found that radishes can be grown in a little less space. These radishes can be grown in 1 1/2 inch PVC pipes that are about 4 inches long. Watering in this case is accomplished by putting about 1/2 inch of water in the tray and letting it wick up through the soil. Watering for radishes really only needs to be done on a demand basis. That is when the tray is dry for about one day then put another 1/2 inch of water in the tray. It only takes about 20 days to grow an edible radish. 

Twenty days after planting, a radish is ready for harvest. The top foliage can also be eaten. It tastes just like a radish. I suppose if icicle white radishes were your taste they could be grown in a deeper section of PVC pipe.  Many possibilities are available with this system. 

Of course grow lights are a must to get good plants. When the seeds are planted a grow light isn't necessary. The soil needs to stay moist on the top for a few days so a spray bottle is used to spray just enough water on the soil to keep it moist. Once the seed sprouts and starts growing, spraying the soil can be discontinued. When the seedlings are young, they need to be close to the grow lights to make sturdy plants. One to two inches away from the soil is a good place to start. As the plants grow (and they grow quickly) the space between the very top of the plant and the grow light needs to be kept as close to 2 inches as possible. Instead of constantly raising and lowering the grow lights, I raise and lower the tray of plants with spacers under the tray. The ambient temperature for this system is consistently 75 to 80 degrees.

That's all for now but there's still a lot of August left. 😉

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Harvest Begins

The entire world continues to be shaken. Fear, panic, and anxiety wants to be the new normal. I for one do not succumb to the things that seem to be happening in the world. I only watch enough news to be informed but don't feed on the reports that continually barrage the listeners. I take refuge in my gardens which keep me peaceful in mind and soul. Nature has not been effected in any way. Rabbits still eat my plants, raccoons still test the sweet corn to see if it's ready, and weeds still grow in abundance. It's just good to know that most things in the world have not spun out of control. Yes, life is different but I'm quite liking the slower pace of quarantine and isolation. Being an introvert by nature, I'm quite content with being alone and living simply. 

Here's the first fruits of harvest. The first planting of sweet corn is ripe for eating now. The first two tomatoes were small but delicious. And the cucumbers are starting to produce. The lettuce came from my basement salad garden. Right now it only grows Simpson lettuce. I have grown radishes as well and will be expanding the plants grown to other salad greens this Fall and Winter. I takes about 25 days to grow lettuce to harvest and 20 days to radishes to harvest. I'm hoping to continue to have fresh salads through out the Fall and Winter months. Well, probably, year round now that I figured out how to do it. 

Oops, I didn't see this zucchini until it was huge. I still split it in half; scooped out the guts; peeled it; diced it up and put it in a chili that I made. Another one a little smaller than this one I shredded and froze to make fritters at a later time. The recipe that will try is in the latest issue of Mother Earth News and looks like it could be quite tasty. One of the other bloggers that I follow posted a coleslaw recipe that I want to try as well. One can never have too many recipes for zucchini. Normally, I never get to the too many zucchini stage because of the infestation of the dreaded vine borer. This year I just happened to plant onions all around the zucchini. I didn't really plan it as an experiment but it seemed to keep the vine borer butterflies away or as least confuse them. A couple years ago I planted cucumbers in with the squash which seemed to keep the vine borers at bay as well. I'm going to continue to experiment with these two ideas to see if it was a fluke or if it really works. I don't put chemicals on my plants which may just put my harvest at risk but I've found that perhaps one year is bad and the next is prolific. I work with a two year plan. I harvest enough to bring my pantry up to two years of food. If one year fails then I can at least still have the hope that next year will be better.

Have a great end of July. Be safe; be well; be hopeful.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Friday, July 17, 2020

July 2020

Where has this year gone?  Little did we know at the beginning of the year what lay ahead. Never have I seen such upheaval laced with panic, fear, and anxiety in my life time. But then again I've not had to endure the depression of the 1930s nor did I have to contend with a world war. During this time multiple things are happening at the same time. Not only do I want this year to be over but maybe the decade as well. My sanctuary has been my gardens. With more time to spend in them, I have been able to keep my sanity, peace, and contentment. My issue will be to come back out of isolation. I'm an introvert by nature and quite happy to be alone. So as things are starting to open up here in Nebraska and family and friends want to get back to socializing, I am feeling a bit irritated that they are invading my quiet peaceful existence. I know that's not a good thing but it will still be a challenge to fit into society again. Let me know in the comments how you have faired through the last three months of world shutdown.

April was the month of the beginning of the preparation of gardening beds. As the seedlings remained tucked away in the bowels of the basement under grow lights, the outside beds were prepared with trench composting material buried a foot deep in the beds. My material is grass clipping that have semi composted over the Winter. It continues to break down and feed the plants over the summer. I don't use any other fertilizer for the plants. The grass comes from my lawn which does not have chemicals applied to it. This year I have tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, and sweet corn in these backyard beds. I had to protect the young corn seedlings from the rabbits with a short 2 foot fence. Once the corn got about a foot tall they left it alone. 

In May the poor man's living patio came to life once again. Every year I buy hanging baskets of begonias and impatiens. Then the small gallon container pots are planted with Begonias, Impatiens, Silver mist, and Coleus. Because of the two big trees in the front yard the flowers on the patio don't get much sun so I've discovered what plants will do well on the shaded patio. It's a great place to just hang out and have a cup of coffee and watch to the activity in the neighborhood. Many neighbors have dogs to walk and stop for conversations along the way. I do love my poor man's living patio. Because of the container growing all the baskets and containers need a good watering every couple days and a dose of Miracle Grow general fertilizer once a week to keep the blossoms looking good.

All of the patio cast iron furniture has been given to me. The wood needs replacing but it's a small cost compared to the purchasing it new. This was the result of one rainy day. I decided to make the wood cedar. It was straight up 1X3 cedar lumber. Since it's outside and doesn't get put away in the Winter, Cedar will last much longer. The back of the chair was a bit tricky to cut because not only were the pieces curved but the ends were at a 15 degree angle. It turned out really good. Now I just have a table center, another chair, and two benches to replace all the wood. It's not happening very fast because we are not having many rain days this year.

June came and went quickly. I did get my electric fence built for the sweet corn. It's the only thing I've found to keep the raccoons from destroying the corn before it's mature enough to eat. The little buggers can't wait for it to mature and knock down the stock, take a bit out of the ear, and decide, "nope that one it's ready." and go to the next one to do the same thing. Once the stock is knocked down and broken it's done growing. I've had raccoons destroy an entire patch in one night. 

Most of June has been spent working on a new water tower. The neighbor across the street donated many 12 foot treated 4X4s so I decided to build a bigger and better water tower for Terra Nova Gardens. The tower will support two IBC tanks that you see in the background. Each will hold 250 gallons when full. Each tank will weigh two tons when filled with water so nine 4X4 legs will be under each tank for support. Each leg will set on two cement blocks buried to ground level with a square deck block on top for the legs to rest in. The trick will be to get everything level. The tanks will be about five feet above the ground which provides a good amount of pressure and allow sometime in the future the use of automated drip lines to water the garden. 

July has been a visits from family. First a visit from my oldest granddaughter that lives in Georgia. She came for a couple days. Then my oldest daughter, the mother of the granddaughter that came to visit, came for 10 days. We visited relatives every day for the 10 days. It was a fun time and I saw some relatives that I hadn't seen in quite a while even though I live close to them. Social media kind of takes away the actual going to visit urgency.

I hope that everyone is well and safe from the corona. I wasn't one that really attended events with big crowds and stayed mostly to myself before all this craziness started so it wasn't a big deal to quarantine for me. Nebraska is not a hot spot like some of the bigger cities. I wasn't really a restaurant or fast food person so life has been good for me. My schedule did lighten up a little but I still help some get groceries and others to house move. Masks are not mandatory but many wear them. It's up to the person whether they want to wear one or not. I would say about half or less wear a mask. It's trending toward less but I hear that more stores are going to require masks while in the store starting Monday.

I hope and pray that all will circumvent this virus until it's over. Have a great July. 

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer