Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Walnut picking time

October in Missouri means it's time to start picking black walnuts! There is nothing quite like the distinctive aroma of walnuts that only gets stronger as the load gets bigger and permates the air at the hulling station. Though seldom a real moneymaker, picking walnuts is a way to get outdoors, spend time with my daughter, and enjoy the cool fall air. Better yet, this annual tradition from the farm transfers easily to the city. There are more landowners to deal with, but some will even pay me to pick up the walnuts.

I bought a "nut wizard" this year to make the job go faster and keep my hands cleaner. I have to say, it works slick as snot!!! For the most part the nuts slip right in the basket. I have nuts pop in that surprise me because I didn't even see them, it works so good. When the basket is full, the nuts will drop right out in a bucket with the supplied wire do-dad. Three to four basket fulls fills a bucket. When I have two buckets full, it is then dumped in my trailer.

The basket appears to be stainless with a quality solid wood handle. The only issues I've had are in tall grass (about eight inches or higher) and the ones with hulls flattened by cars into a disk shape. It will still pick up the hulled nuts, so I kick the disks till the hull falls off. Tall grass is still a hand pick job though. I'm rating this a 9.8 out of 10 on my initial review.

My daughter's favorite part is removing the wire do-dad from the buckets and moving walnuts back and forth between the two buckets. Thankfully, she is a great sport, loves tagging along with dad, stays in sight, and even picks up a couple walnuts now and then.

I'm also attempting a mobile buyer operation. The big downside of selling at the hullers is the wait time is often an hour or two. I don't mind as I bring a book with me to read. However, I imagine there are lots of people who have better things to do with the time, especially if they have a small volume to sell.


I am quite excited the the Springfield city council voted last week to allow chickens inside city limits. I have been researching plans for coops and will be posting pictures of the build when it happens.

I am looking for a design that will allow the chickens access to grass, but allow them to roost in a more secure area to keep away from the neighborhood cats, snakes, and raccoons. I'll also plan to start with pullets to minimize predator worries and wait until next year to start from day olds or eggs. I can't wait to see the look on my daughters face to be around little balls of fluff!

not in vain time used

My wife and I have been struggling for the last several weeks on a decision. Through unexpected events and also errors on my part, it has become no longer feasible to rehab the house where my garden is located and we will attempt to sell it as is. The unfortunate consequence is that I will loose my garden space for a time.

The good news is we have also decided it is in the best interest of the family to move to a location more conducive to critters, gardens, raising children, and peace of mind. Our goal is to locate this slice of heaven by fall of 2011. In the meantime, I will continue to devour any literature I can get, do my market research, attend trade shows (18th National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference is less than a month away!!!), and get any hands on experience I can. Ron Macher and Joel Salatin have been particularly inspirational and I can not recommend their literature highly enough for those aspiring to a sustainable and profitable agricultural enterprise.

It is difficult for me to take this action, however, I realize it is the most expedient path towards getting a chance to pursue my true vision. Bear with me as I enter a pupate stage of ideas and planning to emerge as the butterfly of inspiration!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seed collecting

As the season gives way to fall, my mind moves toward seed collecting, fall gardening, & winter gardening.

My fall garden is not much to speak of. Due to conflicts of weather and spousal scheduling (neither of which I have much control), the fall garden is currently at "failure to launch". Some days it feels like a conspiracy such a today when my wife can watch our daughter, but it starts pouring down at a quarter after four, just before my office work day ends.

I can talk about a couple seed saving successes.

1. The leek flower that was so pretty earlier has turned to seed. I can see why Alliums (onion family relative) are so popular as they a very pretty from bloom to seed.

2. My fall plated carrots yielded seed this year!!! A biennial, producing seed only in it's second year was tricked to providing seed in under twelve months. These carrots were planted late last September and given only enough time to get a few inches high before winter hit. The ones that survived our -8 degree F unprotected in the soil, grew up this spring to greatly shorten the expected seed to seed time frame.

Watching the seed heads develop definitely reminded me how close the relationship is between cultivated carrots and Queen Anne's Lace.

3. My heirloom lettuce also produced plenty of seed. The plant sends up a stalk with many little flowers per stalk that will dry like tiny dandelions to be carried on the wind.

All three of these examples were pretty straight forward involving drying the seed on the plants before harvest. More to come soon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Doldrums

Ah the mid summer doldrums. Heat warnings most every day make it impossible to bring the kid along. The mosquitos compound the issue. As such, much of the garden is languishing in disrepair with overgrown weeds, squash vines going EVERYWHERE, and bolting lettuce plants.

The one thing that is progressing is harvest. The tomatoes are coming on full bore and I picked another three grocery sacks full from my nine plants. The bag full picked last week yielded 5 quart jars after processed and canned. I would guess that even after giving some to neighbors, I will have to run the canner twice as I expect there will be 12-15 quarts out of this batch. Oh the soups and chili's we'll have this winter!!!

This weekend it the forecast is slightly cooler. I am hopeful to get a bed and a half read for some fall plants. I already have spinach and turnip and I just ordered beets, a different strain of broccoli, chard, and lacinato kale from High Mowing Organic seed. (I can identify with "High Mowing" as with the rain and heat, the grass I've been mowing has been quite high! ;) )

Happy fall gardening to all y'all! Time to get to it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Velcro plant ties

I want to share a product that is miles above any other plant tie I have ever used. Velcro makes a two sided velcro tape (hooks on one side, loops on the other) that simply loops back on itself to securely hold your plants. This allows for a quick and strong connection that withstood some impressive heirloom tomato vines last year as well as holding my pea trellis firmly to the support posts.

Product details here:

I originally bought some last year on a whim to try out. While the ties are reusable, I increased the number of tomatoes from last year and used taller (and sturdier) stakes. The combination meant I needed more tape. Going back to the store I bought from the year before yielded nothing. Same story for several more big box stores and local garden centers. Figuring the product was discontinued, I tried twine, string, the stretchy vinyl stuff, and old rags. Realizing how superior the Velcro product was, I made it a mission to find more.

After finding more on a large e-tailer named after a river and paying unusually high shipping and handling, I found and purchased the product. A little further searching turned up the website above teasing me with such splendors as a belt mounted dispenser with built in cutter, but no e-commerce for direct purchase. In tired desperation, after searching for someone who would sell me a dispenser, I wrote an email to Velcro praising the product, bemoaning the lack of a local supplier, and practically begging them to sell me a dispenser.

To my surprise, I received an email back the next morning advising an e-tailer who sells all their home use products and a very generous offer for a free trial. Though I respectfully declined the offer, explaining that I already knew the product would be worth the price, I very thoroughly thanked her for the link which I will share with you here.

As a disclaimer, I receive NO, nada, zilch, nothing for promoting this product. This is something I use in my garden and in my searching is the best thing going for tying up plants to stakes and training on trellises. This concludes my no BS report.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Failed effort

I was hoping to provide a percentage result for germination of 14 year old bean seed stored in pretty poor conditions for future germination. I expected much less than 100% but did expect more than zilch, nada, nothing.

I can say the rains did not fall favorably, but due to the germination rates of the Okra planted next to it, can not account for a zero percent germination rate.

After growing tomato plants from 8 year old tomato seed, I was hoping to send a "don't worry so much just save seed" result. This does open my eyes a little bit to the benefit of providing SOME protection (air tight jar instead of an envelope) to the seeds to prolong their usefulness.

I stand by my stance to avoid overheating the seed and nearly anything should maintain viability for 2-3 years. For better germination rates or extended storage, vacuum sealing, air tight jars, and O2 absorbers are all beneficial.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wild Blackberries

Some of my favorite crops are ones that require little to no tending. This past weekend, my wife and I braved the ticks, brambles, and bugs to come home with some wild blackberries.

There are a few red ones that slipped in. In general the berry is ripe when the shininess has a very subtle change, the berry is purplish black (no red), and will pull off with a light sideways pull.

I would love to show the pictures of us in long sleeves and decked out for tick and chigger avoidance except 1. I would be sleeping on the couch for a long time and 2. I forgot the camera. Just imagine socks over pants with tape covering all joints and brightly colored long sleeve shirts.

We spent nearly two hours and came back with an ice cream bucket half full. My plan to be brave and wade out in the brambles as tall as I am almost backfired when I lost my balance and almost fell. After that, my wife's idea of picking from the edges seemed brighter, but didn't stop me from wading. *grunt grunt guy stuff* Luckily the worst of the damage was light scratches on the hands and a dozen critters that got around our best preparations.

The reward:

One happy toddler. (Pictures to follow. Taken with wrong camera.)
One blackberry pie.
Several upcoming blackberry smoothies.
We even got a bit of a workout when the truck refused to start in the near backwoods.

Planning to get more this coming weekend as there should be more ripe than during this picking.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bean trellis Part 2

After traveling this past weekend, I am now back to giving the garden more of the attention it needs.

In the previous post, the skeletal framework was assembled. To complete the trellis, I unrolled the fencing I had and cut it to the length of the barbed wire. (While I could have measured the length, I enjoy building with little to no measurements when I can get away with it. The most advanced measurement tool used thus far has been my foot!)

As a note, it is much easier to plant your crop after putting up the fencing. Wanting to get a head start, I planted first, then hung the fence with enough travel time in between to have true leaves showing. This required me to be very careful to not "bulldoze" my sprouts into oblivion. ;)

I figured the height of my foot near the ankle would be a good height to raise the wire off the ground. With binding wires precut and hanging loosely on the fence and pliers in my pocket, I carefully raised the fence, wrapped the wire around fence and rebar, then snugged the wire up to hold the fence in place with my pliers.

Fence sections 2-5 were essentially repeats of the above. The only difference is not having a foot to rest the wire against. However, loosely wrapping one of the wires around the rebar is a nice hold while the rest of the fence is put in position. Once it is positioned as desired, the wire can be tightened up.

My end results look like this:

(click to enlarge)

So what would I do differently?

1. I would use steel wire instead of Aluminum as mentioned previously.
2. I would make it taller. I calculated that it would be seven foot tall. This seemed reasonable to walk and mow under as I'm 5'10". In the scientist that can't tie his shoe vein, I successfully calculated the height of the trellis, but forgot that the height will rapidly decrease as one moves away from the upright leg of the right triangle. Ducking under rebar wasn't bad, but the height (or lack thereof) became very evident once the fencing was up! Dohhhhh!!!
3. The rebar on the ends tends to pull due to the weight of the fence. I suspect this will not improve once the beans get bigger. Solutions? A. Thicker rebar (maybe). B. Barstock or pipe instead of rebar (expensive unless using scrap). C. Ridgepole (reasonable). D. Guy wires on the ends (reasonable). I had considered using a ridgepole of some sort during the design process to tie all the rebar uprights together, but decided to "see what happens" without it. My favorite solution would still be D simply because I consider tension to be a much more elegant solution than compression whenever possible.

Now the only step left is to wait for the beans to complete my living sculpture! GROW GROW GROW LITTLE BEANS!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I have to say, my husband is doing a great job with this blog! Our garden is tasting really good, too. :) Great job, Ted!

About 2 weeks ago, we harvested some peas. This first photo is of sugar snap peas.

They are very tasty, especially right off the vine!

The next couple photos are of our regular peas. These are also very good straight from the garden!
Happy harvesting!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bean trellis Part 1

My current project is assembling a bean trellis for yard long pole beans. Let's look at the progress so far.

I roughed out the calculations and figured that a 20' piece of rebar could be cut at 11' 5" allowing for a short 8.5' vertical with the longer piece at an angle. Putting both into the ground 1.5', I would end up with a triangle 7' high over one of my walkways for beans to grow on and a nice shaded area to attempt to grow cool weather crops during the summer.

I used 1/2" no grade rebar for this project spaced at 5' giving about 15' of trellis for the four posts. Climbing a ladder to pound posts is always interesting. This time my 16 month old daughter decided to surprise me by climbing the other side causing a few moments of panic as I jumped down to make sure she didn't fall. After letting her climb the ladder another dozen times, she got bored and decided to play in the dirt letting me get back to work. ;)

With the rebar in the ground, it looked like this:>Beans can be planted at any time at this stage.

The next step is to tie the rebar together with wire to give it some strength. (Though using thicker rebar or tube-stock driven deeper may allow a "floating" trellis. May have to try this later. Please let me know if anyone has done this before!) I used aluminum electric fence wire to tie them off as non rusting wire seemed like a good idea. Though I think it will work, it does not have the strength I expected. In the future, I will use the standard steel stuff the rusts rather than aluminum wire.

When tied off they look like this: (rake in the picture for size reference)

The next step will be taking the used fencing I have and tying it to the rebar. Many things can be used for the trellis gridwork (snow fence, string, most any fencing, sticks, wood, conduit, pvc pipe, etc.). I just happened to get the wire free for taking it down and the farmer switched from hogs to cattle and the short fencing was in his way. Free is very good!

As I have a tutoring client today I had to cut progress short. More to come!

BONUS Section:

This weekend I had one of those WOW moments in the garden when I was struck by the beauty of what I saw.

Pictured is the brilliant flower of an "American Flag" leek (onion relative) surrounded by carrot blossoms. What makes this even more rare is that carrots and leeks only bloom in their second year. Both plantings were seeded last fall, tricking them into flowering for this show.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A seed is planted

This is the start of a blog with a twofold purpose:

1. Provide a nuts and bolts approach to VEGETABLE gardening on a tight budget.
2. Document my drive from growing my garden from a couple tomato plants to an income stream.

I will demonstrate and provide advice from experiences I have had starting from marginal soil in the Missouri Ozarks and (hopefully) developing my garden plot into something beautiful, productive, and profitable.

Primary topics will include the entire life cycle of garden plants (planting to harvest to seed collection), herbs, fruits and berries, marketing, creating value added products, tools, food preservation, and food storage.

Most of the projects I will illustrate will be duplicatable from scrap, found items, reuse, or inexpensive construction material. If you have an interest in gardening and you have ever thought of building something out of PVC pipe other than plumbing, than this is the blog for you!

Heirloom Forellenschluss lettuce. "It means, 'speckled like trout'."