Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Saturday the 15th I transplanted the first tomatoes to the hoop house closest to the house with hopes that I will be picking the bright pink orbs by the middle of June. These are not an early variety that can be expected to produce a golf ball sized red but not particularly tasty tomato about 60 days after planting out a six week old transplant. No, these are an heirloom variety called "Blosser" that normally needs 80 to 90 days after transplant which in this area means they will start producing around mid July. These are the tomatoes that many people would almost die for and if they do succeed in getting them without dying, they will think they have indeed died and gone to heaven when they cut a slice big enough to cover a slice of fresh home made bread and begin chomping into it. I started these babies in mid January in 24 cell insert trays,(double the root ball space of tomato plants sold in most commercial greenhouses). When the plants are about 4-5 inches tall I double dirt them (pile additional potting soil on top of the flats around and between the plants),nearly doubling again the root ball space. This gives me a 10-12 week old transplant with blooms on it and a root ball the size of my fist (I have a big fist)ready to hit the ground a running. By planting them into a hoop house or high tunnel they get the additional advantage of warmer night time temperatures during the weeks of May and early June. Tomatoes need night time temperatures in the 50s in order to successfully set fruit. So it is realistic to get those salubrious Blosser tomatoes before the end of June if they are planted in a hoop house instead of out in the open.
I finished putting the plastic on the field high tunnels today with plans to get plants in them before this week is out. This is about two weeks earlier than I normally plant tomatoes outside. The picture shows a view inside one of the high tunnels last year showing both Red Suns in the foreground (a hybrid determinate variety) and the indeterminate Brandywines in the background. Near this spot I knelt one time and picked a bushel within arms reach without getting off my knees off of four or five plants.
Friday night April 14 was a special evening. A spectacular thunderstorm rolled in around 9:00 PM with lots of lightning to light up the world outside, a fitting event for Good Friday. The dogs wanted to come into the house and the most shy one insisted on cowering beneath the computer desk. After awhile I took him back out to the front porch where I lingered awhile to watch the celestial fireworks and to commune with the forces of nature. We have had several rains since and a really nice soaker this past Saturday, a bit too ducky for a Saturday morning market day but we needed it. The lightning picture was not taken here on my farm (I'm not that good!)but it captures well the essence of the Good Friday storm and my reasons for going outside to watch it.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Friday evening we had a night time thunderstorm with spectacular fireworks-a fitting event for Good Friday. The dogs barked and banged on the front door till we let them in and the one cowered under the computer desk until the thunder stopped. Of course I had to drag him outside for awhile to sit on the front porch, watch the show, and commune with the forces of nature. I went to market the next morning with fresh eggs, spinach in prime condition, and because I have been determined to have lettuce to sell by mid April, some cutting lettuce from the field hoop house. I visited my mom in the nursing home for awhile after leaving the market and got home around mid afternoon. I then decided to transplant tomatoes into the hoop house close to the house, the one I showed in an earlier post with mid winter salad greens.
Most intrepid tomato gardeners can pot up an early tomato variety like "Early Girl", "Early Cascade", or "Quik Pic" and have ripe golf ball sized tomatoes, with a flavor that is nothing special, before the end of June.
The plants I was planting are a local heirloom called "Blosser" started from seed in late January and transferred as seedlings into 24 cell flats in early February. In mid March, about the time I normally seed my main tomato crop, I "double dirted" the then four inch tall plants by piling more potting soil on top of the flats. This gave me sturdy ten week old one foot tall plants with root balls the size of my fist (I have a big fist)with blooms on them. Blosser tomatoes normally need 80-90 days beyond a 6-8 week transplant in order to mature fruit. With a little of my neighbors horse manure in the planting holes, some tender loving care, and God's blessings, I can hope to have nice big ripe pink tomatoes by mid June. I can maintain warmer temperatures inside the hoop house for the next two months as tomatoes need night time temperatures no lower than 50 degrees in order to successfully set fruit.
These are not the so so golf ball sized pale red orbs that some early tomato fanatics like to brag about. These are big enough for a slice to cover a slice of fresh home made bread and have a flavor some people would almost kill for. If they do have the fortune to get one without killing, then when they eat it they may think they have died and gone to heaven. The picture shows some Blosser tomatoes I grew last year in a hoop house. They started producing around the first of July, about two weeks earlier than they would have in the open field
I was hard to get out of bed this morning. We were to go to a community Easter sunrise service hosted by three community churches at the cemetery on the hill outside of Singers Glen. Finally I dragged on out and when we got there I was glad we went. The weather was beautiful and the scene breathtaking. As the sun came up I gazed at the post card scene of the village of Singers Glen lying in the valley south of the cemetery. To the north lies the now abandoned dairy farm where I grew up and farmed myself for 16 years. The recent rains have really brought out the budding trees and greened up the grass. The rising sun reflected off the tombstones, creating a beautiful glow. What a wonderful time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the hopes for an abundant season that the recent refreshing rains and warmer weather are bringing forth.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
We were blessed over the weekend with nearly an inch of slow soaking rain. PTL! It had been one of the driest Marches on record here with less than 1/2 inch of rain and snow for the entire month. Things are really starting to pop now!
Yesterday I made raised beds and covered them with black, then red plastic mulch in preparation for tomato planting. Today I transplanted nearly 400 Red Cross and Red Sails lettuce plants and helped Christine haul and spread a mix of wood shavings and horse manure on the asparagus and rhubarb beds as mulch. I then ran to town to run some errands and buy lumber for building four more hoop house ends. I plan to make the two 100 foot hoop houses into four 50 foot units to simplify the logistics of moving them each season. Tomorrow I plan to work on the hoop houses and maybe put some Pemium Crop broccoli and Cheddar cauliflower plants out.
The picture is of me building a trellis for pole beans. It is relatively inexpensive and simple to build and dismantle but putting on the drop strings takes some time. I like the background because it shows the busyness of the farm in June when gardening and hay making is in full swing.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
My wife balked a little when she first saw an earlier version of this picture on my blog. She thought I should have her picture featured here with me like I should value her more than an old dog. She was right. I would have loved to have a picture of her here sitting on my lap in this same chair alongside of this picture with my dog. Wouldn't that have been a hoot! Oh I almost forgot! The dog's name is Booger.
It took awhile to find this nice picture of my family. Back row L to R- my 2nd daughter Rhonda(now married) and son Hans (a student at Berea College KY). Front row L to R-my oldest daughter Celia holding grandson Darryl, her husband Craig Good holding grandson Nevin, me, and my dear wife Christine.
Monday, April 03, 2006
This is one of my most prized inventions. I rigged this apparatus for my Farmall Cub tractor to lay plastic mulch for around $50. A new commercial three point hitch tractor mounted mulch layer can cost as much as $5000. It's not quite as fast as the commercial machine and I have to lay the drip tape in a separate operation but hey- it sure beats trying to lay it by hand and it gets the job done for a little guy like me.
This is as good as a vacation in Florida! And a whole lot less expensive. When the weather is really cold outside like single digits, inside air temperatures here can be in the lower teens. However at the soil level the temperatures seldom go below freezing. This allows a variety of cold tolerant salad greens like lettuces, spinach, cress, kale, chard, etc. to thrive in the coldest months. I've walked in here on a cold morning and found everything frozen stiff. Several hours later with the sun shining and everything thawed out and growing, I could work in short shirtsleeves. We can eat this kind of thing for most of the winter. Last year in one six week period we sold about $750 worth of fresh salad greens off of an area no bigger than an average parking lot space, approximately 150 square feet. That is about 1/2 of the space you can see here. The greenhouse dimensions are 14 x 24 feet.
I maintain on average around 125-130 laying hens in this trailer mounted hen house which gets moved to fresh pasture about once per week. An electrified net fence keeps foxes and coyotes away from the chickens and the chickens away from the garden areas and my garage. These biddies spend their summers in the hay fields and cow pastures and spend their winters in the garden areas after the crops are all finished. They do a pretty decent job of cleaning up garden debris, shallow tillage and fertilization of the soil, and are considered a significant part of our pest control program. They really go after overwintering Japanese Beetle grubs and who knows what other ground dwelling pests. In summer they get copious amounts of un sold and over ripe tomatoes and summer squash and the jugs of captured Japanese Beetles we dump into their water from the traps. In exchange they present us with the most wonderful tasting and healthy eggs in the world.
This is the view of the contoured field strips as seen looking eastward from our front door. The geodesic dome structure in the corner of the field at the end of the driveway is a high school industrial arts project of my son Hans. It serves as a field decoration and landmark for visitors coming to the farm for the first time. I try to maintain a perennial flower garden around the dome with some type of runner beans climbing the dome. I have tried several times to grow lettuce in the then shaded interior during the hottest summer months with mixed success. Alternating with the crop strips are strips of sod and legumes which serve as habitat for beneficial insects, access lanes for getting to the crops without compacting the soil in the crop strips, and as part of my crop rotation and soil enrichment scheme. Every two years or so I plow up the sod strips and plant cover crops on the old crop strips, thus switching them to become the new sod strips. In the foreground you see one of several mixed flower and herb patches located near the house and spotted around various locations in the 2 1/2 acre market garden. These also serve as beneficial insectaries for attracting predatory insects which help to keep our pestilence under enough control to minimize our dependence on the use of toxic insecticides.
This is a picture of the old log house (now torn down) that once stood in the field bordering the south end of our front lawn. It was in pretty bad shape and had become an eyesore when viewed from the lower side. All that remains is the stone chimney and the stone foundation. I still plan to refurbish the basement under the front half of the structure next to the chimney and make it into a ground cellar. Then I will build a simple one story rustic storage building on top of the ground cellar and use it for storing stuff like onions and garlic. The brick part of the chimney will most likely be removed.
When my wife saw the picture of me with the dog, she said she felt a little slighted. I wish I had one of her sitting on my lap in our dining room just like the one with the dog. Wouldn't that be a hoot! Oh well, this one will have to do. She certainly needs to be on here as she is a very important part of the team. And I really do think she is better looking than the dog.