This year has been hotter and drier then any other year during which I considered myself a gardener. Before I began growing my own food, I really didn’t worry much about the weather, but now I do. It’s become so warm that my winter squash produced and died at least a month ago, and all of the cucumber and zucchini that usually protrude from my ears is no where to be found. My tomatoes are still doing very well, but all else is basically lost.
I won’t give up however, and I’ve decided to take a new approach. [ Continue Reading at http://itfarmersblog.com/?p=2668 ]
Another year has passed on the farm, and as the old year passes by, it leaves changes much like a glacier grinding and pushing its way to the sea. 2011 brought lots of new equipment and experiences to the farm, including a new John Deere tractor, and a much older yet still very effective 8n Ford tractor. The two tractors work great in tandam, making the hard work of yester-years into play time on full sized toys. The two tractors share lots of interchangable attachments including a back blade, brush hog, finish mower and more. Once we got up to speed on how the tractors worked and what we could do with them, everything changed. Tasks that were difficult became easy, and what was once impossible is now do-able.
With the power of many horses under our feet, we began to transform the land directly in front of my home from a thicket of brush into a smooth flowing lawn, complete with a meandering stream which runs through the center. This will be the land where I continue planting cherries, berries and fruit trees, as I’ve nearly run out of space close to the house. I’ve also found time to build a herb garden with lot’s of old field stones.
The year has also been shaped a great deal by the construction of a new shed. The idea began as a chicken coop, but as soon as I began construction of the shed in my minds eye I envisioned a work shop and extra storage for many of my tools. The shed demanded a good deal of my time, and I’ve had lots of help with the design and general construction. That project is now complete for the year, and the workshop is quickly being stocked and organized. I’ve built a study building that should last for decades, and its large enough that I have extra room for future use.
While the sun was hidden from view I put together my first book, which expands upon my first few years in the garden. After returning from work, and putting away my shed construction tools, I would edit, layout and revise my story, producing a 70 + page tale of trials and some errors on my path to master gardening. You can read more about the book by clicking here.
In 2009 and 2010 I had well over 100 tomato plants die due to late blight, and I lost the majority of the tomato harvest to this pest. It’s a difficult thing to loose so much hard work to something which is hard to see, but in 2011 I fought back with the conviction of a four star general. I drew up “battle plans” and stuck to the program, using Epson Salt and “Dragoon Dust” to protect the plants and destroy the enemy.
The blight managed to kill a plant or two, but I treated the outbreak much like the CDC would treat a case of SARS. I carefully covered the infected plants with a garbage bag, then ripped the roots from the soil, being carefull to isolate the infected plant. After torching the exposed plant matter, I redoubled my efforts in blight prevention. I took a doctor’s approach towards treatment, and gave the plants a heavy dose of Miracle Grow to keep them strong, while dusting the area exposed with an extra serving of anti-fungal agents.
At the end of the season it was clear that the blight had not succeded in robbing my harvest yet again. The tomatoes flowed from the garden like water spraying from a badly leaking hose.
With the endless bounty that streamed in from the garden, we all learned the fine points of food preservation, including canning, freezing and even vacuum sealing veggies. 2011 has been a great year for the garden, with two exceptions: Cucumbers and Zucchini.
I only managed to grow a few cucumbers, unlike past years when I would require a back pack in order to pick a row of cucks. The zucchini wasn’t nearly as bad, but it also suffered due to a thousand bites from pesky ground hogs. Overall, I’m very happy to see so much progress in hind sight. I’ve grown a great deal this year, perhaps more then the last five years combined. I’ve extended my garden season into the winter with Broccolli, Cualiflower and Brussels Sprouts, and I’ve demonstrated stubborn commitment towards shed construction.
Everyone on the farm has been learning and working together very well, and I think the outcome of this years labor is a testement to that effort. I hope to redouble my planning in 2012, and deliver even better results in the new year.
Happy New Year !
– I.T. Farmer
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Over the weekend, Rob and Maurice were cleaning up the horse pasture, and piling up the manure. After seeing the pile, I rushed off the get my tractor and connect the manure spreader. The manure spreader is a fancy wagon that is capable of carrying about a half truck load of manure from the field to my garden. The machine saves a great deal of manual labor, as in the past I had to shovel the manure into a truck, then shovel it back out. With this spreader, Rob could load the manure with his tractor, and I could use the flinging capacity of the spreader to apply a thick layer of organic fertilizer to the garden without touching a shovel.
On our first use of the machine, Rob loaded it up so that the manure towered nearly a foot over the edges. We all assumed that the tractor could pull the wagon heaping full of manure, and it worked with some rough driving. In order the steer the tractor I had to use the rear brakes, as the front end tended to lift itself off the ground. Then just as I passed over the small rock wall on the edge of my garden the manure spreader experienced a mechanical malfunction: The hitch separated from the spreader.
The spreader was constructed with a hitch and a handy built on spacer that keeps the hitch from laying on the ground. The whole hitch assembly was held together by four very rusty bolts which snapped as I tried to pull the wagon over the small rock wall. Luckily we found four bolts in the barn that fit the assembly.
After reconnecting the hitch it was time to try out the spreader. At first the machine seemed to be working with all of the gears moving but no flying fertilizer. Soon we found a mechanism which advances a track system in the wagon. The tracks force the load back at 1/2 inch intervals, and when the manure moves back far enough, the rotating spikes in the tail end fling the manure in every direction.
We all decided after the first load to fill the spreader only half way, since the tractor had trouble negotiating the hill with such as heavy load. The lighter loads helped smooth out the whole process, and before I knew it I was gaining confidence in this new tool. All was well until I noticed the tires inner tube bulging out the side of the wheel. I knew this could be a show stopper as flat tires don’t tend to turn well, but I kept on driving and kept constant watch. After nearly half of the work was done, I noticed the bulge in the tire missing, and curiously the tire was only about half flat. If the inner tube was punctured, the tire should have lost all of it’s air, but it did not. I decided not to wonder why it was still inflated, and figured I’d just be happy and keep working.
When the whole garden was covered, I took this picture which shows the layer of fertilizer covering the garden. The garden begins along the row of trees on the left, and runs behind the greenhouse out to the edge of the field where the poles are sticking out of the ground.
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The warm season is almost over, and I decided to mow down all of the nearly lifeless plants that remained. I used the 8N tractor and the finish mower to chop up all of the remaining plants so that they will begin rotting back into soil sooner. If I hadn’t chopped up the stalks, they would not begin rotting until the plant matter met up with the soil in the spring, so I’m really giving the worms, and everything else that feeds on this matter a jump start on the spring. If the garden was flat I would have it rototilled in the fall, but the slope is steep enough that I worry the soil will wash away.
When I was finished, I found it hard to believe that dozens of pounds of tomatoes, potatoes, and arm fulls of celery had grown in this space. If not for the black weed blocker that remains spread out along the ground, it would be easy to believe this was simply the back yard that I was mowing. I’m now left with a more traditionally sized garden which contains the winter crops I’ve begun to experiment with. I have an approximately 20 by 20 foot space very close to my house where Chard, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and Garlic are growing.
I decided not to mow over the pepper plants because they still looked very healthy, and continued to grow new peppers. It takes these plants a long time to get started producing peppers, but once they grow to full size, the plants sets peppers fairly quickly. I figured that if we didn’t get a frost for a few more weeks, I could potentially get several extra shopping bags full of peppers in that short amount of time.
The weatherman called for frost and I wanted to learn all I could while I had the opportunity. I’ve rarely tried to extend the growing season in the fall, so I thought I would find out just how effective covering plants to protect them from frost would be. We already have plenty of frozen peppers to last many months, so I’m doing this more for the sake of knowing if it will work, rather then trying to grow extra peppers. I only covered one section of plants, and I left the others as they were.
I found out the next morning that a simple sheet will protect the plants. You can see just how bad the unprotected plants were harmed by the frost. The protected plants have upright leaves, whereas the unprotected plants look terrible with dropping leaves.
Now, I’ll keep an eye on the protected pepper production, and see if it’s worth the effort in the future.
I awoke Saturday morning, and one of the first thoughts to cross my mind was “What am I going to do today ?”, which was soon followed with “Especially since I don’t have a tractor to play on”. I decided to get out of bed first, and plan my day later, so I began my morning routine, getting dressed and then feeding my parakeets and fish. Not long after I got done, but before I managed to comb my hair, I heard a thud outside, and had a look. Their was a delivery truck outside, and he was bringing me a box. Sweet!
The box contained two tire tubes for the tractor.Later in the day, I asked rob to show me how to tear apart the tire and replace the tube. It sounds like an easy task, but if you don’t have a tire machine, you better have some tricks up your sleeve.My sister Maurice had the winning idea that separated the tire from the rim using a truck and a board. The board is placed on the rubber portion of the wheel, and the weight of the truck driving on the board separates the rubber from the rim. I wouldn’t suggest you try this, it’s always better to use the right tool for the job.
By the way, I was very happy with the company that sold and shipped me the tire tubes: Stevens Ag Parts – 1-800-333-9194. They sell all kinds of parts for older tractors.
I was using the back blade on the tractor to try and level a large pile of dirt near the rock garden, but I found it wasn’t very effective. Things got a whole lot easier when Rob loosened up the dirt first.
Once the dirt was loose, the back blade became a whole lot more effective. The blade is good at pulling dirt along behind the tractor to be dumped later. I’ve found it’s not very good at leveling dirt when you drive forward, but it works very well when the tractor is in reverse. I dragged the soil to the approximate location where I wanted to spread it in forward, and then switched gears to level it.
The arrangement worked very well. Rob could dig the soil up faster then I could drag it away, but I had a whole lot of fun trying to keep up with him.
At the bottom of the pile of dirt we found an old rear end. I’m guessing it’s from a very old truck since it has leaf springs.
Now that the second pile of dirt is leveled, I don’t have much left to do:
1. Clean up the metal and piles of wood.
2. Level the dirt where the piles were.
3. Spread grass seed and hay.
Then I can begin working on Phase II: Planting Trees, starting with pears, plums, peaches or any other fruit tree I can get to grow from seed. If that doesn’t work I guess I’ll have to save up to purchase some more fruit trees. I’ll also be planting some native trees in the area right next to the crick.
Along with the Brush Hog, and Finish Mower, the Tractor has another attachment that I thought was kinda useless. The attachment looks like a straight piece of metal attached to the three point hitch. I have seen it used in the past to level gravel, or to move snow, but I didn’t really appreciate how awesome this piece of equipment was until I got on the tractor and taught myself how to use it.
I decided that I had looked at a few piles of top soil for too long, and that this blade might be useful in leveling out the dirt. In an hour or so, I conquered the first small pile of dirt, and was leveling the ground nearby as well. It was kinda fun to level dirt when I didn’t need a shovel and wheel barrel !
After the initial success, I decided to use the blade to knock over some brush. The brush had been allowed to grow since it was known there were chunks of metal in this area that would do some serious damage to a lawn mower. Once the brush was clear, I could see the metal pipes and cables, to which my mind immediately pictured more work then I wanted to do.
I made a calculated guess that I could pull these chunks of metal out of the ground with the tractor, but I also figured there could be a high cost if I guessed wrong, so I started small, and soon found myself ripping and tearing till the whole area was flat, clear of debris and ready for some grass seed.
I managed to pull all of this metal from about a 150 square feet of ground. It has already been sent for recycling, and I’d guess it’s on a ship headed for China, where it will be made into the axles for toys in fast food smile meals….
After removing all of the metal, and leveling the soil with the tractor, I needed to finish the job right by using a shovel and rake to make the ground smooth as any suburban lawn. I found myself shoveling wheel barrel after wheel barrel of soil, but I attracted some unexpectedly chipper helpers. Jessica, my niece, and the little gardener made a huge contribution leveling the soil as I dumped it. As always, I couldn’t believe the level of effort put forth especially by my 6 year old helper. He has since asked me if we could do some more dirt leveling, and amazing commitment if you ask me.
After cleaning everything up to the patch of trees shown, I decided to keep going, and started leveling the ground and ripping up any iron found. With Nate’s help we removed a whole lot of old trees and limbs, and I’ve brought down my Bio-Char barrel for some finish up work. I hope to place another barrel next to the one shown, and try out a double burn. This should give me more bio-char for the amount of fuel burnt. All of the brush Nate and I cleaned up will hopefully be turned into bio-char, and spread either over the barren ground here on in the garden.
I had set out to level two hills of soil, but instead I’ve made quite a mess stretching about two hundred feet long and 50 feet wide. I need to repair a flat on the tractor, then I can continue this project. I’ve already begun planting grass seed in the first portion, and covering it with hay.
When I’m all done leveling the ground, I hope to plant fruit trees the whole length of the driveway on the right, and a wide selection of native trees by the crick which runs through the valley on the left. Some of the native trees I hope to plant include Weeping Willows, which should help trap moisture in the valley instead of it running off during dry months. I may even throw in some cherries and berries as part of the final plan, but I guess I should get my ducks in a row and get back to work starting with a tire repair on the tractor.
I’ve largely neglected my rock garden since constructing it over what was a dump a long long time ago. Weeds have been growing up between the rocks, and sumac has grown all around. I have decided to take a little break from shed construction and play around with a tractor implement known as a back blade. It’s basically a straight chunk of iron attached to the three point hitch which allows the driver to level dirt, and move around heavy rocks. Since teaching myself how to use this device, I’ve taken a renewed interest in my rock garden.
The herbs I’ve planted and largely ignored are doing very good. They are all planted under the gentle cover of a apple tree, and the soil carried an amazing dark color thanks to the remnants of large quantities of wood which have been burnt or rotted away here. I have have been a poor garden tender, but the only hint of my absence is the extra plants which sprung up while I was away.
The parsley seems to be the one exception to this garden. Although it’s growing fairly well, it seems to be growing slowly. I may need to stop by this area with some plant food, and soak the soil with a few gallons of water.
The basil is growing happily, with one of the night lights I placed here nearby. These are solar powered lights that are often found near walkways. I’ve placed two of them here to give the garden a bit of character at night. I can see the lights glowing from my porch after dark.
Now that I’ve gotten used to leveling and cleaning the ground with the tractor, I’m hoping to Terra-form this whole area of about an acre. I would like to end the dominance of weedy ground and unruly chunks of iron, and bring in a new age of green mowed grass, and gentle slopes. I’ve already made quite a big dent of sorts