26 March 2011 3:13 PM
It's a new year!

Wow, it’s been a while… I’ll try to be brief. Here’s what worked last season:
beans (all kinds)
squash (winter and summer)
greens (somehow they never bolted… never got very big, but never bolted)
chard (didn’t plant enough, and then the deer discovered it)

Here’s what didn’t work:
broccoli (never flowered, got ate up by cabbage worms, died late summer)
cauliflower (see broccoli)
cabbage (we got 5 small heads out of 15 before they died)
celery (never got more than 6 inches high)
spinach (bolted before it grew much at all)
corn (pests… lots of pests, plus inconsistent ripening)
peanuts (never came up, replaced with beans)
carrots (swallowed up by queen-anne’s lace, couldn’t weed)
potatoes (got about two small potatoes per plant… they died early and sadly)
onion (apparently they bolted… didn’t know they could do that)

Here’s something else that didn’t work: the concept “row-bed”. On the upside, we got a lot of greens in the small amount of space we dedicated to them; on the down side, weeding a row-bed is a completely-unhinged-shouldn't-have-watched-that-psycho-horror-flick-while-drinking-coffee-right-before-bed nightmare… you can’t use a tool (the plants are too close together) so it has to be done by hand… over and over and over again… and, as I found out later (thank you Ralph and Guy-at-Fresh Start!), a virgin field is going to have weed problems for about 3 years, the first year being the worst, so an inefficient-to-weed planting scheme is not a good idea at this time.

So here’s what we’re doing different this season:

1) We started the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage indoors in mid-January (rather than late Feb.) and planted them in back yard in early March (the raised beds could be planted then, the field could not)… they seem happy. If we have a mild-ish May (70s-80s) they might have a chance to flower before the heat and cabbage worms kill them.

2) Rows. Only rows. No more than 3 things per row. 3’7” between rows. Also, the rows are hilled (thank you Ralph!), with the seeds (an later, starts) planted in the center of the hill. Assumed benefits of hilling: less dirt on leafy things; more loose-ish soil for root development and bulb production; and easier spotting of weeds.

3) We’re putting down clover between the rows. Clover attracts bees, fixes nitrogen in the soil (it’s a legume, like beans and peas), “crowds out weeds” (!?), and makes a wonderful green-manure-mulch when mowed and blown onto the side of the hilled rows (this last part is more hopeful than known, I’ll let you know how it goes).

4) On the rows with starts, we’ll be putting down damp news-paper over the row, before planting the starts (through the newspaper). This should help with the weeds (please, please let it help).

5) We purchased a “high-wheeled cultivator” (an Amish tool), which has a mold-board plow (great for hilling rows), a 5 claw cultivator for breaking up the soil, and a slicing weeder attachment (with narrow row plantings this should help). As O said in her earlier post “You are the Mule”, so there’s some exercise involved, but it’s got to beat 3 hour weed-pulling sessions on your hands and knees… I’ll let you know if it works, but I can tell you I’m already thrilled with the plow and (maybe) the 5-claw cultivator.

6) I will endeavor come July, to not nurse no-longer-very-productive plants along after they’re done with trying to reproduce and just want to sleep. I will pull-‘em out and put something new in… I will… really.

7) (And this is just an experiment) We’re planting a patch where there will be corn, pole-beans and squash interplanted. The idea (not mine, probably native-american) is that the beans will provide nitrogen for the corn and squash; the corn will provide a place for the beans to climb, and the squash will provide ground cover to keep the weeds back and the water in the ground. I’m thinking 6-8 corn/3 bean/2 squash in each block… but I might change my mind.

So far this spring, we’ve fertilized and conditioned the soil (Yay Fresh Start Grower's Supply), and tilled (one time up and back on the 3 setting), hilled and planted 7 rows (of 28). It been rather uneventful. The soil is much, much nicer this year… softer, richer, moist and easily broken. I’m using a seeder for as much of the planting as possible… which is fast with peas and chard, but it doesn’t do well with tiny seeds, so they’ve been hand sown. We have spinach, chard, carrots, lettuce, arugula, kale, collards, mustard, peas and onions in, and I think that might be all for the early-spring planting. Potatoes, leeks and celery in the next couple weeks, then beans, squash, etc. close to May. Oh, and we’re putting up a “deer-deterrent” “fence” (tobacco stakes, fishing line and strips of aluminum foil) which we hope will keep the grazing to a minimum.

I’ll leave you with a little story (not verbatim, but close enough for a blog): Last Sunday, after eagerly trying out my “you are the mule” cultivator, I was standing there in my overalls with the cultivator upside-down leaning against the farm-wagon (Volvo) making some adjustments to the handle height when TK, S and ME (brother-in-law, wife, daughter) pulled up in their new SUV. TK looks puzzlingly at the cultivator and says “What’s that?”
“It’s a high-wheeled cultivator… an Amish gardening tool… it should be really helpful,” I say.
“Yeah, I think I’m really going to like it.”
Looking at the farm-wagon, “But you drove here… um… isn’t that a little…”
“Well, yeah, it’s a little ridiculous.”
S chimes in, “Yes, a little… I always get a kick out of you out here in your overalls with  that blue-tooth headset stuck in your ear.”
“Oh, yeah, this one’s new, I got it for Christmas. Stereo. Great sound. Been listening to music all day. You know, I hate wires, but I love irony.”
“Well as long as you’re aware…”
"Oh, I'm completely aware of my own ridiculousness... trust me."


The Worleys

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24 March 2011 3:44 PM
Weeds, Worms & Wackiness

Last fall I got the flu and wound up on the couch for 5 days.  I spent the week watching Weeds from the first season.  A few months later, Dan started readying the house to be one giant grow house and I kept having dreams about getting busted by our neighbors, or DEA agents in helicopters) for the grow lights.  The good news is we can now grow 6 – 9 flats at a time in a lovely area in our TV room.  We covered the inside of the shelving unit with an emergency Mylar blanket to keep the light from shining on the TV and to add extra reflection on the plant side.  It’s working beautifully.  (Pictures to follow after I’ve charged my camera battery.)

In February, D started Italian heirloom broccoli, purple cauliflower, cabbage & ground cherries.  Everything came in really well and thrived except the ground cherries.  Apparently they are really hard to grow.  The beautiful plants went into the ground 2 weeks ago and so we’re hoping against hope to actually get the Brassicas this year (all three died the hot Kentucky summer death last year) sometime in late May.

A couple weeks ago D started the tomatoes.  We were out of Chocolate Cherry seeds and really wanted to grow them again so D tried to thaw one of the frozen Chocolate Cherries that we had put up last summer (tomatoes are really easy to freeze, by the way, and the skin just slips off once they thaw).  We were hoping that since you freeze seeds anyway, the seeds frozen in the tomato would be okay, but none of them sprouted so chalk another one up to the learning curve.  Do not freeze your seeds in your vegetable.

From the wonderful world of the internet:  Saving Seeds from the Garden.

Seed contained in fleshy fruits should be cleaned using the wet method. Tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumber and roses are prepared this way. Scoop the seed masses out of the fruit or lightly crush fruits. Put the seed mass and a small amount of warm water in a bucket or jar. Let the mix ferment for two to four days. Stir daily. The fermentation process kills viruses and separates the good seed from the bad seed and fruit pulp. After two to four days, the good viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the container while the pulp and bad seed float. Pour off the pulp, water, bad seed and mold. Spread the good seed on a screen or paper towel to dry.

Seeds must be stored dry. Place in glass jar or envelopes. Make sure you label all the containers or packages with the seed type or variety, and date. Put in the freezer for two days to kill pests. Then store in a cool dry location like a refrigerator. Seed that molds was not sufficiently dry before storage.

Nope, definately didn't do that!

T & I went on vacation with my parents over winter break.  When we came back, there was this plastic tub in the middle of the kitchen.  Apparently it was waiting for worms.  Yup, I leave for a week and come back to worms in my kitchen.  D was making a worm bin because worm casting make fantastic fertilizer!  D bought the worms from Amazon and they were supposed to be delivered while he was in Danville, but they didn’t come.  D finally checked with USPS and it turns out, they were delivered.  Days before.  So D walked up and down the street, knocking on doors, to see if someone wound up with our worms.  He never found them or at least, no one would admit to having opened a box of worms.  At that point they would have been dead anyway and dead worms can’t poop.  So he ordered another box of 1,000 worms.  The worm people were distressed about the missing box of worms, so sent another box – now we have 2,000 worms.  Then the worm people called D about the box and he missed the call (teaching) and they must have assumed we didn’t get the replacement box so they sent another box of 1,000 worms.  So now we have 3,000 worms.  Seriously, what in my life would indicate that I would ever have 3,000 worms in my house?  I never was a big fan – too easy to squish.   And it was getting a little ridiculous with the ever increasing worm supply in our outside compost, home garden (for the birds of course), and blue tub of worms in the kitchen.

D & K went to the farm last Sunday and the soil is much happier this year.  It will be even better once we have worm poop out the wazoo.  D has been teaching in Danville this year and staying with some friends during the week.  Ralph is director of historic farming practices at Shaker Village and has taught D sooo much about what we did wrong last summer.  D thinks his learning curve has lowered markedly.  So this year, hilled rows, wider paths, lots of clover, and a high wheel cultivator.  (Tag line:  You're the mule.  He LOVES it!)

Finally, we have 12 new planters of asparagus.  We’re using planters in case we have to move.  It takes years for it to establish and I’m just not willing to go without asparagus again.  We’ll let you know how it goes.


The Worleys

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15 June 2010 11:37 PM
Our Future in Pictures

I put up 4 scare-deers on Saturday and I promised pics, so here's one:

The summer squash are coming in:

The tomatoes will be here soon: 

(this one is the size of your fist if you're male and under 5'9")

So will the hot peppers:

And the Kentucky-Lake pole beans will soon make 4 rows of beans to be harvested twice a week:

this is the row (all 90ft. of it):

The wild black-berries will be in in a couple weeks:

I harvested 6lbs. of beans on Monday and 2lbs. of mixed greens (kale, collard, mustard) today (Tuesday), plus about a pound of lettuce each day, plus weeding and other maintenance (K weeded, squished worms and beetles, sprayed anti-pest-cayenne-mix and re/extra/original-staked tomatoes... and finally bought a pair of overalls)...  but once everything hits (in about 10 days barring unforeseen Deer catastrophes), there will be no maintenance... just harvest, pick, thin... and honestly, I can not wait.  This is the hardest and best time of year... it's hot, humid and there's an absolutely amazing amount of food jumping out of the ground... this is the time of gratification-that-was-delayed.  (It also is the time of "work-sweat-work-pick-sweat-pick-sweat-weed-sweat-and-did-I-mention-sweat?", but there's nearly instant gratification for that... I'll post a recipe for Royal Burgundy beans that'll make your week... later, if I get to it.).

In more news: the scare-deers that have shirts seem to be working... the other one just keeps him from the general (10ft) vicinity; I'm going to subject my (current) friend, Rich, to the joys of "green-bean-picking-in-a-100-degree-heat-index" on Thursday, because he'll be here and I can't take time off at the moment; and the surrounding rolling fields are filled with this:

which is exceptionally beautiful, and the bird calls, and hawks being chased by crows, and the crows being chased by robins, and the cows moaning their contentment on the B's farm, and... well really, the combination will make you forget the heat.

Good food!


The Worleys

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13 June 2010 11:21 AM
Oh... Deer...

I was woken up by a dream (a nightmare really) Saturday morning at 5am.  In the dream, I was driving up the hill, and just as I reached the crest and the field came into view, all that was left was stems... everything was gone...  then I woke up.

Here's what prompted the dream.

Those are the (former) sunflower-buds (plus a bunch of crab-grass) we'd planted (not the crab-grass) at the head of the Black Valentine Bean row, that greeted us when K and I got to the hill to harvest green-beans on Monday.  "Oh, looks like we have a deer,"  K says.  We check everything.  The damage wasn't sooo bad.  We still had all of the tomatoes, two of the six rows of beans (green and other) were un-touched, and the two rows that had been nibbled were just missing some top-leaves.

And, all the lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, greens, cauliflower, carrots, etc. were untouched.

So, with a pinch of anxiety, we went about the chores for the day (finding and squishing cabbage-worms and potato-beetles, weeding the desperate stuff, and harvesting the Black Valentine and Royal Burgundy beans).  Our first bean harvest yielded about two pounds, and the knowledge that we would be harvesting again on Thursday, when we'd need to add in the Roma II beans.

Wednesday, I weeded and squished bugs, with little else to report.

When K and I arrived on Thursday, we noticed that the deer had returned, trimming young growth off of every row of beans of any sort (that's 6 rows I think), and knocking out a couple more sunflowers.  We were not amused.  Analyzing the damage and the tracks (and the scent), we decided it was probably a lone deer (buck) who had wandered into the field and randomly grazed... this made us feel better... kinda better... more like we'd just rationalized a best-case scenario.  But, you know, whatever it takes to get ya through the day, right?

So we squished and pulled and picked (6lbs. of green-beans this time!) and thinned (2lbs. of lettuce!) and decided to try to find an inexpensive-to-free-ish-deer-deterrent.

Friday dawns with the promise of the ever-so-wonderful combination of high-heat, high-humidity, and impending-heavy-thunder-storms.  So I load up the cooler with canola-oil and cayenne-pepper (I left the rotten-eggs out of the suggested recipe, because, well... yuck) and rushed out the the hill as early as I could possibly get there.  After the obligatory bug-squishing ritual, I poured some oil and (way too much) cayenne into the sprayer, filled it with water, shook well, and pressurized it (note to self: the pump needs oil).

SPRAYER: Pffffttt-t-t-t-dribble.
ME: Hmmm.  Clogged.  
(remove the nozzle)
SPRAYER:  Pfffftt-t-t-drib-b-ble.
ME:  Hmmm, one more try.
(replace nozzle)
SPRAYER:  Pfffttt-drib--b.  
(shake spayer)
ME (after repeating more times than was reasonable):  Well, #^$%.  This isn't working.  (thinking:" at 15min. for 4ft it'll take two days to do a bad job of it")
(dis-assemble sprayer, try to find clog, notice 1/2 cup of cayenne puddled at the bottom where the hose-end ends).
ME:  &#^$...  I need a filter.

Hoping and praying, I pour the spicy mixture into a bucket, luckily find a kitchen towel in the back of the "farm-wagon", and try using it as a filter while pouring the oily-fiery stuff back into the sprayer.  The process doesn't go smoothly or quickly... also, I end up with cayenne-oil all over my hands.  But hey, on the upside it's so hot out I don't notice the lingering capsicum-burn until I'm driving home.  After what seems like an hour of filtering, and now having just over a gallon in the sprayer, I decide to try it too see just how much time I'd been wasting.

SPRAYER:  Pffffffffffffffffssfsffffsffffffsf
ME:  Thank God.

I spray down all the beans and tomatoes (and the peppers, just for safety), and keep spraying anything else until I run out of magic-cayenne-oil mix (the things we'll put our faith in...).  Then, harvesting greens for the unbelievably delicious Saag O'Bryan was going to make at our home-made Indian feast (maybe she'll post about that later).

On the way home, I'm less-than-anxiety-free and my hands are burning.

So Saturday morning has the dream, followed by me laying in bed trying to go back to sleep thinking about what Tony had said on Thursday "Well, deer can wipe-out a whole garden in a night."  And, "I know a lot of people who've just given up their gardens because the deer eat everything," which is what O'Bryan had reported her mother saying when told about the deer.  I am not comforted by my thoughts.

When I finally get up, I google (yes it's a verb... deal) "How to keep deer out of garden", which appears to be a very popular search phrase.  The answer is "a fence, at least 8 feet high, that also goes 2 ft. underground, and has extensions angeled out at the top"... umm... that's not going to happen.  The next answer is "a dog or two living outside, inside an invisible fence around the area around the garden"... also not going to happen.  Other fun answers: "lots of human urine", "coyote urine", "electric fence", "motion-detector wired to turn on a radio tuned to talk-radio", "ringing the garden in a fishing-line-fence with shiny things hanging from it", "soap shavings" and "lots of human hair".  I decide on scare-deers dressed in smelly-dirty t-shirts, with deodorant-soap in cheese-cloth and old CDs hanging from it, combined with spraying the endangered plants with a diluted tabasco mix every few days... oh yeah, and frequent prayer.

I forgot the camera on Saturday, so I'll post pics of the scare-deers Monday or Tuesday.

Happy Food!



The Worleys

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06 June 2010 12:00 PM
We might be in trouble.

I arrived at the hill Friday a little later than I wanted...  It's been hot and humid and anything I don't get done by 1pm, probably won't get done... but I woke up and rolled over to checked the clock, it was at least an hour later when I finally saw the time... so I arrived at the hill trailing a cloud of anxiety and guilt.  Then, on the first row of my walking-the-field-and-random-weeding time, I saw this:

and suddenly and deeply felt much, much more relaxed.  THE BEANS HAVE ALMOST ARRIVED!!!  Life is good.  Very good.

The next row over after pulling several of these:

from the Burgundy beans, I noticed an awful lot of Valentine-bean plants that looked like this:

which caused a bit of food-euphoria (have you ever had a green bean straight off the vine?), which then caused me to eat one or two (or three) fresh, young beans right then and there (yum!).  When the euphoria eased a bit I looked up and saw this:

which is the one-half row (40ish ft.) dedicated to that particular heritage bean...  and then I glanced at this:

which is the one-third row dedicated to the Royal Burgundy beans (and to the left there's an entire row of Kentucky-Lake pole beans, but they aren’t producing... yet)... and I did an intuitive-almost-math-rough-calculation and realized that on Monday somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000-5000 green (and/or burgundy) beans have to be harvested.  I'm not sure how we’ll do it, but I do know that "have to be harvested" is not even in the same county as "probably should get to that soon" or even the same state as "awhh they'll be fine... plants like to grow, that's what they do... “have to be harvested” means exactly what it says...  Because if you don't harvest beans they quit making beans.

This brings me to why we might be in trouble.  We'll be able to handle the almost-row on Monday, but in a week or so the full row of Kentucky-Lake, and the other full row of Roma II, will "have to be harvested" in addition to what we'll be doing Monday.

And then there's this:

which is a happy-making cherry-tomato plant.  And this:

which is a happy-making Rutgers tomato plant.  This scene will soon be duplicated on the 83 other tomato vines in the field (24 of which are cherry).  And tomatoes, like beans, quit producing if they are not harvested (and we can't have that).  When all the green-beans are producing, we may have 15,000-20,000 green beans a week.  I can't even think about the tomatoes, yet.

So, we might be in trouble... I think I just might have over-planted.  But hey, we'll have plenty of food!

Good Eating,




The Worleys

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02 June 2010 11:50 PM
Weeding and Waiting... and thinning a little.

Weeding and waiting and worrying, plus a little thinning and squishing of potato-beetle-larvae and cabbage worms.  That's what we've been doing for the last few days.  Oh yeah, and eating... O's amazing country rigatoni with beans and broccoli, and K's delicious tuna puntanesca, and bread, and home-made strawberry-vanilla ice-cream via Alice Waters...  but mostly waiting.  Waiting on the green-beans (actually Bloody Valentine and Royal Burgundy) and tomatoes:

Today I started weeding this:

which is a mixture of wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace), something that isn't Poison Hemlock (it has a fuzzy stem and doesn't smell and I'm still alive) but looks like it, and one of the four varieties of carrots we planted (and crab grass, wild radish, sassafras and other goodies)... in the end you could see, if you squinted just right, the difference between the wild carrot and whatever we actually planted.  I figure it'll be obvious when we harvest.

Also we had our first harvest of peas (about 20 pods), with more on the way.

After weeding and thinning we're hoping this bed:

ends up with heads (Red Flame Lettuce) that look like this:

or this:

which we have five of because they were transplanted from flats... in early March five seemed like enough... not so much now... I think forty might've been better, but we didn't have enough flats for that and the 100 tomatoes we started.  FWIW these both had been sets of 2, but the weaker and less beautiful were thinned (harvested) about a week ago... and to give a sense of scale, they're both about 1'6" to 2' across.  They nned to be harvested in the next week or so and if we didn't have a week's worth of lettuce left over from thinning five of the smaller beds (pic above), I'd be really excited... as it is, I'm just in awe (literally) that they are so big and beautiful and happy and healthy...  and thinking we should be eating a lot more salad than usual over the next week or so, just because we can.

Oh yeah, and I re-planted sweet Bantam corn where it had gotten washed out after it rained for three days immediately after we planted it (we ended up with about 30 out of 150, which if you're keeping score at home is "not good if you want to eat sweet-corn").

And I'm trying to decide what to do with the row where the peanuts are supposed to be but aren't... right now I'm leaning toward a cover-crop tilled under in July and planted with Kale and Collards that hopefully won't be as anemic as the ones we planted early (in the first 4 badly-plowed-inexpertly-tilled rows).

On the up-side, the tomatoes (all 79 of them) are healthy and flowering and budding, and all four rows (80-90ft.!) of green beans are thriving, and both rows of potatoes are huge and need another hilling, and we have more lettuce than we know what to do with... and in the mean-time, we're waiting and weeding (and squishing and thinning and building trellises [thx to K and T] and weeding... did I mention weeding?) until they all come in.


The Worleys

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27 May 2010 4:27 PM
Pictures and Questions

I went out to the hill today, and it was hot.  It's been hot, technically the same temperature range all week, but today was hot-hot.  There was no breeze.  There's always a breeze, but not today... no breeze.  O had asked me this morning how I'd been dealing with the heat all week, to which I replied "It's not so bad really... it's on top  of the hill and there's always a breeze."  And then, standing, doing nothing, looking at the field, sweating through my overalls, I decide that I don't really like irony as much as I thought.  Actually, I didn't like much of anything except shade and water.  So I wandered around and took a bunch of pictures... anything to avoid raking, mulching and weeding.

These are three shots of the field:

These are potato beetle larvae, eating a potato leaf:

Squishing these guys (and their kin, and some pre-larvae eggs) is one of the few things I accomplished today.

This is Red-Flame lettuce, that we transplanted from flats (I harvested some of this today):

Potential Broccoli:

Soon to be Peas:

Wild Blackberries that are surrounding every stand of trees on both farms:

I'm not sure what this is, but when you pull it up it smells like you could make root-beer out of it:

This particular weed is growing everywhere, and it isn't wild carrot... any ideas?

And this is growing on the edge of several stands of trees...  The leaves are about 2-3 feet long (it's huge).  I'd love to know what it is:

OK, that's it for today.  Tomorrow, I'm heading out first thing in the morning so I can actually get stuff done before it gets too hot.


The Worleys

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27 May 2010 8:45 AM
Time Flies

So, wow, it's been busy. Here's the quick version of what's happened in the last 5 weeks:

Just before Derby, we transplanted 79 heirloom tomato plants that we'd started from seen in early March.  Then it was cold and windy and rainy, and it appeared we hadn't "hardened them off" enough.  The leaves looked like this:

Lot's of white around the edges and worse.  I was worried.  I did research.  The answer "hope for the best, they might make it."  I trimmed off the most damaged leaves and stems, leaving a couple plants looking particularly spindly/sickly and hoped for the best.  They made it, and are very happy looking plants now.

Shortly after planting the tomatoes, K moved down to Kentucky (yay!) and I put in the summer squash and cucumbers.

The first round tilling of the rest of the field finally got finished.  We collected several loads of dry cow and horse manure from the farm on the other side.  I mowed until I noticed the tractor was throwing coolant onto the engine (lots of white smoke)... called Kevin.  It needs a new radiator.  I still need to finish mowing.

K transplanted the sweet peppers and basil, as well as some leftover-from-thinning-because-O-couldn't-bear-to-toss-them tomato seedlings.  We planted a row of peanuts, some lima beans, "Cherokee Trail of Tears" beans, a row of what I call "pink pintos", and some corn... oh and we prepped and planted a 12ft wide row of winter squash.

We weeded and thinned the direct sown lettuce.  The weeding involved finding the lettuce underneath the over-growth of wild carrots, some marigold looking thing and some occasional sassafras seedlings (I think), then not pulling it while clearing out enough weeds to see the lettuce well enough to thin it.  The thinning produced several salads worth of baby lettuce:

I weeded and thinned the greens (kale, collard and mustard) in the first row.

The peas are starting to come in:

So are the green beans (these are Royal Burgundy Bush beans I believe):

The corn and peanuts... not so much.  We're not sure what to do about that.  I think it was the five days of cold and rain right after planting that did it.

Here's the spreadsheet of everything we've planted so far:
Row Plantings 2010

Oh, and somewhere in there I managed to get the water-hose and a tarp tangled up in the tiller tines... separate instances... consecutive days.  The hose survived.  The tarp didn't.  And, I've done the "ewww TICK" dance at least three times without witnesses.  It's the little things.

Now it's time to go assess the water situation, mulch and give the pole-beans somewhere to go.

Happy food!


The Worleys

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26 May 2010 10:17 AM
Strawberry Magic

Over the weekend we kept our 20 month old niece. TK & S, who live in the house next to the hill where D borrows water, Band-Aids, and the occasional cookie, were having a party that unexpectedly grew to 80 people and S was in somewhat of a panic. We volunteered to keep their baby girl for the night so they could deal with things like smoking four pork butts without little feet under foot.

ME is perhaps the best child I have ever seen – it’s almost unnatural. S warned me that she could probably find every dangerous unchildproofed thing in the house, which would be everything since we haven’t been childproofed in 7 years. But this little girl was so easy to redirect that it felt effortless. She’s also at the parroting stage (I said “dog” and she said “dog dog” which can just break your heart it’s so cute).

After dinner, our do-I-really-have-to-spend-time-with-you-cause-you’re-boring-and-I’m-12 daughter went back to her room to avoid spending any more time with boring old Mom & Dad (didn’t I just say that?) and we got to pretend we had a toddler again. We played all the instruments in the house – beating on the bongos, shaking the shakers, plinking the piano, and finally, grasping at the guitar. ME learned the word “guitar”, clapping over and over while D played and sang. And then she wanted more. More and more – until she wanted to play herself. The guitar was three times her size so we grabbed the Ukulele and D & ME played a duet.

After about an hour of dancing, singing and playing, even D and I were done, so we took ME outside to the garden. Up and down the back stairs five times.  ME wanted so search for the “ca”-t so another five rounds of the backyard. Finally, she got interested in the vegetable beds. There were a few interrupted attempts at pulling up basil and flat leaf parsley before we re-directed her toward the strawberries. D picked one and gave it to her. ME half ate, half painted her face with the strawberry. There was still some left when she ran back to the strawberry bushes to pick one herself. We found one that was pretty ripe and ME got to pick it. She continued around the yard eating strawberries two fisted. Then it was back to the strawberry bush where there weren’t any more ripe strawberries.

We re-directed again and she was off to try some greens. D gave her basil which she licked and gave back to him. We followed that with a cornucopia of all things green: parsley, coriander, chard, borage and spinach. ME failed us on the taste test every time. One lick, and she gave it back to D. We pointed out the squash plants, but discouraged her from trying those. Finally, we made it back to the lettuce bed and that made her happy. She chomped away on some lettuce as we concluded our informative lecture on eating local and home grown as much as possible. We encouraged movement back towards the stairs, but the magic strawberries were still singing their sweet song and ME ran back to the now berryless strawberry plants. Fortunately, we had some inside and were able to continue seeing the smile on that sweet face.

When you have a tween, it’s easy to forget how great it is seeing the world, or backyard garden as the case may be, through the eyes of someone who hasn’t seen it before. You forget how beautiful and new everything looked. Our garden glowed that night like a jar full of lightening bugs, reflecting the joy in our hearts.


The Worleys

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17 May 2010 2:52 PM
Random Musings - Waiting & the Lottery

1. Still Waiting – still eating out of the freezer to make room for the cow, but have added some backyard veggies (nothing ready at Pandemonium Hill yet). We’ve been able to supplement with greens and lettuce. Trying to eat only the things that are growing right now is really hard. Although I did pick up a pint of strawberries at Paul’s, our local fruit and vegetable market, that came from Huber’s, a farm in Indiana that is quite close to us. They were really delicious and okay to buy since they are local and our tiny strawberry plant has already supplied us with it’s entire crop. I think there were eight. Note to self – next year we plant asparagus AND strawberries.

2. Dan asked me what I’d do if we won the lottery (of course that would require playing the lottery). Would I do anything different? It was a good question. He’d still be farming, but he might buy a tiller attachment for the tractor so he didn’t have to do all that tilling by hand. I’d buy solar panels for the house, maybe a new dishwasher (I REALLY hate our dishwasher!) K just told me about these cool light tubes – I’d get those too. Change out the water heater for that tankless hot water thing. My friend Marc has them and says they are great. What I dream about the most is a yearly vacation to exotic lands where I could eat lots of local dishes. And maybe meet people who would teach me how to cook them. But with backpacks, of course, since that’s the best way to actually see stuff. Somewhat problematic is that we couldn’t go until winter because of the Hill and we’d have to work around Taylor’s school. I guess we’d be southern hemisphere travelers.

3. Why is waiting is so difficult? This must be an American thing. Have we been so programmed to believe we can get what we want now that we are incapable of waiting? I used to think it was just stuff that we got when we wanted to. A new pair of jeans, for instance, when the old pair is still functional. Or that cool new uni-tasker for the kitchen. I never realized that the gotta-have-it-now had permeated our entire lives. Fresh vegetables and produce in December has just added to our inability to wait. The next time you eat a banana when it’s snowing outside, think about it. We’re also trying to stay within our growing Zone. This has caused another array of problems. D bought a huge bag of wheat berries from Northern Kentucky since he’s grinding his wheat to make bread now – big thanks to Mom for the “other” grinder. The problem is that because it was grown locally, it is soft wheat. Great for cakes, biscuits & quick breads, but not so good for sandwich bread, pizza or pasta dough, or anything that needs a high protein content (which is mostly what we eat). We’re adapting, but it is an adjustment. Sometimes it makes my head hurt trying to keep it all straight. But then I remember to just let it go (thanks Keith) and waiting isn’t so bad. It builds anticipation for the kitchen bursting with vegetables that is to come. And honestly, do I really wish it was time to start canning?


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03 May 2010 12:34 AM
So How Does This Thing Work?

Day 2 (Part 2, or Saturday March 20, continued)

the little tiller that'll "get it done nice"

The little tiller isn’t self-propelled.  It has a thing coming down in back, that looks like the depth setting on “big tiller there”, except there’s a nubbish-spike on the end.  There’s a free-rolling wheel on the front and there’s a squeeze-thing on the right handle that engages the tines.  This last part is comforting because one of the scariest things in my misuse of the “big” tiller was the extreme difficulty in disengaging the tines (there’s a lever near where your left foot would be, but I’m still not sure which way will disengage or even if it’s working).  So, bonus, I can turn the tines off just by letting go of the squeeze-thing.

Fresh band-aids on the stigmata-blisters and gloves on, I get the “little” tiller started (no adventure, but not easy), wheel it over to the badly tilled 12ft. wide (80ft. long) patch from the day before, squeeze the tine engagement mechanism and am suddenly very thankful the Honda is relatively light.  It lurches and pulls and tries to take off like a huffy Great Dane going after a juicy squirrel that’s taunting it from a low branch.  It’s a challenge, but I manage to keep it under control and do a pass…  It’s actually working reasonably well, despite my having to yank it back in line every couple feet and use every muscle in my body to hold it back in the meantime.  Needless to say, I have to pause… frequently.  On the trip back, I see that K and T have arrived… good I need a break!

A strategy session ensues.  We send T to lethargically collect sticks from the various clumps of trees in the vicinity, so K can mark every 2 feet down the length of the first row with a stick tied with florescent-orange safety tape.  I will go back to tilling.  I finish the trip back, and make one more lurching-yanking-sweaty, frequent-break-taking, round-trip… then I decide, I must be doing something wrong.  Analyzing the tiller, I decide the thing in back (depth control?) is too low.  On the “big” tiller there’s a spring-loaded pin that you pull-out, adjust the depth-control thing to the desired height, then the spring locks it back… very easy.  This tiller has nuts and bolts… I think maybe this is a weird design decision for a depth control.  We don’t have any wrenches (or other non-garden or dirt related) tools.  So I send T over to TK & S’s house and borrow some.  Suddenly full of energy, T sprint-walks over to the house like she’d had a couple double-espressos.  However, on her trip back, loaded down with 4 wrenches and a Tupperware-thing full of snicker-doodles, her previous lethargy returns.

While T was chatting with S and eating snicker-doodles (and borrowing tools) at the house, I’d measured out, from left to right (facing North-ish) a walking path, a 30 inch row-bed, a 24 inch walking path and one more 30 inch row-bed on both wide-ends of the field.  Wrenches now available and snicker-doodles consumed we raise the “depth control?”-thing (which will make the tiller till deeper, we hope).  During the cumbersome raising process, while contemplating the anomalous “spike” on the end of the “depth-control?” it occurs to me that, maybe, if I push the spike into the soil before engaging the tines, this unruly-large-intense-dog of a tiller may be a smidge easier to control.  I decide to try it.

It works… mostly.  The problem now is getting the darn thing to move forward…  I discover that, if I “lock the spike”, coax the tiller side-to-side until the soil is well tilled, then nudge it forward ever-so-gently it will (at the rate of about 2 feet per minute) slowly till a row-bed and leave the soil in a relatively pristine and invitingly plantable state.  Woo-hoo, we’re actually going to get some seeds in the ground today!

I finish the up and back on “Row-Bed 1”, while K and T finish marking every 2ft. of the row with sticks and safety-tape… and the snicker-doodles.

More when I write it...

healing stigmata blister


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26 April 2010 12:14 AM
So... How Much Lettuce Goes In Two Square Feet?

So, I’m jumping back in time like a Jarmuch movie to “Day 2 (part 1)” or “Planting Day 1” or “I Guess We’re Actually Really Seriously Going to Do This" day, or Saturday March 20, if you’re taking notes.

K is in from Michigan, and O and I’s lovely, talented and extremely tired daughter, T, is going to come with us to help.  After a hearty protein-filled breakfast, I start worrying (this will be a recurring theme) about “how much” of “what” to plant.  I’ve figured out the “what” mostly (all our lettuces, kale, collards, mustard arugula, carrots and onion sets), but “how much” is a problem…  You see, I am my father’s son in many ways.  When I was a kid, on weekends when he had me, he would grill 6 or 7 or 9 NY strip steaks for the three of us (me, him and my happily-former-step-mother)…  I liked this, because I was a “growing boy” and more than happy to eat 2 steaks, along with the massive baked-potato and the obligatory micro-waved, frozen peas…  And it made up for the step-“mother” (also known as sour-puss-super-negative-lady-who-was-married-to-my-Dad).  I have carried forward that particular excessive-food mindset,  causing many a dinner party to end with “No, really, please, please take some of this home with you… there’s really no way we’ll ever eat it… please!?”  So judging the correct amount of anything regarding food is… well… not in my purview.  More than you need to know, but it is why O and K and I sat down with note-paper, a calculator and several pencils.

I’d decided (thanks to “The New Organic Grower”) to plant “row-beds”… mostly, because Eliot Coleman said it was better (why?... because that’s what he said).  I went with 30in. wide row-beds.  With 24in. paths between (it turns out this is not enough space for a moderately sized human to comfortably kneel).  This gives a growing space 24in. wide with 3in. on each side for “optimistic-over-flow.”  So O, being “The One Who Is Good At Math And Other Things Like Problem Solving” figures out, based on the suggested spacing of the thinned plants, how much of each thing we’re planting we can plant in a 2x2 plot.  Her conclusions assume, of course, even seed dispersal, even germination, even spacing, even growth and even water and light.  Based on these calculations we decide how many 2x2 squares of each vegetable we need to plant to achieve a completely arbitrary but somehow reasonable amount for “the first Spring harvest”.
Brilliant… thank God, because “trying to decide about the amount of food necessary” can give me a seizure (not really, but it often causes mild “catatonia” at grocery stores and butcher shops).

So armed with a clipboard full of planting notes, an obscene variety of seeds (do we really need 4 types of kale?), various garden implements, wild optimism, water, sun-screen, band-aids and a lethargically-mopey-female-‘tween-who-shares-half-my-genes, we head out to the hill (field, farm, whatever).  Upon arrival, we check the 12ft-ish wide bit that I’d “tilled” on “Day One”.  It was clumpy… and soddy… and not particularly inviting for seed planting (how can you plant 1/4in. deep in 2in. balls of clay-heavy soil?).  I am sad.  We are sad.  We decide to make the best of it and retrieve the “it’s a small tiller, but it’ll get the job done” Honda tiller from the barn (on the other side) and borrow a measuring tape from the Garage-ma-hall (the big garage on the far side of the B’s house).  When searching for a measuring tape we (K and I) also find florescent-orange “safety” tape (score!), then drive to the barn, set-up a make-shift “ramp” out of a long-unused piece of lumber, roll the “little” tiller into the back of the “little” Volvo wagon (soon to be known as the “Farm-Wagon”) and head back to the field – T is, per instructions, making grilled cheese sandwiches for her and Mr. B.

Immediately upon arrival back at the field, K and I realize that, we didn’t bring the make-shift ramp with us…  we lift… we succeed (with only 10 strained muscles and 1 tear-from-a-tiller-tine-that-didn’t-hit-flesh in my newly-patched farm-jeans)…  we sigh with relief.  [ED: reminder, the pull-starter had been forcibly removed from “that big tiller there” the day before... hence the need for the “little” tiller.  ME:  Thanks ED!]  T calls from the house to tell us that lunch is over and we should come get her (fabulous daughter!)…  K, goes back around to get her, while I get started re-tilling with the “little” tiller, the crap-looking 12ft. I’d tilled the day before.

[Day 2, Part 2 soon]


The Worleys

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24 April 2010 9:00 AM
The Farm Wagon

Not much to report.  Yesterday, when the rain finally stopped, I re-weeded parts of the row-beds I'd weeded last week, at the same time, thinning the lettuce patches to 1-3in. apart (it kills me to pull up perfectly good potential food).

The potatoes were busting out, but I forgot the camera... if 160ish feet of potatoes actually comes in, that could be well over a thousand potatoes... hmmm... maybe I should have scaled that down, since we don't have a root cellar.

Oh, and our small Volvo station wagon has become the farm wagon:

the farm wagon

That's a bag of organic fertilizer, a bag of worm poop, a bucket for compost-tea and biodynamic preps, a good row seeder, misc. tools, 50 tomato stakes, a bottle of fish-emulsion and a 5lb bag of as-yet-un-planted cover crop seeds.  This has got to be puzzling when I'm parked in down-town Louisville.

I need to get all that out of the farm-wagon now so we can drive up to Ypsilanti today for K's graduation tomorrow.  But, instead, I'm typing this, because I really, really don't want to have to find reliably dry spots in the garage for "the stuff that must be kept dry".  Oh, and it'll be raining again soon... supposedly through to Wednesday.  When will I get to finish the tilling?


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20 April 2010 11:37 PM
Catching up is Hard to Do

So, one thing that came up on Planting Day 3 (4? it's hard to keep up), is the whole water issue.  T.K., stopped by and asked, while looking at the drying out under the unseasonably warm April sun soil, "So, how're you going to water all this?"  My response was a really bad idea involving large coolers of water...  He suggested running hose from his house (450-ish feet away, it turns out... to me it looked like 600).  I said knowingly, "That's a whole lot of hose."  TK - "It beats the alternative."  Me - "You have a point."

So I started Tuesday (4/14) by tilling away at the now not so terribly tilled bit, and getting caught by a train on my way to TS to return that really, really bad at it's job, seeder and get 4 130ft. cheap garden hoses in exchange.  This went smoothly, after being released by the train.

Me: I need to return this.
TS Cashier:  Ummm... is it broken?
Me:  No, it's just really, really, really bad at it's job.
TSC:  Uhh, I'm not sure how to do this (calls for a manager).
Me:  I need to get a couple things.
TSC:  Oh... OK.

I pick up the 4-130ft garden hoses and return.  I have to pay about $10 to cover the difference and head back to the field without getting caught by another train (woo hoo!).   Starting using the TKB's hose of unknown length, I add a 100ft. hose from our house, trudge back to the car, unpackage one of the 130ft. hoses, trudge back to the (where'd it go?!) buried in grass green hose end, attach and stretch both as far as they will go... which is the middle of the parade path (this will make sense after I've logged Day 2).  Attaching another 130ft. hose, I can make it all the way to the end of the walking space between rows 3 and 4.  Easy enough.  So I attached the sprinkler (yes sprinkler) I'd "borrowed" from home, placed it at the end of the walking path between rows 3 and 4 and trudged back to the house to turn on the water (did I buy a splitter, or an inline valve?  Of course not... have I yet?).  On getting back to the field (100x2 + 130x2 feet away), I notice that I might have, just maybe, set the multi-pattern sprinkler too narrow.  I adjust it to the next setting.  I get wet (even though I'd, oh so cleverly, bent the hose in half to lessen the flow).

Then I start a routine... up and back with the tiller, take it out of gear, pull the sprinkler forward about 4 ft, rinse and repeat.

This works fairly OK.  I keep it up until time to go home to O's wonderful dinner and everything has been well watered.  [ED:  Well, that was exciting.  Me:  You should've seen it in color...  Just wait for Thursday (day 10?  I really don't know)]

Next... Thursday.  I measure out and till four row-beds.  Previously, I'd thought that a 24in. walking space next to a 30in. row-bed was a brilliant bit of efficiency of space... I've realized now that 2ft. is not enough space for a normal human tibia when kneeling between rows... so these rows had 30 in spaces between them (see, I can learn, really).  After they're ready (12 passes at increasingly lower levels each... or until they're "squishy"), I break out the new, purchased at Bunton's on Wednesday, made-in-'merca, significantly-better-executed, row-seeder, load it up with Kentucky Lake pole bean seed and give it a whirl... It.  Actually.  Works.  And it works well!  Yay Team!  So basically, I plant a row of pole beans and a row of bush beans (Roma's, every Kentucky girl's favorite... and mine too).  Then I go back to "first-level" tilling (leveling out the plowed, lumpy, soddy field) until "quittin' time".

Friday it rains (yay!) and the temperature drops to normal levels for April (yay again!  maybe we'll get lettuce before it get's too hot to have lettuce).  I stay home, make bread and catch up on some of the stuff I've been ignoring, because I'm in the field on my days off.

Saturday is cool and sunny.  The ground is damp from Friday's rain.  Roots will be easier to release from the caked-clay soil.  Ahh...  I guess it's time to weed those first two "badly-plowed-ineptly-tilled-impatiently-planted" row-beds.  It's a little sad, but this:

is what it looks like, after weeding (believe me, this is SO much better... although still a bit depressing).  I only finish one row... but that really feels good (until I wake up on Sunday).  Also, I loaded up the sprayer I'd gotten in return for the 2 extra hoses with a water-fish-emulsion-kelp-extract mixture and sprayed anything with leaves in the field that I knew, for sure, was not a weed or grass.  Oh, and some old family friends stopped by and took this picture:

Here they are:

Today [ED: ish?  It's past midnight.  Me:  Need to finish up then don't I?], Tuesday 4/20.  I did first-round tilling on about 3000 sq. ft.  That's it.  Up.  Back.  Back.  Up.  Then I sprayed the remaining fish-emulsion stuff on anything with leaves and took these pictures:

Peas coming in....

Potatoes breaking through...

Sunflowers sprouting...

Soon to be wild blackberries (they're growing everywhere around the plot, but vertically, not horizontally, as here)

And green beans sprouting...

Much anxiety was relieved, but... I need to figure out how we're going to set up a trellis for the peas (and beans, for that matter).

More after it happens.


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23 March 2010 12:34 AM
Experience Changes Everything (eventually)

[DAY 1 - Continued]

So where was I… oh yeah, I’d ran the diesel tractor out of gas.

I called my wonderful sister-in-law (whose house is about 300yrds from the field) and asked to borrow a car (mine is by the barn on the "other side," and since I can’t fly the short way…), and a gas can.  She was more than happy to oblige.  Twenty minutes later, after feeding the tractor a gallon of diesel I turn the key… grinding, not firing… hmm, check the settings, try again… same.  After three more tries, something Jack (my step-father) had said that I had not understood at the time (not unusual) snuck into my consciousness, I think it was something like “I’d sure hate to have to drain that thing if it ran out of gas.” Recalling this vague unformed memory did not make me feel better.  I decide it’s time to call T.K. (my brother-in-law… and MUCH more importantly for this day of my life... “The Knower of the Equipment”).

[ED: This radio-play is abbreviated because my memory isn’t as good as I’d like.  Deal with it.]

ME: Sorry to bother you again, but, well, um, the tractor ran out of fuel in the middle of plowing and I’ve refueled but it still won’t start.  Do you know the secret?
TK: Hmm… that’s bad.  Air got into the fuel line.  You’ll have to bleed it.
ME: Do you know how?
TK: No… you’ll have to call Kevin.  He might be able to talk you through it.
ME: Oh… do you know Kevin’s number?
TK: No… call Mom.  She’ll have it.
ME: Um… the tractor ran out of gas in the middle of the field.
Mrs.B: You’re not supposed to do that.
ME: Yes, I know that… now.
Mrs.B:  I always fill it before I take it out, because you never know how full the last person left it.  You’ll have to call Kevin.
ME:  Could you give me Kevin’s number?
Mrs.B:  Oh it’s, 1657 [ED: or something like that].
Me:  (after writing it in the dust on the manifold cover of the tractor) Great!  Ok, thank you!  [note, she left out the first three numbers, but thankfully I knew that LG has been 222 since they added the exchange number, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself any more than I already had by asking]
Kevin’s Repair Shop: Kevin’s Repair Shop [not the real name]
Me: Hello, could I speak to Kevin?
KRS: Naw, he’s out deliverin’ a car… should be back in about 15 minutes.  Can I help you?
Me:  Well I ran the B’s Kubota out of Diesel in the middle of plowing a field.  Is there someone there who could talk me through bleeding the line?
KRS:  Hmm… well, that’s not good… Kevin’ll be back in about 15 minutes, he might be able to help you.
Me:  Thanks!  I’ll call back.

So, faced with 15 minutes of down time I think, “I wonder if I really broke the tiller earlier?  Heck, it’s worth trying to start anyway.” (and, of course, “please, please please start!”)   So I trudge over to “that big tiller there”, put the choke and throttle in the positions where they worked (what, 4 hours ago!!! jeese, where has the day gone?) earlier and pulled the starter.  Good news and bad news… it started… that beautiful asthmatic-rhinoceros-purr easing my feelings of general incompetence and impending-and-worse-than-that-early failure.  However, that relief was counter-balanced by the pull-starter with a long frayed rope attached to it left in my hand.

So, being the eternal “it-could-always-be-worse” kind of person, I think, “well, at least it’s running…  let’s see if it’ll work on that patch I plowed really badly… I’ve got some time to kill,” and drop it 3 notches, throw it into gear (it’s actually a belty-pully thing) and walk it over to what will be the first two rows.

Joy of joys! “That big tiller there” does not behave like an enraged bull poked in the [ED: "rear"] with a sharp object!  However, it is a bit like I’d imagine it would be dealing with a stubborn, cranky, overly-willfull mule.  One-half-hour-ish of me-and-the-cranky-mule-against-the-badly-tilled-field later, I walk the tiller to the edge of the field, mope back over to the tractor (just in case!) and call KRS again.

[Radio Play… ED: Words have probably been changed to protect the guilty.  ME:You mean the narrator? ED: No comment.]

ME:  Hello is Kevin there?
KRS:  Naw, he’ll be back in ‘bout 15 minutes.
ME:  I called earlier and someone told me the same thing.
KRS:  Yeah, he got back from that and had to make another delivery.
ME:  Oh… Is there someone there who could talk me through draining the lines on the B’s Kubota tractor?
KRS:  You should really wait for Kevin to get back… He’ll be able to help you out.
ME:  OK, thank you… you think it’ll only be 15 minutes?
KRS:  Yeah, if that.
ME:  Great!  I’ll call back then.

So I trot (not really… I do not trot [ED: you mean “cannot” right?]) back to the still-running tiller, and continue to wrestle in the “eternal-cage-match” of me and the “dreaded angry-petulant-mule-tiller” against the “lumpy-badly-tilled-field-of-rich-clay-soil.”  Go Team!

OK – I’ve almost made it through Day 1, but O’s telling me I am not allowed to “craft” this any more…  So… more when I can get it written… (maybe I could even catch up by Derby! [ED: really? Good luck with that.])


The Worleys

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15 April 2010 11:13 AM
Bad Equipment and Ticks Can Seriously Effect Your Mood

O’Bryan suggested I should jump ahead to “now” and fill in the rest when the “now” is less interesting, than for example yesterday (Sat. 4/10).  She has a point.  And sorry this is so long (it's a day in one post... I tried).

K came down from Michigan Friday so we could plant another 2-4 rows on Saturday.  This is “Planting #4” and “Magic-Cow-Poo Application #2” day.  It’s also the day I planned to buy a walking row seeder, since I/we intended to put in the green and lima beans (I know it’s early, but the forecast out to the 20th has lows at or above 50, and after the 20th there’s only a 25% historical chance for a frost… this April is not a historical norm so far, so I’m willing to gamble), because, really… fresh garden green beans are really fantastically delicious (especially if bacon and/or garlic is involved… which it usually is in our house), they’re easy to grow, thrive in Kentucky weather and soil and we would like as many as possible as early as possible and as close to NOW as possible...  yep, we like our green beans.  But… I digress.

I’d warned K after she arrived that “We really should get an early start tomorrow… there’s a lot to get done.”  To which she replied, “Yeah, that sounds good.” (or something like that).  But somehow I woke up jonesing for biscuits and gravy, and thinking about whether fresh ground local soft wheat (we have a 50lb. bag that needs using) would make good biscuits (remarkably good, it turned out)… so, I just had to try… and wow, the split biscuit topped with melted butter and a touch of sorghum… was… well… transforming really.  After this I’ll never, ever use White Lily for biscuits again… Wow.

It turns out that what I’d meant the night before by “early” was 10ish (gonna have to fix that).  Not ideal (or actually intended), but better than anytime later than that.  Honestly, there was a lot of list checking and loading to be done, plus a stash of coffee and water and a collection of appropriate tools, so 10ish was pretty good.  [ED: Are you done rationalizing yet?  Me: Rationalizing!?]  With full bellies and a loaded up Volvo station wagon, we head east on 42… arriving, after a stop for gas, 25 minutes later at the location known as: “the-beautiful-almost-an-acre-at-the-top-of-the-hill”, or “the farm”, or most affectionately as “Pandemonium Hill.”

First on the agenda was putting up the temporary-shade-space, one of those thing you’ve seen at Art Fair’s and Farmer’s Markets that people sit underneath and try to sell you things… ours is for the tiller, and eventually to shade the  coolers when we’re harvesting.  Where to put it?  K and I decided that it should be close to the small clump of trees on the east-ish side of the field so that it wouldn’t add shade to the vegetables we’re hoping will grow.  After we set it up in what seemed like a reasonable location K staked it and I started the tiller.

I’d picked up some biodynamic soil preps from the Goddess of Fox Hollow Farm a few weeks before (shortly after Day 1) and it was time to do the “Barrel Compost” treatment.  K, who seemed somewhat sluggish (from the drive from MI, no doubt) and disinclined to tilling, acceded to the mixing and application of “magic-cow-poo” number two.  This requires mixing ¾’s of a cup of barrel compost with 3 gallons of water for twenty minutes using a prescribed stirring pattern, then flinging it onto the field with a paintbrush.  K’s preferred method resembled imitating Jackson Pollock (mine is more Pope-with-Holy-Water).  In any case, K mixed and I tilled the mostly ready row-beds I’d worked on Friday.

Nothing interesting… I tilled, K mixed and then splash-painted magic cow poo onto the field.  I kept offering to trade, but somehow splash-painting magic cow poo seemed preferable to angry-donkey wrestling (tilling) to her.  Don’t know why.

Four row-beds ready and all level areas Jackson Pollocked, we pause… K volunteers to plant the flats of seedlings (started in February!) while I rake the last two tilled row-beds… having done a bit of this last summer, I’m quite happy to rake while standing.  Everything goes smoothly.

Beds raked and half the flats planted; we decide to take a break and go try to buy a row seeder (for the green beans).

First stop, the brand-new local-not-quite-stocked-yet hardware store in LG.  K and I enter.  A nice, apparently local, attractively earthy lady eagerly comes up from the back of the store asking to help us, even though they’re full stock isn’t in yet.  There’s oddly cognitively-dissonant music in the background.  I explain what I’m looking for while a very helpful man (the husband? a former farmer?) arrives from the back of the store.  They don’t have one in, he explains, but he could order one if I didn’t mind waiting a few days, but he doesn’t suspect I would.  I say, thank you, but we kinda need it today, I’ll try Southern States.  He says “Yeah, they’d probably have that, but don’t they close at noon on Saturdays?”  (They do.  Background music cognitive-dissonance intensifies.)   I verbally smack my forehead (the more loquacious version of “doh!”…  I think it was, “Oh yeah, right.”).  He helpfully suggests that I try Tractor Supply.  (I suddenly realize what the cognitive-dissonance is… the background music is Tears for Fears… “Shout” as I remember)  Trying to remain focused (the music is now really distracting for me), I express my extreme desire to avoid crossing the interstate to get there (20 minutes of traffic and traffic lights).  He says, “Well, there’s a place in Pendleton.  That’s only about 20 minutes from here.”  (“Shout, shout, let it all out”) I say, “Six is a half-dozen.”  (really, I said that.)  He says, “Yeah, 20 minutes either way.” (“Shout, shout, let it all out”) I thank him and try to emphasize that we’ll be back another day, and we’re really glad they’re here.  (“Shout, shout, let it all out”).  On the way back to the car, K and I discuss the cultural and contextual disconnect between the delightfully honest helpful down-to-earth owners and the pretentious-eighties-gay-british-synth-pop (“Shout, shout, let it all out”) on the sound track… did I mention I have a doctorate in music?  These things stick in my craw.

Next stop is Tractor Supply, the Home Depot of farming communities.  Well, they have a seeder… it promises to be the second coming of revolutionary garden tools… the box is remarkably light… it’s made in China.  We buy it and some beef jerky (for lunch)… I feel slightly dirty (inside)… but at least we weren’t reduced to stopping at McDonald’s.

Back at the house next to the hill, we break into T.K.’s tools (it’s OK, he’s home, the garage is open, and we’re family) and start trying to put together the seeder.  K starts without reading the directions (isn’t that the guy’s job?)… then gets stuck.  I—in a complete reversal of my usual gender role—start reading the directions.  They are confusing.  The pictures don’t match the instructions they’re next to.  I actually have to think.  After several minor mishaps, and a couple “no, I think that goes there”s, T.K. “The-Knower-Of-The-Equipment” comes out and says, “Just how many doctorates does it take to put together a seeder?”  I say, “Hey, we’re almost done!” (did that sound defensive?).  TK laughs and goes back inside.  We, eventually get the “damn thing” assembled and head back to the field.

Filled with that excitement that can only come from trying out a new gadget we load in the “Black Valentine” bush beans, adjust it to the proper planting height (1in-ish) and I give it a whirl.  Short version: it sucks.  It skips dropping a seed.  It drops double seeds.  It has twenty seeds left and refuses to do anything.  It sucks.  I/we load it up again… this time with cherished Jade bush beans recovered from my time working for food at Fox Hollow last year.  It still sucks.  I try “Royal Burgundy”… yep, still sucks.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong.  I load up the Kentucky Wonder seeds we kept from last year, and try using a slightly different pushing technique…  still a big SS (still sucks, if you were wondering).  Last try…  We change the seeding disc to Lima Bean (by we I mean K, I’m too unbelievably irritated to change the disc) and load up my prized Calico Limas… yep… SS… actually it’s even worse than before.  It jams… the seeding disc gets stuck… it’s a really, really bad piece of useless, poorly designed, terribly manufactured, “poser”, something that doesn’t deserve the name “equipment” (when asked what was wrong with it when I took it back to TS, I said, “It’s really, really, unbelievably bad at it’s job.”  They said, “Oh, OK.”).  I decide to plant the remainder of the Calico Limas by hand (it’s easier and way, way more accurate)… K returns to transplanting the flats… I return to roto-tilling.

I’ve started raking two new bed-rows when K finishes up with the flats and takes a break in the “sports” chair underneath the temporary-shade-space.  Seconds later she jumps up, shouts something-I-won’t-post, followed by “tick!” and does that special “bug-got-on-me” dance we (I assume) are all very familiar with.  I, chuckling under my breath 100 feet away, pretend I didn’t notice.  A couple minutes later I hear “*#&# &)(@&#$&! *#&$*&**!!!! TICK” (or something like that) and get to see the rare “really-icky-bug-got-on-me-twice-in-a-minute” dance.  I, ever-so-politely ask, “Are you OK?”  Her reply: “[ED: unprintable montage] TICKS!”  I suggest that maybe, just maybe, it was a bad decision on my part to put the temporary-shade-structure so close to the trees.  She says, “You mean in downtown Tick-Town?”  I say, “You mean in the center of Tick-topia.”  She starts to reply, and the does the OMG-that’s-the-third-time-in-two-minutes-one-of-these-disgusting-creatures-has-been-on-me dance.

We decide we definitely should move the temporary-shade-structure when we aren’t so unbelievably exhausted.  But, we still manage to disassemble the so-called “seeder” and stuff it, ever so angrily back in it’s “made-in-China” box.  That helps.

Home and a truly, wonderfully delicious and large brisket (yay protein!) calls us.  We pack up the car, cover “that-big-tiller-there” with a tarp (it’s still in Tick-topia) and head back West to where the ticks are no where to be found.  And after dinner and showers (heavy-clay soil really dries your skin, or so I’m told), hang out on the back deck with O and wine and good conversation… which really makes up for the ticky-sucky-equipment day we’d had.

On the bright side, we’d successfully splashed magic-cow-poo-water on the field, gotten two row beds ready for planting, put in two rows of green (or burgundy or “black valentine” beans, and gotten (thank you K!) all of our cold-crop flats planted… and learned (yet again) not to trust Made-in-China-Promises-To-Save-Your-Soul packaging, so all told, I guess it worked out.  [ED:  Effin Optimist.]


The Worleys

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24 March 2010 4:03 PM
Are You Experienced? - Day One - The Final Chapter

Day One Continued (again)

Twenty minutes (or two-hours of improper-technique-in-tilling-a-badly-plowed-patch-of-field time) later I try Kevin’s Repair Shop again...

[ED: final Radio Play for Day One, the spirit is correct, but the exact conversation is questionable.]
KRS:  KRS can I help you?
ME:  I hope so… is Kevin back yet?
KRS:  Yeah… I think so.  Do you mind holding?
ME:  Not if Kevin’s there.
KRS:  Hello?
ME:  Is this Kevin?
Kevin:  Yes.  How can I help you?
ME:  Hi Kevin.  This is the B’s son-in-law Dan, and well, I’m an idiot.  I was plowing a field with their little Kubota tractor and… well, it ran out of gas… I refueled, but it won’t start.
Kevin (laughing):  Oh, you really shouldn’t do that.
ME:  Yeah, I’ve been told… Ummm, could you talk me through bleeding the line so I can finish this up with the least amount of shame?
Kevin (laughing again):  Naw… I’ll send someone out…  that’ll be best… which side is it on?  TK’s?
ME:  Yeah, it’s at the top of the hill on the right after the driveway curves… they can’t miss it.
Kevin (laughter lingering in his voice):  How long will you be there?
ME:  Oh, until the tractor’s running again and I finish plowing.
Kevin (still laughing):  Alright, someone’ll be out there shortly.
ME:  Thank you so much… really.
K: no problem

Both happy and embarrassed and anxious (yeah, I know I wrote “Both” and then put in three descriptors… it’s poetic, deal), I gratefully return to the angry-willful-mule(the still-running tiller!)-versus-the-kinda-tamed-badly-plowed-small-bit-of-field.

For the next, what feels like 3 hours but is actually about 40 minutes, I guide (push, pull and cuss) the tiller over the same 12 x 80 foot parcel of our glorious not-quite-acre, glancing toward the end of the driveway every few minutes [ED: “few seconds” is what you meant, right? ME: it’s my story and I’ll lie if I want to.  ED: Fair enough for teh interwebs.] hoping to catch a glimpse of “Kevin’s Calvary”, so I can take a much needed break from angry-donkey-wrestling and maybe, just maybe get back to the (viewed from my current labor) relaxing and pleasant process of plowing.

The “Calvary” arrives in a very large truck containing a very patient and obliging young man (wish I could remember his name, he was great).  After pulling the tiller out of gear (but leaving it running, no way to start it again!), I ache-ily walk to the other end of the field.

Calvary:  So you ran out of fuel.
Me: yep.
Calvary:  Not supposed to do that.
Me: yep.
Calvary:  Well let’s see what we can do.

He walks back down to his truck, politely parked at the point where the driveway ends at the field, and returns shortly with some tools.  I, thinking it might be a good idea to stick around and maybe see how to fix it if – but this would never happen – I was ever faced with this situation again, stand there and take off my gloves.  First I noticed the tan-line (that’s gonna look weird in a couple days), then formerly gigantic blister on the palm of my right hand, then the gigantic not-busted-yet blister on the palm of my left hand… great, stigmata blisters, those will be fun tomorrow (and the next week it turned out).  The tiller is still running. Calvary man does something I don’t understand then says, “Well let’s see if that worked.”  It didn’t.  The tiller is still running.  He does something else I don’t understand (so much for learning how to fix this in the future).  It doesn’t.  The tiller is still running.  I ask CM if it’s OK if I go back to tilling since I can’t turn off the tiller because of the whole “pull-starter-pulled-out” thing.  He says, “Yeah, no problem, I’ll just keep moving down the fuel line until I find it.”  I show him the “trick” to starting the tractor Mrs. B taught me a week ago, put the gloves back on, try not to think about the blisters and mosey back to the grumpy donkey.

It’s actually going much better… which is good, because my hands really hurt now that I know about the blisters.  A lifetime later (ED: 10 minutes?), Calvary Man walks over and says, “Once I found it, it started right up like nothing had ever happened.”  I say thank you more times than was appropriate (but hey, I didn’t kill the tractor), and continue tilling (CM drives off into the sunset) until the 10x80 spot looks almost like you’d want to plant something in it…  So I prayerfully turn off the tiller and call S, my wonderful sister-in-law.

S:  Hello?
ME:  It’s Dan.
S:  Oh, hi.
ME:  I have a couple questions for you:  Are you home?
S:  Yes.
ME:  Do you have any ibuprofen?
S:  Yes.
ME:  Do you have any band-aids?
S:  Yes?
ME:  Is it OK if I drop in (walk the 150 yards to the house) and pick those up?... I’ve got some nasty broken blisters on my palms.
S:  Yeah, I’m here.
ME:  Thank you!

As I walk in the side door trailing bits of perfectly molded, clay-soil impressions of my boot tread, I see S coming around the corner with bandages in one hand and a big bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the other.  I suddenly flash back to the multitudinous episodes in my childhood when my mother insisted on pouring peroxide on everything from a gaping wound to the smallest scratch, saying “You don’t want it to get infected.” as I winced.  Not doing this is one of my prized-powers-of-adulthood, I’ve cherished it for 25 years, and I’m not about to abandon it now.

ME:  No peroxide.
S:  Don’t tell me you’re gonna be a big baby about this.
ME:  Yes, I’m a big baby.
S:  Would you prefer rubbing alcohol?
ME:  Ummm… no.
S:  Then we’ll use the peroxide.  Let me see.
ME:  No we won’t… big baby here… not using peroxide.
S:  You don’t want them to get infected. [!]
ME:  Here, how about I wash them thoroughly with soap and water… and when I get home, I wash them again and put on Neosporin and fresh band-aids… will that do?
S:  Hmph.  Big baby.
ME:  Yes I am.  Band-aids?
S:  OK, here hold out your hands… hmmm, those are going to hurt tomorrow.
ME:  They hurt now.
S:  Big baby.

Freshly bandaged, I don the gloves, start the tractor and return to the relaxing process of plowing…  an or so hour later, but still not finished, I notice the sun is going down and check the time (just after 7).  Thinking, “Well, I guess that’s all that’s getting done today,” I give my self permission to stop, begin rationalizing that “I’m sure this will get us through the planting we need to do tomorrow…” and bounce the tractor back to the barn.  As I’m backing the tractor into it’s resting place (reversing the tractor involves the some-what counter-intuitive act of pressing down a pedal with the heel or your right foot… I still have problems backing up gracefully), I forget that I have to lift my heel to make it stop (panic) and knock over a very old, very dusty bicycle (gah!), putting one final exclamation point on my all-too-obvious lack of knowledge and experience.

Exhausted, I head home.  K has made it in from Michigan.  Walking in the door I say, “Wait until you hear what I learned today!”


The Worleys

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22 March 2010 8:15 AM
No Experience (Necessary?)

Let me start by saying... I have no idea what I'm doing.

I (we) had been toying with a three year plan to start working Pandamonium Hill ("the farm") since last summer.  You know, read a lot, acquire equipment, do some small-scale gardening, start building up the soil, start an asparagus patch... basic prep work.  But opportunity intervened (long-time-unrleated family member K, is graduating and wants to farm) and here we are, a radicalized food-quartet, starting a large-scale organic-leaning-to-biodynamic "garden" on a beautiful acre on top of a hill, and... I don't know how to plow... or till, it turns out.  Of course I am also (by default) the (fearless please) leader... head(?) farmer... in charge of making sure we have more than enough vegetables for us, O's brother's family, O's parents (it IS their farm... and equipment), and my parents (although, my father doesn't really eat vegetables, so it's really just my mother and Jack).  We're also collecting an e-mail list of people to contact when/if the harvest is more than enough for that (leave a comment if you'd like to be added).  So, it should be obvious by now that any farm-based posts are definitely NOT a "how-to" guide... probably some "don't do this," and a little "not sure why that worked, but hey"...  All I can tell you, after the first few days, is that I've got a lot to learn.  And I feel good.

So, day one (actually day three, but badly staking out the field and then mis-measuring it is a less than exciting read) could have gone worse.  Here's what I learned:

- Don't EVER let a diesel tractor run out of gas... ever.
- When using an unfamiliar roto-tiller (and they all are to me), it's important to talk to someone who has used it beforehand.
- Sometimes things work anyway.
- Plowing a virgin field should probably be done by someone with some experience.
- Always bring bandaids, ibuprofen and sun-screen.
- More patience is usually the solution to any problem you're having.

I'd been waiting all week (one of the schools I teach at was on spring-break) for sun (there was plenty) and the ground to dry out enough to roto-till or plow.  Finally on Friday (3/19) it was just dry enough to try, and K was coming down from Michigan to help with the (overly-ambitious?) planting, so I really had to start no matter what.

I'd gotten conflicting advice as to how to start from the same person.  Plow then till, just go straight to tilling (especially if "that big tiller there is working")... So I, being impatient to begin, decided on "straight to tilling" because the big roto-tiller WAS working. The barn that houses the tillers is one driveway north-ish of the driveway to the plot, so I needed to find a way to get the big tiller up the long driveway, 100 yards south-ish and then down/up the next (gravel) driveway, then to the top of the hill.  The trailer for the small tractor is broken and it would take nearly 2 hours to walk it around (it's sloooowww).  Tony had said he'd help me lift the tiller into the truck ("Great White") when I came out on Friday.  So after I arrived (later than planned... 11:30 I think) I found Tony, we got the truck, backed it up to the barn, moved the tiller over to the truck (there is no ramp) and lifted the tiller about three inches off the ground, set it back down and started looking for a solution that didn't require three more people, a very sturdy ramp or cause herias.  So, Tony decides to strap it to the bale-lifter-thing on the back of the big John Deer tractor... the physics were not in his favor, but after an hour or so of "what if we do this?  nope, how about that?" we managed to "secure" it so that it wouldn't flip over, slip off, or crush any of it's delicate parts (or ours for that matter)."that big tiller over there"
("that big tiller there")

Tiller delivered and un-strapped and finally started; I set it two notches down, pushed it in gear, and set the slowly spinning rusty tines on the ground.  The tiller lurches forward like an enraged bull, pulls out of my grip (nearly dislocating an elbow), takes off without me and now I'm chasing it down praying it doesn't fall over.  Tony laughs.  I catch it and pull it out of gear.  Tony laughs some more... I'd just made his day.  We try every possible setting (except the right one it turns out) with similar hilarity and a couple "oh-*$&%-I-hope-I-didn't-break-it"s before I decide that maybe, just maybe, I should think about plowing the field first.

This meant detaching the mower from the smallish Kubota and attaching the plow... easy right?  I'd been part of a team that attached the mower earlier in the week (4 people, 1 hour), so I was sure it would be a piece of cake to take it off and attach the plow.  Suprisingly, removing the mower WAS fairly easy.  Unsuprisingly, attaching the plow was not.  But only because I had no idea what I was doing... I'm sure it'll be easier next time.The Plow
(the plow)

After a call to T.K. to find out "just how do you get the little tractor over to the other side?" -- the answer being "drive it... on the side of the road"--I was off.  Safely on the other side (tractors are bumpy), I considered the virgin-field.  I'd read something I didn't understand (written by a farmer for a farmer) the night before on how to turn a field, but it seemed overly complicated, so I decided to go straight back and forth starting at the far side of the field.

The first pass was suprisingly easy, the plow went down, I moved forward it caught and turned over 6-8 inches of rich clay soil and sod.  Confident now, I turned around, lined up, lowered the plow and tada!  I'd turned over 6-8 inches of rich clay soil and sod onto a 6 inch wide swath of grass.  If you add that to the previous pass, I now had a foot of unplowed field between two 6 inch bits of plowed soil and buried by the turn...  "hmmm" I think... "that's not what I meant."  So I try to do the bit in-between (and covered) the other two passes.  The tractor is not happy.  The plow is not happy (it keeps pulling itself up and dragging chunks of sod).  I'm not happy.  I try again.  Nope, not working.  I give up and, having not actually learned anything, move on and do two more back and forth passes, closer together this time.  No good.  I've whittled down the non-plowed bit to eight inches... which is still 8 inches of unplowed field.  I try the middle again.  Same results.  I figure out the tractor isn't in four-wheel-drive mode, fix that, try again... still not good.  Then, I decide to try very, very hard to remember just what it was that I'd read the night before and didn't understand.  I can't.  So I think about it for a few precious minutes.  Since the plow always turns the soil to the left, what if I always do passes in the same direction?  Go up one side, circle around to the far side and go down and so on?  That way I'd be turning rich clay soil and sod onto rich clay soil and sod.  I think I might have read something like that before.

It worked.  I wasn't very good at it, but it worked, mostly.  At first I was still leaving 2-4 inches un-turned, but then, eventually, I figured out that if I kept the front wheel at the far side of the trough I'd just turned, everything got turned... then, just as I was almost getting the hang of it, the tractor ran out of gas.  &$#%!

OK - O'Bryan has insisted that I post this and finish later... I'm opposed, but I can tell you now that days 4-6 will be much shorter to describe (e.g. "Started the big roto-tiller, leveled 10 feet, had to stop because of rain.")

More when I have a chance.


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