Archive for June, 2016

The Worst Part of the Garden

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

I propose that if you live in the country, grow some of your own food, make the wood necessary for your winter’s heat and hot water, along with all the other chores necessary to keep a homestead going, that the word “bored” might apply to other people, but not you. I try to imagine what it must be like to have nothing to do, and although I think I have a pretty good imagination, I fall short.

With everything going on this year, I’ve had some difficulty keeping up with the garden. I’ve watered the greenhouse garden regularly, which is important since it gets no water from rain. I’ve also watered the outside garden when it has needed it, but thankfully we’ve had enough rain this year that it hasn’t been necessary every time. Since I water with buckets from the pond, the time and effort involved in watering is significant.

One of my favorite sayings is, “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.” When I’m out there watering, I see all manner of rough edges. And since watering the garden is only one chore on a long list for the day, sometimes I just walk away from those rough edges. The trouble with the garden is, the rough edges get rougher with every passing day. So for the past couple of days, I’ve tried a new tactic. I find the worst part of the garden… overgrown, plants too thick, etc, and spend a few minutes making it the best part of the garden. Literally a minute or two on my knees can make a difference on a row of beet plants. Then the next time I walk by, I smile and nod my head. “Good looking garden,” I think to myself.

Tight Seat

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy (order to disorder) increases over time. In my life experience, this occurs slowly. I never really understood entropy, however, until Steve was about 2. He’d come blasting into a room in which all blocks, toys, plush animals, costumes, and crayons were in their respective containers. He would stop and do a quick calculation, because as an entropy machine, Steve felt he had to maintain his position as the best. Then the disorder would commence. In almost no time, the floor would be strewn with the remnants of his projects. If anything at all remained in the toy containers, it was likely not the toys that belonged there. Once total entropy had been achieved, he quickly became bored and looked around for new challenges.

Entropy, I’ve learned, also applies to toilet seats. Especially in the hinge department, what began as a subtle wobble evolved into a pretty wobbly structure over the years. Without thinking much about it, we learned to position ourselves directly over the seat before making contact, and to avoid any fast moves. Otherwise the seat could slip off the toilet lip, causing some discomfort for the sitter.

Since it happened so slowly, I pretty much put up with it until I sat down a bit too hard one day, and began to wonder why I was putting up with this? How much could a pair of toilet hinges cost? I am pretty good at ordering parts online. (Much better than I am at actually installing the parts.) After quite a bit of searching, all I could find was something that didn’t exactly say it was a hinge set, but it didn’t say it wasn’t either, so I ordered it. What came in the mail was a set of extra sturdy bolts that attach the seat to the porcelain, but no hinges. So I took the seat off and took it back to the place where I’d bought the original. I’d normally be a little shy about walking into a store with a used toilet seat under my arm, but in this place they were totally used to it.

I asked about hinges. They said they had none. It cost me about $20 to replace the entire seat. As I was walking out, I asked them to dispose of the perfectly good old seat with the broken hinges, and they said they’d be happy to. It was a pleasure to deal with professionals that are not all hung up about bodily functions.

When I got the new seat home, I quickly installed it, and also used the stronger bolts I’d ordered by mistake. When I sat down to test my work, my muscles tensed as they were used to, and I lowered slowly and perfectly aligned. I needn’t have worried. This seat was on there like the Rock of Gibraltar. If I needed a lever to put under a jack to raise the back end of the bulldozer, I’d use this seat without giving it a second thought. Entropy defeated!

I’ve noticed lately that when I use public bathrooms, I am quite critical of the sloppiness of the hinges on the seats. “How can these people be so careless,” I asked myself. Perhaps I should have some business cards printed up and offer my services. Ted the Toilet Seat Tightener.

A Load Both Directions

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

My Dad never spent a dime he didn’t have to. Some of my favorite personal traits come from him, and while I think I spend many dimes I probably shouldn’t, I do keep an eye on things thanks to his influence. I remember one story in particular.

During the time his business was expanding in the Lansing area, he’d bought the property next door. In order to build there, he needed to get rid of the old septic tank the people that had lived there used. As I recall, he’d asked around and learned he’d have to have it pumped before they’d dig it out. When he learned what the cost would be to have it pumped, he decided to do it himself.

He found the access cover, dug it open, pulled off the plug, and using buckets emptied the whole thing. He didn’t do it all at once though. His philosophy was to leave the buckets out there, and when he was heading that direction anyway, he’d dip a couple of buckets, walk them to the back of the property, where the weeds happened to be really thriving, and dump them out there. This took him weeks and probably saved him $50.

I’ve adjusted my work style around the farm to utilize and compliment this good idea my Dad had. (Note: I do pay someone to pump out and haul away the contents of our septic tank every 10 years or so.) I have things stashed in several places throughout the property. When I’m done with a shovel, for example, I don’t leave it out in the field. I like to put it where it goes so I’ll know where to find it the next time I need it. But I don’t necessarily walk it all the way back to the shovel rack either. I’ll carry it part way and leave it somewhere I know I’ll find it next time I’m heading that way. I’ve refined this system over the years and it works pretty well for me except for one thing.

If I’m walking out to the storage building for something or the other, and see something along the way that I know needs to go out there, I’ll grab it and have a load going that way too. But I’ll pretty often put the thing away I grabbed along the way, and completely forget why I was going out there in the first place. I suspect I am not alone in this little fault. The thing that sometimes works is I’ll do a mental rewind to try to remember what I was doing just before I left, and sometimes I’ll remember why I came out there in the first place. Sometimes not.

Bad Timing

Friday, June 10th, 2016

strawToday I had “one of those days.” There had been little mishaps all along, but when I was taking the farm trailer off the Scout this afternoon, I stepped over the tongue of the trailer, which was still very close to the Scout. I got over with my left leg just fine, but my concentration lapsed as my right leg was following, and I banged my knee on the trailer hitch on the Scout… hard! It was one of those whacks that forces you to think about keeping all your sphincters closed. “Ow Darn!” I said as I sat down on the bed of the trailer.

Other incidents followed that one, but not so dramatically. It made me think about how important timing is in such matters. When the body machinery is functioning smoothly, you’re scanning ahead, moving to anticipate any dangers, and doing all this without a thought. And it works very well most of the time. But some days, the timing is just off enough that things just seem to reach out and snatch you.

The purpose of the removal of the trailer was I needed to run the Scout out to the sugar bush where I have a pile of pretty good dirt I dug out of a swampy area in order to build a farm trail some years ago. I needed the dirt because of a gift. I’d bumped into a friend that I hadn’t seen in some time, and the first words out of her mouth were, “Do you want some strawberry plants?” Foolishly, I said yes.

I stopped by their place later that day and told them I could probably use 5 plants. They had a bunch of very nice plants they’d dug out to redo their patch, and put 10 plants in the coffee can while I wasn’t looking. When I got home, I fired up our 25 year old Troy Bilt ™ rototiller and started making a place for the plants. Our faithful tiller, who just got new tines installed the week before, gamely started breaking up the sod until a terrible noise came from some where, and the tines quit turning. Uh-oh. So the tiller went to the shop where it has been for a while, and I had to go with plan B.

I shoveled the whole area with a spade, breaking out chunks of clay and grass, (they came out with a slurping sound) turning them over, and doing this for the whole area. Next I opened and poured on 2 bags of peat moss, which I happened to have. Then I shoveled the Scout load of swamp dirt on top, and covered the whole thing with a length of landscaper’s cloth.

Once that was in place, I got out the poor strawberry plants, which had been languishing in their coffee can for a week or more, and laid them out on the cloth. With a utility knife, I cut 10 Xs in the cloth, planted the grateful plants in the dirt, and gave them all a good drink.

Now all we have to do is wait for some lovely berries that are so sweet and delicious when they are ripe and chemical free that you think you’ve eaten strawberries for the first time. It may not be this year, but this investment should pay off eventually. Maybe about the time my knee heals.

Have a Seat

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

gardenchairA while back a good friend from one town over stopped by and we got talking. Our discussion drifted to the 60s. Not the decade The Beatles burst onto the music scene, but the decade of life we were both flirting with.

My buddy said he’d noticed that when he walked into a room or any new situation, he immediately started looking for someplace to sit down, or an object (such as a pickup box) to lean on. I told him I was having similar feelings about the pull of gravity. We’ve both lived active lives and are both finding that perhaps the “old timers,” as we used to call them, maybe had it right when they’d sink onto a seat before they started talking.

While I was sitting in my chair the other day, I got thinking about the circle of life. When you’re born, you’re pretty glued to the surface of the earth. Once a baby gains a few years, though, the grind of the earth’s pull is countered by responsive muscles and functional joints. This lasted a good long while for me, and I’m grateful for every productive unpainful step I’ve taken. But then gravity starts to reassert its influence, and chair-seeking behavior begins.

When I was young, I was completely baffled by the adult behavior of “visiting.” Adults seemed content to just sit and talk by the hour. All the while the sun was shining, puddles of water were ripe for exploration, trees to be climbed, and we were stuck inside talking. Since the 60s, I’m starting to see the appeal of finding an interesting person, sitting, and gabbing. Time just seems to melt away.

Another neighbor and good friend, who is a bit further advanced into the 60s than I am, gave me a thoughtful gift a few years back. Apparently I wasn’t ready for it at that time, because it languished unused in my garage for some years. The other day I had some clods of sod dug out in the corner of the greenhouse that needed to be shook. I looked at those clods, and the thought of kneeling in the dirt for the necessary half hour while I shook out the dirt seemed like a pretty big hill to climb. Then I remembered my cushioned plastic pail seat, and immediately stopped what I was doing, retrieved it from the garage, straddled it in the middle of the clod pile, and spent some enjoyable time making dirt fly all around me.

I haven’t quite reached the point where I carry my chair along with me as some “old-timers” do, but I can see that day coming. Let it come.

No More Wimpy Tomato Cages

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

One thing about growing tomatoes in the greenhouse — the plants get big. They get all the sunlight in the world, and are watered with lovely pond water every other day. If there is a tomato heaven, in my experience, it is in a greenhouse.

We have a couple of problems with our tomatoes each year. First, we plant too many, and so many of them survive and thrive, that we pack them into the greenhouse too tightly. Second is the wimpy tomato cages that are out there. We’ve been buying these cone shaped wire creatures for years, and while they don’t cost much money, they are flimsy. When we plant our little tomato plants and cover them with these cages, we are temporarily optimistic. The little plants are so fragile and tiny, and the cages so huge and sturdy in comparison, that we often dust off our hands, and stalk off to the next project with the mistaken belief that that is now taken care of.

But when the little tomato plants start growing, they just don’t stop. They reach up inside their cages, overtop them, and just keep going up and out. They grow asymmetrically, such that they overcome the strength of their steel enclosures and topple over. You walk out of the greenhouse the night before and all seems well; walk in the next morning and it looks like a twister touched down. So out comes the nylon rope, and support knots are tied between the cages and the greenhouse hoops. The tomato cages are often twisted out of shape from all the stresses, and many last only one season.

During the winter, when there is little gardening to do but plenty of dehydrated tomatoes to eat, I sometimes do a little googling to see if an answer to this problem exists. I’ve found nothing commercially available that gives me hope. During one of these sessions, I stumbled on this article at Rodale ™

Super-Sturdy Tomato Cages

“Yes right,” I thought skeptically to myself.

cage2Fast forward to spring 2016, and I found myself at the local Tractor Supply ™ with my bolt cutters and credit card. I came home with 6 50″ x 16′ cattle panels. Following the directions, after a couple of days of intermittent pretty hard labor, I had 12 tomato cages that I’d spent about $10 each on that I challenge any tomato plant to try to weaken. I’m a pretty strong guy, but after bending the substantial steel in these panels into cages, I had to take a hot bath and lay down.

This year we did not grow our own tomato plants for various reasons, so all of them were store bought. The advantage here is we didn’t overdo it as much as we usually do. Instead of shoe horning 40 of them in, we planted just 12, and spaced them out so they can be watered, pruned, and harvested without feeling like we’re crawling through a tropical rainforest.

cage1I’m very optimistic after installing these monsters, and publicly dare any tomato plant to damage them. They do not nest with each other, which makes off-season storage a challenge, but if they perform as they look like they will, it will be a small price to pay.

Happy gardening.