Friday, August 29, 2008

Farmers Market Tomorrow

It was a gorgeous day again today. We had gentle rain for the last two nights and the garden boxes are looking fine. I checked the cabbages and collards in the field, and only one cabbage so far was good enough to pick for the market. There may be one or two others good enough to sell but most are pretty badly bug eaten. The collards are looking dry, but I think they will revive once the weather gets a bit cooler. I will save cutting them for the Pamida Festival on September 13th. There were a few tomatoes ready to pick. Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to my identification stakes, so I will have to sell them as mixed heirlooms. I picked my first piece of okra today! I hope I can keep the plants alive long enough to get a good harvest again this year. I have covered most everything in the high tunnel with Agribon as a double protection against the cold and so far it seems to be working. The nights are getting pretty cool. I know there aren't many more warm days to work. I am still thinking about digging the potatoes before the 4th. I know that the Red Chief are ready to dig because the vines have died down.

Tomorrow I will be at the Phillips Farmers Market. I will have French Breakfast radishes, baby Pak Choy, baby Forellynschuss lettuce, Bulls Blood Beet greens, Detroit Red beets, curly leaf parsley, spearmint, onions (cured only one week so you will need to use them quickly, and they are not as big as they were last year so I would either can them or use them in soup, a salad, or a stew), one pint basket of heirloom tomatoes (turning red but not quite ripe so you don't have to eat them right away) and one small Copenhagen Market Cabbage. Maybe I'll see you there!

Our Sarah is now overseas with the 783rd MPBN. Please keep her in your prayers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Froze This Morning

It was foggy again and the temperature this morning was a cold 32F at 06:20h. I felt like starting a fire! And boy was I glad I had covered everything. Everything in the garden boxes looks great. I couldn't check the high tunnel tomatoes today because I had to take the kids to the dentist up in Hurley, and right after we got home, Tom took Ed into town for Special Olympics bowling while I stayed with Lara, but I will check on the high tunnel tomorrow for sure.

I did pull the onions yesterday and this morning I bundled them up and will hang them from the rafters in the garage to cure. They didn't bulb up as well as they did last year, but they are a great size for pickling or using in stews. Some times I think that smaller sizes are better than big as they seem to serve more purposes and there is less waste. I love the golden papers that form on onions as they cure, and I love the way they smell. All in all, I think the onions were a successful crop this year. The Farmers Almanac says to dig the potatos on September 4, so that's when I will dig them. After that I will till all the sections under and get some rye seed to plant for a cover crop.

There is still a lot of work to do, and I don't know how much of it I will get to, but I will do my best. Certainly, cleaning out the chicken coop is a priority, as is fixing the corner post on the field fence before the ground freezes. And I must finish digging the holes for the trees that are coming. Those three tasks must be done. Secondly, I want to build a wood shed. I am sorely tempted to just go and buy a small storage shed to move my "stuff" into so Tom has more room to work at whatever he wants to do. And I would like to put up a simple overhang and set up my fire ring and grill for making maple syrup. Last year there was so much snow I couldn't set up my rig and had to boil the sap down in the house; I'm glad I have a good exhaust fan. Well, the new moon is on the 30th, so I think I will have a LONG wish list!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Annual Wisconsin Aquaculture Day

It turned out to be a lovely day to make the quick trip to Red Cliff to visit the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility as part of the Wisconsin Aquaculture Day. I was pleasantly surprised to find a family finishing up their tour of the facility as I arrived. That is a neat place to visit if you are interested in aquaculture. There is a lot going on there. I did have to laugh though because I had forgotten how horrible it is to drive through Bayfield and it really is by chance that you stay on Highway 13 because there is precious little signage (for driving, that is). If you think driving through Minocqua is "Tourist City", go to Bayfield. And once I got through Bayfield I began to wonder if I somehow missed the turn off to the Facility because the road quickly got very lonely and wild looking. Of course, as I was just starting to sweat, I came upon the entrance. You really can't miss it. But after I got home I pulled out a map and discovered that it was just a short spit to land's end. Here's a tip: If you ever want to visit the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility, once you get past Washburn take Highway J near Hatchery Road and the Bayfield State Fish Hatchery off of Highway 13. (It's a left turn as you are heading North). J winds arounds quite a bit so stay sharp and it will take you the back way around the town of Bayfield past all the apple orchards and will bring you back to Highway 13 just a short way from the Demonstration Facility. And if you go there soon, heads up, there's some annoying road construction on both Highway 13 north of Ashland, and quite a bit on US 2 in Ashland which includes a southbound detour.

But back to the visit. I had a lovely visit with Ron and his wife, Cindy as they showed me around and patiently answered my questions. Their research projects were fascinating, and certainly the equipment in use was way above the scale of what I have in mind. But I learned a lot and received quite a bit of additional information for further reading. I think with a little more research I may be able to sit down and start drafting a business plan. If you click on the title to this post, you will be taken to the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association web site.

On the way home I stopped and took a couple of pictures of Hockers Field. They are baling straw now. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved that field. I don't know what there is about that place, but I just love it.

After supper I ran out to the field and watered everything in the high tunnel. It is supposed to get down to 40F so I lowered the high tunnel sides to just a crack open and covered the more tender veggies like the hot peppers, melons, okra and eggplant. Then I brought back some Agribon and wire hoops as a secondary cover for the beans in one of the garden boxes behind the house.

I took a stroll through my disastrous bean patch and took some pics of my hops.

And I actually found a bean to pick and greedily eat. I took some pictures of the wild hollyhocks or mallow (I want to identify the plant because if it is wild mallow, I want to put it in my medicinal herb garden). I think they are very pretty.

Lastly, I took some pics of a Wong Bok plant with seed pods that I took back to the house to ripen in the garage, some Sweet Fennel, Copenhagen Market Cabbage that is finally starting to head up, and a Champion Collard plant. If the weather is good tomorrow, I will dig the onions and hang them in the garage to cure, and I'll check out the Red Chief potatoes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Garden Boxes Already Producing

I wanted to be sure to post a picture of how the boxes look with the hoops shortened by 2'. You can see the plastic cover tucked next to its box on the ground. I have to admit I am still thinking over how I might afix the plastic to the covers more permanently. Farmtek sells u-channel pieces in 8' lenghts that could be screwed onto the wood cover with self-driving hex screws. The plastic is then layed over the u-channel and a corresponding "spring" wire (purchased separately from Farmtek) is snapped into the u-channel over the plastic and holds it tightly in place. This is the same way plastic is held over larger high tunnels and greenhouses. It makes for easy removal of the plastic when it needs replacement and holds the plastic in place excellently -- at least I have not had any problems with it in my big high tunnel. Since I want to keep these boxes for some time, it may be worth the cost to get the u-channels and springs.

I am really happy how the boxes are producing. I've posted a picture of some French Breakfast radishes. There are a few more thinnings to be done and then I will sell the rest of them. I need to thin the Scarlet Nantes carrots and will thin the sorrel plants when they get a bit bigger. I want to keep all the sorrel I can and will plant those thinnings in a permanent bed out in the field.

Remember how I said I wanted to extend the orchard into the perennial bed? Well, I turned over a section next to where I had the garlic to start getting that area ready for the plum trees that will be coming from St. Lawrence Nursery. Next Spring I think I will buy another 10 trees from St. Lawrence Nursery and put them in the perennial section. I have been reading how people are putting raspberries and blackberries in the rows between trees in their orchard. I don't know if I want to do that though as I do want to put bees in the orchard. I spoke to a beekeeper and he said two hives would be plenty for my garden size. As I have noticed so many bees around mint plants, I think I will plant mint to grow around the trees. People say I am crazy, but I do love mint.

The clouds have been gathering steadily all day and I think we will get some rain tonight. It is supposed to be rainy tomorrow, so I will wait to see how the weather is before deciding on going to the aquaculture facility in Red Cliff. I do want to go so I hope the weather cooperates. I should have enough produce to go to the farmers market next week, and that makes me really happy. I am hoping to have okra and tomatoes to go with baby Forellenschluss lettuce and radishes from the new boxes. When I watered the high tunnel yesterday, I saw a tiny Charentais melon on one of the vines. I hope it matures!

Sarah is on leave and in New Orleans. I hope she is having a good time. Her unit is done with its training so I expect they will be going overseas soon. I can't hardly bear to think about it. I pray she is safe. God bless all our troops and bring them home swiftly!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wouldn't You Know It

It sure did not take the Almighty long to let me know what I did wrong in making my garden boxes: Yesterday morning I went to thin the beets and Pak Choy. I propped open the box cover and a gust of wind came along, tossed the cover off the props and and pushed it all the way over so that it hit the ground. The bump caused the plastic to tear off the staples, some of the PVC pipes to bounce out of their clamps, and the wood screws to tear out of one edge of the lid. Pride goeth before a fall . . . .

So I humbly mulled over the problem while I thinned the veggies and by late afternoon I had a solution: I cut 2' off each PVC pipe to shorten the area of potential wind lift thus keeping the total box area closer to the ground, and I decided to not attach the plastic to each box but merely hold it in place over the hoops with concrete blocks. With the lower head space, one roll of plastic 25' plastic now covers the entire box, and keeping the plastic unattached allows me to work on both sides of the box more easily. Since I will try planting seed for next Spring in October, the boxes will be essentially undisturbed for most of the winter and I don't have to worry about the plastic and blocks freezing to the ground. By leaving a little give on the plastic, I should be able to crack the box lids on sunny days to keep any slow growing sprouts from cooking. It will be an interesting experiment.

I re-read Eliot Coleman's book Four-Season Harvest this morning to refresh my memory on succession planting, and I think I am doing everything right. At least I have planted many of his recommended veggies for fall/winter gardening. We'll see how everything grows.

It is a lovely, breezy late Summer day here. You can feel Fall around the corner. Tom did a bar-b-que for lunch of spare ribs, cucumber salad, and baked potatoes. Then he doused the coals right away so we wouldn't have any bear trouble. And speaking of bears, we thought of a simple solution to chewed up bird feeders -- simply bring the feeders inside the house before dark. I don't know why we didn't think of it before!

There are some interesting programs coming up that I received notice of from the Ag Extension. On the 23rd, the Wisconsin Aquaculture Association will hold it First Annual State Wide Fish Farm Day. Cost is free to visit the fish farms that elected to open their premises to the public. As I am very interested in incorporating Aquaponics into our farm scheme, I would like to visit the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility in Red Cliff. I have a pretty good idea where this is (I got lost in Red Cliff the first time I went to go apple picking in Bayfield) and I think I even turned around in the Demonstration Facility's parking lot. For more information contact and for the listing of participating fish farms. Next, on Halloween, the UW-River Falls is hosting a day-long conference on High Tunnel Production for Beginning and Medium Sized Commercial Growers. Several high tunnel experts will speak on the subject. Again there is no charge, but you are asked to register by October 1. To register contact Gayle Dodge at There was supposed to be a link to a detailed agenda for the day, but I couldn't open the link. That conference really looks interesting. The last one is a training workshop on November 7th in Eau Claire that teaches small producers (like moi) to successfully apply for state and federal grant money. I REALLY hate traveling, but I'd rather drive to Eau Claire than all the way down to Menasha for something like this (there is an October date in Menasha). There is a $10 fee for this, and as it starts early in the morning, I will probably rent a hotel room somewhere the night before. We'll see. Anyway, to register for the Eau Claire location contact Pam Herdrich at

Friday, August 15, 2008

Other Things

I forgot to tell you about the bean patch. You know I had planted a 50' section with all different varieties of heirloom beans this past June. Well, the deer decimated the beans and with all the family events I didn't get to the weeding. As you can guess, the weeds in the bean patch are alive and well. I walked through the patch and was thinking about mowing it all down and tilling everything under, when I realized I was surrounded by bees. I don't know where these bees came from, but they were the biggest bumble bees I think I ever saw. They were happily going from weed to flowering weed. So I decided to leave the weedy bean patch to the bees and will cut the section probably the end of September.

I was surprised to see so many flowers on the pumpkins and even on the Queensland squash. I hope I get some pumpkins and squash this year! The potatoes are looking very good, and the rutabegas need to be thinned. The cabbages look like they want to start heading up, and the collards are starting to stretch.

In the high tunnel, the catnip is starting to go to seed, and the spearmint is finished for the year. I still have some parsley, and there is a basil or two among the tomatoes, which are looking wonderful and wild -- I staked up quite a few of them. The Charentais melons are flowering and starting to run, and the Perkins Long Pod okra is starting to get flowers, too. The beets are growing well, and the mesclun lettuces need to be picked. The hot peppers from Bill and Linda are growing very well, but there isn't a single flower on any of the plants.

My check up with the doctor went well. The doctor was very happy that I had lost 16 pounds in one month. She wants me to lose another 40 pounds and I have to go back in around Thanksgiving to get my blood pressure checked. If my blood pressure hasn't gone down by then, she is going to change my medication. I think there is nothing wrong with me that losing 80 pounds won't cure, and I am determined to stop looking like a beached whale. When the Schwans delivery man came to the house he was puzzled by my "healthy" order instead of LOTS of ice cream. Today we had unbreaded salmon fillets with a good green salad and orzo with apple bits and raisins. It was a very healthy supper and no one complained.

New Garden Boxes

Hi, Everybody! The new garden boxes are pretty much finished. I have left one side open for now as the weather is still nice, but if it threatens to freeze, I'll splice on some more plastic and close the covers up. Here's how I made the boxes.


15, 2" x 8" x 10' boards
16, 1" x 4" x 10' boards
3, 1" x 2" (furring strips) boards
2, 2" x 4" x 8' boards
about 1# 2" galvanized wood screws
about 1# 4" galvanized wood screws
about 1# 1 1/4" thin galvanized nails for nailing PVC clamps
about 60 1 1/2" 6d galvanized wood screws
24 sticks of 1/2" PVC pipe
50 clamps for 1/2" PVC pipe
4 bags 25' long 10' wide 3 mil plastic* (*If you want regular 6 mil greenhouse plastic, you can order it from Farmtek or try to get it locally from a nursery supply or farm store like Fleet Farm or Tractor Supply.)
18 strap hinges
Stapler that uses T50 staples and staples
Scrap lumber

NOTE: Build the boxes where you want them to be as they are heavy to move.

Cut three of the 2" x 8" boards in half and using 2" x 8"s and 4" wood screws make three 5' x 20' frames. Splice long boards on inside and outside using 6" piece of 2" x 4" and 4" wood screws. Reinforce corners with 6" piece of 2" x 4" and 4" wood screws.

Cut three 1" x 4" boards in half and using 1" x 4"s and 2" wood screws make three 5' x 20' cover frames for the three base frames. Reinforce splices inside and out using 6" piece of 1" x 4" and 2" wood screws.

Align cover frame flush to the outside of the base frame on one long side and attach 6 strap hinges evenly spaced on that side of the box. Do for all three boxes.

Using clamps and small galvanized nails, attach both ends of 8 pieces of 1/2" PVC pipe evenly spaced on both sides of each box cover. Now cut 48 2" pieces of furring strips. Using 1 1/2" wood screws, screw a block piece flush with the base of the cover below each piece of PVC. (Pipes will be loose in clamps and will slide out of place each time you lift the cover if the block is not installed.)

Look at the covers. Unless you are obsessive/compulsive and have made sure all your work is plumb, the covers will probably overlap their base at some point. If so, cut 10" pieces of 1" x 4" board and nail to the outside of base frame where the cover overlaps. This will act as a restraint to keep the cover in place.

Open one bag of plastic at a time (don't do this on a windy day) and pull the plastic over the hoops. Try to make the plastic relatively tight over the hoops and even on each long side of the cover. Loosely staple plastic to cover frame being careful to put plastic inside of base frame restraints (or else you won't be able to open the cover without tearing the plastic!). One short side of each box will have enough plastic to completely cover the end. Gather the excess plastic together at this end and staple to the cover frame. The other short end will not have enough plastic to enclose it. When you want to close the cover entirely, you will cut a piece of plastic from the 4th roll of plastic you bought and tape it to the open end using good strapping tape or regular greenhouse film repair tape and then gather the plastic together and secure as you did for the opposite end. Use of the staples is temporary. I intend to purchase 15 more furring strips and screw them to the outside of the cover frame over the plastic. I think this will secure the plastic better in inclement weather. To hold the covers up for working in the box, I will cut two 4' lengths of 2" x 4"s and notch both ends so they don't slip. Scrap lumber can be used to crack the covers open for ventilation on cold days.

They aren't perfect, but I think these boxes are going to help me improve my vegetable production over a longer season. For someone with no formal construction experience, I think I did a pretty good job. By the way, the boxes are filled with my 4 year-old composted chicken bedding. I will fill the boxes to the top with more dirt after I harvest what I have currently planted in them. I also used scrap lumber to reinforce the end hoops.

I hope you find the pictures helpful.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Motivation Lack

You know, there are just some days when you can't get moving. I fully intended to spend most of the day out in the field, but I just couldn't decide on which of my many tasks to work at and wound up housecleaning and sweeping out the garage. And guess what? When I went to pick up a pile of feed sacks to store inside one larger sack, know what I grabbed? Yep. A snake. I thought I was going to have a heart attack except that when I stopped shrieking and hopping around and took a good look at the snake, it looked more afraid than I was. Fortunately, it was a small and completely harmless green snake; the kind you rather want around your place. But the fact it was in the garage made me all the surer that everything in the garage needs to be properly stored in closed containers and off the floor.

I checked on the berries and was, for the most part, disappointed. I was able to pick a full pint of raspberries, but there are no currants or gooseberries. I really thought I would get some good gooseberries this year, too, because when I checked the bushes a couple of weeks ago, they were loaded with berries. I can only think that either the birds or the bear got them. Speaking of the bear, he sure made a mess in my berry area. It looks like he shoveled whole areas clear with his paws. Anyway, I think I'd better plan on strengthening the berry perimeter fence and getting some bird netting.

It was very cool today and obvious that we are losing daylight. I need to get myself motivated to finish the work that needs to be done before the ground is too hard to work. Think I'll stop by the feed store and get some oats and maybe rye for cover crops.

I received my book order from today. What prompt service! I bought Storey's Guide to Raising Pigs, Beekeeping a Practical Guide, Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker, Natural Baskets, and Free Range Poultry Production and Marketing -- that's a video tape by Herb Chenoweth and is half of a 2-set production. I bought the tape because I wanted to see his small scale butchering set-up. I would say the tape was worth the cost. I can't wait to read the other books.

Well, I better go for now.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


It was a lovely day today. I went out to the field and watered everything in the high tunnel. Most of the beet thinnings I transplanted didn't take, but there are a good number beets left. The tomatoes are starting to come in; I had one ripe one but the stupid dog stole it. When I checked the field, I was surprised to see how well the pumpkins are doing. There are flowers now. I don't think the pumpkins will have enough time to grow, but I really didn't expect the vines themselves to be as big as they are. The bean field is shot -- the deer have just decimated it. The onions, collards, and cabbages are hanging in there, and the rutabegas need to be thinned. Here and there you see something growing, like sweet fennel and a beet or two. With all the sickness in the family this year I was just not able to get enough water to everything.

Now the three new raised bed boxes are looking very good. Already the peas and beans, radishes, lettuce, carrots, sorrel, beets and pak choi are sprouting. After I go to the doctor on Friday I will stop at the hardware store and lumber store and get what I need to build covers for the beds. I may have to order the greenhouse plastic, but that will be ok. Farmtek is pretty quick with delivering items.

I took some pictures. My dad came and cut the rest of the hay for me -- that was a BIG help. It's too bad I don't have haying equipment. Then there are two pictures of inside the high tunnel. You can see the beets and lettuces, and the tomatoes. The Charentais melons are vining though I don't think they will have enough time to fruit. The Round Mauve eggplant are chewed up unfortunately, but I will still hope. The Perkins Long Pod okra is actually looking good even though there are no pods to pick. I can cut some more spearmint, and I am loaded with catnip. I think I will cut and dry that and make some catnip mice with some fabric from my sewing box and sell them.

Talk to you later!

Tomorrow there is nothing on the calendar so I should be able to spend most of the day in the field. I hope I can get a lot done. I need to get some oats for a cover crop.