Oct 152009

Quiz: Do you know what plant that has been growing in our garden, has a tropical look with a red stem and white flowers? Find the answer after our bloom report! Hint: other varieties of this plant are green stemmed. I’m repeating this quiz because I forgot to include the answer last time I posted it!

7-19-2009 (44)

It seemed that June and July forgot what order they were supposed to come in this year! The last part of June was scorching hot with temperatures reaching 95-100+ degrees during the days and staying very warm at night. July started out the same way, but after the first couple of rains around the 4th it cooled off. This year it seems we’ve either had a flood or a drought and not much halfway between!

After those rains and smidgin of cool weather it turned off hot and dry for a few more weeks. I have decided that no one should ever need to pay for a sauna…just come to Kansas during the summer and you’ll have all the heat and humidity you need! The weather would tantalize us with clouds and a few sprinkles that managed to raise humidity levels through the roof. Our worst days were when the breeze died, temperatures soared into the upper 90’s and humidity percentages seemed to nearly match our temperature readings!

Belle and Blaze check out the open hood on green Subi as I lead them out to pasture.

7-22-2009 (3)

With Dad’s help I was able to get practically all the garden set up with T-tape irrigation. It’s simply amazing how quickly things dry out with a breeze and heat.

July’s second half was unusually cool which helped keep moisture in the ground rather than evaporating. It was a real blessing for the end of July to be so cool. June had been so hot that our tomatoes had only set a few fruit before temperatures soared up too high at night for them to set. Tomatoes will not set fruit if night-time temperatures are above 70. With cooler weather in late July the tomatoes started setting on fruit and how they did do a good job! Due to the late fruit set most of our tomatoes ripened really late season this year.

Harvesting some mid-season okra. While some garden plants got as tall or taller than usual this year, the okra has stayed shorter than average!

8-17-2009 (13)

One blessing, honor and privilege we had in August was a special day we spent up near Emporia. It’s very rare for our entire family to take out on a trip as livestock chores keep us tied down, but we were able to cut loose for one Saturday since Jena’s friend Leah was willing to help out with CSA pick up.

Earlier this spring, our friends, Ben and Alice, announced they were engaged! Soon after their announcement they contacted Jena and I asking if we would be willing to be a bridesmaid and grooms man in their wedding. Jena and I were a little shocked with the honor, but accepted and August 8th (Granddad and G-Jean’s anniversary as well!) had the privilege of participating in Ben and Alice’s wedding.

They certainly made a great looking couple! From left to right: bride’s maid Jena, maid of honor Katy, bride Alice, Alice’s niece who was the flower girl, groom Ben, best man (Ben’s twin brother) Tom and yours truly, an over-heated, over-dressed, out-of-character me, ready to loose the duds and get some good ol’ fashioned overalls on with some dirt under my nails! Honestly, we were thankful that, for August, the weather wasn’t too scorchingly hot.

8-8-2009 (20)

Do you think Jena might have a wee bit of a mixed approach to things? John Deere work boots, back pack and bridesmaid dress with corsage.

8-8-2009 (39)

Afterward John and Ramona Crisp had us out to their place so we could eat lunch with them. As is usual for our get-togethers goodbyes had to come far too quickly so we could get back home in time to do chores. Especially G-Jean and I had a great time discussing gardening with John.

8-8-2009 (43)

Late breaking news here on the farm! Mom is going back to school! Right now Mom’s studying for computer programming and information technology certificates, but has the idea in mind that she could continue on and finish out her Bachelors degree if she chooses to. Since her school work needs to have a faster computer connection than dial-up we have gotten satellite internet access. In order to help compensate for the added expense we will be cutting out the land line and will only have our cell phones to make and receive calls.

A great big "thank you!" to each and every CSA member, customer, friend and family member who has sent encouraging notes and thoughtful comments throughout this growing season. It has been a little discouraging not being able to catch back up in the garden after our long wet spell this spring. We were unable to get in the garden at all until late. From then on we’ve been running behind. Once behind, it takes longer to catch up than if you could’ve kept up in the first place.

As a side note, G-Jean has done practically all the hoeing and weeding this season and she’s been simply amazing… However, there have been too many weeds for any one person to keep up with and they got away from us in several areas. G-Jean kept whacking away though and most of the perennial garden is cleaned up from all the huge weeds that had tried to take over.

6-27-2009 (8)

Our tomatoes are a good example of how things work when you get behind… We were pushed on time and had a hundred other things that needed done as soon as we were finally able to get in the garden to transplant tomatoes. Due to all the rain we were about three weeks late getting them transplanted. A few weeks later, G-Jean weeded everything we’d transplanted because I hadn’t gotten mulch spread. After the rows were cleaned out, I fertilized and mulched them. Most years mulch underneath a tomato plant will allow enough air circulation to keep the vines well ventilated. However, this year’s tomato vines were so thick and it’s been so damp off and on that a lot of tomatoes rotted.

I was able to cage several tomato plants to help get more air circulation around the fruit, but it took a lot longer to cage them than it would’ve when they were smaller. It was about like trying to cage a jungle of jumbled trees! To cage those monstrosities of tomato vines I first had to disentangle the plants that had grown together. Next step was to gather all of one vine’s branches and limbs into a "pile" WITHOUT breaking them and "hug" the tomato plant with one arm while carefully reaching over to pick up a tomato cage with the other hand. Being careful not to damage any plants or knock the loads of green tomatoes off, I had to carefully slide a cage over the plant while repositioning my "hug" as necessary in order to allow each cage to slide all the way down. Once a cage was most of the way down, I let go of the plant in order to work the tomato’s top up through the cage enough so its bottom, which had sprawled out by then, could be slid carefully into the cage. I’ve never thought of myself as a tree hugger, but I may have to reconsider after getting those tomatoes caged!

9-11-2009 (20)

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs had a hay day munching on cucumber and young squash plants during the several days of rain in which I couldn’t take action against them. A tremendous amount of caterpillars of all sizes types and descriptions attacked the garden as well. We’ve had everything from corn ear worms that riddled the last half of our corn crop rendering most of it unfit for the CSA shares, to caterpillars that caused practically all our tomotillos to rot and drop off the plants.Still another type of worm seriously damaged the young grapevines. There is almost always a plentiful supply of tomato horn worms but it seems they came in cycles this year. An ever-increasing population of blister bugs stripped some tomato plants of foliage and flea beetles attacked the eggplant mercilessly.

The turkeys have certainly enjoyed helping with grasshopper control. This first picture is from one of the first times we turned them out on grass.

7-11-2009 (7)

By the end of grasshopper season they were taking on bigger game such as big jumbo grasshoppers instead of just small ones!

8-29-2009 (57)

On the up side we’ve also had several really good crops this year. Hoop house produce was beautiful and lasted much longer than I’d anticipated through the early spring months. Our strawberry crop was bountiful and the beautiful The delicious berries were a delight to pick, eat and hear how much others were enjoying them as well. We had the best spring carrot crop we’ve every had on this farm, okra harvests have yo-yoed a lot due to weather but has been pretty good over all, beets did well this spring and the peppers have really out done themselves this season! The Lord really blessed us with a wonderful sweet potato harvest too!

It was necessary to skip several CSA pick ups this summer due to the low volume of crops ready for harvest at any one time. When we thought it was about time to start CSA pick ups again G-Jean and I dug into a couple test hills of sweet potatoes and discovered they needed to be dug right away. Our 8+ inches of rain in August must have come at just the wrong time for them (the rain was wonderful for most of our garden crops except that everything got splattered with mud!) and there were a few sweet potatoes that had begun to rot.

Working share member, Mary Fritzemeier, helped us dig a few of the sweet potatoes by hand and she managed to dig up the biggest sweet potatoes of the year!

9-1-2009 (2)

A few days later, Saturday, and the following Monday, September 7th (Labor Day) after a little preparation, I was ready to dig the sweet ’taters out with Kubota and lister plow. I was afraid that my lister would be too hard of a pull for the two draft horses since our clay soil was still plenty moist and the draft horses haven’t been working consistently enough to really keep them in top physical shape.

Dad and I had everything set and were just starting to dig a few sweet potatoes when G-Jean drove up. She had told me earlier she was going to head into the house a little early that day, but had somehow gotten wind that we were going to dig sweet potatoes and just HAD to come back out. After watching sweet potatoes roll out of the ground for a little bit G-Jean wanted to drive and climbed up in the driver’s seat. When one full length of row had been dug we turned the tractor around and G-Jean drove back as Dad and I picked up sweet potatoes putting them in the Kubota’s loader bucket! I had more help from Caye than I knew what to do with some times!

9-5-2009 (11)

Hooking the little red trailer on behind G-Jean’s Yam we dumped our first loader bucketful very gently into the trailer. G-Jean and I took off with the first load while Dad continued picking up sweet potatoes. The soil was so sticky from rain that most of the potatoes were a real mess. Unfortunately as this mud dried on the sweet potatoes we couldn’t just knock it off as some folks can do with other sandy soil types. We had to wash all our sweet potatoes in water, with a scrub brush.

This year’s Centennial sweet potatoes had beautiful vines which G-Jean and I had admired all year, but their production turned out to be very small in comparison to the other varieties. Next down the row came "O’Henry," a white sweet potato. The O’Henry sweet potatoes really turned out nice and had good yields. Last came Georgia Jets and boy were we impressed! Just not favorably! Their first problem may not be so prominent in a drier year, but a huge percentage of these sweet potatoes absorbed too much rain water and busted their skins. Second problem with the Georgia Jet was their shape as they are a short, squat round sweet potato which will be difficult to bake without cutting them in several pieces.

All told the Lord really blessed us with a wonderful sweet potato crop and we harvested about 29 crates of sweet potatoes! Since then we’ve used approximately 450 lbs of sweet potatoes in the CSA shares alone!

Jena has always loved frogs and toads so I suppose this tree frog felt safe using her as a temporary landing spot while she emptied out a stock tank!

7-23-2009 (56)

Just as quickly as I could get the soil prepared, G-Jean planted fall garden for me. She planted everything from arugula to zucchini including, squash, turnips, Swiss chard, bok choy, tatsoi, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, rutabaga, broccoli, cabbage, parsnips, carrots, radishes, several varieties of lettuce, spinach, kale, green beans (pole and bush) and cucumbers to name a few.

This summer we had a very difficult time getting good germination on most fall crops…really our pole beans and cucumbers were all that came up well with the first planting. Many crops looked like they were starting to come up good and then the remainder never came up. It was so hot and dry for so long that I may not have been able to keep enough water on the seeds. All that hot sun and wind dried everything out really quickly. Since germination was so poor on most of the crops we spot replanted between plants that came up from the first planting and simply tilled up and started over on some other sections. Rain came at close enough intervals to hold moisture around the second planting’s seeds and most were able to grow that time!

We even had difficulty getting seeds to germinate that we planted in soil blocks and plug trays for the hoop houses. After waiting a week from the first planting and seeing that a lot of seed didn’t come up I told G-Jean to replant and put two seeds per cube instead of just one hoping to get better germination per block. Working share member Marisa Fritzemeier came out to help replant all the plug trays for our hoop houses and boy, between her and G-Jean they got it all done in 3 hours! Most of the seed germinated really well to boot! I was worried that some seed had become non-viable since this spring, but with as many plants per block as we had I simply don’t think that’s the case. G-Jean and I had to pull most of the blocks apart due to multiple plants per block!

8-5-2009 (7)

Our first transplanting of seedlings didn’t take long to set out as the seed hadn’t germinated very well. The next week, taking advantage of a couple cloudy, drizzly days, G-Jean and I managed to transplant all the plug trays and soil blocks necessary to fill both hoop houses. I estimate we transplanted about 2,400 plants in two days. G-Jean and I were both very thankful to get that job done. Since then all those plants have enjoyed getting their roots established during a few partly cloudy days to get them off to a good start, with some sunny weather following to shoot them up, several more days of cloudy weather which slowed the top growth to a near stand still and then a few more sunny days which shot them up again! From prior experience I knew the plants should be developing their root systems during all our cloudy days in which they couldn’t receive enough sunlight to produce good photosynthesis. As cloudy weather prevailed top growth stopped to a near standstill, but with a strong root system in place the plants shot up quickly soon after we got more sunny weather.

We had problems with marauding grasshoppers cleaning out small sections of the young tender hoop house greens! Any time I found one, warfare broke out and I usually won…those little guys are pretty quick on their hoppers and wings though and occasionally one got away before I could get at him. A few caterpillars found their way in and enjoyed munching some small green plants before I caught them. G-Jean planted some fast growing lettuce in plug trays which we transplanted where critters had eaten young transplants in the hoop houses. Now we’ve discovered it wasn’t worth our time as the youngest transplants probably won’t mature quick enough to use this fall.

Mom found out we have "Techno Mantises" on our farm! She found this one on her computer keyboard. We’ve since had another one come in and perch by my computer while I was writing this update. Fortunately they’re not all in the house – we’ve seen quite a few preying mantis out in the garden helping control unwanted pests.

9-16-2009 (48)

Saturday, September 5th turned out to be a busy day. We had CSA pick up and prior to CSA members rolling in I helped G-Jean prune some dead/dieing canes out of our oldest Navaho blackberry patch. They had really formed a jungle as we’d not had time to weed or prune them for quite some time! New canes were leaning way over, but thankfully G-Jean had nipped the top out of them earlier so they weren’t 12’ tall like they can get…t but that’s how long the laterals had run out into the isles!

While CSA pick up was going on Dad and Jena went to look at a friend’s horse he’d asked Jena to train. The next day " Colby" came over. He is sure a pretty Fox Trotter!

Jena playing with Colby.

9-16-2009 (53)

After looking at Colby Saturday Jena and Dad headed down to Bartlesville and Jena was squirming all the way. Her custom saddle at Yochams was ready! She had ordered a plain work saddle that she can rope off of if she wants without all the fancy tooling, but it’s a beauty in its own right! And strong! Just look at the leather and try picking it up and you’ll find that it’s a lifetime investment. Without tooling this saddle should be much easier to clean than one with a lot of tooling.

Jena’s new saddle!!!

9-8-2009 (3)

Tuesday, September 8th dawned cloudy with a slight breeze and a very damp feeling. By late morning we’d harvested most of the produce for CSA shares and it started raining lightly. Inside the packing house, where we divide and pack produce for CSA, we watched rain come down. I donned a rain coat to finish picking in the rain as it kept coming in varying intensities of showers.

Later that afternoon it almost looked as though it might clear off, but by the time CSA pick up rolled around it was rather obvious that there was another storm moving in and my was there a dark mass of clouds moving across the sky! As the last CSA members drove in, Dad helped me cover crates of sweet potatoes with a tarp to keep rain from blowing in on them. Before all the CSA members could leave it started sprinkling and then came a down pour!

Our power went off so Mom filled 2 liter pop bottles with hot water and put them under the hover with her week-old chicks which usually kept warm with heat lamps.

9-3-2009 (3)

I had to go get Belgians from pasture so as soon as the rain subsided just enough I made a dash for the house to get a rain coat. There was lightning flashing all around with almost a continuous string of thunder rolling forth.Those two silly girls had decided to graze across the creek! Our creek was rising rapidly so I sloshed across, quickly got halters on the two ornery Belgians and then began to wade back across. By that time the rising water was nearly up to my boot tops! Not knowing quite what to think about the swollen creek both horses stopped at the edge and didn’t want to proceed. After working with them a little Blaze gingerly started crossing and then came Belle.

While finishing my chores in the rain I went by a rain gauge and discovered we’d gotten quite a bit of water! The electricity had come back on by the time I’d finished chores so we ate supper and called it an evening. Throughout most of the night there was thunder and lightning, but the rain subsided. Early the next morning, before dawn, a thunder storm rolled in again and gave us another fireworks display with many more buckets of rain falling in various downpours. All told, within approximately 24 hours we got 8" of rain! There was water running everywhere! Once again I’m thanking the Lord we were able to finish digging sweet potatoes on Monday instead of waiting!

Eight inches of September rain caused complications in the garden since there was water standing for quite some time. One area with standing water was part of our bell pepper row and they basically drowned. We lost about half the bell pepper plants and many tomatoes rotted due to all the water.

By Saturday, September 12th it finally dried out just enough that I could work some ground very shallowly to transplant late broccoli, cabbage, pak choi, kale, tatsoi and Chinese cabbage. The plants are growing slowly this fall and I’m not sure if they’ll make before too cold of weather moves in. They did have a healthy root systems when we set them out! Dad and G-Jean helped me transplant and we had about 500 row feet when we were done. Dad went to help Mom move the chicken palace while G-Jean and I planted some carrot, fast growing white "spring" turnip and radish seeds including some daikon radishes which I’ve never grown before.

9-12-2009 (32)

It seems like the only way we can get carrot seed up is to inter-plant them with some radishes (not daikon which grow large) such as French breakfast, cherry belle etc. By the time young carrot plants are up and started good the radishes are ready to be harvested which allows the carrots to have additional space.

Once again Dad saved the day by helping me get garden work done on his "day off." Getting up Monday morning we heard a slight dripping sound and a light sprinkle drizzled down from a gray sky. Everything was sticky mud again! G-Jean took advantage of this drizzle to hoe in the big hoop house through most of the morning.

7-5-2009 (4)

Saturday, September 19th Dad and I did a little plowing with Belle and Blaze after finishing CSA pick up and replacing a frost-free hydrant that had started leaking. (One of those "modern conveniences" that can sure be a nuisance sometimes!) I ground drove Belle and Blaze for a little bit before hooking them up to the plow as they hadn’t been hooked up for a while. When everything checked out Dad helped me hook them to the plow and we were off! Belle and Blaze acted as if it was a really stiff pull and were working pretty hard so I gave them several breathers. I’ve been debating what my best plan of action is… Belle and Blaze aren’t in the best physical shape (due to not consistently working them) but I’m thinking it may be necessary to either get a smaller 8"-10" plow or another horse in order to help make the load easier to pull my 12" plow. In the future, after we’re able to get our soil built up where it needs to be, I’m sure it won’t be any problem for them to plow as organic matter will really loosen the soil.

Between me not having enough experience with driving lines in my hand, Belle and Blaze having a long rest from work, which could make anyone a little cranky, and Dad having to try keeping up with the girls really putting themselves into plowing, our furrows went rather crookedly down the field. When I felt like the horses needed to be done plowing that day, I unhooked them and ground drove a little longer working at communicating better with them. One thing we worked on was how I wanted them to step across the mower’s tongue and line themselves up to be hitched.


We awoke to a light shower of rain and occasional distant clap of thunder the following Monday. I’d hoped to pick tomatoes and okra along with doing some more plowing if at all possible. Ready to make a dash for it at any minute I managed to finish picking tomatoes without getting thoroughly drenched although I did get rather damp. It rained off and on all day, but didn’t have a lot of accumulation until late afternoon when the sky decided to dump some more rain! By evening we’d gotten 1-3/10" of rain. During rain showers all day G-Jean and I worked at sorting tomatoes and breaking apart seed garlic so it would be ready to plant as soon as the soil dried back out again. There’s never a dull or boring moment around here!

In order to help keep up with garden work better next year I’m looking into the possibility of taking on one or more apprentices or hiring some contract labor. I need to do some more research, but it sounds like a good opportunity for others to learn about gardening before planting their own garden and in return for the knowledge gained I will receive some help in the garden making it a win, win situation. Granted, gardening is fun, but it’s also a lot of hard, cold and hot work depending on the seasons and weather! We’ve planted, worked and harvested this year in everything from well below freezing, snowy weather, to hot 90+ degree bone dry (except for the humidity and salt water leaking from our skin) days.

Mom’s cows enjoying the shade of an elm tree.

7-19-2009 (22)

Here are a couple things we’ve been keeping our eyes open for just in case someone runs across a deal. Pallets: this year we had to stack some hay outside on pallets and cover it with plastic since we’re needing more hay to feed the Belgians along with other livestock. We seem to constantly be using a pallet for something around here and we really dug hard into our pallet pile when we started stacking hay on them.

Second on the "keep eyes open for" list is a sand media filter. I would like to find a sand filter which will help strain out the algae in pond water so we can irrigate the garden with pond water next year. A secondary screen filter which I already have will screen out the remaining algae and debris a sand filter might miss.

May you have a wonderful day!

Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Crew

Bloom report from the past three months:

Some folks call this weed flax, others say rosin weed. Either way it’s a beautiful flower that’s a big nuisance in gardens. Many types of livestock love eating it.

6-24-2009 (34)

Morning Glory

7-3-2009 (7)

Garden Phlox

7-4-2009 (66)

There have been several beautiful varieties of lilies this year.

7-5-2009 (34)

7-5-2009 (102)

Hardy Hibiscus

7-5-2009 (113)

Shasta Daisy

7-5-2009 (114)

An unusually marked Balloon flower

7-5-2009 (127)

Crape Myrtle

8-29-2009 (72)

One of several starts from great Grandma Mitchell’s white clematis in full bloom… There are crape myrtles in the far background and pink begonias in the partially shaded area.

8-30-2009 (8)

Iron weed

9-6-2009 (35)

Marigolds with a white begonia.

8-30-2009 (11)

Volunteer Bonfire salvia

8-30-2009 (3)

Did you guess what "quiz" plant was at the beginning of this update? It’s a castor bean plant! In the past I’ve had problems with voles or some other pesky small burrower going down each corn row and eating every last kernel I planted! Planting castor bean seed with corn seed discourages them from eating all my corn seed.

Aug 292009

We’ve been back from Jena’s certification trip for about a month now… she’s gained somewhere around 10 horses to trim and has prospects for more. She’s set up a Facebook page, stop by and become a fan!

Less than a week after we returned home, we headed up to Americus, Kansas to help our friends, Ben and Alice, celebrate their marriage. Josh and Jena were bridesmaid and groomsman for the couple. There are very few things that can get Farmer Josh to dress up in a button up shirt, much less a suit… guess a wedding is one of them! :-)

8-8-2009 (20)

Steve, Josh, Graceson and Jena have been putting up hay using a borrowed tractor since our Ford is still not going and we don’t have all the equipment needed to bale hay or put up loose hay using the horses.

8-5-2009 (17)

Imogene continues to be the Hoeing Hero. She can be found in the garden most days by 6:30 a.m trusty hoe in hand, slaying the weeds one by one. She is one amazing lady!

8-6-2009 (3)

The summer harvest has been somewhat disappointing. Tomatoes have been slow to start producing and now that they have begun, we’re having quite a bit of trouble with them rotting on the vine. Sweet corn harvest was limited but somewhat better than last year. Most years we’ve had trouble with voles or gophers tunneling through the rows eating the corn seed not too long after it’s planted. This year Josh planted castor beans among the corn and the varmints left them alone. Unfortunately, corn ear worms don’t mind the castor beans at all and they had a hayday in the corn, eating more than their fair share. The peppers and okra are going gangbusters though. Josh and Imogene just started transplanting into the hoophouses this morning, so we’ll have good stuff to eat out of the hoop houses well after frost.

8-5-2009 (7)8-17-2009 (13)

After several weeks of hot, dry weather, the Lord send rain to break the dry spell… 8 inches of rain in 4 days! It was so nice! The cow’s didn’t know what to think of having water flowing in the creek again!

8-20-2009 (9)

The turkeys are growing and are now happily catching grasshoppers in their paddock. We see the grasshoppers at the tops of the weeds, just as high as they can go when the turkeys are on the hunt… strange… you wouldn’t think a grasshopper would have the brains to know to get out of the way, but they seem to know somehow.

8-20-2009 (34)

Josh is working on another "Farmer Josh" update. He works on it evenings after he gets in if it isn’t too late and is hoping to be able to finish up within a week or so. With as long as it has been since the last update, I’m afraid it might be pretty long… stay tuned!

After the rain one evening while I was doing chores, I looked up to see this beautiful rainbow. What a priviledge.

8-17-2009 (7)

’Til next time!