April 30, 2010 – Takes a While for the Old Guys

Sometimes it takes a while for the old guys to catch on to new technology, even if they have it.

morel mushroom

We were out morel mushroom hunting this evening after the rain passed and Martin asked if he could bring the GPS.

Although we didn’t find enough to justify marking a spot, it could have been just the thing to grab the coordinates and see if they reappear in the same spot next year.

one year ago…”Plum Blossoms”

April 28, 2010 – Urban Gardening Technique – Bin/Tire Potatoes

Another old gardening technique that has yet to come to high hopes is growing potatoes in straw.  Many people grow them in tires and keep piling tires up and adding straw as the potatoes grow up.

Instead of using tires, I used some old pallets wired together instead of tires.

Martin went in and laid down some newspapers and a bit of compost to give the taters a head up on the grass.

Martin is like “Jim” from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom – he goes in and does the hard work while I stand and watch!  These potatoes were left-0ver from last year and had already started growing.

Straw on top, and the pallets afford the straw to keep piling up as the potatoes grow.

one year ago…”Claire with More Opportunities”

April 26, 2010 – Claire’s Envirothon Team to Nationals Again!

I get another day off and let someone else write the story today. Today’s photos and story is from Andrew Potter of the Times-Republican.  Unfortunately, Claire will not be able to attend as she’ll be in India at the time of the competition.

California dreaming

MHS wins state event, heading to Fresno

A group of five Marshalltown High School students takes learning about the environment seriously throughout the year and not just on Earth Day.

The MHS team won the state title last weekend as part of the Iowa Envirothon.

The envirothon included the 14 Iowa teams which had advanced from regional competition in which students tested their knowledge on aquatic ecology, forestry, soils and wildlife at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie Center.

Team members are Alex Cope, Molly Finn, James Lindgren, Matt Paar and Claire Runquist. Susan Fritzell, an MHS teacher and advisor for the team, credited her students’ dedication the past few months to the team’s win.

“I think our team is very consistent,” Fritzell said. “I have five students who will always commit to being here.”

The MHS team won two of the five individual categories including forestry and wildlife.

Lindgren said it was an exciting moment for the team when it was announced they were state champions.

“We all jumped up when we heard it,” he said.

Finn said the team thought they did well but they weren’t sure if they won until the announcement.

“We felt confident that we did decent but we thought it would be close,” Finn said.

The Marshalltown team advances to the Canon Envirothon national competition held at California State University in Fresno in early August.

The trip is partially paid for by the envirothon so the team will do fundraising to make up the rest of the money. Winning the state envirothon title has become a tradition for MHS as the school has now won its fifth in the last eight years.

one year ago…”Gully Washers”

April 25, 2010 – Locavoring at Church Conference

This weekend we attended our church’s regional conference in Davenport.  The conference put an emphasis on involving all ages, so we proposed a session from the kitchen on “cooking local” thinking it would be a nice change from conference center meeting rooms.

Here Martin is helping us to prepare – we made biscuits form scratch using local flours, and in the background you can see that we also set up to make jam – both raspberry and strawberry with frozen berries from the farm.  About 20 people signed up and all seemed to enjoy sampling the jam on the hot biscuits and bringing a jar or two of jam home as well.

one year ago…”Prom”

April 24, 2010 – More Apple Blossoms

Although I’ve posted a few photos lately of orchard blossoms, I can’t resist as the blossoms have taken center stage at the farm the last few days.

Williams Pride apple blossoms

This is a Williams Pride apple blossom.  William’s Pride has been a great performer at our farm.

Apple Tree in Bloom by Beehive

We have a couple of trees and a beehive very close for pollination!

Williams Pride Apple Blossoms

One more parting shot and some summary information from a longer description available from Purdue Extension:

Williams’ Pride is an early-maturing, attractive, dark red apple with excellent fruit quality and field immunity to apple scab. The fruit is of medium to large size and matures with the very earliest known commercial red cultivars in the midwestern United States. It ripens 1 week after Lodi and 7.5 to 8 weeks before Delicious. Williams’ Pride is released as a potential commercial cultivar for use as a summer dessert apple. The apple is named in honor of Edwin B. Williams, Emeritus Professor and long time leader of the disease-resistant apple breeding program at Purdue Univ.

This summer apple is unique in that the flesh is very crisp and firm and that the fruit can be held in storage at least 6 weeks without loss in quality or firmness. The attractive, moderately bright, dark red fruit do not drop easily and retain firmness, crisp flesh texture, and flavor on the tree up to 2 weeks after maturity. During this time they develop nearly a 100% deep dark purple-red and heightened flavor, character, and juice content. Ripening is somewhat uneven and will require more than one picking.

The new cultivar produces a vigorous, spreading tree with sturdy growth, and good branch angles. Moderate to moderately heavy annual crops of moderate to large-sized fruits are produced without chemical or manual thinning.

The new cultivar has good to moderate resistance to fire blight.  Williams’ Pride has also shown moderate to good resistance to powdery mildew.  Leaf bronzing caused by parasitic mites has not been observed even in trees grown without miticides.

Bloom is annually very heavy, with a much extended bloom period. When compared with standard commercial cultivars, the duration of bloom extends from very early season to mid- or late mid-season. This character may provide avoidance of spring frost injury.

one year ago…”85 degrees”

April 23, 2010 – Urban Gardening Technique – Wading Pool Gardens

I ran across a novel idea for urban gardens (not that I won’t try it on the farm as well).  This may also work great for school gardens as well.  One of the banes of suburban existence is the leaky kiddie wading pool.  Well, esteemed soil scientice Joel Gruver at Western Illinois, documented a great way to turn them into gardens.  I’m sure of all the research and outreach Joel has done in soil science, he’d like nothing more that to be immortalized on the high hopes blog as the person who brought kiddie pool gardens to the readers of this blog!  Check out the many pictures of Joel’s pools with actual before and after photos at his flickr page.

The first step is to gather the ingredients.  I went to our nearest municipal composting facility to get a utility trailer load of compost (it’s free there!)  I mixed some for this project and spread the rest elsewhere.  Here, I filled a couple of 5 gallon buckets about 2/3 full of compost.

I bought some bagged sand ($1.50 a bag) to make a 2:1 mix of compost and sand.  I filled the buckets that were 2/3 filled with compost with sand to the top.  If you were doing a larger area, a trip to the local gravel pit and pickup may be more thrifty.

I didn’t have any old leaky kiddie pools, so I just cut a 55 gallon plastic barrel in half, drilled some extra drain holes in the bottom and mixed the sand and compost in here.  Just for reference, filling these two halves of a barrel used 12 five gallon buckets (about 3 bags of sand and the rest compost).

One advantage of this technique is that the crops are relatively weed free – so are excellent for hard to weed crops like carrots – which are destined for these barrels.  I placed them close to the rain collection tank for easy watering.  I’ll report back later in summer on the results.  As a bonus, if it works, and after the soil media tires out, I have many low spots that could use fill, so I’ll refill them and start over again!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #162″

April 21, 2010 – Who Says Cats Don’t Make Good Shepherds?

Over the ages, many scientists, using keen powers of observation and conjecture, have winnowed many complex animal relationships.  These breakthroughs often times explain how seemingly random events are part of a larger unexplained whole.  I had just one such experience this week.  Many people regard cats as having few skills in  herding cloven-footed herbivores.  Dogs occupy most of the herding space, mainly due to their brash and over-the-top nipping, barking and running after their chosen herd of ungulates.

Cats have a different, heretofore, unrecognized approach to herding.  Cats are waaay more laid back – in fact, they’d rather make you think they weren’t doing anything at all.  Our oldest farm cat, Toby, probably about 13 years old by now demonstrated this technique to me, only after our long relationship.  In this photo he positions himself in what looks like a warm, sunny location, but actually uses the adjoining cavern to amplify his voice when he makes subtle voice commands and head motions to move the sheep.

After an initial calling meow, Toby uses almost imperceptible head motions to visually track to the sheep the direction he wants them to travel.  Here the lead ewe begins to follow Toby’s command, alerting the young lambs to come this way.

As his head moves from left to right in this photo sequence, the herd gains speed.

Once the sheep are safely moved closer to the barn, Toby acts as though he had nothing to do with it, even though the sheep look directly at him, awaiting further direction!

one year ago…”Apple Blossoms Soon”

April 20, 2010 – Emma on the Track

Emma’s taken up track this year.  She mostly runs the 3000, 1500 and 800.

She banged up her ankle early in the season (at home), so has been playing catch-up all year.

Even with the bum ankle, she’s still a blur passing by.  We’re hoping she has the running genes of my cross-country All-American brother and not the genes of her 9th grade track drop-out!

one year ago…”Shiitake’s Return”

April 18, 2010 – Spring Landscapes

This time of year the contrast between the dead corn and bean fields and life of everything is else readily apparent.

This is probably as good as the south berry garden will look this season, before the weeds overcome us.

This row of plum and cherry trees smells like a roomful of grandmothers who prefer floral perfumes and have lsot judgment as to the proper amount to apply!

This is the newest strawberry patch – the other one petered out, so this is the new spot – for my future reference – top right Evie day neutral, bottom right Cabot, top left Earliglow, bottom left Cavendish.

one year ago…”Old Red Cedar Shingles”

April 17, 2010 – Spring Mushrooms

Ah, now we are approaching the garden dining season. The shiitake mushrooms have appeared – it looks like the logs have some more life left in them this year!

I didn’t do logs last year, so these must be two-year old logs.

hazelnut flower

The hazelnut flowers look delicate in the wind – looks like the shrubs are really going to put out this year.

one year ago…”What’s Wrong with this Envelope?”