Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday April 30

It's the last day of April and some goodies are appearing.  Some of the asparagus plants have been sending up spears, and I'm more than happy to take them.  Fresh asparagus and home grown lettuce make for a nice salad.

I've been pilfering spinach leaves every few days, but later in the week picked a small head of spinach.  It went into an omelette of spinach, baby bella mushrooms and fontina cheese.  Not bad.

Now for the bad news.  The cutworms got into the brassica bed and did some major damage, about half the plants destroyed, all but one broccoli, all of the cauliflower and many of the kohlrabi.  They even hit the onions, but the onions look like they will recover.  Usually I spray Bt around the young plants as a preventive, but forgot to get some when I was at May's greenhouse two weeks ago.  I picked some up yesterday, and today planted a new set of brassicas to replace the ones that were destroyed by the cursed cutworms, then sprayed the stems and the soil around the plants liberally with Bt.

Things are starting to move along now, and according to the 10 day forecast it looks like there is little chance of another frost until fall.  I moved the tomato plants out to the coldframe to join the peppers.  Actually I'm mostly caught up until the warm weather crops go in, which leaves time to work on the many other projects that are ongoing. To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It's like a storm has passed

I've lived in this place for ten years now.  Six acres in the country, with a pond, woods and a pasture.  The most notable feature of this property is the pond, built by damning a ravine.  It's a 1/2 acre jewel, deeper than most farm ponds.  When I moved here I realized that the best way to maintain the pond was to NOT maintain most of the shoreline - just let it go wild.  It's a superb wildlife habitat.  This morning I watched from the sunroom as a pair of wood ducks flew in and paid a visit.  In the evening the frogs can get so loud that, standing on the back deck, my ears start to roar.  For a farm pond, the water is fairly clear with only occasional blooms of algae.  That's because there is no nutrient runoff into the pond, from grazing animals or fertilizers.

It always concerned me that the property line barely contains the pond on the north side, on the left in the picture above.  In fact there is at most ten feet of my property on the north side of the pond.  Still, the lot on the other side of the pond had stood vacant for many years, owned by an elderly couple in Chicago who had no plans for it.  Two years ago, both of them had passed and the lot was given to their nephew, who promptly put it up for sale.  In 2017, a young couple bought it and began making a rudimentary drive to the center of the lot, where they cleared an small area where they intended to build a house.

They were nice people, I was told, and their intended building site was screened by trees from my house.   I hoped that they would be receptive to my concerns for the pond, and agree to leave a buffer strip along the edge of their property to protect the pond.  In return, I would offer them fishing privileges from the levee.  Unfortunately, they ran into some problems and had to put the lot up for sale.

In late January, I found out that the lot had a new owner.  There was an unusual spell of warm weather then, and leaving the house that day I saw that the front part of the lot, overgrown with small trees and bushes, was being cleared.  Since I couldn't see if they were staying on their side of the line, I stopped the car and walked over to have a look.  That's when I saw that they had cleared into my property by as much as 75 feet.  This picture was taken a few days later, after I had put up a temporary fence to mark the property line.  His lot is to the right of the fence.

Just to explain, the flat land in the left of the picture is pasture.  I let the sloped ground go wild, as a wetland and wildlife habitat.  It's the watershed that feeds the pond, which is behind the tree line.  The new owner couldn't be bothered to find out where lines are, he just told his workers to clear off all the overgrown area, including what was on my property.

I talked to the workers, who said they were only following orders.  They told me that the owner was deaf and communication was difficult.  Still, they were clearing on a line toward my house.  They had to know they were trespassing.  Then they told me that he intended to put three trailers on the lot.  For a few seconds I was stunned.  It was like getting hit with a shock wave.  I shook my head and said "No.  That's not going to happen" and walked away. 

A chain of phone calls around the neighborhood began.  This is not a fancy neighborhood.  All of the lots are six acres, subdivided from a pasture in the 90's.  Many of the homes are modulars, some of the people are a little messy, but there are no trailers, and every lot has one home per lot.  It was obvious from the start that this guy intended to rent the trailers as a money making venture.  Visions of meth labs, exploding trailers, loud parties and vandalism, a public nuisance, looked like a real possibility.  The value of my house, which I have been working on for ten years, would plummet as a mini-trailer park went in next door.

View from my back porch.

The next day, I was at the county planning commission, asking them to send enforcement out and shut him down.  It took them a few days, and by that time this guy had brought in at least ten truck loads of stone to put in a driveway that went in about fifty feet from the road then split in opposite directions and ended in circular pads.  He was working very fast.  My neighbor north of this lot was practically screaming "Those are trailer pads. He's putting in trailers."

About a week after that all of the adjoining neighbors received a certified letter from the owner notifying us of a hearing for a zoning variance at the end of March.  At least work had stopped in the interim, and one of the enforcement people told me that if he begins digging anything, to notify him immediately.  I sent a letter, the first of several, to everyone in the neighborhod, asking that they all attend the hearing to oppose this.

Who was this guy?  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Had he done this before, buy up a property in a rural county, possibly pay off some officials to get the zoning approval, and put in rental trailers?  I suspected the worst, but thought there was more to it.  It was clear from his application for a variance that he was barely literate.  The reasons he gave for getting a variance were childlike in their simplicity.  And the clerks at the planning commission had to explain to him, with his girlfriend interpreting, that he had to get approval for three septic systems. 

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I could find out more about him.  He lived in a very nice 4-bedroom house in a small town south of Indianapolis, recently remodeled, nice neighborhood,  large lot, mature trees.  The notion that he would move out of that house and live in one of the trailers was laughable.  Then the second bombshell dropped.  He was a registered sex offender.  Actually he was classified as a 'violent sexual predator' who had been released from prison the previous summer after serving five years for child molestation.  It was his second conviction.  The neighborhood's opposition to this guy at this point had galvanized, to say the least.

In March, he and his buddies towed an old, unlicensed RV out to the property where he spent the weekends with his girlfriend.  When the weather was good, he would take a heavy duty mower or a bobcat onto the back part of the lot, where I could see him from my house, and clear off brush.  With that equipment, he couldn't knock down any tree larger than a couple of inches in diameter, but still, there was the anxiety of wondering what he was going to do next to mess up the land.  It had become obvious that he really had no clue what he wanted to do with the land, and understood nothing about managing a property in the country.
Looking at RV from road.

The last weekend he camped there, about two weeks before the hearing, he and his girlfriend walked to the house across the road and knocked on their door.  Interpreting for him, she asked the neighbors how you go about hooking up to the water, sewer and gas lines.  My neighbor was dumbfounded.  There are no lines, she said, this is the country, you have to dig a well and put in a septic system.  He literally had no clue.  This confirmed for me what I had concluded a little earlier, that he was mildly retarded, and did not understand the consequences of his actions.

The hearing took place.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including the farmer who owns hundreds of acres to the west of us, showed up.  I had never met some of my neighbors, until this.  Some of their speeches were very eloquent.  We talked about low flow problems with wells, how the land could not possibly support three septic systems there, about the damage that he had already caused.  He claimed that he wanted to move his 80 year old mother, in poor health, who lived with him in his house in Franklin, into one of the trailers in the middle of nowhere.  I pointed out that the nearest hospital out here was nearly 30 minutes away.  His petition for a zoning variance was unanimously denied.

He hasn't been back since.  The RV still is there, now stuck in the mud, with a generator wrapped in plastic next to it.  Two weeks ago a for sale sign went up on the lot.  My neighbor on the other side agreed that one of us would buy the lot and sell half to the other so this can never happen again, but my neighbor owns his house free and clear and refuses to put it up for collateral for a loan.  I can't afford to make payments on the full lot, so for the time being it sits there like a festering sore.  I don't think it will sell anytime soon, since the driveways that he put in are useless and detract from the value.  It looks bad, but the real nightmare is finally over, I hope.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday April 23

Finally, something to eat from the garden.  I had forgotten just how good fresh lettuce tastes.  Buttery, flavorful - there's just no comparison to supermarket lettuce.  I grow lettuce in an Earthbox, which is in the coldframe right now.  I usually get about 5 pounds of lettuce from an Earthbox before it bolts, and it's very clean.  Last week I got the first picking:

Yesterday, some more:

I don't know what varieties are in this, it's Pinetree lettuce mix, but it's all good.  To see what people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It's looking like the growing season has actually begun

and the weather has finally turned a corner, into more normal temperatures for this time of year.  After a dusting of snow and some miserably cold temps on Monday, the ten day forecast looks pretty good.  Today it's 70 F and I'm seeing a lot of trees blooming and the bushes leafing out.  Nature was just biding its time, and now it's full speed ahead.

Yesterday I transplanted about 120 onion seedlings into a bed, also about 10 cole crop seedlings.  I had better success with the onion seedlings this year.  Last year there were problems with a lot of the seedlings, especially tomatoes.   I'm sure it was the potting mix that I used, a name brand from the big box store.  It was also used in the Earthbox to grow lettuce, and that was a bust too.  Most of the onions are Pontiac, a yellow storage variety, along with Ruby Ring and Red Cippolini.   I left about a foot on one side of the bed unplanted.  That area will be planted with cucumbers later.

This year I bought a bag of ProMix for starting seedlings and for the Earthbox.  ProMix is good stuff.  It is compressed into a 2 cubic foot bale, and expands to 4 cubic feet.  It's actually a better deal than the more common name brands.  The only downside is you have to add fertilizer.

There are now 2 sets of brassicas in the bed.  The second set will likely mature shortly after the first set, due to the weather, even though they were started nearly 2 weeks apart.  There's Green Magic and Imperial broccoli, Gonzalez and Point One cabbage, Kolibri kohlrabi and Minuteman cauliflower.   The screened frame keeps out the neighborhood dogs.

The overwintered spinach is very late this year, and much of it was lost last winter.  I've gotten spinach as early as mid-March, and almost always harvest some by early April.  Not this year, but I expect to pick soon.  I seeded some spinach in the empty spaces, which has germinated now, and hope to get more spinach after these heads are picked.  I have never had much success with spring-sown spinach, it usually bolts.

The lettuce in the Earthbox is growing rapidly now, and I expect to pick some very soon.  The next set of lettuce and brassicas has been moved into the coldframe, now that the nights are not so cold.

With more plants moved outdoors, there was room to re-pot the tomato seedlings into large pots (JIffy cups with holes punched in the bottom).  The pepper seedlings were re-potted last week, and okra was seeded directly into the large pots but hasn't germinated yet.  Eggplant hasn't been re-potted yet, and cucumbers don't get seeded for another week or two.  At this point there are 3 trays under the lights, with room for one more.  I don't know if there will be any need for the fluorescent light this year.

I bought 6 more pepper plants from May's greenhouse today, and will re-pot them later, so it looks like I'll need that fourth tray very soon.

The future tomato/pepper/eggplant beds have a developing cover crop of oats and field peas growing through a layer of compost, as does the squash bed.  The cover crop took a long long time to germinate.

The planting schedule calls for potatoes to go in today, but that's not going to happen.  I just picked up the seed potatoes today.  I expect to get the potatoes in early next week, after the soil warms a little more.  Otherwise it seems like things are mostly under control, for the time being.  I am trying to buy the vacant lot adjacent to mine, and split it with my neighbor on the other side of the lot.  If I get the property I intend to expand the garden on the other side of the pond.  More on that later.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Too cold to plant and the LED lights updated

It's April 10 but the weather has been more like February.  There's 10 cole crop seedlings under the lights that could have gone into the ground a week ago, but with some nights reaching into the low 20 degree F I've chosen to leave them inside until the weather improves.  That will be tomorrow when the temperatures go to something like average and stay there for awhile.

I bought another LED light and added it to the two in place.  That required removing the frame and reconfiguring it a bit.  Now the lights are almost touching and the plants will not be in any 'dead zones' with inadequate light.  As a unit, the three lights together are about 13" by 40" in dimension, about the same size as two plant trays end to end.  With the increased light, my point and shoot camera just couldn't seem to find a proper adjustment for the picture.

In a recent post I expressed some concerns about the lights burning lettuce, which I attributed to the two UV lights in each unit.  With raising the lights over 20" above the plants, and turning the lights so the UV lights were not in line down the center, that doesn't seem to be a problem anymore.  In fact, since adding the third light, the plants appear to be doing better than they did under the fluorescent lights.

This is the set of cole crops which I hope to set out tomorrow, and tomato seedlings that have just recently germinated.  For a while the cole crops were leggy, usually an indication of inadequate light, but with more leaf area as they grow they appear to have thickened their stems and are much stouter now.

The other tray has pepper seedlings, two more sets of cole crops at different stages of growth, and some lettuce.  All of it looks healthy at this point.

So far I'm happy with the results under the LED's.  We'll see what happens when the tomatoes and peppers get tall.  With three lights my investment is about $90.  A new good quality shop light with 4 T8 bulbs would probably set me back about $60 to $80.  So the initial investment is more for the LED's, but the 6500K T8 bulbs have to be replaced every two years, and the GroLux bulbs last about a year before losing their effectiveness.  With an operating life of 40,000 hours, the LED's should be cheaper in the long run.

Usually by this time of year I am harvesting spinach and lettuce.  With some warm sunny days that should start happening soon.  I hope to set out the onion seedlings in about a week.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

This is always scary

Last night it stormed all night.  This after a round of rains that ended a few days ago.  The ground is saturated and the water drains quickly into the pond.  It over-topped the levee for the first time since the massive rains in 2008.

Most of the water is going through the overflow, but that sheen of water on top of the levee will spill down the backside and create channels.  Given enough time and water, those channels will eat back to the top of the levee and create a channel that will widen and open up a gash.  I don't think it will come to that but the sight of water on the levee always makes me nervous.

The rain appears to be letting up and radar shows most of the system now to the north.  I'm appreciating work that I put into the levee several years ago - removing overgrowth, bolstering part of it with concrete blocks and adding 15 yards of soil to level it - but it looks like it needs a little more work, and the emergency spillway has to be dug out a little more.  I think the worst is over.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Early spring, or is it late winter, tour?

It's snowing right now.  It's not going to snow much, but still, it's April for God's sake. Last weekend, it snowed 3 inches.  Sure, this will be gone tomorrow, but. . . it's April.  The temperatures will be whipsawing from cold to tolerable for several more days.  The mean temperature for March in this area was 41 F, for February 39 F.  Only 2 degrees difference, and February had a few days over 70 F, which March never got near.  At least it has stopped raining.

There's a set of brassicas under the lights that I'd like to get into the beds, but they will have to wait until later this week.  I'd put then in the cold frame, but there's no room in there.  In spite of the bad weather, things are getting accomplished.  The two beds that will get peppers and tomatoes were lightly hoed and seeded with a cover crop of oats and field peas, and a layer of compost was spread over them.  That was two weeks ago and the cover crop still hasn't sprouted.    The large squash bed was seeded with the same cover crop, but no compost.  Today I spaded over two more beds.  One gets brassicas, the other onions, parsnip, carrots and whatever.

Mostly this is about how the seedlings are doing under the LED lights.  So far, not too bad.  The onion seedlings seemed to do OK but they weren't under the lights long enough to draw any conclusions, before they went into the cold frame.  Same with the first batch of lettuce.

Some observations about the lights.  The light spreads out very little, leaving a dead zone for seedlings that are between the lights.  When I moved a pack of lettuce that was in that dead zone to a spot more directly under the light, the plants went under stress and the leaf edges curled.

This is an educated guess about what caused this.  Each light has 2 (out of 225) UV LED lights, and they are both near the center of the light unit.  The manufacturer really should put the UV lights in a different reflector, one that spreads the light over a wider area.  Anyway, I think the lettuce got too much UV and it wasn't happy about it.  Another thing to keep in mind - the plants look very dark under these lights.  That's because most of the lights are red or blue, which is absorbed by the plants.  It's the green and yellow light that passes through.  Anyway, the lettuce, once transplanted into the Earthbox in the coldframe, has been doing fine, albeit growing slowly in these cloudy days:

The solution for the leaf curling problem:  get the lights as far above the plants as possible to allow mixing of the different LED's.  I gave up on the old rope and pulley system used with the fluorescent shop light and fixed the frame that I made for the lights directly to the top shelf of the rack.  When seedlings were started under the T8 fluorescents the light was lowered by two ropes until it was within an inch or two of the seedlings.  That won't work with the LED's because the different lights won't mix that close.  I made some larger reflectors with Reflectix insulation taped to pieces of 1/2" foam board.   I'm hoping the reflectors will contain and bounce around the light so it reaches the lower leaves of the plants. 

Even with the lights that high, the light intensity at the plants is still weaker in the center between the lights and at the ends.  I ordered another light from Growstar to add to these two (hey I'm in it this far, there's no turning back now).  I'll have to remove the light frame and modify it, then install all three lights side by side.   That should eliminate any dead spots for the plants and increase the total intensity for all the plants.  If that doesn't work then I'm out 90 bucks.

Here's another view of the seedlings.  The first set of cole crops has gotten spindly and really needs to go outside.  I don't know that they are any worse than cole crops grown under the T8's.  I'm hoping that the addition of a third light will cure this, if not I may try a small fan to move some air over the plants. Today I seeded tomatoes, eggplant and another set of cole crops, which has filled these two trays.  In about ten days when I transfer the tomatoes and peppers into large pots then space will be at a premium.  I'm hoping that the three lights with the new reflectors will be adequate for four trays side by side.

A closeup of the most recent set of cole crops, lettuce and peppers. The peppers just starting germinating a few days ago.  Yes the plants look very dark but put them in 'normal' light and they look fine.  The lettuce just doesn't seem to like these lights, but I only start lettuce inside to get it to germinate quickly, then move it to the Earthbox.

I haven't discarded the fluorescent light unit.  The shoplight is still there in the bottom half of the seedling rack with the ropes to raise or lower it.  I plan to use it to start seedlings when there's no more room under the LED's.    

Here's another view of the seedling rack.  I had to remove one of the shelves to make way for a two light setup.  After building this rack, my one regret is that it should have been about a foot taller, which would allow for more storage space.  Still, that top shelf can hold a lot of stuff.

I'll end with a picture of the onions in the cold frame.  These are Ruby Ring, Pontiac and Cippolini.  I'm hoping they can go out into the beds in about ten days.