1/23/2014

white-oak
Photo by Lynn Ketchum

Your trees may still need attention even in the coldest days of winter.

In the life cycle of a tree, winter is the time when trees go dormant and growth slows down, said Paul Ries, an urban forester with the Oregon State University Extension Service. The strongest parts of a tree are its trunk, branches and roots, so they normally survive winter weather quite well. In the spring, new growth emerges in the form of twigs, buds and leaves.

But the success of this new growth depends in part on the tree over-wintering well, Ries said. That makes winter a great time to take action on pruning and other maintenance tasks – particularly for deciduous trees, he added.  

"It's a good time of year for winter tree care because Oregon doesn't have the same freeze and thaw cycles that happen regularly in places like the Midwest," Ries said. "Frequent thawing out can be hard on trees."

In the various ecological regions around the state, trees face different challenges in winter. Coastal trees endure the force of strong winds and salt damage. Strong enough winds can cause trees to adapt their growth to deal with the extreme conditions, Ries said. That's why you'll see trees surviving in a bent position in windier environments.

In eastern Oregon, trees are fairly well adapted to lengthy cold spells – provided they're native trees or landscape trees that can tolerate tougher conditions, Ries said. But the same winter care tips apply to trees on the eastern side of the state. Tasks such as mulching become even more important, Ries said.

Below are some tips on caring for your landscape trees during winter.

Pruning – Now is a good time to prune to develop an appropriate branch structure on trees that you have planted in the last three or four years. Remove any crossing branches, broken branches and branches that are touching or too close to other branches. Also pay attention to "double leaders," branches growing in competition to the main trunk. If you're nervous about cutting, Ries advised that you should hire a certified arborist. Be aware that trees don't "heal" like humans do; they don't regenerate tissue but instead "wall off" a wound to keep the damage from spreading, Ries said. If you open up a cross section of a tree that was damaged years ago, the old scar will still be there. 

Mulch – Place bark or wood chips around your tree in early winter to help retain water and reduce temperature extremes. A thin layer of mulch acts like a blanket and helps give the tree's roots extra winter protection. But be careful not to overdo it. Too much material can cause other problems, such as providing a hiding place for rodents.

Remove stakes – Now is a good time to remove any stakes still in the ground if you planted new trees within the last few years. Leaving stakes too long increases the risk of damage to the trunk. The tree can grow around the guide wires.

Water – Give your trees a drink. Winter droughts can be as severe as those in summer. When there's not enough rain or snowfall, an occasional watering during the winter can be a lifesaver for a young tree. But water only when the soil and the trees are cool, but not frozen.

Plant – When the ground isn't frozen, winter is a great time to plant trees. In western Oregon in particular, winter rains will help a new tree get established. Plant trees suited for the cold hardiness zone in which you live.

"Oregon is a very diverse state ecologically and it's important to pay attention to ecological zones when deciding what to plant," Ries advised. Find your plant hardiness zone on a map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb.

For more information, see the OSU Extension guide "Selecting, Planting and Caring for a New Tree" at http://bit.ly/OSU_NewTree.  For more tree care advice, visit the International Society of Arboriculture's website at www.treesaregood.com.

About Gardening News From the OSU Extension Service: The Extension Service provides a variety of gardening information on its website at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/community/gardening. Resources include gardening tips, videos, podcasts, monthly calendars of outdoor chores, how-to publications, information about the Master Gardener program, and a monthly emailed newsletter.



11/18/2013
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There’s been no greater benefit to the global world in recent years than the growing popularity of the Internet. Connectivity has allowed a huge rise in exchange of information, for every outlet from news and politics to informational sources like GRIT to discuss the best advice for living in rural America. Where once rural residents were isolated from those outside their immediate surroundings, they now have access to any knowledge they desire. Just as GRIT has examined the benefits of and given some tips for installing solar panels and weatherproofing, understanding and setting up your own system to receive satellite Internet can provide you with all the benefits of high speed Internet access while preserving your autonomy and requiring only a minimal investment of time and money.

Solar Panels

Photo: iStockphoto.com/Andreas Weber

For many rural dwellers, it’s not easy finding a connection to the web at all, and high speed Internet has been nearly impossible to access in many areas. Cable companies often won’t have lines running far enough from urban locations to provide Internet for users more than a few miles away, and the cost of having cable lines run from the closest service area to your location can run in the thousands. Unlike cable, satellite Internet can reach any home in the world that has a clear view of the sky, and can provide many rural residents with a great alternative to settling for the only other option of slower, dial-up based Internet that uses telephone lines.

Satellite Dish

Photo: witthaya/Fotolia

If opting for satellite Internet, it’s important to be selective. Look for providers like StarBand, ViaSat or Satellite Star Internet that will walk you through various plan options, and work with compatible Windows and Mac systems. No matter the plan, you’ll need to double check that your computer is capable of connecting -this means a Windows 2000 PE or higher, or a Mac OS 10.1 or higher, as well as network capability. Newer computers generally come with these prerequisites, but double checking never hurts. Ideally, your provider should also supply an installer in order to ensure the dish is mounted according to FCC regulations.

If opting out of an installer, or located where an installer is unable to reach, your dish must be placed at least 4 feet off the ground and orientated to the south. The best satellite provider in the world won’t do much good if the dish is out of the satellite’s line of site. It’s best to stay away from trees, as satellites signals do NOT go through them. Look for a spot that is unlikely to be disturbed by overgrown foliage or animals that might knock the dish over. You’ll likely need a screwdriver, electric drill with multiple sizes of drill bits, and pliers to complete a full assembly of both the dish and its stand.The dish should arrive with a meter that notes exactly when a connection is found during the final steps of installation.

Most installers won’t provide custom work for free – meaning you might need to put in extra effort to hide cables with moldings. The easiest route is to take a quick staple gun to the wall, running the cable around the edge of a room and behind furniture. Some companies will also refuse to mount the dish to a roof surface exceeding one story in height, so expect to install the equipment on your own if a two-story roof is your sole option for dish location. Finally, home networks and wireless routers aren’t generally supported by satellite installers, you’ll either want to set up additional equipment up earlier or inquire prior to the technician's arrival if the installers will set up routers as well. Otherwise, the technicians will be unable to check your Internet is working fully.

Once your dish and router are fully functional, begin to enjoy the many benefits of high-speed Internet, including increased business opportunities and more easily maintained connections with family and friends!



9/5/2013

Heirloom Tomato Festival, store front sign

This year I was lucky enough to find the Heirloom Tomato Festival being held near Nebraska City, only an hour away from where I live! We decided to head down over the Labor Day weekend so we could expand our heirloom tomato horizons. This year in our own garden we are growing two heirloom varieties, Brandywine and Sun Gold, but we are always on the lookout for new and delicious varieties to grow.

The festival was being hosted by the Wostrel Family’s Union Orchard, just outside of Union, Nebraska. We drove up to a charming red painted farm store to the tune of live music provided by the Blozen Beer Band.

Heirloom Tomato Festival, the Bolzen Beer Band.

They were very enthusiastic.

Their store itself was beautiful and laid out so that the delicious looking vegetables produced in the fields behind the store were the first things you saw entering the door. Everything there looked and smelled delicious; it was hard to tear ourselves away from the products the orchard offered long enough to go seek out the tomatoes!

Heirloom Tomato Festival, store shelves

I want all of you.

We easily found the long table full of tomato samples. The display was very stylish, plates full of sliced tomatoes rested on a white tablecloth, with whole tomatoes being proudly presented on top of overturned wine glasses.

Tomato Festival's tomato tasting table

All of these fresh heirloom tomatoes were absolutely delicious, not one tasted exactly the same and all of them were miles ahead of the standard store bought tomato. My favorite tomato was the disconcertingly name Bloody Butcher tomato, which was resting on the table near one of the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen labeled, appropriately enough, the Bear Claw tomato.

Heirloom Tomato Festival, Bear Claw tomato

It barely even fits on that wine glass!

While I was there I was lucky enough to have a chat with Terry Wostrel, who answered a few questions for me about the Festival.

 

Sarah Johnson: Is this the first year you’re hosting the Heirloom tomato Festival?

Terry Wostrel: Yes, we’ve only owned this orchard for about a year and a half, and it was pretty run down so we’re trying to bring it back to life. We’ve had to replant a lot of fruit trees so that takes time, but our thought was that we could do the tomatoes, and expose people to some vegetables, especially tomatoes, that they had just never experienced before.

SJ: Can you tell us about what benefits heirloom tomatoes have compared to the hybrid varieties you usually see in grocery stores?

TW: I’ve grown them in my own backyard for years and years. The basic gist of the tomatoes that you buy in the grocery store is that they often contain a mutation that keeps them from ripening completely, so heirlooms, one, they have the history and two, they have a taste that many people haven’t experienced, and it’s fun to see the vegetables that have a more diverse genetic background and come from different sources and have stories from various parts of the country, especially the Amish people. It’s fun to see these seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation.

SJ: How many types of tomatoes are you growing here this year?

TW: We have 33. I spoke with Laurel, who has a business, she’s in southern California. Laurel has a website HeirloomTomatoPlants.com. She sells about 200 varieties of tomato plants, and I bought plants from her for my own personal garden for five to seven years. She has a wonderful diversity of colors of tomatoes, and she has a story on each plant.

SJ: What would you say is your most popular variety that you sell here this year?

TW: You know, that’s hard to say. We are struggling with getting people to realize that all tomatoes aren’t red. And that they come in different shapes and sizes, they’re not all globe shaped. So that’s a cultural barrier that many people have.

SJ: Do you have a favorite?

TW: Well I’m a Nebraska native and when we hear the Nebraska Wedding Tomato and realize the story of that. When you imagine on the plains a hundred years ago on your wedding day, getting gifts of seeds and you can grow them for your own personal use, to sell or to feed your family here in Nebraska, I think that should be my favorite, the Nebraska Wedding Tomato. Those seeds have been passed down for at least a hundred years.

SJ: What made you want to go into the farming business?

TW: Well, farming has been a big part of my family legacy since 1875; it’s when my Great Grandfather Anton harvested his first crop. So, that’s close to 140 years. However, I was the third son of a farmer so I was told at a very young age that I needed to do something else. My older brother, 16 years older than me, was being groomed to be the farmer. So I went and took another path, I’ve practiced dentistry for a number of years. But the biggest issue here is my youngest son, who wanted to work outside more. We had spoken about having an orchard at some point, and he graduated from college six years ago so two years ago he was really pushing to get this, we had talked about the orchard so here we are. We found this orchard that was quite run down and we needed to rejuvenate it, to bring it back to life, and I’ve always enjoyed challenges. Plus it allowed me to spend a lot of extra time with Clint, my son.

SJ: What do you feel is the most challenging thing you’ve encountered refurbishing this old orchard?

TW: Well, just the organization and managing from a distance is the biggest issue for me. I don’t have the opportunity to be with Clint on a day-to-day basis here, but we’ve been fortunate with communication we can do emails and telephone calls, but it takes time. I’m kind of an impatient kind of guy, but I know that those trees need to get in the ground and it’ll just take time. We had planted close to 6,000 new fruit trees this year.

SJ: How many acres do you grow on?

TW: We only have 60 but 5,000 of the trees are planted high density, which means they’re planted at 907 trees per acre and that is a cultural change from what most people imagine. You imagine these big apple trees that are 30 feet tall, but they have many disadvantages. One is that they’re hard to pick, the apples are up along the canopy on the very edge of tree and you have to use ladders. Secondly, for the full-size trees it takes seven years to bring those trees into production. So you have difficulty harvesting, the long time until production, and also they’re more prone to disease because with this big canopy the moisture gathers there and they’re more prone to fungus. So when you have the smaller trees, the dwarf trees, they come in production starting in year two. You don’t have to get on ladders, and if you have a u-pick, people can come out and harvest them themselves. Even a 3-year-old who comes with their parents can reach up and grab an apple and be a part of that. So that I think is a real treat.

SJ: Do you have any advice for people who want to grow heirloom tomatoes themselves in their home gardens?

TW: Feel free to experiment, there are hundreds of different varieties to experiment with, and follow the directions. Don’t try to cram them into too small a space, give them room to breathe. That is really the best advice. They may be prone to blight and things if they’re condensed in too small of a space but it’s an adventure. It’s an adventure in gardening to try something different and to really experiment with that, and to share that with your children, and then celebrate when they learn the tastes, and shapes et cetera. Our society as a group has become very dependent on a small number of plants, and the heirloom plants have a wide variety of genetic diversity. It’s an adventure, maybe not for everybody but we certainly enjoy it.

SJ: Do you plan on hosting the Heirloom Tomato Festival in upcoming years?

TW: Time will tell. Whether we plant as many varieties as what we have in subsequent years, I don’t know. But we’ll work to bring these varieties in front of people so that they can experience some different tastes.

After I thanked Terry for taking the time to tell us a bit his tomatoes (and sample some of their delicious fried green tomatoes), I had to make the difficult decision on which of their products I wanted to take home with me. After collecting a generous armful, I said goodbye to Terry and his wonderful wife, Carla, and headed home. The Heirloom Tomato Festival of Nebraska was a wonderful experience and well worth the trip. I’d happily recommend it to anyone who wants to try new varieties of tomatoes, or anyone who just wants high quality farm fresh products. If they decide to host a festival next year, I plan to bring my whole family!

Heirloom Tomato Festival, a Union Orchard inflatable.

I came for the tomatoes, but I left addicted to the apple pie.



6/28/2013
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FishingFishing is not only enjoyable, it's a good way to introduce healthy proteins in your diet, while avoiding genetically-modified foods (GMOs) that are being fed to farmed livestock, poultry and fish. What's more, freshly-caught fish just tastes better. Keep in mind that it's not just fish you can harvest from America's lakes, rivers and streams. These waterways also hold an abundance of edible crustaceans like clams, crayfish and snails. Fishing is also an essential survival skill and one of the easiest ways to find food in the wild.

Nutritional benefits of fish

There are many benefits to eating fish and seafood, even if you're not in survival mode. Fish are low in calories, low in fat and contain Omega 3 fatty acids, which offer protection against heart disease and possibly stroke and inflammation, according to Dr. Frank Sacks of Harvard University. Catching your own fish and seafood also ensures that you're not consuming any genetically-modified food, since little is known about the long-term effects of consuming such food.

Storing your fresh fish

In order to keep the fish you catch as fresh as possible, be sure to dress them immediately. The head, tail and internal organs should be promptly removed, according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. After they are dressed, UKY recommends using two pounds of ice for every pound of fish when storing your fillets in a well-drained cooler or other container. Stored this way, fish should last from 10 to 12 days. Marine life, such as shrimp, clams and snails have a much shorter shelf life. They should be consumed within 48-72 hours. If you're in the wild and there is no ice available, cook and consume your fish immediately.

Fresh fish preparation

Cooking fish in the wild requires a little ingenuity. Since most freshwater fish contain parasites, it's not advisable to eat it raw. Instead, steam it by wrapping the fillets or the entire gutted fish in leaves and boiling them in a makeshift cooking pot over an open fire. You can also cook them on a stick over an open flame, or broil them if you have the means.

Fishing licenses around the United States

Essentially all U.S. states require that you purchase a fishing license to fish on public property. The penalties include fines ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on the state and municipality. The cost of a license is relatively cheap compared to the fines. For example, an Alabama boating license and a small boat can give residents of that state access to the Gulf of Mexico and several lakes and rivers for an entire year.

All states make exceptions for true emergency situations, such as if you are lost in the woods and face starvation without harvesting your own food. Always carry a basic fishing kit in your car or backpack. Corcceigh Green, of Survival and Beyond, recommends packing two or three automatic reels, six to eight small sinkers, fish hooks, swivels, nail clippers, a spool of 10-pound test line and small gauge wire for making ad hoc fishing rods. You can also fish with a net if necessary.

Some fishing gear, such as automatic reels, spears and traps are not legal to use in some states, particularly in the western United States, except in an emergency. Check the current regulations when you obtain your license.

Fishing and trapping marine life is a good, healthy way to supplement your diet while getting out and enjoying America's beautiful waterways. It's also an essential survival skill that everyone should have a basic knowledge of doing.



6/17/2013
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Tractor

Restoring vintage tractors and the equipment that accompany them is like opening a page in history. City folk may say "a tractor is a tractor," but to a farmer there is often no comparison. The tractors of today are made much like any other vehicle: lighter weight, mass produced and, for the most part, energy efficient. The older style, or vintage tractors, are the muscle cars of the agricultural industry. They may not be as sleek or refined as the newer models, but they get the job done. Many farmers are restoring older pieces of equipment to the past glory. That often takes some effort considering many of the older parts are not mass produced, according to caseih.com.

Original Parts

How important is it to have original parts? Simply put, the closer to original the parts are the higher the value of the piece of the equipment. If a person plans on using the tractor (or plow, elevator, disc, etc.), having the original parts or close to them will have a definite impact on how the machinery operates. Many people have tried using modified parts for those that were overly difficult to find. While they may have worked in a pinch, original parts work best, according to redpowermagazine.com.

PTO Hydraulics

Vintage tractors that came with a standard PTO hydraulic lift system is a good example. Many of the parts for the power take-off assembly have to be found in salvage if they can't be ordered. In the past, it was common to see farmers harvesting parts off of another tractor to fix their main piece of equipment. Now, with the renewed interest in revitalizing these powerful pieces of our past, companies have begun to reproduce copies of the original parts. For some, the o-rings were particularly hard to find, especially in the less common sizes.

Repair or Replace

The PTO hydraulic system has always been in demand and is still produced for several makes and models of vintage tractors. They are quite expensive to replace, even on the older models. If a vintage tractor enthusiast believes the PTO assembly needs repairs, they may want to investigate before deciding to replace the entire piece. The PTO is an enclosed unit that contains gears surrounded by thick gear oil for lubrication. If the part starts malfunctioning, look closely at the seals and o-rings. Often times, they will deteriorate with age and one can rupture creating a huge leak that will drain the oil and cause the gears to lock up and possibly shear.

If the seals are bad, it is basically a matter of disconnecting the PTO assembly from the tractor or piece of equipment, changing the seals and reassembling it. However, if the unit was allowed to operate for several minutes without being lubricated, according to norhterntool.com, the gears may have been damaged and might need to be replaced. In cases, where the teeth of the gears have been sheared off, the inside of the unit may have been damaged. In that case, replacement of the entire assembly is warranted.



6/3/2013
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Plant 

Now that the weather has warmed up, green-thumbed gardeners are ready to get a-growin'. But in order to grow grass or garden plants, one has to begin with fertile soil. Soil is the bedrock for the success of any plant growth. We've assembled the need-to-know tips on soil preparation so you can start the season off right:

Site Preparation

To prepare your lawn for optimal growing conditions, you'll first want to clear the site of any construction materials, such as cement and lumber, and tree stumps, rocks and other large debris. Use a stump grinder to remove tree trunk remnants and cart off the remaining materials. (Tip: Wood mulch when used correctly can produce some great soil according to Mother Earth News) Rough grading is also recommended to ensure no drainage problems occur, according to TheLawnInstitue.com. For example, fill in low-lying areas and reducing steep slopes. Before adding topsoil and amendments, till the soil to a depth of two inches to mitigate weeds and subsoil compaction. Afterward, add topsoil to gain an overall soil depth of six inches for lengthier roots. Incorporate decomposed organic matter known as humus into the loamy mixture as well.

pH Test

Testing the pH of your soil is an intelligent, preliminary step to planting your lawn or garden. First, you'll need to combine equal parts soil and distilled water or rain water, according to Suite101.com. Immerse a few pieces of Litmus paper into the mixture to determine your soil's acidity or alkalinity. Remove one after 10 seconds and rinse. Pink is indicative of highly acidic soil. If the Litmus paper hasn't changed color, allow five minutes to elapse and extract another strip. Light pink signifies slight acidity. Blue indicates fully alkaline soil. Optimal soil pH levels depend on what you're planting. A pH of 6.0 to 7.0 are ideal for a verdant, low-maintenance lawn, according to The Lawn Institute. Incorporating lime can help to reduce the acidity of soil. Adding gypsum or sulfur will reduce soil alkalinity. However, it's recommended to seek garden center professionals or turf specialists to learn how to best go about improving pH.

Soil Amendments & Fertilizer

Work in a starter fertilizer in the top three to four inches of the soil. Ensure that it's high in phosphate to engender fruit production and root growth, according to Almanac.com. The fertilizer should also contain a nice balance of nitrogen for leaf growth and potassium to fend off disease. Additional amendments include:

  • Peat moss: A conditioner that assists soil in retaining water
  • Bark: Improves soil structure (use your ground tree stumps)
  • Leaf mold: Adds nutrients and improves soil structure
  • Sand: Enhances clay soil drainage
  • Compost and manure: The ideal conditioner

Once amending and grading is completed, roll the entire space with a lawn roller one-third full of water. This process settles the topsoil and exposes low areas that need extra soil.



2/25/2013
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The push reel mower is a consummate tool of lawn care, powered solely by your body. In comparison to the average gas-powered mower, the reel mower is a satisfying experience, one without excessive noise, danger and pollutants. After you first use the push reel mower and see your perfectly groomed lawn, it's unlikely that you'll ever use an engine-powered rotary mower again.

Push Mower 

Healthy & Green

The barber-shear cuts of a push mower are a far cry from the violent chop and tear action of a boisterous gas-powered mower. Clean, parallel cuts help the grass to retain moisture and resist vascular disease, according to American-Lawns.com. The difference will become apparent upon inspection of the jagged, discolored edges resulting from a motorized mower and the parallel perfection of grass blades from that of the superior reel mower.

A Frugal Choice

An internal combustion engine, gasoline, oil, throttle controls—all of these necessary parts for a gas-powered mower add up monetarily. The push reel mower has none of these; it's hardly more than a handle and fixed cutting blade on two wheels. Its bare minimum assembly is reflected in its attractively low price. Another point worth mentioning is the frequency of sharpening mower blades. You can expect the blades of traditional gas-guzzling mowers every month or so depending on use, whereas with the best quality push reel mowers blades can go for a year without sharpening.

Environmentally-Friendly

Push reel mowers are 100 percent green. Its only emissions are the grass it softly emits back into your lawn as mulch. Some motorized lawn mowers cough out enough noxious miasma into the atmosphere to compete with car pollution.

Safety

A single wrong step and your mower will no longer be a lawn care tool but a deadly flesh grinder. Lawn mower incidents are more common than you might think. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that more than 200,000 Americans were injured in lawn mower accidents in 2010, according to the AAP.org. When a push mower rolls over rocks, it merely gets jammed, whereas with motorized mowers, the rock is sent on a potentially fatal trajectory.

Tranquility

We've all had the experience of waking up on the weekend to a lawn mower's combustion engine roaring to life, filling the neighborhood with an atrocious clamor. Comparatively, reel mowers move across lawns producing nary a whisper. It's a meditative experience where you'll be treated to sonically soothing snips.

Exceptions

It's true that push reel mowers offer a multitude of advantages, but when matched with certain folks and certain lawns, these mowers just don't cut it. If using a reel mower on a lawn greater than 2,000 square feet in size, for example, you've really got your work cut out for you. Tall grass is like traversing Mt. Everest for reel mowers. One must mow often to prevent grass from growing too high. You'll also have to thoroughly rake before mowing—a single twig could stop the reel mower in its tracks.





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