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3/23/2015

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveOver the last two years I've been building up quite a brush pile on the northern boundary of Terra Nova Gardens. Originally, I just wanted a barrier to slow down the critters that live in the wooded untamed area to the north. It's a wild and head high weedy area filled with leaking springs in the ground and covered with fallen trees, brush and vines. As time went on and the raised garden beds in Terra Nova Gardens were being developed, a thought came to mind that would give the pathways between the beds some character.

If I could grind up that pile of brush, it would provide enough wood chips to put on the pathways and beautify the look. Yeah, plans are made and a date was set to rent a commercial size chipper to grind up the brush pile.

All through the development of Terra Nova Gardens a relationship with the neighbors had been pursued. Many stop and talk about what I'm doing and how things have changed since I started. One neighbor just across the street with a phenomenal name, Dave (not that I'm partial or any thing), has helped with things over the years to ease the heavy work with his Bobcat and little Ford tractor. While talking to him about my plans to grind up the pile and use it for the pathways, his face lit up and he asked if I was a person who liked to tinker with stuff. Curious about where this was going, I replied that I some times would tinker on my own stuff but not so much on other people's stuff. He indicated that he had something for me over in his garage. Now I'm really curious.

Troy Bilt Chipper Vac

He had tucked away in his garage a Troy-Bilt Chipper Vac. He claimed that it did run and the gas was drained when he put it in the garage so it should be still in good shape. He had purchased it with the intent of using it around his home property, but just didn't have the time to work on it. We loaded it up and I brought it back to the Urban Ranch where I live. Now I've learned any time some one gives something to you not to get too excited because there's a good reason they are getting rid of it for free.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no cap on the gas tank. That's never a good sign. I looked inside to see some kind of liquid in the tank. Hmmm, could be very old gas or water. Neither is a good thing. A sniff of the open gas tank told me that it was gas. Gas when it gets old has a tendency to gum up carburetor jets and orifices inside the carburetor. Next thing to check was the oil. It appeared that the oil was full but black as could be. For now it was good for testing the engine but would need to be changed almost immediately.

There are three things an engine needs to run. Those three things are air, fuel and spark. The first test was to pull the plug and see what condition its condition was in. It looked in pretty good shape so the spark plug wire was reattached and the plug was held against the engine head. A good pull on the rope produced another issue. The engine wouldn't turn over. That usually means it's frozen up and no good. I noticed that the engine would rock back and forth so it indicated that maybe something else was wrong.

The cover plate was removed to the chipper blades and chunks of branches were found to be wedged into the blades. After the branch chunks were removed, the engine turned freely but the starter rope had issues and wouldn't recoil as it was supposed to do. So the rope recoil was taken off, cleaned, and lubricated. So now it's back to working. You getting the picture here? Old machine free gifts are given for a reason.

OK, back to seeing if there's any spark. Once again the spark plug was grounded to the head of the engine and the rope was pulled. This time the engine spun and the plug sparked nice and strong. So now we have two of the needed things for an engine to run. We have spark and air. Well, that was another story. The air filter was removed from the carburetor to see if it was clean and found to be packed with dirt. Totally plugged. So for the engine to breathe just to see if it would run, it was left off. So air flow was good.

I poured a good amount of gas into the tank to get fresh gas into the carburetor in hopes that the engine would get enough good gas to burn out the old gas. Alas that was not to happen. A few pulls on the rope brought no results whatsoever from the engine. The plug was pulled out and a tiny amount gas was poured down the spark plug hole. The plug was snugged down and a pull on the rope brought the engine to life for just a few seconds until the gas I had poured directly into the spark plug hole was used up. After a couple more rounds of fuel down the spark plug hole and engine life for a few seconds, I determined the carburetor was the issue just as I had suspected. The engine had run long enough to determine it was in relatively good condition.

The Internet is a wonderful thing to research and find parts for old engines. Little did I know just how old this relic was. Turns out that this model is about 25 years old. I did find a carburetor rebuild kit but, better yet, I found a new carburetor for just a few dollars more. Since I am the worst carburetor rebuilder on the planet, that was an awesome find. The carburetor and a filter was ordered and will be here in five days so perhaps the chipper/vac will be running soon. Then I'll have to decide what to do about the other missing miscellaneous parts.

This chipper/vac is not big enough to grind up the brush pile, but it will be good to use for the small sticks and leaves around the yard. It's definitely some thing to hold a tinker's interest.

So next week we may have the rest of the story. Until then have a great day tinkering with old machinery.



3/2/2015

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveSome of you may remember two years ago in the Spring I received a letter from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) asking permission to test the soil at Terra Nova Gardens. It seems that a battery factory spewed out lead into the air, which then settled over the surrounding land. EPA set aside a fund to clean up the area for free. I ignored the letter hoping it would go away. That fall a representative for the EPA came knocking on the door with that same letter to be signed to allow the EPA permission to test my soil for lead contamination.; I felt that the best course of action was to just sign the form and let them test the soil. I was really hoping that the soil would not fail the test because it would require replacement of the best top soil on the planet. The Corps of Engineers changed the course of the Missouri river for flood control almost 100 years ago and so my soil is the bottom of the Missouri river. The top soil is rich, black, and 2 feet deep. To have it replaced would be a total degradation of the land.

Early this spring I noticed holes were punched into the entire area about every 10-by10-foot square. During the summer, I noticed another round of soil samples were taken. Then last fall the hard core sampling of almost every square foot of the area was taken.

EPA Document

Friday, February 27, the letter arrived in the mail from the EPA. OK, this is it. The results will tell if soil removal will be needed. Any thing over 400 PPM will require soil removal. Holding my breath, I opened the letter and read the results. The highest level was 110 PPM. Yea!! No soil will be required to be removed. Do you see me doing a happy dance.

So it's full speed ahead with gardening this year. The onions planted at the beginning of February are growing strong. I started some cabbage seeds but only 14 germinated out of 50 on February 16. Today I started more seed but in a flat instead of cells. I planted the entire package, which was 300 seeds. Hopefully, if the seed germination rate is the same as the last one, I'll be able to fill up the empty cells in the 50-cell block. Out of those 50 cells, I will probably only plant 10 into the garden with the rest in reserve just in case old Jack Frost comes calling like last year or hail, wind, and floods like later in the year. Fifty plants should give me enough for four plantings if needed.

The gardening year is started and off to a great start. This may be the best year ever for Terra Nova Gardens.

Have a great St. Patrick's Day and for heaven's sake stay safe. We got gardening to do this year and I want to hear all about it.



2/17/2015

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveFebruary brought some much needed snow. Most folks here were not pleased to have the 8 inches of snow and then 4 more three days later. I always welcome snow. It is the most nitrogen rich moisture on the planet. The week before the snow, the temperatures were up in the high 40s and middle 50s for several days. It wasn't exactly a spring thaw (those that grew up on the farm know what I mean) but the top layer of soil was thawed out.

The snow began melting with above freezing temperatures almost immediately after the the snow quit. It was the best of conditions as the moisture soaked into the ground instead of having a massive run off. Totally the best way for a melt to happen. I think we are probably still behind in total moisture for this year but the effective way this snow melted could make it better for spring.

As I write this today, there are only 88 days until the frost-free spring planting begins. I'm not believing it this year and will have many backup plans in place. One is a new growing idea that I talked about in the last post.

Bucket experiment

This is half of the eight buckets that are now ready for planting. Unfortunately my thoughts of growing greens for winter salads didn't materialize due to life happening with friends and family.

This year, it seems, that health issues have hit many of the friends I know, neighbors who live in my area, and family. My task so far this year has been to make sure they get to their doctor appointments, run errands, and take them grocery shopping. I'm glad to be able to help others with things they need done.

So lids have been put on the buckets to keep them from drying out while they wait for their plants. These buckets are destined to have four tomato plants and four green pepper plants. I'll actually plant more at Terra Nova Gardens but these will be the table fresh produce plants that can be brought inside at a moment's notice.

The potting mix went into the fiber square pots and set in plastic trays. My method of watering is to let the fiber pots wick the water up through the growing medium through the bottom. The pots are about 4 inches deep just come up to the top of the tray they set in. About an inch of water is maintained on the bottom of the tray which will allow the water to wick up through the potting mix. It keeps every thing well watered with just the right amount without disturbing the plants.

Transplanted onions

These are the onions that have just been transplanted. They were planted about one week ago and are doing tremendously well for year-old seed.The articles that I've read say to use the freshest seed possible because onion seed germination goes down drastically after the first year. I haven't found that to be the case but then I buy good seed for onions. This week the cabbages will be started. I call them my little shamrocks. By St. Patrick's day they will look like little green shamrocks.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day. As for me, it's just another day now that I'm single. There's a certain freedom in not having to find just the right gift that has to out do last year. I never was very good at that. But for those who have that special someone out there, I hope it was the best gift day ever.

Until the next time. May every single seed you plant grow to an abundance of harvest. May the pests get indigestion from your plants and any form of disease or fungus spore die when it crosses your property line. Leave a comment about any gardening you are doing this time of the year.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer
Omaha, Nebraska



1/23/2015

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveJanuary has brought some unusual temperatures to Nebraska. The entire last week was 40s and 50s. This week and on into next week will be the same. Everyone is enjoying the spring-like temperatures with reservations as February can be just as brutal as January. There could still be a lot of punch left in the Nebraska winter. I'm not sure that these warm temperatures are good for plants and trees. I've always been told that long periods of warm weather followed by severe cold is what causes winter kill in plants. I'm hoping that all my rose bushes I planted two years ago will make it and the one I transplanted last fall will come through this unstable weather pattern.

I've been starting to think about the coming garden year and the starting of seeds in February. Onions will be the first to go on the heat mat. I'm not sure what will be next, but I'll find something to keep the heat mat going through the next couple months.

Some of you will remember the bucket gardening I started last year with automatic watering. This concept was great and would have done well if it were not for the weather elements that kept beating down all gardens last year.

bucket gardening

The lessons I learned from the first year were many. This double row of buckets on top of the raised bed was a multilevel growing concept and worked great except the center strip was a nightmare to keep weeded. There just wasn't enough room to reach down in there and weed efficiently. Therefore it became a weed strip instead of a cabbage strip. This year only one bucket rain gutter will be put on each raised bed.

The next brainy idea uses this same concept but in a basement environment.

basement bucket gardening

It's pretty similar to the outside set up and uses the same buckets. Yeah, you see where I'm going with this, don't you? The next step after this was to hang grow lights above the buckets to give them plenty of light. I really wanted to use this to grow salads during the winter months, but again life got in the way and the last two weeks have been spent driving friends and family to and from doctors' appointments or running errands for them during their recovery. It's too late for salad growing, but the next use for this will be to plant tomatoes and green peppers after they get to transplant size from the seed starting station. I'm hoping to give them a much earlier than normal start in these buckets, then take them outside on the same set up when the weather warms up.

Now the good part is these are totally portable so if a late frost comes like last year, they can be taken back inside until the threat is over. If high winds and hail come with seven inches of rain like last year, they come inside. It's an awesome way to help plants avoid the nasty weather elements that weather men say we should expect from now on. For the later normal garden planting, many extra plants will be started so that extra plants for a second, third and fourth planting if needed will be ready. The weather won't catch me without extra plants to replace damaged ones again.

Inaugural BallWe elected a new governor this year in Nebraska. Every four years when the governor is re-elected or newly elected, an Inaugural Ball is scheduled.

Oh, yeah, that's really me. I was just the tag-along escort. My good friend Karen was the famous one. It was great to see how the other half lived just for one night. I feel ever so much more comfortable in a flannel shirt and blue jeans at a Mother Earth News Fair. Every once in awhile I just have to shock everyone and tuxedo up for a night. It was great but I don't think I'll be repeating it any time soon.

I hope and pray everyone is having the greatest of new years. May your health be good and all your bills paid through out the entire year.



12/29/2014

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveI'm hoping that everyone had an awesome Christmas and got every thing that they wanted. My wish for this Christmas was to see my grandson in Texas. It didn't quite work out the way I hoped with his coming back to my house, but I did get to see him. I had to drive to Texas to do it. He is 10 years old and is fascinated with Lego kits and robots. I happen to find on the Internet a company that blends the two together and has kits that use Lego blocks to build remote controlled robots. My best Christmas present was to see his face when he opened the presents. It was only a short two-day visit but well worth the drive. Now comes the big wait to see him again for the summer in June.

This last week as I scanned through my usual gardening blogs. The posts were about why they garden. Some were to eliminate store-bought chemically laden foods. Some were about wanting to know how it was grown or what nutrients were given to the plants. The reasons were many and all good ones. It made me begin to wonder about just why I have chosen to garden.

Over the years I have always been drawn to gardening and have attempted it a few times only to fail because of work and family demands. That desire to till the soil survived over the years and never really went away. I have come to believe that the very roots of my gardening desire came from generations of farming ancestors as far back as can be researched. My ancestors on my dad's side came from Germany and Mom's came from the Slavic countries. All were tillers of the soil. I'm pretty sure they all arrived here in Nebraska during the early 1800s. My great-grandfather was actually part of the Oklahoma land rush. He wasn't in the first wave of those who raced in to stake their claims as portrayed on TV and movies, but went there several months after the territory opened up for claims. He just couldn't make a living there so brought his family back to Nebraska to live out the rest of his days.

Every generation on both sides of my family have been involved in farming to some degree. My dad never made his living by farming but always had a hand in farming and most always owned a small farm of 100 acres or less. I didn't know it at the time but those genetics in me were being fueled all during my primary years of education by being raised around farm life.

Mother Earth News Issue 1During the 1970s, I found two magazines that I devoured from cover to cover. Mother Earth News was a new kind of magazine on the racks and Organic Gardening was another of my favorites. I can remember owning single digit copies of New Mother Earth magazines. Every lunch hour at work would find me at the near-by library reading the gardening magazines that I couldn't afford. I just couldn't get enough information about growing gardens.

During the 1980s, some new books came on the market. One was by Ruth Stout about the no-work method of gardening, and Rodale Publishing cranked out numerous books on organic gardening. I never really figured out why it was called organic gardening until years later. It just looked like how my mom had taught me to garden as a child. Even Dad never used chemicals on his row crops, so I was never exposed to the new modern farming or gardening. I still remember that garden on top of the hill by the barn where Dad would every spring plow it up for Mom to rake and smooth out the soil for planting. It was where I lit the fire under the wire fence and burned the railroad tie corner post right out of the ground. Yeah, well, I'd watched Mom and Dad burn piles of dried weeds before so I just wanted to help them out. I was probably about 6 or 7 when that happened. It's a wonder my parents survived my childhood. I had so many brainy ideas that got totally out of control.

Another author caught my eye from the library reading in the early '80s. Mel Bartholomew wrote a book called "Square Foot Gardening" and wooed me into reading it several times cover to cover. It was a totally new concept from row crops. The combination of Ruth Stout's method and Mel Bartholomew's method set me on a course that changed my thinking about gardening. Even to this day my thoughts are always toward new and better plant growing concepts.

Upon retirement five years ago, the farming genetic seeds of many generations of soil tilling ancestors began to sprout. One resurrected raised bed from a gardening attempt of practically a decade before was rejuvenated and nursed back to production. The next year, two more raised beds were built. Today a total of four beds reside in the backyard. Over the course of three years, a rain catch automatic watering system was built and perfected. The desire to garden continued to grow and the backyard wasn't big enough to satisfy the need for produce.

Terra Nova Gardens November

Three years ago, a discovery was made of a city website that listed properties the city had foreclosed upon. Through a long process I found and became a land owner. The vacant lot was filled with trash from neighborhood dumping, nettle weeds, wild invasive flowers, fallen trees, scrub brush, and saplings. It took almost two years to bring the wild untamed land under some semblance of control. It's still a long way from being a beautiful Garden of Eden but I'm working on it. So now I own another property and am contemplating purchasing another.

This is a lot of words to get back to the question. Why do I garden? Is it to save money? Is it to become more self sufficient? Is it to have more healthy food? Any one of these would be a good reason to garden but after some soul searching none of these came to the surface. What then drives me to keep expanding my gardens? I just have this deep-rooted desire to till the soil and grow things. It has nothing to do with the harvest or the preserving but the growing and finding better ways to accomplish that. It surprised me to come to that conclusion. I will say that I do have some plans to save some of the harvest and preserve it but most of the collected harvest will be given away to family, friends, or shelters.

The plans for 2015 are plenty big and my adrenalin is flowing. Seed starting will begin in February. Oh, yeah, 34 days and counting.

Here's hoping for an awesome new year for everyone.



11/3/2014

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveGoodness, here it is November already. Where did this summer go? With the many unexpected things that happened not as much gardening was accomplished as I would have liked. My garden is all put to bed but more about that later. The weather here has been a 10 for fall beauty and longevity. The fall colors are still hanging on as long as it can. We have had a couple light frosts but not that season-ending killer frost yet. Old Jack Frost has been teasing us this year.

Bradleys birthdayMy daughter and I rented a car and took a trip to Texas to visit my grandson for his birthday.

We, my daughter and I, rented a Ford Fusion with Eco Boost to drive the 948 miles to Bandera, Texas. Cowboy capitol of the world. Seriously, it's supposed to be the cowboy capital of the world. I was not impressed. I didn't see one cowboy riding a horse all the time I was there. That's not to say that at certain festival times the town cowboy's up. We had a great time and got to spend two days with Bradley. One of the things we, Bradley and I, liked to do when he lived with me was to watch Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on TV. So thanks to Hulu Plus, a ChromeBook, and hotel WiFi, we got to catch up on the new adventures.

We decided to go to a movie in San Antonio.  My daughter is an avid movie goer and has an AMC movie card, which gets discounts and acquires usage points. The only AMC theater we found in San Antonio was in the downtown area. Once again my daughter was driving. This time streets were narrow, traffic was fast, and commercial trucks were big. All made for a white knuckle experience for her. Parking on the street was a lost cause so in the parking garage we went. The cost was $7 for the first hour and a dollar for each 30 minutes after that. The movie was "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."  It was a cute, humorous comedy of a family overcoming a bad day. I think all of us heaved a sigh of relief when we got back to the motel. The motel advertised an outdoor pool for patrons to use. That would have been nice but it rained most of the two days we were there, which greatly disappointed Bradley.

One more time of kayaking before the summer ended brought up against some challenging obstacles.

Old Dave kayaking

My friend. who lets me use his extra kayak, is indeed an adventurer. He found a challenging creek that flowed into one of the local water shed lakes near my house. As you can see it was a contortionist's dream. People might think that this photograph is a spectacular maneuver, but actually I was hugging the branch just trying not to tip over. I did finally make it under the branch without ending up in the water but it was tricky to say the least.

Oh so long ago, in August, a nasty front step resurfacing project was started for a friend of mine.

Nasty steps project

Inch by inch, day by day, through sickness and in health, the project dragged on. This is in the early stage of the daunting task of resurfacing the steps. A small glimpse of the ugly green carpeting can be seen on the right of the picture. It covered the entire set of stairs before starting. 

Finally the steps are completed. The resurfacing is done and the painting completed.

Finished steps

Yea, the steps project is completed for this year. After painting the steps, we decided that the colors were a bit brighter than we had expected so next spring we will probably be painting the steps a shade darker. I'm sure that after a winter the steps won't look so pristine as in this picture. It's been a longer project then I'd like but the experience with resurfacing was priceless. I've never done anything like this  before. The one step repair turned into a entire step refacing. I'm still unsure about how it will stand up to the cold icy winter. Hopefully the paint has sealed up the cement all enough to keep water from creeping into the crevasses and expanding, which would cause it to crack and come off.

The Urban Ranch garden has been dismantled and is ready for frozen snow weather.

Garden Fall 2014

I've stated many times that this year's garden has been a little disappointing. Rain, wind, hail and frost have all been factors in keeping the harvest down this year. My biggest failure was not in having a plan C. I did have a plan A and B in place, but this year really needed a plan C. I'll not make that mistake again. I learned a few things along the way that will better prepare me for the mean years ahead when animals and weather are locked in battle with gardening. I've already started thinking about next year and the overexuberant plans I have for the gardens.

October 24th found me headed south starting at 5 a.m. to the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka. Kansas. The exhilarating thoughts of being there made the three-hour trip fly by, and soon I was in the parking lot of the Expocentre where it was being held. Friday was spent volunteering help to prepare for the event. Saturday and Sunday, every stage was filled with speakers of well renown from all parts of the country. My choices were all about gardening and preserving. There were many speakers who talked about animal raising and harvesting. but since my interests only lie in growing, I didn't attend any of those presentations. Now I have all these pent-up new gardening ideas and can't try them out until next spring. I'll just have to stick with planning and, in about three months, seed starting.

Here's a quote from Rudyard Kipling as parting thought. "Gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful,' and sitting in the shade."



9/8/2014

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe unseasonably cool weather continues through August and into September here. It makes for great sleeping nights to enjoy with the windows open but the gardens here are still suffering from the lack of heat for the warm weather vegetables. No one has really complained about too many tomatoes this year. My last count for tomatoes from four plants was about 20. They were indeed delicious but there's no more behind this harvest. What a strange year. I've never seen anything like it in all my gardening years. Eggplants are doing well but small, and potatoes are the star again this year. Well, the potato tops look good. I haven't ventured beneath the tops just yet to check out the actual potatoes. I may start scratching around in another couple weeks. Tops are beginning to dry out.

Those of you that have read my blog know that my least favorite thing to work on is plumbing. It seems to be the plague of my life.

Defective drain

Many months ago, I detected a water leak that came from under the washer. Being the person that I am, I decided since there was a drain in the laundry room to take care of the water on the floor, I would do what I always do. What's that you say? I would just use the washer with the leak until the leak was just too big or it just quit washing. Use it until it dies is my motto. Amazingly the leak quit and life was good again.

Buzz buzz buzz (fast forwarding two years). Yes, two years went by without so much as a drop of water. And then it happened. A river flowed out from under the washer. I thought, "This is it. It's dead." Just for grins I wanted to isolate the problem and decide if it was worth fixing. Running through a wash cycle, I determined it wasn't the washer at all but the 49-year-old drain that had rusted out. I was rather excited that it was only plumbing this time.

New drain

Ten bucks worth of parts and a little PVC cement and all fixed. Now comes the floor clean-up. The washer hasn't been moved in about 15 years. There's plenty of yucky on the floor. A Pinesol soak and scrub, and it's good to go for another 15 years. Another maintenance job done.

One of the things that I like doing is to help those in need who can't spend much or anything on repair projects.

Step Repair

This is a set of concrete steps under repair for a friend of mine. This started with an agreement to just repair one step. Well, I did such a good job she wanted to do the rest of the steps and arms. These steps had red indoor/outdoor carpet glued to the stairs. Chunks of steps were missing and the side of the arm had huge holes in it. Window screen was stuffed into the holes and regular concrete was used to cover the screen. Then Cement-All was used to cover the hole side. It turned out pretty well for my first attempt at step repair.

Labor Day found me out on the mighty Platte River in a borrowed kayak.

Nebraska Dave Kayaking

Here I am just taking a break on the river. Four hours of paddling was good for some sore muscles the next day. This little kayak was a little spooky at first. Not only was keeping the kayak heading in the right direction a challenge, but keeping it from rolling and upright was a skill that had to be quickly learned. This was the first time I was in a kayak this small and in moving water. After about an hour, I had mastered control of the vessel. Rarely do you find the Platte River being other than mostly sandbars this time of the year. Because of the unusually wet August, the river was up and kayaking was magnificent. The day was a Top 10 day and the best of all there were no bugs. It really was an awesome way to spend Labor Day.

One last thing about the prostate and then we will never speak of this again. Planting the seeds of death went well with a couple days of just a twinge of nausea and some weakness. By the third day, all systems were functioning again and mowing the grass was done. I could tell the endurance level was not up to par just yet. After two weeks, I'm back to normal as you can see with projects being worked and life is once again on track.

See you out in the garden. I have post holes to dig, fences to build, grass to mow, weeds to pull and gardens to reclaim. Until the next time.





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