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Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave

More Seed Starting and Winter Weather

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveNebraska is known for its four seasons, which are very distinctive and last about three months. When I start tiring of one season, the weather changes to the next season. And then there are times when we get them all in one week!

Monday it was in the 50s, which was nice spring weather. Tuesday and Wednesday it was a record-breaking 70, feeling like beginning of summer. By Thursday we were back down in the lower 40s and 30s at night, which would be a nice fall temperature. On Friday, there were blizzard conditions all day with about five inches of wet, drifting snow ... Yeah, back to Nebraska winter. It was definitely a wild week. The tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth are brave, tough plants that, even at four inches high, survived the winter blast just fine. I've even had a blanket of snow cover them up during their blooming season and it hasn't harmed a single petal of their blossoming.

Springtime is my favorite time of the year. Seeds are starting to grow, robins are returning by the flock, and garden projects to work on before planting begins dance through my mind all the day and night long. It's a fun time of the year when all garden plans are completely uncomplicated; all garden beds are weed free; seedlings are strong and healthy; and the best thing is there are no bugs.

The onions and cabbages that were planted last post jumped out of the seed pods in three days and are on their way to maturity. Here they are about two weeks after life began:

Onion and cabbages

You can't see the onions too well just yet, but they are only two weeks old. The cabbages have been taken from their first homes and transplanted into tubes as well. The cabbages always get a little leggy when first started. I simply transplant them when they get a nice set of leaves and bury the leggy stem up to the leaves. They become really strong and stout after that. So I ended up with 25 cabbages and 64 onions. Both the onions and the cabbages will get one more transplant before going out in to the real world; in about three to four weeks, they will be put into 16-ounce drinking cups. Each transplant means new, fresh potting mix, which gives them a good boost. When they go out into the garden they will get the benefit of the last potting mix, as the hole is made big enough to put all of the mix and the plant into the ground. The mix has extra perlite to help retain moisture, which helps the plants during the dry summer months.

Lettuce sprouts

After three days on the heat mat, the 2017 lettuce crop is on the way to becoming a homegrown, lunch-plate, special-of-the-day salad. These will soon be transplanted as well. I believe the key to good, strong plants is in the transplanting. This tray has 72 plants looking good.

The heat mat now has marigolds, which are just finishing up Day One. In two more days they, too, will go under the grow lights. I haven't decided what will be the next thing on the heat mat to get started, but there's room for three more 72-seed cell trays so perhaps some other brassicas. That space won't be idle for long. In another two to three weeks, the tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplants will go on the heat mat.

Oh, how I love this time of the year! What do you have growing on the heat mat, under the grow lights, or in the garden?

Have a great week soaking up the Vitamin D sunshine!

Nebraska Dave,
Urban Farmer

The Official Gardening Year Begins

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe gardening juices are beginning to flow even though it is about six weeks before winter is over — that's the official determination by the ever-so-famous Punxsutawny Phil of Pennsylvania. So I'll be deep in the bowels of my basement where seed starting begins. It's a bit too early, so if they get too big too fast then I'll just harvest them as micro greens and plant more. It's a way to get my fingers in the dirt and satisfy my desire to be in the garden.

I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day. As for me, I went to Terra Nova Gardens to see just what shape it was in; I haven't been there in a couple months. Old, dried-up grass abounded even after the frost.

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I found the ground thawed and soft. It was too wet to work any of the beds and way too early. If the weather stays warm like the forecasters are saying then those weed seeds will be sprouting early this year. We have been about 20 degrees above normal temperatures all week. It reached 67 degrees today and is expected to be in the 60s through the weekend and into next week. If this is winter weather for Nebraska, I'm wondering what the summer will be like.

I wrapped up the electric wire around the Sweet Corn Fortress and pulled out the fence to the west in preparation for the garden expansion. I would like to get two to three more beds built before planting time. As I worked in the bright warm sunshine, I began thinking about Valentine's Days in past years and how it has changed for me. When my wife was alive and romance was still active in my life, Valentine's Day had a completely different aspect to it. As I contemplated the change, I came to a conclusion that a garden and a romantic relationship are a lot alike. If they aren't given almost daily attention, weeds will grow and choke the life out of them. I'm not saying I have a romantic relationship with my garden. I'm just saying there's some comparisons.

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Today, was another bright, warm, sunshine day. I couldn't just sit at home when the garden beckoned me to be there. I've been saving cardboard to help with weed suppression; I need all the help I can get. This garden spot has been wild and unruly for decades. This will be my sixth year for gardening here, and still it's a battle to keep the weeds from breaking out. The above picture is my battleground for this year. First cardboard was laid down, then old carpet was laid on top of that. Hopefully by the end of the year there will be more beds that will look like the first picture in this post.

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Around Valentine's Day, I try to get my onions and cabbages started. The TP rolls are onions and the seed cells are cabbages. Onions need a deep root trainer, so the TP rolls are just the thing. A total of 64 onions and 20 cabbages have been planted. They are resting on the heat mat for three days, then will be under the grow lights. Another three weeks will mark the beginning of tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant, and possibly some flowers. Some time around the beginning of May will be the pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers. It's the calm before the busy time of the spring.

I love this time of the year. What are your plans for this year?

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

New Year Projects

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe New Year is here, and all gardeners are scanning the seed catalogs for just the right seeds to order. All the potting mix is ready to use in anticipation of sprouting those seeds into strong, tough plants. My seed starting begins in February with cabbage. It's been a long winter already, with a little over two months until spring. My dormant gardening juices are coming alive. Thoughts are more and more about cleaning up the seed-starting station and getting it ready to plant.

Many are setting up their New Year's resolutions, plans, and goals. Mine are being set up for me. This is the year of plumbing for me. So far this year. the toilet needed fixing, the washing machine needed fixing, the kitchen sink needed fixing, and now the plumbing under the bathtub is leaking.

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Old houses have old, shut-off valves. When the time came for the old, clothes-washing machine to be replaced, the water shut-off valves were corroded open. This is a common thing for these types of valves. In my experience, enough pressure can be exerted on these valves to shut them off, but when turned back on they leak. Of course, the option to shut off the water in the entire house is always available, but to have a shut-off right at the washing machine is convenient.

My fix for this was to put new valves right on the old ones. The new valves are ball quarter-turn valves that never corrode or fail to shut off the water. These parts are a bit expensive, but well worth the convenience of having a shut-off right by the washing machine. I also have learned that replacing these valves takes the risk of breaking the pipe in the wall. Then a minor issue becomes a major mess. So new valves on the old ones is the safest way to go.

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The issue with the washing machine was a slow drip into the tub when the cycle was over. If the clothes weren't removed immediately after the wash cycle, the drip would get the clothes wet and require another spin before putting in the dryer. Now, I have replaced the shut-off valve before; it was not a big deal. This machine had a cover over the entire back of the machine. When I removed the screws, the sides fell off and the bottom fell out. Since the machine was 20 years old, I decided to drag the wreckage into the backyard and go get a new machine. The new machine has many more safety features that keep me from being able to soak the wash like the old machine did. It's a sad day when I lose control over my machines and have to be at their mercy.

Now there's a ice storm headed my way over the weekend. Yikes! We haven't had a lot of snow this year. It's just been rain, which sometimes has turned into ice. I think I'd rather have the snow than icy streets, but being retired gives me the option to just stay home in the warmth of the house and sip on my hot beverage while watching the others in the neighborhood sliding to work. I put my years of fighting weather in, and now I'm enjoying not having to do that any more. Is it OK to crack a little bit of a smile as I watch out the window?

Before winter set in, the last outside project was the beginning of a side-yard patio. For years, I had it in mind to build a semi-closed-in patio on the side of the house by the shed. What you see here is half of the patio. I hope to finish the patio in 2017. It's one of the plans that I have for this year.

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I started my career in telecommunications way back in 1967 and worked in that field for 41 years. Phones changed many times, and by the time I retired landline phones were on the way to the museum. Cellphones have become the replacement, and landlines are a thing of the past.

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After many years of dragging my feet — having a very last-century cellphone about which my family, friends, and neighbors complained because they were not able to send pictures or have me receive group messages, etc. — I was pushed into the new-cellphone life. I still don't see the fascination of browsing the Internet on a micro-screen while at home the TV must be a 60 inches It just doesn't seem logical to me. But everyone is happy once again, and life goes on.

I'm really looking forward to February when seed starting can begin. It is the official start of the gardening year for me. When does your garden year start?

May all your seeds sprout into strong plants. May the sun shine on your garden when needed, and you receive just the right amount of rainfall at just the right times. May the fall harvest be abundant and free of insects, disease, and munching critters.

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

Fall Weather and Summer Summary

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveFall is trying its best to come to Nebraska, but summer just won't give in. Our normal temperatures should be in the mid-70s during the day and the 50s at night. This last week we were topping out in the upper 80s and lower 90s during the day and 70s at night. It was a full 20 degrees warmer than normal. The tomatoes had another flush because of the warm weather, but I'm so done with tomatoes for this year and so is everyone else. It's a shame to just put them in the compost, but I have a shelf full of canned tomatoes and no one really wants any more. I may still make up a big batch of soup for winter consumption.

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The cleanup begins. The strawberry bed and the green pepper bed have been cleaned, and only six more beds and pathways remain to clean up. Pathway building is probably done for this year, and the focus will continue to be on cleaning up the garden for next spring.

The green peppers were a bust for me this year. The leaves got all wrinkly and didn't produce a single bloom or pepper. As I was pulling out the plants last week, I noticed tiny little buds were just starting to form. I researched the problem on the Internet and found that peppers do that when calcium is lacking in the soil. I'll have to see how to put calcium in the soil for peppers next year. It didn't seem to bother anything else other than the peppers.

The sweet corn was prolific this year and produced about 15 dozen ears of corn from two raised beds. The green beans produced a couple of five gallon buckets of beans from one raised bed. I haven't dug the potatoes yet, but I suspect they will be good as well. The weeds took over the onions, so they were not as good as I had hoped. The cucumbers produced a few cucumbers then dried up and died. The pumpkin and watermelon vines I saved from the dreaded vine borer produced some great watermelons and pumpkins, but many were ravaged by some kind of critter. I suspect it was the raccoons again. There was a hole in the pumpkin the size of a large plum, and the entire inside of the pumpkin was eaten out. (*big sigh*) I now know how to deal with raccoons and keep them out of things. So it looks like the fences will have to be beefed up in the other areas of the garden as well.

There's not much else going on here in Terra Nova Gardens. How's your garden harvesting and cleanup going?

Have a great day in the fall garden!

Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveAs fall fast approaches, garden cleanup has begun. Tall weeds have crept into my garden — those nasty grasses with the fox-tail-looking top that seem to have Velcro super-weed abilities. The clinging top of the grass stem are partial to shoelaces, and are never willing to give up their spot on the shoe. I guess there's something to be said about shoes with no laces ... or maybe just better weed control.

The summer has flown by, and as the harvesting diminishes I'm almost glad to see it go. The rest, planning and seed-ordering during the winter months, is a welcome change from the hectic gardening season.

The work on the brick path goes on. It's slow work, but it will be great when it's finished. The spaces that are next to the raised bedrocks will be first filled with pea gravel, then sand. Hopefully it will lock the brick patio blocks together nice and tight.

brick path

The tomatoes have now grown up out of the towers that I talked about in the last post. With the nights down in the 60s and some times 50s, the harvesting has diminished to just a handful of tomatoes a day, whereas during August it was a five-gallon bucketful every other day. A makeshift roadside stand was set up in front of Terra Nova Gardens; all the extra tomatoes were set on the stand and would disappear by the next day. It's my way of letting the neighborhood know that I appreciate them putting up with my garden in their space. It's a great concept and will be expanded next year.

The neighborhood is very tight-knit. I have an idea that not just anyone would be accepted into it. When this old, gray-haired guy came and started cleaning up a weed-infested part of the neighborhood that was used for a dumping ground, curiosity set in. Then it turned into fascination with the unorthodox, rock-lined, raised beds, the tomato towers over your head, the sweet-corn fortress, and the mini water tower. Then a strange thing happened. Since this garden is part of the inner city, kids and adults wander past on a regular basis. The neighborhood took over the task of watching my garden and running off anyone who wasn't supposed to be there. And it all started just by waving at passing cars while working in the garden. Soon people stopped to ask questions about what I was doing. Then it became conversations about my life and theirs. I don't live in the neighborhood, so I've learned that being a part of a neighborhood doesn't just mean living there. It takes a contribution to the neighborhood, and meaningful conversations with those that live there.

The next project for the fall is to clean up an area next to my house that has become an eyesore.

Overgrown yard

It's become a catchall for anything not used over the last couple years. A pickup-load of brush and chunks of an old tree stump were hauled to the brush dump, where they make mulch out of it. This whole area will be a private sitting area when I'm finished. It will take some work, but it will be worth it. The neighbor next to me has never said anything, but it had to be an irritation because his yard is neat and clean. Much of what you see here was taken to Terra Nova Gardens and hidden behind the fences or trees. The rest will go to the dump. The dump load is in progress but has been hindered by rainstorms that put a damper on any outside work. Hopefully by the end of the week a full load will find its way to the landfill.

Because most of my time was spent with Terra Nova Projects this summer, the Urban Ranch (where I live) backyard garden has suffered.


Bind weed will bury a garden if given half a chance. Contending with bind weed has been my garden curse, and ranks right up there with the aforementioned Velcro weed. Given the slightest bit of dirt, bind weed will take over a large section of garden. There has to be no mercy when it comes to bind weed.

Then there's what I've nicknamed the "sequoia weed," named after the monster tree in California. It's taken over the raised bed in the background of the above picture. It will grow over six feet tall, with a root stump that rivals a small tree. Yes, as you can see, I've not been too attentive to my backyard garden. But there's hope, as Jack Frost is still a month away. Then the gardening will move into the basement for the winter.

That's for another post.

That's it for this time. Happy Fall Garden Cleanup everyone!

Summer Sucesses

Summer is waning and the sounds of the locusts can be clearly heard in the cool of the evening. Because of the rains in August, the foliage is still green and lush; weeds are still fighting for control in the gardens; and garden/yard cleanup has begun. Two loads of fence line trees have been hauled away to the company that take brush and makes mulch out of it. It costs $10 a pickup load to dump, and $20 a pickup load for hardwood mulch.

July was a great month. The sweet corn fortress was a great success.

Nebraska Dave eating corn

One-hundred and sixty prime ears of corn and forty-five second ears were harvested. I ate corn, corn, and more corn. After four years of total devastation by the raccoons, it was sweet  to be able to eat as much as I wanted and even give some away. I thought about throwing the cobs over the fence just to say, "In your face, Rocky Raccoon." Instead, I threw some of the second ears over the fence for them to eat. I just couldn't be that mean to them. After all, I did invade their land.

July was a month of more construction.

Garden entrance

It seems that I can't be without a garden project in progress. This is the entrance of Terra Nova Gardens. Over the course of the next two years, the pathways of the formal part of the garden will be bricked, and the beds will be outlined in limestone rocks.

My green peppers were a bust. They had wrinkly leaves and never put on any peppers. The cucumbers had about five cukes, then the vines dried up and died.

The tomatoes were slow starting.

Tomato Towers

What started as a tiny seed oh-so-long ago has filled up the tower and is still climbing. Since this picture, the first two tomatoes have grown out the top of the tower. I'm harvesting about a five-gallon bucket of tomatoes every couple days from these seven tomato plants. I eat a few and put the rest on a pallet by the road in front of the garden with a sign that says "free." They always disappear overnight. It's the start of something good. Next year I'll be doing the free vegetable stand again. It's my way of giving to the neighborhood. I'm not much into preserving anyway. I just like growing veggies and designing and building garden structures. So I have another three months to play in the garden before the snow shuts down all garden activities.

How did your garden do this summer?

Spring Was Busy

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThis spring has been a busy one with great accomplishments. March was the beginning of the outside gardening with working on the spring platform. That effort has since been transferred over to the issue of watering the plants and keeping them alive. We are now in the throes of a hot dry spell. We have had very little rain in the month of June. Barely 2 inches of the over 4 that we normally average. The temperatures are in the 90s and approaching 100 degrees more days then not. I like to be in Terra Nova Gardens, a 20 minute drive from where I live, by 5:45 a.m. just as the sun is rising up over the trees. Terra Nova Gardens has clear sunshine from sunrise to about 2:30 in the afternoon. Then the shadow from the steep hill to the west of the garden begins to creep across the the garden. By 4:00 p.m. the garden is in full shadow mode. I've always considered that shaded afternoon a plus especially this year with the extreme heat.

I'm one step closer to irrigation for Terra Nova Gardens.

Barrel in Spring

The natural spring on Terra Nova Gardens property is a mucky sticky silt that is difficult to dig out. I have a source of free barrels of practically any size. This is a 55 gallon barrel that I cut the bottom out and set in the spring. Then a post hole digger was used to remove the muck from inside the barrel. As the muck is removed the barrel was pushed deeper and deeper into the spring. Here you can see that it's set about 2/3 of the way down in the spring. Since this picture a few more inches have been removed and the barrel is set lower. The hope is to get the full barrel down into the spring. Right now I can remove about 40 gallons of water with a pump into a mini water tower in the middle of the garden. Hopefully, by summer's end, two more barrels will be sunk into the spring giving me a total of about 150 gallons of water ready to fill the mini tower.

Water tower Base

This is the base of the mini water tower. The supports need to hold about 1500 pounds of weight. As you can see they are not evenly spaced. A pallet has been used for the platform and the 2X4 supports didn't have one in the middle. I suspect that these six supports will be quite sufficient even though the weight isn't quite evenly distributed. I have a tendency to over engineer things anyway.

Barrels on Water Tower

Well, here's the finished tower. It was finished just in time for the heat wave. I've been watering daily and using about 40 gallons a day to keep the tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkins, and watermelons happy. All the logistics are in place, but it does need a bit of tidying up. For now I'm just glad not to have to haul water to the garden.

The raccoons are messing around in the corn already so the sweet corn fortress is fully active. The electric fence is pulsing away to zap anything the comes near. I set the live trap and lost my first two fruit pies without catching anything. The little buggers were reaching through the sides and pulling the delight out without going inside the trap. So the next time the trap is set, the sides where the yummy delight is placed will be built up with rocks so they can't reach through. I suspect I'll have to cover the top and the back as well. They are devious little rascals. I'm in full battle mode against the raccoons.

First tomato

Last year my first tomato was July 5th. I thought it was a date that would not be beat for some time. June 22nd was the first tomato with two more turning. I expect to harvest them in a couple more days. These two tomatoes are coming from a plant that was devastated by hail the last week of May. Not only did the four hail plants survive but came back stronger than ever. It was an amazing thing to witness. So, yeah, a little bacon, some lettuce, first tomato of the season, and mayo and nothing says summer like the first garden-fresh BLT of the year.

Potatoes are in bloom, beans are in bloom, tomatoes are in bloom, pumpkins are in bloom, ah, it's a wonderful time to be a gardener, don't you think?

What are you harvesting?