Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave

July Garden Update


Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave

This summer, time has just gotten away from me. Here it is July already with 100 days of frost-free gardening left for my area. Everything looks good except for the tomatoes. The plants are looking good, but the tomatoes are only the size of a golf ball. These are supposed to be regular-sized tomatoes. The first ripe tomato was today and it had a bad spot where I suspect a hail stone hit. We've had three hail storms since the first of May and high winds up to 100 mph in some parts of the city. Tree cleanup is still in progress a week after the event. The spring here was cold and wet so the warm weather plants are weeks behind where they are supposed to be.


This is what happens when a gardener goes away for 10 days. My granddaughter in Las Vegas graduated high school, so a 10 day trip was in order to enjoy the celebration of graduation and visit my family there. My parents made the first move 20 some years ago. Then my sister followed a couple years later, and when my kids graduated from high school they moved there as well. So the pressure is on for me to move there. I moved away once to St. Louis for seven years and vowed never to move away from Nebraska again when I returned. Yes the weather is hot and muggy in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, but I just like the different seasons. There's very distinct seasons here with each being just what the season should be. When one season gets tiring, the next is right there to take its place. No, this is where I'll stay until my dying day.  Besides, gardens don't grow in Las Vegas. The soil is nothing but rocks, gravel, spiders, and snakes. And lets not forget the sun that gets so hot that anything plastic melts and milk from the store sours on the way home if not put in an ice chest. It's just not for me to live there.

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Less than an hour's work and the pathway is cleared of the nasty weeds. This grass will mature with the Velcro seed head that sticks to anything cloth, especially shoe laces. Not only that but it re-seeds itself with thousands of seeds.

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The fences are all in place and the corn is tasseling in the first bed. This year I have four beds of corn planted two weeks apart. This is the first bed and I'll be eating corn before the end of July. Last year I had two beds of sweet corn, so I'll be munching twice as long as last year. I may even freeze some for winter eating.  

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This is the squash planted from store-bought squash. A friend of mine gave me the seeds to plant from a squash she bought from the grocery store. My plan was to let them cross over the path of one bed and into the sweet corn bed next to it. So far that plan seems to be working. From watching how the vine plants grew the last five years, I discovered that because the full sun was from 6 a.m. to about 4 p.m., most of the sun came from the east and the vines would crawl toward the east and not so much to the west. I did have to clip a couple of rogue vines but, as expected, the vines crawled to the east. Observation in a garden can make life much easier sometimes. A line of cucumbers were planted along the backside of the squash and a leaning fence was provided for them to crawl up over the squash plants. When I was gone, the cucumber growth was prolific and they should have been trained up on the fence grid, but instead started growing in with the squash. I did get a few cucumbers to climb the leaning fence, but I'm not certain that I succeeded with them all. So far I haven't seen any damage from the dreaded vine borer, but the damage comes in about another couple of weeks if it's going to happen. I'm hoping the cucumber and squash mix will confuse the little white fly and the squash and cukes will be safe from the nasty killer worm.

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The tomato plants are looking good, but don't have many blooms and the tomatoes that are ripening are very small. They have had a rough go of it this year by surviving three hail storms and a severe wind storm. The spring was a cold, wet one and not favorable for warm weather plants.

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Potatoes are just past the flowering stage. Some folks pick off the flowers, but I usually don't. I tried that a couple years ago and couldn't really tell a difference in the harvest. The vines are starting to dry up, so the potatoes will be harvested toward the end of July. I so like the early potatoes. The taste buds will be enjoying sweet corn and potatoes before long.

What all are you enjoying from your garden? I hope everyone is having a great garden year.  Be well, drink lots of fluids, and get ready for an abundant harvest.


Raised Beds, the Hard Way

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveIt seems that every time a project comes up, it's always done the hard way. Over-engineering takes much longer than needed, and so it is with my garden, but when it's done it's built to last a lifetime. These rocks that I have found for my raised beds come from my neighborhood. Many walls have been built with these rocks, and — as they replace them with the new, modern, retaining wall blocks — it gives me a ready supply of rocks to use for raised beds.

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I have hauled away several walls of rocks and used them for outlining the raised beds that have been built in Terra Nova Gardens.

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A layer of weed barrier laid down will keep the weeds from growing. My favorite barrier is old dumpster carpet from apartment buildings. An overlapping layer does the trick. I've had some carpet in the garden for five years without any sign of deterioration. Four corner stones are placed in position to anchor the corners and to use as a guide for the sides and ends.

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A rope is stretched from one corner to the other on the same side. A good, sharp, carpet knife cuts through the carpet about three or four inches inside of the rope.

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For the other side of the raised bed, the carpet is dragged into place under the stretched rope. Then rocks can be laid along the rope with the flat side out against the inside of the rope line. The two-to-three-inch lip of carpet will be under the rock line, and the jagged edge will be facing the growing medium of the bed.

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Once the rocks are all in position, a good cleanup of the debris will make the bed ready for the digging. I turn to beds when, in the spring, the soil dries out enough for a good, smooth bed result. Since this one is a virgin bed, it doesn't have the fall grass/leaf mulch cover that the others have. When the soil has been turned, the first thing to sprout is the early spring weeds that are sliced off below the surface with a hula/strip hoe and the weed debris removed. About three weeks later, the grass sprouts, and the same method is used to clean up the beds. After that the bindweed and other vines grow up, so hula hoe and rake for the final time.

By this time the last frost date has passed, and it's time to plant. The three eradication processes of weeds and a layer of mulch after planting do a good job of keeping the weeds at a minimum. It's been too wet to do any digging just yet, and the soil temperature is still under 45 degrees. Hopefully the rain will end soon and the digging will begin.

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This completes half of the garden area with a total of seven beds. I already have another five beds that I use for the main garden area, bringing the total to twelve. All the pathways between the beds will have hard wood mulch over the carpet at a depth of two inches. The seven seen in the above picture will have an additional fence around the area, with an electric fence to protect the area from garden predators. It's an extension of the the sweet corn fortress from last year.

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As you can see, plants are busting to get out in the ground. They are getting familiar with the outside weather. Today was a good day for them to be outside; the temperature was in the upper 50s with very little sun. So garden life is good on the Urban Backyard Ranch and Terra Nova Gardens.

What's been happening in your garden?

Raised Beds and Indoor Seedlings

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe threat of winter came and went over the weekend with no really bad weather. The forecast was for snow, rain, and cold. We got the cold but no snow or rain, which was fine by me.

The week was filled with home, neighbor, and friend responsibilities, so only one garden workday was on the schedule.

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I did manage to get one more raised bed finished and another started this week. The rock pile is dwindling, and more will be needed soon. I have planned one more bed in this area before the mulch is laid down and the fence around the area is built. The big wooden fence continues to keep out the deer, but a wire and electric fence is still needed to keep the raccoons and groundhogs from munching on what they believe is their buffet. It's all starting to come together for this year.

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This is lettuce planted three weeks ago. I'm not sure it's going to make it to outside. The soil temperature was a chilly 35 degrees F under a frozen crust. Unless we get some really warm weather, soon this tray will end up being micro greens in a salad, which wouldn't be all that bad. The heat mat is looking for another tray of something to start — it just could be lettuce.

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The marigolds are looking great. It will be time to transplant them soon. So far, the heat mat and grow lights are producing a good amount of plants for the garden. It all seems to be better than in years past. I'm not sure what's different, but I like it!

I'm hoping for better weather to get these plants out in the garden and start some real gardening. How about you? Any exciting things happening in the garden yet?

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer

More Garden Work at Terra Nova Gardens

Adventures of Old Nebraska DaveThe weather has swung back to unseasonably warm again, and I've been out to Terra Nova Gardens on a regular basis this last week. It's still too wet to start preparing the raised beds for planting, but there are other unfinished things to work on.

Some might remember that last year I started working on a platform to cover my natural spring. I've found that it's best to work on projects a little at a time; sometimes it takes more than one year to complete. But each nice day, the project gets a little more finished.

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The bridge supports were found on Craigslist and set in place last spring.

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Since the width is over four feet, I decided it might be good to put a couple of joists to help stabilize the platform. These were treated 2x6s.

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After many hours of reconstructing a free pallet and sealing the wood with a top-grade water sealant, the first half of the platform is set in place and screwed down to the bridge planks. One step closer. You can see the back half of the platform still needs to be re-engineered and sealed like the front part. When the other half of the platform is finished, railings will be made from free pallets as well. At least one step will be set in front of the platform. It's all starting to come together after two years of work.

Next up for the day was to begin working on the next, new, raised bed.

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This is the spot for the next raised bed. Yes, the weeds are still prolific in this part of Terra Nova Gardens. These are the "Velcro weeds" that will stick like glue if they touch any fabric. I use rubber gloves and boots when I'm trying to eradicate this weed. The sticky part of the weed is at the top, so staying close to the roots of the weed when pulling will help you to not getting covered with the plant.

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Well, here one end and one side is complete. Since the weather is going to be very nice for the next few days, this bed may be finished real soon. Once the rock outline of the bed is finished, the old carpet weed barrier that somewhat worked last year will be cut out of the center, leaving the soil exposed to dry out a bit before working over the bed with a spade. All the tools in my garden are hand tools. Well, sometimes I fire up the weed eater to whiz down some weeds, but other than that everything has been muscle power.

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The wild turkey bug patrol is already on duty. I couldn't get them all in the picture, but there must have been about 20 in the flock. They can fly over the fence and get into the garden area, but they don't do that too often. I have seen them roosting on top of the fence at different times. I figure that if they keep the bugs under control outside of the fence, then there won't be a problem inside the fence. This will be my sixth year for gardening here, and never have I had a bug problem of any kind. Now raccoons, deer, rabbits, and groundhogs ... Well that's another story. Slowly but surely I'm getting the fences varmint-tight.

So that's it for this week. Now that spring is here, I'll have more to share. Have a great spring day wherever you live, and let me know what you've been up to!

Nebraska Dave
Urban Farmer
Omaha, NE

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:

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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