Country Moon

The Freaking Firkin Club

Country MoonIt still amazes me how some things can snowball. Some simple little remark or incident that you thought was so insignificant can grow into something huge. This just happened to me, all over a firkin.

Dear friends Davy and Sandy from Pennsylvania love the primitive decorating style and recently mentioned how much they like firkins. Now, even though I do know some antiques and am on the verge of being one myself, my educated guess was that a firkin was some type of antique furniture. Well, that was about as wrong as I could be. However, my curiosity started a firkin frenzy.

A firkin is actually a lidded wooden container with bent wood handles. Originally, these were so named after the unit of measure that filled these particular types of kegs that were used for cask conditioning, usually being filled with a certain kind of beer. A “firkin” unit of measure is equal to one-quarter of a barrel, 72 pints or 8 gallons.

In later use, besides being used for storing beer, firkins were used to hold sugar, salt and even fish and other staples. They come in various sizes and colors depending on the type of wood used. Most have lids, however through the ages, some have been lost or destroyed, so firkins can be found without lids. Some are straight and some are slanted. Many times they are referred to in antique shops as sugar buckets.

OK, back to the freaking firkin story. I like wood and I like things to stuff more things into. So, naturally, I fell in love with Sandy and Davy’s “freaking” firkins. Finding one would become my “thrill of the hunt” whenever I went to garage sales (which is really not my thing) or perused antique shops, which I don’t do very often either. The word “freaking” in this context is an adjective meaning exceptional; hence it is a perfect description of firkins because they are pretty awesome and a special find. So, in my world, they became freaking firkins.

As fate would have it, in the next couple of weeks my friend Steph, who is a garage sale pro, asked me to go with her to the US 12 garage sales in Michigan. I told her that my quest was to find a freaking firkin, thinking that I could (finally) educate her on something. Her reply was “Oh, I have one!” and then she proceeded to show me this perfect, small, dark-stained, lidded wooden bucket. I wanted one even more.

Well, we hit garage sales all day, asking at each one about a firkin, but to no avail. Pennie, another friend, and I went to a huge antique sale that covered the entire Allegan, Michigan, fairgrounds a few weeks later. No firkins to be found, not even one! I surrendered myself to the fact that some things are sweeter the harder they are to come by. I took a chance and mentioned to Ron, who is the king of non-collectors, that I really wanted one. His response did not disappoint me: “What for??”

Quite honestly, I didn’t know what for, I just knew that I wanted one. What I would put in it or where I would put it, I hadn’t a clue. Then he amazed me even more when he told me that he thought he had one. What? He had always been real close to his “Grammy” and he thought he had hers … somewhere.

My hopes were soon dashed when it was nowhere to be found. How could he misplace a freaking firkin! “It’s a just a wooden box, I only saved it because it was Grammy’s,” was his response. Big sigh. So, I would still have something to hunt for on my list.

So, life goes on and we got busy with harvest and he decided to put some tile in his fields. Lo and behold, looking for some remnants of field tile in the upstairs of his barn, there it set … his freaking firkin! It was medium size, in excellent shape and with lid intact. I was ecstatic!

Looking inside lent even more treasures. There were a couple of old dishes and under that some partial balls of yarn. Then, tucked in the way bottom, were his Grammy’s knitting needles and a small green square, maybe only two inches across, that she had started to knit for something. How cool! After some thought, we decided that I could make that square a center of an afghan that I want to crochet (I don’t knit) for Ron’s grandson Riley when he graduates from high school. Even though he didn’t know her, he will have something from the hands of his great-great-grandmother. What a turn of events.

But the story doesn’t end there. Tony and Jeanine, some dear friends from Michigan, came down to Ron’s and Tony helped him button up harvest. Jeanine fell in love with my firkin and decided that she would like one too. So, she and I went on another "freaking firkin" hunt down to the antique shops in Cambridge City, Indiana.


We found firkins of all different sizes and shapes and colors. I was surprised to find so many different ones and, apparently, they are a prized find because the price tag on most of them gravitated to near the $200 mark. Jeanine did come home empty-handed because she didn’t find quite the right one. It’s like anything, you know the right one when you see it. Nevertheless, we had a day together that we both will remember forever, just like I did with Steph and Pennie.

I know that Jeanine and I will have more days together hunting the freaking firkin. Perhaps that is part of its charm, bringing people together. It seems like everyone that I introduce to these survivors of everyday life wants one.

There is no question anymore what purpose that my firkin will serve. Just like Grammy, mine will hold my crochet needles and yarn and keep them close at hand but out of sight. See what you started, Sandy, a freaking firkin club!

Plant It and They Will Husk

Country MoonLast year I attended my first ever Indiana State Corn Husking Competition near Bremen, Indiana. I was curious because I had never heard of a husking contest before. I remember doing it as a kid out of necessity to get the fields “opened up” so Dad could get his corn picker in the field without knocking any corn down. I wanted to try it again, if for nothing more than the memories. It was fun. I met a lot of nice people. I liked the competition. I was hooked. I went back this year.

Corn husking is the oldest and the most original method of harvesting a field of corn. Initially, farmers would husk the corn by hand and toss it into a horse-drawn wagon that would follow them down the rows.

Essentially what the contest is, in a nutshell, is a field of corn is divided into lands and competitors choose which lands and rows they want to shuck. When it is their turn, they have so many minutes for their class (usually 20 minutes except youngsters and golden-agers are 10 minutes each) to see how many pounds of corn they can husk. A “judge” and a “gleaner” follow each contestant. The judge times the competitor and the gleaner carries a bag and picks up all corn that the contestant misses on his/her assigned row and any that is laying on the ground or misses the wagon.

After each husker is finished, his or her corn is weighed. Then a 20-pound random sampling is taken. Husks that are attached to the ears in this sample are removed and weighed. One ounce of husks are allowed with no deduction. After that, 1 percent of the gross weight is deducted for each 1/4 ounce of husks up to 2 ounces and any amount over 2 ounces, 3 percent of the gross weight is deducted for each 1/4 ounce. On top of that, 3 pounds of corn is deducted for every pound of gleanings. This competition is pretty serious business!

So, why do people come year after year to compete? The history, the heritage, the competition, and the fun. That’s what draws me. I asked Clay Geyer, the president of the Indiana Corn Husking Association, the same question. Like me, he started husking out of necessity at a young age on the family farm. “We always husked two rows around every field, and sometimes through the middle, plus we husked corners to allow us to turn on end rows with our New Idea 324 picker with a 12-roll husking bed. Grandpa would never turn a corner without husking corn by hand. Some farmers just “round” the corner and don’t look back, but I learned early on that I’d rather husk the ear of corn from a standing stalk rather than dig it out of the soil with a screw driver!”

Clay has been involved with the Indiana Corn Husking Association since 2008. The first contest that he ever attended was on Ralph Murphy’s farm in Wabash, Indiana. Husker Dave Williams and his family from Middlebury motivated him to enter instead of just watching. Yep, he was hooked. This is the fourth year that the Geyer Farm has hosted the state competition. Clay admits that, “It’s unbelievable the amount of preparation and time that goes into planning an event like this. It is a challenge, but well worth it! I enjoy seeing families, friends, local FFA and other organizations and businesses come together so we can enjoy a piece of history.”

I saw “kids” from 2 to 92 there, and I wondered what motivated them to come out to this event. Richard Hinton is a pro if there ever was one. Coming up from Warren, Indiana, this is his 18th year of husking. He won both the state and national titles in the Men’s Open Class in 2016 and has 16 years of second place trophies. He husks because it is fun, he enjoys people, and some of these folks he only sees once a year at this event. “Some say I ought to retire and others say that I should defend my title after last year," he ponders.

This year was the sixth go-around for Jeremy Kane, who was the first husker of the day. His motivation is to help preserve the history. There definitely is an advantage to what rows a husker chooses and what time of day they husk. Rows that have ears hanging pretty much uniformly, instead of some being at the bottom of the stalk and others being at the top, allow the husker to grab the ears quicker. Also, the later in the day usually means that the husks are dryer and will come off the ear easier. I asked Jeremy what his strategy was for husking. He said that he tries “to be as consistent as possible, not drop any and not leave any husk.” Going from experience, I can safely say that it takes a lot of self-discipline to stay focused.

Mark Payne is the vice-president of the corn husking association. He has a farm, still picks ear corn, and still husks by hand to open up his fields. Need I say more why he came?! Ron Wolfin is a first-time husker and is here because he likes horses. He really likes them. As part of the Michigan Trail Riders, he rode 250 miles round trip over 22 days from Oscoda, Michigan, to Empire, Michigan.

Peggy Smith has been husking almost 10 years. She, her husband Larry, and three sons bring a team of draft horses that pulls one of the wagons. The whole family is huskers even though all of them are not always there every year. Peggy husks “because I have to keep up with the men in my life!”

Another reason people come out is to see the horses. Draft horses are truly magnificent animals. Darrell Miller, from New Paris, Indiana, can attest to that. His family raises Belgians for sale. At last count, his “Turkey Creek Belgians” totaled 56, two of which he had pulling a wagon at the corn husking. He loves going to shows and other events with the horses. Just getting back from the National Draft Horse Show in Utah, he was just as glad to be at the Indiana Corn Husking Contest. “Anything to be with the horses!” he adds.

Heidi Sorkoran, like me, is a fellow Michigander who was a newbie to corn husking. She has been around a farm her whole life and loves that way of life. Her Dad, Gary Gushwa, saw this event advertised and asked her to try it. “I’m game for anything!" she remarks. Coming in third in the Young Women’s Class isn’t too bad for a first-timer!

Marshall Finke is an “old pro” at this, even though he is only 12 years old. His Grandpa Jerry also brings a team of horses to the event and inspired his grandson. “I like to hang out with Grandpa,” Marshall smiles. “Grandpa told me about it and I like to compete. It’s real interesting!”

It’s funny how things that come around, go around. Last year I met a husker named Robert Hamilton who also had an interesting story to tell. He and his family grow and mill their own brand of specialty corn meal. This year I had the privilege of meeting his two granddaughters who were trying their hand at husking. Melanie Gebhart competed in the Young Girls 14 and Under and this was her first time husking. “Grandpa grows corn and I like to hang out with Grandpa so I decided to try it,” she says.

This year was Melanie’s sister Sophia’s second year of husking, with her competing in the Youth Girls 15 to 20. Her reasoning for coming is “Grandpa enjoys it, he has so many stories. It is a great time to bond with him.” Apparently, husking will be a family thing for them. Both girls came in second in their class! This is yet another reason I go; stories like this warm my heart.

Others come for other reasons. Jim Greer volunteered to drive people around in a Gator. Mark and Linda Johnston came to watch and to reminisce about old times. For others, the memories were not so good. Morton Harrington was also only an onlooker. “Husking corn was the reason that I joined up for the war. It was a real muddy year and I figured I was better off joining the service than picking ear corn out of the mud!”

Clay echoes my sentiments about the corn husking contest. “I believe it’s not only important to keep the history of corn husking alive, but to also teach all ages how corn was once harvested prior to machine. I would like to see our organization grow. I know that there are residents of Indiana that have had parents or grandparents who have husked corn on their farm or in the contest. I encourage them to come on out and carry on the traditions of prior generations.”

This whole contest sounds simple but, as Clay knows firsthand, there is so much that goes into making this possible. He has met with businesses, made new friendships; promoted the contest throughout the year at fairs, contests and shows; and met with farmers across the state of Indiana to help get a corn crop planted, managed and ready for contest day.

It’s not about the winning, it’s not even all about the corn husking.  Curiosity brought me here last year, the sense of family, friends, fun and memories brought me back this year and being part of something down-to-earth and real will bring me back again and again. Husk on!




To Torque or not to Torque

Country MoonPeople are usually split on both sides of the fence when it comes to the right brain, left brain theory. It’s true that each side of a person’s brain controls different functions. The right side is associated with cognitive skills like creativity, emotion and intuitiveness. Right-brained people are characterized as being artistic and innovative but have a less organized way of thinking. On the other hand, left-brained folks are more analytical and methodical. They are more systematic, are more organized in their thinking, and deal more in mathematics and facts.

Although there are left-brained and right-brained thinkers in both sexes, I think more women are classified as right-brained while more men tend to be left-brained. I tend to refer to this distinction as “women like chocolate and men like beer.”

As for me, there is not a shred of doubt into what category I fall into; no question, I am definitely right-brained. I do consider myself to be creative and intuitive, but I also thought that I had a pretty good handle on being organized and practical. Helping Ron with harvest these last two years has definitely caused me to rethink this.

What brought this whole issue front and center is one little word called "torque." It’s this lever on the left side of his International tractors that is giving me fits. Actually, the proper term for this lever is "torque amplifier." The way he explained it to me is that the torque is like an extra gear for the tractor. I get that. What I don’t get is what exactly I do with it.

In my defense and before all you farmers start laughing, I do as I always do in situations where I don’t understand; I do a little research. What I found was that it is an additional gear box with two speeds and its own clutch. It can be shifted without the use of the foot clutch. If you are pulling a load such as a wagon of grain and you start to bog down, you can shift the torque to low (toward you) without pushing the main clutch and coming to a halt and having to restart again. After you are going, you can push it forward to speed up without clutching or slowing down.

What I also found out, while checking out the comments forum in Red Power magazine, is that a lot of guys were writing in and asking what the lever to the left of the tractor was and what was it used for. Aha, it is not just me and my right brain that is confused about torque!

Also in my defense, I do have enough left brain in me in that I follow orders precisely. Granted, it has been over 30 years since I have driven tractors in the field to help my Dad, but I do know enough to respect them. They are bigger than I am. The first thing Ron ever told me when I started driving his tractors was “Don’t ever touch that lever (the torque).” No problem, one less thing to worry about.

Then we got into harvest. Pulling a load over the rough end rows, he’s telling me to pull it back. Fine. Then I’m headed to the bin and he’s telling me to push it forward. Fine. This is all in addition to figuring out what regular gear to be in. I could probably get this, except it changes all the time. It’s rougher here, use the torque, it’s smoother here, don’t use the torque. Go in second gear. Hurry up, go in third. Really, does it have to be this hard?

I am a creature of habit. If I pull a load out of the field in a certain gear today, then it should work that way for the entire season. Oh no, it depends on whether it is wet or dry, how heavy the wagon is loaded, whether I have one wagon or two, and how close he is to needing me and the empty wagon! Really, my right brain is supposed to figure all this out!

So far, this whole scenario has been just about torque. Nevermind that when it comes to being in the right spot in the field at the right time, I pretty much am not. I really admire my friend Monica who usually runs the grain cart the entire harvest season. She stays just out of the way until the guys combining are ready to dump and then she is at the right spot and at the right speed so that they never have to stop. She makes it look so easy.

Again, not so with me. It’s not rocket science to figure out that when his hopper is nearly full, I should be there. So, I head down the field toward him but I either go too far or not far enough. I have also been told that the combine matches the speed of the grain cart operator. Nope. I am constantly going too slow or too fast for dumping on the go. I think he should just be glad that there is any grain in the wagon at all after trying this!

I have also been told that you should always turn around so that, after he dumps, the tractor and wagon is headed back toward the bin. This makes perfect sense, after all why would you want to turn around with a full wagon? So, I turn around, am headed the right direction so I can just move along with him to dump when he is beside me. Really, I actually thought that this would work? Oh no, his hopper is full before he reaches me, so I turn around again and am now facing the wrong way. So, he sits patiently (I am being nice here) while I go past and turn around yet another time.

I know that there are plenty of women who make this look like second nature. So, why is it so hard for me? His theory is that I overthink it. Perhaps he is right because having perfection is also a trait of the right-brainers.

I am making progress though. Last year my big deal, besides knowing when to use torque, was being able to pull up to the auger so that I was in position to unload. I was either too far ahead or not far enough. We won’t even discuss the backing up! So, this year I have that part down to a science and I am really working on being at the right place at the right time.

I always like to look on the bright side of things. Since this is only my second year of “helping” him, I figure that if he farms 15 or more years, I should have most things pretty much down pat. The only thing that may still throw me is if to use torque or not to use torque!


All About the Big Orange Fruit

 Country Moon


From pumpkin pie to jack-o’-lanterns, the pumpkin exemplifies fall in all its glory. Of all the seasons, fall is the fun season, with not a lot of emotions attached to it except lighthearted good cheer. A big orange pumpkin just plain makes you smile whether you bake it, carve it, smash it or hurl it.

Pumpkins are actually a fruit, which is defined as being part of the plant that contain seeds. On top of that, pumpkins are technically squash, being members of the curcubit family, which encompasses pumpkins, gourds, squash, watermelons and cucumber. They come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colors.

Every part is edible; the skin, leaves, flowers, pulp, seeds and even the stem. They are made up of 90 percent water, so they are low in calories; one cup of mashed pumpkin has only 49 calories and one-half gram of fat. They have more fiber than kale, more potassium than bananas, and are high in fiber and low in sodium. The seeds are high in beta carotene and antioxidants, which help delay aging and protect the heart and the body against cancer. On top of this, they taste good!

They have actually been around for 5,000 years. A French explorer in 1584 called them “gros melons,” which meant large melons. It wasn’t until the 17th century that they started being referred to as pumpkins. They have since come to be fall’s favorite décor and most crafty food.

I recently saw fields near Connorsville, Indiana, that were literally “blooming” with pumpkins. These fields were no small fries, instead they were 250-acre fields and all the pumpkins raised here will go for fall decorating and Halloween. Combined spending for fall decorating and Halloween is second only to Christmas; pumpkins are big business!

However, all pumpkins are not created equal and bigger is not always better. The size and variety depend on its use. The giant pumpkins that get all the oohs and ahhs at county fairs are good for only one thing: competition. They are too big and awkward to be carved or to even consider cooking down for pie. When choosing carving pumpkins, look for nice shapes and varieties that will last several days. When choosing pumpkins for cooking, choose ones based on taste and texture.

One of my favorite fall excursions is to visit pumpkin patches. I love to watch kids choosing that special one for their jack-o’-lantern, and being in a sea of orange just makes you feel good. Whether you are going for the pie “punkins” or the carving ones, there are a few general guidelines to help you get the best that the patch has to offer.

Make sure the skins are hard enough for short storage, which is a sign of a mature pumpkin. Check for soft spots and bruises, especially on the bottom where they lay on the ground. All it takes is a small nick to let infection into the flesh. Once this happens, they will rot and go downhill quickly. They are ready to harvest only when the vines start to dry. Ones picked any sooner will stop changing color when they are cut. Although tempting, don’t carry them by the stem because they can break and crack easily, also leaving room for decay.

Sometimes it is so tempting to be the early bird and get one of the first pumpkins on the market and enjoy your jack-o’-lantern for quite a while before Halloween. There are a few tips to ensure that they will still be a scary beacon on fright night. Keeping them in a cool, dark place out of sunlight will extend their life, as will draping them with a damp towel and spraying them with an anti-transpirant like Wilt-Pruf. At the top of the list of do nots is do not let your jack-o’-lantern get frosted.

Smaller varieties of pumpkins, somewhere between 4 and 8 pounds, are more suited for eating and cooking. They usually have denser flesh with smoother texture and a higher sugar content. Even though the shells of pumpkins get dull as they age, the flesh will remain intact and can even get sweeter. Many times winter squash such as butternut are not only used in place of pumpkin in pies and other recipes, but are actually preferred over pumpkin. And don’t think that the big orange fruit is just for pies; it is an excellent choice for cheesecake, cookies, pancakes, muffins and much more.

With all this said, here are a few more fun facts about pumpkins:

• The original jack-o’-lanterns were made with turnips and potatoes.

• Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

• Over 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year in the United States. Top producing states are Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. Illinois is the top producer with 95 percent of the country’s pumpkins grown on Illinois soil, and 80 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin. Morton, Illinois, is the pumpkin capital of the world.

• During one month (October), 80 percent of the United States' pumpkin crop is ripe for picking — over 800 million pumpkins!

• Minnesota holds the record for the world’s largest pumpkin to date. It was grown in 2010 and measured more than 5 feet in diameter and weighed over 1,800 pounds.

• Pumpkin pie originated with the colonists but was quite different from those of today. The tops of the pumpkins were cut off, seeds were removed, and then they were filled with milk, spices and honey and baked in hot ashes. The largest pumpkin pie ever baked weighed 2,020 pounds.

• There are more than 45 varieties of pumpkins and each fruit has about 500 seeds, which take between 90 and 120 days to grow. High in iron, they are one of the best nutritional snacks.

• Delaware hosts the annual “Punkin Chunkin Championship” where teams compete in pumpkin launching competitions. Can you believe that they are shot at almost 5,000 feet from an air cannon!

• Pumpkin pie is America’s second favorite pie, only autumn’s other favorite fruit, the apple, beats it.

Charlie Brown had the right idea when he went in search of “The Great Pumpkin.” Fall just wouldn’t be fall without the big orange fruit.

Saving Seed

 Country Moon


I have been working at putting the garden to bed for winter. Although this end of the season is sad, I remember all the bounty the garden gave us through the year. On top of that, I have found a way for it to give even more. This year, I will be saving my own seed for next year from the plants that produced so well this year.

Saving seed is fairly simple, if you follow a few guidelines. First of all, some plants lend themselves much better to this process than others. Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices from which to save seed because they have flowers that are self-pollinating, which means that seeds from those plants require little to no special treatment before storage. On the other hand, plants like beets and carrots make it more difficult to save seed because they are biennial and need two growing seasons to set the seed.

Plants with separate male and female flowers, such as corn and vine crops, may cross-pollinate, which makes it hard to keep the seed strain pure. For example, if sweet corn and popcorn are planted too close they can pollinate each other, which means they will each pick up characteristics of the other. The sweet corn may not be sweet and the popcorn may not pop.

Vine crops such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons and gourds can all be cross-pollinated by insects. The quality of the current crop is not affected, but the seeds from these plants will produce vines that bear fruit unlike the parent plant. Often these second-year plants will produce fruit with little flavor, lessened disease resistance, and other inferior qualities.

Open-pollinated varieties are still the route to go instead of hybrids. Here is the tricky part, though. Open-pollinated plants must be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated by other plants of the same variety so that they set seed that grows into plants that are very similar to the parent plants. This is where we get our heirloom varieties that are passed from generation to generation.

Hybrid vegetable plants are in a category by themselves. They are produced by crossing two different varieties, which combines the traits of the parent plants. Sometimes a combination is particularly good, producing plants with vigor, disease resistance and greater productivity. However, there is just as much of a chance that things could go the other way and the new hybrid will be inferior in traits. Hybrid tomato plants like ‘Big Boy,’ ‘Beefmaster’ and ‘Early Girl’ have a good track record and produce viable seed. Usually though, when crossing plants, it is impossible to predict whether the new hybrid will carry the good or bad traits of the parent plants.

Some tomato varieties such as ‘Big Rainbow’ and ‘Brandywine’ are not hybrids, but rather are open-pollinated and will produce viable seed. ‘Kentucky Wonder,’ ‘Tender Crop’ and ‘Blue Lake’ are good bean choices for saving seed, as are Habanero and ‘California Wonder’ for peppers. ‘Lincoln,’ ‘Little Marvel’ and ‘Perfection’ will give good pea seeds.

After you have chosen the right varieties from which to save seed, the process is pretty simple. Naturally, you will want to choose the tastiest and ripest fruits for seeds. With tomatoes, allow the fruits to ripen fully then scoop out the seeds with the gel around them and put them in a jar with water. Stir or swirl them twice a day. The mixture will ferment and the seeds will sink to the bottom within five days. After this happens, pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds, and spread them out to dry on paper towels.

Allow peppers to remain on the plants until they are ripe and begin to wrinkle. After washing them, remove the seeds and lay them out to dry. Peas and beans need to remain on the plant until they start to turn brown. This is usually a month or so after you are done picking the fruit. Strip the pods from the plants and let them dry for two weeks. Then either shell or leave the seeds in the pods until it is time to plant.

After seeds are dry, storage is a breeze. Put them in a tightly-sealed glass container. Different varieties may be put in the same container, as long as they are in individual packets or envelopes and labeled. A small amount of silica gel desiccant may be added to absorb moisture. Powdered milk works well to keep seeds dry for short time periods. Keep the jar in a cool and dry place where the temperature is between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the seeds within a year for best results.

A perfect place to keep them is in the freezer, which is more stable than a refrigerator. Just like in nature, this puts the seeds in a freeze like they would be going through a winter. This process actually improves the chances of germination instead of hurting it, as some folks believe. The Doomsday Vault in Svalbard, Norway, is located above the Arctic Circle and is dug into the side of a mountain several hundred feet down to keep the vault below 0 degrees.

The most important thing to remember when saving seed is to make sure they are completely dry before sealing them and putting them in a freezer. If they are not, the freezer will expand the moisture. Be sure and bring them to room temperature before planting.

Saving your own seed is beneficial in so many ways. For one thing, it is less expensive than buying new every year and it is there for the taking. It gives you a little more control because it is available when you want it and, if you find a good variety, you will be assured of having it year after year. I also like the idea of being self-sufficient. This is just a small part of the picture, but saving seed is just one more step toward sustainability instead of being a disposable society.

Finding A Better Way Update

Country Moon

weed control1

As I have written before, this has been the summer of getting back to nature for me. In the garden, weed control, and in other aspects of my life I am trying to get back to the basics and use from the earth what God has provided for us as opposed to all the chemicals that we have grown accustomed to relying on in recent years.

Well, summer has turned to autumn and the garden and other projects are mostly done for the year, so it is time to look back and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Keep in mind that I am only one person doing my own trials, but these are the results from my “experimental” summer.

First of all, I have said all along that there has to be a better method of weed control than relying on Roundup. I don’t blame the gardeners and the farmers because right now they do not have options. In order to reap the yields from the crops, they need to control the weeds and right now the only way to do that is with Monsanto’s Roundup. We have all heard how Roundup is being scrutinized because of related health risks, namely certain kinds of lymphoma.

In light of this, I went totally the all-natural route this year. I mixed vinegar, salt and Dawn dish soap. Did it work? The answer is bittersweet. I was warned at the onset that it would take multiple applications throughout the season for the salt to reach the root and eventually kill the weeds and sterilize the soil.

I started out spraying weekly with this solution until I realized that this was still too much time between applications. In a week’s time, the plant was trying to recover. So, I started applying whenever I noticed a little green coming back. Just like in us humans when our immune system is knocked down, the plant lost its strength when receiving the second dose just at the onset of its recovery. So, yes, by the end of the season I have noticed less growth and stunted growth. Eventually, enough salt will saturate the ground where I have applied it and sterilize it for future growth.

OK, you have to weigh in the time and the cost. This first year I am still behind the eight ball on both counts. It was more expensive buying the salt and vinegar to spray a couple times a week than it would have been to use Roundup. Time-wise it took a lot more time spraying weekly or more often than it would have by applying Roundup once a month. However, the first season is purported to be the worst. Next year the growth in the sprayed areas should be a lot less and more sporadic until the point where the affected ground will support no more growth.

On the health side of the issue, I know that vinegar and salt poses no health risks like Roundup, in spite of the fact that some accidentally got on my leg and burned it because it was not washed off immediately. I will still take the burn as opposed to cancer.

Another fact is that this method targets all growth, so it would defeat the purpose to use it on crops. I am no scientist, but my thought is that Roundup is formulated to kill weeds without hurting crops, so we have to find a way to use natural weed killers in the same fashion. If we do not become stewards of the earth in this matter now, it may be too late for our grandchildren to have this same choice.

On the second issue, all of us here in the Midwest know that right about July 4 we can look forward to the arrival of the Japanese beetles. We weren’t disappointed this year. They covered my potato crop, so I sprayed them with organic Colorado potato bug spray. The next morning the beetles were lying belly-up on the ground. Success. The best part about this was that the spray was made entirely from essential oils and other plant-based products so the potato plant did not take up any of the spray and transfer it to the food, and if it did, there was no worry because it was all natural ingredients anyway.

As far as the rest of the garden, I found an all-natural spray insecticide, fungicide and miticide in one called Organicide. Also derived from oils, I could apply this on any plant in my garden and use the produce the same day. I used it twice throughout the season and the garden has never looked better or produced better. It would never fail that I would always get the fungus that squash, cucumber and other plants in that species are susceptible to, but this year the vines were sturdy and showed no signs of distress. I did not have the insecticide problem either.

I know there are a lot of products out there that are purported to work and just plain don’t. Because of this reason, I understand why folks are skeptical and use the same chemicals year after year. It was no different this year when I told fellow gardeners what I planned on using. I got the same looks and I know they were thinking that I was wasting my time. I have to admit that I wondered what the success rate would be. I was pleasantly surprised.

All I know is that we have to start somewhere to find a better way, for ourselves and for future generations. I also believe that our modern technology and medicines have created some of our ills and that God put everything we need to cure ourselves in his plants and other organisms in nature. We just have to be brave enough and trust enough to find the right combinations and to give them a try.

As for next year, I am determined to continue what I am doing and to keep perfecting on it. It just feels right.

The Grammie Awards

Country MoonEveryone has heard of the Grammy Awards that honor musicians and are presented annually. Well, I may be just a little prejudiced, but I think that they ought to have the “Grammie” (and “Grampy”) awards, too. Each September there is a day set aside as Grandparent’s Day and most of the time that day gets overshadowed by, well, just life. It’s not usually a big deal.

This year when that day rolled around, I was thinking “just how big of role do grandparents play in their grandkids’ lives?” Sadly, there are more and more cases where grandparents become the guardians and raise their grandkids for a multitude of reasons. Their roles change to being the parents in these cases and these situations become a whole new ballgame.

Nope, I’m talking about being just a plain grandparent and what that means. With that thought in mind, there is no better time than the present to write an “open” letter to grandkids. I hope that I speak for most grandparents when I say that these are my hopes for my grandkids:

1. When you think back on our times together, remember that the time spent with you is because I wanted to be with you, not because I had to. It’s a parent’s “job” to drive you to a sporting practice, to take you school clothes shopping, and to do a host of other things that parents do. We grandparents have the privilege of picking and choosing. When we ask you to go somewhere, it is because we really enjoy spending time with you. We also know that when you get tired, upset, or cranky and become temporarily pretty much a pain-in-the-you-know-what we can take you home.

2. Yes, most of us give you money for Christmas and birthdays just because that is what we do. It’s kind of like our easy way out; we will gladly take you shopping later but we don’t have to try and decide what the latest thing is that you want. Believe me, that is huge for us! Now, in between birthdays and holidays, we give you money because we remember how it was when we were kids. We love you so much that we want you to have things and have life easier than we did. But, we have to be really careful here; we have made our way in life and we CAN give you money and we WANT to give you money because it makes us smile to see you happy. But we also want you to be responsible adults and sometimes that means letting you earn money yourselves because we know that you will eventually appreciate things much more when you earn them yourselves. So, on that note, we have figured out that if we ask you to help us with some things (things that we could probably do ourselves) and pay you for these, you not only feel better about yourself but we get to spend time with you at the same time. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both of us.

3. You are our pride and joy. Sadly, we were too busy parenting and disciplining our own kids to really enjoy them like we enjoy you. We are also a little selfish. We believe that everything that you do is a reflection of ourselves. When you hit the home run, when you have the solo at the band concert, when you make the honor roll, we can’t help it but to stand up and beam “That’s my grandson (granddaughter)!” Even though we know sometimes we embarrass you in front of your friends (what were we thinking!), you also need to remember that we are just as proud of you when you strike out, when you play off-key, or when you get a D in math because we know you did the best that you could and that is all we will ever ask from you. We will always love you and it doesn’t depend on how well or poorly you perform. We’re funny, our love for you is unconditional like that.

4. When we do have the “come to Jesus” talks with you, that is another way we love you. Believe me, we don’t like them any more than you do; we are into fun, but sometimes the talks just need to happen to help you make the right choices and do the right thing. Even though we know in our hearts that you have to make mistakes on your own, we still want you to skip the heartaches of some of these trials. We want you to be the best that you can be and it is hard for us to step out of the way and let you do it on your own. Bear with us on this one.

5. Here’s the tough one. We loved all the cute things you did when you were little — your first steps, your first words, your first day of school. Yes, you did charm us and continue to do so. That is why when you hit these unthinkable teenage years it is so hard on us. Oh, we do want you to grow up into a fine adult, but we want you to do it and still be our sweet little child. We want it all. There are a few magical years during these teenage years where you are not a child and yet not an adult, even though you think you are the latter. Believe it or not, we do remember what it is like and it is not a good place to be. Your life is so full that you really don’t have time for us right now. You pretty much think that your parents, grandparents and any other adult just doesn’t know anything anymore. This breaks our hearts because we think we have lost you forever and wonder what we have done wrong. It’s a pretty sad time for us, even though we know that if we can survive your teenage years, you will eventually be back. Just try to remember that, hard as it is for you to visualize, we were teenagers once too and we did live through it to become responsible adults.

6. OK, for the final part, pamper us just a little bit. Even though you are busy and have so much going on around you, the only thing that we want is to still be a part of your life. Don’t forget to let us know when things are going on in your life, we love to be there. Texts don’t take very long and yes, most of us do text. It was probably you who taught us how to. “I love you” or “Miss you” only takes a couple seconds to send but means the world to us. As a matter of fact, we will probably have it in our saved messages forever so we can re-read it over and over until you get through your teenage years.

Yes, we grandparents don’t want much from you. Our Grammie or Grampy award is as simple as just being part of your life. By the way, you may want to hold on to this column because in another 40 years you will probably want to hand it to your grandkids when you are a Grammie or Grampy. Some things never change.