Country Moon

The Unwelcome Critters of Summer

Country MoonIt's not quite summer yet, according to the calendar. Nevertheless, everything has turned green, flowers are popping everywhere, fireflies have made their appearance and the warm rays of the sun beckon us outside. This scenario would be perfect if it weren't heralded by the arrival of mosquitoes and ticks. How can two creatures that are so small make life so miserable for us?

Even with repellent on, it is nearly impossible to enjoy a pleasant evening outside because, even though they may not be lighting on you, they are buzzing everywhere else. Yes, mosquitoes are certainly the scourge of summer.

Why do they like us humans so well? Well, I was surprised to find out that not all mosquitoes feed on blood. Males drink nectars whereas the females feast on our blood to nourish their eggs. They usually go for ankles and wrists because the blood vessels are closer to the surface at these points which make it easier for them. The higher our body temperature is and the more we sweat, the more they like us.

When they bite us, they inject a small amount of their saliva to stop the blood from clotting. Our bodies react to this foreign substance by producing a protein called histamine which causes our blood vessels to swell and so we have the little bump. The itching results from an allergic reaction to their saliva.

Once you are bitten, it is usually more of an annoyance than a health issue unless you have a severe reaction in which case you should seek medical advice. Otherwise, icing the area of the bite can help by restricting the capillaries and reducing swelling. You can use a low-potency hydrocortisone cream for the itching and the third thing you can do is to simply have patience!

The hardest thing to do when mosquito-bitten is to resist the urge to scratch that itch. Different folks have different strokes for managing the itch. Some swear by rubbing meat tenderizer, lemon juice or a paste of mashed garlic and white vinegar on the affected area. Others use baking soda and water or oatmeal. Some folks take high doses of vitamin B-1 (100 mg) two to three times a day. Since it all depends on body chemistry, what works for one person may not for another.

Of course, better than being bitten at all, is prevention. The best place to start is in the yard; if they are not around, they can't bite you. They need standing water to lay their eggs which is why they always seem to be worse near lakes and rivers or after a storm. Eliminate their breeding sites like empty bottles, buckets and pots. They love stagnant water.

Some plants naturally repel them. Try planting marigolds, chrysanthemums, asters and pyrethrum daisies. Some herbs like basil, anise and coriander also send them scurrying. A little sage or rosemary burned over coals or citronella plants and candles will also help. Big bonus here, you can enjoy the flowers and eat the herbs.

One of the easiest ways to keep the mosquito population under control is to encourage natural predators. If you have a pond, you will certainly have dragonflies and they love to feast on mosquitoes. Bats also consider them a delicacy. You may not want bats in your barn, as I have, so putting up a bat house is a good choice. One small brown bat can eat 600 mosquitoes per hour. Pesticides will help but you also run the risk of killing off dragonflies and fireflies.

Whether you treat your yard or not, you will want protection for yourself. If using bug repellant that contains DEET, choose one that contains no more than 25 percent of the chemical. A more natural approach is to use lemon eucalyptus oil, garlic or apple cider vinegar. Either eating these ingredients or rubbing them on your skin will repel the insects because they do not like the odor. Recently, health food advocates have been touting the benefits of Switchel, or haymaker's punch, that has been around a long time. It is like a natural substitute for Gatorade and will also keep the mosquitoes at bay. Just mix 1 gallon of water, 1-1/2 cups molasses, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon ginger and drink.

Besides mosquitoes, ticks are also an unwelcome critter that makes its presence known with the onset of summer. These have become more prolific in recent years and can spread disease, most commonly Lyme disease.

Be sure and do a full body check, including your scalp, after being outside in the grass or woods. Tumbling your clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes after being outside will kill any ticks on the clothing as will washing them in hot water. Showering within two hours of coming indoors will reduce the risk of Lyme disease. A product called Permathrin can treat clothes and boots and remain protective through many washings. Insect repellents and oil of lemon and eucalyptus can also deter them.

Even after precautions, if a tick does latch onto you, remove it as quickly as possible to prevent infection. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers. Pull upward with steady pressure, making sure to get the head and body removed. After removing, clean the affected area and hands with alcohol or soap and water.

There is a saying that "to have the good, you have to have the bad also." Everything balances out. Hello mosquitoes and ticks, welcome summer!

Photo by Getty Images/frank600.

Nothing Says Summer Like a Tomato

Country MoonNothing says summer quite like a plump and juicy tomato. Although technically a fruit, most everyone refers to the tomato as their favorite vegetable. Even those folks who do not tend a garden, usually have one or two tomato plants because, truth be told, they are almost as fun to grow as they are to eat.

Since they are the ultimate backyard crop, no other fruit has received more attention from plant breeders and seed savers. The result of this can be both good and bad; although there are so many varieties to choose from, making a selection becomes harder and harder.

Before ever perusing the tomato aisle at your local greenhouse, you may want to decide if you want just some juicy fruits to eat or if you are looking for tomatoes to can and make salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc. There are two basic types of tomatoes, determinates and indeterminates.

The determinate type stops growing when the fruits reach a certain size. Often referred to as bush tomatoes, they produce fruit all at once, usually over a two to three-week period. This can be great if you simply want to can them all at once but not so great if you were planning on fresh fruit throughout the summer. They do well in containers or planted close together.

The indeterminate type keeps growing and producing fruit the entire season up until the first frost. Because they continue to grow, the plants become quite large and need support like trellises, stakes or cages. One word of caution if using cages, splurge a little and buy the sturdier, better built ones because the lighter weight and less expensive ones tend to bend with the weight of the plant, which renders them next to useless.

Red Tomatoes
Photo by Getty Images/travenian.

One of the big questions when growing tomatoes is whether to prune or not to prune. Most folks do remove some of the suckers that form between the main stalk and the side branches during early growth. Pruned plants bear earlier and larger tomatoes but the fruit is fewer in number. Over pruning can cause sunscald which is a yellow, sun-burned patch that blisters. Unpruned plants yield twice as much but it takes longer for the fruit to ripen.

Whichever way you lean on the subject of pruning, be sure and never prune determinate varieties or you will end up with only a few clusters of fruit because they bear their fruit on the ends of their branches, the very part that would be pruned! Pruning also indirectly affects the flavor. With little or no pruning, there is more foliage which means more photosynthesis is going on.

When this happens, more sugars are produced which makes the fruit sweeter. You have to strike a happy medium though. You want enough foliage to provide enough shade to make the fruit sweeter even though it will take longer to ripen but, on the other hand, if the leaves are too thick no fresh air can circulate.

As far as watering goes, tomatoes need one to two inches of water per week on a consistent basis. Uneven watering can cause blossom end rot and can cause the tops to crack open. Too much nitrogen and high soil acidity can also cause this disease. Stressed plants remove calcium from the fruit and send it to the shoots so they will keep growing.

When it comes to feeding, listen to your plants. If you see yellow leaves, then the plants are lacking in nitrogen. Be frugal when adding this nutrient because if tomatoes get too much nitrogen you will have lush foliage with little or no fruit.

If you see purple leaves, the plant is crying for more phosphorous which you will want to pay attention to because phosphorous is the most important nutrient for fruit production. To stay away from giving the plants too much nitrogen while feeding, it is best to side dress with compost, liquid seaweed or fish emulsion.

Of course, seasoned tomato growers have a few tricks up their sleeve that they swear helps the plant produce the best fruit. One of the more popular "secrets" is to put crushed egg shells and coffee grounds in the hole when planting the tomatoes. Others feed the plants bone meal or a pinch of Epsom salts.

When choosing varieties, there are several to choose from in each category. Some are better for making juice, others like beefsteaks are better for slicing and putting on sandwiches. Romas cook up to make a thicker sauce and are not as juicy. Yellow varieties are easier on your stomach as they have less acid.

Since I am a lover of tomatoes all ways, I prefer a variety. Each year I do a couple ones that are tried and true and also experiment with a couple new types. Whatever you do, don't forget to have a couple cherry or grape tomato plants. There is nothing better than picking them off the vine and popping them right in your mouth!

Tomatoes really are one of the easiest plants to grow. If you haven't tried growing them before, you may want to give them a try, especially if they are one of your summer favorites. Even the worst home-grown one tastes better than any that are store-bought.

Colorful Tomatoes
Photo by Getty Images/gabe9000c

Happy Flowers

Country MoonNo flower says "summer" quite like sunflowers. They are the original happy flower, especially when you see a whole field of them turn their "faces" toward the sun and follow it through the day.

Characterized by their big, daisy-like faces of signature yellow petals and brown centers laiden with seeds, it is hard to feel sad when in their cheery presence. They are grown commercially just south of where I live and it is well worth the short drive to just see a whole field sporting these bright faces.

Besides brightening your day, sunflowers are pretty versatile as virtually every part of them can be utilized from the seeds to the stems. Although the 16-foot varieties are what comes to mind when sunflowers are mentioned, there are shorter and smaller varieties that only reach heights of 18 inches. But, it is the taller ones that usually make the statement. On top of their beauty and versatility, they are relatively easy to grow.

As their name suggests, sunflowers like direct sunlight and lots of it, up to 6 to 8 hours a day. They thrive in long, hot summers. They have long tap roots that need to stretch out so they require loose, well-drained soil that is not compacted. Be sure that each plant has loosened soil to a depth of two feet and a diameter of three feet.

They are heavy feeders so keep the soil nutrient-rich with organic matter, composted manure or granular fertilizer placed 8 inches deep in the soil. Although they like to be fertilized, avoid over feeding as that can cause stems to break in fall when the seed heads are heavy. As far as watering, water deeply once a week with several gallons of water.

Because of their sheer size, most varieties require some sort of support. This can be accomplished by planting by a fence or building or by staking. Planting by buildings will also shelter them from one of their worst enemies, the wind.

Although they are relatively insect and disease-free, critters pose definite risks. When first planted, birds tend to try and get at the seed, so netting over planted areas may be to your advantage. Later in the year, when the seeds are forming in the heads, predators such as birds, squirrels and deer try to get a free lunch from the heads so you may have to put barriers up.

Photo by Getty Images/minokku.

If you have the room, a fun thing to do for the kids is to make a "sunflower tower." To do this, plant the sunflower rows in a circle, square, rectangle or triangle that has about 8 feet of space inside of the rows. Use string and stakes to mark and anchor the "wall" of sunflowers as they grow. You can even go whole hog, so to speak, and plant morning glories in the rows that will vine over the top and create a roof and plant clover inside the space to create a carpet of white snow. It will make a fun place for the kids to play, have a tea party or even a unique, quiet spot in which to enjoy some peace and tranquility.

Sunflowers make impressive indoor bouquets that usually last a week. Cut the main stem just before the flower head has had a chance to open to encourage side blooms. Just be sure to cut in the morning because those cut during the middle of the day tend to wilt.

Harvesting the seeds in fall when the plants are mature is a fun and beneficial activity. If you are just providing the seeds for the birds, this task is extremely easy. Just cut the flower head off early before the seeds have fully matured, leaving 4 inches of stem and hang the whole head upside down to dry. When dry, the whole head can be set out as a bird feeder in itself.

When the back of the flower head turns from green to yellow is a sign that the seeds are maturing. When the head turns brown, they are ready to be harvested. To remove the seeds, you can rub the heads over an old washboard or something similar to loosen them. For a delicious and nutritious snack, soak them overnight in a gallon of salt water and then dry them in a 250 degree oven for 4 to 5 hours and then store in an airtight container.

When cutting the heads, don't forget to save the stems. Dried, they make excellent kindling for the fireplace or bonfire. Some varieties are produce small, black seeds that are used in cooking oil, margarine, cosmetics, animal feed and are excellent for attracting songbirds.

Sunflower oil is becoming one of the more popular healthy oils on the market. It has been touted to lower cholesterol, fight athlete's foot and boost heart health, among other things. Because it is high in vitamin E, it is often found in cosmetics it give a healthy and natural glow to the skin. The vitamin E also aids in increased reduction of scars and quicker wound healing. A good way to get these benefits are to eat the seeds which are like tiny superfoods.

So, the next time you enjoy a field of golden sunflowers, remember that they are more than just a pretty face.

Planting by the Moon

Country MoonThere are two groups of people out there when it comes to planting by the moon; either you believe and follow the signs religiously or you think it is all a bunch of rubbish. Count me in as a believer. As a kid who grew up in a family that always planted a big garden, cultivated a truck patch and farmed, I never remember my parents not following the moon signs.

They had learned their lessons well after a few times when they got behind and did not follow the signs. One year it was getting late and we planted the root crops at the same time as the rest of the garden. Our potatoes, carrots and onions had beautiful leaves and growth above ground but there were hardly any vegetables below ground.

Following the almanac even applies to other tasks such as castrating hogs. One time in particular, we performed this task in the sign of the heart, the worst possible sign to do this procedure. Dad lost 5 hogs that time and he changed nothing in the way that he always performed the castration. It certainly made a believer out of me.

So, what exactly is gardening by the moon and is there any scientific evidence that it works? Well, yes and no. Basically, gardening by the moon is aiming to optimize plant productivity by scheduling specific gardening activities during favorable moon phases.

The theory behind this is that the gravitational force of the moon affects water movement on earth. It is this same reasoning that is behind the high and low tides. This lunar gravitational movement causes fluid movement in plants.

The four phases of the moon, new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter govern this cycle. It begins with new moon which is not illuminated. As it "waxes" or grows in illumination toward the full moon stage, it is believed that it is drawing moisture and nutrients upward; thus plants that produce above ground crops will flourish during this stage.

After full moon, the moon is said to be waning, or decreasing in light which is better for the underground crops. Thus, the science behind this theory lies in the effect of the moon's gravitational pull on earth.

The waning moon is associated with harvest. Crops do better if harvested during the waning moon. Fruits and vegetables are better harvested during the waxing moon because the water content is higher. Tomatoes harvested at full moon will be plumper and juicier because of the higher concentration of water.

New moon is good for balanced root and leaf growth whereas when the moon is in first quarter it is a good time to plant, especially plants that produce above ground crops that have their seeds in the fruit like beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash and tomatoes.

During full moon the gravitational pull is high, there is more moisture in the soil but the moonlight is decreasing, which means that the energy is in the roots. The second quarter is generally a resting period, good for cultivating, fertilizing, pruning and mowing lawns to retard growth.

planting by moon
Photo by Getty Images/Jupiterimages.

We can even narrow the planting down further by following the signs of the zodiac along with the phases of the moon. On its 29 day journey around the earth, the moon passes through all 12 signs of the zodiac.

These are divided into four broad groups; water, earth, air and fire. Signs classified as water or earth are optimal for planting and pruning for growth. Air and fire are barren and are suitable only for weeding, tilling and pruning for control of growth.

Thus, a few days each month correspond to the 12 signs in the zodiac, which in turn each sign is associated with a different part of the body which control certain functions associated with gardening or other activities. Here is a rundown of the 12 signs and characteristics associated with each one:

Water Signs

  • Cancer (hands): Plant aerial crops or prune to encourage growth or perform grafting. Plants take up water easier.
  • Pisces (feet): Transplant or sow seed for vigorous root growth, plant root crops, fertilize root crops.
  • Scorpio (pelvis): Best time for planting seed or grafting or pruning for growth or planting root crops.

Earth signs

  • Taurus (throat): Transplant for hardy plants, sow seed, plant root crops, prune to limit growth.
  • Virgo (stomach): Till, cultivate and turn compost piles, garden pests and weeds are most vulnerable in this sign and pruning to shape plants is effective.
  • Capricorn (legs): Prune for strong growth, graft and plant seeds, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes.

Fire signs

  • Leo (heart): Prune to shape shrubs in this most fiery of fire signs, cultivate and till soil, best sign to weed or control pests.
  • Aries (head): Destroy weeds and pests, till and cultivate, prune to limit growth, turn sod and harvest crops for best keeping qualities.
  • Sagittarius (thighs): Till and cultivate, plant onions, weed and prune to limit growth, harvest crops for maximum keeping quality.

Air signs

  • Gemini (arms): Cultivate and till, harvest herbs and root crops, weed for maximum effectiveness.
  • Aquarius (ankles): Cultivate and till the earth in this dry, airy sign, get rid of weeds or harvest for long term storage.
  • Libra (kidneys): Plant annual flowers, plant vines, flowers picked in this sign last longest and plants pruned will keep their shape longer.

This all sounds pretty complicated until you break it down, which is where an almanac does it all for you, month by month and day by day. In a nutshell, to garden by the signs of the moon, you plant when the moon is waxing and in a fertile sign and weed, till and harvest when it is waning and in a barren sign.

Does it work? All I know is that every year when we have truly followed these signs we have had amazing crops. Some may call it coincidence but I like to think there is definitely something to gardening by the moon. If not, 63 years of coincidences is quite a few!

Harnessing the Wind and Sun

Country MoonWhether we like it or not, change is the name of the game. Nothing ever stays the same and, in today's world, this is especially true how we meet our energy needs. As governments mandate us to have more and more of our energy come from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels, the emphasis has turned more toward wind and solar power.

Lately, in my neck of the woods, there have been some intense discussions to the pros and cons of putting wind and solar farms on farmland in the area. Most folks are pretty much for or against the development of solar and wind power, there are not too many middle-of-the-roaders on this issue.

I, for one, have long been a proponent of developing both these types of renewable energy. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because I am definitely against nuclear power.

Yes, it does provide clean energy, as long as there are no accidents. There are 38 operating nuclear plants around the Great Lakes, the world's largest bodies of fresh water. That alone should be cause for concern.

As with anything, there are pros and cons and wind and solar energy are no different. There is also a lot of propaganda out there, both for and against, so it pays to get the facts.

Since my area is right in the midst of this controversy, I have found a few facts which I would like to share. If nothing else, they will be a starting point for anyone whom this concerns to launch their own research. Pertaining to different issues, here are some facts:

  1. Health Risks — Neither wind turbines nor solar panels pose any health issues, per se, like nuclear plants and living next to high voltage power lines do. There are some small amounts of toxic materials used to manufacture solar panels but these do not pose risks in the field. Unlike fossil fuels, there are no emissions or pollutants.
  2. Safety — Safety is a little bit different than health. Solar panels are subject to breakage and wind turbines have been known to catch fire from electrical and mechanical issues. For this reason, depending on the installing company and local ordinances, there are minimum distances that they can be located near a home or structure. Make sure your contract reflects these distances in certain terms.
  3. Glare — The sun strikes the blades of wind turbines and solar panels at different times and at different angles throughout the year. Especially from the blades of wind turbines, this can cause glare from reflected light. As opposed to earlier models, most turbine installers take this into consideration and can position the turbines to cause minimal glare.
  4. Noise — This is a non-issue with solar panels but the turning blades of the turbines do cause noise. How bad, depends on what each person considers noise and on the speed of the blades.
  5. Land Use — This is the tricky part. Most contracts want to lease your land for many years, much of the time up to 40 and beyond. Each contract is very specific as to what landowners can and cannot do on the land that is leased but not used during this time period. Much of the time, farmers can still farm the land that is not used but be sure this is stated in your contract. The term "use" is vague and can mean many things. Even though the company may not install equipment such as a wind turbine itself on your land, they may use it for running cables, building substations and building access roads to turbines elsewhere. If you do have equipment on your land, leasing it may also give them the right to access that equipment any time they wish and by whatever means they wish. Make sure this "open access" to your land is something you are OK with.
  6. Aesthetics — Some folks say they don't want to look out their window and see wind turbines or solar panels. This is a viable concern, just keep in mind that even if you don't sign, it does not mean that your neighbor won't and you will still be looking at them.
  7. Money — This is the lucrative part. After all, why would you be willing to lease your land if there were not adequate compensation for it? Most of these companies pay very well, especially if you have equipment on your land. It can also provide extra cash on land that you already farm or is not used. The down side here is that you are basically giving permission to someone else to use your land for quite a number of years in whatever fashion they choose.
  8. Taking Good Farm Land — Here is the big issue. Quite simply, our farm land is disappearing and that is what feeds us all. Solar and wind farms are looking for flat, dry land and that is precisely the best land to farm. So, you really have to decide what is important to you. If it is land that you can still farm and they only need the right-of-way uses that is a different story. Examine this concern carefully.
  9. End Use — Another consideration is what happens when the solar panels and turbines have outlived their lifespan. Make sure there are provisions in the contract that state how and when the company will dispose of equipment that is past its use and if they will return your ground to its present condition.

These are just a few of the options when considering leasing your land to a solar or wind turbine company. There are definitely many more things to consider.

Being pro or con on this issue is strictly a private matter and the choice will be different for each family. What I am proposing through this article is: Do your homework before signing on the dotted line, especially on this one.

wind turbine
Photo by Getty Images/Kwangmoozaa.

Just Do It

Country MoonI am a planner, not to the point of having every little detail of my life planned, but enough so I have some order in my life. I tend to err on the cautious side, I think things through before I jump in... yes, I do read the instructions before attempting something new. I also tend to back away from machinery and equipment that I am not experienced with instead of just going for it and trying to figure it out on the fly.

However, this whole perspective changed this past week as I even surprised myself. Like many of my adventures and misadventures, this escapade happened in the garden.

All of these years, my garden has been separated into two because we had originally landscaped with a huge boulder right behind the first garden spot. Also, there has always been an old tree stump in that area. It has been a pain to keep it weeded and to get in the small area to mow.

Enough was enough. I decided to make things easier. So, Ron Hacker was so kind as to bring his backhoe over and remove them both for me. Then there was the issue of removing the rest of the sod and actually making the space into a garden.

My Ron and Wyatt have always been around when something needed done and I have always been perfectly content to be the clean-up person and let them run the tractor. Well, this year they weren't around and I was anxious to get the garden ready for planting.

Totally against my norm and being as non-mechanical as I am, I decided to "just do it!" After all, I had learned to drive Ron's larger International tractors, so I could certainly learn my little one.

It started off great as I couldn't even find the dipstick to check my oil. Patience wore off after about 20 minutes and I called Ron. One problem solved. Ready to go and it wouldn't start. One minor detail made all the difference, it was not in neutral. Problem solved, I was on my way.

fitting garden

Finally at the garden, I had to skim the sod up. First, I had to play with the bucket a little, to get the controls in my head and figure out which way they worked and to remember that!

I finally got the hang of getting the sod sliced off the ground but I could not get the bucket to scoop it up. Eventually, I gave up and just loaded the sod in the bucket by hand and then drove and placed it where I wanted it. I know, it must have looked pretty silly but I got the job done.

Though the sod was off, it didn't look too pretty. I had mountains and valleys... lots of them! So, I decided to forego the tractor and grab a couple tools that I had mastered: the rototiller and a shovel. This cleaned the mess up enough that I could have a load of topsoil brought in.

The next task at hand was to level the dirt throughout the garden. This would surely be easy. All I needed to do was drive in and get a bucketful and dump it where I wanted.

Hard as I tried, I could not get dirt in that bucket. Of course, every time I stood up to see how much I had, the safety switch shut the tractor down. At least I had Plan B, tip the bucket down and drag the dirt where I wanted. This worked reasonably well until I got about half the pile down and could not drag anymore.

Again, I succumbed to a tool that I knew would work, my shovel. I know that shoveling dirt into a bucket looked even more ridiculous than loading sod into it. At one point, a farmer working ground to the north of me actually stopped and watched. I am so glad that I could provide a good laugh for him for the day!

Eventually, it got leveled and after spreading fertilizer and rototilling it twice more, it is ready to plant. This was after four long days of work but it was done and, I have to admit, it looks decent.

fitting garden

The point of this is, after all these years, I proved something to myself. Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns and try something new.

It is the fear of breaking something or doing it wrong that has kept me from it. So, what if I am not mechanically inclined, I don't have to understand every little detail of how things work. I just have to have enough common sense to watch my gauges, listen for sounds that are not right and know enough to stop when something isn't right.

It's always good to step outside of the norm sometimes. Just like this, you never know when you will have to do something for yourself. Would it have been easier if I had tried while one of the guys was here to show me? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes, just you and yourself, using trial and error makes the greatest teacher.

I learned a little more than just getting familiar with the tractor this week. I learned that I can do some things that I had always depended on others to do for me. It gives me a little more independence and it feels good. Sometimes it's not so bad to "just do it!"

Photos property of Lois Hoffman.

Modoc Diner — 'Make Yourself at Home'

Country Moon

As you first walk into Modoc Diner in Modoc, Indiana, you are greeted by a sign that reads, "Welcome to Modoc Diner, make yourself at home." Owners Teena and Jack Pemberton live by that motto.

"I sometimes wonder if folks come here more to eat or catch up with friends and relatives," Teena laughs.

Now, me being a Michigander and not a "local," I can safely say that folks come for both reasons. I daresay that anyone that stops by becomes part of the "family." In so many ways this is typical of small town diners, but here at Modoc, it goes a bit further.

Modoc Restaurant is located right smack dab in the middle of, well... nowhere in particular. Teena is sincere when she says, "We need this for our community. There are not too many places for the farmers and locals to go in this neck of the woods. We love the people and we love the town."

modoc diner

It's pretty evident that the people love them back. She has the diner decorated in pure country with lots of roosters. All the decorations are personal. There is a big chicken in the front window that was bought by a customer, a painted tree on one wall that is adorned with pictures of birds taken by another customer and an array of other items scattered throughout that were donated. "I knew filling the wall space wouldn't be a problem and it hasn't. So many folks want to be a part of this and they have brought us so many things, telling us that they just wanted us to have it... just because."

She has a solid belief that good quality food and service is what makes or breaks a restaurant and they capitalize on both. Doesn't matter what you order, you can tell at first bite that most everything is homemade. The coleslaw and other salads are her own recipes as are the pies and cheesecakes... and mashed potatoes are never from instant. Everything is made fresh, right down to bacon at breakfast. "I don't want something that has been kept warm for a couple hours and I know my customers don't either."

"I'd rather have it that way," she confesses. We don’t re-heat anything because food just isn’t as good the second time around. I pretty much know my supply and demand and if we do have a little left over, it goes home with the help."

Jack beams at that comment, "Or sometimes it goes home with me!"

modoc diner

Her staff of five are like her family. She has two main waitresses, two cooks and one busboy while Jack tends the register and she fills in wherever needed.

Even though this diner is her baby, the restaurant business has always been in her blood. Her mother owned two restaurants in Michigan where Teena cooked and waited tables. When she married Jack and moved to Indiana she left the kitchen behind but you can't take the kitchen out of the girl. There was a restaurant not far from Modoc called "The Homestead" that was already closed and boarded up and every time they went by it her heart ached to be a part of the business again. "I kept asking Jack if he would buy it for me."

"I did make an offer to the owner and she kept counter-offering. So, we just put it in the back of our minds until one day I told the owner that I had made her an offer and that was final. In a few days she said she would sell and we had a restaurant and named it the 'Blue Moon,'" Jack recalled.

It took them a few months to get everything in order and it soon became a family affair when their four kids got on board with the idea. Their daughter Jenny designed the main décor using a couple yellow walls to bring out the yellow in the chickens and incorporate it into the white with red and white check theme; son Jack Jr. helped with the floors; son Tom did the wiring and son Joe helped with a little bit of everything and also by donating some items.

modoc diner military wall

Jack smiles as he shows me their military wall, "We are really proud of this. It's a tribute to all in the military. We started putting our grandson's picture up there and some customers have added their relatives too."

There are other things that make this place dear to their hearts. Much of the restaurant equipment is Teena's mother's, including the grill. "It's a piece of my childhood that is part of this," she admits.

But the bottom line is it's all about feeling at home, right down to the fireplace that warms hearts as well as bodies. They have been asked to open a couple franchises in nearby towns but that would lose the homey atmosphere. Jack and Teena both smile as a patron hugs them on her way out. "That's why we are here, it's all about the folks."

modoc diner

Photos property of Lois Hoffman.