My New Fav Gardening Tool – and it’s Made in the USA!

Summer is here in Oklahoma. Meaning it’s 1000 hot! It’s when our outdoor chores are done early in the morning before the blistering breathtaking heat begins to bear down. Spring and early Summer brought rain and more rain. In Oklahoma we never complain about too much rain, but this year we’ve come close. Gully washers blew in while trying to plant my garden. I had such high hopes this year for a good garden but much smaller than the banner garden we had last year. Too Many Projects (I’m ready for Fall!) I’m thankful for such a bountiful harvest that we canned enough for two years!

After the garden was planted, the rain came, then more rain, more weeds, mud too deep to weed and no garden. Does anyone with a blog admit failure? But, when one door closes another one opens. I focused on weeding my neglected flower beds. I was determined to keep ahead of the weeds. But I needed the right tool. I’m a lazy gardener, if there is such a thing, so it had to be easy to use. After some research, I found this wonderful little tool made by Craftsman, made in the U.S.A and sold by Lowes for under $20. An area off my back porch, about 4′ x 10′, was completely overtaken with weeds. I was interrupted several times so it’s hard to give an exact time to clear it, but about 30 minutes. Not bad! To see it in action, click on this link https://youtu.be/_alpK6kOaZ0

I haven’t given up on a garden yet. I’ve never had a Fall garden. By the time canning season is over, I’m done. This might be the year for the Fall garden. I better get busy, early, when it’s cool….er.

Black Gold Discovered!

Not oil, even though I live in the oil rich State of Oklahoma, but almost as good. Recently, I wrote that I wanted to go to a mushroom farm that sells mushroom compost to use in our garden this year. Garden Dreaming I still think it would be a great soil additive, but it would involve a long drive for us. Why do this when in my own backyard, one of the richest sources of fertilizer is free for the taking?

Compared to other manure sources, rabbit manure is rich in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.

Manure TypeN Nitrogen % P Phosphorus %K Potassium %
Rabbit2.41.4.6
Cow.6.4.5
Horse.7.3.6
Pig.8.7.5
Chicken1.1.8.5
Sheep.7.3.9
Comparison of Average NPK for Animal Manures1

Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold

Many sources online report that rabbit manure can be applied fresh without composting. They call it a “cold manure” because it will not burn your plants. The other animal manures are considered “hot” and must be composted before use in the garden.2Still other sources state that because urine and hay are usually mixed with the rabbit manure, it’s best to go ahead and compost to prevent diseases such as E Coli and Salmonella. You decide. It seems many are using it fresh with good results.

Tea Anyone?

I’ve never made a compost or manure tea but seems like all the bloggers are singing it’s virtues. Supposedly it’s a rich organic fertilizer that helps prevent bad pathogens. I’m a simple kind of gardener (lazy) and the easier the better. Making Compost manure is a more complicated procedure than spreading and tilling in fresh rabbit manure. I won’t go into the steps here as they’re all over the internet. I try to get my information from College Agricultural Departments that actually do studies on these kind of things and it looks like not only can the results be questionable, but even harmful.3

I’ll go the simpler route. If you’ve used rabbit manure or tea, I’d love to hear about your results.

1“Bunny honey: Using rabbit manure as a fertilizer.” Dixie Sandborn. Michigan State
University Extension, September 1, 2016.
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/bunny_honey_using_rabbit_manure_as_a_fertilizer

2 “Animal Manure” Kathy Wolfe, November 13, 2020. https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2073/2020/11/Animal-Manure-in-the-Garden.pdf

3https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2019-08-14-compost-tea-miracle-product-or-snake-oil

Garden Dreaming

Dark gray skies, walking past last year’s now empty garden on my way to feed the chickens has me dreaming of juicy red vine ripened tomatoes. Memories of weeding tomato plants so high that I was hidden from view, hot sunshine on my back and legs, resulting in a “farmer’s tan”.

Wake up! It was a wonderful garden that produced every kind of vegetable from my daughter-in-law Sarah’s seed stash for preppers; heirloom tomatoes, beans of several varieties and pumpkins as large as my 8 year old grandson! We could’ve had a great market garden if not for Covid. Just as the garden started producing Sarah was recuperating from surgery and John and I were struggling to keep up with the garden chores. Then came canning, freezing, drying, giving it away. It was a challenge to preserve tomatoes; canned whole, diced, tomato preserves, dried, catsup, spaghetti sauce, plain sauce. Too tired to do anything else, I froze them whole. They’re still in my freezer. I really need to do something with them. This was repeated with every vegetable. A new favorite I tried was jalapeno jelly.

Garden Plan for 2021

  • This year the size of the garden will be cut in half. My son’s family of 7 who’ve lived with us for the last 1 1/2 years while remodeling a 4 bedroom mobile home they bought for cheap should be ready for move-in sometime this Spring. Even with half the size of the garden, it will produce more than enough, if all goes well.
  • The variety of vegetables was fun, but I’m only ordering what we like and will plant what we can reasonably eat with a little extra just in case. Weather, bugs and the unpredictability of what is growing well any given year makes it a challenge to predict the harvest.
  • I ordered my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, located in Mansfield, MO https://www.rareseeds.com/ Mansfield is about an hour’s drive, South and East of Branson. We took a little side trip there to visit the final home of Laura Ingles Wilder, author of the Little House on the Prairie series. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about Baker’s Seed or their Spring Planting Festival. They have a second location in Santa Rosa, CA where they host a National Heirloom Exposition which draws over 20,000 people who come to learn from gardening experts, listen to music, check out the vendors and enjoy food from their Asian restaurant. These activities are closed this year. Their seed prices are very reasonable with free shipping and a good supply of seed. They also supply a free seed packet. I’m excited about the White Tomesol Tomato seeds they sent. Many of the seed companies this year are low on seeds and shipping is delayed due to Covid. I was pleasantly surprised when I ordered my seeds on January 27th and received them by February 4th. I saved a good supply of Okra seeds from last year’s harvest.
  • Now to get the garden plan on paper!
  • It’s already time to start tomato seeds indoors!

One Season Ends, a New One Begins

The last few weeks have been a blur of canning and freezing as the end of the garden season comes to an end. Besides the usual diced and whole tomatoes, salsa, tomato and spaghetti sauce, I’ve tried ketchup and tomato preserves. The tomato preserves are surprisingly delicious. Another new experiment this year was Jalapeno Jelly. The mixture of spicy and sweet has proved to be addictive. Okra was a big producer this year so we’ve froze it both battered and plain. Okra is a wonderful addition to soups. My mother always made okra cooked in tomatoes, bacon and onions which is quite yummy so I’ve canned okra and tomatoes. However, my brother and I are the only ones who like it this way. It has to be battered and fried for everyone else!

The night before last we were warned of a possible hard frost. It was all hands on deck to try and save as much as possible of the last of the tomatoes, both green and red, and a mountain of Banana, Hungarian, Bell and Jalapeno peppers. The harvest filled a deep wheelbarrow. We were happy to split it up and share with relatives and neighbors.

To get out of the house and the kitchen, I took a little trail ride with John to see his latest tiny cabin on stilts (hunting stand). Bow season for deer hunting has started and it soon will be muzzleloader or primitive arms season. This is a very big deal in our family as I’ve talked about before in https://osageprairie.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/man-week-has-arrived-a-k-a-thanksgiving/. This is not just sport but food for our family. John never harvests anything that is not food.

John designed his cabin to avoid climbing and hunting from a tree stand which can be quite dangerous. Now he has a comfortable place to sit with a propane heater when it’s cold, drink his coffee and even fall asleep without falling out of a tree. He invited me to climb up and inspect. He even has carpet on the floor! The pictures at the top right was my view out of the windows. Very peaceful with only the sound of birds. All summer with the hustle and bustle of family life and a big household I’ve been dreaming of a quiet place to get away where I could be alone with God and pray.

I think I found the place.

Retrofit, Recycle, Reuse

Back in The Three R’s – Reuse, Restore, Recycle The Three R’s – Reuse, Restore, Recycle I told how I took a old rusty swing set that had been passed along to my grandchildren and extended the looks and life with some metal paint.  Four years later and the set has not only lost it’s looks but had become dangerous.  One of my granddaughter’s fell from a swing and hurt her back when a chain broke.  The swings and slide were promptly removed. Our newly expanded garden would be needing trellises for green beans, squash and cucumbers.  My daughter-in-law had the wonderful idea to use the swing set frame for one of the trellises.

A neighbor who has a tire shop was happy to give us some tractor tires. The tires are a smaller tractor tire but larger than pickup tires. These will be used to grow potatoes.  As the leaves grow up another tire is stacked up, dirt added and more potatoes are added. This method not only saves space (which isn’t our problem) but saves labor (which is our problem).

Another reuse project is converting a well used sand box that had lost most of it’s sand, actually small river rocks, to a kitchen garden.

Farmers, ranchers and homesteaders have always had to make do and reuse what they had on hand.  Funds, time and shopping options are limited.  We’re carrying on that tradition.

 

 

It’s Not A Simple Life

Several books over the past several years have talked about going back to “the simple life”. Several years ago, with a busy career in the banking world while trying to take care of my widowed Mother,  my husband and a teenage son  while commuting 2 hours a day found me dreaming of a simpler lifestyle.

A book that I happened to read, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn was the catalyst for me to start making changes that would completely turn my life upside down. Amy’s book was a compilation of the newsletter she wrote of the same name. After a decade of debt in the 80’s, families were looking to get out of debt and leave the lifestyle of spending on things that didn’t matter and investing in the things that do matter. The things that mattered to me was having time to spend with my son,  help my Mother,  have time to grow spiritually and pursue hobbies and interests for which there was no time.  Through strategies I learned to payoff debt and living a frugal lifestyle, I was able to leave that job even though at the time I contributed over half of our family income.

Tightwad Gazette

I eventually went back to work a couple of days a week at my old job when my son was getting ready to go to college. I had an opportunity to work from home as a Mortgage Broker. This seemed like a no brainer at the time since I would no longer be commuting.    This was a high stress job with little time off over a 11 year period and once again I began dreaming about “the simple life”.  Another book that led me to set a goal and accomplish early retirement is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. This book led me to think out of the box from the standard retirement advice given by financial planners which is usually save at least a million before you can retire and wait until your 67 to collect your Social Security.  Even though The Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your Life were written in the 90’s and some things are dated, the principles are eternal and still worth reading today.

Your Money or Your Life

 

If it’s not a simple life, then what is it? I say it’s a focused life. To achieve my goals, I had to focus on the goal, read everything I could find and put into practice those daily activities that would help me accomplish the long-term goals.

Last week John and I made a visit to Jamesport, Missouri. Jamesport is the home of a large Amish and old order Mennonite community.  I’ve admired the Amish ever since my quest for the simple life began. It was wonderful to hear the clop, clop, clop of the horse and buggys and enjoy the hospitality of our Mennonite host Marie at the Arbor House Inn. It almost sounds like a Beverly Lewis novel. I felt I was in one of her Amish novels. John pointed out to me their beautiful weed-free gardens. I felt a little ashamed about my weedy vegetable garden at home. I decided I needed to devote more time to the garden. While weeding, that’s when it hit me; the Amish do not live a simple lifestyle, it’s a focused life. They focus on what’s important to them and they give it their very best effort. Their devotion to God and family are their top priorities. It’s not simple in the way we might imagine a simple lifestyle. It’s very hard work raising large families, farming, growing gardens and canning for the winter.

Arbor House Inn

The Amish live by the Ordnung (church rules) which keeps them focused on what really counts.  In the English world (what the Amish call us) we would not give up our freedom to live this life, but we can decide on what is truly important and make daily decisions that keep us from being distracted from the life we really want to live. Ok, I am talking to myself.  I have lots of interests and get easily distracted. But my new goal is living a focused life (and having a weed-free garden).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Season Closes with Surprises

Oklahoma is having unusually warm weather.  The day before our annual Thanksgiving event, known as “Man Week” Man Week Has Arrived, a.k.a. Thanksgiving!, the weatherman reported we would have our first freeze of the season.

I’ve been a little behind with the garden (unmotivated) and I still had jalapeno peppers and green tomatoes growing in the garden.  In a moment of guilt, not wanting to waste food, I immediately began to harvest the peppers and tomatoes. But how to preserve?  It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I have things to do!  John suggested stringing the peppers like his mother used to do.  That sounded like a lot of work to me and I’m all about saving time.  Checked out google for all the alternatives and it did seem like the easiest way to go.

I got out two large craft needles and John got out some green fishing line.  He took one string and I took the other.  It was actually very relaxing working together and it went quite fast.  It also added some color to the kitchen for the Thanksgiving feast.

Next, what to do with the tomatoes?  This year the size of the tomatoes were small but the taste was wonderful.  Too good to waste!  In the past I’ve canned, froze, dried, made tomato jam (very good) but I didn’t have time for that.  I put them in a colander waiting for a magic idea.  Gradually they began ripening and we began eating and enjoying the wonderful flavor of homegrown tomatoes.  I’m so spoiled I don’t buy a store-bought tomato.  There’s just no comparison!

peppers-and-tomatoes

In the middle of all this last-minute harvesting, I discovered a couple of surprises in the girl’s Garden Granddaughters’ Garden. This garden was long forgotten and the Bermuda had taken over.  To my surprise, I found cilantro and lettuce growing. This year was my first attempt at growing cilantro.  Even though I use cilantro to make hot sauce, what I didn’t realize is that cilantro does not like hot weather.  We had a very hot June this year and it never grew.  But the cooler temperatures in November brought it peeking out to greet me.  I harvested what I could by cutting leaves and not pulling the roots and put the garden to bed with straw.  Perhaps the cilantro and lettuce will come up next Spring.

Lazy Day Tomato Sauce

 

Recently I had another batch of tomatoes that needed to be processed. Too many just for eating, but not large enough for canning. Our garden this season has really suffered from the extreme heat that we had in June. Fortunately we have tomatoes, but they’ve been smaller in quantity and size. To complicate matters, I’d recently taken a nasty fall (flip flops are dangerous!) and standing for long periods of time was impossible. I needed to process but it had to be easy.

Usually at the end of the tomato season I’ve tried everything; sun-dried tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, freezing whole, salsa, even tomato jelly! Actually tomato jelly is very good. I’d never made tomato sauce. I think in the back of my mind I thought it was too hard and time-consuming.

I decided to try using the crock-pot to cook down the tomatoes. This would allow a long cooking time without worrying about watching a pot all day or stirring to prevent burning. I did some research. Did I need to blanch first and remove the skins? Some recommended that’ but these tomatoes were pretty small, so that would be time-consuming and labor intensive. Some recommended leaving the skins in for extra fiber. Some recommended picking the skins out after the tomatoes have cooked down.  Because I had to go in town for most of the day, I decided on the simplest method possible.

1. Fill the crock pot 2/3rds full with tomatoes cut in half but skins remaining.

2. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Italian seasoning is a spice mix consisting of Marjoram, Thyme, Rosemary, Savory Sage, Oregano and Basil. I could have added onions and garlic, but this was quick and I needed to get going.

Italian seasoning

3. Put the crock pot on low for 6 hours. If it still looks like there is too much liquid, the lid can be removed slightly for another 30 minutes and it will cook down.
4. I tried to remove a peeling once it was done, but, once again, takes too much time and effort.  I got out my immersion blender and waala! Perfect!

sauce

5. Instead of canning the results, I froze and wrote down the quantity and dated the bag.
Not only was this easy, it tasted great. It’s always nice to know what is going into your food. You can control the salt and the contents. I ended up with 7 1/2 cups of sauce. Well worth the effort.

frozen sauce

Tasty Garden Corn Medley

We recently purchased a bushel of corn from a local FFA group. After shucking and blanching, I froze half as corn on the cob and the other half I cut from the cob and froze the kernels in freezer bags in 2 cup quantities.

I’m not a big fan of just heating up corn and serving so I created a dish using some of our other garden vegetables and it turned out very delicious.

2 cups corn
1/4 cup chopped onions
2 TBS. butter
1 or 2 jalapenos, chopped and seeds removed. If you don’t like spicy, green bell peppers would probably work well.
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

1. Saute onions and jalapeno in butter for a couple of minutes.
2. Add corn and milk. Cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
3. Add chopped tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.

The milk adds moisture while cooking but gives the corn a nice flavor and a slight creaminess when mixed with the butter. I used only 1 jalapeno since John is not fond of too hot but I think I could have safely added another. The slightly cooked fresh from the garden tomatoes add a nice texture to the medley.

Is there anything better than vegetables fresh from your garden?

Granddaughters’ Garden

For the last several years we’ve had a little plot behind the house for a small garden for the girls, now ages 8 and 6.  We would plant tomatoes, sunflowers and any flower seeds that I might have laying around.  They are always just excited about getting outside and into the dirt as I am.

The huge sunflowers took up the small garden space so we decided to find another place for them this year.  I have planted them but so far they are not coming up.  Recently there has been a lot of rain and the sun has stayed behind the clouds.  We’re not complaining about rain in Oklahoma!  Too many years of constant drought. Hopefully when the sun comes out, the sunflowers will make their appearance.

Every year I always wish I had a salad garden close to the house to conveniently grab lettuce and tomatoes for a nice dinner salad.  This year the girls and I put in a salad garden.  I still don’t have the tomatoes planted.  Even though it was a very early Spring, our traditional last freeze date is April 15th.  Too many enthusiastic gardeners in Oklahoma put out tomatoes in March only to have them killed off by a predictable last minute freeze. I have resisted early planting, but our ground is too wet for planting right now. I think this weekend will be a good time and our harvest shouldn’t be delayed too much.

Flower seeds were planted around the garden, but so far not coming up.

Girls Garden
Lettuce and Spinach, we also grow rocks!