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6/4/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

The first summer we had the farm, which was five years ago, we were extremely busy doing cleanup, but managed to plant a few potatoes and some sweet corn in the kitchen garden. It was very exciting for us to have some land and to plant even on such a small scale. I remember when Larry told me there was some old hay in the loft we could use around the potatoes, I thought, “We have hay?” It was like a dream. Later, when the potatoes came up, I was concerned that when I left, the potato bugs would take over. Larry said they didn’t even know we were out there yet! He was wrong, and we managed to harvest wonderful Yukon Gold potatoes. They were the best we had ever eaten. 

We’ve had a drought in the area around our farm, but there were a couple good things that came out of it. There are few mosquitoes or chiggers which set me to puzzling over if a drought lasted long enough, would they become extinct? Or, would we?

Anyway, if you have been wondering if the drought caused a shortage of potato bugs, don't fret. We have discovered that when the grasses are dead, it leaves room for those horrible yellow sticker bushes to grow, and grow they did. Guess what? Potato bugs love sticker bushes, too. At first, Larry thought that only the “learning disabled” bugs were on them, but not so. I found one or two on practically every large sticker bush I whacked off this weekend, and I’m talking about hundreds. They would probably be called yellow sticker bush bugs if it wasn’t so hard to say.

A potato bug is the cutest little thing, if bugs can be cute, and I actually like to do bug patrol. I take a large cottage cheese or yogurt container filled with water and a squirt of dish soap, walk down the rows until I spot one and swish him off the leaf into the water. They are often mating and I can get two at a time! They lay their eggs on the leaves where a beneficial lady bug might come along and eat them. Last patrol, I got over a hundred, but saw only one lady bug. I’m not counting on that plan!

cute

Look at that cute little face! Time for a bath!

potato plants 

Beautiful potato plants.

tiny potatoes

Here is a photo of the first digging of Yukon Gold potatoes last year. The skin is so tender, all one needs to do is scrub them before cooking.

Side track: Do you ever think, “What if?” We play that game quite often. Example: “What if you couldn’t get seed potatoes next year?” My answer is that I fill a couple egg cartons with egg sized potatoes and keep them in the fridge. Yes, it works!



5/29/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

I’m 72 and my husband, Larry, will also be 72 next month. A few years ago, I learned that when we get older, men start to lose their ability to hear higher tones, women’s voices, and women lose the ability to hear lower tones, men’s voices. That was the first time I remember saying, “What ... kind ... of ... a … plan ... is that?” It seemed to me that we had spent years melding into compatibility, somewhat, and now we had this new problem. Well, just take me out and shoot me. That, dear friends, has become another of my little expressions.

Now, I find I’m often saying, “What kind of plan is that?” I say it often, because it often fits! Have you noticed such things? You don’t need to go into serious world problems, but just everyday situations around you. Example: Our little farm is in a drought area. We were more than thankful last week when 2.7 inches of rain gently fell within a 36-hour period. However, just a little farther away, they got 7 inches and it washed away a small bridge, etc. What kind of plan is that? I would have given them 1 inch a week for seven weeks or saved a couple for July or August.

flood

Notice our swing floating in the water in Sappa Creek along the edge of our property. It is normally a shallow spring-fed stream, but it rose drastically to nearly 10 feet from all the rain nearby.

Then there is the garden. You buy the seeds, do the work, and the bugs come and eat it. What kind of plan is that?

You plant fruit trees, and just when they blossom, you get a heavy frost or freeze that kills the fruit for the year. What kind of plan is that?

Need I go on? I asked Larry if he could remember more of my examples. He said that he had a good one right on the fringe of recall, but he couldn’t quite bring it up. I said, “What kind of plan is that?”

All of the above to tell you that this past weekend, I was surveying my kitchen garden at the farm, and noticing all the tiny plants popping out of the ground. Hope! As I was thinning out the kale and chard, I realized I felt a different type of happiness and peace. I’m sure all you gardeners understand what I’m trying to express. It got me to thinking about how our lives have changed since buying the farm and planting everything we could think of and had time for, and how we are now reaping the rewards.

I realized that all the wonderful organic food starts in the early spring with the lettuces, mint and asparagus. Now it is strawberry and gooseberry time. Then as the summer goes by, we will be canning green beans, freezing sweet corn, and digging potatoes. Hopefully there will be carrots, zucchini, cantaloupe and cucumbers. We should have pears and peaches, and cherries are setting on for the first time. In the fall, there will be apples, acorn and butternut squash, onions and pumpkins. I’m sure I left out other foods, but my point is that it doesn’t all happen at once. Not only do we get to enjoy one fresh food after another, but it gives us time to can or freeze each crop instead of everything needing attention at the same time. Now that, dear friends, is a plan!



5/21/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Do you like to knit or crochet? I crochet some, and have made a baby afghan for each of our nine grandchildren. But, since I don't crochet often, it was a labor of love each time.

Following the maze of directions is what is difficult for me. My mother taught me to crochet when I was young, and she always explained each pattern. It is far easier to just do it, than getting lost while reading all that repetitious lingo. However, after figuring out how to do the more difficult eighth and ninth baby afghans, I have a little more confidence in understanding the instructions.

pink baby

#8 _ A pink one for Sophie Kate makes eight!

blue baby

#9_ A blue one for baby Elliott.

Unfortunately, and believe me, it is unfortunate, I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, and often do something wrong and have to rip out a bit. Some people can leave in a mistake, but I can't. That is why I'll never crochet a big afghan. If I had to rip out such long rows, I would probably put it away and never finish it.

Here is what I've come up with: During the next few years, I'm going to try (I said, try) to crochet for the future. I think it would be fun to make a few baby afghans, wash, box up nicely, and have them ready for my great-grandchildren! Don't you think that a splendid idea?! Can't you just see this frail old lady ... (Larry says he can't quite see me as frail) ... OK, can’t you see this pleasantly plump old lady at the baby shower when my granddaughter opens a present of a pretty, soft, baby afghan? She'll half whisper in surprise, "Grandma, did you REALLY make this?" and I'll say, "Sure did. Just whipped it up last week!"

yellow baby

The is the first one to stash away. I need to learn a new pattern!

Actually, I have the first one finished already. It is yellow and cheerful, and it was so fun to make while thinking about the sweet little baby that will be snuggled in it someday! When I showed it to Larry, he said, "What makes you think our first great-grandchild will be a girl?" Oh oh! I guess I'd better buy some blue yarn and get started on the next one. I'm not very fast, but I'm in luck. None of my grandchildren are even married yet!



5/19/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Larry and I have been trying to eat more nutritious foods, and have improved immensely since gardening and farming. I use my blender for many things, but especially for fruit and berry smoothies. Recently, we purchased a Vitamix blender in order to make delicious green smoothies as well. Unlike juicers that waste the pulp, a Vitamix turns everything into liquid. We are happy with the results, but have only used it in spurts. That is because I want the greens I eat to be chemical free, and I don't always make it to Whole Foods.

We grow much of our produce, and do it organically, even building up the soil with homemade compost. This past week our belief in the importance of doing so was reinforced with Rodale's "2014 Dirty Dozen List: The Most Pesticide-Laden Produce You're Eating." Spinach was No. 6 on the list, and kale and collard greens were noted to frequently be contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health. So, what to do? The article suggested to at least buy the "dirty dozen" organic.

vitaMix

Now you know why my gardening is changing. I planted kale and Swiss chard for the first time, and a much larger area of spinach. Yes, I planted for our Vitamix!

cookbook

So far, we’ve tried and liked six recipes from the Vitamix recipe book that use 2 cups of spinach each. I pack the cups full so that Larry and I each get a good serving along with the other nourishing food in the recipe. There are many recipes, so you are certain to find one that suits you.

It’s Easy Being Green Smoothie:

1 cup green grapes
1/2 cup fresh pineapple (I keep frozen pineapple chunks handy)
1 medium banana
1 carrot, halved
2 cups spinach
1 medium apple
6 cups ice cubes

Place ingredients in order list into Vitamix container; secure lid. 

Process beginning with Variable 1 and slowly increasing to Variable 10 and then to High. Blend for 1 minute, or until desired consistency is reached.

I thought it impossible that a baked green leaf could turn into something edible, let alone delicious. You just have to go out on a limb and try this kale chip recipe. The first time I made them, they disappeared so quickly, I made two more batches. I used garlic salt in one and chipotle seasoning in the other.

Carol’s Kale Chips: (from the Natural Grocers calendar)

1 small bunch organic curly leaf kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 F.

Rinse kale and dry thoroughly. Tear leaves into large pieces minus the thick stems. In a large bowl, massage oil into the kale and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Arrange leaves on baking sheet in a single layer without overlapping or crowding. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, keeping a close watch to prevent burning.

Happy healthy eating!



5/13/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you live in our city, even the most avid gardeners (meaning those who plant more than tomatoes and peppers) will tell you they don't have any luck with carrots. Ho! HO! Let me tell you about our huge crop last year! We froze enough packages of carrots for the year, plus had bags of fresh ones in the fridge that kept for months. It was so much fun defying the odds!

I think our first step was the most important. Larry brought the Mantis in from the farm and prepared the ground. Our soil already had some sand in it, and when he finished, it evidently was perfect for carrots. BTW, you might want to read about a Mantis on the Internet. It is a small, lightweight wonder machine/tiller that even a woman can easily handle.

Now I want to tell you about the actual planting as it leads to the reason for my blog post. Larry was sweet enough to volunteer to plant the carrots since my back was giving out, plus our garden spot is a semicircle around the edge of our patio with a small tree in the middle, and some areas are difficult to reach. It is similar to painting a floor; if you aren't aware, you might find yourself in a place where you can't get out without doing some damage. Also, to plant the outside rows, you need to lean over the chicken-wire rabbit barrier.

The problem that arose was that Larry had never planted carrots before and his fingers were too big for those tiny seeds. The rows were so peppered, I had to thin them many times! I know I wouldn't have done much better, because when my back starts hurting, my patience wears out quickly and I want to just give them a toss. I eventually thinned out enough tiny plants for several more crops and enjoyed teasing him about it.

carrots

I planted carrots at the farm today, and I think I solved the problem by reading up on how to make seed strips. It was so easy. The directions said to mix 2 tablespoons flour with 1 tablespoon water and stir to make a paste. (It reminded me of my childhood and making paper chains.) Then I stuck the end of a toothpick in the paste, picked up a tiny seed on it, and rubbed it off onto the center of a long, narrow strip of newspaper. I pasted the seeds 1 inch apart, and if they all come up, I'll thin to every 3 inches. It was so much easier doing the work while sitting on a chair, and then just laying the strips end to end in rows and covering with soil.

I have some concerns, though. I'm worried that the birds are going to scratch the strips of paper out of the dirt. And, please tell me how the little seeds are going to get out of the paste as I had to really soak and scrape it off the dish. Then there is the newspaper. I know it is only one layer, but I use several layers to block out weeds so ... will it decompose fast enough for the plants to get through? Have you tried it, and with any luck? Oh my, maybe I should have just let Larry over seed again!

robin

Side track: The robins built a nest next to the entrance to our kitchen garden while we were away. When we returned, it was filled with four lovely blue eggs.

baby birds

Much to our delight, they hatched while we were here this weekend, and we watched the process. The robins weren't happy with me each time I entered the garden to hoe and plant. I think I heard the male saying something like, "I told you that wasn't a good place for a nest, but you just had to have it in front of that lattice work!"

angry bird

This is not an electronic game. Nope, this is a REAL angry bird!



5/6/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

We weren't able to go to the farm for three weeks, so we were not surprised at the amount of work awaiting us. Spring is for planting, but everything else needs attention at the same time. For us, that means a lot of mowing, weeding and thistle patrol. Todd and Nancy had lived there the past three years so there were many hands to share the various jobs. Now, it is just us on long weekends, and with bodies that have slowed down considerably, we need to think, "One task at a time."

Soon after we arrived, we encountered two surprise jobs to take up our valuable time. First, Larry turned on the water to the house, and the hot water pipe under the kitchen sink came apart and quickly flooded an area. Next, we discovered that the wonderful rain, that turned into a heavy wet snow three weeks earlier, was too much weight on one of the netted beds and caused four posts to collapse. Neither repair job was difficult, but they were time consuming. Larry also had other challenges and became quite discouraged. Some days are like that. They are inevitable. At our age, we've run into quite a few of them and know that "this too shall pass." Yes, things got better, and we soon became "farm happy" again!

We prioritized our jobs to make sure the important things got done. I harvested and froze asparagus, transplanted some flowers, planted more strawberries and part of the kitchen garden. I cut potatoes, Larry prepared the ground and we planted them. He also cleaned out the eaves troughs to prevent water seeping into our basement.

spade

This is me with my fifth appendage – my antique spade.

Larry still managed to get some of the mowing done, and we did thistle patrol together! I have an exclamation mark there because it is one of my favorite things to do. I've become addicted. It started the first summer we bought the farm, (read "The Weed Commissioner,") and has continued ever since. It is our goal every year to not let a single thistle bloom and spread its zillion seeds. With only a spade for a weapon, we have won many battles and only have a skirmish now and then.

blossoms

Fruit trees in bloom.

So, what was it that made us "farm happy" again after that first trying day? Well, our equipment starting and working properly. Noticing our fruit trees in bloom. Checking on trees we had planted last fall and seeing life. Pruning two trees the horses had nibbled and knowing the trees survived. Eating fresh asparagus. Seeing June-bearing strawberries in bloom. The rhubarb about ready to harvest. My Mother's Day peony bush with buds! Looking over the lower pasture and seeing spring green instead of dry brown from the drought. Listening to and watching quite a variety of birds. Peace. The beauty and peace never end.

honeybees

This picture of a honeybee working the sweet corn one year was taken by our granddaughter, Erin.

Then there are the honeybees. I've never told you about when we bought a hive, all the paraphernalia, and of course, the bees. We so enjoyed watching them gather pollen here and there! Then, last spring they swarmed. I was indignant. I was hurt! Why would our bees leave their nice home? I felt divorced. Todd, however, was consoled that they were at least on our farm. He was right. They not only outgrew their hive, but must have reproduced many, many times more. They are everywhere! All over the multitude of dandelions in the yard, the lilac bush by the walk, and the patches of purple wild flowers. The whole time I cut asparagus and planted strawberries, there was a constant whirring of busy bees working the gooseberry bushes. There must be hundreds and hundreds of them. At least! We may not be able to gather their honey, but we know they are alive and well!

I've rattled on, so I must stop for now. I hope you can get outdoors, too, and enjoy this beautiful time of the year. If you feel overworked or overwhelmed, just remember, "One task at a time!"



4/29/2014

Mary ConleyDear readers,

The men were determined to save the barn the fall of 2011, so soon after finishing the north side, Larry made three more trips out to the farm to work on the front.

 

old

Oh, how those “Nebraska Through The Lens” people would have loved the above photo! The other three sides of the barn were in fair shape, so it was hard to believe the deterioration of the front. A few months after we purchased the property, the scene was even worse. Coming down the slope on the left and all around the front and past was a large swatch of blooming thistles higher than our heads. A refrigerator was laying there on its side, right in front, and we used it to sit on while taking our breaks from chopping out the thistles. You can read about those “fun” times in my previous blogs called The “Weed Commissioner” and “The Farmyard and More Junk.”

crumbled

On this side of the barn, not only did the roof need replacing, but also the rafters and the whole front wall. While Larry did the dismantling, Nancy and granddaughters Allison and Erin tried to haul the shingles, boards, and siding to the burn tank as fast as he tore it down. Notice the color of the sky!

complete rafters

2x6 rafters have replaced the rotted 2x4s, and the front wall is newly framed. Be careful where you step!

osb

The first sheet of heavy plywood is down. I was just told it is actually called OSB board. When trying to correct the mistake and call it that, my spellcheck changed the lettering around! Giggle! I’m sticking to plywood!

finished project

Here is the finished project after the men rebuilt the front of the barn. The whole barn has a new, white, steel roof for protection. A corral has been built, and it is quite a different scene than the first photo I showed you.

patchwork

Now there was time to patch and caulk two of the other sides.

end of building

And prime and paint them. In the above photo, the end is still needing another coat.

me on ladder

This past summer, after we finished painting the shop, Larry and I set out to patch, caulk, prime and paint the front end of the barn that we see from the house yard. This coming summer, we plan to repair the huge sliding doors to the loft and add the metal under the roofing. I can’t wait to show you the before and after photos when we finish.

There are still two photos and a short story that I want to include to end our account of the barn renovation, because writing this blog reminds us of how much we realize and appreciate all the work that our son, Todd, did on this building. In the beginning, Larry and I had no plans, and I’m quite certain we would have just let it finish deteriorating. That would have been sad because it is so unique.

inside ladder

Todd still needed to construct beams for the barn, but in order to do this he first had to erect scaffolding, which was a project in itself. He used lumber left over from previous shipments, and screwed it together so it could be taken apart and saved when the job was finished.

Each of the support beams you see in the photo above contains 50 pieces, and everything about it was a challenge for him. The rafters were uneven, the rear wall was sagging, and there were the heights to deal with and having to handle 2x10s. He said that it was one of the hardest jobs he had ever done. Just looking at it, one cannot realize what it took to figure out how to do this and then implement it. Todd thought the hardest part, though, was just seeing it through to completion. It was quite an accomplishment.

carrier

Notice the hay trolley/carrier still in place.

Even though the restoring of the barn is coming to an end, there is still plywood waiting for a new loft floor, and steps to be built up to it. Oh, and split doors, sometimes called dutch or saloon doors, on the front. I guess we don’t need to worry about sitting around without anything to do when we really get old. Ha! Want to come out and help?! 





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