Saturday, May 23, 2015

Freeze Protecting Tomatoes, Beans & Peppers

Our typical last day of frost is May 15th and in a good year, the last freeze occurs in April. This year we have had a very cold spring but once it warmed up, it stayed warm - until last night, May 22, there were frost warnings. In addition to hundreds of flowers, we have about 300 peppers, 150 tomatoes, 100 beans and few hundred sweet corn plants in outdoor gardens. A severe frost would kill or severely damage any not covered by containers or blankets. We simply don't have enough of these to cover thousands of square feet.

For the last week I've been mowing fields and using the dried grass clippings for mulch - a few acres of the stuff. It's been very dry so the grass has remained very fluffy. I do this every year to eliminate weeds, conserve moisture, and add nutrients. By the end of the summer, worms have consumed more than half of this organic matter. I realized that loose mulch on either side of sensitive plants can be pushed together to support a cap of more mulch placed on top without hurting 2 to 5 inch tall pepper, tomato and corn plants. Using the mulch in the beds, it took only an hour to build grass huts over more than 600 plants!
Rows of Dried Grass Covering Sweet Corn

Close-up of Dried Grass Mounded Over Pepper Plants
Row of Covered Tomato Plants
Hot Pepper Plant Garden With 180 (Five Varieties) Covered in Mulch
Ground Up Dry Leaf Mulch Covering Tomato Plants Worked Too!
Our supply of blankets, towels, tarps and boxes readily covered the sensitive flower beds.
Raised Flower Beds Covered by Blankets Over Inverted Boxes
This morning, May 23, I got up at 5 AM. The thermometer I had placed on a flower bed overnight registered 28 F, a killing frost. I waited a few hours for the sun to warm the air before removing the grass tents. Wind gust had uncovered a few taller tomato plants and beans which were severely damaged, with limp and blackening leaves on top. They may come back. Peppers and corn all looked okay. It took two hours to uncover all the plants and redistribute the mulch, including pulling a few weeds.

Pepper Plants Uncovered
Pole Beans Uncovered Before Adding Climbing Trellises
A Row of Tomatoes Uncovered

Smoking Fish

When a friend announced that he was going fishing for pike but he didn't like to eat them, I asked him to bring them to me. A few days later, seven fish arrived, packed in ice. I built a cold smoker last year to cure some large bass from our pond and it took 24 to 48 hours of cool smoke to cure them. Guidance from the department of Alaskan fisheries suggested that cold smoked fish subsequently be brought to a high internal temperature to kill any parasites. An alternative: freezing for more than a month also works. But we didn't want to wait to make our own version of "White Fish Salad".
Smoke Chamber Reusing a Dishwasher Shell in Action
This year, instead of having a remote generator that fed smoke through four feet of stove pipe, I made a compact smudge pot out of a one gallon stainless steel vessel and mounted it inside the smoke chamber, an old porcelain enameled dishwasher body. That way its heat also warmed the fish enough to kill any internal parasites. It also was more efficient in making smoke so it took only 24 hours to cure fish.
Adequate Smoke Volume Exiting Chamber
Earlier in the spring I had trimmed some apple trees and had many branches that were easy to cut with a hand clipper into little pieces (0.5 to 1.25 inches long). It took me an hour to fill a five gallon bucket. I made a hole in the bottom of the smudge pot for lighting it and admitting air. I covered the top with pieces of aluminum that could be adjusted to let out a modest amount of smoke. The smudge pot covered the hole in the bottom of the dishwasher that allowed the apple wood to be ignited with a torch. It took about an hour to establish the tiny slit in the cover required to choke the flow from the smoldering wood boosted by the chimney effect of hot gases rising and pulling in air for combustion. 

A Bit Too Much Smoke!

After eight hours of smoking, the filets of the fish with skins easily peeled away from the ribs and backbone with halves ready for the final smoking. Using hooks made from stiff stainless steel wire, I hung them all around the smoke spot at the center and suspended a stainless steel colander near the top for the pieces that were too small to hang individually. I refilled the smudge pot with apple twigs three more times: late afternoon, at 11 PM and again at 6 AM. When the smoker cooled mid afternoon the next day, I removed the fish, peeled off the skins, picked out bones and packaged all but one portion for freezing in zip-lock bags. There is lots of room in the freezer this time of year so it is a good place to store them, though the low temperature is probably not needed. They have quite a powerful smoky smell and my wife would complain if I kept them in a cupboard, or worse yet, on a counter!
Whole Pike Smoked for Eight Hours

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Herbicide Horror Story

This month new owners are taking over the 57 acre farm across the road from us. I've been caring for the place for quite a few years through the elderly couple's heath issues and his passing. We've known them since we moved here almost four decades ago. I've help unload hay, repaired equipment, watched over their place every winter while they stayed in Florida, gathered cords of dead wood from fencerows, and cross country skied around their fields almost every day they were covered with snow.

Last fall a large truck sprayed while driving up and down all the fields. When I asked Alice about this she informed me that she gave permission for the future owners to apply Roundup so they can start with a clean slate of crops the following spring. The fields had all been used for hay for many, many years and had a wide variety of grass, weeds and some small woody plants. These fields slowly turned brown over many weeks but were not very noticeable because unsprayed fields and roadside plants also faded as fall turned into winter. 

Spring has come late here but it has arrived and lawns and most fields are becoming very green, except for the roughly 50 acres that were sprayed with Roundup. It's unbelievably good at killing hundreds of varieties of plants! They following photos show what these fields look like today, with some contrasting strips and neighboring fields that did not get sprayed.
View Out Our Front Door with the Near Field Herbicide Free. The Field Beyond Is Covered in Dead Grass and If Not for the Herbicide, Would Also Be Green.
View of the Northwest Corner of the Property Showing the Green Buffer Field and the Green Hedgerow
View of the Southwest Corner and Herbicide Free Hedgerow
View to the Southeast Showing the Neighboring Farm All Green
Backyard View of Barn, Sheds, House, Garage and Lawn
View of Pond Where the Ground Was Too Soft to Let the Herbicide Truck Get Too Close 
View of Hedgerow Showing How Precise the Herbicide Works
View to the North Showing a Gully That Prevented Herbicide Truck From Entering: Note the Daffodils Just Under the Barn on the Left
The Daffodils, with Belle, a Bit Closer
Lucky Daffodils!
One Tiny Spot Missed on 50 Acres!
Having primarily used organic methods of pest and weed control my whole life, I'm upset that these new neighbors rely on herbicides to eliminate any competition for seeds they plant.