Monday July 4
A happy Fourth of July to all!!
The precipitation we had this morning was what we call a “teaser”. Not enough to really help the crops but enough to make it a “boot day” and spread some fungal diseases around in the tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and squash. It was good, however, for the transplants that we put in the field the past two evenings. They were all standing straight up when I checked them at lunch time, and off to a good start.
As small and compact an operation as we are, everything we grow gets looked at/scouted on an almost daily basis. This allows us, with just a few exceptions, to watch for insect pests and disease outbreaks and deal with them in the early stages. This means we can minimize chemical use and apply the most benign product possible when needed.
Thanks to this some of our crops never need spraying. Aphids are showing up on our cutting mums and dahlias – guess I’ll need to spray them tomorrow.
I spent some time after lunch updating my 2011 Note Book. I carry a small pocket note book or 3”X5” cards around with me most days and make cryptic notes regarding plantings, crop maturities/first pick dates, fertilization needs, variety differences, and so on. On days like today, I then transcribe them (those worthy of permanent retention) in to my Note Book.
The data I’ve collected over the years is very valuable. The varieties of flowers and vegetables are endless and keeping notes has helped us develop a list of a choice few (actually about 50) of the best to plant. Thanks to experience, I even select certain varieties to fill certain time slots in the sequential planting we do on a number of vegetables and flowers. We keep a “sowing calendar” for the flowers and veggies, a “harvest calendar” for our 21 peach varieties and 15 apple varieties, and so on. Of course sales and purchase information is kept for tax purposes, but is also critical in making operational decisions. In farming, information is “gold” if you collect it and then use it.
Some farm friends invited us over to their place for a casual cookout this evening. It was essentially a family affair but somehow we were included. Our hostess is a great cook, as are all seven of her daughters. I don’t believe their three sons do much cooking (why would they?). Their specialty, as you might expect, seems to be eating. It was a very pleasant evening with terrific food and good company.
Well, I need to forward the first three days of my diary for Farm Bureau to post on the web site. One more thing scratched off my to-do list.
Tuesday July 5
Today was a little bit of everything.
A crack in a fitting on our high pressure sprayer had me roaming from vendor to vendor looking for a local replacement or a “short term fix”. No luck – guess I’ll have to go back to the manufacturer and have it shipped in. Now I’m probably looking at two days of down time. While I was out and about, I picked up some supply items on my list—a running list of stuff I need that I keep in my pocket notebook.
We continue to set up drip irrigation on crops planted during the past week. I finished using the third roll of the season. This means that we’ve put down well over 20,000 feet of it (almost four miles). With no substantial rain for the past two weeks, we now operate the pump and filter system 15 to 18 hours per day. We have two ponds on the property and generally irrigate out of the larger of the two. At the current rate we might use over 50% of that pond’s holding capacity. Last year, with a very dry July and August, we pumped daily and pulled over five feet of water out for irrigation. The drip system is very efficient and does a great job with minimal waste of water. To get the same crop results with an overhead system we’d probably use three or four times as much water. An added benefit of the drip system is that it doesn’t wet the foliage and encourage blight on the tomato crop.
I checked the next peach variety and am a bit concerned that it will not be ready for picking in time for Saturday’s Farmers Market. I’m hoping the 90 degree temperatures forecast for today and the next few days will speed the ripening. One thing you find in farming is that nature moves along on its own schedule and we just have to follow. This variety (Garnet Beauty) is generally the third of our peaches to ripen. The second variety (Sentry) that would have been ripe a few days before it, winter froze and I can count only ten or so peaches on the five Sentry trees. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.
Spent time pruning the late planting of cherry and heirloom tomato varieties. I will put in the stakes and string them up tomorrow. This late planting was made the last day of June and won’t begin producing until late August, just as the early planting is declining in quantity and quality. In most years this late planting then gives us tomatoes until frost. In 2010 we were still selling quality tomatoes on Farmers Market in early November.
We plant about 1/3 acre of peppers – and mix of red and yellow bell varieties and seven “specialty” varieties (hot wax, sweet banana, jalapeno, Tiburon, sweet Hungarian, ancho chilies and our favorite a sweet Italian red pepper). Some of the specialty varieties can get quite tall and fall over during strong winds. I’m going to stake a portion of them this year, just like we do the tomatoes, and see if it will help prevent some of the losses we’ve experienced in the past.I took the small tractor over to a neighbor’s home this afternoon and rototilled their garden plot. They are a young family and didn’t get their garden in earlier this spring due to it being so wet. Halfway through rototilling, their two oldest (about 7 and 5) brought me a cupcake and a glass of milk. It was the best snack I’ve ever had while sitting on a tractor. They just stood there giggling while I ate it – guess it was a somewhat humorous sight.
I was going to make our last planting of cucumbers and zucchini this evening, but ran out of enough day-light to start planting and get the job done. I guess tomorrow will have to do. We have great view of the Indian Creek Valley and the setting sun from the deck on our house. Judy just pointed out that the western sky was particularly beautiful tonight – I’ll have to go take a look.
Wednesday — July 6
Well, I think summer weather is here to stay. It was another warm day – “a good day to kill weeds” was the term used to describe such days when I was a boy; meaning that if you cultivate or hoe, and uproot the weeds, it’s a sure bet they will wither up and die. The same fate might be said for the farmer, however, if he is not careful. Like most folks who work outside through the summer heat I am very conscious of the need to keep hydrated and always carry a water jug to the field when I’m going to be out for more than an hour. With the peppers and the crops on plastic mulch (eggplant, cucumbers and zucchini) cultivated and hoed, I moved on to sowing another planting of cucumbers and zucchini. Scratch that off of the “sowing calendar”, just one day behind schedule (I’m proud of myself).
After lunch I drove out to Baker’s and found some fittings that allowed me to get the sprayer usable again. Bakers is one of those small independent hardware stores where two things are guaranteed – if you look around enough you are bound to find what you need or “close enough” ( or they will order it in for you), and you are bound to bump into someone you know. On the way out Rt. 129 I noticed that some of the corn and soybeans are starting to show the lack of rain. Back here at home I saw that our soybeans are also flagging a bit. Sure could use a nice shower of an inch, or more.
I took a phone order from one of our cut flower customers, Flower Corner Designs on the west side of Hamilton. The owner, Jana Harmon is great to deal with. A farm gal herself, she appreciates locally raised produce, specifically flowers. We cut to order early in the morning and deliver promptly. Although we are limited in the kinds of cut flowers we can offer her at any one point in the growing season, we do our best to make sure they are of good quality and always fresh. Today we cut liatris, statice and lisianthus. The lisianthus crop is just starting, and is about as nice as any we’ve ever grown. They are considered to be a “premium cut flower”, are absolutely beautiful, and have a long vase life. I’ll post a photo of some. They are a bit of a challenge to grow, in part because we have to sow them in early February in order to start cutting in early July. Patience and optimism are two virtues all farmers have to have – growing flowers is no exception.
Continued watering some of our smaller flower beds – everything is getting dry. We still have about 40 flats of late flowers and veggies that will be planted next week. They are outside on a growing table and need watering twice a day. I hate dragging hose around. Never believe the adds that proclaim “kink free hose”. It’s all a bunch of lies! I ran the irrigation system on the vegetable crops, other than the tomatoes. It looks like every other day watering will be needed for the foreseeable future.
I checked the next peach variety again after supper. It’s just five trees, but they are loaded. I didn’t thin them back in late May so they won’t be very big but they are a nice, well colored peach. Bad news – they don’t look like they are ripening up – a few might be ready but quite firm. That means only a few peaches for Saturday’s Farmers Market. Some folks will be disappointed
Some good friends stopped by to talk about – of all things — controlling mildew on pumpkin. While they were here they started making jokes about my seven foot tall cherry tomato plants. I was tempted to suggest Round-Up to take care of that mildew problem, but kindness got the better of me, and lent them my copy of the OSU Extension Vegetable Guide as a reference. I hope they find something that works – it’s terrible to lose an entire 1/3 acre of pumpkins in just a few days.
Spoke to our son Mark this evening. Plans are still on track for him to drive in from Minneapolis this coming weekend. He is an engineer for General Mills Corp., Research & Development, and is part of a team installing new cereal making equipment at General Mill’s Sharonville plant. He will be here for about four days. The real news, however, is that his two oldest boys, Oscar and Milo (10 and 7 respectively) will come with him for a visit with us. The plan is for them to stay at least two weeks. We are not sure how we will get them back home since Mark will not be back to the Sharonville plant until early August. How long they stay is up to them – we’ll worry about the return trip later. Milo has been lobbying for “all summer” since he is convinced that “grandpa is getting old, and needs lots of help”. Humph! What do seven year olds know! We hope to do some “fun stuff” while they are here. I guess I better make sure I’m caught up on my work by the time they arrive.
Thursday July 7
We started the day cutting flowers and delivering them. I then moved on to tying the cherry and heirloom tomatoes again – they just keep growing. It looks like we’ll have a modest picking of cherry tomatoes for Saturday’s market – they always sell well. Of the five varieties we grow I like the Sungold the best – wow, are they tasty. Our main crop of tomatoes, the large red and yellow varieties have about topped out on their four foot stakes – just one more tying will be needed.
We alternate irrigating our market tomato field with some of the other crops, and today it was the day for tomatoes. I had the pump running all day. No color yet in the patch (no tomatoes turning red) but the size is there and they are getting lighter green – a sign that they are about to ripen – about a week away. That will be a full three weeks behind last year and about two weeks behind our normal start of pick.
As with most days, Judy was off assisting her Mom and Dad for a portion of the day and then grocery shopping. Consequently I was left to fend for myself for lunch (I’m sure you feel sorry for me). Judy is a great cook and always prepares suppers that are “real home cooking”. The left overs are terrific and thanks to the microwave, I manage very well on my own. Today, I had roast pork, potatoes, green beans and a handful of cherry tomatoes. I opened a jar of last year’s canned peaches for dessert. Not bad at all.
I returned a couple of phone calls and sent a few e-mails before going back out after lunch. One return call was to Dan Remley at the Butler County OSU Extension Office. I joined the USU extension Office Advisory Committee last year and serve on the Budget Committee. With the State and County budget cut-backs, the Extension Office has its work cut out for itself maintaining the wide range of farm and community focused programs that have benefited all of us, for so long. They are a great group of people working real hard to keep a valuable resource available to Butler County.
Japanese beetles have started showing up in the flower crops. They seem to be especially attracted to the zinnias where they ruin both the blossoms and the foliage. We will cut some zinnias tomorrow, for market on Saturday. I’ll wait until Saturday afternoon to spray – we always wait several days between spraying and the next cut.
Tomorrow morning is set aside to tear out the shrubbery in front of our house. We need to do some work on the drainage in that area and the shrubs have to come out first. They are predicting rain – I’ll believe it when I see it.
Friday July 8
Yes, I now believe it. What a nice rain we had over night and this morning. Our rain gage said we received an inch and two tenths. It brightened everything up, even the crops we just watered. I’m sure someone, smarter than me, can tell you why rain appeals to growing things so much more than water out of the end of a hose.
My plans to remove shrubbery around the house were scrubbed due to it being too wet, and the morning was spent getting the packing shed ready for the tomato picking season. The pack shed is an insulated and air-conditioned room adjacent to our largest barn. Other than off-season storage of packaging materials, its sole purpose is for packing and holding tomatoes for shipment to our customers. We maintain the temperature at a cool 68-70 degrees – just right for tomatoes. The doors to the shed are opened only to bring tomatoes in or to load for shipment. This makes keeping a controlled, clean, environment much easier.
The 70 degree temperature also helps pull the heat out of the tomatoes when we bring them in from the field. This slows the ripening process (but doesn’t stop it), and makes the tomatoes much less susceptible to bruising during cleaning and packing. Best of all it makes it very comfortable for us as well. In years gone by we found ourselves working late into the night packing tomatoes just to escape the heat of the day and even then it was a hot job. After a long day in the field, working in the heat and humidity of a July or August night for another six, or more hours, can challenge the best of temperaments. I sometimes joke that the air-conditioned shed saved my marriage – perhaps more true than you’d imagine.
I mowed around the ponds, the irrigation lines and around most of the fields this afternoon. Mowing is a big job around here, between the orchards, the pond areas, the field edges and the yard we burn a lot of gas in our zero-turn mower. We have several acres of meadow that we mow, but do so only once a year, with a tractor and eight foot Woods mower.
Late afternoon and evening was spent picking produce and cutting flowers. I looked at the peaches again and decided to go ahead and spot-pick ten or so peck baskets of the ripest I could find. They will be “firm ripe” by morning and ready to eat by tomorrow evening or Sunday. We like to have them ready to eat at time of sale, but that is not always possible. Now I’m hoping those remaining on the trees will hold for a few days, ideally for next week-end, for Oxford Market and for wholesale to Burwinkels Farm Market.
Although the quantities are less than I’d like, we have a nice mix of veggies: new red potatoes, bunched sweet onions, hot and sweet Hungarian peppers, eggplant, and five varieties of cherry tomatoes. The cut flowers look great and we have a nice selection, including ten bunches of lisianthus. The weather forecast looks good so I’m expecting a “sell out” market.
Saturday, July 9
We had a very good market this morning. We sold out early on everything except cut flowers. That is one item that we never seem to guess right regarding the quantity to take. We believe having a few too many is better than disappointing someone who came to market looking for flowers for a special occasion and couldn’t find them. We simply pass the extras out to surrounding vendors. The ladies really appreciate them – lots of smiles to go around. Several times during the summer we cut a couple extra buckets of zinnias and take them to market as single stem “little girl flowers”. We just pass them out to every child that comes past our booth, and if grandma happens to be along she gets one as well. It makes for a lot of happy faces.
The afternoon was more mowing, tying of tomatoes, and pulling of weeds in some of the flower beds. Where do the weeds come from? Before the recent rain everything looked weed free. Then boom, we got weeds again. Such is the life of a truck farmer.
We had our first sweet corn of the season for dinner this evening. It came from another vendor at Market – sweet corn is one of the few things we don’t grow. Good, is all I can say.
We consider ourselves blessed that a major portion of what we eat is grown on our property, or local farms. We know who grew/raised it, and how. Thanks to Judy’s hard work, and skill, our two deep freezers and the canning jar shelves in the “fruit cellar” are always well stocked with tasty fruit, vegetables and meats.Patrick and Jessica Ramsey arrived shortly after dinner. They are two of Dennis and Diane Ramsey’s children. Their farm is a few miles east of ours. Several years ago I was going to stop growing tomatoes for wholesale, largely due to a hip problem I was having. An alternative to not growing so many tomatoes was to team up with the Ramsey family in a share crop arrangement. Each of us provides specified inputs (seed, fertilizer, irrigation supplies, equipment, labor and so on) and we share in the sale proceeds. Although almost the entire Ramsey family is involved at some point throughout the season, we see Pat and Jess most often. They come and go on their own, working with the crop as needed. This evening they were making the second tie of the late tomato planting.
Jess just graduated from high school in May and starts at OU in September majoring in Business and Equine Science. Pat will be a junior in high school and is interested in becoming an engineer – perhaps Ag Engineering at OSU. They are great young people, from a wonderful family, and are a joy to have around. Both are very talented, with a terrific work ethic. I’m sure they will be successful in whatever they choose to do in life.
Tomorrow is Sunday, a chance to see friends at church and kick back a bit after a busy week. Our two oldest grandchildren, Oscar and Milo, are due to arrive in late evening. That will make it a special day for us.
Sunday July 10
It’s just a little after noon time. I’m writing my diary entry early today. After a few compulsory chores like feeding the barn cat and kittens, watering the transplant flats, and the flower crops in the hoop house, and a few other items, we will head off to visit with Judy’s mom and dad. We all enjoy eating supper together and visiting for a few hours. Judy sees them most every day, but I get there only once or twice a week. They carry on a pretty lively conversation for their age, but tire after a couple of hours. Then it will be back home for the much anticipated arrival of Oscar and Milo (and, oh yes, our son Mark). Despite the eleven or twelve hour drive they will want a snack and some time to share their travel stories. Their “coming home” is always wonderful – as only a grandma and grandpa would understand. I hope it doesn’t sound selfish, but by writing this now, I won’t have to cut into our first evening together.
This ends the first full week of my diary. It has not been nearly as “painful” as I anticipated. I have been surprised by the number of comments I’ve received from friends, neighbors and Farmers Market customers who read the first three days of diary that were posted last Monday. I hope the seven days I will post tomorrow morning are worth your reading.
Through my youngest brother Bruce, the OFBF web site “daily diary” is now being read in Florida, Germany, and points beyond. The reactions have ranged from “that’s interesting” to “wow that’s really cool”. Although we absolutely love where we live, what we do, and the wonderful people we associate with and do business with, the words “interesting and wow” probably wouldn’t have been included in a self-description of this place we call Lori Ridge Farm.
For those of you who have been reading my diary thus far, I simply want to say thanks for putting up with my rambling, and I hope it has added to your appreciation of what goes on here at our farm and all the farms across the County, State and Nation.
Tomorrow will start a whole new episode with Oscar and Milo here. As you would guess, it won’t be business as usual, but business will still go on. In fact it might even get “interesting” with all that new help on the farm.