Readers respond, what should i plant next?

So the garden is all tilled u p. It tilled up beautifully! Every year with the addition of more and more manure the soild gets better and better. Each year it is darker and richer obvious by just sight alone. I planted Peas, Garlic, Yellow neck squash, lettuce, carrots, and some Zucchini squash. 

 In this blog, I want to ask you, the readers, what you would like to see me grow. I always grow our main staples and family favorites, and every year i try a new thing or three. Last year I tried rainbow carrots, Pac Choi, and gourds. It is still early enough this season that any addition would be able to either be planted right away or early enough to wait a month or so until it needs planting. So feel free to chiume in folks, your ideas are certainly welcome, and you can read baout your choices progress as they grow. Very excited to hear from all of you.

Garden Tilling Time

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The sun is finally out! That bright thing in the sky that hurts our eyes and burns my pasty white shoulders after a long winter of darkness and rain. The first 3-4 day stent of sun in the spring means one very important thing for farmers, time to till the garden! It does take a little while, and is kind of a pain in the butt, but it also means we can finally get going on the family fun, food producing vegetable garden!

  I always write these blogs, with kind of the “new farmer’ in mind, or maybe some folks that find the processes and lifestyles interesting but maybe don’t have a life time of knowledge, life lessons, and farming skills that some of us grew up learning from birth. So for those of us who live it every day, it will seem pretty simplistic, and redundant. For those other lovely folks however, Hopefully I can explain things in a simple and basic way that makes sense and kind of gives some insight to the hows and the why’s of farm life. With that being said, let move onto the topic of preparing garden soil.

There are a few basic things you need for a good garden location. First a spot that receives maximum sun exposure throughout the days rotating sun cycle. Once you find a good sunny spot you then need ingredient number 2, just as important, if not more important than the first; Water!

My first year i removed the rocks and boulders, pulled out most of the stumps that were still there from 30 year old logging (still have 1 large one in the middle I still need to dig out and remove), and I tilled up the soild and planted. That first year my garden did terrible, as expected due to lack of nutrients. This was expected, and we knew every year it would get better and better. Every fall the garden is done and all the plants and vines are ripped out (most of which get fed to cows and goats). Once this is done, then I clean out the cattle barn. Manure from 16 head of cattle provides about a 6″ thick layer of steer manure on top of the approx. 80×80 ft garden. During the winter and spring all other manures get thrown on the garden as well from goat sheds, rabbit hutches, chicken and turkey coops, etc. Then comes time like today where it is time to roto-till it all together.

  Tilling accomplishes several things at once. First of all it mixes the manure up with the soil. This eliminates manure on the top and just soil on the bottom. it mixes it very well for about 8 inches deep. This also eliminates “hot spots”, or clumps of say chicken manure that may be a little too hot and high in nitrogen levels that would otherwise burn the plants. Tilling also aerates the soil, and loosens it up to a really fine powdery like loam that plant roots thrive in. During the coarse of the winter snows and rains, the soil becomes very hard pack and not idea for root systems. So tilling basically “fluffs’ it back up, easy for little roots to grow through. oxygen levels regain balance in the soil, and makes the soil a lot more ideal for water and moisture absorption and retention. Nice fluffy soil also makes weeding a dream. Ever try to use a hoe in ground that is packed so hard it resembles concrete? You can work your self to death and still have weeds coming back up cause you never got the roots out. When soil is nice and loose a hoe travels underneath weeds easily, and pops the little suckers out with effortless grace.

  So in a nut shell, i will finish slurping down my black coffee and go fire up the old tractor (nothing better than the smell of a cold diesel engine puking out black smoke in the morning!), and it is officially tilling day!

 

Fruit Tree Pruning

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It’s February now, and in some parts of the country probably still an acceptable time to prune fruit trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest however it is a little late for pruning. I did all our fruit trees in the first week of January. You want to try to time heavy pruning with tree’s dormancy. This way it will not effect their health or growth near as much. I was looking out side at my pruned trees, now covered in lovely buds which will this year be new growth, and it made me think a little. I had a father who was very good about explaining fruit tree pruning, and every year I was helping him outside in the bitter cold, getting first hand experience when i was growing up. I realized,however, probably not everybody grew up on a farm like i did, and probably did not have all those wonderful years of experience. How can other people learn if people like us never tell them? So, I thought I would write a blog for every one that has ever wondered how to prune fruit trees. 

    This will be like a tree pruning 101. There are so many factors, goals, desires, tricks, and different ways of doing things for pruning that really it mostly depends on a balance of what you know and what you are wanting out of your tree.

    The basic first step in tree pruning is shape. How do you want your tree shaped? Most trees you will want a kind of umbrella shape, for easily obtainable sunlight for the fruit, and also for easier harvesting. If you are starting with a fairly young tree, then you can decide how tall it will be by cutting out the top at the desired height, where new growth will grow a for next year. Determine the height you desire, and the general shape, and general size (circumference), and keep that vision in your head while you prune.

 Next, grab your cutting tools. (shears, loppers, a pruning saw maybe) and start thinning out unwanted growth. If a branch is totally undesirable then cut it off as close to the trees trunk as you can. If most of the branch is ok, or you want to start a new growth into a branch, then you prune the branch into how you want it to grow. Keep the part you want, and cut off the extra. Now here is where it gets kind of tricky. anything unwanted gets totally cut off and removed, but if the branch lets say has potential, but no small fruit bearing areas or “spurs”, then save desired new growth from last year, cut if off about 1/2 to 3/4 inch past a bud. Picking the right bud is the trick. The key is, which ever direction a bud is pointing, that is the direction the new growth will grow this year. For example: a bud on the left of a branch pointing out, will grow to the left and out, a bud pointing up will grow up, a bud pointing down will grow downward, and so on. So just remember when you are shaping a tree, those buds that you leave for the new growth MUST be pointed in the direction that your vision of the tree requires.

    And as i said before, for best results and sun collection I shape my fruit trees like an umbrella. Other trees that are for shade, lumber, etc. are generally shaped in more of a triangle, where a fruit tree is more of an upside down triangle. Remember you are not wanting to grow a 50′ tall apple tree, the fruit would be 30′ above your head and serve you no good.

 

 

Preserving Food, Food and More Food. Tis the Season!

Hi every one, Tis the end of the week for the week of 8-18-13. WOW time has flown! We have been busy with the garden and canning season as usual. We tried a few new things this year! and are planning a few more new tries for food preservation.  One thing I did was with onions.  On the Farm here we cook with lots and lots of onions. More times than not we end up dicing them and adding them into casseroles, meat loaf, soups and stews, chilis, etc. I figured since we dice them any ways I took my white onions i pulled from the garden and I shredded them in the food processor. I then put them in freezer backs (double bagged), and hand sucked out all the air for longer freezer life (this was last Sunday, and our local market was closed so could not purchase more Vacuum seal bags like we normally use. At any rate, so now we have a shelf in the door of the freezer full of finely diced white onions out of our garden. When placing in the bags for freezing i did not measure the volumes out, but I would be guessing each bag to be a cup to a cup and a half.  It worked out great, i am very pleased with the results. I will certainly do the same next year with Vacuum seal bags being the only change. I used a bag the other night, and after being frozen they did not turn a funny color or anything like that, they were great. A little soft yes, but for cooking with who cares, as they get soft when cooked any ways.

 And on to other food storages; My wife went to her parents farm up the road and got their Pears and Apples.  Our farm being as young as it is Only 3 years old now, our fruit trees are in, but are still very young and small and not really producing any kind of fruit yet.  Luckily both sets of my wifes and my parents have farms, fruit trees, and we have tons of rescources to draw on for fruit that once they put up all they need would usually just goto waste any ways. So, long story short, she brought home and canned 15 quarts of pears. Not my favorites personally, but the rest of the family enjoys pears, so if it keeps them happy in the winter then by all means. She cans them in a light syrup. Apples will be peeled, cored and processed after church today. Wife and daughter wants apple sauce. I personally really enjoy canning apples in round slices, and spicing them. MMMM MMMM. But….. having a feeling i will get out-voted and applesauce it will be.  Regardless, we have 3 large boxes of apples for which ever, and my fathers apple trees are starting to drop apples too, so will end up with another 5-6 boxes from him as well.  Extra apples, pears, peelings, cores, left over syrups, etc all goto the pig. All the sugar and such makes a very very happy pig, and fattens them up nicely so makes for happy happy farmers as well.

Yesterday we took a drive to Newport, my favorite coastal town here in Oregon. It’s Tuna season, and alot of fishing ships will pull into Newport Bay, dock up, set up for sale signs, and sell fresh caught Tuna, crab and Salmon right there off the ship. Just bled out, not frozen at all. Doesn’t get any fresher than that! Literally handed to you from the fisherman that caught it an hour or two ago.  So while we were down there, the kids of course went to the beach, built sand castles, played in the ocean, flew kites, and all that good fun stuff. Then we went to the Dock at the Bay, and bought 2 Large fresh Tuna.  Brought the fish home, processed them, and canned them. I don’t remember the exact recipe, but in basic rememberance of it, for each pint jar you fill it to the bottom ring line with Tuna, and add 1/2 teasoon salt, and 1 teaspoon olive oil Per every PINT jar.  Out of 2 Large Tuna, we ended up with 26 pints of canned Tuna.  Yes it ais a bit more expensive buying it that way, costs more than just store bought tuna, but number one we still know we are canning our own and not relying on other people or sources, number 2 we know exactly what is in the tuna we eat with no preservatives or chemicals or radiation or the like, and number 3 home canned fresh tuna is AMAZING!  If you have never had fresh off the Dock Albacore and home canned with out being watered down, chemicals added, cooked to almost a paste, you are missing out. When its home canned it tastes just like a nice Tuna Steak! Its firm, big and chunky, not overly salty, you get more of it per jar, and the taste is just freshly oceanic and delicious, it is to die for! 

So that is our update for today. We here at Helmig Farms thank you for taking the time to read our blog updates. A toaste to you all wishing you happy farming, wonderful living, and comfortable surviving. Thanks every one

Summer Vegitables

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So you are all probably thinking “Uh huh, he said he would update once a week, yeah right.” LOL. Well, I try, but am only getting time about every other week. Last weekend we had our Annual Helmig Farms BBQ competiton so we were a bit busy.  Every year we host a large event (about 60 people this year here at our farm, where locals get together and compete in BBQ’ing in four catagories :Chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork.  Medals and trophies are awarded,  food and drink provided for every one, and a great time had by all. Alot of visitors seemed to gravitate towards the vegitable garden and asking different questions. As for our summer garden update, we took our last picking of green beans and wax beans on Tuesday night. I still need to pull up the plants as they are all done just have not had the time.  We were able to can 27 pints of green beans out of the deal, so that will be nice this winter. When canning, the wife did her batches just plain beans and some homemade bacon that I butchered and cured last fall. The batches i did i added the same homemade bacon, but also through in some homegrown chopped up white onion.  The peas are also all done, we ended up with 4 gallons of peas frozen.  They take up alot of room in the garden but are sure yummy, and for pea lovers they are a wonderful treat in the wintertime in casseroles, on salads, etc.  The pea plants are already all ripped up. Later this weekend my Dutch Flat Head cabbage is ready, so i will need to shred it and ferment it for sour Krout. Recipes are on the internet as for recipes, it takes about a week or maybe a little more depending on volume, temp, etc. Also i notice my onions have fallen over.  Stalks have not turned yellow yet, but will today or tomorrow I am assuming. So i will need to pull them as well, bunch them, and hang them. Hang onions in a cold dry place for maximum keep time. Depending on the species you can keep for example yellow onions almost into next planting season. My white onions for example, or red onions, or walla walla’s will not keep near that long due to their sugar content. You can still hang them, but they will spoil fairly quick. Debating trying some shredding and freezing methods this year for longer keep time on the white onions.  Tomatoes are doing wonderful, growing like weeds, and fruiting, but are not yet ripe. Zucchinnis have had one massive picking already. We canned 18 jars of Zuch-relish, and I gave about a dozen Zuch’s away to my mother as she likes making Zuchinni sweet pickles. She wanted to trade me a few jars in trade for the produce, but I don’t much care for sweet pickles, so politely refused. There are about another 50 lbs of Zuchinni that are still growing but not yet ready for harvest. My garlic never did all that great, as they were from 2 year old cloves, but i will take the ones I can and hang for drying to use for re-planting stock next year. Carrots are also all ready for harvest, and are very large. I added some sand into the carrot area before I tilled it this year, and they grew a world better! Much larger in diameter and length. Will probably get 10 pints or so out of the carrots.  Peppers are also doing well, jalepenos and bells, and have been being used through out the summer for cooking. I didn’t plant a whole bunch of peppers this year as i still have loads of them in the freezer from years before.  On a side note “Sammy” our Yorkshire pig is fattening up nice also, and loving the canning season! Sammy gets all the scraps from canning, and plants i yank up, etc on top of her feed ration. So she is a happy camper, and will be more than ready to butcher in fall. Butcher time is strictly dependent upon pigs weight, and cool weather. I wait till the weather is cold so i can hang the pig and age it for a few days, but not totally cold enough to freeze, as frozen animals are a PAIN to cut up and process. usually October is prime butchering season. 

Summer Time Annoyances On The Farm

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Summer is in full swing. Work is super busy and we have been working 12 hour days (some times 13 hour days), and every other week we are lucky enough to have to work Saturdays as well. Life on the farm has been just as busy! Talk about burning the candle at both ends. Peas and beans are needing picked  and frozen/canned, along with many other veggies that are becoming ripe and ready to pick/pull. Weeds and grasses are going gangbusters, and water consumption for animals is at a yearly high. Every aspect of the farm life is busy and buzzing. Which brings me to my first “Summer Time Annoyance.” Here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest we have a plethora of Bee’s called “Yellow Jackets.” The nasty little boogers are making nests EVERYWHERE this time of year. My big farm truck has sat in one spot for about 2 months now, and I went to get something out of the toolbox in the truck bed, as soon as I opened the lid I was swarmed with about 50 angry little bees and saw their nest is already about the size of a softball attatched to the underside of the toolbox lid. For any one not Familiar with the Northwest Yellow Jacket, their are not actually a Bee per-say, they are a Wasp, and closest animal relative is the aggressive Hornet (definition per Wikipedia). Honey bees for example tend to want to do their job, and will only sting if threatened, and once stung the stinger pulls out killing the bee. A yellow jacket wasp however, hates humans with a passion and will go out of their way to sting you on site! Their stingers stay connected to their bodies and can sting you over and over and over. This is especially no fun since once they see you, they will drop what they are doing and come sting you, and as you run away they will fallow you in a cloud of large numbers all stinging you over and over again, and pack a healthy dose of venom in each sting causing massive sting swelling. Long story short, I HATE these little boogers! So i went and bought some wasp and hornet killer (3 cans of the shoot kind of spray). I went all around the house spraying all the years new nests (as this is an every summer event. Yellow jackets make nests in shady protected areas of all types, including mouse holes underground, under house and building eves, under gutters, truck bed tool boxes, truck beds, anything they can crawl under and dont get rained and snowed on. Twas a good year for the Yellow jacket this year. Killed 13 nests under the house eves, 4 under the pump house eves, one in each side of the truck tool box, 3 inder the lips of the bed rails of the pick up, found one underground one that i used a large 4th of july smoke bomb on and covered the hole with dirt after lighting it and throwing it down the hole, and 2 in the woodshed! 25 in nests in all! Take that you mean little suckers! 

Early Summer garden Status

So sorry it has been so long since I have written any blogs guys! We have been super busy at work, and been working 12 hour days 6 days a week, then throw in all the farm work when i get home, and just haven’t really had the time. however, today I thought I would make time, specially for you readers. So today I wanted to touch on the garden aspect of the farm. I had planted several rows of peas, and we have already taken 3 large pickings from them, with another picking due this weekend. Now any one that has never grown peas and interested in them let me go over a few quick pea basics. The plants get very large, and DO take up alot of room in a garden. You get several “pickings” though, as not all the peas are all ready at the same time. Another little farmer trick, is when you plant them you plant one row one day, then a week or two later plant another row, and another in a week or two and so forth. This will ensure constant pea picking rotations instead of 3 weeks of peas and they are all done and ready to rip them out. Every picking we get about a large colander full. This may sound like alot of peas! But remember that shells are the bulk of the size and weight. Once the peas are shelled one colander equals about enough peas for one dinner for a family of four. (2 cups or so would be my guess). It is about 1/3 or a quart ziplock bag full. Kinda depressing going through all that growing and all that work for so little produce, but fresh peas are my absolute favorite! So for any one thinking of growing peas, just keep those things in mind. as for species, I have had excellent luck the last several years with “Wando” peas.

Now on to peppers. This is the first week of 90 degree and hotter weather so I know the peppers will finally take off now. Until now though, they have just kinda hung out and have not done much, and only had minimal growth. Personally I grow peppers from seed, as do i with my tomatoes as well. seeds are either bought for specific kinds, or basic Jalepenos and bell peppers i grow from seeds I saved the year before from harvested peppers. When i do this i plant them in small little containers and sprout them in the window sill, they are ready to plant about late march, however, the weather here in late march is usually pretty cold and still chances of frost. So what i do is save large apple juice containers, milk jugs, large gatorade bottles, etc and I remove the cap and leave it off for moisture access and ventilation. I them cut out the bottom. I plant the pepper and place the container on top, mounding a little soil around the base to ensure good insulation and also to keep the wind from blowing them away. Basically it is like a little “free” greenhouse for them until the sun really comes out. I am pretty confident they will really go gang busters this week!

My tomatoes are doing extremely well. they too were all planted from seed, sprouted in the window sill, kept to grow out in a small green house I have on the south side of the house, and planted about late march. For tomatoes i use the same greenhouse effect as the peppers due to late frosts. (My father did not greenhouse effect his, and in late march he planted them as did I, it frosted, he lost them all and had to go buy new plants). What I do a little different for tomatoes is I have wooden rack I have built. Basically 2ftx2ftx3ft high. the racks are kind of ladder shaped on the sides with wooden slats for tomatoes to grow, and lean/rest/climb on’ in the 3ft high rack, there are 3 horizontal slats. Any ways, early in the year i buy a roll of plastic sheeting. I plant the tomato, place the rack over it, wrap in up in plastic, and stable the plastic in place. The size of the plastic allows me to fold it a little over the top. Not sealing off the top as it needs to be open some for ventilation and water access, but enough to act as a green house during late frosts. They are all getting very tall and bushy, and are all doing well. Its almost July now, I took the plastic off the racks about a month ago. 

Beans are all growing great. a little early to be producing yet, but the plants are very healthy. Beans also add/give back a little Nitrogen into the soil. So not only do i grow them to eat, but I use them as a rotation crop. meaning i will grow them in one spot one year, and the next year i will place them a few rows over where my tomatoes were the year before, or what ever. I not only fertilize with manure every year, but rotating the beans helps add a little more nitrogen to the soil, and in a constant and even rotation. 

Onions are doing great as is the lettuce and we have been eating the heck out of both! Carroes are growing well and very healthy but not a whole lot of produce in them quite yet. I think the warm weather will help them along nicely. Zuchinni plants are growing massive, but not “Zukes” on them yet. they will come a little later. Squash is growing well, and starting to fruit, as are the cucumbers. Cabbage is doing marvelous and with hot weather here and to continue i will probably have to pick them this weekend and make the years sour kraut. Cabbages prefer colder weather, hot weather will some times turn them and spoil them. 

Raspberries and blue berries are all doing fantastic. for mothers day i bought the wife 2 more blueberry plants and 4 more raspeberry plants, so our berry orchard is growing quite fast. blue berry plants are loaded with berries, but are still green however. 

Garlic is about the only crop we had that did not do so well. I had some cdloves left from 2 years ago, they were still hanging up, but were starting to shrivel and get a bit soft. I planted them any ways as I thought it was better than buying garlic to plant (kinda defeats the purpose of being self sufficient), but as a result only about half of them came up. 

where fruit trees are concerned most are doing wonderful! I did however totally lose a cherry tree. Not sure what happened. Looks like he got sprayed, but I didnt have any spray any where near him this year. Not sure, any ways he died. but all the apples, peach, plum, and various other production trees are all doing great. We noticed 4 deer coming around lately, and i was excited. Deer kinda left the area due to some neighbors that are pretty heavy into poaching! So i was excited to see them coming back. However, i quickly noticed my trees were not so happy to see them! They had begun to eat my fruit trees. So now they are all netted and tubed and the deer can’t get to them any more. Problem solved. The heard garden it doing very well also. Cilantro/corriander is doing amazing! chives are also thriving as is the mint. the other herbs are growing, but they were plants from seed, and may take a little while to grow and establish.

Summer on the farm is great so far. everything is growing wonderfully as anticipated. We have a TON of canning coming up in our near future! take care every one, and thanks for reading. I will make sure I start taking more time to write more prepper farming blogs. i am going to try for at least one a week! take care and god bless every one!