Category Archives: Gardening

Organic farming can feed the world

According to an article published on Energy Bulletin, Organic farming can feed the world.

From the article:

ANN ARBOR, Mich.�Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land�according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.

I’ve never really questioned it, but it’s great to know that what I believe is backed by scientific study. Read the article for more…

Grapes are changing color..

Early this morning I noticed that grapes are starting to change color.

I have not been happy with the results of my pruning. I tried to follow the advice in From vines to wines and prune them down to only one bud on the shorter vines. The weather has been so dry; all the leaves fell off.

I was prepared to give up on the vines that lost their leaves. To my surprise, new vines sprouted from the ground and grew taller than the last three years’ growth.

On two of the larger plants, I let four canes grow, again as advised by the book From vines to wines. I had expected those canes to bear fruit next year. I instead, they produced fruit this year.

The Japanese beetles returned about three weeks ago. Almost everyday I go out to the grapes with a bowl of water and knock the beetles into the water. I then take them to the chickens. The chickens think that the beetles are quite the treat.I tasted one of the ripening grapes.

The flavor exploded into my mouth. It was still quite tart and quite sweet. That one taste made it all worth it…

Roto-tilling and chickens.

We rented a roto-tiller a few weeks ago. We wanted to turn the soil over and that is what we have always done. We usually rent it late on a Saturday and return it early Monday. The rental shop only charges us the day rate, so we can take our time using it.

I had to lock the chickens out of the garden. They love to help with all our gardening projects but I didn’t think a 9 H.P. gas engine attached to rotating steel blades and chickens would mix well.

The roto-tiller is much louder than I remember and not as easy as I thought it should be. It’s gas powered and self propelled, so it should just about do the job while I sat in the shade, sipping iced-tea. I spent most of my time trying to keep up with the machine. It wasn’t long before I was out of breath. It was quite difficult to keep it going in the right direction and just about impossible to turn around. It only took about 5 minutes to realize that wasn’t the way I wanted to do that project. Unfortunately, it was about another hour before actually put the roto-tiller back on the trailer and turned it off. After I had broken the on-off switch.

Even though I only used the roto-tiller for about an hour, the rental shop wouldn’t give me a break on the rental. With the rental price, the time it took to pick up and return and the hour I used it, I had 8 hours worth of my time invested in the work that was done.

I have spent time on and off, turning the soil by hand. It is a slower process, but the chickens and I are happier with the results. I can start when I want, stop when I want and do just what I want. Since I am working by hand, I can rake out the grass and take it out of the garden, rather than just turn it back into the soil. The chickens love all the bugs that turn up. They are glad to be able to help.

I mentioned in my plant light post that we missed the opportunity to plant garlic and onions. Well, I discovered garlic and onions that had over-wintered and were doing fine. I transplanted the garlic. There are about 16 plants. I would have missed these if I was roto-tilling, or worse, I would have discovered them only after it was too late.

Now, this is the way to garden.

Push reel lawn mowing

pushreel.jpgA few friends have asked me about push reel lawn mowers. This is what we use. It’s the Sear’s 18inch Push Mower. It’s $119 now. We’ve had it many years and the only thing we have to do is adjust the cutting blade. It should be adjusted only about once a year and it isn’t difficult to do.

On this mower, the blades contact each other, just like a pair of scissors. There are two screws on the left and two on the right that adjust the cutting blade. They are adjusted so they just touch. This provides a bit of self sharpening and helps the mower cut nice and clean.

Push reel mowers are very easy to use, but do cut a bit differently than power mowers. First, if you let the grass get too tall, you might not be able to cut it in one pass. The temptation is to stand in place and keep running the mower back and forth until it is cut, then move to the next patch. That does work, but it’s a lot of arm work and will wear you out fast. Instead, just keep walking and mowing. If you don’t cut everything, wait until you turn around and mow over it again. If you aren’t able to get it after two passes, then you can try back and forth while standing method.

There is a reason it’s called a push reel. There will be a lot of pushing! The mower came with a padded handle, but after a few years, it wore off. I use a pair of padded palm bicycling gloves. They protect my hands and add to the feeling that I’m not just mowing the lawn, I’m also getting a workout.

When we had a 1/4 acre lot, a push reel was an obvious choice. I could usually mow my entire lawn faster than my neighbor could fill his gas mower and start it. We have more now (7 acres, 3 of it grass) and it has been a bit of work to keep up. For starters, we don’t mow it all. We mow the front and both side yards and about 40 feet behind the house. We also mow paths around the yard and around the clothes line. There are about 4 hours of mowing per week. Because we take turns and mow different parts, no one has to mow more than an hour or so at a time.

forg-grass-shear.jpgPush reel mowers do not cut the same as power mowers. Power mowers suck the grass up and then rip it off where push reels just clip it off. Sometimes, the grass you want cut, the mower just can’t get. To properly complement a push reel mower, we use the Forg Grass Shear. These work better than the others we’ve used, including sewing scissors.

We had my mother-in-laws riding mower for a while. It was too easy to just jump on it and ride around so we sent it back. We also had a push real called a “Silent reel”. It was designed so the blades don’t actually touch. This was my least favorite mower. It was heavy and once the blades became dull, it didn’t cut very well. I didn’t have to tools to sharpen it and align the blades, so that was the end of it.

Scott’s makes nice push reel mowers. The Scotts 20-Inch Push Reel Mower #2000-20 should work as well as the Sear’s. It looks similar and may even be the same mower.

Push reel mowers are different than power mowers and in all the right ways. They are quieter, cleaner and you can stop and start any time you like.

Plant Light Update

Seeds were started this weekend. The gardening goddess spent Sunday planting seeds in the flats while I turned soil in the garden.

We are starting the garden a bit late this year. We’ve already missed planting onions. According to the gardening goddess, they should have been in pots and under the plant light by the end of February.

The plant light received a few updates this year. First, we installed new light fixtures (last years lights are now hanging in my pole barn).

I added dowel to hang the lights from. Since the chain wraps over the dowel, it is easy to adjust the height of the lights. Last year, we ran a chain from one site to the other and hang the lights from that. It was a chore to raise and lower the lights. There is the added benefit of being able to slide the lights to one side to water the plants. Also, dowel, being solid, holds the light fixtures more securely.

I just drilled a 3/8 inch hole into each pole and inserted the dowel then attached the stand to the sand and water table.

The sand and water table plans are here, and here is a link to last years plant light assembly.

Hop Harvest

I harvested the hops today. There have been a few frosts, so the flowers on top and the vines had started to brown and were a bit past prime. I think the hops were at their peak about mid September. I did find that the flowers under the vine were greener. The browner flowers smelled milder.

The hop growing books have suggested cutting the plant down to 4 or 5 healthy vines. This year I let them all grow, just to see what would happen. I ended up with a smaller harvest than last year.

The hops will sit out until they are dry. In about a week, I will put them in plastic bags and put them in the freezer.


The grapes are long enough to make it up to the trellis, so it’s time to install it.

I picked up some Aluminum wire are the hardward store and ran it between the posts.

The galvanized steel wire had a “caution: contains a chemical known in the state of California to cause cancer”. Yikes! That’s lead! Be careful what you buy.

I installed the lower wire at about waist height (about 40 inches) and the other 12 inches higher. I ran out of wire, so the job is not complete. Also, so I only went between poles with wire and didn’t try to join the wires. I didn’t want the plants to have to grow over wire joints.

I then loosely tied the plants that were tall enough to the wire. Later, I will tie the rest of the plants and finish installing the wire for the trellis.