Grow More With Vertical Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few years ago I was faced with an issue of needing to keep some seedlings warm, combined with not a lot of money to spend and limited resources. This meant being creative with what WAS available and the result is functional, cheap and reuses things that mostly would have been thrown away.

I already had an existing 4’x4′ compost bin created by putting together pallets. To this basic pallet compost bin I nailed a “ladder” framework. I then cut the bottoms off of 2 liter soda bottles, putting a hole in the cap before screwing it back on which insured water dripped out rather than pooling in the container. The bottom piece cut off – a small ‘bowl’ – I’ve used for starting seeds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the framework was done and the bottles prepared the bottles were turned upside down and a small screw attached it to the frame. A larger screw was driven through the neck for solid support – I used 1-7/8″ screws but 2″ would have given a little more security. The bottles were arranged 10 across the 4′ span, with the base arranged so it funnels into the bottle below it. The bottom row drips into containers. In this way watering the top layer goes through to drip into the 2nd layer. If, in the case of rain, it is too much it continues to trickle down and finally out the containers if excessive.

Once the bottles were arranged, it’s a matter of filling them – I used a handful of broken up leaves in the bottom followed by a soil mixture. The mix is compost, soil, manure and bagged top soil. On one side there are 20 pepper plants are in these, one to a container, with ten zucchini on the top layer. The zucchini will be ‘trained’ over the top providing shade over the compost bin as well as making use of space.

The other thought to this was keeping seedlings warm in case of an unexpected cold snap. A sheet of plastic from a farm store – less than $20 – was employed to go over the entire frame. The natural heat from the compost bin provides enough to, in the south, raise the temperature just that few degrees to keep them from getting nipped by frost.

Fancier materials from new purchase can be used with the same idea but for what was needed these have worked very well. It allows up to 170 plants in a 4×4′ space. For those with limited space, such as a patio or balcony, it would be easy to adapt to allow herbs and vegetables too be grown even if you don’t have a yard or garden area.

As it was used, in direct sun the soil will get too warm and ‘cook’ the roots, so plan the location well. Yes it will fall apart in a few years – but $30 for five years is not a bad value.

Planting “By The Signs”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a time not so many years ago where farmers did little without consulting the Almanac. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is still produced today – with the same information. The late Louise Riotte wrote several books on companion planting as well as the moon sign – available through Amazon, Storey Publishing and other outlets.

How much weight can be given to this? Is it something it takes extensive degrees to understand? Will it overcome odds? The idea has diehard followers – and people who believe it is the work of Satan. Each ‘sign’ is associated with prophecy, and therefore suspect. However, on the other hand, the Bible does refer to each season or time to do things. The use of common sense must be employed – planting under the right sign in freezing weather is not going to give you a bumper crop. If you don’t properly till the soil, water, weed and care for the garden the astrological sign is not going to matter.

However, I have done some experiments on my own with planting not only by the signs but “companion planting” – that is, planting plants that benefit each other (or harm each other) together or away from each other respectively. Several years, varied conditions and have found that in many cases, yes, planting in the right sign gives a little extra boost to the plants *providing* that other things are done. And it can be done without a major degree in agriculture. It IS something that takes more planning. If you have a little time, the right calendar and some luck, it can help you schedule your garden time. Again, though, you must use common sense. Tilling the garden in the right sign when there’s been torrential rains all night long is going to be less than enjoyable – or productive!

Most people are familiar with the astrological signs, perhaps less so with the properties attached to those signs. These are Earth (Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn), Air (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius), Fire (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) and Water (Scorpio, Pisces, Cancer). Further they’re thought to be some barren signs, such as Aries and Leo, and some very fruitful, such as Cancer and Scorpio. Keeping this in mind along with the moon sign and moon phase. The moon sign usually has a page in the Old Farmer’s Almanac just for that information.

Several years ago in average soil, upgraded with a dose of manure from the hog pen, planted in signs of Scorpio and Cancer in the first or second quarter plants were put to a test – which resulted in abundant yields. Those planted in the wrong sign – from the same packet – were unthrifty and barely produced enough to have been worth the effort. One raised bed in particular, planted with basil and peppers, yielded enough to give away a considerable amount in addition to all we could use and preserve. There was an experiment planting vines – pumpkins – in Virgo, and as Ms. Riotte stated there was much flowers but not a great deal of fruit. However, one can use this…interplanting a few pumpkin plants with sweet corn. Vine growth is good because raccoons don’t like getting into an area they can’t quickly get out of – thus are deterred from raiding the corn crop before you’re ready to eat it yourself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also planted tomatoes, in another state, on a first time planting, and had enough for many gallons of salsa as well as fresh tomatoes. A birdhouse gourd plant fairly took over the one side of the back yard. This was in good soil, minimal manure or compost, tilled thoroughly.

In addition to planting, use the fire and air signs for weeding in the fourth quarter – this is said to discourage weed growth. Another general rundown:
Aries – barren and dry – use to destroy pests, cultivate, till.
Taurus – productive and moist – use for roots such as potato, carrots, being stored in the ground for the winter.
Gemini – barren and dry
Cancer – very fruitful, water sign – the most productive sign; use for planting and irrigating, grafting, transplanting.
Leo – barren and dry – the most barren sign – destroy weeds, unwanted trees and roots
Virgo – barren and moist.
Libra – semi-fruitful, moist – Virgo is the best sign for beautiful flowers.
Scorpio – second most fruitful sign – use Scorpio or Capricorn for dry garden sights
Sagittarius – generally bad for planting, but will work for root crops between the full moon and quarter, also good for planting fruit trees.
Capricorn – useful for root crops, good sign for organic fertilization
Aquarius – barren and dry, good for harvesting fruit and root crops, not for planting.
Pisces – very fruitful – believed to produce shortest top grown and strongest roots of any sign.

It must be pointed out this is a very general guide. Ms Riotte’s more extensive books – Astrological Gardening, Roses Love Garlic, Carrots Love Tomatoes and others have a great deal more information in detail. What I found is, with planning (often a good way to fill “anticipation” time when it’s still too early go plant) it’s easy to go through the Almanac, using a good calendar that marks the moon phases and easily note on the calendar your favorable dates for planting, weeding and watering. As it gets busy in the spring you have a time frame for doing certain chores. Again – if it rains all day you probably won’t be able to plant. But if you have a two day time frame and one afternoon is just before a rain is forecast – that would be a good time to plant. It narrows down chores and, further, if you have first and second choices noted, makes sure you have a time frame for getting things done.

Other ways to use the basics – if you’re planting flowers for potpourri, pruning trees or berry bushes, starting a compost pile or mowing the lawn. Mowing and drying hay is another task if you’re baling for winter livestock.

When you’re planning your garden chores for the year, consider scheduling using the Almanac and time as a tool.


Did you know? The signs focus on the ASTROLOGICAL signs each month, not the ASTRONOMY signs where each sign gets a month.

Draft Animals Offer Alternatives

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADraft animals are important around the world for getting in to places that mechanization can’t get to. A working draft animal is a valued transportation for carts as well as a means to move heavy loads. Cutting hay, plowing, powering a treadmill and packing are but a few tasks made easier without fuel with animal power.

While in the US we look at primarily the dog, mule, donkeys, draft horse and oxen these are just a few of the animals used for power. Camels, dogs, elephants, water buffalo and caribou all work for people also and as working animals there is a much different view.

Jobs the draft team can do include milling grains, hauling logs, lifting loads, plowing and farming, operating bellows and hauling loads.

The most powerful of draft animals and the longest lived is unquestionably the elephant. Normally it is the smaller Indian elephant used, valued in hilly terrain and serving as work animals since well before the birth of Christ. However, with mature males being aggressive and much larger as well as the elephant in general eating more than 500 pounds of forage per day, there is limited use for these amazing animals from a draft standpoint in the US.

For American uses equine and bovine are mentioned as draft animals. The draft horse, mules and oxen have their supporters and their critics. Both are threatened today. Modern agricultural practices of farming thousands of acres and sometimes tens of thousands of acres make the draft animals outdated. However, as indicated by the spike in fuel prices that can change quickly when grass becomes cheaper than diesel to get the fields tilled. Additionally draft animals are renewable.

The reasons for using draft animals are many. There is no foreign fuel required to power them. They can get into the fields earlier than heavy machinery. They cause less compaction of the soil and a draft mare can produce offspring for more power.

However, the critics have points also. They require care every day, whether you work them or not. They need time to learn how to do their jobs, and they are powerful enough there is a risk of injury. They are prone to injury themselves and if it happens when you need to get in the field then you can be stuck unless you keep extra animals. They take room and pasture.

Of course these arguments can be balanced by injuries happen with machinery also, and machinery is also prone to break down. Most owners don’t consider the daily care a bad thing but rather point towards it is time spent with animals they are truly partners with.

Draft horses have a long history in America. All have become more show than working but there are still many people who log and farm with horses. There are several main breeds. The Shire is a tall heavy breed originating in England and often called a Clydesdale. Shires often have more “feathering” on the lower legs. Clydesdales have become easily recognized due to their appearance on Budweiser advertising. Percherons and Belgians are actually more popular than the other two breeds. Suffolks are the only breed developed for farm work, and are always chestnut in color with minimal white. America’s only native draft horse, the American Cream, is critically endangered with just a few hundred remaining. Draft horses can weigh over a ton and a pair that are well trained are worth a great deal to someone who wants to work them.

Other heavy breeds not commonly seen as draft horses include Halflingers, Norwegian Fjord, spotted drafts, Gypsy horses and sometimes Friesians. These are all breeds suitable for light draft work on a farm.

Draft horse prices can vary from $1,000 to $4500 and more for show animals. For those serious about purchasing there is quite a few to pick from in the $2500-5,000 range in almost all breeds. Some examples in a recent advertising listing is a Belgian mare broke to ride and drive for $1900, a black Percheron mare for $3200, a Clydesdale gelding for $2,000 and a pair of Percheron mares for $6,000.

Donkeys and mules are another popular equine but unlike draft horses cannot reproduce themselves. Commonly they are the product of a large jack and a draft mare.

Oxen were often preferred over horses in early American farm life. Indeed 100 years ago there were several breeds that were viewed as triple purpose. These included Brown Swiss, Devon, Charolais, Simmental and Ayrshire. Today an overwhelming dominant breed in dairy and another in beef have all but eliminated some breeds but the Brown Swiss and Devon (now usually called Milking Devon) remain as favorites among oxen people with many shorthorns and other breeds also used.

The advantage to oxen they’re cheap. Oxen are often castrated bull calves from dairy operations so the price for a pair of baby bull calves is but a few hundred dollars. Typically oxen are not dehorned so many have horns. A pair of oxen, first called “working steers”, take a great deal of time to train and learn to handle.

Typical prices for an older started team recently advertised are a pair of Brown Swiss of about 1,000 pounds each for $1500; a pair of red shorthorns weighing 330 and 350 for $1200, a pair of Holsteins started on farm and logging chores for $1600 and a pair of 800 pound Chianina Holstein steers for $3500, the latter offered due to owner’s health. More finished teams include a pair of Brown Swiss tipping the scales at 2100 pounds each for $3200, a pair of Ayrshires the same size for $2750, and a massive pair of Holsteins for $3200. The latter were a 4-H project team and were 5’9″ each at the shoulder and weighed 2516 and 2688 pounds each large enough to learn to do some serious work!

The advantage to oxen is long standing that they could be used for beef if injured although many who handle them can get quite attached to their animals. The disadvantage is that they are a one time thing as castrated animals they cannot produce offspring. Like horses, oxen usually have names and are commonly purchased in pairs. Like other cattle they are creatures of habit so purchasing as a team is common. Single animals can be purchased but team animals are often yoked a particular way, with one steer always on the left and the other always on the right. For those who view cattle as being stupid animals working with oxen can be enlightening! Young steers are started very young, with basic training beginning at just a few hundred pounds, long before working on a load.

Draft power can do many chores around a farm from hauling logs, manure and hay to tilling fields and a wide range of other chores involving moving things from point A to point B. Some oxen are even taught to carry a rider.

Draft animals will need plenty of forage, feed, shelter and training. While many working at home can work barefoot some areas require shoes (yes for oxen and horses!). From a care standpoint they are low maintenance but some of that care is a part of normal working of the animal. This can include grooming before and after working, attention to health care and monitoring any cuts and scrapes they might pick up.

While they are a good alternative for many to a tractor they do require time. Many owners see this as a benefit, not a liability.

Farm Safety Important Around Farm Equipment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANational Farm Safety week is the focused reminder to farmers to heed safety issues. Those injured or killed while tending our fields and livestock bring real faces to the issue of safety. It’s something that consumers who purchase food never see and, for the most part, are blissfully unaware of. It’s been happening since horses, and power equipment makes the risk greater.

The average person can relate to the power of a car, perhaps a pickup truck. The power of large machinery on a typical farm can remove arms, legs and lives. It becomes personal when it’s someone you know. Whether an injury that is minor or life changing, or one that results in a death it’s tragic because so many are preventable.

A farmer in Ohio once had a farm worker remove the shield from the PTO shaft. The worker slipped and lost his leg in the resulting accident. An agriculture student working on a college farm was pushing to get the corn crop in when it jammed. In a hurry, he reached back and tugged the stalks without disengaging the power. When it cut loose his arm was in the machine along with the corn. He knew better, but at 19 his life was changed forever by a farming accident.

Even more tragic are the ones that result in deaths. It happens too often during the harvest season. Long days, longer nights, limited weather to get crops in and a push to get every dollar that can be made can mean exhaustion sets in.

A discussion among farmers brings many other accidents that could have been much worse. Alex chimed in with “(the) brake didn’t engage on 706 after engine was off, started rolling downhill, popped it in first to start the engine… and used the engine to slow the tractor down until the bottom of the hill, lesson, never park tractor for a few minutes on a hill.” Another told of nearly having a forklift pierce his foot – thankfully the ankle rolled and didn’t break – although badly bruised it could have been much worse.

Another commented farmers “must be careful with ladders/ lifting people in bucket-loaders too. Husband fell off a ladder just last night” while Laura added “I’ve always been afraid of flipping a tractor.”

These are very real dangers. On the farm dangers are many and include when the proper safety equipment isn’t used like PTO shields or even ear plugs around loud equipment and complacency. One farmer noted “around this stuff everyday and nothing goes wrong, but it only takes a second” while the Ohio farmer added “trust me, all the PTO shields stay on on our farm! We know what one mistake can do!”

There is additional danger with motorists on the roads in farm country that are unfamiliar with farm equipment. Some tips from farmers:

  1. Mike mentions “when approaching oncoming SMV (slow moving vehicle), don’t stop across from a mailbox! I can’t fit between you and a mailbox! Slowly, stay back far enough so I can see you in the mirrors, otherwise I don’t know you are there!”
  2. Another adds “Move over as far as you can! I’m bigger than you and can’t easily get a combine to the ditch.”
  3. An Illinois farmer says “Please don’t pass in guard rails. Pass slowly, we may not see you coming around if we are watching forward.”
  4. Never assume moving over isn’t swinging wide to turn.
  5. Leave plenty of room for loaded equipment which is much heavier than you think and cannot stop suddenly.

The equipment is not the only hazard. According to a Twitter post from OhioStateFSR: “26 fatalities occur on Ohio farms each year and of those 7-9 are grain engulfment related.” Farmers are killed every year by grain. Another serious issue is combine fires.

Not only in Farm Safety Month but every month farmers need to keep safe practices in mind.

Make sure equipment is stopped and safely secured before getting off. Check equipment and keep it maintained in good working condition to prevent malfunction and accidents, keep guards on those PTO shafts, lights maintained, have a wash sink in the shop and first aid kits stocked around the shop. Have fire extinguishers available and maintained.

As one farmer notes “Cell phones, Facebook and our ability to communicate thru technology have made (communication) easier, but I believe we work longer hours also.” This is particularly true when harvest can mean not only working all day but well into the night. Some farms run nearly 24/7 trying to get the harvest done, without people to work relief. After a certain point however the brain shuts down and farmers need to catch some sleep. Taking occasional breaks to stretch, a snack or meal even if it’s in the field with family can make a difference.

For some when an accident does happen farm neighbors rally around. Alex notes “it is amazing to see how a community helps others like the 14+ farmers that harvested a crop for a farmer in the hospital.”

For those who live near farm areas – please heed the advice of farmers and use extreme caution driving especially in harvest season. A motorcycle or small car stands no chance against a combine. For farmers – take the time to be safe. A few minutes can save a life!

Build a Fence to Suit Style, Need

FH010003_editedThere is a wide variety of fence designs available for homes of any style or taste. Before you decide on what to build, consider what you want your fence to do. Are you looking to confine pets or children? Do you prefer a privacy fence or perhaps wish to fence off around a pool or other area? Like any other household project, building a fence is best done with a plan and thought to the best fence for the job. Along with the type of fence, the primary use of it and the cost you might also consider the labor involved to build a fence.

If you are looking for a long lasting, low maintenance fence to confine pets or children, to accent landscaping and allow seeing through to your home while minimizing access to it, you might consider chain link. Costs to build a chain-link fence can be somewhat high, not as much for the chain link but the posts and fittings that go with it. It can be somewhat labor intensive to put up but once installed you have a fence that will require little maintenance for years and still looks great.

If you don’t have little dogs or children but do have larger dogs, an option in fence design might be an ornamental fence – these are often described as “iron” fences with bars that allude to elegance with stability, and often are not a “do it yourself” kind of project.

Another option is PVC covered wood fences which can vary from decorative to a plain post and rail. The PVC covered wood extends the life of the fence without painting or maintenance, although some clean the fence annually with a pressure washer to remove debris and the green tinge that occurs in some areas. If you know how to build a fence these have been constructed by people with an eye to detail and a willingness to do the work themselves.

Wood fence designs vary widely from a picket type fence to one with more texture to a solid privacy fence. Basic information on how to build a privacy fence is available online. Aside from the installation there is also maintenance of staining and care of the wood to preserve the fence itself.

Getting the right kind of fence for what you need at a cost and maintenance you can live with.

4-H Creates Memories, Leadership

JoeJanJerryAprilFor millions of people throughout the USA 4-H offers memories and lessons. It models leadership with the actions of adults getting involved to teach and lead children and teens. Although most popular in rural areas, 4-H has a variety of projects. From the motto “To make the best better” a strive for excellence is set.

Some will choose livestock projects – popular projects include rabbits, poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle. For those that can’t take livestock directly there’s many other projects. Dogs, veterinary science, geology, crafts, mechanics, sewing, gardening, cooking and a wide range of other projects are available to youth wanting to learn and compete in county and state fairs.

Typically 4-H doesn’t have dues associated with it, and the bold green clover is distinctive. A study from Tufts University showed 4-H members are twice as likely to get better school grades and plan to go to college. They’re also 25% more likely to positively contribute to family and community, and 41% less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Because a network of mentors and activities keep kids busy, it’s more important today than ever to keep 4-H alive.

Often run in conjunction with the extension service, budget cuts have hit the organization. Over a half million volunteers keep the organization moving, and 4-H teaches hands on not only in science and homemaking skills needed more all the time, but also in valuable citizenship and leader skills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom aerospace to agriculture and health to nutrition, 4-H makes leaders. It presents safety programs not only in food but off road vehicles, equipment and other safety issues. Visual arts, wind energy, outdoor activities and a host of other projects prepare youth for the “real world”. It allows youth to explore interests that extend far beyond a field of corn or a beef cow.

4-H camp, judging and other activities teach critical thinking and formulating thoughts to support a point of view. This might be facing four hogs or a class of dairy heifers but the actions and thought process being taught goes far beyond livestock.

This is a great organization that is well worth the funds to participate. There is a cost to the books and such, and donations are always welcome to support the work of 4-H.

For many the 4-H pledge is much more than something to recite at meetings.

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” This pledge has been recited since 1927, unchanged except for the last three words added in 1973.

For many youth in many areas – take a look at 4-H. It builds lives and memories.

The Importance of “me” Time – Indulgence or Necessity?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIsn’t it funny how the afternoon of 9/11/01 we promised we were going to slow down, appreciate things more and LIVE rather than just working and chasing a dollar. How many can honestly say they do that now?

It seems we’re still pushed into overdrive. Many areas assaults and homicides are up. Drug usage is up. Property theft and other crime is up. These aren’t signs of a healthy society, community or home – and the trickle down happens.

We desperately need some time away – but can’t afford to go anywhere. Make a retreat – in your home! Or take a vacation – closer to home.

Turn off the phone, the tv and the computer. Plan your “escape” – indulge in it. It’s a fraction of the cost of going on a trip that costs you thousands of dollars. Set up a mini-retreat area in your home – complete with things you like. If coffee or tea is your thing get a special tea pot and mug or coffee maker. Use a small desk or table or a comfy chair in front of the window. Feed some birds or put in a butterfly garden. Curl up on a regular basis with a treat and tune the world out.

Get a desk with art supplies – or a comforter to cozy up and watch movies with. Get house plants or do something just for the simple pleasure in doing it. For some people this might be baking – but the key is doing it leisurely because you want to, not because the kids need three dozen cookies for a meeting and forgot to tell you they need it tomorrow! If traffic noises make it difficult to get away go get one of those CDs that have ocean or mountain or other noises and close your eyes and imagine yourself there. Get some artwork and hang in your retreat space and mentally put yourself on that beach.

When the inclination of what you “should” be doing crowds quiet it. Figure in regular mini-retreats – a half hour, an hour. If all you can manage is 15 minutes do that – set a timer and do nothing else for that time. On the weekend skip the bustle and retreat at home – turn the pagers and cell phone off and connect with family and friends who are missed otherwise. Make a private space in the back yard or a room to have a few friends over.

Use the time for what you want to do. Rediscover coloring books or small crafts – forget perfection simply do it for the enjoyment. Get a journal or a book to curl up with. Make it comfortable – if you’re reading get a good lighting where you’re reading at. A comfortable chair might be a $200 investment in your home but is still cheaper than a $3500 cruise!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you enjoy pets but can’t have one take the time to volunteer to walk dogs at a shelter or rescue or spend time with cats who need attention. There are ways to feed the senses and do something for you without feeling guilty about “doing nothing.”

Recharging and unwinding is important to being able to keep the rest of the world going. If you’re tapped out and drained there’s nothing to give back. Give yourself time to recharge and rediscover YOU. Spend the time with family – take the time to spend with a pet or if you have none feed wild ones outside. There are many ways to get away without going anywhere at all – find one.

Look at places to go within 200 miles – this isn’t an extensive trip but might include concerts, museums, outdoor activities – anything that breaks up the “gotta be there now!” of normal life. These weekend trips don’t mean taking extensive time off, can be planned without a great deal of cost and give time to recharge and do something you enjoy.

Make time – life is too short and there’s so many memories to make.