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6 Vegetables That We Always Transplant in the Garden

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Here in Iowa its 10 below and everything has been frozen for a week now. Its times like this that April can seem so far away. But January is an important month for us, as its when we do much of the planning and initial prep-work for our market garden. Plots and crop rotation are mapped out on graph paper, seeds are ordered, and here very soon we’ll be starting our first round of transplants under grow lights.

Transplants are an important part of our planting scheme. Many of our crops are grown from putting seed right in the ground. Our corn, beans, squash and the majority of our leaf and root crops are all done this way. But there are certain crops that we always start indoors and then transplant when the ground is warmer. This is where taking the time for proper planning is important. Knowing our planting season, relative last frost, varieties we want to plant and their maturity time frame are crucial.

So why transplant? Good question. Many crops can be started indoors under grow lights rather than by direct seeding. The advantages to this are multifaceted but include stronger disease resistance, protection against late frost or other weather events, protection against birds or other animals that like to dig up seed, and getting a jump on long maturity dates. Not to mention that it’s fun to start seeds indoors when there is snow on the ground.

Certain plants should always be started indoors, or bought as transplants from your local nursery or greenhouse. Here are six vegetables that you’ll have a higher success growing if you transplant rather than direct seed.

Tomato

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are somewhat fickle when they are first starting out. They’re not hard to grow, but exposing them to the elements through direct seeding doesn’t usually have good and consistent results. Tomato seeds are very small. They need the right temperature and amount of moisture to germinate. Most varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes also have long days to maturity, meaning that if you wait until outdoor conditions are right for sowing your seed, you probably wont’ be picking those juicy red slicers in time for burgers and bbq.

For our market, we need to have fresh tomatoes as soon as possible.

In order for tomato seeds to germinate, your soil temperature needs to be around 70 degrees. They’ll need a steady source of light until they sprout, which means you don’t want to plant them too deep. We plant ours at about 1/4 and lightly cover with soil. The soil should be kept moist, but not saturated or the seed can rot. Once your seeds sprout and start to grow you’ll want to keep them under direct light for at least 8 hours a day.

Start your seeds no later than 4-6 weeks before the last frost in your area. We start ours around 8 weeks before last frost because I like to have a little more stem height when I go to transplant. This allows me to bury the stem nice and deep to ensure strong root development.

Pepper

Peppers

Peppers are part of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, like their cousin the tomato. Also like tomatoes, they aren’t difficult to start from seed but getting consistent germination can be frustrating with certain varieties.

We plant our pepper seeds just like we do our tomatoes, but we’ll start them at least 8-10 weeks before the last frost as they take longer to grow, sometimes earlier depending on the variety. Hot peppers like habanero can sometimes be fickle, but they’re the most profitable for us at the market. So these we take our time getting right.

You’ll want consistent moisture and soil temps around 70-80 degrees. I’ve found that sometimes an overhead light isn’t enough to get good germination. We start our seeds in Jiffy Peat Pods underneath a hard plastic cover, which creates a kind of extra greenhouse effect under the lights, trapping in the moisture and heat. You can also try a heated pad underneath your seed tray, but we don’t use that method. Once the seeds sprout, we remove the plastic cover and let expose the seedlings to 8 hours of light each day, always checking the soil moisture content.

Broccoli

Broccoli

We start our broccoli indoors around 7 weeks before last frost. In some climates, broccoli can be direct seeded, but we’ve found that our broccoli is much more healthy and better developed when we transplant. One of the biggest factors for us is pest penetration. Flea beetles love to eat young broccoli seedlings as they emerge, often decimating a whole crop overnight. Deer like to munch on broccoli too. Transplanting doesn’t guarantee either of these pests won’t go after your crop, but a bigger, stronger plant has a much better chance at surviving insect (or deer) infestation than seedlings.

Broccoli will germinate in soil temps as low as 45 degrees, and will usually only take 4-7 days. Broccoli thrives in cooler weather, but make sure temps are consistently above 55 before you transplant or else you might have early bolting (your broccoli head flowering and going to seed).

We handle cabbage and cauliflower the same as we do broccoli. All three are part of the same family and having similar growing traits.

 

 

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Celery

Have you ever considered growing your own celery? There’s no comparison to the taste of fresh celery, and its really not as hard to grow as you might think.

Celery is a tiny seed that takes up to 3 weeks to germinate, which makes it a good candidate for starting indoors. We’ll start our celery around 12 weeks before the last frost, under grow lights at a consistent temperature around 70 degrees. Moisture should be even but not overdone.

When transplanting, makes sure temps are consistently above 55 degrees. Celery can withstand light frost, but too many cool nights and temps below 55 will cause early bolting.

Celery takes a long time to mature, so starting with strong plant development is essential. It does well in the high heat of summer here in Iowa, as long as we keep the soil moist, and we will usually start to harvest in August. That’s a long journey from seed to table!

 

 

 

 

 

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Down The Country Road

It was one of those days where you just want to jump in the truck and go someplace new. Someplace never seen before. Sunny October days in Iowa are made for exploring, driving down a country road, through cornfields now stripped and barren. And if you’re lucky that country road might just take you to a barn sale where you’ll spend hours rooting through old heirlooms from an era gone by.

Colo, IA is a small midwest town about 30 minutes southeast from our place. Just outside of town you’ll find a place called Leisa’s Farmtiques, which is really just a beautifully restored barn filled to the brim with unique turn of the century furniture, old toys, boutique clothing and ancient memorabilia. When you enter the barn you’ll instantly be greeted by Leisa, the owner of Farmtiques, who is one of the most genuine and knowledgeable people I’ve met.

Sifting through the relics (there are two stories of glorious junk) you’ll find that its easy to get lost. The place is almost timeless. There’s so much detail in the structure of old things, and that detail demands attention. There’s no skimming here. You don’t want to overlook anything. These old things each tell a story, and you’ll find yourself wanting to hear the words, to know those stories intimately, to let them become a part of you. Cool things like these sports memorabilia from the twenties. What happened to the kids that wore those gloves? Who threw the footballs? Used the bat? Where are they now?

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And there are certainly the creepy things that will haunt you. Dolls and old hats. Perfect for Halloween.

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We scored these cool metal chairs for a decent price. When we lived in Hood River, OR we used to go to a farm stand every summer and they had a host of these old chairs, all brightly painted and cheerfully lined up in front of the barn. Everybody wanted to sit in the bright metal chairs! We’ve been hunting for our own for some time now. It’s not that they’re hard to find. We’ve come across them in various places, but haven’t been able to find the right price. Until now! Just a little cleaning and some paint and these two chairs will look great outside the old brick barn.

Another score for the day was this cool sideboard from the late 1800s. Its rough, its primitive and its got character. There are stains on the shelves. The top is worn. The doors don’t close neatly. And its seen more autumn months than anyone still alive on this planet!

What do you do with a sideboard like this? Do you restore it? Do you keep it as it is? I have no idea. But I know its going to look great in our dining room, and its going to be well used. When we choose an antique piece, its got to be functional as well as aesthetic. This sideboard certainly fits the bill.

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A little ways up the road from Colo is Marshaltown. Take the exit off Hwy 30, head through town and at the end of Main street you’ll find Appleberry Farms. Apple trees, pumpkins, holiday decor and crafts. Plus they make their own cider!

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We took the boys here to find their pumpkins and to check out the apple stock for saucin’ and we found a whole lot more.

If there’s something you’re looking for, Appleberry Farms has it. Glassware, old tins, handmade birdhouses, creepy mannequins. Their prices are very reasonably fair. We came for pumpkins and apples and we left with a lot more than that. The owners are friendly too, which is always a plus.

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A short trip through Central Iowa on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and we stumbled on a world we didn’t know was there. We met new people and we came home with more “project” material than we can probably find time for. All because we wanted to go down a country road.

 

 

 

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Junkin

It was time to go through the old junk pile. I saw it there toward the edge of the property when we first bought the house. Tucked in among the trees, it stuck out like an ugly wart when everything was winter-bare. But through the summer, when the branches were lush and the undergrowth was its own little wild jungle, it was easy to “forget” about that pile of rusted metal and wood. But lately its been calling my name.

I admit it. I’m a sucker for old things. And since moving in to our house, its felt like our ground is growing this stuff like weeds. Old rusty car parts. Pieces to various farm machinery; augers, elevator chains, things not quite discernible. I even pulled an old headlight out of the flower bed. It was staring up at me like a blind eye.

This junk pile though. Jeez its big. And it needs to be dealt with.

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There’s about three more of these piles back into the woods. Its like a graveyard for used things. But is some of it still useful? I was curious…

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To get to the junk graveyard, you’ve got to go through this cool gate. Its part of the remnant of fencing that still exists back there. The gate itself is dang cool. You know how much something like this goes for in one of those “junk shops”?

We pulled some neat things from the pile. This chair just needs some color and it’ll come back to life. No holes in the bottom of this banged up metal bucket. Bingo! I immediately think of next year’s pepper plants. What do you think? Is your creativity flowing yet?

If you’re a junker like me, you’re probably salivating at the potential for re-purposing some of this stuff. There’s more to go through; lots of old boards and windows and even a few farmhouse doors. Sure, there’s also enough useless crap that has the practical side of me screaming just to dig a hole and bury it all. But not yet. Not yet.

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I haven’t walked the entire property for a while, so after digging through the top layer of the junk heap I went back to where I’ve started to unbury the old hog sheds. Through the woods and around to the south side, I’m still finding old things lying around as I slowly work through the overgrown trees. What would you do with this old skid loader bucket and water trough?

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One of the coolest finds on the property is this old Ford truck bed. The wood is rotted out and the lower half of the frame is rusted through, but most of its charm is still clearly there. Anyone know what year this looks like? I rescued it from the trees  that were trying to eat it, and we pulled out the heap of rusting metal that was piled in it. Its got a good bones and will make a nice winter project. A little rust repair, some new wood in the back and some new paint (I’m thinking yellow and green…Go Ducks!) and we’ll have a nifty flower planter that’s sure to catch some attention. I can’t wait to get started on this one.

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Something else that came out of the junk pile was this little stool. It’s small and it has unique character. Maybe it was a footstool once? Maybe something else?  It’s already made it’s way inside the wood shop where it’ll get a nice makeover. I’ll keep you posted on its transformation.

So what about you? Are you a junker too? You don’t have to spend a lot of money at the “antique” shops to find cool pieces. Check out your local flea markets or look for barn sales. No matter where you find your junk, get creative, get inspired. It’s good for the environment and it’s good for your soul. And share your creations with others. It’s always more fun that way.

I’m sure we’ll find more stuff as we continue to clean up our property. For now, we’ve certainly got enough to keep us busy. Until next time, keep junkin’.

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Going Old School With The Ford Jubilee

In 1953, Ford celebrated their 50th anniversary by launching a new tractor line called the Ford NAA. It was dubbed the Golden Jubilee. Slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor, the Ford 8N, the Jubilee featured a 134 cu inch 4 cylinder gasoline engine boasting 32hp.

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Production actually began on this little gem in late 1952, and the tractor was manufactured through 1954. But its the ’53 model that is often coveted by collectors because of the special nose badge Ford introduced specifically in honor of their anniversary year.

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In a world where much larger 4 wheel drive tractors dominate the ag market, its fascinating to me to think back to a simpler time where these little tractors pulled most of the duty on the farm. They were certainly work horses in their time, and still have their place today. Some put them in the showroom or drive them in the tractor parade during Fourth of July celebrations and county fairs, but we thought it would be cool to bring one home and put it to work on the mini farm.

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To be honest, we were looking for a larger tractor, something like a JD 4020. Something that could pull the 8 row Cyclo planter we have on the farm and a bigger cultivator when we bought one. But when we found this little guy at the right price, we realized there was a lot of things we could do with a smaller tractor. The Ford can pull the 4 row JD 494A planter we have, which is probably a better option for our small acreage than the Cyclo anyway. It can pull a wagon during harvest, a 4 ft Bush Hog, a disc, a small rake and baler, and so much more! Plus its fun for the kids. We’ll probably still keep our eye out for a higher horse power tractor, but the Jubilee will earn its place without a doubt.

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Sometimes going old school is better.

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Wood Shop Makeover Part 2

Autumn has been knocking on the door. The midwest summer heat has been trying to linger, and with it the incredible thunderstorms, but there is a sudden coolness to each morning that is certainly welcome. This is my favorite time of year. But with autumn there also comes a certain awareness that soon the weather will completely turn and our opportunity to get things done outside with diminish.

We have a lot of projects happening right now at the Ealy mini farm. Weekends and evenings are certainly full. Progress is slowly being made, and its exciting to see things taking shape. We have a neighbor who tells me that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will our homestead.

The wood shop is slowly coming along. But I’ll tell you, its been one of those projects that keeps getting bigger. The more I pull back the layers of this building the more I find that requires attention. Sometimes maybe its better to just leave things alone. In the end, I’ll likely be replacing everything but the roof.

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Perhaps you’ll remember the bird nest I found hiding in the walls? Well there are three small hinged doors/windows on the back of the shop, one of which the birds had nested in. I decided these needed to go in order to keep other critters from coming in. Part of the shop has been covered with vinyl siding, but not back here. Everything has been bare to the extremities. It made the most sense to just remove the old lap siding (there is no substrate) and replace with OSB, properly seal it from weather and then put new siding on.

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But, like I said earlier, once I started peeling back the existing wood I discovered that much of the skeleton of this old building was rotten, including the bottom wall sill and several of the old studs.

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And something had clawed its way in (or out) where the old propane line was connected to the furnace.

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My goal was to salvage as much of the original wood as possible, but to make it structurally sound and water (as well as critter!) proof so that the shop remains standing for a long time. Once the OSB is up, the next step will be to wrap it with tarpaper. I’m also going to put down an aluminum mesh over the foundation to deter rodents from chewing through the wood. Then I’ll add a basic gutter system to move the water away from the building and figure out what kind of siding to put up. I’m not a big fan of vinyl siding. I think it looks tacky and it doesn’t do a good job of protecting the wood beneath it.

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So what to do with all the old wood? Much of the yellow pine siding I cut out was in decent shape. I salvaged several piles of it for later projects. Its got such need character to it. Just think of the stories caught up in that old, ancient grain.This wood is older than I am and it deserves a new home.

So now I’m at a pivotal point where I can’t decide if I want to start pulling down the other walls now, or if I want to wait until after winter. I’d like to refinish the inside of the shop and insulate, but obviously that can’t be done until the outside is addressed. That means new windows and probably a new door. I suppose we’ll see what October brings.

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Old Things Found Among the Ruins

 

So we did it. We made the trek from Hood River to Ellsworth. It was strange coming all that distance, moving east along the Oregon Trail, the very path that took the early pioneers west. It was like swimming upstream almost. Going against the grain. Go East young man. For that’s where your future lies.

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We’re excited to be in our new house, although we’re still somewhat living out of a box. That will come to an end though. Someday. The movers came and they went and our stuff now sits waiting to be unpacked, dusted off and put away. And we have a whole house waiting for us to figure out how to make it a home. That’s an incredible feeling, you know. When I sit back and think about the history of this place, the stories it could tell, the lives shared, lost and born anew, it humbles me to think that we are now part of the legacy of this land and its buildings. We are somehow grafted into a vine we have yet to discover and married in a way to a past we have yet to unearth. We will be haunted by its ghosts.

There is a lot to do, and yet the boys and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore. The property has been sitting vacant for at least three or four years, and so much of the landscape has been neglected. The trees and bushes have taken over, quietly swallowing everything up. I knew there were some outbuildings at the back of the property that I hadn’t even seen yet, and so I grabbed my chainsaw and began to blaze a trail. We made some pretty cool discoveries along the way. The old manure spreader was pretty neat.

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I’ll have to get back there and do more cutting, but from what I can tell the shed is in decent enough shape. I think it was used as a poultry barn in the past. If we decide to have animals I can put this to good use. As for the old equipment? Who knows?