Month: February 2020

Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden Book Review

I checked out Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden from the library late last week when we were in between cold fronts. The book was published in 1985 and has nary a photo as you might expect from an older publication. But the illustrations more than make up for a lack of photography.Page with emoji of gardener

For starters, Baker was way ahead of the curve when it came to personalizing the text. Thanks to the photo on the cover page, it was easy to see the resemblance of the gardener illustrated within. Thirty years before emoji’s became popular, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden is strewn with these humorous illustrations. Furthermore, emoji’s for vegetables and garden critters also dot the pages.

Charts and Diagrams

On a more serious note, the gardening manual provides great charts throughout. In addition to the often found last and first freeze charts, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden also has tables breaking down by percentage the amount of primary and secondary elements in the different types of manures, tankages, rock powders and vegetable waste.

Primary elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potash- Potassium (K) while the secondary elements are magnesium (MG), manganese (MN), and copper (CU).  There is also a short discussion on minor elements. In addition to the percentages found, Baker includes a discussion on the specific fertilizers.

Other charts differentiate between fast and slow growing plants and types of pests as well as beneficial insects. Baker includes a chart with vitamin content and calories of each type of vegetable. A few simple diagrams explain the importance of spacing and location of the vegetable garden.

Jerry Baker’s Top Tips

I do not consider myself a novice gardener nor a master gardener. Since I am somewhere in the middle there is still plenty to learn. Jerry Baker’s guide may be 35 year’s old, but I found it a valuable resource. In addition to the jargon glossary and the wonderful charts discussed above, the tips for starting seeds are great. Until just recently, I either planted seeds directly into the ground or bought plants.

Last year, I had some success growing from seed a type of tomato that the nurseries were no longer distributing. This year I plan to branch out as discussed in The Peanut Experiment. Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden will be consulted frequently.

The book has a good question and answer section as well as a few recipes. The section on herbs is extensive. Also the one on container planting is quite thorough. This just over two hundred page book is so well written I read it in an afternoon. If your library does not have a copy, do a quick Internet search. There are plenty of used copies available for sale. This book is a winner.

Jerry Baker's Pages illustrating types of garden bugs

Valentine’s Day is Special

Valentine’s Day is special to me. Not for the flowers, or the cards or even the chocolate candy that my sweet tooth often craves. But for the birth of my father. If he did not exist then naturally I would not be here. Life is precious.

Mom and Dad

My parents, like many couples that have passed their 50th Anniversary have a special relationship. One cultivated by time. Shared accomplishments tempered by disappointments. Shared losses dulled by new joys. My hope is that her dementia does not cloud her understanding of today’s double celebration.

Growing up, Valentine’s Day meant a heart shaped birthday cake for Dad. Double chocolate with both cake and icing originating at one point in time from the cocoa bean. But at our house Betty Crocker did her share of the prep.

Valentine’s Day 2020

This year marks my Dad’s 81st celebration. I am not there in person but will be mindful of the love and guidance I have received over the years. Hopefully, his card has arrived. It is pretty darn hard to find those Birthday/Valentine’s Day combination cards.

Dad recently endured the last of his radiation treatments for the male breast cancer he is battling. The following day he made a five hour drive to see his brother who is also struggling with serious health issues. I talked with both men that day. Brotherly love emanated over the phone line. But I am sure the visit was bittersweet. It is hard to say goodbye.

Share the Love

The cynics I know view Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday. They cringe at the expense. But, the day can be celebrated on a budget. Dining in can be more romantic then going to a restaurant.

Furthermore, not everything needs to be purchased. I still remember my 4-H group making Valentine’s cards for the residents in the nursing home. The cost was not great but the joy was priceless.

Valentine’s Day is special. Share the love with family and friends. Life is finite but love is always expanding. Happy birthday Dad and all the other Valentine’s babies out there. If you can’t have a heart shaped cake this year look for heart shaped cookies- I think I will go make a batch.

Double Valentine's Day Themed Wreaths on an entrance
Happy Valentine’s Day

The Peanut Experiment

There was a smattering of snow on the ground this morning. Just enough to know moisture fell overnight. But my peanut experiment was already started. So I will just carry on.

Why Peanuts?

The High Plains is known more for grains. Legumes planted in the area tend to be soy or pinto. Peanuts are not grown commercially in this area. But they can be grown in the home garden.

I first planted peanuts in 2018. A nursery in a nearby city of 30,000 had some peanut plants for sale. Impulse buying struck and a four pack of peanuts made it into the cart. They survived in the raised bed but only a handful of peanuts were harvested.

peanut in raised bed
2018 Peanut Plant

Last year, I returned to the nursery specifically looking for the plants. After finding them, I doubled the purchase amount. The plants joined the garden on Mother’s Day. A late frost a few days after nipped the garden and delayed the growth.

However, the end result was a positive one. The peanut harvest yielded over a pound of peanuts. Not bad for about six feet in a raised row. So this year, I am hoping for another successful season.

The Peanut Experiment

Peanuts need warm soil and a long growing season. Starting the seeds indoors should help me get a step up on the planting. Plus, I will know before May if my starts are viable. If I fail, I can always make the two hour trip to the nursery for the professionally grown bedding plants. (Yes, a two hour drive gets you to a “nearby” city.)

After last year’s harvest, the peanuts were hung to dry in the garage much like the garlic. I then sorted through the crop before storing in a recycled flour bag. Pods that looked iffy were pulled aside. My thought was to use those for seed.

The Method

Last night after extracting the peanuts from the culled shells, I questioned the viability of the seed. So, I pulled some of the good pods from storage. As you can see from the pictures, they look much better before soaking.

I then decided to create the peanut experiment. I divided the nice looking peanuts into two groups. One half was soaked overnight and one left dry. Further, all the poor looking peanuts were also soaked overnight. I was amazed at how much they plumped from the soaking.

I picked the best six from each group for planting. Each type is in a separate container and the containers are clearly labeled. Small pebbles were placed over the drainage holes. This keeps the soil from escaping during watering but allows for drainage.

The same seed starting soil is in each of the containers. The soil was moistened before the seeds were place about 1 ½ inches deep. Additional soil was scattered over the seed. It should be noted that I did not use an inoculant. I want a baseline to measure by. Inoculants can be beneficial, but that is another post!

During the day, the growing pots will be kept near a South facing window because I do not have “grow” lights. Last year, my started seeds were placed on boxes and the boxes stood beneath the LED light above the cook top overnight. Once seeds have sprouted, I may repeat this if the stems seem spindly. However, the larger seed pod makes me think this will not be needed.

Legumes and Soil Enrichment

In addition to enjoying the peanuts as a snack, growing legumes is good in the garden. To be honest, the harvested peanuts are secondary to using the plants as nitrogen fixers. Peas are also good for the soil, but they seldom last past late June as the heat becomes too much.

However, the peanuts thrive in the heat. Their pretty yellow flowers attract pollinating insects. Last but not least, they remind me of the Deep South.

Enjoy the slide show.

  • Peanuts in shell
    Culled Peanuts set aside for seed.
  • Shell peanuts for eating
    Peanuts originally saved to eat
  • Bag of Peanuts
    Bag of Peanuts
  • Shelled peanuts poor quality
    Shelled peanuts from culled group.
  • Peanuts soaking in measuring cup
    Peanuts soaking overnight
  • Shelled peanuts
    Shelled peanuts from edible group
  • non-soaked peanuts
    Non-soaked peanuts
  • Soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from culled group
  • Edible soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from edible group
  • Three groups of seed
    Comparison of soaked and non-soaked seeds
  • Pots Labled
    Pots Labled
  • Small rocks plugging holes in bottom of pots
    Rocks plugging holes in pots
  • Pots and rocks
    Getting ready to plant
  • Seed Starter Soil in Pots
    Adding Seed Starter Soil

Force of Nature Book Review

Jane Harper scores another win with Force of Nature. This second novel featuring Federal Agent Aaron Falk follows in the footsteps of The Dry. Plot twists keep the reader in suspense throughout. Best of all, Harper’s characters are so real and like-able, this reader was dismayed when the suspicion focused on one of the individual’s I most connected with among the potential culprits.

Remote Australia

The setting for Force of Nature is the Giralang Ranges, a remote area of Australia. Ten individuals from a company that Falk is investigating are on a corporate retreat. The group is divided evenly by gender and each team is sent on a different route. The purpose is to create a bond. But the women’s group is late to the rendezvous. Finally, four of the five women return, battered by the force of nature. Snake bit, concussed, bruised and stories that don’t quite add up equate a less than optimal outcome for the missing woman.

Of course, Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper rush to the scene when their inside informant is the one who turns up lost. The remoteness of the area along with the topography and vegetation of this fictional National Park make finding the missing woman difficult. Furthermore, the duo can’t be certain how their investigation of the company is involved.

Force of Nature

Jane Harper weaves a wonderful plot. Her pivoting between action and reflection is well done. Also, her sub-story of teen bullying and sexting adds just the right amount of uncertainty. Both kinship and friendship undergo excruciating stresses during this team building exercise when the women face the force of nature.

If you have not read any of Harper’s novels, I urge you to look for them. The writing is outstanding. I have yet to read her latest, but I am sure it will be every bit as suspenseful as Force of Nature. Jane Harper is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I plan to read her next, The Lost Man, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

February Freeze

Striped cat atop a cat seatOut here on the High Plains of the United States it is not unusual to have a mild January followed by a February freeze. It appears that 2020 will maintain that historical pattern. So, even though Groundhog Day was pleasantly mild, the frigid weather is upon us.

This past weekend it was really hard not to stick some seeds into the ground. Perfect weather for puttering around in the garden. Temperatures reached into the upper 60s and lower 70s. But the forecast was for a quick turn-around. The lows over the next few nights call for single digit temperatures and even possibly below zero.

Sure enough Tuesday morning brought snow and cold. The much needed moisture is welcome. So far, the snow is gently falling. Beautiful to look at and not as dangerous for livestock.

Furthermore, the weather pundits are predicting another storm and then another. This change in pattern is one that often occurs, bringing moisture along with the February freeze. After many years as a transplant to this part of the world, I have finally learned not to let January fool me.

Indoor Activities

For the most part, kids still have school although there were a few two hour delays. Individual school administrators determine how much time if any the kids have for outdoor recess. Determining factors include outside temperatures and whether or not the wind kicks up. Wind chill is dangerous in this part of the country.

Here at the house, I will keep busy in the quilt room with a break every once in a while to look for results from the Iowa Caucus. (Quite the Public Relations disaster.) But poor Sophie will be housebound. Her choice not mine.

Sophie’s Story

Sophie is the fourth cat I have ever shared a home with. My policy is only one animal at a time. (Gold fish are exempt.) One of my nieces found her as a tiny weeks-old kitten at one of the farm buildings. No mama or other kittens in sight. Frigid weather much like the February freeze we are currently experiencing. And if my memory serves right, a spot of snow.

Sophie was near death. But with bottle feedings from family members and meds from the local vet, she survived. She is small for a cat. In fact at four years, Sophie looks closer to nine months. Additionally, Sophie is the most loyal animal I have ever been around.

February Freeze Keeps Sophie Inside

Most days, Sophie is anxious to go outside. She likes nothing better than to accompany me around the yard chasing rabbits and jumping for grasshoppers. But, on cold days she doesn’t venture far. Add snow to the mix and she refuses to venture out. Instead she perches by the window and watches the snow come down. This February freeze is no exception.

Cat looking out at February freeze