Of Corn, Potatoes and Sunflowers

The corn crop we harvested is now turning into dried corn. It just didn’t work out with Frank’s recovery to process it for human consumption, so we are drying it on the cob for the animals. Interesting how some events in life teach you something new. This

is yet another thing we haven’t tried yet, drying corn. A few of them had started to sprout before we got the shucks turned back, and even though it should have been done earlier, I thought these sprouts were very interesting.

The last of the potatoes have been dug and we estimate, we haven’t weighed them, that all together, we have harvested about 100 pounds of potatoes this year. That’s amazing for us, and by far the best crop we have ever had. We plan to try growing a few more this fall, if for nothing else, for seed potatoes for the spring.

The sunflowers had started to droop quite a bit and some of the bigger flowers had a good supply of seeds. 

A strong storm that blew through last week, bent some of the plants over to the point that they could not recuperate. So I decided it was time for harvest.


I wanted to use these thick stalks as a heavy mulch in front of the house where we want to make another herb bed. This is the same place where I put all of the corn stalks. 

The sunflowers were too hard to pull up, so I got out my loppers and started cutting them down. Pruning shears also worked great to cut the flower heads off of the stalks. 

After I started cutting them down, I realized that some of them were kind of brown and gooey in the middle. I figured that had to be some kind of pest damage, but I didn’t see anything. Several of the flower heads were smaller, but looked dead and kind of folded up. 

So, I broke one of them open and found this little guy. He’s hard to see. It’s a small brown worm on the fleshy part inside the flower. He’s actually sitting on some of the light brown goo stuff. This same plant had the brown goo in the stem, so I figured they were related. There are several kinds of worms that affect sunflowers. I found this out after I found the worm. Since this is our first real (although small) crop of sunflowers, it has given us yet another chance to learn more things about growing crops for animals. These seeds are destined to become feed for the goats and chickens. We will also save some of these to grow next year’s crop. This year’s sunflower crop has been grown entirely from last year’s harvest. We think that is really neat.

I think it is really fascinating that each sunflower is made up of a gazillion tiny flowers and that each flower makes a seed. A sunflower seed. Just amazing.

 The potatoes are bagged up and stored in the house, the corn is drying on the back porch, and the sunflowers are drying on the front porch next to the squash we picked for seeds and the tubs of seedlings for our fall crops. 

And, guess what? Today we picked our first red tomatoes. Even though it is pretty late for the first red tomatoes, I think it was all by design. God knew we would be busy with Frank’s healing for a bit, so we haven’t had and green beans or tomatoes to pick. But now that Frank is doing better, there will be many things to put by for winter. Life is good.

Until next time – Fern

The Beautiful America

Hello, Ladies and Gentlemen. Frank here.

There have been times that I have criticized our government harshly, and there is good reason for that. It appears that no one, or almost no one, can get anything productive done in Washington D.C., and for that matter, most state capitals. But, occasionally, you see a star that shines brighter than others, and that star represents the high quality of our American culture. It’s easy to criticize government, but sometimes it’s difficult to see the good that is going on around us.

A friend sent me a link to this video, and I would appreciate it if you would take the time out of your schedule to watch this short presentation. Watching this video still gives me hope for the American dream. Enjoy. 
And may God be with you.

We’ll talk more later. Frank

It Itches!!

Normally once a year I get a case of poison ivy. It usually shows up in late spring. When it didn’t this year, I was surprised, relieved and happy. For some reason, it was just delayed, kind of like some of our garden crops.

The complication I have with poison ivy is that I don’t just get a little patch. It will start off in one small place then kind of blossom, usually on my forearm. Even with treatment, it tends to kind of ‘grow’ up and down my arm until I look rather frightening.

After the poison ivy is well established, blistering and itching like crazy, my psoriasis kicks in. There is something about getting a rash from poison ivy that initiates a psoriasis reaction. I’m not sure what causes it, but it does it every time. I get a flaming red, very, very, itchy rash across my stomach and this year it has decided to visit the front of my neck as well.

I have tried many different remedies in the past, but usually resort to a very strong, prescription hydrocortisone type product I got from a dermatologist. And even with that, it just seems to run it’s course. This time I started using this cream right away, but as you can see, it is still blistering after about a week. It doesn’t leave until it’s good and ready to. And did I mention, it ITCHES? Oh yeah, that was the title of this piece, wasn’t it?

A while back Frank bought me a bar of natural soap for poison ivy. It contains sassafras root bark, Noni, white willow, organic oat bran, and pure natural clay. I haven’t tried it before this outbreak. After using the hydrocortisone with little results, I decided to try this soap. It does a fair job of subduing the itching for a while, but one of my concerns is how the psoriasis will respond. I started using this soap yesterday and the psoriasis on my stomach has spread quite a bit this morning.

Another facet of this little adventure is that my skin is very particular and I can use a very limited number of products on it without getting little itchy red dots. Nice, huh? I use only specific brands and types of lotion or moisturizing products. So the spread of this outbreak on my stomach this morning has me wondering about this soap. I will give it another day to see if it is the culprit, or if it’s just me.

So, now I am asking you what your remedies are. Since I have the underlying reaction of psoriasis, which is also very itchy too, by the way, some of the normal poison ivy treatments may not work. But, on the other hand, if I could knock out the poison ivy, maybe the psoriasis would subside as well. You may know by reading some of our other posts that we are trying to cut down on the chemicals we ingest or use on our skin. One of my long-term goals is to be able to make my own ointments and salves from herbs I have grown. Unfortunately, I’m just not quite there yet.

What are your solutions? I would love to hear them. Excuse me while I try not to scratch………

Until next time – Fern

What Is a Maunder Minimum?

So, what is a Maunder Minimum, and why should we care? How does it or will it affect us? I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to solar activity, unless it looks like we are in for a CME (coronal mass ejection) which could cause an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) and fry everything electronic including our sources of electricity. An EMP can also be man made, but that is a different story. But sometime last year I ran across this thing called the Maunder Minimum. It deals with a dramatic decrease in solar activity on the sun. Let me give you some of the information I found. It will explain it much better than I.

According to Wikipedia: ” The Maunder Minimum, also known as the “prolonged sunspot minimum,” is the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.”

What happens to Earth when sunspot activity is rare or minimal? Washington’s Blog has an article dated January 2013 that has a couple of interesting quotes. First, they referenced an article posted back in June, 2011 which states, “However, just this week, scientists from the US Solar Observatory and the US Air Force Research Laboratory have discovered – to their great surprise – that the sun’s activity is declining, and that we might experience the lowest solar output we’ve seen since 1645-1715.” Then, 18 months later, the January 2013 article goes on to say, “NASA reports this week that we may be on the verge of another Maunder Minimum (a period with an unusually low number of sunspots, leading to colder temperatures): Much has been made of the probable connection between the Maunder Minimum, a 70-year deficit of sunspots in the late 17th to early 18th century, and the coldest part of the Little Ice Age, during which Europe and North America were subjected to bitterly cold winters.  The mechanism for that regional cooling could have been a drop in the sun’s EUV output; this is, however, speculative.”

When I read this it brought to mind the bitterly cold winter we just experienced in many parts of the country as well as some of the near record cool temperatures we have had this summer. Any year can have it’s oddities and extremes, that’s just the nature of the weather. There are many things that can affect weather, such as El Nino and La Nina. So, I kept the Maunder Minimum in the back of my mind to remember if other information surfaced that seemed plausible.

Then I ran across this article from Forbes, Sun Flatlining Into Grand Minimum, Says Solar Physicist. Just the title caught my attention. The article opens with, “With each passing season, the weather seems stranger and more extreme. Who can argue with a sudden outbreak of the “polar vortex” phenomenon; unprecedented winter drought in California; and summer temperatures so torrid Down Under that even play at the Australian Open was briefly halted?” He then goes on to say, “My opinion is that we are heading into a Maunder Minimum,” said Mark Giampapa, a solar physicist at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. “I’m seeing a continuation in the decline of the sunspots’ mean magnetic field strengths and a weakening of the polar magnetic fields and subsurface flows.”

 So, what does this mean to us? “If we’re entering a Maunder Minimum, it could persist until the 2080s,” said Giampapa, who points out that if such a minimum’s primary effect is cooling, it could wreak havoc by curtailing agricultural growing seasons which, for instance, could lead to lower wheat production in breadbasket economies.” I would take this to mean that many of us that are trying to grow much of our food supply would be affected, from gardening to raising livestock or chickens for eggs. Not only would it affect agricultural growing seasons, it would affect wildlife and the insects and birds that we depend upon for pollination and pest control.

Just a few days ago, I found this article, The sun has gone quiet…solar cycle 24 continues to rank as one of the weakest cycles in more than a century dated July 17, 2014. This article contains some technical descriptions of solar activity and it’s relationship with our atmosphere. It is interesting to read. At one point it says, “In addition, research studies in just the past couple of decades have found a complicated relationship between solar activity, cosmic rays, and clouds on Earth. This research suggests that in times of low solar activity where solar winds are typically weak; more cosmic rays reach the Earth’s atmosphere which, in turn, has been found to lead to an increase in certain types of clouds that can act to cool the Earth.” 

Is any of this information conclusive? No. I really don’t believe mankind can have really conclusive data when it comes to things such as the activity of the sun or weather patterns. Man has developed a keen sense of

observation and analytical processes, but some things are just not as predictable as an apple falling down from a tree instead of up. The reason I bring this information to the blog is to increase our arsenal of knowledge about things that may affect our ability to produce our own food. Sometimes, in our preparations, we need to prepare for the unexpected. I have read many times where gardeners have not been able to produce a crop one year, even though they have grown the same seed, in the same conditions for many years before that were successful. Ask yourself these questions: If this event occurs, how will this effect crop production worldwide? Then ask: In the long run, how is this going to affect mankind? You never know what may come along and impact your ability to preserve an adequate food supply for the needs of your family. Just food for thought.

Until next time – Fern

Just Some Stuff

There are several plants around here that I haven’t been able to identify, and this is one of them. I thought I would see if anyone could help me. I’m wondering if this could be plantain, but I really don’t know.

We have them growing here and there, but not in any great abundance. I’m just curious if this plant could be useful. Any ideas?

We planned to breed One Stripe in mid June so we could have Thanksgiving babies. She hasn’t seemed interested. Not long ago I thought, she sure is getting fat even though I am feeding her very little since she is not being milked. Then I started watching her closely. Her underbelly is getting much bigger and Frank and I think her udder may be filling ever so slightly. If she is pregnant, the question will be by who and when. We sold Teddy, our last buck, in April and don’t remember the boys getting the gate open and making an unscheduled visit to the girls before he left. That only leaves our young bucks that were born in March. We didn’t separate them from the does until they were 2 1/2 months old. Until recently everything we had read said a young buck is not able to successfully breed until they are 4 months old. But recently I read that they can breed at 2 months old. So, we will just have to wait and see.

Fried green tomatoes, fried okra, fried yellow squash, corn

We have been enjoying meals that include all fresh picked food from the garden. It is nice to be able to walk out, pick something, come in, wash it off and cook it. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Our friends down the road have started raising chickens for the first time this spring and have been anxiously awaiting their first egg. This week they received it with much excitement. It reminded us of our first egg which we celebrated, just like they are. You notice her egg is brown, and she thinks it came from one of their Rhode Island Red hens. We will soon be having brown eggs also from our new Black Australorps. We look forward to it.

Life on the farm is good. Frank is progressing every day. And we are enjoying the abundance of our garden. How are things in your neck of the woods?

Until next time – Fern

UPDATE: July 26, 2014

I want to thank everyone for their input into the identification of the mystery plant. For those of you that thought it might be comfrey, I need to provide some more information or visualization about this little plant. I have a new comfrey patch that is growing quite well and these plants are much, much larger than this little plant we are all guessing about. I realized that I should have given more perspective on the size of the plant, once I read some of your comments. So, I went out and took some more pictures. Maybe this will give some more clues about this plant’s real name.

Here are my 5 new comfrey plants with Pearl, our Pyrenees napping in the background.

The large and small comfrey leaves dwarf the size of the mystery plant.

The veins on the leaves are similar, but the smaller plant’s veins are more symmetrical.

The mystery plant’s leaves are rounded, whereas the comfrey is pointed.

The blooms of the two plants are similar in appearance, just not in size.

Thank you for giving me the motivation to study these plants in more detail. Are there any more guesses out there as to what plant this is?


Corn & Fall Seedlings

The corn was ripe and ready to pick, so that was the chore for today. I have found it easier to pick the patch if I pull up or break off the stalks as I pick. It clears the ground and helps get it ready for the next crop.


I plan to use the corn stalks as a heavy mulch in a new area we want to turn into another herb bed. In years past, I have pulled up the corn stalks and piled them right outside the garden. This time, instead of stacking them on the ground, then loading them up to go somewhere else, I decided to load them directly into the back of the pickup. When I finish mowing the grass and weeds down in the area for the new bed, I can just drive by and unload these directly onto the bed. Well, that is the plan anyway.

Here is our corn harvest for the year, minus the half dozen ears we have already eaten. There are quite a few small, irregular ears that I will give to the chickens. Our young hens that are about five weeks old, have really taken to eating the scraps and comfrey leaves I bring them, so I hope they enjoy these small ears of corn. My plan is to cut the corn from the cob and can it. We tend to eat more corn from the can than from the cob, and this will also give us another learning experience since we haven’t canned corn before.

I have almost finished digging the potatoes. Once the potatoes are out this area, I will till this space, along with the adjoining old beet and onion beds for some of our fall crops. The area the corn was growing in will be used as well. With that in mind, and the time growing short, at Frank’s recommendation, I planted most of my fall crops in tubs on the porch a couple of days ago. The only thing I didn’t plant like this are the turnips, which are Purple Top White Globes. I will direct seed them.

The things I have planted in the tubs are:

  • Dr. Jaeger’s Cantaloupe – 85 days

  • Autumn King Carrots – 70 days
  • Earliana Cabbage – 57 days
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach – 45-50 days
  • Long Island Improved Brussel Sprouts – 100 days
  • Cushaw Green Striped Winter Squash – 110 days

  • Bucklunch Sugar Beet – 110 days
  • Mammoth Long Red Mangel Beets – 110 days

Our first average frost date here is October 31st which is 102 days from the time I planted these seeds. The cantaloupe and winter squash vines cannot tolerate a frost.

If we have an early frost I may be able to save some of these plants with frost cloth, so I will plant them in the same area. The beets, carrots and spinach can tolerate a mild frost, so they should be fine.

The cabbage and brussel sprouts will be happier once it cools off and can take a hard frost, so I’m curious how they will do.

Gardening is an ever changing outdoor ‘school house’ where I never quit learning. The possibilities are endless and can reach as far as your knowledge and imagination can take you. Grow something. Anything. It never ceases to amaze me that I can take one small, tiny seed and watch it grow into something truly amazing. Something that can feed and sustain me. I am in awe.

Until next time – Fern

Lessons I’ve Learned From My Garden

These lessons work here in Zone 7 where we live in southeastern Oklahoma. The techniques we use may need to be tweaked to work in your neck of the woods. There are several things I have learned this year in the garden that I would like to share. It teaches me something every year with every crop. We have also learned a lot from the comments and interaction we receive here on the blog. I have grown rather fond of this small piece of dirt…and weeds…..and grass….

Don’t plant onions too deep or they will not make a nice onion bulb. I have never grown a decent sized onion until this year. When I mentioned this on one of the gardening articles, one of the comments indicated that an onion should basically have only the roots in the ground.

I have always planted them much deeper than that. Then the next day or so, we stopped by Grace’s house and she had a beautiful onion in a tub that barely had it’s roots in the ground, but looked great.

So, I uncovered the base of some of my onions, and guess what? They grew bulbs! Real, live onions! I was very happy and thankful I finally figured out what I had been doing wrong.

We are having the best corn crop this year we have ever had, but I can’t really tell you why. I planted a new variety, Stowell’s Evergreen, an open pollinated, white, sweet corn variety. One difference this year was my planting technique. I tend to plant corn way too close together trying to utilize all of our space. Corn doesn’t particularly

like to be crowded. This year Frank recommended I poke a hole in the ground with the handle end of my hoe, drop in a couple of seeds, then step on them. This worked very well and kept me from planting so close together. The result? Nice full, large ears of corn. And it tastes good to boot!

I planted the green beans in the new part of the garden that hadn’t been fertilized much. In some years past, I didn’t have a very good green bean crop and the only thing I could figure out was the soil was too rich. Because of that  
experience I thought this would be an okay place for the beans this year. They are growing well, just not producing any beans. I ‘watered’ them with some old milk a few times for the calcium. Next, I was thinking of putting on some wood ashes for the potassium. I’m glad we still have plenty of green beans we canned last summer. We’ll just have to wait and see how they do.

 For some reason, I have not figured out why, we also have the best potato crop ever this year. There are many more potatoes, and they are much larger. The only difference I can think of is that we set the tiller a little lower and got the soil loosened up a little deeper. I was able to hill them up twice before Frank’s surgery and the weeds took over. Now that I have mowed down the grass, I am getting them dug up to make room for the fall crops.

 What makes a carrot go to seed? From my reading, if a carrot goes to seed the first year it will not make good seed. Carrots are biennial, which means they need a ‘winter’ or a spell of cold weather to produce viable seed the second year. I am really surprised at the size of the seed stalk this carrot is producing, compared to the regular carrot greens, it is huge. I will still try to harvest the seeds from this plant and see how they do. I will plant them separately in seedling pots and see if they germinate just to learn something new.


I have a tomato jungle growing. Since this year in the garden has been hit and miss, I have not been keeping up with the tomato suckers. In years past, I have been pretty vigilant in removing them, but not this year, and it has turned out to be a good

thing. I was taught to remove the suckers to allow the energy to be focused into the main plant. But, this year, with many, many suckers, I am finding I have a lot more tomatoes coming on. Now I need to learn a happy medium between removal and encouragement. Interesting.

The purple hull peas seem to have vined out more this year. I almost think it would be beneficial to plant them along a stock panel trellis the way we do tomatoes. It would make them easier to pick and I would walk on them less. That would be a lot more panels to dedicate to the garden, though, so I will have to ponder that one. Maybe it would do just to plant my rows a little farther apart. They are such a hardy plant and will keep on producing as long as you keep picking. They don’t require near the moisture of other plants, such as corn or squash.

We don’t eat fresh cucumbers, but I do like pickles. Last year I planted too many cucumbers, this year I planted too few. If I want enough cucumbers to make pickles, I need more plants than this. Next year, I will go back to more plants and pull them up when I am finished making pickles.

There is always so much to learn in the garden. No two years are exactly the same. The weather is different, the time I can spend is different, the bug population is different, there are just untold differences to learn about and deal with each and every year. If you believe that extremely hard times are coming to our country and world, and you want to be able to grow your own food, don’t wait until that event happens. It will be too late to learn the lessons of gardening in your location, or the location you plan to go to. Even folks that have gardened all of their lives come up against something new that requires a change in plans when it comes to growing food. Grow what you can. Can what you grow. Enjoy the blessings of the harvest.

Until next time – Fern