Sunday, August 08, 2010

With the Amish

In Kalona, Iowa there reside the Amish, a community of people who live in Medieval conditions without electricity or cars or phones, or any of the modern aspects of life. They live like that by choice. They still use horse buggies to move around and to carry their heavy loads, and they use Medieval methods in agriculture without any machinery or electrical appliances. Their youth go to school, but it is a different kind of school, not the public type, and by the age of sixteen they are married and have children.
People from the city like to go there and spend a day buying form their organic produce and meats. Everything there is cheaper, but you have to pick the produce yourself and you can if you like slaughter your own cow or chickens or goats or lambs then let them clean and cut it for you. You can also get fresh milk and fruits. Everything from there tastes better because they don't use any pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Now that is real organic.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stormy Weather

The weather is Cedar Rapids these days is reminiscent of that of summer of 2008 when the city was flooded. It has been storming for several days now and the river level is rising again. Although no flooding occurred yet, but it is quite possible that it can happen. Today for example is hot and humid, and storms occurred last night and are possible again tonight. This makes it hard to do outdoors activities in the summer.
In addition to the lack of outdoors activities there is another problem with stormy weather here, and that is lack of sunshine. For several days the sun did not come through the thick dark clouds and when it came out like today it was so hot and humid that you wish it did not come out.
I should not complain because it could be much worse, but summer this year is surely not as nice as it was last year. So we will have to enjoy what we can and hope for the best.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Good Growth

Compared to a couple of weeks ago the deck pot vegetables had a great growth as you can see when comparing this picture with the one taken last time. The tomato plant is incredibly growing and is almost a tree now. We are yet to see some tomatoes coming out of it. The peppers are also growing albeit not as incredibly as the tomatoes. Even the ones started from seed are doing great.
As for the beds you can see they have also doing very well. We have already cut parsley and spinach for our salads from them. Both parsley and spinach continue to produce like crazy especially the parsley. As for the radishes the leaves have been growing very well but the roots did not get a chance to develop far enough to produce the actual radishes. This is because the plants are so crowded. But that is fine, because the leaves are as good as the roots if not better. Actually they contain more vitamin C than the roots themselves. Also they taste as good. So we cut many of the leaves and already used them in salads. The remaining ones are less crowded now so they may have a chance to produce some radishes in the roots.
The cabbages are growing well and I expect to have some produce in the next couple of weeks or so. Same thing for the broccoli. After harvesting the remaining radish plants I intend to grow in their place some lettuces to make good green salads.
The tomatoes and the peppers are growing as good as the deck pot plants but not enough to produce any fruits yet.
The onions are not getting enough sun so I am not sure if they will ever develop. They might but it is taking longer than thought initially. That is why the best investment in this kind of garden would be in green vegetables that don't require lot of sun. This is a lesson learned so far.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Biking to Urbana

Taking advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend I biked all the way to Urbana which is about 22 miles away. It is about 7 to eight miles away from Center Point which is the usual destination for me on my biking treks. This picture shows the street that leads to the town. Fortunately the weather was good and except for scorching sun the temperature was mild.
After Urbana there is Brandon which is another twelve or so miles further north.
The only section remaining on this trail that was not trekked by me is the part from Waterloo to Brandon, passing by La Porte. The total distance from home to Waterloo and back on the trail is about 112 miles, a little too much for a one day excursion. However, it might be possible as a one way endeavor, if I can be dropped off at Waterloo and bike back home, or park the car in Waterloo and bike to La Porte and back to Waterloo. Now that is manageable and it would be about the same as biking to Urbana from home, but the difference would be riding on a different section of the trail.

Harvesting Spinach

A couple of days ago we had the first spinach harvest. This picture was taken just before the spinach was harvested. It needed to be washed but it had to be stored dry so that it wouldn't wilt. It was already consumed with green salad. The taste was fresh and fine, and it is enough to know that no pesticides were used in this crop. It is said that commercial spinach contains one of the highest pesticide contamination as it is subjected to many insects that eat the leaves. That might be true but we don't use any pesticides and merely clean the leaves by hand. Some leaves get eaten partially though by the insects, and that is fine, consider it a fee you have to pay to the environment to keep the cycle going and the earth green.

Vegetables in Pots II

As you see the pot vegetables are doing great. The tomato plant that was started from a seed is actually doing better than the transplanted plant in the raised bed. This is due to amply sunshine on the deck as opposed to meager sun in the shady backyard. Notice also that the peppers are growing and there are new plants introduced.
We use organic Miracle Grow liquid to supplement the nutrition introduced to the plants and that also has a great effect on the growth rate taking place.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vegetables in Pots

Since the deck receives more sunshine than the actual garden, we are trying to grow some vegetables in pots as well. The pictures shows another tomato plant started from seed inside and then transplanted in the big black pot shown. We started also some peppers from seed directly in the pot as well as a transplant bought from the nursery, the latter is the rightmost pot in the picture. The pot to the left of the tomato plant is parsley started from seeds indoors and then transplanted into the pot

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Vegetable Garden

Many plants have been transplanted already into the two raised beds as shown in the picture. Some plants were started from seeds, like the radishes. The transplanted vegetables so far are: Tomatoes (various kinds), peppers (various kinds), red and white onions, red and green cabbages, broccoli, spinach, and parsley. Unfortunately there isn't enough sun throughout the day thanks to the many trees around the yard, and because of that not many plants can tolerate these conditions, so I am not sure which plants will thrive and which will not. The total amount of sun needs to be at least 6 hours per day, but due to the shades of the trees we would be lucky to have four hours of total sun during the day. Other seeds did not make it like the beans, cucumber and zucchini, so we disregarded those for now. Maybe it is still too cold for them. Some plants are harder to grow than others, so it was decided to start with whatever is easier for now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bike Trail

It is spring again and it is time to bike along the trails wherever they exist. This is the Cedar Valley trail on the way to Center Point from Robin going north. The weather is still kind of cold but is fine for biking especially when it is sunny although windy conditions can feel much cooler than it really is. My typical trip is about 30 miles from home to Center Point and back. Sometimes I do less if it is not the weekend due to the time limit before sunset after work. It is excellent exercise and does not hurt the knees like running for example.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Colors of Spring

After the long winter here in Iowa spring is no doubt welcome with its colors and mild cool mornings. Unlike places that have moderate weather throughout the year, Iowa has four distinct seasons, three of which are nice and one long cold winter. You might think of winter here as a useless dead time but that is not true, because one does not really appreciate spring without a cold winter. Once the snow thaws and the grass starts to turn green again, people here start cleaning the remnant brown leaves from last fall and make way for their wonderful perennial flowers to grow again. The picture here shows some tulips that grow every year. Once you plant a perennial it grows every year on its own. So we clean, mulch, and compost for the growing seasons of spring, summer and fall. We enjoy the outdoors, and work hard in our gardens, which makes it worthwhile after all this effort to rest in the winter and prepare for the next growing seasons. This is the life of the farmers in this area.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Raised Beds Project

This summer we decided to grow some vegetables in the backyard. We chose the sunniest spot which happened to be in a badly sloped section so we could not just place the raised beds on the ground but had to create a terraced structure as seen in the picture. First of all we had to make the two frames which we constructed from cedar wood so that they wouldn't rotten. We used twelve 2"x6" pieces that were 8' long each. Four of them were cut in half to make the two 4'x8' beds shown. The pieces were nailed together at the corners using one foot pieces cut from an 8' long 4"x4" cedar lumber. That was the easy part. Next we had to lay the frames in place. The top one was easy to lay down because the ground there was more or less flat. We had to dig a little around the edges to put it in place as flat as possible. The second was much harder due to the large slope in the land. We chose bricks to raise the steep end in order to make the bed flat. It took 40 bricks and lot of digging in order to construct the wall that would carry one end of the bed. On the other side of it we also did some digging in order to lay the bed as flat as possible. In the end it was perfectly flat and level to our satisfaction.

Next we had to install hardware cloth at the bottom of the beds in order to prevent burrowing animals from eating our vegetables from under the ground. Many moles live in our area and if we don't take any measure to stop them from getting to the vegetables from underneath they will surely eat all the onions, turnips and carrots from down under. Laying the hardware cloth was not that difficult, but it took some time to make sure there were no gaps from where the moles could come through. The hardware cloth is shown in the picture before filling the beds with soil.
Filling the frames was the hardest part, even harder than laying the bricks. First we had to cover the ground with newspapers and cardboard so that all grass and weeds would die. Then we used the compost that we started last September to fill in the bottom of the beds as seen in the picture. The compost was not completely ready but it will get finished in the ground as time passes as long as it is topped with finished soil and/or compost. Then we topped off the unfinished compost with organic soil as shown in the last picture. The only thing remaining is possibly surrounding the frames with some chickenwire in case we see rabbits jump over to the beds to eat the cabbage and lettuce, but we won't bother with that yet.

The project just was concluded just in time before rain starts in the next few days. Now the two beds are ready to be planted with either seeds or transplants or both. Normally the time to start planting is late May to early June here in Iowa after all risk of frost is over, but there are some vegetables that can tolerate frost and can be started earlier in spring. We are thinking of planting the following vegetables: tomatoes, cucumber, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radish, spinach, turnips, beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, and peppers. We hope it will be a productive endeavor, and looking forward to some rewarding produce this summer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Walk by Lake Tahoe

With the application RunKeeper running on my iPhone I took a walk along lake Tahoe, Nevada. The path of the walk is shown on the map as taken by the iPhone's GPS. I started from the point on the right and reached the extreme point on the left then went back. It was cold, around 32 F, but it was convenient for a brisk walk. The area is on the northern part of the lake near the border between Nevada and California. Actually the walk itself was in the California side. As usual the area was covered with snow, especially on the tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which means in Spanish the snowy mountains. The scenes in the area were spectacular. The picture shows a glimpse of the beauty in the area. People go there for skiing even in the spring, and of course boating, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. Swimming must be in the summer only.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Walking activities

It is spring again and one of the ubiquitous activities in spring is walking. It is simple and does not cost anything. I ran across this great application for the iPhone that uses GPS to track your walking path and displays your speed, calories burnt and miles you walked. It is very useful. You can even add photos along the path you're walking across.
In this example I walked for about three miles at an average rate of 21 minutes per mile. The path itself is shown in the red meandering line.
Of course it is not a big deal when you just stroll locally around the house, but if you hike in an exotic place somewhere in the nation then it would really be priceless. But even for local strolls wouldn't you like to know your speed and how many calories you burnt? I would. I think it is one of the great applications of the iPhone.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Still Growing

Well, the chives are doing very well and have been moved safely to a pot as seen in this picture. The Rosemary is growing too but the stem is weak and can't hold straight, so it was buried in more soil hoping that it will get more nutrition to grow healthier. However the Thyme has died completely and has not made it.
The only source of light for these plants so far has been florescent light. They would do better in real sunshine but there isn't enough of it in the winter and therefore they will have to remain in the basement under artificial lighting for a while.