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« Fundamental Concepts - Everything Old is New Again [Weirddave] | Main | Saturday Jan 3 NFL Playoffs »
January 03, 2015

Saturday Gardening Thread: Farm Report [Y-not, Weirddave, and KT]

Welcome to the Saturday Gardening Thread! Sorry for last week's hiatus.

Today's theme is "Farm Reports" and is brought to you by a big green tractor:


Did anybody here get a tractor for Christmas? I heard radio ads from tractor retailers before the big day. Mr. Bar-the-Door would love to have a farm. I think one big reason is that a farm would justify owning a tractor and renting other heavy equipment from time to time. He's not the best dancer in the world, but I think he would be really good at this kind of dancing:

My mother grew up on a farm, and my natural inclination is to be content with a big garden. Farming is a lot of work. But out here in the country, we sometimes get visitors who have almost no idea how their food is grown.

Most of the Central Valley is dominated by huge farms. Crops are always sold before they are planted. People employed on these farms tend to have one specific job. Almost none of them are called "farmer". HR departments may be found in the nearest town. Ranch offices are out in the fields.

Smaller farms like the one owned by Victor Davis Hanson are disappearing, except in the foothills and at the edge of town. There are a lot of things about them that we will miss. Some gardeners can grow their own really good peaches, though.

Farming Education Destination: World Ag Expo

Around here, we can pretend that we're real farmers when we attend the World Ag Expo in Tulare in February. It is sort of a cross between a gigantic trade show and a gigantic county fair. There is huge farm equipment on display, along with customized vehicles (such as work trucks, race cars and off road vehicles) - in other words, big toys.


But the majority of displays feature real, nuts-and-bolts agricultural and industrial equipment and supplies. Even really great work gloves. People think up new, ingenious ways to make farming easier all the time.


If you miss the big Expo, there is also an antique farm equipment museum associated with the Agri-Center. The California Antique Farm Equipment Show is in April. Maybe you will find a little music there.

Where do farmers get their seeds?

As a gardener, I am not able to access many of the seed and plant sources used by agronomists working for the huge farms that surround me. They deal with brokers who often represent giant seed companies. Even the Farmers Market crowd around here seems to have seed suppliers with whom they have real business relationships. There are Feed and Seed stores, of course. But I've gotten the impression that you kind of have to know what kind of seed you want before you enter the store.

Gardeners and preppers can buy seed from some national catalogs whose main customers are farmers and market growers. We have discussed some of these earlier. Here are most of the others from which I have bought seed:

HPS, Randolph, WI

HPS is part of the "Jung Conglomerate" of seed companies. They're big on bedding plants. Their vegetable offerings have always seemed a little haphazard to me, but their specials are worth checking out. I got 10 years worth of seed for the Best Melon Ever, Early Sugarshaw Hybrid, when it was being dropped from production. Dang seed company buyouts.

Stokes Seeds, Buffalo, NY

Stokes has been increasing its marketing efforts aimed at home growers, but it is clear that the detailed product information in their catalog is aimed at commercial growers. There is also a great deal of educational information on their website.

As with other commercial suppliers, much of their seed comes treated with a fungicide, but untreated seeds can be ordered for many popular selections. I really don't know how fungicides affect seed survival over a prolonged period of time (in case you're putting in a supply of prepper seeds). Nice selections of Asian greens and Italian veggies.

Seeds to consider: Pelleted small seeds (carrots, etc); Bush beans (by the pound) such as the heat-tolerant Romano type "Navarro"; Super Shepherd Italian Sweet Pepper.

Twilley Seeds, Hodges, SC

Twilley does not have an interactive online catalog and discourages home growers from ordering with high shipping charges on small orders. Their paper catalog is attractive. Better be ready with your order when you call. They're all business. Fastest shipping of any catalog I have tried.

Twilley is similar to Stokes in its focus on customer success, with a Southern emphasis. They carry 51 kinds of pumpkins. Of their 10 kinds of turnips, 5 are for harvest of greens only -- a sure sign of a Southern influence. I buy two kinds of turnips from them: Just Right (early, smooth greens, roots not ready for 60 days, fall only) and White Lady, suitable for early baby turnips and greens. Savannah hybrid mustard is also great.

They carry many commercial tomatoes with resistance to tomato diseases found in the South. These include a couple of maladies that have only become real problems in the last few years, like Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl.

I have bought Jetsetter tomato seeds from them, plus seed for a couple of field tomatoes with broad disease resistance, just in case. Twilley is also a good source for seeds of lettuce and herbs for baby leaf. And Cat Grass for pets.

This company is big on watermelons. They require the typical signed waiver for large growers concerning a new disease of watermelons, bacterial fruit blotch. There is also a limitation of warranty concerning triploid seeds (for seedless watermelons).

Willhite Seeds, Poolville, Texas

Bacterial fruit blotch, along with our tort system, has almost destroyed Willhite Seed. Full disclosure of the risks of this disease and signed waivers (even for purchasers of small amounts of watermelon seed, like me) have not been enough to prevent lawsuits by big growers. Commerce is full of risks, which is one of the things that sometimes make socialism seem attractive.

Willhite will continue to sell seed to home gardeners and small specialty growers but not to larger commercial watermelon growers more likely to initiate litigation. And in a cost-cutting move, the company will also cease production of its annual catalog.

Willhite started its business selling and developing new watermelon cultivars. I'm going to miss their catalogs with cute kids eating watermelon on the cover. Their seeds are cheap. Packaging is not fancy.

Seeds to consider: Contender bush bean, Fordhook 242 lima beans, cowpeas including cream peas and blackeye peas, okra (Emerald in Southern latitudes), yellow and orange watermelons, Sugar Queen hybrid cantaloupe, Banana and Ogen melons. Prepper packs of tomato seeds for hot climates (such as the Porter tomatoes and Big Beef hybrid).

Willhite also carries seeds from France (Magda is my favorite Cousa zucchini ever, and may be disappearing soon). They specialize in seeds from the Indian subcontinent, including eggplants and edible gourds.

Lawsuits are often enough to give you the blues. But Willhite hasn't given up. Hope they, and you, have a good New Year.

Thanks KT, and now we turn to Weirddave, 5 time winner of the coveted Platinum Pig award for excellence in farm related journalism, for our sixty second farm report. Dave?

Farmers across the mid-west have been thrown into a tizzy by new government regulations. President Obama this week signed into law a bill requiring Americans to "Mind their Ps and Qs". Most farmers already had the first part down, but frenzied activity has commenced all across the farm belt as they try to figure out what a Q is, what type of sun, soil and water it needs, and what time of year Qs need to be planted. More on this story as it develops.

Little Charlie Davidson, of Sioux City, Iowa won the prize for the "Biggest Watermelon" at this year's State Fair, unfortunately for Charlie, the prize winning melon grew out of his ear after he swallowed watermelon seeds instead of spitting them out. There's a reason we tell you this stuff kids, listen to your parents.

Developers finalized a deal to build a luxury golf resort on the land in Nebraska that has been used for years as the national cabbage patch. Local cabbage growers are struggling to compensate for the loss of this land, but a shortage of babies is expected to last for at least the next 3 years until new sources of cabbage leaves can be developed.

"Cloddy" Johnson, a farmer in Oklahoma, sued the estate of Ben Franklin. Johnson, who is in poor health and has lost everything he owned to Nigerian e-mail scammers, bases his breach of contract lawsuit on the grounds that he gets up at before dawn every day, after retiring faithfully at 7PM. He contends that being neither health, wealthy nor wise, he is owed $4 million dollars. We'll keep you posted.

Finally, in sports, pig farmers have reported odd behavior from their herds. These swine are showing an intense interest in aerodynamics, with some even going as far as to fashion rudimentary wings. When asked for comment, one pig is reported to have said "Well, the Cubs are looking pretty good this year, and we're just trying to get a head start on next October, just in case".

This has been Weirdddave, 5 time winner of the coveted Platinum Pig award for excellence in farm related journalism. Back to you Y-not.


In keeping both with KT's "Farm Report" theme and the (recently ended -- so sue me!) Christmas season, I thought it would be nice to share something about the origins of the Christmas Nativity:

St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in a cave outside of the town of Greccio, Italy on Christmas Eve night 1223.

It is said that St. Francis was inspired to re-create the nativity scene because he was disgusted with the greed and materialism that was rampant in Italy at that time. He felt that people had forgotten that Jesus came to us not as a rich king but as a poor child. In planning the scene St. Francis wrote to his friend Giovanni, "I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by."

The idea of a nativity scene was so radical that St. Francis first wrote to Pope Honorius III for permission before he moved forward with his plans.

It continues:

According to stories told about St. Francis, on Christmas Eve 1223 he gathered all of his religious brothers from the places where they served and together with the people from the town and the hillsides he led them to the place where he had worked to set up his first humble nativity scene. The people were delighted by this simple scene lit only by the stars above and the lanterns and candles they carried. They celebrated Mass there and St. Francis preached to them, reminding them of how poor and simple the Christ Child’s birth truly was.

After the Mass was over and the people all went home, the brothers wanted to clean up the hay, but St. Francis told them to leave it so that it could bring health to the animals of the forest. Legend says that many sick animals came from all over that night to eat the hay and all were cured.

Those of us who cannot travel to the site of the Christ child's birth can be reminded of His humble birthplace through nativity scenes.

We have a small one at Casa Y-not, but the one I loved best was one of the few items my dad inherited from his family. The figures were large and made of painted plaster, carefully re-glued and re-touched over the years. That nativity scene was an important part of my childhood Christmases.

Here are some lovely examples of nativity scenes. This first one is in a cathedral in Savannah, Georgia:


This one is from Peru:


And this depiction is from the Greek Orthodox Church:


Finally, here's a video taken at the Living Nativity Presepio Vivente a Porchia di Montalto delle Marche (Italy):

I hope your holidays were blessed and that 2015 brings all the best to you and yours!

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posted by Open Blogger at 12:40 PM

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