Thursday, July 25, 2013

Clever Frank; Saving $$$

Good Morning from Windmill Farm.  I don't know about you but I am really, really getting tired of all this continual heat, are you?  Supposed to be 103 degrees today-OMG!!!
This post is about Frank, the wonder guy.  He can build, make or fix anything, honestly.  When I first met him 45 years ago, his brother-in-law called him Mr. Fix-it and even at that age, he was making stuff.
His most recent projects have and will save us time and money.
1) Outside lighting.  Frank has installed a great deal of
night time lighting.  He can be obsessive about it, but most of it started out as yard landscaping, then some later for the main driveway.  Then it progressed to our back gate, near the shop, then to the side of the house.  Sorry to say, we do need it, farmers are very vulnerable to all kinds of theft as we have farm equipment, farm metals, tools, etc around.  So all these necessary lights cost money.  The solar lights that you can purchase do not give off enough light for our needs. The solar are fine for simple pathway lights and even then, you can barely get any light out of them.  Frank had an idea that he could change over the regular outside, high voltage lights with LED lighting.  But to purchase new complete LED lighting units cost $1000s.  So he took each landscaping and driveway light, cleaned them up; took the average 25-50 watt light sockets out and made these flat lenses with the LED lights he purchased on-line.
 I am simplifying it for what I understand, not all the light holders were the same so he converted sets that we already had, that had regular Halogen lights and made the lighting units and lights into LED. We had about 25 landscaping lights and 25 driveway lights. So 50 lights x 50 watts = 2500 watts = $$$ that are on all night long every day.  After he converted them all to LED, the 50 lights x 1.5 watts = 75 watts.  That is like having 1 - 75 watt light bulb on compared to the 2500 watts.  The front-street side of our house was always so very dark, so he took his stash of old lights and installed more lights around there, another 25 lights using 1.5 watts per light = 37.5 total watts.  The first month, we noticed about a $20 savings in electricity, now it is about $25-$30 a month savings.  He is moving on to changing over all the very large lights above the shop and garage to LED.  Instead of paying for an alarm system or having our house/shop/barn being broken into, not a bad expense.  I told Frank a 747 could easily land in our driveway now the lighting is so good.
  2) Plumbing Cart: Every time a yard or field  sprinkler breaks, Frank always had to bring out boxes of various repair items and various tools.  New gardens each spring, means lots of boxes of fittings, tapes, sprinkler heads, repair kits, tools that had to be brought to the location.  Even though we are a small farm of 5 acres, to go back and forth to the shop or garden shed meant lots of trips and time.  So he designed a mini cart to put everything he needed into one unit, large enough to include the lighting repairs and anything to do with watering.
He found this cart on Harbor Freight, on sale, free shipping:
Then he purchased two tool boxes at Sears, on sale-clearance; and on one of his trips to Mac's Hardware store, he asked if they had any bins or metal parts they were going to throw away. With those pieces he made the plumbing fitting holders on the top of the cart (which he made a top of the tool boxes and all across the back).
On the back section, he had metal shelving empty in his lean-to that he cut up and made shelving.  He had these plastic drawers already and I had the wire baskets in my garage holding junk so he installed them in the back for other items he may need as he gets used to using the cart.  Celli gave him the large wire basket that now holds all the "get the gopher" stuff  that is mounted on the front of the cart.
Frank doesn't just put a bunch of odds and ends together and they look like odds and ends.  He likes things to look nice, so he cut metal strips for molding, painted the metal sides of his shelving; put non-skid rubber matting on the top so the fittings don't roll.  It is truly an amazing unit now, has a tool drawer; he made labels for what is inside the drawers.  I think he needs to go into production!!  Another cost savings to us too.  As you all know, whenever you need to repair something, half the work is looking for a special tool or repair items you just KNOW you have someplace, but end up purchasing it anyways because it can't be found.  Why do you really think we have all that white plumbing parts?  Because we never could find the right size or elbow or whatever when we needed it that moment.
Frank is really a very talented guy and he says he really has fun thinking, planning and building these things.  Most retired people spend their days sitting in chairs, not Frank!!!  Great job honey.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Horrah for Tomatoes and Flowers!!!!

What a fabulous year for tomatoes.  Honest, we just can't pick them fast enough.  I know everyone has at one point in their life purchased a tomato plant or two putting them in a pot in their back yard or in a small garden.  They really want to do what they are destined to do, flower and produce the yummy red/yellow fruit.  If they fail, it is normally because people forget to keep them watered or they outgrow their pot; or they are put in a location without enough sun.
For several years, we have used almost every type of tomato support system.  We have used the individual cage; we have used string; we have used wood posts and string.  But the best solution for us, because we grow so many plants, is we use metal cattle fencing, the panels.  Frank drove in T-posts for support, we wired the metal fencing to the posts and they have been used over and over again.  You can find these panels and T-posts at Tractor Supply.  They come in various heights and lengths and they also have the fencing in a roll that can be used.  It is strong and sturdy.  I have never had luck with the cages, just when the plants start producing they get so tall and sometimes tip to the side.  I used to have tons of these all stacked up and some had broken legs; some were stronger than others, as I said, we finally gave up on them. 
I do start many of our crops in my little greenhouse, but there are many

vegetables that start off better just being direct seeded in the ground, such as green beans; corn; cucumbers; squash.  I only tried starting tomatoes once from seeds and it wasn't worth it to me for the time and effort.  I purchase my tomato plants from our local hardware/nursery people called Mac's.  I order them to be delivered at a certain time; I order a certain number of the various varieties that I want; and when they arrive, I make sure I get them into the ground within a few days of delivery. 
Over the years, I have narrowed my varieties down to basically-Early Girl, Roma, Big Beef, Cherry Bunch.  The varieties vary in names depending on the nursery/grower.  I stopped growing the small cherry tomatoes long ago, I grow the variety that has clusters and the size is about 2-3x larger than the old fashioned "cherry" variety. Small, medium, large and for salsa/canning.  These are my choices.
I used to grow many types of heirloom tomatoes but stopped about 2 years ago.  Maybe it is just me, the way I grow them, but I never had really good luck with them.  I apologize to those that love the heirloom, I do too, but I just can not grow them;spend my time, money and only have a very small yield.  And honestly, the plants themselves are really not very healthy look, long, stringy, not dark green.  Again, just me, that is my opinion.
We delivered our CSA basket yesterday.  In the basket were potatoes, squash, cucumbers, baby carrots, peppers, tomatoes (Early Girl and Cherry), blackberries, strawberries, nectarines, peaches, Asian Pears and a watermelon!!!  Lots of fruits and vegetables.
Speaking of flowers, I know I keep saying how beautiful my section of country fresh flowers are in my gardens.  These gardens are planted out back with the vegetables so they are specific for cutting arrangements.  My good friend Sarah ordered 4 arrangements this week, 1 for a grave site; 1 for a gift; 1 for her office; 1 for her kitchen counter.  I also had an order for one using just pinks.  I happen to have some Stargazers blooming so included them in a white vase with white hydrangeas, pink zinnias, the star gazers and they turned out so beautiful.
The watermelon are ripe too!!!
Have a great weekend!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Making a Simple Wooden Star, Future Braided Rug Class; Getting Organized

Hello from Windmill Farm
Did you all have a wonderful July 4th?  We spent most of the mid day surrounded by fans and I don't mean adoring supporters, I mean the rotating, making cool air, fans.  It was sure a hot one.  We had made our CSA deliveries on Tuesday.  That meant lots of outside picking, washing, packing baskets on Tuesday, in the horrid heat and delivering on Wednesday.  By Thursday, the 4th, Frank and I were two old tired farmers.  But boy, we packed some wonderful produce again this week-our members got: Strawberries, blackberries, strawberry jam, different varieties of squash, couple different varieties of cucumbers, tomatoes, purple and green peppers,  peaches, nectarines, plums.
Speaking of the 4th of July, I had seen these really cute stars made from scraps of wood.  I know everyone loves those big metal stars that you hang on the outside of a barn or house.  I even have a red one on the side of my garage.  But this would be something different.  Would really be cute on a gate too.  I saw them at the Gathering's Vintage Flea and couldn't justify purchasing them when I know Frank could make them for me so easy.  Just thinking about it, why couldn't you make them out of wooden yard sticks too!!
 Our business and blog has presented to us the most wonderful people.  When we moved to Gridley, I have said it before, we did not know ONE person.  After we decided we would look around and saw a house we liked, it was May 29th, a holiday weekend and the wonderful person that was working that day, Reed Johnson, from Century 21 answered the telephone and we purchased this house and farm.  Poor Reed, I would call him all the time, asking if he knew anyone who did concrete work; or pruned trees; or where can you purchase gravel.  That first year, our #1 friend was so helpful and a local guy so knew history and everyone in town.

Since we started selling produce and I started writing this blog, we have met the most kind, wonderful and fascinating people.  As an example, about a few months ago, a very nice lady wrote to me about how much she has enjoyed my blog and particularly discussions about flowers-the best of the best, peonies.  We chatted back and forth several times over a few months and I found out she is an accomplished rug maker/rug designer.  Well, as you know I have my classes here at the farm and I am discussing with her about putting on a braided rug making class in the fall, that will be so much fun.  But in the mean time, I asked her if she would be interested in finishing a braided rug my mother started to make.  My mother was from Rhode Island and New Englanders love braided rugs.This photo is of my Mom at my grandmother's house, probably in the 1960s.  She made me a braided rug for my room growing up at home;  a huge blue braided rug that she made by finding wool coats and rugs at the thrift shops over the years.  When she died, I found this red one in her things and had always planned on finishing it up myself, somehow.  This new wonderful friend agreed that she would look at the rug and finish it off for me.
We met last week while delivering our baskets up in Paradise and it was such a wonderful time, seeing all her beautiful antiques and the many, many BEAUTIFUL rugs she has made all throughout her home.  I just didn't want to leave!!!!  So hopefully, this fall, you too will get a chance to meet this wonderful and talented lady when you sign up to take the braided rug making class.
PS-There is still openings available for my Making Farmer's Market Bags using re-cycled animal feed sacks set for July 10th 6-8pm.
While having to be inside the house for several hours due to the heat, I decided to clean out my pantry and organize some of my messy kitchen drawers.  At some points, I really had a right mess all over the counters, it was a fine line between getting organized and creating a disaster.  But I felt pretty good about how I re-purposed, re-used some items.  We had had company and I had taken the easy way and purchased the already prepared veggie snacks.  They come, as you know, with these neat divided plastic pans.  So I cleaned them up and I now use them in my "not so junkie" junk drawer.And the company had brought some coffee with them as they are always so thoughtful to bring lots of items to help out with their visits.  I use Trader Joe's coffee, so I had not seen this new container of coffee.  Well, I washed it up after it was empty and I now use it as a scoop for the chicken feed.  It has a built in handle on the side.  Perfect and I want a few more!!!
The company/relatives mentioned they like to use the empty spice containers to keep nails and bolts in his garage.  I save those too because I find they are handy to use in my sorting shed.  So I have started a box of them and when full, plan on mailing it to him as a surprise.  Thinking of how to re-use something is fun.  Now I feel good, I lined all my drawers with cool liner; I organized my junk drawer; and I have a new scoop that won't break in the chicken coop.  Now to rest in front of my "fans" again.  Hope you are one of my fans out there :-)