Category Archives: Agriculture

Garden Success And Failures

Gardening season is ending and the often bewildering holiday season will be dominating our life for the next 2+ months. Fall colors and cool weather will give way to barren and snow covered landscapes and the cold weather of winter.

Now is a good time to look back and evaluate our gardening successes and failures. None of us want to admit that many of our garden failures, both flowering and vegetable were self inflicted.

We often ‘want’ and plant plants that we know or should know are not well suited to our climate and weather conditions. I know avocados will not survive in my climate, but that does not stop me from wanting them in my landscape. Sometimes my wants and desires override my Common Sense.
These failed crops and flowering plants are self inflicted.

Just because a seed package list a plant as being hardy in zone 7(my zone) does not mean it it suitable to withstand my high wind and dry summer heat. Many plants will bolt and produce seed heads. Die from drought stress, will not properly pollinate in the heat of summer. Some plants like an acid soil when I know my soil is mildly to highly alkaline.

Carefully evaluate what crop and just as important, what variety will grow and produce given your climate and weather conditions.

Ask local gardeners that successfully grow flowers and vegetables if you can collect a few seeds or maybe even do a bit of seed trading to improve your gardening success rate.

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America And Organic Labeling

Organic can mean different things to different people, so, I will use (USDA) United States Department of Agriculture’s definition for Organic farming and labeling products as Organic.

USDA said “organic” might appear as one more piece of information to decipher when shopping for foods. Understanding what “organic” really means can help shoppers make informed choices during their next visit to the supermarket or farmers’ market.

Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.

When it comes to processed, multi-ingredient foods, the USDA organic standards specify additional considerations.
Regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require that their ingredients are organic, with some minor exceptions.
For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.

USDA labeling: “100 percent organic”

“100 percent organic” can be used to label any product that contains 100 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural). Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be designated “100 percent organic.” Likewise, many value-added farm products that have no added ingredients—such as grain flours, rolled oats, etc. can also be labeled “100 percent organic.”


“Organic” can be used to label any product that contains a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5 percent of the ingredients may be nonorganic agricultural products that are not commercially available as organic.

“Made with Organic ______” can be used to label a product that contains at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). There are a number of detailed constraints regarding the ingredients that comprise the nonorganic portion.

Principal display panel: May state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients or ingredient categories).” Must not include USDA organic seal anywhere, represent finished product as organic, or state “made with organic ingredients.”

Use Caution when shopping and buying organic foods at Farmers Markets. Sellers can and sometimes do sell produce as organic when in truth the produce may or may not truly be an organic product.

Exemptions & Exclusions
Producers who market less than $5,000 worth of organic products annually are not required to apply for organic certification. They must, however, comply with the organic production and handling requirements of the regulations, including recordkeeping (records must be kept for at least 3 years). The products from such noncertified operations cannot be used as organic ingredients in processed products produced by another operation; such noncertified products also are not allowed to display the USDA certified organic seal.

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GMO crops, Roundup(Glyphosate) usage in America

The uninformed/under informed and in some cases totally ignorant people that hate GMO crops, Glyphosate, Monsanto, Bayer, DOW, DuPont and other seed and pesticide producers are at it again.

Glyphosate has been used in the USA for more than 45 years.
Whether you want avoid GMO crops or crops sprayed with Glyphosate is a choice only you can make and I will not debate the pro’s and con’s of your decision.
Before making that decision educate yourself about just what it takes our farmers to feed more than 7 billion people. In 1970 before the introduction of Glyphosate and GMO crops the world population was about 3.5 billion people.

Hybrids, GMO crops and the introduction of herbicides and pesticides are the main reasons that crop yields have doubled and tripled without adding additional acreage to feed the world’s ever increasing population at a lower production cost.

Hybrid crops: The scientific basis for today’s amazing hybrid crops goes back more than 150 years. The first commercial seed corn company to take advantage of hybrid vigor was Pioneer Hi-Breds, founded in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1926.

Genetically modified crops: A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that GM technology adoption had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%.

There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before being introduced into our food supply chain.

GMOs crops were approved for commercial use, in USA in 1996, their production has increased dramatically. More than 90% of all soybean, cotton and corn acreage in the USA is used to grow genetically engineered crops. Other popular and approved food crops include sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, papaya and summer squash. Recently, apples that don’t brown and bruise-free potatoes were also approved by the FDA.

The Truth About Glyphosate and its use in the production of wheat in the United States.

Wheat production occurs in the United States across 42 states, in a wide array of weather conditions. Wheat growers face many challenges to growing a quality crop that is sustainable and economically viable. Growers are faced with threats to the viability of the crop from many pests across these 42 states.
One of these pests is weeds.
Glyphosate is one product commonly used by wheat growers that is very effective at controlling grass weeds prior to planting or after wheat is harvested.

Glyphosate use is limited in the wheat industry, if even used at all in some wheat fields. In fact, for 2016, it was applied to 33 percent of wheat acres in the U.S., according to an independent consumer research firm, GfK.
Typically, glyphosate application in wheat occurs during fallow times when a growing, eventually harvestable wheat crop is not present.

Pre-harvest Glyphosate applications made after the wheat plant has shut down, when wheat kernel development is complete and the crop has matured.
This is prior to harvest and used to dry green weeds and allow the crop to even its maturity.
This is an uncommon treatment used in less than 3 percent of all wheat acres.

National Wheat Foundation – The truth about how Wheat growers use glyphosate.

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Cannas On The Cheap – Plant Canna Seed

Most canna cultivars grow to a height of 3 to 5 feet. However, there are dwarf cultivars that grow only 1.5 to 2 feet tall. A few “giants” may reach a height of 8 to 10 feet.
Cannas can be used as temporary screens, accents, or as background plantings in borders. Smaller cultivars perform well in large containers.

Canna seeds need to be collected soon, before their seed pods open and drop seeds to the ground. Canna seeds are rather large being 3/16 to 3/8 inch in diameter. Canna seeds are generally black to dark brown in color.

Canna seed are easy to germinate, however they do require special treatment before planting to insure the seeds germinate.

Scarification is the process of removing a small amount of the ‘hard’ seed coating to allow water to reach the seed. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to get it right.

Examine your seed carefully and you will find a spot some people call an eye, some call it a scar. This is the top of your seed. It is beneficial to plant your seed with the eye/scar pointing skyward.
Using a small bit of sandpaper or a small file remove some of the seeds hard outer coating until the black hard coat is removed and you can see the white interior of the seed. Stop as soon as you can see the seeds white interior material.

Soak your seed 24 hours in warm, not hot water before planting. Plant in good quality ‘new’ potting soil about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch deep. Eye facing skyward. Cover with soil and water lightly.
Not all seed will germinate, plant 4 or 5 seeds in each 2 or 3 inch starter pot. Keep your seedling pot soil damp, Not Wet until the first leaf is about 6 inches tall. Transplant thinning as needed into 4 inch or larger pots.
Keep soil near 70 – 75 degrees F. Seeds planted in cool damp soil may rot before germination.
Planting seed to transplanting into your garden will take 45 to 60 days. So plant your seed 45 to 60 days before the first days of May. in USDA zones 7-9. June or later in USDA zones 5-7.

If planting directly into garden soil insure soil temperature has reached 70+ degrees F. before planting your canna seeds. Plant many seeds and thin as necessary after germination. Plant 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep and keep your garden soil damp Not Wet for best germination.

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Cattle Drive Chili – A Cowboys Staple Food – American Cattle Drives 1865-1886

This is a reworked, edited version of a 2011 posting.
With the holiday season fast approaching I thought it might be a fun to rework and repost this tidbit of American food history.

The first thing you must do is understand what life in the mid to late 19th Century [1865-1900] was like. You must understand what was and was not available to the average family or trail cook.

In many cases a cowboy was really a boy. Many young boys some only 12 years old moved millions of head of longhorn cows to market buyers. Many buyers headquartered in rail head towns like Abilene, Kansas. Longhorn cows were shipped to stockyards in Chicago and other midwest and eastern markets.
Trail drives were no place for old men or the weak.

Moving a herd of longhorns from Texas to Kansas was no small undertaking. Herds could number in 1 to 3 thousand head, could be moved only about 10 or 12 miles a day without the loss of much body weight. Cattle buyers would pay little if anything for poor starved down cows. It could take 2 or 3 months to move a large herd of longhorn cows from Texas to railheads in Kansas. It required as many as 20 sometimes more cowboys and a experienced, inventive trail cook.

Cattle drives were moving millions of cattle from Texas Midwest markets. There was stiff competition among different cattle drivers, recruiting a good cowboy was difficult. The Goodnight-Loving cattle trail, co-founded by Col. Charles Goodnight, decided to gain interest in his trail drives through good cooking.
Side note: An injured or dead cowboy was more easily replaced than a good trail cook.

Col. Goodnight needed a mobile kitchen and a good cook. He used a military wagon to hold supplies and a makeshift kitchen. The military wagon was strong enough for all the supplies and could withstand harsh weather and bumpy trails. With the help of his cook, Col. Goodnight developed an efficient layout that was soon adopted by all trail drivers across the west. It was named the chuck wagon after Charles “Chuck” Goodnight.

Cooks were the kings of the chuck wagon. Chuckwagon food typically included easy-to-preserve items like beans and salted meats, coffee, and sourdough biscuits. Wild game would also be harvested en route.
There was no fresh fruit, vegetables, or eggs available and meat was not fresh unless an animal was injured and had to be killed.
The meat they ate was greasy cloth-wrapped bacon, salt pork, and beef, usually dried, salted or smoked.
It was common for the “cook” who ran the wagon to be second in authority only to the “trailboss.” The cook would often act as doctor, barber, dentist, and banker.
You wouldn’t want to annoy the person cooking your food or treating your medical needs would you?
The cook enforced the rules of the wagon.
Cowboys were required to ride downwind so dust would not blow into the food, and no horses could be tied to the chuck wagon wheels. The cook worked the hardest with the least amount of sleep. He had to get up before the rest of the cowboys to prepare the food and had to clean up pots, pans and dishes after meals.

A typical day’s food on the trail was meat based generally beef or cured salt pork bacon, hot bread or biscuits, dried fruit and coffee for breakfast.
Lunch and dinner meals included roast beef, boiled potatoes, beans, brown gravy, bread or biscuits and coffee.
Dessert consisted of dried fruit pies, stewed dried fruit and spiced cake made without butter or eggs. These items would be cooked in a Dutch oven or skillet over hot coals.

Foods like butter, milk, eggs and fresh vegetables would soon spoil [no ice or refrigeration on the trail] and were not part of a cowboys daily menu.

Some say that ‘real’ chili can not contain beans, rice or other fillers. I disagree with this assessment. A chuck wagon cook had to feed 20 or more hungry boys 2 or 3 times a day. He had very limited resources in the variety of foods available, the number of cooking utensils and was always on a very tight time schedule to prepare and serve meals.
I think that it would not be uncommon to add fillers such as beans and rice to any one pot meal. It would cut down on preparation time, number of pots required and allow the cook to feed more cowboys using less meat.

There are thousands of ‘chili’ recipes that can be found when you do a chili recipe search. Find one that is to your liking, adjust spices to fit your taste. You can call bean soup with a bit of chili spices added chili [meatless] if that’s what you like.

Here is another Texas Red Chili Recipe
In Texas, they often refer to Texas Chili as ‘a bowl of red’ which is an old slang term carried over from the trail drive days. Unlike most other Chili, real Texas Red Chili never contains beans or other fillers. It is generally made with beef, but it can be made with goat meat.

1 pound lean ground beef [it is unlikely trail cooks had meat grinders on the chuck wagon.] More likely it was cubed meat.
6 cups water
2 pounds boneless stew meat or ground meat(beef or goat)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil [trail cooks used beef fat or pork lard. Vegetable oil had not been invented].
1 strong flavored yellow onion coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Black pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
Ground red pepper to taste (to start, about 1/2 teaspoon)
6 tablespoons Masa Harina (Mexican corn flour) or [trail cooks would have most likely used 4 tablespoons of regular yellow corn meal]

**Please note this recipe does not call for tomatoes, tomato sauce or that awful tasting ketchup. Tomato’s would go bad quickly on a trail drive.

Meantime, heat oil. When hot, brown meat, searing on all sides. When browned, add goat and or beef mixture in pot.

Place meat, beef or goat into a large pot with water. Stir vigorously to separate meat and incorporate it throughout water.

Stir in onion, garlic, salt, chili powder, cumin, vinegar, black and red pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a minimum of two hours, 4 to 6 hours is better.
Add water if necessary.
Just before serving, stirring briskly to keep from forming lump slowly add Masa Harina. Continue to stir briskly to make a smooth, thick sauce.

Adjust salt and red pepper to your taste.

Do’s And Dont’s of a Texas Chili Cook Off

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Safe Minimum Cooking Temperature Is….

You can’t tell whether meat has reached the safe cooked temperature by looking at it.
Cooked, uncured red meats including pork can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.

Rest Time is Important
After you remove meat from a grill, oven, or other heat source, allow it to rest for the specified amount of time. During the rest time, its temperature will remain constant or continue to rise, which destroys harmful germs.

Instant read meat thermometers are inexpensive and are an essential kitchen tool to ensure food safety for you and your family. If you don’t have one consider food safety and invest in a quality thermometer.

United States Department of Agriculture recommended minimum safe cooking temperature chart.

Category Food Temperature (°F)  Rest Time 
Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb 160 None
Turkey, Chicken 165 None
Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb Steaks, roasts, chops 145 3 minutes
Poultry Chicken & Turkey, whole 165 None
Poultry breasts, roasts 165 None
Poultry thighs, legs, wings 165 None
Duck & Goose 165 None
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) 165 None
Pork and Ham Fresh pork 145 3 minutes
Fresh ham (raw) 145 3 minutes
Precooked ham (to reheat) 140 None
Eggs & Egg Dishes Eggs Cook until yolk and white are firm None
Egg dishes 160 None
Leftovers & Casseroles Leftovers 165 None
Casseroles 165 None
Seafood Fin Fish 145 or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork. None
Shrimp, lobster, and crabs Cook until flesh is pearly and opaque. None
Clams, oysters, and mussels Cook until shells open during cooking. None
Scallops Cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. None

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Plant irises in your fall garden for beautiful spring blooms

Marianne Lipanovich, Houzz has a great informative article about irises. (Fox news website).

Fall is the prime time to plant irises, however some varieties can be planted in early spring.
250 plus species of iris can provide variety and continuous bloom in your garden.

Irises can handle a wide range of moisture and soil growing conditions, most require good drainage. Irises are relatively deer resistant, and many, especially the bearded irises, are drought tolerant and fairly pest free.

Irises are hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit(-40 degrees Celsius) USDA zones 3 to 10.

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Be Kind To Your Garden Tools

Garden tools will last 25 years or more if properly cleaned and stored.

Cutting tools, pruning clippers / shears / loppers and knifes. Keep them sharp. Sharp tools make the job easier and safer.
After each use, wash / clean, sharpen as needed and sterilize using a strong mixture of bleach and soapy water.
Dry well and apply a light coat of good quality oil to all metal parts.
Store your tools out of direct sunlight.
Tools with wood handles need to be wiped down with a light coat of mineral oil.
Invest in a good quality sharpening (honing) stone and a 8 or 10 inch fine cutting hand file. Both will last 50 years if they are not abused and are properly cared for and stored when not in use.
Small wood boxes available at most hobby stores works well to hold your file(s) an honing stones when not in use. Don’t forget to wipe your wood storage boxes with mineral oil 2 or 3 times a year.

Digging and cutting tools, Hedge clippers, shovels, hoes, spading forks and rakes.
Scrape and wash to remove dirt and mud from your tools after each use.
Keep your tools sharp.
Invest in a good quality 12 or 14 inch hand file.
After cleaning, drying and sharpening as needed apply a light coat of oil to all metal parts.
Tools with wood handles need to be wiped with a light coat of mineral oil.
Plastic and fiberglass handled tools must be stored out of direct sunlight. The sun’s UV rays will damage plastic and fiberglass.

Your garden hand tools are now ready to be stored away for winter and will be in top condition for use in your spring garden.

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Preparing Power Equipment For Winter Storage

Before the cold, windy, snowy days of winter arrive you should perform storage maintenance on your power tools.

Safety always comes first.

Electric power tools. Unplug power tools from their power source before cleaning. In the case of battery powered tools, remove the battery before cleaning.

Using a slightly moistened cloth wipe tools down removing dust, dirt, mud and oil or grease.
This cleaning includes power cords as well.
Check power cords for cracking, cuts or nicks. Repair or replace as needed.

Cutting tools like electric mowers, pole saws, hedge trimmers and chainsaws need to have their cutting edges cleaned and lightly oiled to prevent rust.
Use a hand file to sharpen cutting edges. You may need to have this done by a professional.
Electric lawn mowers and chainsaws will need cutting blade(s) sharpened or replaced and oiled.

Gas powered tools.

Carefully remove(clean) all dirt, mud and grass clippings. If this equipment has belts, check belts for deep cracks or cuts. Riding mowers and rototillers commonly have belt driven cutting or digging blades.
Check owner’s manual and visit your local auto parts store and purchase recommended motor oil, spark plug(s) and belt(s) if needed.
Some equipment will need new oil and air filters as well.

Drain as much fuel as you can from gas tank(s).
Start the engine and allow engines to run until out of fuel.
Allow engine(s) to cool, this may take 30 minutes or more. Remove spark plug wire from spark plug, remove spark plug.
Clean bottom side of lawn mower decks and tiller digging tines.
Sharpen or replace cutting blades and tines as needed.
Locate and remove oil drain plug (follow owner’s manual instructions) to drain oil from crankcase.
Before refilling crankcase with oil (see owners manual) with oil, check, sharpen or replace cutting blades as needed.

Install drain plug and slowly, carefully refill with new motor oil.
Use caution not to overfill crankcase. A small funnel may be useful to refill crankcase.
Install new spark plug and reconnect spark plug wire.
Hint: Some 2 cycle engines do not have a crankcase. String trimmers and chainsaws are commonly 2 cycle engines.

Chainsaws, hedge trimmers and such. Disconnect spark plug wire before performing maintenance. Use a hand file to sharpen cutting edges or replace as necessary. You may need to have this done by a professional.

Wipe all bare metal parts with a small amount of oil to prevent rusting.
Reconnect spark plug wire.

Larger equipment like push and riding mowers will need wheel bearings an steering linkage oiled or greased.

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First Fall day has arrived

If you don’t have a compost pile or bin now is a good time to start your composting project. It’s really worth the effort.
In return for a little time and effort you will get back a lot of compost to amend your garden soil and it will cost you next to nothing except the time you invest in putting plant litter on your compost pile.

Fall and Early Winter Projects A Town & Country Post (October 2010).

Fall is the time to can the last of your cucumber when making pickles, a time for making salsa, pasta sauces, red or green, sweet or hot relishes and fried green tomato’s.
It is time to can and freeze the last of your summer gardens goodness, before the first hard frost ends your summer garden.
Fall is the time to prune, repot as needed tender potted plants and move them indoors for the winter.

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