Archive for March, 2008

I have a new tech toy!

I don’t know how, but this girl who loves old skills – gardening, weaving, knitting, canning – also loves gadgets. The geekier, the better!

I’m writing this post from my antique Morris chair, while texting on my new Nokia 800.

It’s so cool! About 2 inches by 6 inches, mere ounces, wireless internet access, and built-in webcam and mic. In short, it’s geeky, it’s cool, and I’m having a blast.

Tonight, geeky experimentation. Tomorrow, gardening.

Ah, it’s wonderful and wacky being me sometimes.

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My tractor world expands

I have posted before about my love of driving the tractors at Grandpa’s farm.  I can’t help it, but I get all giggly inside when I think about driving the tractor.  It’s supposed to be work, but dang, it’s just too much fun to be work!

This week, Grandpa introduced me to the additional joy of antique tractor maintenance.  It was like being inducted into Grandpa’s secret club, the club of those-who-know-about-such-things, and now I am an initiate member of the club.

It all started when the tractor wouldn’t

Dad and my grandpa worked on it Saturday and Sunday, but to no avail.  The thing just would not start.  He had replaced the starter, still no start.  He charged the battery, and no start.  A tractor that won’t start is a lawn ornament, and no use in the field.

By Monday evening, when I came by, Grandpa was in the grips of full-blown concern.  He greeted me at the door with “I need you to look at something for me,”  which in Grandpa-speak means that he’s working on a project and just can’t see well enough to do what needs to be done. 

So I covered up my office clothes with an old flannel shirt, and went out to the tractor with him.  Under his extrememly detailed and remarkably reliable direction, he walked me through aligning the alternator points, draining the carbuerator, changing the oil, cleaning the air-intake, and replacing the oil filter. 

It was a carefully performed dance of the two of us making one competent mechanic.  He would describe in detail what I needed to do, from years of memory and familiarity, and I would describe what I saw and what I was doing back to him.  At times, I would place the tools in position, and then carefully hand it to him so that he could get a feel for it:  was the tension right?  was there enough torque on the bolt?  Do you feel this Grandpa? Am I doing this right?

Throughout the process, he taught me about the necessary routine maintenance required on the tractor, what should be done each week, each month, and at the end of each growing season.  He told me which parts were original to the 1954 tractor, which ones he had replaced, and when.  He told me the story again about how he bought the tractor new, with three implements, and brought it home.  Grandpa was so proud to tell me again how everyone thought he was crazy for buying it on credit, but that he paid the note off before it was due by working a second job as a landscaper.  “Do you think I was ever afraid of hard work?” he asked me. 

No, Grandpa,” I replied.  “I don’t think you’ve ever known anything in your life except hard work.”

As his strength follows his eyesight into failure, it becomes more and more important to him to be reminded that he is not this old man.  He is the young, hard-worker who provided for his family when others thought he couldn’t. 

By the time the sun went down, we had shared stories, laughs, troubles and solutions, and we had the tractor running without skipping a beat.  Just the two of us, working together, hands together and heads together.  It was perfect.  Grandpa grinned from ear to ear.  I think that he was worried that if his old friend had died, that he would soon follow, and that somehow, the engine turning over and purring with new oil gave him confidence that we had another productive season ahead of us.  There was more work in the old tractor, and more work in the old man.

And at the end of the evening, my Grandpa, a man of few words, gave me the highest compliment I may ever have received.

“Honey, you did good work today.”


Granpda on his 1954 NAA JubileeThis is a picture of my Grandpa on his 1954 Ford NAA.  I love this man, and I love his tractor.  By the end of Monday night, when I heard this tractor roar to life again,  I knew that some tractors are tools, and others are partners.  This tractor has been my grandfather’s partner, and now they’ve let me into the partnership, as well.  I feel honored. 

As you can tell, this is a working tractor.  It works hard, and has since the day he brought it home.  The hood and cowling are removed, owing to a run-in with a tensionwire from the powerlines that run through the property.  [Due to his macular degeneration, Grandpa can’t see things that are directly in front of him, only those things that are in his peripheral vision.] But despite how it looks, it runs beautifully


 This is what the Ford could look like with a fresh paint job and a new hood.  I’m hoping to restore my grandfather’s tractor to a similar condition while he can still see it and appreciate it.  I want to show him that I know what this tractor means to him, and demonstrate to him that it’s special to me, as well.  I can’t think of many better ways to show him I love him.

To that end, I’ve joined the N Tractor Club, and what a warm and welcoming response I’ve received from them! In just a few days I’ve gone from loving to drive the tractor, to knowing I could perform mechanical work on it, to actually wanting to work on it and learn more about it!  And the N Tractor Club folks have really gone out of their way to share their information and their own N Tractor stories.  Thanks guys!

I’m sure there will be more posts on my tractor-love as the planting season gets underway! 

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Okay, I’ve been promising updates and pictures for a long time, and I’m going to do my best to get them out to you!  If it’s any consolation, I think about blogging all the time!  As I’m doing all these wonderful gardening activitites with my grandfather, I’m composing blog posts the whole while, trying to capture and remember each precious moment.  But when I get home, I crash, and put off blogging.  I’m just finding it so challenging to both live a rich and rewarding life, and at the same time, write about it.  Sometimes, the living takes all my energy.

How we start the seedlings.

I showed you the pots of the seedlings growing a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m going to show you how we get the whole thing started!  In this next series of pictures, we will be planting the summer crop of tomatos.  Before we begin, though, take a moment and think on the last really ripe, juicy, homegrown tomato you had.  Mmmmmmm.  That’s what this is all about. 

seedling pots

These are the seedling pots.  We use these each year to start our seedlings for the plants that aren’t sown directly into the garden.  I’ve just washed these in a bleach solution in order to kill any fungus or bacteria from last year and have set them out in the sun to dry and burn off the bleach.  When they are dry, I’ll put them back into the water to soak them, letting the terra cotta absorb water so that it won’t dry out the seedlings and wick moisture away from the seeds.  That would be counterproductive.  The reason they have holes in the bottom of the pot is not so that water will drain out, like in the bottom of a flower pot, but so that water will seep up and into the soil.  We don’t water the seedling pots from the top, because that would cause the top of the soil to form a hard crust as it dries and make it harder for the seedlings to break through.  Instead, we set the pots down in a tray of water and let them soak it up into the pot.  Also, we want the seedlings to establish strong roots going down, not reaching up for surface water.  Who knew that this was going to be so scientific? 

Our toolsThese are our seeding tools.  I happen to love this picture, because none of these tools were purchased from an uppity suburban garden shop.  No sir-ee, these are handmade tools specific to this job, what we like to call a Grandpa Special in our family.  The screen is used for sifting the soil into the pots, removing any leaves or large chunks of dirt in order to create a more uniform growing medium.  It’s really just a piece of quarter-inch hardware cloth folded up to fit exactly the width of the seedling pot.  The round thing is a device my grandpa made about twenty years ago to tap down, or firm in, the soil.  But don’t think it’s just a round piece of wood he found laying around somewhere!  This is a quarter-inch thick tapper-thingama-giggie so that he can be sure his seeds are set a quarter-inch below the surface.  And of course, my favorite tool is the Clorox bottle-cum-dirtscooper.  Brilliant!  Nothing goes wasted at Carter Acres!

fillingHere is Grandpa, sifting the soil into the seedling pots.  He puts that Rubbermaid lid down so that he can put the overflow soil back into the mix.  Even dirt doesn’t go wasted here!  We fill the pot all the way to the top, leaving the screen resting on top of the pot, and just sliding it back and forth.  That way, the screen both sifts and levels at the same time.  Didn’t I tell you this was scientific?  I’m not kidding, these are the thoughts about the process that my granddaddy shared with me. You can’t get this kind of education from reading a book!

PackingNext, we gently tap the soil down to a quarter-inch below the rim of the pot, using our special tapper-thingama-giggie tool.  Firming in the soil gently allows the capillary action of the soil to distribute the moisture evenly through the whole pot.  By using our thumbs along the edge of the rim, we can tell when we’ve tapped it deep enough, but no deeper!  This is important.  Remember, this is science.


 SeedingYou might not believe this, but eventually, we actually put seeds in the pot! We put the seeds in this special seeding tool, which looks suspiciously like a scrap of metal flashing.  Hmmmm.  The important thing at this stage is to get a uniform spread of seeds across the soil, without piling too many in any one area.  This way, the seedlings have room for healthy root development, and it’s easier to separate them later into their individual pots if they are not all grown together.  Grandpa likes to tap on the edge of the special tool with his pocket knife, but I just use my finger.  My pocket knife is a little bigger and more unweildy…  After we’ve seeded the pot, we tap the seeds down gently so that they make even contact with the soil.  This helps the moisture in the soil to break down the enzyme coat on the seed more evenly, and hopefully they will all develop at about the same rate.

vermiculiteNext, we use our sifter again to add a quarter-inch layer of vermiculite over the top of the seeds.  Vermiculite is much lighter and more porous than regular potting soil, which allows the seedlings to break the surface of the soil more easily with their cotyledons (or first leaves).  It’s important to use the botanical names for things when engaged in scientific endeavors.   Once we’ve filled the top of the pot with the vermiculite, then we can tap it ever-so-lightly with the tapper-thingama-giggie in order to smooth the surface and improve the capillary action of the soil.  Whew, are you tired yet?  And this is just one pot!  We did about 30 of these altogether!

finished seed potsHere are our finished pots!  We’ve laid a plant label in each pot to keep our varieties straight, and marked the label with the date of seeding.  Here’s something interesting and very scientific that you will want to know:  The reason we fill the pots up to the top of the rim, instead of leaving a space, is so that mold and bacteria can’t grow there due to poor air circulation and damp conditions.  So, if you get moss and mold growing on the top of your flowerpots, you can avoid it by filling your pots all the way to the top with dirt!

Greenhouse boundAs I mentioned in this earlier post, we keep the seedling pots at the house until they start greening up, so that we can watch them carefully and monitor their special watering needs.  Once they have broken the surface and the stems start showing green, we can move them to the greenhouse.  This seems to involve Grandpa loading them on top of a garden cart, not in it, and pulling it up a hill.  Yes, I tried several times to get the cart away from him and do it myself, but this is one proud and stubborn 85-year-old!  If my mom sees this picture, she’ll be very mad at me for letting Grandpa do this while I just took pictures, so shhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell her!

In the greenhouseHere are our seedlings in their new home, the greenhouse.  We’ve buried them in potting soil on the greenhouse tables in order to keep their temperature regulated.  For about two weeks we will keep them here and water the soil around the seedling pots in order to keep them moist, but not damp.  This also helps the developing root system extend itself out in search of more moisture.  Finally, because we occaisionally have incursions of squirrels in the greenhouse, we’ve covered the seedlings with hardware cloth screens to protect them from critters.   [The rickety looking contraption in the background is a sophisticated pvc-frame that my grandpa made a few years ago for growing hothouse tomatos in the winter.  It has since been repurposed for use as a warming tent with tarps when we had a cold snap earlier this week.]

So, that’s the seedling process.  It’s a lot of steps, but as you can see, each one has purpose and is carefully considered for the optimum in seeding success.  Science, after all, is what separates seeding from …uh…just putting seeds in dirt.  I guess.


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It’s planting season

I’d fogotten how tired I can get when it’s gardening season! This week, when not working or studying, I have been spending every spare moment with my grandfather as we start up the busy work of planting.

I’ve been taking pictures, repotting, fixing tractors, supervising plumbing repairs in the greenhouse, and etc etc etc.

And yet I still wake up every morning excited about the springtime and the gardening.

In fact, this morning, I woke up with the Johnny Appleseed song in my head!  What a blessing to have grown up in a time when it was still socially acceptable to have American folk heroes who loved the land and praised the Lord!

And so, in the American spirit of hard work, pioneering, stewardship of the land, and reliance on God, [and not a small measure of nostalgia….] I want to share these videos with you.  I hope they bless your day!  [And here’s some more biographical info on John Chapman.]

Part 1

Part 2

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The heralds of Spring

Last week was Spring Break.  Now, I’m almost 40, so please don’t conjure up images of beach parties and beer binges.  Those days are long over for me!  Instead, Spring Break means no work, no evening classes, and for one brief week, no reading academic papers.  Some students spend that week catching up on their readings, but I try to put it all aside and spend one whole week not thinking about school and work.  As some of you may have noticed, I even took a break from logging onto my computer!

Instead, I spent the most of the week with my grandfather, driving him around town and helping him get ready for spring planting.  Our original plan had been to break ground, but heavy rains made the ground too wet to work, so it still sits undisturbed and covered in winter rye and winter peas. Rest now, Georgia soil, because not too long from now we’re putting you back to work in the hot Southern sun…

Garden 2007Here’s a picture from last year’s garden, just to remind us all of what is to come.  Beautiful, isn’t it?  So, how do we get from winter gloom to all this beauty?  Apparently, it takes a lot of planning and running all around the Atlanta area, gathering our tools.  We picked up the rototiller from the tractor repair place and admired the new, sharp tines ready to turn over the dirt. This is an hour-plus trip down beautiful, sleepy country roads to one of the last agricultural outposts within shooting distance of Metro Atlanta.  The next day, we drove an hour in the opposite direction, to the northern boundaries of Atlanta to pick up ten huge bags of potting soil and various soil amendments and implements of the trade.

Potting soil?  What on earth would we need potting soil for, when we have acres of rich garden soil to play in?

seedlings 2008

This is how it all starts, a dozen or so seedling pots on my grandfather’s back steps.  Their southern exposure allows for hours of winter sunlight, while the brick radiates the warmth needed to help the seeds germinate and keep the tender plants warm.  In those pots are the start of six varieties of peppers, cabbages, and two varieties of brocolli.  These are the seeds that take the longest to get to the planting stage.  Tomatos will come later, and squashes, beans, and okra will be planted directly in the garden soil.  This, gentle readers, is the nascent form of a glorious summer garden.  It doesn’t look like much, but to me, it’s the promise of warm weather, hard work, and sweet fellowship with grandpa. 

brocolli seedlings

Here is one pot of brocolli seedlings.  How many do you think are in there?  200?  300?  This could be a great game!  Tell you what….guess how many seedlings are in this tray, and the person who comes closest will win a prize of homemade pepper relish and pepper jelly!  I’ll let you know the answer in a week or two after we separate all these seedlings and put them in their individual peat pots for them to continue maturing in the greenhouse before planting in April.  And that is why we bought ten huge bags of potting soil, gentle readers! 

The next step, starting this Saturday is to begin that process of separating and potting.  In order to do this, I had to clean the old pots and debris out of the greenhouse that was left over from last year’s planting.  I’ll take some pics of the greenhouse this weekend to give you an idea. 

I also had to clean off all the clutter that accumulated on the potting table.  Yes, I come from a  long line of table clutterers.  My dining room table is cluttered, my mother’s kitchen table is cluttered, my grandmother’s kitchen table is cluttered.  Apparently, table-cluttering extends to all forms of tables, even potting tables.  I wish I had taken a picture before I cleaned it! The pile of clutter was literally over my head!  But no potting takes place without a place to work.  Two hours of dusty, heavy lifting, and we are now ready to begin!

So, we’re beginning to sweep away the vestiges of winter, and prepare for the arrival of spring.  It’s a busy time, a learning time, a growing time. 

And I’m not just talking about seedlings.

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I’m back from a week of working with Grandpa on the farm, and have lots to tell you.  Some of it good.  Some of it rather melancholy, I’m afraid. But I hope to have updates later today. 

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