Hotter Than A July

Dateline: 20 June 2016 AD

It's not July yet but, as Greg Brown sings in his classic down-t0-earth song, "Canned Goods," it's been hotter than a July Twoooooooooo-Mayyyyyyyyyyy-Toe here in upstate New York.

Deliberate Agrarian blog reader, Elizabeth, from out in the future free state of Jefferson, California, reads my Whizbang Gardening Facebook Page, and she saw the recent post I made there about the above YouTube clip. After which she wrote the following...

"Well, I wanted to make a comment about the "Canned Goods" song by Greg Brown, and wanted to make it on your blog...Thanks so much for that touching song. It's almost like my theme song for your blog, Herrick. The song and this blog mean a lot to me. I feel like I'm part of a family, so many names of people who comment have become familiar to me, and precious, as you and your family have become to me as well. That's what that song churned up in me, gratefulness, the good life, relationships!!!"

That's beautiful, Elizabeth. Thank you. I'll get back to writing at this blog soon, I hope.

As for the song, I recommend that everyone watch the YouTube clip above. At 38 seconds into the movie you will see some potatoes in a basement. That picture happens to be of my potato harvest from years ago. I posted it here to this blog. I was so surprised to see my picture there, and that's how I happened to mention it on my Facebook page.

If you like the Canned Goods song, and you want to hear a  long, rambling, version, check out this link: Canned Goods by Greg Brown (the delightful long version).

Strawberry Season

Dateline: 12 June 2016 AD

Berries picked this morning.
(click the picture for a delicious close-up view)

Hello Dear Readers,

I'm not blogging much these days. Life is just too busy. 

But I am keeping the strawberries picked, and we are certainly enjoying them, even if they are a bit on the small side this year.

I hope everyone's summer is off to a great start.

If you haven't yet entered Planet Whizbang Giveaway #3, please go check it out.



Summer Reading

Dateline: 5 June 2016

Nostalgia is defined as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. The older we get, the more we experience nostalgia. And it is hot summer days that evoke a particularly sweet nostalgia in me. 

I have relatively few truly good memories of my younger days, growing up in a suburban neighborhood outside Syracuse, New York. But there were days in the summer when I would set myself up in the back yard, under the shade of a birch tree, on an old rattan chaise lounge, with a pile of books, and a cool drink, and just read. 

That chaise lounge was like a boat in the ocean. It took me to places where I was not. Just me and my books. I was an avid comic book reader early on. Then came the Hardy Boys and Brains Benton mysteries. From there, I graduated to more grown-up reading interests.

The old chaise lounge came from my stepfather's family. It looked very much (but not exactly) like this one...

The chaise had four old, sturdy purple cushions made with a short bristley fabric. It had wheels just like in the picture. But the arms were different in that they had a rattan cup holder and a place to store reading materials.

When my family moved out of the suburbs to an old farmhouse in the country (I was in 9th grade), the chaise went upstairs into the barn, where it only occasionally was brought outdoors in the summer. 

The fact is, in the suburbs, I had pretty much nothing to do in the summer. I mowed the lawn, but that was it for responsibilities. So I would read for hours on end. There were, after all, no computers or video games in those days. And I am thankful for that.

But when we got to the country, there was so much else to be doing that I never read for hours under the shade of a tree in the backyard like I once did. And I've always missed that about summer.

The old barn at my parent's place gradually fell into disrepair. The roof leaked in places. I would often go up into the barn and check on the old chaise lounge to make sure it wasn't getting wet. Then in the late 1980's a big wind blew most of the roof off the barn and it partially collapsed.

Upon hearing of the damage, I went up to see for myself how bad it was. My main concern was the chaise lounge. Had it survived?

Part of the upper floor where it was had collapsed. And portions of the roof had fallen in. The chaise was buried but it was in a pocket of jumbled lumber pieces, completely unharmed. I considered it's preservation from destruction to be something of a miracle at the time. With considerable effort, I got it out of there and brought it home.

I made space for the antique in my shop. My thought being that someday I would have the time to spend a whole summer day in my back yard doing nothing but reading books. The nostalgia was powerful.

Then, around ten years later, I did something with that chaise lounge that I never expected I would do..... I sold it. I really needed the space in my shop, but, more than that, I needed the money. 

I couldn't find any pictures or information about the chaise online back then. So I listed it on EBAY with a minimum bid of $100. The single winning bid came from a couple in Maine. They drove all the way to central New York to get the piece, and they were delighted with their purchase.

It so happened that they collected and restored antique rattan furniture. They knew the history of the chaise. It was made in Massachusetts in the 1800's (my stepfather's family was from Massachusetts). The man told me it was in remarkably good shape. "They're hard to find in this condition."

I smiled and waved good bye as the nice couple drove back to Maine with my chaise lounge. I regretted what I had just done, and I regret it even more to this day.

Then I went in my house and checked out the web site the couple had given me. It showed several nice houses on the Maine coast that they rented out in the summers. The pictures of the interior of the houses looked like pictures out of a magazine. They showed beautifully decorated interiors with an abundance of restored antique rattan furniture. Ocean views could be seen through the windows. 

I needed money at the time. That couple apparently had an abundance of it. And they also had my beloved old chaise lounge. I felt pretty low.

It was just a piece of furniture. I can't take it with me when I leave this realm. and it would have no meaning to my children. But still.... the nostalgia.


These days, my summers are not for lounging and reading. I typically work at my business, in my garden, on my land, or around my house (I'm still trying to get the roof finished) every day from morning to dark, or until I "hit the wall," as we say around here.

My work is not too laborious, and I take small breaks when they're warranted. But I'm persistently slogging away at several projects every day, until my brain or my body are spent. I like to work. I like to be exhausted at the end of a day. I like it when my arms and hands and back and shoulders ache from use. I feel better about myself, and I sleep better.


So, yesterday, a Saturday in June, I worked in my garden for awhile, before getting my Planet Whizbang mail-orders packaged. Then I worked for awhile at making Classic American Clothespins. Then I worked for awhile on handles for the Whizbang Wheel Hoe kits I sell. Then I hit the wall.

It was late afternoon. Still fairly early. And I remembered that I got an old gardening book in the mail. Marlene's anti-gravity chair was empty in the back yard.....

It's far from a vintage rattan chaise lounge, but close enough. And for a little while I was a kid again.

Mama Kitty likes the anti-gravity chair too

Interview With
Jean-Martin Fortier

Dateline: 1 June 2016

Jean-Martin and his wife, Maude-Hèléne.

Jean-Martin Fortier's book, The Market Gardener, really impacted the way I garden. First, his use of 30" wide permanent planting beds with 18" walkways is the ideal size for me to work with. I had experimented in years past with wider beds and narrower walkways and I wasn't happy with any of them. But 30" and 18" is just right.

And it was Fortier's book that broke down my 30+ year bias against black plastic in my garden. His use of heavy plastic as an occultation cover makes so much sense that I had to give it a try, and I'm glad I did. 

So it's no wonder that the current Planet Whizbang Giveaway is for a DVD documentary of Jean-Martin's 1.5 acre farm in Quebec. There are 6 days left before the contest ends. There will be three winners.

Besides the new documentary, I want to let the avid gardeners among my readership know about the recent interview with Jean-Martin. I highly recommend it. Here's the link:  J.M. Fortier on Six-Figure Farming With The Market Garden.

There is so much for a home gardener to consider in the interview. Jean-Martin discusses his gardening system, including bed/walkway widths, and  the use of occultation plastic. But I learned something new when he discussed the use of a broad fork (his favorite tool). It turns out that the fork is NOT used to turn or seriously disrupt the soil in his garden beds. It is used only to aerate the beds. Check out the interview.

One more thing... The Farmer to Farmer Podcast (where the interview can be found) is an exceptional web site and resource for people who are interested in gardening and small-scale agriculture.

I've listened to several of the interviews at that web site and another good one that I recommend is Karl Hammer on Microbes, Carbon, and The Compost Connection.   That title may sound a bit esoteric but, WOW, I really enjoyed listening to Karl Hammer. He has a way with words and the man is passionate about soil biology, manure, compost, and all of that. 

For those who don't know, Karl Hammer owns the Vermont Compost Company. The compost-based seed starting mix he makes is legendary. 

The Lee Reich
Compost Bin Design

Dateline: 30 May 2016
(click on pictures to see enlarged views)

There it is. Thank you, Lee Reich!
(click the picture)

Back in 2007 my family went to the Pennsylvania Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Festival. While there, I attended a presentation by the garden writer, Lee Reich. In the course of his talk, Lee showed a picture of his compost bins. Someone asked how he made them, and Lee provided a verbal explanation of how he made the interlocking side boards.

Shortly after I got home, I figured out how to make the  sides and built a couple of the bins. The pictures below give you an idea how the bins go together. 

Lee uses 1 x 12 boards to make his compost bins. I used 1 x 8 boards. The finished bins ended up being kind of expensive but they have lasted 9 years and will likely last quite a bit longer. 

The secret to getting maximum lifespan out of your boards is to not leave them outdoors, full of compost, year round. If you take the bins apart at the end of the garden season, let the boards dry out, and store them out of the weather in the winter, they will last. 

Click Here for an article showing how Lee Reich makes his compost bins.

This pile of old boards will fit together to make my compost bin.

I attached the end cleats with Gorilla glue and three wood screws. Two screws through one side and one through the other. None of the cleats have come off in nine years.

This picture shows how the boards interlock at the corners.

I made two bins nine years ago. One is bigger than the other.

Yesterday I mowed and raked up a truckload of grass and weeds to fill my compost bins.

I layered in the fresh-cut greens with some comfrey. I'm not using any animal manure because of  a bad experience I had with herbicide residue in horse manure a few years ago. I think the fresh-cut weeds and comfrey will have enough nitrogen and moisture to compost without manure.

Full compost bin, for now. It will settle considerably, of course. I filled the other bin after taking the picture.
A well-tended compost bin should be covered.

This is the desired final result. I sifted this compost from the remnants of last year's compost pile.

Interview With
Eliot Coleman

Dateline: 28 May 2016

Eliot Coleman
(photo link)

My introduction to Eliot Coleman came back in the 1970's when he was featured in Organic Farming & Gardening magazine (I still have that issue somewhere). Eliot is now 77 years old, and is the elder statesman of American organic gardeners.

If you're any kind of a gardener, you have at least one of Eliot Coleman's gardening books. Click on the photo link under his picture and you'll find a "fertile dozen" of vintage gardening-related books (besides his own) that he recommends. I just tracked down a couple of the less expensive ones and ordered them.

Better yet, if you want to listen to a great (and fairly recent) interview with Eliot Coleman, click here: Eliot Coleman on the Importance of Observation and Making the Soil Work For Your Farm.

I enjoyed the interview so much that I've listened to it twice.

The Market Gardener's Toolkit

Dateline: 25 May 2016

There is a documentary movie out that many readers of this blog will like. The Market Gardener's Toolkit is a tour of Jean-Martin Fortier's successful 1.5 acre market farm, which is the subject of his excellent book, The Market Gardener.

I'm giving away three copies of the DVD documentary in Planet Whizbang Giveaway #2. Click that link for more details about the movie and to watch a trailer.

If you are observant when you watch the trailer (or the whole documentary) you will see a homemade Planet Whizbang Garden Cart....

This screen shot from the movie trailer shows a Whizbang garden cart being put to good use.  If you'd like to make a cart for yourself, the plan book can be purchased HERE. An inexpensive pdf download can be purchased HERE
(click the picture to see a larger view)

My Newest Web Site

Dateline: 21 May 2016

You may recall that I am re-roofing my house, in between running the Planet Whizbang business and everything else. So I haven't been blogging much, and I'm not yet ready to return to blogging much.

My 3-year roof project has been changed to a 2-year roof project. Which means I'm doing a lot more roofing than I planned—I'm finishing the whole roof this year instead of next year. 

It will be mighty good to have it all done. Then I will tackle the work of siding and painting the areas of the house that are still, after more than 30 years, covered with tar paper. Then maybe we'll sell the place and move to town. ;-)

This might be the last re-roofing job I ever do. At 58, my body just doesn't do roofing as well as it once did. 

Anyway, I have launched a new idea and web site. It's a site to promote my Planet Whizbang business. The web site is simply titled Planet Whizbang Giveaways.

It's a simple marketing idea... 

Every two weeks I'll have a FREE giveaway of on item (or items) that fit within the category of "Down-To-Earth Books, Tools & Inspiration." 

There is an e-mail signup at the blog/web site. Plug your e-mail into the signup feature and you'll be automatically notified for each new giveaway.

Don't worry, I don't "harvest" e-mails and sell them, or send you spam mail. That's not my style.

If the idea takes off and there is a lot of interest, I may switch from a giveaway every two weeks to one every week.

I'm going to enjoy this. I hope a lot of you will also enjoy it.

The last big giveaway contest I had was back in 2010 with the Deliberate Agrarian Haiku Poetry Contest. There were some great haiku entries and I gave away a lot of humdinger prizes. 

But choosing the winners was kind of a bother. With third-party software (Rafflecopter) compiling the entries and randomly choosing winners, the process of running a giveaway is so much easier.

Planet Whizbang
Pocket Cultivator Giveaway...
With Four Winners!

Dateline: 16 May 2016

It's a downright handy tool for any gardener!
(click picture for enlarged view)

Among the best of ideas in my Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners is the homemade Whizbang pocket cultivator, an example of which you can see in the picture above. 

Don't let the obvious simplicity of this tool deceive you. My own Whizbang pocket cultivator is one of the most useful gardening tools I own. It is perfectly suited for light cultivating of garden soil up close to plants, and in other areas that are too small to get into with a hoe. 

There are three "secrets" to making a most useful pocket cultivator. First, the length of the fork must be just right. Second, the handle end of the fork must have a bulbous shape to it. This swollen end makes it so much easier to grasp and work with the fork. In my book (page 69) I reveal the ideal pocket cultivator length and I tell how to make the bulbous end.

The third secret to making a really good pocket cultivator is to choose the right fork. While any dinner fork will do the job, a heavy-duty fork with long tines is so much nicer than a fork with short tines made of lightweight metal.

I have made a study of dinner forks at thrift stores and antique shops and I've discovered that ideal-pocket-cultivator-grade forks are surprisingly hard to find. There is an abundance of cheaply-made lightweight forks to choose from, but there are far less of the better quality forks.

With that in mind, you might imagine my delight at finding 18 assorted vintage dinner forks that were just right for making pocket cultivators at an antique shop a few days ago. I sorted through a box with hundreds of pieces of odd cutlery to get the 18 forks, and I paid a whopping 70 cents each for them.

This recent discovery is what has prompted me to launch this Whizbang pocket cultivator giveaway. I've made four pocket cultivators like you see in the picture above. These are deluxe Whizbang pocket cultivators because I have given the handles a coating of Plasti-Dip rubber.

I'm using Rafflecopter to compile the names of everyone who enters this giveaway. And Rafflecopter will choose the four winners at random. This should save me a lot of time and trouble.

However, Rafflecopter is new to me and I'm still kind of figuring it out. I hope everything goes smoothly. I hope you will bear with me if there are any glitches.

To enter the contest, you need to click in the appropriate spot in the Rafflecopter box below. Rafflecopter will need either your name and e-mail address or your Facebook identity. After you enter that information you will be asked to visit the Whizbang Gardening Facebook page. Then click "I visited" in the entry box, and you will be officially entered in the contest. 

Winners will be chosen by Rafflecopter on May 24th and announced here shortly thereafter. 

Terms & Conditions

No purchase is necessary for this giveaway. There will be four winners, chosen randomly by Rafflecopter. Each winner will receive a homemade Whizbang Pocket Cultivator, like shown in the picture at the top of this page. The contest is for US residents only. If you win, you will be contacted by e-mail. You have 48 hours to reply to the e-mail with your mailing address. If you don't respond in that time, another person will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There is still time to take advantage of the unprecedented 2-fer sale on the Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners. Two books for the price of one ($21.95), and shipping is included. The sale runs to the end of this month. CLICK HERE for details and to order.