Sunday Morning Garden Chat: ‘Farming’ the Sun

From the Washington Post, “The next money crop for farmers: Solar panels”:

ORION, Ill.— Randy DeBaillie pointed to the power meter on his snow-covered farm: Even on a foggy, monochromatic day, with the sun barely piercing the clouds, the flat black panels planted nearby in two long rows were generating electricity.

“There’s enough energy produced to run the whole complex,” said DeBaillie, 50, who farms 6,500 acres with his brother and cousin. They typically grow corn and soybeans each spring, but this year they want to put more solar panels on 15 acres — and sell the energy.

The earnings, he said, would be about three times what an average harvest would yield there.

Across the flatlands of Illinois, a new crop is rising among the traditional waves of grain as farmers increasingly make the same calculation as DeBaillie. Hundreds have applied to host acres of solar panels on their property, a move encouraged by a state law requiring that renewable resources provide 25 percent of Illinois power by 2025.

The shift is controversial, and not just because of how it could alter the pastoral landscape. Taking some of the most fertile soil in the world out of production could have serious consequences for a booming population…

In the northwest corner of Illinois, where his great-grandfather emigrated from Belgium during World War I, four generations of DeBaillies have worked the land. Randy DeBaillie built the half-dozen red sheds that serve as the headquarters for the family business. On a bitterly cold winter morning, they were surrounded by deep snow drifts. A thick sheet of ice blanketed the driveway. He stepped out anyway, wearing knee-high rubber boots and worn tan coveralls, to get to his solar panels.

If too much snow piles up on the panels, they cannot function properly. So he’ll grab a squeegee and clear it off…

Darn, I knew there’d be a catch. :)

Maybe this will be the year (to take up my usual garden-chat trope) when we finally get solar panels installed on the roof of our 1200sq ft house. Massachusetts has a pretty good set of rebate / installment incentives, but that means we also have a plethora of overhopeful short-term, sometimes fly-by-night installation companies. And while the Spousal Unit has gotten as far as signing a preliminary contract with at least one of the half-dozen salesmen who’ve inspected the ‘new’ roof, the shingles remain bare. Since I know all too well that we just barely get enough sunlight to grow tomatoes in a good year, I suspect our projected production capability is sufficiently marginal that we’re not exactly a top-tier prospect.

Apart from mechanical contrivances…

What’s going on in your garden (planning) this week?

Sunday Morning Garden Chat: Seeds of Dreams

Once again, commentor Ozark Hillbilly comes through, giving us a springboard for dreams of spring growth and summer bounty:

I got seeds!

Tomatoes: I have Pink Brandywine, German Johnson, Amana Orange and Amish Paste seeds left over from last year but I gots to have my Green Zebra. My wife loves big red beefsteak types so I got the Brimmer and Mushroom Basket for her. I have to have Yellow Pear every year to go with all my other grape and cherry tomatoes. The Mallorcan Winter Tomatoes I have been looking for ever since my wife first told me about them. Baker Creek says,

The rambling vines about 24 inches in height produce an abundance of round, pinkish-yellow fruit with rose-pink centers. The fruits are generally about 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter and are not full-flavored when they appear vine-ripe. They attain their most intense flavor thorough aging. The tomato should be treated as determinate because at the end of summer, the fruit production peaks and then stops. The plants defoliate and at this point the Mallorcans either harvest the fruit for sun drying (which improves their flavor), or the vines are pulled up whole and hung upside down in a protected place (such as a barn) so that the tomatoes can ripen slowly over the course of the winter. The tomatoes are then pulled off the vines as needed. They will keep this way for several months.

I am excited.

Melons: Every year i grow a nice crop of melons for the groundhogs. The Golden Jennies I am going to try and grow in containers so I can get some. I am hoping the Groundhogs enjoy the Honeymoons so much I can get a taste of Sweet Passion because who doesn’t like passion?

Cucumbers: My wife does not like cucumbers but she loves dill pickles. Seeing as I recently purchased a 10L pickling crock I had to try these. The Dar cukes grow well in containers and the Miniature Whites are supposed to do well in them too.

Eggplants: I love eggplant and have grown Rosita and Diamond before and done OK with them. I have tried the Rosa Bianca before and utterly failed but they are so beautiful and so highly recommended that I’ve decided it’s all my fault and I’m going to try again. The Mtoyo is a Japanese variety and is new to me. That alone is worth giving it a shot.

Peppers: Several years ago I grew the Heirloom Sunset Mix from Renee’s They were very productive and very sweet. After trying several other types, I am going back to them. I have so many dried and smoked hot peppers from last year that the only ones I’m growing this year are Jalapenos because I have to have stuffed jalapenos. The Magyar Paprika is new to me (I usually grow the Leutschauer) so I thought I’d give it a try even tho I have plenty of the L’s dried and smoked. The Padron Peppers, what is a half Spanish household with out tapas?

Beans: Last year was a dismal failure with beans for me. First time I ever had a problem, not sure what went wrong. This year will be different. The two Filet beans from Renee’s are my “go to’s” for fresh beans. Good Mother Stollard, Greasy Grits, and Cherokee ToT’s are all old standby pole beans for drying but the Haricot is new. The Snowcap and Hidatsa are half runners I thought I’d try along the fences. The Ojo de Tigre I tried for the first time last year so I gotta try again.

Bonus from last years shade garden. I forget their name, “Tri-something” or other (can you guess why?) I bought them at Lowes, and am pretty sure they came as roots. A stunningly beautiful surprise.

Last year was a total rout in what passes for my garden — two patio-block raised beds, a couple of badly overgrown patches next to the doorway, a welter of mismatched planters and containers, plus the annual collection of mail-order tomatoes in rootpouches. Well, I’ve ordered this year’s tomatoes, and one impetus to keeping the batch (relatively) small was so that I could haul enough 30gal bags of planting mix from the local garden center to fill fresh new pouches and still have some strength left to cope with digging up and reviving the rest of the beds. Fingers crossed for a clement spring, so I can start tearing out the Spousal Unit’s overexuberant vinca transplants without damaging the daffodils and creeping phlox, and separate the failing daylilies and Siberian irises before the tomatoes and annuals take up all the time I can bear to spend outside…

What’s going on in your garden plans (dreams), this week?

Sunday Morning Garden Chat: Tropical Dreams

I’m not saying the orchid growers make a point of holding their shows in the winter — plants bloom when they bloom — but at least it gives us some color to enjoy! Beloved commentor & ace photographer Ozark Hillbilly went to the Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show:

I got enough nice pics for 4 or 5 Garden posts. And no, I don’t know the names of any of them. Consider yourselves lucky that a plaque found its way into a few photos. ;-)

I’ll get you the seed post I promised you next week. I just thought folks could use a little pick-me-up in this dreary 1st week of February.

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Sunday Morning Garden Chat: The Garden in Winter

Blessings be upon intrepid photographer & Balloon Juice correspondent Ozark Hillbilly:

Been awhile since we had garden pics so I thought I’d send some in.

At top: Just a pretty little window looking down into on of my hollers.

The homestead from the back.

My granddaughter gave us this a couple years ago, it is very prominently placed.

I am going to replace these gates if it ever warms up. Really!

This home is currently vacant. But at the rent I charge, not for long.
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Help a Furloughed Worker Out

About a week and a half ago, I read a story in People magazine about furloughed workers having a rough go of it:

When Kristie Scarazzo, a divorced single mom of a 4-year-old daughter landed her dream job last September as a botanist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she drained her savings for the exciting move to Ventura, California.

“I thought I was making a wise choice, working for the federal government,” she tells PEOPLE, “one that is very secure.”

Four months later, Scarazzo, 45, is “trying not to freak out” as she deals with the uncertainty of no pay since Dec. 22, one of approximately 800,000 employees affected both financially and emotionally by a partial government shutdown without end.

On Friday, President Donald Trump, whose insistence for funding for a proposed southern border wall led to the government closing, said it could last for months — “even years.”

“It’s really difficult,” says Scarazzo, echoing the concerns of several federal employees whom PEOPLE spoke to as the shutdown grinds on.

I’m not usually in the habit of reading People magazine- not that I have anything against it, my grandmother used to get it and then they would end up at my parent’s house and it was something nice to flip through and see puff pieces and pictures of pretty people- but someone tweeted the story and it caught my eye. I think what resonated to me was the fact that she was a botanist- one of those jobs that doesn’t get the attention that “sexier” things like the Coast Guard or TSA do in this shutdown, but it’s a super important thing that we all take for granted. Plus, it’s one of those jobs where you just can’t stop going to work- plants die and the things they are working on are like the other scientists who are still going to work because years worth of work is in experiments that will just die and be lost if they are not dealt with every day.

At any rate, me being me, having a soft spot for single moms, I looked her up on facebook, assumed there was only one botanist in Ventura who went by the name of Katie Scarazzo, and messaged her. She was very nice although probably taken aback that some lunatic on the internet (yours truly) had hunted her down, but said she didn’t need help atm, but thanked me and I told her if things change, to reach out. I just got a message from her about a gofundme:

As many as government employees being cut from the pay due to the federal government shut down. My husband and I have created a GoFundMe, the funds, to help Kristie Scarazzo, graduated with a Master degree of Botany, gave up her previous job to work for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as her dream job of her life. We ask everyone to give a helping hand, the donations go to her, the single mother with lovely children of 4 years old. The funds will be used to pay for her monthly condo rent, food, student loan, child care, and other expenses. The total raised funds will go toward her all the necessary monthly payments immediately. I am grateful for who I am today; I have been in downtime ago and I know how it feels. I feel everyone should extend the helping hand as it is our human nature to have sympathy toward others, like Kristie.

I am in for 50 and hope you all will help out, too.