Michelle and Me

Wildlife sighting of a lifetime. This morning as I’m sitting at the computer, a bobcat came up on the porch. I first thought it was a really big cat coming out of the woods but I quickly changed that assessment to a really gigantic cat coming out of the woods. Finally I realized this was no regular cat kind of cat but a real, live Bobcat – short tail, spiky ears and all. I would say he was about double the size of a normal cat in height. He sat there for maybe 5 minutes doing cat things such as licking his paws. He got to within 3′ before he spotted me and ran off into the woods. Wow! Tried to take pictures with the camera sitting right beside the computer but shooting through the screened window created glare and blur to make the cat barely distinguishable. I saw a bobcat one other time but he was way up a tree, not nearly so close and scooted away as soon as he saw me. I remember being impressed by how high up a pine tree he was and that he jumped down from at least 30′ up and hit the ground running. We have lots of rabbits and an occasional rat running around so being inside this cat’s territory is a good thing.

Most of you wouldn’t draw any connection between the fact that I started a garden a year ago and Michelle Obama started one this year. But I could have forecast it. The second year we lived in Salt Lake we moved to a house that had a great back yard and evidence that at some time way in the past there had been a small garden. I decided it would be neat to try to resurrect it. I expanded it from a 10’x20′ plot to a 20′ x 40′ plot and was spectacularly successful for a complete novice. We lived in a town called Bountiful so it became obvious why the founders had picked that name. A year later the President of the Mormon Church declared that it would be a good idea for all Mormons to have a vegetable garden in their back yard. Needless to say I was the only one in the neighborhood with a garden and the only non-Mormon for miles around. I gave the neighbors bragging rights and told them that if anybody checked up on them they could send them over to my place and I’d claim only to be sharecropping. Now do you see why it comes as no surprise to me that the Obama’s decided to follow that path? I’m going to make a wild ass guess that she will never know about the nematodes or the work that goes into a compost heap. In fact she probably has a resident nematodologist on staff who has access to all those banned chemicals to deal with such pests – The DC Exclusion Act of 2009 – and funded by the Homeland Security budget under the money covering underground terrorist attacks. Also, since I let my Mormon friends claim my garden, I’m letting my Dem friends do the same. So if Michelle calls, just give her my address and tell her you do your gardening there.

I’m in full switch over mode now with a third of the garden still putting out winter stuff, a third sprouting summer stuff and the final third sitting idle just waiting for my planting surge April 1. I know for a fact that the soil is in excellent condition so my only concern this year is the nematodes. I’m going after them with a full across the board attack and no scientific methodology. I’ve read that having a heavily composted soil is a deterrent. The soil in my garden has at least 6” of well refined compost made by yours truly over the past two years. I’ve read that Golden Guardian Marigolds ward off nematodes. I have already over a 100 Golden Guardians on standpoint to be transplanted in the next couple of weeks and lots of seeds to keep them coming. And I have mixed gallons of the secret sugar/clorox brew that is supposed to attract and destroy nematodes by the thousands if not millions. A good scientist would probably cordon off sections of the garden and try each remedy independently to see which is the most effective. Being an engineer, I hit them with everything i have and go for a total knockout. Last season it took maybe 2 months for the nematodes to gain the upper hand and it was all over for me after that. Let the rematch begin.

I’m also getting much more sophisticated in marking the garden. Last year I just stuck things in the ground and had cut up a sherbet container and written the variety with a sharpie pen. That washed off in a week or so and after that it was really no telling what variety we were looking at. This year I bought stakes and an indelible garden pen guaranteed to not wash off. That may sound like an overkill but not all varieties do as well and the plan is to weed out the ones that sound good on paper but don’t perform well in Florida. My system last year totally failed so I have no idea which ones were good and which ones failed. Of course last year, I was happy to see anything survive compared to this year where I’ll be blown away if anything doesn’t make it. Another example of my new level of sophistication, I learned that there are two types of tomatoes – determinate and Indeterminate. I knew that but wasn’t sure what that meant to me. I knew that determents have all the fruit come ripe at the same time whereas indeterminate’s produce over a long season. What I didn’t know was that determents do better in cages and indeterminate do better on trellises. I didn’t know that indeterminate do better with heavy pruning and determents want no pruning at all. And both want fertilizer with low nitrogen and heavy phosphate. That’s not intuitive because if you use fertilizers with lots of nitrogen, the plants grow much bigger and lusher. But, unbeknownst to me, all the plants efforts are going into putting on nice leaves and not to putting out fruit. Drop the nitrogen and pump up the phosphate and out pop the tomatoes.

The downside to all this knowledge is that if it all turns to crap, what do I have to blame. Ignorance was a good excuse in the past.

Spring has sprung

Seems like spring has sprung. You can tell instantly by the bright color from the azalea’s. The bushes are larger than ever and full of blooms. Overall, this was the most consistently cool winter I can remember but it seems to have finally broken. Technically we’ve actually had a freeze as late as March 20 but I’m going to assume that’s just not possible this year and get on with it. I’ve started attacking those bushes that were nailed hard by the freezes and pretty much chopping them down to a few inches above ground. Some will survive and some are history – too soon to tell which but the hibiscus looks like it might make it and the butterfly bush would appear beyond help. The citrus trees all seemed to have made out ok. The two grapefruit trees actually have blossoms so that means fruit next year. The jury’s still out on the tangerine and the satsuma but they look healthy.

The winter garden is winding down fast and I have seedlings started indoors for the next crop. The new stuff includes 6 different varieties of peppers; 5 varieties of tomatoes; 3 different squash types with about that many more to follow; one type of cucumber that we’ve found to be exactly perfect for here. I started the peppers a few weeks ago, the tomatoes last week, and the other stuff yesterday. Staggering compensates for the longer germination times of the different plants so I can more or less get them all transplanted into the garden at the same time. I usually start about double the number of seeds that I expect to convert into plants. That accounts for germination less than 100%, transplant survival less that 100% and a few left over for friends and family who just want to grow one or two things. We’re about broccoli’d and cabbaged out so the changeover is welcome.

I think I mentioned earlier that I had discovered a large stand of bamboo in one corner of my neighbor’s yard. Bamboo is quickly becoming my next duct tape – the material you can use for hundreds of tasks. The garden is starting to resemble a Hong Kong construction site with bamboo trellises and tripods for tieing up plants or training vining veggies.

The other great changeover is that the big bass are on the beds. The speckled perch gear is back in storage and the lines all rigged for bass. Now all we need is for some rain to fill up the lake.

Fred Sanford rocks

I’m really confused now. I just saw a report on the tube that the Canadians are contemplating sending an ice breaker up to New Foundland to help a school of dolphin escape a growing ice pack. I thought we were concerned that the polar bears were going to starve because there was no ice. So now there must be plenty of ice, plenty of polar bear food and we’re in the process of screwing the bears. Personally I was never a big bear fan and would always pick dolphins over bears but isn’t this just a bit hypocritical. And is it right to break up the ice and then complain that the ice pack is getting smaller?

My neighbor George is a Fred Sanford kind of guy – can’t throw anything away and will even stop on the side of the road to salvage things people have trashed. He’ll pick up an old mechanism and tear it apart – not to rework it – but to get the bits and parts for future projects. Sounds crazy but no matter what you need, he has it or can make it from the stuff he has. Some of his creations are total genius. Let me give you an example of one he did just the other day. He built his own boat trailer, long ago and has a really cheap, junkie winch on it. It’s always been a struggle getting the boat winched back onto the trailer. That’s become a problem lately since he has a chest wound which just won’t heal with any stress on it. So George made a piece from an old socket set that replaced the handle on winch. Then he takes a portable hand drill and uses that to crank the winch. Is that clever or what? It worked so well that he built another one to control the winches that lift his boat at the dock. He offered to upgrade my dock winch but I begged off. First I’d have to get a new portable drill with plenty of torque but it would mean that I would have to keep the drill battery charged and I’m not too consistent with that.

I’ve picked up some of that junk conversion skill and recently scored a success. I had a cheap hand shovel with a nice, long, narrow head. The shaft and handle broke off after just a bit of use. I saved the head just in case. Yesterday I got a new Lee Valley catalog and was looking over the garden tools and spotted the perfect furrow tool which would allow me to make nice rows for planting seeds. They wanted $60 for it, which was totally outrageous. The head on their tool was quite similar to the head on my old hand shovel so I went up to the shop to see if I could conjure up anything similar. I had a 5′ piece of plastic electrical conduit which would make a nice handle but had a head scratcher as to attaching the head to the conduit. Checking thru my stash I came up with a couple of long nylon bolts with nuts that had I had saved from a toilet seat change. A lot of people probably wouldn’t have saved them but George has had this influence on me. The head of the bolt just fit in the conduit so I mixed up some epoxy and installed the toilet seat bolt. Then I drilled a 3/8” hole in the shovel head, slid it over the bolt, and put the nylon nut on to hold it all together. It almost worked perfectly. The shovel head had just enough round that the nut didn’t hold it tight causing it to swivel when I tried to furrow a row. I removed the head, hammered it flat, added a washer and reassembled it. Perfect. The last design flaw was that the conduit was just a little too flexible – it would work but it wasn’t optimal. I solved that by cutting a piece of bamboo from a large stand of bamboo and forcing it inside the conduit. The green bamboo hasn’t immediately solved the problem but my theory is that it will stiffen as it dries.
The great weather and low water said Poke Boat to me so I broke it out again. The Poke boat is a lightweight, personal boat – a cross between a kayak and a canoe. It’s 12′ long and only weighs 22 lbs. I love to fish out of it because you are so quiet and the whole experience is up close and personal. Since the propulsion is totally manual, you wake up a few dormant muscles each time you start a new season. I made a modification which I think will make it a bit more comfortable. I took a garden kneeling pad designed to protect knees (and jeans), and cut off a strip to cushion the back of the cockpit where it tends to cut into my back. It’s held together with the usual duct tape so instantly recognizeable as one of my creations. Much more comfortable. Fishing out of the poke boat has one interesting feature you have to deal with. it’s very light and narrow and there are no brakes. So when you catch a fish, even a small one, it tends to tow you around a bit. That makes it kind of tough to get a large fish out of the grass since he’s pulling you and the boat into the thick of it. You just have to laugh sometimes when you see yourself being towed under an overhanging tree and know it’s going to be nasty getting back out – with or without the fish. Adds another dimension to the whole experience. And just for the record, the large bass have started moving into shallow water and I’m bagging a big mama every now and again.