Gator sighting

Off to the beach for a week so the next update will detail the incredible catches from the surf.

We have another gator in the lake. George called me the other night to come see it. He was feeding the fish and turtles from his dock and up popped a mall gator. Small means maybe 2′ long or so. Really too small for a belt but possibly a wallet. George plans to catch him and transplant him to some other lake. I could tell by the way the gator was eyeing George’s miniature dachshund that he needs to do something before they become best buds and the gator invites him out to dine.

Boy, this home gardening thing is getting a lot of press these days. I guess lots of people are giving it a try with seed sales up 30-50%. It would be interesting to find out how many starters end up finishing even one season. I think most will come to the conclusion that it’s cheaper to buy veggies than grow them – from a start up position. I read an article in the WSJ that said the “average” backyard garden saved $600. Not sure how big an average garden is or where it’s located. Another piece on a morning TV show said that the return on $50 in seeds was $1200 in veggies. Not sure exactly what crops that included but in my own experience, that’s a low estimate if you’re growing lettuce or carrots. A $2 pack of lettuce seeds must be at least 1000 seeds. You do the math. And with lettuce you can cut a head and in a few weeks, it has regrown another. A $2 pack of broccoli nets 200 or so seeds. And with each broccoli plant, you get at least 2 meals counting the main head and the follow on shoots. In Florida, we basically eat out of the garden 12 months a year – that would be a salad and one or two veggies with each meal. Part of the trick is selecting varieties and scheduling plantings so that you have a more or less continuous supply without overdosing on any one item. I need to do a better job of that for sure so I’m putting more focus on that aspect now that the basic growing techniques are behind me.

We don’t have cable or satellite TV – old fashioned antenna TV. We were happy with the reception and the analog channels but when they switched over to digital, we were forced to get a set-top box that converted the digital signals for our old TV. It was an improvement in picture quality and in the number of channels that we received. Before digital we got 5 channels nominally good; another couple that were watchable sometimes. With digital the channel count went up to 30 or so. Of course we still only watched the same ones we’ve always watched so the added channels added nothing to our viewing. On Wednesday we turned on the tv and found that channel 6, the CBS channel, was gone – no signal. I figured it was some technical issue with the station but it did persist all day long. We had lost signal once or twice before and I had found a family of wasps had set up a nest around my antenna amplifier which caused the signal to die. No problem since I killed of the critters. So I assumed that this was another insect invasion. I went out the next morning prepared to spray the gear but it was clean as a whistle. Hmmmmmm. Called the neighbor and he too was sans channel 6. So I called channel 6 and talked to a tech weenie. Turns out they had previously been operating on a temporary frequency and had switched over to their final frequency. He said they had broadcast that changeover all day. I said that was nice but if you couldn’t get the channel, them broadcasting the info was kind of stupid. He said, oh yeah, I guess you’re right. Anyway, to fix the problem I just had to reset the channel search. Interestingly when I did that, I got channel 6 just fine but in addition, we now had 45 channels including channels from as far away as Palm Beach and Jacksonville. I guess these are channels that have switched to digital since we did the initial channel search. Of course we still watch the same channels we’ve always watched.
I guess if we’re charging towards socialism, it makes sense to suck up to socialist and communist countries. I just hate seeing the pres getting punked by these two bit players around the world. This kum by yah, why can’t we all be friends crap is ok for France but please, give me a break. Can’t you just visualize the terrorists licking their chops as we reel in the CIA. Is it my imagination or is Obama becoming an embarrassment?

garden update 4/09

Soo many people haven’t asked for a garden update – so here it is.

Aside from the particular crops that change with the season, the attack critters change as well. While not yet in full aggressive mode, they’re making their presence known and I’m ready for the countermeasures. I’m not yet breaking out the traditional heavy chemicals – malathion, Seven dust, and the like – but rather trying more eco friendly approaches. Some examples:

Yellow sticky strips. These are bright yellow 5” x 7” vinyl strips that are coated with some super sticky material. I can say for sure they are incredibly sticky and you don’t, don’t, don’t want to get them on your hands or clothes. It works on the fly paper theory that the insects are attracted to the bright yellow and get caught in the glue. I bought 2 sets which comes with 3 metal stands and 10 sticky strips. I think in the future I’ll be able to make my own using something called tacky foot and wide strips of plastic that come come sherbet containers painted yellow. I’m going to build a couple and put them up against the store bought version and see if I have the trick. I might also try some other colors – maybe red will capture some tomato lovers.

Cut worm collars. When you transplant young plants to the garden there’s evil creatures lurking beneath the soil that come out at night and bite a ring around the base of the transplants. They love tomatoes in particular. So you do the transplant and come out the next day and see the playing laying over dead with the leave end cut away from the root end right at ground level. If the plant makes it a week or so, chances are it’s home free. My approach has been to grow spares and play a replant game. This year I’m putting collars around the plant at ground level. I’m trying two different collar approaches. I have a roll of velcro about 3/4” wide so I cut off a piece about 4” long and wrap it around the base of the plant. Nancy has some quilting material that looks to me like mylar which she uses to make patterns. She made me a dozen or so collars from that. So far I haven’t lost anything in two days using either collar.

Oil spray. I picked up something called Pyola oil which is a mixture of plant oils that must be really bad tasting. I actually tried it last year to no avail but I got it late in the season and perhaps it works best on small plants or earlier in the season. The manufacturer has written such a great brochure that I feel compelled to try it one more time.

Radishes. I read that if you plant radishes around cucumbers, the cucumber beetles will leave the area. My cucumber plants are a few inches tall so I totally surrounded them with radish seeds. I also sprayed them with oil.

We’ll see.

The transition from winter to spring crops is going well. We’re still picking snow peas, lettuce and celery. And plenty of swiss chard which has been incredibly productive all winter and shows no signs of crashing. Within the next two weeks we should be picking the first of the yellow squash, green peppers, and onions. A couple of weeks after that the green beans, more varieties of squash, and the cucumbers will start. The corn is up about 10” and looking pretty good. I am trying a new award winning acorn squash called Honey Bear and have been amazed at the progress. Within 3 weeks there are actually baby squash and blossoms. Another new try is something called New Zealand spinach. It’s not new, just new to me. I think it’s not a true spinach but supposedly a direct replacement that can tolerate lots of heat and humidity. My track record with spinach in this garden is spotty – poor to fair at best. Last year I tried a vining spinach called Malabar that did really well but which people either loved or hated. It tasty pretty good to me but the leaves were thick and leathery and a little slippery inside. Nancy was not wild about it. Also trying a melon I had good luck with in Utah. Last year we tried watermelon and cantaloupes and it was a disaster. Very few melons but they took over the garden. These new melons are shorter vined and produce a miniature melon similar to cantaloupe. They’re called Minnesota Midgets. So except for a small patch that I’ll plant in beans in a couple of weeks, I’m 100% planted out and in full protect mode.

And I learned another “don’t”. When you thin out Elephant Ears, don’t throw them in the compost pile, even if you run them thru a chipper. Turns out that any piece that’s still alive, no matter how chopped up, will regenerate into a new plant. So I’m now digging out elephant ear plants as they emerge in the garden. They work hard at developing roots before they put out any green above ground. When one pooches out the ground, it’s very tiny but the root can be down 8-10” and already forming a big bulb. I have a feeling this is going to be a problem all summer long.

Italian Easter

Good news. The National Weather Service just updated the 2009 hurricane season forecast and dropped the number of hurricanes they anticipate. The reason for the drop is that the waters of the ocean have cooled. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Since it’s easy to measure surface water temp accurately, I have no reason to doubt the ocean has cooled. I know the lake cooled. Whether or not this will result in fewer hurricanes is anybody’s guess.
I can also believe the ocean has cooled since on April 8 I had to cover the garden on a frost warning. Frost in April? What’s that all about. This global warming sure is strange.
Back when we lived in Utah and Chris still lived at home, he and I used to make home made pasta a few times a month. We had a great pasta machine and made the dough using a food processor. We had it all down to a science and could whip up a batch of great fettucine or linquine in under 30 minutes. We made spinach pasta, carrot pasta, tomatoe pasta – basically anything that grew in the garden was cooked and tossed into the food processor along with the flour and eggs. Alas, he went off to school and with just the two of us at home, the pasta making stopped. When we moved from Utah, Nancy sold the pasta machine, unbeknownst to me, in a garage sale – officially ending my promising career as a pasta master. Then for my last birthday, Chris got me a new pasta machine. I loved it but still, without him to help, it sat unused all this time.

Fast forward to Easter and it was our turn to have a big family dinner. We started discussing the menu a month prior to the event and it became obvious that we were on two different pages as to what an Easter dinner should be. In my family and since we were married, Easter was always a baked ham, potato or macaroni salad, baked beans and a green salad. Hard rolls and cheese so you could make great ham sandwiches. Basically a cold meal. Nancy’s family had a hot meal – ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole. So she started polling the kids as to what they wanted for Easter and it was ending up to be a combination of lots of things. Out of the blue, Nancy said we should maybe really go back in time when my Mom and grandmom made ravioli for Easter. It was an all day meal prep with hours spent just making the pasta dough- prefood processor. We broke out the food processor and the new pasta machine and whipped up a spaghetti dinner to see if we had what it took to pull off a big ravioli feast for 10 – 15 people. It went so smooth that we agreed this was a good course to pursue.

So we understood all the mechanics but weren’t sure on the proportions – how many ravioli do you make for that many people and how does that roll back to flour, eggs, ricotta and mozzerela cheese. Each batch of dough is 2 cups of flour, 2 eggs, some salt, olive oil, and water. In our experimental cooking we determined that one batch fed the two of us with enough left over for a big lunch for me the next day. So it made sense that if one batch was plenty for two, then 6 batches would cover a dozen or so. So how much cheese do you need to fill that much pasta dough. We guessed that three 2 pound containers of ricotta and 2 one pound packages of mozzerella would do just fine. Since the weight of all that approached 10 pounds, I had a nagging feeling that we were making way too much food. But nothing is better than day old pasta so the worst that could happen was plenty of leftovers.

We started Saturday morning about 10AM and by noon had constructed 90 or so ravioli and still had some of the filling left over. We speculated that we had enough filling for 100 but decided not to make any more dough – just chuck the left over cheese. We set aside some to freeze for a future meal, some for the neighbors, some for my sister and settled on cooking 50. With a dozen eaters that’s 4 per person which sounded about right. Along with the ravioli, there was a few pounds of Italian Sausage, a couple pounds of pork short ribs, a big antipasto salad and Italian bread. The logistics of cooking 50 ravioli was a bit more than we had planned but we put on three big pots of boiling water and put about 10 in each to start. We guessed the cooking time at 10 minutes in boiling water and as we removed the cooked ravioli, we replaced them with the second batch. So it took 2 cycles with 3 pots going. As it turned out, there were leftovers from the first batch so the whole second pass was excess. We all ate till we could hardly walk and still ended up with plenty of leftovers. But at least now we understand the process quite a bit better and will tone it down a bit next time.

For anybody who wants to try to make the food processor pasta dough, it’s way easier than the traditional method with kneading and rolling dough. You just put in all the ingredients except the water and turn the machine on. The trick is adding the water. You put in a couple of tablespoons and then wait a minute or so. Another tablespoon and wait. The water interacts slowly with the other ingredients and then all of a sudden it reaches the critical point and the dough forms a big ball and starts shaking the hell out of the food processor. If you overshoot on the water, the dough will be too wet and sticky. At that point you add more flour. So you can bounce back and forth between adding water and adding flour until you get it right.