The Magic Quilt

Nancy makes quite a few really beautiful quilts but a while back she did a piece with magical properties. It’s a table cloth that decorates our eating area. What’s magical about it is that it makes things disappear. The pattern and color combinations swallow up anything you put on it. It really eats up glasses and keys and wallets. I set those items down on the table and then can never find them again. Especially the glasses. I will tear up the house looking for where I put them and invariably they turn up on that table topper. It’s the first place I look but even then, you can’t just casually look, you have to run your hands over it and stoop down to scan at just the right angle. Magic. I know it’s crazy but I’m starting to think the things do disappear and then reappear. Yeah, cabin fever.

And on quilts, Nancy is on a mission of mercy trying to repair a seriously damaged quilt sent to her by our great nephew, Andrew. One of his other aunts made the quilt for him years ago and it’s a cherished possession but it’s not held up well. Personally, I’d retire it or use it to cover plants during a freeze, but Nancy is fairly sure she can return it to service – it looks way too hammered to me. It’s all hand work with lots and lots of small pieces so it’s not a project that’s going to happen overnight. Andrew is not known for his patience so I intervened before the project started to let him know that this was no simple undertaking and that he should just keep quiet and let it flow – don’t bug your Aunt Nancy. He promised to be patient so I’ll have to trust that it will all end well.

I guess this would count as a quilt story – Nancy belongs to this quilt group which meets weekly. I’ve never been to a meeting but guess that they sit around and sew while chewing the fat on a wide range of subjects. She came home with a beauty this week. If you grow lettuce or spinach you know that it has to be washed really good to get rid of all the sand and soil that accumulate on the leaves as it grows. After washing, you dry it out using a spinner or some other method but you can’t use it sopping wet. One of her quilt companions told her that the best way to dry lettuce is to put it in the clothes dryer. You put the wet lettuce in a pillow case, tie the top, and then put it in the dryer. Sounded bizarre to me but then I can’t imagine hanging the leaves on the clothes line either. A little bit after she came home I heard the dryer going and then a loud yelp about 15 minutes later. Turns out the knot in the pillow case had come out so the dryer was spinning lettuce leaves outside the bag. I’ll have to admit the leaves were dry and the salad tasted good so no harm but I won’t be surprised to find little chunks of lettuce leaf in my undies.

Pending Crisis

I have a pending crisis that has me losing sleep. Simon wants to attend the University of Florida and has sent in his application. He not only wants to attend but play sax in the Gator marching band. His grade point average is over 4.0 which you would think would guarantee his admittance. Just not true. With all the quotas and admission rules, it’s not necessarily for sure that he will be admitted. I know, hard to believe you could have all he has going and a grandfather who is an alumni and still not be accepted but it’s possible. My crisis is that if he’s not admitted, I’ll have to boycott the Gators. No more Gator football on the tube; no more Gator flag on game days; no more Gator shirts. What a bummer. We’ll find out on Feb 12 so until then, I can stay behind the basketball team anyway. For me this will be a great loss but for the Gators, it could be an insurmountable problem. With me hexing them – no more SEC championships, no more national championships, losses to FSU and UGA. It’s going to be an ugly stretch until maybe Olivia takes a shot at Florida and they see the error of their ways. I apologize in advance to all the other Gator fans who are going to be impacted but you gotta do what you gotta do. Personally I don’t worry about Simon’s future, whether he goes to Florida or not. He’s a smart kid with a good looks and a great personality – all ingredients for success. I hate to see him be disappointed in the moment but not concerned for his future.

And while on the subject of Florida – I’m surprised to see the controversy arising over Tim Tebow’s commercial to be aired during the Super Bowl. I can’t imagine that there’s a question over his right to produce the ad and I’m not sure CBS would really be on
solid legal ground if they refused to air it. I don’t think they could refuse to air it because it would be offensive to some people – not after they air commercials for Viagra, female hygienic products, beer, casinos, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, undies, et al. I’m guessing even those Victoria Secret or Hanes ads bother some people Surely all of those are offensive to one group or another. How about those ads by the Animal rights wacky doos. Global Warming ads are offensive to me. The Geico ad’s are offensive to Cave men. What I find most delicious about the whole controversy is that the groups who are offended are the civil liberties, freedom of speech liberal crowd. Freedom of speech is a great freedom unless it is that you are offended by a particular speech. I also love it that the more these groups oppose it, the more pre-event air it gets which will no doubt continue long after the airwaves clear.

Is there a rule, written or unwritten, that says a canoe becomes yours after you rescue it a certain number of times. I pulled in a 10′ aluminum canoe for the second time. Not sure who owns it but assume it’s one of the Mexican fern workers on the other side of the lake. I saw it drifting by a few hundred feet off shore and low down in the water. I kayaked out to it half way expecting to find somebody on the floor of the boat but it was 3/4 full of water. I brought it in, dumped out the water and tied it up to the dock in a highly visible fashion so if anybody starts looking for it, they’ll find it easily. It is set up as a fishing boat with a trot line all wrapped around some specialized hay rig attached to the boat. Sure hope some catfisherman didn’t fall out and drown. I don’t think so because there’s an unused life jacket in the boat.

Compost Update

This current batch of compost is going to be the most citrus heavy ever. Between George and us we have juiced loads of grapefruit, oranges, and tangerines with all the rinds making it to the compost pile. Usually it’s more evenly distributed over time but with that cold stretch, we picked all the trees clean. It’s also heavily loaded with wood ash from George’s fireplace. He’s gone through record amounts of firewood so far and the season really isn’t half over yet. Also during this compost construct, I’ve picked loads of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli which leads to lots of big green leaves and stems – a heavy nitrogen load. It’s all this green, moist material that cooks the brown, carbon loaded material – the branches, leaves, and palmetto fronds. The compost purists try to keep an exact ratio of brown to green. I do too – whatever is available goes in. I need monster piles and just can’t be too choosey.

Right now I have a pile which is still building and a mature, ready for use pile. Within the next couple of weeks I’ll load the mature compost into the garden and use that location for a brand new start – new material goes into that one. At the same time I shut down the pile I’ve been loading and work it to maturity. That pile is maybe 4 cubic yards, partially decomposed. Working it means taking a pitchfork and turning it every few days. There’s one school of thought that is even looser than me – don’t work it at all, just let it sit for 6-8 months. If you wait long enough, it decomposes just as if it had been worked daily. With the cold mornings we’re having it’s quite easy to tell that the pile is cooking. Even with an outside temp in the mid 40’s, the center of the pile is hot to the touch and steam pours off when I turn it over. Some compost purists actually keep a thermometer in the pile and adjust the mix to have just the right cooking temp. If I see steam, I know it’s cooking. It will take, perhaps, 3 months for this to cook to garden ready. If you do the math, I put roughly 4 piles a year back into the garden – maybe 8-10 cubic yards total – and it’s really starting to show in terms of the quality of the garden soil.

One thing I don’t do with the compost is strain it. Most gardeners run the compost through a screen to eliminate the larger pieces. I don’t do that by design. My theory is that the bigger pieces aerate the soil and continue to break down over a long period of time. A month or so back I was watching a garden show on the tube and a master gardener was showing the host how to make a compost pile and then use it. The host is also a gardener and jumped back when the guest started putting the compost into the garden without sifting it. That caught my attention and I was just hoping the guy would defend my approach and not say I was doing it totally wrong. He put the host in place by saying that eliminating the straining was not only ok but actually, in his opinion, preferred.

I crack up when I read about people taking their kitchen waste and keeping it in a little bucket to create compost. Of course all of our vegetable based kitchen waste goes into the compost pile but if you compare that amount to the total material in the pile, it’s miniscule. I would have to guess that a years worth of kitchen waste would generate a couple of shovel loads of finished compost. If you had a nice rose bush, that would probably keep it blooming. I guess if you started with basically good soil, that amount would be useable but for a garden big enough to feed you, it would be totally lost.

Three years ago our soil was purely sand but now it’s taking on a rich, organic texture so if I ever get the critters under control, we should really get some great veggie production. At least I will have lost soil quality as an excuse for failure. I can already see it with the current carrot crop. Year one was a total loss; year two was a bit better – maybe half the carrots made it but were grotesquely shaped; this year, classic, picture taking carrots. Exact same seed pack, just new soil. The other fact is that garden level is raising so it drains better and presents much deeper soil for root growth. That should help it survive the rainy season. So all in all, the compost is making a big difference and I know I’m on the right track.

Tomato Trivia

A bit of tomato trivia. When you buy tomato seeds from a catalog there are a series of letters associated with a particular variety. The letters denote specific characteristics that have been bred into the variety to fight diseases, fungus, virus and other crop killers. I’ve honestly never paid too much attention to that and selected based on the descriptive material describing taste, size and maybe nutrient information. I just recently noticed a big N buried in the string of letters and checked the legend to see exactly what the N stood for. Turns out it’s Nematode resistance – one of my big problems. I noticed when I pulled out the dead tomato plants earlier this week that among the three varieties I had planted side by side, one had roots that were totally eaten up by nematodes. It’s very distinctive because nematodes create large, white nodules all over the roots. I had labeled the varieties so went back to the catalog and sure enough, the varieties with the N were clean whereas the variety without the N were eaten up. Next year’s seeds will all have the big N.

Have you ever tried pelleted seed? The seeds from some veggies are really tiny and difficult to see and handle; carrots, lettuce, parsley and mustard come to mind. When you sow these seeds you tend to do it thickly and then have lots of thinning to do when they pop out of the ground. Some seed companies provide these seeds in a coating so the resulting pellet is maybe double the size of a BB. I’ve always had some doubts about using them, especially lettuce where the seed envelope usually says that it takes light to germinate the seeds. How does the seed get light if it’s incased in a thick coating? This season I started using pelleted seed for carrots and have had great success. You can plant them evenly spaced and the germination rates have been just fine so the thinning task is virtually eliminated. I decided to try it with lettuce using my new indoor, planting system from Park Seeds. I placed the pelleted seeds on top of individual peat impregnated sponges set into the sponge holder. The sponge holder is in a tray with a clear plastic cover so the moisture is contained and the temp remains nearly constant. I keep a grow light going overtop the seeds 24 hours a day. Three days later, no signs of anything happening but on the next day, one of them had sent out a root and another was turning greenish. Over the next two days there was similar action in several of the sponges so it seems to be working as advertised.

One of the crops I’ve had great difficulty with in Florida is Spinach. That’s a bummer because it grew so well in Utah and we love it. I’ve tried several different varieties, different planting techniques, different timing but nothing has worked. The seeds seem to have trouble germinating and when they do, the plants are spindly and not very healthy. According to the seed companies, spinach seed is one of those that is best planted fresh – in other words, buy new seed each season. With my soil looking so good now I decided to give it one last try. I took a couple of packets of older seed – purchased 2 years ago, combined and soaked them in a cup of water overnight. I then prepared a bed and basically broadcast the soaked seed throughout the bed rather than trying to equally space the seed in nice rows. Normally it takes 7-10 days before you start seeing any germination at all from spinach seed but I noticed a few poking out 3 days after planting. I’m sure that comes as a result of the pre-plant soaking.

Lake Rescue

Had to do a lake rescue Monday. I went out to the dock to feed the fish and noticed that our Adirondack chair was gone. It had been sitting on the outter portion of the dock and must have been blown off by the high winds we experienced on Sunday. Tommy and Tina had bought that chair for me way back in Utah for my birthday or father’s day or some event and it was one of my few treasures. It was still blowing fairly hard and it was nowhere to be seen in the immediate vicinity of the dock. I didn’t think it would sink since I coat it with sealer every year or so but was concerned that flying off the dock and bouncing around in the lake would tear it apart. I put the kayak in the water and cruised along the shore where I expected to find it. Nope. I came back to the dock and probed the water in case it had sunk after hitting the water. Nope. Looked carefully in a weed bed adjacent to the dock. Nope. So I hit the lake again in the kayak and extended my search far beyond where I thought it could have gone. Sure enough, I spotted it way back under an overhanging tree a few hundred yards farther down the lake. I came back and exchanged the kayak for my jon boat and brought along a large pair of lobbers to cut my way through the trees. Success. I managed to get back in and retrieve it just fine. It did suffer some minor damage but nothing I can’t easily repair.

A great loss

Last month just before Christmas, I lost someone very dear to me. I haven’t been able to sit down and write something about it until now. Aunt Betty was my last hard hook to the generation that raised me and things just aren’t going to be the same anymore.

As a young kid I lived in the inner city of Philadelphia and led an inner city kind of life. My Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill and my cousins lived in the country in New Jersey. I spent quite a bit of time every summer with them playing in the woods and learning things about country living. Things like raising chicken and turkeys; having a garden; making whole dill pickles from the cucumbers we picked. Picking and eating wild black berries; swimming in lakes. I know that’s the reason I live out in the woods today and love it so.

Our family and theirs moved to Florida at about the same time; us to central Florida, them to South Florida. There was no interstates but we still managed to visit frequently and for me the lakes and woods changed to the Coastal Waterway. Learned to ski, fish for snook, troll for bluefish and nightfish for King Mackerel in the ocean. Aunt Betty had a way of cooking Kingfish steaks that I’ve never been able to replicate – she told me but I think she must have held back some key ingredient because mine never tasted as good as hers. If we weren’t fishing out of Uncle Bill’s boat we were out on a head boat called the Helen S. I remember it all so vividly. One thing I don’t remember is how we all managed to sleep in so small a house. We just did.

When we started off to college, my cousin Joan and I hit the University of Florida. Lots of stories about that but none we could tell Aunt Betty. Those were the days when Spring Break meant heading for Ft Lauderdale. I would load up a car of buddies and we would head down to Pompano. I don’t think I ever called Aunt Betty or Uncle Bill to ask permission – just showed up with my crowd knowing for sure that we had a place to sleep – for free. To this day when I meet up with some of those guys and we start reminiscing, one of them will inevitably bring up staying with my Aunt and Uncle and how great that was. That’s pushing 50 years. I really feel proud of my family when that happens.

For the past few years I started sending her a cake for special occasions. Specifically Mother’s day and Christmas. I don’t know if my cousins were bothered by my stealing a piece of Mother’s day but my cards always said happy Aunt’s day. She would call and tell me I shouldn’t have done it; should never spend so much money on her. I just told her that it was only another second mortgage on the house and she said that then it was ok. A beautiful sense of humor. I probably should have gone down to see her more often but I knew that she really wanted more privacy and I wanted to keep her in my mind just the way she was the last time, perfect.

Nice and warm

No more guessing, the covers are off the garden. I fared a little better than I had hoped. The tomatoes were totally hammered but I knew that from the get go. The peppers were hurt badly but not necessarily killed. We picked about 20 nice peppers and then I cut off all the obviously dead branches and pulled out the plants that were clearly dead to the base. I’ll know in a couple of weeks whether or not there’s anything left in them. At one point during the cold stretch the cover blew off the Swiss Chard so it was hit directly. Still, it looks like it might have made it. Plenty of dead leaves but some smaller, inner leaves look good. I’ll know in a couple of weeks on that too. Everything else seems to have survived. I wasn’t too worried about the cool weather crops that were nearly mature but the most recent transplants were still in a delicate stage. It seems that they all made it. I have a few items ready to transplant into the garden so I’ll be up to a fully planted plot by the end of the week.

So right now the biggest fallout from the freeze are the normal tender bushes that will recover when cut back in March and the lake which was pumped down nearly 2′ by the fern growers. At this point it’s so low that I can’t very easily get in and out of the boat from the dock and have moved it up on my neighbor’s beach. And the fish have quit biting or moved far from their normal haunts – whichever it is, I’m not catching them. But I’m warm while not catching them; that’s something.