tomato trivia

Tomato trivia – you might recall I mentioned that I was keeping track of maturity times on the tomatoes. The plan is that they don’t all mature at one time so you have continuous tomatoes over the summer. When I plant the seeds indoors I have a starter system with a clear plastic dome cover so I can see what’s going on with the germination process. Here’s something interesting – the seeds germinate in the same sequence as their maturity date would indicate – ie the seeds from the earliest variety germinates first; the latest maturing version, last. If you had to guess, you might suspect that but it’s absolutely the way it happens. The other interesting thing is that the germination in any one variety takes place almost at the same time. I checked a few nights back and none had germinated; 8 hours later all of the earliest variety were up with leaves. A few hours later, all of the next shortest variety were up. The 90 day variety was dead last. And the pepper seeds I put in at the same time have yet to pop out after two weeks.

Good news, the potato plants all made it to the surface and are looking good. The garden had been covered for a week so I wasn’t getting my once a day garden update. Upon closer inspection, everything that was covered survived. Lot’s of stuff to pick, lots of stuff to thin.

And it looks like I’ve solved the spinach problems – at least so far. I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve bent my pick trying to grown spinach here for the past 2 years. I tried a few different things this time and decided to use up all my old seed – a no no with spinach. I planted two varieties, Spargo and Melody. I had good luck with Melody in Utah but have zero’d out in Florida. I significantly overplanted both varieties expecting/hoping to get something at least worth picking. This season it’s all popping out like crazy and putting on beautiful growth. Should be ready to start clipping mid March or perhaps a bit earlier. Maybe the stars have aligned this season or maybe all the soil work is paying off. Most likely it’s the weird weather patterns and nothing to do with the farmer.

The other crop that came off really good for the first time is celery. It took quite a bit longer than I had estimated but did finally mature and taste just like the real stuff. Nice, big stalks. I’ve grown celery every winter but it was a puny representative of the species and I had decided that this would be my last shot at it. In the case of celery I read up on it and believe all the wet weather we’ve had is the key ingredient I’ve missed in past seasons. According to the experts, celery needs lots of fertilizer and lots of water. Now I’m rejuvenated. Celery is one of those crops that really dress up a garden and I get lots of ooh’s and aah’s from visitors.

Picking broccoli more or less continuously now. I tried a variety called Packman which is advertised to put out lots of side shoots after the main head is harvested. Does it ever! I planted a dozen or so and we could literally eat broccoli several times a week and have been doing that for a month with no signs of it letting up. I have another variety, Belstar, which I planted later than Packman that should be maturing by mid March. Haven’t grown that variety before but I read where it was especially good in Florida so we’ll see.

Last but not least, two varieties of peas, snow peas and snap peas. Both have been putting out loads of blossoms and I spotted the first actual peas yesterday so we should be picking and eating lots of peas throughout March.

You might have noticed that all the stuff I mentioned, except tomatoes, will be finishing up in March. That’s by design and all the garden space will be filled with warm weather stuff as the winter crops hit an end. That’s assuming that this winter ever ends. That’s where the aforementioned tomatoes and peppers come into play.

New Quilts are happening

My modem crashed so I’m having to carry the laptop to town to use somebody’s wi-fi. Here’s an interesting trap – the modem is fairly new and still under warranty. I called the manufacturer and they said no problem replacing it but I needed to email or fax them proof of purchase. How do I email without a modem? The modem is about 6 months old so I didn’t have or couldn’t find any proof of purchase. Not to worry, just call Mac Mall where the purchase was made and they’ll get me the required proof. They too said no problem, we’ll email it to you. If I have no modem, what good is emailing it? Eventually I told them to just go ahead and email it and I’d try to figure a way to get it. So that’s part of my trip to town. Might as well post to the blog as long as I’m connected. I have a neighbor a few houses away that has an open network and I could sneak over there in the woods close enough to attach. Somehow that seems like stealing from a neighbor which feels ethically different to me than stealing from Holiday Inn Express. We’ve stayed at Expresses several times and never used the internet so they owe me a few.

The young men in the family are on a quilt streak. Nancy just completed a U of Missouri quilt for Tommy, is working on a U of Florida quilt for Simon, and is repairing/rebuilding a quilt for Andrew. She usually has two or three quilting projects going simultaneously so she doesn’t overdose on any one. The Missouri quilt uses material left over from the pajamas she made for Tommy last year so if he’s wearing the pajamas and wrapped up in the quilt, he’ll be in full Missouri mode. The Florida quilt makings have been in the system for about 3 years. She guessed, correctly as it turns out, that at least one of the kids would end up in Gainesville. This is a particularly difficult quilt, I’m told, because it has soooooo many itty bitty pieces. As an example, the gator eyes are 1 3/4” squares. each made of 6 tiny pieces. There are 12 of those gators around the quilt.

And the littlest gal is doing ok too. Baby Grace had an accident and ended up with one of her legs in a cast. That made dressing her in pants a bit difficult. Nancy cogitated on the problem and decided that she could take baby pants and modify them to work around the cast. She opened a seam then attached velcro straps so the leg width is adjustable. Very clever if I must say so myself. They were mailed to Rock Hill Monday so we’re anxious to get a report to see if the design needs a little more adjustment.

more garden drivel

I’m surprised I’m getting anything at all out of the garden this season. For almost two months we’ve been alternating between cold and colder with too many rainy days thrown into the mix. Our typical winter is mostly sunny and cool – where cool means mid 70’s. Yes, it occasionally freezes, maybe once or twice a winter but it passes quickly. This winter seems more like a Vancouver summer. Since December, I think the garden has spent more time covered than not. The cover has 86% light transmissivity so the plants get sufficient sunlight. One bit of irony is that if the fern growers hadn’t dramatically pulled the lake down a month or so ago, we would be swamped from all the rain and I’d be facing root rot in the garden. That’s a summer problem, not a winter problem. Now I’m getting just a twinge of concern that we’ll head into the wet season with too much water already. It’s tough being a farmer.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had planted some potatoes as an experiment. I read today that I might have screwed up and put them in upside down. You know when you see a root growing out of a potato you pull out of the bag – guess what, that’s not a root. That must be the stem and should be planted up. duhhhhhhh. I’m just hoping that the spuds are smart enough to realize they’re upside down and do a 180 before they get too deep. This same article mentioned that they will take 3-5 weeks before the foliage emerges. I’m approaching the 4 week mark and not seeing a sign of green. It also mentioned that it was a bad idea to use grocery store potatoes for the seeds. Whatever. If even one survives it will tell me if the nematodes like potatoes which is my over riding concern.

You can call me an optimist but I just planted the seeds for tomatoes and peppers. I start them in the house with a plan to move them to the garden in mid March. I’m still experimenting and started 6 different varieties of tomatoes. Except for one variety, all are supposed to be nematode resistant. If all goes well, I’ll end up with 3 of each variety; two of which I’ll transplant to the garden and one that I hold back as a spare in case garden critters nail one. The one that isn’t nematode resistant was developed by the University of Florida specifically for Florida’s hot, humid summers. I couldn’t resist trying that. Another variety that I have high hope for is called Super San Marzano. If you’re an Italian food cook, you’ll recognize San Marzano as the tomato to use for sauce. The Super version adds nematode resistance. The only caution I have is that it’s a 90 day variety which is really a long time for anything to survive here. I’m trying one variety that boasts a 58 day maturity. My hope is that I can be picking tomatoes before the green caterpillars find out it’s munch time. I’m settled on a variety of green pepper called Declaration and a variety of Jalapeno called Telica. They’ve been consistently hardy and great producers so why mess with success. Plus I had seed left over from last season.

Nancy has a friend in her quilt group who raises free range chickens. She’s from Trinidad and I guess it’s just something people from Trinidad do. She gets lots more eggs than she needs so occasionally she brings in eggs for the ladies in the group. Interesting thing is that these are not regular looking eggs like you get at the grocery store. Nancy had told me the eggs were all brown eggs and since I’m familiar with brown eggs, that didn’t stir my interest – yeah, ok they’re brown eggs. Yesterday she asked me to put them away and I learned that they are not brown eggs in the classic sense. They’re small eggs but the brown is really a cocoa color and in addition, there are peach colored eggs, light green, light blue and some other pastels that defy a hard color label. We’ve been eating these eggs for months but I never actually looked at them except over easy on the plate. If I were still in the fly tying business, I’d for sure want to check out these birds on the hoof. You have to know there are some exotic feathers involved. Wonder what she does with the chicken droppings?

February Fishing

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that winter is speckled perch season. February is normally the climax of the season and when the fish move strongly from offshore to the shallows where they lay their eggs. So far this hasn’t happened or it did and I missed it. All that Dec/Jan cold weather and the unusual winter rain has things upside down and the lake has still not warmed above 58 degrees. I’ve always heard that the fish need a water temp of 64 to complete the spawning process so either they are still holding off, pulled it all off already in cold water, or have just called it off for this season. Is that possible?? Anyway, I adjust my fishing technique in February for the grand finale. From November through January I troll using small jigs or spoons – two rods, two different types of lure. I fish from a 14′ aluminum Jon boat powered by a 45 pound thrust electric trolling motor. When the lure passes through a school, mostly dumb luck, you catch fish. I don’t use a fishfinder like most guys. I have one but somehow using electronic technology lessens my enjoyment in the process. Doesn’t seem so fair to me. The other thing I lose by not using a fishfinder is the frustration of actually seeing fish and not being able to catch them. My neighbor uses one and I can hear him going wacky finding but not catching. At least I can say that there are no fish, not that I can’t catch them.

In February I switch from trolling to casting or vertically jigging the same small lures or slightly smaller versions of the same lures, in and around the lily pads; smaller because the water is shallower and a lighter lure sinks more slowly. And I change boats to increase my ability to control position and be more stealthy. I have a great vessel known as a Poke Boat. Poke boats are a cross between a kayak and a canoe – small, kayak shape with an open, canoe like cockpit. It’s 12′ long, about 26” wide and less than 8” from top to bottom and best of all, weighs only 24 pounds so it’s quite portable. In the boat you’re butt is actually below the level of the surface so it’s very stable and your casting arm is no more than a foot above the water line so I can cast under branches that would otherwise be impossible. Up close and personal is the best way to describe the experience. If there’s an inch or two of water, you’re floating so I can maneuver it through and over grass, lily pads, and mud banks that would totally stop other water craft. I can paddle it faster than my electric powered jon boat and it’s far more agile even in fairly strong winds. So when the spec’s move into the shallows, I’m ready. So far, I’m doing my part but the fish are no shows.

This season I added a piece of high tech gear to the repertoire – an i-talkie. They used to be called walkie – talkie’s but that’s so 20th century. I leave one on the kitchen counter and take the other along with me. So if Nancy needs me or it’s time to eat or something, we’re in communication. I use it if I’m catching fish and need to alert her that I’m going to be on the water a bit longer than usual. At least that’s what I’ll do if I ever start catching fish again.

And closing on that high tech note – the Toyota recalls are a preview of the future for all of us. As the new cars become more and more computer controlled, get used to computer style glitches. When you change radio stations, the car accelerates or shuts off or turns on the windshield wipers. But it doesn’t do it all the time, just when you’re driving 63.3 miles per hour. How long can it be before we’re hooking our car up to the internet to get the latest software upgrade? And find ourselves in the typical computer trap where we can no longer upgrade because the computers in our cars are no longer supported. Yep, you have to chuck the otherwise perfect hardware because some chunk of silicon in the bowels of the engine is out of date. I think I’m old enough not to have to worry about buying a Microsoft car but my grandkids probably have that to deal with someday. Visualize a world where you’re talking with some Microsoft techy in Bangalore about why your car needs rebooting when you’re cruising the Interstate.

Way to go Simon

Good news – Simon was accepted in Gainesville. I was dreading having to burn all my Gator gear if they had rejected him. His next objective is to make the marching band, which would guarantee us seeing some gator games in the future. He already has some of the gator music and has been practicing just in case he has to do an audition. I never was much of a half time guy but now my whole perspective will be changed!!! Hurry up and get the first half over so we can see the band. I honestly don’t care if he goes to Gainesville or chooses another school but at least the option is his. He has a nice scholarship to UCF and that would work just fine too. But Orange and Blue are just better colors.

XM Radio Plot

I love my XM radio but it’s been doing something strange lately. I have two stations that I listen to 90% of the time. Fox News and the Loft. You can guess what Fox News is but the Loft may be new to you. It’s eclectic music you just never hear anywhere else. Every once in a while a real gem pops up. Anyway, I noticed a month or so back, the radio would just change stations. And not just change them but switched me from Fox News to CNN. And it was consistent, every hour or so it would make the change. I never listen intently but I’d find the reporters discussing topics that I knew would be grounds for firing on Fox – enough so that I’d go over to the radio and see what channel it was on. Since XM was recently merged with Sirius, I suspected a commie plot. But then I was listening to the Loft and heard a song that really caught my attention. I got up to read the screen to learn what exactly I was listening to and noticed that I was no longer on the Loft. It had switched to a station called the Coffee House. It was subtly different than the Loft but in the same vein. More solo singing guitar playing on Coffee House compared to groups on XM. I also noticed that it was XM 51 whereas the Loft is XM 50. I checked and sure enough Fox News and CNN are adjacent channels. So my radio changes one channel from time to time and always in the same direction. Not sure if something is marginal in the radio itself or if I have a weak signal problem and the radio is locking onto the stronger adjacent signal during a fade. I’m ok with the Loft/Coffee House switching but the Right to Left switches raise my blood pressure.

Worked on an interesting project the other day. We had a very windy day this week which blew over one of George’s potted plants. The story is in the potted plant. Turns out that 20 years ago, George planted a small bamboo plant in a large container – a plastic cylindrical container about 3′ in diameter and 3′ tall. The bamboo thrived and if you saw it now, the pot is absolutely full of 12′ tall bamboo. George had always assumed that the roots had grown out of the bottom of the container and on into the ground. Bad assumption – it was totally contained within the planter. Try to visualize a 3′ x 3′ tight, tight, tight root ball supporting a stand of bamboo 12′ tall. That’s where I came in – he wanted to replant the bamboo to a more favorable location but no way was that a one man job. So we dug a hole to accommodate the plant and between the two of us manhandled it into position. The spot he choose turned into wet muck about a foot down so we had to bring in soil from another location to fill in enough to cover the root ball and provide some support. The other thing we didn’t appreciate is how big a wind sail this presented so when we stood it up, the 20 mph wind we were experiencing blew it right over. So we put a loop around it and tied it off to 3 other trees. Sounds easier than it was. I have to guess it will do fine in the new location if it did so well confined to a prison pot for 20 years. I think the amazing thing is that somehow the bamboo thrived with the only nourishment coming from rain water. Who’d a thunk it.

I don’t know about you but I’m sure ready for a little Global warming. I’m not talking about the tenth of a degree kind of warming that excites all the scientists. I need about 20 degrees to get my bones back up to total warmth. I understand the Polar Bears like this weather but I’m not totally convinced that’s even true. I think if they had a good way out of the arctic, they’d be gone in a heartbeat. But I have gleaned a bit of silver lining out of the cold weather. When I was going through all that bankruptcy mess with Beehive, I had daily contact with some of the nastiest folks on the planet and it caused serious insomnia. I read somewhere that if you could fill your mind with pleasant thoughts it would help you fall asleep. It worked so I still try to fill my head with nice stuff before I crash. Right now I’m conjuring up an image of big Al Gore up in Tennessee with no electricity because the ice has frozen the rotors on his windmill. I go right to sleep.

Gardening in February

It’s early February and that’s a big time in the garden. Harvesting a steady stream of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower; a couple of weeks away from picking snow peas, snap peas and celery; and getting in the last cool weather plantings – spinach, radishes, beets and more lettuce. These are fast crops that will mature in March. I’m trying a new (to me) variety of radish from Germany in honor of my bride. It’s a variety called Parat and claims to remain crisp and sweet no matter how large they get. Other varieties turn to wood if you let them go to long. The really nice thing about growing radishes is that you get nearly instant results – the seeds germinate in a couple of days and you are eating them within a month. Nancy has a bridge friend who’s husband grows a garden only for radishes. That seems a little much but I sort of understand it. Other than cutting them up in salad, there are two other reasons I grow radishes. One as markers. I plant them at the same time and place as I plant carrots because it takes so long for the carrot seed to germinate that you can easily lose track of where they are. If you plant radishes along side, you know where the carrots will eventually pop up. The other reason is a little suspect. Supposedly if you plant radishes with cucumbers, it will ward off the evil cucumber beetles. Last year I had radishes, cucumbers and cucumber beetles. When cucumber season comes around in a few months I’ll try my German radishes – maybe they’re meaner; or maybe Parat means beetle killer in German.

The quick results you get from radishes contrasts with onions and celery that take 4 months from start to finish. I put onions and celery in way back in October and still have yet to get product. I pull a few onions when a recipe called for green onions and under duress will cut a stalk of celery but they really are not ready yet. Last year I started onions from purchased starts which cut the time more than a month but this year went the seed route. The difference in cost was $12 vs $2 but I didn’t do it for that reason. With the plants basically all the onions mature at the same time so we were overwhelmed; with seeds I stagger plant and we should have a continuous stream for months – that is if they ever mature. And for whatever reason, this celery crop is far nicer than I’ve produced in the past two years. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the richer soil – who knows but it sure looks good.

February is also seed catalog reading and ordering season. I get about 10 different catalogs and pore over them to pick the exact right mix of old standbys and brand new offerings that can’t be missed. This year I’m trying a couple of new seed companies that have dazzled me with their catalog. The seeds come from Maine, Wisconsin, Oregon, South Carolina and even offshore – I ordered cabbage seed that was grown in the Netherlands and a variety of lettuce from England. My ordering gets more sophisticated with each season as I learn more about what diseases and critters I’m dealing with and selecting varieties to ward them off. By the middle of this month I’ll have received all the seeds and started some indoors in preparation of transplanting them at the end of March or early April. I have 5 different varieties of tomatoes planned – still searching for the perfect ones for Barberville. Ditto squash which has been a consistent disaster here. Either underground critters, flying critters, virus, or mildew seem to nail me season after season. I’m not ready to give up yet and will pull out all the stops this year.

One of my seed catalogs, Kitchen Garden Seeds, is sprinkled with gourmet recipes. Most involve items I’d not much care to eat – too European for my taste buds – but one popped out at me and it just so happened that we had everything we needed to make it right then and there. I’m not much of a potato guy but this sounded pretty good. It was a recipe from the Hopkins Inn in Connecticut. They’re called Rosti potatoes spelled with two dots over the “o” so it’s a German recipe. It’s actually a large potato pancake with a few slight modifications. Boy was it good. So good that I’m going against tradition and planning to plant a row of potatoes in the garden. I’ve never grown potatoes. mainly because they were so cheap in Utah that it didn’t make sense to take up garden space. In fact I’m going to take the big plunge and grow both red potatoes and sweet potatoes. Well, just a little plunge. I don’t know if the nematodes in the garden will feast on potatoes so I’m going to plant just a short row and use Winn Dixie little red potatoes as opposed to sending away for expensive fancies. Usually in a bag of potatoes there are a couple that have started growing and should be just fine for an experimental crop. At least that’s my theory. The obvious flaw in my plan is that if they don’t grow or do well, will it be because of the variety chosen or the local conditions?? I did look in the seed catalogs for some guidance but none of them mentioned the word nematode so even if I sent away for them, there would be no guarantee.

That same seed company emailed us a vegetable soup recipe designed to use all the stuff from the garden. I looked over the recipe and saw an item listed as EVOO. I knew I never grew anything named EVOO but figured Nancy would fake a replacement part. Guess what EVOO is – extra virgin olive oil. Any way, the soup was awesome and we had all the vegetables called for in stock. The single recipe made enough feed a small army so either I’ll have lots of lunches backlogged or Joey will take it all home with him on his next trip over.

PS: The fishing is so bad that I started taking Fish Oil capsules so I would smell like a fish and maybe start thinking like a fish. Desperate in Barberville.