bits and pieces of news

So the National Hurricane Center just issued their predictions for this season. As expected, they forecast it will be an above average season in terms of the number of storms and the intensity of those. They make the same prediction every year. I guess the logic is that people will be better prepared if they think it’s going to be a bad year so why not predict doom and gloom. You might think they’d worry just a bit about their credibility after missing predictions year after year but I guess they just assume people will forget prior year predictions. Woooolf.

As the garden matures this season, some goods and some bads. Beans, cucumbers, and peppers are pumping out record numbers. Looks like the egg plant bushes will likewise blow up. But the squash has been a disappointment and a puzzle. I’ve never grown better looking bushes, loaded with blossoms. But very low squash production. No insect damage, no apparent nematode damage so the only thing I can imagine is that some critical element is missing in the soil. I need to do some research. We’re getting a few zucchini but nothing like you’d expect from such beautiful plants. The tomatoes are shaping up to be another mystery. Beautiful bushes with loads and loads of green tomatoes but they seem to be rotting or being eaten on the vines. No sign of any bugs but something weird is going on for sure. Maybe it’s the same phenomena that’s nailing the squash. One thing I’m going to try is sprinkling some Epson Salts around a few of the plants and see what happens. If I have some kind of trace metal deficiency, that could help.

Nancy finally finished the repair job on Andrew’s quilt. It was such a disaster I couldn’t imagine ever taking on the job but she stuck with it and completed it this week with a new binding. It’s incredible. I’m jaded on seeing new quilts and take her ability for granted but this one set me back a peg. It was truly a rag that was worn out and torn up from romping with the dogs for years but was something near and dear to Andrew. Went it arrived, I wrote it off as an impossible request but Nancy thought she could do something with it. I contacted Andrew and told him it was a really big job and was going to take quite some time and, most importantly, not to bug his Aunt Nancy. To his credit, he took my advice to heart and a few months later, it’s finished. I’d love to see the faces when the package is opened and the quilt spread out.

I’ve mentioned that our dial-up internet hiccupped last February. We’ve been getting along ok just hitting an occasional wi-fi spot and put off doing anything until we could check out the ipad with 3G communications. Tom brought one by last week and sadly out here in the jungle we don’t have 3G coverage. It did provide internet access but at dial-up speed. So that sets the decision process back a bit – do we invest in the ipad – probably $700/$800 when all is said and done – and live with dial up speeds or go to one of the satellite internet providers? It’s $30/month for slow speed vs $60/month for higher speed – not blinding higher, but maybe 10 X dial-up speed. Or $0/month for an occasional trip to the library or other wi-fi hot spot. Personally I’m fine with an occasional trip to civilization but my bride is leaning toward the satellite.

Dock Construction redux

I’m on some kind of construction track that’s starting to scare me. I’ve always been a guy who thinks twice before ever picking up hammer and now I find myself in the lumber section of Lowes buying decking, saw blades, and misc tools. The target du jour is the entry way to the dock. The new entry way on the expanded section looks so good that the old design looks shabby. Originally I used pieces left over from the dock construction to make a wooden “brick” or parquet entry. It looked really good for a few months but gradually started to sag and shift. So last year I took the whole thing up and redid it – a full day’s job. Again it looked great for a few months and then started to sag and shift. I’d really feel bad if somebody tripped just going on to the dock. So I chucked that design concept and constructed one using the same style as the new entry way. No help this time – all by my very own self. It took two days but it really came out looking great and is sturdy and stable. I did it all with my own tools and used every piece of lumber purchased for the job with only scrap pieces left over and no emergency trips to the hardware store for surprises.

Several months back I wrote that I had planted an experimental patch of potatoes. I wasn’t sure how they would do and kind of figured the nematodes would get them. They bushed out beautifully but soon became really buggy and turned brown. Very ugly. I chalked it up to an experiment gone bad and was glad I’d only planted a part of a row. Last week -100 days from planting – I pulled out the plants and lo and behold, there were loads of little red potatoes in the ground. I had planted 5 little chunks of sprouted potatoes and estimate that I harvested close to 5 pounds. That’s a good return for sure. The thing about it is that with all the other stuff we grow, you see what’s happening and can tell when it’s time to pick. With potatoes you have to take it on faith that something’s going on underground and I was pessimistic. Next season I’ll have the faith. We roasted a few and sure enough, they’re potatoes. So next spring I’ll plant a full row and get on them with bug spray early. We don’t eat all that many potatoes but love these small red guys and will stagger plant a few every couple of weeks to spread out the harvest.

Spotted a gator in the lake the other day. Not a giant as these things go, but maybe 6′ long. Probably too small to bother people but sure big enough to chow down on any of the neighborhood dogs. We let the ski folks know about it so I’m sure there will be a midnight hunting expedition mounted quickly. I was kayaking along the shore a few evenings later and spotted what must be a gator lure which I assume the ski patrol had set. It was a dead chicken hung from a tree about a foot or so over the water. I didn’t get close enough to see if it had a big imbedded hook or was just there to lure the critter to a particular area but I know it wasn’t there a few days ago. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable kayaking next to the bait – felt like maybe I was part of the bait, the entree to the chicken appetizer.

picnic tables and yellow flies and snakes

Have a bit of a dilemma. Last night I went out to do the last garden check of the day and noticed there was a coral snake adjacent to the compost pile. As I started over in that direction, it slithered into the pile. So now I don’t know if that’s his new home or was he just hiding out on a temporary basis. This is a newer pile so it’s not very decomposed at this point and needs to be turned once a week to keep it properly aerated. So how do I approach the turning process knowing that this killer may be lurking deep inside? What I need is a long handled turning fork – maybe a 10′ handle. It would be a much more dire situation if it were a small rattler but coral snakes are passive and not likely to charge me. Probably the biggest worry is having a heart attack if I see him climbing up the fork.

I mentioned that our old picnic table had fallen apart. It was a really nice table 8 years ago and I was disappointed that I had let it sit unused and unattended for so long. It’s an octagon shaped table with the seats attached in a spoke arrangement so individuals can sit down and get up without disturbing anyone else at the table. I knew it had deteriorated a bit and when I bought the deck lumber picked up a couple extra 2×4’s to do the repairs. When the extent of the damaged area became obvious, basically the entire under support structure, I threw the fix it idea away. But I kept coming back to it and studying just how tough it would be to rebuild all the damaged area and decided to give it a go. The table surface itself was in good shape as were all the seats. The problem was everywhere it touched the ground, it was completely rotted away. On a scale of 1-10, my carpentry is a 2. It would be lower but I do have some basic tools so that lifted my score off the bottom. The tools I had were one’s I had bought in 1970 to do a remodel job on our Altamonte Springs house. One thing I knew for sure is that the tools were not worn out. I attacked one of the 8 sections to see if I could accomplish anything and maybe work out some methodology. That section took me about 2 hours but ended up structurally pretty good and not all that ugly to look at. After that section, I knew exactly how to go about the others and completed the job in 6 more hours. I’m sure a modestly competent carpenter with decent tools could have done the whole thing in an hour but I am ever so personally proud of actually having done the job myself and with no injuries, just a stiff back. I set it on concrete stepping stones, filled the area level with 6 wheelbarrow loads of dirt, covered it with leaf mulch, and put on a couple coats of wood sealer. It’s back in service so along with the new one on the dock we have a long position in picnic tables and comfortable seating for 14 to eat. Doesn’t sound like much but it took me a full week of full days to get it ready for use. My neighbor is going to flight test it with a biker party of 50 on Memorial Day so we’ll have it broken in for Simon’s graduation party the next weekend.

Have never seen the yellow flies as numerous and as ferocious as this year. I’m working outside lots with all these projects and the only protection is covering up. None of the conventional repellants come close to working. So as hot as it is, long pants, thick socks and long sleeve shirts are the only answer. Nice. I started weighing myself in the morning before working the projects and then again at the end of the work day to see how much water I dripped out. It’s been consistently 3-5 pounds. After the work day I rehydrate and put the weight back on but still, losing that much water via sweat is incredible. I had all the materials on hand to make yellow fly traps – that would be beach balls, black paint, and a sticky substance called Tangle Foot. It’s a totally nasty job to construct the traps but something had to be done or it will be impossible to use the dock and the new picnic tables. I made four 16” traps and hung them in strategic locations around the dock. They are really effective and I was being swarmed as I was hanging them. Within an hour there were dozens stuck to the traps and by the end of the next day, literally hundreds were history. I used disposable latex gloves to protect myself from the tangle foot but even with the gloves, it will take a week for the stuff to wear off my hands where it touched skin. The only good news about yellow flies is that they have a short season and normally last only a month or so. Not sure what happens to them after that and really never asked.

Trip to see the Princess

Had a great week. It was Princess Grace’s first birthday so we drove up to South Carolina to help celebrate the event. It was really fun spending a few days with Nancy and Ali and even got a chance to talk to Kassem from Afghanistan via satellite telephone. I’m not big on baby birthday parties which usually involve lots of crying kids but in this case, all of them behaved perfectly. We also took the opportunity to deliver Nancy S’s 50th birthday present, a beautiful quilt. The story behind the quilt is that my Nancy had spotted the pattern about 5 years ago and said it had Nancy’s name all over it. It was a long project but came out perfectly and was put away 4 years in advance. I always take pictures of quilts she makes so this one was in the album along with the hundreds of others. A few months back Nancy and Ali visited and for whatever reason, I thought they’d be interested in seeing the quilt photo’s in the computer album. Everything was going along just fine and as a particular quilt would pop on the screen, I’d say who had it. When the one destined for her popped on the screen, my heart jumped a beat and I knew I had screwed up. She jumped all over it and raved about how pretty it was and wanted to know who had it. I lied and said I forgot who had it. So when she unwrapped the present, she was really surprised.

On the way home we stopped at a favorite restaurant in Jax that we hadn’t visited in several years. It’s an old shanty style place on a creek off the St. John’s called Clark’s Fish Camp. The structure was probably built 100 years ago and hasn’t had too much done to modernize or strengthen it. Our waiter was a 250 pound kind of guy and the floor shook when he walked over to us. It has an extensive menu that includes a fair amount of wild game and seafood. One thing I noticed on the menu this time that I don’t recall from before was a more extensive offering of gator. In addition to the traditional gator bits, this place has gator ribs and gator toes – fixed just the way you like. I ordered crab cakes.

I mentioned that our old picnic table cratered. Tom leaped to the rescue and bought us a new table. He ordered it from Lowes and we took the pickup to get it. I opted for the disassembled version for a couple of reasons. It weighs 180 pounds so I can unpackage it on the truck and carry it to the dock by myself, piece by piece. That also lets me put on a really thorough coating of wood sealer piece by piece. And finally, I can chuck the hardware that comes with the table and replace it with galvanized hardware to withstand the weather better. Of course the risk is that this is one of those assembly jobs that you just wish you hadn’t taken on. How bad can it be?

Dock project finished

Finished the dock expansion project and it came out better than I’d expected. Not counting the gangway, it added 140 SF but incorporated about 60SF from the original deck into a more useable area so the total impact was closer to 200SF. Mark is a craftsman and the end result looks professional and is solid as a rock. It took two days; the first to do the understructure and the second to do the decking. I had invested a few hours in pre-construction prep and have another day’s worth of work to fill and landscape the new entry way but the hard stuff is done and it’s perfectly useable as is. The new area is naturally shaded by bay trees and gives us the space for sit down, eating kind of parties. I had hoped to move our old picnic table onto the dock but on close inspection, it was fairly well eaten up by critters so we’re on the hunt for a new table. Simon’s graduation is the first planned event so we have a few weeks to find something or borrow my neighbor’s picnic table.

It’s too soon to declare the summer garden a total success but without question it’s far better than last year’s. Aside from the large quantity of cuc’s and green beans we’re picking, it shows mostly in the squash plants. By this time last year they were wilting and showing all the stresses from nematodes and virus or fungus. The squash would get a few inches long and then rot off. So far this year, not a sign of anything but strong growth and health. I’ve done so many things differently this year that I can’t attribute the success to any one thing – chances are there is no one thing.

We’ve been off the internet except for an occasional visit to the library since the beginning of the year. This week it was all worth while. Ditto not having cable TV. When the stock market crashed last week I was totally protected from any of the details which probably added years to my heart. We’re actually starting to enjoy not having the information overload.

Pilings sunk

Started the dock job. I got the new landing area cleared on Sunday in preparation for sinking the pilings. Joey and Mark came up on Monday and we got the two new piling installed. They were 15′ x 8” tapered pilings and weighed a ton (or ten). It was just as difficult as I had remembered but luckily we didn’t run into any killer roots and managed to sink them about 5 1/2′ in the muck. Our target was 6′ but we just ran out of gas trying to get that last 6”. Tuesday was a one Aleve day but at least I was still able to move most of my body parts. The game plan now is to complete the understructure and decking on Monday after Mother’s Day – might even bolt a few boards to the piling on Mother’s Day if that seems politically correct. Not expecting any particular problems since it looks like a fairly standard carpenter job other than working waist deep in water and ankle deep in muck.

Had cucumber and onion salad for the first time this season. I have homed in on an outstanding variety of cucumber called Sweet Success. It’s a seedless variety, so mild you can eat without peeling – no burps, no heartburn. The vines are loaded and so far there have been no signs of nematodes or cucumber beetles. I keep close tabs on the plant dates and expected harvest dates and these plants are running about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Those schedules are estimates by the seed companies and must be based on a particular latitude so our spring crops typically mature faster and our winter crops slower than forecast. The onions are a variety called Granex. Supposedly they’re in the same family as Vidalia onions and they’re very mild. I could live on cucumbers and onions marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar. Never sure whether it’s worth it or not to grow onions since they take sooo long but it’s really nice to be able to jump over to the garden and pull as needed. These particular onions were planted way back in December.

But the battle with Ma Nature has been joined. The swiss chard has been looking punky late in the afternoon which I attributed to the heat, Chard being a winter crop. So I yanked it out and found the roots totally knotted with nematode damage. I hadn’t bothered to do heavy duty nematode control under the chard simply because I’ve never had the problem with that particular crop. Interestingly the adjacent row is spinach, also finished for the season due to heat, but the roots were clean. I yanked out all the chard, soaked that row with diazanon, and covered it with clear plastic to cook it for a couple of months. Then went over to the tomatoes and noticed some leaf damage, little tiny holes, and sure enough on the underside were tiny caterpillars eating their fill. I had sprayed the plants but probably didn’t do a good job on the underside of the leaves. It’s just starting so I’m on that with a chemical attack. Next, I noticed smallish black grasshoppers crawling on several things. We must have had a hatch in the last day or two and hoards of these creatures are doing their thing. These grasshoppers hatch in big batches and you have to get on them quickly. The ones that escape grow into those 6” yellow-green hoppers we have in late summer. I also noticed that some of the newest cucumbers are turning yellow and shriveling up, a sure sign of nematodes. We’ll get plenty of cuc’s before the nematodes triumph which I attribute to giving the plants a good head start before putting them in the garden and setting up barriers between the native soil and the plants. Ditto the zuchinni – getting some fruit but noticing some small ones shriveling up on the vine.