Bigger garden and a cuke ladder

My garden math is still right on. I had a mulch pile that I guestimated at 2CF. I also guestimated that I’ve added about 60SF of plantable space to the garden (plantable space doesn’t include space between rows). That would compute to an 8-12” layer of mulch on the new space and sure enough, just as Aristotle himself would have calculated, I used the entire pile of mulch and covered the space perfectly. So now I have another half cooked pile about the same size which will be ready for the big October plant and an empty bin to start collecting rough material for a January load. If I had the veggie thing down as well as I have manufacturing the compost, life would be sweet.

You might wonder why I need more garden space if the space I have already produces more than we can deal with. Good question. What happens with a smallish garden is that you end up having to plant it 100% out if you want a good variety of crops. The problem with that is that even though you have different varieties, most stuff falls in the 60-90 day plant to pick cycle so everything comes ready for harvest at nearly the same time. With a larger garden, you can plant on a stretched schedule and still keep a nice mix of varieties. For example you could plant a third of the garden every 3 weeks, planting more or less the same varieties in each planting to keep a steady, plentiful flow.

When creating the new space, I also took the time to work in a cucumber area for September plants. You have to plant successive crops in totally different areas each time to eliminate crop specific problems. You know, the crop rotation thing. I had an old, rickety 6′ step ladder that I retired last year after it almost killed me. I’ve placed that in the garden to provide a spot for the cuc’s to climb. With the ladder spread so that each leg is a climb point and two 8′ bamboo rods leaning outward from the open ends, I can support 6 plants nicely. Six plants will provide more than enough if they survive the ‘canes and critters. I did it now while using up the mulch pile so I could add a nice deep load of the rich organics for the cuc plants. I also did an underlay of newspaper again since that seemed to ward off the nematodes last season.

Tried something new in the eating dept. When we were in Costco we picked up a product called Flatout which are wraps, as in sandwich wraps. I opened the pack to try one and a pamphlet fell out with some interesting ideas for using the product. Turns out you can use the wrap to make a pizza like dish – they actually call it thin crust pizza but I think that’s a stretch. One recipe used mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes and chopped basil marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette. I cranked up the Holland while Nancy mixed up the ingredients. You toast the wrap for 7 minutes on the grill then put on the topping and grill for another 7 minutes. I certainly wouldn’t call it pizza but it was a really tasty appetizer or something to accompany a nice red. There’s an interesting sounding Tex-Mex thin crust pizza which we’ll try when we round up the ingredients.

bad soil and low signal.

I’m in shock. I took soil samples to the Ag Extension service for analysis expecting to get a fine tune reading on what the soil lacks, if anything. The results are that on a scale of 1 to 500, 500 being excellent, I am a 25. That’s two five. An ideal PH is 5-5 to 6.5, slightly acid; I’m 7.0-7.8, very basic (salty). They say I need to add sulphur to move from alkaline to acid and lots of fast acting fertilizer to get it somewhere respectable in terms of all other things needed. They have it double underlined that I need to add organic material. Holy crap, I’ve literally added tons of organic material. I wonder what it was before I started working on it. I knew it was bad but it must have been totally off the charts. Before it was a garden it was a pigeon coop and I guess whatever was used in raising pigeons, really bombed the soil. I did pick the areas I was most concerned about for the three samples and figured if those spots were ok, the rest would be just fine. I also took the samples after pulling out the spent plants so maybe the soil condition was better when I planted them 4 months ago; the plants sucked out all the good stuff. One interesting thing is that the area where the eggplants that I’m raving about are growing is almost 100% organic material. No native soil at all. The other thing is that where I planted this season, I added loads of organics directly under the plant (to foil nematodes) and that’s not where I sampled which would explain how my plants looked good growing in this disaster soil. The person at the Ag center likened my planting method to container gardening in that I virtually isolated the plants from the native soil. I won’t be planting anything new until mid Sept so that gives me two months to rectify the problems. I have my work cut out for me. The new garden expansion area will be 100% organic so I’ll have an excellent test area.

In addition to working the soil, I pulled a book from the library that gave me a few clues on home remedies to solve my tomato woes. Seems like egg shells are a magic ingredient, especially if crushed and mixed with water for a couple of days. Right along side that was a recipe that mixed a skim milk and water in a 9:1 ratio. Another remedy is to mix dried skim milk, epson salts, and a little baking soda – all of which is sprinkled in the hole before planting and then liberally on the surface near the base of the plants from time to time. At the moment we don’t have any powdered skim milk but that will change with the next visit to Publix. I planted two grape tomato plants about a month ago and I am using all these remedies on those plants so I should have a good idea what to expect when I plant seriously in September.

Had a Virgin Mobile happening this week. For two days we were unable to connect to the internet, first time in over a month. Here we go again. I called Virgin and they showed me how to check my signal strength and then declared that the reason I was unable to connect was signal related. The signal strength read -125, which I take to mean -125 dbm. A good signal is between -85 and -95. The tech said that she would switch me from channel 3 to channel 9 where the signal would possibly be better for my location and said that it would take a couple of hours for the switch to occur. In the mean time we packed up the lap top and headed down to Seminole County to hit Costco. I figured we would check signal strength there and verify that we could still connect to the internet – that it wasn’t something worse than a signal strength problem. Sure enough in Altamonte Springs we had 3 bars, a signal reading of -90 dbm, and a good, fast internet connection. Back at home a few hours later, quick connection. The signal strength was much improved, -104. Still weaker than recommended but apparently adequate for our needs. No way of knowing if the channel switch or changed atmospherics was responsible but I don’t really care. I was also disappointed to find that the signal strength was the same with or without the antenna. Supposedly there was 9db gain in the antenna but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’ll play around with that for a while and then have a chat with the antenna guys.

summer parties

One great thing about the summer and living at the lake is that we get lots of visitors. Seems like we have company most weekends, if only for a few hours. This past weekend we had Eileen and Andrew first then Tom and Simon joined us. Lindsay and her family join us on Saturday and on Sunday we party with the whole Brueggemann clan- been a while since we’ve done that. We usually don’t have too much warning and never know for sure how many people will show up so we usually have a generous portion of the freezer designated for fast, easy eating; for example big bags of chicken wings, Italian sausage, frozen spaghetti sauce and ciabatta rolls. Big cans of baked beans and pounds of elbow macaroni in dry storage so we can pull together a decent spread on very short notice now and still have plenty of time to recreate with the company down at the lake. Nancy always goes into a 10 minute panic and then pulls it off as smoothly as if it had been planned for 6 months. I walk down to the lake and cut away any brush that has grown over the path, knock down all the newly spun spider webs, sweep off the leaves on the dock and rearrange the chairs – 5 minutes total from start to finish. Then when the time comes, crank up the Holland grill. The great thing about that grill is that I can throw on the chicken, ribs or whatever, close the lid and rejoin the party. An hour later, pop open the grill and take off the goodies, cooked to perfection.

I’ve mentioned that I’m growing eggplants in the garden as I always do. I’ve planted the same variety for 3 years and prior to this year, they have performed well – nice looking plants and good fruit production. But this year is exceptional and I’m not sure why. The plants are 5′ tall and fully bushed out whereas in previous years, maybe they were 3‘ tall. The fruit and blossoms just keep coming. The plants have gotten so large that I’ve had to put in support stakes which I’ve never had to do before. I do rotate crops so they’re never grown in exactly the same place as before so I guess it’s possible that this particular location has the perfect mix of everything a happy eggplant needs but it can’t be more than 10′ from where they grew last year or the year before. I’m hoping it’s just that the general condition of the soil has improved so dramatically as I keep adding more and more compost to the mix. I think the other thing I didn’t appreciate is how well the eggplant tolerate and thrive in the heat and humidity. Other than peppers, everything else has given it up.

On the lasagna garden expansion, it’s now 3+ layers deep. I have a thick layer of newspaper overtopped with a layer of palmetto fronds overtopped with a layer of golden guardian marigold greens and misc bush branches. None of these layers have been chopped so it’s really rough organic material. My plan is to let that cook a week or so until there’s no green left and then to overtop with a 10-12” layer of mulch that’s been cooking for the last 4 months. I won’t do anything much further until a week or so before planting in mid to late September.

Damn, found another wasp nest. I hate it that I find them the hard way and normally get hit once or twice before I realize what’s happening. They hit fairly hard but not like the yellow jackets which feel like being hit with a fast ball. It hurts just as much after the initial hit but it’s a gentler attack and, unlike the yellow jackets, they go back to minding the nest and don’t chase after you to commit murder and mayhem. One of these guys got me on the right hand on the side of the palm over by the little finger. In 5 minutes I couldn’t close my fist. Also got one on the left forearm that swelled up a bit and hurt like hell. I used up my last can of wasp killer a month ago but have a bead on the nest and will launch a counter attack on it after my next trip to Lowes. Sure glad none of our weekend guests stumbled on it. That would have been ugly. This seemed like a two benedryl event so within an hour I was too groggy to care much.

lasagna gardening

Started a December sort of project in July. I’ve on and off thought about expanding the garden but it’s a tough, hot job and I’ve always managed to convince myself to put it off for another day/week/month. But the other day I picked up a book in the library that pushed me over the edge. The book is called Lasagna Gardening. I thought it was a book about growing the ingredients to make vegetable lasagna but instead it described a method of building a garden by layering ingredients over top of a lawn area. No tilling, no shoveling. All it takes is lots of mulch which I have in large quantity and the ability to continue making it in bulk. The first layer is newspaper which is exactly the way I started my new rows last season but in my case I did it to put up a nematode barrier. We subscribe to 3 newspapers so, here again, I have an ample supply at my fingertips. The author says all you do is put a thick layer of soaked newspaper over top of the lawn or field area and then load rough mulch a foot or so thick over the top of the paper. You top that off with a few inches of finer grade compost. Sounds simple and logical to me. I still need to cut a periphery trench in the St Augustine field grass about a foot wide and 6” deep to install concrete cylinders for a low fence. My neighbor has thousands of those 30 pound cylinders that concrete companies pour to test the strength of concrete on each job and we use them to border almost anything that needs a border.

The St. Augustine that I cut out makes great plugs to move to an area of the yard where really nasty weeds have taken over. Now’s the time to do the plugging since the afternoon rains and high heat are exactly what the grass needs to spread rapidly. So it makes sense to take on the garden expansion now instead of December (when it would be cooler) to get the plugs to do the lawn. The last tray of plugs I bought cost $5 and I will glean at least 10 trays worth of new plugs doing the expansion. The last reason to do it now is that I want to lose another 5 pounds and a job like this will take care of that in 3 or 4 days. So it’s a win, win, win project – more garden space, plugs for the lawn, and a quick weight loss. Couldn’t pass it up.

Living on a lake helps too. After I spend 3-4 hours working in the dirt, I’m filthy, sweaty and totally worn out. I just walk to the dock, strip down, and dive in. I climb out 10-15 minutes later totally refreshed and ready for food and a quick nap.

Speaking of the lake, there’s a fair sized dead pine tree about 30′ or so from the dock. I’ve eyed it frequently and run some rough trig calculations in my mind to estimate whether or not it would hit the dock if it blew over. We had a fast moving storm over the weekend which blew hard for a few minutes and answered the question. The top 6′ blew off and hit the deck at the main entrance. Score – deck 1, tree 0. That actually gives me a bit more margin if the whole tree were to come down wrong but I can see there’s another 8-10′ that really looks rotten and the most likely scenario is that section would break off before the whole tree uprooted.

Bean tower construction

Fashion question – is it ok to wear a belt with embroidered snook spaced around it together with a shirt sporting a largemouth bass on the back? One’s a salt water fish, the other fresh and I’d hate to be making a style faux pas. I have an annual check up at the doctor’s office this morning and would hate to create a wardrobe distraction.

I decided that the fall garden to be started in Sept will include pole beans in place of the bush beans I have been planting. That will just give me more horizontal room for other things. In several seed catalogs they offered bean towers for $30 but I think I can design something just as good from readily available material around here. There are two nice stands of bamboo that will provide the vertical climbers and a circular plastic lid for a 5 gallon paint can that will do very nicely for a spanner at the peak. Just drill holes around the periphery and poke in the tips of 8′ long bamboo rods. In my mind I see a tower consisting of 16 verticals spread in an 8 -10′ diameter circular pattern tapering to a 2′ diameter spreader at the top. Took me a couple hours to get just the right bamboo shoots, trim them and tie the whole thing together. I’ll erect it when it gets closer to planting time and I decide exactly where I want the beans.

Mentioning the bamboo, you might recall George and I transplanted a root bound stand of bamboo that had been in a planter for 20 years. I had serious doubts about it’s ability to really grow and have kept an eye on it doing nothing for at least 6 months. It didn’t die but it didn’t flourish either. I went over to that stand to cut out a few for the bean tower project and for the first time noticed new shoots popping up outside the original bunch. Just a cursory look showed me 6 shoots so I see plenty of bean towers in my future. Good news for the pandas.

During halftime of the World Cup final game it hit me light a flash of lightning – they need to add two more goals midway on the sidelines like side pockets on a pool table. These would be narrower nets, maybe 5′ wide but they’d count for 3 points. Totally changes the game.

I got to wondering what they talk about during half time. The score is nothing to nothing – the announcer kept say nil to nil which just doesn’t have the same ring to it. It’s not like you can reach into a bag of trick plays or do some X-O stuff on the black board to work out a new strategy. There’s nothing the opposition is throwing at you that you can’t handle and visa versa. You have to be strategizing how to get the ref to do more of that yellow card thing on the other team so that you can somehow get a manpower advantage. I guess that’s why the half time is so short and a culture of half time shows and marching bands never developed in the soccer world.

Wonder what ever happened to that 1000′ Taiwanese skimmer boat that was hanging out in the Gulf waiting for approval to start skimming??? Did I miss something, like it didn’t work or something? It was big news for a few days and then just dropped off the radar totally. Wonder which gov’t agency(s) has it tied up and also wonder why the press dropped it like a hot potato?

Wonder what that Russian story was really about. I can’t imagine two bureaucracies like the US and Russian governments ever effecting a spy capture and transfer in such short order unless it had been in the works for months if not years. Please. There’s got to be way, way more to this than has been divulged.

New World Cup rules

We’ve had an interesting thing going on with Virgin Mobile for a week or so. We purchased 300 mbytes about 20 days ago which expires when we would either use all the mbytes or reach 30 days. About 10 days into it, their byte counter stopped counting so, according to their count, we used zero mbytes from then on. What we wondered was whether they were actually counting someplace and not updating the info they provide the customer or had the counter actually gone on vacation. I halfway expected that at some point we would see a giant drop in available mbytes when the system caught up. Well it started counting again today and started from exactly where it left off. So I guess we have beau coup time for the next 10 days. Another Virgin Mobile factoid – I ran a speed test and the download speed was 1.3 mbits/sec. I’ll check it again randomly a few more times this month while we’re in the surplus capacity mode bit that’s about 60 times faster than the dial-up we had when we had it at all. It’s also in line with the speeds I’ve been quoted for Hughes net and Wild Mountain – satellite providers. With both of those there would be a dish installation, a 2 year contract, and 3-4 times the cost per month. All in all I think we lucked into the right solution for us.

One thing I haven’t tested yet is taking it on the road to see what kind of reception we get riding in the car. If it’s as good on the road as it is in the house, it will be great taking the laptop on any long trips where we have instant access to Google Maps, Priceline, and other handy traveler web sites. We’ve never been able to take advantage of Priceline because we travel in a totally unplanned fashion. That is we travel until we want to stop and never really fix an itinerary in advance. The way Tom explained it, we could wait until we were ready to hang it up and then work the Priceline deal.

This having a journalist grandson is working out great. He’s covering a water ski event in Missouri and there were a few points I had always questioned regarding how they actually score the competition. I had the answers in a few microseconds after emailing him. He was actually at the event and I could hear the loudspeakers in the background. I had figured that somehow you accumulated points by making the slalom buoys in faster time. Turns out it’s a semi timed event in that you get points for each slalom buoy you successfully navigate and the number of points is set by the speed of the boat. But in addition, they shorten or lengthen the rope so the shorter the rope, the more points you get on each buoy. That makes sense. So now when I’m down on the dock watching the skiers practice, I will have just a bit more understanding of what’s going on. Kind of funny that a rookie reporter gets to do a water skiing event with all those bikini clad bunnies sunning. I would have guessed he would get the curling gig.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that all teams playing World Cup soccer are about equal. With only one point separating the winner from the loser in most contests, there’s a reasonable likelihood that the match was decided by a random event rather than one team being superior. A bad call, a slip, a lucky carom shot are as big a factor in the end as the team play. That’s very unsatisfying to me. The game needs something analogous to the three point shot in basketball or the two point conversion in football. I don’t think it needs 100 point kind of games but something on the order of 10 points being scored cumulatively would make the one point decisive random occurrence less likely and when you won 7-3 or something, you’d feel like your team really was better and not just a lucky squeak thru. How about breaking the game into 10 minute periods. The first period is played with both teams at full strength. In the next period team A plays with one less player; that advantage is reversed in the next period. Then a 2 person advantage etc etc. In the last period it’s the best 5 on each side going at it. Or maybe PJ O’Rourke’s idea makes sense – “use your hands, dummies”. I can see now why there’s all the violence in the stands at big soccer matches – watching 90 minutes of back and forth with too few outlets for cheering or jeering. The frustration has to build up since the score doesn’t.

Trip to Gatorland

Had a great day yesterday. Tom and Simon were gracious enough to invite me along on a trip to Gainesville to meet with the Dept head for Simon’s latest major selection. We’re now into a technical area known as packaging which seems to be a broad engineering discipline hidden in the Agriculture dept. It seemed to be a nominally basic engineering curriculum with lots of extra chemistry, some biology and a couple of packaging courses thrown in. Sounded like the discipline is tucked away in the Ag dept for funding and political reasons. It’s a small dept within the structure but seems to be highly respected in industry with excellent job prospects in the future. The prof pointed out one project in which they vibrated containers of blueberries to develop a package where the blueberries didn’t end up looking like hard, shiny beads at the end of a shipment. Turns out that “musty” grayish look is much desired by consumers. Lot’s of nice equipment in the labs and several really interesting projects going on in conjunction with companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Kraft, and GE to name just a few. Even saw a poster describing a project with Jack Daniels. No way of knowing if Simon will end up in this major but it sure seems like a good place to start.

We ate lunch at the dining hall adjacent to Simon’s dorm – Gator corner. Great variety and quality so I don’t think we have to worry about him starving to death. I’m guessing the slim Simon will put on a few pounds over the next couple of years. I don’t know how much the academic environment has changed since my tour of duty but trust me, the food is several orders of magnitude better.

I may be warming up just a bit to World Cup Soccer. I saw a 3 second clip on the highlights of a really big game in which the Netherlands soundly defeated one of the South American ‘guay teams. I think the blowout was 3-1 or 2-1. The highlights were: 1. They spell Netherlands with a D instead of th; 2. The Dutch team wears Gator colors; 3. The Dutch scored with one shot from about the 50 yard line or whatever that equates to. I gave him 3 points for that and hope the guy who kicked it is recruited to the Dolphins or the Jaguars; and 4. A Dutch guy scored by whacking the ball into the net using his head – really hard. I gave him an automatic 3 points for that. So I scored the game a more respectable 7-1 and I’m rooting for the Dutch team to go ALL THE WAY. Why? Gator colors; Lennie Richardson is from Holland; I had a couple of memorable meals in Amsterdam; and it’s the home of Heineken beer. Actually I did hear about a phenomena associated with the World Cup that has me tingling. Turns out there’s an Octopus in Germany who has predicted, correctly, the results of all the German soccer team’s games. When it was all wins, I wasn’t that impressed but the day before the game with Spain, the critter predicted Germany’s loss. He’s probably being served as fried calamari today or maybe sauerkraut and calamari.

I was really taken back when I heard on the news about an interview the head of NASA did on Al Jazeera TV in which he declared that Yobama had given him 3 priorities, the third of which was to reach out to the dominantly Muslim countries and relate to them the importance of Middle Eastern math and science to the current space program. If history serves, the math and science he is referring to happened about 2000 years ago and pretty much went away 1000 years ago. With the US abandoning the Space Lab, the moon, Mars and basically all the manned programs – I guess they did need new priorities but reaching out to the middle east? Lesson learned – Inner city presidents/community organizers don’t do space. No surprise, the big three networks made no mention at all of the interview. Would that be because they don’t consider it news worthy? Or they don’t think we’d understand it? Personally at this point, I’m ready for Nasa to just go away. Sell the Space Center to Disney or Universal so we’ll at least have a virtual space program and run a high speed monorail from there to the Cruise Terminals with a spur to Cocoa Village and Indian River Cruises.