Post Thanksgiving comments

When asked what I was thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner I said the great weather we were having. At that moment, it was a valid offering. By the end of Saturday, I am most thankful that the Gator football season is mercifully over. The pundits keep pondering which Bowl game they will play in and I can only hope that they are bypassed completely so I don’t have to suffer any further this year or start the new year on a down event. I can only imagine what the poor folks at Boise State are going through. If only their last game had been with Alabama or Oregon where a defeat would have been understandable. I’ve got my fingers crossed now that SC doesn’t misbehave and beat Auburn in the SEC championship game next week. My only hope for saving face this season is if an SEC team at least plays for the National Championship. Other than that, I’d be pulling for Spurrier and the Gamecocks all the way.

The Thanksgiving dinner was fine with a great group of people, good food and drink. What more could you want? There were not rounds and rounds of clapping and applause for the Satsuma-cranberry sauce but I could hear the lips smacking as they savored every morsel of it. I think most people didn’t want to embarrass the other cooks by homing in on that one dish and I respect that. The nicest surprise for me was the apple pie that Simon and Julia had made. I am not a dessert person but had to have an obligatory piece of pie and selected the apple among all the other selections available. It fit my taste buds just perfectly – not too sweet and not too soft and mushy. Turns out they actually used apples and not apple pie filling.

One nice thing about having a garden is that you can grow exotic varieties of old favorites which make things sound so different. For example, we had a nice salad with a mix of tomato, pepper, radishes, and green beans. That conjures up an image. But what about a salad of San Marzano tomatoes, Declaration peppers, Parat radishes, and Smereldo beans. A totally different image pops into your head. Sounds more like something you’d see in a gourmet magazine and know that you could never taste such luxury because those weren’t available in your grocery store. I’m sure it tastes the same but it gives it just that little touch of class. Next season I’m going to plant some Marconi peppers to go with the San Marzanos and maybe Roma pole beans although Smereldo sounds pretty exotic to me. I think I might plant a couple of Armenian Cucumbers too just to spice up the salad descriptions. Those are the cucumbers with a very pale green skin and distinctive ridging resembling the teeth on a gear. I grew them once in Utah and they caught lots of attention.

With 5000+ space workers to be laid off after the next shuttle launch, is anybody surprised that it’s slipping week by week and the original October date is now sliding toward February?

Generational change

Simon cracked me up on his visit last weekend in a casual discussion about how things were going at school. It pointed out a wide cultural shift from my generation to the next one down. He said that at a recent chemistry lecture the professor started the class by requesting that the students please talk to their mom’s and tell them to quit emailing him telling him how there’s something wrong when their son/daughter who had consistently made A’s in high school chemistry was now failing college chem. I couldn’t begin to imagine ever experiencing parental intrusion at that level. I would have been seriously disturbed if my parents ever got involved in anything at school from about the first grade on. It did happen from time to time if they got a specific hard request from someone like the principal but other than that…………… My sister said she saw something about parents actually accompanying their kids on job interviews. Would I ever, ever, ever have hired a person who brought their parent to the interview? Here’s what I’m trying to figure out – is it this generation parents with kids in college that are screwed up or is it this generation of kids in college?

One of the key ingredients to a successful Thanksgiving dinner, maybe the most important ingredient, is the cranberry sauce. That’s always my job. This year I wanted it to be both the traditional dish but to have something just a bit different. So I’ve created Satsuma-Cranberry sauce. It’s not something most people could make because Satsuma’s are not readily available to the general public. I don’t think I’ll make any pre-dinner announcements but wait until all the ooh’s and aah’s have settled down and then divulge the source of the delectable new flavor. If I mentioned it before hand you always have a few people who will decide they don’t like it without even trying it. It’s always that way.

The winter garden is starting to take shape and is now occupying about 3/4 of the total area. By the end of the month, should be picking the first cabbage and perhaps the first broccoli. The peas are poking up as is the spinach, the last winter stuff to go in. Beyond this point for the next 2-3 months, I just replant more of the same as the old plays out with minor changes – English peas for snow peas; cabbage variety A for variety B; a few more cauliflower plants, a few more broccoli’s, romaine in place of leaf lettuce etc etc etc. Nothing dramatic for the next few months. Personally other than the occasional need to cover the crop for frost protection, this is the easiest and most rewarding season for Florida gardening. Minimal bug problems, crops that are nematode resistant, lots of variety, and no heat strokes. This season should be the easiest in a while because the soil is not in desperate need of loads of organic material so the pace of composting is less frenetic.

Pre Thanksgiving happening

I am already sick of all the media coverage of the Royal engagement in England. Who cares??? I really fear that leading up to a wedding, we’ll be at near saturation levels of drivel and then for the 6 months following, it will be wall to wall video’s of horses pulling carriages around London. Baaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrf. I’d be ok with just muting the set or turning it off in favor of the XM but my bride is locked on tight.

This turned out to be a busy weekend. We knew my sister was coming up to spend a few days on a way to her son’s for Thanksgiving but were surprised when Simon called on Wednesday night not feeling too well and requesting a nice quiet weekend at the lake to recuperate. We were later surprised that Tom and Tina were coming up to hook with Eileen and upgrade an old computer she was giving to Glenn. So we ended up with a mini party Saturday afternoon. Nancy whipped together a stuff pork roast and the afternoon turned out to be a fun time. To top it off, Simon and I did a troll around the lake.

I usually think about getting serious for spec’s around Thanksgiving time so given the company, the great weather, and the calm lake, I decided to do an exploratory troll around the lake with Si. Sort of a shake down troll and did, in fact, pick up a couple of spec’s. As it turns out, the freezer is full, with a good bit of the space going to bluefish, so the last thing I need right now is a load of perch. Our shrimp supplier has mentioned that she likes bluefish or speckled perch as much as she like cucumbers and the shrimp are running strong in the St. Johns so………………

I don’t think I ever mentioned other swap deals we have in place with Nancy’s bridge and/or quilting buddies. Wilma grows the best tasting blueberries ever and loves just about everything we grow in the garden so that’s a great trade. Another of her friends in the quilt group brings jellies and jams to the table. Her favorite from the garden is Swiss Chard. I put in 8-10 plants because they dress up the garden and make great trading material. The nice thing about chard is that you just keep picking the leaves for months and months – until the heat does them in in mid April. Esther and her husband raise cattle so every now and then, she drops off a couple of steaks or a package of chopped meat. Then there’s Grace, the egg lady. I put in 6 Brussels Sprout plants this season with an eye towards trading material. I can get all the sprouts I want from half a plant but they are great trading material. The most different trade so far was veggies for seamstress work. Wilma is a year round recipient for anything that grows in the garden and jumps at a chance to reciprocate. Turns out she’s a beautiful seamstress and I had a few pair of pants that needed waist reduction. Done. So the “casting bread on water” thing works with green beans too.

And here’s one that made me chuckle. Nancy has these quilt events at the house and the gals always walk over and check out the garden. One was so inspired that she decided to grow one of her own. Last week when Nancy came home from the group meeting she handed me several packets of seeds and said the donor had bent her pick trying to get anything to grow so was making me a present of the seeds – no doubt in anticipation of a head of broccoli or a few carrots down the road. I’ll do those kind of trades all day long.

It’s all about Sarah

I’m cracking up as Bristol Palin moves up the pole on the Dancing show. You know that ABC/Disney picked her first to attract viewers and then to see her crash, setting up a metaphor for her mother’s political career. I don’t watch the show but as I hear it, she is not the best dancer around but continues to be voted on by the public. This has to be flustering to the libs who can’t believe that the general public could be voting for her. Get over it folks – it’s not a dance contest, it’s a popularity contest same as American Idol and any of these public voting shows and guess what, the Palin’s are popular with lots of Americans. Guess what ABC, if you make a political choice in your programming, you get a political result.

I’m really starting to warm up to Sarah Palin as 2012 material. The thing she has going for her is the whole Teddy Roosevelt/Ronald Reagan schtick. For those of us old enough to remember, the libs spent all their energy trying to portray Reagan as dumb; a B actor that was overmatched by Bonzo. Meanwhile he was riding around the ranch on horseback, chopping his own firewood and putting up fencing. I’m picturing the contrast between that image and the aloof, law professor, inner city community organizer that Obama personifies. Obama is now being seen as not having much going for him on the international scene, unable to pull off trade deals, and unable to pull off a win in Afghanistan when the president of that country basically tells him to bug off. The French and the Dutch love him. If I’m managing Palin, I’m quickly setting up meetings around the world with folks like Margaret Thatcher, the Burmese chicky, Netanyahu. Steer clear of all the Euro’s, especially the western Euro’s such as France and Italy who have a bombastic, wimpy image. Maybe ok to visit Eastern Euro’s who run places like Poland. What I’m liking is that women have traditionally voted Dem and at the very least, Palin should break up that block, to the extent is wasn’t shattered with this last election. Jews have also always been a Dem constituency but it looks like Obama is tearing that apart. What I’m also seeing is the same setup we had when Reagan followed Carter. Palin/Obama is smelling lots like that same setup – the academic philosopher vs the axe swinger; the smooth talker vs the straight talker.

Mile 741

Blues happening
Blues happening

Wonder if I’ll be able to get the Sarah Palin show on Netflix? Is it just me or does she resemble Wonder Woman? I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave the life she has to go to Washington. Can anyone conjure up an image of Obama or Pelosi fishing for salmon from a raft with grizzly bears prowling up and down the river? She’s trying to bring back a Teddy Roosevelt image and I think it might work.

This pic is from the bluefish extravaganza last week. Over the years, I’ve made friends with the guy who lives next door to our beach rental and he was lured down by all the action to take a couple of pictures. It was tearing him up because he was committed to go to a yoga class with his girl friend and the blues were tearing it up in his back yard. It just so happened that he was participating in a one day event in which people took pictures on Florida beaches and submitted them for a “day at the beach” collection. This pic was the “mile 741” representative.

I finally gleaned the eggplant bushes and pulled them out of the garden. Believe it or not they still had blossoms but no way those would ever mature before the frost and with the light shortened days now, it would take the small ones forever to reach full size. Also I could use the space to expand the collard patch and these large plants were shading the carrots more than I like – so out they came. If there is a hall of fame for eggplant, I nominate these Lavender Touch beauties. When I pulled them, the roots were like tree roots. No doubt they had been attacked by nematodes – the damage was visible – but the root system was so large, so deep and so strong that even the nematodes couldn’t bring down these plants. Very impressive.

Did a major bean pick involving getting up on a 6′ ladder and stretching to pick the top of the bean tower. I was inspired when Nancy announced she was starting to plan for Thanksgiving and had committed to a green bean casserole for 15. I think the recipe she’s using called for 8 cups of green beans. I picked 4 or 5 pounds which I know will more than satisfy that demand. I love the variety but next spring I’m going to use a completely different approach to supporting the beans. The teepee approach technically worked but it was far from optimum in terms of harvesting. I’m committed to coming up with a new design by bean season next March and have several paper designs already.

Another interesting phenomena that I have previously observed happened again today when I started digging holes to plant chard. The holes I dig are nominally a foot in diameter and a foot deep. About 3 scoops into the hole I noticed that I had dug up a toad. These toads live underground but I never see any signs of them digging down which makes me wonder if they just live out their life cycle underground. I guess there would be plenty to eat under ground – no worms of course – but certainly plenty of other critters. Maybe they pop out at night to eat surface insects but seems like I would see signs of where they emerge and reenter the soil.

Worm deficiency

Pea Trellis
Pea Trellis

Sure would like to go back to the beach and tie into those Blues again but my hands are so cut up from the last encounter that I doubt I could really grip the rod properly let alone fling the spoon out past the waves. But you can bet as soon as I’m healed, you’ll have to contact me on the beach.

The pic is a new pea trellis. It started life as a landing platform for George’s pigeons but looked to me to be a natural pea or bean trellis. I planted half of one side today with a variety of shell peas called Mr. Big. The game plan is to plant each section of the trellis when the previous planting germinates; that should be every week or so and will extend the harvest for a month. After the last planting of Mr. Big, I’ll switch to a new trellis and start Chinese peas.

Got something unusual/bizarre going on in the garden. Sometimes when I put in small plants, I plant seeds for the same variety in the vicinity. That gives me some time spread and also potential spares if a transplant crashes. Earlier this week I put in a few collards and did the seed thing as well. The next morning when I did the first garden inspection, the seeded areas had been disturbed, most likely by birds. Ok, I’ll just put in a few more seeds. Went out this morning and the same spot was disturbed again. Collard seeds are micro seeds so no way the birds have any idea they’re there or could be digging specifically to get at the them but they sure are persistent. I’m going to replant one more time but also going to put a couple of fake places to see if I can trick them into digging in the wrong place. I guess to be totally safe about it, I shouldn’t be writing my plans for the general public.

Something seriously missing in the garden are worms. Anybody that’s anybody in the world of gardening says you have to have a good population of worms to make thing really happen in the garden. Every now and then I see one when digging in the garden or turning the compost pile but in a good garden environment, you measure them in worms per square inch. I have been hoping that in the process of improving the soil via loads and loads of compost, the worms would somehow find the garden and live happily ever after. Alas, it seems that I’m going to have to add worms to prime the pump. With worms, it’s kind of a chicken/egg thing – worms really improve the soil but the soil has to be pretty good to start with or they can’t survive. At this point I’m fairly confident there’s enough organic material in the soil to feed a good worm population and the amount of compost I add continuously should have them fat and sassy and eating their little hearts out. So I’ve been researching to determine the right worm for here and have homed in on a variety called the Alabama Jumper. These critters have a tough skin so they can handle heavy clay soil or sandy soil. Many available varieties are designated “compost worms” and they are not suitable for an actual garden environment but Alabama Jumpers are tough, eat their little hearts out, reproduce easily and do all it is you could want from a worm. I can buy 1000 Jumpers for $70 which seems a bit high to me so I’m still in the cogitation mode. I did find them for $60 from a guy called wormdude.com but for ten dollars more, I’m dealing with Organicworms.com who sounds a bit more credible. The other side item in reading up on the Jumpers, is that they are apparently excellent fishing worms. Again, the tough skin works for you. The question is will I be able to dig one up and put him on a hook to entice a big bream knowing that I have a major investment in the stock and that the one I pick may be directly responsible for my giant tomatoes? And how will I react when I see a bird in the garden yanking a Jumper out of the ground? If I decide to move on it, I need to do it before spring when those damn robins invade. One piece of trivia I picked up in my research, worms feed near or at the surface at night. So that’s why there’s some validity to the statement that the early bird gets the worm. They dig down during the daylight.

Even without worms, the few tomato plants that survived are reaching incredible sizes. Only paste tomatoes survived and I ended up with two Viva and one San Marzano. The San Marzano is a highly praised variety that I haven’t had much luck with in past seasons but so far this year, the plant is thriving. It’s already 6′ tall with large, extending branches and loaded with really large fruit. Assuming things stay on the positive side – no frosts, no critter attacks – we should be swimming in pasta sauce by December.

Harvesting

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The summer/fall garden is crashing fast. Nothing wrong, just hitting the end of the season. I pulled out the zucchini bushes, all but one cucumber plant and all but one eggplant bush. In all cases, got a great crop with nematode problems only with 2 green zucchini and an acorn squash. If we can go another month without a frost, maybe overly optimistic on my part, we should have loads of tomatoes and green peppers. The pic’s show a harvest day with our great nieces, Alyssa and Kamryn. They love picking but can be occasionally a bit rough on the plants. The large mound of green next to the tangerines are the Smerelda pole beans. The girls are picky eaters but chowed down on cucumber slices and green beans dipped in ranch. I see a major green bean casserole event for Thanksgiving.

And we’re finally harvesting butternut squash. They are nice size and finally turned from green to that light tan-orange color. We ate one last week that was maybe a week or so early – still good, but not quite at the peak. I count at least a dozen so the crop was a success in my eyes. The significance of that is that I’ve tried repeatedly to grow butternut over the past 3 years and had zero success so this bodes well for the future. Still bending my pick on acorn squash but plan to try again in the spring with yet another variety.

I’m still loading the garden with cold tolerant plants- just put in celery and Brussels – and this cold snap makes it time to start with the hardiest varieties such as beets, spinach and peas. Should be 100% planted by the end of the month and we should be picking the first of the chinese cabbage by then. Does cole slaw work for Thanksgiving?