The garden ladies

Good news, I think. Our old camera started working again. Maybe it had something to do with the battery. I left it on the charger for 4 days and, as if by magic, it started working again. Lest you think I hadn’t thought of that at first, I put it on the charger for 24 hours before declaring it dead the first time. So I guess I’ll have a spare camera now. As promised, here’s a picture of the new cut through I’ve labeled the Valentine cut through. All of the palm trunks are in the burn pile waiting to be converted to ash and eventually moved to the compost pile – with the garden as their final resting ground. I’ll break out the chipper today and clean up most of the fronds you see in front of the cut through.
valentine-cut-throughchipper-100-fronds-0
One more day with a cold start (45 degrees) before a long stretch of 50+ mornings and 75+ afternoons. So tomorrow will be a major planting day – moving house starts into the garden. I have cabbage and kale plants large enough now to survive the big world out there and the week ahead will be perfect for them to get it going. All the in-house starts now will be spring/summer varieties; ie, tomatoes, peppers blah blah blah. I’ve ordered and received 100% of the 2011 seeds with about 50% old stand byes and 50% new stuff. How about a squash called Thelma Sanders, a pole bean called Gold Marie, a sweet potato named Evangeline, big Bertha peppers – collectively I’ll designate them the garden ladies.

Doing something a little different this year with the celery. I grow a variety called Utah Tall – but it isn’t. Last year it tended to grow more horizontal than vertical so this season I’m starting to tie them up. I’d like to see if I can duplicate how they look in the grocery store. I’ve done about 1/3 of the plants and will watch for a few weeks to see if there’s any adverse affects. My caution is that the twine will cut into the outer stalks as the plant fills so maybe it’s a process that has to be maintained with looser ties from time to time or maybe it’s something you do a week or two before harvest.

Big tree down

I mentioned that we lost electricity in the storm the other night. Found out why. A huge water oak on a neighbor’s property took out the power line when the tree snapped. The oak was huge – no kidding, it had a 3′ diameter and must have been 75′ tall. Along with the power line, it took out two newly installed fence lines. I went over this morning and helped with the tree removal all day. George uses loads of firewood so he and I were cutting and stacking really large logs for splitting some time in the future. Most times we’ve lost power in the past years, it’s been this same stretch of power line and either storm felled trees, tree trimmer screw ups, or squirrels that made a bad decision. That stretch of power lines has more splices than you would ever think possible.

Potato report – looks like maybe a 90% recovery on the first batch that was hurt in a hard freeze and the first Yukon Gold’s are just popping out. So things are happening big time in potato land. I’m almost certain now that I’ll try sweet potatoes this year. Last year the garden was just too small to grow potatoes but now I should be able to spare a 15′ row. With regular potatoes you cut the tubers into chunks with eyes; with sweet potatoes, you start with plants. After studying the catalogs, I’ve homed in on a variety called Evangeline offered exclusively by Burpee. According to Burpee, it’s particularly resistant to Southern root nematodes. I assume my nematodes are the Southern variety. I’ll wait a few more weeks to order the plants which are supposed to ship at the end of February for our climate zone. The minimum order is 12 bare root plants and it doesn’t say anywhere how many potatoes one should expect per root but you have to guess it’s a few, right? Most varieties yield about 5 pounds/plant so if I cut that in half, it still puts out a few month’s worth of goodies. It’s a $15 experiment but the real downside is that it’s a 100 day crop – meaning it ties up a sizable chunk of real estate for the whole season.

Made a literal breakthrough on the jungle project today. That means you can sit in the recliner and see the lake. It worked out to be roughly 40 linear feet and currently 10′ wide. It took five 3 hour work days, which is about what I had estimated. I’ve got another day to widen it in a few places and then a day to chip and clean up so, weather and back permitting, it should be finished by the weekend. I even have a spot to hang the big red ribbon on Valentine day. Or maybe I’ll move Nancy’s Valentine Day flag from the driveway to the cut through so she won’t forget the reason for all my labor. We ordered a new camera so next week I’ll post a picture of this infrastructure project.

Storm talk

Had a substantial storm event last night. All the TV stations switched to 100% weather reporting, tracking every cell with the potential for rotation. The good news is that we got 1.5” of much needed rain; the bad news was that we lost electricity for 3 hours. I have a generator for just such happenings but it was too nasty to go get it cranked up. I had already planned to skip the Obama speech so there was no impact there. We have a weather radio and it was chirping all afternoon. We found out that the ring on our new cordless house phone is exactly the same as the weather radio chirp. I kept answering the phone only to hear a dial tone and noting that the ringing was still going on.

Jungle clearing project going well and on target for Valentine Day. Interestingly, even limited myself to 2-3 hours a day working on the jungle, I feel it a bit in the back – not a killer but definitely some muscle strain. Most of the work is kneeling or bending down to cut the palmettos at their base then standing up and carrying the bush to the burn pile a few hundred feet away. No one part of the job is tough or particularly strenuous but somehow it cumulates. I was also hopeful that my back muscles had toughened after the first job but doesn’t seem to have happened. I can see why it was so screwed up after the previous clearing project in December. I won’t make that mistake again.

I was going to take a picture of the work in progress to give you an idea of the scope of the job. Unfortunately when I went to take the picture, I found out that the camera was broken (again). This is the third and final failure in exactly the same mode so I’m in the market for a new one. I need the functional equivalent of a Brownie Hawkeye.

I haven’t mentioned how the expanded part of the garden has worked out. It was the area that I added in the summer using the lasagna, layering technique. In case you don’t remember, I started with open field/lawn, laid down a layer or two of newspaper, several layers of palmetto fronds and then loads of shrub and jungle cuttings and grass clippings. None of it composted or chipped. No tilling, shoveling or anything to turn the field dirt. I put it down in layers, let it cook for a few months, then overlayed it all with compost I had made in the regular fashion and a few bags of store bought top soil. I ended up with about 24”-30” on top of the base field level. I started the expansion project in July and put in the first plants toward the end of October. So it cooked 3-4 months. I grew a patch of carrots, two patches of cauliflower, two patches of chinese cabbage and a row of peas. In the case of the cabbage and the carrots, those have all been picked and replanted with lettuce. We’re picking the cauliflower now and the plants are large and healthy. Everything thrived so the technique is a winner. No plans whatsoever to further expand the garden but if I did, for sure the lasagna technique is what I’d use.

Flood Insurance Closure?

Flood Insurance saga – the final chapter. When I last visited this issue, I had resubmitted a newly acquired Elevation Certificate to FEMA. That survey cost $250. At that point the status was that my coverage had been dropped to $19,000 for a cost of $500 and the bank was going to force a $2000 policy on me to get the coverage back up to replacement value. Today I got a doc from the Insurance company saying my certificate passed FEMA muster and that my insurance for full coverage was going to cost $272 per year. Along with that was a check for $313 covering the overpayment I had made. So from a Flood Insurance perspective, I’m back to exactly where I was 8 years ago.

Got started on my bride’s Valentine present. She wants a swatch of jungle removed so that from her recliner she can look out and see the lake. She got two swatches for Christmas this year but I’m going to do the Valentine Day project just a bit different. Last time I did the work in one, three day marathon when she was away on a quilting trip. I paid for that with a sore back for about a month. This time my plan is to have it finished by the magic day but to have gotten there over an extended period. Same amount of work, same number of calories expended but easier on the back.

Have an interesting critter/garden thing going on. Last week I noticed that something had dug a hole between two newly planted lettuces. Not a big hole, but maybe 3-4” across and about that deep. Luckily whatever dug it was not after the lettuce and avoided doing any really damage. It was inside a low wire fence so I guessed it was a bird. I filled in the hole and smoothed it over. Next morning, the hole was right back in the same spot. Filled it and kept an eye on the spot from the kitchen window. Shortly thereafter a tiny squirrel hopped in and started digging in the same spot. I went out and he scooted away. This time I put a piece of wood over the hole and figured that would solve it. Nope, he just moved the stick and dug the hole. I can’t let this go so I’m putting a brick over the hole. I’m not sure whether the squirrel is trying to retrieve bounty from a previous stash or if he’s digging a hole to make deposits but either way, he needs to go find a less intrusive spot.

Had to cover up again for a one-two night frost event. I took a peak under the covers and found the potato’s doing just fine. I really didn’t think it was going to get all that cold but no sense taking the chance. Did get the last of the peas planted before I had to cover up. So the final tally is 3 different varieties, an English green pea, a chinese snow pea, and an edible pod sugar snap. I planted 16′ of each with each variety at a different time and within each variety, made 2 or 4 plantings to create even more time spacing. Except for the very last planting, all previous ones are germinated and started their climb upward on trellises. If the weather cooperates, we would have the first green beans popping when the last of the peas are done or at least with only a minimal gap. That’s a delicate balance because the beans love heat and the peas crater in it.

Almond Milk

A few posts back I mentioned the container farm. When we visited it the first time I didn’t have a camera but vowed to get a few pics on the next trip. What you see is about 1/3 of the total field. Your not seeing any of the strawberries which represent about half the total but the concept is the same. In the closeup you can see the drip irrigation system. It drips into only the top container and must just drain on through to the bottom. They use liquid fertilizer which is applied through the drip system.
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Tried something new. I read an article a while back describing how many people had switched from regular milk to almond milk. Somehow that didn’t sound all that appealing to me but the article raised my curiosity because they were quite expansive about how much people liked the taste, how good it was for you, and the clincher, it was perfect for people with lactose intolerance. Nancy has always loved milk but for the past couple of years, it hasn’t liked her. Add to that her most recent blood test exposed a need for more vitamin D and calcium. I guess that’s fairly common with women. (Note – I personally believe all the recent hype about vitamin D is the latest medical fad). With that disclaimer, if you read the label on the almond milk, it seems to have all that covered with half the calories of skim milk and none of the bad fats or sugars and a reasonable load of fiber as well. So for $3, why not try it. Poured it on the cereal this morning, deep down inside expecting to pitch it after the first mouthful. When pouring, it seemed much thicker than the skim milk we usually use so I’m expecting a thick, greasy feel to it. Nope. I have an insensitive pallet so the taste to me was just fine and I probably couldn’t tell the difference between it and cow milk. It was slightly heavier than skim milk but quite a bit lighter than whole milk. The big test was Nancy and she was fine with it. So other than being a bit more expensive, double the cost of regular milk, it seems like a no brainer to make the switch. I did read the label more closely later and found that I missed the direction that said to shake well before using. Maybe that’s why it seemed thick. I’ll shake it twice tomorrow to make up for today’s miss. I also saw on the label that it was good for 7-10 days after opening. We go through about a gallon of skim a week so we’re not in any danger of having a half gallon go bad. Not sure how we’ll know if this solves Nancy’s vitamin D and calcium issue but it would have to help, wouldn’t it?

Potato report – The patch that was first to sprout and first to freeze seems to be coming back with about half the plants now sprouting foliage. The second patch, which had not sprouted at all prior to the freeze, is well up now and way ahead of the original planting in terms of visible foliage. No signs of any sprouting at all in the first Yukon Gold patch but I went ahead and planted a second patch anyway. The first patch has now been in just over two weeks so I don’t really expect to see much for another week or two. I also spotted another potato sprouting in amongst the celery which I hadn’t intentionally planted. At first I thought it was a weed but on closer examination, decided it looked exactly like the potatoes sprouting about 30′ away. My guess is that a piece of potato was dumped into the compost pile at some time in the past and was inadvertently moved to that area along with a pitchfork full of compost. I dug it up carefully and moved it to the potato ghetto or barrio.

Rod Test

packman-and-farao

Ordered a new (to me) summer squash variety called Cavili. It’s a lime green colored, zucchini like squash that’s parthenocarpic. So how’s that! Parthenocarpic means it doesn’t require insect pollination. That means I can keep it under cover to protect it from insects without insecticides. Boring insects are a big problem with squash and it’s really disappointing to cut open a perfect looking squash only to find an invader eating away on the inside. This variety is fast growing so I can most likely start it in March or maybe even late Feb. and be picking squash by the end of April before it gets too hot to live under cover. At least that’s the plan. I seem to have a good handle on the nematodes now so if I can overcome the borers, maybe this will be the year we finally break the code on summer squash. Turns out parthenocarpic also is code for expensive. An old standard variety costs maybe $2 for 30 seeds; these were $5 for half as many. Still cheap on a per squash basis – if I have the success the catalog promises. Time will tell.

The picture is yesterday’s picking. Fairly typical of each day with broccoli and cabbage. The cabbage is a variety called Farao and is the only conventional, round type I put in this year. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference taste wise but those with more sensitive palettes seem to favor the cone headed variety I grew along side these. I believe them since the cone head is a heritage that, according to the catalog, has been around since the 1800’s. So you have to know that if it wasn’t really good, people would have quit growing it long ago. Next week’s picture could be the trifecta pic – adding cauliflower to the mix.

Did a dummy run on my new surf outfit. The weather and tides haven’t cooperated to the point where it’s worth a drive over to the beach but I couldn’t wait any longer and there is this lake right outside. Wow! I put on a 2 oz spoon and easily laid it out maybe 200′. I knew it would cast fine but the test was how comfortable would it be to fish for a lengthy time. I cast about a dozen times and it felt good. The length behind the reel seat was just right – long enough to allow a two handed cast but not too long to make the retrieve cumbersome. It’s designed so that my forearm rests just right on the rod butt and it’s balanced (with the reel) so that it doesn’t wobble during the retrieve. Believe it or not, controlling that wobble on rods with an extended butt section is a big piece of what wears you out. Your wrist acts as a fulcrum at the reel seat and you automatically squeeze tighter and use your forearm muscles to keep the rod straight. One thing about this new rod that I had some doubts about is that it has more guides than I’ve ever seen on a rod. Ten guides on an 8′ rod. A typical rod will have more like 6 guides; an extra good rod would have 8. To calibrate you, I have two 12′ rods that have 7 and 8 guides respectively. Those are two piece, medium quality rods. So my concern was that although the extra guides will make for a more linear line path, it would also add friction on the path and slow the cast down – shorten it. The guides on the rod are extremely good Fuji guides so I guess they solve the friction problem with ceramic coating. It’s also typical on spinning rods that the first guide above the reel seat has a really large diameter whereas this rod has a much smaller first guide. That too concerned me because the theory for the extra large guide is that the line is spiraling off the spinning reel and reducing the spiral radius too quickly, again shortens the cast. I honestly can’t say this rod wouldn’t perform better with a larger first guide but I can say that the cast is extremely smooth and that the narrower spiral gives me a bit better finger control for gradually slowing down the cast.

The other factor that jumps out at me is the drag setting on the reel. On a cheap reel there are a couple of drag problems. First is that the drag adjustment is course so that you go from very loose drag to very tight drag with only a small adjustment of the drag mechanism. That’s a bit of a problem surf fishing because you typically have the rod holding in a sand spike, watching for a bite. You set the drag lightly so that if a large fish grabs it, it won’t yank the rod out of the spike and into the surf. Then when you remove the rod from the spike, you tighten the drag. That is all going on while you are fighting the fish and if you accidentally over tighten the reel, pop. Most of the time you catch small fish in the surf so that situation doesn’t occur too often but it does happen. The other problem is that with a cheap reel, sometimes the drag tightens on it’s own when a fish applies pressure. That technically shouldn’t happen but it does. With this reel, the drag adjustment is much finer and extremely smooth so you can adjust it much easier and gradually and avoid the instant over tightening that happens with a junky reel.

All in all, I’m a happy camper.

Potato wipeout?

One surprise when I took the covers off the garden – 100% wipeout of the potatoes; everything else doing just fine. Now I know how the Irish felt when their potato crops crashed 100+ years ago. I can’t say if it was the cold that killed the potatoes or a lack of water for 4 days. I also don’t know whether they are history underground or if they’ll sprout new greenery. I have to wonder about the status of the newer spuds I planted that hadn’t reached the surface yet. It certainly wasn’t as cold as a couple weeks ago and everything made it then so…………. I looked back on my history files and noted that I had planted the potatoes Jan 1 last year and I know they went through some serious cold last winter so the water theory may have some validity. I’ll give the patch a week or so and if nothing seems to be happening, I’ll replant and try again. The weather guy last night said we’ve had more hard freezes in the last 12 months than the previous 9 years combined. I can believe that.

Update – The second batch of potatoes that had still not sprouted when I pulled the covers did indeed sprout today. So the ground cover/mulch apparently kept the unsprouted potatoes warm enough to survive. I haven’t 100% given up on ones in the apparently dead area but so far, nothing happening. My hope is that the surfaced foliage was clobbered but the base plants make it.

Finally getting some rain. We’ve actually picked up about 3” this week which is pretty good for this time of year. Every drop helps the lake and this latest storm, coming up from the south, is bringing along warmer weather so all is happy.

Learned something interesting this week – learned by reading and by experience. The other night Nancy baked one of the butternut squashes that I picked in October. We had eaten one right after picking and weren’t impressed with the quality so the other four we had just sat around. This recent one was excellent – nice texture, nice color, and sweet taste. It just so happened that I was looking in a seed catalog to check what was new in the world of butternuts and read that you should let them sit for two months after picking for the best flavor. Sure wish I had read that two months ago. Luckily we have more in the queue.

Finished the first two months of the $20/GB Walmart deal on Virgin Mobile. We used less than half of the 1 GB allotment in both months so that deal is perfect for us and I hope it becomes a permanent option. We dropped AOL altogether which drops the net increase for the higher speed to $8/month. That’s about where I think it should be priced. Nancy facebooks’ her little heart out, browses the quilt sites, and opens all those annoying video things that people forward and still we’re not coming close to using it all.