A little news

I love shorts and tee shirt weather, especially in February.

A little news. Little Tommy got an internship with a magazine publisher in Los Angeles for 10 weeks this summer. I guess these internships are hard to come by so he must have something going on good in his resume. It’s very hard for me to believe that the same kidling who went along on the maiden voyage of the poke boat 15 or so years ago as first mate is finishing his Junior year at college. The magazine is called “Good”, which seems a little pretentious, but I checked it out online and was impressed with the quality of the writing. I remember being quite apprehensive when Chris did a semester in Europe so I can imagine how Tom and Tina must have really mixed emotions about the whole thing – LA is a really big place and sooooooo far from Lake Mary.

Got a call the other day from an old San Antonio buddy who was going to be in Florida for a few days and wanted to get together for lunch. I hadn’t seen either he or another friend from the same era in maybe 30 years. We’ve had an extra heavy load of losing friends since the start of this year so it was nice to hook with friends who seemed to be wearing well. Other than some white on top, could have rolled the clock back 30 years and not missed a beat.

Nancy came home the other day and said that there was something not right about the lights in the Toyota. Turned out that the front, left turn signal lamp wasn’t working. I took a look to see how easy/hard it would be to change the bulb and saw right away that it wasn’t something I wanted to mess with. Her solution is to go to Auto Zone and get a replacement bulb and ask the guy there how to change it. If she did that, good chance the guy would just do it. If I ask, he’ll give me that stupid look and sell me the bulb. My solution is to only make right turns. The rear signal works just fine so I’m convinced that with careful planning, I can avoid turns where the left front light would be an issue. If that doesn’t work, I can break out the pickup and take the cover off the Mercury. Problem? what problem.

Dock project finished

Got the wave boards in yesterday. Actually Mark got the boards in. We started out by laying down a piece of plywood for a floor over the mushy bottom and from that point, it was a piece of cake – for me. Mark got down under the dock and did the work while I stayed on the topside and handed down the tools and material as necessary. The impressive part was that I had all the tools and materials in place down at the dock so it went like a finely oiled machine. I have no idea if this all will protect the shoreline but I certainly feel better about it. Mark got back on the dock without the first splatter of mud whereas my foray under to nail up one board ended with me looking like a mud wrestler who had lost the battle.

A final follow-up on the potatoes. At least I hope this is the final until we harvest. I cut back all the dead foliage and there appears to be new growth consistently across the patch. I can’t tell if the harvest will be reduced because of the frost damage but the estimated crop size would have resulted in far more than we could have dealt with anyway so perhaps the frost will have brought it down to something in keeping with our needs. Only time will tell. The pic has nothing to do with potatoes, just today’s harvest of beets and radishes.

I was reading up on Sweet potatoes in anticipation of receiving plants at the end of the month and learned something. Apparently the potato plants are vining and if I cut off pieces of the vine and get them rooted, I can extend the harvest with those new plants. The minimum order was 12 plants which should provide way more than we can deal with so why I would want to extend the harvest is beyond me but guess what- I will no doubt try it.

My theory on the Virgin Mobile unlimited use offer has proven true. Several months back they dropped the $30/ month, bounded usage plan we were on in favor of an unlimited plan for $40/month. We were on this plan for a couple of months which I believe was a plan to hook people into going totally wild and then lowering the boom. Luckily a reasonably priced plan popped up with 1GB that seemed to fit our needs. Sure enough, this month the unlimited plan was raised to $50. My 1GB, $20 plan is still in place so I’m ok but don’t expect this to last forever. We always end up using about 60% of the available bandwidth so I’m hoping we don’t get forced into buying something way more than we need.

Switching to Bass

I’m starting to think winter is over. It’s been awesome for the past two weeks and we are more than halfway through February. Even the water skiers are back at it – the real reason I have to add the wave boards to protect the shore from erosion. I now have 4 tomato plants and 2 pepper plants in the main garden. Only two of those are protected by walls of water but I have enough to do the rest if it proves necessary. I’ll hold off at least another two weeks to add more unprotected plants. Just in case you are not familiar with the wall of water concept, check out the picture. The water is contained in cavities in a closed circular plastic piece. The water heats based on daytime sun and temps with that heat released when the evening temp gets cooler than the water. I think I read there is nominally something like 90,000 calories of energy stored which is enough protection for an outside temp of 24 degrees for 12 hours. I know that’s way more protection than I need here but they did the job for me in Utah. I have to be careful not to cook them here.
One thing for sure, spec season is over – that is, if it ever started. I think I caught a total of 7 fish starting in November. In a normal season, I get more than that every day, with 25 fish days not being unusual. I don’t keep but a few of the biggest each time but the action is normally fairly consistent. I’m hoping it means next season will be loaded with monsters. So I’m officially switching over to bass and packing away the spec gear. This is normally a little early but what with the last two weeks of warm weather, perhaps the bass will move into the shallows a bit sooner. The low water level could still be a problem. The lake’s come up maybe 6” from it’s lowest point but that still leaves it at least 2′ down from normal.

Mulch Mountain

A couple of days ago the county did a pass on Purdom Cemetery road, trimming the overhanging trees. That’s a stretch of nearly half a mile or a mile linearly if you count both sides. After the trimming, they brought a monster chipper and converted all the branches they had cut into mulch. My neighbor asked them what the plans were for the mulch and found it was headed for a landfill. He asked them if instead they would dump it in a clear spot at the top of his property on the road. They did just that yesterday so we now have a mulch mountain. To calibrate the picture, the mound you see is 10′ x 15′ x 4.5′. That’s 675 cubic feet, or 25 cubic yards, or maybe 350 bags at the retail stores. It’s mostly too rough for direct use in the garden but would probably be useable after a pass through my chipper and 6 months curing. Even then, it will be an overwhelming mountain and provide mulch for a lonnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg time. So my exercise program for the foreseeable future is transporting the mountain to a location down by the garden adjacent to the existing compost piles. I measured that distance and it’s approximately 600′. The routine will be loading a cart with a 10 CF capacity, one pitchfork at a time. Then unloading it at the destination. At that point it goes into the chipper, a pitchfork at a time. Alternatively, may move the chipper up to the mountain and only move the finer product to the garden. I have no idea how many energy calories will be expended in the process but it will probably be billions. I’ll be a faded shadow of the old me by the time the project is done. I should get one of those first alert alarms to hang around my neck in case the pile wins.
Got another project scheduled for this weekend. Joey is coming up to (ostensibly) celebrate his birthday but the real reason is to put the finishing touches on the dock project almost completed last May. At that time the lake was high and it wasn’t possible to do any work under the dock. What I wanted to do was install a few planks across the back of the dock up where it interfaces with the land to break up waves that would undermine/erode the shoreline. We decided at that time to wait until the lake level went down so we could work under the dock. That happened big time this winter and we had planned to jump on this finishing task in April or so – warm weather and with the lake still low. But the weather proved wetter than normal in January and February so it’s now or never on the wave planks. Joey and Mark agreed to the job and I got the materials. I was originally thinking of using 2” x 6” planks, 12′ long and knew they were a little heavier than I could deal with by myself. I changed my mind and decided that 1” x 6” pieces would do just fine since these planks have no structural requirements art all. Cutting the weight in half made the lumber much easier for me to handle so I decided to try the job myself. The plan was to nail up the planks for placement and then screw them in with 1/2” lag screws. I had a little more difficulty getting the first 12′ board under the dock than I had expected due to how cramped the space under the dock really is. It looks like plenty of room until you actually climb underneath. There’s only 3′ from ground to dock which is not much more than a crawl space. I finally wiggled my way underneath and learned what the real problem was – that nice firm looking beach was soft, mushy, muck and I was sinking into it. What a mess. I somehow managed to get one plank nailed to the pilings – sort of – but it became abundantly clear that this was not a job for an aging butterball. I’ve convinced myself this will be a good job for Mark. First he’s small and second, he’s spent the last couple of weeks down on his hands and knees installing a hardwood floor in the new house so he’s used to working all hunched over. My plan is to slide some heavy cardboard or a piece of plywood under the dock to give it a floor – so to speak and take the yuck part of the job away. How thoughtful of me.

Kitchen Garden

Doesn’t every kitchen have an area for starting veggie plants? Nancy seems to think this is unnatural. I guess it would be weird if I changed all the light bulbs into growing lamps. Sure, I agree changing all of them would be weird but just a few…………… The current indoor crop is pictured.
I’m a light sleeper so even a little light or sound wakes me up. This time of year that means just about 6AM when the sun starts peeking out and the early birds start chirping. We have a new bird variety this year, the snickerdoodle bird. I call it that because the call is snickerdoodle, snickerdoodle, snickerdoo, doo, doo. It has the same pitch as the Burrito birds but that doesn’t start till later in the afternoon. Is it possible that baby Burrito birds are calling for snickerdoodles until they mature? Also had an unusual sand hill crane sighting this morning. My sister called the other day and said she read that they were an endangered species. Wow, I had 3 groups fly overhead this morning on the brief trip to the mailbox, with one of the groups actually landing in the field across from the house. I sure see lots of them. If I visit my sister 90 miles away, I see them pecking around on her lawn; over at Tommy’s 50 miles away, loads of sand Hills. When congress is looking for budgets to cut, I’m suggesting they go after the Endangered Species crowd and the Global Warming crowd.

I mentioned that I had covered the potatoes the other night when there was a frost alert. They seem to have survived but for sure got hammered again. I didn’t cover anything else and nothing was damaged so the potatoes are particularly sensitive. That really is surprising (to me). When you think of potatoes, you think of Idaho or Maine and when you think of those places, you think cold weather. I called the Ag center to see if they suggested just leaving well enough alone or trimming off the dead foliage. Answer, trim off the dead stuff.

Put two tomato plants into the main garden under the walls of water. I have plenty of reserves but wanted to get something going early. If these work, next year I’ll try something really bold and put some out the first of January. That means starting them mid November. Usually my head is deep in cabbage and not thinking tomatoes at that time so I’ll have to post a note to self.

The Egypt thing

One thing has surprised me about the revolution in Egypt – how many Egyptians speak American. I’m very used to seeing interviews in the Middle East where the person speaks very understandable English but it’s always British English. When they step up to the mic and speak American, it sets me back. It cracked me up to hear even the slang phrases and specifically regional American accents just popping out in normal conversation with the interviewers. Are these Americans just visiting Egypt? Nope, these were natives. I had a similar experience on my first trip to Germany in the Frankfurt airport. I needed to ask directions of someone and saw a black guy amongst the Euro’s so I walked up to him – assuming he was an American. Wrong, he spoke German and no English. It hit me immediately how stupid my assumption was but clearly my brain linked black,western dressed folks and Americans. Ditto listening to a Middle Easterner and half expecting a British accent. The other funny thing about it was that all of a sudden, I felt much better about the protesters. In my head, for a moment, they switched from Al Quaedas to ok folk who would do the right thing. My conclusion is that my internal racist is language based not color based.

And there were two other things that really impressed me about the Egyptians. One, they didn’t bomb and burn their own buildings and; two, after they were done rioting, they had a clean-up day to take care of the trash. Very civilized. Contrast that to the Iraqi’s etc where the most likely statement is a bombing – blowing up their own buildings and innocent people. Hell, we’ve got places in this country that still haven’t been fixed up since the rioting in the 60’s.

Back to cold again but my gut tells me winter is winding down for real. There was a chance for frost last night – according to the weather guy – so I covered the potatoes at the last minute for the second night in a row. Sure enough, it was white and frosty out this morning. But at the same time I’m still planting the summer stuff in the house. Put in the jalapeno and eggplant seeds today with a target of having them in the garden about mid April. So as of now, I have all the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant planned for the upcoming season planted in one form or the other. I’m actually going to put two tomato plants and maybe two bell peppers in the garden this week with the walls of water protection. The recommended date for this area is March 20 so I’ll be a month or so early. I’m assuming the guys who do the recommending don’t know about my walls of water. I confess to having a hard time controlling myself from jumping too far ahead and Nancy is getting anxious to have the gardening move from in the house to out in the yard “where it belongs”. I’m anticipating the sweet potato plants arriving at the end of this month and have their spot almost ready – a few remaining cabbages to be picked. Picked the last of the broccoli so that space is now available for whatever comes next.

Big ole radishes

Have I mentioned that this is the worst winter in Florida I can ever remember. Sure, it’s the coldest ever but it’s also the dreariest – like living in Portland or Seattle or Dublin. Certainly glad I have the garden and included several varieties that do well in cool, damp weather. When I check the garden out, I immediately head to those items, knowing they’re happy campers. The lettuce, swiss chard, and spinach are just glowing!! Nancy’s not a happy camper because I have quite a few things still in the house that by now should be spending most of the time outside – and they’re getting bigger and bigger.
For those of you who have never grown broccoli, it grows mostly the same as cauliflower with a large head forming in the middle of the plant. The big difference is that when you cut the cauliflower head, that’s it; no more cauliflower from that plant. With broccoli after you cut the head, it starts sprouting side shoots which are miniature broccoli heads. The picture (shot with the new camera) shows a bowl full of side shoots. A plant will put out these side shoots for weeks after harvesting the main head; basically until the plant flowers. So if you keep harvesting the side shoots, it will continue to produce. Once you let it go to flowers/seed – it’s done. I choose varieties that put out loads of side shoots.

The other picture is today’s harvest of spinach and radishes. The interesting thing is the size of the radishes. This is a variety called Parat and is a German radish. Even at this size, they’re quite mild. The spinach is a heritage variety dating back to the 1800’s called Bloomsdale Everlasting. You know anything this dark green has got to be good for you, doesn’t it?? Bloomsdale is the best ever – very tender and tasty. No wonder this variety has remained on the scene for so long. I only eat spinach raw, in salads, so the tenderness is a big deal to me. The salad tonight was spinach, radishes, and kohlrabi with Garlic Expression dressing. Spinach is another of those crops that I bent my pick on for the last couple of years but have finally broken the code. I never had trouble with spinach in Utah and have grown several varieties over the years so being unsuccessful here has been a big disappointment. Wish I had tried this variety before.

Killer spec lure

More storms – the kind with several inches of rain and tornado watches. The kind that has the weather radio chirping and all the TV stations switching from regular programming to street by street reporting on how hard the wind is blowing. The doppler radar was showing this purple blob heading directly toward us and the weather caster was actually saying it was heading directly for Pierson and Barberville and would hit at 2:41PM. That was at 2:38. The radar is so precise that when they zoomed in, our road and lake showed. Now that’s scary. The blob actually passed about 1/4 mile north of us but it certainly got our attention. We need the rain but…………. The situation I have is particularly irksome. The lake is so low I have had to move the boat out from under the dock and onto the shore which means that when it rains, the boat fills. Usually this time of year that’s a non issue but for whatever reason, even though it’s the dry season, it’s raining. I’ve added boat bailing to my exercise routine. What I need to do is rig some kind of a ramp to pull the boat up out of the water so I can just pull the plug and let it drain. I’ll do that tomorrow after bailing out this latest thousand gallons.

Nancy dragged me off to Walmart the other day. She needed some sewing stuff and wanted me to buy a top off card for the Virgin Mobile internet system and to get a memory stick for the new camera. Can you believe they sell a point and shoot camera that can’t be used until you purchase memory? I read in the camera manual that with 2 GB the camera will store 1200+ pictures. That’s more pictures than we’ve taken in the last 20 years combined. And I don’t ever remember having even 10 pictures stored in the camera before dumping them into the computer. Armed with that info, I was looking for maybe 100 MB. Turns out the least amount I could buy was 2GB. Kind of like buying a car without tires and then finding they only sell tires in 6 packs.

I also needed some small snap swivels to attach lures to my spec trolling gear. I have always just tied the lures onto the line without a swivel but the new, high tech line is so fine that it’s really hard for me to tie the knots needed. Especially when I’m out in the boat and it’s rocking a bit. I picked up the swivels and decided to kill a minute or two studying the lure selection. One caught my eye. It had my name and speckled perch written all over it. I’ve used a lure called a rattle-L-trap for bass but this was a micro sized, 1/8 oz version. The color was diamond shadow and it had one other distinction. It was $4.16 and all the other micro rattle-l-traps were $3.96. I knew it had to be the finish which made it look much more natural than the other ones so I went for the big buy. So far in two days, I’ve caught 3 spec’s and two large bream on this little darlin’ so I’m ok with the decision.

Critter attack

Strange one. Last night I went out fishing again about 5PM so I had a little over an hour before it got too dark. At about 6PM I caught my first spec of the day and decided to make just one more pass trolling. Got another one but by the time I got back to the dock it was way too dark to fool around trying to clean the fish so I just left them on the stringer dangling in the water off the back of the boat. It’s about a 3′ stringer so I knew the fish would be just fine and the plan was to go out again in the morning and add a few to the stringer. Got to the boat this morning and one of the fish was laying inside the boat, still attached to the stringer but badly mauled and half eaten. The other fish was still in the water on the stringer but also partially eaten. It’s hard for me to visualize a raccoon climbing into the boat, hauling up the stringer and working over the fish but I guess it’s possible. How would he have known there was a stringer of fish out the back of the boat? Maybe an otter cruising along the shoreline found them but my experience with otters is that they completely devour anything they catch and you are left with a pile of scales or other scant evidence of the feast. In any event, the remaining partial carcasses are in the garden, buried about a foot underneath a planned tomato patch.

Think I got a compliment the other day. An old cracker guy brought a load of firewood over to my neighbor’s house. George was gone so I helped the guy unload at the wood pile which is in the vicinity of the garden. We finished up and the guy said something about how nice George’s garden looked. I explained it was on George’s property but was actually my garden. He asked if I minded if he looked it over a little closer. He said this wasn’t a regular garden like people around here grow. Most fellers only grow one or two things – maybe a few tomato bushes and rows of beans or peas. Never heard of anybody growing celery or broccoli or cauliflower and had never even heard of some of the items growing. What do you do with them chard plants or that kohlrabi thing? Sure didn’t know you could grow lettuce in Florida. Then he opined I must spend all my time pulling weeds since there weren’t any growing. I explained that the reason there were no weeds was because I mulched over the top with compost. Never heard of that either.

It may not seem like a big deal but we ate our first garden picked beets the other day. For whatever reasons, I’ve been unable to grow a decent crop of beets here. In Utah, they were a non-issue – planted seeds and picked all the beets we could deal with. I’m guessing that the overall soil improvement efforts have made the difference – something was missing. Nancy’s bridge partner, the kohlrabi greens lady, also loves beet greens so it’s another 100% consumed crop, roots and leaves. It’s too late in the season to start a new patch but you can bet that next year we’ll be eating beets regularly.

Actually this winter has been 100% successful in that there were no crop failures – a few dead plants here and there – but no wipeouts. The significance of that is that we actually had the largest variety ever so it wouldn’t have been a big surprise for a few items to have not worked out especially since there were several items I had never tried before.

Good plumbing news

Maybe I spoke too soon on the spec’s. After a week of nice, warming weather I hit the lake again and caught 3 nice spec’s in a couple of hours. That’s not an enormous catch for sure but the first sign of life this season. The signs that this may be a delayed season are that I caught the fish out about 200′ from shore and they were all males. Usually this time of year the spec’s would be right up in the lily pads close to shore and most would be female.

Catching the fish also brought some really good news. A few weeks back during one of the freezes, I went down to the dock to check on things in general and found that the water pump was surging on and off. The pump lifts water from the lake up to the dock where I use it for general watering, cleaning fish, and whatever uses you can think of for water. It has a built in pressure switch so when you turn the faucet, the switch turns the pump on automatically. so when it was cycling I was afraid that the freeze had broken a pipe and it was leaking somewhere. I had installed the pump a couple years ago and had run the input plumbing out to near the end of the dock so that when the lake level was low, the input point would still be submerged. That also meant that a cracked pipe or joint could be way out underneath the dock and a crummy fix job in the cold water. I just pulled the plug on the pump and figured I’d wait until it warmed up before fixing it. So with a catch of fish to be cleaned, I couldn’t put off the plumbing task any longer. I plugged in the pump and was pleased that it didn’t start the surging. I opened the faucet and away it went, pumping it’s little heart out. No leaks, no breaks – working perfectly. I guess that somehow ice had frozen in the pipes which activated the pressure switch and when the ice melted, everything went back to normal. How lucky can I be?
I’ve heard that there are people who have never seen cauliflower growing in the garden. Wow. So here’s the before and after – before picking and after. The variety is called Snow Crown.

Had one that really cracked me up. I have this bug bite based allergy that recurs from time to time. If it really gets bad I have to get a shot and prescription for methyl prednisone. There’s also a prescription creme that will sometimes control it and let me avoid the shot and steroids. I got bit by something a week ago and it started attacking me from the inside a few days later. I had a tube of the creme left over from last year and started applying it. Seems to be helping but it’s a small tube and I needed to have the prescription refilled at the pharmacy. I called and was explaining this to the person who answered the phone. She was of the Mexican persuasion. She asked me if this was a riffle and I said no, it was a tube of creme. She asked again if it was riffle and I said – what’s a riffle? Turns out she was saying refill. Oh, that kind of riffle. After I hung up I started laughing till it brought tears to my eyes.