Power Outage

Had a line of severe storms pass through late afternoon yesterday. Lots of wind and about 1/2” of rain but nothing to worry about. Reports of power outages all over but we held up nicely. Then about 7PM or thereabouts, our lights flickered, I heard a big boom, and it was lights out. Clearly a transformer had bit the dust. It was fairly dark and I didn’t feel like starting messing with the generator in the dark with heavy rain and lightning popping all around. We broke out the battery lanterns and decided just to get a good night’s sleep about 10PM. The power company said it would be repaired by midnight. Got up about 7 AM with no power and a promise of noon for restoration. So I broke out the generator. We bought the generator several years ago and have never had to use it so this was it’s breakout moment. Cranked up on the first pull and just as planned, we had lights. About the only thing I keep powered off is the A/C, hot water heater, and stove. Nancy is not a totally happy camper but I’m lovin’ how all my preparations have played out exactly as planned. I’ll go out at noon and refill the fuel tank.

Speaking of power problems, just read an interesting thing relative to the Japanese power crisis. Turns out that power can’t be shared between Western Japan and Eastern Japan because of a historical quirk from the 1890’s. Western Japan decided to electrify using German equipment which is 50hz while Eastern Japan chose to go with American equipment, 60hz. To this day, that’s the situation so the systems are totally incompatible. When it rains, it pours.

People who know me well know that I am basically a hermit. I guess more like a hermit crab since I do crawl out of the shell occasionally. But I got something at the Apple Store that completes my hermitude. I bought an Ipod Nano, loaded it up with music and now I can be totally off in the ether. I picked the nano because it has a built in FM radio receiver which, it turns out, doesn’t work at the lake. I kind of expected that since my Bose radio doesn’t pick up any FM stations here either. My objective was to have it for the beach and I’m betting there I’ll have plenty of selections. So far it only took one call to Apple, which for me is pretty good. One bad thing is that the small size is tough for me with monster fingers and I also think it might be tough to read the screen without glasses or in a high light environment. I’ll have to deal with that. I can also tell this thing could become a money sink. I can see where a docking station with built in speakers and stuff like that will be eating away at my resistance. How ‘bout nicer noise canceling ear phones. I can already tell these button ear speakers are not going to be too comfortable for extended periods.

Wait till you hear this one though. I somehow got the music transferred from my laptop to the nano and listened for a while until I had something else to do. So I tried to turn it off. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t turn off. I had downloaded a rather large operating manual and, just like you’d expect, on page one it described how to turn it on and off. Trouble was it wasn’t turning off. So I’m thinking this is going to kill the battery. I decided to take the next step and call Applecare. First question – what version of the software are you running? The screen tells me I have version 1.0 and he says “oh, that’s your problem”. Turns out, get this, that in version 1.0 you can’t turn it off with the on-off button. He has the whatever’s to tell me they did this so you would keep the device plugged in. I asked why the manual was so clear about how to turn it off and he says, get this “the version of the manual I downloaded is for the latest software”. Correct answer, the programmers screwed up the code in version 1.0 so that the on-off function didn’t work. So I have to go online to download new software and chances are it will be one of those terra byte downloads that takes hours. I kind of expect this from Microsoft, but Apple?

And got another wakeup on Apple/computers. I mentioned that I had some sort of lock up problems that brought me to the Apple store. The support tech agreed and said it was most likely a software problem and would I like him to just reinstall the operating system. I told him to go for it. He did and when I got home and started playing with it, I found several new problems. When I called they said I had to update the software. Wait, they just installed it an hour or so ago. Oh, they don’t install the latest and greatest. They install some base set and you have to go online to get all the updates. That was a 1GB update. I mentioned this to Tom and he said that anytime you install new software, you have to go online to get it updated. Everybody knows that. I guess it’s now everyone since I was the only person who didn’t. In the end, I went to the Pierson library, connected via the wi-fi and in 30 minutes, was totally up to date and it works again like a world champ.

Life in the woods.

Had kind of an exciting weekend. We were invited to a party Saturday afternoon with some very old GD friends. Turns out I had way toooooo much party and was attacked by killer wine. I remember the early part of the event but it gets foggier toward the end. I guess there were some political discussions in which I got a bit “out of control”. I know better since all these folks are staunch Dem’s and I was probably the only regular guy there. So if any of you are reading this, which I kind of doubt, I’m sorry. I paid the price on Sunday with the worst hangover of my career. And that’s saying something. I pretty much stopped drinking except for an occasional beer or sip of wine so clearly I’ve lost my touch. Over that same time I’ve dropped a few pounds and maybe my new thinner body isn’t as good at soaking up the sauce as my fat one was. I wasn’t catching much slack from my bride but she did come up with a pill that allowed me to turn the corner by Sunday evening.

Then Sunday night we’re sitting in the living room watching TV and I got up to get something and spotted a snake crawling across the kitchen floor and into the living room. Now that gets your attention big time. I knew right away that it was a smallish corn snake – totally harmless unless you have a heart attack when you see it. It slithered underneath the couch where I was unable to deal with it. Of course Nancy is just a bit panicked and I’m not totally happy with the idea of having to live with a snake in the house, harmless or not. I also couldn’t lift the couch and deal with the snake at the same time. So Nancy called our neighbor and he grabbed the snake while I lifted the couch.

On Monday we decided to head to Costco and to the Apple Store in Altamonte to have my macbook checked out for some mysterious lock up problems. We decided to take the Mercury since we hadn’t driven it in a month or so. When I opened the trunk to load in a cooler, there was a big nest of ripped up kleenex, no doubt the work of a mouse. The actual source of the kleenex was in the back seat of the car so somehow the rodent got into a locked car, found the kleenex and then found a way into the trunk for the perfect building spot. Amazing. I removed the nest, which had no signs at all of ever being used, and replaced it with a trap so if he comes back and has a hankering for cheese, bam.

Never a dull moment living in the woods.

How to win my vote

Planted corn. I’ve not had much luck in the past but the conditions are quite a bit different than the last time I tried. With the expanded size, I can afford to use the space experimentally. The worst that can happen is what’s happened before – great plants but no decent corn. In that case, I have a large crop of compost to look forward to. The chipper does a great job of converting corn stalks to compost. I’m planting a new, super sweet, bi-color variety called Mirai. Would probably make more sense to plant an old standby but I’m going right for the big score. Also, I’m going to underplant the corn with winter squash. Supposedly that works just fine and the squash actually cools the roots a bit from the summer heat. I’m going to plant the same butternut variety that did so well last fall along with a spaghetti squash. So with that double use of the space, my chances of getting something should be enhanced.

Spent a full day working leaves. Our driveway is roughly 500′ long x 20′ wide counting the turn around circle. It’s tree lined, both sides for most of that with mostly oak but a few camphor trees, bay trees, pine trees and several unnamed species. I’m sure the number of trees adjacent or close to the driveway must be close to 100. And they are all constantly shedding leaves so you might expect that if you don’t keep on top of it, the leaves would pile up fairly deeply. About once a year I do a major leaf attack blowing them off the driveway and into the forest. I had planned to run a goodly number through the shop vac leaf mulcher but that would be a small piece of the total. Instead my neighbor came over with his John Deere tractor lawn mower with a dual bagger and volunteered to pick them up and give me the results for mulch. So I took the blower and steered the leaves to the center of the driveway where George then ran them over with the mower. His bags are each 25 gallons so a pass yielded 50 gallons of chopped leaves. We ended up with a dozen bags – an enormous pile of leaves. I used about half filling in the trenches between garden rows and the balance split between my two working mulch piles. I never stopped from 9AM until 3PM and was totally whipped by the time I hung it up. It’s the kind of job that you have to do non-stop because if you stop it’s really hard to get started again. Plus we almost always have a breeze so it only takes a few hours for the leaves to scatter again.

A bit of garden trivia – I planted corn seeds on Sunday PM and spotted a few sprouts Friday AM, really fast germination.

I’ve decided how I’m going to choose who to support for president in 2012. Whichever candidate pledges to eliminate ethanol subsidies gets my vote. There is nothing more stupid than ethanol subsidies – nothing,nada, zippo. Well wait, maybe subsidizing electric cars is a contender. If either of these made any sense at all, they wouldn’t need subsidies.

Spring Garden happening.

Great time to be a windmill salesman in Japan. What would it take, 10,000 windmills to replace a nuke plant? Not sure if you covered the whole country with solar cells, coast to coast, it would yield the power of one nuke – especially not at night. Sorry Al, but it’s back to coal. Maybe a hybrid where the coal generates the power and the windmills blow the pollution out to sea. Seems like most of the people already wear breathing filters so that shouldn’t be an issue.

Now in full spring garden mode. Pulled out all the PVC I used to hold the frost covers and started reconfiguring the pieces to become tomato cages and pole bean support structures. I did leave a few in the crop cover mode and have actually put covers over the first zucchini plants – not for temperature protection but rather insect protection. I’ve had significant squash losses in the past due to boring critters. Seems like if I can get them past the nematodes, the arial attackers finish the job. I’m using the same cover material that I use for frost protection which could be a mistake. Although it’s very light material, 0.5 oz per square yard, it’s not the lightest I could use. It will raise the temperature over the covered area by a couple of degrees which I’m hoping is not a big deal for the next month and will also cut the light transmission by about 13%. Saying that another way – the cloth has a light transmissivity of 87%. Usually for the next couple of months our sky is cloudless so I’m hoping the 13% attenuation is not going to cause problems. I could get lighter cloth with nearly zero heat buildup and 95% light transfer (0.4 oz per square yard) but I hate to buy more stuff to move and store when not in use. I’m going to put covers over several different plant types and see what happens. In the best case, the covered plants will thrive and produce phenomenal crops; in the worst case the covered plants will cook. I’ll also plant the same varieties and leave them uncovered for comparison purposes.

A friend of mine, a hot pepper fan, brought me seeds from what he proclaims to be the hottest pepper known to man. He wants me to try to grow plants from the seeds so I’m going to give it a go. Can’t guarantee the seeds will actually germinate and can’t guarantee that even if they do, the peppers will be reproductions of the parent plant but what the hell, may as well give it a shot. I have a nephew who is also into super hots so if these are successful, I’ll see that he has a full supply.

Had a nice birthday event at the lake yesterday – combined Tom and Tina. The highlights of the day (for me) were the ciappino and Tom catching a nice bass.

Doesn’t it seem like the winner of the TV show “Biggest Loser” should be the person who loses the least amount of weight?

Azalea season

Have to repeat a quote cuz Martha sent from the Gardening editor of the LA Times – “good news for gardeners. Setting the clocks ahead an hour gives the vegetables in your garden another hour of sunshine” or words to that affect. Wow! Wish I had thought of that. I could have set the clocks ahead 2-3 hours last December and had much faster growth than actually happened.
This is a nice time of year to be here. Near perfect weather, 80/60, low humidity, citrus blossoms and azaleas. The picture is one of our dozen or so azalea bushes scattered around the property. We planted them all about 8 years ago so they are growing massively. It’ll be like this for a few weeks. I’m now in full spring/summer modus operandi. Hit the lake for an hour or so first thing in the morning, come back and play garden for a hew hours, then pack up the XM and the WSJ and head for the dock. The difference between spring and summer is that I’m still wearing long pants and shoes now but in a month or so, that will be bathing suit and flip flops.

I haven’t much used the poke boat since last October. At that point I switched from fishing for bass to fishing for spec’s which is trolling endeavor using the jon boat with electric trolling motor. Now I’m back in the poke boat which is a cross between a kayak and a canoe, powered by yours truly with a double bladed paddle. Man do I know it. I guess I haven’t used those paddling muscles for almost 6 months and they are letting me know I ignored them. Also, you sit directly on the bottom of the boat as opposed to on a seat so your legs are stretched out in front of you. Sounds uncomfortable – because it is – and it puts extra stress on the back muscles. So between the shoulders and the back, I’m having to break in a whole new set of unused muscles. It’s worth it because you fish so quietly and you can position the boat with such precision. One real negative is that since the boat is so maneuverable, that when you catch a fish, it can tow you around easily. Had an experience with that the other day that, in retrospect, is funny – but not so much at the time. I went by this historically good fishing area off a neighbor’s lawn about 30′ offshore. A large dog ran down to the water’s edge and threatened to tear me to pieces if he could only get out to the boat. It was a cross between a rotty and an elephant with a real nasty bark. I felt quite confident that if he started out in the water, I would have no trouble paddling away or wacking him with the paddle. Advantage me. I cast in close to shore and bam, hooked a nice bass. Problem was that the bass started pulling me in to shore where rover was licking his chops and going insane at the thought of chomping on me. Advantage Rover. Luckily for me, the fish threw the hook and I was able to paddle my way out of harms way.

Still too cool

So much for nuclear power. I guess since coal is no longer correct and we’ve quit drilling for oil and gas, up go the windmills. Uh huh.

I’ll be a bachelor again for a couple of days. Tom is taking Nancy to see some pre-season baseball down south. My plan is to fish my little heart out. It’s going to be a bit cool but nice and sunny. This is the bedding season for largemouth so I’ll probably be into some serious action. I got one earlier today that was between 5 an 7 pounds with a big, egg laden belly. Luckily for me, she decided to make a run for deeper water and towed the poke boat away from the shore. Had she gone the other way into the lily pads, no doubt I’d have lost the fish. This is the biggest one I’ve landed this season – lost some that I know were quite a bit bigger.

The gurus say that in our zone the date of the last frost is March 20. But it’s been a bit warmer than usual for the past 3-4 weeks so seemed to me like the danger was past. Nope. Looks like some chance of frost for the next 3 nights so I’m covering up all the tender stuff (not too much right now) and bringing in the seedlings I’ve been hardening off on the porch. I’m really not too worried about the garden but would hate to see the young foliage on the citrus trees to get hit.

I noticed some blossoms on one tomato plant and on a couple of the Yukon Golds today. That surprises me because those particular potatoes were the last planted, about 6 weeks ago, and I wouldn’t have expected to see blossoms for at least another 6 weeks and more likely 10 weeks. What also surprised me was that the plants with the blossoms are among the last planted. Those particular plants had not germinated at the time of the cold snap in early February so maybe the earlier ones were set back when the foliage was frost burned. I have no idea what the (time) relationship is between blossoms and tubers forming underground.

I now have a dozen tomato plants in the garden comprising three varieties. You might wonder why anyone would need a dozen plants. Well the truth is that last year I started a dozen and ended up with three. Between critters and weather, I haven’t had a good track record for producing tomatoes. I learned plenty of tricks along the way – like putting egg shells in the hole before planting – but so far the results would not lead you to believe the farmer knows what he’s doing. This year will be different. One reason I believe that to be true is that the plants I put in last September grew beautifully and were loaded with fruit when the early freeze hit and wiped me out. If it had been a normal year, we’d have had a record harvest. Another precaution I’m taking this year is to distribute the plants all around the garden rather than co-locating them. My theory is that if something nails one plant, the spatial differences could keep it from happening to others. Also the soil is not homogenous so by spreading them around, if the conditions aren’t optimum in one location, then another will likely be totally different. Here’s the thing – people expect you to be able to grow tomatoes. They are wowed with Brussels and chinese cabbage but if you can’t produce tomatoes, you’re bush league. If you only have space to grow one plant, it has to be a tomato plant. That may be changing a little because, for whatever reason, everybody I know that tries to garden is bending their pick on tomatoes and have been for the past few years.

Bike week

You’ve always known that having bamboo shoots rammed up your fingernails would be very painful. Trust me, it is.

Caught a big reprieve in the garden. I had mentioned setting aside a sizable chunk of garden space for sweet potatoes which I anticipated to arrive the end of February. I gave it until the second week of March then called to check on the delivery and learned that it was really April 25, not Feb 25 as they’d told me a few months back. That frees up plenty of space for my cucumbers and squash so I can get those seeds going now. I have enough space for the potatoes when they arrive where I now have cabbage and cauliflower that are about 6 weeks away from being ready – so it all dovetails nicely. I also like it to have found another crop that does well in the heat – the sweets. At least they told me they do well in the heat. It’s a 100 day crop which means a harvest in August. Usually in August everything is history due to the heat and humidity so now we can add this crop to the okra, peppers, eggplant, and cherry tomatoes – the only others I’ve found that can handle August. Now all that’s needed is a gardener that can handle August.

The bass fishing is turning on pretty good. I go out for an hour or so a couple times a day, when the spirit moves me, and have routinely been picking up three or four each time. Mostly they’re smallish but an occasional monster keeps my attention. I’m fishing exclusively out of the poke boat and sticking with top water plunking, my favorite way to fish. If I were purely fishing for meat or if they were just not hitting the top, I’d be pitching 7” red shad plastic worms. That’s not as much fun but, time and time again, proves to be the most productive way for this lake.

I’d love to be over the beach right now surf fishing but that’s off limits. Starting in early Feb, Daytona and most beach areas are banged hard with tourists. First it’s the Speed Week crowd, followed, almost without break, by the Bike Week crowd, which actually overlaps with Spring Break. Spring Break is the worst because it’s not a fixed event but generally fills the season from March on into mid April. Each of these events brings in upwards of 500,000 people and they are either filling the restaurants and bars or crowding the roads and beaches.

Garden space issues

Attended Olivia’s Confirmation on Monday so she is now an official Catholic. Came off without a hitch. We all did Happy Hour at Fish Bonz to prepare ourselves. That was a nice experience because it was set on a large veranda and consisted of a nice menu of appetizers, mostly seafood based, and a good selection of adult beverages. At Tom’s recommendation I tried a draft beer named “Real Good Red”. True to it’s name, it was Real Good. There were 6 of us so the appetizer orders included a nice sampling of goodies such as as raw oysters, fried frog legs, calamari, shrimp cocktails, and sushi. Personally I enjoyed that much more than a sit down dinner inside the restaurant.

I’m officially out of space in the garden. Considering that I added about 30% growing space compared to this time last year, I would not have guessed I’d face this situation. Most of the problem comes from a decision to plant more space consuming varieties this year. For example I’ve planted twice as many potatoes this year based on success with a small, experimental patch last year. And I’ve decided to try corn again, which uses almost 200SF. Putting in 12 sweet potato plants, the smallest number you can purchase, uses 90 SF. When I ordered them I didn’t research the spacing requirements. Last year I made a big mistake by planting eggplants too close together so correcting that, costs more space. The other cause of my current problem is that the uber cold winter slowed the growth of many of the winter crops and those are a month away from finishing off whereas my fall planning had them over and done just about now. I’m just now starting to pick Brussels sprouts and my plan had them just about done. Ditto peas. March is going to be a big, big month in terms of harvesting.
The pictures will give you an idea of what’s going in terms of space consumption. If you’ve wondered about the potatoes, they’re the crop on the extreme right in the picture labeled full garden 2. Obviously they’ve fully recovered from the frost bite. A bit of potato trivia – the Yukon Golds are about twice the size of the reds even though they were planted later. The plants are about 18” tall so far and I really have no idea just how large they’ll get.

Thought you might want to see some of the exotic lettuce we’re growing. The green variety with the flashes of red is called Flashy Butter Oak. Behind that is a red leaf variety, Danyelle, and behind that is a butter crunch called Sylvesta. They taste better than they look, if you can imagine that.
Politics – The return of the Carter administration is now in full bloom. Domestic oil drilling has been stopped, the middle east is blowing up, we’re converting food (corn) to fuel instead of drilling for it. Sound familiar? So where does it go – history says gas prices blow up along with food prices and interest rates climb sharply – tanking the economy. I guess the only good news is that Carter was a one term Pres and we got Reagan after that. Just a shame we have to be put through these history repeats.

An interesting memorial party

The next 3-4 weeks are very critical to the citrus trees in terms of potential frost damage. All the trees are putting on new growth and blossoms so they’re at the tenderest stage. The current 7 day forecasts keep us way above the frost range so it’s looking positive. Last year we had a late frost that banged the satsuma tree particularly hard and it’s operated way short of leaves all year. It did ok in the fruit department but looked weird with oranges hanging on bald looking branches.

Went to another – third since the start of 2011 – memorial for an old friend. This one was remarkable. First the honoree was a guy I went to high school with. We were not close friends in high school and then I never saw or thought about him until two years ago. At that point we learned in a casual conversation that he was the brother in law of friends of ours, the Richberg’s. We actual met again 2 years ago at the Richberg’s 50th wedding anniversary. We had a couple of drinks and I expected we would never see each other again. Last week Joe Richberg contacted us and said Sam had passed and that there would be a celebration at his house in Indiatlantic and that he and Joan would be there if we wanted to get together. Joey and Mark are remodeling a new house about 10 miles away and we wanted to see how that was going so decided just to make a day of it.

We found the place with no problem and I was surprised at the number of cars there. The neighborhood was a typical ‘50-’60’s, concrete block. jalousie window, beach neighborhood Houses in the 1400SF size range on 75‘x100′ lots a block or so from the beach. I was totally blown away when I entered through the garage that had been remodeled into a bar. Not just a typical, in house bar, but one that looked like you had stepped into a bar at an older B&B in Key West. Beautiful, old wood construction and seashore, deep sea kind of decor. Lot’s of noise, a friendly bartender and Jimmy Buffet background music. Picked up a drink and headed into the house. Every bit of the house was tropical colors and decor – all first class. He had added on a large screened back porch which had a raffia like fringe to make the whole thing feel like being inside a tiki hut. Several round, tall bar tables were located around so you had the impression you were at a beach bar – deep sea diving kinds of equipment for decor. All very classy. Then you went outside where he had built a raised deck with a sunken hot tub. This deck was maybe 30′ x 30′ with beach tables and chairs spotted around. One side of the deck was a wood working shop where he built all the stuff; the house itself was one boundary and an 8‘ wooden fence finished it off. Between the back of the screened porch and the property line – a strip about 50′ x 20′ – contained one huge bird of paradise plant. Envision a paradise plant that was 50′ tall x 30′ long x 10′ deep. Not a blade of grass or soil anywhere in the yard. It was all party area. So from the moment you entered the house you were transported into a tropical party environment. I was ready to move in. You could never have guessed from the simple neighborhood and the road exterior of the house what you were entering. And the party goers were perfect casting. All manner of dress – nothing formal but any manner of beach denizen garb. Old folks like us to drop dead, knock out chickies and everything in between.

As I said at the beginning, I really didn’t know this guy at all, but seeing the place he built and the friends he had – his personality just leapt out at you and I really hate it that I didn’t get to know him again before he passed on.