Bigeloil to the rescue

Had a week of hard manual labor. George burns firewood during the winter – lots and lots of firewood. Two substantial trees came down in the storm a week or so back – substantial means 80′ size oaks. Working about 4 hours a day, we cut, split and stacked for two days. We moved on to 2 dead bay trees on my property and 2 dead jack oaks on George’s – another day of cutting, splitting, and stacking. The next two days were spent at Rick’s house shoveling dirt. Rick had a depression in his back yard that had grown substantially since he bought the place and it needed filling. He bought a load of fill dirt, that would be 18 yards of fill. The fill was dumped on the driveway in front of his house, about 100′ from the depression, so the task was to move the mountain of dirt – visualize a pile of dirt 18′ long, 18′ wide and 6′ high. George has a small garden tractor so we attacked the task with two of us filling 25 gallon barrels while the other guy hauled it to the back, dumped and spread it. We worked two four hour days on the job before calling it quits and leaving Rick with about 25% of the dirt remaining. It didn’t make sense to drive back to his house for that small amount that he could knock off in a couple hours over a few days himself. Besides, we wanted to be sure he never, ever bought another load of dirt. On the last day of the week from hell, I cut and chipped a new load of compost clippings. That took the better part of a day and yielded another 3 or 4 cubic yards to start the pile. The surprise to me is that I was fairly sure I would have trouble moving (my body) after all that but just a few aches and no pains. Thank you Bigeloil.

Trying a slightly different technique on the newest compost pile. I started with a 6” layer of shredded oak leaves then a thin layer of wood ash from the burn pile; then a foot thick layer of shredded palmetto fronds with a veneer of wood ash again. Repeated the leaves, palm fronds and wood ash several times and near the top, a layer of old celery plants, well past their prime. From this point on, all garden and kitchen waste will go onto this new pile which I’ll turn twice a week to keep it aerated and cooking. In the mean time, the “old” pile is officially shut down for new material and will just do the slow cook thing for the next couple of months, also turned twice a week. I’m thinking July for spreading that pile. What I’m hoping is that the layering technique will speed the process and that the new pile is ready for use in October for the winter garden. I shaved a month off the process already by clipping off the woody stem of the palm fronds before shredding and then actually double shredding the fronds. I use the stems for training peas in the winter or burn for the ash in the summer. Nothing goes to waste around here.

Thought I’d found a solution to the armadillo problem. I found an expert online who recommended moth balls so I spread a box in the general vicinity of the sweet potatoes where the damage was being done. I think the digging the next day was less intense but no question, the patch was visited overnight. So much for expert advice. My new solution is to clip some of the potato vines and try to root the cuttings to plant in another garden area. I was going to experiment with this approach anyway but now it may be essential. I’m hoping the rooted cuttings do the trick because I wanted to spread the crop over a larger period anyway. I think the plants can deal with the heat so it would be much better if we could harvest on a regular, extended basis rather than all at once. If it works, should be able to go well into November before it gets too cold. Sweets for Thanksgiving from the garden.

Listening to the news of the trial, the defense attorney seems to be making a big deal about the fact that he had a roll of duct tape in the garage and used it on a gas can that had lost it’s vent cap. Is there anyone in the galaxy that doesn’t have a roll of duct tape on hand for instant repairs? A hammer, duct tape, and WD40 – the essential home repair kit.

Wasp attack

The corn is now approaching 7′ tall and the ground underneath is loaded with small to medium size butternuts. The first harvesting is scheduled for 7/19 but I think it may happen quite a bit sooner. Either that or there are going to be some real monsters. Somewhere in the maze there may also be spaghetti squash growing but it’s all too thick to really get a good look. And I walked under the bean trellis and found dozens of new green beans about 4” long so they must have formed earlier this week. Like everything else, they grow like wildfire so we’ll be picking for the table in a week or so and that will continue for a couple of months.

As well as the garden is growing, it’s not perfect. I know that’s hard to believe but interestingly, there are some spots that must still have too much of the old soil. Those spots are sure easy to see, I guess partly because they are so few and far between. Last year I had a few good spots; this year a few bad spots. The good news is that these spots will be easily corrected in a couple of months as the plants growing there finish up; the other good news is that I don’t know what we’d do with all the veggies if we were operating at 100%. Forgetting which particular item is coming out of the garden, I estimate at least 10 pounds of goodies are being harvested daily. Daily! And that doesn’t include what George and Barbara are picking. We’ve got all the makin’s for another batch of spaghetti sauce, less than a week after cooking up 16 quarts. I might add, the best sauce ever. About half the tomatoes are San Marzano’s and the difference in the taste and texture is incredible. The next batch cooking project has to be loaves and loaves of zucchini bread. The big difference between summer veggies and winter veggies is that the summer stuff doesn’t keep. You can pick a cabbage and cook it a month later – not true with summer squash, tomatoes, etc.

Had a wasp event the day after Nancy came home. A few days prior to that a wasp came in the house. We reached an agreement that I wouldn’t bother him if he would leave me alone. I figured he would be smart enough to eventually go out when had a door open; if not, he’d starve to death in a few days. Nancy came home and wasn’t ok with the treaty. The wasp was noticeably slower and I decided to sneak up behind him, snatch him by the wings and then release it outside. I’ve done that before so it’s not as stupid as it sounds. Yes it is. I did snatch him and was about halfway to the door when he twisted around somehow and banged me on the finger. I put an ice cube on it quickly to numb the area and then Nancy mixed up a batch of baking soda paste which she said would help. The tip of my finger swelled and went numb; then the whole finger, and then half the hand. I popped a benadryl and just let it throb itself out. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up, as it sometimes does, with me at the doctor’s getting a shot, a prescription for methyl prednisone, and a steroid creme to beat the itching that inevitably follows.

damn armadillos

Have a new experiment planned for the garden in a few weeks. I mentioned that the corn is underplanted with butternut squash. That’s nothing original with me and goes back to American Indians hundreds of years ago. The theory behind it is that the corn shades the squash from intense summer sun and the squash leaves shade the roots of the corn to keep them cooler and lessen evaporation. Makes sense to me. So I’m going to try it with Okra and bush beans. Okra is similar to corn in that it grows tall on a stalk. They’re planted about a 12-18” apart leaving plenty of under space for planting some lower growing veggie such as bush beans. I’ve had problems in the past planting bush beans too late in the season where the sun cooks them but underneath okra plants, maybe they’ll do better. Worth a try. And now I understand that if a big storm blows over the okra………………… That’s assuming that the Brussels ever give it up so I can pull them and plant the okra. I can’t believe that in the middle of May, these guys are still thriving and putting out fruit. I planted them last November.

Well the pine needle armadillo repellant doesn’t work. It seemed to have held them off for a week but I guess as they turned from fresh green needles to brown dry needles, the odor or something lessened. They got in and churned up the sweet potatoes again. I went on line to find an armadillo expert and found one who recommended moth balls. So I guess that’s the next method I’ll try, assuming you can still buy moth balls. Despite the rooting around, the sweets seem to be thriving. Enough so that I decided to try trimming a couple of the vines to make new starts. If that works, I should have all the sweet potatoes I will ever need – every now and then clip off a few, root them, and harvest when ready. A virtual perpetual motion machine.

I was right on the verge of ordering 1000 Alabama Jumpers (worms) but with the return of the armored marauders, I decided to hold off and try to solve that problem first. Doesn’t make sense to spend $80 to feed that herd. I have no doubt that the soil is rich enough to support them but have big time reservations about the armadillos. To the best of my knowledge they are ant eaters but they grub around the garden at night big time and if they get a taste for the jumpers, they could be in big trouble. The area they return to is the only area of the garden that I know had a worm population. They weren’t big, juicy earth worms but very small compost worms that somehow developed in the compost pile and were transferred to the garden by me. I think it’s reasonable to assume that’s what attracts the pests.

Lots and lots of veggies

This is the first/most successful tomato crop I’ve had in Florida. Great looking, great tasting, and lots of them. In the past I’ve gotten a few but nothing ever lived up to expectations. Ditto the summer squash on all counts. I used previous seasons to decide how many to plant so now it’s becoming overwhelming. Nancy just got home from Salt Lake so the conversion of tomato to spaghetti sauce has started. I had enough tomatoes ready to generate two eight quart pots of sauce. Just in time since I was completely out of space – full fridge, full window sills, and half the counter space. The sauce also consumes loads of fresh basil and oregano. I suspect we’ll be able to repeat the sauce making at least 3 times before the tomatoes finally give it up. All of the varieties are indeterminate, which in tomato talk, means they continuously produce fruit. That contrasts to varieties that are determinate – all the fruit ripens at the same time and then the plant gives it up.
The picture provides a look at a typical morning harvest. The tomatoes are a variety called Whopper; the cucumber, Sweet Success; the yellow squash, Cougar; and the light green squash, Cavili. The seeds come from 4 different seed suppliers. Along the way I’ve sifted through many varieties and these have come to the top. What I don’t know is whether the varieties I’ve weeded out would be good performers now that the soil problems have been corrected. I’m thinking that might be the case because I’m having 100% kind of success this year with both new and old varieties and, in the past, there’s always been a few drop outs. One type of squash that I’ve had zero success with and dropped from my “try it” list is Acorn squash. Now I’m sorry I didn’t put in a plant or two. It’s way too late in the season to start any now – even if I had the space.

Other new goings on include picking the first jalapeno, spotting the first baby eggplants and the arrival of copious blossoms on both the green and yellow pole beans. Jack and his beanstalks have nothing on me.

Yellow Fly Traps

One thing we know for sure – Nancy generates all the trash in this household. When she’s here, I carry out one full bag of trash every day; gone and I haven’t filled even one bag.

Made the first new generation yellow fly trap. The original design worked insofar as nabbing yellow flies but it was a real pain to make and even more troublesome keeping it in place all summer. A few years back, Flagler County was offering free yellow fly trap kits so we gave it a try. The kit consisted of a zip lock baggie full of sticky, gooey, nasty stuff and a set of instructions for use. The instructions were to get a 20” beach ball, paint it black, spread the nasty goop all over the painted ball and then hang the finished product in the infested area. It worked like the old flypaper traps, the yellow flies attracted to anything black. Sounds simple enough but turns out hanging onto a 20” beach ball while spreading the nastiest, stickiest mess you have ever met is not something you want to do. In a few seconds you have the axel grease like glue on your arms, clothes, and on any surface you happen to touch. Then trying to hang the orb is not simple because if you hang it by the air input port, it tends to pull out and deflate the ball. I tried to construct a monofilament harness with some success but after a couple weeks in the environment, more than half of the harnesses let the ball slip out. The good news is that if you got one built and hung, it really did catch the flies. Yellow fly season is only about 3 months but life is better with the traps than without, that’s for sure.

This year I decided to abandon the beach balls with the hope that the round shape had nothing to do with the trap’s effectiveness. I got a few gallon jugs, like milk or soap jugs, filled them about half full of water and painted them black. The jugs have built in handles and flat bottoms so they are much easier to handle than the beach balls. I put the water in so that they would flop around less when hanging. I got one of those ubiquitous plastic shopping bags and used it as a glove to spread the glue. The glue is a commercially available product named Tanglefoot. A 15 oz tub cost $10 delivered and that’s enough to do at least a half dozen traps so there’s not much financial exposure on this. The construction went well and I ended up with no glue anywhere on my clothes or body. I hung it in an area that has been a favorite of yellow flies in past years. So far the only flies I’ve encountered were at my neighbors house but if history serves, I’ll have them soon and keep a close tab on the new trap. Assuming it works, I’ll construct 3 more and hang them down at the dock. Getting a handle on country living.

Cucumbers, corn, and pine needles

Check out the cucumber. Is that a beauty or what? I grow lots of varieties but this particular variety, Sweet Success, is consistently the best performer. Even at that size, it is almost seedless and deliciously crisp.
I mentioned that the freak storm we had last week flattened the corn crop. I was all but certain it was history since I have never seen corn growing horizontally. But for some reason I hesitated just yanking it. Believe it or not, four days later it had almost fully restored itself back to vertical; No kidding, after six days it looks like nothing ever happened. I’ve always known that plants track the sunlight but never expected the four foot stalks to be capable of overcoming gravity in such a fashion. It’s not that the tips turned vertical, the entire plants returned to vertical. Amazing. Ears are starting to form, two per stalk, so I remain optimistic that perhaps, for the first time, we’ll get a decent crop.

The other interesting fall out from the storm is a way to ward off the armadillos. For a few weeks prior to the storm, the garden was raided on a nightly basis by a herd of armadillos who focused their attention on the sweet potato patch. Every morning I’d go out and replant what they had rooted up and shake my fist in the direction of the jungle where I know they were watching. The day after the storm I was cleaning up and came across a large branch down from a pine tree loaded with green pine needles. Pine needles are loaded with oil and I wondered if maybe laying these on the ground around the sweets would deter the armored raiders. It seems to have worked – no armadillos since the pine needle protection. Not sure if it’s the texture of the needles or the smell but for now, a fix. They’ll probably lose the green and texture in a couple of weeks so it will be interesting to see if they keep the effectiveness.

Sudoku Program

I’ve been moaning and groaning for some rain – but not all at once and not as part of a giant storm. One popped up the other night about 6PM that was as fierce as any hurricane I’ve experienced. Two inches of rain, mostly horizontal, in an hour. It took half a day to clean up the aftermath, mostly hauling dead branches, chain saw sized branches, over to the burn pile. And repairing and rehanging the sun shade on the dock. We lost power for a couple of hours but for some strange reason, not until an hour after the storm had passed and the skies had cleared. But the big casualty, just as I expected, was the corn. It’s mostly horizontal now. That’s the best reason yet to underplant it with squash – when the corn blows over, there’s still a crop growing.

The other personal impact is that two large trees were blown over which gets my neighbor salivating about the prospects for firewood. We spent a full day with chain saws and bent backs cutting, splitting and relocating enough firewood to take care of the next couple of years. Glad I have the Bigeloil. Learned something interesting in the process. The trees that fell are Water Oaks. I always thought they were called water oaks because they grew near the water. Wrong, they are full of water internally. When you cut them into logs, water drips out in substantial quantities – water, not sap. That also makes them much heavier than you would ever expect.

Beginning to think I made a big mistake. I downloaded a free Sudoku app from the i-tunes store. I figured I could totally satiate my need to do the puzzles and save the cost of the books. It started out frustrating, learning the mechanics of the program, but after a couple of weeks bulbs starting going off in my head and I started to appreciate the program. I had calibrated myself as a fairly good player since I only bought super hard puzzle books and could manage to do about 75% of those. Some of the puzzles were labeled demonic or maniacal; extremely challenging, nearly impossible. But somehow I managed to maintain my 75% average. This free program has similar rankings but after you complete a puzzle, it gives you a statistical comparison regarding your performance. That’s where the problem comes in. I now have the mechanics down pretty good but still my results are usually that I’m better than 15% of the other people. That means 85% are faster. Not sure if that’s 85% in the world, US, Universe, Barberville or what but it’s still bothersome that I’m in the bottom 15%. When I use the books, I relegate myself to the top 85%. It doesn’t seem to matter if I do puzzles labeled simple or intricate or difficult – I’m still only at 15% with an occasional jump. I hit the top 62% one time. Not sure what the rest of the world was doing on that one but it seemed to me to be about the same as the other puzzles. If there was a way to shut off the comparison, I’d do it. It seems like it’s putting on an extra level of pressure I don’t need. I want to be 100% happy completing a puzzle, not 15% happy/85% bummed out.

Garden pic’s

Thought it was time for a few garden pic’s to give some visuals to the words that say it’s doing so well. It’s hard to get it all into one pic to scope the overall garden so I selected a few representative shots. In case you’re wondering, the marigolds are a variety named Inca. One thing that should come across well is that we’re producing far more than one family can handle from a table standpoint.

Also threw in a picture of the compost pile. That’s the secret to the health and productivity of the current crop – the starting point for it all and the final resting place for everything that doesn’t end up on the table. To give you a calibration point, I estimate that pile is 4-5 cubic yards and in a year, six loads of that size make their way from the pile back into the garden. So you can’t equate this level of composting with carrying your table waste and coffee grounds in a little bucket out to a pile in the back yard. I estimate that 2/3 of the pile originates with yard clippings, predominately palmetto fronds; the balance from miscellaneous weeds and residual from the vegetable harvesting. For example, there are roughly 100 corn plants from which we’ll get 150+ ears of corn – if it all goes according to plant. It’s 100% for sure that the compost pile will get 100 corn stalks run through the shredder and however many corn cobs as makes it to our kitchen.


You might, incorrectly, guess that the biggest change around here when Nancy leaves is the quality of the food. You’d be wrong because she diligently focuses on having plenty of meals in reserve for when she’s away. Trust me, I’ll eat as much as I can and there will still be plenty left when she gets back. No, the biggest change is that I can walk in and around the house with no complaints about what my shoes may be dropping on the floor. In some homes you hear that money or kid problems are the biggest source of problems between a husband and wife. Here it’s a floor thing. Nancy is able to spot some debris on the floor and instantly peg it to my shoes. I guess her shoes have been coated with something that keeps yard stuff from adhering to them. If we ever have to build another house, I’m standing my ground for dirt floors. No tile, no hardwood, and for sure, no carpeting.

Idol has officially gone off the tracks. The last of the “winners” was eliminated last night. The remaining three are talented and attractive but nothing special. Would love to see the demographics on the voters to see just what kind of weird pattern emerges. I’m guessing it’s heavily biased towards tiny boppers from the south.

Bad start to the morning. Went out to get the paper and found that something had gotten into the garbage and spread it around the driveway. My trash container is one of those extra large, automated pick-up kinds so nothing small is going to knock it over. I immediately think of bears and I guess that’s possible. My neighbor, May, has a porch on her mobile home where she has several large potted plants. They were knocked off the porch. One bit of luck was that I had cleaned the grill and had a can of drippings plus about 3 months worth of grill scrapings inside a zip lock bag. That was still in the container and not on the driveway. That would have been a real mess to deal with.

The feared and dreaded yellow flies made their first appearances yesterday. They are up at George’s but will be over here in a few days. For some reason, they’re always worse at his place. I ordered a couple tubs of Tanglefoot to make the sticky black ball fly traps that work so well and have a few tricks up my sleeve to make them more effective this year. Unless the lake comes up a few feet, they won’t be much of an issue this year because no one will be hanging out at the lake.

Kudos to the back door handle on the Toyota. It works so well that it should be patented before somebody from Toyota steals the design. True it looks a little weird but once you operate it, you wonder why the car companies didn’t think about it years ago. If it wasn’t so hard to get the doors apart and back together again, I might consider doing all the handles that same way.

Car problem

Right after I dropped Nancy off at the airport, tragedy struck. I had driven straight from the airport to Lowes but when I went to open the car door, the handle assembly broke and a spring came flying out. Plastic will only last so long I guess. On a regular American car, this would not be a big deal but I’m dealing with one of these foreign models which means the regular people screw drivers don’t work and the replacement parts are close to the cost of a new car. What I do think is possible is that the back door handle assembly is the same as the front door assembly. Who needs an indoor handle on a back door? My mechanic neighbor will jump all over this. It could be years before Nancy ever notices that there’s no handle on the back door; maybe never.

The other thing that happened coincident with Nancy hitting the road is that one of her showiest orchards bloomed and Barbara’s staghorn fern did also. With respect to the fern, I had no idea they even bloomed. She said she has only known them to bloom at night and by the next day the bloom has fallen off. So this is a rare event to catch. And I don’t ever remember this particular orchid blooming. I think it’s one she got when it wasn’t blooming so we never knew what it would look like.

Follow-up – The door is fixed. The back door solution came out better than I had expected when George came up with an idea to make a wire hook to open the back door. It has an agricultural look to it but is functional. It took us a couple of hours and we broke a couple more plastic parts as the task progressed but in the end, all things considered, I’m happy with it. Also in the follow up dept, turns out the bloom coming out of the staghorn was not really part of the staghorn. George said that they had mixed in a piece of Jerusalem cactus – personally I think it’s a night blooming cereus – and that’s what was blooming.