O’brians is History

Surprise from Florida – Herman Caine. I’ve been hearing him for quite some time on talk radio – a frequent guest or fill in host for Neil Bortz – and always liked his style and ideas. In fact, we used to eat at the Godfather’s pizza place in Bountiful so if we voted for him with out pizza $$……………… I wonder if our discovery of grilled gourmet pizza is a sign.

We went up to Gainesville over the weekend to celebrate Simon’s birthday. His dorm setup is quite a bit nicer than last year and much more conducive to studying. That clears away an avenue of excuses he had last year. Sounds like classes are going well and he seems to be actually enjoying a couple of them. He’s also applied for a job on a computer help desk and at an upcoming music festival so he’s busy, busy, busy. Sounds like the next time he’ll actually make it back home will be Thanksgiving.

Furnished the green house, moving things from the screened porch which made Nancy happy. At first glance, it seemed like plenty of space but by the time I had it set up, it’s a bit small but adequate. In terms of flats, there’s space to handle 8-10 flats and I really can’t imagine having more than that going at any one time – 10 flats is 180 plants. I made a 5’x2′ table using a couple of saw horses and a piece of plywood and moved a potting bench I’ve had for years from the screen porch into the greenhouse. It doesn’t show in the pictures but there’s a tub of potting soil, 2 cubic feet, tucked away between the table and the potting bench.
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Probably, but not for sure, got some bad news Sunday. Our closest, good breakfast restaurant closed down. We hadn’t driven by O’brian’s in a few months but passed it on our way to Gainesville. There was a big sign saying “coming soon, The Swamp Shack”. The name, and that only, makes me think this is going to be more a juke joint than a ham and egg heaven. Probably live music on the weekends by Astor’s own Swamp Boogers and Karaoke the rest of the week – flashing Bud Lite signs. An occasional shooting in the parking lot. They have a web site, swampshackfla.com, but all that says is “coming soon” and words like unique experience. I don’t think you’d use those words for a breakfast/lunch diner. The next closest place, about 15 miles from us, is Big Rig, an old truck stop, which is almost as good food wise, but doesn’t have the ambiance O’brian’s had. I can’t imagine they closed for lack of business since it was pretty well jammed for lunch and breakfast all the time. Probably a lease problem, a tax problem, or some other non-customer related issues.
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Interested to see if the Gov from New Jersey decides to throw his hat in the ring. I’ve liked him since he made the run at the governorship. Being a former fat guy, I think it’s about time we had a fat guy run for president (we know tall and skinny doesn’t work). I still have many reservations about any NE Republican being way too liberal and wonder if you can get to be a big deal politician in NJ without some of the corruption rubbing off. It might help if he picked a good southerner for a running mate. I’d be ok in that department with the Indian Gov from Louisiana, Marco Rubio, or Herman Caine. All those guys are solid conservatives with an ethnic appeal. Still, a Republican Yankee? Just not sure I could get my arms around it and I’m still guessing he’ll walk away from it in the end. Maybe too many skeletons in the closet.

Gourmet Pizza Redefined

I have roughly 90% of the available garden space planted with just a few more things in the holding area. In less than a month the sweet potatoes, maybe another exercise in futility, will be pulled and provide space for the next celery crop and maybe snow peas. The tomatoes and green peppers are putting out a few now and will be producing volume next month and, if the weather holds, on till December. My plan is to plant root crops where those now reside. So what’s growing now? Lettuce, three varieties; cabbage, three varieties; broccoli, three varieties; cauliflower, two varieties; collards, kale, and brussels sprouts, one variety of each. The swiss Chard, two varieties, are seedlings now and will go in mid October. Beyond that, it’s starting seedlings to replace all the things mentioned above as they’re picked (or fall victim to the elements) – more or less a continuous process. From my perspective, the labor intensive part of the fall/winter garden is about done. All the crops mentioned are easy, mostly well behaved and not interesting to the nematodes.

Made another gourmet pizza last night. This one made the other one look like something from Pizza Hut or other commercial mill. It started when we were in an organic food place in Ormond Beach looking specifically for semolina flour, which they didn’t have. I walked by a shelf that had pre-made pizza crust with the brand name Rustic Crust. It was seven grains, no preservatives and everything a greenie could want. I checked the price and it was $4.79, about the same as we pay in Publix for their product which just uses regular people ingredients. Nancy observed that it was slightly smaller, maybe 10” compared to the 12” size we normally get. It felt about the same weight to me. It wasn’t until we got home and opened it that we realized there was only one pizza crust in the package compared to two from Publix. But this one was noticeably thicker, accounting for the weight being about the same. This time I added a Big Bertha green pepper and a small onion to the okra and eggplant mix I’d concocted last time. Sauteed them in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes then added the San Marzano tomato sauce we had made a few months back and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Spread that on the Rustic Crust and topped with new crop San Marzano slices and a pre-shredded cheese mix called Italian blend, then popped it in the Holland grill for 10 minutes. No joke, if you had to pick one food to eat for the rest of your life, this is it. We both prefer thin crust and when we saw how thick it was, our expectations were not that high. We cut it into quarters and I ended up with one quarter for today’s lunch, that’s how filling it was. We have probably screwed ourselves up for ever eating pizza outside. If all goes well, in two months should be reporting on cauliflower pizza with thinly sliced swiss chard. I can also see broccoli but think cabbage might be against the law.

Ok, so the gators are 4-0 including Tennessee and Kentucky. The next four games are killer SEC match ups including Alabama, Auburn. LSU and Georgia. If they can win two of those games the season will be ok, especially if one of those wins is against either Alabama or LSU. I think South Carolina is also still on the schedule and they too are ranked fairly high this year- higher than Florida for sure. FSU was highly ranked but have dropped two so ………………….

Okra crash

We’re finally getting some rain. No flooding or anything like that but this week has been typical of what we would expect all summer long. It’s coming at a good time in terms of me planting fall crops that really do well on cloudy, rainy days. If it hangs like this for another week, much of what I’ve planted will be established well enough to survive a good dose of sun exposure. It’s nowhere near enough rain to replenish the lake which is the lowest I’ve ever seen it for so late in September. It would be low for April, coming out of the dry season, so I don’t have a guess what it will look like by April 2012. Normally this is the time of year we expect the lake to be chock full but another year without even a close call from a hurricane (so far) leaves us way too low. I still can’t put the boat in the boat slip under the dock and I’m already concerned that my secret spec spots will be inaccessible, basically as they were last season. Bummer.

The okra crop which had been doing so well, crashed big time. Nematodes. When I pulled the plants, there were virtually no roots left intact. I did some research and learned that, sure enough, okra is very susceptible to nematodes and I was lucky to do as well as I did. I did some research to see if there were any nematode resistant varieties and drew a complete blank on that but did pick up an interesting factoid from the University of Arkansas. Turns out broccoli and cauliflower, like certain varieties of marigolds, are anti nematode plants. So, if I plant a crop like okra after a season of one of these anti plants, they will have fled the scene. I have been interplanting certain marigolds with tomatoes and cucumbers but never knew about the others. So I’m going to double up on the broccoli and cauliflower this season.

Any doubts I had about pepper plants inter pollinating has been dispelled. The last ones I planted were located far from any others and the difference is remarkable – nice large, well shaped peppers vs the earlier ones that were really scrawny. Lesson learned. The first year I planted peppers, 4 years ago now, I had the same terrible results but blamed it on the varieties I had chosen and figured they were not right for Florida. For the next two years I planted a single variety that was advertised to be the best for unfavorable conditions and sure enough, we got plenty of really nice peppers. This year, confident that the soil was improved, I went back to multiple varieties co-planted.

Another snake event

Got quite a few lettuce plants in the main garden – actually 40 plants. It’s a mix between head lettuce, green leaf lettuce and red leaf lettuce. For those of you who haven’t grown lettuce, the leaf lettuce is a cut crop which keeps replenishing itself as you trim the leaves for the kitchen. So with 20+ leaf lettuce plants, that’s salad for a season. In a month or so I’ll start some buttercrunch. That’s a really nice head variety for the winter. It just can’t handle the heat. It’s still hotter than I’d like but we’ve been getting pretty good cloud cover so that helps quite a bit. The grasshoppers are making sure we don’t have more broccoli than we can handle

Some people have commented that my garden is not very well organized – or they might say, not organized in the conventional fashion. To some extent that’s a correct assessment but they don’t understand what’s behind the apparent mishmash. I always start more seeds than I need because I know that bugs, weather and other critters will take their toll. I don’t spray pesticides so my bug losses are probably higher than need be but I just like the idea that I haven’t intentionally put something nasty on the plants that will later end up inside me. I can’t control what gets eaten and where, in terms of plant placement. So what happens is that as plants lose the battle, I replace them with whatever is next in line for planting, more or less independent of what kind of plant it happens to be. So I end up with a cabbage or cauliflower amongst the broccoli. By the time things are fully grown it sometimes takes on a random variety look to it and that bothers some people. I look at it like I’d rather have a lettuce among the cabbage than a bare spot just sitting there producing nothing. I think maybe it depends on whether you have Italian or German blood coursing through your veins. My answer to the comments is generally something like, “yeah, I’m trying to achieve just that special look with a mixture of leaf textures and colors.” Some people actually believe that and just look at me like, what evah.

Had another snake event on the back porch. I think it was the same snake I mentioned a month or so back that escaped into the ferns on the corner of the porch. I had totally forgotten about it but then today, after a really hard rain, it must have been flooded out of it’s home and reappeared. I was determined this time to have him take up residence in the jungle and out of my space. So I propped open the screen door, armed myself with a broom, and then started sweeping rain water at him to chase him toward the door. It was a harmless black snake about 30” long but a couple of times he literally jumped up and struck the broom so harmless is a relative term. I got him closer but this technique wasn’t quite getting it done so I got one of my frost blankets and tossed it over him. Then I pushed the the blanket outside and waited for him to crawl out to freedom. I ended up having to lift up one corner of the blanket and shake him out but managed to accomplish the goal without a bite. I do have a pellet gun and could have dispatched him but I like the idea of snakes like this out and about – eating rats or whatever other vermin they can catch.

Feelin’ better about the Gators

Starting to feel better about the Gators, not good yet, just feeling better.

I heard something on the tube that cracked me up and brought back lots of memories. There’s a new show starting this season on NBC, Playboy or Playboy Club. There’s been lots of promotion and I know it’s a show in which I’ll have zero interest. The news that cracked me up is that KSL in Salt Lake City is the only NBC affiliate in the country that won’t be airing the show. When we lived there, this happened frequently but I just assumed it went away along with most of the really stupid liquor laws. The Mormon Church owns the TV station and the newspaper so …………… It would seem to me that in this day and age there are many, many ways for people to watch the show aside from any one particular station but I guess if it makes them feel better.

Finished up the quarry project. It ended up being significantly more than I had bargained for but once I was into it, no sense doing anything but truck on through. It will probably take a season or two to get it up to par but without the intervention it would always been a problem area. Having Nancy on sabbatical helped because I could work straight through with no breaks until a natural break point in the job.
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Does it have to be Guiliani for veep? I think I could get my head around Huntsman if he was chartered to focus on trade. The problem is that putting somebody from Utah on the ticket doesn’t buy you any votes you weren’t already going to get. I personally like the Gov of Louisiana or Mississippi but that may be too much southern cooking for the rest of the country to accept. The conventional wisdom is Rubio but I just don’t think he’ll be interested.

Why can’t I support Romney? First, I could support him if it came down to a choice between him and O’bama. Make no mistake about that. But I’ve got two killer problems with him: (1) he’s from Massachusetts, and (2) he graduated from Harvard. That tells me that he’s a dem masquerading in Rep clothes. He may have been a conservative in the eyes of the folks in Massachusetts but elsewhere he’d be considered a lefty who was tutored by the lefty staff at Harvard. It didn’t help that Tim Pawlenty threw his support to Romney and is being touted as a possible running mate. To me that’s mixing sugar free, caffeine free vanilla with French vanilla when what’s needed is jalapeno and cheddar.

Working the Quarry

Bachelor again. Nancy and Joanne headed off to New York for a few days with Chris. I’ve plenty got to do, a fridge full of goodies and loaded up with gory netflix DVD’s that Nancy wouldn’t like. That plus the Gators play Tennessee and FSU plays Oklahoma Saturday – it doesn’t get any better.

The results of the biopsy confirmed the presence of a small tumor on my prostate. That’s good news in the sense that, combined with the bone and CAT scans, it provides a definitive source of the elevated PSA. The procedure for dealing with it is to freeze the tumor using cryogenic technology. The option is to freeze the entire organ or just the tumor. In this case due to the size and location of the tumor, going after just the tumor has lowest risk for side affects and makes the most sense. The doctor describes the procedure, from the perspective of the patient, as the same as the biopsy – in and out, same day, knocked out. The difference is that the catheter remains for a few days as compared to overnight for the biopsy. That’s because the procedure is a bit more abusive on the organ so the swelling lasts a bit longer. The procedure is scheduled for……………..

Got the green house assembled. It was definitely not a one person job, not even close. My neighbor is the world champ at putting things together and it took the two of us over an hour to complete the job. I think it’s going to work just fine and give me a good place to start and keep plants in the cool weather – assuming that ever happens.
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The job of removing the limestone and sand from the old corn patch is really bigger than I thought. That area is now designated as a quarry, not a garden. I’m now up to 16 wheel barrows full and still working at it, a hand shovel at a time. It looks like an archeological dig. Luckily I have a good spot to dump the refuse back by the dock. I filled all that area years ago but right in front of the dock entrance a fairly large depression has developed. I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to fill it with the limestone from the garden. So that’s good but it does leave me with a gaping hole in the garden that I hadn’t anticipated. When I started I assumed that the oldest compost pile would be more than adequate to replace the material being pulled out but now I’m fairly certain it won’t. The solution will likely be too create wider walking paths/ narrower planting rows through that area and then gradually reverse that as new compost becomes available. The alternative is to find a source of soil and reload the garden, a wheel barrow at a time. Which approach I take is most likely temperature dependent – if it cools off, go the fill route; if not, wider walking paths. In either event, it’s only for this next season. By spring I’ll have enough new compost to do the job right.garden-or-quarry

Heavy garden digging

Really cleaned out the garden. Anything that wasn’t on the A list – looking strong and producing – is history. It will look like a totally different garden by the end of the month. Well, it really will be a totally different garden by the end of the month. I expected the job to be a half hour or so since I had been working it a bit at a time and the last area to be cleaned was about 200 SF where the corn had tried to grow. I wanted to break the one large row into two narrower ones with a walkway in between. Seemed fairly straightforward but with the first shovel I ran into a layer of gravel and limestone less than a foot beneath the surface – no doubt the source of all the soil alkalinity and why the corn grew so poorly. The only real thing to do was to dig it out. That ended up being 8 wheel barrows full. Turns out I had a place for the fill but hadn’t planned on using it right now. Remember the green house I bought? The plan was to put it up today, another one hour kind of job but to do it really correctly, I needed to clean out the area where it was to go and level the ground. I had already decided to put up the green house and do the cleaning and leveling at some other time but here I was with all this fill and no place to dump it. By the time I got done digging, filling, and leveling I was three hours into it and worn to a frazzle and still had the green house to assemble.

One thing I’ll do differently next summer is wait until September to plant cucumbers. I planted them too early for a good crop. It was just too hot and buggy in July and August. We did get some but they were just not up to par. Other lessons learned are to plant much more okra. Everybody loves it and 15 plants just doesn’t produce enough for all the customers. It wasn’t an issue last year because they were too woody to even give away. Next summer, after I’ve worked the PH and fertility issues, I’ll try corn again with an August planting and then put in the squash after the corn has a nice head start. I’m reasonably convinced that I can get two full corn plantings when all the conditions are right.

I’m learning that adjusting the PH of the soil is easier said than done. I assumed that spreading the ammonium sulphate in the recommended amount would get the job done. Turns out the the amount required is a function of the soil itself and if the soil is highly organic, not so easy. Organic material, that would be compost, “buffers” the chemical reaction. Buffers means that it interferes/slows down/mediates the direct action of the chemicals so that the transition from base to acid requires more reagent than it would, in say, a more mineral based soil. Just how much more is quite a bit more difficult to determine because of the chemical complexity of the organic material in the soil. In a way I was a little surprised to find the PH so basic to start with for a couple of reasons. Two years ago I had the soil tested and it was alkaline/basic so I spread sulphur in the recommended amount. Also, I loaded up the compost with citrus, and you have to know that’s acidic. So I was actually expected the results to show I was too acid and would need to spread some lime to sweeten it. Surprise! So why do I even care about the PH of the soil? Turns out that being slightly acid allows fertilizer in the soil to be absorbed by the plants – that would be most, but not necessarily all, vegetables. So if the PH is on the basic side (higher than 7.0), you can load the ground up with fertilizer and it does no good at all. Lower the PH and all of a sudden the nutrients can be absorbed by the plants. I never knew that PH and fertility were interrelated.

The interesting thing about all this is that by and large I’ve been getting great produce this season and last season as well. If I ever get all these variable correct, I can’t imagine how much better it will be. I’ll need a road side stand.