He’s baaaaaaaack

My premise that somebody shot the marauding bear was wrong or we have another one. For the past week we’ve been visited several nights and those less careful than us, have had their trash cans dumped. My new neighbor found himself up close and personal to a large black bear the other night. He was out in his shed putting a battery charger on his mower and hear some rustling and rumbling nearby. He pointed his flashlight in that direction and the beam lit up the intruder about 50′ away. Way too close. Personally, I’ve had no problems at all since I started putting the trash can in the shed until pickup day. I just don’t particularly like the idea of these guys wandering around in the dark and hoping they don’t decide to come into our screen porch. I’ve noted that we’re the only ones around that have a granite gravel driveway and parking area. It’s really uncomfortable to walk on barefoot or with flimsy foot protection so perhaps the bear prefers nice asphalt or dirt to nasty, sharp gravel. Don’t hold your breath waiting for me to post a pic of the bear. Not going to happen unless I find him dead in the yard with buzzards picking at the carcass – that way I’ll assume it’s really dead and not trying to fake me out.

I mentioned a few posts back that some 2008 vintage beet seeds I planted had germinated well so I tried some spinach seed from the same year. After almost 2 weeks zip, nada, zero. I just happen to have another pack of spinach seeds, same vintage, different variety, unopened so I’m going to try again. In the back of my mind I seem to recall something about spinach seed needing to be “fresh” but nothing lost by trying again. It’s such a short crop anyway that if this pack fails too, I can drop by the local ACE hardware and pick up a fresh pack. Also it looks like a variety of the swiss chard I planted, called perpetual spinach, is doing just fine so if a spinach crisis happens while I’m playing around with old seed, I’ll be able to rush in with a rescue.

The pic shows the greenhouse full of seedlings growing their little hearts out and yearning for the big time garden experience. There are six 18 position flats and I’ll have another one to add next week. One of these is a mix of stuff that I’ve put together for an old friend in Altamonte who celebrates his 80th net month. He still piddles around in the yard and his wife says he’ll enjoy growing some new veggies. Nancy will tie a ribbon around the flat to make it official. Two weeks from now, the moves from the greenhouse will start. Unless we get a freeze between now and then, I’ll have to pull out a couple of eggplants to make room. The plants designated for sacrifice are from the original planting and just running out of gas albeit still popping out a few. full-greenhouse

Thanksgiving report

Thanksgiving was a great success. Good mix of friends and family so the conversations were wide and varied. Good food. We ended up staying overnight at Tom’s so that Nancy et al could do Black Friday. Unfortunately that seems to be a bad tradition forming. Everyone except Tina and I, actually made 3 shopping excursions. The first was to hit the 9PM Thanksgiving sales somewhere; then the midnight outing which had them back by 2AM to get rested up for the main thrust at 5AM. I nominally slept through the whole thing.

I’ve always enjoyed being around the grandkids but if anything, it gets better the older they get. Their interests are wide ranging and it’s fun to get their political opinions (I had none at their age), campus news, and hearing the trials and tribulations of everyday living on tight budgets and class schedules they deal with on a regular basis. I’m impressed with how well versed they are on current events but also how so many things have not changed at all in the 50 years since I was in school. Tommy brought several of the weekly magazines that he worked on this semester as Editor and I went over them with a fine tooth comb – while the others were out shopping. Other than some of the content, overall you would never have guessed it was a student produced publication. I guess next Thanksgiving we’ll be listening to first year at a job stories – at least that’s the plan for now.

You probably wonder how the cole slaw worked out. Maybe even lost sleep wondering about it. We brought a substantial bowl full as a side to Tom’s smoked pulled pork. I’m probably biased but thought it was better than good, approaching perfection. Looked to me like everybody chowed down on it pretty good with no complaints and rounds of second helpings. Definitely plan to do it again, and again, and again – so long as the cabbages hold out. I’ve already got another variation planned using shredded broccoli stalks along with the cabbage. Bet shredded kohlrabi would work too and nobody would ever guess what the secret ingredient is.

I thought I was done mentioning the ghost peppers since I pulled them from the garden the other day. The final batch I picked filled on of those plastic Wal Mart bags, at least 5 pounds worth. On a whim, I looked them up on E-bay to see if they had any value. What a shock – the seeds, not the peppers themselves but just the seeds – are worth ten cents each; the peppers 1$. I didn’t want to cut into a pepper for a seed count (or any other reason) but I know there will be at least 10 seeds in each pepper and probably more. There’s a couple of peppers per ounce so you can do the math on the value of this small crop. Another reference point – one of the seed companies I buy from is now offering the seeds in their newest catalog – $3.95 for 10 seeds. I didn’t count them but, over the season, I had to pick over 1000 peppers, at least 10 pounds, from just 3 plants and they were no where near finished producing. I looked back in my records and saw that I planted the seeds indoors 4/24 and then outside on 7/18, that’s a very slow start. The plants never wilted but seemed not to grow at all for the first couple months. I assumed the soil conditions were just not right but didn’t pull them. Then they started a growth spurt that brought them to full 3′ tall bushes. The first peppers were picked in October, that too is slow growth and probably why they’re expensive. The number of peppers and blossoms kept accelerating so, weather permitting, I probably could have filled another bag in the next two weeks. The other thing different about this variety compared to other peppers I grow, the roots really go deep. I couldn’t actually pull the plants but rather ended up cutting them off right at the base and then overfilling the roots with nearly a foot of compost. That should kill them but I guess it’s not impossible they’ll pop back up. I’m pretty sure I won’t grow new plants next year but, just in case, I saved a few peppers to collect the seeds.

Cole slaw and cranberry sauce

My assignments for the Thanksgiving festivities (at Tom’s) were to make the cranberry sauce and for the birthday party the next day, Dutch Cole Slaw. The latter because we have a long position in cabbage at this point. Nancy was at bridge so I had the whole kitchen to myself and could really cut loose with no concerns for where things were falling, flying, dripping etc. The cranberry sauce was pretty standard, follow the instructions on the label, kind of cooking. I did add a few tangerine sections to make it just slightly different.

The cole slaw was quite a different task and involved using the Cuisinart with two different blades. The recipe didn’t say that but I didn’t like the first one I picked. In fact the recipe didn’t mention using using the Cuisinart at all. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It needed a little ingredient help so I added a couple of shredded carrots and a handful of shredded radishes. Why not, I happen to have plenty of both and think a touch of red adds some seasonal color. I thought about a micro inch or so of a ghost pepper but decided that was literally playing with fire. Another subtle difference is that I used two varieties of cabbage, Early Jersey Wakefield, a heritage variety, and Farao, a modern hybrid. My Chinese cabbage is just not ready or it would have really been different. Would it still be Dutch cole slaw if it included Chinese cabbage? What a mess. I had bits and pieces of everything all over the kitchen. I have trouble judging what size pots or bowls to use so I end up using more than necessary and ended up with a sink full plus needing cleaning. I think I’ve cleaned it all up before Nancy gets home but she’ll probably spot a sliver or two of whatever on the floor, on the counter, on the ceiling…..

Pulled out the ghost peppers and redesigned that area of the garden to add about 50SF. That used about 3/4 of the finished compost so I still have a few cubic feet to distribute around. The picture shows a bowl full of peppers, mostly ghost but a couple of jalapenos from a bush I had forgotten. All in all I’ve picked half a dozen bowls of the ghost peppers, far more than I ever expected. The plants I pulled were loaded with small, green peppers and blossoms so I suspect they would have continued producing until the weather brought an end to it all. I’d just rather see the same space producing lettuce and I know the ladies at the bridge club and quilting club will be happier.
This will be the last compost mention for a while. I completely used the most mature pile and then transferred the contents of the currently active pile – that would be the one receiving new inputs – into the empty slot and then shut that pile down to new input. In about 90 days it should be ready to use – mid February. Doesn’t sound like much when you write it down but it took a couple of hours and wore me to a frazzle. My neighbor, the clipping nazi, had been trimming around her house and produced a substantial pile of new material so I already have a start for the empty bin. It’s virtually impossible for me to keep up with Barbara 100% without the aid of the burn pile, which gets brought into service when the piles just get too big for me to deal with. The picture shows the empty bin after loading the garden along side the active pile. The next picture shows the bins after the transfer and with the new pile started (left side bin). That bin gets all the new input while the bin on the right just sits there and decomposes. Well, it doesn’t just sit there. I try to turn it over twice a week to keep it aerated and cooking. You’ll notice I move the wheelbarrows to block that side and signal Nancy and Barbara to use the left side for all new materials. As you can tell, I have this down to a finely oiled machine like operation.
Still trying to digest the news that Urban Meyer is moving to Ohio State. Now I know how the Ute fans felt even though that move was more understandable as a career uptick.

Great composting

The patio tomatoes worked out ok. They’re putting out a decent crop of mini- tomatoes or giant cherry tomatoes, whichever. I made a few mistakes this time around because I expected the plants to be smaller. I put 3 plants in the container and then inadequately supported them. I guess I was expecting smaller plants or not thinking straight. Just for grins, I’m going to start some new plants and see if I have any luck growing them in the dead of winter. Nothing to lose. The pic shows a few tomatoes, a few peppers, and a head of cabbage.
I started cutting back the ghost peppers, gathering a good shipment for my nephew and leaving one last major picking for the original seed supplier. I’ll see him Thanksgiving and deliver the goods. I did get to thinking – would the ghost peppers heat up the compost pile and maybe ward off nematodes in the future? I guess we’ll find out next year because I pitched a couple of handfuls of the peppers into the pile and there will be a load of leaves and stems which, perhaps, carries some heat too. Speaking of which, what a rich, eclectic mixture the current filling pile will yield. It has all the standard stuff, chopped palmettos, oak leaves, and grass clippings but this one will include some citrus, cabbage leaves, and a large variety of shrub and fern trimmings. It also has a fairly heavy load of seaweed and lots of wood ash. Also, when I took out the poke boat the other day, I had to chop down a load of tall lake grass and that too made it to the compost pile. The pile is big enough to shut down now but I still have a ready to use pile that has to go first. Which brings me back to the ghost peppers. Once I pull those and two more cabbages, I will be filling the spot and an adjacent area with the ready to use pile adding approximately 50SF of new and improved garden space, about a foot thick with compost. So that leaves me an empty compost bin to start a new pile and close down the nearly full pile I’ve been working recently. The pile I quit adding to will be ready the end of February. The pic shows the active pile on the left and the remainder of the ready to use pile on the right. For size perspective, the active pile is 5’x5’x2′; the ready pile is 7’x2‘x18”.
My neighbor came home to a surprise the other night; his water system was dead. Turns out some critter got into the pump contacters and fried the system. Fried is probably too light a term – completely burned it up to barely recognizable chars. We ran a hose from my system over to his and he was back in business within an hour. I had the exact same thing happen a few years back. In that case I just happened to be walking by the pump when it burst into flame and left my contact box looking exactly like his. When I got down to examine it, sure enough there was a giant palmetto bug across the contactors. Very well cooked. I had a pump guy come in and fix mine whereas George will have enough parts around to reconstruct a workable solution. I decided to open mine back up and see if anything had taken up unauthorized residence and sure enough there was a small family of spiders and a handful of lizard eggs inside the contact box but all in all, fairly clean. I blew it out and sprayed it with long term insect killer and need to remember to do that every 6 months or so.


Picked the season’s first cabbage and the neighbor cut a load of kale. If you count Chinese cabbage, there are roughly 35 more coming along. I spread them out fairly well and mother nature also brings them along at different times so these will keep us in cole slaw, fried cabbage and many other variations for the next couple of months. I also started some seedlings (see pic below) a couple of weeks back to fill the holes as they become available. That will be February and March eatin’s. George said the Kale was the best he had ever had. I suspect it’s the first time he ever ate it about an hour after it was picked. Maybe I should try some. I know for sure I’ve never tasted any fresh from the garden and that could make a big difference.

Everything is doing so well in the garden I decided to take a walk on the wild side and expand my beet crop. I’ve had mostly bad luck with beets but maybe this is the year…… I planted a patch of the old classic, I think they’d probably call this one a heritage it’s so old – Detroit Dark Red, about a month ago and observed nearly 100% germination. I used the scissor technique to thin and the plants seem to be coming along nicely. With that behind me, I grabbed into the old seed bag and found a 2008 packet labeled Lutz, long season beets. Long season means an 80 day cycle compared to 55 for the Detroits. The picture shows the Lutz variety to be quite a bit bigger and uglier, if shape is a figure of merit. The packet says it’s sweeter than the DDR’s and taste trumps looks, especially when they’re pickled. (The only thing I like about Harvard is how they do their beets). I remember trying this variety in 2008 and getting zero production but that was then and this is now. Completely different soil conditions and a far more experienced farmer. For example I soaked the seed for 5 hours this time and I’m sure I didn’t think to do that last time. I’m also watering frequently since I now know that the worst thing for beets is inadequate watering. After 4 days in the ground I was surprised to see some germination starting. What normally happens is that species or varieties with long growing durations, germinate slowly. For example, when I plant an 80+ day veggie I look for first germination 10 days after planting and am not too surprised to see it go 2 weeks. Soaking the seed on some types does shorten the germination time. The next factor is percentage of seeds that germinate at all. With good fresh seed and decent conditions, I typically experience 90%. With 3 year old seed, maybe zero. For comparison, radishes are a very short crop – 25-35 days – and it’s normal to see seedlings within 3 days. After 6 days I can tell that the rate is going to be quite high so old beet seed is ok (so far). I also soaked and planted some 2008 spinach seed.

I frequently use the term “seedlings”. Here’s a pic of the next batch of seedlings sitting in the greenhouse. These are generally about two weeks old. The next step for these guys is into individual trays, flats, when they develop at least 4 leaves, usually 3-4 weeks, depending on the variety. The flat in the picture is lettuce from one of the seedling containers. Then into the garden some time in December; on the table January thru March. You can’t tell from the pictures but this group includes 3 different lettuce varieties, 2 cabbages, a broccoli, celery, and parsley.

A few leaves

My neighbor found a hornet nest the other day and we decided to deal with it Saturday morning when the temps were scheduled to be in the low 40’s. These hornets build their nests on the ground in jungle areas so the only way you can spot them is to observe the traffic pattern of the hornets. When we first moved here and were clearing the jungle, we found 4 such nests and dealt with them appropriately. This type of hornet is really aggressive and if you stumble onto a nest, you can be in real trouble. The cold weather makes them inactive so the trick is to identify the nest opening and then stay clear of the area until a cold, cold morning. On attack day, you get a 10’+ piece of PVC pipe, a funnel, and a couple gallons of gasoline. One member of the attack team gets in range and plunges the pipe into the entrance while the second member quickly pours the gas into the far end of the pipe. If you are accurate with the thrust and quick at pouring the gas, no problem. We hit it perfectly. Literally thousands of bees flew out from the nest but hovered within a foot or so of the body of the nest and basically dropped over quickly. I guess the fumes from the gasoline do them in. It’s hard to gauge the exact size of the nest since it’s underground but it’s possible that we’ll have to repeat the process a couple of times if more entrances and chambers than we’ve found do exist.

We have a new neighbor living in the mother-in-law cottage on George’s property. Rick moved out about a year ago and it’s been vacant ever since but they rented it to a young fellow they know from their church. Harley is about 20, a college student, and has his own lawn service company. He’s a polite young man, engaged to be married in June, and a total ball of energy. Reminds me a lot of Joey at that age – perpetual motion, eats like a horse with not an ounce of fat anywhere. If the sun’s up, he’s up and working. George and I get tired just watching him. The back yard of the property is dirt covered by oak leaves and pine needles. Just what you’d expect from a place in the woods. Harley isn’t happy with the “clutter” and decided to rake it all up and lay down winter rye seed for grass. He asked if it was ok to dump the leaves in the burn pile, which has been on fire, more or less, constantly for the two weeks he’s been here. I suggested that instead of burning them, he just bring them down by the garden and I’d chop them up in my leaf mulcher. I had no idea how many leaves that would involve. Check out the pictures. I started working on them Friday afternoon and got in a solid 3 hours. Then Saturday morning, after the bee business, got back to the leaves for 4 more hours. When he finally runs out of brush to burn, I’ll have a ton of wood ash to mix into the compost as well. I have a feeling that I’ll be in compost overload mode now for as long as he’s living next door. I’m going to have to learn to say, no I don’t need any more, just burn it. George and I work together on most projects at a 70+ year old pace so it’s hard to integrate Harley in at about 5 x our best effort but every once in a while we come up with a job that takes both of us and then some. He’ll be the “and then some” guy.

Sunday with Simon

Had a great day Sunday. We were invited up to Gainesville to join Simon and Julia at an arts festival. The weather was perfect and the show was the right mix of low priced, mid priced and expensive arts and crafts. Lots of food and miscellaneous booths to spice it up a bit. We finally got to eat at Big Lou’s, one of their regular eating haunts but will have to wait until next time to hit Flocco’s – the Cuban sandwich superstore. It’s a great ride up there – no traffic and good scenery. Simon now lives in a dorm with a kitchen so he’s eating in more often than last year. The big loser in that arrangement turns out to be Joey. For the past 4-5 years, he got all the leftovers and special dishes from his mother. Guess who’s getting that stuff now – our trunk was loaded with goodies.

Spotted an otter in the lake. I thought I had seen one a few days back but it was a fleeting sighting and too far away to make a positive ID but today, I was up close and personal with a fairly large one. I had paddled on down toward the north end of the lake and heard the distinctive snorting of an Otter. Sure enough, he was heading directly toward me and got within 50′ when he dived. He stay submerged until he was well into the lily pads and only when I heard him snorting again, was I able to figure out where he was. Last year, just about this time, a pair showed up and were cavorting around for a couple of weeks before they disappeared. I figured they were looking for a nesting spot and decided there was too much kayak traffic to raise a family so they left. I hope they stay this year even though deep down inside I suspect they play hell with the spec population.

Who says we don’t have fall colors in Florida. Check out the pic. One day the leaves are green; the next day red; the next day gone.

Poke Boatin’ again

Nancy headed out quilt shopping today so, after playing garden for an hour or so, I decided to bite the bullet and try the poke boat and a little fishing. I wasn’t sure how this would work out because you get into some weird body shapes getting in and out of the boat and then sit in a bit of an uncomfortable position. No problem. Got in and out just fine and paddled around for a while checking out the lake for the first time in months. No fish but still have the laser accurate casting that has made me a legend in my own mind. Bring on the spec’s.

As of today, the garden is 100% planted – no space left. By the end of this month, some spots will open as the current crop is picked but the next event where I’ll have meaningful space is after the first frost. At that point all the peppers, tomatoes and eggplants will be history, freeing up about 150 SF, already fully accounted for in terms of ready to go seedlings. It’s not unusual to have a touch of frost in mid November – we did last night – but not a “killing” frost. The good news is that a frost will also kill off the mosquitoes, which have been the worst ever this year. And a frost will also sweeten the citrus. No way of telling for sure when, or even if, a freeze will happen but historically it’s in the middle of December. We’re having our first serious cold snap with the night time temps dipping into the 40’s so I’m going to make a dummy run on setting up the greenhouse for seriously cold weather in the offing. There’s a zipper door that I’ve never closed and several gallon jugs that I will fill with water and sun cook all day to become an overnight heat source inside the greenhouse.

One thing that’s neat is seeing the garden’s reaction to a cold snap. Up until today our typical daytime temp is about 80 but this morning it was in the upper 40’s. I did my standard morning garden check to see if any critters had attacked over night and was pleased to see how much the winter crops love the cool weather. The plants all look just fine at 80 degrees but at 50, they are popping – standing up straight, leaves all crisp with no sign of wimp or wilt. I’m fairly certain the, so called, chill factor has no affect on plants – at least I play it that way in terms of covering up plants but it sure has an impact on the farmer. I was in full winter gear – long pants, fleece shirt and down vest. Felt good at 7 AM but by 9AM, I was roasting.

Cold weather crops

I have a great idea for solving some of the California budget problems. Scale back about half the judicial system. You can’t miss the Lohan trials and tribulations in which she does pretty much what she wants, ignores whatever the court orders and spends a couple hours in jail every now and then. My idea is to adjust the head count in the judicial system to fit with the sentencing guidelines – avoid all the court costs and administrative costs associated with booking, debooking, and whatever other meaningless formalities they go through. If the jails are too crowded then why spend the money running people through the system at all? I would suggest a high tech solution. Give them home arrest with one of those ankle bracelets. My ankle bracelet would subject the violator to a million volt jolt if they left the confines of their home.

I really didn’t feel I could vote for Herman Cain (unless he was running against Obama) because of his tax plan but now that Gloria All Red is after him, I might have to support him through the primaries. I bounce back and forth between her and Nancy Pelosi as to which one is the real wicked witch of the west.

I’m feeling so confident about the planted crops surviving that I am giving away my store of spare plants. A couple of Nancy’s quilting buddies will plant the chard and Brussels I have left over. If I keep them, I’ll end up planting them which will give me an overload and take up space I could use for something different.

As hard as it is to believe, I am starting the next round of seeds for this cool season without picking any of the first round yet. We’ll be picking cabbages and probably some broccoli by the end of this month which starts to free up space for new stuff so the timing is critical. Since the plants actually make it to the garden 5-6 weeks from when I start the seeds, now’s the time to get those going. Lovin’ the green house! I started the real cool loving (or heat hating) lettuce today. Our favorite is a butterhead variety called Sylvesta and last year we added something called Flashy Oak. Both are really tender, tasty varieties. Another 20′ row of Snow peas goes in tomorrow and a beet patch the end of the week. This wave of planting will carry us through March with a continuous flow. Every month I pop in a few square feet of carrots, beets and onions.

Gator victory?

I knew this was going to be a tough year for Gator fans but no idea it would be this bad. They managed to just squeak by Vanderbilt. Had they lost, it would have been the first time since Harry Truman was president. What I’m wondering is whether there are already some feelers out for a new coach. I suspect the pecking order will be to get rid of Weiss first. What were they thinking when they picked a Notre Dame reject. The good news is that the worst part of the schedule is behind them – I guess that’s good news. If you lose to Alabama or LSU this year, nobody thinks too much of it but a loss to one of these scruffs would be unforgivable.

I seem to be recovering ok from the recent surgery but have a big milestone ahead of me. Will I be able to sit comfortably in the poke boat for spec season? With the lake level so much below normal, I’m not expecting much of a fishing season but still, I want to be able to do my part. Getting in and out is tricky, made even more so in the cold weather.

I did a quick pass in the garden to make sure it survived the week I was gone. Other than a few armadillo digs in non critical spots, everything looked ok. I have a few hours work to bring it current but George has kept up with it just fine. I need to add the seaweed to the compost pile and turn it all, pull out the oldest two eggplants to make room for new cauliflower seedlings which are cramped a bit and ready for the big time, and do a bit of thinning.

Picked the first of the lettuce and some radishes – so we’re entering the salad season in style. I’d estimate that by the end of the month we’ll be at the front end of cole slaw season as well, which runs pretty much through April. The kale is pickable but not sure what to do with it. I grow it for two reasons – my neighbor likes it and it really dresses up the garden. I am a bit concerned because Nancy is talking about cooking it and I know I’ll hate it. Her mother used to make it and I can’t recall eating anything her mother made that really hit the spot with me.

Does anybody like this clock change thing? I hate it getting dark so early. Seems like a waste of good sunshine to have it happen at 6AM. If I’m elected I’ll have it get light at 7AM and dark at 7PM.