Oops, sorry chickens

As predicted, the chickens didn’t last very long. Raccoon or equivalent got them a couple nights back. So much for the lettuce to egg trade route I had envisioned.

Tom came up over the weekend so we could check out the fold boat before a potential camping trips in a month or so. It has a few problems that need to be fixed but certainly nothing serious. I think what it needed most was to be run for a couple of hours and we did just that. It wasn’t running well when we first got underway but after a couple of hours it clipped right along at high speed and would idle perfectly for trolling. I’ve always been amazed at just how well that boat performs with just a 5 horse outboard. I know it’s hard to believe but it will actually plane with both Tom and I in the boat – neither one of us is a light weight but the boat itself is well under 100 pounds and I guess is shaped just right for performance. Actually think it idled down to a slower speed than the electric motor and never missed a beat in an hour of ultra slow running. Along the way, caught a nice size speckled perch. Just to be on the safe side, I dumped what remained of the old gas and cleaned out the gas filter. The gas that was in it was over a year old so possibly that was the cause of the initial running problems.

Used the opportunity to do another smoke job – beef ribs again. I cut the time down from 7 hours to 6 this time and the ribs were really better – still falling off the bone but nice and moist. Last time they were falling off the bone but too dry. Getting the hang of it.

We’re coming up on the first of Feb and I plan to get seeds started for some of the serious summer stuff. Aside from tomatoes, which I have already started, that list includes peppers and egg plant plus a few more tomatoes in different varieties. This is actually a little earlier than I normally would start some of this but this long stretch of beautiful weather has me lulled into a false sense of security. Since I have plenty of seeds the downside isn’t too great – if winter comes back, I fall back to plan A. If not, I have a real head start and am totally prepared if summer heat comes too early. That wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Romney clearly delivered the most “pain in the ass calls” so he doesn’t get my vote. Gingrich wasn’t far behind so he too loses my support. I’ve decided to write in Nancy’s name. Does that count as a Christmas present for 2012?

Lake level report

Finally got back on line at the house. The first two days were equipment problems on their end (supposedly) due to the solar flare activity; the second two days were cockpit at my end – I just didn’t know the proper way to reset the modem after the outage.

The lake is within a few inches of being the lowest it’s been in 10 years. Unless things change fairly quickly, no doubt it will be. We haven’t had an inch of rain cumulatively in a couple of months but the nurseries keep pumping, watering fern. bummer. At this point it might be ok to drop another foot and let me get some bottom cleanup done. Maybe scoop out some bottom muck for the compost pile – you know, the silk purse, sow’s ear thing. The weather is incredibly nice this winter but all my fishing spots are high and dry so no use even trying. Well, not exactly true. I just decided to get in the poke boat and paddle around the lake. It would have been stupid to do that without having my rod with me for an emergency situation. I spent about an hour pitching a small spinner jig along the edges of lily pads searching out specs and actually managed to catch 2. They were way smaller than normal so I wasn’t faced with a fish stringer crisis. The pads are usually growing in a few feet of water but now it’s a few inches so it’s really tough to retrieve a cast without catching some bottom grass. Still, it was nice to get out and just enjoy the water.

Found another interesting restaurant in downtown Deland. This is a Mexican restaurant but not the typical taco kind of food but rather cuisine from Central Mexico and, for the most part, totally unrecognizable to folks like us that do more standard Tex-Mex. For our Wednesday dinner out, this is a bit on the upscale side, but ……………… The decor was excellent, the food excellent, live music and just a generally good place to be. It made it to our list of places we’ll revisit. It’s just a few doors down from the Greek place we like and a new upscale Italian place opens at the end of the month in the same general vicinity. So between wine shops that offer wine and appetizers to a nice variety of mid to upscale places to dine, downtown Deland is really picking it up. In fact to show just how big time Deland is going, there was even a small group of “occupy Deland” hippies waving signs down the corner.

Why will Romney win Florida? Simple, lots of old folks who remember Newt being a whack job occasionally and lots of displaced yankees who are ok with a less than conservative candidate. I’m probably going to do a write in since I just can’t see me pulling the lever for any of the candidates.


My container garden is starting to expand beyond my original intentions. I now have patio tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and beets. The nice thing about using these smallish planters is that you can keep the environment perfect – not enough sun, move them; too much sun, move them; too cold, move them. I’m picking lettuce leaves for salad so that particular crop is a complete success. Got excellent germination with the carrots and have about 3 dozen growing between and around the two patio tomato plants in the same container. The beets have already surprised me a bit. Beet seed is hard so it’s a good idea to soak them before planting. Even then it usually takes a week or more for germination. This time around I soaked the seeds for 12 hours, then let them dry about the same and they’ve germinated in 3 days. I’m thinking that may be because it’s been warmer than when I normally plant beets – 80 degree days, 60 degree nights. That’s 10 degrees warmer than normal mid January weather and probably 20 degrees warmer than last year, a very cold winter. It’ll be a few days before I have a handle on germination percentage but I suspect it’ll be just fine.

My neighbor’s tenant, Harley, has decided to start raising chickens. I have to admit I’ve thought about it but have to think that with all the wildlife we have around here, putting chickens out could be questionable. Wonder if bears eat chickens? This could work out well (for us) if Harley is interested in swapping eggs for lettuce or for whatever the crop of the moment happens to be -one tomato for one egg seems about right to me. I could also see letting him the chickens peck around in the garden – assuming they will eat weeds and insects, leave a high nitrogen deposit or two, and not mess with the goodies.

Forgot to mention a little tidbit I picked up at the square foot garden seminar. Everybody, I think, puts egg shells in the compost pile. Basically they never really break down. The valuable info was to pop the egg shells into the microwave for 30 seconds then put them in a bag and crush them into little bits and pieces. It works. I’ll be putting tomatoes in the garden in a month and that’s where the calcium makes a difference.

Figured out how I’m going to decide who to vote for – I guess I have to vote but not really liking any of the choices. Every time we get a piece of junk mail or a campaign phone call, I mark it down. Before going into the voting booth I’ll count the number of times we’ve been pestered and whoever has bothered us the least, gets my vote. So far Romney is losing on phone calls but Newt is a close second with junk mail. Paul and Santorum are tied with zero. It’s not just a straight, one by, kind of count. If the call comes in between 9am and 5pm, that gets one point; 5 points if outside that time band; 10 points if it happens exactly when I’m interrupted – as in dinner or during the nightly news.

I think I may have been sun flared on Tuesday and Wednesday. I heard on the morning news that the sun was sending out some gigantic rays or something and it could disrupt communication kinds of things. I came in from yarding around 11am and tried to connect on line only to find a big “not activated” tag on the Virgin Mobile screen. That does happen from time to time so I have a ritual of restarting the computer and then trying to find solutions or solace from a help screen. All to no avail so I called Virgin Mobile – rather tried to call Virgin Mobil. All I got was a busy signal which I’ve never experienced before. When I tried later, it never even got to the busy signal – just started making some kind of bubbling sound for a minute or two then an automatic hang-up. I suspect there are a billion or so others trying to call them. Flared. Interestingly (to guys like me) the signal strength is 10db higher than normal. That’s quite a bit higher in db language so having a good strong signal is not the thing effecting me. We’ve got clothes hanging on the line drying – wonder if they’re getting flared too? I can see them as I bang away on the keyboard and don’t see any suspicious glowing. This posting is being done on Wednesday via the library wi-fi.

Lotsa carrots

Got the last of this season’s lettuce transplanted to the garden. Supposedly we have a stretch of at least 7 days with mid 70’s kind of temps so that should give them a good start before the potential of another cold snap. These should be pickable in March/April. Where I made my mistake with lettuce is the math of it. I figure you eat a salad every day, one head per salad so that’s 30 heads per month. Simple but wrong. First off, one head of lettuce lasts us a couple of meals and we don’t eat at home 7 days a week. The problem is compounded if we pick leaves off the growing plant – no telling how many salads come from one plant before it finally hangs it up. It’s just that there are literally hundreds of different varieties that all sound soooo tempting; the seeds are so tiny that each pack has hundreds and hundreds of seeds and those seeds store well; and when I get 10 of these and 10 of those started, I don’t have the discipline to just pick 2 or 3 and toss the rest. The final factor is that lettuce is edible from the get go, many varieties are mature in 40+ days, and it holds well without bolting in this cool weather. So the end result is we’re swimming in lettuce. Garden looks good though. We do give away a fair amount and in the end, if a head just gets too old, George’s Koi love to eat it.
The picture is (obviously) the latest carrot pick. There are two varieties, Kuroda and YaYa. Kuroda is a Japanese variety supposedly among the sweetest around. This is the first season I can say we’re getting all the nice carrots we need. I must have broken the code on growing them and finally defeated the feared and dreaded nematodes – at least in that spot. Carrots are an ideal veggie to grow in the backyard because you can grow so many in a small space and they keep really well – either in the ground or in the fridge. I’ve always known those two facts but up until now it seemed like even a small space was wasted based on the quality of the product. Now if I can only somehow break the code on beets. I’m giving that another shot in a patio container which will totally isolate them from the native soil.

Square foot gardening

Nancy and a quilt buddy headed up to Shands hospital in Gainesville today to deliver quilts they’d made for the Children’s Infusion Center. They keep the center quite cool and the kids have to spend hours there so they really appreciate the quilts. Having a free afternoon, I decided to attend a seminar I had read about concerning gardening in small spaces being held at the Ormond Beach library. The subject is “Square Foot Gardening” which is learning how to get the most from a small garden space. Our garden is fairly large as home gardens go but small spaces frequently open up and I might learn something interesting to do with those spaces. It’s also a good opportunity to take the laptop and install any software updates since the last round. I really didn’t expect to learn much but sometimes just one little gem pops out or I might meet some old guy that’s been doing this for a hundred years and has a few secrets.

As it turned out there were mostly old people there – lots of them too. The presenter knew his material quite well and I did learn a few things. Would have been better if it was just him and I but……………….. Lot’s of really dumb, off point questions. The net of it all is that if you want to start a garden, this square foot garden technique would be a great way to do it. You get lots of produce, in a small area, and with much less work than a traditional, in ground garden. There’s a book by a guy named Mel Bartholomew and a web site squarefootgardening.com to get you going. Since it’s a whole technique, it really didn’t tell me to do with my small spaces but I still picked up a few tidbits of interest.

I’m feeling stronger that the Republican Convention will end up putting forth a new candidate – new as in someone not currently declared. As I suspected, Romney will not be able to win the south – he’s a yankee and a Mormon and all the power brokers know that Gingrich can’t beat Obama. The Southern conservatives, an absolutely necessary vote block, are faced with selecting between a very moderate, to left leaning Mormon, a fiscally moderate Pennsylvania Catholic with a history of voting for some real dog earmarks, and a Southern Catholic with a 3 wife track record and some really lunatic/unstable moves as a member of congress. Not a good Southern Baptist conservative in the bunch. Think of all the bourbon/cigar meetings going on into the wee hours trying to figure their way out of this dilemma. I’m starting to smell a Goldwater kind of debacle in the end – and against the worst president in modern memory. Killing the pipeline project alone should be the end of his career. I think the only thing that can boost him is if the Iranians do something incredibly stupid – and they just might.

Swimming in lettuce

Went out to the garden Sunday morning and was met with what appeared to be a total disaster. It was supposed to get cold last night but not cold, cold. No use of the dreaded “F” word by the forecasters. At 8:30AM the ground and garden were covered with “F”. All the plants that I hadn’t covered – that would be everything but a few very young transplants – were coated with white and wilted badly. I thought if maybe I could get the sprinklers on quickly, that would warm things up in a hurry – the well water is about 72 degrees. The water in the hoses had frozen solid, so no watering possible. Should I do a Tebow? nah, he bombed out last night and that may be a bad political move. Time to start thinking about summer plants but I really started thinking about hanging up my farmer duds totally. Had those numbskull forecasters on the tube suggested frost or freezing, I would have covered the garden just as I did last week. I went back out at 9:00 and the frost had melted off and all the wimpy looking plants had returned to full on perky. The ice in the hoses had melted and I got all the sprinklers going. It’ll be a day or so before I know fully how things made out, but as of right now I think everything survived with maybe a few burned edges.

I’m thinking of doing carrot pasta next time since that crop is coming in big time. I’ve grown carrots a few times but they never really did well until this year. In the past the ones that made it were tasty but misshaped – twisted, double legs, runty etc. We ate them but they were too ugly to show. This year they actually look like real carrots. It doesn’t have anything to do with the particular variety since I’ve used this same seed packet for a couple of years. Has to be totally based on the soil improvements and the absence of nematodes. They’re doing so good I’m going to pop in another batch so we’ll have carrots into late spring. I honestly don’t know how late in the season I can still have carrots.

One of the key ingredients in a dish of linguine and clams is the parsley. It really has to be the right kind of parsley – exactly the kind I grow of course. What I’m wondering is if I use parsley as an ingredient in making the pasta, in place of spinach, would the overall meal be even better? I personally would jump all over it but Nancy is a bit of a traditionalist on some things and I have a feeling linguine and clams would fit into that category. Assuming I just took the leap into the unknown, there is another decision to be made. I make the dough in the food processor and can either just pitch a handful of fresh out of the garden parsley into the processor along with the other ingredients or wilt the parsley first by popping it into sizzling water for a few seconds. The difference is that without the wilting process, the parsley will appear as little flecks of green in the white pasta whereas if I wilt it, the pasta turns green – no flecks. No way Nancy would miss the fact that I doctored the pasta if it’s a bright green but if it just has flecks throughout, she might miss the subtle tone. Yeah, that’s the way I’m going.

A House guest

The problem with the Denver Bronco’s is they don’t have enough Gators on the team.

Little Tommy spent the last few days of his Christmas break with us which made it extra special for us. Hard to believe this is his last semester before taking on the world. Here’s what really made my day, week, month, year…………….. Tom Sr. drove Jr. up to a midway meeting point for breakfast. He had a mid morning meeting so this arrangement worked out best for him and worked just fine for us. Met at Big Rig for breakfast. I think I mentioned before that the Rig has a large breakfast menu but I hadn’t gotten to the back page of it ever before so when Tommy ordered the chicken and waffles, I was surprised there was even such an offering. Turned out to be a plate size waffle and 4 pieces of fried chicken – basically half a chicken. He actually put it down. Anyway, naturally Tommy had packed a suitcase for the three day stay but his dad drove away from the restaurant with the suitcase still in the car. We didn’t realize that until about halfway back home. Here’s the good part – last year Nancy spotted a bargain on camo pants at the local Dollar Store but they are 36‘s – which is a tight squeeze for me. I had been losing weight for a while and Nancy is/was convinced that 36‘s are in my future. She broke them out for Tommy and sure enough, they fit nicely. Just a bit loose, but not all that loose. So 22 years after his birth, he and I are wearing the same size pants – almost. He’s certainly not fat, overweight, or even chunky so that sure made me feel good.

Luckily for me, the big Florida maple decided overnight to drop all it’s leaves at exactly the same time as I transferred and turned over a new compost pile and I had Tommy here to help vacuum the leaves into the leaf mulcher. The mulcher hold 15 gallons of shredded leaves per load and we did 5 loads so that’s a serious pile of shredded leaves. So this batch of compost will be heavily loaded with citrus in the form of grapefruit peelings and maple. Sounds like a candle scent.

I noted that Tommy was totally untrained in the fine art of pasta making and took it on my own to fill that gap in his resume. I also learned that he had never eaten spinach pasta and didn’t remember if he had ever eaten freshly made pasta so I set about to fill these missing pieces in his life. Last time I made pasta I used Swiss Chard in lieu of spinach – the Chard was ready, the spinach wasn’t. Now the spinach is ready to pick so I made the switch. Didn’t expect much difference but it turned out that there is. The spinach definitely has more internal moisture so no additional water was added to the dough at all – usually have to add a few tablespoons. My taste buds are long since burned out but Nancy assured me that she liked the spinach pasta better than the chard pasta and Tommy loved it. I didn’t think of it but next time I’ll try to remember to take a picture of the finished product.

I guess the next time we’ll see him is in Missouri at his graduation in May. Shouldn’t teaching him how to make pasta count as a graduation gift?

Monster Veggie

Planted 4 seeds each of 4 different tomato varieties. I’ll cull out the best 2 of each and get them out of the greenhouse and into the garden this time next month. Normally that would be way too early but I have water filled protection devices that will protect them from the cold so this way I get a really early start on the season. That makes a big difference here because the plants will be fairly mature by the time the bugs start making an appearance, so more able to deal with them. I also ordered two new seed varieties and will get those seeds going on Feb. 1 and into the garden early March. My plan is to end up with a dozen plants just loaded with tomatoes. In a perfect world that will be 2 each of 6 different varieties. The reality is that some will make it and some won’t and the mix will end up somewhat different – that’s why I always start spares.

Ever think about planting veggies in a container or window box? I tried it a month or so back with some lettuce and the photo shows the results. This is a leaf lettuce so you can just pick the leaves you want, not the whole plant. For one or two people, just these few plants will keep you in salad for months. Of course you save money, but the convenience of just clipping off a few leave just before dinner time or to pop onto a sandwich at lunch is sure nice.
The other photo is a hybrid called Veronica. It’s a cross between a cauliflower and broccoli. In some catalogs it’s listed along with the cauliflower, in others with the broccoli. Tastes just like cauliflower. Every time I see one of these I think about those National Geographic exotic lizards with the protruding eyes. Now that I think of it, it does have just the faintest hint of lizard taste. I think next season I’m going to grow the full rainbow of cauliflowers – cheddar, lime, white, and purple.

Another T-Bow Sunday. I still can’t get interested in any other NFL game but, I guess because of the strong Gator connection, I’m drawn to the Bronco games and they are consistently exciting – even the losses. You’re almost forced to watch the fourth quarter just because historically, this season, that’s when it all happens. I’ll have to admit I wouldn’t have bet two cents against the Steelers last game but I still watched. I can’t imagine them beating the Patriots but for sure, I just have to watch. What I wonder – is all the Bronco attention driving the other teams crazy? Speaking of football, I’m happy the Gators hired the offensive coach from Boise State. Not sure what kind of quarterback situation we’re looking at next season but I feel better with a blow and go kind of offensive coordinator.

Test Results

This is a photo of the current harvest. The lettuce is a red leaf variety called Danyelle. One of Nancy’s quilt buddies had tried it and bombed out so I inherited the seed. Great variety. That head will last us about 3 days in terms of salad days. Ditto the broccoli which was a heritage variety called Calabrese. I like the taste and it puts out a goodly quantity of side shoots. It’s the tallest of the 5 varieties I’m trying this year which actually makes it easier to pick. The only negative is that it doesn’t hold as long on the plant – turns to flowers more quickly – so you have to stay on top of it. That’s probably a characteristic that’s been bred out of it in the newer varieties. If you look closely, on the right side of the lettuce is a head of cauliflower. Doesn’t show up to well on the white bench.
I finally moved the Flower Sprouts into the main garden after nursing them from seeds to seedlings in the greenhouse. The plants really seem strong and healthy and made it in the real world overnight. I thought that the plants would be indistinguishable from real Brussels but they have distinctive red/purple stems and leaf veins so no doubting where they’re planted.

This week is a big compost week. We’ve harvested quite a bit in the past month and one of the compost piles is ready for spreading; in fact I’ve spread about 90%, probably 2 CF, in the past few days, since removing the garden covers. That’s not the big job. The current, active pile, the one that’s been receiving all the new input since early December, is chock full. So what I do is pitchfork that pile over to the spot vacated by the compost just spread and shut it down to new inputs. Believe it or not, that will take a couple of hours of heavy going. That pile just cooks for a couple of months, turning it every 3-4 days for aeration. Next I start a brand new fresh batch in the new vacancy. I already have quite a bit of material ready to go, mostly in the form of fallen leaves, and this new pile will be open to all new garden and kitchen input for the next couple of months. I’ll probably spend 4-6 hours on the whole project over the next few days. Great exercise. Based on history, I’ll have a another batch ready for the garden the first part of April and another the first part of June. The top surface of the garden does keep rising as I keep adding new material but there’s always plenty of room for more as the older stuff compresses and settles. Each new layer I put down adds about 4” at the time but settles down to less than half that over the next 6 months or so.

Got the blood test results. My PSA dropped from 4.0 before the cryo procedure to 0.3 now, so all is well in PSA land. If I recall correctly, it’s lower now than it was at the same time after the radiation. Next checkpoint is mid June. My appointment was at 9:00AM and Nancy had an appointment at another doctor, across the street for 10:30. Just enough time between appointments for us to have breakfast at Big Rig. Big Rig is a favorite breakfast/lunch place and has hearty offerings of good stuff. I had to laugh when I looked at the “specials” board today where the main attraction was “Monster Tots, covered in chili and melted cheese”, with a drink for $4.95. I would pay $4.95 just to see a plate of Monster Tots. Wonder if you have to sign a waiver or anything absolving the Rig of any responsibility if you drop over dead from a cholesterol overload.

Smoker still smokin’ away

Pulled the covers off the garden and found pretty much what I had expected: Those plants which are really sensitive were zapped – that’s the peppers and eggplants; the mature winter crops were totally fine; the newly planted stuff was iffy. Some made it, some didn’t – the losses were maybe 20-25%. Everything in the greenhouse survived so I have replacements ready to go for the ones that got hammered. If I had thought a little bit before covering, I probably could have saved even the youngest plants by covering them individually with a plastic cup. I never even gave it a thought at the time. I’m soaking it down really good today and perhaps some of the sad looking ones will recover. I feel pretty good about the event since we had three consecutive nights of solid freezing weather. The covers are started to show the wear with a few rips and tears but this is their 3rd service year so I have no complaints.

A day later I did a thorough examination and did find some leaf burn. Nothing that should kill the plant but more than first appeared. The lake took the big hit. The farmers pumped hard and long for 3 nights and dropped the lake about a foot. That may not sound like much but think how much water that is in a 60 acre lake. It’ll take quite while to recover from that.

Have to report another find. Except for Joey, nobody in our family likes lima beans. I mean really, really don’t like lima beans. Nancy used to make vegetable soup and the frozen mixed vegetables she used included lima beans. We would all scoop out the limas and put them in Joey’s bowl, to his delight. The other night we went out to eat at what’s become one of our favorite restaurants, a Greek restaurant in downtown Deland. They have a very limited offering of sides to complement the entree and this time we had a choice among a potato, rice pilaf, and lima beans. Nancy ordered something called Pastachio which sounded like a baked macaroni and cheese kind of dish so a potato or rice side didn’t go so with lima beans as the last choice, she passed on the side. The waitress chirped in that the lima beans were really good so I told her to go ahead and add that side to Nancy’s dish. We agreed – nothing to lose. What a great decision. The beans were cooked “Greek style”, which meant they were sauteed in olive oil along with other ingredients. I took the first bite from her plate and was blown away by how good they were. Nancy tried a bite and totally agreed. Luckily it was a hearty serving and we both ate our way through them. We had the same experience there a few months back when the side was green peas. We’re both ok with peas but not on the top 10 list for either of us. These were awesome so I’ve come to the conclusion that Greeks really know how to do vegetables. By the way, the Pastachio turned out more like baked ziti than Mac and cheese; excellent.

We have another smoker event planned for Saturday. Doing beef ribs this time and will probably pitch in a few chicken thighs to balance it out. I made my widely acclaimed Dutch Cole Slaw again with a few mods to the published ingredient list. The official Dutch version has cabbage, onion and green pepper plus all the stuff that goes into the sauce. My new version has the same basic ingredients plus shredded carrots, chopped broccoli, and pencil cut kohlrabi. I’m turning cole slaw, as I do with pizza, into an art form not easily replicated. I am only using one variety of cabbage this time as compared to using two different varieties last go round. And, as the last time, one thing I don’t understand is why the water in the pan isn’t boiling off. The temp gauge say 225 degrees and the unused meat thermometer just sitting inside the smoker also say 225 degrees but the water is not boiling off. Used to be water boiled at 212 but maybe that’s changed and I didn’t get the word. Smoke is billowing out so I can’t imagine that there’s a pressure build up inside the unit so the only other explanation I can conjure is that the grease dripping from the meat is changing the boiling point of the liquid. I bet that’s it because after about an hour cooking some water drips out of the unit but after a while the dripping stops. So before the fat drips off the meat, water probably steams off the water pan and then when the fat drips off the meat into the pan, the chemistry of the water changes and no longer steams. That’s got to be it – man do I feel better now. You probably wonder why I worry about that. About a 100 years ago in Utah I had a smoker and I wasn’t attentive to what was going on inside the smoker and it ran out of water and screwed up the meal. Tom told me he had run out of water with his but it was a long, long cook. My old one was a charcoal machine so maybe it just got hotter but for now I’m going to quit worrying about it and assume my dripping theory is correct and I’ll never run it dry. Wonder if the chemistry change is the same for pork, beef and chicken?