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.

Flared

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.
yaya-and-kuroda-carrots
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?