Micro tomatoes

This might surprise you about rats – it surprised me. Rats can climb trees. I have a tree which still has a fair number of tangerines up near the top where I can’t reach – maybe 20′ off the ground. Every morning there are a dozen or so tangerine peels on the ground, completely eaten except for the peel. I pick up the peels and toss them in the compost pile but the next morning, there’s another batch of eaten fruit on the ground. That also tells me they come out and eat at night because I check just at dusk and the ground is still clear under the tree. That’s also how I know that it’s rats and not squirrels. Squirrels are active all day and sleep at night. I guess I can read into it that we don’t have any resident rat snakes, foxes, or feral cats who are supposed to be slinking around at night catching rats. I think one of those Burmese pythons would be over the top. I do know that the rat poison is disappearing but can’t say for certain who’s getting it. My neighbor is also putting out poison so between us, maybe we can dent the population. I sure wish they would show themselves in daylight so I could pop them with the pellet gun.

A day later – I’m getting a good handle on the rat issue. This morning there were only two eaten tangerines under the tree. This compares to a dozen or so every morning for the past couple of weeks. There’s still plenty of fruit on the tree so it has nothing to do with supply. Also, for the second night in a row all of the poison I put out is gone. My neighbor and I found home base this morning – a large nest in his fire wood pile which is located about 10′ from the tangerine tree. When we uncovered the nest it looked exactly like the nest I found in the car except quite a bit larger. It also was loaded with tangerine peels so no question this was headquarters. I’ll put another lid full of poison under the tree tonight and just keep at it until it remains untouched. That way I’ll know that we either got them all or trained them.

Spotted a few micro green tomatoes on the patio bushes – those are the ones planted in the container with carrots. I can’t tell how well the carrots are doing underground but if the greens are any indication, they’re doing very well.

Finally some rain

Looks like my timing is pretty good regarding taking advantage of the low lake level and extracting all that muck. Usually we’re dry until April and I could easily have procrastinated knowing that I could get even more by waiting for another month of dry weather. But the last couple of weeks we’ve seen more than normal rain – not enough to budge the lake level yet but as the ground saturates, the lake will rise faster on runoff and it could be the end of the muck season. Good. I was wearing out. In addition to all the rich muck, I now have a good place to land and launch the poke boat and perhaps the trench I dug will turn into a fish hideout for Old Nathan, the biggest bass in the lake.

I decided to plant some potatoes after all. We opened a bag of Idaho spuds from Publix and noted that several of them were already sprouting. Wonder if they’ll grow in Florida? We’ll soon know – where soon is 90-100 days. The sweet potatoes I have sprouting in water now have leaves so I’m guessing by the middle of April we’ll have both kinds of potatoes in the garden. You start them quite differently. With white potatoes, you cut off chunks of the potato with an eye and plant them directly into the soil. With the sweets, you let the sprout develop then cut it off the “mother” and root the sprout by either planting it directly in potting soil or rooting the slip in water.

Notice how the higher gas prices are being blamed on world affairs – Greece, Iran, China etc. When they went up during the Bush admin it was all about the evil oil companies and Bush/Cheney’s hook to them. The energy issue/gas prices are going to be the nail in Obummer’s coffin. Before he was elected he speechified often about how we would benefit from higher prices and actually said we should be paying the same prices as they do in Europe – $10-12 a gallon; wanted to tack on a carbon tax to raise the price and reduce driving; within a few weeks of being elected, shut down offshore drilling, arctic drilling and other drilling on Fed lands. Now he’s taking credit for all the oil and gas coming on line from projects started 5-8 years ago. Makes it kind of hard now to talk your way around the high prices. Especially after killing the pipeline from Canada.

Car all better

If you want to just grow something edible but not mess around with much of a garden, I highly recommend radishes as the perfect starter. Seeds are cheap and very available; they take very little space – try a clay pot; they give nearly instant gratification – germinate in about 3 days and are ready to pick in a month. The newer varieties can grow as large as golf balls and still not turn hot or pithy. They do well in cold weather, not freezing cold, but spring and fall are perfect almost anywhere. I just keep planting them around as fillers.

I think this is going to be the first season with completely renovated garden soil. Using the muck is accelerating the process dramatically such that there will be at least a foot and more like 18” of organic material over 100% of the garden area. From this point on, I’ll be able to use compost simply as a soil enricher and not to build up volume and create more plantable footage. I never see the time coming when I’m wondering what to do with all the compost but it won’t be nearly as urgent as it has been.

The rat story won’t go away. The Merc is now home with new vacuum hoses installed and the check engine light properly out. Total tab $57 so not as bad as I had anticipated. I learned something interesting about the car along the way. When the check engine icon is lit, which means some fault has been detected, it automatically turns the radio off. So I guess if you’re just riding along listening to the radio and not likely to be looking at the dashboard, turning the radio off brings your eyes in that direction. Very clever. My fear was that the rat had eaten through a wire that powered the radio and would be very difficult/expensive to find. I did pick up some poison and have distributed it up around the carport and sheds. The problem with poison is that you can’t really say whether it’s working or not since they don’t come out into the open and line up bodies. I guess they just crawl away and quietly convert to dust. I haven’t seen any squirrels falling out of trees either so maybe they’re just smart enough to avoid rat poison. I’d be ok with a few thousand less squirrels/tree rats too. My neighbor said that if I scoot some moth balls under the cars, that too will keep the rodents away.

I’m starting to think about an “all Florida” Republican ticket. That would be a Bush/Rubio ticket. I’m starting to hear some of the talking heads on the tube speculating on a brokered convention or some late comer dropping in to stir the pot. Wonder if they’re reading my blog? Let’s see how long it takes them to opine on the Florida ticket. I could certainly get behind Christie too. Although still a yankee, he’s got some really great one liners – example, telling Warren Buffet to just shut up and write a check if he wants to pay more taxes – so I could probably get past the geographical problem. If something happens to Romney, he just might jump in. What could happen to Romney? London could need someone to rescue their Olympics.

Rat Attack

We decided to take the Merc down to Altamonte Sunday to meet friends for dinner. Having had the nest fire in the Camray and the Merc having sat under the carport for almost a month, I made sure to open the hood before cranking the engine. Good thing – there were several nests but this time the culprit was still in residence. Turns out the perps are rats; not mice, not squirrels. Along with the nests and acorns this guy had actually dragged a fresh tangerine peel onto the engine for a later snack. At least now I have a line of attack – rat poison around the carport. One good thing is that I have a good use for the nests which are made from the fiber that forms at the base of palmetto fronds – where the frond grows from the trunk. I use it as a base for orchids and other air plants- it’s airy and holds moisture fairly well. New input. On the way home from Altamonte, the check engine light came on. Nancy dropped it off at the mechanic on the way to quilting and the guy called and said that something had gotten up under the hood and chewed through a vacuum hose; that would be a $50 assembly from Mercury. Also the radio apparently no longer works so the rodent probably also chewed an electrical wire. Now I’m pissed. This month is turning out to be a very expensive vehicle maintenance month. First the gas tank on the pick-up decides to leak, needing full replacement, and then a rat(s) decides to make a meal of the car.

The de-mucking job is really keeping me busy. On day one I rake the muck off the lake bottom into a pile to drain then on day two, haul the drained muck up to the garden area where I spread it – either onto the compost piles or directly into the garden. I’m not counting wheel barrow loads but am sure I’m over twenty at this point. What I’m finding is that the muck collection is a shoreline thing and once I work my way 8-10′ from shore, it turns to nice hard sand bottom. So the particular area I’m working seems to be maybe 25′ long by 10′ wide by 3-4′ deep and I’ve worked my way through about half of it. So I’ve got a large commitment and hope the results are what I expect. What a bummer it would be if this stuff turned out to kill off veggies.

The broccoli and cauliflower are pretty much playing out on schedule. Ditto the Chinese cabbage and kohlrabi. Next to go is the spinach which will be packaged away in the freezer probably by the end of the week. Kale and collard greens show no sign of fading away and the brussels are still a few weeks away. Pulling carrots and onions on an as needed basis and have enough to keep us humming for another month at least. One thing I’m doing differently this year as a result of attending that small garden seminar is to cut off the spent plants at ground level rather than pulling them out. I used to pop them into the compost pile so the old roots eventually made it back but according to this expert, they decompose faster by just leaving them in place. Then I’m just spreading 2-4” of compost or muck right on top of the cut stems – no tilling.

Nancy saw a recipe on TV and decided to try it. It was a pasta dish using a style called Orecchiette, which it turns out is not all that easy to find. The pasta is shaped like small , thick shells. The dish incorporates a load of swiss chard, cannelloni beans, fresh parsley, some lemon, some cheese, and Italian sausage. I have to admit I had my doubts but it was really, really good.

A new cousin?

Simon’s has applied for three summer jobs – each sounding pretty good. The first one he applied for is a “domestic” position at Yellowstone and he got the offer a couple months ago. The second is in western North Carolina at an outdoor center that specializes in guiding white water rafting and kayaking trips. Check out NOC.com. He got that offer earlier this week. The final job, the Trenton Institute, is also in western NC and likewise an outdoor camping experience for young kids so it includes hiking, fishing, kayaking and the like. Trenton requires certification in CPR and lifeguarding. Simon has some background with both as an Eagle Scout and can be re-certified as required. He will probably hear within the next couple of weeks whether or not he can do a hat trick and get offers from all three applications. I think the Trenton opportunity would be the preferred catch but either of the NC jobs would make for a great summer and fit better with the family summer schedule.

You know it’s possible I’m related to the Sports Illustrated cover girl this month. My maternal grandmother is an Upton so Kate and I could have some common genes. She doesn’t really look like my grandmother but then I didn’t know her when she was a young lady so……………….

I keep reporting that the lake is at the lowest level ever and that is still the case. After this latest cold snap, it’s down a few more inches. I gauge the level using the dock ladder where the lowest rung is now out of the water. That means the water at the end of the dock is about a foot deep. We consider 5′ at the base of the ladder to be normal. Over the years things have dropped off the dock which we assumed were gone forever. Maybe not. One big target is a ring that Megan lost about 10 years ago. Assuming some giant bass didn’t gobble it up, maybe we’ll be able to recover it, especially if the lake keeps dropping. Probably one more freeze with the ferneries pumping will leave that area totally high and dry.

Surgery went perfectly

.Nancy’s operation went fine. The procedure is done with just a strong, valium like sedative so the patient is awake for the whole thing but feels nothing like pain – a bit of pressure but no hurting. It took a grand total of 15 minutes from the time I left her to when they called me from the waiting room to get her. Within a couple of hours, she said things were much brighter. They provided a series of eye drops which are used a few times a day and a clear patch to use for protection when sleeping. Other than that, nothing special. No bending over. We went back to the doc this AM for a followup and he confirmed that everything is progressing as expected. She has to go back again next week but the big surprise was when he said he’d do the other eye next month. Turns out that you usually get cataracts in both eyes and that you usually have them taken care of consecutively and then get a new prescription for eye glasses after both are done. That explains why whenever we told somebody that Nancy was getting the surgery they asked if this was the first eye or the second eye.

Took the covers off the garden and we didn’t escape without damage. Most of the young stuff got nailed. Mature plants survived just fine but stuff planted since mid January and, in some cases, even further back was hammered. I’m not really upset about that because we’re quickly approaching time to plant warm weather stuff so the space won’t sit idle for long. The pics are the cauliflowers I picked today. We’ll get 8-10 meal size packages for freezing from these. I set the napkin holder in to give you some scale. Combined they weigh just over 10 pounds. You might recall several months back I focused on a new cross between brussels and kale called FlowerSprouts. They didn’t make it. They were growing nicely but I could tell they would be much slower than anticipated and likely to run into trouble in the hot weather so we’ll just have to wait until next fall to try these.

The neighbor with the chickens (2) asked if I wanted the chicken poop he raked out of the pen. You bet I do! So maybe the eggs for lettuce trade I had envisioned is going to be a poop for lettuce deal instead. I’m ok with that. Should heat up the compost pile a bit but you wouldn’t think you’d get much volume from two chickens. We’ll see.

Made a nice batch of calcium chips for the tomatoes. A couple years back Nancy chucked her old Cuisinart because it was just too hard to change blades and remove the container from the base. I rescued it to use for chopping potting soil into the finer grade I prefer and it turns out it’s perfect for chopping up eggshells. Why would I want chopped eggshells? Anybody who’s grown tomatoes is aware that sometimes the fruit rots on the bottom or blossom end. It’s a condition called blossom rot. What causes it is a lack of calcium in the soil – enter the eggshells. I learned that sprinkling or crushing an eggshell in the same hole where I plant the tomato cures the problem. It works, no kidding. A little trick is to bake or nuke the shells for a couple of minutes before chopping to kill off the bacteria and make them a bit more brittle.

Nancy cashed in her second cacciatore coupon – doesn’t look like she’s going to forget about them. This time I made parsley instead of spinach pasta. I put it in the cuisinart dry instead of blanching it. The end result was good but the dough was much drier and harder to work with. That made the noodles less tender, which I liked a little better.

Sports: Just watched my first ever Rugby game. It was two teams that I have close ties to – Samoa and New Zealand. The guys that poured our driveway in Utah were from Samoa or Tonga (whatever) and I did a report on New Zealand in the fifth grade. I didn’t like it quite as much as regular football but way, way more than soccer. If you’ve ever watched a soccer game you understand why the fans can get really violent – run, run, run and score nothing. I think if there was a regular Sunday afternoon rugby game, I wouldn’t hate it so much when football season is over.

Valentine curtain job

It froze last night – a bowl of water I placed on the deck was solid ice. Maybe not as cold as early last month but still cold enough to do serious damage to unprotected stuff. As soon as it was warm enough for human life, I went out and checked the tomatoes hidden under the water walls. Sure enough, they looked perfect – probably never even knew they were in danger. I’ve got another half dozen ready to plant in the garden but I held back to see how well (or not) the protection worked. I’ll plant those in a few days when it’s supposed to be back to 80. If I remember correctly I have 12 of those walls so I should have this season covered.

Nancy and I did a job that I have been dreading for a couple of years. She’s been haunting me that we needed to pull down the curtains throughout the house to wash them. They looked just fine to me and my experience with taking down curtains is on a par with my experience in tackling a plumbing job. It sounds simple but when you actually start messing around with the hangers, bad things happen. They pull out of the wall, are rusted together, break off – all kinds of things that just make the job way more than a simple cleaning job. With that said, for whatever reason she decided to do it herself and I knew that would be disaster piled on disaster. At least I appreciate just how delicate the process was with respect to the hardware whereas her primary concern was with the curtains. Turned out that I had installed all the hardware very well the first time and the design of the brackets was beautiful – actually came apart and went back together with not a hitch in the getalong. I will say that when all was said and done – the curtains washed, ironed and back up on the windows – I don’t see a bit of difference. Nancy does so I guess that’s all that matters. Now if I can just hold this job off another 10 years. Could this count as a Valentine day present? Can’t hurt to try.

When I picked the sweet potatoes in October, there were a couple that were way too big whole and we set them aside with plans to cook and mash sometime in the future. Then we totally forgot about them. Nancy came across them this week and they were sprouting. I hadn’t planned on putting in any sweets this year but this seemed like a sign so I took three of them, set them in a container and added water. Assuming the sprouts r
eally take off and leaf, I guess I’ll be planting sweets in late March or early April. I’m fairly sure I know why the roots didn’t develop as well as I’d expected last year so this could be a break through.

Nancy has cataract surgery Wednesday. Seems like everybody we know either has had it done or knows plenty of people who have and they seem to survive just fine. I guess it’s one of those surgeries that used to be scary 50 years ago but is routine now. Still scares me a little

Sensational Spinach

Update on George – he’s home and feeling well. Lost 23#’s in the last week based on removing excess water. His heart valve is in such shape, that they couldn’t get the catheter into the valve. The game plan is to have another specialist take a look at what graphics they now have to see if there’s a way to go in and clean up calcium deposits that are messing up the valve action or whether he has to get a new valve now. If they can do a temporary fix that buys him a couple of years, there’s a new procedure that incorporates a new valve into a stent rather than trying to replace the old valve with a new, organic valve. I read about the procedure a few months back and it sounded promising. Apparently it’s been done in Europe with good results for several years but just now being introduced/allowed in the US. There’s a hospital in Miami that’s been doing it for a few months with a good success rate so if cleaning up the old valve buys him a couple of years, that procedure should be much more mature.

Update on the muck operation. I pulled 8 wheel barrows full up to the compost piles and intermixed that with the other stuff. It sure looks good but it’s really a tough job to dig it out and then roll it up to the piles. I’m recruiting number one son to join in the fun – if I can get 10 more loads before he crashes or rebels that should really do me. Oops, that didn’t happen. Too many other honey do’s in the way plus non-optimal weather conditions. So I’m back to do a few loads each day. I use a giant claw on a 6′ steel pole to pull muck from the bottom up onto shore. I let that drain and dry for a couple of days and then shovel it into a wheelbarrow. As long as the weather holds dry and the nurseries continue to pull from the lake, I can keep this process going. I guess you could look at it like the silver lining behind the incredible shrinking lake. Silk purse/sow’s ear. This muck is deep black but has no odor so it’s really peat like. I would have thought it would have a strong sulphur smell but it doesn’t. We’ll soon know whether it’s as good a garden amendment as I’m thinking. If nothing else, I’m getting a good workout and wil have created a nice place to launch and land the poke boat.

Covering the garden again tonight. I knew it was too good to be true that we could go the rest of the season with no frost or freezes. Shouldn’t be anything damaged and this one is possibly the last. I’ve got the drill down to such a science that it only takes an hour or so to get everything covered and the good news is that a brief hit like this will whack off a load of bugs. The very few seedlings I have that are in a delicate state will just spend the weekend in the bathroom. I put them in the shower stall, close the curtain and no one’s the wiser. Last thing was to pick a few goodies out of the garden that will hold us over for the few days until the covers come off – spinach, lettuce, onions and a few sprigs of parsley.

I’ve never had much trouble growing parsley in the cooler months but this year the crop is sensational. You might be thinking parsley is parsley, what’s the big deal. This year the leaves are dark, dark green and crisp. Think of the darkest green spinach you’ve ever seen and double it.

Politics – After Santorum won a few primaries, I’m liking my prediction of a brokered nomination at the Convention this summer. Not that I particularly care for him, but the more the delegate count splinters, the more likely it is that no candidate will get the required 1155. Not sure who the surprise candidate will be yet but am leaning towards either the Indiana Gov or Jeb Bush. The Jersey Gov will be in it as well, especially if Jeb just won’t jump in. Christie’s “in your face” mannerisms might work to overcome his NE liberal baggage, especially that late in the game. It didn’t work for Guiliani last cycle , I think because he got in too soon, but that was then and this is now. Wonder if Obama’s incredibly stupid move on the Catholics had anything to do with Santorum’s uptick. Kind of doubt it and think his plan has been to just hang in as the lone conservative when Gingrich crashes. I think that works for him, not enough to make him the eventual candidate, but enough to keep things stirred up until the convention.

Water Walls

My neighbor George is in the hospital to get a heart valve. He’s known that the valve would eventually need attention for quite some time but his cardiologist gave him reason to think that was a few years off in the future. A few weeks ago he came down with a bad chest cold or something that sounded like a chest cold that knocked him for a loop and left him very short of breath and stamina. Last Friday he consulted over the phone with his family doc who advised him to head right for the emergency room. At that point another cardiologist got in the loop and said he had experienced a mini heart attack and that the condition of his valve was such that it needed immediate attention. The original heart guy practices out of the hospital in Daytona Beach so on Monday, they took George, by ambulance, over to the hospital there. That’s probably a good thing since that’s a brand new, state of the art facility. Personally I’d probably opt to go to Shands or Mayo because this is likely to be more complicated than normal. George had Hodgkins as a young guy and was treated, successfully, with radiation. It killed the cancer, but it did damage to much of the tissue in the area, maybe the source of the heart valve problems. The irradiated tissue makes healing a tough issue so this surgery is not likely to be your garden variety event. Fingers crossed.

We’re freezing veggies at a good clip with a dozen or so bags of cauliflower and broccoli already done. The next candidate is spinach and chard. It’s clear that we just can’t keep up with it and it’s likely to start bolting within the next couple of weeks.

Got the first of this year’s tomatoes in. Normally this would be at least a month too early but this year has been exceptionally warm and I have protective covers that are supposed to protect down to 27 degrees. It’s possible but not very likely that we’d see anything near that cold. The photo is the first two plants protected by walls of water. The large green plant is the last lettuce left in that row and will be picked and converted into a salad for somebody by the end of the week. If you look really, really closely just to the right of the milk bottle, you might see a bit of green. That’s an anti-nematode marigold, a Golden Guardian. They grow wild now so I just pick out the ones popping up where I don’t need them and transfer them to where they can do some good. If all goes well, these should be producing by April. I have 10 more plants at the same state in the green house but I’m going to hold back planting for a few days to make sure these first two don’t crash. I have a 95% confidence factor but why take the chance.
Those patio tomatoes I put in last December have blossoms so we should actually be adding a little red to the salads in March. This is the same container where I planted carrots all around the tomatoes. Obviously the tomatoes don’t mind the company and the carrot tops sure look good so this companion planting seems to be performing as advertised.

Just muckin’ around

There’s a big disconnect between all the talk of a bad economy and my observations in Central Florida. Drove down to Altamonte yesterday to have lunch with some old friends and hit Costco for the big buy – load up the freezer with meat etc and to pick up a couple of fire extinguishers which we saw in the sale brochure. This was mid day on a Thursday when you would expect lower traffic and lower crowds. The biggest problem we had was finding parking spaces at the restaurant and at Costco. That’s if you don’t count a line at the restaurant that reached outside the building and into the parking lot – 11:15am; that’s if you don’t count having to wait in the checkout line at Costco for 20 minutes – all cash registers open. The roads were jammed at every turn. We find this same situation any time we hit that area – day, night, week day, weekend.
Economy vs traffic, crowds, costco, restaurant. On Saturday we went to Sam’s in Daytona – same experience. This is a giant Sam’s with an enormous parking lot and we the only parking was in the far forty. It was so busy, there were no shopping carts available. Can you imagine that? That wasn’t too big a deal because we were there for a one item purchase – another freezer. The few other necessary items we were able to just carry around the store. Probably not having a cart saved some money for sure.

We decided we needed a second freezer because freezer #1 is full and usually full. And there are more veggies coming out of the garden than we can eat for sure, even counting the loads we give away throughout the week. For example, right now there are 5 cauliflowers that need picking and loads of broccolli. We could eat spinach every night, lettuce three times a day and still have plenty to give away. So we decided it makes sense to freeze the overflow. Last tomato season we could have made quite a bit more spaghetti sauce but ran out of storage space long before we ran out of ingredients. The level of productivity has crept up on us, no doubt due to the soil improvements, so that no matter how good a job I do at staggering the plantings, our cup runneth over. Anyway, we’re in the food freezing business again.

I found the motherlode of muck – by accident. I was looking for a spot to land the poke boat and pulled onto the shore on my neighbors property. It’s better access there and I’ve always used it during low water conditions but since it’s lower than ever, I can’t drive the boat up as far onto shore. I stepped out of the boat, thinking that I was on nice firm, albeit grassy, shoreline. Wrong, I went knee deep into muck with one leg while the other was still in the boat. I attempted an olympic move to get onto hard shore which turned into a Special Olympic move but still did somehow manage to get the top half of my body and one leg onto stable shore. I worked the other leg out but the shoe was a casualty. The good news is that this should be an incredible source of muck for the garden. I started the harvest and interestingly, I can stand on hard, firm shoreline and just a foot further out, is the soft stuff. I dug/scooped out one wheel barrow full and up to the garden where I plan to let it sit a couple of days to dry out before assessing exactly what I’ve got. In addition to having a potential soil additive, I’m also getting a nice place to land the boat, deep enough to float the boat right up to hard shore to launch from.