New Neighbors

Nancy got off for her Salt Lake trip bright and early – a 5AM wake up for us. I don’t have any big projects set up for this trip so it will be just business as usual. On the way over to the airport, I ran over something large and white which woke both of us up, big time. It was either a really large, white dog or a goat or perhaps a deer – already dead. It was dark and foggy so I just didn’t have any time to react and would have had to swerve severely to miss it. I tried to get a look at it on the way back but at highway speed I couldn’t get a good look. It was definitely some kind of animal and fairly good size – maybe calf size but my best guess is large dog. Coincidentally, on the way home, the air conditioning quit working. I got under the car to see if there was any obvious damage and saw nothing suspicious. In fact, the underside of the car is well protected by the chassis so I think the only possible damage to the car might be alignment but I don’t notice anything different there.

Got an interesting thing going on with the T-Mobile cellular internet connection. From the get go, I’ve had four or five bar signal level at what they call “Edge” speed. “Edge” speed is the slowest, well under 3G or 4G but for us out here in the woods, it was adequate and far faster than dial-up. Two nights ago, the five bar Edge was replaced with one bar 4G. Sometimes it works at high speeds and sometimes the signal is just too weak to be worth having. I learned that the modem works at all the speeds available but defaults to 4G if it can, regardless of a superior, albeit slower, signal. It’s built into the modem so I don’t have the ability to choose which signal to lock on to or reject. I called T-Mobile and they said that they were very surprised I could get 4G at all based on tower locations and they were also surprised that I was happy with the Edge signal. The issue that surfaced was, according to them, I should be getting a strong 3G signal. We’re 2 miles from the cell tower which is pumping out both the Edge signal and a 3G signal. Based on that, they assumed that something was wrong with the tower 3G equipment and they opened a work order to have an engineer go out to the tower and see what’s happening there. So maybe next week, I’ll be a full fledged 3G guy.

My chicken coop neighbor announced a crop of new chicks – the first ones. I went up and checked out the five new arrivals. I guess the plan is to raise chicks, not eggs.

We’re getting a new neighbor. May is staying with her daughter now after she spends the next couple of months in rehab following a fall induced hip operation. Her daughter Pat stopped by the other day to let us know what’s going on and said they were renting out the trailer starting in January to an older couple living currently in Kentucky. Apparently the guy had an accident in a racing car and is also recovering from some severe injuries to his arms and upper body. I’m guessing they won’t be bringing a jet ski to the lake. Other than the hip, Pat said May was in excellent health and the doctors were optimistic about her recovery prospects – even at 91.

I hate caterpillars

Milestone day – the night time temps dropped blow 70, the day time temps below 90 and the humidity below 50% so we turned off the air conditioning and opened the doors. Must be fall.

Congratulations Dr. Lindsay Yearta. You make us all proud. The graduation is in December so we’ve blocked out the whole month to make sure we don’t miss it.

Getting ready to do the bachelor thing again. Nancy’s off to SLC for her annual sabbatical and I’ll be toughing it out here. The four day NY trip was a dummy run for the ten day SLC jaunt but I think I perfected all the skills needed for the additional days. I have enough pizza shells and toppings to cover the whole trip if I decide to go that way; enough hard rolls and pickled jalapenos for an all sandwich trip; plenty of red wine but maybe short on the premium beer.

I put up two pea fences in the garden, each about 10′ long. Planting both sides of the fence means I will have a total of 40 linear feet of peas. Half will be the flat, edible pod Chinese type and the other will be classic English green peas. I think it’s still just a tad too warm to plant them but there was just a bit of a nip in the air this morning so I want to be prepared if I have to make an emergency planting otherwise I think I’ll start one the first of the month and the other a few weeks later. That should set up a December harvest. I’m also jumping ahead a week or two from my plan to put in some lettuce. I have quite a few plants, way more than I need or can even give away, so I’ll plant four on the off chance that they’ll survive the heat. If these guys make it a few days, I’ll put in four more of a different variety. Really nothing to lose. Remember those shade cloth huts that were protecting the tomatoes? I took those down and have them protecting the new lettuce. The tomato plants should be able to handle the direct sun now with no problems.

Butternut Squash Blossom
Butternut Squash Blossom
Baby zucchini
Baby zucchini

Ever see squash blossoms? Some people are surprised at how big they are and that they’re edible. I could pick these and batter them for a squash blossom fry. But I won’t. If you look closely you can make out a baby butternut squash just beneath the blossom. To calibrate you, the blossoms are roughly 6” across. You can also see a baby zucchini on that photo, that’s a month from seed. If that particular zucchini makes it, he’ll be on the table in about 2 weeks, whereas the baby Butternut won’t be pickable until November.
Bush beans at 3 weeks
Bush beans at 3 weeks

The first patch of pole beans are now reaching 6′ tall, a month from planting. I started worrying a bit about them 2 weeks ago when the leaves were apparently being eaten with great relish by small caterpillars. Some people love to watch butterflies; personally I only see caterpillars. I sprayed with BT, which is a biologic insecticide, not a chemical insecticide and apparently that worked. If you look at the leaves, those at the base of the plants are still pock marked into a web. Above that in the area where I sprayed before the leaves were eaten, no signs at all of any damage. Interestingly I had the bush beans, pictured below, under insect cover for the last couple of weeks and assumed that would keep them safe from the caterpillars. Not so. I popped the cover to check out growth and sure enough, there were loads of caterpillars gnawing away. It’s really impossible to seal it off but I was surprised at how little affect the cover really had. I quickly sprayed those plants with BT also and spent a half hour picking off all the crawlers I could see. What they do is eat their fill and then wrap up the edge of the leaf to form a home for the cocoon so I just look for the folded leaves and squeeze them. Bye bye caterpillars.

Turning the Hull

Go Gators. This could end up a reasonable season after all. Four SEC teams in the top 6; not too shabby.

We had an interesting day today. Mark is building a new catamaran, this time a motor boat. He started the first hull last March from plans he codeveloped with an Australian marine architect and has completed the first phase -building one hull. The next step is to rotate the hull and finish the inside with 2 layers of extra strong fiberglass. The hull, weighing about 1000 pounds, is roughly 34′ long, 4′ wide, and perhaps 5′ top to bottom so rotating it 180 degrees is no simple job. Mark built a special saddle to facilitate the rotation which I guess is the standard way to do the job. I didn’t count heads but suspect there were 50 people who volunteered to help. Most were strangers (to us), a few of Mark and Joey’s friends that we’ve met before, and our family, well represented by us, Tom, and Brian’s family. I’ve put together a few photo’s to give you a feel for the process. From start to finish it took about a half hour and went off without a hitch – no broken bones or broken boat parts. If all goes according to plan, the second hull should be ready for the same treatment next spring.

Ready to start
Ready to start
Shift left
Shift left
Rotate 90 degrees
Rotate 90 degrees
Inside the hull
Inside the hull
Done
Done

After the hull turning, Tom invited Nancy and I to lunch at Dixie Crossing, a seafood based, long time favorite restaurant in the area. As usual it was excellent and Tom ordered alligator ribs for an appetizer. I’ve seen them on menus before but never actually saw or tasted any. I had a mental image of something that would take two hands to deal with – like a brontosaurus rib. In fact, these ribs were delicately flavored, very tender, and the bones were on the order of 3” long and 1/4” wide. I asked the waitress if gators just have micro ribs or were these baby gators; the latter. They get them from a gator farm in Louisiana. If you really have a hankering for ribs, stay with pork or beef but don’t be afraid to give the gator ribs a shot.

Not a Snake

In the last post I had pictures of the “snake” that popped out of the garden. One reader was kind enough to forward me a link to the Eastern Glass lizard and suggested perhaps that was what I found. Sure enough, that’s what it was. Try this site: http://www.wildflorida.com/wildlife/lizards/Eastern_Glass_Lizard.php to get a really great look at it. Thanks for the input.

Filling in
Filling in
Filling cobblestones
Filling cobblestones
extra filler stones
extra filler stones
stone facing
stone facing

These pictures show the deck concrete wrap up work. We poured 8 cobble stone molds which will be cut into individual cobble stones and used to fill in the areas where a whole mold wouldn’t fit. You see those on the tarps down the walkway. Another couple of shots show how those cobble stones are set in place with cement used to fill in the cracks to give it a smooth finish. By our calculation there should be enough cobblestones to get the job done. One pic shows the stone facing on the step. The same slate like rock will be used to pave the top of the step. It took 50 bags, exactly what he bought, to do the cobblestone job. I’m guessing we’ll need another 3-5 bags to do all the misc stone work and fill in the cracks over the whole deck. As you might guess, this is slow going work so probably going to continue at least through the end of the month.

The butternut squash is coming along and was starting to push up on the insect cover so I decided to remove it and spray some BT to kill off the hoards of leaf eating caterpillars sure to come. The plants were seeds 6 weeks ago and there are already several small gourds forming. My experience is that the first few that form will fall off before they mature but ones that form later will hold. My projections are for a harvest starting in November.
Butternut at 6 weeks
We have new neighbors. The last house for sale on the lake is now occupied after about 9 months on the market. We haven’t met them but I do see a bass boat in the yard so maybe I have some competition. Plus, there’s a feared and dreaded jet ski pulled up on their lawn. I may have to break out the torpedo launcher after all. Also seeing kids and kayaks on the lake but not sure if that’s part of the same crowd. They may just be visitors since the kids are definitely school age but swimming and boating mid afternoon.

Underground Critters

So far so good on the rabbit fence. I’m seeing plenty of rabbits but none inside the garden.

I know some of you have been waiting with some anticipation about the sweet potato crop. The books tell you the time from planting to harvesting is 90-120 days so I set my computer schedule for 120 days. Today was day 110 and I considered that close enough to at least try one plant. For sure they were ready and I went ahead and harvested the whole crop – 6 plants. The pic shows the pile I dug. You would think digging the potatoes would be free of adventure but you’d be wrong. Turns out we have an underground eco system that includes toads and snakes. I’ve dug up the toads before but the snake was a real surprise. The soil is so heavily mulched that it’s really soft so I could dig down with my bare hands easily to my elbow. You dig down an feel around for the tubers. I didn’t actually touch a buried toad or snake but one of each did pop out of the ground very, very close – I know they were less than a foot away. I might have had a heart attack or a major bowel movement had I actually grabbed hold of either. The picture doesn’t do the snake well but it’s about 2′ long, very sleek, smooth and shiny. The toad was about the same color as the soil.

head shot
head shot
Underground snake
Underground snake
Underground Toad
Underground Toad
Fall sweet potato crop
Fall sweet potato crop

I’m officially crossing okra off the list of things I grow. Two years ago, when I first decided to try it, I was disappointed when the plants became infested with ants. Last year I switched to another variety and the ant problem went away but the okra was often too tough and fibrous to eat. This year with yet another variety and a new location in the garden, I was hoping for a break through. Ants again. Today I yanked out the plants but not before being seriously chewed up by fire ants.

Nancy is home for a week or so before traveling again. She travels light with only a carry on bag but when I picked it up after her trip, I risked a hernia. That little bag was crammed with 50 pounds of booty from Jersey – including 20 pounds of pasta. Unless you’ve been in a deli or grocery store in Jersey or NY or Philadelphia, you can’t appreciate the wide selection available compared to our limited selection in Florida. So when we travel in that region we invariably end up restocking. This time she came home with a few shapes I’d never seen before. Should be fun eating and we have enough stock piled to last a year at least. That’s because we supplement the purchased stuff with home made.

The lake level is over the third step finally. That’s an important milestone because I’m fairly sure that I could lower the boat into the lake again. If the rest of the month holds, I could start trolling for spec’s in early November.

Garden Poppin’

I sure feel better about the Gators after they dealt with Tennessee handily. The first game was scary even though they won; ditto game two. Now I’m thinking this can be a respectable season instead of the disaster I was dreading. After all, Tennessee was nationally ranked at #23 so they had some level of respect. Florida was 18 after starting the season at 25 so maybe this win will move them up a notch. The schedule ahead is tough with several top 10 teams on the horizon so I’ll be really surprised if they are still in the top 25 by the end of the season.

pole beans at 3 weeks
pole beans at 3 weeks
bush zuchinni - 3 weeks
bush zuchinni - 3 weeks

I mentioned in the last post that the pole beans were growing quite fast. The picture shows just how fast. The seeds were planted August 28, about 3 weeks ago and the top tendrils you see on the pole are 3′ above the ground. At the same time I planted a bush zucchini seed(s) and the plant is 2′ high and has a 2′ spread on the leaves. Hard to believe that both those were sitting in seed packs 3 weeks ago. The insect cover showing behind the zucchini is covering 3 x 20′ rows of bush beans. All the seeds have pretty much germinated and I wanted to get the insect protection on before they were chomped on by grasshoppers or whatever. The butternut vines are 3′ long. They’re hidden under the insect cover barely showing by the pole beans. I see incredible growth rate every season but it never ceases to amaze me just how fast the stuff takes off. The tomatoes I planted are doing so so. I always plant spare seeds anticipating a fall out and this year I’ve used all my spares and a few volunteers from the empty rows. I did get some mental relief the other day when reading the gardening section of the local newspaper and the columnist, a master gardener, said that it was time to put in fall tomatoes but they were always a hit or miss fall crop always. He said that one year you get great tomatoes, the next not a plant makes it. He can never figure out why – same varieties, same planting schedule and method, same garden – but some years the plants do well and …………………. That made me feel much better. Today I pulled the lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seedlings from the starter pot and transferred them to individual containers. That’s a really delicate process and my ham hands break off a few along the way. Luckily the seeds for these type vegetables are cheap and plentiful so I plant way more than I need. Any excess that’s survived by planting time, I give to Nancy’s gardening friends. Still way too hot to move them into the direct sun so they’ll be in those containers possibly until mid October. The lettuce is a bit faster so maybe first of the month on those.

Three inches of rain in the last couple of days so the lake is now up to the bottom of the third rung on the ladder – 2‘ to go. I really need it up 3‘ before speckled perch season starts in November.

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Doesn’t it just make sense that if Obama knew how to fix the economy, after almost 4 years it would be fixed? By every important economic measure, things are worse today than when he took office. Here’s an interesting factoid – if you count the number of months with unemployment in excess of 8% starting with Truman and ending with George Bush, it’s 34. Obama is now in month 42. That one measurement alone demands he be fired. He may be a nice guy and a good talker but he’s in over his head. Sad but true. If he was a football coach at a top school or the CEO of a major corporation, he’d be history. If he was Japanese, he’d be reaching for the sword.

More Concrete

A bachelor again. Nancy and Joanne took off for New York to spend a few days visiting Chris. She’s back again next week, just in time to prepare for her Utah trip at the end of the month. So I’m basically foot loose and fancy free – except for the 25 new bags of concrete that appeared magically at George’s.

I think that’s the final installment of the heavy work phase of the project, not counting building a short stretch of coquina rock wall or putting down some slate pavers. At this point I’m fairly confident the job will be done completely by the end of the month. Check out the pic showing the steps, complete with cobble stones. You’ll notice that the slots between the cobble stones has been filled in as compared to what you see on the deck area. When the job is done, it will all look like the stairs. The picture showing the walkway presents the largest area left to pour. That’s roughly 6 bags of concrete. Beyond that, we pour the pavers in the mold and then cut them apart for use as individual cobble stones to fill in the areas where the whole mold didn’t fit. That will probably take another 2 bags, leaving us with 2 as safety margin or future projects. So when it’s all said and done, we’ll have put down 100 bags of concrete. The whole job is coming out better than I really thought.

cobble stone steps
cobble stone steps
half done side walk
half done side walk

Both the telephone and internet problems seems to be solved. After dropping Nancy off at the airport, I went by Tom’s office with my laptop and he installed the T-Mobile modem in his lab. There was a strong signal and 4G coverage so it was really fast. Later In Pierson, it still worked but not nearly as fast – I think we “no” G compared to 3G and 4G. Comparatively it seems about the same as Virgin Mobile – sometimes faster, sometimes slower – but in the same ball park. Regarding the telephone lines, the repair guy did a temporary splice today, Friday, so I guess we’re ok.

Got the second set of Blue Lake pole beans and the second bush zucchini, Cavili variety this time, planted. That’s 3 weeks since the first set, which seem to be thriving. The pole beans are actually sending out tendrils that are grabbing the pole and climbing. I remember last season the rate of growth was incredible so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I also took a peek under the insect cover and found the butternuts doing just fine. The green bean seeds I planted after the crop failure mentioned in a previous post have popped up nearly 100% so it must have been the seed rather than the location. I’ll give them a few days and then cover them with an insect cover too. I also did a major trimming of the sweet potatoes which should be ready to harvest in 4 weeks. Too bad you can’t eat the vines since they are incredibly prolific. I have to be careful to take the trimmings and put them in the burn pile, not the compost pile. They sprout roots so quickly that they would turn the compost pile into another sweet potato patch in a heart beat.

The lake level is up maybe an inch since the last time I reported on it. Still not up to even the third step on the ladder but I’m hopeful we’ll pass that mark by the end of this weekend. September is often a rainy month and even October has seen a major storm or two so I still have hopes for this season but I’m starting to fear another year of low water.