Cattle Call

Another exciting cow day. I was hauling the wash out to the line when all of a sudden, here’s this black cow coming through the palmettos. Then a second one. The same guys as yesterday had escaped again. This time they crashed through the fence line between our place and George’s and headed for the garden. Luckily I got between them and the garden first and scared them away. I think if they had gotten a taste of the goodies in the garden, that sweet bucket would have been useless. These are 1 year old cows, not a fully mature bull or anything so there wasn’t much danger (I think). For a while they were content to eat tangerines and grapefruit from George’s trees. We called the owner again but before he could get here, they wandered down to the lake, around another fence line and onto the field past George’s place. By the time the owner’s hand had shown up with the sweet bucket, they had wandered another 1/4 mile or so west. They can really cover quite a bit of ground in a short time although I don’t know why – our grass is certainly nice and green. They followed the bucket again, almost a mile to a stronger pen.

Hey Joe, call the dude with the sweets
Hey Joe, call the dude with the sweets

Chris is attending a company event all week at Disney and came in a day early to visit us. It was fun catching up. Florida is a bit hot and muggy for him, even when it’s not. We hooked with Tommy and his family on Sunday for lunch, then to Joann’s, then home in time for Nancy and him to watch the Oscars and munch on freshly made kale chips. Monday we took him halfway to his hotel and Tom took him the rest of the way. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen him so it was a nice, albeit short, visit. He brought Nancy all the necessary essential oils, soaps and cosmetics but saved the best for me. He brought me 5 purple potatoes that had sprouted eyes. We had discussed purple potatoes when his nutritionist suggested how good they were for you as compared to regular white potatoes and I decided at that time to try to grow some. Nancy bought a few but instead of sprouting eyes, they simply rotted so I forgot about the whole project. I cut these into chunks, each with a sprouted eye or what looked to be a place likely to sprout, and planted them in the spot I had just cut down the shell peas. If all the chunks grow into plants, there should be 14. I had planned the entire garden, 100% of the space, with no place for potatoes so something had to go. I opted to cut back on the amount of squash planned – squash is always problematic so a reasonable choice to cut. It’s about a month later than I would have wanted to plant them but in any event, I’ll find out if they can handle Florida weather or are yankee potatoes.

Little bit worried about my next door neighbor, George. Apparently he has some internal bleeding going on and his blood count dropped from 9 (already very low) to 7 in the past 2 days. I’m sure they’ll be giving him blood tonight for what has to be a substantial leak. He was noticing some changes late last week, mostly being very tired, and made an emergency trip to a GI doc who thinks maybe he has a bleeding ulcer. He was scheduled for a scope on Tuesday but opted to get to the hospital today.

What a fiasco this budget thing is. I can’t imagine any gov’t agency that couldn’t cut 2.5% from their budget and not blink an eye. Ditto most commercial companies or most families. That just isn’t a devastating blow. And the cuts they’re talking about aren’t even cuts in the classical sense but rather a reduction in planned increases. Give me a break. One of my favorites was the head of the NIH who said that medical research was going to die. No more research on cancer, alzheimers, diabetes etc.-not that instead of a year, the project will take 13 months; or the Transportation secretary describing the chaos at the airports because TSA will not be working at full strength. How about pre screening or letting 5 people out of a hundred, randomly picked go through security untouched by a TSA person. They must think we are all idiots.

Unintended Cattle Ranching

A little domestic issue has arisen. The Toyota is dying a slow death of attrition by plastic parts. It’s a ’97 and runs fine but bit by bit, piece by piece the little plastic parts are breaking. For example, there’s a lever inside that allows you to unlatch the trunk. That’s gone but so what. It still opens just fine from the outside using the key. Yesterday, the inside driver’s side door handle assembly broke so you can no longer open the door. That’s where the domestic issue starts. If you roll down the window and reach the outside latch, you can open it. Then you roll up the window, step outside and close the door. Seems to me, not such a big old bad problem. An alternative that has been discussed is having it fixed which is a $160 kind of fix, parts and labor. That’s the quote from Toyota so chances are it’s a $50 job. Guess who wants it fixed and who is ok rolling down the window once in a while. It’s not like we don’t have two spare vehicles.

Hey buddy, where's this garden you're so proud of
Hey buddy, where's this garden you're so proud of
No garden, no paddies
No garden, no paddies

Bit of excitement today when Nancy shouted out that there was a cow in the field next to our house and about to cross over onto our property. Turns out there were actually two cows which had escaped from a pasture about a half mile away. Both wandered over to our yard and started nibbling on the citrus trees. George just happened to be over examining the remains of a possum – remember the buzzards – and knows the guy who owns the cows. He called him and the guy said he’s be right over to collect them. Here’s the interesting part. I expected him to show up with a trailer and load the cows up onto the trailer. He showed up with a 10 gallon bucket of what he called “sweet feed”. It’s a mix of regular feed and molasses. He let them get a taste of it directly from the bucket and then just started walking back to the ranch. He said that they’d follow him as long as he had the bucket and stopped every once in a while to let them have a taste. We trailed along behind them in George’s golf cart and sure enough they walked right back to the hole in the fence. Along the way we couldn’t help but notice the large quantity of cow paddies (or is it cow patties) and the owner told us to take all we wanted. We filled 2 x 25 gallon containers, one of which will fertilize George’s roses, the other will be mixed over time with my compost piles. Not the way I planned to spend the day, for sure.

I planted the corn seed, a few weeks earlier than last year. Corn germination is very sensitive to temperature and the particular variety I chose this year needs a soil temp of 65 degrees. If the weather holds, I think overall the early start should make for a better crop than last year. My thinking is that the plants will get a stronger start before it gets really hot and buggy. I put down a 2-3” layer of new compost on two rows where I’ve never grown corn before. The rows are 3′ wide x 20′ long and will support approximately 100+ plants, 50+ per row. One of the rows was where the snow peas did so well and peas, as with beans, leave the soil nitrogen rich. The other row held broccoli and cauliflower. Those crops really deplete the soil of nutrients so I’ll mix in a load of fertilizer. Maybe we’ll be munching on triple sweet corn come May. I’m hedging against the weather just a bit by planting only one of the rows now and holding off two weeks for the second. I haven’t really had success with corn in the past for a variety of reasons. One idea I’m trying this year is to place a low level PVC fence around the corn to prevent the wind from blowing over the stalks. I have all the parts so it’s just a matter of putting it together. I don’t think we can go 90 days without some serious wind and every time I’ve tried corn, sometime along the way, it gets blown over and never seems right after that.

The Real Catbird Seat

Nancy had her first appointment with the Oncologist which resulted in a firm schedule for corrective surgery scheduled for March 18. That could move ahead if there are any cancellations. If all goes as planned, it’s an overnight stay. The surgery will be robot assisted and, unless something unexpected is found, will be the final treatment – no follow up radiation or chemo required. As with all cancer regimens, you do follow up scans on a routine basis.

Tom and family got me a weather station for Christmas and after the dust had settled right after the first of the year, I decided to fire it up. It measures temp, barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. From those it does a weather forecast. When I got it all together, I got temp, pressure and humidity but no wind or rain info. I messed around with it a bit to no avail and decided to call customer service to find out what to do. I never did that and instead went back to the setup instructions to see if perhaps there was a cockpit issue. On reading the instructions, I learned that the sequence of events was critical. For example you can’t put the batteries into the display station before you put them into the gauges. And at the proper time you uncover the solar cell on the wind gauge and press an almost invisible reset button just once, with the word “once” underlined. Then you put the batteries in the display station with all of the sensors within a couple of feet of each other. Reading on, seems that the sensors synchronize with each other and with the base station within 10 minutes so if you don’t follow the instructions precisely, it never works right. It also says that if something doesn’t work, you have to remove all the batteries and start the procedure again. This time correctly, dummy. Sure enough, I now have wind info and probably rain too although I haven’t tested that. I think the rain gauge was doing it’s thing before since when I hit it with the hose, I could hear some clicking sounds, but it wasn’t hooking up with the base station. Now it is. The predictor worked too since it was showing rain coming the night before we actually got some rain. I checked it first thing on the cold morning and sure enough it said it was 31 outside, the same as the TV guys said. I have the wind sensor in a location that keeps it from ever giving an accurate reading. It needs to be in a place with no wind blocking obstacles within 200′ of the house and we don’t have a place like that.

I frequently mention the compost piles. I have two; one nearing maturity and closed to new material and another for all new inputs. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I have compost pile buddy, a Catbird. We add new material almost daily and I turn the piles twice a week. Each time I visit the piles, the bird pops out and perches on the back edge of the frame. If I step back from the pile, he/she jumps into the pile, picks out a few things – maybe bugs, maybe seeds – then when I start turning again, he goes back onto the frame to wait for me to finish. We work as a team as close as 3′ apart. Clearly he’s comfortable with me and must be nesting very close by. He likes tomatoes for sure and when there are none in the compost pile, I’ve seen him inside tomato plants pecking away at the ripe fruit. He seems to be thoughtful though and doesn’t hop from tomato to tomato taking little bites out of several but focuses on one so I just accept the cost as part of the entertainment. We certainly have not had a shortage of tomatoes.

Weekend Guest

Joanne came up this weekend; lots of veggies, lots of shopping. The head of lettuce she’s sitting behind is a variety called Red Sails and, as you can see, does really well in the garden-as does the cauliflower. Should be a week’s worth of salads for her and Bob. I’ve also cut some nice spinach, broccoli, and cabbage for her to take home and a quart or so of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Her timing was perfect – the peak of the winter harvest season. Nancy also whipped up a batch of radish soup so she knows Joanne is eating healthy lunches next week.
When I put the cover over the garden and the double covering over the squash plants, I took the opportunity to study them closely and was surprised to find a few baby squashlettes forming already. This is a zucchini like squash, a Middle Eastern variety, and normally it goes from seed to fruit in about 2 months but I expected the coolish weather this time of year to slow that down. So far it seems to be on normal trajectory and could be hitting the kitchen by the middle of next month. I guess I shouldn’t be counting my squash before it hatches, or something like that. In case you were wondering how there can be fruit forming when I’ve had it covered and protected from insect pollination, this is a “greenhouse” variety that doesn’t require any insect or mechanical pollination. I just learned of another variety with the same characteristic so I’ll either buy some of that seed for this season or just wait until next year. Here’s the interesting part, if you leave the plants uncovered and they happen to receive some natural, insect pollination, that particular squash will have seeds whereas those that self pollinate, will be seedless. I grow a variety of cucumber that’s the same. So fruit that comes on early in the season, before the bees are out doing their thing, is seedless but as the season progresses, bees take over the pollination and the fruit is no longer seedless. So that’s how you’re able to get seeds from the growers. Probably more than you wanted to know but people do ask how can you get seeds if the fruit produced is seedless.

We did indeed have a freeze Sunday night. Every place I had pans of water, were solid ice. The temp gauge on my new weather station read 30 degrees at 7AM. By 10 it had warmed up to 50 and is supposed to be 70 by late afternoon; 80 in two days. A cursory walk around the garden indicates that everything did just fine but I won’t know for certain until the covers come off for good tomorrow.

Came up with another way to use radishes. That’s a big deal because they’re so easy to grow and take up such a small space. It’s a radish dip. Nancy will do a test batch for the Wednesday bridge crowd so we’ll know whether it’s ready for prime time or not. A variation on the recipe is to chop up some carrot along with the radish in the food processor. Since the carrots are growing adjacent to the radishes, I’ll just pick a few of those too. Tempted as I am, no smoked fish in the mix but a few florets of broccoli in the chopper might just add that nice touch of color. Personally I’m not much of a dip person but it seems to be a must at light social functions.

Just Updates

Spring officially started here yesterday. The wakeup sounds abruptly changed from squirrels, crows, and other critters to songbirds. That changeover is very distinct and will hold for a few months until summer sounds make a replacement. The Cardinals started chirping at 6:45AM yesterday morning and will continue for a few months. I’m not sure if the noisy ones have migrated here or if they are locals and this starts their mating season but trust me, it’s just like a switch has been thrown. Funny thing – it’s supposed to freeze this weekend so not sure how good the birds are at forecasting.

We had about an inch of rain here cumulatively over the past two days. That put out the forest fires we had in the neighborhood and soaked the garden perfectly. No hard rain, just a nice, long soft rain. The front that brought the rain is also dropping temps down close to the “F” word. I’ll double cover the squash for a couple days and bring all the pepper and tomato seedlings back in the house but other than that, some low temps should do no real harm to the garden. The only very young plants in the garden are spinach plants and those are really hardy. Still, I might end up covering the whole garden just to be safe.

The good news/bad news on the rat poison is that Nancy stopped by another feed store and was able to buy it. In fact she bought all they had so we should have plenty. The bad news is that I put out 8 chunks last night, expecting to see at least half of them make it overnight but, alas, all 8 were gone this morning. Rats. On the plus side, I noticed a couple of buzzards have been hanging in the neighborhood for the past couple of days. Wonder if they’ve picked up the odor of fermenting rat carcass.

I mentioned that I was trying Tomatillos again and I can see now why perhaps I didn’t do justice to them last year. You have a mental image that anything that’s a major ingredient in salsa would be a tough guy and able to hold it’s own. I paid closer attention this time around and the first thing I noticed was that the seed is about 1/4 the size of a regular tomato seed, it takes about twice as long to germinate, and then the seedlings are really tiny and fragile looking. I suspect that I’m going to have to keep these seedlings indoors quite a bit longer and then ease them into the garden when the weather conditions are just right. In retrospect, I know I started them late last year and then put them out into an environment that was too hot. This year I plan to plant them adjacent to the jalapeno peppers since they get along so well in salsa, why not in the garden.

Shave Secret update – I’ve been using the Save Secret exclusively for a month. That amounts to 11 shaves. That’s probably one or two fewer shaves per month than I had been doing with conventional shaving cream which is likely because the shaves are closer. I can just now tell that I’ve used some out of the container, 3 drops per shave isn’t much, but not enough to really estimate accurately how many I’ll get from the whole bottle. It won’t surprise me to get between 10 and 12 months or 100 shaves from this one 18.75 ML bottle. It’s also worth noting that my face hasn’t fallen off.

Harvard Beets

Is nothing sacred? Got a call last night from a friend that decided to go fishing in a place we fished heavily in the 60’s and 70’s. It was far off the beaten trail, several miles down a dirt road and a mud boat ramp, if you wanted to call the place where the road ended and the lake started a boat ramp. There was no other access to lake Cypress and rarely would you ever see another fisherman there; Sometimes frog and gator hunters, but no bass fishermen for sure. At the end of the road there was a cluster of shacks built on stilts over the swampy water’s edge. We named it the thieves den because it looked some an old smuggler, bootlegger kind of operation. Lou said that there had to be a hundred bass boats of the 250HP variety flying around the lake. Seems these were guys pre-fishing the lake for an upcoming International Bass Tournament. I asked about the boat ramp and he said it was absolutely first class, state of the art ramp and dock. Then he told me about the really nice restaurant sitting where the thieves’ den previously existed. I’ve decided never to visit the place. I have a mental image of the way it’s supposed to be and don’t want it destroyed.

This is the time of year that the compost pile takes on the distinct flavor of potash and citrus from George’s fireplace and from both of us squeezing juice. One of the piles has about a month to go before it’s spread into the main garden; the other will continue to grow and cook until maybe June. I mostly have all of these piles allocated to particular locations in the garden. The one closest to making the move will go into the area I’ve designated for corn this season. If the weather holds for the next two weeks, I will probably make that planting this month. It’s earlier than usual but so is almost everything else. According to the data I have, the last frost of the season will occur by Feb 20 so it’s probably safe right now.

Nancy outdid herself with last night’s din din. Along with speckled perch, courtesy of yours truly, she made broccoli salad and Harvard beets. The broccoli salad recipe has been tweaked and tweaked until it is now perfect. We’re having the best broccoli season ever so lots of opportunity to try it new ways. I love it oven roasted but the salad is my favorite. But the beets were the biggest surprise – really outstanding. She got the recipe online and they were, hands down, the best ever. I’m really glad I didn’t give up on beets after several years of less than stellar results. It can’t be anything but the fact that the soil is getting better year by year. And of course, there was a red leaf lettuce salad.

Check out the azaleas. I’m a veggie guy but I do love the azaleas. You know winter is about over when they break out.azaleas

Fire Danger

The pre-season garden is coming along nicely. I’ve got 11 (out of 12) green pepper starts and 12 (out of 12) tomatoes of 4 different varieties. With respect to the green pepper plants, started first, I’ve moved them from the starter bed into individual peat pots and from indoors to outside. The night time temps are staying well above 50 degrees so they should be safe. If not, assuming I don’t forget, they can be back in the house in about 10 seconds. Weather permitting, I think these guys should be garden ready early March and at the same time, I’ll have a row cleared and ready for them. Later this week, I’ll start the egg plant seeds – planning a dozen, six of two different varieties. Also planting seeds (indoors) for jalapeno and tomotilla for Tommy’s salsa. I did a really poor job on timing the tomatillo last year so I’m under a bit of pressure to restore my reputation. The squash planted last month, under cover, is still doing quite well. This season should be a smooth transition with very few blank spots. If all this sounds simple and straight forward, it’s taken me 5 years to get it all coming together like this so I can crow a bit.

We’re getting into the big bass season. Tom is starting to nail them in his area which is usually a couple weeks ahead of us. It’s a water temp thing and a couple degrees makes a big difference. In my serious fishing days, I would be hitting South Florida, as in Lake Kissimmee or Lake Okeechobee in January, the East and West Lake area in February and our Northern region in March. Now I just wait it out and intermix salt and fresh water fishing. The salt water fish are not so temperature sensitive and I enjoy the variety of the catch – when you get a strike on the Tomoka River, it could be any one of a dozen different kinds of fish and anything from a few ounces to a hundred pounds. You never know what the next cast will bring. The downside to that is the regulators have assigned different seasons, different size restrictions, and catch limits to each and every species. And those regs are different from county to county so either you adopt a policy of throwing everything back or keeping a rule book on hand. It’s probably the best argument for getting an Iphone I’ve seen yet. Not for me – get a mental of picture of bringing a large, flopping fish onboard the kayak and then dropping the phone in the river.

We have a large forest fire raging about 3 miles away, another controlled burn that’s gotten out of control. The fire is west of us and the wind yesterday was from the South so no immediate problems (for us). The highway between Ormond Beach and Ocala is shut down just west of here and the press is saying it may be a few days before it can be reopened because of heavy smoke. That’s our main route to Gainesville so it’s a good thing the Ultimate Frisbee league only plays on Sunday and it’s only Tuesday.

Got a body blow yesterday when I went to the local feed store to get some more rat poison. The proprietor said that the “new” rat poison law has gone into affect so I won’t be able to buy it any more. He said that only professional exterminators and farmers could buy it under the new law. I’m going to try another feed store to make sure this guy knows what he’s talking about. Wonder what it takes to be an official farmer. Probably there’s something in the rules that will define me as an amateur and not qualified to take on the rats. It’s supposedly a Florida law so it probably means that I’ll have to pick up a case or so on our next out of state trip. You just know a law like that wouldn’t play in Georgia or Alabama.