Workin’ the Dock

Joey and Mark came up Sunday to honor their obligations relative to my birthday and Father’s day. I traded off any gifts for some labor which was mostly on the dock and the jungle leading up to the dock. Although the dock is only 8 years old, some of the deck planks are rotting-so much for life time warranties. When we built the dock I considered using a composite decking, trade name Trex, instead of wood but went with the old standby when I learned that the Trex was three times the cost. That was several thousand dollars that didn’t seem necessary at the time. Fast forward to now and I’m replacing bad planks as they happen with Trex. Along with that, the pump hadn’t been working in over a year because the water level had fallen below the intake and the pump had lost it’s prime. That meant no fish cleaning station on the dock and no way to pressure wash getting the pump going was on the list. There was a dead bay tree hanging over the dock and a couple along side the entrance path. Those had to go but were not ones I could get to myself with my wimpy saw. Finally, the dock roof gutters were full of leaves that had decayed to the point where pine trees were actually growing in the gutters. In a few hours Mark and I accomplished all those tasks and I was able to do a good power washing the next day. So the dock is event ready – all we need is about another 18” of water in lake to get something going. Joey mowed the lawn, much appreciated, but was captured by his mother for all the honey do’s that I’d been dodging. So she horned in on my Father’s day/Birthday action. They were treated to one of my now famous, (here at the house), cherry tomato pizzas.

I’m hooked on watching the Zimmerman case on the tube. It’s covered from gavel to gavel on all local stations. From what I heard from the media when it all happened, it looked to me like the prosecution never had a case and only pursued charges because of the pressure exerted by the black and lib community in Seminole County and elsewhere around the country. They were basically afraid of riots which is why it took over a month for Zimmerman to even be arrested. The result is that the State’s case is non-existent and every witness they put on, ends up supporting the defense. The one real State’s witness was barely intelligible and caught in flat ass lies several times. My guess at this point is that the judge could throw the whole thing out after the State has put on it’s case. If they don’t just ease out of it, the defense will make them look like jerks. I will be really interested in seeing them go after the family’s attorney – the guy who stirred the pot from the get go. I’m guessing that the prosecution is trying to figure out a way to finesse themselves out of this whole thing without totally embarrassing themselves. Like maybe offering a plea down to a misdemeanor

Cardinals eat bugs – sometimes

A couple posts back I speculated that perhaps the smaller number of bugs inhabiting the garden this year was connected to the high number of cardinals that are flitting about. I don’t recall ever seeing so many around here. I mentioned it to Simon who has an ornithologist friend at Tremonton. According to her, cardinals are nominally seed eaters but when nesting, they feed on insects to feed their young – insects being much higher in protein needed by the newly hatched birds. So I guess it is possible that the cardinals are helping keep the bugs under control this year.

Back in January, one of my favorite casting reels broke. Actually it wore out – the part that works the level wind had just worn down. I’ve had that happen in the past and was always able to fix it myself quickly by getting a new pawl. At my advanced age, I can no longer deal with these tiny parts so I took it to the Tackle Box in Daytona where I’d had reels repaired in the past. About 6 weeks later they called and said the reel was old and no longer supported with spare parts. Luckily I had picked up a card for a guy that repairs reels and decided to give him a try. He also told me (over the phone) that the reel was old and out of production for quite a while but that he maybe had a source for the part. A week later he called and said the reel was fixed and ready to go. Cost $10. I tried out the reel today and it works like a world champ. To replace that reel now would cost $200+ and that is way outside my pass band for a fishing reel. Interestingly I never saw the guy who fixed the reel. He lives in the high rent district, on the Halifax river in a big buck house where he hangs a cardboard box beneath his mail box. You drop off the reel in the box and then retrieve it from the same box when he calls and says it’s done. He just charges for the parts, no labor. I got his name from another small tackle shop and he mentioned that the repair guy used to have his own tackle business but retired and just repaired reels for the fun of it. Looking at his house and the location, I’d say his tackle business was quite successful. I couldn’t just pay $10, so left $15 and still felt a little guilty with that.

Nancy outdid herself the other night with a batch of 10 stuffed peppers. She used the sauce from the season’s first spaghetti sauce along with green peppers straight from the garden. With all the peppers and tomatoes in our future, I’m sure this will be repeated several times this summer. Update – in the past three days we created two cherry tomato pizzas and another giant batch of spaghetti sauce. I rate 2 gallons as a giant batch. Looking at the plants, it looks to me like we’ll be able to do a giant batch once a week for quite some time. In fact if all goes according to plan, we’ll be whipping up the last batches just after Thanksgiving. I’ll start the fall seedlings in September for harvest in November and December.

Oh, by the way. I measured the cutting board holding the fish in the last post. It’s 16” across so it looks to me like that fish probably fit within the 18” to 27” slot, especially if you measure from the fork of the tail and not the tip.

Fish and Boats and Storms

Tom and I went fishing on the Tomoka River the other day. It started out under a cloud when we forgot to check if the plug was in – it wasn’t – but turned good fairly quickly with a few nice fish and a pleasant breeze that made fishing easy. I caught a small snook and a nice redfish; Tom got a nice bass and a few smaller ones plus a micro snook. We kept the redfish simply because it had literally swallowed my zara spook lure. Luckily it was within the 18-27” slot limit (we think) so it was a legal catch. Turns out it was the hardest fish to clean I’ve ever encountered. The fish is covered with large scales that are like armer plating. It took almost an hour to do the deed; about 45 minutes to fillet it and 15 minutes to retrieve the lure. The carcass is now residing in the garden where I suspect it will remain almost intact for the next 50 years.

Tom's Pontoon Boat
Tom’s Pontoon Boat

Tom came up to the lake the evening before the trip mentioned above and brought the latest addition to his fleet – an inflatable pontoon boat. He got it at a “can’t pass it up” closeout price at Costco and wanted to do the initial testing at the lake. We launched it and away he went – using a combination of flipper power and oars. The boat can support an electric motor and battery but this was a man powered voyage to test how well it handled and fished. According to Tom, it’s going to take a little getting used to but was great to fish from. I’ll probably give it a try one of these days but I’m pretty much a poke boat kind of guy. Oh, by the way, Tom had a small gator chase his lure so I guess we’ll be on gator watch duty until the local belt and wallet maker takes care of the problem. The neighbors across the lake in the trailer home also spotted it by their dock so it’s for sure living here.
Tom's Pontoon

I experienced the most thrilling storm of my life on Thursday. About 2PM I went down to the dock with a new book and the XM radio, leaving Nancy with her afternoon TV shows. It looked like a light rain in the offing so I took the umbrella down with me. About 30 minutes into it, the rain did come. Nothing special just a light sprinkling. Which got harder and harder; which then brought on some serious lightning striking several times within hundreds of feet from me; which then brought hail; which then brought very strong linear winds shifting direction 180 degrees several times within a few minutes; and finally bringing the feared and dreaded “train sound”. I wasn’t sure that being out on the dock was the best place to be, all things considered. I was getting wetter and wetter as the rain came down almost horizontally. Which is the bigger worry – trees blowing down onto the dock? Lightning striking the dock? or a tornado carrying me off to OZ? It crossed my mind that maybe the best move would be to lash myself to one of the dock pilings to keep from being blown out to sea! It lasted about 30 minutes before it let up enough for me to make a run for the house. We got only 1.5” of rain, had only a few downed limbs and lost electricity for almost 4 hours. Turns out a small tornado crossed the main road about a half mile from us and tore down several power poles. That must have been the train I heard. I counted 10 power company trucks with large booms extended on a half mile stretch of US 17 putting up new poles and restringing power lines.

Hot Peppers

Got past the urologist unscathed. The regular annual checkup is next month and I’m pretty sure nothing’s going on that an occasional glass of red wine won’t cure. George ended up with two operations but seems to be doing fine. The first operation removed the old pacemaker, hopefully all the surrounding infection, and attached the new pacemaker for external operation. Two days later the second operation installed the new device on the other side of his chest. He should be released early this week. So what started out as a simple checkup, ended up being a 10 day hospital stay and a couple of operations.

Still picking lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, and green peppers and the whole garden remains almost bug free. The jalapenos are particularly nice this year – bigger and more deeply colored than I’ve ever seen. I’m not doing anything differently and suspect that the March freeze we got knocked the critters for a loop. Usually by mid June, we are splitting the harvest with a variety of worms, caterpillars, and leaf eaters but this year they are virtually non existent, at least so far. I’ve seen way more Cardinals flitting around but to the best of my knowledge, they don’t eat bugs. What I’ve noticed is that usually by early May, the garden is alive with small white and yellow butterflies along with the standard monarchs or other black winged varieties and that by late May, the little green or black caterpillars are making their marks eating through the garden. And there’s usually some kind of wasp flitting around that lays eggs in the cucumbers so the larva wakes up in a food hall. This year, very few butterflies and, sure enough, no caterpillars. I’m going out on a limb and planting some pole beans and new cucumbers along the new trellis. I would never expect anything from them prior to this year but maybe I can sneak in a bonus crop. All I’ve got to lose is a few seeds and self respect if fellow gardeners’ question my sanity. On the plus side, even if the veggies never materialize, I’ll get to try out the new trellis before the fall crop and see if any modifications are required.

jalapenos are extra special this year
jalapenos are extra special this year

The kitchen windowsill was full of ripe tomatoes so the first major batch of spaghetti sauce was constructed on Sunday. After that, tomatoes should be flowing in at a high rate – loads and loads of green tomatoes on the vines and once they start turning, it happens fast. We’re eating the cherries as fast as we pick them so they won’t be contributing to the sauce pot. Last night Nancy made a pasta dish using shrimp, corn off the cob, and cherry tomatoes as the main ingredients. Delicious.

Cherry Tomato Pizza Rules

Our next door neighbor, George, is back in the hospital. A year ago he had a heart valve replaced and a new pacemaker installed. Yesterday he went back to Miami, where the surgery was done, for a one year check up. They found some infection around the leads of the pacemaker and felt it was critical that the pacemaker be removed immediately, if not sooner. So he arrived for a routine check up at 9AM on Monday and was being prepped for surgery at 4AM on Tuesday. Wow! Assuming no complications, he’ll be there 10 days.

Today is Nancy’s quilting day and, more often that not, I make dinner on those days. I decided on the fresh cherry tomato pizza. You make the topping a day in advance so I was busy last night doing just that. I had seen the recipe on TV and wrote down the major points but decided to deviate a bit by incorporating additional items. I started with a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes cut in half, chopped in fresh basil, fresh oregano, a green pepper, a small onion, garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and chunks of mozzarella cheese. The original recipe only had the tomatoes and herbs and spices. You mix all this together in a bowl, add lots of olive oil then cover and let sit overnight. You just pour this on the crust, we use Rustic Tuscan 6 grain crusts, and pop in the oven or Holland grill if you happen to have one. It was really delicious and very different from sauce based pizza. I won’t hesitate to make this again while the cherries are coming on strong.

Cherry tomato pizza, yum
Cherry tomato pizza, yum

Picked all the remaining corn on Sunday and cut up the stalks for the compost pile. I split the ears into 3 piles; one for us, one for George and Barbara, and one for Esther’s cows. We’ve been eating corn right out of the garden for a few weeks and got only a dozen ears each at the final picking. I’d say from a quantity standpoint, not so good; but from a quality standpoint, incredible. I’ll grow this variety again but maybe hold off a couple weeks later in the spring to plant the seeds. I’ll also try a different garden location which gets more early morning sun.

The NFL is going to give me a problem this year with Tebow going to New England. Not sure how I’m going to deal with a high profile Gator playing for the enemy.

Andrea, the non-event

Andrea was a nice storm for us. We got less rain than I had hoped for, 3” against the 6” I had hoped for, but zero wind. I spent almost all of Thursday down at the dock watching the lake rise, reading, and listening to the Coffee House on XM. We’re off to a good start for the summer rains, much wetter than last year, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that we may have enough water for swimming and diving off the dock by August. We’ve had about 16” since March and all we need is another 36”.

I always thought that, by definition, any tomato you grew in a container on your patio was a “patio” tomato. If you had asked me if I was growing any patio tomatoes, I would have said yes. They never did as well as those grown in the garden and I attributed that to their confined habitat. Turns out there are varieties that have been engineered specifically to be grown in containers and I bought some of those seeds to try. Dramatic difference. These guys will only grow to about 3’ compared to 5-6’ on standard garden varieties; the stalks are at least twice the thickness and the foliage is more lush and prolific. I have to be pro active staking the garden tomatoes while these are sturdy, standalone plants. I started them much later than the garden tomatoes so they are just now putting out the first blossoms and I don’t expect any fruit until July. I’m getting my hopes up that this experiment is going to be successful because I can grow these year round by rolling them onto the back porch for the few days that get too cold. Last year I planted regular garden tomatoes in the container but they were just too flimsy to move around without branches breaking off. I’m going to try for year round tomatoes and green peppers this year.

I really hate it that it’s June already. June and July are my bad medical months. That’s when I go in for routine, no problem checkups and come out with trips scheduled for operations and such. The first of these is later this week when I get a blood test for PSA and an x-ray procedure called KUB which is to check on how well my kidney stones are doing. I have zero problems but these tests have an uncanny history of finding something. If my bride wasn’t in the loop, I’d use the obvious solution and bypass the whole thing.

Cherry Tomato Bonanza

I mentioned that this year’s corn is the best I’ve ever tasted. Nancy says the same thing. George and Barbara say the same thing. Honestly, it’s like eating candy. I’ve never grown and clearly never eaten any triple sweet corn before but can assure you, it’ll happen again next season. The variety is named Serendipity. That’s the downside to growing your veggies – some varieties are so much better than anything you can buy, that it sours you on grocery store produce. Not everything but certainly it’s that way with corn, cucumbers, carrots and a few others. Nancy is whipping up a shrimp based dinner that uses cherry tomatoes, corn stripped from the cob, basil, and onions from the garden. Maybe there’s a green pepper involved. There are a few other ingredients but not much. This dish is the reason I planted cherry tomatoes this year and this will be the first meal using them this season.

Funny story with the cherry tomatoes. I planted one plant which has turned out to be a monster and loaded with hundreds and hundreds of the best cherries ever. Very tender skin and very sweet taste. No splitting or any of the other problems typically associated with cherries. None of this should be. The particular variety was highlighted with a full page ad in the Johnny’s Seed catalog and, along with all the fruit accolades, was a statement about being nematode resistant. I was just about to sign up for a pack of seeds when I saw that they cost $7.95 for 10 seeds. Normally I’d expect to pay $2.50 for 25+ seeds. I decided that no cherry tomato was worth that much and that they were over hyping something new. So I picked another variety and moved on. My system is to go through the catalogs and write down the sku numbers of the products I want and then go online to fill out an order form. When the package from Johnny’s arrived a week later I went through it all and noticed that they had sent me the super variety – I assumed by mistake. Wrong! Turns out the mistake was mine. I wrote down the sku of the high dollar seeds. I never mentioned it to Nancy, we don’t normally discuss seeds, until last night when she said that these were the best cherries she had ever eaten – she has trouble with tough skins. My marching orders going forward are to order this variety in the future, no matter what they cost. One other point – the catalog specifically says not to plant for commercial purposes since the tomatoes don’t ship well, too soft.

I got a new chain for the chain saw and am back cutting my way through the forest. It took a few tries before I figured out how to get the new chain installed properly but once I had it, down went 4 more dead bay trees and a few miscellaneous dead oak branches. Who would have thought you could install the chain backwards? About half the trees I’ve cut are dumped onto the lake shore where I’m hoping they make great breeding grounds for minnows and bluegills and hunting territory for specs and bass when the lake comes back to normal.

We’re getting more rain now. A couple of inches last week but the forecast is for this coming week to drop three times that much. A nice, wet June would be just what the doctor ordered with enough rain to let us swim off the dock again.