The Jungle Strikes Back

It started raining early this morning so I checked the electronic rain gauge to see how much had already accumulated but it was reading zero. That’s like having a finger cut off (for me) so I went out in the rain to see if it had clogged or had dead batteries. I picked it up and only then learned that some wasps had taken up residence underneath and built a nest which was blocking the transmitter. I managed to put it down in a few microseconds but not before one nailed me on a finger tip. I got some cortizone and ice on it quickly but it still swelled substantially within just a few minutes. Then a little light went on in my brain. I had noticed for the past few days that occasionally, not very often, the TV signal broke up. In fact, last night watching the late news it did the pixel thing a few times. I recalled that the last time this happened it was a wasp nest around the outside TV signal amplifier so I put it on my mental “to do” list to check. So after the rain gauge incident, I went around to the TV pole and checked for wasp nests. None in the power box where the problem was last time. I looked then for the amplifier box itself and didn’t see it. I visually tracked the cable and immediately saw that where the box should have been, was a giant fire ant mound. It was very close to where I had been working on the sprinklers yesterday and I had very carefully avoided it and sprinkled it liberally with fire ant poison. What I didn’t put together was that the ants had built the mound over the amplifier itself so it was buried at least 6” into the mound. In a couple of days, when I’m absolutely certain that the last of the ants is dead, I’m going to rig up some kind of protective box. To recap the last few days – I found a dead lizard and lizard eggs inside the sprinkler control box, a full functioning wasps nest inside the rain gauge, and a fire ant mound encapsulating the TV signal amplifier. The jungle strikes back.

Nancy was tasked to, among other things, bring a dish of Brussels Sprouts for Thanksgiving at Tom’s house. I’m not a giant Sprouts fan but there’s always plenty of other goodies to munch on so I was OK with it. She cast about to fellow cooks for a good recipe and decided to test run those on me. I don’t know which one will make the cut but I can tell you for sure that I am Brusseled out and will double up on carrots or whatever else appears. I made a large bowl of fresh cranberry sauce and am responsible for grilling the turkey on the Holland grill. I think we’re also bringing a cake.

I’ve mentioned the numerous dead bay trees that I’ve cut down or have left for future action. Those are coming down on their own, sometimes in dramatic fashion. Every time we get a storm with substantial wind, the tops of trees or large, dead overhanging branches crash down. I’ve cut down everything that could hit the house or dock so I think generally it’s safe. Yesterday while sitting at the computer a couple of really large branches came down directly in my line of vision. That’s actually the second time that I’ve just happened to be looking when a tree top or branch broke off. I took a couple of pictures to give you an idea of the size branches involved. One pic shows the remaining trunk which will also fall eventually. I knew these particular branches were ready to go and would have cut them off if I could have reached them. The view to the lake is much improved now.

Fallen branches
Fallen branches
Trunk remains
Trunk remains

Plumbing Issues

Disaster. I walked up to the mail box this morning and noticed that the sprinkler system had turned on. It’s been off since May, when the rainy season kicked off. I checked the control box and noticed some ants inside but other than that, everything was off. I unscrewed the cover on the box to see exactly what the ants had done and was surprised to find a dead lizard and several lizard eggs. Lizard eggs are white spherical balls about a half inch in diameter. I also noticed that when I threw the electrical breaker that controlled the whole sprinkler system, that particular line of sprinklers didn’t turn off. I suspected that somehow the lizard had caused the line of sprinklers to turn on but resetting the system didn’t turn it off. The valves on each of the three sprinkler lines has an independent manual turn off so I figured I’d just turn off that particular line and probably replace the valve. It was then that I learned that when we installed the sprinkler system, we didn’t install a turn off valve to isolate the sprinkler system from the house so the only way to work on the system is to shut off the water to the house, up at the well and pump. I was able to close the valve on the bad string but it was leaking. I turned off the whole water system since Nancy was gone and spent the rest of the day digging up around the valves. I then turned the main water back on and learned that the leaky valve was leaking enough to fill all I had dug up in about half an hour. Before it totally submerged I scoped the plumbing and saw that this simple valve change was going to be a big deal and take at least a whole day of muddy work. Of course all this was on Sunday so the hardware store was closed and my neighbor with all the parts and pieces was spending the day at church. I decided to just cut the line to the sprinkler system and cap it or put in a manual turn off valve before tackling the bad valve. Joey and Mark had installed the system originally so I need to check the warranty papers and see if they’ll come up to the lake and fix it. If not warranty, how about my Christmas present.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try to grow parsnips. On the off chance that you haven’t ever grown them yourself, a few words. I was expecting them to pop out and resemble carrots but instead they pop out and resemble tomatoes. The first few sets of leaves are a dead ringer for tomato plant leaves. If I didn’t know exactly where I planted them, I’d be pulling them out as renegade tomatoes. Nancy mentioned to one of her bridge friends that we are growing parsnips and she offered an interesting anecdote. Her family loved parsnips so her father decided to grow them. They turned out really good but her father learned that he had an intense allergy to the leaves. When he picked them the first time his hands broke out and swelled up enough to visit a doctor for relief med’s. I’ll be cautious, just in case.

Uh oh, the weather guys are using the “F” word for Thursday. My tomatoes and a couple pepper plants are vulnerable but everything else should be ok. The pepper plants are small and easily covered but you saw the picture of the tomato plants – not so easy to cover. I picked the first few cherry tomatoes just today and would really hate to lose the rest. I really don’t expect us to get much below 40 because we’re so close to the lake and these weather forecasters like to throw their weight around. I also think they’re forgetting my ace in the hole – global warming.

Planted the Chinese cabbage, 9 of 12 starts, and 6 more speckled perch carcasses. I’m holding back on the last 3 as spares to cover any that crash in the next few days. If they all make it, Nancy has a quilting buddy with a garden mostly populated with my spares. And in case you’re wondering why there’s been no fish pictures – I’m catching plenty of fish but none worth a single picture.

Where’s Nancy?

Good news and bad in the garden. The good news is that the parsnip seeds have finally germinated. I planted those a couple of weeks back and basically had given up on them. We’ve had two days of on and off rain which must have triggered something because there was two nice rows of plants where I had put in the seed. The bad news is that something dug up one of the mudfish I had buried in the garden. I wouldn’t normally be concerned about that but in the process of getting at the fish they uprooted 6-8 celery plants.

Here’s a pic of those tomato plants mentioned in the previous post. I got Nancy to pose to give some perspective. I’m convinced these are the largest, strongest tomato plants I’ve ever grown. The other pic shows pre-garden cole slaw plants. The larger set is Chinese cabbage, the other is Jersey Wakefield. I’ll plant those in the garden next week. These are January table toppings.

Where's Nancy
Where’s Nancy

January cole slaw
January cole slaw

We had an unusually wet couple of days for November and I’m declaring the lake officially full. The definition of full is that while swimming you can access your drink on the dock. November is the driest month of the year but we picked up 2” this week with prospects for more before month’s end. Maybe because of the higher water level, the spec fishing continues to improve. I went out for an hour and a half today and caught 20 fish, about twice the number last week in about the same amount of fishing time. I kept 4 large enough to eat but they are still running small.

At one point during the rain, I went down to the dock to make sure my new egret was doing ok and just to get out of the house. While sitting down there I saw something unusual, a flock of anhingas landed a couple of hundred feet from me. I counted 25 birds. Anhingas are similar to cormorants and it’s not at all unusual to see them around the lake but normally as singles or perhaps in pairs. This is the first time I’ve ever seen so many in one place and clearly behaving as a group.

New Dock Tenant

We took our annual fall trip to Gainesville on Sunday. There’s an arts and crafts show that we’ve attended with Simon and Julia for the past three years. We had a great time and restocked Simon’s larder from here, from Trader Joe’s and from Fresh Market. He’ll have enough stuff to almost last through this semester. They took us to their new favorite Mexican restaurant and I have to admit, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. They have exotics on the menu like you’ve never seen – how about tacos that include pulled goat, beef cheek, or cactus. At the craft show there’s been one booth that has lured me in every year but has never hooked me enough to pull the trigger on a purchase. Since this may be the last year we attend, I just couldn’t resist. Check out the new dock tenant, an egret made of PVC pipe. I sure hope it holds up in the weather. That’s the reason I passed on it last year.

new dock tenant
new dock tenant

Dove into the thinning task in the garden. Finished the carrots and beets and got a decent start on the lettuce. If even half the lettuce survives we will be in an extremely long position before the end of the year. After two days, it looks closer to 100% survival for the lettuce also. That’s true for cabbage as well. It looks like I got 100% germination on the Jersey Wakefield and the Chinese cabbage which means about 20 more cabbages to be transplanted to the garden in the next couple of weeks. At the same time I planted the cabbage seed, I planted seeds for orange (cheddar) colored cauliflower. It was older seed, I think about 3 years old, and it looks like zero germination. That’s not unexpected and I’ll just replant with another cauliflower variant that is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli. I successfully grew that last year and suspect the seed is not too old. It’s also looking like the spinach seed I planted directly in the garden a couple weeks back was also too old. I’ve got some new seed so no big deal.

When I went out to the garden today there was a crowd of people around the tomato plants oooing and ahhhhing and unanimously announcing that they had never seen plants like these. These were friends of my neighbor, bikers, so not necessarily a group of visiting agronomists but I’m calling them keen observers. I have to admit that, for whatever reason, the tomato plants that I planted in September are the biggest, strongest looking plants I’ve ever grown. I really didn’t do anything different so it must just be the combination of an ever improving soil and near perfect weather conditions. If we can go another month with no frost, there should be plenty of ripe tomatoes coming to go with all that lettuce mentioned above.

Still catching plenty of speckled perch but still too small to keep. The way it works is that the smaller males come into the area where the larger females will eventually congregate to lay eggs. Apparently the females are still out cruising in the deep water and not ready to become moms.

Planting Mudfish

Talk about fast germination. A couple days ago I realized I hadn’t started any Chinese cabbage yet, so I did. When you start seeds indoors no light is necessary but as soon as they germinate, you need a good light source to simulate sunlight. For whatever reason, I went into the guest room, aka seed starting room, and saw that the Chinese cabbage had already popped out. I quickly turned on the grow light but hadn’t planned to visit there for a few more days so I was lucky to catch it so soon. That would have been a bad thing since light at an early point is very important for the future well being of the plant. Also very fast – radishes. Today I was thinning them after planting the seed less than 2 weeks ago. I told Nancy to break out the radish recipes because we have loads coming in about a month.

I also put in some celery plants and put an eyeball on the carrots which will need thinning in a week or so. Ditto the beets. With radishes you get 100% yield on the thinning process, meaning they all survive. With carrots it’s more like 50%; beets 25%. The reason beets are so fragile is that several beets germinate from one seed – actually a seed cluster – and when you try to remove one from a cluster, it disturbs the others. The recommended approach is to take tiny scissors and clip off all but one in the cluster but it’s just too tempting (for me) to try to delicately extract each one individually. Besides, Nancy won’t let me use her tiny scissors to cut beet stalks.

George went out spec fishing and caught a mudfish along the way. Mudfish are a rough fish, very nasty teeth, and generally difficult to deal with. They can get fairly large but this one was small, maybe a pound. He kept it just to rid the lake of the pest but it looked like fertilizer to me and it is now resting peacefully between a couple of small broccoli plants. Call it a science experiment. Will those plants do better than the others in the row? Will the broccoli have a slight fish flavor? A muddy flavor?

Obama has not lost one iota of credibility with me as a result of the Healthcare rollout. The move to allow people to return to their old policy gives him two new scapegoats when it doesn’t happen – the insurance companies and/or the individual state’s administrations become the bad guys. When he says he didn’t know the web site was screwed up two weeks before the launch, either he didn’t ask any questions or he was lied to when he did. I think they’re taking the “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy to cover broadly everything. Personally, over my career I attended hundreds of executive level project reviews and would have nightmares before and after based on the intense grilling involved. It’s just not believable to me that those kinds of sessions weren’t being held daily all summer long.

Spec’s starting

In my last post, I missed an opportunity to plug my favorite plant. I mentioned that Nancy had roasted a chicken on a bed of carrots and parsnips. It was in a cast iron skillet and cooked in a 350 oven. So the skillet was 350 degrees when Nancy grabbed the handle without a pot holder. We (she) remembered that an aloe plant was about 15 seconds away so I chopped off a leaf and we coated the burn with the natural gel that oozes out. Inside a few minutes the sting left and there was never a blister – just a redness for an hour or so. Message to readers – go get an aloe plant and keep it handy. They’re easy to grow and virtually indestructible. If you live in a cold climate, bring it inside in the winter and place in a window sill or some place where it will get some sunlight now and then.

I’m just not a winter person. Today we’re only reaching the mid 60’s and the wind is howling – white caps on the lake. Personally I need much more global warming and I need much more sunlight per day. The silver lining to the wind and the season is that it brings down a load of pine needles onto the driveway. We have dozens of large pines along the driveway which equates to jillions of needles to be raked up and spread on the parking area in front of the house and under the clothesline. This keeps both these area virtually weed free for about 6 months. In doing this job, I noticed a low area that would be improved by filling with wood chips. Two hours and twelve loads of chips later, the job that I didn’t know existed when I woke up this morning is done.

And since cold weather usually ushers in spec season, I decided to try for the first time. George had gone out with a friend last week and between them they caught 5 very small specs so I know they’re starting to school up. I went out about 3:30 and had two small ones in the first 15 minutes. I fished for 2 hours and landed 7, none worth keeping. There was enough action that fishing with two rods proved to be a problem and I lost a couple trying to deal with two on at the same time. The lake is loaded with lily pads this year which also makes trolling with two rods trickier. I use two rods, each with a different kind of lure, to find what works. In this case, both lures worked equally well. So for sure the specs are out and about but only the juniors. It’s really early in the season-normally the peak is January/February. This is the earliest I remember catching any at all so I’m stoked about the possibilities.

I put in a few rows of lettuce seed and noticed that the carrot, beet, and spinach seed planted last week is starting to germinate. That seems a little quicker than I recall but probably not. Ditto the radishes planted just a few days ago. I also started some more cabbage and cauliflower indoors. You have to plant at least a month in advance and my guess is that in a month, I’ll have garden space when the tomatoes finish.

Vanderbilt – Seriously?

The fill and cover project is officially over. I used the last shovelful of fill dirt down by the dock, leveling off an area that wasn’t too bad but just wasn’t right. I could have closed it out a couple days ago but decided to do just a little more work around the picnic table to make it more hospitable. George is planning a major fish fry event next month and those always flow over on our dock so this year it will be the best they’ve ever seen. Also better for whatever graduation parties take place here this spring. I wasn’t sure whether I’d run out of dirt, chips, or energy first.

Did some more winter planting in the garden, taking advantage of the cooler weather. The new stuff includes beets, radishes, Swiss chard and parsnips. Parsnips? Nancy has been popping up with new recipes that use parsnips and, it turns out, they’re fairly expensive. For example, on Thursday she roasted a chicken set on a bed of chunked carrots and parsnips; on Saturday she served a fantastic short rib recipe with pureed parsnips as a side. I’d never eaten or grown them before so this is an experimental crop. The first surprise was the seeds. Since parsnips resemble carrots, I expected the seeds to resemble carrot seeds. Carrot seeds are really micro which makes them hard to deal with and insures that there will be extensive thinning after germination – a back breaker. Parsnip seeds look like oat meal flakes so they’re quite easy to plant and maintain the right separation. With the Swiss chard, I’m putting in a few plants that I started indoors a few weeks ago and also some seed directly in the soil. If it works out, that means a continuous, longer season.

For the first time ever, I’m afraid I’m going to be pulling for FSU to beat Florida. First off, the Gators are a bad team and need to get this season over and done with and all game films burned. Second, a Florida team , FSU, has a chance for the national championship if it can win out the rest of the season. So as it stands right now, the national champ will be either FSU or Alabama, an SEC team. If Florida can’t do it, then either of these results is acceptable. And finally, losses to FSU, Miami, and Georgia, not to mention Vanderbilt, should be it for Muschamp. There’s a better than likely chance that Florida will have it’s first losing season in decades since the two teams remaining on the schedule, FSU and South Carolina, are clearly better teams. Bye Will. And besides, with Olivia heading for UCF, I have another Florida team on my radar.
I have to comment on Obama care – Any technical person knows that there will be glitches in new software programs; the more code involved, the more glitches and there are literally hundreds of millions lines of code involved; the more independently developed modules to be integrated, the more glitches. So it should come as no surprise that there would be bugs in the program and I would bet that the walls of the developer’s cubicles are totally covered with emails to managers alerting them to problems with the code and requests for schedule delays. So no surprises to anyone working the program. You can be absolutely certain that the decision to release (or unleash) the code on the public with inadequate testing was not made by any technical person in the loop. Purely a nontechnical, customer driven management decision; in this case a political decision.

Aside from the technical issues which will eventually be beaten to submission, the core of this program is fundamentally flawed. It depends on young people with little need for insurance to sign up. Instead of dating and bar hopping, buy health insurance when you know you feel great. And let those same young people hang on their parent’s insurance for 5 more years. Surprise, surprise – who are the first people to sign up. Older, sicker people. Young, healthy folks will quickly figure out that it’s cheaper to pay a fine than sign up for insurance. The demographics are exactly what any modestly intelligent forecaster would have predicted but to hear from the administration, this is unexpected. Either they are very stupid or flat ass lying and I don’t think they’re stupid at all.

Back to the grind

It’s been nothing but busy since getting home. On Sunday we had a great day courtesy of Tom and family. They got Nancy and I tickets to the musical Book of Mormon for Nancy’s birthday. We met up with them after the show for an exhibit of hand crafted Florida birds at the Rollins College Art Museum and then din din at a new place (to us), Jimmy Hula’s. The show wasn’t my favorite, a little over the top, I thought, with offensive language. Parts of it were humorous but other parts were a bit too mocking of another religion. Now the birds were magnificently crafted from paper so, although we expected more of them, they were worth seeing for sure. Jimmy Hula’s is very casual dining with fish taco’s being the trademark meal. Great draft beers and really good food. It could easily be a destination place for us – especially considering it’s proximity to Costco.

The garden did suffer while we were gone and it’s taken a couple of days to get it back in shape. It’s really amazing how quickly weeds happen. I started planting seeds again and got in a row of snow peas, spinach, scallions, and two varieties of carrots including red carrots. The good news is that since planting the seeds the weather has been perfect, mostly overcast with light showers on and off, and temps between the mid 60’s and low 80’s exactly what I like to germinate new seeds. I picked several pounds of green beans. The other big job was staking tomato plants. They were fairly small when we took off but within a week had put on numerous branches and added at least a foot of height. My neighbor watered while we were gone but he uses a sprinkler which loads the foliage with water and causes the branches to droop, sag, and take on weird shapes. It’s hard to get them growing straight again without breaking off shoots.

I picked up where I left off filling with dirt and covering with wood chips. I finished off the path along the lake towards the north and the two view areas accessible from the living room. All of that finished off the last of the dirt pile and used one pile of wood chips. My neighbor’s usage is more ambitious so he’s taking one of my three piles off my hands leaving me with enough to last a couple of years. I know that all the areas I filled and covered will sag a bit over time so eventually it’ll get used.

More good news – Olivia was accepted to USF (South Florida) a couple of weeks ago and by UCF, the preferred target school, today. I never had any doubts at all that she would be accepted but now that it’s bagged, she feels much better. Already picking a dorm and all that goes with that.

A great week at the beach

Can you overdose on vitamin D? What happens to your camera when you have it in your pocket and then fill the pocket with sand fleas? I hit the beach early on Thursday to fish the outgoing tide. It was high about 5AM so I was halfway to low tide when my bait hit the water. I caught a few small whiting and one keeper in the first hour then it slacked off to zero. The camera still works although it sounds kind of funny when the lens pops out. The whiting is now fillets in the freezer.

Whiting ready to clean
Whiting ready to clean

The upstairs neighbors invited us up for a fish dinner last night. They’re from Wilmington NC and I had contributed several fish to their larder over the week but hadn’t expected to be eating it. This is the first time we’ve ever had another fisherman here at the same time so that’s been nice.

Lunch today at a favorite spot. We hit this beach shack once each trip and say the same thing every time – best burgers in the galaxy. We split a burger and an order of onion rings and have to stretch to finish it. Add an Octoberfest brew and it’s as close to culinary perfection as it gets. It’s right on the beach, truly a shack, but an incredible menu and quality of food. First timers would drive right by, thinking no way they would ever stop at a place that looked this bad. We did until we kept wondering why there were so many cars there at lunch and dinner. We walked in and the first thing that strikes you is that it really is marginal in terms of the structure. But you also notice right away that the selection of drafts at the bar is excellent. Then when you get the menu you think these are wildly high burger prices – lots of other things too- but the burger prices jump out at you. The first time we each ordered one – big mistake. These are thick, juicy 3/4 lb burgers cooked exactly right as are the onion rings. We watch other people ordering other things and everything they put out looks incredible. Fantastic service and it’s the kind of place where people just talk to each other as if they’ve known them for years.

All in all, this week has been the best fishing, worst catching week I’ve had at the beach. I closed it out with an evening mixed catch of small sharks and small catfish.