It’s pine pollen season again. Pine pollen is a yellow, powdery dust that coats everything. Then if it’s misty, the pollen coating turns into a paste which, when the sun comes out, bakes onto whatever surface it’s covering. It floats on the surface of the lake and clogs your nostrils when you breath. I can just imagine what happens inside the lungs. I’ve never heard of anyone dying of a pine pollen overload so maybe it converts to something nutritious when your body absorbs it.

It’s spec season which means the garden is filling up with perch carcasses at a rapid rate. Since there’s still quite a load of stuff growing, it’s getting tougher and tougher to find room for the bodies. Research has shown that it takes roughly 3 weeks for a spec carcass to disappear; more like 8 weeks for mudfish, gar, or catfish which my neighbor generously contributes. I try to make sure that every trip Nancy makes to bridge or quilting includes bags of lettuce or whatever else is brimming over in the garden but it’s still not going down as fast as the spec bodies are materializing. That’s my big ole bad problem for the week. Next thing will be running out of freezer space with all the fillets. I just can’t cut a break.

It’s new tire season. Had to get new tires on both the Toyota and the Mercury. That puts a hole in the budget especially if you have something like tie rods thrown in. I’m ok with spending money on boats or fishing tackle but cars……………

In the last week of February we had just over 2” of rain and the lake rose accordingly. That much rain is not unusual in Florida but it is for February. I’m hoping that we got the rain over with for at least a week so it’s nice weather for the upcoming spring break fishing trip with Tom. That will mean a break in the blog stream but you can anticipate pictures of large fish when we get back. The weather hasn’t been all that great the last two years, cold and windy which limited where we could fish. Last year we tried to find fishable areas so we spent much of the time visiting places for the future – as in this year.

Joey came up with something that may turn out to be a good find. He was visiting his local Starbucks and spotted a couple of large, 20lb size sacks of used coffee grounds for gardens. Free. I dump a cup or so of home grown used coffee grounds into the compost pile every day. It’s just something I’ve always heard was a good idea but never had any official sanctioning. My mix leans heavily towards 8 O’clock or Dunkin’ Donuts so I’m wondering if my plants will be able to handle the upgrade to Starbucks. According to the label it’s for use with acid loving plants. I’ve had my soil tested several times and it always shows up short on acid so perhaps this will correct that deficiency. Certainly can’t hurt. A slightly acid soil helps the plant dissolve other nutrients for absorption.

Dead Weather Station, Again

I spoke too soon with respect to the weather station. After working fine for a couple of days, it crashed again. Luckily I have a back up rain gauge of the unbreakable variety. There’s a quick restart method and the full factory reset which is what I used last time. I think I’ll hit it with the quick restart and then a hammer.

Nancy made something new the other night, mashed parmesan cauliflower. It’s a great substitute for mashed potatoes which I liked it much better. You make it exactly the same as you would mashed potatoes except adding parmesan for flavor. So now we have mashed parsnips and mashed cauliflower added to our menu. I’ll try to get her to try using the same recipe when the Romanesque crop comes in next month. Romanesque is a combination of broccoli and cauliflower; green color and the texture of cauliflower. With another cauliflower, she made roast cauliflower soup. That’s a first too. If we’re not careful we’ll slip into vegan-hood without even trying.

Today she made “over the hill” broccoli cheese soup. A broccoli plant puts out a large main head which is what you see in the grocery store then, after the main head is harvested, it puts out branches of florets a couple of weeks after the first cutting. The first couple cutting of the florets yields nice tight tops that we roast, fry, eat raw or whatever but the plant tries to replace each floret cut with several more. Those get wimpier and wimpier as the plant wears itself out trying to produce seeds. In the final stages you have to pick every day to keep the florets from blooming and turning into seed. This last round of florets I call the “over the hill broccoli” and it ends up in the soup pot. A good variety will produce for a couple of months. Then I pull the plant and chop it up into the compost pile to feed next season’s crop. Nothing wasted. We freeze most of the soup and break it out on an as needed basis.

A few notes on the Olympics. I’m not a big winter Olympics person but just listening to the news, I picked up on a few things. I guess the US speed skaters didn’t do well and are blaming it on new, high tech uni’s. Since speed skating is a timed event, it would seem that the numbers would show right away, during training, during practice but for sure, before an actual race. So I’m not really buying the uni story. Wasn’t that the same issue with swimmers during the summer Olympics? That’s the argument for nude olympics which would draw an even bigger audience. The Norwegians are blaming their wax man for their cross country losses. Big surprise, there’s controversy about judging figure skating. Has there ever been an Olympics where figure skating judging hasn’t been contested? It’s because the Olympic games are about sports and figure skating isn’t a sport, it’s an exhibition, a performance. It would be like having ballet as an Olympic event. If you can’t measure it, it’s not a sport or athletic competition.

Back in the Rain Gauge Business

I just watched the most incredible “news” story ever on the CBS evening national news. Seems that in Minnesota, the moose population has dropped from 40K to 400 in the past 10 years and 50% in the last 4 years alone. Perhaps I misheard and it was 4K to 400 but still a large drop. The scientist interviewed didn’t know why but suspected it had to do with global warming. They reckon summer is now two days longer, whatever that means. Just a little while back I had read an article about the opposite problem in New England – way too many moose. Is there anyone in the universe who believes the climate has changed, one way or the other, in the past 4 years? Or that it would only impact Minnesota and only one species? It would seem like if it was a virus, a nutritional problem, a parasite and you had nearly 40K corpses to examine, you would know what the problem was. Wonder what the wolf population is? Didn’t they reintroduce wolves to that area in the past 20 years? How about a genetic issue, an insufficient genetic pool to sustain the population – same as the Cheetah problem in Africa. The story mentioned that there were two distinct groups so that suggests too much inbreeding. Bet they just left Minn and are wandering around Canada or maybe trekking to Maine. I can understand some well meaning but stupid scientists saying something like that but it really bothers me that CBS would allow such obviously biased, wrong information to be broadcast as the gospel.

If the quality of the seedlings speaks to the quality of the end result, we’re going to have some serious green peppers this summer. I planted two varieties with “older” seed and surprisingly got 100% germination so I ended up with 10, really beautiful plants. I put them out in the sun every day after the temp reaches 50 but bring them in at night. I had bought seed for a new variety in anticipation of these older seeds not making it so I’ll hold off planting those until Sept for the fall crop. Believe it or not, we’re still picking peppers from last September’s planting which is the latest ever. I paid special attention to those two plants when we were threatened by frost in Dec and Jan. We never actually got a freeze – the closest it got was 34 – and they never lost a leaf. It will most likely be mid March before I put them out in the garden but if the weather holds as now forecast this week and the 10 days forecast looks good by the 20th of Feb, I’m going to transplant a couple tomato plants in the garden. It’s a little risky but the only downside is having to start over and there’s still plenty of time. The upside is that the plants will get large and strong before the bugs come on.

I mentioned the trials and tribulations associated with getting my weather station up and running. Well it’s now back doing it’s thing!!!! The reset process is very tricky and involves close timing, exact sequencing and placement of the devices during the setup. Nothing about the process is intuitive. In the end the problem was, as I originally suspected, batteries. What threw me out of whack was that the replacement batteries I had on hand, although never used and only recently purchased, had past the manufacturer’s use by date. The new batteries I used this time have a 2023 expiration date. Now all I need is a good rain storm – like the 3/4″ downpour we just had!

She’s Baaack

She’s back and already signed up for the next quilting cruise. I think it’s about this same time next year but out of Ft. Lauderdale instead of Canaveral. I have no idea where the cruise goes but it probably makes no difference at all. They could pull the boat away from the dock and then just let it drift. Most interesting was when she was sitting next to a fellow quilter and got to chatting about where they were from etc and she learned that the person was from the Pensacola area and was active in the local Baptist Church which, it turned out, was the same church our nephew Glenn attends. She knows Glenn very well so it was a “small world” moment. She also met some gals from Chicago who she vows to visit if and when we ever visit Chicago to see Tommy. Alas, my circle of friends stayed the same although I did spot a mallard on the lake I hadn’t seen before.

I think I may have mentioned some time back that my high tech weather station was under the weather; ie not working. It’s a very complicated setup procedure and I finally just gave up and called the factory for assistance. After a half hour of elevator music they prompted that I should just leave my number and they’d call back. Three weeks later, they did indeed call back. She walked me through a factory reset which is really a complicated procedure involving placement of the instruments and critical timing. It still didn’t work but then she asked me what the expiration date was on the batteries. I said they were brand new, just out of the package. She still wanted the expiration date which turned out to be March 2011. That’s your problem she announced. I’ve never heard of an expiration date on unused batteries but one of these days I’ll get some new C cell’s and try again. She was also kind enough to email me the factory reset procedure so I’ll be able to handle it on my own.

There’s a new neighbor just a few hundred yards up Purdom Cemetery Road. He bought a 5 acre chunk a few years back and has been clearing the property and building a small house ever since. They gradually moved in as the house construction allowed. He had told me that one thing he wanted to do was get a pasture going, even before building the house, so he could keep a few horses. True to his word, the horse are here so now we have cows across the lake and horses just up the road. I love the scenery and sounds.

Sudoku triumph. I have a free downloaded Sudoku program on the computer and it presents puzzles each day that range from incredibly simple to totally impossible – 13 different levels. I usually start with “easy”, which is 4 levels up from the bottom and work up 5 levels to “annoying”. When you complete a game the program tells you how you did relative to other users and how you did with respect to your own personal history. Today I broke the 4 minute “easy” level at 3.56. That was better than 90% of the other folks and a personal record. I liken it to the 4 minute mile in track that I’m not likely to break.

From the Experimental Kitchen

About halfway through the bachelor run and one thing I can say for sure, the fishing is better. I caught half a dozen fish in about an hour of fishing this morning including one bass that probably went 4 pounds. That’s the best fishing in more than a month. The interesting thing was that I caught that bass on a tiny spec jig while it was resting on the lake bottom. I was trolling with two rods and hooked a fish on one. When that happens I turn the electric motor off and reel in the fish. The other lure just drops to the bottom. Since I was fishing in about 8’ of water, it would be on the bottom a couple seconds after I turn off the motor. I started reeling in the other rod and it was quite heavy but that’s normal since the bottom is grassy and it’s routine to hook up in the grass when the lure sinks. Then it started actually moving in a new direction and I realized I had a fish on which turned out to be quite a nice bass. Ironically, my fishing neighbor went out after I got back in and an hour later was cleaning a really nice speckled perch which he had caught while bass fishing with a plastic worm. Neither of us had ever heard of catching a spec on a plastic worm. So I got a nice bass on a spec lure and he got a nice spec on a bass lure.

I talked to Nancy from St Thomas and she’s having a great time, meeting new quilting buddies from all over the country. There’s a quilt shop on St. Thomas, wouldn’t you know, and she bought some material from there. I’m guessing this is not the last McCall’s quilting cruise for her. My turn comes the first week in March, Spring Break. Tom and I make an annual trek to South Florida to fish for snook in the Loxahatchee River. Last year Simon went with us but he’s got bigger fish to fry this year. It’s usually a camping trip but this year we’re splurging and doing the cabins at the park instead of roughing it in a tent.

George came home yesterday, a week plus a day from when he went in for an out patient procedure. The doctor had to put all new leads on the pacemaker instead of just changing one as planned. He’s feeling 1000% better and now just has to be sure that the wound heals properly. He’s not supposed to do “anything” for two months and not lift his arms above his head. That’s the toughest part for George who is attracted to things like cutting and hauling firewood.

I mentioned roasting spinach in a previous post so today I decided to step it up a notch and try roasting a large Swiss Chard leaf. If you are familiar with Chard the leaves are much larger than spinach leaves and they have a thick stalk. Both the leaves and the stalks are edible. I stripped the leaf from the stalk, sprinkled both with olive oil and salt, and loaded them into the toaster oven to cook at 300 degrees for 5 minutes. The leaf came out with the texture of a potato chip and was much better than how I did a few months back with kale although, in fairness to kale, I didn’t experiment around to home in on the correct temp and time. Also I plan to revisit spinach using the same cooking parameters as seems right for the Swiss Chard. The stalk didn’t turn out crispy so I put it back for another 5 minutes with the same result, tough and stringy. I tried another leaf and reduced the temp to 275. The leaf retained the green color but not so good if you like crisp. Picked another leaf and cooked at 275 for 10 minutes. That seemed to do it – the leaf became crisp and mostly retained the green color. All in all, I think it’s way too much effort for so little return.

Spinach Chips?

I watched something very interesting from the window in the kitchen. We have a tangerine tree with 99.9% of the fruit gone and I happened to glance over at it and saw something hanging from one of the remaining tangerines, pecking away at it. Turned out to be an immature woodpecker clinging to the bottom of the tangerine and digging in for all he was worth. I don’t know if he was going for the seeds inside or the fruit pulp or just practicing on something softer than an oak tree. I thought they only ate bugs but maybe when they’re little guys, they are less picky. A couple hours later I went out and looked at the tangerine and spotted a couple more that had been worked on in the same way. Not sure if it was the same bird or multiples. The tangerines looked like carved halloween pumpkins, hollowed out with a smiley face. If I hadn’t seen the bird it all would have been a big mystery.
woodpecker feast
Tried a spinach experiment that mimic’d something I saw a few weeks back. I have some great spinach, a variety with extra large, thick leaves so I decided to try making spinach chips. You coat them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and then roast in the oven. I didn’t pick up on the temperature or the time so I decided to try it with a couple of leaves and the toaster oven. The first shot was 450 degrees for 10 minutes; charcoal. I pulled them out after about 7 minutes when they started to smoke and disintegrate in front of my eyes. I consulted with my resident chef in Jersey City and he suggested I lower the temp to 275.

George finally had his pace maker installation repaired. That poor guy was in the hospital a full week for something that was planned as an out patient procedure. The heart surgeon commented that the original pace maker installation was a mess and that he hated to clean up after another doc. It took 4.5 hours. The other thing that really bothers is that he has had problems with intubation in the past and specifically alerted the nurses to that situation. Further, the problem was documented in the hospital’s charts but nobody bothered to look at the history.

George Report

Nancy and I collaborated on another culinary delight – the last green tomato cake of the season. My job was reading the recipe and chopping the tomatoes; Nancy did the basic mixing. I cut down the last of the tomato plants that had run their course and used about half for the cake and put the other half on the hall window sill to ripen. The plants themselves are now resting in the compost pile. The next cake won’t appear until May, assuming all goes as planned.

I’m officially a bachelor as of today. Nancy is cruising and quilting her heart out and I’m slaving away here at the farm. So far the only thing noticeable is how quiet it is. I rounded up all the frozen meals she had squirreled away for me and it looks like far more food than I’ll be able to eat in just a week. I usually approach eating as to how much effort it takes – is it easier to pour out a bowl of cereal, pop something in the microwave, or pick it from the garden and eat it raw? There’s no shortage of material for any of the above. The weather forecast for the whole week is good so no doubt I’ll be doing a bit of fishing. I’m not a big winter olympics guy so I’ll be diving into my Netflix lineup which has been expanded to include a Tarantino movie too violent for Nancy.

So far February has been mostly Portland, cool and wet. We’ve had more than an inch of rain in the past couple of days and the lake is rising at a time it’s usually falling. I dusted off the old time rain gauge just in time to capture the action this week.

I mentioned that my neighbor was going to the hospital to repair or replace a broken lead on his pacemaker. It was billed as an out-patient event, possibly overnight. He was scheduled for a 7:30AM operation Thursday morning. It came off right on schedule but they found that his body tissue was attached to the lead and would require some laser work. The guy who did that work wasn’t there. Not sure how that can happen. Surely George wasn’t the first guy with this situation and I would have expected them to anticipate just such a happening. So they reschedule him for 5:30 PM on Friday. They wheeled him to the OR right on schedule with the right doc’s on hand but they were unable to intubate him and the right folks to deal with that complication weren’t on hand. Rescheduled for Monday so he spends the weekend in the hospital in the ICU. I haven’t talked to George directly but he has an aggressive personality so I’m guessing that by Monday, the janitorial and nursing staff will be volunteering to do the operation themselves with whatever tools or utensils happen to be on hand.

Wonder what the large southern migration of snowy owls is all about? Do they know something we don’t?

Garden Pic’s

About the only thing I can say with respect to the Super Bowl is “Tebow, Tebow”. In case you forgot, Percy Harvin was Tebow’s Gator team mate.

Nancy and I collaborated on making a pot of turkey soup. I think I mentioned that we had turkey with our house guests the other week. Well the carcass was stashed in the freezer for future use in turkey soup. The way we collaborate is that she basically makes the turkey soup and leaves the kitchen. Then I make the noodles, in this case a combo of spinach and swiss chard noodles and I also took the liberty of adding a couple stalks of Tuscan kale to the basic soup. Perfect.

So far February is looking more like April. We have a forecast for the next 10 days of 80 degree days, 60 degree nights and a 10% chance of rain. That works for me and just might get the bass stirring. I can see actually putting tomato plants into the garden in a couple of weeks.

This posting is going to be short on words and long on pictures. That’s 5 lbs of cherry tomatoes and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve filled that bowl this season. The trifecta is a set of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower in a single row, all ready for picking. Two shots of the lettuce to try to give you an idea of how much black seeded Simpson we’re dealing with. If you look carefully, there’s also some Romaine mixed in. I think the large broccoli, Packman variety, at 12” across, must be the biggest I’ve ever grown.

The big three
The big three
5 pounds of Cherry Tomat
5 pounds of Cherry Tomat
XL Broccoli
XL Broccoli
lettucelettuce and peas

It’s Portland in Pierson

We caught a break on this last cold snap and didn’t come even close to a freeze. It was nasty – cold, wet, and windy but no frost or freezing – Portland weather. I can’t seem to get any sympathy from Chris in NY or Tommy in Chicago but I suspect this January will go down as the worst in decades. The silver lining is that we’ve been getting a decent amount of rain in the normally dry season; good for the garden, good for the lake; the irony is my rain gauge quit working a couple of weeks back so I have no readings to analyze.

Stuck in the house 3 days in a row – cold, wet and windy. I would be ok with that and just catch up on reading and listening to Fox on the XM but as luck would have it, Nancy is also home. That means drivel TV all day. The subject on all the daytime shows is about hosting super bowl parties. I almost threw up a couple of times listening to these women talking about the games they play, drinks they make, appetizers, clothes they wear etc etc etc. Nobody mentioned just sitting watching the game and hoisting a few brewskis. I’m not sure how I would handle being in a house where the hostess (or host) was insistent on playing some stupid game, even at half time. Does that make me an old curmudgeon? bah, humbug.

Add carrots to the list of veggies currently being harvested; also currently being planted directly (seeds) into the garden. Carrots are one of the crops that was a complete disaster the first couple of years because of poor soil and nematodes. Once I broke the code, we’ve been getting nicer and nicer looking carrots each year. This year I plan to extend the growing season and see just how late we can still be picking them. I planted a few rows early in January and just thinned those yesterday. I’m going to plant more towards the end of February, which might be considered a little late. The variety I’m going to plant says it tolerates heat, a term I’ve found to mean Maine heat, but I plan to plant them in a row shaded by corn on one side and pole beans on the other. I’m also going to try “heat tolerant” spinach in the same row with the carrots so that will also get plenty of shade. I have low expectations but you never know. If my 1960 professor’s predictions of a coming ice age are starting to prove out, we could have a carrot and spinach mild kind of summer. Polar vortex in July.

I’ve got to start planning to be a bachelor again. Next week Nancy goes on a 7 day quilting cruise down to the islands somewhere. The tough planning is to have Netflix programmed so that my favorite British spy show DVD’s arrive on the day she leaves and to be finished with season 5 the day before she gets back. I was not sequenced exactly right on her sabbatical to Utah last year but I plan to better that performance. Food planning is no concern at all because she’s been stashing away left overs for the past month and without a doubt, I won’t eat my way through half of the stuff before she’s back.