All Graduated!

This has been the craziest fall, weather wise. Early on it was way hotter than normal but it’s turned unseasonably cold since Thanksgiving. I’ve had to cover the garden twice this month which is normally something that happens in January. I don’t actually think we got any frost although the weather guys swear we did. Nothing seems hit in the garden where the tomato bushes are loaded with little green ones. The tenderest plants are the peppers and eggplants and so far, no signs of frost bite. Theres a low hanging cloud of fog over the lake so I’m confident that provided the protection we needed and the lake will probably cool dramatically over the next couple of days meaning it will provide less protection next month. The other thing I did which I never thought I would was try out the remote starting feature on the new car. Seems kind of wimpy to me but ………… It worked and Nancy was a happy camper to get into a warm car. The other “environment” surprise is that the lake is still quite high – like mid summer high. I think we’ve had almost 10” in the last month which is very unusual.

Wonderful graduation week. Simon/Amy came home to attend at the personal cost of not walking for his own graduation – his master’s from Auburn. I think it was a good decision since our celebration of three graduations was the big family event of the century. There were two academic gatherings for Tom – one for an intimate group of invitees – people who worked with him on his thesis and research and the prof’s who worked with him. It was him and several others who were getting advanced degrees, many of whom shared anecdotes of their own process. This event occurred the day before the big time formal graduation ceremony/“the hooding”. The hooding was a classic graduation lasting several hours but the PhD’s got much more time and attention so it was special for us. They had set up an area right on the arena floor for people with impaired hearing. We asked them if that included people with vision problems and they said sure so we were up close and personal. Nancy and I along with Tina’s parents called it a day at that point whereas all the younger folks headed off for a couple of Christmas parties – a work party, and a party with his students. These were open bar, live music kind of parties and I didn’t think my body could handle one of those. The next day brought us back to the arena for Olivia’s ceremonies. It was almost a duplicate of the day before with a mostly different cast of characters. (we got the same advantaged seeding and several folks from our party joined us. We were so close to the procession that we got to hug Olivia as she headed for the stage. In this one, since Tom is officially faculty, he came into the arena differently than the regular graduating seniors. Example – faculty was ushered in by a couple of kilted guys playing bagpipes. The after graduation event was all family at a pub and we were back at the hotel by 8. The next day, Sunday, was a party at Tom’s with friends and family. Lot’s of food including a large layer cake with one layer in Auburn colors and the other, UCF. We broke away about 4 PM and headed to home to the lake for a good night’s sleep – no hotel beds. The friends/family socializing continues, more or less, for the rest of the year so we’ll be ready for some serious rest and recuperation after the first of the year.

Simon and a buddy are taking off right after Xmas for a 4-5 day kayak adventure on the Withlacoochie river. They’ll put in about 20 miles due west of Orlando and kayak north and west, eventually to the gulf of Mexico. At that point they head south to the Crystal River, ;near Tarpon Springs. I have a cousin that lives on the river so they’ll have an interim destination. He was going to do a similar length trip in the Everglades but I think this one will be much safer.


Big graduation week coming up. It starts with Tom’s PhD ceremony and extends to include Olivia’s BS award, both at UCF; wrapping up with Simon’s Master’s degree from Auburn. There’s a few days of parties and celebrations so we’re going to get a hotel near the UCF campus rather than driving back and forth to the lake several times. The next academic event on the horizon will be Olivia graduating from PA school or Med school. I’m very proud of them all.

While I was weeding the garden I was struck by the number of tomato seedlings that I routinely pull out as weeds. The tomato season generally runs from April thru June and then again from Dec thru March or April. Too much heat and humidity in the summer; too many frost events in the winter. When growing and producing fruit, a certain amount will drop off the bushes and fall onto fertile soil. Some tomatoes varieties produce fruit continuously for a few months so the fruit dropping is also more or less a continuous happening. The germination of the seeds from the fallen fruit is spotty and depends on weather conditions, soil conditions etc etc but at almost any time you look, there will be a few baby tomato plants popping up. I pull them as weeds. But today I got to thinking, why not dig some of them up, put them in pots (aka yogurt cups) and let them grow in a more controlled environment. By the end of January we are usually done with frost and these plants will be ready to hit the garden a couple of months earlier than I usually plant and more mature than the seedlings I’m usually dealing with. I’ll still start some indoors from seeds since then I know exactly what variety I’m growing but my picking season should then start in April and continue on into July. The downside is that most of the plants I’m going to preserve from this season will be cherry tomatoes. That’s because a cherry plant produces so much fruit, so quickly and for such a long season, that the wild renegades tend to be cherry. In our case, probably 50% of the tomatoes grown end up as sauce, so whether the sauce comes from giant tomatoes or cherry’s – it all works.

We have/had a ruby red grapefruit tree near the front of the house. It’s been there for about 15 years where It thrived and produced lots of fruit up until a couple of years ago. Florida has had a citrus problem called “greening” for several years and it basically destroys the trees. I suspect that’s what happened to this one but it also could be something else. So I decided to cut it down – but at the last minute changed my mind and just severely trimmed it instead. Citrus puts on new growth in the spring so I gave it a heavy dose of fertilizer and will give it 6 months to recuperate.

Mostly Garden

Planted 2 x 12’ rows of beet seed. That should do it. Between people who eat the greens and us, who eat the root, that will be all the beets we can handle. I also mix a few beet leaves into salads and smoothies so it’s a good crop for us. The problem has been that it’s not what I can call a dependable crop. Some years it’s great, in others, it’s a total loss. We even had mixed years where the greens are beautiful but no root tuber at all. I always have plenty of seeds and space so why not take a shot. The other new addition was a couple of parsley plants and a rosemary plant. I usually start those from seed but forgot about them until too late – when Nancy asked me to go out and cut some rosemary. oops.

The other crop that’s thriving albeit not one I specifically planted is the New Zealand spinach. It grows like crazy once established ( a couple of years ago) and self seeds which makes it a difficult crop to eliminate once it’s established. As I weed an area, I always find a few renegade plants which I then transplant to a designated area. In just a few weeks it transforms from tiny plants into full size spinach. People are split on the eating quality. It is quite mild flavored but has a different texture than regular spinach – almost like a light fur. One of Nancy’s bridge ladies is crazy about it and I find it great for smoothies or mixed with other greens in pasta dishes. I’ve been told that it’s outlawed in California as an invasive species and I can sure see how that would be true. It has a combination of self seeding with seeds that stay dormant for quite some time and a spreading culture that sends out branches that root wherever they touch soil and stems that split into two wherever you cut them off. I’ll try to do a better job of controlling the spread this year but they do make a mean smoothie.

Attacked the sweet potato patch again. It’s been a couple of weeks since the last dig where I found the tubers almost big enough. This time they were good eating size – not too big, not too small. I dug up another 2’ strip which yielded about 5 lbs of potatoes.

The media is unbelievably hypocritical. Listening and watching the adulation being heaped onto George Bush makes me want to throw up when I remember how brutal they were to him when he was President. I liked him because he would often be shown fishing for stripers and/or blues using the same kind of tackle I fished with.