country livin’

Living in the country does have it’s moments. We’re scheduled to have a lake party tomorrow in celebration of Little Tommy’s high school graduation. So we’ve been getting everything ready and finished up some last minute dock cleanup this evening and came back in the house just at dark. Nancy headed for the back to get her bath and a minute later announced that we had no water. Of course that sends tremors through the system because of the party. We’re on a well and of late the power company has been playing games so I immediately figured that the pump could have burned up due to low voltage but went about the troubleshooting systematically. Breakers ok at the house so out to the well. Dead, zero pressure. I have a megawatt spot light and noticed a procession of ants crawling up the power line into the control box. Hmm, seen this before a year ago when something decided to nest in the control box and fried. I removed the top and sure enough a big palmetto roach had gotten across the 220V lines and fried. The ants were feasting on roast roach. I removed the corpse and manually activated the pressure contacts. Oila! a few sparks and the pump built up pressure in just a few minutes. I’ll go out there after the party and see if there’s not some way to seal the box better but it can’t be so tight that you can’t get into it quickly. Oh well.

The graduation was fun and causes a few reflections. How can I have a grandson ready for college? Sort of like: “I’m going to be a father”; “I am a father”; “I have a kid old enough to go to college”; “I have a grandson”; and now a grandson going to college. How is all that possible in such a short time. I see Tommy and Simon with very cute girl friends and think – “is it possible I could eventually be a great grandfather?” New fishing buddies?? Why was I so concerned about a fried roach when there are such really big things happening? Get a grip Joe.

yellow flies and other nasty things

The lake is way down and has been for nine months or so. Down so far that the pump system I have down on the dock was inoperative because the water intake point was high and dry. In fact, the bottom was dry beneath the intake point so even extending it down wouldn’t fix the problem. That would have been too easy anyway. I’m very patient and lived with this for quite a while knowing that I didn’t really need to water anything in the winter and that when spring came the lake would rise up and solve the problem. It hasn’t happened that way and many of the plants I have down by the lake are drying up and dying. That plus the fact that we’re having a party next week and I wanted to power wash the dock but without water, no go.

So I bit the bullet this weekend and decided to correct the problem by moving the water intake point out to deeper water. I could have just moved the pump itself farther out the dock but really like it where it is. If my new plumbing job doesn’t work, that will be my fallback. The job is simple enough on paper. Just add some PVC pipe and couplings. But it had to be run underneath the dock which is a bit trickier and means I would be working in waist deep water and working over my head with a drill to install the pipe hangers. For me that means the certain dropping of hardware and couplers while trying to screw in hangers and hold a 20′ piece of PVC pipe in place; and the real possibility of dropping my drill. Which would really piss me off because it’s my favorite 19V DeWalt. Then assuming I got the pipe hangers installed, I had to cut and glue the various pieces together with all the measurements exactly right. For many guys all this would be a piece of cake. And guess what, the project went flawlessly. Not a dropped part, not a piece missing, not a bad cut or glue job. No trips to the hardware store or even the shed to get that one thing I’d forgotten about. I started the job at 9:30 and was finished by 11 AM. I need to let all the pieces set for 24 hours before firing up the pump so the story is not complete but the nasty part is done and looks very professional (to me). And because it’s located under the dock, I don’t have to worry about critics.

My next project is to assemble and install the yellow fly traps. Now that is a nasty job but the flies have come this year with a vengeance.

—————

I’ve often heard that after a bee stings you, it dies. I hope so. In fact I hope it’s a very painful death. I got my first bee sting this season clearing palmettos and had forgotten just how hard they hit and how nasty the after affects are. I do daily battle with fire ants and give as good as I get but the bees play at a totally different level.

And once again it’s yellow fly season. Yellow flies are like deer flies but yellow in color. They bite hard enough to draw blood and are super persistent. If you are patient enough to let one land and start to chew, you can easily kill them because they won’t let go. Nancy has trouble with that remedy. There is a way to semi control them. Sounds bizarre but they are attracted to black things. So we build traps that use the same principal as fly paper. You blow up a 20” beach ball and paint it black. Then you coat it with this nasty, sticky stuff called “Tacky Foot”. Easier to say than to do since the goop is about consistency of axle or bearing grease but is incredibly sticky. Any place it touches gets this difficult to remove gluey mess. I use latex gloves to apply it and am getting proficient enough that this year I wasn’t totally coated myself.

—————

And for the guys – watching the Dem’s fight over the nomination shows that we have a real problem. If you don’t like Obama, you’re a racist; if you don’t like Hillary, you’re a sexist. Our problem is that we don’t have any kind of “ist” for people who pick on us poor white males. I guess that’s ok for us Republicans since we are used to being called either Racist or Sexist but not sure how you white Democrat males – as few of you as there are – are dealing with having to take on one of the labels and not having some kind of defensive shield to hide behind.

New guests

The real shockers in the garden so far are two varieties that I’d never planted. I tried planting spinach all winter long – several different varieties, different locations, different times. Nothing really worked to my satisfaction and the crops ranged from total disaster to marginally acceptable. Tucked away in one of my catalogs was a variety that said it did well in the summer, especially hot, moist summers. It was a climbing, red stemmed variety called Malabar Spinach. I tried it out of desperation. It started slowly, as in 2 weeks before the first sign of any germination and it was more than a month before it got beyond the first two or three leaves. I pretty much forgot about it and chalked it up to another spinach failure. It’s been particularly vexing since spinach is really a no brainer crop. Overnight it seems that climbing spinach took off and within a couple of weeks it has climbed up maybe 5′ on the lines I had optimistically installed. If you didn’t know it was a spinach variety, you’d never guess. The leaves are very thick and have a rubbery feel to them. The garden calculator I designed says that I should have edible leaves in a couple of weeks and I’m starting to believe it’s correct. In fact, if it continues the way it’s going, everybody I know will have edible leaves.

The other shocker is the spaghetti squash. We love it and I’d never grown it before so really didn’t know what to expect. This is as close to a jack in the beanstalk story as I’ve come. I planted 3 seeds and have 3 plants; each with multiple stems. At this point the stems are approaching 8′ in length and the leaves are at least a foot in diameter. It started blossoming a couple of weeks ago and there must be 2 dozen baby squashes so far. And I can only see a bit of the plant since I planted it amongst the corn field just like the Indians did. In fact I planted several different types of squash in the corn and in some cases now the squash is actually taller than the corn – that would be over 5′ tall. Maybe I need to rethink my bug killing strategy and let some survive to help harvest the crop.

Also tried a couple new cucumber varieties. Holy cow!!! We’ve been harvesting a couple a day for the past month from 3 plants and they are ginormous. One day they will be micro – a couple of inches – and within a week they are over a foot long and weighing a couple of pounds. Each one would be equivalent to 3 cuc’s you buy in the store. And they are the most delicious ever. No matter how big they retain the firm, juicy character you’d expect from a baby variety. And they are burpless – no bitter after taste that bothers some people. Considering the price of cucumbers, I honestly think that one crop alone has paid for all the seeds for the rest of the garden. Ditto the zucchini.

By the end of the month we’ll be picking corn, tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeno’s. And actually pulling out the first planting of beans from which we’ve been eating for a month.

New guests – we have a pair of screech owls living in the oaks up by the carport. They are incredible birds and are harassing the squirrels (tree rats) with constant screeching and flying beautifully among the trees. The noise is really mind boggling and you can understand the terror it must strike in the hearts of any small mammals. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen more than one owl at a time and in the middle of the day. The pair was perched on a low branch facing away from me the other day. I was probably within 50′ which is really close. Then both turned their heads to face me directly. No body movement at all, just the head swivel. Is that creepy – but neat. One second you’re looking at the back of the head, the next the face full on. It’s like the head is totally disconnected from the body.

well insured

We recently refinanced our house to take advantage of low interest rates available then. About midway thru the process we were told by Chase, the mortgage bank, that a new appraisal showed that we needed to increase our flood insurance because the replacement costs would be higher now than when the initial mortgage was written. Made sense to me.

A little history – when we originally built the house the surveys showed that we didn’t need Federal Flood Insurance because we were not in a flood plain and the house was elevated far enough above the lake. When it came time to finalize the mortgage, the bank (Chase) disagreed and said we needed flood insurance. I argued a little but we were far along in the process and the insurance was only $264/year and I wasn’t really sure about the lake.

So anyway it wasn’t a big surprise when the bank insisted that we uptick the insurance a bit. Fast foward to this week and we get a letter from Chase saying that we really didn’t need flood insurance at all and if we wanted to cancel it, just use the letter in a communication with the Insurance company. I didn’t jump on it instantly because I wanted to contact our home owner policy and get it exactly right in my mind about what constitutes a flood and to make sure that water damage resulting from blown in windows or roofs was covered by our home owner policy and not considered flooding. Last night Nancy is reading the local paper and hands it over and tells me to read this article on Flood Insurance since it answered all the questions I had. It did that but it also included a chart which showed how many flood insurance policies were in existance in all the communities of Volusia County and also what the average cost of those policies is. I looked down the list and noted that there were 14000+ policies in Daytona and maybe that many in New Symrna and that they cost about $400 on average. Further down the list was Pierson, our location. There was 1, one, uno flood policies in existance in Pierson at an average cost of $264. I cracked up laughing. That had to be us. I can just imagine all the people reading that article wondering who the jerk was in Pierson who had a Flood Insurance policy. Hope they publish the list next year!

Did my first work till exhaustion, jump in the lake today. I was harvesting grape vines and brush from my neighbor’s yard and chipping it into mulch for the garden. Is that over the top or what? I’m so convinced that the success of the garden is directly wired to the addition of mulch that I’m actually spending hours working on the neighbor’s jungle. Man did that lake feel good. Very cool and it brought my body temp down from 200 to 75 in about 5 seconds. Bring on the heat, I’m ready.

Of course the pic is the garden. People have asked for a picture so here it is. I guess everybody knows that you click on the picture to enlarge it but just in case……………

garden transition

It’s transition time in the garden – transitioning from cool weather to warm weather crops. I’ve got starts going for several kinds of peppers and tomatoes, some cucumbers, along with crooked neck and zucchini squash. If the weather holds thru the 20th of this month, I’ll plant those along with a couple rows of green beans. The issue now is finishing up on the winter stuff to give me the space for the replacements. Picked the last of the snow peas today, a big section of broccoli, and loads of lettuce which we are now giving away is ever increasing bundles. I’d say there’s only about 10% of the area now available for planting but anticipate that will be more like 50% by the end of March and 100% by mid April. If all the plans work, we’ll be picking the first of the summer crop and the last of the winter crop at the same time. All in all, I’d give the winter crop a solid C+. I learned quite a bit and am confident that next cool season will be primo.

When the space opens, I’ll pop in watermelons, cantaloupes, and the hard shell squashes. I’m going to try summer greens this year including swiss chard and a climbing variety of spinach called Malabar. Both of these are supposed to handle heat and humidity. We’ll see. Just to show you how over the top I’ve become, I built a spread sheet program that projects exactly when to plant seeds to meet a specific harvest date. Even I have to admit that’s on the fringe of weird or a sign of having too much time on my hands.

In fact we’ll see about the whole thing. Last year’s start had problems because the soil was so bad and I was totally unprepared for the voraciousness of the critters. Certainly we got plenty to eat but had some wholesale failures which I don’t intend to repeat. Grade D+. Aside from the quality of the soil at this point, my seed buying strategy this year was heavily focused on seeds that were extra disease resistant. I’ve also vastly increased my arsenal of chemical weapons and have mapped out a cradle to grave attack plan on critter control. The other tactical change is to plant in smaller batches, scattered around rather than all of one type in one spot. Hell, I may even get a camo suit so that I blend in when launching raids.

The plan now is to expand the size of the garden by maybe 300 SF and to plant that in corn. That’s more work than I care to take on myself so we’ll tackle that when George finishes up his hyperbaric treatments and before he has some old, dead chest bone removed. I could probably do it myself if I could get the rickety old tiller he has running – which I can’t. George is the only one who can get it started and keep it running so he gets that job by default. Corn takes up lots of space for the yield but it tastes so good and maybe we’ll have the only corn around that’s not being converted to ethanol!!!

——————
Can’t resist a political comment. Way to go Billary! I was losing faith in backroom politicking and getting nervous that the big machine was losing steam. I couldn’t believe my man Carville was holding back so long. There’s still this delegate math to overcome but I’m sure the powers that be have much more control over that than they do plain folk voting. I knew they’d have to eventually break out dirt on Barry and couldn’t understand why they were waiting so long to bang the National Security Drum. That is the big trump card in the sky and she finally played the queen. Too bad the Ace is on the other side. Squirm, Teddy, squirm – sheeee’s coming!

post freeze report

Well the freeze last week was not as hard as forecast but did inflict some damage – hammered the tomatoes and a bit of leaf damage on baby cauliflower plants. By and large everything else seemed to fare well. I’m going to do an experiment with the tomatoes and simply cut away the dead foliage. The fruit seems hard 5 days after the event and I’m thinking it would be a bit mushy and turning black if it had been killed. The question will be whether the plant can still mature the fruit with so much foliage damage. I’ve watered well and gone to a full chemical attack with regular fertilizer – don’t think this is any time for a wimpy organic. I’ll give it a week to show some improvement or just yank out the old and plant something new. Time is running out for winter crops but about 3 months away from planting summer stuff so I can’t dilly dally on making the decision one way or the other. Sure glad it’s back in the mid 70’s. Two days of winter is just a little much!

I don’t know what all of you do with your kohlrabi but we have a new favorite. Cut shoe string pieces and mix with cabbage to make an incredibly crunchy cole slaw. I used half a head of cabbage and one kohlrabi and a few tablespoons of Marie’s cole slaw dressing. Um, um good. We brought some to Tommy’s for New years day dinner and nobody complained so that was a good sign. Gave a couple to Wilma, Nancy’s bridge partner and she shredded them up with carrots. Unfortunately I only planted a couple dozen and they’re winding down. Have to get some more on the front burner for Fred’s visit although I have a few rows of Japanese Turnips that should fill the void.

Nature at this place never ceases to amaze me. Aside from the mouse in the trunk, George has a baby squirrel in a nest way up under the cover of his dock. But I think I beat all of these today. I started a project to put a set of motion lights on the driveway about halfway between the carport and the house. It’s really dark when walking from the car to the house and Nancy is a little reluctant to park up there after dark. The project is technically easy; pick up a hot line already in the carport and run a new circuit down to the tree where the motion light will be mounted. I already have a junction box mounted to a post at the carport so I figured the easiest way to deal with that end was to open the junction box and figure out which set of wires to splice onto. Imagine my surprise when I took the lid off the junction box and 6 or 8 tiny eggs rolled out along with some broken egg shells. The junction box has a cover and gasket so the only opening is a micro slot where the wires enter the box but something somehow got into that and laid a clutch of eggs. The eggs were white, round with a diameter of about 1/4”. Very tiny, very delicate. I had to dissect one to see what was inside and found a tiny lizard in some stage of development. You could make out the head and eyes and the general shape so I’m fairly certain that’s what it was. As I said there were several broken eggs so clearly something hatched and left the box. I’m guessing that the rest of these may hatch as well so I have them in a good spot in my shed.

garden update

The garden is going gangbusters. We’ve been picking green beans for a couple of weeks so they’re about played out. I won’t plant more green beans until next April. The cucumbers are coming on strong and unless we hit a freak freeze, will be more than both our families can handle without going into cucumber overload. The variety is brand new and totally burpless with no bitterness at all so you eat them without peeling. Can you do anything with cucumbers aside from cutting them up in salads? We picked the first cabbages this week and will have enough to last through this month at least. Could pick a kohlrabi any time now and that crop too will carry us through December. Little heads are forming on the broccoli which means we’ll start cutting that soon after the first of the new year. Probably pick a few heads of lettuce next week and then right on through until late spring. I plant new lettuce on more or less a continuing basis so once they start maturing, there are plenty behind them. I’m actually planting 5 different lettuce varieties so we’re going into the salad season with a nice future ahead. Plenty of little green tomatoes so we could be into those before Christmas but I’m guessing right after the first of the year. Blossoms just starting on the snow peas so that too will be a late Dec – early January start.

Our cousin Martha suggested that a new popular veggie in California is Broccolini which she described as a replacement for broccoli raab. I searched all my catalogs, and no seeds available. I learned on the internet that broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese Kale developed in Japan. So far, no luck locating a source for the seeds. I can get the Chinese Kale and the picture shows it looks like broccoli raab so maybe I’ll try that (or not).

So far it looks like the soil enrichment process is working. Each time I start a new garden section I thoroughly go through and de-rock it down at least 8”. Then top with a 6” layer of yard mulch – chipped up bushes – a 40# bag of composted manure and a 40# bag of peat. There is no doubt that when I plant in the area that received this treatment, it’s far superior to the areas previously planted. So by spring, I will have done this process twice for 100% of the garden. Then plan now is to add another 100-200 SF of garden area in the spring. At that point we should have enough space that we’ll be harvesting year round and it shouldn’t require that much attention to the soil itself. When I pulled out the first bean patch, the soil was rich, black and soft. Prior to all the work on it, that same spot was sand, sand, and more sand.

Now I’m thinking chicken coops. Think eggs, wings, and chicken poop. If I was still tying flies, it would be a no brainer

fall garden – already

The last garden started out with a bang but never came close to meeting expectations. We were concerned about the quality of the soil going into it. In an earlier life George had a pigeon coop overtop the area which became the garden. One possible thought was that with all the pigeon droppings, the soil would be very fertile. Counteracting that was the fact that George had liberally used lye and asundry chemicals to kill fungi and other pigeon related critters. In the end the garden turned out spotty – some ok patches and some sterile patches. We had a good broccolli crop, good green beans in some spots, japapeno’s and banana peppers. But the tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash were a big disappointment. The one good thing that we accomplished was to till up the soil and remove tons of rock and gravel that had rimmed the coop.

Knowing that the soil was seriously deficient, we started a significant mulch/compost pile – 4’x3′ x 3’h – and picked up 40 forty pound bags of manure at a sale midway through the season. So in preparation of a fall garden I started cleaning out areas of the garden – that means pulling out the weeds. I turned it all over by shovel and then worked in several loads of compost and several bags of manure into each area. Took about 4 hours to do the first third of the area I intend to work so I’m projecting having it all ready for planting by this weekend. Certain areas we planted before were so disastrous, I’m going to leave alone. Those areas are so hostile that even the weeds were unable to grow there and will be a project for the future. I suspect we’ll literally have to shovel out that sand and replace with top soil – more than I’m interested in attacking now. For the time being, I’m guessing the planting area will be maybe 300 sf.

Before we took off on vacation, I planted some seeds in starter containers. We were gone 10 days and the seeds were mostly sprouted by our return. I transplanted them from the starter trays into larger containers and plan to move those to the garden in a couple of weeks. I want to get just a bit further into the storm season until I’m confident we’re in the clear. I’ve started tomatoes, jalapenos, cabbage, and broccolli. Those along with bush bean, squash and cucumber seeds that will go in directly, should fill up most of the garden. Towards the end of October, I’ll plant spinach, peas, beets, carrots and lettuce seed and probably more broccolli. These late plantings should do ok through our coldest weather.

And I refilled the mulch/compost pile. That’s a fairly easy thing to do here. I just roll up my chipper to the front of the compost bin and start clipping and trimming trees and bushes.
A few hours of cutting and chipping restored the pile to it’s original volume. That pile will season over fall and winter and be ready for use next spring. For the area that is totally devoid of nutrients, the plan is a bit more radical. George has a 2 acre grass/weed field that gets mowed every month or so. The John Deere mower has two humongous grass catching bags. The plan is to dump those bags onto the sterile area every time he mows and then cut it all in next spring. I’m guessing that will result in a 6′ high pile of grass clippings. Maybe it will take a couple of years but I’m determined to get it all working.

Lake News

Or lack thereof. Nothing going on of any importance. We’re getting an occasional rain now so the lake is creeping up. It probably rose 4-6” in July but for sure we have plenty of room for a couple of rainy, rainy hurricanes.

Last year I bought a small electric chain saw as part of our hurricane preparedness kit. I like electric appliances because I know they will work and I’ve never seen a gas chain saw that will start easily if not used more or less daily. Of course the disadvantage is not having electricity after a storm but I have a good generator and plenty of extension cords so as long as the generator starts, I should be able to cut my way out. It’s not a stretch to assume that a good wind storm could bring down a couple of trees across our driveway and isolate us for a few days. After I bought it I tried it out on a couple of trees and decided to wack down three dead ones this past week. One of the trees came down exactly where I’d aimed it; the second was generally in the right spot – maybe a few feet off; the last one totally had a mind of it’s own and crashed down 90 degrees from the target area and crushed a few plants that weren’t supposed to be crushed. I managed to do the job with no crushing or cutting blows to my body so I call it a big success. The first time I did it, I ended up with a tree on top of me and took 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get out from under it. I’m just not a chain saw kind of guy.

We had an old derelict house trailer on the road coming to the house and it really trashed up the neighborhood. It had been there for years and was apparently hurting some of the local property owners who were trying to sell. The owner started tearing it down about 9 months ago. A guy came in and stripped off all the metal in a few weeks so initial progress was good. A couple of months later, a big piece of construction equipment came in and pushed it over but left it pretty much intact. Over the next several months nothing happened except people coming by and stealing lumber so it remained a large trash pile. I had heard the plan was to burn it but we were in a “no-burn” zone until June. Last week they started burning it off, bit by bit. As of today, it’s just a pile of ash and a pile of sheet metal which the initial strip job missed and I suspect it will be totally cleaned up by this weekend. Needless to say we’re all glad that eyesore is history but it did add a certain redneck character to the place.

Florida Flower Hall of Fame

For the thousands of you who haven’t written in to learn about the Florida Flower Hall of Fame, this scribbling is for you. I have two flowers that I have installed onto the pedestle as Hall of Famers. These are flowers, not bushes. I differentiate by whether or not the stems turn woody. Not sure how regular biologists would handle the distinction. To make my list there are a few requirements. Individually the requirements are not too tough but collectively, the list of candidates dwindle rapidly. That’s why only two made it.

First requirement is that they have nearly constant, very colorful, very profilic blooms. So anything that last only a month or two or six is out of the running from the get go. Second, they must be virtually carefree. If you have to dawdle over them – water, fertilizer, mulch – they’re scrubbed. They have to be tough and survive through floods, droughts, heat, and cold in the essentially barren Florida soil. And finally, they have to self propogate so you only have to plant them once. Self propogate means they either seed themselves or you can break off a stem, stick it in the ground and have it grow a new plant. You have to admit that’s a tough set of criteria.

Two plants made it through the hurdles. One does best in the sun; one does best in the shade. So between the two, you can cover all the bases. The sun lover is called a Periwinkle in Florida – Vinca elsewhere. They come in dozens of colors and shades. Each plant will support loads of flowers almost constantly and they reseed so easily that you just have to look around to see a new seedling and move it to a new spot. If a single plant outgrows it’s particular spot, you can trim it back, stick the clippings in the ground and oila!, a new plant. I never worry about whether or not they’re getting enough or too much water, wonder if they need fertilizer – they don’t- or whether the bugs are eating them. I have to assume they taste bad or something.

The shade lover is, of course, the Impatiens. Everything I said about the periwinkle is true for the Impatiens. It is a little more cold sensitive but in my 4 year experience, because they are planted in shady, sheltered spots, they tend to survive a killing frost. And if the plant does crater, it has dropped enough seeds in the same spot to replicate itself quickly.

With both of these flowers you an plant them directly into the ground or use them in hanging baskets and planters. Both have an incredible range of color selections so you can literally make a one time purchase of the colors you want and then just move the progeny around from spot to spot as they appear to change the look of the landscaping. Start with a couple 18 plant flats filled with a variety of colors and you’re set for life. Try that with your petunias! Some varieties of marigolds come close I will admit, but so far, none I’ve tried reach perfection. I’d love to find one that does since alas, no yellow or orange Periwinkles or Impatiens.