Trellising tomatoes has always been kind of a pain in the ass. With the number we grow, staking each one individually would mean constant monitoring and retying to the stakes every day. Cages? Far too many needed, and the expense would be astronomical. Those winding poles? Same problem with individual staking and with cages, plus I have my doubts about their strength. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided I needed something that could support a bunch of plants at once, be easy to manage, and that would provide support but also allow for the movement of the plants during storms and maintain good air circulation through and between the plants.
I decided on a catenary design, which for people who have forgotten their physics, is like a hammock: rope strung on each side of the rows of plants, hanging between two posts. The benefit of this is that you can have multiple levels of support without it becoming impossible to reach all points of the plants, and each level is also not fixed: you can raise or lower them as needed. The questions were: how to best build it, and just how long could one run be? For the first trial, I picked the smallest frame run in the back garden, which is about 32 feet long, with two rows of tomatoes running the length. Off I went to the store, to pick up six t-posts and a few other things to do the experiment.
I realized I had no post driver and my bro didn’t have one squirreled away in all his various tools, either. So, after a quick jaunt back to the depot of homes for a post driver, and after putting some earplugs in, I pounded in the posts for the rows that were to be the trial for the trellis. I had sawed down some dowels yesterday and drilled holes for the rope – the dowels act as spacers to keep the rope at a consistent distance surrounding the plants. Anyone who has tied off simple lines knows what a pain in the ass that can be, since the lines slip. With this, the holes are just wide enough to get the line through with the help of a small pick, so they stay pretty firmly in place. The ends of the lines are tied on to simple metal rings, which have been slipped over the posts. Each span is composed of a single length of rope, down and back between the posts, rated at a 70 pound load, which I hope will be sufficient the way these things are growing. I’ll add a second level the plants can simply grow up through, and this is the level that will be the mobile one if necessary, to track with their growth – the lower level is more to keep the bases off the ground, to help prevent disease and rot, and to support the fruit that will grow on that lower level.
Right now, there’s a huge storm brewing up outside, and the alert that just popped up on my weather app says 50 mph gusts are coming with it. Hopefully, all of the plants will survive without too much damage if we get caught up in the storm.
Eight 40 pound blocks moved into place: done. Three hive bodies placed: done. Eight frames into each hive body: done. Two inner covers and top covers and one redneck jerry-rigged top cover in place because I’m one short and delivery isn’t until Friday: done. With any luck, the UPS driver will be keen to get the bees off his/her truck before it’s time to go visit the pulmonologist mid-afternoon so at least I can look them over before I have to take off. We still will not install them until late in the day, and put the entrance reducers in place to help reduce the potential of the bees absconding before they get used to their new homes. Next spring, we (I) will do a better job of managing the bees and watching for signs of swarming so we can split hives before half of them take off for greener pastures. But that’s in the future, and this is now: I’ve received a request for LOTS of pics this time, so we’ll have someone on the camera(s) during the installation snapping away.
A bit of rain must fall. That’s what they say, anyhow. It’s been raining here for three days straight, to the tune of over five inches, and I think that’s probably enough for us for now.
As chance would have it, the last afternoon just before all this started, I had put in the seed potatoes. We don’t have a lot of success with potatoes – sweet potatoes, that’s a different story – but usually it’s because they get blight or borers take them out. I’m hoping that all this rain does not mean an immediate end to this year’s potato experiment because they all rot in the ground before they can get going. The sweet potato slips have not yet gone out, as they just arrived last week and have been getting some hydrating of their own since they looked a bit limp when we unpacked them. That isn’t a problem now.
The problem now is finding a place to put them where they won’t overrun everything in their path. I have a couple of empty rows up front, and I suspect that’s where they’ll end up (and where we will find sweet potatoes coming up for years afterward, as we do out back where we’ve had them previously).
One thing that does love the rains: weeds. Today, since the forecast is finally backing off, I’ll be heading out to do another round of weeding. The good thing about weeds in wet soil is that they come out pretty easily. The bad thing is they come out heavy, holding that wet soil, and unless you get most of the dirt off somehow, the weed bags get pretty damned heavy. One of the (many) tradeoffs at the ranch.
With the rains and the flooding, it also means no log runs chasing a thrown ball for the puppy. Until the flooding subsides a bit, that will be on hold. And that, my friends, makes a puppy sad.
Flats, that is: since only one flat of peppers is doing anything approaching a level of health that would allow them to be transplanted, today I reseeded two flats with paprikas, scotchbonnets, jalapenos, and bells. Those have been left out on the potting table by the back garden, and they’ll stay there until at least Sunday afternoon. Beginning Monday, we’re expecting lines of storms to roll through all week, so they’ll need to go into the barn before that, to keep the rains from washing out the seeds before they can germinate.
Meanwhile, in the actual garden, all the tomatoes have been transplanted to frames, primarily in the rear garden.
They don’t look like much right now, but soon enough they will be behemoths, hard to manage, and churning out fruit. The bush beans are also up and ready to get growing. The cukes down the center have a couple of days of a head start, but these, too, will all soon be spiraling their way toward the sky.
Thursday, the front garden got some desperately needed weeding done, and things look much tidier now – the garlic surely appreciates the removal of all the other stuff fighting for resources, I’m sure. It would if it could think, anyway. After all, thistle running amok brings down the value of the neighborhood.
Saturday’s plan: point out the things I want my brother to take care of, then more weeding for me, and prepping one of the rows for the seed potatoes I completely forgot I had ordered. It’s supposed to be beautiful this weekend, with perfect weather for being outdoors, getting a little sweat going and basking in the sunshine. If you’re in the area and feel like getting a good honest day’s manual labor in, and then being fed a tasty home-cooked meal, come on along to the ranch. We always have something for people to do out here.
First, we had the great reframing. Then, the great refilling. Now: we are ready for the season, which starts off by putting the irrigation lines back in place and continues with transplants and direct sowing of certain things.
The above is part of the rear garden, and at the time this was taken, the irrigation lines had just been tossed in/near their rows. I’ve since fixed these; the lines for half of the front garden remain to be straightened out, as can be seen below.
I pulled the flats out of the barn and into the great wide world, to get them started on hardening off so they’d be able to survive. While they are in the barn under the lights, once they’ve germinated and have about two weeks of growth, I start an oscillating standing fan to blow across them. This is done for two reasons: one, there is generally wind blowing out here on the ranch all the time. We have a lot of open space in the garden areas, and we’re a bit of a funnel here – it’s one of the reasons that the minor storms head off around us, as if we’re a weather breakwater. Two, even if it were not windy here on a regular basis, forcing the seedlings to deal with the breeze generated by the fan strengthens the stems, the very same way that lifting weights, for us, will strengthen our muscles. This helps them withstand the stress of the transplant process itself, hold themselves up as they begin to grow heavy with fruit, and also better withstand attacks by pests until we find them and squish whatever is gnawing on them.
I began the transplanting the other day, and as it turned out, it was a fine day for it: a bit breezy, overcast, and not too warm. It had also rained the night before pretty heavily, so the soil was moist, and I didn’t have to water them in. Often when transplanting around here, it’s so hot that the plants start to wilt by the time you’ve finished, so you have to hustle to get the water going as soon as possible when a row is finished, either completely or for the time being.
I also started the direct sowing: last Sunday, I started corn, peanuts, and okra up front. The weather turned cooler than usual, which slowed the okra a bit, but that’s up as of today. The corn out front was up as of Friday.
“Up front?” you ask. Why yes: in addition to planting corn out front, I’ve also put in a round of corn out back. In both cases, I’m doing something differently than in previous years, when all the crops have failed. The first year, before moving things to frames, and without fencing, the entire stand of corn was run through by deer, knocking it everywhere and uprooting so much there wasn’t much point in continuing with it. Subsequent years have suffered because of massive tropical storms, and in 2010, was part of the huge overall crop failure due to the rather untimely lung cancer diagnosis and surgery to cut out another piece of me. Last year’s crop was dismal due to worm infestation – but the chickens loved it! In previous years, I’d also planted the corn at six inch intervals. This year, it’s twelve inches, as I intend to try the three sisters approach to it: in the spaces between the corn, I’ll sow beans and squashes directly. Because I no longer use sprayers for watering and use driplines instead, the longer spacing between the corn kernels was necessary so that the other two sisters could be watered reliably.
Previous to all of this, I had built (and filled) five rows up front on my own, and two of those frames right now hold garlic that was put in last October/November (one other frame was half planted with garlic, and that row was redone as part of the great reframing adventure). Others are holding shelling peas: three varieties, to see what we like best, what is hardiest, and so on. One of the varieties is touted as being heat tolerant, so we’ll get to see just how tolerant it can be of our heat once spring ends abruptly and summer is upon us. The peas had begun setting flowers, and are now setting pods, so in a couple of weeks we should be able to start taking the first (small) harvest and then the larger harvest when they really get going.
Our back, I direct sowed sorghum so we can make syrup, squash and zucchini, carrots, snap beans, flat italian beans, and cucumbers. A bunch of tomato plants got transplanted to their new home, but a bunch of things remain to be put out, and tomorrow I’ll be back to work on that. Today on a quick stroll around the front garden, I stumbled across a couple of asparagus spears. You have to be quick with them around here, because they’re kind of like the okra: if you miss them at the right time, the next day they will have shot up (or grown two inches, in the case of an okra pod) and not be fit to eat. These two I handed over to my mom, who ate them both raw.
Some of the strawberry plants are making a comeback from neglect and harsh freezes. This one in particular is doing very well, and we’ll have to keep watch on these in order to be able to snatch them before the birds get them.
Overall, while we got a very late start on getting things outside due to both the strange weather and getting hired help lined up to do some heavy manual labor, we’re starting to hit our stride and working to roll these things done as quickly as possible while the weather is still relatively mild.
Since Damian asked: pics of the new teeth! Bonus inclusion of the view of the paralysis of my lower left lip and cheek area – hey, fuck you, cancer, you’ve had two tries at me and haven’t killed me yet! Excuse the ratty shirt, as this was a break during manual labor outside.
Midnight last night: pork butts on the smoker. At 0630 this morning, chicken breasts on the smoker, and preparing for the day, anticipating the arrival of our hired labor at 0900.
Since no one showed up, my sisters and got started hauling and spreading load after load of topsoil and manure. Around 1030, one guy showed up, then had to go back to the shop for some tools. So while we waited, we continued on, using girl power to Get Shit Done. At noon, the first guy showed up again, with two more guys in tow. My cousin Cayne Morris also joined in on the fun, and with all the labor (and with me hustling in the front to weed out the last two rows) all of the reframed rows are filled! Phase one: complete. There are still a couple of original areas to reframe and fill, but the major part of the project is complete, and I still have quite a bit of topsoil and manure in piles at the front and rear of the property to use when we (rent a backhoe to) dig out large areas of clay to place some trees: a mix of good soil will allow the trees to do what they can’t currently do in the clay/sand areas. Next up: rescuing the seedlings from the flats and getting them out into the frames, and direct sowing the things that need to be started – or needed to be started two weeks ago if the weather had cooperated.
The swarm we captured yesterday and hived left the hive and returned to their tree, so I climbed back up there and grabbed them again, then dumped them back into the hive. Checking on them later, they had once again left the hive, but they’d also left the tree, leaving me to wonder where they’d gone. Answer: they returned to the original hives! Checking the other two, there were tons of bees in both, which could only have come from the swarms going back home. So it appears the queen was not in the hive from the bees we captured, and at some point in all those trips to the tree and the new hive body, she either left or was killed/lost, so the bees went home. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to find a queen in one of the two hives, and do a split, taking her and some workers on their frames to the new hive, to try to keep them from swarming again. We’ll see how that works out.
All in all: mighty fine labor by the family this week, and I’m incredibly appreciative and awestricken by your efforts. Thanks, fam!
We’re on week two (just over, to be technical) with the new fake teeth after having the rest ripped out. In the beginning, it was very, very painful, but as the gums healed, I got my sutures out, and we’ve had some adjustments on the dentures, they’re getting more comfortable. I won’t say completely comfortable, because they aren’t there yet. I haven’t been able to eat real food since the day before extraction, which means these past two weeks have been meal after meal of my usual breakfast: protein shakes and coffees. I’m not really wired for longterm liquid diets; my next visit to the dentist for adjusting the dentures once more is on the 15th. No doubt there will be further addition of the soft form fitting crap they put on the back of the dentures to conform as my mouth continues to heal and change. He says there will probably be about three months of this, to allow for the changes in the bone to settle in, but hopefully at some point before that I’ll be able to use some denture glue to hold the damn things in place so I can try to eat real food. My last attempt at eating, last night, was a disaster and just left me pissed off about the entire thing, while at the same time, intellectually I know that some people have it worse off than me, and I had Roger Ebert in mind at the time, given that he was unable to eat or speak after the last round of cancer bullshit he went through. And today, sadly, he died, so I’m still better off than that.
On we go, though: the great reframing of 2013 continues. The back garden is entirely reframed and ready for weeding, to be followed by hauling dirt/poop to top them off. My sister and I started on the front Tuesday, and I hope to finish that all off by this weekend, as it’s time to plant things that can be directly sowed given that the weather has now turned warm and is staying there instead of giving us random freezes. Plus, the flats under the lights in the barn are suffering from a too long stay – again, thanks to the freakish weather – and they need to be freed and into the frames as well. With any luck, by next weekend, we’ll be ready for the temp labor to run around frantically with wheelbarrows topping everything so we can get our real season underway here.
At the beginning of February, I went in for a bilateral coronoidectomy, a procedure that (it was hoped) would give me a larger oral opening and relieve the paltry 10mm space that was making it virtually impossible to eat, allow the dentist to work in my mouth, and so forth. That procedure was – for my circumstance after seven years of an ever-reducing opening – a resounding success: intraoperatively, they managed to open my mouth to 30mm before my jaw started dislocating. A few days after the operation, my opening was at 15mm, and during the followup last week, measured at 18mm. The single biggest problem is that those muscles are so unused to working that opening my mouth only using those muscles doesn’t really show the extent of the opening.
And so it was today at the dentist, whom I visited to talk about teeth. Implants are pretty much out of the question given the radiation to the jawbones and the risk of osteonecrosis (not to mention the possibility that the implants would simply fail to stay implanted and the potential of the posts to fall out, much like one of my repaired teeth that had a post buildup did), so our discussion revolved around dentures, and specifically, full or partial, and were any of the remaining teeth viable? I have six teeth remaining on the bottom; those all need to go, as they are either lose and in danger of snapping off, or they have recurrent cavities around the edges of where the crowns have been placed. On top, I have ten teeth left, all of which are in some degree of decay, but all but one of which are actually in fairly good shape, considering.
But, we’ve reached the tipping point on the tooth business, and instead of fighting a losing battle for the top teeth, which may have supported a partial denture but which would eventually have to come out anyway and thus result in the requirement to do a full denture, I’ve decided to go ahead and bit the bullet (so to speak) and have the rest of the teeth extracted. Since all my extractions are things I have to pay for myself, as I have no dental insurance, I’m hoping my oral surgeon will cut me a deal.
Today they also did impressions at the dentist’s office, an adventure in and of itself, since my opening is wider, but not as wide as a normal person’s, and the usual impression trays were still not fitting into my face. A little wrangling and adjusting/shaving down some trays, and away we went, managing to get all the impressions done on the first try each. Wondrous!
In about ten days or so, I’ll be heading off to have the teeth pulled and then to the dentist post-extraction to fit the pliable membranes under temporary dentures while the bones heal and my mouth reshapes itself. From there: hard plates, and a real full mouth of teeth for the first time in over half a decade. It should do wonders for my nutrition, which has taken quite a hit as more and more teeth have been yanked.
Overall: although I’d have preferred not to have been doing all this during the spring, as it’s put me behind on my gardening work, it’s still movement in the right direction to get back to some semblance of normality. Or as normal as things can be, anyway.
Surgery was a success, although I wound up staying overnight in order to get my uncontrolled puking (from the blood swallowed during surgery, primarily, along with general pain) under control. They also wanted to make sure I was taking liquids orally. I finally got to see my face today. Wow. One of the doctors said it would probably get worse than this before it starts getting better. That should be something to see.
I also have a humdinger of a bruise on my arm, courtesy of the night nurse trying to get an IV in for the med pump. She finally gave up when it became clear that location was not working, and put it in my elbow. I wound up with matching IVs in the crook of each arm, which made moving around and doing things like trying to drink from a cup rather interesting.