Category Archives: Gardening

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Our forecasts out here in the boonies, in the winters, are horribly off. In summer, we can simply count on the high temperature being higher than what they say and be done. It’s summer. It’s hot. It doesn’t really matter if the high is forecast to be 94F and it turns out to be 100F, relatively speaking. In winter – what passes for “winter” here – we do count on it being cooler than the forecast, but the measure of cooler-ness varies wildly. That matters, greatly.

Sunday: the forecast was for the low 40s (all temps are F, for those of you in C lands). Here at the ranch, actual overnight low: 31. Half the tomatoes and peppers took hits.

Monday and Tuesday forecasts were for 34F and 37F, respectively. I had decided on Sunday that I was not going to go through the routine of covering any of the second round of plants, because (frankly) it is exhausting, and I actually did not have the things I needed to do it. But, me being me, with my tilting at windmills and all (corn!), Monday morning I decided that I would, in fact, cover them.

The big orange supply store. Two trips. Lots of plastic sheeting. Lots of cursing from me because my body, post-cancer, is not the same body it was – fuck you, cancer! But, with a bit of help from my mom, I got the peppers (40′), broccoli/cauliflower (32′), and one 50′ row of tomatoes covered. The other two row of tomatoes (one 50′, one 32′) were left to their devices, as I was exhausted, having run through all the calories I’d taken in. Since I can’t eat like a normal person any longer, my daily intake is pretty damned small. After Monday’s dusk work to get covers in place, I came in, laid down on the dog bed with the puppy, and promptly fell asleep for an hour.

Actual temps at the ranch overnight Monday and Tuesday: 31F and 29.8F.

I don’t mind that the forecasts are off, but I would love for them to be in the same general vicinity.

As it stands, most of the peppers are unlikely to make it, along with most of the tomatoes – many of both plantings had fruit set on them. The broccoli and cauliflower don’t seem to have minded any of it – there were about a dozen plants that wouldn’t fit in the main rows I had designated, and these were not covered. They’re fine.

In addition, I lost one hive to the freeze. I knew this would happen, as the weather well into October was unsettled, and we still had 90 degree days. There simply were not enough bees in the hive when the weather started to slide, and I had no more bees to give them to populate the box. I looked in it yesterday, and found the queen and her tiny clump of bees frozen on a patch of honey on one of the frames. There are two other hives that are iffy: the late swarm I caught from someone else’s beeyard that clustered in mine, and another one that simply does not have enough bees. A third is on the edge – I killed a ton of yellowjackets trying to rob out that hive, and reduced their entrance to the smallest possible to make things easier to defend with a light load of bees.

Overall, the sum of it pissed me off and made me terribly sad at the same time, and I started beating myself up for not being better at taking care of both of these things. We generally  hold ourselves to higher standards than we do other people, and I think I probably do this to an even higher degree than most – it’s a “perfectionist/you can never fail or have a setback” mindset that I’m working on (not very successfully – ironic).

It’s all a work in progress. I have to remind myself that I am, too.

 

Snapping

As in cold snapping.

Yesterday and today, we’ve had a taste of what passes for winter here. Not by the forecast, no. That was more spring- or fall-like, with the forecast in the low 50s overnight. Last night the low bottomed out at 38.8F at the ranch. Not ideal, especially since in the past two weeks I’ve made up some nuc boxes for the bees, and had made no real preparation for them for cold temperatures because the forecast seemed to be rather mild. Now, I’m dreading what I’ll find out there a bit later as it warms up and I head to the beeyard to check them. Worse, I also had several new queens out there, and if they’re goners, that’s going to be a shame.

On the plus side of things, at least it didn’t freeze. We are trying to sneak a second harvest in, and if the temp had dropped further and zapped the tomato and pepper plants I have out there, it would have just added to the overall disappointment at not mentally adjusting the forecast lower – which is something I do during the winter, as we are in the boonies and our lows are always lower (and highs, in the summer, generally higher) than the forecast. I usually don’t have to start that until the time changes – have I mentioned lately how much I don’t like the “fall back” routine? I hate it. But, the weather has been weird all year, and I suppose adjusting my expectations will have to be a year round thing instead of a seasonal one.

Here, have a video of a honeybee emerging from a cell. The bees are booming, with the queens still laying non-stop and filling frames. This temporary dip in the weather may slow them down, but we’re going right back to 80F degree days, according to the forecast, so we’ll be anywhere between 76-86F by my estimate, and that will probably get them going again at a higher rate.

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 1

Some months ago, I told myself to pare back on the timesink known as facebook. I’d been doing really well, too, although I’d not gotten around to doing some of the things I planned to do, which was the reason I dropped facebook in the first place.  I don’t count this as a total fail, because I did get some rather deep introspectional type stuff done to clear up some things in my head that will help me forge ahead with these other things I want to do.

However, I wound up back on facebook as a place to vent after a few events (one of which was the horrifying massacre of 49 people and the wounding of scores of others at a gay nightclub in Orlando) and got sucked in again, resulting in more and more time there, wasted.

But! During the last few days of June, I made it known that I was going to live on Planet NoSocialMedia for the month of July, and perhaps even longer.  It’s slightly easier for me, as the only ones I actually participate on are twitter (not much), instagram (not much except pics from the ranch), and facebook, the ultimate alien-like, face-humping, time-wasting monster.

Today is (still, as I type this) July 1. I have not ventured off Planet NoSocialMedia today. I also have not written anything today. I think this will be all right, though, as I had to get some other things cleared out of the way after having a couple of days of forced rest thanks to some physical issues that cropped up.

Now, we head into Day 2. The goal: continue to work at things that need to be done at the ranch, but also meet a very basic step in the workout to rebuild those writing muscles. A mere 250 words, or about one page of a typeset book, is the target. We all learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run, after all. I firmly believe that trying to start off with some huge goal, right off the bat, after years (ok, decades) of not pursing my art would be like the people who make resolutions to go to the gym, show up on January 2, vastly overwork themselves even though they are not used to working out, then find the next day they can barely move, so they wind up not going to the gym as they resolved to do, slipping back into old habits, only to do the same thing again the next year. I don’t want that, so that is not the way I’ll pursue it.

More to come, my dear readers who swing by every so often. Take care of yourselves.

The evolution of frames

Eight years.

That’s how long it’s been since I moved out to the ranch.

The first couple of years were mainly spent working to rehab the property: filling dumpsters with what was likely decades of trash that people just dumped wherever they liked because the property had been not a part of the state forest it abuts, but a similarly wooded parcel to which they had access. Getting good soil going at least to get grass to grow in what had been a sandy, beach-like property because the developer had scraped off the topsoil and sold it off. Working to get plants and trees in place so the wildlife – lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes, you name it – would come back. Those were hard-working, back-breaking years. They were worth it.

Ultimately, we decided that if we waited to plant gardens until the soil rehab was at least almost to completely done, it would be another five years before we grew any of our food. Instead, we built framed beds, filling them with a mix of topsoil, manure, and perlite, the latter to help provide some aeration in the mix instead of having every frame be composed of soil that would settle, become difficult to work, and have no give or good draining at all.

So we did. The first frames were 4′ by 4′, built of wood, each separated by a couple of feet as walkways. This led to some inefficiencies, as each individual frame then had to be watered, and drip irrigation was impractical, as there would be loads of connections that would have to be run from one frame to another.

The next iteration was 4′ by 8′ frames, also built of wood, butted up against one another in long rows. The longest row was 4′ by 42′. This made watering much simpler, as long lines of drip tubing could be laid all the way down the line.

The problem with those, of course, was the wood. It warps after enough time in the harsh environment here, and eventually starts rotting. We went with those for a couple of years, until finally hitting on a better solution: frames made from 22 gauge roofing metal sheeting. Cut in half lengthwise, they were screwed together at the seams of each 8′ length, and plain squared balusters (cut down to size) used to provide some structural support for each “wall”. All of our beds are now built out this way, although we do have an issue with some of the balusters rotting from being in contact with the moist soil all the time. On some of them, the screws have popped out because of the way the wood expands and contracts in the weather. Some of the frame sides have bowed out, as the pressure of the soil exerts an outward horizontal force. For those, the solution is to shovel the dirt away from the sides of the frames, reset and reseat the supports for the side, then pull all the soil back into the trench along the side of the frame. As you might imagine, this is more back-breaking hard work, and something I leave for the fall/winter to get done instead of trying to do this during the main growing season in temperatures that hover in the mid-90s to the 100s throughout.

The good thing about the metal frames is that they will last for a significant length of time before anything needs to be done with them – if anything ever needs to be done with them at all. A bonus of this use is that unlike the wooden frames, which break down, rot, and become something that isn’t good for much, the metal frames are steel, so they can go to the recycling center.

Although it took some years of experimentation and use to get to this point, it has served us well since the final frame type was put in place, and now we have spent much, much less time on frame maintenance than we did with the wooden equivalents. That time, recouped, is now spent on other, more productive tasks.

Harvest of the day, and cleaning up

Today was a harvest day, but also a day to do some cleaning. Our season started back in February, so we’ve already had four months of goings-on. For this weekend, it meant pulling the broccoli and cauliflower that did not survive the almost zero transition to mild winter to blazing summer. Those will be restarted in flats and put into a row that has shade cloth over it, along with….

Carrots and cukes

more carrots! Thirteen pounds of carrots pulled and washed today – all that were left in the field. We’ll be shredding these and freezing them in two cup portions, which seems to be the most useful quantity for the produce we can use from the freezer specifically in recipes (soup, carrot cake, etc., in this case).

The cukes were picked during attempts to retrain the vines to trellises instead of believing their only goal in life is to invade other rows and subdue the residents in those rows. There are three varieties of cukes represented there: iznik, homemade pickles, and agnes.

The season is going rather well, even with interruptions by other circumstances.

My hero

The cucumbers, running rampant in he front garden north, got some trellis work today, and the green beans, caught in the tentacles of those cukes, were freed to go about their business.

When I completed multiple levels of trellising on both sides of the cuke runs, I found my hero standing over the dead body of one of his enemies, which he had been stalking for a few days now.

Fearless mole hunter

The common eastern mole, making messes of yards everywhere for eons.

Dead mole

I did not cut it in half with the scissors, no. I just didn’t have any gloves with me during that particular excursion to the garden, and simply used the tool I had to pick him up and toss him over the fence into the ditch area by the road to allow nature’s cleanup crew (vultures, ants, etc.) take care of it.

Running amok

As promised, a pic of the front gardens cucumbers, who are far outstripping their colleagues in the rear gardens. This is what happens when you get a raging case of pneumonia that knocks your schedule completely out of sync and keeps you from doing the rather mundane tasks like trellising work to keep pace with certain plants.

Cucumbers, front gardens, 2016

This is actually three rows of sown seed: the two middle rows are a couple of different varieties of cucumbers. The right row is green beans (variety: Provider, which is more reliable and productive than anything we’ve tried). This picture was taken a week or so ago, and does not adequately reflect the way the cukes are planning hostile takeovers of the frame to the left or the asparagus  in the background at this time. It’s something I’m going to try to address this weekend, and hopefully the pneumo, which has been with me for more than a week now instead of the more usual five days, will let me out of its grip.*

*Yes, I know, it’s strange to call pneumonia “the usual” in any way, but this is yet another of the ongoing gifts from cancers I should never have had. Fuck you, cancer.

Into every life

A little rain must fall. Thankfully, that day is today, after another week of zero rain. Just over a quarter inch in less than an hour. Although I’d already watered the rear gardens as part of my todo list, I’ll take it anyway. We are far below the normal levels of rain for this season in our area, so a few more days just like this would be very welcome. Not, I might add, the frog-drowning, five inches of rain in two hours variety. That does no one any good. A nice, steady rain, however, is gold.

This is the first cuke of the season. Last year, we had none at all. Half the seeds did not germinate, the ones that did were anemic at best, and none of those produced any fruit. It was a complete bust. This year, I put cukes again out back, but hedged my bets by putting cukes out front a month later as well. It’s a good thing I did. This little one (it’s specifically for picking gherkin-sized fruit like this, so the size is fine) is from the back gardens. Of those in the rear, just under half made it through from their sowing. I thought, at the time, I sowed cukes in the front gardens, that none of them would flower, much less produce anything. But those that did seem to have gathered their legs under them and are pepping up.

First cuke, 2016

I don’t believe the group out back will do as well as the group out front are doing. I’ll have a comparison picture between the two contestants tomorrow.