Category Archives: Gardening

Prepare yourself

Squash is coming.

I’m not kidding.

A few years ago, when chronic pneumonia was not a mainstay in my life, and before a swallow test showed why, I grew squash of both the green (zucchini) and yellow (yellow) kind. The problem with squashes, as anyone with a garden knows, is that they are sneaky little bastards. You’ll go through a picking session, ooh and aah and marvel over how one seed – one seed! – can produce such abundance.

Squash and zucchini April 29, 2015

This can lull you into a state of mind where you are not as alert as you could be.

As you should be.

Because – again, as anyone who gardens and plants squashes know – you will miss some.

“Wait, Captain, what do you mean ‘miss them’? How could you possibly miss any?”

Sneaky little bastards is how: they play Jedi mind tricks and your gaze slides right over them in search of the next fruit to pick. This is not just for squash, mind you: the same thing happens with okra, among other things. But squashes are in a category unto themselves and are by far the tops at this game.

So, you overlook some. Some, you think, might need another day or two to get to the proper length, but then you get busy, perhaps with the bees, and before  you know it, it’s been four days, and you have to steel yourself to go back out to the plants, wondering if any have attained sentience and are awaiting your arrival to ambush you. What you find is a collection of squash that varies in size from “decent, normal eating” to “small child”.

Zucchini and squash May 22, 2015

It may be difficult to put this into context, given that there is no true frame of reference for the upper part of this scale. Allow me to assist.

Giant zucchini, small child, May 2015

The harvest size is so large, it can in fact comfortably seat two small children, and probably three.

Giant squash and two small children gnawing on raw okra pods, May 2015

Why do I sound the alarm bell? The zucchini plants – two of which made it out of four seeds sown – are putting out the beginning of their flowers. The yellow squash, however, always earlier, and very prolific, are coming on. Fast.

Squash, May 2018

This was yesterday. Tomorrow, they will all be another inch longer, at least. It isn’t quite visible from this angle, but this plant has SIX in bloom squash forming. There are five yellow squash plants. While I know everyone thinks math is a waste of time in school, in gardening and farming there is very real math, and you should know it.

Especially if you grow squash.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

Me against the lima beans

I am not a fan of lima beans. Never have been. Never will be – especially now, for reasons I’ll get into in a post down the road somewhere kind of soon.

Despite some attempts by people to disguise lima beans by calling them butter beans, the fact remains that they are still lima beans, and thus unworthy of appreciation by me as an eater.

However.

There are these weirdo people in my family who like them. A lot. Particularly in my mother’s Brunswick stew – which has, among its numerous ingredients, some of my pulled pork in it!

But back to these beans. I’m a big fan of other beans: navy beans, black beans, pinto beans, black eyed peas, kidney beans, garbanzos. Beans! Lot of beans!

Not limas. There’s just something about the way they smell and taste that makes me want to barf. It ranks slightly below liver as a never-ever-ever food for me. Just because I won’t eat them, though, does not mean I won’t grow them for others. Or try to, anyhow.

Because limas are a lot like corn for me, for some reason, except instead of being overrun by armyworms, the limas just don’t do…..anything.

The first year I grew limas at the ranch, I picked a pole bean variety. Easy, right? Same as black-eyed peas. Throw them in the ground, get the trellis up, and basically forget them until they’re ready to go. That variety produced a lot of greenery, but not a lot of flowers, and just a handful of pods. The next couple of years, I tried bush varieties. These flowered like mad, but never produced anything. I never got around to them the past couple of years because I was sick almost constantly, but this year I found two more bush varieties and decided to give them a go. Again.

They’ve germinated. Again. We’ll just have to wait and see if they give us – or, rather, the people who eat these yucky beans – a bountiful harvest. In the frame on the left, both rows are limas. In the frame on the right, sugar snap peas and green beans – neither of which I view as anything other than delicious.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Welcome to spring, Florida style

Finally.

We’ve had a bit of unsettled weather here at the ranch – Mother Nature has been a tad ambivalent about letting our “winter” go. Overall, it was a mild winter, with only a handful of overnight freezes, and if I ever get a greenhouse up, even those won’t matter. How mild was it, overall? So mild that these guys were all over the place at the end of December.

He and his pals vanished to wherever it is they hide out during cold weather a short bit later, as January brought with it not just a freeze, but sleet/freezing rain at a time it is normally dry here.

While that didn’t last long, it surely did make for some fine pictures: icy pines above, my iced over pear tree below.

Usually, I start the flats in the barn under the lights just after the first of the year. I’ve found, though, that the seedlings tended to get a bit leggy even with the lights right over them, and they were definitely getting rootbound before I’d be able to plant them out after two months in. The transplant date was also kind of iffy: do we go with our “official” last frost date for this area, which is around my birthday in March? Take a chance as I did several years ago and kick the seedlings out of the barn in early March, hoping there will be no surprises? Or do I change the entire thing?

Of course, it’s the latter: I started the flats in February this year, and just started putting out the seedlings over the past week and a half. I also waited to direct sow the other crops until April. That gut instinct turned out to be the right one: we had ourselves some random overnights right near freezing at the end of March, and some coolish temps in early April that would not have been all that great for germination of the directly sowed items beyond the shelling peas (and even half of those croaked because a few days later it was 87F before returning to milder temps).

Speaking of germination: for the first time ever here at the ranch, we have had 100% germination of all the tomatoes and peppers. It is astonishing: 274 tomato plants, and  227 peppers. I also have assorted brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) and those appear to be at 100%, but let’s face it, the stars of the gardens are tomatoes and peppers, by far. This is also about the time of year I usually decide to tilt at my personal windmill and try corn (again), but I’ve decided to let that be this year and not deal with it.

Meanwhile, the blueberries, which I’d basically ignored and which I had not cut back, as “they” say should be done, are coming along nicely. I noticed the first blooms at the end of February, and at the end of March, even through some weird, drastically changing temps, it had started forming berries,

And now, we’re here in April. Lots of tomatoes and peppers in the rows, the directly sown zucchini and squash plants are nice and big, and they are now beginning to flower and form fruit, going from this

To this

In just five days.

Things are looking up at the ranch.

One other programming note: I was doing pretty well a couple of months ago, writing up something every day. Then life intruded at some point and once again, I did not see it through. This time, however, I am: I will post something, every day. It may just be a picture of something and a few words. It may be a recap of what’s going on in the gardens or with the bees. It may be about tech. Or it may just be ruminations on things. Whatever the case may be, the discipline to do this will help feed the discipline of writing every day on the novel side of my world, which has also suffered from my neglect.

No more.  I don’t need anyone’s approval, I don’t need to care what people may think, I don’t need to worry about failure – this is one of my worst fears – and I don’t need to worry about anything else in this world beyond calming my mind, focusing on the story I’m telling, and then tell it: write it straight through, without going back to edit until the work is complete. I hope my handful of readers, whoever you may be, will be watching my journey through all this, but even if you aren’t, I still have an audience of me, and sometimes that is (and has to be) what carries me through.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

 

What season is it?

Pollen season, of course.

It appears we are done with “winter”, unless Mother Nature decides to give us the middle finger and gift us with a random freeze.

In the meantime, this is the time for working like an overcaffeinated squirrel on meth to get everything in shape for when we just snap right into summer. The good news is that it’s supposed to be rather balmy and springlike after the next couple of days, and that’s the best time to get some of the larger (sweaty, dirty, annoying) tasks done. Today I got the rest of the bed ready for strawberries and also reset the long side of that particular frame, as it was bowed out quite a bit. It’s amazing what you can do if you paid attention in geometry (angles!) and have some three foot rebar.

Aside: I had been posting daily. Alas, I was sick – again – and that has just started to lift a bit over the last three to four days. Whenever I’d have a scan or xray or whatever and wind up with some Thing that could be addressed with antibiotics, we’d all say, “At least it isn’t cancer!” The past three weeks, after having xrays at the ER and then again at the outpatient center, we say, “At least it isn’t pneumonia!” They both suck. I think this thing on my neck is playing a large part in all this, given that I can express the gunk out through the sublingual salivary gland, and it’s obvious that it’s infected from time to time. Next week, we’re going to a new ENT, referred by my current ENT, who is more of the usual stuff. The new guy specializes in surgical oncology for the ear, nose, throat, and I’m hoping he has some kind of answer for me related to this. It’s annoying.

Back to the gardens: about two weeks ago, I direct sowed shelling peas, carrots, and radishes. Those are up, although the peas have some duds amongst them and need to be resown here and there. In addition to fixing the strawberry frame mentioned up above, I also sowed lettuce, kale, swiss chard, beets, spinach, and pac choi.

In the barn, there are five flats under the light – all tomatoes and peppers. The tomatoes are up, and I saw the first unfolding green stem of a pepper when I needed to get rebar out of the barn. This week, I’ll get the broccoli and cauliflower into flats under the lights. They can, for the most part, take the wild fluctuating temps, and even temps that hover near freezing if Mother Nature pulls one on us.

I’ve also been fixing the fences around the gardens. Rabbits have been in the gardens, both front and back, based on the evidence.

Wabbits

While I’ve been going around, weeding, shoring up frame sides, doing other things that have been neglected the past couple of years thanks to illness, I’ve found rabbit poop here and there. I’ve also found obvious nests out in the front – among the asparagus, but also (amusingly enough) in the carrots – and in the back, in the vetch I’d thrown down as green manure. I’m not building buffets just for them, so closing holes or openings in pieces of the fence is important.

Tomorrow will be another day. Strawberry planting day, to be precise. They’ll go into their freshly turned frame and into the second frame just west of it, and by June we’ll be getting berries to go with all the other things we’ll be harvesting by then.

Time to finish a tube feed and then hit the sack. Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Blank canvas

The best thing about gardening is the blank canvas you get to work with at the turn of each new season.

The green at the left in that second frame in the foreground frame is the overwintered carrots.

What cannot – for now – be seen are the new sowing round: in the frame row in the foreground,  I’ve added peas, and in the second frame with the overwintered carrots, more carrot seed along with radish seed.

A parade of lights. More accurately, a testing of all the lights before they get rehung over the tables in the barn once more. Several have dead sides entirely, either the tombstones or in the wiring, but I’ll just hang those on the perimeters with the bad sides out – there is a slight loss on the lighting anyway because I don’t have about six more inches of table space available, so it all works out in the end.

I had planned, the day I started this post, to head to the hardware store for some seed starting material, but my body betrayed me again and I tumbled into feeling very crappy. Yesterday was horrible. Today, however, is a new day and although I’m not 100%, at least I don’t feel like death warmed over. It’s grey, chilly, and rainy today, so I’m also not particularly bothered by doing anything other than work today.

The seeds are rolling in, with three of five vendor orders in. Now if this nonsense will exit my head and throat, I can get down to the very serious business of getting things growing.

Spring?

Possibly. Who can say, Florida being what it is? That image is from yesterday, as I got caught up in other things before I was able to come back and finish the post. BUT: the forecast now is the same as it was on the 8th when I took that screenshot. It will be around 80F during the days, and around or slightly above 50F in the evenings.

Mother Nature can decide at some point to hammer down on us with more winter days, and she may still get around to that. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic to the point that I weeded out both the carrots/beets/radishes/kale row and the peas/cukes row in order to sow a few varieties of carrots, radishes, and shelling peas. If we get a hit of freezing weather, and sprouting stuff is killed, seed for these things is cheap. I can just throw some more seed into the rows.

Having said that, there are still carrots from last year in the row. I found today that something has been nibbling at the leafy carrot tops. Usually, that equals a bunny – and I have found rabbit nests in the asparagus and carrot rows before. That means another item for the todo list: do a walkaround of the fence, as there’s a gap somewhere that needs to be closed.

Things I did not get completed? Lots. many things. I’m not going to have one of those conversations with myself about why things didn’t get done and how I’m a slacker and bad person, though. Instead, I’m just going to recognize it for what it is: illnesses threw a wrench into the grand plan, and there’s little I can do about that.

I did get the hive equipment out of the barn, as the barn bees didn’t make it. I also cleared the last of the honey off the floor in there, and tested my grow lights. The fixtures I use have two lights. On some of those fixtures, one of the sides will not work, for whatever reason. That’s a bit of a bummer, as I like to spread light out across the entirety of the tables. Instead, I’ll use those at the sides, and let the dead portion of those fixtures be on the outside of the table.

Speaking of bees, with the warmer weather comes the rampup of queens laying and the possibility of swarming. I’m going to inspect hive #8 to make sure they have plenty of room to expand without being overcrowded. When spring officially arrives, I’ll be splitting that hive at least once, and possibly twice. That’s the plan, anyhow: keep this queen’s genes in as many hives as I can.

Time to wrap this up and get back to the various work I need to do.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

 

Meet the New Year, Same as the Old Year

Not quite exactly, as it happens. Last year, our redneck neighbor people were pretty quiet on all the “Let’s light fuses on gigantic, big boom fireworks, and oh yeah, the ones that make tiny sounds but have lots of color, and the whirly ones that sound like a drunken piccolo player.”

It seems, however, that redneck neighbor people saved up their pennies from the ass end of 2015 to the ass end of this year, as they are setting off some mammoth (and probably illegal in Florida) booms over there. On the other neighbor side, they are having a new year’s eve party to which they invited people plus all the folks in the neighborhood. The invite said there would be live entertainment. Because we can hear the bass thanks to the amps over there, and because I had to let one of the dogs out, it seems the live entertainment is a mediocre cover band. I suppose in the long run, that’s better than hookers and blow performing the live entertainment.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions because resolutions are basically an every day sort of thing to me, given that I’m fairly constantly berating myself for not doing the things I really need to get done. That makes the first day of the new year just like any other day to me except it has a lot of football games on.

In other news, the beeyard is officially down to two hives. The larger one is doing well, so I left that one in place. They have plenty of bees to keep warm as we move into cold cold weather, not Florida cold weather when it’s 53F outside and we’re wearing jackets.

At some point in the past few days, the rain chances were at the times the temps would be freezing or lower. Alas, now those are gone, and it probably will not happen.

Earlier today:

Now:

The front is sinking down us and WHY CAN’T YOU PEOPLE UP NORTH CONTAIN YOUR INVASIVENESS?

Ahem.

I am not a fan of cold, and neither are my bees or plants. The dogs don’t seem to care as long as there are treats in the house.

Speaking of bees , the smaller hive that has made it through this season absolutely would not make it this week in the beeyard. While there are bees in the hive, the population is too low.  So I thought about it for about 80 seconds and decided I’d overwinter them either in the shed or in the barn. The barn won out simply because it’s a smaller space in which I can run a heater, and there wasn’t anything that needed to be moved in the barn to get a good setup. Now, we have barn bees.

The trees around them are lemons and limes I picked up on Friday. All of them are in bloom, as they are generally everbearing down here, and I didn’t want them out in the deep freeze. I figure I’ll keep them inside for the remainder of the spring, and since I already have grow lights in the barn for the seedling flats, I’ll be able to give the trees an the bees some sun-like light.

The fireworks are going off pretty regularly here now, so I guess it’s time to put my headphones on, jam out to some music and do something or other that needs to be done.

Happy new year, peeps, and may 2018 be a better year than 2017 aspired to be. Be well.

 

 

 

 

Return to discipline

Again.

It’s hard as hell reading about what’s going on in this country today. We all know, and as I’ve said, I try to avoid politics here. But – and I don’t think I’d be alone in saying this, even for people whose political bents are 180 degrees opposite mine – I don’t think there has been a failure in the government of this country larger or more profound  than what we’re seen since January. It’s stressful and disheartening, and it is going to take us years to recover.

That’s one of the reasons I shut down my personal facebook page, creating another profile just to manage a page that I need to maintain. I got tired of the nonsense, and even more tired of realizing how much of the finite time I have left on this earth it was ticking away. The only reason I visit fb these days is to update that page, or to view some funny video someone thinks I’ll find amusing. I can safely say I have not missed it. I had turned more to twitter, thinking I could just scan through it, post a couple of things, and not have it wind up as a massive timesink or add anything bad – like stress – to my life.

Wrong.

Continue reading Return to discipline

Discipline

Lacking. Completely.

Nah, not totally, but it could use a bit of a kick in the pants. I’m in week six of the current pneumonia battle. This one is hanging around longer than the other five times this year. I have however, been busy, both inside and out. Sort of.

The gardens, oh my, the gardens.

It’s almost like I’ve been growing this crap on purpose

That’s the front. The back garden area is bad, too. But I’ve been concentrating on the front because there are things actively growing there right now: peppers, still chugging along – the tabascos certainly, the jalapenos to a lesser extent, and either the tabascos or the cayennes that weren’t chewed to death by bugs, too. Why the or? Because they both start out looking the same, and it’s impossible to tell what is in what frame row without breaking out the original season map I did. I haven’t done that, as it’s depressing to see the season that could have been.

That pic up there is from November 21. I decided to get off my ass and start pulling weeds and get things moving as our “winter” doesn’t last long. I’d rather not have a gigantic list of things that need to be done to get the gardens in shape when I’m tending seedlings and trying to guess what Mother Nature is going to give us in the new year – if it’s a mild winter, do I take the chance and start getting tender things like tomatoes and peppers out, or do I wait until our usual last frost date, that we didn’t have last year? It’s a challenge.

This is what I got done by November 27.

Less crap, more open space and clean!

This is December 2.

Getting there

In the mid left are the remaining peppers, and behind that, the long asparagus bed. At the far, far rear, those are palmetto bushes along the area near the fenceline, not more crap to pull. Those are horrific to deal with when you want them gone, and take my advice: hire a tractor guy/gal or rent something to dig down into the ground and pull them. Don’t dig them by hand. One, sure, maybe. More? Nope.

When I managed to get the frame where the carrots had been a bit clear, I found some carrots that had either happily sat there for months or that were just now germinating for whatever reason – most likely, weed pressure, since I was sowing carrots every other week when spring came. When the hurricanes blew through us, they also blew down many of the taller weeds in that frame (and others), allowing light to get down to those carrots seeds again. There aren’t many, but the ones I found were perfect, and – according to others – mighty tasty.

I pulled more weeds yesterday, and the asparagus row is about halfway cleared. None pulled today, because it’s the time of the year my health insurance company jacks up my rates by 50% and the other options available basically amount to the exact same plan I have now as they relate to premiums plus deductibles plus copays and total out of pocket. This is life with chronic health issues. But, I know the vast majority of people will not have to pay higher premiums thanks to the ACA, so that’s good.

There was also no weed pulling today as I had to go to the car dealership and pick up my car – a couple of recall notices about the airbags, an oil change, and new tires. The service guy who handled it also mentioned other thins they “found” during the inspection – like “the engine is leaking oil somewhere, and to find it [they] will have to drain the engine, put dye in it, and find that, and oh, that will cost a couple hundred bucks just for that”. Really? It’s funny that seems to be a problem when there isn’t any oil under my car on the garage pad where I park. So, no thanks to all of that, and I’ll have my mechanic brother in law look at things here. One amusing note: that same BIL told my mother that one guy there in service was to be avoided if at all possible because he’s a jackass. Guess who handled my car check in yesterday. Yup. That guy, who wants to sell me another grand or so on other things.

**This took me a couple of days to get finished thanks to every day being a Tuesday for some reason – Tuesdays, in our little corner of the world, are batshit crazydays, and usually, they restrict themselves to Tuesdays instead of bleeding into others. But, who knows, this might be a change. It’s pretty quiet tonight, I’ve dealt with the issues that are incredibly time-consuming poking around in client stuff that wasn’t working and have gotten them all solved in some fashion over yesterday and today, and maybe, just maybe, the universe has decided my efforts have been enough to reward me with writing time.

That’s it for now, peeps. Until next time: be well.