Category Archives: Gardening

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.

Fresh salad

It only took about four months to grow the various participants.

Small salad

It was delicious, according to the person who got to eat that small bounty. The tomatoes are the earliest I’ve ever been able to get at the ranch: sungolds and a variety called 4th of July (meant for northern growers with short summers so they can have their tomatoes by yes, the 4th of July). Here – at least for this year – they have shown themselves to be the absolute earliest of the early varieties I put in, and the sooner the tomatoes start coming, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The lettuce is a straight cos (romaine) variety that I had tossed into a row with potatoes, and the carrots had been hanging around with the kale. Strange neighbors. But tasty vegetables.

Spring, bitches!

Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about your calendars, or a groundhog seeing a shadow or not, or anything else puny humans wish to do. When she’s ready to do something, she does it. Spring is here. Of course, now that I’ve said that, she’ll probably decide to kick my ass for it by shoving a random freeze in there, but we only had a handful of those during our incredibly milder than usual “winter”.

Forecast

I do believe it’s time to go ahead and transplant the brassicas – they’re getting crowded in their flat anyway now that overnight temps are in the 45-55F range. The tomatoes I am more wary about, because there are a crapload of them out there under the lights, and Mother Nature deciding to get buzzed and do something crazy would force a restart, thus delaying our first harvest of tomatoes. The peppers still need more warm overnights, which they can get in the barn better than outside.

The melons, pumpkins, and squashes also need to go out: one of them is already putting out tendrils and trying to capture a lock on the chain the light is hanging from, and if I don’t get it out of there soon, it will probably come to life and kill me while I sleep.