Category Archives: Gardening

Stinger

Strawberry planting day at the ranch. Instead of black plastic, we use plastic flowerpots with the bottoms cut off. These go into the soil, with about two inches clear above the soil line. They are filled with soil to that two inch mark, and the strawberries go in. As they grow, we will train them over the rim. This will keep various insect type critters from going after the berries as easily as they would were the berries growing directly on the soil. It also helps with soil rot damage to the berries from the rain/watering then drying cycles we go through.

While Mom handled those, yours truly did another weeding run. When I am well, I can spend hours weeding if the gardens call for it (and right now they do) but at this moment, I pull enough weeds to fill one yard waste bag (basically, just a trash bag, but thinner), as that’s about as much as I can manage. Today I went after thistles that came up to my hip, with tons of puffball seeds just waiting to break loose and bury themselves in other areas of the garden. The simplest way to deal with seeding thistle: gently bend the stem with the puffballs – very, very gently, so as to not knock the puffballs yourself – and then use pruners to snip the stem about six inches or so under the puffballs. If the stem has already branched, snip six inches or so under the branch. Once snipped, gently – very gently – shove the clipped stem puffball first into a bag. Repeat as necessary. Once the puffballs are gone, snip the plant into manageable pieces and bag those, then pull the remainder of the plant up by the root.

In one area where I was pulling thistle, I encountered some stinging nettle. I reached for it before I realized what I was going for, and luckily, I did not grab a whole handful of it. The only stings I got were on my left index finger and the pad of my right hand. Yes, I weed bare-handed. I find that I just can’t grasp the weeds and pull them entirely, with their roots, out of the soil. For nettle, though, I made an exception, got my gloves, and pulled the giant thing out. Nettle spreads by rhizomes it sends out, so the actual root area can take some work to get to, as you have to work through the outer areas of the thing before you can pull the rest of it out and get the root. While stinging nettle does have some medicinal use, we do not grow it intentionally here, just as we do not grow purslane, which was the weed of the year when we first put in the gardens. This time around, the weeds of the year appear to be thistle and hawkweed, neither of which we want hanging around. There are masses of them, and I’m considering hiring some day labor to get all the weeding done, as there is no way I’ll be able to get it all done so my  plants can be put out.

Switching gears: those of you who stumbled across this here blog because of searches for oral cancer and/or tube feeding and/or medical things: welcome! A tip for those feeding via PEG, if you’re like me and have to do it slowly: when feeding the rather thick usual formula using the gravity drip method by  syringe, once you’ve poured some formula in, pour in some water as well. The water will help dilute the formula and prevent the formula from gumming up the tube opening (and the syringe opening).

(My dog Einstein grabbing a nap in the background.)

Once that run completes, pour about 20 ml or so of water down the tube as a mild flush to get any formula residue out of the tube opening. That way, the next round in about 10-15 minutes won’t encounter any blockages when you pour it down. This also helps keep your fluid uptake up, which will be better for you and keep the doctors happy. I run formula at a rate of 20-30 ml plus water every 15 minutes. One can of the formula I use is 237 ml, so it takes about two hours to complete a feed session with formula for me. In good sessions when I don’t feel like I’m going to burst or throw up (dry heaves, really), I can press that interval down to about five minutes or so.When the feeding session is complete, flush the tube with more water.

Another tip for those stuck with a PEG who have, or had oral cancer, and have to undergo radiation to the head and neck: keep eating and drinking by mouth if at all possible – even if it takes pain meds to do it – and do exercises to keep your mouth opening as wide as possible. Eating and drinking keeps the muscles working and helps deal with the inevitable scar tissue buildup, and also helps keep your gallbladder happy, by giving it something to do.  Since I didn’t, when I went back to eating by mouth after nine months on the tube, my gallbladder had basically turned into a bag of stones, and the pain from it trying to do anything was excruciating, ultimately resulting in another surgery to have it removed. The mouth opening exercises are as simple as continuing to open your mouth as wide as you can and holding it for ten seconds, doing five to ten reps of that, four or five times a day. Trismus is a horrible consequence of radiation therapy, and you don’t want to wind up with a seriously limited opening like I have, at about 13 mm. If you’re already past all the treatment, and you are dealing with trismus, do stretching exercises every day. In both cases, working with multiple sets every day instead of one set once a day seems to be better, based on the various papers I’ve read. Most utility treatment recommendations involve tongue depressors, but I have used a Therabite previously. Unfortunately, I have not been diligent in using it over the years. Since my unexpected hospital stay, however, I’m getting myself in order on that, and I’m now using it while I feed. I am aiming for five sessions a day, with ten reps per session, holding my mouth open for seven seconds each time. It can be painful, but the benefits far outweigh something that can be dealt with  by taking Advil/Tylenol or pain meds. There are other things you can do to make an effort to prevent trismus or help with it if you have developed it. A tip for Therabite use: once the pads are on the mouthpiece, I slip a sandwich bag over them when using it. That way, I avoid the necessity of changing the pads often due to slobber/drool/mucous all over them. Teeth in or teeth out? That’s up to you. Since my opening is so limited, I have to use it with teeth out, as I can’t fit it in my mouth when wearing them.

Time for another feed. Be well, peeps, and I’ll catch you next time.

Saturday ramble

Typing this up after a long day at the ranch, with Julie & Julia playing in the background. I love this movie, in both parts: Amy Adams does a great job as a foodie stuck in a soul-sucking job, cooking her way through a classic, and Meryl Streep is, well, Meryl Streep, nailing Julia Child. I read the original blog, and the movie is not half bad at reflecting it. The lobster scene (Julie) is hysterical.

Most of the long day was consumed by actual work work. For some reason, although weekends are generally slack, there were a ton (relatively speaking) of people popping up with issues that needed to be resolved. Such is life – after all, it isn’t as if I’m well enough to be spending an entire day in the gardens and with the bees, working on all the things that need to be done. But! I did manage one bag of pulled weeds, so that’s a start.

I had thought I’d go back out and do another, but my abs and my back put the kibosh on that idea.

Yesterday, one of the buttons that secures the feeding tube fell out of my lap when I stood up. This is not a huge deal, as they have to be snipped  off anyway (and I have an appointment with the GI dude next month to do just that).

The sutures connect the button to the flat part of the tube apparatus on the outside and on the inside, to another button holding the balloon. There are four buttons, or there were: this one I found, and when I did, I realized another one had also come off by its own, but I’ve no idea where that one landed. What happens to the inside button? What usually happens to stuff inside your stomach that the stomach acids are unable to digest? Yep. But I’m not digging around for them on the other end. I’m going to trust that the body knows what it’s doing. At least most of the time.

Someone asked about the tzatziki sauce I made the weekend after escaping the hospital.

It’s a very simple sauce, and one that could go with almost anything, not just gyros or other Greek food. A combination of cucumbers, greek yogurt, lemon, garlic, dill, and a bit of salt and pepper – that’s it!

Here’s your ingredient list:

One cucumber, seeded, finely diced and drained. A cup of plain Greek yogurt. Two teaspoons of lemon juice (plus a little zest, if you like). Two tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped, OR two teaspoons of dried, chopped or powdered dill. Two cloves of garlic, or a bit more if you love a good garlicky sauce (I used four). Salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together except the salt and pepper very well. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss it into the fridge to chill out for a bit, then  slather it on stuff you’re eating. Simple!

Meanwhile, late this afternoon, Mom whipped up a pan of shepherd’s pie, which was lovely, and guess who ate a bit?

Delicious. And yes, that is a toddler-sized bowl. Got a problem with it?

Moving on, one of the interesting things about having a feeding tube is gas bubbles. Now, we all know that usually gas bubbles escape out one end or the other, one end at times perhaps creating a bit of social awkwardness. With the tube, sometimes the gas bubbles want to escape where the tube enters the abdomen. And they do, in fact, escape, with a second or two of intense pain as the bubble works its way through the very small, almost invisible gap between tube and skin. This does not mean the fitting is leaking even with the gas is getting out through that tiny space. A little bit of schmutz does build up around the perimeter of the tube, but that, while kind of gross, is easy enough to clean off. The escaping gas is something I’ve taken to mean that my stomach is somewhat empty and ready for another feeding. At this time of night, will be formula. It’s also time for meds.

 

Now, I don’t take all of these all the time, nor all at the same time of the ones I have to take on certain schedules except for the first round in the morning. I never imagined, ever, that I would be the one in the family with a drawer full of meds, but here we are, two cancers, one gallbladder removal, one neck surgery, and one extended pneumonia-created hospital stay later. The cans there on the right are the formula that I pour down the tube, one can per feeding. The mortar and pestle is for grinding the tablets into powder so they can be mixed with water and swallowed – or, in my current situation, poured through the tube. The benadryl is to help keep the mucositis and the sinus drainage to a dull roar and from choking me with goo in my throat. This is your life after cancer, surgery, chemo, and radiation. I’d recommend not having it.

With that, I’ll wrap up this entry and get myself set up for a feeding. It sounds simple, but it’s rather involved, and the actual feeding takes almost two hours. I’ll take a picture once I’m set up this evening so you can see what a life on this side of food is like.

 

Life is complicated

The last post about these irritating medical issues was rather optimistic about the eating regularly again (by mouth) and using the feeding tube as a supplemental agent to that. We’ll discuss that, but first, a bit about the chicken I mentioned.

It was delicious. Seriously good, after marinating for 24 hours in a mix of greek yogurt, olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, and pepper. I seared those off on the stovetop in a hot pan, then transferred them to the oven to finish. While they were finishing, I made a tzatziki sauce to go with them, and it turned out fantastically – amazing, given that it’s been forever since I made one. I added extra garlic, and it was, quite literally, the best I’ve ever had. I’m not slapping myself on the back as the best cook ever, but I could eat a bowl of the stuff on its own and be happy, and even my mother, who is not normally one for this sort of thing, judged it to be be excellent. I managed some chicken and the rice I’d made on the side, helped along by the tzatziki to get it swallowed. One thing about dysphagia and mucositis, if you, gentle reader, have stumbled across this during a search: sauces and gravies are generally your friend. (Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional – do not take what I write here as medical advice of any sort, and check with your doctor(s) about stuff, not random things you read on the internet).

That was this past Friday. I think I’d had a couple of cans of the formula in addition to the chicken and rice, and an orange or two. Saturday, I had some of the leftovers, along with a couple more cans. Sunday, more cans. And we ran out of cans from the first delivery. This is where things start going badly.

We’d ordered more formula from the folks who handle that on Friday, and thought from the way they talked the couple of cases we’d ordered would be arriving on Monday. That turned out not to be the case. On Monday, I was feeling worse because I’d not been able to take down enough by mouth. I also had to head out to get some bloodwork done to recheck my kidney function, as of course one of the issues with not eating/malnutrition can be kidney function problems. They had been abnormal in the hospital, but had been improving once the tube was in place and I was on continuous feeding. Off we went, and they took blood and had me pee in a cup. Idiotically, I’d not even thought about the latter, but it makes perfect sense, of course: kidneys, duh! Fortunately, I managed to give them just enough to deal with. Then, back home, where I continued to feel like total crap because I couldn’t get enough into my piehole.

Tuesday, I had an appointment to finally get the stitches out of my neck, one day shy of a month after the surgery and three weeks past the original removal date. I was feeling so weak I wondered if we should call them and reschedule, but we decided they really needed to come out, so, with the help of my sister, who has been a rock through all this, mom took me up to the hospital, and my sister had commandeered a wheelchair so I didn’t have to totter around in my state to get to where we needed to be. The building where this appointment was has a cafeteria on the ground floor opposite the entrance to the part of the building where my doctors are, and the smell of whatever they were cooking was overpowering and made me ant to vomit. Through my reading, I’ve found this can be a problem for people recovering from things like this. But, we made it through that, made it through stitch removal, and the doctor said flat out he is at a loss about this lump. All the scans have shown nothing, the biopsy was negative, etc. – in effect, he’s unable to fix something that does not show a problem. If I’d had the energy, I’d have told him I knew that issue quite well, given the type of work I do. He suggested another PET scan – this uses nuclear tracers to light up possible cancerous areas, as cancer cells glom on to every bit of sugar they can get their greedy suckers on – but since I just had one a couple months ago, it wouldn’t be possible to have another for at least another three months. That’s fine, because even if it had already been six months, there’s no way I’d be able to do one right now anyway. So, the lump thing is a wait and watch thing.

Stitches out, we returned home, and thankfully, the case of formula had been delivered and was waiting for me. I immediately went back on the feeding schedule, or as close as I can get to it: five cans a day.

Now, the thing about feeling so badly those couple of days is this: it’s incredibly scary. When I weighed myself after getting home from hospital, I was 92 pounds. When I weighed myself this past Saturday, I was 90 pounds. That is the completely wrong direction, and I was shocked at that, because I thought things were going better. Clearly, they were not, and as things progressed, obviously not good. Now that I’m back on the feeding train, when I weighed myself today, it said 94.5 pounds. I have more energy, I don’t feel like I’m so weak I can’t walk, and while this does not mean I’m going to be able to get out to the gardens and start the huge catchup work that needs to be done, it does mean I can take some laps around the inside of the house. Moving is one of the keys to recovery: if you decide to put it off until you “feel better” you’re not going to feel better. Get up. Move around. Don’t try to do 50 laps on the first go. The first couple of days, I could only do two laps through before I had to sit back down. Now I can do more, and also do things like get the dogs’ water bowl up, clean it, refill it, and get it back in place. It doesn’t sound like much to most people, and the previously active me would not think such a thing would be a big chore, but it is a victory for me in my current state.

The mental side: I had a bit of an existential crisis during the days I felt so incredibly weak and shaky, and wondered – for the very first time – if I was going to be able to make it back from this. Even with the first cancer diagnosis, I never thought for a minute that I would die. But at the beginning of this week, it was something weighing heavily on my mind: was it possible that things were too far gone for me to recover? I’d no thoughts of giving up and ending it all, so don’t worry about that, friends and readers (in fact, it never actually occurred to me for an instant). My mental state is not generally fragile, as people who know me would be able to confirm, but because of all the things going on and the very physical signs that are so very easy to see of the condition I’m in, for those couple of days I went to the edge of the abyss of wondering about the possibility of failure and very nearly fell in. To be honest, it scared the shit out of me. And during that little crisis, what I thought was the stupidest thing ever (at the time) bubbled to the top of my mind: I had grand plans for the gardens and bees this year, which are now out the window. I’ve no idea why that came to the forefront of my mind at that very moment. Perhaps it was because these things are important to me, and it was an attempt by my brain to help me recognize these are things I would want to fight for, and not to completely give in to the hopeless feeling that had flowed up to envelop me in its grasp. It still felt silly and stupid at the time, and I do recognize that this is going to be another lost season for the most part, but this acknowledgement is not a sledgehammer driving me into a depression, just a recognition that this is the way life happens sometimes.

So, where do we stand now? I’ve just finished another tube feed, and in a few hours, I’ll do another. It’s very much like being on a newborn baby’s schedule: wake up, eat, wait a bit, eat, wait a bit, eat, maybe nap here and there, and so on. If that’s what it takes to get the weight back on my frame and head back to the healthier me, then that oddball schedule is what I’ll do.

Remember, if you are someone going through cancer treatment, or dealing with the aftermath of it, or having issues thanks to radiation, the gift that keeps on giving pretty much forever, or just in general feeling that you’ve lost the point of it all somewhere: life is worth fighting for. There is, and only ever will be, one you, in the history of the universe. Find something that is special to you, the unique you, and hold to that as your anchor. The seas of adversity may be rough sometimes, but hold fast to your anchor and do not let the waves overtake you. You, and the people who love and care for you, will be better off for it.

A note for those thinking that nothing is worth it, and waving a flag of surrender is the only option to whatever problems have invaded your life, be they medical or other: please talk to someone before considering doing yourself any harm. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, at 1-800-273-8255 if your friends, family, or medical contacts are unavailable or if you want to talk to someone anonymously.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

AIC

That stands for Ass In Chair, and is the hallmark of people telling you how to get things done (like writing). Like anything else, it can also be used as a shorthand way of a way to get things done. Obviously, you can’t improve your batting by having your ass in a chair, but the equivalent – spending time in the cage on a regular basis – is true. Likewise, you can’t keep your gardens in shape if you’re sitting on your ass, but again, the equivalent – get out there on some kind of schedule and do the weeding or the pruning or whatever else needs to be done – is true.

And so it is in the tech world. Yesterday, after a disaster of an update by a vendor, I basically spent 20 hours with my ass in my chair, fixing things that the update had crapped on. It also meant I missed out on visit time with my sister and the kidlets, and also that I missed some of the cleanup things that she and my mom were doing – although, to be honest, the former is always a lot more fun than the latter.

Today, and for the next couple of days, “winter” is among us. Tonight’s low is forecast for 27F, which for us likely means a few degrees colder at least. Tomorrow’s forecast  isn’t much better. But to demonstrate how weird our winter is, Tuesday will see us climbing right back up the thermometer, to the mid-upper 70s.

The peppers and tomatoes bought it in the last freeze, which left the broccoli and cauliflower as the last survivors. I did the fourth and final harvest from those as the temperature dropped, and in the coming days will pull all the dead/spent plants for the compost pile and turn my attention to getting some things done in the rows so they will be ready for the first transplants or seeding as we move into the beginning of the main season this year.

Earlier today, I covered the surviving hives to help keep some warmth in them as we go through our cold snap. Those will remain in place until next week when we’re back to milder weather.

Now that my ISP has finally gotten itself together and allowed the upload of that pic there (after six tries), my picks for the weekend wild card playoff games.  I had picked Houston over Oakland, and had this crap ISP allowed me to finish this in a timely manner, that would have been in place before the game ended. Houston did win. Tonight’s game, Lions at the Seahawks, I’ve picked the Seahawks. For tomorrow’s games, I’m taking the Steelers over the Dolphins (although I’d like for Miami to pull off that upset), and the Packers over the Giants (duh).

For Monday night’s national championship game, my pick is Alabama over Clemson.

And now, time for another cup of tea – decaf alas.

Stay well, folks.

Feeling the blahs

Yes, not everything is sunshine and rainbow farting unicorns. Today, for some weird reason, I just feel out of it and fairly unmotivated to do much of anything at all. This may be a combination of things, the biggest one of which is the ongoing issue with a lump in my neck combined with the severe weight loss due to the pancreatitis flareups, plus, as a sort of cherry on top, the chronic cough I’ve had for a couple of years now has really been an incredible pain in the ass the past couple of days. It’s annoying and very tiring to go through those episodes, which about half the time lead further into a sneezing fit.

To give you an idea of just how it is: I still have not placed my seed order for this year. However, I wrote in my (handwritten) journal that I would do that tonight, so I am going to sort out what I want in all the things I put into the spreadsheet, and get the rounds ordered from the various suppliers. By this time last year, I already had flats going under the lights in the barn. I think, though, this won’t be too bad a thing to start them late this month or the beginning of February. They grow so quickly that even transplanting them out in March from a January sowing means dealing with large, often tangled seedlings. So, this year, the goal is to get them out of the flats in a more reasonable timeframe, and if they are a couple of weeks younger than I’ve been doing, it probably won’t matter a bit.

Thought of the day:

“Well you are here and born with fire and desire
You’re the only one can stand in your own way”

From this video by the Wailin’ Jennys. Take care, people.

Starting over

The tomatoes got zapped.

This is not for a lack of trying to keep them alive, though. It was simply too cold and the plants far too stressed from the weirdo weather we’re having this “winter”. It got down to 27F by Saturday morning, and while they looked not too bad when I uncovered them that morning, in the bright light of an 80F day today – I told you the weather was weird – they are unrecoverable.

I will say that the makeshift covers to mimic a greenhouse environment were not terrible, however. It kept them safe from the first round of freezing two weeks ago. I’d like to either get my actual greenhouse situated somewhere on the property, or get a design finalized that will make it far easier to pull the covers on and off of the tender annuals here at the ranch – for us, that’s tomatoes and peppers. The second round of freeze was harsher than the first. But, a valuable lesson learned, and ideas for better covering of the rows are on paper and I’ll be looking into the best way to do this – most importantly, the best way it can be done by one person (me) who has issues raises one arm over shoulder height and needs something that is not completely exhausting.

The brassicas – broccoli and cauliflower – didn’t seem to care all that much, covered or not. But the heads were a tad smaller than in the usual spring season; again, a product of the wildly fluctuating temperatures.

Above: broccoli along with cheddar and graffiti varieties of cauliflower. Most of that was sent home with my sister.

A new season is upon us, and it’s time to get back to poring through the seed catalogs, trying to restrain myself from ordering one of everything. One of my goals this year (because I don’t make resolutions) is to post every day to the blog in 2017, even if it’s just a post about the weather conditions. Everything I’ve read on forming habits says that the goals should be attainable – that is, not huge goals, but smaller chunks of the larger, ultimate goal – and not reliant on someone else’s involvement to get to the goal or reliant on circumstances that may never come.  The goals should also not necessarily be on the actual final goal, but on the processes/steps that lead to it, to avoid the dreaming brain from visualizing that ultimate goal from being done, which sends the brain signals that it isn’t necessary to pursue it. This one goal will force me to write something every day, which I hope will feed over into my actual fiction writing as well. It isn’t so bad getting into the mood to write up something once you just get the fingers moving.

I’ve also started a new project that will involve weekly postings to another blog: another attainable goal that does not rely on anyone else, and also involves a deadline, which will require me to get it done.

All those things I studied on for the past month also said setting new habits and/or goals is also easier to do if you announce your intentions to someone/anyone. I’m not certain who reads this here blog anymore, but I am hoping 2017 will be a return to longer-form writing instead of people zipping through useless, inane facebook posts or 140-character shorthand tweets. I have not been on facebook generally at all for over a month now, except to update the pages I am maintaining. I’ve found it to be a great relief not to be sucked into that time pit, and life is better for it.

Read more. Think more. Do more. This is my hope for my fellow travelers on this orb for the year. And it is also my hope for myself.

 

Saved

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.