Category Archives: Gardening

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.

Cold before the warm

It’s sort of like calm before the storm, except better because after this little bit of cool weather at the ranch, we will hopefully be turning to spring for good. Not that cooler weather isn’t welcome – minus the freezing bits – but that little voice in my head is already yammering about splitting hives and transplanting from the flats, which are growing very nicely under the lights in the barn.

On another note, this ad keeps popping up during my surfing, and if you don’t look directly at it, and just catch it out of the corner of your eye, it really does look like a dick pic. Try it, you’ll see what I mean. Seriously, advertising people, did you not think this through at all? It has bonus negative points for having Doctor “There’s nothing I won’t endorse for money!” Oz on it.

Looks like a dick

Reclaiming your life

First off: an aptly named “megaton” leek. This has overwintered along with some close friends, and is now officially just slightly less in diameter than my wrist. I can hear you now. “What on earth am I to do with giant, mutant leeks, farmer?”

Megaton leek

Eat them, of course. Potato leek soup. Slice them thinly and add them to whatever dish you’re making that involves onions (just lessen the onion, and add some leek). Slice them, lay them out on parchment on a half sheet pan, freeze them, then bag them. They will last practically forever, and you can just reach in and grab some as you need. The possibilities are not entirely endless, but there are a ton of them.

So what is this “reclaiming your life” thing? It is: getting off social media instead of seeing all that time go down a black hole, purposeless and wasted. You might say to yourself that you’ll just spend ten or fifteen minutes checking in, and the next thing you know, it’s three hours later and you’ve not accomplished anything, gotten yourself pissed off or stressed out, or any other not very healthy thing. Plus, the crazy people pushing woo is simply unbearable. Other than posting something about people staying away from the ranch while I get rid of this pneumonia, and one phenomenal video of a guy singing Agnus Dei (Barber’s Adagio for Strings, if you’re not familiar with that), I have not been whiling away time on facebook, not getting other things done. I haven’t been keeping an eye on twitter. I’ve posted a few bee pics to instagram. And my life has improved for it, both from a productivity standpoint and a general sanity standpoint. It has also allowed me to return to the long form posting that just seems to be impossible on the various social media sites, as that is not what they are designed for, in the overall scheme – add to that weirdo algorithms that make people miss what you say (facebook) or trying to follow far too many people (all of them), and it’s just better without it. People who want to follow what I have to say will come here or to one of my other sites if they are so inclined, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I highly recommend leaving those things behind (except for business-related posts, of course) or at least setting an actual timer if you feel you must browse through what’s going on. You’ll probably find (as I did) that you’ve been spending way too much time on things that really don’t make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things. You’ll also probably find you have quite a bit of free time to work on doing whatever it is you really want to do. The benefits far outweigh the negatives of reading whatever people are having for dinner or that they’re going to the store (seriously, I’ve seen people post to facebook that they’re going to walmart). Leave it behind and reclaim that time and your life.  End of rant.

Given the erosion of the bee population at the ranch – one hive went queenless and absolutely refused to make another, even after three tries, another hive simply absconded for no apparent reason I could determine after examining the hive, etc.  – I ordered eight packages of bees. Two will ship in April and six in May, months that are not creeping toward us, but running at full speed as if we’re playing Red Rover, Red Rover. Yesterday and today, I finally got around to processing the frames of honey I had pulled in late December and January from various hives. Usually, I would leave them on, but since winter as most people know it hasn’t really paid us a visit at all save one night that got down to 23F and a few other random days and nights of cold weather, it’s been positively springlike here. Too much honey in the hives can leave the honeybound. That spells trouble as we jog along to spring, as the queens will be hunting around for somewhere to lay, and if they don’t like what they see or if the hive feels too crowded, they will swarm. Remember, last year we had a swarm in February. In order to get things going for spring, those pulled frames had to be extracted and gotten out of the way. Total: about 100 pounds of honey, which smells like it might be a bit fermented, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. It would be a shame to have to dump it, but unless I can find someone who wants to make mead with it, that’s what will happen. Pity.

Another sign that spring is barreling down at us: frog butts on the windows, and peepers singing at night, even though the nights are still on the bit chilly side. That’s when you know: get yourself together and start busting your ass to get things done.

First up: weeding. If I want to get sunflower seeds in, and start the first round of beans, the weeding needs to be done. That’s y goal this week, in addition to laying another brood box on the only single box hive still in the beeyard – which, handily enough, I can populate with some of the spun frames, as I had a dozen of them during the honey extraction process. Marvelous.

I hope you all are well and that life is treating you kindly – or if not kindly, at least with a sort of benign neglect that does not mean life hates you.

And for your parting gift

As my handful of readers know, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday (congratulations, Manning – please retire before someone takes your head off and you die on the field) and did my thing where I rate the ads. Side note: someone on twitter asked why people watched the  ads and made comments about those but not through the rest of the year. This should be obvious to the questioner, but apparently is not: the ads for the big game are supposed to be better and funnier, even though sometimes they fall flat. Good ads are noticed during the year, but there are far fewer of them, and most of the time, they are not funny in the laugh out loud sense.

The day after – and no hangovers here, as I can’t drink any more – was business as usual. Tuesday, however, started off poorly and rapidly got worse: after getting up in the morning, I went back to bed for a “nap” that was more like a coma, and slept until 5:30 that evening. Tremendously out of character for me, as those who know of my insomniac ways are aware. A few hours after being up, I once again went back to be and slept through to the next morning.

All seemed to be fine Wednesday, although I did take a nap that morning, for just a couple of hours instead of all day.

Thursday. That was the day the body marshaled all it forces to tell me something was wrong just after noon, by signaling a horrific pain in my left shoulder and an even worse one in my right upper chest. The  shoulder could be from anything, really – I had been to the NOC pulling some servers and racking another. The chest, though, is an entirely different story. Given my weirdo history, anything involving the chest generally rewards me with an immediate order for a chest xray, as it did in this case.

Verdict: pneumonia. Usually,  I get aspiration pneumonia, which is the type you often get if you have issues swallowing properly or fully and food or drink winds up in your lungs instead of your belly. Thanks to the (fuck you!) cancer rounds, this is my typical problem. There’s no real way to tell which type this is, but it doesn’t matter all that much as the treatment is the same: heavy duty antibiotics, which I picked up yesterday and will take for the next week. Fun times!

That means rest and light duty for me, but I still need to check my flats in the barn and check the feeders on the bees. I also need to prep for the upcoming season by ordering bee supplies, keeping watch on the girls to detect swarm activity, and so on, and this is very difficult when every breath burns and feels like someone is stabbing you with a dull knife. I shall, as always, carry on, because there is Shit that Needs To Be Done, and I’ll survive, as usual.

We’re forecast to have another evening right around freezing Saturday night into Sunday morning, with perfectly balmy temps after that. Those will be the days the girls start gearing up for spring and will be the danger times for swarms. We had the first swarm emerge last year toward the latter half of February – when honestly, we, or I, was not expecting anything of the sort. That’s a lesson learned: the bees don’t care about schedules. They care about the environment, both inside the hive and out. The only good thing so far about the swarm issue this year is that in my couple of examinations on the nicer days, I’ve noticed no drones. No drones = no mating partners for queens, although I have no idea if this makes a difference to them or not. Hopefully it does.

One of the hives (#9) has a ton of bees in it, or did when I last opened it. It might be good for not one but two splits from it, which would be awesome. That, however, also needs to wait on weather moderation and the availability of drones. If it gets warm and stays there, those splits might be done sooner than later.

In other news, the seedlings are emerging in the barn under the lights, and we’ve had no hitches in anything otherwise. Except the pneumonia thing. Thankfully, modern medicine is ON IT.

Stay well, folks, and I promise the next entry will have some pictures for your viewing pleasure (and a little teasing if you happen to be in one of those places frozen solid for four months out of the year).

First flats out

Finally, the first flats are out to the barn under the lights: three tomato flats, three pepper flats. Tomorrow, more flats, this time with the brassicas. A long day of mixing seed starting soil, packing the flats, seeding, covering, watering under the seeds (not on top – avoid damping off!), and hauling to the barn.

Beyond the brassicas – which sounds either like a cool book title or a garage band name – the weekend will be spent doing tons of weeding. A necessary evil as the season creeps up, but not bad for thinking or musing over plot points.

Doing the math

“I was told there would be no math!”

You were misinformed. All that stuff back in high school you’d thought you’d never use becomes quite handy when making plans.

2016 Planning

These particular plans involve mapping out the gardens, figuring up linear foot lengths, and calculating how much of any X can go into Y.

It’s heady stuff, really, although probably only exciting to farming nerds like me.

Still, it’s a useful exercise to know how much room you have. If we (I) planted out on a one plant per foot basis to fill all the linear feet in the rear, front north, and front south gardens (not including the herb garden), we could put in 2992 individual plants. If we ran the plants out on an 18″ basis, we could fit in 2157 individual plants.

Obviously, this is not something we will be doing. Each set of plants has an area it needs that we’ve seen be beneficial to it. Peppers and tomatoes? Eighteen inches. Summer squash and zucchini? They need about three feet, because they are gigantic. Carrots, onions, spinach, and some varieties of lettuce? Six inches.  When you plant, you have to know what kind of space to give something so they don’t crowd each other out fighting for resources and so there is adequate airflow between them, to avoid things like fungus or rot. The spacing also helps with things like worm control, as it makes it more difficult for them to move from one plant to the next without a good deal of effort.

The aim, overall, is to make as efficient use of the available space as possible, and account for both pulling of spent plants (determinate tomatoes, primarily) and rotating where you plant things not just year to year, but from one part of the season to the next, at least here since our season is long. And that, rancherinos, is why you need to be able to do math and strategically plan the things you want to do.

 

I coulda had a V8!

No, not really. I never like V8 when I could handle drinking it, and it isn’t something I miss now that I can’t.

One thing I realized I did not track down during my rampage of seed ordering: Hungarian Boldog paprika seed, since we are down to our last of the paprika powder made from the paprikas I grew two years ago. Boldog, for those of you who do not know this fun fact, is a town in Hungary in a region known for growing spice peppers like this. This variety is a hearty, elongated conical pepper, while another paprika (alma) is squat and slightly flattened. If you are looking to grow paprika peppers so you can dry and grind them yourself, I highly recommend boldog and not alma. They are more robust and easier to work with, even though the seed for them is sometimes difficult to find (and more expensive). Reimer and Fedco both usually carry boldog, and this year is no different.

On another note, if you want to buy some all-natural, organic, free-range (ha!) paprika powder at the end of the season, let me or Gabby​ or Chris​ know. Harvests for this one begin slowly in mid summer and build up from there until it’s an avalanche of them (the cayenne are like this, too). I have it in my mind that this year is going to be a great year for production on the ranch.

 

Starting right

Happy new year, Dear Readers!

We start off our new year by…sowing spinach seeds before the rains come to engulf us. Yes, even before coffee. Often, beginning anything prior to coffee after just a handful of hours of sleep is not a great idea, but at least this process is not terribly complicated.

For the rest of the first new day in the new year, I’ll be doing treadmill walks at halftime in the various bowl games, finalizing my seed selection and ordering from different companies, working (of course), and – drum roll, please – writing.

Here’s to a fine, productive, and prosperous new year.

Improvements

I’m back to hitting the treadmill, but decided to leave off the “working it out” titles on posts, since I wind up including other things in those posts, and you, Dear Reader, should not be fooled into thinking there will be just some boring story about exercise and elect to skip it. Instead, I’ll get to pull you in, unsuspecting, to regale you with tales of my not-terribly-exciting life that (from the looks of the archives) seem to follow a most Groundhog Day-like annual routine. For instance, at this time last year, I was doing the same thing I am doing today and have been doing the past few: getting all the seed information into a spreadsheet to decide what to buy and where to buy it.

Let me just say that 2015 was, from a farming aspect, terrible. Too many sicknesses and other things going on made the year a grind. On the plus side, we have all made it out the other end of the year, waiting to greet 2016 as it slides in and gets it feet under it.

It took Mother Nature a long time to get out of summer mode here. Last week, this week’s forecast looked as if she was just going to drop winter on us like and anvil in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Now, it looks more like fall (or fall-ish, as the case may be).

New year forecast

Since she is treating us so magnanimously, I decided to see if we could get a late year/early year crop in: I put in some carrots and radishes over the weekend, and today added some lettuces to that same row. My intent was to put in spinach as well, but the rains came – welcome rain, as we’d had none for weeks. Even without that rain, some of the radish seed I’d put in was already poking up through the soil, and today’s rain (and the rains to come) will help those along.

For the exercise bit: during the first bowl game today, I went out to check on and feed the bees. During halftime of the second, I hit the treadmill once more. I’m also planning another treadmill session during this last game of the night.

Currently reading:  A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow