Category Archives: Gardening

Another week, another disaster

Disaster may be too strong a word, really. After all, everyone is alive, and healthy (well, not me, entirely, but I am alive, so fuck you, cancer aftereffects). It’s been a mighty weird week and to top it off, we got three inches of rain yesterday, flooding out some of the areas on the property. That mainly means the lower lying areas, but also includes the areas I’ve not yet worked on rehabbing that are mostly clay and hardpan a few feet down.  Those are the areas you can walk through when there is water and have your footprints stay as the water evaporates – sort of your own personal archaeological site to play in, if you’re of a mind to do so.

After that rain moved past us, it turned into a wonderfully cooler, breezy day, without the horrid humidity that plagues us during this time of year. Today is a lovely day and would have been a nice day to be working outside if I’d not had yet another meeting with an ENT to look at this lump in my neck. I think we’re all on the same page that it is most likely within the submandibular salivary gland, and at this point, the only real option would be some exploratory surgery to open up my neck, and either remove whatever the lump is, or remove that gland completely. The latter is  a difficult choice: radiation to the head and neck do a hard tango on the salivary glands, and I’m already missing the sublingual gland on the left side from the original surgery, so this is one of the few remaining, even if it isn’t working properly right now. In addition, the even more worrisome part is not actually the surgery, but the wound healing: the skin on my neck is not a good candidate for rebuilding the area post-removal, because of said radiation – even though the original cancer was all on the left side, the radiation treatment for it involved blasts to both left and right on my neck. So that rebuild procedure would involve taking skin from another area of my body, and since I do not exactly have, shall we say, as much padding as other people, I’d likely have to have balloons put in whatever area we decided would make the best place to grow what would be skin grafts for my neck. It’s a bundle of very serious choices. The easiest choice? Leave it alone, and I keep draining the thing of pus via whatever method it takes: either expressing it via that sublingual gland when the swelling is higher on my neck, or draining it wherever it pools up lower on my neck by opening it (or having it open spontaneously). This time, I opened it my own by puncturing my neck where it seemed the weakest point was – that is, where the pressure of the drainage is building up the most is where I cut it open when it gets too large and painful. Note: I do not recommend DYI doctoring, so don’t take this as medical advice. I’ve been through this enough to know what I’m doing and not break anything else in my neck, and when it’s too bad or I can get a lock on where the best place to open it is, I go to the doctor.

On another note, I’m pretty sure I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder some months ago. Probably from chucking the ball for the puppy – I have to keep in mind I’m no longer a 16-18 year old catcher trying to nail a base stealer. It’s quite painful, but with the gardens to have to deal with, I’m hoping some rest and ice will help it heal versus having to go through surgery on that front. For now I have two half working arms. That’s better than none, so we make do with what we have to get through, I suppose.

On yet another note, I participated in, but did not finish, Camp Nano this month. It has been a miserable failure of a month on the writing front. However, tomorrow brings the promise of a new day and a new month, and tomorrow and for all the days following, I write. This determination has come to me after reading two mysteries by the same author where the bad guy really appears out of nowhere in the last or next to last chapter, which is always irksome to me. Unless you’re writing an unreliable narrator like Christie in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, this is not fair to the reader. And if you ARE writing an unreliable narrator, it had better be damn well done – I’ve read enough attempts people have made to not yet find anything remotely touching Christie’s adroitness. Obviously, I don’t expect anyone to actually match her in this, but I think it is entirely possible to do it well enough without it being so hokey as to defy the suspension of disbelief by the reader.

I have pictures to get moved from my phone, which is randomly rebooting itself, to my computer to upload them here, and hope to get to that soon(ish). It’s on my rather lengthy todo list, which resembles in practice like Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper: it never seems to get smaller.

Until next time, peeps – and I promise to get back on the every day posting routine, no matter how mundane my life is, because it’s still good practice – be well.

Calling the season

After much thought – thinking on it for days and days, really – I decided to call it a season, garden-wise. I didn’t want to, and it pains me greatly to technically classify this as another lost season (i.e., a failure), but there has simply been far too many things going on, and I haven’t been well enough to keep on top of it.  I’ve elected to not do another round of tomatoes and cukes, as I had planned, and in fact, will not be doing any new rounds of anything at all, even brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower, which are much easier to maintain as they have fewer pests than other plants.

The peppers are doing well, as are the squash, so those will stay until they have run their course, because harvesting those and processing them is not terribly onerous, although it is time consuming to dry the chiles so they can be stored until the end of the season, nature-wise, in order to grind them into their respective powders.

There are two factors at work here: one, of course, and as my handful of readers know, is my health. I am still recovering from the rounds of pneumonia, and I have a lump on my neck no one seems to know what to do with. I also desperately need to gain some weight, which is a difficult task for me even under normal conditions. Thus far, every gain I’ve made this season is knocked back by work in the gardens – a vicious circle that has to be stopped if I’m ever to gain back even a fraction of what I’ve lost since last November through the various illnesses. When I’m healthy, of course, my body is not trying to burn calories to heal and burn calories for the grunt work that are the gardens here at the ranch. That double whammy is too stressful on my system, and beyond just gaining back weight, puts the removal of this feeding tube further out of reach.

The second factor? Time. I already gave up on the social media time sinks, just popping on to twitter briefly now and again, freeing up large chunks of time. But this season in the gardens, it has been taking me twice as long to do the things that are necessary and second nature to me than they do when I am healthy: I tire more easily, and since my lungs in particular have taken a beating, I can’t catch my wind well, as we say down here. For those of you not well versed in Southern-ese, it means I have a hard time catching my breath during exertion. Thus, the time that has gone into doing all the things that need to be done in the gardens, from starting and maintaining flats, to transplanting, to weeding, to bug patrol has skyrocketed, eating into time I need for other things.

So, the plan: the tomatoes are history, beaten down by too much rain in June, and too much pest and weed burden. Those plants will be pulled for the compost heap and the frames stripped of weeds. The frames where I had cukes and beans will be stripped, weeded, and covered as well. Where we don’t have commercial weedblock already in place, we’ll be putting down heavy mil black plastic to solarize the frames and kill off whatever still lurks in the top inches of the soil – pests and weeds both. The rows of tomatoes have weedblock in place, so will just need covering in the places the holes were punched for the plants.

When the peppers and squash have run their course, those plants will be pulled for the compost pile as well. The rows where the peppers are plants have weedblock, so it will simply be a matter of covering those holes as with the tomatoes. The asparagus rows need to be weeded, but those will not be covered; instead, we’ll use thick layers of straw there, to try to keep the weeds down. Ditto for the strawberries.

And so the rows will lie fallow this season, giving them a break from the constant use we’ve had going for the past however many years. In a month or so, we’ll pull back the cover, and put in some soil-feeding crop – some vetch, oats and winter peas is a good combination that I’ve used before, and I may put in some buckwheat and perhaps some clover as well. After those come up solidly, I’ll cut them off at the soil line, leave the cuttings right in place, and cover the rows up once more, letting it all die off. Before the spring, we’ll pull the covers back, top off the rows with soil and manure, and cover them once again. The rows where we only have plastic down we’ll swap out for weedblock right before transplanting begins. The rows that have bowed out sides from the pressure of soil have to be righted and braced better; that’s a cool weather job, as the edges have to be dug away so the sides can be returned to vertical and braced.

The time I’d otherwise spend in the gardens this season will instead go into the writing bank. I’ve been planning to work on this first book (of about 20, now) in my head since last year’s NaNoWriMo in November, but that got thrown out the window by illness and a bout with pancreatitis (note: the latter is painful as hell). So, I said, “I’ll start in December.” That also was derailed for the same reasons (note again: pancreatitis is a bitch!). I’d lost about 15 pounds over those two months, and headed into January swearing that 2017 would be better, and I’d be able to work on my writing. Enter the pneumonias, the surgeries, the ongoing issue with my neck, the further weight loss, and the time eating monster all of that created when I wanted to get the gardens going this year. The result: a big fat zero on the writing front.

I figure that by next year, when it’s time to get the gardens going once more, I will have regained some weight, which will help the overall health issues, especially when it comes to help keep something like pneumonia from landing me in a hospital bed with IVs in my arms, because my body will be in a better position to help fight stuff like that instead of trying to fight that sort of thing with little to no reserves available. That will also make keeping up the gardens not carve out huge chunks of time and instead return that to the more normal work time I associate with the gardens, leaving pools of time available for writing. This is the goal I’m working toward, and I do believe it is, ultimately, an attainable goal.

My next step from here is to continue to try to adjust my schedule properly in order to get the novel work done first thing in the mornings. Without the worries and constant “I shoulds” intrusions, about the gardens, my mind be free of the stress and guilt over that, which will help my mindset on the writing front. I’ll still be writing here, too, of course, as this writing supports other writing and vice versa. It all also helps continue building and reinforcing the habit of writing on a daily basis: mornings for the main work in progress, afternoons for things like blogging, fleshing out the ideas that pop into my head for other novels, working on poems, and so on.

So that’s the plan, peeps. I hope you’ll continue to follow along for my musings – even if I’m not working gardens this year, I’ll still be thinking/writing about the things that we will be doing out there this year, my thoughts about what to plant next year (and where and why), and of course I’ll still be working my bees.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

 

Touching yourself

That should bring the pr0n spammers around.

More accurately, the title of this post should be “NOT Touching Yourself”. Or “Wear gloves when working with chiles”. As in, don’t touch your face (or any other area) when you’re working with chiles and not wearing gloves, no matter where they fall on the Scoville scale.

In other news, we had almost an inch of ranch at the ranch this afternoon, with some giant cells moving over us. Huge thunderous roars came from the sky as it opened up on us and provided a light show.

I used Movavi* to do a couple of repeat clips at the end to show it in slow motion and then again in super slow motion. Very lucky to catch it, and it is awesome.

*No, Movavi does not pay me, and that is not an affiliate link. I have access to Adobe’s Premiere Pro, and that is a fine product, to be sure. But I don’t really have the time to spend figuring out everything in it when I can just slam some clips into Movavi, do a rough edit, and be done. I also have to redo all our tutorials on the “real” business side, as those are woefully out of date with the design they contain, even though the various functions operate mostly as they used to. Just another item on the todo list, which never goes away.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

 

Plans, we got ’em

This weekend: probably more on this server thing, but thankfully that is coming to a close, at least as far as our involvement goes.

Other plans: pepper picking time! The cayennes and paprikas are nice and red  – I noticed while getting some mowing time in. That means harvesting, washing, splitting, and drying. It also means a house full of the smell of drying peppers, which is usually not that bad, although there are times when the smell – of that or any other food – is nauseating to me.

I’ll also be making broccoli cheese soup, because I am getting kind of tired of shakes and formula. If things (like my back) hold up, I might even make some cheesy potato soup (with crispy ham!) as well.

And another trip to the NOC, to set up a machine for someone who is upgrading his existing server to a big dog machine, so that is one ray of sunshine in an otherwise shitty and even more sleep deprived than usual week.

On a completely other note, meteorology really is one of the few jobs that you can be consistently wrong and still have a job. Today’s forecast: no rain, at all. Literally, a 0% forecast. Then a nice cell rolled right over us and brought about .2 inches of rain. Not a lot, and better than none.

Also on the menu for this weekend: taking stock of my sad, sad tomatoes, seeing what can be recovered, going through my seeds and finding some short maturity varieties to start another flat, and, of course, weeding. The weeds are not as bad in the frames where we’ve gotten the plastic or the weedblock down, but the edges are a nightmare because of the bowing of the frame edges (to be fixed in the fall, because that’s a heavy duty job). It’s also time to feed the bees again: the other day, I added additional brood boxes to two of them, so they are making progress.

Right now: more database wrangling, and then a brief stop for a nap before getting back up and doing more.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Peppers, peppers, everywhere

Nor any piece to eat*

Not for me, anyhow.

A rare double post day! And a break from the tech stuff that weighs on my brain.

This is why red bell peppers are a) grown in greenhouses, primarily, and b) are more expensive (they take longer to mature to red from green; anywhere from 20-30 days). Outside, in Florida, in summer, the peppers are prone to rot, wilt, and scald, and it’s damned hard to get a bell pepper from green to red here growing them outside.

The chiles, on the other hand, generally have no issues with the heat and humidity, and usually when I lose a few of those fruits, it’s because I didn’t pick them in a timely manner. So far, they all look quite good.

The cayennes: very dependable variety here, called Cheyenne. I dry these and then grind them to make my own bottles of cayenne pepper powder for various things – bbq rub and sauce, my honey-soy shrimp, a dash into my roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup, beef stew, etc. It’s very handy to have on hand.

The jalapenos this year are a “gigante” version. I chose the larger ones since one of my sisters likes to make jalapeno poppers, and larger equals easier to stuff with whatever needs to go in them.

Poblanos: these are also good stuffed (chile rellenos, anyone?) as is, but most of these I’ll wind up drying, at which point they will become anchos. One of the weirder transmorgrifications, I think.

Finally: tabascos. I still have a bunch in the freezer from last year to make my own tabasco-based sauce. The last batch I made two years ago is almost gone, as everyone uses it for everything. Between last year’s harvest and this year’s, it’s going to be a huge batch of sauce. When I make it, I have to open all the windows, turn the fans up to high, and wear a mask. It’s why I don’t process them into sauce until fall, but last fall, I was sick throughout and the sauce making just wasn’t happening. This year, it will happen – and primarily because my mother keeps reminding me she’s down to her last bottle. Yes, mom.

It’s been an excellent pepper season so far. The tomatoes, though. Heavy sigh. Far too much rain in June here, and they are a sad lot indeed.

*What, you never read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? For shame!

More later, peeps. Be well.

Critters

Big mowing day today at the ranch. We’ve had a ton of rain, so there are still areas where it’s flooded and can’t be mowed. There are also places where the water has been absorbed or evaporated enough that the ground is springy, but not under water, so it can be mowed.

The problem with those areas is that they stink: a fetid, dead smell enveloping you as you drive by, cutting grass that’s almost hip high because the area was previously flooded.

In addition, in all of these area, the mosquitoes are heinous, even with the addition of mosquito dunks and granules thrown in to try to keep the larvae to a minimum. The mosquitoes are also gigantic, much like any other pain in the ass annoyance/invasive species down here: giant slugs, giant snakes, giant roaches, etc. I smacked three of them and left a bloody trail where they had landed and immediately tried to bleed me dry. But some of their buddies made it beyond my slapping and got me here and there.

In other news, one of the turtles made an appearance after I’d mowed the front of the property. This is one of the smaller ones. I think there are three living here, one of which is massive and probably quite old.

The kids had a good time crouching down with it, looking it over, and taking pictures. I’m sure the turtle was thinking what a horrible commute it was having.

There was also a small harvest going on: peppers, green beans, and sungold tomatoes. It was raining, so it was a bit of a short harvest, but the bell peppers are doing fantastic, the tabascos are beginning to fruit, the paprikas, anchos, and cayennes are producing crazy amounts, and the giant jalapenos (for stuffing) are just beautiful. There isn’t a ton of bug/critter activity on the peppers, and that’s good since I’ve basically neglected them. I’d love to have some of the green bells to age to red, but down here, leaving them past the green stage is usually an invitation to have the pepper get scalded or go soft. There’s a reason red peppers are generally grown in greenhouses and cost more than greens: they take longer and they need more specialized care.

Of course, once you harvest, you have to wash. There wasn’t much in the way of dirt or anything else on these, but someone loves to wash the veg, so of course…

She did an excellent job, too, even if she was eating every other sungold. Both the soul eating baby (kid, now, I guess) and the monkeyboy ate bell peppers like apples. There’s nothing quite like fresh, right out of the garden veg to get kids to eat their vegetables.

On not pushing

AKA: on not being a complete dumbass that you head out to do strenuous things just when you’re starting to feel whole again.

Today, a day when the forecast said 80% chance of rain, a day when that went to 0% chance of rain but overcast, would have been a fine day to do rounds of pulling weeds. But I didn’t, even though it wound up not raining today at the ranch.

After yesterday’s escapades with my guts trying to escape my body, I was a tad more prudent than I have been in the past, and I just said: nope. I stayed in, getting work done, doing end of the quarter stuff, finishing repairing my desk drawer as seen in a previous post, putting those things away, and so. For my efforts at minding myself, I was presented with just one horrible round of gut wrenching cramping.

Tomorrow, I plan to pop out to feed my bees and have a look at the peppers. There are some that have to mature to red before they’re ready to be put to some use: cayennes, paprikas, tabascos. As much as I’d like to get red bells out of the garden, so I can roast them and sock them away in the freezer for future batches of roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup – a favorite of mine, loaded with vitamins, fiber, and damn tasty to boot – it’s very difficult to get to stage red from stage green thanks to the weather and the bugs. The hot chiles are better about bugs (if I were a bug, the capsaicin would probably be a turnoff for me, too), but I haven’t really looked at those plants in about two weeks to see how the rains have treated them. The tomatoes are a disaster, this I know. It’s sad, because those really are the crown jewels of the garden, and it’s been a few years since we had harvests of any significance.

What I do not plan to do tomorrow is to go right back into overdrive mode to try to clean up a couple of months of lack of weeding in a couple of hours worth of work. I am slowly, every year, improving on what I’m doing out there to continually lessen the aggravation that is weeding, which will leave me more time to tend to the actual plants, do bug and worm hunts, and keep the plants productive for whatever their lifespans may be.

This weekend, I plan to start a new flat of tomato seeds, to see if I can squeeze in another planting. I tried this last year, but it didn’t work out well, as I started the flat too late for them to get going after transplant. This time, I’ll start earlier, and pick varieties that won’t (or shouldn’t) immediately keel over in August, the month of hellishness down here, and that have shorter maturity times, as it doesn’t make much sense to try to get a 90-day post transplant seedling to produce when that’s cutting to the very edge of what is the norm here toward the end of the year. I’ll also be doing some brassicas: broccoli, cauliflowers of different colors, and brussels sprouts, which I hate but other members of the family enjoy quite a lot.

Saturday is also July 1, the start of CampNano.  CampNano is a twice a year event put on by the same people who bring NaNoWiMo (National Novel Writing Month) to life once a year in November.  The goal for participants in NaNoWriMo in November is to write 50,000 words toward a novel during that month. CampNano, which opens in April and July, is a bit looser, and allows for almost any any kind of creative activity: revising, editing, writing poetry or nonfiction or essays music or pretty much anything else. There is no set target word count; each participant sets their own goal(s), whether that is to complete a revision, write/create x hour(s) a day or week, write something completely new, and so on. Participants are sorted into cabins, and can choose to create a cabin and have friends join it, or allow CampNaNo to assign participants to a random cabin, or to a cabin with other people in the same genre or pursuit.

I decided to throw my name into the participation bucket and I opted for them to group me with other people working on novels in my chosen genre (mystery, for this first book). A quick check this evening shows that there are 15 of us in the cabin, and I think that means we’re full up.  Time for us all to introduce ourselves, I suppose. For my goal, I want to complete the first draft of this thing that’s banging around in my head pretty completely. Those piles of notes in the picture from one of the previous posts does not actually contain a narrative outline for this book, because it’s almost fully formed in my head; however, I do plan on writing that narrative tomorrow or Friday to see how the scenes flow together on paper the way they do in my head. That way, I can pick out what doesn’t seem to work as well as I thought, rearrange it, and the story will be better for it, I’m sure.

If you’re an artist of some kind, you might want to check out CampNano. If you’re a novel(la) person, you might also want to check out NaNoWriMo in November, too.

For me, if this next month works out well, I may very well just start making every month a NaNoWriMo, in the same way I’m treating CampNaNo as one. After all, I have plenty of ideas.

Reinsertion

We’ve had the circus in town at the ranch: a few weeks of my sister, her toddler, and her three month old, in from Germany, staying here. That, naturally, brings in my other sister, her son, and HER toddler to the ranch on an almost daily basis, as everyone visits.  It’s a little insane.

Tuesday now, and the trio is off for the many-houred flights to get back across the ocean, the other trio is settling back into their usual routine, and the ranch is quiet again (except for the snoring of the big guy under my chair).

That should mean a return to my routine as well, but my routine has been, as we all know, shot to hell this year.

Saturday now – four days after I started typing this up, thanks to this or that, but mainly other, like heading to the hospital yesterday to actually walk into the medical records office because no one can find the fax we sent over a week ago for the records from this year to be sent to Mayo. It’s amazing in this day and age – and more amazing, considering the primary field I’m in – that records are still faxed hither and yon. Until there’s a unified, encrypted way to get records electronically from point a to point b, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Otherwise, this is how my spring/early summer life is going.

In previous years, I’d have been up to my elbows in cukes by Memorial Day, but that whole February incident really put me behind. The cukes, however, decided they didn’t give a rat’s ass when they were sown, just that they were.

The first to come in loaded are the gherkins. We don’t really do sweet pickles here – like, eat them out of the jar sort of deal – but we do go through a ton of sweet relish. So that’s what I do: a three day, lots of steps process to go from cuke to relish. That up there is the batch about to start the process (black pot). The silver pot next to it on the stove is sugar syrup I had made for the bees, and the far left is the canner.

The cukes destined for relish get two pickling salt brines, like this, the first one.

After the second saltwater brine:

A bit duller green, yes. How would you feel about 24 hours in saltwater? After this, they all get some poking to allow the first of the vinegar/sugar/spice mix to start infiltrating their tender, defenseless bodies, and into the hot pot they go. The spice bundle there is celery seed, pickling spice, whole allspice seeds, cinnamon sticks) and the color in the vinegar/sugar mix is turmeric.

For large batches like this, I use the bottom from one of the canners to lay over the cukes, because it’s the perfect size. A ziplock of water goes on that as the weight to keep the cukes submerged – you don’t want any air getting to them in this, they’ll get moldy and gross and be unsuitable for eating.

After a few more iterations of the vinegar/sugar soak, the cukes have lost a significant amount of volume, and the weight sits more deeply in the pot each time. This is the last one before they’re ready for the canning.

Then, the next tedious steps: chopping (by hand), filling jars, and topping off with the heated vinegar/sugar/spice mixture.

Final step after packing: processing in the canner – just a boiling water bath, as these are acidic enough to not require pressure canning.

And there you have it: relish. I’d guess this is why most people don’t make their own: it’s tedious, hard, hot work. It’s worth it to me, though, as everyone who can eat the stuff – not me, of course – likes it a lot.

 

The ranch workout is good for what ails you

Or, it may just be what ails you in the end afterward – sometimes, literally in the end, as your glutes are awakened by all the squatting, kneeling, and standing you do, over and over and over again.

Late yesterday, with some help from my sister, we got some weedblock down on one of the 50′ rows out back. We also confirmed something I already knew: I need a better solution for the side of the frames, which are bowing out from the pressure of the contained soil, even with bracing in place about every four feet. The issue with the bracing, I think, is that those are made of wood. My idea is to get some bracing on the outsides of the frames only, with rebar sunk at an angle toward the sides of the frames, and some conduit bent and fitted over that rebar. You can see the first test positioning of there here.

 

The reason we use raised beds in the first place is that digging down about a foot to a foot and a half runs into hardpan – that’s why nothing would grow when we first moved out here, or it would grow maybe twelve or eighteen inches before simply stopping: there was no way for the usual plants to punch through that, as they are not sturdy enough (and, there wasn’t a decent mix of nutrients in it, even if they could have, anyway). I’ve done a ton of rehabilitation on the property, and this is just another obstacle that will take patience and time. I’ll be testing a combination of daikon radish and alfalfa seed. Both of those can break through hard/compacted soil, and neither needs a ton of nutrients to do what they do. Besides breaking up the soil, they’re also ready-made compost, as I will simply be cutting them off at ground level and letting the roots die off underground – both the roots of the alfalfa and the radish (a root itself) will add nutrients to the soil so other things can go in those areas eventually.

Back to the ranch workout, though. We pushed out some of the indeterminate tomatoes yesterday. The indeterminates are the ones that need trellising, so those go between the fence posts that line the frames in the back. The determinate tomatoes don’t need trellising, but most need staking, as they can get pretty heavy from the fruit that’s hanging off them. The determinates are mostly the early variety tomatoes (Oregon Spring, Early Girl, etc.), and the sauce/paste/salsa tomatoes (Paisano, Mariana, Fresh Salsa). The determinates will set fruit all about the same time, which is why they’re great for making giant batches spaghetti, ketchup, pizza sauces, salsa, tomato soup, or just squeezing for fresh tomato juice, among other thing. They can also just be thrown into the freezer after washing (and drying thoroughly), for use in anything that doesn’t need to have a sliced tomato in it to eat fresh – pretty much any of those same applications.

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.