Category Archives: Gardening

Posturing

Today: a respite from the rain. It wound up being hot and humid and miserable anyway, because it’s just that time of year for us.

While watching another storm blow up the other day, though, and waiting to see if I could capture some lightning on my camera (alas, no), I met this guy, looking fabulous.

Just one of the may critters that hang out at the ranch now, thanks to years of patient (and not so patient, sometimes) rehabilitation of the property.

The break in the rains allowed me to get a lot of mowing done – a good thing, as some areas were getting pretty hairy. One last section to go: in the beeyard, right up to the hive stands. I got most of yard mowed late, without having to climb into the beesuit to do it, luckily. The last bit will probably take all of ten minutes to complete, but since the vibrations from the tractor will disturb them, better to suit up and be safe.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be clear for much of the day. That will allow me to get more cuke seed in and – as ever – do more weeding. I really need to find a way to mulch or weedblock for things like carrots and lettuce to cut down even further on the overall amount of weeding that has to be done. I’m sure it will come to me when I least expect it.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Weed, man

Wait, that’s “weedS, man”.

So there’s this weed called chamberbitter. It’s also known as mimosa weed, and if you’ve ever had to deal with a mimosa tree spinning off its seeds and creating clones of itself everywhere, invading the land, you’ll know why.

This particular weed is extremely hard to control, and has a multitude of seeds under each leaf. This weed, like many in the gardens here, arrived courtesy of manure: cows eat them as they’re grazing, poop the seeds out, and then that manure gets hauled off somewhere. And they are legion.

A long row to hoe

All that stuff down the middle is mimosa weed. Its seeds germinate when the soil temp hits 70F, and for us that came pretty quickly this season. Since I was sick for most of the first part of the month, they gained a foothold here where the shelling peas were down the lines marked with the posts.

That rain also means the soil is wet and heavy. Between that and the weed’s solid rooting, it’s a tedious and sweaty task to get them out.

This is the result of two 25-minute sessions.

Unlike purslane, this weed can’t be sold to hipsters

It’s humid and hot here, and some things, like ridding this bed of mimosa weed, seem to take forever. I was going to put the cukes here now that I pulled the spent shelling peas, but I realized there was simply too much work to be done through this row before I could put anything else in it. The first of the cuke seed – 30 seeds each of two varieties – went into another row before the rains came. I still have four more varieties to get sown, and if I can get work stuff done at the NOC in a reasonable time, I might be able to get them in tomorrow before the rains come again.

Apropos of nothing, there’s this show on TLC called “Our Wild Life” about a woman and her family in North Carolina who apparently adopt animals. Not just pets, but farm animals like sheep and llamas, birds, lemurs, baby kangaroos, miniature donkeys, tiny pigs, and so on. There are a lot of animals wandering around inside the house, and my first thought when seeing that was about just how much poop is scattered about the place. For some reason, they’re showing some extended clip of their bible study with all the animals wandering around, and that’s the end of the line for me. Not terribly interested in that

That aside, until next time, peeps: be well.

Early season

The early season harvests are all about green stuff, with a splash of yellow: lettuce, kale, asparagus, chard, peas, zucchini, squash…..and green beans.

Like squashes, green beans are amazingly prolific. Unlike squashes, they’re much easier to store. We generally just wash and dry them, then throw them as is into the freezer. I have a commercial style freezer, so it doesn’t take long for small things like beans to freeze decently, and practically takes no time at all for even smaller things like peas.

This means when the green beans start coming in, we don’t have to gorge ourselves – well, fam and friends don’t. We can preserve the harvest in this case via simple freezing. We could pressure can them, but we have a simpler route in this case, saving space in the cold room, but more importantly, saving time.

I had predicted early last week that we’d start getting the initial beans to sample this past weekend. I was right about that.

This variety is called Provider. it’s fast, extremely productive, sturdy, and produces beans on two nodes. It also has some of the prettiest flowers.

Now that this planting is beginning to produce beans, I’ll be setting out another round. Succession planting will allow us to continuously have fresh beans from now until the end of the year, as well as allow us to put a ton of them in the freezer (and possibly sell the excess). After the first two full picks, I’ll pull the plants and throw them on the compost pile, as generally at that point the bugs have figured out the plants are there. By that time, the new round of beans I’ve sown in another area will be producing.  At that time, I may put in another round – it depends on how much we can sell and can/want to freeze.

So, I am steeling myself for the harvest. As you can see behind this mature bean, there are tons of young ones getting into gear.

That’s good eating.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Prepare yourself

Squash is coming.

I’m not kidding.

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

Squash and zucchini April 29, 2015

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

As you should be.

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

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

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

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

Zucchini and squash May 22, 2015

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

Giant zucchini, small child, May 2015

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

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

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

Squash, May 2018

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

Especially if you grow squash.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

Me against the lima beans

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

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

However.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Welcome to spring, Florida style

Finally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this

In just five days.

Things are looking up at the ranch.

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

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

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

 

What season is it?

Pollen season, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wabbits

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

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

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

 

Blank canvas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time, peeps: be well.