Category Archives: Gardening

Three days of freeze

To be more accurate, that should be three nights of freeze, but it comes down to the same thing: we will be dipping down into hard freeze temperatures for more than a few hours come the first few nights of the new year.

It's gonna be cold out there, baby!

Altogether, that isn’t terrible, and certainly nothing compared to the tales that could be told by people in other parts of the country or world. But I don’t live there, I live here, and after almost a week of temps in the 70s (over 80 one day), the crazy nature of Florida weather once again rears its head for a reminder that there are actual seasons, even if we don’t see them all that much.

It’s that crazy nature that has the milder temp things popping up all over the place in my frames. Last year’s garlic was wiped out by the nonstop rains of a tropical storm, but this year’s garlic is motoring along with nothing more than an initial watering after planting and the occasional rain we’ve had – including the strong line of storms that moved through late last night as a precursor to the coming cold snap.

Garlic shoots

The strawberries are a bit off their schedule, too, with multiple plants flowering and putting out berries. They are everbearing plants, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we’d expected from them. And yesterday, we pulled the first pod from the snow pea trellis.

Snow pea pods

Mom judged the first one quite sweet, but alas, it didn’t taste like much of anything to me other than green. The smell, though, was fabulous: there is nothing quite like the fresh, earthy smell of something you’ve just pulled from the vine.

Tomorrow will be a test for me, to determine how best to cover the entire fenced area for the overnight hours. Some of the plants would survive a nuclear attack – thyme, I’m talking to you – but overall, I’d like to give all of the plants every opportunity to make it through the cold stretch and back into the more normal mild weather we usually enjoy down here.

Going green

In more ways than one. Followers of this homesteading saga probably recall that our soil, such as it is, mostly contains clay and on this lot in particular, sand. The sand is predominantly the result of this house being built after others were built; it was used as a dump site for fill dirt, excavated sand, and it’s rather remarkable the trash that continues to wash up as we receive rain here and there.

The problem with this of course is that beyond the scrub, the hardier weeds, and saw palmettos, which seem to thrive no matter what, it’s difficult to coax anything else from the ground. The guajillos loved it, the thyme I’d probably only be able to kill by setting it afire given its hardy nature, and the cowpeas (black eyed peas to those of you not from around here) were fine as well. The tomatoes couldn’t do much of anything, the bell peppers tried valiantly but only mustered two, and most of the seedlings just couldn’t hack it.

Getting grass to grow also proved to be a huge challenge: with nothing nutritious in the sand and the hardpack of the clay/sand combination making it virtually impossible for grass seed to take hold, it almost seemed that it would take many, many loads of topsoil for us to do anything with the barren front of the property. I’d rather spend the money for the topsoil to be put in the areas where we’ll be growing more productive things, really: four of the five loads we had trucked in went to the back, not only to give us something more to work with, but also, like the one load that went up front, to level out some of the hollow areas in order to give us better drainage.

That left us – or, rather, me – with the problem of the front of the property and getting grass in. It isn’t primarily to have a nice lawn. After all, if I thought no one would object too terribly much, I’d just as soon plant vegetables and fruit trees all around the front of the property. No, the primary reason to get something down out front is erosion. The wind here blows mainly from the plain…I mean, from the east to the west, and there is rarely a day with no wind. This results in the sandy part of the soil mix flying off, leaving only the hardpack. This further results in flooding, as the hardpack of course does not drain particularly well, as the older photos from our rain and tropical storms show. What is an aspiring farmer to do?

Lots of backbreaking breakup of the hardpack. Lots of organic additive to get something nutritious into the soil. Lots of grass mixes (fescues, perrenial ryes, bahia). And lots of hay, spread by hand after getting the seed down. This what it looks like on November 16. Some small patches of grass are there from the first attempt to just see what would grow with with seed put down and no other real work done beyond the addition of a bit of topsoil (not much).

Grass beginning

With a lot of other work, on December 2, it looked like this.

Grass, finally

And this is today.

More grass.

The edges of the area are places where no work has been done on getting grass down, as other work needs to be done first. The far area in the above image has a giant mass of blackberry bushes that need to be dug up and burned so they don’t reroot and come back. The pile near the left of the picture behind the tree is the debris, including saw palmettos, that Wade the tractor guy cleared out from these trees so we didn’t have to spend the time digging them out by hand. There is something to be said for doing that sort of work by hand, but there are also limits to the amount of time available when there is also a huge list of other property-related work that also needs to be done (and that is also much more fun, even if it is still hard work).

Sidling into the new year

Once again, here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Once again, it will be time for people to make a list of resolutions the cynic in me says they will never keep. Ironically, although I have never really been prone to making such lists, I had started one the other day, and one of the items on that list was to be less cynical about people and their motives. Another is to be calmer in the face of abject stupidity – I suspect that these two actually go hand in hand. Years ago – and this is many years, since it was two exes ago – I had a fairly profound interest in Zen Buddhism. Not to the extent that I am a particularly spiritual person. I am not. I am also not a religious person, much to the dismay of my sister, who is, and who finally settled on Catholicism as her religion of choice. Most of my interest in this is for the human factor, and to me it’s a lot like any other stress-reducing pursuit. As I was reviewing the past couple of years and all the assorted activities that have occurred, I told myself it would be worth my while to take up that interest again, and so I have. I expect this will help immensely in dealing with the people we have to deal with every day, and also help with the anxiety that every day brings as a result of that one singular day when the biopsy came back positive and the snowball that developed from there.

I also told myself that getting back out in the yard and working around the property will help, both physically and mentally. Getting the greenhouse built – what, you didn’t know that was planned? – will enable some experimentation with growing things out of season, inasmuch as anything really is out of season down here. This is Florida, after all. Plus, I’ve decided to take up another hobby: soap and candle making. Not very complicated (or, rather, only as complicated as you make it), relaxing, and in the end, a useful product, all of which satisfies both the left and right brain requirements. Who knows, that might be another side to the business here as well, but we’ll need a snappy name for it. My lack of sleep combined with one side of that (the soapmaking) may bring about echoes of something else entirely, but I think leaving out the underground fighting and general mayhem won’t be a real issue to overcome.

With all of that, plus two additional brands to finally launch, 2008 should be very active indeed. Here’s hoping it will also be happy, prosperous, safe, and healthy for everyone.

Planning for the harvest

“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

We don’t have any chickens around here (yet), and wouldn’t be hatching any babies anyway, since we’re only interested in fresh eggs, so I suppose it would be better as “Don’t count your vegetables before they’re grown” for me.

Despite the rather horrible output of the garden in the sand that is the lot – the most prolific things were the guajillo pepper, putting out a bucket of peppers, the thyme and catnip, that survived floods then baking heat, and wonder of wonder, the onions, which thrived and even crowded one another – hope springs eternal. With that and some frames to create some raised beds where you can mix a good soil instead of trying to do anything with a sandlot, you can actually grow some things.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to get outside to get some soil mixed for a frame to hold my garlic. Tomorrow – or today, as the case may be – will be the day, assuming that I manage to get any sleep at all this morning.

Heading into winter is also the time to be looking at seed catalogs, for spring planting. The way winter is going around here, it will be a little springlike for quite some time, but even if it isn’t, I have a plan. You’ll have to wait a day or so for details on that. In the interim, I’d like to blame, I mean thank, Steven for causing me to go to Seeds from Italy. Thanks to him, I now have all sorts of seeds ordered, some of which I plan to foist off on Stacy, as I can’t use five grams of carrot seed in this lifetime. I think. Unless I get a wild hair and decide to try and sell some of it. Those items will be in addition to all the things I’d like to get growing next season after this season’s stuff is harvested.

It’s c-c-c-ooold outside

People have this rather idealized vision of Florida. Every street is lined with palm trees, and the weather is always fabulous.

Except, of course, when it is not.

We do, on occasion, have freezes here. The fact that they are bookended by 75-degree days should not fool you: when it gets cold here, it gets cold in the same way it gets cold elsewhere. Frosty, even. And I have proof.

The little blades apparently forgot to bundle up.

The big smoker, on the other hand, had cuddled under its protective tarp.

I’d covered some of the plants, and moved others into the garage, but some – brassicas – didn’t need that and will actually come out healthier for a bit of a cold snap.

The garden area is where the sun hits first, so they thawed pretty quickly.

They were none the worse for their one night with 25-degree temps.

Day tripping

For months now, we’ve been talking about heading south a bit to a real, live farm where they raise real, live grassfed beef, organically. There always seemed to be something interfering, but last week, after dithering on it, we finally said enough: we’re going, on Thursday, to Citra, which is about an hour south of here in the midst of horse and farm country. Which means that it’s really in the midst of a whole lot of nothing.

After driving through various small towns…

…we wound up at Rosa’s.

Off to the right is the start of the actual farm, which is also where they live, so no pictures of that. I can say that it was a perfect, crisp day, the fields were green, and there were cows moooving around on the fields.

There was also hay for sale, and we picked up a couple of bales to put around the plants that are sitting in the raised beds here (more about that later).

The office is guarded by a rather amusing cowboy and his chicken.

Inside a small office, the only case without a lock on it was the refrigeration case: cage free organic eggs, and organic butter, both of which we picked up in addition to everything else.

What everything else? Ah, you’ll have to wait. After packing everything into the coolers we’d brought, and having one of the guys load the hay, we set off back toward the homestead. We tried to stop in Cross Creek at a restaurant called the Yearling Restaurant – based as it is in the hometown of a rather famous author – to have some cracker food, but were a tad early, as they don’t open for business until dinner on Thursdays. It’s on the list for a return visit.

Instead, we stopped by a place called Cracker Boys, which apparently has not yet been sued by a rather large chain of restaurants.

The boy was hungry.

So were we, and we opted for the buffet while the kid had a burger.

It was passable. The only gripe I have about buffet-style food (and quite a lot of other restaurant food that isn’t a buffet) is that it’s so very bland.

We hit the road for home, catching up with and passing a train on the way. I love trains.

We also stopped by Norman’s on the way back to pick up some fresh veggies.

We needed those things to stock the fridge but also to go with the dinner we’d decided on, which was selected from the assortment we’d picked up at Rosas – this assortment, to be exact.

The winner: rib eyes, grilled outside. We also decided to stoke up the firepit.

Gabrielle joined us as well.

Simple is better.

Much, much better.

How about a little fire, scarecrow?

Or, how about some veggies and steak?

Dinner!

And so it goes

Every so often, I look at this blog and wonder if it’s worth the bother. I think my life must be terribly uninteresting and the failures here at the homestead have far outnumbered the successes in the gardening realm. Still, on the rare occasions that someone does come by, as my aunt and uncle did this weekend, and looks at the place with their eyes instead of mine, it reminds me that being too close to something can give you tunnel vision sometimes.

So here’s what’s been going on around here of late, beyond the workaday crap that made August a hellish month, stress-wise – a month in which I managed to lose eight pounds, dropping me to 100 even. I’m working on keeping the needle there and climbing, and thus far, the “keeping the needle there” part is working out better than the “climbing” part.

I had worked my ass off to prep a bed of corn, which started out well.

Very well.

And then, there was zero rain. None. Zilch. Nada. So I was trying to water. Then I had some kind of animal run through this back side of the plot – probably the damn dog next door, who is forever running all over our property. And then these critters showed up, along with the corn earworms.

I don’t think I could have done enough to turn that plot into arable soil that would sustain growth to maturity. Between all of those factors, the corn withered, and eventually had to be cut down. A total loss of the time and effort spent.

I’d put in a line of limas, which I hate, for other people to eat. Out of eight seedlings, two survived. Neither has put out any beans as of yet, although they both have flowers.

I had also set up several cucumber plants, of two varieties: picklers and lemon cukes. One of each survived, and this lone pickler, along with one lone lemon cuke, are the output so far.

Continue reading And so it goes

Let there be green

Garden two, after manually turning the soil, and adding half a ton of topsoil and compost, then manually turning that in and manually forming the wide hills, on June 28:

What to plant, what to plant…I know! Corn! And lots of it!

July 10:

July 16:

July 26: