Category Archives: Homestead

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.

I am not a Scorpio

I’m a Pisces, astrologically speaking, if you’re into that sort of thing. But I had a visit from a member of that group. An actual member.

Scorpion, now deceased

The most common one we see at the ranch is the Hentz striped scorpion – that’s the critter above. It’s the most common of the three types found in Florida, as it happens, and none of the three are lethal. Their stings can be painful on the scale with a wasp or hornet sting, though. How do I know this?

Because that critter there got me, twice, the other night when I went to bed. Somehow, it got into the house. Then, somehow, it made it to my room. After that, somehow, it managed to crawl up into my bedsheets. When I laid down, it went under the sleeve of my shirt, near my armpit, and, feeling threatened at that point by the motions of my arm and the tightness of that space, proceeded to sting me. Twice. I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on at first – I thought perhaps I’d carried a bee with me all day long and she’d finally had enough, but when I hit the flashlight app on my phone and looked, there it was. I flung it on the floor, and let me tell you this: those things can move fast.

It was just shy of three inches long. Was is the operative word, as that scorpion, like the parrot, is no more. But it did give me the creeps and now when I finally get to bed, at whatever oddball time that is, I have to scout around to make sure no other visitors from that particular clan are looking to abuse my hospitality by invading my house.

 

Tuesday’s child is NOT full of grace

In the tech world, for some reason Tuesdays are generally the shittiest days. Problems are extra large, people are extra dense, ticket volume is extra high, and everything just seems to be a bigger pain in the ass than it usually is. Generally speaking, all my days are pretty much the same – to the point that sometimes I don’t even know what day it is – because I work every day, anywhere from 12 to 18 hours, doing something. So I take Tuesdays in stride, because often some other whack-a-mole will pop its head out on a day other than Tuesday, and to me,it seems like Tuesday even if Tuesday is just lending an outfit to another day.

However.

Today was my personal Tuesday. It started off very calmly. As Stacy astutely points out, that’s sometimes a warning indicator, i things are far too calm. Turns out, this was one of those times. Got my breakfast, got a shower, headed off to pick up a paper scrip from one of my docs because the med contains a scheduled drugs so cannot be called in – thanks a bunch, Feds, for making it annoying for those of us who actually need the stuff. It’s a 35 to 40 minute drive to that particular office, as it’s on the other side of the world from the ranch. Picked it up, got back in the car, and started my way toward Publix, to get the thing filled, plus pick up another that was ready, along with a few assorted other items.

On my way there, I get a call from the ranch: the electric company dude who reads the meter (they just drive up the driveway to the house and use their reader without getting out of the pickup, yay technology!) managed to back into and snap a stub that is a water line. To the house. Since Gabby was there with some worker bees, they shut off the main valve that leads to the house. Therefore, no water in the house or to any of the irrigation piping until it’s repaired.

Change of plans: we have no spare 1″ PVC lying around. Everything is the wrong size. We do have couplings, and they assure me we have pipe dope. Off to the big orange store. I pop in, pop out, hustle back to the car. In the parking lot, some guy gives me a shout, starts walking toward me with his hand out, like he wants to shake my hand and says, “Hey, how you doing?” and who obviously either wants to sell something, or get something. I say, “Sorry dude, in a hurry.” and I head back to the ranch, where…

…we do some test fitting, cutting down – with a mini coping saw, because the PVC cutter I had once upon a time I cannot find – test fit things, judge it good, and get ready to finalize it. No cement. Primer, yes. Cement, no. I dig around in various places, and in a drawer I come up with cement that a) I do not prefer and b) is old, so questionable. We try it anyway, allowing it to set, then turn on the water. Sealant: fail. Off I go once again to the big orange store, and since I’m already out again, to Publix to get the other stuff for the ranch.

The big orange store has all the things I need – including a ratcheted PV cutter – and I also spy some couplings that have rubber seals and teeth to grip the pipes when they’re inserted. No cleaning, priming, or cement required. I also find a combo cleaner, primer, cement in a handy spray bottle just like spray paint. Why did it take this long to come up with this? I pick up both, along with traditional blue dope, and head to Publix, where…

…as I’m giving the scrip to the tech along with my ID, and she’s reviewing it, she says, “Oh, no. They didn’t date the scrip. We can’t fill it.” Argh. I take the scrip back, pick up the other stuff, race back to the ranch, where….

…I redo the bottom fitting in the traditional way, but cannot get the top fitting off to redo the cement on that. Fine. I do the bottom, allow it to set, wipe off the excess, and then the valve to get the water flowing again to test it, only to find….

….the top seal is definitely not going to work. Fuck. I turn off the water, cut the pipe off at the ends of the couplings, which requires digging out the bottom part of the stub a bit, get the other part of the replacement PVC I didn’t use, and cut it down. Instead of dealing with the traditional prim/dope method, I slip the newer coupling on to one end and use my body weight to push the piece snug and it clicks into place. The other coupling goes on the top connecting pipe, and I cut down the replacement pipe a couple of times until I can get it to slide under the top coupling (after pushing that part slightly to an angle in order to do so. I push down with all my weight, but can’t get it to snap into place. I grab a rubber mallet and pound the damn thing until it gives a satisfying snap. Finally.

Time for a test! I open the valve, and the pump kicks on. The couplings hold and are not blown off by the pressure. There are also no leaks at the joints. Yay. I head inside, turn on some taps and the tub in the master bath to force the pump to cycle on and off to make sure any pressure changes don’t damage the joints. it doesn’t. Problem solved!

By now, I’m drenched in sweat and my pants are sliding further and further down my hips. I have a massive spasm going on my left side, from my hip all to the way to my face. I decide – it’s now 4PM, and I left the house about 11AM originally – it’s time for lunch. Except…

…it pops into my mind that the bees need to be fed. Luckily, I had already made their syrup this morning, so I poured the jars, climbed into my suit, went out, and changed their bottles. It’s very still, with no wind, and very humid, and I’m sweating even more in the suit than normal. I head back inside, peel out of the suit, and get lunch started, only to be hit….

….with a massive new spasm that takes my breath away. I lean against the counter to let the worst of it pass, then grind up my antispasm and other meds and finally get lunch made.

Then I find out Comcast is not willing to run access to our one road development: there are too many people on the loop they have at the road now, and they estimate it would cost them $250K to do our road. Fuck. The corporate guy suggests we call our local Comcast office and have them call in to corporate. Yeah.

So, thanks, Tuesday, for fulfilling every expectation I generally have of you. But you can go now, really. Seriously.

The evolution of frames

Eight years.

That’s how long it’s been since I moved out to the ranch.

The first couple of years were mainly spent working to rehab the property: filling dumpsters with what was likely decades of trash that people just dumped wherever they liked because the property had been not a part of the state forest it abuts, but a similarly wooded parcel to which they had access. Getting good soil going at least to get grass to grow in what had been a sandy, beach-like property because the developer had scraped off the topsoil and sold it off. Working to get plants and trees in place so the wildlife – lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes, you name it – would come back. Those were hard-working, back-breaking years. They were worth it.

Ultimately, we decided that if we waited to plant gardens until the soil rehab was at least almost to completely done, it would be another five years before we grew any of our food. Instead, we built framed beds, filling them with a mix of topsoil, manure, and perlite, the latter to help provide some aeration in the mix instead of having every frame be composed of soil that would settle, become difficult to work, and have no give or good draining at all.

So we did. The first frames were 4′ by 4′, built of wood, each separated by a couple of feet as walkways. This led to some inefficiencies, as each individual frame then had to be watered, and drip irrigation was impractical, as there would be loads of connections that would have to be run from one frame to another.

The next iteration was 4′ by 8′ frames, also built of wood, butted up against one another in long rows. The longest row was 4′ by 42′. This made watering much simpler, as long lines of drip tubing could be laid all the way down the line.

The problem with those, of course, was the wood. It warps after enough time in the harsh environment here, and eventually starts rotting. We went with those for a couple of years, until finally hitting on a better solution: frames made from 22 gauge roofing metal sheeting. Cut in half lengthwise, they were screwed together at the seams of each 8′ length, and plain squared balusters (cut down to size) used to provide some structural support for each “wall”. All of our beds are now built out this way, although we do have an issue with some of the balusters rotting from being in contact with the moist soil all the time. On some of them, the screws have popped out because of the way the wood expands and contracts in the weather. Some of the frame sides have bowed out, as the pressure of the soil exerts an outward horizontal force. For those, the solution is to shovel the dirt away from the sides of the frames, reset and reseat the supports for the side, then pull all the soil back into the trench along the side of the frame. As you might imagine, this is more back-breaking hard work, and something I leave for the fall/winter to get done instead of trying to do this during the main growing season in temperatures that hover in the mid-90s to the 100s throughout.

The good thing about the metal frames is that they will last for a significant length of time before anything needs to be done with them – if anything ever needs to be done with them at all. A bonus of this use is that unlike the wooden frames, which break down, rot, and become something that isn’t good for much, the metal frames are steel, so they can go to the recycling center.

Although it took some years of experimentation and use to get to this point, it has served us well since the final frame type was put in place, and now we have spent much, much less time on frame maintenance than we did with the wooden equivalents. That time, recouped, is now spent on other, more productive tasks.

My hero

The cucumbers, running rampant in he front garden north, got some trellis work today, and the green beans, caught in the tentacles of those cukes, were freed to go about their business.

When I completed multiple levels of trellising on both sides of the cuke runs, I found my hero standing over the dead body of one of his enemies, which he had been stalking for a few days now.

Fearless mole hunter

The common eastern mole, making messes of yards everywhere for eons.

Dead mole

I did not cut it in half with the scissors, no. I just didn’t have any gloves with me during that particular excursion to the garden, and simply used the tool I had to pick him up and toss him over the fence into the ditch area by the road to allow nature’s cleanup crew (vultures, ants, etc.) take care of it.

Necessary things

Not Needful Things – that is, of course, a book by Stephen King doing what he does best. No, “necessary” things. The things that must be done at some point, regardless of how you feel, regardless of all the other things you have on your list of things to do, but not entirely regardless of the weather. Today’s necessary thing: mowing, at least the north and east sides of the property. It’s hot. Very hot. The heat index is 100+F. It’s quite dry. It’s very dusty.

But it’s necessary to get it done. In the same way it’s necessary to check the new bees every day to see if they need to be topped off with feed so they don’t starve. In the same way it was necessary to go out to the chickens twice a day when we had chickens at the ranch.

Today, two hours buzzing around on the tractor earlier, and 3/4 of the mowing is done. Tomorrow I’ll knock out the remainder, which includes the western part of the property and the beeyard (for which I don my suit, and must look quite the spectacle). Then we’ll be done for another week or so, and perhaps by then, the pneumonia will finally be kicked the curb and stop interrupting the flow of my life.

Running amok

As promised, a pic of the front gardens cucumbers, who are far outstripping their colleagues in the rear gardens. This is what happens when you get a raging case of pneumonia that knocks your schedule completely out of sync and keeps you from doing the rather mundane tasks like trellising work to keep pace with certain plants.

Cucumbers, front gardens, 2016

This is actually three rows of sown seed: the two middle rows are a couple of different varieties of cucumbers. The right row is green beans (variety: Provider, which is more reliable and productive than anything we’ve tried). This picture was taken a week or so ago, and does not adequately reflect the way the cukes are planning hostile takeovers of the frame to the left or the asparagus  in the background at this time. It’s something I’m going to try to address this weekend, and hopefully the pneumo, which has been with me for more than a week now instead of the more usual five days, will let me out of its grip.*

*Yes, I know, it’s strange to call pneumonia “the usual” in any way, but this is yet another of the ongoing gifts from cancers I should never have had. Fuck you, cancer.

Time for lunch

A small pair of birds built a nest in a ponytail palm we had brought up on the back patio during one of the more frigid evenings in our “winter” season. We hadn’t quite gotten to putting it back out before they started building, and when we realized what they were doing, we couldn’t move it at that point – that would be rude!

The female laid a total of four eggs, and on our occasional peeks, it seems all of them hatched into the usual ugly, reminiscent-of-dinosaurs babies. We have some pics of them both pre and post hatching, but for now, a little clip of one of the parents bringing home the bacon, as it were.

20160424 PM feeding

All hail the new queen

Late yesterday, I had the new (to me) experience of watching a new queen emerge from her cell.  Fortunately, I had taken the camera out with me and was able to capture it for other folks to see.

How it came about: I was dealing with a swarm and checking a hive for queen cells, only to find a queen cell, just opened, and the new queen emerging. It took almost 25 minutes for the queen and the workers that figured out what was happening to get the hole opened widely enough for her to get out. Then yours truly, while attempting to bet the worker bees out and keep the queen in the cup so I could mark her, allowed the queen to scurry off into the hive. I did a check for her, but by the time all this finished, my smoker was out and it was dusk. I had to end the hunt as the girls were getting a bit peevish.

Lesson learned: just capture them all, and then go about dealing with getting the workers out of the cup so the queen can be marked.