Category Archives: Homestead

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 I also have to redo all our tutorials on the “real” business side, as those are woefully out of date with the design they contain, even though the various functions operate mostly as they used to.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.

It builds character

Stressful/rough times. Isn’t that what “they” say, whoever “they” are?

Day four of server recovery. Every single tool we generally use, whether main or fallback (and I’m talking about actual scripted code for processing) is hosed.  So, once again: no writing. Instead I will be manually creating a server’s worth of accounts on a new server, then manually creating archives of user content, database, mail, mailing lists, forwarders, and every single other thing that an account requires, porting those over to the new server, and manually unpacking everything.

Fortunately, a little bash know-how allows me to set off a series of commands to, say, crunch all the /home directories of the users without me having to babysit that or having to do them one by one myself. Ditto for databases. The most tedious part is going to be to recreate the database users to add them back to each user’s databases based on the config scripts I’ll have to manually track down within their site files.

It’s going to be a long day. And a day when I could be outside working, too – mowing, pulling weeds. We got about .3 inches of rain late yesterday afternoon, so that was good, but naturally it starting coming down when I’d already decided to water the gardens. Today through Saturday, it’s supposed to be clear, or at least partly cloudy. Guess I’ll try to get some outside time tomorrow and Friday, mainly for mowing. The chicken yard and the west yard desperately need a trim, as it’s now been three weeks. And then by the time I get those done, it will be time to start all over again in the front, which I mowed last Friday. The grass down here doesn’t need a ton of TLC to use any bit of rain plus the dew every morning to shoot up like a teenager going through puberty.

But I’m hoping to get some writing on those mornings while waiting for the grass to dry so it can be mowed. Cutting wet grass is really a no-no and shouldn’t be done unless there’s some urgent need to do it. Back to the point: this morning on my third natural wakeup call from my insomnia, I hauled myself out of bed. That was at 6:30 AM, within my target/plan of getting up anywhere from 4:30 to 6/6:30 or somewhere in there. That new habit forming routine is underway well, I think.

More later, 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.

What’s that smell?

“Your upper lip.”

That was a joke in my family that, as kids, we found vastly amusing. Another one that was equally giggle-worthy to our pre-teen brains was when someone said “excuse me”, and someone else would say “There’s no excuse for you!”

Kids are silly.

The smell was not, as it happens, my upper lip. Today was round one of mowing. It’s rare that I will do all the mowing on the property in one go, because it takes about three hours plus change to do that on a regular-size growth of the areas that need to be mowed. Because I’d been in the hospital, I missed my mowing date earlier this week, and things were a bit higher than usual. In addition, all the areas that had flooded with the daily rains we received in June are now dry – because we haven’t received any rain of significance since July 1. Such is Florida. Those areas could not be mowed while they were under water, and the grass in those areas today was almost up to my hip. Today’s session of three parts of the first group of areas I usually do in a batch took almost three hours by itself.

One of those areas is outside the gates of our tiny development here. We don’t have a HOA (how I hate them!), which is terrific, but that also means when something needs to be done, like a fix for the gate, someone has to organize it, then divvy up and collect everyone’s share of the cost to fix it. No problem for me on that; there’s a guy down the road who handles those sorts of things.

It also means we don’t have a HOA to hire a lawn service to deal with the hedges at the gates or the grass that we are responsible for, from the gates to the main road. For awhile, the guy across the street from us – the guy who has a garage mahal that’s almost as large as his house – had a lawn service, and they would mow out there. He dumped them at some point, and a couple of times he did the mowing outside the gates, then for some reason, he stopped. Since it needed to be done then, and needs to be done now, I’m doing it.

Today was one of the few days that the county doing their mowing jobs of the strips on the sides of the roads and in the ditches/swales coincided with my mowing, something that doesn’t happen often. They, of course, are in air conditioned cabs. Yours truly is on a lawn tractor, without a shade. As I started my run out there by the road, I noticed they’d missed a spot at the end of their responsible area. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just run over it and it will be done, too.

As I neared that spot, mowing around the telephone/electric pole in that side of the of the outer gate area, the breeze kicked up and I got a snootful of the most horrid smell, but one I know: death. For awhile now, I’ve been wearing a mask as I mow, as it isn’t good for my lungs to be inhaling all the things that get kicked up during that mowing time, but some of the odor managed to get through then and a few times as I went back and forth on that side of the areas outside the gates.

I thought, ugh, something has died, fairly recently, and the wind is bringing it to us. I got up on the spot the mowers had “missed” and found that the wind was bringing that smell from much closer than I imagined: there was a dead raccoon at the edge of the road there, baking in the Florida sun (it was 96F when I went out to mow). How did I know its death was fairly recent? I’ll tell you:

First, the body was pretty intact. A lot of times around here, when something dies near the road, they’re usually run over a few times. This poor creature wasn’t.

Second, it wasn’t bloated (yet). If something sits long enough in our heat, it starts to bloat as the insides get hotter and hotter. It didn’t look too much bigger than a regular sized raccoon to me.

Third, and finally: nature’s clean up crew had not yet arrived to start dealing with it. We have tons, and I mean TONS, of turkey vultures around here. Last weekend when I went to the store, I saw not one but two individual examples of those birds at work. Today, as I was mowing, I’d not seen any on that raccoon, hopping around as they jockeyed for the power of having the first go, and there were none circling above in the sky. That tells me the raccoon’s death was recent: they had not gotten to it at that point.

I had to stop after just those three sections for a few reasons: almost three hours bouncing around was eating into time I was supposed to be on the helpdesk, I’d used almost a full tank of gas on the tractor (that one tankful usually allows me to finish four or five sections in this particular area group), I was getting hungry, and I was sweating so much that my hands were slipping on the wheel, no matter how often I was wiping them on my equally sweaty and wet shirt.

It was a bit windy, as I mentioned, everything is quite dry from no rain, and I was filthy, covered in dirt from head to toe. After getting the tractor cleaned and back in the shed, I got a shower, had some lunch, and worked.

And now, I’m eating again, a bit sleepy, planning my day tomorrow, but planning to write this evening despite the fatigue as my “real” work slows down for the weekend, since that’s the time I have for it. Between Wednesday evening and this morning, I had four more ideas for stories involving the main character in the book I’m working on. Clearly, I don’t lack for ideas, as one of the previous posts showed. Some are more fleshed out than others, and I thought of a title for one of the new ones last night when I was trying to get to sleep, and just as clearly as being overflowing with ideas, I need to write faster. Much faster, and much more regularly. Getting the writing in each day can be a struggle, as of course the “real” work is often unpredictable, given the nature of it, but it’s time to take what I can get, when I can get it, and, as Neil Gaiman says, make good art.

That’s it for this one, peeps. More later, as always. 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.

Where there’s a will

The thing about owning old-style crafted anything – like desks, for instance – is that when it comes to repair and you don’t have a full woodworking studio and all the tools that come with it, sometimes you have to improvise.

One of the drawers has been sticking, badly, and I finally got fed up with it tonight. I unloaded it and found the sides of the drawer were bowing out of their joints at the front. There are no nails or screws in the construction of the drawers except in the handles: the sides were simply groove cut in a tight fit and glued. So, to get them back in order, I brought out my handy wood glue. On a tangent here,I also use the glue on the joints of the bee frames when I’m building those, as well, to supplement the staples, as the bees propolize everything and the top joints get the most pressure when you’re trying to get them out for inspection. Tangent over.

I reglued the joints and then used some heavy things I happen to have around instead of going outside for (wet) bricks. Books, of course. After this dries, I’ll turn it over to do the other side, using the same weights. There’s a notch toward the front so a metal frame for folders can be placed, but the frame joints are 1/4 inch, and the notches are slightly smaller than that – no doubt this is what has caused the tops portions of the sides of the drawer to lose their grip and not seat firmly in their joints. Luckily, I do have a 1/4 inch wood chisel to open those notches just a hair in order to get the metal frame to sit evenly.

Once this is repaired, it won’t be such an ordeal to get the drawer open and then closed once more, and that is a Good Thing.

 

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.