Category Archives: Homestead

One not so fine day

Timing, I like to say, is everything.

Corn AM, June 12 2008

During my morning rounds, I’d mentioned to mom that I should put together some kind of bracing for the corn, to keep it upright as it started to bear. I’d not noticed any tiny ears forming as yet on that morning, but the time was approaching.

Corn AM June 12 2008

I put that task on my list, then headed off for the rest of my rounds and all the other assorted things that already populated that list.

I suppose I should have moved it up the list a little.

Corn blowdown June 12 2008

Yes, that is my lovely corn, blown down by a fairly severe storm that rolled through. I was of two minds about saving it: on one hand, we were about a month away from actual corn. On another – well, would it be too damaged to stand, or something that couldn’t be replanted, and how much of my time would it take to try to recover it instead of replanting it?

What fool tries to save blowdown corn? One who sees this when they’re looking over the damage.

Corn ears June 12 2008

Closer inspection done while I was crawling through the frames showed quite a number of tiny ears forming. The decision at that point became a simple one: figure out a way to save it, if at all possible.

Besides, there were others who needed their homes.

Frog in the corn June 13 2008

Springing to summer

Our spring, such as it is, yields early and quickly to summer. We are already seeing summertime temperatures and weather – like the afternoon storms that blow through each day. I am still convinced that the ranch is in some kind of Bermuda triangle-like zone where most of the normal Florida type weather passes by. Two days ago, a large, severe storm hit the area. In town, very heavy rains and hail the size of golfballs came down. Here, we got some rain and a spattering of tiny hail that melted as soon as it hit the pavers. Not that I am unhappy about that, mind you: I’d prefer that all the plants not be destroyed in a hailstorm.

So far this season, we have picked about ten quarts of blackberries.

Blackberries June 1 2008

That, as they say, is a mere drop in the bucket given the sheer number of blackberry vines growing wild on the property. We’re going to try to gather as much as we possibly can, though, before the brief season ends. We gathered the above before this storm rolled through.

Storm June 1 2008

Finally, hints of orange-gold.

Sungolds June 2 2008

The first sungolds are coming in.

Sungolds June 2 2008

The squash and zucchini continue unabated.

Squash June 2 2008

They call the wind Mariah

Me, I just call it a bitch. Not the light wind that swirls around, keeping the air moving, drying the sweat off you while you’re working outside. That’s a welcome breeze, sometimes carrying the hint of rain in the distance.

No, I mean the 30 MPH sustained wind that gusts to 45-50 MPH, changing direction entirely at random, snapping the plants back and forth, blowing dirt and dust around, and pushing any hope of rain away from our area. When it lasts, literally, all day, for close to 12 hours, it causes stems to break off, some younger tomato plants to be almost uprooted entirely, and blows other things right off their trellis. Like this.

Peas after the winds

Since they’re about to end their production anyway, I decided to try to prop up the battered plants instead of just leaving them lie and harvest whatever I could over the next week before taking them all out. That day’s haul:

Pea harvest May 12

Some of this was used in a stirfry that very evening, and the rest went to the freezer. In the grocery store today, I saw that Publix had snow peas. From Guatemala, at 4.99/pound. Good thing we grew our own.

We also finished up the planting of the front corn plot (four rows x 25 feet of Japanese hulless popcorn) and the back plot:

Rear corn plot May 12 2008

Eleven rows x 35 feet of Silver Queen. In total, we have planted about 1400 kernels of corn. That should be something to see if it all comes up and survives. The soil is so iffy that I’m not holding my breath over it and not expecting a lot, but naturally I’ll still try to baby it through.

Mother’s Day dinner, for mom and for our newest mom in the family: shrimp two ways, salad, rice, asparagus, broccoli and cheese stuffed chicken breasts.

Mother's Day 2008

Experiments

Last year’s corn experiment was derailed by various things, including either a dog or a deer crashing through the plot. We’ll be redoing that plot again this year, but decided to also try a little experiment.

Corn in the frame, May 4

These frames were set and then seeded on April 20. The photo above is from May 4. So far, so good. These frames were placed in an area where I had planted watermelon and canteloupe last year. We didn’t get anything from those plantings, although there were several watermelons that showed up to get chewed by the ants. We left the fruits and the plants to die off in that area, because as everyone who reads this knows, the soil can use all the help it can get.

Given that, I expected to see some volunteer watermelons show up this year. What I did not expect was to count 41 of them between the frames, and two in the frame above – how they got there, I’ll never know. Most or all of these will need to be relocated, as we’ll need the space between the frames to walk. What we’ll do with all this watermelon, assuming any of it comes in, I don’t know, but I’m sure the people and the animals around here (including the chickens) will take care of a good portion of it.

I’ve also decided to plant part of the front of the property in corn. We’re going to till up a plot in the front and put in a variety called maple sweet. It’s also highly likely that we’ll be putting frames around the front of the property. This all occurred to me as I was cutting the grass at the road side of the property, and before I ran out of gas in the tractor along the fenceline. I don’t mind using the tractor to mow, but growing cool stuff to eat is much more fun and if we ever go the CSA route – something we’ve been discussing more seriously than “one day, we should…” – we’ll have areas already started to hold more goodies.

Going to be a busy season around here. I’m already thinking ahead to winter (greenhouse, wiring the barn for seeding racks, keeping the chickens warm, and so on) and next year (bees, hopefully). I’m also thinking about tomorrow, which will find me at the dentist having two crowns put in my face. No doubt I will not be as chipper as usual after that particular activity, although I hope to be in minor enough pain that I can single line trellis the sungold tomatoes, which are beginning to fruit and need a bit of support.

Life on Lazy Dog Ranch.

Greening up

Spring has been a busy time here at the ranch. That’s understandable, given that our growing season starts early, and we’ve been working to get things in shape to actually grow things this year rather than struggling with the soil, such as it is, which will take years for me to build up organically.

We had started off with a couple of rows of frames: getting them built, filled, and planted. March 19:

Garden in March

The front of that frame second from the right has the snow peas, along with carrots and some herbs. We were still in the process of mixing and filling the built frames and putting together more.

As of early April, the peas were starting to take off – as was everything else, in fact, given the much healthier soil. April 2:

Garden, April 2

In mid-April on one weekend, my brother and his son built the rest of the frames out for me while I prepped the area that would hold our experimental frames for corn. The already-planted items continued to fare very well. April 13:

Garden, April 13

I laid down weedblock in the new frames and my brothers finished filling them while I was at the NOC one day. The snow peas were finally at the point where they needed to be picked (past due, really). The catnip had gone bonkers and I did a little massacre on it (it has not seemed to care much), and I pulled the entire bunch of thyme up and dried it, then planted new from seed in the same square from which I had pulled it. The carrots are doing incredibly well – that is the frilly green stuff on the right, and in the front is several basil plants. April 27:

Garden, April 27

The first snowpea harvest, steamed that very evening.

Snow peas, April 27

The other things that have been planted/transplanted in have taken off with the warmer weather, regular watering, and available nutrients. May 4:

Garden, May 4

The snow peas continue to be productive, and need to be picked again tomorrow.

Snow peas, May 4

The additional strings running from the frame to the right are for runners that refused to go up the trellis. Since it’s difficult to get the plants to cooperate in one fashion, I’ve given them another direction to run so they’ll continue to put out pods without lying on the ground. The only other issue we’re having at the moment is a good one to have: the peas are climbing higher than I set the trellis. Next time we’ll know that just over five feet is not quite enough.

This is a front view of the frame with the snow peas, carrots, basil, catnip, and lavender.

Frame: peas, carrots, basil

More to come as things keep growing along.

The good ache, part two

When planning out the raised beds for the garden – since the soil is crap and will be for years while I work on it – we decided on 49 to 51 4×4 raised beds. Alone, that would be somewhere north of 800 square feet in planted beds just for things we intend to eat and provide to others.

That, my friends, is a lot of frames.

The frames themselves, though, are not the hard part. The hard part is filling them. Think about this: each frame is made of four foot sections of 1 x 6 x 8 lumber. Those of you who recall your volume measurement formulas can do the math. In our scenario, that equals 4 cu ft of peat moss, 50 pounds of chicken manure, 80 pounds of cow manure, and coarse vermiculite sufficient enough to give us the consistency we’re after – per two frames. That is quite a lot of mixing and more animal poo than most people will handle in their lifetime.

The other day, we went out and filled almost six frames (I say almost, as one of the vermiculite bags was fine rather than coarse, so the levels were a bit off).

Frames

A little out of alignment on the left, which will be fixed. The frames get knocked about a bit because of the weight of the dumping process. Which, by the way, means mixing half, dumping, mixing another half, dumping, and on and on. Heavy, sweaty, dirty work that leaves you sore and tired, but in the best possible way because you’ve spent some time working outside in the fresh air.

Dirty

That streak on my right leg? Chicken poop, from a bag that got wet.

It’s also a lot of each part of the mix, given the rather largescale plans we have. That’s ok, though, because this particular backbreaking part only has to be done once unless we decide to move the frames around. I don’t think that’s in the plans for any time in the foreseeable future.

Last fall, I threw down some seeds from a butterfly/bee mix in an area around one of the hoses, just to have something in the ground when spring came. Winter was so mild, with only a couple of severe freezes, that we’ve had flowers almost all winter.

Pretty flowers

They’ve been maintenance-free, too, chugging along on their own with nothing special from us.

Flowers

The good ache, part one

It had rained – a lot – but we had a break in the weather and it was time to do some layouts and cleanup, as well as check the progress of some of the things growing out in the beds.

Carrot tops are popping up, and the carrots will probably be ready to pull next month.

Carrots

The garlic continues to look robust, but I’m worried about it rotting in the ground because the rains decide to come in huge storms that dump a couple of inches at a time rather than something a bit more gentle.

Garlic

We managed to get a small burn pile going even though things were still fairly wet.

Fire

Some prep on the ground and the layout of (some) of the frames.

Frames

In the foreground by the chair is a frame with snow peas, thyme, rosemary, and catnip, along with another round of carrots. The snow peas are erupting and since we know how quickly they can get out of hand, my goal in the next day or so is to get the trellis in place. Shortly after we wrapped up for the day, the weather turned stormy once more, with another three and a half inches of rain before it subsided. Nice for our water shortage around here, but not so good for the remaining areas on the property that need to be filled and leveled.

Tastes like chicken

Mickey thinks so, anyway.

Tastes like chicken

The thing about chickens is that really (from a pet standpoint), they simply aren’t all that bright. Which is fine, really, when you think about it. They’re not like dogs, who need and crave attention, and not like cats with their “One day we will take over this planet, as soon as we hit our quota of naps.” mentality. No, chickens – or chicks in this case – spend much of their time peeping and cheeping, pecking away at anything that looks like food, sleeping, and pooping. Eventually, they’ll earn their keep by paying for their room and board in eggs. When Heather and Michael brought over our three on Saturday, a small moth got into the house and was flittering around, to and fro. He made the mistake of getting into the box where we’re holding the chicks until they are old enough to go outside. I waved it over toward the watering dish, and when it alit, one of the chicks snatched it and gobbled it down. Nifty. I can’t wait for them to be outside putting a hurt on the grasshopper population. They also got one worm apiece from our composting batch, but that’s it for those worms. Their future treats will be from the bait shop.

And when I said they weren’t particularly bright, I meant it. This, after all, is not what is generally thought of as chicken feed. But I suppose someone has to be the nonconformist.

Chicken feed