Tag Archives: garden

Childhood tales come to life

This is wisteria.

This is Sigmund, a Sea Monster.

I see some definite similarities here, although my personal monster is land-based, not sea-based.

Unchecked, wisteria can rapidly take over its own space and then make designs on the space all around it. It’s great at embracing empty space you have you don’t plan to fill any time soon. At the time I put it in, I didn’t have any grand designs for the front garden area. When I did get those plans in my head, each season involved cutting it back. Severely. Mercilessly.

And it kept coming back, its tentacles running again, either along the ground or hanging on the rabbit fence and pulling it outward as the mass of stems followed along, feeling their way along, looking for something to grasp and to root it before sending out another runner to declare to the next space that more stems would be following in its track.

I’ve done some checking of it, cutting off many of the tentacles reaching out to invade all the other areas of the north garden just to be able to move among the raised beds in the general area where it sits and contemplates how to proceed to eventually become a small planet unto itself. The goal is to remove the entire plant. It would be much less problematic if the flowers held an aroma that was not offensive an smelled like wet, sweaty, mildewy gym clothes that had never been washed. But they do, and although the bumblebees seem to love it, the humans who have to work around it do not.

We have another variety whose flowers hold a scent much more agreeable, and that one will replace this one, without offending the noses of the people attempting to work in peace and harmony beside it. And so it goes at the ranch…

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

 

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

Starting over

The tomatoes got zapped.

This is not for a lack of trying to keep them alive, though. It was simply too cold and the plants far too stressed from the weirdo weather we’re having this “winter”. It got down to 27F by Saturday morning, and while they looked not too bad when I uncovered them that morning, in the bright light of an 80F day today – I told you the weather was weird – they are unrecoverable.

I will say that the makeshift covers to mimic a greenhouse environment were not terrible, however. It kept them safe from the first round of freezing two weeks ago. I’d like to either get my actual greenhouse situated somewhere on the property, or get a design finalized that will make it far easier to pull the covers on and off of the tender annuals here at the ranch – for us, that’s tomatoes and peppers. The second round of freeze was harsher than the first. But, a valuable lesson learned, and ideas for better covering of the rows are on paper and I’ll be looking into the best way to do this – most importantly, the best way it can be done by one person (me) who has issues raises one arm over shoulder height and needs something that is not completely exhausting.

The brassicas – broccoli and cauliflower – didn’t seem to care all that much, covered or not. But the heads were a tad smaller than in the usual spring season; again, a product of the wildly fluctuating temperatures.

Above: broccoli along with cheddar and graffiti varieties of cauliflower. Most of that was sent home with my sister.

A new season is upon us, and it’s time to get back to poring through the seed catalogs, trying to restrain myself from ordering one of everything. One of my goals this year (because I don’t make resolutions) is to post every day to the blog in 2017, even if it’s just a post about the weather conditions. Everything I’ve read on forming habits says that the goals should be attainable – that is, not huge goals, but smaller chunks of the larger, ultimate goal – and not reliant on someone else’s involvement to get to the goal or reliant on circumstances that may never come.  The goals should also not necessarily be on the actual final goal, but on the processes/steps that lead to it, to avoid the dreaming brain from visualizing that ultimate goal from being done, which sends the brain signals that it isn’t necessary to pursue it. This one goal will force me to write something every day, which I hope will feed over into my actual fiction writing as well. It isn’t so bad getting into the mood to write up something once you just get the fingers moving.

I’ve also started a new project that will involve weekly postings to another blog: another attainable goal that does not rely on anyone else, and also involves a deadline, which will require me to get it done.

All those things I studied on for the past month also said setting new habits and/or goals is also easier to do if you announce your intentions to someone/anyone. I’m not certain who reads this here blog anymore, but I am hoping 2017 will be a return to longer-form writing instead of people zipping through useless, inane facebook posts or 140-character shorthand tweets. I have not been on facebook generally at all for over a month now, except to update the pages I am maintaining. I’ve found it to be a great relief not to be sucked into that time pit, and life is better for it.

Read more. Think more. Do more. This is my hope for my fellow travelers on this orb for the year. And it is also my hope for myself.

 

Snapping

As in cold snapping.

Yesterday and today, we’ve had a taste of what passes for winter here. Not by the forecast, no. That was more spring- or fall-like, with the forecast in the low 50s overnight. Last night the low bottomed out at 38.8F at the ranch. Not ideal, especially since in the past two weeks I’ve made up some nuc boxes for the bees, and had made no real preparation for them for cold temperatures because the forecast seemed to be rather mild. Now, I’m dreading what I’ll find out there a bit later as it warms up and I head to the beeyard to check them. Worse, I also had several new queens out there, and if they’re goners, that’s going to be a shame.

On the plus side of things, at least it didn’t freeze. We are trying to sneak a second harvest in, and if the temp had dropped further and zapped the tomato and pepper plants I have out there, it would have just added to the overall disappointment at not mentally adjusting the forecast lower – which is something I do during the winter, as we are in the boonies and our lows are always lower (and highs, in the summer, generally higher) than the forecast. I usually don’t have to start that until the time changes – have I mentioned lately how much I don’t like the “fall back” routine? I hate it. But, the weather has been weird all year, and I suppose adjusting my expectations will have to be a year round thing instead of a seasonal one.

Here, have a video of a honeybee emerging from a cell. The bees are booming, with the queens still laying non-stop and filling frames. This temporary dip in the weather may slow them down, but we’re going right back to 80F degree days, according to the forecast, so we’ll be anywhere between 76-86F by my estimate, and that will probably get them going again at a higher rate.

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.

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 1

Some months ago, I told myself to pare back on the timesink known as facebook. I’d been doing really well, too, although I’d not gotten around to doing some of the things I planned to do, which was the reason I dropped facebook in the first place.  I don’t count this as a total fail, because I did get some rather deep introspectional type stuff done to clear up some things in my head that will help me forge ahead with these other things I want to do.

However, I wound up back on facebook as a place to vent after a few events (one of which was the horrifying massacre of 49 people and the wounding of scores of others at a gay nightclub in Orlando) and got sucked in again, resulting in more and more time there, wasted.

But! During the last few days of June, I made it known that I was going to live on Planet NoSocialMedia for the month of July, and perhaps even longer.  It’s slightly easier for me, as the only ones I actually participate on are twitter (not much), instagram (not much except pics from the ranch), and facebook, the ultimate alien-like, face-humping, time-wasting monster.

Today is (still, as I type this) July 1. I have not ventured off Planet NoSocialMedia today. I also have not written anything today. I think this will be all right, though, as I had to get some other things cleared out of the way after having a couple of days of forced rest thanks to some physical issues that cropped up.

Now, we head into Day 2. The goal: continue to work at things that need to be done at the ranch, but also meet a very basic step in the workout to rebuild those writing muscles. A mere 250 words, or about one page of a typeset book, is the target. We all learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run, after all. I firmly believe that trying to start off with some huge goal, right off the bat, after years (ok, decades) of not pursing my art would be like the people who make resolutions to go to the gym, show up on January 2, vastly overwork themselves even though they are not used to working out, then find the next day they can barely move, so they wind up not going to the gym as they resolved to do, slipping back into old habits, only to do the same thing again the next year. I don’t want that, so that is not the way I’ll pursue it.

More to come, my dear readers who swing by every so often. Take care of yourselves.

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.

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.

Fresh salad

It only took about four months to grow the various participants.

Small salad

It was delicious, according to the person who got to eat that small bounty. The tomatoes are the earliest I’ve ever been able to get at the ranch: sungolds and a variety called 4th of July (meant for northern growers with short summers so they can have their tomatoes by yes, the 4th of July). Here – at least for this year – they have shown themselves to be the absolute earliest of the early varieties I put in, and the sooner the tomatoes start coming, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The lettuce is a straight cos (romaine) variety that I had tossed into a row with potatoes, and the carrots had been hanging around with the kale. Strange neighbors. But tasty vegetables.