Category Archives: Gardening

Spring cleaning

It is not yet spring here, if you go strictly by the calendar. If you go by the weather, however, Mother Nature is telling a far different tale.

This is not to say she won’t change her mind about bypassing winter entirely here. It’s possible she will bring some random freeze and drop it on our doorstep with the same pride a cat has when it brings a dead critter home. Our forecast for the next ten days, in fact, has a random evening with a forecast overnight temperature of 34F. This is mildly concerning to me, as I have directly sowed some things, and if they have germinated and are up, it is possible they could get zapped by a sustained freeze (or even frost, in at least one case).

I’m not going to worry about that, though – I can sow those same seeds again, as they are plentiful and cheap. I sowed them early because that allows me to get them out of the way of when transplant time comes. That’s a very busy time for me, both in the gardens and in the bees. Anything I can knock out of having to do then is a plus.

Right now that means weeding and cleaning out hives that are not in active use. I lost some colonies in 2018, and also have other gear that needs to be cleaned, so I got to it.

Hives to be tidied
Cleanup time!

 

One of the things that happens as you are recovering from a couple of years of constant pneumonia and being in and out of the hospital, and then a year of recovery from that,v is that some things miss the boat as far as getting done. This didn’t rank high on the list, and what happens is that wax moths will move in and start using brood comb for their grossness. I got a late start (in the afternoon, as the rain that was forecast never quite made it) and managed to get three stack done.

As part of that doneness, I picked out some of the larvae so the girls (and Sir) could have some nice extra (live!) protein in their diet.

They loved these. I’m sure I’ll have more for them as I move through the rest of the hives to clean them. The best thing is that when I give them food – this or other food – they transform it into eggs for my family.

The hive cleanup is one of the items on the bees section of attractions on Todo Lake, and while I did not get through all of them today, I got a start, and that is what matters. It isn’t always the doing that is the difficult part. The difficulty is in the starting. Then it’s just a matter of allowing momentum to take over to power through, as many of the things on my list are not things that can be done in one sitting.

Once I get the hives cleaned and the frames and foundation dealt with, I’ll need to repaint a few of these hive bodies. And then, these condos will be ready to be put back into service by some of the new bees I’m getting and from the splits I’m going to have to make from the existing hives, as they continue their population levels. Except for a few packages, the rest are varieties I’ve never had before: Russians, Buckfast, and Carniolan. It is going to be fun learning the traits of these newbees in my beeyard.

The other day, I pulled some weeds in the rear gardens as I continue the race against “No Winter”and schedule my transplants.

One row was infested with lesser swine cress. Nice rosette pattern. Deep taproot, though, so it’s a hard one to get out completely, and if you want it done well, you cannot half-ass it.

Even the baby ones have long roots.

 

Tomorrow – as long as the rain holds off, or at least whatever time I have before it arrives for a visit, I’ll be continuing my bee gear clean up adventure.

That’s it for today, peeps. Until next time:  be well.

Gearing up

Aaaaaannnnnnd we are back. Again.

When I finally got over having pneumonia all the time, I thought, great, now I’ll be able to get stuff done and also start writing. But it didn’t quite turn out that way, thanks to a number of things, one of which is the constant shuffling at the NOC. They’d like it very much if we moved over to Jax2, which is the shiny new area they’ve built out. I’m trying to stop saying “the only problem with that is…” because it sounds rather like I’m valuing problems more than solutions. So, the solution to that would be to physically move all the servers and assorted gear from Jax1 to Jax2. Our racks, the ones we own, cannot go there – we’d be using their racks (for free) and we’d still have a cage to ourselves, just as we do now. We’d remove our racks from the NOC entirely – they would join the ones already in my shed here at the ranch, and would be destined for craigslist, I imagine. The logistics need to be worked out on that.

Circling back to the main point: there are going to be some changes around here. I spent much of 2018 dealing with about a billion things that slipped into Todo Lake while I was busy being sick. That impacted other things, like the bees and the gardens: neither thrived. I also got virtually no writing done.

After this all bled into 2019, I made a decision: either I was going to write – which I’ve wanted to do since I was quite young – or I was not. And if I was not, I was going to stop talking about it and thinking about it, and just go on with the rest of my life. It is not an easy conversation to have with yourself, believe me. But I decided that yes, writing was something I really, really wanted to do: both prose and poetry, the latter of which sustained me through high school boredom.

How do we prioritize writing over everything else I have going on (except the business; that of course has to stay, as it’s what pays the bills)?

By brain dumping absolutely everything that needs to be done in all the non-writing areas of my life, no matter how large or small they are, no matter how much or little time each task will take. And then, going over the lists and knocking out items from Todo Lake. What do those dumps look like? Like this:

This is two pages, just for the biz, of two columns each. I have lists for other areas: bees, chickens, gardens, home. The idea is to run through the lists and start knocking things out: if I run across something that will take five or ten minutes, and I’m in a position to do that something, the goal is to go ahead and do it at the moment, instead of saying “I’ll do it at x time” or allowing that five or so second of decision making pass and allow the chore, whatever it is, to be punted along down the road.

Obviously, not everything will take just a few minutes to do. But if there is something I estimate will take 15 minutes or more, or is a multi-day item (rolling out some administrative scripts to all servers, for instance, would probably be a multi day activity), doing X numbers of servers each day until they are all completed.

I’ve given myself the month of February to cross off as much of this as I can. On March 1, the writing takes priority, regardless of how many items are still floating in Todo Lake. Those will then get done by and by.

There are some things, though, I’ve decided to start early.  One is that I deactivated my primary facebook account over two years ago, and have just a personal facebook profile that now manages my author facebook page (since publishers want you to have a “platform”, ugh) and the biz page. I’ve also kicked myself off my personal twitter account this week: no going on twitter for any reason, including to look at links other people send me.

Two is to post on this here blog every day. I’ve had streaks before, but this particular exercise is to do it regardless of how I feel, what else is going on, if I “don’t have time” (there is usually some kind of block of a few minutes or longer to put something up), or if I don’t have anything in particular to say. Even if I just type in the date and the time, that will be enough. The goal: to simply make sure I can commit to it. After all, writing novels takes that kind of commitment.

Three: read 100 pages of a book every day. Any book, any subject. The goal: to keep up my reading habits. Not terribly difficult, since i love to read. The danger of this is settling in to read and then not stopping to do the other things I want to get done.

Four: meditate for ten minutes a day. The goal: mindfulness and stress relief. The secondary goal for this is to bump that to twice a day. I plan to start small, for five minutes a day to begin, because I know it will take practice to get my brain to stop yammering away when it should be still.

I hope all of you are pursuing whatever it is you want badly to do. Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Calling the season

It’s official: I’m calling it a season in the gardens.

For the fourth year in a row.

This does not make me happy. On the other hand, in previous years I was going through yet another bout of pneumonia. This year, it was just a sinus infection – but recovering from it took a month and a half. That month and a half is arguably the most important time for the gardens, as it took over May-June. If you get behind right there at the beginning of the real season, it’s likely you will never catch up, and indeed I did not. The plants I’d managed to transplant suffered, the plants I had yet to set out remained in their flats far too long, and the weeds absolutely strangled everything.

So as I looked at the gardens as I mowed today, despite that little voice telling me that yes, I could in fact get that next round of tomatoes planted and have them bear fruit as the calendar season closed out, I realized it simply was not going to happen.

Instead, what I’m going to do is just put the rest of the plants out of their misery and pull them for the compost heap (which, I might add, has a very thick layer of pine shavings and chicken poop on it now). And then: pull the weeds. Go to battle once more with the wisteria, which is well on its way to taking over the entirety of the east to northeastern corner of the front gardens. Take the metal sides off the rows and just have them as regular raised beds. Scoop all the rubber mulch out of the walkways in the gardens (and figure out what the hell to do with it all afterward). Lay down the commercial weedbarrier in the walkways, the same weedbarrier that covers the frames as they are right now, which is effective, although inevitably there will be weeds wherever there are holes in it, like where holes have been cut to do plantings or where the landscape staples puncture it. Get the cover crop seed in place so it can establish before we go into “winter” (I have half a row already germinated and really thick; the buckwheat came up first and has delightful little flowers on its tops.) Check all the grow light fixtures and toss the dead ones, order new ones.

There is more, of course. There is always more. There are still chickens to take care of (and one set to butcher around the first week of October) and bees to maintain. But when the list looks a bit overwhelming, I just take a deep breath and think: one step, then another. It can be done.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Weeds everywhere

And cover crop arrival! 60 pounds of cover crop:

This cover crop consists of: bell beans, vetch, oats, and peas, and I ordered a separate back of buckwheat. This is going into the rows as we pull things out to add biomass/organic matter back to the rows.  If you need cover crop seed, or anything else ag-related, and want a good deal (and fast shipping!) hit up Hearne Seed. They’re terrific, and we’ve never had an issue in all the years we’ve been using them.

I went out and started down one side of a row I weeded last week. While doing that, and looking at the walking aisles, I realized something.

We’re going to have to pull out all that mulch and just go with the commercial grade weedblock. In the picture there is chamberbitter, AKA mimosa weed. It is everywhere – in the aisles, in the beds – and it’s damn hard to get it pulled good to the root in the mulch, Under the mulch is actually some not-commercial landscape weedblock, and these things do not care at all. As I was pulling them, listening to the satisfying rrrrrip  (after I pulled a second time because the first time  the top portion of the stem snapped, grrrr), I realized they had grown their roots right through that not-commercial weedblock, which was part of the issue with the tops snapping off when I pulled.

I saw a homesteader video where some folks put down exactly the commercial stuff I have, and it seems to work really well for them. I was concerned that it might get very hot – it is black, after all – but the woman in the video said she goes out in bare feet on it all the time. They are not in Florida, but this mulch gets really hot anyway, so if it does get really warm, we’ll already be used to it.

I also decided on another major change: taking out the frame on each row and just having a regular raised bed. I decided this for a few reasons, but the main one is: the edges of the metal sides are sharp. I’ve cut myself numerous times, and we can’t let the kidlets in the garden unsupervised while the frames are in there. I think the dirt will all stay where it is – there’s a smaller version of these larger ones behind the asparagus bed, and it’s still there after ten years – mainly because I haven’t shoveled it out of there, since there were still asparagus plants in it. I get the plants out (except one) and into the main asparagus bed, so moving that dirt out is on the fall list of chores.

Speaking of asparagus: it’s in desperate need of weeding (the strawberries, too – they’re just buried in mimosa weed, poor things). I’m the only one who weeds the asparagus, as it’s far too easy to pull an asparagus plant while pulling the weeds.

You can see at the upper center and the left there are asparagus plants completely enveloped by weeds. It takes patience and a sure hand to remove the weeds without uprooting the asparagus. The one at center right is a baby I rescued from the invaders.

This is the asparagus on the left in the previous picture – one of them, I should say. There are several coming up from this little circle.

My sister and I have a deal, and we’ve had it for years: I will pull weeds, because she hates weeding (as any normal person would), and she will bag them up for the yard waste pickup when she’s over at the ranch. I try to make sure she has plenty to do.

There are more piles like this in the north garden. The only problem is that it keeps raining, putting a damper on bagging. We’ll get there, though. Sometimes it all looks so impossible, so disheartening, and I curse getting sick at the most important time of the season. But then I tell myself I couldn’t control that, not really, and now it’s just one step after another after another after another: get it done. And so we will.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Consistency

As of yesterday, I had posted to the blog nine days in a row. Today makes ten. Go me.

At first, I thought I might just do something short and silly, like type the date and call it done. Interesting enough, I’ve found something to talk about, even if it’s of interest only to me. And even if it is only me interested, I’m okay with that.

I’ve also written – actual writing on the novel front – for five days in a row. As with the blog, at first I thought I might not have a whole lot to write toward the story – or at least, nothing that I’d be proud to point to and say, “This is not total shit.”

As with this here blog, though, it seems to be not terrible – the act of getting the words down or the words themselves. There will be things to fix, of course, and I can handle that. But if you never write it, it can never be really fixed, even if you think it’s perfect in your head. Excelsior!

I’ll leave you with two pics of a mystery bird my mom caught in the top of one of the trees in the rear of the property. It’s obviously some kind of heron, with that neck extension.

And here is the mystery bird leaving the ranch, neck retracted.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Chick prep week: day one

Today was going to be the buying all the chicken tractor things and building the chicken tractor for the meat birds. Off to the big box store we go:

Said big box store did not have two of the fittings necessary to build the frame. They claimed to have one of the parts at a “nearby” store, 90 miles away. Somehow, I think their definition of “nearby” is a tad different than my own. Fortunately, you can buy pretty much anything online these days, so I ordered those fittings plus a double wye connector to make my vertical feeder. The layers will have the vertical feeder. The meat birds will get fed in a trough. The reason I came up with a vertical feeder is simple: chickens are messy eaters, and will scratch food out of their feeders to the ground – where they will rarely touch it. It’s a space- and food-saving design.

All the birds, however, will have a nipple-accessible water supply, rather than an open one. There are a handful of reasons for this, but the most important one for the waterer AND the food can be boiled down to one word: poop.

Chickens will happily sit or stand on top of their waterers or feeders and just as happily poop all over them and their contents. Two of the waterers will be hanging, without enough room for them to sit on top. The third will be set on cinder blocks to keep it off the ground, and will have a cone-shaped top to make things uncomfortable for chicken butts.

No chicken butts atop the waterer

I have some giant boxes (thanks, amazon!) to use as brooders for the chicks. While the meat birds will grow quickly enough to be kicked out into their tractor after just a couple of weeks, the layers will need a bit more time before being put out to pasture. It is necessary to clean out the brood boxes pretty frequently, unless one enjoys the smell of chicken poop (nope!).  For that, I’ll line the bottom of the box with non-skid shelf liner, and then have some puppy pads on top of that. That way, when it’s cleaning time, the puppy pads can just be rolled up and tossed.

The flaps of the boxes I’ll stand upright and duct tape together, so the sides will be high enough they can’t fly out when they realize they have winds. On the top, some 1/8th inch hardware cloth for ventilation and to keep out snakes – as the chicks will likely be out back on the patio, this is necessary to keep the snakes from eating the tasty wee chicks – and then a heat lamp for each brooder, so the chicks can warm themselves if they get chilled.

The chicks are due next week, and I still have quite a bit to do to finish prepping for them. My brother is very handy, and he’s going to be building me a mobile coop when the guy who created it releases his plans for the 2.0 version, which is lighter and better balanced than his prototype. Half the layers will go into the mobile coop, and I’ll take them around the areas of the property that still need work. They’ll scratch, peck, and (most importantly) poop in these areas, which will help the building of the soil in those places. The other half will go into the chickenyard we used for the OG chickens. All the meat birds will go into the chicken tractor to live out their short but happy lives. They’ll get fresh grass and bugs and such, but they will not be ranging – they get large very quickly and they’re unable to run into a coop if a predator circles around. They also do not scratch and peck while foraging as the layers do. But – as always, the most important thing – they will be pooping, wherever they are, and that will be good for my soil.

At the end of the gardening season, I plan to design a way to let the mobile layers into the gardens themselves, to clean up whatever is in the rows – and, of course, poop everywhere – as we head into winter. They can’t be trusted in a production garden, as they will peck at pretty much anything, including fruit still on the plants and stomp all over the plants themselves. This plan is still a work in progress.

Until next time, poops – I mean, peeps: be well.

 

Time

Where does the time go?

I’d like to think it takes itself off for a nice vacation, doing whatever it wants to do instead of being constrained by responsibility.

Whatever it does, it has the habit of leaving us – arbitrary timekeepers that we are – wondering how it could be almost x time since we last did y. Like almost three weeks since the last blog entry.

Truth be told, I hadn’t been feeling all that well since that sinus infection back in May. Feeling nauseated almost constantly is not conducive to doing a lot of the things you normally would do. Pain? Meh, you could work through that in some fashion. But nausea? Nope. I was also having hot flashes like crazy. Terribly annoying.

Which is a roundabout way of saying the gardens suffered tremendously: overrun with weeds, beaten down by both the heat and the rain. We got some tomatoes out, but none of the big guys, and we got some beans and peppers out, but not in the quantity we have had in years past.

Colorful tomatoes: sweet million, sungold, indigo drops.

The people who ate these tell me they tasted fantastic.

The rest: determinate and not, paste, slicing,and heirloom, gave us nothing. My sister has been helping me out while I figure out what the hell was wrong with me, and I had her go ahead and pull out all the first round tomatoes. I have some in the garden that were started after the big batch of transplants, and I have some more started in the barn – two more sets, actually, with one set ready to get hardened off and then transplanted.

We did get some good blueberry action this year.

I used them in my shakes, and everyone else just ate them like normal people do.

So how did I get back to myself? I realized I had stopped taking the gabapentin (neurontin) back in May during the sinus thing, along with some of my other meds, because the combination of the antibiotics and meds that already have some side effects (like nausea, and other gastro issues) was making everything worse. I added those back into my routine, and presto! The gabapentin was prescribed for the nerve issues from my left neck down through my hand (hey, fuck you, cancer!) but amazingly, it also takes care of hot flashes. Who knew? Not me, or I would have twigged on that sooner than the past couple of weeks. Derp.

With the meds situation back in order, I’m now able to once again do things I need to do, like turn this:

Into this:

And finally, into this:

That’s a good late afternoon’s work there.It has to be done later in the day, because it’s been hot like the sun here  for weeks now. In the afternoons, we get storms rolling through – even if they don’t touch us directly, we usually get some cloud cover, and sometimes even a cooler breeze, which is nice.

Tomorrow, it will be on to the next row that needs to be weeded – the one to the left of this final picture. I’ll also be starting new soil block flats for the broccoli, cauliflower, brussels (ew) and maybe a couple of other late-season items, so they can go in to the rows and get grown before the season ends. It’s a nice goal to have, anyway.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Excitement in River City

Some years ago, when the state and city were blowing up (well, technically, down) the pilings from the original Fuller Warren bridge here in town, I was standing on the roof of a building near the river, capturing it. Those pics are around here somewhere. It was the first (and only) implosion of any structure I’ve ever seen live, and it was pretty cool.

Yesterday, two giant cooling towers from a now-shuttered coal-fired plant were imploded. My brother played hooky a bit from his work to go up and try to see it. Alas, the general public was kept well away from the event, only getting to see the tops of the towers over some buildings and trees. The media and the company’s own cameras, though, got the full show. As always, it’s amazing how quickly something can be brought down, neatly, with proper placement of explosives and detonation timing. Clicking the arrow on the picture in this article will show the video of the towers coming down.

Today, I’ve finished mowing the beeyard and whacked around and under the hives. The new bees have also been fed. I was soaked when I came back in because it is simply hideous out there. It’s the time of the year that I wonder just how in the world the settlers to this place got anything done and made it through to the next season. Were they made of tougher stuff? Maybe. Did some of them give up and go back or move elsewhere? Almost positively, they did. I can’t say I would blame anyone who did on days like today. But there’s still work to be done here at the ranch, and I see out my southern facing window the clouds starting to build. Even if it’s just ten minutes at a time, it’s better to work on something versus nothing.

Until next time, peeps: be well. And if it’s broiling where you are, take care of yourselves and any people or animals for which you are responsible.