It has been cold, dark, and gloomy today, and our chance of snow flurries has dropped down to almost nothing for tomorrow evening. Since we don’t get the thrill of that chance, it’s time to focus on the job ahead and the fun that goes with it: seed sorting and selection.
That may seem like a lot of seeds. In fact, I think it probably is. There are maybe a dozen varieties of tomatoes, eight peppers, squashes, onions, herbs, corn, beans, melons, cucumbers, and just about anything else you’d find in a typical visit to your pantry and fridge. The fun now is determining how to lay out our frames, what to plant where, and where to build the trellises for the climbers. We still have a bit of time before our last frost date, and since things tend to germinate very quickly and spring up ready for transplanting, still some time before the seedling flats need to be started. We’re looking forward to quite a lot of canning, pickling, and freezing this year. With all the work done on the soil and the effort going into the frames, hopefully this year’s harvest will be leaps and bounds above last year’s meager and short-season pickings.
We received several orders this week of meat packed and shipped from elsewhere. One of the shippers used dry ice instead of cold packs. You know what that means.
Tonight’s dinner plan was to roast a chicken (salt, pepper, ginger, fresh orange, onion) for dinner. When I started peeling it out of its wrapper, it smelled like a three week old chicken left in hundred degree heat after a skunk had sprayed it. In other words: no chicken tonight. Fortunately, there was cheesy potato vegetable chowder to be had on this gloomy, rainy evening.
My seed packets are spread out on the table, with the exception of the packets of the sungold tomato seed, which I can’t lay my hands on this instant. I need to get some flats started in the garage under the heat and grow lights, in an area which will also house some special guests for several weeks: chicks. Yes, we will have a few chickens when all is said and done, and they’ll be here in mid February to take up residence with the rest of the zoo.
It’s going to be an interesting spring around the homestead…
That’s what you do with geeks who are low on the totem pole. Those of us who worked back in the day for a very, very large, and very, very well known ISP but managed to escape know this well.
Know what else you keep in the dark and feed (pasteurized, inoculated) crap? That’s right.
One of my gifts for the holiday. The instructions there say not to open the kit prior to the date on the box. That was the 25th, as is happened, the very day it was given to me. Handy.
Not much to look at, is it? I’d always thought it would be cool to grow our own mushrooms. We probably go through more of them than the average family, and being able to harvest them when we want or as we need always seemed rather nifty.
This is the base, which was moist and looked a bit like what you’d find in the bottom of a rabbit cage. But my friends, it smelled rich and loamy, the way I dream the soil outside for my gardening areas would smell were it something other than what mostly resembles beach sand.
On top of the base, in a separate package, was a bag of dry peat. The instructions said to pour a specific amount of water into this, mix it, and let it sit. So I did, for once, follow the instructions.
After allowing it to sit, then mixing it up well by hand, I had another batch of moist, rich material. Finally, the instructions said to spread this new moist material on the base, and then give it a little raking with a fork.
The raking roughs up the surface so the mushrooms can take hold – akin to the way a patch of ground needs to be prepared for grass seed, really.
After doing all this, the box, as is, goes into a cool, dark place. After a week or so, the mushrooms are supposed to begin germinating, and after a few weeks, they should be large mature enough to harvest. Do we have any germinating mushrooms in my closet, ready to burst out and consume the populations of small towns?
Bad jokes. That’s why people come here, I know it.
The mini garden made it through the hard freezes without too much trouble (and some 4 mil plastic sheeting helped, too). I covered the garlic, the strawberries, and the snow peas, and left everything else to fend for itself.
The thyme, of course, made it through with nary a peep.
I pulled one of the English pea pods, tried to feed a piece of it to the dogs, but neither of them were going for it. The peas themselves are not thriving, which is a little curious, but since several of them didn’t even germinate at all, not altogether surprising. The Italian replacements I dropped into the place of the duds not only germinated but made it through the serious freeze with no cover at all. If both sets come in, then we’ll have some tasty peas to shell.
I pulled the covers from the plants yesterday and they were a little limp, but perked up nicely after about 40 minutes of watering. It continues to bluff rain here, but we’ve not seen a drop. As we climb back into the 70s, maybe we’ll get a little luck in that area.
The next plan is to get the greenhouse up, or rig a test bed area with some hoops and plastic to try some hothouse items: sungold tomatoes – something you hardly find in the stores, as they are fragile and don’t ship well, but taste fantastic – peppers, and basil. This is Florida! It’s always the season to be growing.
Our newly revised forecast for tonight and the next couple of days.
Eighteen. Eighteen? That’s a little extreme. Our little kumquat tree, which has valiantly put out a couple of handfuls of fruit, will definitely need to be bundled up against this. Luckily, it’s just under four feet and won’t pose a problem.
Working backwards a bit: mom loves peach ice cream. Her favorite. Unfortunately, it isn’t peach season (and last year’s peach season wasn’t all that terrific). The solution? Frozen peaches. Not the best, but an acceptable substitute.
While we do a huge Thanksgiving meal, for Christmas it’s more of a buffet type of thing. People come and go, and eat if they want (or not, although that’s rare). This dinner was no different.
We have ham, roasted turkey, smoked turkey, potato salad, rice, fresh rolls, stuffing, cranberry compote, and gravy on the table. There was not a lot left at the end of the night, so yours truly did not get to nosh on leftovers for days on end.
To be more accurate, that should be three nights of freeze, but it comes down to the same thing: we will be dipping down into hard freeze temperatures for more than a few hours come the first few nights of the new year.
Altogether, that isn’t terrible, and certainly nothing compared to the tales that could be told by people in other parts of the country or world. But I don’t live there, I live here, and after almost a week of temps in the 70s (over 80 one day), the crazy nature of Florida weather once again rears its head for a reminder that there are actual seasons, even if we don’t see them all that much.
It’s that crazy nature that has the milder temp things popping up all over the place in my frames. Last year’s garlic was wiped out by the nonstop rains of a tropical storm, but this year’s garlic is motoring along with nothing more than an initial watering after planting and the occasional rain we’ve had – including the strong line of storms that moved through late last night as a precursor to the coming cold snap.
The strawberries are a bit off their schedule, too, with multiple plants flowering and putting out berries. They are everbearing plants, but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing we’d expected from them. And yesterday, we pulled the first pod from the snow pea trellis.
Mom judged the first one quite sweet, but alas, it didn’t taste like much of anything to me other than green. The smell, though, was fabulous: there is nothing quite like the fresh, earthy smell of something you’ve just pulled from the vine.
Tomorrow will be a test for me, to determine how best to cover the entire fenced area for the overnight hours. Some of the plants would survive a nuclear attack – thyme, I’m talking to you – but overall, I’d like to give all of the plants every opportunity to make it through the cold stretch and back into the more normal mild weather we usually enjoy down here.
In more ways than one. Followers of this homesteading saga probably recall that our soil, such as it is, mostly contains clay and on this lot in particular, sand. The sand is predominantly the result of this house being built after others were built; it was used as a dump site for fill dirt, excavated sand, and it’s rather remarkable the trash that continues to wash up as we receive rain here and there.
The problem with this of course is that beyond the scrub, the hardier weeds, and saw palmettos, which seem to thrive no matter what, it’s difficult to coax anything else from the ground. The guajillos loved it, the thyme I’d probably only be able to kill by setting it afire given its hardy nature, and the cowpeas (black eyed peas to those of you not from around here) were fine as well. The tomatoes couldn’t do much of anything, the bell peppers tried valiantly but only mustered two, and most of the seedlings just couldn’t hack it.
Getting grass to grow also proved to be a huge challenge: with nothing nutritious in the sand and the hardpack of the clay/sand combination making it virtually impossible for grass seed to take hold, it almost seemed that it would take many, many loads of topsoil for us to do anything with the barren front of the property. I’d rather spend the money for the topsoil to be put in the areas where we’ll be growing more productive things, really: four of the five loads we had trucked in went to the back, not only to give us something more to work with, but also, like the one load that went up front, to level out some of the hollow areas in order to give us better drainage.
That left us – or, rather, me – with the problem of the front of the property and getting grass in. It isn’t primarily to have a nice lawn. After all, if I thought no one would object too terribly much, I’d just as soon plant vegetables and fruit trees all around the front of the property. No, the primary reason to get something down out front is erosion. The wind here blows mainly from the plain…I mean, from the east to the west, and there is rarely a day with no wind. This results in the sandy part of the soil mix flying off, leaving only the hardpack. This further results in flooding, as the hardpack of course does not drain particularly well, as the older photos from our rain and tropical storms show. What is an aspiring farmer to do?
Lots of backbreaking breakup of the hardpack. Lots of organic additive to get something nutritious into the soil. Lots of grass mixes (fescues, perrenial ryes, bahia). And lots of hay, spread by hand after getting the seed down. This what it looks like on November 16. Some small patches of grass are there from the first attempt to just see what would grow with with seed put down and no other real work done beyond the addition of a bit of topsoil (not much).
With a lot of other work, on December 2, it looked like this.
And this is today.
The edges of the area are places where no work has been done on getting grass down, as other work needs to be done first. The far area in the above image has a giant mass of blackberry bushes that need to be dug up and burned so they don’t reroot and come back. The pile near the left of the picture behind the tree is the debris, including saw palmettos, that Wade the tractor guy cleared out from these trees so we didn’t have to spend the time digging them out by hand. There is something to be said for doing that sort of work by hand, but there are also limits to the amount of time available when there is also a huge list of other property-related work that also needs to be done (and that is also much more fun, even if it is still hard work).
Once again, here we are at the end of one year and the beginning of another. Once again, it will be time for people to make a list of resolutions the cynic in me says they will never keep. Ironically, although I have never really been prone to making such lists, I had started one the other day, and one of the items on that list was to be less cynical about people and their motives. Another is to be calmer in the face of abject stupidity – I suspect that these two actually go hand in hand. Years ago – and this is many years, since it was two exes ago – I had a fairly profound interest in Zen Buddhism. Not to the extent that I am a particularly spiritual person. I am not. I am also not a religious person, much to the dismay of my sister, who is, and who finally settled on Catholicism as her religion of choice. Most of my interest in this is for the human factor, and to me it’s a lot like any other stress-reducing pursuit. As I was reviewing the past couple of years and all the assorted activities that have occurred, I told myself it would be worth my while to take up that interest again, and so I have. I expect this will help immensely in dealing with the people we have to deal with every day, and also help with the anxiety that every day brings as a result of that one singular day when the biopsy came back positive and the snowball that developed from there.
I also told myself that getting back out in the yard and working around the property will help, both physically and mentally. Getting the greenhouse built – what, you didn’t know that was planned? – will enable some experimentation with growing things out of season, inasmuch as anything really is out of season down here. This is Florida, after all. Plus, I’ve decided to take up another hobby: soap and candle making. Not very complicated (or, rather, only as complicated as you make it), relaxing, and in the end, a useful product, all of which satisfies both the left and right brain requirements. Who knows, that might be another side to the business here as well, but we’ll need a snappy name for it. My lack of sleep combined with one side of that (the soapmaking) may bring about echoes of something else entirely, but I think leaving out the underground fighting and general mayhem won’t be a real issue to overcome.
With all of that, plus two additional brands to finally launch, 2008 should be very active indeed. Here’s hoping it will also be happy, prosperous, safe, and healthy for everyone.