Tag Archives: Homestead

Dreams of spring

It’s true that every place in the world has its own seasonality. For some reason, many people, when they think of Florida, think that all of Florida is exactly the same, and that there is never a real winter here.

They’re wrong.

Northern parts of the state, while not reaching the epic lows of other places, do have their share of frigid weather (as do other parts of the state – anyone who has ever heard about risks to the citrus crops will understand this is the case). We live with it because our winter is generally blissfully short, and when spring comes, it rapidly passes through like so many birds migrating through on their way to other places: some years, true “spring” weather can be measured in weeks, rather than months as in other places.

Knowing that winter is fleeting and spring just a bit less so is a tad frustrating for those of us impatient to get seed flats started so they can be planted out to take full advantage of the long growing season we have here. Start too early, and the young plants go leggy and bound in their pots, awaiting prime weather. Start too late, and there is no proper spring period to harden them off before summer comes blazing in.

Last year, I started too early, but managed to work with the plants to keep them in shape until they could be safely planted out, and if our season here had not been interrupted by medical issues, I think we could have had quite the bounty. I’m trying not to make that same mistake this year, and forcing myself to wait until February to begin the flats under the lights in the barn. That’s made difficult when the seeds and plants start arriving, mocking the farmer champing at the bit to get moving.

This is the first round of received seed from the massive order I placed: Johnny’s, Burpee, and Territorial. The other day, I received plants from Willis Orchard, just in time for another untropical few days and nights: four types of bamboo, a couple of dogwood trees (“How can you tell a dogwood apart from other trees? By its bark, yuk yuk.”), and some blackberry canes to replace the ones the dogs ran down (long story) and the ones the redneck neighbor killed by spraying some kind of horrible chemical along our common fenceline. I’m still awaiting shipments from Fedco, Bountiful, Shumway, Gurney’s, and Vesey’s, as well as backordered and separately shipping items from the first three through the door. As you might imagine, we’re planning a big year here. There are still some things to complete, like building and filling the final row of frames for the rear garden, and I have almost convinced myself to redo the irrigation lines in all three gardens, but I have no doubt that we’ll be ready when the time comes to plant out the babies as spring makes an appearance at the ranch.


It’s always nice to have new toys.

Melting Ice Jan 14 2011

That was a test done with the PlantCam, a time-lapse cam I picked up because I’ve always found time-lapse photography fascinating. This is a very simple version of more extensive setups, of course, but really all I want is to be able to capture certain things without a giant, elaborate system – because of course, most of my attention will be focused on the actual growing and tending of things, not with fiddling with equipment. I get enough of that sort of activity in my day job.

I decided after the ice test to try capturing the sunset.

Sunset Jan 14 2011

If you watch closely, you’ll see a bird appear and disappear from one of the tree limbs.

The first video is composed of images taken every minute for right around an hour. The second is from images taken every five minutes for almost two hours. Both were put together with Windows MovieMaker rather than the onboard video converter, as it appears the onboard converter will only do low-res output.

I can’t wait to put this among the seed flats and then out in the garden proper, especially on something like okra, which can grow insanely quickly. Who knows, maybe we’ll have several cams scattered about, capturing life on the ranch when we’re not looking.


I should say hunting and gathering, as technically I have been hunting through seed catalogs and gathering all the info into a spreadsheet for the things I want – yes, I am a geek, but it was really the only way to keep track of the things I’m ordering for this year from eight different vendors. So far, I’ve placed six of the orders, with two more to polish off this evening.

Why so many? Simple: there is no single vendor who carries (or has in stock) the things I’d like to have. The pricing can also wildly fluctuate across vendors, particularly for certified organic seed, which I order as often as practical.

Now with the bulk of the ordering out of the way, it’s time to start plotting – not an easy task. I had planned to work a bit outside today, but with the temperature not getting out of the 40s here and the windchills never leaving the 30s, I elected to stay inside instead. When I went out to put the chickens up in their coop and turn on the water by their run, there was still ice on the ground from last night’s running of the taps. Tonight we should be down in the teens, which is getting a bit overboard, I think. Mother Nature is apparently trying to shake off a few inhabitants here before releasing us into spring.

With some puppies and some homemade potato-broccoli-cheese soup, it will be nice and toasty inside, and perfect for dreams of spring.

Closing in

The turf on the field at Eastern Washington is red. Blood red. Or, if I were in a jollier frame of mind instead of becoming more miserable by the second because I feel like total crap, a holiday-flavored red. It isn’t enough that I’m watching FCS football on a Friday night while fixing someone’s photo gallery that they’re completely hosed, but my eyeballs have to be bleeding as well? I thought the Smurf Turf at Boise was bad, but this is even worse. Too bad it isn’t snowing out there to cover it up a bit.

The late-round attempt at tomatoes and peppers was a failure, unfortunately. Things were going fairly well, but then we went to Disney for the day, and although I’d left the ends of the hoops open to get some airflow, but keep things toasty inside, the winds were horrendous and picked up the (weighted down) plastic and flung it up and off the hoops. By the time we arrived back at the ranch, it had already been freezing for several hours, and the unprotected plants were history. The sugar snaps seems to be hanging in there, and I pulled up all the peanuts yesterday and today¬† – a fine crop of late round peanuts, too, it appears.

For the rest: the garden has been put mostly to bed for winter, such as it is. We’ve had several weeks now where we’ve had at least three straight nights of freezing weather – the last round took us into the mid-teens, in fact – and experimentation for the season is over. The garlic is fine beneath its cover of hay, and the sugar snaps we may begin harvesting in the next ten days or so. Other than that, there are some leeks and carrots in the ground, and a few stay cabbage or broccoli plants (I’m not quite sure what those tiny plants are and I’m too lazy to dig out my planting roster). I’m debating whether to start some more cabbage and broc and cauliflower, but I know one thing I must do is get the parsnips in before the real winter blast comes in late January/early February here, as the frosty weather will make them sweeter than they usually are.

An aside here…I know the most overused/overrated word this year was “whatever”, which for my money only narrowly beats out “Palin”, but could we vote “Are you kidding me?” as the most overused/overrated phrase? Perhaps as a tie with “I know, right?” as a top annoyance? Thanks.

No progress on the garlic steppes as yet, but there’s still almost an entire year to get that put together for next year’s garlic season. Right now I’d like to get the remaining frames built out and filled so things will be ready to go as immediately as possible for spring. I’m planning more sweet potatoes next year, fewer varieties of tomatoes, just a handful of pepper varieties, and only a couple of varieties of cukes – all things that performed well and tasted better than others, and in many cases, varieties that took tops in both categories. I’m ever hopeful that there will be no disasters (deaths, cancers, surgeries, etc.) to knock another season out of whack, so in addition to my please regarding overused words or phrases, how about we add a little cooperation from the universe to that?


I just noticed that last post is number 500 on this incarnation of the blog.

A reprieve from winter today: glorious, spring-like day, with a light breeze, a clear sky, and the scent of air that makes you want to draw in breath after breath, deeply inhaling some of the best Mother Nature has to offer. It was me and the boys today, traipsing out to turn off the taps and uncover everything so the plants could enjoy our one day stay of winter weather. We’ll start up again tomorrow in our quest to get summer loving plants to survive through what will be a brutal week here on the ranch: we expect to get into the upper teens here around mid-week, which will be a challenge in protection under the covered wagons. I have no idea if things will make it through, but that’s sort of the point in all this, isn’t it (until I can build a real greenhouse, that is): experimenting.

Another experiment we’ll be trying here on the ranch: growing garlic for seed stock, not just for our own use. It occurred to me while chatting with some folks that this would take expansion, but what if we went vertical rather than horizontal, terracing it much like the rice paddies at the feet of mountains in far off lands? There are seven eight foot fence panels at the back of the pool, and over that fence is nothing that’s in use. The failed attempts to grow corn in that area gave way to a massive effort to rebuild the sand/clay into real soil – an effort that has worked, I might add, since I worked to break up the area and then sow it with alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, and other good nutrient-dense vegetation. There is no question there will be no corn planted there in the immediate future, but a series of steppes along the back of the fenceline would provide more area to grow a crop that is tasty, economical, easy both in terms of maintenance and growing, and that yields good prices when sold for seed (especially if grown naturally, without chemicals as we would be doing). With that, of course, will necessarily come some meetings with my accountant and lawyer, as no doubt there are rules about this sort of thing, and why do that research on my own when that’s why I pay them?

I started five horseradish roots a couple of months ago. Someone helpfully dug the holes for me and filled them with a nice mixture of soil and compost to give them a fighting chance. At first, I thought they’d died right off, as the roots had been languishing in the fridge throughout the summer of surgery and recovery. As it turns out, the roots will last practically forever if they’re kept chilled, and they have turned into quite healthy things indeed, with giant leaves soaking up sun and moisture. The boys, though, keep peeing on them, so a fencing adjustment is in order for those and for the berries that we put in along the main fenceline (grapes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries).

We’re also considering selling seed – organic only, if possible. This and the garlic would be a good starting place for Lazy Dog Ranch branding, I do believe. At least, the dogs don’t seem to be presenting any particular objection.

Letting go

The okra gave up the ghost.

I knew it was simply a matter of time. After all, between the laws of diminishing returns and the downward creep of the thermometer, it was a given that even the hardiest of summer-loving plants would not survive the onslaught. And so it goes for the okra, finally giving in to the inevitable. They now stand in place, like guardians cursed to remain in one location until relieved by those who never arrive, becoming more gaunt and weary as time passes.

I haven’t pulled them out of the line yet, unlike the jalapenos, from whom I took the last fruits and then took to compost yesterday. I’d like to see how long they can stand before collapsing entirely, but will probably take the shovel and dig them out tomorrow – the shovel is absolutely required, as anyone who has grown okra can vouch for the rather strong roots the plants put down, anchoring them to the earth even as they reach toward the sun they adore. I suppose they could be tested as greenhouse-type growers, but this seems counter-productive, and it would be very difficult to cover them every night and uncover them each day, since they are taller than me at this point. There is also the promise of starting anew next year, planning for which has already begun in conjunction with the arrival of the seed catalogs for next year.

Now, we settle in for what passes for winter here, but which would be laughed off as mild by our counterparts to the north. For us, though, it is no laughing matter to be faced with shorter days and languishing temperatures when for at least some of us, the warmth is what brings us seriously to life.


This afternoon, it was time to break out the plastic once more and create covered wagons everywhere. With a forecast low of 27 at the ranch, and with my continuing quest to have one ripe tomato in the winter here – one that will get to red or purple without cracking – wrestling with plastic to cover for the impending weather is just part of the routine.

I know some people poo-poo the idea of growing tomatoes in winter. “I won’t eat things out of season,”, they say, pointing to the additional environmental issues involved in raising things out of season, like the transport of the item from wherever it’s grown (South America, for instance) to the local market, or to the energy consumed in forcing things to grow outside their usual time. In this case, however, I am not transporting the item anywhere – except potentially to a tasty meal on my table – and we are expending no additional resources to keep the plants alive beyond the human energy necessary to pull out the plastic covers and get them set in place. That particular energy is fairly significant, because I have to say, high mil plastic is rather heavy. But, from an overall standpoint, beyond the initial purchase of the plastic, the environmental impact is pretty much zero, since it can be reused, likely for years with proper storage, without then sending it off to the recycling center.

Thus, the quest for summer vegetables in winter continues here at the ranch. I’m certain the weather will finally kill the okra that has been so productive for us, but that staunchly held up through previous freezes without benefit of protection. It’s a hardy beast, and as of this afternoon, still flowering with beautiful buds signaling another round of fruit. If it is still there in the morning, it will be a most pleasant surprise, although I’m aware there is still the issue of diminishing returns even for what was the star performer of last season.

That seems a tad off

Earlier this month, while perusing the weather looking at the forecast, the current conditions output was a bit of a shocker. I’m certain we would have noticed this if had in fact been the case.

Generally speaking, we don’t see wind speeds like that unless we’re seeing a hurricane come through, and I’ve have expected the house to lift off and that evil bitch from the Wizard of Oz go biking by. But there wasn’t, and it didn’t, and she wasn’t. A run of the mill typo to inject some humor into an otherwise round of cursing about freezing weather. Said cursing will be worse tomorrow, as we are expecting the first hard freeze of the season, with lows about 29, and windchills a few degrees under that, followed by another night or two of at freezing temps. This means the plastic most definitely needs to go up, preferably a couple of hours before sunset at the horrid time of around 5:30 PM. In case you’ve not noticed as yet, I’m a bigger fan of summer and long, sunny days than I am of winter. I guess I’m just a sunshine kind of person.

Squeaking through

Is there anything better than a nice cup of hot chocolate (with marshmallows, and lots of them) for breakfast? I think not.

The forecasts were all a bit slippery for the overnight, but they all agreed on one thing: it would be near or at freezing inland here. And so it was freezing, right at 32 this morning between 4AM and 5 AM somewhere. Having made the executive decision last night after many hours at the NOC doing various things that dragging out the heavy plastic when everything sailed through the last (unexpected) light freeze was not happening, I am once again pleasantly surprised to see – from the comfortable distance of the kitchen windows – that nothing appears to have been torched by frost. That is one of the benefits to our peculiar weather: no rain, and humidity under 40% does not lend itself to coating the plants in an icy sheen that will eventually cause their cells to burst when the sun hits them. We’ve been lucky, but we’re looking at a few days in the middle of the week for more of the same, so I suppose it is time to rig the covered wagons for ease of shuttering for the evenings.

Today: work, work, work, both in and out. The snow pea variety we have out currently (Oregon Sugar Pod) cares not about either 80 degree heat or 32 degree freezes. One of the trellises needs to be reworked so the peas have somewhere to climb, but every single frame has flowers, and we should be harvesting the first of the peas, whole pod, in the next week or so, with those reserved for shelling in about two. Yes, I know, you don’t usually grow snow peas to shell, but various people – including my mother – have decided they love those peas even better than the usual shelling peas I’ve grown, so who am I to argue?

What I did on my non-vacation weekend

I worked. I cooked. Worked. Cooked. The usual.

I wasn’t feeling quite well over the weekend, and today still do not feel as well as I did last weekend. I’m not quite sick now that whatever minor sinus infection I had cleared itself out, but also not quite feeling a hundred percent. Generally, I blame this on the fact that I’ve had far too many doctor/hospital visits, and there are simply too many sick people in those places. Fortunately, I’m done with the doctors until November unless something comes up, since the last visit to the pulmonologist this past week gave me an all clear after an xray followup to track that nasty fluid buildup to make sure it was fully drained. But like I said, hanging around in hospitals and offices brings with it the potential for random bugs to crop up, and I’m guessing that’s what this nonsense is.

On the plus side, I cooked, a lot, this weekend. Today is mom’s birthday (happy birthday, Mom!), and we just had a small dinner for immediate family Saturday night: my sister was down from Georgia, my brothers both up from Orlando, and my other sister and I. Saturday night: classic steakhouse dinner, with steak (grass-fed, organic, no less), shrimp three ways (boiled, scampi, and asian-inspired), baked potatoes, corn, bruschetta (I made two loaves of Italian bread, and by the end of the night, both were gone). Sunday morning, as is his habit, my brother made breakfast, and people went about their business for awhile before returning for a day of football. The football food: roasted red pepper soup, guacamole, more bruschetta (and two more loaves of Italian bread), roasted sweet potatoes and carrots from the Lazy Dog Ranch garden, and two chickens that had been brined in a honey-pepper mixture and then smoked for about four hours (plus a fresh batch of bbq sauce). I also made some cherry-chocolate-toasted almond ice cream for those who like that sort of thing. The youngest brother also assembled an eggplant parmigian after I fried off the eggplant slices, and one of my sisters made sauce, since my sisters were bugging him to make it.

We watched the Dolphins take a win against the Vikings, and turned off the Jaguars game in disgust after the Chargers reached the 30-point mark. The battle of the Mannings was not all together that interesting as the Colts put the beatdown on the Giants, but that is what younger brothers are for, as everyone who has a younger brother knows.

Overall, a very nice weekend indeed. The weather is not yet modulating into fall for us here, even though some mornings have dipped near the 60 degree mark. This is actually a good thing in my book, as my seedlings in the flats will go out into the garden in the coming weeks, hopefully to give us some good output now that the captain is back in the game and not having another chunk of something cut out. I could use about five degrees of cooler weather in order to get the fall snow pea round started. Out in the frames directly, I put in a round of limas, snap beans, carrots, cukes, leeks, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and cowpeas. We’ll see how they do in what can still be some brutal heat, with no rain and only the standard watering. If I can stay healthy, with no more nasty surprises coming up to kick me in the ass, and I’m able to hold the bugs at bay, I’m hoping to get some kind of decent production out of this season yet.