My Dress Rehearsal

3 09 2009

I knew I was in trouble when I received this fortune cookie with last week’s indulgence of Chinese take out.

Failure

Chinese take out is bad for you and this week just proves it.

Writing has long been my favorite form of therapy; and (unfortunately for my readers) I have readers. Otherwise, I would scribble this stuff down in a notebook and tuck it away in some dark corner.

But paper notebooks don’t upload pictures, and I have pictures. I am reminded (by that annoying voice in my head) that every cloud has a silver lining. I am taking this post to review my most recent clouds and get busy looking for the linings.

These are in no particular order, except the most depressing part at the end because I don’t want to give you bum-out whiplash.

Cloud #1: Root knot nematodes

Nematodes

The name sounds like I’m talking about cartoon characters, doesn’t it? And these bulbous root growths I discovered when unearthing a tomato plant even look like something you’d see on Adult Swim. But, trust me, there is nothing funny about these little monsters! I thought the caterpillars were annoying, but they have nothing on these microscopic beasts.

I was digging up the expired plants in my garden beds in preparation to infuse my soil with a nice helping of composted road apples (that’s horse manure to you city folk), when I discovered my worst gardening nightmare. Up to this point my gardening woes have ranged somewhere between moderate annoyances and fascinating learning experiences. Mother Nature has upped the ante’ and bestowed upon me the wormy devils of the horticultural world: Root Knot Nematodes! I won’t bore you with the details of their biology, but if you are interested, you can go to The University of Florida IFAS Extension and learn all about them.

“Why are these tiny roundworms such a scourge?” you might ask. Because there is nothing on the market to kill  them. Right away I had a brainstorm and hopped online to see if it had been done. The idea was “Maybe I can cook these little suckers out of my soil with boiling water”. Lo and behold, this is the oldest treatment in the book, and one of the most effective. If one can saturate the soil with hot water, the nematodes will die. Manure also helps to deter them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, off I went to grab the propane boiler, which I set up next to the Oasis and prepared to douse my soil with boiling water. Since my garden is divided up into various containers, I figured that I could get a good kill on in the empty sections and boil off each adjacent area as the plants died off. This all seemed like a great idea until I went to get the propane tank.

Cloud #2: Project aborted due to empty propane tank

Soil-Project

The fact that this rusty old tank is empty might actually be a silver lining, since AJ was certain it would rust through and blow us out of the park the next time it was lit.

Propane-Tank

Cloud #3: No Horse Manure

No picture needed for this one. Just look around you. If you don’t see horse manure, that’s what it looks like here, too. If you do see horse manure, please call me. I’ll be right over to pick it up!

I’m sure that were you to consult my astral chart for this week you would discover that my planet of communication is transiting the house of the planet where chainsaw exhibitions and tractor pulls take place.

I found a pile of horse manure for the taking by placing an ad on craigslist.org. Turns out it was available, but only if I could swoop in with a bobcat and get it without causing inconvenience to the owner. I made attempts to put together a horse manure party by organizing a group of people to come take it all at once. That didn’t work. Next, I suggested to the owner that Mike (my boss/friend/sometimes-nemesis) and I could come with two pickups and a trailer to get it. The email replies ceased at that time, so I guess the answer was “No”.

I’ve suffered a week-long inability to communicate properly (especially in writing). I have managed to unintentionally confuse, piss-off and annoy a good handful of people, one result of which being that I have no free fertilizer for my garden.

Cloud #4: Spaced Out Keyboard

Keyboard

Literally. The space bar has broken and constantly gets stuck in the down position. This causes the cursor to run off faster than Karl Rove from a congressional subpoena. Once I chase it down and start backing up, I end up deleting some of the characters of the previous word.

AJ tried to fix it by banging down real hard with his fist and then whacking the keyboard on the desk. I am officially starting a list of things that AJ can’t fix. So far, this is the first and only. Taking a more creative (and less hostile) approach, I popped out the space bar and taped the little springy wire part back in place with some pretty blue electrical tape. Now the cursor only bolts every once in a while. The silver lining here is that it helps me self-edit by reminding me that every superfluous word brings me that much closer to the next unsolicited space.

Cloud #5: Dropped Green Peppers

Giant-Bells

This one isn’t quite so bad. My amazing volunteer green pepper plants have been manufacturing some promisingly giant peppers. We have been watching and watering in anticipation of picking a bunch once they get really big and making a big batch of stuffed peppers.

This morning we discovered that the branch holding these two could no longer do it; and had dropped them to the ground. The silver lining is easy to find on this one. Two gorgeous, free, organic green peppers and many more maturing on the plants.

Cloud #6: My Beloved Stepmother spent the weekend in the hospital.

Judith went to the emergency room with edema and spent the weekend and all day Monday in the hospital. We have both discovered one silver lining on this one. She got a wake-up call that she needs to start taking oxygen and get back to using her CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Her heart is healthy and she can get better if she follows the doctor’s orders. She is also receiving some help at home. Still, this cloud is an especially dark one, since I live so far away and cannot afford to go up there when she needs me. She has always gone above and beyond the call of duty for a stepmother and I regret that I cannot repay her as I would like.

No picture here either, for the above mentioned reason.

There are a whole lot more little clouds, but I’m done dwelling on the bad stuff. I’m ready for the success for which I have apparently been rehearsing. I have great friends and great family, good health (mostly) and a wonderful life in comparison to so many unfortunate people in the world. With the exception of Cloud #6, my hopes are that we can all find some light humor in my misfortunes and missteps and look forward to a time when you don’t have to read so much griping from me:)

My friend and creative inspiration, Doug Havens, has invited me to collaborate on a brilliant creative project, which I hope to reveal in a future post. For now, please take a look at his wonderful imagery at “What I saw” and writing at “Who I met” and try to forget about all of my doom and gloom.

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This, That and The Other Thing

8 08 2009

“Week in Review” has been out the window for a while. Let’s make this a catch-up post and see what happens from here forward. I’m making no promises.

AJ and I work together auditing liquor for bars. We save the bars many times the value of our audit fees in saved profits. Despite the fact that the service pays for itself, there are always accounts who fail to realize the value of the service, or just don’t have the gumption to use the management tools we provide. (Yes, I said “gumption”). Not long ago we lost three bar owners, for a total of 5 accounts, in a single week. Since we work together and this loss was more than half of our business, it was the equivalent of one of us losing our job. We are independent contractors, but the owner of the auditing company treats us as though we are partners. He has jumped in with us and done an intensive sales push to rebuild the client base. Things are slowly picking back up, but it has been a tough road.

The reason I even mention this is that I ran out of Atomic Grow™ right about the time we had our financial crisis. The garden budget was slashed; and even though Atomic Grow™ is very affordable and lasts a long time (due to being so concentrated) I had to put my next purchase on hold.

My blog service shows me what people search to arrive here (some pretty amusing stuff, by the way), and one of the most common searches is “Atomic Grow™”. My guess is that you’ve heard of it and wonder if it will solve your gardening problems. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty darned incredible. My best results have been with plants becoming healthier and happier overnight. After a single application they start flowering and fruiting like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also had remarkable results with fungus. Leaf spot fungus seems to be stopped in its tracks with Atomic Grow™. “Leaf Spot” and “Tomato Disease” are two more common searches that lead people here; and I can verify that my tomatoes are still hanging on because of Atomic Grow™.  Since I’ve been out, they have gone into a steady decline. However, I think they will prove (once again) the amazing properties of this stuff, once I get back on my application schedule. I will dedicate some future post to tomatoes in particular. Aphids and other hard-bodied insects are defenseless against the direct application of Atomic Grow™. It’s not a pesticide, but it affects their exoskeleton after which they die of dehydration. Jim Shellenback of High Yield Industries (Parent company of Atomic Grow™) told me that “People get addicted to the stuff”. I agree completely, and have been anxiously awaiting the day when I could replenish my supply.

The one (and only) shortcoming of this product is that caterpillars seem to get the upper hand. I love butterflies and moths, but I do not care for most of their children! Over the summer I have fought a constant battle with Pickle Worms (Diaphania nitidalis (Stoll)), Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae) and Leafrollers. They do not like Atomic Grow™, but many seem to shake it off or avoid contact with it.

I have been researching bacterial control of caterpillars and was planning to get some Bacillus Thuringiensis (B.T.) to take these buggers out once and for all. Up until now I have been fighting a losing battle of smashing lepidoptera eggs, caterpillars and stems infested with Pickle Worms.

I turned over a brocolli leaf the other day and found these guys fat and happy!

Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae)

Cabbage-Worms

The good news is that I got a call from Rita Curry Porter at the Atomic Grow™ test gardens, yesterday. She was bursting with excitement over a product that complements Atomic Grow to eliminate insects once and for all. I have done some research and am bursting at the seams to give it a try. For now, I am going to leave an air of mystery until I have a chance to document the effects in my garden. One way or another the caterpillars will soon be gone!

AJ has been busy, despite excruciating back pain. The VA clinic assures him that his lower back damage is minimal and reversible. I don’t buy it. I get to see him suffer, and there is more going on than some minor glitch. I am pushing for an MRI and some real answers.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the photos of the process, but he tore out the old bamboo fence and built this one, using cured timber poles and a reed screen; all treated with water seal:

Fence-3

I like the way it jogs at the halfway mark. It gives us plenty of room to access the car, and additional space for the grill and smoker. He worked hard on this, and it turned out gorgeous.

Fence-2

Fence

He also finished and treated the bamboo wind chimes. They are “tuned” and sound great.

Bamboo-Chimes

It would be a full-time job were I to document all of AJ’s activities. Over the past week he has been busy building seats for the boat. To date, we have been sitting on coolers placed on the floor. This is neither safe, nor practical. The seats he built are sturdy and user-friendly. I will take some pictures of the finished product for a future post.

Making-Seats

Here is one of the seats showing the heavy-duty Velcro that holds them to the inside of the boat:

Velcro-on-Seat

Our friend Jay has a veritable orchard in his yard. We stopped by his place last week and received an abundance of mangoes, avocados and limes, all of which were delicious. Thanks Jay!

Fruit

This eggplant has me stumped. At some point in its development it became “frozen in time”. The plant next to it has produced a single, gorgeous, dark purple eggplant. Shortly after that one appeared, this specimen began to grow. It got to this size and then ceased development. The skin was streaked and had a leathery patch on the other side. When I finally plucked the thing and cut it open it had dark colored seeds, but the meat was green and smelled unripe. I don’t know what to make of this.

Bad-Eggplant

I guess I’ll wrap it up for now, as I’m on my way to pick up some more Atomic Grow™ and the exciting new miracle product.

For now I leave you with cats…indifferent, intimidating and uninhibited.

Cats





Abundant Bounty

3 07 2009

Lots of goodies coming from the garden and the Universe over the past couple of weeks.

The tomatoes are still on full bore. I’ve been picking an average of ten to fifteen per day.

Cherry-Tomatoes

Here are a couple of harvests. This is not nearly everything I gathered over the past two weeks, just two of the bigger days. I collected the muskmelons because the vine was mostly dead. They could have ripened a few more days, but they were OK. The middle melon is the one I did not protect with the pantyhose. In retrospect I don’t see the value of doing this. The skin was thin and split on the protected melons, and the netting did not develop normally.

Sunday's-Harvest

Friday's-Harvest

I made salsa for the first time. I didn’t realize how large the green onions were getting until I cut this one! These were store onions that I just stuck in the ground. They grow back each time I cut them. I also picked a puny red pepper and a smallish Poblano. The salsa is still a work in progress.

Onion Peppers

The past week has been very active for the eggplant. It grew…

Eggplant

and grew…

Eggplant2

and grew! Since I’m not familiar with what these are supposed to look like, I am not sure when to pick it. I’m thinking I’ll pick it this weekend, since the consequences of waiting too long seem to outweigh the risk of picking too soon.

Eggplant-big

Here is Super Eggplant’s sidekick. I don’t know why it looks so different, but I think a bug got ahold of it.

Eggplantnew

The second batch of bananas is looking good. First batch is also coming along nicely, too. They sure are taking a long time, though.

Bananas2

This is the string lily AJ brought back from the river. We keep it in a container under the AC condensation drip. It is going great, and bloomed this week.

String-Lily

The blooms were short-lived, but very delicate and pretty. I can’t say my husband doesn’t bring me flowers! The kind he brings are much more interesting and thoughtful than those bought in a store.

String-Lily-Bloomed

Not only that, but he can smoke a mean pork tenderloin! Yum!

AJ-Cuts-Pork-Tenderloin

Yesterday was a special treat. We stopped in at John Roger’s to pick up some bamboo. John is a local horticultural guru and, as I’ve said before, one of the most knowledgeable and unassuming guys you could ever hope to meet.

Bamboo-John

Even though he was on his way to run errands he took the time to give us another tour of his property to show us some of the things he has growing, as well as some nice mounds of mulch and compost. Had you told me, a year ago, that I’d get a thrill from compost I would have looked at you askance!

Nor did I even know of heirloom and heritage varieties, about which I am now quite excited. John Rogers is a true steward of the land and cultivator of native and unique plant varieties.

As we headed to the compost heap we stopped to admire his massive watermelon and squash vines. He promptly plucked this little jewel and bequeathed it upon me. What’s the big deal? This is a renowned, historic gem of the squash persuasion: A Seminole Pumpkin Squash (Cucurbita moschata), to be exact.

At the recent Funky Chicken Farm seed swap, John Rogers encouraged me to get some Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds. I had never heard of this variety, but have since learned that it is a true heirloom, indeed developed by the Seminole Indians. They planted these hardy, natives at the base of palm trees, and allowed the vines to grow up the trunk and fronds. Considering how robust the plants seem to be, I imagine that this was quite a sight! Wish I had brought my camera to John’s place!

Seminole-Pumpkin-Squash

I cooked the squash in the smoker, using my father’s recipe for acorn squash: A chunk of butter, a sprinkling of brown (raw) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It looked beautiful, and tasted much like sweet potatoes. AJ, didn’t take to it, since he is not much for sweet food. Strange for the guy who can devour ice cream and candy bars like they are going out of style, and who is currently drinking a Pina Colada! Oh well.

I’ve got some seeds and will be planting Seminole Pumpkin Squash this weekend.

Here they are in the smoker, which was still hot from the pork tenderloin.

Pump-Squash-Smoked

The original reason for going to John Roger’s (AKA Bamboo John) was to pick up a cutting of the lovely striped bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris), which I managed to kill last time. I think we will get it right this go round , and hope to have a stand going soon. Thanks again, John!

Bambusa-Vulgaris

So far, a good two weeks. I will try to get the wrap-up posted on Sunday evening.

Have a Happy 4th of July!





Mr. Fix-it and more Silly Cat

3 07 2009

Why should these last two weeks be any different than the rest?

There are two things I can always count on around here.

1. AJ will be fixing something or researching how to fix something at all times. Here he is preparing to replace the radiator on the car:

AJ-Fixes-Radiator

He also helped the neighbors work on their broken stuff and is now working on the broken computer that has a devastating virus (thanks to me). When he isn’t fixing, he’s doing something else like smoking a pork loin. Yum. I’ll post photos of this (as well as a great gift we received yesterday) in my next edition.

2. The other thing I can always count on is that our neighborhood cat, Smokey, will continue to nap in entertainingly silly postures.

How can any of this be comfortable?

Smokey-on-Bin

Smokey-Chair

Smokey follows me around on all of my garden inspections, and (as though to demonstrate his cat prowess) he runs up the palm tree and hangs there for a brief few seconds before jumping to the ground.

Good times.

Smokey-Tree





The Mystery Guest Revealed

3 07 2009

Remember the Mystery Guest? Well, no one offered an ID. Guess y’all have better things to do, LOL.

Let’s have a review.

The Mystery Guest has already grown up and returned to start her new family in the Oasis.

Here is an egg which she deposited on the Italian Parsley.

Egg-Leaf

In this shot a baby caterpillar investigates an older egg (which is about to hatch).

Egg-Cat

Here is one of a slightly different color.

Small-Caterp

They grow up fast. These two are likely only a few days apart in age.

2Catperps

Out with the old skin, in with the new and improved striped skin!

New-Stripes

Here’s one with the next size up striped suit.

Little-Stripey

This is our Mystery Guest right before she went on walkabout to search for a place to pupate.

Mystery-Guest2

I moved her to a potted plant on the steps, where she ate a little bit more and then built her silk harness.

MysteryGuestHammock

The next morning I found that she had made a green chrysalis. They make both green and brown. I first thought it had to do with camouflage, but I have seen both colors on the same plant. Perhaps the color is pre-programmed, allowing a 50% chance that they will end up on a matching colored stick.

I checked my calendar and planned to keep an eye out for her emergence in two weeks.

MysteryChrysalis

Six days later I went outside to check something, and was surprised to see that she had wasted no time in her transformation. I rushed to grab my camera, and manged to fire off a few shots as she dried her wings.

Papilio-Polynexes-emergin

Within moments (and probably to get away from me), she opened her wings and fluttered off.

Papilio-Polynexes

This lovely gal posed for me before flitting away to find food and a mate. She has returned to the garden, every day, to deposit her eggs on all of the host plants. When I pick my herbs I must be on the lookout for the little visitors, and sometimes have to sacrifice a few unhatched eggs, in order to harvest for the kitchen.

Here she is today. The wind has taken its toll on her wings, but it doesn’t seem to deter from her mission of laying eggs. She was tired, and seemed to pose for over a minute as she rested on the dill plant; then she was off to deposit more mini-pearls of the next generation.

Mama-Returns

You have just witnessed the life cycle of Papilio polyxenes Fabricus, 1775, otherwise known as the Eastern Black Swallowtail.

Those colorful caterpillars (once they change from mimicking bird poop), are also known as “Dillworms, Celeryworms, Carrotworms or Parsleyworms”. I think the names adequately explain their diet. Although they seem garish and conspicuous, the caterpillars are actually quite well disguised when they are on their host plants (sort of like zebras on the grassy plains).

The adults do little more than consume nectar, mate and deposit their eggs; all of which they are welcome to do in the bounty of my little garden.





Babies

31 05 2009

OK, maybe he’s really more of a teenager. But isn’t he adorable?!

This afternoon AJ came running in to tell me that he had cornered a baby opossum. I grabbed the camera, raced over to the cottage and saw this little guy. We started to rescue him but decided to let him go. After checking the internet I found out that opossums this size are just fine on their own. We brought him over to our place and let him go, so now we will have one more midnight visitor to the cat food dish.

Opossum-Jr.

Found this baby muskmelon hiding under the vines today. More like another teenager, really. I’m guessing 30 days ’til melon time.

Muskmelon

Here are the new guests to the garden. Anybody want to make a stab at an ID? Here’s a hint…that’s the mammoth dill. These little critters are one of my favorite photographic models, so you will get to watch them grow up; provided the invasive lizards don’t eat them up.

Eggs

Baby collard didn’t take well to the transplant. It was so happy in the nice Miracle Grow soil of the nursery; but I decided it was time to graduate to the garden. I think it will be fine and soon on its way to becoming a Collard Tree.

Baby-Collard

Perhaps I’m overdoing it on the bananas, but isn’t this thing gorgeous? I have been standing underneath it, mentally willing the bananas to ripen. AJ tells me that he expects it to be even bigger than previously stated. If it is one of his grandma’s trees then the clump of fruit could end up weighing 150+ pounds. We’ll see, soon enough, if that is an exaggeration.

Banana

I harvested a couple pounds of tomatoes this afternoon. Sorry, the photos were too blurry to post. Next, I sprayed everything with Atomic Grow™.

I was working towards rolling out some news about Atomic Grow™, and my part in the company; but I haven’t gotten my ducks in a row just yet. I’m sure that you can tell that I’m very thrilled with this product and am anxious to be a part of its ascent in the world of gardening!

And finally…If AJ would make himself a blog these things would get better coverage. Of course he went about fixing things again today. This project started out as a simple truck wash. His eagle eye caught the clouded headlights, so he dropped what he was doing and sanded and buffed the headlights and tail lights. They look great, don’t they? If you want to see more of this stuff leave a comment and tell him to get on that blog!

Headlight





Week in review – A reprieve from the rain

31 05 2009

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Everything is green. The yard is packed with baby grass, and the garden is growing fast.

If you read Things are a bit Spotty, you may recall that I was having a fungal issue with the tomatoes. I’m calling it Grey Leaf Spot until someone tells me otherwise. Last year this stuff completely ravaged my tomato plant to the point that I had very little yield.

Last week I treated the plant with Atomic Grow™ and trimmed off the terminal branches. I left a few of the branches with the initial stages of yellowing to see what would happen. One week later, the leaves are virtually unchanged and it appears that the fungal invasion has been stopped in its tracks. The new growth is green and healthy. I’m not going to go overboard with excitement, but things look promising!

Leaf-Spot-Halted

I know I said I would make my next Atomic Grow™ application yesterday. I reserve the right to change my mind, and so I have declared Sundays to be “Atomic Sunday”. I will make the application this afternoon and post some quick photos. There are some new guests in the garden (one for which I have planted a specific herb), and I will not be spraying that plant because I want to encourage the guests. Sorry for the vagueness, but I think I’ll let you watch them progress and see who can guess what they are. Their momma dropped them off on Friday, so stay tuned for some baby pictures this afternoon.

Here is the Oasis this weekend. Doesn’t everything look happy?

Oasis

A closer shot of some of the herbs. This is my first year with celery. I’m learning about self-blanching and how celery needs to be grouped together. I had thinned out the clump and moved some plants to outside areas. They are easily identified because they turned pale yellow. The central clump is still green. I guess we will wait and watch to see how they turn out.

Herbs

The cherry tomato plant has officially reached tree status in my book. It is upwards of 5′ tall and growing by leaps and bounds. If it didn’t make those yummy tomatoes I’d think it were a weed.

Cherry-Tomato-Tree

Time for a salad.

Cherry-Tomatoes

The succulent garden is doing great. Notice that green grass in front?

Succulents

Over the course of the week our banana flower has opened up and exposed the first hand of six bananas.

AJ explained to me that this is only the beginning. Each layer of the pod will open up in succession and reveal another hand. He estimates five or six more to come. This has been the highlight of my week.

Banana-Flower-Preopen

Banana-Flower-Opening

Banana-Flower-Opening-more

The poblano peppers got off to a rocky start, but now they are loaded with babies.

Baby-Poblano

Can I have more than one highlight? The Marketmore 76 cucumber has exploded in size.

Marketmore 76 Cucumber

And I found three new babies on a single branch. I’ve got to keep my eye out for those pickleworms. They are not allowed to eat our cucumbers.

Baby-Cucumbers

The muskmelon took a beating from the winds this week. The older leaves are fairly shredded, but there is so much new growth that it hardly matters. This plant is loaded with babies.

Muskmelon Vine

Dead frog walking. Yes, here is another Cuban Tree Frog. This one has set up housekeeping inside one of the bamboo stakes. The stake has filled with water, thus forcing froggie to poke out of the top in the daylight. These are nocturnal frogs, so you can see its determination to stay home. I was able to get extremely close and the frog didn’t budge. I’m still building the fortitude to round up and kill these invasives. I even bought some Benzocaine to put them gently to sleep before popping them into the freezer. AJ is promoting the idea of just stomping on them. Is he mean or what? Actually, it would probably be the most humane way. I just don’t think I could do it.

For now I am building a collection of photographs for their memorial. Eat up little froggie; your days are numbered!

Cuban Tree Frog in Bamboo

Mr. Fix It is still at it. This week the rains exposed another problem with the car: leaking tail lights, which allowed water to get into the trunk. AJ took them apart and found that they were both crazed and that one was cracked in various places. Here he is trying to salvage the blasted thing until we can afford a replacement part. Anybody want to buy a 1985 Mercedes 300D? 😉

Tail-light-repair

I’ll leave you with “Gravel Cat”, Jorgi.

Gravel-Cat

Check back later for a harvest update and some shots of the baby guests.