Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Multitudinous mistletoe

In a large yellow poplar tree in our front yard and at least 100 feet above the ground grow several large clumps of mistletoe. (The photo was shot with 300mm lens.)

Everyone knows that mistletoe is a parasitic plant and is associated with various Christmas traditions, but did you know it is used to treat seizures and headaches in some cultures and is being closely looked at an an anticancer treatment?

When I was writing O Henry-type short stories about 50 years ago, I thought one of my best was about a boy who borrowed his father's shotgun to shoot mistletoe out of a tree to go along with the Christmas present he was going to buy his girlfriend, but it took him five dollars worth of shells to get the mistletoe down. He had to pay his father back for the shells first so the father could shoot a turkey for the family Christmas dinner. The boy didn't have enough money to buy the Christmas gift.

I thought it was a good story, but apparently the editors I sent it to didn't like it because it was never published. Their loss, I say.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

If a tree falls . . .

To the question of "what do you do in your spare time?", I offer the accompanying photo.

This 75-foot tree (sorry, I can't identify the species) fell not too far from our house in the backyard, wedging itself between a trifecta of sumac trees.

It will take my tractor and 30 or so man hours of work to chainsaw and split the wood. Adding to the problem is that the tree rests about 6 feet off the ground. I will have to be careful handling the tree as I whittle it down to size.

A tree this large and delicately balanced above the ground can bend a chainsaw bar, flip a tractor or easily flip me.

The tree fell two weeks ago during the big wind, and I'm still contemplating my plan of attack. Even though it's 50 degrees today and perfect timber-cutting weather, I'm going back to the stove for some more contemplation, maybe even a nap.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Impromptu artesian wells

The first month I was in Deerfield, we were hit with several rounds of heavy rains. On the first sunny day after the rains, I came down the driveway to find water spouting up from the ground about 6 inches high.

City-slicker that I was, I immediately surmised I had a busted water pipe. I run to the water cutoff at the road and turn everything off. I come back to find the water still shooting out of the ground.

It turns out I had an impromptu artesian well. Several years later when talking with the timber cutters who were working on our place, they explained what was happening.

It seems we have underground caves in the back of our property. They said they could tell by the way their heavy equipment would make the ground shake. They said when the caves filled to a certain level with rain water, the pressure had to be released and it usually occurred downhill from the caves.

This only occurs with a long slow rain. A quick downpour, even though it may be several inches, runs off before it can fill up the underground caves.

We had a long and heavy rain of more than four inches this week, and sure enough our artesian well popped up. You should be able to make it out in the photo. It was not a six-inch gusher like before, but it perked for more than 24 hours.

I’ll be doing some driveway patching this spring.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The secret of the flame -- Part 2

You've got your fire going and everything is cozy, so how do you keep it going 24/7.

It's more than just adding a few logs every now and then. Here's my routine:

Every hour I open the stove door and stir the coals. When there are only coals left and no wood mass, I add two sticks of firewood and TWO STICKS OF KINDLING. The kindling is important. Without it there's a good chance your fire logs will not ignite. If I only add one log, I use one stick of kindling.

My kindling is about half scrap wood from various projects and half split from firewood. (See kindling bucket in photo.) It shouldn't be more than an inch wide.

If I'm trying to make the fire last through the night, I fill the firebox full with equal parts firewood and kindling, alternating them in a stack. Green hickory is the best for overnight fires, but walnut or oak will work if it still has some moisture content. If I fill the stove at 11 p.m., I will usually have enough coals at 5 a.m. to start a good fire. Six hours is about all you can hope for.

A reader asked about building a fire in a fireplace. My answer: Don't.

Seriously, it you want a roaring fire to look at for a few hours, a fireplace is fine, but keep in mind that it sucks more heat out of the house than it puts in. When the fireplace ashes are cool, close the flue damper and go get under a warm blanket.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The secret of the flame -- Part 1

Last week's snow (above photo), even though it's just a lingering memory now, has inspired me to delve into the Secret of the Flame, or, in other words, how to build and keep a good fire in a stove.

When I was in the newspaper business, a fellow publisher had a sign on his desk that said something to the effect that everybody thinks they can build a fire and run a newspaper better than you. We'll leave the newspaper question for the ages, but I'm going to hold forth a little on fire building.

Starting a fire seems so simple. Throw a few logs in the firebox and strike a match. Would that it were that uncomplicated.

It goes without saying that you have to start with dry firewood. It's best if the wood has cured for a year after being split. I'm rushing that a little this season, but I'm still managing to coax along some good fires.

One secret of the flame is to use firewood that is substantially shorter than your stove's firebox. For instance, if your firebox is 30 inches, a 16-inch log will burn better than a 20-inch log. I was told this by a family that made it's living harvesting trees, and I've found it to be absolutely true.

Here's the method I use for starting the fire:

Use a flat stick of firewood as the foundation for a fire. On top of that stick, make a lattice work of kindling about three rows high. Place a couple of fire-starter pellets inside the lattice work. On top of the lattice, place a second stick of wood.

Open up all the air vents and light the pellets. Close the door and grab a cup of coffee. If your wood is dry and the kindling is strategically placed, you'll have a roaring fire in 15 minutes.

I find that I have to clean the ashes from the stove about once a week if I keep a fire going 24/7. If not, the ashes will smother the bottom stick of wood before it can turn into coals.

TOMORROW: The secret of keeping a fire going all day and night.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More "fog frost" photos

Several readers said they liked the "fog frost" photo from Tuesday, so here are a couple more. Weather forecast predicting snow for Friday night and Saturday, so we have more frosty photos soon!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dec. 1 -- First Killing Frost

When I did my calculations for the fall garden on Aug. 19, I determined the first killing frost for my ZIP Code would be Nov. 12.

We have had some light frosts, but I'm calling this morning as the first killing frost.

One of the TV weather forecasters said the weather condition we had this morning was a "fog frost," meaning that the heavy moisture that was in the air caused the fog as well as the vertical frost patterns. The moisture descended which created the little Christmas-tree like frost patterns.

No matter what it's called, it's cold and the walnut logs burning in the stove feel good.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seasons Greetings from Deerfield

The Annual Louisville Christmas Parade is a chance for residents to shine up the tractors, hook up a wagon and party down.

The lighted reindeer on front of our John Deere moved its head back and forth as it led the way. All decorations came from Big Lots, of course.

We had a dozen friends and family in our wagon today throwing candy to the masses. Granddaughter Keaton wore her antlers like a trooper.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fruit tree inventory

This week I bedded down the apple and pear trees for the winter by doing a little pruning, putting on a new layer of mulch and spraying the trees with Fung oil. The trees seem to be doing OK with healthy looking branches.

On April 11 I told you about the two Early Richmond cherry trees I had planted. I’m republishing the photo here. I’m sad to report that one of the trees didn’t make it. If you look at the photo, you will see that the tree on the left looks the healthiest. Looks can be deceiving. That’s the tree that withered and died.

I’ll plant another cherry by April 11 of next year. Hope springs eternal in the heart of man.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Appalachian spraying contraption

Commercial sprayers that work off of a tractor's PTO (power take off) can cost $500 or more. I cobbled this one together for around $75. It involves a small pump that attaches to the PTO. All the connections and hoses are items found in any hardware store. The 55-gallon drum is a piece of salvage.

Actually, the sprayer is more powerful than I need. I'm considering taking it to the farm auction to see what I can get for it. I have down-sized plans for my fruit trees. After all, how many bushels of apples and pears do we need?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Inside wood storage that works well

One of the things we liked about our Deerfield home when we bought it was all of the little cubbyholes and built-ins spotted throughout the house.

One interesting feature was storage for firewood near the stove in the breakfast room. It was handy to keep a few logs right across from the stove. The only problem was that our Boston terrier, Nelly, never met a log she didn't like to chew on. She would leave a path of bark and splinters throughout the house. Also, the storage spot always looked messy after a load of firewood was used.

I solved the problem by building what is actually a large drawer for the firewood. The drawer is 27 inches wide, 20 inches deep and 19 inches tall. It has a front on it that matches the arch in the wood box. I used heavy duty drawer ball-bearing drawer slides.

I bring in the wood in a heavy canvas wood carrier that we bought on a trip to Amish Country in Ohio. The carrier fits nicely into the drawer which rolls out easily with a full load of wood.

Nelly is the only member of the household that doesn't appreciate our new contraption.

Friday, November 13, 2009

First average killing frost -- NOT

On Aug. 19 I calculated the first average killing frost for my area by going to the website of the National Climate Data Center. The date I came up with was Nov. 12, yesterday.

Although we have had at least two nights as low as 31 degrees, we have not had a true killing frost for which 28 degrees seems to be the magic number.

Impatiens (above photo) are a sure-fire measure of a killing frost. The bright blooms fold up and drop off with the first hard freeze. These are probably not long for this world.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Varmints to the rescue

While raking leaves in the front yard, I noticed a hole about the size of a basketball under the split-rail fence. Closer inspection told me it was a huge yellow jacket nest that had been devoured by a varmint, probably either a raccoon or a skunk. The larvae sacks were strewn about around the hole.

I have seen yellow jacket ground nests in the woods, and have even had the misfortune to rile up a nest and get multiple stings, but I've never had one this close to the house.

Yellow jacket nests mature in the fall, and that's when the skunks and raccoons go after them. More power to the varmints. I don't mind them stealing our bird seed if they keep the yellow jackets away.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Happiness is a full woodshed

After three long days of cutting, splitting and stacking, our woodshed is full for the first time.

I tried to note the amount and type of wood I was cutting, so here is my best guess (in descending order): locust, poplar, walnut, hackberry, wild cherry, sweet gum and hickory. I probably missed one or two.

It hurt to cut and split the beautiful walnut and cherry. I felt like I was hacking up my grandmother's dining room table, but these were trees that had succumbed to the elements.

Bring on the cold weather.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A place in the sun

On cold mornings when I don't build a fire in the breakfast room stove, Willie and Nelly search the house for a spot of sunshine. They found one here in an upstairs bedroom. Nelly likes to use Willie as a pillow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Green, green grass of home

Twenty four days ago on Oct. 10 I posted a photo of an area surrounding our lower garden that I planted with grass seed. I told you I was going to revisit the patch of dirt to see how the seed took.

As you can see from the above photo, what was once a patch of red clay is now green grass. It didn't hurt that we've had about five inches of rain in the last three weeks.

The fescue will be spindly and living on the edge until next spring. I hope it makes it through the winter without too much damage. It it makes it, I'm sure I'll be complaining about all the extra mowing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It is what it appears to be

I continue to be amazed at how the Internet (and more precisely Google) plops the world down right at our feet.

I found an unusual plant growing in one of our rose bushes. I had no idea what it was, but the flowers resembled Chinese lanterns. I input "chinese lantern plant" into Google. Lo and behold, the plant is known commonly as "the Chinese lantern plant."

The Latin name is physalis alkekengi and is also known as the "winter cherry" or "bladder cherry."

It's a member of the potato family, if that makes any sense.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My excuse for the last month

Above is the reason I haven't been blogging lately from Deerfield. My cabinetmaker friend, Glenn Baker, and I built and installed this wall unit in my daughter's and son-in-law's living room in Farragut. While Glenn did most of the building, I did all the finishing.

The 13-foot desktop is made from cherry and the cabinet from poplar. There are at least five coats of finish on everything with sanding between each coat. Glenn made the raised panel doors from scratch with routed rails and stiles.

If you want to see more of Glenn's handiwork, go to his website.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the wild things are

Is it a fresh loaf of homemade bread? A souffle? A chef's hat?

Nope. It's a mushroom.

Mysterious fungi are popping up all over Deerfield in what may be the wettest October on record. I tried to identify this one, but couldn't find it on the internet. It weighs about a half a pound. Don't worry. I won't be eating it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fire dog #2

At about the same time I was downloading Willie's photo, I received an email from our neighbor, Larry. His son, Jeff, had taken a photo of their black lab, Slick, settling down for their first fire of the season. It's a dog's life in Deerfield.

Larry was the envy of Deerfield last year when he made it through the winter without firing up his heat pumps. He heated his two story house completely with two wood stoves. His woodshed is full again this year.

Fire dog #1

Fireplaces and stoves began firing up in Deerfield today. The high never got above 50 degrees.

Our boxer, Willie, found himself a warm spot in front of the fireplace and hunkered down for the afternoon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Diary readers, bear with me

In addition to what will probably be the wettest October on record, I'm trying to finish a built-in bookcase/desk for my daughter and son-in-law. Thus, my Deerfield Diary posts will be limited for the next week or 10 days.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

We hope to see green and not red in a month

I will take a photo from this same vantage point in about a month, and I hope you will see green grass instead of red dirt.

My big project for the week was planting 150 pounds of grass seed on almost 1.5 acres of bare ground. I think I prepared the soil adequately by plowing, tilling and then rolling after the seed was planted. I used a seed call "contractor's mix" which is several types of fescue. It's a good seed to plant in fall since it germinates quickly. We have five weeks until the average date of our first hard freeze, so that should give the seed time to get established.

We received a half inch of rain several hours after I sowed the seed, so maybe I hit the timing right for once. Because I rolled the tilled soil with a 300-pound soil compactor, I don't think the seed washed on me.

We'll know for sure in about a month.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Posts may be light, but I'm not goofing off

Deerfield Diary posts may be a little sporadic for the next few days, but I have a good excuse. My friend Glenn and I are completing a built-in wall unit for my daughter and son-in-law. The photo at right is of the 13-foot cherry desk top.

Glenn, a cabinet maker par excellence, is doing the building and I'm doing the finishing.

Deerfield Diary normally does not allow commercial messages, but I'm making an exception. Glenn R. Baker
is without a doubt the top cabinet maker in East Tennessee. Anybody considering any type of cabinetry from kitchens to wall units should give Glenn a call.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Little rat snakes grow to be big rat snakes

Remember my post wherein a large rat snake scared the willies out of me when it stuck its head out of my extension cord reel?

Neighbor Larry found a baby one yesterday and brought it up to the house. Rat snakes can be a little aggressive when cornered. This little one had already learned its strike pose and shook its tiny tail like it meant business. Being only about 6 inches long instead of 6 feet, it was kind of cute.

We like rat snakes around Deerfield because they, along with hawks, tend to keep our prolific field mice population in check. Larry released him in the woods. Larry, was that your woods or mine?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Six weeks until first hard freeze

In preparation for planting my doomed fall garden, I spent quite a bit of time calculating the first hard freeze for my zip code -- 37777. A hard freeze is when the temperature reaches 28 degrees at night.

Today is the six-week mark.

The pumpkin in the photo will not make it to maturity if the freeze occurs on schedule. If you recall in an earlier post, the pumpkin is totally a volunteer that sprang up in a hard patch of ground near the well. It has been neither tilled or fertilized. My fall garden is a few feet away, dead and brown.

I will be sure to plant some pumpkins next year so Maw Nature can have a little more fun with me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall garden update: A complete bust

When I started Deerfield Diary on January 1, I vowed to share my failures along with any successes I might have on our homestead. We can chalk up my first fall garden as a .005 on a scale of 1 to 10.

While visions of cabbage, turnip greens, bok choy and broccoli danced in my head, reality brought me only a few handfuls of icicle radishes. I can blame insects, torrential rains and probably some rabbits for my failure, but the real culprit is my soil which does not have enough organic matter. At the first sign of dry weather, my soil starts to crack like a cheap mirror. Garden soil should crumble in your hand like cornbread. Mine flakes like an overdone biscuit.

Between now and spring, I will be hauling manure, leaves, clippings, compost, peat and maybe even some shredded newsprint into the garden. I should have known that you can't turn fallow land into a cornucopia in a single season.

I always like to include a photo with my posts, but this has none. How do you take a picture of nothing?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The tail of the hawk

While we were away from Deerfield for 10 days, neighbor Larry kept up the wildlife watch and snapped this nice photo of a beautiful red-tailed hawk in his back yard. (I checked with News-Sentinel columnist Sam Venable, hawk aficionado, to make sure the identification was correct.)

Larry said the hawk was quite nonchalant as he walked up to it the take its picture, preferring to scan the fields for a four-legged lunch rather than pay attention to anything on just two legs.

A red-tailed hawk measures around 25 inches long, not too much smaller than a bald eagle which is around 30 inches.

Hawks are plentiful in Deerfield, probably because field mice are so plentiful. The mice keep gnawing on the electrical system on my tractor so I wish the hawks happy hunting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back in the saddle again

After a ten-day hiatus I'm back with you in the blogosphere.

Deerfield greeted us with cool fall weather and the aftermath of many days of rain. The weeds are as high as an elephant's eye and the driveway has a few washouts, but a couple of days of heavy labor will get everything back into shape.

I have some more hawk photos to share in coming posts, and it seems Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin may have paid us a visit.

I'll be back with you as soon as I see if there's anything left of the fall garden.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Programming Note

DEERFIELD DIARY will be taking a 10-day sabbatical starting today. My next post will be on Sept. 28. Until then, be safe.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cross off the bok choy from the menu

Forty eight hours ago I had the prettiest bok choy (Chinese cabbage) you could imagine. The plants stood about 10 inches tall with dark green tops and the snowy white underbelly.

While the beets, turnips and spinach are bug-riddled and dying, I reasoned that the redneck bugs in Deerfield didn't have a taste for anything Chinese.

This morning I went out to harvest the plants to find them all stripped bare of their leaves. There were no deer prints, so it had to be rabbits. I have chicken wire around the bottom of the garden fence, but apparently this didn't stop the hares.

If my first garden is any indication of my horticultural skills, it's a good thing I'm not a subsistence farmer. I would starve for sure.

The only hope now is for the broccoli.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mystery vine is unraveled

In my post of August 21 I asked readers to help me identify two plants that had popped up unexpectedly.

One remains unidentified but for the second there is no doubt. It's a pumpkin. And what a pumpkin it's proving to be. The vine is more than 25 feet long and has six nice pumpkins on it so far. It started too late for the pumpkins to mature properly before winter, but it seems to be making a valiant effort.

So, where did the punkin' seed come from? Maw Nature only knows. Readers of this blog know that one of my continuing themes is that Maw Nature does what she wants and if she's not agreeable, you can't do much to change her mind.

For instance, the pumpkin vine is quickly making its way to my fenced vegetable garden where the soil has been tilled numerous times, compost and organic matter added, weeds pulled and fertilizer applied. So far, the spinach is dead, the beets are beaten and the turnip greens are brown.

The pumpkin vine, which sprouted in untilled ground as hard cement, seems to be mocking me as it inches over to the garden. That's OK. I might have some pumpkin pie to salve my soul.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A gazebo to stand the test of time

Larry, our Deerfield neighbor, is never timid when he takes on a project.

When he designed his workshop, he made it so it would hold a dozen cars plus assorted tractors and equipment.

When he put a two-story addition on the back of his house, he installed an elevator.

And when he planned a gazebo for his side yard, it was a mongo gazebo. I refer to it as the “Deerfield bandstand.” There’s enough lumber in the structure to frame a three-bedroom house.

Larry said he has about $2,500 in the gazebo that he started building back in the spring and just finished this weekend. All he lacks is the stain. He did the work himself with help from daughter Angela and son Geoffre, and, of course, the moral support and daily critiques from his Deerfield neighbors.

I cringe when I have to cut a 45-degree angle, but Larry has about every angle on the protractor in his octagonal structure. To add to the challenge, it’s built on the side of a steep hill.

The center foundation support is a pillar of concrete upon which you could launch a moon probe. If I feel earthquake tremors, I’m heading for the gazebo.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Legend of the Persimmon Seed

(I've been waiting at least 50 years to post this.)

When the 14 first cousins were running around on the Vawter farm in McKenzie, Tenn., our cohort in shenanigans was our Aunt Judy. Judy, the youngest of our aunts and uncles, wasn't all that much older than her nephews and nieces.

Judy was known for her practical jokes, ghost stories and tall tales. To my mind, there has never been a horror movie that comes close to approaching the fright level created when Judy recited James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie." I still get chills thinking about it.

Besides using the screens on the bedroom windows to make "ghost noises" and telling us about all kind of creatures that inhabited the smokehouse and corn crib, she would come up with wild tales like what's inside a persimmon seed. She told in her animated way that if you cracked open the seed of a ripe persimmon you would find a little knife, fork or spoon inside. Since the cousins assembled in McKenzie mainly in the summer, we always missed the fall persimmon crop and the story became just another tale.

I kept Judy's persimmon tale in my mental file for these many years.

Our front yard in Deerfield has three prolific persimmon trees which is one reason we have such fat 'coons around her. I picked up the first ripe persimmons of the season and cracked open two seeds to show you what's inside -- little spoons. In the four falls we have been at Deerfield, I've cracked open hundreds of persimmon seeds and have never failed to find a tiny utensil.

And another thing:

You better mind yer parents, an' yer teachers fond an' dear,
And churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An he'p pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns'll git you
Ef you don't watch out!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Deerfield's Biggest Loser: Week 8 (Final)

If I cock my head just right, the scales say I weigh 194 pounds, down 30 pounds in eight weeks. I won't use the "D" word, so I'll just say that my weight reduction project is officially over.

The promise I am making to myself is that I will never again rise above 200. My knees feel much better at this weight and I don't have to tie my shoelaces in several shifts.

It doesn't seem it's that hard for me to take weight off, but that means it comes back on just as easy. I hope this is the last time I have to drastically alter my eating.

I'm going to pack away my fat wardrobe. I should take in to the Salvation Army, but I've been sorry when I've done that in the past. The sure way to backslide is to claim an ultimate victory.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roots, roots and more roots

Take a last look at these impatiens in our backyard because they will be pulled up soon, roots and all, and tossed in the compost bin. I've spent the last few days emptying the many pots and flower beds of annuals.

Speaking of pulling up roots, I went to the root canal doctor for the second time yesterday. The good doc found a third canal in the same tooth which he had to clean and pack. I'm getting tired of this entire roots business.

I had a good nurse while convalescing, No. 1 niece from Jackson, Tenn., Sara Nan, better known in East Tennessee as "Nanner." She became only the third person to ride in my Hooptie.

She was amazed at how good the Hooptie air-conditioning worked. All you have to do is push out the vent window. Willie and Nanner know a good thing when they see it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A successful tomato experiment

We harvested the last of our gravity tomatoes today, the ones planted on the cheap on June 17. (Photo was taken several weeks ago.)

If I counted correctly, we picked 18 small but juicy Rutgers tomatoes from the upside-down plant. What I found unusual is that not one tomato was bug-infested or had bad spots. It's been my experience that about half the tomatoes on a right-side-up plant go bad.

Maybe there is something to growing tomatoes upside down, but don't fall for the $19.95 TV version. Make one yourself for a few pennies.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Labor Day, Mr. Spider

Trying to find some work being done on Labor Day in Deerfield led me to a neighbor's gazebo where a large spider was hard at work on his web and then with preparing lunch. This eight-legged beauty is an argiope aurantia, commonly known as the Black and Yellow Garden Spider, according to Wikipedia.

The male of the species shows off by doing a bold zig-zag pattern on the web. Typical male behavior, I say. ('Nita, can your new machine do that stitch?)

My young neighbor, Angela, who never met a bug she didn't like, offered the spider a treat by placing a dead carpenter bee in the web. Mr. Spider immediately began to wrap it up for a big Labor Day feast. The bee was almost as big as the spider eating it.

A good time was had by all (except the bee.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Attack of the Dog Days of Summer

Here we are in the last throes of summer, and Deerfield has succumbed.

Instead of bouncing off the windows and walls when a rabbit or a squirrel is spotted outside, Willie and Nelly languish on the couch.

Our once beautiful and lush pots and baskets of flowers are stringy and tired.

The perennials around the yard have stopped growing and are saving string for next year. The annuals have given up the ghost.

Your faithful blogger is more miss than hit.

The clothes dryer has quit drying.

Even the black flies and mosquitoes are lethargic. They land on you, but don't have the energy to take a bite.


No movement backwards or forwards. Stuck on 196. Goal of 190 is in jeopardy, but need to focus on the fact I have lost 28 pounds.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Two week update on fall garden

It's been a little more than two weeks since my fall garden went in the ground. Here's a quick update on the state of things:

SPINACH -- Dead. Never got established. Must have planted it when it was too hot.

-- The best looking crop. Almost 5 inches tall.

HEAD LETTUCE -- Sprouts look good. About two inches tall.

CABBAGE -- After a shaky start, my two kinds of cabbage are looking good.

-- Almost let the bugs get it, but applied Sevin just in time.

DETROIT BEETS -- Fewer than half the seeds sprouted. Jury is still out.

ICICLE RADISH -- Have thinned the sprouts three times. Radish greens are good in a salad.

TURNIP GREENS -- As I mentioned, I sowed these much too thick. I'm just going to see what happens.

-- Sowed these just 8 days ago, but sprouts look good.

-- Velly, velly nice.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

So close and yet so far

The Knoxville airport flooded Thursday evening with several inches of rain in less than an hour. The bottom floor where the baggage is collected had water standing on the floor. Deerfield, less than six miles from the airport, only got a trace of rain during that time. Amazing.

I failed to post anything Friday because I was recovering from my root canal. The procedure was not that bad, but I was in the chair for almost two hours. I spent the rest of Friday in bed feeling sorry for myself.

No weight loss this week. I probably was doing some feel-good snacking in anticipation of my root canal. I seem to remember ravaging a container of sherbet from from the freezer. So I need to drop 6 more pounds in the two weeks I have left.

I have made it down to my "skinny wardrobe," so I'm pulling out clothes I haven't seen in a couple of years. It's nice to be able to lace one's boots without having to take extra breaths.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An uninspired day at Deerfield

I finally got my John Deere running by replacing the battery cables, so I was able to bush hog the woods in front of the house today before the heavy rains set in.

The reason for my funk is I have a root canal scheduled for 7:30 tomorrow morning. It's the top rear tooth, the one that has the deepest roots of course.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A couple of rookie mistakes in the garden

You would think I would know better.

When I broadcast the seeds for my mixed greens (left photo), the shoots came up so concentrated that I'm going to have a hard time thinning them. I should have mixed sand in with the seed which lets you broadcast over a wider area.

When I planted my cabbage sets (right photo), I didn't treat them with Sevin dust and the bugs moved in pronto, as you can see.

Plant and learn.

It took 90 gallons of asphalt sealer to complete my driveway. I had estimated it would take 60. But it's done.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Working on the road gang

One of the best investments we made when we moved to Deerfield in 2006 was to blacktop the upper portion of our driveway. There was a good gravel base, so the blacktop went down nicely.

I should have sealed the blacktop in 2007, but other projects came ahead of that. I'm finally getting around to it now. My calculations say it will take 60 gallons of sealer to complete the job. The hardest part is pressure washing before the sealer is applied.

Only about 200 feet of the 1300-foot driveway is blacktopped. Thank goodness.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Where have all the 'Heavenly Blues' gone?

Each year I plant morning glory seeds at the posts of our split-rail fence in the front yard. The seeds never disappoint with the green vines covering the posts in less than two months.

This year, even though I planted the same "Heavenly Blue" variety, the vines are not producing flowers. Compare last year's vines with this year's.

One theory is that the heavy rains knocked off the tender blooms. Our neighbor said that is what happened to his apple trees. As I continually remind myself, Ma Nature only gives what she wants.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

If the glove fits . . .

I started my garden fence project with a $12 pair of good quality leather gloves. As you can see, they are much worse for the wear. I will probably have to retire them soon to keep from getting blisters.

I look at the heavy gloves and think back to my grandfather's standard pair of brown cotton jersey work gloves. He only wore them for fencing and occasionally in the winter if the temperature got in the teens. A 25 cent (1955 prices) pair of gloves seemed to last him for years. After a day of handling barbed wire the gloves would be shredded, but good for another fence job, and then another. When the threads would barely hold together, the gloves would be thrown in the tractor tool box to wipe the dipstick when checking the oil.

Is barbed wire sharper in the 21st Century? I think not.

Only 2 pounds dropped in the fifth week, so I'm down to 196. I will blame the meager weight loss on lack of exercise due to the rainy week, but I also was guilty of a few late night snacks. I'm down a total of 28 pounds with 6 more pounds to go in three weeks. Should be able to make it if I stay away from the fridge after 10 p.m.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Name that plant

Plants pop up around Deerfield all the time, and despite my investigative efforts, I have no idea what they are.

The odd ball in the photo below came up in the middle of my blueberry patch. Its leaves span about 30 inches. The texture of the leaf is almost like a lamb's ear, but it's about five times as big as any lamb's ear I've ever seen.

The plant/vine at top right came up beside my ersatz well. It has grown to the current length of about five feet in less than a month. It looks like a squash of some kind, but by this time it should have some fruit buds starting to form. I don't see any.

If you have any idea what these might be, please let me know.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ode to a praying mantis

As I was mowing with my hand bushhog yesterday, I spotted an unusually large praying mantis calmly perched on the branch of a small bush. The whirling blade came within inches of the insect, but it refused to move.

I picked it up and took it to the front porch for a photo shoot. The mantis measured almost 5 inches long. The green on its body looked exactly like a small leaf. The big guy took a couple of small bites out of my finger with its strong mandibles.

A “walking stick,” as the praying mantis is often called, makes a great photo subject, remaining in a rigid pose if you wave your hand in front of it. I pestered it for a few minutes and then deposited it in a rhododendron bush near the front door.

The experience prompted me to pen this limerick:

A mantis was putting on airs
Camouflage so good that it wears
The “stick” was just snoring
When the mower came roaring
It should have been saying its prayers

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Calculations for the fall garden

Picking the date to plant a fall garden is a little more dicey than planting your spring garden. The first thing you must do is arrive at your average first killing frost date. A killing frost is when the temperature reaches 28 degrees over night. There's a handy site at the National Climate Data Center that gives this date for most municipalities in the country.

My date is November 12. Counting back 12 weeks from that date -- Aug. 20 -- is when fall garden seeds should be sown. I jumped the gun a little and sowed most of mine on Aug. 15. The accompanying photo shows where I broadcast seeds for mixed greens (turnips, mustard, kale). I was pleasantly surprised the seeds germinated to that extent in just five days. We have had several good rains and the temperatures have been bearable for the young sprouts. The lettuce, beets and radish seeds also have germinated.

Salad, anyone?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A little help with my gravity tomato

Jan, a friend from church and a reader of Deerfield Diary, took pity on my complaint that I had to spend too much time watering my gravity tomato that I planted in a plastic bucket. The plastic dries out the soil much faster than even a clay pot.

She brought me an orange contraption that fits on a plastic bottle. You fill the bottle with water and stick the spike into the ground. The device slowly waters your soil.

Since my Rutgers tomatoes are beginning to ripen, I filled the bottle with liquid fertilizer. This should give them a good shot of nutrients as they ripen.

With any luck, Jan, you'll get a tomato or two.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Strategic planning -- Fun for a change

One of my least favorite exercises when I was in the newspaper business was strategic planning. We would spend several months trying to come up with a plan to carry us through the next five years. Our management team would sit around a white board and try to predict the future with best case/worse case scenarios.

Garden strategic planning is much more fun, and I have my white board affixed to my garage wall. I dutifully note when and where I planted the different varieties of vegetables. In the photo above the plot marked in red is the fenced garden. Next spring I will plant corn, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes and potatoes outside of the fence. It takes a diagram like this to keep everything straight.

My fall garden so far has: spinach, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), broccoli, Romaine lettuce, Savoy cabbage, leaf lettuce, Detroit beets, icicle radishes and turnip greens.

I'm still a little concerned about the quality of the soil even though I've added hundreds of pound of organic matter. The one thing great about gardening is that you always get a second chance.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A paean to poke sallet

Poke sallet has a reputation as redneck cuisine, but I think it gets a bum rap. First of all, it's not poke "salad." "Sallet" is a middle English term meaning "a mess of," such as a "sallet of fish."

Tony Jo White did a disservice with his "Poke Salad Annie, the 'gators got your granny" tune. There are poke sallet festivals in several towns in the South. Poke and morels are credited with keeping many people in Appalachia alive during the Depression. Morels bring hundreds of dollars a pound. Poke sallet is too often the butt of jokes.

I would eagerly harvest poke, but I don't have much confidence in my botanical eye. I think the photo here is of a poke plant, but I'm not certain enough to eat it. It looks like a young Chinese sumac plant which can be poisonous.

But I have a grand solution. My Aunt Judy makes a dish we'll call "Faux Poke Sallet."
All you do (that's how Judy begins all her recipes) is:

* Saute a small handful of chopped onions in a skillet with oil.
* Dump in a can of spinach that has been completely drained.
* Crack an egg and stir it in. Stir fry until the egg is cooked.

You have a dish fit for a king.

The dramatic weight loss has come to a screeching halt. I only dropped 1 pound to 198. The first three weeks I lost a total of 25 pounds. It will be slow going the next four weeks, but I only have to lose 8 pounds in the next four weeks to hit my goal of 190.