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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dead roots rising

An old timer said I could expect for old tree roots to rise to the surface of my cleared garden area for at least three years. The first year they are surfacing in spades.

Through the spring and summer I have filled this wheelbarrow at least 10 times with dead roots. The good news is that the roots don't actually harm the soil, only making it look unsightly and occasionally clogging the tiller. As the roots slowly decay they add organic matter to the soil.

New readers may want to refer to my post of January 27which has a photo of how the garden area looked before it was cleared. Where the garden stands now was a dense forest of evergreen and hardwood trees (top picture, behind the little red barn which as been moved).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

At long last, a garden fence

The posts for the garden fence were set April 17, so it only took me four months to finish it. But it's a humdinger of a fence if I do say so. I'm not sure how much detail you can pick up from the photo, so I'll describe it.

The top stringer of barbed wire is 8 feet high. The next strand is 6 feet. The wooden stringers start at 4 feet and are covered with 48-inch chicken wire. Three strands of barbed wire between the stringers complete the fence.

When there are vegetables growing in the spring and summer, I'll afix about 20 aluminum pie plates on the top strand of barbed wire between the posts. This should discourage deer from trying to jump the fence. The only wild creatures I'm worried about are raccoons. They can easily climb the chicken wire and wreak havoc. We'll see.

I hope to get my fall garden planted by the weekend -- collards, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, kale, garlic, lettuce. Want to bet it stops raining the minute I plant something?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Broomstick generations

After a few minutes of work on my grandfather's farm, it was time for my cousins and I to goof off for several hours. One of our favorite pastimes was dirt clod baseball. We would find a stick and pitch dirt clods to each other to see if we could hit them.

Finding a stick strong enough to bust dirt clods was a challenge, but in the tractor shed there was always a battered and scarred broomstick leaning up against the wall. We were told always to put it back where we found it. Of course, we rarely did. We just left it in the field after we were worn out from our games. Magically, the broomstick always made it back to the tractor shed.

On one of my non-summer visits to my grandparents, my grandfather was busy patching fences where his cows were getting out. I then realized the importance of the broomstick. It fit perfectly in the 3-point hitch of my grandfather's Ford tractor. He would place rolls of barbed wire on the stick and spool off what he needed.

I've seen all types of fancy barbed-wire spoolers at the Co-op, but nothing appears to work as well as the broomstick. I found a red broomstick to fit the 3-point hitch on my tractor. It works well. Just like I knew it would.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A compote of compost

One of the projects at Deerfield of which I'm particularly proud is my compost bin. It's made out of concrete blocks and treated lumber. The blocks are dry fitted without any mortar in case I want to move the bin. The front is made of 1 X 6 treated lumber which slide out for access. The top is open to catch the rain.

I've been judiciously dumping leaves, yard clippings and food scraps into the bin for a full year. The 24 inches of compost you see is the result of probably 6 full bins. In other words, 288 inches of loose vegetation and scraps is composted to about 24 inches of thick humus in a year's time.

I cleaned out the bin this morning before the rains came, spreading the compost in the garden and then working it in the soil with the tiller on the tractor.

My only regret is that I should have made the bin wide enough for the scoop on my tractor. Hmmmmm. Another project!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gravity tomato update

On June 17 I told how you could build one of those gravity-tomato contraptions for $1, the kind that cost $19.95 plus $8.95 shipping on TV.

Almost two months later, you can see how mine is doing in the photo. I have about 18 healthy looking orbs on the plant.

The major drawback I see for this mode of planting is that you have to water the thing about three times as much as when the plant was in the ground. Even when it rains, the soil inside the plastic bucket tends to dry out quickly.

I only built the device so I could see if a $1 bucket could match the $29 TV version. In my opinion, it did.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Deerfield's Biggest Loser -- Week 3

Week 3 put me below the the major hurdle of 200 pounds. I started at 224 so at 199 that's 25 pounds for three weeks.

With the hot dry weather, I had plenty of time to burn off calories. Fence building has a way of doing that.

The weight loss will slow down dramatically even though I continue to reduce intake. I will probably be lucky to lose two pounds a week for the next five weeks when my weight watching ends. That would put me at about 190 which is what I weighed in high school and a fairly good weight for me. If I get below that I have major clothing issues.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thousand words better than a picture

This is a lame excuse for a moon photo, but it's the best I could do after three nights of trying. (The green orb above the moon isn't a flying saucer, only the moon's reflection in the camera lens.)

The moon has been exceptionally luminous the entire week. I walked the length of my quarter-mile driveway at 10 p.m. with only the moon to light my way.

I hear deer scurrying around when I go on my night walks and occasionally see a shadow pass through the woods. I think the deer are just as excited as I am about the moon show.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Calling all herpetologists

A reader of Tuesday's post said the snake in question looked to have the markings of an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.

That inspired me to send some additional photos of the snake to Sam Venable, News-Sentinel columnist and outdoorsman extraordinare. Sam said it looked like a black rat snake to him. That concurs with my thinking that it was a common chicken snake. If the snake eats your hens' eggs, it's a chicken snake. If it eats mice, it's a rat snake, but it's all the same reptile.

The photo above shows the head of the snake a little better. It does not have the triangular shape of a poisonous snake. Just the same, I will move cautiously around the little red barn.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Finally, some fence progress

The posts have been in the ground for almost two months, but I'm just not getting around to adding the stringers on the fence for the vegetable garden. I still have to build a tractor gate in back and add chicken wire and deer fencing around the top, but the 32' X 40' enclosure is coming along nicely.

The fence follows the contour of the land which is no easy feat. You measure and measure and then you end up eyeballing it.

Procrastination does have its advantages. The price of the 1" X 6" X 8' stringers two months ago was $2.89. This week the price had dropped to $2.27.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Extension cords gave me quite a shock

I keep 200 feet of extension cords rolled up on an old contraption I made at least 30 years ago. I don't use the cords much so I keep it in the red barn by the garden.

Today I was doing some work on the lower garden, so I hauled out the cords to run them up to the house. While I was taking the contraption out of the barn, a snake poked its head out of one of the holes on the side.

I jumped back. Maybe not a world's record long jump but a fair distance considering I was going backwards. Mr. Snake retreated inside the drum.

I beat on the outside of the drum to try to get him to come out, but it refused. I started taking the apparatus a part, and about that time the slithering started. What I thought was a small snake turned out to be about a five-footer.

If something is not a water moccasin or a copperhead, I call it a chicken snake. I assume that's what it was. It slithered away in the grass. I started to whack it for giving me such a fright, but our field mice population has been a little boisterous this summer, so I let it glide away.

Don't worry. I'm retiring the extension cord holder. It's in tiny pieces now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

We finally got with the program

We are a little late in making the switch from plastic grocery bags to reusable canvas. We had uses for the plastic bags, but they were getting to be a bother.

Our four canvas bags can hold the contents of about 15 plastic bags. The canvas bags are also much easier to carry into the house. Now that I'm not cleaning out the pantry between meals, four bags will easily hold a week's worth of groceries for us.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Deerfield’s Biggest Loser – Week 2

The second week of my reduced caloric intake (dieting is a bad word, I hear) finds me at 207.5 pounds, a loss of 7.5 pounds for the week and 16.5 pounds for the two weeks.

I actually thought I might do a little better, but the heavy rains kept me sedentary for much of the week and for some reason I had to eat about a pound of Thai noodles Friday night. Also, my son-in-law brought back a sleeve of scrumptious cookies from his hockey trip to Sweden and I had to take one for the team.