Sunday, December 30, 2018

December's Garden (2018)

December has been uneventful in the garden.  The weather has been cold and wet so the hoop houses have stayed closed except when I needed to pick something.

When I finally removed all of the covers, it was surprising to see how the plants have recovered from my heavy harvesting.  

Scarlet Kale is my favorite of all of the kale varieties.  It was green when it first sprouted but the cold weather has changed the color and improved the flavor.  Now it is sweeter (well, sweet for kale) and is delicious.

The only excitement is that Pai Tsai has decided to bolt and go to December???  I don't know if this is normal but no matter what is going on, it's still edible.  The others were chopped down and are sprouting.  Soon the new leaves will be big enough to harvest.

Last month I shared in detail about the many varieties I have planted.  This month, nothing important has changed.

"WHAT! How can you say nothing important has changed?" demanded Scooter.  "Pack Leader shaved my fur then a blizzard from the North Pole immediately blew in.  I spend all of my time wearing my new sweater and snuggled up on the electric blanket trying to stay warm."

Additional Links

When Scooter received his new sweater
Scooter Writes a Thank You Note

When Scooter got a haircut
Scooter, A New Image

Last Month's November Garden (2018)

Last Year's December Garden (2017)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Stranger Arrives Home

Who is that man with long hair in my driveway?  Could it be my long lost son Reese?

It can't be Reese. He left with a truck full of food and a brand new pair of shoes - the food is gone and the thick rubber tread is worn away on his shoes.  That is impossible. Who could possibly walk that much in only six months?  Reese has.  At his job, he walks 7 miles a day and will walk a minimum of 11 miles every day during the upcoming busy season.  

Back in April, Reese accepted a position 460 miles from home with Metrolina Greenhouses in North Carolina.  It is a wholesale plant grower with the largest, most automated, single-site heated greenhouse in the United States.  It has 162 acres under glass plus 15 acres of outside growing space.   During peak season (March - June) they ship over 180 tractor-trailer loads of products each day to big-box retailers, home improvement chains and other greenhouses along the East Coast.  This is an empty section before the seedlings arrive.

This was Reese's section on September 3rd when the pansies and violas were seedlings.  He is responsible for 2 acres during the weekdays and 5 acres on weekends.  As an Assistant Grower, he manages watering, fertilizing, soil sampling, setting out sticky cards, and pesticide applications (fungicides, insecticides or PGRs).

Reese said, "Watering the plants is far more complicated than you might think. When I first arrived I had no idea what I was in for. 

The moisture levels in the soil can be split into 5 levels: #1- paper bag dry, this level is so dry that... well, it is the same as a paper bag; #2- there is a hint of moisture, but these must get some water soon! #3- wet, there is some moisture in the plants, depending on the weather it means either a couple of passes of water (if sunny) or it will be fine until tomorrow (if cloudy). #4- the soil is as its maximum water holding capacity and finally; #5- saturation. If you want more detailed information, click this link:

In regards to watering the plants, we can't keep them at level #4 or #5 as that would cause pest issues to arise - fungus gnats, botrytis, stretching, and more.  I must let the plants dry to level #2 before watering. This also helps with keeping the plants smaller and forcing the roots to grow. You might think 'alright, just wait till the plants dry out then water, not to bad'. See, that is difficult. I must get everything in my section watered by 12:00 noon so there will be plenty of time for the leaves to dry. I walk my section while it is just beginning to get light outside and I have to determine 'will this make it through the day without water? If not how many passes? Should I just touch up the edges with a hosepipe?' It is confusing as the situation is always changing. Everything impacts how fast the soil drys out: temperature, light levels, plant species, spacing, wind movement, plant size, day length, soil type, pot size. Sometimes a few of these factors become critical in the decision. Say, light levels, if it is sunny outside and something is at level #4 it could take only two days for it to dry out to the point of needing more water, but if a large storm hangs in the area then it could take upwards of four to five days before needing water. Determining when to water the plants is a very complex process which only experience can solve. 

The water running through the arms hanging over the crops, which are called booms, includes a fertilizer mixture. Sometimes though, the soil ph level gets out of whack and via chemical magic (read as 'nutrient lockout') keeps the nutrients away from the plants. This causes the plants to undergo undue stresses. Lack of nutrients can have a variety of symptoms. No nitrogen will make the leaves yellow. Leaves cupping on pansies is calcium deficiency, purple leaves are a lack of phosphorus. To fix this we must either spray the plants with nutrients or fix the ph. You might think that fixing the ph would be more crucial, but sometimes it is better to spray the plants and hold the problems off. If the plants are in a 360 cell tray (think the size of a thimble for the roots), then the plants are only going to be in there for 4 or so weeks before they are transplanted into a finished pot. The size can be anywhere between 1 qt (0.94 L) to 2 gal (7.57 L). The larger volume of soil would negate any ph changes that had been applied earlier. It is just not worth the work. It would be far more efficient to spray it 2-3 times and that is it.

These are the pansies before they were shipped to the retail stores. 

Poinsettias and mums were the main crops right before I came home before Thanksgiving.  They didn't get watered overhead but are on tables which are flooded.  When the bracts start changing color, the overhead watering can cause spots on the leaves.

The color is so vibrant it plays tricks on your eyes when you are standing in the middle.

I returned to work right before Thanksgiving in time to prepare everything for the holidays.  Every employee from the top to the bottom worked a massive two-day shipping.  Now it is time for cleaning and then the spring crops will be started."

Reese was tired so we didn't do anything special during his week at home - any excuse to be lazy was good for me.  Scooter, on the other hand, was not as accommodating; he demanded attention fulltime.

Oh...that feels so good!
I am watching every bite you eat.
We celebrated his trip home with a special dinner.  It was the last of the canned tuna fish and pickled zucchini saved from our A First at the Last Dinner.  It was shipped to me by Becky at Home and is the best tuna fish in the world.

Sometimes doing nothing is everything. 

Awesome tunafish and pickled zucchini!
I packed his truck full of food and sent him on his way.  The busy season is in full-swing so time off for the winter holidays was not possible.  Dustin was able to come home when his factory in Iowa closed for a week.  He braved the 13-hour drive and decided to always fly in the future.  

Life has changed so much this past year.  I know the calendar says it has only been one year but it has felt like a lifetime. We are working hard at adapting and it seems distance is going to be the new norm.

Dustin, Reese, and Joshua.
Additional Links

A First at the Last

Aquaponics Dreams

Aquaponics Dreams Delayed, Part 2

Monday, December 17, 2018

Almost Home

Am I trespassing or welcomed?  Which is it?
This past weekend we were traveling through a local small town and decided to try and find the house we had attempted to buy 15 years ago. It took effort - dead-end streets plus some back-tracking, but we found it. We were living in a tiny house in Nashville with three rapidly growing boys and wanted to move to the country.  Not everything is quite as I remembered.

It needed work back then, paint, carpets, deep cleaning.  We were willing to tackle the job because we were young and strong. Not many big houses on good sized lots were in our price range. The builder had made some cost-saving decisions which lowered the value but most were things we could tolerate or fix.

Inside the drive-in garage, the house was not built on a block foundation but is sitting atop solid bedrock.  It is protruding up from the ground inside along the back left side.  I considered it to be sturdier, but our real estate agent said it was shoddy craftsmanship to avoid the expense of excavating a large hole.

The builder had also used cedar tree trunks cut from the property as support poles for the porch. The spot where the dark blue car is parked is graveled not poured concrete.  It appears the present owners are not concerned about making these types of cosmetic improvements.

The land is about as bad as it can be without being a desert.  It is solid limestone bedrock with only an inch or two of soil.  If cedar trees can't survive, it's bad land.  We weren't going to be farmers and Bill hates to mow, so that didn't bother us.  I envisioned rock gardens tucked away in little cubby holes along wooded walking paths.

We even liked the fact that the land backs up to a railroad track.  Neither of us wanted anyone moving in behind but now there is a new subdivision being built in front of the house across the street. This house is right on the road.  We would still have been living in a construction zone like we are now.  Being off away from traffic is now something we cherish.

There was one feature I absolutely loved.  The land was previously a quarry, which is common in this rocky area of Tennessee.  I had to get it.  My own rock quarry.  Who owns a rock quarry?  

We decided it was our dream house and told our realtor to immediately drive an offer across Nashville in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic before the office closed.  He made it with seconds to spare but called to say someone beat us by two minutes with another offer.  I cried. 

Now as I look back, I realize not getting it was definitely for the best.

Additional links about exciting rocks:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Necessary Destruction

Once upon a time, long, long ago in a county far away, my prince and I were traveling and noticed a large group of cars parked on a roadside surrounding a microphoned auctioneer in the back of a truck.  The land beside the road was being sold.  We stopped to listen.  He was rattling on and on and on and on.  No one would bid.  I wondered why so many people but no bids?  Within seconds, I was bored and ready to leave until I noticed Bill slowly raising his hand!  My heart stopped!  NO!  I began shaking my head as I glared at my knight in suddenly tarnishing armor! The auctioneer's attention and the whole crowd turned to look at us.  Bill nodded, tipped his visor and the jousting began.  

"What are you doing?" I demanded between clenched teeth.

Bill whispered two words.  "Too cheap."

"So what?  We haven't seen the land, it could be a nuclear waste dump and you are spending our life's savings." My heart was racing and my world was crashing.

"SOLD!" barked the auctioneer as he pointed to Bill.

The crowd circled around us, congratulations were offered and introductions made.  They were the family of the previous owners and curious neighbors.  Only two other people in the large crowd were interested in buying the land.  Now it is ours.  

We were in the right place at the right time and my knight wisely grabbed a blessing.  The land will be our retirement.  It was selectively cut years ago and this is one of the old logging roads regrown.

Some of the large, older trees have become diseased.  This is normal and it is healthier to selectively cut the biggest ones to give the younger saplings room to grow.  We want to preserve our enchanted forest and keep it flourishing.

We hired a logger to cut only the trees that are 16' inches and larger in diameter at chest height.  Those chosen to be harvested were marked with red paint.

We decided to inspect and make sure it was being handled correctly.  Even though it is the best thing to do, the destruction before my eyes made me gasp and broke my heart.

It was raining, no one was working so we decided to snoop.  The machines were massive and reeked of exhaust fumes even when silent.

"Posing for a picture in the opened jaws of a sleeping dragon is not fun," said Scooter.
There was one area circled with markers not to be touched.  It was the old family cemetery of the previous owners.  We met them briefly when we purchased the land and suggested they continue using it in the future - they declined.  The young ones had all moved away. 

I never knew these people but would like to record what little information is left on their headstones in hopes this present day electronic medium will outlast the stone markers.  I doubt it will. 
Jonas Chairs
Died Mar 5, 1899
Gone but not forgotten

2 LC
B 1863
D 192(?) 

Using paper as a grave marker is really a bad idea. 

We wore orange hunting vests for safety because it was big game season.  Even though no one but Bill is allowed to hunt on our property, in deep woods, it's hard to know where one person's land stops and another's begins.  My son Joshua accompanied me on the hike.  He said if I couldn't make it back out of the mud, he would sling me over his shoulder (like a neanderthal) and carry me.  He is so manly.  

Scooter had the best time of his life.  I am happy to report he rode in the car there and back without throwing up once.  

"Mom, why are we stopping?  My feet aren't tired.  I haven't smelled every leaf, acorn, stick, tree, mushroom, or rock; neither have I drank from every muddy puddle." said Scooter.  "Stop smiling at Joshua and let's get going."

"Yum.  So many new flavors."
I, Sir Knight Scooter am on a quest to discover the Holy Grail, an old moonshine still, hidden deep in a valley on the backside of this vast hill.  According to the realtor when the land was purchased, it was hidden somewhere on the property.  Supposedly, it was smashed by government revenuers years ago.  If it can be found, I will do it.

"Did I find the moonshine still?  A gallant knight never drinks and tells."


Additional Links:
Necessary Destruction, Part 2