Sep 8 2010

#1 Military Power; Not So High on Literacy


This, from the Writer’s Almanac:

“Today, the U.N. lists Cuba has as having the second-highest literacy rate in the world, after the country of Georgia. The United States ties for 21st place with Canada and several northern European countries.”


May 2 2010

Wool, Sheep Herding & A Hidden Cemetery


It was a busy day for country things here in greater Sykesville, where the weather felt more like mid-August than the second of May. We started the day at the annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival at the HoCo fairgrounds, billed as the nation’s largest. We saw every imaginable kind of raw wool, felt, and yarn in every imaginable form, including a number of beautiful finished products.

We browsed the livestock barns and watched part of the parade of breeds. The highlight, though, was the herding demonstration with border collies. Simply amazing beasts that were able to move a mini-herd of four sheep with precision wherever the handler directed. Great, smart, focused dogs. We’re thinking maybe we need to buy a sheep farm for our Blue.

I bought a super-duper tomato cage I couldn’t resist. It’s really heavy duty, an ingenious hinged design, and I got the “extender” so that it can be, like, 8’ tall. I love a challenge! Don’t dare ask me what I paid for it.

We had met some friends at the festival who stopped by the house for a quick cold drink. Then, after a brief nap, we kept a hiking date with some neighbors we had met at the Howard County Hospital emergency room (all ended well for all of us). They live directly adjacent to Patapsco State Park, and had promised to show us a small family graveyard they had found there.

Most of the hike was places we had already been, but we did go up to an old barn we had only seen from afar, which was an amazing log construction now frequented by teens who favor Budweiser. The graveyard was not far away, and had three impressive headstones, including one that was hand-chiseled.

Blue and our neighbors’ three dogs had a blast swimming in the river, chasing deer and generally romping in the woods. Blue was totally hot and tired. Near the end of the hike, he decided to lay down, yes, lay down in a little swamp pond. I thought we were going to be lucky and finish the hike with a relatively clean dog, but no luck. I had to give him a bottom wash when we got back.

Out in the garden, things are beginning to hop. We have peas, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, lima beans, turnips, beets, radishes, cucumbers, blue potatoes, hyacinth beans, zinnias, and gladiolus coming up. Tonight, we had our last salad with store-bought lettuce for a while. We have some beautiful Red Tiede, Cos, and Simpson Elite just about ready, and a bunch coming along behind them. I plan to put out tomatoes and peppers the second weekend of this month.

I have to admit, seed starting was a bust this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had poorer germination. Less than 50%, I dare say. Perhaps the basement was too cold, and I started too late in the greenhouse. In any event, the seedlings are small, but we should still have everything we need to plant.

Aug 23 2009

Cucumber Conundrum: Any Ideas?


We planted the cukes late; I think it was late June.  The vines were vigorous, and we’ve gotten a number of fine cucumbers.  The vines are still loaded with blossoms, but the vines and leaves are turning brown and evidently dying off.  No idea why, and haven’t researched it yet.  Any insights?

Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus


Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Jul 26 2009

Clouds And Treestands


The clouds skirting the Catoctin Mountains were magnificent as we drove east across the Piedmont Plateau on our way back from Pennsylvania — flat bottoms and billowing tops, sliding from south to north in an endless parade of shapes. It certainly got me thinking about how seldom we (I) stop to observe clouds, and trees, and grass, and all of the other incredible bounty of nature.  As a people, we Americans have created a bastard existence for ourselves, focusing only on people and people-created things (and mostly, on what other people think about the people-created things we’ve accumulated, spending our time keeping score instead of looking at clouds).  I myself quickly lose track of the phase of the moon or the few constellations I know, or the hour of sunrise or set, and scold myself constantly for it.

We had spent the weekend treestand-building on my sister’s farm.  The stand we know as “Little Dom’s Stand,” because it is and has been his spot, has been dangerously out of repair for several years now. Dom III hunts out of it the first couple days of rifle season every year.  He doesn’t hunt with a bow, so I often use it on my all-too-infrequent bowhunting trips to Italia Farms, and usually for a day or two of rifle season after Dom III heads back home to the Eastern Shore.  It is easily the most productive stand on the farm.  I shot my first deer with a bow from it, a doe, and my first buck with a bow as well, and a number of others.  But it had been hastily repaired with a few more nails a few too many times, and was beyond any attempt to patch it.

So big Dom, little Dom, and I loaded up and made a caravan down to the spot at the edge of the oat field — Dom III driving his truck pulling a trailer with our stack of lumber and tools, Dom II on the John Deere with the Bush Hog, and me on the IH with the salvaged 6×10’ section of deck dangling by chains from the bucket, which would be the main deck of the new stand.  I hadn’t driven a “real” tractor in some time, so they just put me in a single gear and sent me on my way.

We pulled away the 12’ commercial swimming pool ladder that had served for more than 20 years, banged off a couple of the main limbs of the treestand, draped a chain around it and pulled it down with the tractor in one neat move.  It was one of the many times over the weekend that I admired Dom and Dom’s on-the-fly engineering.  For this project, I was a glorified gopher at best, and glad to support their impressive skills.

One of the problems with the old stand was that it was attached to trees, and their swaying worked constantly to detach our unnatural appendage.  This new one would be freestanding.  We started scraping and chopping at the rocky soil to dig four postholes — the soil was rocky to start with, and strip mining brought eons more to the surface — but soon decided we needed to go back and get the auger for the tractor, though we we not convinced it would do the job as well as the out-of-commission skid loader would.  But it worked fine.

I insisted on bringing and buying as much new pressure-treated lumber as I thought we needed.  We so seldom focused this kind of effort, I wanted to be sure it was well-spent.  We set four sixteen-foot 4x6s as the main uprights, 2x10s as the bearing beams, all generously cross-braced with new 2x4s and reclaimed 1x6s.  By Saturday evening, we had it all up, including the deck on top.  Sunday we re-set the swimming pool ladder, finished bolting things together, and cleaned up the old stand and took it down to the on-farm dump.

I was amazed at the accomplishment.  It is rock-solid; my attempts to shake it produced only the slightest movement.  It’s 12-18” taller than the old stand, but that little bit of height offers greatly improved views.  We still have to put railings, side skirting, and a roof on (new luxury), and it’ll be done.  And be set to last for 20 to 30 years.  Can’t wait to hunt it!

Jul 21 2009

Hang Up And Drive, Dammit! And Slow Down While You’re At It.


I’ve changed my mobile talk habits dramatically, since the data seems to have reached a critical mass.  It’s just stupid to talk on the phone and drive, even with a hands-free device.   Read here some of what the government has suppressed about the dangers:

Driven to Distraction – In 2003, U.S. Withheld Data Showing Cellphone Driving Risks – Series –

Oh, and speaking of needless highway deaths and countless injuries, not to mention a catastrophic energy and climate crisis, what ever happened to that 55 mph speed limit?  Details:

55 mph stats

Guess we’re all just too damned important and in too much of a hurry.  I suggest:  slow down, shut up, or stay home.

Apr 30 2009

Time to Stare


Lately, Roger and I are frustrated by how little time we have to watch our plants grow, appreciate the beauty of spring, and talk aimlessly.  This morning’s “Writer’s Almanac” poem is by William Henry Davies.  It reflects my frustration.  No wonder that our ideal idea of a summer vacation is a week of absolute uninterrupted peace.

LeisureWhat is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.