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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

New developments

Well, it's official.  I bought the property adjacent to mine.  The guy who wanted to put in three trailers on the lot put it up for sale after losing his petition for a zoning variance.  I felt I had to do something to protect my pond, since a part of the pond lies in the adjoining lot.  If a new owner was to graze horses or cattle close to the pond, or even worse, allow animals to access the pond, it would be infested with slimy algae. The yellow tape marks the old property line.

Now I'm waiting on a survey to divide the property.  I'm keeping only a hundred feet swath that adjoins my property while my neighbor on the other side of the lot will buy the remainder from me.  I am in the process of clearing the corner so I can put in some more garden and also some fruit trees.  The garden will grow squash and sweet corn.  I'll buy a gas powered pump for watering.  Once this area is cleared I'll lay down a sheet mulch to get it ready for next year.

The lot has been in the procession of succession from pasture to woods since I moved here ten years ago.  It's probably about 3/4 tulip poplar, with some oak, maple, cherry, walnut and other more desirable trees making up the remainder.  I plan to selectively remove many of the tulip poplar, which is almost a weed in my view, to make room for the other trees.

It's hard to believe that the garden is mostly in.  It's hard to remember if we even had a spring, and it's certainly summer now.  About a week ago I dug up the two beds that get solanacae.  The beds had a cover crop of oats and field peas that was seeded in March.  The ground was nice and loamy, easy to turn over.

The roots of the field peas were covered with nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

After turning over with a shovel the beds were tilled with the little mini-cultivator.  I hope the day comes when this isn't necessary, but there are still some clods of clay in the soil that need breaking up.  The tomato cages were installed on fence posts and the tomato seedlings were set in, along with peppers and eggplant.  Fast forward to now, and they are  looking pretty good.

While the indeterminate tomatoes are grown in narrow 16 inch cages that are 5 feet tall, actually taller because they are hung on the fence posts a foot above the ground, the determinate sauce tomatoes are grown in wide 22 inch cages that are 4 feet tall.  The unplanted spaces will get Bride eggplant, which germinated a week later than the other eggplant and isn't quite ready to be put into the bed.

After losing most of the brassicas to cutworms, the last set of seedlings escaped their onslaught.  Maybe the repeated sprays of Bt got the little devils.  Better late than never.  Since the remainder of this bed will not get brassicas, I seeded bush beans and carrots in the open space.

Cucumbers were set out.  There's one Swing cucumber, a new one for me, for slicing, and four pickling cucumbers, Calypso and Vertina.  The cutworms got many of the onions as well but they have recovered much better than the cole crops.

The big bed also had a cover of oats and peas.  I tilled up small patches and seeded squash in each patch.  There's a pole bean trellis in back.  The squash should have no problem growing over the top of the cover crop, which will wilt in the summer's heat.

While I was finishing up the garden work last weekend, the neighbor's son stopped by and did some fishing. He got several nice bass.

The robins made a nest in the strawberry planter, and every time I walk out to the garden she flies off in a commotion.  Guess we will have to co-exist.

And the front of the house is still a work in progress, with new edging around the flower beds waiting on when I get the time.  I had hoped to have this finished last fall, then broke my foot.  I was amazed that all the plants returned after the trampling some of them got while the porch was being rebuilt.  The rhododendron, which has never looked healthy, will be removed, after it has flowered of course, and replaced with a shade-tolerant hydrangea.  As a final touch I'm refinishing the cedar rocking chair which will take its rightful place on the porch. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mid-spring update, May 3

Yesterday's weather was mid-80's in the afternoon, with little shade because the trees hadn't leafed out.  I think yesterday's warm weather jumped started the leaves, because they are unfurling at a rapid pace now, and things are moving along at a good pace in the vegetable garden too.  The rhubarb, planted last year, is sizing up nicely.  I know that you are supposed to cut off the flowers but I want to see what they look like.

These asparagus shoots, over a foot tall, got away from me.  Still, only a few inches at the bottom was woody.  Four of the six plants are producing now, and I'm waiting on shoots from the other two. Hope they did not die over the winter.

Moved out of the coldframe over a week ago, the Earthbox lettuce is practically popping out of the container.  I plant the lettuce thick, so when one plant is cut a neighbor quickly takes its place.  The lettuce this year is growing in ProMix, so much better than the lettuce that did not even grow last year in a name brand potting mix which shall not be named.  I need to do another picking to make room for some summer lettuce (Pinetree's year-round mix).

With nothing even close to a frost in the forecast, the tomatoes were moved out to the coldframe to join the peppers.  With abundant natural light they are really growing strong, and should be more than ready for planting in about a week. 

Under the LED lights, a few of the tomato plants were starting to show signs of leaf burn as they grew taller and closer to the lights.  As with the lettuce, I think this is a problem with the two UV LED's in each unit.  Since the individual reflectors do not spread the light out very much, a seedling that grows directly under a UV LED could get too much of this high energy light.  It's not that much damage, and the plants have easily outgrown the damage now that they are outdoors, but still, it's a concern and a fundamental flaw in the design.

Under the lights, okra, eggplant, cucumber and one Basil plant remain, as well as some flower seeds that haven't germinated yet.   The Bride eggplant took nearly ten days longer to germinate than the Lavendar Touch eggplant, but it'll get there.  The okra and cucumber look small, but they come on really fast, so they should be ready in less than two weeks.

Oh, the cutworms ravaged the cole crops once again, after I had planted a new set of them to replace the previous plants lost to the cutworms.  They spared most of the cabbage, seeming to prefer broccoli and kohlrabi.  I guess they win this round, but I'd like to think that the leaves sprayed with Bt did a number on them.  There's one more set of cole crops in the coldframe which will be ready for planting in about a week, and I'm still hoping that one or two broccoli plants survive.

Next year will require more drastic measures. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday April 30

It's the last day of April and some goodies are appearing.  Some of the asparagus plants have been sending up spears, and I'm more than happy to take them.  Fresh asparagus and home grown lettuce make for a nice salad.

I've been pilfering spinach leaves every few days, but later in the week picked a small head of spinach.  It went into an omelette of spinach, baby bella mushrooms and fontina cheese.  Not bad.

Now for the bad news.  The cutworms got into the brassica bed and did some major damage, about half the plants destroyed, all but one broccoli, all of the cauliflower and many of the kohlrabi.  They even hit the onions, but the onions look like they will recover.  Usually I spray Bt around the young plants as a preventive, but forgot to get some when I was at May's greenhouse two weeks ago.  I picked some up yesterday, and today planted a new set of brassicas to replace the ones that were destroyed by the cursed cutworms, then sprayed the stems and the soil around the plants liberally with Bt.

Things are starting to move along now, and according to the 10 day forecast it looks like there is little chance of another frost until fall.  I moved the tomato plants out to the coldframe to join the peppers.  Actually I'm mostly caught up until the warm weather crops go in, which leaves time to work on the many other projects that are ongoing. To see what other people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres and check it out. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

It's like a storm has passed

I've lived in this place for ten years now.  Six acres in the country, with a pond, woods and a pasture.  The most notable feature of this property is the pond, built by damning a ravine.  It's a 1/2 acre jewel, deeper than most farm ponds.  When I moved here I realized that the best way to maintain the pond was to NOT maintain most of the shoreline - just let it go wild.  It's a superb wildlife habitat.  This morning I watched from the sunroom as a pair of wood ducks flew in and paid a visit.  In the evening the frogs can get so loud that, standing on the back deck, my ears start to roar.  For a farm pond, the water is fairly clear with only occasional blooms of algae.  That's because there is no nutrient runoff into the pond, from grazing animals or fertilizers.

It always concerned me that the property line barely contains the pond on the north side, on the left in the picture above.  In fact there is at most ten feet of my property on the north side of the pond.  Still, the lot on the other side of the pond had stood vacant for many years, owned by an elderly couple in Chicago who had no plans for it.  Two years ago, both of them had passed and the lot was given to their nephew, who promptly put it up for sale.  In 2017, a young couple bought it and began making a rudimentary drive to the center of the lot, where they cleared an small area where they intended to build a house.

They were nice people, I was told, and their intended building site was screened by trees from my house.   I hoped that they would be receptive to my concerns for the pond, and agree to leave a buffer strip along the edge of their property to protect the pond.  In return, I would offer them fishing privileges from the levee.  Unfortunately, they ran into some problems and had to put the lot up for sale.

In late January, I found out that the lot had a new owner.  There was an unusual spell of warm weather then, and leaving the house that day I saw that the front part of the lot, overgrown with small trees and bushes, was being cleared.  Since I couldn't see if they were staying on their side of the line, I stopped the car and walked over to have a look.  That's when I saw that they had cleared into my property by as much as 75 feet.  This picture was taken a few days later, after I had put up a temporary fence to mark the property line.  His lot is to the right of the fence.

Just to explain, the flat land in the left of the picture is pasture.  I let the sloped ground go wild, as a wetland and wildlife habitat.  It's the watershed that feeds the pond, which is behind the tree line.  The new owner couldn't be bothered to find out where lines are, he just told his workers to clear off all the overgrown area, including what was on my property.

I talked to the workers, who said they were only following orders.  They told me that the owner was deaf and communication was difficult.  Still, they were clearing on a line toward my house.  They had to know they were trespassing.  Then they told me that he intended to put three trailers on the lot.  For a few seconds I was stunned.  It was like getting hit with a shock wave.  I shook my head and said "No.  That's not going to happen" and walked away. 

A chain of phone calls around the neighborhood began.  This is not a fancy neighborhood.  All of the lots are six acres, subdivided from a pasture in the 90's.  Many of the homes are modulars, some of the people are a little messy, but there are no trailers, and every lot has one home per lot.  It was obvious from the start that this guy intended to rent the trailers as a money making venture.  Visions of meth labs, exploding trailers, loud parties and vandalism, a public nuisance, looked like a real possibility.  The value of my house, which I have been working on for ten years, would plummet as a mini-trailer park went in next door.

View from my back porch.

The next day, I was at the county planning commission, asking them to send enforcement out and shut him down.  It took them a few days, and by that time this guy had brought in at least ten truck loads of stone to put in a driveway that went in about fifty feet from the road then split in opposite directions and ended in circular pads.  He was working very fast.  My neighbor north of this lot was practically screaming "Those are trailer pads. He's putting in trailers."

About a week after that all of the adjoining neighbors received a certified letter from the owner notifying us of a hearing for a zoning variance at the end of March.  At least work had stopped in the interim, and one of the enforcement people told me that if he begins digging anything, to notify him immediately.  I sent a letter, the first of several, to everyone in the neighborhod, asking that they all attend the hearing to oppose this.

Who was this guy?  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Had he done this before, buy up a property in a rural county, possibly pay off some officials to get the zoning approval, and put in rental trailers?  I suspected the worst, but thought there was more to it.  It was clear from his application for a variance that he was barely literate.  The reasons he gave for getting a variance were childlike in their simplicity.  And the clerks at the planning commission had to explain to him, with his girlfriend interpreting, that he had to get approval for three septic systems. 

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I could find out more about him.  He lived in a very nice 4-bedroom house in a small town south of Indianapolis, recently remodeled, nice neighborhood,  large lot, mature trees.  The notion that he would move out of that house and live in one of the trailers was laughable.  Then the second bombshell dropped.  He was a registered sex offender.  Actually he was classified as a 'violent sexual predator' who had been released from prison the previous summer after serving five years for child molestation.  It was his second conviction.  The neighborhood's opposition to this guy at this point had galvanized, to say the least.

In March, he and his buddies towed an old, unlicensed RV out to the property where he spent the weekends with his girlfriend.  When the weather was good, he would take a heavy duty mower or a bobcat onto the back part of the lot, where I could see him from my house, and clear off brush.  With that equipment, he couldn't knock down any tree larger than a couple of inches in diameter, but still, there was the anxiety of wondering what he was going to do next to mess up the land.  It had become obvious that he really had no clue what he wanted to do with the land, and understood nothing about managing a property in the country.
Looking at RV from road.

The last weekend he camped there, about two weeks before the hearing, he and his girlfriend walked to the house across the road and knocked on their door.  Interpreting for him, she asked the neighbors how you go about hooking up to the water, sewer and gas lines.  My neighbor was dumbfounded.  There are no lines, she said, this is the country, you have to dig a well and put in a septic system.  He literally had no clue.  This confirmed for me what I had concluded a little earlier, that he was mildly retarded, and did not understand the consequences of his actions.

The hearing took place.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including the farmer who owns hundreds of acres to the west of us, showed up.  I had never met some of my neighbors, until this.  Some of their speeches were very eloquent.  We talked about low flow problems with wells, how the land could not possibly support three septic systems there, about the damage that he had already caused.  He claimed that he wanted to move his 80 year old mother, in poor health, who lived with him in his house in Franklin, into one of the trailers in the middle of nowhere.  I pointed out that the nearest hospital out here was nearly 30 minutes away.  His petition for a zoning variance was unanimously denied.

He hasn't been back since.  The RV still is there, now stuck in the mud, with a generator wrapped in plastic next to it.  Two weeks ago a for sale sign went up on the lot.  My neighbor on the other side agreed that one of us would buy the lot and sell half to the other so this can never happen again, but my neighbor owns his house free and clear and refuses to put it up for collateral for a loan.  I can't afford to make payments on the full lot, so for the time being it sits there like a festering sore.  I don't think it will sell anytime soon, since the driveways that he put in are useless and detract from the value.  It looks bad, but the real nightmare is finally over, I hope.



Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday April 23

Finally, something to eat from the garden.  I had forgotten just how good fresh lettuce tastes.  Buttery, flavorful - there's just no comparison to supermarket lettuce.  I grow lettuce in an Earthbox, which is in the coldframe right now.  I usually get about 5 pounds of lettuce from an Earthbox before it bolts, and it's very clean.  Last week I got the first picking:

Yesterday, some more:

I don't know what varieties are in this, it's Pinetree lettuce mix, but it's all good.  To see what people are growing, head on over to Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It's looking like the growing season has actually begun

and the weather has finally turned a corner, into more normal temperatures for this time of year.  After a dusting of snow and some miserably cold temps on Monday, the ten day forecast looks pretty good.  Today it's 70 F and I'm seeing a lot of trees blooming and the bushes leafing out.  Nature was just biding its time, and now it's full speed ahead.

Yesterday I transplanted about 120 onion seedlings into a bed, also about 10 cole crop seedlings.  I had better success with the onion seedlings this year.  Last year there were problems with a lot of the seedlings, especially tomatoes.   I'm sure it was the potting mix that I used, a name brand from the big box store.  It was also used in the Earthbox to grow lettuce, and that was a bust too.  Most of the onions are Pontiac, a yellow storage variety, along with Ruby Ring and Red Cippolini.   I left about a foot on one side of the bed unplanted.  That area will be planted with cucumbers later.

This year I bought a bag of ProMix for starting seedlings and for the Earthbox.  ProMix is good stuff.  It is compressed into a 2 cubic foot bale, and expands to 4 cubic feet.  It's actually a better deal than the more common name brands.  The only downside is you have to add fertilizer.

There are now 2 sets of brassicas in the bed.  The second set will likely mature shortly after the first set, due to the weather, even though they were started nearly 2 weeks apart.  There's Green Magic and Imperial broccoli, Gonzalez and Point One cabbage, Kolibri kohlrabi and Minuteman cauliflower.   The screened frame keeps out the neighborhood dogs.

The overwintered spinach is very late this year, and much of it was lost last winter.  I've gotten spinach as early as mid-March, and almost always harvest some by early April.  Not this year, but I expect to pick soon.  I seeded some spinach in the empty spaces, which has germinated now, and hope to get more spinach after these heads are picked.  I have never had much success with spring-sown spinach, it usually bolts.

The lettuce in the Earthbox is growing rapidly now, and I expect to pick some very soon.  The next set of lettuce and brassicas has been moved into the coldframe, now that the nights are not so cold.

With more plants moved outdoors, there was room to re-pot the tomato seedlings into large pots (JIffy cups with holes punched in the bottom).  The pepper seedlings were re-potted last week, and okra was seeded directly into the large pots but hasn't germinated yet.  Eggplant hasn't been re-potted yet, and cucumbers don't get seeded for another week or two.  At this point there are 3 trays under the lights, with room for one more.  I don't know if there will be any need for the fluorescent light this year.

I bought 6 more pepper plants from May's greenhouse today, and will re-pot them later, so it looks like I'll need that fourth tray very soon.

The future tomato/pepper/eggplant beds have a developing cover crop of oats and field peas growing through a layer of compost, as does the squash bed.  The cover crop took a long long time to germinate.

The planting schedule calls for potatoes to go in today, but that's not going to happen.  I just picked up the seed potatoes today.  I expect to get the potatoes in early next week, after the soil warms a little more.  Otherwise it seems like things are mostly under control, for the time being.  I am trying to buy the vacant lot adjacent to mine, and split it with my neighbor on the other side of the lot.  If I get the property I intend to expand the garden on the other side of the pond.  More on that later.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Too cold to plant and the LED lights updated

It's April 10 but the weather has been more like February.  There's 10 cole crop seedlings under the lights that could have gone into the ground a week ago, but with some nights reaching into the low 20 degree F I've chosen to leave them inside until the weather improves.  That will be tomorrow when the temperatures go to something like average and stay there for awhile.

I bought another LED light and added it to the two in place.  That required removing the frame and reconfiguring it a bit.  Now the lights are almost touching and the plants will not be in any 'dead zones' with inadequate light.  As a unit, the three lights together are about 13" by 40" in dimension, about the same size as two plant trays end to end.  With the increased light, my point and shoot camera just couldn't seem to find a proper adjustment for the picture.

In a recent post I expressed some concerns about the lights burning lettuce, which I attributed to the two UV lights in each unit.  With raising the lights over 20" above the plants, and turning the lights so the UV lights were not in line down the center, that doesn't seem to be a problem anymore.  In fact, since adding the third light, the plants appear to be doing better than they did under the fluorescent lights.

This is the set of cole crops which I hope to set out tomorrow, and tomato seedlings that have just recently germinated.  For a while the cole crops were leggy, usually an indication of inadequate light, but with more leaf area as they grow they appear to have thickened their stems and are much stouter now.

The other tray has pepper seedlings, two more sets of cole crops at different stages of growth, and some lettuce.  All of it looks healthy at this point.

So far I'm happy with the results under the LED's.  We'll see what happens when the tomatoes and peppers get tall.  With three lights my investment is about $90.  A new good quality shop light with 4 T8 bulbs would probably set me back about $60 to $80.  So the initial investment is more for the LED's, but the 6500K T8 bulbs have to be replaced every two years, and the GroLux bulbs last about a year before losing their effectiveness.  With an operating life of 40,000 hours, the LED's should be cheaper in the long run.

Usually by this time of year I am harvesting spinach and lettuce.  With some warm sunny days that should start happening soon.  I hope to set out the onion seedlings in about a week.