The evolution of frames

Eight years.

That’s how long it’s been since I moved out to the ranch.

The first couple of years were mainly spent working to rehab the property: filling dumpsters with what was likely decades of trash that people just dumped wherever they liked because the property had been not a part of the state forest it abuts, but a similarly wooded parcel to which they had access. Getting good soil going at least to get grass to grow in what had been a sandy, beach-like property because the developer had scraped off the topsoil and sold it off. Working to get plants and trees in place so the wildlife – lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes, you name it – would come back. Those were hard-working, back-breaking years. They were worth it.

Ultimately, we decided that if we waited to plant gardens until the soil rehab was at least almost to completely done, it would be another five years before we grew any of our food. Instead, we built framed beds, filling them with a mix of topsoil, manure, and perlite, the latter to help provide some aeration in the mix instead of having every frame be composed of soil that would settle, become difficult to work, and have no give or good draining at all.

So we did. The first frames were 4′ by 4′, built of wood, each separated by a couple of feet as walkways. This led to some inefficiencies, as each individual frame then had to be watered, and drip irrigation was impractical, as there would be loads of connections that would have to be run from one frame to another.

The next iteration was 4′ by 8′ frames, also built of wood, butted up against one another in long rows. The longest row was 4′ by 42′. This made watering much simpler, as long lines of drip tubing could be laid all the way down the line.

The problem with those, of course, was the wood. It warps after enough time in the harsh environment here, and eventually starts rotting. We went with those for a couple of years, until finally hitting on a better solution: frames made from 22 gauge roofing metal sheeting. Cut in half lengthwise, they were screwed together at the seams of each 8′ length, and plain squared balusters (cut down to size) used to provide some structural support for each “wall”. All of our beds are now built out this way, although we do have an issue with some of the balusters rotting from being in contact with the moist soil all the time. On some of them, the screws have popped out because of the way the wood expands and contracts in the weather. Some of the frame sides have bowed out, as the pressure of the soil exerts an outward horizontal force. For those, the solution is to shovel the dirt away from the sides of the frames, reset and reseat the supports for the side, then pull all the soil back into the trench along the side of the frame. As you might imagine, this is more back-breaking hard work, and something I leave for the fall/winter to get done instead of trying to do this during the main growing season in temperatures that hover in the mid-90s to the 100s throughout.

The good thing about the metal frames is that they will last for a significant length of time before anything needs to be done with them – if anything ever needs to be done with them at all. A bonus of this use is that unlike the wooden frames, which break down, rot, and become something that isn’t good for much, the metal frames are steel, so they can go to the recycling center.

Although it took some years of experimentation and use to get to this point, it has served us well since the final frame type was put in place, and now we have spent much, much less time on frame maintenance than we did with the wooden equivalents. That time, recouped, is now spent on other, more productive tasks.

No matter what

I generally do not get into politics, most news, or religion here, but I will say this: no matter what someone may think of Joe Biden, there is no denying he is a decent, compassionate man, and a terrific communicator. And, no matter what, the inequity that pervades our legal system is, at times, sickening: if this “champion swimmer” Brock Turner was not white, not a “champion swimmer”, and not at Stanford, he would have received a far harsher sentence and the presiding judge would not have overly concerned himself with how the man would have fared in, been treated in, or been affected by a longer sentence than the paltry six months given to him as a gift. It is appalling.

The only possible good to come out of this – if anything can be termed good in relation to it – is the message from the actual victim in this case. No, Turner the Elder, the victim is not your son. It is the woman he attacked while she was in no condition either to consent or resist. She is also the hero of this pathetic example of justice, as are the two Swedish grad students who didn’t simply look away and ride by. While we may never know her name, one thing we do know, and will know, now and for years to come, is that she has potentially made a difference in the lives of those who might not otherwise speak when visited by the horror of a sexual assault. Through her, perhaps others will find their voices too, and as all decent people do, say enough is enough: no matter what, this is not okay.

Her full statement – and I suggest reading the entire thing – is here.

Today’s color is: orange

Neon orange, actually. The girls are all bringing in basketloads of neon orange pollen that look remarkably like a certain cheese we all know and love, but that I will not name. The name sounds like this, though.

Yes, an old and timeless favorite.

I tried to get a couple of closeups of: the eggs in the cells, the pollen in the cells, and one of the girls with her pollen baskets stuffed with cheddar. Two out of three ain’t bad, as they say. The pollen-laden gal went off to do a waggle dance to inform some other bees, which I also tried to catch, but when i looked at the video, I realized the sun was still behind me enough that you cannot see a damn thing happening on the frame. Oh well, there will be other chances, because that’s how they communicate where nectar and pollen are out in the world. In the meantime, this photo turned out the best, I think. Those little white things that look like pieces of rice are eggs. This is from one of the new packages installed in late May. Of those, all but one are motoring right along. The one had a bit of a later start because they couldn’t get the queen out in the same timeframe. So, she’s a few days behind in laying. No worries, though. They’re all healthy and active, and this is what counts.

Eggs and pollen June 7 2016

The girls are incredibly busy, as our nectar flow is still on. This week will probably be hellish, as the forecast calls for high 90s and zero rain. While that is generally fine for the girls, as long as things stay in bloom, it’s hard on the farmer slash beekeeper. It’s almost time to go into the established hives and start pulling honey, too. That’s best done, like most things, when the majority of the foragers are out foraging, which here means between 10AM and 4 PM, the hottest part of the day. Maybe we’ll get a sneak rain shower here and there – but probably not, so I will also be filling the birdbath I use as the general watering hole for the girls every day so they’ll have access to fresh water and not start hanging out at the pool.

Harvest of the day, and cleaning up

Today was a harvest day, but also a day to do some cleaning. Our season started back in February, so we’ve already had four months of goings-on. For this weekend, it meant pulling the broccoli and cauliflower that did not survive the almost zero transition to mild winter to blazing summer. Those will be restarted in flats and put into a row that has shade cloth over it, along with….

Carrots and cukes

more carrots! Thirteen pounds of carrots pulled and washed today – all that were left in the field. We’ll be shredding these and freezing them in two cup portions, which seems to be the most useful quantity for the produce we can use from the freezer specifically in recipes (soup, carrot cake, etc., in this case).

The cukes were picked during attempts to retrain the vines to trellises instead of believing their only goal in life is to invade other rows and subdue the residents in those rows. There are three varieties of cukes represented there: iznik, homemade pickles, and agnes.

The season is going rather well, even with interruptions by other circumstances.

My hero

The cucumbers, running rampant in he front garden north, got some trellis work today, and the green beans, caught in the tentacles of those cukes, were freed to go about their business.

When I completed multiple levels of trellising on both sides of the cuke runs, I found my hero standing over the dead body of one of his enemies, which he had been stalking for a few days now.

Fearless mole hunter

The common eastern mole, making messes of yards everywhere for eons.

Dead mole

I did not cut it in half with the scissors, no. I just didn’t have any gloves with me during that particular excursion to the garden, and simply used the tool I had to pick him up and toss him over the fence into the ditch area by the road to allow nature’s cleanup crew (vultures, ants, etc.) take care of it.

Necessary things

Not Needful Things – that is, of course, a book by Stephen King doing what he does best. No, “necessary” things. The things that must be done at some point, regardless of how you feel, regardless of all the other things you have on your list of things to do, but not entirely regardless of the weather. Today’s necessary thing: mowing, at least the north and east sides of the property. It’s hot. Very hot. The heat index is 100+F. It’s quite dry. It’s very dusty.

But it’s necessary to get it done. In the same way it’s necessary to check the new bees every day to see if they need to be topped off with feed so they don’t starve. In the same way it was necessary to go out to the chickens twice a day when we had chickens at the ranch.

Today, two hours buzzing around on the tractor earlier, and 3/4 of the mowing is done. Tomorrow I’ll knock out the remainder, which includes the western part of the property and the beeyard (for which I don my suit, and must look quite the spectacle). Then we’ll be done for another week or so, and perhaps by then, the pneumonia will finally be kicked the curb and stop interrupting the flow of my life.

Running amok

As promised, a pic of the front gardens cucumbers, who are far outstripping their colleagues in the rear gardens. This is what happens when you get a raging case of pneumonia that knocks your schedule completely out of sync and keeps you from doing the rather mundane tasks like trellising work to keep pace with certain plants.

Cucumbers, front gardens, 2016

This is actually three rows of sown seed: the two middle rows are a couple of different varieties of cucumbers. The right row is green beans (variety: Provider, which is more reliable and productive than anything we’ve tried). This picture was taken a week or so ago, and does not adequately reflect the way the cukes are planning hostile takeovers of the frame to the left or the asparagus  in the background at this time. It’s something I’m going to try to address this weekend, and hopefully the pneumo, which has been with me for more than a week now instead of the more usual five days, will let me out of its grip.*

*Yes, I know, it’s strange to call pneumonia “the usual” in any way, but this is yet another of the ongoing gifts from cancers I should never have had. Fuck you, cancer.

Into every life

A little rain must fall. Thankfully, that day is today, after another week of zero rain. Just over a quarter inch in less than an hour. Although I’d already watered the rear gardens as part of my todo list, I’ll take it anyway. We are far below the normal levels of rain for this season in our area, so a few more days just like this would be very welcome. Not, I might add, the frog-drowning, five inches of rain in two hours variety. That does no one any good. A nice, steady rain, however, is gold.

This is the first cuke of the season. Last year, we had none at all. Half the seeds did not germinate, the ones that did were anemic at best, and none of those produced any fruit. It was a complete bust. This year, I put cukes again out back, but hedged my bets by putting cukes out front a month later as well. It’s a good thing I did. This little one (it’s specifically for picking gherkin-sized fruit like this, so the size is fine) is from the back gardens. Of those in the rear, just under half made it through from their sowing. I thought, at the time, I sowed cukes in the front gardens, that none of them would flower, much less produce anything. But those that did seem to have gathered their legs under them and are pepping up.

First cuke, 2016

I don’t believe the group out back will do as well as the group out front are doing. I’ll have a comparison picture between the two contestants tomorrow.

Those who cannot do

Tip: if  you cannot secure your mail server from spewing spam to the outside world, despite being given loads of information, log snips, and everything else possible fro ma perspective outside that server, perhaps your organization should find someone else to administer it, as you’re terrible at the job.