email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Replacement To Google Reader

Well, I finally did some research on a replacement to Google Reader, since it it planned to be shut off July 1st.  I figured it would be a good idea to try out a few for the last month.

I considered functionality, simplicity, familiarity, and ease of transition most important.  My needs are simple.  I only use RSS feeders for blogs on a single desktop computer.  Anything else, I have a bookmark for.

I went to a few discussion sites that compared the features of cloud RSSs versus web-based RSSs, and I'm not comfortable with The Cloud.  I like applications ON my computer.  OK, I'm OLD...  LOL!

But seriously, if its on my computer, it can't disappear overnight since I have daily external backup right here.

The one I found most interesting was The Old Reader <>  It seems to be very similar to Google Reader, and is relatively easy to import the Google Reader list.

You can sign in with various accounts, but I chose to create a new one separate from Google (just in case).  I like to distribute my services around to frustrate the aggregators. 

You export the Google Reader file in Google Reader to a zip file.  Then you just create an account with The Old Reader (love the name) and it offers you to browse a file to open.  On my Mac, opening a zip file automatically unzips it, I don't remember on a PC.  You might have to unzip it first.

But with the Google file unzipped in Import, The Old Reader just loads it.  It does take a few minutes.  I got an email message saying the import was complete, so look for that.

When the Google Reader subscriptions are all imported, they will all show 10 or 20 unread per subscription.  I suggest visiting all your subscriptions down to zero so that you can just mark ALL read after the import.  I didn't think of that and I regret it.

And this point, your Old Reader should look generally like Google Reader, but there are some differences.

1.  You don't click on the blog title to access it.  Below the blog title, there are "site" and "feed" buttons.  "Site" brings you to the home page of the blog; "feed" brings you to only the newest post.

2.  To show only the updated blogs, you have to go to your name in the upper right corner.  There is a drop down menu.

At "feed display mode", choose "show unread only, and at "Post Order" check "Show only those folders/feeds that have unread items".

And you are good to go!  It sounds more complicated than it is.  It only took me 15 minutes, and I'm a bit slow and cautious at this stuff.

Anyone have a RSS they like better?  My ears are open...

The Return Of The Mowers

I love Angie's List!  I have had nothing but superb service and value from every contractor and medical service I have selected since I joined.  Consumers Union for the local community...

Angie's List gives letter grades for quality, price, responsiveness, punctuality, and professionalism.  I focus on price and quality.  Price and quality together = value.  You can search for service providers many ways, but I only look at the ones with straight A ratings.  If the only ones were too far away, I would accept a couple of B ratings but price and quality HAVE to be A rating.  So far, that has not been a problem. 

And also so far,  I found dad a geriatric doctor when he first arrived, a dentist specializing in elderly patients, a vinyl siding replacement company, a roof replacement company, a tree removal company, and most recently a mower repair company.  Every single experience has been outstanding!

Today I got my riding mower and regular walk-behind mower back.  The regular mower wouldn't start this year, and when it did last year (with great pulling of cords and bad words) the deadman lever didn't work and I had to stop the engine by shorting the spark plug against the engine block.  They took apart and cleaned the carburetor, emptied and cleaned the gas tank, replaced a broken deadman lever cable, added about the same amount of new gas back, and sharpened the blades. 

The riding mower was running well enough, but developed a sudden banging/rattling sound under the deck just as I finished mowing last week.  Fearing a loose drive shaft or blade, I stopped immediately.  And even more suspiciously, there was no bad sounds with the blades disengaged while just driving the riding mower to the trailer to bring it to them.  They removed and replaced the drive belts, and found what they initially thought was a bent part of the blade undercarriage.  It was dried grass clippings, but so hard after sitting all Winter that the blade was actually bouncing off it.  They said they had to use a regular chisel to remove it and then they cleaned off the dried grass from the rest of the undercarriage.

That was embarrassing.  I ought to know enough to scrape the packed grass clippings from the undercarriage by now.  But I haven't done that for 3 years; its awkward to get a riding mower up off the ground for access to the underside, so I always think "well, maybe next time".  But at least it's done now and I should think about a way to get easy access to the bottom in the future.

When I was a teenager, the house had a sunken basement with cinder block walls and concrete steps steps leading up the the lawn level.  It just so happened to be exactly the width of my car tires, so I had a wonderful spot to change the oil and do the very simple car stuff I knew about.  I need something like that for the riding mower.

But the point of all this is that this place (Tool Solutions, Inc) did great work, nothing more than needed, and the cost for both mowers was...  $98!  My guess was $200 at best.

And so I will go over to Angie's List and give them a straight A rating.  I used both mowers today and they both worked better than ever, the price was great, they did the work quickly, discussed the needed work without exaggerating anything,  and were very (but quietly) professional about the whole repair.  And they are 3 youngish guys, only in business for 4 years.  I will be glad to go back to them for anything.

They don't know I am writing this...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Good Yardwork Day Yesterday, 2

And by "yesterday", I mean Monday, since this is part 2...

After clearing out tree saplings and forsythia, I went after the running grass in the annual flowerbed.  The running grass is some evil grass that spreads by underground runners.  I don't know the variety of this one, but it is upright, single at first but will send up several stalks later, the runner roots are white, and they send up a new shoot about every 8-12".  Each one has to be dug up deeply individually, but you also have to dig up the soil between shoots to get the runners.  You can't even pull them up in soft soil.  The roots are brittle and snap of when pulled, and if you leave any part of the runners in the ground, they grow from that.  They probably arrived here in a coneflower or stella d'oro lily perennial I bought and planted at the sides and back edge.

Thank goodness for my leverage fork! 

I think it is one cool tool.  Oh of course, there are standard great tools like shovels and rakes and hoes.  But in the "unusual" category, I have to rank that up with the scuffle hoe and the pointed stainless steel trowel!  This thing is solid steel, when you put your foot under the curved part you have great pressure, and when it is in deep you just bend it back and the U-bar leverages the tines to push up the soil.  If you can step the tines IN the soil, the bar will pull the soil up and loose.  And it is great for chopping up big clods of hard soil too.

So I set to work on the runner grass with the leverage fork.  Push it in, bend it back, move it 4" and repeat.  Forever.  But the point is that it goes deep enough to get below the grass runners and the grass comes out roots and all.  If you soil is hard (as I hope it is not in any garden) you can pound the soil clumps on the U-bar to break up the soil and take out the grass runners.

I'm not saying the leverage fork makes it "easy", just "possible".  It still took an hour this time (my 3rd attack on the grass in 2 weeks).  THIS attack was on the difficult edges and around the perennials, so I had to work more carefully.  In fact, I soaked the target areas with a hose the day before to soften the soil.  When I used a roto-tiller to establish the bedding area many years ago, the edges were hard to get at properly, so the grass is harder to get at there.

I know from sad experience that I can never get ALL the below-ground runner roots.  But I bet I set them back 4-5 years this time.  Here is the de-grassed area...

Annuals will be going the bare spots next.  I like to have red salvias and blue forget-me-knots, but I had poor germination and growth of my annual seeds this year.  I even only got 75% of the marigolds to grow.  Well, the seeds were several years old.  I may have to buy some seedlings at the garden store.  Or maybe I'll plant a few various veggies.  I have some extra seedlings left over from the veggie beds.  Still, I'd rather have annual flowers there.  They bloom their little heads of all season.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good Yardwork Day Yesterday

Yesterday was cool, dry, and overcast; a superb day for yardwork!

I had in mind planting a few veggies and flowers, but a neglected back corner of the yard caught my attention because a long-forgotten weigela shrub (1 of 3 originally planted) was struggling to bloom among the shady underbrush of unwanted tree saplings, vines, briars, and a single will-not-die asparagus plant from my original 20' row planting 25 years ago.  So I got out the loppers and waded in (carefully, as I also spotted a few small poison ivy plants).

The first thing was to cut down all the saplings.  Trickier than you might think, because that corner seems to be the last refuge of the nasty thorny locust trees that originally covered half the backyard.  They have thorns all along the trunk and branches like 3/4" needles, and they will grow back from being cut down 4" in a year.  They are very hard to handle, and harder to kill.  I once read that the original colonists used cut trunks as fenceposts (the wood is rot-resistant and the trunks grow straight) only to discover that the cut trunks would re-root when stuck in the ground!
It took me 10 years to finally kill them off.  These probably came from seeds of neighbors' trees since there weren't any in that corner when I planted the weigela some 10 years ago.  Because of a peculiarity of lot shapes and drainage easements there is a triangle of space just off my back yard that all 3 neighbors ignore.  It is utterly wild and filled with poison ivy, wild grape vines, mock strawberry, and (apparently) a few mature thorny locusts; all nasty invasive stuff!

Anyway, it took a while, but I managed to clear the surface of all the bad stuff, and I discovered a 2nd weigala barely surviving at a foot high.  With the additional light and less competition for nurients, it should recover.  There was no sign of the 3rd weigela.  I'll have to take a few stem cuttings and get them rooted in pots.

After that, and being in a clearing mood, I decided to tackle the forsythia growing into my flowerbed border from another neighbor.  Those forsythia, though outside my fence, are entirely my fault.  My street was built brand new in 1986.  I was only the 3rd house built on my street and my neighbor was the 4th.  She was elderly, friendly, and sneaky.  There were not borders then and the property lines were uncertain.  She noticed that I would mow any part between us that she didn't, and she gradually left more and more.  So I planted a row of forsythias to mark the assumed property line.  When I decided to build a fence (to keep the large off-leash dogs out, for cat-safety) I discovered pipes marking the corners of the property.  From the plat measurements and compass directions, I figured out the property lines.

On my father's advice, I inset the fence 18" to allow myself legal access to the outside of the fence for repairs.  That was the dumbest advice I ever followed, but more about that later!  Anyway, I asked the neighbor lady if she wanted me to leave the forsythia and she said yes.  I have regretted that ever since.  Each year, forsythias pop up on my side and some years I am too busy to get them out.  Well, when I planted them I didn't know they spread.

I usually just keep cutting them off at ground level, but this year I decided to get in there and dig them out.  I used my "poacher's shovel" (on right).
Its called that because it is only half the width of a regular shovel, is more curved so it makes a smaller hole, its lighter to carry, and gives a smaller soil ball.  So plant poachers loved it.  Its like a super trowel on a short shovel handle.  I like it because the small blade lets me get at problem roots in cramped spaces among plants you don't want to disturb.  Three digs, and you have a nice 6" circle cut around a plant.

So I first pruned most of the forsythia canes away so I could see the rooted stems and dug them out carefully one-by-one.  It took 2 hours!  At least I have most of them out by the roots.  The remaining ones are growing up through the roots of 2 shrubs I have disliked for years and plan to remove later. 

The pile of removed forsythias does not look like much, LOL!  But each one was an effort.  I had to stand awkwardly to avoid stepping on wanted plants, the shovel handle would hit the fence, there were forsythia roots among the butterfly bush roots, etc...
Those 2 shrubs I plan to remove later are nice enough, yellow and green evergreen leaves, but way bigger than advertised and they keep sending up shoots from the spreading roots (golden euonymus 'you-on-i-mus').

I'm going to try to kill the forsythias.  As the canes grow through the fence, I will cut the cane and put a dab of undiluted Roundup on the cut end.  It worked for the thorny locusts...

I got a lot more done, but this is long enough and I'll finish tomorrow.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lawn Mowers

OK, the regular rotary mower I use for tight spots hasn't started this year, so I tried to fix what little I know about.  I took out the spark plug.  It was clean.  I gapped it (checked the gap between the little folded-over part where the electricity comes in and where the arcing occurs to the gas, for those of you unfamilair with that) and sanded the surfaces.  No go.  I checked the oil.  OK.  I removed the old gasoline with cloth to absorb it and put in just enough new gas to let it start.  No go.  I tried a trick a mechanic taught me about spraying carburetor cleaner in the primer hole.  That didn't work!  I left the air filter off to see if that was the problem.  No go.

I should mention that the deadman lever stopped having any affect a few years ago, AND last year I had to stop the engine by shorting the spark plug wire against the engine block.  So there are obvious problems and I haven't been able to do any trim work this year.  There is an area in the corner of the yard where I can't mow without it.  I was embarassed (but thankful) that my neighbor did that part last week.

So I went to Angie's List to find a good repair shop.  I found a 100% A rated place only 2 miles from here.

But yesterday, I was mowing the rest of the yard with the riding mower.  Just as I was about done, a rattling sound started from under the mower deck.  And I had just noticed that the mowing strips were looking uneven.  My guess is that something is loose in the drive shaft to the blades, and I'm SURE not going to use it if that's the problem.  Of course I checked all the simple stuff (loose deck, low oil), but it runs fine WHEN the blades are not engaged.  I bet THAT repair is expensive.  I'm almost hoping the repair is expensive enough to justify buying a new one.  My current one was highly rated by Consumer Reports but I've never really liked it.  It would almost be nice to be FORCED to buy one of those zero turning radius ones, LOL!  The current one IS 15 years old and they DO wear out.

So I suddenly need to bring BOTH mowers in for repair.  I will call that local repair shop in the morning (naturally, I found them 5 minutes after they closed yesterday) about repairs and estimates.  All the reviews say they are great on speed, cost, and quality.

The grass grows SO fast this time of year.  The yard needs mowing every 5 days.  I hope they can repair either one fast.  If not, I may have to beg a neighbor to lend me a mower in exchange for filling up the tank when I return it.

I sure hope there are SIMPLE CHEAP repairs for both, LOL!

One problem is delivering the 2 mowers to the repair shop.  I have a hauling trailer, but it was filled with Leaf-Gro compost (a wonderful local product).  So I spent 2 hours today using my mulch-fork to unload it into a wheelbarrow and from there onto the framed bed gardens.  Temps in the upper 80s and humidity at about 100% .  It was brutal. I sweated buckets.  I soaked 3 kitchen towels with sweat but I got it all done.  I hosed down the trailer to remove all the last bits of compost.

When I was done, I stood on the deck for an hour drinking 2 beers.  And then I drank a quart of Gatorade.  At least I sure get good exercise!!!

The trailer has a pin that, when removed, allows the trailer back to tilt backwards to sit on the ground.  I can drive the riding mower up on it (causing the front to tilt level again).  And I can lift the regular rotary mower onto the trailer.  Well, at least I know I can get the mowers to the repair shop and save the cost of them coming here to get them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How Boxes Are Built

Not my video, but sent along from a friend.  Its long, but I promise its worth it.  It moves along pretty fast.

I can't load it directly.

See HERE!  I hope...

Friday, May 17, 2013


I live on fresh food.  And by that, I mean I don't get meals at fast-food places.  I LOVE fresh veggies, fresh meat and fresh fruit.  I only keep refined sugar in the house to feed the hummingbirds. 

And don't get me wrong on the fast foods either.  I think Taco Bell Nachoes Bell Grande and steak soft tacos are great.  I think MacDonald's Big Mac is fantastic.  But I haven't had either for years.  I just think that whatever I cook is better for me.  I mean, I know what's in it. 

And, in a weird way, this relates to Dad.  Just before he arrived here last May, I had a freezer full of stuff I liked that he didn't.  He was strictly a "meat&potatoes" guy.  Hey, I'm adaptable, so I ate what I cooked for him - pork chops, or sausage or a chicken thigh plus a M/V potato and a tossed salad (an insistance I made for his health and my love of salads).  It worked OK.  I would normally slice up pork and stir-fry it with a lot of veggies but he wanted to see the pork in a whole piece, and I could deal with that.

So he's been gone a month now (and happily in the assisted living facility where they also like to cook things in chunks and offer potatoes).  Well, I decided to live out of my freezer and pantry for 3 weeks.  I used up 10 cans of soup, tupperware containers of frozen ham and pork, 5 cheap chicken pot pies, containers of cooked kale, frozen meatballs, and frozen shrimp.  It wasn't bad.

But today I went GROCERY-SHOPPING!

They say never to go grocery-shopping on an empty stomach, and I can see why.  I bought pickled beets, marinated artichoke hearts, a big bag of navel oranges, 6 plums, a big ginger root, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, grapes, a pineapple, 6 cans of soup, a couple cans of "chili beans in mild sauce", a can of white canelli beans, a can of garbonzo beans, milk, a half dozen eggs, marinated mushrooms,  and if they had had yak milk chocolates I probably would have bought them too.  LOL!

At the meat store. I bought a whole filet mignon on sale (1.5 inch thick slices) and with a free bottle of dry rub; I bought chicken thighs, a chicken breast, 3 hot italian sausages (for adding to the canned chili beans).

Three weeks of living out the the freezer can drive you to madness.  I am in a cooking frenzy of the stuff I haven't made in a year.  And next week, I plan to have large quantities of Moo Goo Gai Pan, hot&sour soup, spring rolls, char shu ding, and shrimp fried rice delivered.  Most to be frozen for "later", but some for an orgy of eating. 

I'm thinking I might want a Big Mac pretty soon too.

I weighed 163 when dad arrived and I weighed 169 when he left.  I'm down to 160.5 today.  Let the food celebration begin!

The wok is "in the building" again...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Star Trek

In the past few days, I have watched 2 Star Trek movies I never saw before:  'Nemesis' and 'Star Trek'.  I had never seen them before partly because I do not subscribe to premium movie channels, partly because I do not like going to movie theaters, and partly because I thought the Star Trek franchise had died an ugly death with the TV series 'Star Trek: Enterprise'  (starring Scott "Quantum Leap" Bakula, who I always thought was best cast as a handsome fool - I suspect he is the inspiration for Brewster Rockit in the comic strip).

So I avoided the subsequent Star Trek movies, giving up on them after 'Insurrection' and 'Nemesis'. 

I have been returned to the flock!

The original Star Trek TV series started when I was 16 and well into reading serious and thoughtful sci-fi books (at 12 I had exhausted the library collection of "young adult" sci-fi and the librarian had granted me access to the "adult" books - not that there was anything very shocking about "adult" sci-fi back in 1962).  But by 1966, when Star Trek appeared, I could tell it was different from the sci-fi movies of the time.  I instantly recognized that each episode contained a social statement (perhaps a best example being the [literally] reversely half-black and half white opponents in an episode); and no, I am not really a trekkie who can recall episodes by number, name, or cast of special characters.

I was, like many, saddened when the original Star Trek was cancelled and watched it on syndication for years until the new Star Trek: The Next Generation came on in 1987.  I watched a few and quite frankly, I didn't like the crew.  I ignored it for a couple of years.  Picard wasn't Kirk, Number One wasn't Spock, etc.  Then, from boredom, I assume, I watched a few episodes and realized there was some "there" there.  The characters were more defined, the situations were more complex, and "different" wasn't "worse".  I grew to admire the new characters (and the actors who played them). 

Star Trek: Voyager was a whole new leap, but I accepted the whole premise.  Sci-fi requires the willing suspension of disbelief, and I have never had a problem with that in specific situations for a book, a movie, or a cat blog, LOL!  So given the setup for Voyager, I had no problem and came to admire the series. 

I watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with interest, but not much engagement.  It was brilliantly conceived, expertly acted, and had wonderful new characters and enemies.  I LOVED the idea of taking control of an enemy outpost and struggling to manage it.  Just as a personal note, as a minor beauracrat with some responsibilities but no authority, I appreciated the day-to-day problems (though writ larger on a cosmic scale).  I only gave up on that when Captain Sisko became a slightly paranormal messianic figure.  I stuck with Voyager til the end, fascinated with 7 of 9 struggling back to humanity (the counterpoint of Data) and the Borg (truly one of the best opponents of all time).

Then came the disasterous 'Star Trek: Enterprise'.  I tried to follow it, really I did, but I couldn't get past Scott Bakula in 'Quantum Leap".  And I actually enjoyed that show many times.  I just couldn't accept him as a Star Trek Captain.  Ever.

I never saw a Star Trek movie I didn't like.  I can't even pick a favorite.  Each one was pleasing and impressive in its own way.  I will nominate 'The Voyage Home' as the most Trekkie cult movie for all the inside jokes and interactions.  I will nominate 'Star Trek' (2009) as one of the best origin prequels.

One of the things I admire about the Star Trek franchise is the "original" characters.  The original had Spock,  TNG had Data, DS9 had Odo and Quark, Voyager had 7 of 9. 

I will place Spock out of the "unique" characters.  He is too integral to the series to be unique to any one.  So Data and Seven were my favorite unique characters.  My apologies to Dr Picard, but he was limited in his interactions.  Still, if I recall correctly, there was a time in the holodeck when he stuggled to the holodeck door to save a patient and he seemed as fully individual and sentient as anyone.

So, the point of all this is that I will wait for the latest Star Trek movie to show up on the non-subscription TV.  Or I will brave the local movie theater.  Its 50-50. 

SO!  I am sure glad I watched 'Nemesis' and 'Star Trek' this week.

Let's see Star Wars match that...

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Dear Mom, gone 2 years+

My faithful correspondent over the years, teacher of cooking, lover of cats, literate jokester, player of puns, mistress of doggerel poetry, music lover, who taught me to not only read but love what I read, I miss you on this day most of all.  You taught me that anything worth doing was worth overdoing.  Every word I play with comes from your guidance.

In my younger years, you allowed my to try things I couldn't do well until I COULD do them well.  My fondest memories are when I said "Mark Do", and you let me DO.  I would not be the person I am if you hadn't allowed "Mark Do", as frustrating as it must have been at the time.

In later years, when I slowly became an adult you were my Dear Friend and I somehow became a co-equal in your eyes.

I am not quite what you thought I would be, but more than you may have imagined.  I know what you desired of me and I am not that, but I have lived a full life in my own way.  You sent me out into the world to see what I would do and I did "my thing".  I wish you could see me now.  I think you would approve.

I have always remembered that you wanted a "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" but you liked the name "Mark" best and gave me that name as the eldest child.   I have carried the name proudly but without the religious meaning.  You accepted that from my early teenage years to the last day I spoke to you and you were proud of me to the end of your days.

Thank you.



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Inept At Showing Videos

I need help showing videos!  I did it once but I just can't figure it out again.  I'm not on Twitter, FB, or anything other than Blogger and email.  I can watch the videos on my own computer just fine; they work.  I just can't upload them to the Mark's Mews blog.  Can someone tell me the simple basic way to do that?    I have cool Mews videos to share and I can't do it.  ARRGGHH!  I feel stupid.

Mark,  cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT net

Planting Tomatoes

For years, I have pushed the tomato-planting season using  things to keep them warm in mid April.  The past several years I've gotten a poor harvest.  So this year, I decided to wait until the nighttime low temps were above 50F.  Tomatoes don't like temps under 50F and can die at 45F.  So I watched the 10 day forecast after the average last frost date of April 21 (around here).  There was one night at the end of April under 50F so I waitedMay 1st, the 10 day forecast said none under 50F, so I planted 4 next to the house (well, its warmer there).

Then the 10 day forecast said there would be 1 night below 50F so I waited until after that to plant the tomatoes in the far garden.  Just a couple days, may as well wait.  When that cool night was passed, I looked at the 10 day forecast again, and AGAIN there was a 40's F night in 2 days.  So I waited again.

Now there are 41/42F nights forecast for Sunday and Monday night!  So now I have to wait til Tuesday to plant the rest of the tomatoes (and peppers and cucumbers and other warm weather crops).  This is really setting the season back a bit.

It has not been this low in the nights that I can recall at this late date.  It's global warming.  Yes, you read that right.  Global warming means that, as the Earth heats up, weather becomes more unsettled and random.  Eath heat sends the weather off in more random extremes.  So don't listen to some ideological or scientifically-illiterate politician tell you that global warming isn't true just becuae YOUR local weather has been cooler.  Global warming does not mean "local warming all the time every day". 

Speaking of good forecasting, yesterday, The Weather Channel website hourly forecast said "local thinderstorms about 9:15 pm tonight.  At 9:15 pm I heard a first distant thunder! 

I'll wait 2 more days to plant the rest of the tomatoes, but I will sure check the forecast to decide if I need to cover them for a little more warmth!!!

This year, I really want to try the "wait til its warm" planting idea. 

I DID get a lot of weeding around the flowerbeds done today. A third.  If that doesn't sound like much, it was a space 25' x 8 feet, among existing flowers.  You have to walk very carefully among them to weed.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Surprise Visitor

Poor pictures, but the best I could get from through a window and far away.  I was in the house and saw a huge bird swoop into the backyard.  I intially thought it was a turkey due to the large body size. 
I assumed that if I opened the deck door for a clearer shot, it would fly away before I could get the camera to focus on it.  I was right about that.  When it DID finally fly away, the picture I got was so blurred it could have been anything from an elephant far away to a spider on the camera lens
But when it flew away, I could see it was obviously a vulture.   I couldn't imagine why a vulture would fly between and under trees.  There was nothing dead out there; I had been at that spot not long before.
The only thing I can think of is that the spot it landed was where a tree stump had been ground in January.  I had an old bag on corn gluten meal that had gotten damp and packed hard as dry brown sugar and I couldn't break it up well enough to use it in my lawn spreader.
So, thinking of what I could usefully do with it, I remembered that wood chips take a LOT of nitrogen from the soil.  Therefore, the fastest way to break down wood chips would be to put a LOT of nitrogen on them.  Corn gluten is very high in nitrogen...  So I had dumped the bag on the pile of wood chips and pounded it down into smaller clumps.  The rains have been dissolving it into the wood chips.

I know that vultures are said to hunt by sight, not smell, but there is a full leaf canopy overhead, and the vulture came in under the trees from downwind.  I think that it was attracted by some smell from a lot of nitrogen in one spot beginning to react with the older wood chips.

But it sure was strange...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!

So,  I realized that I left some tools outside a few hours ago and went trotting out to put them away.  I forget the rule of never leaving anything on the steps (even the outside ones).  I had stacked some small wooden blocks on the lower deck steps.  I would have been ok, as they were sheltered by some pavers blocks I am used to being there, but one wood piece seems to have fallen over.

I stepped on the corner of it and lost my balance.  Normally, that would have been OK; I am a bit agile even when falling.  But there were those pavers and bricks stacked up.  My left wrist smacked the pavers.  My wrist is fine, (well there IS a nice linear bruise from the watch)  but my watch isn't.  Lost a pin!  The watch flops around.  So I taped it in place, LOL!  It won't win any fashion contests but it's OK until I get a replacement pin.

I know that this seems all lighthearted, but I was actually THIS close to breaking my wrist, knocking out a tooth, breaking my ankle, or putting out an eye (I found myself staring at a paver corner real up close and personal).  And my ankle is sore.  I COULD have broken it but it feels better already.  Still sore though.  I'm lucky on stuff like that.

But I've removed all the stuff on the deck stair.  If you have stuff on any stairs, do the same.  You really don't want to look at the hard corner of a paver stone from an inch away...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Soil Improvement Time!

I finally got the car onto the trailer to visit the local nursery a couple of days ago.  I wanted a LOT of good compost.  Around here, that is "Leaf Gro".  The nursery sells it in bulk with a front-loader into a trailer or pickup bed.  I got almost a cubic yard for $28.  That's about the same as $60 worth in bags at the big box store and I doubt their stuff is the same quality.

So I covered the trailer , drove it home and into the back yard, and uncovered it.  Lovely stuff (see yesterday's picture).  The first use was to add to the soil bulk in the small tomato bed against the house.

Here's the BEFORE picture.  Half-filled with soil (the old falling-down raingutters drained in there, washing soil out).   There were lots of grasses spreading by runners too.  I turned over all the soil with my leverage fork.  That's a really cool tool (more below). 

I filled it with 3 wheelbarrows of Leaf Gro and hardly made a dent in the trailer-load..    
Then I turned the soil deeply with the leverage fork to mix them.  It doesn't look as nice and dark on top, but the compost is now deep in the root zone where it should be.  I left space for 2" of bark mulch.  And I will say that the newly-sharpened shovel really went right down deep with little foot pressure.  And when hard clumps of old dirt came up, it easily cut through them.  Good tools are wonderful!

The red hose you see, BTW, normally sits on the top of the back board and runs along the fence all the way to the back yard where the rest of the veggie garden is.  It sure beats unlooping 100' of hose back near the house everytime I need to water the main garden.
The leverage fork is amazing.  You put a foot in the center and push down.  Then you push the handle back and down.  The horizontal bar provides bending leverage (hence the name) and this thing is solid steel providing great strength.  I use it to turn hard soil when a regular garden fork is too weak.  The only limitation is the depth.  It only goes down 8" because of the leverage bar.  But 8" is pretty good for most crops.  And if you use it to break up the hard soil BEFORE you add better soil, it is great too.
After using the leverage fork to break up the hard soil is when I added the Leaf Gro compost (a local product, I think) to the bed.  At that point, I could use the regular shovel to turn and mix the soil and chop up large dry chunks.  And pick out grass-runner roots.  

Since this bed is right up against the house, it is warmer there.  I'll plant some of the tomatoes there Monday and show the finished job then.  The weather forecast says the nightly lows will be above 50 after today for the rest of the season.

Tomatoes are actually tropical (sub-tropical?) vines and do NOT like temps below 50.  I've been using warming tricks for years, but this year I decided to just wait on the weather.  Between the serious amount of fresh compost and the delay in planting, and the additional sunlight from having a few trees removed, I am hoping for an outstanding tomato season (and other crops).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Trailer Time!

A front loader bucket of Leaf Pro, about 25 cubic feet.  $30 where the same in bags at the local big box store cost about $60.
The before pic for the early tomato bed.  It's close to the house, so it stays warmer.
I started to add the Leaf Pro,  The box was only half full of soil (the falling down raingutters last year dumped tons of water and washed soil out).  The raingutters have been replaced.  So I decided to fill it with half compost. 
I dug the soil deeply, then added the compost and dug that deeply.  Then I added more and dug it deeply again.  It is one of the 2 sunniest spots left in the yard.  The soil has been left alone a few years.  With the bed being half compost, if I can't grow heirloom tomatoes there this year, I will have to give up here and consider a community garden spot.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cleaning Garden Tools, Part 3

The rules say to sharpen the cutting edges of shovels and such with a file.  But I have a grinding wheel which is just as good and faster, LOL!  We're not talking about fine cutlery here.

So, being careful to generally match the grinding angle to the original  beveled angles, I set about the crude sharpening.  You are only making an edge on one side (chisel, not knife).  LOOK at those sparks, LOL!  I had the handle of the spade resting on the floor, so the grinding angle stayed very consistent.  A light pass back and forth did a wonderful job.
I gave the scuffle-hoes special attention.  They work with back-and-forth cutting strokes just below ground level (sort of like using a mop).  The front edge cuts under weeds on the push stroke, the back edge cuts on the pull stroke.
Then it was time to oil all the metal.  I've read about that bucket of sand with a quart of motor oil poured in, but I'm not going to mess with that.  It feels like pouring oil into the flowerbeds.  The oil on the tools has to get worn off somewhere, right?

So I took another piece of an old undershirt and simply wiped the tools with it dipped in motor oil.  Then I wiped the surfaces of excess oil with a another cloth.
The post-hole digger at the top of the picture WILL get file work.  The curves are tricky for the grinder.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fish Loyalty

Fresh water tropical aquarium fish are generally small and only live a couple/few years.   I have a 30 gallon tank, so there are about 2 dozen small fish in it (mostly tiger barbs, cherry barbs, and serpa tetra).  So it is no great surprise to me to see a dead one every so often.  Yesterday, I noticed that the male dwarf gourami of my pair had died and was lying in a corner of the aquarium.  I knew I would have to get it out soon but I was a bit busy.

What surprised me was that the female was within a couple of inches of the dead male each time I passed by.  I glanced at the spot each time I passed for a couple of hours and she was always right there!  So I just watched her.
It's not like I always saw them swimming around together, and I certainly never noticed them trying to build a nest or mate.  I'm also not inclined to ascribe complex emotions to a fish.  But she was staying between him and the other fish in the tank.  I think she sensed something was wrong with him and may have even been guarding him.

Pretty impressive for a "just a fish".

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cleaning Garden Tools, Part 2

Part 2 of the garden tool maintenance was to protect the wood handles.  Most of my garden tools are old enough that the cheap wood finish is long since gone.  So I was dealing with bare wood.  I had thought I needed to paint them with wood sealant, but I have read that boiled linseed oil is a better choice.  No, you don't have to go boiling linseed oil yourself; you can buy it that way at the hardware store.  It will say "boiled" on the can. 

The directions said you could dilute it with up to 50% paint thinner for better penetration, so I did that.  I'll repeat the process using undiluted boiled linseed oil tomorrow after the diluted application dries.

I found that a piece of old cotton undershirt was a good applicator.  And, though I wasn't worried about the linseed oil (its made from flax seed), the paint thinner can be a skin irritant so I wore latex gloves.

Since the gloves were immediately wet and I didn't feel like taking them on and off, I don't have pictures of the actual application.  Fortunately, rubbing a wood pole with a wet cloth is a reasonably obvious process.  ;)

So I'll show a couple of "after" pictures.  Give the linseed oil 24 hours to dry.  The wet rag can self-combust if wadded up and thrown away, so I spread it out outside on a cinder block.  Same with the latex gloves, "just in case".
Note that the wood on some of the tools is much darker than on others.  The more old unfinished wood, the more of the linseed oil was absorbed, so the darker it is.   I assume that if you see the tools of an old gardener and they are deep brown smooth wood, they have been lovingly-maintained.  Mine will never look like that, but I'll try to do this each year from now on.
These ones were all purchased about the same time, so the degree of darkness probably shows which ones I've used the most (wearing off the original finish).  Well, it could also reflect the quality of the original factory finish...

Since the undiluted 2nd application has nothing new involved, just consider that done tomorrow.  Friday, sharpening and oiling...