email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Monday, April 28, 2014

Comedy Time

I love telephone spammers, I really do.  They are endless sources of amusement. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't love them for what they do.  I would rather they all went to a Dante-ish low circle of hell.  But they don't threaten ME, so I sometimes torture them a bit to make sure they get some punishment here on Earth.

I have mey telephone set to Robonomo (check it out, its great, most commercial calls go away after one ring).  But some get through.  So today I got a call about my credit card.  The scammer had the last 4 digits of my card (the public part) and nothing else, so I knew it was scam.

I am reconstructing the conversation as accurately as I can, but I need to mention that I had been up about 42+ hours (noon to midnight to midnight to almost noon, so I WAS in rare form and at my finest.  Actually the rarest of events when "staircase wit" is in real time...  It sure doesn't happen often in life, but today was the day!

Spammer is in red, I'm green.

Ring ring



Start talking!!!

Hello, I'm from Chase.

I knew it was a spam right there, so off we went.  What are you chasing?

Not chasing, sir.  I am calling about a problem with a Chase credit card.

I have a Chase credit card?

Yes, sir, ending in xxxx.

What is the problem?  Did I lose it?  

No, there has been a questionable transaction and we need some information.  

Now at this point, I usually just hang up of course, but I was annoyable, revved up from being on the computer playing Scrabble, and feeling a bit mean.  So...

Do tell!

Yes sir, and we need you to confirm your credit card number.

What do you want me to confirm?  

Your credit card number.

You have provided no information to "confirm"  (air quote inflection)  .  "Conformation" means you give me information to agree with.

I have used that line before.

Um, I mean I need you to reply with the other digits of your credit card so that we know who we are speaking to.

Well, why don't you give me the middle digits so I know who *I* am speaking to?

Oh we can't do that, it might compromise the card number security!

Well, if you are from Chase, then you have my email address and gif security picture?

Yes, sir.

So you know it is a golf club?

(it isn't)

Yes Sir!

Well, why don't you just tell me some other digits of my card number?  After all, if I know the golf club image is my security gif, then I must be the person you think you hope you might have reached, right?


You actually sound like an intelligent person.  Why don't you have a real job?    But anyway, if you wanted to scam me better, why didn't you call about Mom's respirator payment being late.

Well, that's part of the transaction I am calling about...

(Mom died 4 years ago)

I need more talented scammers.  Please call back when you find one!

I'm not perfect.  After that I just laughed at the guy, telling him he was SO incompetent that he should throw himself on a funeral pyre of his own construction before his boss did it for him.

OK, I ran out of clever thoughts by then and just hung up... But I was pretty pleased with myself by that point. Everyone deserves that one perfect time when they say everything right...  And today was mine!

I bet I couldn't do that on a full night's sleep...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More Garden Work

Well, after the first 2 sessions pulling up and cutting the garden path carpet, I attacked it again today after a day's rest.  Fortunately, I got better at it as I went along.  I scraped soil and vines off the top, used my flat spade to cut along the edges, wore leather gloves to make it easier to pull vines loose, and also used the spade to slide under the carpet to pry it up loose from roots. 

I finished the carpet removal today (well, there is some left but it is outside of my project area).  As in all projects, you get good at the hardest parts by the time you are done.  I should mention the spade.  Years ago, I found an all metal spade for sale and bought one.  The first one bent and the seller was shocked but replaced it as having a defect.  The replacement has lasted 15 years or so and seems indestructable.  I love using it!

And I should also mention that, yeah, I could hire some guys to do this work.  I could afford it, and if I found the right people, they might even do the job better.  But the point is to actually do the work myself.  Meaning no disrespect, but following the very good logic of hiring people to do gardening work, I should just shop at the grocery stores and farmers markets.  But I mostly garden for the pleasure of the effort (even when sometimes the effort seems overwhelming) because the harvest is more satisfying.

I don't garden to save money.  It is nearly impossible to beat a commercial farm for efficiency of cost.  But I have never been able to buy a Cherokee Purple or Brandywine tomato that tasted as good as one straight from the garden.  And the same is true of much corn and other crops.  Some crops, I can't find anywhere. 

And I have to have something productive to do.  I suppose that if I wasn't gardening, I would be building birdhouses, raising tropical fish, or constructing string art.  Something...

My preference is to grow things.  And that takes WORK!  This garden enclosure is likely to be one of the last major yard projects (I do still want to renovate my 8' circular fish pond too).  So doing this before I get too old to try is important.

I'm being careful.  I do hard work for 15-30 minutes and I stop for an hour to rest.  I have a good sense of "how much is too much".  I have always avoided "work til you drop".  In a way, that is just showing off, and it is risky. 

Projects aren't competitions.  They are goals with purposes.  My purpose in this project is to establish a limited, well-organized gardening area free of squirrel, groundhog, and rabbit destruction.

I have thought about how to change my existing 8'x3' beds into the longer (more efficient) 16"x4' beds.  Dreams are wonderful things.  I woke up suddenly a couple nights ago realizing that the two 4'x4' beds were exactly within the space I needed for the first 16'x4' bed.  I just need to dig/chop out the tree saplings and fading 20 year old rose bushes for one and pot up the herbs from the other (for later replanting).

Then I can build the first (of three) 16'x4' frame around them and start transferring soil from the other 8'x3' beds to that one.  Then I can break apart those old frames (of the emptied beds) and build the other two 16'x4' framed beds.  Those framed beds will need new soil  (I will have used up most all my existing soil in the 1st framed bed).

When the beds are built and filled, I can construct the enclosed structure around them (he said with unsupported confidence, LOL!).  That part should be a lot easier...

And I figure I have about 2 weeks to do that before planting season gets too late.  Wish me luck!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dad's Birthday

Dad is 92 today.  He doesn't know it (he thinks he is over a 100 now).  I'm pretty sure he doesn't know who *I* am most times.  I sent him a hand made card.  And a letter.  About all I can do these days.

He moved in with me 2 years ago.  I was able to take care of him for a year.  It was good in some ways, not so good in others, but I did what I could.  It was the first time I took care of another person in that way.

I got used to making traditional meals (separate meats and standard vegetables every day precisely at 6 pm and sandwiches at Noon).  Going to bed at traditional times.  Watching traditional TV.  We watched more of his favorite old 1960's TV shows than I knew were available.  And he complained about THOSE!

It was horrible...  But it was only a year.  Still, it was a loooooong year.  I'm glad I did it.  Its the kind of thing you only have to do once (and should) and once is enough.  I wouldn't want to do it again though.  I hope you understand.

Dad was not too bad at first, but fell apart fast.  The first month, he could walk around the yard looking at the flowers and the garden.  The last month, he saw "things" in the yard and people wandering around in it and he wasn't sure where he was.  I know that, sometimes, he wasn't sure who *I* was. 

Today he is being cared for by professionals who guide him to his meals, get him in front of a TV, change his 'depends' and probably do more things for him than I want to know about. 

Happy Birthday Dad, where ever you think you are and whatever you can remember...  I hope you think that Mom is in the next room and you will be talking to her soon.  I can only hope you have some good memory of the day...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Garden Renovation

I'm having some doubts about my plan to rebuild the garden with new beds and enclosing the space in chicken wire!  Everything I think I need to do first has something else to do before that.  You may recall that I took apart the frames from two 4'x4' beds a few days ago. 

Well, when I went out today to start to dig out an old tree and some brambles in one of them, I realized that I had to remove the carpet in the paths between them (and between ALL the framed beds first.  Digging out a old tree (mostly just roots with persistent suckers I have been trying to kill for 10 years) takes more room than just the 4x4 frame removed.

Why did I have carpeting between the framed beds?  Well, as the guy who jumped into the cactus patch said "It seemed like a good idea at the time".  But seriously, it DID seem like a good idea 20 years ago.  I had just switched from carpet to wood floors, I had all this leftover carpet, I was building framed beds with muddy weedy paths, and smothering the weeds with the leftover carpet seemed like a good idea.  I even put black plastic sheeting under the carpet so weeds couldn't grow through the carpet.

Weeds are astonishingly determined...

The carpet is nearly impossible to pull up.  It is in 3' wide paths, and 2 decades of vines have sent roots into the plastic below and the carpet above.  Not above the carpet (even weeds and vines have limits).  But the roots interlock, and they do best at the edges.  Yanking the carpet up was like pulling old plywood siding off walls by hand.  It was inch by inch prying it up with several tools.

And it was HEAVY!  I finally had to cut through it every 4' and the cutting did not go easily.  You would think that 20 year old carpet would just fall apart.  No way!  I have an old carpet knife my Dad made back in the early 50s (seriously, he worked in a machine shop at the time and made stuff like that "for fun") and I keep it sharp (it is VERY useful for many things).  Its curved like a 5" scimitar. 

Even using THAT every 4' of carpet took hard work.  And the pieces of carpet seem to weigh a ton!  There is inches of soil attached from plant roots, the carpet is wet and carpet is heavier than you may think.  Its all 40 lbs of dead weight.  I pick it up and it sags all over.  I finally learned to fold it in 3rds to carry it to a place to pile it up (where I will use the riding lawn mower and a tow cart to bring it to the hauling trailer so I can bring it too the landfill.

It took 3 hours to pull half of the carpet up.  It was 6pm, so I stopped to go inside and make dinner.  That's when the hand cramps started!  I live a life of general activity punctuated with intense activity (like today) and muscle cramps are not new to me.  But these were bad.

Everytime I clenched my hand (however lightly) around a knife handle and tried to open a bottle or jar, my left hand muscles seized up painfully until I massaged them  few minutes.  That lasted for about 5 minutes until the next cramp.  Then the right hand started...

I either have to do less physical work or more.  I think I'll try more.  And more regularly! 

But the point is that there is a LOT more to this project than I realized at first.  There are tree roots (from neighbor trees) under the carpet paths, there are evil vines.  And I still have to dig up the tree stump an suckers from that one 4x4 bed and dig out the brambles and roses I don't want in the garden.  This could take a couple of weeks, and I'm not 40 anymore.

I might have to adapt my plan to do half this Spring and the rest next Fall. 

Monday, April 21, 2014


Well, before I can rebuild the beds in the garden, the existing ones have to come out.  I've been avoiding that.  I hate to take things apart.  But after 28 years, that's what I need to do with the old garden beds, the deck, etc. 

So I started on the easy parts.  Not the easiest to tear apart, but the ones I felt least invested with.  The tree and rose box went first.  I've glad I have a few serious crowbars.  The 2' one worked best.  It was heavy enough to swing through the vines and brambles to get them out of the way, but thin enough to wedge between the screwed 2"x4" boards. 

Could I have simply unscrewed the boards?  Maybe, but after over 20 years, there probably wasn't much screwhead to grab.  Wedging seemed easier.  They are just going to a landfill anyway.  So I got two 4'x4' boxes pulled apart just to see how hard it might be.


I cut down the 6" wire trellis remesh a couple weeks ago to force myself to continue the project.  And the old 4"x4" posts that held up the trellis broke with just a little pushing.  Heck, one post was only standing because I pounded in a pipe next to it and put long screws through the pipe into the post.  I can see that the 2'x32' box under the removed trellis will be easy enough to tear apart too.  Well, yeah, if you need to force yourself to continue a project, tear out the useful parts first.  After that, you either have to rebuilt them or continue.

Next step is to see how hard it is to cut through tree roots above ground and remove them.  I can chop them with an axe near the fence line and then wedge them up.  I have to do that because above-ground tree roots would not allow me to build new level framed beds otherwise.  I sure wish I was 35 again!!!  Removing those tree roots is going to take a whole day at 63.

But when those roots are removed, I can take apart the remaining existing framed beds.  They will come apart easily; they are barely hanging together as it is.

Then I need to move all the existing soil.  I'm not looking forward to that.  I have to move it to SOMEWHERE outside of the new site because its good soil and I want to move it back to the new beds I'll build when the site is cleared and leveled.  The hard part is that I am basically going to be digging up all my garden soil, dumping it on a HUGE tarp, then digging it up again after the new beds are built. 

I'm serious about thinking it might be easier to just move and start fresh.  But then there would be all that packing in the house.  And yes, it would be cheaper to just buy fresh produce for the rest of my life.  But this is a HOBBY, and hobbies never save money, LOL!

Just watch, I'll do all this work and then decide to move ANYWAY...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Grafting Tomatoes

I'd been hesitating about trying this grafting of heirloom tomato tops onto hybrid roots.  The benefits seem genuine (vigorous and disease-resistant roots growing complexly-flavorful heirloom tomatoes).  But it seemed complicated.  Growing rootstock and heirloom tomatoes so the stem sizes matched, cutting both the stems so that the cuts matched, fastening a small soft silicon clip to hold the pieces together, creating an enclosed humidified recovery, etc.

I knew I wanted to try it, but I don't have "soft steady hands" and some of the humidifying arrangements I saw on the internet seemed elaborate, but I thought about it all for a while.

Well, it was certainly easy enough to plant enough hybrid and heirloom tomatoes for both grafting AND backups in case all the grafts failed.  I found the silicon clips at several sites and ordered some a month ago. I had stumbled across a 4-shelf plant stand with a zippered plastic enclosure for keeping plants warm outside and I realized that it was a fine humidifier device if I filled the lower 3 shelves with pans of water (later).
I had a razor Exacto knife) for cutting the stems.  I even had a 4" piece of wood cut at a 45 degree angle left over from the trailer work!  My goodness, I had everything I needed!

So with the trailer work complete and it being a rainy day, I collected everything on the basement workbench (and after some thought through the procedures, brought a few things upstairs to a table with good light).

It seemed to me the pattern was to transplant the hybrid rootstocks from little 6-packs to individual 3" pots to allow root growth, bring them all upstairs with the silicon clips and razor blade, fill the lower plant stand shelves with pans of water, and then make sure I had enough labels for all the new grafted heirloom tops.

That's when I realized I had made a serious mistake.  I hadn't examined the silicon clips carefully when the y arrived.  They are an "8" shape, but with one"o" larger than the other (like a snowman bottom and a snowman head).  I had assumed the larger "o" was for the tomato stems.  NOPE!  The clipping part was the small "o", and about as thin as pencil lead.  I should have done the grafting when the tomato seedlings were about 3" high, not 9"!

So I tried something creative and resourceful.  I used the larger "O" part!  I eyeballed the spot on the rootstocks where the stem size matched the "O" and cut a 45 degree angle above that.

Then fit the silicon clip ofer the cut stem and slid it down to where it was snug.  Made a new cut just above that.  Then I eyeballed the heirloom tops ("scions") and cut below that to be careful.

Testing the fit, I cut the scion stem narrower until it "just" fit into the "O" and matched the angles snugly.
I hope that all makes sense.  I used the silicon clips to measure the matching stem diameter and set them together at the matching angled cuts.

To make sure I didn't confuse the heirloom tops, I only brought one variety upstairs at a time , and made sure I had enough (and only enough) variety labels for each.  Because when you cut off the tops of the rootstock tomatoes and the tops of the heirloom tomatoes, they sure look a lot the same!

The other surprise was how FAST the grafted heirloom tops just wilted!
I did not realize how FAST plants transpire.  In just 15 minutes, the first grafted tops had wilted right over like cooked lettuce!  The enclosed humidity and darkness of the recovery chamber is supposed to help with that.  I I think I will also spray the tops several times per day.  The tomato grafting sites say the grafts need about a week of darkness along with the humidity, so after I zippered the plastic cover, I tossed a sheet over the whole stand.

Wish me luck!

And the first concern is resolved.  The enclosed stand with the pans of water on the other shelves caused the plastic cover to fog up within just 2 hours.  So the humidity is high.  And below the stand is a thick towel on a sheet of plastic so the drip won't damage the wood floor.  I may not think of everything in a new project, but I sure try!

I'll have some idea about the success in a few days.  If the grafted tops  are more erect in a few days, it means they are receiving moisture from the roots and the graft is healing.  If I recall enough from high school botany, the zylem and floem (one sends nutrients up and the other down) will be working and the connection between rootstock and scion top will be solid.

And if they fail?  Well, I have enough heirloom seedling and 2 Big Beef hybrids for the standard plantings of past years.  I'm no worse off.

But my big surprise is that it seems a lot easier that I feared.   It just took trying it to do it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Trailer Pictures!

Sometimes, it is just best to show the methods and final results...

Obsessive featherboards...
Dado blades...
The tablesaw
Output, LOL!
Capped tops and back panel...
Sad part.  I just couldn't get the back corners to match.  After a bad measurement, that was what I have to live with.
But the whole thing is going to be functional for the next 20 years, so...  OK.


Pictures, as promised...

Like in any project, I could do it a bit better a second time, but, "twill serve, twill serve".

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Trailer Completus


Sometimes things that seem so simple are surprisingly complicated.  I sure learned (re-learned?) that this past 2 weeks. 

It seemed simple.  Put plywood sides on a metal framed hauling trailer.  Put tops on the exposed plywood top edges.  Big deal.  Um, not quite.

Yuo remember the Six Million Doolar Man where "they" could make him betteer faster and all that?  Right...  It doesn't go that easy even with simpler things.  All I wanted to do was put sides on the trailer and top the plywood edges on the top so they wouldn't rot so quickly.  And the idea is to make the trailer so that sand won't fall out as I drive home from the landscape supply place.  Not that I buy a lot of sand, but if sand won't fall out, mulch won't and I do buy a lot of mulch.

The sides were easy.  Sort of.  I bought two 4'x8' panels of T1-11 exterior plywood siding.  The stuff is great.  Stable, solid, straight.  I had the lumber store cut the sheets in 20" lengths (there are more details but I won't bore you with those).  And I bought 2"x'4"x8' boards.  Home I went...

The first problem I re-discovered (I probably learned this when I originally did the sides 20 years ago, but forgot) was that the metal frame around the trailer was NOT square in ANY direction.  That means I had to craft the pieces into place.  I made a few errors.  I corrected the errors "pretty" well by hand sawing some cuts to the sides to accommodate the metal welding bumps, but I did a couple of sawings that I shouldn't have done.  At least they were small errors.

After I got the sides to fit, I got at the 2x4 tops.  That was trickier than I thought.  I knew I could cut dadoes (stacked saw blades that make a thick cut -5/8" [20/32"] in this case) on my table saw to fit the 19/32" plywood.  It would have worked great except that the plywood was a bit curvy along the entire length.  Not much to see by eye, but the dado cuts sure could tell.

It took two more days to get the dado cuts to fit over the plywood edge tops.  And THEN I had to adjust all the lengths to fit exactly.  Did I mention I wanted all the corners to join with miter cuts?

And the back panel has to be removable.  There are 2 rectangular welded shapes that are supposed to pit a 2x4 set into them.  They don't, of course.  The inside edges are curved.  So I had to shape 2x4 pieces to fit inside lossely enough to go in and out easily but also fit tightly enough to remove easily. 

That took an hour.  And then I had to attach those pieces to the back sheet squarely enough so they both matched the rectangle metal fittings AND were firmly attached to the back.  That was easy enough except I had to go back into the basement several times for more tools.

If I did this more often than every 20 years, it would be a lot easier.  I almost wish a neighbor would come over now and ask me if I had any experience at doing this.  I sure do now! 

Tomorrow, pictures!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ah First Things First...

Well, to get the supplies I need for the enclosed garden, I need the hauling trailer renovated.  The old 20 yer-old wood sides rotted out.  I got new T1-11 sides cut to height and length.
I worked on the front and back yesterday. The sides of the trailer aren't exactly square, so I measured the top and bottom of the front side and put a square against the sides to estimate the unsquareness.  Then realized it doesn't matter because there is an inch of metal frame in each corner.

Still, I want to make good joints for personal reasons, and I did.  Even with slight angles, no edge came out more than 1/16' of matching the corners. So they matched that tolerance.  The back hs a strange brace that matched a 2"x4" board IF you sand it down at the corners, and I have the pieces cut to length for that but not yet crafted carefully to size.

But it DOES mean that the trailer will be ready to haul 23 10' pipes  in a couple days and 12 rolls of chicken wire shortly after that.

I looked at rental equipment for making the holes the upright pipes will sit in.  An auger costs $100 for 4 hours; a trencher something like $281 for 4 hours.  Looks like crowbar and post-hole-digging work for my.  Well, I only need 9 holes!  I can manage that.  It would take that long just to drive to the store, rent the machine, drive back, unload it, set it up, use it, etc, and do the reverse.

I'll still hate pounding through rocky gravel...