Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting ready for the fall garden...

Spent the afternoon yesterday ripping out all my tired, old summer crops, excepting some Cuban oregano, fennel, and scallions. I hoed the bed, and was surprised by how compacted the sandy soil had become. I spread about 3/4 of a cubic yard of mushroom compost in the fifty by thirty area (the soil has been amended frequently over the past few years), then a heavy cover of pine straw. I'll let the compost cool down a bit, then start my fall planting sometime mid-September. I haven't decided what, exactly, I'll plant, but probably first things will include Seafoam chard, beets, and broccoli. My tomatoes (Jetsetter) are in and doing nicely. I have a couple other smaller beds that I'll plant a bit later--right now, I've got cassava, sweet potatoes and peanuts in them. Since those crops won't be ready until October or November, I'll do lettuce and radishes in those beds, during the coolest part of the year.
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Friday, August 22, 2008

Flooding from Fay

The rain was just starting to let up for the first time in three days when I took these videos:

Here's what that second area looks like in the dry season:

What Mary said...

My friend Mary dropped me this perceptive note...
A little rain with your coffee ? I miss the sun too . I have not been out of the house enough to tell what is occurring on our property or the three near-by retention ponds. The R. ponds are 1 acre , 1.5 acre and 5 acres . I can imagine they are more like lakes today than ponds . One pond was built when the road was widened to accommodate 100 year floods . After the 2004 hurricanes dumped a total of 64 inches of rain , two more ponds were added . With this record setting amount of rain for one storm , they might be wishing they had added a fourth pond !!

I am sure we have close to the same amount as you quoted - almost 20 inches . Since we are on a septic system , I have stopped doing laundry and dishes to avoid a back-up . Don't want to add to the umpteen inches or more of H2O already there . Drainage is good on our property and so far - no damaging flooding . The rains from Fay have been slow and steady which has saved us by allowing percolating
and soaking into the ground . The good news is no lightning --- yet !

Even after Fay decides to end her Florida vacation , we will still have thunder storms following her . The weather forecast does not look good for the next 5 days - thunder, lightning and more rain. The following storms might just do us all in with the fast rainfall that can cause flash flooding . Since the ground is saturated there is no place for very heavy rains to go ! Lightning has also been a huge problem in the past for us here . Now people will have to deal with the St. Johns River flooding.

Beach erosion has been major and the millions and millions of dollars spent on bringing in sand earlier this year has been for nothing . This is not good for tourism and business in general . The small business owners were not making any money before this storm . 5 days of shops closed and destruction from flooding may just close these businesses especially in downtown DeLand . I worried before this
storm about my friends who own their own stores . Now ? The citrus industry is affected as well . This much rain causes fruit split and destroys much of the winter crop - mine included . Citrus trees are very sensitive to flooding and cannot have their roots under water for more than a few hours or they suffocate . I have one tree that is slowly dying from the hurricanes of 2004 . This storm will definitely be the final blow to that tree.

The worst part for us Floridians is that we have not seen the sun in almost a week . That's not normal ! I should be watching a glorious sunrise but instead am sitting in the dark with pounding rain outside . When ( if ? ) the storm gives us a break , we will walk about and do a check of the fencing , cows and neighbors . Now the radio is predicting tornadoes this afternoon . Oh , joy ! What next ? If the economy and housing crisis did not drive away newcomers , this storm might just do it . Water front property anyone ? Hope you are dry and safe and not going stir crazy!
I am going stir crazy. And I need some sun. I haven't seen it since last Sunday while fishing at Canaveral.

Lake Okeechobeee

This news is very, very good. It won't solve our water problems for the long term, but it does reset conditions back to normal. Since 2004, our droughty conditions have only made our man-made mess worse.
Wunder Blog : Weather Underground:

Lake Okeechobee Update
After the recent rains from Tropical Storm Fay, Lake Okeechobee has responded quite nicely. Based upon the latest information provided by the SFWMD (South Florida Water Management District), the average lake level now stands at 12.52 feet. To put this into perspective, in the past three days, a little over 40% of the deficit has been erased.

With all the rainfall still ongoing north of the lake and the constant rain bands swirling in from the southern side, Okeechobee will likely continue to rise and will likely be above the 13 foot mark by Sunday for the first time in nearly 21 months (if my memory serves me right here). If the lake were to reach or exceed the 13 foot mark, the lake would only be about a foot below normal.

All in all, while Tropical Storm Fay has become a nuisance for all Florida, it has served as a blessing in disguise. For the past four years, all Florida has been mired in a severe water shortage crisis that has resulted in water restrictions throughout the state. (Yes, there are still water restrictions in place in South Florida.) With this significant rainfall received by Tropical Storm Fay, it will replenish most the depleted water supply and will fill Lake Okeechobee to near normal levels. In addition, this will also help hold off the salt-water intrusion"


Well, I've emptied my rain gauge three times now, each time it was overflowing at six and a half inches. That's more than the local weather station at DeLand's water treatment indicates, but I'm pretty confident of hte accuracy of my gauge -- I mean, it's a straightforward rain gauge, set about two feet off the ground, clear of any trees or anything that would affect its accuracy. It's impossible, or nearly impossible, for a gauge to read in excess, though fairly easy for a gauge to underestimate rain.

In other words, we've had, at a minimum, here on the north side of DeLand, twenty inches of rain.

Crazy flooding on the street, though I don't see any indication that houses have been affected. The usually dry retention ponds are all overflowing their banks. The one across the road from me has at least ten feet of water in it, and long ago breeched its banks to spill all over the intersection. There's at least a foot of water standing at the corner.

I took a quick stroll through my sodden garden. A fair amount of damage--okra's gone. At least one banana washed out. My false roselles (a lovely burgundy hibiscus), which had reached about twelve feet, have been blown over. (They'll probably recover with staking.) A noticed some of my salvias had split. They'll be fine, but won't bloom as heavily this fall. Lots of pots knocked over.

In a word, a mess; but things could be much worse.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gearing up for fall...

It's still blasted hot out, but already the quality of the sun's light has changed and the days are growing noticeably shorter. My fall tomatoes and peppers are doing well--I'll try to transplant them into the garden by September 1, reserving some seedlings to replace the inevitable attrition.

For the first time, I've left the strawberries to do their whole runner business, so I won't have to reorder. The plants appear quite healthy and they've put out lots of "daughters." (Typically here in FLA, we grow strawberries as annuals; however, I ordered some new hybrids last year that touted disease resistance.)

Anyway, busy time of life for me, but I need to get my ducks in a row if I'm to have a good garden in November... My order from Pinetree seeds.
7201 SUGAR SNAX CARROT (F1 hybrid 63 days)
3601 RED CLOUD BEET (F1 hybrid 50 days)

The Sea Foam chard is the only one I'd consider growing here in FLA. I've grown it side-by-side with other cultivars, and there is simply no comparison. I had pretty good luck last fall, for the first time, growing beets. They are really finicky about germinating during the winter, but the ones I got to grow produced nice beets. Chervil is a total mainstay for me--grows in the shade all winter until late spring. A great addition to salads. The carrots are just a lark. I have had the
best luck with Sweet Treat (another hybrid), but why not try another, too?

I'll sow most of the dry/cool season crops throughout October, as soon as the weather cools down a bit.

Friday, August 08, 2008

herbs in the summer

From a post I did on the Florida Forum of GardenWeb:

it's a tough time for herbs in the garden. here's what's coping with the heat/humidity/deluge/drought of late summer.

- rosemary: in pots, doing well. i've discovered that it's key to buy rosemary from local growers (mine are from seminole springs). i always underpot these. partial sun in the summer, full sun the rest of the year

-african blue basil: in the ground. not at its best now, but still tons of blooms and bees. i don't consider this a culinary herb, but i do use it in thai dishes. lots of camphor flavor.

-other basils: i had italian (genoa) basils in the ground and full sun, but they've all burned out/gone to seed. the surprise winner here is a purple basil still going strong. in years past, the purples have burned out early. this one i got from a friend, so i don't know the variety, but i plan to save the seeds. tony's greek columnar basil in a pot is thriving and about 3' tall right now.

-mint: spearmint, in a pot, almost full shade, lots of water, doing well.

-sweet marjoram: surprise of the year. got some from seminole, planted in the ground, still doing very well in nearly full sun.

-thyme: started to decline in july when we had so much rain. now dead. oh, well. i need to remember to get more.

-parsley: the ones in the ground went to seed at the beginning of the summer. i have one plant in a pot from winter that's still eking out life, but prognosis is poor. i've found just buying a new plant from the produce market once every other month or so works best. we use a LOT of parsley. i keep these in morning sun, afternoon shade.

-mexican tarragon: in a pot, next to the parsley. done very well. doesn't like to get dry, but thrives with lots of water.

-chives: great, no problems in a pot near the parsley. in the past my pots of chives have lasted more than a year. i throw them out because the flavor seems to grow worse with time.

-oregano: i don't know what kind, but purchased a couple years ago from seminole. even though it's in full sun in a small pot and has not been repotted since i bought it, this is more a mound of oregano than a pot. it's colonized the kumquat pot next to it, flowed across a garden path, and never looks unhappy. i should use this as a groundcover!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights

The trend deepens and broadens...
Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights - "Some independently owned, small-to-medium-size chains have been selling extensive lines of local seasonal fruits and vegetables for years, lines they are now expanding.

For the largest supermarket chains, though, where for decades produce has meant truckloads transported primarily from the West Coast, it’s not always easy to switch to the farmer down the road.

But soaring transportation costs, not to mention the cachet customers attach to local food, have made it more attractive not just to supermarkets but to the agribusiness companies that supply them.

Growers like Dole and Nunes have contracted with farmers in the East to grow products like broccoli and leafy greens that they used to ship from the West Coast. Because of fuel costs, in some instances the cost of freight is more than the cost of the products."
Hannaford Brothers, with 165 stores in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, has always sold local produce, but in the last two years its customers have pushed it to offer more. “There’s been a 20 percent increase in sales” in the last year, said Michael Norton, a company spokesman. “Our research tells us consumers have about five or six reasons for wanting local: freshness and taste; keeping farmland in the community and having open spaces; a desire to be close to the food source and know where it comes from; support of local farmers and keeping money in the community. Embedded in all of this is concern about food safety. All this creates pretty powerful interest.”
Since the advent of modern grocery, retailers have dreamed of getting rid of produce altogether. Veg and fruit present all sorts of difficulties from a perspective of efficiency and cheapness, and what's more, the markup was minimal if not a net loss for the store. A shift in perspective on the part of the consumer could, perhaps, change all that. Local food has a cache and character that industrial food lacks. That added value, combined with higher transportation costs forcing retailers to source locally, might do communities a world of good. I might be accused of mercantilism or autarky, but our mantra, for everything from energy to broccoli, should be:

Shorten. The. Supply. Chain.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization

This article on expensive oil's affect on global trade tells the story of profligate waste and chasing pennies. A great lesson in externalized costs. As hard as it is now, the run-up in oil prices will be seen, in say a decade, as the best thing that could have happened, much as the oil crises of the 1970s are considered, among many political economists, as crucially important in modernizing the US economy and weaning us, slightly, from oil addictio:

Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization - "Soaring transportation costs also have an impact on food, from bananas to salmon. Higher shipping rates could eventually transform some items now found in the typical middle-class pantry into luxuries and further promote the so-called local food movement popular in many American and European cities."