Memorial Day Tribute

This Memorial Day R. Perkins Blog would like to thank all the veterans for their service, and remember the fallen heroes and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice so that others may remain free. God bless, and be kind, everybody!

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Going Organic, Part 1; Minus Microbes

Enlightened

Recently, I have reached the conclusion that I don’t know squat about gardening–more specifically, soil. Seems as though soil is everything…literally. Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve caused an immeasurable quantity of collateral damage during my decades-long battle with the grasshopper population during their sporadic invasions.

I’ve been taught, as I’m certain many who garden are, that soil needs tilled regularly to remain loose enough to enable nutrients to permeate the area and allow for plant root growth. As it turns out, this is just not true. Roto-tilling and the repetitive application of pesticides, as well as steady treatments of chemical-based fertilizers are all chief causes of soil failure because these practices destroy the essential life within the soil; the microbes, of which I feel my garden and yard are mostly minus.

Pesticides have always been my go-to treatment for insect problems. For plant nutrition–chemical fertilizers. After reading “Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web,” a most informative book by Jeff Lowenfels, and coauthored with Wayne Lewis, I now understand that these are not sustainable solutions on either front. With every obvious insect death, or improved plant characteristic above ground, there are countless failures along the surface as well as within the soil. Just because a plant responds favorably to a meal of concentrated nitrogen, doesn’t mean success. As a gardener steeped in conventional methods of feeding and management, until now I haven’t given much thought to what happens beyond the manufactured diet I provide for my vegetables, or the chemical bath I’ve been giving invaders of the six-legged variety…or is it eight? See what I mean?

I’m Convinced

It’s time for education; experimentation. After reading Lowenfels’ book, a great many things are now making sense. Disappearing grass, compacting soil, and newly planted trees that just struggle and die are tell-tale signs that something is wrong at root level. I’m ready to address these issues and rebuild my soil by adopting an organic approach to gardening and lawn care.

Apple tree. Three years, and still struggling

My lawn and trees are the worst, but my garden hangs on well enough. Probably because I add truck-loads of compost each year, reintroducing bacteria and fungi, but I inevitably face a fungal foe, or the result of an evil nematode beating me to my tomato crop, and eventually I succumb, and…treat…with…chemicals. This returns me to square one.

Microbe deficit?

Using Lowenfels’ book as my guide, I hope to begin the healing process of my soil, and I’m eager to share my personal experience as things progress. I strongly recommend reading “Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web,” even if you’re content with your current gardening practices. It flows fast, and is easy to understand. For less than the cost of a hose-end sprayer filled with blue chemical fertilizer, I downloaded the kindle format and whizzed through it in only a few lunch hours.

Okay, first things first; lets see what there is to start with.

Trap Them Bugs

I need to establish a baseline so I can assess the damage caused from years of chemical applications. So, lets dig a hole, plant a quart mason jar, and see what kind of life (and how much) springs forth.

 

I get the feeling this will be the easy part; the calm before the storm. Waves of composting, mulching, turning, shoveling, and sweating are ahead.

With the traps set,  it’s time to wait a few days. It’s supposed to rain throughout the next week, and I don’t want to worry with tinting too many traps, so later on, when the weather is drier,  I’ll set a few more to ensure a good creature count. While the traps work their magic, I plan to read “Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardeners Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition,” the second book in a trilogy by Jeff Lowenfels.

Gardens past

I’m going to keep things simple for now. Garden first, yard next (we must prioritize). However, I couldn’t resist branching out to include one secluded spot.  A few hundred feet from our garden area is a pile of what remains of previous gardens. After cleaning each fall, we stack all the left-over organic material in a pile; not lasagna gardening, but rather a lasagna of gardens. Its simply been allowed to compost there, for years, untouched, until now. One trap had to go there. I’m curious what kind of life it will reveal. In a few days, we should know, and I’ll be excited to report on it. Until then, happy gardening, and if you decide to swap chemicals for a more organic approach, happy reading as well!  

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Onions Galore

First load of onions this year.

I always over-do the onion crop. Time to share. Purple variety far out-performed all others so far. Still waiting on 1015–they will make another wheel barrow full. Radishes are prolific as well, and hitched a ride to the shed.

Onion Harvest 2016

Last years crop hit the sweet-spot. They lasted just until we replanted this year. I don’t recall the variety we planted, but they stored very well. This year we may need to practice our DIY skills and build a crib for storage since we’ve been blessed with a substantial crop.

A Few Yellow Representatives

Most of the yellow onions suffered an attack by a bulb mite, or other pest. They just rotted in the ground. I am still looking into this, but haven’t reached a conclusion. Gardening offers great research opportunities, and the internet makes this process loads of fun. There are just so many smart people on Facebook. (Heh). Seriously though, I love that there are so many groups established for gardening enthusiasts like myself. Keep up the awesome work guys! You rock!

Radishes Travel Well

If I were to see these at the local Farmers Market, I couldn’t resist them. The twine adds the perfect accent while keeping things organized. No garden is complete without a healthy roll of jute twine. And by healthy, I mean giant. It’s cheap, easy to use, and is eco-friendly. Just chunk it into the compost pile at year’s end. Speaking of end, that’s all for now. Happy gardening!

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April Showers Bring May…Tomatoes?

Juliet tomato is always prolific.

 

Its been a weird year. Our three-day winter here in central Texas has mother nature standing on her ear. My fruit trees are still putting on leaves. Best me and Google can tell, this foliage delay is due to insufficient chill hours. I dislike chill myself, but I agree it’s a necessary evil. Why? Because I love peaches, that’s why. No chill, no peaches…no happy me. I’ll wear a coat for a ripe, plump, delicious Ranger peach any day.  Also, the persistent, low night-time temps have slowed the growth of most the garden plants, but a few just keep powering through. The tomatoes are leading the way. Might even get a red, ripe one this month. My record so far is June 1st. Okra and melons are dragging up the rear. Radishes never seem to give a flip. Even the seeds I dropped in-between rows while planting (tiny buggers) are giving it their all. I just maneuver around them. They’ll be ready to pull and eat soon enough.

Candela Di Fouco radish. An Italian strain.

Speaking of radishes, I love this variety I’ve tried this year. Spicy, like all delicious radishes, and fun to look at,  these carrot-looking beauties don’t mess around. My soil is loose, and has ample depth so they have all the room they need to explore and grow almost as straight as a candle-stick.

Rat’s Tail radish

Something else new in the R. Perkins garden is an above ground radish type; a Rat’s Tail radish. Look closely and you can see the edible seed pods which resemble a rat’s tail. Haven’t tried these yet, but doesn’t appear that it will be long before I do.

Cocolla Di Napoli squash.
Another Italian selection.

I’ve become bored with the standard “straight neck prolific” and “yellow crook neck” varieties of summer squash, so a few years back I began experimenting with something different. What I’ve discovered is that the Italian varieties are much more flavorful. There’s not much to see yet, but I predict I will harvest my first squash within a week. Updates will follow.

Those taters are looking good!

Except for those potatoes (planted on St. Paddy’s Day, of course) everything else is lagging behind. I tried planting early once during a mild winter, only to get wiped-out later, thanks to an April freeze. But gardening isn’t about rushing things. And in central Texas, we’re blessed with a long grown season; sometimes too long. I’ll be overwhelmed soon enough. Until then, I’ll water and pray for rain like a True Texan. Thanks for stopping by!

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Goodbye to the “JO WHY” People

Seven years ago I decided to improve my health. So, I quit smoking, started running, and began spitting out anything that tasted good. I’m now convinced that cardboard forms the basic foundation for all healthy food. (Pssst, hey, Kashi, the packaging goes on the outside of the food). Since this realization, I’ve included spitting out bacon to my list of things to quit. (It’s a vegetable. It’s good for you. It’s a vegetable.)

I’m still not smoking, and I continue to exercise, but I keep having to reset the weight loss thing.  Healthy nutrition is a difficult thing to dial in,  especially if you cling to silly beliefs like, “the calories don’t count if no one sees you eat them”. This works pretty good with broccoli, but chocolate muffins, not so much. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m wandering through the dark wood. I’m in there bumping around, tripping over everything in my path–the tread mill, the elliptical, anyone near me in my body pump class–making a mess out of it all as I search desperately for that sunny meadow that lies beyond. Sorry, I’m pretty sure that analogy is off.  I’m not a fan of Dante, or even Shakespeare, but I do know Homer pretty well. Homer Simpson, that is. For some weird reason, he makes me hungry for Cheetos and beer. Doh! Maybe that’s my problem.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I do feel it’s important to occasionally try to better myself. The fact that I focus on self-improvement around this time of year is only coincidence, not an effort to set unreasonable goals based entirely on an annual fad. Or because I’m too broke to do anything else following the holidays so it’s easier to starve myself. Ok, maybe a little bit of that last one.

Actually, it’s because of a temporary extinction event called New Year’s during which a certain tribe of people disappear. While I’m busy not openly identifying my insecurities, thereby painting a target on myself, everyone who is usually questioning my previous lifestyle changes is busy doing just the opposite. These are the people who spend at least eleven months of the year scrutinizing my actions. Why do you workout? You don’t eat cheese burgers? Who the hell doesn’t eat cheese burgers? They wear shirts with captions like “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway” or “Body by Bud“, as in weiser. They make statements like “You know, you could be in the greatest shape of your life today and still get hit by a bus and die tomorrow”. Yeah, well, ok. Maybe I’ll become a bus driver. Problem solved.

During the next two weeks, or maybe a month, give or take, these negative Nancys, (or Nellies, or Neds, or Normans, whichever you prefer), will be busy with their own self-esteem projects, perhaps as a self-imposed penance for being largely nonsupportive of their more disciplined friends. These are the people who, while occupying the same room as me and a plate of fudge brownies, cookies, or maybe a platter of deep fried…anything, will goad me to “eat just one because it won’t hurt me”. They are the people I refer to as the “JO WHY”, my personal acronym for Just One Wont Hurt You. Did I mention that many JO WHY are fond of beer?

These are usually made up of two specific groups;

  1. Family members, e.g. grannys, papas, sweet old aunts or big sisters that obviously have some dirt on the Keeblers.
  2. Close friends and coworkers who are out to sabotage my every effort because I’m making them look bad.

Group one, though supportive, are the most evil. With only a simple kitchen and the most basic of ingredients they can conjure taste bud tingle-licious baked goods and deep-fried sumptuousness. Group two, well, don’t worry guys. I’m certain wrangler will manufacture a 13mwz with a stretchy waist band one day.

In their defense, I must admit that they’re correct, just one won’t hurt. But, what’s the time frame on that logic? After ingesting just one of anything lip-smackingly, grease-wipenly, nap-takenly delicious, how long until I can have just one more? Ten, fifteen, thirty minutes? Two days? Is anybody looking?
After a couple of minutes of research I found a few answers;

  • Fifteen potato chips (because you can’t eat just one, right?)–Jump rope, 12 minutes.
  • One slice of pizza–30 minute bike ride.
  • Coca Cola–55 min walk.
  • Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut–mow lawn for 26 minutes.

That’s a grand total of 123 minutes of won’t-hurt-me. Added to my normal daily exercise regimen, work, then factor-in the over-fifty age group variable, hmmm… carry the 2… yep, I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty certain that’s gonna hurt. Also, I’m now aware that I have a 4.61 doughnut yard.

Lucky for me, the JO WHY focus their primary efforts around the holidays. After New Year’s they’re almost non-existent until the Fourth of July when they show up heavily armed with charcoal grills, loaded with bratwurst and stuffed jalapeños, and styrofoam coolers brimming with beer.

That’s alright, because by then I’m ready to subscribe to the JO WHY logic. At least for a while. I’ll head to the river, pitch a tent (actually, it’s more of a negotiation. The tent will agree to stand, but the door zipper won’t work. I think it’s in cahoots with the mosquito population) and I’ll stay for a while. And why not? I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve lost weight, and I’ve accepted bacon as a vegetable. Hurrah!

So, hand me a brat, a beer, and later, maybe I’ll even fabricate a smore… or three. And I’ll dance around the campfire as I take my (temporary) place among the JO WHY.

[Photo by R.Perkins]

[Photo by R.Perkins]

A Floating Cow, and some Beans on the Bayou (Brownwood Riverfest 2015)

This gallery contains 3 photos.

    I came for the raft race. An audacious event, open to all; a distinct challenge that tosses aside centuries of maritime expertise in favor of redneck ingenuity…an adventure, requiring only a scrap heap, and the desire to coax from its depths a raft-like object capable of floating at least long enough to cross … Continue reading

Stability

This gallery contains 5 photos.

My wife and I used to travel…a lot. Not so much any more. Nowadays, our adventure schedule remains whittled down to a few short weekend excursions sprinkled throughout the summer months, and one short family vacation during which we spend hours standing in line. In the past, I’ve been all too eager to attribute our … Continue reading

Killer Furniture

This gallery contains 1 photo.

A couch is a deadly thing. Oh sure, it looks harmless enough, with its soft, plump cushions and its coveted vantage point in front of the flat screen, but trust me, these are only clever features, strategically placed to tempt the unsuspecting–the otherwise energetic individual. Wooed by its siren call, we react accordingly, tossing cardio … Continue reading

Barefoot

The Transient Photographer

Barefoot Barefoot

Shelter and safety. They make us feel comfortable and secure. We have a lot of comfort and security and shelter here in america. Rarely do we feel truly threatened or at risk. We go places we know are safe and we take part in activities that are completely within the realm of safety. Even when we risk a little it’s a conscious decision with as much safety measures in place as possible. We have so little risk in our lives we have to inject tiny amounts of it via perceptively dangerous recreational activities that are still extremely controlled.

With all this shelter comes, for me at least, a diminished sense of adventure and a disconnection with the experience of life and spontaneity. How can we truly connect with our surroundings if there’s a constant buffer separating us from it? When’s the last time you felt the touch of grass…

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