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Stewlash and E-Trade

July 20th, 2013 at 05:47 pm

I finally got around to transferring some funds from an E-Trade account set up by a previous employer. The money has been sitting dormant for about a year. I really should have done it sooner. I've lost out on about 20% gains by not doing so. Oh, well. It wasn't a whole lot of money, but it was still money lost through laziness.

On the Dubai homefront, I made stew yesterday. Then I added a lot of vegetables and a can of tomato sauce, so it is now a stew-goulash crossbreed, which I have coined as "stewlash." It was really good, but as always I used too much black pepper, so it has a bit of a bite.

I ate about a third of it, and put the other two thirds up in the freezer for lunches over the next month or so. I'll make chili sometime this week after I finish cleaning the crock pot. I always soak the ceramic liner for a day before I hand clean it, both of which precede me putting it into the dishwasher. I hate crusty remains from bad dishwashers, and there's no such thing as a good dishwasher in my experience.

DW is getting the house in order. Houston has been getting a lot of rain, so the lawn is coming in nicely where we had to mend the DD2's destructive "improvements." We have mushrooms now, which is not bad, but I asked DW to put down some Daconil (a fungicide) to help prevent future brown patch. I also told her I have Banner (another fungicide) in the shed, and for her to be ready to put it down in a couple of weeks if brown patch encroaches regardless of the Daconil treatment.

While I was doing the E-Trade move, I looked at my Vanguard holdings. They're up about 20% for the year. I know that will dip when QE stops, but it sure is nice to look at it now. I only wish I knew when the dip was coming. Yeah... I know: "Market timing." But you know the dip is coming, as it is unavoidable mathematically.

Trees and Chores

March 7th, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Joan of the Arch published her recent entry about raising some trees from seed. If you have read it, you'll see why her post elicited this response. It will be too long to post as a comment.

My father's hobby has always been organic gardening. He started back in the late 1960's when no one else had even heard of organic produce. He never has used any synthetic chemicals on his plants and always has the best harvests one could imagine. He had the first ever "compost pile" I had ever heard of, and he kept it out near the garden. All coffee grounds, egg shells, and other appropriate waste was correctly discarded there, including 100% of any plant or vegetable manner we did not actually eat such as husks, skins, pits, cores, or other jetsam of the plant/food world.

My father has always raised a wide variety of vegetables, and about 35 years ago, he decided to plant some fruit trees. He went through his seed catalogs and found some dwarf tree saplings that he purchased. These came as small sticks sticking out of burlap bags, to my memory.

My parents had four sons, each of us in our teen or near-teen years when the trees were purchased. Where I grew up, four teen-age sons is typically called "free labor." My father, at least, used us for any such purpose when needed.

My father decided the best way to plant the saplings was to dig holes in a very precise fashion. The holes were to be cubical in shape, and three feet (0.9 meters) on the side. They were to be 20 feet apart (6 meters or so). Once the holes were excavated, we were to layer one foot (30 cm) of rough gravel for drainage, then a layer of rough dirt for a few inches (10 cm) and then place a large rock directly in the middle of our now 18-inch hole. We were to spread the root ball around the rock, to encourage the emerging tree roots to spread laterally before plummeting to their ultimate depths.

The last layer of soil around the root ball was some organic concoction created by my father. We were emphatically told where the lowest point to be covered was on the saplings, and we were loathe to do any task other than how we were instructed.

My brothers and I, duly instructed in the above procedure - do you wonder why we're all very good at math? - commenced to dig the holes and construct the sapling beds accordingly. It never occurred to us to cut any corners, because we all knew that would mean only that we would get the pleasure of doing the chore yet another time, and this time correctly.

We used power tools to do the digging; arm-power and leg-power, that is. Our shovels were not particularly sharp and we had no pick. This was done by main-strength, as were almost all of our labor-intensive chores. Also, we were doing this in late Winter or early Spring, which in southern Virginia means "already hitting high 70's (metric mid-20s)."

We dug four such holes precisely arranged in an arc with our father's dimensions reasonably approximated. I don't remember how long it took to dig the holes - only three of us were harnessed to the task as our youngest brother was not very healthy at the time - but I can assure you that it was hard work and not done in a single evening.

The trees were planted precisely according to my father's plan, and watered precisely on his schedule. We were also tasked with keeping his garden weeded and watered, though it actually needed very little maintenance due to my father's year-long preparations.

Our tasks included turning the compost pile every two weeks. This was done by using the same shovels and, starting in the middle, digging down to the hard soil and putting a bit of hard soil as well as the decaying/composting material to the top of the pile, and the old soil/material that was on the top to the bottom or middle. Basically, it was using a shovel to stir the pile. The heat from the decaying material as well as the dry cold air that any growing roots so-turned would be exposed to meant that most of the compost pile had no weeds growing and nearly all the weed seeds killed before they germinated or shortly after sprouting. Still, we had to pull some minor weeds from the edges.

About three months after planting the trees it became evident that the trees were no longer in the realm of the living. They were rotting in the holes and one actually broke off and fell over. My father called the seed company and obtained new saplings without additional payment as we were all certain the saplings were DOA, as our preparations and care were precisely according to the schedule laid out by my father.

About the time we were waiting for the replacement saplings to arrive, my father was tending his garden and compost pile. He saw a "weed" on the edge of the pile and pulled it up, only to find it was actually a germinated peach pit. We had been to Georgia the previous summer and this pit must have been one from the bushel or so of peaches we purchased on our drive back to Virginia. My father replanted the pit and told all of us boys to avoid "weeding" it when we cleaned up and turned the compost pile.

About 20 years ago, I had a chance to visit the old house. The peach tree back by the tree line that originated from the volunteer pit was about 20 feet tall and gorgeous. The four replacement trees were also doing well, after having been re-established in place of the failed crop.

I'm always amazed that my father never mentions how the volunteer peach tree grew unaided, while the meticulously-planted and painstakingly-cared-for saplings died out of hand.

Easy Organic Gardening Tips

October 23rd, 2012 at 09:42 pm

My father was an organic gardener back in the 1970s before anyone else had ever heard the term "organic." It was his hobby then, and gardening is still his hobby now as he approaches 80. One of his tricks is to mulch and compost non-pine or -spruce type of leaves over the winter. He makes piles of mulched leaves about 5 to six feet wide.

About once every two weeks in the winter, he turns the piles and puts water on them if it hasn't snowed; if it has snowed, the snow melt is the water for the compost process. You'll know if the material is composting because snow will melt off the tops and you'll have brown mounds among the snow.

Now, in the Spring comes the "secret:" In the piles, plant potatoes throughout the pile of "now dirt," then grow corn in the middle, and tomatoes along the edges. My father puts up 4 inch welded wire "cages" along the perimeter. Just use 3.1 times the diameter for the length, or about 18.5 feet for 6 foot piles; he does about 15.5 feet for his 5 foot piles. The welded wire holds up the tomato plants, and they're going to need the support with all the tomatoes that will be growing on them.

Each of those crops pulls different nutrients from the ground so they don't interfere with one-another. He gets bushels of each item from one pile, and normally has about 6 to 10 piles. The size of his harvests is amazing. Also, the weeding is minimal, because the heat from composting and the freeze on the top of the piles from turning kills 99.9% of the weed seeds that make it into the piles over the Winter, and his harvest plants choke out the remaining random weed seeds that make it, with only minimal manual weeding.

He also has an eye for tomato plant "suckers." I don't know how he knows, but he pulls off these baby branches and every branch that remains bears fruit. He says that the "suckers" he pulls off would not have borne fruit. He also finds suckers on his corn plants and removes those, as well, but even I can recognize corn suckers.

The Autumn-Winter compost gives fresh nutrients every year, and he just collects bags of leaves from around his neighborhood in the Fall (now's the time), from houses that don't have anything but deciduous trees such as oaks and elms and suchlike. Just no pine needles is his main goal. Once a guy told my dad that he'd sell his bags of leaves. Needless to say, my dad just drove away and went to the next house. He always asks the owners before picking up the bags of leaves, and will explain to them why if the owner is curious.

Remind me to tell you the story about his plum tree that was so heavily loaded with plums that it fell over.