The Hefty Brothers


For those of you who are not familiar with these gentlemen posted above, they are the Hefty brothers of the show AG PhD on RuralTV.  Each of them owns a farm in the Midwest and every week they present some topic that is related to their craft.  They have segments on their show titles, “Farm Basics”, “Iron Talk” and one of my personal favorites, “The Weed of the Week.”  Now I am sure by now you think I have completely lost my marbles because there is nothing in common between the farms in the Midwest and my land here in the swamp.

Now it is true there are more differences than similarities with our methods of crop production.  They have heavy machinery.  I have a shovel with a crack in it.  They have tiled fields with good drainage for their crops.  I have a swamp.  They have serious corporate backing complete with computerized soil sampling and grid layout of each of their fields.  I have a Lowe’s credit card and a book on gardening.

But what I do admit is the very basics of crop production remains the same.  You need good seeds.  You need good soil.  You need decent moisture, heat, light and food to help the plants grow.  Then you need some sort of pest control because, as we know, the swamp is filled with these little pests that eat everything.  So lets look at each one.

As far as seeds are concerned, Lowe’s carries much of what I need.  Whether it be from an actual seed or from a seedling, their product seems to have worked the longest for me.  Personally, I prefer a pre-started plant if it is not a root crop.  For example a pepper plant or a tomato plant I prefer a seedling of at least 12″ in length.  The extra cost is well worth the hassle.  For carrots and such, well the seeds will do just fine.

Now moisture is an issue.  I cannot afford to tile my lawn like the Hefty boys do so I decided I will grow my plants above the base soil.  The soil here in the swamp is acidic and sandy – any growth above the indigenous weeds and vines are likely to have a short lifespan.  I have watched healthy trees go from full blossom to dead in less than a year so again, unless the soil has been fully prepared by adding 100% organic soil to the entire plot, forget about growing anything IN the soil.  So what do I do?

(1) Use well-drained pots.  This is easier to maintain, especially if the weather turns severe you can simply pull the pots under a roof or inside the house.  The key is they have to drain very, very well.

(2) Raised beds.  Now I will start by saying I have had only moderate success with this method.  What I did was lay down a barrier of cloth over the grassy area I just cleared.  I put in 6″ tall wooden barriers in a 6 foot by 6 foot square.  I fill this bed completely with organic soil and then plant what I want.

Have I seen locals raise crops directly in the soil?  Yes i have.  I hate them.

The next thing is the heat of the summer.  Many of the ordinary crops will melt away in the summer’s ugly heat.  Those Florida hybrid tomatoes?  They were the first tomato crop to die last year.  Beefsteak tomatoes?  They were the second to go.  I have found the cherry tomatoes and the heirloom tomatoes the best of that type of plant to use here.  The peppers do fairly well here also.  I have had success with pimento and green chili peppers – so much so they lived all through the winter and have produced very well for two years and counting!  I keep them in partial shade and pull them further into shade in the heat of the day.  I have had some limited success with carrots, aloe, bamboo, rosemary (for the baked chicken) and basil.  The rest – not so much.  Hopefully this list will (forgive the pun) grow well in the future.

Food for the plants is important.  I do lay out washed out egg shells for fertilization often.  If you grind them up and put them on the leaves they are also an insect repellent.  We also use cayenne pepper on the leaves to keep the damn squirrels from chewing on the green shoots for moisture when it gets dry out.  I also place organic plant food every so often and we transfer the plants to other pots after a year or two to get fresh soil.

Now I do have some blueberry bushes.  I learned that they do moderately well where I placed them on the slope of my backyard as it begins to tumble down into the moat.  I have for the most part left them alone, only going back there to water during the drought years and to keep the thorny vines off of them so they are not choked to death.  When they produce berries the race is on between the damn squirrels and me to harvest as many of these little gems as possible.  I am pleased to say I harvested about a cup and a half total last year, and I am optimistic this yield will continue to increase.  One lesson learned, when planting these bushes, buy two different sets of two species of blueberries to allow for cross-pollination.  That way additional “baby” blueberry bushes will end up growing alongside the ones you planted.

So as you see I do gain some knowledge from watching these two Midwestern good-ol-boys talk about their trade.  Farming is not easy, nor is growing anything of substance here in the Swamp.  But I will admit, there is nothing like harvesting and eating something you have grown.



The Winter Cut

nov backyard01

There is a brief window of time here in the Swamp, that exists between the time the insect clouds are knocked down due to the drop in temperature, and the onset of the first frost.  I had a few days off where I was not clogged down with other duties and responsibilities so all of us here decided it was time for the winter cut.  What is the winter cut you ask?

The winter cut is the time when you hit the lawn hard with the lawnmower and the other motorized tools to prepare the yard for winter so you don’t have a ragged carpet of brown weeds in the place of your lawn.  The problem with the Swamp is looking over the damage and/or the growth remaining after the items you tried to grow has been harvested.

In my case, we have different chores for the different parts of the yard.  The front yard that people see now looks trim and squared away.  The backyard (as seen in photos) – not so much.  The issue is just how much to we attack the area that we could mow just last year.  I even planted green beans to help stop erosion.  Now we have what you see.

nov backyard02

backyard bamboo

So here I am, posed in front of the now nearly 20-foot bamboo wall that is now growing between my yard and the railroad moat.  I have had to evaluate if the bamboo is trying to head over to my left, across my neighbor’s fence to get at her orange trees – something I cannot allow.  I did return a few moments later to remove the bamboo shoots that were trying to entrench themselves into the fence itself.  I will leave it until the frost kills off most of the underbrush and also sends what lives in there off to a much deeper slumber.

Bear one thing in mind with these three photos; less than 12 months ago I could easily mow this tract of my yard.  Now so much now as you can see.  Considering the staggering amount of rain we received this year, I am honestly not surprised at all this growth.  Such is life in the Swamp.


It the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…


No I am not referring to Christmas.  That’s one minefield I will not dance on.

What I am referring to is the now-late grounding of the Air Force here in the Swamp.  I have written before about the wide variety of winged attacking insects that love to call this place home.  This variety runs from sand gnats, mosquitoes, the much larger Tiger Mosquito, the horse flies, the deer flies and all the other species that compete for airspace and my blood.  So why the celebration?

Well the Air Force warms up it’s engines in late February to early March.  By mid-March they are out in full force and they are hungry.  Heavy rain, much like what we have had over the past four months or so, makes their numbers exponentially increase, making outside work a hazard unto itself.  As far as the Municipal Mosquito Abatement is concerned, they are upset they could not run their trucks after 7am because they were spraying chemicals into the faces of the kids at the bus stops.  Yea, no kidding.  So the one spray truck they run around my side of this small city is more like a unicorn – you hear about it every once in a while, but you will never see it.

The Air Force does not fly when the winds are above 15 knots.  That does not happen much in the summer unless there is a storm coming in.  The Air Force scrambles when you decide it is time to water the lawn/plants (obviously not a problem this year) or when you want to cut the grass or when you just want to walk in your backyard in general.  Most insect repellents are useless for the most part – what works for some does not work for all.  Besides, I think repellents are looked at by these bugs as a dare.

The only other time the Air Force does not fly is when the temperatures get under 55F (12C).  When the temperatures get under 45F (7C) then they are tied down for the season until the temperatures get above 70F (20C), then they are back and ready to go.  Now if it actually gets down to freezing or lower, strangely enough this as no affect on their numbers come Springtime.  Only the amount of rain has an effect on their population overall.

Now when it is the season for the Air Force to go dormant, my wife and my youngest son can actually go outside.  You see, both of them are allergic to insect bites so essentially from March to November they are imprisoned in the house.  Now we can plan on bike rides, playground time and maybe some extra yard work that can be done without having to donate a pint of blood.  But there is always a price to pay and it come when the weather first gets cooler.

Like today, the overnight low was about 58F (14C).  All the creatures outside know the season is changing.  The ants in the yards are building their mounds higher and the wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are packing in their nests harder.  The army of ninja squirrels are burying everything that resembles a nut and many of the trees that shed leaves are finally doing so.  With these changing conditions, my wife and I are inspecting the house almost hourly for outside intruders wanting to find a place to winter.  Yesterday it was the Palmetto Roach the size of a matchbox car that wanted to see if the living room was a place to relax.  It wasn’t.  Today we have sugar ants who decided they would bum rush the kitchen window.  They are choking on Cayenne Pepper now and are in full retreat.  Tomorrow, who knows?  It can range from tree frogs to lizards to snakes to small mammals.

I will comment that yes the cool weather is late this year, but looking at the behavior of the critters here the winter may be as harsh as it was last year.  I guess we will see.  Meanwhile I will once again hope the moat (the ditch by the railroad racks in my backyard) will be wet and nasty enough to keep out the larger wildlife this winter (bobcats, deer, boars, coyotes, etc.). I guess we will see.  The only real hazard we have had this week is the noisy owl is making all kinds of obscene noises just outside my bedroom window.  (For those of you that have not read my post called “Hooters” you may want to look at it to understand why that it a hazard).

Such is life here in the Swamp today.