Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mosquitos and machinery

If you live in rural Alaska you will soon find out that mosquitos (actually Spanish for "small fly") are the bane of your existence. There is a story that when they were building the Alcan highway back in WWII, a mosquito landed at an Air Corps (as it was then called) airfield. The mechanics rushed out and refueled it. They thought it was a very large bomber.

Due to all of the really weird weather (blame the PDO, of course) our mosquitos have been horrific. Now one way to keep these vampires at bay is Deet. It is a shorthand for some fearsome chemical, and it does indeed keep mosquitoes at bay. Whether it is good for you is undetermined. I suspect not, but the alternative is 10,000 bites per second and that is not good for you either. The **** mosquitos are really bad this year.

Besides Deet, there are a number of things that you can do. One of them is to invest in one or more Buffy rackets. These are battery-powered contraptions that look like tennis rackets. I must do a post on Buffys someday. With this, you can fry the indoors mosquitos.

But a very important part of the anti-mosquito campaign is mowing your lawn. This cuts down on the habitat of the loathsome creatures. (My "lawn" is mostly dandelions. Let us ignore this detail). For years I did this by hand. Well, with a push motorized mower. It took days. Then I broke down and bought Achilles, the riding mower.
The only trouble with Achilles is that eventually the blades must be sharpened. Since the deck sits so close to the ground, it is impossible to get the blades out. On a regular power mower you turn the thing upside down and get the blade off. Achilles weighs at least 100 Kilos (200 lb to metrically-impaired persons) and upside-down is not an option.So aided by John, a makeshift ramp was rigged. With this and some improvising (and a big piece of pipe to act as a lever) we were able to get the blades off. From there it was a SMOS (Simple Matter of Sharpening) and I need few lessons in that direction.

There are lots of videos on the subject on YouTube. Unfortunately none of them is geared to Rural Alaska. Hint: not all of us have $800 air compressors and $50 pneumatic impact wrenches. Be real, you-tubers. Not all of us live in Groton, CT or even Palo Alto, CA. Not even Grand Forks, ND. However, one video was a real help. It is a simple tool that holds the blade still while you take the nut off. The nut is some insane Gringo Size, 15/16" for all I know (1" slips).  I will see if I can duplicate that tool.

However, we got the blades back on today and I mowed. Ahhhh. Mosquitos have temporarily disappeared. So nice to have sharp blades. Another temporary victory in the man-mosquito war. The mosquitos have disappeared. It is ephemeral. Insects, in the long run, outlive us all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We are planted!

It has been a hectic ten days. The weird weather, of course. Well, that's the PDO; we summer farmers must adapt, since we surely cannot change the weather. So we got the garden planted!
Of course the transplants went into shock mode. They wilt.

The worst part of all this is that the temperatures have been above 32C (90+F) since before Sunday last when I finished. My transplants have been struggling. I water every day. But in the greenhouse the Zucchini have been cooked. Other transplants are stuggling too. Too bad, they were splendid. Couldn't hack the heat (although we are told that zucchini is a greenhouse crop). I have a feeling that all our lore is out of date. For the next 30-odd years we will have very different weather.

On the other hand I put in some peppers and they have stood up better than most. Good grief. They probably love the heat. Still too early to tell. Meanwhile I water every day and keep fingers crossed. I can see why the ancients sacrificed to diverse gods. Weather is out of your control. Maybe the gods, or godesses, will do something better. Ops, Roman godess of the harvest, sounds like a good candidate (from her name we get opulence). Perhaps I should build an altar. But there is stilll a lot to do! Ops may have to wait for her altar.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

More garden antics

It has been a frantic week. We are so late on the garden. So I have been spading and then spading some more. Agriculture is a labor-intensive activity. Today John and Fluffy went to the "sanderia"  i.e a place where we can get sand. Free. I am adding sand to my garden, which is mostly silt kindly deposited by the Susitna glacier quite some time ago. It is very poor soil. So I add sand. This helps the clumping tendency of silt. I add manure, and of course lime (usually; but do not lime the potatoes!). John also kindly covered the greenhouse. This year I am going backward. I usually do the transplants, then seeding, then greenhouse. This year I am doing it backwards.

This afternoon the greenhouse beds are ready to go.

 Our greenhouse is totally homemade, of course. I have mentioned it before. It is prepared for planting and tomorrow (I hope) I plant. Tomatoes, Zucchini, and the rest. I think I've got some cucumbers. All these are greenhouse crops in Alaska.
The outside beds have been spaded (oh, the labor... and the weeds). Today I did about half the manuring, tomorrow lime and go. I hesitate to say this but maybe this weekend we can plant.  There are two new rows to be added but that can wait. We are so late. There was no choice in the matter. It was a fiendish spring and we had to wait on it. Agriculture is a chancy business.

One of these days I must do a post on the perils of compost making in Alaska. Not quite like the lower 48.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Garden at last!

As I have said before it has been incredibly wet. Our driveway is still iffy in spots. The garden was a morass. Usually Memorial day weekend is planting time, but not this year. You never realize how weather-dependent agriculture is until you do it yourself.

But Monday I went out there and tested. It was OK.  Really a bit too wet, but that has its upside: the weeds come up quite easily. The first crop was already there: the dandelions. Actually they are very good for you. The leaves can be added to salads when they are young; they give the salads a real boost. After that, you have to cook the leaves; they are bitter but vitamin-rich. The roots make a coffee substitute, but I haven't tried that one yet.

So I took the spading fork and went to work. The objective is to remove the  weeds and break up all the clumps. One could, of course, use a tiller. But tillers are rather violent creatures and I prefer to do this by hand, although it is backbreaking labor.
I have four rows. I have done two and a half. They still need to have manure spread on them. Maybe some sand to increase the "tilth" because our basic soil is 100% silt from the Susitna glacier. Maybe some other organic matter will be added. Then there's the small business of planting. We are two full weeks behind time. No remedy. We will have to trust for the best. It has been an unusual spring. I don't try to keep up with the Joneses, but nobody in the village has planted either. And they have been here much longer than I have.

Well, at least today the sun shone for a while. I have my fingers crossed.