Cows Eating Skittles

Rainbow-skittles-cow

Just for those of you who think I’m nuts for preferring grass-fed beef to the regular stuff, here’s another crazy Big Ag story:

 

“A rain-soaked box aboard a flatbed pickup truck ruptured in Dodge County, coating a stretch of County Highway S in Beaver Dam with hundreds of thousands of red Skittles, the sheriff’s office reported Wednesday.

Sheriff’s deputies discovered the candy-covered roadway shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday near Blackbird Road, according to a post on the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

The Dodge County Highway Department was called to clean up the candy-coated shells – packed with such yummy ingredients as sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, tapioca dextrin, sodium citrate and carnauba wax – which were intended to be cattle feed because they did not make the cut for packaging, according to the sheriff’s office.

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As the price of corn increased in recent years, some farmers have turned to discarded food products to feed their cows.

According to a 2012 Reuters report: ‘In the mix are cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops, orange peels, even dried cranberries. Cattlemen are feeding virtually anything they can get their hands on that will replace the starchy sugar content traditionally delivered to the animals through corn.'”

 

I’m sure that makes for some really healthy steaks. A rainbow of blech.

(h/t The Drudge Report)

What I Learned From Building a Cob Rocket Stove

Building_a_cob_rocket_stove

lighting_a_cob_rocket_stove

In a recent post for The Grow Network, I talk about my cob-building experience.

I share my mistakes and successes, plus remind everyone that:

1. Cob is Easy

It really is. Cob is a forgiving medium. All I did was dig up some clay-rich dirt and add grass cut down by a farmer across the road, then mash it together well with my feet and start building. When the stove dried there were some cracks but it wasn’t anything that we couldn’t fix with an additional slip of clay – and the stove is strong and not effected by the surface fractures.

2. Design is Important

You can’t reinvent the wheel or sacrifice good design to aesthetics. I liked the way the stove looked when I first built it… but physics disagreed with me. Once the chimney was raised it became a much better stove. I knew I shouldn’t make it so shallow but I got lazy in my desire for coffee and didn’t push through. The difference after my children worked on the stove is startling. It’s WAY better now.

3. Cob is Fun for the Whole Family

Playing in the mud with your children is a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. My children also learned enough from the experience that they went on to improve what we’d created. When they told me they were doing a re-build, I said “go for it!” though I doubted their ability to do a good job. They showed me up, though and I’m proud of them. I’m tempted to build a full oven out of cob now. Heck, maybe I’ll build a new office from cob! That would be awesome.

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Click here to read the whole article and see the videos.

 

I enjoy writing for The Grow Network. It’s a different audience and Marjory Wildcraft is a lot of fun.

One of these days I’m going to build a real earth oven instead of just a little rocket stove. There’s a great book on the topic which I review here.

It will happen – just gotta get a new homestead.

How to Make a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials

simple compost pile with no infrastructure

Here’s a simple compost pile design:

Unlike many of my composting experiments, this is a traditional compost pile of alternating layers of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials. The boundary is made from cut limbs hammered into the ground and woven about with palm fronds.

I also added homemade biochar to this compost pile to get it “charged” for future projects.

The C/N ratio in this pile should be about perfect with the greens and browns but if it doesn’t get hot enough I can always pour on some diluted urine to raise the nitrogen levels.

This simple compost pile can be set up anywhere in about an hour using local materials. I’ve done this in a cornfield before, cutting and chopping old stalks for the base, then adding on layers of greens and browns. Come back a few months later and harvest your compost!

Here’s a breakdown on the whole process.

How to Build a Simple Compost Pile with Local Materials

Step 1: Cut Stakes

I used sticks cut from some unidentified roadside nitrogen-fixing tree locals use as a windbreak.

Simple_compost_pile_stakes

It’s a soft wood and easy to chop, but you can use anything you like from bamboo to oak to PVC. 4-5′ lengths are good, as you want the pile to reach at least 3′ tall and you need some stake depth to drive into the ground.

 

Step 2: Install Stakes and Put Down Rough Material

I had already cut up some rough material and thrown it down before putting in the stakes, but it’s better to put in the stakes first.

Simple ompost pile Step_1

Cornstalks, hedge trimmings and other rough materials filled with air pockets make a good compost pile foundation. In the case of this pile, I used chopped twigs and leaves from the nitrogen-fixing trees used for the stakes, some jasmine and hibiscus trimmings and a papaya tree.

Step 3: Weave the Sides

I can’t make a good basket, but I’m not bad at simple compost pile weaving.

Simple compost pile weaving the edges

The idea is to hold in the compost while still allowing some air through into the pile. This also supports the stakes. In a temperate climate you could replace the palm fronds with grape vines, tall grasses, cattails or other plant material.

Step 4: Add some Browns

Gotta get that carbon!

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As I state in the video, these leaves have a lot of dirt in them. That soil contains microbes which will help break everything down, so I didn’t bother adding a few shovelfuls of soil as I normally would when making a compost pile.

Step 5: Add some Greens (and Keep Layering!)

Get that nitrogen in there!

Simple_compost_pile_adding_green_layer_to_compost

Grass clippings are a really good compost pile starter – if you have them, use them.

Just keep laying greens and browns until you’ve made the pile nice and tall. You can also throw in biochar if you have it.

Simple_compost_pile_adding_biochar_to_compost

It won’t really help the composting process, but my hope is that it will be charged up with nutrients, bacteria and fungi as the pile rots.

Step 6: Water Well

This is important: composting uses a lot of water, so get some on at the beginning. If most of your materials are dry, you might want to water each layer as you build the pile. I was too lazy to do that so I soaked it from the top before finishing the final covering layer.

Simple_compost_pile_water_the_pile

Step 7: Cover the Pile

Covering the pile hold in heat and moisture. Sticking with my locally available materials, I used banana leaves.

Simple_compost_pile_cover_the_pile

You can also use a tarp or just another layer of brown leaves. Compost really isn’t a finicky thing to make – it’s will work, even if you don’t do anything “right.”

It’s going to decay and become humus over time, hot or not, perfect ratios or not.

In a few months you can turn this pile over and sift out the good stuff – or just push it around over the garden bed beneath and get planting.

Finally, for some serious composting inspiration, get my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Get out there and get composting!

Buying Soda with Food Stamps

snap

What do food stamp recipients purchase the most? The Carlos Slim Blog has an amusing post with the answer:

 

“The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the $74 billion food stamp program called SNAP, has published a detailed report that provides a glimpse into the shopping cart of the typical household that receives food stamps.

The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5 percent of the dollars they spent on food. The category of ‘sweetened beverages,’ which includes soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10 percent of the dollars they spent on food. “In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “It’s pretty shocking.”

For years, dozens of cities, states and medical groups have urged changes to SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to help improve nutrition among the 43 million poorest Americans who receive food stamps. Specifically, they have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.

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But the food and beverage industries have spent millions opposing such measures, and the U.S.D.A. has denied every request, saying that selectively banning certain foods would be unfair to food stamp users and create too much red tape.”

Hey – here’s an idea: why not get rid of the entire program?

Instead of food stamps, people could reconnect with family, join a church… or plant a garden. Literally grow or die. That would help with the obesity epidemic as well.

There’s a lot of government land lying around unused – maybe it’s time for a modern homesteading movement. Heck, even Detroit would be reclaimed if the government would just get out of the way.

A Cow Hide Experiment

tanning-leather

When my children and I went down the road to help the neighbors slaughter animals before Christmas… well… that’s a story in itself. You can hear me tell it here:

Anyhow, we noticed that the neighbors were removing the skin from the bull they were butchering and one of my sons said, “Dad – do you think they’d give us a piece so I can turn it into leather?”

I asked and they graciously shared a small piece with him. We asked if anyone there knew how to tan leather but they didn’t, though the farmer in charge told my son that if he made his little piece into leather, they’d give him the whole cow-hide next time.

Once we got home, I put the skin in the fridge as it was late. The next day we pulled it out and started scraping off the fat and flesh:

tanning-leather

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You can see all the knife marks from where the farmers sawed the skin off the cow, but overall we got a good, thick piece of skin.

After scraping we covered it in salt and let it dry for a couple of weeks. It took that long because it’s been raining almost every day and the skin just didn’t want to finish.

I know nothing about leather tanning and I can’t get most of the ingredients many sites say we need, but my son is now attempting to “egg tan” it.

No idea if all this mess will work, but we shall see. It’s an experiment.

If you’re really interested in tanning and leathermaking, Skillcult has some good in-depth info.

Harvesting Cinnamon and Processing it at Home

harvesting cinnamon and processing cinnamon

I spent part of Saturday harvesting cinnamon and processing it.

One of the most delicious spices in the world is cinnamon – and, joy of joys, we have a cinnamon tree growing on our property – and I figured it was about time to harvest some and share the process with you.

Unlike most spices, the portion of cinnamon we use in cooking is the bark. Cinnamon sticks

Harvesting cinnamon requires taking down a good-sized branch or trunk, removing the gray outer bark, then peeling and drying the delicious inner bark.

We harvested enough cinnamon for a year’s worth of cooking (at least), though now that we have such a ready abundance I might start finding new things to use it for.

Harvesting Cinnamon

Cinnamon trees, according to Infogalactic, “are 10–15 metres (32.8–49.2 feet) tall,” and are a member of the Laurel family.

Most of the trees I see around here are in the 25′ range. The one I harvested from was maybe 20′ and is probably a younger tree.

Essentially, cinnamon harvesting is just a matter of cutting down some branches or the entire trunk of a tree.

harvesting cinnamon

There seems to be a time of year that it’s better, so to figure out when that was I just spied on my neighbors and waited until one of them harvested some. Heh.

Cinnamon is propagated from seeds and I’ve seen baby trees scattered here and there all around the woods here. When I get my own land I hope to dig some saplings up and plant a hedge of them that I can cut as needed for a regular supply of cinnamon.

Also according to Infogalactic, one common method of harvesting cinnamon is “growing the tree for two years, then coppicing it, i.e., cutting the stems at ground level. The following year, about a dozen new shoots will form from the roots, replacing those that were cut.”

That would work well for me. The hard wood left after harvesting the bark can then be used for charcoal production. You can also use cinnamon leaves to make cinnamon tea, which is pleasant and good for you.

Processing Cinnamon

The rough outer bark of cinnamon isn’t flavorful or pleasant to eat, so that is scraped off.

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You want the inner layer, which you can see is red-orange:

Cinnamon-interior-bark

It gets a lot redder as it oxidizes and dries.

After scraping off the outer bark, score and peel off the inner bark in sheets.

Peeling-cinnamon-bark

It’s crumbly and if there are any knots in the wood they’ll break the bark as it peels, but don’t worry about getting it perfect.

Chances are you’re going to grind the stuff anyhow.

Here’s some of the peeled cinnamon drying out:

Drying-cinnamon-instagram

Harvesting and processing cinnamon is a great afternoon project.

For those of you who aren’t in the tropics, cinnamon is a tropical tree but can take some cold. Chances are good that you can grow them up into north Florida or so with some protection, especially when the trees are young.

Cinnamon’s cousin the camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) has invaded that whole range, so that may be a good precedent.

Interesting experiment: I wonder what the inner bark of a camphor tree might taste like in cooking? Or as an herb?

Someone go peel a branch and let me know! I would totally be doing that RIGHT NOW if I still lived in Florida.

When to Harvest a Pumpkin or Winter Squash

when-is-a-pumpkin-ready-to-pick

I get asked now and again when to harvest pumpkins or how to tell if a squash is ready to pick.

Well, on Friday I posted a video demonstrating when to harvest a pumpkin or winter squash:

Though those aren’t the best demonstration specimens, I covered the basics in the video.

I know for most of you this is EXACTLY the wrong time of year to share a post like this as pumpkin season is long gone. Perhaps it will help you later this year, though, once you all thaw out and get your gardens going.

Here’s a quick overview on how I know when to harvest pumpkins and winter squash.

Is the Stem on the Fruit Still Green?

Stem-still-green

Then don’t cut it. That means the fruit is still receiving nutrition from the main vine.

But…

If the Pumpkin Stem is Yellow or Brown, Cut it!

stem-brown

The fruit is no longer receiving sap from the plant, so it’s time to cut that pumpkin or winter squash off and bring it inside.

If the Main Vine is Dead, Harvest That Squash!

dead-vine

Sometimes, as was the case with at least one of the pumpkins in my video, the stem on the fruit may still be green but the main vine is withing away and dying.

Chances are nothing else is going to happen, so cut the fruit and bring it inside.

If the Fruit is Damaged, Use it for Soup!

damaged-squash-fruit

If there’s a rotten spot on your pumpkin or winter squash, chances are it’s not going to keep well on the shelf. Go ahead and cut it, then use as soon as possible. The flavor won’t be as good as a “cured” pumpkin or squash, so I like to remove the damaged portion, peel and seed the fruit, then use them for soup.

How to Harvest a Pumpkin or Winter Squash Properly

It’s important to leave a bit of stem on your pumpkins or winter squash when you harvest them.

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Like this:

when-to-harvest-a-pumpkin

I usually leave about an inch. I don’t pluck the pumpkins from the stems or break them off, I cut them nicely.

In the video I’m using these Felco picking and trimming snips (which I love for taking cuttings and precise trimming work). Those have been a go-to tool for me since I bought them for my old plant nursery. Great little snips.

Any pair of pruners will work, though. Just be gentle and don’t accidentally break the entire stem off the fruit. That leaves an entry for decay microorganisms which can lower the storage time of your squash significantly.

Taste Takes Time

SeminolePumpkinDavidTheGood

Unlike most vegetables which are at their best when fresh harvested, pumpkins and winter squash improve in flavor when stored for at least a few weeks.

I like to pick on a dry day, if possible, then let the fruit dry a little further on the back porch. Once they’re good and dry, I bring them inside and set them on a shelf to “cure” for a bit.

Seminole pumpkins will keep for as long as a year… or longer.

Other varieties tend to keep for at least a few months, though some winter squash, like Delicatas, don’t keep long at all, so use those first.

And speaking of using pumpkins and squash, Rachel recently posted a video on how she likes to cook and use the many pumpkins and squash we grow and purchase from farm stands.

Roasting Pumpkins and Squash

Roasting a pumpkin in the oven is simple – here’s how Rachel does it:

Enjoy the winter, everyone.

May this post encourage you to look ahead to spring and plan out those amazing gardens with lots of pumpkins and squash.

I just planted some more a few days ago. Can’t stop the pumpkins!

Silence

appalachian-trail

appalachian-trail

I read an article this last week which claimed that silence can regenerate your brain:

 

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.”

 

As stay-at-home parents of many children, Rachel and I don’t really get much quiet. Children, especially young children, are loud. Our house is also loud, as it’s got a lot of open framing, wood floors and no windows.

My writing takes place in a corner of our bedroom, which is a part of the upstairs and all the higher parts of the walls are wide open.

It’s amazing I get anything done – yet I’ve actually written two books since getting here, one of which should be out in March.

A pair of good headphones is the only thing that saves me. But boy… I would love some silence now and again.

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Of course, eventually the children will all be grown and it will be quiet.

Then I’m sure I’ll wish they were home again.

I remember staying with my elderly grandparents in Live Oak once. They took a long nap in the middle of the day while I sat in the living room and read books.

The house was a very quiet house on a very quiet street in a very quiet town.

The ticking of the grandfather clock was like a hammer in the stillness. The creak of its weights occasionally added to the sound, along with the quarter-hour ding and the hourly chimes… but that was it.

Other than the clock, it was so quiet I probably grew a new brain that week. Maybe two.

I am the oldest of seven children. It was loud growing up, just like my house is now.

It was a good kind of loud. Laughing, giggling, games of pretend… but when you found a quiet spot at the park… or at the home of grandparents… you really felt the silence.

I’m not sure if this whole “quiet grows your brain” is junk science, but after family church this morning I think I’ll wander off into the rain forest and look for a quiet spot.

Then I’ll see how long it takes for boisterous and laughing children to find me and drag me off to the creek to play.

 

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

Does Composting Destroy Weed Seeds?

beautiful-sifted-compost

Does composting destroy weed seeds?

We are regularly assured by composting experts that hot composting destroys seeds… yet I have some pumpkins that beg to differ:

composting destroy weed seeds

Those pumpkins grew as volunteers from one of my compost piles a few years ago. Granted, it wasn’t a regularly turned pile, meaning that they probably missed the hottest part of the compost… but how many of you have turned your compost regularly and still had little tomatoes or weeds pop up in it?

My bet is ALL of you.

Here’s an example of “hot composting kills weed seeds” advice from Aggie Horticulture:

“The composting process also naturally kills weed seeds. Properly managed, a compost pile should easily reach 140°F, which breaks down all organic matter, including weed seeds.”

They recognize the difficulty, though, as the next line reads:

“The key word is properly.”

My bet is that few gardeners reach that lofty, “proper” goal.

Why Our Backyard Compost Doesn’t Kill Weed Seeds

 

compost destroy weed seeds

A typical backyard compost heap isn’t insulated or turned often enough to maintain heat and rotate all the viable seeds in the compost through the hot center of the pile.

Yes, the heat generated by thermophilic bacteria in a hot compost pile is high enough to destroy seeds, but getting every bit of your compostable materials hot enough to kill the seeds takes very good compost management.

My old pile didn’t do it. It was built from reclaimed landscape logs with too many gaps to get everything hot. Plus, turning it was a pain.

I imagine if you owned a cement truck and packed the barrel of it with a proper mix of carboniferous and nitrogenous materials, then rotated it every day or so, and perhaps insulated the inside with foam, you could get that compost to heat up perfectly.

I’m joking. A bit.

My composting methods have gone from complicated to simple over the years as I’ve realized creating perfect compost doesn’t really matter.

Nature doesn’t create perfectly sifted, totally rotten-down brown humus. No, she throws logs and leaves on the ground. There’s always some finished material and some fresh material, some fungi eating at this and some insect boring away at that.

But let me back up. What prompted today’s post?

This Viewer Asked a Question

There was a comment that prompted today’s great big post on weed seeds in compost. Four words that led to 1145 words:

weed-seeds-in-compost

Martha asked this question on this anaerobic compost tea video I posted back in the summer:

My answer was:

“Good question. I try to avoid throwing plants with mature seeds into the tea. They never seem to get completely killed in hot compost piles, either, though, even though we hear all the time that “hot composting kills weed seeds!” It’s probably true for the ones in the middle of the pile, but I’m always getting volunteer tomatoes, wheat from straw, weeds, and pumpkins popping up even from hot piles. My guess is that this tea method will rot down most of the seeds if it sits long enough but not all of them.”

It takes a lot of faith in your compost-fu to deliberately throw in weedy materials, no matter how you’re composting.

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If you have spiny pigweed going to seed in your food forest, do you really think you’ll be able to throw that in your compost bin and then use the resulting compost in your spring gardens?

Do you want to take that risk?

composting-weed-seeds-feel-lucky-punk

But I Compost the Right Way!

That’s fine – I appreciate the thermometer and sifter brigade.

To those about to compost, I salute you!

I am totally sure that I could destroy weed seeds by hot composting if I thought it out properly. My interest, however, is more in gardening than in the processes that lead up to it. Making “perfect” looking compost isn’t as important to me as growing corn, pumpkins, beans, yams and fruit trees. I also don’t like spending money to make perfect systems.

If you enjoy it, that’s fantastic. I love the smell, look and taste (well, maybe not taste) of finished compost. I made some nice-looking stuff myself this year and just sifted it the other day:

composting destroy weed seeds

I made that compost with almost no work, though. No thermometers, no turning, no measuring ratios of carbon/nitrogen to get that 25/1 mix. No, I just threw it all on the ground in one of my garden beds.

And – oh YES – LOTS of seeds came up in it! Enough to start my new fruit tree nursery.

I view this as a feature, not a bug. Sometimes I just let compost piles turn into garden beds since there are so many volunteer edibles coming up.

But What About Killing Weed Seeds???

Right – that’s what you all want to know, right? How CAN you compost those pesky weedy plants?

Weed_Bouquet_3

My favorite method is to keep them out of the compost piles and gardens altogether.

In my former food forest I would just chop down weeds and throw them on the ground around my fruit trees and other shrubs. If they self-seeded and came back, I’d chop them down again.

Unlike delicate annual garden plants such as lettuce and cabbage, trees and shrubs don’t need to be perfectly weeded in order to produce. I just knocked down the weeds again and again, and every time I did, guess what?

Those fallen weeds rotted into humus.

Nature does this all the time. The winter freezes come once a year and toast all the weeds, letting them fall down and rot into the soil, improving it. The Bible instructed the children of Israel to let their land go completely fallow one year out of seven. Weeds regenerate the soil, as I’ve written before.

If you want to use weeds to feed your gardens, you’ll have much better luck in a no-till system where you throw a pile of seedy weeds on the ground, then cover them up with mulch… and then DON’T TILL!

If you till, you’ll bring those seeds up to the light and warmth and they’ll go crazy in your eggplants. Beneath a layer of mulch, however, they’ll eventually rot away safely.

Compost_960-webThat’s my two cents on composting destroying weed seeds. Yes, it can – but most of us aren’t doing it “properly,” so don’t trust too much in the magic of compost to pile-drive your pesky pigweed problems.

Personally, I prefer cold composting anyhow as I believe it keeps more of the good stuff in the pile instead of steaming away into the air. Nature almost always cold composts, and while that process takes longer I think it’s a simpler and gentler method.

Then again, I may just be lazy.

You decide.

And go get my book Compost Everything if you really want to transform your thinking on the wonders of composting. It’s even available as an audiobook, read by me.

And it’s funny.

Planting Garden Beds and Potting Up Avocados

planting-garden-beds

Over the last week Rachel and I loosened the little garden beds with my broadfork, then dug in some good compost and biochar.

Then it was time to plant. Since I post funny videos on my YouTube channel now and again, and there are always a few people that totally don’t get my sense of humor, I decided to play a bit of a prank on everyone and embody the typical, clueless, Windows Movie Maker-using YouTube gardening host.

I named this version of me… Dave2000.

I had fun and the comments section was hilarious. My favorite comment by far was from Perma Pen:

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 9.08.50 AM

(Thankee, luv – stop on by me allotment anytime, wut wut!)

One of my friends on Gab (that’s the new Twitter killer – it’s an awesome free speech platform) also made a graphic for me after seeing the video.

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5PxFuk

Anyhow, in the video, ridiculous as it is, you can see what I planted in the beds: amaranth, sunflowers, black amber cane sorghum and some Seminole pumpkins. I also snuck a perennial cucumber into one corner.

I love those.

Yesterday afternoon, after much outcry, I retired Dave2000 in a rather funny video that contains not just one, but TWO rap segments.

The avocado puts I planted a few months back germinated and grew quicker than I expected. Now I have 17 of them all potted (er, bagged) up and ready to plant whenever I get some land.

Hopefully I won’t have to pot them up again before we get a place but you never know. Live moves slower near the equator… except for the growth rate of trees.

Have a great Friday night and a wonderful weekend. I’ll be back again tomorrow.

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