Thursday, July 28, 2011

Doggy humor: The refugees—Part 3

By Hobo Hudson

As soon as Dad and I arrived home after making a deal on the land for the sanctuary with the land owner, I raced outside to the back yard to tell my squirrel refugees the good news. I found them sitting together with Charlene, my squirrel entertainer, next to a peanut plant learning all the basics about peanut farming and admiring Charlene’s current peanut crop.

When they saw me, the mother squirrel came running toward me, and when I described what I had done for them, she gave me a big hug. Hearing about my new sanctuary, the little refugee girl stared at me with shining eyes and a smile on her face, and she immediately made plans to start farming the 5-acre block. She already knew all about growing corn, and Charlene volunteered to help her with any questions that arose on growing peanuts. As neither of them knew anything about sunflowers, I assured them that I would ask my dad to assist.

Eager to show the mother squirrel and her little daughter their new farm land, I spurred them on to follow me to the front yard where all three of us piled into the car. I barked at Dad to get his keys and drive us over to the sanctuary as fast as our old car would go. Even before we arrived, I could see in the distance that most of the squirrels I had picked up from the roadside and left at the tract of land were hard at work harvesting and storing the acorns.

Once Dad had parked the car and the mother squirrel, her daughter and I had jumped outside, I barked at the group of refugees working the land to stop for a moment and gather around us because I had great news for them. I explained that I had arranged a lease on the property and told them that I was appointing my little refugee friend I had brought with me as foresquirrel. From now on, she would be in charge of farming the land.

Immediately, my little refugee friend discussed the necessity of planting the five acres. She also spelled out that she expected all the squirrels to do what they could to assist and that anyone who was not willing to help could just move on and let the government support them.

She delegated teams. Some squirrels were to continuing harvesting and storing the acorns and others were to start planting corn, peanuts and sunflowers. Since time was growing short, she ordered them just to dig small holes and get the seeds planted for now and to wait pulling out the grass between seeds until later. She instructed the old and feebler squirrels to do the planting, while she selected the young, strong squirrels to do the digging. She also chose to have some other older squirrels work in the acorn warehouse inventorying the acorn harvest and whatever crop would arrive. Of course, a number of squirrels scoffed at her work ethic and elected to keep traveling, not willing to work for their food.

As time passed, the squirrels had weeded all the grass from the field and safely harvested all the acorns while they lived and flourished on the squirrel food and peanuts I brought over each day. By early November, the crops were ripe, and I loaned the squirrels my little red wagon to carry the bounty to the warehouse, and they turned to with a will and harvested everything within a week.

Looking over the bulging warehouse, I told the squirrels they had done a great job. There was plenty of food to sustain them over the winter, and I informed them that it was time for me to stop my daily deliveries of meals since they were now self-sufficient.

About a week later, I trotted by the sanctuary to find all the squirrels sitting dejectedly around a half empty warehouse. When I asked where all the fruits of their labor were, the squirrels told me that the government had sent a team of U.S. marshals to confiscate 50 percent of their crop as a tax to support the squirrels loitering down the road who were not willing to help in the work of growing the crop.

Gee, it looks like it just doesn’t pay to work anymore, doesn’t it?

Charlene's peanut farm

The end

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Florida gardening—Part 1

By Hobo Hudson

As you know, I made a sharecropping deal with Dad and allowed him to farm part of my back yard on a 50/50 basis but didn’t start barking about it until the crop was in full swing. Now that everything is running smoothly, I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you how we do planting and harvesting here in Florida because it’s different from the way people do it in other parts of America.

When I made the deal with Dad, I knew nothing about gardening but did know that I had better learn real fast or my share of the crop wouldn’t be very much if Dad would get lazy. Immediately, I went to the fountain of all knowledge, otherwise known as Google, and found scads of gardening tips. I learned that tomatoes should be planted about the first of June; peas should be planted about the first of May, and so on.

With my newly acquired know-how of gardening, I proudly instructed Dad how we were going to do things. He just snorted and replied that what I had learned applied to our northern friends, but it wouldn’t work here in Florida because of our semitropical climate. It seems that the summer months are just too hot and humid to grow any produce. If we would do it, bugs would eat what we have planted, which means a vicious cycle of spraying about every morning and having the rain wash the spray off into the soil in the evening.

Dad explained to me that Florida soil is naturally nothing but sand or if fill dirt had been added when the house was built—as in our case—the fill dirt was usually clay dug from deep below the ground.

Thus, we have two possible scenarios here in Florida: The soil will have no nutrients, and water will percolate down about as fast as we pour it on, or the soil will be highly compacted with no drainage and no nutrients. A copious addition of compost can correct the sandy soil while the clay soil needs a liberal application of sand, followed by applications of compost.

I appreciated the nice information Dad gave me, and I filed it away for confirmation later when I had more time. For the moment, I was more interested in pointing out the section of the back yard where I would rent ground to Dad. However, Dad suggested that it would be better if I let him rent the same plot he had farmed years ago.

When we walked over to the site, I could see the grass was greener and thicker than the rest of the lawn. I agreed to let him rent it, and Dad immediately went to work. As he started digging, my terrier instincts came into play, and I volunteered to help him. After shoving the dirt away with my paws for a few minutes, I asked Dad how I would know when I came to the edge of his old farm plot. Dad just grinned and told me I would know it when I came to it.

After a few more minutes of furious digging, thunk!  My nails wouldn’t dig any further. Relaxing my paws, I stared at the ground and finally asked Dad why it felt like a rock all of a sudden. He said that was the clay I was hitting where he hadn’t farmed before. Wow, there sure is a difference in the soil. Maybe Dad does know a little about Florida farming.          

To be continued

Friday, July 1, 2011

Florida Gardening—Part 2

By Hobo Hudson

After about a week, Dad and I had all the old garden area dug up and the dirt shaken from the grass roots so the grass would dry and die. To see what Dad had been talking about earlier, I had googled “compost” and found it was merely old rotted vegetation. I also found out our county dump in Hillsborough County conducts a composting operation and will give compost free to the public.

I ordered Dad to throw his shovel and some plastic bags into the back of our car, and off we went to the dump. Upon arriving, I had Dad half-fill the bags so they wouldn’t be too heavy. When he was done, we loaded them into the car and returned home. After I had given Dad permission to go inside the house to relax a few minutes, I put a couple of bags at a time into my little red wagon and hauled them out back to the garden area.

As it turned out, we had collected a sufficient amount of compost to cover the entire garden area with about 2 inches of compost, which Dad thought would be enough. He spaded about a foot deep and thoroughly mixed the compost with the soil, giving it a nice black color. Of course, Dad had done a soil analysis earlier, and since we knew the soil was a little acidic, he had thrown a small amount of pelletized lime over the area before he started spading.

Dad and I had completed all this work by mid-August, which is much too soon for us to plant a crop here in Florida, but it was the right time to start seeds in little peat pots that could be transplanted into the garden about the first of October. We went to town and started looking for seeds. Imagine our surprise when we couldn’t find seeds anywhere!

To occupy our time while waiting for the stores to restock their seed supply, we decided to work on our own compost. Dad explained there were two ways to make compost. We could either make a big pile of grass, leaves and any other kind of vegetation we could find, or we could simply spread all that material out over the garden area and let nature take its course, like it happens in the wild. Dad said he likes the second method because the material acts as mulch, keeping weeds down and the ground moist.

Since a large part of our mulch would be leaves, Dad decided to build a frame of two-by-fours around the garden to keep the leaves from blowing away and also, to keep our lawn man out of the garden. To my surprise, one garden bed turned out to be exactly 4 feet wide by 16 feet long, a multiple of four. The other bed was only 4 feet by 8 feet,  but Dad told me there was another 16 feet in that bed we hadn’t dug up yet, and we would dig it up during the winter when the weather was cooler.

Anyway, we raked enough oak leaves off our lawn to put a thin layer over all the garden area and covered the leaves with the dried grass from our earlier efforts. Since oak leaves have a lot of acid, Dad sprinkled a little more pelletized lime and also a little fertilizer over the entire mess, watered everything lightly and then, we sat back and waited.

When the weather began to cool slightly about the first of October, Dad and I noticed a few seed packages appear in the stores again, and we latched onto them. Dad grouched that it was now too late to plant tomatoes, but he wanted to try it anyway. Starting out, we devoted an entire frame of the garden to black eye peas, then a single row of tomatoes in another frame along with four eggplants, a row of cucumbers and some sweet onions down the center. A few cabbage seeds went into peat pots to be transplanted in November when the weather got cooler. 

To be continued

Florida Gardening—Part 3

By Hobo Hudson

When Dad planted the seeds, he simply pulled back the mulch to make an open spot about 3 inches across and carefully put one seed in each spot where we wanted a plant to grow. Watching Dad doing the work, I commented that we will have enough seed left over to last us four or five years, but Dad told me that we would throw the leftovers away and buy fresh seeds for the next crop. I thought about it for a moment, and using my best Dale Carnegie technique, I said to Dad, “Since we’re going to throw the seed away anyway, wouldn’t it be better to plant several seeds in each spot in case one doesn’t germinate?”

Dad stopped working and stared at the ground. A little while later, he looked up to me, he said, “Gee Hobo, you’re right. I never thought of that.”

Following my advice, Dad decided to plant five seeds in each spot, and it was a good thing he did because only two or three plants actually came up. As the plants grew, Dad pulled out the smaller plants one by one until only the best plant was left in each spot.

I also got the bright idea of conserving space in our garden area. I ordered Dad to stick stakes in the ground so that the tomatoes and cucumbers would grow vertically and not take up so much space. To keep Dad busy afterward, I told him to rake leaves and grass and add them to the mulch and also to add a little fertilizer to the mulch now and then.

Hoping that Dad would follow my orders, I took off to the garden supply store. Rambling through the aisles, I spotted something called “Jungle Growth,” and thinking it would be cool to have our garden grow like a jungle, I hurried home to Dad and barked at him to come back with me to the store to get a couple of bags.

While Dad was loading the “Jungle Growth” into our cart, I looked around and saw something called “Miracle Grow.” I threw a little box of it into our cart as well because I thought it would be a miracle if anything grew, the way Dad does things without my help.

When we got home with our supplies of nourishment for our garden, Dad opened one of the bags of “Jungle Growth” and said it was ready-made compost. He spread the contents of the two bags on top of our mulch and said it would act as a side dressing, feeding the plants as their roots grew under the mulch. He then mixed a tiny amount of the “Miracle Grow” into a gallon of water and said he would pour it on top of the plants about once per week and the plants would start growing like crazy.

Just before Thanksgiving, I was again rambling through the garden supply store and found a package labeled “Magic tomato seed.” The package said the seed was very fast growing, and tomatoes would be ready to eat in no time. I bought a package and planted the one seed as soon as I got home. The next morning, I found the plant was fully grown and sporting two beautiful tomatoes that were almost fully ripe.

Since a friend of mine in California, a tomato aficionado, couldn’t get any tomatoes from his mom and had to steal them off the kitchen counter, embarrassing him when the video camera caught him red-handed, I decided to pick my two instant tomatoes and mail them to him. My friend was sure happy to have his very own tomatoes even though he said they seem to taste a little like plastic. I think it was due to my having picked them before they were fully ripe.

In early December, the cucumbers began to mature, and I traded six of them to Mom for her share of the meat, since she is a vegetarian. I also picked a lot of black eye peas for Mom to parboil and put into the freezer and then, disaster struck! The TV had said a hard freeze was coming during the night to our area in Florida, and Dad and I rushed out to pick all the peas we could and three small tomatoes that Dad thought would ripen inside the house.

The next morning, the garden was a sad sight. Everything had frozen with the exception of our little cabbage plants and our sweet onions. Dad simply shook his head, waited a couple of days for the weather to warm up, then pulled all the lost vegetation out of the ground and scattered it on the mulch.

To be continued

Florida gardening—Part 4

By Hobo Hudson

A little earlier, I came up with yet another brilliant idea. Dad’s a packrat, and he had saved a lot of empty big blue jugs once containing ground coffee. To make use of his collected treasure, I had him punch a couple of holes in the bottom of each jug for drainage, fill the jugs with dirt and then plant pepper seeds in them.

We arranged the bright blue jugs holding the sprouting peppers in front of the house right under the living room window, where I could watch them during the day, and when the temperature fell to freezing in the evening, I made Dad carry them into the garage to keep them nice and warm. As a result, I was trading Mom peppers for steak all winter long at an advantageous price.

About the middle of January, I had Dad plant tomato and pepper seeds in little peat pots, which we transplanted into the garden about the end of February. We also planted cucumbers, squash and lots of sweet onions for our spring crop. After Dad pruned the frozen eggplants back almost to the ground, new leaves soon began to sprout.

Charlene, my retired squirrel entertainer, also got into the act by planting surplus peanuts. Unfortunately, she chose to plant them in my garden bed, and I had to have a rather sharp bark with her about the site of her future peanut farm because she was digging up my plants.

By late April, Dad and I were harvesting squash and cucumbers galore, I had pulled the last of my winter onions, and the eggplants were beginning to bear. I was living pretty high on the hog by trading Mom my nice vegetables for her share of the meat.

Now, in mid-May, our squash crop is almost gone, and the cucumbers are winding down, but the tomatoes are just beginning to ripen. The other day, I picked two peppers, and I anticipate a good pepper harvest in the next month. In the meantime, the eggplants and spring sweet onions will continue to supply us with fresh vegetables for quite a while to come. We still have four cabbages left which we will have to eat soon.

By late July, it will be time for us to start seeds in peat pots for the fall crop, and we’ll start planting seeds in the ground about the first of October.

The end


About Hobo

This was Hobo Hudson, my doggy brother, a little terrier mix with black fur. He became famous after his first attempt at writing stories, which was an article published in the newsletter of our local animal shelter, the same shelter in which I ended up years later before Hobo and his parents adopted me. Hobo’s fame quickly spread as he made a name for himself as a business dog and an adventurer. To keep his memory alive, my doggy sister, my three kitty siblings and I, Wylie Hudson, are continuing his blog. Our mom, the blog’s editor, is publishing a Hobo Hudson adventure in sequences. Click on: Foreign Business Affairs, and enjoy a different kind of pet story that combines suspense, lightheartedness and quirk.

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