Monday, May 23, 2022

May Tomato Update

OK, starting with a recap:

The seedlings were planted March 25

and this was the state of things April 28

And here's where we are on May 20

I'm having to train some of the plants up onto the crossbar above because they've topped out the tomato cages I built.

Still shy of "full harvest" the results are a bit mixed right now.

As it was at the previous update, the beefsteak (Yep, miss-spelled in the photo but spelling was never my strong suit - "It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word." - Andrew Jackson - and I don't feel like going back now to correct it.) is still lagging behind the others

but it is setting fruit so we'll see how it goes.

Golden Nugget produced a half-dozen early on but seems to have paused production for the time being, though some of the remaining fruit looks to be about ready. (as the name implies it ripens to gold not red)

What did ripen had a moderately robust skin (Acceptable to The Wife who prefers a mild skin and definitely doesn't go for strongly robust skin) and a slightly tangy tomatoey flavor that was fine though I was hoping for something a little stronger - you know, on the tomatoey side of things.

The Sungold also produced one or two ripe fruit early on. These had a very mild skin and about the same level of tomatoeyness as the Golden Nuggets.

Now things seem to be paused here as well. Maybe because our temps have been about 10 degrees above average for three weeks now.

The Sungold isn't showing as many green fruit as the Golden Nugget

but there are plenty of blossoms that could indicate a more bountiful future.

The Juliet is being very prolific, both in plant-size as well as number of fruit set, but a lot of the fruit is suffering from blossom-end rot. Typically this is due to a deficiency of calcium, perhaps exacerbated by the overall prodigious growth.

Since the plant is growing in exactly the same soil (Side dressed with a small handful of Microlife 6-2-4, which is an organic fertilizer full of micro-nutrients and microbes, every three weeks) and conditions as the others which are showing no sign of the problem, rather than fight it I'm inclined to just write this variety off as not suitable for our location so we won't be trying this one again.

 Though it is setting some fruit that aren't showing signs of the rot, so I'm culling the bad fruit at first sign of rot in the hopes that will leave more calcium available to the other fruits.

In fact, this morning I discovered I was getting a little help in the culling department from this guy.

It's a pretty healthy Hornworm and I know I'm supposed to pick it off and squash it, but you're talking about a household that uses live traps and a bug-cup not poisons and a slipper, so I just relocated it a couple of hundred yards to the native underbrush surrounding our place. It won't thrive as well but at least it has a chance to complete its life-cycle. (With those very strong legs with a pretty strong grip, it's easier to just chase it out to the end of a branch then snip the branch off rather than try to pull the poor thing free without damaging its soft body.)

The Italian Ice is robust and setting a lot of fruit.

The issue with this non-reddening variety is telling when it is ripe. It's supposed to turn from green to white but in the plant world white usually has a distinct green tint so I've been trying one of the less-green ones now and then. So far they haven't been bad, but are very meaty with a strong acidic bite. (the description says sugary sweet so I don't think we're there yet.)

When I first planted the seedlings I had the irrigation scheduled for 20 minutes twice a day based on the finger test, (Jam my finger down to the bottom of the tub to see if there's any sign of damp down there.) which is better than the over-flow test, (wait until water is flowing out the bottom of the tubs) which tends to leach nutrients out of the soil, not to mention producing watery and split tomatoes. 

Now the plants are much bigger and obviously require more water.

On top of that we have been "blessed" this May with three weeks of summer-like temps and absolutely no rain. Combine that with the usual feisty spring winds and the water requirements are now up to an astounding 2 hours twice a day. Which, if I was using regular lawns sprinklers would be ridiculously wasteful, but with the small soaker hoses dispensing water drop by drop it's a different story.

In fact the five 3 foot lengths of soaker hose are so stingy that when the valve on the timer closes it takes almost a full hour for the pressure in the irrigation line to drop to zero - which you find out real quick if you crack a fitting open too soon!

In a few days the temps are supposed to drop back down to seasonal for a week or so. We'll see how things go, both on the watering and production fronts.

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Wonder Toggle - Never Fight Your Guy-Lines Again!


Ahhh yes! The guy-line tensioning toggle.

Anyone who's ever camped, or put up a canopy, or erected a badminton net in the back yard, has wrestled with encountered one of these. Or more likely, more than one kind of these because they come in a bunch of different shapes and sizes,

each of which works a little differently than the other.

But they all share some common traits.

They'er all persnickety little things to deal with.

They all add bulk to your gear while lightening your wallet.

Each fits only a specific size of line.

And they all come out of the stuff-sack snarled up as if they're in the middle of a '60's orgy - - Every time!

But what if I told you there's a Wonder-Toggle out there that works on any size and type of line,

Can adjust a guy to any length and tension in seconds.

Can be completely removed even faster.

Doubles the power of a 'traditional' toggle so even Grandma can adjust the tension anywhere from snug to Holy Cow I Could Play A Tune On That!.

Won't loosen or fall apart when shaken by the blusteryest of winds.

Unlike 'traditional' toggles allows you to pass the line around an anchor point such as a tree or tall pole without removing the toggle first.

Adds exactly zero weight or bulk to your gear.

And is free?

See it here?

This Wonder-Toggle I'm talking about?

Right there on this line, all ready to go into action?


How about now?

Actually it's more properly called a trucker's hitch and while it is a wonder, it's nothing new. In fact it's been around since before trucks, which makes this continued infatuation with all these various new-fangled and 'ingenious' toggles all the more baffling.

The Wonder-Toggle might look complicated but without being in any particular rush, once the standing end is anchored and the guy wrapped around the second anchor-point, be that a post, stake, or tree, it takes me about 10 seconds to throw the hitch, tension it just right, and snug it down.

Admittedly there are a number of different ways to tie this hitch and several additional variations, mostly aimed at making it even stronger or more robust such as when securing heavy loads on - well - trucks, but what follows is the way I learned to throw the hitch many years ago and still use today.

This will probably seem complicated at first, but so do the diagrams of even the simplest knots in instruction books trying to teach you how to tie them. I promise, if you grind through this instructional a few times it will become easy. (Of course I may or may not have had my fingers crossed just now - - -)

In my experience, once you get it down, a 10 second trucker's hitch will become second nature and you can finally ditch those pesky toggles.

But before I get started, a couple of terms to help keep things straight.

The initial anchor-point is the end more or less permanently attached.

The standing end of the line is the one closest to the initial anchor-point.

The secondary anchor-point is - well - it's not that hard to figure out which one that is!

The free end of the line is the one closest to the secondary anchor-point.

The dividing line between the standing end and the free end is where-ever you happen to be - well - standing. In the case above everything to the left of my hand is the standing end and everything to the right is the free end.

The loose end is - you guessed it - the loose end of the free end.

And a bight is just a quick and fancy way of saying a bend or kink in the line.

So, back to the Wonder-Toggle.

The first thing, if it's not already done, is to secure the line to the initial anchor-point. That's the end that will stay put as you work on the rest of the hitch.

In the case of a tent or canopy the initial anchor-point is usually attached to said tent or canopy.

In the case of a ridge-line or clothes-line either one of the two supports you've chosen will do for securing the initial anchor-point.

How you secure the initial anchor-point is not important as long as it stays put. I prefer to use a bowline because it is simple, stays in place, and never jambs so is easy to untie, but a slip-knot, a clove-hitch, an overhand knot, will all do nicely under the right circumstances.

Now that the initial anchor-point is secured take the free end of the line over to the secondary anchor-point, which could be a stake in the ground for a tent or another tall support for a ridge-line.

While standing in front of this point and facing it with your dominate shoulder (right if you are right-handed, left if - well - you know) pointing back to the initial anchor-point - in my case, as a left-hander, the tree the initial anchor-point is secured to is off to the left of this photo - pass the free end behind the secondary anchor-point, (That behind bit is kind of important for consistent results!)

then bring the line around in front of the secondary anchor-point so it's heading back towards the initial anchor-point.

Hold the free end there loosely with your non-dominate hand.

Now here's the slightly tricky part, but only tricky the first couple of times you do it, after that it will seem normal.

Hold your dominate hand out in front of you with your palm down and thumb out (Your thumb will be pointing back towards your non-dominate hand at this point.)

Keeping your fingers straight and thumb out, roll or twist your arm 90 degrees so your thumb points down and your palm is facing the initial anchor-point.

Continue to roll (or twist - whichever terminology works for you) your hand another 90 degrees in the same direction so your thumb is now pointing at the initial anchor-point and your arm is twisted up like the string on one of those button-spinners your grandma used to make for you. You know, that kid's toy where the sharp edge of a button is spinning impossibly fast just a couple inches from your eyes as you do your damnedest to break the string it's spinning on!

Keeping your thumb out of the way, wrap the fingertips of your upside-down hand around the line from below.

And apologies. Statistically most of you are right handed and these are all photos of a left-hander throwing this hitch, so you right-handers will have to reverse the images in your head.

Now, keeping hold of the line with your fingertips, un-twist your arm

keeping your thumb out of the way as you do 

until your hand is palm-up and your thumb is pointing back at the initial anchor-point. 

You can uncurl your fingertips now!

All that effort, which in real-time takes no more than a second and a half - if you're moving slow - creates a simple loop in the line, but it creates the loop exactly the right way every time.

Rather ingeniously, if I do say so myself, I label this 'Loop 1'.

Here, and for the next few photos, in an attempt at clarity I've tinted the standing end of the line, the one attached to the initial anchor point, blue and the free end, the end wrapped around the secondary anchor point, yellow.

Again, as a left-hander, here my left thumb is pointing back towards the initial anchor-point, the free end of the line is heading the other way and has been passed around behind the second anchor-point and the loose end of the line is in my non-dominate hand out of frame to the right. (Remember, you are holding the loose end of the line loosely with your non-dominate hand so there is enough slack in the line to form Loop 1 without choking your fingers.)

At this point you finally bring your thumb back into action by slipping it under the standing end part of Loop 1

and pinching the free end part of the loop between thumb and a couple of fingers

so you can pull a bight back through Loop 1.

Without letting go give this new loop, which I call Loop 2, (Oh man! How do I come up with these genius ideas!?) a tug away from the initial anchor-point to collapse Loop 1 and set Loop 2. 

If you did everything right Loop 2 will remain open as you pull it away from the initial anchor-point.

If instead, Loop 2 pinches down on your fingers as you tug it away from the initial anchor-point you were probably standing on the wrong side of the line (i,e, dominate shoulder facing away from the initial anchor-point instead of towards it) when you made Loop 1 with your upside-down hand.

This is no good. Try again!

Now that the hard part of this hitch is done it's time to bring your non-dominate hand, the one holding the loose end of the line, back into action by feeding that loose end up through Loop 2.

Still using your non-dominate hand give the loose end a tug away from the initial anchor-point to tension the guy-line. Notice that Loop 2 is now acting as a pulley, amplifying the power of your tug.

When the tension is right use your dominate hand to pinch the free end of the line tight against the very tip of Loop 2 to temporarily hold it in place for the next couple of steps.

The first of which is to make sure the loose part of the free end is draped over top of the taut part as in the photo above to create yet another loop. - Yeah, OK, let's call it Loop 3 - but this is getting kinda boring.

Here I've substituted a clamp for my thumb and finger because I needed a third hand for the camera. Normally my dominate hand would still be doing the pinching and I would be using my non-dominant hand to finish off the hitch by feeding a bight of the loose part of the free end under the taut part and back up through Loop 3, just like tying half of a shoelace knot.

This creates yet another loop, Loop 4, but I promise, that's the last one!

As you do with your shoelace knot, grab the bight of Loop 4 and give it a jerk, this time towards the initial anchor-point, to collapse Loop 3 and snug the hitch down. Again, normally I would be doing this with my non-dominate hand while my dominate hand kept the 'pinch' secure until this final part of the hitch was snug, but - well, camera and all - -

And that's it!

You can let go of everything now and and your tensioned guy-line will stay right there.

Just remember, because of the 'pulley' action of Loop 2 you can use this trucker's hitch to apply a whole lot of force to the guy-line and while guitar-string tight is what you want for a ridge-line or clothes-line, that's not always what you want when guying out a tent or canopy. In addition to excess tension over- stressing whatever the initial anchor-point is attached to, you really do want a little bit of give in tent and canopy guy-lines so that when the wind hits everything gives a little and spreads the load out over multiple components decreasing the odds of a single-component failure.

OK, this has gone on for a while but to finish up real quick, here's the 3 second process for breaking down a guy tied off with a Wonder-Toggle - - I mean a trucker's hitch.

Like with your shoelaces, grab that loose end and pull until Loop 4 pops free, taking Loop 3 with it.

At this point you can either tighten or loosen the guy by adjusting the tension, re-pinching, and throwing Loops 3 then 4 back into place.

But if you are breaking things down rather than re-adjusting,

then pull the free end completely out of Loop 2,

grab hold of the line on both sides of Loops 1 and 2 and pull them out of the line too.

Your wonder-toggle is now completely gone.

Because there's no hard and bulky toggle left to tangle things up or abrade the stuffed, rolled, or folded canopy or tent I generally leave the initial anchor-points of my guy-lines attached and and just pack them up along with the tent or canopy so they're ready for next time. 

Because I can make Loops 1 and 2 anywhere along the guy-line I want it's easy to compensate for conditions.

For instance, the nearest guy here goes all the way down to a stake in the ground using up a lot of line, but the far guy is tied off to a corner of the greenhouse making it much shorter. (That bit dangling to the ground over there is just the extra length of the loose end) I compensated for this by putting Loops 1 and 2 up closer to where the initial anchor-point is tied off to the canopy.

I already pointed out that the trucker's hitch can be used on pretty much any sized line. For visibility purposes I used an old bit of  3/16 inch diameter cotton clothes-line for most of these photos, but that high-viz line that's been continuously bracing my canopy through the spring winds for a couple of months now is only 2mm in diameter.

By the way, since this hitch stays in place through all sorts of conditions I haven't had to adjust these guys since I put them up.

So happy Wonder-Toggling ???!

                Happy Trucker Hitching ????????

                                Nope. That doesn't sound right either!

                                         Oh hell - - - whatever - - -

Monday, May 2, 2022

What Strange Hell is This! (and a Tomato Update)

 This is a rather inconsequential post.

Even more so than most of mine.

But, in the way of those with older bodies, I've been sort of sidelined from real hiking - therfore real posts - for several months now with some sort of an Achilles injury. Nothing serious enough to completely curtail normal movement, pack-less laps around the property, the felling of trees, even collecting a couple of tubs full of rock (for the next big project) but enough to make hiking any distance with the weight of a backpack somewhat problematic. (I was sure that I was finally over it but a couple miles with a 30 pound pack the other day said otherwise.) So I'm making do with what I have - you know, post-wise. 

Injury or not, the chores don't stop, and when I say chores that often includes The Wife's latest craft project that I somehow end up working on ('but you're so much better at it than I am!' - Ha! If that's the case why do I hear 'You're doing it wrong!' so often?!) and when I glanced up as I was stringing these poor creatures up by their noses

or even more ignominiously in the case of the green cats down on the far end, by their butts, I got a creepy vibe.

As I stood up and looked at the carnage it flashed through my mind that this was the sort of stuff that ends up on Dateline or Snapped. (And I wouldn't be the guy the neighbors say 'I never would have guessed.' about. I'd be the guy they'd say 'I always knew there was something off about him!'.)

I think the cats were even more outraged after I painted their butts electric blue as they hung there unceremoniously by their tails.

I couldn't tell if that was the evil eye or just indignation.

Yep, that's definitely one of the trees there that I need to take down before it falls down. 

Fortunately I didn't get the same attitude

from the ceramic fish.

And apparently, once The Wife finished working her makeover magic on them, even the formerly weathered and peeling cats were happy with the results.

By the way, I was asked by one of my precious few readers for updates on this year's tomatoes and since I can't afford to piss off any of my already sparse audience: 

This was the state of things just after planting the seedlings on March 25

This is where we're at as of April 28.

Three of the 5 plants have reached up to the third ring on the cages, one has topped the second ring,  - - and over there on the right, the Ball's Beefsteak has barely made it over the first ring, and without a blossom in sight.

Maybe that's just the way of Beefsteaks and it will take off soon, but we have never had much luck with them in the past either. (But The Wife really loves the idea of a perfect BLT so we keep trying.)

One of them, that saucy little bitch the Sungold Cherry,  fired off her first batch so close to the ground I'm having to keep a bit of plastic down there to keep them out of the dirt.

The others are being a little better behaved and are setting fruit more traditionally.