Wildflower season arrived early this year here on the farm. Late fall rains and a very mild winter allowed the plants to sprout earlier than normal. I noticed the first Indian paintbrush blooming in late February. By mid march the meadow had a red haze and a few bluebonnets were blooming. I’d say that the weekend of 26-27 March was our peak wildflower time. The first weekend in April is still very good for viewing and pictures however the red paintbrushes are starting to show their age. April 9-10 is the Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival which is the normal peak time for wildflower viewing.
The last couple of weekend we have had beautiful weather. That has brought out many lookers at wildflowers, most of them being complete assholes. They park on the cemetery and start walking ending up by our house. Others drive down our driveway turn around here and then stop to do their picture taking. If told they are on private property they get an attitude. I’m going to block the driveway with something tomorrow to see if that will stop them from going wherever they please.
The pictures below were taken over a period of several weeks. The meadow has the most flowers I’ve seen in 20 years. Click any picture to start a slide show with a caption for each picture.
The Pacific storm that brought much need rain to California earlier in the week had moved into Northern Mexico. It stalled and pumped lots of moist tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico into Texas. As this moist air came ashore it mixed with the cooler air over land and gave us lots of rain. Here at the farm we received three inched but some places not too far from us received nine inches plus. Lots of flooding and streams in Southeast Texas are forecast to crest at record levels in a few days.
Here are a few pictures taken this morning. Check the captions to see what they are all about.
The tomatoes plants I bought and set in containers mid February are blooming. Several days ago I noticed the clusters that will become flowers and later tomatoes. The flowers I saw this morning was a surprised so I thought I’d take a picture. And while I had the camera out I decided to take a few more pics of the flowers starting to bloom on the meadow.
So far we have had an exceptionally warm winter. Today, 3 March, our high temp was 84 degrees. Upper 70’s have been common for the last two weeks. The average date for a spring freeze for this area is mid March. We are just about there and I have my fingers crossed that we make it. A late freeze would do lots of damage to all the vegetation that is up, green and blooming.
I think that we will have an early and really good wild flower season this year. Rain last fall and through January of this year plus an exceptionally warm winter have set the stage for good show of wild flowers. Peak flowering will occur almost a month earlier than normal. Mother nature could surprise us with a late freeze but long range weather forecasts don’t support that, thanks to a very active El Nino.
My vegetable plants that I bought and/or started in the greenhouse are doing real well. Turnip, carrot and beet seeds planted in the garden came up fine. Beans and peas did not sprout. I had to replant them today.
(NOTE:Place mouse pointer on picture to read the caption. Click on the picture to see a slide show of the pictures.)
The weather this past week was very spring like- more like late March than mid February. Highs during the day were near 80 degrees and nightly lows in the upper 50’s. No rain and ground is getting dry. Surface cracks are starting to appear.
My garden was tilled and in rows so I started planting. First thing to go into the ground was turnips. I laid out flat soaker hoses on all the rows so each could get a good soaking and give the seed a chance to sprout. Next were carrots, beets and some sweet peas-snow and the regular variety.
The local big box store had some garden plants so I brought some home. Lettuce, Chinese cabbage and spinach were set out in a raised bed. Seven tomato and four sweet pepper plants were planted in containers and doing nicely in the greenhouse. Some peas and beans were started in peat pots and are to be planted in containers. I finished the week by planting pole and bush beans.
One week after planting the turnips are up. This morning I saw some tiny green leaves all in a straight row. It is either weeds are turnips- I believe its turnips.
This week I’m going to start cucumbers and squash in peat pots. It is usually best to plant them in directly in the garden however winter is not over and they don’t tolerate cold weather.
But it is only the 5th day of February and Winter has a ways to go before it is finished. Never-the-less I have my garden tilled and all laid out with rows. I’m going back to row cropping for most of the vegetables. Will also have some in containers, which did well last fall and winter.
The weather has been very mild so far with only a couple of frosts. Temps haven’t gotten below the 30 degree mark and when it did go below 32 degrees only stayed below the freezing mark for an hour or so. On average we can expect the last frost to occur between March 1 and March 10. But there is always an exception and a hard freeze could happen at a later date.
The soil is starting to get somewhat dry. Have had only 1.45 inches of rain this year and most of that fell in the first part of January. We are in the middle of an El Nino weather event and no one knows what will happen and when weather wise.
Today I purchased some vegetable seeds and a few plants. Will need to pay close attention to the temps because most of the plants I bought will turn black within a hour of a frost. Will put then in containers so they can be moved to a warmer place just in case. The plants I purchased are lettuce, spinach, chinese cabbage, tomatoes and sweet peppers.
The pictures are of swiss chard, cabbage (have eaten 1 ), kale and the garden tilled and in rows. The curly leaf plants are kale and the red stalks are swiss chard.
Finally getting around to writing something in my blog! Time seems to be flying by and I have a pocket full of “round to-its”.
New Years in the Peters’ household is always routine, we stay home and don’t get in trouble. This year David was here and we went fishing in my stock pond. Two years ago I stocked the pond with 100 4 inch fingerling catfish. I had been feeding them commercial fish food and they were getting big. I caught one about six months ago that weighted over five pounds and hadn’t fished for them since. When David said he was coming I told him to bring his fishing gear and we would try to catch some.
New Years Eve we waited until about mid morning until it warmed a bit before we headed out, but it was still in the mid 40’s with a brisk north wind and overcast. Not your ideal fishing weather. I took some of the catfish food and threw a hand full into the water. It attracted a couple of fish before the wind blew the floating food up to the shore. By that time David had his line baited and in the water. Within a minute he connected with the first fish.
I manned the landing net and David caught the fish. In 45 minutes he caught eight fish and we estimated, from the two we weighed, that we had about 60 pounds of live fish. The 24 inch long cooler was full and the last fish was touching the lid when I closed it.
We headed home to the less desirable part of fishing, cleaning them. We cleaned a table in the greenhouse and inside we could actually remove our jackets and be comfortable. Two hours later we had a lot of cleaned fish.
After lunch and a break we packaged, vacuum sealed and put them in the freezer-except for a meal of fried fish that evening.
These catfish are a cross between a channel cat and blue cat, same as the commercial catfish farms raise.
That was our New Years 2016.
Ant Lion aka Doodle Bug
This little creature captured and held my attention for many hours during my pre-teen years. I had no siblings to play with, neighbor kids were quite a bit older than me, my toy box had only one bought toy so I had to find things to do to occupy my time. I don’t ever remember being bored. My wants were like those of every other kid but in the post-depression days of the late 1930’s and early 40’s money was scarce. Food clothing and shelter had first dibs on what was available. Toys were way down at the bottom of the list.
Our house was wood frame with board and batten siding. It sat on concrete and wood blocks. The ground sloped where our house sat so on the west end the floor joist were about 18 inches off the ground and on the east end about three feet-just high enough for a little kid to get under and play. There was no skirting around the house so in the summer it was always shady, dry and cool. Here the dogs camped out as well as the cats and yours truly in his personal sand box. The dirt beneath the house had a layer of the black soil that had turned to powder, perfect for all sorts of imaginary construction work.
It was also the home of the Doodle Bug!
In the fine powder beneath the house were these little depressions. They were actually traps that the doodle bug made as well as his home. It stayed near the bottom beneath the powder. When an ant or some other small creature came along and got too close to the edge it would fall in. When it tried to climb out the sides were too steep and the powder gave way trapping it. This activity alerted the doodle bug that food was in the hole.
This vicious looking critter is the Doodle Bug aka Ant Lion. It is blind (no eyes) and creates its trap (home) and captures its prey by feeling the vibrations in the soil. Once the prey is in the mandibles the doodle bug disappears beneath the dirt and enjoys its meal.
The doodle bug creates its trap by pushing itself backwards under the soil and flipping the loose soil away with its . It goes in a circle with a push back, then head flip until the trap is made. Takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Then it is a waiting game for dinner to come along. They don’t like it if other doodle bugs intrude and the fight is on if one does.
Compared to a dime these creatures are not very big as you can see in the photo.
The doodle bug is actually the larva stage of the flying insect in this photo. It commonly called a “lacewing” and resembles a dragonfly. The lacewing is seldom seen since they are active late in the evening when they feed on pollen and nectar. After mating the female will stick its long abdomen into the powdery soil or sand and lays eggs. The eggs hatch into the doodle bug. After a while the doodle bug spins a cocoon around itself with fine thread and sand particles. A month later the adult lacewing emerges from the cocoon, makes its way to the surface and the cycle begins again.
Interesting fact: The doodle bug does not have an anus. It retains all of its metabolic waste in its body and then disposed it in the cocoon when it morphs into the lace wing.
The doodle bug is an interesting creature. I spent many an afternoon trying to fool one into thinking that a foreign object I put in his trap was an ant. It never would take the bait. I would get one out of his hole an put it on top of the loose soil and watch as he built a new trap. I also placed one in an occupied trap and watched the fun begin. The intruder usually made it out of the hole to safety. When something like a pebble or piece grass about the size of an ant was dropped in the trap the doodle bug would ignore it. After a while he would approach it and kick it out of his trap.
Another interesting creature that was in abundance under the house was the pill bug. They liked to hide under something such as a rock or leaves. When they felt threatened their segmented shells allowed them to roll into a ball protecting their soft undersides.
What was the very first electronic device that you remember listening to, used or owned?
The first electronic device I remember was a three tube AM radio that was powered by batteries and required a long wire antenna. The time was sometime in 1940.
My uncle Henry Peters moved from Washington County to Dallas, Texas during the Great Depression. He got a job at a company called North American Aviation. He started doing custodial work and moved up through the ranks to the position of Draftsman. As you may have already guessed North American Aviation built aircraft and during the early 40’s was gearing up to support the war effort should the US get involved.
Uncle Henry came to visit Grandma Peters and brought her a radio. We did not have electric service so the radio had to operate with batteries which were rechargeable. He set a pole that was about 10 feet tall in the yard and mounted the wind driven charger on top. It looked like a weather vane with a propeller. A wire ran from it to the batteries in the house.
The radio was a large box, rectangular and about he size of a bread box. On the left front was the speaker, at least that is where the sound came out. On the right front was a dial with a needle and some numbers. Also two knobs, one used to turn the thing on and adjust the volume. The other was for tuning.
When it was turned on you had to wait a couple of minutes for the tubes to heat up before it would work. The box got warm after a while and looking through some ventilation holes in the back you could see three glass vacuum tubes. They had some wires and other stuff in them and one of the wires glowed red hot.
Warmup took a couple of minutes. Then the volume was turned up and the radio tuned to find a station. In the 1940’s there were very few commercial radio stations. When one was detected a lot of tweaking was requires to lock in on the best signal. The signal would fade and then come in strong. When there was storms and lightning every strike came in loud and clear.
Uncle Henry got the thing up and running for Grandma. After he left to go back to Dallas it sat on a table in Grandma’s parlor. I don’t believe she ever turned it on. A couple of years later she went to live with her daughter, my Aunt Ida. I don’t remember what happen to the radio. She probably took it with her.
We got electric power in 1941. Mom and Dad got a radio and it did not need batteries. It was still AM and the sound quality improved some. More station were coming on air and Brenham got a station in the late 40’s,”KWHI, 1280 on Your Dial”, which is still going strong today.
Most of the stations at that time transmitted at 50 watts during daylight hours only.They could be received out to about 15-20 miles reliably, beyond that reception became iffy. The FCC licensed certain stations to operate at much higher power. They were called Clear Channel Stations and their assigned frequency was such that there was a minimum interference from other stations. They had to transmit at a minimum of 10,000 watts to retain the Clear Channel status. One such station was WOAI in San Antonio, Texas. We could receive it really clear during the day. Our radio was on and tuned to that station each day at noon. We heard the news, weather reports, farm reports, market news and Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys play live for 15 minutes. Noon was the only time our radio was on.
At night the Clear Channel station would crank up the power. Many were transmitting at 50,00 watts and one in Laredo, Texas claimed they were transmitting at 100,000 watts. They did have a nice strong signal most of the time. Occasionally I was allowed to tune around looking for stations at night. Most of the time our radio was off. No one was in the house or too busy to listen and besides it used too much power and ran up the electric bill or so I was told.
The vacuum tubes in the radios would frequently burn out and the radio stopped working. It had to be taken to a radio repair shop where someone would replace the burned out tube. It didn’t take long before someone came up with a device that could be placed in retail stores such as grocery stores, hardware stores, five and dime, drug stores where the owner of the nonworking radio would bring the suspect tube/tubes to the store, plug then into the device and it would tell him if the tube was good or bad. If bad he check the number on the tube and looked for a matching one in the display rack to purchase. Vacuum tubes in radios and the first TV’s were Plug and Play hardware. The radio repair shop still had work because other things like transformers, capacitors and resistors also failed. When the radio quit working followed by a stinky burning smell it was time to go to the shop.
Typical tube tester. Find the socket your tube would fit into and insert it. Flip a switch and the meter would show if the tube was good (green) bad (red) or ? (yellow). If it showed a ? it was probably a good bet to replace the tube.