Joining the Navy

During the fall of 1958 I was a student at Texas A&M taking the last courses needed to graduate. Employment opportunities after graduation did not look good since all employers I had interviews with told me the same thing- complete your military obligation and then come back to see us.

There was a military draft of all men between the ages of 18 and I believe 35 years. Each month the draft board in your county of residence placed the names of eligible individuals in a hat and drew the number required to be inducted into the Army for that month. Deferments were granted for reason such as not being physically or mentally fit to serve, being a full-time student and family hardship cases. A persons draft status was reviewed regularly and updated. A status of 1A was eligible for draft, 1S was deferred for a full time student and there were others. I had a draft status of 1S (full-time student) and that would become 1A as soon as I graduated.

My options were few-go back home and wait to get drafted or join and complete my military obligation. I came up with a plan and in early November I headed to the recruiting office in Bryan, Texas. The office was in the basement of the Post Office, one big room with four neat desks lined up in a very straight row. Each service had a desk but only one was occupied and that was the Army’s desk. We introduced ourselves and he invited me to sit down. We chatted about this and that and then he asked what he could do for me. I said that I wanted to talk to the Air Force recruiter and that I was interested in joining and becoming a pilot. He informed me that the Air Force recruiter had been transferred and he had no information when his replacement was going to arrive. His suggestion was to come back the next day and speak with the Navy recruiter because the Navy, in his opinion, had a better flight program and more to offer than the Air Force.

The next day I’m back at the recruiting office. The Navy recruiter greets me by name as though we were old buddies from way back. We chit chat a bit and then it is down to business. He asked all sort of questions- why do you want to join the Navy and be a pilot, about my physical, medical and mental condition past and present, likes and dislikes, etc. Following that I had to take a short quiz on problem solving, comprehension and math. According to him I was qualified for the Naval Flight Training Program. There was one more step and that was I needed to go to Naval Air Station Dallas and have a physical exam by a Navy doctor and take a series of written tests. He wanted to send me to Dallas the next week. That was rushing things for me. Thanksgiving was a week away, then graduation a couple weeks after that and then the Christmas holidays. We agreed I would go to Dallas the first week in January.

I had been talking with the recruiter for a month and seriously thinking about enlisting in the military for a couple of month before that. I had not shared any of this with my family or my future wife. Just before graduation I dropped the bomb. The news was received as expected, my sanity was questioned and I had a lot of explaining to do. No one was very happy about what I was doing but they got over it, sort of.

January arrived very quickly, so it seemed. My recruiter kept in contact and had instructed me to meet him at Easterwood Airport in College Station for my trip to NAS Dallas. He was waiting when I arrived at the appointed place and time. He gave my a round trip plane ticket, some Navy paper work and instruction on who to look for when I arrived in Dallas, asked if I had any questions, shook my hand, wished me good luck and left. I headed for the ticket counter to check-in. Before I could hand the agent my ticket he asked where I was going. I said Dallas and then he said to go wait where the rest of the passengers were and someone would call us when the plane was ready for boarding. He never looked at my ticket.

The world for this 22 year old country boy was about to change. I had never been to an airport, I had never been this close to an airplane before and in just a few minutes I was going to be up in the air flying in one. The terminal building was a long narrow one story building. One end was ticketing and baggage plus some vending machines, The other end was the waiting area. Double doors on one side of the building led to the parking lot and double doors on the other side led to the ramp where the aircraft was parked. Doors on both sides were open and people came and left at will. There was no security check points, x-ray machines, full body scanners or agents doing body pat downs.

After a few minutes of waiting a guy shows up at the doors on the ramp side and says “Whoever is going to Dallas follow me”. He turns and walks toward the aircraft parked on the ramp. When he got to the plane he turns and says “Climb aboard, find a seat and make yourself comfortable. We’ll be taking off in a couple of minutes”.

I find a seat aft of the wing where I could see down as well as the number one engine. Somewhere I got the notion that this was the safest place to sit in an airplane. As the last passengers  were settling down I see the no. 1 propeller start to turn. The engine sputters and finally starts spewing this huge cloud of smoke, enough to make the engine and wing disappear for a moment. I’m thinking that this can’t be good. The same thing happened when the no. 2 engine was started. After a second or two the smoke disappeared. I hear the cabin door close (where we boarded the plane) and the same guy who led us out of the terminal to board come walking up the aisle checking to make sure everyone had their seat belt fastened. He talks to the pilots and we start to taxi.

We get to the end of the runway and I thought something was wrong with the aircraft when the pilots were doing their pre-takeoff engine checks. Finally everything settled down, we taxi some more and then we start the takeoff roll with a deafening roar and a lot of shaking and rattling. After a bit the cabin levels out, we are now sitting in a comfortable upright position and then we became airborne. The engine roar was still there but most of the shaking and rattling stopped. A few seconds later I hear a different noise followed by two thuds and bangs. It took the flight home to figure out what that was (retracting the landing gear).

The aircraft I’m in is a DC-3 twin engine propeller aircraft with two main landing gear and a tail wheel. When the aircraft is on the ground its nose is sticking up and the tail is close to the ground. When boarding it only took four steps from the ground to the floor of the cabin. The door also is the boarding ladder. As one moved forward in the cabin you were walking uphill. It feel like sitting in a recliner when the plane is on the ground.

DC-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DC-3

I’m all eyes and ears with my nose against the window. We make a turn and my first thought is I need to hold on or I will fall. If I leaned over this far while on the ground I would definitely fall but to my surprise I had no sense of falling. The next eye opener was when we reached cruising altitude and the pilot reduced power to cruise power. The first thing that came to mind was engine failure.

The weather was clear and I’m guessing that we were cruising at 5000 feet. There was no turbulence and the ride was smooth. I was busy sightseeing through the window and the next thing I knew was we were getting ready to land. The pilot made a “squeaker” (very smooth) landing. It appeared that we were going very fast after we touched down and I hoped the plane had good brakes and that there was plenty of runway left to get us stopped.

A sailor was at the terminal as my recruiter had promised. He provided a ride to NAS Dallas and I checked in. I was assigned a room for my stay, given a map of where the chow hall was and instructions of where and when I was to report the next day.

I had a busy next day and the first order of business was a head to toe physical. There were about 20 of us that were joining the Navy and this was our first exposure to how the Navy does business. We were given a form and told to complete our name and some other personal info. Next we striped down to our shorts and lined up in the passageway. From there we proceeded to the first station and had our blood pressure checked. The corpsman who did the test recorded the results on our form. At the next station we had our temperture and pulse taken and recorded, next was drawing blood for a blood test, then eye check etc. The doctors were the last stops. The first doctor listened to your heart and lungs, looked in ears nose and throat, checked reflexes with his rubber hammer, mashed around on the stomach and just a head to toe front and back look. The best was left for last. This doctor was sitting on a chair with a box of rubber gloves and a large jar of vaseline. One by one we stepped up facing him and dropped our drawers. He checked the tool and jewels and then had us turn our head and cough while he checked for a hernia. Then it was about face, bend over and spread then cheeks. The guys in the back of the line though it was funny until it was their turn. We got dressed , turned in the paper work and had to wait a bit until a doctor review each persons results. A few were called back to have something redone.

Lunch.

After lunch we were herded into a classroom and started taking a battery of tests. Each test had a time limit and the time varied from 10 minutes to an hour. The testing took the rest of the day to finish. A few of us had to come back the next morning for special tests that were not given during the morning physical. Mine was to do a hearing test.

That completed all the physical and mental testing and we were told that the results would be forwarded to our recruiter. Mine would be ready in about three weeks.  By noon I was on my way to the airport for the flight to College Station.

By the end of January my recruiter called saying he had good news and I should come see him. He informed me that I qualified for the Aviation Officer Candidate  (AOC) program. He had already written orders and all I had to do was say when and he would get a class date. The orders were not binding, I could still back out if I wanted to.  I had until the end of May to make my decision and after some thought a date of 15 April 1959 was selected as my enlistment date. On the 13th of April  I said goodbye to Mon, Dad and Patty and boarded that same DC-3 with a one way ticket for NAS Dallas. On the morning of the 14th I had another physical. Two hours after I was sworn in on the morning of the 15th I was on my way to the airport with a one way ticket to the Naval Air Basic Training Command at NAS Pensacola, Florida.

Little did I know how and by how much my life was going to change.

Next: 16 plus weeks of PreFlight training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Days

Here is my story of the first twelve years of public education. I attended the following schools:

Klump School grades 1-6
Wesley School-grades 7 and 8
Brenham High School-grades 9-12

I followed that with four more years of higher education:

Texas Lutheran College 2 years
Texas A&M University- 2 years

And then the continuing School of Life

When I started school in 1942 there was no prekindergarten or kindergarten. Everyone began their first year of public education in the first grade. It was the parents responsibility to prep their children for school by teaching them the “a b c’s, 1 2 3’s” and to read some basic sentences. I knew how to count and recite the alphabet but some kids did not. Most of the kids I started school with were of German, Polish or Czech descent. Parents made sure that their kids could speak fluent English when it was time to start school.

Klump School was a one room school at the corner of Boehnemann Road and FM 389 in Washington County, Texas. It was the same school that Mom and Dad attended when they were kids. The Klump family donated the land and the people in the community donated material and labor to build the school. There were many one, two or three room schools located throughout the county just like Klump . Students attended the school which was nearest to where they lived. Those that lived equal distance between two school chose which one they wanted to attend. Residents of the community served by the school elected school trustees who were responsible for hiring the teacher, setting the teacher’s salary, maintaining the school property and other school specific duties. A county school superintendent provided centralized administrative support such as certifying teachers, purchasing books and other materials, payroll for the teachers and maintaining attendance records for all the county schools. The school-house was a 20 x 40 foot wood frame structure with clapboard siding painted white and a hip metal roof.  The front of the building had a set of double doors that opened into a short hallway. On either side of the hallway were the cloakroom, boys on the left and girls on the right. At the end of the hallway was the classroom. Each of the three wall had plenty of windows to let in light and fresh air when it got hot but no screens to keep the bugs out. A pot-bellied stove provided the heat when it got cold. Each student was assigned a desk and students grouped by grade with the first grade in the very front. The teacher’s desk was a table in one front corner. There was no electricity or plumbing.
old school desks These were the type of desks we had. They were mounted on runners to keep them in place. The seats folded up and each desktop had a hole in the top right corner for an inkwell. By the time I started school quills were no longer used to write. Ballpoint had not been invented but we did have fountain pens that needed to be filled with ink from a bottle. A shelf beneath the desktop was used to store books and papers.

pot bellied stove The pot-bellied stove was made of cast iron. To prevent kids from accidentally getting burned the school models had a wraparound sheet metal skirt with a stamped design. If filled with dry oak wood the cast iron would get red-hot.

Klump, and the other rural school, taught grades 1 through 9. It was rare that each grade would have students, especially in the upper grades. I recall that there were never more than 20 students during any year while I attended Klump.

The teacher divided his/her time between all grades. While one grade was being taught the other grades were taking a test, doing homework, reading, diagramming  sentences or whatever else they were instructed to do. Discipline in the classroom was strictly enforced. All teachers had a yard stick or other extension of their arm with which they could reach out and get violators attention and never pause in their teaching. Some grades were combined for certain subjects such as second and third grade reading or fourth and fifth grade math. This was left to the teachers discretion.

All schools were segregated. The African American’s had their own schools located throughout the county. The county school superintendent also provided administrative support to the Black schools, i.e. they got the worn out books, desks, chalk boards, wall maps, etc that the white schools no longer wanted. Hispanic kids were sometimes allowed to attend white schools. Klump and Wesley allowed Hispanic to attend but Brenham High School did not. Most Hispanics attended the Black schools. Texas Lutheran College had no Black or Hispanic students during the years I attended. Texas A&M had no Black, Hispanic or female students. It did not become a coed school until sometime in the 1960’s.

School started a 9:00 AM and dismissed at 4:00 PM. There were 20 minute recesses mid morning and mid afternoon and a one hour lunch break. Kids brought their lunch to school. Fancy store-bought lunch boxes were rare. Most lunch boxes were one gallon molasses bucket with the resealable lid like a paint can. It served the purpose very well at protecting the food from flies, ants and any other critters that may want to help themselves. Most kids lunches consisted of a slice of home-made bread with butter and jelly, some dried sausage or maybe just some bacon drippings to make the bread go down easier. Drinks (water) was provided by the school. When recess was over the kids lined up youngest first, girls then the boys. One of the older boys job was to get a fresh bucket of water from the well on the school premises. In the bucket was a dipper from which each kid drank as they filed into the school. The only rules were that if you did not drink all the water you took in the dipper you poured the remainder on the ground before you handed the dipper to the kid behind you. Bathroom facilities were a boys and a girls outhouses at the back of the school property. There was no electric service and no running water.

The floors of the school were wood. Before school started in the fall and again mid year (Christmas break) the floors were oiled and covered with a light sprinkling of sand. This oil was not a wood finish and it never really dried. It had a sweet sort of rosy smell when first applied. The purpose of the oil was to keep dust to a minimum. The oil acted as an absorbent and the sand kept the floors from being slick. The school playground was dirt, the road to and from school was dirt and all this turned to mud when it rained. The kids dragged lots of dirt into the school on their feet and when it dried it turned to dust. There was no housekeeping service that cleaned, dusted, mopped, waxed and buffed floors every night. At the end of the day the teacher made a quick inspection and picked up the big chunks of mud. The floor was never swept. It sounds like we went to school in filth however it sounds worse that it really was. It sure beat choking and sneezing from the dust stirred up by 20 pairs of feet. The old-time bars with dance floors and country dance hall used the oil on their floors also. They used sawdust instead of sand though. By the way,that floor oil leaves a dark brown stain on the soles of bare feet which stains white bed sheets sort of permanently. Don’t ask me how I know this!

World War II ended in 1945. The US Government suddenly had a large surplus of food that had been acquired and stockpiled to feed the troops. The surplus was made available for schools to obtain at no cost to provide hot lunches to the school kids. Klump took advantage of this program. They converted one of the cloak rooms in the front of the school into a kitchen, outfitted it with a kerosene cook stove, pots, pans, glasses, plates, utensils, a work table and hired a local lady as the cook. The food the school was able to get varied from week to week but consisted of thing that had a long shelf life and needed no refrigeration. Cheese, powdered milk, peanut butter, sometimes butter, corn meal, rice, pasta, canned vegetables, fruits and meats, flour, catsup and sometimes a limited amount of frozen meat that had to be used the day it was received, were available. The food was delivered to the school each week. The menu did not vary too much and was not always balanced but it sure beat a stale slice of bread with bacon dripping that many kids had. The kids were charged something like 25¢ per week for the meal and that was to cover the cost of the cooks wages, fuel for the stove, salt and pepper for seasoning and soap for cleanup. Hot lunches were first served at Klump beginning of the 1947-48 school year. I don’t remember anyone not participating in the hot lunch program. At noon we all lined up at the kitchen door, little ones first, received our plate of food (there were no choices), returned to our desks and waited until everyone had their plate and a prayer was said. When our plate was clean we took it to the kitchen, gave it to the cook and headed outside to play.

The school year was from the last week in September until the first of April. We had the week between Christmas and New Year, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Thanksgiving (Thursday and Friday) off. There were no teacher-in-service days or spring breaks such as schools have now. Kids had to be 6 years old on the day they started school. Exceptions to this rule were not normally made but my Mom was able to get one for me. I didn’t turn 6 until 2 months after I started school. Kids in the rural areas were free labor for their parents and education was secondary. It was not uncommon for older kids to be absent from school especially in the fall when it was cotton picking time. The overall attitude towards education started to rapidly change after the end of WW II. More and more rural kid, including girls, were finishing 8th grade and continuing on to high school. There was no standard testing and performance comparison made. Teachers were given guidelines on what to teach and it was up to them to deliver. They did give grades and issued report cards each 6 weeks. Some students were failed but parents did not spend much effort to get the kid up to speed. After they got to be 10 or 12 years old they were taken out of school and put to work on the farm.

I remember the names of my teachers. My first grade teacher was Mr. Oscar Henzie. My teacher for grades 2, 3 and 4 was Mrs. Mary Bielefeldt. For grades 5 and 6 at Klump school my teacher was my Mom, Alma Peters. Mr. Hinze and Ms. Bielefeldt retired when they left Klump. Mom taught school for several years before I was born. The trustees could not find a teacher when I started fifth grade so they asked Mom if she would teach. She agreed provided she could get her teaching certificate renewed without getting additional training. A waiver was granted and she went back to teaching. Having my mother as a teacher was not that bad, I just had to mind my p’s and q’s a little better!

My mom walked with me to school on the first day. After that I was on my own. There were two families on Boehnemann Rd that had kids going to school and they would wait for me before heading that way. The distance was one mile from the end of our driveway to the school. I did not know that until later when I started driving a car and noted it on the odometer. Weather did not seem to be a factor when walking to school. I had a raincoat and hat for when it rained, and a coat and hat with ear flaps when it was cold. There were no school bus and parents did not break out the family car to take kids to school. Most kids, boys and girls, came to school barefoot when the temperatures were warm, i.e. above about 65 degrees. Mom made me wear shoes on those cool mornings but I’d take them off and stash them at the end of the driveway. Todays kids start school with a backpack of supplies they can barely carry. I started with what was referred to as a ‘school sack’ in which I carried a Big Chief tablet a big fat lead pencil (like a large round carpenters pencil) and a rubber eraser. The school sack was something Mom made from remnants of  cotton pick sack material. It had a strap that went over the shoulder. With these supplies Mom’s and Dad’s got by spending less than 50¢ and I was good for the entire year. School clothes were what I normally wore at home, maybe a little cleaner and not quite as many holes as would be acceptable at home but nothing special, i.e. no designer jeans etc.

Big Chief Tablet Big Chief Tablet. It had about 100 sheets of paper. The paper was sort of like newsprint and was lined so that kids could practice their cursive skills, do math, take tests and doodle. Both sides were used and every page used from top to bottom.

Cursive This picture depicts the proper way cursive is to be written. An example was painted across the top of the black board.

By the mid 1940’s maintaining a small one or two room school was becoming impractical. Teachers were hard to find and the number of kid in each school was decreasing. The cost of educating a child was exceeding the tax dollars available. The small community schools were on their way out. Several of the schools would get together and consolidate to the school with the best facility. A bus was acquired to transport the kids since reasonable walking distances were now exceeded. Klump, Latium and Wesley schools consolidated into one campus at Wesley. The Klump school building was moved to Wesley and used as a kitchen and lunch room for the kids. The country schools now only taught grades 1 through 8. Two school buses gathered kids and brought them to Wesley. Those who were in grades 9 through 12 continued on one of the buses to Brenham High School. In the afternoon the buses ran their routes in reverse.

Wesley was a three room school. Grades 1 through 3 were taught by Mrs. Annie Peters. Grades 4, 5 and 6 were taught by my Mom, Mrs. Alma Peters. Grades 7 and 8 were taught by Mrs. Louise Mikeska. Mrs. Mikeska was my teacher for grades 7 and 8. Mom rode the school bus with me to Wesley.I continued riding the bus to Wesley and then on to Brenham while in high school. We lived near the end of the route so we were one of the first on in the morning and last off at the end of the day. Our school day started at 7:30 AM when we boarded the bus and ended at 5:30 PM when it dropped us off at our driveway. Mrs. Annie Peters was my aunt. My Dad’s brother, Otto, was married to Annie. Both were teachers at Wesley and lived in a house on the school property. Otto was killed in an automobile accident in 1935. The vehicle flipped over, pinned him beneath it and caught fire. Otto and Annie had two boys, Val Gene and James.

Wesley was quite a step up for the Klump kids. The school had electricity and running water with water fountains replacing a bucket and dipper. We still had to use outhouses but these were “three holers” and could accommodate more simultaneous users than the “one holers” at Klump. The first second and third grade room was the larger of the three classrooms. The front of it had a stage where we did plays at Christmas and at the end of school. Electric light allowed evening meeting for parents and teachers. There were enough kid now to actually field a softball team. We boarded a bus a couple of times during the spring to play at a school near by. There was no organization to these events, just teachers from both schools getting together and letting the kid compete.

In April of 1950 I graduated from the 8th grade ready for high school. But high school got off to a rocky beginning. On June 5, 1950 at 2:15 PM a tornado paid our house a visit. Mom, Dad and I were in the house when the full force of it hit. We did not suffer so much as a scratch but the old house sure took a beating. It became unlivable in seconds so when all was said and done the first order of business was build a temporary place to live and then start rebuilding the house. Mom and Dad built what later became the smoke house/wash-house. We moved in and started the process of rebuilding. School started in September and about two weeks into classes I became sick with what was diagnosed as possibly scarlet fever. Whether it was or not I was out of school for two full weeks. Went back to school and just before Thanksgiving I got the mumps, one of those childhood diseases that ever kid would get sooner or later. I had the chicken pox and whooping-cough when real little and did not get the measles until I was about 30 years old. The mumps kept me out of school for another two weeks.  Around Christmas of that year Mom contacted the mumps.

High school was another big change for me. School started at 9:00 AM, dismissed for lunch at 12:00 for an hour and dismissed for the day at 4:00 PM. I rode the same bus that I rode when attending Wesley. When it got to Wesley I switched  to another bus that took us to the high school. Val Gene Peters, my cousin, from Wesley was the bus driver. He attended Blinn College while we were at the high school. Mom did not return to teaching at Wesley as she and Dad had their hands full trying to get a house built.

Going from a one teacher one room school to a school where each class was in a different room with a different teacher was quite the change. I had not seen so many kids in one place in all my life! We had all the modern amenities like flush toilets, electric lights, water fountains, a gym, football field and track but no air conditioning but you could open the windows and let the wind blow through.

The school building was only a few years old when I started high school and it is still standing today and used by the district as an alternative education site and community education center. The school is constructed of red brick and is 2 stories with a basement. The basement housed the cafeteria. It also house the boiler that provided radiator heat in the winter.

For the first two years all students took courses in math, English, history, science and physical education. Mixed in there somewhere was a study hall to round out our six class periods. Juniors and seniors did not have to take physical education and could take electives in its place. The school made a special allowance for kids who lived on the farm to be dismissed an hour early during the fall. Our parents sent a note to the school and we scheduled our classes that study hall was the last period of the day. Then we could leave school at 3:00 PM to go home and work in the fields. We had to be making passing grades in all classes and had to have transportation home-we could not just hang around and ride the bus home at regular dismissal. The days we did not have transportation or could not work in the fields we went to study hall.

Mom and Dad let me take the car to school so I could come home early and pick cotton in the fall. Occasional I would take the tractor towing a wagon or trailer with a bale of cotton to the gin in Brenham. When I got there I’d park in line with other cotton to be ginned, leave a note on the steering wheel noting who’s cotton it was, whether the cotton seed was to be sold or taken home and then walk down the street to the school in time for class.  Farmers waiting in line to have their cotton ginned would get on the tractor and keep moving it along. When the cotton was ready to be ginned someone would volunteer to operate the blower to unload the cotton. When I got out of school at 3:00 the tractor and trailer with the ginned bale would be sitting in the gin yard. I’d take the bale to the warehouse, have it unloaded, weighed, get the cotton sample and then head home to pick some more cotton.

I did not participate in any extracurricular activities such as sports, band or clubs. I was a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and our meeting and activities were integrated into the agriculture classes I took. I was never interested in sports, probably because I was never exposed to anything that was close to being organized. I also was a shrimp of a kid until the last year or two of high school.

The high school campus was an open campus. The kids that lived in Brenham walked to and from school. Kids who lived in the county would ride school buses. Only a few kids had cars. Anyone who turned 16 years of age could get a driver’s license with no restrictions. Drivers education was available and the student who took it were the city kids, mostly girls. The country boys and girls had plenty of on the job driving experience before reaching the legal age of 16. We could leave the campus for the lunch hour. I never saw law enforcement at the school for any reason. It was not unusual to see a group of boys standing in the school parking lot admiring someones new shoot gun or rifle. Teachers never gave it a second glance or even a warning to “be careful with that thing”. The one course that the school offer and I now wished I’d have taken is typing. My favorite classes were in math. The least liked was English especially English literature.

I graduated from Brenham High School in 1954. Higher education was in my  future and that will be a story at another time.

Fall Weather

Summer heat has finally ended, I think. Temps have been in the mid 80’s during the afternoon and mid to low 60’s during the early mornings. The weatherman keeps referring to a cool front that is on its way or will be in a couple of days. These fronts are cool and not the bitter cold one we get in the winter months.

Have been spending quite a bit of time outdoors working in my garden. Don’t have much growing right now but have started planting some seeds in the ground. Have had dismal luck with starting seed in flats and seed trays. Going back to the old ways of dropping some seeds on the ground and cover with a little dirt then water a bit and wait to see what comes up.

I have heard and read a lot about raised beds for gardens so I thought I’d give it a try. I created one last year but never really utilized it as it as such. My garden always has been just rows made by piling up the loose dirt to make a row after tilling. With rows there is a lot of garden that is really not utilized and  requires lots of weed control and water for just a few plants. So far I have one old raised bed and three new ones with more to come. One of the new raised beds has some cole plants in it but I’m getting most of the beds ready for next spring. In some 4 ft. x 4 ft. beds I want to try the 3 sisters method. That is where corn is planted in the center, pole beans out a little from the corn (they can use the corn stalks to climb) and squash in the outer perimeter. I have big plans and we’ll see what materializes when the time comes!

In the greenhouse there is one tub set up with greens. Will be adding more soon as it gets cooler. I only have a little shade cloth put up so it is still getting hot during sunny days.

Will have some pictures of my setup next time.

 

Tarantrula Hawk

The other evening while relaxing in the yard a few minutes before sunset I saw something black moving across the grass. I thought that it probably was a tarantula and when I went to investigate that what it was. This is the time of the year when the males roam around looking for females. Tarantulas spend days in their burrows in the ground coming out at night to feed. The males try to get a head start on things by starting their searches early during mating season. This did not turn out well for this big black hairy spider.

When I got close to the black object I saw that the tarantula was on its back being dragged across the grass by a big wasp. The spider was alive but had been immobilized by the wasps sting. The wasp is called a tarantula hawk. Its body is about two inches long, a bluish-black metallic color and it has orange colored wings. The wasp belongs to the spider wasp family (wasps that use spiders for incubators for their eggs and a food source for the young).

The wasp was no light weight and the spider probably outweighed her ten to one but she had no trouble dragging the spider across the fresh mowed grass. I was taking some pictures of the operation when the wasp released her grip on the spider. She circled around the spider and I noticed that the spider legs were moving. She was having none of that so she took the opportunity to give him another dose of her venom. The spider immediately settled down. She circled the spider several times and then very cautiously stuck her head under the spiders head, got a good grip on his neck and continued dragging it to her burrow. I then let her go about her business and I went about mine.

Adult tarantula hawks eat pollen, nectar and fruit. They do not eat tarantulas or any other insect or spiders. Once she has dragged the tarantula to her burrow which she dug in the ground, she will place the spider in the burrow, lay one egg on it abdomen and seal the nest. Her job is now complete.

Here is a  photo of the wasp with her trophy.

Tarantula Hawkk

Her she is in action.

The wasp has hooks on the ends of her legs. With these she can get a good grip for the leverage needed to drag the heavy spider. She travels in a straight line,in reverse, back to her burrow.  Any obstacles in the way are climbed over, under or through.

Once at the chosen nest she places the tarantula in the burrow and lay a single egg on the tarantula’s abdomen. The nest is sealed and the wasp’s work is done.

The egg incubate on the live but paralyzed spider belly and eventually hatches into a larva. The larva is attached to the spider’s abdomen and starts to feed on the liquids in the spider. It goes through several molts as it grows and then it enters the abdomen and feeds ferociously avoiding the spiders vital organs in order to keep it alive as long as possible. The larva literally eats the spider from the inside out.

The spider is now dead and there is nothing left to eat so the larva crawls out of the hollow abdomen, spins a silk cocoon around itself and starts to pupate. This is an amazing process. In a relatively short period of time this fat ugly grub or worm or whatever you want to call it will transform into a tarantula hawk just as we saw in the picture above. When the transformation is complete it breaks out of the cocoon and digs out the burrow to enter the world ready to repeat the cycle of a tarantula hawks life. It has all the knowledge to start life in the world immediately.

If you see a tarantula hawk scurrying around on the ground it is probably a female looking for a tarantula. If you see one sitting on top of a bush, fence,or some other high point it is probably a male doing what is referred to as “hill topping”. He is surveying the area below him looking for a female to mate with. Male supposedly do not have stingers. Females have very large stingers and it has been reported that their sting in the most painful of any stinging creature in this country. They are not aggressive and will only sting a person when handled or threatened. Those who have been stung say the pain is excruciating and last for about three minutes before subsiding quickly.

Rainfall

Drought Breaking Rainfall

Mother Nature has blessed us with some much needed rainfall. Last night we had three inches between 10:00 PM and midnight. It continued to rain and we received another three inches between midnight and 7:00 AM today. More is forecast for today and tomorrow but the amounts should be quite a bit less.

The rainfall totals were similar over most of Southeast Texas. Our stock ponds are overflowing, I couldn’t see any water in the creek from the top of the hill and it does not appear to have gone out of its banks. From my back porch I can see water where Mill Creek crosses FM 389 and that means it is well out of its banks. Local media reports that 8 county roads and one Farm to Market road were closed due to high water this AM. I have not heard of any property damage from water or wind however I would bet that somewhere someone just had to drive through standing water and ended up floating way.

Meteorologists have recently reported that the surface water temperature in the equatorial Pacific ocean has risen enough to support a weather phenomenon called El Niño. These events trigger above average rainfall here in Southeast Texas. Maybe today’s rain is the beginning of El Niño our drought breaker. A few quick picture I took this morning after the rain stopped.

Click on pic for larger view and press “esc” to return here.

 

Sago Palm

Sago Palm Recovering from a Harsh Winter

We have been the owners of a sago palm for a long time, maybe 15 years or so. I think Claire bought it at a garage sale or some fund- raiser where someone had plants for sale. It was a tiny thing when she purchased it with only a couple of stems about three or four inches long. I didn’t know anything about planting and care of these things so it sat on the porch for a long time. Finally I moved it to the ground under the porch where it got abused some more –  watered when it rained, covered completely with dirt by Ringo and Red when they went digging for a cool spot to sleep. Finally I discovered it while I was closing the holes dug by dogs and decided to plant it in the yard.  It grew nicely producing several rows of fronds each year and then during a cold winter it froze back to the stump. The next spring it grew back. It froze back several years and again this past last winter.

Two weeks ago I cut it back to the stump again. Dead or alive these things will draw blood if you are not careful. The stems of the fronds have sharp serrated edges, the leaves have very sharp points and the trunk has long pointy spines. Below are some pictures of what it did after it got its dead fronds cut off.

Click on a picture for larger view and to read caption, ESC to return here.

These plants are fairly hardy. This one has frozen several times and has bounced back each time. It is also supposed to be posionous, especially to dogs. I’ve seen dogs eat a lot of things but I can’t imagine one chewing on this thing, especially our pampered pups!

Pictures of Plants and Stuff

Spring Plants and Pictures

Here are a few pictures taken over the past week or so. Spring brings out the new plant growth and the color of the flowers.  Click on one to view a larger version and read more about it. When finished viewing the individual pics press escape to return here. Enjoy.

Greenhouse Arranged

The greenhouse is now up and running. So far I’m satisfied with the way things are going, but-there is always one of those, next year I will use a slightly different system for the hydroponics. Here are a few pictures of my setup.   Hydroponic buckets This is a deep water bucket system. Each bucket is filled with water, nutrients are added and an air stone connected to an air pump is placed into the bucket. A hole in cut into the bucket lid to receive a net pot to hold the plant.

Hydroponic buckets-plants Here we have the buckets with their plants in them. Starting at the bottom the first two buckets contain sweet banana peppers, the next two are Roma tomatoes and last three buckets are Brandywine tomatoes. In the back row there are only four buckets. The nearest two contain cucumbers and the far two have bell peppers.In the first bucket you can see the lid with a net pot filled with clay pebbles. The bottom of the pot just touches the water and the plant roots grow down into the water.The plant’s main stem is clipped to a string attached to the overhead to keep the plant upright.

These plants have grown quite a bit in just 10 days. All are starting to set flowers. I have discovered that with the high temps being in the mid 80’s that each bucket looses about one quart of water per day. Some of that loss is due to evaporation from the air stones action as well as from transpiration. It will be interesting to see how well everything will stand up to our Texas summer heat.

Cucumber blossom fruit
These cucumbers are really growing fast. The top of the plants were between the bottom and second cross wire of the fencing I’m using for a trellis. Between each flower and the plant stem is an elongated bulge. That is the beginning of a cucumber.

Plant Stand
This is the plant rack that took a week to put together. Looks like it will do what I wanted it to do.

Vegestable transplants
Here are some of  the plants that were transferred into the buckets. The remainder were transplanted in the garden.

The greenhouse is now arranged until next time. Then I will probably do a few things differently.

 

 

 

Greenhouse Arrangement

A greenhouse is just like a room in a house. If things aren’t arranged and stored properly a few items will make it look full and cluttered. A 12′ X 18′ space should hold more than 5 tomato plants, a box of lettuce and 4 trays of seedlings. So I got busy.

Early in the month I started building the below rack to hold flats of seedlings and other assorted plants in small pots. I used all salvaged lumber and started ripping pieces down to size when the table saw died. The next day was spent cannibalizing a motor from another power tool. The first one was the wrong speed and the second turned in the wrong direction. A little re-wiring got the second motor turning in the proper direction and the table saw was back in business. Now I have two power tools that have no motor on them. Next came time to nail the shelf slats on with a brad nailer. And it had died in its storage case. The local big box stores didn’t have what I wanted so Amazon had to come through for me. To end this saga it took a week and a half to cobble together this rack. It should have only taken a day.

Rack to hold 1020 trays

This table with all my long legged seedlings will be replaced with a work table much smaller. I’m running behind getting things in the garden and into hydroponic buckets. We are still having cool nights and then strong winds during the day. The plants that I have set out are really taking a beating.
Flats of seedlings
I have five tomato plants ( cherry, patio and celebrity variety) that I wintered over from last fall. They are producing and we have had a few fresh ones for our salad. It won’t be long and we will have more than enough to eat plus plenty left over for a tomato fight!! I moved then off the bench to make room for more hydroponic buckets.
Potted tomato plants
These two tomato plants are in hydroponic buckets. They are clones of the plants that are potted. I cut off suckers about 4 inches long and stuck them in some rooting media. Went they got to be about 8 inches tall I transferred then to the buckets. Each has several small fruit. The tub contains lettuce. There is one head left to cut, we ate the rest. Replacement plants are put in as soon as a head is removes.
Hydroponic tomatoes lettuceLast week I got busy and now all that I going to grow in hydroponics is in buckets. Everything is growing real well. There were/are a few hiccups and I suppose that is all part learning what and what not to do. Will try to get a few pics in a post showing the current state of this experiment.

Spring 2014

A Picture Story of Nature Coming to Life

Yesterday it was sunny and warm. Today it is cloudy and cool. The calendar says spring is here. I suppose Mother Nature is mixing thing up a bit so we won’t forget who is in charge of the weather. Anyway in Texas we only have two seasons–“It’s warm Out” and “It’s Cool Out”. It won’t be long before “It’s warm Out” will be the saying of the day. A test that we use to gauge when Spring is really here is when we have seven consecutive nights when the temperature is 60° or higher. So far that hasn’t happened.. Wild flowers are starting to bloom. We had enough rain this winter so there should be a nice crop.

Pictures of Wild Flowers on Meadow.

Spring-Flowers-on-Meadow This is the most dense spot of flowers on the meadow and consists mostly of Indian Paintbrush. There are a few Bluebonnets sprinkled in and a lot of yellow flowers called weeds.

Bluebonnets Closeup of a bluebonnet.

Indian-Paint-Brush-Spring-Flowers closeup Closeup of the Indian Paintbrush.

Getting the Greenhouse and Garden Ready

I have been starting some vegetable seed to grow in the garden and also in a hydroponic solution. I should have started these seeds the first of January but the “roundtoit” set in and it was well into February when I started these. They are growing but should be bigger when planted which needs to be soon. The will have to do.

Tomato-and-Pepper-Plants In this flat I have two varieties of  tomato and some bell pepper. They were under a light and apparently my light was not close enough because the sure got leggy.

Tomato-and-Pepper-Plants-fron-Seed These are some pepper and tomato plant taken from the flat above and I’m trying to get them ready for the hydroponics bucket.

Cucumber-Plants These are cucumbers plants. Most are for the garden and a couple I’ll put in hydroponics. This year I’m going to train the vines to climb a trellis of some sort instead of crawling along the ground.

Tomato-Plant-Clones These are tomato plants that are clones. Clones are suckers that are snipped off the mother plant and stuck into some sort of media. Media could be the dirt in the garden, potting soil, play sand or in my case a perlite/vermiculite mix. The tomato plant is a vine. It starts out as a single stem(vine)with leaves alternating on it. The suckers will grow from where the leaf joins the main stem and will grow to become another stem(vine). That is why tomato plants that are not staked become a huge tangled mass. Even staked tomatoes should have their suckers removes. The root system of the single stem coming out of the ground can not supply enough nutrients and water to maintain the plant and all the suckers plus produce lot of large fruit. When the suckers are big enough to grab pinch them off. To use as clones let them get 3 to 4 inches long then pinch them off and stick  into some sort of media. Keep the media moist. Shade so they won’t lose too much water through transpiration. They will start to grow roots within a few days to a week or so. No fertilizer is applied so the plant will develop roots, not leaves. I planted my suckers in clear plastic cups. When I can see roots through the cup they are ready for transplant. There aren’t many plants that cannot be cloned. Soft wood or new growth is best to use. If your 4 to 6 inch cutting is full of leaves strip all off except a couple at the top. A rooting hormone can be applied (either a commercial product or a homemade concoction) however there is no hard evidence that either really works. What works best is to select the best cuttings and provide a proper environment of temperature and humidity and most of your cuttings will root.

Tomatoes-in-Pots These tomatoes are in potting soil. They barely survived some hard times since last fall but a little TLC and now they are doing fine.

Hydroponic-Tomatoes-2-28 This  is what my hydroponic tomatoes looked like on the last day of February 2014.

Hydroponic-Tomatoes And this is what they look like today 23 days later. They have flowers but no fruit has set to date.

Lettuce-young-plants And my lettuce on 28 February ’14.

Hydroponic-Lettuce Here it is today 23 days later. We had a salad made from one head this evening. Excellent!!!

Amaryllis This is a bulb that I received free with and order for some seeds. It is called an Amaryllis. It should put out some leaves soon and maybe another stem or two of flowers.

Until next time……………