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Farm Diary

saturday, august 23, 2008


This last week I noticed black and yellow striped cucumber beetles all over the tomatoes eating the leaves. I started squashing them. After a little of this, they became alarmed and started dropping from the plants and running away in every direction. I thought it strange cucumber beetles would be on tomatoes, so I looked them up and found that they were really blister beetles, which are beetles that have a chemical called Cantharidin which causes painful blistering to many of those who touch them or especially those who squash them. It's also used to make commercial wart remover. Fortunately it turns out I am not among those sensitive and it only caused a mild burning sensation. They tend to congregate on one plant and so their damage is limited, but I found that when they run away they then climb up some other plant and expand their domain. So every day I go out and find a couple, but they are good at hiding.

I also found some of the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetles. As nymphs, they look vaguely like red lady bugs, but then turn into hard shelled green blooded black and yellow round striped beetles. These things are a nightmare and so I am really looking hard for them. I will not grow potatoes here simply because I dealt with these nasties once before and have no desire to deal with them again, they will skeletonize entire crops and breed exponentially every day with no hope of control.

Now there also seem to be aphids and some sort of tiny black cricket like insect on the tomatoes.

It's been a difficult year for tomatoes. It's extremely dry. Culturally, people irrigate only with the rain in this area, but that may have to change due to climate issues. This year I installed drip irrigation for the tomatoes and peppers to keep them going. It wasn't so easy to find drip systems. Lowes said there is no need for them in this area and therefore will not carry drip gear. Home Depot has some starter kits, special hoses and basic drippers, but not inline drippers or extra T-connectors. Smaller stores don't even know what I am talking about.

My friends in New Mexico have drip on all their crops out in the desert and are getting great results. They are in an area where there are almost no insects and almost no weeds grow because of the harsh conditions (zero rainful almost all year), so the ability to drip means they can raise lots of organic produce, using a minimal amount of water, without having to deal much with insect and weed battles. I assume they have bees for pollination somehow out there.

Speaking of which, hornets took over our peaches and grapes this year and we lost most of them. Hornets are so aggressive you'd be insane to get in their way. I could not find their nest, other wise I would have attacked that.

Wasps, of at least a dozen separate species, got into the apples, but they are not as big a problem since you can get in their space without them attacking. There are also some enormous prehistoric bees that are re-evolving in the area. These are bees so large they could not possibly fly in the thinner atmosphere we had before the era of hydrocarbon fuel.

Yesterday I was telling the wasps that they were eating a bunch of our apples and a wasp answered, very surprised, "What are you talking about? We worked hard pollinating these apples this year and they belong to us. I thought it was nice of us to let you take some of our apples."

posted by X. J. Scott 6:26 PM

sunday, june 29, 2008

Early Currants

Today we discovered two currant trees that are bearing. This is very early for currants. Blackberries and dewberries are coming in strong; they started in force last week. Apples are not quite ready. Peaches are still growing. Something is wrong with the grapes; many of them have turned purple while hard and small without ripening.

posted by X. J. Scott 8:52 PM

wednesday, may 23, 2007


Around noon I noticed that the sky in the west looked like rain, and the air felt like it. But I looked at the weather site on the internet that predicts weather for here and it said there was no rain predicted for either today or for all this week. Looking at the detailed forecast it showed a 0% chance of rain every hour for the next few days as well. 0% - that's pretty low. The up-to-the-minute satellite images showed no cloudcover and there was no lightning on the doppler radar scans.

I figured I must be wrong about the rain - the sky and the wind coming up and the apprehension and thickness of the air earlier were all for some other reason other than the pattern of rain I came to know and recognize.

Well, it's pouring heavy rain right now and there is thunder.

Don't trust the experts. Trust your own knowledge.

posted by X. J. Scott 4:06 PM

sunday, november 26, 2006

Watering the Chickens

The chickens whistle in a special way when they are thirsty.

The score uses a modulation grid of the scale 1/1, 14/13, 26/23, 8/7, 28/23, 16/13, 32/23, 23/16, 13/8, 23/14, 7/4, 13/7, 2/1.

This is a birthday card I did for a friend.

posted by X. J. Scott 11:19 PM

thursday, august 17, 2006


Usually I plant basil in pots so as to keep it near the kitchen and also can bring it in during freezes and get a couple more months out of it. But this year I spread a whole packet of seeds out in a patch fertilized with goat manure only. The germination rate was poor compared to the pots — I only had about 10 plants come up. But each plant has gotten huge and is still producing giant leaves. Pruning off the top as they try to go to seed, there is more basil than ever before, huge vibrant bunches of basil.

Right now I am cooking a 10 quart pot of spaghetti sauce. I fill it about 3/4 full of skinned and quartered tomatoes. That's a lot of tomatoes, maybe 25 or so? Add 4 cloves chopped garlic, 5 sprigs of balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, and lots of basil, then cook at low heat uncovered for about 8 hours. Put aside enough for the week and freeze the rest in serving sized portions in small freezer bags.

The smell of basil when you are chopping a humongous amount is completely exhilarating!

Basil and tomatoes are two crops that are easy to grow, have few problems, cost a fortune at the store, and make for some real gourmet cooking. I strongly recommend that everyone in the world plant both of these crops every year. Even if you live in a 20th story apartment, you can grow basil on a sunny terrace, or community garden and it is well worth it.

posted by X. J. Scott 5:12 PM

tuesday, june 27, 2006

Know Your Chicken

I really like this music video by the unfortunately defunct avant-garde group Cibo Matto:

Know Your Chicken

It's about a man and a woman who set out to buy a chicken for dinner.

posted by X. J. Scott 1:00 AM

tuesday, june 20, 2006

Late Night Visitor

I discovered this Kingston Bug (Scutigera coleoptrata) in the sink this morning. They are good to have around as they eat lots of other insects, but most people are scared of them since they can run really fast.

They are also known as House Centipedes.

posted by X. J. Scott 1:00 PM

saturday, july 30, 2005


I set up a classical 2 wire grape trestle a few years ago. This year I got serious about keeping weeds down around the grapes and training the grapes to the lines. The results have been great. These Concord grapes did much better than ever before, with many large clusters of grapes and very little bird damage.

This method is much better that the method I tried of letting the grapes grow up the cherry trees, which produces fewer grapes, grapes that are hard to get to, and is stressful to the cherry tree.

posted by X. J. Scott 6:30 PM

saturday, april 16, 2005

Mulberry Blossums:

The birds that eat cherries planted a mulberry tree next to the cherry tree four years ago. I had heard that mulberries need a pair to bear, but today I received a fruit tree catalog that says some can self-propagate. I went out to check if this is one of them, and there are mulberry blossoms there now so we'll see.

Also of interest is that there have been millions of honey bees about the cherry trees recently. This is good since the last couple years, I haven't seen many honey bees, attributed to use of poisons by some of the neighbors on their hay fields.

posted by X. J. Scott 4:11 PM

tuesday, august 17, 2004

Mystery Bird:

This bird was down at the frog pond today. It makes a sound like "duck duck duck". It's pretty large: more than one and a half feet from beak to tail. I wonder what sort of bird it is.

posted by X. J. Scott 6:18 PM

Update (8/2006): Michael Biro, a birding expedition leader headquartered in Toronto, has identified the mystery bird as a Green Heron. Thanks Michael!

wednesday, april 5, 2004

Building a four-rail fence:

Spacing of the rails took some experimentation. Even-spaced looked wrong and had spaces too large at the bottom too keep out the wild dogs. Attaching, removing, moving, reattaching several times settled on the spacing:

  1. bottom rail 7" off ground
  2. 2nd rail 7" above bottom rail
  3. 3rd rail 8" above 2nd rail
  4. top rail 9" above 3rd rail
The closer spacing at the bottom keeps things out and the wider spacing at the top to improve light penetration and see-through. The gradual change makes it all look even and aesthetically pleasing.

posted by X. J. Scott 9:55 PM

sunday, march 16, 2003

Daffodils are coming up:

posted by X. J. Scott 3:23 PM

saturday, september 21, 2002

Stopped at the Feed Store on Wednesday to pick up a sack of laying mash. Asked Joey how he was doing with the drought. He tells me that his 95 year old great-uncle said we is in the worse drought ever. Even worse than the bad one in 1952. Back in 1952, it was so bad that they had to pump the creeks to get water to irrigate their crops and they managed to pump the creeks dry. They was creeks that had never in history run dry; they was what we call "Year-Long Creeks". Anyway, this year them creeks they run dry — and nobody was pumping them this year.

On Thursday, Cousin Saundra was in the area and stopped by and brought over Cousin Irma. I asked Irma if this was a bad drought and if she thought it compared at all to the bad one way back in 1952.

She said "Oh yes, 1952 was a bad year. A really bad one. I remember it just like it was yesterday. Nobody had ever seen weather as dry as that — or for so long. A lot of people really suffered that year. Most all the crops died."

"So it was worse than this year?"

"Oh my, no! This is the worst it has ever been by a long ways. 1952 was hardly anything compared to this. Nobody's ever seen it this dry. Why, I just heard that this was the hottest its been this time of year since they started keeping records more than 130 years ago."

posted by X. J. Scott 2:52 PM

It is raining right now and that is unusual.

I have a theory that the unusual insects and strange plants we are seeing this year are related to the unusual weather.

Four weeks ago, I was out at the clothes line and I saw on the clothes line something truly amazing. At first I thought it was the largest bumble bee I had ever seen clinging to the line. But as I continued to look I realized it was not any species of bee I had ever seen before. First was its size — its head was perhaps three times larger than a big fuzzy bumble bee but looked like a bumble bee. Its wings were unusual — long and black in pairs, like a dragonfly. The wings were about eight inches across — substantially larger than a bee. Instead of a fat, rotund body like a bee, its body was long and perfectly round in cross section. It was encircled with alternating brilliant yellow and coal black rings, each about 1/3 inches long in length. This beautifully colored, smooth, tapering body was remarkably long — about 3 1/2 inches. At the end was a strange black proturbence that reminded me of one of those wicked middle-eastern jagged daggers from centuries past.

Quite astonishing.

Two weeks passed. Still very dry and no rain. Still, poison ivy growing everywhere — even out on the lawn now! I am out in the calf pen beside the barn checking the electric fence for breaks since it seems to be shorted out. I discover that my neighbor has cut down my barbed wire fence, including the electric wire, which he has wrapped around a metal post, shorting out the entire system. He has a muddy pond that his horses drink out of. I feel bad for his horses, seeing the water they are forced to drink.

With the new hole in the fence, the horses can now come over and deplete my fish pond, which is already at the most critically low point it has ever been. My secondary electric fence around the pond has now been torn down as well, providing even more convenient access for the horses. What all this means is that I am going to have to spend the little money I don't have to buy supplies to fix the parts of my property that have been torn apart. Fixing a fence is a lot harder than tearing it down.

What I wanted to talk about I shall return to; let's go there now. I am in the calf pen, having discovered the break in the fence. I am standing there, flabbergasted, when the large and strange yellow bee returns and flies towards me! Oh no! And it is carrying something.

It lands on me. Yikes! This is terrifying. And what is that in its grasp? Can it be? Egads! The giant bee is carrying a dead mouse that it has hunted down and captured and is taking it back to its nest to be devoured at its leisure! Double yikes! The shocking view of the mouse which implies the bee's deadly power is tempered only by the realization that hopefully the bee is less likely to attack me because it is preoccupied with this enormous morsel. Obviously, it is tired from carrying this huge weight and merely seeking a momentary respite by alighting upon my tee-shirt commemorating a nearby civil war reenactment in which I have had the privileged occasion to fight in the same Infantry Unit in which my great-great-grandfather was enlisted. I hope that the bee is not aggravated by the bright red and blue colors of the Confederate Battle Flag. I try to shoo him away, careful since I have found that shooing wasps aggravates them and increases the chances they will attack. I know that bees are a different temperament than wasps and hope that this gigantic mutant prehistoric bumblebee is more related to bees than wasps.

He flies away.

I like bees quite a bit, actually and used to play with them a lot and keep them as pets when I was a small child.
Perhaps he knew this, communicated to him from the Hive using his advanced Bee Intuition and spared me.

posted by X. J. Scott 2:08 PM

sunday, august 11, 2002

Yesterday there was a large fuzzy yellow caterpillar on the porch. The yellow was 100% saturated primary yellow. It had a black head and was shaggy like a sheep dog or persian cat — with yellow hairs that cascaded over its eyes. There were several black tails of firmer and longer hairs that stuck out in groups in a few parts of its body. When the cat touched it, it curled up and played dead, saying, "Pay no attention to me — I'm just a yellow fuzzball from your clothes-dryer." But we weren't fooled since we don't have an electric dryer — we use the clothesline.

Also yesterday saw a couple of the giant red furry ants. I think we only see them during bad drought conditions. These guys are an inch or more long and covered with a beautiful red velvet with black patterns that are different for each ant. They scurry about right quick but they don't follow ant trails — each is an individual, out foraging on his own. Not sure what they eat. If you pet them, they squeal endearingly.

posted by X. J. Scott 2:27 PM

Important Update (8/2003): I have been informed by a reader that these insects are Red Velvet Ants, also known as the Cow Killer. They are not an ant but a form of parasitic wasp that lays its eggs in other wasps' bodies. They have a very hard body to guard against stings from their victims and if you step on one, you will learn why they are called Cow Killers because the excruciating pain is said to last for days. They are generally harmless unless you step on them and most experts advise you leave them alone if you see them. So if you see one, just leave it alone and don't go petting it like I did.

thursday, july 25, 2002

There is a mouse in the hen house eating the chicken food. I wonder if I shouldn't put the cat in there for a day or two.

posted by X. J. Scott 11:29 AM

saturday, july 20, 2002

Arg! The birds are eating my grapes!

I was wondering what the advantages of growing grapes in arbors was over letting them grow in tall trees — the trees grow better grapes but the arbors can be covered with netting.

posted by X. J. Scott 6:02 PM

friday, july 19, 2002

Apples have been coming in quite well this year. We're getting about 10-15 pounds a day. The Concord grapes are doing nicely growing up the cherry trees and are ripe but the grapes on the arbor are doing badly. I think it's the lack of water; the grapes under the cherry tree have had less evaporation.

Peaches are surviving this year! Previously they got fungused out but this year with less rain they did better. Also for the first time this year we got to harvest some plums since every previous year the fungus gets to them. Probably will have to oil the trees or something during the winter to get this to stop. They're not small trees and this sounds like a big job.

Zucchini are coming in fine now as are the Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.

Still some blackberries around. May pick some more and make more jam. It's not hard to make jam.

Finding poison ivy around where it's never grown before. Perhaps the drier weather has something to do with this.

posted by X. J. Scott 1:58 PM

moon phases


Goats, Chickens, Organic Farming, Varmits, those sorts of things here in East Tennessee.