Friday, May 27, 2011

Sad Eyed Lady with Chickens

The sweet peas keep putting out new blooms. The trellises are heavy with vines and we spend half our time propping them up and trimming the excess. But we found a wholesale buyer for all those blossoms, so let 'er rip.

Meanwhile we are planting dahlias, several thousand of them and 150 varieties, in rows between the sweet peas. The dahlias will benefit from the nitrogen-fixing quality of the sweet pea, which is a legume.

When the sweet peas are done blooming, we will pull them out from between the dahlias -- without crushing or damaging the dahlias of course. It could get complicated, but we are hoping to have a continuous progression of flowers to sell.

The Gap. The gap is what happens if the sweet peas stop blooming before the dahlias begin their season -- then we won't have much on the table at the farmers market, so we are hoping some annuals we planted will fill the bill -- amaranth, lisianthus and zinnias and a few other varieties

Calm. It's calm around here. We filled our first wholesale order and that seemed to go well. Now the sweet peas are showing signs of powdery mildew -- but it's always something. We're going to order more seeds of the black radish "nero tondo" -- it has a beautiful black matte color and a nutty, peppery flavor when grated into salads and soups.

We're sticking with the cut flower business, but it won't hurt to grow a few vegetables on the side if we can make it work. This black Italian radish might be a good specialty -- and they're easy to grow too.

Nothing is easy to grow. It won't be easy to grow radishes. With the summer heat coming on, they're going to bolt. Maybe if we put them in a shady spot, or erect a shade house -- something like that might work.

Sad Eyed Lady with Chickens. I made a video of the chickens and me singing "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."

It's just wonderful. You see the camera holding steady on the old wooden chair, on which sits a pot of cilantro, with the breeze moving the grass, and me singing off-camera. Then I pan over to the chickens and some special painted rocks.

But the video is over four minutes long, and my cranky old laptop cannot handle the uploading process. Six years old is this wonderful machine, but I have about run it into the ground.

A Computer Expert. I am a computer expert. I only know what I need to know in order to get done the things I want to get done. That's rule number one. Rule number two is that computers cost money. Rule number three is Internet Karma. Never waste anyone's time with unwanted posts and email. If you send Spam, you will get it back in spades.

Anyway, I drove over to Fry's Electronics in Oxnard. I spent $650, including sales tax and a new carrying case, for a 17-inch HP laptop, 4 GB Ram. and lots of room in the hard drive -- enough to download and upload my stupid videos.

Stupid Videos. I say that with affection. They are quite good. This one is in homage to Bob Dylan. You probably could have written the song yourself, if Bob Dylan had not -- isn't that how it seems when it's really good?

Bob Dylan is a great songwriter and musician, but he does not have much of a voice. And here, many of us can truly say, "I can sing as good as Bob Dylan."

"Sad Eyed Lady with Chickens" is from my heart and for many years and for the many places I've been.

Frog Hospital and Farm News Annual Spring Subscription Drive. Send a Check for $25, made out to Fred Owens and mail it to Fred Owens, 7922 Santa Ana RD, Ventura CA, 93001.

Or Use PayPal. Go to the Frog Hospital blog and use the PayPal button.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Too much of this and not enough of that"

We have too many sweet peas and not enough labor to take care of it all.

We have weeds crawling up in BeauDee's garden and no one to spread the mulch -- if we could spread mulch we could smother the weeds, but it would take one worker all day, carting loads with the wheelbarrow and then spreading them out.

We're just short of people right now. Oh well, weeds growing is a sign of soil fertility.

We raked up three huge leaf piles in January, so we have these piles ready to deploy -- tiny oak leaves, huge sycamore leaves, and a third kind from this tree, but I don't know its name.

Cool weather. Cooler weather has prolonged the sweet pea harvest. We have too many flowers and not enough buyers. Last night Andy made contact with a wholesale buyer and if the deal comes through, the wholesaler will have us pick the place clean and take every one of them.

Except we don't have enough pickers for that, so we're making phone calls and sending out emails, and help should be on the way.

I used to worry about stuff like this, but it's always that way -- too much of one thing and not enough of something else.

Bugs. After the late-spring rain, if the sun and the heat come back, we will have bugs and more bugs, so it's a good thing to see swallows flitting about, because they will have plenty to eat.

Too much lettuce. We planted too much lettuce and it will bolt before it gets eaten. Then we planted a lot of beets but for some reason they won't grow -- got these puny little beets and a few leaves -- I don't know why, because the turnips have been a bonanza. Solution -- eat turnips and forget about the beets.

But mainly too many sweet peas. Mainly we have too many sweet peas and that's a good thing.

My Arab Friend. My friend is from Syria. He owns the mini-Mart and liquor store down the road from the farm. He always has Arabic TV news going on when I come in to buy some Fig Newtons or beer. He's the only person I know from Syria. So I'm not on his side exactly, and I can't say whether he's right or wrong, or if what he is telling me is true. I can only pass on what he told me.

He likes President Assad. Assad is a good man, he says. That surprised me, but I followed the clues. He sells liquor and he's not a Muslim, but a Christian. Then I looked up "Syrian Christian" on Google. I found several news stories. Ten percent of Syrians are Christian, they have always supported President Assad, and he, in turn, has favored and protected them. Syrian Christians fear the Sunni majority. They fear the mob, so they support the tyrant.

Most of us will have a strong dislike for President Assad and his brutal troops, and we may be right that he ought to be deposed. But keep this in mind -- in the Middle East, things are far more complicated than they seem at first glance.

African Story. The African story surges ahead on Facebook. I use Facebook differently. I do not care to write about my personal angst or indigestion, but want to tell this story because I think it is interesting.

I will be giving more background information -- some facts and figures and maps about Africa -- to make things more familiar to the readers.

Africa is a pretty strange place. For instance, there is a small country in West Africa that used to be called Upper Volta.

There was no Volta, or Lower Volta, just Upper Volta -- like some country in a Marx Brothers movie.

So they changed the name of the country to Burkina Faso, which is not an improvement, to my mind. Who lives in Burkina Faso -- the Burkino Fascists?

Worse, the capital of this country is Ouagadougou. Say it fast three times, "Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou, Ouagadougou." Like a choo-choo train.

It's a funny name and they never get any tourists in Burkina Faso, unless some one traveling to Chad gets lost.

Chad is a very big country with a nice, short name. Nobody ever goes there, all desert and poverty and civil war.

You never hear about these countries unless there's a coup.

Learning about Africa. I will be presenting simple facts like this about Africa as background information. My advice is do not try to remember any of this, but say the words out loud slowly, so you get used to it.

And get over to Facebook and find me at "Fred Owens" to follow along with the story.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sweet Peas

The Sweet Pea Harvest is going gonzo. Imagine all 9,000 plants blooming prodigiously -- except for the ones in Row A which are partially shaded.

But you go out to Rows C and D, into the full sun, and we can't pick them fast enough. We picked 300 bouquets last weekend for Mother's Day -- and sold every one. Bonanza. But farmers aren't supposed to brag, so forget what I just said.

It's not like we got rich selling flowers, but at least we had some income. And if we sell enough flowers we can do it again next year.

The problem -- this is so typical of American agriculture -- is that we over-produced. We have sweet pea flowers coming out of our ears. We could carpet the highway from here to Ojai. We could throw them from airplanes and smother small towns with delightful colors and fragrance.

Mainly we just want to get to the farmers markets and sell. That hasn't been so easy. I'm not going into details here -- but taking flowers to the market involves "dealing with other people" and you know that is not always so easy. Never mind. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining.

Better to take a deep breath and start planning for next year. And here's my idea -- we don't plant so many, and those we do plant go in the ground progressively to stretch out the harvest season. If possible, we can build a plastic hoop house and grow early sweet peas inside of that.

The second thing we can do is work on getting into more of these farmers markets. Most of them have waiting lists -- business is good.

That's all I have to say about sweet peas, except I love them and you ought to come by Love House Dahlias to see them -- only call first, because we don't leave the gate open. Call 805-648-6808.

Overproduction. American farmers, in every region and with every crop, have produced so prodigiously that, time and time again, they have driven the price right down into the ground.

That's a problem. But it's the kind of problem you want to have. We have too much food in America. And that is so much better than having too little food.

Zapata Lives. This incredible video features my first performance in character. Only 16 seconds long.... I am "quoting" from the final scene of the movie Viva Zapata, the story of Emiliano Zapata and his great revolutionary army in Mexico 100 years ago.

They shot and killed Zapata in the end, but some of his poor followers did not believe he was dead. They said he still rides in the mountains on his white horse.

The clothes I am wearing are not a costume but sensible for outdoor work in the hot sun -- a broad straw hat, and loose-fitting cotton shirt and trousers. This keeps you cool and prevents sun-burn.

Frog Hospital and Farm News Annual Spring Subscription Drive. Send a Check for $25, made out to Fred Owens and mail it to Fred Owens, 7922 Santa Ana RD, Ventura CA, 93001.

Or Use PayPal. Go to the Frog Hospital blog and use the PayPal button.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Detroit Blues

I visited Ann Arbor, Michigan last week for my daughter's graduation. We took a tour of downtown Detroit the day after the ceremony and this is what I wrote:

It was blissful spring in Michigan. Yellow forsythias bloomed, red tulips danced on brilliant green lawns, and everywhere trees were budding with new leaves.

I especially watched the young weeds and saplings working there way through the cracks at the ruins of the old Packard factory in Detroit. They have not built cars in this half-mile-long building since 1958, yet still it stands brick-strong, windows smashed, waiting for new purpose.

I wanted to clean it up. I wanted to tell my tour guide -- "Just leave me here. I'll get a rake and a broom. I want to get started today. We can have this place fixed up in no time. Then we can start making cars again -- better cars."

In a vacant field near the plant, we can grow tomatoes and sweet corn, and the car makers can stop by the farm after their shift and buy some juicy tomatoes in the hot humid August sun, and bursting-sweet sweet-corn aching for hot butter in the cool of the evening.

The Packard factory is idle now because the Detroit folks needed a rest. They built millions of cars and we all loved the ride. They built planes and tanks and they won World War II. After that came a chrome-plated fins-flying era of triumph called the 1950s, but the Detroit folks were getting tired and finally the Packard line came to a halt in 1958. They blocked up all the windows against vandals. They just shut it down and walked away.

Then weeds began to grow. Little trees forced their way through cracks in the pavement and now they are 30-feet tall. The land is fresh again, and folks are coming back to work it..

They can build more cars now, and then in the summer they can take a vacation -- drive up north to the cool pine forest and go fishing for walleyes.

Detroit Blues. Everything bad you heard about Detroit is true. It is a burnt-out case. My daughter parked our rental car in front of a no-parking sign. I said, "Eva, we're going to get a ticket." She said, "Dad, they don't have any cops now."

So you're on your own in Motor City. Maybe that's good, being on your own. Maybe that's what brings out my pioneer spirit when I see this ruined but fertile landscape.

Think of a young family wanting a place to start, a chance to make a home and have some land.
They could do worse than go to Detroit. They could get a house for cheap and fix it up. Grow a garden. Start a business.

And they would have to fight every inch of the way to achieve any kind of success. They would have to be tough and determined and willing to make a relentless effort -- I don't want to minimize the problems they would face, There's a reason Detroit fell apart.

But if it's so bad, then how come I don't feel depressed when I see it.

I know you can't re-build an urban landscape with only a good feeling -- you need to have substance, capital, labor, good regulation, and better government, and last of all, you need a little luck.

Obama as Gary Cooper in High Noon. The question is --- If President Obama were a movie star, who would that be? and in what movie?

A younger respondent suggested Will Smith -- He's got the ears, she said. But not the gravitas, I said. Then how about Denzel Washington, she suggested. Okay, that's a possibility, He's definitely a serious dude.

I have transcended race in my own selection. Obama is Gary Cooper -- tall, lanky, serious, taciturn, patient, and totally determined. In High Noon, Gary Cooper played the sheriff even though he didn't want the job.

There was a bad guy and he had to be killed, and it was Cooper's job to gun him down. He took a grim satisfaction in winning the gun battle, but there was no glory in it and he never expected that. He just rode out of town at the end.

Frog Hospital and Farm News Annual Spring Subscription Drive. This newsletter, going for 12 years now, relies on subscription revenue from a few faithful followers. Some readers send a check every year and I am very grateful for their continued support.

Other readers send a check as the spirit moves them, and those checks are most welcome.

As I have said before, these checks keep the writer from getting cranky. When you starve the writer, he is liable to get self-righteous and don the martyr's robe and begin preaching and hectoring the readers.

But with a small bit of income, the writer can take a more detached and benign look at the many joyful events in our lives, paying equal attention to the suffering and pains we endure.

So, if you can afford it -- after you pay the rent, the mortgage, the groceries, and what ever you need to save for the education of your children and grandchildren -- then ...

Send a Check for $25, made out to Fred Owens and mail it to Fred Owens, 7922 Santa Ana RD, Ventura CA, 93001.

Or Use PayPal. Go to the Frog Hospital blog and use the PayPal button.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog: Frog Hospital

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001