Sunday, November 22, 2020

Shakeout for the Maggie Mee

 Well, what with one thing and another, it was several months after I finished working on the Maggie before I got to take her out on a shakeout cruise. For her first trip, I wanted to go to nearby Caprock Canyon State Park, just a couple of hours up the road. If anything major were to go wrong, I would be close enough to make it back home without too much trouble. However, getting a reservation for a camping spot (at any state park right now) meant booking two months in advance. I dilly-dallied all summer, nervous about traveling during a pandemic. By the time I decided to give it a go, the soonest available time period was the first part of November, which can be dicey, weather-wise. What the heck, I thought, and clicked “send” to book my spot.

As it turned out, the weather was nearly perfect. Moreover, the forecast for night temperatures promised to be cold, but not quite freezing, so I figured that would give me a good opportunity to see how well she performed with a small space heater. I have a good winter sleeping bag, but mummy bags make me claustrophobic, and since the whole reason I decided to embark on the teardrop project was to eliminate as many discomforts associated with camping as possible, I was hoping that a space heater would provide enough heat that I could sleep in my PJs with regular bedding during cold weather.

And the answer to that particular question is that I can.

Other things also worked as well as I had hoped. The stove and galley counter top made cooking and clean up a breeze, even in the dark. Here we are on Taco Night:

The radio did not pick up any nearby stations, but since it is bluetooth capable, I just hooked up my phone and listened to my favorite classical station, KTTZ. I also used the phone as a mobile hotspot and used my iPad for internet access. I’d downloaded some movies onto the iPad as well before leaving and was able to watch them at night (since it was late fall, it got dark at 6:30 in the evening, so I really appreciated having something to do in the confines of the teardrop). My little reading lamp was perfect for reading myself to sleep, too. All the storage space meant everything stayed organized and out of my way. And the first night out there was a fierce windstorm. In a tent, this would have been a problem, but in The Maggie, it was actually soothing to lie there and listen to it. In short, the little camper is nearly perfect for my needs. 

What would make it perfect? Well, an indoor toilet, but that is not going to happen. The park rest rooms were clean and largely unoccupied, though, so it was not too much bother.

The other thing I can’t really fix is having to lie down to get dressed, but I guess I can live with that.

I was feeling a little under the weather for the couple of days I was there, so I didn’t do much more than some light hiking and bird watching. But it was a pleasant, successful trip. 



Cotton notes: Stuff is popping up

 

The helpful people at Texas A&M Agrilife greenhouse, Leslie Wells, Zane Wyatt, Monica Sheehan, and Jane Dever, let me pick out seeds for three different species of cotton, G. aridum, G. nelsonii, and G. therberi. I picked each on the basis of either some story I could tell about them to accompany a painting (nelsonii and therberi), of for the striking difference in how we perceive cotton should look (aridum).

The cotton needs equal hours of daylight and night, so I plumbed my greenhouse for water and added a grow light (more on these later in a greenhouse report), and a couple days ago seedlings started to appear. Time to first the first seed germinated was about seven days. So far, I have at least one specimen per species, but I would like more; I planted at least eight seeds per species, so if more don’t come up, I will try again. Seeds must be given a hot water treatment of 80 C for 90 seconds before planting.


In other news, the winter wheat in the west plot is sprouting. Time to germination was seven days.



Monday, November 16, 2020

Cotton notes: Preparing the farmlet

 I’ve signed a publishing contract for a book about cotton that will be a mix of essays and my botanical art. It’s a long-term project, and I’ve started on it in earnest this fall. There are many things to report, but I’ll start with this, preparing to grow some of my own cotton in the area of the garden I call “the farmlet.” It is the only part of our property that receives full sun, which cotton needs, and normally I use the area to grow vegetables (read: tomatoes and not much else). Next year, however, I am planning to grow some varieties of heirloom cotton to paint. Much to my surprise, when I went to order the seed, I discovered you need a permit to grow cotton in the state of Texas. This is apparently to control the spread of the boll weevil, as this way they can track where it might be. So, with the help of the kind people at Texas A&M Agrilife, I applied for and was granted a permit. 

Next on the agenda was to prepare some space for the plants. In addition to some existing beds in the farmlet, I also decided to add some in the alley, and experiment a bit. I’ve been tagging along with a local farm family as they’ve been harvesting this fall (more on that in another post), and they practice dryland, no-till farming. I thought the alley plots might be a good place  to try these things. So with the help of a young man who often helps me in the garden, we got one bed tilled, and another scraped, and then sowed some winter wheat on the surface to create a cover crop.


 

Which a flock of White Winged Doves promptly devoured. 

I read up a bit on winter wheat and discovered that a 1.5” planting depth is recommended (rather than just scattering it. That seemed like it would keep the birds from feasting on my nascent wheat, so I created some furrows in one bed, scattered the seed, and covered it. I started to do the same to the other bed (the east one), but discovered that is was chock full of lava rocks. You may remember that some years ago, lava rock was a popular landscape mulch. I had forgotten that a long while ago, a friend wanted to get rid of hers and I told her I would take it. Her husband came over with a load of it in the back of his truck and dumped about a cubic yard that spot in the alley. And over the years, I forgot it was there. 

So the past three days I have been digging it out, using a combination of small tiller, various rakes and shovels, and a sieve made from an old garden gate. 


And digging it out. 

And digging it out.

To give you a feel for the scope of this labor, picture if you will a buried swimming pool filled with this:



I figure I have maybe one or two more days of doing this before I can get back to re-planting the winter wheat in this plot. However, while I was distracted by the lava rock dilemma, the doves once again discovered the western plot had new seed—only now it was conveniently lined up in some furrows. 

I came out the morning after I had re-planted and found neat little furrows, as empty as could be. They all looked like this:

It was sort of like an Automat for birds.

So I re-re-planted the winter wheat, covered it again, and then covered the whole thing with bird nettting. And that seems to have done the trick.

Further notes: the seed comes from a local seed company, and Kamron, my farmlet hand, had to buy an entire bag. So there is plenty to do all the re-planting I need.