Friday, April 27, 2007

Help! What's wrong with my squash plants?

Squash Disease!Do any of you know anything about plant diseases? Can you tell me what my poor squash plant has? I knew this gardening thing couldn't just keep being as easy as it was for the first week or two, and indeed, today I came home from work, excited to plant some new seeds I got (little gem lettuce, carrots, spinach, and swiss chard!) and just as I finished planting the seeds I noticed one squash plant looked slightly droopy.

Squash Disease!I looked closer and noticed these gray fuzzy dots, mostly on one of the leaves, but definitely on the others, too. Worse yet, it's my best squash plant -- already two squash are growing on it and over an inch long each! To top it all off, my second-best squash plant has a couple of the same dots on one leaf.

Is this something I can fix? I've searched online for "gray fuzz vegetable" and stuff like that and found references to various molds and fungi and diseases, but nothing sounds exactly like this, and furthermore they all say "destroy the infected plants," which I really would rather not do if I can avoid it!

I'm sure someone that reads this knows more about gardening than I do. Mom? Any ideas?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

MS150

Okay, I did it. I rode the second day with Ali. We got to La Grange around 7:30pm and built a nest in the back of her Explorer. We slept in that for the night (it was surprisingly comfortable, the first time I've really appreciated an SUV) and woke up a bit later than we should have, at 6:45am. I naively assumed we could just suit up and start riding, but naturally with over ten thousand riders, things were a bit more complicated. "They've been lining up since 6am," a woman informed me, "And they're letting them go in waves of 500. So if you aren't already up there, you might as well hang out and have some coffee."

We had a couple cups of coffee and I ate two small pancakes, and then we suited up and rode out of there just after 8am. Unfortunately, this meant we were near the back with the slower riders, since the fast riders that know better and don't want to spend all day passing groups of people had shown up at 6am and left promptly at 7.

I've never been in a ride anywhere near this large. It was all on 2-lane roads, and our lane was just packed with riders. By the end, 4 hours later, it was a bit thinner, but for the entire ride, pretty much all we did was pass people. When it was particularly dense, we had to wait for any oncoming cars to pass so we could move into the oncoming traffic lane and sprint past groups of riders. Challenging, but still really fun.

I'm happy with how we did. We averaged 18.5mph plus a 15-minute stop at one of the rest stops to refill water bottles, use the port-o-lets, and get one of the medics to slather a little Biofreeze (aka Icy Hot aka Ben Gay aka any of that stuff) on my right knee, the one that has been cranky.

Speaking of the knee, I managed to figure out while riding that the swelling and tenderness were all due to my heel being turned very slightly in towards the bike. It's nice that the pain responds really quickly to adjustments, because I was able to experiment with different positions and find ones that felt better. By the end I was still feeling some tendinitis right above the kneecap, so I'm going to bump my seat up a tiny bit for next time and see if that helps. I'm really excited, though, that my knee is in much better shape after the MS150 ride than it was most of last week after the final couple training rides.

The MS150 ride was also the first ride where I used my shiny new Garmin Edge 305 cycling computer. It records freaking everything. It's a GPS receiver and a barometric altimeter, and comes with the heart-rate monitor chest strap and a speed & cadence sensor you mount on the bike. The end result? More data than you can shake a stick at. I've put it up online for the curious:
Overall, I'm really happy with how the ride went. Plus, I made some big strides in figuring out my knee pain, and am confident I can eliminate it entirely with some more adjustments and conditioning work, and that makes me even happier.

I already sent an email directly to my sponsors, but I'll thank them publicly here, too. I couldn't have done the ride without them (literally; they wouldn't have let me) but they also provided me with motivation, knowing that I was training for something more important than just getting in good shape.

Addendum: Lulu sent me this comic, randomly, and it reminded me of a phenomenon I notice every single time I ride, and promptly forget about. On all long rides, if I do not bring my mp3 player, I will notice at some point that I have a song stuck in my head. Not a good song. A random song from the darkest recesses of my subconscious, the kind of song that I'm shocked I even remember or know the words to. Worse yet, I usually know only the refrain or some short snippet, and so it loops, and loops, and loops in my head in time with the cadence of my pedals, but I cannot get it out and I cannot make it stop.

During the MS150 it was the refrain from the theme song to the Disney movie "Pocahontas." Seriously, I was shocked I even knew it, and dismayed to be spending brain cells remembering it. Stranger yet, I cannot recall the tune or lyrics consciously, on demand. It just kind of showed up, and then I couldn't forget it. No joke, that refrain looped in my head for a good hour and a half, all the way through the Bastrop State Park and down a good stretch of 71. Ridiculous.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MS150 Update

I went to Austin Sports Med the other day to see my friend Dr. Elenz, who once palpated my knee for a similar injury, years ago. It was weird reading the sheet I filled out last time I was there in 2004: I had only quit smoking 4 months earlier and I weighed 20 pounds more than I do now. So at least some things are improving (my knees excluded.)

He palpated my knees again, twisted them this way and that, and finally pronounced them healthy. Well, probably not damaged, anyway. I'm having an MRI (expensive, yeowch, it'll eat my entire deductible for the year, which would be a good thing if I thought I'd have any other major medical work done this year) just to make sure there's no serious cartilage damage. Fundamentally, though, he said my injuries were just inflammation from overuse.

"The knee swells," he said, "That's just something it does."

"What about the MS150?" I asked, "If my knee is this sore from 25 miles and 60 miles, and the MS150 is 80 miles and 70 miles..."

He smiled. "Oh, you're going to be hurting, no question. But you won't do any permanent damage. Take anti-inflammatories and ice it a lot."

My doctor has officially given me permission to ride the MS150. And this is a guy who has a US Postal cycling jersey hanging in his office, signed by Kevin Livingston, with the message, "Dear Dr. Elenz - Thanks for getting me back in the saddle!" I kind of have to trust a guy whose devoted, grateful patients include professional cyclists for US Postal. The MS150 is hardly the Tour de France.

That said, my knee was still sore today, and I've been taking Aleve all week. I'm really kind of concerned about how bad it's going to be if I do the whole MS150. Ali (with whom I'm riding the second day) called today and offered an intriguing alternative, which is that I could drive out with her on Saturday and just ride the second day of the tour. I need to check with the officials and see if that's okay, but if it is, it may be the happy medium that will satisfy both voices in my head, the one telling me I'd be a chicken to quit, and the one that just keeps listening calmly and then saying, "Boy, my knee sure does still hurt."

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Gardening: The Beginning

Baby CantaloupeI planted some herbs in my backyard flower garden late last year on a whim. It always bothers me to buy herbs because you get a big bunch of thyme for $1 and you use a tablespoon's worth of it and end up dumping the rest. $1 doesn't really seem like a lot, but when you're making a soup that calls for 6 different herbs, that's $6 for just a pinch of each, usually. And the little herb seedlings were cheap, only $2 each, so I figured, if I even get to use each twice, I've broken even.

Well, not only did I use them twice, but they've come back. All but the basil, I mean, and the basil's just wimpy about cold. My oregano is hedge-like, the spearmint has spread, and even the chives that looked so sad and dead by November have come back with renewed vigor.

Veggie BoxesThe more I thought about this, the more it inspired me to think that maybe I don't have the black thumb I always thought I did. I got a pretty good tax return this year, so I decided to dedicate a few hundred bucks of it to building a vegetable garden in the large gravel area in my back yard.

After doing some research, I settled on raised beds. To be cheap, I just built them out of standard pine 2x10s. I know they'll eventually rot away, but I bet it'll be at least a few years, and pine is just so much cheaper than cedar or whatever else I might use that it's worth it. Plus, they're really easy to build. I can replace them in an afternoon if I really need to.

SoilThen, the soil. It turns out dirt's pretty expensive. If you buy it bagged, even the crummiest non-organic garden soil is $3 per cubic foot and if I even filled these three beds just over halfway each, to 6", each bed is 4' x' 6', so that was 12 cubic feet per bed, or 36 cubic feet total. And I really wanted organic soil. The benefit of growing organic is really making more sense to me, now. When I think of vast expanses of farm land, it's very distant and kind of abstract. With these raised beds, it's very compact. The vegetables aren't gathering nutrients from miles around. They're getting nutrients directly from the soil just in the raised beds, and that's it. It's a little box of dirt that's going to turn into food. The matter isn't coming from the sky, it's coming directly from the soil, so if I pour fluorescent turquoise Miracle-Gro in there, I might as well just pour that powder directly into my mouth.

Organic soil, naturally, is more, at least $4/cu ft, bagged. I wasn't about to pay $120 for dirt, especially since I'd then have to make about 10 trips in my car to the nursery and back.

The wonderful people at Great Outdoors, an amazing and wonderful nursery full of thoughtful people who tell you everything you need to know, pointed me to Geo Growers, who deliver soil in bulk, and for $150 including delivery they brought over 60 cubic feet of soil, more than I'll need for a long time, and happily dropped it off in a giant dump truck.

Filling the BedsI bought a wheelbarrow, since they left that soil on my driveway (dump trucks aren't really very maneuverable, and can't unload if there's anything overhead -- tree branches, power lines, anything -- so it was the best he could do.) At Home Depot, I wondered why anyone would pay for the really expensive wheelbarrows as I bought mine for $40; later, as I moved soil in it, carefully holding the wobbly wooden arms as it swayed back and forth, pendulous with the weight of the soil, I understood. It did the job, though.

I filled the beds with soil, and then it was back to Great Outdoors. They loaded me up with three bags of Turkey Compost and a box of magic organic fertilizer powder, and I wandered around picking out little seedlings. I ended up with a good assortment: squash, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and a few pepper varieties, and I left eager to get to work.

Kristine loaned me a bunch of gardening tools, including a nice big rake, and tonight I mixed the compost into each bed, raked in the fertilizer powder, and then topped it all off with a layer of the mulch left by my house's previous owner, mulch I never figured I'd get around to using. Now I'm happy to have it!

HerbsI transplanted some of the herbs from the back garden, the ones not looking as healthy as the rest, and in the other two beds planted the seedlings, spaced as generously as possible. I didn't really consider that melons and tomatoes and such want a fair amount of space, but luckily these beds are pretty roomy.

I have some space left in the third bed with the herbs; they only take up maybe 5 square feet, so I've got about 20 left. I'm going to get some seed packets for leaf vegetables, I think, because I know I should eat more stuff like kale, chard, collards, mustard greens, and lettuces, and I can't imagine they're terribly difficult to grow. Head lettuces, apparently, grow more slowly than normal leafy ones, so I'll probably steer clear of cabbage and head lettuces for now, since I'm feeling impatient and want results as soon as I can get them!

Of course, I haven't done anything so far that requires any kind of gardening skill, just lots of backbreaking work. It all certainly looks good so far -- the gardens are pretty, the beds look neat and clean, and the seedlings are happily planted in the best soil I could find. That doesn't really mean it's all going to work, though. Now begins the part where I need to know what I'm doing: when to water, when to cover, when to shade, when to prune. I got a well-reviewed book from amazon on the subject, and I plan to read it cover-to-cover.

Then again, I'm only half-doing this to actually have good veggies to eat; the other half of the reason is to learn how to be a skilled gardener. At some level, I realize those two goals are in conflict, because the way I'll learn the most is by making mistakes and killing plants or harvesting too early or whatever. But then the right way to look at that is that it doesn't really matter whether my vegetable garden is wildly bountiful or barren as a desert, it's a success either way.

Seriously, though, I'd really like some cantaloupe.

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PLEASE READ: A New Beginning

Hello, there.

First things first: If you read this site with an RSS reader like Google Reader or Bloglines, please resubscribe to this feed. I've switched blog software and Blogger doesn't generate all the same feed files my old MovableType install used to. I am manually putting this entry in all those old feeds, but from now on, if you don't fix up your subscription, you may stop getting updates. So go ahead and do that now, and save yourself the loneliness later.

If you're not just using an RSS reader to view this, you might notice this blog doesn't look like it used to. I finally bit the bullet and ditched my old MovableType blog, which had all sorts of problems, was long in the tooth and took more maintenance than I had time for. Now, I'm publishing to this site using Blogger, which is substantially less flexible, but at the same time far less of a headache. So far, it seems to be going well. I like the new aesthetic, and hopefully it'll be easier to post comments now.

I am preserving the old blog, frozen, at this address so that information remains accessible, especially the longer articles like the stuff about the climbing wall or the Buddhism or the ones that got longer-term traffic. Hopefully Google will quickly index that new location and that stuff will be easy to find.

In the future, I'm going to be posting largely in one of four main categories, which you see above in the banner. I noticed my posts tended to fall into categories: the psychoanalysis-related, / Buddhism-related / book-review / journaling kind of entries, the recipe / restaurant review / cooking insight kind, and the sports / physical activity / griping-about-my-bad-joints entries. So I gave each of those its own category, which you can easily access along the top, there.

Furthermore, I've recently taken up gardening, building some vegetable gardens in my back yard, and I anticipate I'll have a reasonable amount to say on that. Hopefully it'll mostly be positive, great insights I have into why my garden is so successful, but realistically I'm sure there'll be plenty of bewildered posts about the veggies that don't do so well, too. I'm hoping people who know something about gardening will occasionally drop some wisdom in there.

That's about it. Let me know what you think of the new layout and look. I've tried to keep it deliberately minimal, so the archives and previous posts are down at the bottom. If you need to find something specific, try using that search text field in the banner up top; it should be able to help you out.

Food

I've been cooking a lot, lately, and friends have been asking me to post recipes, and I've always just put that stuff inline with the rest of my blog posts, but I figure if I'm going to really work at building some more culinary chops, why not have a food-specific blog?

Why not, indeed. Here it is.

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Garden

Inspired by my inability to kill some herbs I planted late last year, I've recently embarked on this little adventure, trying my hand at growing vegetables. Here, I will post updates, questions, successes, failures, and -- if all goes especially well -- pictures of canteloupe. What more could you want from a blog?

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Body

I've been training pretty hard for cycling lately, which leads me to post about riding, complain about my crummy joints, rave about new bike gear I get, stuff like that. Furthermore, while my interests wax and wane, I'm always working fairly hard at one physical pursuit at a time, at the very least. Yoga, cycling, rock climbing, or maybe something new, I'll be writing about it here.

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Mind

I write enough stuff in my blog about books I'm reading, Buddhist lectures I found useful, and therapy-related musings that I figured they all deserved their own space. If nothing else, it means people who only really care about my cycling training don't have to read my latest run-on post about mindfulness and nonviolence as it pertains to Hesse, or whatever.

This will be the catch-all blog for anything intellectual, spiritual, or psychological.

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