February 22nd – March 1st
Florida Keys, FL
Both of us had snowbird parents staying in rented houses in the Florida Keys during the same week, so we’d planned our WWOOFing route and timing to meet up with them, before we started heading back home …
Saturday, February 22nd
Oak Hill, FL
We’d already packed up a lot of our stuff the evening before, predicting rain that would make it hard to get in and out of the trailer, so our last morning at the Green Flamingo was nice and relaxing.
The rain came with a fury just as we loaded into the car, dumping bathtubs of rain down as we bumped through the muddy rutted road out. The highway traffic was slow, with minor flash floods causing hydroplaning, and terrible visibility leading people to pull off onto the shoulder beneath bridges to wait out the storm.
We just muscled through toward the south, and it wasn’t long before we broke free from the weather system that would be deluging GFO for the next several days, and came back out into the sunny blue skies and waving palms.
We were headed for the Florida Keys, where we’d first be meeting Gabe’s dad and stepmom in Key Largo, at the house they’d rented to flee from the winter wasteland of northwestern Minnesota.
Kristin’s parents would be meeting us there as well, and then driving with us down further south to Marathon Key, where they had a dog-friendly house rented for a week, right on the ocean. They’d just flown in from the insanely frozen subzero hell that Minnesota had been all winter long … a day later than planned, due to a missed flight due to a blizzard that trapped them in their homes, with heavy wet snow up over their bumper in their unplowed street.
(Kristin and I had been missing one of the most unrelentingly brutal winters in Minnesota/Wisconsin history, with highs below zero and snows above waists.)
The last hour of the drive to the Keys was psychologically dangerous. We were fatigued, sick of driving, tired of being in the van … and stuck in stop and go traffic, just short of Key Largo. We bounced around and chanted and sang ridiculous songs in an effort to avoid losing our minds completely (“Om Shanti Shanti OMG” was a particularly fun one).
Eventually the traffic jam opened up, and we arrived.
It was 90 degrees warmer in the Florida Keys than it was back home on the Farm.
Instead of having to do farm chores, we had to drink delicious margaritas.
We’d have a week of vacation to float in the ocean, sleep in real beds, and sleep in late if we want to … with laundry machines, running water, electricity, air conditioning … all the conveniences of modern life, without any of the hassles of the real world.
Thursday, February 20th
Green Flamingo Organics
Oak Hill, FL
The main chicken coop door had been left open overnight; the electric fence was back online, so there was no harm to no fowl. However, today was the day we were to pull down the fence and move it to a new area for the hens to forage in.
This meant that all the chickens had to get back inside their coop so we could work. Heh.
(The previous week, Dawn and Erykah had learned how hard it is to get them all inside, when they’d attempted to round them all up to close the coop for nighttime. They were new to chickens and chicken-duty, and no one had told them that you could simply wait until the sun was going down, and the chickens would all go inside on their own … so they spent an hour running, grabbing, falling, laughing, and cursing before finally giving up on the last half dozen or so that evaded the pre-dusk round-up.)
We had more people this time, but the chickens were just out for the morning, and had zero interest in going inside. Meredith baited a large group of them in by putting their morning feed in the coop, but at least a third remained outside, avoiding us warily.
We were going to have to chase them down, and get them into the coop door – without letting any of the ones already inside escape.
This was a recipe for hilarity and hijinks.
So I ran and grabbed Kristin’s phone (which got internet service), cranked the volume up to the max, and quickly went to YouTube for the best thing ever in these circumstances:
This is the song that comes into my head every single time I see a person chasing a chicken for some reason, and it always makes me laugh … so this scene and soundtrack was a highlight of the trip.
It played on repeat as we dashed after the chickens, caught them, lost them, stuck them in the door, grabbed at the ones that would escape … I think it went through on repeat three times before we finally captured the final fowl.
The new roof hadn’t kept the Greenhouse Cardinal from his routine of sneaking in somehow during the evening, lured by the trays of sunflower sprouts, and then needing to be let out the door in the morning – flying around frantically apparently unable to locate or exit through whatever his entrance hole was.
Then it was harvest time.
Kristin and I had been doing a lot of arugula, so we got to work on the total 8 white crates necessary for the day – there had been a lot of demand for arugula lately between the salad mix, restaurant orders, and CSA needs, so the rows had been getting pretty picked over.
It took attention, skill, and patience to get 8 pounds of decent leaves from the various patches throughout the garden, but we were getting pretty good at it.
For lunch we all ate the rump roast we’d gotten from the wild pig, shot by the landowner and cleaned and dressed by Liz and Gary. We accompanied it with rice, carrot and beet salad, and sauteed beet greens. It was delicious, easily the tastiest lunch any of us had at the GFO.
After lunch, we tore down a garden of old okra stalks so Liz could run the tractor tiller over the patch and prepare it for new planting.
The first batch of marmalade had turned out a bit overly thick and chewy – we made a second batch with refined recipe and techniques.
This batch came out perfect – delicious orange candy spread, sweet and bitter in perfect proportion.
The warm nights had the local nocturnal wildlife much more active – there were frogs making crazy, scary choruses in the woods all night long (at first we thought they were raccoons), and the two Trailer Frogs started coming out of the closet, hopping around the interior walls and windows – where they seemed to like to lay in wait for bugs, which worked great for us.
They stayed out of the bed – unlike the little green lizard that tickled my thigh and sent me yelping out of the sheets with visions of a giant spider …
Wednesday, February 19th
Green Flamingo Organics
Oak Hill, FL
Three chickens had died in the “POW” coop, one at a time, over several days. They had food and water, the other chickens seemed healthy – as had the ones that died, up until they turned up dead.
We had been thinking maybe there was some kind of toxic weed that certain hens had ingested when we moved the coop, but Meredith had a different theory – a venomous snake, sleeping in the warmth of the nesting boxes. It made sense of many aspects of the mystery, so we armed ourselves with snake killing implements, donned high boots, and headed down to the coop to examine the hay of the nesting boxes.
However, when we cleared out the hay, ready to kill the baby rattlesnake or whatever other slithering culprit we might uncover, there was nothing there. I still think the poisonous snake theory is a winner though – and while we didn’t find a snake, it’s been warmer at night since then, and no more chickens have died, so perhaps the snake has moved on …
This greenhouse again had a layer of shredded plastic, but this time we would be ripping that out and replacing it with sturdy sheets of corrugated clear PVC.
We added some 2×4 bracing to screw the panels on the northern side of the greenhouse and got it all up pretty quickly, but ran into complications on the southern half. We needed to add two sections of 8 foot crossbeams, and we’d exhausted the meager scrap lumber pile. Worse, the 8 foot long panels were too short to cover from peak to low end – even without the drip eave we wanted to include, and without the overhang we’d planned on including on the peak, over the top lip of the northern slope.
Fortunately, there was some steel roofing material left over from the outdoor kitchen they’d recently built. So we cut it down to the right length, and folded it into a peak to go over the top of the greenhouse, providing the extra length we needed to roof the southern slope as well as a flap to cover the top lip of the northern slope.
Halfway through the project, the landowner (Liz rented her corner of the land from an orange grove farmer) drove up in his tractor to ask if we wanted the wild pig he’d just shot. He brought it over minutes later and left it in the shade of a live oak, to await Liz’s return from her morning errands.
It was a HOT day, and we had no shade to work in, so we were getting good and toasted working on the roof. The dogs hid out inside the greenhouse in the shade while we sweated and swore through the second half of the project.
Finally, we were done – everything lined up, supported, secured, and looking awesome. We picked up the tools and posed for a victory photo with the finished project.
The other WWOOFers were still working in the garden when we finished, but we’d put in our hours for the day and were sun-roasted, sweaty, and on the verge of getting cranky.
So we threw together our bags, threw the dogs in the van, and rolled out to go back to our beach on the Saint John river, driving well over the speed limit down the open road, westbound through the wildlife refuge, watching the sun and the temps heading downward.
We made it just in time to enjoy a solid hour of hot sunshine and swimming in the river – floating along with the languid current, awed by the strange beauty of swaying Spanish moss and clusters of cypress knees.
We hit the Frosty King again on the way back, and got back in time to help make dinner for the crew, along with the GIANT SPIDER in the sink.