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Number 1,042, October 13, 2019

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The Norseman's Diaries Year of Reinvention Part III: Fast Forward Through Summer
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Fast forward. That's what I've decided to call this one because once again I was trying to pull off the long overdue third installment of this episode of the diaries at the end of the summer by Labor Day Weekend and that is now long past going on October. Where did it all go? I ask myself after having spent much of this season indoors focused on the restoration of the Florida Room which has come a long way from the days of winter and early spring when I struggled with various bottlenecks that at times seemed insurmountable until overcome in a series of tipping points that has allowed things to move forward in a series of leaps and bounds.

But at the expense of so many other things. Such as work outdoors that has apart from general upkeep of the place and care of the animals did not progressed as much as I originally hoped for. Going back to late May just before second vacation week I did take the time to clear away the superfluous plant growth around the middle pool and falls of the watercourse and exposed the beautiful stonework of the original design that was smothered by mats of stream sedge and dwarf horsetail over the years.

This is the best it has looked in years. The shoreline on the opposite bank was an absolute mess of stream sedge that I decided to remove totally as it may look totally awesome covering a gravel bar in your typical mountain stream of Greater Appalachia but way out of scale here on the banks of this tiny manmade brook.

A few clumps of dwarf Asian Sweetflag like I had in the original planting will look much better and won't be so overpowering.

Fast Forward to 6/15/2019
Already halfway into June

Fed the turts and did a little weeding by the upper pool of the watercourse. Going to incrementally clean up the weeds in the coming days. Major issue with that is that I can’t find my pruning shears or hedge clippers. The previous day I used the snip pliers to prune the rhododendron by the house and the Live Oak in the greenhouse a few days before that. They will probably turn up but I’m thinking of buying another set of each to get the show on ty road in the meantime and then I’ll keep a set in the trunk of the Honda so I have them available wherever I go and don’t have to remember to bring them.

The long sought after Syngonium rayii arrived shortly before I left and I have not yet done anything with it since and probably won’t until Sunday. And ditto for the background build. The tree fern arrived while I was away and was waiting when I got in in spite of the message from UPS saying something about delivery being rescheduled. That really put the kibosh on the really good mood I was in at the eve of the shift when I checked the tracking number. It had been a rather slow and uneventful day and almost dead evening—with the exception of a code blue that was kind of long and the first time I ever got cramps doing chest compressions! And the main reason for being in a good mood was getting my left ear cleared earlier. It was the mother of all wax plugs like a few years before which started giving me issues the day of my Tech Competency class on my first vacation in April. Two nurses and a fellow tech tried in vain to extricate it and finally the doctor came to the rescue and blasted it out with the big metal ear syringe from the ENT cart after they failed with a regular syringe and 20 gauge IV catheter. It was like being reborn yet a second time around! I was really weirded out by all the little insignificant sounds of mundane things like the fans of the air handling system that I had not been able to hear for the last two months. Much like deaf person hearing for the first time in his life! What a relief. But I digress.

After all of that and a false alarm that had me really ticked off as I left work ; the last ingredient for the ABG mix: tree fern fiber had been delivered after all! 4 big zip lock bags full.

Looks like really good stuff too. Now I’m going to have to study the recipe again and use the empty bag to apportion the measurements of the other ingredients accordingly. Will probably do that Sunday which will give me one more day to dry out the expanded Eco Earth that I’m trying to dry out in a litter pan on my dash while the car is sitting in the sun all day. If it’s not done by tomorrow night I’ll finish it in the oven when I get home.

One more day—a twelver tomorrow and then second vacation week begins. I’m looking forward to it and really glad a serious ear problem that was a major contributor to my “sinus issues” has been resolved. If I can get the background done and cured this coming week I can probably get it planted by next weekend. And there are the upcoming reptile shows—the Westmoreland next Sunday and the Creekside expo the Sunday after that and another one in Cheswick coming up in July. At one of those I should be able to get my bugs for the cleanup crew and maybe some more hardscape elements to add. And then I’ll be ready to add the frogs.

If only I still had my two nice female breeders. The current female has eggs in her brood pouch but it does not look to be going so well. I’m thinking I might be able improve the chance for future success with this new setup—especially if I add a misting system like some of the people have for their dart frogs in the videos I’ve been watching.

I get this and the rest of the things done and I’ll be free to move on to other things. I also placed a order for oil so I’m moving along on that front too. I will manage somehow to get it all in order a day beat the coming Crunch.

Sunday 6/16/19
Second Vacation Week

It began last night. After a long slow day at the back station that got busy in the last 4 hour stretch and I was mostly tied up watching a psych patient one on one. My job description is fair,t broad to say the least!
I got lucky on that one because the ambulance crew we were waiting for to take him back arrived right at 11P. And I was out of Dodge as quick as I could get away!

I skipped over plans to go shopping because I didn't want to cram too much into an already long day and would like to save what I had left on the bank to go toward the oil delivery set up for the coming week.

Also I wanted to get home ASAP to at least lay the groundwork for the final phase of the background build: the adhering of some of the substrate mix to it before returning the tank to its upright position. Now that I had the tree fern it was possible to mix that up. Before leaving I sat down in the waiting room of outpatient X-ray like when I used to watch videos in years past to view one on making ABG mix and researched the recipes. The funny thing is that there are several different combinations of ingredients being referred to as “ABG” and the actual creation may use all peat in place of the coir peat / aka Eco Earth. What I ended up going with is 2 parts tree Fern, 2 parts coir peat & 1 part regular Canadian peat, 2 parts shredded long fiber sphagnum and 2 parts of the Repta Bark. Mixed that up in the aluminum pan that I got from work—it was leftover from one of the catering services by a recent visiting drug rep.

During the day I had a litter pan filled with sitting on my front dash to dry to out. Should have started that process a week or more ago as it is slow and the clouds were rolling in. But there was some sun yesterday and a good bit on Friday and it was getting there though not as fast as I'd like so I decided to speed things up with the oven and combine the coir with the other ingredients to make the finished product—excluding the charcoal and a small amount of coir chunks that will be part of the actual substrate along with some ground up oak leaves. Used a small plastic pitcher to measure the portions and that looks like a good standard for making this stuff and I'll probably make up enough for the current project and a few smaller ones as well as for repotting house plants as this stuff looks and feels really nice. Then I'll keep it stockpiled under the table along with bags of the ingredients after I finish the adjustments there and the live food cultures are relocated.

Baked it at 200 for a while and took care of other things like watering house plants and feeding fish and the cats—then shut off the oven and left the door gape open so the moisture could escape overnight and I'll repeat it this afternoon with the door slightly open again to make sure it gets thoroughly dried out.

Now I'm contemplating another trip to Lowe's to see if they have an appropriate silicone along with the other items on my list I've been looking to get. The pruning tools and I'm going to need a vacuum to clean up with when I remove the surplus mix from the background. I can't wait to get that done and have that corner of the room finished so I can move on to other things. I'm looking to solve the problem of getting the fish tanks on the 20B stand leveled and other things to be done in the room concurrent with matters on the outside which I'm starting to chip away a little already. Going to get more of that done while I wait for the background to set up and fully cure.

Yesterday I ordered some interesting plants for the project. A Marcgravia umbellata and a Panamanian creeping ficus and got a couple other things—a Selaginella plana and Anthurium rupicola which is similar to A. bakeri that I had before that I germinated from some berries I picked at a public botanical garden. For shame! A. bakeri was the one that got eaten by the turts when it toppled into their tub. I had it again for a short while in the greenhouse but it is one of the chill sensitive ones and the specimen I got from Tropiflora perished along with the A. scherzerianum and various warmth loving orchids. There are some plants that are probably better off as mainstays in the FLA Room rather than the greenhouse for that reason as well as some of the smaller stuff that is prone to get overgrow by more rampant species like the Hammock Fern—and then neglected and lost like so many over the years. I actually used to grow Hammock Fern in the FLA Room as both a vivarium plant and potted in the Turtle Table setup. That is one that sulks for a while and then takes off. May include some in containers but I doubt I'll put it in the vivarium because it will try to take over in there.

Looking kind of dreary out there so today might be a good day for finishing this up inside. I'm hoping the week will be decent. Forecast looks rainy but I may be able to turn that to my advantage in regard to doing a little experimentation to come up with a new system of muck removal from the pond by siphoning. Also I might be able to run my falls without major issues

At least temps look fairly decent. It has been chilly as of late and I would not be keeping the Squares outside this past week. I'm thinking they may spend a lot of the summer in the greenhouse in a land tub setup which is where I will probably start them off and look into building an outside enclosure for them eventually. But I have a feeling they'll spend most of their time in the FLA room or greenhouse and maybe even more time in the former.

6/16/19—06:59 PM
5 PM and still in C'ville.

But not a bad thing because I've gotten a lot done down this way. Fed the P-Squares and the newts this morning and took care of a few other critters that needed changed. Got a plan for moving the male Florida Boxie back here and the two younger females to the greenhouse enclosure. He will be returning with me tomorrow and the females will go into the crate he comes in to go home the following day.

Now for the really good stuff.

Shopping trip went well with the exception of a few rough points. Mainly an issue with the silicone. Stopped at Lowe's to get that along with new hack saws, and pruning tools. Got a 12 inch and a little 6 inch hacksaw and spare blades and directions to the isle where the silicone sealers are. There was an issue of ambiguity regarding the G.E. black and brown stuff. Labels said: “100% Silicone” which is what the various vivarium and aquarium tutorials say you want—as opposed to stuff that has mold inhibitors and other additives. Yet the label says there is a 10 year guarantee against mold and it's #2 +. Plus what? Too uncertain like my experience at the hardware store in Scottdale when I was buying the stuff I used to seal over the glass edges in corners in the beginning phase. Decided I had to go out and get my phone and research this. Then went to PetsMart to see what they had. Was hoping for some Aqueon black silicone which I figured would give me peace of mind to compensate for the higher price. All they had was a single medium sized tube of the regular clear stuff that was quite pricey. So I moved on to the Home Depot in the plaza across the way.

There the story was almost the same as Lowe's as far as the black and brown stuff is concerned. But they at least had the clear G.E. #1 so I went with that. 4 big caulking gun tubes that cost about the same as the 6 inch long screw top from the pet shop. I figure since I luckily have a neutral gray background ; the clear stuff is just as good as the black or brown stuff. Need to get this show on the road! While I was there I went ahead and got new trimming tools—all Fiskar—puning shears and hedge clippers and a small hand pruner that would have come in handy doing the Live Oak last week or the rhododendron a few days ago. Thinking about a new pruning pole to replace the one that broke a few years ago but I'll wait on that. Wanted to use my card for that store to see if it works and it did. Then I went back to Lowe's and picked up where I left off. My cart with the saws and a couple more plastic crates was still there in the isle where I left it. Got those items and a shop vac too that was on sale because I'm going to need one of those too. Plus it will be useful for cleaning up the entire room after I use it to pick up the loose ABG mix and othe detritus in the tank that remains after the job—not to mention all around the basement and house. Plus cleaning out the car and I'm going to start experimenting to see of I can Jerry rig a gutter vac system and test the principle out before investing in any major fittings or a bigger and more powerful model. Possibly a pond vac. It won't hurt to have a couple of these things around some day in the future.

So I'm back in C'ville. Going to head out to my place after dinner and make it an overnighter. Figured this was I can make sure Uncle Budd and I both get a decent Sunday dinner and I get the maximum utility out of my mileage with only one trip out to my place today instead of two and then a head start on things tomorrow in addition to getting the background done tonight.

I'm also taking along some dogwood limbs that my Bro and I pruned off the tree here last summer that have interesting shapes.

Two of them might make nice jungle trees with roots that I can incorporate into the table setup as part of a spray foam facade to cover the bed risers holding up the planting trays. Which will make it look like cliffs with caves that the turtles live in and wander in and out of between the buttresses of roots. Wrap some of those Exo Terra or Zoo Med jungle vines around them and add some home made jungle vines of my own that I'm learning how it make from the tutorials and some mounted air plants and it will really look awesome. And I'll evolve this idea as I continue to go around the setup improving it incrementally over time.

En la Selva de las Tortugas Madera de Guerrero!
In the jungle of the Guerrero Wood Turtles.

It's getting exciting now!

Vacation Day 2

Spent the evening making additional ABG mix for the actual substrate while drying out the stuff made for the background. Then tinkered with the Florida Room until dawn trying the “roots” in various configurations and orientations to get the look I wanted.

Then I rolled it over into the coming day and gathered my resources to go for it because I knew that if I didn't do it before I laid down it might not get done today and that would not be good.

I'll just cut to the chase and show the “After” picture with the background finished and the tank back in the upright position and the planters and other hardscape elements in place. Going to wait for the silicone to cure fully before I put in the clay pebbles and substrate. Have to read up on this phase to be sure when it will be safe to put plants in.

Might as well keep going like I used to do in my younger days coming off night shifts. There's much to do today before bugging out.

Sunday 6/23/10

This was it. The last day. And maybe the best one for a number of reasons.

Had a change of mind and went to the reptile show in New Stanton. Was pretty decent—a couple vendors had turts but nothing I really needed at this time. Which would be a male Psquare—LOL. Did see a few Fire Skinks that I'd be game for if I were more caught up and had my house in better order. And there was what looked like a Mississippi Mud which I wouldn't mind getting into someday—maybe when I have that better setup for the Euro Ponds someday. That pen would be perfect for them because it was originally designed for Spotted Turtles which have the same space requirements and habitat needs as Muds. It's kind of cramped for a pair of adult Euros.

One of my main reasons—Dendro Hollow; the vivarium guy with the plants, furnishings and springtails was not there. Nor Jon's Custom Creations. Was hoping to look at or inquire about some of his arboreal cages for keeping Arbronia. Want to get everything setup and established before I get into them. I'm mulling the possibility of taking the front glass off some of my all glass tall tanks I used to keep the Mexican Tree & Leaf Frogs in—followed by Broad Head Skinks—and convert those to that Euro style vivarium in the build video I viewed shortly before vacation. Would be cheaper than buying a tall Exo Terra. But weight is an issue since the plan is to put those cages on a shelf above the frog tank and a PVC cage with plexiglas.

My other reason was for Superworms which I got and brown reptile carpet which no one seems to have in the right size for the TT so I might have to order that online.

Was thinking about Elmer's but loathed the idea of going all the way up to Monroeville so I decided to try a couple of closer pet shops on the way to see if I could her most of my stuff closer to home. A scored big at PetCo on Zoo Med pellets and moss of all things.

Plus a fresh can of Rep Cal so I can pitch my 20 year old stuff that the Vitamin D3 is probably degraded. And a perfect piece of Mopani wood to simulate tree roots and balance out the other wood on my setup. And the moss which looks like some kind of Hypnum like the stuff Ray & I talked about a few days ago—so I grabbed three containers.

And that was it. I headed for home by way of Mrs G's to visit their turts and do some long overdue maintenance on the pen. Mostly thinning out the rampant Carex pennsylvanica and feeding the occupants the occasional worms that turned up and some blueberries that grew on the plants I put in that pen.

A Top Hat & a wild Maine angustifolium that I originally got for my place but ended up using during the build because I needed plants for it. Tried to get some Top Hat blueberries for my big Gulf Coast pens but the liners I got died. Thinking of air layering the ones in that pen and maybe I'll get that started soon—along with a much needed lid replacement.

Finally I got home about 3ish. First thing I went to the FR as usual but did not linger long. It was mostly to plant the moss and repot a few plants and another photo op. also sawed off half a brick of Eco Earth to expand for the fresh batch of Superworms. I sifted through the old stuff which became lawn fertilizer to glean the few remaining which I brought back to C'ville to feed off to the male Boxie and the Squares in the coming days.

Here it is. Actually moist living moss as opposed to the dried stuff pet shops and garden centers usually sell.

Pretty decent looking stuff. Actually awesome and I hope it will take. The vivarium now is like a newly bottled wine that needs time to age. “Tropical moss” may be a misnomer because the stuff is full of what looks like Hemlock needles so it may very well be a native species. Like many spore bearing plants it could be cosmopolitan in distribution.

And this is what it looked like afterward. Started out putting it on the ground then decided to put it all on the background which I want covered. Three containers got most of it and if this moss does well I'll get some more to finish this one and for other projects. I used a little as a ground over for the Antenna Fern that I put into a square container like I did the Hand Fern that is doing well and the Eyelash Begonia. Also potted the red Anthurium up from the small bonsai pot it was in to the hang on wall planter I've been dropping it in for photo ops which I've had in mind since a got it and mounted it on the side of the TT since the start.

This is the one that started out in the old Frog Tank and moved from there to the greenhouse in summer and spent winter as a house plant. What I really want is A. sherzerianum for that spot but that may never happen and for the time being this one which appears to be some kind of andreanum hybrid—possibly with some of the one I want in the mix and it is starting to win my heart as a good Florida Room / Greenhouse plant. It got some clay pebbles topped with a layer of sphagnum and then an enhanced ABG mix with extra tree fern and sphagnum added. Most horticulturalists recommend using those two in combination with each other and sometimes orchid bark and others recommended a tropical plant mix that was very similar to ABG for Anthuriums and other jungle plants.

And it went to the greenhouse along with the bromeliads. The latter got a long soak in a bucket of rain water and will start getting regular dunks in a weak solution of Shutz's Instant Plant Food which I've learned since I had them outside during my last summer at Andrews—is the best way to get them going good. That and an occasional dunk in the milk / epsom salt solution kept them going great in the greenhouse until neglect took its toll. Mostly a combination of letting them dry out too much and some frosting that decimated many of my orchids the last two winters. Part of the reason the Florida Room looks attractive again. As I move to utilize the greenhouse as a nursery to get plants started for the indoor setup I'm also working on getting it straitened out and back on track. I spent the rest of the evening until I ran out of daylight and then some soaking various plants and weeding the path and beds around the exterior. Also fed the younger Gulfs more worms—the Asian wiggly ones aka Georgia Jumpers in the bait trade. Those are proliferating in the bed of composting weeds I'm using to smother other weeds to prep the site for a future turtle pen which I will start getting the ties and lumber for soon.

Also harvested mosquito wigglers to feed fish before filling some more tea jugs to make weak tea solution for plants. The green swords who apparently exhausted their daphnia supply were especially happy. And two of the three Dollar Suns in the barrel tub that might have caught some pesticide drift came out to get theirs so they may be ok and the one that died was from some other cause. Or else they are stronger or have not been affected yet. Time will tell.

Last thing before calling it a day was to feed the Palmettos in the ground out front some Jobe's palm fertilizer. Had to get at least one feeding in after the initial feeding of epsom salt in the early spring after pruning off the dead fronds. The 4th of July is supposed to be the cutoff for feeding palms and feeding and pruning shrubbery and also for pruning oaks because of the oak wilt disease issue. Must plan accordingly. I'd like to thin out the shrub belt above the ditch to let in more light and get a nice lower growing bank of pepper bush and sheep laurel and other stuff that is more pleasing to look at than a jungle of growth.

With all the overgrowth of sheep laurel I'm probably giving up the gravel bog on the upper bank and will just sink in some of those 6 inch deep whiskey barrel liners from Lowe's between the Hypericum densiflorum and clump grasses to grow pitcher plants and other bog dwellers. Especially the tender ones that have to be brought in like the giant hat pins. It's kind of a pain trying to get to stuff on the upper side of the ditch as opposed to on the flat right by the greenhouse.

Maybe I'll get to it this year. It's a pretty simple project on par with the sunken kiddie pool I has at The Hill back in the day.

Ran out of time for the other site or to cut grass like I planned. But slowly regaining lost ground. Before closing I must share my significant thoughts for the day on fish. Since I do pretty good with Bantams that should be my specialty while you seem to have much better luck with Western Dollars and between the two of us we can probably keep them going. I certainly will with Bantams once I get my other two big tanks up and running again.

Anyway this is the end of this thread and my vacation. Working 11A Monday. Will catch up more on Tuesday. Hoping to get back into weeding the pond site and start finding and sorting the original pieces of the old waterfall to launch the next phase in the Year of Reinvention.

Big Time Fast Forward!
Saturday September 28 2019
The Great Leap of Faith: early July 2019

I'm abandoning the diary format for the sake of time and to hopefully beat a memory space issue with my devices. I have to do that fairly often and I just said in a heads up to the editor along with the first several installments that I may need to get a new phone and pad or do a major reboot. Midsummer I entered the next phase of the the reboot of the Florida Room project: the Great Leap of Faith where I cast my lot with Ray's suggestion to go with the Superbright LED Bulbs to replace the ancient Metal Halide / HPS duo of 1990s vintage.

Have a problem with one fixture that needs repaired or replaced but it looked as if just one of the 400 Watt equivalent replacement bulbs was sufficient to give the plants what they needed for now—in addition to the two Walmart LED shop lights that come on mid day and continue on after the the 6 hour cycle of the Superbright ends at 3 PM. This simulates bright morning sun of an eastern exposure with late afternoon and evening indirect light which is considered ideal for plants and critters. Will eventually get the broken fixture repaired or better yet get a second one to hang a few feet away to spread out the illumination footprint better. And add some more shop lights.

This was also the time of getting the configuration of the fish tanks finalized and the Jerry rigged Python Hook fill system in place.

This was a major tipping point for getting things up and running.

In short order I got it mounted on the wall for a more professional and permanent hookup for doing weekly water changes in the room. Sure beats having to hook up and run a hose from the cellar sink or lugging buckets!

On a sadder note: a nesting season disasterville.

One of the Female Gulf Coasts dropped her eggs on the ground and in the water instead of nesting in the proper Chelonian manner. It bummed me out but a brood failure for all the frustration is still better than the loss of a long term cherished pet or prime specimen. And I've got lots of babies on hand in addition the hold backs that are pending disposition.

I can afford a breeding season holiday for one year.

Fast Forward: sometime past Midsummer

It's Morning In the Florida Room again.

Like Reagan's Morning In America. Or at least I like to hope!

Had a perfect day finally—at least as far as inside is concerned.

Put the “Squares” on the Turtle Table for the day. Looking pretty awesome now with the hydroponic trays filled with a variety of colorful and interesting tropical foliage in addition to the red anthurium in the half moon planter hanging off the front corner of the table.

This is a later photo where I added air plants on small cork bark mounts with pegs of heavy gauge floral wire that insert into the branch on the wall. I've also started on the facades for the trays using insulation board covered with spray foam like the vivarium background.

I fed the newts that afternoon. Their setup is also coming along nicely with dwarf sweetflags rooting firmly on the rocks I zip tied them onto and the ramshorn snails are doing a good job cleaning up the surplus food and algae.

All the while I was seated on the floor watching the newts; I also glanced at the “Squares” as they crept in fits and starts across the Table from the water to the overhang at the back end where the hid themselves in the leaf litter. More recently they have been digging into the sandy soil of the nesting tray in the foreground where they seem inclined to stay put for long periods of time—unless I remove them for feeding—either on the shallow water platform of the tub or to their home enclosure in my bedroom.

Florida Room Update Odds & Ends: The End of July

More tanks set up.

Blue Platies. These are supposed to be the regular Southern Platyfish—X maculatus but they look remarkably like the blue Mickey Mouse Platy to me! I suppose the spot that looks like a set of Mouseketeer ears is a naturally occurring field mark exaggerated by selective breeding but otherwise they are the same as what I had before. I need a light source directly above the tank to bring out the blue sheen.

Added some Ammano Shrimp to work on the algae in the Fissidens Moss on the driftwood. Wanted Cherry Shrimp because they will reproduce in fresh water and maintain themselves in a tank as they did in this one previously before I made a mistake and added a power filter which sucked up and killed the baby shrimps. Lesson learned—sponge filters only!

The Ammano Shrimp are good cleaners but need brackish water to breed and I think the babies might go out to sea to live as zooplankton for a while like the familiar shrimp and crabs we eat! A bit too complicated for me and apparently not practical for aquaculture so these must be sourced from the wild like most marine fish and other sea creatures that are kept by hobbyists. It's a temporary fix until I can get the Cherry Shrimp which are a bit hard to come by right now.

The new Exo Terra rock pool for the old frog vivarium in my bedroom to replace the one I repurposed for the new setup in the Florida Room. The old one had been replaced with a rectangular plastic faux rock pool and did duty for a while as the water bowl for the new Gulf Coast Box pair in quarantine last summer. I took the ceramic rock pool out of there because I was afraid I might accidentally hit and crack the glass when I remove it for cleaning and I can ill afford to loose a tank—especially one with a bottom drain!

Well I ended up using the old one for the new build this spring because it looks better and I've come up with an alternative cleaning method that does not require remove from the tank: I just overfill and flush—sometimes use a siphon and drain and scrub it out a little in situ.

The plastic rock pool is the same as what I have in the Vision Cage setup for the Florida Boxies and it is better suited for that setup and I'll repurpose it for my next cage later on.

Late August going into September: New Turts!

Hatchling “male” Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima pulcherrima aka Guerrero Wood Turtle or “Psquare”; a nickname dubbed in reference to its repeating Latin binomial—arrived alive and well this morning after an overnight trip from California by Fed Ex.

Astonishingly big for a new hatchling only a couple weeks old but that is typical of this genus which lay a few large eggs at separate intervals during the nesting season rather than a single clutch of more numerous but smaller eggs like native wood and Box Turtles do. This guy is even bigger than a Gulf Coast hatchling which is the biggest of the North American Box Turtles.

He—if it turns out to be a male which I’m hoping—should grow fast and catch up to the two females I’m raising and they will all go on the Turtle Table in a few months along with a couple young Rhinoclemmys areolata—the Furrowed or Belize Wood Turtle I’m looking to acquire in the near future. Then the Turtle Table community will be complete for the most part and even better than the original setup back in the day when instead of a trio of Psquares I had a single female and three females of the Honduran subspecies—incisa that I picked up on impulse at the Orlando Expo in the summer of 93. Now all I need are  a couple baby areolatas like the ones I got a few from Charles Abbott—the old fellow who had an awesome turtle ranch somewhere on the highway between Orlando and Cape Canaveral!

This is bringing back the best days of yesteryear as I restore what I had then and endeavor to make it what it was always meant to be!

A Busy Day: New Turts Arrive, Furnace Hookup, a DIY Repair Job & the Crystal Anthurium!

Update 9/25/19: Be vewy wewy quiet—I'm huntin aweo-wayta!

The two hatchling Rhinoclemmys areolata—Mexican furrowed or “Belize Wood Turtles” as they were more commonly called back in the day when I had them before—arrived this morning. While not quite as pretty as the Psquares they certainly are as cute as all get out at this size and are an interesting and personable species to work with from that genus.

Not long after that I was rushed to be ready for Bruce “The Historian” who was coming to help me hook up the lines to the outside furnace. Even had to put my bacon and eggs aside and cover them with an inverted dinner plate and eat them warmed over later.

The hookup went ok for the line to the house. The one to the greenhouse is going to need a 6 inch nipple fitting to extend it a little to make up for what appears to be displacement of the Pex line by frost heaving that pulled it downward. Always something.

And I haven’t even got to the other issues ahead of me like how much the system has deteriorated from being mothballed the last two years and availability of firewood at a reasonable cost. I had to deal with ants that had moved in and built a nest on top of the receptacle for the pumps and blower fan.

Just finished filling the boiler tank with a hose I ran down from the greenhouse. Bruce says to leave it in place because we are not done yet with that. We are going to have to try to purge the system before even putting in the rust inhibitor. So I may want to call the furnace supply place and touch base on that.

I’ve digressed off topic big time—though these issues are somewhat relevant because without heat the Florida Room and it’s occupants will be untenable—or very costly to maintain if I have to burn oil to keep the house warm all winter.

I started on my next project that day; aimed at economizing energy—the cellar door that has been a-jar because the frame on one side has warped out from the wall and I’ve been propping it shut with a metal pole for years which has obviously been a major drain on efficiency in the way of cold air infiltration into the basement ! After getting the door and frame back in place I was going to pour concrete in the space between the middle step and the door to fill that up and keep the frame from moving anymore. It’s an easy and inexpensive fix so I can get that issue off the table and move on to dealing with other things.

I opted for a much more modest pour just to secure the warped frame in place which will probably save me a lot of tripping than had I covered the bottom step entirely!

While cleaning up and getting ready for the pour ; UPS arrived to deliver the Crystal Anthurium—another old mainstay of the Florida Room back in the day and very difficult to get like many old heirloom plants these days. This is my second attempt this year. The one I got back in early spring died and for a while it was looking like it would not be available again anytime soon—at least not for a reasonable price. But I got lucky last week and was able to order from a grower who finally had gotten a new batch ready for sale.

It went to the Florida Room where I placed it close to the position of the one I found in an out of the way greenhouse in North Carolina I stumbled across on a herping trip with Mike in the spring of 1994. It was an impressive specimen filling a large pot with abundant offshoots—some of which I planted in the original vivarium with the Red-eyed Tree Frogs. How I managed to loose that one I don't know. As said previously the Florida Room was like those once “Great Fleets” mentioned in L.E. Modesitt's “Adiamante” that fell apart over time due to neglect.

Even though it will be a while before this one reaches the grandeur of the one I had before it already takes the setup one step closer to being restored.



Another incremental improvement that was a spinoff of the Florida Room renovation. Repair of the old dilapidated cellar door that was not closing properly because of a warped frame and other issues. For years I have been propping it closed with a metal pole and putting up with the infiltration of cold air that was surely a drain on my heating budget and probably a big part of why the outside furnace often could not keep up in very frigid weather. It was time to do something about it.

What I did was a combination of carving out the frame near the bottom a little to fit the door and also to hold it in place. Then I used bricks and cardboard on the outside to make a small form and poured concrete to hold it in place using concrete blocks against the inside to hold the door closed and provide additional support while the concrete set.

After that I used some concrete it fill in the lower portion of the remaining gap between the door and frame and did the rest with spray foam.

Then carved it out starting off with the puny cutters I used on the vivarium background build before remembering the new contractor grade one that speeded things up and reduced what would have been a half hour job to a few minutes!

Also installed a furrowing strip for the door to close against. Spray foam fills the gap nicely. Will still need some caulking and weather stripping but it’s good enough to go now and is already making a difference in the performance of both heating systems in this transitional weather.

Again I thank Mr Davis for the cutting tool he gave me as a gift. It will come in handy for future projects and I’ll take good care of it and cherish forever!

Incremental improvements

In the endeavor to create a functional and aesthetically pleasing environment for the critters as well as for human viewing enjoyment I'm pushing my creativity to the limit.

In lieu of the perfect piece of cork bark to make another ramp like the one the previous Chelonian occupants used to enter and leave the water I ended up repurposing one of the turtle docks like I've been using for both indoor and outdoor setups. It turns out actually better than cork because the docks are more like natural stone and probably a lot more durable.

For the “roots” I used footers made of plastic jar lids and spray foam which I carved like the vivarium background. Eventually I'll cover it with the ABG mix like I did the background and eventually I'll do the facades the same as I did the background with a few small plastic pots embedded into which I can drop potted bromeliads and other plants to naturalize and also exvd the planting area a little. I've even experimented with placement of entire 2' x 2' foam panels which I'll eventually use to expand the plantings up the walls to make a vertical cliff garden. In due time as that comes available.

There were still sights worth seeing outside too. The Lycoris chinensis bloomed at the greenhouse site and I'm looking forward to seed harvest soon. I may use the Florida Room to raise the seedlings like I'm doing a few other outdoor plants mixed into the setup.

Like a half hardy Asian ginger, the native Kidney Leaf Grass of Parnassus and the baby Harts Tongue Ferns that I rescued from the watercourse that were mentioned in one of the previous editions of the Diaries this past winter.

Working out the bugs

Been a busy last two weeks on top of a busy fall getting ready for the inevitable Crunch Time that is coming up fast now. I'd get into more detail but it's Friday night and I'm writing this after a long day at work and I have the weekly water changes to do that should have been done midweek bit I was busy that day with the outside furnace and a trip to another furnace shop up in New Centerville that Bruce recommended. It's is little closer than the one in the “Back of Beyond” that I went to to get a new pump to replace the one that failed in a very dramatic article that I consider the real beginning of this thread:

That trip happened under much better circumstances as 70 degree weather always beats the way things were then with Norseman's Hell in full force and me being potentially screwed if I failed to get the resources necessary to get out of the jam I was in back then. I'm currently working to get my system ready and work out the bugs which there have been a few—in advance of the really cold weather that will soon be upon my region.

Got the rust inhibitor and poured it into the top port.

To make filling or topping off the boiler go more smoothly I committed two of my black rubber hoses to that purpose. A 100 foot one that will be kept at the greenhouse and a 50 foot one in the cellar and cut off the female end of an old garden hose that will stay with the unit to make up the shortfall of either hose and allows easy insertion into the port on the top of the unit. That ensures redundancy and eliminates searching around for hoses in colder weather when they are needed as well as having to take time to thaw one with ice inside it in frigid weather.

The cellar hose will reach to the patio too and that will come in handy for water changes in the half barrel tubs and watering plants in the summertime. Why the hell didn't I think of this sooner!

There have been two major issues with the outside furnace. First—problems with the unit overheating in warmer weather. Part of that may be from a faulty rope gasket in need of replacement. The other part of that literally boiled down to having the thermostat set too high for warmer weather and not setting the house thermostat high enough to draw off enough heat to keep it firm building up and overheating. Been down this road before.

The solution is to keep the boiler set as low as possible—starting at 100 degrees in warmer weather and bump it up in ten degree increments as the weather gets colder. And keep the thermostat in the house set three degrees higher than the desired temp so the other pump on the oil furnace runs continuously most of the time to promote effective transfer of heat to warm the house that will otherwise just be lost in the ground or build up in the boiler causing problems with overheating. We set the thermostat on the boiler to 100 and the interval to 20 and the thermostat in the living room to 75 to bleed off the heat and just let it go to use up the heat already in the system.

Bruce thinks the manufacturers who obviously want to sell furnaces are advising customers to run them at higher temperatures than necessary which causes more heat stress and shortens the useful life of them. Planned obsolescence at its worst.

Another problem that manifest itself on Monday after my return from New Centerville was the blower not shutting off and causing the unit to overheat again. Called Bruce and he advised tapping the aquastat to knock out any dirt or bug or something that might be jamming the mechanism. That worked and it shut off immediately. Bruce said ; it's probably because the unit has sat idle for so long.

Next hurdles will be getting firewood and the actual crunch of getting ponds ready for winter and bringing in fish and critters that need to come inside. This Fall is going to be another rough one in that regard. With the ongoing renovation and reorganization of the Florida Room and basement I'm hoping to eliminate the Crunch forever in future years or at least make it far less daunting.

As for Norseman's Hell—it's already starting to descend upon Wisconsin which is always the bellwether of things to come here in that regard. Rayburn is already complaining.

“Snow chances linger in the forecast all night through Sunday mid day. Once again a damn shitty weekend of cold, wind, and obvious cold precipitation! Just below the line of any accumulation. The Northwoods could see 1—2! Nothing like western MN getting pounded as the forecast Bastardi had out last weekend and early this week I found that one on Weatherbug. They won't be measuring in inches, they will be measuring snow fall in feet. Too close for comfort! But you know it’s the hottest October in the hottest year evah!!! What Evah”.

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