Sunday, April 17, 2016

Writing: Scraplet

(I wrote this to demonstrate a concept on a writing forum. Then the blog looked hungry, so why not?)

Jane's front door was open. She had locked it--she always locked it, and checked it, and sometimes came back from the car to check it again. Rebecca was always talking about OCD and a therapist, but was reduced anxiety worthwhile if it meant a laissez-faire attitude about locking doors?

Jane stared blankly at the door for a moment, then dumped the groceries on the step and rushed inside. She passed by the phone, she ignored the gun cabinet. She didn't stop, she felt as if she didn't breathe, until she was standing by the opened third drawer of the dresser in the second floor guest room, holding a threadbare stuffed rabbit. Then she released a breath. Muffy was fine.

At lunch later that morning, Rebecca asked, "You thought that burglars had come and stolen a twenty-year-old stuffed rabbit? 

"Thirty-two. My father got Muffy for me the day I was born."

Rebecca's tone was a fraction gentler, but the effort to keep it that way was apparent. "Hon, you are not Elvis Presley. No one is stealing artifacts of your childhood. Next time you need to call the police. Hon? Are you listening?"

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gardening: The farm droning continues.

So, I've already drawn an alarmingly optimistic plan that involves tilling row 6, half of row 7, and the weedy ends of rows 8 and 9.

And planting

  • A block of four beds of Supai Red parch corn.
  • Four kinds of pole beans growing on the corn: Fortex, Withner, Blue Lake, and Scalzo.
  • Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop summer squash. This is another one that's supposed to be good as a winter squash as well.
  • Four more tomatoes.
  • Another try at Candystick Delicata, in a proper plushy bed, because I grew it lean last year and it wasn't good.
  • Enation-resistant snap peas in some of the half-shaded back beds, as an experiment.
  • And repeats of already-planned things.
I should get a grip.

I occasionally tally up the things that can be harvested late and stored, to make myself feel less wildly irresponsible:
  • The parch corn.
  • Most of the beans, as dry beans.
  • All of the cucurbits except for the zucchini and cucumbers.
  • The potatoes.
It's a short list. I don't really feel less irresponsible. Now, the Armenian cucumbers and Costata Romanesco squash are at least harmless--they'll just sit there and turn into useless dry, hard things. The same for the peas. (For all I know the peas might even be decent dry peas, but I doubt it. I'll look them up.) My concern is all those tomatoes.

But I don't seem to be erasing anything yet.

Many of the tomatoes are dryfarm experiments, after all. So most of them could just fail. Right?

That is all.

Gardening: Progress! Woohoo! And more droning on.

So, most of the top farm priorities are mostly done. This is well ahead of where I expected to by today. (Thanks, Cynthia! Cynthia did almost all the work.)

So, as of yesterday rows 10 and 11 are tilled and mostly ready (woohoo!) for us to insert seeds. I say "mostly" because in some cases we still have to do a little minor cutting of fabric and arranging of already-hooked-up drip lines. Those rows are ready to take:
  • Eight beds of Blue Lake bush beans. Beans are spaced roughly 18 inches apart, so there are twelve plants per bed. I realize that this is a crazy-wide spacing for beans, but they make correspondingly enormous bushes and aren't too demanding of water; so far this seems to work well.
  • Five tomatoes.
  • Two Armenian cucumbers.
  • One Costata Romanesco zucchini.
  • Two Sunshine F1 winter squash plants that we'll probably also harvest as summer squash.  These are vining squash, so they'll go in 11G and 11H, and I'll encourage the vines toward the sun.
  • An early girl in half-shade as an experiment.
  • Some Withner's White Cornfield Beans in half-shade as another experiment.
What's next? There are a few items remaining from the original plan:
  • Plant the first bed of potatoes. 
  • Prep for pumpkin plants.
What next next? Is it OK to plant more? Didn't I promise to make this the simple garden? Hmm.

For now, that is all.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gardening: Droning On


I want to keep talking about gardening. But there's really nothing to talk about. For this year. (Look up there! Last year!)

But I could talk about the dozens of projects and crops that I'm not planning to work on this year. That could be interesting to see in some theoretical future when I have the simple garden chugging along and I have room for projects.

So, what are those possible projects?

Growing for donation. Like food banks and such. I've never grown for volume before, because we don't preserve things. But growing for volume could be an entertaining challenge.  And it could tie in with other things--for example, if I want to do a trial of multiple varieties (testing under dryfarming, or shade, or something) and lots of them succeed, I'll end up with too much food. It would be useful to already have a routine for giving excess away.

It would also feed fantasies of growing vegetables for income. That's purely fantasy, probably forever, but I like feeding fantasies.

Popping/parching grains. I've been curious about popbeans since I read the first version of Carol Deppe's Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. And then about parch corn.  I tried parch corn, and I think popbeans, in earlier and more failure-prone years. And I seem to remember other popping grainlike things from her books. As I understand them, these are grains that don't pop explosively like popcorn, but instead sort of puff, becoming softly crunchy.

These are a gardening candidate because I have yet to find a way to just buy the grain or bean--you can buy popcorn anywhere, but not popbeans or parch corn. Apparently sorghum and amaranth and lentils can also be popped (sorghum makes adorable itty bitty popcorn; I had some at a restaurant the other day), but I suspect that I can just buy them. But I'm not sure.

All of these would, I think, be a kind of dried storage grain that I'd actually be willing and able to eat. I don't like dried bean or lentils cooked the normal wet way, and while I sometimes like polenta and I definitely like cornbread, I'm far too lazy to not only shell corn but also grind it. So they're a good choice for, among other things, the zombie apocalypse.

Tepary beans. These beans are supposedly appropriate for growing dryfarmed, assuming that you get them planted in still-wet spring weather. Of course, they run right into my dislike of dried beans. I just bought a bag of white tepary beans at the grocery, so I'll try them to see if there's any way that I like them. The interesting bit is dryfarmed beans that don't require support.

Sprawling Pole Beans. Speaking of beans that don't require support, Steve Solomon says that pole beans grown for dry seed can be allowed to sprawl on the ground. Could I get any snap beans this way, or would they get too much insect damage? It seems worth a try; I'd be annoyed to assume it won't work, struggle with supports for years, and then discover that it works just fine.

Bean Texture Experiments: I'd like to like dry beans. I don't like the mealy texture of most dry beans. So I'm interested in trying any dry bean that is reputed to have a different texture, such as the Hutterite Soup Bean.

Breeding: Snap/Dry Bean Crossover. Black Aztec corn is useful both fresh and dry. Sunshine squash is supposedly useful both as summer squash and winter squash. Fava beans are useful both fresh and dry. I have yet to hear of a regular common bean that is useful as both snap and dry.  Is there a fundamental reason why not? Does one already exist that I don't know about? Could one be bred?

Breeding: Shade-tolerant round snap beans. This may already exist, but I just read (Deppe, again) about the shade tolerance of Withner's White Cornfield Bean. They produce flat beans. We like round beans. Would it be worth playing with crosses?

Breeding: Sunflower buds/flowers as a vegetable. Supposedly, sunflower buds can be eaten. I keep growing them and not getting around to eating them. But if they're good for eating, then surely it would be worthwhile to do some breeding work

Winter Squash. Well, I'm already going to try those Sunshine squashes. If I like them, I'll try other things in other years. The premise is that while you can buy winter squash at the grocery, most of them are harvested immature and insufficiently cured.

Dried Summer Squash. Discussed in Deppe's The Resilient Gardener.  I want to like summer squash. I want to like it fresh, but so far I only like it when it's soaked in so much oil and garlic that it might as well be upholstery foam. So I want to try it dried.

There's more. Lots more. So much more. But I'll stop here.

Image: Mine.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Gardening: Seed Obsessions


Farm farm farm farm farm. Farm.

When it gets warm, all I can think of is what I'm going to plant.

I already blogged on the topic. But I can't plant any of it until next weekend, so my brain keeps spinning.

And I ordered seeds. Bad chicken! Not nearly as many as usual. But too many. So let's list 'em. Because.
  • Blue Lake bush beans. As discussed. From three different sources.
  • Jade bush beans, because I want to try one or two alternatives to Blue Lake.
  • Adriana lettuce, because it was wonderful last year, except I don't actually plan to plant lettuce this year, so what's my excuse?
  • Tohya soybeans, because if I like green soybeans at Japanese restaurants, why not grow them?
  • Sunshine winter squash. This one, according to Carol Deppe, works as both a summer squash and a winter squash. So when I inevitably fail to harvest the summers squashes, the plants won't be a waste.
  • Fortex pole beans. A pole bean that I hear about a lot.
  • Evergreen Hardy White bunching onions. Because I keep meaning to grow perennial bunching onions. These will probably go in in late summer or fall.
I also have many, many seeds from last year. 

As previously discussed, I really need to force myself to prioritize. Let's list those priorities. The idea is that the ground must be prepped for each priority before I can move on. Except I'm cheating on that with the potatoes; they're really a lower priority than the beans.

I feel the need to define my watering rules, before I start the list:
  • Strictly dryfarmed: They might get a little water to get them to the "first true leaves" stage or one good soaking after transplanting, but otherwise, that's it. If they die, they die.
  • Tentatively dryfarmed: I start out as firmly dryfarmed but if they start to fade I'll start watering, because I want the harvest more than I want the experiment.
  • Lightly irrigated: No more water than they seem to need to survive; if in doubt, err in the direction of watering too little.
  • Irrigated: Ideally just enough water; if in doubt, err in the direction of watering too much.
So, the priorities?
  • One 4X6 bed of Yukon Gold potatoes, tentatively dryfarmed.
  • Blue Lake bush beans, irrigated. All three different seed sources.
  • Howden and Orange Rave pumpkins, lightly irrigated.
  • Tomatoes from seedlings, strictly dryfarmed. Early Girl plus one or two plum tomato candidates.
  • One or two more beds of Yukon Gold potatoes, at least one of them strictly dryfarmed.
  • Armenian cucumbers, lightly irrigated.
  • Sunshine hybrid squash, tentatively dryfarmed.
  • A Bean Experiment, two or three beds' worth. Maybe just a different kind of bush bean. Maybe the soybeans. Maybe dryfarmed and sprawling pole beans. Maybe Supai Red with pole beans growing up it. I'm not sure. There are a zillion beans worth trying; I'll try one or two this year.
  • Howden Orange Rave pumpkins, strictly dryfarmed. Howden Orange Rave got near to producing a ripe pumpkin last year, on almost no irrigation. (I think it's the pumpkin in the photo.) Then we panicked on a hot day and started watering. This year I want to finish the experiment properly.  (Corrected--when I first posted, I misstated the pumpkin as Howden.)
  • Costata Romanesca squash, strictly dryfarmed. Really, as long as there's space for this, it's no labor; I intend to insert the seeds into the ground by the fence, let them fend for themselves, and see what happens.
  • Parch corn, if I didn't already plant Supai Red as part of the bean experiment. I'm looking at a shorter variety that apparently finishes sooner, which would be good, since ideally this dries down on the plant.
I could keep going, but it's very unlikely that I'll get this far. 

I'm also torn about my favorite Copra onions; I'm almost too late, or possibly already too late, to order plants, so I'll have to order them before I decide whether I'm going to plant them. If I added them, I'd probably insert them between the tomatoes and the second set of potatoes.

I think that's all.

Image: Mine.


Monday, March 28, 2016

POTD: Snacks. And the farm. And stuff.

I took the photo at Lardo, in Portland, on Saturday. Fat and fries. Mmmm.

I took it with a rented Fuji X100T, rented for three days because I wanted to know if I like that camera substantially more than my current camera. Not that I'd buy it soon even if I did. I'm figuring I should do this photo thing for at least a year, maybe eighteen months, and put some savings into a Camera Piggy Bank (either real or virtual in the form of an extra bank account) before I buy something like that.

I like the Fuji, but there is no lemming for it yet.  It looks really cool and retro; good. It gets great reviews; good. The sensor is bigger; good. It's pretty expensive; bad. There is no zoom; bad. Well, the lack of zoom is arguably good, but only in the sense that grated carrots are good--it would enforce discipline that I should learn. I should get used to getting close to my subject and get an instinctive feel for just how close I need to be, but the fact is that I'm not there yet. I may never be there.

The Fuji seems pretty bad for macro (look at me pretending I'm comfortable with the term "macro", when only a few weeks ago I would have said, "little things close up") photography. I read that in some reviews, and we went to the art museum and, among other photographic experiments, tried taking close photos of the netsuke on display, and the Sony did a much better job.  Macro isn't my thing, but until I've been playing with this for a while I don't actually know that it's never going to be my thing. I might be cranky if I buy an expensive camera that's no good at it. (Reminder to self: If I ever get around to that plant breeding thing, I might want good close up photos of flowers and leaves and seeds.) The Sony's capabilities are beyond my skills for a while, so there's no rush to choose a next camera.

This year I'm going to try to photograph the farm--both pure record-keeping photos and some photos that might look good as photos. Maybe.

The below is what much of the farm looks like right now, though the photo was taken around this time last year. In case I haven't clarified, lately, the farm isn't literally a farm--it's a garden of twelve wide rows, each row containing ten beds, each bed four feet by six feet, with two-foot paths between beds. So the beds are six feet wide center to center, but we're only planting four feet of that width--though the plants might reach their roots into the paths.

That means (math, math...) 120 X 24, or 2,880, square feet of growing space. We have yet to actually use all of that growing space. Last year we covered much of the farm with high-quality landscape fabric, merrily violating the fabric's warranty by failing to mulch over it. The same landscape fabric used in smaller quantities in the past seemed to hold up quite well across some years without sun protection, so we took the risk. Because weeding more than four thousand square feet of ground--the number goes up from the 2,880 when you include paths and the ten-foot DMZ reserved for eventual shrubs at the back--was never going to happen. Ever.

Ever. Did I mention ever? It took me some failed years of "farm"ing to accept that, but it's accepted now. Even the two lettuce beds in front tend to get out of control.  The fabric makes a huge difference; a few weekends ago I went out to the farm and was able to make a non-trivial dent in the required prep work for the summer garden in one little four-hour afternoon.

I suspect that the next reality-acceptance exercise will be accepting that I won't plant, tend, and harvest anywhere near 2,880 square feet of annual plants every year, even at dryfarm spacing. So we'll be slowly adding more perennials.  Very slowly. We're planning on roses, blueberries, raspberries, possibly asparagus, possibly artichokes, and so on.

I even had brief thoughts of hazelnuts, but after reading about pollinizer trees, it looks like I'd use up more than the entire farm before I planted enough trees to be reasonably confident of a crop. There might be pollinizers in the neighborhood, for all I know, but I'm not going to count on it.

Anyway. The main plan right now is still beans, beans, and beans.

And that is all.

Images: Mine.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rambling: Garden Time

We're entering the time when the garden starts to push everything else out of the blog. I'm late; this year, I abandoned the fall and winter and early spring garden and am starting with late spring. My main rule this year is going to be, "If in doubt, plant more bush beans." It's all all all about the bush beans.

Last year, the Blue Lake bush beans failed. I planted, failed, planted again, failed, planted again, failed again, and only then did it occur to me that, oh, yeah, sometimes failure is about the seeds, not the conditions or the variety. So I got new seeds and those did just fine, but they were really really late.

So I just ordered the preferred variety--Blue Lake Bush--from three different sources. I also ordered Fortex pole and Jade bush, and plan to get some Blue Lake pole, and I still have some other bush and pole bean seeds from last year.

My other new garden rule is that I prep garden space for crops by crop priority, rather than by order of planting. So the first priority is to prepare nine four foot by six foot beds for bush beans, ready to the point that all I have to do is poke seeds into the ground--when planting time rolls around. Three of the beds are ready, and most of the rest are still in decent shape from last year. I should be able to just stir in some fertilizer with the electric tiller--half an afternoon's work. I just have to wait for the soil to be the right balance of not-wet-not-dry, and recruit someone to be ready to call 911 in case I cut my foot off.

The next priority is to similarly prepare space for...four? Six? pumpkin plants, again ready to poke the seeds in the ground. That will be more work--the ground hasn't really been broken for a couple of years, though it has been covered in landscape fabric. Though maybe it won't be that much work, because I may just dig out a bucket or so's worth of soil and then cheat by sprinkling fertilizer over the rest of the space.

Then I'll prep even more bean beds. I may pound some stakes into some of them for pole beans. Or I may let some pole beans sprawl around on the ground. I think that Steve Solomon (author of, among other things, Gardening When it Counts, and Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades) said you can do that. Though I may be remembering wrong.

Then I may or may not get around to prepping space for some Sunshine F1 squash. Carol Deppe (author of, among other things, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties and The Resilient Gardener) says that it grows good squash even when grown poorly. "Grown poorly" is mostly how I grow squash.  She says that Sunshine F1, when harvested immature, are very good for slicing and drying. We don't actually have a food dehydrator, but we have a smoker oven that maintains a similar slow, steady heat, and that might be worth experimenting with.

She says that Costata Romanesco zucchini--which are normally harvested immature--are also good for slicing and drying. I was going to grow those, too, but I realized that those are useless if I let them get out of hand and mature, while the Sunshine are no problem at all, because maturing is their usual job. And I'd get some squash blossoms for frying from the Sunshines, too.

So I guess my third rule for the garden this year is to grow plants that grow their way to a distant and flexible harvest date, rather than ones that are a waste if I don't get to them this week. Well, except for the snap beans.

I do intend to cheat and plant some potatoes in the two existing usually-lettuce-beds, even though potatoes are a quite low priority.  I may do that as soon as next week.  Then I might till two more lettuce-style beds for more when I'm tilling the beans. This is entirely breaking the "first priority first" rule. But I've been wanting to grow potatoes. And they fulfill the "distant and flexible harvest date." So I'm cheating.

So, beans, more beans, squash, more squash, potatoes.  Far fewer crops than I usually flail around with, and only the beans have to be harvested in a timely manner. Are there any beans that are high-quality snap beans AND high-quality dry beans? Then if I let a bush get out of hand, I could just let it sit there and mature its beans.

I'm skipping lettuce because too much of it goes uneaten--oddly, even though we eat more salads than we ever did. We buy those prewashed salad greens. Maybe next year that will change. I skipped the usual Copra onions because I could tell that I wasn't going to get bean space prepped in time for beans if I took the time to prep onion space in time for onions, and beans were a higher priority.

If the beans, beans, squash, squash, and potatoes get planted in time, I may have spare time for frivolities. Zinnias, sunflowers, and maybe more, late, potatoes. Or I could start some overwintering onions from seed and have a winter garden this year. Or I could put in some more perennials. I enjoy the presence of the perennials--this year we'll have several kinds of herbs, strawberries, currants, and possibly artichokes (there's a volunteer plant), without extra work. Well, without much extra work; I should really fertilize the strawberry beds.

I'm torn about cucumbers. I love Armenian cucumbers, but they produce too many fruits. On the other hand, they seem to just keep on producing, no matter how many giant cucumber-goardy things are on the ground, so why not? I can just toss the giant ones in the city green bin once in a while.

But, anyway, beans. Top priority. Beans.

Image: Mine.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Photography: Stopping Time

Tum te tum. Te tum. Tum.

Maybe this blogging-daily thing isn't good for getting any actual blog writing done. Maybe it trickles out all the thoughts and doesn't leave enough to build up any writing pressure.

Tum.

Trickle trickle.

Earlier today, I was thinking about why we like photographs of people. None of the obvious reasons seem to work. For example, I think it's not loneliness for people that we miss, because we're delighted by pictures of people that are right in the room looking at them with us. And not about a memory jogger, because we're delighted by pictures that we just took moments ago.

One thought: With a photograph, we freeze time. We can have a good long look at people's expressions and manner and gestures in a way that we can't in real life, because in real life those expression move, constantly. That's the main thing that pulls me into photographs. Expressions. Gestures. People. Characters.


Many people apparently don't like street photography, because they don't understand the point of taking pictures of strangers. I don't understand not understanding that. Strangers are fascinating. People you know are fascinating, too, of course. But that's no reason to ignore the whole rest of the world, right?

I spent most of my pre-adult years being an isolated introvert. Maybe that also explains a pent-up fascination with people? Of course, I also spent it reading hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of novels. So maybe all of those people are fictional characters.

It's a theory.

Hey,  I wrote paragraphs!

I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

That is all.

Image: Mine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rambling: Rambling


OK, this time I'm going to write something. Really. Absolutely. Stuff, there's going to be written stuff. Sentences, paragraphs, all that. Yep.

So, that photo is another one from Disney. People get tired at Disney.

Um.

So, that photography thing. I notice that a fair percentage of the street photographs that I see on the the Internet are pretty or graphical or otherwise heavily about the visual. Lots of street, not always a lot of person. I seem to be almost entirely into facial expressions and gestures.


I've taken plenty of non-people pictures, but my reaction to most of them is...meh. Except for reflections. I like reflections. Usually in windows.


OK, maybe there will be not so much sentences and paragraphs, as pictures, in this post.

In fact, it appears that that is all.

Images: Mine.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

POTD: Aliens!


Aliens! In San Francisco! Aiee!

Well. No. Not really. But it's a cool sculpture, isn't it?

Did you detect the pause there? Another daily post for which I don't seem to have things to say. But, still, daily posting is good, right? Right?

Um.

OK, apparently that is already all.

Image: Mine.