Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So guess what, guys?

My brother-in-law is totally hardcore. And not just for sipping margaritas, either. He went and climbed THIS:

Mt. Aconcagua

It's a mountain in Argentina. It's around four miles tall, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. A trifling climb for a Dutchman, I'm sure, who grew up in a country where the highest mountain is two feet below sea level.

You can read all about the climb here. Lots more picture of Paul being totally hardcore, I promise.

A Triumphant Return. FOR NOW.

Cause we miss you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

First Tomatoes! Sorta.

The very first ripe tomatoes to come off the vine! The upper one is a Celebrity, your basic supermarket tomato. The lower one is an heirloom Carbon. They are juicy and sweet and totally better than any tomatoes from the grocery store. Unfortunately:

They've the dreaded blossom end-rot. This happens when the watering is either too irregular, or there is a calcium deficiency in the soil. So I now water with milk every day.

Actually no, milk is too expensive. Bill over at City Farmers got me some gypsum and told me when to water. He also told me that I could still eat them. I wish that tomatoes weren't so damn picky. The squash certainly don't have this problem.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Baby Spiders

Click to Enlarge

We found a spider eggsac exploding with baby spiders on the corn the other day. Despite the creeped out feeling, I just try to remember 'Charlotte's Web'.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Click to enbiggen

It's been almost impossible to grow greens in the summer heat. I've had marginal success by spritzing them with water two or three times a day to keep them cool, but the trade off is that the water droplets might burn the leaves, killing my salad dreams anyway.

So, using a couple pieces of spare rebar and an old plastic trellis, I ziptied a ramshackle shade that may be the most hideous kludge I've put together yet.

Sagging in the middle and braced by PVC, I hate this thing with a passion. Sure, it works, but will the neighbors think? I'm just going to break down and drive over to Home Depot for some 2x2s and have done with it.

Here's my threadbare lettuce patch as of now. I'll be planting some more stuff here, so hopefully I'll be show off some after pics later.

The Day's Harvest

So we've got some green and purple basil for pesto tonight, and a couple of patty pan squash. That's the good bit.

Next to the bowl is a young potato plant, which I ripped out of the ground in the spirit of reckless experimentation. As you can see, we got one big potato and few really teensy ones.

The other reason I pulled it is because I planted a few potatoes in a wine barrel, hoping to fill it in as they grew. But this one grew about three times as fast, so filling around would've meant burying the others.

I hope it tastes good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Aphids Destroyed my Favorite Taco Ingredient

My cilantro has been sucked dry by rampaging insect hordes. A sad day.

The New Potato Bed

I built a new potato bed out of the random flat pieces of concrete we have lying around. I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and I'm looking forward to building a larger bed out of the same material.

As the potatoes grow, I'll stack up more stone, until it's maybe three or four feet high, I hope. I'll have to learn to make gnocchi.

My Tomatoes are Amazing

My tomatoes have developed into a mighty shrub, and are planning their invasion of the other beds. My only defense: I deviously caged in the tomatoes with leftover fencing material.

As you can see, the tomatoes are trapped, and unable to invade the strawberries.

What is This Bean?

I have no idea.

Part of our back fence is covered with these guys. Last November, the previous year's crop dried out and popped open, flinging beans against the house. I was convinced that neighbor kids were throwing rocks at us. You can see one half of the old pod above.

The new pods are stiff and covered in velvet. Or it feels like it. I cracked one open, but the beans taste like grass. An inedible plant, or just not ripe?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Geranium Update

As promised in my first geranium post, here are some pictures of what I called the "candy-striped" geraniums that unexpectedly emerged from some older cuttings:

I love how the hot pink is only on the edges of the petals for a true two-toned effect. Gorgeous!

And just for fun, some portraits of two of our three kitties who were hangin' out near the geranium bed:


Mina & Linus

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Best Gate Ever Gets Even Better

Yesterday I installed a faucet at the front of the house. This involved running a pipe down the side, through the garden, and just past the gate. After I was finished, I discovered that the gate couldn't lean as it does with the pipe in the way. As building a proper gate is still procrastination away, I simply improved the existing gate with a big ole notch. 

Be amazed at the skill on display.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Topsy Turvy Melons

An impulse buy at the checkout counter at Lowes. As Seen On TV, the Topsy Turvy eliminates all the backbreaking labor of gardening, you know, all the digging in soil and getting dirty and stuff. Still, I thought it might work great for melons, which seem complicated and take up space. So far, the green material seems to be heating up the soil something awesome, so there's that. 

If it works, next year I'll run a pipe up the house and run irrigation to a half dozen of these. Or build a long one of my own, if it's practical.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Great Book Barn Reading Challenge of Aught-Nine

We have a lot of books. When Lorie and I got married, we each did our part to fill the shelves, although I think I contributed more than my fair share. A lot of my books are books I love to read. A lot of other books are books that I'd have loved to have read. A whole slew of stuff I've picked up and held on to. A lot of stuff from school. Good, self improving stuff, mind expanding, make me talk pretty at parties stuff. Philosophy, history, religion, science, sociology, war, language, it's all there, and it all bores me to tears. 

I can't count the books that I've started and put down, mostly because I'd rather do something else. But I'm always meaning to, someday, when I have scads of free time and an empty head to fill. Except that I have a fair bit of free time now. Hell, I have time to write this, don't I?

So, I'm challenging myself to actually read all that stuff, absorb it, retain it, improve myself through the strife and heartbreaking adversity of it if nothing else. But how to do it? Where to begin a task of such Herculean proportions?

It seemed impossible until I saw an interview with Neal Stephenson regarding his most recent book, 'Anathem'. Reading his books, especially 'Anathem' and his 'Baroque Cycle' trilogy, I feel small and weak in my intelligence, an ant burning in the light of his ferocious intellect. During the interview, he touched upon the research he did for 'Anathem', studying such thinkers as "Thales and Pythagoras, Plato, Saint Augustine, Leibniz, Kant, Mach, Husserl, and Godel." Naturally, I assumed that he would be taking a simple refresher course, as the thoughts of such men are mere child's play to one such as he.

Or not. Apparently, he knew the basics of these men's philosophies, but had never rigorously studied them. And, reading them bored him too! He said that he decided that he would pick a book, and force himself to read ten pages a day until finished, than begin the next one. Heck, I can do that!

My intellectual self-esteem restored, I now have a method. Now I just have to pick a book.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Good Soil, Bad Soil

When I built my first raised bed, I had no idea where to get the soil for it. I had done a bit of reading, but I was clueless about how much soil a 12x4 foot bed could hold. So I drove down to Home Depot, and two trips later I had 24 bag of topsoil and 24 bags of compost. 

When I put the rest of the beds together, I worked out that I had around 108 cubic feet, or about 4 cubic yards of volume to fill with soil. Since the first bed I had found out that people would actually deliver soil. Plus, the soil is a LOT cheaper by the cubic yard. When the huge pile got dumped on the drive way, I was ecstatic. 
Fast forward a month, and I wasn't so ecstatic about the soil. Here's two photos to explain why:

Young Squash

Young Squash

These are pictures of two different squash plants that I planted from seed the same day. The top one is the first bed I built, full of Home Depot topsoil and compost. The bottom photo is one of the beds filled with supposedly 50-50 amended topsoil. Except all the vegetables in that new soil are small and sickly. The veggies in the old soil are huge. 

This weekend I amended one of the beds with compost, and spread a layer of compost in the other beds where I didn't want to rip out had had grown to this point. I'll post a photo of the runt from above later if it all works out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Salt the Earth - It's What Plants Crave!

So, apparently, The British have figured out to irrigate crops with salt water. Or brackish water, or polluted, or Brawndo.

"The dRHS irrigation system consists of a network of sub-surface pipes, which can be filled with almost any water whether pure, brackish, salted or polluted. The system can even take most industrial waste-water and use it without the need for a purification process. The pipes are made from a plastic that retains virtually all contaminants while letting clean water through to the plants' roots."

So far, it's been tested and seems to work. Now they're going to test it in different parts of the world, including the Middle East, where they are going to use water more saline than saltwater.

If it does work, this is the best news ever. Any idea how much water California imports from out of state, just to grow the rice we import to Thailand? It's a lot. Now I can relax and not worry about my kids fighting in Water War IV: Beyond Thunderdome.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Guess I'm going flower-garden crazy. After the excitement of succeeding with my front "curb appeal" flower bed, which was composed of store-bought flowers and fencing, I decided to try again, this time using some found materials. My mother-in-law Lois had kindly brought us a wonderfully huge bucket of geranium cuttings from her yard, and she told me that all you have to do is stick them in the wet soil and they'll (eventually) take root.

So I decided to make a home for them right in front of the garage. We already had a lot of dirt; there was a big pile left in our driveway from the umpteen pounds Chris had ordered to fill his raised beds. We also had a lot of old broken (pink!) concrete edger stones in another pile in the side yard. So I recycled those stones and made a ramshackle border, filled it with dirt, wet it down, and stuck in the geranium cuttings.

As you can see below, some of the cuttings already had flowers, which was a plus. But it's surprising how many of them have flowered in the past couple of weeks of living in their new home. I've got mostly fluorescent red ones so far, but then the ones in the middle of the row have emerged pink-and-white candy-striped. Yeah!

Lastly I must say that after finishing this little project I have since read that one of the fastest and easiest way to propagate roots on cuttings such as these is to dip the ends in rooting powder before you stick it in the ground. These pelargoniums are doing it all by themselves so far, thank you very much. (But I'm still getting the powder - I saw it for about $4.50 a can at Walmart. ;))

BTW if you want to know all about plant propagation and rooting powder this site is interesting - a totally old school crazed-out web page that looks like something straight outta 1998, but which actually provides a wealth of useful information it seems. Oh and the inventors were Dutch, apparently, so many of the materials are available in Dutch on the site. Fantastisch!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bean Pole Rebar

Since we had a nice pile of old rebar off to one side of the yard (leftover, I assume, from the oddly placed concrete in fron the of the house) I made this rebar bean teepee. You can see a couple sprouts at the bottom of the photo. The rebar was easy to bend against the ground. I got the idea from Ramshackle Solid.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ramshackle Modern or Just Half-Assed?

Continuing our series of 'Best "x" Ever', we present the compost bin I built. I put it together from scrap wood and leftover hardware cloth (not added as of photo). Here's my dilemma: I enjoy the ramshackle style I've seen on the blogs Dinosaurs & Robots (esp. the shackitecture photos) and Ramshackle Solid. However, I also can't escape the fact that I put this bin together as I went along, no measurements and as little cutting as possible. So, the look, in particular that skewed beam in back, is not really an aesthetic choice so much as is laziness. On the other hand, I do enjoy it.
On the other other hand, it'll rot away someday anyhow. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chris Ware is a Disturbing Genius...

Quimby The Mouse from This American Life on Vimeo.

Take a look at this Quimby the Mouse cartoon he did for This American Life. Go ahead, I'll wait.

See? Awesomely old school with lots of creepy decapitated spousal abuse. Oh, Chris Ware, you so crazy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Curb Appeal!

When we first moved in, the house lacked a bit of curb appeal, you might say:

So our landlords (Chris's parents, Lois and Steve) started building a fantastic porch, which eventually replaced what you see in this picture on the side of the house as a strange, dilapidated, wooden bi-level structure (complete with worn-out astroturf remnant and trash bags). As for me, I could not wait to put in a little flower garden in the front of the house, though funding and weather prevented it for a bit. 

So, 6 months later, here's the before/after comparison (submitted for your consideration): 



YAY!! You can see a bit of the new porch steps on the left.  We've got the proverbial white picket fence now (albeit in miniature), along with, from left to right, back row: some hydrangea, Martha Washington geraniums, regular geraniums, butterfly weed, and verbena; middle row: salvia; and front row: Spanish lavender and marigolds. 

You may also be wondering what the round white things are in the above photo of the flower garden...well, I quickly found out that our resident plethora of earwigs go mad for marigolds! So I researched and found this organic method for getting rid of them: put some vegetable oil in old cat food or tuna cans and put out overnight. The earwigs will drown themselves in it and you can just discard them in the morning (and it also works on slugs, apparently):

And the crowning touch was the placement of the ladybug as guardian and protector, which is now our mascot I suppose, since it is now our blog's banner! :)

The Best Gate Ever

More or less. Emphasis on less. When we put up the fence around the garden, we realized that we needed to get through it. Not feeling up to the challenge that day, I slapped this little guy together from the scrap wood pile and leftover fencing wire. It has no hinges, leaning against the house and the fence. And it totally keeps the cats out of the brand new luxury size litter boxes we built for them. 

The gate is completely temporary until I feel the motivation to build a proper one. I swear.

Julian Comstock: A Story of Post-Fossil Fuel America has a post about 'Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd century America' by Robert Charles Wilson, the first of a three part interview with the author. It tells the story of the titular character in a future America depleted of fossil fuels, reverted back to a very 19th century technological level and Puritan attitude.

" America 163 years from now that looks a bit like the 19th century but feels, in unexpected and delightful ways, very much like the present. In Julian Comstock, with the demise of oil, America has returned to preindustrial levels of technology. The nation’s calamitous fall—involving a thorough depletion of the population and the collapse of the political system as we know it—is a hazy historical memory, replaced by a larger-feeling country, more sparsely populated and more difficult to control."

Fine summer reading in these current economic-meltdown-environmental-collapse-end-is-nigh times. No small coincidence that Wilson is interviewed by Brian Slattery, whose book 'Liberation' takes place in a post-economic collapse United States. 

I read the short story 'Julian: a Christmas Story" that introduces Julian Comstock as a young man a few years ago, and I can't wait to read the new book. 


My very first tomato seedlings. I'm so proud.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The New Kitty

Meet Mina, the new adoptee. She's a rambunctious tortie who enjoys attacking my toes. We got her name because I've been reading the Dracula blog.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Urban Homesteading for Beginners

The first raised bed

There it is. The first raised bed. I built it myself. From wood. Shocking, yes? It's twelve feet long by four wide, and, not knowing any better, I filled it with topsoil and compost purchased in 1 cubic foot bags from Home Depot. That was nearly fifty bags of soil. The soil itself is fine, but what a pain in the ass. And expensive. Oh, and there's no weed barrier. The surface of the soil is netted with bermuda grass a month after this photo.

Now with lots of new friends

As you can see, we added a lot more. There are now five total, including the original. Of the four new beds, I only actually had to build one of them, from scrap wood found around the property and the old porch. One of the beds is a repurposed sandbox, and the last two were found leaning against the fence out behind the garage. Old, weathered, and slightly rotted, in one case, but they still hold the soil in.

Of course, this is huge amount of growing area. Naturally, I rolled over two half-barrels that were rotting in the back. 

Lots of drip irrigation
Of course, plants like water. Here in San Diego county, we can't rely on rain, and I won't rely on hand watering. I'm lazy. So my dad came over and we installed some irrigation. In the second picture above you can see the pipes sticking out the ground. They pop up a little far from the beds for my taste, but I had already dug the trench. 

As for the drip irrigation, I've found that while it can be fun to put together, like tinkertoys, it can also be just stupidly complicated. I won't mess with the quarter inch tubes anymore. But how do you get the water right where it needs to be? Isn't that the whole point of drip irrigation?

As far as I'm concerned, the point of drip irrigation is to use less water than a sprinkler as well as water directly on the surface. Besides, the soil will soak up the water beneath the surface, even if the surface itself is a little dry. Then why not just use a soaker hose? Because the stuff can be fun to play with.