Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Worm Diversity

We have never bought worms but we still end up with about 50/50 red worms to regular earth worms. The red worms (left) are the ones usually used for vermiculture. They are very active and voracious eaters. They prefer compost and stay near the surface and are therefore less likely to drown when the boxes get wet. They are native to Europe but pervasive on every other continent but Antarctica. I think ours have come with plants purchased from organic sources.

The earth worms (right) are slower and less voracious. They are native to North America (at least some earth worms are are and I assume ours are) and live at a deeper depth usually - in the earth rather than just compost. Seems like a good thing that there are more than one kind doing their thing a different levels.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot Off the Sewing Machine

I finished the tiffin bag as a gift for my neighbor. The linen print fabric is by etsuko furuya for KOKKA called "tiger on the flower". I picked it up at South Pasadena's The Common Thread Studio, which I can see becoming a favorite place. As I was finishing this project, my oldest son set to work on his own.

He asked for a needle and thread so he could sew a book. Since the book was so thick, I suggested he use my sewing machine instead. His eyes lit up. He patiently waited for me to finish my projects, then hopped on my lap and made this fine book.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trimming Back the Buckwheat

With the heavy California rains a few weeks ago, our California native garden has been thriving. I love watching the cycle of these plants. They fall into a deep slumber late summer/early fall. After the winter rains, they awaken from hibernation and set to growing. Our Ash Leaf buckwheat (erogonum cinereum) was encroaching on our access to the vegetable garden. I set to reclaiming stairs.

With help, of course.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Potatoes Planted

I moved some heavily chitted potatoes from my kitchen counter into the ground. I planted two batches of Yukon Golds. One group was a gift from Ilsa at RamblingLA. She bought her tubers from Seeds of Change and graciously shared her surplus.

My other crop came from the produce department at Whole Foods. These hearty Golds never made it to the oven. The sprouted quickly on my counter. I interpreted that as their way of saying, "Plant me!"

I put the potatoes in these fine boxes. Eric built the one on the right. And our friend and Camp Ramshackle guest Phoenix built the one on the left with the additional rise to place on top of the box after the leaves push through the ground and more dirt needs to be added.

With the help of a conscripted army, I moved the compost into the boxes and placed the potatoes in the rich dirt. If I was a worm, I'd move right in.

I'll be interested in seeing how the two batches of potatoes grow and if there is a noticeable difference between the two. I will share what I learn.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Honey Honey Honey

Crushed, strained, bottled.

First Honey Harvest

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Honey Harvested This Weekend

The weather finally warmed up and I was able to collect a few more frames of honey. Not quite as much as I had expected. I thought that the whole top box had been full of honey when Kirk and I opened it up a couple weeks ago but when I went back in this time there was 1 frame of brood - half drone and half worker, 1 frame was partially drawn with new comb, another frame was half drone and half honey, a few had uncapped honey, some only capped and some mixed.

I took as much as I could before the bees got really peeved but that ended up being only about 3 and a half frames (I tossed the half a frame of drone brood at Kirk's instruction). As you can see in the picture above, some of the honey was uncapped but I think we stayed within the 10% limit. Uncapped honey has a higher water content and will spoil in the jar if it exceeds 10% of the mix.

The bees are doing well overall though. If you click this picture you can see two drones on the porch and two foragers laden with pollen. I still need to finish the starter strips on a deep box I put together last weekend. Once I do that I think I'll call Kirk for help adding it to the bottom of the hive and reshuffling the rest of the frames. I'm confident I could do it myself at this point but with Kirk's help I know we'd get it done much faster with less stress on the bees.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Making Potato Boxes

I made this potato box for Julia's Valentines day present. She has some spuds that are on the counter just crying to be buried. I used some of the 2x4s left over from the last planter box to build a simple design I've had in my head for a while. The picture on top shows one side with the corner braces flush with the bottom and an inch and a half from the top to allow another section to sit on top (I'll build that later).

Next I nailed the other boards to the sides and ended up with a box. I used galvanized nails so they won't rust too soon.

Since gophers are a big problem for us I nailed quarter inch hardware cloth to the bottom with smaller galvanized nails.

This detail shows the overlap of the hardware cloth and how it is fixed to the bottom of the box with nails.

Here is a picture of the tools - chop saw, a hammer, tape measure. The nails are in the shopping bag.

Here is the ever present quality inspector checking my work.

The way the box will work is that we'll fill it with compost and stick the potatoes in there. When the vines grow out the top we'll add another box on top and fill it with more dirt. After we add a few sections, we'll wait a while and harvest the potatoes inside by taking the frames off.

We'll post more pictures when we plant the potatoes.

The Mushroom Man Speaks: Paul Stamets

Paul Stamets is speaking today at the 26th Annual Los Angeles Mushroom Fair at the LA County Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Check to confirm tickets to his talk are still available.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mushrooms in Bloom

The recent rains have created a moist mycological haven at Camp Ramshackle. Pictured are a few specimens from a recent foray into our yard.

I am not certain what kind of mushrooms any of these are. This weekend is the perfect time to find out. Sunday, February 14th, the Los Angeles Mycological Society is hosting the 26th Annual Los Angeles Mushroom Fair at the LA County Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

The Los Angeles Mycological Society is hosting a foray this morning 9AM-1PM in El Cariso"Big Woods" to collect specimens for the fair.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dark Teff Grain Bread

The dark teff grain bread is another gluten-free bread from the Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book. I tried using teff flour to make injera, Ethiopian flatbread, in the past...a complete utter messy failure. This loaf was much better. Even with this teff success, I think I'll return to the Flying Apron Bakery house bread next baking day. But I might even attempt injera again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Planting Avocado Trees

This weekend we planted two avocado trees in the northern most corners of our yard. A Stewart pictured here at the bottom which bears fruit from fall through winter and a Hass up at the top which should produce from spring into fall. We chose the northern corners to minimize the shadow cast by the trees so that we can grow other crops near them.

We started by digging a big hole and piling the dirt up on the down hill sides (right and top here)
so that a basin is created to catch water as it runs down.

Then we put a little mound in the center to prop the tree up to ground level or a little above.

Once the tree is out of it's container and on the mound we filled the hole with finished compost from our compost pile.

I packed the compost down a bit but left a crown around the base of the tree so that the water will catch in the swale but not submerse the trunk.

The last step is to fill in the depression around the crown with mulch, oak leaf litter in this case, so that it is level with the ground. The leaf litter should not touch the trunk or it can rot. The mulch will help hold the water that collects around the tree in the ground.

With a bit of luck in a couple of years we'll be flush with avocados nearly year round. Apparently avocados need really well drained soil and ours is pretty heavy clay so we will definitely have our fingers crossed. We hope to stay on top of it with mulch, compost and some added gypsum when we get around to buying some.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Money Laundering

OK, I know what you're thinking: Those bills look like they were part of a botched bank robbery dye pack explosion! No, we haven't started robbing banks. Let me explain:

Relatively recently we've decided to try to use cash rather than debit or credit cards as much as possible. There are a few reasons for this:
  1. We have a better sense of how much we are spending when we can see how much is in our wallets at the end of a week compared with the beginning. The money is "real" and not an abstract concept.
  2. The use of credit and debit cards enable banks and other financial institutions to track your purchases and create a very detailed profile of who you are, where you are and your (fill in the blank) preferences. I know, maybe paranoid but it's just a little creepy when you know that there are paid number crunchers who are making inferences from your purchases which they can then pass on to advertisers to better target you with more advertising, loan offers, credit card deals, etc.
  3. ATM fees and transaction fees that Visa and MasterCard charge are exorbitant and only possible through nearly monopolistic market share. Essentially they are enticing the banks with a higher cut of the transaction fees that they charge businesses to process each transaction. The businesses have the choice of paying the fees or accepting cash only. Most accept the cards and pass the fees on to the consumer. If there was real competition the services would be reduced to a commodity and the fees would be reduced accordingly. There isn't enough competition so there are huge profit margins on each transaction.

There are some obvious risks and inconveniences in using cash though.
  1. Cash isn't always convenient to withdraw.
  2. Your cash can be stolen.
  3. Going inside to pay for gas can take up to 3 times as long than paying at the pump.
  4. You might wash your wallet with the red felt lined bill pocket which would then stain your bills making them look like they were the object of an amateur bank robbery dye pack explosion.
Today I want to talk about number four. After washing my wallet (which held up remarkably well) my money was all stained red. Most of the bills were only stained around the edges but the bill at the front and the back, which were in direct contact with the felt, turned redder than a stop sign.

I took them to our bank (one of the big four) but the teller took it to another guy who appeared to be an acting manager. He came over to me and said "Yeah.... actually we're supposed to take these away and destroy them. You don't want to give this to us." He suggested that I try to deposit it in the ATM but not knowing the odds of success I wasn't ready to take the chance that my account would actually be credited.

I asked if there was a way to look up the numbers to make sure that these bills were not part of a robbery but he said no. I took them home and washed them again. I tried rubbing alcohol on them and vinegar and baking soda but none of that made a noticeable difference.

I am hoping that I can crowd source a solution here. Does anyone have a suggestion to either clean the bills or some idea for a safe exchange of the money. I thought that there were some rules about the legal tender of bills issued by the government. For instance, when I was a kid I remember hearing something about a minimum amount of the bill that must be intact for it to be tendered but that big chunks could be missing and it would still be OK. True? Not true?

It's alright to be creative with suggestions about removing the red color I'll try out any ideas on the $5 first. I am mostly concerned with retaining the value of the $100.

Oh yeah, and on a related note the Huffington Post is trying to get everyone to "Move Your Money" They have some good points. It's a financial take on the local movement and a response to the bailout mess.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Worm Eggs in the Compost

I found these worm eggs in the compost when we were planting a couple of trees this weekend.
I'll post about that later in the week - no time to write now. I don't know why I like finding these so much but it always gives me a smile.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Baby Skink...Rather Black-bellied Slender Salamander

February is a busy month in a California native garden. Early winter and late fall is the time to plant new starts, sow seeds and pull weeds. I've been adhering to my fifteen minutes a day garden regimen in an attempt not to be overwhelmed by what cries to be done. In my daily sojourn, I found a baby skink/black-bellied slender salamander.

So amazing. So small...about five inches in length. When I found it peeking shyly through the Live Oak leaves, I thought it was a worm. I called to my sons, placed its small cold body on my hand and noticed the tiny legs. When they circled around my hand, the skink/salamander wiggled lethargically. My youngest son was eager to hold it. I placed it gently on his hand. He held it for a moment. It moved. My son jumped about three feet. And the skink/salamander...she took flight.

Update: Ramshackle reader Jeff left the comment: "I think this is a black-bellied slender salamander...tho' looks like a skink (juvies have a impressive blue tail)...". I checked out, and the habitat and description match up. Thanks for the heads up, Jeff. The updates are included in the original post.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cool Swap Opportunity Hosted by Our Yellow House

Leah at Our Yellow House is hosting a special swap. In her own words:
This swap is for us adults. You don't have to be a mother. You don't have to be crafty. You don't have to have a blog. (Though you can be any or all of these things.) You just need to enjoy putting together packages and receiving packages.
I participated in the Stocking Stuffer swap Leah organized in December '09. It was a real treat. I had a great time making things for other people and I was blown away by the amazing gifts I received. If you are interested in sharing your work and meeting new talented people, a swap is a great way to do it. I'm still debating whether I can balance my workload and commitments to join in this swap. Whether I sit this one out or not, I plan to join the 2010 Stocking Stuffer swap (if it happens).

The Flying Apron Bakery House Bread

Isn't she a beauty? Not only is this bread good looking, it is delicious. One of my resolutions this year was to make more bread for my family. I figured that was an attainable goal as I made all of three loaves or so last year. I like making resolutions I can keep.

Making bread for the guys has pretty easy. I've been using The Tassajara Bread Book with great success. But I've been wanting for a good gluten-free bread for me.

At the suggestion of a neighbor, I bought a cookbook by Jennifer Katzinger Flying Apron's Gluten-free & Vegan Baking Book. Katzinger opened a Seattle bakery in 2002. Her goal was to provide healthy whole grain foods to customers. Although the Flying Apron did not start out as a completely gluten-free and vegan bakery, it evolved into that over the years.

I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Flying Apron Bakery, but thanks to this cookbook, the house bread and I are friends. The recipe was unfussy (one of my complaints of many gluten-free baked items). And the bread has a rich nutty flavor that isn't overpowering. The texture is moist and surprisingly light. I had to keep myself from eating half the loaf after it came out of the oven. Fortunately, I left a slice to dip into my warm bowl of soup. Such a treat.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hive Inspection with Kirk

Kirk (the founder of the Backwards Beekeepers) came over this weekend (sporting his awesome Mohawk, I might add) to help me out with the hive. We pretty much just did a hive inspection and made sure that the queen is still in there (new eggs and fresh brood indicate that she is).

The hive was started with 5 deep frames that we just put into the upper of two medium boxes and let hang down into the lower box. At the time we filled the other side of the bottom and top boxes with blank medium frames each but I cant' get to the bottom 5 frames without removing and setting aside all 5 deeps and the box.

So when Kirk came over I was thinking that we would take some of the deep frames and cut them down and tie them into the mediums but we decided that a better way to go would be to just buy a deep box and move the 5 deep frames to that box with 5 more new deep frames, then put the remaining 10 mediums all in the same box above that. That will give us 1 deep and 1 medium box for the brood area although we keep an open brood nest so the queen can really lay wherever she wants - as she sees fit.

The piece of comb above fell off the bottom of one of the deep frames that we took out to examine. The deeps don't go all the way to the bottom of the lower medium so the bees just took it on them selves to use all of the space they could.

It was important to put that brood back in the hive on an new frame because what we found was that the hive is honey bound. That means there is so much honey in there that there is very little room for brood. Some of the lower deeps were even completely full of honey.

Here is the one frame we pulled to replace with the brood comb above tied into a new starter strip frame. As soon as the weather warms up a bit and the bees have a chance to forgive and forget, I'll go back out and pull that box of honey which we moved to the top of the hive. Kirk will probably come back to help me put the new deep box on the bottom once I'm ready and the weather warms up a bit. There are a lot of bees in the hive now and it will be much easier if most of them are in the field when we do the work.

By the way, you can see that brighter box that I added in the last post about the bees has moved down a spot and has settled in with the rest nicely. It just took it a little time to conform to the others.

So all is well with the hive and we will be up to our stingers in honey as soon as the temperature rises a bit. By the way we have a meeting coming up on Feb. 28th - join us!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Big Manroot Removed

This weekend I removed a huge manroot from along the fence. This is the plant that has been causing so much work every year.

Here it is the next day with most of the dirt off it. I wouldn't have been able to get this out if it weren't for all the rain we just got. You can see my previous attempt which only created a spade shaped hole in the side.

I'll be out hunting for more next weekend after we get a little more rain. I think the tables may have turned.

Here's the recent harvest of smaller, first year plants.
Late season manroot removal
Manroot Maintenance
Hedgehog art from a manroot seedpod