Sunday, June 30, 2013

High Country Garlic

What can you grow in a high country desert that deer won't eat? Garlic of course. I tried shallots once, the deer didn't eat those but they did pull them up. The also pulled up the onions. Garlic and Potatoes seem to be the only deer proof crops.

I haven't actually planted garlic for a couple of years now but once you have it in the garden it's not going away. This is the elephant garlic getting ready to go to seed. The lack of rain has made the garlic very happy.

I have elephant and spanish garlic "volunteers". They're ugly, but very strong since they're not being watered except by what falls out of the sky.

The scapes are delicious. I love to chop them up and make a scape pesto.
If you let the seeds dry out you can plant them in the Spring. It will take a year before you have mature garlic that's really why it's easier to plant garlic cloves in the Fall.

My other favorite thing to do with garlic seeds (other than replanting them) is as a flavoring for olive oil or for red wine. Take a small bottle of olive oil and "infuse" it with garlic flavor by dumping a whole bunch of garlic seeds in the bottom. It's the same principle for red wine. You infuse the wine with garlic seeds or cloves of garlic. This is the *perfect* thing to deglaze a pan of sauteed mushrooms.

Aspen Ideas live

If you want to *totally* geek out on your thermostat then Nest is for you.

OTOH if you just want a whole box-o-mind candy then go to Aspen Ideas live

It's hard to pick a favorite so far but I'm leaning towards Yo Yo Ma's Steam not Stem.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

All you need is a hookah....

Well, well , well look what's growing in the potato patch. It's over 7" in diameter.

I gave the potato patch a good one hour water on June 10th.  This should really tell you how well that clay loam soil holds onto water.

Groasis Waterboxx

It's all about water.  I'm always looking for ways to harvest water.  This led me on an internet search for an earthbox. I thought this would be a good solution for our short growing season. I could start some veggies indoors while it was still to cold to plant or I could have a self-watering herb garden.

But instead of googling "earthbox" I googled "waterbox" and this is what I got:

Waaaaaay cooler than an indoor planter. I especially liked the accordion  lid which promoted  Condensation even better I could buy them on the Groasis web site.

One of my main goals is to help restore local wildlife to the levels they were at 18 years ago when everyone was still using flood irrigation (sprinkler irrigation has really changed the local wildlife *a lot*). One of the ways to do this is to plant things which the locals like to eat.

I bought 10 Groasis Waterboxxes and 20 baby choke cherry trees.
Itsy bitsy chokecherry trees.
 The "bucket" part of the box is like a doughnut with holes for the trees. There is a template to help place the seedlings and nylon wicks for the water to "weep" from the box into the ground.
The top of the box has the accordion shape to promote condensation. 
I took rainwater out of the cistern. I got a little help from BB.
 Next I dug holes for the boxes. The one place where these tend to fail is the wick. If you don't bury it below the roots of the native grasses the grass roots will choke the wick.
 That means at least 18" deep in my dense clay loamy soil.
Then soak the hole with water and stir- to help aerate the soil- and let it soak in for at least an hour- then stir again.

I got help with the "stir" part. There is nothing quite like a muddy Puli.
 Poke holes in the template for the seedlings.
 Poke holes in the mud for the seedlings.
 Snip a little off the roots and the top of the seedlings (helps promote growth).
 Plant 'em. Cover the template with dirt to help make a tight seal between the bucket and the template (0% evaporation is the goal) See where the compass is? Orient the seedlings East/West for the best shade/sun.
Place the wick and put the bucket over the seedlings.

Snap on the lid.
 Place the funnels in the holes.
 Fill the bucket with water. If you overfill there is an overflow hole on the North side.

 Thirsty work says the Duffmeister.
 Fill the hole back up around the bucket. I'll post a picture of the mulch/rocks later but that's what comes next mulch around the box and cover the mulch with rocks to stop grass growing too close to the box.
I planted these Memorial Day weekend and we haven't had more than a wiffle of rain since.  Eight of the boxes are still full of water. I've refilled two of them. One still seems to be losing water and the seedlings aren't doing too well in that one. The other nine are really looking pretty good right now. This is a picture of the healthiest one. 

The water in the box is supposed to last 1-2 years. By that time the trees should be well enough established to keep growing without the boxes.

If this works I will definitely do a happy dance.

Friday, June 28, 2013

French drains and prairie dogs

Well, they're actually ground squirrels and the field is full of them. I have a healthy badger population because of them. The red-tail hawks, coyote and great horned owls are fond of them also (although the little peter cotton tail rabbits are the favorite entree).

However, you combine a piece of old french drain, one ground squirrel, one Corgi and two Pulik..... and you have the perpetual motion dog toy. Yeah, I know, it terrorizes the ground squirrel, but the squirrel got away and the whole pack slept through the night.

 They don't all get away, Duff caught this one last year in honor of the Queen's Jubilee. He only relinquished it when I traded for bacon. Duff can catch 'em. The Pulis just bark... and bark... and bark...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Other Earths

It's time for Aspen Ideas.
The Aspen Institute is kind enough to offer some public lectures. I attended one this evening with Astronomer Dimitar Sasselov . The subject was "Other Earths and the Origins of Life".

I expected to be waaaay out of my depth; but this was Astronomy for dummies and I felt pretty comfortable.
 I expected the "news" of the recent discovery of earth like planets since it this was on today's twitter feed: 

First transiting planets in a star cluster discovered, Kepler-66b and Kepler-67b

Transits of planets across other suns tell us if the planet is in the "goldilocks" sweet spot (not too hot and not too cold) and if there is an an oxygen/nitrogen signature (and water).

Anyone who's seen Carl Sagan's look back from Voyager shouldn't be too surprised by this. 

Here's the cool part... Astronomers are looking for microbes. That's what life on earth is, microbes. All life on earth carries the "memories" of every challenge, every twist of fate, every choice along the path to "us". We are inextricably linked to our planet and the history of the  last 4 billion years of life on this planet. Dimitar Sasselov calls this "first generation" life. Microbe to Man- 4 billion years- everything coming from that first kernal of microbial life to the present.  The microbe's ability to adapt is rooted (quite literally) in the last 4 billion years of trail and error.

Now, the Universe, 8 billion years, are there "second generation" life forms out there? Second generation would be a life form which is engineered by the first generation form of life. It would be a life form which uses different building blocks than the microbial source code which created generation one. 

It's not just theory, when trying to find the fewest # of genes using our own microbial building blocks we come up with 180+ *but* when we try engineering genetic life without using our own microbial building blocks we get 150+ 

Life, engineered by a lifeform on this planet but not of this planet.

Generation 2. 

Okay, may have garbled it, but that's what I took away from this mind candy evening snack.

I couldn't help but relate this to the recent TED Global talk from Suzana Herculan-Houzel who has been counting neurons in order to understand why we think differently from other animals. Dimitar Sasselov is searching for the origins of life and Suzana Herculan-Houzel is searching for the origins of self-aware intelligence. 

With TED Global and Aspen Ideas coming so close to each other my head might just explode. They call post TED a "tedache" what in the world do you call post Aspen?

July 20th: Here's an interesting addendum, a really old galaxy

..and a question on reflection, since GMO is pretty scary when we're modifying wheat (seriously did anyone *ever* think they would read a headline that includes the words "wheat escapes"?)  and products like "neverwet" make my spidey senses tingle off the chart... how do we really think that "Generation 2" is gonna turn out? 

One potato, two potato

With no irrigation my crop choices are limited. I need something which can survive with little or no water. I need something which the deer don't like to eat. Fortunately for me that problem was solved in the 19th century with the first farmers in the area.

Loamy soil holds on to moisture for weeks. Our last big rain was May 6th and if you dig down 18" you'll still find damp clay. Of course clay/loamy soil isn't great for wheat, corn, beans or any of the other standard cash crops. Although there is evidence that someone tried to grow wheat up here once that was probably during WWI when wheat prices where insanely high. (The wheat "bubble" ruined a lot of farmers and was one of the big causes of the Dustbowl).

The 19th century homesteaders found a solution. This used to be a big potato growing region. I mean *big* growing more potatoes than Idaho. They even developed a specific type of potato which thrives here: The Red McClure.

Red McClure Potatoes

These were planted May 24 and 25th. We haven't had any rain since then but I did give them one good watering out of the cistern on June 10. The mulch you see is chipped sage and juniper. This is a heavier mulch than I normally use and we'll see if it makes any difference. 

I was lucky enough to get some Red McClure starters from our local Slow Food program. I'd tried other varieties of potatoes and the Russets seemed to do the best. I just wasn't prepared for how well the Red McClure's liked their home soil.

There is a lot of talk about how these don't taste great- I'm convinced it's because other farmers are being too nice to their potatoes. There's an old German saying "The worst farmers grow the best potatoes". That would be me, I abuse and neglect the little darlings. This makes for a firm potato with a very earthy flavor. You need to cook them twice (merci M. Escoffier) and don't be shy with the butter. These are great for braising, roasting or just a lovely slow saute.

Here's the great Corgi Hunter Duffmeister waiting for voles. That's really the only problem I've got planting these, the voles. I've tried sonic spikes. I've put raptor perches around the garden. Bottom line, nobody has come up with a better vole deterrent than a Corgi.

I'm not the only one who is growing potatoes again.

Woody Creek Vodka

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

High Country Desert, water and wildfire

Water is life, especially in the Arid American West.

In 2009 it became legal to harvest rainwater off my roof in Colorado.

As soon as I could I bought a really big tank and put it in the ground to collect rainwater off my nice big metal studio roof. I also had irrigation lines run from the studio to my house. The primary reason for this is fire mitigation. 

Here's a picture of that 12,000 gallon beauty going in. Why 12,000 gallons? I asked our local fire chief (Ron Leach) how big a tank he needed to fight a fire. I knew the fire trucks held 2,000 gallons and thought it would be close to that. His answer surprised me. He suggested 10,000 so that the fire truck hoses could safely pull water out of the tank. I compared prices between 10,000 and 12,000 and the difference was pretty small given the price of the tank. Once I sized up to 15,000 it would have required a bigger truck and the shipping charges sky-rocketed. 

According to local rain fall reports (15" per year)  I should be able to harvest 24,000 to 32,000 gallons per year off my 2600 square foot studio roof. Now, those figures are from local towns which are in low lying valleys. I just don't get the same rainfall as they do. In fact in 2012 I got a little over 6" but 2012 was an exceptionally dry year. I'm thinking the prediction for drier years instead of wetter is probably closer to the mark and NASA seems to agree. 

The tank was installed in October of 2011. I watched closely all last year as the tank began to fill. After our "monsoonal" rains (typically mid July to mid August) the tank was close to full. It had topped off by September. I wanted to take full advantage of winter snow melt so I watered the area around my house during the month of September.

I'd left 6000 gallons in the tank before turning off the pump and blowing out the irrigation pipes for winter. That's the minimum I would need to water around the house for 2 hours (again, in case of fire). I figured I should leave that in just in case the snow harvest was bad and I was facing the long hot dry days of June without water.

Things weren't looking good for the snow harvest. By March I'd only put another 1000 gallons in the tank. Then came April. The month of April put 5000 gallons in the tank. I was doing a happy dance. In fact subsequent rains meant I was running my irrigation around the house 3x a week just to keep the tank from overflowing. 

Now we're back in typical June weather. The last big rain was May 6th (630 gallons) and since then maybe 30 gallons more with roof condensation. I watered around the house a bit the first weeks of June but now I'm keeping the 9800 gallons in there in case of fire. It's definitely fire season in Colorado. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Westminster Pembroke Corgis

Pembroke Welsh Corgis at Westminster 2013, this is a long video.

Westminster Pulik

I was lucky enough to be at Westminster this Spring. Here come the Pulik.