Friday, November 06, 2015

For all things cycling... new blog posts at different location

If you still get updates on this blog and you're interested in cyclocross racing, all my posts about that have moved to the Goldenrod Pastries Cyclocross blog.  I've written a couple of reflective pieces (start at the bottom of the page and read up) on my return to racing and there are also race reports, and quite a few pictures.  It's really been a fun process and I will have some new geo-location stuff up here sometime soonish. maybe. :)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Garden update: focus on composting

Composting is one of my favorite parts of gardening. I find it fascinating to watch nature do its work and take kitchen refuse, shredded leaves, grass clippings, and other miscellany and turn it into rich matter that sends my veggies a growing.  There's simply no way to make enough.  In fact, it's only the first part of June and I've already used up all the leaves from last fall.

If you do not yet compost, here's the recipe:  1 part green + 2 parts brown.  Layer and wait.

Green refers to nitrogen-rich items like kitchen scraps (no meats or grease - veggie only), while "brown" refers to things like fall leaves, newspaper, and cardboard.

In my kitchen, I keep a one-gallon container into which go coffee grounds, veggie trimmings, and egg shells.  This sits under my prep table and gets taken out to the main pile about every other day. It doesn't stick or anything like that.  I do have a fancy stainless steel one, but it has a lid and just isn't as handy for me.  (Let me know if you're interested.)  I usually chop things up into smaller bits, especially if they don't break down quickly.  For example, pineapple takes a while, so I chop it up.  In contrast, tomatoes and bell pepper cores break down rapidly.

I find old ice cream buckets to be incredibly useful for compost as well as fermentation containers for bread-making.

My beloved food processor earns its keep in
so many ways: nut butters, slaws,
doughs, and compost making. 

Materials from the kitchen are then layered in on the compost pile, which is contained by three wooden pallets, rendering it about 3.5 feet square.  I shake out the bucket contents across the top and add grass clippings to complete the layer if MFD has recently mowed.  Then, I top that layer with a layer of shredded leaves, or other "brown" items such as shredded paper or cardboard to twice the thickness of the "green" layer.

In short order, the materials are broken down as shown by this forkful below.

I will build the pile to about 2.5-3 feet tall, then mix it by forking into an adjacent bin.  This will give it a good boost of oxygen and rev up the breakdown process.  The next pile will start.  A compost pile should never stink.  If it does, then there is too much "green" or it's too wet and you have some anaerobic decay, which is when oxygen is in short supply.  It will get really hot (think lawn clippings in a pile) and stink.   If your compost pile gets too hot, you may also kill the earthworms and other organisms working to break it down.  If it's too cold, then it takes much longer to break down into useable compost.  This is why the ratio is important. 

A note on the egg shells

Dad keeps a bunch of chickens on The Farm.  The Chicken Patrol roams the property munching grasshoppers and flies along with working the stable manure pile for larvae. Their work greatly reduces the pest problems and has the side benefit of multitudes of eggs and an occasional pot of stewed chicken.  The bounty is shared with us townies. Personally, I love eggs and often have them for breakfast.  I usually do them up as one yolk with three whites in olive oil topped with fresh dill and chives with a sprinkling of red and black peppers.  Then, I compost the shells.

Last year, I just crunched them up however it happened in the compost pile, but this year I've been a bit more industrious so that when I put the compost in the beds, the shells are bit finer in texture.  I put the shells in the processor, crunch them down a bit with a wood spoon, the turn it on for a few seconds, et voila! Nice, fine shells to mix in with coffee grounds and even the torn up scraps of the cardboard egg cartons.   (Yes, I could reuse those, but Mom says they have  basement full, so back to the earth they go for now.)

I put compost directly on the beds, about 1-2 inches deep, and plant. This pic shows the bush beans, emerging cukes, and the upper level has broccoli, herbs, and another variety of beans.  All last year's compost went into these two beds. The soil is much improved.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Playing "Allotment"

So, mom and I have been watching "Sean's Allotment Garden" on YouTube - and have been completely charmed by the unpretentious, unscripted, unprogrammed  , unproduced - that's the word I'm looking for -- nature of the series and are now pretending we have our own out at The Farm.  Mom has this great big bed with fantastic soil constructed in the foundation of an old chicken house, but it was overrun with weeds, with raspberries running amok on the north side, and more weed beds on the south.  To take control of it is a big job, so my mother, ever the clever one, calls me up and says, "do you need a little more space?"  Of course I do.  I'm a sprawler.  I mean, where oh where are my squash going to go? And, there is simply not enough bell pepper space at the cottage.


Mom got busy first and cleared the top level of weeds.

Then I used my pond-digging skills to create a path and a raised bed that we secured with some wood stolen from my dad's collection.  Before dark, we were able to put in a row of bell peppers and cucumbers that we will trellis on the fence.  Next up, put some chips down on the paths and create the other beds.  However, Mom has been quite busy.  She's cleared out the unproductive raspberry brambles and the south beds, which are now fully of tomatoes and asparagus growing fantastically. 

The thing we need next is a nearby garden shed where we can have our tea. That's what Sean and his allotment friends do, unless they're having a cold beer (see one of the Geoff episodes). 

Allotment gardens are widespread and here in the U.S. are similar to the community garden movement along with the "victory gardens" from WWII.  I don't know much about the historical roots of either movement right now, but here are a few links of interest:

If you know more or have a link to share, please do so in the comments. 

June 9 update

Mom has really dug into our project.  I am feeling the slacker. 
View from the south.  There are raised beds along this side with asparagus (far right), tomatoes, as well as hollyhocks.

Getting in upper-body work for sure. New beds already dug in.  Mom is a hard act to follow.

I was just thinking we needed a place to have our lemonade and admire our work.

Best reuse of tires: squash planters.  The wire will keep the chickens out until the plants establish themselves.


Friday, May 08, 2015

Illuminating Lincoln: Lighthouse - map and map files

So far, I have tested with my iPad and my Android phone.  On Android, use the .kml file with Google Earth and use the .gpx file with a mapping app like OsmAnd.   In iOS, try the .kml file first.  Tweet pics when you locate them using the #lightbulbchallenge.

For more information about the project see the Journal Star article and the Lighthouse website.

Edit: A better article about the project on the Journal Star site.

Download files:


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Kitchen Garden, Visit from a Marine, and Fight Club

Terraces + raised bed = ~900 sq. ft. 

Kitchen Garden

Last year, I expanded the raised herb garden by terracing the slope. This gave me four ~16'x2' beds separated by old railroad ties.  The terrace beds have good drainage and the ties give me a place to walk such that I never have to step on the soil. Consequently, it doesn't require any digging before planting really, though I did dig in my compost and some leaf mold in last fall.  The soil, like much of that in eastern Nebraska, is clumpy because of the clay, but with regular applications of compost and leaf mulch combined with a multitude of earthworms, I expect rich loamy soil in time.
Just like the picture
on the seed package. 

This month we also used the broken concrete from the back patio to make stepping stones from the front walk to the garden, then on around to the patio.  This makes it easy for me to dart from the kitchen to the garden with no shoes. Additionally, it saves us from hauling the concrete to the landfill or somesuch.

The radishes are "French Breakfast" and have a milder flavor that other varieties. The grow quickly and I've been planting a few every two weeks to space out the harvest. I chopped up the radish tops, sauteed them lightly, and had them for dinner atop brown rice with a couple of eggs.  My folks have chickens who patrol the farm for grasshoppers and other bugs, as well as earn their keep turning the compost piles. In turn, they produce the most delicious eggs which my mother generously drops by the house when she's in town.

A Visit from Corporal Brown

Nick treated us with a visit this month and we hosted a small garden party.  It was a bit early and the weather was windy and chill in the  morning, but by late afternoon when people began to arrive, the weather had warmed and it was quite pleasant.
4x4s and cinder blocks provided expanded fire pit seating.
This view will change substantially this year.
The Founders All-Day IPA proved popular. 

My little darlings. 

Solomon's Seal and the last tulip graced the buffet table.

After most everyone left, Lyle ventured forth. He prefers pond water to his kitchen bowl.

Lacerations and Punctures

Speaking of the three-legged wonder, there's a new member at fight club - we'll call him Fangs. I suspect a feral tom cat from the severity of the wounds Lyle is bringing home.  The first time, it wasn't too deep, but the second round merited a visit to the vet.  Fangs digs into the right side of Lyle's neck, then shreds his belly with his back claws.  It isn't pretty and Lyle's new name should probably be "Scarbelly". 

In response, we tried to keep Lyle in, but if you've ever heard him yowl, you know it's impossible. So, we made a short fence using chicken wire.

This wouldn't contain most cats, but Lyle doesn't have much of a vertical jump, so it kept him in so long as he had
supervision.  If you went inside or put him out at night, he found ways to get under the fence. 
The wire didn't hold him for long, but for a couple of weeks we kept him contained and his wounds healed up. This last weekend, however, he ran into Fangs again and again has neck wounds.  This time, no trip to the vet.  Instead, I stocked up on vet supplies and have been taking care of it and things seem to be healing nicely.  The real challenge is how to keep Lyle from running into Fangs in the future. 

Although a bit high-maintenance, the rare short-legged tripod feline
makes it all worth it when he greets me at the door and
insists on post-work lap time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Puddle to small water garden

EDIT: If you cannot see the images, there is a collection in the Pond 2015 folder. It was brought to my attention that the images were not showing. 

It's hard to believe it's been so many months since a post. I've been intending to write a few things up, but didn't get to it, so I'll start with the puddle to pond project.

Before I ever rode bicycles with any real enthusiasm, I identified as a gardener.  A particular dear friend and I used to maintain a subtle competition focused on who could give the other the best wine-infused garden tour and remember all the Latin monikers.  In fact, I used to aspire to making Lincoln's garden tour.  In any case, this year I'm letting the bug blossom (intended mixed metaphor).

When I moved to the cottage, the extensive shaded back yard and lovely south-facing side yard distracted me from the many many house-buyer-deterring issues I should have perhaps given more consideration.  There was also a small, pre-formed pond liner serving as an optimal mosquito breeding facility near the alley.  Thank goodness for progeny.  Dearest Erik dug it up, cleaned it out, and dug it in again near the patio. I planted around it, tried to defend fish against the racoons, watched birds bathe, and generally enjoyed the life and sound even a modest puddle brings to the garden space.

This year, however, general happiness coupled with an improved post-PhD budget has seen me fully regress into the gardener lifestyle and this year kicked off with a water feature makeover - along with getting those radishes and snap peas in on time.  The photos below begin with the puddle after the plants have been extracted and the site is ready for digging.  The gent is also digging into a favorite project, but don't let all the flash distract you from the classy worn wheel barrow and luscious soil.
Project day

Plants removed. Prepare to dig.

This is going to take a while.
One of the mistakes I've made in past water garden projects is not making the initial shelves deep enough.  This time, I'm taking a lot of care.  I want plenty of room to do something creative so the liner won't be visible along with space for plants.  A critical aspect of the shelf, however, is that it be level all round the pond. For this pond, it was small enough to just use a level with a long board.  If the pond were bigger, I would use a clear length of tubing and fill it with water.  I suppose a laser level might be pretty useful as well.

Is the lower shelf level?

Booyah! First try.

 One of the constraints of this pond was that materials found on the property needed to be recycled. It wasn't going to be one of those... I built this dream pond and it only cost 10K deals.  Personally, I like design constraints.  The tighter the envelope, the more creative you have to be.  The rules here were that the big pile of scrap and miscellany had to be tapped and it couldn't look out of place.  This little house is a hodge-podge.  It's 96 years old and has never met an architect or had a posh redo.  It's been a little house in which families were raised negotiating for a single bath and space in a small kitchen.  That's togetherness.  Because of this, I wanted the pond to have the same feel -- a sort of "this was made with materials at hand" kind of thing.  For this project, that meant odd-shaped bricks, broken concrete, worn 2x12s, and roofing tin.

Next was the liner. Plenty of liner. You never want to be short. After all, you might want to build ANOTHER pond, or marsh garden, or even something for your mother.

Fill it up - the true test of level.

Smooth out wrinkles during the fill. Don't cut until you are
absolutely sure things are as you desire. Even then,
better to hide extra liner than trim if you can.

South side gravel wall complete, but will be redone in a few
days. I couldn't stand the lack of levelness of the bricks.
I wanted it to have a casual feel, but not sloppy.

Rain chain plumbing installed. This too would undergo
modification in subsequent weeks.

Installing the basin which will become both a focal point
and function as a biofilter.

Garage corner needs protection from the splash and the
basin needs a backdrop.

Giving the backdrop shape and then using acid to age the tin.

Putting the tin in position.

Testing the lights.

Red lens on basin light, yellow on the others.

Lyle loves pond water.

First few plants installed on a rainy day.

If you put water in the garden, prepare for many visitors.

The initial algae bloom has cleared and Lyle notices the fish
for the first time. 

I'll post more pics as the plants I've ordered come in and either die or take hold.  The pond is in full shade, so planting is tricky. But, like I said, the tighter the constraints, the better the creativity workout.