Friday, May 19, 2017

Darwinian Gardening Takes an Interesting Turn

Soooo... for about 20 years now, I've been slowly working on converting my front yard from grass (which is notoriously difficult to grow in this arid region) to xeriscape - AKA low water plants.

I'm slow and not terribly deliberate in this process, and my approach is decidedly "Darwinian" in nature. By that I mean that I don't put a lot of effort into it, and I figure that whatever can survive with a fair degree of neglect gets to stay, and if a plant dies out, it means it's not intended to be here in the first place! I'll admit it's a process fraught with fits and starts, but I have had some success.

My general plan has been to put plants around the edges, and leave a small patch of grass in the center part of the yard...

However, as you can see from the above photo, it would appear that mother nature has other plans! Apparently the neighborhood has been invaded with some sort of lawn fungus, and the majority of the grass in my front yard is dead.

Slightly out of focus, but you get the idea
Basically it was just dead brown grass with LOTS of bindweed poking through.

Soooo... I decided that since the grass was already dead, there wasn't much to lose by digging out the bindweed roots. Holy Kazoli folks! I didn't take any pictures, but there was a rather incredible network of roots about as big around as my little finger running horizontally under all that dead grass, with tap roots going straight down every few feet.

I'm under no illusions that I've gotten it all, but it's gotta make a dent, doesn't it?

Anyhow, my initial thought was that I'd just dig out the bindweed, and in the process I'd aerate the grass, and perhaps it would come back to life. And after a week or so I started to see all sorts of green sprouts in the parts that I had dug, so I thought perhaps it was working.

But on closer inspection I realized that the little green sprouts were not, in fact, grass - but rather... wait for it....

Yes! Those are marigold sprouts!

This presents a rather interesting situation. And after thinking about it for a few days, I've decided that in keeping with my Darwinian tradition, I'm going to "go with it" and just let the whole area be taken over by flowers!

There will be plenty of grass to dig out, especially since I didn't remove the grass when I first started digging out the bindweed - but that's OK.

And... I decided that this might be a good opportunity to see if any of the dozen or so packages of flower seeds that have been languishing in the land of good intentions out in the garage for the past 10 years or so have any growing potential left in them.

Sooo... I've been digging out the remaining dead grass and what feels like miles and miles of bindweed roots, and sprinkling a variety of flower seeds in the area. I've also got a bunch of wildflower seeds that I gathered along the bike path last fall, so I added those to the mix.

I bought some more soaker hoses - although at the moment things are pretty wet out there as it's been snowing (seriously) and raining for the past 48 hours or so.

I'm sure lots of the seeds won't take, but that's OK - the yard can't possibly look worse than it does now, and at least I won't have to haul around the sprinkler and mow the darned thing! Plus, I've got a bunch of plants that need to be separated, so I can fill in any blank areas with plants.

Any way you slice it, I think it's gonna be an interesting experiment!

So, does anybody else out there have any experience with Darwinian Gardening? I'd love to hear what has and hasn't worked for you!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Whether it's Cold or Whether it's Hot...

...We Shall Have Weather, Whether or Not!

You know, Colorado weather is many things, but boring is not one of them!

So... let's see here. Where to begin. Our spring snow melted off quickly, and the weather turned beautiful again... well, mostly beautiful! We have had a bit of sever weather...


You'll have to pardon my mutterings at the end of the video - I fear I'm too lazy to figure out how to edit them out.

Anyhow, I'm feeling lucky in terms of the hail because neighborhoods a few miles north and west of me got absolutely clobbered with hail stones that were baseball sized!

Other than that little adventure, it's been mostly gorgeous.

Random shot from a bike ride last week

And I seem to have gotten my gardening mojo back a bit.

I planted radishes for the first time this year, and I have to call it a huge success!

They were super easy, and I'm already harvesting a few!

Turns out I LOVE radishes! You can eat them either raw or cooked - and the greens are edible too!

I haven't planted anything other than the "cool weather" stuff yet... which is probably a good thing because, get this, we're expecting more snow later this week! Oy!

I probably shouldn't complain since we need the moisture, but honestly, I am ready for summer. But in the meantime...

The snow peas are looking good, though they haven't bloomed yet.

Snow peas
I've been harvesting green onions for months now. They're going to seed, but still taste good. I've kept this batch alive for 10 years now. When I dig up a clump, I separate them and re-plant the smallest ones. As long as they have roots attached they'll take hold and keep growing & spreading.

Green Onions (with a few catnip invaders!)

The garlic patch has been totally invaded by grass and creeping bellflower. I haven't tried to dig any up yet, so we'll see how it goes. I don't have a great track record with garlic!

garlic patch

I wintered the rosemary over by keeping it in a Wall-O-Water. Just took it off a few days ago, and it seems to have weathered fine. I'm thinking I should probably cover it up again what with the snow coming!

Rosemary looking a bit scraggly but not too bad.

I kept frost cloth over the greens all spring - not because of the cold, but in an attempt to keep the leaf miners from laying their eggs on them.

Covered greens.

In terms of keeping the bugs off, it seems to have worked OK

Chard and Spinach

However, the spinach doesn't handle the crazy temperature swings very well, and most of it has bolted after putting on only a few leaves. Sigh.

Spinach starting to bolt.

BTW - my attempt at growing indoor spinach was a complete bust. The LED grow lights turned out not to be powerful enough, and when I moved it to the window sill Smoky ate it all. Gah!

And speaking of Gah! Here's my asparagus patch...

Asparagus fail!

What? You say you don't see any asparagus? Just some volunteer chives and a few sprigs of bindweed trying to take over. I know! Not sure what I'm doing wrong, but I'm about to throw in the towel with this stuff. I even caved and bought a dozen more sets of roots this year, but only two of them sprouted (which you can see scant evidence of in this photo.) Perhaps I'm just not meant to grow asparagus!

Anyhow, the only other thing I've planted is a garbage bag of potatoes.

Potato experiment
This is a bit of an experiment. I've had mixed luck with growing potatoes for a combination of reasons. Our soil is mostly clay, so I think that gives them some trouble, and I haven't found a good way to properly mound them as they grow. Sooo... in theory, growing them in bags lets you add prepared soil rather than clay, and it's easier to mound. Plus, you don't have to (ahem) worry about destroying half of them as you harvest.

I've tried container potatoes before, but I over watered them, so I cut some nice drainage holes in the bottom of the bag, and I'm gonna be more careful this time. We shall see...

So that's the news from the Mile High city! Have you planted anything yet?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

When it's Springtime in the Rockies...

Just when you thought it was safe to put away the winter gear...

I'd say there's a good 6-8 inches out there at the moment and it's still comin' down at a pretty good clip.

Truth is, this is actually fantastic news for us. Usually by this point in the season we've had about 55 inches of snow, and this year I think we were at about 19. So I'd describe the mood here as jubilant!

It started falling last night and hasn't really let up since.

And while this may seem like crazy weather to those of you not from these parts, March and April are actually Denver's two snowiest months, so this is actually much more "normal" than the mild weather we have been enjoying!

View from a bike ride last week.

I covered the garden, but honestly, I've only planted the cool weather crops, and the snow will insulate everything from the cold temps, so I think things will be fine. And the moisture is quite welcome!

I did forget to cut some of the lilacs and iris to bring them inside though... and this is what they looked like this morning.

Oh well... I did go out and shake the snow off of the lilac bush, so hopefully we won't get too many broken branches.

Glad I trimmed back the juniper tree... I fear it would be sagging even worse if I hadn't.

Anyhow... that's the news from the Mile High City! How's the weather in your neck of the woods?

And... here are some photos from recent bike rides to tide you (and me) over until things warm up!

Bear Creek in Morrison, CO

The remains of an old covered wagon out at Chatfield State Park
Some Neat Looking Clouds over the Mountains
Blossoms, blossoms, and more blossoms!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Arsenic and Old Rice

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that most of my readers are old enough to get that joke. Cary Grant movies never go out of style, do they?

Arsenic and Old Lace - 1944

Anyhow, between my gluten free experiments, and stockpiling of food in case of who knows what, rice seems to have taken on a much more prominent role in my life than it used to have.

So... where to begin...

I've long been a lover of brown rice, and when I decided to try to cut out gluten for a while to see if it helped my digestive troubles, good old brown rice was one of the first things I turned to.

Similarly, when CatMan and I first started talking about stockpiling some food supplies, our first thought was to check the local chef's supply store to see what sort of a price we could get on an enormous bag of brown rice.

Now, before we begin on this little rice odyssey, perhaps we need a little lesson in rice anatomy. Basically, like any other grain, rice has an inedible outer hull, under which is a layer known as the bran. The job of the bran is to protect the germ, which is nestled within the bran layer. The germ is essentially the "embryo" of the grain - or the part that germinates (hence the name) into a new plant. The inner part (the white part) is called the endosperm, which provides energy (carbohydrates) for the germ to use as it grows.

So, brown rice is rice which has had only the hull removed, leaving both the bran and the germ intact. It provides many more nutrients than white rice, which has had both the germ and the bran removed.

But here's the deal. The super nutritious germ and bran are also super prone to spoiling. Along with lots of nutrients, they also contain oils, which go rancid after a while. The long and short of it is (ha ha... get it? long & short like long & short grain rice?) Well anyhow, brown rice only has a shelf life of about 6 months to a year, depending on how you store it.

Soooo... there went the plan of stocking up on brown rice for the apocalypse!

White rice, on the other hand, has a significantly longer shelf life. I even bought some from the Mormon church (which has a long tradition of self-reliance and preparedness) that is stored in giant sealed cans and has a shelf life of 30 years. Now, that's some old rice!

OK... so now on to the arsenic part.

Not sure if you've heard the hullabaloo or not, but the news has recently been filed with reports of arsenic in rice. It's not that there are little old ladies wandering through the store aisles lacing rice with arsenic or anything like that, it's that rice absorbs arsenic from the soil in which it grows. Basically, arsenic is easily soluble in water, and since rice grows in wet swamps or paddies, it tends to absorb more environmental arsenic than other grains do.

And, the rice seems to concentrate the arsenic in the bran and the germ, meaning that brown rice contains a much higher concentration of the stuff than does white rice. Another strike against my beloved brown rice!

So, where does this leave us? Umm.... that's a little bit unclear.

First of all, arsenic levels in white rice can be reduced significantly (up to 90% or so) by soaking, rinsing, and cooking the rice in lots of water and draining off the excess rather than measuring the water proportionally and allowing it all to absorb. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for brown rice since the arsenic is bound up in the bran and germ.

Secondly, arsenic levels vary tremendously with both the type of rice, and the location in which it was grown. Aromatic rice like Jasmine and Basmati tend to absorb less arsenic. And rice grown in the US south tends to have higher levels because the soils there tend to have much higher concentrations of arsenic.

So I'm not entirely sure where that leaves me. I've been experimenting with different varieties of white rice. I've never actually cooked white rice before, so this is a new and exciting culinary adventure. I've become a huge fan of Jasmine rice - the smell is just wonderful! I think it must be that variety that's used in Chinese cuisine, because it smells just like a Chinese restaurant!

And, if you soak it overnight, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook! Amazing! I know it's not as nutritious as my beloved brown rice, but I do feel good knowing that it's not poisoning me.

Next on my list are Basmati (used in Indian cuisine) and parboiled rice. Parboiled is interesting because it's made by partially boiling the rice in the husk, before drying and removing the husk, bran and germ. This process apparently infuses some of the nutrients from the bran and germ into the rice grain, so in theory it's the best of both worlds. However, the bag says not to rinse or soak it because you will remove much of the nutrition. And the only variety I've been able to find so far was grown in Texas, which is in the arsenic belt... Hmmm...

My general conclusion with this entire topic is that when it comes to rice, the more nutritious it is, the more arsenic it contains. And I'm not really sure what that means in terms of diet and food storage. For the moment, my plan is to experiment with a variety of kinds of rice, stocking up only on the white, and parboiled. But it seems clear to me, that in order to ensure that one's nutritional needs are being met without poisoning oneself, it's a good idea not to rely on rice alone when it comes to consumption of grains.

To that end, I've also been experimenting with millet, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth - all of which are gluten free, and don't present the same sort of arsenic dilemma. Not sure about how viable any of those grains are for long term storage, but I guess the first step is to figure out how to prepare them and if I like them. I see another post in my future...

So that's my little rice odyssey. Are you a rice fan? Does the news about arsenic in rice concern you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this. The interwebs seem to be full of pictures of cats in "sushi costumes" I don't know what it means...

Friday, March 31, 2017

Still Here...

Okey dokey folks. Well, once again, here I am with a pile of half finished posts in my drafts folder. I just can't seem to get over the hump in terms of writing something meaningful.

Soooo... I guess I'll just give you the condensed version.

First of all, I FINALLY got my new web server up and running. There was great rejoicing!

Well, there was great rejoicing until the thing went down inexplicably for 6 hours.

I'm not ready to give up yet, but it is a tad bit disconcerting. I think it encountered a problem with a routine update to the operating system, but I'm not entirely sure. Anyhow, when it's functioning my websites are running much better and faster.

And apparently my home computer was feeling left out because it decided that if the server was gonna get replaced, it wanted in on the action.

This has been something I've been avoiding for years, since my computer was over 10 years old and had been upgraded to its limits. But when it started making a noise that sounded like a rocket ship taking off, and sporadically refusing to boot...

... well, I decided the time had come.

Actually, the nail was in the coffin was when it took me 30 minutes to rename a file.

So, I'm writing to you from my brand spanking new Windows 10 machine. In general I'm liking this new PC - it's significantly faster than my old one, and it's very nice not to have the thing hang up every time I try to do anything.

There is a bit of a learning curve though (NO! I do NOT want to store all 100 gigabytes of old photos on the cloud, thank you very much - that's why I bought a terabyte disk drive!) but I'm getting it figured out.

And apparently, the only folks using desktops these days aside from programmers and graphic designers are... wait for it... gamers! So yes, the new computer came complete with colorful led lights giving my office the slight vibe of a 1970's discotech. Groovy. (She says without the slightest hint of sarcasm.)

The experience of having to set everything up again is a big daunting though... Oh... and it's been complicated by the fact that one of my credit card numbers got stolen - the one that has everything automatically charged to it. GRRRR!!!! I must say that I'm really looking forward to the day when technology can authenticate our existence without the need for a zillion passwords!

In other news, our wacky weather continues. After an incredibly warm and dry February and first part of March, the pattern has changed and now it's cool and rainy. And now they're saying we're gonna get 3-6 inches of snow overnight! With the crazy heat I went ahead and planted the spinach and peas in early March, and they're about an inch tall now. I'm also experimenting with growing radishes (another cool weather crop) and they're just starting to sprout. So everything's nestled in under a layer of frost cloth.

The green onions and garlic think it's mid-summer already though. I've been harvesting onions for weeks now, and the garlic looks lush and healthy. Hopefully it will survive the snow.

CatMan & I have been taking advantage of the weather to get lots of biking miles in. With the combination of the mild winter and the fact that I beefed up my winter riding wardrobe, we didn't have any long breaks from riding this year, so we seem to be heading into the spring in the best shape ever.

Seriously, we did 55 miles yesterday and it didn't seem like a particularly long ride. So assuming we don't get flooded out this year, we're hoping to conquer a few longer rides this summer- we've got a 65 miler with lots of hills, and a fairly flat 75 mile route in our sights.

Here's a photo from a recent ride with some cool iridescent clouds. Not quite as impressive on the photo as in person, but the colors you see next to the sun aren't an artefact from the camera, the clouds really were that color.

Of course, before any of that can happen, I have to get brave enough to replace my chain. Apparently bike chains actually stretch and need to be replaced every 5000 miles or so. Who knew? I'm hoping that it won't be as difficult as it sounds!

And... of course, I did heave an enormous sigh of relief when the Republican "health care" bill went down in flames.

I'm sure the battle is far from over, but I do feel like there's a bit of a reprieve. (FYI- I would absolutely agree that the system needs some changes, but asking self-employed folks ages 50-64 to pony up $15K per person per year, just for the premium payments on a high deductible plan, does not exactly seem like a fair proposal to me.)

I do have to say that I find it just a tad bit ironic that the reason the plan failed was not because it would kick so many people off of health care, but because it wasn't "conservative" enough. Well, any port in a storm, as they say... at least as long as it's not port 25 - because for reasons that are still a mystery to me, the new server refuses to recognize unencrypted SMTP... oh wait, I shifted gears again there didn't I.

OK, well on that note...

How are things in your little corner of the universe?