More Thoughts on Garlic

Homegrown Neighbor here:
So Mrs. Homegrown’s post the other day about their not so successful garlic season this year inspired me to weigh in with some of my own garlic observations.

I recall having a conversation with Mr. Homegrown around the time we both planted our garlic in November. I selected three heirloom varieties to grow at a job site and I plopped a few extra cloves into my own garden. Mr. Homegrown said, “You can’t grow hardneck garlic here.” I of course had purchased only hardneck varieties. Now, we have garden debates like this all the time. Sometimes I am right and often I am completely wrong. I replied that we would wait and see. I hoped my hardneck garlic varieties wouldn’t be a total failure.

He planted white softneck garlic, the popular commercial variety here in California. I planted Music, Pskem River and Bogatyr garlic at my work site and Pskem River also in my home garden. All three varieties have done simply okay at my work site. However, the Pskem River garlic in my home garden is big and beautiful. Hardneck garlic produces scapes. The picture above is of the scapes I have removed from my plants in order to encourage them to produce bigger bulbs. Now I am going to stop watering the garlic and hope to harvest it in a couple of weeks. It is best to stop watering garlic at least two weeks prior to harvest to help the papery skins to form. This will also improve its storage quality.

Since I live a block away from the Root Simple compound, I’m quite sure weather isn’t the issue. Also, as my other garlic plants at a job site have shown lackluster growth I think I can draw a few conclusions. First, garlic likes fertile soil with plenty of nutrients. My home garden bed with the garlic in it has been amended with a lot of rich compost including worm castings and chicken manure. The native soil in the area also isn’t too bad. The pH is pretty neutral to slightly alkaline. Its a little heavy on the clay side but clay holds nutrients well and with all of the organic matter added the drainage is pretty decent. So I’m confident the robust garlic has been growing in healthy, rich soil.

My work garden site has less fertile soil that I am constantly trying to improve. So I’d guess that the garlic that has been slowly plugging along there is suffering due to the soil.

How it is watered can also affect how well garlic grows. Garlic likes even, regular watering during its growth cycle. My past experiences with garlic have certainly taught me that if they don’t get regular water they will stay puny.

And as to the softneck versus hardneck garlic debate I can say conclusively that hardneck garlic will indeed grow and thrive here in a Mediterranean climate. Garlic is usually planted here in November and harvested in June or July. So its growth cycle avoids the most intensely hot months. Softneck garlic stores better and this is why it is so popular and almost all commercially available garlic is softneck. Supposedly softneck varieties do better in warmer climates and hardnecks do better in colder climates. However, while we are not growing in Minnesota, nor are we growing in the hot and humid tropics. Our climate is very forgiving.

I can’t wait to harvest my garlic heads in a few weeks. I’ll post some pictures after the harvest.

More Pallet Composters

Thanks readers for sending links to some attractive pallet compost bins. The one above is at http://thriftify.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/easy-to-build-pallet-compost-bin/.

Another nice one at http://www.ecodaddyo.com/node/94, though I like to keep the bottom open and the compost in contact with the ground. Correction: the bottom is open on this composter.

It ain’t made of pallets but it looks like it will work nicely and you sure can’t beat the scenery. From Devon Morgan.

Compost Bin Project From Our New Book

Natural Home and Garden magazine has excerpted a shipping pallet compost bin project from our new book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

I’ve been using shipping pallets as a compost bin for a few years now and they work great. A compost pile, in my humble opinion, should be a minimum of a cubic yard in order to jump start the heat and microbial life that makes for good compost. Nail together a couple of pallets and you’ve got a cubic yard sized pile. 

I’ve got two bins, side by side, but wish I had three. Mine also look like hell since I put them together in a hurry. I much prefer the bin the folks at Motuv in Kansas City created:

To answer ahead of time a question that always comes up–am I concerned about contaminated pallets? In short, no. A longer explanation will have to wait for another blog post.

Leave a comment on how you store compost. And if you’ve got an aesthetically pleasing bin I’m especially interested. Leave a link to a photo.

Going Wired

Cat 5 o’ nine tails via BoingBoing

The dangers of radiation from cellphones has been in the news lately and, from what I understand, existing studies are either inconclusive or deeply flawed. But it got me thinking about the safety of wireless internet networks–should I be concerned about possible health effects?

In terms of a direct physical effect, probably not.  Dr Michael Clark of Britain’s Health Protection Agency, speaking in a 2006 Sunday Times article says,

When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile.

So I’m probably not going to get cancer from a wireless internet network and the jury’s still out on cellphones. But what about the power of suggestion, so often neglected in our materialistic world? What about the symbolism of a world crowded with cellphones, wireless telephones, radio stations and now ubiquitous wireless internet networks? What about a kind of negative placebo effect?

I think we should acknowledge the symbolic implications of the technologies we use as well as the power of the unconscious mind. Even if we fancy ourselves thoroughly modern, what about those lingering doubts buried in our subconscious? Couldn’t those doubts cause deleterious effects both mental and physical? The placebo effect is real.

Our wireless modem recently failed, giving me the opportunity to put my theory into action by going “wired.” A neighbor gave me a hundred feet of ethernet cable, so all I needed was a few other supplies and a trip through the crawl space under the house to make it work. Initially the clerk at Radio Shack thought that I was insane when I told him I wanted to get rid of our wireless network. After several visits the clerk eventually warmed to my eccentricities and kind of got into the project, looking up things on the internet in the store for me. After a few hours on the phone with AT&T tech support (located in the Philippines!) we went fully wired.

Like the Radio Shack clerk, Mrs. Homegrown also thinks I’m crazy but I hope she appreciates the non-ethereal benefits of our wired network: greater security and higher speeds.

For more on the advantages of an ethernet network see this comparison of wired vs. wireless.

And, as Marshall McCluhan used to say, if you don’t like that idea I’ve got others . . .

Support Locally Sourced Kittens

Mrs. Homegrown here:
Our friend, Anne–who stuck us gifted us with our own kitten a couple of months ago, now has a pair of rescued kitties looking for a home. They came to her in bad shape, their tiny little bodies crawling with fleas, so much so that the water of their first bath turned blood red. One was very, very sick with some sort of intestinal bug. He didn’t seem likely to make it, but recovered, thanks to Anne’s 24-hour care.
But those dark days are over. These authentic HaFo SaFo street kitties (HaFo SaFo is a neighborhood in LA, and a blog)  are now healthy, happy, darn cute and ready for permanent homes. They are well socialized to humans, as well as other cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, ducks and turtles.
The kittens are siblings. They have very similar markings, the difference being that one has crisp-edged markings, the other blurry-edged markings. Therefore, the kittens are provisionally known as Sharp and Blurry, or Dodge and Blur. Sharp is a girl, Blurry a boy.  I believe they could be adopted together or separately.
Anne is happy to give them free to a good home. If the adopter wanted to make some contribution toward medical expenses, that would be cool–because Blurry needed about $100 worth of medicine–but it’s not at all required. Most important is that they get a home. 
Remember, kittens are a most excellent source of low-tech entertainment and chemical-free rodent control, an ideal addition to any homestead–guaranteed to be useful throughout the zombie apocalypse!
If you’re interested, send us email at [email protected], and we’ll pass you on to Anne. 
Please be sure to pass this on to any cat-susceptible friends you might have, too. Thanks for your help finding these little guys a home!
Note: Erik is worried this sets a precedent, and that Root Simple will soon become Pet Simple, because we’ll be inundated by requests to advertise pets. So let’s lay this out now–we won’t. That’s not our mission. But Anne is our friend, and she lives just few blocks away from us, and rescued our cat as well as Blurry and Sharp from the immediate neighborhood. Therefore our kitten and these are siblings, of a sort.
Speaking of which…

***

Update on our kitten:

Our kitten is now confirmed to be female. She’s about 12 weeks old now, still very small, compared to adult cats, but all graceful and cat-proportioned (as the photo above illustrates). The toddling, cuddly kitten stage is far behind. Now she spends 80% of her waking hours practicing killing things in ever more spectacular ways, and the remaining 20% getting into trouble by exploring where she should not (knocking over things, missing jumps, falling off ledges, getting coated with dust bunnies). As I said, kittens are excellent source of low-tech entertainment.
As for a name, we’ve been having trouble naming her. Nothing sticks. As of now, she’s named Phoebe, after the formidable, insect-eating birds that stalk our backyard. She’s as much of a hunter as any phoebe–and black, too. Her surname is WoadNyx, because she really needs a witchy name, since she seems to be born of 100% pure Halloween cat stock: Phoebe WoadNyx.
My allergies were really doing well, but just in the last couple of days I’ve turned into a walking snot factory. However, it may be seasonal allergies. It’s so hard to tell. I have faith that this will pass. It has to, really, because Phoebe and Erik are in the midst of a shameless love affair, and I don’t think I can make him choose between us. When she hears him come in, she runs to greet him, like a dog. She sleeps on top of him, purring like an outboard motor. It’s ridiculous. I--I am nothing but the sniffling human who brings her dinner, a fine enough thing to sit upon when The Great One is not around. 
Cats.

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(the above is a contribution to this post by the demon herself)

SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Resource

One of the highlights of the California Master Gardener Conference I just spoke at was a lecture by Toby O’Geen, Ph.D., Assistant Soil Resource Specialist at UC Extension. O’Geen mentioned an amazing online soil resource called SoilWeb, avaliable at http://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/drupal/node/902.

SoilWeb overlays detailed soil information on Google Maps and Google Earth. There’s even a SoilWeb iPhone app allowing you to use the GPS capabilities of your phone to assist in shopping for, say, the perfect vineyard location.

SoilWeb maps cover most, but not all, areas of the US (Los Angeles isn’t included for some reason). While highly technical, terms are explained via hyperlinks. You click on the table to the right of the map for more detailed information including suitability for farming.

Of course in urban areas you never know what unpleasant surprises lurk beneath the surface such as concrete chunks and lead. SoilWeb won’t tip you off to those things, but it does give a good overall picture of the kind of soil you’ll be dealing with.

Advances in Gardening Series: A Garlic Mystery

One of the new features of the garden this year is a long, trough-shaped bed that Erik installed along the edge of our patio. Its inaugural crop was garlic, which is generally a very easy plant to grow. We’ve done it before, many times, successfully. This year it didn’t work. The stalks failed to thrive. Many plants did not set bulbs at all, looking instead like green onions. The heads that were formed are quite small. 
We’re not sure why this happened. All spring Erik scoured books trying to find an obvious solution, but couldn’t make any clear diagnosis. Our winter/spring weather was strange: torrential rains and cold interspersed with heat waves. Our best guess is that this irregularity created conditions ripe for various sorts of molds and bacteria which garlic does not get along with. Another possibility is that the soil in this bed, which was transferred from another bed, may have pre-existing problems. C’est la vie, as we say around the compost heap. We’ll be buying garlic this year. 
We may send the soil in this bed off for testing, or just plant a legume cover crop in it for the summer, and decide what to do with it in the fall.
The bed newly constructed and planted. Alas, those were hopeful days…
It started off good, but just sort of declined steadily.
The original post about the garlic trough here.

Cat Litter Composting

Pocket Nitrogen Generator

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

Apologies to you googlers looking for solid answers. This is what Erik calls a probe. I’ve decided to compost our kitten’s litter box waste, and this is how I plan to go about it. However, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot as I go, so this post isn’t instructional. I will post a report once the system gets going.

The real reason I’m posting is because I’d love is to hear from any of you who do this already–tips are much appreciated! I’m particularly interested in finding a good brand of litter that composts well.

The basic gist:

Okay, first, anyone who’s gone through Composting 101 knows they say not to put pet waste, especially dog and cat waste, in your regular compost bin. This is because cat and dog poop contains pathogens. We never composted our late dog’s waste, and for 12 years we sent at least two big plastic bags of poop to the landfill every day. Parents who use disposable diapers got nothing on me in terms of environmental guilt.

Now we’ve got this cat, and I’m looking in her litter box and seeing nothing but carbon and nitrogen. I can’t stand it. I’m disregarding Composting 101 rules because I know this can be done, if done carefully. Over the years I’ve learned to be amazed by the Cleansing Power of Compost & Time, especially since we started doing some humanure composting. Check that link for more info on Jenkins’ good work in that area–research, technique, message boards, etc. It’s all there. Human, cat and dog waste are all more tricky to work with than your more benign chicken and bunny waste. This isn’t something one should do in a half-assed way, but it is possible.

The plan I’m going to follow is the basic humanure model, which is classic composting, but with lots of attention and care, followed by a 2 year rest period for the full bin, during which time worms and bacteria do their scrubbing magic to help remove any lingering nasties. When the first batch is done, I’ll have a sample lab tested, just out of curiosity.

Whatever I do, I won’t spread my finished compost on food crops, but instead under our trees and around our perennials. 

I have considered doing this via a worm bin, but as I understand it, the worms don’t like the fresh pet waste–and understandably, too! They like to come in when it’s broken down a bit. I’ll definitely add worms to the bin when the rest period begins. But if anyone has a pet-waste worm bin, let me know how that’s going!

Now I have to find a spot for (yet another) bin of poo in our yard.

(Do I hear the soundtrack to Deliverance playing, or is that just my imagination?)

Update: Read what I decided to do in The Cat Poop Portal

What you control

Erik cited a Terence McKenna quote deep in his last post on bacon. It’s a good one, and deserves more attention so I’m giving it this space.

If Erik and I have a single message to offer, it is that you can’t control the world, but you can control your life. There’s plenty in this world to be outraged over, or worried about, but those feelings don’t get you anywhere. What you have to do is tend your own garden: Your body, mind and soul. Your family. Your kitchen. Your yard. Your neighborhood. See to those things. In making those things better, you do make the world better. At the very least you’ve improved your own life. Or, perhaps, you might be one of the many pebbles that makes an avalanche.

And here is McKenna saying something similiar in his inimitable style:

“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.” –Terence McKenna

(I’m sorry I don’t know where this quote comes from–but I snatched it from Goodreads.)

Well howdy! We’re in the New York Times

We’re pleased and flattered to be in the Times today, spouting off at the mouth and waving our freak flag (or freak thrysus) high. Michael Tortarello interviewed us, and he’s a helluva a writer. You could spend your time in worse ways seeking out his other articles, like this one on hybrid seeds, which is one of Erik’s favorites. And kudos to Laure Joliet for taking such beautiful pictures.