Mosaics

Above is a table the Kelly and I made many years ago with glass mosaic tile. We copied a portion of an ancient Roman mosaic depicting sea life. It took about 40 hours of painstaking work.

We still have a box of glass tile sitting in the garage and I’m thinking about breaking up the ugly concrete patio in the back yard and doing some mosaics. Kelly is less than enthused about this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it will take me away from more pressing matters such as a back door that doesn’t open and a non-functioning computer network.

Nevertheless I was inspired to return to mosaic work after seeing the stunning garden designs of Portland, Oregon based pebble mosaic master Jeffrey Bale.

A pebble mosaic from Jeffrey Bale’s blog

You can view Bale’s work on his blog and read a great how-to article Bale wrote for Fine Gardening Magazine.

Our squid table was made by gluing the tiles directly to the wood and grouting once all the tiles were in place. This would not work for exterior mosaics. Instead, for my patio I would glue the tiles to a piece of paper and then set them into a mortar mix in place (the indirect method).

Using pebbles as opposed to glass mosaic tile, by the way, cuts costs way down. Should I get permission to do the back patio I’m thinking of combining pebbles with small areas of glass tile. In fact, I may just stop answering emails so that I’ll have the time to do this!

Friday Quiz Answer

The answer to our “Freaky Friday Fungal Quiz”: slime mold. And I should not have used “fungal” in the title. Slime molds are no longer classified as fungi. But I’ll stick with “freaky.” According to UC Berkeley, slime molds fall into three categories,

Plasmodial slime molds, like Physarum . . ., are basically enormous single cells with thousands of nuclei. They are formed when individual flagellated cells swarm together and fuse. The result is one large bag of cytoplasm with many diploid nuclei. These “giant cells” have been extremely useful in studies of cytoplasmic streaming (the movement of cell contents) because it is possible to see this happening even under relatively low magnification. In addition, the large size of the slime mold “cell” makes them easier to manipulate than most cells.

A second group, the cellular slime molds, spend most of their lives as separate single-celled amoeboid protists, but upon the release of a chemical signal, the individual cells aggregate into a great swarm. Cellular slime molds are thus of great interest to cell and developmental biologists, because they provide a comparatively simple and easily manipulated system for understanding how cells interact to generate a multicellular organism. There are two groups of cellular slime molds, the Dictyostelida and the Acrasida, which may not be closely related to each other.

A third group, the Labyrinthulomycota or slime nets, are also called “slime molds”, but appear to be more closely related to the Chromista, and not relatives of the other “slime mold” groups.

Friday Freaky Fungus Quiz

I spotted this strange blobby thing attached to a step just below our porch. Measuring about an inch and a half, it has not changed much in the week since I first noticed it. I suspect that it’s some sort of fungus, but I’m not absolutely sure. I ate about a teaspoon of it and developed an alternative to my usual lecture appearances. Just kidding.

But seriously, what the heck is this thing? Leave  a comment!

Processing and Winnowing Flax

We grew a five foot circle of flax this winter in the center of our yard. When it came time to harvest said flax I pondered creating the world’s smallest piece of linen. Lacking the time for that process, I opted to simply harvest the seeds.

I used a block of coconut coir to smash the seed heads against a piece of newspaper.

Next came time for winnowing the flax. I used a fan and had to winnow multiple times to get the chaff out.

Alas, there was still quite a bit of chaff. Remembering that I had some 1/8 inch hardware cloth in the garage, I used it to screen out most of the last chaffy bits. You can buy expensive screens for processing seeds, but the amortization on that equipment would take years for our tiny garden.

A huge mess was made. Good thing Kelly is off camping.

In the end I managed to harvest nine ounces of flax seeds. Plans for a flax oil pressing fest were canceled.

Meanwhile, as yet unnamed new kitten ponders the absurdity of the world’s smallest flax seed harvest from her pillow perch.

Pruning and Grafting Workshop with C. Darren Butler

This Sunday May 29, learn how to prune and graft citrus and avocados with consulting arborist, ecological designer, sustainable landscaping specialist, and teacher C. Darren Butler. Slots are still available. It’s a double workshop (pruning in the morning and grafting in the afternoon). You can sign up for one or both. Hope to see some of you there!

For more information contact Darren at: [email protected]

Side Yard Hops Trellis

A little hard to see in these crapular photos: the new south side hops trellis.

I love looking out our bedroom window in the summer at the hops I’ve trained up the east side of the house. And I also like the beer I’ve made with those hops, so much so that I decided to expand my hops growing project to the south side of the house.

Otherwise useless, the narrow side yard on the south side of the house is the perfect place for a vertical plant like hops. To accommodate the bines (what you call a plant like hops that attaches itself to a support without suckers or tendrils) I put some pulleys on the eaves of the house so that I can lower the bines to harvest the hops without having to climb a ladder.  I attached some twine to metal cables that run through the pulleys. Hops stick to twine like Velcro and grow so fast you can almost watch them climb. I train them into a “V” shape and cut down all but the strongest two bines from each mound in the spring.

Year three of the front porch hops: Cascade and Nugget.

Two years ago I started Cascade and Nugget hops in self watering pots placed by the porch on the east side of the house. This year I transferred those bines to the ground and they seem to be doing well. Cascade, especially, grows like a weed here. While I proved to myself that you can grow hops in self irrigating pots, I think they will do better in the ground.

The new varieties on the side of the house are Golden and Chinook. Since this blog also doubles as my garden diary I’ll note that the Golden is on the southeast and the Chinook on the southwest. It’s important to keep the bines labeled so when it comes time to make beer you know which variety is which. When I planted the Cascade and Nugget in the ground I got them mixed up. They look and smell different when mature so I’m pretty sure I can tell the difference come harvest time. But, never having grown Chinook or Golden, I don’t want to forget which one is which.

Here’s how you have to harvest hops without a fancy pulley system:

Growing Artichokes on the Sly

Artichokes also provide shade for lazy cats

It is possible to grow vegetables around the grounds of an apartment building, especially if the landlord is neglectful. Often the biggest challenge you’ll face is the gardeners, who will weedwack everything to lawn level. If you can negotiate with them, or somehow put a protective barrier between your plants and the whirling cord of death, you can grow stuff.

Take this lovely artichoke. It was a sprout off of one of our own plants, which we gave to a friend who lives in a courtyard apartment. She tucked the sprout near a wall, between some permanent shrubs. It flourished through our wet winter–she says she didn’t give it any care at all. Now it’s way too big to weedwack, and covered with fat artichokes. It’s also such a magnificent plant that it looks like it belongs there. She’s harvested over forty chokes so far–that’s a lot of good eating!

We realize artichokes don’t grow everywhere, but investigate perennial food-bearing plants that grow well in your area. Check out the book Perennial Vegetables for inspiration. Herbs, like chives, are an easy place to start. Alternatively, consider tucking some annuals here and there among the landscaping. Garlic is a good bet. It blends easily into flower beds and grows with little care. (Of course, you’ll want to take note of whether your landlord is spraying the landscape with pesticides.)

And homeowners can use these same tips to integrate edibles with their existing, ornamental landscapes without alarming their neighbors or the HOA.

Pop Quiz Answer

The answer to yesterday’s pop quiz: as our friend Nic Sammond put it, “Your shelving was designed by Tokyo Electric Power?” Alas, I can’t pass the blame off on anyone but myself. When the big one hits, we’ll have a giant salsa bowl of pickles, jams and broken glass.

It’s well past time to install some bungee cords across the shelves.

And we’ll make our quizzes a little harder next time. 

Friday Pop Quiz

Our pantry. So what’s the main thing wrong with this picture? Hint–we’re in California. Leave a comment. We’ll provide an answer tomorrow.

Wish we could offer a prize, like an all expenses paid trip to Vernon, CA. But, alas, we have a tight budget here at Root Simple. You’ll get bragging rights.

No-Knead Artisinal Bread Part I

You can make a decent loaf of bread with one of the many popular no-knead recipes on the interwebs. With just a little bit more effort you can make a much better loaf of bread with a “levain” (or “sourdough starter” in less yuppiefied parlance).

For about ten years, I used to bake the loaf I blogged about here and put in our first book The Urban Homestead. Lately, however, I’ve completely changed the way I bake thanks to meeting Mark Stambler and Teresa Sitz of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers.

I’ll post a specific recipe once my method crystallizes a bit more. In the meantime, this is the general way I’ve been baking. All the mixing and first fermentation can take place in a plastic tub or large bowl.

1. The night before I mix my dough I take some starter, add flour and water to create the “levain”. Starter is made by mixing dough and water and letting nature do her thing. I’ll blog about the process in detail in a future post. Right now I’m working with a starter that has the consistency of bread dough, but I’m going to switch to a more liquid starter to avoid the dough messes in the kitchen that cause marital strife.

2. In the morning I mix the final dough, carefully measuring ingredients on a digital scale. While I use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, I’m trying to wean myself of its use. Kneading, it turns out, is unnecessary labor and can be replaced by simply folding the dough a few times during the initial fermentation period.

3. After mixing the dough I let it rest for around 20 minutes to allow flour and water to integrate.

4. Following the rest period I mix in the salt.

5. The dough rises for 2 1/2 hours. During this first fermentation period I pour the wet sticky dough out onto a work surface every 50 minutes and quickly fold the dough in half two or three times.

6. At the end of the first rise I shape the dough into either a batard or a boule. At some point I’ll make a video on how to do this.

7. Once shaped, the boule or batard goes into the refrigerator covered with a floured piece of canvas, in the case of a batard, or plopped in a proofing basked in the case of a boule. The dough can stay in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. During this second, slow, fermentation period the dough develops a more acidic, complex flavor, plus it allows for more flexibility in terms of your baking schedule. When you want a loaf, all you do is heat up the oven, pull the bread out of the fridge and toss it in the oven. There’s no need, it turns out, to bring the dough to room temperature before baking.

8. To get a decent crust in a home oven I recommend baking in a dutch oven as in the no-knead method. Pre-heat both dutch oven and stove, toss the loaf in the dutch oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove the top of the dutch oven and continue baking until done (usually another 20 to 25 minutes).

A note on water: chlorine and chloramine inhibit starters. I have a carbon filter on our house water which I thought removed both chlorine and chloramine. However, I discovered that I got much better results when using bottled, distilled water. After pouring through multiple aquarium enthusiast internet forums (not particularly exciting when you don’t keep fish) I figured out that my cheap carbon filter removes some, but not all of the chloramine in our water supply. At some point I’ll do some tests to confirm this. In the meantime, I’ll stick with bottled water.

I should note that the road to bread baking nirvana is littered with hockey puck loaves and existential angst. Push through the wall of frustration and you emerge on the other side an alchemist, with the power to turn flour into loaves, lead into gold and Dan Brown into Shakespeare. Well, maybe not that last bit.