Gas station without pumps

2021 June 27

Volunteer potatoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:59
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This Spring, when I was turning my compost from the compost bin, I came across a few potatoes that had sprouted, so I planted them in the garden behind the compost bin and pretty much ignored them (maybe remembering to water them once every couple of weeks, which is not really enough for potatoes in the California drought).  When the plants died, I dug them up, generally getting one or two potatoes per plant.  Today I dug up the biggest of the plants and found that I had gotten a pretty good yield from it:


The nineteen potatoes here are the ones that were big enough to be worth cooking—there were another dozen or so tiny ones that I’ll probably replant.

For volunteers from the compost bin, these potatoes look surprisingly good. I think I’ll try taking a number of the potatoes that are too small to cook and try starting more plants from them in a planter that is just deep enough. I should then have another crop around September.  I might even make a point of planting a few of the tiny potatoes at the end of each month so that I’ll have a continuous crop (at least until we get a hard frost, which probably won’t be until December).

2021 January 9

One week into new quarter

We’re one week into the new quarter (10% of the way through!) and the course is going ok. Most of the students have finished the first-week lab, which consists of installing a lot of software and soldering headers onto a Teensy LC board.

The software they had to install was

Of course, each piece of software has its own installation idiosyncracies, different on Windows, macos, and Linux.  Some people even bumped into some problems because of running old versions of macos or Python (which were luckily cleared by upgrading to slightly newer versions).

The soldering was a bigger problem, because many students plugged in their cheap irons and left them on for a long time without tinning the tips.  The result was a sufficient build-up of corrosion that that they could not then tin the tips—even using a copper ChoreBoy scrubber to clean the tips didn’t help in some cases. In the in-person labs, I often spent most of the first week labs cleaning soldering iron tips that students had managed to mess up, but I can’t do that online.  This was not such a problem last quarter, as most of the students knew how to care for soldering irons from the first half of the course, but it may be a bigger problem this quarter, as most of the students have never touched a soldering iron before.  Some of the ones who are living here in town may be contacting the lab staff to see if they can get access to tip tinner or get some help cleaning their irons.  Those further away may be buying tip tinner on their own—I had not included it in kits, because I nad not expected so many to need it and it costs $8 apiece.

Grading is going fairly well.  My grading team and I have had two Zoom meetings so far (for Homeworks 1 and 2) and I graded Quiz 1 by myself, so we are keeping up with the grading.  He have Homework 3 and Prelab 2a (there is no Prelab 1) both due Monday morning, and we’ll try getting them graded Monday night.  We’re having to do most of our grading in the evening, because one of the graders is living in China, 15 time zones away, and none of us in California is an early morning person.

In other news, I’ve finally finished clearing the blackberries and ivy from behind the garage (a project I started about 2 years ago).  I’ll probably find some more when I cut back the kiwi vine (an annual winter project, in addition to frequent minor pruning during the summer).  I think I either need to get some female kiwi vines and an arbor for them or uproot the male kiwi.  There is really not much point to having just a male kiwi intent on taking over a big chunk of the yard.

There are still a lot of blackberry roots out there that will sprout new vines.  I’ll try uprooting them where I have access (not where they are coming through the cracks in the concrete), but I’ll probably have to do a monthly sweep of the yard to remove blackberries for the rest of my life in this house.

2020 November 16

Rosemary plant

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:35
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A month ago, I got a sprig of rosemary from the garden at the Food Bin (with their permission) to make my sourdough focaccia. I took a larger twig than I needed, so I stuck what was left in a little glass jar with water, to keep it fresh for later recipes.  After a few days, I noticed that it had started to sprout roots, so I left it in the jar for the roots to grow bigger.  My wife occasionally replaced the water in the jar, to keep algae from growing on the roots.

The twig continues to flourish on the kitchen windowsill.

After a month, the roots have gotten quite long, so it is time to transplant to a pot.

I sifted some dirt from where the compost heap used to be to fill a 4″ pot, and I planted the twig. In the Spring, after the roots have had a chance to grow into the dirt of the pot a bit, I’ll either transfer to a larger pot or plant the rosemary in garden. I know rosemary grows well here, as I used to have a couple of fine rosemary bushes in my raised bed, but they were crowded out by the bay tree.

2014 October 18

Tread Lightly with Terra Nova!

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A friend of mine, Ken Foster, has just started an Indiegogo fund-raising campaign, Tread Lightly with Terra Nova!, to raise money to restart the bicycle landscaping service that he ran for over 20 years:

Terra Nova’s Tread Lightly Service

Bicycle Powered Landscaping

In 1991 I started a service I dubbed Tread Lightly. This was a bicycle-powered landscape service that served our Santa Cruz area clients. For over twenty years the community hailed the ‘Tread Lightly’ service as an authentic, profoundly ecological approach to landscape care and as a symbol of innovation and hope. One of the principles of permaculture is “Use Small and Slow Solutions.” Tread Lightly was definitely that! Pedal-Powered Permaculture!

I used the Tread Lightly service for a couple of years, then decided that I did not care enough about the lawn to hire a landscape service—not even a bicycle landscape service from a friend. The service was good when I used it, and I was wondering why I never saw his bike trailers around town any more (I still see Ken riding his recumbent around town). It turned out that the trailers, bikes, and equipment eventually wore out, and the bike service was barely making enough to pay the employees. When the recession hit, it hit the local lawn services pretty hard, and Ken had to downsize his business (still doing landscaping, but with a much smaller team and no bikes).

Now that the local economy has improved, he’d like to bring back the signature bike trailers and hand equipment, but he needs to raise some capital to do it.  Borrowing from banks (a traditional business solution) is not likely to work, as the business plan does not result in a high probability of a large profit to pay off the loans. So he is looking for crowd-funding to help him restart the bike landscaping business, train youngsters in sustainable urban landscaping, and bring back a distinctive Santa Cruz institution.

In the years since I used the Tread Lightly service, I’ve bought an electric mower to mow the front yard about every 2 months, and let the back yard get covered with weeds (thistles, grass, blackberry brambles, ivy, kiwi vines, … ).  It is now difficult even to get to the compost heap, and some of the windows on the house are not openable because of the blackberries covering them.  I’ve been thinking of hiring Ken to clear the back yard for me, though I’ve no intention of actually maintaining the yard—too much work for too little reward.  If I were ever to sell the house, it would probably need over $1000 in landscaping maintenance to look attractive to a buyer, but I’m likely to be living here for the next 25 years, so any investment I make needs to pay off in personal pleasure (or reduced maintenance effort) well before then.

I enjoyed doing some gardening as a child, and thought I would enjoy it as an adult when I bought the house, but it turns out that I never have the time or energy to do any gardening. There is always something more interesting or more urgent to do. Even the tall raised beds that I built and that I had Ken build have gotten covered with weeds. It would be nice to have an herb and vegetable garden in them again, but I know I’ll never get around to planting and weeding, much less the incessant watering that is needed to have anything less hardy than thistles survive around here.  (I put in a drip irrigation system once, but such systems need annual maintenance, which I never got around to doing, so it disintegrated years ago.)


2012 September 6

Volunteer pumpkins

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:12
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Step 1: the leaves

Last fall, after raking the leaves and mulching them with the lawnmower, I left a pile of shredded leaves on the driveway, with the intention of moving it with the wheelbarrow to the compost heap in the backyard.  But the wheelbarrow has been full of sand for the past two years, and I didn’t get around to finding a place in the yard to deposit the sand in order to free the wheelbarrow to move the leaves. As a result, the shredded leaves sat on the driveway all winter, turning into fairly rich compost.

Step 2: the seeds

Last fall, for Halloween, we had bought several pumpkins.  We carved the big ones and put candles in them, but displayed the little ones intact on fence posts.  The big ones rotted rapidly and were moved to the compost heap, but little ones were kept as decoration for most of the winter.  The squirrels knocked one of the pumpkins off its fence post and ate the flesh of the pumpkin, but (surprisingly) not the seeds.

Step 3: growth

When I finally got around to cleaning up the leaves in the spring, I noticed that there were pumpkin vines growing out of the inch-deep compost.  I was curious to see how well the vines would do, so I decided not to clean up the leaves after all.  (Any excuse to avoid doing garden chores.)

What the pumpkin “patch” on the driveway looked like by 5 Sept 2012. One of the vines has died (with a couple of ripe pumpkins on it), but the others are still doing fine.

Step 4: water

I live in coastal California, where it doesn’t rain from about May to October, and the “soil” was only about an inch thick above the concrete driveway.  We have a high water table (an aquifer ends here, and the water is only about an inch below the surface), but the roots can’t grow through a cement slab, so the vines needed to be watered. There was no way that I would remember to water the vines often enough, and I didn’t want to waste city water (we have water restrictions this summer) on a volunteer pumpkin.

I came up with an ingenious solution that required no money and miniscule effort. The patch of leaves was on the driveway just below the sump pump which normally pumps water collected from under the house out to the gutter. The sump pump runs a few times a day, discharging a gallon or two of water each time.  All I did was disconnect the drain pipe from the sump pump and arrange a little diverter to spread the water out to wet the pumpkin patch.

Automatic watering system: the sump is under the wooden box on the right, and the drain pipe is normally connected to it. Removing the drain pipe and propping up a concrete block to divert the flow was enough to water the pumpkin patch several times a day.

The only problem with this automatic watering system is that it kept the pumpkins too wet. The mulch that the pumpkins are sitting on is so wet that it harbors a lot of slugs and sow bugs.

Step 5: the pumpkins

The first two pumpkins look nice sitting on the driveway, but picking them up reveals a lot of slugs and sow bugs feasting on the bottoms of them. The pumpkins on live vines seem to be resisting slug attack better, and I’ve moved them a little to try to keep them drier.

The pumpkins are small ones, because the seeds were from a small variety. I wonder how well a larger variety would have fared in this shallow-rooted environment.

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