Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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How I spend my mornings

I said I try to spend a little time with the plants every day.  These are a couple of photos from the “garden”.

The first is from the, “Cutting Grape” (so called because I grew it from a cutting a took from a vine, and stuck in a pot, about 12 years ago).  It’s a small mushroom.  I’ve had various fungus pop-up in the base of the grape, so I don’t know if this is one I brought from Calif., or one I acquired here.  I didn’t get any musrhroom growth last year, so I’m pleased.

New Shroom

The other is a something I’ve never done before. I planted some asparagus. This pipped yesterday, and today it was about four inches high. The small plants are za’atar seedlings.

Baby Asparagus


I took both those photos with my iPhone, though I did some post in LightZone.

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Attention leads to intention

Nero Wolfe, half of the great detective created by Rex Stout (Archie Goodwin being the other half), spends two hours, twice a day with his orchids.  It’s not that he has 10,000 (he does) it’s that it pleases him.  Some of the time is spent potting, or breeding, but a lot of it is almost certainly spent just looking at the plants.  I don’t have that many plants.  I have a few, a couple of orchids, a grape, an olive, a pair of etrogim (in the same pot, for the nonce), rosemary, gardenia, some “Peruvian Sea Lilies”, Freesia, various pot herbs, etc.

I also volunteered for the position of gardener for our condo.  So I try to spend a few minutes a day with the plants.  Some of it is to work (the forsythia is horrid, and the junipers are overgrown, in part because of the forsythia:  As a Californinian my first question when pondering a planting isn’t, “will it grow here?”, but “will it take over?”.  The designer of the landscaping does not seem to have ever considered this).

Because I can’t just rip things out and go whole hog (though some forsythia may be removed, and roses put in their stead), and because I have to consider some of the plants  (rosemary, gardenia, etrogim) as indoor/outdoor plants and some (the grapes, the pomegranite, the olive) are actual bonsai, I am forced to do a fair bit of trimming/training/constraining.  Herb Gustafson tells a story about someone who was visiting him; this was a semi-professional visit.  Herb is a a really well known bonsaist (no, I don’t know him, but some years ago we were both active on the same usenet groups, about bonsai).  This was something of a squeeful visit, and something like the “martial artist meets the great master” moment.  They went out to look at the plants.  The guest was all sorts of eager.  Herb watered some, looked at some.  Pinched a leaf, here and there, and in a short chunk of time, they were done.

The guest was comfortable to say he was sort of amazed.  He’d been hoping to see some great secret technique (you know where this is going, right?)  He had.  Staying in touch with the plants is how to make them beautiful.  By looking at them, every few days (he has enough trees that he’d need the four hours a day Wolfe spends with the orchids, to see them all, every day) he can judge their state of health, see which ones need more water, which ones less.  Where a branch is starting to go the wrong way; which plants have developed aphids, or need to be turned, or….

Doing that is how I noticed the grape had buds.‡

Bud cluster

That was a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, as I was trying to decide which growth was going the wrong way/being too vigorous, I saw the buds had bloomed.

Blooming Grapes I

Grape flowers are dull. They start as little green lumps, like tiny grapes; which are so cute, then they open, and they get that little halo of non-petalled flowers. But those turn into grapes.

Grape in bloom

Spinning is sort of the same. I try, because it pleases me, to spend at least a few minutes a day playing with fiber. It gives me a better sense of what it does (building the sense memories needed to be able to do it with an absent attention, while not losing my active intention). Spinning is sort of like running, in that regard; any amount you do is improving to your technique, stamina, etc.. For Mother’s Day I told my mother I’d make her some yarn; she knits, and crochets. She wanted some 3-ply for knitting. Since I had empty bobbins this was pretty easy to start. I’ve now done 202 yds. of 3-ply 50/50 alpaca/bamboo. I also, finally, finished the project I’ve been doing on spindles since February

On the noddy

(it’s not as bad as all that, it’s been mostly spun on the subway, and I mislaid the last third of the fiber for about three weeks).

It’s very fine. I didn’t get quite the length I thought I had, the end result was about 260 yds. My mother’s yarn is 2.8 oz. The spindled yarn is 1.8. They are both 3-ply.

How fine is it?

This fine.

Penny for your thoughts

Have a close up, so you can see that it’s three strands in concert.

The wheat and the chaff

When all is said and done, the past few weeks have been pretty productive, though to look at the fruit of that labor

Five Skeins

it doesn’t seem like so much; until I consider that’s only about ten hours of wheel time, and about 20 for the spindle (the latter is also “interstitial” time, as it’s time I was also doing something else. So rather than read, or amuse myself on my phone I spun).

Where is my spinning? It’s in a pretty good place. The interesting thing about the middle skein, and the pair on the outside† is that they represent me starting to weigh out the fiber before I spin it. The singles I spun after that, in both cases, were almost the same length (to within a yard, or so). That means, on both spindle and wheel, I am being consistent for WPI. I need to work on the Twist Per Inch, so that my plies will be more even. On the spindle it seems I am not as steady, or perhaps it’s that I can put in more twist with a lot less torsion, but the plying of the spindled yarn wasn’t as regular as I would like.  On the other hand, the end result (at 260+ yards, isn’t so much less than I thought it was going to be after all)

I also learned that I need to have a box of some sort, if I want to keep spinning on the subway, as the latter part of the exercise was hindered by the fiber being a bit felty, which meant I had more breaks, and a harder time being even in the diameter.

But by doing a little, every day (or two), my habit gets better set.  The next yarn I make is also going to be a bit on the fine side (about the same as my mothers), and then I’ll play with making some a bit bulkier (because that fiber wants to be pretty softly spun, and fine yarns are trickier to pull that off with).  I’ve put one trick in the bag, now I need to add more.


‡All the photos are available in LARGE, sizes.  Just right click on them to see the finer details

† those two, combined, are the spindle spun yarn. I made a rotational error in computing the lay, so I plied about 25 yards into a really ugly single. I tried to unply it, but that wasn’t happening. So I played Atropos, and cut it. I then became Clotho again and respun it, into a very “arty” 3-ply).

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It’s spring, or summer, or something.  Seasons on this coast are less defined than they are on the Calif. Coast (contra those who say, “Calif. doesn’t have seasons”, we do.  What we don’t have [in the densely populated parts of the state is freezing temps and snow).  Back in late March my grapes had “bud break“.  This was a bit of a problem because the nighttime temps were still falling below freezing, but the garage (in which I overwinter it, since it’s in a pot, not the ground: and since it’s self-stocked, not grafted, it’s not going in the ground.  I don’t want it to suffer from Phylloxera) doesn’t have enough light to sustain the plant.

So it was in and out, and in out, for a while.  Slowly the leaves did their thing (A lot more slowly than in Calif.).  When the temps were regularly in the 40s I moved them (and the etrog) outside, as well as the “Peruvian Daffodils” (which are a lily),  and bought some oregano, and basil.  A couple of weeks ago I put some za’atar seeds in the grape (maybe one of them has come up, more go in today when I leave for work), and some garlic chives in the etrog.

So my morning rhythm is back to what I am more used to.  I get up, walk MBF to the train, get some coffee, and examine the garden.  In the afternoon I go out and look at them again, watering as needed.  The olive in the front I check when as I come and go. It overwintered a bit hard, but they are hardy, and there is lots of nodal activity, so I suspect I’ll be training/shaping it in short order and it will again be dense.  Next winter I hope it does better (since this sort of hardship can’t be all that good for a bonsai).  I may move the pomegranate out in a little while. It’s much more a classical bonsai, and wants more sun, but also more water.  If I skip a couple of days it’s in a sad way.

I’ve been having some minor problems with scale insects.  The etrog had some, and there was what I think may have been a Parthenolecanium corni on the grape yesterday.  But Safer’s soap, and an attentive routine means I am not likely to have any serious problem with them hurting the plants.

I don’t know if the tarragon managed to overwinter.  I was afraid I’d terribly underwatered the pot (I didn’t want the roots to rot from being overwet).  I may have, for the tarragon, but the grape seems quite happy; if I’m reading the signs right (I’ll be more sure in another couple of days) it’s putting out flowers, so (for the first time in about five years) I ought to have some actual grapes off my grapevine.