Recently I posted on my Facebook timeline a photo of gabion materials I had ordered to replace a concrete retaining wall that had failed. Some people were unfamiliar with gabions and asked to know more about this ancient construction technique.
UPDATE, Oct. 2017. The best resource for current wind patterns now seems to be sailflow. A detail of a screen capture from the site is shown above.
The USGS webpage referenced below from the original publication of this post in 2007 has been discontinued “due to lack of support and redirection of research efforts”—which seems a shame. The site now redirects to a San Jose Meteorology department page. As of today that site does not seem to be functioning. I hope that this information gets back up online soon. We could certainly use it in view of this season’s devastating fires. If anyone knows of better resources, please leave info in the comments.
Original post from Oct. 2007:
Here’s an unusual and interesting resource. The U.S. Geological Survey has a website that shows current wind conditions around the San Francisco Bay Area (they are considering a predictive model as well). There are two or three visualizations available, including the very cool flash “streaklines” (which unfotunately I can’t display here, and which might not work on some systems).
In the visualization above, the arrow size indicates exact speed (in knots, which are equal to 1.15 mph or 1.85 kph), while the color shows a certain range of speed. Speeds are at 10 meters and directions from true north. You can see that this morning there were strong winds blowing toward the Golden Gate from Marin, across midpeninsula, and at Mount Diablo.
Tarragon vinegar is a staple of French cuisine. (French chefs often combine it with mustard.) “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism,” James Beard said, “I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”
It’s easily made. I took a sprig of French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) from the garden and placed it in a sterilized bottle. Then I submersed it in boiling white wine vinegar. Let cool and cap. If you are using fresh French tarragon from the garden the result will be excellent — wonderful in salad dressings but also great even for things like deglazing skillets.
For best results, store in a dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the tarragon oils to infuse.
This is the final piece for the artemisia essay I’m working on. This replaces the version below, which I wasn’t happy with.
Here’s the whole series I’ve worked up over the past few days.
A California native.
I think this is some sort of Sempervivum (like Hens and Chicks).
Old-school gardeners like me often brewed up a sort of compost tea by dumping a heap of whatever compost they had in a bucket of water and then sloshing it about where it seemed it might be needed. These days, commercial compost teas are made with carefully curated, standardized ingredients. The teas are then aerated by churning to “awaken” dormant microorganisms that should promote plant health. The result is often used as a foliar spray, which should work more quickly than root applications.
I like growing mint. For one thing, it’s easy. For another, many varieties are available, some of which you would otherwise be hard pressed to find. Here we see Vietnamese mint, Spearmint, Mojito mint, and Peppermint.
These are all different species in the Mentha genus (part of the large Lamiaceae family, which includes such herbs as basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and catnip). Plants in the this genus have opposite leaves and square stems. And they are highly aromatic. (Mint oil is sometimes used as an insecticide.)
All of these mints began as small plants from Richter’s Herbs, based in Goodwood, Ontario. Mint tends not to come true from seed. Richter’s says that peppermint flowers in particular are sterile, so that true peppermint cannot be grown from seed at all. Best to start with seedlings rather than seeds.
I’ve started a batch of fall crop seeds. I’ll be growing these in a small greenhouse.
I’ve abandoned, at least for now, the plug system I was trying out last winter. The plugs became not just expensive but also annoying. Although the plugs are said to be organic (I’m still a little skeptical), I don’t like the way they don’t decompose and integrate properly into the environment.
Instead, I’m planting in almost pure coir (I did mix in a small amount of planting soil). Coir is nice because it is slow to dry out, but it also drains well, so the seeds shouldn’t rot. I buy the coir in compressed blocks. They about triple in size when watered, which I currently do in a wheelbarrow. Then I transfer to buckets. One block creates about three buckets of ready-to-use coir.
This gentleman, who was lurking in the garden the other day, is a praying mantis. Specifically, he is, I think, a European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. This is an introduced species from Europe that has become naturalized over much of the U.S. Our native California mantis is much smaller.
I say “he.” This guy can be identified as a male because he has seven abdomen segments, as opposed to the female’s five, and he has stout, long antennae, as opposed to the wispy version sported by the female.
Mantises are formidable and not very discriminating predators. Gardeners argue whether they are beneficial, but it just depends. They’ll eat what they can catch. If you have a lot of nasty gnats and mosquitoes, they’ll eat those, and welcome to them. But if those are in short supply mantises don’t mind feasting on butterflies or even an occasional small hummingbird.
This is shiso, a plant in the mint family. The stems and undersides of the leaves are purple, and the plant resembles coleus. (There is also a green-stemmed variety, and a frillier type.) Shiso, a form of perilla, originated in East or Southeast Asia, and is mentioned in a text from around 500 CE. The purple form, called akajiso, is used for coloring pickled plum (umeboshi) and as a distinctive flavor reminiscent of mint and cinnamon in a variety of dishes. The green type is probably better as a fresh green, but the purple kind adds an ornamental element to the garden.