Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer garden has arrived

The summer garden has arrived:

Something about this picture takes me back to the east coast. California has endless charms, but summer is surprisingly not one of them.  California summers are brown and gardens are created out of what would otherwise be brown. In Pennsylvania garden's are carved out of the green. What would otherwise be green is replaced with a slightly more controlled green.  While nothing in this picture is nature, I think the hedge continuing into the live oaks (whose foliage gives us some measure of green year round) gives that impression.

Most visible in this picture are the beans (front left), potato (front center), sunflower (front right) and kale (back center). The garden has produced some food -- we've had bok choy and kale on a few occasion, shared a single cherry tomato -- but so far has largely been the green equivalent of "all light and no heat." I think that will change, but I worry that Nicole will miss the best of the harvest. Adding to my guilt is the recent realization that the tomatoes I planted (Brandywines), while being known as some of the best eatin' tomatoes, are some of the slowest to mature. 80-100 days for the fruit!

These tomatoes remind me of one of those 6 month old dogs you see, already quite large but with GIANT paws. The tomatoes are already fairly large, but they look like miniature giant tomatoes. If my gestalt is true, it looks like they'll be on the vine quite a bit longer.

Gardening '13 has not been without it's learning, or sometimes re-learning. Aphids of various shapes and colors, white cabbage butterfly caterpillars, leaf miners have all arrived.  The leaf miners destroyed our chard but seem not to be an issue at this point in the season (the beets have bounced back remarkably). The aphid issues have responded well to spraying them off with water. The cabbage butterfly caterpillars make for a fun, proactive, hunting expedition on the back sides of kale leaves, which seems to have kept them more than in-check.

Hopefully, stage 1 was building and planting, stage 2 was largely growing, and we will now be moving into stage 3... eating! I just hope it comes to fruition before Nicole leaves.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Changes are afoot! Everything has emerged in the garden with the exception of the verbena.

Square Foot Garden:
Brandywine Tomato (transplanted 4/27/13)
Verbena (Flower) (sowed seed 4/27/13)
Asclepias Incarnata ("Butterfly Flower") (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged c. 5/5/2013)
Carrots ("Scarlet Nantes") (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged c. 5/5/2013)
Flax (Flower) (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged c. 5/5/2013)
Beets (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged 5/2/13)
Bush Beans ("Royal Burgandy") (sowed seed 4/28/13, emerged c. 5/5/2013)
Bok Choy ("Pak Choi Green Stem Dwarf Hybrid") (sowed seed 5/1/13, emerged c. 5/5/2013)
Sunflower (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged 5/2/13)

I also sowed some "yard long" pole beans with the marigolds next to the salad bed, and planted a purple potato in the SFG. 

Yard Long Pole Beans ("Red Noodle")(sowed 5/6/2013)
Purple Potatoes (sowed 5/7/2013)

I also applied Dr. Earth 3-3-3 liquid fertilizer to pretty much everything on 5/8/2013.  The plants in the salad table appear stunted. I think I was too stingy with the growing medium, and it's not performing very well. Hopefully some fertilizer will help.

Beans are a funny plants to watch sprout. They emerge looking like fully formed plants, with large leaves that pop out of the formerly sowed bean, which has gone along for the ride and is no longer in the ground where you left it.  Their emergence is similar in some respects to the sunflower we planted, which rose from the soil overnight to a height of about an inch, still wearing the sunflower seed like a hat keeping captive its own dicots. I'm sure the sunflower would've figured it out, but my impatience and uniquely human stubborn feeling that nothing could get by without my help caused me to cajole the sunflower seed (now merely a hard shell). The shell popped right off, which is different from beans, in which the remnants of the bean, halved, remain attached to opposite sides of the stem of the young plant looking like a vestigial organ. 

The problem is, some of my beans came up without any leaves whatsoever.  Just a blunt end of a sprout where the leaves should have been. That stubborn human feeling that "something must be done" caused me to assume that, with this problem, the plants could not get by. I ripped the bad seeds up and planted new ones.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Summer Garden!

Refraction Pond is back with a new mission: following my summer garden with Nicole! Mostly I'll be using this space to keep track of sowing, emergence, and harvest dates, but I'll mix in some ramblings as well.

This is the current state of the garden:

Right now it consists of a salad table (left, built with Nicole and Julia), a square foot garden container  bed, and a variety of containers.

Salad Table:
Lacinto Kale (sowed seed 4/6/2013)
Butterhead Lettuce ("Marvel of Four Seasons") (sowed seed 4/6/2013)
Cilantro ("Long Standing") (sowed seed 4/6/2013)
Thai Sweet Basil (Langkuri) (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Vietnamese Balm (Kinh Gioi) (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Japanese Radish (Hattorikun, for leaves) (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Red Leaf Amaranth (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Chard ("Golden Sunrise") (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Bunching Onions ("Evergreen White  Nebuka) (sowed seed 4/9/2013)
Leaf Lettuce ("New Red Fire") (sowed seed 4/9/2013)

Square Foot Garden:
Brandywine Tomato (transplanted 4/27/13)
Verbena (Flower) (sowed seed 4/27/13)
Asclepias Incarnata ("Butterfly Flower") (sowed seed 4/27/13)
Carrots ("Scarlet Nantes") (sowed seed 4/27/13)
Flax (Flower) (sowed seed 4/27/13)
Beets (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged 5/2/13)
Bush Beans ("Royal Burgandy") (sowed seed 4/28/13)
Bok Choy ("Pak Choi Green Stem Dwarf Hybrid") (sowed seed 5/1/13)
Sunflower (sowed seed 4/27/13, emerged 5/2/13)

There's also a cherry tomato and pepper plant, both transplanted 4/6/13, and the herb garden Nicole and I initially planted.

Almost everything is in the "ground," except for a few odds and ends. Now it's time for the plants to do the work...

Friday, January 6, 2012


Food blog!

I've realized recently that food is a microcosm of my philosophy on life. I don't mean this in the sense that you can draw far fetched analogies between the two. I mean it in a literal sense. The things I enjoy about food are the same things I enjoy about life. 

New years resolutions. A few years ago I would've told you that I didn't believe in them. There seemed to be a conformity aspect to new years resolutions. Everyone would simultaneously resolve to improve their lives in the same predictable ways, and yet no one seemed to follow through with them.  I'm also a notorious grinch when it comes to new years (most anti-climactic ten seconds of the years--you count down and hope the world still exists at the end of your count down and nothing actually changed). Maybe it's the season, but the past few years I have started to think about the things that make me happy and why I don't do more of them.

This years I resolved to do more of my shopping at ethnic markets. In this area, that basically means Asian, Mexican and Indian markets. I've discovered that while safeway has two kinds of lentils: red and green, Indian markets have an isle dedicated to lentils (ok, so I've always hated safeway).  Discovering incredible diversity in a seemingly homogenous landscapes is one of the things I enjoy in life.  I've fallen in love with native grasses for the same reason. If you look at a grassland long enough, you'll find more species there than you would in a forest.

There's something deliberate about food. The time spent preparing and enjoying food leads to more careful observation. You notice subtle differences. You notice the diversity.  This week I've spent a lot of time making flat breads--in particular tortillas and roti. I've realized in doing so that my definition of difficult preparation differs from most. Tortillas, at least without an optimal grittle to cook them on, take forever. I mixed the masa with water, kneaded a bit and let sit for sometime then patiently pressed each one into a round tortilla and baked them individually on a pan on the stove. It probably took an hour, but it wasn't difficult. Difficult is when you can't produce a desired result regardless of the patience.

I've noticed the same deliberation running and biking. It's hard to get to know an area by car. One has to take the time to move about it. It has to require effort, it can't be comfortable.  I notice things--hills, distances--when I move deliberately at my own expense.

Things I've made this week:
Fish and beef tacos with crema from our local Mexican market
Carnitas -- from a pig my housemate and I butchered, braised in beer and spices
Otsa--a japanese-style buckwheat noodle salad with a soy ginger dressing
Cauliflower leek soup with avocado and fresh olive oil
Chana dal masala -- spiced lentils with tomatos and onions

Other delicious things I've had (but not made) this week:
Tom Kha soup with shrimp, rock cod, mussels and squid
A ridiculous assortment of curries and vegetarian dishes at Peacock in Cupertino.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Yesterday, Cindy asked me to check to see if the Dirca on our property was blooming yet.  Western Leatherwood (Dirca Occidentalis) is a funny little plant that only grows in the Bay Area.  Despite it's persnickety nature--growing only where conditions seem to suit it best--it grows in abdundance on our property and across the street at the Jasper Ridge Biological Perserve. Belonging to a small genus consisting of three species, one which grows in Mexico and the other along the East Coast, Dirca is the only member of its family in our region.  It is slow growing, long lived plant. An individual 5 feet tall may be a centenarian. 

There's pretty much one person that studies Dirca.  It is our first bloomer of the season, budding  understated yellow flowers, beautiful and asymmetrical with their stigma and many stamens hanging well below their pedals.  The flowers appear even before the plant has produced leaves.  Its curiosity lies in its timing. Dirca has bloomed in October. It has also bloomed in January.  A theory has emerged that it may bloom after the first heavy rains of the season.  We had an unusual wet October, which is why I was out looking to see if it had bloomed.

The Dirca hasn't bloomed yet, although it is starting to bud out.  It grows in abundance on our property. They grow on the north face of a gulch cut by Bear Creek. The ground is so soft there that it's almost difficult to walk, and these plants have probably been visited by humans very rarely if ever since our house was built 60 years ago. I found some old, stately individuals as well as some young ones. Dusky footed woodrats have a reputation for pruning Dirca to build their middens, but I didn't find any signs of pruning. I did find some (very) old coke bottles and a rock that looks fire cracked to me.  This would mean there were Ohlone here once.

A lone black oak stands in the soft, moist soil at the edge of the gulch. I found this strange.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Twin Paradox

My friend posted a video on my facebook wall today lamenting that she had resorted to cartoons to understand physics and still didn't understand.  I have enough hubris that I generally think I can explain anything in understandable terms, so I decided I would take a crack at it here as well!

Let's save the explanation of relativity for another day and just accept the result: an object moving very fast will experience time slowing down relative to a stationary object. The quintessential example is a moving train.  If I stood on a train platform and watched a train zoom by (one of those scary trains that doesn't stop at your station), I would notice that a clock affixed to the outside of the train was ticking more slowly than the watch on my wrist. For a person on the train, time is ticking away at it's normal pace. Time is also ticking away at its normal pace for me on the platform, but when I observe their time, it has apparently slowed down.

Fine, physics is crazy, but that's not a paradox--yet.  The paradox comes from another cherished concept in physics, in fact, another form of relativity. Galilean relativity is the idea that all reference frames moving at a constant velocity are equivalent--there is no physical experiment that you can do to figure out whether the train platform or the train is the one moving so long as neither experiences an acceleration.

So the paradox is this: we take two twins (twin A and twin B), leave one on earth and zip one away on a rocket at near the speed of light.  Twin B turns around after 5 years and returns home. Because of relativity, he's now much younger than his twin brother. But who is to say that the earth wasn't moving while the rocket stayed stationary? In that case, twin A should be younger!

The resolution of this paradox comes from the fact that twin B has to make a u-turn to get home. The act of accelerating means all bets are off when it comes to Galilean relativity.  Twin B is definitely younger. 

By the way, all of this falls into the category of special relativity.  Special relativity is Einstein's earlier, easier and mathematically cleaner theory compared to his General Theory of Relativity. The only difference (ok, so it's a big difference) is that General Relativity incorporates gravity.  Occasionally a nasty rumor arises in high school and undergrad physics classes that special relativity can't handle accelerations. Special relativity CAN handle any crazy acceleration you can think of, thank you very much. General relativity really does only add gravity.

Lauren, if you've made it this far, I should mention this isn't actually the paradox we talked about that one time. That was the EPR paradox, one of Einstein's big objections to quantum mechanics. Another blog, maybe?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm Wall Street. You're the fool.

I’m Wall Street. You can’t sell your house and you don’t blame me. That’s rich. You’ve chosen to occupy Main Street rather than Wall Street. Your faith in the American Dream remains stalwart. Individual liberties and freedoms will allow you to prosper. But you’re not prospering. That’s clear from your picture. Still, it doesn’t shake your faith.

The house you can’t sell is probably worth half of what it once was. Where did your investment go?

I pocketed the difference. I drove up the prices for years, taking a sip here and sip there. The housing market crashed. Pension funds crashed. Your house became worthless. I kept my money.

I’m Wall Street. Where do you fit in? What’s your role in these financial markets? You’re the fool. I can sit here and tell you that and it doesn’t even matter. There’s enough fools out there. If it weren’t for my limitless greed, I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life.

You fight for me on Main Street, on the airwaves and on Tumblr. You fight the regulations that would allow you to exercise your individual freedoms on a fair playing field. But you never lose faith in the power of those freedoms. That’s rich, too.