Anatomy of a heel

Separation of intent
Separation of intent

It’s sock knitting season again.  I need a couple more pair to fill out my wardrobe and I’m revisiting the sock heel.  Because my feet are so short I can make a whole pair of crew socks out of a single skein of Paton Stretch Sock if I use a contrasting color for toes, heels and cuffs.

This particular heel is build from knit-into-the-bump-below short rows and a strange combination of k2tog-pick up short row wrap stitch-drop the next stitch over it and knit.  The decrease series nearest the back of the heel is a k3tog which includes the picked up short row wrap.  This morphed into the decrease mentioned above which produces a more smooth decrease.

The bit I want to document is what happens between the series of increases and decrease, that lovely set of rows that separate the two.  This short row section incorporates an additional 4 stitches toward the front of the sock with each row end knit in the bump below and slipped to the other needle.

Portable crisper

Portable crisper
Portable crisper

I eat a lot of vegetables. Because I am a fuss-less person I’ve come up with a way to get my veges out of the fridge without spending forever pulling them out of a drawer, stacking them on the counter, whack off what I need only to stick them back in the fridge again every time I cook. This portable crisper sits on top the glass shelf that is the cover for the existing crisper in my fridge and, with the handy handle molded into the front of the drawer, allows me to pull it out of the fridge with one hand.  It contains most if not all of the veges I need.

This crisper is the drawer and glass shelf from a small portable fridge. With the addition of a brass piano hinge and some aquarium sealer, a piece of washable non-skid shelf liner for the inside and very little effort, I have streamlined and shortened my prep time.  The lid fits flush against the top preserving the moisture in the veges.

The paper sack is cut down from a large grocery sack and holds mushrooms at the perfect humidity to keep them fresh.  Strong smelling veges like onion are zipped in plastic but everything else is pre-cleaned, unwrapped and ready to use.  A cut-to-fit non-skid shelf liner keeps the veges up off the plastic bottom to avoid accumulation of moisture where veg and plastic meet.

Current content of the crisper include zucchini, yellow squash, onion, celery, mushroom, red and green pepper.  The larger build-in crisper contains overflow and backup stock.

New media with a twist

Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
I noticed some chemical burning on the tomato plant leaves and tested the water.  8.0 ph when I need 7.3.  Ouch.  Burn baby burn.  While all three tomato plants have blossoms, only one is producing fruit and shows no sign of the chem burn.

PH is totally busted.  Ouch.
PH is totally busted. Ouch.
I didn’t just test the PH, I tested nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. All were perfect for the system. For those readings, I couldn’t be happier.

PH after 2/3 water change
PH after 2/3 water change
Our well water is 6.0. For the house I “condition” it by running it through oyster shell to bring the PH up to 7.3 naturally. For a quick and very un-permanent fix to the problem I did a 2/3 water change in the fish tank and got what I expected, close to perfect PH. This, however, is a really poor solution. I flushed my nutrients (okay, I lied. I dumped the water in outside planters) and added kelp to compensate for the loss.

The whole point is to have a system I don’t have to think about or fuss
about or test or monitor or . . . you get my point. I cannot keep doing
water changes. I don’t want to have to add anything to the water to
keep the water at 7.3. Which means I’ve got to find a different media.
This media, as suspected, spikes the PH.

The trial

6" pvc with survey end caps.
6″ pvc with survey end caps.

For a couple years my brother Dan was a maintenance engineer at a produce processing plant. He did a system retrofit and brought me some of the stuff being thrown away. This flood and drain planter is a piece of 6″ schedule 40 pvc pipe. The ends are survey caps purchased at a local plumbing supply warehouse.

The really sick looking plants are the result of neglect on my part . . . pulling one system apart and putting another together with too long a span between stressed the plants. They’re recovering. The tomato plants are purchased and are my test subjects. The tank holds two goldfish, not quite enough to supply this many plants with nutrient.

One of my concerns with media this light is its ability to hold the plants in place as they grow and produce fruit. I will have to run retaining lines between the support ropes.

A question of media

Ugh, it floats
The failed floaty stuff, the new light clay-like stuff and hydroton.

In planning my next plant wall I’ve been testing hydroponic planting medium.  In the past I’ve used hydroton but there are currently two issues with this media.  Because it’s heavy in iron it eventually trashes the magnetic pump.  I replace pumps about once a year.  At about $50 a pop that’s not horribly expensive but it is inconvenient.  Secondly, it’s no longer available.  That makes the inherent equipment-related problems with the media moot.

Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media.  Rightmost is hydroton.
Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media. Rightmost is hydroton.

I bought two bags of a product that was supposed to be a replacement for hydroton.  It felt like sandpaper, very garnet/scratchy expanded glass feeling.  The pieces were quite large for hydroponic media, didn’t break when whacked with a hammer and very light.  Other than the roughness and overly large size, I thought it would work fine.  Wrong.  The stuff floats.  Using it in a flood and drain system allows all the plantings to shift every watering cycle.  When working with seeds, the media used to hold the seeds vanishes into the mix.  Ugh.  When planting cuttings they sink a bit into the mix every cycle eventually drowning.  Double ugh.

Light with a slippery-clay feel
Light with a slippery-clay feel

I reported the failure to the excellent staff at our local hydroponic shop and got a sample of another product to try. It had a light silky clay feel, sank when dropped into water and could be crushed.  The product is a little big, roughly 2-3 times the size of the hydroton beads.

PH is one of the most important items to monitor in a hydroponic system.  I’m not a fan of chemicals and like to handle this as naturally as possible which makes the ph of the media very important.  With that in mind I crushed a piece of the new media and tested the ph.  It tested lower than I expected at 6.0 which means it’s not inert.  Because our water has a very low ph which I moderate with oyster shell, I’m keeping an eye on my test system. Time will tell.

Moving on

I’m the type of person who continually tweaks and adjusts.  Some of the stuff I try is a bust and some is inspired.  I have a rack hanging over the back of my kitchen sink with a drip tray under it where dishes are set to dry.  It keeps my counter space clear and allows all the drips to fall into the sink.  Brilliant.  And I’ve done other things with far less stellar outcomes, they’ve inevitably led to ideas about other things so it’s all good.

Here's the plant wall winter 2013
Here’s the plant wall winter 2013

There are a lot things I like about my current plant wall, and few things I don’t care for. Because the plant wall surface isn’t covered with plastic ala P. Blanc, the rate of evaporation is significant.  Wadly adds roughly 6 gallons of water twice a week.  I’d like to reduce the evaporation.

Dying foliage allows pathways for water to drip onto the floor.  A change to prevent that in future is a must.

Slow growing smaller plants get crowded out by the bigger, faster growing plants.  They just can’t compete.  I’d like something that nutures both the big and bushy and the smaller, more delicate plants.

As this plant wall is a single piece, it’s heavy and difficult to move.  Repositioning plants and editing is difficult.  I’d like something a little more modular that takes up less vertical space for the same number of plants that allows the fish to be as much of a focal point.  At this point I can’t tell you what’s in the tank, other than healthy reproducing guppies and at least one fresh water shrimp.  I’m sure there are algae eaters and plecko in there as well but I haven’t seen them in . . . a really long time.

So, on to the new plan, something modular with less exposed surface area that will allow for planting a few seasonal edibles and allow us to see the fish.

Breakfast Frittata

2013-10-4.jpg
Shrimp frittata with peppers, onion, zuccini, chevre and fried baked potatoes on top

If you’ve never had a frittata, I’m going to recommend you try one. They’re very easy to make and delightfully flexible. I go through periods where I want seafood, other times when my preference is for breakfast-y stuff.

Today my frittata had sausage, bacon, Danish Havarti, chevre, zucchini, onion and asparagus. Oh, and hash browns on top though next time I might try potatoes O’Brien instead. The pictured frittata has rounds of baked potato

Frittatas aren’t fast food, but they are quality food and can be as simple or complicated as you choose with everything you need in a single dish.

To make a frittata, prepare the filling. For delicate seafood you can choose to lightly precook or not as you choose. If you don’t precook the seafood, make sure you bake it long enough to completely cook it and expect the result to be a little moister than using precooked seafood (drain it before you put it on the plate).

Prepare your meat. If you’re using anything except seafood, precook. If I’m having both sausage and bacon I will cut them up reasonably small and cook them in the same pan until done. Saute the vegetables in butter until tender. I cut my zuccini in small (smaller than 1/4″) cubes, fine-dice the onions and cut the asparagus in small rounds (1/8″ cuts). If you find you like bigger pieces of vegetables, you have the freedom to make it your style. I’ve used peppers (I didn’t today because I’m out), broccoli, cauliflower, carrots (not the best), red and green peppers and mushrooms (not today, I’m out).

If you’re making a single serving frittata, use one or two eggs. Beat them a bit and add your cheese and sauteed meat and veges. Pour the mixture into a small (6″) frying pan that’s been heated and buttered. If you’re adding hash brown, sprinkle the cooked hash browns over the top. Pop it in your over (or toaster over) at between 325 and 350. How done you would like it is totally up to you. You can cook it just until the egg is set or you can cook it until it’s brown on top. Instead of hashbrowns you can add cheese. Or tomato. Or . . . This is a dish that never has to be the same twice and it’s easily delicious.

I think I’d better go shopping. I’m out of a lot of things . . .

Bella is . . . well, Bella

We’ve got a new rescue dog. She’s pretty much blind as a bat and is now a bit over a year old. She’s the toughest dog I’ve ever had. She spent the first 8 months of her life either tied or kenneled outside, we don’t know which, but she knew nothing about manners or proper behavior when she came.  She was frantic for people’s attention but to a lesser level of obnoxiousness now though she is still finding people and pack-mates by running into them. She’s getting better but it’s going to take time.  Everything she does is brim full of enthusiasm.  She has her full share and more, maybe six dogs worth.

Bella, after about three months of being free, learned not to run everywhere at full speed.  She’s now sitting to get treats and petting (not very still and not very long) and I’m marking it as progress. In the beginning she plowed into rocks, vehicles, people, other dogs (which Chloe absolutely cannot abide), buildings . . . she continues to get better though she sports rotating patches of missing hair from her “finds” and has a constant bare neck and chest from running through unmown grass and weeds at absolute full tilt. With 12 acres in which to run she spends little time doing anything as mundane as walking. So far she hasn’t split herself open on anything though yesterday she showed up with a new mondo scratch on her face.

At some point I’m going to have to make a decision about her eyes.  She has some vision, though mostly just shadows.  She’s pretty much completely blind in full sunlight or dark but she can see enough to get around and I’d like her to be able to retain that ability.  Because her eyes are undeveloped her upper eyelashes poke the inside of her lower eyelids which causes irritation.  So the decision is, do I stick with the status quo and leave her what little eyesight she has and figure some other solution for the poking eyelashes or do I have her eyelids sewn shut to prevent the irritation and remove what little sight she has.  I cannot decide.  Maybe not deciding is deciding.  You know us. Life is ALWAYS interesting.

Basil carrots

Wadly’s not a fan of vegetables.  He’s tall and thin and lives on meat and starch.  Getting him to eat and enjoy vegetables not loaded with starch is a personal quest.

My latest shot at Wadly-edible vegetables is basil carrots.  He thinks they’re okay (not high praise but close) and I love them.

Saute onions, carrots and a very light sprinkling of basil (it’s strong and can easily overpower the carrots so take care) in butter.  Reduce the heat after the onions become transparent to finish the carrots.

That’s it.  Did you think I’d make it more complicated?  Nope.  It’s so tasty and so sweet it’s almost like dessert.