Thursday, August 30, 2012

Golden Berry

Last year somebody handed these out at a gathering for everyone to try. They were sweet and tasted like pineapple. Unfortunately I didn't catch what they were called.
I'd never seen them before so I did a search and came up with Physalis peruviana also known as Golden Berry,  Cape Goodeberry and Ground Cherry.
It's an annual with a long growing season, but I decided to try them anyway. I found seeds - very few seeds at an expensive price!
The plants grew surprisingly well.

The flowers are tiny little things.

And the fruit is encased in a husk, very much like a tomatillo. Golden berries are closely related to tomatillos.

Once the husk turns from green to yellow and starts to dry out, it is ripe and easily falls from the plant.

I picked a handful of them. At the moment they are quite productive. I'll save some seeds from this year's crop and try them again next year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

That Dirty Pig!

This little concrete piggy was made by Greg Rye of Dakota Bees. He's a pinkish brown with dirty brown splotches, hence the name "dirty pig".

I've always wanted a concrete pig. Pigs are not allowed in my neighborhood, although goats, chickens, cows and horses are. Some other folks that live here have wanted to get a pot bellied pig as a pet, but other folks had a fit about it so it didn't happen. I, myself, have never wanted a real pig, but I sympathize with those who want a pot bellied pig pet so this is my little protest. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

How To Make a Hypertufa Pot cont.

This post is a continuation from:
How To Make a Hypertufa Pot

 After letting the pot cure for about 24 hours, unwrap it and check it by poking a finger in it. It should not be at all squishy, but quite firm. You should be able to dent it with a finger nail, but not a finger. If you can push in a dent with just the finger, it won't hold it's shape when you unmold it. If it's still too soft, wrap it back up and leave it for a few more hours and check again. Make sure it's still moist and spray mist it if needed.

Once it's firm enough, carefully tip the pot out of the mold. Don't bang it or drop it since it's still quite fragile. The plastic lining should help it drop right out of the mold and you'll just have to peal the plastic off of it.

The holes might have closed up a bit or skimmed over. Open them up.

Now you can rough up the surface with a wire brush, or gently carve lines into the sides.

I rough up the entire surface because I like to make it look more rock like and hide some of the lines created by using the plastic trash bag. Also, it exposes the perlite and vermiculite for a more textured appearance. Be gentle since it's still quite fragile.

Once I've got it the way I want it, I put it back on the plastic.

I wet it down.

Then I wrap it up again to seal in the moisture.

Here it is, all wrapped up, ready to be moved to a shady location for a couple of weeks.

After a couple of weeks it should be pretty hard. I then finish the cure by unwrapping the pot and completely immersing it in water for another week or two.  The water will need to be changed every few days. This will help leach out the lime in the surface of the pot so it won't hurt the plants. Once this is done, the pots are ready to plant.

Here are a bunch that just finished their final soak. Once they dry out, the color will be much lighter.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How to Make a Hypertufa Pot

Hypertufa is a rock like substance made from cement that works great for outdoor pots. It's porous so plants that like good drainage do well in pots made from it and it survives freezing and thawing much better than pots made from terracotta. I plant many of my winter hardy succulents in pots made from hypertufa. It's not hard to make so I make most of my own pots. Here is a tutorial on how I do it.

To make hypertufa, I use the following materials and items:
1. Portland cement
2. Vermiculite or perlite
3. Spagnum peat moss
4. A container suitable for a mold
5. Large plastic garbage bag
6. Water
7. Protective gloves
8. Dust mask
9. Wire brush such as a cheap grill brush
10. Clothes I don't care about
11. Colorant (optional)

First, the dry ingredients are mixed together. These will be 1 part Portland cement, 1 part spagnum peat and 2 parts either vermiculite or perlite. Sometimes I use 1 part perlite and 1 part vermiculite. Some powdered colorant can be added at this time as well. For a bowl as big as pictured below, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of powdered colorant will color up the mix nicely. Make sure to use fresh, non-hardened Portland cement. If it has sat around in a humid area or gotten wet, it will have hard lumps in it and be useless. Also, make sure you buy just Portland cement. You don't want to buy pre-mixed concrete or mortar. Home Depot carries it in 45 pound bags which is the smallest I found so far.

Use enough ingredients to almost fill the mold you will be using. The mixture will be compressed quite a bit so there will be plenty of empty space in the middle when you are done. I often use a wheelbarrow to mix up the ingredients if I'm makinng something large.

Mix the ingredients very thoroughly. The dry colorant won't show up. Don't worry, it will later when the water is added. Be sure to do this with gloves and a dust mask on. The cement is very very harsh on skin and the dusk is not safe to breath.

Add water slowly and mix.

Mix thoroughly by hand. If you added powdered colorant, the color will start to show now.

Keep slowly adding water and mixing until you can make a ball of the mixture. Squeeze some together. It should not fall apart, nor should it slump down. It should hold it's own shape if lightly tossed from hand to hand. If squeezed tightly in the hand, a bit of water should ooze through the knuckles.I find that the total amount of water used varies somewhat, but it's more important to get the texture right than trying to use the same amount of water each time.

Get your mold ready. The mold should be stiff so it can support quite a bit of weight and smooth so it will release the pot. Make sure it doesn't get narrower towards the top or you'll never get the pot out.

Cut a large trash bag down the sides so it opens up flat and place it in the mold. Here, I am reusing one so it looks dirty. If you do that, make sure the dirty side is on the inside and not touching the mold sides or it could stick to the mold when you're trying to get the pot out.

Place the hypertufa mixture in the mold. It may look like too much, but it'll compress when you form it to the mold.

Now you can shape it to the mold. Go around the edge, pulling mixture from the center to the edges and squeeze against the edge of to mold the compress the mixture.  The walls should be about 1 1/2 inches thick for this size pot. For pots half this size you can get away with walls a generous 1 inch thick.

Keep going around the pot, squeezing the sides against the mold and pressing down on the top to compress it. If it isn't compressed, and is just crumbly, then it will fall apart later.

I go around 3 or 4 times, constantly shaping the sides and edges. If the mixture is not too wet, it should mostly stay up by itself with very little slumping.

Once I am pretty satisfied with the sides and edges, I poke a finger in the bottom to make sure it's thick enough. If not, I scrape away some of the sides for the bottom. It should be about 1 1/2 inch thick for a pot this size.

The bottom needs compressing too, as well as the lower part of the sides.

Now it's time to poke drainage holes in the bottom. I just use my finger and make the holes pretty big. They'll close up a little, but that will be taken care of later.

Make sure to put enough holes for good drainage.

Once the holes are done and the pot is the way you want it, it's time to wrap it up to keep it moist for a while. Portland cement has to stay moist in order to cure. It doesn't harden from drying out, instead it forms a chemical bond with water and that's what makes it hard. Therefore you want it to stay moist as long as you can so all the cement will form this bond.

Tuck the plastic all around the edges to seal the moisture in and gently place it in the shade for about 24 hours. If you bump and jiggle it too much it will slump.

Clean all the mixing bowls, tools, wheel barrow, etc. to get the cement off, otherwise it will harden and stick to them.

Since this post is getting quite long, I'll stop now and continue on how to unmold and cure the pot in the next post.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mid Summer Garden Pasta Salad

It's the middle of summer and the garden is full of things that need to be picked and eaten. It's also hot out so something cool sounds nice. So, I decided to make my basic pasta salad, leave out the store bought olives and such and instead put in as many things out of the garden I could think of. I had lots of ripe cherry tomatoes, plenty of large sweet onions, the Corno di Toro peppers were starting to turn red, and the broccoli needed picking.  I put it all together and it turned out quite well!

This recipe makes enough for about 6 people.

1 13 oz box of shell pasta (Barilla Whole Wheat)
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish (home made)
1  cup mayonase
30 cherry tomatoes whole or cut in half
1/4 sweet onion minced
1 small or 1/2 large head of broccoli cut into small pieces
2 sweet peppers cut into small chunks
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta until tender and drain. Let cool. Mix everything together. Put in the refrigerator for a few hours to get nice and cold.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

30 Years Ago Today


We harvested about 7 bowls of grapes from our Himrod Golden Seedless grape vine this year. Chris pressed all of them and now the juice is fermenting away in gallon jugs. Later, I'll do a post showing the pressing process using his brand new fruit press made from a 12 ton shop press.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happy Honeybee Day

Today is National Honey bee Day

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thirsty Bees

Honey bees need a good source of water. They need this for more than just hydration of themselves as individuals, they also use water for cooling the hive and for thinning honey to feed brood. The temperature inside the hive has to be constant or the brood will die, so bees have their own form of "swamp cooler". When the hive gets hot, they bring in water and cool the hive through evaporation by fanning their wings.

Fortunately for the bees in the back of my yard, I have several water gardens. The bees can stand on the edge of water lily pads to suck up water. There is also the  "bird bath" I put out years ago, which has become a major watering hole for bees. On hot days there is quite a line up all along the edge. I put rocks in it to help bees get out if they fall in. Bees are very poor swimmers and drown rather quickly if they can't get a hold of something to pull themselves out.

This watering hole is a great place to see the variety of  honey bees from the hives out back and from other places in the surrounding area. Some are the typical golden honey bee with tan fur and some are quite dark with grey fur like the one below. The bee on the left above is almost entirely black.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The purple bush beans are Royal Burgundy and the green pole beans are Romano. The bush beans are almost over for the season and the pole beans are just getting started.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The New Crop of Hypertufa Pots

Since hypertufa pots work so well for hardy succulents such as sedum and sempervivum in my climate, I made more this year. Here are the ten pots I have cured so far this year and I have four more curing in water at the moment. I've settled on a favorite recipe of 1 part portland cement, 1 part spagnum peat and 2 parts vermiculite. I like the texture of vermiculite hypertufa over perlite and it seems to cure faster too. I'm switching over from using the bottled cement coloring from Home Depot to powdered coloring from a concrete supply place.
Here are some of them potted up with sempervivum. These poor plants had been waiting years to get out of their small plastic pots.

Sempervivum Glaucum Minor

Sempervivum Pacific Shadows

Sempervivum Grigg's Surprise

Sempervivum Dark Cloud are Larissa which are new this year

Here's some from last year. The pots and the plants came through the winter very well.
Sempervivum Sioux

Sempervivum Red Beauty and an unknown

Sempervivum Pacific Blue Ice

Sempervivum pumilum hepworth, Atroviolaceum and erythraeum

Sempervivum Cebanense