Alder Burns

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since Feb 25, 2012
northern California
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Recent posts by Alder Burns

Paper that is already packed tightly, like magazines, newspapers, and office type paper neatly stacked, I simply roll up as tight as I can get it by hand and tie with a bit of wire.  They will burn slowly like a log of wood of similar size, but do not put out as much heat.  A black flaky char is left which I imagine is rather like biochar, and therefore good for soil or compost.  I have tried to soak cardboard and then roll it up too, but this seemed more trouble than it's worth and so now I just cut up the cardboard that comes into my place and compost it.
1 week ago
If your pond will be in full sun, you will need to beware of the water overheating to the extent that it becomes inhospitable to the kinds of plants and animals you are hoping to invite.  I used to live in GA myself for years and have made a few ponds there.  I always tried to have a deep portion, at least a couple of feet, where the water would stay cool and any fish, tadpoles, and insects could shelter there.  Marginal and floating plants will help too.    
    Counterintuitively, a small pond like this makes for good mosquito control in the surrounding area.  This is because most mosquitoes breed in ephemeral water that dries up after a short time.  Perennial water breeds some mosquitoes but it also harbors and breeds their, frogs, etc.  Some of these predators, such as dragonflies and toads, disperse from the pond out into the surrounding landscape and continue to prey on adult mosquitoes there.
1 week ago
If you really need seed, and don't have enough other good squash to save it from, then take some of what you've saved and put it in wet paper or a pot of soil and try to germinate it.  There's a good chance it will be fine.  Squash are meant to sit around all winter and slowly rot and sprout in the spring, or else be eaten by an animal, survive digestion and sprout in the manure.  In other words, those seeds are pretty tough.
2 weeks ago
I've posted on this before but it's been a long while so I'll put it here too....the fear around running bamboo is overrated.  They are very easy to keep in bounds if you have access to the space around which they are planted.  Just don't plant them next to a property line or a building.  All of the new shoots come up in a particular season, usually spring or the onset of rainy season (in the tropics).  Gather these to eat, or kick them over, or mow them off, and you are done for that year.  Let sprouts grow up within their designated area, and control any outside of it, and you can keep the stand or clump any size you like.
2 weeks ago
Many people find that pears from backyard trees are disappointing compared to commercial fruit.  In large part this is due to harvest timing and aftercare.  Ideally most pears should be picked when still somewhat hard....the key is to look along the small stem of the fruit itself and there will be a swollen spot right where the stem will break.  When this is swollen and the pear will snap off cleanly at that point when gently lifted, the fruit is good to harvest.  This may be a month or more before they turn color and start to drop on their own.  After picking, refrigerate them for a least a couple of weeks.  Many varieties can keep in cold storage for months at this stage.  To ripen them up, pull some out and let sit at room temperature for a few days and they will soften up nicely.  Many old trees that produce "sandy" or "gritty" pears that are basically useless off the tree will ripen up smooth and creamy given this treatment!
2 weeks ago
You are in what is called a Mediterranean climate, where most or all rain falls in the cool season and the summer is hot and dry.  Only a few places around the world share this climate and it is quite unique....fortunately quite a few food plants thrive in it. Research these regions (all around the Mediterranean, parts of California, USA; parts of South Africa, southwestern Australia) to find out about these and other possible species.  Beware that moving plants from one of these zones to another may result in their becoming "invasives"....chances are likely there are already one or more of these present, and the challenge then is to find good uses for them.  Observe what's growing around you in the region and what other folks are planting....  For trees things like olive, fig, pomegranate come first to mind.  Unless you have excellent irrigation, plan to grow most of your gardens in the rainy cool season.  Mulch and manure of all sorts is the solution to hard clay soil....better incorporated or buried than left on the surface, in my part this is motivated by fire danger....which is also common in these climates.
Next time you are on the site, do some observation in the neighborhood and elsewhere along the hurricane's path and see which trees in which situations fared best.  My suspicion is that you will find that very strong, relatively low-growing species (live oak comes to mind)that resist the wind and direct it up and over them; and also supple, fine leaved species (such as Casuarina for instance) which allow the wind to pass through....will have fared better than most.  Also palms of all kinds.  The next step would be to find food-producing species in these groups, or perhaps use them as a windbreak if your property is large enough.
2 weeks ago
Just last summer I discovered the blessing of irrigation timers!  My climate demands all-summer irrigation of most plants except natives, and more than once irrigation has been overlooked leading to yield losses and even losses of plantings.  They are battery powered but I suppose the batteries could be rechargeables or that they could be "hacked" into power supply by means of a AC/DC converter.  I also use a couple of indoor/outdoor thermometers with memory, to keep record of nightly lows, and in the past I have had one of these with an alarm to give me warning of sudden frosts.  Another one is a small brooder heater with a thermostat, which I use inside of a large cardboard box in which I incubate tempeh.  This is a warm temperature ferment which does best at a steady temperature in the upper 80's F.
3 weeks ago
I know the Biodynamic people use fine ground quartz agitated in water as one of their main "preparations", if you're into that sort of thing.  It might need to come from special sources though.  If it is just quartz it is chemically pretty harmless and you could simply sprinkle it around to be rid of it, even around food crops, with no danger.  Think sand...a light colored sand is often mostly quartz.
3 weeks ago
Sweet potatoes are ultra-tropical....even more sensitive to cold than things like tomatoes.  They shut down pretty much at any temp. below about 60F.  So there is no point in having plants ready to set out too early in the spring, and it needs to be good and warm wherever you intend to sprout the potatoes.  Usually I just wait until I see signs of sprouts on them, and I keep some small ones set aside for this purpose since large ones are going to be hard to fit into a pot and they don't like to be cut (whereas white potatoes don't mind so much).  Some varieties are temperamental about sprouting at all, and what is more they often seem to vary in this from one year to the next.  So usually I keep my sweetpotatoes going by means of living vines kept in a pot as a house plant through winter, as well as by stored potatoes.  Come spring I clip up the vines and root them in a tray like any other cuttings.  This is often a more reliable way of propagating them, at least for me, than sprouting the tubers.