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Dieter Brand

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since Aug 31, 2021
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Recent posts by Dieter Brand

Julia Winter wrote:I have a Desert King fig tree, and the figs are HUGE, with green skin and red insides and a fair amount of bland white pith in between. I cut the figs in half, peel and remove most of the pith, and lay them out on a cookie sheet.  Then I roast them in the oven on convection bake.  They shrink quite a bit and get brown on the undersides plus bits of the tops.  I then load them into containers for freezing or just in the fridge.  

Roasted figs are great on a pizza with goat cheese!  Or, wrapped in thinly sliced ham, or some other way.  Anyway, roasting is a different flavor profile, I recommend it.

Hi Julia,

This sounds like a great idea. Just a couple of questions:

Is there a trick for separating the red inner part from the skin and the bland white pith? I tried scooping out with a spoon, but when the figs are rip, the inner red part usually comes apart. Or should I use the figs before they are completely ripe?

For how long and at what temperature do you bake them in the oven?

Do I have to oil the baking pan to prevent the figs from sticking to the pan?

Do you happen to know why some figs are red inside while others are brownish inside even among figs from the same tree? The red once taste better.


3 weeks ago
I don't think it works like that. The more food there is, the more the slugs will multiply. I don't know about your environment, but in my place, the slugs prefer my garden vegetables above anything that grows in the wild. They don't like tomatoes, but apart from that, they'll eat almost any vegetable, fruit and salad. Their favorites are obvious cabbages and salads, especially Chinese cabbage. They love horse radish and any perennial that provides both habitat and food all year round. They also love onions.

When I notice that they threaten some vegetables, I put some spoiled vegetables on the ground beneath the plants they are eating. Right now, I put slices of melons that got spoiled on the ground among my green peppers. At night I go out with a torch to pick them by hand. As soon as it gets dark, they all move to the slices of melon and it's easy to find them. The soft flesh of the melons is easier for them to eat than green leaves or fresh vegetables.
1 month ago

It's fig season again. They are best fresh, but we have already eaten as much as we can and provided our neighbors and friends with baskets full of fresh figs.

So, I'm looking for ways of preserving what we can't use. My wife doesn't like dried figs. We still have fig chutney from last year and there is no point in making more. I have tried to conserve figs in alcohol (vodka), but didn't like it at all. Perhaps I could use Port wine?

Are there any other ways of preserving figs?

1 month ago
I have been doing battle with fruit flies for years. There are many abandoned farmsteads around here. That is an ideal condition for fruit flies to multiply. Nature hates vacuum. As soon as fruits aren't harvested, there will be creatures to feast on the fruit. In this region, the Mediterranean fruit fly and the olive fruit fly are particularly bad.

You have to find a way of cutting the life-cycle: fruit fly > eggs > larvae > pupa > fruit fly.

Picking up fallen fruit under the trees usually isn't enough because the larvae often leave the fruits before they are ripe. Once they are in the ground they become pupas to turn into fruit flies the following year.

I have tried to pick the fruits before the larvae hedge, however, that's time consuming. It would be easier to destroy/pick all fruits before they are big enough for the flies to lay there eggs, but that means you won't have any fruit for 2 to 3 years because the pupas can hedge even after 2 or 3 years.

Hanging traps in the trees will catch some, but not all fruit flies. Usually, you use bottles with little holes painted yellow and filled with something to attract the flies. I dilute marmite, some use urine, my neighbor uses the water in which he cooks his codfish.

In Japan, farmers use little paper bags to protect the fruits, but that's time consuming. You could also use a thin fabric or very fine netting to cover the whole tree. I have tried spaying the fruits with a solution of water and clay to cover the fruits with a clay layer before the fruit flies deposit their eggs. It seemed to help a little, but in the end, many fruits had larvae after all. It can also help to harvest the fruits before they are ripe and let them ripe in boxes. That too seems to help provided one can chose the right moment. Selecting fruit trees that bear fruit early in the year, before the fruit flies are active, can also help.

If you can't catch the flies or dispose of the fruits with larvae, you can try to do something about the pupas in the soil. It's recommended to till the soil so that the pupas are buried too deep to reach the surface. That's tricky because you risk damaging the roots. I'm in the process of building a chicken tractor low enough to fit under the fruit trees. Hopefully, the chickens will find the larvae or pupas in the soil.

I haven't heard about burning. I would be worried about damaging the fruit trees. The fire would have to be strong enough for the heat to destroy the pupas or larvae in the soil, which you don't really know how deep they are.

Wonder if there are any other ideas.

Edit: covering the ground below the trees with plastic sheeting is another way of preventing the larvae from entering the soil. The plastic sheeting has to be big enough because the larvae can "jump" one to two feet. If the larvae can't enter the soil, they first bent and and then release their body so that the spring action makes them jump here and there.
1 month ago
I have the same problem.

In my case it's probably due to iron oxide because the water from some of my sources has a high iron content.
1 month ago

Abraham Palma wrote:"I would suggest to place stairs inside the cellar. This way the cool air near the ground doesn't leave the room every time you open the door.
Also, the higher the building, the more stratification you get, with warmer air near the ceiling, cooler air in the ground. To encourage stratification, use shelves made out of isolating materials (not metal) and drawer-like stands (hold temperature better whenever you open the door).

Since your roof is not exposed to sun, you only have to worry about outdoors temperature for isolation. You didn't say where you live, but if your cool/hot cycle is fast (guaranteed cool summer nights), then you don't need to add isolation to the walls, provided they are thick enough. You may add the extra insulation layer later if you think you need it.

Do you plan on using an insulated/airtight door? If so, maybe look for one with a small glazed area, so you get some dim light inside, saving the electric installation, wished you to close the door while browsing for your stuff. Torchlights/candles can be used at night.

Thanks for the advice.

I was planning on a thick wooden door above the stairs leading to the below-ground part of the cellar. I don't expect to spend much time in the cellar, so I rather avoid a window in the door.  If need be, I could even lay an electric cable into the cellar.

We are in the Alentejo region of Portugal a few miles inland from the Ocean.  When the sky is clear, the temperature difference between day and night is often 20 or more degrees Celsius. In other words, even with daytime temperatures of 30 degrees, the thermometer can fall below 10 degrees at night.

As I said, we have plenty of cork. So throwing in some cork while adding soil to the top of the cellar wouldn't present any additional effort or cost. I just wonder what effect it would have.

Another thing I was wondering about is whether I should provide ventilation. At the cellar front, I could open the door for ventilation. Do you think it's a good idea to have a ventilation shaft at the rear of the cellar to get air circulating from front to rear if necessary? Ventilation may be useful when the air humidity is very high, which happens at night or during rain season. High air humidity could cause mold.

@Carl, a dry stone wall can have greater strength than a brick wall built with mortar. If the mortar were to deteriorate underground, the brick wall risks collapsing. That can't happen with a dry stone wall, which is built to have stability in itself. The secrete is to place each stone so that the upper side slants slightly towards the earth. That means the pressure applied from above will primarily be downward, while a minor force will press the stones against the earth. The greater the pressure from above, the greater the strength of a well-built dry-stone wall.


1 month ago

Carl Nystrom wrote:What is the soil type you are working in? I think your plan sounds good - you are suggesting doing a cut-and-cover method with drainage "to daylight" which is great. When building things underground, water intrusion is an issue. If you are at the toe of a slope, there will be more water than if you were higher up. How much area there is upslope, how much rainfall you get, how fast your soil drains, and how deep the water table is will all be important to know.  

Hi Carl,

Thanks for your reply.  

We have heavy clay soil that's normally very dry. It's ideal for rammed earth construction. To get to the ground water, I have to dig at least 30 meters (100 feet) into the ground. The hillside never gets water-soaked even with heavy rains. The cellar is a little distance away from the bottom of the valley, where the water runs off during heavy rain falls. The rainwater has dug a bed into the ground. That's where my drainage from the cellar would go. In other words, the cellar floor will in any case be above the rainwater runoff bed.

So I don't worry too much about water-logged soil. The only problem would be if it rained into the cellar, which could turn the cellar into a pool because it takes a long time for water to soak into the soil. That's why I need the drainage.

I try to work with onsite material as much as possible. That means clay, stones and wood. I have done dry-stone walls against a hillside. After 20 years, they haven't caved in. There is only one stone that I have to remove because tree roots are pushing it outward. When building dry-stone walls, I usually fill in the gaps behind the stones with pebbles, so that any humidity will drain behind the stone wall. So, as far as I can tell, the pressure on the walls will be primarily from the concrete ceiling and the soil above, which will strengthen the dry-stone walls.

Ideally, I would like to do an arched ceiling with stones; however, I think that will be for another life as it is too much of a challenge right now. That's why I compromise by using a reinforced concrete ceiling. I'm not sure if I could use wooden beams. There are some Eucalyptus trees I want to cut down, which could serve to cover the cellar, but I'm not sure how well Eucalyptus will preserve underground.

Many thanks for your advice,

Edit: since we'll be digging by hand, we'll dig vertically into the ground just big enough for the cellar and the stone walls. In other words, there won't be the sloping space with loose earth on the outside of the stone walls (shown in your drawing) that could put lateral pressure onto the walls.
1 month ago

I have been thinking about building a root cellar for many years; however, I never had the time or energy to actually build one. Now I have somebody to help me and I may actually starting digging in the winter.

The site can't be accessed by earth moving machines, so we'll basically dig by hand and maybe use a power drill. I haven't got a drawing yet, but the way I'm planning on building is as follows:

- The site: base of a vertical northward hillside, where the sun doesn't reach.
- Interior floor size: about 5 feet wide by 7 feet long.
- First, I intend to dig a drainage channel for drainage.
- Depending on how deep I can make the drainage, I want to bury the cellar at least 4 feet below ground.
- The excavated earth goes on both sides of the cellar, so that about 2 to 3 feet of the cellar will be above ground level.
- The rear of the cellar is build against the vertical hillside.
- I intend to cover the cellar with about 3 feet of soil so that it is flash with the hillside.
- The interior walls are made from large stones with clay in between.
- A metal wire mesh between stones and earth keeps rodents from getting into the cellar.
- The floor is made from flagstones.
- Gravel beneath the flagstones will guarantee drainage.
- A concrete ceiling reinforced with steel bars will be covered with a watertight layer to keep water from percolating into the cellar.
- The wooden door is slanted so that cool air can sink into the cellar when I leave it open during the night. (Even in the summer, nights tend to be cool around here.)
- We have plenty of cork from our cork oaks. I wonder whether it would be a good idea to bury a cork layer in the soil above the cellar??
- I wonder whether it’s a good idea to bury tubes for running cold water either above or below the cellar??

What do you think? Can that work? Do you have any suggestion for improvements?

1 month ago

Lori Ziemba wrote:Specifically, I'm interested in how people in Greece, Italy, etc. grew tradtitional crops like olives, grapes, carob, chestnuts, pomegranites, figs without irrigation in the summer.  Or did they rely on irrigation?  I'm having a hard time imagining they had the resources to irrigate large orchards, vinyards, etc.

Anyone have knowledge of this?  

We have about 20 very ancient olive trees and a couple of old fig trees in addition to the new trees I planted.  

Some of the old olive trees will produce medium sized olives, but others will only produce tiny olives that aren't any use. It's a hill-side property with a few fields in the valley. The trees that produce sizable olives are on relatively good soil at the bottom of the valley where a little brook runs when it rains during the wet season.  They will produce olives without irrigation even though the soil usually stays dry from April/May thru October.  We don't get any rain during the summer. However, the same trees wouldn't produce any olives if they were just a few meters up the hill. Thus, it really depends on your soil.

There are two farmsteads on our land, each farm house had a big fig tree that used to produce large figs while people were living there; however, after the land was abandoned, the trees only produced tiny figs that aren't edible. In other words, while people lived there, the trees would get water even if they weren't specifically irrigated.

The only tree that still produces many fruit is a huge carob tree even though its on a dry hillside and doesn't get any water whatsoever.

In other words, olive and fig trees will produce fruits without irrigation if they are on good soil that gets plenty of water during the wet season. Only carob trees will produce fruits without irrigation even on very dry soil.

I don't specifically irrigate the olive and fig trees I planted; however, since they are part of my vegetable garden, they do get water when I irrigate my vegetable plots. In a particularly dry year, when I don't have enough water to irrigate the vegetable plots, these trees may still produce small fruits, but the figs will loose all leaves by August.
1 month ago
I'm based abroad in a region with very long and severe droughts (6 to 8 months a year). Saving water is a way of life to us. We save every drop of water we can, but since most of our water (<90%) is for irrigation, the greatest savings are achieved by the right soil management. We have heavy clay soil that dries out rapid. Over the years, I have improved the soil by mulching and by adding compost and manure. The result is that the soil keeps the humidity for much longer. During the dry season, all growing areas get a thick layer of mulch. Sometimes, when the soil gets compacted, it's necessary to loosen it, otherwise it dries out rapidly.
1 month ago