Sunday, January 30, 2011

In search of a path.

So y'all are still probably wondering what happened in Las Vegas. Short answer: not enough. I was there for three days to cover new emergency preparedness gear previewed at SHOT show 2011 for the Equipped to Survive Foundation. Most of my time was spent wandering the aisles of the Sand Convention Center looking at miles of knives, flashlights, guns, clothing, and pretty much anything else one would use in the wilds. It didn't take me long to realize looking at this stuff isn't nearly as fun as being out in the woods using this stuff.

That being said, there was a lot of cool new gear at the show. My reviews can be found here between the reviews of some of the other Equipped members.

I'm trying to remember the last overnight hike or paddle I've done without going back and looking it up in my blog. Whenever it was, it was far too long ago. I need to spend some time with a pack on my back and a path to explore in front of me.

Adventure! Excitement! Missing!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Irony is...

...spending a week Vegas without the family and getting home just in time for Miniwether's first confession in preparation for her first Communion.

What happened in Vegas?



Adventure! Excitement! Ooh-la-la!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Walking with neon.

No time to post, I'm about to go on a hell of an adventure. :-)

Adventure! Excitement! Elvises!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Project Updates (with many run-on sentances).

As neato as my earth buckets things are, a trip to King Dollar, Nothing over $1.09! made them even better. They have now been turned into individual mini-greenhouses after being topped with $1.09 cake containers. Considering the weather reports indicate a very good chance of a record-setting cold front hitting us this week, adding these tops was probably a very good idea. The first bucket currently has 2" tall sprouts of salsify growing in it. That's a wild edible I've been after for a while. Thankfully, Brian the Rogue Alchemist sent me a bunch of salsify seeds so in a few more months I'll be able to add this plant to my wild edibles blog.

12" cake holder tops fit perfectly over the buckets.

Meanwhile, my worm bin seems to be doing well. Last night I discovered two worms copulating, so I'm hoping that's a good sign. Sorry, no pictures of it as I'm pretty sure they were both underage. However, if you are into that sort of thing here is a good link.

And finally, Misseswether found me an old pressure cooker at a resale shop yesterday! It's not quite big enough to use for canning anything more than pint jars, but I have hopes it will cut down on the amount of burn marks in the kitchen from my greenbriar tuber experiments. Hey, anyone want to trade a wild edible plant class for a 22 quart pressure canner?

Adventure! Excitement! Stuff!

Monday, January 03, 2011

The gardens at Round Top Festival Institute

Back in August Clark and his family discovered the beautiful gardens surrounding the Round Top Festival Institute while looking to buy land outside of Houston. After months of telling me about it I was finally able to escape other responsiblities and make the 90 minute drive up there. It was well worth the $2.84-a-gallon gas!!

Spread across the Festival grounds are fifteen gardens along five miles of trails, along with ponds and other water features, statues, ruins, a stunning chapel, artist retreats, and of course the main attraction, the concert hall. This institute was created by the master musician James Dick (more about him later) back in 1971 and has turned into a world-renowned venue for the performing arts.

The place was empty today so we were able to park right in front of the Menke House, which serves as the site's main meeting and dining facility. I think it's the most beutiful house I've ever seen that wasn't built out of old tires and hay bales.

Gingerbread House
Love it.

Perfect House
Someday this will be mine!

The Menke house overlooks Susan Clayton McAshan Gardens which were breathtaking...
Mediterranean Garden

Clark contemplating doing something similar in his backyard.

Mediterranian Garden2
Supposedly it's much nicer in the summer...

A home worthy of Mary.

Some ruins. The grounds were covered with amazing rock structures like this.

Originally my key interest in this place was due to their extensive medicinal plant gardens. Famed Texas herb gardener and author Madalene Hill had always wanted to share her knowledge of herbal medicines with the world and the gardens at Round Top were her main hangout. For her 80th birthday this pharmacy garden was created as a gift for her.

I am not worthy.

This garden is filled with row after row of raised beds, each dedicated to the medicinal plants of a different country or continent such as India, Africa, Mexico, North America, Europe, China, etc...

Sadly, most of these beds were bare right now except for plant tags and the occasional hardy perennial or winter annual. In late spring they will be filled to the brim with plants again and you bet I'll be there with reference books and a camera!

As we left the pharmacy garden and headed down a nice woodland trail we ran into a pleasant fellow who hailed us a hearty greetings. The three of us talked for a while, it seemed he worked there at the site and was very proud of it. We talked for almost ten minutes about it's history, some of the notable sites among the gardens, my edible plant classes, and so forth. At the end he and I exchanged business cards and I saw his name, James Dick. At the time it didn't mean anything to me other than he was a very friendly guy. Later on we discovered who he was.

After that encounter we continued on, crossing a recreated Roman bridge and heading into the woods.


The trail wound through woods, past bamboo groves, into gullies, and over more bridges.

We even found Buddha, who apparently likes to party with the locals.

Clark trying to reach Nirvana. He didn't make it.

We eventually came out of the woods and headed to the concert hall.


The performance hall is currently undergoing some remodeling to get it ready for the first concert of the year on Jan. 22nd, a piano recital by James Dick who will be doing works by Liszt and Beethoven. Reading this notice is what made us realize the nice guy we had been talking to was the not just some mid-level garden bureaucrat but rather the head honcho of this entire place! D'oh!

Note to self: next time before going somewhere read up on it so I can make a good first impression if I happen to run into the multimillionaire owner of said place. I have his card, you can bet I'm going to contact him about teach wild edible classes out there!!

Anyway, enough of my business plan, on to more exploration of the grounds. Next up, the Edythe Bates Chapel. Mrs. Edythe Bates Old was a musician and long time patron of the arts at Festival Hill Institute and other places. Her chapel was originally a church built in 1883 for a congregation in La Grange, Texas and was moved to Festival Hill in 1994 to be used as a lecture hall and for organ recitals. The move and construction of the rockwork, fountains, and surrounding gardens were paid for by Edyth Bates.

Edythe Bats Chapel

Wow. This is just one of the fountains.

Matching fountain on the other side of the chapel.

The perfect place to play checkers.

This face was almost as big as me.

Past the chapel are two retreat houses for visiting artists along with a practice hall. Of more interest to Clark and I were the miles of more trails that loop around the back areas of the institute grounds. A few times we wandered into places where we thought maybe we weren't supposed to go, but then we'd find a shaded bench or statue to indicate visitors were welcome there. In fact, if I had to sum up everything in three words I would say "Visitors Very Welcome."

Clark walking the trails.

Um, are we supposed to be here?

Joseph and Jesus
Yes, we are supposed to be here. I love how people left offering of money, beads, and plants...

Joseph and Baby Jesus
Joseph and Baby Jesus. The elm seed on Joseph's cheek made him look like he was crying.

This place was fantastic in the winter, I can only imagine how great it'll be in a few months!

Adventure! Excitement! Inspiration!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Worm Composting

Here be worms.

Give me a Dremel tool and I'll change the world...or at least improve my backyard. Today's project is a vermiculture worm bin. I've been wanting to raise worms for a while, mainly for fishing but also for the great soil they produce from kitchen fruit/veggie scrapes. Plus, Miniwether just really likes playing with worms.

Someday I may end up paying for that last line.

Oh well.

Anyway, worm bins. They are easy to make out of two identical opaque plastic bins, shredded newspaper, and something that will make holes in two different sizes (1/4" and 1/16" diameter). The ideal bins would only be about a foot deep but as wide as possible to maximize the surface area. Right now Walmart, Target, Home Depot and other stores all have their "Christmas storage bins" on clearance dirt cheap (ha ha ha) so it's a great time to tackle (ha ha joke...worms...get it) this project. You want opaque bins as worms hate light and won't act naturally or even die if exposed to too much light.

1. inner bin
2. outer bin
3. loosely wadded up strips of damp newspaper
4. fruit/veggie waste
5. red wiggler worms
6. worm casings (aka worm poop) both in inner and outer bin
7. bricks or other thing to lift up inner bin

The key to a healthy worm bin is ventilation, hence lots of air holes are drilled in both bins. The holes in the wall of the outer bin should be 1/4" in diameter but only 1/16" in the walls and lid of the inner bin. If you use holes larger than 1/16" on the inner bin the worms will crawl out which leads to dried out worm carcasses all over. Yucky. Also drill about twenty or thirty 1/4" holes in the BOTTOM of the inner bed to allow the processed worm casings to fall into the outer bin. Occasionally you'll have a worm drop into the outer bin, too. Oh well.

Outer bin with brick risers in place. The risers raise the inner bin away from the outer bin to increase air flow to the inner bin.

There are several ways to get red wigglers, I bought mine from a bait shop. If you do this make sure you don't buy the big nightcrawlers used for bass fishing as they won't eat you kitchen waste. You'll want the smaller worms used for trout and pan fish. If you don't want to buy the worms you can gather your own from the wild. Look in/under compost or manure piles or just lay some wet cardboard down on the grass for a day or too. When you lift it there will likely be a number of red wigglers under it. Lastly, there are a bunch of places online that will sell you pounds of red wigglers. I've never tried any of them so I can't recommend a particular one. Most plans call for starting out with one pound of worms.

Place the worms and the media they came in in the bottom of the inner bin. If you caught them yourself then put a 1" layer of damp earth in the bottom of the bin. This soil shouldn't be dripping wet nor dusty dry. Aim for somewhat clumpy.

Worms, now home. Note all the ventilation holes.

Worm food: potato peels, lettuce, and a few other scraps.

One pound of worms will eat 1/2 pound of kitchen waste every day. Some people add their scraps every day, others collect about 3-days worth of kitchen waste before added it to the bins to minimize annoying/disturbing the worms. Do whatever you significant other tells you to do. It's just easier that way. Once you have a large, hungry horde of worms you can expand you scraps to include meat and other non-plant matter.

Newspaper layer. Yes, worms are excellent climbers.

Cover everything with 2"-3" of shredded newspaper. Cut the newspaper into 1" strips, soak them in water, squeeze them out to "damp sponge" wetness, loosely wad them up and toss them in the bin. Don't use glossy advertisements as they don't dampen well and the inks may be somewhat toxic.

That's about it. Store the bins in a dark area where they will neither freeze nor overheat. They can handle temperatures close to 30F and as high as 100F but will stop breeding at these temperatures. Under ideal conditions your worm population will double every 90 days. Note that like with every other creature, worms don't like living in their own excrement. You'll have to empty the inner bin about every 4 months to keep your worms healthy. Worm casings are loaded with beneficial microbes and nutrients vital to plants, often having five times as much nitrogen, seven times as much phosphorus, and eleven times as much potassium as ordinary dirt, making it a wonderful natural fertilizer.

Worm bins should have a nice, earthy smell to them. If an unpleasant odor is noticed you've probably been overfeeding the worms. Don't add any scraps for several days until the current material has been consumed. Also check that your system isn't too wet. If it is more than just damp add some more shredded newspaper to absorb excess moisture. My problem in Houston is the system drying out so I keep a spray bottle of water next to the bin to dampen the newspaper as needed.

Adventure! Excitement! Worm poop!

Happy New Year!

Long time readers of this blog know I love Texas much more than my home state of Minnesota. Reason #3 Texas is better than Minnesota: last night we were outside legally blowing stuff up while wearing light jackets.

Mortar round.


Roman candle.

Spinning flaming thing.

Merriwetherbeing artistic with a flashbanger.

Another flashbanger.

Fun with sparklers.









Giant Merriwether.

Of course, we were done by 9pm and in bed by 10pm. I woke Misseswether up for a kiss at midnight then we ended up watch competition ballroom dancing on PBS until 1:30am. Sidenote on the ballroom dancing comp: who the hell decided to put Jasmine Guy in that dress? Armpit muffins are not flattering!

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone!! May the best of 2010 be considered the worst of 2011!

Adventure! Excitement! Whiskey and gunpowder!