Grey Heron

Avalus has encountered this dapper beauty and managed to snap a few pictures for us. It is a long time since I have seen a live heron. Decades, in fact, since the nearest water reservoir where they at least occasionally occur is more than an hour’s worth of brisk walk from my home. It seemed closer when I was a kid.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Greening the Balcony – Part 1

Guest post by Avalus. I am looking forward to the continuation(s) and once again I render my robe and put ashes on my head, this should go up a month ago.

A new project by me, Avalus. I use my balcony each year to grow veggies and some flowers, but I never thought about sharing this. Charly encouraged me to do so, so thank you very much for this opportunity! Similar to Full Fish Ahead, this will be some poorly held together train of thought with many pictures that will be written at random intervals and you all hopefully find interesting and worth your time reading. Comments are very welcome, as I learn something new every year I change my balcony in a lush green jungle (or in 2018, more like a dry brown savannah). Also, I hope to inspire people to green up their spaces, if they can!

So, this is my balcony, roughly 2 by 5 meters, facing south on the lofty hight of seventh floor and as of now, already pretty full of plants!

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

But how did I get there?

I started in late winter and early spring with the pregrowing the slower plants. Tomates and peppers mostly but also some older seeds that I expected would not germinate anymore were put in the earth*. For pregrowth I use these 2 old fishtanks that I got from a garbage pile, the seeds are planted in egg cartons and some leftover paper pots, as soil I use cocosshell soil. This foto is from late march, you can also see a sprouting avocado and a taro plant grown from a leftover from cooking.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

*That is why there are some beans growing on the right. Also, the old cucumber seeds just took some four weeks to germinate, in between I bought new ones and they just took four days and now my friends with gardens and family will get gifts of cucumber plants. XD

From last year, a broccoli and two romanesco plants have endured the winter. I thought about tearing them out but then they began to bloom and instantly attracted pollinators, so they stay and I decided to side the broccoli with pansies. Later, this one will be used as a support for peas, that I planted around it.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Then, in early April I got to work cleaning the old pots out. I kept about half of the soil but mixed it topped it off with newly bought earth. For that I use peat-free planting soil although one really needs to look at the content table, as I found out a few years ago. And in the past years, this was also more expensive but this year they did cost the same. All hauling was done from a local garden centre with a hand drawn trolley, which was exhausting as I needed some 240 litres and I don’t own a car. If I lived somewhere else or was not as able bodied this would be a major problem and I would definitively need the help of friends.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

My main growbeds are these half transparent outdoor boxes, I bought some six years ago in a large hardware store. They are mostly in the shade and have held up wonderfully. The lowest 5 cm are filled with porous ceramic balls to store water, on the backside I drilled a line of small holes at 10 cm as an overflow.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Others are just large planting pots, buckets or plain balcony boxes and we will see more of them later this year.

Now, at the start of May, the tomatoes are finally gaining strength, as do the mangolds and the cucumbers. Both of which I apparently did not photograph in their boxes. Planting all of these will have wait though until the ice-saints, a series of days around 15th of May, where temperatures might fall deep here in central Germany. Most of the tomatoes will be given away as well, I will just keep nine of them, as that is usually enough to satisfy my tomatic needs.

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So, what will I grow? Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beans, onions, garlic, peas, sweet potatoes and potatoes along with a load of different herbs and some flowers for the bumbles and the bees like tagetes, sunflowers and calendula. From th last years there is Indian canna and lavender. This sounds like a heck of a lot, but the last years showed that with the right combinations these plants work well under the conditions of my balcony in summer. Over the months there will be changes as plants ripen and get collected and replacements will be seeded, grown and planted.

Why do I do it? This is of course not enough to sustain me by a long margin, but I very much do enjoy having plants around me and growing at least a bit of sustenance. It also helps me to appreciate much work goes into farming at least a little more. I cannot collect my own rainwater and the soil is bought, so there are some environmental impacts, of course, even if I try to minimize them. All in all, it just makes me very happy to eat my own grown food and gaze upon thriving plants.

And to finish this instalment, here sprout the first beans, nasturtiums and peas!

© avalus, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Happy planting, everyone!

I See Your Strawberries, I Raise You My Cherries

At least here fruit seems to have a good year. We went to my parents to pick cherries. Within an hour, we had approximately 10kg in our buckets, and you didn’t notice when you looked at the tree. Sadly, the rest will be for the birds. Probably good news for the birds.

A bowl full of red cherries with stems

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Removing the pits was much more work, and I only did so with parts of them. I froze 1 kg for #1’s birthday cake (who the fuck allowed her to turn 15 next week?), weighed 1 kg for jam (with brown sugar, orange peel and a hint of lavender), and another kg for “Kerschepannekuche” (cherry pancakes)

a plate with cherry pancakes

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Cherry pancakes are a traditional treat here in summer, usually served with potato soup, same as apple pancakes in autumn. My gran used to make amazing ones (though she smartly left the pitting to the eaters). The problem with gran’s recipe is that it got never written down. It was one of the things she just knew how to make (her infamous cheesecake recipe started with “You take flour”). I think that by now I’m a decent enough cook to have recreated it. And yes, I wrote it down.

For 4-8 people, depending on whether you’re serving soup alongside or whether some of them are black holes disguised as teenagers:

250 g butter

100 g sugar

-> beat creamy

6 eggs

-> add 1 at a time

vanilla to taste

700g flour

2 tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

approximately 300ml milk

-> add to batter, starting with flour. Your batter should be somewhat runny, but not thin as for thin pancakes. More like American pancakes.

1 kg cherries

-> add to batter, place 1 big tbsp of batter into a hot skillet and fry in a little oil or butter.

Strawberry Madness

First I must apologize to those who have sent submissions to affinity. I was busy with a lot of things and I completely forgot to check that e-mail address for over a month by now. And one of those things I was busy with were (are) strawberries.

Last year I had a successful strawberry harvest, we got slightly over 8 kg of strawberries. So this year I have decided to take a lax approach to my strawberry patches and not spend too much time on them. I have removed some of the old leaves and overgrowth from last year, I tossed some crushed reed stalks between them, and that was it. No replanting or similar. About one day’s worth of work in between repotting my bonsai trees. When the strawberries began to bloom, I thought it looks promising and I estimated that this year’s harvest might be even slightly higher than last year, like 12 kg or so.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Boy was I wrong. Very ronk.

For over a week by now, I spend just shy over an hour picking strawberries, then laying them down on a windowsill to finish ripening (this reduces the ants and slugs damage significantly, and they also become more aromatic that way). Then I had to weigh and clean them and put them in the freezer where they slowly accumulated to a dangerous degree. With 1-2 kg of strawberries daily, the freezer got filled up in a week and was threatening to burst. I had to play Tetris every time I wanted to take a popsicle out of there. It looked like I would have to stop doing everything else for a few days and start making marmalade.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Luckily my mother returned from the hospital last week. She has reduced mobility in her right leg, but she does not have the intensive pains she used to have anymore and thus is relatively fit. So she could start making marmalade. preventing me from getting to be totally overwhelmed by the red menace. For a few days now she is every day using up all the freshly collected strawberries and she even managed to take a few bags out of the freezer already. Approximately 4 kg strawberries go into this huge pot together with some other sekrit ingredients.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Today’s worth of work is several huge marmalade jars filled to the brim. And on the right side of this picture you can see the up-to-date tally – 18724 g! Nearly 19 kg, so with what I see in the patches from my windows, today evening we should cross 20 kg harvest easily. That is officially insane.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

When the jars cool, we check whether the lid created a proper vacuum seal or not, and those that did get labeled and go into the cellar. You can read the secret ingredients on the labels if you wish. I do not know the exact proportions, I think my mother has them written somewhere. Other than these, she also adds pectin and Aronia juice (which makes the marmalade less sweet and gives it a slightly darker color).

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So I expected to have about 50% higher harvest than last year, instead, I got 150% higher one and still counting. We have enough marmalade to last us for years at our normal consumption rate (which is about a spoon a day). I am this year spending significantly more time harvesting than I have spent actually caring.

I am slowly starting to wish they would stop so I can do other things with my time, like being lazy.

American Exceptionalism – Leftie Edition

I grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in a Warsaw Pact country. We were taught that this is the great alliance of socialist countries banding together to counterbalance the evil imperialist NATO. Lead by the great and both technically and socially advanced USS. And in my childhood naivety, I really believed that the USSR is The Land Where Tomorrow Already Means Yesterday (“Země kde zítra již znamená včera”, a bonmot that was bandied about very often). I believed in USSR exceptionalism.

We were taught a lot of things about how evil NATO is and how good the Warsaw Pact is, but we were not told that the Warsaw Pact is possibly the only ostensibly defensive alliance in history that has never defended anyone from anything but attacked its own members instead – the occupation of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. I do not remember ever learning about that at school, but admittedly the regime fell apart at about the same time when we were reaching recent history in our curriculum.

Later on, when I learned about it, it was a revelation. Not an exceptionally sudden one, it did not come to me as an epiphany one sunny morning, but one that evolved and matured over the years as I absorbed new and new information about what NATO did and what Warsaw Pact did, but a revelation nevertheless. And not a nice one – the world superpowers are not divided into good guys and bad guys, they are divided only into bad guys whose badness depends on your vantage point.

One can justifiably show to various parts of the world, mostly in the Global South and in the Middle East, where the USA and NATO have done a lot of harm. There were coups instigated, democratically elected governments overthrown, countries unjustly invaded, and war crimes committed. The end result was invariably political chaos and instability from which none of the afflicted countries has fully recovered.

However, in central and eastern Europe NATO was not the bad guy. Here the bad guy was the USSR. People in Eastern Europe in general and in Ukraine specifically do not, on average, need much encouragement to not like Russia and like NATO. And they do exactly that, in fact. Using their own thinking, deciding in their own interest. NATO never harmed them. The USSR (Russia) did. Czechia, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania – none of them needed to have their arms twisted to want to join NATO as security against Russia who never really ceased to be a threat and whose occupation forces have left just one generation ago – with scars from that occupation still being visible to those willing to look.

With the war in Ukraine, a lot of people in the comments at FtB are spending a lot of time bemoaning the evils of NATO and how it was NATO’s evil machinations that have caused the Ukrainian people to turn on their pro-russian president in 2014 and kick him out. But the EU, Russia, and the USA all have a political and financial stake in Ukraine, yet apparently only the USA and the EU have managed to persuade Ukrainians to want to ally with them. And why is that? It is not some unique evil capability that only CIA has that has persuaded the Ukrainian people to decide to want to join the EU and NATO. It is because Russia has harmed them. And now continues to harm them and tells, quite loudly, that it intends to continue to do so.

The right-wingers think the USA is exceptional, the Shining City on a Hill, unique, perfect in every way. That is daft. But to believe that every decision everywhere that aligns with the USA interests is always and only the result of some nefarious USA machinations is equally daft. It is American exceptionalism too, only turned inside out. If you consider yourself a leftist, really try to treat all people equally. Allow both pro- and against-USA-aligned actors to have their own agency.

Tram Depo Graffiti – Part 3

I am very busy and I do not feel like writing. Every day I am cutting wood, cook for two, then rest a bit, then cut wood, then pick strawberries, weigh them, and put them in the freezer. In the evening I make a fire, watch Jeeves and Wooster on my phone while a sausage is sizzling over the flame and then I cut some more wood, put away the tools, and go to sleep. Rinse and repeat.

I often write long SJW posts in my head, but mostly they stay there. I do not seem to be able to find the necessary time to put them on here. But I do have some more graffiti pictures. Lots more, in fact.

Promising Developments

Among the green in the greenhouse, a bit of flaming bright orange caught my eye. After some looking around, there was a second one.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Who can recognize what those are? I’m not telling. I do hope the blossoms open at the time my mother arrives back from the hospital, she has never seen these. Neither did I, not live ones – I’ve only seen pictures of these and my aunt used to have a pygmy variant, but this is not a pygmy variant, this is the real deal. And these are the first flower buds that have shown up since I planted the seeds over a decade ago. I never expected the plants to flower at all.

My mother called on Tuesday that she has been transferred to a rehabilitation clinic and we could visit her, but we don’t have to. So of course we had to, even though it is over an hour’s worth of driving away. We visited her on Thursday and she cried and was in dire need of a hug.

She feels reasonably well, the incision site does not hurt at all but her leg is swollen and she does not have full use of it – the swelling pinches a nerve and she cannot move her knee properly. All this should so far be normal development and rehabilitation should help. Electrotherapy has allegedly some effect on the numbed nerve and she is slowly getting her feeling back.

They also found out she is anemic, which explains why she had for several months cravings for red meat and liver. Hopefully, iron supplements will help with that.

She will need some additional accommodations at home, I will have to order some stuff before she returns. If nothing goes wrong, it should be in about two weeks’ time. In the meantime, I am still busy cutting wood every day in every way.

NOT an Itty Bitty Spider

I was cutting wood for knives and this fellow was hiding in the pile on a piece of maple branch. I nearly inadvertently squashed it, but luckily it got away in the end unharmed.  I have no clue what species it is, but it is fairly big. The cephalothorax and abdomen together were about as big as my thumbnail, that’s about 15 mm.  So with the legs and all it exceeded the size of a 2 € coin. Pictures are below the fold. [Read more…]

Tram Depo Graffiti – Part 1

Near where my auntie lives is a small tram depo. I went for a walk and ended up there and I noticed that the walls are covered with graffiti. A passer-by told me that it is fresh, just a few weeks old. Thus it was not yet defaced by other, less artistically inclined and more vandalous graffitiers. I will post pictures probably without much comment in the next few days. There is not much to talk about.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

How to Sharpen a Scythe

The clicking and whispering of whetstone on a scythe blade is a sound that still evokes memories of early childhood in me. My father used to breed rabbits and he made hay twice a year. That, of course, clashed horribly with my allergies, so later on he moved to ducks, turkeys, and geese who kept the grass in our rather big garden in check during the summer on their own, and hay was not needed. Nowadays my allergies are much better than they used to be, we no longer keep any animals that eat the grass so we have to keep it in check by mowing. And the lawnmower does not reach all nooks and crannies, nor is it suitable for mowing grass that has overgrown a bit. And thus a scythe has to be used again.

My father has one and I have my own. We were both using one, but I got terrible back ache from it because the handle was just a tiny bit shorter than I need. For a long time, I could not find a suitably long scythe handle anywhere, so I even started to season ash wood to make my own. Luckily my parents saw a TV advert for a company that sells adjustable scythes so I bought one, adjusted it accordingly and I use it for two years by now and my back no longer aches (apart from normal tiredness that is). And I get to make my own clink-whoosh sounds with whetstone on the blade.

But there comes a time when the whetstone actually destroys the blade – when the cutting edge becomes as sharp as that of a knife. Yus, that is correct, a scythe blade that is as sharp as a knife is of no use. Here is a picture of my scythe this morning, when work with it became finally too difficult and it was bending the grass a lot without cutting it. It would cut yer leg off in a blink, but it was no longer good at cutting grass.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

You can see the edge is laid on a tiny peening anvil fixed to a small wooden horse so when one sits on it, the blade can lay on the anvil and be supported by knees on either side to stabilize it. The left hand holds the blade to move the edge across the anvil, and the right hand beats the crap out of the edge with a hammer.

Scythes are hardened, but they are tempered back to springiness, so the material is somewhat ductile – up to a point. The hammering has thus several effects. It draws out the material a bit, so the scythe becomes a mm or so wider and thinner at the edge.  The second effect is the so-called work hardening of the steel, the thinned drawn-out edge becomes harder. And the third effect, completely undesirable in a knife blade but essential in a scythe, is that the edge becomes all wavy and even cracked in places. Look at a hammered blade.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

For a knife, that looks absolutely terrible. But for a scythe, this is a must. Grass is a mixture of soft and hard fibers, yielding and tough. The jagged edge is much better at cutting it than a smooth knife-like one. My father even tells an anecdote about a former colleague of his who never hammered his scythe and has sharpened it as a knife – and as a result, he had difficulty cutting grass with it.

After the blade is hammered out, a few passes with whetstone are sufficient to straighten it a bit and break off some wire edge and thin it just a tiny bit more than the hammering has done. And that maintenance with whetstone should now suffice for a few months, then it will be hammer time again. A properly sharpened scythe should be able to cut grass that is just a few cm high with a light pass.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Yes, I am wearing socks in sandals. I think not doing so is just stupid and fashion be damned, especially in my garden.