Some Knives Again – Part 1

I finally got time to work on knives again and finished some of the second overabladeance blades and two of the first one.

First a set made from an apple branch fork. I have left some of the woodborer’s lacework visible, most of which was just below the bark. Deeper holes and cracks were filled with brown-dyed epoxy.

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The stand and the handles are made from one piece of wood and the grain on the handles is a continuation (plus-minus a few mm) of the grain in the bloc. I added some solder weight to the bottom of the bloc so it is heavier and more stable because I did not want o disturb the shape by adding legs. I aimed for a more flowing and organic look and two straight metal legs would distract from that. I also have tacked on a few anti-friction pads.

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It was not easy to make the slits for the blades so they are a bit rough around the edges but that is OK and in line with the design. When I was deciding how to close the back of the slits, the nearly invisible seamless gluing of flat boards that I do for straight bloc designs was not an option so instead of trying to hide it, I opted for a bold contrast. I glued in a black-locust strip and I have left enough space for a dark-brown epoxy strip around the edges too.

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The bigger knife has some chatoyancy in the handle, something that I did not expect. But I did not make the wood too shiny – I only sealed it with one epoxy dip and I did not seal it for a second time like I do for shinier surfaces – I have just buffed and waxed the set. Thus all the wood has a somewhat satin look to it and the handles are nicely grippy.

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The bigger blade has a minor etching defect near the handle that I thought would be hidden under the scale but It is not, unfortunately, because I made a slight mistake in the glue-up. Also, the blade is slightly thicker and heavier than is typical for this type of my knives, it has a somewhat “choppy” feel to it. All in all, it is a mixed bag as usual, I am not proud of the work I did, but I do not hate it either.

Sometime during this week, the set will be available in the shoppe. There also are slightly more pictures on Instagram.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 10 – Money Tree

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You have seen my money tree Crassula ovata before. It is probably my oldest bonsai tree, now somewhere near 60 years old and it is still healthy and it still grows strong. This is how it looked this spring before pruning.

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Money tree is probably the best tree for anyone who wants to begin growing bonsai or having just a few of them without spending a lot of time with care. It is extremely easy to propagate – virtually any cutting of any size, including a single leaf, can take root and grow into a new plant. It grows reasonably fast, but not extremely fast – a few cm to a dm a year – and it makes nice, thick trunks in just a few years. It is not very flexible regarding shapes and it cannot be formed by the use of a wire but it can be formed by simple pruning into interesting informal shapes nevertheless.

Money trees are extremely low-maintenance. They survive severe neglect, not being watered for weeks on end. They can survive both in direct sun and in half-shade (although shade makes them spindly and unseemly). Aphids and other common pests leave them alone, and birds and rodents too. They are not choosy about substrate either and they need not be re-planted for years without suffering. Probably the only thing that can reliably kill money trees is a combination of wet and cold – but they can survive a dry cold of around 10°C without a problem.

Here is my tree after pruning.

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The tree was cut back a lot and thus it looks a bit unseemly right now but that will be rectified in a month or so. When cutting money trees the cuts do not need to be treated in any way – another plus – because the cut piece will dry and fall off at the closest pair of leaves/buds on its own, leaving a clean and closed surface behind it.

And here is a bucket of pruned offcuts.

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Each of the offcuts could be grown into a new tree if I desired to do so. Indeed I have in the past used some of these off-cuts to grow new plants and one of them I gave to one of my friends. That is how I learned its only weakness – his mother was watering the plant too zealously when he was away and it succumbed to root rot. But I have kept some of the pieces that I have cut off in the past and I composed them into a nice little bonsai forest, about 10 years old now.

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This demonstrates another specific need for money trees- deeper pots. They do not make strong structural roots like true trees so they need a bit of depth to anchor them properly.

The best routine for money trees: in the summer put outdoors in full sun, out of the wind and rain, and water regularly when the weather is warm. Do not water when the weather is cold and rainy. When temperatures drop to ~10°C at night, move indoors, into a light but cool-ish place, and do not water at all or at the most once-twice a month a bit of splash. In the spring cut back strongly to promote new growth. If kept indoors all year round, the best would be a south-facing window and the plant needs to be turned twice a week at about 90° to prevent it from bending towards the window. Use substrate for succulents and deeper pots with big enough drainage holes. With just a bit of care, you can have a plant that will look well for decades and won’t die on you if you need to go on a business trip and leave it alone for a few days.

The Worst Thing Russia Has Done to Socialism

I had recently a get-together with schoolmates from university. Not with my friends from university, who are a diverse bunch of different ages and professions and with whom I meet usually once/twice a year on a hiking trip or New-year celebrations, but with people with whom I studied chemistry. It was a totally depressing experience for multiple reasons, some deeply personal that I am not inclined to discuss with anyone, ever, and some that I shall discuss in this post.

The discussion did get slightly political and at that point I realized that I am the only person in the group who does not think that “socialism” is a dirty word describing an inherently ill-thought-out, dysfunctional, and/or evil political system. Everyone else expressed more or less libertarian or conservative-leaning opinions, although I must say not to the extreme sociopathic extent that can be observed in the US political discourse. After a short debate, I have inadvertently killed it outright with what in retrospect was the nuclear option, although it was not intended as such.

I said, “Correct me if I am wrong, but at this table, I am the only person who actually has worked in the private sector his whole life and is not and was not employed by the state in an in-principle socialistic enterprise.”

What followed was a short awkward silence, re-seating, and a permanent change of subject.

You see, everyone else seated at that table was either an accomplished scientist, a physician, a teacher, a high-ranking military officer, or (usually) a combination of these. Education is free of charge up to a university for anyone willing to take it, even foreigners residing in CZ, as long as they can take the classes in the Czech language. Healthcare is free of charge at the point of receiving, with healthcare insurance being mandatory for the employed and paid for by the state for the unemployed (it could be better by forgoing the middle-man in the form of insurance companies IMO). And the military is entirely financed by our taxes and owned by the state, as it always was.

So, why do these highly educated, highly intelligent, and oftentimes highly accomplished people think that socialism is inherently bad? Probably for the same reasons that I, too, thought so until some fifteen-twelve years ago.

We are the generation who still remembers the times behind the Iron Curtain. And although we did not experience the most brutal phases of that regime, it was still pretty bad at the time we were children. But when I tried to explain that what was wrong with that regime was not the “socialism” part but the “totalitarianism” part, it fell on deaf ears. I have managed to disconnect these terms in my mind, they have not. To them, the association between the two is too strong and they are seen as inherently intertwined.

And this might be, paradoxically, exactly because they never worked for a private company that habitually abuses its employees. They never experienced the disproportionate difference in negotiating power between a non-unionized workforce and an international corporation that feels laws need not be obeyed, if they exist at all in the first place. They had no first-hand experience with high-ranking managers of such corporations and thus did not get insight into their thinking (heck, I even met some who apparently thought that even laws of physics can be circumvented, although in reality that was possibly just a psychological pressure to force employees to commit fraud with plausible deniability). In short, they lack the experience that would show them that not all the propaganda we were shown as children were lies, and not everything that Marx wrote was misguided –  a lot of it was, unfortunately, very spot-on and true.

And for this perception of socialism being inherently and unavoidably totalitarian, I blame Russia and the version of socialism it imposed by force on the rest of Eastern Europe. I have already written about this in part 35 of my “Behind the Iron Curtain” series. Only I did not think that this legacy survives that strongly in my generation. Even after the literal Iron Curtain fell, apparently people keep its bad legacy in their minds still. And my conclusion that such mental barriers might be more difficult to remove seems to be, unfortunately, supported by my recent experience with my schoolmates from university.

The Gardening: building a greenhouse

Back when we renovated our home, we kept the old windows and frames in order to upcycle them into a greenhouse for tomatoes. Over the years, we already reduced the number of windows, saying we’d just build a small one. This spring, my beloved looked at them, sighed, and said: “Well never do that, let’s look at small greenhouses and what they cost, so we ordered a small greenhouse, about the size of a king size bed.

Now, you can call us fucking naive, but neither of us even googled what you have to do in order to put it up, so we only realised that we’d have to pour a foundation once it was bought and delivered. I’m kind of glad about it, because we probably wouldn’t have done it otherwise.

You could call that our first surprise. The second one happened when we started to dig into the ground in order to pour a foundation: My spade hit rock. And metal. I was glad about the combination as it meant that I neither needed to call the archaeological institute ( we live on old Roman ground and there’s 4 Roman sites within 30 minutes of walking from here) nor the “Kampfmittelräumdienst” (the agency that deals with defusing or exploding bombs, mostly leftovers from WWII). Turns out the people we bought the house from left us another surprise: a foundation that they no longer needed where they just hacked off the top, bent down the steel and put some soil on top.

a small dug up foundation in a garden.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I asked my old neighbour if she knew what it was and she said it was a mini swimming pool. Funny enough, it’s almost exactly the size we need for our little greenhouse, so we can use it to build on top. This means a bit less concrete and also this foundation has settled long ago. So for the last weekends we’ve been building wooden moulds and pouring concrete. At least we could get a mixer cheap on ebay. Old as fuck, but still working.

Old rusty concrete mixer in front of the work site

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Let’s just hope we finish in time so the tomatoes can move in

I Made Some Shroomce

I have read about mushroom-based ketchup a while ago and I wanted to try to make some kind of condiment out of mushrooms ever since. So yesterday when shopping I bought two handfuls of button mushrooms to try out the idea. I pressed the mushrooms through a garlic press to get them into a really fine mince, but chopping them or just crushing them by hand would probably work too. I added some leftovers of dried peppery bolete  (Chalciporus piperatus), a lot of salt (about two spoons), some basil, oregano, and marjoram and I mixed it all thoroughly together. I left it in the pot overnight in the fridge and today I added two crushed garlic cloves that I interspersed with two lovage leaves so those got crushed too in the process.

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It was an unappetizing-looking wet mass with the consistency of minced meat. The mushrooms did release a lot of liquid due to the salt but it was not enough so I added some water and heated it all to ~80 °C. I left it to simmer under a lid for about half an hour and after that, I strained it through a cloth. I got about half a liter of brown liquid, looking like a weak coffee or very strong tea. I left it to simmer at ~80 °C for about half an hour more until approx half of it evaporated and I bottled the now significantly darker brown liquid into old (washed and boiled for disinfection) bottles from soy sauce and Worcester sauce. Here they are.

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Houbáčka – a portmoneau of houba (mushroom) and omáčka (sauce). It tastes great and I think it will make a good addition to soups and sauces. I think it could even be sprinkled directly onto chips or potatoes or shrimp and similar. I will definitely use it a lot, it really tastes nice. I hope it won’t spoil, maybe it needs more salt to last – thus one bottle went downstairs into the fridge and my mother will use it in her cooking, and one bottle remained with me upstairs at room temperature and I will use it in my cooking. We shall see whether my bottle spoils before it runs out.

The pressed remains could be thrown away but they still had some flavor left so I dried them. It is interesting to see how little has remained from what looked like a lot of mushrooms.

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

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

After it thoroughly dried out in the fruit dehumidifier, I crushed it and put it into a glass with screw-on lid. I will sprinkle it on pasta or fryup when I am making them.

Now I am hoping that my other mushroom based experiment works out well.

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I had this old barrel lying around and being useless – it has no bottom and the lid was lost some time ago. So I have drilled holes into the sides, filled it with stamped-down willow and poplar woodchips and I bought Agrocybe aegarita mycelium to inoculate it. It is near the house, north side so it stays in shade and I can water it occasionaly when I am watering my bonsai. If it fails, I can empty it in the fall, dry out the chips and burn them as was their original fate. But now I really hope it works out and I get some fresh mushrooms to cook from. Not that I mind going into the forest to gather wild mushrooms, but that depends a lot on the weather. We shall see.

Bonsai Tree – Persimmon Still Mysterious

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This year the tree took its time to start growing – it only started a few days ago, at the beginning of May. I was already worrying again since this is the only specimen that I have and if it dies, it is unlikely I would ever be able to replace it – it took about ten years to find one seed, dammit. But it started to grow, finally. and it looks promising.

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Last year it grew three branches on the main stem in the end. I cut them all down this year and they all are sprouting 2-3 buds so it is branching out, which is good.

We shall see what form the tree chooses. Preliminarily it appears to be suitable for formal broom style. I am reluctant to use wire on this wood at all, it grows relatively fast in thickness and length so there is a great risk of ingrowth, plus it is a very hard and strong wood so it would probably be prone to breaking when stressed incorrectly. And broom style often does not require the use of wire, just judicious pruning. And spreading the soft twigs apart early in the spring, which can be done by simply inserting a piece of cardboard between them as a temporary spacer. Which I did last year and I probably will have to do this year again since the tree still has a very strong tendency to grow straight upwards. That is normal for seedlings and it should slow down as it matures.

I have also worked on my other bonsai, repotting them. When they are picture-worthy again, I hope to write a few more articles about species suitable for beginners. Right now, I am very tired. A bit more than usual because in addition to re-planting the trees, I have also built a shade over them. It was necessary because my trees suffered greatly these last few years when it rained very sparsely and the summer heat was abnormally intense. I had to, on occasion, put some trees manually into the shade near the house, so I have decided this year to bring shade to all of them right from the start. I hope it will also mean I will need less water for the trees during the summer.

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I have re-purposed welded U-poles for a clothesline that we used to have in our garden before we got an electric clothes dryer. I put the poles over the bonsai bench and instead of clotheslines, I spanned between them thick 4 mm wires. And instead of hanging up clothes, I spanned a shading net between those wires, using our old clothespins. Should the clothespins not hold up to windy weather, I will sew the net to the wires with a rope. Although I do hope the clothespins will suffice because I will need to take the nets off again before winter.

Cultural differences: Immigrants in Germany

This is a bit of a light hearted post, but with an interesting observation. I quite enjoy watching videos of people who move to Germany. Their surprise at things taken for granted gives me food for thought as well as amusement. Some themes seem to be constant: Germans walk. For fun. No matter whether the immigrant is from the US or Vietnam, they are both fascinated and appalled by the German passion for going for walks.

Or the utter confusion of rental flats not having a kitchen. The answer to that is: Germans don’t move and love their kitchens. We plan them more carefully than the bedroom. And we really don’t like moving. There’s a saying that goes “moving twice is like burning down once”, so once we moved in, we try not to move out again. The idea of “buying a starter home” is as alien as the idea of buying an AR 15 at Walmart. So unless you’re moving into a student flat or a shared apartment, bring your own kitchen.

These matters are constants, but of course, other things will seem more or less strange, depending on your country of origin. But then there’s a noticeable difference not in between people from different countries, but of US Americans of different genders. American women will often be full of praise: they can easily and cheaply get fresh produce! Childcare is only 150 bucks a month! Oh, and did I mention healthcare? US American men on the other hand complain about not being allowed to kill endangered species and pour oil down the drain. It’s tyranny, I tell you!*


  • Yes, you need a fishing license. Yes, you have to pass a test, showing that you know the fish, if and when you’re allowed to catch them, minimum size and what bait is ok. Oh, and that you can kill a fish quickly. No “I’ve been fishing in the USA since I was 5” does not count. No, you are not allowed to wash your car at home. Washing it with soap will introduce pollutants into the wastewater. You have to go to a carwash where the wastewater will be filtered to remove motor oil and other pollutants.