All the Pretty Little Flowers 1: The frontyard

Pz has been raging and ranting about lawns and lawnmowers and I wholeheartedly agree. It also prompted me to do a bit of bragging about the sheer beauty of not having a lawn. Let’s start with the front yard, which was carefully weeded when we bought the house. Here’s another aspect of those lawn and front yard regulations: To keep them up to “standards” you need time to do it or money to hire somebody else to do it. I quickly reduced weeding to an absolute minimum. Nobody touches a dandelion in MY front yard. One thing that happened quickly was that wild strawberries overtook most of the ground. They do many things at once:

First, they protect the ground from drying out.

Second, they provide flowers for pollinators.

Third, they taste so good.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

In spring I built a plant tower in an empty space that had previously been occupied by some useless evergreen bush that got thankfully eaten by caterpillars. I also planted some regular strawberries there.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Guarded by my little dragons

©Giliell, all rights reserved

M

If you want to make bees happy, plant lavender. It will also make you happy. Lavender is low maintenance, just cut off the dry stalks in autumn and ok with dry weather. I don’t know if it can survive Minnesota winters.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Probably no German frontyard is complete without a hydrangea. They are lovely, but high maintenance (needing much water, cutting, right ground) and absolutely no good for insects. Like most plants here they are a leftover from the previous owner. I figure that with so many bee friendly plants around I can afford a couple that only look nice.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I have no idea about most of the plants that grow here. They were already well established when we moved in. Some of them have already bloomed long ago. I basically get flowers from March to October.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Also one corner has been taken over by some wildflowers. I like them, the insects like them. We’re good.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Oh, and btw, the next door neighbour has a lawn (I’m not criticising her, she’s 90 and still living all alone). It’s a sad brown area right now and the grass always creeps into my yard which means that I have to do the weeding there.

A Wee Bit of Bee Butt

Story and pictures by Avalus

I noticed earth-bees emerging and vanishing between two stone plates in the paveway in the garden, so I crouched down and waited for the next bee to come out. But the inhabitants were not that sure about the sudden appearance of a strange black block in front of their door and so cautiously just poked their heads out only to retreat again. (first picture and the detail cut out, with a head of a bee eying me suspiciously visible) Then after five minutes or so one of them had enough of the paparazzi, moved out and took off just as I moved in a more comfortable position and so I nearly missed her. As you can see, I just captured her butt :D.

photo 1 ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Photo 1 (detail) ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Photo 2 ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Photo 3 ©Avalus, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Quenching Jig

I hope you are not bored with my writing about knife making yet. It is not that I do not care about other things, but knife making is where most of my focus is right now. And this week I had barely the strength to do anything else at all.

I have started a new batch of blades, 18 pieces altogether – 4 small hunting knives, 4 badger knives, 5 chef knives (prototyping new design), and 5 universal kitchen knives. So this whole week I was drilling, cutting, and grinding steel every day. I have progressed reasonably fast, despite being also slow. Because I simply cannot handle more than 6 hours net a day at the grinder, and I have to make a substantial pause every two hours. My hands are doing reasonably OK and I have been pain-free for a few months by now (despite never having a diagnosis about what was wrong last year), but even so, the vibrations are a strain on the fingers. And after two hours not only the glasses start getting foggy – the mind does so as well and thus the risk of injury increases.

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

Today was a big finale of that busy week and all knives went into quench and tempering. This time I have decided to use quenching foil on all blades, despite bad experience on some blades the last time. I have decided to do so because the protective coating that I have concocted did work well but also was a real pain in the ass to remove afterward. And that did cost me a lot of time and I destroyed two belts before I figured it out. But I have tried plate quench with on this steel with moderate success), and I have hoped, really, really hoped, that doing plate quench on newly ground and straight blanks will lead to straight blades without having to scrub off a hard crust.

And following the maxim of Scrooge McDuck “Work smarter, not harder”, I have done my best to make the plate quench easy and reliable – I have built myself a jig. The construction is very simple and it did only take me a few hours.  I have used the locking pliers and aluminum plates from last time, but I have connected it all into one piece that can be easily used in one hand. So instead of one hinge in the middle of the plates, I have added two hinges on the sides. Then I have drilled holes in the fixed jaw of the pliers (and re-ground it a bit) so I can screw one of the plates to it with two M4 screws. The movable jaw is not fixed to the second plate, but it does fit into a groove cut in it and it was also re-ground for a better fit at the angle where most blades will be gripped.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The idea was that I will hold this jig in my left hand, with my right hand I pull a blade out of the forge, insert it between the plates (still in the foil), lock the pliers and dunk the whole thing into a bucket of water. And it worked well! None of the knives came out of the quench with a perm or as a banana-imitation, none have cracked either, at least I did not notice it yet. All but one blade quenched properly (and that one I have re-quenched OK the second time) with hardness above 55 HRC, most even over 62.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Hardening all these blades took me only 15-16 minutes per blade, so even with all that foil wrapping, I was well within a reasonable time. There was only one small problem towards the end – my new burner worked really well and I have reached and held 1.050-1.080°C without problem with four blades in the forge, but after a few hours, it started to struggle. I thought at first that I am running out of propane, but that was not the case. As it turns out, the propane bottle got too cold (just 10°C) after that long continuous decompression, and the gas was evaporating less. I am not sure yet how to solve that problem for the future.

Now the blades are in the second tempering cycle (each cycle two hours at circa 180°C) and they did not seem to develop any bends or curls in the oven either. So far, so good, let us hope it stays that way since I am going to try some new techniques with this project again.

 

Mushroom Hunt Pictures – Roadside Desert

Death and destruction on the roadside. A parched strip of land, baked by the sun in the summer, destroyed by salt runoff in winter. But silverweed endures and sends its creeping stolons across it.

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

I did not notice the dead moth until today. But it fits the scenery just fine.