Cycle and recycle

I heard a story once a long time ago that over time all the cells in our body die off, and are replaced by new cells. The entire process, it is said, takes seven years.

I googled this fact this morning and it turns out to be totally a myth, up there with “we only use 10% of our brains” for dubious quasi-biological “facts.” But that’s the dubious quasi-biological fact I’m hanging my theme on here and I’m going to stick with it. Bear with me.

Greek legend tells of the story of Theseus’ ship, which was preserved for hundreds of years in port after the founding of Athens. When individual boards in the ship broke or rotted away, they were replaced, until finally none of the original ship remained.

There’s a similar old story of Grandfather’s axe you may have heard: grandfather’s axe has been handed down from father to son for generations. The handle has been replaced four times, the axe head twice.

The paradox for philosophers, then, is whether Theseus’s ship or Grandfather’s axe actually still exists. Is it still the same object if every component of it has been replaced with some other component?

If we turn over all the cells in our body every seven years, are we still the same person?

This paradox also makes me think me of Doctor Who (OK, seriously, bear with me), in which the titular character dies and regenerates on a regular basis, with each incarnation having all the memories of the original but a different appearance, personality, and outlook. (It’s an awfully convenient plot device for a long-running character whose actor must be replaced once in a while).

If we turn over all the cells in our body every seven years, are we all just Theseus’ ship, grandfather’s axe, slow versions of the Doctor: at our essential root the same person, but continually changing into new versions of ourselves?

I bring this up because today is my birthday. My fiftieth birthday. Fifty is a big number, a round number, a half a century, a significant birthday by any measure. I could grimace and grumble and whine about that. Or I could point out as I turn 50 I have completed seven cycles of seven years. Like the Doctor I am just beginning my eighth regeneration.

In past cycles I have been a redhead, a drummer, a geek, a writer, a goth, a drunk, a recluse, and a lunatic.

I am super curious to see where this season’s plotline goes.

(Header photo from grixti on flickr (original; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

August Garden Overview


IMG_1170It’s late summer and the weather has been super hot so the garden is starting to look a little peaked.  Everything is producing now, and nearly all of what I’m doing in the garden is just trying to keep up with the harvest.  Right now the limiting factor is how many containers of cooked vegetables I can stuff into the refrigerator.

Bearing like crazy: tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, carrots, beets, kale, chard, herbs.

Bearing soon: Cantaloupes, watermelons, leeks, cabbage.

Still growing:  Sweet potatoes, winter squash & pumpkins, brussels sprouts.

Next week we’ll be on vacation, at home, mostly so we can catch up with stuff around the house.  For me that means canning a lot of tomatoes, making pickles, and cooking and freezing peppers and kale.  I do hope to have at least some time to sit around and do nothing at all.

Things I did last month:

  • Mowed.
  • Harvested the onions and set them out to cure.
  • Harvested carrots, beets, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes, and tomatoes, and tomatoes.
  • Planted dry-farm squash.
  • Planted buckwheat for a cover crop in two beds, and cut it down.
  • Sowed seeds for lettuce, broccoli, cabbage
  • Planted more green beans, and lost the seedlings to birds.
  • Cooking, eating, freezing, cooking

Things I need to do this month:

  • Plant potatoes, maybe (unlikely).
  • Plant lettuces, broccoli, cabbage.
  • Plant more carrots and beets
  • Plant the last green beans.
  • Sow more lettuce seeds.
  • Sow peas
  • Sow spinach (if I can find room).
  • Continue harvesting, cooking, eating, freezing, canning.


Garlic Harvest

I harvested all the garlic from the garden last month, but too much life happened between then and now to be able to write about it.  But after all the posts I’ve made about garlic this year (Garlic Prep, Garlic Planting, Garlic Scapes), I figure I should finish up the series.

Pulling the Garlic

When last I posted about the garlic in early June, I had stopped watering, the green garlic tops were looking dry, and I predicted I only had a couple more weeks to go before it was time to harvest.  That was spot on: I pulled up the whole batch in the last week of June.


On the Subject of Rot

In that last post I was worried about rot:

I’ve had a lot of trouble the last few years with garlic bottom rot;  the plant will grow just fine and then wilt and die and when you pull it up it’s all mushy and gross on the bottom end.  Best as I can tell from The Google this is because of a fungus in the soil that is extremely difficult to get rid of.

I did have some garlic that succumbed to the rot this year.  Here’s a particularly horrific example that went directly into the trash. I think this is what zombie garlic looks like.

IMG_1083Most of the garlic I pulled did not have much rot at all.  I only had to toss about 10 heads from the 100-odd cloves I planted and 10% is so much better than the losses I’ve had in the past. Unfortunately I don’t know if I did better this year because of the anti-fungal prep I did to the cloves when I planted, because I’m using better seed garlic, or because I kept a better eye on the watering.  Or no reason at all: just better luck.  But I’m still happy, especially because much of the garlic I harvested looks like this:


That is what Captain America garlic looks like.

Garlic Curing

Garlic needs to sit around for a while after it’s been pulled, in order to cure.  Fresh garlic won’t last very long if you don’t cure it — it’ll either sprout, or dry up, or just go bad.  Ideally I’d like my garlic to last me in storage the entire year until I have more garlic, so I cure it carefully.

Curing the garlic means just leaving the entire plant out in a shady place so that the plant part and the skins can thoroughly dry out. Once in the first few years I grew garlic I made the mistake of leaving it out in the sun to dry, and it got too hot, and cooked.  Eight months growing dozens of heads of garlic, and less than a day to ruin the entire batch. Awesome. I mention this so you can learn from my tragedy.

More recently my strategy has been to pull the garlic and leave it out in the bed to dry for just a day or so, covered up against the sun with a tarp or a piece of cardboard.   A day or two on the bed dries the soil off of the roots and firms up the skins.  After that I can shake off the soil and move the garlic onto a shady part of the porch.

For softneck garlic this is when you make garlic braids.  When the garlic tops are still soft and green they’re easy to braid, and then you can just hang up the entire braid out of the way.  I grow hardnecks, which are too stiff to braid, so I just leave them laid out in rows on a tarp on the porch to dry.  A few weeks later I cut off the stalks, and then a week or so after that I trim the roots and sort the heads. If a head doesn’t look perfect it goes into the “eat first” pile.  I put aside a few especially nice heads to use for planting this year, on the theory that replanting the heads that survived the rot may help breed a more resistant garlic over time.  The rest go into the barn for storage, to eat over the remainder of the year.  One can never have too much garlic.


The numerology and delusion of birthdays

So, today is my birthday.

I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for a while, which is unusual for me (I am normally birthday agnostic.) Looking forward to it because I was 47, which is a prime number, and turning 48, which is a nice even number, and much more factorable. Since the last year has been kind of a strange, awkward, complicated, year for me, I figured 48 had to be better. It’s FACTORABLE.

It was only LAST NIGHT that I realized that I wasn’t 47, I already was 48, and today I turned 49.

OMG, WTF. Not only did I forget my own age, but I somehow lost the entire year of being 48.

Which means my elaborate made up numerological/psychological theory of divisibility being better is not only completely wrong, but apparently I can’t even subtract 1967 from 2016 so really I should just not be trusted with any kind of math at all.

On the other hand, 49 = 7 squared. This is clearly an awesome number, and things are sure to look up in the coming year.

July Garden Overview

IMG_1089For comparison purposes (April, May, June):


Here’s the right side of the garden, in June and now. You’ll note the squash has been quite pleased with the hot weather we’ve had.


Right now this is the height of the growing season, and  I’ve had slight lull in the work with everything planted.  But there’s only a few more weeks before everything starts needing picking and cooking and freezing and canning.  And I’m starting to get reminders that I need to start seeds for the fall and winter garden soon!

Things I did this month:

  • Harvest all the garlic!  Garlic post upcoming.
  • Planted more flowers in the back bed.
  • Planted sweet potatoes in the former lettuces bed.
  • Planted my dry farm tomato experiments.  Tomato post upcoming.
  • Put up the new fence on the right edge of the garden.

Things I still need to do:

  • Am I ever going to get around to planting potatoes?
  • Plant dry-farm squash.
  • Harvest and dry onions.
  • Plant more green beans, carrots, beets.
  • Start planning for the fall and winter garden.
  • Buy lumber for the new beds in the top right corner.
  • Continue mowing.

June Garden Overview

IMG_1048Compare to April and May.

The garden is now very nearly fully planted and, at the moment, well-mowed.  Here’s a pic of the right-side of the garden, from ground level:


There’s not much here because I took out two beds at the far end of the garden, and haven’t put them back yet.  And these are the melon and squash beds, which are just starting to get going.  Cucumbers will go up that trellis in the middle.

Things I did this last month:

  • Planted melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, summer squash, sunflowers, green beans, and cilantro.
  • Planted more of carrots, beets, kale.
  • Continually eating bok choy, spinach, lettuces, kale, broccoli.

Things I still need to do this month:

  • Plant Potatoes.
  • Plant Sweet potatoes.
  • Fill in remaining spaces with flowers or herbs.
  • Finish the fence at the back of the garden.
  • Keep mowing.



Bok Choy, and Sadness


No vegetable garden is perfect every year; there’s lots that goes wrong.  In the interest of honest garden blogging here is a good-sized head of bok choy that was nibbled to death by bugs.  And if the other heads of bok choy I harvested yesterday are any indication, it is also probably completely full of earwigs.

Fortunately vegetable garden failures can all be recycled via the chickens into eggs.

Garlic Scapes


A garlic scape is the young flower bud from a garlic bulb.  As the garlic matures the scapes peek out from the plant, stretch up, and then curl around in spirals as they grow.

Scapes are pretty and interesting to watch as they grow but they draw energy from the garlic plant, and you want the plant to put that energy into the bulb, not the flower.  So the scapes have to go, preferably as early as possible.  You can snap them right off the plant or clip them with scissors. (that picture up top is from a bunch of years back when I let them grow a little too long.)

The scapes do not go to waste, however.  They are totally edible.  They have a milder flavor than bulb garlic,  but can still be used in place of garlic in any recipe.  And since last year’s garlic is getting on in age, but this year’s garlic isn’t ready yet, its nice to have something garlicky in the house.


I have a lot of garlic in the garden, so there were a lot of scapes to pick.  Normally I just wrap them up and put them in the fridge and use them as I need them — they last a long time — but I was thinking I might make a garlic pesto with these.

How is the actual garlic growing, you ask?  Well…


I’ve had a lot of trouble the last few years with garlic bottom rot;  the plant will grow just fine and then wilt and die and when you pull it up it’s all mushy and gross on the bottom end.  Best as I can tell from The Google this is because of a fungus in the soil that is extremely difficult to get rid of.

In an attempt to stave off at least some of the rot this year I’ve been keeping this bed pretty dry, which means the  leaves are starting to die back and it all looks kind of ugly.  But there are good-sized bulbs under the soil ready to go,  and it’ll only be a few weeks before I can harvest it all.  Good thing, too, because I have sweet potato plants coming in next week to fill the space.

May Garden Overview

IMG_1029 Compare this on-the-roof overhead pic to April’s.  Things that happened this month:
  • I planted all the tomatoes (14 plants).
  • I planted all the peppers (24 plants).
  • I finished building the asparagus bed, and all the asparagus (18 plants) are planted.
  • I’ve planted a lot of kale, chard, lettuce, and basil.
  • I moved some poorly-placed snap peas to a better location.
  • Apparently I planted some dahlias, and forgot about them. They’ve come up in the bed where I was going to plant some green beans.  OK!  I’ll put the green beans somewhere else.
  • I started weeding and digging the beds on the right for cucumbers, squash, and melons.
  • I mowed a lot.
Things I still have to do this month:
  • Finish digging and planting cucumbers, squash, and melons.
  • Plant more carrots, beets, lettuce. Plant green beans, cilantro, parsley, sunflowers.
  • Plant potatoes.
  • Finish dealing with the fence I moved at the right side of the garden.  It’s only a matter of time before the rabbits discover there’s a big gap under the fence there.
  • Mow a lot.

tiny little steps toward the past

I’m working a temp gig right now at a large Silicon Valley tech company whose name you know well, and that you will probably be able to guess easily from this post.

The company campus in Mountain View where I work is very large and sprawling, and it can take a good amount of time to walk between buildings for meetings, or to get to or from the stops for the company shuttle I take to work every day instead of driving.  It’s good to get some exercise at work, of course, but sometimes it can be a LONG walk.

The preferred way to get around the campus without a car is to take one these bicycles:


The bicycles are scattered all around campus.  Anyone can pick up a bike where it is available, and leave it at their destination for someone else to use later.  The bikes are heavy and clunky and cheap, and painted in garish colors, so presumably that discourages theft. It’s a system that seems to work fairly well.  So really, I should be breezily tooling all over the place on these bikes all the time like everyone else does.


I used to ride a bike a lot.  I had a shiny red Italian road bike that I rode around on the weekends, on and off the street, all around the quieter parts of the Valley.  I was on that bike nearly every weekend.  I did Bike to Work Day one year — 30 miles worth!  I did (metric) centuries.  I got involved in bicycle advocacy.  I lost 15 pounds.

And then one day ten years ago I crashed that bike, on a wet road, in the middle of San Jose.  I turned my head to check for traffic as I was making a left turn, and the next thing I knew I was being picked up off the pavement by a family who happened to be driving by. I still don’t know why I crashed. My shoulder hurt for years and still occasionally complains.  I have an ugly scar on my left thumb.  I stopped riding soon after that crash, and I haven’t been on a bicycle since.

Last week I got on one of the campus bicycles at work, and I’d like to be able to say that I ended up breezily tooling all over campus. That riding a bike was was just like it used to be.

But actually I got on that bike and completely lost my shit.  I wobbled slowly once around the parking lot and then put the bike back.  My heart was pounding in my ears, my whole body was shaking, and I wanted to lie down on the ground and cry for a while.  Apparently I have ten-year-old unresolved bike crash PTSD.  Awesome.

But the next day I got on the bike and I rode twice around the parking lot.  The day after that I got on the bike and went out onto the street into traffic and rode down to the lunch cafe I like — and I put my lunch in the basket and I rode back again.  The day after that I got on the bike and went all the way down to the end of the street, and I put my arm out to signal for a left turn, and I turned to look for traffic to make sure it was safe, and I made that left turn.  And yesterday I got on the bike with my big heavy backpack, and I rode around the parking lot a few times that way.  My plan for next week is to work on riding through the busy intersection, and then I’ll work on the tight turns and the hill up to the shuttle.

It sounds idiotic, I know, all these tiny, tiny, incremental steps of effort I’m making to do something so basic, so simple, that so many people can do with their eyes closed. Something that I could do myself easily, before I crashed.

But I am OK with being that idiot, with taking those tiny, tiny steps. I am a little better and a little less anxious every time.  I am getting back on the bike.  I am literally getting back on the bike.