Same Words, Better Contrast

Three people in the last day or so have mentioned that this blog’s grey text on a white background is really hard to read. I swear I did not that do that on purpose, and I suspect that something in my theme changed out from under me. (this is the hazard of inheriting from an existing theme vs writing your own.)

I’ve darkened all the body text and I hope it is easier to read now.

Same Words, Better Pictures

In the previous iteration of this blog, I wrote a lot of words. There are some posts from back then that run to thousands of words, and some of those posts are broken up into thousands-of-words parts.

Part of this is that I am a writer, and I think in words. Part of it is that I just can’t shut up.

But I recognize that these days the web is all about the images, and endless walls of text are just TL;DR (too long; didn’t read).

(the onion nails it again)
(the onion nails it again)

So, I’ve been taking more pictures.

I am not a photographer. I have never been a photographer. I’ve taken tons of
photographs, but only in the sense that I point a cheap camera at something and click the button, and sometimes it comes out looking OK. I am exactly what used to be derisively referred to on flickr (back when flickr was cool) as a “snapshotter.”

Like nearly everyone else in the last ten years I stopped bothering to carry a camera at all, and now I just take pictures with my phone. And my phone — a two-generations-old iPhone 5S, no less — has been totally acceptable for snapshotter photos, and even not half bad at all with the kind of arty semi-blurry close-up photos of food and plants that one puts on a blog. People have actually said nice things about my iPhone photos. Success achieved with semi-adequate tools and shameless copying! Yay!

But I’d like to do better, and maybe actually learn something about how photography works. Then there was a sale on, and I bought a Canon EOS T5i. It’s my first real camera, and my first DSLR.


I do feel like I have an awful lot to learn before I’m remotely competent with it, but I’ve been taking pictures for the last few weeks and they’re not too awful. And the UI on the camera is set up so that you can put it in the most basic mode and be vaguely competent even if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Stay tuned for more and better arty semi-blurry close-up photos of food and plants. (And too many words, too)

Garlic Planting

(First, go read yesterday’s post about Garlic Prep)

24 hours after breaking the garlic bulbs into cloves and setting them to soak, it’s time to plant the garlic in the garden.

I actually started soaking my garlic on Sunday, and it’s Tuesday now. So it’s been more than 24 hours, and I am once again behind. Things will still be fine. Planting and gardening is not really a precise science.

Spacing The Garlic

Looking back at my garden journal, in the past I’ve planted garlic as tightly as three inches apart, and as far as eight. The closer you plant the cloves the less room they will have to grow into big bulbs, and they’ll need more water. Farther apart and you’ll need to weed more, and it’s not like the garlic will grow a foot wide if you give them that much space. Four inches seems to be a happy medium, and what I’ve used most often in the past.


I’m using a 3-foot by 8-foot garden bed this year for the garlic. Four-inch spacing means 24 rows of 9 cloves. That’s room for 216 cloves in this single bed, and that is a lot (a LOT) of garlic. The two pounds of garlic I cleaned and soaked a day ago gave me 106 cloves. They’re also extra large cloves, so I’ll loosen up the spacing a little more so the cloves have room to grow — 4 inches between cloves, and 5 inches between the rows. That will fill a large portion of the bed with the cloves that I have, with some extra space as well.

Garlic doesn’t care if it’s planted in neat orderly rows, or squares, or diamonds, or spirals, or smiley faces. You can stuff it into the ground roughly 4 inches apart and it’ll grow. I like rows because nerd. It’s more organized that way.

To keep track of spacing for planting my beds I made this enormous ruler. One side is marked in 2, 4, and 5 inches, and the other side has 3, 6, 8, and 12. It’s eight feet long so it fits neatly into the bed for measuring, and helps keep the rows straight.



This is a garden tool called a dibble or a dibbler. It is useful for poking holes for planting individual seeds — or planting garlic cloves. I have marked it in 1-inch increments so that I know how deep to make the holes.

(Technically, this is not a dibbler at all. This is actually the pestle from a cooking sieve called a chinois, which I got in a random box of old kitchen stuff I picked up somewhere ages ago. But I use it as a dibbler.)

I use the dibbler first to mark the planting locations in rows for the garlic, and to make sure I have my math right for the spacing. I’ll use it again to actually put the cloves into the ground.

Interlude, with Turkeys


While I was marking rows in the garden and taking pictures for this post, this flock of wild turkeys came by to watch. I did not know they were there until they suddenly all gobbled at me at once. I was so startled I think I lost a full year off my life.

Planting the Garlic

The garlic has been soaking in the baking soda and seaweed solution overnight, or in my case for close to two days. Drain the garlic in the sink. You’ll notice that the skins are really loose on the garlic cloves, and may have come off altogether. That’s OK; you can even plant the cloves without the skins at all and they’ll still do fine.


Part two of the soaking strategy involves rubbing alcohol for a final short disinfection. I haven’t ever done this before, so I have no idea if it will make a difference at all, but I’m willing to try.

I put the garlic back into the soaking container, add half a bottle of rubbing alcohol and water to cover. Shake to distribute, leave for a couple minutes, and then drain again. Now we’re ready to plant.

I haven’t done anything special to the soil in the garden bed to prepare it for garlic. Garlic likes loose soil, and it likes some extra phosphorus. If my soil was in poorer condition I would have added bone meal and a bunch of compost when I dug the bed. But this soil came from another bed in the garden, and it is already in good condition and pretty fluffy.

You can plant garlic anywhere from 1 to 3 inches deep, depending on the size of the cloves. If you’re planting smaller cloves and your soil is fluffy you can just press them into the soil with your fingers. (The first joint on my thumb is almost exactly 1 inch, which is awfully convenient.) Because these are big cloves I used the dibbler to poke 2-3 inch deep holes and then dropped in the cloves.

You do want to plant the cloves root side down, and pointy side up. These cloves have very obvious root sides and pointy sides, but sometimes with some softneck garlic cloves it can be harder to tell. If you plant them upside down or sideways they will grow but it’ll take longer for them to figure out which way is up, and you’ll probably get smaller bulbs. This somewhat unfortunate picture that looks like something else entirely shows the root end of the clove.


After all the garlic is planted, I press down the soil lightly to make sure that there is good contact between the soil and the cloves. You can just use your hands for this, but I use a rake.


Mulching the Garlic

The final step is a thick layer of mulch on the garden bed — two to three inches of mulch. The mulch helps preserve moisture in the soil, protects the new garlic shoots from the freezing over winter, and also prevents marauding birds from noticing that your garlic is sprouting, mistaking the sprouts for worms, and yanking all the cloves out of the ground. (Don’t ask me how I know this happens.)

For mulch I’ve used leaves, straw, pine needles, or compost, depending on what’s available in my yard at the time. This year I used some composted chicken litter (I have a LOT of chicken litter) and a layer of straw. The chicken litter is high in nitrogen and will help fertilize the garlic as it grows, and the straw is just mulch. All you have to do is lay it on, and water it down.


Normally when I plant garlic I also put in the irrigation lines, underneath the mulch. If we get rain this year I won’t need to water the garlic until the spring, but it’s good to put in the lines before anything sprouts and makes it more difficult. Putting the lines under the mulch helps preserve water later in the year. However, this is a new bed, and I haven’t run any of the lines at all yet. I’ll have to do that later on in the Fall or Winter when I get around to it.

And that’s the job done. Other than peeking under the mulch occasionally the winter to see if things are sprouting, there’s nothing else to do with the garlic until sometime next Spring.

Garlic Prep

My 2016 vegetable gardening season has begun.

Garlic in Northern California is sometimes called the holiday vegetable. You plant garlic on Halloween, fertilize on Valentine’s Day and harvest on July 4. With fall-planted garlic the bulbs sprout and grow all through the winter with no trouble (they can even freeze solid and keep going) and get a good head start when things warm up in spring time.

I’m running a little late with my garlic, but I’ve planted as late as Christmas and still gotten good results, so I’m not that anxious about it. The delay was because I was putting in this lovely new garden bed and filling it with soil:


Garlic Varieties

I’ve experimented growing both softneck and hardneck garlic over the years, and I’ve found that for me hardnecks grow better (larger bulbs), but softnecks keep longer after harvesting. Normally I try to grow both kinds so that I can have garlic for cooking year-round.

Softneck garlic is the kind you buy in the store and may be the only kind you’ve ever seen. Most varieties of commercial garlic is either California Early or California Late. Although I live near Gilroy, CA, the garlic capital of America, I have had no luck at all with growing either of these varieties. For softneck garlic I usually grow an heirloom variety called Lorz Italian, originally from the Pacific Northwest. This variety grows well for me, keeps well, and tastes great.

For hardneck garlic I grow Music. The Music variety is really reliable and can grow monstrously huge if the conditions are right. I’ve grown other hardneck varieties over the years but Music performs so well that I’ve given up on everything else.

Normally I save some of my own garlic to plant every year, but last year I had trouble with root rot in the plants. Root rot is caused by a fungus in the soil. I don’t want to replant my old bulbs and possibly spread the fungus all over my garden, so this year I bought two pounds of certified disease-free new garlic bulbs. I often buy my garlic from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, my favorite online garden store, although they don’t carry the softneck Lorz Italian I like. Rather than seek out a second garlic supplier I got lazy and this year I am planting my entire bed with Music.


Preparing for Planting: Separating the Cloves

The day before I want to plant garlic (yesterday, in this case), I separate the cloves from the bulb and give them a good soak over night in an anti-fungal solution.


This is what a Music bulb looks like on the inside. With the hardneck garlic varieties there is a stiff stem in the middle of the bulb, and then just 6-8 large cloves all the way around. Softnecks, in comparison, often have little skinny cloves in the heart of the bulb. Although you can plant those skinny cloves, you’ll end up with smaller bulbs as a result. Start with the largest cloves to end up with the largest bulbs.

The end result from the 2lbs of garlic bulbs I bought: 106 cloves, which is less than I expected — the Music bulbs were especially large this year. The bed I’m planting these in will hold 200 cloves, so I’ll have some extra space.


Preparing for Planting: An Overnight Soak

For years I just stuck my garlic cloves into the ground immediately after separating them from the bulb, with no problems. But since I have had fungus issues in my garden beds over the last few years, I soak my garlic overnight before planting in an anti-fungal solution. It doesn’t cure the fungus (which is resident in the soil), but it can help the garlic resist having problems if the fungus is there.

The general soaking advice for garlic I found online when I started doing this is 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of liquid seaweed to a gallon of water. The baking soda is for anti-fungal properties, and the seaweed provides a small amount of fertilizer. It creates this lovely dark-brown soup.


I weight down the cloves in the solution to keep them submerged and leave the container out on the back porch overnight. In 20-24 hours the garlic will go into the ground and start on the path to being next year’s food.

(Next: Garlic Planting)

The Stick in the Fan, or, There’s Your Problem

Last weekend while I was sitting on the couch throwing away my life on the Internet my Macbook laptop made a noise like CRRRZZZZGGHH, and then fell silent.

“Uh,” I said. “That didn’t sound good.”

“Sounds like your fan died,” Eric said.

The fan had been making noise for a while now. Eric had joked that he can tell when I’m watching online video because my Mac starts to sound like a jet plane taking off.

I downloaded a little tool called smcFanControl that polls the fan sensor and reports how fast the fan is turning and what the current laptop temperature is. smcFanControl reported that my fan was turning at 000rpm, and that the temperature was 210ºF and climbing.

I’ve repaired this laptop a bunch of times already including replacing DVD drive, the trackpad, and the battery. It’s an older model (2011!) but other than the jet plane problem, it works just fine. At this point I’m quite familiar with opening up the box, and I’d like to make it last just a little bit longer before investing in a new one.

I ordered a new fan, which cost me $20 with free shipping from an Amazon seller. I watched a YouTube video on how to replace the fan. (Easy peasy.) The new fan arrived yesterday, and this morning I opened up the box to do the swap.

There was something stuck in the fan. I picked it out with my fingers. It was a stick.


After I removed the stick the fan turned just fine. I booted up the computer. The fan turned and turned and smcFanControl reported 3050rpm.


The laptop is silent now, it’s under 100º all the time, and now I have an extra fan. Success!

Status Report, From Hell

Nic: OK let’s get started. As you can see on the board for this sprint we had planned to torture 1500 souls, but we fell short by over 350. Let’s talk about why that happened and how we can increase our torture velocity. Who’d like to start?

Mal: We were down for a couple hours on Tuesday because the river of pitch wasn’t hot enough.

Nic: Really? What was wrong with the pitch?

Mal: It was sticky but not boiling. Not really torturous, more like… kind of annoying.

Nic: We’re not really here to annoy the dead. Did you file a ticket with ops?

Mal: Yeah, but they didn’t get to it until yesterday. They said there was a Pri 0 they had to deal with, something wrong with the freezers on the ninth, souls thawing out and running around all over the place.

Nic: Well, I can see how that would be a problem. Is the pitch boiling now?

Mal: Yeah, I’m totally crushing it on the torture now.

Nic: Good, good.


Nic: Az, you had a shortfall this sprint as well. Would you like to explain?

Az: (typing)

Nic: Az? Could you close your laptop and join us please?

Cag: He didn’t finish his torture because he was working on his stupid iPhone app.

Az: That’s not true. I only worked on the app in between torturings.

Mal: You have an iPhone app?

Az: Yeah.

Mal: What does it do?

Az: It enables the dead to request and pay for ferries on the banks of the Styx.

Mal: You’re doing Uber for Acheron?

Az: Yeah, I guess you could call it that.

Cag: How does the boatman feel about that, I wonder.

Az: The boatman requires cash up front! His systems are completely antiquated and totally not web scale. My in-app payment system will let us get so many more souls across the river so much faster. It’s really disruptive.

Nic: That’s nice, Az, but you still have to keep up with your assigned tasks.

Az: I’m keeping up with my assigned tasks. I could do my assigned tasks in my sleep. And these tasks you said I didn’t do, I did those, I just didn’t update the status in the system.

Nic: You have to keep the system updated or we can’t properly create our torture burndown charts, Az.

Az: *sigh*

Nic: Can you update your tasks after we’re finished here?

Az: Yes, yes, I’ll update my tasks on my way back to the river of boiling pitch.

Nic: Good, good.

Mal: I can see a major flaw in your app idea, Az.

Az: A flaw? What flaw?

Mal: The dead don’t have iPhones.

Az: Oh. Huh.


Nic: Tell me what happened with the tourist.

Az, Cag, Mal: (silence)

Nic: Come on now. It can’t be that bad.

Az: Don’t look at me, I was on the other side of the circle, I didn’t even see the guy.

Cag: Mal talked to him.

Mal: He had an escort. Some Roman from the vestibule.

Cag: I think he was allegorical, not Roman.

Mal: Whatever.

Nic: What were they doing here?

Mal: Just passing through. The escort said they had a pass from upper management.

Nic: And you believed them? Some allegory from the vestibule and a tourist?

Mal: I pointed them toward the bridge to the sixth.

Nic: There is no bridge to the sixth.

Mal: I know. (grinning)

Cag: And we gave them The Trumpet as they left.

Mal: (laughs)

Nic: Oh no, not The Trumpet. Guys, come on, we’ve talked about that. If HR hears you’ve been —

Mal: YOU BE YOU, MY BROTHER (high five)


Nic: Anything else we need to talk about today before we get back to the torture?

Az: I could torture a lot more souls if I had a flaming sword.

Cag: Oh, here we go.

Nic: You have an acid-tipped spear. What’s wrong with the acid-tipped spear?

Az: An acid-tipped spear is a perfectly fine tool for some demons, I’m sure. And if you’re just looking for quantity of souls tortured, the acid-tipped spear is effective. But if you think for a minute about the *quality* of the torture we’re providing the acid-tipped spear is just woefully inadequate. As a 10X demon, I —

Cag: You are so not a 10X demon.

Mal: Yeah, 10X like 10X the mess, asshole.

Nic: Guys, we’re a team, try to be nice —

Cag: (the trumpet)

Mal: (laughing)

Nic: GUYS, seriously —

Az: I’m just saying, with inferior tools, I —

Mal: *I’m* totally good with the acid-tipped spear.

Cag: Me too.

Az: Yes, but a flaming sword would —

Nic: Az, you are not getting a flaming sword.

Az: I really believe —

Nic: No.

Az: But —

Nic: NO.

Az: *sigh* I bet they’d give me a flaming sword on the ninth.

Nic: You don’t work on the ninth, you work here. Here you get an acid-tipped spear.

Az: (rolling eyes) *sigh*

Mal: Be happy you’re not on the third. On the third you’d have to torture your souls with a pointy stick.

Az: I would rather *be* tortured than try to torture properly with a pointy stick. Are we done here? Can I go back to work?

Nic: Don’t forget to update the system.

Az: Right, right, blah blah, the system.

Cag: (trumpet)

Mal: (laughs) (high five)

Nic: *sigh*

The End and the Beginning


It’s November, and the weather in the bay area just this week turned cold and damp and dark, which means the end of the summer garden is coming up fast.

My large vegetable garden is just outside the back door next to the kitchen. The garden is big enough that it supplies nearly all of of our vegetables in the summer time. It keeps me busy on weekends all spring and summer long, digging and digging (and digging, and digging), and then cooking and canning and freezing. Sometimes I think that I need a hobby that requires less time moving dirt around or spending hours standing in front of a pot in the kitchen. A nice relaxing indoor hobby, maybe something involving JavaScript.

But then sometime in January I pull some pesto out of the freezer or pop the lid on a can of tomatoes, and we eat a little bit of summer for dinner.

Many of my east coast gardening friends put their gardens to bed weeks ago, but the growing season in Northern California is long and mild. I’ve had years where I was still pulling red tomatoes off the vine well into November, and once or twice even up to Christmas.

This is not one of those years. It’s been a dry summer after a series of very dry years, and I’ve been trying to water the garden as little as possible, which means smaller plants and less yield. With little else to eat this Fall the birds have been raiding the tastier bits of the garden. The tomatoes and cucumbers and melons and green beans are long gone, and as the nights turn colder the squash dies back and the basil gets a bitter taste.

What’s left now in the garden are vegetables that thrive in cooler weather: kale and chard, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and peas. All of these will continue growing through the winter, and sometimes well into next year. I have a handful of pumpkins and winter squash that still need to be picked and cured and stored alongside the onions and garlic in the barn.





But even as the summer garden closes, I’ve already started the garden for next year. This week I have an open bed in the garden to weed and dig and compost, and then more than 200 cloves of garlic will go in for next year.