Friday, January 22, 2016

Getting Ready for Spring

Yes, it's still cold (relatively) and dark (very) around here, and I know that I often plan ahead far more in advance than is needed, but some of my close neighbors - the feathered ones - have me beat.

Usually by mid-January, the local titmice and wrens are behaving as if it were already spring. They have begun nosing around for someone to court and somewhere private to suffer the consequences of courting. And I want to be welcoming.

So, a long time ago, long enough that I can't remember exactly when, I grew a gourd vine along the front of the house. With the help of my Zucchini Sex Goddess skills, the vine actually produced a dozen or so gourds. Most I gave away, but one got stashed in the attic. Not quite forgotten, but it really had no purpose.

Until now. Perfect for a wren house, right? I'm hoping so. A 1" hole for the entryway also made it easy to dump out the seeds and fibers remaining in the gourd. Two small holes at the top for hanging, and four 1/4" holes at the bottom for drainage completed the job. Except that of course I had to gussy it all up by staining the outside with a wood stain, and rubbing in glitter-gold highlights. Then four coats of polyurethane for sealing.

More complete instructions for making a birdhouse can be found here. You can buy gourds or grow your own gourds in Oakland, but most likely you will have to play Zucchini Sex Goddess or God yourself because of our foggy mornings.

The gourd house is now attached to the trellis along the back fence, a common hang-out spot for the wrens. So far, no birdy action, but it's still early in the season. Guy's gotta getta girl first, you know.

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And for an informative and silly look at gourds and humans, a Tom A. Sterns made this video. Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fields of Gold, or Rather, Saffron

I bought ten saffron crocus bulbs (corms, actually) this fall, pretty sure that it would be a complete waste of five bucks, but I had to do it anyway. Just the idea of growing your own saffron was worth the five clams.

So I'm sure that you know that saffron is considered one of the most expensive foods in the world, and, as I found out this first time, darn easy to grow. Apparently, it's the harvesting that requires all the work, although for my few blossoms, it was just a quick snip-snip with sharp scissors. My imagination balks at the vision of the fields and fields of tiny purple flowers in Iran and Kashmir, all needing to be harvested and processed within a few days.

I planted the bulbs right away. That was early October. With once a week watering, they were up and blooming by mid-November. Each morning I would go out and check for more blooms, clipping only the edible red stigmas (the girl parts. The world runs on girls.) and laying them out to dry inside.

From the ten bulbs, I think I got a dozen or so blooms, meaning a very small amount of fresh saffron threads, probably enough for one or two paellas. My friend Gabe estimated that I probably had a stash worth about ten whole bucks. Making money now...

The bulbs go dormant during the summer, and require little or no summer water (music to my drought sensitive ears). They are supposed to multiply each year, so with luck, they will spring back up in the fall for another round of those lovely little flowers, containing that most treasured spice.