Monday, February 29, 2016

Brag, Brag, Brag...#7: Michael Reardon

It's done, over, finished, complete. And the outcome is great!

My best guy spent a big chunk of last year writing (mostly illustrating, rather) an instructional book on watercolors - Watercolor Techniques: Painting Light and Color in Landscapes and Cityscapes, published by North Light Books.

And although he is most certainly not responsible for the title, he is quite happy with the results.

Michael will be signing books at Diesel in Oakland on April 3rd. But please, please, please, you can't go out and buy a copy unless you plan on taking up painting...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Don't Tell Princess!

They came, scoped it out, and now are moving in.

Can you see them? Bewick's wrens on the gourd, bringing in nesting materials. You may even be able to see some sticks poking out the entrance hole (yes I know, lousy photo, but I really didn't want to scare them off).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Yacon or Whatchamacallit

It arrived in a four-inch pot in April, and never looked back. Yes, but what is it anyway?

Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is a member of the sunflower family from the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. Plant it, stand back, and in six months or so, you should be rewarded with a large pile of brown, homely, edible tubers. You've got to dig them out for yourself, though.

I thought I would give it a whirl, since it is supposedly one of those very productive, good-for-you, permaculture plants which will cure diabetes, encourage weight loss, save the planet and...well, the Australians and Kiwis grow a lot of it, along with those Andeans, and now a few nut cases on the west coast.

So yeah, it grew and grew all summer long, and by November when I cut it back, the plant was over 6' tall and wide. I probably should have waited a bit longer, but I was pretty sure I didn't want it climbing into bed with us.

Now people will tell you that the tubers are sweet, with hints of strawberry and/or watermelon, and a texture like jicama. That was not my experience - I taste only a small measure of sweetness, with hints of celery and unpeeled carrot, and a texture like an open-weave water chestnut. Not bad, but not something I particularly crave, especially in large quantities. And there are large quantities: that one yacon plant produced a small mountain of tubers, which would be fabulous if we loved them, rather than just kinda liked them.

I've experimented with various ways of preparing the tubers - in a curry (okay), baked at chips (better), sautéed with carrots and ginger (quite good) and in miso-noodle soup (fine). I've come across a number of recipes for salad which use yacon, but so far I haven't tried anything like that. You see, the tubers oxidize (turn a dirty brown) once they are peeled, and somehow, I'm not a big fan of dirty brown salads.

Ithaca Yacon

One tuber as large as my trowel

So I a bit conflicted about growing yacon again. On the one hand, you get a lot of food for not too much space and very little work. On the other hand, you have to actually eat the stuff. Apparently yacon will store for months if the tubers aren't damaged, but it was nigh on impossible for me to get them out of the ground without some damage. In truth, I probably will reset the crown in the spring, though in a smaller pot, to keep the harvest manageable. No doubt there will be extra crowns to share, so let me know if you are interested in growing one of your own. Just remember to stand back.

The Harvest