Monday, November 4, 2019

The Saffron Harvest Begins!


The orange tip of the stigma - the female part of the flower - is just pushing out of the tip of the opening bud of this Saffron flower. To harvest the spice, you pick the flowers and take them apart, drying just the orange-golden stigmas like tiny threads.

We have a few patches of these we planted over the past 20 years. They are autumn flowering members of the genus Crocus, with flowers pushing through the dry ground before even the leaves emerge. This type of flowering, with the flower arising before the leaves, is called hysteranthous flowering.

Saffron is native to the Middle East and parts of Greece, though it was planted widely around the Mediterranean. Even in the United Kingdom the Romans grew it, leaving place names like Saffron Walden behind.

Saffron needs a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet fall through spring. It pulls itself deeper into the ground each year, so needs protection from gophers and squirrels and other rodents that dig.

Over the years, I've grown enough Saffron to make a few rice dishes with my own saffron. It takes a lot of land to grow an ounce of the dry herb!

Our son has planted his bed of saffron now, with high hopes and last year harvested his own first saffron!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stagmomantis - The Native Preying Mantises of Southern California

Fall is for Preying Mantises! More succinctly, early Fall is the easiest time to see adult Stagmomantis species in the wild in California. They have finished their growth and the adults are reasonably abundant.


There are several species of Stagmomantis in California. I suspect this one of being a male Stagmomantis californica, though it objected to my attempts to get a closer photo... It was encountered in the Verdugo Mountains near La Crescenta within the San Fernando Valley.

To find Mantids, look for places with lots of smaller bugs. These are ambush predators - they stand still and wait for their prey to walk within striking distance of their amazing spiked front limbs. Good choices are lights at night, flowering and fruiting bushes that are attracting small insects, and anywhere they blend in. While tall grasses often harbor them, such places also have ticks - best to stay in the open and watch carefully.

Other Stagmomantis species I believe are in California include these:

Stagmomantis limbata

Stagmomantis carolina

Stagmomantis californica

Stagmomantis gracilipes


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Seeing The Pacific Garbage Patch

Recently I had a flight between Honolulu and Oakland. On that path, about 45 minutes out of Honolulu, I happened to look out my window because I recalled the Pacific Gyre was roughly in this area. I did not know it would be visible from jetliner altitudes, yet it was. What surprised me further was that it is not a "patch", it is like a skein of yarn pulled this way and that. There are eskers and windrows and fans and tangles of yellow-green lines on the surface of the water. It is awesome, sad, and fascinating. Look to the right of the sun glare in the photo below.



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Mountain Shadows being cast into Deep Space

If you find somewhere where the Earth is very smooth, and drop a mountain onto that spot, something amazing happens. At sunrise and sunset, the mountain does something more normally assigned as a task for clouds: casting shadows not just through the air to project onto the ground, rather casting shadows through the air and on out, into deep space.


The giant dark stripes in the sky are the shadows of three mountains, in fact the largest mountain on the Earth is one of them: Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Haleakala.

The unusual aspect is that these mountains rise out of a very smooth ocean with often very clear air. These shadows are going *up* and will not be cast on the ground, at least not at the time of this photo. These mountains are east of where I was to take this picture. The sun has not risen where I am. These shadows are diverging and actually rising up away from the dark side of our world. This is because their bases are still in darkness, before sunrise, while their tops nearly three miles above project into air that is illuminated by the sun.

The shadows are not cast onto the Earth. They actually continue all the way through the atmosphere and out, into deep space.

Almost twenty years ago I watched the first dawn of the Third Millenium from atop one of these, watching my shadow join the shadow of the larger mountain and together cast into deep space. That was twenty years ago. My shadow has passed many stars since then.

On January 1st, the sun is in Sagittarius, roughly near the position 18h 44m  -23° 03'. The point opposite that in the sky is where the shadow went: 6h 44m +23 03'. That point lies within the constellation Gemini. The major stars of the constellation range from 33.8 to more than 1763 light-years away. While my shadow has not reached any of the major stars, it has passed the distance of several of the lesser stars. Gliese 251 is about the closest star in the constellation at about 18.22 light-years distance. Some minuscule portion of the light blocked by our world from our star I personally blocked that morning. If there are entities out there looking for transiting exoplanets orbiting stars along the ecliptic, we would be visible as one of their detectable exoplanets. One morning almost 20 years ago, I helped a tiny, tiny bit.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Fruits of Summer


Picking wild grapes! California has two species of native grapes, including this Vitis girdiana we planted in our yard several years ago. The birds somehow missed these grapes, so we picked many today.

These grapes taste like Concord grapes to me, but better with an edible seed in the center. After carefully picking the bunches, my son had to inspect each bunch and taste test the ripe grapes... more will ripen in a few days....



Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Junior Monkeywrench Gang vs. PG&E

PG&E continues to do what I can most generously describe as 'hamfisted' and 'counterproductive' things to create the appearance of improving our safety.

The problem is this: the path to systemic safety comes from a system level approach.

There are many different types of forest in California. Any forest with a closed canopy keeps ground-level growth to a minimum simply by keeping the ground a low light environment. Further, Douglas Fir and Redwood trees are natural precipitrons - they electrostatically collect fog droplets and build droplets large enough to make rain. This keeps the duff moist and much slower to burn. Our biggest fires have been in Chaparral and open Woodlands with significant ground level brush. Comparatively few large fires have been in low-brush closed canopy forest.

PG&E continues to open closed canopy forests, including adjacent to and in our yard. We are opposed to these efforts to actively increase ground-level brush growth.


My son understands some of this. Today I found him trying to remove markings on trees in our yard slated for unwise removal.

At 6 years of age, he couldn't even read The Monkeywrench Gang, nor have I read it to him. Yet I am proud of him getting up and taking action on his own initiative against something he feels is fundamentally wrong.



He now holds vigil eating an apple he grew on our land defending his Fig Tree should the crews happen by this afternoon. He has never even heard of Julia Butterfly Hill, yet I feel they would find common ground.

Lilikoi and Apples!

Today we ate the first of our apples from the 2019 season. Anna is supposed to be even earlier than Gravenstein, though since Gravenstein did not set apples this year and this is the first time in 16 years that Anna has fruited for us, we can neither confirm nor deny the statement.


Anna turns out to be a soft-ish tart apple of good flavor and mild fragrance. Yellow-green and just soft enough to be tender when quartered, the seeds had not fully darkened on these apples when we cut them up and devoured them today.


We also found our Lilikoi vine is climbing into a small redwood in our yard, and set fruit! These will likely ripen between Halloween and Thanksgiving. This may not be remarkable to most folks, we just do not reliably fruit every year this far north.

BD's blog: "Lilikoi are a very beautiful color when ripe. The beautiful color is purple. Our lilikoi vine is grabbing onto and climbing our Redwood tree. I can't wait for our Lilikoi and other Apples to ripen - then we can make a stand.

Anna apples are green when ripe and we want to make juice out of them but we just ate them. Bye!"  "