Monday, February 16, 2009

Great London/England Reads

I picked up my first Edward Rutherfurd read in the gift shop at Sarum. It was, appropriately, entitled Sarum and tells the history of Sarum [Old Salisbury] and the region from the Stone Age on thru five families. If you like your history fed to you fictionalized, you'll love Rutherfurd.

These books really remind how big a role religion played in everything--including internal and external wars--in Western history. It really drives home what an important [and Enlightened] decision the Founding Fathers made to separate church and state.

City of London


I see he's got a new one out on New York I'll have to pick up.

Prince Albert Memorial

So Anne [Bennedson, one of my friends and co-workers at CyberArts] and I are walking thru Kensington Park, and off in the distance we see a gleam of gold. Gold...must see gold...

We realize as we get closer it must be the in/famous Albert Memorial. It's seriously over the top, but it does work, the way Vegas does.

Each exterior corner has a sculpture depicting four regions of the world; Europe, Asia, Africa, Americas. This one is the Americas. The sculptures on the interior corners are Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering and Manufactures.

The Europe group.

Asia group, and following, Africa.

Looking back at Anne and Royal Albert Hall. It was really pretty cool.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hong Kong 2008

Thanks to my gig at CyberArts, I got to travel to Macau for a tradeshow in Feb 2008. I went early and spent a few days sightseeing in Hong Kong. It's a real pleasure to fly in at night--I don't have photos but you can see one here--the skyscrapers all have special lighting.
Hong Kong is actually a group of islands and the Kowloon peninsula. The Kowloon peninsula shares a border with southern China. If you look at the top you'll see the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where lots of manufacturing happens. [If you order USB drives for tradeshows like I do, this is where they almost all come from. I know that because of the timing of this tradeshow and the Chinese New Year I had to have the drives shipped directly from the factory to Macau.]

The terrain is very hilly and the area is very populated. Think of all the buildings in Manhattan squished into San Francisco.

So hilly in fact that all of the bridges are new. Why? Because before they moved the airport to Lantau Island the approach was so steep and so constrained to the old airport on Hong Kong Island that there couldn't be any bridges. I've heard it was quite the experience to fly in. Most of the traffic is still by tunnel, and if you look at a good aerial picture of Hong Kong bay you'll notice the lack of bridges.

This is the big tourist area called Victoria Peak. [I took a tour, all the tours go here.] It's famous for the view...

...which is supposed to be spectacular on
sunny days. Not so much in February which can be overcast, rainy, windy. In fact, if you look back one picture you'll notice that many of the chrysanthemums [from the Chinese New Year] are knocked over. Windy as hell the day we were up there.

My cold and wind-blown fellow tourons.

These two views from the harbor give some idea of the relentless encroachment of concrete and steel. A lot of people packed in not very much space. I read recently that all flu viruses originate in Asia--I think China in particular. Having been there you can imagine why. Not only do they originate in China, they lose their potency as they spread out from the source, eventually dying.

Old and new Hong Kong, juxtaposed for the moment, although there is a move a foot to sunset the junks.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

[View from my window at the Royal Garden Hotel]

How did I end up traveling to London? And the other places soon to be posted?

After I got laid off in 2002 I never did find a 'real' job again. So I became a consultant, naturally. I taught myself web design. I did writing and desktop publishing and research for various people. You can see the early years here--site has not been updated since oh, maybe 2006? I eventually got this great gig with CyberArts providing marketing support. It's about 3/4 time. Doing the drafts for manuals, press releases and other collateral [text and layout]. Trying to manage SalesForce. Managing ad buys. A large part of what I do is trade show support. I do all the pre-show arranging, budgeting and attend as part of the tradeshow staff. So I get to travel. How cool is that?

Kensington Park

[Kensington Palace. It looked cold.]

I didn't have much time for sightseeing this trip, but I did manage to get in a bitterly cold walk through Kensington Park. [Srsly, like 30 degrees and blowing 30 knots. I actually got wind burn.]

[Still Kensington Palace. Still looking cold.]

The natives were more colorful dressers than I remembered.

Contemplating goose down on the hoof.

Swan down should be as warm as goose down, yes???

Actually it was fun seeing the birds. We don't see many swans or geese in this part of Florida. I also saw magpies, some type of common moorhen and a grebe, but failed to get any good pictures.

London in Blue and Gray

London in blue and gray.

Moira, smokes and friend.

Princess Diana Memorial, Kensington Park.

Night approacheth at Kew Gardens.

Wife Out Of Town?

No problem! Just keep buying socks until she returns.

The Basics: Watering

In the summer I water the fruiting plants [eggplant, green beans, tomatoes, peppers] every day and everything else every other day unless it rains. I live downtown a mile from the bay in Sarasota and it is often dry here when it is raining everywhere else. Stuff in the ground I water twice a week. I could probably get away with less, but I have plenty of water.

In the winter I water less frequently. It really depends on how humid it’s been, how hot, etc. I feel the soil of the fruiting plants and if they seem dry, I water. I also check them out when I get the mail in the evening. Does anyone seem listless? Water the next day.

[Sump pump and rain barrel.]

I use a combination of gray water [from our washing machine] and rain water [we have 10 rain barrels. What can I say, I can get obsessive]. The rain barrels are on the corner of each house catching the rain from the gutters. We haven’t used city water in maybe two years now. If you have an older house your washing machine is probably in a utility room or your garage and it’s dead easy to pull the discharge hose out and route it to a rain barrel. And the barrel doesn’t have to be lower than your machine—the pump in the washing machine will do all the work.

There are lots of ways to work your watering system. We have two sump pumps on each side of the house. Stephen got ours at Ace Pump in Sarasota, you can get them at Lowes or Home Depot. Stephen thinks he paid about $150 each for the pumps—1/2 horsepower units. Hook a hose to the pump, drop the pump in the rain or overflow barrel, plug it in and voila! You have water pressure. To remember; you can’t use a nozzle with the laundry water because it will soon get clunked up with fibers.

You could also let gravity work. Put your rain barrels up on some cinder blocks to get them above the height of the containers and you’re good to go. If you hooked your barrels up to an irrigation system—which could be as easy as securing a hose over your containers and drilling holes where you need them—you could pretty much automate the process. I think about it ‘cause it would save time but I like watering by hand. I get to talk to the neighbors, the cats have fun running around and acting crazy, I plan the meal for the evening. It’s also a good opportunity to inspect the plants for pests.

[The kids tired out from playing in the yard.]

Gratuitous plug: If you live in SW Florida and need help with setting up your water system or raised beds, my husband Stephen, the handyman, is available for hire.

The Basics: Why Container Gardening?

Why Container Gardening?
• I thought there might be some advantage to being able to move plants around to find their optimum sun placement. [And this has been useful given the sun/shade patterns in my yard.]
• Easier to control soil quality. [Nematodes are a big problem here—and I have even gotten them in some of the containers. I just rotate in a plant they’re not interested in, like onions, herbs, leafy greens, root vegetables.]
• They’re pretty! And it gave Stephen a reason to go to thrift shops and garage sales [one of his favorite leisure activities].
• They let you work with limited spaces. You can tuck a container here, two there, etc.
• Great for instant gratification as there is no soil prep to be done [so me].

I didn’t realize I would soon go insane with it. I read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and got interested in figuring out what could be grown here under what conditions. An Inconvenient Truth
got me really interested in reducing my carbon footprint. And then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)
and got interested in seeing how much of what I ate could I grow—or buy local. A Perfect Storm [great book] of influences that resulted in the proliferation of containers. I still think it’s a fine choice for me—and the urban environment--but raised beds for some crops and improving the soil for others is better if you have more room. I do both now.

• They do have to be watered more often than plants in the ground.
• Soil can get too acidic from over-fertilizing [yet to happen to me].
• Both harder and easier to grow tomatoes [roots get warmer easier meaning they don’t fruit but if you are in a rainy area also easier to control for too much water].
• Potting soil can lose its ability to drain and you need to replace it. This has not happened consistently to me but I do find I get some plants that are not thriving and it’s either the soil has become sludge or nematodes. I’ve got two piles of dirt now in the yard where I’m working this sludge with other organic matter to hopefully restore its ability to drain. If it doesn’t work, I’ll just buy potting soil once a year or so.

I have tried the Earth Box. I have a few friends it works great for but I just wasn’t that taken with it. I had this vision of charming containers perched fetchingly on our winsome stone pathways. What can I say? I’m an artist .

I found that Sam’s Club had the cheapest, lightest containers that suited my purposes. 14” cast concrete [much lighter than ceramic pots] for around $8.00. Other than garage sales or otherwise creative containerment [baby pools, old boats] the $5.00 Home Depot buckets would be your cheapest option, but plastic does degrade in this sun and I wonder about what it releases into the soil as it degrades. Plus I wanted pretty. The Sam’s Club containers aren’t always gorgeous, but they can be easily spiffed up with some paint. Buy some potting soil at the same stop, and you’re almost done.

Most of the potting soils you buy already have 90 days worth of long-release fertilizer, so make a note in your calendar [you will need to keep a plant calendar] when you need to start fertilizing. I use a handful [or two for the fruiting plants] of Fertrelle twice a month. I’ve read lots of stuff that suggests you should use a liquid fertilizer with every watering, but this seems insane to me, because then you periodically have to water the hell out of your containers to get rid of the salts. Plus, how much fertilizer are you putting into the water supply? So, I don’t get HUGE eggplants and peppers, but they’re big enough to feed us [might also be a function of being in containers].

The Basics: Fertilizing and Pest Control

I use an organic fertilizer called Fertrell. You can get it at most garden supply stores—if you need to find a dealer, you can look here. I add about ¼ cup twice a month. I also add Superthrive to the water every week or so [to be perfectly honest I haven’t seen zooming crops, but it doesn’t hurt anything]. I lime [Soil Doctor Pelletized Lawn Lime1/4 cup] twice a year.

I could probably fertilize more but it’s easy to build up too acidic soil in containers, and what I’m doing seems to be working reasonably well. I could of course test the soil, but if you’ve read any other blog posts by now you’ll realize I like to wing it.

Pest Control.
I only use stuff that doesn’t adversely affect cats, bees, humans and other critters. For pest control I use Garlic Barrier [they recommend every 10-14 days but I find I have to use it once a week during the summer—10 days is fine in the winter]. It takes care of everything but aphids, spider mites and army worms [and some other type of teeny worm that wants to eat the tomatoes]. When I see worm damage I use Conserve Electrolyte [I do pro-actively spray the tomatoes bi-weekly]. Neem Oil is recommended for fungal infestations, but the only plants who ever had a fungal problem where the squash, and well…I’ve also used a milk solution and that seemed to work as well as the Neem Oil. [You can get Conserve and Neem Oil at most garden supply stores, or, look them up on the web.]

About twice a year I get aphids or spider mites on the eggplants. You can just use soap and water to get rid of those and when I see them I also buy ladybugs [In Sarasota, from Hibbs Farm and Garden Supply]. They’ll take care of lots of munching critters.

To keep snails and slugs off the lettuces I built a sand trap—I’ve read they don’t like to cross sand or shell. See the white strip on top of the raised bed? That’s pieces of old vinyl soffit we had around here that had a raised edge filled with sand. You could do it a number of ways though.