Sunday, February 21, 2010

Growing Apple Chairs

     We have this thing at work, which I'll call 'Mandatory Pie Break.' It takes place at any time of day in any room, and again, it's mandatory. That's how committed we are to enjoying and comparing local pies, usually apple. We live in what feels like the Apple Capitol of Vermont (complete with an annual Apple Fest on Columbus Day weekend) and apple pies are like knishes on Coney Island or cheesesteaks in Philadelphia; everyone has their local favorite. MPB was really inspired by our need to find a new pie, as Celia Hackett of Hackett's Orchard in South Hero finally closed down her famous pie operation after 35 plus years. People are freaking out.

     Because it's such a small town, I cannot rightly share with you our results. Let's just say that we've found a hands down winner (although nowhere near as good as a Hackett's,) and are also enjoying 'off - Island' pies in secret. There have been some occasional homemade entries between us, which brings me a little closer to the heart of this post. To celebrate Riki's return from Japan, I made a special apple coffee cake from 101cookbooks

glazed with homemade apple jelly 

steaming hot

     Maybe you know a bit about the genetics of apples; I'm a Michael Pollan fanatic, and was inspired to learn more about them after reading the Botany of Desire. The basics are that apple seeds do not produce offspring that resemble the trees in which they come from. A Mac doesn't make a Mac, and a Granny Smith doesn't make a Granny Smith. This unreliability is the basis of why apples are cut and grafted as opposed to started from seed (that and the ability to pair each tree to the proper rootstock for it's desired size and the local climate.) Apples from seed are rarely sweet, nor can their resistance to disease and pests be counted on. 
    This bit of information puts the home gardener in a pay-to-plant situation. You're unlikely to plant apples from seed on your property unless you can be sure that they will produce a variety that's to your liking. Purchasing grafted 'whips' (unbranched 4-6 ft trees on bare rootstock) can run about $12 - $20 apiece, or more for older and better established trees. Really, that's not bad. However, if you're like me, and have some zany projects in mind, then all of those numbers start to add up before you've accidentally killed your first tree.

McIntosh Seeds

     I have two books in my library that inspire me to do all sorts of crazy things with trees; Arborsulpture by Richard Reames and How to Grow a Chair, again by Reames and Barbara Delbol. Both of these books are fascinating accounts of different existing arborsculptures, as well as instructions for growing fences, chairs, and even houses. Arborsculpture is a term coined by Reames that encompasses his process of treeshaping, which relies on whips that are instantly shaped. The Gradual Shaping Method was developed by Peter Cook and Becky Northey and uses small saplings, like those I intend to grow from the apple seeds. Gradual tree shaping requires planning and design to slowly shape the tree into the desired form.

Garden Chair from Pooktre Tree Shapers

Peter Cook on the Garden Chair:

"Our living garden chair started life as a single tree under 10in (20cm) tall. We had planned out the design before the tree had even start to grow. The tree was grown into the design shape over a 3 year period. We waited about 6 years before we sat on it. So it was about 9 years old. This coming spring it will be 13 years old, it is a wild plum (Prunus Myrobalan). This tree now needs no more maintenance than that of the average fruit tree in your garden."

Be sure to follow the link to their site to see their photo gallery and subscribe for updates!

     I'm not sure exactly what I'd like to do with treeshaping - I imagine that to start I'd just play with things on a small scale for container plantings and photographs. But what I do know is that without starting the seeds, I'd actually have to buy whips - and as I'm not planning on eating any of the fruit (we have already planted enough,) so why bother? With all of this in mind, I removed the seeds from my coffee cake apple scraps and stored them in the fridge until I was ready to plant.

Later, I added seeds from a Mutsu (aka Crispin) as well as both Bosc and Anjou pears. I had a Northern Spy as well, but it had no seeds!? This time, after removing the seeds I dried them out in the oven (mine can be set at 100 degrees) as I read that this was an important step. I had lent my dehydrator to a friend, but I think that would have really sped things up. If you're using either an oven or a dehydrator, I would be careful not to go above 110 degrees if you'd like your seeds to germinate.

And then, just like that, I set them up for Winter Sowing as I had done recently with several other seeds. You could also keep them in your refrigerator for a few months if you prefer. I, myself, am not too worried about failure (with regards to experimental gardening.) I am so busy in the summer that when I screw things up it usually amounts to nothing but sweet, sweet relief.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Digital Pinhole

My motto, as it applies to photography, is: 'use your brain, not your wallet' (I wish these words applied across the board in my life, but that's not always the case.) I think I had spent my lifetime budget on photography by about 1997, mostly on darkroom supplies, and long before being exposed to the expenses of the digital realm. As I began to see the benefits of changing over to digital, I made a deal with myself that I would keep it creative and low budget, especially to remind myself that I was supposed to be in total control of the process. My first step was a cheap negative scanner, which allowed me to stop spending long hours in the darkroom getting fixer in my hair.  I spent a lot of time playing with toy cameras, homemade pinholes, and making masks inside the camera while I traveled around. Such an enjoyable cure for boredom. I remember checking into a motel to develop a bunch of film on my way from New Orleans to Houston in a town called Sulfur; bad place to need to use a lot of water.  

Holga photo 2003, Italy

Holga with a mask taped inside; I shot the bottom half of the film roll of lily pads while canoeing, and then rewound the film, flipped the mask over, and reshot the same roll. This time I exposed only the top half of the roll, shooting cow feeders at a dairy farm.

and a homemade pin-holga shot in Plymouth, Vermont

the shutter on a Holga is bound to fail sooner than later; I just made the broken cameras into pinholes  that used remove-able velcro as a lens cap

But here we are today, in 2010, and I am finally and truly finished with developing film, as well. I even tried replacing developer with instant coffee for a time to try and break away from all those chemicals, and guess what - it smells totally putrid! Much worse than a dairy farm and a subway station on the hottest day of summer combined. I'm pretty happy with the digital world, but I like to keep my contributions to the process relevant, which can be challenging. In just about a week I'm headed to Florida to visit my family, and most of what we'll do there is take pictures. I know that keeping myself totally entertained on a lengthy birding trip with my dad means having a special photo technique at the ready (even if I'm not paying great attention to the birding part.) This year, I made sure to make a digital pinhole body cap before leaving. Body caps can be ordered online, and you can probably find a generic version at your local camera store, but don't expect that it will be cheaper. 

first, you need to drill out a hole through the center of the body cap. I opted to hold the center to a flame, and then shoved a fondue fork through before it cooled. Sloppy, sloppy work, but much faster than setting up to drill.

next, I cut a small square of doubled tinfoil to place the pinhole in. First of all, aluminum foil is not the choicest material, but it's what I could find. When making the hole, place your hand over the top of the needle (you may want to wrap tape around the top so it's easier to hold in place) and spin the foil around in circles until you've broken through the tip. You're not trying to push the whole needle through.

Needles come in varying sizes, and I'm lying if I tell you that I understand this. I will tell you that no employee of a chain sewing store has ever been able to explain it to me, but regardless, the packages are clearly marked in the 'notions' aisle. I cannot even tell you for sure if the numbers go up or down according to diameter, I've read it both ways from so many sources (not just the internet.) It's like the time 2 different chiropractors told me to wear a lift in opposing shoes. The sewing world seems to say one thing and the photo world another. Could I get to the bottom of this? Sure, probably, but I know that small is what I'm going for. The whole concept is that the farther your 'film plane' (digital sensor) is from your pinhole, the larger the hole needed; digital slrs are thin in comparison to the wooden box pinhole cameras that are available. I think your best bet is to measure the needle diameter on a ruler, and record those measurements. The hole that you create is your aperture, and it is fixed. After creating this hole, you can only vary your results through the amount of available light and the length of your exposures. If the hole is too big, the focus of your photos will suffer, like so:

aperture (pin hole) too big in my aluminum foil - number 14 needle

You could determine an exact aperture for your pinhole after attaining the focal length and  consulting a pinhole aperture chart. You'll also need a basic understanding of the corresponding needle size, but rest assured, what you're looking for is small. I need a pinhole of around .29 which as far as I can tell needs about a number 13 needle. The truth of the matter is that you mostly need patience to keep repeatedly testing and experimenting, and getting to know each altered body cap. 

This time around I found my supply of copper sheeting (craft stores carry this) which holds the hole much better than aluminum foil. The colored pencil markings on the body cap are not actually marking center, but were helpful for me while I was melting the plastic.

 I also glued a piece of black construction paper with a hole punched through it over the copper to help decrease any excess light pollution. Here's where I ended up:




I noticed some pros and cons right off the bat:
  • obviously, it's great that you can see the image right away and make adjustments - that's tops.
  • my xti has a Bulb mode (shutter stays open as long as you're pressing the button, which is an undeniable drag when you're on your 20th 3 minute exposure) but no Time mode ( push shutter once to start the exposure and again to end it.) Apparently, the remote control that Canon sells works as though in Time mode. On the plus side, Bulb mode has a digital clock to watch. If you taped something over the shutter to keep it depressed, you could just uncover and cover the pinhole when you're ready to expose. Velcro tabs, a book, etc...
  • I can see flecks on the image where dust has gotten through the hole and fallen on the sensor. For $50 you can buy a manufactured pinhole bodycap that uses an opaque film over the hole to eliminate this problem.
  • so much cheaper than a macro lens.
  • vertical shots need a tripod, as most digital cameras don't have a flat side on either short end. 
  • again, holding the shutter down sucks - listen to music or the radio, and make sure that you're in a comfortable position. A minute is forever if you having nothing else to pay attention to.
The good news is that Florida is likely to be brighter, and my exposures will be shorter. I need a smaller needle to try a tighter aperture, as the focus still wasn't great.  Also, I can't find an image to show you, but my favorite camera that I made had an irregular, rough hole and I loved it. I'd like to try to intentionally  influence some different shapes for this one. I think that the spinning method keeps the pinhole cleaner, so maybe I'll go back to the quick, violent stab.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And the Winner is......Me!

I am the proud winner of a Fiskars Momentum reel mower - you can read my entry as it was voted on at Red Dirt Ramblings. I can't tell you how much I've wanted one of these! Thank you to Dee and Fiskars for holding this contest - I'll be sure to photograph the Momentum in action...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

2010 Sandwich Garden Menu

meatloaf glazed with homemade ketchup, goat cheese, & balsamic greens

shredded pork carnitas with roasted corn salad & cheddar habanero greens

Turkish lamb kofta with smoked eggplant cream & minty pickled onion salad

green pea falafel with candied radishes and curried yogurt greens (May & June)

Featuring homemade condiments, veggies from our garden, and all natural local meats.
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