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Erica Wisner

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since Feb 10, 2009
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Was born, raised, and turned loose on an unsuspecting world. Originally an educator, now growing into writing & publishing, fire fighting, family care teams, and mountain ecological maintenance. Prone to extended explanations. (I like to explain things so that a 5-year-old and her PhD grandparent can both enjoy and 'get it'... no offence meant if you're somewhere in between!)
Okanogan Highlands, Washington
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Recent posts by Erica Wisner

Thanks for all the great recipes.

It doesn't use up a lot of cucumber, but I love sliced cucumber in summer drinks.
Try it with lime, or mint, or both.
Cucumber juice or pulp works too, if you have a juicer handy.  

I find cucumber and melon drinks super good for hydration during hot outdoor work. Sometimes we add a hint of sea salt for electrolytes.

Sliced cucumber or melon, along with other sliced fruits, are good with the Mexican salt and chili mix sprinkled on for a quick summer snack.

Big ones can have seeds scooped out and sliced longwise, sized like carrot sticks and celery. Great snacks for road trips, or for dipping.

I agree that the tree needs pruning to support heavy fruit. It's not just the weight, but also the distance and angle that causes breakage. The branches look long and lanky, like the tree is growing in shade.

Traditional orchard wisdom is to let the tree grow at least 3 years before allowing it to bear fruit.  Care and attention are important for its shape and vegetative needs during its first years.

Propping up branches slows the breakage, but doesn't help with the strength or leverage issues of the tree itself.
Left to themselves, these branches are likely to keep growing longer. To get abundant fruit with fewer tragic losses year to year, you want the branches thicker compared with their length, to support the weight.
Some orchardists even place straps in the off season to pull gently _down_ on branches, then prune, to create a stronger "T" shaped crotch for the main fruiting branches. More fruiting shoots will naturally grow straight up from these side branches. Prune any that try to grow J shaped from the bottom of the main branch.
J and Y shaped branches are easily broken by fruit weight, as are parallel near-vertical trunks, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the tree.

Allowing these long, thin branches to stay long and bend, it seems likely this little tree will form a sort of weeping shape, not very strong, and prone to damp and fungal blights.

Whereas if you cut the branches back to where they are strong enough, and let new shoots re-grow from there to bear fruit, you will have a stronger tree and the shoots will get more sun for ripening fruit.  As the trunk and main branches get thicker and stronger, you can let the new branches grow longer and bigger.

I would be tempted to thin by cutting off the last 1/3 of each long branch now, fruit and all, and follow up in winter by cutting back to within a few feet of the main trunk. But I'm not an experienced orchardist. I think the idea of watching pruning videos, particularly videos that show the final results after a year or two, would be wise.

Saving the peaches on the lost branch might be a lost cause, and a distraction from saving the rest of the tree.

I do think chutney or pickles are great things to do with unripe fruits. You could also try putting the branch in a big cleannvase or jar, with a solution of food grade "flower food," like diluted Sprite, to see if the branch will stay alive long enough for the fruit to ripen further.

For the damaged branch end on the tree: air layering is an interesting option, but with the ugly broken end, seems likely to go rotten before you would ever get enough roots to support the broken branch. Cleanest option may be to cut off cleanly, below the break (unfortunately including the partially broken branch as well), then seal the cut end by painting with tree seal, pine tar, or a beeswax mixture.

In winter, prune while dormant. If you want, you can try to propagate from the cuttings using willow water or rooting hormone to start new trees. Peach is not as easy to propagate this way as other trees, but you'll get more fruit in the end by pruning than by letting each branch overgrow and break off one by one.  

Trees build the strength they need by responding to stress- by shedding overweight branches when loaded with fruit or ice, by healing and growing in response to strain from swaying in the wind (much as our muscles grow). Trees grown in shade tend to get lanky seeking sun, and also generally don't get the toughening effect of wind.
Trees that are stakes or supported when young may alway remain weaker than trees that supported themselves. Landscapers are advised to remove support stakes the first year, so the tree can move enough to grow the buttressing strength it needs, from early on. Wind strain also affects branch shape and root growth
This is widely ignored on low budget landscaping projects, such as parking lots; with the result that we amateurs see stakes left in place and learn from bad examples, and think this is normal.

Propping up branches now, with such long snaky branches, virtually guarantees you'll need to keep propping them forever, or until you work up the motivation to salvage prune later on.  The tree doesn't have a shape that can support its own fruit.  If you're ok with more fruit now, at the cost of probably shortening the life and total potential size of the tree, propping can be done for years or decades. Once those arched-over branches get really big, your options to safely prune get more limited. And they make it hard to see or fix damage to the trunk itself.

If you really want to save every branch, and don't care if the tree supports itself, you could consider bulding a stout garden wall or frame on the shady side of the tree to espalier the branches permanently.  Kinda like a peach vine instead of a peach tree.
3 weeks ago

Chris MacCarlson wrote:The red color is nothing to worry about.  It is a natural response that many plants have to high light/hot or cold temperatures, caused by anthocyanins which give the color.

Plants produce the pigment anthocyanin for a variety of reasons, but in particular with blueberries they produce it to protect leaves against high light/low temperature conditions, which can cause photorespiration, damaging the photosynthetic apparatus.  

No "spilling over" of pigments from the seed - the color has a specific physiological purpose, of course.

I would agree about the purplish-red tinge in the healthy leaves.  Blueberry leaves can turn amazing shades of red and purple as the seasons change, one of the better fall color displays.

It's the dried and curled-up, reddish brown leaf that I am noticing.  One or two dry/dead leaf tips could just be a minor injury, possibly due to a bruise, bump, or transplant stress.  
If you get a lot more of those, however, the plant is struggling with something, possibly water supply.  The years I was not able to water my bushes consistently with good water, that was how most of their leaves looked, not good.

3 months ago
Leaves turning red happens in fall, and sometimes spring, from cold weather conditions.
But the leaf you showed looks like it is more of a sudden dryness kind of thing.

I am concerned that the heat you noticed may be killing roots, which can deprive the plant of water (even if you water it, burnt roots can't take up the water into the plant.)  
I have killed many blueberries in unsuitable conditions (alkaline soils/water), and from my longest-lasting experimental failures, I would say that cold mulch (bark chips, rotten wood, soil from nearby forests with related plants) and rainwater helps a lot more than anything else.

I think the grass clippings between the roots and the cool soil could be a problem, especially if it's heating up.  The grass you are trying to kill under the cardboard could also contribute nitrogen and sugars, causing heat of decomposition.  

The heat and root-bound issues could mean you have already lost some roots, and the plants are experiencing transplant shock.  The leaves near the crispy one look OK, but smaller and a different color - so the plant may also be trying to adapt to rapid changes in light levels and/or water from where it was raised, to where it was sold to you, to your garden.
If you notice additional leaves turning crispy at the edges, or wilting, you may not have enough roots to support the branches. You might need to consider trimming off some fruiting branches, or at least pinching off fruit, to help the plant survive this experience.  
If the branches look very healthy (leaves full and perky, no more than a few odd-sized crispy leaves), you can disregard this suggestion.

If your soil is consistently rain-washed, it may already be acidic, which would be a great advantage.  Or if it's got a lot of of decaying limestone, it could be alkaline despite the rain.  Do you know your local soil pH?

When I was growing up in an area that does favor blueberries, grass clippings on TOP of the mulch circles around each bush worked great.  Helped suppress weeds, trap moisture, slow-release some nutrients.  
The plants did not need fertilizer beyond the occasional batch of clippings; however we did have a constant struggle to remove grass and thistles from around the planting area.  I would be tempted to dig out a layer of the turf before planting, and put some edging around it, to reduce this problem.  Blueberries have shallow roots, and so does grass.  I do not have much expectation for grass 'dying eventually,' it is one of the plants most tolerant of cutting and abuse.  In my experience, grass sticks rhizomes into your mulch and keeps trying to grow right up into your berry plants.

Blueberries are adapted to nitrogen-poor soils, and to a specific type of symbiotic fungus (Ericoid fungi) that helps them extract nutrients from acidic soils and woody duff (rotting mulch and cool decaying plant matter). I think the addition of soil from a local blueberry patch is a good idea, and may give you other ideas for how to make your home conditions more like the best local conditions for this type of plants.  While collecting soil, notice whether the wild berries grow in shade or sun, at top or bottom of slopes, what plants are nearby, etc.

Here is an article I found about other reasons for red leaves - but I don't think this is your main problem in this case.

Erica W
3 months ago
Well, you know, water is pretty good.

Maybe you already covered this in the book.

For both laundry and dishes, water is the main cleaning agent.
Boiling water is especially good; for some things, it's better than soap.

Rinsing with boiling water is called "scalding," it gets most gunk off, and kills a lot of germs in the process.
I use this on most kinds of heat-safe dishes, from wooden spoons to glassware to the sink itself.

Boiling for about three minutes (some sources say 10) kills germs in sponges and dishrags.  It eliminates most of the nasty odors, although it doesn't entirely clear out the gunk the germs were feeding on.
So I will either do several boiling rinses if I have time / limited other options (like an office breakroom); or I will boil a batch once, then wash the sludge out in my tiny washing machine (the advantage being, after boiling, it doesn't stink up the washer, and I don't have any reason to use bleach-type stuff on the washer afterwards.)  
I do use a biodegradable eco-detergent for routine washing; but some of our friends use soap nuts in the laundry washer.  I would not call them "edible" for humans, but they're pretty bio-compatible.  

For pot and pans that get heated above boiling point, like cast iron, they tend to self-sterilize with each use. I will leave a coating of oil or butter on there, and I don't mind if it's the same oil I used to cook pancakes.  (If your oil is going rancid between cooking, you could make the case that you own too many pots, or don't cook often enough.  In that case, wipe off the old oil, leaving a very thin coating.

For sticky foods in cast iron, like gravy, I like to store or eat as much of it as practical; wiping out with bread while it's still fresh and tasty saves on paper towels or washrags.  
Then rinse with boiling water, scraping any stuck-on bits with a wooden scraper.  Avoiding soap on cast iron is part of preserving its non-stick cooking surface.

Avoiding mess is another good tactic, where edibles can be used.  Think "edible dishes" - such as bread trenchers, chowder or chili in a bread bowl, tortilla-lined baskets, or good ol' buns or sandwiches - is another trick for reducing the amount of dishes to begin with.  Lettuce or cabbage leaves, for the gluten-wary (most of us really don't need that much bread in our diet).  
Leafy liners can minimize the cleanup from serving meat and seafood, or free yourself to experiment with porous serving ware such as wooden bowls or unglazed / hand-glazed pottery.

The alternative, scrubbing with abrasives, is called "scouring." People used to use scouring-rush, sand, or baking soda for this.  I've seen salt or sugar-based scouring stuff lately, especially for the shower; you can do the same for glass carbuoys, when you have some gunge in there that isn't easy to get out with a brush, put some rock salt in there with a tiny bit of hot water, and swish it around like a rock-polisher.  Takes a while, but gets it done.  
I don't like it as much, because it can scratch the surfaces you are trying to clean, which leads to it being easier to stain or dirty in future.  Also note that baking soda, while OK for people in modest quantities, contains a lot of sodium which is a plant toxin.
If you're doing non-toxic cleaners for the good of the planet, not just your own chemical exposure, it's good to know what minerals are safer for plants in your area.  In some inland areas, a little phosphorus is much appreciated by plants, where boron is excess and suppresses growth.  Right on the coast, most plants are adapted to excess sodium; but not so inland.  Ag schools' extension services can give you the lowdown for your area, or you can do soil samples if you're really into details.

I do use biodegradable dish soaps or detergents for routine dishwashing, combined with very hot water, so I don't need much.  Apparently it's working for the plant life outside our greywater dish station, at any rate.

Final tip from a brief season in an organic winery: Wash promptly.  
If everything is rinsed immediately, with hot water, and dried as soon as possible, you don't need to use chemical sterilants to kill unwanted films and colonies of unwanted life... because you don't provide it food or habitat.

Now ask me, does my kitchen reflect all this lovely-sounding advice?
[two guesses...]

3 months ago
Are you thinking about rocket mass heaters - efficiency, comfort, off-grid independence, and that lovely full-body heating pad luxury....
...but daunted by the prospect of installing a chimney through your (somewhat unusual) roof?

Our latest plan set has one of the simplest and most popular layouts (firebox at one end, long flat bench).  We save the extra words for discussing, in detail, options to install a good, effective, and safe chimney through unusual roofs like earth-sheltered, living roofs, multi-layered legacy roofs, and rain roofs.

Such as the Wofati, now featured in Paul's Better World Kickstarter.

For other rocket mass heater plans, please see
Ernie and Erica's Rocket Mass Heater Everything Combo
3 months ago
The fire retardant the forest service used to use was actually based on fish blood, which had the bonus ecological effect of fertilizing areas that hadn't seen salmon in generations.  It takes about 1 fish per acre to make a big difference in micronutrients like phosphorus for upland forests.
However, firefighters tend to be working rough and have small cuts and bruises any given day, and having stinking rotten fish blood dropped on them out of the sky was pretty unpopular and something of a health hazard.  Eventually they switched to detergent-based retardants, and now there are some gel-type retardants coming into use.

I think most of the sites suitable for large-scale dams have been dammed, a lot of them with the help of my granpa Ray.  The West has a lot of artificial lakes.

I was indeed talking about massive, but soil- and gully-scale improvements to water retention.  Snow melt's major benefit is that it comes down slowly, trickles throughout the seasons rather than flash floods.  Deep soil and aquifers have this behavior too.  Big dams really don't - in addition to evaporation, they seem to encourage large-scale decisions, and water levels may be changed by feet or millions of cubic yards of water as a management decision.  The water released from big dams goes downstream in rivers, and swiftly out to sea - mostly, not back onto pasture or wildlands.  Water flow through dams is determined based on electrical usage; based on anticipated flooding or drought; based on the risk of cascading dam failures (if a dam above breaches, the resulting surge of water dramatically increases the likelihood that the next dam will fail).

So what I'm speculating about is an even more massive, possibly even more disruptive process, but I'm suggesting we undertake it very gradually, patchwork-fashion, and predominately in areas that are already heavily damaged and prone to erosion.
Essentially, rake the mountains (especially those just burned so hot they have lost most of their soil and root mass), into pleasing Zen-garden shapes along keyline principles, so that they tend to spread and slow water and move it toward the ridges, and build soils faster, than untreated areas.

I would really like to see some good evidence and documentation of how this treatment works in the arid and semi-arid West, before proposing it to those with the means to do it on a large scale.

If your community or a large landowner near you has started a regenerative forestry or pasturelands process aimed at improving soil depth and water retention and reducing erosion, and either has participated in studies or would be a good candidate for study, please let me know.

Erica W
4 months ago

Sebastian Köln wrote:

julian Gerona wrote:Scientist have protocols and guidelines to obey as thought in school.

I disagree. Yes for most things protocols have been developed to simplify things, but they are not binding. It is perfectly valid to run things different from the norm, assuming the process is documented.
If scientists would only stick to existing norms, new discoveries would be quite rare.

This is something I noticed, during a bachelor-level education and science education career in which I met a lot of working research scientists.
Some of them gave encouragement along these lines:  
Don't sweat the memorization and math requirements. Those are "filters" that are used to test and grade students; they're very useful in some fields, but not as important as you might think for others.
Many people working in research can go for days or months without doing higher math, or trying to memorize new technical terms.  One mathematician described an actual mathematician's working life as "you spend a lot of time imagining and visualizing problems, like trying to figure out if you can turn a basketball inside out without pinching its surface...."
You can build strong teams where members have different skills.  
The daily work of doing scientific research involves a lot of intuition, a lot of creativity, a lot of persistence and stepwise completion of repetitive tasks, and a lot of head-scratching and problem solving when things don't go the way you expected.  One research chemist said if you're not "failing" (getting results other than expected) at least 90% of the time, you're not doing cutting-edge research.  (He also said the welding and machine shop classes were the most useful part of his PhD.)
So persistence, good record-keeping, and a creative eye for new implications of funny things that happened today, can be far more important than a particular protocol.

One mentor's favorite example was a story of a screw up that changed history: Dr. Flemming was studying mold, sneezed on a petri dish, and instead of throwing it out, he documented it.  the dish in question contained penicillium, he was alert enough to notice that the bacterial colony shapes were unaffected (the other germs got knocked out of their way), and the result was penicillin and the age of antibiotics.  Fortune favors the prepared mind, but the best education makes no difference if you run your lab with your eyes shut.

Protocols are certainly critical in some forms of research, particularly applied sciences like medicine.  "Labs" like blood work or drug screens are not opportunities for creativity - they are diagnostic tools that need to be consistently performed and documented in order to serve the doctors and patients who need reliable information.  
The data you are gathering is critical to real-world, life-altering decisions for patients; and it's also part of a much larger, slower process where that data may be compared in large-scale statistical trials and models.  Gathering consistent data, or finding ways to compare different data fairly, is also critical to studying large-scale complex problems like climate change, tidal chart predictions, or new diseases.  Where complex systems affect people's lives, it's easy for small errors or assumptions to multiply into misleading results.  
Insight about these issues often come in a flash of creative inspiration, but fact-checking them can take years.  In some of these sciences, rigorous protocols are part of a respectful due diligence to protect the lives involved.  Where the data and decisions affect lives immediately, or where they may be used to mandate government regulations that affect many lives for many generations, we expect and demand more careful study from our scientific experts.  The reason we ask for scientific data, as well as public opinion or local knowledge, is that there may be many opinions, and getting it wrong could hurt many people.  Our population now moves so frequently, that traditional knowledge and rules of thumb that we learned from our parents and grandparents may not even apply to our current ecosystem or culture.  Science can help determine which of several appealing mental models is actually relevant to the current situation.

And then we go and elect politicians to run the system, regardless of the science. ;-P
4 months ago
my friend Karen points out the Yellowstone wolves results:
- re-introducing predators changed the environment.
Predators don't necessarily take a lot of big game (buffalo, elk, deer) but they do keep those herds moving more.
With the slightly reduced population numbers and greatly reduced browsing pressure, some of the wet-meadow trees started coming back. (aspen, willow).
Those are favored foods of beaver, which are pretty well able to swim away from land predators.

So not just the removal of beaver, but the removal of the predators for fur and ranch-protection, may have tipped the balance more toward  the erosion of the west.

- Fire and Grazing:
There are records of tribes lighting fires to improve grazing for their horses and herds.  (for example, a raiding party going from eastern Washington or Oregon toward Montana might light a fire behind them, to provide fresh grazing a few weeks or months later as they returned.)  I've seen grass and asparagus sprouting in August after a fire, a time I'd normally expect those plants to be dormant due to lack of water.

But 20th-century propaganda told ranchers to prevent wildfire in order to protect their rangeland heritage.
The result of fire suppression in rangelands is a lot more sagebrush (inedible or not preferred by most grazers), juniper, etc. and arguably less grass.  Sagebrush and juniper can be nearly eradicated by one good hot fire, where the grasses come back before the charcoal has even washed away.
Now, ranching has also dramatically reduced the native people-edible plants in some landscapes. Cattle eat or trample delicate plants that are edible to people, and their excrement spreads non-native grasses where once there were patches of edible flowers, herbs, and fruits.  So as we integrate prescribed fire, grazing, and native plant biodiversity in managing public lands, we may want to leave a few "control" areas adjacent to range pasture for preservation and comparison of biodiversity.

- Smoke Mitigation:
A lot of the public discussion about wildfire seasons has to do with nuisance smoke, something that affects everyone even if you live in a city where the wildlands are postcard-sized in the distance.  
Prescribed fires don't necessarily make less smoke (though arguably they do reduce the total fuels being burned by preventing catastrophic crown fires), but they do give us better chances of timing the fire so that a rainstorm will wash the air clean within a day or two after the fire.  So they can be a much shorter-term nuisance.
Natural fuels processing through community collection for clean-burning wood stoves and furnaces, and alternatives like chipping and hugel beds, makes less smoke yet.
Forest service already opens areas for firewood collection, and often targets areas that are intended for prescribed burns in coming years.  

- Human Needs and Biodiversity:
Some people think that "don't touch" should be the primary caretaking approach to wild lands.  Leave it alone, it will be fine.
But people are expanding into wilderness - often the people who love it the most are the ones doing the initial settling and damage - and there is not enough acreage left in nature reserves to maintain genetically viable populations of large wild animals.  It takes a shockingly large territory, something like 30,000 square miles per species; there is not enough planet unless those species can overlap, including overlapping with humans' "private property".
So I'm generally in favor of human lifestyles that tolerate overlap with other species, and where humans are encouraged to meet their own needs in part by removing unwanted or surplus materials from wild areas.  People who actually visit the woods to pick mushrooms or gather firewood have a lot better idea of what is going on there, a lot more reason to observe closely the details and differences in the landscape, and a lot bigger stake in stopping something destructive, than those who just look at it on camping trips or through picture windows.

When humans use wood for fuel, and picket their "home stock" nearby, there is cleared circle around every settlement.  This is similar to what's recommended in FireWise design (sometimes these circles overlap, and the woods disappears into hedgerows as in England).
When humans stop using wood for fuel, drive cars instead of riding horses, and yet insist on "leave no trace" at their mountain cabin, you see accumulations of neglected fuels around human neighborhoods.  There are propane and oil tanks for heating and cooking, creosote-soaked poles for bringing in electricity, and you see accumulations of garden litter, uneaten grass and weeds, and uneaten browse where the deer are scared away by people or dogs.  (that's on the nice, nature-loving homes... it's worse in poor areas where there is a lot of plastic litter as well.)  
There is not a lot of time to deal with the dead grass, either, because you have to drive back to town for milk, and to make the money to pay the propane bill.  
Some conscientious settlers do still mow what would formerly have been eaten, and compost or mulch what would formerly have been fuel.  
Arguably doing a specialist job and a little yard work on weekends is still less work than chopping wood, hauling water, and milking and tending cattle - but it's a different kind of work, and may feel lonelier and less healthy.

4 months ago
And I very much appreciate what Alan just said about defining "scientist."
The original science was about using the results of experience - experiment - instead of orthodoxy to determine truth or falsehood of claims.  

Scientists, artists, religious scholars, and riflemen may all have well-honed intuition.  And they may all take training from authorities and masters of their craft.
What distinguishes an effective scientist - and often an effective artist, rifleman, or minister - is that they take those lessons and impulses, and test them against actual results.  
A rifleman may believe that breathing out or holding his breath improves his aim - but he will need to practice it, and the shot groupings will prove which is more effective.  In some cases, what works best for one person or weapon may be different from another; in that case, it's still your job to do as your drill sergeant trains you (authority), but it may not truly be the best method for your best performance.  You can become a very good marksman just shooting at pine cones - but target papers give you a better way to test, and thus hone and calibrate, your best practices.

I'm enjoying the company of fire fighters partly because, like the bushmen's traditional environment, the fire ground is a field where reality can kill you if you get it wrong.  
There are good reasons for a lot of the 'orthodoxy' of these high-risk livelihoods; novices do well to follow their training and follow orders religiously.
But there's also a culture of lifelong learning, and of sharing observations, and updating the models as conditions warrant.  
By sharing observations, I'm not talking about endless discussions of theory in the field.  New fire fighters are more likely to talk a lot than older/more experienced ones.
Often the most interesting days have long periods of silence, or minimal verbal communication over the noise and confusion of events.  It's the boring days when people talk over repetitive tasks.
Talking and comparing beliefs involves sharing mental models, and as such, can be a barrier to actual observation.

4 months ago