Sunday, October 13, 2019

Longleaf Pine Needles: A Closer Look

We've been having a drought. It didn't rain all of September. The pine trees in my yard have been throwing down needles. I got a special rake just to deal with it. After I used my new rake and got the ground all nice and clean more pine straw fell. I decided to pick it up more carefully and sell it for crafts. I made a sample basket just to use in my photo of the needles.

One problem with picking up pine straw one at a time by hand is chiggers. I have several chigger bites right now and I haven't been in the woods at all. All I've done is pick up pine straw from my lawn. I'd be mortified if somebody got a chigger bite from a package I sent them. So I boil the pine straw in a concoction containing glycerin. Then I leave it in there overnight to cool off. Then I rinse the needles well and dry them in the sun. Repeat.
Boil it up
Yesterday when I was picking up the day's batch of pine straw I found 2 odd ones. They had 4 needles instead of the usual three. Then today I found 2 more odd ones. They had 2 needles. I decided I needed to look at these up close. Here is what I learned.

  1. The rough feeling edges are a badass row of spines angled toward the very sharp pointy tip.
  2. Three needle bundles are a neat triangular packing scenario. But four comes out as an overlapping pinwheel arrangement. The 2 needle one has cup shaped needles and a hole up the middle
  3. Longleaf pine needles are a helix and the number of needles = the number of turns
  4. The 4 needle pine straws are heavier per unit length than the 3 needle ones. Comparing individual needles I mean. It's not just that there's an extra one
Questions that remain unanswered:
  1. What happens that makes some pine straws have a different number of needles? Is it a recessive gene?
  2. What makes the gene expression happen? Chaos?
  3. Is it the same thing as three leaf clovers having 4 leaves sometimes?
  4. How come the number of turns in the helix equals the number of needles in the bundle? This is not a Fibonacci sequence. It's something else. Nothing I could find about helix math addresses this inside shape business.
  5. Why did I only find one paper with a cross section image of a pine needle? And it was from New Zealand. Come on!

Here are some images from my toy USB microscope
Sharp tip of a 3 needle pine straw, 10x

Spinose margin of a 3 needle pine straw, 60x

Cup shaped back side of a needle from a 2 needle pine straw, 10x

Trying-to-be-a-triangle back side of a 3 needle pine straw, 10x

Giant ridge on the back of a needle from a 4 needle pine straw, 10x

Here's some cross section images taken with my phone with a Moment Macro lens

Sections sliced with a razor blade in a drop of water

Sections through the fascicle, held together with thread and hot glue.

The helical design of the n=2 pine needles I looked at came out with decreasing pitch with the increase in number of needles.

2 needle straw, 9 1/2" long/2 turns = 4.75" pitch

3 needle straw, 10" long/3 turns = 3.33" pitch

4 needle straw, 12" long/4 turns = 3" pitch

I could examine n=15+ of 3 needles pine straws and see if pitch is consistent or if number of turns is consistent over various lengths. I'm guessing the number of turns is the same and pitch will vary with the length of the needle. But it was obvious just looking at them that the 4 needle straw is a higher pitch helix. A lot of needles I pick up seem to be more twisted though. I should see if I can tell what is different about them. I usually don't keep those as the flatter ones are nicer for coiling into a basket.

Finally I was curious about the mass per length. The 4 needle straws just feel chunkier.

12" of pine needle: 4" x 3 of a three needle straw  = 0.14 g 
vs 3" x 4 of a four needle straw = 0.16 g
(Sorry for using inches instead of cm. I measured off this cutting mat marked in inches. 12" = 30.48 cm)
3 needle straw = 0.0046 g/cm

4 needle straw = 0.0052 g/cm
This is rather meaningless with a scale only precise to 0.05 grams, but I just felt like the 4 needle straw was so much beefier I wanted to know if it was the individual needles or if it was an illusion because there was one extra.

I drew my observations so I could remember what I learned. If I find more of these aberrant pine straws I'll increase n.

**UPDATE 13 October 2019 **

I found more 2 and 4 needle pine straws today. My hypothesis about the number of needles = number of twists would appear to be false.

A days collection of 2 and 4 needle pine needles
I picked up a few hundred 3 needle pine straws and ignored thousands more. I mostly pick them up by color. I go for the brightest yellow ones because they're the freshest. UV darkens them after the chlorophyll goes away.

I have a new hypothesis about the twists. I saved 2 regular 3 needle pine straws to examine closely. One had almost no twist at all. It also had 3 distinctly different colors of needles so it was easy to verify it didn't twist. The underside of the needles seemed very symmetrical.

Needles with hardly any twist. Very symmetrical.

Trying to capture the height of the middle ridge 
I also saved a super twisty one. This one is so twisty the needles tangle up and require careful separation. 

I didn't take a photo like this of the other bundle because there was nothing to see. It was just straight.This one twists hard.

This pine straw is so twisty it was hard for me to get the needles all flat for a photo

I had to do them one at a time. See how the center rib is offset? I bet that's why it twists like crazy. You can count the rows of stomata. There are more on the left side than on the right.
I wonder if I had a good method for sealing these in their original shape and taking a cross section and a good microscope could I identify some structural component inside that would reveal the symmetry or lack of it in each bundle? I'm not sure it matters. Just basic knowledge I guess. Would be nice to know what is normal in case climate change makes something wacky happen. 

Meanwhile I'll keep stockpiling these wrong-number pine straws as I find them in case I get enough to actually constitute a statistically valid assessment. I should note I am not finding these all under the same tree. I found the two 2 needles straws on my actual front steps. The 4 needle straws I found today were in the shade on the North side of the shed. The other 2 needle straws came from over by the well. The 4 needle straws I found the day before were West of the shed and right by the steps to the lab.

Monday, September 30, 2019

It's an architectural problem

I watched the weekly diary video of SG Collins this morning and it was so concise I decided to dust off the old blog and post the links and transcribe it so I can refer back to it later.

For the sake of future me I'm also embedding the current event reference Collins is talking about. This is Greta.

And this is Collins. Rem acu tetigisti, Collins.

I've transcribed what Collins says (this is based on my limited training as an online transcriptionist where I was taught that it is ok to edit out extraneous conjunctions and mannerisms of spoken word irrelevant to the message.)

Greta I love, but based on some of the things that she says I think that she thinks that the people she’s talking to can do something. That they have the power to make change. A lot of people think that the politicians can fix it, or that world leaders can fix it. But I think that the problem that they’re trying to fix is kind of not something that any person can change because it’s institutionalized greed where there’s this sort of extra-corporeal creature that causes you to must-make-as-much-money-as-possible and to never do the right thing.
So I think she might think that people the people she’s talking to can make a difference. Maybe because I been around those people for all my life, or no, I’m sorry, I mean they’ve been around as long as I have, that it makes me think that she’s talking to the wrong people or she’s thinking of it the wrong way. 
If I could talk to Greta I would tell her that really the problem is an architectural one. The world is designed wrong. It’s designed accorded to nineteenth and twentieth century property principles. And I wish we could change that. Just change the way the world is designed so we wouldn’t be forced to do the things that people had to do because they were trying to sell cars and oil to us. But that’s just me. 
But millions of people are out in the street saying we want to change things. That can’t be bad. That has to be good. So I think it’s pretty splendid that we’ve got these young angry teenaged girls to tell us what for. Whether or not she’s that naive or if it’s me that’s naive? I don’t know.  — SG Collins 30 Sept 2019 

It was 7 years ago that I came up with the idea of doing a Small Year. My social isolation has allowed me to fend off that extra-corporeal creature as I've made only-as-much-money-as-necessary instead of as-much-as-possible. The farther I get from the more-money world the harder is is to make that necessary money. I can't make myself create things to suit other people's taste. I know that people are used to an overabundance of durable goods that cost less than than groceries. Mass produced imports are a boon to the must-make-as-much-money-as-possible world. I understand that a hand made item is inherently inefficient. I know there is little value in it as an item, but I still price things based on the idea that my time is worth something. Usually under $5/hr because I'm mostly selling prototypes, I'm not qualified for master level pricing. The value is in the making, which only the maker gets to enjoy. "People don't want to pay you for something if they think you enjoyed it" — Hank Green.

I price items just above what I think anybody will pay for them, yet still putting a much lower value on my time than I would get at a desk job. as a message to makers that what they are doing is worth something the rest of the world understands, dollars. I think of my Etsy shop as a place where people can go to steal my ideas as much as to buy something I made. Unlike sites that scrape my blogs or YouTubers who steal my videos, I don't mind if somebody looks at something I made and it sparks them to copy it for themself. (They just better not try to sell it.) I link to instructional videos for things I made right in the Etsy listings for people who want to make one themselves, if I was able to document it succinctly. And if somebody watches the video and think it looks too hard for them maybe they buy the thing from me and they can explain to admirers what was involved in making it, even if they didn't do it. I think that's important. But that's just me.

Maybe you'd like to buy something from my Etsy shop? Private URL registration is really expensive. I need the money.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pine Straw Rake Review

I ordered a Yard Tuff Pine Straw Rake from Amazon. (Not sponsored, no affiliation in any way. These are available from lots of vendors.)

When UPS brought it the box was damaged but all the parts were there. Weight: 115 pounds or so. Supposed to be 90 lbs assembled. The UPS man put it on his dolly and wheeled it into my shed for me. We tore it open and checked all 24 tines were in there and he went on about his day.

The box and everything in it smelled terrible, like Harbor Freight. I unpacked all the parts out of the contaminated box and let them air out overnight. I put the tires and the gross box out in the yard.

Sockets needed for assembly
  3/4" x 2
  9/16" x 2
  7/8" x 1
  11/16" x 1
19 mm open ended wrench
(I don't have any Imperial wrenches and this was the closest I had.)
Two ratchet handles or similar

I used an impact wrench at first but it was just loud and the nylock nuts ran the battery down fast so I went to two ratchets instead.

Theres a problem with the angle brackets that the instructions say to put on after all the tines are assembled. I used the short bolts on the first part instead of long ones that would've gotten in the way of the tine assembly. So when I got to the angle brackets I had to take out 4 bolts out of tines to get the longer bolts through the holes with the heads toward the tines and the nuts on the outside. I used the open ended wrench to hold the bolt head while I tightened those nuts down. Then I put the bolts and nuts back through the tines. Seems fine, just not how the instructions say to do it.

Don't overtighten the nuts that let the rake tilt. Don't overtighten the nuts that hold the wheels on either.

I swapped out the light weight chain it came with for a heavier welded chain I had in the shed.

Most of the assembly can be done far away from the smelly tires. I scrubbed them down with Simple Green before I put them on the rake but they still reek of rubber. I just had to hold my breath and power through.

I think it's going to work just fine. I didn't find it needed extra weight like some reviews I read. My pine straw is extra long though, and my grass is pretty sparse. I can see how a really dense lawn with shortleaf straw would behave differently. I will update this review after I use it more. It's too hot and dry to do yard work right now.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Peach Jam with Rosemary and Ginger Flavor, Multiple Batch Process

My aunt brought me a box of peaches from Barney last Friday. That's about 25 pounds. There were 79 peaches in there. I managed to use up a lot of them fresh, but 65 of them got made into jam. I made a video. (Music:

I live in a tiny house with no stove. My procedure does not comply with Georgia Cottage Food Law since I do all the cooking outdoors. I accept the risk of contaminating my product as I eat it all myself. If you have a full kitchen you can work entirely indoors for maximum food safety. And if you have a big stove you can use two burners at once and streamline your process.
Winter better be coming, because I am ready.
Recipe for two batches of jam:
On the first day:
Start a stock pot of water boiling.
Prepare an ice water bath and a bowl of ascorbic acid to reduce browning. This is for all the peaches, not split into two batches yet.
  • 4 teaspoons Fruit Fresh
  • 6 Tablespoons water
Mix in a large bowl.

Get 24 ripe peaches out of the refrigerator. Chilling them first makes this part nicer.
Drop 6 peaches into the boiling water and count to 30. Remove the peaches to the ice water bath.
Replace lid and let pot boil up while you peel the skin off the first 6 peaches. Roll them around in the ascorbic acid as you finish them. I wear food prep gloves for this part because the acid in the peaches makes my skin rough.

Repeat for all the peaches.

You get to sit down for this next part. Cut out the pits and slice up the peaches into chunks. I don't like to cut too close to the pit or it gets woody bits in the jam. Put all the peaches into the bowl with the ascorbic acid. I squeeze the pit over the bowl to get all the peach juice.
Mix the cut up peaches after every one to coat in the ascorbic acid.

After all the peaches are cut up split them between two bowls. Add flavorings (5 sprigs of rosemary and a handful of sliced ginger in each bowl. Also add a teaspoon of Angostura bitters.)
Add 1 cup of sugar to each bowl. Use this amount for each batch.
  • ~ 6 cups cut up peaches
  • 5 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 + tablespoons sliced ginger
  • 1 tsp Angustora bitters
  • 1 cup sugar
Stir, cover, and refrigerate until the next day. Stir occasionally if you think about it.

Next day:
Start sterilizing jars. You need 7 half pint jam jars per batch of peaches. This low sugar jam doesn't last long when it's opened so I try not to make jars bigger than the 1 cup size. I ran out though so I used a few full pint jars. I may use that for cake filling so it gets used up all at once.

I use a silicone trivet in the bottom of a stock pot for my canning pot. Put 7 jars in the pot and start it boiling while you work on the peaches.

Take a bowl out of the refrigerator and pick out the rosemary sprigs and as much of the ginger as you see.
Scoop the cut up peaches into a food mill with the plate with large holes. Process all the peaches to a puree.
Repeat with the second bowl of peaches.
Measure out 6 cups of pureed peaches into a bowl. Repeat with another bowl.
Add citric acid and calcium water.
  • 6 cups peach puree
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 6 tsp calcium water
Check on jars and swap first batch for second batch to get them all sterilized.

Measure sugar and pectin into 2 bowls. Each bowl gets.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp pectin
Get all jars into the pot of boiling water and set it aside.

Put one bowl of peaches into the pot. Stir over high heat until it boils. (about 8 minutes)
Add one bowl of sugar + pectin. Stir and bring to a full boil (no more than 3 minutes)
Turn off the heat.
Remove 7 jars from the pot and fill them with the hot jam.
Add hot water to the jar lids to soften the glue
Wipe down the rim of the jars with a wet paper towel and put on lids and rings. Set these jars aside.
Wash the pot, funnel, and scoop.
Start the second batch of jam.
Heat and stir to boiling,
Add sugar and pectin in the second bowl.
Boil again.
Fill jars, add lids.
Put canning pot back on to boil.
When water is boiling add the first batch of jam jars.
Time 10 minutes.
Remove jars from the water bath.
Put the next batch of jars in.
Time 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the water bath.
When all the jars have sealed, the lid has sucked down and gone PLINK! then you can unscrew the rings and dry the threads and wipe off the jars.

If you still have peaches left repeat this whole process. You already have a pot full of boiling water! You can start right away blanching more peaches. Repeat for as many days as you have peaches.

This process yields 1 half pint jam jar for every 1.75 peaches. These were quite large peaches I had this year. You can calculate your own yield after you do your first batch. I started with 17 peaches and then raised that number to 24 to make it come out even at 7 jars per batch.

Materials needed: You can get most of this stuff at Walmart. They sell the jar lifter, magnet on a stick, canning funnel, citric acid and ascorbic acid (branded as Fruit Fresh), jam jars and lids, and big plastic bowls with lids. I also got the crock pot there. My enameled cast iron jelly pot I got from Tuesday Morning.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reusing a makeup mirror if one side gets broken

My niece Brenna was here last week with my brother. He picked her up from her dorm and came straight here. In the process of rearranging their luggage before driving back home to South Florida he broke her makeup mirror. She left it here and told me to throw it away. I can't just throw something away. It has parts I can save!

It would be lovely if these lighted mirrors had a circle light inside that I could use for shooting videos. That is not the case though. It's just two 20 watt bulbs behind some extra foil on the back of the glass.

The dimmer switch only controls one of the two bulbs.

The magnifying side of the mirror wasn't broken so I put a wire between the screw holes on the frame and hung it on the wall in my lab with some LED string lights behind it. Now if I get something in my eye I can see to get it out!

I'm saving the cord, lightbulbs, and dimmer. I'll just throw these in my bin of lamp making supplies in case I ever need them for a project. NOW I can throw the rest away.