Monday, May 19, 2008

Oak Galls!

This weekend Jeremy and I visited his Mom's house at the beach. We visit there a lot and even had a garden there last year which was producing food until late September. I couldn't eat a tomato all winter because ours were so good, nothing could measure up! On Saturday we decided to plant another garden there, just for fun. We planted tomato, watermelon, cantaloupe, and squash. So now whether we are at home or visiting their house we have something to tend to! We only spent $10 total! Basically we just bought the plants at the nursery up the road. We went out into the woods to collect bamboo for the tomato supports, and we collected pine straw from underneath one of the trees for mulching the space next to the garden. A very large wolf spider jumped on me and I shrieked like a little girl. It was fun. Gardening always makes me feel really good.

While in the yard we found an oak gall. Oak galls, like walnuts, have been used in ink recipes for centuries. They typically produce a blue-blackish ink. This ink can be highly corrosive, eating through paper (which looks really lacy and amazing but is an conservator's nightmare) and metal nibs. Jeremy and I made some of this ink in graduate school, and it was beautiful. Unlike walnuts (which you pretty much just boil the heck out of and strain), galls need to be soaked for a few days and they need some sort of iron oxide to further the color. We used rusty scraps of metal to get ours going. Walnut ink is definitely more accessible & easier to make. But its really interesting to research old inks and understand how they were made. Many of these old inks have unique recipes that sound a lot like making beer or moonshine where the ink would sit for months and 'brew' until it was the proper color. So... go look outside, you might have an oak tree or a walnut tree in your backyard - free art supplies waiting to be made! I know we need to make a new batch of our own walnut ink soon!


p.s. If you are wondering how Galls are made:

Galls are irregular plant growths which are stimulated by the reaction between plant hormones and powerful growth regulating chemicals produced by some insects or mites. Galls may occur on leaves, bark, flowers, buds, acorns, or roots. Leaf and twig galls are most noticeable. The inhabitant gains its nutrients from the inner gall tissue. Galls also provide some protection from natural enemies and insecticide sprays. Important details of the life cycles of many gall-makers are not known so specific recommendations to time control measures most effectively are not available.

Gall makers must attack at a particular time in the year to be successful. Otherwise, they may not be able to stimulate the plant to produce the tissue which forms the gall. Generally, initiation of leaf galls occurs around "bud break" or as new leaves begin to unfold in the spring. (from the University of Kentucky Entomology website)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who's Your New Professor?

Please congratulate Allyson when you get the chance... she is now an Assistant Professor of Art at James Madison University. This is a big deal. She is now on a tenure track and has some job security, health insurance, an office, and a real computer! It is a really great job and she got this job in a really tough economy and in a very competitive field. Give her the thumbs up and tell her to take a bow.
Love, Jeremy


Today seems to be the first day of spring. We were psyched out in April with a stint of 80 degree days. The past 3 days have been in the 40's/50's during the day and 30's/40's in the evening. It has felt more like the tail end of winter, and it has definitely been a tricky time to start a garden. We have wanted to start an organic garden like last summer but with our current living situation we will be moving at the beginning of July. On Monday we built some small wooden boxes to house our new mobile/moveable garden. Today we painted the boxes with Zero VOC wall paint and planted our new organic garden. We are growing Tomatoes (Mr. Stripey, Cherokee Purple, Black Prince), Broccoli, Cabbage, Squash, and Zucchini. Right now we only have 2 tomato plants, 4 broccoli stalks, 4 cabbage heads started and in boxes. We plan on building one more box tomorrow with recycled wooden palettes for the squash and zucchini. We are trying to make this garden pay off. Currently we have invested $20 in lumber, $10 on plants (purchase from local growers), and $15 on dirt. I hope this garden will be productive enough to cover our expenses. The time is pleasure for us as we are bored out of our minds in Harrisonburg. This town is pretty boring if you are not a mennonite or a person who enjoys the smell of dog food and likes shopping at walmart (or shopping at all). The town goes through somewhat of a transformation after school gets out... about 14000 people leave the city, traffic gets better... but it is so beat. We are trying to find a cure for our boredom and stay positive as long as we are in H-burg proper. We are looking forward to finding a place to live in Charlottesville (or surrounding areas) and lay down some roots (ours and our garden's). It will be extra nice next year because although we will be commuting a little ways to JMU, we will feel like we are in a community at work and where we live (instead of just at work).