Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Global Bucket idea..

This is a fairly commonly known about thing on the internet now, but pretty unknown to me up until I got my Earthbox and started reading up on sub-irrigated planters. The idea is, you have a container that holds a soil-less mixture to root your plant that sits on top of another container that holds a reservoir of water to supply a constant feed of water to the first bucket. This idea keeps a constant, regulated amount of water available to the plant always, so you don't get swings of a lot of water, followed by a drying out of the soil, and over and over.. this swing in moisture level is more a problem in some plants than others, namely the tomatos I've got going on the back deck in the containers. This yo-yo-ing effect is what I believe is causing my Blossom End Rot problem. This is how I built this so-called Global Bucket (Global Bucket - Earthbox, get it?), following some ideas I got online:

Take two buckets of the same type, one that fits neatly inside the other, like these two. Drill a hole in the bottom somewhere to fit in your wicking cup. I used a 2.5" hole saw I got from Commando Rob (thanks!) to do this..

Make this hole so a standard sized plastic cup (wicking cup mentioned above..) will fit neatly in it, up to the rim of the cup.

Then, drill a zillion holes in the bottom of the bucket. This is to give breathability to the roots, as well as drainage.

Cut slots in the cup, like this:

Get yerself a piece of PV pipe and hack a 45 degree angle in one end, so the pipe is just long enough to fit out through the top of the bucket with the angled part to the bottom. This will be your fill pipe. The angle is so the water can get out through the bottom with no blockage issues, like a flat bottom pipe might cause. Next, cut a hole in the bucket lid, sorta like this one that you see here.. Normally, had I grown the tomato from a seedling, I'd have cut smaller hole in the bucket top, not one so large as this, but I was going to stuff one of my already full sized plants into this bucket, so I had to do a huge hole in the top.

All together, the thing sorta looks like this:

Put your one bucket into the other bucket and drill a drainage hole, just below the bottom of the upper bucket (the one with all the holes in the bottom). This allows the bucket reservoir to be filled to the highest point without overflowing and totally soaking the soil-less mix of the upper bucket. That black line indicates where the bottom of the inside bucket comes down to..

Now, you pack the soil-less potting mix well into the blue cup as seen above, and then lightly pack the rest of the bucket with the mix afterwards. Stick your plant in there and then seal the thing all up with a piece of plastic, like this:

Now, had I grown this from seed or small plants in here, it would look nicer, but I had to hack it a little cause I've got a fully grown plant that I had to get into there. Now, the whole thing is like a sealed up, closed system. The fill pipe is used to fill the lower bucket reservoir with water until you see water start to leak out the hole you drille in the side of the bucket. This way, you cannot overfill the water and drown the plant. It's also stupid-easy to properly water all of these containers, as you don't have to sit there and tediously fill dirt filled pots from the top anymore. Just fill the reservoir and be done with it. The blue cup with the soil inside and all the slots on the outside gathers the water from the bottom reservoir, cause it's the only thing submerged, and wicks it up into the soil-less mix in the upper bucket where your plant is (this won't work with standard dirt, roger?). This way, you always have moist rooting soil, but not over watered, and not under watered. The slow release fertilizer you put into the upper bucket, just under the plastic wrapping keeps seeping nutrients into the mixture slowly over time, and the plant grows without competition from weeds.

So far, this thing has kept the above-seen tomato alive for three days, and the soil-less mix at the top of the bucket always feels just barely moist.. but not wet and sopping. So far, it usually drops down about half of the reservoir, so it looks like I could go about two days between waterings, but it's so easy to do, I'd rather not chance it.

We'll keep ya posted on this thing as we go along.. I hope to have a bunch more of them for next year's deck tomato's too.. these regular buckets just stink in comparison.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Brutal Truth: Don's vintage Saison

Heh heh... yet again, another one on the chopping block. Comando Don brings us one of his babies in the form of Saison. A* vintage* Saison. To the tune of about 18months old, he tells me. Yikes! But isn't this one of those beers you're supposed to drink young, fresh.. like, right NOW after brewing? Sure, typically. But you know Don.. he's always been a bit slow, and thus his delivery took the better part of, well.. the amount of time I've probably known him! Damn, kid! Anyway, here's a pic:

And, crazy as this sounds, he also brought the original recipe! Not KFC, but Antique Saison! Dig it:

In the bottle, it's a standard bottle conditioned thing, appropriately filled and looks good. It pours into the glass (in this case, my standard Dogfish 22oz snifter) as a orangey-ish, brilliantly clear beer. The head is present, stil there now about 10 minutes in, and persistent, but not 'rocky' as one might expect. It's laving a clinging lace, though.. dig that, Sarah? Belgian lace. Appearance: I'm thinking 3/3. It looks good, and that's what appearance is about.

In the nose, I'm getting a nice, but light, orange hint, and it took me a minute to place this, but black pepper. A smarter man would have looked at the original recipe first, but I'm trying to do this without the recipe first to see what I detect, and we'll look at the recipe later. There is a definite sweetness in the arome still, and it's delicious.  Aroma: 8/12 This could be a better score here, because the smells are all right, but they're not *big* enough, I think. Keep in mind, this beer is a bit old.. things have faded, I'm sure. 

In flavor, a zingy attack on the tip of the tongue is the first things noticed. The next thing you get is a big black pepper taste. Now I'm certain there's black pepper in here. It's almost exactly like my own, just recently kicked keg of black pepper pale ale. I really liked that beer, and I'm really liking this beer now, too. I'm also picking up a hint of that same orange peel flavor too. I wanna say there's another, underlying spice in here as well, but the pepper is crushing the life out it, it and I can't tell what it is. It's giving a layering effect to this beer, adding complexity, so I appreciate it's presence. There's a distinct bitterness, but I'm losing all traces of the hops that might once have lived here in actual flavor. This is an exceptionally made beer. I could drink this all day. I am not a fan of traditional, dry saisons however.. so I think the slight residual sweetness still left in this beer is boosting it up in my favor. I give this brew a 15 of 20. It's *that* good. 

Mouthfeel. Hmm.. highly carbonated is the beer I have in hand. It's got a definite medium body. The residual sugars that I like in the flavor work somewhat against it in this department though, as far as the descriptors go, though.  I'm thinking 3/5 is appropriate.

Overall, this is a very good beer. To score better, it needs to dry out a bit more, and be served fresher to perserve more of what hop character might have been in there earlier in it's life. At the end here, I'm actually getting a little stickiness stuck to my lips from the still existing sugars in here, which is out of character for a beer of this style. I'm thinking 7/10 is real. 

Total 36/50. Snap!

After effect:

OK, let's check the recipe. I know, I know.. you're saying "dude, you scanned the recipe, you must have loked at it already while doing this review.." Well, no. I didn't. We're looking now, though. According to this, it's an EXTRACT BEER! GAH! ;-) Kidding. It says he used Light DME for the base, mostly.. hmm. that might explain the residual sweetness and the remaining sugars, sure. More pilsner malt would probably help with this. The 60L crystal worked against him, too.. both in sugars and possibly the base color, if you wanted to get it a little closer to an accepted Saison color, which are typically a bit ligher that this. More interestingly, an English ale yeast was used for this. Snap! That'll kick your shin while trying to dry out a beer too.. so, change that up for a more highly attenuating Belgian variety, and this would probably have been a 40 pointer, in my book! There's that black pepper and Orange Peel I tasted.. but it was the Coriander I missed. 

Seriously, this is good stuff. Don, you got any left? Bring it to a Commando's meeting and let some others try this. Really nice!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Captain Lawrence & hot stuff..

The Krausen Commandos invaded New York the other day for a trip to Captain Lawrence brewery, and met with Scott Vaccaro there, the owner and head brewer of the joint. A few of the boys listened to him on the Brewing Network's podcast a while back and felt like we already knew the guy.. nice fellow. He gave us a personal tour of the place and answered any questions we had.. which weren't that many, really.. hell, we all know what's going on in a brewery at this point. At the end of the tour, he even poured us a couple sample beers. Here he is doing just that. He's the one in the center:

They did have some cool toys there at Captain Lawrence.. their bottling line machine was especially nice, for instance. Here's Commandos Jody, Timmay and Geoff, all greedily eyeball it.

They also had a thing I've never seen in any other brewery before, which is a whirlpool tank. I've heard of combo boil kettles/whirlpools, but this was the first stand-alone whirlpool I've ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this thing, but then again, it's just a big steel tank. Not much to look at, but still, neat stuff.

This is me, hugging a two year old batch of an as yet unreleased Sour Gold beer these guys have been storing in this huge barrel. I am so jealous.

We also went to this tiny little brewpub in Peekskill, called the Peekskill Brewpub. Shocking, eh? Funny place. It had Westchester, NY pricing on the food and beer, but the beers were all solid, and they had an impressive lineup of guest beers too. I have one of theirs, the Peekskill Steam Beer (I forget the actual name of what they called it) but that's what it was, and I had a Green Flash Double Chocolate stout, too. Also delicious.

In other news, yesterday, my dad forked over a 5 inch long, 1 inch diameter chunk of horseradish he got from a friend of his from somewhere. I should have taken a picture of it, but I failed. It's kinda ugly. I was too excited to get working on it that I forgot to snap a pic. In any case, I went right in and peeled the outside layer off with the vegetable peeler, and then chopped it up with a knife into little finger sized pieces, which I then threw into the handi-chopper. From there, it was but a 20 second blast in the chopper until I pulled the lid off to find finely grated up pieces of horseradish. Nice! A little snip here from the Wiki to clarify this next point:

"The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, enzymes from the damaged plant cells break down sinigrin (a glucosinolate) to produce allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil), which irritates the sinuses and eyes. Once grated, if not used immediately or mixed in vinegar, the root darkens and loses its pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter when exposed to air and heat."

With that, I knew I had to wait a few seconds before I doused it with vinegar to counteract the nuclear process of the horseradish heating up from exposure.. so, I took this moment of relaxation time to lean in and give the mixture a little sniff.

That was a mistake.

The resulting agony was almost indescribable, and I would not recommend doing that. Ever. Coming from a person who loves horseradish, drinks hot sause, and laughs at spicy foods, I assure you, this was a rather painful experience. When I recovered and could see fairly well a bit later, I tossed some vinegar into this mix to bring the evil to a stop, and added a pinch of salt as well. A taste of it revealed a really nice overall flavor and level of heat. I can't believe how easy that was! First try, perfection. This is what I ended up with:

It gave me a half of an 8oz jar of the stuff I had literally just ran out of the day before that I got at the store. So, I just refilled the jar and I'm back in business for a couple weeks. I'm really looking forward to my fall harvest of my plant, now.

Speaking of my plant, I went out there last night around 2230 hours and checked for slugs. I've heard of this hand picking technique before, but never tried it.. didn't think it was gonna be all that productive, really.. and I have thus far failed to put out the tray of beer like I did last year that *did* work pretty good. I actually ended up catching and banishing *12* slugs to the Jar Of Death. I was quite happy with my death toll, and slept well last night knowing there's be that much more leaf material still on my plants in the morning. I will probably hunt again tonight, it gave so much satisfaction. ;-)

Also in the Hot Stuff news reel.. I did a fun thing with some Jalapeno's I picked the other day. I took like, 5 good, big green ones, and sliced them up into rings, like you'd get int he store. I threw 'em into a tupperware bucket and covered 'em with vinegar and left 'em in the fridge for a couple days. The venegar sucked the heat out of the seeds and infused everything in there with heat.. and now the rings themselves are damned hot. Delicious, and damned hot.

..that's them, right there. I just ate one, in fact, cause they smell so good.. and now I'm on fire. So, for dinner tonight, I'll have a turkey sandwich with some homemade horseradish on one side and some of these pepper rings on the other. And maybe I'll live to tell the tale..

Carry on..