Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gopher Battle Royale

Current Count -

Gophers - 0 / Brian - 2

Preamble -

This is my gopher killing log. This truth which ought to be self-evident; that gophers are the bane of the garden, bring limitless destruction, and as a result, should be exterminated with extreme prejudice at any and all opportunities, this truth is the justification for these seemingly genocidal activities. By posting the gory, graphic details of these battles, I lay myself completely helpless before the gnashing teeth of gopher law should they ever become the dominant specie on this rock we inhabit. Until such a time, I have faith that my actions will be justified by the improvement in garden production and reduction of a garden frustration.

Article I - History of gopher malfeasance and justification of extermination

Gardening in an organic community garden is a frustrating endeavor for many reasons. Some of the most remarkable frustrations are: bermuda grass, disease load in the soil, hippies, and vegetable theft. These irritations are all addressable through work, building and maintenance of soil, and liberal application of shotgun. The largest remaining problem in the organic community garden is the gopher.

The gopher inevitably strikes a garden from deep underground, burrowing toward the tender root of a vegetable mere hours from ripeness. There is some signal which plants release as their fruit become perfect for picking that draw the rodents in from miles around. The gophers have different strategies for ruining a vegetable garden. In many cases, a plant with a full load of some deliciousness will inexplicably wither and dry up, the result of having only the roots chewed off. Other times, a four foot tall plant will start disappearing into the earth and after just a few minutes, only an inch of vegetation is left.

A special favorite target of the malicious gopher community is the sulfuric root vegetables, most notably garlic and onions. Garlic and onion are particularly vexatious due to their long growing period and the strength of the signal they send out to the gophers. These plants must be sown in the fall and are tended throughout the winter, when the weather is particularly unpleasant, so that when the spring thaw arrives, they can fatten up and become the vegetables we know. As they become ripe, due to their particularly strong disposition, gophers can smell them and will burrow through hell and back to get at the roots.

After years of losing significant produce to the gopher population, it is necessary now to go beyond the typical methods of discouragement (such as flooding the holes, bringing in cats, and playing loud music), and set a course for liberation of the garden plot from these fiends. As there are no catch-and-release cages in the market for gophers, and due to the strong karma implications of releasing gophers into someone elses plot, the only reasonable alternative is gopher extermination.

Article II - Methodology

It is important to hit the gophers in their position of strength, and use their own defense mechanisms to effect their downfall. To this end, a collection of traps knows loosely as macabee style (henceforth referred to simply as macabees), are used.

Identification of gopher routes is very important, as the effectiveness of the macabees is highly dependent on placement. The mounds of dirt that we typically associate with gophers are usually poor places to set traps, as they represent the ends of a gopher tunnel, a location used only for deposition of dirt from deeper tunnels or as a point of attack on garden plants. That said, the mounds of dirt often can lead back to major thoroughfares or habitat locations, though significant excavation is required.

In general, upon seeing gopher mounds in the garden, the preferred method of attack is to use a regular spade shaped shovel and dig a hole centered on the mound, about 1 foot in diameter and 2-3 feet deep. It is important to dig the sides cleanly, i.e. cut into the side and move the dirt directly away from the side, to avoid compressing the tunnel openings and obscuring the gopher tracks. Digging such a large hole may seem overzealous, but it has two purposes. First, the goal of the hole is to find the major gopher route, and these are often 2-3 feet deep. Second, once you find the major route, having a large opening makes setting macabees straight forward and the open air will drive the gophers to investigate (more on this later).

Here is an image of a hole which was successful in uncovering a gopher lair and resulted in a gopher death. The hole is about 2.5 feet deep, there was a tunnel very near the bottom which lead into the lair, and a tunnel which led up to the surface (and some plants he'd eaten) on the other side. Once the hole was found, it was slightly enlarged by excavating the sides and top of it with a trowel. This allows the macabee to slide easily in and out of the hole and gets the gopher hoppin' mad in the process. To try and close up this newly enlarged hole, the gopher will attempt to push dirt out the opening and blockup the works. This of course, is the action the trap uses to trigger and get the sucker.

All gopher hunting methods require going from an obvious sign back to a major travel route. Often in hard soil, this can be accomplished with a hand trowel by simply lifting the roof off the tunnel and following several feet back to a cross tunnel. As the dirt gets softer and easier to dig, the gophers will move deeper and the hunt will require larger tools.

Often you will find a thoroughfare which leads off in two different directions. In this case, since you don't know where the gopher may attack from, it is advisable to place a macabee in each hole. It is IMPORTANT that you tie off the macabees with string or wire, as the gophers reaction to getting caught is back-pedaling, and the traps can disappear if you don't have them fixed to something solid.

Article III - Implements of Destruction

The tools used in gopher warfare are simple and direct. The most basic tool required is a shovel. More than a few gophers have been caught by simply inserting a shovel into the tunnel behind them as they chew on some delectable plant, then stomping or kicking them when they try to make a break for it.

For gophers not present, a trap is easier than waiting for the pesks return. The macabee trap is a simple wire device with a spring loaded set of jaws locked into the trigger paddle by a long wire. When the gopher hits the trigger paddle, the long wire is loosened and the jaws snap shut, usually crushing the gophers lungs and causing asphixiation.

The only other tools required are a long thin stick or piece of bamboo for probing tunnel locations, a trowel for preparing holes for macabees, and a pair of special gopher gloves. The gloves are important because some wily elder gophers are attuned to the scent of humans and will avoid traps. Get a pair of gloves, crush up some garlic cloves and wipe the garlic oil around on the gloves and on the macabees while you're at it. Try to keep those gloves separate from the everyday ones and only use them for the hunt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Norf Carolina

This weekend is the wedding of my best friend from Willits, Malanyon, to his fiancee, Sarah, and I'm out here in North Carolina with them a few days early to help as I can. I'll be fulfilling best man duties for Malanyon, so I've got to come up with some witty things to say about him both during the ceremony and afterwards, at the dinner.

Since arriving on Tuesday, we've been running around like chickens with out heads trying to get things organized. First stop Wednesday morning was the folks with the meat. The plan was to get a bunch of pork loins for Michael, a friend from New Zealand who's a bit nutty and prone to fits of passion about Malanyon's lack of preparation. Michael is going to be cooking up the meat for the wedding dinner, which started off as a pulled pork sandwich line with Tam's homemade rolls. The wrench was thrown in when a bunch of the good ol' NC folks offered up some lambs to help feed everyone. Now Michael is in a constant fit of passion, cursing and swearing and tearing about as he attempts to figure out cooking up three lambs and a random assortment of pig meat. (I secretly think that Malanyon likes getting Michael riled up).

After the fairly fruitless meat-fact-finding trip, in which we got promised a bushel of lamb and a pile of pork, we met up with Sarah and with Tam and Kashaya, we all headed over to Sam's club for supplies. Since Tam's making the rolls for the sandwiches, and Kashaya is making desserts (Tira Misu and Lemon Bars), we bought about 120 pounds of cooking ingredients in addition to the necessities for the next several days leading up to the wedding. By the time we left, the cart was over-flowing and nearly impossible to move.

Today (being Thursday), I hung out with Malanyon, his soon-to-be sister-in-law Kate, and her children Alex and Chad. Alex is four years old and has more energy than the sun. She bounced off the walls like energy was going out of style for a full twenty four hours after arriving on Wednesday. Half a day was all I could handle of such energy abundance so I left to work on the photo slideshow I'm making for the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night. It's now 2am and I'm tired, so I'm going to sleep. Woo!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Celebration Preparation Explanation

In preparation for our annual fiesta of going straight to heck (because Jebus doesn't like it too much when people take jello shots in his name), we spent all morning putting the goodies together for tomorrow. The two productions were the classic hard-boiled eggs and the noveau 43 kinds jello shot (actually only 3).


We like to use the hard-boiled eggs technique from cooks illustrated. Put the eggs in water, bring it to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, let sit in hot water for 10 minutes, then straight into cold water to stop the cooking. They always come out delicious, not overly dry nor goopy in the middle. And check out the color that this simple process makes them.
Just kidding, Marion dyed them using food color and vinegar, something on the order of 20 drops of your favorite color, 1 cup water, and a tablespoon of vinegar. Put the eggs into the colored mixture until they look like the right color, and viola! Easter eggs. In the past, we've drawn on the eggs before dying them with Crayons in neat patterns, the dye doesn't go where the wax from the crayons is, so you end up with multi color designs.


We made up four flavors of jello, three of them with alcohol and a virgin batch (not shown) for the kids. One of the flavors was a hold over from last year, the margarita, and the other two are new adventures, orange dreamsicle and raspberry coconut.
The general guideline for jello shots that I'm following is to mix the jello with the called for amount of boiling water (to get it dissolved) and then add a combination of liquor and water for the cold addition. The combination of liquor and water is based on the strength of the liquor. Basically, the amount of alcohol by volume can't exceed 20%, so if you're using straight vodka at 80 proof (where 80 proof = 40%), then you'd use 1/2 vodka, 1/2 water for the cold portion of the jello recipe. Note that this would taste awful and get you shnookered pretty quick, so you'd probably want to consider watering it down even more.

We use a package of lime jello, it calls for 2 cups boiling water and two cups cold water on the package. We dissolve the jello in two cups boiling water (stir for 2 min), then squeeze in the juice from two limes, add about 1/2 cup of triple sec, somewhere around a cup of tequila, and fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Orange Dreamsicle:
Orange jello, dissolve the jello in two cups boiling water, add about 1/2 cup triple sec, somewhere around 3/4 of a cup of vanilla vodka, and fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Raspberry Coconut:
We weren't sure how this would turn out, but we used the ol' saying "coconut rum tastes good with everything" to convince ourselves it would work. And it does.
Raspberry jello, dissolve jell in two cups boiling water, a splash of amaretto (which is entirely unnecessary if you don't have it around), and nearly two cups of coconut rum because it's only 20% abv. Fill up to the four cup line with cold water.

Virgin Black Cherry:
We decided to make some for the kids, so we made up black cherry jello, but put in club soda instead of cold water for the last two cups. It didn't taste very fizzy when we poured into the cups, but hopefully there will be a little sparkle once the jello is set, I'll report back.

The jello shots are destined to go inside of large plastic easter egg shells so the critters don't get in them while they're hidden. Last year, this worked so well that we found jello shots that looked edible months after the party (I couldn't quite bring myself to try them, however). If you ever wanted to know what it's like inside an easter egg, here's the view from a jello shot's perspective.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


The great M and I went to Tahoe this weekend to test our luck at snowbirding**. What's snowbirding? Well, let me tell you!!! The basic premise is to go to an area with lots of snow... what's that now, you live in India and you don't know what snow is? Listen punk, just fix the credit card so I can rent a frickin' snowboard, OK?

SO... it was very nice this weekend and we had two excellent days snowbirding, the first at Sugar Bowl and the second at Squaw Valley. Both days the mountain was pretty empty, undoubtedly the result of nice summer weather down the hill. The days started out pretty brisk, all the runs except the freshly groomed areas were very icy until the sun got them thawed out. Towards afternoon, it warmed up and both days got into the high 40's or low 50's which meant the snow got "corny" on top of the hills and slushy at the bottoms.

On Saturday at Sugar Bowl, we started by doing warm up runs on the Jerome Hill lift, then cruised over to Christmas Tree, Mt. Lincoln up to the tippy top, and long, leg-burning traverse to Mt. Disney lift, and a pretty rough ride (it was icy and super choppy) down to lunch. A bit of tasty burger in the belly and we were off again. I think in the afternoon, we started at the west side of the resort and worked our way back across all the lifts and many of the runs off each lift, ending up in the terrain park. I tried going off a jump, very successfully I might add, but forgot about landing it and ended up with a bruised bum.

Sunday we went to Squaw Valley, it's an immense place and has enough ski runs that you can get lost quite easily. Fortunately, Marion's uncle has been there a time or two and was able to guide us from trail to lift to trail. We went straight to the top, then skittered down a couple of steep icy faces. Moving over to the south facing slopes worked out pretty well, as the ice quickly turned into a light slush with the addition of sun. We took a half dozen runs before lunch (Marion got a delicious fish burrito, who knew, fish at 7800 feet), then spent the remainder of the day traversing the entire resort, much as we'd done Saturday at SB.

We gave up a little early, due to the drive home, and by 4pm (after waiting around for half an hour for Marion's brothers to pack up their crap), we were on the road. Back at home, a beer, two advil, and I'm ready for sleep.

Oh, and for those who don't know what a tree well is (and you know who you are), this is the basic idea, though obviously it's at the base of a lift pole instead of a tree. The idea is that the tree (or pole) has a deep ring around it that is really sucks to fall into. The mechanism for making the ring is probably well known by someone, but my guess is that the tree has a microclimate warm enough to melt some of the snow under it.

**This is basically the story that Marion tells about the time she tried to rent some gear and ended up trying to explain the concept of snowboarding to some customer service person from India.

Sugar Bowl


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Twittin' in the wind

I have to admit that I've gone and done a terrible, unthinkable thing. I joined up on the twitter bandwagon, possibly before everyone has, but certainly after most people have. I even heard that one of the random crappy radio stations that I flip through has a twitter stream, as I dialed past it on my drive this morning.

Having a twitter account is bad in and of itself, as I legitimately feel no one in their right mind would care what I'm doing on a day to day basis, much less hour to hour, or minute to minute, or (god forbid I should use my time so foolishly) on a second to second basis. The really bad part, and the reason I didn't jump on the bandwagon months ago, is that I don't have any way of reading the twits outside of the intarweb. I can't afford a data plan on a phone, much less one of those telephones with an 8"x10" color glossy screen. Yet here I am, riding along on the wagon just because I'd feel out of the loop. Who the heck knew about a ford fiesta before whitscott?

The even worse part is now I'm going to think about whether I need to get a phone and a data plan. I don't need to, obviously, but I'm still going to ponder the possibility. Most likely, I'll do a half-way compromise and get something like the ipod touch which can, mas 0 menos, act like an iphone when I'm around internet connections, which is nearly all the time. Oh wait, I have one of those, it's my computer. Crap. No toys for me.