Saturday, September 28, 2013

Barley, Round 2

Well, the Autumnal Equinox has come and gone, and with it the "four-to-six weeks before first frost" mark for my area.  What does that mean?  Time to sow the winter barley!

As I write this (the 28th of September), the barley has been in the ground for just over a week.  Again, two varieties of winter barley: Maris Otter, and Halcyon.  I put down roughly 200g of each seed, using one of the garden planter-boxes.  I added a thin mulch layer, and have watered every other day for a few minutes (enough to soak the soil); I'll keep up with that watering regime (less days when it actually rains) until I start seeing reliable predictions for the actual first frost.  (About then, the grain will go 'dormant' for the winter.)

Since the seed was planted in the garden area (near the house), as opposed to out in the field ('far' from the house), I've been able to keep an eye on them.  That, and having an electric fence I can put up have made it less likely to suffer from deer predation (as happened last year).  Watching the seed chit, then sprout, then grow, has been fascinating!

Here's what we've got, a week into things:


That's the Halcyon on the left, and the Maris Otter below, on the right.  (Yes, there's a bit past the PVC pipe where it'll be hard to distinguish between them; since Halcyon is a descendant of Maris Otter, and since they're ultimately going to be malted together, I'm not terribly worried about it--I may, in fact, simply mix the two together next year.)

That looks roughly like 100% germination, or quite near enough.  If I get as good a harvest next year as I did this, I should end up with about 17lbs of each.  (Call it 15lbs, to account for inefficiencies in harvesting, etc.)  Not only would that get me set up to be "malt-sustainable" after one more harvest, it gives me more time to acquire the equipment I'll need for the larger-scale growing.

My hops didn't fare as well, this year: my "retired" Cascades are fine, but the Willamette was the only variety of "new" stuff that did well enough to give me hope for next year...  The Magnum may have survived, but the "new" Cascade and the Sterling both thoroughly croaked.  I'll replace them next spring. They'll have better access to sunlight, as I've got a number of trees to take down; I'll also be better able to "baby" them along.  (Not to mention getting them in the ground earlier than I could, this year.)

Ah, progress...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Down an Unbeaten Path (Part I)

A popular contest in the SCA Arts & Sciences community is to do a "sheep-to-shirt" project--going from raw fleece, through cleaning, combing, spinning, dyeing, weaving, measuring, cutting, and sewing, to a finished garment.  Wouldn't it be cool to do a "rock-to-cup" project?  Start with ore, smelt it, hammer it out, then work it into some type of artifact?

So, I started looking into where copper comes from.  I've got plenty, to be honest--having recently re-plumbed my house, and removed all of the old plumbing still in the basement from the last re-plumbing, there's lots of old copper pipe sitting in the Garage, awaiting its trip to the recycling facility; I could "save" some of it by melting it down myself--but I'm getting ahead of my story...

Good sources of copper ore include malachite and azurite, both semi-precious stones.  Well, not having the funds available to buy enough of either, I began casting about for alternatives.  As luck would have it, I found a YouTube video on making your own copper ore, from common household ingredients.  The process involves dissolving some root killer (copper sulfate) in water, then adding baking soda.  The sodium bicarbonate reacts with the copper sulfate to give copper carbonate, water, a little sodium sulfate, and a whole lot of CO2.  The copper carbonate crystals will precipitate and settle out of solution--and what is malachite, but copper carbonate!  A little coarse filtration and drying, and there you are.

What is required then is smelting.  Again, YouTube to the rescue!  Another couple of videos demonstrate "Bronze Age" and "Iron Age" smelting.  Dig a small hole, add a blow-tube ("truyere") with a bellows; build a charcoal fire.  When it's going well, toss in your crushed "malachite" (copper carbonate dust/powder), add a little more charcoal, then cover the whole thing (you need a reducing environment, with minimal oxygen, else you'll end up with black copper oxide).  Let it go for a few hours, working the bellows the whole time, then let the fire go out, and the whole thing can cool.  Dig through the ashes at the bottom, and hey-presto!

All of which seems a little primitive.  You can also put your ore, with a little charcoal, into a crucible, put a lid on it, and heat the whole thing up, then pour it into a mold (or cast something with it--I've got the soapstone for it...).  Much cleaner!  But I don't have a crucible... So, a little more research is in order.

(To Be Continued...)

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