Monday, June 30, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Dada

Dada is a undiscovered masterpiece despite it being the third album Alice doesn't remember recording. This was to be the final album under his contact with Warner Brothers and they gave him the money not really expecting an album in return. Instead Cooper brought back Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner who sent Cooper "to the woodshed" over and over again until he returned with lyrics that were up to snuff. Scratch that. These lyrics are brillian! Played almost entirely on the Fairlight CMI, an early digital sampler, the album sound is lean yet orchestral and completely different from anything Alice has done before or since. It is a dark, textured, and unnerving collection of songs. Part of the discomfort stems from the "cerebral" lyrics that explore psychological themes and use ambiguity to play with your head. The album was released in 1983 and never toured. Instead Alice went back into rehab to fight for his sobriety and to win back his estranged wife who had filed for divorce.

The album begins with the cinematic "Da" whose instrumental first half is downright creepy! It may be the sample of the baby saying "Dada" that repeats every so often, the tubular bells, the unnerving low buzzing synth tones, or the eerie melody but it all works together perfectly. When the words begin it's Cooper as a character talking to his shrink and there's some confusion on his part as to if he has a son or a daughter, revealing that something is definitely not right with only a very few words. "Enough's Enough" is part two, a rocky exploration of a father and son that makes the label "dysfunctional" seem like a trip to Disneyland. "When my mother died / She laid in bed and cried/ 'I'm going to miss you my brave little cowboy.' / I saw my father smile / A smile he tried to hide / He told me, 'Son, I've really got you now, boy.'" Whatever that means it is totally messed up! The last piece of the trio, "Former Lee Warmer"*, is probably about a dead brother who is kept upstairs in the attic: "No dreams go in / No dreams go out / of the hole in his wrinkled head." And maybe he isn't dead because the singer can hear him up there playing. Starting with hushed pizzicato strings the entire song is very orchestral and masterfully composed and executed**. Near the end there is an all-too-brief instrumental passage every bit as good as those found on Welcome To My Nightmare.

Alice had to break the tension with some humor and the next few songs serve the purpose well. "No Man's Land" is the story of a guy playing Santa at a mall when a young woman comes on to him. It's upbeat and bright, almost cheery, but Wagner's sizzling guitar solo steals the show from an otherwise very well written song. "Dyslexia" is synthy and bouncy with a chorus of "Is dis love? Or is dyslexia?" No idea what it means and it sounds completely unlike an Alice Cooper song but it's a whole lotta fun! "I Love America" is good for one listen per decade with Alice playing the part of an uber-patriotic used car salesman who "love[s] that mountain with those four big heads" in addition to Velveeta on Wonderbread and commies, "if'n [they're] good and dead." If you've a hankerin' for a middle eastern heavy metal song about a pair of seductive sisters then look no further than "Scarlet and Sheba." Very nice guitar tones on this one and Cooper is able to evoke a suggestive, sinister tone without being explicit.

The album closes with a one-two punch sure to leave the listener dazed and bruised. "Fresh Blood" could be a Peter Gabriel song with synth horns, ethnic hand percussion, and a solid groove that borrows a bit from Steely Dan. The lyrics are in the first person concerning a miscreant who prowls the streets at night looking for showgirls, businessmen, cops on the beat, anyone who can provide fresh blood. The last song, "Pass the Gun Around," is achingly sad. A soft caliope opens the story of "Sonny" who needs a shot of vodka upon waking in an unknown hotel room with a stranger in his bed. The song bursts open with organs, a choir, and a change to first person. When Cooper sings "I've had so many blackout nights before / I don't think I can take this anymore" there's such anguished emotion in his voice that you know he's no longer singing about a character***. The song builds into a dramatic instrumental section where Wagner is able to stretch out and play one of the finest guitar solos of his career. It's a shame so few have heard it because Warner Brothers, not even expecting an album**** did nothing to promote this album.

Rank: Essential Cooper

* Formerly Warmer. Or Formerly Warner, concerning his record label.

** Ezrin had recently completed Pink Floyd's The Wall so much of that vibe stayed with him.

*** Trying to describe the excruciating pain of this song to an oblivious classmate in junior high is my first memory where words completely failed to capture what music easily could.

**** And with Cooper drying out.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Worlds Most Expensive Vegetables - Part 12

I skipped a week. So sue me.
I'll make up for it in pictures. Here's an overall picture where it's more difficult to see the weeds. You also can't see the cucumber bugs that are eating and mating on the melons, cucumbers, and squashies. You can't see them now either 'cause I've been out at 10:00 the last few nights with a flashlight, catching them doin' the dirty and executing them on the spot. Is nothing sacred? The first night that I counted there were close to 200 that perished but last night's battle count was under fifteen. For some reason they really like yellow crookneck squash. Not pictured is the only expense these past two weeks... a $12 Burbank plum tree which makes my total an even $500. However I didn't know that plums need a second variety so this fall I'll shop around for a Santa Rosa and this summer I'll cut down a dead tree to make room for the newest member of the family.
The great news is that the garden has started producing! For a few weeks the sugar snap peas have been limping along and more than once I've caught one of the younger kids eating a pea pod. Not a sugar snap pea but a regular pea pod full of plump uncooked peas. Weirdos. The strawberries are also revving up, though the berries are on the small side. And look at those lovely beets! I cooked up the yellow and one red last night and they were delicious! The other two red will be turned into beet chips for my lovely bride. This very early marconi pepper was sacrificed to my stomach so the plant could focus it's attention on bigger and better things (that will go into my stomach).

Plump Carrot

Here's the ol' carrot patch! Although I tried to be careful in watering the seeds tended to float away from the center. There shall be thinning in their future but for now the vacated center is being used as a second beet crop to be turned into tasty chips. And here's the first full grown carrot, a plump parisian! That was fast! I'll certainly be adding many more of these soon.

Onto the experiments! The "raised bed" box for melons is working splendidly, though it does nothing to keep the cucumber bugs at bay. And although not an official experiment, I found that the sweet potatoes that were under black plastic are growing much better than the ones without, though I have no idea how they manage to get water.

 Meanwhile, back at Compost Central, the watermelon is going gangbusters. At least I think it's a watermelon. I'll be surprised if it really grows something because it's likely the spawn of some melon grown in much warmer climates. And how about them taters? These have surprised me, growing like, er, weeds! I had some wire fencing that I made into cages and have been adding dirt as they've grown. I'm not sure but I think the wire fence came with my first house, purchased twenty odd years ago. It's from K-Mart and was made in the U.S.A.

Another surprise is the lone plant started from seed months and months ago. While not as big as the goliaths purchased at the store, the plant is taking off quite nicely. I might even get some heirloom tomatoes!
What's left? Oh, raspberries! These are from the ones transplanted from the other house. Also there are wild raspberries growing all along the creek just a brief stroll away from our house. Sure, there are tall weeds potentially full of disease carrying ticks but I'm talkin' free raspberries here! I snagged three yesterday after work but didn't explore very far. There are also what looks very much like grape vines but I'm not seeing anything grapey.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Zipper Catches Skin

Zipper Catches Skin came out in 1982 and is the second "black out" album that Herr Cooper doesn't remember writing or recording. Or producing. This time around instead of hiring some big name producer* Alice produced the album with his current bassist, Erik Scott. Bassist as in singular, which to me is a good sign. While I got lambasted** for my semi-negative review of Special Forces, I was preparing myself for a similarly negative review of this one as the two had become mingled in my brain. But once again I find that my memory is not reliable as a stinky second side has tainted my neurons concerning a strong first side. Strong, sez I, but not strong enough to have ever been performed live, per Wiki. Curious indeed.

While similar to Special Forces in musical style, Zipper finds Alice donning a broad variety of personalities and relying more on comical sarcasm. Dick Wagner returns with his impressive guitar playing and songwriting skills, also upping the ante. "Zorro's Ascent" is a galloping ditty with a ratty guitar sound and Cooper singing with a Spanish accent in the first person as Zorro. The first two notes and the guitar tone of "Make That Money" made me wonder if I was listening to "Eighteen" but instead it's a song from the viewpoint of Scrooge. 'Tis a good song, though, and even at times sounds like Alice Cooper Band era songwriting. The laid back "I Am The Future" was written for a movie*** and has a strong, memorable, uplifting melody and wonderful synth sounds later found in DaDa. "No Baloney Homosapiens" is another surprisingly strong song with excellent Wagner guitars and lyrics written to aliens that plead "Please don't eat us." "Adaptable" is a rock-based love song, choppy in a New Wave sense, with lines like "I would leave a craps table for you on a winning streak." It's not exactly Shakespeare but it's sweet.

Then it goes downhill. "I Like Girls"**** and "Remarkably Insincere" find Cooper being a total dog and very disrespectful toward women. Sure, he sings "Cold Ethyl" but these songs are especially callous. Cooper talks instead of sings in "Tag, You're It", painting scenes from a slasher movie*** similar to Halloween while "I Better Be Good" is a ragged New Wave rocker about performing well in bed with lots of slang not fit for mixed company*****. The final track, "I'm Alive", is a novelty song about his dead pet returning to save his life. The chorus is catchy but he speaks the verses that have a limited shelf life because one can only hear a joke so many times before it wears thin.

Rank: For True Cooper Fans/Completists only

* Look what that got them last time!

** Not really... just two guys on FB who said they really liked that album but "lambasted" is a word I don't get to use often enough.

*** Alice sure loves those movies!

**** There was something about the melody in the verse of "Girls" that nagged my ear until I finally figured out that it was from "The Ballad of John and Yoko."

***** Wrangler, huh?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Special Forces

Special Forces is the first of three albums Alice Cooper claims to have no memory of recording. When that man falls off the wagon he falls HARD! In fact, he fell right into another personality change, this time being a para-military thingy. That's four personalities in the last four albums!

The best thing I can say about Special Forces is that it is mercifully brief. Ten songs. Thirty-five minutes.

The best of the bunch is the first, "Who Do You Think We Are." It's got a choppy, programmed drum sound, nice sounding guitars and a strong quasi-New Wave melody. The other song worth a listen is the final one, "Vicious Rumours" which is almost ready for prime time, though at the moment I can't remember how it goes*.

Sgt. Alice then covers "Seven & Seven Is", an Arthur Lee song. Pretty much a straight forward cover with 80s synths. "Prettiest Cop on the Block" has zero value musically but adds to the Cooper cannon of transvestite songs**. "Don't Talk Old To Me" incorporates a bit of menace and a contrasting laid back chorus melody which is actually pretty darned pleasing. "Skeletons in the Closet" is all synthy, like a prequel to Mikey's Thriller, but is simplistic to the point that it sounds like it should be on a kids Halloween album. But in terms of simplicity, "You Want It, You Got It" makes "Skeletons" look like a prog epic. It's not even a full idea, just a sliver of one that is somehow stretched out to over three minutes. Yeah, I'd claim I had no memory of recording this stinker either. The real kicker is that there are FIVE PEOPLE listed on the credits for this one. That's like needing a team of six to thread a needle. "You Look Good in Rags" has a very fun passage where male singers sing the word "rags" over and over again with a happy melody and in stereo! No foolin', it's actually pretty good. And finally "You're A Movie" finds Cooper really, really, really wanting to be a movie star, though he talks instead of sings in this tepid track.

I just realized that this album is so ill-conceived that I only came up with two footnotes!

Rank: For True Cooper Fans/Completists only

* I listened to the album yesterday. This is not a good sign, either for me or the album.

** Alongside "King of the Silver Screen" and "The Saga of Jesse Jane."

The Worlds Most Expensive Vegetables - Part 11

I told you I was addicted.

There I was, minding my own business in the Garden Weasel aisle when I hear, "Psst.... hey buddy. Wanna blue berry bush? They're on sale."
"Uh, no thanks."
"You know you want 'em. Plus it takes a few years for them to become productive so if you wait for next year that's just longer you'll have to wait to eat these beauties. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"
"I tried a blueberry plant before at the old house. It didn't work."
"Bad location. Try again! Hope springs eternal, eh buddy?"
"I'll take two."

I also needed four more medium-duty tomato cages. Actually I needed six but I forgot to count before heading off to the store. And then there's the rain barrel. I've been lusting after rain barrels for years. I even had the perfect location picked out at the old house where the gutters would need only minimal changes to fill it but it never happened. However just outside of Ossian this guy has a trailer full of these blue 55 gallon masterpieces of plastic for ten bucks each. They previously held balsamic vinegar so they're even food grade! I have yet to connect this to any kind of guttering or even to add a hose connector but it may have already paid for itself. We have a big inflatable pool that the kids play in for about two days before the water gets too dirty for them.* This past time instead of just emptying a pool that took my well an hour of constant pumping to fill the kids and I transferred much of the water to the rain barrel. A good time was had by all. My current total is now at $488.

Otherwise it's been a quiet week in the garden. Sure, I put in another four square feet of green beans and did some weeding but otherwise there hasn't been much activity aside from growing. Here are the beets. The standard red ones (in the back) are about twice as big as the yellow ones. I hope the yellow ones taste like bananas.

Of all the carrots I've planted, the parisian carrots (short, stubby creatures) in a pot are the ones going gangbusters. Too bad there are only a few of 'em.

Here's the first tomato, likely the first of thousands. I don't remember if this plant is a cherry tomato or if this is just a very small beefsteak.

Speaking of tomatoes, here's another peek at the only small seed variety that I started pre-season and which is still alive. I'm going to put this one into the ground soon and see if what it does. It's the last of some heirloom seeds my wife purchased back in 2004 so perhaps I'll try saving some seeds if it's extra tasty.

Lesson Learned This Week: I water way too much.

* Plus it seems to attract suicidal daddy long leg spiders.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Music Review - Alice Cooper - The Eyes of Alice Cooper

It's funny, well, to me at least, that I keep referring to Alice as old in this review from eleven years ago and he wasn't even close to sixty. Then again, I was barely over thirty. But a child, I was. In listening to this album again for the first time in five or six years made me remember that I don't remember any of these songs which gives me a hint at their quality.


Alice Cooper, that grand ghoul of rock, has never been one to repeat himself. With his latest album, The Eyes of Alice Cooper, he has eschewed the industrial sound and heavy theming of his past two albums in favor of the raw, rough rock of his live shows. Appropriately written and recorded with his touring band of the last few years it’s evident from the explosive opening track to the final grinding buzz that this old man’s feet are far from the grave.

To capture the live synergy that this band has achieved through hours of stage time, producer Mudrock (Godsmack and Powerman 5000) recorded the band live in an empty practice space with minimal overdubs. The result is quite amazing, almost a return to his early punkish days in Detroit, albeit mixed with an updated sound and huge, modern guitars. This very theme is encapsulated in the song “Detroit City,” where Alice sings with great passion about the days when “Me and Iggy were giggin’ with Ziggy” against a big, rollicking rock rhythm rounded out with sax and MC5’s Wayne Kramer adding to a guitar duel. The only spooky song is “This House Is Haunted” which is merely slightly creepy and similar in feel to the “Mirror” song in the cult classic direct-to-video Monsterdog. Instead of horror, Cooper relies heavily on his familiar dark humor which is laced through nearly every song. “Man of the Year” is a rock anthem about a guy who has it all (“My urine tests are perfect / My prostate is a jewel”) until he puts gun to head. The cute “The Song That Didn’t Rhyme,” with an intentionally poorly played drum intro, takes jabs at radio and the music industry. Although the song tends to lean more towards novelty (and I’m deeply offended by the use of accordions on this track), there’s something catchy about Alice singing a hooky chorus of “The melody blows.”

The only other low point is the obligatory sappy ballad “Be With You Awhile” which is horribly out of place with the rest of these noisy garage band masterpieces. Opening with a Rutles-ish basterdization of the opening riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” “Between High School & Old School” is impressive with its endless energy and massive guitars. I once heard that his 90's hit “Poison” was very popular with strippers, and I can imagine that his new single, the Stones-tinged “Novocaine,” with its theme of “I’m numb and you can’t make me feel,” will find a similar audience. The album ends with two raunchy punk songs that push the boundaries of good taste, just like an aging Alice in a codpiece.

It’s amazing how Cooper is able to continually evolve and pack a massive punch, surprising even a hard-core geezer fan like myself. Fans of the recent crop of “hot” bands like the Vines, the Strokes, or The White Stripes should do themselves a favor and hear the source of their bands’ sound. Everyone else should stop whining and buy this album so Alice can afford to bribe his way back into the AARP.

Rank: True Cooper Fans/Completists only

Music Review - Alice Cooper - Flush the Fashion

Back in the day of my fledgling Alice Cooper discovery (that would be the early 80s) I was able to buy all of the Alice Cooper band albums* as well as his first two solo albums in the glorious format known as cassette tape. After that I had to buy vinyl, currently a trendy hipster format but back then it was a format of last resort, and make a copy on cassette. Such was the case for Flush the Fashion.

In the early 80s there was no internets**, so you had to learn about new albums from radio shows or magazines like Tigerbeat and Guitar Player. There were no streaming album previews so you laid down your money and took your chances and I was totally unprepared for the contents of the four early 80s Cooper albums. Cooper is an innovator of the stage and the persona of the rock star but when it comes to the music, he mostly follows the pack***. Enter producer Roy Thomas Baker, he who has worked with Queen, The Cars, Foreigner and Devo. No doubt, Baker was an uber-hot producer in 1980 and he was wisely chosen to accompany Alice on a musical and personality switch to New Wave. Yessir, gone was the gruesome eye makeup, now replaced with short hair, angular cheek makeup and a choppy, synthesizer-heavy musical style.

But ya know what? It's still pretty good! Out of all his New Wave albums, Flush the Fashion is certainly the best and most even. In my most recent listen I was surprised again and again at how catchy and memorable these songs were. Sure, he used more than his usual share of covers but even these are treated in a Cooper fashion. "Talk Talk", like the entire album**** is light on bass and heavy on razor thin distorted guitars, choppy and energetic. "Clones (We're All)" is the futuristic single about loneliness and dysfunction, sporting a Cars-like lead synth line that will stick in your head. Another fantastic song is "Pain", a piano meets synth song that personifies pain with lines like "I'm the holes in your arm when you're feeling the shakes" and "It's a compliment to me to hear you screaming through the night." Chilling! Where "Pain" is stark and unnerving, "Aspirin Damage" and "Nuclear Infected" are tempered with humor, though both also offer some seriously solid guitar playing compliments of members from Elton John's backing band. Actually most of the songs on the second side incorporate humor though musically there's a reason why they are relegated to the second side.

Flush The Fashion is a much better album than I remember, a sincere attempt to change sound and style. However Dear Alice is soon to fall off the wagon and things go south.

Rank: Quality but not Classic

* With the exception of the Zappa albums.

** At least that were available to common folk.

*** Though I must admit that he has a keen nose for discovering new trends and jumping on before they get worn to the nubs.

**** And the entire recording industry at the time, possibly having to do with sonic limitations of the very popular cassette tape.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Music Review - The Choir - Shadow Weaver

The Choir, one of my favorite bands since becoming a Christian twenty five years ago, has released a new album. Their poetic lyrics have provided countless hours of encouragement and comfort to my soul while the innovative yet melodic music gave me hope that not all Christian music was cheesy and helped keep me from sliding back into music with lyrics that would have harmed my seedling faith. As you might expect, the boys in the band have undergone a number of changes in a quarter century and are not the same men they were. They are older, mellower, perhaps content with their place in life instead of being hungry to make it big. Children have been born, raised, and are leaving the nest. Marriages have failed or beaten the odds. They've shared their lives with us, allowing glimpses into their daily life in a way few bands do, almost making us an extended family.

Now a new member to the discography is born: Shadow Weaver. As I take off my nostalgic cap and don my critical music reviewers fedora, I can honestly saw that it's at least twice as good as their last album. But this isn't saying much because The Loudest Sound Ever Heard is my least favorite Choir album, ranking even lower than their sophomore effort Diamonds and Rain. It (LSEH, not DAR) was a transitional album where the lyricist was newly sober and his wife asked for the troubles in their marriage to no longer be the subject of his songs so he was struggling to find his new muse. Now that he's had some time to adjust his lyrics have definitely improved.

But there's still a problem. The rhyme scheme he has chosen for seven out of the thirteen songs on the album is repetative.

Name of the song
Rhyme A
Rhyme A
Name of the song

Here's an example: It hurts to say goodbye / It hurts to say goodbye / Feathers ride on the wind / The bird was made to fly / It hurts to say goodbye

There are slight variations, such as "Everybody's Got a Guru" where the chorus is just the title of the song repeated over and over. Do this in one song, fine. Do it in seven out of thirteen (actually out of eleven since one song is an instrumental and one is a nearly instrumental reprise) and it's going to wear out it's welcome pronto.

Being the analytic dork that I am I wondered if perhaps this was typical for the band and I hadn't noticed it before so I did a quick random sampling, picking one or two songs from each album:

Everybody in the Band - somewhat
Cain - no
Merciful Eyes - no
Listen to Her Eyes - Oh yes. - from Diamonds and Rain
Flowing Over Me - no
Away with the Swine - no
Weather Girl - no
Nobody Gets A Smooth Ride - no
Alright Tonight - Chorus is just title twice - from Voices in Shadows
Robin Had A Dream - no chorus
Wide Eyed Wonder - no
Legend of Old Man Byrd - no
Melodious - no

As you can see, the only instances where I found what I consider to be a lazy form of poetry occurred in their earliest and least mature albums. I wouldn't mind so much except that The Choir used to be the example I would turn to for proving that Christian lyrics can have depth and layers of nuance, taking everyday events and turning them into universal themes. Now they're returned to simplistic and often politically correct preachiness that made songs like "You do that triangle" so cringe-worthy. For instance, "Antithesis of Blue" which tells of a day where Steve's wife asked him to do some things while she was gone but returned to find that he'd done nothing. She pretty much calls him a lovable scamp and sends the boy out to the garden to get some herbs. That's it? Where's the tension? Good fiction relies on tension and resolution and I'd say the same applies to music. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Okay, enough out of this cranky old man. What's good about this album? For starters a few of the songs actually have a bit of grit about them. I never was one for ambient shoe-gazer music but what made The Choir great was their ability to mix this style with others, creating something new in the process. In that vein, "What Do You Think I Am" is a very strong song, mixing murky shimmers of guitar tones with a gutsy bass and confessional lyrics. More washes of sound and guitar fuzz are to be found in "It Hurts To Say Goodbye", a highlight where the ache of letting adult children go is captured in a very few poignent verses. "Get Gone" is another one with a nice head of steam, energetic in a relaxed way but with classic surreal Choir lyrics that leave much for the brain to chew on. A final quasi-rocker is "White Knuckles" where a slower, quieter verse opens up in the chorus, surrounded by lots of noise. Much of this noise may be due to Julian Kindred who has returned with his magic suitcase of effects, adding textures and noisy swirling distortions like no one I've ever heard. I also like the low groaning distorto-bass on "Shadow Weaver Reprise", though once again it seems like bassist Tim is muzzled on most of the album. Sure I'm biased but I think it was his "wrecking" their pretty songs on earlier albums that added interest, depth and tension. As a whole, the album sounds more like an album, instead of a series of songs, which has been their trend as late.

That's it. The grumpy old man is done grouching. This album at least showed promise and a step back in the right direction as well as adding a few new strong songs to their catalog and for that I'm grateful.

Monday, June 2, 2014

How to Build a Dakota Fire Hole

Earlier this month my general info-gathering led me to salivate over YouTube plans for building a rocket stove out of six cinder blocks but have as yet been unable to locate the rare and exotic H-Fence block. Then I stumbled upon something called The Dakota Fire Hole (or pit). No blocks, just two holes in the yard. Hey! I've got a yard! I even have en eight foot by eight foot spot in the yard where the previous owner burned his garbage! So using the tools pictured to the right, I started in. Yep, just a sturdy garden spade and some crow-bar-type tool that mysteriously come to live at my house. I'm not even sure what it's called or what what project might have called for it's existence.

It took me about twenty minutes and though I was sweating at the end it was mostly because I have no upper body strength. My pit ended up being about one foot deep and nine inches across. Had I had a laptop out there next to me it would have surely been covered with dirt. But before it burst into flames I would have read that making the fire bit broader at the base is beneficial, like one foot across. Alas, mine was just a straight pit.

The internets would also have been helpful in reminding me that the air shaft could have been dug diagonally. The most difficult part (and the part that got me the dirtiest) was digging the hole that connects the two pits. Also I would have placed this air shaft upwind of the fire hole instead of due north.

Actually it's probably a good thing I reduced the efficiency with the air hole location because look at this baby go! During the move I somehow had the mental capacity to hold onto a grill from an old, er, grill?

One of the benefits of the Dakota Fire Pithole is that it is amazingly efficient. I used only about this much wood to cook three 1/3# burgers, four hot dogs and two bratwurst. In about ten minutes.

Ten minutes? Oh yeah! That's the other benefit... this thing is a rocketstove in the ground! Yessir, this wee little pit cooked the burgers in about six minutes and the weiners in less than five. According to my wife, the burgers tasted like the ones her dad makes although I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a Dakota Fire Pit on his property. Maybe I'll dig him one for Christmas. The high heat created a crunchy exterior but not one that was charred and burnt like happens on my gas grill when one of the kids develops a poopy diaper that needs urgent attention and then the dripping grease flares up while I'm gone and coats the meat with char and some weird oily grease-gas. Nope, this is pure and simple ultra-high-temp crisp! And just like candy taken from strangers, it was delicious!

The Worlds Most Expensive Vegetables - Part 10

I added one final Giant Marconi pepper at $3 which brings my total up to $451. I'm done. Really. I can quit any time! On the flip side, we've had two more salads out of baby spinach and thinned out romaine so the per-meal cost has dropped to a mere $150.

Instead of being busy planting things I spent the weekend being busy worrying about things. It turns out that most of my green bean seeds rotted during the cold so I replanted quite a few instead of starting a second two foot by two foot plot. And then I noticed that while most of the seeds that sprouted are doing great two or three appear to have had the cotyledons eaten off. And then I noticed that some of the melon plants that I started early and transplanted have great leaves but dried-out and wrinkled stems. Is this normal? Not being sure I planted a couple seeds in each of these worrisome mounds just in case.

Speaking of seeds, I just stink at starting things early and transplanting them. Things with large seeds seem to be doing okay (melons, gourds, squashes)* but small seeds never really take off. Of all the things I started from seed the only thing that remains is this puny tomato plant. It's not even two inches tall while the tomato plants my dad started are six inches tall and the ones at the stores are a full foot. But I'm keeping this one plant alive as an experiment to see how it fares. I'm also comparing melon, etc. plants started in the ground to ones started two weeks early to see if there's any real difference. I might (and probably should) just get out of the early seed starting business. It's just that in the middle of winter you're dying to see green things grow but the best you can do is dream and start some seeds.

Speaking of experiments, I have a few going. A forgotten bag of (expensive) organic potatoes had many eyes so they were tossed into the compost pile. One took! I'm babying it and hopefully will get to harvest some spuds to make up for the ones wasted by our negligence. Ya know, as a kid I remember finding eyes on potatoes but the only ones that do that these days are organic potatoes. That's because they soak non-organic taters in some solution that prevents them from sprouting. They shrivel up instead. It's nasty stuff, this food manipulation and I double dog dare you to look into it. Or don't. Many people find great comfort in their ignorance.

Another experiment is the mini-raised melon bed. I essentially prepared the dirt for melons like I normally do but encased the mound in a box. I expect great things from these two boxes as they are in full sun, unlike the white sweet potatoes that I unwittingly put in part sun because I had to plan my garden before I had a chance to really observe summer sun patterns. They get at least six hours of light but really should have scads more.

Under the category of "Just Plain Nuts" is this sweet potato experiment involving a bag of mulch. In researching growing these plants I saw how people grew taters in mulch and layers of newspaper and five gallon buckets and just about anything. You can also put a sweet tater start in a glass of water for a lovely vine. Hence the bag of mulch. The plastic keeps the heat and moisture in so I figure at least I'll get a vine out of it. Besides I had a few sweet tater starts left over that wouldn't fit in my planned location so it was either throw them away or put on my mad scientist goggles. I already have the hair. So far two of the four have already died so I'll be putting the contents of that mulch bag to use somewhere in the garden but for now these two are hanging on. Who knows... they might outperform the ones in the ground! Hey, a man can dream, can't he?

* Or so I thought. We'll see what happens with those melons.