Surprise Tororo-Aoi Sprouts

About a week ago I planted the tororo-aoi seeds I had purchased through AliExpress into our front garden. I had previously had no success sprouting them indoors, and decided as a last try to direct seed them where my other seeds from Richter’s had sprouted so well.

Much to my surprise, they sprouted:

20170705aliexpress-seedlings I had planted them in three clusters of about four or five seeds each. At least one sprouted from each cluster, but as you can see, these seedlings appear to be a tasty snack for some creatures.

The larger plants are also being eaten but have not suffered so badly:


It is now early July so it remains to be seen how large these plants grow before first frost. I still have to remember to keep them watered through the summer.

Posted in Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

Tororo-Aoi Growth

The tororo-aoi seedlings I showed in a previous post have been in the ground for a few weeks now, and, except for the one destroyed by forces unknown, all have grown several true leaves and are 10-15cm (4-6″) tall.

I planted them in the front garden of our house, which gets full sun exposure. The soil also gets good drainage due to the adjacent retaining wall and I thought I would have to water them constantly, but we’ve had regular rain most of the spring. I only watered them a few times during one dry week.

I also direct-seeded a few more plants (including a replacement for the destroyed one) and was happy to see the seeds sprout within about 4 or 5 days. I used the seeds from Richter’s which had sprouted well indoors.

The seeds I purchased through AliExpress did not sprout at all indoors, but to give them one last chance I planted a few in this same bed yesterday. I should be able to see within a week if they are at all viable.

One side of our front garden. The three large plants are sunflowers.

One side of our front garden. The three large plants are sunflowers. The four transplanted tororo-aoi plants are visible just a bit closer to the retaining wall, and three of the new seedlings are visible, one halfway between the nearer sunflowers, one in the shade of the middle sunflower, and one replacement for the lost transplant at the far end.

Seen from the side

From the side, you can see four of the new seedlings and a clear view of two transplants, with the other two hiding behind the sunflower leaves.

Posted in Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

Oh, Snap!

Alder Creek runs along the back of our property here, for about 60m (200′). The creek is in a small valley, perhaps 6m (20′) deep with a fairly steep embankment.

Over the past week, we’ve had (at least) three snapping turtles make (at least) four attempts at making nests in our yard, with (at least) two nests successfully laid.

June 14th

That morning I found this turtle trying to leave our vegetable garden but foiled by the chicken-wire fencing (whose bottom edge is buried). It seems she got into the garden by pushing her way under the gate, but was unsuccessful at digging a hole for her nest.

The turtle trying to leave our vegetable garden through the chicken-wire fence

The turtle trying to leave our vegetable garden through the chicken-wire fence

I moved her from the garden onto the grass using a square-nose shovel. It was hot and sunny so I gave her a rinse with the hose to cool her off a bit, and also to better see her markings.


Such a pretty face!


The rest of her shell. There seemed to be a chunk missing on the right rear, plus the white spots near her head, maybe from a run-in with a car or a predator. I’m not sure what causes those smaller pock marks.

Her shell was about 35cm (14″) long and 25cm (10″) wide. The lack of any substantial digging, as well as that bulging butt of hers, suggested to me that she had not laid any eggs.

June 15th

The very next evening, while heading out to a soccer practice for Lily, we found a different turtle, about the same size as the first, digging a nest at the edge of the driveway under some chain-link fencing.


Different scars, different turtle


When we returned later in the evening, this turtle was gone and the hole was filled in, but turtle number 1 was back digging along the edge of the garden, near the other gate (no pictures, though).

June 19th

That morning, I found yet a third turtle digging a nest near the garden gate that turtle number 1 had snuck under. This turtle was smaller, her shell perhaps 30cm (12″) by 20cm (8″), and she had no battle scars.

img_0092img_0093That evening, I checked the places where these turtles had been digging. I dug around by hand a bit but didn’t really find any disturbed soil except right at the surface, so I figured there were no nests.

I thought they might be finding the soil hard to dig, even though it has a sandy consistency, so I started to loosen the soil with a spade. Unfortunately I found right away that there was a nest there, damaging a few eggs with the  spade in the process. I dug away the loosened earth by hand and found intact eggs.

Turtle number 3's eggs

Turtle number 3’s eggs

One egg, a bit smaller that a ping pong ball, and almost as light.

One egg, a bit smaller that a ping pong ball, and almost as light.

I replaced the intact eggs against the undisturbed ones, covered the area with soil again and packed it down. I discarded any damaged eggs some distance away to avoid attracting critters that might dig up the nest.

It turns out that the turtles don’t dig straight down. Instead, as the hole deepens and their body tips into the hole, their rear legs tend to dig more horizontally under their body, so the egg chamber curves forward. This probably explains why hand digging did not at first find the nest.

With this in mind, in re-examined the other dug areas and found that turtle number 1 had indeed laid eggs on her second attempt. I hand-dug a bit, exposing the nest, cleaned up any damaged eggs (it seems the turtle can damage some when covering up the hole), and closed up the nest again.

Turtle number 1's nest.

Turtle number 1’s nest.

I also re-checked turtle number 2’s area but didn’t find a nest; either I just missed digging it up or she gave up there and later made a nest elsewhere.

Now I have a long wait. Various articles suggest the eggs won’t hatch until at least late August, and maybe as late as the end of September. I think it might be prudent to cover these two nests with some chicken wire to discourage the local raccoons from digging up the eggs. Since both nests are in front of vegetable garden gates, this might also remind me not to step on the nests too much!


Posted in Fauna, Gardening Tagged with:

Monotype Computer Control: Diagnosing Air Flow Problems

One observation I have made while testing out my Monotype composition caster computer interface is that not all its ports deliver the same amount of air flow. On some, the air pin in the caster lifts and drops crisply in response to actuating the air valve, while others are sluggish and a few don’t move at all.

Some of these differences are caused by differences in the air lines and valving in the caster. Some lines are longer than others. Some may be partly clogged with thick oil. Some may have more leakage around the air pin. And some channels drive more than a single pin (for instance, N also has to drive the extended-matcase valve which redirects I and L to NI and NL).

However I also expected that some of the problems were in my computer-control valve module. There could be restrictions in the air passages, and the solenoid valves themselves (which are 3518-year-old surplus) may have problems too. In order to pinpoint the problems I set up an airflow gauge on the supply line to the valve module.

Good airflow gauges are expensive, but for about $7 on Amazon I found a flow gauge made for shielding gas for welding. These gauges rely on the flow of the gas to raise a small ball in a tapered column until the gap around the ball was sufficient to let the flow pass. They are calibrated for specific gases but that didn’t matter to me; all I was interested in was comparing the relative flow among the 31 ports.

The gauge had fittings appropriate for shielding gas: The inlet connector fits the outlet of the regulator, and the outlet has a barbed fitting to accept a flexible gas hose. I wanted to use compressed air fittings (specifically ARO-style quick disconnects). Neither of the fittings on the gauge was a familiar thread.

I disassembled the gauge and tapped the interior of the inlet and outlet to 5/16NC. This would not normally be a good choice for something that should be airtight, but given the constraints of how much metal was available and what matching threads I could cut this was the best I could come up with.

The body of the gauge with new threads inside the outlet (top) and inlet (left). The third leg (right) is for a flow-control valve.

The body of the gauge with new threads inside the outlet (top) and inlet (left). The third leg (right) is for a flow-control valve.

I made a couple of adapters from 5/16NC exterior threads to 1/4MPT from brass rod, and fitted them to the gauge body using lots of thread sealant.

Two quick-and-dirty adapters from 5/16NC to 1/4NPT

Two quick-and-dirty adapters from 5/16NC to 1/4NPT

After everything was assembled here’s what I had:

The assembled gauge, with quick disconnects installed.

The assembled gauge, with quick disconnects installed.

Once this was done I could start measuring air flow in the valve module’s ports.

Posted in Caster Computer Control, Kevin

Tororo-aoi sprouts

I previously mentioned purchasing some tororo-aoi seeds from two suppliers, and I planted five of each to see how well they sprout.

After a week in a covered tray on our enclosed porch, all five seeds from Richter’s have sprouted. There is no sign yet of the other seeds sprouting, though.


The young plants already have a taproot extending out the bottom of the peat pellet, so I should put them in the ground right away to let the root develop well.

img_0075This root is quite fragile and may be damaged when I transplant these. I may also seed some directly into the soil alongside these to see if there is any difference in growth.

Posted in Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

Search for Tororo-aoi

This spring I did a small foray into AliExpress to see what interesting products I could find. I ended up ordering three products: kozo (Broussonetia Papyrifera) seeds, Abelmoschus Manihot gum powder, and tororo-aoi (Abelmoschus Manihot) seeds. The gum powder was disappointing (I hope to post on this later) and the seeds just arrived in the last few days. The tororo-aoi seeds arrived after the AliExpress 60-day warranty period so I am applying for my money back on those. Due to their late arrival, I also purchased some seeds for the same plant from Richter’s, a specialty plant supplier just outside the Toronto area. The tororo-aoi seeds from AliExpress and from Richter’s arrived the same day.

First, the seeds from Richter’s Herbs:


The common name they use on the packet is “Sunset Hibiscus”, and the latin name is Abelmoschus manihot. Their web page for this plant also identifies it as Huang shu kui or Yellow sichuan mallow. Other sources also identify this same plant as being tororo-aoi, the source of neri formation aid used for Japanese papermaking, and as aibika, sunset muskmallow, or hibiscus manihot. This packet contained about 28 seeds, and cost me $3.25 plus $6 shipping plus 13% sales tax, and arrived within a week of ordering.

I think the “sunset” in some of the common names refers to the yellow colour of the flowers, distinct from the usual pale blue, pink, or violet hues of most of the mallow family.

Next, the seeds purchased from Miss Flower’s Store through AliExpress:


The common name on the packet is “Golden Treemallow”, and the latin name is Lavetera arborea. The seller’s web page identifies them as “Abelmoschus Manihot Seeds Golden Treemallow Flower Seeds” and shows a description and photos that match Abelmoschus Manihot so I’m not entirely sure what seeds I actually have! I received 5 packets with nominally 15 seeds in each (I counted 20 in the packet I opened) for $2.56, shipping included, but because of the late arrival I’m asking for a refund (aren’t I cheap?).

Fortunately their web site also decrypts the pictorial information on the back of the seed packet:

  • Sowing Temperature : 15-30°C
  • Growing Temperature : 20-36°C
  • Spacing: 20×20cm
  • Grow up / Flower days : 60days
  • Height when grow up : 30cm

The seeds from both suppliers look like mallow-family seeds but are substantially different in size:


The smaller seeds on the left are from AliExpress, the larger ones on the right from Richter’s

I have now planted five of each seed in peat pellets, and placed them on our porch where hopefully daylight will keep them in that 15-30°C range for germination. I may also seed some directly into my garden.

The Richter’s packet identifies the plant as perennial in zones 8-11; we’re in zone 5b so we grow it as an annual and I think we just about get 60 days in the 20-36°C range so we should get some flowers. In any case, although the flowers are quite pretty, they are not essential to producing neri in the roots. Getting a few mature pods for seeds for next year would be nice, though.

I also wonder if removing spent flowers to prevent formation of seed pods would result it larger roots. I don’t think I will have enough plants to tell with any statistical certainty.

This plant is also generally held to require good soil moisture, something that is not reliable here in the summer, so I may have to keep them watered.

I still have 4 unopened packets of the suspect seeds from AliExpress, so if you’re interested in trying them out yourself and you can figure out how to pay me $1 for the postage I can send you a packet. Please note I don’t want to try shipping seeds across the border so this offer is only available to Canadian addresses.

Posted in For Sale, Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

Lubricating Oil for Old Printing Equipment

Many old pieces of printing and typecasting equipment recommend (amongst other products) Mobil Vactra for lubricating some of the sliding surfaces. Locations like journal bearings (where a shaft rotates in a round smooth hole) retain their oil by surface tension. The oil doesn’t drain from the gap between the moving parts because to do so would increase its surface area too much.

Many other surfaces, though, have intermittent contact because a part either slides or rolls along another part that does not have the same shape or size. The immediate contact between the parts will retain oil by surface tension, and as long as the machine is operating the oil will be spread along the entire mating surfaces. Once the machine is stopped, however, the remaining surfaces not in direct contact are open and any oil present will just run off, given enough time, especially on vertical surfaces.

To limit this effect, special oils exist which contain a tackifier, making the oil somewhat sticky so that it remains on surfaces much longer. Mobil Vactra was such an oil, and so was recommended for sliding and rolling surfaces on a lot of printing equipment. It was also used on machine tools such as lathes and mills used in manufacturing. Tack is a distinct property from viscosity, and high tack is not a substitute for heavier oil.

However, in the late 1980’s Mobil started to remove (or perhaps change) the tackifier in their Vactra oil, with the result that it no longer effectively lubricated such parts. The earliest reference I can find to this is a message from user ‘icehd81’ on the Practical Machinist forum from December 8th, 2005. This user worked for the press manufacturer Goss and so seems like a relatively reliable source. His claim was that the oil was reformulated due to EPA requirements on the machining industry; I have seen others claim the tackifier was incompatible with the coolant/lubricant used for the cutting tools in the machinery. I suspect that the tackifier contaminated the machining fluid (which is mostly water), and when the machining fluid was disposed of, this contamination caused environmental problems (so both stories are the same).

In essence Mobil reformulated Vactra to suit a large chunk of their market (machining) without checking if the change would be a problem for another of their big markets (printing). Rather than admitting any mistake, they introduced a new product, Vacuoline, for the printing industry, and kept the reformulated Vactra.

Animation showing low tack of regular oil

Regular oil (not Vactra #2, however). Note how, when I pull my finger and thumb apart the oil quickly breaks into two round drops which then spread on my skin.

Animation of Vacuoline 1409 showing tackiness

Same test with Vacuoline 1409. Note how the oil stretches to a fine thread rather than immediately breaking away.

The net result, though, is that old equipment for which Vactra was recommended should use a Vacuoline product instead. It seems that Vactra #2 (ISO 68 weight) was the most popular recommendation, and its replacement is Vacuoline 1409.

So if you have any equipment from before the 1980’s which recommends Vactra #2, and you need to buy more oil, you should look for Vacuoline 1409 instead. Some people have claimed that you can get the same effect by adding some STP Oil Treatment to the oil, but I haven’t tried this because I now have a lifetime supply (20L) of Vacuoline.

Posted in Documentation, Useful gadgets and ideas

Should the keta stretch the su?

After some thought, I would say “probably not.”

I have a su (bamboo screen for Japanese-style paper making) for which I made a keta (combined support frame and deckle) many years ago.


The su, or bamboo screen, used to make washi (Japanese-style paper)

The keta, or deckle frame, shown here open, which supports the su and contains the liquid pulp during sheet formation

The keta, or deckle frame, shown here open, which supports the su and contains the liquid pulp during sheet formation

The keta closed with the su in place. The combination is called a sugeta (a combination of su and keta with the unvoiced k replaced with a voiced g)

The keta closed with the su in place. The combination is called a sugeta (a combination of su and keta with the unvoiced k replaced with a voiced hard g)

I’ve taken the occasional attempt at making paper using this, with very marginal success. One problem I have is getting the sheet to couch off cleanly.

Even if there is full contact (i.e. no bubbles) between the post and the new sheet, the su seems to pick and tear the new sheet when lifted off. When I was trying to make paper when I was in PEI, I added a layer of no-see-um netting over the su, and only then managed to get sheets to couch off cleanly.

One thought occurred to me recently: My keta is a tiny bit too large, and the su has to stretch a bit for the keta to close. When dry, the su is a bit slack on the keta, but once wet, the bamboo splints swell and the silk threads shrink making the su a bit smaller than the keta. The edge sticks of the su are held by the closed keta, and the su must be stretched about 5mm for the keta to close.

At the time a tiny bit of stretch seemed like a good thing, to keep the su flat. But now I’m wondering if this might relate to my couching problems. The su is about 350mm wide, so 5mm represents about a 1.4% stretch. However, all the stretching occurs in the gaps between the splints, which represent about 20-30% of the total width. This means that the gaps expand by 4.5-7% when the su is placed in the keta.

When I form the sheet, at least some fibre goes into the gaps between the splints. When I remove the su from the keta and try couching it, the gaps close again by this same 4.5-7%, gripping at least some of the fibres so they cannot release from the su properly.

I have no good way of testing this theory other than to make a new keta. In the process I would also make it a bit narrower to better cover the sides of the su as another couching problem I have is fibre snagging on the ends of the splints. Finally, I would camber the top frame a tiny bit so it presses firmly on the edges of the su to produce a tight fibre-proof seal.

Posted in Kevin, Moulds and Deckles, Sheet forming

39th Grimsby Wayzgoose, April 29th 2017

2017-wayzgoose-poster_smOn April 29th, 2017, the Grimsby Public Art Gallery in Grimsby, Ontario will host the 39th annual Wayzgoose.

We’ve managed to snare a spot to sell our wares at this show. We will be selling handmade paper, marbled paper, a selection of bookbinding and marbling supplies, and new and used books on various book arts topics.

The show is open from 9am to 5pm, and everyone is welcome. Free admission.

Posted in Grimsby Wayzgoose, Upcoming Events, Us

Hollander Beater and Large Press (Still) Available in Toronto

Please see our updated older posting concerning a 2lb David Reina beater and 40-ton papermaking press available in Toronto.

Update: These items have been sold.

Posted in Other people, Sold