Fate of the Turtle Nests

It’s been months since some snapping turtles laid nests in my yard, and I can finally report on how things turned out.

A few weeks after the eggs were laid, I found some evidence of digging at one of the nests, so I placed a scrap of lumber over it for a few weeks and that was enough to discourage the digging.

On October 2nd, I found that one of the nests had a tunnel leading out of it. I pulled off the roof of the nest and cleaned it out, finding most of the eggs empty:
hatched-nestSo it looks like these turtles hatched and most got back to the creek (or perhaps were eaten en route if a predator was watching at the right time).

The other nest seemed to be showing some surface digging again, but not very deep. Unfortunately, the next day I found that this second nest had been dug up and raided, perhaps by a raccoon or skunk:


The raided nest with eggshells scattered about


Close-up of the nest showing the hole dug from above. Some rain has obliterated some of the digging marks.

For this nest, the eggshells were scattered over an area of almost a metre. The hole was also clearly dug from above.

A few days later, I found this along part of the driveway, next to the corner of a building:

dessicated-babyThis baby didn’t make it to water in time, and baked in the sun leaving these desiccated remains.

So one nest out of two survived, and some unknown number of the babies from that nest made it safely to water. It took about 15 weeks from when the eggs were laid to when the nest was vacated.

Posted in Fauna, Gardening Tagged with:

Tororo-Aoi Pods Ripening

img_0364The seed pods on my tororo-aoi plants have started to mature. As this happens, they turn brown, dry out, and develop splits along their five lengthwise ridges. The seeds inside are probably dry and ready for storage for next spring. In the spring I will probably test germination of these seeds, the (by then) year-old ones I bought, and also fresh ones from Richter’s.

Each plant seems to have typically produced five pods, and while the bottom ones are maturing, the topmost ones are still green. The plants grew a single stem, with only feeble attempts at making side shoots. A review of tips for growing okra (a close relative) implies that allowing the pods to mature will cause the plant to stop flowering. Next year I’ll try picking the pods as soon as the flowers drop to see if I get more (immature) pods and/or a bushier plant.

The plants I grew from the seeds bought through AliExpress are just developing flower buds now, but this morning, after a couple of weeks of unusually hot late-September weather, there was frost on the rooftops, so it is unlikely that these plants will produce any pods.

I harvested two of the the green pods from the top of the plants, chopped them up, and put them in water to see if they produced usable neri.

img_0366These pods were tough, fibrous, and had very little sap in them. After soaking for a while, the water indeed showed the characteristics of formation aid, but it was not strong enough to be useful. One pod in 500ml (2 cups) of water produced a bit of stringiness and self-siphoning but was not quite enough to feel slimy when you rubbed it on your fingers. It was closer to the consistency one would want in the vat rather than in a concentrate to add to the vat.

Harvesting the pods soon after they form, rather than allowing them to grow to full size, might have given pods with much more sap in them and so stronger neri. This would be something else to try next year, hand-in-hand with picking the immature pods early to encourage more flowers and perhaps more plant growth.

Posted in Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

Valley Beater available in Bellingham WA

We’re passing on this note about a Valley Beater for sale, located in Bellingham, Washington, which is very close to Vancouver BC:

I am located in Bellingham, Washington, which is very close the US/BC border, just beneath Vancouver and Surrey, so it would be conveniently close for anyone in the Vancouver Area to come down and have a look.I’m a professor of art at Western Washington University and I’m reluctantly selling my beater to help fund my sabbatical project in Germany, where I’ll soon be for one year.


I have a working Voith Valley HOLLANDER Beater. It needs a new diaphragm and I had to dismantle it for transport, but it is otherwise a fully operational machine in good/very good condition. It is complete and comes with a very solid wood table with a 1-1/2” thick plywood top and 6” X 8” redwood legs. The 120V motor works and sits on an equally solid shelf beneath.

I’m asking $1,250 $1,000 [US dollars]

img_8847Some additional information:

  • This is a 1½ pound Valley Beater, serial number 109-E-1428 VS-01971.
  • This beater has a cast iron tank and there is some rusting on the base near the drive pulley, but the interior is in good condition.
  • The “dismantling” consisted of disconnecting plumbing and drive belts, and removing the beater from the table. The beater itself is fully assembled.
  • The beater needs a new diaphragm, but you can make your own or we can sell you one if you can’t get one elsewhere.
  • The seller has owned it about 4 years, and he believes the person he bought it from was the original owner.
  • If you want to import this to Canada, the customs tariff classification is 8439.10.00.00 and it is duty-free (but you’ll still have to pay GST)

If you need additional information or are interested in buying this beater, please contact the seller, Sebastian Mendes, directly at secularhumanist@hotmail.com.

Update: Sebastian may be out of the country, so you should contact his wife, Theresa Smith, at theresaincognita@gmail.com. Also, the price has been reduced to US$1000.

Posted in For Sale, Other people

Tororo-Aoi (and other) Flowers

My tororo-aoi plants have started blooming.

One of the plants, about 40cm tall, in bloom.

One of the plants, about 40cm tall, in bloom.

The flower, about 6cm across, is pale yellow with dark purple in the centre.

The flower, about 6cm across, is pale yellow with dark purple in the centre. They look very delicate but are actually quite sturdy.

So far, only the transplanted plants are big enough to bloom; the direct-seeded ones are just getting to the point of thinking about producing flower buds, and the plants from the seeds from AliExpress are still only 2 or 3cm tall.

The flowers only last a day so you have to check frequently to get a picture. After that they close again, and fall off as the seed pod grows out. The seed pods look like the pods of okra, a closely-related plant.

The flowers and pods are not essential to the production of neri, but they look nice in the front garden. The bed on the other side of the front door has a stand of sunflowers, which grew from a combination of bird seed and seeds dropped from last year’s sunflowers. Beneath them is a thin stand of rose of Sharon seedlings.img_0132

Speaking of rose of Sharon (another more distant relative of tororo-aoi but still in the mallow family), mine are now in bloom:

The pink one on the right grew from seed, perhaps a hybrid of the white and violet ones.

The pink one on the right grew from seed, perhaps a hybrid of the white and violet ones.

They have quite a few more blooms now, a few days after taking the photos, but they’re already past their peak. Being in the mallow family, the sap of these shrubs is also slimy and could be used as formation aid, but because the plant is woody (both stems and roots), extracting any substantial amount of sap would be difficult. Perhaps I should try picking the seed pods before they dry out and seeing if they can supply some slime.

Posted in Gardening, Home-grown supplies, Kevin

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

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