Friday, March 27, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

You may remember my posts about Homeboy (here and here) the rubber plant. The little Homeboy clones are doing great, and we are expanding our horticultural skills. A friend has given us a lemon tree seedling. It's just a tiny thing now, but spring growth has started, and I'm hoping by mid summer it should be ready to plant in the TerraPlana garden.

Citrus trees do really well in the Portuguese climate. I've seen orange trees with fruit year round.  Once our little lemon tree gets going, we might even struggle to match our cocktail consumption with our lemon production (don't worry, we can always get more trees if required).

We have also started a second project for the garden. If all goes to plan, TerraPlana will have fresh chilies! I love hot food, and one of the few things that I have felt is missing in Portugal is hot spicy food. Portuguese cuisine is fantastic, but traditional dishes do not tend to have a lot of spice, and do not use a lot of hot chili peppers.  The only pepper that is regularly available is piri piri, and it is usually offered in vary mild varieties.

I've had a plan to rectify this at TerraPlana for some time. Chili plants are large and ornamental, and I thought it would be nice to grow them in the garden (especially if an unsuspecting guest is enticed to eat one of the fruits). Also, if we can get the chilies to grow, we can dry them and make hot chili oil for the pizzas! And maybe chili flavored vodka (don't judge it 'til you try it).

First I thought about bringing some chili seeds from a trip to the western US, but then I remembered that customs officials tend to frown pretty heavily on that kind of thing. Fortunately, a quick internet search turned up a EU company that markets chili seeds of all varieties.

Growing peppers from seed is a little tricky, but as I'm sure you can gather from my Homeboy adventure, it's the perfect nerdy project for me. The tricky part is that the seeds will only germinate if the conditions are just right. They like a moist sterile medium, and a temperature between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius.  Just finding sterile soil was a bit of a challenge. I tried several hardware stores before I was sent to a nursery on the edge of town, they had it, but only in 70 liter bags, so now I'm flush in the stuff (beyond my wildest dreams).  I also had to improvise a seed incubator from a plastic box with a heat pad designed for reptile aquariums (certain snakes and lizards need something warm to slither up to at night).

On my first attempt, I sowed the seeds directly into moist soil in cups, but after a week and a half I only had one lonely Jalapeno germinating.

Germinating one Jalapeno was better then nothing, but only slightly.  Especially when considering that I sowed 3 or 4 seeds in each one of those cups above.

For  my second attempt, I decided to use a different technique to achieve germination. I suspect that the problem the first time around was a lack of warmth because my little lizard warmer just doesn't get very hot. I read online that seeds germinate well when folded wet paper towel, and since I could put them very close to the heater, they would be more likely to get warm enough.

That seems to have done the trick. This morning, I had about 8 seeds germinating, and now I have 5 varieties of chilis that have moved to step two. Once germinated, the seeds have to be moved to soil, and provided with lots of light. For this, I've constructed a light box from a cardboard box lined in tinfoil with a small florescent light. It has worked great for the one Jalapeno, so I'm very hopeful that the rest of my seeds will take.

I sowed 10 different varieties of chili so I'm still hoping that the remaining 5 of them will germinate. One of the late starters is a pepper that I've never heard of before, but seemed like something we should grow at TerraPlana.  It's called Penis Pepper for somewhat obvious reasons from the picture below.

Sadly, I haven't been able to get one of these plants started, but I'm not giving up yet.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Time Lapse TerraPlana, May '14 to Mar '15

The project was supposed to be done by now, but we probably still have a few months of construction left.  That's making for a very long time lapse video.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Finally some real progress!

It has been a really frustrating winter for us. The project was moving along pretty nicely until October, but then the contractors got into a dispute and work almost stopped. The general contractor decided to switch one of the main subcontractors, and the switch gave us a big delay. Nothing got done in December and January, and it has taken a long time for the new team to get up to speed.

The good news is that things are moving again. This week the interior walls are almost complete, the utilities are in, the mezzanine has been constructed. Next week the windows and exterior doors should be here, giving the building some security.

Every time I go to the house, the addition of the new walls makes the space feel a little less open. We always knew we were working with a small space, but now we can feel it. The decision to remove part of the first floor and open the overhead space above the bar area was genius. Without that choice the bar would have felt like a cave. As it is, it will be a long and thin space, but there will be multiple environments focused around the double high ceiling and looking onto the bar. Now that we can walk around the space and see how it feels we can start on some of the details of decoration.

Outside of the house, we have been hard at work designing the physical bar furniture and equipment layout. We have some restaurant experience, but none of us have worked in a bar, so we are doing our homework to make sure the space is set up right.

And now, some pictures: