Garnets Galore

25. October 2016 02:55

I have always had a weak spot when it comes to garnets. It probably started when I was very young and my mother told me that her birthstone was garnet. Back then, what came to mind as a garnet was a dark red gem.  Years later when I started collecting gemstones and learning more about them, I found out about the wonderfully green variety that was called "tsavorite".  Tsavorite garnets put most of the emeralds I had seen to shame. They were such a wonderful sparkling green! So being biased to Christmas colors by virtue of my birth, how could I not fall in love with a gem that was outstanding in those shades? As I furthered my gemstone studies with the GIA Colored Stones course, I learned that garnets came in other shades ranging from a purple red to orange to yellow to green and some were even colorless. 

Then I started faceting and discovered that garnets proved to be cooperative in developing a nice polish. Plus many of the reddish types in modest sizes were quite affordable for a beginner faceter's budget.  Occasionally a flaw or "feature" of the crystal would become a problem by ending up where it would cause mischief. More often, I could see included crystals and needles when inspecting under magnification while I was polishing the stone, but these inclusions would not be visible to the unaided eye in the finished gem.

There were basically two problems with garnets. The first was that the larger red garnets often were too dark to sparkle. They just sat there looking red. Not awful, but not as exciting as one might hope.  The other was a budgetary one. Rough for tsavorite and other types which would sparkle even when large was quite expensive. Thus my accumulation of garnet rough has tended towards smaller sizes in the darker reddish shades and fewer, even smaller pieces of the lighter colors.

A few months ago a parcel of Mahenge garnet rough followed me home. These garnets tend to be nicely shaped, fairly clean pieces that run from a light peach to a nice medium raspberry shade. When cut and polished, these stones are wonderfully bright. Most of the parcel is smaller sizes -- .5 to 1 carat finished. This launched me into an effort to work through a lot of the smaller garnet rough I still had from many years ago as well as working on the Mahenge parcel. Once the small rough is properly dopped the process of cutting it is usually low stress. The smaller the facets, the quicker it is to cut and polish them. (The flip side of that is a slight loss of attention can yield a significant error given the scale of things.) The bottom line is that the majority of the stones I have cut recently have been garnets.  And lots more to come.







Quartz Trio

21. October 2016 13:34

Years ago I purchased a parcel of green beryl which included a couple of very long and narrow crystals.  Short of using the trim saw to turn these into multiple pieces with more typical proportions, there wasn't much else that could be done with these other than cutting them into elongated emerald cut shapes.  Of course, that results in a boring stone.  The solution to that problem was the addition of concave facets which created much more interesting optics and a gem that has gotten a lot of positive comments. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Green Beryl
Green Beryl

So why not try the approach on some slightly larger stones?  The original green beryl was under 5 mm. wide.  I wanted to see the result in a stone that was in the range of 8 to 10 mm. wide. In searching through the rough I had on hand, I found a few pieces that met the desired width, but would end up with the length more like two times the width rather than the four times of the green beryl.  At least for the initial experiments, that would have to do.

The idea was to test some variations on a theme.  Take a basic long emerald cut and add concave facets to the pavilion only.  The crown would be a standard step cut so the only thing being considered was the impact of the concave facets on the pavilion.

Figure 2. Rose Quartz

The first piece was a scrap of rose quartz that many years ago had been trimmed off a much larger chunk. It had been ignored as useless for a long time and I was surprised to find how well it suited the situation. For this one there would be three concave facets on one side of the pavilion -- center and close to each end -- and two on the other side aligned between the facets on the other side. The concave facets were created so that they closely approached the keel without actually touching it. The width of the facets was about the same as the space between them.  The goal / expectation were for the actual facets reflected in other side of the pavilion. (Figure 2.)

Figure 3. Amethyst

For the second stone a piece of amethyst was selected.  This one was done similarly to the rose quartz, except that in this case there were three concave facets on each side of the pavilion arranged opposite each other.  (Figure 3.)


Figure 4. Citrine

Of course, for the third stone in the series, yet another piece of quartz was needed.  In this case, it was a citrine.  For the final stone, each side of the pavilion had five concave facets that touched each other. (Figure 4.)

I expected that one of the combinations above would clearly be better than the others.  But so far, I have not been able to pick a favorite.  Meanwhile, I have acquired a few pieces of rough which have a length to width ratio of 3.  So some rainy day, I will get around to the next step in this series.  Stay tuned.



Citrine Design

30. March 2016 21:22

citrineI wish I had taken a photo of the rough piece of citrine from which this gem was cut.  When I purchased the rough, I was looking for material that I could use for concave faceting.  It was during of one of my false re-starts for faceting and I don't remember if I thought I would saw the rough into multiple pieces or use it for a single stone.  When the time finally came last fall that I took it out of the drawer for faceting, I ended up preforming it to be a single rectangular cushion stone.  Other than knowing that I would use the OMF machine to put concave facets on the pavilion, I had no idea how I would cut it.  It got dopped along with ten or so other stones.  They got cut.  This one sat there being big and intimidating.  Another ten or so stones were dopped and cut and the big citrine still had not touched the faceting laps.  It was now the new year and I decided that I could no longer allow that stone to intimidate me.

The first step was to find the outline and the pavilion keel.  I started roughing in the shape with the lap I typically use for such purposes and after a bit realized it needed a coarser lap.  Once I got the outline figured out it was time to think about the details with respect to facet placement including the concave ones.  The initial pavilion facet pattern was a basic step cut.  Typically, that makes for a pretty boring gem.  However, concave facets placed in the pavilion usually light up the stone and make it more visually interesting.

I decided on three concaves on each side of the pavilion with a bit of space between them.  They were placed such that they centered on the middle step extending towards the keel and the girdle, but not touching either.  Often the keel on quartz is easy to chip, so keeping the curves away from that area means that should chips appear in the future as a result of handling, the repair required would be minimal.

Then it was time for the crown.  Again, the first step was to level the girdle and rough in the shape.  After a good night's sleep, I decided that the crown would consist of flat facets only.  Rather than using a routine step crown with a large table, additional rows of facets were used so that they and the table were about the same width.  When the stone was removed from the dop, the results were as desired. The long facets on the crown made it seem like there were multiple sets of concave facets on the pavilion.


Been a little while

15. March 2016 22:30

 Cherry BlossomsActually, it has been a pretty long time since this site was last updated.  The garden and its visitors had been one of the major inspirations and 2015 was not a great year for the garden.  The weird weather and the drought impacted things.  I was stingy with the watering and did not get the fertilizer out soon enough.  A gopher found a way to get into a couple of the raised beds and wiped out a couple crops.  Only one tomato plant was reasonably productive.  On the other hand, we had plenty of corn, zucchini, green beans and blackberries. 

So far 2016 is shaping up to be different.  There was some cold weather early in the winter to provide chill for the fruit trees.  And there has been rain.  More would be nice instead of having a month of summer in February.  But at least things are mostly green again. Spring is just a few days away.

Herbal Bouquet

9. August 2014 18:24

Our current garden does not have much in the way of cutting flowers. The nasturtiums and marigolds tucked in around the veggies have short stems. However, on occasion, the modest blooms of some of the herbs can make a respectable bouquet. In this case, the daisy like flowers are from feverfew. A couple sprigs of lemon verbena provide tall spikes.  The umbrella clusters of yellow flowers are fennel.





Mid-Summer Garden Notes

29. July 2014 03:02

The corn was not ready by July 4th, but not too many days after that, we were eating garden fresh corn on the cob. On the other hand, the tomatoes got off to a really late start and it will be sometime in August before we get to harvest the first vine ripened tomatoes. The peas did a lot better this year. A patch of peas between the tomato plants managed to produce a respectable amount before the combination of powdery mildew and crowding by the neighbors brought it to an end. Snow peas and snap peas also produced more than we could use and enough to freeze for the future. The bush beans ('Maxibel') did well as in past years. The pole beans did better than last year in that they produced lots of beans.  But the quality did not seem as good as the bush beans and thus will not get planted again next year.  Meanwhile the wax beans were much like last year -- a mediocre crop as the plants seemed to break easily.

The pumpkins are again prolific. They average around six pumpkins each and show every intention of doing a lot more than that. Thus the additional growth is being removed. Likewise, some of the excess tomato vine is being trimmed this year. Last year the currant tomato would have taken over the entire bed if it had not been fighting a couple other varieties with the same goal. The goal of side-by-side comparison of tomato varieties is a failure since half the plants got off to such a late start. Plus several of the tomato plants are not doing well -- perhaps a fertilizer issue -- except that it effects on plant while the neighboring ones seem fine. So for next year, the tomatoes need a better indoor start and the pumpkins should not get planted until mid-June the earliest.

The new red carrot ("Samurai") from Park's was horrible. There were two somewhat unappealing pink carrots that were edible. For the most part it was all top growth and where there was something below ground, it was inedible.  In fact, a couple that developed were so tough that they could not be cut with the kitchen knife.

The initial crop of cantaloupes has been more baseball size than the expected softball size. Perhaps the enthusiastic growth of the pumpkins in the same bed resulted in a negative impact on the less vigorous melons.

The initial plantings of corn have come in without any worms, but the ants and aphids continue to climb the stalks. Later plantings failed to germinate well enough and survive the birds, so there will be a pause in the corn harvest before later plantings are ready. 

Some of the early crops - Spinach, peas and scallions were past their prime and pulled, along with the beans.  Additional seeds have been planted and we should manage a second crop before the weather gets too cool.

The blackberry harvest has been more than enough for eating fresh. There was enough for one batch of jam, a couple of pies and several other baked deserts so far. The raspberries probably need another year before they are doing that much. At present, just enough to taste. Meanwhile, there has been an assortment of fruit from the orchard. Several of the trees planted last year have produced a respectable crop despite the odd winter (lack thereof). Even a few of the trees planted this winter provided a handful of fruit. The only tree in the orchard this year that appears to have more than enough for a batch or two canned to be enjoyed over the fall and winter months is the nectaplum 'Spice Zee' which is loaded with fruit. It also lives up to its marketing description with respect to taste -- very sweet.

Ants and aphids continue to be significant garden pests. I suspect that a reduction in the ant population would make the aphids less of a nuisance. There have been a few signs of gophers, but not a lot of luck catching them. The wire under the veggie beds is working and the chicken wire baskets around the trees and berries have been pretty good at limiting the impact of gophers. There haven't been a lot of insect pests and there have been lots of honeybees -- quite a change from a couple years ago.

And of course I already have ideas for improvements next year.  It will take at least a couple more years of  learning experiences and resulting changes.

(See photos of the garden at

Return of the Cottontails

27. July 2014 22:16

The "deer and rabbit" fencing we have around our garden mostly works. The deer do manage to poke their noses through the openings to munch on anything growing within a few inches of the fence. Only a few grape leaves, citrus branches and the blackberry and raspberry plants are in any danger of being pruned by Bambi. The thorns on the berries and some of the citrus do not seem to hinder the deer when anything is within reach.

At the bottom part of the fence, the one inch spacing in the wires does not seem to prevent the cottontail rabbits from slipping through without much difficulty. There are at least three bunnies in the group that lives near the garden. One was a bit smaller than the others, perhaps a juvenile who liked exploring more than staying near the safety of the brush area where they normally live. The pumpkin leaves provide excellent camouflage for the tiny bunny. Another of his favorite spots seemed to be among the bush beans -- perhaps because they were a favorite for eating.

After multiple episodes of finding baby bunny in the garden and chasing him out, we hoped to put an end to it by installing a layer of chicken wire along the lower part of the fencing along the side next to the cottontail habitat.  It did not work. We had hoped that they would not go around to the side. For a few days, it looked like a success.  But all too soon, the cottontails were hopping around the garden again.

We will have to add the additional chicken wire to the other sides of the fence to keep the cottontails out. Fortunately, the damage they have done so far has been minimal -- mostly a few beans and peas. Meanwhile, when I trim anything from the garden or remove past prime plants, the results are dumped outside the fence and serve as a buffet for the deer and rabbits.

Blueberry Bandits

1. June 2014 22:48

The eight potted blueberry bushes started out the spring with lots of flowers. Small berries followed shortly.  But there never seemed to be any that were properly ripe.  Eventually I realized that it was not a case of being impatient. There were berries that were almost ripe.  But very rarely any that were ready to pick.


Finally I discovered that I was being robbed.  A very clever bluejay had discovered the berries and was picking them off as they ripened.  When he could not find a perch that would allow him to reach what he wanted, he flew at the target, knocked it to the ground where he landed to enjoy his snack.


Now one blue jay was bad enough. But things got worse.  A pair of robins appeared.  We typically do not see robins around here since they tend to prefer more civilized landscapes in the suburbs with nicely manicured lawns where they can hunt worms.  I suspect that a neighbor has suceeded in making the area around their house a little less rural and the robins found it suits them.  Compared to the bluejay, the robins are little pigs and not at all afraid of the human approaching them. And they are sampling a lot of the other garden goodies as well.

If I am going to get more than an occasional blueberry, I will need to use bird netting to keep the fruit for my own use.  The berries and leaves on the bushes are too small to simply drape the netting over the bushes.  It will require a support that allows me access to harvest as well. In the long run I plan to have a couple of mulberry trees as offerings to the birds.  In theory, they are supposed to prefer those to other berries and fruit.  Of course, if the birds are not reading the same garden advice, the alternate plan "B" is to have so much growing that there is plenty for all of us to enjoy.

Spring Planting

16. April 2014 17:34

The garden for 2014 got started a whole month earlier than it did last year.  According to the guide I found for my climate zone, it could have been done a month or so sooner.  Since we had such a warm winter, that actually might have made a difference in when some of the veggies will be ready for the table.  However, as soon as it was officially spring, the weather returned to more normal (cool, coastal foggy mornings) and I could just imagine the corn and green bean seeds shivering in the ground instead of sprouting.

Last year I tried planting similar things together thinking that would make care easier.  It probably made little difference in helping things and was not so good in other ways.  Having snow peas, snap peas and shell peas all planted next to each other meant that there was a tangled mess of peas and it was hard to tell which was what kind when it was time to start harvesting.  The tomatoes also turned into a tangle outgrowing their cages and the more vigorous ones strangling the others.  It also meant that any problems such as aphids or powdery mildew had lots of hosts nearby once it got started.

So this year I am trying to mix things up a bit in hopes that the results will be better.  However, the season has not gotten off to a great start.  The tomatoes should have been started inside a lot sooner. The tiny seedlings were snipped off by the birds requiring a second batch getting an even later start.  The birds also seem fond of the pea leaves and a few emerging green beans look like they have been nipped off. 

Next year I must start more inside and plant out only when they are much bigger.  Or perhaps have a winter garden that will result in plenty to share with the wildlife.  If we get a nice wet winter for a change, there will be lots of native greenery around and the garden veggies may not be as much of an attraction.

(See photos of the garden at

Upgraded Transportation

4. March 2014 20:04

A few weeks ago we decided it was time to trade in our 2005 Toyota Matrix on a new vehicle. The Matrix had been a good car and was relatively problem free.  However, it had over 97,000 miles. The odds of being inconvenienced by a major repair were not getting better. As I liked the style of the Matrix. The combination of the hatchback with fold down seats, allowed for carrying a lot more cargo with ease than could have been done with a sedan. The back seat had enough leg room for normal human adults and the front seat was at a comfortable level for entry and exit. We when out looking for something similar.

We were not planning on looking at hybrid models, but the Ford CMAX caught my eye. It was the most comfortable of the cars we took out for a test drive. And compared to some of the others, had a more open feeling -- it did not seem to have too much in the way of blind spots. We are still learning the features of the CMAX and getting used to the experience of driving the hybrid. The options in the dash for display provide second by second feedback on fuel and battery use as well as hints to improve efficiency. At times adjusting one's driving to improve the score can turn into a game. Plus there are all the improvements that have become standard since our Matrix was new, such as voice activated controls and Bluetooth connections for the cell phone use while driving.

And the most amazing thing -- we got the garage cleaned out so we actually can park the car inside for the first time ever!

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