Note: Am I being doctrinaire?

This has been suggested and the answer is, well, yes I am in regard to diy projects. My intent with the blog is to offer something that I know works. This almost guarantees success. After succeeding then one can go one’s own way with confidence…

Otherwise my opinions have formed from “being there” or reading and watching videos especially about WW1, the War to End All Wars.

Catadiopteric telescopes

img_2832My 9mm eyepiece in place.img_2834

I forgot to mention one of the best designs of telescopes. These scopes are composed of a series of lenses and mirrors that permit a long focal length in a short tube. A correcting lens on the front cleans us spherical aberration too. That is all I know about this design.

Some months ago I thought I would like to have a scope with a long focal length for viewing planets. At the time Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were in the sky at night. I wanted a unit that was light and smallish so it would be easy to set up. And not expensive!

I purchased an Orion StarMax 90 mm Maksutov-Cassegrain scope from Amazon on sale for $209 Prime. It came on a well constructed altazimuth base (refer to previous comments about scope mounts) and will fit on my equatorial mount if I rotate the scope 90 degrees to the right so its mounting base is in line with the tripod. This puts the targeting scope in an odd position, but it works. The focal length is 1250 mm and the tube length is 9 inches (23 cm). The overall length including the star diagonal is 13 inches (33 cm). The “maximum useful magnification” under perfect viewing conditions is reported to be 180X using a 7 mm eyepiece. That is pretty tight and I would not buy such a lens until you are sure your situation will permit useful views with it. The good quality eyepieces included provide 40X ad 125X.

I have used it to see the planets and the view is very sharp. The images are small, but I clearly see the ring of Saturn (but not the separation of the rings) and a little of the bands of Jupiter. I have not looked at deep sky objects yet. The field of view is narrow because of the long focal length so the scope is optimized for planet and moon viewing, but should work for DSO also especially at low power.

This scope can be used for terrestrial viewing if you buy an non inverting star diagonal. (The dedicated astro scopes present an inverted image.)

If I had only one  telescope I would go with this design, but with a larger diameter like 6 to 8 inches(15.25-20.3 cm) and perhaps a shorter focal length too unless one wants to concentrate on moon and planets. Prices go up with increasing diameter.


HOW EYE (get it?)MAKE MEAD, part 3

Once the fermentation starts it will be intense for several days. A billion bubbles (carbon dioxide) arise in the must and bubble through the air lock. It should be complete in about 1 1/2 week. Then there will be NO bubbles coming up through the airlock. The fermentation stops when the sugar is gone or the alcohol level is high enough to kill the yeast.

Now let the forming mead sit in a safe place at room temperature for a couple weeks. Gradually a tan debris will form on the bottom of the carboy. This is the dead yeast. If you added fruit this will fall to the bottom or float to the top also. Give it some time so a lot of debris reaches the bottom and then it will be time for the first racking.img_2825

Racking is the process of siphoning the mead  from the sediment at the bottom. This will help clear the mead and prevent an unpleasant taste from the last glass of your bottled mead (the lees).

I strongly suggest you buy the siphon device shown and described in part 1. It works so well –> put the flexible tube end in the bottom of the lower carboy, pull the plunger back on the siphon, position it in the mead above the sediment and gently push the plunger in and the mead flows into the lower carboy. The equipment is cleaned before use.


At this point I return the bottle to a safe place and check it now and again. When the mead has largely become clear-perhaps 6-8 weeks- do a second racking. Some like to do a third racking. There should be no debris on the bottom now so it is OK to pour a little in a wine glass to examine in the light and to taste.

The mead has been aging all this time and can continue to age in the carboy or in the bottle. It’s the brewer’s choice. Bottling it is done the same as racking. Be sure to clean the bottles well before filling to the narrowed neck. Label the mead with the brewing date and contents.

I like to age it for 6 months total as a minimum. We have recently drunk some mead I made in 2011 and in 2005 and it was excellent so apparently it does not spoil with age. I always have served it chilled.img_2824


HOW (0) MAKE MEAD, part2


There are so many ways to make mead. I will explain the way I do it and include only the necessary steps to have a good product. I have never made a straight mead, but always add fruit and maybe spices.

Again: cleanliness and patience.

This formula will use a one gallon jug or carboy. The process is not hard. I am being as detailed as possible.

Obtain three pounds of honey. I get it during the summer from the local farmer’s market. The honey will likely be solid so start by putting the bottle in the sun or in a pot with hot water. Buy your yeast from a brew shop or online (see below).

Using a good size plastic tray or other large container (I use a large white plastic pot for making beer which has a spigot on the bottom) add two tablespoons of the cleaner to two gallons of tap water. One gallon and one tablespoon is likely enough if you are cleaning in a tray. Disassemble your air lock and place in the solution along with your large funnel and a large stainless spoon (if you will boil the must). Clean for at least two minutes. The funnel will need to be rotated so all surfaces get cleaned and this can be done by hands washed in regular soap. Then lay out all parts on a clean towel to dry. No rinsing.

I put about one half inch of the cleaning solution in the carboy and cover the opening with my clean palm and shake it up several times to coat the inside with the cleaner then drain.

The “must” is the combination of honey dissolved in tap water. Opinions vary, but I always add the honey to about a quart of hot water in a large cleaned steel pot (like one to cook spaghetti) and boil it for 10-15 minutes. This pasteurizes it. A proteinaceous debris will rise to the surface and needs to be scooped off with the spoon. Boil the must slowly and stay with it because if boiling too fast the must will overflow and cover your stove with sticky honey in an instant.

Next I fill the sink with about four inches of water and add all the ice cubes from the refrigerator and put the steel pan containing the must in it to cool to merely warm.

Next pour the must through the funnel into your carboy and add one Campden tablet (crushed if you like). Then add yeast nutrient. Read the directions on the package to find out how much is recommended.

If you plan to add fruit and spices now is the time. Apples and oranges need to be washed, cut in SMALL pieces and put in the carboy. I have lately been using unopened natural fruit juices without preservatives and will give a try to frozen concentrate.

Then add enough tap water to the carboy to take the fluid level to three inches from the top of the bottle, but no higher.

Fruit like cranberries and grapes should be washed then frozen in the refrigerator, thawed and added to the must. This is to break the skins so the juice can get out. Mashing them with a clean spoon is a good idea too.

Officially the Campden treated must should sit for 24 hours…yeah, no. I give it a few hours and proceed.

I usually put a full packet of yeast in a clean cup and add warm, not hot, tap water and mix it up and let it sit for 10 minutes or so before pouring into the must. Other people just pour it in from the package.

Don’t use bread yeast. It fades out at an alcohol content of about 8%. I use Lalvin EC-1118, Red Star Pasteur Champagne, or D-47 yeast. Which does not matter much.

Next put the assembled air lock in the carboy opening (don’t push it in to hard or the stopper may end up at the bottom of the bottle) and add enough water to it to cover the vents in the bottom of the center dome shaped part.

IMPORTANT: Just before or after adding the yeast swirl the carboy to dissolve air into it. I usually swirl for ~10 seconds 3 0r 4 times. The yeast must do aerobic metabolism to increase in mass before switching to anaerobic for fermentation to proceed.

Put the carboy in a safe place that is at room temperature.

Fermentation usually starts in 4-6 hours, but sometimes 24 or 48 hours.img_2821






How (o) make MEAD, part 1

Mead is an ancient alcoholic drink made from honey, water, and yeast. It is not difficult to make and I find it to be a lot of fun. I especially like to watch the bubbles.

NOTE: the honey in mead is the source of sugar for fermentation and may add some taste. The finished mead does not taste like honey at all.

Terminology: Adding apples or apple juice–>cyser. Adding fruit–> melomel. Adding grapes–> pyment. Adding spices–>metheglin. It is all mead though.

Part 1 will list minimum equipment needed to make mead and then part 2 will be about actual techniques that I have used.

The two underlying requirements for success are cleanliness and patience. Sterility is not required, but one does want to minimize the risk of contamination by bacteria or wild yeasts.

  1. Glass carboys -two. I have some 5 gallon carboys, but that is a lot of ingredients for one fermentation so I have gone to 1 gallon bottles so I can start several meads faster. I make one mead, bottle it, and then start another.
  2. Airlocks-several. These are one way valves, made of plastic, and come with a rubber stopper. One may be included with each carboy. They allow the carbon dioxide to be evacuated from the fermentation while blocking contamination. {alternatives include the use of balloons or condoms with needle punctures in the end. A balloon must be cleansed before use}.
  3.  A large mouthed funnel. Mine is plastic and used only for mead.
  4. An auto siphon. This is such an improvement over other ways to rack the mead that I regard it as necessary. I bought a Fermtech unit from Amazon.
  5. One step cleaner-this is not a bleach and with not damage hands or clothes {I have not tested it on clothes}
  6. A dedicated large plastic bucket or tray to used to hold the cleaner solution and your smaller parts.
  7. Bottles-I use the ones pictured with the camimg_2829img_2828img_2830ing top plug. Cleaned wine bottles would work too, but one will need new corks and a cork installer tool {a rubber mallet? Maybe}.
  8. Campden tablets-sulfite tablets to kill organisms.
  9. Where to get all this? Your local brewing shop, online brewing shops, and Amazon. I have used all three sources with success.