Archive for the 'Gardening' Category

Aerogarden 2nd Run; With Custom Built Pieces

Monday, May 14th, 2012

After nearly 5 months, the first run of herbs in the Aerogarden were finally tired to the point of no longer useful (I started with AeroGarden Gourmet Herb Seed Kit (6-7-Pod) and it worked really well — way more than $18 worth of fresh, tasty, results).

Pods Installed (Basil Sprouted!)

One of my goals with the Aerogarden is to gradually replace all the pieces until I’ve effectively created a homebrew Aero-Hydro solution that will eventually integrate with our atrium’s pond (fish poo fertilizer FTW!), use LED lighting, and, hopefully, be an interesting conversation piece.

The next obvious step was to replace the seed pods and baskets. The seed pods/baskets are the one piece that needs to be replaced with each planting. The baskets — white plastic things that fit in the holes on top of the Aerogarden — can be mostly reused, but the original design is obviously optimized for cost, not effectiveness (they don’t actually fit correctly in some of the holes!). The seed pods, themselves, are little bundles of seeds in growing medium; Aero’s are good quality, but relatively expensive and the seeds are of unknown variety (i.e. generic curly parsley and not some particular strain).

At left is the current phase; seed pods and growing medium replaced with Basil sprouts showing some signs that it is working!

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Aerogarden Success!

Saturday, December 17th, 2011
Aero

This is our AeroGarden after a couple of months of growth. It is currently growing savory, mint, basil, thyme, parsley, amaranth, and oregano. The Aero works really really well. Within the water reservoir (the big black thing under the plants), it has a pump that pumps water with nutrients over the roots of the little growing pods that stick through the holes in the deck around the plants. Surprisingly, the thing makes virtually no noise.

Once every week to 14 days (not sure how often), it reminds you to add nutrients and it has a water-low indicator. While the seed kits from Aero include nutrients, I’ve been using the worm tea from my son’s worm farm.

Quite nice to have a nearly non-stop supply of fresh herbs next to the kitchen!

I would never have otherwise bought such a device, but we ran across one at a garage sale for $5. Quite a hefty discount off of the $150 new price. It did need some new lights.

I picked up one of the Aero branded seed packets so I could go through one grow cycle by the book, as it were.

$150 seems a bit steep and seed kits are another $20, typically. However, if you truly will use all the herbs, then I would think the thing would pay for itself long before it wears out. Annoyingly, the light sockets are of an esoteric standard and ordering new lamps from Aero is ridiculously pricy. Razor meet blades, assuredly. However, it isn’t hard to rewire it for standard CFL grow lamps (you want CFL to avoid burning the plants at such close proximity).


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Tomato Porky Thing

Saturday, September 4th, 2010
tomatoporkything.jpg

I tossed this together tonight and, though simple and fairly obvious, was just too good to not share.

Heirloom tomato season is upon us and I’ve been grabbing some beauties from my community garden plot.

A simple use that makes for a good all in one meal:

  • Slice the tomato into 1/4″ thick rounds
  • Place on lightly oiled (olive oil works best) cookie sheet or pizza pan
  • Place a couple of fresh basil leaves on each
  • Add a bit of meat. I used pulled pork (as I had made some earlier), but I’m betting ham or bacon would work exceptionally well, too. Chicken works quite nicely, as well.
  • Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Good thick layer. Maybe grate a touch of parmesan in there, too
  • Lightly pepper and add a touch of salt. I used porcini mushroom salt.
  • Toss into a warmed pre-warmed oven at about 300 degrees.
  • Wait a minute or so, then turn the oven over to Broil on high
  • Wait until all the cheese is melted and starting to bubble/brown

Delicious.


Year of the Aphids

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
Ants & Aphids on Oleandar Blossom

This year was mostly a great growing season for our garden. We got lots of beans, squash, tomatoes, and other goodies.

However, this year was also the year of aphids.

At left is a blossom on a red oleandar that I planted a few weeks before that photo was taken.

The ants are farming the aphids. That is, they herd and protect the aphids. In return, the aphids suck the plant’s sap and the ants carry off the waste product — the aphid poop — to store away in their nest for future feasting.

Two species acting symbiotically to irritate the hell out of me.

Ants Herding Aphids on Oleander

If this were the only infestation of this kind, I would be concerned that I had chosen a location for the plant that was sub-optimal and, thus, led to weakness that made the plant susceptible to such an attack.



Black bean aphid  (Aphis fabae)

But, not in this case. This is not the only massive infestation of aphids that I have seen this year!

The community garden was also plagued with aphids. And by plagued, I mean plagued.

This is a closeup of the blossom of a long bean plant. At a distance, the vine looked black because the aphids were this thick over the entire plant.

If you look closely at that photo, there are a handful of parasitic bugs attacking the aphids. Unfortunately, nowhere near enough to quell the infestation. The only solution was to remove the plant in its entirety.

Oddly, they only attacked some of the bean plants. No idea what made one plant more attractive than the next, given that the beans were in the same soil and climbing the same trellis.

Mason Bees; North American Native Pollinators

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Update:

We’ll be lucky to get any Osmia lignaria bees this season as they generally try to already have a nesting site by now. They are a very early season pollinator!

However, there is a second native bee that may likely take up residence and provide effective pollination services all summer. Osmia californica, another mason bee, takes over about the time lignaria is done!

I might order some tubes of Osmia californica bees to kick start the local population.

Ready for Occupancy!

If you have any interest in gardening or flowers, or follow any kind of agricultural related financial markets, you are likely aware that one of the ecological disasters we face is known as colony collapse disorder.

Basically, the worker bees in a honey bee colony die, get lost, or otherwise just cease to function. The cause has been attributed to pollution, mites, genetic degradation, pesticides, genetically modified crops, and/or a slew of other guesses.

It is a serious problem in that bee driven pollination of crops is what sustains much of the agricultural production in the United States.

Oddly, though, the european honey bee — the bee that everyone immediately thinks of as the One True Way that flowers are pollinated to yield seeds and crops — is actually an imported species and, frankly, a bit invasive at that.

Not only invasive, honey bees tend to be territorial in that they will actively defend their hive. As well, they really aren’t even that efficient as pollinators.

Not surprisingly, there are many native pollinators buzzing or flitting about. In the South Bay, the most noticeable are the carpenter bees as they are gigantic, relatively clumsy, totally non-agressive, fuzzy, and have a noticeably loud buzz while flying.

But they aren’t the true superstars of the native North American pollinators. For that, one should look to the Mason Bee or Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria).

The mason bee is a rather docile flying insect that is considerably smaller than the carpenter bee. Like the carpenter bee, it is non-territorial, won’t sting unless seriously threatened, and is non-swarming.

The mason bee is an extremely efficient pollinator as a single bee may visit over a thousand blooms per day.

Clearly, this is a bug whose presence should be encouraged!

Fortunately, it is easy to provide housing for such a helpful critter. Roger is standing next to a mason bee home that we made over the weekend. We chose to make one out of a block of wood. However, bundles of reeds, bamboo or — even — appropriately sized straws work quite well, too.


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Blue Blade; Destroyer of Favas

Monday, April 6th, 2009
Loading the Fava Bean Shredder

This year we are making a more concerted effort to actually, like, plan meals and buy what we need as opposed to ending up with the world’s most expensive compost heap from the wasted food bought at the farmer’s market with best of intentions.

As a part of that, I’m also taking a more serious run at the whole gardening thing in our community garden plot.

This actually started last fall when I turned and planted the entire 20′ x 30′ (approx) plot with fava beans. Now, we happen to love fava beans, but not that many. There was an ulterior motive.

Namely, fava bean plants do a brilliant job of pulling nitrogen out of the air and fixing it into the cells of the plant itself. As well, since favas are such a vigorous over-winter growth in this climate, they nicely shade and choke out most of the weeds that would be sprouting about now.

To put the nitrogen into the soil, the bean plants must be worked into the soil. Last year, I did this largely by hand (with a much smaller number of favas) by digging holes, chopping up the plants with a shovel and turning them into the soil. It worked, but not terribly well as it leaves potentially large air pockets in the soil that plants hate.

This year, I used Blue Blade (pictured at left). Or the scariest damned Make-style hack ever. It is one of the various inventions used by the gardeners in plots around mine. (No, I didn’t make this — if I had, the sides would be a bit sturdier and I would have used nylon nuts to keep the damned thing from falling apart.)


Shredded Fava Beans And Shredder

It is a pretty simple device.

  • Rip apart an old lawnmower
  • Cut a piece of plywood in a circle the same diameter as the lawnmower’s deck
  • Drill hole in middle and bolt lawnmower engine to plywood
  • Attach blade to bottom
  • Attach plywood to a sawed off barrel (In this case, plastic… lending to the fear factor)
  • Cut a 2.5″ in diameter hole to the side of the engine
  • Attach a plastic tube used to feed in the favas
  • Grab a handy stick and jam the engine’s throttle wide open because you don’t have a throttle cable or dead man’s switch anymore

Then? Fire the damned thing up and feed favas, weeds, and any snails/slugs into the tube.

The end result is green gold. A thick mat of minced favas that are easily spread and turned into the soil. Not only does it add a ton of nutrients to the soil, but the fibrous matter loosens the soil quite a bit and makes subsequent planting and weeding tasks a ton easier.

I’m still letting a good sized patch of favas grow to full maturity. Which is frightening. I picked up fava seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply along with a rhizobacteria that grows in symbiosis with the plant to maximize nitrogen yield through excellent plant growth & health. In my case, this means a solid mass of 6 foot tall favas!

Peaceful Valley or “groworganic.com” is an awesome company. They have been very helpful and have an amazing assortment of heirloom seeds.

Gardening Season Begins

Friday, February 22nd, 2008
Roger Rescuing Ants While Watering the Garden

Or, I should say, Gardening season began in late January, but we are just getting around to starting our gardening in mid February.

Roger and I planted a bunch of fava beans in our community garden plot a couple of weeks ago. Some are destined to be harvested, but most are simply there to fix nitrogen and be turned into awesome mulch.

When gardening, I generally try to set up the garden such that I can flood irrigate. This lets me leave a hose or three running full blast in one area of the garden while I work / weed some other area.

One of our garden mates has this incredibly cool device to chop up fava bean plants and return them to the soil. It is, effectively, a lawn mower mounted in a rain barrel with a hole in the deck through which you feed the plant matter. Quite the frightening device.

Here Comes the Flood!

Of course, with flood irrigation, the numerous ant colonies within the garden do get a bit upset when their homes are periodically flooded. Roger likes rescuing the ants wherever possible, though some ants do appear to be able to walk on water.

This was a bit of dead plant matter left behind from last year’s gardening efforts. The ants seemed to use it as a bit of a watch tower. An ant or two would run to the top, have a look around, and then run back to tell their nest mates whatever bits of wisdom they had gleaned from above.

All photos taken with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens and an Canon MR-14EX Macro Ring Lite. Not that the ring flash was needed for the photo of Roger, it just happened to be on.

Iris Time Again

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Our neighborhood and community garden has been planting and trading Iris for a couple of decades. Every spring, there are clumps of iris of all different color combinations throughout the neighborhood. When the clumps need be divided, people simply place the removed portions of plant on their yard waste piles. Few of these ever get scraped and hauled away, though, as a neighbor will invariably see the potential plants, grab them, and stick ‘em in a hole somewhere around their own house.

This spring has been a particularly spectacular year. And yesterday’s morning rain and intense ambient cloud filtered light made for a perfect opportunity to photograph some of the beautiful flowers throughout the area.

Actually, the abundance of flowers almost made it difficult simply because framing a shot to highlight a particular flower almost always included a neighboring bloom.

This one is one of my favorite colored blossom. It is all pastels from a desert palette like one that O’Keefe might have used.

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Tieing Knots

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

The rather long point of this is to point people to this flat out incredible site. Animated knot tying instructions with historical information, application notes, and words of warning about failure modes.

Another excellent knot site.


Did a bit of gardening today. Beyond the typical weeding and planting, I had to make some vertically oriented growing structures for beans and grapes. That is, I needed trellises.

In the past, I have used concrete netting (i.e. wire mesh with 6″ openings) and, when feeling extra lazy, I have used pre-boat trellises (jasmine in our atrium, for example).

Expensive, that. A far less expensive solution which also has the added benefit of being fully customizable is to build trellises myself using posts and twine, rope or wire, depending on how long the trellis needs to last.

You’ll need two critical tools to make this easy. First, you’ll need a post driver. Why the Amazon product link doesn’t show the driver, I don’t know.

Anyway, a post driver is simply a steel tube hollow one one end and weighted on the other with a couple of handles. You slide the post driver over the post you want to drive, lift up, and let it drop (or pull down if you want to drive faster). The post driver does the work of driving the post without the risk of smashing the crap out of your feet.

So, grab your post driver and some posts. I use both wooden and metal posts, depending on what is available. Sometimes, I’ll drive a metal post really deep, then a wooden post a couple of inches deep next to it, and tie the two together with my wire clamp tool to make an extra tall post (as I did for the grape trellis).

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Drying foods (Nesco Dehydrator & Awesome Customer Support)

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

I have long wanted to make meat jerkies and to dry various foods. With the bumper crop of peppers from my own garden and cheap “irregular” fruits available at the farmer’s market, it was time to finally do something about this desire.

I picked up the Nesco GardenMaster food dehydrator from Amazon (pictured/linked at right).

It includes 4 drying trays, a leather drying insert, a “small things” drying insert and can expand to up to 30 trays. At 1,000 watts and with the thermostat on the front, it will maintain drying temperatures between 95 and 155 degrees.

In other words, the Nesco is a fairly industrial strength unit. Well built. Fairly loud.

Loud enough that I would suggest putting it in a room with a door that otherwise has good ventilation. You’ll definitely want the ventilation if you are drying things like garlic or hot peppers. Otherwise, the surrounding room will become quite the little gas chamber. Even with an open sliding door, I managed to fairly seriously pepper spray myself while drying a bunch of habanero peppers!

The unit seems to run about 10 to 15 degrees hotter than the thermostat indicates. As I’m using a probe thermometer, I’m not sure exactly where I should be measuring temperature. As well, since it can stack to 30 trays and I’m only using 3 or 4 at a time, I would bet that the heat will vary as I add more trays.

Nesco, the manufacturer, has a very useful web site which includes recipes, full documentation, and various other information. I submitted a query via their customer support link and was nicely surprised to have a response in my mailbox in a couple of hours. I have since exchanged several emails with Gerry in Nesco’s customer service who is obtaining calibration information from the company’s engineering department.

I’m damned impressed. Good customer service, that!

So… what have I dried with it in the week I have owned it?

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