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Planning Ahead with Bio-Char

November 22, 2010 2 comments
Full Barrel

Full Barrel

Kids: Don’t try this at home ! If the gases do not properly escape during heating, you will be in trouble.

Somewhere during my life, I either learned this lesson myself, or picked it up from others: “The longer ahead you plan, the greater the reward”.  I decided this weekend to plan ahead for the days when snow will fall, when everything pertaining to the outdoors will become more difficult.  I’m starting early this year by re-digging the pit where my Bio-Char barrel resides, and gathering some sticks and other burnable materials. This Bio-Char cooker is a big part of my commitment to lower my Carbon Footprint.

Above is the most basic form of Bio-Char cooker I could find online. It’s terribly simple: Place a metal barrel over a fire, with some holes in the lid. In a normal fire, the Carbon would bind with Oxygen atoms, and create Carbon Dioxide, or if the wood is left to rot, it will decompose into Carbon Dioxide and Water. By keeping the wood in the barrel it will cook all of the gases out, leaving mostly Carbon behind. The Carbon is then added to the soil, where it will be trapped for hundreds of years, and this carbon won’t contribute to global warming as CO2. It’s also very good for soil once it’s been activated.

Ready for the First Burn

Ready for the First Burn

When the gases cook out of the wood, they expand due to the heat, and they’re flammable. Prepare to see these jets of gasses burn out of the holes like afterburners on a jet. If your thinking of trying this your-self, I would recommend bigger holes in the lid !

When it’s time to light this candle (after some snow falls), I’ll stack wood all around the base, and under the barrel. The setup requires about four times as much wood on the outside which will be burned then what will be converted to Bio-Char. Even though 1/5 of the carbon in all of the wood will be removed from the carbon cycle, the 4/5 burned will make it into the atmosphere early, perhaps by a few years.  In the future, I hope to expand the ratio of Bio-Char to Carbon Dioxide by stacking several barrels, and using the flammable gases from the lower barrels to cook barrels on the top. For now, I can bury a little carbon, and at very least, lower my impact on the warming planet, while improving my gardens soil.

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Mapping Progress

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment
Blue Concord
Blue Concord

In the long term, I hope to clone most of the grapes which I’ve planted near the garden. The cloning part isn’t that difficult, but keeping track of each specific vine’s name over the course of several years may prove the hardest part. That’s where my Tiny Vineyard Map comes in. This morning, I walked around all of the now dormant vines, and noted each varieties name on a small map.

Vine Map
Vine Map

I also decided that this blog may be the best place to store maps of various plants, so here’s a map of my small orchard as well:

Small Orchard Map
Small Orchard Map

I may need to amend this orchard map, as two of the small trees didn’t seem to be doing that well this fall. There are also two new sweet cherry bushes which would be on a third line below the Red Delicious and Cortland apples on the left hand side of this map.

Frosted Veggies

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment
Frosted Broccoli

Frosted Broccoli

I’ve been watching patiently as my cool weather crops progress. After ignoring these plants for my first few years gardening, I’m quite surprized by there growth. I’ve been in the routine that once the frost comes, game over. No extra innings, no second chances. When a plant had frost on it, it was dead. This is the way of past gardens, and it is the way no more. I’m expanding my reach into the cool weather crops, and even if they don’t have the juicy flavor of a brandywine tomato, they are still good for me, and worth my time to grow them.

Frosted Cabbage

Frosted Cabbage

I should get my veggies straight however. In an earlier post, I labled my cabbage as broccoli, and vice versa. These two crops were planted at night, with a flashlight guiding the seeding process. I had two packets of seeds, and some how mixed up which I had planted in each row. Now that the cabbage is starting to form a rounded head, I can see my error clear as day.

Frosted Swiss Chard

Frosted Swiss Chard

The Swiss Chard is still growing well, at least the small center leaves anyway. I’m hoping it will survive until at least next tuesday. If it lasts that long, I plan to pick some, and hopefully make some sauteed swiss chard as my contribution to Thanksgiving. I’m not much of a cook, and I’m sure we will all be eating some Yukon Gold potoatoes from the garden, but I really want to cook an actual dish this year, rather then just he raw ingredients. Maybe I’ll cook some winter squash as well, since there is still a large pile on Mom’s side porch.

Cleaning The Greenhouse

November 15, 2010 4 comments
Time for Some Cleaning.

Time for Some Cleaning.

I try to be a neat person, but with a full time job, and a garden that’s half an acre, somethings gotta give. That something this year is the tidiness of the greenhouse. I’ve started over a thousand plants in this space this spring, and used the building as a shed since then.

Right View

Right View

In 2011, I plan to start about 100 tomato plants, and 200 peppers, quite a few less then last year. I’ll increase the number of Cucumber plants, and start new crops such as Pak Choi, Celery, Lettuce, and others. However, that plan will never work out if I don’t clean up my mess. I’ve got to clean off the shelves, tear out the small chicken pen on the right hand side, and organize things so this type of mess is hard to duplicate in the future.

Almost Clean Left Side

Almost Clean Left Side

After a few hours of organizing, and throwing away things I won’t use again, I was left with nearly clean shelves. I still have a small pile of dust on each table to clean up. If I could find my dust pan, this picture would be much more complete, but I guess that highlights the next project that needs care: organizing my home.

Right Hand Side Neat and Organized.

Right Hand Side Neat and Organized.

I’ve managed to remove the small chick coop I had under the right most water table. Sweeping the floor was a bit of a chore, with dust flying everywhere. I’ve also moved the water barrels to the side of the greenhouse which receives the most light. This should help increase the amount of Solar heat which is stored, and it makes the room seem larger.

I may add some shelves in front of the center water table, not for my own plants, but for others who have suggested increasing the output of this structure. I’ve also considered a way to add shelves into the peak area to maximize space usage. I imagine I could use a pulley system to hoist a set of shelves up into the peak area, so they won’t compete much for the suns rays, or the little space for walking.

Categories: Greenhouse Tags: ,

Beautiful Weekend

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Nearly Cloud Free Sky

Nearly Cloud Free Sky

For November, this past weekend was beautiful. The green hasn’t yet been sapped out of everything, and the sky was a mix of blue’s and whites. The few clouds that floated through the sky were small, and diverse in color. I took this shot from the very edge of the garden. The homes visible on the adjacent hill belong to my Amish neighbors. The poles in the photo support cables which will guide the now infant grape vines. I’m hoping in the future they won’t look so odd when the plants grow a bit.

New Tomato Patch

New Tomato Patch

This weekend’s agenda had only one item: My sister Sandy had some composted manure available, and when I arrived, we soon found more. The compost had built up over years in Sandy’s goat pasture, and had to be cleared out. While this was a problem for Sandy, it was a solution for myself. Composted Manure is Garden Gold, and I was all too happy to dig out the drainage ditch in exchange for free compost. As I was digging, I felt like a robber baron. This is by far the best garden additive I’ve found, and here I am digging it up and hauling it away, without putting any of it on Sandy’s garden. She insisted that I could take all I could dig up, so dig I did.

A few hours later, we spread the compost onto the main garden, and used a few bags of it to make a new Tomato Patch. This is soil which has never had tomatoes grow in it, so I’m sure Late blight will not spread out of the soil to destroy my plants. If the blight should strike in 2011, I’ll be sure it fell from the air.

Anti-Weed Weapon

Anti-Weed Weapon

As I finish up this post, and look through all of the photos I’ve taken this weekend, I’ve noticed something odd. One of the areas of the garden has absolutely no weeds. This was the area where all of my winter squash, and zucchini were planted. If I remember correctly, I planted them last, and was disappointed  with their growth, so I side-dressed these plants with composted manure…. Which makes me wonder:  As soon as the plants got side-dressed they grew like mad. I’m now wondering if the cure for weeds is compost. So this spring, as I plant each and every crop, I plan to side-dress them, and note the number of weeds which grow. My theory is: The compost causes the plants to grow so fast that they hog the sun, and keep the weeds from growing.

Categories: General

Winter’s Purpose

November 8, 2010 3 comments
Mechanical Timer
Mechanical Timer

It  may still be fall for most people, but for this IT guy there are two seasons: Winter and Growing season. Winter is a time for restocking, weather it be nutrients in the soil, or tools for the next year. This is a time to think about what has worked, and what has not, a time to plan what next years harvest will include.

As far as tools go, I lucked out recently when shopping at the local dollar priced store. You see, I was going to purchase these mechanical timers a few months ago, when there was a 50% off sign nearby. When I got to the register, they rang up at full price: $6. The frugal man in me proclaimed that they were marked half off, to which the attendant explained this item was excluded. I felt I had been the victim of a bait and switch, and even thought the items were worth the full price to me, I declined the purchase.

Then this last Friday, while my nephew was paying for his usual skittles and soda, I spotted a shopping cart marked “90% off” in the same store. I looked inside to find these Mechanical Timers, which contain water valves. If you set them to 30 minutes, the valve will be open for that amount of time. These would be a perfect addition to my watering habits. I can now set the sprinkler in the middle of the garden, add the appropriate amount of time, and walk away ! No more trudging trough mud to turn the water back off, and no more missing bits of my favorite shows. The best part is, after tax, each timer cost a whopping 63 cents.

Later in the weekend, Jenny and I were surveying the odd vegetables available to our climate, and made a list of new items to grow next year. Top of the list: Pak Choi, followed by colorful Swiss Chard, Purple Carrots, Bird House Gourds, and maybe even some…. gasp…. Brussel Sprouts.

Purple Peppers
Purple Peppers

When picking the final peppers before the first hard frost of the year, I found this pepper plant with four small peppers. They were too small to harvest, but too big to ignore. I dug up the plant, and placed it into an indoor pot, and set it by a large window. The plant is growing quite well, and I’m hoping to get four large purple peppers smack dab in the middle of winter. If it grows as well as the indoor pepper plant I had last year, I may replant it back in the into the garden in June 2011. That should really turn some heads if I can get fresh peppers before the end of June…. I guess well see.

Categories: Peppers, Planning, Tools

Hot Stuff

November 2, 2010 2 comments
Hot Peppers In the Garden - Cayenne

Hot Peppers In the Garden - Cayenne

I grew hot peppers for the first time this year, even though I’m not a big fan of spicy food. I figured my nephew would find a use for them, as he enjoys spicy food. I planted a row of about 12 Cayenne and 12 Numex Sunrise peppers. The peppers far exceeded my expectations. They set lots of little peppers, in colors that have rivaled some Christmas trees I’ve seen.

Dried Peppers

Dried Peppers

Even thought I won’t use them often, I couldn’t let all of these peppers go to waste, so I did some searching and experimenting, and found that you can dry them out, grind them up, and use them as seasoning. The peppers shown above have been sitting on my kitchen table for about two months. I shuffled them around a bit daily to keep the air circulating. The red peppers have retained their color, but the green, orange and purple peppers have changed.

Grinding Peppers

Grinding Peppers

Now that the peppers are dry, it’s time to grind them up. I started by removing the peppers that shriveled up or looked unappealing. Next, I cut off the stem, including the very top of the pepper, and placed them in my retro mixer. I set the the mode to “liquefy”, and held the top on snugly. When the peppers were reduced to tiny chunks, I removed the glass portion, opened the lid and looked down in. I was careful not to breathe in….. but it didn’t matter. These peppers are so potent that the dust found it’s way into my throat, and left me wishing I hadn’t looked. Next time I’ll wear a mask, and rubber gloves !

Ground Hot Peppers

Ground Hot Peppers

I then poured the ground up peppers back into a glass bowl, and let them sit on the table for another week, stirring them daily. I imagine there is enough hot pepper in that photo to last me the rest of my life….

Hot Pepper Seasoning with Warning Label.

Hot Pepper Seasoning with Warning Label.

When it was time to imagine a label for this seasoning, I couldn’t help but think safety first. This seasoning must clearly remind the user that it’s not garlic or cinnamon, but natures heat in a bottle.  I settled on a skull and cross bone, with some red fiery eyes, which should get the point across to any one who dares open the top.