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On the Brink – Saving a Cherry Bush from Drying Up

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment
Cherry Bush Not Doing Well

Cherry Bush Not Doing Well

About three weeks ago, I noticed that one of my cherry bushes was not doing well at all. The temperature at that time was well above 90 degrees for a few days straight, and there wasn’t much rain. The leaves on my plant had begun to drupe, and the cherries it tried to produce were very small and unhealthy looking.
Since I had trans-planted this bush from my sisters garden in the fall of last year, I figured the roots might not have been covered enough to protect them from the heat. I decided to take a four layered approach to fix this problem, starting with a fresh layer of soil.
Start with a Layer of Pot Ash

Start with a Layer of Pot Ash

 After the soil layer, I added a layer of “Pot-Ash” or what’s left when burning wood. I had a good deal of this ash in the pit where I make bio-char. I mixed the ash with water, and sprayed a bit of Miracle Grow into the mix. The nutrients in the fertilizer should sink into the ash, and be released slowly as the plant grows.
A Layer of Manure

A Layer of Manure

 On top of the ash, I added a layer of composted manure. Again, I put this layer on top so that some of the nutrients would leach into the ash below, and hopefully be stored in the soil longer. The manure was composted for at least a year and a half before being applied.
Straw to Hold in the Moisture

Straw to Hold in the Moisture

 To hold the moisture in the ground, I finished off the layering with some old straw I had sitting around. I layered it thick enough so that the sun could not directly hit the soil below. This should prevent the soil from having it’s moisture sucked out of it.
Once the layers were complete, it’s time for some serious watering. I dumped ten gallons of water around the cherry bushes base, hoping to hit the roots, and the soil directly around them. I followed up with a couple more gallons every few days during hot spells.
"Boots" carrying a snake

"Boots" carrying a snake

 While I was trying to save this excellent growing cherry plant, my cat was also hard at work hunting down snakes in the field. He is a very friendly cat, well to humans anyway…
Crazy Cat.... Who Knows What he is Doing ?

Crazy Cat.... Who Knows What he is Doing ?

 After he dragged the snake out of the field, he decided to take a break and sit on the snake…. while purring away.
Growth Once Again

Growth Once Again

Three weeks later, my hard work had payed off, and you can see the bush is growing once again. After spending a good deal of time around plants, I’ve discovered a very simple method to see if the plant is healthy. Look at the very top of the plant, or anywhere where you would expect to see new growth. If the plant is a bright or light green, it’s quite healthy. This holds true for many indoor and outdoor plants.

Sneaking Potatoes

July 25, 2011 Leave a comment
Rows of Potatoes

Rows of Potatoes

I planted quite a few potatoes this year, and I just couldn’t wait anymore to try them out. I was going to rip one of the plants out of the ground, for investigative porposes, when I heard that you could sneak potatoes off the side of the roots without harming the plant.

Digging Around the Roots

Digging Around the Roots

The process is very simple. Start by slowely digging around the roots of the plant. Use care not to damage the roots, as this will slow the plant down in it’s growth process.

Roots and Potatoes

Roots and Potatoes

Once you dig back some of the dirt, the potatoes and roots should be showing. Some of the potatoes will be a bright color, and a few will be darker. The darker colored potatoes are the original seed potatoes, and should not be picked. When you’ve chosen which spuds to nab,  simply pluck the potatoes from the soil, and gently break any attached roots.

Yukon Gold Potato Close Up

Yukon Gold Potato Close Up

Once you’ve gotten a small heist, cover the roots back over with a loose covering of soil. Do not pack the soil, since this will hinder the plants growth.

You may hesitate for a moment before recovering the spuds, as I did. It’s simply amazing to imagine that a plant can harvest the minerals and moisture in the dirt, and convert all of that with the help of solar radiation into an edible potato. If you simply pause for a moment and look around, this world is pretty amazing.

 

Lighting That Candle…

December 20, 2010 2 comments
Water Vapor Evaporates First

Water Vapor Evaporates First

Do not try this at home ! If this process is not followed correctly, bad things can happen.

I’m planning to make five batches of Bio-Char this winter, and I’m a bit behind schedule, so this weekend I decided to get my first burn out of the way. The process is very easy, but a bit time consuming. In total, I spent about 3 hours watching the fire, and adjusting the fuel to keep the barrel a consistent hot. What else is there to do on a Sunday when the temp hovers below 20 F ?

Gases are Released and Burn Off

Gases are Released and Burn Off

I had a good pile of scrap left from helping Santa this year, and used the wood to get the fire started. When the Cooker is good and hot, and all of the Water Vapor exits through the holes in the lid, then flammable gases will start pushing their way out.

Flammable Gases Burn as hey exit the Cooker

Flammable Gases Burn as They exit the Cooker

The jets of flame are pretty cool to watch, and seem to dance as if they are alive. The color of the flame changes a bit from beginning to end. In the beginning the flame appears somewhat colorful, but as the batch nears completion, it looses it’s color, and becomes a dull yellow/orange.

The End Result: Sequestered Carbon

The End Result: Sequestered Carbon

When the burn was complete, and the barrel had cooled, I opened up the top to have a look. Above is the end result of my three hours of work, one batch of Bio-Char. The devils advocate may be asking why I would burn so much wood and release so much carbon to sequester this small amount of Greenhouse Gases ? The simple answer is that the carbon would be released no matter what… If the wood was left to rot, it would release the carbon any way. The only way to take this carbon out of the cycle is to bury it as Bio-Char. The real payoff will come for the next thousand years; you see this carbon will keep the soil fertile and alive for centuries to come. How do I know this ? Bi0-Char or “Terra Preta” was produced over 1500 years ago in South America, with the soil still bearing a dark color, and very good crop yields.

So if your reading this post several hundred years from now, and you’ve got that field I used to call a garden, your welcome….

Sage Tea

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment
Sage Plant

Sage Plant

As I was walking up my steps into my backdoor, I glanced down at my now two year old sage plant, and wondered what I could use it for. The plant is just starting it’s second winter, and the leaves are beginning to discolor. I did a search, and found that sage can be used for many things, once it’s dried out. I snipped off some of the larger branches of the plant that were invading my walking space, and placed them in the kitchen to dry. There’s no magic to this process other then to stir the leaves from time to time.

Dried Sage Leaves

Dried Sage Leaves

When the leaves are dry enough, they begin to break apart when stirred. At this point, I still wasn’t sure what to do with them, so I searched again, and found that Sage Tea was a common use. The process is simple, heat some water to a boil. ( I used a cup of water in the microwave for a minute or so…), Then add sage leaves and allow them to soak for five minutes.

Soaking Sage

Soaking Sage

I placed two spoons full of the dried leaves in a bowl, and poured the water on top, then stirred the leaves every minute or so. The source I read online mentioned that sage had medicinal uses, and the average person should not drink more then two cups per day. I’d suggest you do some searching and determine if the tea will agree with you before tasting it.

Finished Sage Tea

Finished Sage Tea

When all was complete, I had a small cup of tea, with tiny bits of leaves included. After letting the tea sit for a few minutes, the remaining bits settled to the bottom, and I tried the tea. I have made this tea three times so far, and have yet to draw a conclusion about the taste. I don’t find it gross, but it’s not pleasant either. In fact the best thing I can say about it’s taste is that it’s different, and I’ve made it more then once….

Categories: Herbs, How To's, Recipes, Sage Tags:

Water Carries Life

December 1, 2010 1 comment
Natural Spring Water

Natural Spring Water

While leaving the farm on my way to work this morning, I noticed one of the natural springs flowing a bit more then usual. It was nice to see this ribbon of green growth, after the recent snowfall, and it’s the perfect picture for an entry about water. Most of us (If your reading, your part of us) have running water at a whim. We simply open the faucet, and out flows clean water. What we don’t see in our water is the life giving properties of this liquid. It’s the perfect carrier for the building blocks of life. There are three main types of minerals that plants use which water will carry, including Primary and Secondary Macro, as well as Micro Nutrients.

When growing seedlings, or watering a garden, you need the right amount of water to allow minerals to be absorbed. If there is too much water, the roots will rot due to a lack of Oxygen. If there is not enough water, the plants will be unable to absorb enough nutrients.

Here’s the simple system to manage water which I was taught in my first years gardening, something I expanded upon due to laziness/efficiency:

Watering Seedling in the Greenhouse

Watering Seedling in the Greenhouse

Start with styrofoam cups, poke holes in the base, and fill with miracle grow. Place the cups in a tray, and add water to the cup. While this works very well for 20 plants, when scaled up to 200 it’s a bit time consuming. To make life much easier, fill the base tray with an inch of water. This much water will last at least two days in my greenhouse, and I can water 1000 plants in less then 15 minutes. In the photo above, I’ve separated different varieties of plants in each tray, which makes organizing easy too.

Categories: Climate, How To's, Seedlings, Water Tags: ,

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.

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.