Thursday, September 30, 2010

Garden update.. a little halfassed SFG going on!

SFG = Square Foot Gardening. Here's a pic of the twine I put up where I have my squares marked off into 1ft sections.

You'll see there's a bunch of stuff (Turnips, some older lettuce (both red and green) and a handful of peas..) I still have in here on the other, far end of the bed, but the near side has the squares all strung up and you'll also see theres three lettuce in the bed in the lower left corner of this pic. These are transplants I had that I planted in 4" pots up on the deck that I now had room for down here. So, I strung up the twine, tilled the soil with a trowel, added a couple scoops of compost and then set everything in according to hos it's supposed to be spaced out. There's radishes in here, a lot of lettuce, some spinach, Arugula, and a bit of Swiss Rainbow Chard.

Here, you can see those Habanero's are still going out of control in the upper bed:

All that red in there is well grown peppers. They are loving life in this bed, still. It's supposed to go into the 30's this weekend, so we'll see how much they're loving it in a couple of days.. but hey, maybe all the more reason to throw the cold frame over 'em? Hmm..

Here's a couple shots of the tomatoes I picked off my container plants in the deck a couple days ago..

I actually ate that one on the bottom there, that's all cut up. And I don't even eat tomatoes raw. But I did. It wasn't too bad, although the texture still freaks me out.

The Belgian Dubbel I did up with Jeremiah is bubbling away just fine downstairs.. it looks like it's starting to wind down, in fact. It took two days to start fermenting, and although the yeast pack from WYeast literally says "This yeast is a slow starter" on the side, I was not really prepared for that kind of delay. It gave me fits. I was not a big fan of that slow action at all.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Soil pH..

Took a pH test of my upper and lower beds the other day.. this is the upper bed:

And this is the lower bed:

They're a little different, but then again, one uses a different soil than the other one. I wonder if that had anything to do with the success of the peppers in the upper bed? I'll have to look into that. It's a good time of year to take a pH reading.. gives the amendments you may make to the soil time over winter to make the appropriate changes to the soil. It's the little things that count..

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Low hoop house build..

That's what they call one of these things, anyway.. I'm most of the way through a book called "The Four Season Harvest" by Elliot Coleman.. husband of Barbara Damrosch, author of "The Garden Primer" one of my favorite gardening books. Pretty good husband/wife team, right there. Both books recommended to me by a pal of mine, who is also a bit of a cold season farmer himself (Hi Kevin!). I had initially set out ot build a cold frame, with raised sides and flat glass 'lights' to let the sunshine in, but after reading this book, and perusing some other sources, I've decided to go with what the call a 'Low Hoop House'. Think big, full size plastic covered greenhouse all shrunk down to about 2-3' tall and you've got the idea. Technically, I think a greenhouse you can walk into is called a High Hop House, and one you can't fit into is called a Low Hoop House. So, that's what I've got.

The idea is to provide a bit of protection from the elements, and raise the temp's inside a bit to keep things from totally freezing solid and getting ruined. Or, if things *do* get frozen, during the day the sun can warm 'em back up and the ice/whatnot melts off, and you harvest stuff in the late morning or afternoon times. There's a couple of key things with these buggers to keep in mind.. one is that there's different kinds of vegetables, some like it hot, some like it in-between temperature wise and some actually prefer it downright cold. The key for the  growing season in the fall and the subsequent winter harvest is simply to grow the right kinds of vegetables. Mostly this is gonna consist of things like leafy greens and other stuff, like carrots, which would also apply. The best of the bunch is stuff called Mache, the Chards, spinach, Brussels sprouts.. etc. The next key thing to keep in mind is that really *none* of these things actually grow in the cold.. they just don't get kicked to the curb, stomped on and destroyed when the temperatures dip into the 20's and 30's. They *survive*. They thaw. They manage to carry on. So, you gotta grow 'em when it's still fairly nice out (it's key lettuce, radish, chard season right now! I blew it on Brussels' sprouts, though..) and then protect 'em with some sort of covering, like a cold frame, a low hoop house, or a full-size greenhouse, if you're that fortunate. This post will just document the on-the-cheap build of my low hoop house. When I say cheap, I'm literally talking $20.14 out the door, with  some parts left over that I didn't even use. You could probably make this thing for $16 and change. And hell, it might just collapse with the first snow or violent wind.. but if it keeps my lettuce alive for 3 more weeks than it would have otherwise, who's better than me? Plus, in the spring, it'll help harden off the tomatoes and peppers and such, and let me start growing more cold tolerant things in Feb or March. And that's what I'm talking about. Check it:

Start with this stuff.. three or so 2x4's (which will eventually be ripped to 2x2 dimension..) or buy  few more 2x2's already cut. 2x4's are about the same price as 2x2's, so when you rip 'em down the middle, it's like a two for one special. A small bag of plastic pipe hangers (in the plastic bag there..) and a couple of PVC crosses, some PVC T's and I used four 10 foot lengths of PVC pipe, which we eventually cut a few feet of the bottom of to get the arch's just right.

Then use a Dremel tool or a big drill bit to hog out the insides of the PVC T's and crosses in the right places so that the PVC pipe can slide through them. The pic shows the inside of one bored out, and the other one slid up onto the PVC pipe.. You'll see how this slides together in a minute..

Next, build yourself a wooden frame from the 2x2's that'll fit nicely over top of your raised (or un-raised, I suppose..) bed..

..use the pipe hangers to trap the ends of the pipes onto the frames..

until you have something resembling this:

This could be a total piece of crap, keep in mind. My testing will either confirm or disprove that statement.

When you're done, drag it down and test fit the thing over top of your bed/beds. It should look something like this does:

Since I have a lip of 2x6 that's raised up a bit that runs the whole length of the back side of my bed here, I sorta use that as a hinge.. it's not a hinge, but it keeps the frame from calling off the bed in the back and allows me to easily tilt the frame up. If your borders are all even around the edges, you might wanna put a couple of hinges there to make it easy to tilt up and get into your beds.

Now, later on next month when it starts to get cold, I'll bring out some clear or translucent plastic and cover the thing, stapling it in place along the edge. You can lift up the whole frame like I'm doing in this pic to reach in and grab stuff from inside, and then drop it back down when you're finished. If it's warm in the day, you're gonna have to prop the cover up so as not to bake the veggies inside there.. supposedly, these things can boost the temps inside 10-15 degrees. Imagine if you've got a nice75 degree fall day,sunny out, and the temp inside there goes up to 85-90 degrees F, and you've got instant ruined produce.

That's all for now.. carry on.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jeremiah's brewery.. sick!

Better be sitting down, cause this one is a bit weird. Check this out.. hybrid electric propane brewery with a CRANK UP, ADJUSTABLE HEIGHT BOIL KETTLE! What the!

Here's an overview of the thing.. note how low it is to the ground. He did it like this because his ceiling height is lower than my garage is, for example.. so, he made the boil kettle sit low to the ground while boiling, and then adjustable height (it cranks up) simply to drain it with gravity! Wacky..

Here's a shot of the crazy hand made strap crank he configured. It rolls up the side bars with the vertical bars as locator's and skateboard wheels to slide it up the pipes. Bizarre!:

Here's the thing in the low, boiling position:

Then turn the crank and it's up in the air to gravity feed into a carboy..

Out of control! Then, there's the totally awesome upside down dead center drain ports, to say the least of awesome-ness. This this is definitely unique.

The false bottom is a perforated folding setup in the mash-tun. Other than the really trick bottom drained sight glass in the HLT, it's also got a 5500watt powered electric element. This thing.. I swear, you can't make this up.. if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I'd say it wasn't possible, but we put in 8.6 gallons of 76 degree water in the tun and ramped it to 100 deg in 4min 45sec.. then 130 deg in 9min 50sec, and got it up to strike water temp of 160 deg in only 15min 39seconds. Unreal! Electric is totally mind boggling. The power of these elements over propane is numbing. Check this vid of the HLT boiling water by itself on the concrete floor:

Sorta speaks for itself, but this boil was way too hardcore. We need to bring this way down to use in a boil kettle.. I'm thinking 1500 to 2000 watts to keep a mild simmer.. 5500 was raging.  All inspiring stuff, at least. There's just really something awesome about plugging in a plug and then simply flipping a switch to have enormous power in your kettle. It really made propane look like a joke.. seriously, a kids toy in comparison. I'm a believer.

In any case, he brought this stuff over and we whipped up a Belgian style Dubbel on bits and pieces of both of our systems put together. It came out great and we hit the numbers on it. Stay tuned in a couple weeks for the results of that one.

Planter update..

Hey Savvas, here's that update you were askin' about for the planter on the deck.. the one I realized I hadn't taken any pics f since I pretty much planted the thing? It's my most productive component right now. Sorta embarrassing..

Check these silly Radishes:

There's actually some lettuce in there, too.. a couple of Simpsons and a could of Red Ridinghoods as well.. we also planted some flowers in the middle, but they never took off. Oh, forgot.. there's a basil on either end as well. And those are doing quite well! You just can't see 'em underneath all the radishes. Who knew they got so big? Here's one I just plucked and ate, shortly thereafter:

All carved up and washed.. and in my belly now.

Yeah, these are those red on top, white on bottom ones.. I forget what they call 'em offhand, but that's them. Tasty buggers..