Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Light Table Upgrade

Time has finally come to upgrade the light table for seed starting. The old unit made out of a shop light and wood scraps way back in 2003 has reached its sell-by date. I needed something a bit larger and versatile. My first thought was to go full LED and build my own units. Full spectrum high intensity LED chips are cheap. The real work comes in building the power supplies, cooling fans and figuring out the circuitry and mounts. Commercial units are becoming available (mainly to supply the cannabis trade), but they are not quite there yet. Some are rather pathetic, not even high output but consisting of arrays of circuit board type LEDs.

The seed catalogs offer multi-shelf fluorescent units that are way too pricey and under powered. They do look good but I decided to compromise by building my own fluorescent tower unit. I began with a 5-tier steel NSF-grade shelving unit from Lowes. Because I wanted to be able to move this thing around the house easily I sprung for the caster wheels too. They work like a dream.

The rest of the components are right off of Amazon. The lowest shelf contains the seed flat heating pad resting on top of a piece of pink commercial grade wall foam board. This is where the flats will sit under a humidity dome until the seeds sprout. After which they will be moved up to one of the light shelves. One shelf contains a smaller FLT22 Agrobrite unit from HydroFarm while the other contains a larger FLT44 unit. The remaining top two shelves will be for storage and future expansion.

Agrobrite units are rock sturdy and well priced. They really can't be compared to shop light units. Using the newer T5 tubes, they are high output and full-spectrum designed specifically for plant growth. They come with a loop hanger on each end. Making use of those I added on Niteize CamJams to make height adjustment easy. I even kept the para cord the jams came with. They work beautifully and are plenty strong enough to support the weight of the largest light unit. All I did was cut the cord in half so that each jam had an equal sized piece. A loop and hog-nose clamp secured the cord to the light loop. I put double knots in the other end to limit slippage through the jam mechanism. Some caution is needed when initially setting these up to make sure the correct end is weighted and adjusting so as not to drop the units.

For power, I chose the Apollo 24-hour programmable surge protector power strip. It contains a row of outlets controlled by the timer and an uncontrolled row for "always on" (used here to power the heating pad). It was securely attached to the end of a shelf by drilling (very carefully) through the surface mounting holes in the back of the unit through the front housing. Be very careful here not to breach any of the internal wiring or interfere with the face of the timer dial.

Final attachment was via a pair of wide washers and two #10-32 2 in machine screws, locking washers and nuts. Not wanting to cut down the power cords the excess length was bundled and zip-tied to the frame and out of the way.

Light Specifications:

Agrobrite FLT22: containing two, 2 ft, T5 wide spectrum high output fluorescent tubes. Total lumens: 4000 at 6400K

Agrobrite FLT44: containing four, 4 ft, T5 wide spectrum high output fluorescent tubes. Total lumens 20,000 at 6400K

Not counting upgrades to the drip tray and new sets of 1020 flats, etc. I was able to put this together for about $300.

The Greenhouse Megastore is top notch for seed starting materials.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bleak Winter Days in Store

Hard to believe another gardening year has come and gone. Worse still, being so busy to not blog about it since the first spring till; damn!

Overall, it was a good season. The only real crop failure was the cucumbers that for some reason just didn't thrive. So no naturally fermented dills for us this season. The other big issue was not scheduling out the lettuce starts as well as in years past which led to several weeks of having to go with the store bought stuff. But the mini romaines are definitely the way to go as they are very easy to harvest and wash.

The other big news was finding a local source for small numbers of heritage chicken pullets; in this case the Dominique. They hatched out last May but took forever to begin laying (just a couple of weeks ago). I probably should have stuck with the red hybrids we've had before but these are really neat birds (the main variety of our colonial ancestors and rescued from near extinction in the 1970s).

The annual solstice fire was spectacular. No wind, crisp temperatures, spectacular sunset and moon all in the same frame.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Early Spring Activities 2017

Its been a busy spring with little time for posting. But here's a few shots (from two weeks ago) of the garden clear off, first till, cherry tree planting, etc.
 Tilling in the winter rye.
 Last of the over-wintered collards. They were really yummy!
 The cherry trees. One "White Gold" and one "Regina". Both sweet and semi-dwarf.
Dad's red buds. He gave me these several years ago as 12 inch sticks from the Arbor Day Foundation. They didn't even have roots! I didn't have the heart to put them in the wild border back then so I gave them one season in the vegetable plot to establish themselves. Last year was the first time they set seed. This year I'll try to collect them to start more.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Down Time And Waiting For Spring

It's that time of year when for once there is nothing to do in The Patch. A rare occasion indeed! A month or two of rest is a welcome treat. And contrary to tradition, I decided to not start onion sets on Christmas day this year which means that the seed starting table and grow light have yet to make an appearance from the basement.

Post holiday chores this year included a complete turn-over and replacement of seed stock as well as sending the chickens off to slaughter. Their lay rate was dropping off and one of them managed to develop a taste for eggs. This is bad news for such a small flock because once they start eating eggs it is almost impossible to get them to stop. We were down to only three girls as it was and only one or two eggs a day just wasn't cutting it. Better to get them out now before the depths of winter.

This provided an excellent opportunity to clean the tractor and get it up on the patio for winter.

Now all we need is some spring-time weather!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Landscape Hell

Anyone who knows my general gardening strategy knows that I detest suburban landscaping. Don't get me wrong I really like large-scale estate or park-type landscape designs having been on estate grounds crews in college. But when it comes to small lots I really prefer to put my valuable time into vegetable and edible/functional landscapes. But there have been projects around the house that I've been putting off now for over fifteen years! And since we will be having to replace our basement doors and ultimately our air conditioner units in the near future, I thought it was about time to take care of some erosion issues. So for the past three weekends, I've been busy working up new planting beds and redirecting downspout pipes. Our soil is pure clay and full of rocks. But luckily the parts up by the house were fill from when they graded the lot. The only substantial rocks were the two down in the lower left hand corner of this first photo. The largest must weigh at least 500 lbs and took an entire afternoon to extract!

I also decided to finally take care of the side edges of the back patio. Over the years, various varmints (mice, rabbits and ground hogs) have insisted on digging out under the slab. It took several hours to back-fill the voids. But this time I covered the areas with rat wire before tamping in the final fill. Hopefully this will make it a bit harder for anything new to try and dig it out again.

 And next summer if we get a dry spell I'll finally wash down the footers and put on a new coat of foundation paint. This is another thing that really drives me crazy. Foundations really should not be painted. But the previous owners did it and they didn't do a very good job especially on the back wall that remains incomplete. All that's left now is to put in some plants next spring.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Late Summer Activities-2016

Labor Day weekend is always a time for new beginnings in The Food Patch. On Saturday the squash, Roma tomatoes and various herbs were cleared off to make room for fall stuff. Soon to go in are cauliflower, bok choy and lettuce seedlings as well as a row of kale, collards and chard. This should get us up to first frost and early winter. Soon, about half of the patch will be seeded in winter rye so the chickens will have something green to forage on in the depths of winter.

And yesterday was the first of the fall brew days up in the Oak and Iron Nanobrewery. Got to get those bottles filled for winter!

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Rare Friday In The Patch

Here in the ex-burbs of Ground Zero, if you have the leave time and no essential meetings, definitely take off the Friday before a major weekend holiday like Independence Day. There is just too much uncertainty with the westward commute and nothing is worse than spending hours on the bus in traffic when you could be doing something much more constructive than sleeping or listening to moronic ring tones and street urchin cell phone conversations.
 The beets are in! Pound-for-pound these are the most nutritious root crop known to modern man. This bunch is going into the pot for dinner tonight but the majority of the row is destined for the dryer. Beet chips are easy to make and a great snack especially on the trail. Perfectly fine by themselves I like to dust mine with a little onion powder before they go into the dryer.

 Split rail fences are nice but after about ten years they need constant upkeep as they slowly disintegrate. I would prefer 12 ft chain-link topped with razor wire with an occasional Claymore/proximity fuse for good measure. But that probably wouldn't go over too good with the family and neighbors and I would probably end up killing someone's kid. So its quarterly replacement time this weekend for the ones that are broken or sagging.

 I can think of nothing more patriotic than to throw some locally grown beef on the grill this weekend. Stonewall Black Angus is just across the road and so close I can almost hear the moos from my front porch.  Its a bit pricey for every day consumption but I can't wait to throw on a filet and a T-bone grown right here next to The Patch.

Happy Independence Day to all! Get out there and plant something!!!!!