Let there be light

I got a florescent fixture mounted for the grow wall this morning.  It’s got daylight bulbs in it.  That should help keep the wall growing and healthy.

I had an epiphany.  I’ve been fussing about what to do for a gutter and I haven’t been making a lot of mental headway until yesterday.  My latest effort to find a gutter for the wall involved an internet search for gutter 12″.  I found a place in CA that custom makes gutters as well as carries all sorts of beautiful fittings for people with lots of discretionary income (aka people NOT like me).  They had copper gutters, galvanized gutters . . . and stainless gutters!

A light finally flicked on inside my head.  We’ve got a sheet metal place local to us where they can custom build me the gutter I need!  They’ve done specialty stuff for me before in stainless.  It won’t be cheap, but it will both look good AND perform good.  What’s not to like with that?  I asked Wadly to pay for my new gutter for Christmas.  He’s game so now I just need to design it.

The beauty of water kefir

Brew, ferment, drink

I have a jar of water kefir grains brewing on my counter.  It’s one of the few natural things that will help right my system when I eat something I shouldn’t.  It will also chase off a cold if I drink it as soon as my throat start to tickle.

Water kefir grains are supposed to multiply, though mine don’t seem to do so at any visible rate.  That doesn’t seem to alter the effectiveness of the result so I’m not going to fuss about it.

I brew my water kefir with maple syrup and dissolved minerals in filtered 7.2PH water.  I sliced a chunk of unsulfered candied ginger into the water kefir grains mix and cover it with a piece of paper towel, stirring it twice a day while it’s brewing.  I can tell when it’s ready by the way it smells, though I suppose I could measure the brix.  Smell seems to work for me.  The speed of the initial fermentation is a product of sugar content and warmth.

After the grains have fed for a couple days I strain the liquid into a sealable bottle.  I add a few chunks of dried pineapple to the bottle of water kefir and set the cap on without tightening it down.  When all the fruit is floating (usually a couple days) I seal the cap.  Sometimes the fruit stays at the top, sometimes it sinks to the bottom, sometimes it does both and sometimes it hangs in the middle like little fruit jewels.

When I need a water kefir I uncap it over the sink (if properly sealed it WILL fizz as it is a fermented drink) and strain it into a glass.  It’s a lite pineapple/ginger beer filled with good-for-you enzymes and digestive bacteria.  What’s not to like?

Biofilter update

Upper tank with hydroton

It’s still too cold to put out any of the biofilter plants I’ve tried to winter over but it is time to get the tanks in and circulating.  This upper tank is foam.  I got it at a year end sale two years ago for $10, a great buy.

Last year I used a tee-less fitting and a piece of rubber hose for the upper tank outlet.  All last summer I had issues with the upper tank overflowing due to a too small outlet with penny royal root blocking the flow.  I’m hoping I’ve solved some of that with this year’s setup.

I pulled the tee-less connector and inserted a tapering vacuum cleaner wand extension pipe into the hole.  After determining I would get a good seal, I pulled it out, trimmed it accordingly and reinserted it into the hole.  No sealant was required to give a good water tight fit.

This change allows better outlet flow and the mean level inside the tank is lower decreasing the chance of overflow.

What you can’t see (I’ll drop the water level and get a snapshot before I put the plants in) is the 3″ PVC pipe that keeps the hydroton out of the outlet and inside the tank.  The pipe is one foot long with a 45° angled end.  This angle fits over the outlet and is fastened to the tank with a 2½” screw.  The other end of the pipe is a straight cut which is covered with a piece of 30% sun shade cloth.  The length of the pipe has saw kerfs to increase the ability of water to enter the pipe.

Growbed Updates

The new and updated dump bucket
The roller assembly gizmo hanging on the side of the bucket. Note the notch in the bucket collar to accommodate the gizmo.
The outboard end of the gizmo assembly. Note the notch in the lid to allow the lid to (mostly) set down on the bucket.
The back side. Note the notch in the bucket collar.
Stainless long necked bolt.

 

Yesterday was a  beautiful day, mild, sunny and quiet.  Wadly was off visiting family and I had the peace to putter to my heart’s content.

I managed to get the dump bucket for my grow bed rebuilt.  This time I added a genius gizmo for the flush counter-weight assembly.  This crafty  gizmo was the happy confluence of circumstance and available parts and it all started with the proximity of the flush valve to the edge of the bucket.

Because my 5 gallon buckets have a lot of ridges and raised lettering at the center I mounted the flush assembly against the side of the bucket.  This gave me a smoother flatter surface for sealing the toilet flush valve to the bucket and, by mounting the toilet fill assembly next to the side of the bucket, I was able to reduce the distance between the rollers that lift the toilet flush flap and support the flush valve counter-weight.  I saw the lock assembly for a sliding window sitting on the bench ready to be taken out to the aluminum pile to recycle.   That started the mental wheels turning and I was able to scrounge the remaining parts to pull this gizmo together.

The new roller carrier is small, requiring one small notch in the bucket collar for installation and support.

The rollers are from the bottom of a sliding glass door.

The bolts holding the rollers are stainless.  I have no idea where they came from.  Whenever we disassemble something for recycling, we take any potentially interesting small hardware and stick it in one of our multiple cabinets with plastic drawers.  We had this particular bolt type in two lengths.  The shorter was twice the length I needed but they do a perfect job.  The additional bolt sticking out is more of a design statement than a flaw.

The holes in the center of the rollers was just a bit smaller than the circumference of the bolt which allowed the bolt to be pressed into the roller assembly.  A bit of judicious encouragement from my rubber mallet did the trick and the rollers are now pressed onto the bolts.

The holes in the aluminum slider window lock handle were just slightly smaller than the threads on the bolts.  Because the piece to receive threads was aluminum and the bolts were stainless,I was able to force screw the bolts into the holes to create the necessary threads in the aluminum carrier.  You see what I mean about a confluence of circumstance?  The bolts were the right size to press into the rollers and the holes were the right size to accept threading from the bolts.  Kismet.

Each bolt has a fiber or teflon washer and a stainless washer to ensure proper spacing for the roller.

The rollers aren’t stainless and aren’t designed to be out in the rain.  Terry painted them for me to help keep the rust at bay.  As to the bearings, an occasional squirt of WD-40 (water displacement 40th formula tested) keeps rust in check and the rollers turning smoothly.  the arrangement allows the cord to be lifted off the rollers and the roller assembly to be taken away from the tank/growbed assembly for maintenance.  At some point I’ll make a plastic cover for the roller assembly to keep the rollers drier.

If you’re wondering what I used to extend the overflow tube on the flush valve . . . it’s a vacuum cleaner hand wand extension pipe.  We’ve got a shelf under one of the benches that gets all the plastic pipe chunks we might need for a later project.  Wand extension pipe is just plastic pipe and the taper makes them perfect for fitting onto other pipe or into openings of not exactly the right size.

 

 

Aquaponics Startup

Yesterday I rebuilt my aquaponic system to accommodate an additional grow bed.  The single tray I used last year was just not enough.  I have switched out the gravel I used last year for hydroton (expanded clay balls) so (theoretically) the beds will be light enough to move inside when the weather grows too cold to sustain growing.  A single bed filled with gravel would require four muscle men, a pygmy goat and some special equipment.  That so won’t work for portable beds.  With hydroton I should be able to lift the bed onto a rolling cart for transport indoors.

Now that I’ve got two beds to flood, last year’s system won’t work as is.   Two beds means at least twice the water volume.  I will gang together two 5-gallon buckets to make up the required flush volume.  By ganging buckets together using a short length of 1½ pipe and tee-less connectors, I can supply the volume for both beds using my existing fill and drain system bucket.

So far I’ve got one tray filled and water cycling through but I have more to do before I’m ready to consider planting. I need to cut new piping for the drain system.  I want the system to flash-fill the beds so I don’t have to rely on an auto-siphon for drainage.  That reduces the complexity of the system and reduces the parts needed to get additional beds attached to the system.

The tank’s water temperature is still below 55° [brrr] but if I’m going to get a head start on the season, I need to get my beds functioning mechanically now.  To get the beds up to temperature a little more quickly, I’m thinking of installing a solar water heating system for the tank.  We’ll see if I manage to get it done before the tank gets up to temp.

Not graded for size

Guess which is the store bought egg

As the weather gets colder I seem to cook more breakfasts.  My favorite is a not-omelet with whatever ingredients I have at hand.  Sometimes it’s scallops and shrimp, other times it’s sausage.  At some point I’ll get pictures of the non-omelet process to share.

Chickens go through a laying/setting cycle that contributes to our very occasional lack of eggs.  Part of the derth is related to having free range chickens and dogs who love eggs . . . when they can find them.  Because smart hens hide their eggs where dogs and people can’t find them, we have a fairly consistent supply of new chicks to offset those lost to old age and/or picked off by scavengers when the dogs get inattentive.

The eggs we get range in size, shape and color because our flock is a real mix of breeds.  We have medium to small hens that are part barred rock, australorp, banty and something with feathered feet.  We now have a silky rooster who was added to our flock by a family member.  The one baby we’ve been able to identify as his looks more like a grouse than a chicken.  Very cute.

The difference between our eggs and those that come from the store is really obvious when they are cracked into the same bowl.  The store bought egg is yellow.  The free range chicken egg yolks ranges in color depending on the age of the chicken and what they’ve been eating.  The richer the color, the higher the nutrition.

The store bought egg in the bowl was a grade A large brown egg.   You can see one of  our eggs is slightly smaller and one is quite a bit bigger.

Casting for lasts

Box for foot mold

I’ve finally got all my ducks in a row and have cast one of my feet in pursuit of lasts for making my own shoes.

I zipped together a box for the mold, using scrap pieces of 6″ plastic pipe to fill in corners so I don’t waste molding material.  I sealed the seams with some caulk I had on hand (butyl silicone).  I think just about anything would work as a sealer.  One pound of alginate fills the mold to my ankle.  How great is that?!

Foot impression filled with plaster

I taped my anti-arch support in the bottom of the mold before adding the alginate, then stood in the alginate until it set up.  Getting my foot out was pretty easy, just a little wiggling and I was free.

It takes 4 cups of plaster of Paris to fill the mold to the ankle.

The alginate is a nice molding medium.  It’s pretty easy to tear apart to remove the plaster of Paris positive and it faithfully reproduces whatever is molded.

Lorr, cleaning up the positive

I went up to our son’s to get a part for my table saw repaired.  While I was there he cleaned up the positive, a necessary step in getting it ready to mold.

The final shape, just needs a final clean-up and smoothing

And there you have it, a semi-ready form to cast for my left foot last.  I still need to skim-coat it with Bondo before a final sand to make sure it’s smooth, smooth, smooth.  I’ll get the right foot done this week.  Hopefully we can get the lasts cast this coming weekend.

Making shoes will be a good bad-weather project.  I really need shoes that will support my rotten ankle and keep my feet dry while running around outside.

Footie Stuff

Mold just slightly larger than my foot . . . yeah, I know, I have small feet.

I managed to get a mold made of one of my feet.  I used warm water to mix the first batch of alginate and it set up before I could get it out of the bowl and into the mold.  The second time around I mixed using cold water, poured the mix into the mold and stepped into it.  That worked great.

Alginate set up and filled with plaster.

I mixed plaster of paris and filled the mold.  I have to wait until it sets to unmold it.

It’s the turns that make life interesting

ComeQuiltWithMe's coffin quilt pattern, a very large version (3"x4½") of the block I'm contemplating using

I’m working on a new quilt idea.  I’ve discussed it before, the koi pond repeat in some sort of watercolor technique similar to the sunset quilt.

I originally flirted with using the 2″ square dance block but have since veered toward a stretched hex (coffin, not honeycomb).  I’ve ordered some coffin shaped English paper pieces. They’re gonna take a while to get here because the shape isn’t a standard one for PaperPieces.com so they’ll have to draft it before sending it to the laser cutter computer.  Hopefully it’s not going to cost an arm and a leg.

This morning I had a flash . . . what if I created a stamp the size and shape I want.  I could stamp the image on the back of the material, do some pin matching and sew the seams by machine.  Y seams don’t bother me and I think I can pin and sew accurately enough to do the job by machine.  I wouldn’t have to trim super accurately, wouldn’t have to use a template, wouldn’t have to sew the blocks together by hand (English paper piecing).  Hmmm . . . You KNOW I’m gonna have to try . . .

So, ever the research queen, I’ve been looking at rubber stamps.  I found this really plain Jane website with rubber stamp construction info.  Next time I head into town I’ll pick up a blank stamp and see if I can carve what I need.  Before I do that I’ll draw a couple and try sewing and see what I get.

Growbed update

This is the cobbled together frame. Three legs are pressure treated, one is cedar.
Frame set into the ground (~4" holes) with mortar tray in place
Flush tank in place, flush drain in place
Tank side of the bed showing loop siphon and fill tubing

The drain as the flood tank flushes

Wadly and I got all the bits put together and I’ve taken pics to share.

This system is designed to be built out of 55 gallon barrels (see the barrelponics group on yahoo) but I’m having a hard time finding clean free barrels in my area.  Instead, I opted for the $4.96 option . . . a mortar mixing tray from Home Depot.  The gas to go to where I can get 55 gallon drums is more than the cost of the tray.  Add to that the cost of purchasing barrels (current best price is $15 ea.) and I’m way ahead.

Wadly built the frame to support the mortar tray.  I think it’s clever.  All the wood is recycled bits and pieces assembled with torx screws.

I had originally planned for additional posts to hold up the dump tank until I got a clue <shaking head at self> and had Wadly cut me some 2×6 angled pieces to hold a 2×8 shelf.  I drilled a notch on one side of the shelf to accept the bottom of the toilet fill kit installed in the dump bucket.

The 5 gallon dump bucket is recycled and the  drain plumbing parts cost about $10.  I didn’t have any of the adapters and connectors for 1½” pipe though I did have some 2″ and a 2″ elbow all glued together which I used.  Everything is dry fitted so it can be disassembled and adjusted or cleaned.

All along the length of the drain pipe are skill saw cuts ¾” apart.  They are cut across the length of the pipe and go through 1/3 the thickness.  The next time I take it apart I’ll get pictures.  The end cap had six holes drilled in it.

When I build the next bed I will run one drain down the center and see how that works.  Or maybe use 1″ pipe instead of 1½”.

I have three tomato plans (SunGold, Beefsteak and yellow cherry) and 4 green pepper.  I will add red pepper as well when I can get some plants.

Wadly has cut a cover for the tank but the edges need routered and it needs waxed to keep the rain from soaking in.  It’s in the shop waiting for me to get out there and do the task.