Portable crisper

Portable crisper
Portable crisper

I eat a lot of vegetables. Because I am a fuss-less person I’ve come up with a way to get my veges out of the fridge without spending forever pulling them out of a drawer, stacking them on the counter, whack off what I need only to stick them back in the fridge again every time I cook. This portable crisper sits on top the glass shelf that is the cover for the existing crisper in my fridge and, with the handy handle molded into the front of the drawer, allows me to pull it out of the fridge with one hand.  It contains most if not all of the veges I need.

This crisper is the drawer and glass shelf from a small portable fridge. With the addition of a brass piano hinge and some aquarium sealer, a piece of washable non-skid shelf liner for the inside and very little effort, I have streamlined and shortened my prep time.  The lid fits flush against the top preserving the moisture in the veges.

The paper sack is cut down from a large grocery sack and holds mushrooms at the perfect humidity to keep them fresh.  Strong smelling veges like onion are zipped in plastic but everything else is pre-cleaned, unwrapped and ready to use.  A cut-to-fit non-skid shelf liner keeps the veges up off the plastic bottom to avoid accumulation of moisture where veg and plastic meet.

Current content of the crisper include zucchini, yellow squash, onion, celery, mushroom, red and green pepper.  The larger build-in crisper contains overflow and backup stock.

Testing the molding

Materials
Molding clay with silicone mix pasted on.

End result after about 2 hours.

Let the games begin!  I’m testing molding.  After lots of research, I’m actually testing!  Woohoo!

  • Modeling clay (doesn’t dry out)
  • Something to use as a base (glossy scrap cardboard)
  • Pure silicone caulk
  • Xylene
  • Corn starch
  • Stir sticks (old plastic spatulas)
  • Mixing container

I used the modeling clay to make something to mold against.  I cut a piece, stuck it down to the glossy card stock, mixed equal parts corn starch and silicone caulk, then added xylene to get a spreadable consistency.

I then plastered the silicone mix onto the clay.  Not pretty, but pretty really isnt’ necessary.

The third picture is the result after two hours.  The silicone was largely set.  I didn’t do a good enough job getting the silicone into the register holes.  I’ll know to watch for that when starting the actual mold making.

Neat stuff!

Second sock, done except for the ribbed cuff.

I’m about 2/3 of the way done with my second 6″ crew sock.  It’s going very nicely.  My heel-turn technique is improving (fewer holes) and my work is nicely even.  I love the cast-on technique for toe-up knitting.  The heel turn method is easy and easy to adapt to fit my specific heel.  Getting a good fitting sock with no pattern is easy, after the fifth heel tear-out on the first sock.  Go me. <grin>  The next pair I’ll do differently still and they will be even better . . . and faster!

I’ve got a couple yards left in the first skein of yarn which isn’t going to be enough to finish this sock.  The second skein will let me finish this sock and should leave me with enough to make another pair with short cuffs.    I couldn’t buy quality socks for the price I paid for the yarn so color me happy.  I guess that’s one of the blessing of having small feet . . . more sock per yard.

At this point, I need to solve my needle problem.  I’ve ordered another brand of needle AND some fix-it stuff.  If one won’t work, the other should.

The top needle is straight from the package as-built by the manufacturer. The bottom needle has been altered to remove the hip which causes the yarn to get stuck on the cable.

The fix-it stuff is for the problem I have with the join between the tip and cable for the square needles.  They really are a good concept, but the design/execution could really use some work.  Let me explain.

The socks I’m making are worked in super-fine yarn.  Other than crochet thread for doilies, that’s the finest yarn sold in skeins for hand knitters.  The yarn manufacturer recommends a size 3 needle but I like tightly knitted socks so I’m using a size 1 needle.

For the stitch transfer to go smoothly for finer yarns, the join between the cable and the needle really has to be flawless.  Add together the fine yarn, small needle size and tight knitting and getting the yarn back on the tip from the cable becomes tricky in the best of situations.  As you can see, the join on the top needle in the above picture is a far cry from ideal.

When I got the square needles, I was appalled at the price (easily twice the price of needles the same length and size at KnitPicks.com) but I really liked with the squared off shaft which reduces hand strain and the slightly shortener tip which fits my hand better.

The total limpness of the cable is a true wonder.  When you make socks using two 16″ cable needles, stiffness in the cable prevents even tension in the stitches where the needle change occurs.  This is magnified for tight knitters.  That forced unevenness drives me nuts.  The limpness of the cable on these needles solved that problem.  The difference in appearance between the first sock (done largely with stiff cable needles) and the second (completely knit on limp-cable needles) is graphic.

To fix the hip-join problem between the tip and the needles I used my brass hammer and cobbler’s jack and reshaped the butt of the tip.  This worked really well right up until the altered shape of the butt impacted the integrity of the cable sheath.  Click the needle image and you’ll see what I mean.  The extra sharpness at the butt over time caused the sheath of the cable to separate and peel back giving an additional place for the cable to snag the yarn, though it’s still an improvement in moving yarn back onto the tip over the original shape.  Unfortunately, in one needle it caused complete separation between the tip and the cable.

I’ve got some neat stuff coming that I hope will allow me to solve the tip/cable join problem and let me continue to use these too expensive but wonderfully shaped needles.

Check out Sugru.  It’s an air curable silicone rubber which bonds to aluminum.  When my multi-color 8-pack arrives, I should be able to reshape the join to a smooth ramp AND take the stress off the cable sheath at the join.   If it doesn’t work as well as I think it might, I might be able to use it instead of cork for the heel seat in my shoes!  The uses for this stuff have got to be endless!

I have decided I need a purple pair . . . I just need to find the right purple.  Every girl should have at least one pair of purple socks.  The Patron Stretch Sock yarn is so awesome I am hesitant to try another type yarn.  I’ll have to see what kind of purple they make.

Winter wonderland

Our winter wonderland from the deck
Boopy Girl all dressed in winter white
The arrow marks the spot - that's 1/3 of the way to the county road. The drive goes to the left around the south-east pasture and along the barely visible tree line to the arrow where the pasture meets the trees. It then hangs a left and goes another 400 feet down a hill and around a sharp corner before hitting the maybe-plowed county road.

I think we can safely say winter is here, don’t you?

I had plans for today but with the depth of the snow, the length of our driveway, the fact that it’s still snowing and projected to continue snowing all day, I think those plans are officially toast.

If anybody in the neighborhood is going to the store, I need some stuff.  Call me.  <grin>

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.