Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Starting the 2015 garden

I know, seems like an over abundance of optimism on my part to be starting the garden in mid January,

but the fact is, we've been feeding off of last fall's Nevada Lettuce all winter. They're getting a little ragged now, mostly because we've been pulling leaves off to the point where some of the plants are more stem than anything else, but they held up well.

We also had some Simpson Lettuce growing along side but they insisted on bolting between Thanksgiving and Christmas no mater how aggressive I was on topping off the flower stems. Once bolted the leaves of the Simpson got pretty bitter but I did leave two of them growing to see if I could get any seed out of them, (Not so far.) and both lettuces sailed through the several freezes we've had with only a few layers of floating row cover for protection.

Just for grins, late in the fall I direct planted a few Early Green Broccoli seeds in an empty spot. (For those that just turned their noses up, and you know who your are, we eat a lot of broccoli at our house. Like pretty much every day!) It was quite late in the season and a bit cold for proper germination, but this plant, which hasn't set any florets yet, sprouted then thrived despite the cold.

So I maybe got a little impatient the other day but I ended up planting a flat with radishes, a couple more broccoli, and some Nevada lettuce and set it on a heat pad under the grow light out in the barn. Within two days the lettuce had sprouted and by the next day everybody was up and growing.

So I started a second flat with Dwarf Blue Kale, Brandywine Tomatoes, and just for grins, a couple Contender Bush Beans. A few days later everybody is up.

In our zone (8) the lettuce, kale, broccoli and radishes are all considered cool weather plants which means by mid to late May they will be done, so starting them now isn't that far off the mark. The tomatoes will take a little nursing to get them through to planting time but they too suffer in the heat so a good head start will hopefully improve yield.

The beans?? Well this photo was taken one day after the first of the two beans sprouted (The other one sprouted last night.) and it's that tall plant over on the left. As you can see it has some pretty well developed true leaves on it just one day after sprouting! I'll be transplanting them into larger pots later today but I may have jumped the gun a bit on the beans!!

In a couple weeks I'll probably repeat the plantings. This way if I've been too early with some of these initial plantings all is not lost, and if I wasn't too early we will have an extended harvest to look forward to.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

An Ivy League Project

OK, maybe I should have left off that 'league' bit and just claimed it to be an an Ivy Project. (Was that mean of me to tease all you East coast college sports fans and/or intellectual snobs like that?. . . Too bad.)

I'm not very clear on just where they came from (I guess I wasn't in the loop that day.) but I ended up with a couple small Ivy plants sitting on my computer desk/shelf/standup workstation the other day. It was suggested that I find a proper pot and keep them at my station for a little greenery since I have the 10'x10' doors behind me open most the time and get fairly good light there. Being a husband of nearly 30 years (This time; the first marriage didn't work out quite so well. . .) I took that suggestion as a command and immediately looked around for something to put the poor little plants into.

Of course there's never an appropriate pot just hanging around with nothing to do when you need one is there?!

I mean I could have put the forks on the tractor and drug (I know, now days dragged is more correct but I'm not from these days.) that 24" ceramic planter in from beside the barn; you know, the one so heavy I can't even tip it up on edge and roll it without causing serious bodily harm; like the kind where my guts pop out and get stepped on; but I kind of doubt that my tall baker's rack was really built for that kind of load anyway, and I'm pretty sure the two small plants would be lost and lonely with all that acreage.

So I wandered down the hill to the equipment barn (One of those inexpensive tensioned-skin 'garages') where I have a stack of old cedar fence boards salvaged when the 20 year old fence they were once part of had to be replaced. Grabbing a few off the stack I headed back to the workshop

where I did a couple quick 'measurements' and a crude drawing.

Not wanting just a plain old box, I opted to tilt all four sides outward at a 7 degree angle. This particular angle was pretty much an arbitrary selection, except that 5 degrees is small enough that you're not quite sure if it was intentional or just sloppy workmanship, 10 degrees is just too - well - common, more than 10 and it starts looking cartoonish, so 7 it is.

First step is to rip a 7 degree edge down the length of the best looking fence board, ( Best looking in this case means the one with the most interesting aging and edge wear.)

But, Oh NO!!!! My angle gauge is dead! Push the ON button and it just sits there staring back blankly. Push it again and still nothing! Bang it into the palm of my hand and still nothing!

So I managed to waste a couple minutes at this always useless endeavor before accepting that I must have run the battery flat last time I used it.

Fortunately I had a couple spares in the battery box, otherwise I might have had to go old-school. (Oh the horror!!)

That near disaster resolved, I set the blade angle to 83 degrees and ripped my starter edge which will end up being at the bottom of each side.

Then with my miter guide set to 7 degrees I began cross-cutting the fence board into the bits I needed, careful to keep track of that 7 degree edge so it always ended up in the right place; down and outward leaning.

 Of course I managed to make the first cross-cut with the blade still cocked over at 83 degrees instead of the 90 it should have been, so I had to use one of my do-overs to fix that. (Fortunately, since it's my shop and I make the rules, I have as many do-overs as I need; and let's face it, some days are better than others. . .)

With all four sides cut to size I tilted the blade back to 83 degrees and cut a scrap piece of pine so that it would drop into the assembled sides and wedge itself there as a bottom. I used the pine because it will give more structure than the worn out fence boards. (Besides, I have plenty of leftover scraps of it on the lumber rack.) Yes, the pine will rot away faster than cedar but then this is pretty much a throw-away project anyway. If I get any more than two years out of the planter I figure I'm at least a year ahead of the game.

Of course, if this was a carefully planned and measured out endeavor I could have made all the 7 degree cuts with one setup,

but it's often best to measure right off the project pieces as you go and just leave the tape measure alone.

First I ripped the pine to width based on the finished width of the end pieces, then I cross-cut it to the length of the long pieces minus the combined thickness of the two ends.

Clamping the pine base to the workbench as a crude assembly jig, I pinned the four sides together first then finally pinned the bottom board in place. This took all of 2 or three minutes with the air-nailer.

Because this is going to sit on a shelf over top of some of my books, I draped a still folded black trash bag over the planter, tucked it in reasonably well, tacked it in place with some scrap pine strips, making sure to keep them down below what will be the soil level, and finally hacked off the excess trash bag with a blade that could have been just a little sharper, but who has time for that??

Of course I'll have to be very careful not to over-water and rot the roots, but I figure that's better than dribbling dirty plant water down over my books, one of which (Rod McKuen's, Listening to the Warm) I've had since I was a freshman in high school and a few others (A couple hiking guides and Tom Brown's exhaustively titled, Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking.) I've had since the early eighties.

A few scoops of potting mix from the bin outside, a little tamping and watering in, and the Ivy has a pretty nice new home, even if I say so myself.

This prototype took about an hour from concept to finish and required less than one fence board. I have over two hundred fence boards in that stack down in the equipment barn and with a few jigs and some assembly line production I figure I could turn out 6 or so planters an hour at a cost of maybe a buck apiece and they would probably sell for $9.99  over at the crafts and antiques festival as fast as I could make them. Over $50 an hour net isn't bad, but, being retired and all, where's the fun in that!!

My freshly 'greened' workstation, complete with about-to-be-grilled dinner (The grill is just warming up off to the left.) and this very blog entry on the laptop!

The workstation is made up of one full-height and one half-height baker's racks backed up to each other and a goose-neck LED floor lamp for when the barn doors are closed.

Just below the laptop is a 48" 4 bulb florescent shop light I use as a grow light when I have seedlings sitting on the shelf below it. I have room for another grow-light setup below that but for now my keyboard (Music not data entry.) sits down there.

The binoculars and camera are always sitting here, right at hand as well, (Of course the camera is, in fact, in my hand at this moment. . .) as are a number of field guides and other reference books.

The top shelf of the tall rack has a few stray projects sitting on it and the shelf with the new planter is also where I keep a stack of puzzles handy because - well - a guy needs handy puzzles.

It might not look like much but my workstation works out pretty dang well for me and now even has live plants! (I wonder if they'll stay that way. . .)