Sunday, March 13, 2011

Home Gardening Update 3.13.11

I just thought I'd post a little update on the container garden I started wayyy back in November. November was too late to be starting these things so most everything didn't do very well and didn't grow much at all over the winter, but now that it's getting toward spring things are really ramping up their growth.

My broccolil and cauliflower both died except for this one tiny little broccoli plant in the middle of this pic that is hanging on to life but not growing very large at all.

The big frilly green leaves are carrots which are getting almost big enough to harvest.
On the left and in the front is lettuce but neither of those ever did well and the one on the left is bolting so I'm just going to let it.

Here's another pot full of carrots, plus some bolting salad greens of some kind in the center. I'm not sure what exactly it is because I got it from the community garden without knowing what it was.

Here we have my Bush Goliath tomatoes, which at first glance don't look very good but... when you look closer you see a ton of little tomatoes popping up all over the place!

Next up is what used to be some perpetually tiny bell pepper plants. My theory is that the container I had them in was not deep enough for their root system so they stayed tiny and feeble. They WERE alive however, until aphids infested damn-near all of my plants. I acted swiftly with a self-made non-toxic pesticide and everything else was fine after that but these guys were really badly injured, so much so that I'm not sure if they'll ever come back.

I did take one however and use it as an experiment to resuscitate it. I've got it under an overturned fish-tank which should work as a mini-greenhouse. I've given it root-growth supplement and compost and have a grow-light on top to keep it nice and warm when the sun doesn't do a good enough job of that.

It's like a baby in an incubator :'(

These are my Spanish Yellow Onions. They took a long time to do anything as well, staying small throughout the winter but now they're starting to grow. Still not near big enough to harvest though.

Over here around this broken pond I'm going to grow from left to right: Mint, Dandelion greens, strawberry, and chamomile. In this pic the seeds have been spread and watered. The power extension cable you see is for the grow light for the incubator-bell-pepper. The branch tossed on the mulched bed on the right is to keep my dog from pooing on my mulched bed.

And lastly on this side I've broken up & aerated the soil but haven't planted anything yet or even decided what to plant. Probably some kind of flowers that have an herbal medicinal use.

By the way if I didn't mention it last time, the reason I have a lot of things in containers and nothing in the ground yet is because I rent and last year I was worried about tearing up the ground of a property I don't own, but this year IDGAF. If they don't like it I'll tear it out when I move, but honestly it's going to look nice and be useful for food and herbal medicine so they shouldn't complain.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Soil Cube Seed Starting.

In addition to going to the community garden today, I started some seeds for my own home garden since the seeds I ordered finally came in. I wanted to start earlier but the seeds took some time to get to me. Oh well. NBD.

First of all here is what I got (all from

  • UC 157 Asparagus
  • White Spear Onions (bunching onions)
  • Mountain Mint
  • Wando Sweet Peas
  • Alexandria Strawberries
  • Dwarf Greek Basil
  • Dandelion
  • Roman Chamomile
  • Valerian
This was the first time I was able to use a new seed-starter tool that I got called the Soil Cube Tool. This is one of many little tools that compact soil into a little cube for starting seeds in, rather than using a plastic or peat seed-starting trays.

Plastic starting trays and cups are problematic in that the roots tend to hit the plastic and then start circling in a tangled clump inside the container, then when you plant that, the roots can still continue this root growth that has been "trained" by having it in the plastic pot and it can end up getting choked up in it's own roots. The way to help prevent this is to physically tease the roots out before planting, but that can cause damage and either way you're going to get some root-shock which means a delay in growth.

Peat is supposed to be nice because it's biodegradeable and you can supposedly just put the whole thing in the ground and the roots will grow out through the peat as it decomposes. Truthfully though, this can have the same problem as the plastic in inadvertently training the roots to grow in a compact tangled clump and frankly, I haven't found the peat pots to decompose all that well anyway.

Soil cubes or blocks differ in that there is no container whatsoever, the soil is the container. Since there is no edge to the "container" the roots will simply stop growing when the hit the edge. Plants roots have their own intelligence that will keep them from popping roots out of the sides of the soil cube. Instead, it will make the root system a bit more robust within the cube which serves to hold the cube together when it's in that form and when placed into the ground will just take right off and grow out into the soil, eliminating root shock. As for watering, you just water lightly, but the compaction and the fact that the roots hold it all together make the whole cube pretty decently held together.

FYI: Though the tool may be modern, the method is nothing new. The Aztecs did something similar way back int he day.

Here is the Soil Cube tool. It is made up of two square pieces of (PVC?) plastic with a handle and a spring press. You fill the plastic compartments with the soil mixture, place it on a flat surface, and press down firmly to compact the soil within the compartments. You then lift up the tool and press down again to slide the compacted soil cubes out of the chambers.

Above is the soil mixture I used. They recomend the following soil mix recipe:
  • 3 parts peat moss
  • 2 sand and perlite mixed
  • 1 part garden soil
  • 2 parts compost
  • a touch of lime and fertilizer
I used some of those ingredients, but did not measure parts at all. I just threw it in there, mixed it up and got it wet to an oatmeal consistency as recommended.

Here is what the soil cubes look like when they come out of the tool. Built into the tool is a couple of nuts which create little depressions, all set for putting the seeds in. They're not very deep though so for some seeds you may have to take a stick and make them bigger.

Anyway, you plant your seeds, cover with more soil and use some included wooden tongs to place them in your seed tray. I use my own grow-light system made from a plastic storage bin.

They almost look like brownies or something huh? lol. The ones in the middle are strawberries, which it is recommended to just very lightly cover with peat rather than "bury".

Friday, February 25, 2011

Link: Organic Lawn Care For the CHEAP and LAZY! :)

Great article by Paul Wheaton, permaculture expert enthusiast extraordinaire!
Lawn care simplified. Have the best looking lawn on your block with less mowing, less watering and less money. The cheapest lawn care AND the laziest lawn care.

Make sure to check it out :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Gear: "SaberCut" Pocket Chain Saw

Another new bit of gear I got is a "SaberCut" pocket chain saw.

It's a 24 inch chain with bi-directional teeth built-in and flat nylon handles on each end. You wrap the chain around the thing you want to cut and pull back and forth to cut it. It comes in a nylon pouch with a belt loop and a buckle closure. The pouch feels a little flimsy but it's not as if some super sturdy pouch is really required for an item like this so it does the job just fine. I should also mention the slight detractor that the nylon handles can sort of hurt your hands if you're pulling really hard, but if you've got some climbing or gardening gloves to give your hands a little extra padding that helps.

I keep mine strapped to the bottom of my right-side backpack strap to have it easily available whenever I need it. So far I've used it on a very annoying woody vining plant in my backyard (approx. 2in diameter) as well as long fallen branch on a hiking trail that I frequent (approx 3in diameter) and both times it worked just fine for my purposes. The saw teeth can bind every once in a while if you're holding the two ends very narrowly though so I'd say it's best to hold them nice and wide for best results.

Overall, it's not a bad item if you need a compact cutting tool, not the best either but does what it's supposed to.

Total weight of case and saw together is 6 ounces.

I got mine at a slight discount for a little under 25$ US at

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Gear: Maxpedition Volta™ Battery Case

So another new piece of gear I've acquired is case to store spare batteries for my headlamp and flashlight. The Maxpedition Volta™ Battery Case is a 1000-denier nylon pouch with a velcro flap closure which attaches to a pack via MOLLE webbing.
Can I just take a pause for a second to say that I love MOLLE webbing? I don't understand why nothing non-military makes use of it's capability to securely attach extra accessories to a backpack. It seems like something that should be more widely used among general hiking and camping gear because there really are a lot of cool little add-on things you can use it for.
Anyway, inside the pouch comes a plastic case which can hold up to 8 batteries of size AA, AAA or CR123. (Apparently if one were so inclined it could also hold 5 shotgun rounds, or even a cell phone or iPod. I actually did put my phone in there once while hiking). The plastic case itself is actually two parts which can be detached from each other. I think I heard it described that some folks use the two sides for "new" and "spent" to keep track, but I don't use that method. I keep it full and just hope I can figure out which ones are spent. I've only had to change a battery out once so far so it hasn't been an issue yet.
I keep 4 spare AAA batteries in one side for my Petzl headlamp and 4 CR123 batteries on the other side for my little Leatherman LED flashlight.
The nylon pouch seems well built, the plastic case is not bad either. It does feel like the two halves of the case come apart rather easily, but if they're in their proper place inside the nylon pouch that won't be any kind of an issue anyway.

Some additional info: There's also a small grommet hole at the bottom of the nylon pouch for water drainage. I'm not sure if the plastic cases are watertight but I'd imagine they'd hold up okay for a short amount of time .
The velcro (or "hook & loop" since I think "velcro" is a specific brand) closure seems to stick out a bit, but it's secure enough.
Also the plastic case fits very snugly inside the pouch. You have to push it out from the bottom side of the nylon pouch to get it out so I'd say it's pretty secure.

I think it ran me about 15$US and I'm comfortable enough with that considering it doesn't feel like something I'm going to have to replace anytime soon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Gear: Original S.O.E. Gear Tear-off IFAK

I've been in a mood to re-assess my preps lately and add to them and one thing I bought recently was a new medical pouch to mount on the outside of my backpack. This is my new "Original S.O.E. Gear" brand "Tear-off IFAK" medical pouch.
It consists of a panel that attaches right to my hiking backpack via MOLLE webbing, as well as a separate pouch that velcros on to the panel and is further held in place by buckled retention straps.
The benefit of having all of my first-aid stuff on the outside of my pack is that if I need it I can easily unbuckle the retention strap, grab it by the red handle (which denotes medical) and tear it away from the velcro backing to quickly retrieve everything at once and have it in an organized manner, rather than wasting time digging through my bags to find loose items. It also frees up room inside my bag so it's not so jam packed in there.

As for the contents and storage features, let's start on the outside.
On the outside is a small flat-ish pocket which can be held closed with the velcro that lines the edge. Inside of this pouch I keep a small waterproof pouch which used to be a "pocket medic" kit but I used up most of the contents. you can see this peeking out of the pocket in the image above, or in the bottom-right corner in the image below. Inside of this pouch I keep:
  • a multitude of different sized bandaids
  • disinfectant wipes
  • some tweezers and safety pins that came with the original med-kit.
The inside opens fully in a clamshell design for easy access to all of the contents. Even though my purposes are only basic first-aid and convenience items for hiking and camping, it's still really nice to have everything organized and easy to access.

The top half has three different sized sets of elastic straps, one large pouch, and one small pouch. In this area I keep:
  • Sunblock
  • Bug repellent spray
  • ibuprofen (pain relief)
  • generic benadryl (allergy relief)
  • hydrocortisone cream (itch relief)
  • triple anti-biotic ointment
  • hand-sanitizer
On the lower half is one large set of elastic bands and a big zippered mesh pocket. I haven't come up with anything to use keep in the large elastic bands yet, but in the mesh pocket I keep:
  • two 4x4 sterile gauze pads
  • two 3x4 non-adherent bandage pads
  • one set of assorted moleskin blister pads
  • bite & sting kit (a suction kit for such wounds)
A couple of things missing right now that I plan to include are some ace-wrap bandages (such as to wrap a sprained ankle), and some medical tape.

All in all I'm very pleased by the quality of workmanship that goes into Original S.O.E. products. I have no doubt this thing will serve me well on my camping and hiking this coming summer and will be something that will likely outlast me in it's usefulness.