Friday, June 19, 2009

The Best Gate Ever Gets Even Better

Yesterday I installed a faucet at the front of the house. This involved running a pipe down the side, through the garden, and just past the gate. After I was finished, I discovered that the gate couldn't lean as it does with the pipe in the way. As building a proper gate is still procrastination away, I simply improved the existing gate with a big ole notch. 

Be amazed at the skill on display.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Topsy Turvy Melons

An impulse buy at the checkout counter at Lowes. As Seen On TV, the Topsy Turvy eliminates all the backbreaking labor of gardening, you know, all the digging in soil and getting dirty and stuff. Still, I thought it might work great for melons, which seem complicated and take up space. So far, the green material seems to be heating up the soil something awesome, so there's that. 

If it works, next year I'll run a pipe up the house and run irrigation to a half dozen of these. Or build a long one of my own, if it's practical.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Great Book Barn Reading Challenge of Aught-Nine

We have a lot of books. When Lorie and I got married, we each did our part to fill the shelves, although I think I contributed more than my fair share. A lot of my books are books I love to read. A lot of other books are books that I'd have loved to have read. A whole slew of stuff I've picked up and held on to. A lot of stuff from school. Good, self improving stuff, mind expanding, make me talk pretty at parties stuff. Philosophy, history, religion, science, sociology, war, language, it's all there, and it all bores me to tears. 

I can't count the books that I've started and put down, mostly because I'd rather do something else. But I'm always meaning to, someday, when I have scads of free time and an empty head to fill. Except that I have a fair bit of free time now. Hell, I have time to write this, don't I?

So, I'm challenging myself to actually read all that stuff, absorb it, retain it, improve myself through the strife and heartbreaking adversity of it if nothing else. But how to do it? Where to begin a task of such Herculean proportions?

It seemed impossible until I saw an interview with Neal Stephenson regarding his most recent book, 'Anathem'. Reading his books, especially 'Anathem' and his 'Baroque Cycle' trilogy, I feel small and weak in my intelligence, an ant burning in the light of his ferocious intellect. During the interview, he touched upon the research he did for 'Anathem', studying such thinkers as "Thales and Pythagoras, Plato, Saint Augustine, Leibniz, Kant, Mach, Husserl, and Godel." Naturally, I assumed that he would be taking a simple refresher course, as the thoughts of such men are mere child's play to one such as he.

Or not. Apparently, he knew the basics of these men's philosophies, but had never rigorously studied them. And, reading them bored him too! He said that he decided that he would pick a book, and force himself to read ten pages a day until finished, than begin the next one. Heck, I can do that!

My intellectual self-esteem restored, I now have a method. Now I just have to pick a book.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Good Soil, Bad Soil

When I built my first raised bed, I had no idea where to get the soil for it. I had done a bit of reading, but I was clueless about how much soil a 12x4 foot bed could hold. So I drove down to Home Depot, and two trips later I had 24 bag of topsoil and 24 bags of compost. 

When I put the rest of the beds together, I worked out that I had around 108 cubic feet, or about 4 cubic yards of volume to fill with soil. Since the first bed I had found out that people would actually deliver soil. Plus, the soil is a LOT cheaper by the cubic yard. When the huge pile got dumped on the drive way, I was ecstatic. 
Fast forward a month, and I wasn't so ecstatic about the soil. Here's two photos to explain why:

Young Squash

Young Squash

These are pictures of two different squash plants that I planted from seed the same day. The top one is the first bed I built, full of Home Depot topsoil and compost. The bottom photo is one of the beds filled with supposedly 50-50 amended topsoil. Except all the vegetables in that new soil are small and sickly. The veggies in the old soil are huge. 

This weekend I amended one of the beds with compost, and spread a layer of compost in the other beds where I didn't want to rip out had had grown to this point. I'll post a photo of the runt from above later if it all works out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Salt the Earth - It's What Plants Crave!

So, apparently, The British have figured out to irrigate crops with salt water. Or brackish water, or polluted, or Brawndo.

"The dRHS irrigation system consists of a network of sub-surface pipes, which can be filled with almost any water whether pure, brackish, salted or polluted. The system can even take most industrial waste-water and use it without the need for a purification process. The pipes are made from a plastic that retains virtually all contaminants while letting clean water through to the plants' roots."

So far, it's been tested and seems to work. Now they're going to test it in different parts of the world, including the Middle East, where they are going to use water more saline than saltwater.

If it does work, this is the best news ever. Any idea how much water California imports from out of state, just to grow the rice we import to Thailand? It's a lot. Now I can relax and not worry about my kids fighting in Water War IV: Beyond Thunderdome.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Guess I'm going flower-garden crazy. After the excitement of succeeding with my front "curb appeal" flower bed, which was composed of store-bought flowers and fencing, I decided to try again, this time using some found materials. My mother-in-law Lois had kindly brought us a wonderfully huge bucket of geranium cuttings from her yard, and she told me that all you have to do is stick them in the wet soil and they'll (eventually) take root.

So I decided to make a home for them right in front of the garage. We already had a lot of dirt; there was a big pile left in our driveway from the umpteen pounds Chris had ordered to fill his raised beds. We also had a lot of old broken (pink!) concrete edger stones in another pile in the side yard. So I recycled those stones and made a ramshackle border, filled it with dirt, wet it down, and stuck in the geranium cuttings.

As you can see below, some of the cuttings already had flowers, which was a plus. But it's surprising how many of them have flowered in the past couple of weeks of living in their new home. I've got mostly fluorescent red ones so far, but then the ones in the middle of the row have emerged pink-and-white candy-striped. Yeah!

Lastly I must say that after finishing this little project I have since read that one of the fastest and easiest way to propagate roots on cuttings such as these is to dip the ends in rooting powder before you stick it in the ground. These pelargoniums are doing it all by themselves so far, thank you very much. (But I'm still getting the powder - I saw it for about $4.50 a can at Walmart. ;))

BTW if you want to know all about plant propagation and rooting powder this site is interesting - a totally old school crazed-out web page that looks like something straight outta 1998, but which actually provides a wealth of useful information it seems. Oh and the inventors were Dutch, apparently, so many of the materials are available in Dutch on the site. Fantastisch!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bean Pole Rebar

Since we had a nice pile of old rebar off to one side of the yard (leftover, I assume, from the oddly placed concrete in fron the of the house) I made this rebar bean teepee. You can see a couple sprouts at the bottom of the photo. The rebar was easy to bend against the ground. I got the idea from Ramshackle Solid.