December 19, 2014

Growing organic & GMO-free veggies, fruit and nuts

Dimensions for a 6″ rocket mass heater core

We recently decided that we weren’t going to spend several hundred dollars on fire bricks for our first rocket mass heater (RMH) in a greenhouse.   At first we contemplated making our own bricks out of perlite  and fire clay (Lincoln 60), but then I posted at the Permies.com forum and I saw Matt Walker’s video:

I hadn’t realized how easy it was to cast your own core and it’s way cheaper than buying fire bricks. We’ll use perlite, fire clay and fire cement, possibly also fiberglass.  The only problem was that we we’re building a 6″ RMH and Matt’s dimensions were for 8″.  There are tons of comments with Matt’s video and several people inquiring about the 6″ dimensions, but I have to admit that I just couldn’t focus as I’m incredibly busy right now. And with our super extra slow internet connection it’s really hard to go back and review videos.

We have  Erica’s 6″ Annex plan, but it shows only how to lay out bricks (which we’re not using) and it doesn’t contain some of the dimensions.

I HIGHLY recommend the DVD Rocket Mass Heaters with Ernie and Erica (this is an affiliate link and we get $15 if you order through this link, but that’s NOT why I recommend it.)   We also have Paul Wheaton’s streaming 4 DVDs on RMH, but I’ve come to hate Vimeo as we have not been able to watch it all the way through.   If you’re serious about building a RMH, it’s worth the extra dollars to get the DVDs.  Rocket Mass Heaters with Ernie and Erica is very well organized with chapters and sub chapters so you can review materials, building — whatever you need to review. It’s there when you need it!

Give your friends the promo code burn to give them $10 off.

That makes it only $37 including US shipping, but I don’t know when this offer expires.

Back to the 6″ core dimensions. 

Our WWOOFer Geoffrey is really good with Autocad and Sketchup and after getting some more info from Matt, he came up with these sketches:

 

rocket mass inside
The inside form (we’ll probably use 1/4″ backerboard)
Quotation above
We’ll probably use 1/2″ or so OSB for the outside form.
rocket mass box
The outside box

 

rocket mass total

If you don’t understand the drawings, please watch Matt’s video!  And don’t forget to send him a few bucks for his work.  And of course please post here if you still have questions.

I’m going to ask Matt and the Permies people to have a look at these drawings and to let us know if we got this right.  If so, I’ll post the Sketchup file and you can play with it too.

12/10/14:  Matt had some excellent suggestions and I uploaded new pictures.  And I’ll be looking for different cement, have to watch Matt’s video again.

Our $140 winter seed order from High Mowing

I decided to order from High Mowing because they are 100% organic and they also offer bulk seeds, by the ounce or even pound. Since they sell to pros, germination rates should be high. I still order from companies catering to home gardeners and/or offering rare seeds (herbs, natives, medicinals), but I wanted to make sure we have high quality seeds and LOTS of seeds to give away to our friends, neighbors and gardening club members.Continue Reading

The first hard freeze November 16

We had a light frost a couple weeks ago and all the squash in the lower garden froze.   Fortunately we had enough time to move a number of basils and peppers into pots before it got down to the low 20s or maybe even teens last Sunday night (our puppy ate the outdoor thermometer).

The tomatoes and Armenian cucumbers were dead as door nails and we already cleared them out of the hoophouse and we’re getting ready for planting salad.

Hoophouse in June

I’m finally getting around to posting the pics taken in June.   I made a HUGE mistake allowing the catnip and Chichiquelite huckleberries to self seed in the hoophouse.  TWICE we’ve cleared all the catnip out and we’ll have to be vigilant.  We transplanted many catnips, Chichiquelite and Sweet Annies along the fences in the lower garden and hopefully they will establish there.

We still have tomatoes in tiny seedling pots because we have no room to plant and what we did plant, was way too late.

So here are a few pictures from mid June and I’ll try to post some current pics soon.

6-14-14-hollyhock-pomegranates
I didn’t expect the hot pink hollyhock to come back this year. It’s a MAGNET for spider mites and it is interfering with the blackberries. We grew the pomegranates from seed and they have yet to bear fruit and maybe never will. So we’re propagating from cuttings now.  Calendula and 4 O’ Clock at the border and a field of catnip in the back.  We transplanted lots of catnip into the outside gardens.  On 8/14/14 we planted lots of lettuce seedlings and we also have some tomatoes growing in this area.
6-14-14-boysenberry
Got this boysenberry in spring at Desert Sage in Kingman and it almost died because we took so long to plant it. It’s making a strong comeback now.

 

6-14-14-chichiquelite
Chichiquelite (huckleberries) — a little bland, but good for smoothies. Self seeds profusely.
6-14-14-dill
Volunteer dill, unfortunately long gone by now, but new volunteers are sprouting.
6-14-14-flower
Can’t remember the name of this flower surrounded by Chichiquelite berries. It made it through the winter with temps down to 4 F.
6-14-14-German-chamomile
German chamomile crowded by Chichiquelite.
6-14-14-hollyhock-blackberries
Outside you can see the 220 gallon water tank for gravity watering. We used to also have pressurized water from the house, but the rats ate the poly pipe. We’ll have to fix that because it really helps with pest control to spray the plants down.
6-14-14-ladybug
A volunteer ladybug. We had quite a few in spring
6-14-14-ladybug-larva
Ladybug larva
6-14-14-marvel-of-peru
Marvel of Peru (4 O’Clock) — we transplanted a couple of smaller ones into the gardens and one really took off. Basil in front of it.
6-14-14-pond
Our little pond in the hoophouse with lilies and some water canna. We used to have a few goldfish, but when a WWOOFer was assigned to watering she forgot the pond.
6-14-14-tomatoes
Volunteer tomatoes, 4 different kinds and not very productive
6-14-14-tomatoe-cluster
Peace vine tomatoes — one of my favorites. We just had a great tomato / Armenian cucumber salad, but they didn’t set much fruit when it was so hot in July. We’re hoping for a nice fall crop.
6-14-14-apricot-tree
Chinese apricot grown from seed. I tried more seeds, but none sprouted. Recently got a new batch of seeds and put them in the fridge for a few weeks, so maybe that’ll help. We’ll also try to propagate from cuttings as they grow very well here.
6-14-14-Armenian-cucumber
Last fall I buried several yellow Armenian cucumbers and I expected many volunteers, but only got one. By now we had a couple of cukes and I pollinated two flowers this morning. Our current white fly infestation isn’t helping.
6-14-14-willow
We got Willow cuttings form our friend Anna in Golden Valley a couple years ago. We stuck them into gallon pots and this one grew so well, it grew right into the ground and will never be moved again.
6-14-14-trees-hoophouse
We bought 60 mimosas, Arizona cypress and black locusts at the Las Vegas State Nursery before Arbor Day. We gave some away at our gardening club meeting and several black locusts are in the upper garden and mimosas in the lower garden. Most of these trees are for Jose’s lot and we’ll plant them in fall after the fencing is done.  On the shelf in the back are strawberries and they are now happy in our raised beds.  On the left is our propagation area for cuttings from various trees and bushes.

 

6-14-14-sunflower
A WWOOFer must have planted the sun flower seeds. In addition to the Chichiquelites we also had many volunteer Sweet Annies. We transplanted them along the fences in the lower garden and hope they’ll flower and reseed there.
6-14-14-pomegranate
Bought this pomegranate from Toni in Golden Valley in 2009 or 2010 and it flowered in his pot. After a year or so we planted it in the upper garden and this is the first time it flowered again. We had almost given up on it. I suppose finally watering it regularly helped. Unfortunately some critter ate most of the pomegranates.
6-14-14-chaste-tree
A chaste tree in the lower garden in full bloom.

 

6-14-14-chaste-tree-flowers

We got the plastic for the hoophouse in October 2011 and it is rated for 4 years.  We were rather skeptical with our high winds, but almost 3 years later it is still holding up quite well.

We plan to move the entire hoophouse to the adjacent area down the hill when the plastic goes bad.  Some of the hoops will just be turned 180 degrees.  While it is as cold inside as outside on cold winter nights, everything grows so much better than outside because it’s not nearly as windy and of course it’s much warmer during the day.

I made a mistake ordering 70% shade cloth last year, but we’ll eventually use that shade cloth for areas where we’re not growing plants, such as our patio, outdoor kitchen, etc. Most likely we’ll go with white plastic covering plus 30% shade cloth next time.

Since we have well established willows, pomegranates, bird of paradise, apricot trees, blackberries and many other perennials to shelter tender annuals, we hope that the hoophouse will turn into a productive garden in a year or so when the plastic wears out.

I’ll try to post some current pics of the hoophouse and gardens soon.  We finally cleared out ALL catnips, Chichiquelite and Sweet Annie and will try to eradicate the white flies that invade every summer by spraying a little neem oil, cayenne pepper and Dr Bronner’s peppermint soap. And maybe we’ll order some more ladybugs.  In spring we got praying mantis eggs, but we have yet to see any praying mantis.

Currently we’re growing many greens and basils with tomatoes and we are hoping for a bountiful fall tomatoe and Armenian cucumber harvest.

Ways of Making Terra Preta: Biochar Activation

Porosity of a coal ash clearly visible to the naked eye. (Photo: Andreas Thomsen)

A great article with various recipes to activate biochar:

Ways of Making Terra Preta: Biochar Activation

by Hans-Peter Schmidt

Biochar is not a fertilizer, but rather a nutrient carrier and a habitat for microorganisms. First of all, biochar needs to be charged to become biologically active in order to efficiently utilize its soil-enhancing properties. There are numerous methods of activating and producing substrates similar to terra preta aside from mixing biochar with compost. …

Making Lactobacillus Serum – odor killer and organic fertilizer

From The Unconventional Farmer, Gil and Patrick in the Philipines:

Lactobacillus Serum

This is the workhorse of the beneficial bacteria we’ll be discussing here. We use it for everything! Foul odors, clogged drains, cheaper pig/chicken/etc farming, aquaculture, the applications are amazingly diverse. Learn how to make and use this and you will have a powerful tool in your farming arsenal. …

They provide detailed instructions on how to make the serum and here are some pictures recipes:

Lacto Preparation

I hope we get around to trying this soon!

Support the kickstarter Drone on the Farm!

Finally a GOOD use of drones:

From Will Potter’s kickstarter page:

… New “ag-gag” laws make it illegal to photograph animal cruelty on factory farms; in some cases, exposing cruelty can lead to more jail time than committing it. These bills have already become law in Utah, Iowa, Missouri, and Idaho. Right now, more states are considering them, and they are spreading globally. The agriculture industry in Australia is modeling its “ag-gag” laws after those in the states.

The latest trend is that the agriculture industry is even trying to ban photographs of farms taken from the air. It is unlikely that aerial photography can document animal abuse, but these industries are clearly concerned. So what are factory farms trying to hide? Will a drone allow us to see the scope of pollution caused by these industrial operations? I’m going to find out… 

Let’s Shine a Light

We have to support the few Americans with the guts to expose the factory farms’ deplorable practices.  We really don’t have any extra cash right now, but contributed $10 to this kickstarter.  Even if you can only spare a dollar, please show your support for investigative journalism.  Currently there are 732 backers when there should be many thousands!

Bug ID?

These beetles were a bit larger than ladybugs and congregated on a pomegranate branch in our hoophouse.

6-14-14--black-beetleI put a little bucket under the branch and they easily fell into it and then I just threw them out.   The next day I found another cluster and the largest beetle had a red dot on the back.

Here’s a page with lots of beetle pictures, but I can’t really tell what they are, wish I’d gotten a better picture.

German farmer ruined by GM corn fights Syngenta and corrupt politicians

From William Engdahl’s interview with German dairy farmer Gottfried Glöckner:

‘Syngenta methods of silencing GMO opposition are unbelievable’

A German farmer has revealed shocking GMO company tactics to silence him in an exclusive interview with RT Op-Edge.

German dairy farmer, Gottfried Glöckner, has told William Engdahl about attempted blackmail, character assassination and, ultimately, wrongful imprisonment he suffered when he refused to back off his charges that the Anglo-Swiss GMO company, Syngenta, had provided him with highly toxic GMO Maize seeds that ruined his prize dairy herd and his land.

After spending two years in prison, Glöckner is traveling round the world to tell the story and warn the public of the extreme danger of GMO seeds.

GG: In the midst of my divorce proceedings suddenly my ex-wife, after she left our common home (the children, who were 17, 15 and 13, lived with me), was being represented by a new attorney provided to her by the industry lobbyist. With him she made the new charge against me of rape within the marriage. They presented no doctor’s report for that, also neither a psychological evaluation, nor credible statements from others, merely her allegation; that charge brought me, “in the name of the people,” directly into prison. I was released somewhat early after the state’s attorney learned of the true circumstances of my imprisonment.

WE: Did they want to make an example of you for other protesting farmers or was it something else in your view?

GG: I have to say as a former customer and injured party of Novartis/Syngenta, I find it unbelievable the methods this company operates with. In the time that I was in prison, a default summons of my ex-wife from the divorce settlement was executed twice. I paid the amount once, and after that the amount was again entered into the land register. The opposing attorney received the enforceable copy, which had already been settled, through my own attorney.

They also created a new company out of my farm holding where I had no legal rights; my office was broken into repeatedly, my home, files, machinery and electronic devices were stolen.

Furthermore, I had to fight five long years with the German Customs authorities.

They seized all my bank accounts and demanded I pay back money for milk going back four years on the argument that I was no longer a certified milk producer in the meaning of the Milk Quantity Guarantee Payments rules. All this took place during the time I made public the proof of presence of GMO in certain raw materials that had been labeled “contains no GMO.”

A Spiegel article in German:
Zukunftsmarkt Bioökonomie: Alles Leben wird zu Geld gemacht

It’s depressing to see how corrupt the German government is — owned by the industry just like the American government.

Average brix for tomatoes?

I’ve been looking at brix for tomatoes and I’m thoroughly confused.

Hazera Genetics Introduces High Brix Gourmet Tomato

September 17, 2013

Hazera Genetics, developers of cherry tomatoes, cluster tomatoes, and seedless watermelons, has achieved a new milestone with the development of Maggie, a gourmet tomato. Maggie gourmet tomato seeds are now available to growers worldwide.

“The Maggie gourmet tomato is the result of six years of our painstaking work using traditional cross-breeding techniques,” said Gadi Ben Ariel, Ph.D. School of Agriculture, Hebrew University, the developer of the tomato. “We succeeded in creating a tomato that has a Brix sweetness rating of 5.5, compared with the average tomato’s rating of 1 or 2. This is truly a snacking tomato that can be featured raw.” [emphasis added]…

The 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge

… Here’s a scale I came up with to provide taste reference points for brix measurements.

  • 4.0-5.0 The majority of commercial tomatoes seem to fall into this range. Undistinguished flavor.
  • 6.0 This is where the tomato starts to taste like a tomato. Brightness comes into good tomato flavor.
  • 8.0 Denser, more intensity and bright, concentrated flavor, a noticeably good tomato
    Brandywine

    14.0 Brix Brandywine

  • 10.0 Dense, solid, tremendous varietal flavor. We are experiencing a truly great tomato.
  • 12.0 You will remember this tomato taste for a long time.
  • 14.0 The highest brix tomato (Brandywine) I have tasted. Unbelievable. A flavor to make an Italian grandmother weep with joy.

Perhaps 10.0 Brix is raising the bar too high but we shall see. Emmett, the 10.0 Brix Tomato Challenge is dedicated to you. Let’s cross our fingers. ….

Why Backyard Tomatoes Taste So Terrific

… The tomatoes grown in Farmscape plots at homes in the LA area scored between 5.0 and 9.0 on the Brix scale. Farmers’ market tomatoes scored a 4.3 on average, while local grocery store tomatoes scored 4.0. None of the purchased tomatoes, Farmscape said, scored above 5.0. …

The High Brix Gardens brix chart lists Tomatoes from  4 – 12.

Why does Hazera Genetics say that average tomatoes brix at 1 to 2?  And 5.5 doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment.

I checked a neighbor’s tomatoes and they brixed around 5.  And unfortunately, it’ll be a while till we have tomatoes.  We have a few volunteers with fruit, but I have yet to start most of the tomatoes I want to grow.  More on that in another post.