email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seedling Light Stand, Part 3

OK, so I have the new light stand about half assembled.  The 2 bulb fixtures were 1/2" longer than the shelves.  I was thinking "4' light fixtures, 4' shelves with the supports on the outside, should fit".  I should have checked more carefully.  But it wasn't as if I was going to buy more light fixtures, so it didn't really matter.  I had to attach them a little lower than planned.  The fixtures have attachment holes in them, but I had to partially take them apart to get at them and drill though-holes so as not to drill the insulation off the wires inside. 

The 4 bulb fixtures were easier in one way.  The wires were channeled around the attachment holes.  On the other hand, they were designed to hang from hooks on chain.  So I needed to drill a hole through the fixture anyway.  I ruined a drill bit trying to drill through what I thought was aluminum.  It was steel.  I should have checked with a magnet!  That was a bit from my REALLY GOOD set of bits.  I'll have to replace it.  I partially disassembled THOSE fixtures...  You may notice I keep having to do a lot of extra steps to make this project work.  I was not thrilled, but having started down this path, I have to continue.

So I got out my metal step-bit and the drilling went fine.  I reassembled the fixture and dropped in the bolts through the plywood.  Did I mention the plywood?  The rack comes with 3/8' pressboard shelves.  Strong enough for shelving or plant trays, but not much to drive a screw up into from below or countersink a bolt from above to support the light fixtures.  So I added 1/2" plywood below to hold the fixtures and counter-sunk the pressboard from below to cover the bolts.  It works great.  The resulting upper surface is nice and flat for the plant trays.  Looks good too. 

Here is the first 4-bulb fixture attached to the bottom of the 3rd shelf.  The top shelf will be identical.
Except...  You may notice a shelf support missing on the photo above (right side).  That's because one was 2" too short!  The box came with an information sheet asking that I call the manufacturer before returning the product to the retail store.  My interpretation of that is "we make a lot of mistakes, please don't tell the store.  Well, gee, it is about all constructed.  It would be a lot of work to take it apart and the box it came in is all ripped apart.  I emailed them about the problem.

The emailed back that a replacement shelf support is being shipped for delivery in 7 days.  That's reasonable.  I would have preferred a UPS overnight shipment on principle, but all my seedlings  are outside now and the light stand is for next year.

Here is a photo of the plywood base I used and the fancy cover shelf.  The are the same size, though the angle makes it look different.
It's been an minor adventure - more than building a box and less than building a shed.  I seldom get to build anything to specifications.  I end up having to craft things by trial and error.  Drives me nuts.  I have the genes of an engineer and the talent of an art major!

Which reminds me, I need to replace the roof on the shed.  I didn't know about roofing paper 20 years ago, and now it leaks.  Time to redo it right.  That's on the list.  The really really long list of major "to do"...

The lesson here is that I should have built the light stand as I originally intended.  3/4' plywood, 6' high and 5' shelves with the fixtures simply screwed right up into the shelf bottoms!  Don't get me wrong, the new light stand will be great for decades.  But the original plan would have been easier and worked as well.

Live and learn...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seedling Light Stand, Part 2

Well, at least I have some pictures to add for the assembly!  And I have to admit, the assembly IS well designed and simple to do.  The upright posts have "keyholes".  Think of a hole with a narrower slot below.  The horizontal side pieces have mushroom heads that fit through the hole and the "stem" of the mushroom heads fits the slots below tightly.  The connections are indeed "rigid".  You tap them firmly in place with a hammer (gently - I used a 2x4 and a deadblow hammer).  So far, so good. 

 This is the old plant light stand.  I am taking it apart as I transfer the lights to the new one.  The old shelves had a 2 bulb fixture.  The new ones have TWO 2 bulb fixtures per shelf.  
Here are the old light shelves being disassembled.  I really over-engineered the previous light shelf.  I am learning to back off on the over-engineering.
Note the plywood shelf.  I made those.  It's tricky.  The plywood shelf supports the light fixtures below.  But since the supporting bolts stick up over the plywood, I needed to countersink the provided fancy shelfs from below.  In other words, the top cover shelf has a hole in the bottom where the fixture bolts stick up.  Does that make sense?

This is the new light shelf.  There are now 2 light fixtures per shelf (4 bulbs).  The fancy shelf sits on the light fixture supporting plywood

In this picture, you see two shelves assembled.  The green box is a support of the light fixture so I can feed the support bolts from above.

Each of the rigid steel horizontal bars have a double curve to them.   A lower curve is for strength, the upper curve has a flat surface that supports the shelving (a 2'x4'x3/8" engineered material).  I initially thought it was a sort of rubber/resin, but it is pressboard.  The instructions said it would support 800 poubds per shelf.  It also said not to stand on it.  Huh?  I only weigh 160 pounds.  They must have loaded the shelves VERY carefully to support 800 lbs  if I cant stand on it.  Well, I didn't buy it for the weight capacity.  Plants aren't all THAT heavy!

Next. I complete (almost) the whole shelf rack...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seedling Light Stand, Part 1

A while back, I mentioned I planned to build a better seedling light stand.  The current one has only a 2 fluorescent bulb fixture per shelf, and even with good daylight bulbs, I find the plants get leggy.  I found 4 bulb fixtures at a decent price and bought a couple, thinking I could put two 2 bulb fixtures on the other shelves.  I planned to make it entirely of 1/2" plywood, 18 or 16" deep and 5 feet long to easily accommodate the 4' fluorescent fixtures.  I planned to attach cleats to the sides to hold the shelves.  The light fixtures would be screwed right up into the plywood shelves.  The shelves would be spaced at increasing distances so that growing plants could be moved to shelves further from the lights as they grew.  Simple basic construction.

It was a good plan.  I wish I had followed it...

But I saw an ad for rigid steel frame shelving at a really great price.  It was 4' wide, 2' deep and 6' tall.  Sounded great.  The shelf supports were adjustable in 1" increments and the shelves themselves were 1/2" recycled material that could support 800 lbs per shelf.  I measured the 4 bulb fixtures carefully and measured the floor display model.  It seemed they would fit right under the shelves perfectly!  It promised "easy assembly" (which, for its original purpose, was true).  I bought it. 

It weighed a ton!  Well, not literally "a ton" but I couldn't even pull the box off the stack due to the weight and friction.  I had to get a store person to help.  The top box was broken open (probably items missing).  The 2nd was fine.  We got it on a flatbed cart.  He assured me that there were outside people to help me get it in the car.  I planned to take the box apart from in the car at home.

Needless to say, no outside person ever became available.  In fairness, they were there, but backed up helping other people.  I finally did manage to wrestle the box into the car.  I'm not weak, but I'm not a weight-lifter either.  Fortunately, I do know some simple mechanical principles...

But I should have known I was off to a bad start!

Next, assembling the stand...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aquarium Leak

It is almost funny.  I was sitting watching TV an heard a little "Pop".  I assuned the cats had whapped a pen off a desk.

But when I went to feed the fish, I saw a small puddle of water; only a couple of spoonfuls.  Tracking it up from the base with a paper towel, I found the spot.  There was a tiny fracture in a corner.

This is going to sound weird.  To get at an old 20 gallon tank, I had to empty out an understairs closet I have not investigated in years.  It was so old, I found a manual typewriter and an old 8 track player in  there!

But the 20 gallon long was still waterproof, so I got the fish in there.  I will try to seal the 30 gallon high with the silicone sealant I bought today.  I'll give it 2 days to set, then add some water to see if the leak is fixed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seedlings, Yay!

Well, I have seedlings of my large-seed crops up now!  You may recall I had pre-soaked them a few hours and drained the water out of the individual containers to let the initial seedroots develop before planting them.  It works really well!  It is guaranteed germination.  You have to handle the seeds gently so as not to damage the 1/4" root, but it is well worth it.

Of the 10 cukes I planted, 9 are up and there is time for the 10th.
2 of the three cantaloupes are up in each of the 2 places I planted them, as are 2 of 3 of the watermelon seeds and honeydew seeds in their single spots.  In any case, it looks like I will have a good initial growth of those this year.  We will see later if there is enough sun for the melons to ripen.  I mention that because I have not had success with melons previously.  But 2 years ago, I had a couple of trees removed that I think provides 2 more hours on sun on the garden.  Last year was just bad all around, so that doesn't count.
The flat italian beans are emerging; only 2 so far, but I expect all of the 10 to emerge. I expected the beans to come up first because they are robust seedlings, but they ARE planted deeper, so I guess it balances out.
The heirloom tomato seedlings are thriving.  They got 4 daylight fluorescent bulb treatment this year (2-bulb lights make them leggy) AND I waited a week longer to set them in the ground (til the soil temp was over 60F at the coolest).  That seems to have helped.  They are greener and stockier than in past years and the stems are noticably thicker after 1 week.  I am looking forward to a superb harvest this year.
In case you are wondering why there are 2 cages, it is because something ate 1 of the seedling's top off and I had to replace it.   The small green cage is to discourage the groundhog or rabbit (I have at least 1 of each in the fenced yard).  I didn't know any mammals ate tomato plants!  Well, that's why I grow extras...

I have 2 Brandywine, 2 Cherokee Purple, and 1 each Prudens Purple, Aunt Gertie's Gold, and Tennessee Britches.  Everyone has their favorites and while Brandywine generally wins contests (and I love it too), here in MY yard with MY conditions and habits, Cherokee Purple is the winner.  The taste is more complex, it is more productive, and it is more disease resistant.

I also have a hybrid Stupice as an early tomato, and a Sweet Million in a hanging pot for snacking in the garden.

I am not using the permeable red plastic groundcover this year (supposed to reflect the best light frequencies back up to the leaves).   It may or may not work, but I noticed last year that water was not penetrating it.  Maybe the pores get clogged after a few years.  I don't want to have to buy it new every year!

I planted bi-color corn, too.  It is just a 2'x3' block of 6 (its just me and I only eat one a day at best).  But I will plant a 2nd 2x3 block next weekend and another 2 weeks after that for succession.  I know how to maximize pollination in small plantings.  In case you are wondering about that, you snip off a tassel each day and rub it around the silks for a week.  If it is a really calm day, you can tap the stalks to make pollen fall straight down.  If you REALLY want to maximize pollination, you can put a plastic bag over the stalks and THEN tap them.  Here, 1 ear per stalk is good.  This is NOT "corn country".

I don't know why I bother to grow corn.  At harvest time, bi-color corn is available cheap.  I should grow something more expensive like red lettuce  That stuff is ALWAYS $2 a pound.  Bi-color corn is sometimes 25 cents an ear.  But its the challenge, I suppose.  I stopped growing green bell peppers when they were 10/$1.  But just once, I want to grow really good corn.  Straight from the garden to boiling water in 1 minute!

The flowerbeds are doing great.  I probably have them in better shape than in the past 10 years.  I got them pruned of old stems early, got the beds weeded early, fertilized them with organic slow release 6-10-6 early (a blend I make from 2 sources), and (for once) I got cages around the large sprawling ones early!  I let the cats show off the flowers in their Garden Tour Thursday posts.  You can see that HERE.

OK, no plant in its perfect conditions should need cages.  But I get less sun than they would like, so several are a bit leggy.  The cages help that.  With the slightly increased sun and good fertilizer, the troillus are standing on their own, the coneflowers are stockier and other larger patches of flowers are standing up aganst the weeklong heavy rains.  OK, only 2", but it comes in heavy downfalls.  In past years, they would all be bent over.

So things are looking promising here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Catching Up On The Yard Activities, Part 2

I have had the darndest time with the soil in the small crop bed.  The soil is unusually clumpy.  Not wet-clumpy, dry clumps.  And they are hard.  That is unusual.  I can usually just crush them by hand easily.  I even added compost this year.  Maybe I dug the clumps up from deeper in the bed this year.  I need fine soil for planting carrots and lettuce, etc.  Fortunately, it has rained for 2 days so I think I can crunch up the hard clumps in a couple days.  And maybe I better add a couple inchs of leaf-gro to turn in!

I cleaned out the small 5' pre-formed pond last week and siphoned it dry.
Then I repotted all the waterlilies and sweet flag, refilled it, and waited a week.

I added some mosquito dunk and was surprised to find ( a week later) that there were larvae all through it.  I took a full dunk and crumbled it up all over.  I am glad to see there are no larvae to be seen now!

So I added 4 small orange fantail goldfish to the pond.  They like to sit under water plant leaves, so they are hard to spot, but I stood by the pond for a while and finally noticed them moving around.  They stick together.  I may put some netting over the pond to keep the goldfish safe.  I had 3 that lived there for 4 years then all disappeared in a week.  I suspect a raccoon.

I pre-soaked some other crop seeds several days ago.  It gets the initial root started so you know which seeds are viable.  Flat Italian beans, corn, cukes, cantelope, honeydew, and watermelon.  I got those all planted just before the rains came Saturday.

So I'm waiting for the first seeds to come up.  I'll bet on the beans to show first.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catching Up On The Yard Activities, Part 1

I should have been posting a few times the past week, but I get distracted by other things (cooking,  cleaning, yardwork, cats, MSNBC, etc).  So I will try to catch up a bit now.

I've spent the most time in the yard.  Last week was wonderful outside.  Temps around 70F, low humidity, mostly sunny.  I was greatly encouraged to spend time outside.

First, I introduced Marley ( my new cat from January) outside for the first time.  I got a harness he couldn't get out of.  It was a trial to get him into it.  Took tries on 3 days before I succeeded.  But he was stunned to be outside and didn't fight the harness (much).  It wasn't that he tried to get out of the harness, but tried to walk around things that would entangle the leash.
 He couldn't figure out why he couldn't walk under the deck, or around poles, or through tomato cages lying on their sides.  But he was happy to be outside so he didn't complain (too much) about being "guided" away from those places.  He had a grand time outside until I brought him in (30 minutes the first day, an hour - twice - the second day).
 Since he showed no signs of running or trying to escape the tall fence, I let him out free the 3rd day for an hour while I was out with him (close to him all the time).  The 4th day he liked to just sit on the grass in the shade and wander around a bit.  I feel free to let him out when I am out and Iza is out.  Iza is protective of the yard and if a stray cat came in, she would be right at it before Marley had to defend himself (he IS still only 8 months old.  Reminder:  Get him microchipped next week!  Just in case...

The Spring weather has been fluctuating so badly (highs of 50F one day, 80F a few days later) that I have not been sure when to plant the tomatoes.  Tomatoes can be permanently stunted at 50F.  It finally settled out last week and I got them all planted.  I only like the heirloom tomatoes these days.  I grow them from seeds.  There are 2 Brandywine, 2 Cherokee Purple, 1 Aunt Gerty's Gold, 1 Prudens Purple, 1 Tennessee Britches.  There is also 1 Stupice.  It is a hybrid that matures fast.  It hasn't worked well the past 2 years and this is its last chance here.  And I better get the hanging pot with the cherry tomato set up soon!

The space to the right will be for bell peppers and basil.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers Day

I feel a bit odd today.  This is the first year I don't send a Mothers Day card...

She died last Fall of "natural causes" at age 83.  Her death was not unexpected.  I've already not sent one birthday card.  But somehow Mothers Day seems more specific.  It shouldn't.  She had her own birthday, and every mother shares Mothers Day.  Maybe that's the problem.  So many children got to send a Mothers Day card this year and, for the first time, I didn't.

I don't feel forlorn or lost or abandoned or anything.  I'm too old and sensible for that.  I miss her, of course, but it's that I had been making or sending cards to her for, oh, 55 years and it feels odd to stop.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lysimachia vs English Ivy

OK. so I have about 20 sod chunks of the invasive Lysimachia 'Firecracker'.  I also have a raised area in the center of the backyard that has become covered with english ivy (well, if you have a wild area, ivy isn't bad looking).  The raised area is too rough to mow and I have considered at times hiring someone to level it, or turning it into a wildflower area.

I can mow entirely around the area, so nothing can actually escape.

That middle area as been a problem for 25 years.  When I moved here, it was covered with thorny locust scrub.  It took 5 years to finally cut them all down.  Then it took another 5 years to actually kill all of them.  Thorny locust is TOUGH.  I read stories of farmers using the cut trunks for fenceposts, and the trunks would ROOT and start growing again.

So, anyway, now it is basically a area where english ivy has taken over, poison ivy keeps trying to get established, and tree saplings keep trying to get growing.  And brambles love it.  I can keep the saplings and brambles chopped down.

I'm going to plant the Lysimachia chunks every 5' throughout the english ivy and see who wins!

I know from several years experience that the Lysimachia grows so tall and thick that there are never any weeds in the patch.  That's one thing I like about it.  And it does have a nice flower and the purple foliage is impressive!

So I am going to see what happens for a few years.  Which invasive plant do you think will win?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Corralling The Lysimachia 'Firecracker'

I recently wrote about what I thought was Coreopsis 'Golden Gain' invading the neighboring plants.  I discovered it was actually Lysimachia "Firecracker' (thank you Gardenweb Forum), which is a VERY invasive plant.  It seems to be a type of Loosestrife, which is a real invasive family.

It had suddenly spread into some stokesia on one side and into some asters in the back.  It had totally smothered a patch of Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'.  It has fibrous matted roots that are impossible to disentangle from other plants.

It was sold to me as the Coreopsis 'Golden Gain' and since it had a golden flower, I didn't realize I had been sent a mislabelled plant.  Fortunately, the vendor is making it as right as they can by sending replacements.

Still, I had to do a lot of hard work to correct the situation.  As it actually IS a rather good looking perennial, I wanted to keep what I could.  If I had a sunny spot surrounded by paved surfaces to fence it in (like driveway/sidewalk/house) I would have dug it up and moved it there.  But I don't.

So my solution was to dig up the plants in the invaded area, install edging barrier around it, and replant the lost stokesia and asters.  Looking back, I am thinking I should have just used Roundup!  But all's well that ends well...

First, I dug up a foot around the area I wanted to keep, a nice 8' diameter circle.  It was just like digging up turf sod and about as much fun.  I am saving the dug up sod because I have an idea what to do with it!

Here is one side cleared out.  Digging around the soaker hoses was not fun, but pulling them up through the existing plants and trying to nestle them back down afterwards seemed worse.

Here is a picture of them invading the asters in the back of the garden.  They seem to spread the roots out 2' in Fall, then the new stems emerge suddenly in Spring.  You don't get much warning.  Last year, I thought they were self-sowing, so I snipped the flowerheads.  Alas, that wasn't the problem...

After I dug them all out leaving the 8' circle, I dug a trench around them.  Since they haven't spread under the path edging, I think more edging will contain them.  It took a spade to cut through the matted roots, a mattock to dredge the trench, and a trowel to scoop out the soil.  Loads of fun...

I threaded some old edging under the hoses through the trench...

And backfilled on both sides.  The edging looks high, but that's because I removed a lot of soil with the dug pieces.  I will have to add more soil to return it to level.  The edging should be sticking about 1/2" above ground.  Mulch will cover that.

You can just see the space for the 3 replacement stokesia to go.

Any Lysimachia that try to escape the edging will get a vinegar spray first, and a Roundup spray if absolutely required.  And if the edging really won't stop it, I will make a cardboard circle around it and give the whole patch the Roundup!  I'm taking a chance even giving these plants a second chance.  But if they will stay in bounds, they'll have long happy lives.

Now what am I going to do with the parts I dug up?  Future post!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mowing Again!

A few days old, but I didn't want to leave the subject of the mower repair hanging...

Yay!  I got my mower back Saturday.  I was about to haul out the old push mower, but the repair guy called Friday and said the riding one was fixed.  The grass was getting a BIT high.  Here are some pictures of the first swaths I cut...
The grass was 10" high! And I keep the blade 3" high for good grass health and weed suppression.
Another view of the tall grass.
And another.  I would have felt embarrassed, but my neighbor's grass was the same height and HIS mower is working.
It took an hour with the old push mower to get all these corners and edges mowed clean.  I sure am glad to have it back working!

My next big yard project is to reduce the amount of lawn I have...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Finished The Pond

Not much to show.  My hands got too muddy to take many pictures!

Basically, I had a dozen pots that were fallen over in the pond with the Sweet Flag leaves growing curved toward the light.  I had a large pot of mixed clay and pea gravel to refill smaller pots, broken terra cotta and golf ball sized stones for weight in the bottoms, and a new bag of pea gravel to cover the soil on the tops.

I found the corner of the sunken patio a convenient height to do messy work...

Here is a stage in the procedure.  The 2 pots on the right have had the stones put in the bottom, some clay/gravel soil added, then rooted portion from the original pots.  I am about to add new pea gravel on top and move them to the pond.

This is the small pond with Sweet Flag around the ledge.  There are 5 hardy waterlilies in the deeper center portion and several on the outer ledge.  The lilies on the ledge (and half of the Sweet Flag) will be moved to the larger pond as soon as I replace the damaged lining.

I have a small water pump for the small pond.  After it has circulated the water and filtered out the silt for a few days, I will add a few small goldfish.

At least I know now that I simply MUST lift all the pots each Spring and cut back the roots.  And next year I will cover it with plastic window screen instead of clear plastic sheet so the pond can breathe but the Spring Peepers can't mate!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Great Day To Be Out Yesterday!

What is so rare as a day in Spring?  Well in MD, they really are rare!  The average temp this time of year is 70F, but that usually means days of 55 intermixed with days of 80.  Finally, yesterday was actually in the upper 60s, which is MY kind of weather.

I spent almost the entire day outside.  The major project was to clean out the small pond.  I have a larger pond, but that project is for another day.

I have to mention first that I covered the pond with clear plastic because the Spring Peepers drive me crazy at night.  If there was 1,000 it would be OK because the noise would average out.  But I get just a few and there is a loud crok every minute or so.  Its like the Chinese water torture!  So, for sleepfulness, I cover the pond when they are mating.

The first thing I do in a major outdoors project is set up a rest station.   Hey, I'm 60 years old!  Chair, radio, beer.  In the shade...
Here is the pond when I uncovered it.  Live plants...
But purple sludge!  My first thought was "red algae bloom" (toxic).  I washed my hands frequently.  I made a hole in the muck to get a hose siphon started.
It's easy.  I just laid out one hose downhill and attached another from the spigot to it.  Fill the first with water, disconnect, and get it in the "hole" in the pond fast.  Here is the downhill end of the siphon hose.
It took an hour to siphon (hence the need for radio and beer), but it was finally done.  Look at the mess I saw!
Meanwhile, as the siphoning was going on, I weeded the garden.  I dug up quite a bit on some invasive grass.  Nasty stuff that spreads by long underground runners.  I used to know the name of it, but it escapes me now.  Suggestions welcome.
When the pond was drained, I mucked out the bottom silt,  Its great stuff for the compost pile!  A pond skimmer net is good for getting that stuff out.
Because of the red algae(?), I sprayed it with chlorinated water.  I don't know if that will kill it, but it sure won't help them any (search for WC Fields and moths).  I scooped the remaining water out with an old pitcher and poured the rich silt-water on the neighboring flowers.

When I had the pond about as clean as I could get it , I refilled the pond center about 4" deep.  That's so I can set the surviving plants back in some water tomorrow when the chlorine has mostly evaporated out. 
They all need repotting.  I tried that last year and failed badly.  Some pots floated and some just fell over.  THIS time, I have gravel to mix with the soil and bits of broken flagstone for the bottoms of the pots to weight them down.
The repotting was necessary because, 3 years ago, I discovered that the entire pond was a mass of roots.  Stupid me, I didn't know that they grew roots out of the pots!!!  And it had been 5 years since I planted them.  I spent hours cutting the various pots apart (the roots were all intertwined).  And that was in the cold March water (I still shudder from the cold water)...
But this year, it is going better.  I have the stuff to repot them properly (read up on it at pond plant website).  And I am going to put a waterpump in there this year to keep the water circulating.  Does anyone know if those U/V filters really work?  I might try one.