I Am the King of the Distant Forest

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Jul 112013

The garden is doing things. Dying a bit because of slugs and awful weather, but eh. I have lots of tomatoes at least.

More Garden Things

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May 252013

Who needs to write when you can just look at things.

The Garden Nears Completion, Now for the Hard Part…

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May 092013

Trellis Flaw

So, the last few weeks have been exciting, at least in the garden. First, I realized that 1/2″ EMT was probably not going to be sufficient for the load squash and melons would put the trellis under. Tomatoes? Most assuredly… but the sag when loading it with even 40lbs was just a bit much for me. So, I upgraded the squash and melon sides to 1/2″ rigid conduit. Since the dimensions of my trellis are kind of hacky, I cut a 10′ tube in half using the current EMT as a guide. The unthreaded end I had to insert into 3/4″ EMT set screw connectors… so I had to replace the elbows with 1″ elbows and couplings to 3/4″ threaded pvc (the set screw connectors screwed nicely in place, better than the 1/2″ ones did). The threaded end screwed right into the 1/2″ threaded pvc.

Still not sure if the trellis will hold up, but we’ll see!


There are still a few more things to plant… we had to get another bale of Pro-Mix for bpt’s lettuce buckets, and now I can’t stop myself from trying to grow even more things.

I guess we’re down to wrapping up the trellis, constructing the platforms to keep the containers off of the deck, and hacking together some kind of protection from deer…

The Perils of Mixing Your Own Media

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Apr 122013

I definitely just spent the last two days fighting potting media. The soil mix that seemed to be alright in the raised bed failed in the pots. This was expected, because half compost is just bad, and I’ve failed with that before. So I dropped it to 1/3 of the mix… no drainage Eliminated it entirely. No drainage! I tried using pine park. No drainage. I guess the perlite wasn’t rinsed and maybe the dust was binding with small particles from the base media and creating a muck? Nope. Nothing.

My first mistake was not pre-wetting the sphagnum moss. The garden bed was made with a bag of peat moss from the previous year that I had cut open and let sit out on the deck absorbing water for six months… so that explained that. Soaking the peat moss and premixed media and letting it sit overnight still did nothing!

I tried five or six different mixes in the end… mixes that worked perfectly before. Seemingly no difference, and yet utter failure!

In previous years, I had been buying a few gallons of peat moss at a time down at the hardware store. This year I used a huge compressed bail because it’s like 5x cheaper… and … not treated with a wetting agent.

After giving up, I decided to try one last time… I filled a pot with two quarts base 1:1:1 peat:perlite:vermiculite mixture, mixed a few drops of detergent into two gallons of water, and soaked it… and it drained normally! I soaked it with three more gallons of water and it clearned in about fifteen minutes. Success!

And now back to actually gardening instead of cursing the universe for deciding to hate me.

The Garden Gains More Plants

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Apr 102013

Today I

  • Planted the bucket of banana peppers
  • Screened 20 gallons of compost (aaaand I didn’t put my legs into it and I guess I’m old so ow my back)
  • Tackled a third of the back yard with the ol’ lawn mower (the horrible invasive Switchgrass must be annihilated)
  • Organized my collection of empty containers

Tomorrow I must

  • Do that work thing (details…)
  • Plant the bell peppers (in the garden, and in containers, for comparison and who doesn’t want extra peppers?)
  • Plant a patch or two of green onions
  • Mix up a bunch of the screen compost and media to fill all of my containers (I hope I have enough)

I want to go to the farmers market to get more seedlings, but … time, what is time? I finish work at one but have a meeting at three so it’s not likely to happen. Oh well, that’s what Thursday’s for!

And then comes having to wait. I rushed a bit and planted the banana pepper bucket only a day after blending in fresh media/compost and soaking it… and, yep, the soil structure had yet to fully settle and drainage is going to be fun for a few weeks. So after making the initial pots and soaking them, I guess I have to wait a few days and soak and top them off before planting. I hear that lets the pH stabilize too…

In the meantime, I think I need to buy another sack of vermiculute (boo) since I’m going to be about a cubic foot short for filling the trellis beds (at least they’re only eight cubic feet), and with the forecast for the next two weeks there’s no real reason not to get the cucumbers, melons, and squash in next week.

The Garden Has Plants!

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Apr 092013

After three really great years of gardening, last year I got way too ambitious and the garden failed miserably. Note to self: don’t try to build raised beds and grow most of your plant from seed with limited capital…

Oh well, you live, you learn, and then you have empty garden beds you just have to fill with dirt the next season.

And so here we are this season! Bpt and I got a huge pile of compost from the city and over the last week mixed up media and compost and now the 5’x3′ bed is filled! And I even planted parsley in a corner.

Unfortunately, I neglected to sift the compost… not really a problem, but a few small sticks and whatnot ended up collecting on the top of the bed. Luckily I built a crappy sieve last year, and rebuilt it today so we can sift through that and top off the last bit with sifted compost and media…

It turns out that living near the state farmers market has advantages! Most vegetable seedlings are about $2 for a pack of four, making me feel a bit dumb for not salvaging a garden after my seed growing failure last year…

In light of how cheap seedlings are, I blended up 30 gallons of media (= 60 gallons finished after mixing with compost) and am going to just fill all of my containers (a ragtag bunch of about 14 pots of varying sizes) tomorrow with generic media… and then grow so many things.

Two years ago I discovered (accidentally!) that planting four peppers in a 20 gallon rubbermaid container together yields tons and tons of peppers… it seems that their root systems merge and they help each other out, and the dense foliage creates a nice microclimate protecting all of the fruit from getting burned. This year the bucket returns! I’m growing a bucket of four banana peppers, and then another with four hot peppers… I’m thinking two habaneros and one each of two other hot peppers, since the hot ones seem to produce prolifically and excessively (what do you do with 300 habaneros?).

My overwintered bell pepper also appears to be alive, making this (hopefully) a third season. Last year I lost most of my crop to what I thought was fungus, but turned out to be stink bugs (the spots they leave after puncturing the fruit look awfully similar to anthracnose)… unexpected, but I guess they’ve migrated this far south now. Hopefully I can manage them this year…

On the herb front, I’m going to start some Basil seeds soon (meant to last month, but what can you do). The dang squirrels killed my two year old oregano bush by digging up its entire root system to stash acorns last year, so a new one shall appear. My old peppermint is hitting five years now and is kind of eh, so I got a new moroccan mint and it smells pretty nice. The catnip came back to life despite being neglected and compacted so I guess Maytag and Morgoth will have a nice summer (Merlin seems insensitive to catnip, sucks for him!). That basically covers the mint yoghurt and pasta front for the summer!

I think I’m going to plant some new rosemary. My largest one (two years old) is going to go into the front plant bed because the existing shrubs were so neglected in previous years that I think they are going to die (and I don’t want to get a larger container!).

So… looks like the main garden bed is going to be at least half populated by the end of the week, and many of the containers. I’m saving the trellis beds for last (I guess squash and melons don’t need to be planted for a few more weeks at least) but I’m hoping to get some musk melons and whatnot, because who wouldn’t want to have a cookout consisting entirely of garden harvested vegetables and fruit? But I’m trying not to think about that yet, lest I become overwhelmed at the next month of effort instead of gradually working toward it over the next month…

And the Trellis Is Built

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Feb 072013

I didn’t die from the PVC cement fumes, and after that everything came together quickly (with assistance from bpt).

Garden Trellis Update: I Hate Building Things

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Feb 052013

So, it turns out the Internet’s sage advice that a 1/2″ EMT tube would fit into a 3/4″ OD PVC coupling is a lie. In fact, a 1/2″ PVC coupling is still too large >:O.

But! After a harrowing 90 minutes at the hardware store I discovered… a 1/2″ threaded pvc to 3/4″ slip adapter is compatible enough with threaded 1/2″ EMT so… the pvc adapter connects to the elbow, a set screw to threaded EMT adapter connects to the pvc adapter, and the conduit attaches to the EMT adapter.

At least the pair of adapters costs less than a single 3/4″ cotter pin, and it certainly is easier to deal with (build the elbows before hand, just tighten a screw to attach when I’m reaching for pieces above my head).

I guess I need to get some pvc cement… which costs as much as all of the EMT I’m using, so maybe I can find an alternative glue that will work acceptably for structural rigidity but not for pressurized water.

So now! After doing that whole “generating funds to continue paying rent” work thing tomorrow, more trellis construction. And pictures, finally.

The Garden, 2013

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Feb 052013

Last year I tried to upgrade my garden, but bit off way too much, ending with very little yield (only my containers, and then with only a couple of pepper plants since all of the seedlings died and I ran out of funds to get seedlings at that point).

So this year, something simpler. I’m going to try and germinate a few things (Aurora peppers, basil since I’ve had universal success, and kebab onions) and just live with getting transplants… and then some direct sown stuff (melons! squash! green onions! radishes! herbs!). This way, at worst I end up without a weird heirloom pepper I can survive without.

I also have the stuff I built last year: a pair of 5’x18″ beds dug into the ground (intended for use with a trellis), a 5’x3 raised bed ready to go, and the 18″ ends cut for another pair of 5′ or 6′ beds. And I happen to have 3 cubic feat each of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite… a good chunk of hard work and expensive materials already exist, phew.

So! The first steps. I discovered that the city will sell me compost and mulch for dirt cheap, making this project affordable. $30 nets me a nice 65 cubic feet of compost, i.e. about three times as much as I need initially for all of the beds and my bins! Then, it looks like I can get enough topsoil for about $15. I’m probably going to nap a truckload of mulch too, since I need just enough that it costs as much to get it in smaller quantities, and there are a number of trees in the yard that could really use a good restorative mulching after years of neglect (exposed roots! weeds! erosion!).

The plan now is to make a base mixture of 1:1:1 peat moss:vermiculite:perlite (peat moss replaced with coir if I need a second bag… CAPTAIN PLANET), amended slightly with some light fertilizer. Then, for my containers, mix that 1:1 with compost. For the raised beds, I think I’ll start by mixing the compost/base mix 2:1 with the topsoil (the beds will have better drainage than the pots so I want to make the mix a bit heavier).

So… with the cheapness of city compost and already having plenty of base mix, onward! I think I’ll have the small beds filled within two weeks and plant some bunching onions and radishes, bpt planting some swiss chard and lettuce (yeah yeah, stereotypical early season crops WHO WANTS SOME SWISS CHARD). Those beds in June, however, get to start their real task: melons and squash!

So, a trellis is needed. I devised a garden cube based on the designs in Square Foot Gardening; instead of a free standing trellis per bed, I envisioned have four beds (= 12-15 trellised plants) and a cube of EMT conduit in the middle. And so it shall be, but with only two (perhaps three, but I have until June to care and it sure takes a lot longer to level ground that you think it would) beds. Supplies:

  • 4 1/2″x4ft rebar
  • 6-8 1/2″x10ft EMT conduit
  • 4 3/4″ OD “Side outlet elbow junction” PVC connectors (these were an incredible pain in the ass to find)

The idea is simple enough: hammer the rebar into the ground, fit the EMT over, use my convenient pipe cutter to get them all to the same height, attach the pvc joints using magic, and then cut/mount the EMT for the top bars.

The problem is the pvc coupling. In my vision, I imagined that there was a vertical Tee + 90″ corner elbow EMT connector using those convenient screws to keep it in place. As luck would have it, and for now obvious reasons, that doesn’t exist. But! The Internet to the rescue! You can use pvc plumbing fittings, but keeping it together becomes a bit more complicated…

I saw suggestions to drill through the connection and use a cotter pin… I have a feeling that’s what I’m going to do in the end, but that’s… a pain. I have a drill around, but applying the force needed to go through the EMT when it’s all wobbly seems like it’d be challenging, or result in a drill going through some part of my body as things slip.

So, I’ll be attempting an easier method, probably doomed to failure…

  1. Drill a hole in each of the joints on the pvc elbow before construction
  2. Use a short screw to dig into the EMT in a similar fashion to the usual screw/friction connectors

If it works, hooray. I won’t be grumpy if it keeps the structure rigid enough for me to drill the cotter pin holes.

In any case, that damned trellis is getting built.

Bonus feature: I was thinking about getting a small green house or constructing a cold frame to germinate the peppers in (it would require hundreds of dollars of lighting crap to successfully start them, I think… sunlight is better than anything I can provide, except for that pesky freezing temperatures thing). Today, it dawned upon me that I already have a greenhouse… since I don’t need the trellis until June and it’s already a rigid cube… I just need a bunch of zip ties and plastic sheeting and I think I’ll have an effective environment for starting seedlings.