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diy

The pressure cooker is getting to see some serious use this year. This week, we’re canning 95 lbs of tomatoes. Our tomatoes didn’t fare too well this season, so these tomatoes were purchased from various farmers at the Round Rock Farmer’s Market. We bought 40 lbs from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, 25 lbs from Two Happy Children Farm and 30 lbs from Bush Farms.

The pressure cooker getting a workout.

Most of the tomatoes will be quartered and canned with a small amount of lemon juice and salt. A few of the San Marzanos will be pureed into a plain tomato sauce. The select few, combined with tomatoes from our gardens, will be made into more yummy Yard Salsa.

Part of the process.

I’ve given my hand at baking a few different breads that we enjoy. Today, Pita Bread were made. The recipe was found on the web and quite easy to make. It’s nice to see a yummy product that has 5 ingredients opposed to the 20 in store-bought Pitas.

Homemade Pita Breads

Outside, the gardens are still cranking. A new aquaponics bed was assembled in the greenhouse. This system is developing into a kit of sorts. In the future, a parts list and instructions will be posted. It can be made with parts from your local hardware store.

The basil sprouts have already started. We’re not too concerned with raising the fish for food, so only a few will live in the pond. To stock the pond, we caught a few bream and a catfish in the local creek.

The upcoming aquaponics kit.

Aquaponics Basil Sprouts

More homemade stuff is happening on the Funny Farm. Today was busy with Roasted Corn Yard Salsa. Made completely with homegrown veggies and a small amount of time, it is quite tasty. The final ears of corn for the year were harvested yesterday and roasted this morning. We’ve had a good harvest of heirloom tomatoes over the last 2 days and were perfect for salsa making. Of course, our peppers haven’t slowed down one bit and we’ve been looking for more ways to use them all. These few jars may only last a week or two at most. Mackenzie and I ate the 5th jar today.

Roast Corn Yard Salsa


We’re also looking into making all of our own tortillas, crackers and breads. Crackers were quite easy and today’s experiment yielded some yummy Spicy Salt and Pepper crackers. Next time, I want to use baking sheets without edges so I can make thinner crackers. Today’s were plenty crunchy, but some very thin and crispy crackers was the goal.

Spicy Salt & Pepper Crackers

Learning how to make bread really isn’t that tough. Verifying the ingredients before assembly has shown tough today. By mistake, this Honey Wheat Bread has become a very tasty and high protein wheat bread.

Honey Wheat Bread?

The kiddo is shipping out to Camp Longhorn on Sunday. She’s getting some customized gear to mark it as hers. The knot on the bottle is a Turkshead in a bight and the knot on the flashlight is a repeated Over and Under Heaving Line Knot, also called a “Rattlesnake Knot.” I did retain some knowledge from being a Boy Scout for a few years – Thanks, Dad.

Custom Gear

We’re still super busy around the farm. Anne has been photographing quite a few weddings lately. Which has left me to fill my time with odd jobs around the house. Sewing custom sand bags and light stand bags, lots of cooking, pickling peppers, and of course more gardening.

Preserving vegetables has become pretty important. It will allow us to become more sustainable by extending our harvests. At the last post, I had managed to make Kimchi. It was really tasty. This time I experimented with  pickling peppers. It’s very simple with vinegar, water, salt, peppercorns, carrots, garlic and peppers. One jar will be pushed to the back of the fridge to test the canning process. The other won’t last very long since we like our foods spicy.

Spicy pickled peppers with carrots and garlic.

More aquaponic growing is going to happen in the greenhouse. These trays will be filled with gravel once the siphons are installed. They’ll be used to grow lettuce, greens and herbs. We’ve found that fruiting vegetables grow much better in the ground as we can control the nutrients that the plants get. Higher nitrogen and lower phosphorous and potassium in the aquaponics grows great, green veggies.

new aquaponics for lettuce

We’ve found a variety of watermelons that are hardy enough for the area. Our gardens get full, blazing sun in the afternoons and it has roasted other varieties.

Watermelons!!

With all of Anne’s wedding photography going on this summer, she needed some new gear. Sand bags usually come in plain back and sell for around $25 each. Getting out the old Elna SU, I managed to make 4 custom sandbags and 2 custom light stand bags for a total $60. Now Anne has some cool, custom gear and we saved a bunch of money. My Etsy store is coming soon.

Sandbags and lightstands

While the kiddo was out of town, I pulled out the old RC truck for repairs. Managed to get the engine running and tuned only to find the differentials are trashed. Trying to drive and steer with one wheel locked up was no fun. Parts have been ordered. While waiting, the entire truck will be cleaned and oiled. Then it’s up for sale. Yeah, selling the truck to get a helicopter… too bad I can’t do that with my real truck.

My truck exploded.

Well the greenhouse is finally ready to be a greenhouse. It gets quite warm and roasty in there during the day. Only took a year or so to get it finished up with no outside help. The next step will be making the solar collector for the radiant floor heating. However, my Urban Greenhouse Controller is still in the works for the Renesas contest. It gets priority for a few days now.

Front view of the greenhouse.

Potting soil has been made from sifted compost, peat moss, vermiculite and a bit our homemade organic fertilizer blend. We’ve started a few seeds and the rest of the trays will be filled this week. This is only a start. We hope to have 3 tiers on each wall of seedlings. There will be plenty of tomato seedlings for sale and trade. This year we are planning on a lot of Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Sliced with Buratta, they can’t be beat.

The start…

The baby chickens have been outside a bit. Temperatures are still a bit cool to let them roam. They don’t seem to mind getting a little sun on a breezy day.

The new chickens, 1 month old.

We’ve also been working hard at making a math game. If we can hurry, we’ll make it an instructable and enter it into the microcontroller contest at Instructables.com. All of the hardware is solved. It’s on breadboard now with a custom printed circuit board in the works. It is powered by a ATMega328p (as a barebones arduino) and programmed with a Bus Pirate. The software is being tweaked and should be done in a few days.

Our Money Math Game

We received an incubator for Christmas this year! It came a little early which was really nice. We found a local farmer that had fertile eggs for sale at a great price. The timing was perfect to have little chicks hatching on Christmas day. Some of the eggs were a day or 2 older than others when we purchased them so we’ve got a few chicks left to hatch. This video shows the first 4 chicks. We have 8 total now and 2-3 more should hatch. Hopefully, there will be 2 or 3 roosters. We would like to have more fertile eggs to make sure we can raise enough chickens to feed a dog and a kiddo.

(Strangely, this video is slightly chopped at the bottom. It appears fine on my youtube page but not when viewed by other users. I will look into getting it corrected. If the video is not attached to the emails, you can see it here.)

Yes, it’s a green greenhouse. The bell pepper green paint is really bright but looking great. The vent window frames are going on and then the paneling to finish it out.

Super Green

Greenhouse Specifications:

  • 8′ x 8′ x 8′ (peak of roof)
  • Wood structure, paint for sealant
  • Polycarbonate “Tufftex” panels with 90% light transmission
  • Decomposed granite floor (high silicon dioxide, to work as a thermal sink)
  • Passive radiant floor heating using solar collector (PEX tubing with 3/4″ foam-core, aluminum reflective barrier)
  • GWDeveloper Urban Greenhouse Controller
GWDeveloper Urban Greenhouse Controller on Renesas RX62N

Urban Greenhouse Controller

  • Plug-and-play operation using regional ET data
  • Configurable Sensor Array
    • Humidity
    • Temperature
    • Barometric pressure
    • Wind direction & speed
    • Daylight collected
    • pH & EC
    • Vent and door positions
    • Water flow rate
  • Hardware Control
    • Vents
    • Exhaust Fans
    • Misters
    • Irrigation
    • Aquaponics
  • User Input
    • Touchscreen display in greenhouse
    • Web accesible controls via wireless access point

My electronic specifications may be slightly changed due to the cost of sensors and linear servos. Most sensors will operate on the I2C bus while a few will have simple ADCs.  I will probably find a different method of opening and closing the vents as well.

The chicken pen finally has a proper roof. The old roof was made of recycled, corrugated plastic sheets. They only lasted about a year before dry-rotting and causing a huge mess. The new roof is galvanized steel and should be good for a long time. I doubt the chickens will miss their skylights, especially after a hail storm.

It’s going to be noisy in the hail storms.