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organic garden

The farm sure has been a busy place. Updates haven’t been made here in quite some time. Lots of updates have been going on with the farm though. We’ve expanded a bit in size and added a few more veggies to the mix. I will try to keep pictures better updated for everyone.

A new, small chick hutch was built as a staging point so they can eat some developer feed for a bit. That should help turn them into some nice egg laying hens. Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with a few predators. Solved the problem with the cat eating chickens by installing a finer mesh screen for protection. Skunks however, don’t mind digging underneath the entire building. Last night, our local skunk decided it needed 3 chicks for dinner.

Peppers in the aquaponic system have been growing well but not producing as many peppers as the ground planted variety. The plants look a bit healthier but that is mostly due to less wind exposure. The hot, dry winds have been wreaking havoc on the front yard gardens.

Potatoes have been hilled several times. We should have a nice crop of purple potatoes this fall. Golden celery was also planted to experiment with. It’s handling the heat very well so far. The hardier of the plants will be left to grow out to seed for next season.

Watermelons are growing very successfully for us this year. Lots of mulch was key to keeping the soil moist for them. A few of the melons are nearly the size of an 8 year olds head. We should be picking and eating in just a few weeks.

Even in a drought, tomatoes can be over-watered. I managed to stunt their growth a little by keeping the soil too saturated which locked up some of the nutrients. After backing off for a few days and then adding a foliar feed spray, they’ve turned back around and started setting tomatoes again.

We’ve forgotten the name of these but they’ll just be Backyard Grapes for now. They’re ripening up nicely. We won’t have enough for wine making but we’re learning more about growing better grapes for the future.

In order to determine the best growing pepper for our yard, we’re growing 8 types. The jalapenos, serranos and bull nosed bells are all doing great. In fact, I’ll be pickling peppers this week as they’re producing quite a few peppers every day.

The raised-bed corn experiment is doing very well. Next year, we’ll need to make sure it’s in the ground 2-3 weeks sooner than this year. There won’t be a big harvest but it should all be pretty tasty.

One of the fig trees out front. Hopefully it will start setting fruit. This one hasn’t been a producer yet.

Here are a few bottles of the spicy kimchi I’ve made. All the recipes I could find varied with seasonings and vegetables. I decided to use what we had and make up my own pickling recipe. It is really tasty and will be a great way to save money. This much kimchi at the farmer’s market would be around $30. I made all of this for about $6.

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

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.

With a few parts from the nice people at http://www.avianaquamiser.com and some modifications we now have an auto filling bucket waterer to keep our hens happy. It was about $60 in parts and only a few minutes of labor to assemble. It’s a short and simple parts list:

  • 5 gallon Bucket with Lid
  • Avian Aqua Miser 3 pack kit
  • Toilet Fill Valve Assembly
  • 7/8″ to 1/2″ Toilet Supply line
  • 1/2″ brass nipple
  • 1/2″ to 3/4″ hose swivel adapter
  • teflon tape and silicone glue
Make sure to snip the edges of the lid, at the perimeter markers. You’ll want it to be an easy off lid and you don’t want an airtight seal. If it sealed airtight, the pressure would block the flow of water from the fill valve.
Drill a 1″ hole in the bottom of the bucket for the toilet fill valve. Use the rubber grommet and plastic nut to seal and hold the valve in place. The supply line, nipple and swivel adapter will need teflon tape at all the brass on brass junctions. Drill holes for the Avian Aqua Miser watering nipples, thread them in and seal lightly with silicone glue. Once the silicone has cured, hang your new auto filling bucket waterer in your hutch and attach a garden hose. Adjust the height of the water level with the fill valve. We’re going to keep the level around 2-3 gallons so it’s always super fresh.

These projects save us time and allows that to be directed into more and better gardening.We love our funny farm.

Well, the farm is going to be growing (haha) quite a bit. I approached the church behind our house about using some of their empty flower beds and empty lot to grow vegetables in. The beds have been grassed over for years, the empty lot is just that, empty. This morning, they had a vote and decided to allow us to till and plant the flower beds to show them what we can do. The Round Rock Funny Farm is adding 400+sqft to it’s growing space! I’ve got to get it tilled, fed and mulched pretty quickly so it will be ready for a fall garden. The idea behind the potential use of the larger lot (4400+sqft!) would be to plant native plants and flowers as well as have a vegetable garden and donate 25% of the produce to the church members or a food bank of their choice.
Here’s a snapshot of the plan I’ve laid out for the initial fall garden. (I’ll tell everyone more about  the “Tenth Acre Farms” part another time)

I’ve also put together the layout for most of our backyard. It’s crazy just how much we have going on back here. The front yard is growing a lot of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn, squash and eggplants. Eventually, we’ll also have artichokes, olive trees and more fruit trees.

Well, the greenhouse plans are pretty much ready for the permit. It’s been a busy spring and the greenhouse construction has been delayed a good bit. It will definitely need to be ready for fall. We plan to have early seedlings next year so we can keep improving our system.

It’s a basic wood construction. It will need some reinforcements to stay put in the winds we’ve had. The roof and walls will have clear, UV protected polycarbonate sheets. Cooling in the summer will be made possible with lots of ventilation and a water mist. Heating in the winter will be a combination of a passive solar radiant floor heating, forced convection solar heating as well as thermal mass inside the greenhouse.

Hopefully, the permit will be in hand by the end of next week so more construction can begin. The floor reflector, tubing and gravel will go in first. 4 yards of gravel will be moved from the driveway to the back yard. Anyone else want to grab a shovel and wheelbarrow?