web analytics

So Summer is winding down.  The days of insufferable heat are drawing to a close.  The California drought is finally starting to take its toll on my garden.

I’ve been “locked out” of my woodshop by the high heat that makes it insufferable inside, even with fans, even during the late evening.  I’ve vowed that this is the last year that heat will keep me out of the garage.  Next month I will start building the wall in my garage, turning it from an open building to a closed building, cooled with a swamp cooler.

And I’m also planning on starting the build for the greenhouse and fish room.  Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ll have the money to finish both this winter after redoing the garage.  I guess we will see.

But even so, I DO have the money to start buying the electronics that will run my aquaponics setup.  You’ve already seen the Raspberry Pi that I purchased.  I have just added an Arduino to that.  I also purchased a Spartan 6 FPGA, but I don’t think that will be part of my setup just yet.  I got it because it was cheap, and because I’m refreshing my ability with Verilog and Xilinx tools.

I’m showing both the Arduino Mega 2560 and the MIMAS Spartan 6 FPGA here.

So here’s the plan.  The Arduino will be programmed to communicate with the Raspberry PI.  I’ll use the Arduino I/O to control a relay box that will control standard sprinkler system valves to fill and drain my aquaponics grow beds.

The Arduino (maybe a second Arduino) will also communicate with GROVE based sensors to detect water flow, fill and drain rates, water levels, and water quality.

All of this data will be fed to a simple database on the Raspberry Pi, which will then be available through a web page served by the Raspberry Pi.  Everything will be viewable on my wireless network, and maybe even on the Internet itself (I’m not sure about that yet).

My goal is to have all my data available to my iPad or smart phone, and to have the ability to “tweak” things remotely.

I also want the system to be able to send me system warnings via SMS text message.

Lots of work ahead of me.  

So California is having a drought, and we’ve stopped watering our lawn. We’re still watering our fruit trees and our garden. But the drought really makes me want an entirely enclosed greenhouse system that conserves water. Hm. More planning.

I’ve ordered more components for the aquaponics control system.

And a couple of weeks ago I lucked out and got a GREAT deal on a set of steel double doors – special ordered at Home Depot by a customer who never picked them up. I got them at a quarter of the price, $140 instead of almost $600! I picked up a window too. Now I just need to get in the materials to build the wall of my woodshop, and wait for some cooler weather, and I can start building. The woodshop is critical to getting the rest of my plans completed.

I’m really looking forward to the woodshop.

I put up a trellis on the South side of the house for my grape vine – which is already almost half-way across the trellis. I pruned off the grapes this year, I want the vine to put all of it’s energy into growing. Next year though, I should have a LOT of grapes!

Canned veggies!Right now I have a LOT of peppers. Anaheim chilies, Serrano chilies, bell pepper, and Tomatoes. We’ve been canning the peppers, along with carrots and onions in a white vinegar / apple vinegar solution that tastes absolutely wonnnnderful! I’ve been enjoying this fresh produce on my salads, in my meals, and of course canned and on the shelf, ready for use all year around. We’re using a “cold pack” method that should give us good tasting veggies all the way up to next year’s harvest.

So far, we’ve used about 5 cases of jars for canning, both in the 16 oz size, and in the quart sizes.

I’m now looking at purchasing a logging thermometer in order to see the temperature of our storage cellar. I want to be able to store at least one year of food down there, without it going to spoil in any way. Temperature is important for that. I can store lots of things that won’t be affected (much) by temperature too.

It’s so nice to see things coming together.

Tomatoes!So here are the first images of the first harvest of this year.

The Spring has been somewhat mild until a recent warming trend that has made my plants go into overdrive.

The automated drip irrigation system that I installed has made it a snap to take care of my garden. However, those parts of the garden where I didn’t use weed blocking material have been attacked by weeds of various types. Mostly crabgrass, but there are other “volunteers” that were left behind from the previous owner, plus lots of stuff that was blown in.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been very proactive against the weeds, but I have a 3-day weekend coming up now, and that will be a good time to attack them.

My old nemesis, the Argentine Ant, has not showed up in any force as yet.  I like to thing the environment isn’t very hospitable to them – since many of my plants are peppers and onions, and they don’t have suitable places to harvest aphids and scale. Peppers seem to be pretty good at fighting aphids.  In any case, I think I’ll prepare this weekend with some diatomaceous earth.

Anaheim peppersSo here’s my first harvest – Anaheim peppers, some of which will be in my chicken dinner tonight.

These are fairly mild, milder than Jalapeno peppers, and are about 500 to 2,500 on the Scoville scale.

They’re just enough to make a dish interesting.

They are very similar to New Mexico peppers, so I’ll probably string them up in a ristra for air drying and long term storage.  Or I can chop them up and use my dehydrator.

I’m also growing Serrano peppers, which are hotter than Jalapeno peppers, and prized for fresh salsa.  They can also be eaten green or red, and are very fleshy, with lots of “meat” on them.

I’m thinking of letting them go red for stir fry and drying purposes.  And maybe we will see about canning some salsa.

Here’s an image of my Serrano peppers, which are crowding my pepper plant so heavily that I think I’ll need to thin them out so that the other peppers can get a little redder.

So what else have I got going?

Sadly, I have to report that the White Nectarine Tree that I planted on the North side of the yard didn’t make it.  It never budded, never started growing.  I think it died in transit from the mail-order nursery.  This is sad, because I like White Nectarines.  The Pluot and White Peach trees have taken off like crazy.  In fact, the White Peach tried to actually grow one single peach!  I removed the peach because I want the tree to concentrate on growing this year.

The Pluot tree is already taller than I am.

We’re investigating what we will replace the White Nectarine with, and when.  The only fruit trees available at this point in the year are from local nurseries, and planting them would stress them badly.  So I think we’re done with that until next Spring.

grape vineI got my trees from the Peaceful Valley nursery here in California.  They have trees in season, and right now only olives are in season.  I really don’t want an olive tree!  So I’ll wait until winter, and then place an order with them.  Their bare root dwarf fruit trees are really reasonable.  I just need to make sure I get them into the ground quickly!

We got one crook-neck squash so far from our very small squash plants.  But it looks like they are gearing up for a windfall.

And the grape vine is doing very well on my home-made trellis!  The trellis cost me under $10 to make – or about half the store price for something that is not nearly as lovely or sturdy!  I plan to make more of these, and a pergola over the driveway for fruiting vines (grapes probably, but maybe something else too?)

The grape vine tried to give grapes this year too, but not very many of them.  I cut them off and am forcing this vine to grow.  I’d like it to be shade for my porch.

The Star Jasmine plant might not make it.  It’s not food, but I love the way they smell.  It just doesn’t seem very happy.  I will probably replace it.

The Bell peppers are producing, and the Artichoke are getting HUGE, but haven’t flowered yet, much less blossomed.  Sometimes the cats sleep under them.

Here’s an album of images from my garden.

This blog is about my attempt to find alternate ways of feeding myself and my wife. It’s about becoming self sufficient, and learning to be closer to food and it’s origins.

One of my main goals has been to raise not only fruits and vegetables, but meat too. That’s what aquaponics has been about – it’s a way to raise meat. Also planned is quail and rabbit, for the same reasons.

But what we’ve wanted for quite some time is the ability to raise goats. Unfortunately we live in downtown Fresno, and goats are classified as livestock – and are against city ordinance.

Two weeks ago, my friend Julie mentioned that she was considering getting some goats to help with weed control on her and her spouse’s property.

I jumped at the chance.

“Let me provide the goats!” I said. “Let them eat the weeds on your property, and then at the end of the year I’ll butcher them!”

It seemed like a pretty good idea, and after a week of looking around, Wendy found two goats on Craigslist that seemed to fit the bill – two neutered Kinder goats, about 8 months old, for $65 each or $110 for both. I got both.

Just before noon Wendy and I drove onto John & Julie’s property in my pickup truck loaded down with a big cage with two goats. Also loaded were posts, 2 x 4′s, scrap wood, corrugated roofing tin that I had in scrap, and some left over fence post concrete from my fence project. I also brought a bag of tools and my cordless screw driver.

We turned the goats loose into the very spacious chicken yard (with one chicken in residence) where they immediately started chowing down on the weeds in the yard. Then we walked the fence perimeter around the two different pastures that needed the goat’s help. The first pasture is ready for immediate residence, but the second will need a little work.

After our walk we sited a location for the “Goat Shed”, a place to put goat feed, water, and bedding – a place that offers the goats a shady spot in the hot Fresno sun.

It took us until 1:00 pm to get the posts dug with an auger, then plant the posts, square them, and fill the holes with concrete. After a short break, we then returned and added framing, roof ribs, roofing tin, and a shelf. We also added a place for hay feed. Bedding straw fit perfectly on the shelf, and the shelf can be used for other things too.

By the time we finished building the shed, it was about 6 pm. The Sun was getting lower and it was still way too hot. The goats had been busy, they explored the chicken pen, made a noticeable dent in the amount of weeds, had some water,and found a shady spot to lay down.

Kinder goats are great goats to have. They are not as likely to seek escape as other goats, they are easy to care for, and they are great for giving milk or using as meat. They are long-lived, and good breeders for much of their life. Kathleen Sanderson wrote an article for “Backwoods Home Magazine” that explains much of these traits, including the admirable trait that these goats “dress out” at about 60% or higher. An 80 pound Wether can be expected to give 50 pounds of meat.

My friends have said that depending on how these goats work out, they may get more. And I’ve told them that they can buy me out if they decided they want to keep these two particular goats. Until then I’m on the hook for their medications and goat chow.  We will wait and see how this arrangement works out for us, and if we are satisfied to continue it.

At the end of the day Julie treated all of us to some delicious barbecued burgers and asparagus, for which we were very grateful!

Here’s a link to the photos of our shed building process.

The woodshop is still not complete, but it is finally a “fully armed and operational battle station!”

But seriously, it’s a mess in there. Tools don’t have a home, storage is severely lacking, and the floor needs major help.

Still, I finally took my 12″ Miter Saw out of its box and cut up 2x4s for my new plastic tub storage rack. Then I immediately stored 10 large plastic tubs on it, and started storing my “briefcase tools” – tools that come with their own plastic carry box.

I then spent some time working on my front yard garden. I thought it would be too cool for major plant growth, but the recent rains have put everything into overdrive. My grape vine was getting out of hand. I looked for a trellis at the local home center, but couldn’t see paying $20 for sticks and nails! So instead I spent $6 on Cedar fence boards and cut them into 1″ strips on my table saw, then cut them to length on my miter saw. I then screwed them together with about 20 screws, and had a better trellis, sized to fit MY needs, for under $10.

The tomatoes are going crazy. They are “Indeterminate” tomatoes, which means they grow continuously instead of stopping at bush size. I haven’t been diligent in tying them up and training them, so they are sort of exploding everywhere.

The Artichoke plants are amazing. They’re going to be HUGE!

I’ll post images this week.

I spent a large part of the last two weekends working on my woodshop.

Basically, it’s a detached garage. This is a problem.

When I moved in, the garage became a repository for EVERYTHING. I had boxes and plastic tubs of household… stuff… to sort through. I’ve ended up throwing a lot of things away, and storing what I can’t throw away in my root cellar.

This makes me a little nervous. The hot water heater currently resides in the root cellar. This is a problem because there has been (before I bought this house) a water leak that flooded the root cellar! So I’m definitely planning on installing an automatic sump and an alarm!

But now the garage is cleaned out. Mostly. Except for the lawnmower. And garden tools. And bicycles.

So this weekend I started tracing the electrical wiring in order to make sure my garage has power and lights.

Lamp cordThe wiring for the lights is okay. It’s not Romex, but it is the proper equivalent from the late ’60′s when this garage was built. The power AND the ground are correct, and they pass according to my circuit tester.

The wiring for the rest of the garage is… scary. There seems to be a mixture of Romex and 2 conductor lamp cord used to power the garage benches. That’s right – lamp cord. Like you would use to replace the cord in your table lamp.

So while wiring the good lighting cord from the garage light switch to two 4-way socket boxes in the ceiling, I’ve also been investigating where this other cord is going. And best I can determine, it goes to the Mother-in-Law addition to the back of the garage.

It’s got me seriously concerned, and I’m going to trace it down and pull it out even if I have to trace it all the way back to the breaker box to do so!

I’ve got a little more wiring to do this week to finish installing overhead lights. Once finished, I’ll have enough light to be able to work in the woodshop during evenings.

I think one of my first projects will be to build a garden shed for the gardening tools and lawnmower. I still don’t know how to store & shelter my bicycles.

So I’m still “fine tuning” the sprinklers / automatic drip system in the front yard.  Apparently downtown Fresno lacks some good water pressure.  I’ve capped off a few of the lawn sprinklers and replaced two of them with gear-driven pop-up oscillating sprayers that will cover 90 degrees of the yard each. I noticed an immediate improvement in water pressure, and the whole yard gets enough water.

I tested the automatic drip system all last weekend, and during the week too.  This has resulted in my tomato plants turning yellow and droopy.  Not good!  So I let them rest for two days, then gave them some water on Friday.  I’ve left them alone over the weekend, and will give them all water tonight, (Sunday).

The garage is my biggest problem now. It is still very much a garage, and not yet a woodshop. I’ve been taking down the previous owner’s “creative electrical wiring” (seriously, it is a fire hazard – I have no idea why it hasn’t gone “poof” and turned the entire garage into a framework of charcoal like some sad character on a Saturday morning cartoon.)

I’ve also been moving plastic tubs of my own junk, plus future garage sale junk into the root cellar for storage, all while making sure we have room for sorting canned goods there. This autumn we are going to do some real canning.

I’ve been taking down pegboards. Next on my list are the cabinets and bench cabinets that were built with whatever was at hand. These areas are poorly planned for storage and use, and they have seen so MUCH use that their surfaces look like the Seven Dwarves have been mining them. Their tops are rugged and oil-soaked. They will all be going into my truck bed and then I’ll take ‘em to the dump.

Speaking of “rugged”, let’s talk about the garage floor.

The previous owner dug an oil pit in the garage. Handy for working under your car, or changing your oil. The oil pit is clean, (of oil, if not of dust and cobwebs) and well made. It is obvious to me that the previous owners were able to keep the pit free of oil by allowing any wayward oil to spill on the floor of the garage. I see kitty litter in my future. LOTS of kitty litter! (Or whatever I find better recommended for removing soaked-in oil.)

And the garage floor is uneven. When the garage floor slab was laid, someone didn’t know how to correctly level it. It has a WAVE right in the middle of it, side-to-side. The front of the garage is somewhat flat, but sloping down toward the wave, then sloping somewhat up after the wave, toward the rear of the garage.

And if that were not trouble enough, the entire slab is cracked into 4 pieces, and one of the cracks is almost a quarter of an inch higher than the other. It reminds me of photos of “Dip-Slip Faults” in my father’s geology books.

Between the oil, the oil pit in the middle of the floor, and the concrete geological examples, I’ve decide I will just bury it all.

So I think I’ll install a raised plywood floor, something like this one shown on the “Woodwhisperer” web site. It’s a lot of work, but what got me interested is that I’ll be able to install under floor wiring which will allow me to power a tablesaw in the middle of the shop. The hard part will be leveling the batten boards and drilling their holes. I’ll need a hammer drill to do it.

I plan to put the new floor right over the top of the oil pit, and then leave a trap door for the pit. I have no idea what I’ll store down there!

So, lots of work ahead. I really want this shop to work!

The fruit trees are now in!

We got dwarf varieties of White Peach, White Nectarine and Pluot. These trees will have an average height of 14 feet, so they won’t overwhelm our poor yard. I’ve planted them all on the North side of the yard. Due to their small size, we may not bother with espalier training them.

Also, we got in 4 Lavender plants for Wendy.

My brother-in-law has been busting his tail on amending the soil in the front yard. The East and South gardens are now ready for planting. We’ve amended using peat moss, a garden mulch mix, cow manure, and perlite. The idea is to allow the soil to keep a lot of moisture because we will be rationing water this summer. California in general is experiencing a very bad drought, with no end in site. So I’ve also added drip irrigation to the front yard gardens, to further cut down on evaporation.

Layout of houseIn addition, to reduce evaporation and weeds, we will be laying a weed barrier, and planting vegetables and flowers through it. We will then use ground up rubber mulch on top to further trap the moisture, prevent weeds, and keep the insects out.

I’ve got a useful layout of the house that you can see here. (Click here to see it full size).  The layout shows you that the dog run is to the North of the house, and that the fish shed is in the Northwest corner of the lot.

The backyard is taken up by the Mother-in-Law apartment and the garage (which is now my woodshop!).  There is also too much concrete slab in the backyard, and I plan to remove some of it.

In July / August last year, we installed 6-foot tall Cedar fencing around the North, South and West sides of the lot.  I’ve also cut the driveway away from the garage with fence and a gate.  As you can see from my earlier post, we installed a 3-foot high fence to the Northeast side of the lot, to create a boundary to our yard and to better define the garden in that area.

From the layout, you can see where my 4 fruit trees are.  There is one other tree in the front yard that I haven’t identified yet.  Wendy and I are debating just removing it and replacing it with a nut tree of some sort.

There really is a LOT of concrete slab around my house.  But I still think we can find enough area to grow a LOT of food.  For example, the greenhouse will be 24 feet by 8 feet in size, and will be multi-level inside.  There is a 3 foot by 24 foot growing area on the South side of the house, next to the porch, along with the growing area in front of the house.  PLUS I plan to plant a “raised bed” planter on the porch facing South, to take advantage of all that lovely sunlight, and to keep it from coming into the house.

On top of all this, we’ve decided that we are going to raise quail and rabbits for meat for personal consumption.  And Wendy has suggested turning our root cellar into a mushroom growing experiment.

Next up – I’m preparing war against my arch-nemesis! The Argentine Ant!

So we’ve ordered 3 fruit trees for the front yard. A Pluot, a White Nectarine, and a Peach. These will be trained in espalier style along the fence on the North side of the yard.  I’ll also install a grape arbor in the corner where that fence meets the house.  I’ll be planting red flame grapes there.  (My favorite!)

This week, we buried schedule 40 irrigation pipe along the front (East side) of the house, and in the planter area along the South side of the house.  Part of the front yard will grow veggies.  I’ll put up a tomato trellis there too.  As camouflage from any overzealous city regulations, I’ll surround my veggies with Marigolds – which will help with possible bugs.

The front of the house will have several Lavender plants – as decoration and because my wife loves Lavender. I’ll have lots of Pansies of various colors in front of that, because I love that flower.

And then the South Side of the house… it won’t get much this year. I plan on adding planters to that side of the house. I’ll make those myself. But there is already an area for planting there. Who knows? We’re discussing artichoke for that area. Maybe potatoes too?

In the backyard, I’m still working on getting my wood shop put together. I got a lot done two weeks ago. Last weekend I spent most of my time bringing in soil amendment for the front yard. And PVC pipe for the drip irrigation.

I’m getting ready to rent a concrete saw to take out the large slabs of concrete that the previous owners installed everywhere. I’d like to lay my own slab – but the cost of concrete is kinda scary. So I will probably leave a lot of it “as-is”, and fix it later.

I’m certain that besides an aquaponics system in a greenhouse, I’ll also raise quail and rabbits. Both are allowable under Fresno law. (So are Muscovy Ducks, for some reason, but I don’t have room.)

But quail are great for eggs and meat, as are rabbit. I can harvest each several times a year, and fill up my freezer (and canning in my root cellar) pretty fast.

Oh, that reminds me. I got us a 23 quart canning pressure cooker for Christmas. Quart jars of fruit, veggies and meat are in our future. Next up, a better dehydrator.

Also there is a possibility that we will be allowed to do some gleaning from some nearby farms. My wife has an “in” here. She grew up in that area and has been invited to go gleaning before. We shall see, and I’ll keep you posted!

Still working!

So, no work on the fishery or the rest of the Aquaponics system as yet.  There was a lot to do otherwise on the house.

Items 1, 2 and 3 on my list have been accomplished.  Our shiny new guestroom was used to host my parents over Thanksgiving, so that was pretty successful.

Front yard fenceItem 5 is in work as I write.  Yesterday I (with my brother in law) added another water line to my automatic watering system.  This line goes down the North side of the yard, and down to the front sidewalk.  Later I’ll continue it to the front strip of land between the sidewalk and street.  But for the time being, several uprights from this line will feed drip irrigation to fruit trees, grapes, and veggies that we intent to plant on this side of the house.

Also, yesterday we almost completed the fence on the East side of the front yard. This fence will prevent people from walking through our yard and garden, will protect the irrigation uprights, and will mark off the property lines. You can see the uprights and the fence here.

Item 7 on my list is in work.  I’ve recently learned that the past owners of this house had a problem when a pipe burst and flooded the root cellar to the top of the cellar! I’m adding an automatic sump pump and alarm to my root cellar now. Also, much of the root cellar is being used as long term storage of many different items.

As for item 16, I think I’ll use the Grove system from Seeed. They have lots of useful sensors. And there is a good possibility of me adding a pH sensor to the system. Turbidity, water level, water flow, and water control through Arduino systems using various Grove shields and connected to a webserver that I can view and control through an iPad is my ultimate goal.

« Older entries