So the orange harvest has been going VERY well.

oranges.jpgI’ve been snacking on oranges almost every day since the first of the year.  It is so wonderful to walk out to the tree, grab an orange, and just peel and eat it while sitting on my front porch.  The weather has been cold and crisp, but not freezing, so the oranges are cold and refreshing.

We did have a short freeze, and the tips of the orange tree’s branches have died.  Just like they did last year.  It’s really no problem, since right after harvest is a perfect time to groom the tree – cutting off the shaggy and dead branches that have grown too long.

I harvested about 300 to 350 pounds of oranges this year (not counting those that we ate off the tree).  Last year I tried to dehydrate the oranges, with mixed results.  This year, I decided to plant a “neighborhood harvest”.  By that, I mean I gave away ten and twenty pound bags of oranges to my friends and neighbors.

I also donated over a hundred pounds of oranges to a church food drive.  I donated almost a hundred fifty pounds of oranges to the Fresno food bank.

And my neighborhood harvest has already born fruit – one family gave us a tray of danishes in thanks for the oranges, and another gave us a couple of HUGE jars of artichoke hearts.

How about that?  Plant oranges, harvest artichoke!

tangerine1I also picked my full harvest of honey tangerines.  Those two little trees had it rough last year, but still they gave me some nice, tasty fruit!

Now comes the fun part – the hard work.

I’ve been preparing the garden for new planting.  The fun part is deciding what to plant, and where to plant it.

I’ve been doing some research – and remembering some yummy treats.  I’m thinking that I’m going to add some persimmon trees to my garden!

Winter Comes!

Lemongrass It’s just after Thanksgiving, and the garden has mostly gone to sleep.

I never did harvest the Lemongrass.  It grew really big, but we just couldn’t figure out what to do with all of it.  I got some of it for a couple of soup dishes, but I just cut the rest of it back.  It was seriously huge and shaggy!

I picked the last of the peppers at the beginning of November, and then mulched the pepper plants.

bberryThe poor raspberry bush did NOT like the pot it was in.  I think in the spring I’ll replant it in the garden.  And the grape vine never did have a good harvest this year either – I blame the failure of my automatic drip water system at a critical point.  The grapes withered on the vine.  The grapevine itself seems like it will recover just fine.

HTMy Mandarin / Honey Tangerine trees in pots also had a hard year.  Like the raised bed planter, they have been having problems with yellowing and poor growth.  Even so, both managed to produce a few poor little tangerines that tasted pretty good.

I’ve been thinking about the complete failure I’ve had with the raised bed garden, and the failure to thrive problems I’ve had with my potted orchard.  I think that the “Mel’s Mix” that I’ve used for my square bed garden is too rich, and too easily holds water.

The plants in the raised bed garden yellowed, dropped leaves and then died.  The trees have yellowed and failed to thrive.  This is usually a sign of too much nutrients – like water or fertilizer.  The containers are probably too wet near the bottom, and the soil is probably way too rich.  I’ll do some experimenting in the Spring.

OTI’ve also been worried about the drought’s effect on my orange tree in the front yard.  The oranges are still not quite ripe, but I think they will turn out okay.  If they do, then I’ll pick them in late January and early February.

persimmonHere’s a good turn… the local persimmon crop is going well.  I’ve been purchasing persimmons at the local farmer’s market by 8-10 pounds at a time, and then dehydrating them.

You know how hard it is to get a persimmon that is just right?  Eat them too early and they are often bitter with tannin, eat them too late and they are a syrupy mush!

Well, dehydrating persimmons fixes that!  I first had dried persimmon in South Korea, where they are treated like candy.  There’s even a story that my late wife told me, long ago, about how dried persimmon’s frightened away a dangerous tiger because they were so delicious.

If you dehydrate a persimmon before it is completely ripe, it may not be as sweet, but it will completely lose the bitter flavor of tannin.  If you dehydrate an overripe persimmon you can do so the same way you would dehydrate fruit leather.  Either way you get something that stores well and tastes great.

But if it is just ripe, and seedless, then you can cut it into slices on a Mandolin slicer and dry them on the trays.  You can do so with skin on if you wish, but they taste better peeled.

NyssaOkay, that is all for this year.  I’ll write again in the New Year.  I’m still not sure if we will stay in this house, or move to follow whatever new employer I’m working for.  I’ve got some ideas about working freelance and contract which I think I’ll be exploring.

Until I know for sure, I’ll continue the garden, and make plans for an aquaponics system.

Stay warm out there!

Fish fried rice

When I was in the Air Force, I was stationed in South Korea for two years –  where I met my late wife.  After Korea, we lived in Okinawa Japan for another 6 years.  I’ve enjoyed Korean food for over 20 years, and since my wife passed away I’ve learned to recreate some of my favorite dishes.  I’ve also started experimenting in ways that I’m sure would have scandalized my late wife.

This is one of those experiments.  A stir fired rice using fish and Old Bay Seasoning.  Old Bay Seasoning is something I grew up with in South Texas, and while I was stationed in Mississippi.  It is the taste of my youth, crab boils, and fish frys.  And it goes together surprisingly well with fish fried rice.

  • Anaheim peppers (red and green), fresh from my garden.
  • Minced Garlic
  • Half a chopped onion
  • A fillet of Tilapia – cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • A little Kielbasa – cut into small pieces
  • Frozen cubed mixed veggies
  • 2 cups of cooked white rice
  • One egg, well beaten
  • Sesame oil
  • Oyster sauce
  • Serrano Chili powder –  from my garden
  • Old Bay Seasoning

Click to enlarge

1)  Add olive oil to either a heavy bottom pan or wok, and heat over high heat.

2)  Add garlic and onion.  Stir fry until light brown.

I purchase minced garlic in a jar, like this.  It bypasses all the work of preparing garlic, and it tastes much better than powdered garlic.  Plus you can brown it.  You can find it in larger jars if you use fresh garlic more often.  I love the garlic flavor in fried rice, so I use two tablespoons of garlic.

3)  Add the fish, Kielbasa, veggies and peppers.  Stir fry for about 3 minutes.

The idea here is that the fish and Kielbasa is cut into smaller cubes so that both cook quickly.

4)  Add a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning while continuing to stir. This flavor mixes well with the fish and sausage flavors.

Click to enlarge

5)  Add a teaspoon of chili powder while continuing to stir.  You might want to omit this step if you don’t enjoy hot stuff.  Or, if you are like me, you might choose to increase this amount!

6)  Add the rice.  Stir fry about 3 minutes

Of course rice is what makes this Fried Rice –  but rice itself can be an issue.  Long grain, short grain, boiled in a pot, cooked in a rice cooker.  Americans are used to long grain rice that falls apart on the plate, while Japan and Korea is used to short grain rice that sticks together, and can be formed into sushi rolls.  When I lived in Korea and Japan fried rice was made with short grained rice out of the rice cooker.  To do this, it was dropped in a lump on top of the other ingredients in the pan, and then the edge of the edge of the spatula was used to “cut” the rice into smaller and smaller portions, stirring and turning until all the rice is coated with the oils and ingredients.  Any remaining balls of rice are further “cut” into the mix, until it all achieves a “fall apart” consistency.

If you don’t want to take the trouble of boiling your rice, or purchasing a rice cooker, then you could use pre-packaged, cooked rice.  I’ve done this with Korean rice and enjoyed the results.  However, it is an expensive option, and I don’t think it is quite as tasty as a good brand of short grained rice from a rice cooker.

Click to enlarge

7)  Add the egg, let it cook while stirring the rest of the pan, then mix it in.

Koreans will often add a fried egg to the top of fried rice.  Sunny-side up, or over easy, or just beaten like a plain omelet.  Japanese will often cook the egg next to the fried rice, and then mix it in.  I like to have it mixed into the fried rice.  The idea is to make a space to cook the egg, so that you get chunks of cooked egg in the rice.  You can keep the rest of the rice moving as you stir it, and then as the egg gets firmer, you can mix it into the rest of the rice.

8)  Add two tablespoons of Oyster Sauce.  Stir fry for another 2 minutes.

Be careful in this step!  The rice and the Oyster Sauce will both want to caramelize.  Keep stirring to prevent this!

9)  Remove from the heat, add 2 teaspoons of Sesame Oil, and stir.

Click to enlarge

10)  Plate and serve!

I love how this comes out –  I love how the aromas of Old Bay Seasoning and garlic and Kielbasa and fish mix together.

Notes:

You can garnish with chopped, fresh green onions.  Some people like to add cheese to this too.

Eat it with a spoon!  In Asia, no one really tries to eat fried rice with chopsticks unless they are being silly.  I was told that eating fried rice with chopsticks is seen as a bit gauche.

Well, it’s been fun.  But I need to concentrate on other areas of my life right now.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was laid off of work in December of last year.  This didn’t panic me, because I had a nice bit of savings and I was really looking forward to spending time pursuing my hobbies, being with family, and just decompressing and brushing up my skills.

But all good things must come to an end.  So I’m starting some freelance work while I start job hunting.

What does this mean to Fresno Backyard Harvest?

As of right now, I’m putting my aquaponics plans on hold.  I may continue to build the electronics portion of my aquaponics system because that’s good practice and it keeps my electronics and firmware skills fresh.  But I won’t be breaking ground on the greenhouse until I am more sure of my income.

I’m also putting off upgrades to the woodshop.  This means no air conditioning!  Which means I’ll not be in there very much this summer.  I’ve still got to put together some bookshelves though, so I’ll probably brave the weather for that.

I’m also starting with a job placement program, and will be creating resumes and a plan to find a new job.  Of course this means much less time for garden upkeep and maintenance.  I expect I’ll run into some crop failures due to this, and am prepared for that.

As I have said, I will be doing some freelance work, and if you need a Tech Writer or electronics engineer with an affinity toward embedded systems, then I ask you check me out at mdboyd.com or at my LinkedIn profile.

I’ll still be maintaining the Backyard Harvest, and will still keep you updated.  So keep coming back!

The drought is really hitting us hard.

20150628_173655I’ve cut way back to watering my lawn once a week, and have been relying on using my automatic drip watering system in my gardens instead of soaking.  This has some benefits and has caused some problems.

First problem is that a drip system for a garden is different than a drip system for landscape.  Landscape seems better able to tolerate failures.  When a drip fails, it takes out quite a lot of associated vegetables.

SerranoMy next problem is that I understand soaking much better than I do the drip systems.  How much water should I be giving each plant?  Do I water at the base, or further away so that it can grow strong roots.  The ground is so dry just a foot away from the plant, is this bad?

My grapes were growing very well with regular can watering and an occasional soaking.  So much so that they shaded out my onion drums, my raised bed planter, and my potatoes.  I’ve been trying to keep the grapes pruned back, but you can almost see them grow!  I’m thinking I will let them go completely next year, and give up the porch to very low light plants.

WNectarineAnd of course, the potatoes and onions have been over-watered.  That, along with shading from the grapes, has caused some die back.  I’m trying to recover from that now, but I am thinking they may be ruined for the season.

PluotWater has become very difficult for me to judge.  In the non-shaded areas of my garden a LOT of water is required, and that is what I’m used to providing.  In these areas that are just as hot, but somewhat shaded, I have discovered that I must use less water.  My vegetables are suffering from old-fashioned watering habits, they are getting either too much, or too little.  And since I’m quite new at using drip irrigation, my learning mistakes result in the death of little food-producing plants.

Drip irrigation is something that I want to be thankful about, and curse at the same time.  The neighborhood cats dislodge or block or otherwise mess up the irrigation lines, and I don’t catch it until the plant starts to wilt.  And in this heat, a plant can go from “wilted” to “withered and dead” in just hours.  Plant transpiration happens very quickly in 110 degree weather, and the plant can suck the ground dry in hours.

Water also seems to be a problem with the backyard raised grow bed – rather too much of it.  This is a more difficult thing for me to solve.  The grow bed is essentially a raised bathtub with holes in the bottom for it to drain.  My water meter shows a healthy amount of water… at the surface.  This means that lower there is too much water.  This has caused several pepper plants to shed leaves.

Also the composition of the bedding material may be wrong.  I used “Mel’s Mix”, but I may have loaded it with too much steer manure.  Next year, I’ll leave the mix mostly alone, and just add plant organic material to it.  I may have inadvertently over-fertilized the planter.  I’ve noticed that the worms I added have disappeared – although that may be a… mechanical… problem.  In that critters may have got to them.

The peppers in the South Garden are growing like gangbusters!  Holy cow!  I’ve been canning them, but really, I can’t keep up with the canning.  I don’t yet have a good pantry to keep the cans in.  I do have a butter cellar in this house, but the hot water heater was installed down there, and I’m concerned about temperatures.  I need to log the temperature down there and see what it is going to be.

I’ve taken to cutting and preparing peppers, and stuffing them into bags for freezing.  My initial experiments in this area have indicated that the peppers taste as good or better than any supermarket frozen vegetable.  We have many cubic feet of freezer space, so this may be another route for me to use.

I’ve also started dehydrating the Serrano chili peppers in my Excalibur dehydrator.  Once they are dry, I’ll grind them up and use them for chili powder.

The White Nectarine tree has produced a full crop, which we’ve harvested.  Almost 20 Nectarines – very tasty!

I’ve also harvested the last of the Pluots.  The White Peaches didn’t really produce.  There was one or two anemic peaches.

PicoThe Lemon Grass is growing very well, so much so that it is threatening to take over the sidewalk.  I’m reading up on how to harvest, prepare and store lemongrass.  It smells wonderful and is tasty.  I’ve already used a little of it in my breakfast scramble.

And finally, a “Cat Tax”.  This is Pico, enjoying the cool summer grass in the evening.

I Anaheimlove spring!

Everything is so full of promise!  My plants are just bursting to get out of the ground and start producing!  And some things happen quick!

I got my first Pluot from my Pluot tree.  I had no idea that they were ready this early in the season.

I’ve also started picking my Anaheim chili peppers and am enjoying them in lots of different foods.  I am picking the Poblano peppers, even if they are still not quite ripe.  They’re quite sweet, almost like Bell Pepper at this stage.  Both are from my South garden.  The peppers in the North garden are not even producing at this point.  I think this is because it only gets half-day sunlight.

The planters are going pretty well.  The front planter has already given us baby spinach, which is very delicious. The rear planter seems to be starting well, but for some reason the plants in it have stunted a little bit, and are slowing down.  This concerns me, and I’m investigating possible pests.  I’ve also added redworms to the rear planter to see if I can learn anything from that.

PluotThe blackberry planter is going quite well.  There’s really only one or two blackberry canes, but they are very leafed out.

And the backyard fruit grove is very interesting.  I’m getting some blueberries already.  The oranges are doing well, but the cherry tree seems to be yellowing a little.  I’m having a hard time figuring out why this is.

I’ve purchased a soil testing kit, and a moisture monitor, and will start testing various sites around my garden to figure it out.

WNectarineThe front yard orange tree is doing quite well.  The oranges right now should be called “greens”.  They are small and hard, but there are quite a lot of them.

The blackberry is in the image with the single blue pot.  My “potted orchard” is in multiple pots.

Enjoy the photos!

blackberry  Orchard planter fplanter

So with all this gardening that I’ve been doing, and upgrading the woodshop, where am I in Aquaponics?

Well, the bluegill are still living in their aquarium.  But I don’t have a completed fish shed, or much of a start on the greenhouse.  And the Fresno heat is coming, so it is going to be difficult to work in the blistering summer.  So I’m going to wait until late October to break ground on the aquaponics system.  When the heat has died off, and I can work without melting into a puddle.  

That’s also another reason why I want my aquaponics system indoors, in order to control the climate.  I figure if I use a swamp cooler and solar panels to run it, I can keep summer temperatures in the mid-80’s, instead of the low hundreds!  When temperatures get that high, plants start wilting, fish start succumbing to disease, and weeds get seriously out of control.

Ah.  Control.  That’s another thing… how am I going to control everything?  Sometimes I really wish I had a swimming pool I could convert into an aquaponics system.  Think of all that thermal inertia!

What I really need in my case is a system that watches water levels and quality, switches the filling and emptying of the grow beds, and keeps the inside temperatures level.  Near freezing temperatures in the winter are a problem, as are boiling hot summer days.  I also want updates that I can read on WIFI from a tablet or iPad, and SMS alerts to my cell phone for emergencies.

So for the last several months, I’ve been experimenting with Raspberry PI, Arduino, FPGAs, and with irrigation valves, to see if I can build a system that does what I want.  But it just wasn’t right… I kept running into problems with input / output and the limits of the electronics that need to be connected to an array of relays to make it all work.  I see where people in the Maker Culture have made their platforms do things in similar ways, but only after adding relay shields and other things.  

It finally occurred to me that a solution already exists in factories and manufacturing plants.  Instead of an Arduino connected to a bunch of relays, and hardened for a damp environment, I should instead use a programmable logic controller (PLC) that already has this functionality built in.  So I’ve been looking at various PLCs to work with.  Allen Bradley is the one primarily used in the USA, and Siemens PLCs are used in Europe.  However, I like and trust Siemens… so I’m not sure what I’ll choose as yet.  

I’ve also downloaded a PLC simulator, and have been refreshing my knowledge of ladder logic – which is pretty old and rusty.

I’ve also started creating a system schematic of how it is all supposed to work together.  At this point, I’m thinking of using the Raspberry Pi to interface the PLC to a generated web page on my home network that I can use to update the system through my iPad.  I’m still studying how to work that out.

But I have the summer to get it all figured out, because I’m breaking ground for the rest of the project in October, and I hope to have it finished by May of 2016!

I’ve been using my 12 inch miter saw clamped to a bench, and using a 2×4 clamped to that same bench as a part support.  It worked, but it really sucked.  I needed it all squared away.

I also had a second problem in that I don’t have a lot of shop storage.  So I decided to hit two birds with one stone, and create a great miter bench with built-in storage.

My first step was to design the thing in Sketchup.  Let me take a brief moment to sing the praises of Sketchup.  I really love this program.  I use ViaCad for other 3-D design, but when it comes to woodworking, I keep returning to Sketchup.  It has a short learning curve, it is intuitive, and it is darned easy to use.  It does have problems, it is not as precise as other CAD, y

ou are not going to get tolerances in the thousandths.  It doesn’t offer physics that let you rotate parts together to see how they work.  But for woodworking, or even designing a greenhouse, this program rocks!  If you want to learn more, check out the Sketchup website.

So here’s a snapshot of my Sketchup drawings.  First there is a basic cabinet carcass.  Then, I bolt the carcasses together, and screw on a tabletop frame.  Then I add two layers of 3/4 inch MDF to create a flat surface on top.  (Click on the images to enlarge them)

I’ve been using my 12 inch miter saw clamped to a bench, and using a 2×4 clamped to that same bench as a part support.  It worked, but it really sucked.  I needed it all squared away.

I also had a second problem in that I don’t have a lot of shop storage.  So I decided to hit two birds with one stone, and create a great miter bench with built-in storage.

My first step was to design the thing in Sketchup.  Let me take a brief moment to sing the praises of Sketchup.  I really love this program.  I use ViaCad for other 3-D design, but when it comes to woodworking, I keep returning to Sketchup.  It has a short learning curve, it is intuitive, and it is darned easy to use.  It does have problems, it is not as precise as other CAD, y

ou are not going to get tolerances in the thousandths.  It doesn’t offer physics that let you rotate parts together to see how they work.  But for woodworking, or even designing a greenhouse, this program rocks!  If you want to learn more, check out the Sketchup website.

So here’s a snapshot of my Sketchup drawings.  First there is a basic cabinet carcass.  Then, I bolt the carcasses together, and screw on a tabletop frame.  Then I add two layers of 3/4 inch MDF to create a flat surface on top.  (Click on the images to enlarge them)

I built the cabinets out of 3/4 inch cabinet quality fir plywood, for about $28 per 4×8 sheet.  I think I used 3 sheets because I built four of these!

Here is what the finished project looks like.  The whole thing is about 14 feet long, with the miter saw installed between the cabinets.  If you click on the image, it will take you to an album where you can see my progress in building the whole thing.

As you can see, I don’t have shelves, or doors, or drawers installed in the bench as yet.  I really do need these because I have few places to actually store things in my woodshop.  Right now I’m experimenting with different ways of making and installing drawers, and figuring out how I want my layout to be.

Also, I’m trying to decide if I want to paint, stain, or otherwise protect these cabinets.  I’ll want to do that before I add drawers or doors.

I do not plan to add any facing to the cabinets.  I’m fine with the way they are.  Cabinet doors will use European hinges, and so will hide the plywood edging.  Drawers could also have facing that extends over the plywood edging.  I plan to use engineered wood for the doors and drawer fronts to avoid wood movement.

So, when you have a working mitersaw bench, what is the first thing you build using it?

 

I built a tool pegboard.  I’ve been needing one, because I have tools that are too unwieldy, or too unhandy to just drop into a toolbox.  My last woodshop had a 2 x 4 foot tool pegboard, and that was just a little too small.  This shop needed something bigger – so I chose a 4×4 foot pegboard.

I haven’t filled this pegboard with tools as yet.  I’ve put all the tools that I commonly use on it, and I’m waiting to see what else I’ll put on it.  As I turn to a tool more often, it is likely to win a place on the board.

Oh!  Something else I’ve found out.  I’ve had problems in the past with the metal pegs coming out of the pegboard when I pick up a tool.  The pegs you get from the big box stores are somewhat loose in the pegboard, and wiggle or come out.

In the past, I’ve tried to fasten these down in various ways.  I don’t want a permanent method of fastening down a metal peg, so instead I use hot melt glue.  It’s easy to run a glue gun into the holes, and add a peg.  Another dab or two of glue, and the peg stays put.  If I want to move the peg around, I can heat up the glue and remove it, then pull the glue off the pegboard.

Also in this image is my Porter Cable bandsaw that I picked up used from Craigslist for about $200.

My shop is shaping up.  But it is still messy, and I still have a way to go.

So as part of the setup of the South Garden, I tried an experiment of digging the garden out to a depth of almost 3 feet, and sifting all that dirt to remove the Bermuda Grass that infests that area.

Bermuda grass is tough.  It leaves roots that go deep, and it can spring up anew from its roots.  My goal was to remove all of that.  Also, sifting that soil allowed me to get rid of pest grubs that would happily eat my garden.

Somehow, I had this fantasy that I was removing weeds too.

So, here’s the deal.  Sifting through soil won’t remove weeds, or tiny weed seeds.  Maybe hard radiation would get rid of them.

BUT, it did dramatically reduce Bermuda Grass.  I’ve had very little of that.  I do however, have crabgrass.  But that’s much easier to remove.

I hate weeding.  That’s another reason why I’d like to go completely Aquaponics, indoor, with a non-soil substrate.

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