Monday, June 27, 2016

Adding more blueberries.

I like blueberries.  I think I have 10 blueberry bushes around the house, but I never seem to have enough of them.  I have several varieties, so they produce at different times.  I get berries for a longer period of time, but not a lot of them at any one time. 

Anyway, I got on craigslist and found someone selling blueberry plants for $4.  I thought that was a steal so I agreed to buy 5.

Before I got the plants I had to prepare the area.
I started by removing the lousy clay soil that I have.  I did this by digging a long trench.

I filled the bottom of the trench with rotting wood.

Then I covered the rotting wood with rabbit manure and garden soil.  Then I lightly spread some of the clay soil that I removed on top.

I planted 3 plants in this area and put down cypress mulch to help retain water.

I had two Irripans so I put them on two of the plants.  They'll help with water and reduce weeds that would compete with the small blueberry plants.

The plant in the center did not get an Irripan.  Finally, I'll be able to directly compare the results of a plants with Irripans to one without.

The other two plants went in the beds by my patio.  It'll probably be 2-3 years before these plants start producing.  They're all the same variety, so at least they'll produce at the same time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keep debris out of rain barrels -- Take #2

I've had problems with keeping debris and pollen out of my rain barrels.  The regular window screen is sufficient for keeping out leaves and larger debris, but the grit from the roof and seeds and whatever else comes off of the trees is small and gets through.  To mitigate this I tried to use mosquito netting.  That made things better, but it was not 100% successful.
Over time the netting has faded, gotten kind of brittle, and torn.
This particular barrel gets a lot of debris.  It accumulates over the drain holes and dries there.  That makes it harder for the water to get in during the next rain.
So what is my new solution?  I found pond filter material on Amazon.  I don't know anything about ponds, but I guess this stuff is some kind of filter for them.  I ordered some in with the hope that it might work for rain barrels.
The role is 6 feet long and 16 inches wide.
 I started by tracing the lid of the barrel onto the filter material.
The lids are 16" around which makes this material the perfect size.
I used scissors to cut out the material and then I placed on the top of the barrel.
I screwed on the retaining ring which held the pond filter material in place perfectly.
I pressure washed these barrels in the spring after I thought the pollen was done, but there's still pollen in several of them.  I'm going to have to pressure wash them again the next time they are empty.  Anyway, I'm really hoping that this pond filter material will keep more of the pollen out.

I took the picture below after it rained.  This barrel has both the pond filter and the mosquito netting.  It appears to have worked well.  The debris isn't clogging the drain holes.
I didn't use mosquito netting on this barrel.  A lot of the debris worked its way down into the filter.  I don't know how easy that's going to be to clean.  I'm hoping that I can just hose it out from the other side.  That's a project for another day.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

I relocated one of my rain barrels.

Long ago I put a rain barrel near my chicken coop so they'd have water.  I came to the conclusion that it wasn't necessary.  The main reason being that I no longer have any chickens.  The other reason was that it was easy to just connect the long line of drip irrigation tubing from the house directly to the chicken waterer and not have the extra barrel sitting there. 

It made much more sense to move that barrel to the front of my house to increase the capacity of the drip irrigation system for my raised bed gardens.
Putting it in place was pretty simple.  I stacked 4x8x16" concrete blocks just like I had for the other barrels.  I attached the new barrel to the old barrels using an old garden hose with female adapters on both ends.  This additional capacity should let me get a few more days of irrigation before falling back to using house water.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Garden Update -- June 2016

It's June already.  Time for an update.
Everything is really taking off.
Tomatoes and lettuce. 
More tomatoes.  I've had to tie up quite a few of them already.
Tomatoes of various sizes.  Kale in the middle of the bed, and cucumbers at the back.
This kale is out of control.  The tomatoes are doing well.
The tomatillos are big and out of control.  The peppers, lettuce and tomatoes are coming along.
I managed to pick all of the spinach that was in this bed.  The peppers here are already producing (see below).
This spinach has bolted.  I think I might let it go to seed.
I picked this much spinach on at least two occasions.
Sweet peppers!  They're early this year.  I think it was September before I got any last year.
Jalapeno peppers.
I didn't spend a lot of time planning the layout of the garden this year.  We mostly eat peppers and tomatoes, so those were the seeds that I started.  I have tomatoes of all different sizes.  To make things more interesting I dumped all of my various tomato seeds into one packet.  I'm not even sure what types of tomatoes that I'm going to get.  I just know that I'm going to have a lot of them!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mounting the rain barrel water pump.

I've had a lot of rain the last few weeks.  My new under-deck barrels are now completely full.  I attached a clear tube to the outlet so I can see exactly how full they are. 
I have some very minor leaks.  If these barrels ever end up empty I'll seal them.  Anyway, now that I have water I can finally mount the pump and make use of it.

I started by screwing a board to the under side of my deck.  Then I screwed the pump to it as high as I could.  
I replaced my washing machine hoses last summer and kept the old ones.  They seemed perfect for this application.  I connected the output of the barrel system to the input on the pump.  I connected the second hose to the output of the pump and put the other end in the nearest barrel.  Then I plugged in the pump for a test.  It worked great, but there was just one problem.  I quickly realized that the pump was filling the barrel faster than it was draining back into the other barrels.  I had to scramble out from under the deck to unplug the pump.  Oops.
My next step was to rig up some PVC pipe.  The vertical pipe in the picture below has a male hose fitting at the bottom.  This is what the output of the pump connects to.  I kept it vertical so it would drain easily for winter.  At the top of the vertical pipe I put a 90* elbow with a shutoff valve.  Not visible in the picture is a 1/2" brass Pex fitting after the valve.  That is for future expansion.
I added a horizontal pipe to the tee fitting.  On the end of that I placed a hose bib.  I glued all of my PVC fittings since they'll be under pressure.  The pump has a built-in pressure switch which turns the pump off at 55 PSI.
I can attach a hose to this hose bib and move water wherever I need it. 
The final step was to plug in the pump and test it.  I attached a garden hose to the hose bib and much to my surprise, the pressure was better than I expected it to be.  I was able to spray water pretty far across my yard.  When I let go of the trigger and stopped spraying, the pump automatically shut off.  Everything worked exactly as I wanted it to. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Adding a float switch to a Shurflow 4008-171-E65 pump

About a year ago I got a Shurflow 4008 RV pump to move water out of my rain barrels.  I've used it on and off since then.  I ran into a few issues.  The first is that I ran out of water frequently.  I'm hoping that I have alleviated that problem by adding more barrels.  The other, and bigger issue is that the pump doesn't shut off when the barrel is empty.  It just continues to run and get very hot.  I needed to add a float switch to keep this from happening.
The float switch opens and closes a circuit depending on the angle of the float.  When the barrel is empty the pump will shut off.

I started by putting 3/16" quick disconnects on two wires of the float switch. I had to order the male disconnects from Amazon.  The female ones came from Auto Zone.
One end of the pump had two wires going into with with female disconnects. 
I filled a barrel with water and put the float in it.  I had to play around with the location of the weight.
Then I connected the male disconnect on the float switch to the female disconnect on the pump.  The female disconnect on the switch connected to the pump.
 Below is a picture of it all hooked up.
I plugged in the pump and drained the barrel.  When it was nearly empty the pump shut off.
I did have to play with the weight and the length of the cable a little bit to get things just right.  I don't want the pump to shut off when there's still plenty of water in the barrel, and I don't want it to run when there's no water left to draw.

The final step was to drill a hole in the lid, insert a grommet, and run the 10' cord through it. 
I put the lid on one of the newly installed barrels.  Now I just need to get the pump out there in a more permanent location.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I added more rain barrels.

I have quite a few rain barrels already.  I have enough to capture and store 590 gallons of water.  That isn't enough though.  I've had to get creative and find ways to fill the barrels from my house water when they are low.

Anyway, last year I put a short barrel under my deck to hold additional.  It fills from the barrels under the downspouts.  (All of my barrels are plumbed together with drip irrigation tubing.)  I decided that it was time to add more barrels under my deck.

I started by removing and inspecting the original barrel.  To my surprise, the chain on the float valve was very rusty.  I thought it was going to last longer.  I picked up some new zinc coated chain from Home Depot.  The chain cutting guy recommended it.  Hopefully it lasts longer.

Old vs. New.

New chain installed.
I contacted the guy I got barrels from before and he no longer had any.  I checked craigslist and found some in a town 45 minutes away.  That wasn't as convenient as the local guy, but what can you do?
I picked up five 50-gallon short orange barrels.  The first step was to drill a hole in the bottom of each one and install a 1/2" Uniseal bulkhead fitting.  I used a 1-1/4" hole saw to get a nice clean hole.
 I installed 1/2" PVC pipe through the Uniseal. 

Barrels ready for installation.
I had to level the dirt under the deck and place 12" patio stone so the barrels would be off of the ground and the pipes would extend from in under them. 
I had an extra float valve, so I installed it on the barrel on the opposite end.  This one will fill from the top.  The barrel on the other end fills closer to the bottom.  I figure two inputs into these barrels will fill them faster.  That's the theory anyway...

Float valve from the inside.
The next step was to add 3/4"x3/4"x1/2" tee fittings to the PVC pipe coming out of each barrel.  I only have 1/2" pipe going into each barrel, but I wanted to tie them together with 3/4" pipe to reduce bottlenecks when pulling water from the barrels.  I don't know if that was necessary or not, but it seemed like a good idea. (I'll just throw out the reminder here, that I'm no expert with this stuff.  I'm making it up as I go along.)
The last step was to cut 3/4" PVC pipe to connect the tee fittings.
The last fitting on the end barrel was a 3/4"x1/2" elbow.  A tee fitting wouldn't have worked there.  On the other end I have a hose fitting and a Y-valve. 
Now I just need to open the valve and hope that nothing leaks!