Thursday, February 28, 2013

Barley fodder attempt #3

I had some barley left over, so I figured why not grow another batch.  I went back to using the clear tray.  I just dumped the seeds in and watered them twice a day.  I'm using my grow lights to start seeds, so when this stuff got tall I just sat it on a box under some shop lights.  I'm starting to wonder if lights are needed at all.  

Opossum Update

Well, I didn't kill it.

I let the dog out again last night.  She went nuts running along the fence.  She kept standing on her back legs to see over.  I went out with a flashlight to see what was going on.  There was the opossum sitting in the woods 10' or so away from the fence.  He just sat there.  I had the chickens locked up and all of their food put away.  Then I blocked off the gap under the gate with a 2x4.  The dog and I went back out 3-4 more times.  Eventually the opossum left.  I heard it heading down into the woods and saw some brush moving.  I guess it decided that invading my yard again was not a good idea.  Hopefully that's the last I see of it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why you need a dog.

I've always considered myself a cat person.  I like cats.  They are independent.  You give them some water, food, and a litter box and they take care of themselves. 

My wife is a dog person.  She wanted a dog.  And while I don't ever remember agreeing to get one, I said that if we got one, I wanted it to be a big one. 

So what happened?  I came home from work one day to find this.

She went to the local SPCA and got a 7 lbs. pile of fuzz.  The cats were not happy.

A year later and she looks like this.

The SPCA said that she was a Shepherd/Chow mix and that she'd be 50-65 lbs.  Well, they were right about the weight.  She's about 60 lbs. now.  I'm not so sure about the breed(s).  She does have a shepherd look to her even though her ears only stick up when she's excited about something.  She doesn't have the blue-black tongue of a Chow.  The groomer said she has the coat of a Border Collie.  And she sure is smart, which Collies are known for.  I taught her to shake in a day and to roll over in two. 

For a while I thought she was pretty dumb.  I think it had more to do with her being a puppy.  She just wasn't careful or graceful (remember, I'm used to cats).  Her mode of operation appeared to be, "Oh look!  Something interesting!  I'm going to hurl my massive body at it as quickly as possible and hope for the best!"  At which point she was trip, tumble, fall, or crash into something.  She'd get up and walk it off like nothing happened and the thing she was chasing (generally a squirrel) would get away.  She still chases squirrels, but she isn't quite as reckless now.

Speaking of chasing things... It's just been in the last two months that she finally stopped chasing the chickens.  She never hurt them.  She just liked to chase them and get them riled up.  It was probably the herding instinct.  Anyway, she got smacked a few times and finally figured out that she had to leave them alone.  Now she gives them plenty of space when she's in the yard with them. 

So what is the point I'm trying to make with this post???  Last night I let her out into the yard.  I heard her barking which isn't unusual.  I went out to see what was going on.  I called and she wouldn't come in (that is unusual).  She was making a lot of noise.  I went to see what the fuss was about and caught her going under the fence into the chicken's area.  "Uh-oh." I thought, "She knows better than to go in there."  So I rushed around through the gate and what did I find?

Eek!  A dang opossum!  It was dark, so I went back inside and got a flashlight and a camera.  I left the dog to keep an eye on the thing.  

Thank goodness for the dog!  I had actually left the door on the coop open last night.  It very easily could've gotten in there and killed some or all of the chickens.  I counted the chickens to make sure they were all there and then promptly closed up the coop.  The opossum was not dead.  I could see it breathing and every so often an ear would twitch. 

At that point I needed to figure out what to do.  The dog kept poking it with her foot.  Then she'd bark at it profusely.  The chickens were safe, but she was not going to let it alone.  So I got a soccer ball sized rock, and hit the thing with it.  It didn't move, but it looked like it was still breathing.  Then I picked it up with a shovel and tossed it over the fence into the woods.  I felt bad, but what can you do.  They are disease carrying, chicken eating rodents.  I don't want it around here.  

When I went out this morning it was gone.  I'm assuming that I didn't kill it and it wandered off.  Either that or something bigger picked it up and carried it off.  In either case, I'm glad it's gone, and I'm glad I have a dog. 

Having a dog is great.  She's always happy to see me when I come in the door.  She's alert.  She let's us know when someone comes to the door.  And best of all, she's scaring away critters that are snooping around the chicken coop.  I guess you could say that I'm now a dog person. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Greenhouse

My wife got me a greenhouse for Christmas. 

According to the specs on the Agri Supply web site, it is 55" wide, 57" deep and has a center height of 76".  Assembly wasn't difficult, but it was time consuming.  I think it took me the better part of 90 minutes to put it together.  The entire thing is made out of metal tubes that fit together with plastic joints.  All of the shelving was included.

You can see from the picture below that there is a fair amount of space inside.  The white tub on the floor contains 17 gallons of water.  This (in theory at least) acts as a heat sink.  It gets warm during the day and releases the heat at night.  I also have a heater and a small fan in there.  I picked up the heater at Home Depot a few years ago.  They were ~$50 or so during the winter.  I picked one up on clearance at the end of the season for $12.  I couldn't turn it down for that price.  I never really used it until I got this greenhouse.

Here is what automates the system and allows me to keep my hands off.  I have a green extension cord running into the greenhouse.  Into that I plugged in a 3-way orange adapter which I found at Harbor Freight for $1.99.  Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot have them too, but Harbor Freight was the cheapest.  Moving on, I installed two thermostatically controlled outlets.  The grey one comes on at 35 and goes off at 45.  The heater is plugged into it.  The fan is plugged into the red one which comes on at 78 and goes off at 70. 

 Here's a better view of the shelves hold various containers.

This temperature and humidity sensor allows me to monitor what is going on from the base unit in the house.  I don't remember what the ambient temperature was outside that day, but you can see that it was 95* in the greenhouse.  I've seen it get as high as 112*.

Here's the bin of tomato seeds that I started in the garage the other day.  They seem to be doing OK so far.

I haven't been using the greenhouse for very long, so it'll be interesting to see how well it works.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chickens are destructive little buggers.

I had some plastic netting around the kale and cabbage plants in the back yard.  I removed it for another project that I'll write about later. 

I don't know what the weeds are that are in there.  I do know that the chickens gobbled them up when I pulled them and left them laying in the yard.  So I figured that without the fence there they'd clean it out for me.

Well did they ever!

They tore up everything!  The purple kale was pulled from the ground, but not eaten.  I was able to harvest it.  I was surprised that they ate the green kale since they've never shown any interest in it before.  

I was kind of annoyed, but you live and learn.  On the bright side, they did get rid of all of the weeds.  So... Umm... Mission accomplished...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Anaerobic Composting - Part 2

Click here for Anaerobic Composting - Part 1.

For the next step I bought the following parts.
1/2 in. MNPT x Barb Adapter
1/2 in. PVC Schedule 40 FPT x FPT Ball Valve
1/2 in. PVC Schedule 40 90-Degree S x MPT Elbow
1/2 in. x 2 ft. PVC Schedule 40 Plain End Pipe

I'll take some space here to to explain the above abbreviations.

FPT = female pipe thread
MNPT = male national pipe thread
MPT = male pipe thread  (same as MNPT)
S = slip connection (PVC cement is needed)

I put this here because I was quite confused by it for a while.  Back when I was first putting in my rain barrels I bought several PVC fittings to connect to the barrel overflow outlets.  They wouldn't go on cleanly.  I could force them, but I knew something wasn't right.  It turned out that the barrel had what are known as "hose threads".  From what I've found, garden hoses have hose threads and pretty much everything else uses pipe threads.  There are adapters to go from one to the other.  You can read more about it here.

With the parts listed above I made this.  I used teflon tape on the threads.

Then I put the PVC pipe through the Uniseal in the bottom of the trash can.

Next I filled the barrel.  I've been saving kitchen scraps, and the pulp from the juicer in a 5-gallon bucket.  Luckily it's been cold so it didn't attract bugs or rot too much.  A 5-gallon bucket of kitchen waste didn't do much to fill the 55-gallon barrel.  I added a wheelbarrow load of chicken manure and pine shavings from the coop.  It still wasn't full, so I added half a wheelbarrow load of leaves. 

Then I ran a hose from one of the rain barrels and filled the blue barrel with water.

Here it is full of water.  You can see that the mess in there floated.  Before the water was added it was only as high as the trash can. 

Finally I installed the trash can.  I had the ball valve open and slowly submerged it over the material to be composted.  It took a while to get all of the air out.  Once it was finally down I closed the ball valve.  I placed a few chunks of concrete on top to weigh it down.

In theory, most of the oxygen should have been pressed out from under the trash can as it was submerged.  The trash can should rise as the methane is produced.  At that point I'll be able to collect or use it by attaching a hose or balloon to the barbed fitting and opening the valve.  That's the theory anyway.

Additional resources:
Biogas: Volumes 1 and 2
Steven Harris on Bio Fuels for Personal Energy Indepencence

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anaerobic Composting - Part 1

I've written about composting previously.  That compost was all aerobic, meaning with oxygen.  Anaerobic composting happens in the absence of oxygen.  Why would you want to do that?  Well for one, you don't have to turn the pile.  And two, it produces biogas.

Biogas contains a lot of methane, or natural gas.  Percentages vary, but according to the Wikipedia article it can range from 50-75%.  While researching biogas I came across the following video from the Urban Farming guys.  They demonstrate how to build a methane biodigester (or anaerobic composter).

It looked easy enough.  So I thought I'd build my own.  First, acquire a barrel.  I found mine on craigslist.  They are all over on there.  I think I picked mine up for $15.

Then cut the top off of it and wash it out.  I don't know what was in the one I got, but it was strong.  It had a real strong--like burn your nose strong--peppermint odor.  I washed it out good with the hose and let it dry.

I picked up the cheapest trash can that I could get at Home Depot.

It was actually a really nice trash can.  I felt bad about cutting the top inch or so off with the Dremel.  I had to do this so it'd fit in the blue barrel.

Then I got out my handy-dandy 1-1/4" drill bit and put a hole in the bottom of the trash can.

Then it was time to install the Uniseal.  These things are great.  They go right into the drilled hole and then the PVC pipe gets inserted through making a watertight seal.  I can't remember where I bought them.  It was either here or here.  The one pictured here is for 1/2" PVC pipe.

Here's the Uniseal inserted into the hole in the bottom of the trash can.

That's as far as I've gotten for now.  I'll post more updates as I make them.