Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drying Oregano

My oregano has really taken off.  I didn't plant any new seed this year.  Everything I have is left over from last year. 
I planted this last year and had cut it way back.  It took off once it got warm.
I had this container in the greenhouse.  It's not looking real great, so it's what I harvested.
Two more containers that I pulled out of the greenhouse.
I have a Nesco 4-tray dehydrator.  I only have one complaint about it.  Four trays is not enough.  I had to buy two additional trays (and I could probably use more).  I spread the oregano as evenly as I could between the 6 trays and set the dehydrator on its lowest setting.

It only took a few hours for the oregano to dry.  Then came the part I like the least, separating the leaves from the stems.  It's a nuisance to take the leaves off prior to putting them in the dehydrator.  It's not much easier to take them off once they are dry.  I started out separating them one stem at a time.  That got old quick.  I found that it was much quicker to just rub everything against the tray.  The leaves flaked off and fell to the tray below and most of the stems didn't.  Then I threw the stems out and removed the tray.  I repeated the process until I got to the bottom tray.

Dumped what remained in a zip top bag and put it in the closet. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Well that's a nice surprise.

I was out mowing my front yard tonight and found these!

They were in my front yard hugelkultur bed that I haven't paid any attention to since last year.  It's in the shade and doesn't get much sun.  Anyway, I was mowing the yard near there and thought I'd check on it.  I found carrots!  The cabbage and kale in there weren't doing so good.  I really need to add more compost to it and make it higher.  That's a project for another day.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Drip irrigation experiment.

I've been using an oscillating sprinkler on a timer to water my gardens.  This generally happens while I'm at work.  It came one over the weekend while I was home.  I realized that I was watering half of my driveway along with my plants.  A whole lot of water is being wasted. 

Drip irrigation is much more efficient.  It gets the water directly to the plants that need it.  I already had some irrigation tubing so I decided to test some of it in the raised beds.  Now, I have to mention here that I have never read a thing about drip irrigation systems.  I just figured, "How hard can it be?"  My plan was to run a piece of tubing along the 4' side of the bed and have 3 branches come off of it that run the length of the bed.  So that's what I did.  I used some T-fittings and right-angle fittings.  I drilled holes in the irrigation tubing.  Then I proceeded to hook up the garden hose to it using a barbed adapter and a FHT to FPT adapter. (These are the same parts I used when connecting my rain barrels.) 

I did not get the results that I wanted.  The pressure was way too high.  Rather than having water drip near the plants, it was shooting 5-6 feet into the air.  Whoops.

Plan B.  I got a 5-gallon bucket and attached the irrigation tubing to it.  I did this by first drilling a hole big enough for a Uniseal and inserting a PVC pipe.  Then I used a slip to FPT adapter and the same barb adapter mentioned above. 

The 5-gallon bucket allowed me to simulate drip irrigation using my rain barrels as the source (which I eventually intend to do).  I didn't for this experiment since they still smelled like bleach.

Using the bucket was better, but it did not give me my desired results.  All of the water appear to flow down the closest branch.  Very little water made it to the other two branches.  So I got on google and found this"Gravity flow systems tend to have extremely low water pressure which creates problems with emitter operation and a lack of watering uniformity."  Yeah, no kidding.

Plan C.  Instead of using multiple lines and connections, I put down a single line of tubing. 

This actually worked pretty well.  I had water coming out of every hole that I drilled.

I need to get more irrigation tubing for the other beds.  I'm hoping that I can connect all of the beds together and not run into the problems that I saw initially with the water taking the easiest path.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rain barrels -- Plumbing them all together.

My house came with a single rain barrel.  I used it frequently last year to water the garden.  I ran into two issues.
  1. It was frequently empty.
  2. It is located at the back corner of house far from where it was usually needed. 
So I added more barrels, six of them (see here and here).  This solves problem #2.  I now have barrels all over the place.  It doesn't solve problem #1.  They can still end up empty. 

The solution?  Plumb them all together. This does several things.  Because of the layout of my house, the rain barrels are under various lengths of gutter.  That means they fill at different rates.  By plumbing them together, a faster filling barrel can move excess water to a slower filling barrel before overflowing.  This also allows me to drain multiple barrels at the same time.  Or I can drain them independently and refill them from the other barrels.

That said, I'm not using pumps of any kind.  I'm entirely dependent on gravity and that law of nature, "water always seeks its own level."

I put 2-way shut offs on all of my barrels.  This allows me to plumb them together with irrigation tubing and still get water from them.  Why irrigation tubing?  It's cheap.  I cat get 100 ft. of it for ~$11.  And it's made for moving water!  It is only 1/2" in diameter, so I'm limited as to how fast I can move water.  PVC pipe would probably be nicer, but it'd be more expensive, and I'd have to fit, cut, and glue it all together.  With irrigation tubing you just unroll and pull. 

Irrigation tubing is great, but connecting to the garden hose fittings is somewhat of a pain.  I've tried several options.  I can't really say that one is better than another.

This barrel is off of one corner of my deck.  For this barrel I used female pipe thread (FPT) to female hose thread (FHT) PVC swivel fitting.  The FHT side attached to the barrel and into the FPT side I attached a 3/4" MPT barb adapter.  The irrigation tubing attached to the barb.  I've never had an issue with leaks with this setup.

The connections on this barrel are similar to the one above.  I used another FPT to FHT adapter.  Only this time I used an elbow barbed adapter.  I did have issues with the irrigation tubing leaking on this barb.  I don't know if I got a bad barb or what, but a hose clamp fixed it.

Eventually I found an item made just for attaching irrigation tubing to a hose bib.  It works.  I have had issues with them though.  First of all, it's difficult to get the tubing inserted far enough to make a tight fit.  The first time I tried one of these it leaked.  Then I found another issue.  These things are made so that once the tubing goes on, it doesn't come off.  I broke the leaking one apart to find out how it worked.  I don't remember the internal workings exactly, but I do remember thinking that the tubing would never come back out once inserted.  The second one I used cracked near the top, and leaked as well.  That may have been user error.  It had it attached on some nights when it got down below freezing.  Or maybe I dropped it on the stone under the barrel.  Who knows.  The third one seems to be working for now. 

These are the barrels at the front of the house.  I've attached the same FHT to tubing adapter as I used on the barrel above.  I've had no issues with it.  I ran tubing along the house and tied it to the barrels at the back of the house.  I generally keep this valve closed.  These barrels sit higher and I don't want the water in them to overflow the backyard barrels.  When the backyard barrels get low I can refill them from these barrels.

I tie the tubing together under the deck with T-fittings.

Here's some of the irrigation tubing running along the house.  It's out of the way and hasn't caused any issues.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I've got gas.

It looks like my anaerobic composter is working.  You can see in the picture that the trash can has risen quite a bit.  The water lines on the side show just how much it's gone up.  When it started out, the top of the barrel was level with the water.  Now I need to figure out what to do with it.

Oh, I recently read that hydrogen sulphide (the component of biogas that makes it stinky) is toxic!  Go figure.  I guess I must've slept through chemistry class the day they went over that. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Final Grass Update

I have grass in my yard!

This is what it looked like a few months ago.

Now it looks like this! 

I figured that it had been long enough.  It was time to take down the netting.  We've been keeping the chickens fenced in by the coop.  So I'm not worried about them tearing up this nice new lawn.

I threw down a lot of clover along with fescue, and a little bit of winter rye, and alfalfa.  
I did run the mower over it.  I bagged the clippings and dumped them in front of the chicken coop.  The chickens went nuts.  They all gathered around for a buffet.  I guess they've been missing the greens.
I still have plenty of patches of yard that need grass. I don't know if I'll do anything about it or not.  The leaves have come in and my back yard is shaded most of the day now.  I might have to wait until next spring.  Oh well, it's not as bad as it was.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chicken, broccoli bleenies and garden greens

It's hard to believe we can already start harvesting and enjoying the fruits of our garden!  Since we were out of town for a few days, and playing catch-up, pickin's from the fridge were slim.  I had a head of broccoli and some bone-in chicken breasts.  I went out to the garden and clipped some lettuce and oregano and here's what I came up with...


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
6 bone-in chicken breasts

1.  Preheat oven to 425 F.  Oil 2 baking dishes with EVOO or coconut oil.  Rinse chicken, pat dry and place in dishes.
2.  Mix first 8 ingredients in a small bowl and blend well.  Pour over chicken and rub by hand into and UNDER skin.
3.  Bake for 40 minutes or until internal temp reaches 165F.

Bleenies are an ethnic favorite where I grew up.  Usually made of shredded potato and deep fried, these are my "paleo" version of veggie yumminess!  If you use cauliflower in place of the broccoli, they taste just like the real thing!
1 head of broccoli, stems trimmed of woody ends but not removed
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped onion
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 t paprika
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons almond flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot starch 
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup (maybe more as needed) of coconut oil 

1. Cut broccoli into pieces and, beginning with stems, place in food processor and pulse until it looks as if it has been grated.  Add onion and pulse again.  Remove from food processor and fold in remaining ingredients except coconut oil.
2.  Melt coconut oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, scoop out about a tablespoon full of the broccoli mixture and drop into oil. (I used a wooden spoon and leveled off the scoops so that they were about 1/4 inch thick.  The mixture is very wet, so trying to form "patties" before cooking didn't work for me at all.)  
3.  Cook until patty is browning around the edges and sticking together, then flip and cook until browned on bottom (about 3 minutes for the first side, 2 for the second.)  Do this in batches to maintain the heat of the oil.  Remove from pan and lay on paper towels.  Add oil to the pan if needed as you continue with the batches.  


1/4 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced fine
1/2 teaspoon onion, minced fine
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper

Combine all dressing ingredients, add freshly cut lettuce or a bag of spring greens and toss to coat.   



Chicken coop motion light

I have no light near my chicken coop.  Frequently I don't get out there to close the door until after dark.  This is annoying.  I don't like to fumble around and trip on uneven ground while attempting to close the door.   So I got on Amazon and found a battery powered LED motion light.  It takes 3 AA batteries.  Installation was easy.  It required attaching a bracket to the coop with two screws.

I've been fairly impressed with it so far.  It provides enough light that I longer have to take a flashlight with me.  It stays on for 45 seconds after detecting motion.  The dog even sets it off.  I don't know if opossums set it off or not (I don't want to find out either).
This photo was taking with the flash on my phone.  It doesn't light up the coop as much as shown.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Stinky Rain Barrels

I love rain barrels.  Right now I have seven of them.  Each one holds approximately 60 gallons.   I recently encountered my first issue with them.  Several of them stink!

I was doing some stuff in my yard when I noticed a foul odor.  At first I thought the dog had done her business under the deck.  I looked and didn't see anything.  Just to be sure I cleaned up every bit of her waste from the yard.  None of it looked recent.  So that wasn't it.  Then I checked my anaerobic compost project.  That does have a bit of an odor, but it's far from the house.  So that wasn't it.

I continued to go about my business.  My compost pile was due for a turn, so I went and moved it from one bin to the other.  Generally after I move it I empty a rain barrel into it to keep the moisture content high.  As I was hooking the hose to the rain barrel I realized that was where the stench was coming from.  I checked, and every rain barrel that was under a downspout smelled awful.

One of things that was new to me when I moved to NC was yellow pollen.  It happens every year.  You go one morning and everything is covered by a yellow dust.  Sometimes it's so thick it looks like snow.  When I opened my rain barrels I found that each one had a quarter inch of yellow scum on the top.  Some areas were white and furry with mold.  Gross!!!

I think a bulk of the pollen in the barrels came off of the roof.  The two barrels that are not directly under a downspout were fine.  
Only the barrel on the left had an odor.  The two on the right were fine.
I drained each of the barrels last night.  After work today I hosed out each one and removed as much of the yellow pollen scum as I could.  I got the barrels back about 20 minutes before it started to pour down rain. Once the rain slowed down I went out to check the barrels.  The water coming out was yellow.  I have a bad feeling that I'm going to have to drain and clean them again.  I did add a little bit of bleach to each barrel.  I'm hoping that will help. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spring is here.

I was away last weekend.  When I came home I was pleased to see that everything was green!  Spring is here!  I couldn't be happier.  I'm so tired of night temperatures in the low 30's.  When I left there were no leaves on the trees.  When I came back, the trees were full of them.  So I have to share pictures.
Bush Cherry
(I don't remember if it's Hansen or Nanking)
The containers have herbs.  The green leaves are blueberries.
I have grass.  I didn't before.
I had bare spots all over the yard.  The grass has really grown and it doesn't look too bad now.
The cilantro under my mailbox.  It was only 4-6 inches high when we left.
This is an aronia that I put in a month ago.  I wasn't sure that it was going to make it, but it looks like it's doing fine.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lunatic Tour at Polyface Farm

Did you hear about the farmer who won an award?
He was out standing in his field.

I've been following Joel Salatin for a long time.  Who is Joel Salatin you ask?  Joel is a third generation farmer at Polyface Farm located in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  Joel takes pride in raising animals in the most holistic and natural way possible and is legendary in the natural food community.  Joel has been featured in numerous documentaries including, Fresh (2009), Food Inc. (2008), Farmageddon (2011), (all of which I highly recommend) and the upcoming American Meat (2013).  He has written multiple books and he's been interviewed in several podcasts (here, here, and here).

We had plans to travel in April.  My wife did some research and found that Joel's Polyface Farm, was located not far from our route.  As it just so happened, they had a Lunatic Tour scheduled for the day we planned to return.  So without hesitation she ordered tickets. 

We arrived at the farm around 12:40.  We were met by a large crowd of people waiting for the tour to begin at 1:00.  It wasn't too long before the crowd made its way towards the hay wagons.  It was then that we heard it, "Folks, you're here for the lunatic tour and I'm your lunatic farmer."  It was Joel Salatin.  I got chills.  I was a bit starstruck.  The web site said that tours were given by Joel or his son Daniel so we hadn't known if he was going to be there or not.  He gave a brief introduction and mentioned some safety concerns.  He went on to say that every tour is different.  Their animals move, so the tour always goes to a different places.  The tours also vary by season.  Right now they were in the midst of moving the animals from their winter locations to their summer locations.

We loaded onto the wagons.  Our first stop was the eggmobiles.  There were two 20' long wagons that house 900 layers.  Joel explained that the eggmobiles were used to mimic nature.  First the cattle go through and area and a day or two later the hens are moved in.  The chickens scratch and peck the cow patties.  In the process they eat all of the fly eggs, and larvae and spread the patties.  This gets more nutrients into the soil and causes the grass to grow. 

Our second stop was at the broilers.  Joel explained the design of the tractors.  Each one houses 75 Cornish Rock Cross birds and can be moved by a single person.  The tractors are moved each day.  This gives the birds access to fresh grass.  The chicken manure is left behind to rejuvenate the soil.

We saw cows on our third stop.  Joel explained that that cows are relocated every day.  They are kept in using portable electric fencing.  Polyface cows spend their time outside doing what cows are supposed to do.  They eat grass.  They aren't ever fed corn or dead cows. 

Here's a picture of one of the hay wagons.  This was half of the tour group.

Our final stop was at the pigorators.  I think this is truly ingenious.  During the winter the cows are brought under the roofed structure shown below.  It's basically a barn with no walls.  During there time there they eat hay.  Each day while eating hay they deposit 50 lbs of processed hay on the ground.  The farmers put carbon based material down on the floor.  They use sawdust, wood chips, peanut shells, straw, whatever they can get.  The cows mash it down and press all of the air out of it.  During the process of adding carbon material they also put down layers of corn.  By the end of winter there is several feet of compressed, fermented, corn/straw/hay/manure.  So what do they do next?  They bring in pigs.  The pigs are eager to eat the corn.  They turn over all of the material and in the process aerate it.  This causes it to compost quickly.  Once it's fully composted it is removed and spread on the fields. 
I've read about the processes used at Polyface previously, but seeing it in person is so much better than reading about it.  Hearing Joel speak was amazing.  This guy just exudes passion for farming.  He really gets excited when talking about cows, chickens, and being good stewards of the Earth. 

There's another aspect of Polyface that I must mention.  We live in a world full of intellectual property.  Businesses are constantly patenting and copyrighting everything they do in an attempt to thwart and stifle competition.  They'll sue for the slightest infringement.  I read stories about these types of lawsuits almost weekly.  This is obviously not the case at Polyface.  They could keep their processes secret.  They don't have to offer tours.  But they do.  They have an open door visitation policy.  They say, "Come see what we do and how we do it."  I didn't hear it said explicitly, but they seemed to imply, "You should do this too."

So was the tour worth it?  Absolutely!  The tour lasted for the full two hours and Joel stayed around afterwards to talk to people individually.  I'd like to go again during a different season and see some of the other things they do.  They didn't have the turkeys and the rabbits out yet.  I'd recommend going if you get the chance.  A word of caution though.  Wear old shoes.  It is a working farm.  Tours are done rain or shine.  It was quite muddy while we were there.   

If you can't get to Polyface, there's a wonderful six part series of videos on youtube.  In the videos Joel gives Dr. Mercola a private tour. 


Saturday, April 13, 2013

From greenhouse to garden

It's been getting into the 80's this past week.  I'm taking that as a sign that it's not going to get below freezing again.  (I really hope I'm not wrong about that!)  When it's 80* outside, it gets to be 100+ in the greenhouse.  I didn't want to keep the plants in there too much longer.  A lot of them were getting too big for their containers anyway.  Luckily I have raised beds where I can put them.
I transplanted beans and a few kale plants to this bed.
I picked up more garden soil at Home Depot.  They had their Spring Black Friday sale this past week.  I think I was there to pick something up every day of it but one.  I got one bed completely full of soil and two that are half full. 
These are pepper plants.  They might be a bit small yet, but I have several more still in the greenhouse if these don't make it.
This bed is full of tomatoes.  Some of these plants were nearly a foot tall.  That overflowing bin on the side is oregano.
Bonus picture: This is one of my blueberry plants that I put in last year.  It looks like I might actually get blueberries.
I probably should have hardened off the plants before transplanting them, but I didn't.  Other than the wind, it shouldn't be too much of a drastic change for them.  The lows outside will be in the 60's and that's what it would've been in the greenhouse.