Friday, May 31, 2013

So how are those peppers doing?

I moved some pepper plants into my garage a while back.  The plants I put into the ground haven't done so well.

Since they've been under lights in the garage they've been doing great.  They've done so well that I've started moving them outside during the day.
May 27, 2013

Here's a reminder of what they looked like when I put them in the pots on May 8, 2013

I think I'll be keeping all of my peppers under shop lights next year.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Just one more raised bed (for now)...

Home Depot had landscape timbers on sale for Memorial Day.  I couldn't resist the urge and decided to build another raised bed to my front yard.

I put down a nice layer of cardboard to prevent the weeds from coming through the soil.  This does help.  One of the beds I put in previously did not get a layer of cardboard and I pull weeds from it almost every day.  Luckily they come out rather easily.

I filled this bed with a mixture of compost, peat moss, and garden soil (Home Depot had that on sale too).

The final step was to add drip irrigation.  I can state from experience now that it is much easier to put in irrigation tubing when there are no plants in the bed.  I ran it a little differently in this bed.  In the other beds I ran the tubing in a "U" shape and tried to split the beds into thirds.  I wanted one third of the bed on either side of the tubing and one third in the middle.  (I hope that makes sense.  It's more obvious in this picture.)
For this bed I ran an additional length of tubing down the middle of the bed.  Then I put in drip emitters every 24 inches.  The last step was connecting it to the rain barrels which were already being used to irrigate the other beds.
One final note.  I stained all of my raised beds.  I don't know if doing so helps to protect them from the elements or not.  I do it so they match my fence.  And, I think it makes them look better.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From the garden to the juicer.

The month of clouds and rain may not have been good for my peppers, but it was great for my kale. 
Here's the bed when it was first planted on April 10, 2013.
May 28, 2013
I had to do something with the kale.  It was getting too big.  I should have planted them further apart, but it looked like they had plenty of room when they were small.  

I picked a bunch of kale and lettuce and brought it inside.  Then it went into the juicer.  
Not a bad harvest.
I used the same general juice recipe that I always use.  Kale, lettuce, apple, ginger, lime and carrots.  It was yummy.
I didn't weigh the kale, so I don't know how much I picked or how much it would've cost at the grocery store.  I do know that back when I was juicing on a regular basis, kale was $0.99/lbs.  The last time I bought kale it was $1.19/lbs.  At first glance that doesn't seem like much of a hike, only $0.20.  I normally only buy a pound or two when I get it so no big deal right?  Then I thought about it.  That's a 20% increase!  I'm just going to have to grow more of it myself.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Happy two week birthday (or should I say hatchday?)

The broilers were hatched two weeks ago today.  They've grown like crazy.  When we first got them they seemed so tiny and light weight.  When you grabbed one it was like holding a ball of fluff.  Now, you can feel the meat on them.

They eat a lot!  On average I fill the feeder three times a day.  It doesn't normally get empty, but they get it low and kick a lot of pine shavings in there.  The water is even worse.  They make a mess out of it.  If I had to guess, I'd say that it needs to be changed every two hours.  Needless to say, I got tired of doing that.  So I got some PVC pipe and made another waterer with poultry nipples.

It's basically just a smaller version of the last one I made.  I'm even using another 5-gallon bucket for a reservoir.  It didn't take long for them to figure it out.  I've seen several of the birds drink from it.  I did some reading though and you're supposed to have one poultry nipple for every three birds.  The pipe I made only has two nipples.  That'll be fine once I get them in to the yard, but right now I still have 16 birds, so it isn't enough.  I'm hoping to get rid of 10 of these guys fairly soon.  It was always the plan to just raise 6 of them.

So aside from eating and drinking a lot, how are they doing?  Pretty good I guess.  They've gotten a lot of feathers.  They can be somewhat annoying.  They chirp a lot.  It was cute at first, but now it's a constant chirp chirp chirp.  They've also gotten real nervous and jumpy.  If I walk past the crate or try to get a tool off the pegboard they freak out and crowd into a corner.  They do that when I'm giving them food and water as well. 
He won't get us if we hide in the corner.

I think this was shortly after I cleaned the water.  It doesn't take them long to make a mess of it.

They are developing some nice feathers.
I had to change the litter in the bottom of the cage tonight.  I think I went 10 days (maybe it was 7) before having to change it the first time.  I need to start changing it more frequently now.  I was surprised at how packed down it was.  The bottom inch or so was a soggy mess.  I don't know if all that liquid was from their waste or if they are spilling water or what.  In any case, I filled an entire 5-gallon bucket and added it to the compost pile.  I'm not going to let it go to waste.

I'm ready to get them out of the garage.  In another week they'll be ready to go into the yard.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Uh, that's not a pepper.

I posted the other day that I had one pepper plant doing great and that the others weren't doing so well.  A couple of days have passed and that "pepper" is growing like crazy.  So much so that I came to realize that it isn't a pepper.  It's a tomatillo.  Whoops.
This is what happens when you use the, "Oh look here's a space I'll plant something there." gardening method.  I thought I had planted all but the last foot or so of this bed with peppers and that remaining foot near the trellis has the cucumbers.  I guess I must have stuck a tomatillo in there at some point.  Go figure.

Oh well.  I like surprises.  Especially when it's some edible plant that I wasn't expecting.

So, about those peppers.  The ones I put under lights in the garage.  They seem to be doing really well.  They've put on leaves, and although it's hard to tell in these pictures they are a beautiful green.  They look far better than the yellow, barely-hanging-on plants in the garden.

Just for reference, here's what they looked like when I put them in those containers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

They are hungry birds.

Here's the timeline.

  • Wednesday - Twenty six chicks were hatched and put in the mail.
  • Thursday morning - We pick up the chicks at the post office at ~10:30 AM.
  • Thursday night - We give 4 chicks to a neighbor.
  • Sunday - Another friend picks up 6 chicks leaving us with 16.
  • Tuesday - We are nearly out of food.  They finished off a 5 lbs. bag of chick feed in less than a week.
  • Wednesday - Time to get more food.
I haven't raised chicks before, so I don't know if it's normal for them to go though 5 lbs of food in a week or not.  I have seen them a the feeder a lot.  I even caught one sleeping with its head in there. 

It was only a day or two before they started getting wing feathers.  Supposedly you can tell the sex by the feathers, but I'm not sure how.  I'm just going to take my chances and hope I don't end up with all roosters.

We had one chick that was kind of gimpy.  It looked like it had a leg problem.  But, it must have gone away because all of the birds are walking around just fine.  Some of them actually fly from one side of the cage to the other.

They make a mess of their water.  It has to be changed several times a day.  I mentioned how much they are eating, so obviously I have to fill the feeder several times a day too.

I don't have a picture, but I had to move the heat lamp higher.  I noticed that some of the birds were panting and keeping their wings out to stay cool.  It is 82* in the garage.  I'm guessing they don't need much supplemental heat.  I took the 100w bulb out and put in a 40w so they'd be able to see.  No need to keep them in the dark like the industrial chicken houses do.

We picked up 50 lbs of food today.  This is 20% protein.  I'll be interesting to see how long it lasts.  Cost was $20.82.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Drip irrigation system is working

I finally have drip irrigation in all of my raised beds.  So far it seems to be working pretty well.  The picture below is the tomato bed.  You can see the wet areas around the emitters.
This picture is a little more clear.  This bed has my peppers that aren't doing so well.
The drip irrigation system is fed from my rain barrels.  It's should cut my summer water bill down a lot.  One of the things that surprised me is how slow it is.  When I used a sprinkler I would turn it on for 20 minutes in the morning and another 20 minutes in the afternoon.  Twenty minutes of drip irrigation doesn't accomplish much.  I've been opening the valve on the rain barrel before I leave for work and when I come home I supplement with more water from a watering can

One of the benefits of using drip irrigation is that you can get the water directly to the plants and not waste a lot of it watering the driveway and other areas where there are no plants.  The downside to this is that you have to get your emitters in the right locations.  This is obvious in the picture above.  There are a lot of dry areas in that bed.  I think this can be remedied by adding more emitters.  Until then, I'll have to manually water the areas that need it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh those silly chickens...

I spent months trying to get grass to grow in my back yard.  Some of the areas hadn't had grass since we moved in.  I got it to grow, and it looked great.  
This spot was void of grass since we moved in nearly two years ago.
Now the spot in the picture above looks like the picture below.  The chickens picked it clean!

Here's another area that was bare when we moved in.  They're still working on making that way again.

Oh look, some of the culprits.
They might look innocent, but they really are destructive birds.
I try to focus on the positive.  They aren't eating my lawn, they're helping to cut down on what I spend on chicken feed!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why I do what I do.

I was recently asked what motivated me to become more self-sufficient.  To answer that, I look back to my first post.  Near the end of the summer of 2008 I noticed that our grocery bills were going up each month.  Then the financial crisis hit Wall Street and the talking heads on TV went on and on about the imminent worldwide economic collapse.  That of course was nonsense, but it motivated me.  “What if something bad actually happened?  What if I lost my job?  What if gas prices soared even higher and trucks stopped moving?  That would quickly lead to empty grocery store shelves.  What if… What if… What if?” 

So I started to garden.  I can tell you from experience that there is no better feeling than walking into your yard and picking food for your dinner table.  It gives you a feeling of empowerment.  You know that you are no longer entirely dependent on the grocery store for survival.
My tomato plants were taller than me last year.

Gardening quickly lead me to learn about food storage.  I had to do something with the excess production.  I learned to freeze, dehydrate, can, and ferment as a result of growing vegetables.  Another benefit of growing and storing your own food is that you know what is in it.  Have you ever read the labels on processed food?  Why does everything contain corn syrup?  And what is xanthan gum anyway?
Pumpkin for the freezer, and
canned applesauce and salsa.

After a few years of gardening, and a move to a bigger property, I looked into getting chickens.  Chickens are ridiculously easy to take care of.  They need food, water, and a safe place to sleep at night.  They pretty much take care of themselves.  I don’t know why more people don’t keep them.   I have to add, there is no comparison between a store bought egg and one right from the coop. 

The gardens and chickens benefit each other.  Waste from the gardens, (and kitchen) gets fed to the chickens.  The chickens produce manure that gets composted, which in turn gets put back into the garden beds.  I also cut down my water bill by using rainwater for irrigation.  Water literally falls from the sky for free.  I see no reason not to keep some of it.

This quest to become more self-sufficient has been fun and educational.  I blog about my experiences to share what I’ve learned, and hopefully inspire others to become self-sufficient.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Drip irrigation with PVC pipe.

I got irrigation tubing in all but one of my raised beds.  For the last bed I thought I'd try something different, PVC pipe.  Why?  I don't know really.  I just wanted to see how it would work compared to the tubing.

This bed is the oddball.  It's 4x4' while the rest of the beds are 4x8'.  The kids took ownership of it and decided what to plant where.  My wife used twine to mark a grid so they could use the square foot gardening method.  

I laid out the PVC pipe along the grid lines.  I didn't bother to glue the joints.  I'm using rain barrels for water and the pressure is low enough that slip fittings work fine without glue.  I used 1/2" PVC pipe and elbows.  Right away I could see one benefit.  The stuff doesn't twist all around while you're trying to get it in place like the tubing does.  Also, since it runs from one side of the bed to the other it's level and suspended above the soil. 

I put a tee in the line of the last bed and ran tubing to a barbed adapter attached to the PVC pipe. 

Then I drilled holes every foot so the emitters would drip and water the squares on either side.  This was the most difficult part.  The emitters are barbed.  I tried to use the same drill bit that I used on the tubing.  The emitters would not go in.  The pipe just didn't have any give to it.  I ended up drilling the holes slightly larger.  The emitters were still very difficult to insert, and once I turned on the water they leaked like crazy around the hole.  That was no good.

The solution?  I got out the silicone and put a good dab on around the base of each emitter and waited over night.  That solved the issue.  After I was finished though I realized that I probably could have just skipped the emitters and just drilled tiny 1/16" holes instead.  I don't know if that would have worked or not, but it would have been a lot easier. 

So what's the verdict?  That's hard to say.  I think the PVC works really well.  I expect it to hold up longer.  All of the emitters seem to drip at a pretty constant rate (I think this is due to everything being level).  But, getting the emitters in those holes was not fun.  The PVC is also more expensive.  Who knows, it might be worth it.  I'll have to see how this works out during the summer.

I got some video of the PVC drip irrigation in action.  
It might be better viewed on youtube in a higher resolution.

Backyard broilers

I've had chickens for about a year now.  They are layers and have been great at producing eggs.  So I thought I'd give broilers a try.  What's the motivation?  Well last year I went to the Holly Springs Farmers Market and bought a free range, pastured, all natural chicken.  I don't remember exactly, but it was either $6.00 or $6.50 per pound!  We paid right around $25.00 for a roughly 4 lb. frozen bird.  I thought if I could get 5 birds for my back yard and 4 of them lived long enough to make it to the freezer, then that'd be $100 worth of chicken.

I did some research and found that the most popular meat bird is the Cornish cross.  These birds aren't without problems (see here too).  The birds have a high mortality rate, as much as 30%.  The birds have been bred to want to eat.  So they grow fast, so fast that their legs can't support their bodies and they break.  And they'll have sudden heart attacks and are sometimes even too lazy to drink water so they die of dehydration!  I don't need to deal with that.

So what's the alternative?  Freedom Rangers!  The Freedom Ranger is a hybrid broiler that has been developed for the pasture.  They reach their mature weight in 9 to 11 weeks.  I haven't heard of them having any of the problems that the Cornish cross has.

Great, I know what birds I want, now where do I get them?  I checked around and found a nearby farm that raises these birds.  I contacted them and asked if they sold the chicks.  They said, no, but they'd be glad to sell me full size frozen birds.  So I had to go right to the hatchery.  The problem there is that the minimum order is 25 birds!  I don't want that many.  Oh well, that's why craigslist exists.

The last chickens I got came with feathers.  I've never had to deal with chicks before.  I don't know what the process is or even how the hatchery gets the birds from PA to NC.  So I asked my friend who gave me the layers.  She said that the USPS ships them all the time and that when they arrive at the post office they'll call you.  That call may happen as early as 4:30 AM!  Then you have to go pick them up.  Otherwise, they sit in the back of a truck all day.  Ugh, I was not looking forward to that.

I lucked out.  The chicks were hatched Wednesday.  The email I got when I ordered said they should arrive early Friday morning.  Much to my surprise, my phone rang Thursday morning at 10:00.  It was the Post Office saying my chicks had arrived.  I called my wife and asked her if she could go pick them up.  Thank goodness!  There were no 4:30 AM calls.

As for keeping chicks...  They need heat, food, water, and a cage to contain them.
The heat lamp was ~$6 at Walmart.  I got slide-feeder at Agri Supply for $3.49.  I already had the waterer and the pine shavings.  I'm using a plain old 100 watt bulb for heat.

That's a box full of cuteness.
This is Stew.
We haven't decided on a name for this one.  It'll either be Kung Pao or General Tso.
I'm kidding about naming the birds.  We've already told the kids not to get too attached.  They are fun to watch though.  They just run around and eat and drink.  Sometimes a few will settle down only to get run over by one of the other ones.  They aren't real careful about where they are going.  I guess that happens when you've been alive for less than 36 hours.

In total I spent $67.50 for 25 chicks.  That includes shipping.  That works out to $2.70 per bird.  I picked up some chick grit and starter feed as well.  I can't find the receipt, but I think I spent around $20.  I'm going to try to keep track of my expenses to see what my cost per pound ends up being.

This should be a fun project.  Well... at least until it's time for them to graduate from the yard to the freezer.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tomato stakes

Last year I had tomatoes get so tall that I couldn't reach the tops of them.  I had to extend the stakes that I used and then tie those stakes off to other stakes.  It was crazy.  I got really good, really big beefstake tomatoes though.
This year I didn't want to have to deal with stakes being pulled over and plants growing and falling down because I didn't have something tall enough to tie them to.  So I went into the woods behind my house and cut down trees.  Little ones that were 1-1.5" in diameter.  Then I cut them to 8' lengths and had my son carve points on the ends with his pocket knife.  After that I got out the step ladder and hammered them into the ground in the raised beds.  While I was doing this the neighbors drove by and gave me the stink-eye.

I added stakes on both sides of the bed and then lashed some horizontal sticks to them to add stability.  I did end up using some shorter stakes on the plants in the middle of the bed.  If they get out of control I can always lash some more sticks across the bed between the tall stakes on the two sides.  

Hopefully, what I have here will be sufficient for holding up all of my tomatoes.  I guess I'll just have to wait and see.  So far the tomatoes have been doing pretty well, unlike my peppers.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From the greenhouse to the... garage???

I haven't been happy with how my peppers have been doing in the raised beds.  I moved several of them back to the greenhouse the other day.  That got me thinking.  What did I do last year?  Then I remembered.  I grew them under the shop lights in the garage.

So I took the plants from the greenhouse and moved them to the garage.

I sat them up on boxes and got them right up under the lights.  I'm hoping this gets them going since it's already May. 

It's supposed to be in the 80's for the next week.  Maybe the peppers in the garden will get new life. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back yard grass follow up

I finally got grass to grow in my back yard.  And now the chickens are already starting to tear it up.
I have an entire back yard for them to wander around and they have to go for the area that hasn't had grass since I moved in (until just recently anyway).  There is a lot of clover in that area.  I'm guessing that's what they are after.  I'd prefer that they just eat the tops, and not scratch it up.  Oh well, I eat their eggs so I guess they figure that they can eat my yard.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Yet another chicken waterer.

Making sure the chickens have clean water is a pain.  I have a gallon sized waterer similar to this one.  I have it on top of patio stones stacked two high.  It's close to 6" off of the ground and I still find dirt and leaves in it all the time.  I've written about this before.  To solve this problem I created a waterer with poultry nipples and a PVC pipe.  That has worked alright, but it only holds a little more than a gallon of water.

So, I decided to make another one, this time with a larger reservoir.  I bought threaded poultry nipples from Amazon.  These are meant to be screwed into a flat surface like the bottom of a bucket.  I wanted to see how they'd work in a PVC pipe.

I started by cutting a section of 3/4" PVC pipe to length.   Then I put a clamp on it to keep it from rolling.  I marked every 10" for holes.  I then drilled the holes with a 5/16" drill bit.  (This is important.)

Next I wrapped the threads with Teflon tape.

I attempted to screw these things into the pipe.  They wouldn't go.  I thought for sure that I had read that they required a 5/16" hole.  That's what I drilled, but they would not go in.  I eventually got frustrated and got out the 3/8" bit.  That made the hole plenty big.  But, the things leaked like crazy.  I solved that problem with some silicone.  I waited over night for the silicone to dry and then mounted the pipe to the chicken coop with these clamps.

On one end I place a slip to MHT PVC adapter.  I closed it off with a hose cap.  I did this for two reasons.  It allows me to drain the pipe in the winter when there's a chance of freezing weather.  I can also open it to allow air to escape.

The other end of the pipe has a slip to FPT adapter and an MPT to barb connector for connecting the reservoir.

My reservoir is a 5-gallon bucket.  I drilled a 1/2" hole in it and inserted a 1/2" barb coupling.  Surprisingly, this hasn't leaked.

Here's a picture of the entire setup.  I have the bucket elevated on a log.  I used irrigation tubing to connect the bucket to the pipe.  

One final note about the poultry nipples.  After I completed this project (with a lot of frustration) I read the customer reviews on Amazon.  Someone posted that the correct drill bit size to use was 11/32".  I used 5/16, which by my math is 10/32".  That means that 1/32" of an inch caused me a whole lot of aggravation and time.  I'll need to do a little more research next time.