Summer is a tough time in Florida to grow vegetables but there is a solution, by shading your garden you can keep the intense sun from damaging your plants. I’ve successfully used a shade cloth canopy over the last two years and have had good production throughout summer. There are a few things that won’t do good as they will bolt from the heat (romaine lettuce for example) but many other plants grow and produce just fine.
Recently I’ve had a friend ask about purchasing a cheap carport cover from Harbor Freight tools to use as a garden shade. I have had experience with this cover but not for a garden. The frame of this cover is made from painted steel which rusts very quickly and the cover is too shady for plants, I’ve found a 40% shade works well.
Here is the list I put together with links to the products to make a good quality 10’x20′ cover. The plan is easily modified for different sizes, my garden has a 20’x20′ cover. Here’s a drawing showing the main components:
Optional (6) footpads (brown) – I use these but you can just plant the pipes right into the ground if desired. Attach some sort of weights to hold the frame down in high winds.
These are all 1 3/8″ pipe connectors, this pipe is also known as chain link top rail. You can get this at any hardware store but the best deal will be at a fencing supply company. For a 10×20 as above you would need:
(6) Rafters @ 5′ each
(6) Ridges @ 10′ each
(6) Legs at whatever height you want, I used 6′. Add a little more if you are going to shove them into the ground.
This builds the frame, it is all galvanized and should last you many years if not a lifetime. The connectors can also be reused for different sizes and configurations. The final width of this design will be slightly less than 10 feet due to the rafter slope but it will be very close. For the shade cloth:
They also sell a 6 inch bungee but the longer ones are easier to set up, you can wrap it around the pole an extra time to shorten it if needed. The shade cloth will probably last 4-5 years from what I’ve seen so far, the bungees about 2 years. Harbor Freight tools sells a grommet repair kit for around $4, it’s a good investment for shade cloth repairs.
Also, check Craigslist and Facebook marketplace for used top rail. You may be able to save $$ this way.
Every year I like to try a some new plants, in this post I’ll list a few of the ones I’m trying out this year. The ones shown here are just the garden vegetables, herbs and fruits not included.
First though, an update on the aquaponic system. The plants here have exploded in size and became extremely productive. It is actually more productive than the EarthBoxes (see the previous Aquaponics vs EarthBox results) however I stand by my recommendation for EarthBoxes for new gardeners. They are easier and cheaper to get going but I am absolutely going to expand the aquaponic system based on the latest results. Here is a few Roma tomatoes taken from the system this week. This is just one plant:
Over the last couple of years I’ve created a list of the regulars – things that will always be grown at Three Acre Paradise. Here’s a few of them:
Bell – the good old standard for salads and cooking
Banana – nice addition to salads
Habanado – a Habernero without heat, also a good salad addition
Jalapeno – a little heat with a lot of uses
Datil – unique flavor I really like
Thai Hot – good old red pepper, many uses
Habernero – just for fun
Everglades – tiny sweet tomatoes for salads
Tami-G – great snacking grape sized tomato
Roma – all purpose
Bok Choy (green) – great cooked or in salads
Kale – Siberian and Curly – healthy greens for cooking and salad
Malabar Spinach – salad addition, light taste and easy to grow vines
New Zealand Spinach – also great salad addition and ground cover
Swiss Chard – very productive for salads and cooking
Asparagus (going on year 2)
Daikon radish (also for soil building) – large radish with tasty leaves
Garlic – still struggling with these but doing ok so far this year
Onions – Walking, White, Red, Yellow – growing all over
Sweet Potato – two varieties here, worthy of their own post
Turnips – Top White Globe (also for soil building)
Yard beans – these are easy to grow and are ok with the heat
There’s quite a few other things but these have shown to grow well here and are well established. Here’s a few of the new things I’m trying, I’m in no way trying to promote Baker Creek seeds it just so happens they have a lot of what I like:
The Shishito pepper looks like it should do well here and is a sweet pepper despite it’s looks. So far it has sprouted easily from seed and the seedlings look good. I’m constantly on the hunt for easy to grow peppers, for some reason I’ve had a lot of trouble getting Bell peppers to start from seed.
Although I’m already growing Bok Choy this variety will add a lot of color to the garden and eventually our salads. Since the green version does so well I thought this would too, so far it is doing good and I have harvested a few small leaves.
The Chinese Pink celery is also being grown more for it’s color more than anything else, the other Chinese celery (green) I am growing has done well and been productive for over a year. So far so good, it has sprouted but is still very small.
Seeing a theme here yet? This mix was chosen just to get some radish variety in the garden. I’ve been growing Daikon radish for over a year and it’s done great but I don’t always need a radish the size of a bowling pin.
I’ve actually grown this one before, I think it did very well and is an excellent tomato. The reason it’s on the new list is I can’t remember which one it was, I grew several similar varieties (such as Black Krim) so this time I’ll track it better to see if it goes on the permanent list.
All the items listed above I am pretty confident will do well but I haven’t found a good large tomato yet, there are several planted to see how they do. If everything goes to plan the garden will also be relocated this year and will be much larger. I’ll be mixing the aquaponic and EarthBox growing areas together plus will add some other growing methods such as traditional raised beds and adding NFT (nutrient film technique) and wicking beds to the aquaponic system. For all this to happen I have to finish the yard fencing and get the rest of the infrastructure in place (pipes and underground electric).
Coming soon – a video walk through of the property. This may end up as two videos to keep the length down but as soon as the fence is completed I’ll get this done.
Well I finally did it. All fence posts are in, the last post was placed yesterday. What a relief! The next step is to put up the fencing.
Got a spare 7 1/2 minutes? In this video I take a walk along the fence line so you can see what it looks like and how many posts were placed (hint: around 150).
In other news, WordPress has decided to make some changes to the site without my input. When I fired up the web site the whole theme was different, not that it was bad but certainly not what was originally set up. I reverted back to the original format and all seems well now.
Next up, what I’m planting this spring. Stay tuned!
2019 has come in with a roar, it’s already February! Last year spring caught me off guard and I’m determined to not let that happen again, the last frost date for this area is February 20th so it is approaching fast. My spring task list to have completed in the next few weeks is get the vegetable garden planted, trim all trees, and get everything into the ground as possible (potted trees).
The web site move was a much bigger deal than expected and is still not completed. Turns out a lot of things were lost (photo descriptions, feature pictures, metadata) so I’ve been trying to get all that fixed.
What’s the plan for the coming year? The fencing is the biggest thing to get completed. I’m about 2/3 of the way done putting posts in, once that is done the actual field fence goes up, the two top wires go on (like barbed wire without barbs), then I have to realign the front rail fencing to line up with the new stuff.
Once the front is realigned I’ll be putting a welded wire backing on it for additional protection to keep animals in and out.
Another recent change is with the aquaponics system. The floating raft bed was changed to a media bed since these have seemed to perform a lot better,
The change was pretty easy since this was how it was originally set up. The bell siphon was already made and I had the media put in do the whole process only took about an hour.
Speaking of the aquaponic system, it is performing much better now. I’m not sure why but maybe it’s due to the cooler weather or it just needed a year to get better established.
A Roma Tomato plant that was placed in has done exceptionally well, it took a long time to get started but really took off in the last month or so. If I had planned better I would have put some support in for it. In the photo below you can also see some celery getting started. Celery has always done well in this system.
I’ve changed my mind a bit about the aquaponic system, I wasn’t impressed originally but it does seem to have become more productive. I’ll redo some testing and challenges this year and see if the results are improved.
Another recent success is with the Pigeon Pea plants. I’ve been harvesting these for the last few weeks and they just keep producing.
There are two plants in this picture and they have different colored peas, one is green and the other is brown. The brown ones take a little longer to ripen and get a little longer but they are otherwise very similar.
Both plants have been producing heavily and are still flowering with new peas.
My big goals for 2019 are to get the fencing done then get all underground plumbing and electrical in place for future projects. If I get more than that done then great, the new garden area would be next.
Next week I’ll post a list of new plants I’m trying out this year, and the first seed and plant exchange for this year has already been posted. If you are local and would like to attend please see our Facebook page for details.
The move to a new web hosting platform has been completed, unfortunately a few things got changed through the process. All blog post featured photos were removed and the ability to zoom photos by clicking on them has been lost. This is easily fixed but requires me to go back through the old posts and update them. What fun 🙂
Why we moved – the site was originally hosted on wordpress.com which is a great place to get a blog started. Unfortunately to do any real customization you have to upgrade to their business plan, and even then they really restrict what you can do. This has some good, it is a very controlled environment and helps avoid making mistakes. They also take care of a lot of the site security. Once your first year is up there is no more discount, they wanted $300 to renew for another year. That’s waaaay too much for a hobby blog.
I moved the site to siteground.com and paid for 3 years of hosting up front at a total of $140, around $47 per year. Much better! It was more work getting things worked out but I also have a lot more flexibility such as file access (FTP), email, and I can pretty much do anything with WordPress.
Later this week I’ll post a property update and get back on track with regular posts. I’ll also be going back and fixing the earlier posts as time allows. Good stuff coming up!
Mowing Three Acre Paradise can be a challenge, there are over 400 trees here so a zero turn mower is the logical choice. When shopping for a mower in 2015 I came across the Big Dog brand at a local dealer, these are manufactured by the same company that makes Hustler mowers which have a good reputation. Many of the parts are interchangeable so I don’t know if the Hustler brand has this same problem.
Like many zero turn mowers, this one is steered using two levers which you push forward or pull back. One lever controls the right drive wheel and the other controls the left. These mowers are fairly fast and are able to turn without moving forward, that’s where they get the name zero turn. For steering around a lot of trees this is a great design.
The problem I had recently is that one of the control arms came disconnected from the pump that controls the drive wheel. This happened as I was approaching a tree, when I went to steer there was no response and I hit the tree straight on (I was only a few feet from it so there was no time to do anything else). Here’s a picture of the part that came unattached:
The problem I have with this is two fold. First, the only thing holding this on was an E clip which vibrated itself out or maybe got pushed out by some debris. In my opinion this should have been held on more securely with something like a washer and split pin (cotter pin).
The second issue I have with this is that the pump did not return to the neutral position. When the arm disconnected, there should have been a spring that brought the lever on the pump back to center.
Here’s the arm reconnected with an E clip. Sometime in the future I’ll remove the arm again and drill a hole in it so I can add a split pin.
Why such a big deal? When I mow there are plenty of other places where this could have come out a lot worse. I could have ended up in the pond and caused a lot of damage to the mower, in the street while a car or truck was driving by and been hit (the road I mow by has a 45 MPH speed limit), or by the bike path when a bicycle or pedestrian was nearby. A lot of people mow in similar areas so this is not unique. As it is, the only real damage was to the front of the mower:
Keep in mind this is a 2015 model, not some 10-15 year old worn out mower. It currently has just under 124 hours of use.
If you are considering purchasing a Big Dog Alpha MP then I’d suggest you look at this to see if the design has been changed (and Hustler mowers). It’s a simple thing but could have really bad consequences.
Now, back to our usual programming. Stay tuned for an update on activities at Three Acre Paradise 🙂
EZ Life Tip 3 is a very easy one to set up and start using right away.
Keep a sharpie or other permanent marker near where you store your spices. Any time you buy a new spice write the month and year on it, now you know exactly how long you have had it and have an idea when to replace it. EZ enough?
The general recommendations for freshness is four years for whole spices and two years for ground, blends may not last as long as they are only as good as the first ingredient to lose potency. The best way to tell if it needs replacement is by color and smell.
Pigeon peas are a great fit at Three Acre Paradise, besides being an edible legume they are a fast growing perennial and can provide quick shade for more delicate plants.
Pigeon peas are a fast growing perennial legume that have many uses in a food forest or permaculture environment. Pigeon peas have been used as a protein rich food source for humans for at least 3,500 years and are popular in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They are also very drought tolerant and can provide a heavy harvest for three to five years.
Food Source: Pigeon peas are protein rich and can be used as a green vegetable pea, dried, or made into flour.
Animal Fodder: The leaves, seeds, pods and the remnants of seed processing are used to feed many kinds of livestock.
Improving Soil: Since they are a legume Pigeon peas provide nitrogen fixing for soil. This can be accomplished by simply pruning the plant and dropping the cuttings on the ground. The deep tap root helps break up hard soils and pull nutrients from deep down and the plant can provide shade and a wind break for smaller plants.
Growing Pigeon Peas
Pigeon pea plants can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 15 and can grow up to 12 feet tall. The plants deep tap root can grow to up to six feet in length which helps the plant to locate water. For the first few months after germination the growth is slow but speeds up as the plant gets established. Most Pigeon pea cultivars are a short day plant blooming when nights are long. For best results start plants directly in ground although they can be started in pots and transplanted later.
Pigeon peas are easily propagated with dried seeds. They are not very picky about planting depth or soil type.
Pigeon Peas at Three Acre Paradise
Currently there is one area where Pigeon peas are growing at Three Acre Paradise. There are two plants that have grown to about ten feet high and wide. There were several other areas where they were planted but they were damaged by animals and did not recover. Next spring I will be starting two new areas and they will be better protected against damage.
The pictures in this post are of the same plants over a several month period.
A fresh coat of paint can make a room look great but over time the smudges, nicks, and scratches can take their toll. We get a lot of compliments on our house at Three Acre Paradise, one of my secret weapons to keep the house looking good is to go around and touch up the paint blemishes a couple of times a year.
Here’s a couple of ways to make this easier. First, when you paint a room always reserve a small amount of the paint in a little container and write on the container what it is. One of the best containers to use is the ones home stores sell paint samples in.
If you don’t have any of these then you can use just about any plastic container that seals good. The one below can be bought at dollar stores, they are about a dollar for a four pack.
What makes these so convenient? You don’t have to deal with a big can of paint. You can shake these before opening so you don’t have to worry about stirring, they are easy to carry around, and they are easy to reseal. They also hold enough paint for a lot of touching up, I’ve had a few that I’ve used for the last three years and haven’t had to refill.
Second touch up tip, keep a small brush with the paint samples. Don’t cheap out on the brush, I like the Purdy brand brushes and keep a 1 1/2 inch brush for this purpose. It’s small enough to be easily cleaned and dries quickly. Keep the paints and brush together in a box so you can just grab and go.
Third, use good paint. I use Sherwin Williams but any good brand will do. Quality paint is worth it, it will take less coats to get a good finish and it will resist dirt better. Take pictures of the mixing labels so if you have to have a new batch made up you will have this for reference and write on the cans what rooms they are for.
Fourth and final tip, keep a map of the paint and codes for your home. When our house was built I created this paint map and update it as we make changes. You can click on the image to zoom in.
Touch up can be quick and easy (and painless) using these tips and will keep your home looking fresh for years to come. Got any touch up tips you’d like to share? If so, please post it as a comment below.
Two important things to know about chickens: they eat a lot, and they are messy eaters. I don’t think chickens really like to eat something until they’ve dropped it in the dirt, stepped on it, then pooped on it. Store bought feeders work very well in this sense, they are easy to spill and the chickens can drop dirt right into the feeder (or poop in it) if they choose.
There’s a bunch of DIY chicken feeder plans on the internet so I used that as a starting point. A couple of other design goals of mine were to ensure the food stays dry and have enough capacity to where I could ignore them (go on vacation) for four or five days without worrying about them. I take no credit for this design, it just seemed like the right one for my application. The feeder is made from PVC pipe (easy) and is pretty easily adaptable for any coop. I made two feeders so several birds at a time could eat.
The first step is to cut a rounded taper on a four inch PVC tee joint. This was done freehand by marking a pattern with a marker, cut it out with an oscillating tool, then using a file and sandpaper to smooth it out.
Here’s another view of the curve, it doesn’t have to be perfect, this is just to keep the food dry and allow the chicken to stick their head in. The bottom of the PVC tee will be blocked off and the food will drop in from the top.
The plastic plug I made for the bottom was cut from a bucket lid, it will be held in place with a PVC reducer. It’s not shown in this post but I ended up drilling small holes in the bottom cap to allow food dust to fall through. If you don’t do that it can get a little messy over time with food dust buildup.
Here’s the plastic cap placed into the bottom of the PVC tee, it should be a pretty snug fit.
I press fit the PVC reducer to hold the plastic bottom in place. None of the feeder parts had to be glued. Once installed the feeder will be resting on this bottom part so everything will be fine just press fit together, it also allows you to make changes later which I had to do.
Here’s the bottom cap from the chickens point of view. As mentioned before, one of my revisions was to drill small holes in here to allow food dust to drop out.
Here’s a top view looking down into the PVC tee towards the bottom.
Next we are going to make a funnel, this is for the food that will drop into the bottom part we just made. This funnel will control the amount of food that is available to the chicken and may have to be modified for your feed type. I use pellet food, if you use crumbles then a smaller funnel may work better so the food doesn’t free flow too easily.
I initially used a two inch funnel. This was later changed to an inch and a half, the two inch allowed too much food into the lower area and the chickens managed to scatter it around the outside of the feeder. You want just enough dropping in so they can get to it but not so much that they can fling it around.
For a two inch funnel you need a PVC three inch to two inch adapter and a short piece of two inch pipe. To figure the pipe length just place the reducer into the top of the lower assembly and measure from the feeder bottom to the PVC reducer. Once the small pipe is cut, cut out a notch in it like the picture below ( I started with a one inch cut). This will all make sense in a minute.
Place the short piece of PVC into the reducer like shown below:
The drop the whole thing into the feeder bottom assembly:
And this is what it should look like from the chickens point of view:
Now you need to test the funnel assembly with your food type. Fill the top of the PVC tee with the type of chicken feed you use.
From the chicken point of view, the food should be available but not spilling out too much. I’d err on the side of not much food rather than too much, as long as the chicken can reach in and get a piece from the funnel that is good enough. The food does not have to spill out, the chicken will makethat happen.
My current funnel is smaller than this original one, I changed the reducer and short pipe to an inch and a half (from two inches).
With the hard part over, now all you need to do is cut an upright pipe to the height you want (mine are about forty inches) and put some sort of cap on. I used a threaded coupling to make filling easy and to keep water and bugs out.
There’s dozens of ways to mount these and you could also put a bend near the top so you can fill them from outside the coop. I went with inside coop feeding to ensure water stays out of the food.
The mounts I made were two boards in a L shape with a cutout for the pipe. The bottom mount also has a lower lip to support the feeders and I used pipe strap to secure the feeders to the mounts. Here’s the boards for the mounts after cutting and staining.
I painted the outside of the feeders green but left the inside unpainted. Here’s how they look after mounting, you can see part of the automatic watering system to the left. I’ll cover that feature in a future post.
Here’s a list of materials required (not including the mounts):
4″ PVC tee
4″ to 3″ PVC adapter (holds bottom in)
Plastic piece for bottom, I cut mine from a bucket lid
3″ to 2″ PVC reducer for funnel (later changed to 3″ to 1.5″ reducer)
short piece of 2″ PVC pipe for funnel (later changed to 1.5″ PVC pipe)
4″ PVC for upright, whatever length you want
4″ PVC threaded coupling for top
4″ threaded cap for top
I’d suggest test fitting it all together while in the store to make sure you have the right parts. I’ve had these in place now for about a year and they are working great (after the few small modifications).