Building a Garden Shade

Garden canopy shade cloth

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:

Garden canopy frame

Links to components:

(4) Low peak corner fittings (red)
(2) Low Peak Top End Fittings (green)
(2) Low Peak Side Fittings (blue) 
(1) Low Peak Top Center Fitting (gray) 

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:

10 x 20 shade cloth 40%
9 inch Bungees

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.

 

2019 New Plants

2019 aquaponic bed

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:

Roma tomato harvest

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:

Peppers

  • 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

Tomatoes

  • Everglades – tiny sweet tomatoes for salads
  • Tami-G – great snacking grape sized tomato
  • Roma – all purpose

Leafy Greens

  • 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

Other

  • 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:

Shishito pepper

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.

Bok choy purple lady

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.

Chinese pink celery

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.

Radish easter basket mix

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.

Black Vernissage tomato

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.

So, what’s new in your garden?

 

Whats up?

You know what takes a lot of time for little return? Editing old blog posts. I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing old posts based to improve search results and make them more pleasing to read. One example of the changes I’ve been making, all pictures will be able to be clicked to get high res versions. I haven’t finished updating all the previous posts yet but should be done in the next few weeks. None of the written content is being changed, just picture information and some housekeeping to reduce the size of things.

In the meantime, there’s a lot happening here. In this post I’ll highlight some of the things going on and in future posts I’ll dig into the projects with more detail.

Aquaponic System #2

Aquaponic system parts

What? I know if you’ve been following this blog you may be asking why would I build a second system when the first one has not produces as good as other gardening methods. The answer is simple, it was free. This shows the value of letting everyone you know that you are interested in things like this, a friend got in touch with me and asked if I wanted the system (thanks Kim!).

Whats my plans for this? I haven’t completely decided yet but here’s one idea. I may add the fish tank and one more media bed to my current system, this would expant the plant beds and I’d use the second fish tank to raise coy (existing tank is tilapia). The other beds would be used as wicking beds and tied into the pond to see how good this works. Anyone else have other ideas?

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit

This dragon fruit bunch is doing fantastic. The other ones are doing OK but not nearly as good as this one. This is the growth after just one year, I haven’t seen any flowers yet but I’m hoping this happens soon.

Dragon fruit buds

It may be hard to see in the picture but there are little buds appearing all over the dragon fruit at the top. There are also some buds starting on the lower parts so within a few months this will be much thicker with branches. All this and I’ve already harvested some sections off for propagation!

Chaya

Chaya plant

Just like the dragon fruit, I’ve got Chaya growing all over the place and some of it is doing great. This plant is about six to seven feet tall and has been harvested heavily for eating and propagation. I’ll be doing a more detailed post on Chaya in the near future.

Duckweed

Duckweed in aquaponics

I converted my aquaponics raft bed to grow duckweed and it is also doing well. I use this as fish food for the aquaponics system and the pond. There were a few slight modification I had to make to the bed for this.

Aquaponics fill pipe

Duckweed likes very still water so I extended the fill pipe to go under the water. Previously it dripped into the bed and made a lot of water disturbance.

Aquaponics drainpipe modification

The drain pipe also had to be changed so the duckweed doesn’t just flow out of the tank. I created an inverted “U” for the drain and drilled a couple of small holes hear the top. The water now enters from about two inches below the water line but the small holes keep it from turning into a siphon.

New Planting Area

Mulch bed plant area

Ever notice how great things grow in a mulch bed? I have two macro bins (citrus bins) that I use for mulch and compost and there is always something trying to grow in them. Now I have a third mulch area but this one is on the ground. I toss all kinds of things in here just to see how it does but to get things started there is some daikon radish in there now. I call it my commando garden and it will be interesting to watch.

Pigeon Peas

Large pigeon pea plants

I’ve highlighted the pigeon pea plants before, they now have flowers and will be fruiting soon. This is pretty exciting as these things are huge! Last year I got maybe a dozed pea pods, this year there will probably be hundreds, if not thousands. Bring on the recipes! This plant is about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide.

What Else?

The house water here is on a well and we have had some problems with it, I’ve been rebuilding and improving the filtration system and that will be the subject of an upcoming post. After that is done, I’ll be starting the fence for the rest of the property.

Beginning this week there will be a post done every Thursday and I’ll be alternating between highlighting a plant growing here and some tips I’ve found to make life easier. These should be a lot of fun and these will be in addition to the regular posts. The plant highlights will also link to the “Whats Growing Here” informational pages but will have more detail specific to the actual plants on site.

See you on Thursday!

Poison Ivy

I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about poison ivy, not sure if it is a coincidence but in the last two months or so there has been a huge amount of growth of it here at Three Acre Paradise. I’ve got a history with poison ivy, not a good one so I thought it would be a good time to share my story and what I had to do about it. I’ve talked about it before but wanted to get more in depth this time.

Carl Meets Poison Ivy

When we bought Three Acre Paradise it was anything but that, more like a jungle consisting of palm trees, oaks, a few pines, and mostly brazilian pepper trees. If you aren’t familiar with brazilian pepper trees, they are an invasive species in Florida that will quickly take over a property and smother out all the native vegetation. They are also related to poison ivy. Some people are highly allergic to them, luckily I am not but if you burn them the smoke can cause severe respiratory problems.

Original Land

I set out to clear the property by myself, hiring a company to do this would be costly and it would be difficult to make sure they only cleared the nuisance trees. For some reason I grew up having never been exposed to poison ivy even though I spent a lot of my early years climbing around in the woods.

I started in the front of the property where there is some tall palm trees, these were full of vines which I pulled out by hand. Little did I know at the time, a lot of these vines were poison ivy. These were thick and up to 100 feet long once pulled out. One of the worst things about poison ivy is that it takes a while to have an effect. Later that evening it started kicking in and kept getting worse over the next week.

Here’s some pictures of my legs when it was bad:

Poison ivy on leg

Side view:

Poison ivy on leg side view

Back side of other leg:

Poison ivy on leg (2)

You can see where the vines came in direct contact with my skin.

It was strange that it kept getting worse, I ended up going to the doctor and they prescribed me some steroids (prednisone) but that was just as bad and I had to wean myself off of it. Hot water helped the immediate pain, I was told that is not a good thing to do but it sure felt good. It took a while to realize it but a lot of my clothes and some towels and sheets may have had some of the oil on them (urushiol). Once contaminated, it is very difficult to get rid of so I ended up throwing out a lot of clothes. This was probably the single biggest thing that stopped it from getting worse.

The Cure

I tried every poison ivy remedy on the market. The best thing I found was Zanfel, this is a scrub to wash off the urushoil. It’s expensive though, $30+ for one ounce. After a lot of research I found out it is the same thing as Mean Green Power Hand Scrub, which costs around 33 cents per ounce. That’s a much better deal!

Mean Grren power hand scrub

Here’s my advice if you have to deal with poison ivy. If it’s a small amount, use some  long needle nose pliers to grab it by the root and put it in a trash bag or throw it somewhere that it won’t come in contact with anyone. The pliers in the link are just an example, if there is a Harbor Freight store near you then they probably have them for a lot less. For large amounts of poison ivy I use a herbacide such as Roundup. Yes, I know this is the evil stuff but in this case I call it justified. Let it die and dry out then use a tool like a dirt rake to pull the vines out.

A lot of people recommend wearing long clothing to help avoid contact. I agree with this (as well as a pair of gloves) but some days it’s just too hot for that.

When you are finished with your poison ivy task, take a shower and use the Mean Green on any part of your body that may have been in contact, typically arms and legs. Get the Mean Green now, before you wish you had it! I can’t say enough times how much this stuff has helped. I haven’t had a single outbreak since using this. Wash the clothes you were wearing by themselves and throw some Fels Naptha soap, regular laundry detergent won’t cut it (just slice off a little bit and throw it in).

Fels Naptha

Be careful with any tools that may have some in contact with poison ivy. Once I recovered I hired a helper who was immune to it to pull the rest of it out, that doesn’t stop the urushiol from being spread. He had used a power cord for a saw, I wound that up around my arm and sure enough ended up with a second outbreak. If the tools can be washed you could use some Mean Green or Fels Naptha on them. Most of the tools I use get a lot of use throughout the yard (dirt) so I think that just wears off the oils over time.

Sunday Funday

On another note, this Sunday is the second Plant and Seed Exchange being held at Three Acre Paradise. The first one was pretty successful with about a dozen people showing up, I think there will be quite a few more people this time. I’ll show some pictures in the next post as well as some property updates. Until then, stay safe! (from poison ivy)

AeroGarden vs Burpee Results

Last post was about a comparison using an AeroGarden vs the Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit for seed starting, now I’ll show the results from the four week test period. There is a significant up front price difference between these two methods so does the AeroGarden really live up to the hype? Let’s find out.

Week 1

After one week the AeroGarden has had a few sprouts, the one in column three is Basil and the ones in column five are tomatillos. A white moldy looking substance is also growing on all of the growth sponges, a little internet research says this is normal and not harmful.

AeroGarden week 1

The Burpee collection has the same number of sprouts, in this case two basil and one tomatillo. I guess this says more about the seeds than the method so far. I did notice the sprouts are a little smaller.

Burpee week 1

Week 2

The AeroGarden has not sprouted any more seeds but the ones that had started are looking pretty good.

AeroGarden week 2

The Burpee tray has sprouted a lot more seeds. At this point I’m feeding it with some Miracle Grow food through water placed in the tray. The additional spouts are eggplant in column one and wolfberries in column six.

Burpee week 2

Week 3

The AeroGarden plants are growing nicely but no other seeds have germinated.

AeroGarden week 3

The Burpee tray is growing but not nearly at the pace of the AeroGarden plants.

Burpee week 3

Week 4

The AeroGarden plants continue to grow well and look healthy. I ended up moving these to an outdoor garden and they are doing good, transplanting was easy. I expected a little challenge getting them out but it was actually quite easy.

AeroGarden week 4

The Burpee plants haven’t shown nearly as much growth. I also transplanted these outside but it was a bit more challenging, the smaller ones were crumbly since there wasn’t much root structure to hold the mix together.

Burpee week 4

Summary

I’d call these results ….. inconclusive. The AeroGarden plants did far better as far as growth is concerned but the germination rate was much lower. The AeroGarden kit has the advantage of pre-measured nutrients and better lighting. I think the age of the seed starting kit may have caused some of the low germination. Is the AeroGarden worth the price? I still haven’t formed an opinion on that.

The Burpee kit was a disappointment to work with (poor quality) but it did have a better germination rate and it is very inexpensive to get started with. There’s probably better nutrient and lighting options that may improve the results but I wouldn’t buy this kit again due to the low quality.

Here’s what I’m going to do to get better results – I’ve purchased a new seed starting kit (refill) for the AeroGarden that has new growth sponges and nutrients. I’ll sanitize the AeroGarden unit and replant with the new kit. For a comparison, I’ll use a Jiffy seed starting kit (similar to the one linked). I’ve used these Jiffy kits in the past with decent results, plus the quality is much better.

Next post I’ll give an update on what’s happening around the property then there will be a series on the chicken coop build. If you have any ideas for seed starting method comparisons I’d like to hear it, future plans include soil blocks and traditional methods. Until then, keep on planting!

 

Seed Starting – AeroGarden vs Burpee

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This weeks post is another product comparison – my favorite kind of posts. The purpose of the comparisons is to help find the BEST way to do something, in my case that means the highest success rate with the least amount of work. Other factors may be considered, especially when the outcome is close but for the most part it’s all about the results vs effort.

Seed starting is something I’ve always struggled with, to date I haven’t found that magic system that just seems to work with almost anything. I compensate by over planting everything, maybe this is just normal but when I see youtube videos and other blog posts with nursery type results I just scratch my head. What am I doing wrong? Quantity over quality still wins out, I manage to produce plenty but it seems to take a lot more effort than it should. Will one of these solutions be the magic? Lets find out.

AeroGarden Seed Starting System

The first contender in this contest is the AeroGarden Classic (mine is an earlier version with CFL bulbs) along with the AeroGarden Seed Starting System.

AeroGarden Seed Starting Kit

I’ve wanted to try this system for quite some time but haven’t due to cost – until I found this combo deal at the local flea market for $20. The AeroGarden main unit was in very good condition and the seed starting kit was unopened. Here’s what the seed starting kit looks like once opened:

AeroGarden Seed Starting Kit contents

Basically this is a styrofoam tray that sits in the AeroGarden water reservoir and holds the seed starting sponges in place.

AeroGarden Starter System Instructions

The kit also included an instruction pamphlet and four packets of nutrients. This is where I had the first “uh-oh”, the nutrient packets looked partially crystallized. No telling how old this stuff is. Well, no stopping now.

AeroGarden Seed Starting tray in place

I set the foam tray into the AeroGarden as a test fit, you can see how it sets in and what the sponges look like once removed. The setup is real easy, all that’s left to do is set the sponges in, add water and nutrient packet, and add seeds.

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit

The second contender in this competition is the Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit.

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit

Why this kit? Well, if you can see the price tag in the corner it was on clearance at Tractor Supply for $5.29. They had the 36 cell kit priced higher, this kit contains two of them. What a deal! Here’s the kit opened and the peat pellets distributed:

Burpee Peat Pellets

Notice anything? A little lacking in quality control, there’s a pellet missing in the bottom right corner. The kit also includes a clear lid for each tray. The instructions are printed on the wrapper but they do include an identification sheet that you can fill out to track what is planted where.

Burpee Seed Starting Kit contents

And finally, the tray with lid attached:

Burpee Seed Starting Greenhouse Kit assembled

The Seeds

For this comparison I’ve put together a somewhat random assortment of things.

ag-vs-burpee-10
Parsley and Basil
ag-vs-burpee-11
Eggplant and Tomatillo
ag-vs-burpee-12
Sage and Wolfberry

I wanted to get an idea if either of these excelled one particular type of plant, plus I haven’t started any Wolfberries yet so why not give it a try?

The Setup

Setting up the AeroGarden was quite easy. As I mentioned before, it was a matter of adding water, nutrient solution, putting the sponges in the holes, and adding seeds. One modification I did make, half of the holes were covered up and not used. I did this to give a little more space between plants plus it made the total count (36) the same as the Burpee tray. Easy!

AeroGarden set up and ready

The Burpee tray was also easy, just add water and let the pellets expand into the cell. They included a little tool (wooden stick) to mix them up a bit. Here’s the results:

Burpee peat expanded

Yes, what you see is a mess. Some expanded a lot, some barely at all. What gives? Here’s a look at some of the size difference of the pellets (I had spares from the other tray):

Burpee peat pellets

That’s a pretty big difference, especially when you compare the expanded results. Lets see if the instructions say anything about this.

Burpee instructions

So, they’ve got themselves covered. Well, good thing I had a whole extra tray of pellets, I guess this 72 cell kit (with 71 pellets) is really around a 55 usable pellet+cell kit. Once I got everything balanced out and pretty level it was pretty easy, just add seeds and water. I’ll be placing this under an LED grow light that is on for 16 hours per day.

ag-vs-burpee-24

Although the kit is sitting on a heating pad the heater is not turned on. It’s plenty warm here in central Florida, no need to add heat now.

The Results

Ha- just kidding. The results will be the next blog post, the comparison is complete but I didn’t want this post to get too long. Here’s my observations so far:

  • The AeroGarden kit is old, not sure if the nutrients are still good
  • The Burpee kit suffers from poor quality control, shouldn’t affect seedling growth

I won’t make you wait a week for the results, look for them in a few days. I’ve got a lot going on here and there just hasn’t been much time to dedicate to the blog. It’s all good stuff, there’s a lot going on with the property but I’ve also got some family things and my day job takes priority. Until next post, keep on planting (seeds)!

 

 

 

Using a Plant Cloner

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Plant cloners are an easy and fast way to propagate many types of plants, anything that can grow from cuttings is a good candidate. Plant cloners are basically sprinkler systems inside a box that keep the stems and eventually the roots of the cuttings moist with nutrient rich water. The cuttings get exposed to water, food, and air so the success rate is high. Here’s a short video showing what goes on onside the box:

I’ve put together this post to show the basic cloning process, how to clean the cloner, and what you need to get started. For the demonstration I’m using Cranberry Hibiscus cuttings, they grow very quickly in the cloner.

Setting Up the Cloner

The first step is to set up and turn on the cloner. This is easy to do, basically you put the pump and spray bar inside, fill with water and nutrient solution, then place the top on and fill the top holes with cloning collars. I’ll show these parts in the second part of this post where I go over my cleaning method. Plug the cloner in, place in position and we can now add the cuttings.

To prepare plants for cloning, take some cuttings from a healthy plant. I’ve found that larger cuttings work better than small, I try to get them around six inches in length. Here’s eight Cranberry Hibiscus cuttings that I’ll use for this demonstration:

Cranberry Hibiscus cuttings

Trim off most of the leaves, I just leave a few of the smallest ones on. If it is a fruiting plant then cut off any flowers and fruit.

Cutting with leaves removed

Dip the end in the rooting gel:

Dip in rooting gel

Put a cloning collar around the stem. I leave about an inch to inch and a half on the bottom for roots.

Cloning collar on stem

Next, place the cutting and collar into the cloner. It doesn’t matter where you put it, I like to space them around to give some room for growth. The colors of the collars have no significance other than for identification of cuttings.

First cutting in cloner

Just a side note here, since I use my cloner outdoors to take advantage of the natural sunlight it also runs the risk of filling up with rainwater. To solve this I drilled holes around the edge just above the top collar holder. If rainwater collects in the top it now has a place to drain instead of leaking down into the cloner.

Rain water drain in cloner

Here is the cloner with all eight cuttings randomly in place:

Cloner with eight cuttings

Nothing left to do but wait! My cloner is located inside a tomato cage (formerly a dog pen) and is shaded by larger plants and shade cloth over the garden. This works well and I don’t have to worry about a light and timer. It sits on a couple of concrete blocks and the extension cord and plug are elevated off the ground to avoid water.

Cloner location

Cloning Progress

This sure was easy, right? Now if you’ve followed the blog you know I like to show results, so let’s check in and see how these cuttings are doing.

Here’s a top view after exactly one week, you can see each cutting has at least one large leaf now:

Cloned leaves after one week

And the roots. There’s definitely some progress here:

Cloned roots after one week

These cuttings would probably do just fine transferred to pots at this point, but let’s leave them in for another week and see how things so.

Second week , leaves are looking good:

Cloned leaves after two weeks

They’ve made a lot of progress! How about the roots?

Cloned roots after two weeks

At this point they need to be removed and put into pots or other growing medium. Can you believe this is after just two weeks? Cranberry Hibiscus is probably the easiest plant I have cloned and it’s always been 100% successful with no loss. Tomato and other vegetables take a little longer, around three weeks and have been about 75% successful. Here’s a mix of the plants just cloned and a few from a previous batch that are ready for whatever comes next (probably a Craigslist giveaway):

Potted plants after cloning

Cleaning the Cloner

I’ve come up with a process that makes cleaning the cloner pretty easy. The first thing I do is run it as-is after all the plants have been removed removed but replace the water with a weak bleach solution, about a quarter cup of bleach in the tank of water. Run this for half an hour or more to clean out the pump and nozzles. Once this is done run it again with some clean water and make sure all the nozzles are clear. I use compressed air to blow out any clogged nozzles.

Next, I remove all the cloning collars and drop them into the tank:

Cloning collars in tank

I’ve cut a piece of welded wire that fits into the tank near the bottom, this is placed over the collars to keep them from floating:

Cloning collars held down

Then I use the top to hold the whole mess down. You can use a small bungee cord with small holes near the edge to keep everything from floating up or put something heavy on it.

Cloner ready for claning

Now I just fill it most of the way with water and add some bleach. After about an hour I flip the top over to the other half gets cleaned, when I do this all the collars come floating up but they are already good to go.

Cloning Supplies

Here’s all the items I use for cloning with amazon links to them. Using links from any of my pages before you do your shopping really helps out, even if you don’t buy the product linked to. I appreciate all the clicks and it goes to helping fund future projects 🙂

Here’s the cloner I use, the Clone King 36 Site Aeroponic Cloning Machine.

Nutrient solution and rooting gel, buying them together saves around $6.00: Hydrodynamics GLCMBX0016 Clonex Clone Solution 1 Quart Rooting Gel, 100 ml Combo. These two go a long way, I’ve used my cloner about a dozen times and both bottles are still half full.

I highly recommend getting and using a cloner if you do a lot of propagation by cutting, the one I chose was due to size and plant spacing. You could build one yourself, it’s probably not worth the trouble since they are fairly inexpensive. If you do build one it doesn’t eliminate the need for rooting hormone or nutrients although there is probably less expensive alternatives, I prefer to go the easy route.

Next week I’ll show some more progress on the fence clearing, it’s not going as fast as I’d like due to weather and an insane amount of poison ivy. I’ve also got another comparison going on, this time it is for starting seedlings. Until then, keep on planting!

 

 

Dragon Fruit Support – version 2

Back in February I wrote a post about building a dragon fruit support, then posted an update on their growth in June. What I didn’t show at that time is I’ve also planted a few random dragon fruit plants in the yard that are growing up palm trees instead of the supports. I thought they may really like the palm trees since the palms are fibrous and easy to grab onto with the dragon fruit air roots. This has worked well and sparked the idea for this project.

Dragon fruit growing up palm tree

The dragon fruit in the picture above is about seven feet high, one interesting feature to note is the segment length of the last growth. The segments growing on the other supports are at most two or three feet long, the one on this palm tree is about five feet. The disadvantage of this is that the dragon fruit plant will keep climbing the tree and the fruit will be unreachable without a ladder. How about combining the palm tree with a support frame?

This project involves cutting down a palm tree and using it as an upright support for the upper frame like from the other posts. I already have two extra upper support frames built so I won’t cover that here.

The first step is to find a victim, I mean volunteer palm tree. There’s plenty of these at Three Acre Paradise, I planned on thinning the palms out over time as other trees become established. The volunteer needs to be healthy and vertical, as a bonus the one selected is in a place where I need to get some more light through for some new plants. First step is to cut off the upper section, let’s begin by cutting a notch out to control the direction of fall:

Palm tree with wedge cut out

Next, start cutting on the opposite side just above the notch. I took a picture of where the cut is then continued cutting until I heard the tree creaking:

Palm tree backside cut

And boom! The tree fell exactly where expected. This was an easy one since the tree is very straight and there was no wind. If I wasn’t this confident I’d use some ropes to control the fall and the tractor to push it over.

Palm tree felled

I cut it a little high knowing that it wouldn’t be clean, one more quick cut and the top is straight and level.

Palm tree top cut level

Next is to cut an X into the trunk to set the support top in to. This was a little bit of a challenge, the palm trunk is very fibrous and can’t be knocked out like a hardwood notch. I used the saw to cut as much as possible including at an angle to loosen the remaining pieces.

Notching palm tree stump

Once the cuts were made I used a hammer to smash down the remaining fibers.

First palm notch cut

Next, the cross cut to form an X. Turns out I had to make all the cuts a little deeper than what was done on the first pass. Here’s the result:

X cut into palm tree stump

Now for the test fit of the support top:

Test fit of upper support

All good! The top sit pretty tight and level but it still needed to be secured better. I used the palm pieces that were cut out as wedges and drove a couple of heavy nails in to make sure it stayed put. The result is very secure, if there is rot or shrinkage over time it should still be OK as the dragon fruit will be draped over the top by then and will be  weighing it down.

Nailing and wedging support into palm trunk

Here’s a close up of the scraps wedged in:

Scrap wedged into palm trunk

The final step, planting the dragon fruit around the base. I had four plants that were already rooted so they should grow pretty quickly. I mixed in a lot of Black Kow with the existing soil, this formula has worked well in the past.

Dragon fruit planted around palm trunk

Here’s a shot of the whole thing:

Dragon fruit and support

I don’t like to waste any material including trees cut down, for palms I cut the trunk into pieces to use as markers for new planting areas. The top will be left to rot in a mulch pile. To cut the trunk I use the tractor to support it off the ground:

Tractor supporting palm trunk

Then cut the trunk in to various lengths, between eight inches and two feet.

Palm trunk pieces

Besides being great border pieces, they also become home for insects and plants. In this picture they are around a newly planted Jamaican cherry:

Palm trunk pieces as border

I’ve got high hopes for this batch of dragon fruit, besides the palm trunk the location is similarly shaded like the other grouping that is growing well. I’ll post updates of all of them in a couple of months and hopefully there is some flowering by then.

The chain saw I use is a battery powered on by Echo, model CCS-58V4AH. Most of my lawn tools are the battery powered Echo series, they work great except for the pruning saw extension (it’s not recommended for the battery powered model but I tried anyways). I was able to make all the cuts shown in this post on a single battery charge although I do have a second battery for backup.

Next week I’ll show a neat way to propagate plants using a cloner. I’m always open to suggestions for future posts, if you have any ideas or want more detail on anything I’ve done please let me know. Until next time, keep on planting!

 

Pigeon Peas and Fence Clearing

Last week I mentioned how well the Dragon Fruit was growing, this week I want to add another great plant to the list. In addition, I’ve started clearing the fence line for the remainder of the property. This will help with the three main goals I had this year: level and fill, fence the whole property, put in the electrical and irrigation infrastructure.

Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Peas (wiki) are a perennial legume that fit in well with food forests (and permaculture) environments. They are heavy producers once established and will continue to re-seed to keep the population going. There’s a lot of benefits to this plant –  they are a good food source, beneficial to the soil, can provide shade and wind break, and can be used for animal food.

When I first started planting these over a year ago they had a really slow start. The plants only grew to about a foot tall then seemed to stop, much like these pictures of some more recently planted ones.

Pigeon Pea juvenile plants

They did provide a few pea pods, maybe 3-4 per plant. After the pods dried up and dropped, the plants really took off.

Pigeon Pea mature plants

The plant on the left is about four feet tall, the one on the right about seven feet. I’ve read they can get to 12 feet tall, these seem on their way and are bushing out quite nicely. Once they start providing a new crop of peas I’ll post an update. Also, you can see some of the land leveling going on around this planting area.

Fence Clearing

This week I’ve started clearing the west property line for the wildlife fence (see Upcoming Projects). This is going to be a bit challenging, it is pretty overgrown bit in addition I don’t want to clear beyond my property line.

Overgrown fence line

There is actually an old fence in there, mostly barbed wire that has fallen apart but also a chain link section the neighbors put up years ago. Even though the old fence is useless as far as fences go, it is serving a couple of purposes. First, my property survey has these identified so I can tell where the property line is (it’s not right where the fence is, the fence wavers across the property line). Second, since I am technically repairing the fence there is no permit needed so I save a few dollars and don’t have to deal with the county.

Rotted fence post

I never really paid much attention to the property line on the survey, it turns out the chain link fence is actually well on my side. I’m an easy going guy so I’ll work with the neighbor on replacing or moving this, the challenge is that the house next door is for sale and currently vacant. It was bought by a house flipper so I doubt he cares to put any money or time into this, maybe by the time I’m ready to put the new fence up the new owner will be living there.

Chain link fence looking south

In the picture above you can see my orange marker on the south end, my property is on the left and the neighbor on the right. On this side I’ve got about a foot, the north end is a foot and a half. I’m putting more solid and visible pipe in as I go so it is clear where the line is:

Chain link fence north end

In this picture my property is to the left and neighbor to the right. The chain link fence is heavily damaged so something needs to be done anyways, also I’d like it to be taller to match the fence I’m putting up. We’ll see where this ends up.

Here’s a neon green lizard I spotted while clearing:

Bright green lizard

I though that was pretty cool.

I got the front section cleared out without too much trouble, the back is a lot longer and has some challenges. The one that will slow me down the most – poison ivy. When I bought the property and started clearing in 2013 I had never really been exposed to poison ivy. The result? A few months of downtime due to spending a day pulling it out of trees. Here’s a picture of my leg at the time:

Poison Ivy on leg

Ouch – I can still remember what a tough few months of recovery that was. I got both legs and arms pretty bad but luckily nothing on my chest or face. If you are working around poison ivy get some of this – Mean Green Power Hand Scrub – it’s the same as a lot of the very expensive washes and works great at a tiny fraction of the cost. Use it to wash your hands and body parts after any potential exposure and it will wash the oils off. I wish I had found it sooner, it took weeks of research. Also, I eventually threw out all clothing that had potentially been in contact or was washed with contaminated clothing.

Back to the clearing, here’s how the front looks where I ran a string line and pushed back the old fencing (my property on the right):

String line along property border

And here’s the beginning of the back clearing. I haven’t gotten very far, this will probably take a few weeks or even months. There’s a lot of poison ivy, although I though I had eliminated it from Three Acre Paradise it has heavily grown along the untamed jungle along the border. I’m using a long pair of needle nose pliers and a trash bag to pull Poison Ivy first, then coming back through with some loppers to find the old posts.

Property line clearing

New Plants

I’ve got a few new plant additions for Three Acre Paradise this week, I’ll try to get them planted and some pictures up by next week. The list of things growing here on the blog  is getting pretty outdated so I need to give it some attention, I’m also tying to add pictures to the actual plants growing here to every page.

Upcoming fun stuff – using a plant cloner, Aerogarden vs Burpee Seed Starting kit, generator hookup panel installation, and chicken coop build. I’d like to make two posts a week but there just isn’t time, at some point I’ll be more organized and faster at this so then it will be a possibility. Until then, keep on planting!

 

Plant and Seed Exchange – Success!

When I started Three Acre Paradise one of the ideas was to host events (such as a plant and seed exchange) on the property that would encourage others to work towards similar goals of self sufficiency. Why do this? If we leave it up to corporate farms then we will lose many varieties of vegetables and herbs in favor of those that are easily harvested and store well for shipping. A lot of the best tasting and most nutritious fruits are not machine friendly or preserved easily so we are stuck with growing our own or settling for what the grocery stores will stock. We are also becoming overly dependent on the distribution system, a minor breakdown of any part could cause mass disruption (such as a trucking strike or exorbitant fuel prices). I’m not a doomsday prepper but I see a lot of value in staying connected with one of our most important needs, the fuel that feeds us.

 

Plant and Seed Exchange

The original plan was to start holding events in 2019 but recently I have met several people who said they wish there was something happening now. In May I started a meetup group for homesteading, the first event was to be a plant and seed exchange to be held here on the property July 1. The attendance turned out to be higher than I originally anticipated, we had a total of around 12 people show up (I expected half that) and had a good variety of plants.

Various potted plants

Besides the various potted plants, I set up a table for seedlings and seeds along with supplies for taking them home such as envelopes and markers (seeds aren’t visible here).

Seedlings and seeds

What’s the point if you can’t sample some of the goods? Since I grow a lot of peppers there was plenty to share. Nobody was brave enough to try them here but a lot got taken home.

Variety of peppers - Jalapeno and Thai Hot

If you are in the Brevard County, Florida area the next exchange will be in September. A date hasn’t been set yet but you can join the meetup group here.

Dragon Fruit Update

The dragon fruit which I originally wrote about here is doing fantastic. Keep in mind these were planted from cuttings around 9 months ago, they have reached the top of the frame and are starting to branch out. The top of the frame is just about six feet tall so the most aggressive plant has grown at about a foot a month, the others are just behind it. I do have a second frame that is doing good, just not as good as this one. The main two differences seem to be that this one is partially shaded and the soil a little dryer.

Dragon Fruit support

Here’s another picture of the top where you can see the plants are branching out:

Dragon Fruit branching

I’d say this has been the fastest growing perennial plant on the property, I do have another one that has exploded in size (Pigeon Pea) but I’ll save that for a future post. The Dragon Fruit has not fruited yet, hopefully this will happen within the next few months.

Fabulous Iced Tea

OK, now for a product pitch. If you made it this far you may as well continue! One of my goals is to stop eating out so much. We love eating from the land but old habits die hard. There’s also the challenge of my job, it requires a lot of travel so I’m on the road and don’t have any alternative but to eat at restaurants.

That being said, I still like to eat breakfast out every morning. Maybe it’s because we don’t have fresh eggs (chickens aren’t laying yet, the last batch got killed last year by dogs). Maybe I don’t like to clean up a mess, more likely it’s a combination of things. One thing I did figure out, since I’m not a coffee drinker I need my morning caffeine in another form which is iced tea. I’ve made iced tea at home but it just never seems to be as good as the tea from the local diner, at least until now.

Introducing ….. drum roll … the Glass Iced Tea Jug from FORLIFE (they use all caps).

FORLIFE Glass Iced Tea Jug

Yes, it is expensive but so is eating out. There’s several advantages to this over my old method of a tea ball into a pot of water. The tea strainer has tiny holes so the leaves do not leave it (pun intended). It also holds the leaves underwater so they all get to be part of the brewing. The glass is high quality, you can pour boiling hot water right into it. The strainer is easy to remove with it’s chain and hook. The bottom has a nice no slip silicon cushion and the top has a similar one with an opening for the spout.

Tea strainer closeup

My formula – 1 tablespoon of black tea leaves, add boiling water to just over the top of the strainer. Let sit for 20 minutes, remove strainer and fill with water to the FORLIFE logo. Add a spoonful of sugar and stir, since it’s still hot it will dissolve quickly. Pour over ice, put remainder in fridge. Viola! I have tea for the day and it tastes great.

Coming Up

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I’ve got some more good comparisons coming in future posts, many of these are around seed starting. Since they are just being started I’m not showing anything yet, I’d rather make the first post about each once there’s some results to show. In addition, I’ll be posting a series about my chicken coop build and improvements, it’s still a work in progress as I want to add a run and garden near it but the main coop is pretty complete. I’m always open to new ideas, if you have a suggestion for a comparison let me know.

If you are in the Brevard County or central Florida area consider joining the meetup. If you aren’t interested in exchanging through a group and would like to just trade one on one get in touch. Keep on sharing!