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!

 

Hurricane Storm (Warning) Preparation

A Hurricane is Coming!

Last post I went through my hurricane pre-season checklist, this post focuses on what I do once it looks like we are directly in the path of a storm. The pre-season list is pretty generic and can be used by just about anyone with maybe a few changes, the pre-storm list is a lot longer and more specific for my situation. That being said, it may still be helpful and I hope it at least encourages others people to get a similar list together. Having a list such as this takes a lot of pressure and guesswork out of the process, once I’ve completed the items I can feel confident we are ready and I can focus on helping others get ready (family and friends).

When you create pre-season and pre-storm lists be aware they are starting points and will probably be revised as they are put into practice. I’ll present this one like I did last post, in numerical order and plus a summary at the end. The order of this one is important, I do things that have the least impact and disruption first and they are the easiest to undo (if required) if it the storm takes a turn away from us.

The List

1. Get cash

If you don’t already have a cash stash on hand then this should be the first thing, get to the bank or ATM’s before everyone else does!

2. Stock up

Although I’ve already stocked up on most things pre-season, this is the time to grab some  perishable items. We normally have enough food on hand for a couple of weeks but since there’s the possibility we may be hosting and feeding a crowd it’s a good idea to grab  extra. We’ve got the basics covered so these are things that are normally not in high demand before  a storm. The cover photo for this post is one I took last year of the Gatorade aisle at a local store, luckily that’s not something I’m looking for now. The items I get: meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes. I’m not worried about losing power to the refrigerator or freezer so these will be safe. I also stock up on dog, chicken, and pond food if we are getting low just in case the stores are closed for a while after the storm. The last thing on the list is salt for the water softener.

3. Fuel all vehicles and generators

This is another one to knock out pretty early on, lines at gas stations are only going to get worse and some may even run out of fuel and close. I make sure the cars, boat (can be siphoned for extra fuel), lawn mower, tractor, and generators are all fueled up in addition to all the fuel cans.

4. Start charging all devices

Charging can take a while, it’s best to start early on. The devices to charge are battery banks for phones, weather radio, gmrs radios, cameras, rechargeable batteries, and drone.

5. Put batteries in all lights

I store all the flashlights and stationary lights without batteries to prevent corrosion issues, this is the time to put the batteries in. I’ll leave them in for the remainder of the season then take them back out after the chances of a hurricane have passed for the year. See the Hurricane Season Prep post for my flashlight recommendations.

6. Put water bottles in freezer

I’ll put around a dozen water bottles in the freezer, these will be used in a cooler as one of the last get ready steps.

7. Wash all laundry

This may take a while so best to start ASAP. If we end up on generator power for a few days it will not be able to power the dryer. It could run the washer but there won’t be any hot water.

8. Fill water softener salt tank

Water filter system with salt tank

Since we are on well water we have a water softening system which consumes salt. I’ll top this off now so it’s not something I’ll have to think about for the next few weeks in case we are busy with clean up activities.

9. Clean up yard, secure all loose items

Patio chars and table

Everything on the list to this point is either pretty easy or something that doesn’t have to be undone if the storm changes direction. The remainder of the list becomes a lot more work to undo so I wait until we are about 12-18 hours from seeing storm force winds. Cleaning up the yard and securing loose items is done to keep potential losing these items or having them become flying debris that could damage the house or a vehicle.

10. Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position

Deep cycle battery and charger

I put the fueled up generator and a spare fuel tank as close to the running are where it will need to go but it will still be protected. When the time comes to use it I just have to wheel it outside, hook up the power cord and sire it up. The battery and inverter are placed near the main TV in the house and flashlights are placed in their designated locations (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen). By the way, the Battery Tender float chargers are a great way to keep seldom used batteries (in or out of vehicles) in ready to go condition.

11. Move plants

If a planter can be fairly easily moved I put it in the garage or workshop for protection. I’ll move the most valuable first and if time permits I’ll move some of the others after everything else is done. An EarthBox loaded with soil and water is around 80 pounds, they aren’t going to blow away but the plants could be damaged.

12. Take down sun shade(s)

Shade cloth over garden

I’ve got sun shade cloth over the main garden, this has to be removed or it would act like a big sail and lift the whole frame. The pipe frame is weighted down with concrete blocks so that is left set up.

13. Remove exterior lights

Exterior pineapple light with glass

I take the glass off of all our outside carriage lights and hanging porch lamp since these are expensive and hard to find replacements for. I also remove the bulbs, when I reassemble these it’s a good time to clean them up and put some dielectric grease on the bulb threads. This is something that is smart to do on all bulbs and electrical connectors, especially outdoors.

14. Remove porch fan blades

Porch fan with removable blades

Very important! If you have fans on an outdoor porch you may want to keep this one in mind. My fans have blades that snap off pretty easily so it only takes a few minutes. I’ve seen many cases where fans blow around and either get damaged or damage the ceiling above them.

15. Put up storm shutters

Metal storm shutters on side of house

At this point we are pretty sure we are getting hit by some bad winds. These are a bit of a pain and take a few hours but are probably the single most important thing to do. If the storm doesn’t look like a bad one I’ll leave the porch shutters off but nearby so they can be put up quickly, if it’s a strong storm I’ll put them all up now. Here’s an additional picture of the porch with shutters installed and fan blades removed. We left one shutter panel off so we could see outside and get a little light in the house.

Metal storm shutters installed on porch

16. Put secondary water hose in place

Garage utility sink

If we can’t fire the generator up right away then we have no water, one of the drawbacks of having a well. I’ve got a secondary well that has natural pressure (artesian) so I run a hose from that well head to the utility sink in the garage and keep a bucket nearby. The spigot is opened but I put a valve on the end of the hose so it can be turned on and off at the sink. We have drinks already covered, this is used to manually fill toilet tanks.

17. Stage drinks and snacks to coolers

Igloo Polar Cooler (120-Quart, White)

This is the final item and done as the winds start picking up. Remember those frozen water bottles? They go in big coolers along with some ice and a variety of drinks. These are for use while power is limited, once the generator is up the refrigerator and freezer can be used again.

The Brief List

Here’s the same list in short form without comments:

  1. Get cash
  2. Stock up – meat, milk, salad mix, potatoes, dog food, chicken food, pond food
  3. Fuel all vehicles and generators
  4. Start charging all devices
  5. Put batteries in all lights
  6. Put water bottles in freezer
  7. Wash all laundry
  8. Fill water softener salt tank
  9. Clean up yard, secure all loose items
  10. Place flashlights, inverter, and generator in get ready position
  11. Move plants
  12. Take down sun shade(s)
  13. Remove exterior lights
  14. Remove porch fan blades
  15. Put up storm shutters
  16. Put secondary water hose in place
  17. Stage drinks and snacks to coolers

The Wait

The hard part is over, now is the time to wind down and relax. Hurricanes are mostly boring, if there are really high winds they usually only last a few hours. It can be hard to sleep with the wind howling outside so we usually end up watching TV or sitting around with a cold drink in hand.

We’ve been lucky, Three Acre Paradise is protected very well by a lot of trees. These aren’t just the ones on the property, most neighbors also have dense canopies over their yards. In 2016 we sat in the garage with the door open during the brunt of hurricane Matthew, in 2017 we didn’t put the shutters on the porch and stayed there for most of hurricane Irma. That’s not to say we couldn’t get a much more dangerous storm but I’m pretty confident in staying put for anything up to a category 4 storm and possible a 5. Evacuation would be difficult, there isn’t many ways out of the county and history has shown those routes get jammed up very quickly. I’d prefer not to join that mess and make it easier for people who have to evacuate to be able to get away (beachside communities, mobile homes).

If you find this useful please let me know, I don’t have an after storm checklist but if there’s interest I can put up my thoughts and what we have done in the past. Until next post, stay safe!

Hurricane Season Preparations

Getting Prepared

Hurricane season is here! I’m going to share my seasonal preparation list, this is the things I do at the beginning of the season. It’s a great feeling to know I’m ready when the warnings are given for this area, I don’t have to run around and scramble to find last minute supplies or hope the generator runs. Being prepared really doesn’t take much time or effort, just run through your list at the beginning of the season then a pre-storm list when warnings are given for your area. I’ll present the tasks I do as a numbered list with notes about each one. I’ve also got Amazon links to a lot of the products I use, I own and recommend every one of these with the exception of the cheap flashlights, as noted I get free ones from Harbor Freight tools.

The List

1. Fill all gas cans

I actually don’t have to run out and fill a bunch of cans since I keep them topped off all the time, If you plan to do this then come up with a way to keep the fuel fresh. What I do is put a colored tie wrap (zip tie) around the handle of the gas can – a different color each year. 2018 is yellow, when I use the contents of a can then I fill it up, place it back in storage with a yellow tie wrap around the handle and pull out a can that has not been filled this year. If I haven’t changed all the fuel near the end of the year I put the remainder in the vehicles and refill the cans. For additional protection I add a fuel stabilizer, this one for gas and this one for diesel and have never had a problem with stale fuel.

2. Fill propane tanks

Just like with gas cans, I try to keep these full all year. Propane has the advantage of not going bad, it can be stored indefinitely as long as the container does not leak. If you have multiple tanks as I do you may want to be careful how you rotate them, the tanks can only be filled for 12 years beyond their inspection date. After 12 years you have to pay to have it re-certified which may be more than the tank is worth. I always have them filled, not exchanged, as it is a cheaper and the tank will be filled all the way. The exception is if a tank is getting close to expiration I’ll do an exchange. One more tip, remove the plastic wrap your tank has one, it will cause the tank to rust very quickly. If you don’t have caps for the valves and you want a good way to track which are full then look in to using safety plugs.

Here’s my overkill method for storing fuel:

Fuel storage rack

It’s a propane storage rack I got off Craigslist.

3. Fill and test generator

I’ve actually got two generators now, one I bought in 2004 and a larger one that was on clearance at Sams club a couple of years ago. The older one has a Subaru engine and has worked flawlessly every year. I’ve used it for more than just power outages, when my house was being built it came in handy for running power tools.

STOW G-4.5R generator

When I saw the clearance deal at Sams it was a no-brainer – a 5.5 Kw generator that also had a Subaru engine for around $200 (the old generator is actually 3.7 Kw, not 4.5 as the label says).  At the beginning of hurricane season I take the generator out, fill it with gas, and run it under load for around half an hour. It’s nice to have a spare to loan out but even nicer knowing I’ve got a backup.

20 amp plug

Up until last year I used a 20 amp circuit to backfeed electric to the house, last week I finished installing a generator hookup panel. This installation will be shown step by step  in a future post, as well as the pros and cons of each method.

4. Test 12v battery / charger / inverter

A generator is great once the storm has passed but what do you do when the lights go out and it’s too windy go outside? I keep a spare 12 volt deep cycle battery for this purpose, it’s mounted in this trolling motor case to make it somewhat portable. I use this 600 watt inverter with it to power the TV and a few lights, we avoid opening the refrigerator until the storm has passed (drinks have been staged into a cooler).

5. Check battery stock

This is simply making sure there is enough fresh batteries for the flashlights and radios. These are kept separate from the everyday supply to ensure they are there when needed. After hurricane season passes they are moved to the everyday use bin.

6. Stock up on toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, cups, plasticware, foil

There is a possibility we will be providing refuge for 10+ people so I really don’t want to have to be washing dishes on top of everything else. Paper for everyone! And who wants to run out of toilet paper? I keep a case of each of these off to the side, after the season passes we return them to everyday use. Sams club is a great place for this (or Costco if you have one nearby).

7. Check tarp stock

Tarps do go bad! At least the cheap ones do, I still like to make sure I’ve got a decent variety of sizes available and that they are in good condition. Sometimes they get loaned out and not returned, when the roof is leaking that is not the best time to find out.

8. Stock up on food

I’ve got a shopping list for this plus some long term stores that can be used if needed. For the items that are replaced annually, be sure to buy stuff you like and will eat. I’ve refined my list over the years to include things that keep well and that will get used up post season.

9. Trim trees

Three main goals here. One, cut down branches that could damage structures or property. Two, remove branches or trees that could fall on power lines and three, cut down dead or dying trees or limbs that could become flying debris.

10. Check radios

This includes weather radios, Family Radio Service (FRS)  and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios. This is just a quick functional check of these radios. The FMR and GMRS radios are great for keeping in touch with friends or family members, if you go this route then I’d suggest making a laminated card with instructions for whoever else may be using it. FMR radios are pretty simple but also limited, GMRS are a lot more usable but require a license (easy to get) and a higher learning curve. You could also look into an phone app such as Zello for keeping in touch but it does require an internet connection.

11. Check first aid kit and expiration of medications

To me this is one of the most important things. Last year I cut my foot pretty bad during a hurricane, this came in very handy. If you keep medications, even the over the counter variety, make sure they have not expired and replace if so.

12. Trash bags

I keep a full box of the heavy duty contractor bags on hand. These aren’t just handy for post hurricane cleanup, if you have a large group like we may then the trash can pile up pretty quickly. Remember all those paper plates we stocked? The link provided is an example but you can probably get them cheaper locally at Home Depot or Lowes.

13. Check emergency lights

This is more an inventory exercise to make sure all lights are present and accounted for. I remove batteries from most after the season so there shouldn’t be any corrosion issues. My lighting plan is simple, a portable flashlight for each group (couple, family, etc) and a stationary light for each room (one per bedroom, bathroom, great room, and kitchen). For portable flashlights I like these Dorcy lights  since each group can have their own color and they are extremely durable. You don’t need an insanely high powered light for walking around the house and yard and the batteries last a lot longer.

Dorcy flashlights

I use two different types to stay stationary, these Energizer lights and these Streamlight ones. The only reason for using the two types is the deals I got at the time.

Stationary lights by energizer and streamlight

I keep one other primary light, this Streamlight is a powerful spotlight that does double duty on the boat when we take it out at night. This is a very bright spotlight so I only need one. In addition to all the lights mentioned, I keep a supply of cheap lights around such as these (or use the free Harbor Freight ones, that’s what I do). I consider them throwaways but it’s good to have extras for kids or to just leave around.

The Brief List

I hope this list is helpful, here it is in a condensed form:

  1. Fill spare gas tanks
  2. Fill propane tanks
  3. Fill and test generator
  4. Test 12v battery / charger / inverter
  5. Stock batteries
  6. Stock TP, PT, paper plates, cups, plasticware, foil
  7. Check tarp stock
  8. Food stock – see shopping list
  9. Trim trees
  10. Check radios – weather, walkie’s
  11. Check first aid kit, check expirations of meds
  12. Trash bags
  13. Check emergency lights

Other Considerations

One other thing to note, I keep a lot of nails, screws, ropes, wood, and other building supplies on hand at all times so those are not included in my checklist but may be something for you to add if they aren’t readily available. Also, I’ve got pre-made metal hurricane shutters so those are ready to go at any time and don’t need to be inventoried.

Next post I’ll run through my pre-storm list, this is the one I go through if it looks like we are actually in the path of a storm. This list will be more specific to my property but the goal here is to give you some ideas, not necessarily provide a ready to use list for your own use. After that I’ll get back to some plant updates 🙂

 

 

 

Mulch-R-Us and Flea Market Find

Tonight’s post will be pretty brief, it’s been almost two weeks since my last post so I wanted to get something up and try something new.

Flea Market Find

First up, I’ve seen these a few times in the past and have been tempted to buy one but the price is a little steep. It’s called an AeroGarden, basically a self contained hydroponic system with lighting built in. They are primarily designed for people who don’t have much space but that’s not my purpose, I want to use it for starting seeds. They actually make a seed starting accessory for the system, basically smaller planting pods but a whole lot more of them in the same amount of space. Well, last weekend I found one at the local flea market for $20, and this included the seed starting kit! I’ll report back how well this works once it’s up and running.

Aerogarden bargain find

Mulch Delivered!

Last post I mentioned that a land clearing company had contacted me about bringing a bunch of tree chippings to the property – for free! How can I turn that down? The property is not ready for the bug mulch job that is planned once fencing and infrastructure are completed but hey, sometimes you have to take things when they are available.

Well, I’m happy and sad to say they did deliver (pictured at top of post). I’m happy because they did bring a lot of material for free. I’m not so happy because it was really low quality, more like tree chunkings rather than chippings. The chips are large and will take a long time to break down. A lot of it is mixed with dirt, this is a good thing as it is topsoil scraped from the land they were clearing. I’m sad because they wouldn’t deliver it to the back yard where I wanted it, they were afraid of their trucks getting stuck due to all the rain. They did deliver one load to the back, luckily this was actually the cleanest load so I’ll leave it in place to spread out as a path at a later time.

In total I got 10 loads, or around 200 cubic yards of material (I cut them off after this). My Kubota tractor has a 1/3 yard bucket, maybe 1/2 yard when I overfill it since the mulch is fairly light. This means it will take around 300 trips back and forth to move the chippings/mulch/sludge to the back, some will remain in the front. This is the reason for the late post – I still have around 40 yards to move but should be done by this weekend.

Here’s something new, my first video within a post! This is just a 10 second clip, it’s a video of one of the piles as I pull material from it. The material has started composting already and it is so hot it is smoking!

Next post I’ll be going over my hurricane preparations, with the crazy weather we have been having the last few years I’m hoping this may be useful for someone. Until then, stay dry!

Fencing, Dragon Fruit, and Grow Bags

This week I’m featuring three completely unrelated topics plus a bonus! The rain has finally eased up a bit although we still get an occasional shower but it’s nothing like the previous weeks, good thing so the fence installation could go on schedule.

The fence coordination required me to be around, I had to schedule it around work so it was a good thing everything went smooth. The installation company did a good job, I had confidence in them since they included a lifetime warranty. This part of the fence is just across the front of the property and goes forty feet back per side, the remainder will be a wildlife field fence.

fence_01

The installation included concrete at every post, that was a pleasant surprise. I went with the vinyl rail fence as it should last a long time, the lifetime warranty reflects their confidence in it. The gate across the driveway is aluminum, future plans include adding electric gate controllers (next year) and decorative columns (who knows when).

fence_02

It would have been nice to carry this around the whole property but that is cost prohibitive, also it really doesn’t offer any animal control so the front will have a secondary fence behind it to keep our dogs in. I’m not worried about deer getting across this as they tend to come in through the back where it is more wooded.

fence_03

Next topic – Dragon fruit (Pitahaya). Back in February I posted about the Dragon fruit holders that were built and installed in November 2017. It has been right around 7 months since they were planted and most of the plants are around 6-7 feet in length now and growing at about a foot per month. They are just at the point of going over the frame so it is starting to look nice and filled in.

fence_04.jpg

Once these branches grow over the support by about two feet it will be time to start pruning, this will encourage branching and new growth. As pieces are removed they can also be planted to get more plants started, I figure each support can handle six to eight plants. I’ve started using old cut up jean strips to support the branches, this helps prevent damage as it spreads the contact across a larger area.

fence_05

Now for the grow bag update, this is from the EarthBox vs Grow Bag Challenge. Once it was evident the EarthBoxes were way ahead of the grow bags and there was no catching up I decided to double the amount of water the grow bags were receiving. That turned out to not really matter as the sky also decided to open up for a couple of weeks so there has been plenty of water. Here is the EarthBox as it stands today:

fence_06

A lot of fruit has set in and I’ve harvested a few peppers from the plant on the right. Here’s the state of the grow bags:

fence_07

They are growing, but still far behind the EarthBox ones. In fact, they are still way behind where the EarthBox ones were a month ago. What about the tomato planted in 100% cow manure?

fence_08

It’s still the worst of the bunch. I really thought this one would do better.

Now for a bonus, I’ve been looking for good summer greens that grow well in the hot Florida weather. I’ve got a few that are working pretty good but this one has really stood out. It is growing in an EarthBox, in fact it is growing so well it has smothered the other plants that were in there. I have harvested it multiple times, it makes a great leaf vegetable for salads and is also good cooked like spinach.

fence_09

This is New Zealand Spinach. The plant you see has been cut down, harvested, and abused and it is still growing like crazy, it’s about 4-5 feet in diameter. This is one plant. If you are looking for a very productive hot summer leaf vegetable then give this one a try.

This coming week may be interesting, I’ve had a land clearing company get in touch with me and say they can bring several hundred cubic yards of tree chippings (for free!). This will be a huge leap forward in getting the soil built up, if it happens I’ll post some pictures next week.

One last quick note, if you are in the Brevard County, FL area I’ve started a local homesteading group, this will include at least a quarterly seed and plant exchange meetup. The details can be found at the link, I hope to see some people who follow the blog there!

Space Coast Gardening and Homesteading

Melbourne, FL
3 Members

This meetup is for people who want to become more self sufficient by reducing their dependency on commercial resources. The primary focus is on growing and raising our own foo…

Check out this Meetup Group →