Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Project - Building a Hop Yard for 2015


The experiment with 2 "Nugget" hop plants went well and I have ordered 4 more plants of a 2 different kinds. I ordered 3 of Centennial and 1 of Liberty. But these plants as you know take up a lot of space! Last year the 2 that I grew in a container, grew over 20 feet long up to my 2nd story deck. Here is a picture of them hitting the roof of my patio over my deck, which is elevated to my 2nd story..
They kept climbing after that even!
So I am taking the back hill area right by the house and making it into hop yard. But of course, I don't have the time or money to make it like a commercial one so I have to do a bit of "reuse" and "re-purpose" to help me out. Here is the hill now..
You can see how steep it is, so that is a problem for walking on it. But it makes it pretty good for planting hops because you train the vines so that it works with the slope, and you can get to the hops easier. They don't have to grow straight up so if I train them to go up and the take a 90 degree angle into the slope of the hill, they will be much easier to get to for picking.
Challenges? Lots..
1- To be able to plant them I need to build some kind of terraces and I don't have the money to go out and have a landscaper do it. So I am going to use some of the material around the property, mainly fallen trees... 
2- Soil is horrible so I will need to amend that.. got some straw bales rotting already to help with that task. I will have to buy some dirt I am sure.. but that usually isn't too much
3- Support for the plants needs to be tall and strong. Poles that are used commercially are 4 inch rounds that are pretty hefty and pricey. I am going to use tree supports and eye hooks with braided wire between them. Then just twine going to the ground train the plants up. That way when the season is over, I can take it all down and clear the area so that no one trips.

To build the terraces, I decided to use something I have a lot of, fallen trees. First they were cut and then I had to bring them up to the house..
My ATV does this well..
I still need more of them but started on it anyway to get an idea of what I would need to do. As with all projects that involve the garden, the first step is to dig... 
Started digging a shallow trench to hold the branches

The purpose of the trench is to give you a stable place to start building the wall
This will then be just like a Jenga puzzle... trying to fit the pieces together so that they hold without much in the way of stabilization. I do have some rebar and other things that I can use to help with this and since the dirt will be heavy I am going to have to use something.
Start laying the largest pieces in the trench. 
 Then it becomes a trial and error thing, what works on top of this log or that log.. etc
2 levels up.. I may need to go up more.
So this is how it is starting.. as usual seems simple enough but the devil is in the details. I do know that the more people I tell about growing hops the more people are getting excited. The craft brewing phenomenon is growing and people really are chasing high-quality, locally grown hops. This actually good be the item that I can use to move up here permanently.. 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday 1/17/15


It is an interesting morning today. When I woke up today there were some high clouds and I could see the fog down in the valley. As the morning went along, the fog started creeping up the hills towards me. I was talking on the phone to my mom for 30 mins and watching all this happening out my window. Right now, at 9AM, I am completely fogged in... so instead of running out to kill weeds and tackle the yard, I decided to write a quick blog post. 

You know you live in the country when you see this on the highway down about 2 miles from your house..
On Highway 49 down from my house
And best of all, when you open the cooler there are the eggs and the money box... it is an honor system! You put your money in the little box and take your eggs... can you imagine this in the city? Not only would all the eggs and money be gone but so would the cooler! For people who have never had local eggs like this it can be a shock because they are not perfectly clean and all the same size.

They don't match and I like it that way.
This is how you know they are from a hen in someones yard and not from the store, they have little pieces of saw dust or dirt on them.

Finally, yesterday there was a magnificent sunset that I had to stop and take pictures of to share with you.

Sunset on Hwy 12/26 - Friday 1/16/15

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Small Projects - Leaky Toilet Fix


My new toilet in the hall bath has had a little leak for awhile and no matter what I did I couldn't stop it. Worse, the slow drips leaked down to Nick's room and caused damage on the wall! So we were worried that it was worse than we could see and I was very concerned about the cost to fix it.

First - we had to look at the water damage in Nick's room. Here is what I saw went down to his room.

Paint is sagging down and that isn't right.. 

Close up
We went in and cleaned out that paint bubble and it isn't bad.

Not too much damage
We will just need to patch and repaint this spot which makes me happy! The toilet was pretty funny... I knew where the leak was happening but my dad still wanted to do the food dye test.
What is that? Well you put a lot of food coloring into the tank of the toilet and see where the water comes out. So your toilet water looks like this...
Finding the leak by dying the water and looking for a green leak
We found the leak and replaced a washer that was missing. We were pretty sure it was fixed but we did it again with red food dye.
Checking our work with red dye
We got it fixed really quickly which was nice. Next time I go up I will fix the damage in Nick's room. 
Other pictures....
Fox on my driveway during the day which is unusual

Left side my mom's oranges which were watered and the right side are my oranges which barely got watered over the summer. You can see that water makes a difference!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Greenhouse 2014 - Wrap-up post for the year

Happy New Year!

The greenhouse  and aquaponic system were the dominating projects for my house this year, so I thought I would do a recap of the things I did and the lessons learned.
At the beginning of 2014 the greenhouse looked like this..
No roof - no solar - no fish - no plants

Lesson #1 - Catfish may be "tough" but they are also sensitive!
I found a great local supplier of all sorts of fish and bought 2 groups of 25 catfish for my tank. Unfortunately the first group died in 1 week due to being overfed and the water not having enough oxygen.
The 2nd group died in 24 hours because the tank water level got too high and they all jumped out.... mass suicide. 
I couldn't face going back to the fish farm for the rest of the year so I just bought a bunch of cheap goldfish who are now 5 to 6 inches long and super fat! I will try again early in 2015 with edible fish.
Goldfish I paid 25 cents a piece for are doing great!
Lesson #2 - Solar is harder than you think it will be or should be!
My solar kit that I bought from Amazon works really well, it is just that putting it all together with the batteries and the inverter and the timers and the pump and the airpump is a lot more difficult than you think.
I started off with 1 battery and a small inverter to power everything but that quickly got to 6 batteries because the storage overnight wasn't lasting long enough.Then the first inverter blew up and I to get another one. The 2nd inverter was much bigger but stopped working a couple of months ago.The whole thing is plugged into my house electricity via a long extension cable which is not what I want!
Turns out - the solar panel was the easiest part of the solar system!
Lesson # 3 - Building materials need to stand up to the climate
I spent so much money on the framing and solar system that I didn't have much left for the material to cover the house. Thankfully, I still had the thick plastic sheeting we used when we tried to build the hoop house. (The hoop house experiment was my first try at a greenhouse. Nick built it for me but it was too light for the winds that come up the hill.)
The plastic sheeting is great but it really didn't stand up to the intense sun and heat and wind.
Early in the year... it was fine as you can see from this shot in April.
April - all plastic in place on the roof and sides.
But by mid-summer the intense heat started to take it's toll on the plastic.
Tear in the roof plastic
So then when the stapling failed I used the blue tarps to cover the pretty much redneck roofing... 
Blue tarps covered the roof
Eventually, Dad and I were able to get the roof put up with a polycarbonate panel that worked really good.

Lesson #4 - Plants love this stuff! (Well almost all plants..)
I just lost the tomato plant last week when the first freeze hit on Dec 29th. I have kale and lettuce growing in there now, but with a lot less plants than during the summer because the fish don't eat as much when it is cold.
The leafy greens did fantastic, but the vining plants like melons or squash really didn't do anything. Since it was a drought and I had so many restrictions the only plants I grew this year were in the greenhouse and they did well. Although I think my first head of lettuce cost about $800....
Here are some late season plants... I mean bell peppers for Christmas are kind of amazing!

Next up for the greenhouse is to finish the sides with poly-carbonate and a door to replace the front ... and find someone to help with the solar!

Storm damage..

All in all, this has been a great project and I really will be using it this new year. I will try again with catfish and maybe a larger tank and try to find someone who can help with this solar issue...

Happy New Year!