Saturday, July 10, 2010

Watching Hummingbirds

We put up a hummingbird feeder perhaps a month or more ago.  We've attracted just the occasional bird to it but recently the food really went quickly.  Today, my wife pulled me to the window showing me two feeding away.  I grabbed the camera and tried my hardest to get a good shot.  Inexperience with the relatively new camera certainly didn't help.  If I can get a shot into focus, there will soon be hummingbird photos.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

webOS vs Android: Which would you choose?

Cell phone upgrade time is upon me again and I need help deciding.  I have Verizon Wireless and will not be switching (they have the closet tower by my house, maybe half a mile away).  I'm caught between going with an Android phone like the LG Ally or the webOS powered Palm Pre. 

Budget is a concern.  I'm not going to spend $300 on a Droid X especially since I don't believe anything that large is remotely practical.  Likewise, $200 for an old Motorola Droid seems unreasonable given its age.

Future proof is a concern too.  I want decent specs that won't worry me.  The Ally runs a processor that supposedly won't be included when Adobe Flash is released.  HP bought Palm so I'm mostly at ease there but without any real future plans from the HP/Palm crowd, should I be concerned? 

So please weigh in.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Green Building Materials

If you're looking at building a new home or renovating the one you have, you can green it up with any or all of these...

Roofing Materials
These are available in recycled rubber and polymers that similar to slate. These are lower maintenance and lighter than conventional roofing.

Counters and Showers
Using glass and concrete mixed together gives your counter top or shower surround or even floors a beautiful but durable finish. Concrete is of course a fairly heavy material so make sure its well supported.

Random Compost Advice

Definition
In simplest measures, composting is the method of turning organic wastes in usable soil. While one can get highly scientific about creating compost, this is my quick and dirty guide to making easy compost (the compost is, however, not so quick).


Pile It On
Start out with whatever yard wastes and kitchen scraps you may have. This can include leaves, grass, all fruit or veggie scraps, or even twigs. Pile all this together somewhere in your yard that won't even your neighbor (it shouldn't smell but your neighbor may not take to seeing kitchen scraps outside).

Turn It
Turning the compost pile provides necessary oxygen for the bacteria in it that's working to break down the pile. You need not frequently turn it. Some people only turn it once or twice a year. Others never turn it. I try to turn mine at least once a week. The other option is to drive a PVC pipe down the middle or the pile to encourage air circulation.

Raised Bed Gardening

A quick search of "raised bed gardening" will bring up a basic list of its fundamental advantages... Loose soil, warms sooner, less maintenance, better drainage. Those are all fine and dandy. Perhaps you have other reasons. Significantly raised beds are easier to work. Just imagine being able to sit down and work the beds instead of bending and reaching, hurting your back?


Regardless of your reasoning, building the beds are simple. My own photos will be coming online as soon as my project is done. My personal garden this year (as I've just moved and am starting over) will consist of twelve beds measuring four feet by eight feet. I am also using some reclaimed lumber from my parents' deck. Since I'm on a budget anyway, the beds will initially be just 5-6 inches tall as the boards from the deck are only roughly 5.5 inches wide. To summarize so far...

  • Beds will be 4' Wide x 8' Long x 6" Tall
  • Beds will be held in places with four corner stakes made from 1" x 1" lumber
  • Lumber used is reclaimed decking (previously pressure treated but at 15 years old, I'm not too worried)
  • The sides are 1" x roughly 6"
To fill in the beds, I have extra top soil on hand. Many suggest cutting and removing sod but instead, I would turn it over. This will kill the grass and add more organic material to your beds over time. This is also handy if you're just starting out and don't have any compost yet. If you don't have any topsoil on hand, it can be bought by the bag (and you will need many many bags just for a few beds) or you can obtain good topsoil from many nurseries or hauling companies. It should at least be dark and rich looking, loose, and contain few if any rocks. You will need to fertilize or add compost/manure to this over time anyway so while starting with good soil is important, it isn't impossible to improve it. This all depends on your budget and needs.

For more detailed instructions, try Lowe's Creative Ideas website. They also have a video how to.

My Project
One of the main reasons I need to build raised beds is the massive water problem in my yard. The area is heavy thick clay and retains water badly. My plants would drown. See the photos of the standing water (1 and 2) and my foot in the middle of it (1). The raised beds are getting the plants out of the water.
Materials and Specs
  • Lumber
    Do not use pressure treated wood for vegetable gardens. Nix railroad ties too. Unfortunately the chemicals found within them will leach into the soil tainting your food. Try cedar or redwood for rot resistant lumber.
  • Blocks or bricks
    Cement cinder blocks and bricks can also make fine beds. This is a more permanent solution though. I have also read about chemical issues on cement but honestly, I doubt it. Its a rarely raised issue.
  • SizingFigure out what you can comfortably reach, either sitting or knealing, then determine your bed size. I made my beds four feet wide so I can comfortably reach everything inside without walking on it. Some people make beds five feet wide and yet others only go two or three feet. Length is only limited to what is convenient for you.
  • SoilSggestions here can vary. I prefer to go with a no dig method. This means that once the soil is in place, it is only minimally disturbed. This saves the soil structure (quick version: over time bacteria begin to grow in the soil and this is beneficial to plants, digging the soil disturbs the bacteria). No dig has been found to improve harvest yields no only in home vegetable gardens but also in large scale agriculture. The other route that some suggest is deep digging. This is digging up the initial twelve to sixteen inches of soil before adding anything to your frame. If you really wish to do this, I suggest waiting a season. Growing in the grow for a season will actually loosen the original soil and make it easier to work.
The Down Side (well maybe...)

Moisture

If you're in a poorly drained area, raised beds make sense. If you live in a fairly dry area, the beds can actually dry out faster. This is not always the case as raised beds often lead to closer planting which encourages better moisture retention.

Instead of building raised beds, you can invert them in dry areas.  By double digging and removing the soil, then replacing only half, you create a depression where water will naturally go.

Tomato Advice

Tomatoes are perhaps one of, if not the most, popular plants to grow. I have compiled a list of tips to try; many I do myself.
Sun
Its no more basic than this. Lots and lots of sun makes great tomato plants. They can grow in shady spots but the results will not be satisfactory.

Soil
Dark, crumbly, loamy soil is the best. If you have thick clay, work in straw or compost to loosen it (and in time, this will substantially improve all your soil anyway). Adding manure also works.

Planting
There's usually two routes: deep or long. By deep, I mean planting so that the more of the plant is actually below soil level. This lets the plant absorb even more moisture deeper from the ground. Plus the plant will develop roots along the stem allowing it to feed better. The other approach is to dig a shallow trench and lay all but the top part of the plant in it covering it with soil. Be sure to remove leaves from the buried portion though. This has the same effect as the deep dig method without the strain of a dig hole.

Fertilizer
In good soil, skip conventional fertilizers. Instead try adding a couple tablespoons Epsom salt to the soil before planting. Epsom salt adds magnesium which tomatoes love. Try this for peppers as well. Also try adding crushed egg shells to the soil. The calcium in egg shells helps to prevent disease.

Suckers
I'm not talking lollipops...I'm talking about the small sprouts that suck nutrients from the fruit. There are two approaches to these. First, you can leave them alone. Other wise, pinch them off. Pinching them off allows the nutrients to go directly to the fruit and leaves. On the other hand, the suckers do shield the fruit somewhat from the sun and helps prevent sun scald. I prefer to leave the suckers alone simply because I have other things to focus my time on.

A Fresh New Start

Here I Am
For those who have followed me (you poor poor souls) from one site to another, I think I'm settling on Blogger for all the many amazing features it sports.  The Google integration is handy for me, the mobile posting will be great from the garden, and the overall customatization will allow me to really enrich things. 

I'm sorry Wordpress.  You were quite wonderful.  Google Sites...  Well, I'm not sure you ever knew who you were.  But dear Blogger, I think you have hope. 

Eventually, everything will be migrated here.  I have the Muddygeek.com domain registered through Yahoo from some strange reason.  Then I have a Muddygeek.com Google Apps account (who wants a muddygeek.com email?).  Plus two different Google accounts.  Jeez, there needs to be an easier method to bring all of my Google life together. 

What Now
Muddygeek has been about reconciling my desire to live a more natural organic life outside with my love of gadgets and technology.  Sometimes it feels silly to be texting from the garden.  Then again, I don't think that people will transition to a greener more self sustainable life without being able to bring along their toys. 

I digress.  My focus is still to post about my struggles and decisions.  Maybe seek some advice while I'm at it.