Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Burnin' Stuff is Awesome" - Me

So what does our family do without television? We have bonfires at the neighbor's house drinking wine, roasting marshmellows, and talking into the early, wee -hours while the dogs run about.

The boy went to bed sticky and exhausted while we looked around for more things to burn keeping the night alive.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In honor of the previous post with the words "Grow Lights" in the title, I figured one entitled "Herbage" only made sense. Let's just keep up a theme here! It won't last long since a post about Peas is coming and I don't think I can tie peas into illicit drugs in any way. For now, however, we have a new herb garden and I'm very excited.

When I first began cooking for Jules, it became apparent very quickly there would need to be a revamping of the bachelor food he had been producing for himself. I would say 'cooking' but microwaving cans of cheese glop and frozen mini pizzas doesn't really count.

The problem arose because there were no spices in his house. Not even garlic or pepper. To be fair, there was an overgrown rosemary bush (which looked like an octopus) and some french lavender growing in the backyard. He didn't know what they were, but they were there. These were all well and good, but I'm slightly in love with garlic and definitely lustful of thyme. Chives make me a bit giddy and basil pleases just about everyone. A quick trip to the local warehouse/discount store and little transplants were purchased. All was lovely in spice land.

Then we got the dog.

Guadalupe went psycho on the octopus rosemary bush. It was established enough to not even blink an eye at the crazed dog chewing. She trampled the parsley to death. She did repeated run-by stompings of the bay laurel until it gave up as well. She pooped on my thyme plant. The dill seedlings didn't have a chance. Somehow the sage pulled through and the chives held out. Both were stoic enough to hold on for a few years now and have gotten so large that the dog doesn't bother them. We moved the original garlic bed into a raised bed hoping to deter her. She still gets overly excited about neighbors pets or squirrels and leaps onto the tender shoots.
Sometimes I envision what a nice purse Guadalupe would make.
Then she reminds me how ridiculously weak I am.

How could anyone strangle this face?!

I don't think I could really pull off a fur purse. Not quite my style. The dang dog is too cute and spoiled well loved to become a wardrobe accessory. Something else needed to be done and a taser is too expensive. We decided to go with the much less child-scaring method of creating a herb garden out front where the dog is not allowed.

The plants all look so much happier in the full sun of the front yard and the protection the backyard gate allows. I am much happier as well. So much more space, so much less dog! A secondary bed is going to go in just beside the herbs housing medicinal and useful plants. Good food, good medicine, and household cleaning YAY!

Soapwart, Pennyroyal (for insect repellent, not abortion), Feverfew, and Eyebright shall soon be gracing our front sidewalk with their pretty flowers and added benefits.

Now I get to keep my snuggle buddy and have two boxes of incredible herbs out front. Mommy is very happy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Homemade Grow Lights

Last year, I attempted some seed sprouting. Hah! It was quite a significant failure. I figured that the seeds could do it all by themselves in the Spring time, why couldn't I do it inside. After all, they knew what they needed to do.

Well, yes. The seeds sprouted beautifully, then got really leggy and died. This year, we kicked it up a notch and put the seed starting squarely in the hands of The Barracuda. He gladly gave away his television in trade for being able to sprout our seeds.

Humbled by my complete failure, I began to read up. "Leggy" is what they call my dead sprouts. This means that the stem is too long and the plant gets top heavy. As the seed strains for light, it is undernourished and doesn't produce secondary leaves. Dead Plant.

The remedy is simple: more light. LOTS more. Complete, all-encompassing, intense light submersion. This is what grow lights are for. They give the plant strong light so that it doesn't have to over-extend itself. This makes for a strong stem, early secondary leaf production, and a really hearty start to its little life. All that light also warms the soil allowing the seeds to sprout sooner, also yielding larger plants when it is time to put them outside.

I had heard of grow lights, but figured them to be extravagantly expensive. I thought they were fancy lights with special seed starting capabilities which mimicked super specific sunlight conditions. Um, no. They are just lights. Normal, right out of your bedside lamp, lights. Completely normal, only they need to hang down REALLY close to the plant. Determined not to kill things this year, it was off to Home Depot.

The entire set up was $40 and puts out 300 watts of light. This was more than enough for our seed tray. By purchasing swankier light bulbs (which made us look even more like we were growing illicit drugs) the output could have been 450 watts. The energy efficient light bulbs were by far the most expensive part.

There are three parts to making the grow lights. Each is simple, straight forward and easy enough for even someone like me to pull off without a trip to the emergency room. Keep in mind this was what worked for us.The design could easily be modified to fit a production either larger or smaller than ours. Just remember: For every light, you need one clamp.

The Platform
1 board any size that is large enough
1 1/8 inch drill bit and the drill to go along with it
1/2 inch drill bit
4 3/4 inch U pipe bends
A hammer

Set the board down and line up the lights as you would like them to be. Trace the outline of ht lights and cut the board to fit, creating a rectangle.

Use a ruler to find the middle of each light and mark it with a big X.

Place a 1 1/8 inch drill bit in the center of the x and drill your hole for each light.

Click on the images to enlarge

Remove the U from 4 U-bends (Keep all the extra parts, you’re going to need them).
In each corner align one of the U's facing down about a ½ inch from the edges. Now, whomp the U bend really hard with a hammer to make the impressions of the legs. Using a ½ inch drill bit, drill holes straight through the board where the impressions were made. Pound the U bend through the holes (it should be really tight) with the help of a hammer and secure with nuts. These are the brackets from where you will suspend the grow lights.

The Platform is done!
The Clips
The left over pieces from the U bends
The 2 remaining intact U bends
6 1/4 inch bolts

The clips are what hold the lights in place, but also allow you to easily adjust the height to which each individual lamp is raised. This is helpful when you have multiple varieties of seeds you are trying to start. Celery, for example, takes up to three weeks to germinate. The lights need to be extremely close to the soil for the entire time. If you are growing tomatoes in the same seed tray, they germinate in a week and need the lights to be raised when they sprout. By using the clips, the platform can be raised for tomatoes, and one light can remain lower for the celery.

Take apart the remaining 2 U bends. Set aside the U's as you do not need them.

Slip 2 of the flat pieces from the U bends onto two 1/4 inch bolts and secure with nuts.

You will need one clip for each light, so adjust amounts accordingly.

With those pieces assembled, you are now ready to construct the rest of the grow lights. Take the clamps off of the aluminum lights. They usually unscrew very easily. Thread the power cords of the lights up through The Platform, making sure the arch of the U’s is facing the ceiling. Fix one Clip to each light’s cord as close to the base of the board as possible. The Clip should fit snugly, but not pinch or cut the cord.

Click on the images to enlarge

You can now hang your completed grow lights wherever suites your house. In our house, an old end table replaced our son's movie television and now houses the seed starting. He is very proud of his "grow lights" turning them on every morning when he wakes up and off every evening before he goes to bed. It is the a great way to teach our son responsibility without too much by way of disastrous consequences. Secondly, science couldn't be much more hands on. Not only is the seed starting a great addition to our household, but a great addition to homeschooling as well.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Riot For Austerity: Electric

The average United States consumption of electricity is 11,000 kilowatt hours per year. That makes for approximately 900 kilowatt hours per month. One tenth (the Riot Goal) would be 90 kilowatt hours per month.

Our family used 619 kWh this last month (or 33 days as our electric company calculates it). Well over goal, but well under average.

February is our largest energy consumptive month for two reasons: one, the sun has not quite yet decided to come out and two, seeds. We start our seeds indoors around early to mid February in order to have any decently sized tomato plants by March/April planting time. Most everything we grow can be direct seeded into the ground in our mild weather, but tomatoes just don't work. Seeds need 12 hours of direct, intense light a day and that makes for quite the energy consumption (even with energy efficient light bulbs).

The second major change which happened this month was saying Goodbye to our old green refrigerator. Old Greenie was AWESOME! She was a 1950's Westinghouse. Avocado on the outside, turquoise and white on the inside. The color fit for our kitchen couldn't have been any more incredible. She was small but with a built in butter dish, individual egg cups in the doors, and stainless steel racks and drawers she was definitely overstocked in the character department. She fit right into our fifties house and everyone (except Jules) loved her. What is more, we saved her from a landfill by purchasing on Craigslist for $50.

Old Greenie has been retired now and recycled through a local NGO. The thirty dollar rebate we receive from recycling her just makes her stay with us that much more enjoyable.

No, I am not without the practicality of realizing that a refrigerator from the 1950's is most likely not the greatest for energy consumption. She hogged power like nothing else and had to be manually defrosted at that. I was willing to have such a nice novelty as period appliances when there just wasn't the $1,000 to drop into a new refrigerator. However, tax time has rolled around again and Uncle Sam decided to donate to our Get an Energy Efficient Fridge Fund in the form of my tax return.

The two men who came to deliver our fridge were great guys. Moreover, they were incredibly strong guys!
That's right! They lifted this giant fridge by themselves! Strapping on their "human dolly" as they called it the two of them made very short work of hoisting our new appliance inside as if lifting a fridge by hand was what they did all day long (it actually is what they do all day, but it was still really impressive.) Jules and I stood back in complete wide-eyed wonder.

Our new fridge is now so large that both Jules and I stand back and stare at it. There is still a feeling of amazement whenever we walk into the kitchen. I can fit in the freezer without being very uncomfortable. It is just gigantic compared to Old Greenie. There are four gallons of milk in the door. Four gallons! This was Jules major issue with Old Greenie; she was just too small. By shopping only once a month, a small fridge can be a bit hard.

With the state and federal rebates for our fridge (and the incentives from Sears) the cost to us was only about $500 in reality. We won't see that money until next tax season when we cash in the rebates, but it is coming back. What is more, the entire fridge and freezer cost only $50 a year to run. I don't even want to think about how much less power that is than our old fridge!

With all hopefulness, the 68% of United States Average consumption we are currently using will drop to 40-50% by April and be as low as under 10% by the summer. Jules is looking into solar panels for the roof and the new washing machine is on its way over Monday.

This year of Rioting is more about showing us the places where our energy is going. It most likely won't be until next year that we are actively living under the 10% line. However, that is the horizon we are moving to slow and steady.