Thursday, December 22, 2016

Journal - Using a trail camera for bird photography

Yeah, I am digressing from hydroponic gardening with this post, however, I thought I would share a technique that I recently tried.  The technique is to capture wild birds without much effort on the photographer's part using a trail camera, sort of letting them take selfies.

Oh, and yeah, I have a few hydroponic projects going on, but the olive trees are taking up so much room in the basement I am very limited.

On to bird photography, another pastime to occupy my retirement hours.  Instead of sitting outside freezing my butt off in the cold I decided to use my Stealthcam trail camera to photograph birds, automatically.

In order to accomplish this I purchased an inexpensive set of close up lenses on eBay.  As I recall they were about twenty dollars, delivered. 

In order to have a natural looking environment I scoured the woods looking for a tree stump that I could cut a depression in to hold something to attact the birds.  Next, using one of Ava's elastic hair bands, I attached a close up lens to my trail camera and set if  for photos.

After a few days of using the stump to feed the birds I found that they would feed from it even though I was moving it around the property trying to select the right background.

For the photos I found that a #2 lens at a distance of 20" gives excellent results, but you should experiment if you decide to try this.

Below are photos of my setup and results.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Journal August 14, 2016 - Olive cuttings in sand

The olive trees are enjoying our very hot summer outdoors on the deck; so much so that I am going to have to prune every one of them before I can think of returning them to the greenhouse this fall.

Somewhere I had read an abstract comparing the success rate with olive cuttings with various media.  According to one abstract,  the best success rate was obtained using simply sand.

As I am lightly pruning the trees anyway, I decided to try a few cuttings using sand as the rooting media.  This of course is an ideal time to take cuttings with the trees actively growing. 

Four cuttings were struck, dipped in rooting hormone and placed in moist sand exactly one month ago on July 14, 2016.  A dome over the cuttings maintains a high humidity level,  while the heat mat provides essential bottom heat.  A 150 watt multi-spectrum LED grow light with a photoperiod of 16 hours is being used for this trial.

As of today, not a single leaf has dropped from any of the cuttings, so all is looking well at this point.

The Arbequina olive tree had six olives at the top of the tree that were turning purple, so I decided to cure them in brine as a test.  To debitter the olives they were soaked in water that was changed twice a day for three days before being placed in the brine.  A slice of lemon, some red pepper flakes and fresh thyme was placed in the brine to flavor the olives.  A thin layer of olive oil was poured over the brine before the jar was covered.   They have to cure until early September and I am really looking forward to tasting them.

The cucumbers and tomatoes that were growing in the greenhouse are finished and have been removed.  The greenhouse will be cleaned in the next few days and made ready for the olives and figs in the fall.

This was the best season ever for greenhouse tomatoes though.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Journal July 19, 2016 - Greenhouse Harvest

We have already had several tomatoes from both the garden and the greenhouse.  The greenhouse tomatoes are much much larger than the garden tomatoes; so much so that I have had to remove some of the fruit before it ripens to prevent the weight from pulling the truss from the plant.

The taste of a tomato still warm from the plant brings summer to life for me.  After the season I most likely will not eat another tomato until next season.  I don't know why they even bother to grow greenhouse tomatoes during the winter.

As I think about it, if I can grow fantastic tomatoes in my greenhouse, why the hell can commercial growers not grow a comparable tomato in the winter?  The answer must be: money, of course.

The above photo illustrates why I am growing only tropic tomatoes in the greenhouse.  After several years of trying other varieties I have found that tropic works best for my conditions.  Still, today a man gave me seeds from Italy, so I will start a few next year for the garden and see what they are like.

Another batch of dill pickles is underway in the crock, and, I also have four olive cuttings planted in just plain old builder's sand.  

So far the cuttings look fine, while the sand should definitely eliminate fungus gnats, as there is no organic matter to sustain them.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Journal June 12, 2016 - Growing mushrooms on coffee grounds continued

The oyster mushroom kit shown in my May 21, 2016 post got moldy, so I threw it away.  It really was not worth the purchase price, as we did not even get enough mushrooms for a single meal from it.  

Coffee grounds with some of the mycellium from the culture vessels also became contaminated.  It may be that using corrugated may not be the way to go, even if it is autoclaved.

That said, I purchased a 10 gram bag of natural organic grain colonized with oyster mushroom mycellium on eBay for $2.95.  The grain was placed in used coffee grounds on May 18, 2016, and yesterday I found a tiny oyster mushroom cluster beginning to form.  By clicking the photo to enlarge it, the mushroom is visible above the letter d in the watermark.

Today I filled a quart jar with sterilized coffee grounds and placed a single piece of mycellium covered corrugated in the jar.  A coffee filter, sterilized with alcohol, was placed over the jar to allow air exchange.

This whole process is beginning to be more trouble than it is worth, but it has been a learning experience.

ps The photo below was taken 24 hours after the photo above.  Now the mushrooms are growing as quickly as I expected mushrooms to grow!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Journal June 2, 2016 - Tropic tomatoes

The tropic tomatoes are almost at the top of the supports, so soon I will have to terminate the growing tips.  As a comparison, the garden tomatoes, planted the same day, are a little over a foot tall.

While the garden tomatoes have golf ball sized fruit, the tropics have pretty good sized fruit.  

Even the red bell pepper plant in the greenhouse is much larger and more advanced than the plants outdoors.  

Protected growing working its magic.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Journal May 21, 2016- Cucumbers being hardened off.

The cucumbers for the greenhouse and garden are being hardened off in the greenhouse.  This year I will be growing Little Leaf in the greenhouse and Straight Eights outdoors.

Today I put together a fruiting chamber for the mushrooms.  It is simply a container with moist perlite on the bottom.  There is a glass jar with water in it and an airstone being fed by an aquarium pump.  The objective is to keep the humidity above 90% and the temperature in the mid 70s F.  For lighting I will be using a 6500K grow light, plus a blue LED grow light with a photoperiod of 16 hours.

The coyote continues to visit the trail camera on a regular basis now.  I don't know when it sleeps, as it is photographed late at night and during the day.

It has some competition in so far as a Fisher, also called by some a Fisher Cat, also drops by.  The Fisher. a member of the Martin family does not take fish, and is not a cat.  The Fisher has no enemies other than humans, so it goes about its business with a confident John Wayne swagger.

Now that I know these critters are hanging around the trail camera I never go there anymore without my friend Sam Colt.  There are several of them that the camera has captured, with this one being the largest so far.  It is plainly as large as a German Shepard, but I doubt it will come wagging its tail to lick hour hand.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Journal May 19, 2016 - Tomatoes Flowering and setting fruit

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are flowering and setting fruit, so they are taking in a lot of water.  Today I connected the waterlines to the large tank to automate the watering process.

Also, I planted the garden tomatoes, only this year I have covered the soil with black plastic to control weeds and retain warmth and moisture.  Can't wait to see how this works!

The first bloom of oyster mushrooms will be just about ready to pick in another day or so.

In just this short period of time mycelium is forming on the sterilized corrugated that I placed in the tissue culture vessel.  The book I received from the library says that as long as it is white, everything is OK, any other color and it is contaminated.  Sterilize, sterilize, and sterilize some more.

 I read that mycelium will continue to form as long as it has cellulose to consume, so I intend to transfer some of this batch to another vessel with sterilized corrugated and try to keep the process going.

The inoculated grain I purchased on eBay has been placed in used coffee grounds that I sterilized and vacuum sealed.  For the fruiting stage I am simply using a pastry container from the supermarket.

When we went for ice cream last night we asked the girl at the counter for used coffee grounds, so I have another batch to process.  At this rate the mushrooms will cost practically nothing at all to grow.

If this process works, no one will be more amazed than me!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jounal May 15, 2016 - This and that

The annuals were placed in the ground yesterday, but they had already begun to bloom while still in the greenhouse.  It was so nice to see flowers after the long winter, that I could not resist urge to take a few photos.  From top to bottom: Zinnia Pulcino, Dwarf Dahlia and just a plain old Zinnia.
Needless to say it is frustrating to wake up each morning to find your garden dug up after you  have put so much effort into planting it.  The trail camera was put to use to find out just who the culprits were, and to no surprise it was squirrels.  I like animals as much as the next person, however, these critters are destructive and persistent; there is just no discouraging them.
 The fox family has kits to feed, so I am sure that they appreciated having the squirrels drop by for dinner. There has been no further damage since the culprits had their unfortunate accident while digging.
Last week while shopping at Home Depot my wife tossed a kit to grow mushrooms into the cart.  She says she has always wanted to try to grow mushrooms, so what the heck?  So far, the kit, seen on the right, has done nothing at all.  After doing some research online I decided to give growing them without a kit a try, so I purchased some mushrooms at the supermarket.

We watched a two part video on YouTube about growing them in used coffee grounds.  It said coffee shops will be glad to give  you their used grounds, and sure enough all  you have to do is ask.  They even provided the bags for God's sake!

The  video guy went through a lot of hoopla about getting mycelium to form on mushroom pieces on corrugated that he has supposedly pasteurized with hot water.  Yeah!

This person was stressing keeping a sterile environment, while rubbing his hands on everything and flopping things around on a table. Yeah sure!

This I could not believe: At the end of the second video there is a notice printed on top of the frame that says the process got contaminated and did not work.  Why the hell did he leave the whole video online?  No wonder it got contaminated the way he was tossing stuff around.

Anyway, I have no idea of whether this is going to work, but I decided to give it a try using the sterilization methods used in plant tissue culture.

Corrugated cardboard was cut into squares to fit a tissue culture vessel.

The pieces were soaked in water and the corrugated separated from the paper backing.

After sterilizing  the corrugated, containers and utensils under pressure, I placed small pieces of mushroom into a vessel between alternate layers of corrugated.  All of the above processes were carried out under a sterile hood.

The used coffee grounds have been sterilized and vacuum sealed to prevent contamination.  If, and when, mycelium forms on the mushroom pieces, I will place them into the coffee grounds, in a container sterilized with alcohol.

All parts of this experiment are being kept under cover, as sterile as possible, while waiting to see if  mycelium forms on the mushroom pieces.  I have no idea at all if this is going to work, but it should be interesting.

It would be nice if it did work, as mushrooms grow quickly, and once you have them going you can keep an endless supply coming along.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Journal April 21, 2016 - Tomatoe plants in the greenhouse

The tropic tomatoes have been planted in the auto-pots and placed in the greenhouse for the season.  The valves and water lines have not been installed, as I plan on top watering them for several days until they become acclimated.

Using the wheelbarrow, I mixed several batches of soil to up pot some olive and fig trees, now I ache all over from lugging the bags of ingredients around.  It seems I work harder at this hobby than I ever did when I was employed.

Tomorrow I will start the cucumber seeds for the greenhouse, so I will have to decide which variety I will grow.

This year I will use nylon netting to support the cucumbers in the greenhouse.  It should be much easier to deal with than the poly webbing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Journal April 19, 2016 - Figs are budding.

I noticed this small nodule on the Brown Turkey fig tree this morning and it took a moment before I realized that it was a fig bud.  Upon further inspection I found several more forming on the tree.  Figs are far far easier to grow in a greenhouse than olives, I can attest to that.

Having said that, now that I have had some experienced with olives, and have become familar with their nuances,  I am more comfortable with them.  The tree in the photo is a Greek variety called Koroneiki, it fruits in a few years, is prolific, and makes a very good container variety.  There is an Arbosana tree next to it that is still flowering that may be even more prolific.

It appears as though I am going to have to up pot the tomatoes and annuals, as they are getting too big for 3" pots.  Planting in the garden is still a month away, so there is little choice but to transplant the garden seedlings.  In the next few days I plan on moving some of the olive trees outdoors for the summer,  placing some of the tomato plants in auto-pots in the greenhouse to begin the season.

The trail cam was used to identify the culprit digging up the garlic and onions.  

Having had enough of their destruction, I ordered a humane trap on eBay. In less than a week 14 of these destructive animals have been relocated  far far far away.  The sets have been undisturbed for the last several days, now that the population of varmits has been reduced.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Journal April 8, 2016 - Garden starts

Up until now the garden seedlings have been indoors under grow lights.  The next few days are forecast to be cool and cloudy, so I decided to begin the hardening off process by letting them spend several hours in the greenhouse.

Right now under cloudy skies the greenhouse temperature is 53 with the humidity at 66%.  To avoid damping off  I have been bottom watering the seedlings and keep them sort of on the dry side.   So far, everything looks fantastic.

Last night the temperature was below freezing, but using the mechanical timer set from 8 pm to 8 am the greenhouse remained a comfortable 54 degrees F.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Using Thermo Cube for greenhouse heater

In a previous post I mentioned purchasing a Thermo cube to control the heater for the greenhouse.  Up until recently it has not been cold enough to adequately test the unit, but that changed a few days ago.

Our weather has changed dramatically, with several inches of snow and temperatures well below freezing, both during the day and at night.  The plants were brought back indoors until the weather moderates, so with the greenhouse empty I decided to test the cube.

The Thermo cube was a dismal failure when it came to controlling the heater, while it seemed to work, somewhat, with a small LED light.  My thinking was that the resistance to the electrical current draw of the 1500 watt heater was causing a heat build up in the cube circumventing the thermostat.  When I spoke with one of their representatives, I was told that that was not possible, as the thermostat was bi-metal construction.  

We all know that when an electric appliance is working, the cord and outlet, even the circuit breaker, get warm.  How do they expect the heat caused by resistance within the cube not to affect the bi-metal thermostat?
The above photo shows the cube with just the LED lights which draw a watt, or less.  The temperature is in the thirties and the cube has the light turned on.  As seen in the photo there are two very accurate thermometers in proximity to the cube and circuit.
When the heater is plugged in, the grey cord on the left, the cube turns off in a minute or so, as you can see by the lights.  The test has been repeated several times over the last 24 hours with the results being the same.  Additionally, I have tested two different cubes with identical results.

If you have purchased a Thermo cube and intend to use it to control  greenhouse heating, beware, test it thoroughly before you trust  it.  These tests were conducted with four different heaters: 600 watts, 900 watts, 1300 watts, and 1500 watts.  The published rating on the device is 1800 watts, so all of the heaters were within the device's specifications.

This morning I will be returning the cubes for a refund and will go back to a simple mechanical timer and oil filled radiator for heating the greenhouse.  These have served me very well for a number of years now, so it just proves: Don't mess with success.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Journal March 28, 2016 - Seedlngs for greenhouse and garden

Seeds for both the greenhouse and garden were started on March 14, 2014.  Today I began planting some of the seeds into three inch pots to grow on under grow lights.

Once again I will be growing Tropic tomatoes for the greenhouse, with some in the garden also.  In addition, I planted Celebrity tomatoes for my garden and Ava's garden.

All of the annual flower seeds that I planted were saved from last year's garden, with the exception of Chrysanthemum, Robinson Red.  I had not seen these seeds before and the photo on the package looked very attractive.

The beets were picked today, but I let them get too big and I thought the greens were a little chewy.  The beets themselves, roasted, were delicious!

That is the trouble: in the spring with all of the planting, things get a little out of hand, and somethings get overlooked in the process.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Journal March 27, 2016 - Olive trees setting

The trees are setting fruit, a lot of fruit.  When they began to bud I thought, or hoped, that I might get enough to process a small batch in a Tupperware container.  Now, it appears that they are going produce a lot of fruit, so I began looking for ways to process the olives.


 The top photo shows a Spanish variety, Arbequina, the bottom photo shows a French variety, Picholine.  What I find strange is that the plants are in different stages; fruit set on the tops, while the bottom portions are still flowering.  To further complicate things: some plants are just about finished flowering, while others have green buds just beginning to swell.  Add to that, that there are at least ten different varieties, so it looks like the harvest will be spread out for quite sometime.

Making oil is not practical, as the equipment is very expensive, however, I would really prefer to process them for eating anyway.  I think I have found a method that I would like to try that does not look too difficult.  The link below will take you to a video on youtube.
Olive processing.

Last week I removed the straw blanket that was covering the garlic all winter, finding the garlic looking great!  Last season at this time the raised bed was still frozen solid.  After the bed warms up I will mulch with straw to control the weeds and moisture.

All of the bulbs in the bed came from last year's harvest, but the bulbs are all mixed up, so I can't tell which variety is which, except for the Italian purple.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Journal March 7, 2016 - Greenhouse open, for now

Unbelievable, the greenhouse is back in use after being closed on the first of January.  And, the weather service forecasts moderate temperatures well into the middle of next week.

So, I placed a number of plants in the greenhouse for as long as the weather permits.  This will give the grow lights a rest, save on  the utility bill and give the plants the benefit of greenhouse conditions.

Right now, at 6:30 pm, the temperature in the greenhouse is 49 degrees F.  The night temperatures for the next week and a half are forecast to be above freezing, however, I have the fan forced electric heater plugged into the thermo cube just in case.  

The fan forced greenhouse heater has been used very little since I have had it, so I am interested in seeing how it works.  It should be ideal under these conditions, as it will react to, and correct for temperature drop much more quickly than the oil filled electric radiator I had been using.

It would be truly astounding if the greenhouse was closed for only ten weeks out of the year in New York, but our weather is unpredictable, so the cold will probably return.  

Most of the olive trees placed in the greenhouse have buds that are just forming, they are further behind the trees in the tent with the large multi-spectrum LED, where the buds are fully open.  It should be interesting to see how the budding trees react to being in the greenhouse.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Journal March 5, 2016 - Warming trend on the way

The forecast for the upcoming week, beginning Monday, is for mild temperatures.  The night temperatures will be ideal for using the thermo cube with the fan forced greenhouse heater.  My expectation is that this will be an ideal combination for early spring and fall.  I plan on bringing nine olive trees from the tent indoors and leave them in the greenhouse for the entire week.

As the forecast also calls for some cloudy periods, I made a temporary installation of two LED grow lights to provide supplemental lighting during cloudy periods.  The lights can be turned on remotely from the house, so with the thermo cube and lights it should make for an interesting week.

The olive trees put on a lot of tender growth during their time indoors during the winter, so as I move them outdoors I give them a light pruning.  The leaves, however, are not wasted, they are cleaned and dried and will be used for olive leaf tea.  If you have never heard of olive leaf tea you might check this site: Olive Leaf Tea

 The Picholine olive tree has an extraordinary, to me, abundance of flowers.  The agronomy states that it is self fertile, but will do better with a pollinator such as Luccino.  Out of pure dumb luck I have a Luccino right next to the Picholine.  There are a number of tiny olives forming on the Arbequina, so my pollinating efforts appear to be paying dividends.  A small fan on a timer has been placed facing upward in the bottom of the tent to distribute the pollen as it falls from the buds to further improve pollination.

The beet greens, which are receiving only the generic dry nutrients with some calcium nitrate and Epsom salts, are doing very well at his point.