Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Harvest

We finally had our first blizzard of the year, and it dropped a nice pile of snow on us. I wish we had it earlier as the snow is a perfect insulator for the pod. I've been sick as a dog, but I did go out and shovel the snow off the pod. I don't have a support in the middle and it seemed to hold up just fine with about a half a foot of snow piled on top.

The plants really haven't grown since I last peeked in it a couple weeks ago, but I felt it was time to give them a try. So on New Year's Eve I harvested Kale, Salad Greens, and a little spinach. That's kind of awesome.

Despite the cold the greens have held up well overall. Some have cold damage on them, but the majority are perfect. The greens taste great, just like any cold weather greens only better.

The Kale has held up amazingly with no signs of any cold damage on it. The flavor is unlike anything I have ever tasted before. Sweet, but with a number of other complex flavors that made it hard to put any in the bowl as I wanted them to go straight into my mouth.

It is a little difficult to harvest out of the pod if you don't completely remove the top. Since Michelle can't lift anything at the moment I had to leave it in place and just reach in as best I could.

I was really shocked to come across this daddy long legs in the pod. I wasn't really expecting much bug life in the pod.

Further inspection revealed that there are munching bugs in the pod as well as this leaf had a hole chewed out of the middle of it. It still tasted amazing though;)

On another note I broke my thermometer so no more readings for now. I blame the delirium caused by the cold. Clearly that's why I put it on top of the car like a dolt and forgot about it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Awesome Mess!

Now THIS is how to install a garden! These kids are flinging balls of mud and seed in what will become a rain garden in a playground in Spain.

Thanks to Arcady at Playscapes for this delightful find!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Are you an artist?

The American Chestnut Foundation is looking for artists to sell American chestnut-themed art through their website! More information can be had here.

I used to be an artist. Now I admire art made by other people!

Since he likes owls so much, I commissioned a piece of art for Gabe from a friend and former coworker, Sean Murray. I asked him to do something with an owl as the central element, and also including a little boy, a little girl, and an American chestnut leaf and nut. Check out what he came up with!

I would love to see his work sold through the TACF. You can see his other paintings, and buy prints, here. The print quality is just amazing, and boy does he have a great sense of humor! Go look, and support an actual artist!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Woot, published again!

My Garden Geek article on American chestnut trees is in this week's edition of the Franklin Country Gazette. I didn't mean to go so long between articles, but this one had me intimidated, because I needed to contact actual people for my research. So, I procrastinated.

I'll post the article here in a week or so. In the mean time, here is a historic photo of some astoundingly large chestnut trees. There is some information on the origins of this photo in the TACF's most recent publication, but I left the magazine sitting on my desk at work, dang it, so I can't tell you much about it. But yes, that is a man standing there in the crotch of the trees for scale reference.

The sausage turned out pretty well, it seems.

Here is Garden Rant's take on the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bees and CCD - It's Complicated

This article nicely outlines the possible complexities in what is ailing the honeybees.

Watching Monsanto, EU and GMOs

I keep an eye on one of Monsanto's blogs as balance to the radically anti-Monsanto reading that I do. They have some interesting reading up today, though I haven't had time to follow the links they provided.

Well, cool!

No new info really - I'm just tickled that a few messages left on a few blogs has resulted in lots of good dialogue between blogs. :) Now the discussion on pesticides and bees has gone back to Garden Rant.

Friday, December 17, 2010

More On Bees and Peat Moss

The Garden Professors have now chimed in on the discussion about Colony Collapse Disorder - thanks Jeff! This is another very level-headed look at the situation from an actual scientist.

A tidbit:

"I am extremely unhappy with both Bayer and the EPA in this instance. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do. It’s as simple as that. Tests were supposed to be run to demonstrate that it is unlikely that clothianidin affects bees. This wasn’t done in a reasonable period of time. Period. As long as stuff like this occurs nobody is going to trust the EPA or the chemical manufacturers."

And much like the Scientist Gardener, Jeff thinks that the current popular position that a single pesticide, alone, is to blame is a case of jumping to conclusions.

Along with this, Garden Professor Linda Chalker-Scott has poked some mighty big holes in the recent Garden Rant post on the possible sustainability of Canadian peat moss. This line is a dandy: "Unquestioned acceptance of industry talking points lends nothing to the discussion." Ouch!

Thank you Linda. I love scientists. Let's have a hug-a-scientist day to properly show them our love.

In other news, Christmas is bearing down on us, and we have yet to have a snowfall of any real substance. The ground is rock-hard, and our "sun room" (which is on the shady side of the house, thanks to some strange decision made by a previous owner) gets into the teens most nights. We have yet to see if Chris will be harvesting lettuce from his solar pod for Christmas dinner, but if we do, it'll be a close thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Opinion on Pesticides and Bees

Mat Kinase, a.k.a. the Scientist Gardener, kindly shared his dissenting opinion for me on the recent news about a possible connection between pesticides and bee deaths. Thanks Matt! I love reading both sides to an issue, when both sides are being rational and logical.

Here's an excerpt:

"Aside from the fact that this registration [of the pesticide in question] was completed in 2004 and (according to the same article) this whole bee business started in the mid-1990s, I'm skeptical that any new pesticide is causing all this. We were SO much more indiscriminate and profligate with our agricultural sprays and industrial dumping in past decades (and with much more dangerous chemicals) than we are now - it seems a funny time for a problem to pop up."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This and That

The rest of the country has been snowed in, but all we got was a soggy mess. And a nice little flurry this morning. My parents have put in a request for snow when they come up to visit, and it'll be shocking if we don't get any.

It looks like insecticides may be involved in the decline of the honeybees after all. I am hoping for comments from some of the science-based blogs that I follow.

Another issue that I would like to hear more from the scientists on: the sustainability of Canadian peat moss. I find this Garden Rant post to be a flimsy defense of its use.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Solar Pod: Close Shave with Freezing

Last night the temperature dropped to the low teens in the back yard last night and the Solar Pod was flirting with freezing. It bottomed out at 33.8 before the morning sun started to warm it back up. We're supposed to be even colder tonight, so we may get a chance to see what happens when the pod actually hits freezing.

In theory because there is no wind in the pod disturbing the plants they should be able to super cool to several degrees below freezing without dying, but we will see if that works in practice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nut Update

Five of my indoor chinkapins have sprouted leaves! And all of these are in separate containers: three in milk jugs and two in soda bottles.

I was diagnosed with placenta previa and told by the doctor to take it easy - no exertion in the garden, and no lifting anything over 25 pounds (including my son). Well, feeling bloated around the middle makes me disinclined to do a dang thing outdoors anyway, so this level of gardening is absolutely perfect right now. Wait. . . peek. . . wait. . .

Monday, December 6, 2010

Solar Pod Gets a Remote Thermometer

Well, truth be told I've had them for a while, but they're now setup in the shed and in the solar pod with the base unit in the garage so it is close enough to pickup the signals from outside units. We also have another thermometer for an ambient air temperature.

The shed is reading at 27 degrees.
The ambient air is currently 26 degrees.
The solar pod is currently 39.1 degrees.

The shed has no insulation and gave up the heat it gained during the day incredibly quickly, and while the solar pod is getting chilly it is still holding its heat well enough to make some nice and tasty cold weather greens!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Solar Pod's First Winter

Back in the beginning of October I finally got around to digging out a section of the garden for the base of the Solar Pod. It needed to be in the ground to keep the pod below the freeze line. Even with digging it down the whole base isn't below ground since my garden is on a hill. I plan to fill in the exposed side with wood chips just as soon as I have a little extra free time. So far the exposed side has held up ok, though the plants on that side have recently shown some very minor frost damage as we've had multiple nights in a row that have been well below freezing.

Here is the base of the solar pod before I installed it in the ground. The actual instructions call for foam insulation, multiple layers, and aluminum parts which I ignored. Earth is a pretty solid insulator, and I'm going to put that to the test this winter.

Here I am planting seeds in the Solar Pod which we have lovingly named the Mouse Trap. I planted Kale on the right, Lettuce on the left, and Spinach in the middle. From this angle you can see that it is buried into the garden, and has insulation along the top which helps create a good seal to keep the heat in.

The Mouse Trap is held open by a recycled notched 4x4. It is pretty darn stable, but still a little scary.

October 16th, and the lettuce green have started to sprout.

October 24th, and the lettuce greens are doing nicely. The spinach and kale have also sprouted. My friend Steve had two extra Boston lettuce seedlings which are in with the spinach.

November 13th, and the lettuce and kale are looking like healthy seedlings now. I've gone in and thinned them out at this point. For whatever reason all but two of the spinach seedlings have died off. I think mostly because the condensation seems to be lightest in the middle of the pod so they may have dried out a bit too much. This is the last day that I watered the pod. No more water until the spring to try and prevent the plant's cells from bursting during very cold weather.

December 2nd, and holy cow I can't believe all of the green inside of the pod. It makes me so happy when I open it up and the happy greens greet me. I have to be careful to only open the pod when it will get plenty of sun to heat back up again and when the ambient air temp is above freezing. My big goal is to have a Christmas dinner with fresh greens from the garden!

Addendum for Thom:

While I have been very happy with the results so far building the Solar Pod was a trial that I'm reluctant to go through again. To map out the end arcs I went through a very careful process of measuring the template included in the book and converting each measurement to full scale and then mapping it to the end boards. This was error prone, and didn't work out well.

If I had to do it again I think I would take the template to a Kinko's or something similar and see if they could blow the template up to full size so I could just tape it to the end boards and cut it out. In the end though a curve is just a cruel shape to try and get right with simple tools at home.
I also left out the central conduit they talked about. I tried using a conduit as they described and it just wasn't right. We'll see if I pay for that when we get a heavy snow, but I think the pod will hold up just fine without it.

My friend Steve and I have talked about drawing up plans for of our own design to build next spring based on our experience with this pod. The primary focus being on simplicity of design so we don't suffer through all of the frustration we did when we put this one together. If we do and we succeed we'll be sure to post the plans.

My final 2 cents would be that if you're looking to build one come up with a good plan for creating the end plates first and foremost. They are the hardest and most important part of the pod.