Burying a Bunch of Rotten Wood

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A trench filled with partially rotten wood.

I spent almost all of yesterday digging a long trench through the middle of my garden, filling it with rotten wood, and then covering it up.  I am hoping that this will help with reducing the amount of water required to irrigate the garden this and coming years.

I heard about this idea from Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast under the name Hugelculture or Woody Bed.  It is a class of land improvements that buries wood under soil to promote the growth of fungus and bacteria that holds water and moves nutrients around.  I’ve heard these woody beds several times on the show, and since I had a bunch of rotting wood on the edge of my property, I decided to give it a try. The only real trouble I had was that after about four inches down, I hit Oklahoma Red Clay Soil, which is very difficult to dig through. I basically had to scrap layers of the clay off and use the shovel handle as a lever.  I ended up breaking off the handle of my garden hoe trying to loosen it up so I could remove the clay from the trench.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

The other thing burying this wood allowed me to do is to build a swale-like structure over the bed.  A swale is a mound next to a trench along the land’s contour.  The idea here is to slow water flowing across the land and give it more time to absorb into the soil.  I didn’t survey out the contour of the land, instead just guessing roughly where level would be and slightly curving the ends uphill.  I intend to adjust the structure in the future as I find where water is flowing too quickly and pulling soil away.  About the only remaining garden bed preparation I am planning on doing before spring planting is spreading a layer of compost out and working it into the top inch or so of soil.  Before I do that though, I need to fix the garden hoe.

Seeds Are In, a Homemade Ladder, and a New Computer

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

I got the last of my seeds in nearly a week ago, just before heading out on a business trip.  Now all that I really need is for things to warm up a bit more before I can start planting.  The most exciting thing I ordered was the Bloody Butcher variety of maize (corn) which has a very deep red color.  Besides the corn, I have lettuce that should do fairly well in the Oklahoma heat, carrots, peppers, sunflowers, buckwheat and some Vitex seed.  The last one is a shrub/tree that will primarily be for bee feed.  The buckwheat will also be a good nectar source, but it also will provide seed that can be turned into flour.  Vitex, also known as the Chaste tree, appears to have some herbal medicine properties, but I haven’t ventured down that path so far.

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A ladder-like construct made from 2x4s

Before the business trip, I spent some time cleaning up one of the sheds I have on the property that is somewhat of a workshop.  There was already a workbench in place and was wired for power, but after moving in, we have just been using it for storage.  In the process of cleaning up the shed, I decided to put everything we were storing there in the loft area.  The difficulty in this was that it was difficult to get up to the loft to pack things in tightly because there was no ladder.  So I built one.  I don’t think many people besides myself could use it and using it feels more like climbing a tree than a ladder, but it fits my needs right now, so it will stay until I decide otherwise.

The driving reason for the shed cleanup is to have a space to use the band saw and a table saw I got from my father-in-law.  They have been sitting in his garage for several years without use and somewhat in disrepair, so he decided to let me use them.  I’ve been working on repairing them as best I can.  The table saw has a non-functioning motor and is rusted up badly.  The band saw was in better shape and after lubricating just about every part on the machine, it was working well.  Then the lower tire started coming off the wheel and now needs to be replaced.  Once both the table saw and band saw are up and running well, I will be able to start making bee frames, boxes and probably much more.  This makes it a lot easier than driving an hour and a half to my mothers to use the equipment at her house and so I will be able to do a lot more woodworking that I have recently.

20130302100129After my computer died about two weeks ago,  I read an article on Ars Technica about a very cheap computer that was less than $400 for everything including the monitor.  Using this article and the computer parts that were still good in the dead computer, I put together a system for just over $200.  The case is a nice 4U rack mount server case I purchased over a year ago for when I decided to build a server-class machine that I have yet to get around to.  I spent yesterday evening putting the system together after getting home from Virginia.  Everything went together smoothly and started up without issue.  Some basic benchmarking puts it at six to seven times more powerful than the machine that died.  This is not too surprising as the old machine was purchased in 2005.

Computer is Most Likely Dead

Guts of my dead computer

Guts of my dead computer

About three weeks ago when I got home from a business trip, I found that my desktop computer was not booting.  I quickly setup my small netbook to function as my main computer until I got around to troubleshooting the system.  Today, I finally got around to doing some troubleshooting and it looks like parts of the system may be functioning – most notably the 375W power supply – but the system is not booting.  This leads me to think the motherboard is not functioning anymore.  So I doubt that I will be getting any more use out of the desktop computer.

I’m not really upset about this happening.  I got the computer in 2005 a couple of years after I graduated from high school, so it has been going strong for seven to eight years.  When I have the time and money, I’ll be building a new computer from scratch that will run circles around the recently defunct computer.

Aluminium Melt Failure

Things rarely go well the first time something is done.  This is no exception.  I have been wanting to start melting aluminium soda cans and learn the skills I need to do metal casting in my back yard.  I have a basically continuous supply of aluminium from soda cans.

Coffee can crucible filled with aluminium cans in fire.

Coffee can crucible filled with aluminium cans in fire.

This attempt failed, but just barely.  I used a steel/iron coffee can crucible to hold the aluminium cans as they melt.  I built up a good coal base from wood logs and forced air into the fire with a stand fan.  This got the can a nice glowing orange and the cans did start melting, but it didn’t get quite hot enough.  I never got a good molten pool of aluminium.

Aluminium stuck in the coffee can.

Aluminium stuck in the coffee can.

In the end, I took a hammer to the can to try to extract the aluminium from the coffee can crucible, but this failed and just crushed the can.  I think that next time, I will use some of the charcoal that I have made to get things going hotter than this time.

Completed Bee Box

Completed deep with ten frames.

I have finally completed building a deep hive body out of scrap 2x4s.  It ended up taking me a lot longer to get things put together than I would have liked, but that is mainly because the tools I have available for use are an hour and a half drive from where I live.

Because I wanted to be able to make the box entirely out of 2×4, that made it a bit difficult to make the sides of the box.  I ended up slicing the board into slats 3/16″ thick and then nailing several together along a nailer to close up the sides. I used these Hive Body plans I drew up to build the box.  As this is a prototype, I ended up making changes while building it. I ended up adding an extra strip on the along the ends because there was not enough room for the bees to move arround on top of the frames.

The first homemade frame I got put together.

The frames were as easy to put together as the frames I have ordered from Dadant previously. Building them was quite a bit more work. In particular, getting the slots on the top and bottom of the two side pieces took a while to find the right tools. I tried using a chisel at first, but that just destroyed the wood. Using a razor blade and carving the slot out works, but took a massive amount of time. I ended up using a reciprocating scroll saw of my mother’s to get all the slots done in a reasonable amount of time.

A Spring Scale

For quite a change from the normal pace of things arround here, I’ve decided it is finally time to add the “engineering” to this blog.

A home-made spring scale.

I’ve been wanting to weigh a book I have that I am considering selling so that I can calculate what shipping would be.  However, I didn’t have a scale to weigh the book in and I wasn’t willing so spend $15-20 on a scale right now.  So what does a guy with an electrical engineering degree do?  Build my own scale.

Well, spring scales are based on a physics principle called Hooke’s Law, which basically states that the force that a spring exerts is linearly proportional to the distance it has been pulled or pushed.  I had a spring that was used to hold the greenhouse door closed that has just been sitting arround after the door broke in high winds.  So, I took the spring, the eyelet screw attached to the spring, one of several five-gallon buckets I have, and some twine and made myself a scale.

The math I tried to use to calibrate the scale. Pretty much all of it is wrong.

To use this scale, I had to calibrate it against a known weight.  For that, I used two gallon jugs of water.  A gallon of water is 8.35 pounds and using two of them gives me two data points from which I can get a linear equation that will give weight from spring displacement.

In the end, I got the book weight, which is just over three pounds.  And the scale didn’t require anything more that what I had. I should be able to use this when I finally have a harvest to give me some idea of how much I get from the harvest.