First Aluminum Casting

Forced air makes for all the difference. and a 2-3ft tall flame.

Forced air makes for all the difference. and a 2-3ft tall flame.  Not seen: the hose to put of any stray flames.

Instead of making posts here, I’ve been doing things.  Over a two and a half years ago, I first attempted to melt aluminum in a tin can.  Well, since then, I’ve managed to make a bit of progress on melting aluminum.  The biggest issue I had with my first attempt was a lack of forced air.  I tried using a stand fan then, and there was not enough air, and it wasn’t directed at the charcoal.  My first successful attempt used a leaf blower on the lowest setting to get sufficient air, and charcoal as fuel.  An attempt or two later, I was able to use dry wood as a fuel source.  This is nice, because I have plenty of wood about to use as fuel at no cost.  After building a standard fire to get a decent size bed of coals, I turn on the leaf blower to kick up the heat and then start piling on wood as long as it doesn’t produce a lot of smoke.  Eventually, it builds up to what is show in the image. At this point, wood gets added to the outside edge of the fire and after it gets blackened and the wood under the crucible (in this case, the smallest dutch oven I had) is gone, the charred wood is moved under the crucible.

Carriage assembly

Carriage assembly

Several times, I’ve melted aluminum cans and formed ingots by pouring the molten metal into a steel muffin tin.  Today, however, was the first time that I cast a metal part, the carriage assembly for a Gingery lathe.  The part didn’t turn out perfect: there are several defects on the top face where the steel way for the cross slide attaches.  I will be attempting this casting at least once more and take the best of the castings to actually use.  I have the pattern for the cross slide nearly ready as well, but I will need to obtain a short piece of 1/2″ steel round shaft for the center hole.  Otherwise, that would likely be my next casting.

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A Few New Things This Year

This is my third season growing a garden, and my desire to grow more in the garden include growing more varieties of plants.  This year, I’ve expanded the area dedicated to some plant, and have added several new ones.

Seed pods on the turnips

Seed pods on the turnips

I mentioned in my last post that I overwintered turnips, and I am letting them go to seed.  In the past few days, the flowers have started disappearing and the seed pods have arrived.  The plants are producing what looks like a large amount of seed, to the point that I should not need to buy turnip seeds again.  I’ve also noticed that the turnips seem to be a nest of bugs: I’ve counted no less than 11 lady bugs on the plants, for which I am very grateful.  Less desirable are the multitude of what looks like could be Harlequin Bugs.  I still need to check the bugs against the pictures I have found of these bugs before I will trust that I have the correct identification.  I hope it does not turn out to be a big problem.  As long as I get seed from these plants, I will be okay with the rest of the plant dying.  More of a concern is that I have cabbage planted elsewhere in the garden that might be affected by these bugs.  For now, they appear to be content to hang out in the branches of the turnip tops.

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Garden Going Strong

The garden has a lot growing in it right now.

The garden has a lot growing in it right now.

The garden has really started to pick up recently.  All the plants are starting to fill out nicely and in some areas are so dense that weeding is no longer needed.  This is especially true under the radishes and the pinto beans.  I’ve made better use of the garden space this year than I did last, but I still think I could easily squeeze in double what I have now if I were to plant more densely and start succession planting.  This is quite evident where the peas were.  I’ve harvested all the peas I will eat and am saving the remainder as seed.  However, if I had planted beans in the rows by the peas about two weeks ago I would have small pinto bean plants already up.  The main reason that didn’t happen is that was about the same time I caught something that the remnants of are still plaguing me.  Also, while the lettuce I planted by the perennial flowers is doing quite nicely, there is still ground that could have been planted.

Peas and buckwheat seeds.

Peas and buckwheat seeds.  Both were very easy to save.  Just let them dry out on the plant and for the peas, to shell the pods.

One of the things I want to do with my garden is to become mostly self-sufficient with seed.  This obviously requires that I become familiar with saving seeds from all my plants.  Last year, I saved seed from the pinto beans, the onion, some mint and a pumpkin.  This year, I have added buckwheat and peas to the list and I am planning on adding radish, sunflower, lettuce and okra to the list.  I’m still waiting on the sunflowers to bloom and the lettuce to bolt.  In the mean time, I’ll be battling the caterpillars that started appearing on the sunflowers a couple of days ago.  My main plan of attack is to knock them off the leaves into a gallon-sized freezer bag and freeze them to death and also preserve them for David to use in his aquaponics system.  Since my tomato plants never made it in the ground and David’s are doing amazing, I might be able to get a tomato or two in exchange.

First Garlic Harvest

Garlic bulbs layed out in the garage to dry.

Garlic bulbs laid out in the garage to dry.

Today, I decided that the garlic was ready to check for harvest.  A few of the lower leaves on the garlic have already turned brown, which is the first sign the bulbs are getting close to being ready to harvest. After using a garden fork to break up the soil around one of the garlic plants, I found the bulb was small but fully formed.  So I went ahead and harvested the rest of the plants.  In total, I got fifteen plants out of the original three bulbs I bought from the farmers market last year.  I plan on using most of the garlic in this harvest to plant out more garlic later this year.  I expect to get about forty to fifty plants from this.  I will only be planting the larger cloves and the smaller cloves will be used for cooking.

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.

Shelling the Last Pecan…

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self...

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self…

Today marks a small milestone for me: I have shelled the last pecan I had harvested from my four pecan trees last year.  This has taken an enormous amount of work over the past four to five months to complete as all of the pecans were cracked by hand.  All I have to say is that I have a great respect for the people who did this sort of for a living before the invention of mechanical nut cracker.  I doubt that I would have lasted.  At the very least, my hands would have been destroyed by the work.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The final result is twelve full quarts of shelled pecans.  Three of the jars were used for pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so only nine are currently in the pantry.  I see several pecan pies in my future this year.  I will also be on the lookout for more recipes that use pecans and I will snack on some of these.  It is a good thing that I will be getting more pecans later this year, as these will be gone before too long.

I have a five gallon bucket full of pecan shells that I plan on turning into charcoal.  I haven’t been making much charcoal recently because the weather has alternating between warm enough to do work outside and too cold to do much outside.  When the weather is warm, I’ve worked until the sun goes down and that doesn’t leave much time for getting the needed wood together to run the fire.  And when it is cold, I don’t want to be outside for long, even if there is a blazing fire nearby.

The Start of Spring Cleanup

Today was warmer than it has been in the past few weeks and I was able to take advantage of that so start my spring garden cleanup.  I still have some grass invading my garden plot that is going to take a large amount of work to get out.  I managed to get a bit out today, but I really need to get ahold of a good garden rake to separate the plant matter from the dirt.  Otherwise, as soon as it gets warm again, the grass will come out of dormancy and just pick up invading my garden, which I don’t want.

Nice, rich compost.

Nice, rich compost.

I also have started turning over the large compost pile I started on my property last year just after I moved in.  I started at the back of the pile so that I can start putting the leaves on my property in that place to start the next year’s compost and have this years available in a month or two.  With the exception of the top weeds and some pockets of leaves, the compost was like a dark, rich soil.  I still have a bit of learning to do to get the small clumps of leaves decomposed with the rest, but I can’t complain.  Overall, it turned out much better than I was expecting.

The forecast for tomorrow is looking a bit warmer than it was today and as it is a weekend, it will be available for me to do work outside.  Also, David, my brother-in-law is planning on coming down to help out with things, but most likely to take a peek at the hives.

This is also the time of year to start looking at seed catalogs in preparation for the next planting.  I’ve had my nose in online catalogs for a couple of weeks now trying to figure out what I want to try growing this year.  I am planning on trying to grow some variety of corn this year and I have my eye on either the Painted Mountain or the Bloody Bucher variety of corn.  Both are different shades of red and look to be good for making corn flour in addition to being eye-catching.  I’m planning on planting buckwheat for as a nectar source, as a grain source and to evaluate it as a smother crop for killing more parts of my lawn to turn into garden.