When it rains, is stores!

As with most of my projects, the search for the right materials without resorting to a visit to the local hardware store results in some time passing before I have everything I need to finish a job.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get together the final bits and pieces (and a helping hand from my sister’s boyfriend) I needed to build a stand for my water tank and connect it to my shed.

I already had the tank and had given it a good rinse, bought second hand from a local. I’d been given a heavy duty plastic pallet which could handle the weight of a full tank of water. And recently I sourced some sleepers from the in-laws property, and some plumbing supplies from the local tip shop.

And alas, the tank is now set up and, after some decent rain, is full and being put to good use.

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The tank is set up from the ground so that my watering can can fit under the tap, and to also use gravity to force the water out at a reasonable rate without using a pump. The faucet has a hose connector attached to it to make for easy watering.

The bottom level of the stand is made up with the three sleepers making up the border, with sleepers screwed in inside the box to support the plastic pallet and the tank. The pallet is sitting on top of the enclosed bottom level sleepers, with another three sleepers screwed together to make a border around the pallet to keep it in place.

The resulting stand, I think, looks pretty good and a does a great job!

Plumbing the tank wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might. I pulled the down pipe which connects the gutters to the drain out and using some existing pipe elbows and some found at the tip shop, re-routed the rainwater out from behind the shed, along the side of the shed and into the inlet hole.

All it takes is some good measurements, and the simple understanding that water can’t run up – you can see from the pipe attached along the side of the shed that it is on a slight angle down to ensure that the water runs properly down into the tank.

Finally, I’ve added another pipe to the overflow outlet, which currently runs into a big old pot. The idea will be to find another container for this overflow to run into, possibly an old wheelie bin which can then be adapted with a tap to allow this to be used as a portable water source.

The project wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be, and would encourage anyone to have a go at it. Even if it isn’t with recycled materials, hardware stores carry equipment to divert rainwater from downpipes so that it can stored and used when needed. And of course it adds a further degree of sustainability to your garden and, in my case, to my growing veggies. Even a small roof area can collect a usable amount of water.

I am blessed by the fact that the gutters installed on the shed roof are constructed in a way to stop leaves and other objects from flowing down into the downpipes. For a normal gutter, it would be best to put some shade cloth or other gauze like material to trap leaves and dirt from running into the tank.

Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning on adding something to the pipes to catch smaller object from falling into the tank, with the idea of being able to use the tank water (after testing it properly of course) as drinking water.

I’d love to hear any stories or suggestions from people who have done the same thing, or are planning on doing so.

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You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.

Cheers.

Dig it up! The veggie patch bears more fruit

I was watering the veggie patch the other night, when I spotted the tops of a number of carrots in the line of seeds I had planted and which had been growing the quickest.

Eager as I have been lately to taste more of what I had grown after recently picking the peas I had grown, I started to pull up the carrots that were just showing their tops out of the soil.

One by one, the thick orange roots that supported the green foliage I had been feverishly watering for the last number of weeks came out of the ground. It is amazing that these had started from some of the tiniest seeds that I had grown.

There are still more carrots waiting to be pulled up which need some more time to grow.

Given that the shrubs that had grown from the potatoes that I had planted had mostly died off, bar one which continued to grow, I decided that it was time to see if the potatoes had flourished to the same extent that the carrots had. Unfortunately, only the potatoes growing as tubers to the longest lasting plant had grown to a decent size.

Although a little disappointing, trial and error is part of the fun. Next time, I’ll try planting the potatoes in a sunnier part of the patch to see if that will promote better growth.

Apart from the remaining carrots, only the brussels sprouts are left, and they need some tending to eradicate their growing attraction to some moths – but that will be part of another article looking at organic ways to deter pests.

If any gardeners out there have any suggestions or questions I’d be happy to hear from you!

Portable, Recycled, Greenhouse!

This article also appears on the ACF Greenhome website.

There are a number of vegetables that, when grown from seed, need (or very much appreciate) a bit of a helping hand when germinating. The most recommended method is to plant your seeds into a seed bed until the plant sprouts, and then to transfer the seedling into your veggie patch.

A great advantage of doing this is that it enables a gardener to begin growing the next crop of veggies before harvesting the current crop, giving you a good head start for the next season.

The trouble with planting seeds earlier in the season is that it is usually too cold for the seeds to germinate. This is where a greenhouse comes into its own. By trapping the infrared heat produced when sunlight bounces back off the earth, the greenhouse creates the warmer climate (the greenhouse effect) to help these seeds germinate earlier.

If you’re stuck for room to build a full size greenhouse, or want to use the greenhouse only for seeds and not for growing any other plants, there are a number of alternatives that can be found both on the internet and in gardening books.

Like my other projects on this site, I’ve looked to build something using only materials that I’ve found or bought second hand. To this end, I found an old window, a wooden gate and a piece of discarded 4×2.

It took a bit of time to remove the palings from the gate (and remove a litany of nails) but once done, it didn’t take long to cut the pieces to size and fix the window to it. And the result is this:

As you can see, the window is mounted to the box on hinges so that the seed trays can be easily accessed for watering. The seed box isn’t too big or too heavy, so it can be moved from place to place or put away when not in use.

The window is on an angle when closed so that it can face north (depending on where you are located) and let in as much light as possible.

The only thing left to add is a handle for ease of use!

This is just an example of a really simple design, built with common tools and something that doesn’t take long to build, that you can use or adapt given the materials you find to help your practical, green action.

Please feel free to comment on this design or with any of your own thoughts or designs.

ACF Green Home Q&A

I was recently asked to answer questions from Australian Conservation Foundation Green Home followers about the growth of my veggies and what are the easiest veggies to grow.

My answers to the questions are here and here.

The Q&A is a continuing project of the ACF Green Home project and one I’m stoked to be a part of.

Update: Veggie Patch and the Home Made Bean Climber

This article was originally posted on the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Green Home website on 21 October 2011. Click here to read this post on the Green Home website.

Given my lack of expertise in all things requiring green thumbs or power tools, I thought it righteous not to broadcast whether my new veggie patch and the pea and bean climber had actually provided any success.

Fortunately, I can say that it has. And how happy am I!

I was concerned that the lack of cross beams may make it difficult for the beans I had planted to grap hold of the climber. But, as you can see, the tendrils have wrapped themselves gracefully around the vertical strings, and are slowly making their way ever-skywards.

I cant adequately express how gratifying it is to see a simple idea, with simple materials and tools, actually work! I recommend such tinkering to anyone who will listen.

The climber wasn’t the only experiment. The veggie patch, both the design using corrugated iron and the patch itself, being a deep bed, were both speculative creations.

Again, I’m glad to say that, mostly, it is a success. You can see the potato plants flourishing, along with the peas and the 2 lines of carrots.

I had planted a third line, closer to the patch barrier. However, the barrier casts a shadow of this line most of the day, and it has only grown in patches. I’d therefore recommend to anyone considering a similar design, to account for height of the barrier and location of the sun in relation to your patch.

But, it has largely been a success and I plan on building a second, similar veggie patch very soon. And I can’t wait to start gathering the produce!

Good luck with your gardening.

Pea and Bean Climber – the new addition to the veggie patch

I do intend to begin writing about things other my veggie patch, but I couldn’t help but add my newest creation.

The pea plants are getting to the point where they need something to climb if they are going to be productive. So I venture to the shed (where any object that may have, in some abstract way, have some alternative use is saved from the bin)…

Using some left over wood from another project, some screws, some nails, 2 disused shoe laces and a length of twine, I cobbled together something that should see them thrive:

The wood was cut into the stakes with my Grandfather’s jigsaw, 3 long stakes (2 for along the ground, 1 for the cross-beam) and 4 for the ends. Only the cross-beam is not screwed in but tied with the shoelaces, so that it may be removed and the climber either closed together or lengthened for future use.

There nails were hammered into the bottom stakes and the twine wrapped around as seen in the photos.

This design was an alternative to the ideas I had read in various gardening books which suggested using nets for the peas to climb, but given the likelihood of birds being caught in the net, I thought this design would be safer.

I hope this helps anyone who has been looking for ideas. I’d be glad to hear from anyone who has designed their own climbers (or any gardening equipment) or have comments on my creation.

Good luck with your sustainability efforts!