Monday, March 31, 2008

Native Seeds

I finished making a new bed outside the chicken pen this week, it's a small sunken bed approximately 2 feet by 5 feet (sunken beds are like they sound, the opposite of raised beds, supposed to be more practical for the desert climate but waaaay less practical for my back). I'll be using it to grow beans as I ran out of room in all the other beds. I had decided that this was the last project that I would work on this planting season and was ready to devote 100% of myself to painting again... and then the Native Seed catalog came.

For people reading this that know that it's hot and dry here but don't exactly have a reference point, I pulled this info off a climate statistics page:
The driest month in Phoenix is June with an average 0.09 inches of precipitation, and with 1.07 inches March is the wettest month. Our percentage of sunshine hours ranges from 77% in December at the low to 94% in June. Our temperatures, hot. It's sunny, dry and hot. This means a couple of things,
1. When you get plants from the nursery that say "full sun", that's a boldfaced lie. You have to estimate how much sun that would get in an average climate and do some math to figure out what a more appropriate placement would be that will enable your plant to survive longer than 72 hours.
2. While people in the Northeast are still breaking ice out of the animals water dishes, we are ending our spring planting season, which seems to also be about the time most of the seed catalogs get here.
3. If you don't have city irrigation you have to not only chip your planting beds out of the dry, hard ground, but you had better install some sort of sprinkler/drip system to get your plants water.

It's this third point that I have a little bit of an issue with. One of the main reasons for doing all of these fun Rachel's tiny farm activities is to lead a more self-sufficient and sustainable life. Even with rainwater harvesting, there's really no way to grow the standard garden plants without substantial watering, so in the long run, really how sustainable is that? This brings me back to the Native Seed catalog! The fine folks at Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson have a nice catalog, and I'm pretty sure I could grow many of these items without too much additional watering. I don't have the time to build a bed for the native garden in time for the few days left of spring planting, but I'm going to shoot for getting it in by the monsoons, for fall crops.

EDIT: I remembered I had some "New Mexico Melon" seed that I had bought from the Native Seed store a couple of years ago, I planted a few in the corner of the new sunken bed, we'll see how this goes.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Solar Dehydrator!

I made a solar food dehydrator so I could dry the extra food I grow. This way I will have some home grown food during the heat of summer when the heat is too overwhelming to grow much in Phoenix. The best part is that not only is it free to operate, it was nearly free to build! I based it off a plan in The Solar Food Dryer by Eben Fodor which I borrowed from the library. The materials were nearly all things I already had -- hardware, casters, glass, metal and wood. All of the wood was scrap that I had laying around the studio, the main box part is made from birch that I normally would use for paintings, but these pieces had various flaws that made them not appropriate for art.
I wanted to keep the Rachel-Dehyrator9000 plastic-free so I decided that stainless steel would be the best material for the food screens... I couldn't figure out why the book would suggest using plastic screening. After a lot of searching I finally found a warehouse that carried stainless mesh so I went down there and was escorted (after putting on a hard hat and glasses) to pick out my mesh. I found it exactly what I was looking for and then learned it would be $55 for 8 square feet! Now I know why people are choosing plastic. Lucky for me, they were kind enough to get some perforated stainless out of their scrap bins, cut it down and give it to me for free. :)

So here are my total costs to build the dehydrator:
2 hinges- $2.39
Friction hinge- $2.79
Thermometer- $4.79
Total Cost: $9.97 plus tax.

My first use on an 80 degree day, the internal air temperature got to 160 degrees with the vent door partially opened. I've been leaving the food out from 10am until about 4pm but I think it is ready to come in after about 4 hours. I expect to be able to run 2 batches a day during the summer. Which I think may even be faster than an electric dehydrator. Hooray for self sufficiency and sticking it to The Man!

Banana chips:
4 organic bananas: $1.16

One of the trays loaded up (2 bananas worth)

In the dehydrator

Banana chips! (after I ate a bunch) :)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Roxy the friendliest chicken

Here I am posing with my Rhode Island Red when all of a sudden Roxy decides that she wants to be in the pictures too and flies up onto my arm.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New garden additions...

In addition to the 6 trees I planted last week (and the radishes, greens, strawberries, onions, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers), I've added a couple more plants. I'm suffering from a bit of a nursery addiction. A week or two ago (right after I bought the 6 trees) I wanted to get some more strawberry plants, I thought if I rode my bike, then I would only buy what would fit in the baskets. So I rode the 3.5 miles to the nursery only to find that they had no more strawberries and would be getting them in the next day. So, I got some really dark pansies so I didn't feel like I had gone that whole way for nothing. However this did not solve my strawberry problem. The next day the weather was bad, so I drove to a different nursery, and got 2 6-packs of strawberries and some black hollyhock seeds and came home and planted them. A couple days later I realized that the melon and the pepper seeds I had tried to start were not going to be growing, so if I wanted to grow those this year I needed to go pick up some plants. Back to the nursery to get at most 8 plants. Well.. I get to the nursery and couldn't decide between cantaloupe and honeydew and also they had another type called ambrosia, which as best I can tell is the accidental cross I made last year by planting my cantaloupes and honeydews too close together, it was a really tasty mistake, so I got one of those too. Lucky for me, I could buy just one, unlike the cantaloupe and honeydew which only come in 6-packs. I picked out a 6-pack of golden bell peppers and then realized I had never tried to grow eggplant... maybe that would work out here... another 6-pack. I also noticed that they had a variety of strawberry I'd never seen before.. 8 more plants into the cart. They had just opened several bags of ladybugs, and they were all over my plants-- bonus! I went in to pay and passed the seed rack... hmmm daikon radishes, that could be cool.. in they went. So I came home with 33 plants plus the radish seeds, which really in the grand scheme of things, 33 is a very close number to 8.

Solar Oven!

I made a solar oven this week. I found all kinds of plans at: I chose one that I could do quickly that I had all the materials already on hand for because I was ansy and wanted to start cooking for free. :) Aside from the egg below, I've cooked a frozen burrito and made some smores. I want to try bread and some other things, but the sourdough starter I'm making still has 2 more days of rotting on the counter before it's ready.

The solar cooker

An egg from Nightcrawler, straight out of the coop

In the solar cooker after a few minutes

After about 18 minutes, the egg is cooked!