Friday, April 30, 2010

Coir vs Peat in a Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP): Three Weeks In

Planted on April 1, 2010. Photo taken April 22.

At left, collards in 70%coir/30% perlite. On the right, 70%peat/30%perlite.

We're wondering if the coir mixture is wicking at all. After a heavy rain, the coir SIP perked up, but the plants in the peat mixture continue to outpace it.

Stay tuned for further updates...
Bruce is testing other blends of coir+peat. For now, I'm extending our peat/perlite potting mix (on its third year) with a percentage of coir for current plantings...but not going the all-coir route.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome Hive 2

This week we welcomed our second colony of bees to the roof with a big Benvenuto!, this tribe being mostly Italian (with a few Carniolans for good measure)...

Apis mellifera ligustica. This is the most popular bee in North American. These, as all of the commercial bees, are gentle and good producers.

I could immediately differentiate them from Hive 1 bees -- the newcomers are bright yellow and a little zinginer.

Or maybe they're just acclimating.

When Noam called to say he was on his way to the O'Hare Airport Oasis (there's an oxymoron) to rendezvous with Simpson's bee delivery and would be back in an hour, I'm struck again by the happy slowness of it all:

A truck from Ohio wends its way through the Midwest, distributing small lunchbox-sized transport containers holding bees and their Queen.

The transporter: a box, a screen, and 7,000 bees
(click pix to audio, but the girls in that box are pretty noisy)

This next shot puts the bee transporter in perspective, as Art and Noam line up Art's cool newly assembled 25-year-old Sears beehive kit, freshly painted and baked in the sun.

Hive 2: casa de Italians

Soon it's time for the transfer...

In they go.

The bees find their way quickly and a light squirt of sugar water keeps them happy. As I'm making these pictures I have the disorienting sense of being underwater, as bees swirl in front of me and all around.

See the Queen in her tiny cage
sitting on the hive lid lower left?

Below, Noam hangs the Queen's cage, but he won't release her until the weekend. He tells us the worker bees need to get used to her smell, and that sequestering makes the queen less likely to fly away.

He quickly adds that there's a range of opinion on this, as there is with most beekeeping issues, from what I can tell.

Hanging the Queen cage.

Art built a new pier for Hive 2 a bit north of Hive 1.

The long view.

On goes the lid.

Bruce and neighbor Karol joined us to welcome the new colony. Note the cool-weather greens, started by Bruce from seed..

We've been cutting salads for a week
(I couldn't wait to start eating these greens)

Hi Karol,
standing a sane distance away

Now it's time to check on Hive 1, which has been busy after the long winter.

Holy moly! Lots of bees.

It's going to be a very good year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Making a Cedar Sub-Irrigated Planter

While I can appreciate the practical beauty of our SIPs, they are a special kind of ugly when nothing is growing in them.  And I'm not thrilled about using plastic, no matter how safe it is.

With that in mind, I made two large SIPs out of rough cedar fencing boards.

My journeyman carpentry skills were put to good use; it wasn't a simple project.

The first step was to mill the boards so the long edges were square. Then I glued, and clamped, them up into large panels using biscuits.

The water reservoir is made by lining the box with 4 mil plastic. The soil screen is boards drilled with 1/4" holes that rest on a wood cleat 3" above the bottom of the reservoir. The wicking chambers are strips of plastic cut from a 5 gallon bucket and then turned into small rings.

Each planter measures 70"x16"x14" and holds 6 cubic feet of growing medium. It took roughly 20 hours and $80 in materials to make and install both of them.

I'm about halfway done with a major project to retrofit my existing 30 Rubbermaid tub SIPs. Instead of the plastic bag cover and angular trellis support, I'm cladding them in panels made from inexpensive brown UV resistant tarps and cedar. In addition to looking better, the new design is much more functional. I'll have more to say about the changes in another post.

[Updated 9.25.10 -- There has a been some cupping of the fence boards because of their high moisture content when I bought them.  It's mostly aesthetic, nothing that makes them fall apart. In the future, to avoid this, I'm going to use the more expensive kiln dried cedar.]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bee Hive Available for "Adoption"

Thought some of our local readers might be interested in this, copied from the Chicago Advocates for Urban Agriculture google group.
Topic: Bee Hive up for adoption

"Julie Samuels" Apr 12 10:56AM
I got a call about a beehive that is looking for a new home. It's a short tower - 2 boxes and it comes complete with "livestock" . Please contact me directly via email and let me know if you are interested and I will forward your information to the owner.

Contact Julie Samuels

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rubberband FAIL ... in 21 Days

Just 21 days after our test using Big Rubberbands to secure the shower caps on our SIPs, we had a failure.

Don't try this at home.

The rubberband broke yesterday. It feels crumbly to the touch, like a rubberband that's been sitting in a drawer for 10 years. Just three weeks in a little hot sun and some cold weather.

Live and learn. I'll start using garden twine to hold the plastic in place.


Updated 4.18.10 -

We got an email from one of our readers, David.
I use punctured 700c inner tubes for bicycles. First I cut on either side of the stem (air valve) then fold the tire in half and cut it in two. I then use a square knot to fasten the tube around the bucket. Bicycle Shops just throw the inner tubes away so just ask your local shop if they could save you some.

Thanks David!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Get Yer Greens: Orders Ready for Pick-up + We Heart Hudson Valley Seed Library

Here's a two-fer:

First, your greens are ready for pick-up at Bruce's. And they are gorgeous (this is H2 testifying it's true.). In Chicago it's perfect weather for these babies to be planted outside. They love a good chill.

I'm just delighted with the Asian greens and other veggies coming up from my Hudson Valley Seed Library seeds. For your $20 membership, you get to choose ten seed packs. And their art packs make exquisite gifts.

Here are their Braising Greens.
I hope you ordered some because they are seriously good.
[click to embiggen]