Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More Books

I've added the following to my reading list on the right sidebar.

  • Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano
  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • An Hour Before Daylight: Memoirs of a Rural Boyhood by Jimmy Carter
  • A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking
  • The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Values by Sam Harris
  • Greenhouse Gardener's Companion, Revised: Growing Food & Flowers in Your Greenhouse or Sunspace by Shane Smith
Julie and I read Brain Bugs and are reading Nonviolent Communication during our commute to work. I drive and she reads to us.

I started A Brief History of Time before I returned to work full time. I would read in the afternoons while waiting on Julie. Now that I'm working more I'm reading less so I haven't finished it yet but will do so.

The Moral Landscape is bedtime reading. I began it earlier with week.

I've completed about half of Greenhouse Gardener's Companion. I carry this book with me to read when waiting such as waiting on the tank to fill when hauling water.

I've saved the best for last: An Hour Before Daylight. This was a most enjoyable book. My sister read it and bought a copy for me. It provided a peek into a fading era and reminded me of scenes from my childhood. Reading it was pure pleasure.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Winter Tomatoes

Last fall I chose not to bring containers of tomatoes inside for the winter. Some weeks back in a potted palm I noticed a small plant that had germinated. Curiosity caused me to leave it for a few days to determine what it might be. Before long it displayed the characteristics of a tomato.


Unknown variety of tomatoes.

Last fall I added some compost to the palm and assume the tomato seed was in the compost. I don't recognize the tomato as a variety I've planted. It must have come from a local grocery.

The flavor has been good, the blossoms numerous and the set of fruit consistent. Each day I shake the vines to improve the pollination.

Next weekend I hope to seed tomatoes for the coming season. Until they begin bearing fruit I'm going to care for this welcome volunteer.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday, February 18

Greenhouse bench

Today I built the first of our benches. The benches will increase capacity of containers by about forty percent.

Covered greenhouse containers.

Last night the temperature dropped to 19 degrees and the greenhouse dropped to 45 degrees. Tonight, after placing a remote temperature sensor in one container to monitor the temperature drop, I covered the containers I planted last week . I'll compare the air temperature in the greenhouse to the temperature in the container. Four of the seven items I planted last week have germinated -- arugula, mesclun, bok choy and kale.

Dining table.

In December Julie ordered a new dining table and chairs. Today I came in and discovered she had moved some flowers from the bedroom to the table. I like the look.


Macy and her nightly routine. Each evening when I sit she tucks herself into my left arm.

Christmas cactus in bloom.

Our Christmas cactus has bloomed a second time. It bloomed in November as normal. Recently I noticed some buds and expected a few blossoms but it is filled with flowers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Greenhouse Update

I have a functioning greenhouse! Last Sunday, three days ago, I planted seeds of seven vegetables including arugula which germinates in three to seven days. Tonight I saw the first small emerging plants.

The work isn't quite finished. I have to install venting into our bedroom to capture extra heat, benches on top of water barrels to maximize areas to hold containers, door trim, a sink and a folding potting shelf. I can complete the work while watching plants grow.

The design of the greenhouse was dictated in part by the area bounded by the south wall of a bedroom and the east wall of the utility room. I had an area twelve feet by twelve feet that I enclosed with an insulated east wall and a south wall of polycarbonate. I want a larger greenhouse and plan on building a second one but I wanted to use this area for multiple reasons. First, I have a small greenhouse with minimal expenditure of money and labor. Second, the greenhouse encloses an exterior closet that houses a water heater. The addition keeps the water heater and pipes warmer which translates into hot water in the house more quickly, less propane to maintain the temperature in the tank and elimination of a need for heat tapes in winter to keep pipes from freezing. Third, the bedroom which is the coolest room in our house is warmer due to the addition and will be warmer still after the installation of vents.

I installed 15 barrels, almost 900 gallons of water mass, for heat storage. On a sunny day the water in the tops of the barrels is over eighty degrees. Over the last few nights the temperature inside the greenhouse has been mid-forties to mid-fifties in spite of strong winds, snow and mostly cloudy days. Originally I intended to use fewer barrels but decided to increase the mass. I bought a trailer load of barrels a few years ago for fourteen dollars each and had the barrels on hand. The angle of the sun in mid-winter would have resulted in the barrels on the north row being partially shaded by barrels on the south so I decided to stack the two rows. Then I chose to install two additional barrels that will result in partial shading but I think this is more than offset by the extra mass.

Greenhouse southeast corner
Greenhouse southeast corner. Trim is missing from the door and the cat door to the right of the door needs final trim.The gray containers sitting on the barrels have been seeded and covered with glass to retain moisture and deter cats.

Since we will be using the walk way in the greenhouse on a daily basis I wanted a solid, durable surface easy to keep clean, one that wouldn't track dust and small pebbles into the utility room. About a year ago I bought several hundred new brick for fifteen cents each. I had no use for them at the time but thought the price to be a good investment. Julie suggested we use the brick for the walk. I put down a bed of crushed glass beneath the brick and they settled in level and solid. The rest of the floor is a mixture of crushed glass and miscellaneous colors of gravel left from other jobs. I bought a yard of chocolate one inch gravel for the top layer to give a uniform surface that wouldn't shift and get caught in the tread of my boots. I thought a dark color like chocolate would increase the heat when the sun was shining.

Greenhouse northeast corner
Greenhouse northeast corner. None of the containers have been filled with potting mix.

I installed 12 square feet of low vent and 12 square feet of high vent to create a passive air flow in an effort avoid using electric fans. In the near future I'll install a vent into the house to capture excess heat on cold winter days. If I close the vents on a sunny day the temperature in the greenhouse will pass one hundred degrees. Last Saturday it peaked at 108. Sunday was partially sunny and the high temperature was 98.

Greenhouse northwest corner
Greenhouse northwest corner. A sink and hinged potting shelf will be installed which will require redesigning the cat steps leading to their door that enters the utility room.

I don't have enough decent soil and compost so I've found two sources to buy enough to fill a large tub and several containers. Next weekend I'll plant more seed. Over the next few weeks I hope to plant several items as trials.

The next two years will be a period of experimenting to learn how to manage shading and venting, to learn which varieties do best and how to keep a continuous supply of vegetables throughout the winter.

Greenhouse after dark
Greenhouse after dark. Julie installed the lights to give it a festive atmosphere.

I have two pieces of scrap polycarbonate that measure six feet by by five feet. My next task is to use these pieces to construct cold frames.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Forty Hours

I am working full time again. I've lost track of time but it's been about five years since I started slipping into retirement. First, I reduced to eleven months then to four days per week and then to twenty-four hours per week. Now, I'm supposed to be working forty hours but last week I worked forty-two. I've established a schedule of working 5 AM to 6 AM from home and 8 AM to 5 PM in the office. This means I need only three hours in the office on Friday.

Actually, I don't mind the increase in hours. We're in the midst of a major system upgrade that has to be completed by October 2012. At first I was approached about increasing my hours in April but last month that request was changed to as soon as possible.

After this upgrade is complete we begin another major year-long upgrade that I think will be interesting. Next month I'm going to Nashville for a conference in preparation for the second upgrade.

Ironically, in December Julie completed the necessary document to qualify me for Medicare but I doubt I'll take advantage of it anytime soon. At present I plan working anther five years. But, as soon as possible, I'm hoping to reduce to four days per week.

One of the disadvantages of this change is that I have no desire to turn on a computer in the evenings. We get home about 6 PM and try to get to bed about 9 PM which leaves little time for blogging. I have a backlog of several items about which to write.