Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 10: Growing the Herb

Year 1 - Summer Day 59

Finally got my basement grow light set up to grow some...

Basil! and Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary, Spearmint and Oregano.  Also I have some Lemon Mint getting shipped to plant as well.  What did you THINK I was growing?  I decided to start a basement setup so that I can prepare plants for transplanting outside before the last frost of spring next year as well as grow herbs throughout the winter.  I've since bumped the planter up on some buckets to get closer to the grow light but the setup remains generally the same.  The planter has some holes drilled in the bottom to allow drainage so having those over buckets works better anyway.

The garden has been progressing nicely, I've harvested another seven or so Cucumbers and continue to pick a handful or two of green beans every 3-4 days.  I'll need to start giving cucumbers away by the baskets because I just cannot force myself to eat this many cucumbers and drink this much cucumber water.  They are very delicious though.  In fact my dog tried to grab them out of my hand!  (Disclaimer:  I may have baited him into the picture).

The garden continues to teem with life, from little frogs hopping around beneath the shady cucumber canopy to crimson dragonflies sun bathing on broad leaves, many insects, spiders and amphibians have made the garden their home, and the number of bees keeps increasing!  There are now four to five bumblebees when I go check on the cucumbers in the morning as well as two to three honey bees.  They generally leave me alone unless I dump water on their head in which case they buzz around in a frenzy.  

Soon I should be able to pick some carrots and potatoes as the flowers have already bloomed.  I've also picked up a few skill books to help level up and hit level 2:  The Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques and The New Vegetables, Herbs & Fruits, An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

I bought them from Barnes & Noble as impulse purchases as I was browsing, but they're a bit cheaper at the Amazon links above.

I'm very excited for my new basement herb garden and the potted herbs I have outside have started to sprout already (the cinnamon basil at least).  It's very fun and exciting (and delicious).

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 9: Cucumbers and Herb Planting

Year 1 - Summer Day 53

The first two Lemon Cucumbers have been harvested!  I wasn't sure if they were ready since on the vine they look very green, but once I picked them and sliced them they were perfectly ready to eat!  They're milder than your average cucumber with a very slight tang making them tastier than a store bought cuke.  These are just the first two of hundreds to come, but it was fun to pick them and get some harvest out of the giant tangle of leaves that's taking over half my garden.  Max, my cattle dog mutt, also found the cucumbers to be very enthralling.

In addition I also picked and stripped the leaves off of the last spinach plant.  I had picked some of the lower leaves before and what happened was that new stems grew out of those leaves and instead of giant leaves like the plant had before, I had a bunch of stems with tons of tiny leaves.  In addition the bean plants were pushing the spinach plant over and it wasn't faring well.

I did get a ton of leaves off of it though and once they dry from rinsing I'll be able to store them.  I continue to get a couple handfuls of green beans every 3-4 days and the tomato plants have bloomed so there should be tomatoes as well in a couple weeks.  Also the potato plants have flowered with pretty purple flowers that dangle from the stems.

I'm also working on a basement herb garden and have a grow light and a table ready to set up.  This will help me get it started so next year I can sprout my plants in the basement before transferring them outside.  The two pots that the tomato plants used to be in have now also gotten repurposed for a bunch of herbs to grow out in the backyard as well.  I've planted Cinnamon Basil, Rosemary, Spearmint, Oregano and Parsley and I have some Thyme to plant in the basement once I get that set up as well.  This should give us a nice little herb garden for seasonings and it should let us grow plants in the basement throughout the winter.  Overall the harvests are starting and it's exciting to see some profit from the work put in.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next Episode 10: Growing the Herb

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 8: Beans, Bees and Baby Carrots

Year 1 - Summer Day 46

Beans!  I was able to pick twenty or so green beans from the garden today as well as snap a few photos of the bumbling bumble bees scurrying from flower to flower amidst the cucumber jungle.  The green beans are a bush type and are the first to start producing vegetables, and although the harvest is small, they should continue producing throughout the summer and I'll need to harvest the bushes twice a week.  I also attempted to pick one of the carrots since the plants were getting very large, but that was a mistake and I lost one of the few carrots I actually am growing in the garden.  Just goes to prove that I'm still truly a level 1 gardener.

I did eat the carrot though after cleaning it and gave a small bit of it to my dog who gladly chomped down on some fresh veggies.  It was not a very filling meal being as small as it was, but nonetheless it was good to taste it to get an idea of what the future holds for the rest of the carrots.

While out and about there were many bugs, butterflies, bees and spiders roaming the garden and I was able to snap a few pictures of the bumblebees as they noshed on some nectar.  The little fellows have been out there all day roaming from flower to flower and have brought more friends to feast on the plentiful flowers.  It's pretty funny to watch them stuff their head down in the flower with their legs splayed out on the petals.

 It's an exciting time in the garden as the plants start giving back for the work put in!  I'm also getting ready to set up an herb garden in my basement to continue growing a variety of herbs for use in the kitchen throughout the year.  I've ordered a bunch of Oregano, Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, and a few other herbs to put in a planter under a grow light.  This will let me set up a system that I can use for sprouting my garden plants next spring as well.

It was a very relaxing day watching the wildlife and harvesting in the garden.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 7: Overgrown and Flowering

Year 1 - Summer Day 45

I'm going to have a LOT of cucumbers.  The plants have grown incredibly over the past few weeks and are sprawling over everything nearby.  I never expected they would grow so big!  Hundreds of pretty yellow flowers are tucked away in the jungle of foliage as bumble bees dart from flower to flower, straddling the petals with their splayed out black legs munching on the nectar inside.  If I knew from the beginning how large my cucumber plants were going to grow, I would have built a much better structure for them to grow up on and would have given them much more room.  As it stands now the plants can barely fit in the raised garden and have sprawled out into the yard!

Above is just one small view of the myriad of flowers that will all turn into delicious fruits (of the vegetable-y kind).  I'm going to have to give away a lot of these cucumbers, but it's very exciting to see them thrive and grow large.  In addition to the cucumber plants, the bean plants have also begun flowering and growing beans.  They're small so far, but there are lots of little white flowers dotting my bush beans.

And the tomato plants?  Well I put them on those twisted poles and they've already topped them!  Soon my tomato plants will be as tall as I am!  I'm very excited for the multitude of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers that I will have, even if my other plants aren't doing quite as well.

All in all, it's very exciting to see the garden come alive with bees and flowers and everything growing so big!  I thought I was spreading plants out too much when I originally started the garden, but it turns out I didn't give them enough room!  Next year I will definitely plan a little more space for my plants (especially the cucumbers).  I've also harvested some of the basil as well and it smells amazing!  I haven't used it yet, but I'm looking forward to drying it or crushing it in a beverage as it has a wonderfully fragrant smell and I'm sure it's delicious.

I've learned a lot so far and it's fun being a newb farmer!  As my skills level up I'll be able to keep my entire garden flourishing and produce even more vegetables than I have currently growing and that's really exciting!  Soon I should have a cucumber and tomato harvest to share so stay tuned!

Monday, July 24, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 6: Lush Rebounding Growth

Year 1 - Summer Day 33

It turns out that I did not in fact, murder my cucumber plants, as they are bigger and lusher than ever!  It was a delightful rainy day out and the plants are just cheery about all the wetness.  Thankfully the railing is containing them a bit and they are not sprawling across the entire garden anymore, but only barely.  Even with the wire frame I looped them through they are still crawling over the side of the raised garden and into my yard.

The tomato plants are also getting very tall and some of them are nearing the top of the twisty poles.  Flower have also started dotting the bean bushes and the potato stalks are springing up.  Looks like everything but the garlic and onions are growing very well and I'm looking forward to the buckets of veggies I'll get to pick soon.

Cucumber Plants

Tomatoes, Carrots and Basil

Bean Bushes, Spinach and Potatoes

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 5: First Harvest!

Year 1 - Summer Day 25

The first fruits of the garden are picked!  Well the first-leaves of the garden at least.  The spinach plants were doing well and were large enough to pick some delicious spinach leaves!  This breed is called Noble Giant and their leaves get quite large!  I'm not sure how big they would get but I picked a few of the lower, larger leaves to make a salad for lunch!  And boy was it good!

I used some leftover salmon and whipped together a dijon vinaigrette (which I put way too much on, it was very strong flavored) and added some tomatoes and romaine from the store.  It was fun to eat the first leaves from my garden and I'm excited to harvest more as we get later into the summer.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, July 15, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 4: Angry Plants

Year 1 - Summer Day 24

I think I pissed off my cucumber plants.  They were getting massive and needed to be reigned in and grow upward instead of sprawling across all my other plants so I bought a plant rack to have them grow on, but I think all of the jostling really ticked them off.  Hopefully they rebound, I killed a few of their giant leaves in the process.  

Lesson learned:  First, next time I am going to build something like this earlier, I didn't realize just HOW much they would sprawl, and second, I'm going to build my own wooden rack next time.  The little metal one I bought barely stays together and might not even hold up the plant stems.

My tomato plants are doing well though, as are my Bean plants.  And finally I have some Potato sprouts!  I wasn't sure if the potatoes would grow because I had used store bought potatoes, but I finally see sprouts along the edge! Also my spinach plants are getting to where I could actually eat the leaves!  They're getting very large so I may make a salad soon with them.

As you can see above, I also got these little twisty things for the tomato plants to grow on, you have to train them up it as they grow, but unlike the cucumber plants, I've been working on the tomato plants from a much earlier stage.

The Bean plants are also doing well.  They're still trucking along, and they're bush beans so I don't need poles to train them up.  All in all, the garden is coming along nicely.  I put down a bag of cow manure we bought from a local garden shop and it seems to have spurred on some of the plant growth.

The onions and garlic don't seem to be doing amazing, but that might be due to pests.  I did see some digging marks near my garlic plants.  I might try putting down some cayenne near them to keep pests away.  Still learning a ton, I have a feeling year 2 will go much better than this year.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 3: Half a garden of nutritious decay

Year 1 -  Summer Day 10

Unsurprisingly, because I'm still a Novice Farmer, about only half of the plants I planted are growing well.  Interestingly enough its all of the plants I planted in the first half of the garden.  I'm not sure if this is due to rabbits getting in and just eating what was closest when they hopped in or if the plants in front are getting too much sun.  Either way, I do have some plants which are growing well.

Five of the 16 tomato plants I planted are growing and about half of the carrots and a quarter of the onions are growing.  Interestingly enough all of the bean plants sprouted and grew, and all of the Lemon Cucumber plants grew pretty hardily.  Only two of my spinach plants are growing, out of around 8 or so, but they do appear to be doing well.

I ended up thinning a bunch of the plants a week or two ago, pulling out the tomato plants where 2 were growing in one spot, and thinning the cucumber hills to 3 plants each.  Today I did more thinning, reducing the clusters of basil plants, since the ones with less clustering were looking healthier and the onions were bunched in some areas, so I thinned out the weaker plants to allow the healthier ones to thrive.

The garlic seems to be doing okay, it doesn't seem like it's grown much in the past week, but the cucumber plants are getting large, as well as the bean bushes.  To increase the nutrition in the soil today I also did a pH Test to check the soil alkalinity of the garden as well as my compost, and once happy with the results added the compost to the garden.

pH Testing

A website I came across had a very simple way to test if your soil is very alkaline or acidic, and while not highly accurate, can give a good idea of the pH.  You can view the article here: PreparednessMama, but the gist of the instructions are:
  • Put soil in one cup, and soil mixed with water in another.
  • Add vinegar to the first cup and watch for a reaction, if there is fizzing and a reaction your soil is alkaline.
  • Add baking soda to the second cup and watch for a reaction, if there is fizzing and a reaction, your soil is acidic.
So I tested both the garden soil to see where it was at, and the compost I was going to be adding so that I could get an idea of where each was and if it needed to be adjusted or the compost needed certain things to adjust it one way or the other.

Garden Soil Results

The garden soil was almost entirely soil that was added from bags at Home Depot, so going in I expected the pH to be fairly neutral.  As you can see before and after, the first image is the raw soil, and the second is the soil with vinegar poured over it and water and baking soda added.  As you can see there is essentially no reaction to either so the soil's pH is neutral.  This is good, since having a neutral base will allow the compost to be more of one or the other.

Compost Results

The compost was a slightly different story.  We have quite a few pine needles in our yard due to large pine trees overhead, which cause the grass we put into the compost to be slightly acidic when it breaks down.  As you can see in the second picture there was a mild reaction to the baking soda, but not a large one, indicating the compost is slightly acidic.  Since it's only slightly acidic, that will be fine since the plants in the garden should do well with a lower pH soil.  At least from what I've read on that site, the garlic, onions and beans should do well with it.

Nutritious Decay

Finally today I added a bunch of the compost from our compost bin, which is really a giant brick square that I dump grass, dirt, sticks, and compostable food scraps into.  We started the compost bin last fall, so this is the first time using some of the broken down grass and leaves in it.  My back was dying from leaning over the bin and I had to shake out a lot of dirt and filter out the best dirt I could from the compost bin.  It also took quite a bit of flipping to get to the really good soil at the bottom of the bin.  I had made the mistake of putting a pallet at the bottom of the bin in order to hold it up to let water drain, but all that it ended up doing was making it extremely difficult to flip the compost.  Once we empty out the majority of the bin this fall when we till the garden with it, I'll pull the palette out and let the compost rest on the ground where it can just drain into the ground and create a nice place for creepy crawlies to break things down.

Finally I added the compost to the garden, nestling it around plants and pouring it into the rows between them to allow the nutrients to get into the dirt below.  Today I also did a deep watering with the hose instead of just the watering can.  This Article has some information about watering that has bene helpful, but I'm still learning.  I might be over  watering, as I do try to water with the can every morning, but it has also been rainy lately so it might be too much. 

That said, the plants that are still alive seem to be doing well, so I'll continue my efforts.  All in all its exciting seeing the plants get larger and grow, and though I'm still learning, next year I think I can get more of the plants to grow and stay alive.  Certainly I will invest some time next year in a better fencing situation.  Perhaps including a top to the garden so that birds do not pick away the seeds.  That's another reason that perhaps some of the plants did not grow.  Either way, next year I'll be more careful about how I plant them and hopefully more than half the garden will actually sprout and grow!  Art imitates life, but it does feel like a game sometimes where my level just isn't high enough yet to achieve consistent results.  This is a fun experiment though, and I do look forward to the harvest season as well as building neat contraptions to help automate the work.  It's very enjoyable to see the little seeds I planted a month ago sprout and grow.

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next: Episode 4: Angry Plants

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 2: Sprouts and Bunnies

Year 1 - Spring Day 84

While adorable, these fuzzy little creatures are not your garden's friend.  They are it's deep, dark nemesis.  We have a ton of little cottontail rabbits in our back yard, and while we do have a cattle dog that loves to chase them out, they still come back often.  So in order to keep them away, I built a fence around the garden.  Problem is... the fence and garden walls are only 18 inches high... and cottontail bunnies can jump up to 24 inches high! These guys have ups!  So, the fence may or may not work, but so far none of the sprouts appear to have been nibbled.  I also made sure to get the garden fence as close to the yard fence as I possibly could and tried to eliminate any gaps between each that could be exploited.

But, the next exciting part is that despite the fence not QUITE being high enough, sprouts have emerged!  The basil, garlic, cucumber and bean plants are all showing their first leaves.  The garlic was the first to push through the ground followed by the cucumber plants and then the basil started pushing away the dirt around it.

When I first noticed the cucumber sprouts a few mornings ago, I walked outside and found three sprouts on one hill and one on the back one.  When I went later that night, there were 5 sprouts on the first hill, (which was all of the ones I planted) and three on the second hill.  Pretty soon I'll need to start thinning the garden and pick out the best plants to survive.  I'll need to do that pretty aggressively for the carrots and the basil since I dropped a ton of seeds in each location I planted them.  I could barely see the carrot seeds so I just poured them out in an indented line and then covered the up with a bit of dirt.


Bean Bush

Lemon Cucumber

My next plans include devising a way to do drip irrigation.  I recently got a Raspberry Pi 3 for my 30th birthday and I have been meaning to use one of the ones I already had to do a project, so a drip irrigation system with moisture sensors would be pretty awesome to try out and post the information to a web server where I can track the moisture in the soil throughout the day and after watering.

Also I might need to built something to scare the bunnies away, maybe a robot owl?  We'll see about that.  But for now the things are all growing and its very exciting!

- Level 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next: Episode 3: Half a Garden of Nutritious Decay

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Harvest Life - Episode 1: Spring Planting

Year 1 - Spring Day 75

Since I'm new to the life of farming, I'm a little late to the season during the first year of living the Harvest Life, but I have finally started out on the grand adventure of farming and gardening!  Today I finished filling my garden with soil and planted my first batch of crops!  The seeds shipped recently from a little local place I like to visit called the internet, from a shop called SeedsNow.  They've got very reasonable prices and great varieties of all sorts of plants.  I built my raised garden with a bunch of wood I had laying around in my garage from remodeling the house, and ripped up a bunch of the soil underneath so that the plants can grow down into the soil below as well.  The plot is 4 ft deep x 24 ft long x 6 in tall and took about 25 bags of soil at 1.5 cu ft per bag to get a good covering over the existing dirt.

Today after filling the garden, I planted the following:

And I still have a plot of potatoes to plant, which I need to pick up at a local store.  

But the garden is started!  There will still be many things left to do, such as watering and weeding every morning, and making sure that pests don't eat away my crops.  I picked up a Tier 1 Watering Can as well.  A good old green plastic can works for now!  I had started a couple tomato plants a while back and just transitioned them to outside.  Once the plants sprout, I'll need to do something called thinning.  I've planted a TON of seeds, and once they sprout if I don't pick the best ones to survive and thin out the weak ones, they'll all fight too hard to survive and I won't get the best crops.

I'm still new to all this, but reading up on each crop has been helpful.  I'm trying to do my best to follow companion planting and pay attention to the state of my soil, so hopefully pests will stay away and the crops will help each other grow.  I found a couple decent guides on companion planting: What NOT to plant near each other, and one about What TO plant near each other to get the maximum benefits.

There are many other things to do around the yard as well.  I have a wood pile to chop, but I have a low level axe and my woodcutting skill is rather low, so its taking some time getting it all chopped.  I've already got a massive stack of fire wood, but there is still so much left!  Also the grass in the yard seems to keep growing week after week!  So I keep having to cut it.  We've lived in our new home for just over a year now, so we're finally getting to working on the yard since last year was all home remodeling and indoor work.

Feeling the cool black earth beneath your fingers is a phenomenal feeling.  Although trying to research on the computer with hands covered in mud between each seed type that was planted probably was not a great idea.

If you want to start a garden as well, there are a lot of resources out there and I hope to hear about your adventures as well!  Stay tuned for more updates of my first adventure living the Harvest Life!

- Lv 1 Gardener: Jace -
Next: Episode 2: Sprouts and Bunnies

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

BitBit - A little compression library

Ever needed to compress a bunch of settings in a JavaScript object down to fit in a couple of bytes worth of data?  No?  Well that's okay I didn't either until recently.  While working with some embedded systems I needed a way to take simple number and boolean settings in an object, where I could store them in a readable format, and pack those down into under 2 bytes to be sent to and stored on a memory limited device.

Now, bit masks are useful if you're only dealing with multiple boolean values, but I needed to support integers as well, so I needed an easy way to say:  "Ok, bit 0 will be setting A, bits 1-6 will be setting B and bits 7-16 will be setting C."  So I created a little library called BitBit.

BitBit works by letting you create a new BitBit object with a schema that defines how a JavaScript object maps to certain bits.  For example, if you had a thermostat object with settings about a thermostat that you wanted to pack down into under 2 bytes, you could set up a new BitBit object like so:

What this is doing is creating a new BitBit object with a valid schema.  A schema must be an object with string keys that map to an array of 1 or 2 numbers.  A single number means it's a boolean and uses a single field.  2 numbers mean that its mapped to a number that uses the bits spanning the numbers given in the array (inclusive).  If you wanted to return a number that was just 0 or 1, you could use an array with 2 numbers that were the same.

Once you have built the schema, you can pack the settings down into an integer for storage.

As you can see above, once you pack the object, it will ignore anything not specified in the schema, which means you lose that data once it's unpacked.  A good way to use the unpacked data is to merge it back over your original object with lodash.merge.  This works well if the device you're sending it to and from can modify it.

In addition, you can use lodash accessor keys to get nested objects, array indices, etc.  There is an example of that on the Github Readme.

Well, that's about it, it's a small library I created since I needed something like that and didn't see anything out there that existed yet that satisfied those requirements.

If you like it feel free to contribute!  That's all for now, hopefully I'll have more time for these little side projects.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

New Year, New Job!

It has been a while since I have posted, and a lot has changed!  Recently I got a new job at SimpliSafe as a Backend Software Engineer, continuing my work in NodeJS, which is really exciting.  Also, I now work at a place where there is no taboo on talking about where I work, like there was at Layer3 TV!  So lots of exciting things have been going on the past few months.

Other than the new career, I took part in the Global Game Jam in January and completed a fairly polished game within the 48 hours with my good friends Ben Taylor and Dawn Rivers.  The game is called BubbleDub and its a couch coop/competitive rhythmic puzzle game, where you must rapidly select the colors of orbs and complete chains to out score the competition.  It was a great time and it's always a good feeling getting to dive into game development for a bit and get a creative break from enterprise development.

I'm also trying to figure out what side projects I want to continue to work on and take to being a fully fleshed out product.  Lots of things I could work on from Stock Market analysis and learning about neural nets and machine learning to other games and the like.  Still trying to figure out what I want to invest a bunch of time and energy into, but still have a lot of projects around the house to do as well.

So... quick post after a few months of neglect, once I get into the groove of things at the new job I should have some mental energy to work on side projects and post about them.