Hydroponics

Chris Wimmer of Captain Hydroponics recently dropped me an email to say hi. Having recently visited the Biospheric Foundation in Salford and seen their experimental urban aquaponics setup, I was interested and asked him a little more about hydroponics.

Chris says:
“Hydroponics is the practice of gardening without soil. This method allows you to grow your plants with less water and fertilizer than traditional gardening. You can even get creative by reusing existing household items in your hydroponic systems.”

His site explains it all in more detail. I quite like the look of this simple DIY system. I already have an airstone (bought for making compost tea) and I’m sure we have a plastic box kicking around somewhere. The 2-litre plastic bottle idea doesn’t even need an airstone, and this hydroponic microgreens setup is even easier. (Chris tells me that you can use non-peat alternatives to peat moss.) I shall see if I can give one of them a go this season — or if anyone reading does, please report back.

In case you’re wondering: the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics is that aquaponics also involve fish, with the idea being that the fish waste products act as fertiliser for the plants, with the plants therefore keeping the water clean. The Biospheric Foundation setup also involves compost, which in its turn produces worms to feed the fish. Graham Burnett at Spiralseed wrote up the LAND trip to Manchester that I was on which included that visit.

Eco-friendly clothing: links roundup

Over at A Little Bit of All Of It, it’s eco-friendly clothing week! In honour of which, here is a round-up of various links and so on from me and elsewhere, on the subject of eco-friendly clothing.

Upcycling

Upcycling existing clothes that you no longer wear is an eco-friendly way of getting new clothes. I haven’t up cycled anything for myself lately, but I have been upcycling a T-shirt of mine (no longer wearable into a T-shirt for Leon. A skirt I don’t wear became a pair of baby trousers last summer; they’re still being worn this summer, just as three-quarter length rather than full length. I also made a pair of smart trousers from some suit trousers recently, but haven’t yet blogged it.

Not clothes, but I made toys from scraps from my scrap box earlier this year, too.

Making clothes from fabric

How eco-friendly it is to make your own clothes (if not upcycling) depends on how eco-friendly the source fabric is. Although you could argue that making your own makes you more likely to wear and appreciate the garment, rather than treating it as disposable; it may also last longer and you might be more likely to patch it.

Here’s a few sources of eco-friendly fabric, or yarn:

  • Organic Cotton do eco-friendly (organic, also fair trade) cotton and other materials, and deliver very fast. I’ve used them personally and can recommend them.
  • The Hemp Shop do hemp fabric, which is organic. It’s not fair trade but they do give their factory working conditions on that page.
  • There are several sorts of yarn which is recycled from other yarns or fabrics:
    • Recycled sari silk: can be a bit odd to knit with, though, and doesn’t knit a smooth fabric.
    • Second Time Cotton: recycled from consumer cotton scraps. Nice to knit with, but sadly I can’t find a UK stockist at the moment.
    • Full Circle worsted and bulky wool is also made from leftover bits of British wools. It’s 100% wool, very snuggly, and nice to knit with. It’s a bit scratchy but only in the way that wool is often a bit scratchy.

You can also knit multi-coloured things from your end-balls of yarn; blankets are another way to use up ends of balls.

Shopping

Finally, if you’re buying, start out with charity shops or Ebay second-hand clothes (as well as promoting reuse, this is also much cheaper!). If you’re buying new, look for organic and fair trade, and be prepared (sadly) to spend a while at it, as it can be difficult to find both. Once you do, make your clothes last as long as possible by washing them only when they’re actually dirty, protecting them when you’re doing dirty chores (get an apron!), and patching them if possible.

Baby tipi, and another guest post

I really wanted to put a willow den in our back garden for Leon to play in.

Bamboo canes pushed into a grassy lawn and tied into a small tipi, with a sheet clipped over them, in foreground; in front of that the top of a blueberry bush, a rosemary bush to left of shot, apple tree behind, blue sky
Baby tipi between the blueberry bush and the rosemary

Unfortunately, that was scuppered by the realisation that there’s a sewage pipe running underground through the middle of the garden. You’re not supposed to plant willow within 3m of any pipes (it seeks water, and can sneak into the pipe through any cracks), and the apple tree prevented me planting further down the garden than that.

Instead, it occurred to me this week that after building the bean wigwam recently, I had lots of bamboo cane left over; and a couple of old sheets in the bottom of the airing cupboard. So now we have a baby play tipi.

Unfortunately the baby was unconvinced, because it has grass on its floor, and he is somewhat mistrustful of grass on bare feet. Hopefully as he gets steadier on his feet he may be more enthusiastic; in the meantime I might put a blanket down in there tomorrow.

Baby focussed on playing with a box of rice
Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

In other news, this week I wrote about the competing pulls of parenting over at the Natural Parents Network: The Two Minds of Parenting.

Up-cycled baby T-shirt

I have a stack of old T-shirts in my fabric box waiting to be turned into baby shirts (ones that are no longer fit for adult use but have enough good fabric in them to be worth chopping up), and this week made my first attempt, with an old Belle and Sebastian shirt. Lots of pictures after the cut.

Continue reading “Up-cycled baby T-shirt”

Apples, and Growstuff

Our apple tree grew two whole apples this year*, and on Tuesday we ate one of them. It was, as that update mentions, very tasty. Tonight we will eat the second one.

That update link goes to Growstuff, an awesome open-source project I’m involved with. We’re aiming to build a platform to track, discuss, and learn about edible gardening. A kind of Ravelry for gardeners, if you’re a knitter/crocheter and therefore aware of Ravelry.

I’ve tried many different ways of tracking my gardening over the years, and none of them have worked particularly well. I’m really hopeful that Growstuff will turn into a solution to this. In particular I want to see an Android app so I can add things from my phone while sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea after a bit of planting or weeding or harvesting. It’s massively early days yet, but it’s a fun project to work on, and it’s visibly improving every development cycle. This morning I worked with pozorvlak on adding multiple gardens — so (once it’s accepted and pushed to the dev site) that will be working. I’m still feeling thrilled about Doing A Thing that is a visible step towards a properly usable site.

If you’re interested, we’re actively looking for developers. We’re doing pair-programming, so if you have limited or no experience, you can pair up (remotely or in person) with someone. You don’t need much time — I worked on the gardens thing with 2 x 1 hr sessions, because that’s all I have right now. If you’re not interested in coding, non-coders are also very welcome to help work out what wants to be on the site (you could start by joining the mailing list).

Now I want to go out and do some gardening. Shame it’s pitch dark and cold out there. My peas, broad beans, and winter lettuce are all coming along nicely, though. Alongside that apple (and some bread and hummous), we had a small garden salad, which, in midwinter, is pleasing.

The nights have nearly done drawing in. Roll on spring. Hopefully by March I’ll be tracking my spring plantings on Growstuff.

* It actually grew more, but I broke off all but two so as not to overload it in its early years — it was planted as a 3yo tree last winter so I thought it could handle a couple of apples, unlike a maiden.

New shelves

I have new shelves! Some months ago I decided I needed to replace the dark wood bookcase on my desk with something in white (to lighten up the corner), with space for taller things (to clear out the untidy heaps of file folders on my floor), that was fixed to the wall (to free up some desk space). Here is the Before shot:

Shot of left-hand side of desk, with dark wood bookcase standing on it against the wall)

Desk (out of shot: untidy heap of files on floor)

I didn’t want to buy new wood for this, so I was on the lookout for something to reuse. Plan A involved some scaffolding board (transported from Limehouse by trike), but when I got it home, it seemed a bit too thick. Plan B came about when I found a stack of 1″ thick wood abandoned beside a bin. Sanded down and cut to size, they did the job admirably. White paint we had already (a tester pot of Holkham Linseed white, which is lovely to use and non-toxic, but does take forever to dry), and we have a pot full of miscellaneous reclaimed/acquired screws from which I found sufficient for the brackets. I did have to buy the brackets themselves, and the rawlplugs were new.

In the process of putting them up I learnt something about measuring for mitred corners, specifically, that it pays to be a bit more careful when marking the position for the second set of boards. Getting someone else in to help hold the shelves while I marked up would have helped. The long and short boards are also very slightly different widths, but it’s not obvious, and I’m pleased with the outcome anyway.

Same desk, less stuff on the desk, white shelves fixed to the walls above the back left corner of the desk
Lighter and tidier

(The untidy area on the floor now houses a different set of miscellany, but one step at a time…)

Making things: a place for things and a place for making

I have a couple of woodwork projects on my making-things list, but haven’t been making much progress with them. I realised the other day that part of the problem was the lack of space in the garage to start on a project, put it down, and come back to it later. Given that I expect to get interrupted about every hour or so when I’m at home (that’s roughly how often Leon feeds), I can’t necessarily finish a project same-day, and tidying away is daunting.

So before making places for things*, I made a place for making the things. I’ve done a bit of Freecycling and charity-shopping, moved some storage around, and now have a lovely space in the garage, near to the door for maximum natural light, where I can leave the workbench set up and a project stacked up on it.

I’m hoping to make a start on the toybox tomorrow as I think I have enough spare wood for that already. Really looking forward to it! I’m also hoping to get a bit of sewing done before I have to return M’s fabulous sewing machine on Tuesday. Now, it occurs to me that I could also do with a place to keep my own sewing machine… but perhaps best to stick to one thing at a time.

* My current projects are all storage-based: drawers for under my desk, a toybox for Leon, and perhaps a small set of shelves for Leon as well.

Fitting a water butt

If you grow plants and have access to a gutter downpipe, it’s well worth finding the space and time for a water butt. Rainwater is better for your plants than tap water*; and of course you help conserve water as well.

Water butt against fence

For small spaces you can get slimline water butts; we have room for a 250l one, and it’s worked out very well. This weekend was the first time this year I’ve needed to fill the watering can from the tap. I did put off fitting it for ages, but in fact it was an easier job than I had feared.

You’ll need a downpipe diverter, and a hacksaw to chop through the downpipe. The diverter kit will have detailed instructions, but basically you cut through the drainpipe at a height just below the top of the water butt. You then connect diverter and water butt with a piece of tubing, and when the water in the butt reaches the level of the drainpipe, the water will flow back into the drainpipe and down the drain. (Here’s a basic explanation of the physics of how water finds its own level; imagine the drainpipe, which is ‘bottomless’, as one of the tubes, and the water butt as the other, with the tubing connecting them.)

A note: when measuring the height of your water butt, it is VERY IMPORTANT to place the water butt high enough off the ground that you can get a watering can in under its tap. We used spare paving slabs; you can also get a purpose-built plastic stand.

Once you’ve cut the drainpipe and fitted the diverter and its tube, that’s it — you’re done, and your water butt is ready to collect water the next time it rains.

The only problem we’ve found so far is that the angle between drainpipe and water butt means that our tubing has a couple of kinks in it that tend to gather gunk & allow algae to grow. This means that it needs to be cleaned out occasionally to keep the water flowing. We’ve just added gaffer tape to reduce the amount of light and thus hopefully also the algae.

Drainpipe diverter and gaffer-taped tube to water butt

Next job: fitting a smaller one on the front balcony. I need to check this with the neighbours first, though, as we share that drainpipe.

* If you can’t use rainwater for watering, when possible it’s a good idea to let tap water sit for 24 hrs before using it on your plants, to allow the chlorine to offgas.

Making a laptop caddy

In our household we have a tendency to leave laptops lying around the living room. It occurred to me, as L began rolling and trying really hard to crawl (he is currently managing whole millimetres at a time, often backwards), that this might not be a good long-term strategy.

So I consulted the rest of the household (the dog wasn’t that helpful), did some sketches, dug around in the piles of miscellaneous wood in the garage, and spent last Sunday afternoon making this between bouts of feeding L:

Wooden laptop holder with four upright slots

We have three laptops and a couple of tablets, so 4 slots seemed like plenty, with a box at the end for power cables. The original design was altered a bit when I established what wood I had readily available, but I think for the better (I was a bit too generous with the original sizing).

The short ends are a couple of bits of 3/4″ pine shelf offcut; the long sides and the dividers are plywood left over from a flooring project. The other ends of the dividers are held by a 1″ batten, because I didn’t have another piece of the 3/4″ pine:

Close-up of inside of laptop caddy, with wooden batten

To cut the slots for the dividers, really I could have done with a router[0], or failing that, a chisel which hadn’t been wrecked by being used to prise up carpet nails. I also realised afterwards that a hacksaw would have been a better tool than a regular saw. All in all, then, they’re not the neatest ever, but they do the job:

Close-up of top of laptop holder, with plywood sitting in roughly-cut slots in the end piece of wood

I’ll probably paint it sometime soon (we have some nice grey linseed wood paint left over from the same flooring project as the plywood) but the natural wood looks OK for now. And it’s doing the job, for the total investment of a dozen screws and an afternoon with the power tools and a manky chisel.

[0] After chatting to my Dad later, I will be getting a router next time I’m at B&Q. He says he’s spent 30 years repeatedly thinking that a router would be useful but not quite worth it for any given project…

From pallets to shed

I spent much of February slowly constructing a shed (more of a tool cupboard, really; our garden is very small) from deconstructed pallets.

The first step was to measure up (my shed was 80cm x 60cm in footprint, and spade-height-plus-a-bit in height) and cut the pallet planks to size. I think I used about 2.5 pallets, and a hand-held circular saw (very very useful to speed things up).

I also needed four lengths of 2×2, one per corner, to attach the planks to. My design called for a sloping roof (so the rain runs off), so required two shorter lengths for the back, and two longer for the front. I nailed the back planks to the shorter lengths, and each set of side planks to one of the longer lengths (so at this point the side planks were braced only at one end).



The back wall, screwed into its 2×2 bracing at both ends of the planks.



One of the sides, with only one end braced. Note that its 2×2 rises above the planks; this is because it needed a triangular piece of planking attached later to allow for the slope of the roof.

The next step was to screw the loose ends of each side piece to the 2×2 bracing of the back piece.



Shed with three sides. Note again the space at the top of each side for a triangular piece. (Apologies for the sun flare in the photo!)



Shed corners screwed together.

I measured, cut, and attached triangular pieces for the top of each side (no photos, sorry). For the roof, I cut a piece of plywood which overlapped the sides by about 4-5cm in each direction. I intended to cover this with some thick black plastic left behind by our kitchen fitters, but my Dad came up instead with a roll of roof felt from in his garage, so I was able to do a more professional-looking (and longer-lasting!) job with that, roofing glue, and some roofing nails. Before covering the roof, I screwed in a batten at the back to keep it from sliding off.



The batten on the underside of the roof, and the roofing nails keeping the felt down. The felt was glued down on the topside of the roof.

Since installation, I’ve added a couple of battens at the front to keep it square and to brace the roof.

It still lacks a door (I’m on the look out for some large enough plywood), and at some point I will use a couple of L-shaped metal bits to attach the roof, rather than using bricks to hold it down. But as of now, it does the required job, and, given the high percentage of reused materials, for minimal financial or environmental cost. I’m also kind of proud that I built it at 38 weeks pregnant!