n murray

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since May 24, 2018
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hugelkultur chicken pig
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portlandia, oregon. zone 8b
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Recent posts by n murray

Tj Jefferson wrote:Super cool project! Are the eggs rotated or not? We have a friend with tons of guineas, and they are tricky to hatch, but sometimes they find eggs before the black snakes get them, I am interested if this works, we rotted a whole clutch last year in a cheap incubator which made me sad.

Thanks for posting this!

Thanks Tj! I got shipped eggs and currently a lot of wisdom suggests to set shipped eggs without rotating them for 48 hours. Starting tomorrow morning, I will rotate by hand 5x a day. We are working on developing an automatic rotater. Actually, basically a roller -- imagine the eggs being on top of those (kinda gross) warm hot dog rollers that you see at the fair. They'd be rolled over constantly throughout the day, aiming for about 24 slow rotations over 24 hours. (There are some papers backing up this rotation rate, I can share if you are interested.)

This honestly wasn't hard to build, and the ability to micro-control, tinker, and log the temp is really fun for me. You can definitely sub in a high quality thermostat for the home-programmed Raspberry Pi and get excellent results (as many people have already done!).

wayne fajkus wrote:Store bought incubators are relatively inexpensive.  The only "tweek" i have done is zero'ing in the temps on them. I insert a meat thermometer to verify the actual temp vs the incubators displayed temp, then start adjusting the temp setting until the meat thermometer shows the temp i want. I got a much higher success rate after doing this. Like a 100% success rate after this, compared to 60% or less before.

Wayne, you're right. Storebought incubators aren't all that expensive. But we built this because we really wanted to, and because our data-nerd hearts love the logging capabilities of home-building. However, it sounds like a tweak like you made, using a more accurate thermometer to validate your store-bought incubator, is an excellent way to improve hatch success.
4 years ago
My husband and I decided to dive right into the deep end of egg hatching by building and programming our own incubator for our first hatch. We didn't just buy a thermostat and hook it up to our heat source and fan to control the temperature. Nope. Husband literally programmed a Raspberry Pi to turn a ceramic heat lamp and fan on and off at specific set points to maintain a consistent internal temperature of 99.5*F within the incubator. (If you're specifically interested in this code, I'm sure I can get that from him.) We popped a dozen fertilized Black Copper Marans and Azure Egger eggs from Alchemist Farm (in CA) in there this morning.

Risky? Sure. But he promised that if the incubator failed and killed the eggs, he'd buy me new ones plus a commercial incubator to make up for it.

The incubator is a little on the ghetto-fabulous side right now as this is functionally a very expensive prototype. But I thought I'd share our progress and data, and when we make improvements later this year (potentially for a meat chicken hatch or maybe more layers) will update with more pictures and information. (Of course, our eggs could fail to develop and then this would be a big failure -- but negative results are important too.)

One of the big benefits of building and programming the incubator ourselves was extreme control and logging of the temperature inside the incubator, and being able to get our temperature swings down to about 1.6* around our 99.5*F target. Temp log included in the images below.

Really basic build info
We built the incubator frame with 1/2" plywood and added a single layer of foam insulation to the inside on all surfaces. We cut out a gap for the fan and fan motor and drilled some holes for ventilation and wiring. Our original lid was just sat flush on the top of the box, but I could feel heat escaping from the sides, so I whacked together a lid that has overhang on each side and drops down into the box to leave fewer gaps between the edges of the insulation.

The heat source is a black 100w MAYKEY ceramic heat lamp. We experimented with using heating cartridges at first, but they got insanely hot and were not appropriate for this purpose. The ones we got were designed to be in a snug fit with some kind of metal to conduct the heat away from the cartridges rapidly. With them just heating the air, they ended up overheating their own component parts and breaking up rapidly.

The fan is just a little plastic fan attached to a 12v motor that is connected to a 5v outlet on the Raspberry Pi. It's running pretty low, but moves enough air around to speed heating.

We put the eggs on a platform above two bricks. The platform is made from a cooling rack with that cushy shelf cover underneath it, with a little rim around the edge to prevent eggs or chicks from falling if the incubator gets bumped.

What worked and what didn't
We played around A LOT with different incubator layouts and bulb/fan cycles to get the best heat cycles. Ideally we wanted something that averaged between 99*F and 100*F, without going above 103*F or below 97*F.

What worked
- Placing the water sources directly underneath the ceramic lamp increased humidity into an acceptable range (45%-55%). We also needed quite a few sponges to achieve this number.
- Having the fan cycle on a delay from the heating lamp (it kicks on 1 minute after and stays on 2.5 minutes after) evened out the temperature of the incubator and reduced carry-over heating.

I also think that adding bricks (we used 6) was critical to reducing temperature swings in the incubator, but we never did any tests without bricks. We changed too many things while we were adding bricks that it's hard to say what these contributed individually, but the prevailing wisdom about heat sinks supports this idea.

What did not work
- Bricks directly under the heating element absorbed way too much radiant heat and resulted in an incubator that got hotter and hotter and hotter. We abandoned this layout in our early trials and moved them to the far end of the incubator, and finally to underneath the pyrex water dish (insulating them from the heating bulb).
- Vents directly behind the fan drew in too much cold air and we could not get the humidity up. Our air is really dry here,  We figured that opening and closing the incubator 5 times a day to turn the eggs would introduce enough additional oxygen for them to stay alive without a constant draw of fresh (cold, dry) air from the outside. Also, it's not air tight.
- The cartridge heater -- as mentioned above.
- Personally -- there are no windows!!! I love staring at my projects (eggs, seeds, etc.) so this is a huge negative for me. Our next lid build will include a double insulated window pane. But then we'll also need a light source inside the incubator (the ceramic bulb doesn't emit visible light).

(ahem, continued)

Other notes
- Thermal read of the bricks after opening the incubator had them around 95*F. Our IR gun isn't the most accurate, but it's good to know that they won't have the opportunity to cook the eggs if the eggs do end up directly over them.
- We created a fake egg (aka the "fegg") to test how egg temperature would track incubator temperature during testing. It's a good thing we did, because the two thermometers we used had pretty different readings once we got up to temps in the 90s (F). The fegg allowed us to figure out which thermometer was going to keep egg temperature closer to 100*F. We're leaving the fegg in as insurance against any other thermometer issues. We read fegg temperature with a DOT oven probe thermometer.
- It took the incubator about 55 minutes to come back up to temp after adding 12 room-temperature eggs.

Temperature & humidity logs
Temperature this morning has stabilized at 99.5*F. The low is 98.8*F and the high is 100.3*F. I'm very happy with a 1.6*F range of temperatures (though I imagine eggs are resilient to swings bigger than this.)

The heating cycles occurs over about 6 minutes, with the bulb turned on for about 60% of the time.

The hygrometer isn't working right now (WHAT), but when we get the new one installed I'll update with a humidity log.

I'd be happy to chat about how we could improve and streamline the incubator for the next go around (or even little things we could adjust on this run!).
4 years ago
Peppers are persnickety for sure. NW Edible Life is my go-to for growing guides, and is based in your area. Erica grows hot and sweet peppers, I believe.

If you really want to get fruit this year, you should plan on starting your seeds indoors, up-potting at least once, and transplanting into the ground when it is nice and warm. Peppers like it hot, and they are slow to take off when they are growing.

Getting started
Start your seeds indoors, in small pots. I start mine in the germination cells that are about 1" square, but if you don't mind using the space you can start them in the little 2" nursery pots. The seeds take forever to germinate, and like soil temps between 65F and 90F, depending on the variety. They don't like to be too wet when germinating, but can't be completely dry either. I've tried a few different methods of getting them to germinate in seed trays, and have had mixed luck. Most people online report the best luck using heat mats under the soil trays to get the needed soil temperatures, which is the one thing I haven't really tried yet. Don't waste your money on those cardboard pots that "break down" when you plant them -- I grew the same seedlings side by side in those and regular plastic nursery pots, and the paper ones were awful. Lots of other people like the peat pots too, but I also hate those. To each their own.

Sow one or two seeds per pot, in a loose seed starting mix. Don't tamp it down, just sprinkle it in the pot and mist with a water bottle. It's okay that the soil sinks, you can top it up later. No need to sow them deep, I often just throw mine down on the top of the soil and mist them with a spray bottle so I can stare at them to see if they have germinated.

After germination, it's time to get those babies under lights! Invest in quality seed lighting. Good recommendations on NW Edible. I think I got my first seed starting lights for around $50, so it's not an enormous investment. Put your lights on a timer so your plants get 16 hours of light per day (and 8 hours of darkness).

Once your peppers start growing, they'll put out a couple of seed leaves first (cotyledons) that are long and thin and look nothing like pepper leaves. Next will come the first true leaves. After you have two sets of true leaves, you can feed your peppers with a *very* dilute liquid fertilizer. I usually use fish or kelp meal, diluted to 1/4 of what the package suggests. But you can use other gentle, balanced (5-5-5) fertilizer. If you want, you can set the peppers up with a fan to gently move the air around them. This helps prevent fungal problems and (according to some) creates stronger seedlings.

Your seed lights should be about an inch away from the tops of your plants, that way your growing peppers will get the most lumens. Keep lifting the lights as your peppers grow.

Don't overwater. This is hard. I overwater like crazy. But your plants don't NEED to be constantly wet, though the soil shouldn't ever dry out all the way. I usually mist/gently top water my plants for the first few weeks. I start bottom-watering by pouring water into a tray below the pots instead of over the top of them. Bottom watering lets the seedlings suck up water through their roots as they need it.

Up-potting will need to happen 4-6 weeks after germination. Your seedlings will out-grow those 2" nursery pots. But in a 2" pot they can honestly get pretty big, maybe 10 or 12 true leaves? Up-pot to a 4" pot or a 6" round -- or whatever you have space for. You can also pot them into a standard potting soil. DON'T use "garden soil" sold in bags. It is too strong for your baby plants still. If it's getting sunny outside when you up-pot, you can also start letting your seedlings feel some real sunlight!

You will also need to do something very painful. Something that hurts me every time I do it to my peppers.

You need to pinch off their tops.

It's awful, because you're basically cutting off the top few leaves of your beautiful, magnificent, baby pepper plants. However, by doing this you are stimulating greater branching and bushiness in the pepper. So instead of ending up with one long stem with leaves coming off the side, you'll have a branched plant that has a greater photosynthetic potential and more shoots and buds overall.

I pinch off my plants around 6 true leaves -- or around maybe 4" in height. That way they have enough leaves to capture a lot of light and keep growing, but are still small enough for this to not stress them too much.

Once soil temperatures outside are above 60F at night, then you can transplant your peppers outside. I'm not sure when this will be for you. As Marco suggested, you can use season extension techniques to achieve this -- low tunnels or black/clear plastic covering the soil where you intend to plant your peppers can be very helpful. Before you transplant, you must harden off your plants. This means putting them outside for a couple of hours each day and slowly increasing that time over the course of about a week. I usually start by putting my plants out for 2 hours in the morning, in a sunny spot. The next day I leave them out for 4 hours in the morning. By the end of the week I leave them out overnight, and they live outside until I'm ready to transplant.

Marco made great suggestions about transplant location. Pick a spot with at least 6 hours of sun a day. More is probably better in your area. If you have a sunny, South-facing wall, that's a great microclimate for your peppers. If you put them in pots, I would use a standard potting soil mix. A lot of people like to use "vegetable mix" or "vegetable fertilizer", but most of these fertilizers are too high in nitrogen and too low in potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) for plants to effectively fruit and flower. If you want to fertilize the soil you put your plants in, I suggest just using compost (yard waste compost can usually be bought in bags). Stay away from chicken manure and horse manure. Cow manure can be ok. I have no experience with mushroom compost.

If your peppers are anything like mine in the last five years, they will do nothing for a few weeks after you transplant them. Then they will BURST into growth, and seemingly change overnight. They'll get big and green and amazing.

Then it's just a waiting game for fruit!

Like Marco said, you can grow them as perennials in pots if you have a way to protect them over winter. And then next year, you'll get peppers earlier (and probably more of them!) than anyone else! Pots are also a great way to take advantage of the best microclimates in your yard throughout the season -- you can move your peppers around to the best spots in the yard as the season progresses, and potentially extend your fruiting abilities.

Hope you don't mind the verbal diarrhea -- but I love peppers! And I hope you have a great time growing yours!
Thanks Eric! I'll check out that book for sure.

The cold air and warm soils are throwing me off. As are the unexpectedly sunny days we've been having.

So I shall remain tempted, but try to resist. :)
4 years ago
This is my first year living in the PNW, and we've only been here about five months. Previously, I gardened pretty extensively in central California (in zone 9A-ish).

Based on looking at soil temperature maps and averages for my area (for example, the data from this weather station), it seems like we're having an abnormally warm winter this year, particularly in terms of soil temperature. Soil temps at and around my house are 45F-50F, when the historic January average is around 31F.

Based on these soil temps, I'm tempted to get my spring garden up and running as quickly as possible! The days aren't all that long yet, but I feel like I can still get a jump on spring peas and greens, right? (Maybe this year we can even get tomatoes in extra early for the PNW???!)

Buuuut I worry that a hard freeze is coming and I will be sad when all of my baby brassicas and lettuces get slaughtered out there.  On the other hand, the seeds I'm proposing throwing down aren't all that expensive. Maybe I just see what happens. (I can also throw down extra/old seed that I wasn't counting on being particularly important in the garden this year.)

We have low tunnels planned, but haven't gotten them together just yet. Though that's probably a pretty short bit of work if we needed to pull them together quickly.

I know that the weather can be unpredictable, but I'm wondering if PNW "old-timers" might have some good advice here.
4 years ago

Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I picked another truckload of apples today. That's the third this summer. I'm getting good at it. I sewed an apron that frees up both hands so picking goes twice as fast.

This August I moved into a new-to-me but actually 50-year-old house on a hundred year old property. As you can imagine, there was quite the accumulation of stuff in the basement.

Among it was a funny apron that had a pouch with a VERY wide opening at the top, and tied together at the bottom. The opening of the pouch was supported by some wicker that held it open. A relative who visited later showed me that it is a harvesting apron, made for easy delivery of apples/other tree fruits into a gaylord or box!

I was delighted. Unfortunately, it's FAAAR to big for me. I will need to devise a smaller version for myself.
5 years ago
This August I was lucky enough to move into a house that has well-established Granny Smith, Melrose, Gravenstein, and Yellow Transparent apple trees (30+ years old, I'm guessing). There was also a much younger Honeycrisp, I'm guessing no more than five years old, but I'm not exactly sure. It was wrapped up in some fencing to protect it from deer, but had outgrown its confines and was pretty covered in weeds. A few weeks ago I unwrapped it, pulled all the weeds out, and added a couple of inches of compost.

Unfortunately, said baby Honeycrisp clearly needs a prune, and probably an aggressive one. There are three stems coming out essentially at ground level. One is clearly growing from the root stock, and actually comes out almost below ground level (on the left in the picture below). I'm guessing this branch must go. Of the other two, I can't tell which one is the graft and which is the root stock. From what I understand if encouraging strong, vigorous fruit tree growth, only one of these stems can remain. But which one?

The Honeycrisp had fruit on it this year, and it was tasty; so its not a major loss if I end up pruning away the graft. But I'd like to make a stab at preserving the graft, since I do like Honeycrisp apples.

So, which branches do I prune? And when (I was planning on February)? And what else should I do to promote the health of this somewhat-neglected baby tree?

5 years ago
Eric, this is fantastic! I just moved to the Newberg-ish area, and am very excited to have you nearby.

If I could make a suggestion, your "About Beef Quarters" page provides almost all of the information a person new to your site would want to know about ordering from you. But I think that you could give a little more detail to help the novice beef-quarter-buyer navigate their way through this. If that's not your intended market, then maybe don't worry about it!

For example, people might be wondering how many pounds a quarter of beef approximately weighs, how much it might cost them, and how long they would have to wait between putting down their deposit and harvest day. This information is all available on this page or in the site. But bringing it all together in a format that someone totally new to buying beef quarters (or new to buying them from you) finds easy to digest may help people commit to purchasing from you.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to placing an order in the future!
5 years ago
I was literally just about to post this!! Some cool quotes from the article, for those who don't want to read through it:

In both indoor experiments and outdoor field tests, bees that fed on mycelium extracts fared significantly better than those that drank only sugar water. In caged bees infected with DWV, the researchers observed an 800-fold decrease in virus titres (a measure of the level of virus in the bee's system) among bees dosed with amadou extract. The effect was less powerful in the field, which are less strictly controlled than lab trials—colonies fed reishi extract saw a 79-fold reduction in DWV, those fed amadou extract a 44-fold reduction—but the results were still highly significant. (In other field tests, bees fed reishi extract saw a remarkable 45,000-fold reduction in Lake Sinai virus—another disease ravaging honeybee populations.)

This is probably a small part of why commercial and transported bees used for mass agricultural pollination suffer -- there probably aren't many mushrooms available in those fields.

"Whenever I hear about something like this, I immediately think of the risks and drawbacks," says Lena Wilfert, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Ulm in Germany who studies the spread of viruses among honeybees. Of the known viral pathogens affecting the insects, she says, DWV poses the greatest threat of all, so she appreciates the potential benefits of powerful virus-nerfing agents. "But any time you apply a medication at large scale, you're going to have potential for resistance evolution in the thing it targets." Those questions have yet to be probed.

"We have to prove all this, you know? And thankfully, I've become more disciplined as a scientist, being around other scientists," says Stamets, who acknowledges that there's much more work to be done. "We're doing tests right now in several hundred more beehives. We're ramping up."

I'm always on board with more science.
5 years ago