Monday, 12 September 2011

Upside Down Tomato and Strawberry Growing

If you have ever wondered if growing upside down tomatoes or strawberries works the this investigation might be for you.

I bought two upside down planters from ebay for a total of $20 including shipping and headed off to the local garden center to find the rest of whats required. I ended up with a 25 litre bag of peat, a watering can and the plants. The tomato plant is from Father Tom from Floriana and the strawberry from Nellie Kelly

If your doing this for yourselves something to note here is the size of the plant, I didnt think to much about it until I started putting them into the planters. You need a plant with some roots on it so that the soil will hold the plant in place and stop it falling out the hole in the bottom of th planter.
You also need a plant thats no so developed that the root ball wont fit through the hole in the first place.

Mine only just fitted and in hindsight I would have got slightly less developed plants.The 25 litre size bag of peat that I got was enough to fill the two planters to the recommended two inches below the top and have a little left over for another day.

The planter kits themselves that I bought in consisted of a vinyl bag with a metal band around the top. The band has four metal cables attached to it which are in turn connected to a loop so you can hang it.
The inside of the planter bag has four straps from the top metal band to the stitching for the base which is help it cope with the weight and stress. There is a plastic rim which fits over the metal band at the top of the bag as well as a cap which clips into the inside of the ring. The cap has a whole in the middle making watering easy without removing the top. The planter also comes with a foam pad with a hole in the middle and large sturdy hook. The strawberry planters hook wasnt at big but Im guessing thats because it will carry less weight overall.

The weight of these planters is going to be considerable once you have filled them with peat, more when its nice and wet and more again when your huge crop of tomatoes are hanging from it. For this reason you need to make sure that whatever you screw the hook that comes with the planter into is very solid and secure. Pulling down part of your house just to grow some tomatoes isnt going to make the best financial sense!
I chose the eve endboard on the house and drilled a pilot hole a few mm smaller than the size of each hook before screwing them in. Which them in place and some heavy pulling on them Im satisfied they are not going anywhere no matter how many tomatoes I get.

Actually planting the plants in the planters is quite easy once you have a few things setup. Get a length of steel rod or fix another hook into a wooden board. Place that between two things that allow you to easily get at the top of the planters whilst having space underneath for the plant to hang. I used the corner between two balcony rails which was the ideal height although I suspect two workmate A frames or between two kitchen worktops would be good two. I placed the foam pad inside the base of the planter which apparently helps to stop the plant coming back out the hole.

Once setup I carefully removed the plant from its planter pot and even more carefully removed the soil from around the roots. I did this over the new planter allowing the soil to fall into it with the thought being that the plant would be 'used' to that soil. The now much smaller looking plant was then turned upside down to be held by the roots with my left hand whilst reaching inside the planter with my right hand. Moving the soil aside I pushed a thumb an two fingers through the hole allowing me to grasp the roots carefully and then feed the whole lot through the hole. Once all the roots when inside the planter I distributed them round and placed some of the soil on them. I then used the new peat to fill the rest of the bags to within about two inches from the top.

At this point I fitted the plastic cap on the top and then gave the peat a heavy drenching from my watering can. After a few minutes the excess water came trickling out of the whole where the plant is and continued dripping for about 15mins. After the water had more or less stopped trickling out I then lifted the whole planter off the rod I had used and onto the hook in the eves. If your doing this on a ladder be very careful, it weights alot now its full of wet soil!

Thats it for now, they are in place, one with tomatoes and one with strawberries. I will be updating on their progress when/if they have some and with any luck I will have lovely harvest later in the year.
If this works then the plan is (once we move to our new place) to build my own upside down planters rather than buying them and include such niceties as an auto watering system. Lets see how these do first :)


Sunday, 11 September 2011

The turbine works

One thing I did manage to get out my huge pile of stacked boxes is the tesla turbine variation I had been working on. It suffered some knocks in transit which resulted in the turbine rotor splitting into two sections. This wasnt a major problem but it did take some time to unseal the turbine housing and get it out.

I then had to go find new glue and sealant which is something I took for granted back in the Uk. As you live in a place for time you get to know where to find hardware you need and take it for granted that you can get it with ease. Over here in a new city and country all the things I need are here I just dont know where to find them!

After glueing the rotor back together and leaving under a pile of books while it dried I put it back in the housing and resealed it. At this point I thought I was ready to test and as I had access to a compressor I thought all systems where go. I was wrong, I wasnt ready in another quirk of UK to AU conversion, I should have realised that the compressor fittings are different over here than they are over in the UK. Some more investigation into the type and where I could get one it was a simple task to unscrew the jubalee clip and fit the new fitting.

Then I was ready :) I got the compressor fired up and waited until I had a full tank before connecting the turbine and slowly opening the valve. It works, the idea works! Its not well balanced, the rotor flaps back and forth quite a bit. Sometimes it needed a little encoragement to start to spin (I didnt want to just open the valve all the way, the pressure would pop the housing) Generally all these things where due to it having a lack of precision in the build but it actually spins. Im confident that if it was built with some engineering tolerences and a output power shaft introduced then rotational power could be extracted.

So due to my current circumstances this project is now shelved. I am having a little think about it from time to time about how best to build the better engineered one but for now the folloing video is about as far as its going to get.

video



If any of you make one then let me know I would love to see it and I would be happy to link to your site.

Im Back

So yet again nothing really happening with the blog! Sorry, its been to busy. Not log after getting to Aus I got a job which has ended up chewing lots of time and brain power. All my boxes have now arrived but I cannot get all my things out because there just isn't enough space here.

Whilst I would love to be getting on with creating solutions to things the facts are that like most people I need the money to save and buy a house. I love the idea of an off grid house which will in turn reduce outgoings over time but the reality is you need the money to buy the place first.

In the time until I can get a workshop up and running again I will be trying a few small projects in model form to see if the ideas work. If they do then i will look towards going full size with the best of them later on.

The original idea for this site was to create small power solutions that people could build at home. After lots of thinking whilst that will still be a component of the site Im going to expand it out to cover some other topics that Im interested in such as growing your own food.

After looking at where my life is heading it seems to make sense to start to do everything in my power to reduce outgoings thus allowing the income from the 'regular' job to go towards paying off the land and house purchase. Im assuming some of you are in the same position and so the ideas might help.

Like many I love the idea of off grid but without having the capital free to buy a place outright you would need to produce income whilst living off-grid. This would be in excess of whats possible given that your not doing a regular job. If you are doing a regular job then you usually have to be in commuting distance to the job which then locates you near a city so the land/property prices are higher which in turn means your less likely to be able to be able to buy outright any time soon. Its a great chicken and egg situation really.

Im aiming for the compromise of living a little out the city, working the regular job and taking the loan to buy the place. At the same time I will be looking to reduce costs my growing my own veggies, adding renewable power solutions and possibly even getting some chickens.
Its sort of half gridding it really. Being able to have some of the comforts of a modern life like the large television and fast internet connectivity whilst trying to reduce payouts to the regular every increasing energy and food corporations.