Friday, July 31, 2009

Bucket Tomatoes (Part 2)

Ok, to do this you need two buckets per plant. One will be your water reservoir bucket (the bottom bucket) and the other will be your plant bucket (the top bucket). You will also need something to act as a screen between the dirt and water that will also hold up the upper bucket. Some people buy filter cages made for ponds, but I just cut holes in a coffee can. Another thing you need is a tube of some sort to get the water through the dirt and to the bottom bucket. I used a chunk of old water hose. Let's get started!

First, outline the coffee can on the bottom of the bucket and cut INSIDE the lines (so that the can rim can hold up the other bucket). Then cut a hole wide enough for the hose (not pictured). Next you will need to mark the top of the coffee can in the "dirt bucket" and drill a hole so that you will know when the water
reservoir is full (the water will squirt out of the side). Notice the slits cut in the coffee can.

I didn't actually do the above step because my water bucket had a coating of paint I could not get out so I lined it with a trash bag to prevent paint leeching into the water and then my tomatoes. Punching a hole would have messed everything up. Here is what the "top bucket" should look like upside down:
And here is what the inside of the top bucket should look like before adding dirt:

Add dirt, your plant, fill the bottom half with water through the hose and you're done: Granted, it won't make the cover of any gardening magazines, but it will keep a tomato plant from drying out in the middle of a 100+ degree Texas summer. I still need 10 more buckets! I think I may hit up fast food restaurants for pickle buckets or maybe grocery store bakeries.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bucket Tomatoes (Part 1)

Remember those tomato sproutlings I grew from seed back in March? Yeah, about those....

I haven't quite gotten around to planting them yet, and they are somehow still alive! Well, six of them are. It turns out I was completely wrong in my assumption I could grow them without special soil. I overwatered them and they got a fungus that was killing them. I broke down and spent the two bucks on some sterile planting soil, doubling my investment in the Tomato Project. They came back to life and have grown about as far as they can in their confined spaces.

Since they've made it this far, I figured they deserved a chance to give us some fall tomatoes, and now is the time for planting for fall tomatoes! Our soil is awful and chock full of giant rocks so I wanted to plant them in containers. I have read a lot about "self watering containers", which is really a misnomer, the correct term would be "sub irrigated container". The idea comes from Earthboxes, which are sold for around 50 bucks. The basic concept is to keep a pool of water under the dirt that seeps up through a section of dirt that is exposed to the water. To complete this project I needed containers! I sent an email to beg my family for any extra buckets they could spare. My sister and her husband came through! They brought me two great buckets..

....not so much. The one on the right had thick paint throughout and even included a sunken paintbrush! I thought this was going to be one long and disgusting cleanout to make this bucket suitable...
Maybe not! I think leaving it in the yard for a few hours in the 100+ degree heat loosened it enough and it came out in one giant glob. It was like a weird rubber bag.

More tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Quest for Chickens (Part 1)

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington! No, more like Mr. Me Goes To City Council!

city name photoshopped out to protect myself from anti-chickenites

I don't know when it all started. Whether it was our discovery of the Chickens in the Road blog, or if it was talking with my friend at work about his chickens, or if it was my obsession with chicken tractors I posted about here back in March. Either way, we have decided that we want chickens! Being the responsible citizens that we are, we did not just run out and get chickens. We researched the city code and sadly found out that chickens are only allowed if they are at least 150 feet away from any property line. For that to be possible you would have to have property at the very least the length of a football field with the width of 100 yards as well! I cried fowl! (I will have several more chicken puns where that came from).

I was curious about our surrounding cities, because I know for a fact that the metropolis that my city is a suburb of allows chickens. So I checked ordinances of nearby cities and found out that nearly all of them allow chickens with less restrictive ordinances. Their ordinances are worded so that if your chickens are not causing a problem with odor or noise, you can keep them (as long as it is 12 or less). Our ordinances already have provisions for noise and odor from dogs, cats, and "other animals", so I figured we had a pretty good chance to get this changed and set off to write an email to the mayor and city council.

However, I wanted to be thorough and make sure we had an airtight case so I addressed the misconceptions about chickens (i.e. disease spreading), the noise factor (we don't want roosters, who are the noisy ones) and also cited national news sources on the increasing popularity of backyard chickens and the ordinances changing to allow them across the country. I didn't get a response and figured it was inevitable that to get anything changed I was going to have to go in person and speak to the council. I figure anyone can write an email, but if I show up in person they would know I was serious.

Like most people, I am completely terrified of public speaking, so this was truly a test of how badly I want to have chickens. I've actually found though, that in life when you stretch yourself to do things out of your comfort zone it is the most satisfying experience. I prepared a short speech and we set out for city hall. I made sure to wear nice clothes and a tie so that they didn't assume I was a questionable yokel that was going to stink up the neighborhood with chickens. I pleaded my case..

By law, they can't just drop the gavel and allow the chickens to come to our city, so I was not expecting much. However, the mayor commented that they have received SEVERAL emails regarding allowing chickens and said that it has really been the "hot topic" lately. I think I was right that it just takes someone to come speak in public to get things moving. He suggested that it would be brought up at the next Animal Control meeting. Then, another councilmen spoke up and suggested they discuss it at an upcoming workshop! The same councilmen called me over after the meeting and asked why I wanted chickens and we discussed the issue a little. It turns out he grew up on a farm so maybe he is fond of chickens. So, things are looking good so far, but I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch. (I told you I had more puns).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is it?

Update: It's zucchini bread muffins. That was quite an anticlimactic guessing game.

Since I can't think of anything new to post, I'm blatantly stealing my sister's idea of "guess the image". What's inside ? :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stencil time!

Want to add some unique t-shirts to your wardrobe? Make a stencil and bust out some fabric paint!

It's really quite easy! All you need is:
  • some printable transparencies
  • an X-acto knife
  • a decent paint program
  • a shirt (I like the cheap $3 ones at Hobby Lobby)
  • some fabric paint (also Hobby Lobby).
I didn't think to photograph all of the steps until I was nearly done, but I think you can figure it out. The first part is finding an image you want to use. Not all images will work, it is best to find one with a good contrast of dark and light areas.

For this shirt I decided to take several images and Photoshop them together to make a funnier image. If you just want to use one image, all you have to do is use your paint program to desaturate it (make it grayscale) and then tweak the brightness and contrast. Basically ju
st set the contrast to full and then adjust the brightness as needed until it looks like a decent stencil.

Can you tell what it is? :) Ok, before printing you need to check the image for "islands" of white space surrounded by black space. Just make sure you can cut out all the black areas without any white areas floating in the middle, or else there is nothing to hold them in place to be painted over. If you have any "islands" you can usually just incorporate a solid line to it in your design somehow.

Ok, next is the least fun part of the whole thing - cutting out the stencil. This can take hours. I prefer to do the cutting while watching a game on TV or something, if you sat and did nothing but cut the stencil you'd go insane. Once it is all cut out I recommend putting a board or chunk of cardboard in your shirt to make it flat, then put something heavy on the edges of your stencil to hold it firmly in place (like the tape dispensers in the picture above). I use sponge paint brushes and tap them over the stencil rapidly rather than brushing. Brushing will lift the small detailed portions of your stencil and paint in areas you don't want painted- learn from my past mistakes! According to the instructions on the paint (your mileage may vary), let it dry flat for four hours. I like to leave the stencil on while it dries because usually the shirt soaks in the paint and you will have to do some touch up. Re-centering the stencil is no fun at that point. When it's dry very carefully remove the stencil and enjoy your creation!

I flipped the mirror image so it looks like it really should instead of reversed.

It's He-man and Skeletor, Master Attorneys at Law of the Universe!! Don't they look awesome in their suits and ties? I think so.

Here is the original image in case you want to try it, although I would not recom
mend it for a beginner.

Update: Here is a better picture...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Very Strange Clipart

At work I often need some clipart for a project I'm working on. I like to use the Microsoft website to get this for free, they have a large collection and it's pretty good. Somehow I stumbled on this:

A closer look:

Isn't that bizarre!?

What could this possibly be used for?? A flyer for the Secessionists Annual Luncheon? A web banner for the John Wilkes Booth fan club? Marking President's Day on your homemade calendar?

I find it odd. I guess things are deemed "ok" after there has been an adequate passage of time. For instance, if this was of Kennedy it would be controversial and in bad taste, but in 100 more years? That would be fine. Weird. Weird. Weird.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Media Alarmism, a brief history

Due to the insane "the sky is falling" style of reporting on the recent pig flu, I felt the need to compile a brief history of media alarmism:

The 1980s: Killer Bees!

I was convinced swarms of killer bees would cloud the sky and kill us all. Total deaths since they came to the United States over 20 years ago: 14

2000: The Y2k Computer bug!

This one was entertaining because at the time I worked for a company that sold computer supplies. Being asked if the printer ink we sold was "Y2K compliant" was especially funny. I wanted to say "No, at midnight on New Year's it will start spraying ink willy nilly!". I will admit it was a genius marketing device by whoever came up with it.

2002: West Nile Virus!
Citronella sales boomed! In the United States since 1999, an average of 113 deaths per year. For comparison, in the U.S. horses cause an average of 200 deaths a year. Where is the media coverage to alert us of our impending doom from horses!? We're all in grave danger! Horses!

2003: SARSSales of surgical face masks skyrocketed. SARS related deaths in the United States: zero. Average lightning strike deaths in the U.S. per year: 62. Number of masks invented to protect us from lightning strikes: zero.

2004: Mad Cow Disease
Deaths in the United States so far: 3. Unless you eat the brain or spinal cord of a cow, chances are you'll be ok. You should be almost equally panicked about vending machines. They kill 2.18 people a year, so be careful out there.

2005/2006: Bird FluU.S. deaths: zero. The surgical mask industry enjoys another spike in sales after the post-SARS decline.

2008: SalmonellaPeppers, tomatoes... nothing seemed safe. Well, not salsa at least. Which in Texas is second only to oxygen in our daily requirements. Total deaths in the U.S.: 11. Total number of salmon eaten per grizzly bear per year: 3000. Yes, I know salmon and salmonella are not related.

And now we have the pig flu. Zero U.S. fatalities so far. The "regular" flu kills 36,000 a year.

My point here is that people need to keep things in perspective and not trust the news media. Most of these illnesses only cause either flu like symptoms or diarrhea in most people. Most of these illnesses can be prevented by washing your hands and not letting people cough on you. This morning there were reports that the pig flu actually responds well to regular flu treatments like Theraflu. Before you take a news story too seriously, note how many times they use the word or words "alert" "panic" "cause for concern" to direct your thinking. Also look out for near-comical graphics in the corner of the screen like crazy red-eyed pigs and story titles in bold letters that are done in graphical fonts to look like they are oozing blood.

I actually did two days of research on this and all the facts are correct to my knowledge. Unfortunately I didn't think to save any of my sources for reference.. so you'll just have to trust me on this.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I didn't intend to write a three-tiered post about books but over the past few weeks I have come across three brilliant book related things and had to share!

First is The Logan Square Book Exchange. This guy took an old newspaper box, revamped it, and now it's used as a free community book exchange. I think it's an awesome idea. If you can't get your hands on a used newspaper box I think it would be cool on a smaller scale in a break room at work or something.

The next is
Book Crossing. It's kind of like Where's George, except with books instead of money. After you register and enter your books you can track the journey of your book from reader to reader as it makes it's way across the country. I think it's especially fun if you sneakily leave your book ("set it free") on a park bench or in a coffee shop rather than sell it or give it to someone you know.

Finally there is PaperbackSwap. I haven't used it yet, but it's a cool concept. You post your used books, people buy them with 'credits' and you ship the book to them (you pay shipping). This gets you credits, which you can then use to get books!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Google Street View + too much time on my hands + image editing software=

NASCAR around my block!

(may take a while to load)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Tax for Pet Owners

Being in the veterinary business, I got a heads up on this at work today. I guess this is how they are funding the government bailout. If you are a pet owner you should definitely check it out. Click the image to view the full size page.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Book Review"

Ok, so my sister always posts book reviews in her blog so I thought I would give it a shot. In elementary school, one of my favorite times of year (other than "field day" and "kite day") was the book fair! The fine folks at the Scholastic book company would cart in these large book shelves on wheels that were actually two book shelves hinged together and they would fold open. It was always an exciting day when I would see them wheel in those bright blue and red cases down the hall towards the library. Instead of choosing a classic literary masterpiece, most of the time I would purchase a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, much to the chagrin of my parents and teachers. So without further ado, I give you my review of "Secret of the Ninja"!!
The story immediately grabs your attention. Something mysterious is going on at my friend Nada's dojo. It seems that the building is under attack by an evil spirit of some kind and then a sword is mysteriously delivered to the dojo so she calls me to help. Nada also says she has a secret to share with me. Unfortunately, shortly after that I am killed by a stealthy band of ninjas and the story ends.

Overall I give this book two stars. It really grabbed my attention at first, but about the time I was hooked I ended up being murdered. On the plus side, it was a really quick read. A great book if you are looking for something to read to fill the time between your appetizer and entree.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Conspiracy Theory for the Day

I think a meteor apocalypse is upon us.

Ok, not really, but
I am intrigued by outer space. Whenever there is a news story about anything space related I read it. I think it's strange and kind of sad that shuttle launches are so commonplace now they make the tail end of the news, if they make the news at all. Luckily I get most of my news from the internet so I can stay apprised of the goings-on in the galaxy. I was excited last month when there was a report of a meteor over Texas:

(click to view article)

Then on March 7th, I read about one over Westchester, New York:

(click to view article)

Then on March 9th over Nanuet, New York:

(click to view article)

Then on March 17th over Staten Island, New York:

(click to view article)

And most recently, this past weekend, March 29th over Virginia:

(click to view article)

Now, meteors are usually observed as "falling stars" waaaay up in the atmosphere, tiny little meteors that burn up in the atmosphere. Meteor showers happen when the earth passes through a meteor field (left behind by a comet). But these recent events are much different. They are not small falling stars, but huge streaks across the sky that cause sonic booms to be heard. Very intriguing to say the least.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Glow Crosses

I found these entertaining..

Let your light shine, figuratively and literally, only 50 cents!

My wife bought one, I'm not sure what occasion she will wear it for though.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Chicken Tractor

Continuing what seems to be a farming theme... have you ever heard of a chicken tractor? I stumbled across this while looking up various gardening stuff.

Photo by VanTucky

It's a portable chicken coop that lets the chickens be free range, but with protection from predators. It has an open bottom so that the chickens cat eat up vegetation (like weeds) while they poop fertilizer. Once they've cleared an area, just pick up one end and scoot it down a little. I think it's brilliant, but our city ordinances don't allow chickens within 150 feet of any property line. Since that is geometrically impossible, we are chicken free. I've thought perhaps we could get some sneaky-chickens, but that probably wouldn't be a good idea.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I knew the expensive method of starting seeds was no better than the cheap method!

I planted them Saturday or Sunday so this is day 5 or 6. Contrary to my previous post, they will be moving indoors for a little while thanks to the unpredictable Texas weather plunging into the thirties this weekend.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Planting

Every year we plant at least a couple of tomato plants. The plants only cost a dollar or two but I have always wanted to start some from seeds. My wife would rather have plants than seeds because of the instant gratification factor, but I like seeds because it gives me memories of elementary school when we would plant beans in Solo cups. I love the anticipation of waiting for the plants to sprout! I looked around online and read a bunch of advice on starting tomato seeds. I found pretty much the same advice everywhere and gleaned from it what I thought were the better ideas and totally ignored what I thought was unnecessary. I took the following advice and used it:
  • Planting in toilet paper roll tubes (cut in half) rather than spending money on special seed starting pots.
  • Putting all the tubes in one container so it's easy to move them around
  • Using plastic wrap on top to create a greenhouse effect and keep it moist.
And I chose to completely ignore the following advice:
  • Plant in a sterile soil-free "seed starter" mix to prevent disease. (I figure the pilgrims planted in dirt, so the potting soil I had laying around was even better).
  • Keep seedlings indoors (Too much trouble, the weather outside right now is stable enough).
  • Put sprouted seedlings under fluorescent grow lights (The sun will do).
Here is my mini-greenhouse:
And a blurry closeup of the toilet roll seed planters inside: I immediately wanted to plant more stuff but had only bought tomato seeds. Luckily, we never threw out our dead jalapeƱo plant from last year, so I cut one open and planted those. I exhausted our supply of toilet paper rolls, but luckily we had a nice disposable casserole dish from tonight's dinner. Instant greenhouse!
Total cost:
Tomato seed packet: $1 for about 30 seeds
Toilet paper rolls: free byproduct of already purchased toilet paper
Potting soil: practically free, left over from years past.
practically free,left over planter box & used disposable casserole dish.
Plastic Wrap: Half a penny. About one foot of a 200' roll from the Dollar Tree.

So $1 for 30 (potential) tomatoes (about 3 cents each) rather than $2 for one existing plant, a savings of
98.5% (if I did my math right!). A significant savings over special pots, grow lights, seed starter mix, etc. Well, it is a savings if they actually grow. I planted about thirty of each. I will keep tracking progress here if there is any progress to track..

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow Day!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hunting Trip part 2

Ok, so here are the animals caught on the game camera that managed to evade us last weekend.

Three little piggies by day...

One little piggy comes back at night to investigate the hole full o'slop my brother left for them.

Later that night his family arrives...

Ok, now for a quick story. There used to be this ridiculous game called "Pass the Pigs"

You would roll little plastic pigs like dice and earned points based on how they landed. There was one particular formation the pigs could wind up in called "Makin Bacon". I think that's what's going on in this picture.

There had also been a bunch of does having a ladies night out. The camera captured a little bunny trying to crash the party. You can see the one deer is very concerned about the bunny's arrival.

I've saved the best for last, this one
diva cow was ready for her closeup..