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Greenhouse connected to the internet

May 18th, 2015 · No Comments

Update 5-16-16.

We sold our house and the greenhouse.  The Raspberry Pi went with the sale.  :(

We call the new greenhouse “Floriponics 2.0″    it is smaller and we are learning how to work around the other differences.   I want to get the temperature monitoring working and I didn’t want to wait for the new Rasberry Pi to get here…  So I’m doing some experiments with an old PC.   I have the sensors reporting but haven’t figured out how to (safely) push the data to the internet.


After about 10 years of researching and collecting, the Floriponics greenhouse is (was) connected to the internet.

Everything is (was) running on the Raspberry Pi

Temperature sensors can (could) be seen at https://personal.xively.com/feeds/1128311125

We tried the webcam, but it filled up the SD card and crashed the Pi.  And my wife didn’t want to be spied on.

Those simple pages required about 3 weekends of work.  Some of it was fun.

The temperature sensors are Dallas 1-wire DS18B20 connected to GPIO pin 4 on the Raspberry Pi similarly to http://projects.privateeyepi.com/home/temperature-sensor-project-using-ds18b20 .


I used PrivateEyePi’s scripts for the temperature sensors but didn’t like the 5 minute update limitation — so I set up the Xively account.  The I2C port only supports 1-wire by “bitbanging” using the w1-gpio and w1-therm packages.  Apparently it is not as robust as the USB, serial, Ethernet, and chip-based solutions, but it is working fine for what I’m doing.  I used Cat5 cable with the orange pair  as the data  — brown to pin 1 (3.3V power), orange to ground, and white/orange connected to GPIO4.  The sensors submerged in water are simply a sensor slipped into a section of drinking straw and filled with silicone seal.  ( I used Silicone 1 but Silicone II would have worked just as well — Silicone 1 — smells like vinegar, and Silicone 2 doesn’t — both are nearly inert when cured).  The waterproof sensors, I connected the green pair in parallel with the orange pair so the data can be daisy chained  and not a star configuration.    (Signal comes in on orange pair and goes on to the next sensor on the green pair.)

Anyway, I tried to get owfs working but it is not compatible (at least not easily) with the w1-gpio required to use pin 4 of the Raspberry Pi.  I tried several workarounds and realized that the w1-gpio file system did most of what I wanted (for the short term, anyway).  I found a python script that pushed a single temperature to Xively and got it working.  But I had trouble getting more than one sensor to report.  The multi-sensor scripts I found on the net had outdated api data pointing to pachube or cosm.   After much trial and error (and learning a fair amound of python in the process) I got all my sensors reporting to xively.    I didn’t want to type the 16 digit serial for each and every sensor so I let the software organize them from smallest to largest.  The potential problem with that is that if (and when) a sensor gets added or subtracted, it messes up the names of the channels in xively.  Eventually, when the sensors are used as inputs for controlling vents and heaters, it will be important to address each sensor directly so there is no ambiguity.    With only 7 sensors, it is not a big issue yet.

I thought the Raspberry Pi camera module would be fairly easy  to get working — unfortunately, I opted to install “motion” which does not support the Raspberry Pi module natively — it apparently was designed around USB webcams.  After some searching, I found “motion-mmal” which allowed me to use the camera.  Unfortunately, by this time, I was logging into the raspberry pi through SSH with putty.exe on my windows box.  There is no easy way to view jpg’s or videos via SSH.  And the Raspberry Pi is very slow.  If the parameters are not perfect for the camera, “motion” times out.  I found out that I have to stop motion, edit the motion.conf file, and then restart motion for any changes to take effect (better than rebooting).  And the streaming video doesn’t work on Chrome or Internet Explorer.  Safari can view the camera but needs to be refreshed.  VLC seems to work the best so far.

I still want to get the dynamic DNS updater working and figure out a way to stream the webcam data in a format that IE and Chrome can tolerate.





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This book may prevent you from dying of cancer.

September 9th, 2013 · No Comments

I wanted this book to be worthy of my mom.  That’s why I have taken 14 years to start.  I’ve written the first page 4 or 5 times.  Different every time.  But when I get to the meat — the body — the real content, I start procrastinating.  Basically, I don’t think I’m good enough.  Basically — my son uses that word a lot.  I’m guessing he heard it from me because I rarely hear his mom use it.  My kids only know their grandma Lynnette through me.  Sometimes I remember the way she would talk or one of her favorite sayings.  And I try to describe their heritage to them.  Their eyes glow and all three of them pull in close.  I tell about her sewing on the treadle machine late into the night.  And the way she couldn’t light the propane lights.  And coming home from school and seeing her sitting crosslegged in front of a cold stove — packed with wood with paper  on top and matches everywhere.  For such a creative, loving, giving, intuitive, woman, she had some almost psychotic hangups.  She was a polymath:  musical, artistic, multilingual, fiber artist, cook, teacher.  But she was afraid.  Afraid that her children would be seduced by loose-moralled people.  Afraid of us running with sticks or poisoning our minds with the wrong literature.  She did not like public speaking — or showing off her talents.  And she was hurt and angry because of thing people did to her.  I suspect other polymaths like Leonardo DaVinci, Goethe, and Tesla had quirks too.Her lungs quit working  a few hours after my dad lovingly fed her her last bites of yogurt under her oxygen mask.  My grandma and aunts flew in from New England and greeted her a few hours before.  I arrived a few hours later with my bride.  Cancer is a nasty disease.It started with a lump in her belly.  I remember how stunned I felt when she called to tell me about it.  I was in Alaska planning my wedding — actually to be truthful — my bride-to-be was trying to get my input on the wedding and I was pretending to be interested  in all the details.  My mom’s voice shook a little over the phone when she explained  that the doctor found a mass in her abdomen about the size of a cantaloupe and they hoped it was a fibrous cyst  — but they wanted to operate, remove it, and make sure it wasn’t cancer.  She assured me that this sort of thing happened all the time to women her age and it was nothing to be worried about — but she just wanted to let us know what was happening.  I was shaken.  I had grown up in a Christian community where two people had died of cancer.  One was an elderly nurse and the other was a woodworker who mentored me.  I remember praying for them at every meal and at every church service.  And then the feeling of betrayal and futility when their bodies rotted out from underneath their spirits.   One of the axioms of the community (many would call it a cult or a commune, but I still call it a Christian community out of respect for some of my dear friends who still live there.) is that if people could attain to sinless perfection, they would never die.  So, having people die in spite of fervent prayers, loud prophecies, and intense soul-searching — called in question the basis of our religion.  For me at least.  I’ve always had a practical bent.  I figured when the Bible talks about “Vain repetition” it is referring to something like pulling on the rope of a lawnmower with an empty tank of gas.  I pull on the rope a few times.  Try with and without the choke.  And then check for fuel, water in the fuel, spark, etc.   As far as our prayers against cancer were concerned, it felt to me as futile as trying to start a lawnmower without gas.  So when I found out that the mass in my mom’s stomach was ovarian cancer, and it was malignant and had spread to her bowel — I determined to find the cause of the problem.    I prayed too — but most of my efforts went to research because I hadn’t seen prayer do much good for any of the of the other victims of cancer I had known.  The only cancer survivor I knew of was a girl my age who had done the Gerson therapy.  Unfortunately, my mom was not open to natural treatment — she instead chose to trust herself to the medical doctors.  I think this could be for several reasons:  Money may have been one:  BC medical took care of the cost of her treatment except for the anti-nausea pills she needed during chemo.  Another reason was probably her view of authority.  My mom preferred older, fatherly doctors.  She had a very strange relationship with her Dad,  She loved her dad dearly but somehow she could not tell him that her college music teacher was trying to molest her.  She told him she didn’t want to go back to college, but he was determined that his kids were going to have the opportunity to get the education they needed to succeed in life.    She gritted her teeth and went stiff and frigid when the professor petted and fondled through the tutoring.  When her roommate got pregnant by the same teacher that was trying to seduce her,  my mom saw eloping with my dad as the only opportunity to escape.   She was also determined not to be married in her parents church because she did not trust the minister — years later — after it became socially acceptable, he admitted that he was a homosexual.  This confirmed her suspicions of his hypocrisy.  So I think she had a view of authority figures that they were either good or evil.  Black or white.  The good guys might  be misinformed here or there (like her dad) but they could be counted on to tell the truth.  The bad guys might look virtually identical to the good guys but she could ”feel” something not right.   She thought chiropractors were quacks (she strongly discouraged me from pursuing that field of study).  She despised naturopaths — associating them with witch doctors.  This hatred was strengthened because of a recent incident at a neighboring Christian community where an amateur naturopath had diagnosed a woman with a strength test (pressing down on her arms while holding vials and chunks of various substances) and then prescribed a diet based on the diagnosis.  The diet sent the woman into a healing crisis that left her so weak she couldn’t leave bed for several years.  (Ironically, the woman recovered her strength and is now the picture of health).

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Dream Greenhouse

May 1st, 2013 · 3 Comments

I have a dream of a greenhouse.  Full of food.  That takes care of itself — waters itself –vents itself, shades itself, heats itself….  A retreat from winter. A warm haven from cold, wind, snow, and rain.

And I dream of being able to monitor temperatures and humidity, CO2 from my iphone anywhere in the world.  And perhaps even open and close vents and turn pumps and fans on and off.

I dream of a blanket of soap bubbles keeping it cozy at night and shaded during the day.  And I dream of water tanks to store heat to be released at night.  Fish to fertilize the plants.  Plants to purify the water  for the fish.  And fun places for people to read, play, think, pray, talk, eat, heal.

Why do we spend so much energy trying to fight nature?  And then we are taxed so the governments can spend money to “save nature.”

Why do we spend research money studying the rare bacteria that live in the armpits of endangered monkeys?

And I dream of a business where I can work from home.  Where I can teach my kids.  Where I can influence people with practical solutions to real problems.  I dream of having time to experiment and invent simple, cost-effective ways for people to have fun doing life.  I want to bring health and prosperity to everyone I meet.  I want them to live fulfilled lives full of hope and fun and wonder.  I want my kids to each have their own business, or two, or three.    So they never “have” to get a job to survive.  So they have options  — and have self-esteem built on real accomplishment.  Self-esteem and self-confidence do wonders for people.   It improves health, creates opportunities, opens doors,  enhances relationship.  But self-esteem without character and self-confidence without competence are like lipstick on a pig.     It’s easy to fall off either side of the boat.  Some parents concentrate on affirming their kids to make sure they have the self-confidence and self-esteem.  Other parents fall off the other side of the boat and concentrate so much on competence that the kids think they always  have to be doing something to be valuable.  Those kids tend to be capable but feel like they are never doing enough or never quite good enough.  And parents that are so concerned that their kids have character — run the risk that their kids will grow up to be adults who always do and say the right things but feel rotten about themselves.

I dream of having kids who feel safe to tell the truth.  Especially to themselves.  Fear and Lies are partners in crime.  As a team, they have robbed a lot of people of joy and a future.  Think of it.  A kid is afraid of  something so he lies to try to avoid whatever he fears.    Even after the crisis is averted, he is afraid that his lie will be uncovered — so even if he does not tell another lie, he has painted a protective coating over his subconscious.  A habit..  A preparation to lie again to be safe.    If the cycle is not broken, he will begin to lie every time he feels fear.  And life is full of pain and uncertainty.    But the most insidious thing about the fear/lie cycle, is the inevitable self-delusion.   Psychologists call it denial.  Some people call it fantasy.   Others call it coping.  God calls it lying.   People who lie to themselves are a threat to themselves and society.

I think it is funny how each of us thinks that we hold the solution to the worlds problems.  The lawyers, politicians, and legislators think that if they get the right words, the resulting laws will eliminate problems.  The engineers and programmers think that with the right gadget or software patch, every problem could be solved.  Artists think that if people just opened up their hearts to the beauty around them, their hearts would be healed.

It’s OK to dream.  It’s OK to solve problems.  Some dreams crash and burn.  Others fly.

May your dreams ignite hope that powers the passion that drives your feet up another step towards a brighter future.

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Endurance pays off

January 27th, 2013 · No Comments

I talked to my dad yesterday for an hour and a half. I told him about my failings, broken dreams, and desire to give up and try something easier. He told me two things that encouraged me. The first was that Abraham didn’t change his name in response to circumstances. Naomi changed her name to “Bitter”. Abraham’s given name was Abram which means “Exalted Father.” He must have felt pretty silly and disappointed with a name like that when he was childless at close to 100 years old. And God upped the Ante by changing his name to Abraham which means “father of many.”
The other encouragement Dad gave me was from his own experience as a business machine serviceman. Shortly after he took early retirement, his former employer sold the company to a larger competitor. The new owner contacted my dad, begged him to come back and offered him a much larger salary. He said they had tried hard for years to get my dad’s customers but not a single one switched to the bigger company. And he said my dad could have a job anytime he wanted. So 15 years or so of showing up every day, doing his best, and telling the truth paid off.

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Value Systems

November 20th, 2012 · No Comments


Looked at a little bunch of cilantro from Freddie’s this morning that I had too long and let it begin to rot. My instant thought was, “Well, I only paid $.69 for it. It’s not organic….so no great loss.” Then a mental picture of all the aphids on my cilantro flooded back. I spent all summer trying to raise crops WITHOUT chemicals. It was hard work. Now here I am not valuing a little bunch of fresh cilantro because I feel that it is certainly an inferior product.

After this long discouraging road (for me) of growing organically and fighting pests, I have realized that any time you try something that’s hard, it may not work at first. I’m getting up the courage to try again. Courage to go back for more! Courage to keep the vision. Courage to continue on in my purpose and passion.

Value often comes from realizing how challenging, difficult, grueling, and expensive it can be to make, produce, develop, cultivate, grow, or create any given item, product, system, relationship or organization.

It’s kind of like after you’ve made homemade laundry detergent a few times…you realize what a good deal it is when you find Seventh Generation Laundry soap on sale at Fred’s. Even though it’s not cheap, it’s a good deal to you, becuase YOU KNOW what you went tthrough to make your own.

What is it that you value today? How have your values changed? What caused them to change? What have you been through that has changed your view on family? Friends? Church? Support group? Network? Job? Business? Life Purpose? Ministry?

This Thanksgiving season, I am so grateful for fresh perspective, new ideas, more knowledge and understanding, a strong network of friends and leaders, a healthy and loving family, the provision of healthy food, clean water to drink, a place to sleep at night, a God who never sleeps or slumbers, and My Saviour and Best Friend who gave it all up for me– to take away every trace of guilt and shame and give me a life full of purpose, passion, and freedom….forever.

My value system has changed…and I’m so thankful.

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How to Know if Something is True

August 18th, 2012 · No Comments

I have been listening to an audiobook version of “The China Study”.   I was giving Emily a synopsis when my oldest daughter asked me, “Daddy, everyone says to eat something different.  How do you know when something is true?”   I thought that was a very good question — a question that I have been wrestling with for years and that I may be uniquely qualified to answer.

“…Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Cor 13:1b NIV)  The obvious catch here is that popular myths propagate over time — so you may have a majority of people espousing a lie simply because they were taught it effectively.  Ideally the three sources should be unrelated, have different perspectives, be studying different things, and have no reason to borrow ideas from each other.    If they are scientists, it is even better if the truth in question was incidental to the focus of their research — as in pretty pebbles they noticed on the path to a different objective.

Since we’re on the subject of scientists,  the scientific method is a good framework for testing truth (with some notable flaws and vulnerabilities)  Scientific reductionism is one pitfall:  life is complex and in order to eliminate variables from an experiment,  sometimes the scientist cuts down all the trees to study a forest.  Also besides the huge risk that someone will falsify data in order to prove a theory (or disprove),  scientists also can influence data.  Data is influenced in three ways:  rejection of outliers, curve fitting, and psychic phenomenon.   If a scientist gets a bunch of data that doesn’t make sense or seems weird,  he will often reject that data, assuming that it is corrupted, contaminated or faulty.  Rejection of outliers is appropriate most of the time, because variables that were supposed to be excluded sometimes break through their boundaries.  (This is also when many valuable discoveries have been made.)  Curve fitting is where a scientist charts data and moves points slightly to make them line up  or match a curve.  This is often done to create a formula.     The risk is that if too small of a sample is used,  the data might look like a line instead of a curve.  Most scientists are aware of this risk and show their sample points plotted on the same graph as the line.  For us non-scientists, we need to be understand that just because a scientist uses a formula does not make it a hard and fast law.    Oftentimes, the formula is just a mathematical approximation.  The scariest (and most controversial) is that of psychic manipulation of data.    Apparently some scientists have found evidence that a researcher’s expectations can alter the outcome of an experiment with all other factors bing equal.   A fourth risk of science is not a flaw of science but rather a flaw in our application of it — just because a scientist discovered a repeatable phenomenon in a laboratory — or found statistical significance in data from a double-blind test — does not make it a universal law in the real world.    Too often news media say that “research has found” or “scientists have proven” and then make claims which should not have been extrapolated.

Science is the new religion — or rather, Materialism is the new religion and scientists are the high priests.    Today’s world shares similarities with Europe in the dark ages:  scientists can be excommunicated and we have thousands of pseudo-scientists running around selling the scientific equivalent of indulgences.  Therefore, one test of my tests for truth is whether the person is being opposed and ridiculed — persecuted.     The danger of peer-review is that it can become peer-pressure and do more to maintain status quo than further science.   If everything someone says lines up with common knowledge, his passion for truth has been tainted by a desire to be accepted.

Follow the money.  This is very very important.  People will lie, steal and kill for money.   Do not equate sophistication and integrity.   Our country is full of well-dressed, educated, polite thieves and liars.  And  millions of pawns who cannot question an employer’s integrity without risking their livelihood.    If someone is in a position to benefit financially from what he is preaching, be cautious.  I do not begrudge an author getting paid for a book.  Nor do I have a problem with an author promoting his own book — even authors have to pay bills and if he has dedicated a chunk of his life to writing down something important, he is justified in telling others about it and getting paid for his efforts.  However, if the book is just the opener for a line of exclusive products,  a pamphlet for his expensive seminar,an intro to a MLM,  or justification of a big industry that is backing him….  Look for motives.  If a motive is not obvious, dig deeper.

Look for corroboration from ancient wisdom.  Look in the Bible.  Some people get ridiculous and take the Bible to ridiculous extremes.  For years, certain people rejected Pi because the Bible said that the circumference of a particular pool was 3.  Keep in mind that they didn’t have tape measures and micrometers in Bible times.  They measured by cubits and they didn’t have a unit for 0.1415926536….  If you’re not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you.  “…And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Phil. 3:15b-16

That leads to another point:  does he apply what he is teaching in his own life.  Does he drink the water he is selling?

Results:  Does he get results?  Since this discussion started about a healthy diet, does the teacher get results from his diet?  Is he healthy?  Are his patients healthy?  False prophets don’t get results.  “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Duet 18:22

Use your intuition.  If something doesn’t sit quite right, don’t jump to apply it right away.  Wait for confirmation.  On the other hand, if something feels right and passes most of the other tests above,  jump in.  Your personal experience will help teach you the truth.

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Tomato Fertilizer

August 10th, 2012 · No Comments

Emily ran out of fertilizer water this afternoon.    That means we have used about 6000 gallons of water so far.  I have mixed up two batches of fertilizer water — each about 3000 gallons.   Both batches were rain water.  The first batch I only needed about a quart of sulfuric acid to balance the highly alkaline KOH.  The second batch needed no acid.

Tonightm, to a batch of 2600 gallons of well water, I had to add about a gallon of sulfuric acid (all I had) and I only got the pH down to about 6.4.

The tomatoes and cukes seem to be suffering from not enough nutrients  — which makes sense because I was using a formula designed for strawberries which came out to a TDS of about 1200 .

Our well water has a pH of 8 and a TDS of about 200.  I added 13 lb of calcium nitrate, 7 lb of magnesium sulfate, and 6 lb of grow More (10-30-20) and 7 lb of strawberry formula (8-12-32).  TDS  measured about 2100 and pH 8 before I added the acid.  The beauty of a batch tank is that we never have concentrated chemicals, we don’t need an injector, and the fertilizer has a chance to stabilize before it hits the plants.

Hydrobuddy calculates the following

N (NO3-)   94
N (NH4+)   11
P   41
K   71
Mg   36
Ca   101
S   84
Fe 0.6
Zn  0.16
B  0.13
Mn 0.28
Cu  0.18
Mo  0.01

According to Resh I am low on Potassium and Iron.  Adding some chelated Iron or some Ferrous Sulfate may bring the pH down enough that I can add some KOH.   The plants apparently need a lot of potassium to make fruit.  Perhaps if we can get the nutes ballanced, the plants will perk up and give us some good returns this fall — and win the battle with aphids, thrips, and spider mites.

Our strawberries didn’t do well in the greenhouse but they are doing OK outside.  The basket system seems to be much too hot for strawberries but peppers, tomatoes, and cukes do well up there.    We’ve been keeping it cool at night so I’m guessing that the bubbles might make a difference.

And I still need to set up the drains and sumps for the flood and drain benches.  At least the benches are level….

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Do spoiled children become the best salespeople?

May 16th, 2012 · 1 Comment

I was listening to Lucky or Smart today on my homeward commute. Bo Peabody says that the best entrepreneurs are B-students. A-students make good managers according to his line of reasoning. I don’t really want to agree — because I want to be an entrepreneur and I was an A-student. Maybe there’s hope because I got one F in first grade (because I couldn’t see the blackboard) and I got several B’s and a C in High School and college.

All the while the audiobook was playing, I was wrestling with the dissapointing thought that I might not be cut out to be an entrepreneur. Not that I mind being a manager. I’m thankful to have a job. I’ve just held a 25-year infatuation with entrepreneurship. My mom was enterprising and encouraged us kids to make things to sell at markets and gift shops. Then I moved to a place where private enterprise was outlawed. And now I spend most of my energy on my day job and work the greenhouse business evenings and weekends.

Emily is an amazing grower. She could grow and manage a huge greenhouse complex. But I wonder if we could sell all we can grow. It’s not that I’m a bad salesman, it’s just that I’m afraid of being a salesman. And I don’t like the word “NO” Which gets me to my topic.

A good salesman, I’ve been learning, does not take “no” for an answer.   No means “not right now”, “not in that color”, or  “how about lunch first….”   Or ultimately, “NO” means “NEXT!” to a good salesman.  However, my parents went to great pains to teach me “NO” at an early age.  Absolute no.  No arguing.  No wheedling.  No cajoling.  No manipulating.    And so instinctively, I began creatively finding ways  to make oblique requests — asking for permission in ways that could not be answered directly — ways of changing the subject and approaching  what I really wanted from different angles  — testing the waters — building repor — strengthening a thought precident.   

I found network marketing exhausting and frustrating.  I could see the potential and salivated at the thought of residual income pouring in from multiple directions.  And I believed in the product.  I researched it to the point that I could bore anyone with my knowledge of the products.  The more desperate I was for the money, the more I researched, and the longer I talked.    And rarely did any of my friends say “no”    Some said yes.  But not enough to create a sustainable cash flow.  And the thousands of sales letters I addressed and stamped by hand resulted in one phone prospect.  Three long phone calls later and about $30 in long distance charges, I realized she was bored and had no money and no intentions of ever spending future money on my products.

I guess it is cowardly to blame my lack of sales ability on my parents.  Other people with less strict parents are afraid of “no” too.   But my mom, at least, did not like salespeople.  We would walk into stores and try to be invisible while we shopped.  If a salesclerk stopped and asked if we needed help finding anything, she would herd us children away like a protective hen — as though the salesperson had an infectious disease.  And then she would talk at home about pushy salesmen like they were the lowest form of life that could still vote.   In reality, she was very frugal and probably knew that she would spend less if she only looked at items on her list.  But the message that was seared in my childish brain was that the only valid reason to speak to a salesperson was to ask directions to the restroom.

So what about children whose parents succumb to wheedling and whining?  Do those children learn sales skills?  Do they learn that “no” is simply a bump on the onramp to success?  What should I teach my children?  Should I teach them absolutes — “Daddy’s word is his bond”…?  Or should I teach them that everything is negotiable? 

And since I’m asking introspective questions,  why do I find “Strengthfinding” so exciting yet so troubling?   I love the concept of getting people to work within their strengths.  To strengthen strength and avoid or ignore weakness.  But when I start trying to apply it to my own life, I get frustrated.  I don’t know what my strengths are.  I don’t even feel like I’m qualified to determine my strengths.  Or if I could quantify and discover my strengths, I get this hunch that I would not be allowed to exercise them fully.  That somehow I’d always have blinders and a bridle and I’d never be a horse in an open meadow with no fences to stop an exulting gallop.  Perhaps it is the doctrine of sinless perfection, death-to-self, pride-comes-before-a-fall, all-flesh-is-grass that I was brought up with.  Or perhaps the doctrines were truth and my perception of them is twisted.

In Lives of Moral Leadership, I heard a quote that rang true with me.  It was from Al, a bus driver who volunteered to drive the first black kids to a white school.  He said, “It’s good to be busy.  But if you are too busy to change the world, you are busy keeping it the way it is.”   Amazing how  humble , uneducated people can be so profound. 

And even though I was an A student, I can still be an entrepreneur.  I have strengths and I will get the opportunity to exercise them to their fullest.  I have a destiny — even if I don’t know it yet.  My children can grow up and find their niches in the world whether I neglect or smother them.  Perhaps my search for significance will lead me to be a bus driver like Al.   Or perhaps unbridled fulfilment lies just ahead in my current profession.    Perhaps one day my goals will be as lofty and clear  as writer of Philippians “…[my determined purpose is] that I may know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”

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Nutrient solution

April 30th, 2012 · No Comments

Today I bit the bullet and mixed up some nutrient solution for our plants. Emily has been mixing 20-20-20 in a 35 gallon trash can and watering with a submersible pump. I wanted to get the plants exactly what they need so I’ve done a bunch of research on the most nutritious formulations. Obviously I want to get succulent, flavorful strawberries, but I also want beautiful, luxuriant flower baskets full of vibrant color. From my research, it appears that NPK will grow plants but the micronutrients are important for high brix. Calcium being very important. Boron can be limiting either way: too much and it is toxic; too little and the plants cannot take up Calcium.

Anyway, at Larry Harris’s recommendation, I purchased some fertilizer from Hydrogardens — a special strawberry mix. Unfortunately, it has not arrived yet. I got some Grow More from Alaska Mill and Feed but it does not have the same mix of nutrients as the strawberry formula.

A few late nights researching on the internet and in my hydroponics books and I discovered a handy tool: hydrobuddy. It is written by a chemist and available for free, open-source download at http://scienceinhydroponics.com/
With the help of that program and my reference books to help me figure out the molar weight of some of my chemicals, I came up with a formula that approximates the Hydrogarden Strawberry formula.
I have a 10′ x 12′ x 4′ tank and filled it with snow meltwater. I made a spreadsheet to calculate how many gallons per inch. 37.5″ deep calculated to 2805 gallons.
In that, I mixed 12 lb of Calcium Nitrate (solution grade) 7 lb of Epsom Salts, 7 lb of Grow more, 1 oz of chelated Iron (EDTA). My formula was short on Potassium (K) and I had some KOH left over from a previous year. Hydrobuddy calculated that I needed 3.5 lb of KOH to get the levels of K I wanted. Unfortunately, KOH is very Alkaline so I only put in about 1.5 lb because I was afraid of raising the pH too much. The goal was 6.5 to 6.8 pH. 1.5 lb of KOH brought the pH about 7.5. I added 2/3 of a gallon of General Hydro pH down (which is primarily phosphoric acid according to the label) and that brought the pH down to about 6.6. My Horiba EC meter measured the EC at 1.15mS/cm.

According to Hydrobuddy, this batch of nutes has the following concentrations in ppm
N (NO3-) 79
N (NH4+) 12
P 55
K 85
Mg 30
Ca 87
S 39
Fe 0.6
Zn 0.15
B 0.06
Mn 0.15
Cu 0.15
Mo 0.001

I need about two or three times as much K so I’ll have to get more pH down or some sulfuric acid to be able to use the KOH

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Heat, Thermodynamics, and Greenhouses

March 24th, 2012 · No Comments

I have always been interested in thermodynamics. I was born in Florida and lived there till I was 6 years old. I remember the adults saying that it was so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement. My mom wouldn’t let me have an egg, but I did fill a coffee mug with water and placed it out on the pavement. It never boiled. But the pavement was too hot to walk on with bare feet. I guess that was my first introduction to the principles of thermal mass and latent heat vs sensible heat. I also remember trying to sleep without air conditioning, waking up to a cockroach crawling across my belly, my dad’s red and white dodge work van (with a sliding door) and the pain and embarrassment of fire ants being removed from my bare butt by my teacher in the girls restroom.

Then we moved to Edmonton, Alberta.  And I learned about snow and ice and cold.   I remember enjoying hot showers, registers blowing hot air, and how nice the hot water heater felt against my back.  I also learned that wet gloves and boots get cold immediately.  That if your feet and head are warm and dry, the rest of your body is probably comfortable.  Also that after a month of winter temperatures below zero F (-20 C), when it warmed up to 40F ( 5C) it felt warm.  Other than trying to stay warm in winter,  my interest in heat waned and I spent most of the time in Alberta reading and feeling sorry for myself that I had such a boring life.

When I was 11, my parents decided to move to a religious community in Northern British Columbia.    The community was similar to a Hutterite community without the beards.   For the geographically challenged, British Columbia (or BC) is the Canadian province just north of Washington.  BC has a huge range of climates from rainforest on the west coast to fruit growing areas to muskeg, taiga, and tundra in the north and mountains.  Where we lived had a climate similar to Montana or interior Alaska.

The community had no electricity, telephones, running water, or natural gas.  A barrel stove provided heat.  We used propane lights, coleman lanterns, and kerosine lamps for lights.    I had to fill the woodbox.  I hated green poplar because it was very difficult to get burning and then didn’t produce much heat.  And it was heavy and slippery.  Spruce was better.  Dry spruce the best.  My mom hated the ashes.   The walls of our house were made of round logs with fiberglass chinking between the logs.  My bed was beside a window.  And even though my parents spent the extra money for double paned windows, the windows would ice up in winter and make a glacer down the inside of the log wall.  I woke up several mornings with my blankets frozen to the wall.    My brother and I had matching afghans that my grandma had crochetted for us.  I learned that I stayed much warmer if I put the afghan under my wool blanket rather than on top.  The holes in the crochetting captured air if the afghan was sandwitched between a sheet and another blanket.  Later we got some military surplus down sleeping bags that we unzipped to make comforters.  Without any baffles, all the goose down would settle into the portion of the bag hanging off the bed.  And if my foot hit the zipper in the middle of the night, it was like an electric shock….

We had two wood -framed greenhouses covered in yellowed fiberglass.  Both had a woodstove at either end and had side and roof vents.  In the spring, we would hang a plastic partition to conserve heat at one end.   It was a bit of an art learning to adjust the damper and the draft on the barrel stove  — and even stacking the wood and selecting the diameter of logs  — to get a moderate fire that would last 5 hours.  The men and boys took turns doing “nightwatch” or “the fires” which meant waking up at least  at midnight and 5:00am to stoke the fires.  On really cold  nights (around -40) the lucky guy would stay up all night shoving wood in stoves. 

I may continue this, but I woke up thinking that trying to heat a greenhouse in Alaska winter would be like putting a potted plant and a blow dryer in a large ziplock bag and then tossing the plastic bag in the freezer overnight.    Will the plant survive until morning?  Likely there will be a rime of frost on the inside of the bag.  The heater may have cooked or dried out the plant.   If any of the leaves are touching the bag, they will be frozen.    Assuming the plant survived the night, now pull it out of the freezer and aim a heat lamp at it.  I think you’re getting the idea why most hobby greenhouses in Alaska have become storage sheds. 

I have a lot more to say on the subject but I need to go transplant 1300 strawberry plants and make sure the greenhouse is warm enough to keep them alive.  Thursday I built a small greenhouse inside my greenhouse and ran hot water pipes underneath the beds.  I was worried that the hot water pipes would be too hot and damage the roots so I put a capilary mat over the pipes (basically two layers of plastic with a poly fiber blanket between).    Unfortunately, at 5F, the air temperature in the mini greenhouse dropped to 25F.  The plastic film on top had a delta T of 20F

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