Yeah, I know you’re stuck TDY in a city or suburb and it’s planting time.
What are you going to do?
The early spring snow squalls come and go and it’s past time to “get out of Dodge.”
There are wars and rumors of war – even civil war and you are stuck for a while.
Here is a cheap, down and dirty trick you might want to take a look at.
It also offers crop protection from errant clouds of radioactive fallout that might come your way and from the over-spray of zealous poison purveyors, with Roundup or their favorite flavor of glyphosate, out to attack any dandelion that dares to poke it’s yellow head above that unblemished expanse of green lawn.
I picked up five used translucent plastic storage bins at a local thrift shop for a buck apiece and drilled numbers of 1/4 inch holes in the bottoms to facilitate water drainage. I discovered that the plastic will crack when drilled unless backed up with a piece of wood or whatever. Cracks did not concern me as long as the structural integrity of the bottom was not compromised.
I then shoveled in about about 2 inches of free road gravel that I scavenged to cover the holes. I got a big bag of organic top soil and 2 smaller bags of composted sheep manure on sale at a local hardware store for about $12 – enough for 8 inches on top of the gravel when mixed together in each bin with some left over. Yes, there were some small wood chips but it wasn’t too bad.
The bins came with no covers so I got out my worm drive SKIL Saw made in the US and purchased for $99.00 in 1984. It was still running strong and I managed to rip 2 white wood 2” X 4” X 8’’s without losing any fingers.
I then built rectangular cover frames, using 1 #16 box nail and 1 torx screw at each corner. The frames were sized to fit loose so they did not have to be exactly square which made construction simple when assembled on a flat surface such as the sidewalk or living room floor.
The frames were covered with cheap translucent 6 mil plastic film, about $6 for a small roll. I rolled out some plastic on the living room carpet and placed a frame on the plastic. Without measuring anything, I took a pair of scissors and cut a rectangle of plastic about 4 inches outside the frame.
With an old Arrow T-50 hand stapler normally used to staple up targets, I tacked the plastic onto the frame keeping the film reasonably tight and centered. The excess 4 inches of plastic on each side was folded over about 3 times on itself and stapled to the frame with 1 staple about every 2 inches.
The plastic was fairly secure with just staples through the folded edges. Excess plastic was quickly trimmed off with the scissors. If it had been in a high wind area, I would have nailed wood battens over the staples but in this case the staples alone should suffice.
Now for a little thermal mass and heat storage, I rustled up some empty 1 liter plastic drink bottles and a couple of old 1 gallon anti-freeze containers – the ones that have a narrow profile. Rummaging through the paint locker, I found a partially full can of flat black spray paint and another partial can of dark brown camo.
Stretching on a pair of those blue nitrile gloves, I held a bottle in one hand and sprayed with the other over the dead grass of the lawn that had recently emerged from two feet of snow. Making quick work of it, I placed the bottles on the ground under the lip of the porch to dry - not too concerned with the old leaves and winter’s detritus messing up the paint job – good enough for this kind of work.
The containers were filled with tap water and snugged into the soil at the rear of each bin with the front of the bin facing true south. Each rectangular bin was oriented with the longer sides on an east/west axis so that the front would see the sun as it circumscribed an arc through the southern sky. For this application, rough “rules of thumb” are good enough for a simple, direct-gain solar grow box. No need to labor over heat transfer calculations, I know from long experience that this will work fantastically to serve our purpose. I am sure that you see this intuitively and will have ideas for other improvements to suit your own needs and climatic conditions.
The lids are sized so that the frames are totally outside the lips of the bins with the plastic film resting on the lips forming a perfect seal to limit the night-time infiltration of cold air that might freeze the young plants that would otherwise thrive in these typical Montana, early-spring conditions.
The lids are easily secured to the bins with bungee cords that are attached
to loops of rope that run under the bins. During the day, the lids can either be completely removed or positioned to partially cover the bins as conditions warrant. At night, the lids are fastened back down. The lids are easily removed for watering with a sprinkling can as required.
Yes, one can make technical improvements to these rudimentary grow boxes but are they worth it? I figure what I have here will add 3 to 4 weeks on each side of the growing season. That’s like skipping down one or two climate regions to the south. The UV radiation at these higher elevations will disintegrate the cheap plastic film in one season but so what. I have minimum investment and ubiquitous plastic is easy to replace in this case.
The light transmission through the translucent bins may be only 80% and for the single layer covers maybe 85% if I had to guess. But guess what? The plants love it because of the diffusion characteristics of the plastic which refracts the light more evenly throughout the container. Besides, in above freezing daytime weather, the lids will be off and the plants will receive direct sunlight.
The downside until non-freezing summer temperatures arrive, is that twice a day, just like milking animals, you have to attend to adjusting the lids so you don’t fry the plants in the day or freeze them at night.
During the day, the water bottles will absorb heat from the sun, even on cloudy days. At night, the bottles will radiate the heat back to the plants.
Theoretically, black is the best heat absorption and emission color but in practice a deep green or dark brown will suffice. Water is a good heat storage medium because of it’s excellent heat capacity per unit volume and weight characteristics in a cheap and commonly available material. Metal water containers would have better heat exchange characteristics over plastic bottles but you can’t beat the cost and ubiquity of throw-away drink containers. Then, we could get into the volume of the containers vs their light exposed surface areas etc. etc. on and on with considerations that are complete overkill for our little project here. But you get the point about some of the simple but subtle principles of passive solar design that can be used to design structures and buildings of any size.
I do have plans for more sophisticated solar grow boxes that will extend into deep winter but they are heavier and more bulky with insulated sides and better, more permanent double glazing that is angled to catch the sun that is much lower on the winter horizon.
(Image: My small spectator)
Here, we have a simple strategy to grow many densely packed salad greens of early maturity that will be selectively clipped while young at 2 to 3 inches height in a manner that will allow most of the plants to keep growing with minimum thinning for a period of time into the summer – kinda like mowing the lawn we hope. We are not interested in letting the plants reach full maturity – not enough room in the boxes for that. We are after early nutrient density.
To that end, I have added some choice soil amendments to assure that the plants are highly mineralized rather than reaching for optimum percentages of NPK. This is the same strategy that we employed in the development of our Alpine Varietal of Painted Mountain Corn seed (click here to learn more) which was a resounding nutritional success.
Here are the secret details:
1st Soil Amendment
The first soil amendment is AZOMITE, a naturally occurring mineral-rich composite which relies on the “The Law of the Minimum.”
AZOMITE® is a natural product in Utah mined from an ancient volcanic eruption into a seabed and is distinct from any other mineral deposit in the world.
I submit that “The Law of the Minimum” also applies to humans and animals as I discuss in my soon to be released new book, The Atomic Trekker. The details are spelled out in the sections on the "New Agricultural Paradigm Poised to Replace Big Ag" and the nutritional program that became a way of life for the resurrection of my own health and continuing longevity. (Click here and scroll down for more)
2nd Soil Amendment
GLACIAL ROCK DUST
GAIA GREEN Glacial Rock Dust is mined from a glacial moraine in Canada, and is the result of thousands of years of piedmont glacial action. As the glaciers traveled from north to south during the last ice age, they picked up rocks containing a range of minerals and trace elements. As the glacier receded at the end of the ice age, it left behind deposits of glacial moraine. These deposits are mined, dried, and screened to be used as a natural soil amendment.
Of course, you may live in an area where the soil is already heavily glaciated – the result of glaciers from the last ice age that covered northern portions of the US and the western mountains. (Click here to learn more)
I sprinkled small quantities of the finely powdered AZOMITE and Glacial Rock Dust into the soil as I was mixing it up in each container.
The water bottles were placed in the back of the containers before the beds were planted so as to not disturb the planted seed bed. The beds were leveled and smoothed with a flat wood slat and shallow north/south rows were pressed out with the slat creating little trenches about an inch apart. The tiny seed was sown by hand in each trench. A planting map of each container was drawn up on a sheet of paper to show at a glance what was planted where. Rather than attempting to move the dirt back over the trenches to the correct planting depth, a cup of soil had been retained to sprinkle over the seed to get the correct planting depth for each type of seed.
Before the seed was covered with soil I added another powerful ingredient.
3rd Soil Amendment - The Secret Ingredient
BIOZOME is a very interesting product containing micro-organisms from the biological Domain Archaea, ancient life-forms astonishingly discovered only in the 1970’s. Archaea are so totally different from bacteria, plants and animals as to require a new category of biological classification. Archaea are found widely distributed in the natural world including the extreme environments of hot springs, salt lakes and volcanic fumaroles.
Certain Archaea have the ability to literally eat rocks and allow the bound minerals to be easily assimilated by plants. Cellulose is quickly digested into compost and agricultural hydrocarbon pesticide residues in soil are digested rendering them harmless to life. Archaea are also deployed in oil spills to metabolize the petroleum into non-toxic metabolites that are useful to plants.
BIOZOME is a soil amendment containing the kind of Archaea that are particularly friendly to plants, quickly breaking down soil nutrients into forms that are easily absorbed – processes that otherwise might require a number of years. In this BIOZOME product the Archaea are mixed with a very fine Bentonite powder which is a benign, naturally-occurring clay that is used in many applications, from cosmetics to sealing well casings and pond linings.
I have a small stash of the original BIOZOME acquired from a guy in Texas who made the stuff back in the day before a corporation consolidated all the production rights and ran him out of business. A professor, now deceased, at the University of Texas in Austin, developed this particular Archaea product. The person I bought the BIOZOME from had a connection to the professor and was an agricultural evangelist for the product. Now that person has been cut out of the picture and you can no longer buy the original uncut BIOZOME. You can however purchase a commercial product that contains BIOZOME in a mixture of other organic soil amendments. The new product is Called Jobe’s Biozome and you can find out where to purchase it by clicking here.
It appears to be widely distributed and I am sure you can find a source in your area.
Now, back to our soil amendment and the application of it.
While the planted seeds are lying in their bed before being covered with soil, I sprinkle a small line of BIOZOME down each row directly on top of the seeds. It’s very light in color and easy to see. It’s best to do this in little to no wind because it’s a fine dust and easily blows away. There are a lot of different ways to apply it but this is how I did it here. The seeds are then covered with the specified depth of soil and I pat down the entire bed with my hands to compact the soil so the seeds don’t float away when watered, which is the next step for the application of:
4th Soil Amendment
Liquid Seaweed is a product derived from Ascophylum nodosum Seaweed – brown in color, the most common seaweed found in the Atlantic Ocean. It contains micro-elements found in seawater: Manganese, Copper, Iron, Zinc…etc. – virtually the atomic chart of the natural elements plus vegetal hormones, amino acids and sugars which stimulate healthy and quick crop growth and resistance to pests.
Good stuff. I like it.
I followed the directions for seed germination and mixed 2 tablespoons per gallon of water in the hand sprinkler - then carefully sprinkled the seed beds and wet them down. I put the lids on the bins and that was that.
I had planted:
4 varieties of Arugula
6 varieties of Lettuce
2 varieties of Chard
Tatsoi Asian Greens
All varieties were traditional open pollinated – no hybrids.
Now I am ready. When my TDY here is finished, the bins go in the truck and I am off to location A where supplies and amenities are pre-positioned on the edge of a wilderness and the primary threats are bears, wolves and mountain lion.
If the hammer drops before my time is up at this location, my Portable TDY Garden of Nutrient-Dense Super Greens still goes with me unless it’s gridlock and I have to abandon the truck to hit the treeline with my Glock and backpack ready to escape and evade across that snowy mountain range in the distance in an adventure ripped right out of the pages of The Atomic Trekker.
Stay safe my brothers and sisters and forget not the joie de vivre with the Easter-Tide upon us all.
Mountains of Montana
Palm Sunday, 2019