Sunday, 9 March 2014

Ghetto Incubator

Well, I wanted to raise my own ducks, although I know I could have bought them cheaper and easier, this seemed important parental step for some reason. So Here is my Ghetto Incubator.
After searching for a cooler, I gave up and did the insulation ducktape project. Inside my insulation box I have a basket with a good layer of vermiculite. What you dont plant eggs you say?  Well vermiculite is soft cushy and an incredible incubator. Plus helps maintain humidity levels. I currently have 3 temperature / humidity gauges in there. Why, well, I put one in, thought I better check it and the second was different, so I added a 3rd. All 3 are less than  degree apart, but still.

The heating system is a light bulb. I am testing this in terracotta pots, the idea was to add some thermal mass, thereby giving off heat more consistently, but it appears the temperature controller does a better job of it. Next to this I have a small bowel of water and a sponge for humidity. This I put into a clear container, to make it easier to carry and hold the wiring. Clear so I can keep an eye on the controller.

I bought a willhi temperature controller eventually on ebay. Its a popular choice for home brewing, home incubators and other home temperature projects. Wiring this things was ... lets say not as straight forward as it could. Note to their marketing department, why prewire this thing? Its set up to switch the light-bulb on when the temperature on top of the vermiculite gets less than 37 degrees and switch it off at 38 degrees Celsius. The ideal temperature for incubation being 37.5. The vermiculite should hardly change temps at all. I do need to open this to turn the eggs, but considering putting them in a eggbox and being able to do this in seconds. I think I may need a blanket over the top or something for a extra layer of insulation, at the same time, turning eggs needs to be quick and efficient. Baring power failure, I think I am on the right track.

The weather is really looking up. 6 degrees in forecast for tomorrow and then dropping again but back up on the weekend. we should hopefully get to season positive on a daily basis after that. It be much needed as I have some plants by then to plant out in the cold frame.

Post Note. OK the thermal mass is in the wrong place. I switched things a little adding a PC fan to improve circulation and removed the ceramic pots that bulb is in. Then added a brick under the eggs for thermal mass and trying again.

This worked really well and my temperature is now maintained within 1 degree.  Again, thermal mass (aka bricks) under the eggs and away from the heat. Fan near the heat source (bulb) and away from the mass. The heat source bulb is much lower wattage worked better as well. No insulation around the eggs. A bowel with a sponge for humidity.  I did have to arrange the temperature probe to be near the eggs and at about the same height or level. On 3 different thermometers this combination kept the temp within 1 degree Celsius. Even when opening it briefly to "turn the eggs".  I guess, the principal here was trust the Wilhi temperature controller to maintain the temp at the source. dont add thermal mass near it. This is opposite of what you do in winter to warm coop.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Just a regular Grow Op

Well, I asked my garden keen neighbour if they had started and their response was no, I do seeds in place only and buy peppers and Tomatoes. When I mentioned that I now have 4 trays already going in my basement, the response was "you have a regular Grow Op". "Mr/s Police please, they really are only my Peppers, Tomatoes and a couple other veggies."
 I found the lights at Home depot on sale for and so bought a regular box of bulbs and 3 lights which I then spaced with some galvanized strapping and small metal screws. The automatic timer turns them on at 6 am and off at 10pm. They a little high for the picture. They all seem to be working great, although I need to work on the hanging mechanism still, to raise and lower them easier.  In front I have some onions and 2 artichokes I am experimenting with. Next is a tray of peppers, then Tomatoes and then kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce etc (ok I have some overlap.) The final tray is a few hard to get sprouted peppers, still on heat. The soil temperature there around 29-30 degrees. (wonder if too hot). They all sitting on some pink insulation which helps them maintain the heat from the lights.

I am still using a aluminium blind, which I cut up write on with a permanent marker for tags. It was a great idea I found on the web and works great for me. In a week or 2, I will consolidate the Pepper and Tomato plantings into larger cells or small pots, throwing out the weaker and perhaps dropping to 2 or 3 of each seedling. I was hoping to move some of the cold hardy outdoors by then to the cold frame and begin more serious round of planting.

Weather wise, we are warming for the weekend to a more seasonal +3 odd. But by mid week we back down to -10 Celsius. The 14 days forecast has it just getting back up to 0 at the end of 14 days, with night time lows around -5. This winter is not releasing its hold yet and I may have a jungle in my basement soon. I have still not got my duck eggs, but I can hope for this weekend. The number of Furry Tailed Rats (squirrels) in my yard this season is incredible. It seems the more I grow, the more they come, but lets hope its just since its being a hard winter for all. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014


The year before last I grew a few potato's in a not all that successful attempt and to my retired polish neighbours (who was raised on a potato farm) great amusement. I decided at a couple dollars a bag, it really was not worth the effort, and so last year, did not try again.

Darn this internet. While reading some garden blogs, I came across a English vs North American potato debate. The debate was much around was it the type of potato or the environment that we grow in North America that makes our potatoes taste so different from England and France. The result, I started looking up favourite potato types. 

One name came up surprisingly often was Ratte. Even mentioned by one of my favourite TV personalities Raymond Blanc as his favourite salad potato. Consistently being mentioned, even if not winning as favourite as one of the tastiest waxy varieties. After some hunting around, I found a source in Quebec online with very reasonable shipping. At $10, I could buy a more potatoes than I eat in a year, but if these taste much better, its worth every cent.

So for science purposes, I  order half a pound of "la" Ratte and half a pound of Rose Finn. Both finger potatoes that they list as their tastiest. I think I will build 2 small potato boxes out of cedar, and do the taste test myself. For taste comparison, would I not need to then take a trip to France?