Archive | January 2014

Dehydrating – next experiments

The soya sauce took a lot long then I would have thought it would take.  Off & on, 4 days.  😦

I now have 8 tins on pineapple bits drying (on 3 trays) the rest of the trays have pineapple juice.  This is drying much faster then the soya sauce did.  The reason for drying the pineapple juice is because I didn’t want to throw it out and I have no room in my freezer.  Plus when I want to dry banana chips, I will already have the powder juice on hand.

I have started to bring up the V8 juice I made & canned last year.  I found I am forgetting that it is there.  It is my hope that by drying it and turning it into a power, I will be more likely to use it as it will be stored in the kitchen.  I have set aside part of one cupboard for “powdered drinks”.  Things that I have dried where I only need to add water for a healthy drink.

I am hoping to get the last raised bed finished this year so that I may be able to plant some kale and in turn, make it into a powdered drink.

I can’t see spending all that money at the health food store for things that I can do myself.  🙂

Dehydrating Soya Sauce Experiment

I have  starting to organize my basement space to work more effectively.  One of the things that I have discovered was a lot of things are close to their expiry date.  I am trying to eat through what I can and dehydrate the rest.  The dates are too close to expiry for me to donate the food to a food bank.  I realized that the date issue is due mostly to my change in eating habits.

One of the things that I found was 4 bottles of soya sauce.  Here are a few of the things that I learned:

  • the sauce is so thin that I could only do a few tablespoon fulls at a time on each sheet – anything more & it would just run off the sheet
  • as it dried a bit, I would add another few tablespoons to the sheet – the sauce was kind of held in place with the second application of sauce 
  • as it dried a bit more, I repeated the above step until all of the soya sauce was in the dehydrator
  • its been 2 days of dehydrating (only on during the cheaper electricity times and not while I sleep) so I don’t know how many house it has been so far but it has taken longer then anything I have dried before
  • it is still sticky to the touch so it will be at least a few more hours until it is done.

The goal is to have it brittle dried & crushed to a powder.

Next will be French salad dressing but I need to make sure that there is no oil in it and then on to pineapple.

Costs you don’t think about when renovating or building

I have been slowly reading through the book – ” Building Your Own Home for Dummies”.  Some great ideas and things I had know but I had forgotten over the years.  In part if the book it talks about the kitchen being the most expensive room in the house to build or renovate.  That got me thinking about my last house and the kitchen renovation.  I think it was close to 18 years ago when we renovated the kitchen.  At the time, I went with white maple cabinets (I don’t remember the cost of them).  There was 42 cupboards and drawers in the kitchen.  The draw pulls/knobs that I liked where $13.99 each times that by 42  equals $587.58 plus then the tax would bring the total for the knobs to $675.71.  I settled for the pulls that were only $3.99 each.

I have started to look & price out those things that at least I didn’t remember would cost a great deal.  I found pulls that I like.  So as money & time allow, I will buy a few at a time.

http://www.leevalley.com/en/hardware/page.aspx?cat=3,45370,49938&p=53672

Lattice and Bead Suite

 

Lattice and Bead Suite - Hardware

Cast in zamak with an antique brass finish, this suite has a dozen pieces that incorporate beaded edges and/or a latticed grip surface or field.Sizes given for handles are overall width, with mounting centers in brackets. The finger pull has a 3/4″ square base with a 1-7/16″ wide lattice.

All pieces are supplied with appropriate mounting hardware.

Lattice and Bead Suite
   
Type
Dimensions
1+
10+
A.
01A30.10
Handle
3-7/8″ (64mm)
$6.90
$5.85
 
B.
01A30.13
Handle
5-1/8″ (96mm)
$8.10
$6.90
 
C.
01A30.14
Handle
6-3/8″ (128mm)
$9.40
$8.00
 
D.
01A30.11
Handle
4-1/4″ (96mm)
$9.10
$7.75
 
E.
01A30.12
Handle with Backplate
5″ (96mm)
$13.00
$11.05
 
F.
01A30.19
Cup Pull
3-15/16″ (64mm)
$7.70
$6.55
 
G.
01A30.15
Handle
6-1/2″ (128mm)
$10.20
$8.65
 
H.
01A30.16
Handle
7-3/4″ (160mm)
$11.70
$9.95
 
J.
01A30.18
Knob
1-15/16″ x 7/8″
$5.80
$4.95
 
K.
01A30.17
Finger Pull
1-7/16″
$3.90
$3.30
 
L.
01A30.20
Vertical Escutcheon
3-1/2″ x 7/8″
$3.20
$2.70
 
M.
01A30.21
Card Frame
3-1/2″ x 1″
$3.60
$3.05
 

 

For those interested, here is the link to the Lee Valley on-line catalogs: http://www.leevalley.com/en/home/OnlineCatalogs.aspx

Plant Cheatsheet

When I select plants/seeds to try for the first time, I just make sure that I have or can make the garden work for the plant.  Once I have ordered my “non-standard” seeds, I sit down and do up a cheetsheet on what each type of plant needs.  I look at multiple sources for the information and slowly fill in my cheatsheet.  This gives me a chance to start making any amendments to the soil that I may need to do.  Here is a sample of the start of my cheatsheet for this year:

Plant Soil PH Soil Type Lighting Sowing Disease & Pests Harvesting
Amaranth Mix 6.0-7.5 well drained soil Full sun Direct sow in late May to early June. Optimal soil temperature: 18-24°C (65-75°F). Watch for slug/snail damage to young plants. Amaranth is not prone to pest damage. Pick baby or mature greens as needed. Simply cut them with scissors as you would mescluns. The leaves have an appealing, nutty flavour. If growing for seed, choose A. hypochondriacus and provide ample spacing. Seed will ripen in late summer or early fall.
Red Quinoa 6.0-7.5 well-drained, loamy soil with added orgnaic matter Full sun Direct sow in late April to the end of May, while night temperatures are still cool. Optimal soil temperature for germination: 18-24°C (65-75°F). Seeds should germinate in 4-10 days Watch for slug/snail damage to young seedlings. Keep the area free from debris where these pests like to nest. Harvest any time after seeds have changed from green to their calico colours, even after light frost.

Does anyone else do this when they try a new food plant?

Soil Testing

SOIL TESTING

What is a Soil Test?
soil test is a process by which elements (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc) are chemically removed from the soil and measured for their “plant available” content within the sample. The quantity of available nutrients in the sample determines the amount of fertilizer that is recommended. A soil test also measures soil pH, humic matter and exchangeable acidity. These analyses indicate whether lime is needed and, if so, how much to apply.
Why Do You Need A Soil Test?

Encourages plant growth by providing the best lime and fertilizer recommendations.

When growers guess about the need for lime or fertilizers, too little or too much is likely to be applied. By using a soil test report, the grower does not need to guess.For Example: When applying too much lime, soil pH may rise above the needed level, which causes nutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc to become less available to plants. It is also common to see homeowners purchase one bag of lime when they purchase one bag of fertilizer. Based on an average lawn size of 5000 square feet, one bag of fertilizer may be enough. Applying one bag of lime over 5000 square feet, however, will have little effect on soil pH.

Diagnoses whether there is too little or too much of a nutrient. Promotes environmental quality.

      When gardeners apply only as much fertilizer as is necessary, nutrient runoff into surface or ground water is minimized and natural resources are conserved.

Saves money that might otherwise be spent on unneeded lime and fertilizer.

      For example

            , growers of flue-cured tobacco often routinely apply phosphorus. In areas where soil levels are high in phosphorus, a soil test could save these farmers up to $60 per acre.

      Soil sampling analysis is a free service for any grower in North Carolina.


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      Taking a Good Sample
      A soil sample must be taken at the right time and in the right way. The tools used, the area sampled, the depth and the correct mix of the sample, the information provided, andpackaging all influence quality of the sample.

      Time it right.

      Take a soil sample a few months before starting any new landscaping-whether your laying sod, starting a vegetable garden, putting in a flower bed, or planting perennials. If the soil test report recommends lime, you will have enough time to apply it and have it adjust the soil pH before you plant.Sample established areas-lawns, trees, shrubbery, and other perennials-once every three or four years. You can sample at any time of year; however, mid-August through mid-September is an ideal time to take samples for cool-season grasses, such as fescue, bluegrass, and ryegrass. By sampling at this time, you can be ready to apply lime in the fall.

      For areas recently limed or fertilized, delay sampling at least six to eight weeks.

      Use clean sampling equipment.

      Use a soil probe, spade, hand garden trowel, or shovel to collect samples. Do not use brass, bronze, or galvanized tools because they will contaminate samples with copper and/or zinc.Mix samples in a clean, plastic bucket. If the bucket has been used to hold fertilizer or other chemicals, wash it thoroughly before using it for soil samples.

      Sample each unique area separately.

      Each sample should represent only one soil type or area-for example, a lawn, vegetable garden or perennial landscaped area (Figure 1). For each unique area, take at least six to eight subsamples and combine them to make one sample. If one area of your yard seems healthy and another has bare or yellow areas, sample healthy and unhealthy areas separately even if both are lawn grasses or flower gardens, etc.

      sampling pattern graphic
      Figure 1. Unique areas to sample in a home landscape.

      Take a soil core to the appropriate depth.

            For lawns, sample to a depth of four inches, excluding any turf thatch.

      For vegetable and flower gardens, sample to the depth that you plan to mix in lime or fertilizer, usually four to six inches.

      For shrubbery, remove any mulch or surface debris, then sample to a depth of four to six inches around the base of plants. Avoid zones where lime or fertilizer have been recently applied.

      Mix sample cores well. 

            Place all the subsamples for one unique area in a plastic bucket and mix thoroughly. Use the mixture in the bucket to fill a soil sample box about two-thirds full. Look for the fill line on the box.

      Fill out an information sheet and label the sample box completely.

            Get your sample boxes and information sheets from Cooperative Extension offices, agribusinesses, regional agronomists, or the Agronomic Division laboratory. Use permanent ink or pencil to fill out forms and label boxes.

      If you just want routine lime and fertilizer recommendations, then fill out a Soil Sample Information Sheet (form AD1) and send it with your samples.

      If you suspect existing nutritional problems and want the problems diagnosed, complete a Diagnostic Soil Sample Information Sheet (form AD2) instead.

      Give each sample a unique identifier of up to five letters and/or numbers. Put this identifier on both the information sheet and the sample box. Choose an identifier that will help you remember the area it corresponds to, such as FYARD, BYARD, ROSES, or GRASS.

      Be sure to list the existing plants and/or the plants you are planning to grow. You must include the crop code(s) in order to receive lime and fertilizer recommendations. Codes are listed on the back of the information sheet. Code 024 applies to all vegetable garden crops and 026 to all lawn grasses except centipedegrass, which is coded as 022.

      Package the sample appropriately.

            Put the soil mixture in the sample box. Do not tape the box or put soil in a plastic bag. If you are sending several sample boxes through the mail, pack them carefully in a sturdy container. Do not send samples in a manilla envelope. Mail samples to the Agronomic Division laboratory at the address on the back of this publication.

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        Receiving the Soil Test Report
        Soil samples are usually analyzed within one week of the time they are received. However, from late fall through early spring, processing may take several weeks due to the heavy sample influx from farmers at this time.When testing is complete, a report is mailed to the homeowner and a copy is immediately posted on the internet at

        http://agronomy.agr.state.nc.us/ A cover sheet and a crop-specific note are sent with the report. The cover sheet explains the technical terms and index values. The note provides extra details on fertilizer application schedules and rates for specific kinds of plants.

        Information about soil tests and their interpretation is also available on the internet at

        http://www.agr.state.nc.us/agronomi/sthome.htm Consult an agricultural advisor for more help on sampling, interpreting soil test results, and understanding how to implement them.

         


        A Homeowner’s Guide to Fertilizer

        Understanding the Fertilizer Label
         Fertilizer Bag All fertilizer labels have three bold numbers. The first number is the amount of nitrogen (N), the second number is the amount of phosphate (P2O5) and the third number is  the amount of potash (K2O). These three numbers represent theprimary nutrients (nitrogen(N) – phosphorus(P) – potassium(K)).This label, known as the fertilizer grade, is a national standard.

        A bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate and 10 percent potash.

        Fertilizer grades are made by mixing two or more nutrient sources together to form a blend, that is why they are called “mixed fertilizers.” Blends contain particles of more than one color. Manufacturers produce different grades for the many types of plants.You can also get fertilizers that contain only one of each of the primary nutrients. Nitrogen sources include ammonium nitrate (33.5-0-0), urea nitrogen (46-0-0), sodium nitrate (16-0-0) and liquid nitrogen (30-0-0). Phosphorus is provided as 0-46-0 and potash as 0-0-60 or 0-0-50.
        Calculating Nutrient Content 
        To calculate the pounds of nitrogen in a 50-lb bag of 10-10-10 fertilizer, multiply 50 by 0.10. Do the same for calculating the amounts of phosphate and potash. A 50-lb bag of 10-10-10 contains a total of 15 lbs of nutrients: 5 lbs nitrogen, 5 lbs phosphate and 5 lbs potash. The remaining weight is filler, usually sand or granular limestone.Another example:

        50-lb. bag of 8-0-24 fertilizer

            1. To calculate the pounds of nitrogen: Multiply 50 by .08, which equals 4.
            2. To calculate the pounds of phosphate: There is no phosphate in this bag of fertilizer.
            3. To calculate the pounds of potash: Multiply 50 by .24, which equals 12.

          A 50 pound bag of 8-0-24 fertilizer contains a total of 16 lbs of nutrients: 4 lbs nitrogen, 0 lbs phosphate, and 12 lbs potash. This would leave us with 34 lbs of filler.

          Selecting a Fertilizer Grade 
          The best way to select a fertilizer grade is to have your soil tested. The soil test report will recommend a fertilizer grade for your use. The report also comes with a management note that provides guidelines for supplementing nitrogen for lawn and garden crops.Typical grades recommended for lawns and gardens include: 

          • 5-10-5
          • 5-10-10
          • 10-10-10
          • 8-0-24
          • 6-6-18
          Spreading Fertilizer 
          Have you ever seen a lawn that looked like it had different colored stripes. This was probably caused by spreading fertilizers the wrong way. To make sure that the color and growth of your plants are the same, fertilizers must be spread evenly. The most popular types of fertilizer spreaders are the drop spreader and the cyclone spreader. Cyclone spreaders generally provide the best results. Make sure when you spread the fertilizer that you overlap your spread pattern by Applying half the material in one direction and the remainder in the opposite direction. Break up any clumps so that the fertilizer won’t get clogged in the spreader. Fertilizer Spreader
          If you have questions regarding which grade of fertilizer to use or how much fertilizer to use, contact your local agricultural advisor or the Agronomic Division in Raleigh, NC.

          Plant Nutrients

           

          Sixteen chemical elements are known to be important to a plant’s growth and survival. The sixteen chemical elements are divided into two main groups: non-mineral andmineral.
          Non-Mineral Nutrients
          The Non-Mineral Nutrients are hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), & carbon (C).

          These nutrients are found in the air and water.In a process calledphotosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun to change carbon dioxide (CO2 – carbon and oxygen) and water(H2O- hydrogen and oxygen) into starches and sugars. These starches and sugars are the plant’s food.

          Photosynthesismeans “making things with light”.

          Since plants get carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen from the air and water, there is little farmers and gardeners can do to control  how much of these nutrients a plant can use.
          Mineral Nutrients
          The 13 mineral nutrients, which come from the soil, are dissolved in water and absorbed through a plant’s roots. There are not always enough of these nutrients in the soil for a plant to grow healthy. This is why many farmers and gardeners use fertilizers to add the nutrients to the soil.The mineral nutrients are divided into two groups:
          macronutrients and micronutrients.Macronutrients 

          Macronutrients can be broken into two more groups:
          primary and secondary nutrients.The primary nutrients are nitrogen (N)phosphorus (P), andpotassium (K). These major nutrients usually are lacking from the soil first because plants use large amounts for their growth and survival.

          The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca)magnesium (Mg), andsulfur (S). There are usually enough of these nutrients in the soil so fertilization is not always needed. Also, large amounts of Calcium and Magnesium are added when lime is applied to acidic soils. Sulfur is usually found in sufficient amounts from the slow decomposition of soil organic matter, an important reason for not throwing out grass clippings and leaves.

          Micronutrients

          Micronutrients are those elements essential for plant growth which are needed in only very small (micro) quantities . These elements are sometimes called minor elements or trace elements, but use of the term micronutrient is encouraged by the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America. The micronutrients are boron (B), copper (Cu), iron(Fe), chloride (Cl), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc(Zn). Recycling organic matter such as grass clippings and tree leaves is an excellent way of providing micronutrients (as well as macronutrients) to growing plants.



          Soil
          In general, most plants grow by absorbing nutrients from the soil. Their ability to do this depends on the nature of the soil. Depending on its location, a soil contains some combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. The makeup of a soil (soil texture) and its acidity (pH) determine the extent to which nutrients are available to plants.
          Soil Texture

           (the amount of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter in the soil)  
           
          Soil texture affects how well nutrients and water are retained in the soil. Clays and organic soils hold nutrients and water much better than sandy soils. As water drains from sandy soils, it often carries nutrients along with it. This condition is called leaching. When nutrients leach into the soil, they are not available for plants to use. 

          An ideal soil contains equivalent portions of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. Soils across North Carolina vary in their texture and nutrient content, which makes some soils more productive than others. Sometimes, the nutrients that plants need occur naturally in the soil. Othertimes, they must be added to the soil as lime or fertilizer.

           

          Soil pH

           (a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil)  
              Soil pH is one of the most important soil properties that affects the availability of nutrients.
              • Macronutrients tend to be less available in soils with low pH.
              • Micronutrients tend to be less available in soils with high pH.

          Lime

               can be added to the soil to make it less sour (acid) and also supplies calcium and magnesium for plants to use. Lime also raises the pH to the desired range of 6.0 to 6.5.

          In this pH range, nutrients are more readily available to plants, and microbial populations in the soil increase. Microbes convert nitrogen and sulfur to forms that plants can use. Lime also enhances the physical properties of the soil that promote water and air movement.

          It is a good idea to have your 

          soil tested

          . If you do, you will get a report that explains how much lime and fertilizer your crop needs. 

           

          Micronutrients
          Boron (B)
          • Helps in the use of nutrients and regulates other nutrients.
          • Aids production of sugar and carbohydrates.
          • Essential for seed and fruit development.
          • Sources of boron are organic matter and borax
          Copper (Cu)
          • Important for reproductive growth.
          • Aids in root metabolism and helps in the utilization of proteins.
          Chloride (Cl)
          • Aids plant metabolism.
          • Chloride is found in the soil.
          Iron (Fe) 
          • Essential for formation of chlorophyll.
          • Sources of iron are the soil, iron sulfate, iron chelate.
          Manganese (Mn) 
          • Functions with enzyme systems involved in breakdown of carbohydrates, and nitrogen metabolism.
          • Soil is a source of manganese.
          Molybdenum (Mo)
          • Helps in the use of nitrogen
          • Soil is a source of molybdenum.
          Zinc (Zn)
          • Essential for the transformation of carbohydrates.
          • Regulates consumption of sugars.
          • Part of the enzyme systems which regulate plant growth.
          • Sources of zinc are soil, zinc oxide, zinc sulfate, zinc chelate.

           

          Incan irrigation and hotbeds could transform our polytunnel and greenhouse woes by Fiona Nevile

          There was a fascinating article in Permaculture magazine (no. 66 Winter 2010) using an Inca technique to self water a greenhouse. Basically, water is harvested from the roof of the tunnel or greenhouse into a central semi lined gulley. This seeps in between small stones beneath raised beds and waters the plants from below. The soil on the top remains dry – so is no longer a nirvana for slugs and also counteracts the nasty problem of moulds. The gulley has a wooden slatted walkway above that forms the pathway through the tunnel.

          I got very excited about this idea. With a bit of work and a small initial outlay, most of the onerous summer watering could take care of itself.  Then, needless to say, I was distracted by other jobs in the garden and the idea was shelved for the time being until now. It might be just a tentative flicker but I had a rare “light bulb” moment last week. I just need to fill you in on the rest of the background first.

          The Polytunnel Book: Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round by Joyce Russell gives plans for a simple hot bed. A wooden frame on top of the soil, measuring 1.5’ x 4’ and 1’ high. She digs 0.5’ of soil from beneath the frame adds 1’ of manure, puts the soil back on top of this and plants up after two days. The life of this hot bed is about one month.

          This became a must-have for my new Solar Tunnel the moment that I read about it. I did a swap – a bird lavender bag with The Chicken Lady for straw and horse manure mix. TCL, S and I went to the steaming heaps of muck. We just managed to squeeze seven 20 litre bags into the boot of The Duchess. And I roared home in a fever of anticipation with a warm and whiffy boot.

          I decided to do a bit more research on hot beds, from the Victorians to the present day. There wasn’t much information out on the Internet. But I did discover some important facts – the manure mixed with straw generates a lot more heat for longer than just pure manure. There were two simple styles – a mound or a pit – both with a cold frame on top. The cold frame can be opened on warm days and closed at night. Even a pit with a simple glass cover would do.

          Clearly a brick built contraption would hold a lot of heat too because bricks hold the heat. But I was impatient to begin. The muck bags were lying in an expectant heap in the Solar Tunnel. They had cooled since being unloaded from the boot. Would they heat up again?

          Then I found this article . Roy Martin’s hotbed is outdoors and retains heat or about two months. He also clearly has access to a digger. Sob. I also found this article useful and liked the idea of letting the manure/ straw mix increase in temperature for nine days before adding the final layer of compost and soil. Described here.

          So I dug a small pit 4’ x 2’ and 2.5’ deep. It took a long time. Well, about four hours when I decided that grave digging was not for me. I lined the base with 3” of yew hedge clippings and filled the hole with 140 litres of straw and horse manure. This pit is about 3” wider than the cold frame that I’m making out of an old window and some offcuts that I found in the brick shack.

          The only financial investment that I made was a very sturdy Soil and Compost Thermometer. I do tend to be quite hard on tools. This one has a metal casing and alarmed Danny when I waved it at him while he was on a conference call to Bangalore.

          The build up of heat was fast. 55 degrees Fahrenheit on day two, 65 on day three, 75 day four, 95 day five and today 111! The temperature will eventually drop and plateau for two months. It was then that I came up with the idea of using this method of heating the green house and solar tunnel.

          Maybe I could install the summer self watering system in both of them. Then I could have minimal watering duties during the hotter months and in winter I could drain the system and fill the irrigation channel with straw and manure!

          No massive bins encroaching on the borders. No paraffin heaters. No electricity. Free heat that breaks down into good organic matter to dig into the garden in the spring. Perfect.

          You might be wondering about the possible whiff? Well it’s not ammonia and gas masks on. Just a gentle straw and horse smell that intrigues the Min Pins and could not offend anybody.

          So that’s the plan. As this is the start of my hot bed experiment I have no idea how long the small bed will retain its heat. But if it lasts for two months, I reckon that an irrigation channel of a similar depth would just need two full top ups each winter. Staggered to guarantee a constant heat.

          Hotbeds an introduction by TheGardenersCalendar.co.uk

          http://www.the-gardeners-calendar.co.uk/Features/HotBeds/default.asp

          Hotbeds have been used for many years to bring on delicate plants in cold weather.

           

          They where most commonly used by Victorian gardeners to force crops like Melons, Cucumbers, Strawberries, and Radishes. In fact any crop that was needed in the kitchen by the cook out of season, could be grown in a Hotbed.

          Hotbed History

          Hotbeds, over the years have seen advances in design and heating methods. The original method of heating hotbeds was to use Horse manure and straw, later on wealthy households used hot water pipes from boilers to provide the heat, and towards the latter end of the 20th Century, electric heating elements where used to provide the warmth. In this article we will concentrate on the manure solution for heating. Although it would appear initially to be the easiest to employ, in fact, to make it work well there are several techniques known to gardeners years ago, which have been lost to us modern, ‘advanced’ gardeners, and by using these techniques we can vastly improve the effectiveness of manure as a heating solution.

          The Traditional Hotbed Frame

          The basic frame for the Hotbed is constructed from four pieces of wood. Traditionally the measurements are twelve feet long by four feet wide. But adjust the size to fit your requirements. Cross SectionThe height at the front of the frame should be 9 inches, and at the back it should be 18 inches (Fig 1.). There should be a bracing strut fitted from the front to the back at the top of the frame to provide additional strength and also as a mounting for glazed sashes to rest on, which are called ‘Lights’. Place a strut every 3 feet along the length of the frame.

          The Lights

          The ‘Lights’ should be constructed as a basic Lightsframe 4 foot long, by 3 foot wide, and glazed, traditionally with glass panes, but today it is easier, and safer to use multilayed Polycarbonate roofing sections (Fig 2.). The Lights are not fixed to the Hotbed frame, but they are free to slide up and down, or to be raised at the top or bottom to control the temperature of the hotbed. A wedge can be used to keep the Lights open. Make as many Lights as required to cover the whole Hotbed frame.

          You now have the completed Hotbed frame, The same frame can be used on the free standing version and as the permanent version. The only difference is the permanent version sits on to of a brick wall; the height of which can vary depending on the design you require, but 2 feet was a usual measurement. The ground you build your Hotbed on must be flat and level. Don’t take any short cuts when leveling the land as it will cause all sorts of problems later.

          The Manure – the ECO-friendly heating solution

          Now for the most important bit of the Hotbed. You can use any sort of manure and straw mixture, but if you want it to work to at it’s best you must use horse manure. Don’t get well rotted manure, it is best to get it straight from the horses bottom if possible.

          Take your mixture and pile it into a rounded pyramid using a fork. Don’t just dump the Pile Turninglot in a pile you must take each fork full and shake it into a loose pile. Leave the pile for 3 days, during which time it should have generated enough heat to produce steam. On the third day fork the pile shaking as you go into a pyramid by the side of the original pile, making sure the top now becomes the bottom and visa versa. Repeat this process on the sixth day (Fig 3). If the weather is dry then water will have to be added after the turning process. The old method was to add a gallon of water for every foot in height. If the mixture is not started in this way you can end up with hotspots in the beds, or the fermentation may be erratic.

          After nine days of turning the manure mixture will have started to ‘ferment’ well and the process should continue nicely. It is time to build the Hotbed. For the free standing pile carefully fork the mixture into layers of four to five inches in depth and an inch or two larger than the frame. Tap down using the fork. repeat the process until you have two to three feet of manure. Now place your free standing frame on to the pile of manure and put the lights in place, but keep them open for ventilation. The process for a brick built bed is exactly the same, just fill the bed in four to five inch layers tapping down as you go.

          It should take twelve hours for the heat to start to rise, place a stick into the bed and leave it in place, check each day to see how warm the bed is. It should take 3 days to reach maximum temperature, check the bed several times a day with the stick, or finger if you prefer, as the temperature will ‘plateau’ and gradually reduce. Once the Plateaux is reached it is now time for the soil to be put on top. If you put it on too soon, the heat build up can be too great, and the soil can ‘burn’, that is to say all the nutrients in the soil can be damaged, not that it will burst into flames. The soil should be moist but not wet, and should be put in a six inch layer over the manure. Your bed is now ready to sow seeds or plants in.

          Controlling the Temperature

          Once built the bed temperature is controlled by opening and closing the ‘Lights’ much in the same way a greenhouse temperature is controlled. If however, you are wanting to grow delicate root crops such as Radish, they can be inedible if grown in a bed too hot, you will need to mix more straw in with the manure at the beginning of the whole process. This will result in the maximum temperature of the bed being lower. Beds with a reduced temperature are known for obvious reasons as ‘Warm beds’.

          How long does the Hotbed last?

          It depends on the amount and quality of the manure used. But generally the bed will provide warmth until the spring sunshine takes over. You can continue to sow and plant in the bed throughout the summer months and remove the rotted manure and dig into the ground in late Autumn, early winter. There are variations on the design that include piling earth up around the bricks or the manure bed that can be made, and you should experiment to see if you can improve the effectiveness of your Hotbeds.