Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tomato Pergola

The tomato pergola is coming along nicely. All 14 plants are being pruned to 1-2 vines only for each. The horizontal aspect is now under way, we'll se how they tolerate it. We did the upside down tomato before and it did well, so I'm hoping this method is a good solution for the plants growing taller than their stakes. We will cut off the growing tips later in the season to promote the ripening of the fruit that is already established before the first cold snap. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


We got our first tomato harvest on Sunday. These are (not quite ripe) White Queens, Honey Bunch, and an Egg Yolk. Since then we've gotten a few Pearly Pinks and a Black Cherry, but I ate them before getting pictures.
I turned them into a little salad by cutting them up, lightly salting in a colander to get extra moisture out, then tossed them with oregano, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This is one of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes. My other fave is with a few drops of truffle oil, basil, and fresh mozzarella. To me cucumber salad and tomato salad are the epitome of the taste of summer. Forget hamburgers, home grown tomatoes with a few simple ingredients are the best on a hot day.
I also had the bright idea of building a tomato pergola. We knew the plants would reach far above their 6' stakes, so we made a trellis for them to grow across before we cut off the growing tips in about a month. So far I am keeping all my tomatoes pruned to only two vines per plant and Kyle's have only one. We are mercilessly pruning and the plants are doing great despite our depleted raised bed's soil. I'll have another post on that topic. The snake is to scare off the squirrels and birds.
The water feature is doing great. The water has balanced in the big tank and is perfectly clear. The smaller one appears to be balancing out as well. I have packed 30 varieties of plants in this small area. There are a lot of underwater ones you can't see in the photograph, but the fish are very well protected and look like they are having fun. I moved the old pink water lily to the new tank and it is doing really well. The Canna lily is getting big and starting to bloom (right end of tank).  The spiky one is a dwarf cattail. Despite the lady at the nursery's suggestion of simply throwing the plants out at the end of the season, I'm going to try to overwinter them in the garage. The water lilies do just fine in the bottom of the containers. 
Canna lily bloom
We also are the local watering hole again this year. At some times it is a little unsettling to have 5-6 honey bees, and a couple different predatory wasps clamoring for water in such a small space, but for all they do for me, I'm willing to share the water. Luckily they leave Sadie alone, and I've taught her not to snap them up.
They really like the duckweed as landing pads.
The fish now eat from my hand. The photo doesn't reflect their size well. the orange one with white mouth on the left is the biggest at three solid inches. We call him pea shooter.

Oh yeah, I have to introduce Seymour, Kyle's latest acquisition.
Seymour is earning its keep by eating random pest bugs in its own time.
I hope Buddha doesn't mind being so close to the carnage. 
The End

Friday, July 6, 2012

How To Make Your Own Light Show

DIY LED Light Show

First I have so many people to thank for their help with this project. Homey Da Clown, Fritz42, Pshort, Gorak, and many more helped me figure out how to make the project work.  For information on Arduino, look it up on the web, Vixen Lights is free software that you can download. DIY Christmas is a great forum to use as a resource. They have forums on Vixen and even some on using Arduino with Vixen. As you will see, I am no electrician, but want to explain how I did this project for others that might be a bit intimidated. I say that if you don’t know what to fear about failure helps you charge headstrong into the unknown. You might even learn something.
My goal last year was to have several discreet channels of led spotlights that I could dim and turn on and off with some spooky sounds. I had no idea where to start. I basically wanted a Light-O-Rama setup on the cheap and DIY. If you didn’t know LOR setups can cost thousands of dollars. I also wanted to power spotlights that would be lighting my props, not strings of lights facing my audience. I wanted something much more subtle. I know, an animated light show to Thriller isn’t very subtle, but I had to do it after all my hard work.  I was directed to Vixen Lights and really wanted to do an Arduino project. Be warned, do not try this project if you don’t have patience and you are willing to work the bugs out of your system. Trust me, one wrong thing in your code (sketch in Arduino) can throw everything off. OK, let’s get started.
What you’ll need:
Vixen Lights Download
Arduino and all downloads including SoftPWM Library (All found at the Arduino website)
USB cable to connect to computer
Jumper wires
12 Volt Wall Wart
Misc LEDs and resistors (for testing)
Pre Wired 12 Volt LEDs (to be used in homemade spotlights, there are several examples on the internet)
Low voltage landscaping wire or speaker cable
Project Enclosure (I used an old plastic tool box)
Soldering Gun and Solder
Heat Shrink Tubing or Liquid Electrical Tape
I spent about $250 (excluding the computer and soldering gun)
The first set up I did was with bare LEDs and resistors all powered off the Arduino. The Arduino can power several LEDs on its 5Volt output so this is a great way to make sure your setup is working properly with Vixen. The wall wart became necessary later on down the line when each “channel” coming out of the Arduino had 40-80 LEDs on them. For initial testing one LED will represent one channel of potentially many LEDs. Figure 1 shows the diagram of the initial set up.
You will need to have the Arduino up and running. I’d like to suggest doing some of their simple sketches to get used to working with it. The key to this project working is making use of the SoftPWM library. Pulse Width Modulation is what makes the Arduino able to dim an LED, without it you can really only do on and off. Arduino has limited PWM outputs, and the library and sketch make any of the digital outputs capable of dimming an LED. Download the SoftPWM library and add it to your Arduino Library. Note: the SoftPWM library has an arbitrary limit to the number of channels in its file. I had to change that number to 30 to work for me. Make sure all the files are changed so that it works to suit your needs.
Here is my Sketch for 30 output channels:
#include <SoftPWM.h>
#include <SoftPWM_timer.h>

sftPWM with

void setup()
// Initialize Serial
Serial.begin(9600); // set up Serial at 9600 bps
// Initialize SoftPWM

// Create and set pins for PWM use and turn them off

SoftPWMSet(22, 0);
SoftPWMSet(23, 0);
SoftPWMSet(24, 0);
SoftPWMSet(25, 0);
SoftPWMSet(26, 0);
SoftPWMSet(27, 0);
SoftPWMSet(28, 0);
SoftPWMSet(29, 0);
SoftPWMSet(30, 0);
SoftPWMSet(31, 0);
SoftPWMSet(32, 0);
SoftPWMSet(33, 0);
SoftPWMSet(34, 0);
SoftPWMSet(35, 0);
SoftPWMSet(36, 0);
SoftPWMSet(37, 0);
SoftPWMSet(38, 0);
SoftPWMSet(39, 0);
SoftPWMSet(40, 0);
SoftPWMSet(41, 0);
SoftPWMSet(42, 0);
SoftPWMSet(43, 0);
SoftPWMSet(44, 0);
SoftPWMSet(45, 0);
SoftPWMSet(46, 0);
SoftPWMSet(47, 0);
SoftPWMSet(48, 0);
SoftPWMSet(49, 0);
SoftPWMSet(50, 0);
SoftPWMSet(51, 0);


// Initialize Loop counter
int i = 0;
// Set array to store the 30 values from the serial port
int incomingByte[30];

void loop()
{ // 30 channels are coming in to the Arduino
if (Serial.available() >= 30) {
// read the oldest byte in the serial buffer:
for (int i=0; i<30; i++) {
// read each byte
incomingByte[i] = Serial.read();

SoftPWMSet(22, incomingByte[0]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(23, incomingByte[1]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(24, incomingByte[2]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(25, incomingByte[3]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(26, incomingByte[4]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(27, incomingByte[5]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(28, incomingByte[6]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(29, incomingByte[7]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(30, incomingByte[8]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(31, incomingByte[9]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(32, incomingByte[10]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(33, incomingByte[11]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(34, incomingByte[12]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(35, incomingByte[13]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(36, incomingByte[14]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(37, incomingByte[15]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(38, incomingByte[16]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(39, incomingByte[17]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(40, incomingByte[18]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(41, incomingByte[19]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(42, incomingByte[20]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(43, incomingByte[21]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(44, incomingByte[22]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(45, incomingByte[23]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(46, incomingByte[24]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(47, incomingByte[25]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(48, incomingByte[26]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(49, incomingByte[27]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(50, incomingByte[28]); // Write current values to LED pins
SoftPWMSet(51, incomingByte[29]); // Write current values to LED pins

So let’s say you have all this together and you are working in Vixen. Vixen is pretty user friendly, but if you run into errors, the DIY Christmas Forum usually has the answers for those problems. It will take some time working with the serial ports and figuring them out. I used a baud rate of 9600bps and that seems to work fine.  Spend some time getting used to Vixen, once you master its idiosyncrasies, it is a handy tool.
Now for the actual yard haunt project with 12 Volt LED spotlights. The Arduino can’t power 12 Volt lights, so a wall wart comes in handy. You’ll have to cut the connector end off and identify the positive and negative wires. The beauty of the low voltage is that it is much safer and easier to work with.  Also needed is a 7 Darlington array (part number ULN2003 or ULN2004). These allow us to use the wall wart to power the LEDs. Each ULN2003/4 will handle 7 channels of output.  Figure 2 shows how the 12 Volt project is wired.
The other attachments are photos of my original project from 2011. It isn’t pretty, but it worked. If you plan on doing this, start early and have several dress rehearsals to avoid mishaps on the big night. 

I don't know why the images got corrupted, this is figure 1 below. The little red thing is an LED, the blue line represents a resistor.

This is Figure 2 below. The little green line represents a prewired 12 volt LED, the black thing with the red and black lines coming out of it is a 12V wall wart. 

Monday, July 2, 2012


I've been noticing wasps in the garden, especially around the Dinosaur Kale. I did some research, and wasps are excellent predatory insects. They'll hunt caterpillars, aphids, and some ants. I guess we'll have to share the garden with these guys, since we are growing organically and free insect control is the best. 

We've recently purchased a Neem oil product to deter spider mites and squash bugs. So far so good. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

First of July

We harvested the peas. Sugar Daddy and Lincoln turned out well. The Sugar Pods went bitter and mealy way to fast, I think we'll pass on those next year.
I added duck weed to help shade the water while the other plants get bigger. We had a nasty scare with Ich and the fish, we lost at least 5 of them, but with treatment and time, the survivors are better.
The Triumphator Lilies are in bloom again and smell wonderful.
Honey Bunch
Orange Icicle
White Queen
Mortgage Lifter is starting to show some color.