Barnyard BBS

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Followup: First Harvest
3/30/2007 6:41:00 PM

It's been 12 days since planting, and we've had our first harvest.  The wheatgrass had matured to a good size (about 8-9 inches), so we decided to engage in the first harvest this morning.

I thought that it would be a good idea to show a picture of the whole bed before the cutting.  The wheatgrass has done very well in the hydroponic setup.  I don't think I've every gotten better performance, even out in the sun. 

WheatgrassBeforeHarvest.jpg

I did learn a lot from this experiment.  As you can see in the photo below, I really didn't cut that much of the grass for this first juicing.  The whole tray is only 22 inches across.  Since I was cutting near the "pump corner" of the tray, I had a section roughly 3" x 17", or 51²" of grass total. 

WheatgrassAfterHarvest.jpg

I was especially surprised at the amount of juice that the wheatgrass produced.  It resulted in much more yield than I'm accustomed.  In this example, the grass alone resulted in 90 ml (3 full ounces) of juice.  I'm starting to think that although I tried to keep it hydrated; my previous experiments (outdoors) were actually under-watered.  Although my measurements are by no means scientific (the juicer did hold some juice that I later "flushed" with apples), they are a good conservative guideline.  You should be able to match my yields without too much trouble.

Here's a little wheatgrass math:

51²" x 8" tall = 408³" (cubic inches) of grass

408³" = 3 ounces of juice

408 / 3 = 136³" per ounce

If you were working with a 10" x 20" gardening flat, you would yield approximately 11.75 ounces of juice.

By the same math, my whole MegaGarden should yield a whopping 27 ounces of juice, if I were to cull the whole herd at once.

That's a lot of juice.

WheatgrassMug.jpg

For the record, let me visit my juicing techniques for a moment.  We use a Lexen HealthyJuicer. It is a small hand-cranked unit that uses a single-gear pressing action.  I originally purchased it when I started with wheatgrass.  Despite what you may have heard, a normal (fruit and vegetable) juicer is NOT suitable for wheatgrass.  I should know, I own a great one (a Champion 2000).  Although the Champion is a wonderful juicer; wheatgrass is quite different than most vegetables.  For starters, wheatgrass isn't very willing to give up its juice.  The Champion uses a masticating-style system to "tear and crush" the juice from it's victims.  This is usually very effective, and quite fast.  However, this doesn't work very well with the stringy grass.  The wheatgrass tangles the juicer's masticating gear.  Although it goes wring some juice from the wheatgrass, it's hard on the motor and is marginally effective.

Wheatgrass is where the little HealthyJuicer really shines.  It's a small and slow gadget, but it's "pressing" action is far superior for wheatgrass.  It squashes the juice our of it.  Although it isn't fast, it's very efficient.  Also, the HealthyJuicer has another huge advantage when dealing with wheatgrass: it limits oxidation considerably. Wheatgrass oxidizes rather quickly, and limiting the oxidation during the juicing process is a big advantage.  Wheatgrass has a very short shelf-life due to this fact.  If you've ever had wheatgrass in a juice bar, you've probably notices that they juice it right when you order it.  This isn't for show, it's out of necessity.  Wheatgrass degrades within minutes, due to oxidation.  I'm experimenting with vacuum storage, but I do not have an opinion on it's effectiveness yet.

WheatgrassJuicing.jpg

The picture above shows the HealthyJuicer in action.  The grass is fed through the chute in the top (while you turn the crank on the side).  The pump is ejected out the nozzle (on the right).  The margarine container is just to catch the pulp on the way out.   The juice runs out a hole (near the crank) and is collected in a cup (not shown, behind the juicer) for your use.  The whole thing is pretty easy to clean.  I recommend "flushing" the juicer with another fruit (like apple or pear) when you're done with the wheatgrass, so that you can force the remaining juice out (and into your cup).

In summary, the experiment has been a great success.  The yield is much better than I expected.  The juice is actually tastier than previous crops as well.

I plan on trying some new basket-style plantings, as soon as the MegaGarden is cleared of its existing crop.  Updates to follow. 

Followup: Experiments in Hydroponics
3/27/2007 6:48:00 PM

I have good news to report on the hydroponics and wheatgrass front:  Thus far the experiment has been a great success.

HydroFarmWheatgrassD.jpg

It's been about one week since we started the seeds in the MegaGarden (ebb-and-flow hydroponics system).  The wheatgrass is almost 7 inches tall now.  Admittedly, it hasn't filled in completely yet, but that's my fault.  I didn't properly soak the seed (to sprout it) prior to "planting" it in the hydro bed.  Thus, the seeds germinated over the course of a few days.  Some of the blades of grass are younger than others.  I expect that the seed will be fully filled-out within a few days, once the stragglers have a chance to catch up with their older brothers.

Here's a wider shot of the MegaGarden, for comparison with the previous post:

HydroFarmWheatgrassC.jpg

I've learned a few things during the course of this growing session.  In no particular order:

  • I've been using the wrong seed.  Even in this batch.  The seed I've been using is commercial wheat seed, not organic seed intended for wheatgrass juice.  From what I've read, the seed that I've been using isn't very uniform (which is in line with my germination results).  I've bought new seed from www.wheatgrassman.com, as they seem to know the most about the seed (and their prices are pretty good).  For the record, I bought the seven pounder as a trial.  I cannot make any comment on it at this point, except that the seed looks quite a bit different than my existing stuff.
  • It looks like the compact fluorescent lighting that I've got is working pretty well.  It's rated as 125W draw, which is just over what two normal incandescent bulbs draw normally.  I expect that my use of the lighting system will raise my electric bill by roughly $4 per month.  I can live with that.  However, I plan on using a portable electrical meter to verify (once I find one I like).
  • The MegaGarden is pretty easy to maintain.  I've drained it once and replaced the water.  It was pretty painless.  I used the "level indicator" as a drain tube (into a five gallon bucket).  I'd like to claim a more elegant filling method; but I ended up removing the circular plug (in the front-right corner), and simply poured water back into the reservoir.  It worked pretty well.  I checked the ph and added nutrient to the water.
  • I've been adjusting the water level to go deeper as the grass grows.  Wheatgrass grows very thick roots (the "wad" is almost 2" thick).  Since some seeds germinated later than others, the "younger" ones are basically "riding the wave" and are suspended above the base level of the flooding area.
  • Thus far, I've used water at ph 7.5 for the wheatgrass.  It's worked out pretty well.  If anybody knows better, please let me know.
  • I've been thinking about making an NFT-style system for growing wheatgrass.  I haven't yet found containers suitable, so not much progress yet.
The harvest should be next week.  I'll post another update as things progress.
Experiments in Hydroponics
3/21/2007 7:19:00 PM

My fascination with wheatgrass continues...

I've recently gotten tired of not having any wheatgrass during the colder months of the year.  Partly out of curiosity, I decided to buy some hydroponics gear and give indoor wheatgrass a chance.

There's a store in nearby New Jersey called Tasty Harvest.  We visited them a few weeks ago doing some initial research.  They are a pretty good place.  It's a family-run shop.  They know their stuff. I realize that most of the hydroponics gear isn't intended for wheatgrass.  Ideally, I'd use a custom setup, but I'm not at that stage just yet.

The demo that they have set up in the store is a pretty good indication of what you can do indoors.  They're running a 1,000 watt high-pressure sodium bulb, and they're producing a metric crapload of results.

If you've seen the Epcot section of the Disney report, you'll remember the hydroponics and aeroponics.  Although I'm still considering building an NFT (nutrient flow tray) system for my wheatgrass, I decided to go with a commercially-made ebb-and-flow system for the first round.  An ebb-and-flow system is made to periodically flood, then recede (on a timer).

I picked the MegaGarden kit from Hydrofarm.  It's a much cleaner and more compact design than I could have built from existing materials.  It's got a growing area of about 2' x 2'.  I also picked up a small full-spectrum compact fluorescent light for the kit.  It's not particularly high-output, but that isn't much of a concern.  Wheatgrass is a shade plant, and doesn't need tons of light (like tomatoes or cucumbers).

HydroFarmWheatgrassB.jpg

The tray has a pattern of "tunnels" to allow the water to flow evenly throughout the tray before rising too dramatically. On the advice of the Tasty Harvest folks, we're using a fabric-style planting medium to retain the seeds in the tray.  I actually expected that we'd need some kind of formal containment, but that really isn't the case.  The water level is set to only about 1/8" of an inch, so seed movement really isn't a problem.  In the picture above, the blue fitting is where the water flows into the upper dray during a "flood stage".

Thus far, we've had pretty good results.  It's hard to judge though.  I've just found out that I've been using a sub-optimal seed; and I'm waiting on a new batch of seed to arrive.

Here's a picture of the whole setup at the moment:

HydroFarmWheatgrassA.jpg

You may notice that I built the light stand using some 1" PVC piping.  I didn't want to do anything permanent or expensive until I was more sure of my plans.  The stand was built from a single 10' section of PVC and some fittings.  Total cost of stand: ~$8.

The pump is controlled by a simple timer.  I'm manually switching the light for the time-being.  I'm not sure my long-term plans just yet. 

Improvements Abound!
3/15/2007 6:40:00 PM

I've just finished another round of upgrades to the site.  We're running a shiny and new photo gallery.

A few months ago, I rewrote the blogging engine into a modular, CSS-able, fully validating control.  It was good.  This time, it was the photo gallery that got the rewrite.  Here are a few notable points about the new gallery, and also galleries in general:

  • I wrote the new gallery with the intention of making it a reusable control.  As soon as I feel that it's stable, I'll start sharing it with the world; much like the Content Control.
  • The new gallery does away with the "choose your options" screen of the past.  The new one is designed to "get straight to the content".  Advanced options are available (but are entirely optional).  I didn't like the fact that people were often confused by choosing options before seeing any pictures.  I like the new way much better, as you get to see the pictures right away.  The new system for category navigation is much easier to use.
  • I've added an option for full-text search.  It will let you search both the categorizations and the text description of each image.  It works pretty well. I like it.
  • The new gallery makes more use of Javascript / AJAX concepts.  It's got special resolution-detection, so images will always fit your screen perfectly.  The gallery works from the master images, and downsizes them to your screen size on the fly.  I think of it as a way of future-proofing (and not degrading my content in a permanent form).
  • CSS is wonderful.  Much like the blogging engine, the new gallery is completely CSS controlled.  The "look" of it is entirely determined by my site's style, and it's looks can be radically altered on some other installation.
  • The administration interface is all new and greatly improved.  It makes categorization incredibly fast.  It dramatically reduces the pain of posting new photos.  In fact, I've got special code that reads the EXIF data directly from the photos.  That saves lots of retyping.  I really should get a Canon test file; I've only tested it with Nikon images.  God shoots Nikon.

For the moment, assume that the gallery is unstable.  Let me know if you encounter anything weird.  Come to think of it; let me know what you think of the revisions.  I was trying for a very natural and modular design on this one.

Anybody who's running a .Net website... The gallery script will be open-sourced as soon as the code is proven.  Contact me if you just can't wait until then, and I'll give you a beta copy.

Trip Report: Philadelphia Flower Show 2007
3/12/2007 7:59:00 AM

FlowerShow.jpg

On Sunday, March 11th, our group headed down to the annual Philadelphia Flower Show.  Since experience from previous years has always told us to go on the last day, that's precisely what we did.

It didn't work out so well.

Although I don't know the cause, the show was much more crowded than in previous years.  If you look in the Photo Gallery, you'll see that most of my pictures are "tight shots".  That's not because of artistic preference, it's more because the zombie-like mob was squashing me tight into the exhibits. 

The theme this year was "Ireland".  Although I rather liked the theme; many people simply ignored it.  I guess it doesn't work that well for selling anything other than landscaping.  And possibly dinosaurs...

FlowerShowDinosaurs.jpg

I'm not sure what advice I'd give for next year.  Maybe first thing in the morning, middle of the week?  I don't know.  I do know that the crowds really don't let you enjoy the show; I'm just not sure what to do about it. 

Daylight Saving Time (DST)
3/11/2007 11:46:00 AM

As most of you already know, Daylight Saving Time (DST) switches today.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated a change to our existing DST system.  Although we still move the clocks forward and backward; the date of the move has changed.  This is somewhat problematic.

Our world continually becomes more automated.  With great technology comes great efficiency.  However, with great technology also comes great dependence. Most computers and electronic devices automatically adjust for DST these days.  The change in the DST schedule has "broken" lots of devices and computers that are unaware of the shift.  This is a problem.

One cannot have expected the Congress to have thought through the consequences of their "feel good" legislation, when they don't even read it.  Don't forget, the act also includes the right to roll back these revisions; should their poorly-reasoned whims change in the future.

Microsoft has been kind enough to offer patches for all of their newer operating systems.  They offer new DST support for Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista (Longhorn).  Notably missing from this list are Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows 2000.  I can understand not offering support for very old operating systems; but excluding Windows 2000 is unacceptable.  It's only running millions of business computers throughout the world.  Despite what Microsoft PR would like you to believe, Windows 2000 isn't gone just yet.  Generally, business PC's aren't upgraded.  They usually run their original operating system until they are retired.

I still have Windows 2000 boxes running; and they will remain 2000 until they fail or are retired.

Here's the good news... The timezone definitions are in the registry.  Careful registry revisions will allow you to update an older computer to the new DST schedule.

Table For Three
3/10/2007 11:48:00 PM

Although this isn't exactly a retraction, I would like to state that Skye did show on the rescheduled date for dinner.  All went well, and the food was excellent.

This is in followup to the original post 'Table For None'.

"That'll learn ya!". 

Blogging Engine Improvements
3/7/2007 8:10:00 PM

I've been hard at work improving the blogging engine that is used here at BarnyardBBS.  I've improved the search feature, and added the ability for people to comment.

Thus far, I'd never implemented commenting.  I had always been reluctant due to the possibility of abuse and spam.  After frequently reading Skye's Blog, I thought it was time to open up a bit.

The new commenting system is integrated into the existing blog.  In the bottom corner of each post, you will see the number of comments posted (click the link to read and post your own).

I decided that I don't like CAPTCHA images.  They're annoying.  They also aren't very accessible to anyone with even a slight vision problem.  However, spam cannot be ignored.  I built a simple math problem into the posting process to quell spambots.  The problems rotate frequently, just in case.

Also, I debated allowing HTML comments; but ultimately decided against it.  I try to keep my blog as pure and formattable content. Allowing markup in the comments would stray from that goal.  It's also much easier to simply strip all HTML from the code, rather than risk tricky exploits (and spam links).

I made them very easy. If the math problems are too hard for anybody to solve; I probably don't care about their thoughts anyway.

Time to see what happens.  For the moment, consider the blogging engine unstable, as I've written a lot of code in a short amount of time.

For the first time in BarnyardBBS history; let me know what you think (link in the bottom right corner of this post). 

Happy Birthday Ion
3/5/2007 7:05:00 AM

Happy Birthday Ion! 

IonBirthday.jpg

 The round-snouted lion is four years old.  If you want to see pictures of Ion, here's a link to the Photo Gallery.

Emergency Medicine
3/1/2007 9:56:00 PM

As some of you might have noticed, I didn't make it into work today.  It's been a long day, actually.

Last night we had the pleasure of visiting the Christiana Hospital Emergency Room.  What an experience... Jessawick had a very stubborned nose bleed (actually, it was the 8th one), and I was quite concerned about her because of cumulative blood loss.

Normally, I would have visited the nearby Walk-In clinic, Hockessin Walk-In Medical.  I like the fellow who owns the place.  He's a good doctor, and I like the way he runs his practice.  Alas, he isn't open 24 hours; and we couldn't wait.

We arrived at the ER around 9:45 PM.  The took us into a room fairly quickly.  Not surprising though, as a bloody mess is a bit of a biohazard in the waiting room.  We met with a nurse.  We met with another nurse.  We met with a janitor.  We met with a billing clerk.  At this time, I pointed out to the staff an important fact... If I wanted to not meet with a doctor, I could have done that from the comfort of my living room.

Eventually, we even met with a doctor.  It took until 11:55 PM, but we finally did meet with an actual real doctor.  I don't hold anything against the doctor, but I do think that the ER was woefully understaffed.  The poor guy was basically speed-dating about 20 patients at once.  That's just bad scheduling, pure and simple.

He wasn't much of an ENT guy; but that makes sense.  It was midnight after all.  He wasn't able to tell us much about the source of the problem.  The only solution that he could offer was to "pack" Jessawick's nose; in order to stop the bleeding.  This procedure is much more painful than it sounds. Either he wasn't very good at this, or he just didn't care.  Either way, it was very hard on poor Wick.  It's not a good sign when the doctor immediately starts handing out Percocet like chiclets.  Why do things right when narcotics are within reach?

There was a problem with this "solution".  It didn't actually fix the problem.  Rather, it just delayed the issue.  We were told to make an emergency appointment with an ENT specialist.

Splendid.

We finally made it home around 1:45 AM.  Wick was in a lot of pain, and she didn't sleep well at all.  I can't blame her.  It was a pretty miserable experience.

Fast forward until morning.

I managed to get us an appointment with Dr. Suh (affiliated ENT specialist) for the same morning.  The office wasn't too happy to make it happen; but we got the appointment regardless.  He was a good guy, and was obviously better prepared and equipped than the ER.

He helped her by removing the temporary packing provided by the ER.  The short version of his findings:  Try a smaller, less painful packing for a week.  Hopefully, it will allow the areas to heal without deeper intervention.  Still painful, but much less so than the ER version.

Thus far, it appears to be holding.  It's not perfect, but it's the best option available at the moment.  Now we wait and see.