Monday, August 30, 2010

Seed Germination and Transplantation

I have finally germinated the seeds for my aeroponics setup. The technique was pretty easy; put the seeds between two sheets of moist paper towel, put in a ziplock bag, inflate slightly, and seal. I placed it on a ceramic plate with an incandescent light bulb above it to provide some heat. Using an outdoor thermometer probe, I kept the temperature of the plate between 80 and 85 degrees by turning the light off and on.

After 48 hours I figured it would be a good time to take them out for transplant.

Successful ratios:
Broccoli 6/12
Onion 2/8
Cauliflower 11/14
Carrots 3/12
Lettuce 0/16

The broccoli and cauliflower were in the center of the plate and the lettuce, onions and carrots were on the edges of the plate, which indicates that the heat may have been an important factor.
I took 3 good seeds from the broccoli, onion, carrots, and cauliflower and put them into their own 4" net pot (3 seeds per net pot). When they sprout more I will probably remove all but the most successful in each pot.

The lettuce, which didn't sprout at all and which I want at least 4 plants of was worth another attempt. I added more seeds as well as keeping the same old seeds and am repeating the ziplock/heat treatment in case center position helps.

The seeds that did get transplanted were cut out of the paper towel to preserve the little root tendrils. I took off the top inch of pebbles and put in the seeds. Then I gently put the pebbles back over the seeds. I ran the sprinklers, but still had doubts that it would get enough water/nutrients until the roots grow longer. So I used a paper towel to absorb some of the water/nutrient solution from the base and rung it out over each of the 4" net pots.

The solution in the base is 7 gallons of tap water and 10.5 teaspoons of Pure Blend Pro Grow (the recommended ratio for seedlings)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spray Chalk Recipes

My experience with store bought spray chalk has been somewhat mixed.

Molotow Tech Streetwise Chalk Pigment (black) - definitely NOT temporary. If you are going to use this, you might as well use paint because unlike paint this chalk will fade, but never be completely removed. Besides that though, great crispness and works just like spray paint

Super Spray Chalk made by Rapid Mounting & Finishing Co. - temporary! Works on sidewalks, brick, etc without leaving permanent marks. Downsides are that it uses a pump-action sprayer (like tilex or the likes) and is more watery. This means a stencil out of printer paper will not cut it. Even posterboard is pushing it because it will curl when wet. For stencils made from plastic film though it is fine.

There is an excellent site with more results of other commercial spray chalks here.


Homemade spray chalk:

I tried two different recipes. The first I found on the internet in several variations but all had the same ingredients. Below are the proportions I used.

4 tablespoons cornstarch
10 tablespoons hot water
6 drops yellow food coloring
4 drops red food coloring

Using a funnel, I put all the ingredients directly into the spray bottle I had from the Super Spray Chalk. However, probably any squirt bottle would work. Just be sure if it was a cleaner or other chemical bottle that it is thoroughly cleaned out first. You can use whatever color food coloring you want. I made orange this time. If you use food dye for cake decorating, you will no doubt need a lot less but will need to experiment with it.

Each time before use it needs to be shaken vigorously because the cornstarch tends to settle. It is still watery; about the consistency of milk. On sidewalk concrete it took about 7 sprays in one location to create an opaque orange, so may need some more coloring next time. It never clogged, and washed off with the next rainfall. Overall, a definite success! I'll have to test each new food coloring though because some may stain.

The second recipe was more complicated and improvised, but just used standard stick chalk and water.

Half a stick of chalk
10 tablespoons of hot water
Either a mortar and pestle or a hammer and zip-lock bag
Fine strainer (for powder) or grocery bag, funnel and pin

I didn't actually have any materials for turning the chalk into powder, so I improvised. If you have a mortar and pestle, more power to you! If not, put the chalk into a ziplock bag. Double bag it or tape the corners if you're worried about some powder leaking. Use the hammer to hit it on a somewhat soft surface - I used a thinly carpeted floor (if you do it on a hard surface, the chalk will just compress). Continue until it looks like this:

Once it's in small enough pieces, move it to a hard surface such as a desk or wood floor. Now use the top of the hammer and rotate it to crush the remaining pieces into as fine a powder as you can.

Now add this mixture to 10 tablespoons of hot water. Mix as well as possible. Now if you tried to use this in the sprayer it would clog for sure. I poked some pinholes in a plastic bag and put it in a funnel to try to sort out the larger pieces.

Once shaken to mix thoroughly, it worked pretty well. There was still some clogging, so in the future I may have to try using a coffee filter or nylons to try to get the small pieces out. If it does get clogged, I've found a good way to clear it is to take off the sprayer, put a finger over the intake tube, and squeeze the trigger. This usually clears a clog.

Results: Needs to be shaken before use; consistency of milk, washes off in the first rainstorm. The color is quite brilliant, but the nozzle does clog fairly regularly. With a better grinding or filtering technique it could be a good recipe.

Each recipe only makes half a bottle of spray chalk (These are 7oz bottles).

Towel blinds

Looking for a way to brighten up your room? Want to send a message to people outside? Or just need your blinds to be darker because there are lights on outside your window all night?

Using a beach towel, some binder clips, and some removable wall mount hooks, I mounted a towel in my window to block all the unwanted lights of the city. I mounted three hooks at the top of the window; two in the corners and one in the middle. Then I took three binder clips and clipped them to the towel in similar locations. The loops of the binder clips can hang from the hooks. Now the towel is fully suspended.

But how to roll up the blinds? If you don't mind only being able to roll them up halfway, then use two more binder clips to attach the bottom of the towel to the metal bottom of the blinds. Now when you pull up on the blind string, it will lift up the bottom of the towel too. When it's up as high as it will go, the towel will still drape down to the midline of the window.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cheese and Meat Fondue

Cheese Fondue Recipe:

1/2 pound Swiss cheese (Emmenthal if you can find it)
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Garlic Powder

Slice the cheese into cubes. Make sure to cut off the edges, even if there doesn't appear to be any wax rind on it. Mix the wine and some garlic powder in the fondue bowl and bring to boil on high heat. Once it starts to boil, add cheese and turn heat to low. Add Nutmeg to taste and cornstarch until it thickens properly (1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons). The fondue pot should have a double boiler system to use with melting cheese or chocolate. If the water boils over, take the top off and pour out some hot water. If it continues, lower the amount of water until it no longer boils over.

Things to dip:

Cut a loaf of french bread into cubes. Try to have some crust on each piece so it stays together once in the cheese.
Apples slices, grapes and other fruit also make good dippers.

This cheese fondue was easy and delicious, not to mention easy on the wallet. If you had no ingredients, it would run you about $10 for the cheese, $3 for the garlic and nutmeg, $3 for the cornstarch, and however much you want to spend on the wine. If you already have the bottle of wine, nutmeg, cornstarch, and garlic powder (all relatively common in the kitchen) it could cost as little as $10 for a 2-3 person gourmet first course.

Oil Fondue!

The main part of the meal involves cooking raw meat or vegetables in oil. For this something as simple as peanut oil will work.

CAUTION! Hot oil is very dangerous to cook with. Some general safety tips I have found online are as follows.

- Wear covering clothing. If the oil pops or boils, you don't want the hot oil to be hitting the skin on your arms or legs
- Make sure the fondue pot is fully dry before you add hot oil. If there's any water, it can flash boil and splash
- Never use water or a water-based extinguisher on oil fires. The oil floats on top and will make it worse.

Heat the oil in a pan on the stove to help it heat up faster. Then transfer the oil from the stove to the fondue pot.

Here is the real place for creativity. Any type of meat can be used, but be sure to cook the meat thoroughly because different types and sized pieces take longer to cook. Some suggestions are beef, chicken, shrimp, and Italian sausage. Raw vegetables are also good, such as broccoli, carrots, and cubed potatoes.

Before putting into the pot, the meat or vegetables can be dipped into breading. Also after cooked, they can be dipped into sauces such as barbecue, teriyaki, or steak sauce. Remember never to eat straight from the fondue forks. Instead use a fork to remove the item so that you're never in contact with any raw meat or meat juices.

And now... where's the chocolate fondue?

I haven't done it yet! Was so full from the cheese and meat, opted to wait for chocolate.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Koi Stencil Design

After printing out my scanned in design with the help of a Rasterbator software, I trimmed and taped them all together.

Next I laid out the thin sheet of plastic and traced the pattern with a sharpie.

As I have to get up at 8 tomorrow, I won't work on it more tonight. Thursday I will be cutting it out with scissors or a razor blade. I sure hope the plastic is thick enough to keep its shape once cut, or else this will be a lot of wasted effort.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stuffed Animal/Doll Hat Pattern

To add to the cuteness of this little lamb, I decided to try out my new fuzzy yarn and to make a tiny hat. This little hat has earflaps and a pompom on top.

I used size 10 circular needles, but it was quite difficult as the hat got smaller. Perhaps a pair of double tipped needles would work better, but I've never used them before.

Anyway, the pattern is as follows. I've used more notation than usual because it really is a pain to write out.
CO - cast on
K - knit
P - purl
Kfb - knit front to back. I learned this from a video on this site.
K2tog - knit two stitches together

Earflap 1:
This part is done back and forth just like if you were using a pair of straight needles.
Row 1: CO 3
Row 2: K1, P1, K1
Row 3: K1, Kfb1, K1 (now there are 4 stitches)
Row 4: K1, Kfb2, K1 (6 stitches)
Row 5 and 6: K6
Row 7: K1, Kfb1, K2, Kfb1, K1 (8 stitches)

Now cut the lead to the first earflap, long enough that you can tie it or weave it back in. This is the only tail to weave that you'll have.

Slide the earflap along your needles so it's out of the way but the stitches are still held open. Alternatively you could transfer it to another needle or chopstick if you're using double ended needles.

Follow the earflap pattern above to create the other side. This time DO NOT CUT the lead. Instead, cast on 8 stitches in your favorite method (I just looped them around the right needle). Now slide the other earflap onto the left needle. Knit 8 stitches so that on the right needle you should have: one earflap, 8 loops, one earflap. Next cast on 10 stitches as you did with the previous eight.

Now it's time to start circular knitting.

Row 1-3: K
Row 4: K2tog
Row 5-6: K
Row 7: K2tog
Row 8: K
Row 9: K2tog
Row 10: use a tapestry needle to thread through the remaining stitches and tie tight.

Just turn inside out, and voila! I added a little pom pom just for fun. There should be two tails from each earflap that can be cut and tied, or a tassel or pom pom could be added to those too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Plarn Knit Bag Pattern

Here is my first pattern ever!
This was done on size 10 round knitting needles.

Cast on 120 stitches.
Knit rows 1-20

Row 21:
Cast off 20 stitches
Knit 40
Cast off 20
Knit 40

Row 22:
Cast on 20
Knit 40
Cast on 20
Knit 40

Knit 2, Purl 2 until it's a good length (mine was 12").

Row 1: Knit 2, Purl 2 together
Row 2-4: Knit 2, Purl 1
Row 5: Knit 2 together, Purl 1
Row 6-9: Knit 1, Purl 1
Row 10: Knit 2 together, Purl 2 together
Row 11: Knit 1, Purl 1
Row 12: Knit 2 together, Purl 2 together
Row 13: Knit 1, Purl 1

Now run the plarn through the loops of the remaining stitches. There should be about 10 of them. If the bag wrinkles because it's pulled too tightly too quickly, repeat row 12 and 13 until it's ready to be tied off.

I put a design on mine of a recycle sign. I made two mistake. The pattern is backwards! I printed the image onto graph paper to determine where I should stitch with brown bags instead of white bags. I did not flip the image in order to maintain the correct direction when I flipped the bag right side out (it was knitted inside out). The second mistake was that I assumed stitches are square. That is, they are the same height from top to bottom. When I started the pattern I realized that they are much wider than tall. So I doubled my design pattern. Where I had planned to do one row of knitting per row of squares on the graph paper, I actually did two. The ratio must not be exactly 1:2 though, because the pattern does look stretched from top to bottom.

Something else that I had no control over was a natural spiraling that happened as I knit. This means that the design, which was supposed to be centered around the handle, was not quite.

Soon I'm going to start on another bag and will update the pattern and post directions for transferring an image to a knit pattern.

First full-kitchen meal

I made my first loaf of bread today. Somehow some of the flour in the bread machine didn't get mixed in, so half of it had a lot of flour coating the edge. However, the actual loaf part of the bread tasted better than usual. Maybe I should use less bread flour than is called for. The green beans are fresh and steamed in the bag I got them in (5 mins in the microwave). A big slice of ham between some mayo-covered bread, and voila! Simple sandwich. Put some butter and a dash of Greek seasoning on the beans and it's a full meal.

Things I have learned:

1. Don't let the flour touch the side of the bread pan before you start it or it won't mix in all the way
2. Greek seasoning is amazing
3. Serrated is the way to go for cutting bread! Otherwise it just gets mushed when you try to cut it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Large Footprint Stencil

Using spray chalk (basically powdered chalk and water in a spray bottle), a large footprint stencil I made a few months ago, and help from my friend Ben, there are now giant footprints in Blacksburg.

The stencil was made from a footprint image online, although I suppose I could have made my own with some paint and my foot. The material I used was "Polycarbonate Film Textured Finish, 24-1/2" x 48-1/2", .005" Thk, White" on McMaster (Item #85585K92). I used a sharpie to outline the pattern and scissors and an exacto knife to cut it out.

The polycarb sheet rolls up nicely (I used some newspaper to roll with it though since there were fragile parts) and lies out flat. I used weights on the corner because there was a slight breeze.

For comparison of size, we decided to do my footprints nearby with my regular stride length. I sprayed the bottom of my foot with pink spray chalk and immediately stepped down. The foot was visible, but not very bright. So Ben followed me and used a regular stick of chalk to go over where my foot had pressed down.

And just for fun, the pink footprints terminate at a short wall. Using the stick of pink chalk to outline the butt of my pants and then using the same print-and-draw technique from the footprints for the hands, we managed to resemble a sitting impression. We tried to arrange the footprints below it in such a way that it was believable a person could have hopped up into the sitting position.

Between us it took about 2 to 2-1/2 hours to finish everything. The stencil was a little hard to carry once unrolled, but perhaps having more overhang around the edges or using a slightly thicker film would help. In the picture below you can see some over spray, but on all the other feet, we were careful and there was almost none at all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Packaging Tape Sculpture (top)

Alright, finished the torso! Did a full three layers around the chest and only did two layers around the arms. Make sure to do two layers, because only one layer will crinkle.

Alright next was the challenging step of combining the bottom and top parts. I learned that even though the torso was triple-layer, the hips should have been triple-layered too because the hip section didn't support the torso very well. Anyway I put a lovely smiley balloon for a head instead of casting a person's head for fear of suffocation risks.

I also added a nice treat with two strings of yellow Christmas lights. Putting them inside before taping them up definitely a good idea though! Anyway below are some pictures. The first is with a flash, and the second is without a flash so you can see how bright it looks.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Packaging Tape Sculpture

So after seeing the work of Mark Jenkins and the likes, I decided to make my very own packaging tape sculpture. The ultimate plan is to make people - or maybe birds - and light them from the inside and then place them up in trees in a public place. During the day they would seem like ghosts climbing trees. At night they'd become glow-people. Perhaps I could buy some of the $3 solar garden lights and use those so there wouldn't be any pesky extension cords for people walking by to unplug.

Anyway onto what I've done so far. My sister has sportingly agreed to be my mold. I have only done half of her at a time to allow the skin to breathe properly. Even so, it is important to be quick and not to cut off circulation.

First, cover the model in saran wrap. This was my first time so I only did one layer. If using a doll or some other inanimate object that might be fine, but with a person it's probably a good idea to use two layers. Make sure to keep it loose or it will be difficult to get off!

The next step is to cover the saran wrap with clear packaging tape. It was very hard not to miss anywhere, so I put on two layers. This was fine for the ankle and calf area, but around the thighs it might have been a good idea to use three or four layers for extra structural support.

Once all taped up, it's time to carefully cut it off.

After it's cut, carefully have your model step out. What is left is a hollow structure. Do not fear if it looks misshapen.

Now start at the toes or other small ends and use short strips of tape to carefully line up the edges where it was cut earlier. Taping up the edges will add a lot of structural support. I taped up a little past the hips so that when I do the torso later I will have some overlap where it combines. Below are some shots of the finished bottom half.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sprayer Installation

Today's project was installing the spray nozzles inside the aeroponics chamber.

First thing's first, creating a stable holder for the spray nozzles that will keep it above the water level. The first attempt was really kind of half-hearted and was just made with things around my house. I had some stiff insulated wire and bent it into a shape that would hold the sprayers, shown below.

It turned out to be stable enough that the hosing didn't fall off, but not stiff enough that it was held consistently in the same place. Instead, I realized there is a little lip on the inside of both long edges of the container. I could rest something stiff across it and then cable tie the tubing in place before I put on the sprayers. I also needed something I could put my hand through to reach the submerged pump. The plastic lattice for fencing (found near the lumber in home depot for $10 per 2'x8' sheet) was just the thing.

Armed with six 180 degree sprayers, 3" extension tubes, and one 360 degree sprayer, I arranged to have all but one corner net pot be sprayed.

And here's a low quality video to attempt to show the spray. The video I have shows it well, but I have yet to figure out how to embed it with high enough quality to see the water droplets.

One thing I was dismayed to realize is that even though I have good coverage, only the very edge of the clay pellets was permeated with water. I have been following various tutorials online as I've worked on my design, and I'm using the same technique. It must just mean that either the seeds have to extend roots all the way to the edge of the pot before it gets nutrients, or that I will need to administer water/nutrient solution by hand from above until the roots grow sufficiently to fend for themselves.

Also, I've figured out how to store the aeroponics system. I bought a shelving unit that has wheels. This will do has a holder for the chamber and the lights. I got two separate types of lights, one that has the red range, and one that has the blue range.

While the shelving unit looks really big, it allows for plenty of storage space. I can store the extra clay pellets and chemicals on the bottom shelf and extra lights and such on the top shelves.