Rain Gutter self-watering container garden system

Container Garden Self-Watering System!

Credit for this container garden goes to Larry Hall from Minnesota and it is a great idea for those who like to container gardening!

Container gardens are less time consuming for those who have limited space and time.Β  We have had ours set up for 4 years and still are using the same potting mix. A word of caution here is to cut back on the peat moss as here in coastal Texas [where temps are in the upper 90’s and low 100’s in the summer] will result in extreme water usage!

The beauty of using this container garden growing system is weed control ease and the ability to move the troughs to make better use of the system and space. Like for tomatoes you can leave more space in your rows and for greens use them closer together!

Material needed:

  • 2 x 4 treated in lengths to match your gutter length from Lowes or Home Depot
  • PVC rain gutter from Lowes or Home Depot
  • 2 end caps for rain gutter from Lowes or Home Depot
  • Self tapping screws to install gutters to 2×4. There are some available with rubber grommets from Lowes or Home Depot
  • Nails for joining braces to long 2×4’s from Lowes or Home Depot
  • 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot or Lowes
  • grow cups from Ebay
  • automatic water level float from Ebay
  • gutter splices to join gutters if going over stock length from Lowes or Home Depot
  • Sealant for splices and end caps

Making the troughs:

  • Figure the length of your system. Cut the 2×4’s at least 4″ shorter than your gutter!
  • Measure the distance your gutter will need to have and add 3″ to this measurement. Make sure not to misshape your gutter material.
  • Line up your 2×4’s [on edge = 4″ side up] and place an 18″ 2×4 or 1×4 blocks on top of your 2×4’s. Find the center of your block and from that center mark, deduct 1/2 of the width from step above. Mark this measurement with a line. Place marked block on 2×4’s at the end of your long 2×4’s. Line up the marks with the outside of the long 2×4’s. Fasten with 2 nails each end. This will stabilize your gutter system and keep it from tipping over. This will allow easy installation and maintenance of your end caps!
  • Using blocks every 3 or 4 ‘ is ideal. This is also a good place to shim your system later on! Do not go wider than 12″ in case you want to place them closer in double rows!
  • Using an electric drill and the self tapping screws, attach the gutter to the 2×4 runners. We drilled about 1″ from the top. IF you are using a splice do not drill closer than 3″ from the ends of the splice to allow a little movement when adding the splice part. When using a splice make sure to use a good sealant.
  • Add your end caps. One will have a hole drilled in it to accommodate the auto water valve.

Your container garden trough is now complete!

Making the buckets:

  • Flip a 5 gallon bucket over on your work bench
  • Using a hole saw, drill the hole for the grow cup.
  • Drill 2 small 1/4″ holes about 1/2″ from your big hole about 180 degrees apart.
  • Flip the bucket over and place in a grow cup. Using 2 plastic 6″ wire ties, fasten the grow plug into place.

Your buckets are now complete!

Setting up the wicking system:

  • If you decide to use the alternative wicking system you will need strips of any cloth 2’x1″
  • Place the end of the strip into the grow cup.
  • Start adding your potting mix while keeping the strips of cloth in the center of the pot. Here you can decide to stop them or continue with them to the very top of the soil or not depending on your views on the subject. We ran some to the top to monitor the wicking action and stopped some around where the root ball would be and coiled the remained there.
  • Fill to 2″ from the top of the bucket

Now your container garden buckets are ready!

Final installation:

  • Place your finished troughs in the area you want to grow in.
  • Fill the troughs with water and shim with wood or plastic until the level of the water is the same from end to end.
  • Attach a small tubing to your valve and to your water reservoir. We added another float switch to a garden hose to keep the reservoir full but beware of the pressure on the small tubing to the faucet!
  • Place buckets on the trough and pre water them if they are dry! If you do not do this there is a chance the buckets like any container full of a peat based mix, may reject water. This is where the wicking system is so good! It will wick and eventually moisten the whole bucket.
  • NOTE: If you are adding a wick to an existing bucket containing a growing plant and do not want to disturb it any more than needed...... Use a piece of 1" flat trim with a notch in it to accommodate the wick and press it firmly into the bucket at an angle starting at the top outer rim and proceed to the grow cup area. When you can feel or see the wood, pull quickly to dislodge the rag/wick and remove the wood [ a steel rod or anything will work. ]

And there it is! The beauty of a container garden and auto watering all in one easy self contained unit!

We did a few improvements for our area and went with 20' long troughs and also advise using a wicking system in the grow cups. This is really nothing more than strips of cloth running from the grow cup to the top of the bucket. Insert the strips in the grow cup and keep placed in the middle of the bucket as you add potting mix. It really helped on those hot days! [keep in mind we used way to much peat moss in our mix to start with ]


  • 2017 garden start. It is April and still some chilly nights.
We grew 2 crops of tobacco in the same potting mix and numerous vegetables and the soil still looks like it will be good for a while longer. We did re-mix some buckets and added fresh compost to them but for all general appearance the crops looked the same whether we re-mixed or not!
Another quick note: Try to find the adjustable floats. Once your system gets a little age on it , they can become slightly warped or settle and the adjustable ones will allow you to change the level easier than having to re-level the entire length .
We switched to adjustable float switches for our container garden this year.
Added adjustable float switchs this year.

Auto watering reservoir:

No container gardenΒ  is complete without a self watering system. We finally added a rain barrel system to the gutters! Final plan is to hook this up to an actual rain gutter to get some free water as well.

Materials:

  • 4 35 gallon barrels
  • PVC Pipe to fit bungs
  • Fittings as shown in pictures
  • Some good vinyl sealant
  • * Small fittings and clear tubing for sight glass! We will install this later.
  • Super large funnel to allow adding pre-mixed plant food at a later date
Our container garden rain barrel collection system
Our auto watering system. Hopefully we can tie into rain gutter on roof soon

This is a really good setup for those without access to well water. You can also set up another series of standing barrels from which to pump into this delivery setup to further save money. A small marine pump would work well to transfer as the system needed replenished from the standing barrels..

Mid May Update:

  • Basil is growing everywhere from volunteer seeds πŸ™‚ Cukes starting to climb as well as the yard long green beans

Our 1st Kombucha experiment

In an effort to cut cost and calories we decided to try the latest rage called Kombucha which is a fermented bubbly drink full of probiotics and flavor

Kombucha : Nature’s soft drink

Anyway, I decided to get with the program and and ordered a Kombucha SCOBY. SCOBY is the acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Which is really what it looks like in my mind’s eye.. a blob of what looked like of watered down silly putty or chicken fat or something along those line. Anyway, “I wanted me some” as we say in the country. πŸ™‚ Just so I did not hurt the feelings of anyone in my numerous social groups. I ordered generically from Amazon.

Today the Kombucha SCOBY arrived!

 

It was packed pretty nice I guess as it was liquid and could flex but would have felt better having it in a box instead of a mailing envelope but is is here and I will start a jug ASAP. I am not sure which but I think I will ask Danny Cote, a friend from Fermenters Kitchen who I fear will turn into a fermented product one day. He is really into fermenting and a pretty good person to have around if you want information and personal experience on a fermenting issue.

 

Well for the first time ever in months Danny was no where to be found πŸ™‚ But kombucha is so easy to make. I googled a quick recipe and got it seconded by the gang at Fermenters Kitchen and within 30 minutes I had a 1/2 gallon batch started.


     Recipe that was google gathered and crowd approved is as follows:

1/2 gallon mason jar
1 cloth cover
1 metal ring
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 quarts of hot water
9 lipton single serving tea bags
1 stirring tool from Sheila’s kitchen


Directions: Add teabags to water and sugar and mix. Let sit aside until room temperature or half past lukewarm towards room temperature.



When I unleashed SCOBY from his postal confines I was impressed and surprised how hard he actually was. I was expecting something very much more delicate. He was almost the texture of bologna actually! The liquid he arrived with smelled a lot like vinager and you could also taste the tea and a little sweetness. I dumped him into the prepared jar much like you would a storebought goldfish and he went straight to the bottom much like that aforementioned store bought goldfish! OH DAM! Back to the group I flew like a whistle…. [a little left over Christmas poetry] and after a few seconds, was totally convinced his plunge was normal and nothing to fear! πŸ™‚

Go Freeeee lil buddy!

At any rate it took maybe 5 minutes actual hands om time to start a 1/2 gallon of this kombucha miracle juice. I am also going to try it with coffee to and there is a name for it but dammed if I can remember it right now. It'll spring out at me when I'm
m in the middle of another conversation and will add to the rumor that I may be a tad crazy. Don'tcha just hate when that happens? Anyway if this works out like I hope, I will have no need for cokes as this kombucha is supposed to have a lot of natural carbonation and a mean without a little gas just isn't a meal. .
 All there was left to do after making sure Scoby Jr was ok , was to cover the top of the jar with a porous cloth as this is really a regular wine or beer fermentation for the first fermentation and the second [they call it the 2F] is a traditional lacto ferment as you use an airlock or cork the bottles after adding fruit and stuff. I forgot to tell yall that .. sorry! And with that thought I moved stuff around on the desk and put him in a little warmer place where I could keep an eye on him.

  • 1/2 cup per 2 quarts water


OK how does this help me save money?????
Ok here is the idea. First I like soft drinks. I quit using sugar in my coffee and my tea about 8 months ago. I was just getting to fat. I never thought I got or was going to be fat but I did. Mainly my stomach. It stopped my breathe when tying my shoes. I am sure some of it is age and inactivity. I had a rough and hard but healthy mid adult life. Last 10-15 years have been a walk in the park and I am paying the price.

And……………. back to the story:

A case of cheaply made imitation cokes cost about $5 a case. If I was already buying my kombucha, I would be saving about $2 a bottle by making it at home.
  • In this 1/2 gallon I have :

  • 1/2 cup sugar @ $0.15

  • 9 tea Lipton single size teabags @ $.50 total

  • 1/2 gallon water

  • $10.00 for Scoby delivered to my door

SCOBY’s grow and most regular Kombucha drinkers will gladly share a small one for a newb… I just did not think any of the fellas I hang with would drink it. In the last 2 days 3 have “fessed” up and said they drink it …… Coulda saved me a few bucks grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr πŸ˜‰

 Update:
2-6-16    1800 Nothing! grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
2-8-16     0101 Small white dots not like mold. The remind me
           of jellyfish on surface! LIFE!!!!!!! HE LIVES!
 Update:
2-9-16    1900 Jr is rising from the bottom and definitely is life forming on the surface! Looks very much like jellyfish ;) Smell is a little like vinegary tea but did not taste as it wold maybe make the scoby not grow.
 Update:
2-11-16    2200 Jr is rising from the bottom and definitely is life forming on the surface! Looks very much like jellyfish ;) Smell is a little like vinegary tea but did not taste as it wold maybe make the scoby not grow.
Photo update for 2-11-2016 @ 1900
  • 2-9-16 coming alive on bottom
 Update:
3-17-16    Have now made a few batchs and am more concerned in growing a solid scoby more so than actually making finished kombucha. I need to find a good F2 recipe as mine is not fizzy. I may have let it go to long as it is pretty vinegary.

FINAL OUTCOME:

We are drinking kombucha regular and the scoby is getting rather large. I do have a few question that I will research for those who stumble across this blog.

1] Should I occasionally wet the top of the scoby by pushing it under the developing kombucha to [in my mind] help prevent mold?

2] How do I create more “fizz” in my finished kombucha?

Basic Salsa Recipe: lacto fermented salsa

Fermented salsa: Basic Salsa Recipe

Fermented salsa is so easy to prepare in your own kitchen. A great family project and introduction to fermenting. This will produce a naturally acidic and tangy condiment, rich in living probiotics! Also enhanced vitamin content that vinegar based salsaΒ  does not have! You can chop, dice or process the ingredients to suit your own taste keeping in mind that less chopping allows more individual taste sensations to reach your taste receptors with each chew πŸ™‚ We personally increase the bell pepper content over the tomato content and it gives a really unique taste to anything we add it too!

Β 

Basic Fermented Salsa
A quick and easy fermented salsa that will inspire you to dwell deeper into the craft of home fermenting
Author:
Cuisine: Fermented
Recipe type: fermented
Serves: 1 quart
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Ingredients
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 small roma tomatoes
  • 1 bell pepper [ we like adding up to 60% peppers! ]
  • jalapeno or other hot peppers to taste
  • 1 tablespoon canning salt
  • water
  • ¼ cup cilantro, parsley or celery tops
  • garlic to taste
Instructions
  1. ] Cut chop or dice all the ingredients
  2. ] Mix well and add salt
  3. ] Pack in jar leaving 1" head space , [this will leave room for your weight ]
  4. ] Cover your weight with water, This is most important when fermenting to keep molds from ruining your ferment!
  5. ] Add your airlock and set aside on counter top for 3-5 days. When the taste is tart enough for you ...... Eat and enjoy πŸ˜‰
    NOTE: Ferment at 65-75 Degree F for best results. Placing a catch pan under your jar will avoid a possible mess in case of overflow of brine caused by CO2 production which is natural with home fermenting.
Notes
This ferment is very loose in it's consistency! And therefore very hard to hold under the brine when fermenting. Using the Pickle*Pusher system, you will easily and consistently produce this flavorful condiment in your kitchen. In the photo here you will see that the Pickle*Pusher allows only brine to be on the surface!

For more recipes like this try MakeSauerKraut.com where Miss Holly actively teaches fermenting and has recipes that will surely tantalize your taste buds ! It is also healthy as it is full of added vitamins and probiotics you can not get from store bought!

Recipe Update:

Sheila used homegrown Stevia leaves in a recent batch and the result was a really pleasant salsa with sweet highlights which is hard to acheive in a ferment as the process reduces sugars. Stevia is not a sugar and the “sweet” taste survives the fermenting process intact!

Lacto fermenting at home

What is lacto fermenting?

Lacto fermenting was first used by ancient man as a way to preserve foods as far back as 6000 B.C. Preserving foods is one reason mankind has survived in his path from hunter-gatherer to domestic farmer to city dweller he is today. Although it was mainly used to preserve at that time, I am sure they enjoyed the taste as well. As for the health benefits, the most noticeable one they found was the fact they had something to eat when nothing was found growing and ready to harvest. πŸ™‚ It is hard to imagine life without a grocery store where produce, spices and flavors from around the world are daily available year round like they are in our supermarkets now!

Lacto fermenting is the process of introducing a vegetable to a specialized fermenting container that has the ability to create [and control] an environment that favors the growth of beneficial Lacto Basilius bacteria while discouraging the spoiling elements by isolation and containment. In return for the habitat that our fermenting container helped create, the bacteria create lactic acid [by converting sugars] which further discourages the growth of spoiling bacteria and thus preserves the food for later use.

A proper fermenting container needs to be able to hold the brine which is salt and water in an appropriate mixture based on the vegetables being fermented, and to control access to the atmosphere and it’s airborne contaminants. It does not have to be fancy.

Mark Campbell Ceramics produces excellent a great lacto fermenting container
Traditional fermmenting crock

Pickles being started in mason jar awaiting the Pickle*Pusher for lacto fermenting
Common mason jars

Commonly used for lacto fermenting Fido Jar
Fido jar with cover

The brine or salt mixture immediately reduces the chance of a bad bacteria or mold from upsetting our planned ferment’s final destination as a flavorful probiotic healthy food source. As the ferment progresses there is more and more CO2 given off that has to be vented to prevent rupturing our container and needs to be maintained aid in mold defense as molds do not like a CO2 rich atmosphere. They thrive in and prefer one that is rich in O2. So at this point we see that our team effort is paying off! We provided the brine for the bacteria that are always present on the vegetables as well as a place they can call home and a protective canopy in which they can collect the CO2 into a blanket that will keep their enemies at bay!

While this “dome” and “blanket” building process is taking place they also produce lactic acid by converting the sugars and starches in the vegetables. This lactic acid drops the PH [acidity scale] of the brine and makes the controlled environment into an even more unfavorable habitat for the bad bacterias and molds! From then on it is smooth sailing for the lacto bacteria. With a PH of around 4.3 most bacteria harmful to humans can not thrive and will not grow which is great ofr both us and the bacteria.

At this point the action of the ferment has diminished which is visually evident by less CO2 being formed and we normally seal the ferment and store in a cool place which retards the growth of our now mostly retired good bacteria which allows us to enjoy the meal at a later date thus preserving the food original vegetable’s un fermented shelf life! \

I assume the old cave man had no idea that this was all going on when he added the day’s gathering of vegetable into a goat skin or clay pot for storing only to find some containers would contain nothing but dust when revisited later in the season and others would be full of tasty foods. I imagine maybe he salted some to season them and others he did not may have been a key factor in them learning the preserving properties of the miracle salt.

Most forms of lacto fermenting use a liquid brine but some use a "bed system" like miso and the use of bran or sake lee beds. The latter require a more intense understanding of fermenting and should be attempted after a person acquires a little experience in the skill.

Lacto fermented foods contain probiotics as well as greater amounts of vitamins and minerals than the vegetables used to make the fermented food. Probiotics are the good bacteria that also live in our intestines and are vital to human health. Recently a surge in the consumption of these probiotic rich fermented foods like yogurt and kraut has sparked a lot of scientific research into their value to human life. Claims that these foods can cure cancer, aids and erectile dysfunction are common. πŸ™‚ We do not take these claims to serious but do agree as most do that simple gut problems are lessened without argument and that a healthy GI tract makes for a healthier person.

A recent study showed a 2 ounce serving of saurkraut contained more live probiotics than a 100 count bottle of a popular probiotic supplement pill! Now that is a saving ! Google probiotic supplements! 

Lacto fermenting foods also saves you money, especially when you are raising a garden or using a small batch system that allows you to use the smallest amount of vegetables at a time. This reduces previously wasted foodstuff and provides tasty healthy treats as well. An example would be those miscellaneous vegetables aging ungracefully in the crisper drawer. Cut and toss them in a fermenting jar of brine and in a few days you will have a jar of pickled relish or tidbits to grace the table and provide a little added flavor as well as a smile because you did it yourself. Just for kicks and giggles…. price a bottle at a store near you today. $1.59 per quart could be the rate you paid. Your DIY cost = $.01 salt and vegetables you may have discarded because they were not “pretty” And in the case of growing even the smallest of gardens, one can save a super large percentage of their fixed income food costs! I mean huge!

On that subject , it is claimed that the USA wastes about 40% of it's grown harvest before it even reaches a market because it is not "pretty". They are healthy food but not first class in the cosmetic sense. I am not referring to damaged vegetables and fruits but rather to ones like a short carrot or an oblong tomato . Anything that is not the stereotypical standard that we are accustomed to, is just not sent to market. And often times there is no other use for these vegetable other than animal use or complete waste. As a home gardener who regularly cuts away damaged portions of our produce this is not a problem at all.

In the case of dairy and meats a similar fermentation can occur but not in a brine solution. Salami is fermented but since meat has little sugar, it must be added and the lacto bacteria play a minor role in this type of fermenting. With dairy there is a combination of yeasts and lacto bacteria that contribute to their formation. It is not a pure lacto ferment.

What foods can be lacto fermented?

Most any vegetable that is grown can be successfully fermented. The flavor combinations are endless as are the finished product’s uses. From condiment to mainstay. Your imagination is the limit. Meats and dairy goods can be preserved with the use of fungi, specific molds , yeast and bacteria but the process is not typically refered to as a “lacto ferment”

How long will fermented foods last?

Remember here the purpose of lacto fermenting in the past was not to store years of foods for later use but rather to enable the tribes to survive until the next growing season's harvest!

That depends on the final storage method used after fermenting is complete as well as what you define as “last”. “Lasting” can mean anything from “remaining edible without killing you” to “will the product still have taste appeal as well as nutritional value”. A ferment frozen could last a long time as well as one dehydrated provided moisture protection was initiated. In the freezer the process of freezer burning means that the product is dehydrated while frozen and quality as well as taste appeal diminishes as would regular frozen foods deteriorate. In a purposefully dehydrated ferment, the danger is that the moisture would increase to a point where it encourages the growth of spoiling molds, fungi and bacteria.

Freezing a live ferment does not kill the bacteria but puts them into a hibernation!

Canning a ferment with heat and/or pressure will kill the bacteria but the vitamin increase and nutrient increase is pretty much intact as is the flavor. Remember the original purpose of fermenting was not the quest for probiotics as we now gladly ferment for, but to preserve vegetables as well as flavor them. At any rate, canning will increase the shelf life and reduce the monitoring time spent storing live ferments. Canning seals the jar and prevents changes to the now stable fermented food. I would say a year or more is not a problem for canned foods .

Fermented canned foods will last as long as regular canned foods

Leaving the ferment live is another story altogether! It must be kept in a cooler environment than it was produced is to keep new bacterial growth to a minimum especially if sealed or the container would have to be burped at regular intervals. While the true story of sauerkraut lasting over 5 years on the old sailing ships is true……….. I am sure they do not tell of the many barrels of kraut thrown to the sharks due to spoilage either. The old sailors did not know why the kraut saved them from scurvy or how the bacteria increased the vitamin C content of the cabbage so many times over, they regrettably did not know how to can and process foods as we do in our later time. .

That being said.... If you do not have a root cellar equivalent and a genuine interest in monitoring your ferments once completed.. I would process them .................