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Sawdust On A Green Thumb


A few of my friends have commented that when I get into a new hobby I get into it all the way.  I'm not sure if it was meant to be a compliment, but I'll take it as such.  In my experience, I think the toughest thing about being happy is finding something you enjoy so much so that being passionate about it just comes naturally.  For me, woodworking was that passion for quite some time and still remains so.  But recently, I've found a burgeoning interest in gardening--especially planting things I can eat!  (I guess that makes sense--it somehow always boils down to eating. )  And along the way, I've been fortunate enough to use my woodworking and metalworking skills to make different tools and outdoor furniture items to make my gardening habit even more fun!  Enough yapping and on with the images!

My philosophy on gardening is pretty much in keeping with my thoughts on woodworking.  With both hobbies, the goal is to get the most bang for your buck.  Since space and time is always at a premium, I've tried to focus on planting food items that I can't find in stores or are just plain old too expensive.  With that in mind, I started amassing quite a small collection of rare (relatively speaking) fruits.  Here's a kumquat tree that's been growing for quite sometime now.  It has always produced a lot of fruit.  I can't say I love these all that much, but the tree on which they grow seems to take care of itself without much effort from me.




Q:  So how did I get sawdust on my aspiring GREEN THUMB?

A:  When I fired up the tablesaw and started making this potting station/bench.

After a few sessions crouching on the ground trying to pot up some of my plants, I started thinking there has got to be a better way.  Procrastination actually worked in my favor in this case because I gave myself time to figure out what features/characteristics I wanted out my potting bench.  Fast forward a few months later and I found myself examining a potting bench at my local nursery that had a price tag of $160!  That may not sound like a lot for a nice potting bench, but this thing was really, really simple.  It didn't have any doors, storage room, or even any wheels!  After looking at that bench and imagining how I'd be using it, I started coming up with some features for my ideal potting bench....errr....better make that potting STATION! 

My requirements:  rustproof and easy to clean worktop; plenty of hooks for hanging handtools; a small unobtrusive topshelf to give me a little more working space; a convenient place to store plastic containers full of various soil mixes, growing media, etc.; storage space galore for various miscellaneous items; and of course, mobility with a set of easy gliding and lockable casters. 


Here's a good shot of how much storage space this little beast provides.  I really love being able to mix up different soil mixes and storing them in plastic containers.  This system makes it quick and easy to get to gardening and cleanup is a snap.  You may be thinking dirt is dirt, right?  Well, I've got separate containers for a seed starting mix, a compost/soil general potting mix, a cymbidium orchid mix, peat moss, perlite.  There's nothing like being able to be organized gardening without it being a chore trying to find everything. 

As for the worktop, I scored a remnant sheet of aluminum at my local metal supplier.  I originally was going to opt for stainless steel, but this piece of aluminum was only a few bucks more and it was much easier to bend and manipulate.  After a few sessions potting up seedlings and re-potting some other plants, this gets The New Chinky Workshop's stamp of approval! 

So I guess the lesson to be learned here is....getting some sawdust on one's aspiring green thumb does pay off!



Here is another example of my woodworking and gardening worlds crossing paths.  This project is not all that fancy, but the fruit that grows on it is fancy.  This lattice structure was built using a lot of dados.  I used my tablesaw and nibbled away at the wood with a regular 10" blade.  I really should get a dado stack--alas, yet another reason to spend--I mean invest--more money into my shop.

A friend of my mom had given her a dragonfruit plant.  When it's ready, this plant bears a pinkish red fruit called dragonfruit.  It's rather bland, but some people find it refreshing.  I've learned to enjoy it. 

I thought it was about time I posted a photo of how the dragonfruit plant is doing.  As you can see, it's grown wild, but produces a lot of great fruit.  This is the plant's third year, I think--plenty of water and fertilizer has done the trick. 











Here's an closeup shot at one of this year's current crop.  I'm told that the going rate for one of these at the supermarket is roughly $10/piece!!!









This photo took me a year to capture.  Why?  The dragonfruit flower only blooms one night every year.  It starts to open up at sundown and by sunrise, the flower begins to droop down, shutting it's petals before anyone can snap a photo--well anyone except me!!!  I actually had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to take a quick snapshot of this really beautiful flower before it had a chance to close up.  In a about a month it'll turn into the reddish pink fruit pictured above.

UpdateThe flower bloomed, fruited, ripened, and then I ate it.  MMMMmmmm, refreshing!

Update #2:  On a recent trip to Thailand, I had the fortune to run across dragonfruit with red/pinkish flesh.  Instead of the usual white flesh, this particular variety of dragonfruit is bright pink/red.  The taste is pretty sweet, not much different than the white flesh variety.  One the drawbacks of this pink variety is it gets everthing pink/red.  It's quite a site to see when your tongue and mouth is stained with this color.  I suppose this would be great for a halloween gag (e.g. bloody vampire bite effect).




My Dragonfruit plant is growing like gangbusters.  So much so that it really is overpowering the quick and dirty wooden lattice stand I made for it three years ago.  The whole things looks like it's about to fall over.  The plant may grow like a vine, but it's weighs a ton.  During my early days of woodoworking I didn't take the time to use dados and that sort of thing on quick projects like this one.  Actually, I did use dadoes to make the horizontal lattice pieces, but failed to do so for the columns.  I used screws and you can see how over time, that type of "joint" doesn't stand the test of time.  It's just as well because the base of the stand touching the ground is also showing signs of rot.  Here's one instance where wood isn't the best material for the job.


With my new found welding skills, I decided a metal stand would stand up to the elements much more effectively.  The only concern I had was that maybe during summer the sun might heat up the metal too much and cause the creeping plant to get burned.  We'll have to see if that'll pose a problem.  But for now, the surface area of metal actually touching the plant isn't very much, as I used small diameter round bar and square stock.  Hopefully this will mean the use of metal won't pose a problem at all. 

I was originally going to use mild steel tubing, but I was fortunate enough to score some scrap aluminum!!!  Lightweight and corrosion resistant!  I had enough stock to make two of these beauties.  Much thanks goes to my welding buddy Anthony Febreezie for helping me TIG weld the first one.  His TIG skills are much better than mine--but I did weld up a few joints on this fella.  On the second stand I built, I used a MIG welder with aluminum wire.  Boy, MIG welding aluminum is much easier than TIG welding!  It took a whole weekend to transfer this plant to its new home.  I have the scratches to proove it--this stuff has painful thorns!  All this work just for the love of eating. 

Update:  Fast forward about a year later and look how much my botanical beast has grown!  It's amazing what a little care and some cow poop can accomplish.








I happen to like this photo a lot.  Right after I took this photo (during one of my bouts with being super-cheesy), I caught myself saying out loud, "hah, double-dragon[fruit]".  If that doesn't make much sense, well it doesn't.  I just happened to remember this lame (but fun for its time) video game called "Double Dragon."  And well, I guess dragonfruit could very well be the official fruit for that video game.  Okay, okay, I'll shut up about it already.

In keeping with the double dragonfruit theme, I took a photo of this pair of dragonfruit flowers.  The midmorning sun was shining bright and these flowers were just too beautiful for me not to take a quick photo.






I saw a couple of honeybees flying in and out of this flower and I it was just a Kodak...errr...Canon moment.  It's too bad these flowers only open up one night out of the year.  They really are breathtaking to look at in person.  Last year, I did notice that there might be something behind that whole honeybee disappearance.  But for whatever reason, fortunately this year honeybees are doing their job as per usual.  Buzz, Buzz, hooray! 




Here's a closeup of one of my buddies hard at work.  This actually is a great shot of the stamen and pistil of the flower.  I think the bees do a great job pollinating these flowers, but just for added insurance (b/c I am that much of a fruit eating fiend ), I hand pollinate each flower whenever I get a chance.  I simply shake some pollen right over and into the opening of that sea anemone looking thing.  This particular cultivar is self-pollinating so I often use pollen from the same flower to complete the job.  At seven bucks a pound at the local grocery store, I'm trying to get as many fruits as possible.  I get them for free (minus water, fertilizer, and a fruit growers love) and they are 100% organic to boot.  You can't beat that!

For you dog lovers out there, here's a photo of my dog Nancy.  I've never had a furry pet until she showed up one day at work.  She was a stray that probably saw the nastier parts of town.  Well, I fed her some food and after that she refused to leave.  After making sure she wasn't someone's lost dog, I decided to make her a part of the family.  She's no pure-bred dog, but she's loyal and lovable (at least to me).  But don't let her adorable pose here fool you.  When I'm not at home she tears up the yard.  For the better part of a week, I caught her digging in my garden and ripping up all of my drip irrigation.  ARghhh!!!!  I had to do to the pound???....

Of course NOT!!!  I would not send her to the pound! ... although she did really, really tick me off!  After calming down, I came up with this idea-a homemade doggie barricade.  My garden boxes are protected from the Nancy monster with a little elbow grease and ingenuity.  I made frames out of pvc pipe and then attached chicken wire to them to create a barrier.  The frames slide into a mating pvc pipe that's secured to the raised bed 2x12's.  When I need to access the plants, I can simply lift the frames right off and slide them back when I'm done.  So far, Nancy has left my plants alone. 

UPDATE:  Look how crazy tall my tomatoes and cukes have grown!

I had access to a bunch of leftover cinder blocks for free!  I decided to use them to make a raised bed.  The main growing area is supplying me with a good crop of zucchini and summer squash.  I realized that the hollows in some of the cinder blocks are perfect for growing drought tolerant herbs.  You can see that the mint and oregano the left are really taking off.

I couldn't resist trying out these unpside tomato planters.  I guess after giving theTopsy Turvy to my niece, I sort of wanted one for myself.  It's a good thing I came to that realization a year later because these upside down planters were now made available.  In fact, I think these are probably better than the Topsy Turvy because of the sturdier steel cage and fancier fabric.  Plus, for the same price, these containers have a self-watering feature.  What a deal!  Here I have four different varieties of Tomatoes growing.  Only time will tell how productive this setup will be in terms of churning out tomatoes.  At the very least, they make for good conversation.   






Here's a good shot of the self-watering feature of these upside down planters.  Basically, there's a plastic tub that holds water directly above the tomato plant.  A strip of capillary mat material helps wick water from the tub to the soil (and eventually, the plant's roots).  I was pretty surprised how well this "self-watering" feature works.  The wicking action of that capillary mat is no joke.  When I tried to keep the plastic tub full of water daily, I noticed that the container seemed to be dripping with water all the time.  So I cut back filling up the tub to once every couple of days and that seems to be doing the trick nicely.  I may have to water more frequently, when the hardcore Southern California summer heat starts.   These things are pretty darned cool! 


I wanted to maximize my sun-exposed real estate, so I had to devise some sort of stand on which to hang these planters.  This is what resulted.  I had a fun time with this project because I was able employ skills from all of my hobbies:  I welded up a simple coat hanger-style stand with casters; I used my woodworking shop to cut and build a wooden planter box; I employed my gardening skills to plant the tomato and basil plants; and I'll eventually be using these tomatoes to "cook" up something.

A lot of things I build are just last minute epiphanies.  This one was no different.  After I had welded up the stand, I realized I was wasting a lot of valuable real estate at ground level.  So I decide to make this an "almost all-in-one" bruschetta station.  I've got the tomatoes growing in the upside containers and I planted sweet basil in the wooden planter at the base of the stand.  All I'm missing now is some garlic, olive oil, and bread.  What's also pretty cool is any overspill from the upside down planter helps to water the basil growing just below in the wooden planter box.  I love it! 


Here's some of this year's tomato harvest.  Some of these grew in the upside planters (pictured above), but the others grew right up from the ground.  There are about three different varieties shown here--Striped Roman, Purple Russian, Pantano Romanesco.  The Striped Roman is the most visually striking but a bit too pasty for my taste.  The Purple Russian has good flavor, but the Pantano Romanesco is just impressive.  A cross section slice looks and tastes great.  There's nothing like homegrown tomatoes--and they're organic too!


It's a good idea to start them off young, right?  Well, it's been awhile now since the days when my twin nephews were using the cribs/bassinets I built for them.  They're walking and babbling now!  In any case, the two little dudes stopped over today and were already fighting over who gets to use the watering can.  I really could feel my heart melt watching them laugh and smile when I sprayed a little mist of water on their faces. 




Okay, I know this project looks out of place, but I couldn't help but post it up anyway.  My recent hobby/obsession is trying to grow my own herb garden in preparation for the spring/summer BBQ/Grilling season.  My #1 priority is to have a successful and plentiful "crop" of sweet basil.  Of course, I'm not the only one who enjoys the taste of this flavorful green herb.  I got so paranoid about basil eating pests that I had to call in my woodworking powers to the rescue.  

But first let me digress for a bit...About two years ago, I had to throw out some severely disfigured window screens.  Being the semi-packrat that I am (semi- because I'm working on it), I ripped out the mesh screen material before throwing out the broken aluminum frame.  I figured I'd need the mesh screen for something eventually.  Well, you guessed it, eventually is finally here!  I wanted a quick and dirty security gate to protect my prized basil plant.  (I'm also trying to grow some basil from seed, but that's another story).  I had some scrap pieces of ipe and stuck them into the dirt-packed clay pot.  Then I used some good old duct tape to fasten the screen onto the ipe sticks.  I then made a makeshift screen lid and voila...a mini house for my basil seedling.  To top things off, I found a ladybug and walked it on over to my basil.  Now I have a pet ladybug that acts as my basil seedling's personal bodyguard.  So I'm warning all white flies, aphids, mealybugs:  your backseat passes to visit good old Basil and The Leaves are now revoked! 

Oh and if you're interested, the healthy, robust leaves on the bottom right hand corner of the above photo are that of greek oregano.  After just three weeks of plenty of sunshine and water, this small seedling is now an herb powerhouse. 

TIP/Free Recipe:  Try marinating some chicken in some oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.  Fire up the grill and cook until done, but don't let it get too dry.  You could just grill the entire chicken breast like you would a steak, but I really like it skewered with some bell peppers and mushrooms.  Mmmmm...

Well, the basil from the photo above and some that were grown from seed in my kitchen garden window were transplanted to the ground and they grew like gangbusters!  I love this stuff.  There was a span of about two weeks in which I literally thought basil goes well with anything and everything.  So when someone brought home some Arby's roast beef sandwiches, I threw some basil on the sandwich and I promptly decided that basil doesn't go well with everything. 

Oh by the way, fresh basil for bruschetta is the only way to go.  My sister's words, "That's stuff is addictive!"



The fast growth rate of my herbs is now outpacing my ability to eat them!  YES!!!  Plus, I'm starting to notice that they are starting to seed.  I figured this is as good of a time as any to try my hand at drying my own herbs.  So here's what I have drying out in the hot Southern California sun:  Rosemary, Sweet Basil, Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme.



After realizing I was running out of gardening real estate, I decided I needed to reserve all my ground space for fruit trees and move all my small herbs in a container.  Plus after reading a couple of books on growing herbs, it's my understanding that planting herbs in a traditional container and neglecting them a little bit may actual improve their respective flavors.  By not making an herb's life too cushy (by that I mean stress them out by not giving them regular watering) may actually cause them to produce more flavorful oils.  I'm not sure if I can taste a difference, but I like how this pot houses so many herbs and saves up my ground space for other good things to grow and eat!


I know this is overkill, but I had a few casters leftover from a previous project and some scrap construction grade douglas-fir 2x4's.  Of course, You know I just had to make my herb pot mobile!




A fruit loaded with antioxidants and can cost a bunch too...that's right, blueberries.  For folks here in Southern California, blueberries can be very expensive at the stores.  Most of that cost is because blueberries don't keep that long.  I used to think it sucks that I can't grow them and pick the berries fresh from my garden.  Then I found out Southern Highbush variety blueberries thrive in my area.  The only major requirement is have acidic soil.  Since I have a hard time maintaining acidic soil in my garden, I opted to plant the blueberries in pots.  I mixed a plain old potting soil with peat moss and look how good my blueberries bushes look!  I've been able to get a really good yield.  My advice is to make sure to pinch off flowers/buds the first year you plant your bushes.  This way, the plant can concentrate on establishing a good root system before really busting out with the berries during subsequent years.

*Cue Steve Miller's "The Joker"...

"...Really love your peaches want to shake your tree..."  I love that line but I can't seem to remember the rest of the lyrics from that song.  I think that line sticks out in my memory mostly because I love the taste of perfectly ripened peaches and nectarines.  So this year, I planted another peach tree variety...Florida Prince.  I haven't tasted the fruit from this tree yet, but I think it won't be long before this one here is ready for my belly and I'll be singing, "Really love your peaches want to shake your tree!"



"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."  I'm not sure about that old proverb, but I do like apples and the thought of picking my own right off the tree sounds pretty good to me.  Even though apples are pretty cheap at the market, I couldn't resist a really good deal from a local nursery.  Growing apples in southern California isn't as easy as say in Washington state, but with the right variety it shouldn't be a problem.  I actually planted two low chill varieties that should do just fine in my climate region--Golden Dorsett and Anna.

I needed to put up a privacy screen to keep my neighbors from looking into my backyard, so I decided a creeping vine would do the trick.  The only thing was I needed to create some vertical support using some sort of trellis.  I can't believe I did this (and am admitting to it!), but I just bought a trellis from Home Depot.  (I know, I know, the shame of it!)  I could have built one, but I was short on time and it just didn't make sense after a quick cost/benefit analysis--(aka:  I felt lazy).  After buying the trellis, I realized I needed some sort of wooden planter onto which I could attach the trellis.  This is where The New Chinky Workshop came to the rescue.  I couldn't find a wooden planter the size I wanted and wooden planters in general are REALLY expensive!  So after buying the cheapest outdoor grade wood I could find--green/slopping wet cedar--I went to work and came up with this gem.  I'll post another photo when the vines fill out the area. 

Tangent:  This was my first time working with American cedar.  The whole time I kept thinking the wood just smelled like those good old No. 2 pencils I used to have to sharpen all the time before taking "Scantron" exams.  Yikes!

Yes, yes, I have to confess I am going overboard with the planting...but just indulge me while I'm at it.  So here are some 24 gallon planters I set up for my soon to be growing blackberry and raspberry canes.  After reading various sources suggest building a trellis to support the growing berry canes, I came up with this idea (right).  I wanted a self-contained unit--i.e. a planter with its own individual trellis.  This way, if I ever need to move the planter somewhere else, the support structure will move accordingly without much trouble.  I've never grown any berries before, so only time will tell if this support system will work out. 

I'm having visions of eating my freshly picked berries as I'm typing this....




That's right!  I now have raspberries.  And just in case you're wondering...they are really, really sweet.  Absolutely no pesticides and I don't have to worry about them growing mold in the refrigerator as is often the case with store bought ones.  Of course, I don't have to worry about them getting mold because they seldom make it past my fingers and then taste buds!   







Look at these beautiful little babies!  And yes, they were really sweet!






Here are some blueberries I have growing in large pots.  I used to think blueberries are only found in cooler areas of the country like Oregon or Maine, but I was thrilled to find out that Southern Highbush Blueberries grow perfectly well in warm climates.  I'm still amazed that I can pick my own blueberries alongside my warm weather loving Citrus trees!  I told me mom about why the anti-oxidants in blueberries are good for one's health and she just had to pick some to try for herself. 

Look at some of the berries that were picked fresh from my makeshift suburban orchard!  I love it!  These are great as a snack and I love them tossed in with my morning cereal or yogurt.  Mmmmm...




Why is growing your own fruit worthwhile? 

Well, for moments like these.  Here my twin nephews are sneaking in some home grown strawberries.  My goal of using every square inch of growing space for fruit holds true here.  This little patch of dirt is located along my driveway.  Instead of growing inedible groundcover, I used the space to grow alpine strawberries, musk strawberries, and plain old regular strawberries.  I did plant some bulbs like gladiolas just to give my front yard a little color without having to sacrifice too much fruit growing real estate.  I think the twins approve!




I couldn't resist purchasing two of these tomato hot houses.  These were factory seconds (there were some burrs on the steel frame, but that was nothing my trusty file couldn't handle).  Plus, there's no way I can make the heavy duty vinyl covering with zippered openings and side vents.  So overall, this was a situation when buying it instead of making it made more sense.  I'm really excited at the thought at having tasty home grown tomatoes during winter!  


I saw some tomato ladders in a gardening catolog and just had to try them out for myself.  The price tag seemed pretty hefty (but I learned the hard way that these were fairly labor intensive to make).  I had some scrap steel flat bar lying around so I cut, bent, and welded them together.  A coat of fire engine red paint later and here you have it.  Hopefully, these work well for keeping tomatoes off the dirt, but only time will tell.  I will say that I'm pretty happy with the way these tomato ladders look. 




Tomato Ladder + Hot House = IHOT (Int'l House of Tomatoes)

I'd like to take credit for this clever little play on that overpriced pancake joint, but I have my smart alec teenage nephew Brian to thank.  I will say that the five different varieties of tomatoes I planted here are somewhat international in origin:  Purple Russian, Striped Roman, Millionaire Pink (USA), Orange Sunset, Pantano Romanesco (Italian).  I am pruning and training my tomato plants so that they climb up these ladders.  I'm excited about having home grown tomatoes even in the winter!


Riddle me this, riddle me that, what do you do when you have five tomato plants and only three tomato ladders?  Be creative!  Being the packrat woodworker that I am, I had lots of scrap pieces of wood I tied to the ladders to create a bridge of sorts.  This way I can create more rungs in between each ladder for more support.  I've got two of these tomato houses, so I guess you could say I've got the beginnings of my IHOT franchise empire!




I'm pretty proud of this guy over to the left.  This is a kaffir lime tree.  If you like Thai food, especially Tom Yum soup, this is the only way to go.  The leaves from this tree are really fragrant and they just give food that extra kick.  I was also really jazzed this year because this is the first season that actual kaffir limes grew.  I thought the leaves were fragrant, until I smelled the rind from the limes!





I got an email ad that a local wholesale nursery was having  a clearance sale on different plants.  One of my sisters wanted to put some new plants at her house so I told her about the sale and we decided to have a look see.  As I walked around this huge nursery, I just happened to see passionfruit!  I nearly passed out because it was almost like a sign from fate that I was destined to cultivate one of my favorite fruits.  Well that was a few weeks ago and that was the beginning of a very slippery slope.  Each successive weekend since then has been a opportunity to obsess about planting growing more exotic fruits.  Plus the internet is a great place to learn new stuff about plants.  My favorite site on growing rare and exotic fruits....California Rare Fruit Growers.



This is a java apple or also known as mountain apple.  I'm hoping in a few years I'll get to bite down on this airy, crunchy, yet refreshing fruit.  Water deeply my nurseryman keeps advising.  I'm determined to get the maximum yield out of the little bit of dirt I have available around the house.  More fruits, more fruits, more fruits!!!






UPDATE!  So I finally got some fruit from my Wax Jambu tree!  These aren't quite ripe yet, but I've had some that were and they were pretty good.  These fruits aren't terribly sweet.  They are a bit odd--they're crispy, airy, and a bit bland but also really refreshing especially during a hot summer day.





Blood oranges, baby!!!  When I was in Italy on vacation a few years ago, I was totally taken aback by the red color and unique taste of blood oranges.  Fast forward a few years and I find myself trying out a carbonated drink at Trader Joe's--blood orange soda.  The taste was amazing!  Now whenever I'm thirsty, I have to cheesily declare to anyone listening that I want a "refreshing beverage".  For those in the know, they automatically get that I'm talking about blood orange soda.  Of course with my obsession about growing fruit, I checked online and found out that even though blood oranges probably originated from Sicily, they have been growing quite well in San Diego.   I made a few phone calls, found myself a dwarf blood orange tree, got out the shovel and got to work.  Hopefully I'll be enjoying the literal fruits of my labor next season! 


While at the citrus section at the local nursery, I couldn't resist and got myself a small Key Lime tree (aka Mexican Lime).  Apparently, these limes are supposed to have a stronger aromatic flavor than regular Tahitian/Persian/Bearss limes.  The leaves and budding flowers did smell stronger than regular limes.  Yum!

UPDATE:  I actually had a chance to try a few of these key limes squeezed right on top of some sweet hawaiian papayas purchased from the market.  UMMMMMM!!!





I was eating some yellow passionfruit and while I was looking at the seeds, the idea came to me that I should make like the first homosapien that decided he was sick of hunting and gathering and get into this cultivating food thing.  I was unsure if it would work, but I decided to try it out anyway.  Planting the seeds in this starter peat tray, watering and checking up on it everyday reminded me of those experiments with growing pinto beans in elementary school.  All I was missing was was juice box and PB&J sandwiches!  To my excitement, the seeds sprouted after a few weeks!





Fast forward a few weeks later and those very same saplings shot up under the ideal conditions in my kitchen garden window.  No fruits yet, but come on let's be reasonable--patience and fruits will come in their own due time.  








Well, patience is a virtue, but temptation can also be a strong motivating factor.  Again, at the local nursery I couldn't believe that they had passionfruit vines for sale!  Of course this is a different variety than the ones I've been growing from seed--these are the purple variety (Frederick passionfruit).  Within a week of planting the vine into the ground, the flowers started to open.  Passionfruit flowers are the weirdest looking things--beautiful but almost alien-like.  But by now you should have gotten the idea--it's all about the fruit.  I'm crossing my fingers and hoping this flower will become the fruit that I crave!






UPDATE:  My first few passionfruit flowers looked cool, but quickly dried up with no fruits.  I was pretty bummed, but then I ran across this awesome website dedicated solely to growing passionfruit.  Basically the author of the site is THE PASSIONFRUIT GURU!  His website is incredibly detailed and informative.  I had the good fortune to ask him a few questions and he was extremely helpful.  In any case, with his and his website's help, I was able to figure out how to hand pollinate these passionfruit flowers.  Sure enough, within a few weeks I started getting passionfruits sprouting out like crazy.  Here's a shot of one of them to the right.  After my recent success getting the flowers to set fruit, I've been joking around with my friends and family that I'm a good facilitator of good passionfruit plant sex!  I know, I'm a big dork.



UPDATE:  And if you're wondering how the rest of the passionfruit plant is doing, well BAMMMMM!  Here it is.  This thing grows like crazy.  I guess I picked a good spot for it to grow.  I have to admit that the vine is getting a bit unruly as it wants to spread out everywhere.  But that's not too big of a deal as, I dedicated this area for it to grow and I can always cut it down to size when it gets too unruly.




Here are my little passion-filled babies all grown-up!  Contrary to common sense, shiny, unwrinkled passionfruits aren't really ripe yet.  It's better to wait until they wrinkle up before you can cut them up and dig in.  This particular variety turns purple when ripe.  Passionfruits aren't a full-fleshed fruit like other typical fruits, but a little bit goes a long way.  Just thinking about eating one is making my mouth feel all refreshed!




There are just some of the fruits of my labor last summer planting my passionfruit vines.  The next thing that I eventually need to learn is how to make my own sorbettos.  I've got all these fresh fruits that'll really make some awesome sorbets, gelato, ice cream!!!



Here's a shot of my self-watering planter that's gonna make me some sweet tasting strawberries later on this year!    I've never grown strawberries before, so hopefully this will work out.  I needed to make use of every available space, so using planters really were the way to go.  I made hanging brackets myself.  

To make the brackets, I started off taking a plain old coat hanger and various bends, basically adjusting through trial and error to get correct profile matching both the wall and the planter.  When that was completed, prepared 1/8" thick x various width mild steel flat bar.  To ensure that the brackets were uniform, I marked where I wanted each bend to be made.  Once the layout was done, all I had to do was prepare my bending setup.

A simple vise was all I needed to get started with my bends.  Here you can see a piece of flat bar being clamped between the jaws of the vise.  After lining up marks with the edge of the vise, I used some simple elbow grease (and grunts) to bend the mild steel.  It's actually really easy and surprisingly forgiving.  I didn't need some fancy press brake to get the job done. 

Here you can see the various bends take shape.  My only tip is that you really need to think out how the bends will work out ahead of time.  If you find it hard to visualize how the bends will look beforehand, take some thin scrap material (even cardboard or even paper) and create a sequence of bends as a test run.  This will save you a lot of time correcting an unwanted bend.

After making a few bends, my brackets were ready to go.  The only thing left was to give them a nice coat of paint for aesthetics as well as to keep the brackets from oxidizing in the elements.

Look at how much wall space I was able to utilize with my shop-made brackets and storebought self-watering planters!  And if you curious, these planters all have strawberry plants sprouting out!


UPDATE:  I fnally got my first strawberry!  This one was pretty small, but I was excited nevertheless.  I've been trying to grow various different cultivars and regular strawberries.  So I'll have to do a blind taste test.  But after realizing how gratifying it is to grow your own strawberries, I decided to order some alpine and musk strawberries.  I was told these strawberries have even more sweet strawberry flavor.  I'll keep my green fingers crossed and hope for next years crop to be plentiful!  

I guess when I pick up a new hobby, I can get a little obsessed.  During my planting every fruit possible phase, I couldn't pass up planting this Panache (or Tiger striped) Fig tree.  I can't say I'm enamoured by the taste of figs, but hey why not?!  I made sure to plant this fig tree in a container as I read that the roots are pretty invasive.  Hopefully, I can try out some figs later this summer.  When they are ripe, I'm thinking about cooking them in some chianti, lemon juice, and sugar and serving them with some ice cream.  I dont' know how that will taste, but I've tried that recipe with pears and it works great!


I had enough figs this year to try out that recipe I mentioned earlier.  Actually, I changed a few ingredients and used three different fig varieties that are now fruiting--Panache, Black Mission, Brown Turkey.  Poaching the figs slowly, I could feel myself almost drooling at the thought of how they'd taste.  They definitely didn't disappoint.  Some french vanilla ice cream topped with the figs and their accompanying sauce was just too amazing to describe in words.  I can't wait until next year's crop! 

If you've been bitten by the gardening bug or at the very least somewhat interested in growing fruits not commonly found in supermarkets, I'd highly recommend checking out the California Rare Fruit Growers website .  I just ran across their website during a google search.  I just signed up as a member and hopefully I'll be enjoying my first issue of their bi-monthly publication.  Wow!  I can't believe there's an actual association for people like me who are really into rare and/or tropical fruits!  Boy do I love the internet!

Speaking of growing rare fruits, this is the latest addition to my growing fruit "Orchard."  It didn't take a whole lot of convincing by the nurseryman for me buy this little gem called Jaboticaba.  It's a native Brazilian fruit tree that produces a grape-like looking fruit that sprouts out from the trunk of the tree.  I can't wait to see how the fruits turn out, but I was told it's slow growing.  So patience is in order.  I don't mind though, because as far as trees goes, it's an attractive looking tree.

Update:  I'm not joking when I say this tree is slow growing!  It took 3-4 years (I can't remember exactly) for this tree to finally bear its first fruit!  The cool think about this tree is that the fruit grows on the branch/trunk itself.

Here's the ripe fruit cut in half--boy was it tasty!  Hopefully next year I'll get a bigger harvest!

I liked this fruit so much that I had to plant another one at my house, but I figured I want this in a planter in case I should ever move and want to bring this tree along with me.  


I was able to plant the Jaboticaba because I decided to cut down one of my guava trees (photo right).  I know, I know, it seems like such a waste, but I have several guava trees growing already and this one didn't produce really awesome tasting fruit.  While I was digging out the stump, I came up with an idea of drying the stump and trunk and somehow incorporating it into a future piece of furniture.  I can't think of anything cooler than creating a truly heirloom piece of furniture that can also have the distinction of being made from wood grown literally just yards from The New Chinky Workshop. 

Don't worry, these guavas didn't come from the tree I cut down.  The momma tree that these boys came from is still alive and kicking. 

These are the Asian variety guavas.  They aren't as sweet as the smaller, softer yellow or strawberry variety guavas.  But their crunchy texture are enjoyable, very much like eating a granny smith apple.  Just for some perspective, I placed a US quarter next to these behemoths.  Freakishly huge guavas, no?



After reading various articles about the virtues of organic gardening and why the use of compost is so vital for healthy, strong plants I decided to add composting to my arsenal of hobbies.  I'm not going to go into the in's and out's of composting too much (there are tons of websites for that already), but I'll give a quick rundown of my thoughts and my personal experiences with making my own compost.  

Basically there are two types of composting:  

(1)  Throw everything in a pile and let bacteria decompose organic "stuff" (or in Ron Popeil's immortal words, "Set it and Forget it!").  This is great if you want to compost a lot of kitchen or yard waste and you'll get more fresh compost to use in your garden too!

(2)  Worm Composting/Vermicomposting.  This is a great way to compost if you're limited with space and the worm castings & tea that are a byproduct of this product has got to be the richest fertilizer in the entire world (including both organic and chemical fertilizers).

There are pros and cons with both methods.  I went back and forth on which one to employ and ultimately decided on using both!  So now I get the large composting capacity of a traditional bacterial driven composter and the extra nutrient rich fertilizing power of worm castings and tea from vermicomposting (plus my worms are sort of my other "pets"). 

I could have built a simple wire or wood bin, but as luck would have it, Costco was selling this compost bin and it was just one of those "It had to be destiny" moments.  Even though it wasn't super cheap (though a real bargain compared to other stores) I'm happy with the purchase.  So this big bad boy is my organic waste receptacle.  I find myself tossing a kitchen scrap pail of organic waste almost once a day into this bin.  Plus any time I generate yard waste, I just toss it in here.  It's amazing how a little thing like composting has reduced how much stuff I actually send out to the landfill.  I placed the bin next to my trash cans in full exposure to the sun.  For this type of composting, the more heat you can create the better.  The warm Southern California weather and the black plastic bin means I'll be able to get my compost to cook almost all year long!

To maximize the return on this compost bin, I thought of a great way to easily harvest compost tea.  I know you're supposed to mix compost with water and let it "brew" to encourage beneficial bacterial growth.  But I knew that a bin like this will likely generate some sort of "juice" on its own.  So why not devise a way of collecting the stuff and using it to water my plants.  With that idea in mind, I built a platform out of 2x4's onto which the bin would rest.  This left space for some shallow trays to sit directly beneath the compost bin.  Whenever I notice that the trays have collected some compost "juice", I empty it into a bucket, add some water, and then use it as a liquid fertilizer.  Does it this stuff really work?  You bet it does, I noticed within a week that the plants I fertilized with this compost tea had fresh new green growth.

The only drawback with this type of stationary bin is it's a bit difficult to turn the pile of compost to introduce air.  The introduction of oxygen to the compost pile is a must to ensure the aerobic bacteria can do their work.  To make the job easier I bought myself a commercial compost turning tool.  It worked well enough, but I the more I obsessed at my gardening supply catalogs the more I lusted after one of those compost tumblers.  It's beyond my understanding why these tumblers cost so much.  I almost convinced myself I needed to buy one of these tumblers until I smacked myself upside my head and remembered that this is exactly the kind of problem that requires The New Chinky Workshop ingenuity.   


So here's my homemade compost tumbler.  I happened to have an old plastic barrel that I've been using to collect rain water.  I didn't have a lid for it, but I made a simple locking plywood lid.  After drilling some holes for better aeration and a fresh coat of black paint, I just needed to some way of mounting the barrel for easy tumbling.  I don't much ground space and decided the best solution would be to weld up a mobile stand for my compost tumbler.  So here it is!  The tumbler works well, especially considering it cost me all of $10 for the casters and some miscellaneous hardware.  I use this tumbler as the second stage of my bacterial composting.  I noticed that while the upright compost bin (photo above) handles a lot of material, the top of the bin tended to decompose more slowly while the bottom of the bin tended to be further along the decomposing process.  To speed things up a bit, I now shovel out the bottom contents of the bin into my tumbler, flip it every couple of days, and let nature do its work.  It seems that under warm temperatures, it takes about two to three weeks to get finished usable compost once I transport organic matter from the big bin to the tumbler.


Here are my worm composting bins.  First off, this type of composting has different requirements than the Ron Popeil method of composting.  Worms live in these bins and they tend to like cooler temperatures.  So unlike my other compost bin, I placed these worm bins in the shade where it's nice and cool.  And since the worms do the work for you, you have to treat a little bit like a pet.  Be sure to feed the little guys.  I can't compost as much stuff with this method, but the worms do eat their own body weight worth of food each and every day!  It's actually really easy to take care of these guys.  I throw in kitchen scraps (everything except meat, dairy products, anything oily, and orange peels).  Some stale bread or some banana peels and watermelon rinds once every week seems to keep the worms multiplying like crazy.  When I need some worm tea, I just turn the spigot and let the miracle juice drain out.  I have yet to harvest the worm castings (I guess that's a fancy way of saying "poop"), but I'll get around to it eventually. 

Maybe it's an economy of scale issue, but for whatever reason, commercial worm bins are really expensive.  When you think about it, they're made of nothing more than plastic.  I did a google search for homemade compost bins and saw some made from big rubbermaid bins.  while those look fine, I didn't want to pay $8-$20 bucks for each plastic bin.  I figured there had to be a cheaper way to make some more bins.  I just happened to have a bunch of leftover 5 gallon buckets (some had holes in them).  

So I helped the process along and drilled some more holes along the bottom and the bottom 2" side wall of the buckets.

The photo size is a bit small to see clearly, but there are a bunch of red wiggler worms eating away at my kitchen garbage.

The great thing is the buckets naturally nest into one another and the whole thing didn't cost me a penny.  I suppose if you had to buy some buckets, each bucket costs about $2.50 at your local big box store.  You really need 2-3 buckets, but they can be stacked up (mine stacks up 5 levels up) if you want a multi-level bin.  

If you want to make one of these bins, here are the quick and dirty instructions.  Keep your bottom bucket whole and intact (do NOT drill any holes).  You can install a spigot in the bottom bucket, but I didn't bother.  Then drill holes in the bottoms of your other buckets. I found 1/8" to 1/4" holes seem to work.  Then drill holes roughly 1/16" in diameter (small enough to prevent worms from escaping) into the bucket lid.  Then load up your buckets with bedding material, worms, and kitchen waste (excluding dairy, meats, fats, and oils), slap on the lid and let the little guys get to work!

If the thought of dealing with worms disturbs you, trust me--all the research out there says worm castings (aka worm poop) and worm tea (or what I'd like to affectionately call "worm juice") is the most effective fertilizer out there and it's completely organic to boot!  Don't believe me?  Well, I figured the stuff was pretty fertile, but when I put my eaten mango pit in one of the worm bins pictured above the results had me just shaking my head.  The weird looking image to the left was what popped up inside the bin after only a couple of weeks--an actual mango seedling!  How's that for some powerful SH_T (literally and figuratively).



Bubbling cauldron containing eye of newt, wart of toad, and ear of bat?  No, no, this isn't for a Halloween prop.  I followed an online recipe on how to brew my own compost tea.  To be clear, I already had worm tea in concentrated form already.  But seeing as how I love to try new things, I tried to make the beneficial bacteria in this worm tea multiple faster.  So I began by adding de-chlorinated water (just pour tap water into a bucket and let it sit out in the sun for a day or two to get rid of the chlorine) to my concentrated worm tea.  I added a little bit of molasses (I actually had a really old bottle of it that I never use--don't ask my how or why I still had it), then I used a cheap aquarium pump to add bubbles.  Add a little patience and poof...tons of beneficial bacteria and some mighty potent organic liquid fertilizer!


Gardening with Self-Watering Containers

I don't have nearly as much gardening space as I'd like, but I think lots of other folks are in the same boat.  There's much you can do if you're stuck with lots of concrete, no patio, no patch of dirt to call your own...but then again, that's why container gardening is becoming really popular.  Regular container gardening (simple pots with a hole in the bottom for drainage) works fine for lots of plants, but I don't have the time to be sure to water my plants daily.  That's where self-watering containers are the way to go.  They aren't 100% self-watering.  You still have to fill them up with water every few days depending on the plant, the local weather, etc.  I look at them as somewhat of an insurance policy for gardeners--you can forget to water you plants for a few days and things will still be just peachy.


There are lots of different styles and models of self-watering containers, but here's one that I purchased online.  This is the basic kit that gets you started.  The terra cotta plastic tub has no holes for drainage.  This tub holds water like a reservoir.  The black plastic item sits inside the tub, suspending your plants and dirt from the water.  Well, that's partially true.  The four horizontal slots in the black plastic stand allows some of the dirt to be in contact with the reservoir's water supply.  The theory is that when your plants need water, the dirt that is contact with the water will help facilitate water movement to the plant's roots through capillary action.  Finally, there's a water level gauge that lets you know when you need to refill the container.

This unit is ready to go as is if you want to garden indoors, but for outdoor gardening, a little modification is in order.  The instructions called for using a set of pliers to pull off some tabs to allow excess water to drain out of the pot.  Allowing for excess drainage is important because if you're putting your container outdoors, you don't want a rainstorm to flood and destroy your container garden.  Luckily for me, The New Chinky Workshop arsenal of tools were at my disposal.  Actually, the required tools here are pretty commonplace.  I installed a twist bit into my cordless drill and drilled a hole in the top of the cone shown to the right.


Here's an after shot showing a drainage hole at the top of the cone shown to the left.  The idea is simple--water can be filled up to the top of the cone.  In the event that there's a rainstorm or some gardenhose watering fiend on the loose, you need not worry.  Any excess water will drain out, leaving your plant's roots safe from drowing and suffocating to death.



A quick turn of the garden hose filled up this container.  Here you can see how the water level rises up until the top of the two cones.  This container provides a whopping 4 gallons of water reserves.  It the summer, all this extra water will help ensure that my plants won't dry out 

If you look carefully, you can see the ripples from the water located inside each of the vertial slots in the black plastic.  Most of your garden soil will be sitting on the top of this black plastic platform, safe from being waterlogged.  However some of the dirt will be packed into each of the four slots.  It's the dirt located in these slots that facilitate a wicking action, drawing much needed water to your plant's roots.  Well, that's the theory anyway.  I can't wait to see if this really works. 

The next step is to insert the waterl level gauge into the semi-circular opening (shown above located at about 3 o'clock).  It's critical that you insert the water level gauge now as once you start adding dirt, you don't want to play around with the water level gauge.  Doing so may result in dirt preventing the gauge from functioning properly.

Once you add garden soil to the container you won't be able to tell how much water is in the reservoir.  That's where this little gauge does the trick.  The black toothpick looking thing insde the white plastic tube (left) bobs up and down depending on the water level.  As you can see, with my container filled with water, the gauge almost reads "Max". 

To save space, I figured why not fire up the workshop and make something quick and dirty.  So here it is--my self-watering planter cart.  I picked up some scrap 2x4 lumber from a construction site (during work) and got to work.  I probably made the top shelf a bit too high, but I wasn't sure how much clearance I needed to ensure plenty of sunshine would reach the bottom planter.  Oh well, I'm not planning on moving this guy very often, so it's no big deal.  But just FYI, the casters I installed run smoother than softened buttah!  You can see that the top planter already has a good crop of mesclun salad greens ready for my greedy stomach to make into good "rough-age"!    I'm still trying to figure out what I'm gonna grow on the bottom planter--what do you think?  Strawberries, more mesclun salad, tomotoes, shiso leaves?  Ah, the beauty of growing one's own food!

I know growing tomatoes isn't all that exciting when you don't get to sample some, but I had to boast about these little gems.  These are black cherry tomatoes.  Their color is a bit off--when ripe, they don't turn bright red, but instead have a dark red/purple color.  But that saying about not judging a book by its cover (or in this case not judging a tomato by its color) is absolutely true.  The flavor is amazingly sweet.  This is by far, my favorite cherry tomato.  I've also grown sweet 100's, yellow pear cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and some of the large variety tomatoes.  But 10 out of 10 tastes buds (all of which reside on my tongue ) agree that black cherry tomatoes have the best flavor!  The only possible complaint one might have is the skin a bit thicker than other cherry tomatoes, but I actually like the added crunch/texture that the thicker skin provides. 



Despite friendly warnings about how aggressive watermelon vines can get, I decided to try my  hand at growing watermelon.  As is the case, with woodworking, why go through the trouble of growing regular watermelon when you buy it at the store?  So, I searched various seed catalogues and decided to grow yellow flesh watermelon.  The photo to the right is of my first watermelon.  I wasn't sure how it would look or taste, so I was really curious. 


A quick whack of my cleaver and voila!  Yellow-flesh watermelon!  So you're wondering if it was sweet and juicy!  .............

..........ooops, sorry.  I couldn't respond just now (*wiping the watermelon juice/drool off my chin*)!




I don't only grow edible plants, although food consumption is a major driving factor.  I am quite fond of food and cooking.  But ever since a couple summers ago, I kept thinking back to sitting on my bench glider on a summer evening smelling the sweet lingering aroma of jasmine in the night air.  Unfortunately, at the end of the summer, my pops decided the plant looked dead and proceeded to pull the darn thing up.  After a couple of summers with only the memory of that smell, I decided it was about time I did something to bring back that memory to life.  So with the help of my mom, I was able to locate a gardener (at the local farmer's market no less) that had some jasmine plants for sale.  A little TLC and B-U-L-L-_-_-_-_ (aka manure), and I've got some healthy jasmine flowers blooming next to the bench glider.  *Cue The Isley Brothers' song "Summer Breeze" * So now, the sweet smell of jasmine lingers in the summer night air.  Oh how sweet it is!!! 

By now you've probably guessed that I like to try my hand at new things.  So of course, it was only a matter time before I dabbled in organic gardening and making my own compost.  I wanted neat, enclosed plastic compost bin because I don't have the space or distance away from my neighbors to build my own open compost pile.  After doing some online window shopping, I was shocked to see how simple plastic bins were ridiculously expensive.  Maybe it's an issue of compost bins not quite reaching an economy of scale pricing.  I mean really, I can't imagine shelling out $500 just to have a place to throw away my kitchen and yard scraps.  Alas, composting was in my destiny as the composting gods had me run across a $60 jumbo sized compost bin at my local Costco.  This thing is huge and fits the bill perfectly.  To maximize the utility of my bin, I decided I wanted to harvest compost tea.  If you ask me, that's just a fancy way to avoid calling it what it is....compost juice.  I can picture it now...a bunch of Victorian Age ladies saying, "It's compost tea time dearie.  Shall we or shan't we have crumpets?"  Okay, so to make harvesting the compost tea easier I elevated the bin by sitting it on top a simple frame I made with 2x4's.  I then placed four shallow trays to catch any liquid.  I have to admit, compost idea does look kind of nasty, but the stuff really works.  I poured some on my slow growing Australian finger lime plant and I noticed new growth within a week!  As for the smell...I was worried about it, so I placed my compost bin right next to my garbage can.  I figured decomposing compost can't smell any worse than garbage!  But actually, once I got the correct ratio between green materials (kitchen scraps) and brown materials (dried leaves, shredded newspaper) my compost didn't really smell. 

Why stop at composting when you can go that extra step and also have worm composting in your repertoire.  While I was researching vermicomposting I found out that Los Angeles County offers free workshops to home gardeners covering the topics of composting, vermicomposting, and water-wise gardening.  As an added bonus, they even sell compost bins and worm compost bins at reduced prices.  After being a good student at the workshop, I shelled out some dough and got these two worm bins.  What's really amazing is that there's absolutely no smell with worm bins.  And even though it does require a little work to keep the worms producing worm castings (fancy name for soil enriching worm poop) it's well worth it.  Besides, now I have both tortoises and compost worms as pets!

While worm poop (I like saying that instead of worm castings) is super rich for plants (it's supposed to be the world's best fertilizer--and it's organic to boot), I was more excited at the prospect of brewing my own worm tea.  I know, I know, it may sound a little gross, but if you're dreaming of tasty tomatoes, vibrant orange trees, and pest free peaches this holy gardener's liquid is the way to go.  The liquid byproduct contained in the bottom of the worm bin can be poured out, diluted and sprayed onto your plants.  Of course, I wanted to maximize this resource so I added some non-chlorinated water to the worm tea and tried to create an environment where the beneficial bacteria could multiply and make my liquid "fertilizer" work even harder.  The photo (right) might look nasty, but it shows a couple of important things.  To make this an ideal environment for the little buggers to multiply I did the following:  I added some molasses to provide food for the beneficial bacteria; hooked up a cheap $7 aquarium pump and bubbling stone to aerate the brew for aerobic bacteria to thrive; used a stick to stir up mix every so often.  After a day or so, I had an all-natural, completely organic bucket full of plant muscle juice!  And really, you can't buy this brew in stores.  The nature of worm tea (it's the living bacteria that's so great for plants) just doesn't allow for bottling.  You have to just let the bacteria live and grow.  Again, the worm tea doesn't smell either.  The funny thing is if you've managed to not aerate your worm tea and created a haven for anaerobic bacteria, all is not lost.  You no longer have a plant enriching natural fertilizer, but instead have a sulphur smelling, all natural herbicide!  Nature is just amazing.