Make Your Own Insect Repellent

Insect Repellent SprayWith summer in full swing and outdoor activities such as camping and barbecues being high on the todo list the ongoing annoyance of bugs and insects can often ruin an enjoyable day. Earlier we spoke about how to reduce the mosquito population at your house, today we will look at a DIY Insect Repellent that contains houshold items that make it cheap to make and safer than most commercial sprays.

Commercial Repellents:

When used as directed, commercial insect repellents can stop mosquitoes and other biting insects. When you use too much repellents can be harmful to your health. Here are some popular chemicals that are used in Commercial Repellents, from this you can decide what is best for your family.

DEET

DEET is one of the most widely used chemicals as a mosquito repellent. DEET can produce skin and eye irritation. DEET also will penetrate skin and can, in some instances after long term exposure, affect the central nervous system. In some individuals, slurred speech, confusion and seizures have occurred.

Permethrin

Permethrin is another repellent intended for treating clothing and other items, such as tents, sleeping bags and other gear made of fabric. Permethrin can cause eye irritation. Permethrin has been classified as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” if ingested.

P-mentane-3,8-diol

P-menthane-3,8-diol may have some associated health hazards. It has been found that long-term skin exposure produces microscopic kidney lesions as well as skin redness and swelling and may cause genetic damage.

DIY Insect Repellent:

For this repellent we will need the following 5 items:

  • Detol Disinfectant Liquid ($11 per 750ml)
  • Methylated Spirits ($6 per 1L)
  • Baby Oil ($9.5 per 500ml)
  • Funnel
  • Atomiser spray bottle ($2 to $5)

Method:

Using the funnel, pour equal parts of Detol, Methylated Spirits and Baby Oil into the spray bottle.

Put the lid on the spray bottle and shake vigorously for 1 minute.

The mixture is now ready to use. Make sure you label it clearly as Insect Repellent to avoid misuse.

Rum BBQ Sauce Recipe

Fancy adding a little spice to your steak? This is one of my favourite sauce recipes and it’s so easy to make.

I try to make this sauce at least once a year, making a couple of litres at a time. The key is to let it cook for at least 12 hours. Makes 3 cups.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of dark rum (I use Bundaberg Rum)
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon hot chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Peel and crush the garlic, set aside for 5 minutes. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat; add the diced onion and garlic and sauté. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and all dry ingredients. Stir and simmer for at least one hour, the longer the better!

Sterilise jars and lids. Add hot sauce to hot jars and cap immediately. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.


Potato Tower: Harvest

After watching the tops go yellow for a week, today was the day to do the big harvest. Who would have thought that four months had passed since the build stage of the potato tower?


Above you can see the yellowing stalks and leaves, a sure sign that things are coming to an end inside the bin.

A gentle shove, and a few potatoes spill out onto the ground.

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My total harvest, not as big or as productive as I had hoped. 🙁

A whopping great 1.5kg of potatoes…

What a learning experience this has been, I have a long way to go before I catch up to my grandfather who grew bulk potatoes for wholesale. Not bad for a half arsed first try.

While the total cost to produce these potatoes was $12/kg (not too bad considering they can be as much as $6/kg in the supermarket), there are some simple things will do next time to increase my yields:

  • More dirt / compost in the bottom of the bin
  • Water more regularly
  • Fertilise more regularly (including seaweed extract)
  • Put straw on top in small regular amounts instead of 1ft every three weeks
  • Build the bin higher as the leaves grow
  • Insulate the inside to prevent too much heat transfer

This was a really worthwhile experience that I would recommend to any one, especially people with young children. I did get a tad excited picking them and I’m well over half way to 50, must be a big kid at heart.

Aquaponics

What do you get when you cross a tank full of fish and a vegetable garden?

You get a very productive food producing system called Aquaponics!

Over the weekend I ducked down to my local nursery and ordered a Balcony Kit aquaponics setup. I wish I had the balcony to put it on, but the kit is small enough to fit comfortably in a small space. Measuring only 2.7m by 1.5m and 97cm  high there are three grow beds that have the capacity to feed three people consistently (both fish and veggies).

Aquaponics works on the theory of growing plants in an inert media such as expanded clay pebbles with an ebb and flow water system, as is done in an hydroponic setup. The similarities of the two systems end there. Where hydroponics requires the regular addition of nutrients to the water, aquaponics uses fish to create nutrients.

The system works by adding fish food to the water, the fish eat the food, their by products are pumped into grow beds where natural bacteria turn ammonia into nitrogen which plant roots suck up and grow prolifically. Nutrient free water is then drained back into the tank for the process to start again.

Not only do you get a supply of vegetables, but as the fish grow to plate size you can take them to the kitchen as well!

So why am I giving away growing most of my vegetables in dirt you ask? Living in a tropical environment there are many problems I have found when growing in dirt, I’ve had more than my fair share of fungus, mealy bugs, weeds, birds, ants, weeds etc to deter the most enthusiastic gardener from even trying to get their plot growing to any kind of respectable standard. Not to forget over watering, under watering, over fertilising, under fertilising, digging the soil, conditioning the soil… the list goes on!

Call me lazy, but given my hectic work schedule these days the time to spend in the vegetable garden is getting limited (especially in the cooler months with less daylight hours!). I’ve see aquaponics as a way of getting the best food home grown food for my family as I can with less time input, or working smarter instead of harder!

So you can only grow leafy greens in aquaponics?
Not at all, many forums such as AquaponicsHQ and BackyardAquaponics have members that have had great success with root vegetables such as Beetroot & Carrot. Other popular vegetables include Corn, Peas, Beans, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Chili, Capsicum, Lettuce, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Egg Plant, Celery, Strawberries… Murray from Aquaponics.net.au has even grown a PawPaw tree!

Added Nutrients:
As the system is almost closed, the fish food is the only main additive, there can be times where plants become stressed due to nutrient deficiencies. Iron, Magnesium and boron deficiencies can be common, especially when your plants are getting large. Cheelated Iron, Epsom salts and borax can all be added safely (in small quantities) to the water without detriment to the fish. To reduce the need for additional nutrients a high quality fish food with a full range of minerals should be used.

Pest control:
Unlike dirt gardening, where you can get away with a squirt of insecticide now and then, any form of pest control in an aquaponics system must be organic. Should you go through with a dose of insecticide there will be a tank of floating fish. White oil, chili and garlic sprays and diluted milk will be you new best friends.

The planting density in an Aquaponics setup can be fairly thick given the even spread of nutrients from the water. Reports from forums state that you can plant most things at around half to 1/3 of the spacings that are recommended for dirt gardening. This won’t apply to plants such as cabbage or possibly tomatoes which spread to a large size.

Right now, I’ve got the area measured up, some seedlings getting ready to transplant, and another week or so to wait till my kit turns up!

Potato Tower: Update

Its been three weeks since the build stage of my potato tower!

Potato tower 2After removing a heap of weeds that popped their heads up early, the potatoes began to show through and have developed well. Keeping in line with the plan I’ve put down a layer of hay on top to cover them up so they will continue to push through and grow clean potatoes amongst the hay.

At the base there is a micro irrigation dripper that will deliver 4 litres per hour to the base of the plants, but I expect that over time I will need to add some water to the top to ensure the spuds grow to a good size. A good liquid fertiliser from time to time will also give the plant a much needed boost.

Here is an alternative to my Potato Tower that I found on YouTube.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-0naLDO5yc]

Compost Tumbler Update

It’s been 14 days since I filled my Tumbleweed Compost Tumbler with grass clippings and horse manure. With a tumble or two each day the contents became very hot (too hot to touch one day) and has turned to a nice earthy brown colour with a sweet smell. The heat generated in the bin will be enough to sterilise any weed seeds that get put in, so there is no limit to what you compost!

Compost

Turning the bin can be a bit of a challenge when it’s completely full, but as the days go by the volume reduces due to the decomposing material. After the 14 days there appears to be a ~50% reduction in volume, leaving me with 110 liters of great compost.

My next challenge will be finding enough material in the yard to fill the bin every two weeks. There is already a stockpile of brown material such as leaves and old lawn clippings to add to the bin along with kitchen scraps and horse manure, but the continued supply may be an issue.

Over the next couple of months I will experiment with different materials in the bin and see how they compost.

How to Compost – Videos

Sitting in the airport yesterday while being delayed, there happened to be a free wifi connection available (thanks Qantas Club!). 7 hours of delay gave me plenty of time to browse through some great YouTube videos on my iPod Touch.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVZeVGi_jqs]

This one armed bandit doesn’t let his injury stop him making compost. Using two lawn mowers to break down the leaves and garden waste into compost sized pieces.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgM1mJJbOz0]

Knowing when your compost is finished is very important. Some great tips.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsUmmBaZUvI]

Some great tips for creating a compost pile.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJYzoqOgq4A]

Composting in a plastic bin, down to basics explanation on how to do it, not how it works.

Hopefully these tips will give you and your compost bin a boost in the coming days.

10 free garden boosting activites

While sitting on an aeroplane a couple of days ago, I came up with a list of things that I could do when I got home that will not cost much to do, and will boost my garden.

Collect horse manure – My friend owns two horses, I regularly go and ‘clean up’ her paddock for her, taking home at least one ute load of horse manure to dig into my garden beds.

Rake leaves and compost them – Most compost heaps don’t have enough ‘brown’ matter in them, rake up all of your leaves and run over them with your lawn mower to break them up, then throw them into your compost heap.

Dry leafy prunings, shake leaves off as mulch – Recently I’ve began to leave the branches I prune in the garden beds. Coming back a week later I shake the leaves from the branches back beneath the  plant they came from. Easy mulch!

Burn old wood & spread cold ashes – Having old timber lying around your yard can attract termites, it can promote wood rot and is a haven for snakes to live in. Burn those old logs in a fireplace and spread the cold ashes over your garden. It will raise the pH, provide Potassium for your garden.

Collect sticks from bush and make a climbing frame or tomato frame – No need to spend money on tomato stakes, you can collect as many as you need from the forest or bush around your house.

Start a compost heap – Just in case you haven’t got one, you can build a compost heap to break down all the leaves, lawn clippings and kitchen scraps in your yard.

Make scrooge bottles – These are great for saving water in the garden. I have one beside my lemon tree, one beside my watermelon vine and one beside my passionfruit vine. I fill them up with water every three or four days, they provide water directly to the roots.

Collect rocks from the bush to edge the new garden – My new garden bed requires some edging, there is a small spot way out bush that has some great rocks for edging. Half a ute load should be enough to keep the flowers in.

Use garden fork to aerate lawn – Over time the soil that the lawn grows in gets compacted, by using a garden fork to puncture holes and break up the soil the soil can breathe and the water can penetrate deep into the root zone. Doing this will give you better lawns that require less water.

Collect cuttings from the park to propagate – While walking in my local park I occasionally snap off a small piece of plant to take home and propagate. This is a really cheap way to multiply your plant population.

Make weed tea – Lots of weed seeds can live through the composting process, instead of sending them off to landfill, take a 20 litre bucket and fill it up with weeds and then with water. Leave it sit for two weeks until it turns black and the weeds die. Dilute this brew down and pour on the soil around your plants to give them a boost.

Vegetable Garden Sunshade

IMG_0599Following on from the post ‘Summer Australian Garden’, my vegetable garden has been taking a beating from the sun. The tomato leaves are a bit frazzled and the beans are getting crispy. I’ve just finished the construction of my new shade tunnel; garden cover.

Using three lengths of poly (polyethylene) pipe around 4m long, six star pickets and 7m of 70% UV reduction shade cloth I have created a shade tunnel over my vegetable garden.

Start by banging the star pickets into the ground then sliding the poly pipe over the top of one side then bending it over to form a hoop. Make as many of these as you require, I used three and placed them ~3m apart.
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Connect your shade cloth at one end, securing it with wire or zippy ties (use UV stabilised ones), then drape the shade cloth over all of the hoops and securing at the other end.

Since construction I have noticed that the humidity is higher in my vegetable patch, I hope this helps the growth of the vegetables, I know it will help the pests and diseases thrive!

Here is a photo of the clouds that look like rain, but are just teasing.
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Recycle old socks and Soft drink bottles

Instructables.com would have to be one of my favorite websites, as it encourages people to get out and create things from stuff that is laying around. I would love to be a teenager again having plenty of spare time and all of my fathers tools to get stuck into a couple of projects each week.

A simple search for Gardening revealed hundreds of different projects for you to build. Here are three that jumped out at me today:

Scrooge Bottle – A great water saving device built to plant beside water loving plants. It is simple to make and cheap to construct, and is a great way to recycle old socks and soft drink bottles.

Pipe tools – creating a great planting trowel / shovel out of some steel water pipe is the best and cheapest way I’ve seen to create gardening tools.

Easy Garden labels – a thrifty student has used plastic spoons to make sturdy and long lasting plant labels.

So how about we all get out there and start creating things from old materials to make our lives in the garden easier.