LED grow lights on the cheap

March 3, 2016 5 comments


With all our little seedlings popping up all over the place, I needed some grow lights in a hurry.  In the past I’ve used shop lights from the local big-box hardware store, as well as an official fluorescent grow light – I think I got it from Gardens Alive.  It worked great, but it was very expensive; and this year the bulb got broken.  Tired of constantly buying new bulbs all the time, I looked into LED grow lights.  EXPENSIVE!!!!

So, I thought I’d engineer one myself, in my low-budget way.  I needed something that would be LED-based- to save on power consumption; water-resistant- plants do require moisture; cheap- obviously; and easy to store- since we only use them for a short time each year.  So I came up with something based off of a product I don’t really like – plasticor.  That’s that corrugated plastic stuff that all those political campaign signs are made of.  But it’s light, sturdy, water resistant, and reasonably priced.  I picked some up at my local sign shop, and they even cut it to the size I needed for me.  Since I didn’t care about the color, I got an even better deal on them.

Here’s my bill of materials to make 1 light:

  • 1 piece of plasticor, cut to the size I need on my growing shelf.
  • 1 set of stick-on LED lights (ordered from Amazon)
  • A length of mule tape – you can use rope, or chain – I just had this laying around
  • A 12 volt power adapter – again, had one a bunch laying around



I used a soldering iron to melt the holes in the plasticor that I needed for the mule tape and the LED strip’s power cord.  You could probably use a hole punch, or a knife, or scissors, but the soldering iron make a nice neat round hole.  This is the view from the top side.25479556245_b8a28acdbb_z

I tied a piece of mule tape, cut twice the width of the plasticor at each end, thru the holes I’d “drilled” with the soldering iron.  I then slid the plug for the LED strip thru the center hole.

On the other side, I started the adhesive for the LED’s and ran them in a sorta-circular pattern sticking them down tight to the plasticor.  They don’t make sharp bends very well, I tried to do square corners on 1 of the others I made, but it didn’t come out very well.  Here’s the LED’s all stuck down and ready to light up.25361241742_b4cf981f92_z

And here it is plugged in to the 12 volt power supply.25184107560_4c7f136218_z

Here it is hanging on the shelf over the seedlings, providing the light they need to grow and thrive.25114747769_f6bd675b4f_b

I simply tied another piece of mule tape to the loop that I made, and then tied that to the shelf at the height I want.  It’s adjustable so they can be raised up as the seedlings get taller.  Once we’re finished starting our seedlings, these should store nicely; taking up a lot less space, plus without having to worry about broken bulbs.

All together, each grow light cost about $14 in materials that I had to buy, and took approximately 10 minutes apiece to assemble.  To purchase a pre-built LED grow light would cost $35 or more apiece, and take up 4 times as much space.  We should see a decrease in the power usage as well, 24855509763_5c4d634370_zsince these are LED lights.  Each strip of 150 LED’s draws 24 watts, and provides PLENTY of light.  If you look in the window at night, our pantry is VERY bright.  I have the power connected to a power “strip” so I can just switch them all off when we go to bed at night.  Hopefully this bit of engineering helps someone out, and gives a jump start on getting the garden plants started.


Until next time…..

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Spring is getting ready to go “sproing”

March 2, 2016 Leave a comment


Each year, as the days get longer, we all start getting impatient for springtime to fully arrive. The outside projects start in earnest, cleaning up all the stuff that didn’t get cleaned up before cold weather,  whitewashing the fenceposts and the chicken coop, getting ready for the first batch of meat chickens, planting, pruning, and the dozens of other tasks that have to be done RIGHT NOW.


25046642769_982abd88e8The big push right now is remodeling the chicken coop.  It was in pretty bad shape this past winter – there was a hole in the roof big enough for me to stick my head through.  Last weekend Austin and I tore off the old plywood roof, and replaced it with some of the metal roofing that we  have laying around.  We had just enough so that we didn’t have to buy any roofing.  We’re also increasing the size of the coop, and adding a “nursery” for the (50) new laying hens that we bought a couple months ago.  We had a calf pen on the other side of the coop 24795682613_3615cc5633_bthat we’re expanding into.  All of the older children worked on the demolition of the old wall, cleaning out the winter’s accumulation of litter, and scrubbing the nesting boxes while Taya was busy whitewashing the inside.  Austin worked on building the addition, and hung the door from the old turkey pen.  It’s coming together quite well.  We have the outside run to finish this evening, and the nursery will be complete.



25260442212_ae50e13d24_cWe’ve added a Jersey calf to our collection of animals, and we’ve worked out a great arrangement with one of our neighbors.  They had a couple of very old horses, one of which had died, and they wanted something in the pasture with the remaining horse for company.  With some providential timing, we were able to move the calf in with the horse, along with Daisy – our donkey, and so far everyone is getting along fine.  The calf will provide our family with beef in a couple years, and he helps to keep the grass mowed in our neighbor’s pasture.25005697129_7f12e51c52_b

Since it will be time to plant sooner than we realize, we have literally hundreds of seeds started – kale, lettuces, peas, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, and even cucumbers.  I always make the mistake of putting the little plants outside too soon, and lose half of them to one of the infamous late frosts that we get in our little “holler”.  The last frost date according to the USDA map is 4/15; but there’s always several hard freezes for 2-3 weeks after that.  Hopefully this year our fruit trees will bear us some fruit.  The past 2 years they’ve gotten nipped by frost, just as they are fully budded out, and are most vulnerable.  We always try to save them by covering the buds and blossoms with every blanket, sheet, and piece of fabric we can round up, but the wind always blows it loose overnight, the frost settles on the flowers and kills them; usually the same night that I forget and leave the tomato plants out.  It’s a reminder that there is a power greater than us that controls creation around us, and we have to always be vigilant and pay close attention.


One of the reasons we’re starting so many seeds this year, is we have the goal of opening a produce stand/market on our property this year.  We’ve put in a total of 50 blueberry plants, are waiting on a few hundred strawberries to arrive, and are hopeful that the 15 grape 25053304559_095da39ff2_bvines do very well.  We have 50 new laying hens, and are planning on adding to our flock of ducks as well.  We’re hoping to produce enough for our family, and then have plenty to offer for sale.  We’ve done farmer’s markets, we’ve done other venues, and have decided it’s time to do it like we do everything else – our way.  We’re hoping put up a small building  at the end of our driveway, and offer flowers and plants, Taya’s soaps and lotions, fresh produce, pastured chicken, eggs; and whatever else we can think of.  We’ve got our “shingle” hung by the road; now hopefully we’ll be blessed with success in our venture.

There’s lots more going on, but not enough space and time for it all to fit here.  Lord willing, we’ll be adding updates a lot more frequently.  You can always check out our life in pictures at our Flickr site, as we upload photos there “as they happen”.  Hope everyone is doing well, and spring comes soon!


Until next time…..

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Around Here…..

February 11, 2016 2 comments

Yeah, I know – nothing for months, then 3 posts in one day.  So is life.  Let’s try and catch up with what’s been going on since last November.


At the beginning of December we enjoyed unseasonably warm weather, so we took the opportunity to do some outdoor work.  We spent several days clearing vines and undergrowth from our fruit orchard, and began to fence the remaining parts of the perimeter of our property.  We also knocked down the wooden fence at the front of the property, pulled up the fence posts, and took down the 24398358912_597645d900_bheavy wooden gates.  I had chosen the cheap way out on the fence and used untreated pine boards, and landscape timbers for posts.  Most of the boards rotted, and about 1/4 of the landscape timbers were beginning to rot, and break off at ground level.  We replaced that fence with woven wire, and found a super deal on 2 metal gates.  It ended up looking quite nice.


We celebrated the 14th anniversary of Hannah’s birth a couple weeks later, along with some friends (Hi Marino family) from Michigan that God brought into our life.  We enjoyed the time together with them greatly, and hope to be able to get together again soon.  The children chat almost every night.


Due to a previous water leak, the children’s bathroom floor had to be torn up and replaced.  That was an 23918736622_50806cac29_ointeresting project.  I’ve ripped out walls, and replaced roofs; but this is the first time I’ve ever had to opportunity to redo a floor.  It came out better than I had hoped.


On a whim, one Saturday afternoon we drove down to Myrtle Beach State Park and walked on the beach for a few hours.


It was enjoyable, but once the sun went down it got cold quickly.

24513768226_e925e31fde_zNear the tail end of January, we got our first snow of the winter season.  It was mainly sleet; as it almost always is in our neck of the woods, but the children still had a good time playing in it for a while.  It even lasted 3-4 days before the majority of it melted away.



The boys and I spent several weekends gathering firewood for next year.  We were blessed with about 6 pickup loads of red oak; all we had to do was split it, and give half of it to the property owner.  He even loaned us his Monster Maul to split the enormous rounds – I’m planning on investing in one of these soon.


24724600861_63d8b4b43b_bWe’ve continued to have odd weather, thunderstorms and flooding in the early part of February.  Of course the seasons still come each year, but they always hold a bit of a surprise for us; I guess to keep us from getting bored.



That pretty much catches us up to date on life here in our world.  I hope all is well with everyone who happens across our little corner of the internet.  Let me leave you with some nice chocolate Pi…..24853358291_a0dbdf2890_b

Until next time…..

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Daddy time….

February 11, 2016 Leave a comment


On a recent trip to town, I got to share a few minutes with my littlest.  Nothing like a hot cup of tea on a dreary day, and a couple of guys sitting outside in the rain watching cars go by.


Until next time…..

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February 11, 2016 1 comment

One thing we’ve had to come to accept in this life is loss.  Losses of all kinds; money, friends, tools, loved ones, and lately; animals.  It’s a hard lesson to learn as an adult, and I’m sure as children; especially on the older ones, it’s even more difficult. They’ve had a lot of losses over the years, and I know it’s been hard on them.  The past couple of months though, seems as though we’ve had a whole lot more:

Ian has put a lot of work into a natural rabbit pen, instead of the typic22985896953_ef74fec52e_oal wire pens.  This allows them to burrow into the ground like they do in the wild, but still be protected from predators, and allow us access to them.  Back about 6 weeks ago, his first litter of bunnies was born.   Sadly, within a week or so of their birth, we had torrential rains, and they drowned.  He worked hard to modify the housing before the next litter was born.  Sadly, the same thing happened.  He has not given up though; and I’m very proud that he’s willing to keep trying.

We ordered 60 new laying hens this year, to replace our geriatric hens that we’ve had for many years24373982980_d9d47f6083_m.  While we were waiting for the chicks to arrive in the mail, one of those old hens snuck off, went broody, and hatched out 4 little chicks.    The day that the hatchery chicks came we found one of 24595668061_05257ce0f6_mthe homestead-born chicks had gotten smothered up against a feed bag and died.  Then on top of that, for some unknown reason we lost almost 1/4 of the batch of hatchery chicks within the first couple days.  The hatchery replaced them all at no cost to us, but we still had that huge loss.

24828382222_300f74bf71_mOur new “mama” pig had her first litter of piglets last night, I went outside after dark to check on her, and discovered we’d lost 2 of them.  Since I don’t have good “muck” boots, I asked Ian to climb into the pen to check on them and hand me the dead piglets.  A chore he willingly did, but did not enjoy.  Before sunrise this morning I went to check on her, and it looked like 2 more died.  Taya just sent me a text that there were 4 more that didn’t make it.  More loss.  But we had 1 survive, which is a blessing.

It’s very disheartening when God allows these losses to happen, but it reminds us He is in control.  It’s a reminder to us each and every time that life is precious, and something not to take for granted.  While we stumble along through this life it can be very hard to keep the proper perspective on things, and losses like this make us look to Him for answers even more.

Until next time…..

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Fire, smoke, and rotten straw

November 19, 2015 4 comments

Or how we mulched our garden for the winter…..  Yes, those flames are supposed to be there.


You see, we’re working towards a no-till kind of garden.  We did our pig tillers this past spring which worked out great.  They churned things up, and fertilized better than any plow or tiller has ever done.  Of course, once they reached about 100 pounds, they got to be a little too much to manage, so they got moved into gender-segregated pens, except for our future breeding pair.

But, back to the garden…..  We had a pretty good tomato crop this year, thanks to the Chunnel system we didn’t have a single horn-worm on the plants.  We’ve had our plants stripped bare in previous years, but the chickens seem to have solved that dilemma.  Our big problem this year was our root crops.  We’ve grown sweet potatoes in the past, with limited success; but this year they did horrible.  The vines spread out nicely, but the tubers were tiny.  We think the clay soil is just too much for them.  So; our solution this year is to SUPER amend our soil by adding tons of organic matter to loosen it up.  We’ve talked about it in the past, and done bits here and there, but we’ve never been able to get enough organic material to really make a difference.  We compost, and have added manure, woodchips, etc; but never enough to really soften up the clay.

This year we were blessed with the solution to our problem.  A local farmer grew a 40 acre wheat field, just up the road from us.  He baled up all the straw, and had it all nicely stacked up to sell; but we had several days of soaking rain, and THOUSANDS bales of straw were ruined.  It had to have been a huge loss for him.  I figured we might try to help him out by buying a couple truckloads of the straw, but when we tried to offer to pay him a dollar a bale he said, nope.  Just take as much as you want!!!  So we’ve been hauling wet, rotten straw for about 3 weeks now (with a week-long break to the outer banks in the middle).  22116319356_7706d77620

Most of the strings are rotten, so it’s a hay-fork to move the majority, but I’m not going to complain.  We amassed several good sized mountains of the straw at the edges and corners of our garden area.  21529118303_da3146f618

After butchering all the pigs but the 2 for breeding, we were ready  to start our mulching process.  Since the garden was done for the year and we let the weeds get ahead of us (again), we needed a way to get rid of the weeds, and hopefully destroy the weed seeds.  The chickens and our other birds had eaten the large majority, but it would be nice to eradicate even more.  So we turned to FIRE.  A couple years ago I had bought a weed torch from Harbor Freight tools.  It worked really well to get rid of the tall weeds around fences, and areas that the animals couldn’t get to, or didn’t like the taste of.  But I’ve always been a little hesitant to use it around plants that I don’t want to destroy, so it only gets used occasionally.  It seemed like a great way to burn off this year’s crop of bindweed (morning glory) and hopefully destroy the seeds.


As you can see Elijah was very impressed with the blazing patches of weeds; which hopefully is going to eradicate most of their offspring.  Here’s the “after” photo, which shows how well the weed torch does it’s job.


Once things cooled off a bit, and the smoke cleared (burning weeds STINK), the process of spreading out the straw began.  Taya and the older children got about half of the piles spread out before I got home for the evening.  I figured since we had a little daylight left we could go get another pickup load.  We unloaded that in the dark, so this morning – after a night of providentially-timed rain I was able to get a picture of the partially-mulched garden.22821240980_abab4bfe1b

We’ve got about 2/3 of the garden covered nearly 6 inches deep in the nicely rotted straw.  There’s still a large pile left in the back corner that we can use to start covering the remaining parts.  There’s still several thousand bales of straw left in the field, just a half mile up the road.  We’ll most likely continue to haul straw for the next few weeks, up until the ground is too muddy to get in the field, or we get our first snowfall.

If we leave the straw over the winter, it should break down substantially, since it’s no longer in bales.  That should add the needed organic material, nutrients, and moisture-holding capacity that this garden needs so badly.  We probably won’t turn the ground in the spring, but go with the Ruth Stout or Back to Eden method of simply pushing the mulch to the side, planting in the dirt, then covering it back up.  Hopefully we can get a large stock to store for future mulching purposes, but if we don’t; we’re still extremely grateful for this straw.  A rough guestimation – we hauled about 200 bales worth of the straw so far.  At $5 per bale – if you buy from the farmer; $7-8 if you buy from feed store – that’s roughly $1,000 – $1,500 worth of straw.  I’m amazed that the farmer didn’t want any sort of compensation for it.  Hopefully he find a way to spread the bales out on his field, and gain some benefit from the loss.

We’re hopeful that this soil amendment will provide us (Lord willing!) with a bumper crop of produce this year, and solve our root crop dilemma.  We’ll let you know once spring gets here.  We’re already getting seed catalogs to review over the coming winter months.  Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday, and stay safe if you’re traveling!

Until next time…..

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Fall garden

November 5, 2015 Leave a comment


Shot a quick photo of our fall garden this morning as I was headed out, this is just a corner of the garden; but it shows promise.  The cabbages are starting to head, we’re getting broccoli florets, and the kale is doing great.  Don’t have pictures of everything, but we also have kohlrabi, cauliflower, lettuces, and LOTS more kale coming along.  I’m very happy with the kale crop this year; growing it from seed is super cheap and easy.  Bought seed for $1 per ounce; you can get a POUND of kale seed for under $20 that way.  That’s a whole lot of kale.  We planted about 2 ounces and we have 3-4 beds full.

We were very blessed with a pickup bed full of FREE plants that our local feed store was getting ready to throw away.  About half of them were dead already; but what weren’t, perked right up when we put them in some good soil.  Free lettuce, brussel sprouts, spinach, more cauliflower and kale.  There was some of the free broccoli that might not make it, as it was totally stripped to the ribs from cabbage moth larvae.  Most of the other plants were just withered up from frost and not being watered.  Was a huge blessing to have started plants given to us, instead of having to start from seed, or have to buy the starts.

The little green cabbage moth monsters were so bad in our garden earlier this year, that I actually broke down and purchased some BT powder to put on the plants.  I dislike using even natural pesticides, but in this case we were in danger of losing our entire garden. I’d rather bite the bullet, and use something that I know the ingredients on, raise the plants myself, and not have to go the the chemically-laden grocery store for “fresh” produce.  Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  A couple weeks of application, in between all the rains seems to have mitigated the worms and saved the crop.

Here’s to a bountiful fall!

Until next time…..

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