Seed Potatoes & Buckets

I called up one of our local farm stores today – Rural King – and inquired to see if they had their seed potatoes in yet.  Last week they didn't and couldn't tell me when they would be in.

They said they just got the potatoes in a few days ago – and had either the red variety or Kennebec – but didn't have any Yukon Gold.  Darn – I was hoping to plant some Yukon Gold potatoes this year – mix them up amongst the Kennebec.

The Kennebec potato is a standard white potato and is a mid-to-late variety potato.  Last year we got about 12 pounds of potatoes out of the garden from about ten plants.  They were very good – much better than the standard russet potatoes you can buy in the store for $3 for 10 pounds.  The Kennebec also tend to store longer than other varieties of potatoes – making it my preference.

But, the Yukon Gold potatoes are a yellow potato and are even better than Kennebec – but they don't last as long.  If you go to the store, usually Yukon Gold are twice the cost of russet potatoes – you get about five pounds for $3.

Kennebec Seed Potatoes

I hope I did the right thing, but I purchased 8.5 pounds of them.  Rural King sells them by the pound for 31 cents!  Amazingly cheap compared to what I bought last year.  Last year I bought a five-pound bag of Kennebec seed potatoes for $6 – more than $1 a pound!

I found out why though.  The seed potatoes in the bag were of better quality than these.  There were a lot of eyes on the potatoes in the bags (an eye is where a sprout will come from to make a new potato plant).  The potatoes purchased today had very few eyes on them and I spent about 20 minutes going through them to find decent ones.  They had some huge potatoes with only four or five eyes on them – and thoe potatoes alone weighed over a pound.  So, this is why I chose the smaller potatoes that had three to four eyes on them but were more spread out.  That way I can cut the small ones into thirds – thereby making three plants.  With 8.5 pounds, I probably have more than I need, but it is better to have enough.  And it was only $2.85 for 8.5 pounds!

Afterwards, we went to the dollar store nearby to just look around since we were on the other side of town.  In there, I found 20-quart wash buckets for $1 each.  I thought these would be great to plant potatoes in as well.  So, after getting home, I got out the drill and put about 10 holes in each of the buckets for drainage.  The buckets are about 10 inches high and 14 inches wide at the opening.  The plan is to put one potato plant an inch or so from the bottom of the buckets, fill the bucket half-way with dirt, and then wait until the plant grows out of the bucket.  Once it does, I will then fill the buckets up the rest of the way with soil – which is where the potatoes will then be formed.  Hopefully this will work – because from those ten plants, we should get about 10 – 15 pounds of potatoes.

Potato Buckets

We've been eating a lot of potatoes lately.  Ever since getting the mandolin slicer with an attachment that makes potatoes into french-fry cuts, we've been eating a lot of these with pepper, salt, and garlic salt on them with olive oil.  I bet if we grew 200 pounds of potatoes, we could easily eat that in a year.  However, I doubt we'll make that many potatoes – but my goal is to get around 100 pounds this year.

Growing Seeds Inside

Today and yesterday I began getting the fluorescent light setup going so I can start seeds inside.

The previous blog post was about starting the Copra Onions and I spoke a little bit about the fluorescent lights and the setup.

Below are some pictures of the setup I have.  The stand t hat holds the lights up is made of 1/2" PVC pipe.  There are four 90-degree elbows and two T connectors used.    The rack to hold the lights probably would cost a person less than $3 to make for the pipe and the couplers needed.

I have three four-foot fluorescent light fixtures in the box – with each bulb about 2.5 inches apart form one another.  I'm not sure yet whether this is overkill and I could get sufficient coverage with just four light bulbs instead of six (meaning only two fixtures are needed instead of three), but I want to ensure that these plants get a good head-start before putting them out.

The bulbs I am using are a combination of Cool White and Premium Cool White.  What is the difference?  Well, the Premium Cool White are about twice as expensive as the Cool White (which are standard utility bulb-grade).  However, the Premium Cool White have 3300 lumens and 20,000 CRI.  The standard Cool White bulbs have 3000 lumens and also a 20,000 CRI.  The thing that is important is the  lumens – which is the intensity of the light.  Of course, the color temperature is also important (basically the amount of light at each color in the spectrum), but the lumens will give your plants additional light.  So, the Premium Cool White bulbs will pack an additional 10% punch per bulb with the same amount of wattage used.

The Premium Cool White bulbs are used in the center fixture and then one bulb on each of the other two fixtures near the outside of the box.  The standard Cool White bulbs are on the outer two fixturs but closer to the middle fixture.  Why did I use two of the older kind?  Well, because I'm cheap – and I didn't want to buy more Premium Cool White bulbs.  Two of these bulbs are currently being used for the growing lettuce inside (which is going too slow to be worthwhile) – so I can just swap them into place when I'm done there.

The fixtures are hung from the PVC support system by using a small chain – which allows me to move the lights up or down as needed.  The lights should always be within 2 inches of the seedlings for the best results.

On the bottom is the box that I made using some old plywood and thin paneling.  I have a clear piece of plastic across the bottom and along the sides that will serve as a moisture barrier in case any water flows out of the seed containers (which it will easily by over-watering or spraying too much).  This will keep the box nice and dry and will keep water from spilling out into the table this all sits on (which is a pool table with plywood over the top).

I just placed the Copra Onion seed containers in the box – but none have sprouted yet.  So, I will not be turning these lights on until I see at least one sprout – no sense in wasting electric.

Fluorescent Lights for Starting Seeds


Fluorescent Lights for Starting Seeds

Starting Copra Onion Seeds

This evening I just seeded in the Copra Onion seeds.  I was pleasantly surprised at how many seeds are in a 1/16 ounce packet.  I must have at least another 200 seeds left after planting 144 total tonight.

The order of Copra Onion seeds came from FedCo seeds.  I got the idea of planting Copra Onion by the Gardenweb Veggie Garden forum where folks said this is one of the longest lasting onions available for the north (long-day variety)

Copra Onion Packet

Above is the packet the seeds came in.  It had some decent directions on them – along with a germination rate of 89%.  So the Copra Onions mature and are ready for harvest in 104 days.

As the packet says, you want to start these indoors to get a head-start on them.  I am planting them about 11 weeks before the last frost date.  Last year I figured the last frost date of May 5th.  I found an online site that says there is only a 10% chance of frost after May 11th in Central Illinois.  Last year the last frost date was at least a few weeks earlier than that.

While the packet says to plant them 1/2-inch deep, I sort of believe this is a little too deep.  I've read that 1/4-inch deep is enough for Copra Onions.

Alright, so getting started planting the seeds.

Planting Copra Onion Seed

These are the planters I used for the onion seed.  There are eight square containers in each of the trays – and each square container has nine separate seed locations.  I planted two trays – so 144 total.  I only need about 100 onions as this is all I have room for – but the others (if they grow) I can give away to my neighbor or others as well.  I wanted to plant enough to ensure I got good enough seed germination.

Previously when I've planted onions, I've had horrendous luck at getting them to sprout.  So, its time to try my luck again with planting from seed.  It is said that by planting onions from seed, you get much larger bulbs than if you use sets (which is what was used last year).

I put one seed in each of the seed locations and put them down between 1/4 and 1/2-inch deep.  I then used a very fine mister to make everything moist.  Throughout the winter, I've been collecting snow and some rain water to use for the seedlings.  Rain water is much better for plants than tap water – because it doesn't have all of the chemicals in it – and well, its just natural!

Rain Water Supply

I have quite the bounty of rain water – a large five-gallon water jug along with many one-gallon milk jugs.

After everything was misted down well, I then took more rain water and poured it into the tray that holds the seed containers.  This will allow the rain water to be absorbed from the bottom of the seed containers to help in moisture retention.

Then lastly, it was time to put the clear plastic covers over the top to further aid in moisture retention.

Copra Onion Planting

Right now I do not have any fluorescent lights over these.  When one onion sprouts up, I will take the clear lids off and put the seed containers under a fluorescent light.  it is important to ensure that the fluorescent lights are placed within two – four inches from the seedlings since this allows for better light absorbtion for the seedlings.

Well, that is all for now.  Next on the list will be planting the Ventura Celery!

February 20 Update

It has been nine days since planting the Copra Onions.  At first, I was getting worried that none of them were going to sprout!  The folks over at GardenWeb were showing that their Copra Onions were sprouting in about 4 – 6 days.  At the time I was reading that, it was already a week since I had planted mine!

Well alas, I finally have some sprouts.  The other day I moved all of the 9-packs with sprouts into one of the trays and took the clear cover off of that tray.  I kept the clear cover over the tray that didn't have any sprouts to maintain moisture.

Nine days later, I now have 39 total onions that have come up out of 144 planted (27% germination so far).  It would be 40, but there was a small white worm-looking thing sitting on the soil a few days ago and I didn't do anything with it.  Turns out, it was the very first onion that had sprouted as I took a look and found the seed at the end.  Oh well.

The planting area has a temperature that ranges from about 57.5 degrees at night to around 62 degrees during the day.   There also is rumors that onion seed needs light in order to germinate.  While I cannot say either way, it does seem that since I have turned the lights on, the germinations have been on an upswing!  But, it also has been nine days as well and it may just be time for them to start sprouting.

Copra Onion Sprouts

February 22

I don't have pictures right now for today, but I'm very impressed with the amount of germination over the weekend!  Just two days ago, I repoted there were only about 40 onions that came up.  Now, as of tonight, there are 108 that have sprouted out of 144.  That is exactly 75% germination.  Getting fairly close to the 89% rate the package said from it's August trial.  I don't suspect there will be many more that will germinate because there were only two that came up today.

The temperature underneath the fluorescent bulbs is quite higher than otherwise.  The temperature under the lights is about 69.2 degrees instead of around 62 degrees.  The night temperatures with the lights off gets down to about 57 degrees in the basement.

Lastly, believe it or not, the past post about seeing the very first seed germinate that looked like a worm has turned out to live!  I pushed the seed back down into the soil and left the white sprout sticking up – and today it is starting to turn green.

February 24

It now apperas the seeds are done germinating.  Out of 144, 110 seeds germinated.  I was looking for about 100 onions total and I got a few extras – so that works out well in case some don't make it over the next 10 weeks before they are planted outside.

In a matter of four to five days, they have grown fairly well.

I gave all of the contains another good misting of water this evening.

Copra Onions

March 4

The onions have really grown in a week's period of time.  Today I had to actually trim the Copra Onions to about 2.5 – 3 inches in length.  It is said that this is good to do for the onions so that it allows them to make good, strong roots and put up additional leaves instead of just one.  This is why you will see in the photo below a lot of greenery lying on the soil surface – because those were the clippings.

Unfortunately, I have lost about eight onions due to "damping off" diease.  This is a downfall of using soil from the garden for seed-starting, but it hasn't spread to neighboring squares.

Copra Onion Seedlings


Creating a Linux Backup Solution on Ubuntu

Before today, my backup solution for my Ubuntu servers was pretty simple – two tar files; one for the web page folders and another for mailbox backups.  This was done by the following command:

rm /<location>/daily-www-backup.tgz > /dev/null
rm /<location>/daily-mailbox-backup.tgz > /dev/null
tar pzcf /<location>/daily-www-backup.tgz /<location-to-backup> > /dev/null
tar pzcf /<location>/daily-mailbox-backup.tgz /<location-to-backup> > /dev/null

However, there is a problem with this situation.  The above will basically first delete the backup files and then re-create them each day.  This is in essence a “full backup” technique every day.  But, what happens if a file is overwritten and it isn’t noticed until a few days later?  Woops!  Too late now.

So I began doing a little research on how to perform differential backups in Ubuntu.  I came across “dar” – a program that will do both a full backup and a differential backup based upon the full backup.

I also installed Kdar on the server – which is a GUI front-end of dar from KDE.  It seems that this was no longer supported in the archives after the Ubuntu dapper release, so in order to get Kdar on my current systems, I had to put the following line in the bottom of the /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb dapper universe

I then performed the update so this new location was cataloged:

sudo apt-get update

Then I installed kdar and dar:

sudo apt-get install kdar dar

Afterwards, I then opened up kdar (had to run as root as well to backup files that my user account didn’t have) and setup a backup job.  It gave me the option to Export the dar command to a shell script, which looked like the following:

dar -c “/<location>/SundayFullBackup” -R “/home/” -w -D -y -m 150 -P “Folder1” -P “Folder2” -P “Folder3” -P “Folder4”

Here is how the command works:

-c – This option tells dar the name of the file that will contain the backup
-R – This option tells dar the location that should be backed up
-w – This option tells dar not to warn when overwriting files
-D – This option tells dar to store excluded directories as empty directories in the backup file (see -P for excluded directories)
-y – This option tells dar to use the bzip2 compression technique (instead of -z which uses gzip; bzip compresses more)
-m 150 – This option tells dar not to compress files less than 150 bytes in size
-P – This option tells dar to exclude a directory from the archive.  In my case above (which I’ve changed the folder names), there are four folders that I’ve excluded from the backup

By using the -P command, this allowed me to backup both the mailboxes and web data at once instead of having two backup files and two separate processes.

With this command alone over the tar command, it saved about 17 megabytes of space.  Tar uses the gzip compression technique with using the “z” option.  So the two combined files using tar was 880 megabytes.  The one file made by dar is 863 megabytes.  While this isn’t much of a savings, it still is an improvement over tar.

Another improvement over tar (and the main reason I installed the Kdar GUI) is that you can extract specific files and folders from a dar backup file.  Tar requires you to unpack and unzip the entire archive to a directory and then pick and choose what needs restored.

Now, how is it that you create a differential backup?  Let me know show you the command that Kdar made to create a differential backup:

 dar -v -c “/<location>/MondayDiffBackup” -R “/home/” -A “/<location>/SundayFullBackup” -w -D -y -m 150 -P “Folder1” -P “Folder2” -P “Folder3” -P “Folder4”

While the command looks quite similar to the full backup command, there are a few extra options on this that I’ll go over here.

-v – Verbose output – This will output a list each day the differential is run to show what files have changed since the last full backup.
-A – This option tells dar the location of the full backup that the differential should be based on.  This is how dar can tell what files have been changed/modified and need to be backed up to the newest copy.

That is all there is to it!  However, I had a problem when trying to run a differential.  Since I am going to set these all up as cron jobs, I needed them to run without any intervention.  The full backup worked fine when I ran the shell script, but unfortunately the differential backups would not.  I kept getting this message when I would try the differential backup:

Warning, SundayFullBackup.1.dar seems more to be a slice name than a base name. Do you want to replace it by SundayFullBackup ? [return = OK | Esc = cancel]

I searched online and could not find a solution to the problem.

Originally, I created the full backup using Kdar.  So I pondered if maybe Kdar did something different with backing up the original file.  Therefore, the original full backup file was deleted and then I re-created it using the shell script that Kdar.  When I then run the differential backup – poof!  It worked without any intervention required and it worked well.

So, a good solution for performing differential backups in Linux would be to use a combination of dar and Kdar.  Kdar is best used only as the restore program so you can pick and choose what files you want to restore – and dar is needed as the command-line program so you can create a cron job and have these run.