ShopTalk Sunday: Automatic Algorithmic Gardening?

War?  Victory Gardens?  Biden Gardens? We’re in the timeframe when a “survival garden” such as we began working on in November of last year, may not seem so far-fetched, after all.

The parts have continued to roll in for the highly experimental automatic veggie garden.

Another small piece of the project this week was the “garden workbench” which was on sale a while back on the ‘Zon:

The 2-by under the front levels it.

I’ve decided to document two longer-term prepping/making projects in this winter-to-spring period.  One involves the power system, and the other is the crazy notion of high-output, low input gardening.

Basic Garden Algorithms

Gardening isn’t that difficult at a basic level:  You get seeds, put them in the right soil, apply water, and then come back and get food.

Thing is, Nature is intrinsically more graceful in terms of design.  If the plants are what we call “weeds” the birds will get them.  If the birds aren’t around, what about field mice and squirrels?  We – the big apes on the rock – are more particular and far less general in our design effort.  Nature is about broad-spectrum results.  We’re after top results for just a limited number of plant types.

Nature hands us the block diagram of zero human gardening:

  • Have soil for planting.  If no soil and only rocks, come back in 50,000 years and let erosion break down some rocks for us.
  • Apply water when convenient.  This means rainwater.  Comes and goes, so let’s call those seasons.
  • Weed and clear land.  Bring in the lightning. Torches off sometimes massive fires, changes up erosion, breaks down excess undergrowth and provides some alkalinity from wood ash.
  • Apply Seeds:  Aerial spreaders include birds.  Put seeds in tasty berries, have birds poop.  Presumably over a few thousand years, more berry plants will arise depending on local conditions and competition.  Other aerial delivery systems include ultra-light seeds (see dandelions).  Some plants sent out root runners, others drop seeds in a circle around themselves.  Pine and fir cones. Bamboos.
  • Harvest:  More mice, more birds, some omnivores, and the human apes to mix, match, and roast over fires.
  • END  [return]  endif…and yada, yada…

Garden Algo Design

Each step of Nature’s process has an analogy in the home garden.  Except the “come back in 50,000 years” part.

Since we’re practitioners of “good coding” our first criterion is?

  • Time is of the essence.

If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t completely ignore food until we run out.  At which point 10-minutes later, we’ve picked up hot fries, root beer, and a double cheeseburger with all the veggies at the local drive through.

We then look at other criterion native to the human use-case.  What is cost?  Lead-time?  Labor requirement?  Maintenance time?  And on goes the list.

Eventually, we can begin seeing an “algo template” – a kind of sequential Boolean Truth table approach – which can be test-fitted against alternatives.

Garden Type

This decision was made in December before we turned dirt on the veg-house:

I’ve gone enough hydroponics to recognize while they can produce like a son of a gun, they are as much physical work (more standing) than modest raised beds, planters, or containers.

Their main drawbacks are needing starter plants and now you’re into a greenhouse or seedling area, anyway.

We considered the in-ground – which has done well on tomatoes and squash for us in the past – but three big problems:  Bent over work, lots of critters without solid perimeters, and weeds.  God, we hate weeding.  Yeah, yeah, or mulching.  It’s all bent-over.  In your 70s comfort is a bigger deal, I suppose.

Listing of Error Conditions

Reader NM Mike has been frustrated by his lack of good results, but as we pointed out a while back, designing the “perfect algo” (to get the optimum garden performance) is in part a geographical location problem in strange ways.

Error Conditions for your designs to be aware of include:

  • Mineral and pH of garden water.  This is why the rain catchment, DC watering system with solar power pumps and timers for drip irrigation.  The ideal pH for us would be around 6.7 (a twinge acidic of rainwater neutral pH 7.0).
  • Soil temperature:  This needs to be 50°-60° (depending on vegetable, hot or cold weather) but when the heat comes on 65° to 75°F is a good soil temp to shoot for.
  • Air Temps:  This is a little different.  Air temps of 40°F and up work for cool starters like beets, cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower.  But you need to make sure if you’re new to greenhousing that you limit max temps on sunny hot days to the chart levels found here.  Onions, parsnips, and lettuce can go in when it’s 35°F.  But be aware of the high side.  The reason Southern cooking features tomatoes and okra, for example, is both of these are tolerant and good up to 105°F temps.  But less heat tolerant plants, like spinach, begin to fail at 85°F for a couple of hours.  Sorry, Popeye.

Beets need to be ready for harvest by the time it gets to be 85°F. Which is why there’s a lot of parallels between flight planning and garden planning!

Companion Plants

yet another secret to higher yields is making sure to study “companion plants.”  Carrots and tomatoes make good “neighbors.”  But if you plant incompatible plants near one-another, your result (yields) will be much lower.

What to do?  Head over here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.  You’re looking for the companion plant chart.  Save it into OneNote or whatever you brain augmentation toolset includes.  (Some people use printers, believe it, or not! No Power Needed).

Right Fertilizers

The most basic part of fertilizers is it is sold on the basis of three chemicals which are commonly used:  (nitrogen(N) – phosphorus(P) – potassium(K).

Here’s the problem:  How do you decide whether to buy a 3-3-3, a 10-10-10, or a 30-30-30 fertilizer?  After all, they would all have the same relative levels of NPK?

The answer has to do with concentrations.  The bigger the numbers, the more concentrated.  Higher concentrations are not the be-all, end-all in gardening, however.

In a 30-30-30, for example, you will get a huge burst in plant growth.  BUT the other chemicals in the fertilizer will be in much higher concentration.  Salts, carrier chemicals.  Which means higher soil residues, which in time will wreck your soil.

In the long run, if you’re planning to use soil in the future, a 3-3e-3 or 6-6y-6 is a more useful concentration level, even though it won’t be as great as a one-time super use of 30-30-30 might be.  (Hydroponics does overcome this, but the tradeoff is water changes.)

Many experts offer that the P (p0hosphorous) should be twice the nitrogen (n) and potassium (k).  You might roll with a 3-6-3 or 10-20-10 or even a 12-24-12 for real high output.  Just remember that salts and chemicals do accumulate with any of the chemical answers.  We keep 3-3-3 and 10-10-10 handy with emergency bad of 20-20-20.

Which is why things work best naturally.

On the list for coming weeks?  Some calls around to a few doughnut and coffee joints to see if I can score some coffee grounds.  Green in composting terms, so one part coffee grounds and three parts ground leaves will be a starting point for making compost tea.

Or we’ll use the chemical route this year.  Depends what the coffee emporiums will do.

The Tool Slut Pipes Up

With the gardening season nearly here, our musings wander off to the power tools aisle as we figure to finagle newest and bestest into the budget.  This time is something called the “Total Tiller Plus – which you can find for about $70 bucks on eBay.

Not endorsing the product for prepper/recovery gardening, but consider a couple of 12 VDC electric drills, run right off a 12 V solar panel as power.  Then hook up what is an electric drill attachment as a tool.  Small easy to use tiller-answer.

Can’t speak for you, but stooped-over, knee crawling hand work, or an almost too much to get in close with older Mantis 2-stroke, just isn’t the right answer for us.  An electric drill driven cultivator?

We’ll let you know. Didn’t see it on the Zon, fwiw.

Summing Up?

Decades back, I was having an issue troubleshooting an HF SSB radio system.  The senior engineer on the project reminded me “There’s no magic…it’s all physics.  So, follow the rules and you will have your solution.”  He was exactly right.

Gardening adheres to a strict set of rules, as well.  Where it all runs off the rails is many people want to argue over rules (or ignore them, not taking the time to study)  which are all very clear in the literature if you take the time to read the source materials and tease-out the algos that are buried in there.

A lot of people don’t.  Kinda like Ukraine, you know?  Too much pride, boastfulness, and bullshit on all sides.

THOUGHTFUL PEOPLE don’t operate like governments.  The art of getting along on this planet is to spend some time listening.  Even more studying to tease out the embedded algos.  Especially when your food is doing the talking.

Understand and practice how these major systems all interact and you will more likely have a great garden, better nutrition, and something that scare the hell out of tax collecting governments the world over.

Independent, free-thinking humans, with the good of all, at heart.

The Rest of Sunday’s Sermon?

From Brother Mic.

Write when you get rich, or if peace breaks out.

27 thoughts on “ShopTalk Sunday: Automatic Algorithmic Gardening?”

  1. How do you get rainwater near 7.0 pH? Special order? Ours runs closer to 5.1 – 5.5.

    How do you RB/container grow beans, peas, corn and other space hogs? My garden is mostly in ground, because most of what I grow requires a LOT of space. To ease the burden on my (older than yours) back, I use a Horrible Fright wagon with the fold-down sides. Just fold down one side, put a cushion in it, and ride it side saddle down the rows. Takes a little effort to get the steering and mobility worked out, but it sure beats having to do it on my knees or bent over.

    I haven’t tackled growing wheat or other grains yet, as that’s a whole ‘nother skillset.

    • Wow – eye opening – thank you!
      Several rambles here:,or%20modification%20often%20is%20necessary.

      I went and recalibrated the pH/TDS meter and our rainwater is in fact slightly acidic. Problem is the pH of summer water here is 8.3 (*and higher) which is definitely out of bounds.

      As to your space issues, we will be doing both vertical growing and a lot of trellising in the veggie grow room as things begin to pop. Ever go surf some of those ideas (search”: vertical gardening” on YT) as an answer?

      • Hey Tex,

        Have found a wealth of info – how to – proven/repeatable results with dr Richard Allen Millers “gardening” ideas and concepts. A most brilliant Pysconaught , high end navel intelligence – like beyond belief navel intelligence. Dude practiced with, learned from some of the greatest magical minds of the 21st century..spooky smart mathematician.. Dr Miller is a most excellent source for learning How To – Ritual (s) as well.
        Using coffee grounds during grow season for fertilizer on Hydrangeas ( BLUE only color allowed in yard) Collect daily “french pressed” caffeine delivery system grounds. Grounds provide slow release “acid” that the Hydrangeas luv & utilize to make the most vibrantly purplish Blue flowers – tres magnifique!

        It is understood that “if you want to kiss the sky, you are going to have to kneel”…Gardening is not “kissing the sky” therefore we need not to kneel – we lay down and roll in Pennsyltucky – a garden wagon with Sunbrella attached for large areas to glean..we roll our own.
        Gone vertical between the raised beds with lattices/garden fencing&batons (peas/cukes/squash/melons). Had a Pumpkin growing vertical last year(unintentional/volunteer) – stressed the wooden support “structure” come August when fruits started putting on the “meat’. Pumpkin seeds and Prostrate Health – its whats for staying healthy – Mens natural health down Central America ways – so we growz em for fun and health..and of course the critterz get the carved and expired ones after 3 days – Samhuiin craziness.

        * following song is “message” I been “getting” the last couple of days – I was never a fan of these guys growing up, even though had concert ticket to show in 77 – cancelled! No ideas – just a message..”has been received” – sharing..

        Hardship – “in Qigong practice one has to endure hardship, and be prepared and willing to endure hardship.Of course Qigong practice can improve Ure health and make you feel comfortable in various ways; however if you want advance your Qigong to a higher level, simply practicing Qigong in comfort will not help you to achieve this.
        Everyone can practice Qigong because everyone has Qi circulating inside the body. When you practice Qigong you will feel comfortable but if you want to advance to the intermediate level, you have to transform every cell in Ure body. This is the transformation of Quality after Ure initial transformation of Quantity. To achieve this transformation, as well as other special abilities, you have to endure hardship..” -YX

        ** old man labs – when You be getting into what is wrong – Gravitation ? as wrap our heads around Magnetism = Optical Phenomenon. Gravity may better explained as an expression of Circularly Polarized Electromagnetic Radiation -photons? …why we bee burning fossil fuels again ?

      • Of course rainwater is slightly acidic. How do you think Texas got all the “holie” rocks and caverns? It eats limestone for lunch.

    • “How do you RB/container grow beans, peas, corn and other space hogs?”

      The Tree….
      Well I call it a tree but really it isn’t much more than a trellis..
      I can grow seventy two bean plants in a 4 by 4 space.. my issue is bee’s and pollination.. for larry.. he had eight foot tall corn.. and tomato plants that he had to use a ladder to pick the tomatoes..
      I have visited with larry a few times.. I like hydroponics.. and at one time when there was a challenge for a garden system on the space station started to get the kids interested in hydroponics to make a system that would work efficiently .. that is how I discovered larrys pop bottle garden LOL.. and I still love that original idea.. for my potato air ponics system I am going to use a two and a half gallon bucket with a trellis system in it and then a seven gallon bucket on top.. I had thought about making it with a side door so potatoes could be harvested throughout the year.. but seriously.. I don’t think I will need it..
      for the top..
      the reason for that particular top is for the aggregate around the plant for support.. at the bottom I will drill a 2.5 inch hole to hole the plant carrier.. most hydroponic potatoes has an issue of growing in the pot.. I want it to grow below the pot.. the mister will go around the base of the pot..
      At the Horticultural department of the University of Washington state.. they did a lot of green house growing.. and have used many forms of hybrid hydroponics.. with some pretty impressive results..
      Larry Hall in Minn.. a really nice guy works at walmart.. great guy has hundreds of thousands of followers..

  2. enjoy Ure new grow space. As I have said get ready to either add on or build a new larger space as you will quickly out grow it.
    While soil and water PH and fertilizer components are important it is easy to get bogged down trying to hit the perfect solutions.
    Corn and grains are tough to do small scale but if you think about it they are a lot like grasses and weeds just need a lot more fertilizers is all. I grow wheat in the terrace strips of my pastures and a couple years back I tried Amaranth. That was a bitch to sow but it came up and produced like crazy. Chickens loved it.

    Like Bo said….Just do it.

    You will never be able to completely forgo your in ground growing.

  3. To Prep:

    How not? Reading tea leaves causes one to be ready. We lived through grid down situs a decade ago and did fine. Now, having relocated into the rural wild of SW Lower MI … though little towns are just 8-10 miles distant / medium cities a further 20-30 miles, the trip to grocery is often put off until convenient.

    If there was no grocery? We are in farm country. My next door neighbor is a gardener (think 3 season enormous plot). I buy heritage seeds to contribute and have, for now, not bothered. I could always trade protein for greens. The lake in our front yard is chock full of pan fish (ice shanties are out). The woods is loaded with squirrels, jack rabbits and white tail deer.

    Security is excellent. There are lots of hunters so, well armed locals. Our lane is a private road that comes down the hill, 90 degree top and bottom, and has no outlet. At need, in half an hour, I can block the road (trailer with chains and padlocks). In addition to other precious metals … we have rather a lot of Pb on hand. I could hunt, or whatever, for years …

    The (near potable) lake is in a bowl catchment surrounding hillset so we have fresh water to spare. Significant, the springs down at lake level profit from natural hydronamic pressure and were “free-flowing” so, broke the surface. A mere 75′ from my front door there is a 2-3 gallon per minute free-flow spring piped into the lake. Water? Check.

    A shortcoming is energy. I could heat the house for > a month with split, stacked, covered fast burn to start staple red oak. I have a portable gen set and roughly 100 gallons of fuel. Over time I have reduced energy costs (insulation, LEDs, establishing zones). But, we are in a total electric house and our little Coop must have failed to hedge leading to a >100% increase per kWh.

    I am half deep in planning for a multi-phase solar assist. Several online templates suggest subtracting 2-5 no-gain days. It looks to me like we’d be more like 2+ weeks no gain due to snow load on panels. So, I’ll remain tied to grid. It’s a good swap to feed the grid excess (which yield credits against use) and draw from the grid when 7-10″ of snow obscure solar gain.

    Maybe it will be worth installing heat tape? Or vertical “melt fins” …
    Efficient water furnace is set at 66F / it’s 28F as I type.
    We should break freezing today!

    Write when you get warm,

  4. I like your grow room concept. I live in southern Iowa out in the boonies and have about given up on in ground gardening. We have great soil and almost perfect temps in the summer but my main problem are the damn critters. They don’t give up! Like you I also detest weeding. Fortunately we have Amish neighbors and they raise beautiful gardens and sell their produce very cheap.

    Looking forward to some great pictures when your grow room is really producing. Good luck!

  5. Great article George,
    For anyone who has never really gardened before it sure sounds easy UNTIL you go to do it, LOL
    I learned from my Mom as I helped her when I was young, we grew everything and canned everything, I did not even know you could buy bread in a store until I was 12 years old. LOL
    Growing your own food has lots of merit besides survival (which appears to be why we are doing it now) Most people I know that gardeners live longer happier lives than those who do not.

  6. While that Nebraska gardening site has a lot of good info on nutrients and pH, it needs to be adjusted seriously for NETX. Our soil is acidic (mainly due to the acid rain, I suspect) and high in iron content. I have used pelleted lime on the garden, but now I use oak ash from the wood stove. Just takes a little longer to dump the ash since I have to stretch it out over as much garden as I can. I still use pelleted lime ,wood chips and hay in the goat sheds to keep down the odor, so that all goes into the compost pile when I clean out the sheds.

    For tilling, I have a 4′ tractor-mount tiller from Tractor Supply mounted on my old Long tractor. I added a tool bar to the back of the tiller and attached two discs so I can till and hill in one operation.

    • I have been expecting someone to mention hoes :0) stand up gentleman’s friend. And, heavy on the mulch. Apply when there are no weeds and … you will fight fewer weeds. ~ Egor

  7. Oh boy, can I ever sympathize about that bending over/kneeling part of gardening. Much as I enjoy getting my hands directly in the soil, planting and even weeding from time to time, those days are long gone. Once upon a time weeding was like being on the riding mower. I could keep going for hours. Just zone out and forget the blinkin’ world.

    Anyhow…back to business. Early on went to raised beds.. Nixed timbers– they’re toxic and expensive. For the 30-something-ish year my raised beds are contained with cinder block. Best thing I ever did. Will be adding another layer soon. Just stack them dry. For new beds, if more than 2 deep, add a layer of rotted wood, shavings or whatever, then the soil for growing. Look up hügelkultur.

    Expensive? Rather. But then it is a one-time $ layout. Hard work? No more so than any other installation using heavy stuff. Then it’s done for years. Convenient? Pull up a lawn chair beside the bed. Best to make them no more than 3 blocks wide so you can reach from both sides easily. Use the standard 8” wide block if going two layers or more. Fill the openings with soil or sand, plant herbs or whatever. Deeper than 2 blocks might want to drive rebar ever so often as stabilizers. I made a retaining wall against a shaved off knoll with blocks two high that is going on 30 yrs.

    Folks don’t know how hard it is to really produce food until they have to. Coming from farm stock from way back I can attest to that. My admiration goes to those who produce our food way before just about any other sector of our existence. As a child how I do ever remember summers of early rise to pick and then the hot as heck kitchens where the womenfolk were canning. We’ve gotten spoiled. Might have to get un-spoiled one of these days mighty quick.

  8. The Fractal Garden …

    The nomlinear end of the 33/71 week March 2020 low x/2-2.5x fractal will end on Tuesday 1 March 2022 completing a 5/12/11 day three phase decay fractal series for the US SPX/Wilshire/NASDAQ/Russel composites; a 5/12/12 day three phase decay fractal series for the French CAC and German Dax, a 4/10/10 day three phase decay series for the Nikkei; a 7/17/18 day three phase decay fractal series for the Shanghai Composite; a 3/7/8 day decay series for the CRB, a 11/24/26 day three phase decay fractal series for the M-F trading cryptocurrencies/cryptocurrency proxies and a 4/10/10 day cacircatured three phase growth and decay series for gold. The 71 week second fractal 2x-2.5x nonlinearity with its March 2020 33 week first fractal base should be remarkable. After Tuesday 2 March 2022, the third weekly fractal will commence. (Ideally the peak would be 1.6 times the ideal base of a 71 week second fractal 1.6 x 28+ weeks or about 45-46 weeks.) US housing equity inflated wealth has been created via Federal Reserve MBS ‘incentivized ‘2.5-3 percent mortgage rates over the last 20 months. This wealth effect has been substantial and is the principle factor for residential price increases of 30% over the last two years. With the large de facto wealth effect, demand for other commodities and assets has inctresed. Recently announced western block sanctions on Russia who produces large quanties of energy commodities used for the European markets and in metal commodities used for automobile emission controls will cause significant price inflation in the CRB. This will in turn cause a reactive central bank racheting up of interest rates. Even with interest rate increases, the fractal growth model expects substantion elevations of valuations of the equity and CRB markets from the Tuesday 1 March 2022 nonlinear low.

  9. big move tonite georgey !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! you got it mate .. you and the wavers mate !!!!!!!!!!!!!! 100 % guru

  10. I recently signed up on Twitter and by luck hit the * icon ( Space group live room) to find a great financial group chat from stock analysts like Dan Nathan and Guy Adams, etc talking about the economy and expectations for oil, gold, commodites and world central banks. Then this weekend, I opened Twitters Space icon and I found “Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine-Live updates” hosted by ex-military, political and other specialities talking about the facts that Ukrainians and other countries are seeinga nd hearing on the ground there. It seems to be going 24 hr a day, so check it out. Peter Corless is the room host so follow him to get in.

  11. Elon Musk Praised For Coming To Ukraine’s Rescue: ‘Pushes A Button And Changes The Course Of History’

    Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk was praised on Saturday for responding to the Ukrainian government’s plea to provide SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service so that Ukrainian’s could access the internet as Russian military forces invaded the country.

    “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine,” Musk responded. “More terminals en route.”

  12. Stephanopoulos: Majority of Americans ‘Question the President’s Mental Capacity’

    ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos said Sunday on “This Week” that a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 54% of Americans do not believe President Joe Biden is mentally sharp during his interview with White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

    That Steffy would dump this on Potatochip is not really a surprise. Most folks have forgotten the Clintons own him, lock, stock, and hairdo.

    That said, the fact the WaPo poll implies that 46% haven’t yet noticed that Creepy Joe is demented, is downright scary…

  13. After years of trying, I’m convinced that the only decent yields possible where I live are to plant(or hydroponic) inside. There’s plenty of sun, but the soil is alkaline to the point that only native plants want to be in it. Amending is possible, but costly and it’s probably cheaper to just buy good soil and truck it in. My “soil” is good for structural purposes, and possibly artistic ones.

    If it rains, it’s definitely better for plants than my groundwater, but the groundwater seems to be good for me. My personal garden is Walmart for now. It’s far cheaper and the next step for me is probably to add grow trays inside a south facing enclosed area that is not in the main part of the house. I’m not sure how deep they need to be. I do need to think about providing water, and this year has been dry. I like that but plants don’t. I’m planning to install large rain catchment before the monsoon season here. I have the roof area. That will either provide grow water or assure that there are no monsoons, so it’s a win/win for me.

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