Make-it-yourself devices archive page 10
watercress planter: 20080607 keywords:watercress habitat, growing watercress, homegrown watercress, how to grow watercress, using rainwater for watercress, keeping watercress wet, ways to grow watercress

There happens to be watercress growing about a quarter mile from my home. So, I decided it would be interesting to have a little of it growing close to my house. And maybe that would inspire me someday to fix a way to grow a worthwhile amount. You see, watercress, as its name suggests, needs more water than is normally available in a growing spot around the typical house, and that includes my house. And I do not want to carry water to the watercress every week or so. So I dug a hole about two feet across and about 18 inches deep where a outlet pipe from a rainspout discharges roof runoff. Put a large plastic plant container filled with earth into the hole. Since the container had holes in the bottom that would let water escape, and watercress needs to be drenched just about constantly, I put a 2 inch layer of clay in the hole before placing the pot. The clay plugs the holes in the pot so water does not drain out. After putting the pot in place, I poured a slurry of clay and water around the outside of the pot to help stop water from eventually seeping out through the holes in the pot, through the clay under the pot and perhaps up around the pot. Would have been a lot easier to hot glue the holes in the pot before putting top soil in the pot but I had it in my mind that the pot didn't have holes and did not check that until after the top soil and watercress plants had been placed in the container. Anyway, the soil in the pot does not quite fill the pot, there is 2 inches of pot above the top of the soil. When it rains, the rainwater soaks the soil in the container and the the two inches fills with water so there is enough water that the soil will stay drenched hopefully at least until the next rain. I suppose, occassionally I'll have to carry water to keep the soil in the watercress container soaked. If all goes well, perhaps there will be enough watercress in the spring time to enjoy it in a half dozen or so meals. If the watercress does well, maybe I'll use a cutting torch to cut a discarded water heater tank in half lengthwise, use one half as a large container to hold enough watercress to have, perhaps, as much watercress as I can use.

Move your mouse cursor onto this sentence to see a photo of the watercress planter.

using a yogurt maker to sprout seeds: 20081202 I want to include sprouted seeds in my diet. The vitamin content of seeds increases when sprouted, they make inexpensive subsitutes for more expensive vegetables, and I want changes in my diet. Eating new types of food trigggers heightened taste experiences and enables increased awareness of all the impressions associated with eating. And besides that, I get an intellectual kick from discovering new recipes that turn out to be delicious. Experimenting with new ways of fixing sprouts seems something not to pass up.

I keep my home at a somewhat less than optimum temperature for sprouting seeds. The plan was to use a yogurt maker to provide optimum temperature. I purchased a yogurt maker at a Goodwill store on half-off day, costed me six bucks. On the outside of the box was printed in large lettering, "Thermostatically controlled temperature". I thought that the yogart maker might be an excellent utensil for keeping seeds at the optimum temperature for sprouting seeds to eat. It seemed likely yogurt bacteria and seeds would thrive at about the same temperature. Well, the first 1-eighth-cup batch of mung bean seeds didn't show any signs of sprouting after 2 days in the yogurt maker. I put my finger into the moist seeds in the yogurt maker, after the seeds had been incubating for 48 hours. The seeds seemed maybe a bit too hot. After disassembling the yogurt maker, I could see there was no thermostat. The thing just produced a constant amount of heat, raising the contents of the yogurt maker a certain amount above ambient, apparently to too high a temperature for mung beans to germinate, even in my 60 to 65 degree home.

Luckily, a simple method of reducing the amount of heat occurred to me. I could wire a diode in series with the heating element inside the yogurt maker. The diode would allow current to flow in one direction only, thus blocking electrical power from the wall outlet one half the time and so cutting the amount of heat produced in half.

I cut the wire inside the yogurt maker case that takes power to the heating element and soldered in a 3 amp 1000 volt diode, taped the connections, and ressembled the unit. I put the power plug into a wall outlet, put 1-eighth-cup of mung beans and about 1-half-cup water into a small plastic yogurt container and placed the container in the yogurt maker. Next day, I drained the water from the seeds, rinsed the seeds in water, drained away the water, laid a piece of paper card over the seed container to help keep moisture in, and put the yogurt maker's lid in place. Two days after putting the seeds into the yogurt maker, and rinsing and draining the seeds twice a day, the seeds had grown 1-inch-long sprouts. Success!

Right now I have alfalfa seeds incubating in the modified yogurt maker. I'm planning on trying whatever other seeds that might make some good eating, including wheat, sunflower, millet, and various types of bean. I figure I can come up with a few dozen variations on each of a few dozen recipes for fixing the sprouts. Let's see... there's tomato, sprouts, and roasted peanuts with a little salt ....

Here's a link to the yogurt maker I use, but I'm not recommending it, you understand. I have no knowledge that it is any better or worse for sprouting seeds than other yogurt makers. Salton YM9 1-Quart Yogurt Maker

Recumbent computer: 20090404

Working in the garden sometimes makes my back muscles sore. Then sitting at a computer makes those sore muscles ache even more. So to solve that problem, I hung a computer monitor face down over my bed where it is about 1 foot in front of my face when I am flat on my back. I am writing this as I lay there, giving the setup its first real test. Seems pretty good so far.

The keyboard is a tenting type, in two parts, hinged at the center. It rests fairly stably on my thighs where the ends of my finger naturally are with arms fully extended toward the feet. The keyboard joint is a pivot so the rows of keys can be aligned to accommodate the geometry of a person's hands - much better than a standard keyboard with rows of keys straight across the length of the keyboard. I am using, for now, a standard mouse with a piece of a broken plastic cutting board as the surface for the mouse's roller ball. The piece of cutting board rests on my abdomen and is pretty handy there except it will take some getting used to. To move the mouse pointer up-screen requires moving the mouse screen-left. (Since I am holding the mouse in my right hand, and that hand is on my abdomen, the mouse is aimed to the left.) Similarily, to move the pointer screen-left, requires moving the mouse toward the top of the monitor. That's like looking in the mirror when your are trying to trim your hair.

Using the mouse seemed very awkward and challenging at first but is already getting easier after only a few minutes working with it.

The monitor is hung on 3-inch eye hooks screwed into ceiling joists and nylon cord running down to the monitor. Drilled a hole in the monitor's plastic case, one at each side, about 1-inch from the monitor's back side. Put the holes in a plane running through the monitor's center of gravity so it would hang with the screen almost perfectly horizontal.

The computer itself is hung from eye hooks screwed into studs in the wall immediately to the side of the bed. A shelf holds the keyboard, mouse, and the cutting board piece within reach as I lie in bed so I can lay down and grab the keyboard and mouse.

Maybe I'll invest in a mouse with a trackball on top so I won't have to lay a piece of cutting board on my stomach, one more thing to be manipulated before using the computer. If it turns out that I can stay awake and alert while laying down and using the computer, this may be a good solution to an annoying aching back that sometimes makes working at the computer difficult during the growing season when it seems more often then not, back muscles are sore, and it is especially painful to maintain a motionless, upright posture for hours at a time when using a desktop computer.

To keep from smacking my face into the monitor screen when I wake up at night, I'll sleep with my head at the other end of the bed.

This might also be a comfortable way to read. Could download ebooks from the local library and read them while laying comfortably on by back. No book to hold up, no tensed up muscles holding up a 100 plus pound torso, arms, and head. Yeh, Alan, you may have something here.

Maybe I'll get a picture here, probably won't be very informative, but at least it's an indication that I really did this and am not just making it up.

Move your mouse cursor onto this sentence to see a photo of the recumbent computer.

Words and phrases descriptive of the contents of this post: using a computer while laying down, using a computer in bed, mounting a computer for a bed-ridden person, ergonomic computer use, relieving backache, aching muscles while using a computer, making computer use comfortable

Chestnut cutter: 20101003

It seems the best way to store chestnuts is to dry them. The way I do it is to cut the chestnuts in half, boil in water for a few minutes, remove the shell and skin, and put them in a food dehydrater for 48 hours.

It's 3 or 4 hours work to get 3 quarts dried chestnuts. One way to make it easier is to make a jig that helps steady the knife used to cut the chestnut, hull on, in half. Without the jig, it's more than pushing straight down with the knife. Because the chestnut is not in line with the arm, there is a torque that strains muscles and joints if you are cutting more than about 3 quarts of chestnuts. The jig enables a straight down push to cut a chestnut in half. That eliminates a lot of stress and effort.

I have a reasonabley sturdy table with a solid wood top about an inch thick. The table top is made in 2 parts and slides apart, separating at he center. So the jig can be placed in the joint between the two halfs and the halfs slid together to hold the jig.

Below is a couple of pictures of the jig I made out of a piece of clotheshanger wire, maybe about 10 inches long. Start by bending the wire around the knife blade at about the center of the wire. Twist the wires together to form a loop around the knife blade, about a full turn, I suppose. Then put something such as a piece of 16 penny nail between the two wire and twist the wire together forming a length of twisted wire the same length as the thickness of your table top. Put a piece of 3/4 inch by 3/4-inch wood between the wires, bending the wire around the wood so the wood is held securely enough to stay in place while the jig is in use. Finally twist the wire together so the squarish loop hold the wood remains secured.

The nail keeps the jig from dropping down into the joint between the two table halfs. The 3/4-inch wood keep the jig from raising up when the knife tries to pivot as the handle is pushed down.

Move your mouse cursor onto this sentence to see a photo of the chestnut cutter jig.

Move your mouse cursor onto this sentence to see a photo of the chestnut cutter setup.

Words and phrases descriptive of the contents of this post: cutting chestnuts, drying chestnuts, best way to cut chestnuts, easier way to cut chestnuts

My science fiction novel: 20120110

I started writing a novel several years ago. It's finished now. Thrivers In An Uncertain Future is basically science fiction but doesn't have the usual space travel, time travel, beam weapons, or other such typical science fiction incarnations. My novel is about the near future, the twenty-first century, and presents a plausible scenario of what could happen in the reader's lifetime and what to me seems likely to happen.

The story and the theme fit in pretty well with the subject of this website. The main character of the novel is a tinkerer. The circumstances in the story make it necessary for people to rely on their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Creativity to solve practical problems becomes especially critical for a person's well-being. It is a scenario that may play out in our lifetimes. Many plausible, and arguably likely, catastrophes have been predicted by knowledgible people. Wouldn't it be best to take action to be prepared and then feel good that you have done so?

I feel good about recommending the book. It's entertaining, at least to people with an interest in the main themes of the novel: science, self sufficiency, and maximizing resilience as strategies to best deal with future unknowns. Thrivers is mainly a story of the lives of the main characters and how they react and prepare for the future. It is a future rich with possibilities. There will be many advances that enhance our lives. And there will be misfortune.

Thrivers is currently available as a Nook ebook and a Kindle ebook. The Smashwords version has a slightly different story and has the title 'Extreme Distance Genome Exchange. On Smashwords it can be downloaded in a variety of formats. A sample of 40 percent of the book can be downloaded for free. Probably within the next several months I will delete the Smashwords version and replace it with Thrivers. Eventually, I hope to make it available as a print-on-demand book from

Best wishes,
Alan Detwiler: rural resident, gardener, and advocate of self sufficiency and resilient living. Bio at

Move your mouse cursor onto this sentence to see the cover image from Extreme Distance Genome Exchange.

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