The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

Bitsy Battle: Part Deux – Sequel of the Small 25 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 3:15 pm
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Well it looks as though this shall be the final chapter in the Bitsy Battle. While the growing is still going, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve learned everything I’m going to learn at this point. So here we go…
100_1014100_1015As you may have guessed by now, I like to set my pictures up to display, left, right, left, right, etc. So if your screen formating moves things around just keep that in mind so you can tell what I’m talking about.
To the left here we have a nice shot of the Micro Tom with some green, ripening, and ripe tomatoes on it. As you can see this is an extremely low-growing cultivar.
To the right is the Florida Petite. It is about twice as tall (at a whopping 6-8 inches) but has similar total mass. The reason they both look a little sickly is because I’m lazy and wasn’t paying good attention to the state of the air stones, which clogged up.


I’m guessing this hurt yield a bit, but it seemed to have affected both plants pretty equally so I’m considering the contest to still be “fair enough”.
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On the left here we have a closer shot of the prettiest fruit cluster on the Micro Tom. I’m not certain why some of them display folded shoulders like that, and it doesn’t really alter the flavor at all, so it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. Many of the Micro Tom’s fruit seem to be irregularly shaped, and they’re all smaller on average than the Florida Petite.


To the right is a cluster on the Petite, which as you can see here matured more slowly than the Tom.


At this point I was ready to declare the Micro Tom the winner, since it seemed both faster to mature and more prolific, but I was withholding final judgment until I could taste-test the difference between the two.
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For better size comparison I provide the picture on the left, holding fruit from the Micro Tom that I picked (you can see them in the previous Tom pictures).


The fruit from the Micro Tom are a little tougher than most cherry tomatoes, mainly because the smaller fruit have the same skin as a larger tomato, making it comparatively thicker for the smaller fruit. It’s a good-tasting tomato, but nothing that’s going to win an award or get people especially excited. However, it’s a really nice tomato for salads since it’s small enough to pop several in your mouth at once and unlike a full-sized cherry tomato, you don’t have to carefully balance it on a fork or chase it around the bowl trying to spear it. They’re small enough to sit quite happily atop a fork (particularly if you use some dressing to make them a bit stickier.)


The fruit of the Florida Petite, however, are more the size you’d expect from a cherry tomato, ripen to a redder color, and have a brighter, juicier flavor. While the Petite seems to produce fewer fruit (at least in this limited experiment) it does grow a similar total weight of tomatoes. I don’t have exact figures because I tend to eat as I pick, but it’s close enough for my satisfaction.


My final verdict is that the Micro Tom is ideal for extremely cramped growing locations, or anytime you want a fast-bearing carpet-style tomato plant, but it is in my opinion more novelty than salad contributor. The Florida Petite better balances size, yield, and quality. It may take a 2-3 weeks longer to mature, but it’s worth the wait. Of course both plants are still going, so if anything new develops I’ll let you know.


The final picture above to the right is a recent snap of both plants in the closet. As you can see I’ve been neglecting them more recently because I’m kind of anxious for them to finish up so I can start my next project.


Below I have pictures of the three fish I caught awhile back and talked about in the Fishing – Doctor’s Orders post. They’re kind of Goldilocks-style: small, medium, and large. Though really none of them were “big”, they were quite tasty. The final picture is post-cleaning. Yes, I left the tail on one of them. Call it gross, call it whatever, I learned from my grandfather that fried catfish tails were good to eat and so any fish I decide to cook whole (instead of filleted) I leave the tail on.
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You can also see me demonstrating here the best way to hold a catfish. Press the palm of your hand on the top of the fish, forcing the spiny dorsal fin back, flat against the body. With your thumb on one side and your middle finger on the other, hook in behind the spiny side fins, push them forward, and grab the bony protrusions there. Grip firmly and you’ve got ahold of your catfish in a way it can’t really get out of or scratch you with its fins. Simple!





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This is another way you can hold onto a catfish, but it’s less recommended. Catfish small enough for this method are better held over the top, and catfish too big for the over the top method… well try using two hands over the top or simply beating it to death with a large wooden club or something. I don’t know, I haven’t caught one of those yet so it hasn’t come up. But sticking your thumb in the mouth of a catfish this big or bigger is a good way to get scratched up because their “teeth” are basically just like really rough sandpaper and they will bite down on you. Most fishermen simply don’t care (as you can see here, I’m in that group) but if don’t want to look like someone attacked you with a metal file just stick with the over the top grip, and bring along a fisherman for handling the big ones.

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Bitsy Battle: Chapter 1 – The Teen Years 22 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:24 pm
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100_1007As promised I’ve got another update on the Bitsy Battle.
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This one covers the “mid-way” point right around the time when I mentioned it earlier in the blog.

To the left here you can see a nice full shot of the plant and growing unit, the airline is disconnected at the one-way valve on the left. These pictures were all taken in the bathtub while I was changing the nutrient solution and cleaning the bucket.

To the right is a close-up of the stem and the support system. You can see that the plant is growing fine in this system and that everything is nicely secure.

When I moved things around there was no slack or “floppiness” and I’d guesstimate this method would be secure for much larger plants. I’d have no worries growing full-sized indeterminates in this rig,
100_1009given the top support you always need for that kind of growing.

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We have a nice root shot to the left here. Personally I like to see more robust root systems on my plants just because they’re pretty and all the usual male “bigger is always better” stuff. But the truth of the matter is that hydroponics just doesn’t demand that kind of massive root system. (It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not as important.)

You can also see the lower side of the support system, and that my earlier decision to cut larger holes in the netting wasn’t really necessary.

To the right is the other tomato plant (the Micro Tom – the previous picture is of the Florida Petite). You can see that the Micro Tom is much shorter, denser, and has a lot more flowers/fruit so far. But the Micro Tom doesn’t know the tide will turn…
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On the left I’ve got another shot of the Micro Tom, closer and with a
100_10121better view of some of the fruit bunches. The slightly asymmetrical shaping of these tomatoes doesn’t change as they mature and grow. I’m not certain to what extent that might be genetic or possibly caused by me, but I’ve still got plenty of seeds for these two phenotypes so I’ll figure that out later. For the time being, my observation is that in my non-laboratory conditions, these two plants grown under pretty much identical conditions results in the Florida Petite growing fewer, larger and rounder fruit.

At the same time I was taking these pictures, I also thinned the herd in the salad machine by harvesting a whole plant (Grand Rapids lettuce). That machine holds 6 net pots, but doesn’t have the surface area necessary for 6 mature lettuce plants so I would periodically pull a plant out to make room for the others. As you can see with my bodywash bottle as a size comparison, this was no tiny plant. Good root development, and plenty of salad/sandwich making potential.


Useful Tip: If you, like me, harvest more lettuce than you can comfortably eat immediately, I’ve found a great storage method. First off, rinse it clean if you need to (I don’t, since it grows inside away from stuff I’d need to wash off) and then dry it as fully as possible. Water is the enemy to storing lettuce, ironically. I then take some paper towels (2 per gallon ziploc bag), fold them so they fit inside the bag as flat as possible, and then carefully stack the lettuce on top of that. Once the bag is full or you run out of lettuce, zip the bag all but 1 inch shut, push as much air out as you can without crushing the lettuce, and then seal the bag fully.

The paper towels absorb excess moisture that would cause your lettuce to wilt prematurely, and limiting the amount of air inside the bag also helps keep the humidity under control. Using this method I’ve had lettuce stay good for a very long time – much longer than my wife believes anything stays good in a fridge. Oh, and if you really want to get all the mileage you can out of your greens, you can even bounce them back after wilting a little by soaking them in a bowl of cool water for 15-20 minutes. They’ll soak it up and be nice and crisp again, just like new. As long as it’s green, doesn’t smell sour, or have something suspicious growing on it, I consider it good to eat.

But let your conscious be your guide.

 

Bitsy Battle: The Beginning 20 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 1:15 pm
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I have finally emerged victorious over the technical difficulties that plagued my ability to upload pictures. (translation: I finally got off my backside and fixed it.)


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Here we see the very beginning – two stacked 5 gallon bucket lids that have been covered in aluminum duct tape for light-proofing. I’ve drilled small holes in the center of each lid, large enough to admit plant stems but small enough to prevent a jiffy starter (also shown here with the Micro Tom seedling started in it) from passing through.


Most importantly, note the brown net-like structure. This is made from common, everyday shelf lining (or whatever it’s called). You can buy it at W-Mart or wherever, it costs practically nothing for a roll that will last you forever, and you can even use it to line your kitchen drawers/shelves. As you can see here I cut a narrow strip (slightly wider than I needed it to support). I then found the middle and carefully clipped out larger holes, also clearly seen here. I wasn’t sure if it would be helpful to do so, but I figured a little extra access for roots wouldn’t hurt, and this stuff is much stronger than it looks so I wasn’t really weakening it. (That narrow strip would likely support at least 75lbs.)


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Next up I poked the middle of the strip through the hole like so.


Keep going until you’ve got enough of a loop to slip your Jiffy starter (or whatever you’re using) into place without harming your seedling, then carefully pull the ends back out until it’s snugly in place and the seedling is through the top and flush against the lid (see below).
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Now the tricky part is finding a way to hold the ends tightly apart so that the plant won’t fall back down. Astute late-night television viewers will recognize the “Hercules Hook” employed in this task here. I also considered the ever-popular duct tape, but felt something more easily adjustable and more permanent would be the better choice.


This completes assembly of the upper portion of the system, solidly securing plant to lid.
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Please note that nearly any single item used in the construction thus far can be easily exchanged for something similar. This is primarily an example of construction using “at hand” materials. Take the spirit from this rather than a specific shopping list.
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So, on to the bucket.


At left we see how the exterior is drilled for the airline, which you can see installed with the one-way valve here.


To the right you can see inside the bucket. I glued the air stones down with silicone sealant. The one you see here is a super cheap air stone you can get anywhere (and it didn’t even last through the whole grow, so I don’t recommend that style.)
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Thoughts on this design…


The airline would benefit from being more effectively secured to the side of the bucket. Each time it was necessary to clean the buckets the roots would be wrapped around the air line a little. Not a big deal. Mostly I didn’t see a simple way to do that without complicating something else.


As I mentioned, the air stone should be upgraded. Cheap air stones clog up and stop bubbling entirely, which of course kills plants.
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To the right you can see a shot of the “salad machine” just set up and ready to go. It was coordinated to go with the Bitsy Battle. On the left you can see how the closet was set with both buckets and the salad machine. On the left is the 150w HPS I wrote about before, and on the right is the 105w (500w equivalent) CFL I’ve been using all along.


As plants in the salad machine matured and got crowded, I removed one at a time until three were left. Those were harvested at full maturity a couple weeks ago.


The Bitsy Battle continues and I’ll post another update in a day or two to cover the mid-way point, and then the final conclusions and photos a little bit after that.

 

My Cat’s Breath Smells Like… Basil? – Part Deux 24 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:49 pm
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Some of you might remember this post.


Well I’ve got a bunch of seedlings in a windowsill that’s surrounded by some curtains in order to maintain privacy and thwart my wife’s plant-violating cat. Well as any self-respecting villain is likely to do, she found a way in despite my efforts. Two Swiss chard plants met an early and violent end at her (allegedly) carnivorous teeth. Several other plants were mutilated, harassed, or trod upon. Fur and fuzz were strewn about and other unknown nefarious deeds were undoubtedly committed.


Uncorroborated reports suggest she may have been trying to contact the Dark Forces with some sort of ritual.


I have tightened security and, against my better judgment, procured a supply of cat grass to provide this ne’er do well with an legal outlet for her vegetative vengeance. It just don’t seem right to appease a criminal like that, but until some form of learning ability is found within that furry mind there is little else to do.



What’s most interesting in all of this is that within this window area are two very healthy basil seedlings which were, strangely, the only plants that were wholly untouched. This feline felon munched marigolds of all things, in favor of a truly tasty herb. Clearly not this mastermind’s finest hour… like all cats her goal is clearly world domination, but her personality deficiencies are her greatest enemy.



In other news the outdoor tomatoes appear to be doing well, I’ve got some very nice-looking garlic coming up and my first tulip has broken ground. Inside the lettuce is nearly out of control (it’s massive) and the Micro Tom’s tomatoes are starting to ripen. So there’s home-grown salad on the near future menu.


We went fishing last weekend with no luck, but it was still nice to get out and spend some time together relaxing. And it’s always good to get the tackle out and put it through its paces to see what you need to replace and whatnot. We wanted to try again today but the wind here was fierce. I can cast in wind, I grew up where “windy” means “it can knock you down”, but it was also just chilly enough to cut through you pretty good. Add in a little wet and it’d get downright unpleasant real quick and I don’t fish because I’m hungry. If I’m not having any fun, I’ll go home.


Plus there’s the little point that there are very few things that are less pleasant than the mildest annoyance to one’s spouse.

 

The Actual Gardening Update 12 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:07 am
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For those interested in why there are no garden pictures in this update, read the previous blog entry.


Let’s see… what all have I been up to?


Well I previously documented some tomatoes I was growing “Hempy” style, which is a type of hydroponic system developed by some people who grow “that plant”. I don’t, but I do study whatever techniques I can find that my apply to legitimate gardening. That one didn’t work for me. It probably works fine, I just did it wrong somehow. I say that because my next project was essentially the same thing, but in dirt. I had the exact same problem. There’s a few working theories as to what went wrong both times, but that’s not really important.


The new tomatoes are doing great.


I got some tomato seeds from a great guy who runs the Hydroponic Workshop blog. I read his blog a lot and noticed he mentioned in one post a few months back that the tomato plant he was growing, called a “Florida Petite”, was super-small. He said that he’d been told it was the smallest variety of tomato plant. Well it just so happened I’d bought some Micro Tom seeds from Totally Tomatoes that said the same thing – that this was the smallest variety. Thus the idea of a side-by-side grow was born and I got sent some Florida Petite seeds.


Micro Tom vs. Florida Petite – The Bitsy Battle!


I do have pictures, but not on my computer yet, so look for those to come. In the meantime I can award trophies in a few categories and you can just use your imagination. Both plants are growing in standard 5 gallon buckets DWC under a 150w HPS and a 105w CFL (6500K).


Shortest: With nothing taller than 3″, this goes hands down to the Micro Tom. At under 6″ the Florida Petite is still a very short plant.
Least “volume”: Hard to say, but the Petite looks a little smaller overall.
Earliest fruit: Micro Tom by 2 weeks.
Most fruit: Micro Tom by double, currently.
Prettiest: I’d have to go with the Petite here. It’s got a more classic tomato leaf shape and a richer color to its leaves.


Observations: The Micro Tom seem healthier, having lost fewer leaves. Its leaves are considerably darker green than the Petite’s, and curl a bit more and are otherwise less symmetrical. It also spreads out more horizontally which is a big part of the reason I prefer the overall “look” of the Petite. The Petite is just a prettier plant. On the other hand, the Micro Tom has quite literally over 2 dozen tomatoes growing on it and is smaller in diameter than the lid of the bucket, so that’s a pretty heavy-fruiting plant there. The Petite may catch up in total crop, but it’s lagging behind a few weeks so it’s hard to say. My instinct says it just won’t bear as many tomatoes as the Tom.


Of course we have to wait for a taste test for any kind of final score, and I haven’t gotten any ripe ones yet. My plan is to wait until both plants have ripe fruit for a proper side-by-side taste test.



The “salad machine” as I’ve dubbed the DWC I’ve shown here previously is nearing the end of it’s latest lettuce crop. As usual I’m getting monstrous plants out of that thing but I’ve decided I’m going to retire it, at least temporarily, after this crop. It may come back later, but probably not growing lettuce. I need a shorter, wider system that’s more modular for my salad needs. Younger plants and more of them should work better. I’m still in the planning and design phase of that, and with the donation of some lights by my uncle I should be able to actually convert a significant part of my grow closet back to storage and still multiply my lettuce harvest. More as that develops.



Beyond that I’ve started preparation for my outdoor crops by making a little window grow area. I’ve currently got 4 types of tomatoes (different than the mini versions above) started there, some swiss chard, marigolds (for companion planting with the tomatoes), basil, oregano, and this cool giant flower bushy thing I took seeds from at our old place but forgot the name of. Hopefully I got a mix of the pink and white ones of those because I couldn’t tell which were which after the flowers turned into seed pods. Oh, and I’ve got a snaggled mess of strawberry crowns all in the same peat pot in the window with some vague plan to sort them out eventually. Mainly I just want a runner I can put into hydroponics.


All that remains to mention is the garlic I planted last fall that hasn’t come up yet and the tulips I planted this winter that also haven’t come up yet despite the neighbors all having theirs up already. I’m not terribly worried just yet, but I’d prefer more than just bare dirt.

 

I’m not usually this far behind 16 January, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 10:33 pm
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Okay, I was sure I wasn’t going to do this, but here’s yet another update to say I’m going to bring everyone up to date.

Remember the car buying I mentioned?  Well I finally got that done a week and a half ago.  Then the waterpump on the new car died, literally days before we were going to take our old car to the shop to get some tune-up work done.  The new car overheated and chewed up its head gasket.

So we spent time and (a lot of) money getting that dealt with.

Work hasn’t let up an inch, but will soon.

I gave up on the tomatoes I had growing in 5 gallon buckets of soil.  They were just not at all healthy and showed no signs of successfully bearing fruit.  So I pulled them and I’m restarting everything in a grander scale… sort of.
I got the “salad DWC” out and I’ve got lettuce seeds germinating for it and I’m going to convert the buckets to DWC by plugging the drain holes with silicone and aluminum tape.  I have two varieties of dwarf tomato plants I’ll be growing as a side-by-side comparison.  Those seeds are also germinating.

I got the capacitor for the DIY HID project… it’s about the size of a Red Bull so it doesn’t fit in the remote ballast case I have.  I’ll figure something out and post that up when I actually get it all done and finished.

Oh, and I’ve got plans for a kitty litter vermicomposting project to emulate the one Red Worm Composting is doing.

 

Laid out, Laid back; To-may-to, To-mah-to 22 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 8:53 pm
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Well it’s Tuesday. Not just any Tuesday – one of those Tuesdays.

Not that anyone but my immediate family is keeping track, but the ongoing saga that is my reconstructive dental work is a series of alternating Tuesdays that see me laid out on the living room couch (where I can more easily snag passers-by to come over, read what I’ve typed on my laptop screen so that a new ice pack or whatever can be brought to me.) My blood pressure is naturally just low enough that it’s a little too easy for me to get dizzy for awhile after having work done.

In fact, the dentists very quickly learned that if it’s the sort of thing that’s going to leave me with a mouthful of gauze for a few hours, I shouldn’t even try to stand up out of the dental chair until my BP is on the north side of “has a pulse”. Those free blood pressure things at local supermarkets have – more than a few times – told me I didn’t have any. Blood pressure, that is.

So here I am, stuck on the couch, with my Season 4 of MacGyver and the Internet to keep me occupied. I suppose I could work (since I telecommute), but no, that’d just be silly, wouldn’t it? (Honestly though, I’m not slacking – I schedule time off for this and besides, I don’t charge anyone anything for thinking I do while popping a Vicodin every 4 hours.)

In a weird kind of way, it’s nice. We self-employed don’t really get vacation time, paid sick leave, or really very many weekends. So as far as I’m concerned, being “laid out” is a nice way to be “laid back” for a change. I figured I’d take this opportunity to muse for a bit, mention some things I’ve been meaning to update, and so forth. In a word, ramble.

Why? Because I can. It’s my blog, I can ramble if I want to. Besides, since I’m chemically-enhanced at the moment I can just blame the Vicodin if I sound stupid, right?

Let’s see… updates…

The garden in general is doing pretty well. I had some red onions from the supermarket that sprouted way back and I planted them. They grew, went to seed, and I tried to collect some seeds. No idea yet if I got anything viable out of that, but the plants are dying back. I score that one as a big “shrug”.

Got some white bunching type onions that are doing well in the commercial Earth Box I have, and not as well in the garden (but not terrible). I’m probably going to yank the big one and dice it up nice and fine and cook it in my obscenely good secret recipe broccoli cream soup with cheese and ham and such. Since I’m on a no-solid-food diet for the next two weeks at least, I’ve been eating a lot of that. It’s the sort of soup that, if served with a sandwich, results in a left-over sandwich. One bowl will stuff you to the gills. Love it.

The tomatoes are just insane. The giant cherry tomato tree thing growing next to my A/C unit in the barbecue ash pile is doing a fair impersonation of the magic beanstalk, and will have it’s first bunch of tomatoes ripe any day now. This will fall into the category of “Things I’ll Eat No Matter How Much It Might Hurt”. One of the clusters it has higher up has something like 25 growing green fruit on it. Honestly, the plant is a little scary. Score this one as “smile nice and never turn your back on it”.

I have a new basil plant, growing outside in a pot. My Roma tomato has put on a second wind, but still hasn’t set any fruit. The upside-down tomato from my “version 2.0” post is ticking me off. It’s just not growing that much and it’s looking weak. I’m scoring that as a “shrug and glare”. The garlic on the front porch in containers is doing okay, but not impressing me. I didn’t really plant it at the right time, so I’m not worried.

A lot of what I do, like the Compost Guy, Bentley, is done “wrong” either because I’m still learning a lot or because I don’t really care that much. I started some tomatoes late. I planted garlic in late spring. That kind of stuff. A lot of it’s just because I could, and didn’t care so much whether I got great results or not.

In Hydroponics I’ve got a new salad crop started in my DWC. When I did that my drain valve started leaking, so I had to kind of do an emergency replacement of the entire reservoir. I quickly installed a water level indicator in the old reservoir and drilled it for 4 airlines (instead of the 2 it had used previously) and pulled the fancier one out of duty until I can seal the leak. Basically, it’ll go back into use at the next reservoir change. That DWC is now growing Grand Rapids lettuce, Romaine lettuce, and spinach.

I also have a sweet bell pepper plant that’s just about to go crazy-bushy on me and two teeny little tomato seedlings. I’ve got a Brandywine and a Giant Valentine growing the first true leaves. Oh, and I’ve got an oregano seedling peeking out the top of its Jiffy starter… I need to remember to get a pot for it soon.

Indoor dirt plants include a Micro Tom and a strawberry plant that should be appearing above ground soon. They’ve got humidity tents / cat forcefields that are made from my standard unit of construction: the 2L soda bottle.

That’s about it for now I think.  One of these days I need to figure out how to better format my posts so they don’t look like this (all smooshed together and hard to read), but today is not that day.  Today is more of a nap day.