A Teosinte Christmas in Colorado

So, i know I’ve blogged a bit about experimentally growing Teosinte in my post about growing prehistoric corn and also in my post about differences between teosinte species. Both posts have gotten quite a bit of traffic over the years and have brought people to my blog who are interested in Teosinte specifically.

For those of you who don’t know Teosinte is a progenitor to modern Corn (Also known as Maize), which is still able to interbreed with Corn. Some teosinte is annual, while others are perennial (or maybe bi-annual). There are many people who are interested in breeding perennial teosinte with corn to make perennial or bi-annual corn.

The major problem with trying to grow Teosinte in a moderate climate as here in Colorado in the United States is that it is adapted to grow in the climate of mexico and our growing season just isn’t really long enough. Even more so since Teosinte is day-length sensitive and does not even start to tassel, silk, and pollinate until the days get short and the sunlight shifts deeper into the red spectrum. By the time that happens here it is usually around August and often we get snow by September or October. Definitely not enough time for Teosinte or Corn seeds to mature and dry down for saving. …Or is it?!

Well, this year it just happened to turn out just barely long enough. I’m calling it my Christmas miracle! haha. I think it was a combination of it being a La Nina weather year with an unusually warm fall with no snow until here in December. But also with the fact that i dug up my clump of teosinte plants and put them in a pot in the garage. Though they were a bit unhappy in the garage and were touching the ceiling.

Still i was able to keep them in there long enough to hand pollinate them. But to be honest i thought i had again failed to get viable Teosinte seeds. But when the plants were dead i went out and happened to find some! Above is a picture of what i believe to be seeds of ‘Zea mexicana’ teosinte seeds.

If there is one moral of this story that you should take away it is this: Never give up even when everyone else thinks you are crazy or tell you that what you believe is impossible. I learned this in gardening from my friend Joseph Lofthouse of Utah. He has had success with so many of his unusual crops that no one else in his valley of Utah is able to grow. He often starts with many varieties of a plant as possible and grows as many as he can. Often more than 90% of them die or fail to produce seeds. But he only needs a few that do. Once he gets seeds he can start to effort to plant them year after year and adapt them to his climate. If they still fail to thrive he lets them die or culls them off himself. But he has a variety of unusual crops, such as Landrace Watermelon adapted to Utah (and by extension Colorado), Landrace Cantaloupe, Landrace inter-species hybrid squashes, Tomatoes that are self-incompatible and are highly attractive to bees (modern tomatoes are not at all and are highly inbred), and more.

 

On the left here is a photo of one small cob of a teosinte hybrid (zea diploperennis-corn hybrid from the USDA) pollinated with what i believe to be flour or field corn pollen. On the right is the same teosinte-corn hybrid cob line but i believe this one was self pollinated with its own pollen. It seems to have popcorn heritage as the seeds show popcorn / flint corn characteristics.

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Here is another strain of day-length neutral teosinte (decended from Zea mexicana) that a collaborator Joseph Lofthouse of Utah is growing and having success with. I believe he got the seed originally from NativeseedsSEARCH in Arizona. He decided to test if it makes good popcorn.

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Here is my Teosinte clump in the summer of 2016.

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Here is the same spot with snow on it now in winter.

If you’d like to follow the discussion about growing teosinte in places it is not normally supposed to grow (or other unusual crops) then visit the Alan Bishop Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum here!

Bitten by the Electronics Bug

So recently I’ve been bitten by the project bug again. And quite a bit by electronics hobby-type stuff again in particular, though not exclusively. More blog posts and updates to come soon.

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On the left is my old homemade DIY arduino based avr high voltage programmer made on old Hewlett Packard Engineering Protoboard based off of Jeff’s original design that i made in 2011. On the right is my brand new updated model named the AVR HV Rescue Shield 2 from MightyOhm.com. It’s main function is to help reset the fuses on AVR chips when you program them wrong. My old one came in handy and has saved a few chips from time to time. The new one obviously is better, mostly because now that i’m tinkering more with attiny85V chips i now have a High Voltage Rescue shield for them too, though it also does not require an external 12VDC power source as it has some sort of built in surface mount step up voltage chip.

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So as briefly mentioned above i’ve been tinkering with trying to program attiny85v AVR chips. I’ve dug out my old trusty USBtinyISP AVR Programmer and I’ve recently gotten a Sparkfun Tiny AVR Programmer.

What i’m really intending to do is make a shrunk down version of my old Mystery Project by re-purposing and reprogramming my Adafruit TV-b-gone kit. I just need to get the frequency right. I’m starting by seeing if i can compile and upload the tvbgone AVR/arduino code to a blank attiny85 first. If i can do that i can work on changing the code. So far though i haven’t gotten the AVR fuses correct yet to use the tvbgone’s external 8mhz oscillator, though i think the program has uploaded correctly. That’s why i needed the HV Rescue Shield 2 mentioned above.

In addition, i finally ordered the parts to finish my DIY Arduino MENTA boards. They are cool Adafruit designed Arduino compatible boards that fit into an Altoids mint tin.

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Some of the other items I’ve been tinkering with have been Raspberry Pi’s, including various Linux-based Operating Systems including Raspian (a debian based distro), Octopi (debian running Octoprint – 3D printer software), and RetroPie (an emulator to play old roms for NES, SNES, Playstation, Atari, Gameboy, and other popular gaming systems). The tiny $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. Tinkering with automatic plant lights and a gardening moisture sensor. And my fancy new SparkFun Vernier Interface Shield an upgrade to interface my Vernier sensors with Arduino. More on that in another post soon!

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I also recently ordered a USB cable in order to salvage a scrounged barcode scanner that my brother saved from the Barnes And Noble dumpster. The USB cable works! Now i just need to figure out a use for it. Not bad for a $10 cable on ebay to a functional $200 value barcode scanner.

DIY Mini Taffy Machine – revisited 2016

So lately in 2016 (and quite a bit today) i’ve taken a look at revisiting my original DIY Taffy Pulling Machine from 2012. There was a lot of interest in the 2012 version, and i did try to provide enough information and detail in open source fashion for others to build their own, but i guess things just didn’t work out the best for that to happen.

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The biggest reason i revisited it is because it just didn’t quite feel finished, and quite frankly those big gears posed a pinching hazard. Plus many people didn’t know where to get their own. So in an effort to solve both problems in one i decided to make internal gears, but to do that successfully i had to shrink them down. In the process i decided it was time to make the gears 3D-printable thereby speeding up my own design process, but also opening up this design to a whole new set of people that otherwise would not be able to make one.

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I hereby am pleased to announce the re-releasing of my Mini Taffy Machine as an Open Source Hardware project. I have improved the CAD files and PDF assembly drawings with good blueprint title blocks (a skill i obtained from my recent machining courses this semester). So i hope you all enjoy and i look forward to seeing more of these in the wild and new iterations and modifications that people come up with!! (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1659568)

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Gardening with Conductive Helical Coils 2016

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So despite the blog and my internet presence being quite mute as of late i actually have been up to quite a lot. My homemade Lulzbot Mini 3d Printer this summer was a success, amd i have constantly been improving it. At some point i will take some photos of it’s final progress. A few of my pea breeding crosses from last year were successful, including one i’m excited to grow again which is a cross of the Purple Passion dark purple seeded pea (which is a small genetically weak pea variety) with another stronger pea variety. That should produce something really cool in the coming years. And this fall and next spring i’m experimenting with school by going through a Precision Machinist course and am learning how to use milling machines, lathes, and CNC equipment to produce Aerospace quality components. Not sure if that’s something i want to do long term, but they are skills i’m interested in and can use throughout my life. So that’s new.

Anyway though, as a throwback or a revisit to my post in 2010 titled “Do Plants Really Need Sunlight?“, which has actually been one of the most visited posts on my blog over the years, i finally got around to building a few of those coils that sounded so interesting.

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Conductive Helical Coil around the stem of a plant

So the basic premise or idea behind using a coil of wire with electricity is that it produces a small amount of electricity or a magnetic current through the air. This is the same idea Nicola Tesla was after all those years ago when his imagination was captured with the idea that everything could have wireless electricity. And in many cases his dream has come true with an ever increasing amount of technology these days using induction to wirelessly power or heat things. The basic premise of applying this technology to plants comes from an article i read once that talked about how researchers were able to measure a small direct current from trees in a forest by placing nails in them. They then had ideas about placing nails in many trees and hooking them up together to power small electronics like a battery or cell phone charger, or a smoke alarm. Basically all plants (and maybe all living things) produce a bioelectric field of energy. If one can tap this field to harvest electricity, then why cant we tap into it and feed these plants with extra electricity to help them grow.

One question i asked in my old blog post was if plants even need sunlight at all as long as they are getting some form of energy to grow. I still haven’t done an experiment to test that idea, but it’s still an interesting question. Because it makes me wonder if there are ways plants could be grown in complete darkness.

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Regardless, this summer i finally built a prototype plant coil. I built it rather late in the season, so i really wasn’t able to give it a good test. My original plan was to plant 3 or 4 genetically identical tomato plants near each other in the relatively same soil with at least one plant being the control. I was then going to observe over the course of the summer f the tomato plants within the coils had larger and better growth than the control. That was plan anyway, i just didn’t quite get to it.

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You can see here we were trying to use a volt meter and another coil to see if we could detect that our coils were working. We weren’t having much success with the meter in the beginning and i don’t remember if we did later after increasing the power supply a bit. But in theory you should be able to measure with a second coil.

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I placed it on three smallest tomato plant clusters in the very late planted tomato patch. Interestingly enough, the three plants it happens to be on might be the only three blue tomato genetic varieties that survived my haphazard tomato disasters this year. Since placing the coils on these plants i have noticed an improvement in them and they have since catched up to the growth of the other tomato plants in that spot. Although at the same time i did also make a furrow and started watering them more. But even so i’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the coils did help them go from “runt” status to catching up to the others. I may yet get a few tomatoes from the larger two before winter hits. Thanks to Gilbert for providing the motivation to actually build this project. And a thanks to the Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum where i get so many of my adventurous gardening and plant breeding ideas. You guy’s are the best and a continual inspiration to me. Read more: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8623/breeding-tower-potato-ideas-wanted?page=13#ixzz4LoiDtFZE

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So, while my experimentation was a bit haphazard this year i think i still did ok. It was a fun project that went from an interesting patent to a cool project idea in my head and at the back of my mind, to a fully functional project / prototype. Plus i think these coils look cool. haha.

But it makes me wonder what other cool patents are out there that i can exploit, reverse engineer and build to experiment with. One of my next projects i think will go the opposite route and will be heavily steeped in Open Source as i think i will try and build a “Food Computer“. Basically it’s a small climate controlled aeroponic grow box. It should allow me to continue my plant breeding efforts even in the winter which is really what i want. Plus it will allow me to learn more about this “urban gardeng”, “vertical gardening”, and “aeroponic” stuff. I can’t wait to get back to pea, bean, and tomato breeding even though the summer and fall are waning fast. I think i’m going to repurpose my 2ft x 2ft t-slot frame that i was intending to turn into a large 3D printer and/or CNC mill. But it’s still going to be a long time before i finish that project, so i figured hey why not actually use it for something useful in the meantime! So.. that’t the plan.. 😀

 

 

Modding the Lulzbot Mini

So recently i’ve finally gotten my homemade / homebuilt Lulzbot mini working. And it’s working pretty good. The most critical problem i was facing was that my 3d printer would start printing either too close to the heat bed (or if i added extra bed leveling washers) it would print too far away. This was a critical problem as the first few layers are the most important and if you can’t get you prints to stick to your print bed then the rest of the print will usually unstick and fail. Thanks to some helpful people on the Lulzbot forum i was able to adjust my z-offset to the correct height that worked for me.

The second issue is that recently i’ve noticed my large and tall prints failing miserably at a certain height and the filament not coming out thick enough and the top gets all cob-weby like a spider web, but worse. Apparently this is called “Heat Creep”. The problem in part may be caused by the tiny blower fan on the Lulzbot mini not providing enough cooling and heat slowly rising in the hot end until the filament actually melts too soon and cannot be extruded properly. This makes sense as the problem only occurs after a long time printing. So the logical step was to replace the tiny blower fan (or squirrel fan) with a larger fan that will do the job. The new Taz 6 has obviously taken that tiny fan into consideration and has changed it to a large 40mm fan.

EDIT: The failing on large prints may be due to me using a half-size stepper instead of a full size stepper motor for the extruder. This means too much voltage is being applied to the motor and it is getting super hot. Over time this means the motor looses steps and probably causes my printing problems.

Unfortunately the Taz 6 x-carriage and modifications are not a drop in replacement for the Lulzbot Mini i decided to make my own. This is what i came up with and it seems to work beautifully. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1587110

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I have only tested this on HIPS so far, but it has eliminated the heat creep i was getting with HIPS. PLA apparently suffers more from heat creep problems than other filaments, but this mod will likely help with PLA heat creep issues as well.

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Homebuilt Lulzbot Mini First Prints!

Here are a few photos from my first test prints on my new, now functional (for the most part), DIY Lulzbot Mini that i made myself from scratch (minus the frame and electronics). All hardware assembly and electrical wiring were done by me. Phew. What a ride it’s been. The upside is i now now how this printer works inside and out. The downside it was more trouble that it was worth and i wish i had just bought one instead. lol. Whatever though.

 

Progress on my Homebuilt Lulzbot Mini

Today i made significant progress on building my own Lulzbot Mini 3D printer from scratch. Technically i now have two 3d printers i’m building from scratch, but the other one is bigger and one i’m designing myself. Just like me to not finish one project before starting another. At least i’m going to work on this one and finish it before continuing on my other one (which might be converted into a homemade CNC mill).

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Today was a major milestone because most of the components are put together and i finally was able to test part of the electronics i wired up myself. I was able to test the Y-axis motor and limit switches as well as the X-axis stepper motor. All seemed to function correctly using Lulzbot’s Cura software. The software did have an unexpected safety feature however, it wouldn’t let me turn any of the motors on without the bed thermistor wired up. So i had to wire up a temporary 10k thermistor for testing purposes. It worked great. I was running the Cura software under Ubuntu Linux. The Cura software gave me an error that it could not autodetect the serial port or something like that, so i ran it as the root super user and that fixed the problems.

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Since i’m building this thing from scratch instead of buying one premade i’m trying to find ways of cutting costs. Although i think i will end up spending more than i hoped. But anyway, part of that is looking into ways that i might be able to replace expensive commercial products like the IGUS bearings and the Leadscrew nut. I’ve already drafted up a 3d printable version of the leadscrew nut and posted it here on Thingiverse. The nut has yet to be tested, but i’ve also had some RJM-01-08 IGUS bearing replica prototypes made in Nylon. The RJM-01-08 IGUS replica bearings turned out to be too tight, but with a drill i was able to make them usable. They are currently being used to remove the wiggle and slop i was experiencing from using the 1mm too small LM8UU ball bearings.

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I originally got the LM8UU bearings as a cheaper alternative to the commercial RJM-01-08 IGUS stock bearings the Lulzbot mini uses thinking they would work. They work, and i am currently using some, but the stock STL files from Lulzbot have holes that are 1mm too big because of the slight size difference between them and the LM8UU. I might try to modify the STL files [i have modified the lulzbot solidworks files] to make LM8UU compatible parts in the near future, but for now i’m happy with my 3d printed nylon ones. I’ve heard PLA might work too, so i will experiment with that in the future as well.

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Here are some more pictures:

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