Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If you grow vegetables you will love this link!


I found this on line and thought I would share it.

http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu/


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rube Goldberg would be proud of this install.

The UV LED project box is simply suspended by a clip from the reflector shield, as I just could not bring myself to build any sort of support for it.

I decided not to put any more effort into it until it convinces me that it has made a difference in producing flowers.

The photo was taken on December 30, 2008, and we will see when the first Carnation bloom appears. (It is best to be optimistic)


Plant lighting for indoor gardening.


Below is a quote from Texas A&M's site regarding lighting requirements for plants:

Day and Night:

Day length or duration of light received by plants is also of some importance.Poinsettias, kalanchoes and Christmas cactus flower only when days are 11 hours or less (short-day plants). Some plants only flower when days are longer than 11 hours (long-day plants), while others are not sensitive to day length at all (day-neutral plants).

Day Length:

Increasing the time (duration) plants are exposed to light can be used to compensate for low light intensity, as long as the plant's flowering cycle is not sensitive to day length. Increased light duration allows the plant to make sufficient food to survive and grow. However, plants require some period of darkness to properly develop and should be exposed to light for no more than 16 hours per day. Excessive light is as harmful as too little.. When a plant gets too much direct light, the leaves become pale, sometimes burn, turn brown and die. Therefore, protect plants from too much direct sunlight during summer months.

Supplemental Light:

Additional lighting can be supplied with either incandescent or fluorescent lights. Incandescent lights produce a great deal of heat and do not use electricity very efficiently. If artificial light is the only source of light for growing plants, the quality of light or wavelength, must be considered. Plants require mostly blue and red light for photosynthesis, but for flowering, infrared light is also needed. Incandescent lights produce mostly red and some infrared light, but very little blue light. Fluorescent lights vary according to the amount of phosphorus used by the manufacturer. Cool-white lights produce mostly blue light and are low in red light; they are cool enough to position quite close to plants. Foliage plants grow well under cool-white fluorescent lights, while blooming plants require extra infrared light. This can be supplied by incandescent lights or special horticultural fluorescent lights.

This phrase in particular caught my attention: " Plants require mostly blue and red light for photosynthesis"

The LED grow light I am planning will only produce red and blue light. The theory being; why waste energy producing green, orange, yellow and violet, when the plant does not use, or need it? Plants reflect green light, that is why they look green to us..

As an experiment I have added a small project box containing six UV LEDs to the lighting supplied to the dianthus and ornamental pepper. The spectrum is in the UV-A range of near visible light. I have read several studies regarding the effect of UV light in plant growth. Some studies have concluded UV is detrimental, and some conclude it is beneficial. The LEDs I added have a wavelength between 395 and 410 nm. This wavelength is not considered harmfull and is very near the wavelength of blue light where photosysthesis begins.

Again, time will tell....





Bending the seasons


My 18 month old grandchild, Ava, delights in, and makes a major production of, presenting her grandmother with a flower. I try to have something in bloom for her whenever she visits. She is only here a few minutes before she is standing at the basement door waiting for me to take her to the growing area to collect her prize.

The flowers in the photo are Pot & Patio Asters, which have been growing in the Folger's container since September 12, 2008.

The Asters are being replaced with Carnations, which I am going to force into bloom. The Carnation already has buds, which have been forming for sometime while it has been growing with the lettuce.

Hopefully, you can tell by the photo that hydroponics is not expensive, and it is not rocket science. Anyone with basic hand tools skills can make a system out of pretty much any container.

In this case all that was necessary was to cut a circle to accommodate the net pot. Then, I drilled a small hole in the cover to pass an airline through, and attached an air stone. Any pet store has the tubing, pump and air stone. The cost for all would be about ten dollars.

I use hydroton expanded clay pellets to support the plant, but pea gravel would also work. Fill the container with enough nutrient mix to bring it to the top openings in the net pot. Place the air stone on the bottom, and turn on the pump. You are now have a hydroponic system!

I have grown: strawberries, lettuce, greens, a full size tomato, and all kinds of flowers in one of these systems. I call it my one plant wonder. All that air oxygenating the nutrient mix will make the plant grow very vigorously.

For someone just experimenting, or just getting started, an all purpose nutrient mix would be best. If there are no hydroponic dealers locally, an online search can locate nutrients.

Beginners think they can just toss in some fertilizer, like Miracle Grow, and away they go. That will work for a week or two, however, after awhile your plant will begin showing signs of stress. I did a comparison of nutrients and found that Miracid most closely matched the hydroponic mixture I use. It was close, but, that only counts in horseshoes. For instance, plants need calcium, not much, but it is absolutely essential, and it is not included with garden fertilizer. I tried to add calcium to a mix of Miracid by adding calcium supplements from the health food store. It does not dissolve well at all. As CO2 mixed with calcium carbonate is pumped into the sea to rescue coral reefs, I tried using carbonated water to dissolve the calcium. While it worked to some degree, the plants still showed calcium deficiency. Take my word for it, buy commercial hydroponic nutrients. Mixing your own is not worth even trying, unless you are growing on a commercial scale.

All you need now is a sunny window, or strong light source, and you can bend the seasons also. Good bye soil borne problems, welcome to hydroponics.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mini Propagator

As I am continually starting small batches of seeds to keep the ebb and flow systems populated, I find the small propagator above to be ideal. It is a discarded container used to package greens from the supermarket.

Conveniently, it has small indentations on the top which can be drilled to provide ventilation. I drill 1/8" holes in about a quarter of the indentations.

A future post will feature this unit being used to start seedlings using Red/Blue LED grow lighting. If they progress as I expect, I will attempt to grow something to completion using only the LED lighting, and compare the results to fluorescent. Efficient as fluorescent lighting is, LED is probably 70% more energy efficient. Compared to HPS lighting, it is 90% more energy efficient. It is a technology that will someday replace all other forms of grow lighting, as well as residential lighting. RPI is investing millions into research on this technology. Change, you gotta love it!

Well, not everyone does. While browsing the web I came across a gardening forum and read some of the posts concerning container and indoor gardening. Many of the issues members were having revolved around soil borne problems. One person posted photos of his plants completely covered with aphids. He was growing in his apartment under lights. Pray tell me where did the aphids come from, if not the soil? I have insecticide soap around somewhere, but it has been many many moons since I needed it. If I get an insect, it hitchhikes in, or slips through the screens.

There is a section on the forum to suggest blogs to be added for members to view, but the blog has to be approved by the moderator. I did a post and suggested my blog as an alternative form of gardening. Shortly thereafter I received a reply from a guy named Roger. He wrote that although the blog was well written, and while it was a fascinating topic, it needed more garden tips, and "things I overheard around the nursery."

Duh, the blog shows crops, outlines growing techniques, gives nutrient strength, ph, photo periods, and how to build vs. buy your systems. And, what the hell would I be doing eavesdropping around the nursery? I have not been to a nursery in years, I don't buy plants, I grow them from seed. You would be more likely to find me at Home Depot contemplating turning a mortar mixing tub into an ebb and flow container to accommodate 30 or 40 net pots.

As my sainted Irish uncle Patrick used to say to me: "Leprechaun, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stir Fry In Process

Although we enjoy fresh salads in the winter, warm tasty greens are a welcome addition to our table.

As an added bonus; all of the above oriental vegetables can used for salad, stir fry, or soup greens. The small Joy Choi added to vegetable soup tastes pretty much like swiss chard. The Rubicon Chinese Cabbage grows so quickly under lights in the ebb and flow system you can go from seed to table in about four weeks.

It was not necessary to alter my growing conditions, or nutrient mix, to include these vegetables with the lettuce.

When I began growing under lights this winter I considered having a different nutrient mix in each of the three ebb and flow systems for the different stages of growth: seedling, vegetative and ripening.

Early on I decided to concentrate mostly on salad greens, and adjusted the systems to a vegetative mixture. The TDS is between 1500 and 1900, which I know is high, however, it was changed yesterday, and it will decrease quickly as the plants are growing rapidly.

Another advantage is; the higher TDS allows me to include a few flowers in the system until they reach the bloom stage. There is a Dianthus growing along with the lettuce, and I can see buds beginning to form. In a few days I intend to place it in an individual container with a mix specific to the bloom stage.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heirloom Seed Catalog

This week we received a very elaborate 124 page full color catalog, printed on coated stock, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. As a retired purchasing manager, I am aware of the cost involved in producing a catalog like this. It appears that these folks are very serious about marketing their seeds.

The catalog contained some unusual varieties of vegetables that I just could not resist, and as an added bonus, they are heirloom seeds.


It was difficult to select seeds to order, as there were so many different types to choose from. I managed to confine my order to these seeds:

Lettuce: Rouge Grenobloise, Gentilina, Brune D'Hiver, Gotte Jaune D'Or, Sanguine Ameliore or Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce
Oriental: Kwang Tung Leaf

Future posts will feature some of the above in addition to some unusual varieties I have in the propagator presently.




Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Survivors

Our area in upstate New York is in the process of recovering from a severe ice storm. Everything was coated with an inch of ice, and hundreds of thousands of homes were without power for several days. As of today, there are still tens of thousands without power. One night the temperature was at four degrees, and it was not fun at all. The hotels were filled, and there were no generators, batteries, propane, or kerosene heaters to be found for sale anywhere in the area. We were without power for four days, however, I am fortunate enough to own a generator. Well, we have been through this any number of times over the years, so be prepared is a good motto to keep in mind.

As I was using the generator for the basic necessities of life, I gave no thought to the plants in the basement. Now that our power has been restored, thank God, I checked on the plants. To my amazement, they not only survived, they seem to have continued to grow. The plants in the photo have had no light for more than four days!

The large plant on the left is an ornamental pepper I have been growing since September. When we were first married, 42 years ago, we bought an ornamental pepper as the first plant for our apartment. It was dead in about two days. Over the years we tried several more times to grow them, with the same result. At that time, neither my wife or I knew how to grow anything. Since then, we have progressed to bonsai, orchids, and pretty much any other type of plant. In September while on vacation in Maine, my wife saw me walking toward the ornamental peppers in a supermarket and she said: "You are not going to buy another on of them are you?"

I had noticed that several of the peppers had fallen off the plants and were on the floor. So, in the interest of preventing anyone from slipping on them, I picked up a few. When we returned home I started two seeds and selected the strongest looking sprout to grow in the ebb and flow systems. Now, it is covered with flowers, and is about half again as large as the plants the market had for sale. Once again hydroponics has worked its wonders.

My original intention was to see if peppers were indeed self pollinating, as I have seeds for gigantic peppers to grow in the greenhouse next season. However, it was fulfilling to finally succeed in growing one of these plants.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fragrant Choi


This vegetable, also called Mak Choi in Hong Kong, produces fragrant leaves which are very popular in Hong Kong and Southern China. The Chinese love the distinctive flavor.

It is used for salad and stir-fry, and the leaves can be harvested at any stage.


As it is highly adaptable to various conditions, it is suitable for growing all year round in subtropical and mild climate areas, and I am finding it is especially suited to my grow room conditions.

It does, however, require a bit more space than conventional leaf lettuce.

And again, you are not likely to find it available from your local produce dealer

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tis The Season

As we progress into winter the seed catalog folks begin filling my mailbox with gardener's porn. Not that I mind in the least, as it sure beats credit card offers. (remember them?)

I am sure the seed vendors sell mailing lists, as I receive catalogs from dealers I have never heard of before.

A recent catalog from Pinetree Garden seeds caught my interest, as it had a nice variety of unusual vegetables and flowers . Additionally, the prices and shipping charges were the lowest I have seen to date.

The items I ordered were:
Australian Yellow leaf lettuce @ .95 per pack
Red Deer's Tongue lettuce @.95 per pack
Tom Thumb lettuce @.95 per pack
Mache (member of the Valerian family) @.90 per pack
Merveille de Quatre Saisons lettuce @.95 per pack
Matina Lettuce @.95 per pack
Pelleted Calceolaria @.95 per pack.
Midnight Ruffles lettuce @1.10 per pack

The total for the seeds and shipping was eleven dollars and change. This vendor uses recycled paper for their catalog and shipping envelopes. My order was received promptly and I am happy with the seeds and service.

When I get a good deal I like to share it, likewise with a raw deal.....

Pinetree's site is: http://www.superseeds.com/




Monday, December 1, 2008

Pampered Plant

The plant in the photo is a Black Cherry tomato started from seed on November 5, 2008.

The description cherry is more to describe the color of the fruit, rather than the size of the fruit. The tomatoes are more of a medium size, and the plant is very very prolific. Each truss can produce six or more tomatoes, and the plant will continue to produce fruit for as long as it continues to grow.

Last summer I passed some of them around to my neighbors, and they all raved about the taste. I plan to grow at least one plant in the greenhouse next summer and I may simply take a cutting from this plant for that purpose.

This will be my first attempt to grow them under lights, and most likely I will have to prune the growing tip to control the height of the plant.

As for being pampered; the plant is in an Autopot with a TDS of about 2500, and a pH of 6.5. The growing media is a 50/50 mixture of coco noir and agricultural perlite. It is receiving sixteen hours of light each day, and a timer is periodically providing ventilation and humidity. That should be pretty close to being Plant Heaven.....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Florida Petite plants sure are petite

After reading my post regarding the Florida Petite tomatoes someone asked if I was sure that it is the world's smallest tomato.

At this point I would not bet the farm on that statement, but they sure are small.
The plant in this photo is all of seven inches high!

If someone has a plant with fruit that is shorter than seven inches I sure would like to see it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Evergreenseeds.com should be Nevergreenseeds.com


Sometime back in search of unusual varieties of vegetables I placed an online order with evergreenseeds.com.

Although I received the seeds with no problem, I have yet to have any of the lettuce seeds germinate. I have tried, without success, rockwool cubes with bottom heat, moist paper towels under several temperature conditions, and over night soaking of the seeds in dilute hydrogen peroxide and water.

Not a single seed has germinated, so I wrote to their email address twice asking for either advice or replacement seeds. I have received no response.

I usually order online and have never had a problem with the products or service, however, this time was a disappointment. Going forward I will stick to the larger vendors such as Johnny Seeds, Thompson & Morgan and Jung.

As for Evergreenseeds.com, shame on you....

ps. In mid December I tried about fifty more lettuce seeds and not a single one germinated. Damn, what are the odds against that? They must have been storing these seeds since the Civil War.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hydroponic Lettuce

The lettuce in the photo above has been growing in our basement under full spectrum fluorescent lighting for a few weeks. While in the process of changing one of the ebb and flow systems, I placed some of the plants in the greenhouse to take advantage of the afternoon sun.

I still marvel at the quality of the vegetables that I can grow hydroponically, indoors, or in the greenhouse. These plants have never been exposed to weather extremes, or insects, and have had all of their nutrient requirements met without having to expend energy searching for them.

The plants are a week or so from the salad bowl, and we have already harvested a number of plants. I am trying to have a succession of plants going by planting three or four seeds a week. My next batch will be oriental lettuce varieties using imported seed from China, Korea and Japan. That may prove interesting indeed.

I wonder if there would be a market for "gourmet lettuce" in the off season? Producing the plants does not require a great deal of effort, at least in my opinion. The results are consistent and predictable if the proper conditions are maintained. In this case; the TDS is in the 800 to 850 range, the pH is 6 to 6.5 and the photoperiod is 14 hours.

The plants above are from left to right (front row) :Antigo, Waldman's Dark Green, Antigo, (back row) Grand Rapids, Silva and Parris Island.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Indoor tomatoes - Florida Petite

Each year since I have been into hydroponic gardening I have grown tomatoes under lights during the winter. This year, for the first time, I will be trying the water farm drip ring system.

Following is a description of the variety I will be growing this year:

FLORIDA PETITE- the University of Florida, "World's Smallest Tomato Plant" very dwarf even by today's standards, HR (rugose foliage, heavy-stem, self supporting) plant. Red 3/4" fruit.

The seeds were obtained a few years ago from Tomato Growers Supply and have been stored in my freezer. For whatever reason, the supplier no longer offers these seeds.

I had grown them the first year I was into hydroponic gardening, and had some success, although I really did not know what I was doing at that time. The fruit I did get tasted more like a homegrown tomato than a cherry tomato, so I elected to grow them again this year.

The plant will be grown under a full spectrum 125 watt fluorescent light with a photoperiod of 16 hours per day. As a mild general purpose nutrient mix is recommended, I used 15 ml each of General Hydroponics three part nutrients to yield a TDS of about 1100 with a pH of 6. I consider 1100 as being a mild strength for tomatoes, as they are heavy feeders. The pump is programmed to run in cycles of a half hour on and an hour off during the photoperiod, and remain off during the time the lights are off.

This variety is a short sturdy plant with deep green foliage. The plant in the photo was started from seed on September 11th. and has buds forming at the tip.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My version of the Aerospring garden - phase II

Well it is not pretty, but it works. I should say it sprays the nutrients around within the reservoir, and it does not leak. As to living up to all the praise I have read over the years; that remains to be seen. In any event, investing fifteen dollars to build one beats the hundred and sixty dollars to buy one.

I thought it best to use 3" net pots, but I would have preferred 4" pots. The cover has a recess in the center for the Rubbermaid trademark, and I wanted avoid any problems with leaks caused by the pots being uneven.

It seems like a big waste of space to grow six plants. In the same area on my grow table I can grow almost three times as many plants in an ebb and flow system.

My main area of concern is clogging of the spray heads. Just the small amount of debris that fell into the PVC tee from tapping the holes for the heads clogged them. That is why the spray pattern in the previous post was not a full 360 degrees.

Another consideration is that it is necessary to run this system 24/7. Although the pump is a small 130 GPH unit and does not use a lot of power, I keep comparing it to the ebb and flow system running only six fifteen minutes cycles per day.

Unfortunately, it will be awhile before I can test grow in this system. It is my plan to grow some super fast growing oriental lettuce, or cabbage, but I want to complete an experiment with nutrients and Swiss chard first. This particular experiment really has my interest piqued.





Monday, October 20, 2008

My version of the Aerospring Garden

In his book, How To Hydroponics, Keith Roberto writes: "If you are looking for the best performance for the least investment, build an Aerospring." Additionally, he promises "Aeroponic basil, from seedling to skyscraper in 45 days."

I have read a great deal, both pro and con, regarding aeroponic systems, and finally, I decided to build one to satisfy my curiosity.

Future Gardens will sell you one for about $125 with pretty close to $40 shipping. Being basically frugal (cheap), I opted to build my own. After all, it is just a pump feeding a tee that has spray heads, confined in a reservoir. I had all the components on hand, except the spray heads, which I purchased for less than a dollar each.

The recommended container is a Rubbermaid Tough Tote, and I found that to be true. That particular unit has a large flat lip on top that makes for a better seal, which is very important. It is necessary to put foam tape along the inside lip of the cover to prevent the fluid from leaking when the system is in use.

Basically, the nutrients spray around inside the reservoir misting the root system providing ultimate growing conditions. So the literature says anyway...

The system was simple to construct, however, preventing leaks was another problem. The photo above shows my system under test, and it required some adjustment to get the spray heads to spray 360 degrees.

Now on to phase two.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

High density growing II

The plants in the bus tub ebb and flow system are still in the root development stage but are doing well also. They are receiving about four hours of direct sunlight each day with indirect light for the remainder of the day.
The TDS is about 1000 with a pH of 6.5, however, I can see by the daily reading that the plants are taking in more water than nutrients. I expect to see more growth when the nutrient level begins to drop. Time will tell...

Hydroponic Swiss Chard II


As of the 17th. the chard is still in the root development stage, but is making progress. I expect to see much faster growth when the roots begin poking out of the container, which should mean that it is entering the vegetative stage.
The TDS has been increased to about 1800, which is a little high, but should still be acceptable. The pH is just slightly under 7 and this should be ideal for chard.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mini herb garden

The above photo shows my hydroponic science project planted with parsley, basil and dill. If you can provide sufficient light to this system you could also grow small flowers like dwarf zinnias or asters.

Hydroponic Science Project

This small system can be assembled in a few hours and would make a great school science project.

It consists of a small storage container the size of a shoe box, an airstone and tubing purchased in the pet section, and six 2" net pots. The 2" net pots can be obtained from a local hydroponic dealer, or purchased online. I use expanded clay pellets and rockwool for the media, but washed pea stone would also work if the stones are large enough not to pass through the net pots.

The container was painted black to prevent algae from growing in the nutrient tank and a circle cutter was used to cut the holes for the net pots. The container holds about a gallon of nutrient mix, which should reach to the top opening in the net pots.

The only other requirement is a small air pump to aerate the nutrient mix. Aerating the mixture provides oxygen to the plants and helps prevent nasty organisms from growing in the nutrient mixture.

Three of these units should fit under a standard 48" fluorescent fixture. I would recommend one warm white and one cool white tube be used in the fixture. The fixture should be suspended three or four inches above the top of the plants.

I have grown leaf lettuce and herbs successfully in this system.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hydroponic swiss chard

Swiss chard is one of my favorite greens and I hope these are a success. Again, I will try to remember to photograph and post a photo each week.
The chard is in a deep water culture system and I am running the TDS about 1600 and the pH at 7. Chard likes the pH slightly higher, and needs lots of nitrogen. It can stand night temperature as low as 29 degrees, but I don't intend to let the temperature get that low. I am venting the greenhouse during the day so the temperature does not get above 80 degrees, and hopefully the warmth will encourage rapid growth.
This variety is Fordhook Giant and I have not grown it before. I have grown rhubarb and early brights under lights, but I wanted to try the giant variety in the greenhouse.

High density growing


Above is my bus tub ebb and flow system and there are fifteen plants under cultivation in this small tub. I will try to remember to photograph the tub weekly and post a photo to track the progress of the plants.
As of today I have not had to use the grow lights at all, as the plants remain in the greenhouse. It was necessary to use a small oil filled electric heater on two nights because of frost, however, I feel I am still way ahead in terms of the cost of running the lamps 14 hours per day.
This is really my first attempt at growing this late in the season in the greenhouse and I am excited to see how it compares to growing under lights. Because the greenhouse is shaded by trees, it does not receive full direct sun until noon or so. The temperature can vary thirty degrees on any given day depending on the nightly low temperature. This afternoon it was a very comfortable 79 degrees with relative humidity about 40%. As I am mostly growing lettuce and herbs, this range should be acceptable.
There are three tomato plants still growing in the AutoPots, and I have been picking a few ripe fruit every few days. It is almost mid-October and tomatoes are selling at $1.79 per pound in the market, and they don't taste as good as my tomatoes, so I consider my tomato growing a success. We picked our first tomato on July 4th., and we are still picking tomatoes in October.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Using hydroponic gardening theraputically

When I first began hydroponic gardening my rationale was why bother to grow it if you can't eat it? Now I find myself spending more time in the flower section of the seed catalogs.
To be honest, probably 95% of what I am growing is edible, however it is still tempting to bend the seasons and grow flowers year round. They add a small amount of cheer during these dismal times when all the news is bad, and getting worse.

In selecting flower seeds I look for a variety that is unusual in shape or color, with a maximum height of 12 inches.
The flower above is calendula officinalis calypso, which I am growing in the greenhouse in an old Folger's coffee container converted to a hydroponic growing container.

I am finding some flower seeds much more difficult to start than vegetable seeds. For instance; calceolaria seeds are so small they are about half the size of a grain of sand. After several tries in rockwool cubes I gave up and sprinkled my few remaining seeds onto a pot containing the coco noir and perlite mixture I use in the AutoPots. To my surprise they germinated in about a week. Unfortunately, I accidentally knocked the pot over and only managed to rescue one seedling. And, I find that the only way I can germinate aster seeds is to place them in a moist paper towel for 24 hours until a tap root begins to form. At that point, I use a chop stick to poke a small hole in a rockwool cube, and place the seedling into the hole using tweezers.

I am still growing in the greenhouse, and I will continue to do so until the weather turns really cold. In the ebb and flow systems I have about forty net pots with Swiss chard, and variety of leaf lettuce and herbs and I am growing asters, calceolaria and candy tufts. Flowers add little more challenge, and there is the anticipation of seeing the first blossom. As an added bonus, the lady of the house loves flowers, so they are proving well worth the effort.









Saturday, August 16, 2008

Drip ring growing system


Looking forward to next year's growing season; I decided to add additional systems to accommodate long term deep rooted crops like: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and perhaps zucchini. And, a good portion of the greenhouse was unused this summer, as all of the AutoPot systems were already in use.

Next season I intend to grow pretty much all of my warm weather vegetables in the greenhouse, except perhaps for a few tomato plants in the soil garden. I am really fed up with fighting pests in the garden. Aphids are a continual problem in my soil garden. I can spray every day and they return on the following day. In addition, by succession planting, I think I can pretty much have fresh vegetables for at least eight months out of the year.

I was going to begin my hydroponic garden hobby with the Waterfarm, but the dealer I ordered from took so long to ship it, I canceled the order and bought a DWC system, Emily's Garden.

The photo above has a commercially built Waterfarm, and one I built from components purchased from a local store. The difference in cost was somewhere between seven and ten dollars, with my system being the less expensive. Both systems have almost identical capacity in terms of nutrient and media. So, if you don't mind drilling two holes in the plastic bucket, you can save ten bucks. If you have to pay for shipping on the commercial unit, the difference would be much greater.

This drip ring system is more labor intensive than the AutoPots, as it will need changing or replenishing from time to time. I intend to put the air pump on timers to run every other hour during the day and turn completely off at night. Also, I intend to use a less aggressive nutrient mix to compensate for the constant feeding.

Although the AutoPots are supposed to be virtually automatic, I found that you must check the valve every day or so. The root mats that they provide do not always prevent the roots from growing out of the bottom of the pot and clogging the valve. As I had a large roll of perforated black landscaping material on hand, I now make my own root control mats and they have worked just fine, so far....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Late season tomatoes and cucumbers

As this is my first year with the greenhouse I am learning a lot about greenhouse growing, and I still have a lot to learn. For instance; I really should have begun another crop of heat tolerant plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant a few weeks after the first crop to have a continuous supply.
The tomato plants in the photo are all clones taken either from the first crop, or plants in our soil garden. Although I must admit is has worked out well, as we had cucumbers in mid-June and tomatoes in early July, and now we have tomatoes and eggplant from the garden while these plants are growing for a later harvest, hopefully, in late September and October.
The small white box covered with muslin is a transparent plastic container that contained salad mix. It makes a great small humidity dome for starting small batches of seed. The seeds I am starting are flowers to brighten our dismal winter season here in New York. I will try to grow calceolaria, calendula and dianthus under my large fluorescent grown light in the ebb and flow system along with the lettuce. The seeds have all sprouted and are doing nicely under their sun shade.

Ugly Ripe Tomatoes are OK, but not great

The ugly ripe tomatoes are starting to ripen and in my opinion they are OK, but really nothing special. The fruit is large and mostly fluted, and the taste is comparable to pretty much any other homegrown tomato I have eaten.
The real surprise this season has been the black cherry tomatoes we have grown. They are not a cherry tomato at all but a mid size pear shaped tomato with a mahogany brown color with green shoulders. The plants are prolific and everyone who has tried the tomato loves the taste. I am saving seed, as this is also a heirloom, and I intend to grow a few in the greenhouse next season.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Instant Tomatoes

I decided a few days ago to begin growing replacement plants for the tomatoes and cucumbers. My rationale is that if I continue into mid October the original plants might run out of steam.
In addition to starting a few seeds, I cloned the Wayahead, Rutgers and Ugly Ripe tomatoes. In only six days all the cuttings have developed roots and have been potted into four inch pots. Additionally, several of the new plants already have blossoms. I know it says they should have been removed, but nothing ventured nothing gained. They turned out just fine.
I will let them develop in the small pots in a mixture of coco noir and perlite, then move them into the AutoPots when I want to replace the parent plants.
To tell the truth I was completely surprised at how quickly the roots developed in the greenhouse environment, as it normally takes about two weeks under normal conditions.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Early Tomatoes

In my post of April 26, 2008 I included a photo of the two plants above. They were both started from seed on March 24, 2008. The plant on the right was placed in the AutoPot and grown in the greenhouse, while the plant on the left was grown outdoors in the garden. In my post of April 17, 2008, I wrote that by using the AutoPot I hoped to have tomatoes by early July. Well, they arrived on time!!

The variety is Wayahead, which is a heirloom that was introduced in the 1920s. It is supposed to have small to medium size fruit, and that is exactly what I am seeing. The fruit is about the size that you would purchase pre-packaged in the supermarket, however, there the comparison ends. The skin is thin and the fruit is juicy and tasty. We had a supermarket tomato this week, and the skin was about 3/8" thick and the inside was dry and pasty.

There was an article in the local paper this week concerning local farmers competing to harvest the first sweet corn. The winner stated he planted an early variety that only grew three feet tall and had small ears, but it came early. I suppose he was willing to sacrifice size for speed. That is what I think you get when you plant these early tomatoes.

I must admit that they are the best looking tomatoes I have ever grown! Each tomato, on every truss, is absolutely perfectly shaped and blemish free. I have never achieved that outdoors in soil.

We have been picking cucumbers for a few days, and now we have tomatoes, so I guess replacing the swimming pool with the greenhouse was a good move. I sure don't miss the daily chore of maintaining the pool.

The Rutgers tomato in the greenhouse is not even thinking of ripening at this stage, and the fruit is slightly larger than the Wayahead. This is also a hierloom developed in the 1930s for the Campbell Soup Company. I guess I will have to wait awhile to try the "Jersey Tomato". As I have no idea of how long the plants will continue to produce, and it is fairly early in the season, I am cloning both plants to have replacements "standing by" for late season tomatoes.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Oh what a tangled web we weave


These cucumbers, according to the description on the package, were only supposed to need 18" to 24" of space and were bred to grow in containers. Well, the greenhouse is eight feet long, and they are now slightly short of both ends, and three or four feet off the floor. As it is only the first of July, I expect Tarzan, Jane and Cheeta will be living in the upper branches by the middle of August.
Being the first to admit that I have no clue as how to garden in a greenhouse; I decided I needed a book on the subject. The book I selected from the local library is The Complete Book of Greenhouse Gardening by Ian G. Walls. Although the book concerns itself mainly with soil gardening, I thought plants are plants when it comes to light, temperature and humidity. After reading about all the problems that must be addressed in soil gardening in a greenhouse, I wonder why on earth anyone would bother? Who the hell wants to heat soil to almost two hundred degrees to sterilize it? I'll stick to hydroponic gardening any day.
One thing I read got my attention; Mr. Walls wrote that cucumbers should not be pollinated, as it makes them bitter. Information I found from one of the Ag/Tech colleges said they should be pollinated. Who to believe? I decided to be lazy and not pollinate them because I noticed early on that the female flowers already had small fruit before I pollinated them. The information from the Ag/Tech college also advised that they do not need a lot of nitrogen, as it would make them grow more vine than cucumbers. I followed those directions and did not use a lot of nitrogen, and went heavy on potassium and phosphorus. I began to see the bottom leaves turning yellow. Nitrogen is a transferable element, and plants will draw it from the lower leaves and move it to the growing leaves where it is needed. My theory is that because the environment is very conducive to growing, these plants are determined to grow. So, I am adding slightly more nitrogen to the AutoPot reservoir. I am not concerned about any supposed lack of cucumbers, as there are more than we can use right now. I asked my wife to find our crock as the dill in the garden is just about ready and I am thinking Kosher dills, yum..

Monday, June 30, 2008

What a difference a month can make!

This Sarian runner has only been in this container for one month. I have been using a general purpose nutrient mixture of 1 teaspoon each of growth, macro, and bloom, which yields a TDS of about 1000 for this container.
The container requires very little replenishing, as loss is mostly due to transpiration.
One way I judge the health of the plant is the color of the root system. If I see plenty of white roots, I am a happy grower. As I now have enough runners of various varieties of strawberries in cold storage, I am going to let this plant mature right in this container. It should be interesting to see how large it can get, and what quality the berries, if any, will be.
The parent plant, which I started from seed, took many months to reach this size, so I intend to continue growing the daughters, as I do not want to go through the seed routine again...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New toy

A neat Father's Day gift I received from my son will be a great addition to the greenhouse and for growing under lights during the winter.

I was unaware that AutoPot made a single plant unit until recently. It will be useful for trying different growing media and different plants. Right now I am thinking Poblano peppers or another pepper I started recently.

We have had a small parrot for almost twenty years and each morning he has three small red chillies for breakfast. He sits on his perch holding the pepper with his left foot, munching and saying ummm, ummm. My wife drives to an oriental food store in Albany to buy the peppers and they have a warning that they are very very hot. It does not seem to bother the damn bird as he starts dancing from foot to foot when he sees me reach for the container. And, you really have to wash your hands good after handling the peppers. The peppers are called Thai Hot and come from Thailand. I have started a seed from the pepper, and it is coming along nicely, and it should prove to be an interesting plant to experiment with.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Inexpensive bench.

When I was building the greenhouse I considered constructing benches to support the hydroponic tanks, however I decided to simply place the tanks directly on the floor. They are supported over the gravel by pressure treated planks, which are in turn supported by the frames for the walk and the walls. The cost of the lumber and the effort of constructing the benches did not seem worth the effort. Another consideration was: that any large tank would require a pretty sturdy bench, so the floor was a better option.
What I really needed was some storage space for nutrients, additives, measuring equipment and various other odds and ends. We have a number of spare storage totes, so I tested one and found it could safely hold my weight. A simple circle cut with a saber saw turned it into a support for a flood and drain system with storage capacity for supplies.

Needing nutrients I visited a local hydroponic store today only to find that there has been what I consider a huge increase in the price of General Hydroponic's nutrients. The dealer said it was their first increase since 1993, and I said "bullsh_t". I have been only doing this for two years and this is the second time he has given me that story. When compared to the last price I paid, the price increase amounts to about 25%. After spending more than four decades in a purchasing position it is a sure bet that I will be researching a less costly alternative.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My cup runneth over


When I purchased the Seascape runners the instructions on the package were to remove the buds and not let the plants develop berries until July.
Usually, I follow instructions to the letter, however, I have been trying to grow hydroponic berries for much too long to have waited two or three more months to enjoy fresh berries. There would have been a lot more berries in the photo, but again, I could not resist the temptation to enjoy them.
The Sarian berries planted from seed on February 27th. are just about ready to produce a red ripe berry. It is not as large as the berries from the Seascape plant and some of the berries appear deformed. I doubt that being deformed will have any effect on the taste, but when it comes to enjoying food eye appeal matters somewhat I guess.
The Seascape plants are proving slightly more difficult to obtain runners from, as they seem to want to produce berries then produce runners. The Sarian plants take the opposite approach and produce runners then produce berries.
There will be no lack of runners for my planned winter crop as I currently have Sarian, Quinault and soon Seacape runners in cold storage. Additionally, my wife brought some runners home from a local farm where she recently picked berries.
Strawberries, I have found, are no more difficult to grow than any other plants I have tried to grow with hydroponic methods. Each plant has nuances, that once you understand them, are not insurmountable.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Move over Leonardo

Well the cucumbers are flowering and it is back to the artist brush to pollinate them. The little bug that was pollinating strawberries only showed up one day and has not been seen since. It is beginning to look like I will be spending more time using an artist brush than Leonardo Di Vinci. That, I guess, is part of growing vegetables in a hobby greenhouse. Commercial growers with large installations probably bring in bees. I know they use bugs to control other bugs, but I am really not about to invite bugs into my hydro environment on purpose.
Pollinating tomatoes on the other hand is a snap. Literally, just smack the stalk with the flowers hard enough to vibrate it and presto, you are finished.
Most likely not a lot of people grow cucumbers in a greenhouse during the summer, however, this is looking like it is going to be a success. A few days ago the local newspaper did a man on the street interview; and the question was concerning the opening of the local farmer's market which is supposed to be selling home grown vegetables. One person interviewed bemoaned the fact that the home grown cucumbers were gone by the time he got there. Having lived in this area all my life I know for certain that no one has home grown local cucumbers in mid June in Upstate New York. The local greenhouses do not grow vegetables, and none are hydroponic to my knowledge.
While I have been indoor gardening for a few years with some success I will be the first to admit that greenhouse growing is an entirely new experience for me and just about everything is an experiment.
Anyone beginning hydroponic growing, indoors or out, will find it difficult to determine the proper nutrient mix for different crops during different growth stages. For example, cucurbits, such as cucumber, squash and melons require low nitrogen and high potassium and phosphorous. Too much nitrogen will encourage vine growth and retard fruiting. Tomatoes, on the other hand, have entirely different requirements. To further complicate the situation, different manufacturers will recommend a different PPM for the same vegetable. The bottom line is to be prepared to experiment, watch the plants, and make adjustments along the way.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Well, it can't hurt to try

Sometime ago I read study, by I believe Cornell University, that tomatoes exposed to the color red during the fruit production and ripening stage produce more and larger fruit. Since reading the study I have interwoven red felt strips on the branches with developing fruit of all the plants I have grown. I am not sure whether it is effective or not, however, it can't hurt to try.
There must be something to the theory, as the company I ordered the shade cloth from also markets shade cloth in red. (My wife would have a fit)
Also, red mulch is available,as well as red grass edging and red stakes. In fact I have seen a number of items being marketed by seed companies stating that exposing tomatoes to red is beneficial.
Red strips or not, I am very happy with the development of my "hot house" tomatoes. After I photographed them I decided to remove several inches of growth from the tops of the plants. Although I am not certain, it appears that both varieties are indeterminate, and will grow like Jack's beanstalk without intervention.
I am using regular office binder clips attached to the roof supports to support the plants. My thinking is that as the plant grows the clips can simply be slid up the support to take up any slack.
The plants in the greenhouse are far far ahead of the plants in the garden. The garden plants have buds and a few tiny nubs of fruit. In comparison, the greenhouse plants have large fruit and and are two to three times larger. I am not sure if the difference is due to growing conditions, or hydroponic vs. soil gardening, or both. All the seeds were started on the same day, and the plants selected for trial in the greenhouse were selected at random, so I doubt it is a variety difference responsible for the growth difference.
My current dilemma is the number of flowers on the plants. There are many more flowers than I have seen on plants grown outside. I am tempted to let them develop into fruit, however, I would like large early tomatoes. I am not sure that the plants will have enough vigor to bring all the flowers to full development. Well, time will tell.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Exactly what was needed

We have had an unusual period of really hot dry weather and it has played havoc with the temperature in the greenhouse. I knew I would eventually need shade cloth, but had no idea of where to get one, or the value I needed. I had been using the nylon shade cloth that came with the flower house, and it did cut down on the light, but the temperature hit 100 degrees on a few occasions. That motivated me to get looking for a commercial quality shade cloth.
The first place I called told me they had no idea of the value of shading I would need to grow vegetables. They suggested I call local greenhouses and ask them. The problem with that is: that I have never seen a local greenhouse using shade cloth. They start seeds early in the year, and shut down for summer.
Further Googling found a large commercial greenhouse supplier that listed shading values for every plant imaginable. For tomatoes and vegetables a value of 40% was recommended. The literature said that the cloth was durable polypropylene and would actually cut down on heat.
The cloth arrived late Saturday, and I installed it and took the photo on Sunday morning. Much to my surprise it worked beautifully. At noon on Sunday it was one degree cooler in the greenhouse than it was out side. Using the nylon shade cloth it was so hot I would scurry in and mist the plants and get out as soon as possible. The only time I could take readings, or add nutrients, was just before sunset. Now I can see what was happening; the nylon was shading, but being dull black, it was absorbing heat and transferring it to the structure. The
polypropylene is glossy and reflects the heat and light away from the structure.
At this point I have abandoned trying to grow lettuce. The heat caused the plants to bolt to seed right from the seedling stage. The tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries are all right, however, even though they like warm weather, it has been much too hot for them also.
Using my Dremel I rounded off all the sharp corners that might cause a tear in the cloth, but it is pretty tough stuff. A few tent stakes to tie it down completed the project.
It is nice to buy something and have it perform exactly like the literature on the website claims it will...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Long live the King!

Well, the king will live just a little longer, at least until it is slightly soft to the touch, and then it will be history. This first Seascape berry is by far the best looking berry I have grown to date.
The plants are putting out small runners, but the "umbilical" cords are well over 12" long. They are so long in fact that they are right out of the container. It must be some survival strategy on the plant's part, as the Sarian runners are close to the base of the mother plant.
Using bonsai wire I formed clips, and bent the runners back into the container forcing them into contact with the hydroton to be held in place by the clips. Obtaining runners from the Seascape is now a prime objective after seeing the berries.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Alpine strawberries are not worth the effort.

Today I decided to give up on the Temptation strawberries, and Alpine strawberries altogether. So far I have tried two different varieties from seed, and neither one has been worth the effort. My wife said "they taste like un-sweetened Kool-Aid", and I agree. The Sarian, however, seems to be worth growing, but I will be more able to make that call when they begin producing berries. As the Sarian sends out lots and lots of runners, I doubt I will have to grow them from seed again. The pistils on the flowers are fairly large, and I am waiting to see how big the berries are when they form. If I get a good size berry I will grow a few next winter.
I decided to cut the Temptation plant off at the base, as it was very large and blocking the other plants from receiving adequate light. When I removed the debris I found that the Sarian had many runners rooted in the hydroton. Some of the runners were removed and planted in soil in a strawberry pot, and I decided to cold store a few for winter growing. It took awhile but I did find some information on storing runners. First the soil, if any, must be removed. The runner is soaked in an anti-microbial solution. (I used Hydroguard) The mature leaves were removed leaving just a nub of stem at the base. Small leaves, two inches or less, were left attached. Each individual runner was wrapped in plastic, and then placed into a plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator for a few months. The runners I placed in cold storage now look exactly like the runners I purchased from Agway early in the spring. Not exactly rocket science.
The Seascape seems to be the best choice at this point. The plants; both in the hydroponic system, and in the soil, are really doing well. One plant has a gigantic berry just about ripe and I am waiting to pick it. I have seen plants produce a "king berry" first and then produce smaller berries afterward. All of the plants are producing a "king berry" more or less, but the other berries seem to be fairly large also. It may be just my imagination, and perhaps they will all be "king berries" when they grow up. Lets hope so.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ugly but tasty?

This photo is a plant called Ugly Ripe Heirloom tomato and I am sorry I did not plant this variety in the greenhouse instead of the garden. A quote I found online concerning the variety reads:
"The ugly ripe tomato may look gnarly and ugly. But the greatest "wow factor" about this ugly heirloom tomato is it's old fashion yummy taste. A great flavor all it's own. You might consider the ugly ripe like it is a "Frog Prince", one taste and you are hooked for life."
I knew nothing of these tomatoes until I was looking through my seed collection in March to determine which tomatoes I wanted to plant. It seems my wife bought some of these tomatoes in the market in 2005 and was so impressed with the taste she saved the seeds.
The name got me curious so I googled it and was surprised to find that this tomato caused a lot of controversy that even got congress involved. Seems it was sold in the winter of 2005, but the Florida Tomato Growers Group had some sort of beef with the grower, so they banned them because they said they did not meet the standards for shape, or some other silly reason. Never mind that they had much better taste than the stuff that the other growers were sending north. Well, the tomato got a lot of folks up north hooked , and then they could not get them again because the grower was forced to plow them under by the Florida Tomato Growers Group. Whatever happened to freedom?
Well, one thing lead to another and the controversy began... Me, I just thought it must be something special to make my wife save the seeds, which is something she is not prone to do.
When I planted my tomato seeds for the season I only started two of the seeds, and they are terrific looking plants. They stand out from my other tomato plants because they are deep green and stubby with the buds forming low on the plants.
Again, I will save seeds from the fruit, and being a heirloom it will be true to its heritage. Damn, I can't wait to taste one.

Saving on seeds

There is of all things an Irish Mexican restaurant in town, and one of my favorite dishes is called chilies rellenos. It is basically poblano peppers stuffed with mexican cheese, breaded, and deep fried. It most likely clogs the hell out of my arteries, but I don't have them very often, and you only come this way once.
Being early in the season I thought I might try to grow poblano peppers and began looking at seed catalogs. Well I found them for about four bucks a pack and five bucks to ship them. Not bloody likely.
My wife purchased a pepper for me at the local Wal-Mart Super Center for much less than a dollar and I will use the seeds to grow poblano peppers. Most any seed from a fruit or vegetable purchased for the table can be grown. If the plant is a hybrid, you may get a weird variety, but then again it may be a great plant. Life is a gamble.
In the photo above the plant on the left is laurel, or bay leaf if you prefer that name. My wife bought a small plant several years ago at a farmer's market and we have been harvesting the leaves as we need them. Now, the plant is getting too large to manage, so I am going to clone two new plants and start over.
There are techniques to saving seeds and cloning plants that hydroponic gardeners should be aware of.
If there are any requests I will do a post on them but they are available online already.



Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quinault



Here is the description regarding the Quinault variety of strawberry:
"
Here is a great tasting, heavy bearing, everbearing strawberry developed by Washington State University. It is well on its way to being the greatest performer ever. Quinault Strawberries have been tested in 13 states and Canada and have an excellent performance record for size, taste and plant growth. It was found to be the most disease free everbearer we have ever tested. Quinault Strawberries appear to have all the properties to make it a very popular --- if not the most popular variety of everbearing strawberries."


I became interested in this variety after reading a post on a hydroponic grower's site expounding their virtues, and stating that it was the only berry he would consider growing.
My wife knew I was looking for strawberry plants and picked up a plant at Wal-Mart. As luck would have it, it happened to be a Quinault.
I am not overly impressed with it so far, but I have not ruled it out either. So far, we have had two berries and they were large and sweet. The plant, however, is not setting the world on fire. In the top photo the Quinault is in the green pot on the right and the two white pots contain Seascape plants. The Quinault was already growing when we bought it, the Seascape were bare runners.
Judging by the performance so far, the Seascape will surpass the Quinault very soon.
Why are they in soil when this blog is about hydroponic gardening? Well, the Quinault was already in soil, and I really wanted a runner. As you can see by the photo I am in the process of rooting one. The Seacape plants are left over from a dozen plants I bought at Agway. After I planted the runners I wanted for the hydro systems I had several of these runners left over, and no one wanted them. So, I put them in soil and will let nature take its course.
I am rooting a runner in the small pot next to the Quinault and I am rooting that in soil also. It is still attached to the parent plant until it develops a decent root system. At that point I will cold store it, or place it in one of my one plant wonders for hydroponic growing. As the Seascape runners were grown in soil, and they are now being grown hydroponically with no problems, I have no hesitation about cleaning up the runner and then placing it in a hydroponic environment.
Another recommendation I might make is: never never drain the hydroponic systems into a sanitary sewer. Dilute the solution by half, and use it to water shrubs, your garden, your lawn, or whatever. The potted plants in the photo above get a drink of used solution every week or so, and so does my garden and any plants I have growing about the property.

Bamboo Bargain



On a recent visit to the hydro dealer I noticed that he had bunches of bamboo tied in a barrel near the door. Hmmm I thought, the AutoPots have holes for staking plants, so why not use these bamboo shoots to form a tee pee.
Well, I blew a whole dollar ninty five for a good sized stack of bamboo. After staking the tomato plants I had quite a few pieces left. Well, I needed a trellis for the cucumbers and had a small piece of 4 x 4 pressure treated lumber left over from the sill, why not build a trellis from bamboo?
A simple matter of drilling five holes in the lumber and weaving the shoots together formed a real sturdy trellis. And, both will come apart easily for storage and reuse next season. All that for a buck ninety five.
The tomato in the photo is a variety called Wayahead, and that it certainly is. It is not even the first of June and the plant is in full bloom with small fruit beginning to form. My neighbors are just thinking of putting plants in the ground, so I am Wayahead indeed.
By accident I broke the lead tip off one of the Rutgers plants while moving it indoors in anticipation of frost a few weeks ago. Allowing one of the suckers to grow solved that problem, and the the sucker is now forming buds and will be the new tip. We had a few small oiled filled electric space heaters around in case of emergency, so I placed one of them in the greenhouse using a timer set to turn on at nine pm. and off at 8 am. If cold temperatures are forecast I activate the heater to turn on when the timer activates. Also, I read somewhere that tomato plants will not set fruit if the night temperature goes below 55 degrees, so it will solve that problem also. So far I have only had to turn on the heater a few nights. Yes it uses a small amount of energy, but the swimming pool filter used a heck of a lot more, so I am really way ahead with the greenhouse vs. the pool.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Persistance pays dividends


It appears that the Temptation strawberry plant is going to finally produce a crop. And if the number of flowers and small berries on the plant are any indication, it will be a bumper crop. The plant was started from seed in February, and I picked the first berry two days ago. I found the berry while pollinating the flowers with an artist brush. There was a very strong smell of strawberries near the plant, and after moving the branches aside I found a ripe berry. As I have been waiting for months, and have never tasted an alpine berry, I wasted no time in performing a taste test. The consistency of the fruit was quite different than the store bought berries I have been used to. It was softer and smoother and the taste, while slightly tart and less sweet, had a more intense strawberry flavor. Overall, I liked it very much.
As there does not appear to be any deformed berries on the plant, pollination with the artist brush appears to be beneficial. And, as I did not find a single runner on the plant, it appears that the only way to grow Temptation berries is from seed.
I happened across a seed catalog last evening with Sarian seeds. It read that it takes 150 days to get berries. In my part of New York, we don't have a 150 day growing season. So, if I did not start them under the big grow light in February, there is no way I could grow them.
The Sarian plants are still producing runners like mad, but no flowers. The Seascape runners are taking off, and some are producing flowers and runners. I am really impressed with them so far. All of the varieties that I am growing are supposed to be superior to the traditional commercial variety. Again, time will tell.

Monday, May 19, 2008

No Cow Tea for Me!

My 91 year old neighbor Mario, who passed away last year, gardened all of his life, and I must admit his vegetables looked great. Early in the spring Mario would go to the dairy farm a mile or so from our houses, and get a five gallon bucket of manure. (A nice word for cow feces)
He would put several inches of water on top of the manure, cover the bucket, and place it in the sun behind his garage. Each day he would ladle off some of the concentrated "tea" , add some water, and pour this mixture over his lettuce.
Mario would, of course, rinse the lettuce before tossing it into his salad, but to my way of thinking no amount of washing would remove weeks and weeks of cow tea residue.
I used to envy Mario's ability to grow vegetables, however, since I began using hydroponic gardening techniques my results are far far superior to Mario's cow tea lettuce. Also, I have never grown lettuce in a conventional garden that I did not have to contend with zillions of aphids. Mario was using a powered pesticide for aphid control, but I would have given odds that the cow tea alone would kill aphids. Between the cow tea, aphids, and pesticide, the flora and fauna in his digestive system was most likely unusual to say the least. As he made it until past ninety, I guess his system adjusted reasonably well to his gourmet habits.
Recently, for the first time in almost ten years, I was sick for almost two days. My wife also came down with the same symptoms of nausea and vomiting. I am a vegetarian and she is not, but we did share a salad the evening before. It was bagged spring mix lettuce. My guess is that we both had a case of
Escherichia coli . And we all know that commercial growers use their own version of "cow tea". So, no more cow tea for me!!

Deep Water Culture 101


The first commercial hydroponic system I purchased was a Deep Water Culture unit called Emily's Garden. This type of system is what is known as a passive system, as it basically does nothing other than provide an aerated reservoir for the containers to soak in. After using it for sometime I developed a few techniques that the instruction manual did not cover.
Although I have since moved on to using mostly flood and drain systems , I do like the DWC system for swiss chard. When setting up the system I place strips of felt to run from the bottom of the pot to a level that I estimate the bottom of the rockwool cube will be. These felt strips will act as a wick and provide nutrients to the cubes if the level drops too low. The plant with the cube is placed on top of the "wick" and the expanded clay pellets are added to support the plant. When all the containers have been filled I place them in the unit and then dribble the nutrient solution slowly through the containers. By doing so the seedlings are less likely to wilt from transplanting and the system gets off to a good start. Filling the reservoir through the planters also begins the wicking action.
For these small plants I will be using a mild general purpose mixture with a TDS of about 700, and I found that swiss chard likes the pH at 7 or even slightly above.
There are three plants in each container, so I will be growing 18 plants in about six square feet of space. That would be insanity in a soil garden, however, with hydroponic gardening the plant does not have to develop an extensive root system searching for nutrients. All the nutrients the plant needs will be available when it needs them so it can concentrate its energy on growing.




Thermal vent control

The thermal vent control has been installed for a few days and it works really well. It only cost nineteen dollars to purchase, and it clamps on, which makes removal real easy. I would not want to leave in on during the winter, and I am glad I did not have to drill any holes in the frame for the installation.
It begins to open at sixty degrees, and as the greenhouse warms it eventually opens the vent completely. I have been checking it frequently since it has been installed, and I can see that it is adjusting the opening as the greenhouse heats and cools. After sunset and the temperature drops below fifty nine the vent is closed.
The weather is so variable in upstate New York that this addition is going to come in real handy.