Saturday, May 31, 2008


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.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cool as a cucumber

Today I transplanted the cucumbers into the AutoPot, and the more I use them the more impressed I am with the concept. Most likely the Aussie that invented the valve made a fortune. (Wish I thought of it) For the above photo I left the cover off to display the valve during the initial filling. An airline gang valve was installed for this unit also, as it makes it a lot easier to manage.
The medium is half perlite and coco noir, and after the rockwool cubes and plants were placed, I poured two quarts of nutrient solution into each container to begin the wicking action.
Most likely the reason I like these units is that; basically I am a lazy person.. Four gallons of nutrient solution mixed for the growth stage of cucumbers was placed in the reservoir and the TDS and pH were recorded as 930 and 6.0 respectfully. The real nice feature is that: I do not have to take periodic readings just simply check and refill the reservoir as required. When the bloom and fruiting cycle begins I will let the reservoir level drop to an inch or so and then add four gallons of a mix appropriate for that cycle.
Growing cukes in a greenhouse may seem like a nutty idea, but my soil is just about pure clay, and no matter how much peat I add it still bakes and drys like brick. When planted outside the plants droop badly in hot weather to the point that they must be stressed most of the time. The AutoPot will ,at the very least, maintain an even moisture level in the medium, and I may get decent cucumbers this year.
There are two varieties in the system, Picklebush and Saladbush. Both plants require less than two square feet of space and the bamboo at the top of the photo will be used to construct a trellis so they can grow vertical and not fight for space with the swiss chard which will next to them in the DWC system.
So far excessive heat has not been a problem with the greenhouse. It has not yet been necessary to place shade cloth on the unit to control the heat, as the two vents in the roof and the fan in the open door have not allowed the temperature to go above 87 or so. Although lettuce is a cool weather plant, is seems to be doing real well in the greenhouse so far.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Not in this lifetime!

"Not in this lifetime!" That is what I said when I found out that AeroGarden wanted twenty bucks plus shipping for seven seeds.
My wife wanted the AeroGarden, as she said she always wanted to try hydroponics. We were among the first to order one and when it arrived it came with a seed kit of salad greens. The salad greens we grew looked nothing like the ads on TV showed them. After a few weeks we wanted something else, like herbs, but I was not about to pay twenty dollars for a few seeds. That is what got me started in hydroponics. We found a hydroponic dealer locally and I bought some rockwool cubes and a small supply of nutrients. Using my own seeds, I found the results were as good as AeroGarden's. After getting hooked on growing , the next logical step was to scale up the project so I added a large grow light, and the rest is history.
Now, the only use I put the AeroGarden to is starting seeds that take a long time to germinate, like parsley or cilantro.
If you happen to own an AeroGarden and want to grow your own seeds just cut a rockwool cube to fit LOOSELY in the small cup. And yes, you can reuse the cups, so don't throw them away.
We found that the AeroGarden is OK for herbs like basil, but growing salad greens or tomatoes with the AeroGarden is not, from my point of view, the way to go.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Strawberries, one more time

Having spent a great deal of time last winter attempting to grow hydroponic strawberries with no success, I am going to give it another try, with a much different approach. Many of the commercial growers appear to be using vertical drip irrigation stacks to grow strawberries. And, they are growing outdoors, and in many instances under netting or shade cloth.
My approach is to try to grow them in an flood and drain system filled with expanded clay pellets. Strawberries will rot if they touch damp soil, so I felt I needed a dry surface for the fruit to rest upon. The expanded clay will remain dry on the surface, and if need be I will place dowels under the plants to support the berries. Additionally, they are planted close to the edges so berries can cascade down the sides.
I have a mixture of plants in the containers shown above. In the black container the large plant in the upper right is an Alpine called Temptation. It was started from seed in February and has berries forming already. The plants in the lower right and upper left corners are Sarian, and were also started from seed in March. Sarian is a new variety of a traditional berry developed in Holland for home gardens, and it is supposed to be the very best for home gardeners. Time will tell. The remaining plants are all Seascape runners purchased from Agway. Seascape is also a new variety that is supposed to be the latest and greatest. In the portable greenhouse I am growing a Quinault berry in soil. I read on a hydroponic site that Quinault is the only self pollinating berry, and the author was trying to locate them. Well, I have one, and did not pollinate it, and I have monkey faced berries which result, I believe, from inadequate pollination. So I guess you can't believe everything you read. My interest in the Quinault was to obtain runners to place in cold storage for growing indoors next winter. However, the Sarian plants are producing runners like mad, so I should have a few options for the winter experiment.
Pollinating strawberries with an artist brush is not my favorite activity, and hopefully a few bees will wander into the greenhouse and take care of that little chore.
Last, but not least, the white tub on the right in the photo was a stacking sweater storage box purchased from the local supermarket for about six dollars. Again, hydroponics does not need to be high tech or costly.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mission Accomplished

When I began this project I had no idea of how much work it would entail. Remove the pool, level the area, construct the base, assemble the greenhouse, install the electric, install the flooring, construct shelving, and if that is not enough, set up the hydro units. There is not a part of my anatomy that is not hurting from lifting, lugging, hammering, tamping and whatnot. To say I am glad that it is a done deal would be a huge understatement.
I can see why they used to call them a hot house though, as when I was installing the patio block, I was wearing only a tee shirt, and there were snow flurries flying about outside. Perhaps I can also use it to get an early start on my tan......
As it stands right now there is still room enough left for few more systems, and I may put in a DWC unit for swiss chard. Spending all that time building has left little time for starting seeds, so even my present systems have plenty of room for additional plants.
The AutoPots on the left front are reserved for the cucumbers, but I am going to wait a while to plant them. The type I will grow only need two square feet of space and I will need to place a trellis on the north wall to hold the plants.
Well, I wanted my own greenhouse since I was a youngster, and after all these years I have one. Now, I will have to learn how to use one.....