Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The ebb and flow tub above contains a variety of plants all happily coexisting under the same growing conditions. The nutrient solution was changed today, and the current TDS is 740.
The crinkly lettuce that resembles endive is tango, and I can tell just by looking at it that it is going to be a do again, and again. The large burgundy lettuce in the rear center is midnight ruffles, the small burgundy lettuce in the center front is bugatti, directly in the center is a calundula, front left is a marigold named calypso and front right is a melampodium named showstar.
Although the lettuce and flowers have different requirements; I find that most plants are pretty adaptable, and will do their best to survive as best they can, given the conditions of their environment. The melampodium is showing slight signs of nitrogen deficiency, however it is setting flowers, and the new growth is dark green. The plant is obviously drawing nitrogen from the older lower leaves to supply the new growth, causing the lower leaves to turn slightly yellow. As long as it is growing and producing flowers I will just let is sputter along.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Although it resembles regular chard it is a more compact plant. The seeds were purchased from Kitazawa Seed company, and this is what they have on their site regarding this variety:
"Umaina is a tender Japanese Chard. The leaves are deep green slightly waved and smooth. The mid-rib is pale green with short stalks. This variety is can withstand warm and cold temperatures and slow bolting. It is prepared like pak choi and very similar to spinach."
My only observation, as I have not eaten it yet, is that it is easy to grow and adapts well to hydroponics.
Friday, December 25, 2009
This unit is a 3rd. generation grow light, and differs from the other unit as it also contains white full spectrum LEDs in addition to the red and blue.
I am using a 50% mixture of coir and perlite for all of these plants and, initially, a mild general purpose nutrient mixture.
When the plants are more developed I will replant the full size tomato plant in an AutoPot using coir and perlite for the medium. At that point I will only have that plant under the wide spectrum LED. The totem tomato, which is dwarf, and the strawberries, will be grown in self watering containers under the remaining LED.
At least that is my plan, and again, time will tell.....
Thursday, December 17, 2009
As the greenhouse is closed for the winter I decided to refurbish my large ebb and flow system while it sits idle.
For quite sometime I have been unhappy with the reservoir under the tray, and I think I have finally found the ideal reservoir. All this time it was in the back of my pickup truck serving as a storage box.
The upper tray is a large rubber mixing tub that can be sourced from Tractor Supply or Home Depot. Pretty much any container that will support the tray can serve as a reservoir. A small pump from Harbor Freight Tools and a few fittings will complete the system.
This large system will comfortably hold about 30 4" net pots, and it will last for many years. A commercially built system this large would cost hundreds of dollars, however, I think I may have less than fifty dollars invested in my system.
I have seen posts on gardening forums where people think that hydroponics is expensive in terms of equipment and nutrients. By using a little ingenuity and common sense; as the old George and Ira Gershwin tune went: It ain't necessarily so...
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The plants in the aeroponic system under the UFO LED were transplanted a few days after these plants, but they are almost as large. Both systems produce excellent results, however, the UFO LED is much more energy efficient than the compact fluorescent. I can not imagine anyone growing indoors using a 400 or 500 watt HPS system.
Even though I am not fully utilizing all of my systems, I am producing all the table greens we can use, and then some. So, I am really thinking of growing a full size tomato plant using the 4th. generation UFO LED that I just received.
Just in case I decide to proceed, I have started seeds that I found among my seed stash. They are for a determinate plant that only grows 30" tall, and produces 3" fruit. The local markets are now charging $2.49 per pound for tomatoes, and they are not all that good.
At the very least, growing a tomato will satisfy my curiosity as to how the UFO LED will perform with a flowering plant.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Mostly my indoor gardening is focused on lettuce and table greens, however during our bleak New York winter I like to grow a few flowers to brighten our dreary days. The above photo is my first bloom of the 2009 season, Zinnia, thumbelina.
In addition to the zinnia I have calendula, pot marigold, melampodium and a Sarian strawberry underway. A dozen bulbs are also being forced in some used coir and perlite, and I expect them to be in bloom in early January when they will be most appreciated.
No special attention is given to the flowers, as I just place them in any ebb and flow system that has space to spare. They seem to adapt and grow in whatever conditions are prevailing. Most likely that is due to pure dumb luck......
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Being a vegetarian no one would ever call me a galloping gourmet when it comes to my diet, however there are not too many vegetables I do not like, and I am always open to try a new vegetable.
Today I planted the Fudanso Umaina in an ebb and flow system, and hopefully we will like it. It is supposed to be a Japanese version of chard, but the seedlings look slightly more squat and stubby than regular chard.
After this experiment I will be trying Kyoto Mizuna, Saltwort, Tatsoi, and Bughatti lettuce, and I doubt that any of these are available unless you grow them yourself. Like always, time will tell....
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Today I picked a good size batch of Swiss Chard that has been growing in an ebb and flow system under the T5 fluorescent lights. There is enough chard for at least two meals, and the quality is absolutely incredible.
The chard was prepared immediately after picking, as chard is extremely perishable, and it begins losing some of its nutrient value shortly after being picked.
In addition to the chard; in the past week I have picked about ten large lettuce plants. The value of the plants that I have been able to grow offsets the additional cost that the lighting adds to our utility bill.
In a previous post I wrote that I would not be growing chard indoors again, however, because we enjoy it so much, I am going to waffle and grow another batch.
I have planted a variety from Japan called fudanso umaina, and I doubt that few people this side of the international dateline have ever heard of it, much less eaten it. That is another benefit of hydroponic growing, in that you can obtain seed to sample new vegetables much easier that you can obtain the vegetables.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The above photo is Slobolt lettuce, which is quickly becoming my favorite variety for growing indoors under lights.
The description from the seed vendor reads as follows:
48 days. . Plant produces very flavorful lettuce even in hot weather! This is a very slow bolting variety. The outer leaves may be picked off as it grows. It has a delightful crispness and mild flavor. For use in greenhouse growing and outdoor planting.
I might add that it germinates quickly, and really thrives when grown hydroponically.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The first batch of lettuce was harvested today for our Thanksgiving meal, and another batch of Slo-Bolt has been started.
After cleaning the system I installed a top hat grommet and added an airstone to the reservoir. Additionally, I installed reflective metallized film around the stand. The UFO LED is suspended by adjustable hangers 12 inches above the plants, and it will be raised as the plants progress. The light intensity at plant level measures just under 4,000 foot candles at this height.
Adjacent to this unit there is a unit that is identical in all respects, with the exception of the lighting system. The lighting system for the adjacent unit is a 150 watt compact fluorescent. At plant level the foot candle reading is about 3200 foot candles. How a 90 watt LED can produce a higher light level reading than a 150 watt fluorescent beats the heck out of me.......
In any event, this should be an interesting trial.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
It occurred to me that I failed it mention in the video that the unit has a fill drain tube on the side, and an opening on top that may also be used to add nutrients. Although the fill drain tube is not critical, it makes servicing the system much easier. It should almost go without saying that each hydroponic system needs a drain tube.
I use the same fittings that I use on the ebb and flow systems, and interchange them when a unit is not being used. The fill drain tube can also be used to draw a few ounces of nutrients from the system for testing, and I calibrate mine to be used as a fluid level indicator.
This short video demonstrates what I call my modified aeroponic growing system. It was built from a tote that I purchased at Wal-Mart, a small pump, a piece of PVC pipe with end caps, and some airline tubing. The net cups are standard at any hydroponic dealer site, and may be available at some Home Depot garden centers.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We have had an unusual period of sunny mild weather in upstate New York recently, and that has allowed me to place several plants in the greenhouse each day to take advantage of four or five hours of natural light.
I find that although the plants grow fine under the fluorescent lighting, Merlot, and other pigmented lettuce, will obtain much more intense coloration if they are given high levels of sunlight. Not that color has any effect on the taste of the lettuce, but it certainly adds some eye appeal.
This variety almost looks as attractive as a house plant, and is almost too attractive to pick. Almost, but not quite.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
My original objective was to determine if the UFO LED could be used to grow anything to completion. To say that I am amazed would be an understatement at this point. The growth in only three weeks has been phenomenal!
My next objective is to build another identical setup, and I expect that the two systems will economically provide an almost unlimited supply of fresh greens.
This method of growing surely must be economically viable for commercial use, and I would expect that someday it will be implemented.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The chard needs a few more weeks before it is ready to harvest, and it is now happily growing under the T5 lights in an ebb and flow system.
I have, however, changed my thinking on growing chard and beets indoors, and I will concentrate on lettuce, flowers, and a few herbs.
A big factor in my decision regarding chard and beets is the space that is required. When you consider that the entire crop in an ebb and flow system really only provides enough chard for one or two meals after it has been cooked; it is not worth the trade in prime indoor space. In the same space I can grow enough fresh lettuce for more than a dozen salads, and we really enjoy the lettuce that we grow. So, it becomes a simple case of space economics.
Last evening our dinner included a salad of French butterhead lettuce from the greenhouse, and it was SO GOOD that it was a big factor in my making the decision regarding concentrating on salad greens during the winter.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The romaine lettuce placed in the modified aeroponic system on October 24, 2009 is doing great.
As much as I like the greenhouse, I feel that growing indoors affords much better control over growing conditions. Having grown lettuce indoors for a number of years I can pretty much predict the outcome.
Frequently I visit gardening forums to view the posts, and in particular the posts concerning indoor gardening. I read post after post asking for help controlling all sorts of problems that can be attributed to growing in soil.
Honestly, if the only way I could garden was by using soil, I would not even bother.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
This photo records the progress of the lettuce in the aerospring unit using the 90 watt UFO LED since October 20, 2009. The growth in just two weeks has been amazing, and although I could begin harvesting leaves from the plants, I will let them grow for one more week before doing so.
This unit is a veritable lettuce machine which requires very little maintenance. In keeping with my usual routine I have changed the nutrients at two week intervals, but other than that, it simply chugs along unattended.
Now I am regretting that I have waited so long to test the aerospring unit.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Even though November has officially arrived I have decided to continue to use the greenhouse. If it gets to the point that the heater is running frequently, I will move the remaining plants indoors and finish them in the grow room.
Today it is cloudy bright, and with the vents open the temperature in the greenhouse is in sixties. Yesterday the temperature was approaching the eighty degree mark with both the vents and the door open. The extended weather forecast indicates it may be possible to continue for awhile.
The lettuce is receiving about four hours of supplemental lighting, however, the beets and chard are not, and they do not seem to be slowing down.
At this point there is no doubt that there will be plenty of green produce for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Unless you have experienced hydroponic gardening personally it is difficult to appreciate the rate of growth that is possible with hydroponics.
As much as I like growing in the greenhouse, I still get a great deal of satisfaction from bending the seasons and growing fresh produce indoors out of season.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The first week's vegetative growth rate using the UFO LED grow light and aeroponic system is pretty impressive. So much so, that I have ordered another UFO LED, and they will replace my compact fluorescent lights. The compact fluorescent lights will be relegated to supplemental lighting duty in the greenhouse. In addition to the energy savings there is a significant savings in bulb replacement, and using the compacts for supplemental lighting will greatly reduce bulb replacement costs.
The new 90 watt UFO light is a full spectrum light and will contain 10 warm white LEDs in addition to the red and blue LEDs. It was pleasing to find that the prices are considerably less than they were last year.
There are still conflicting opinions concerning LED lighting online, but I am now a firm believer. The following are simply presented for informational purposes:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Recent advancements in LEDs have allowed for the production of relatively cheap, bright and long lasting grow lights that emit only the colors of light required for plant growth. These lights are attractive to indoor growers since they do not consume as much power, do not require ballasts, and produce a fraction of the heat of HID lamps. The lamps consist of arrays of many wide-spectrum red and a few narrow-spectrum blue LEDs of specific wavelengths. The arrival of the most recent generation of High Power based LED grow lights makes the application of LED grow lights to a wide range of crop types possible. It should be pointed out that there is no peer reviewed scientific evidence supporting the claims of higher growth rate using LED grow lights versus HID lighting.
However, luminous efficiency is not applicable to plant growth since it is based on what wavelengths humans see best. A plant is, for example very sensitive to far-red, while humans can barely see that wavelength. Therefore, LEDs can be more efficient for plant growth, while their lumnious efficiency is lower compared to other solutions. 
The statement regarding lumnious efficiency caught my attention, as both the local hydro dealer and the the pot forums are comparing 400 and 600 watts to 90 watts, and saying "a watt of power is a watt of power and 90 watts does not produce like 400 watts." Yeah, a lot of the power going into HPS goes into generating heat, and more power must be used to dissipate the heat with ventilation equipment!
I have measured the foot candles at plant level and they are certainly acceptable. Just looking at the lettuce in the photo; you can see that the plants are not leggy at all, which is a sure sign of adequate lighting levels. The lights are so bright that you can not look directly at them, and that should convince anyone that they are not toys.
Using professional nutrients purchased from a greenhouse supply reduced my nutrient costs to less than twenty dollars for the entire summer season. Now, I am reducing my energy costs substantially. It does not get much better than this....
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Although the greenhouse is still operational I decided to begin the indoor gardening season by setting up a small system to grow lettuce.
The system in the photo above has a small pump feeding a central distribution hub with tubes leading to each cup, with the pump cycle being one hour on and two hours off. Additionally, I am running a small air pump to an air stone 24/7.
Two types of romaine lettuce have been placed in the system, Parris Island and Silva, both of which were started from seed on 10/6/09.
The TDS is 890 with a pH of 6.5, and the photoperiod will be 14 hours. The light is a 125 watt compact fluorescent 6500K, which yields about 1500 foot candles at plant level.
Contrary to what my detractor, Doktor, wrote in his comment regarding the Sure To Grow trial; the above information is not intended to teach hydroponic gardening.
The purpose of this blog is primarily a journal for my own reference, and records what has, or has not, worked for me.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The beets in the ebb and flow system are almost ready for harvest, and as I need that system for lettuce I decided to try growing beets using a DWC system. The DWC pots are much deeper than the pots in the ebb and flow system, and I think they will better support the plants.
Initially the TDS level will be 1710 with a pH of 6.5, and over time I have found that maintaining the nutrient level in the reservoir at three inches works best for me.
Currently the temperature in the greenhouse is 65 degrees with the humidity at 55 percent. The outside air temperature is 48 degrees and the sky conditions are hazy, so the greenhouse is definitely doing its thing.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I am trying to extend my outdoor gardening season at least until the first of November this year. Doing so will mean that I have had nine months of continuous gardening out of doors.
In the area that I live in upstate New York the first frost of the season came in September, so I have gone well past what would have been possible without the greenhouse. I am using a small electric heating unit with the thermostat set at 45 degrees, however the heater is seldom on, as the greenhouse retains residual heat even on cloudy days. I really don't know if I can push my luck much past the beginning of November, and it would really not be worth it, as there would not be much growth with the short daylight hours and cool temperatures.
The photos above show my cool weather crops, chard, beets and lettuce growing in ebb and flow systems. I am using very little greenhouse space, however I expect that once I have a rotation going there is going to be enough lettuce for continuous table use. After all, you can only use so much lettuce.
The chard is Fordhook Giant, the beets are Early Wonder, and the lettuce is Burpee Bibb, Merlot and Waldman's Dark Green. Additionally, two varieties of romaine, Parris Island and Silva, have been started, as well as an Italian red lettuce called Antago . I intend to keep the progression going by starting a few lettuce seeds every few days.
The beets really seem to like the cool weather and the lower light levels of autumn. In researching them I found that they were called blood turnips until the late 19th century, and not really cultivated much before the 17th century. Although they were mentioned in some ancient texts, it is not known if they were being eaten at the time. We like them, as you get two vegetables in one plant by using both the beet and the greens.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
So far the trial of the UFO LED grow lamp and homemade aeroponic unit seems to be percolating along nicely. I am quite impressed with the light, and the plants seem to be responding as I hoped they would. If I can remember to do so I will photograph the plants weekly to record the progress.
The temperature in the growing area is running from 70 to 80 degrees, with the humidity averaging 25 to 35 percent. I know that is a little high for lettuce, but I spend a good part of my day in the growing area, and I don't like being cool...
The lettuce varieties I am using, Slo-Bolt and Capitan, are both greenhouse varieties, and both can tolerate extremes of warm and cool temperature.
Capitan Lettuce - Bibb Butterhead
62 days. This Dutch greeníhouse lettuce is adapted equally well to greeníhouse or garden. 'Capitan' was judged the best Boston-type lettuce in the l983 Rodale Research Center variety trials. Excellent heat and cold tolerance plus resistance to lettuce mosaic virus. The 5 oz. loose heads have a light green color, excellent taste, appearance, and yield. Nice buttery flavor.
Slo-Bolt - Looseleaf Lettuce
48 days. [Introduced 1946.] "Grand Rapids" type lettuce with good heat tolerance. Excellent choice for Southern gardens or greenhouse use. Leaves are bright green and ruffled
In the photo above the center plant is the Slo-Bolt, and the plants on either end are Capitan.
My aeroponic unit is working perfectly mechanically, and I am feeling sorry I have not used it before now. I am not sure it will live up to all the hype that has been published concerning them though. If it does, I will not mind being pleasantly surprised.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The above photo shows the UFO LED lamp suspended over the unit, which has been planted with lettuce.
As I have this unit running unattended in a room with carpeting, clamps have been added to the cover to ensure that it does not leak. The photoperiod will be 14 hours, with feeding cycles of one hour on and two hours off.
This will be my first attempt to grow plants to completion using only LED lighting, and I have no idea of how it will turn out. There is a lot being written on the web, both pro and con, concerning LED grow lamps. The local hydro dealer said they may be acceptable for supplemental lighting, but he felt the lumen output was not sufficient to grow plants to completion. That is understandable, as he makes a major portion of his living selling HPS lighting.
My lamp is about a foot above the plants, and I was surprised at how bright it is. At plant level I measured just under 3,000 foot candles, which is a lot more than I measure in the greenhouse on a cloudy bright day! And, theoretically, all the light is concentrated within the most optimum spectrum for plant growth. I can't imagine that it is not bright enough to grow lettuce. The color of the light though is disconcerting, as if you work under it for any length of time, everything appears green when you return to normal light, at least to me anyway.
Listed below are the specifications for the lamp:
1. LED Sources: 90 x 1W LED
2. Size: 270mm (diameter) x 60mm (height)
3. Lighting Area: 25 square meters
4. Optional colors:
4.1 Red (620 - 630nm) or (660nm)
4.2 Blue(430 - 470nm)
5. Input Voltage: 110 - 230V AC
6. Power consumption: 90W
7. Lumen output: 3,800 lumens
8. Height Above Plant: 2.5 and 3.5 meters
9. Lighting time per day: 10 - 16 hours
10. Average lifetime: 50,000 hours
11. No ballasts or reflectors needed!
12. Use only exact spectrum required for plant photosynthesis
7. Flower Exhibition
Additional benefits are: very little heat is given off by the lamp, and the lamp has a cooling fan that is providing a slight amount of additional air circulation directly above the plants, .
At the very least, this should prove interesting. NASA, are you paying attention?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
This week CNN's website featured an article on our food supply and listed salad greens as the leading cause of illness to consumers. Of course the release of this data immediately caused an outcry from growers. As the same applied, to lesser degrees, to cheese, dairy products, berries, and other items, the same outcry arose from the producers of those items. Not surprising in the least.
A few years ago I became very ill after having eaten spring mix salad greens, and I don't think I would ever like to know what was on the greens to make me ill, as most likely it was very disgusting.
For the most part I avoid eating salad greens today, unless I grew the greens myself. If not, when I do have a salad, I prefer head lettuce. My rationale being that whatever they spray on the plants will be peeled off with the outside leaves, except perhaps a smaller amount absorbed by the plant. It may be stupid, but that is my theory...
Salads are high on my favorite menu items being a vegetarian, and I have been looking forward to the cool weather of solar autumn to begin growing salad greens for my table.
To that end I began starting small batches of a variety of lettuce seeds three weeks ago. Each batch consists of three or four cubes which are germinated on a heat mat under low light levels using 24" T12 grow lamps. Following germination the cubes are placed in a small growing tray and I use the AeroGarden lights to progress the seedlings to the point that they have at least one pair of true leaves. At that point the seedlings are moved into the greenhouse where they receive a combination of natural light and fluorescent light to achieve a photoperiod of at least 14 hours. When they have two or more sets of true leaves and roots are protruding from cubes the seedlings are planted into net pots and placed in the ebb and flow system.
Insolation is a term used by meteorologists to define the amount of sunlight that falls on a given location during a given period. In my neck of the woods during this time of year we can expect about 11 hours of light, however we will only forty percent of that. To compensate I am again using T12 48" fluorescent 6500K lighting to achieve a photoperiod of 14 hours. The above photo shows Burpee Bibb lettuce seedlings three weeks from the day the seeds were started. Needless to state that I am well satisfied with the results of my efforts so far.
Rarely has it been necessary for me to use an insecticide, and if I do, I use insecticide soap, which can be applied right up to the day of harvest. Going forward for the next several months I will know exactly what was used on my salad greens.
For my birthday I received two books on greenhouse gardening, and although they concerned gardening with soil, I did glean a good deal of information regarding growing methods and timing from the books. However, I am more than ever convinced that if I had to deal with the problems of gardening with soil, I would not even bother. Both authors recommended natural methods of insect control including using predator insects, and even lizards and snakes in the greenhouse. Like hello, get rid of the dirt, you get rid of the bugs, mostly. I am still of the opinion that the only good bug is a dead bug....
Please pass the salad dressing.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I know the above photo has nothing whatever to do with hydroponic gardening, however I wanted to share this unusual photo on the blog, as like hydroponics it has a lot to do with water. The term hydroponic means working water, and water working is what made this formation in the sand.
We spent the week in Wells Maine, and on Monday we went to Wells Beach to enjoy the sun and surf. After the tide receded I saw something on the beach, which from a distance I thought might be a dead critter tossed up by the ocean.
To my utter amazement I found this sand sculpture created by the wave action. I literally ran back to the parking lot to grab my camera before anyone else decided to investigate, and possibly destroy this unique feature.
This formation was about six feet from the large boulders forming a breakwater barrier to the harbor entrance. Signs warn of dangerous currents near the barrier, and the currents apparently created this sand circle.
The following two days I returned to the exact same spot at low tide, and there was nothing other than a few minor depressions in the sand. I can only assume that the creator was in a playful mood on Monday, and wanted to play in the sand.
While I was in Maine I left the cover on the greenhouse, and also left the door open with a timer for the fan. All of the systems are on timers, and the vents are controlled automatically with thermal vent openers. Everything worked as expected, however the seedlings were etiolated to the point that I simply tossed them when I returned. I suspect that the cause was that the temperature was too high during the time we were away.
In any event, I decided to add supplemental lighting in the greenhouse to compensate for the fading September sun. My intention is that the lighting will serve primarily for seedling development, so I purchased and installed a 48" fluorescent shop light fixture that is suspended 4" above the germination trays. Timers will turn the light on a 6 am until 10 am, and again at 6 pm until 10 pm, which, together with the natural light, will provide the seedlings with 16 hours of light each day. Measurements show that the light provides about 1000 foot candles 2" from the plant surface, and when the seedlings are receiving natural light the level can range to more than 5000 foot candles.
Lettuce, beet, chard and marigold seeds have been replanted, and I am anxious to see if there is a big improvement in seedling development with the addition of supplemental lighting.
Monday, September 7, 2009
A few years ago the local hydroponic dealer had an Aerogarden growing tomatoes on display, and I requested and received a few tomatoes to sample.
He gave me a few of both the red and yellow tomatoes, and I saved seed from both and planted them in our Aerogarden. As they reproduced true to the parent plant, I guess they were not a hybrid variety.
They are a true dwarf tomato, which I suppose could be grown as a house plant in a sunny location. The plants above were photographed eight weeks after the seed was started. The plant on the left is being grown in the DWC system and has a truss with a number of small tomatoes. The plant on the right was the runt of the litter, and I almost did not pot it up. As a trial it was planted in one of my homemade self watering planters, which seems to be performing nicely.
I have a small supply of seed of each color, and if anyone would like a few to experiment with I would be glad to put a few in an SASE.
Monday, August 24, 2009
If I had it to do over though I would have started a full size tomato, and I have just the candidate, Early & Often Hybrid. I found these seeds in my seed stash and these tomatoes are supposed to have 8 oz. fruit and take only 68 days following transplanting.
In case I want to try indoor tomatoes this year I started one seed of the Early & Often tomatoes. If I do decide to grow them I will use the 90 watt LED grow lamp to do so.
Recently I received an email from the CEO of Harris Seed and I would like to share some of what he wrote:
"For many new gardeners that tried their hands at vegetable gardening this current season, it may be fairly easy to become discouraged. You might think you just don't have that "green thumb." Don't fret, my friends, as most of this year's lackluster garden harvests can be directly attributed to bad weather, and that is clearly out of your control.
We have had some nasty wet weather in the northern tier of the USA, and too much rain is not what the doctor ordered for bountiful harvests. We have also experienced nearly record cold temperatures for June and July. Cold nights are not good for many vegetable species, like peppers and tomatoes. The sweet corn harvest in the East is two to three weeks behind. Weeds are out of control."
I must agree that this has been a lackluster season, even with the greenhouse. I know some people who lost their entire garden to heavy rain and blight, so I guess I should be thankful for what I did manage to grow.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
We just received some seed I have been trying to get for some time, Mignonette Bronze. The description reads as follows:
60 days. Excellent for hot and tropical weather, slow to bolt, frilled leaves, bronze-green heads. A superb type for the hot parts of the country, this heirloom was introduced in 1898.
To start the seeds I place them moist paper towels until the seed coat splits and the radicle emerges. At that point, I use a chop stick to make small holes in Oasis Horticubes, and using tweezers I gently place the seedling in the hole and "tuck it in" to develop.
As you can see by the photo I plant more than one seedling in each cube. When the second set of true leaves develop I cut them apart with a razor knife and plant them in the ebb and flow systems.
I thought I would give the Sure To Grow cubes one last try and planted six Green Ice lettuce seeds in them. They are in the six cubes on the bottom, and I took the photo just before I pitched them in the trash. My batting average with these cubes is 100%, that is 100% failures. So far I have not managed to grow a single plant in these cubes.
The only two cucumber seeds that managed to emerge from the Sure To Grow cubes perished after they were planted in the AutoPots. They appear to have dried out due to the coco coir and perlite drawing the moisture out of them, however the seeds planted in rockwool are well on their way.
Although the Sure To Grow folks claim to have two or three hundred happy growers using their product, there does not seem to be testimonials online to verify that claim. When the trash collector leaves on Monday he will be taking the Sure To Grow samples with him to the land fill.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I was not impressed with the place at all. When you arrive they give you what they call a "map" and list of vegetables that can be picked, after that you are on your own.
We could not find the swiss chard so I went back to entrance and told them I was having difficulty finding it. The man said "did you see the tomatoes?" I replied that I had, and he said that the chard was before the tomatoes. Then he said "there are only a few rows and you have to look for it because the weeds are higher than the chard."
I thought: this does not sound good! Well, we found the chard right where he said it would be, but it is nowhere near where the map shows it should be. They must be handing out last year's maps to save money.
To make a long story short; we picked about fifteen pounds of chard. I have never seen field grown chard, and I thought it looked pretty awful compared to mine. We had some for dinner and it was tough, stringy and bitter. My wife looks at the bright side and says it will taste better in January. For my part, when this is gone, it will be the last batch of field grown chard I intend to eat, ever.
I would wager that you could look through all 300 feet of their chard and not find one perfect plant, and, that you could look at every plant of my chard and not find one imperfection.
And, there is no comparison when it comes to the difference in taste and texture. Commercially growing chard hydroponically may not be economically practical, and that is a pity, as few will ever get to enjoy it as we have.
If you are into hydroponics you should consider growing a batch of chard. It grows quickly and requires minimum care.
My next greenhouse experiment will be hydroponic cabbage. I am not crazy about cabbage, however I could never grow it in my garden because of insect damage, so I am determined to finally grow one.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The low wattage LED grow lamp has been suspended six to eight inches above the plants and a timer turns the lights on at 7 pm and off at 12 am. In the morning the light is turned on at 6 am and I remove the light when I open the greenhouse for the day.
I am not sure what, if any, effect it is having on the chard, however it really makes the greenhouse look like the Twilight Zone at night.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Over the years I have progressed to more active systems, however from time to time I would use the Emily's Garden, particularly for larger plants.
A few months ago my reservoir began leaking from a crack that developed at the drain grommet. It was not from any damage that I caused, it was a simple case of fatigue, as the plastic is thin and fairly brittle. Understandably, I was disappointed, as the system cost about eighty dollars when new, and it had not been in continuous use since I owned it.
After measuring the cover I headed off to a local department store to locate a suitable container to serve as a reservoir. Fortunately I found a storage container the exact size of the cover. After applying a coat of green paint to prevent algae I installed a top hat grommet and drain tube.
This replacement reservoir is made of thicker plastic, which is more pliable than the original, and I am willing to bet that it is going to last much much longer.
I paid less than five dollars for the storage container and it is more durable than the original. This incident makes me wonder if this was a case of planned obsolescence on the part of the manufacturer.
The rebuilt unit is pictured above growing six dwarf tomato plants.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
When I measured them two days ago, the larger of the two plants was 35" tall, and it still appears to be growing.
Not having grown this variety before I am not familiar with the growth pattern, however, the plants could simply be leggy from lack of light. We have just suffered through the wettest July on record, EVER!
Next season's cucumber and tomato seeds have already been ordered, and I will be growing only varieties intended to be grown under glass.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The Seascape strawberries in the garden are producing runners and I wanted to root and develop them in the greenhouse using self watering containers. Three times I made the trip to Agway, and each time they were sold out. On each trip I requested that the manager reorder a small supply for me, but it did not happen. So much for customer service. Well, necessity being the mother of invention; I decided to make my own, and I have.
Wal-Mart carries inexpensive plastic flower pots, and I purchased a few different sizes to experiment with. A 1/2" hole was drilled in the center of the bottom of the pot for a wick to pass through to the reservoir. I cut a eight inch by one inch strip of white felt to serve as the wick. Another small piece of felt was gathered and tied to one end of the strip to serve as an anchor. Using the bottom of the pot as a template I cut a circle in nylon screen and cut a slit in the center of the circle. The wick assembly was passed through the slit cut in the screen, and this will serve to keep the small particles of coco coir and perlite from falling into the reservoir. The bottom of the wick was pulled through the hole in the pot, and pulled down so that the anchor and screen were snug against the bottom. A discarded Folger's coffee container seemed an ideal choice for the reservoir, and I simply cut an overflow hole in the side at a height that seemed appropriate.
After filling the pot and transplanting the small tomato plant I poured a mild vegetative stage nutrient mix through the pot. The liquid settles though the medium and drains into the reservoir, and I continued to add liquid until the liquid was coming out of the overflow hole. That's it, project complete. Actually, it took much much longer to write this post than it did to construct the system.
Going forward I will try raising the overflow hole and see how long I can go between refills. We use Folger's coffee, so additional containers are not going to be a problem.
Agway was charging about six dollars for a self watering container equivalent to the size of the one I have constructed. As most of the materials I used were scrap found around the house, I estimate that this container cost me less than two dollars, and took about five minutes to fashion.
It is not as pretty as the commercial unit, but I am not expecting Martha Stewart to visit my greenhouse anytime soon, and I don't really care as long as it works.
And, Agway will not be selling me any more self watering containers anytime soon.
Friday, July 24, 2009
In my part of the world folks are beginning to call this "the year with no summer." So far we have only had one day when the temperature hit ninety, and eight days when it hit eighty or above. The worst part is that with the cooler weather we have had rain, rain, more rain, and high humidity. Many of the people I have spoken to have said they are having problems with fungus and mold in their gardens. I had a slight problem with fungus on the cucumbers, but a quick application of fungicide kept it in check.
My bush beefsteak tomatoes have run their course and I have replaced the Autopots with a large ebb and flow system. The system in the photo is a large rubber mixing tub that can be purchased at Tractor Supply or even Home Depot. The reservoir is simply a large storage tub holding 15 gallons of nutrients with a mild vegetative mix. The four inch tiles cost sixteen cents each at Home Depot and serve to keep the bottom of the net pots from standing in liquid. I estimate that it cost me about thirty dollars to build this ebb and flow system, and I hate to think of what a commercial unit this size would cost.
Going forward I will use the ebb and flow system for swiss chard, and in late August I will begin growing lettuce. The smaller systems will be planted with beet greens and perhaps Pak Choi.
Last year I was really ticked when General Hydroponics raised their prices by twenty five percent "due to price of fuel". Now, in retrospect, I realize that they actually did me a favor. Since then I have been on a quest to reduce my nutrient costs as much as possible. Today I found a source for commercial grade hydroponic nutrients that is only ten miles from my home. It was necessary to spend about seventy five dollars to purchase the minimum amount. However, and this is a big big however, I came home with seventy five pounds of nutrients and calcium nitrate. By my estimate that will yield over three thousand gallons of nutrients at the strength that I use them. One gallon each of General Hydroponic's Flora series three part concentrate cost more than I spent today, and it yields far far far less. So thanks General Hydroponics, and you know what you can do with your nutrients. And on the same topic; when you go to a hydroponic store, or look at a catalog, there are a zillion additives being hyped. They make all kinds of claims like guano picked under a full moon by forty year old virgins on remote tropic islands, only forty dollars a pint. As Barnum once said: "there is a sucker born every minute." Hell, you would spend almost twenty dollars for a quart of pH down at the hydro store. White vinegar will work just as well, and a half gallon is a buck and change. Yeah, you may have to add it a little more frequently, but that is a big big savings.
I should package the nutrients and calcium nitrate in two pound bags and market them on EBay. At least these are brand name, and pH buffered. The nutrients I purchased on EBay are not buffered, and the pH drift is insane.
I have been trying to purchase additional self watering containers at Agway, and they have been out of stock for weeks. The manager has kind of ignored three requests that they replenish their stock, so my next project is to bypass Agway and build my own.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Again, this is the type of produce that can not be found in the local supermarket. My wife said red peppers are expensive, and I can see why they would be. I had to leave these on the plant for at least a month after they were fully developed for the fruit to turn red. I could have picked them green and placed them in a paper bag with an apple to ripen, however I did not think the taste would be the same as fruit ripened on the plant.
Overall, the drip ring systems did a good job with the peppers, and I plan on continuing to grow peppers using the drip ring method.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
We seldom have them, as my wife said they are difficult to find, and expensive. When I asked how expensive; she told me a small package costs about $5.00
Well, I thought, beet greens are nothing other than immature beets, so why not plant the seeds and see what happens.
The above photo shows my very first harvest of beet greens that were planted five weeks ago. I calculate that the cost of growing these was about $2.00 and most of that was for the rockwool cubes.
As I watched the beets progress, I knew this was going to be a winner, so I purchased several packages of beet seeds. Finding seeds locally will be impossible when the gardening season ends. If the seeds were purchased online, it would be necessary to spend about $5.00 just for shipping and handling.
I have already started a replacement crop, and will continue to grow beet greens indoors under lights after I close the greenhouse at the end of the season. They are easy to grow, delicious and nutritious.
These greens were grown in an ebb and flow system with a TDS of about 1200 and fed in 15 minute cycles six times a day.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Knowing this in advance I have already instituted Plan B, which is a series of container grown dwarf tomatoes to continue to supply fruit until frost.
The plants in the photo above are Tiny Tim tomatoes and are described by the seed folks as follows:
45 days, dwarf — A heavy yielder with clusters of fine flavored, red fruit that are about 3/4 inch in diameter.
When grown in pots, this variety only grows ten to twelve inches tall and 14 inches across. It may grow a bit bigger when planted in the garden.
Can be grown as a potted plant anytime of the year. Good for small gardens, patios, or apartment dwellers. Also well suited for hydroponics cultivation."
The plants in the photo are five weeks old and already flowering. As these are also determinate plants, I will start seeds every few weeks to keep the salad bowl supplied. At the end of the gardening season I will bring plants indoors and grow them under lights.
In addition, I have started seeds from tomatoes grown in the AeroGarden from one of their seed kits. These were also dwarf plants with a comparable size fruit, however AeroGarden did not provide the name of this cultivar.
This variety of cucumber did a lot better in my greenhouse than the Salad Bush variety that I tried last year.
The plants have remained fairly compact, and produced a lot of fruit, with not an over abundance of male flowers. The cucumbers in the above photo are still a few days from picking, even though they are more than eight inches long. These cucumbers are long and slender and are called slicers. If I let these grow a few more days they will add more girth, which is the way we like them.
There are a lot of cucumbers coming now, and I guess we should consider making bread and butter pickles, as you can only eat so many cucumbers a day...
As an aside, I was a member of a gardening forum in the UK where someone asked for help with greenhouse shading. There were a number of responses like white wash the panels, use old window curtains, purchase slats from hardware store, etc. I posted a photo of my greenhouse with the 45% shade cloth on it. I wrote that I researched shade cloths and this degree of shading is recommended for vegetables, and the cloth was purchased from a greenhouse supply company, I also wrote that I placed the cloth on the greenhouse when the sun was directly overheard, and removed it just prior to the sun going down. And, on cloudy overcast days I did not use it at all to allow the maximum amount of light for the plants. The response was a lot of childish Benny Hill wannabe comments like: "it looks like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak", "for my next trick, tomatoes."
If you look to the left of the cucumbers in the above photo you will see a very nice stand of beets growing next to the cucumbers. Hmmm, a cool weather crop growing nicely next to a warm weather crop, in a greenhouse, in summer! What's up with that??
I decided that the forum members were not really interested in any other point of view , but would prefer to stumble on using window curtains and slats, so I deleted my post, and bailed out of the forum. So, let them hang their curtains and paint their greenhouses with whitewash, and on cloudy days it will be like growing in a fog. It would be a cold day in hell before I would whitewash polycarbonate panels.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Corno di Toro Red
Italian 'bull's horn' colorful sweet peppers are 8 to 10 inches long and curved like a bull's horn. Ripen to deep red or bright yellow and are delicious fresh in salads, but more often are sauted or grilled.
I have been waiting for weeks for these peppers to ripen and turn red. By letting the peppers ripen on the plant, the plant will produce less fruit, however I really wanted to have red peppers. It was well worth the wait, as these peppers were really delicious. Sauteed in extra virgin olive oil they were a gourmet treat fit for a king. They will definitely be a "do again" for next year.
This is the first time I have had any real success with sweet peppers, and it is because they were grown in the greenhouse that I was successful.
My tomatoes are a big disappointment, but it is too late to do anything about that now. The fruit is small, about the size of a baseball, and the skins are thick and tough. Additionally, being a beefsteak, there are few seeds and little juice.
Our summer to date has been cool and wet, and that may have caused the tomatoes to be under par. It has rained about 20 out of 27 days recently, and has been three degrees cooler than normal. So much for summer...
I have learned from this experience though, and I will not plant all of the same type of tomato again. And, I will not plant determinate plants again, as they produce all their fruit at the same time, and then quit. Indeterminate plants will produce all season, but have to be pruned. Next season I will suspend a bamboo support rod above the plants and grow cordon tomatoes.
Fortunately I have several types of tomatoes in the soil garden and they are indeterminate plants, so at least we should get some decent fruit in late August or early September.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
After a week in the ebb and flow system the beets are progressing nicely. With tall upright plants like beets and chard I place the grow cube directly on the bottom of the net pot, and fill the pot with hydroton. This method of planting provides adequate support for the plants.
The first batch of swiss chard was enough to provide a veggie serving for four meals. If you have never eaten chard; it has an earthy taste which is slightly stronger than spinach. If you learn to like the taste, then you're onto a winner, because chard is one of the most nutritious vegetables around. My wife prepares chard by par-boiling the leaves and stalks, adding the chard to tomatoes with garlic and olive oil, and simmering until tender. If you would like the recipe just drop me an email, or leave a comment with your email address.
I have planted another batch of rhubarb chard in an ebb and flow system, and I have started seeds for a batch of yellow decorticated chard for a third system.
It still seems incongruous to be growing beets and chard along with warm weather crops like peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. Most likely controlling the temperature of the greenhouse with the liberal use of the shading cloth is a contributing factor in my success to date.
Monday, June 15, 2009
"Compact, red oak leaf-type lettuce produces an exceptionally full rosette of deep red, curled oak shaped leaves"
I have been expecting the plants to bolt to seed as the seed catalog stated they would, however these plants showed no sign of bolting. That may be because I have been using the shade cloth everyday the sun is shining to keep the temperature from getting too high. That most likely accounts for the plants not being deep red in color, as it has been my experience that high light levels are needed to bring on the deeper colors.
The Oscarde has been replaced in the DWC system with Physalis, or Groundcherry, which I planted from seeds obtained from fruit my wife purchased in the fall at a farmer's market.
Physalis (pronounced /ˈfaɪsəlɪs/) is a genus of plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), native to warm temperate and subtropical regions throughout the world. The genus is characterised by the small orangey fruit similar in size, shape and structure to a small tomato, but partly or fully enclosed in a large papery husk derived from the calyx. Many Physalis species are called Groundcherries. One name for Physalis peruviana is Cape Gooseberry, not to be confused with the vast majority of gooseberries, which are of the genus Ribes.
The typical Physalis fruit is similar to a firm tomato (in texture), and like strawberries or other fruit in flavor; they have a mild, refreshing acidity. The flavor of the Cape Gooseberry (P. peruviana) is a unique tomato/pineapple-like blend. Physalis fruit have around 53 kcal for 100 grams , and are rich in cryptoxanthin.
Its uses are similar to the common tomato or to fruits with a refreshing taste. Once extracted from its husk, it may be eaten raw or used in salads, desserts, as a flavoring, and in jams and jellies. They can also be dried and eaten much like figs, apricots or grapes.
As this plant is native to subtropical regions I expect that it will thrive in the greenhouse in the DWC system. Time will tell.....
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I was beginning to wonder if they would ever get out of the flowering stage and begin setting fruit. The plants had only flowers for several weeks, and even though I misted and tapped the trusses, they just would not set fruit.
My gardening book advises that you should not train or terminate the growing tip of bush type plants. However, for beefsteak tomatoes it advises to let seven trusses set and terminate the growing tip.
Here I am with a bush beefsteak. What the heck am I supposed to do with that?
At last I decided that I had enough flowers, and if they all eventually set there would be plenty of tomatoes. So I pinched off the growing tips two leafs beyond the last truss. Now the plants are setting fruit from top to bottom. There are still a few open flowers, however, there are plenty of tomatoes forming.
I am growing four plants in Autopots, and they are slurping up a gallon of nutrients a day. Presently I am using a TDS of about 2800 with a pH of 6.5 or so.
I had hoped to have tomatoes by the first of July, but it does not look like that is going to be the case this year. In any event, I expect that there will be plenty of tomatoes.
In mid-March I started Best Boy, Black Cherry and Glory Hybrid plants for the soil garden. They were grown hydroponically in coco coir and perlite and planted in the garden in on May 14, 2009. I noticed that the plants stressed for several days when the sun was shining on them. I misted them several times in the afternoon, and they bounced back quickly. Now, the root systems have developed and they are growing quickly. Each time I empty a hydroponic system I pour the used nutrients on the tomatoes. As I usually only go two weeks between changes, there are plenty of nutrients remaining for the garden plants to absorb.
Today I planted a drip ring system with Large Cherry, and two self watering pots with Tiny Tim tomatoes. I intend to bring these plants inside at the end of the growing season to grow under lights. Plan ahead....
Saturday, June 6, 2009
To start this batch I am using the nutrients I purchased from Vertigro using 3 ounces of nutrients in 7 gallons of water. The TDS measured about 1200 and the pH was 6.0 exactly.
It always amazes me how quickly seedlings grow after they have been transplanted into one of these systems. I will post another photo in a week or so for comparison.
My cucumbers were sending out tendrils looking for something to climb, so I thought I had better get something in place quickly. I finally thought of a way to fasten a bolt eye in the aluminum channels that support the roof panels, and that little modification allowed for a more elaborate support rather than the simple trellis I used last year.
I can't decide whether my project looks more like a section of the bridge over the river Kwai, or a jungle gym for cucumbers. In any event, the plant seems to like it, as within a matter of hours the tendrils were winding themselves happily around the bamboo canes.
Hopefully the plant will confine itself to the support, rather than climbing anything and everything within its grasp.