Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First of many

The berries on the plants in the greenhouse are starting ripen, and I hope this is the first of many.

I fashioned muslin bibs to place around the pots to keep the first berries from contacting the damp medium. As the plants grow I expect that the berries will hang over the sides of the containers.

The plants in the garden are just now beginning to form flowers, so I estimate that the greenhouse has added about a month to the growing so far.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bamboo cages

The giant marconi peppers are really developing rapidly now, and putting out loads of buds. As the plants are not fully mature, I will limit the number of peppers to between 12 and 20 per plant. If they continue to grow and produce I intend to let them develop up to 40 peppers per plant. (think positively)

Although they do not require support at this stage, the small fruit is developing quickly, and with even that limited number I thought it would be wise to put supports in place.

I decided on simple quick support of bamboo forming a tee pee. To hold the tee pee together at the top I used a circle cutter to cut 2.25" circles from scrap lumber. The circles have 5/16" holes drilled to hold the bamboo in place.

This approach turned out to be so quick, simple and sturdy I decided to use the the same support for the tomatoes. Last year I constructed a frame with bamboo using the holes in the Autopots and wire ties. It was pretty elaborate and cumbersome.

These may not be pretty, but they sure are easy to install...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Aerogarden Herbs

The basil I planted in the Aerogarden on March 16, 2009 has turned out to be a bumper crop. We have already removed the tops a few times, and it just keeps coming. This variety is sure superior to the variety that the folks at Aerogarden supply in their seed kits.

The grower who supplies the hydroponic basil to the local supermarkets is not using rockwool cubes. I noticed that they use Oasis Horticubes for their media rather than rockwool.

I found that a lot of commercial growers use these cubes, and I placed an order for two sheets of 104 cubes each. This media is actually less expensive than rockwool, and has the advantage of being pH neutral.

There were three sample cubes in my supply stash, and I planted Vulcan lettuce seeds in two cubes as a test. To kick start the process I soaked the three cubes in mild nutrient, and placed them in a starter tray.

The remaining cube was trimmed to fit the Aerogarden pod, and I will try that at some point in time. This material is a lot easier to work with than rockwool, and I expect it will be less likely to develop algae than rockwool.

Again, time will tell....

Prizehead Lettuce

The three large plants in this ebb and flow system are prizehead lettuce. I am always on the lookout for seed varieties that I have not tried and came across this variety recently.

It was apparent to me shortly after the seeds germinated that this one was a winner. It came up rapidly and very quickly developed the first true leaves. The seedlings remained compact, and developed a decent root system in about two weeks.

A recent article I read made sense of a problem I have been having with lettuce that heads, and even some leaf lettuce. There is always a slight amount of tip burn on my heading lettuce. It is easy enough to trim off, however it was driving me up the wall trying to determine why this was happening.

Typically tip burn is a result of a lack of calcium, and I was supplying plenty of fresh nutrients. In an attempt to overcome this problem I decided to increase the TDS level to above the recommended level for lettuce. That, it turns out, was entirely the wrong thing to do.

The article I read was written by two university professors and it stated that tip burn is more prevalent in summer grown lettuce. The reason being: that summer grown lettuce grows so fast that the plant can not get calcium to the new growth fast enough to keep up with the rate of growth. The result of the rapid growth is tip burn from lack of calcium.

Apparently, my indoor conditions are causing the lettuce to grow too quickly. How about that? Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

All of my growing has been moved to the greenhouse, and I have reduced the TDS level in the ebb and flow system containing this lettuce. So far, there is not a sign of tip burn on these plants. When I resume growing indoors in the fall I will try reducing the photoperiod to 13 hours, and reduce the TDS level to 560, which is the low end of the recommended range for lettuce.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Soilless Greenhouse

The above photo shows the progress the plants have made since my post of March 28,2009. All of the warm weather plants are progressing nicely. The peppers, eggplant and strawberries are either flowering or setting fruit. The lettuce is almost ready to harvest, and another batch is germinating. The flowers for the garden have been started and are entering the vegetative stage.

Cucumber seeds are germinating, as is a batch of chard destined to be grown in an ebb and flow system. The plants on the floor in trays are intended for the garden, and I will have to deal with them for at least another month.

The greenhouse is now fully operational and as I call it on autopilot. There is a small electric oil filled heater on a timer that turns on at eight in the evening until eight in the morning. I am no longer running any lights for indoor gardening, so the trade in power consumption is most likely a wash.

The drippers and ebb and flow systems are on timers and the Autopots are connected to their respective reservoirs. Automatic vent openers operate both vents, so the only daily maintenance is to run nutrients through the plans in trays that are intened for the garden. In another month they will have been planted, and from then on there will be little if any daily maintenance required.

The weather today is cloudy and gloomy with an outside air temperature of 50 degrees. In the greenhouse the temperature is ten degrees higher with a comfortable, for plants, humidity level of 59 per cent. Even with the cloudy conditions the light level measures slightly less than 2000 foot candles.

Considering that I am kind of "making it up as I go along", I am satisfied with the progress so far. Again, time will tell....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Plant

The pot marigolds in the ebb and flow system developed into such a beautiful plant we decided to use them for a center piece for our Easter table. They actually look like someone arranged them, but that is simply the way they developed. I would like to claim that I planned them to be at their peak for the holiday, however, it was pure dumb luck.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Free Seeds

Free seeds, well almost free seeds. That caption will probably draw some hits to my blog.

Last fall my wife returned from the local Farmer's Market with a small bag of ground cherries. She said she had sampled some, and they tasted a little like pineapple. Well they did, kind of, but they had a strawberry taste also.

We liked them so much I decided to crush a few and save the seed, just to see what would happen. I dried the seeds on a paper towel and placed them in a small zip lock bag, and then promptly forgot them completely.

When the Jung Seed catalog arrived I saw a photo of the berries, and recalled that I had saved the seeds from ours. It took awhile but I managed to find them in my seed stash, and started a few in rockwool cubes. Sure enough, in just a few days the seeds have germinated. The photo is from Jung's site and the description is also:

"Low spreading plants produce an abundance of sweet fruits that resemble Chinese lanterns. Excellent for pies and preserves with a strawberry-like flavor. Harvest when the husks are dry and fruits are golden-yellow. Also known as 'Cape Gooseberry,' 'Husk cherry' and 'Strawberry Tomato."

The point being; my seeds were completely free, and there are other "free" seeds available, if you look for them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Drip ring system used to grow capsicum

The giant marconi peppers shown in my post of March 17, 2009 are progressing nicely. They have both flowers and small peppers forming.

The drip ring system seems to be working really well for the peppers, and I may use a bamboo teepee to support the plants when it becomes necessary. For the life of me I can't figure out why nature would produce a plant that can't stand up by itself...

My book on greenhouse gardening advises that the first flowers be removed, and I really was hesitant about doing that. Then I read that if you do, you will get more fruit, and if you don't, the plant may do it anyway. So, I removed the first two flowers, and the plant is really producing flowers at this point. I am glad I purchased the book, and if you don't follow the instructions, what is the point in buying the book?

Another variety of pepper that met my criteria was the Corno Di Toro. It has large peppers and only grows 24" to 30" high.

The package reads:
The largest of the sweet stuffing peppers, it is first-rate, fresh or roasted. Fruits turn a stunning red or brilliant yellow when ripe and have a long, curved, tapering, non-bell shape. Fruits are 6-10 inches long x 1 1/2 inches wide at shoulder.

One of the coro di toro plants is shown in the drip ring system on the left. The plant is smaller, as it is several weeks behind the marconi peppers. I completely forgot that I purchased the seeds, and only recently came across the seeds.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Seascape strawberries

The seascape strawberries that I yanked from their winter's nap on March 7th. are not only flowering, but also setting berries . If they follow the same pattern as last year, they will send out runners while flowering.

Instead of growing them in an ebb and flow system, I decided to plant them in pots using coco coir and perlite for a medium. As I think about it; this is as valid approach to hydroponic gardening as any other. The medium is completely inert, and the only nutrients they will receive will be the nutrients I either drip through, or provide by bottom watering.

To give them an extra boost I used a general purpose nutrient solution to soak the coco coir, and also when I mixed in the perlite. This approach has also proven to be quite successful in raising flowers to be planted around the yard. We usually make a trip to the local greenhouse each year and spend about fifty dollars on plants. That will not be happening this year though.

Searching online for the best strawberries to grow hydroponically last year I found several growers writing that the only berry to even consider was quinault. I could not find the quinault, and settled on the seascape as an alternative. Later I did manage to find a quinault plant and grew them along with the seascapes.

I found the seascape to be a much easier plant to grow, and they produced larger, sweeter berries, and were much more prolific than the quinault.