Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another heirloom - Cracoviensis

The plant above is
Cracoviensis lettuce, described by the seed vendor as follows:

"An heirloom predating 1885, with an open head of elongate, slightly savoyed, purple-red tipped leaves. A fast vigorous plant well suited to quick cut salad. Makes a large loose head before bolting. Referred to by Vilmorin (1885) as “red celtuce,” implying that its large tender pink bolting stem may have been the heirloom intent of this variety. A recent letter from England confirms that this is the case. Celtuce, also called “asparagus lettuce.” is a Chinese market item.

The jury is still out as to whether I will grow this variety again, as it takes up a lot of space for the amount of lettuce it produces. The plants are still a few weeks from harvest, and perhaps they will develop more fully. If the taste is exceptional, I may reconsider and grow a few pots just to add some color and texture to our daily salads.

I should add that these plants have received only the Expert Gardener plant food with calcium nitrate and epsom salt since day one, and they are doing great.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Off to a good start

Several seedlings, that had just developed their first true leaves, were placed in my new grow chamber when I launched it on October 18, 2010. It has only been five days since they were placed in the chamber, and to say that I am perfectly satisfied with the results would be an understatement.

My primary concern was that the heat from the lighting would raise the temperature in the grow chamber above eighty degrees making lettuce cultivation difficult. The rear access port, although admittedly an afterthought, has worked perfectly in cooling the chamber. I have been monitoring the temperature and humidity daily, and the temperature has averaged seventy degrees during the photoperiod, with drop of about ten degrees at night. The humidity has averaged forty percent.

The plant in the above photo is a baby romaine lettuce; and it should be evident that it is a compact and healthy specimen for a plant being grown indoors. The seeds were marketed by Livingston Seed Company, and there is very little information regarding the variety on the seed package. As I recall, the seeds cost little more than a dollar, and there were a lot of seeds in the package. So, I guess I will have to grow them and make my own determination about this cultivar.

At this point is appears that the grow chamber is going to be worth the effort that I put into constructing it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New grow chamber

In order better control growing conditions for indoor gardening I have constructed a new grow chamber in the basement. Effectively I have created about twenty square feet of gardening space with ideal growing conditions.

As seen in the top photo the chamber will accommodate four systems; primarily I will be using three ebb and flow systems and one modified aeroponic system. For lighting I have installed a six tube T5 fluorescent light with 6400K tubes and a 90 watt UFO LED with red/blue/orange LEDs. The lights are mounted with adjustable hangers and the height can easily be adjusted. At plant level in the ebb and flow systems I have measured the light level at slightly above 2,000 footcandles, which is adequate for anything I will be growing.

The lower front panel is removable providing ample storage space for supplies, and behind the systems there is an access port for electrical and airlines, and for servicing the systems. The access port also serves to provide air flow, as the heat from the lamps will cause the air to rise drawing in fresh air from the bottom. A small fan, timed with the lighting cycle, will circulate air within the chamber.

As seen in the lower photo the growing chamber can be completely enclosed, and the interior is lined with Mylar reflective film to utilize every photon of lighting possible. Timers control the lighting, ventilation and nutrient delivery systems, and I have placed a remote sensor on the back wall above the access port to monitor the temperature in the growing chamber.

To launch my new growing chamber I have started arugula, tatsoi and some exotic market garden variety lettuce plants.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can't hurt to try

I recall reading sometime ago that someone, who must have had a lot of time on his hands, performed an experiment that determined that if you talk to your plants they grow faster than plants that are not spoken to.

My theory is that plants just don't give a damn what you are saying; they really appreciate the carbon dioxide you are exhaling, as it is vital to their growth!

Air circulation takes care of moving CO2 around in the greenhouse and in my growing chamber, but what about in the covered propagators? I would think even these tiny seedlings would love a CO2 rich environment. I have added a short length of airline tubing feeding into the covers, and will exhale into the containers a few times a day.

Seems a little nutty, but so does talking to plants..... Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Supplemental lighting time

In our locale , on average, our risk of frost is from
September 28 through May 8, and we can expect a growing season of around 143 days.

The greenhouse extends my season for several weeks in each direction, however, the decreasing day length does have an effect on the rate of growth. I have added a few hours of supplemental lighting, both in the morning and evening hours, to compensate for the decreasing photoperiod.

The above photo shows my mixing tub ebb and flow system illuminated by a 6400K 95 watt compact fluorescent grow light. I am starting plants every few days to get a sequence going to provide a continuous supply of salad greens.

A fair question would be: is it worth the effort, and is it economical? My answer to both would be a definite yes.

The light may add four dollars a month to the electric bill, which is no big deal. The tub cost twelve dollars, the reservoir was rescued from the recycle bin, the pump cost eight dollars, the timer cost four dollars and the nutrients cost less than five dollars for two pounds, and I only use four teaspoons every three weeks. And, there is virtually no maintenance, as I only drain and add new nutrients every three weeks.

The price of purchasing produce will soon begin to reflect the end of the growing season, and having to ship produce from the south and west coast. Last winter the cost of a lettuce was just under three dollars a head. This small system will comfortably hold in excess of twenty plants, so, in my opinion, growing my own is worth the effort and expense.

Additionally, I factor in the variety, freshness, taste and the elimination of exposure to pesticides and E coli when I ask myself if it is worth the expense and effort.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Small seed propagator

After reorganizing a closet, my wife was going to recycle a number of clear plastic hinged storage containers. I immediately recognized the possibility of reusing them as seed propagators.

I painted the bottoms and drilled small drainage holes in them; several small holes were drilled in the top sections for ventilation, and, presto, I had very nice propagators. This size will hold at least 26 grow cubes, which is really more than I would start at one time.

To complete the above propagator I used a single tube 6400K T5 24" fluorescent light on an adjustable stand, and added metallic coated Mylar reflecting panels on the front and back.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tropic tomato results

The first truss on the tropic tomato plant I am testing is beginning to ripen. When I started this test I only planted one seed, as I did not think there was enough time left in the season to produce ripe fruit. Now, however, after seeing the fruit, I am sorry that I did not plant more plants.

The tomatoes in the photo are slightly larger in size than those you would find in a supermarket "hothouse" tomato pack, but the green fruit on the upper trusses is quite a bit larger. That kind of has me stumped at this point, as it has been my experience that the larger fruit develops toward the bottom of the plant.

I have been using the Expert Gardener plant nutrients to replenish the Autopot reservoir for this plant for the last three weeks, and the plant is showing no ill effects.