Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And the beat goes on.

My gardening book says that a Calceolaria plant should be discarded when it stops blooming.

That is all well and good, but, it seems the plant did not read the book, as it just continues to bloom week after week.

It could also be because I did not follow the book's instructions regarding growing Calceolaria. It makes me wonder if anyone else has ever tried growing one of these hydroponically under lights.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Planted my cucumbers.

The sun finally decided to make a rare appearance today, so I decided to transplant my cucumbers into AutoPots and get them into the greenhouse.

These are Little Leaf cucumbers, and they are living up to their name, as the leaves are indeed small.

I found the following description online:

Compact plant produces high yields of small emerald green color cucumbers. An excellent cucumber for salads and pickling. This parthenocarpic plant produces cucumbers without pollinators. Does well under adverse weather conditions. Developed by the University of Arkansas. Disease Resistant: Angular Leaf Spot, Anthracnose, Bacterial Wilt, Cucumber Mosaic Virus, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew.

The seeds were not all that expensive and let's face it two people do not need a lot of cucumbers. I may very well grow these indoors next winter also.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The season is officially underway.

Today I spent just about the entire day soaking and mixing coco coir and perlite and planting tomatoes. While I was engaged in doing this, the outside temperatures were in the low 40s, and the wind was howling like a banshee. At one point, tiny flakes of ice crystals were striking the polycarbonate panels. What a strange day to be planting tomatoes.

As the forecast for tonight calls for temperatures in the lower 20s I have added a small oil filled electric heater to the greenhouse, in addition to the small forced air heater. Both units are set for the mid forties,however, along with residual heat from the day I will not be raising the temperature all that much. The trade off of running the lights should compensate for the heat

The photo above is the south facing side of the greenhouse, and that is the side where I am using the tomato specific nutrients. The opposite side has also been planted, except for two pots which are reserved for cucumbers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I hope this one performs as advertised.

Today I planted another autopot with a Trust tomato plant. This plant will be receiving the general purpose nutrients using the same TDS levels as the tomato specific nutrients. As I have several of each variety, I will try the different cultivars on both types of nutrients, but I really do not expect to see much of a difference in growth or yield.

This variety was developed by DeRuiters of Holland and is a hybrid known for heavy production and exceptional taste. Sometime in July I will clone another batch of these plants, and, I will at some point save and plant the seeds just to see what the F2 generation is like. And, a comparison of the performance of this variety to the "plain Jane" Super Beefsteak should be indeed interesting.

In my part of the world April is usually a dismal month, and this year our April weather has been particularly dismal. Still, I will be adding even more plants to the greenhouse this week, but I am holding off on the cucumbers for at least another two weeks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

More tomato tests.

Like everyone else I am anxious to begin the new gardening season, however, I am starting very slowly this year as the weather has been unpredictable.

The night temperatures have been running in the lower thirties, so I have been bringing the tomato plants into the greenhouse during the day, and returning them to the indoor growing area in the evening.

In spite of my near disaster with damping off; this year's plants are among the best ever. They have developed to the point that I must either plant them in autopots, or transplant them again into larger pots. The plants intended for the garden have already been transplanted to larger pots, but I have been holding off on the greenhouse plants waiting for better weather.

Today I planted a Cobra tomato plant in my home built autopot and filled the reservoir. Drip line valves have been placed in the feed lines so that I can control the flow of nutrients to each of the trays, and I am only running nutrients to this one system. I will risk the elements and leave this one system in the greenhouse at night, as long as there is no danger of a freeze.

This year I will be taking a more conservative approach to nutrient levels, so from transplant to second cluster I will maintain the level between 800 and 1,100 TDS. The reservoir, as it now stands, is at 817 with a pH of 6.1, which is exactly on target. Additionally, I will run two different types of nutrients to determine if nutrients intended strictly for tomatoes produce better results than general purpose nutrients.

The plant in the lower photo is a Burpee Super Beefsteak that I originally intended for the garden. I only planted two of these, and both plants are very very impressive. I intend to grow one of the Super Beefsteak tomato plants in the greenhouse to compare to the high priced hybrids bred for greenhouse growing. As usual, time will tell..

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finally finished!

The greenhouse preparation is finally complete, and all I need now is for Mother Nature to begin cooperating and provide some decent weather.

I have installed the plant support systems, feed lines, solar vent openers, ventilation fan and heater.

In addition to the autopots I have several self watering containers, that I will use for flowers, and to grow lettuce that I intend to let go to seed.

As we get a lot of dismal days in the spring, I have added supplemental lighting to use on dismal days.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Finally, a lazy man's greenhouse

I spent the last two days getting the greenhouse in shape for this year's growing season. All of the major preparation is pretty much complete, with only a few minor chores remaining. I still have to install supports on the left side for the tomatoes and cucumbers. And, I still have to install the automatic vent openers and run the feed lines to the autopots.

As a result of someone giving up hydroponic growing, and giving me their autopots, I now have enough autopots so that I can use them exclusively. It will be a much neater operation, as all of the pots will all be gravity fed from the two large reservoirs on the top shelf in the back of the greenhouse. The only pump I will have to run is a two outlet air pump to aerate the nutrients in the reservoirs. There will no longer be a need for timers, or other electrical devices, which makes for a pretty energy efficient operation.

Each day I place the trays of seedlings in the greenhouse, and I return them to the indoor growing area before the sun sets. I will wait a little longer, until the night temperatures are running in the mid to upper forties, before I plant in the autopots and officially open the greenhouse for the season.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Prognosis is good!

At this point it appears that the tomato seedlings that had damped off are going to survive. They are, in fact, looking pretty impressive and recovering from the cloning process rapidly.

I am go glad that I did not destroy the seedlings as directed by the gardening books. The replacement seeds that I planted have not even developed any true leaves, so saving these seedlings will put me just about back where I was originally before the problem first appeared.

To repeat something that I posted sometime ago; regardless of what the books say, if something seems reasonable, you should try it, because plants don't read books.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Amazing clone

Today while removing some lettuce for dinner I found my Calceolaria clone buried among the much larger lettuce plants.
The clone was in the back of the tray, and the lettuce had grown around it. As I could no longer see it, I had completely forgotten about it.

Not only had the little clone grown significantly, it is flowering! I find it amazing that such a small plant can not only root, but flower, in only thirty odd days.

The clone was moved and placed next to the parent plant in a tub full of lettuce seedlings. (lower right corner) And, the parent plant is still blooming, which I find equally amazing.

If that was not enough to make my day; the parent plant is producing two different color flowers: some red, some yellow.

I did manage to harvest some seeds from dried seed pods, and that was indeed a chore. When I purchased the seeds I thought they were kind of expensive, but after having grown my own I can't imagine raising these for seed commercially.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Resurrrected seedlings

In spite of all of the precautions I take, about two weeks ago I noticed that my tomato seedlings were showing signs of damping off.

This fungal condition, known as Pythium wilt, is found in soil and growing mediums, and it can also be transmitted by air and contaminated tools.

I guess I was in denial, as I watched the condition progress for several days hoping that I was mistaken. Then, on Sunday March 27, 2011, my beautiful ,expensive, seedlings began to topple over.

My authoritative greenhouse gardening book says: "Once initiated, damping off is fatal. At the onset of damping off, the stem looses girth at the soil line, weakens, then grows dark, and finally circulation is cut, killing the seedling or cutting." And, that is exactly what was happening to my seedlings. Consulting other gardening books I found no cure for this condition, and the advice given was to remove and destroy the seedlings.

Immediately I started a replacement batch of seeds in rockwool cubes, thankful that I had plenty of time as it is still early in the season.

I was still hesitant to destroy my diseased seedlings, as the tops, above the diseased stem, were green, healthy and growing. My first thought was to cut off the tops and clone them, so I Googled cloning tomato seedlings that had dampened off. If anyone had tried it, they had not put anything on the web concerning it as I found absolutely nothing.

Well thought I, why not give it a try? First I sterilized a pair of surgical scissors and then soaked enough rockwool cubes in a solution of Capitan to accommodate the seedlings. I cut the seedlings about 1/4" above the diseased area, and dipped the cutting in the Capitan. While still holding the cutting under the Capitan solution I used a sterile scalpel to place a 45 degree cut above the first cut, this was done to prevent an embolism from forming in the stem. The cuttings were then dipped in rooting hormone and placed into the rockwool. Isolating the cuttings, I placed the cubes under a dome, and the dome under the red/blue/white LED for 14 hours a day. Finally, I added CO2 and a heat mat to complete the cloning attempt.

Much to my amazement, and relief, the cuttings rooted in only six days. So, six days after the first seedling toppled over, the seedlings were repotted in sterile potting mix and back under the LED, minus the dome.

As I would expect, there is some minor yellowing on some of the leaf tips, but that is typical with cuttings. The good news is that I can already see vertical growth, and that is an indication that the roots are working and a transport system is in place and functioning.

On Sunday, April 3, 2011, one week later, the seedlings were back in the greenhouse enjoying the sunshine and eighty degree heat. As we are now in a cool, damp, rainy period, I am giving them several hours of light under a HID HPS and several hours under the LED.

I don't know if the disease was limited to the area infected, or if it is present in the tissue and cells of the plant, but I consider this a learning process, regardless of the outcome.

What I do not understand is that my pepper seedlings were planted the same day as the tomatoes, grown under the same conditions, and they did not damp off. The replacement seeds have started to germinate, so I may have more tomatoes than I know what to do with if this process is a success.

As usual, only time will tell the outcome of this project, but some of the cuttings are developing flower clusters, and that can be nothing but a good sign.