Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visual proof

When I tell other gardeners that hydroponic gardening outperforms soil gardening; I usually get one of those looks. You know, the look that you give the fisherman holding out his arms and telling you about the one that got away.

When planting my cucumber seeds I only wanted two plants, but planted six seeds, just in case. Well, all six came up and were about equal. Two plants went into the greenhouse, two were given away, and two were planted in my soil garden. All of the seeds were started on the same day, so the comparison should be equal.

The greenhouse cucumbers, growing hydroponically, can be seen on the left side of the top photo. They are approaching six feet in length and will reach the peak of the greenhouse in a day or so. Also, they have several cucumbers forming on each plant.

On the other hand, the two plants growing in soil are just passing two feet, and have very few cucumbers forming.

When searching for Trust seeds I found this interesting notation on a commercial greenhouse seed supplier's site:

"YIELDS: A good grower who keeps it warm, fertilizes, pollinates and sprays properly should expect 7 - 10 lbs/4 kg per plant, depending on the spacing and light available during the growing season (hydroponically grown crops about 20 lbs./9 kg per plant.).

This statement acknowledges that hydroponically grown crops can expect TWICE the yield, but everyone should draw their own conclusions.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Merlot lettuce started

Having decided not to fight the bugs and elements; I intend to grow my lettuce and salad greens indoors in my grow chamber permanently. Above is a batch of Merlot lettuce I just placed in one of the ebb and flow systems.

Here is what one seed company has to say about Merlot lettuce:

55 days. Striking, deep dark red, almost purple frilly leaves. A real eye-catcher in the garden and one of the darkest lettuces you can grow. The plant is nothing less than stunning. A very crisp and open headed leaf type that stands upright with a waxy shine that makes an ideal salad lettuce at every stage. It's very high in antioxidants and non-bitter.

The company is selling organic seeds, and I have to wonder what the benefit of organic seeds could be if you don't grow the crop organically?

On the subject of organic growing, I copied and pasted this quote from the CNN website:

"An E. coli outbreak linked to some raw vegetables has killed at least six people and sickened hundreds in Germany, national and global health authorities said Monday.

The European Food Safety Alert Network said EHEC, or enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, a strain of E. coli that causes hemorrhage in the intestines, was found in organic cucumbers originating from Spain, packaged in Germany, and distributed to countries including Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg and Spain."

These poor people, thinking that they were doing something healthful, purchased and consumed organic vegetables. Often people tell me that hydroponics is not organic, and that that they want to grow organically. To that I generally reply that the nutrients are made from natural elements found in nature, and in my opinion, that is organic enough for me. What is organic? Does growing your greens in animal feces make them more healthful, or appetizing?

Commercial hydroponic growing has been around since the 1930s, and I would seriously doubt that anyone has been sickened or died from consuming hydroponic vegetables in those 80 or so years.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Trust tomatoes being replaced.

I am kind of satisfied with the Trust hybrid tomatoes, as the plants have more fruit, and larger fruit, than any of the other varieties.

Today I removed all but four of the green immature fruit from each truss. In addition, I plan on topping off the plants after four trusses have set. The stems that hold the fruit on the truss are really large, and I am thinking that is because the fruit is going to be fairly large. In contrast, the Super Beefsteak, which is supposed to produce fruit close to a pound each, has very small stems supporting the immature fruit. And, in some cases there are double trusses with a dozen or more flowers. That has me stumped at the moment. As the flowers set I will only allow four fruit to remain on each truss.

Yesterday, while I was searching the web for a deal on Truss seeds for next year, I found a tomato trial performed by the University of Maine. The trial was geared toward unheated greenhouses, with fifteen greenhouse cultivars being tested.

I felt that this trial matched my growing conditions and climate, so I was really interested in the results. Trust, which is hyped by the seed companies as a top performer, came in dead last in the Maine trial.

The best performer in the Maine trial was a new hybrid named Arbason, so I placed an order for seeds for this variety. Additionally, I have ordered another new hybrid called Lola, which is also a greenhouse variety. Fifty seeds for both of these hybrids only cost fifteen dollars, with five dollars shipping. That is less than half the cost of Trust seeds, and although I am kind of satisfied with Trust, I decided to go with the new hybrids next season.

I still plan on growing the Tropic tomatoes, as we really like them, and I have plenty of seeds. As the Tropic are open pollinated, I can save seeds.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tomato trial

Although our weather this spring has been dismal the tomatoes are doing OK. All of the plants have multiple trusses and are setting fruit, however, a few continuous days of warm sunny weather would really be beneficial.

As stated in a previous post I am doing a nutrient test comparing Peters Professional hydroponic nutrients to Miracle Grow for tomatoes with a few added components. So far I can see no apparent difference in growth, or flowering, when comparing one to the other.

The plants in the top photo have been grown using the Miracle Grow concoction and the plants in the bottom photo were grown using the Peters Professional nutrients.

The nutrient strength of each reservoir is approximately the same.

Little leaf cucumber trial

Although this variety has the ability to set fruit without pollination (parthenocarpic), my plants are, like regular cucumbers, producing male flowers.
There are a few female flowers developing, and that in itself is encouraging for such immature plants. A female flower can be seen in the photo directly below the third black vine clip.

The telegraph improved cucumbers that I grew last year also produced a lot of male flowers before producing female flowers and fruit, so the little leaf appear to be no different in that respect.

So far training the plants to grow vertically has not been a problem. My plan is to provide horizontal support for any side shoots that develop and pinch out the growing tip of the side shoot two leaves beyond a female flower.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Supporting Cordon or Indeterminate tomatoes in the greenhouse.

This post applies to Cordon or Indeterminate tomatoes being grown in a greenhouse. If you are planning on growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, and you don't know the difference between indeterminate and determinate, you should research the variety you plan to grow before starting. The type mostly grown in greenhouses is indeterminate.

Actually, a recent question in the comments section regarding the wood posts in the greenhouse prompted me to do this post on how I solved the tomato support problem. My solution may not be the best, and it is certainly not the only way to solve the problem, it is however what seems to work best for my purposes.

As seen in the photo above there is a small bamboo stake inserted in the pot next to the plant. A length of poly twine is attached to the stake with a wire tie and the twine is wound clockwise abound the plant. The twine is attached to a length of 5/8" oak dowel above the plant. I fasten the twine using a simple slip knot and leave about about a foot of extra twine so that the slip knot can be loosened to allow more twine to be wrapped around the plant as it grows.

For additional support I attach a few vine clips where I think they will give the best support. The vine clips are small plastic rings that have teeth that grip the twine and the ring clips loosely around the plant providing additional support. There is a clip visible in the photo on the right side slightly above the green fruit. Clicking on the photo will enlarge it to better show the clips.

The plant in the photo is one of the expensive hybrid Trust plants. Although it seems to be a nice plant, the plain old Super Beefsteaks actually are larger plants and have many more flowers and developing tomatoes. This should prove to be an interesting experiment, however, it is much too early in the season to form an opinion one way or the other.

Again, time will tell...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bypass the produce section

Although the plants in the above photo are continuing to provide fresh produce everyday I have already started replacements. We have been harvesting the outer leaves of these plants for several weeks and we have enjoyed many a nice meal from this planting.

This time of year I browse the gardening forums and people are writing about planting lettuce in their gardens, and soon many will be asking for all kinds of help with plant diseases and bugs. Some write that they have been waiting for months to get back to gardening.

With such a simple alternative available I can not help but wonder why urban hydroponic gardening is not more popular. It could be that hydroponics has a bad reputation due to the people growing illegal crops. I get comments frequently like: "one of these days the cops are going to pay you a visit to see what you are growing in that greenhouse." My reply is that they are welcome anytime, and that I will treat them to a nice healthy salad if they stop by.

Recently I watched a documentary on nutrition, and the person being interviewed stated that the produce in the supermarket travels, on average, 1500 to 2000 miles to get to the market, is more than a week old when you buy it, and has lost 40% of its nutritional value by the time you eat it. And, and this is a BIG AND, Lord only knows what it was sprayed, and fertilized, with when it was grown!

I prefer to bypass the produce section.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Trying Navada Lettuce

Navada lettuce
seeds have been in my freezer for sometime, however, up until now I have never really given this variety a serious trial. The above photo was taken today and my first impression is that it does look promising.

Since I built the grow chamber, and it performs so well, I have decided to continue to grow lettuce indoors permanently. Growing lettuce in the greenhouse during the warm weather is really a challenge, so the greenhouse will be only growing warm weather crops and flowers until fall. In the fall I will add some chard and beet greens.

Below is some information that I found online regarding this variety. And, as always, time will tell...

Nevada Lettuce
48 days. Possibly the best in its category, this extremely uniform, all-green Batavia lettuce performs in all kinds of climates. Nevada has a tall open head with thick, bright, lime green leaves that are crunchy and have a wonderful nutty flavor. Very resistant to tip burn, bolting, and downy mildew, plus tolerant of lettuce mosaic virus. For the market gardener, Batavia lettuces can be stored longer than other types when cooled at picking and kept refrigerated.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting crowded

It is just about
time to set some plants in the soil garden and I am thinking this coming weekend is when it will happen. The probability of frost for this area after May 15th is only about ten percent, and I will check the long range forecast for five days and decide to plant, or not to plant. Planting can not come too soon as the greenhouse is getting crowded and I am starting to get frustrated when attempting to get at plants to attend to them.

The tomatoes and cucumbers along both sides of the greenhouse have been attached to their overhead supports using vine clips and twine. They will be grown to completion in the greenhouse. The peppers, on the large green container in the upper right, and all of the plants in flats are destined for the soil and annual garden. Actually, I have been removing flower buds from the peppers for a few weeks, but now it is time to let them do their thing.

In a book on greenhouse growing that I recently read the author stated that only a tiny fraction of home greenhouse owners actually grow in the greenhouse. They use them for starting seeds and then bring plants in at the end of the season to extend the season. We know one other family in the area that has a greenhouse and that is what they do also. I just can not imagine having a greenhouse and only using it a few weeks a season. Well, to each his own I guess.