Thursday, April 30, 2015

Journal April 30, 2015 - Greenhouse tomato support

The support lines for the tomatoes were installed today, as the plants are at the point that they will soon need support.

All of the plants, except the Arbason, are forming buds.  Fortunately, I have plenty of excess plants, so if the Arbason is not budding in two weeks it will be replaced.

The Arbason is supposed to be a premier greenhouse tomato, however, if I recall correctly I had problems with it when I tried growing it previously.  It is supposed to be superior to Trust, but so far you can't prove it by my experience.

If I remove the plant I will place it in the garden and see what happens.


Reliable producer of large, high quality tomatoes with good flavor. Outperformed Buffalo and Trust for flavor and yields in University of Maine trials. Harvest when fully ripe for best flavor; resists cracking. Prune to 4-5 fruits/cluster for larger fruit. From the breeders of Buffalo. GREENHOUSE Indeterminate • 7-9 oz.. (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Journal April 24, 2015 - Comparison, soil vs hydroponics

I thought I would do a short comparison to illustrate the difference between conventional soil growing and hydroponics.

The two photos are of red salad bowl lettuce, started the same day, both comparison photos were taken on the same day also.

The above is a very nice plant, which was grown in soil in the greenhouse.

The lower photo is the hydroponically grown plants.  Although there are more plants in the hydroponic unit, it is obvious that the plants are much more dense with intense color.  That said, the color difference is most likely due to the fact that the hydroponic unit is under an LED grow light.

There is a misconception that hydroponic growing ties you to a hydroponics dealer, paying high prices for nutrients.  To an extent that is true, if you intend to purchase nutrients through a hydroponics dealer.  My experience has been that dealers recommend much higher levels of nutrients, more frequent changes, and many many more expensive supplements than actually required, if at all; after all the dealer's objective is to sell you merchandise and make a profit.

In my case, several years ago I purchased professional hydroponic nutrients from a greenhouse supplier for about seventy dollars.  They included 25 pounds of nutrients and 50 pounds of calcium nitrate, both of which I am still using.  

The 25 pounds of nutrients, when mixed, will yield more than ten thousand gallons of usable nutrients.  Consider that I only used one ounce of diluted nutrients and calcium nitrate per week growing the lettuce, which makes the nutrient cost insignificant.



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Journal April 23, 2015 - Autopots operational

The Autopot self watering planters are operational, at least for the tomatoes.  This season I have elected to use only plain water in the reservoir,  manually feeding nutrients to the plants via top watering weekly.  

Over the seasons I have found that adding nutrients to the reservoir will, as the season wears on, cause the lines to clog.  The nutrient laden liquid remains in the lines when the valves are closed, which allows some nutrients to settle out, accumulating and eventually clogging the lines.

All of the varieties of tomatoes are doing fantastically in my "homebrewed" soil mix.  My concern was that the mix would be difficult to water from the bottom because of the sand, however that has not been the case.

The damn New York weather has turned cold again, with nights near, or close to freezing.  Today, there were actually snow flurries blowing in the breeze.  In spite of that, the tomatoes are still growing, but slowly.  I can see flowers forming on a few of the Tropic tomatoes that have been planted in the Autopots.  That said, there is a big difference in the size of the plants that are in the Autopots and those uppotted to 4" pots,  with the plants in the Autopots being much larger.

The cucumbers intended for the greenhouse have been started, growing indoors under LED grow lights.  The problem being, that due to the cold weather, all of the olive trees are back in the greenhouse, along with the garden plants.  

Added to that, Ava has decided that she wants a garden at her house, so to encourage her interest in gardening we started cucumbers, zinnias and marigolds for her garden.  We also purchased a cedar raised bed for her, which we will install as soon as the weather permits.

Ava's interest in gardening did not come as a surprise, as she has been my assistant since she was an infant, and has she has alwasys taken a great deal of interest in how plants develop.  Sorry to say, but neither of her parents have any interest in gardening;  Ava must have inherited her gardening genes from her grandfather. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Journal April 16, 2015 - Greenhouse is overflowing

The indoor greenhouse with the large LED multi-spectrum grow light was closed for the season today.  The six large olive trees that over wintered in the tent were lightly pruned and placed outdoors.  They will spend the summer on the deck, but as it is supposed to rain tonight they were placed in the greenhouse overnight.

This time of year the greenhouse is filled to capacity, and then some.  The tomatoes have been planted, but the garden plants need to be protected for another month.  Sometime during that period the cucumbers will need room, as will the pepper plants.  There are six more large olive trees in a tent indoors that will have to be moved outdoors soon also, so space is at a premium.

The small pots use up water quickly in the greenhouse when the sun is shining, so it is a never ending battle to prevent them from drying.  To tell the truth, I could never do this if I was not retired.

Life will be much easier next month, when the garden is in and the automatic watering system is operational. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Journal April 14, 2015 - Greenhouse tomatoes planted

The greenhouse tomatoes have been planted in the autopot systems, however, I still have to run the line from the tank to the automatic valves.

As there is still about a month remaining until the garden plants can go into the ground, it looks like I am going to have to repot the garden plants into larger pots, after I finish that it will be on to the cucumbers.  If I had to work this hard for a living, I's quit.

Seven days in the aeroponic system and the red salad bowl lettuce is beginning to grow so fast one can almost watch it grow.  These small systems are attractive because they perform very well, are easy to maintain, can be used indoors all year round, and, can be used in the greenhouse during the growing season. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Journal April 13, 2015 - Planning on early tomatoes

Our temperature hit 74 degrees F today and the forecast is for the warmer temperatures to continue into the end of the week, so I decided to take a chance and open the greenhouse early this year.  Planting outdoors in our area is still a month or more away, so perhaps I will have a super early crop of tomatoes.  

Today I mixed soil and planted two plants in their self watering systems, one is a Burpee's Super Beefsteak hybrid, while the other is a Mortgage Lifter.  Taking it slowly, I plan on potting a few plants each day until all the systems are operational.  

Next week I will have to think about starting seeds for the greenhouse cucumbers.  This season I plan on growing a variety called: Mathilde, which is described as follows:

Extra early parthenocarpic hybrid is not dependent on insect pollination. Dark green, spiny fruits are non-bitter and good fresh or pickled. For best taste pick when young. Great disease tolerance!

My Bougainville plant flowered on the first of January, a few weeks later the plant dropped most of its leaves and went dormant.  I left the plant in the indoor greenhouse with the olives and to my amazement, here, four months later, the darn thing is flowering again.  I guess I have a lot to learn about Bougainvilleas. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Journal April 11, 2015 - The end of the olives dormant period

Finally, today I moved some of the olives back into the greenhouse for the season, regaining my space in the basement.  Although these plants survived the winter with a reduced light level and photoperiod, they are showing signs of stress: lighter colored leaves and getting leggy.

The temperature tonight is expected to be about 30 degrees F, so I will turn the heat on to bring it up to about 50 degrees F.  The tomatoes have been brought in for the evening, but the annuals will remain in the greenhouse, unless it gets really cold, well below freezing.

The camera was also reinstalled in the greenhouse today so that I can monitor the plants.  Considering what this unit cost, it has performed very well since I have had it.  It was a real pain to set up, but it has worked like a charm without any problems once I got it working.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Journal April 7, 2015 - Start of Aeroponic lettuce grow

We selected red salad bowl lettuce to grow in our home built six pot aeroponic unit, which is basically an Aerogarden on steriods.  And, as I accidentally broke the spinning spray head, I substituted a simple six head spray unit.   Four replacement spinning heads will arrive tomorrow, but the substitution will work just as well.

Rather than simply filling the net pots with hydroton, I decided to use foam clone collars, as the nutrients really spray around inside the container, and I want to avoid any leaking.

When placing the seedlings in the net pot, I removed about 1/4" from the top of the horticube to accommodate fitting the collar around the plant.  A small amount of hydroton was placed in the bottom of the net pot to provide support for the plant until the roots develop.

And, in the immortal words of Popeye the sailor: "Thar she blows!"  The pump will run in 30 minute cycles 24/7, while another timer will control the grow light for 16 hour cycles.

The system, which contains about two gallons of water mixed with one ounce of hydroponic nutrients, has been operational for several hours with no apparent leaks.  

We had several plants left left over and my assistant said: "Pop, can I plant some in dirt?"  High tech is OK, but she still enjoys getting an opportunity to dig once in a while.  Kids.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Journal April 4, 2015 - Mixing soil for container growing

The soil mix I have been using for the olives works so well I have decided to use it for all of my container plants.  Today I mixed another batch to pot up some annuals for the garden, tomatoes and some peppers that are just germinating.

Using a five quart container I placed equal parts of course builder's sand, sphamgum  moss, agricultural perlite and humus in a large tub for mixing.

After thoroughly mixing I place enough soil for what I intend to plant in a container, adding a little water, just enough to moisten the mixture.  I find that the mix readily takes and holds water much better than commercially prepared potting soil.  

The seedlings in the above photo are pinwheel zinnias that will be planted in our annual garden.  They have been planted in 3" pots and will be placed in the greenhouse until they can be placed outdoors.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Journal April 2, 2015 - Way too many plants.

This year I bought seeds for Mortgage lifter tomatoes, as I had wanted to try them for some time. Looking through my seed collection I had seeds going back to 2009 for Arbason, Cobra, Beefsteak Super Hybrid, Early & Often and Tropic. I decided to do a germination test and to my surprise most seeds germinated. Not being one to kill seedlings, I planted most of what came up. Now, I have three trays like the photo below, with more in process. We only need about a dozen plants, so I am going to have find homes for my excess plants; like a jehovah's witness I will have to go door to door giving away plants.
The weather forecast for today was partly cloudy and cool, but it turned out sunny with the temperature in the mid to high sixties.  That kind of mistake I can certainly deal with, as the temperature in the greenhouse was in the eighties, with the vents and door open.  Ideal tomato conditions!

So far, the quick draining soil I prepared is working perfectly, the plants are really responding nicely.  The top of the container dries quickly in the sun and it is tempting to water the plants from the top, however, I have to resist the urge to do so and water from the bottom to prevent damping off.