Monday, June 30, 2008

What a difference a month can make!

This Sarian runner has only been in this container for one month. I have been using a general purpose nutrient mixture of 1 teaspoon each of growth, macro, and bloom, which yields a TDS of about 1000 for this container.
The container requires very little replenishing, as loss is mostly due to transpiration.
One way I judge the health of the plant is the color of the root system. If I see plenty of white roots, I am a happy grower. As I now have enough runners of various varieties of strawberries in cold storage, I am going to let this plant mature right in this container. It should be interesting to see how large it can get, and what quality the berries, if any, will be.
The parent plant, which I started from seed, took many months to reach this size, so I intend to continue growing the daughters, as I do not want to go through the seed routine again...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

New toy

A neat Father's Day gift I received from my son will be a great addition to the greenhouse and for growing under lights during the winter.

I was unaware that AutoPot made a single plant unit until recently. It will be useful for trying different growing media and different plants. Right now I am thinking Poblano peppers or another pepper I started recently.

We have had a small parrot for almost twenty years and each morning he has three small red chillies for breakfast. He sits on his perch holding the pepper with his left foot, munching and saying ummm, ummm. My wife drives to an oriental food store in Albany to buy the peppers and they have a warning that they are very very hot. It does not seem to bother the damn bird as he starts dancing from foot to foot when he sees me reach for the container. And, you really have to wash your hands good after handling the peppers. The peppers are called Thai Hot and come from Thailand. I have started a seed from the pepper, and it is coming along nicely, and it should prove to be an interesting plant to experiment with.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Inexpensive bench.

When I was building the greenhouse I considered constructing benches to support the hydroponic tanks, however I decided to simply place the tanks directly on the floor. They are supported over the gravel by pressure treated planks, which are in turn supported by the frames for the walk and the walls. The cost of the lumber and the effort of constructing the benches did not seem worth the effort. Another consideration was: that any large tank would require a pretty sturdy bench, so the floor was a better option.
What I really needed was some storage space for nutrients, additives, measuring equipment and various other odds and ends. We have a number of spare storage totes, so I tested one and found it could safely hold my weight. A simple circle cut with a saber saw turned it into a support for a flood and drain system with storage capacity for supplies.

Needing nutrients I visited a local hydroponic store today only to find that there has been what I consider a huge increase in the price of General Hydroponic's nutrients. The dealer said it was their first increase since 1993, and I said "bullsh_t". I have been only doing this for two years and this is the second time he has given me that story. When compared to the last price I paid, the price increase amounts to about 25%. After spending more than four decades in a purchasing position it is a sure bet that I will be researching a less costly alternative.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My cup runneth over

When I purchased the Seascape runners the instructions on the package were to remove the buds and not let the plants develop berries until July.
Usually, I follow instructions to the letter, however, I have been trying to grow hydroponic berries for much too long to have waited two or three more months to enjoy fresh berries. There would have been a lot more berries in the photo, but again, I could not resist the temptation to enjoy them.
The Sarian berries planted from seed on February 27th. are just about ready to produce a red ripe berry. It is not as large as the berries from the Seascape plant and some of the berries appear deformed. I doubt that being deformed will have any effect on the taste, but when it comes to enjoying food eye appeal matters somewhat I guess.
The Seascape plants are proving slightly more difficult to obtain runners from, as they seem to want to produce berries then produce runners. The Sarian plants take the opposite approach and produce runners then produce berries.
There will be no lack of runners for my planned winter crop as I currently have Sarian, Quinault and soon Seacape runners in cold storage. Additionally, my wife brought some runners home from a local farm where she recently picked berries.
Strawberries, I have found, are no more difficult to grow than any other plants I have tried to grow with hydroponic methods. Each plant has nuances, that once you understand them, are not insurmountable.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Move over Leonardo

Well the cucumbers are flowering and it is back to the artist brush to pollinate them. The little bug that was pollinating strawberries only showed up one day and has not been seen since. It is beginning to look like I will be spending more time using an artist brush than Leonardo Di Vinci. That, I guess, is part of growing vegetables in a hobby greenhouse. Commercial growers with large installations probably bring in bees. I know they use bugs to control other bugs, but I am really not about to invite bugs into my hydro environment on purpose.
Pollinating tomatoes on the other hand is a snap. Literally, just smack the stalk with the flowers hard enough to vibrate it and presto, you are finished.
Most likely not a lot of people grow cucumbers in a greenhouse during the summer, however, this is looking like it is going to be a success. A few days ago the local newspaper did a man on the street interview; and the question was concerning the opening of the local farmer's market which is supposed to be selling home grown vegetables. One person interviewed bemoaned the fact that the home grown cucumbers were gone by the time he got there. Having lived in this area all my life I know for certain that no one has home grown local cucumbers in mid June in Upstate New York. The local greenhouses do not grow vegetables, and none are hydroponic to my knowledge.
While I have been indoor gardening for a few years with some success I will be the first to admit that greenhouse growing is an entirely new experience for me and just about everything is an experiment.
Anyone beginning hydroponic growing, indoors or out, will find it difficult to determine the proper nutrient mix for different crops during different growth stages. For example, cucurbits, such as cucumber, squash and melons require low nitrogen and high potassium and phosphorous. Too much nitrogen will encourage vine growth and retard fruiting. Tomatoes, on the other hand, have entirely different requirements. To further complicate the situation, different manufacturers will recommend a different PPM for the same vegetable. The bottom line is to be prepared to experiment, watch the plants, and make adjustments along the way.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Well, it can't hurt to try

Sometime ago I read study, by I believe Cornell University, that tomatoes exposed to the color red during the fruit production and ripening stage produce more and larger fruit. Since reading the study I have interwoven red felt strips on the branches with developing fruit of all the plants I have grown. I am not sure whether it is effective or not, however, it can't hurt to try.
There must be something to the theory, as the company I ordered the shade cloth from also markets shade cloth in red. (My wife would have a fit)
Also, red mulch is available,as well as red grass edging and red stakes. In fact I have seen a number of items being marketed by seed companies stating that exposing tomatoes to red is beneficial.
Red strips or not, I am very happy with the development of my "hot house" tomatoes. After I photographed them I decided to remove several inches of growth from the tops of the plants. Although I am not certain, it appears that both varieties are indeterminate, and will grow like Jack's beanstalk without intervention.
I am using regular office binder clips attached to the roof supports to support the plants. My thinking is that as the plant grows the clips can simply be slid up the support to take up any slack.
The plants in the greenhouse are far far ahead of the plants in the garden. The garden plants have buds and a few tiny nubs of fruit. In comparison, the greenhouse plants have large fruit and and are two to three times larger. I am not sure if the difference is due to growing conditions, or hydroponic vs. soil gardening, or both. All the seeds were started on the same day, and the plants selected for trial in the greenhouse were selected at random, so I doubt it is a variety difference responsible for the growth difference.
My current dilemma is the number of flowers on the plants. There are many more flowers than I have seen on plants grown outside. I am tempted to let them develop into fruit, however, I would like large early tomatoes. I am not sure that the plants will have enough vigor to bring all the flowers to full development. Well, time will tell.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Exactly what was needed

We have had an unusual period of really hot dry weather and it has played havoc with the temperature in the greenhouse. I knew I would eventually need shade cloth, but had no idea of where to get one, or the value I needed. I had been using the nylon shade cloth that came with the flower house, and it did cut down on the light, but the temperature hit 100 degrees on a few occasions. That motivated me to get looking for a commercial quality shade cloth.
The first place I called told me they had no idea of the value of shading I would need to grow vegetables. They suggested I call local greenhouses and ask them. The problem with that is: that I have never seen a local greenhouse using shade cloth. They start seeds early in the year, and shut down for summer.
Further Googling found a large commercial greenhouse supplier that listed shading values for every plant imaginable. For tomatoes and vegetables a value of 40% was recommended. The literature said that the cloth was durable polypropylene and would actually cut down on heat.
The cloth arrived late Saturday, and I installed it and took the photo on Sunday morning. Much to my surprise it worked beautifully. At noon on Sunday it was one degree cooler in the greenhouse than it was out side. Using the nylon shade cloth it was so hot I would scurry in and mist the plants and get out as soon as possible. The only time I could take readings, or add nutrients, was just before sunset. Now I can see what was happening; the nylon was shading, but being dull black, it was absorbing heat and transferring it to the structure. The
polypropylene is glossy and reflects the heat and light away from the structure.
At this point I have abandoned trying to grow lettuce. The heat caused the plants to bolt to seed right from the seedling stage. The tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries are all right, however, even though they like warm weather, it has been much too hot for them also.
Using my Dremel I rounded off all the sharp corners that might cause a tear in the cloth, but it is pretty tough stuff. A few tent stakes to tie it down completed the project.
It is nice to buy something and have it perform exactly like the literature on the website claims it will...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Long live the King!

Well, the king will live just a little longer, at least until it is slightly soft to the touch, and then it will be history. This first Seascape berry is by far the best looking berry I have grown to date.
The plants are putting out small runners, but the "umbilical" cords are well over 12" long. They are so long in fact that they are right out of the container. It must be some survival strategy on the plant's part, as the Sarian runners are close to the base of the mother plant.
Using bonsai wire I formed clips, and bent the runners back into the container forcing them into contact with the hydroton to be held in place by the clips. Obtaining runners from the Seascape is now a prime objective after seeing the berries.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Alpine strawberries are not worth the effort.

Today I decided to give up on the Temptation strawberries, and Alpine strawberries altogether. So far I have tried two different varieties from seed, and neither one has been worth the effort. My wife said "they taste like un-sweetened Kool-Aid", and I agree. The Sarian, however, seems to be worth growing, but I will be more able to make that call when they begin producing berries. As the Sarian sends out lots and lots of runners, I doubt I will have to grow them from seed again. The pistils on the flowers are fairly large, and I am waiting to see how big the berries are when they form. If I get a good size berry I will grow a few next winter.
I decided to cut the Temptation plant off at the base, as it was very large and blocking the other plants from receiving adequate light. When I removed the debris I found that the Sarian had many runners rooted in the hydroton. Some of the runners were removed and planted in soil in a strawberry pot, and I decided to cold store a few for winter growing. It took awhile but I did find some information on storing runners. First the soil, if any, must be removed. The runner is soaked in an anti-microbial solution. (I used Hydroguard) The mature leaves were removed leaving just a nub of stem at the base. Small leaves, two inches or less, were left attached. Each individual runner was wrapped in plastic, and then placed into a plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator for a few months. The runners I placed in cold storage now look exactly like the runners I purchased from Agway early in the spring. Not exactly rocket science.
The Seascape seems to be the best choice at this point. The plants; both in the hydroponic system, and in the soil, are really doing well. One plant has a gigantic berry just about ripe and I am waiting to pick it. I have seen plants produce a "king berry" first and then produce smaller berries afterward. All of the plants are producing a "king berry" more or less, but the other berries seem to be fairly large also. It may be just my imagination, and perhaps they will all be "king berries" when they grow up. Lets hope so.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ugly but tasty?

This photo is a plant called Ugly Ripe Heirloom tomato and I am sorry I did not plant this variety in the greenhouse instead of the garden. A quote I found online concerning the variety reads:
"The ugly ripe tomato may look gnarly and ugly. But the greatest "wow factor" about this ugly heirloom tomato is it's old fashion yummy taste. A great flavor all it's own. You might consider the ugly ripe like it is a "Frog Prince", one taste and you are hooked for life."
I knew nothing of these tomatoes until I was looking through my seed collection in March to determine which tomatoes I wanted to plant. It seems my wife bought some of these tomatoes in the market in 2005 and was so impressed with the taste she saved the seeds.
The name got me curious so I googled it and was surprised to find that this tomato caused a lot of controversy that even got congress involved. Seems it was sold in the winter of 2005, but the Florida Tomato Growers Group had some sort of beef with the grower, so they banned them because they said they did not meet the standards for shape, or some other silly reason. Never mind that they had much better taste than the stuff that the other growers were sending north. Well, the tomato got a lot of folks up north hooked , and then they could not get them again because the grower was forced to plow them under by the Florida Tomato Growers Group. Whatever happened to freedom?
Well, one thing lead to another and the controversy began... Me, I just thought it must be something special to make my wife save the seeds, which is something she is not prone to do.
When I planted my tomato seeds for the season I only started two of the seeds, and they are terrific looking plants. They stand out from my other tomato plants because they are deep green and stubby with the buds forming low on the plants.
Again, I will save seeds from the fruit, and being a heirloom it will be true to its heritage. Damn, I can't wait to taste one.

Saving on seeds

There is of all things an Irish Mexican restaurant in town, and one of my favorite dishes is called chilies rellenos. It is basically poblano peppers stuffed with mexican cheese, breaded, and deep fried. It most likely clogs the hell out of my arteries, but I don't have them very often, and you only come this way once.
Being early in the season I thought I might try to grow poblano peppers and began looking at seed catalogs. Well I found them for about four bucks a pack and five bucks to ship them. Not bloody likely.
My wife purchased a pepper for me at the local Wal-Mart Super Center for much less than a dollar and I will use the seeds to grow poblano peppers. Most any seed from a fruit or vegetable purchased for the table can be grown. If the plant is a hybrid, you may get a weird variety, but then again it may be a great plant. Life is a gamble.
In the photo above the plant on the left is laurel, or bay leaf if you prefer that name. My wife bought a small plant several years ago at a farmer's market and we have been harvesting the leaves as we need them. Now, the plant is getting too large to manage, so I am going to clone two new plants and start over.
There are techniques to saving seeds and cloning plants that hydroponic gardeners should be aware of.
If there are any requests I will do a post on them but they are available online already.