Saturday, March 28, 2009

Autopots planted

My tomato seedlings were beginning to outgrow the starter pots, and I was thinking of repotting them into larger pots.

Then I changed my mind and decided to plant them directly into the Autopots. As the temperature at night is still too cold to leave them in the greenhouse, I will have to move them into the basement at sundown. It will be more of a chore, as I can only carry two at a time when moving them.

Also, I did not connect the Autopot smart valves, as I intend to top water the plants until I can leave them permanently in the greenhouse.

Where to best place plants within the greenhouse for optimum light and space utilization takes some planning. The tomatoes and eggplant, being sun hogs, will occupy the south wall. The peppers will be on the shelves on the east end, and the cucumbers will occupy the north wall. By the time I plant the cucumbers the sun will be high enough to be over the tops of the tomatoes, and the cucumbers being climbers will find the sun on their own. Here, there, and everywhere else, will be flowers, or whatever else I can fit in. Well, that is my plan anyway. Time will tell...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lattuga from Italy, an Italian Beauty

The name of this lettuce is Quattro Stagioni and the seeds are from a company called The Taste of Italy.

Thompson & Morgan also markets these seeds, and they write:

"A 'butterhead' variety with soft round, medium sized hearts for sowing and harvesting throughout the spring and summer. The outer leaves and heart show an attractive bronzed-red colour."

I happened to wander into a local nursery supply to see if they had any unusual seeds, and came across these seeds on sale for half off. I purchased a few packs to test, and I think I got a great bargain. There are 2,000 seeds in a package, and they cost me about a dollar and a half a pack.

Germination took about 48 hours and the plants grew rapidly in the ebb and flow system. I think the color would be much more intense if they had been grown under natural light in the greenhouse.

On another topic, I am beginning to think the low wattage LED is not suitable to grow plants to completion. It does OK germinating seeds, however, vegetative growth seems very leggy. I will let it go for another week before I make a definite conclusion though.

Another observation I would like to share is that, in my opinion, the drip ring system is not appropriate for use indoors. I am noticing that the system bubbles, and the bursting bubbles create a mist of nutrients that can stain the surrounding area. Used in a basement area, or grow room, that might be acceptable, but dried nutrient can be difficult to remove if it settles on wood surfaces.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring cleaning

I spent the day doing my annual spring cleaning in the greenhouse, but it is not a task I enjoy. If there was some way I could pass this job off on my wife, I would.

The panels have been washed inside and out, and the frame has been wiped down and disinfected. It is ready for the season, although I will clean the panels again sometime in July.

Recently I purchased a book on greenhouse gardening, The Greenhouse Expert, by Dr. D. G. Hesasayon. According to the book I should be applying the shade cloth much more than I have been, and also spraying the floor with a hose at least three times a day to increase humidity.

Just washing the panels is supposed to increase the light level significantly. Well, I am glad that task is finished.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eight days later

The modified AeroGarden works perfectly with the rockwool cubes in the pods. It was replanted on March 12, 2009, and on March 20, 2009 the lettuce has sprouted and looks healthy enough.

In addition to this unit I am using the rockwool cubes in the regular AeroGarden to grow another batch of basil, which is doing well also.

Cycle timing does not appear to be an issue, as the regular program is running on the basil without any problems. My guess it that having the cube 1.5" high in the pod, and letting the liquid dribble on the bottom and wick up, was key to solving the problem.

The seedlings look a little leggy, but no air movement may contribute to that, as well as the reduced light level. Time will tell...

The next test for this unit is to start difficult to germinate seeds in the greenhouse. I have been trying to start calceolaria seeds with no luck. The seeds are so tiny a half dozen could get under your eyelid, and you would most likely never notice. My gardening book says calceolaria are easy to raise from seed, yeah, really!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giant Marconi Peppers

When the seed catalogs arrived in early December I made it a point to carefully select varieties that I thought would be appropriate to grow hydroponically in the greenhouse. My criteria was: small plants, large fruit.

The description in the catalog for this pepper really caught my attention:

Giant Marconi Hybrid ALL AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER for 2001. Awarded for its earliness, yield, size, and flavor, this is one of the biggest Italian-type, sweet peppers that you'll find anywhere. Peppers turn from green to red, and at 8 inches long with a lobed tip, they resemble a cross between a Marconi and a Lamuyo-type pepper. They are sweetest when red and are good for salads, but really are outstanding when grilled and roasted, methods that bring out the best of their great flavor. 30-inch tall plants bear heavily despite cold, wet, or dry conditions, and are resistant to potato virus and tobacco mosaic virus.

My plan is to grow them in the drip ring systems, however I have no idea at this point how I will stake them, if it becomes necessary to do so.

The seeds were planted on February 14, 2009 and the photo was taken on March 15, 2009. Today, March 17th., (Happy St. Patrick's Day!) I noticed a small flower bud is beginning to form.

My hydroponic book recommends that only experienced growers should tackle sweet peppers , but I thought I would give it a shot anyway. My confidence has been bolstered by the success that I had in the fall with the ornamental pepper.

Also today, while moving the plants to the greenhouse to soak up some sun, I noticed that one strawberry plant has a flower already. Damn, eight days from dormancy, and a flower! I guess I should start looking for my artist brush so I will be ready for pollination duty.

Monday, March 16, 2009


When I finished planting the chard in the deep water culture I had two or three seedlings left. Baby chard is also used for salad greens, so I put the extra seedlings in 4" net pots, and placed them in the ebb and flow system.

Much to my surprise the chard in the ebb and flow system has grown so much better than the chard in the deep water system, that I have abandoned the idea of growing chard by deep water culture completely. Yes, that much better, by a factor of three or four times better.

I am not concerned about the plants growing tall and getting top heavy, as they will be packed fairly tightly in an ebb and flow system, and can not topple over.

It appears that chard grows better if the roots are not in water continuously. Additionally, I can place a lot more upright chard plants into an ebb and flow system than the six plants I had in my deep water system. I have replanted the deep water system with Parris Island romaine and Gentilina lettuce.

The rockwool cubes and six hour nutrient timing appear to be the answer for the modified AeroGarden project. All of the seeds planted in the pods have sprouted, and so far are doing really well.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Strawberries one week later

One week of TLC can make a big difference in the growth of a plant. This is the Seascape strawberry from last week's post after spending a week under the lights in the ebb and flow system. The plants remaining in the garden are still dormant, although the soil is no longer frozen.

This plant is not a runner, but a year old full grown plant, so vigorous growth should not be surprising . My only objective is to force some early strawberries, and I do not plan on growing this plant for the entire season in the greenhouse. Most likely I will transfer it to a strawberry pot in soil at some point.

My modified AeroGarden project was not doing well at all using the closed cell foam or regular sponge in the pods. After rethinking this project I have decided that duplicating what AeroGarden does is not the solution. The seeds or nutrients are not a problem, however, the sponge they use in the pods is most likely proprietary. They had a PhD develop the nutrients, lighting and media, and apparently it was not an easy project.

The problem with closed cell foam, is that it is exactly that, closed, it does not breath. I don't know if the regular sponge breathes, but it retains much too much liquid, and drowns the seeds.

My next approach is to use rockwool cut to sit higher in the pods so that it drains easily. Additionally, I will use the exact timing sequence that I am using in the ebb and flow systems; fifteen minutes of nutrients every four hours. Basically, I will be using the same process that I have been using successfully for years.

Once again the system has been replanted and placed under the low wattage LED grow lamp. I am relatively confident in this approach, but again, time will tell...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

French Marigold

This little beauty goes by the name of: Tagetes erecta, T. patula, Jaguar. Why it is commonly called French Marigold is beyond me.

The seed was planted on 1/23/09, and this photo was taken on 3/14/09.
When selecting flower seeds I look for small plants trying not exceed 12" in height. This plant was ideal, as it is very compact, with this specimen presently being no taller than 6". Marigolds, it seems, will tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions, and I really took no special care of this plant. This plant is being grown in the same ebb and flow system as the lettuce; same nutrients, same lights.

This is just another example of modern fluorescent lights being able to produce more than simply vegetative growth.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rushing the season

Last season I had two or three pots of Seascape strawberries on the wall next to the greenhouse. On a cold rainy day in the fall, with a freeze predicted, I just pulled the plants from the pots and stuck them in the garden. I really did not care if they survived or not, I just wanted to bring the pots in so that they would not crack from the cold.

While reading my new book on greenhouse gardening, I found that strawberries are among the plants they recommend for forcing in the greenhouse for an early crop.

As our granddaughter loves nothing better than fresh strawberries, I thought I would try to force some plants. However, last week the ground was frozen so solid, I could not pry any plants from the soil. This week I did manage to coax a few plants from their winter's nap.

After rinsing the soil from the roots, and spraying the plants with insecticide, the plants were placed in 4" net pots with expanded clay pellets as a media. They will be in an ebb and flow system indoors under lights, and I will move them to the greenhouse whenever the weather permits.

As the plants are going into their second year, they have a well developed root system, and should be OK. Actually, I was really surprised to see that they came through the winter as well as they did. Considering that I did not bother to mulch them, or provide any protection, they still had some green growth.

I used to think of strawberries as being delicate, now I am beginning to think you have to take a hammer to them to kill them.

It should be interesting to see what happens to them now.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Nature's bounty

An earlier post featured this carnation, Dianthus Plumarius, growing in one of my used coffee container systems.

Toward the end of the plant's life cycle I decided to let the flowers go to seed. It was a simple matter of just letting the flowers dry as much as possible on the plant. Before discarding the plant I removed the dry pods and placed them in a dry sunny location until the tops of the seed pods opened. (that is how you know the seeds are ready to harvest) At that point, all you have to do is hold the pod over a paper bag, and tap it to make the seeds fall out.

You can usually collect more seeds from a single plant than the amount of seeds that came in the package when you purchased them. Additionally, the seeds will be fresh and viable.

It is my opinion that seed saving is well worth the extra effort involved. They make great gifts for your gardening friends, and you will always have fresh seed for your collection.

I did a germination test on the seeds I collected, and they germinated in less than 48 hours. The germinated seeds were placed in rockwool cubes, and soon I will have these flowers growing in my soil garden.

Natural light

The temperature finally got to fifty degrees today, and that is a virtual heatwave in upstate New York in early March. It has been a long brutal winter, and I just itched to get into the greenhouse to do some preventive maintenance, and generally get it ready for use.

Although the sun was not shining brightly, it was what I might describe as a bright overcast. The temperature in the greenhouse was a comfy 64 degrees, but it felt like summer after enduring the cold of December, January and February.

I wondered if it might be worth turning off the compact fluorescent light I have been using for propagation, and let my seedlings enjoy some natural light for the afternoon. After I decided to bring a few trays into the greenhouse, I also decided to take a light level reading just to satisfy my curiosity.

When looking at the seedlings indoors under the compact fluorescent light they appear to be well lit. And, for all practical purposes, they are, with a level of about 2,000 foot candles. However, even though it was just what I would call cloudy bright, the reading at plant level in the greenhouse was over 4,000 foot candles. Old Sol is still the best source of light when he is available.

The plants in the photo are Bush Beefsteak and Best Boy tomatoes started on 2/14/09. They are not doing as well as I hoped, but they will most likely improve now that they have been planted in pots, and are not just languishing in rockwool cubes. I intend to grow them in the greenhouse in AutoPots, so I placed them in 3" pots to grow until transplanting.

The media is recycled coco coir and perlite. Recycled that is to the extent that I used it last season in the AutoPots. When the plants are removed, there is a lot of media remaining on the bottom of the pots. The media is not rotted, or degraded in any way. Rather than discard that material, I place it in a large tote to dry and reuse it. I purchased a number of the small 3" pots and I intend to grow pots of annual flowers in the greenhouse using this recycled media, and also used nutrients from the ebb and flow systems. I have been changing the nutrients every two weeks, so the used nutrients, along with any residual nutrients remaining in the recycled media, should work just fine to add some color to the greenhouse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This week's crop

Actually we picked three batches of lettuce like this in the last two weeks. My wife and I have a salad almost everyday, so every few days I start three or four rockwool cubes with lettuce.

Somehow I accidentally managed to dislodge the pump in my modified AeroGarden. Most likely while moving it from under the lights to check on the progress of the basil, I jarred the feed line to the pods loose. As a result, the plants did not receive any moisture at all for a few days. and I lost them. The feed line did not fit snug into the pump, so I added a few turns of electrical tape, and now it is a very snug fit into the pump. Hopefully that will prevent a recurrence of that problem.

As I had our original AeroGarden planted with basil, I decided to change the scope of this project and try to grow a micro-green lettuce variety to completion under the low power LED. My version has been replanted with Rossa A Foglia Riccia Da Taglio, the name itself is a mouthful..

And, regarding the original AeroGarden; it is growing my seeds, not something purchased from them for twenty dollars. I must admit that is it well suited for growing small batches of herbs, but the cost of replacing the lights every six months still irks me. I have a strong feeling that it will soon be back in storage.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Swiss Chard, or Silverbeet

Wikipedia has this to say about this plant:

Chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla), also known by the common names Swiss Chard, Silverbeet, Perpetual Spinach, Spinach Beet, Crab Beet, Seakale Beet and Mangold, is a leafy vegetable and a Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima. While the leaves are eaten, it is in the same species as the garden beet (beetroot), which is grown primarily for its edible roots.

The word Swiss was used to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties by nineteenth century seed catalog publishers. The chard is very popular among Mediterranean cooks. The first varieties have been traced back to Sicily.

It is interesting to note the variations in what the same plant is called in different locations around the world. When visiting a gardening site in the UK they were writing about their problems growing Aubergines. I had to do a web search only to find out that they were referring to what I have always called eggplant. That just serves to demonstrate how provincial I am, I guess.

In any event, we love this vegetable, whatever you want to call it. We use the baby leaves in salads, and my wife prepares the large leaves and stalks boiled with tomatoes and garlic.

The seedlings in the photo are being grown under a compact fluorescent light in a system called Emily's Garden. It is a type of deep water culture that employs a wick to bring nutrients to the plants from the bottom of the container. It is simple and sturdy, and is a great system for a beginner. In fact, this is the first system I purchased when I started hydroponics, and I still use it occasionally. It is a nice system to place in a shaded corner of the greenhouse for lettuce or herbs. Maintenance on this system in minimal.

The seeds were started on 2/7/09 and the seedlings were placed in this system on 2/24/09. In just a few short days they have recovered from being transplanted and I can see increased growth. The TDS level I am using presently is 540 and the pH is 6.5. After two weeks at this level I will increase the TDS to about 1260 then gradually to a maximum of 1610. The pH will also be increased to 7.0, as I have found that this plant does better with a slightly higher pH.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


This is another heirloom variety from Baker Creek seeds. They describe it as:

Lovely, bright-green, leafy heads that are very ruffled with good resistance to bolting. Tender leaves are first rate in salads; an extra-fine Italian variety.

I found it very easy to grow, and it tastes tender and delicious. We enjoy it most with just a little lemon juice and a bit of salt. It really is so good it needs nothing else. It is a definite "do again", and most likely again and again.

Somehow I have accumulated quite a few varieties from Italy in my seed collection, and in the next few weeks I will feature them also. The variety of plants that I can grow hydroponically is part of what makes this hobby so rewarding.

As an addition to my blog I have added a plant search option that links to the database on Dave's Garden. The search feature is on the right side of the blog so feel free to use it.