Friday, December 31, 2010

Three weeks into my Spacemaster cucumber grow

The time lapse video above records five days growth of the Spacemaster cucumber plant under the 90 watt red/blue/white LED.

I know the lighting looks weird, but that is the nature of the beast. At the very least the video confirms the rate of growth possible using LED technology. When I first positioned the camera, I set the height of the light at what I thought was appropriate for a few days growth. I had to raise the light twice during the five day period, as the plant was growing much more quickly than I expected. Even doing that, the plant grew right out of the field of view, and I could not reposition the camera without ruining the video.

My next attempt at time lapse photography will be, if possible, to capture the transformation of a flower bud into a full grown cucumber.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dutch Winter Brown Lettuce

Thomas Jefferson apparently liked this variety of lettuce, as he planted it twenty seven times in his winter garden at Monticello.

The very idea of brown lettuce did not seem so appealing when I first read about this variety, however, I thought I would give it a try anyway. I sort of expected it to look like a cow pie, and it is not that far off. I will, though, give it the benefit of the doubt, grow it to maturity, and taste it. Hopefully, I will be pleasantly surprised.

No matter how it tastes, preserving the germplasm of these rare heirloom varieties makes them worth growing. If we don't grow them, and save seeds, they will be lost, and lost forever.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Maintaing production

After harvesting the red salad bowl lettuce the system has been replanted with Vivian and Slo-Bolt lettuce.

From experience I have learned to moisten the expanded clay pellets prior to transplanting the seedlings. Also, I pour a small amount of nutrient through the pot immediately after placing the seedling into the pot. This procedure prevents wilting caused by being transplanted, and the seedlings recover quickly.

This batch should be ready to begin picking in three to four weeks.

Holiday Harvest

The crop of red salad bowl that I planted for the holiday was harvested today; there were a dozen or more plants that yielded three bags of lettuce. I would imagine that finding salad bowl anywhere in a supermarket would be nearly impossible, in this hemisphere, on Christmas Eve.

Vivian and slo-bolt seedlings were placed into the system immediately to maintain continuous production.

My Spacemaster cucumber grow is into week two and is progressing very well. The plants are a very healthy green and very compact. Presently I am running at 950 ppm with the pH at 6. As soon as the plant begins producing male flowers I will add more PK to the mixture. It will be interesting to see how long it takes until the plant begins to produce male flowers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Six days into the Spacemaster grow

The cucumber seedlings are still in the root development stage, but have managed to add a few more true leaves.

It was necessary to turn off the LED to get an idea of the true color of the plant, as it appears to be almost black when the light is on. It is, in fact, a very deep healthy green, and very compact. So far, so good.

I ordered a different variety for the greenhouse next spring, and if I had the seeds in hand I would have tried these indoors rather than the Spacemaster.

These seeds were ordered from High Mowing Organic Seeds, and considering that they are for greenhouse growing, the price was very reasonable. Here is next year's variety:

"Organic H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber - Parthenocarpic plants produce fruit under stress and without pollinators, guaranteeing high yields in the field or under cover. Compact vines are multi-branching and will climb easily while small leaf size allows for easier fruit visibility when harvesting. Medium-sized fruits are smooth and tapered with white spines. Widely adapted for greenhouse or field. Works well in containers. Developed and released by the University of Arkansas in 1991. (Cucumis sativus)"

Although we liked the Telegraph Improved cucumbers that we grew last season, the plants were gigantic, with some leaves at least 18" across. This variety seems more appropriate for our small greenhouse.

Time will tell...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trying Spacemaster Cucumbers indoors

We have been picking more salad greens than we can possibly use, so my wife suggested that I use a system to grow cucumbers.

Cucumbers are not my favorite plant to grow indoors, but to keep peace in the family I decided to oblige. My choice was: Spacemaster cucumbers, which are supposed to be: "
Great for small areas. Short,hardy vines. Slender,dark green fruits, 7 ½" long. 56 days."

To grow them I will be using my home built autopot containing a 50/50 mixture of coir and agricultural perlite. The lighting is a 90 watt red/blue/white LED with a photoperiod of 16 hours. I have added a valve to the feed line to control nutrient flow during system maintenance. The valve can be seen in the lower right corner of the photo above.

By the time the cucumbers have run their course I will most likely leave the setup, and switch to starting annuals for the outdoor garden and greenhouse.

This variety will require hand pollination, however, Ava loves to pollinate cucumber flowers, so I will delegate that chore to her....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Results of Planning Ahead post of 11/09/2010

The seeds I began germinating on my November 9, 2010 post have been planted and are entering the vegetative stage.

The above photo shows two of each variety growing in a modified aeroponic system using a 90 watt red/blue/orange LED light.

Presently, I have three different variations of LED grow lamps: red/blue, red/blue/white and red/blue/orange. In my opinion there is no difference in the performance of these lights; each variation performs equally as well as the others.

Also, today I picked another 30 ounces of leaf lettuce, which has a market value of about $24.

Monday, December 6, 2010

LED grow lamp results

Cassandra is the variety of lettuce pictured above and it is described as follows:

"A superb quality, pale green butterhead of excellent flavour, with well-filled voluminous hearts. Lettuce Cassandra is resistant to most races of downy mildew and Lettuce Mosaic Virus. Ideal for growing all year round, especially summer and autumn outdoors. Harvest: 10-12 weeks from sowing. Very easy to grow."

I found it to be all of the above, except it does have a slight tendency toward tip burn. As my test grow only took 6 weeks from seed start to salad, the tip burn may be associated with the rapid growth and calcium not getting to the tips. In our opinion, the tender butter colored interiors of the heads make it well worth growing.

Six plants were placed in a modified aeroponic unit on 11/8/2010 using a 90 watt red/blue LED with a photoperiod of 16 hours, and in less than four full weeks the plants were ready to harvest.

Out of curiosity I asked my wife to price specialty lettuce at the local market, and when she returned she said that specialty lettuce was being sold for $3.99 for 5 ounces. After trimming, the above plant yielded 7.5 ounces, or to put it another way, the market value of the produce was $5.98. As there are six pots in the system, the value of the harvest is in excess of $35.00.

To continue the economic evaluation; I estimate the cost to run the LED for four weeks at about $3.00. The nutrients and seeds I estimate at well under a dollar, so we have $31.00 in produce for basically nothing but a little effort.

The book I am reading says that commercial growers may use as many as six different pesticides when growing lettuce. Consider that the EPA has deemed each of them as being safe. Then, consider that the EPA has no idea of the synergistic effect of these six chemicals on your body.

I have to believe our little effort is being rewarded, both economically, and in terms of our health.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Getting festive

Seeing as how it is getting closer to Christmas I thought my wife would like to have something a little more in line with the spirit of the season as part of our Christmas dinner.

After looking through my seed stash I decided on red salad bowl lettuce, based on its colors and tender delicate texture.

I am thinking that Martha Stewart herself would like to serve this at her holiday table.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Can't hurt to try - Part 2

In my post of October 12th I was addressing adding CO2 to the seedlings in a domed container by exhaling into a tube feeding into the container.

Someone inquired in the comments section as to whether I thought this idea was making a difference. To tell the absolute truth I really don't know for sure, as I had made other changes to my seed starting procedures at the same time.

What I do know at this point is that my seedlings have never looked better, or grown so quickly. The seedlings in the photo above are twelve days from the date I placed the dry seeds into a moist coffee filter.

The domed container is a shoe storage box rescued from recycle, and I am using ice cube trays, drilled for drainage, to hold the media. (Wal-Mart 3 for $1.73) The media is something I stumbled upon that works as well, or better, than rockwool or oasis horticubes. I would include sure to grow, but that stuff does not work anyway. The main benefit of the media is that while it is absorbent the top remains dry, which prevents the growth of algae.

Back to my thinking on the CO2 issue; the exhaled breath forces the existing air out of the container and replaces it with an atmosphere rich in CO2. Additionally, the air passing over the seedlings vibrates them, much like a breeze, causing cell growth on the stem, preventing them from becoming spindly. Kind of like a self prevention reaction: if I don't buff up, I am going to get blown over. That said, I will continue to add CO2 by exhaling into the container, as it sure is not hurting the seedlings.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dwarf annuals

When seed racks are reasonably full during the spring and summer, I browse for dwarf varieties of annuals to grow indoors during the winter. When making a selection I look for varieties that do not exceed twelve inches in height, so that they conform to the size of the other plants growing in my systems.

According to the package the calendula above is a cultivar named Sunshades Mix , however I can not find one reference to this cultivar online.

I was totally amazed when I looked at the date that I started the seeds, as the plant flowered in only seven weeks. This variety will definitely be included when I start seeds for our outdoor annual garden in early spring.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Growing History

Being a history buff I have always wondered what type of vegetables our forefathers raised in their gardens, and recently I purchased seeds that may allow me to satisfy my curiosity.

Below, from the seed vendor's site, is a brief description of what I plan on growing in the near future:

Brown Dutch Winter (1731)
This is a very historic lettuce mentioned as early as 1731 by British botanist Stephan Switzer. It was also very popular in Colonial America and Thomas Jefferson often planted it at Monticello.
Brown Dutch was the most frequently planted of the approximately seventeen lettuce varieties documented by Jefferson in the kitchen garden at Monticello. Seed was sowed twenty-seven times between 1809 and 1824, primarily in the fall for a winter harvest.

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, no culture comparable to that of the garden. But though an old man, I am but a young gardener. - Thomas Jeffereson

Speckled (1799)
A very old heirloom that was brought to Waterloo County, Ontario by covered wagon from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1799 by the Martin Family. The seed was obtained from Urias Martin by Mark Reusser and sent to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. According to William Woys Weaver it is the same variety as Thorburn’s Orchid Lettuce. This is a butterhead type of lettuce with reddish brown speckles on the green leaves

Spotted Aleppo (pre1731)
An ancient variety that had been grown in Aleppo, Syria for a long time prior to being introduced into Europe in the early 1700’s. It was also grown in colonial America and was offered by Bernard McMahon in 1804 and many other North American seed companies until the 1870’s. Spotted Aleppo is a beautiful loose headed Romaine type of lettuce with many bronze speckles.

Tom Thumb (1850s)
A small growing green lettuce with heads that only get 3-4" across.

I have included a link to the site where I purchased the seed in case someone else would like to plant a History Garden.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Progression, at last

One of my objectives has been to achieve a continuous supply of greens by establishing a schedule of progression, and I think I have the goal in sight

Seeds are started, and established, in three small propagators using 24 watt 24" T5 lights.

As the seedlings grow they are moved from left to right into a system with a slightly higher nutrient level.

When I first started indoor growing, I would plant all of my systems at once, and it would be "feast or famine". This is working out much better.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In spite of the old proverb

There is an old proverb regarding changing direction while you are engaged in a process. It goes: "don't change horses while you are in midstream." It comes from an 1864 speech by Abraham Lincoln, in reply to Delegation from the National Union League who were urging him to be their presidential candidate.

In spite of Honest Abe's advice, I frequently change direction while gardening hydroponically, simply because it is so easy to do so.

Today I replaced the arugula in my modified aeroponic system with Parris Island romaine seedlings. It was a simple matter of turning off the pump, removing the pots with the arugula, and replacing them with pots of romaine. The change was easily accomplished without disturbing the system, and I do it frequently.

The arugula was started from seed only four weeks ago, and as you would normally not eat a lot of arugula, I thought it best to go on to something I knew we would enjoy, rather than invest any more time in something we have never tried. Also, I read that the larger leaves turn bitter and mine were definitely getting to be what I would consider large.

The Parris Island seeds were started on November 3, 2010 and they will be grown under the 90 watt red/blue/white LED until harvested.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good neighbors

The two animals above, along with some of their kin, were browsing in our yard this afternoon.

They are shy gentle creatures, and do no harm while simply trying to survive. It is too bad people can't be more like them.

Beats the hell out of me how someone can go into their environment and bushwhack them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just for fun

I like to add an occasional pot of flowers to my indoor gardening activities, however, I don't give them any special growing conditions. The Thumbelina Zinnia shown above was placed into the same system as my salad greens when I launched the grow chamber in mid-October, and it is already flowering.

In addition to the zinnia, I have started calendula, dianthus, marigold and cineraria seeds. I have a few calceolaria seeds started also, but I find them very difficult to grow, in spite of what my gardening books say about them.

Having a flower or two around the house makes the dreary upstate New York winter just slightly more tolerable.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Planning ahead - continued

In less than 24 hours the seeds that I placed in the coffee filters have started to sprout. I will hold off transplanting them to the growing media until I see the cotyledon leaves begin to form. The seedlings will remain in the starting media until true leaves begin to develop, and roots are protruding from the bottom of the media. I will continue to feed them with a very dilute nutrient solution while giving them 16 hours of light daily until they are transplanted into one of my systems.

If at least sixty percent of the seeds fail to germinate, within a reasonable period of time, I would discard the seed package and purchase new seeds.

When I purchase seeds, I remove them from the package and place them in 3" x 5" zip lock bags. Any information regarding the variety is cut from the package and placed in the bag with the seeds. The zip lock bags are placed in sealed Tupper Ware type containers, by type, and stored in a freezer until a day or so before I intend to start them.

The above may not be "according to Hoyle", but it works for me. And, I should add that I have stored the Antago seeds in the above photo for at least three years.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Planning ahead

Planning is essential in maintaining a constant supply of veggies, as it takes several weeks from seed to harvest. For instance, today I started three different varieties of lettuce, and I expect it to be about ready for harvest around Christmas.

In defiance of the seed starting recommendations in all my gardening books, I have developed a method that works for me. As shown above, I use moist coffee filters to germinate seeds. The filters are moistened with a quarter strength nutrient solution and the seeds are folded into the filters. The filters are placed in a zip lock bag, which I place in any convenient spot on one of my systems. From that point on I let nature take its course and check the filters every 24 hours.

As my objective is to have six plants each of the three different varieties of lettuce, I will start twice that number of seeds. When the seed coat splits, usually within 24 hours, and the radicle begins to develop, I use tweezers to gently place the tiny seedlings into whatever media I intend to use. As vigor is important, I select the first and largest seedlings for growing, and discard the remainder.

Today's batch of seeds includes: Jerico, a type of romaine, Red Lolo Antago, a red Italian leaf lettuce, and Sanguine Ameliore, a french heirloom also known as Strawberry Cabbage. They should make a colorful addition to Christmas dinner.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hydro Harvest

Ava, our three year old granddaughter, is going to be spending a few days with us. In order to continue to encourage her interest in gardening I like to have a few projects that she can participate in.

Ava particularly likes mixing nutrients and planting with hydroton in net pots. That said, I harvested the plants growing under the red/blue LED shown in my November 2, 2010 post so that we can fill and replant that system tomorrow.

The top photo shows the harvested plants, and the produce is blemish free and a deep healthy green. The yield was enough to fill two storage bags, which should last us several days.

Is growing your own greens economical? You bet. Is the produce fresh and pesticide free? You bet. Is it worth the effort? You better believe it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

An interesing plant indeed.

Being a history buff I enjoy researching the history of plants that I am growing. As such, I found what Wikipedia had to say about Arugula interesting, so I thought I would share it. Perhaps if more people knew it was considered an aphrodisiac it would be a lot more popular.


"It is used as a leaf vegetable, which looks like a longer leaved and open lettuce. It is rich in vitamin C and potassium.[7] It is frequently cultivated, although domestication cannot be considered complete. It has been grown in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, and is considered an aphrodisiac.[8] Before the 1990s it was usually collected in the wild and was not cultivated on a large scale or researched scientifically. In addition to the leaves, the flowers (often used in salads as an edible garnish), young seed pods and mature seeds are all edible.

It is now cultivated in various places, especially in Veneto, Italy, but is available throughout the world. It is also locally naturalised away from its native range in temperate regions around the world, including northern Europe and North America.[2][6] In India, the mature seeds are known as Gargeer.

It has a rich, peppery taste, and has an exceptionally strong flavour for a leafy green. It is generally used in salads, often mixed with other greens in a mesclun, but is also cooked as a vegetable or used raw with pasta or meats in northern Italy and in coastal Slovenia[citation needed] (especially Koper/Capodistria), where it is added to the cheese burek. In Italy, rocket is often used in pizzas, added just before the baking period ends or immediately afterwards, so that it will not wilt in the heat.

On the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, a digestive alcohol called rucolino is made from the plant, a drink often enjoyed in small quantities following a meal. The liquor is a local specialty enjoyed in the same way as a limoncello or grappa and has a sweet peppery taste that washes down easily.

In Egypt the plant is commonly eaten with ful medames for breakfast, and regularly accompanies local seafood dishes."

Be that as it may; the plants in the photo are growing in a modified areoponic unit using a 90 watt red/blue/white LED. Previously I have only used this light for seed starting, and this will be its first test for growing plants to completion. So far, so good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Indoor gardening

The top photo shows the interior of the grow chamber with all of the systems finally in use. All of the plants have been grown hydroponically, under artificial lighting, receiving not one photon of sunlight, or drop of rain. They have not had to deal with insects, or insecticides, or contaminants of any kind. In fact, their environment is so clean it is not necessary to wash the produce before using it.

I might add that the plants in the foreground were mere seedlings when I launched the grow chamber on October 18th, and they have made remarkable progress in only two weeks.

The three ebb and flow systems each contain fifteen plants, and the modified aeroponic system has six plants, so there are fifty one plants growing in this small area. Try that in your soil garden, or greenhouse!

The author of the current greenhouse gardening book I am reading denigrates hydroponic gardening with such phrases as: "you are tied to a hydroponic dealer" and " it requires expensive equipment." and blah, blah, blah. He goes on to tell soil gardeners to buy bugs to control bugs! There are endless pages regarding bugs, fungus, mildew, sterilizing soil, making compost, manure tea, and on and on. Hmm, I can skip chapters seven to fourteen, as they don't apply to me. And, that will be the day when I pour manure tea on lettuce I am going to eat! Well, to each his own I guess.

Each of my three ebb and flow systems has a slightly different nutrient strength varying weak to normal, and the seedlings will progress through the three systems as they grow. The plants in the foreground in the top photo are the very first plants to enter the chamber, and they are about two weeks from harvest at this point.

The bottom photo shows a modified aeroponic unit overflowing with lettuce under a 90 watt red/blue LED. The LED light is so intense that the strobe on my camera can not overcome the red from the lamp. I can, however, assure you that the lettuce is a deep healthy attractive green. Again, these plants have never grown under anything other than LED lighting.

Thanks anyway, but you can keep your beneficial bugs, fungicides and manure tea!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another heirloom - Cracoviensis

The plant above is
Cracoviensis lettuce, described by the seed vendor as follows:

"An heirloom predating 1885, with an open head of elongate, slightly savoyed, purple-red tipped leaves. A fast vigorous plant well suited to quick cut salad. Makes a large loose head before bolting. Referred to by Vilmorin (1885) as “red celtuce,” implying that its large tender pink bolting stem may have been the heirloom intent of this variety. A recent letter from England confirms that this is the case. Celtuce, also called “asparagus lettuce.” is a Chinese market item.

The jury is still out as to whether I will grow this variety again, as it takes up a lot of space for the amount of lettuce it produces. The plants are still a few weeks from harvest, and perhaps they will develop more fully. If the taste is exceptional, I may reconsider and grow a few pots just to add some color and texture to our daily salads.

I should add that these plants have received only the Expert Gardener plant food with calcium nitrate and epsom salt since day one, and they are doing great.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Off to a good start

Several seedlings, that had just developed their first true leaves, were placed in my new grow chamber when I launched it on October 18, 2010. It has only been five days since they were placed in the chamber, and to say that I am perfectly satisfied with the results would be an understatement.

My primary concern was that the heat from the lighting would raise the temperature in the grow chamber above eighty degrees making lettuce cultivation difficult. The rear access port, although admittedly an afterthought, has worked perfectly in cooling the chamber. I have been monitoring the temperature and humidity daily, and the temperature has averaged seventy degrees during the photoperiod, with drop of about ten degrees at night. The humidity has averaged forty percent.

The plant in the above photo is a baby romaine lettuce; and it should be evident that it is a compact and healthy specimen for a plant being grown indoors. The seeds were marketed by Livingston Seed Company, and there is very little information regarding the variety on the seed package. As I recall, the seeds cost little more than a dollar, and there were a lot of seeds in the package. So, I guess I will have to grow them and make my own determination about this cultivar.

At this point is appears that the grow chamber is going to be worth the effort that I put into constructing it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New grow chamber

In order better control growing conditions for indoor gardening I have constructed a new grow chamber in the basement. Effectively I have created about twenty square feet of gardening space with ideal growing conditions.

As seen in the top photo the chamber will accommodate four systems; primarily I will be using three ebb and flow systems and one modified aeroponic system. For lighting I have installed a six tube T5 fluorescent light with 6400K tubes and a 90 watt UFO LED with red/blue/orange LEDs. The lights are mounted with adjustable hangers and the height can easily be adjusted. At plant level in the ebb and flow systems I have measured the light level at slightly above 2,000 footcandles, which is adequate for anything I will be growing.

The lower front panel is removable providing ample storage space for supplies, and behind the systems there is an access port for electrical and airlines, and for servicing the systems. The access port also serves to provide air flow, as the heat from the lamps will cause the air to rise drawing in fresh air from the bottom. A small fan, timed with the lighting cycle, will circulate air within the chamber.

As seen in the lower photo the growing chamber can be completely enclosed, and the interior is lined with Mylar reflective film to utilize every photon of lighting possible. Timers control the lighting, ventilation and nutrient delivery systems, and I have placed a remote sensor on the back wall above the access port to monitor the temperature in the growing chamber.

To launch my new growing chamber I have started arugula, tatsoi and some exotic market garden variety lettuce plants.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can't hurt to try

I recall reading sometime ago that someone, who must have had a lot of time on his hands, performed an experiment that determined that if you talk to your plants they grow faster than plants that are not spoken to.

My theory is that plants just don't give a damn what you are saying; they really appreciate the carbon dioxide you are exhaling, as it is vital to their growth!

Air circulation takes care of moving CO2 around in the greenhouse and in my growing chamber, but what about in the covered propagators? I would think even these tiny seedlings would love a CO2 rich environment. I have added a short length of airline tubing feeding into the covers, and will exhale into the containers a few times a day.

Seems a little nutty, but so does talking to plants..... Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Supplemental lighting time

In our locale , on average, our risk of frost is from
September 28 through May 8, and we can expect a growing season of around 143 days.

The greenhouse extends my season for several weeks in each direction, however, the decreasing day length does have an effect on the rate of growth. I have added a few hours of supplemental lighting, both in the morning and evening hours, to compensate for the decreasing photoperiod.

The above photo shows my mixing tub ebb and flow system illuminated by a 6400K 95 watt compact fluorescent grow light. I am starting plants every few days to get a sequence going to provide a continuous supply of salad greens.

A fair question would be: is it worth the effort, and is it economical? My answer to both would be a definite yes.

The light may add four dollars a month to the electric bill, which is no big deal. The tub cost twelve dollars, the reservoir was rescued from the recycle bin, the pump cost eight dollars, the timer cost four dollars and the nutrients cost less than five dollars for two pounds, and I only use four teaspoons every three weeks. And, there is virtually no maintenance, as I only drain and add new nutrients every three weeks.

The price of purchasing produce will soon begin to reflect the end of the growing season, and having to ship produce from the south and west coast. Last winter the cost of a lettuce was just under three dollars a head. This small system will comfortably hold in excess of twenty plants, so, in my opinion, growing my own is worth the effort and expense.

Additionally, I factor in the variety, freshness, taste and the elimination of exposure to pesticides and E coli when I ask myself if it is worth the expense and effort.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Small seed propagator

After reorganizing a closet, my wife was going to recycle a number of clear plastic hinged storage containers. I immediately recognized the possibility of reusing them as seed propagators.

I painted the bottoms and drilled small drainage holes in them; several small holes were drilled in the top sections for ventilation, and, presto, I had very nice propagators. This size will hold at least 26 grow cubes, which is really more than I would start at one time.

To complete the above propagator I used a single tube 6400K T5 24" fluorescent light on an adjustable stand, and added metallic coated Mylar reflecting panels on the front and back.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tropic tomato results

The first truss on the tropic tomato plant I am testing is beginning to ripen. When I started this test I only planted one seed, as I did not think there was enough time left in the season to produce ripe fruit. Now, however, after seeing the fruit, I am sorry that I did not plant more plants.

The tomatoes in the photo are slightly larger in size than those you would find in a supermarket "hothouse" tomato pack, but the green fruit on the upper trusses is quite a bit larger. That kind of has me stumped at this point, as it has been my experience that the larger fruit develops toward the bottom of the plant.

I have been using the Expert Gardener plant nutrients to replenish the Autopot reservoir for this plant for the last three weeks, and the plant is showing no ill effects.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two weeks into my test grow

At this point I can see no difference, or ill effects, from using the Wal-Mart nutrients, epsom salt and calcium nitrate for my test grown lettuce. For the past two weeks the plants have been growing in an ebb and flow system under a 90 watt red/blue/white UFO LED with a fifteen minute feeding cycle every four hours, and they are perfectly normal in every respect.

As I will begin harvesting individual leaves this week I have already started seeds for a replacement batch of lettuce using the same nutrient mix. The varieties I have selected for this batch are: Green Butterhead, Grand Rapids and Black Seeded Simpson.

As my confidence level in this trial is fairly high I purchased several more boxes of nutrients from the local Wal-Mart garden center before it disappears until next spring.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tropic trial

The tropic tomato plant mentioned in my July 19th. post is making excellent progress. Several trusses have developed and set fruit, and it appears that the fruit is going to fairly good size; judging from the rate at which it is developing.

One site says that these plants can grow up to eight feet high and another site said that they grow to twenty feet high, however, I have already topped off the plant at about five feet. My rationale is that it is late in the season and I am hoping that by topping off the plant I will hasten the development of the existing fruit. My primary objective was to grow larger fruit, but taste will be equally as important as size, so I am attempting to have at least a few ripe tomatoes this season.

Additionally, I am trying a reduced nutrient level for this test:

Germination to first true leaf fully expanded TDS 450-550
First true leaf to third true leaf fully expanded TDS 550-600
Third leaf to transplant TDS 600-800
Transplant to second cluster set TDS 800-1,100
Second cluster to topping TDS 1,100-1,600

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Test Grow

Yesterday, in search of a replacement hose connector, I visited the local Wal-Mart garden center. I thought that if I waited until the first of September I would be out of luck; as Wal-Mart would be pushing Christmas stuff and playing carols by then. (translate greed)

As I had some time on my hands, and needed fertilizer for the soil garden, I thought I would see if they had any end of the season bargains. Next to the Miracle Grow I found their brand of fertilizer. The price seemed reasonable enough, at $3.62 for a pound and a half of fertilizer, with an NPK of 15-30-15. Reading the guaranteed analysis I found that the product had a reasonable amount of most all of the nutrients I would need for hydroponic use. The ratios are slightly off, but may be within acceptable limits for lettuce and pot greens.

Deciding to test the fertilizer for hydroponic use, I added two rounded teaspoons of the fertilizer to five gallons of water. In addition, I added two rounded teaspoons of calcium nitrate, and three teaspoons of epsom salt. When I checked the TDS I found it to be slightly over 1,000, and to my surprise the pH was right at 6.0. Will wonders never cease?

The solution has been placed in an ebb and flow system to test on leaf lettuce and endive. If it is successful I will use it for growing salad greens, as it will be a very economical substitute for the professional nutrients I have been using. The professional nutrients will then be reserved for crops with more stringent requirements.

Time will tell......

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Silverbeets don't mind the heat

I always thought of silverbeet, or Swiss Chard, as a cool weather crop, however I tried them in the greenhouse a few years ago and found that they can tolerate the summer heat.

Although we could use the young leaves in a salads, I will let this batch grow to maturity. The taste difference between chard grown hydroponically in the greenhouse and field grown chard is immense.

That said, I doubt that it would make sense for anyone to grow it this way commercially.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The heat is getting to all of us.

I know the above image has nothing to do with hydroponic gardening, however I thought I would share it anyway.

Obviously the heat is affecting the little guy in the photo, as well as the soil garden, the lawn, and the plants in the greenhouse.

I am actually looking forward to cooler temperatures so I can begin to grow some greens outdoors, rather than in the grow room.

Trying a different approach

Starting seeds has always been my least favorite activity when it comes to hydroponic gardening. Seeds started in rockwool have a tendency to push out of the medium after having germinated, which is generally not a problem, however, I find it annoying having to push them back in.
Additionally, maintaining just the right amount of moisture is always a problem, as I get so involved in other projects that I tend to forget the seedlings.

Finally, I have a method that is, up until now, foolproof. The seeds above are growing in two old AeroGarden units and being lit by a red/blue 90 watt LED. These seeds were placed in a moist coffee filter until the coat split and the radicle began to appear. The seedlings were then transferred to the pods and placed in the AeroGardens with a quarter strength hydroponic nutrient solution. The pumps are running 24/7, and the photoperiod is 14 hours with the light suspended about a meter above the units. When these seedlings have four true leaves and a decent root system I will carefully transfer the medium and seedlings to one of my larger hydroponic systems and replant these systems.

Over the last month or so I have started several batches of seedlings by this method, and the results have been superior to the traditional methods I had been using.

If you run across an old AeroGarden at a garage sale, and can buy it for a few bucks, you might consider buying if for seed propagation. The plastic pods are reusable, and there are any number of alternatives to buying supplies from the AeroGarden folks.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Testing my homebuilt AutoPot

A Rutgers tomato seedling is being used to test my version of the autopot, however, I doubt that there is enough time left in this growing season to produce fruit of any size. Still, just as with the test of the Tropic seedling, I hope to evaluate the appearance the tomatoes formed by the first truss.

Rutgers is not one of the varieties recommended by any of the books I have on greenhouse growing, but I am more interested in how the pot design performs than producing tomatoes. If I happen to get any tomatoes as a result of the trial, so much the better.

My objective is to grow larger fruit than I have grown in previous years. And, to this end, I have repositioned the pots so that the plants will receive the maximum amount light and not be shaded by other plants.

This week I purchased a package of ten seeds for a cultivar named Trust, which is supposed to be the ultimate greenhouse variety. It is hard to understand why the seeds cost over a dollar each. I wonder if they transport the seeds by armoured truck when they are shipped to the vendor.

My plan for next season is to grow the Trust, Tropic and Burpee's Super Beefsteak, which is just an off the shelf variety from Wal-Mart. It should be interesting to see if these greenhouse cultivars are really superior to the more common varieties.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This is outredgetous!

"The red pigment in red leaf lettuce contains small amounts of fairly strong antioxidants. Eating red leaf lettuce is a delicious way to get lots of vitamins A and K, plus the anti-oxidants beta carotene and lutein." Quote courtesy

With that statement in mind I purchased seeds for the lettuce in the above photo in an organic gardening store in upstate New York. Outredegeous, what a clever name they selected for this cultivar! The following description is from the seed company:

Outredgeous Lettuce
75 days. One of the reddest romaines on the market, Outredgeous is a wonderful, stout-growing variety that can be harvested either as a baby lettuce or allowed to mature as a 10 inch romaine. The thick, glossy, slightly ruffled leaves are bright red on top and green on the underside. Serve as a head with its sweet crispy heart lightly kissed with a seasoned olive oil. If you are a market grower, this lettuce is best banded for market sales. Selected by Frank Morton, Gathering Together Farm.

Since I began growing lettuce I have tended to prefer the red varieties, so it is nice to know that they are a healthier choice.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bending the twig

Alexander Pope in 1732: "'Tis Education forms the common mind, Just as the Twig is bent the Tree's inclined"

Our three year old granddaughter, Ava, has been extremely interested in plants and the greenhouse since she first started to become aware of her surroundings. To encourage her interest I let her help me plant seeds, water, pick flowers and vegetables and pretty much whatever else I am doing. Yesterday, she was in the greenhouse happily removing the male flowers from the cucumber plants. Fortunately, at this point, there are only male flowers on the plants.

Ava is particularly excited about the great race pictured above. Ava, her grandmother, and I, have each planted a Kentucky Blue pole bean seed, and the race is on to see which one of our plants will reach the top of the support first. And, we all know who the winner will be.

Hopefully, activities like this will help in cultivating an interest in nature that Ava will carry into adulthood.

It has been a very hot summer, so far

June was the warmest June on record worldwide, and so far July, in our area, has been very hot.

Naturally, the heat would have an effect on growing plants. The local produce growers are picking corn, tomatoes and cucumbers well ahead of their normal harvest times.

Having said that, the temperatures in the greenhouse, as one could imagine, have been even warmer than outdoors. With the door and vents open, the nighttime temperature has been averaging in the mid 70s to mid 80s, after daytime temperatures in the mid to upper nineties.

The cucumbers seemed to manage just fine, however, the tomatoes and peppers were just not up to par. The size of the fruit on my tomatoes and peppers has been smaller than normal. I am not sure but it may be due to the unusual temperate conditions, as that is the only difference this year.

We thought the MoneyMaker tomatoes were much to acidic, so I will be changing varieties for next year . Trust is one variety I would like to grow, but so far I have not been able to locate a decent price for seeds. One of the books I have on hydroponic greenhouse production of tomatoes recommended Tropic as the first choice for hobby greenhouses. I did manage to locate a good price on seeds for this variety from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I purchased 1.5 grams of seeds for a little over five dollars, and the shipping cost was very reasonable. Other vendors were charging the same amount, or more, for 10 seeds.

The plant pictured above is a Tropic that I have started as a trial. I am not sure that there will be enough time this season for this plant to produce fruit, but I felt that I could at least get an idea of how it will perform from watching the first trusses form.

Below is a description of Tropic from the seed supplier:

This variety developed by the Univ. of Florida is almost certain to grow in almost any climate. Very disease resistant, 9 oz. red fruit (with some green shoulders) is thick-walled and is excellent choice for garden or greenhouse production. Highly recommended for those areas that are hot and humid and prone to disease. Great sweet tomatoey flavors.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

AutoPot revisited

I really like the AutoPot concept, however, I thought I could build my own system and make it more flexible than what they are marketing.

To begin the process I needed to purchase an additional smart valve, and that turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. Finally, I located a dealer in Texas who would sell just the valve. I purchased the valve for $19.95 and he said UPS shipping would be $11.00. I said "What, the thing only weights a few ounces and the post office would charge practically nothing to ship it." This person, Dave, said "Yeah you are right. The post office is not far from here, I can bring it there." To keep it short, he did, and the charge was four dollars and change. How many hydro dealers do you know who would do that? Dave, you are a true southern gentleman!

My plan was to use an old green plastic drawer that I found in the basement as a tray, and cut a cover from particle board to fit a large pot to grow tomatoes, cucumbers or eggplant.

Next, to make the design more flexible, I cut two more covers so that the same tray can also be used for six four inch pots, or two six inch pots. To complete the system I use a five gallon bucket from Lowe's for a reservoir, or I can simply use a T fitting to feed the system from either of my two existing reservoirs. And,
as you can see in the bottom photo the whole system nests nicely for storage.

Other than the smart valve, and the three dollars I spent for particle, board the entire system cost me nothing. All of the pots and paint were already on hand, and if they were not, their value is negligible.

If the AutoPot folks decide to steal my ideas, hopefully, they will toss a few bucks my way to compensate me for spending the afternoon improving their product.

If you are interested in experimenting with building your own AutoPot system and would like to just purchase the valve, call 512-444-2100 and ask for Dave.

Other than the valve you just need a shallow tray about 4" deep, some pots, and your imagination.

Constant dripping wears away the stone, but not this stone!

Several months ago someone began posting comments on my blog that were completely in oriental pictograms. Not being able to read them, I did not bother with them, thinking that they may be from a manufacturer of LED lighting using my blog as a promotion for LED lighting. Each comment included a long line of dots, and one day I discovered that the line actually contained links to several different sites.

Following the links I found that they were for porn and sex chat sites which featured VERY YOUNG WOMEN. These girls look like they belong in school, not "chatting" with some pervert who is sitting in front of his monitor drooling and abusing himself. I am sure that these young women did not grow up dreaming of spending their lives doing what they are now doing. And, I wondered how the person involved with these sites, and leaving these comments, lives with himself.

Immediately I took two actions:

First, I entered reports to each time a comment was posted. Although they have policies against this type of activity; they apparently could care less. So much for corporate morals.

Second, I changed my comment settings to require that all comments had to be approved by me, and, persons wishing to comment have to enter scrambled letters in a box to submit a comment. I thought that perhaps the comments were being posted by an automated system.

Not so. The comments continue each time a new post is entered, and each time I reject them. Today's comment had a line in English which read: Constant dripping wears away the stone. I interpret that to mean that at some point I will get tired of rejecting this filth and let it pass. Again, not so.

Today I changed my settings to allow comments from only team members. As I am the only team member, the end result will be that there will be no comments. And that is sad, as I enjoyed the few comments that I did receive, and I took time to answer each and every one of them.

So thanks you perverted little misfit for taking some of the pleasure out of blogging and exchanging information with folks with a similar interest. And, I imagine that you are really looking forward to the day when your daughter can join your team, if she is not already on board!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Season's first salad

Finally, the greenhouse is producing all the ingredients necessary for a salad. The harvest in the photo includes: red romaine (silva), telegraph improved cucumbers and sweet cluster tomatoes.

My three year old granddaughter, Ava, had a great time helping to pick these vegetables, and she really enjoys her time in the greenhouse. The conversation usually goes: What are you doing Pop? Can I help? Can I do it? From that point forward she usually has things pretty much under control. These are moments to really cherish.

I have started a replacement crop of cucumbers, and I have also started a greenhouse tomato called Tropic. I am not sure I will have enough time left in the season for the tomatoes, however I am going to give it a try. Last season I had the greenhouse going until mid-November, so I may just have enough time to see how the Tropic cultivar performs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Succession Planting

Today I removed and replaced two of the Telegraph Improved cucumber vines even though the vines were still growing and producing fruit. It was obvious that the vines were beginning to slow down and were past their peak.

The remaining vine seems to be more vigorous, and hopefully it will keep going for several more weeks. I expect that the replacement plants will be producing fruit by late August, and again, hopefully, they will continue to do so until well after the first frost.

In the above photo the cover has been left off the Auto-Pot's float valve to better illustrate how these systems work. Gravity feeds the nutrients to the tray where the valve maintains the correct level. The system is very reliable, however, it is advisable to check the valves occasionally to make sure roots have not grown through the barrier on the bottom of the pot interfering with the valve's operation.

Heat toleant lettuce

Even though I have seeds for a number of varieties of lettuce that have some degree of heat tolerance, I doubt that there is a variety that will not bolt under the current conditions in the greenhouse. Afternoon temperatures are averaging at least eighty degrees, even with the shade cloth in place. The tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are doing fine, however, in order to ensure a reliable supply of lettuce I have elected to grow it indoors.

Currently I have two ebb and flow systems planted, and they should provide enough lettuce for our needs. The system in the photo is planted with Slo-Bolt, Capitan and Bughatti lettuce, and I am using a compact fluorescent lamp for lighting. Another system has been planted with romaine and traditional loose leaf varieties using a 90 watt Tri-Band LED producing red, blue and white light.

There is not much sense in having a supply of tomatoes and cucumbers and not having any lettuce...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No more buying annuals.

Recently we made a trip to a local garden center to purchase annuals for our rock garden. We spent forty dollars on plants, which were mostly dahlias, zinnias and gerbera daisies. The average cost per plant was around five dollars.

For the last few years I have been buying seeds at the end of the season when they are sold at a reduced price. From time to time I will select some to grow on a trial basis. At the beginning of March I planted three seeds from a package labeled Unwin's Dwarf Dahlia, mixed colors. In only seventy days I have three magnificent plants, each of a different color, as illustrated above.
Never having grown dahlias, I was very pleased with the results, and they certainly add some beauty to the greenhouse.

This of course got me thinking: "why are we purchasing plants at five dollars each, when I own a greenhouse?" The answer to that question is that I was so concentrated on vegetables, that I never even gave flowers a thought. Checking my seeds I find I have seeds for a few dozen different annuals, some of which I have never opened, or grown.
Going forward, I will start annuals for the rock garden early in the season when I start the vegetable seeds.

And, while looking through my seeds I came across several packs of seeds I received as a gift from a seed vendor. Included was a pack of seeds for Wala Wala onions, so I am going to try to grow a few of them hydroponically in a self watering container. The high water content in these onions is what makes them so sweet, and they need lots of water. If anything, hydroponics should provide them a perfect environment. Time will tell.....