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!