Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Growing Swiss chard hydroponically indoors

This post is an update up on my post of September 11, 2011 titled: "Nothing Beats Beets".

The plant in the photo is the same plant shown on the September 11th post, and it should be obvious that the plant has grown significantly in a little over two weeks.

Although the recommended nutrient level for chard is 1260-1610, I have been growing the chard, along with lettuce, at a TDS level of about 800.

The beets mentioned in the previous post have already been harvested and enjoyed. This chard can be harvested at anytime, so a replacement planting of rhubarb chard is in progress.

When planting beet or chard seeds, the seed is actually a fruit containing several seeds, you should expect several seedlings to come up close together, however, all but the strongest must be removed.

I have found, with beets or chard, that it is best not to wait for true leaves to develop before placing them in the hydroton. The seedlings tend to have a spindly shaft supporting the cotyledon leaves, so I like to give them as much support as possible. When placing the seedlings in the net pots, I rest the cube containing the seedling directly on the bottom of the pot; then I fill the pot with hydroton to just below the cotyledon leaves.

To lessen transplant shock I soak the hydroton in dilute nutrient solution for ten minutes before I begin planting. Additionally, I turn on the pump and flood the tray while I place the seedlings in the tray, then continue flooding for about twenty minutes after planting.

In about three weeks we will have another nice batch of chard.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Indoor tomato grow choice

One of the varieties of tomato I will be growing indoors will be Totem; the following description is from the Totally Tomatoes site:

"More fruit than foliage, compact and perfect for patios or window boxes. Just 18 to 30" tall, with small to medium, round, red, flavorful fruits produced in abundance-- up to 10 lbs. per plant! Great for indoor gardens too, with its attractive dark green foliage. No staking is required.

The seedling, started on September 5th, is compact and stubby, so I seem to be off to a good start.

My plan is to grow the plant using a single pot AutoPot using a red/blue/white 90 watt UFO LED with a 14 hour photoperiod.

Today I stopped by the Albany store of Hydroponics Shops of America for some coco coir, and while I was there the salesperson asked if I would like to try a new line of organic nutrients called Nectar for the Gods. I replied that I would like to try them, and I was given some samples. Later, at home, I checked their site and found that they write: "
The only drawback on this line that we have found is it is not Hydroponic friendly." After reviewing what the various samples are derived from, I feel that I can safely use some of the samples as supplements for indoor growing. The samples that contain organics, such as worm castings or steamed bone meal, I will only use in either the greenhouse or soil garden.

First I will try something called Zeus Juice growth enhancer added to the nutrients I use for seedlings. This supplement is derived from kelp extract and leonardite, neither of which I feel is going to cause an odor problem indoors.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What I like to see

The first batch of cucumbers in the greenhouse has finished producing and I have removed the plants. The photo above looks like an ugly mess, however, it is something I love to see. The color, and healthy appearance of the roots, tells me that these plants have given all they have to give, and have done their very best.
It also tells me that the growing conditions during their productive life were "spot on". Whenever I harvest, or discard a plant, I examine the roots, as they can tell you a lot about your growing conditions and identify possible problems.

Hurricane Irene hammered the area during the last few days of August
and caused widespread damage. We were very fortunate, as we are over four hundred feet above sea level, and the river basin, so we did not receive any damage. Some people in the area lost pretty much everything, as homes were completely destroyed in some cases. After the storm, to my amazement, I found that the greenhouse only had about a cup of water on the floor, and that was because one of the vent controls did not bring the vent all the way closed. As the greenhouse was closed completely for a few days, with humidity near 100 per cent, the second planting of cucumbers were beginning to show signs of powdery mildew. I sprayed the plants with sulfur and was fortunate control it quickly. The plants are starting to produce fruit, so I guess Ava and I will still be making pickles for awhile.

The second crop of tomatoes is doing OK, but the fruit will be smaller than the first planting.
The photo above shows a plant that was cloned from the top of one of the the first plants sometime in June. The daylight hours are getting shorter, and the plants are receiving less light, and consequently the fruit will be smaller.

I read posts on hydroponic gardening that go on and on about this or that nutrient, when in fact the amount and quality of the light plants receive is just as important, if not more important, for healthy growth.

My Lola tomato plants were a big disappointment and I have discarded the seeds; so much for relying on information from university test grows. Each and every fruit on the Lola plants developed blossom end rot. I know the causes, and how to treat blossom end rot, but this had me stumped. The Lola plants were growing side by side with three other varieties, in the same medium, receiving the same nutrients, from the same reservoir, and all of the other varieties did fine. I decided not to waste precious time, or space, on Lola, so she is gone and forgotten. I will order seeds for Trust for next year, as I have found these to be outstanding in terms of production and taste.

Monday, September 12, 2011

G3 LED grow light trial

The cucumber seedlings have developed their first true leaves and the roots are protruding from the cubes so they have been been planted in 4" pots.

The seedlings will be grown in these pots, in the tent, using a new 90 watt G3 LED until they are large enough to be finally transplanted into an Autopot system.

The temperature, at the time the photo was taken, was 74 degrees, the RH was 73 and the light level is in excess of 2,000 footcandles with the light 12" above the plant surfaces.
I will be using a 14 hour lighting cycle throughout this trial.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nothing beats beets

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

The beet (Beta vulgaris) is a plant in the Chenopodiaceae family which is now included in Amaranthaceae family.[1][2][3][4][5] It is best known in its numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known of which is the purple root vegetable known as the beetroot or garden beet. However, other cultivated varieties include the leaf vegetables chard and spinach beet, as well as the root vegetables sugar beet, which is important in the production of table sugar, and mangelwurzel, which is a fodder crop. Three subspecies are typically recognised. All cultivated varieties fall into the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris, while Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima, commonly known as the sea beet, is the wild ancestor of these, and is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. A second wild subspecies, Beta vulgaris subsp. adanensis, occurs from Greece to Syria."

As I had a few systems that were not being used I started some Yellow Decorticated Swiss Chard and Ace beet seeds intending to use the seedlings as baby greens in salad mix.

The seedlings, as seen above, are a little under three weeks from the start date and they are doing fantastically. At this point, I am thinking of passing on the baby greens in salad and letting these plants mature for cooking, as these are our very favorite vegetables.

The days are getting shorter and cooler, so I removed the automatic vent openers from the greenhouse, and going forward I will operate the vents manually. I like to close the vents and let heat built up about 90 minutes before the sun sets so the greenhouse retains some of the day's warmth.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's sprouting?

This season's weather certainly presented some challenges in maintaining the greenhouse; we had a long period of very hot weather, followed by rain, rain, and more rain. In addition to the greenhouse, I had four ebb and flow systems growing lettuce in the basement, so we had plenty of lettuce to go with the tomatoes and cucumbers grown in the greenhouse. Even with only four systems running, we had plenty of lettuce, so much in fact that we were giving some away.

Even though I expect that the greenhouse will be operational for a month, or longer, I am gearing up for indoor growing. The seeds sprouting in the tray include: Tetra dill, Totem tomatoes, Little Leaf cucumbers and Waldmann's lettuce.

As much as I enjoy the greenhouse, I always look forward to growing indoors, where I can control the conditions and not have to deal with what Mother Nature throws my way. Today I ordered another grow tent, which I intend to use for Totem tomatoes.

My past experience is that tomatoes and peppers are much easier to grow indoors than cucumbers. That said, I have never tried seeds for parthenocarpic
cucumbers, or used a grow tent for them either, so perhaps I will have better results this year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Beam me up Scottie

My first thought after seeing the above photo was that it looked like the transporter on the Starship Enterprise. In actuality, it is a grow tent that I intend to use to grow warm season vegetables in the basement this winter. Ava, my assistant, is hooked on garlic dill pickles, and finding pickling cucumbers in December could pose a problem, so I am going to try to grow them.

Late last winter, while my wife and I were visiting a new hydroponic store that opened in Albany, we saw some very nice sweet peppers growing in one of these. It seemed to make sense that if I placed one in the basement, where the average temperature during the winter is in the sixties, the tent would retain the heat generated by a small light and raise the temperature sufficiently to grow a warm season vegetable variety.

We were told that the price of the tent was $189, and my wife wanted to buy one on the spot. I deferred, as I was in the process of opening the greenhouse so it would be several months before I could use it. During the interim, I did some online shopping in June, and I found the same exact tent on Ebay for $79, delivered.

Ava and I finally got around to putting it together this week and I am really impressed by the quality of the tent. The supports and rails are of powder coated steel, the tent itself is a very heavy material with hefty zippers, and it has plenty of openings for power and nutrient lines. The design itself is well thought out in terms of providing for exhaust and ventilation. Overall, I am really pleased and looking forward to using this piece of equipment.

Initially, I intend to use a 90 watt Tri-Band generation 3 LED as a light source, and I am thinking of a simple AutoPot setup. Additionally, I have installed an inline fan rated a 65 cfm for air exchange. The exhaust, which can be seen at the very top right of the enclosure, will exhaust from the top and fresh air will be drawn in through the vent openings on the bottom. As I gain experience using the tent I am hoping that I can control the internal temperature by automatically cycling the exhaust fan.

Although it is still too early to activate the system, we have a test in progress to monitor the temperature and humidity in the grow tent. Ava has delegated the monitoring to her Little Green Sprout doll, who can be seen in the photo staring at the thermometer.

When the photo was taken the temperature was 77 degrees and the humidity was 67%, which are really ideal conditions for growing cucumbers.

In any event, this should be an interesting project.