Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 31, 2012 journal

As luck would have it, and as I suspected it would, the cold weather has returned. The crab apple bonsai has a few open clusters of blossoms; so with no bees to pollinate them I turned the task over to my assistant, who really enjoyed it.

At the beginning of each gardening season, you can expect a lot of posts on gardening forums where beginners are asking for help with starting seeds. Some of the responses amaze me, as there seems to be as many seed starting methods as there are gardeners. Then again, I would venture to guess that many gardeners would find my seed starting procedure rather bizarre.

Seed starting was also my Nemesis when I first began indoor gardening; following the advice of local hydroponic dealers, I began by using rockwool cubes. In addition to the pre-conditioning to adjust the pH, I discovered a lot of other drawbacks to using rockwool. I felt that it retained too much water, and, that the seedlings have a tendency to push themselves out of the cubes.

For the last several years I have used horticubes, and, the results have been much much better than when I used rockwool. Additionally, the cost of horticubes, locally, is about 30% less than rockwool, and the horticubes do not require pre-conditioning. That, to me, is a win win situation.

At this point in time I have several tomato plants, a few pepper plants, and two full trays of annual flowers already potted. To space the plantings out, I am still propagating seedlings for both the soil garden and greenhouse.

The center photo shows today's planting of cubes containing: lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant. The seeds were germinated in coffee filters, moistened with dilute nutrient solution, and placed in the cubes using tweezers.

The bottom photo shows the completed planting with the cover in place. The red/blue 90 watt LED will be used to light the seedlings until a strong root system develops and they are potted.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 29, 2012 journal

A replacement meter from Hanna Instruments arrived today, so I sent an email to their technical support person to thank him and tell him I appreciated the replacment.

The replacment meter is slightly different than the Champ, and let's hope the quality is better. The major difference is that the electrode on this meter can be replaced by the customer, rather than returning the meter to a service center.

As previously posted, I rarely use a pH meter, as I consistently use the same nutrients, and mix them in the same amounts. By maintaining consistency, and knowing the EC and pH from previous measurements, I have only an occasional need to measure pH. The last time I used a meter was to lower the pH for the cucumbers to 5.6, as suggested by the Easy2Grow president.

My reservoirs are changed every two weeks, with occasional top offs when necessary. I am not concerned with a slight shift in pH, as I feel the nutrients are taken up by the plants at slightly different pH levels, so a slight shift is actually beneficial.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012 journal

Our summer like weather is a thing of the past, as the temperatures have returned to somewhat normal. Monday's overnight low was about 25 degrees; so rather than heat the greenhouse I have been bringing the plants inside in the evening. Fortunately, they are still small, and it is relatively easy to do so.

Periodically, I remove older seeds from the freezer to do a germination test. Many times I have read that lettuce seed only remains viable for six months, and that you should purchase fresh seed each year, so I thought I would share my experience with storing seed.

The seeds for the plants above, Gentilina and Red Lollo, were purchased in 2009. As they were approaching three years in storage, I was really generous in sprinkling the seeds on the moist coffee filters; thinking that the percentage that would germinate might be poor.

Quite the contrary, the great majority of the seeds germinated within 48 hours. In fact, I had so many tiny seedlings that I planted only the largest, and strongest, and had to discard a great many seedlings.

Actually, there are seeds in my freezer that are even older than three years. The seeds are sealed in small zip lock bags, and the bags are placed, by variety, in sealed Tupper Ware type containers, which are stored in a chest type freezer.

My storage procecure may not be "according to Hoyle", but it seems to work for me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26, 2012 journal - addendum

I thought an addendum to my previous post would be appropriate, as Hanna has sent an email stating that they are going to send me a new meter.

In my last correspondence with their technical support, I wrote that I had the blog, and I intended to do a post on the quality of their Champ meter. I also sent them a link to the post after I finished it; shortly thereafter I received the email regarding the replacement.

It may be a case of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", however, I believe that there may be quality issues with the Champ meter.

One reader wrote in the comments section comparing it to using his pH meter to check the pH of beer, and stated how important probe cleaning and maintenance were. While I agree, to some extent, the probe on these meters has been stored properly, and, has been exposed to nutrients for approximately ten minutes, total, for its entire life.

As I hold a general class amateur radio operator's license from the FCC, and am I am licenced to design, build and operate electronic communication circuits, I thought I would have a peek at the circuit. While I see a solder point, on the LCD, that would not pass my inspection, the issue that has me mostly confused is that the voltage on the trim pot is simply not stable. With the meter at rest, and the trim pot in the null position, the voltage keeps fluctuating.

The meter is a full point off in each direction, and no amount of adjustment is ever going to correct that. I doubt that Hanna actually manufactures these meters, as I have seen almost identical meters with different names on them. In my opinion, Hanna is not doing themselves any favors by marking the Champ.

March 26, 2012 journal

I thought I would pass along my experience with Hanna Instrument's Champ pH meter in case anyone was considering the purchase of one of these meters. Let me begin by saying, first off, that they are made in Mauriritius, wherever that it.

As I always use the same nutrient mixture, know the pH, and change the reservoirs frequently, I really do not have much need for a meter. That said, my son gave me a Champ meter as a gift for Christmas 2010.

I used the meter about six times and began getting erratic readings. Using the trim pot and both 4.0 and 7.0 calibration solutions I still could not bring the meter into calibration. I wrote to Hanna and after a few emails they advised me to return the meter to them. I returned the meter and they replaced it with a new meter on November 2011.

After about the same number of readings, less than a dozen, the new meter also failed, same problem. No amount of adjustment to the trim pot will bring the meter into adjustment. I wrote to Hanna again, as it is less than six months from the time they replaced it.

Hanna wrote that I should purchase a cleaning solution for the probe. Keep in mind that the meter has only been used a dozen times. In addition to the cost of the meter, you are expected to buy 7.0 and 4.0 calibration solutions, and now the probe cleaning solution. They also stated that they go by the original purchase date; so even though the meter came from them less than six months ago, the meter is out of warranty.

Consider the cost of the meter, the cost of both solutions, the cost to return the meter; then consider I used it for about two dozen readings and now I get to toss the meter in the trash. I responded to Hanna: that if there was to be a meter in my future, it would definitely not be a Hanna product.

Why would Hanna, who is supposed to be an industry leader, market a piece of junk like the Champ? My answer would be one word: GREED!

For the cost of just one of the calibrations solutions you can purhase a chemial pH test kit, like the one shown on the left. I think in my entire hydroponics career I have only had to purchase two kits.

The moral of this post is: that unless you are a commercial grower, don't bother with a pH meter. They are expensive, unreliable, and a pain to maintain.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012 journal

Hydroponic beets were harvested today and a replacement batch of chard was started. It is my intention to continue to grow beets, chard and lettuce indoors under lights all summer.

The unusually mild weather continues; for the first time ever in March I had to apply the shade cloth to the greenhouse. The temperature, in the greenhouse, was 95 degrees , so to control the heat I decided to place the cloth on for the afternoon.

My wife wanted to know if I could spare a few peppers for dinner. I asked how many she needed and she replied: "three." When I gave her the three peppers she said: "Oh My God!" She later asked why she has never seen these in the market and I told her that I doubt any farmer would pay fourteen cents a seed to plant a field of these peppers. If you don't grow them, you will never taste them. That is one of the joys of gardening.

Pretty much all of my gardening books do not recommend lighting to be more than 18 hours per day. That said, I have read that a few commercial growers light their seedlings 24 hours a day, at least for the first several days. I thought that I would give that a try with some annual seeds that had just germinated. Placing the seeded cubes in an enclosed dome, I added a CO2 generator consisting of water, sugar and yeast. A 1/4" airline fed the CO2 into a very small test tube filled with water to filter any yeast from the CO2; a 125 watt compact fluorescent was used to light the seedlings for 48 hours. The resulting seedlings are more robust than seedlings I planted two weeks ago. This will probably become my standard practice for starting seedlings. Nothing ventured, nothing gained when it comes to growing.

The warmth is kicking the tomatoes into high gear also. It was necessary to up ot them from the 3" pots already and they are only a few weeks from when I opened the seed packets.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 12, 2012 journal

Our mild winter continues, so much so that I have been able to get the greenhouse in shape for the season a full six weeks earlier than last year. The supports for the tomatoes and cucumbers have been plumbed and stabilized, and the polycarbonate panels have been washed.

To wash the panels, a job that I detest, I used a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts water, along with a complete roll of paper towels. The vinegar water mixture works much better than any commercial window cleaning product, and it is probably easier on your lungs than breathing the spray from the chemicals in commercial products.

The order I have been expecting from Southern Exposure Seed Exhange arrived today. It contained seeds for San Marzano tomatoes, Straw Flowers and seeds for Turkish Orange eggplant.

I guess the miniature eggplant I grew last season inspired me to try eggplant again. This Turkish Orange heirloom, if it is a success, will have small orange/red green striped fruit, that is said to be sweet flavored.

Friday, March 9, 2012

March 10, 2012 journal

The prizehead lettuce seeds purchased from Agway late in January have produced a nice tub of lettuce, and, I only used twelve seeds.

The package of seed, which cost me $1.19, contained three grams. Lettuce averages 600 - 1200 seeds per gram, so, I will use 800 as an average, and estimate the count at 2,400 seeds.

By anyone's standards that has to be a fantastic bargain!

March 9, 2012 journal

Burpee is now marketing coir seed starting bricks that are larger and less expensive than those available from hydroponic dealers. In my opinion, it is about time there was some competition in marketing hydroponic supplies.

While at Home Depot stocking up on the new bricks, I happened to see a gadget that I thought would be ideal for the greenhouse. It is a radio operated remote control designed for outdoor use. The remote has a range of eighty feet, and will handle 1000 watts.

I changed my thinking after taking the above photo, and now have the remote controlling the power strip. By doing so, I can control more than one device remotely.

The marconi plant has at least fifteen peppers that are almost ready to pick, and I am really looking forward to enjoying these peppers. I doubt that these beauties are available from any produce dealer, so the only way you can get them is to grow them yourself. And, they are well worth growing!