Friday, October 28, 2011

The Season's End

Sooner or later you end the season and we've had a couple of overnight cold snaps and the garden in the ground, only the second I've done is quite a few years, is now history. Putting down newspaper and straw kept the weeds down but the garden was plagued by bugs and grubs and things that generally make tomatoes unappetizing although I'm a master at cutting out the bad parts. I've been too lazy to do the final update and roll up the statistics so maybe I'll do that later.

Right now, this year's experience has made me appreciate hydroponics all the more.  I never had grubs and bugs in a hydroponics system like I did in the ground.  I suppose I could have sprayed or something.  Not sure what would have worked.  Overall I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with.  Jessica said that next year I should just do one tube (seven plants) and that would produce more tomatoes than we'd know what to do with and not be a very difficult system to set up and maintain.  That's definitely a thought.  A one tube NFT system would be fun and easy, so maybe that's what I'll do.  I certainly don't need the kind of production I get off a six tube system and the six tube system is a bit of a pain to set up.  It's not really hard except for the overheads.  The one problem with a one tube system is that I'll probably have to guy-wire the overhead support system since it will just be a single inverted "U" structure which will have no lateral stability unless it is guyed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Update on the Statistics

Well, no new pictures to show off, so I thought I'd at least update the statistics. So far we've taken a total of 53 tomatoes, although I'm only showing 51 since the first two are from August 1st and we tiny little runts that I took off mostly because they'd been bitten by something and some ants had somehow gotten up to them and were swarming all over one of them. I know that doesn't sound too appetizing, but I washed them off, cut out the part that was bitten and ate them anyway. There is no point is wasting a perfectly good tomato. I like to slice them up and then drop a drop of horseradish sauce on each slice and a bit of salt and then savor them as I eat them one by one. The only thing better is to put them on a juicy hamburger. The total quantity right now is a little more than 18 pounds with an average a bit higher than 5 and a half ounces each. The biggest single tomato and these are all Big Boys has been one 10 ounce one and then three in the 8 to 9 ounce range. As you can see the mode is in the 7 to 8 ounce range.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Status Update

Here it is August 15, 2011 — Where has all the Summer gone. School will start in a couple of weeks and I'm only starting to get tomatoes. That will teach me to start the plants earlier in the future. The picture above shows the edge of the garden after a heavy rainfall which knocked down a couple of the tomato cages. That's very annoying but doesn't really seem to bother the tomatoes that much.
We have a counter top full of tomatoes. In all I've picked 25 so far for a total of 7.97 (almost eight) pounds. Some of them have exhibited some splitting, testimony to the heat and the fact that they're not grown hydroponically. I've also had some blossom end rot. But on the whole they look pretty good as I think you can see. They are all big boys but I don't think they've been all that big. The average weight has only been about 5 1/8 ounces, maybe six if we throw out some of the outliers. I'll put a histogram up of their weight when I have some more data.And here are a few still on the vine waiting to be picked. The first two, rather disappointing ones were picked on August 1st and then it's been fast and furious staring on August 10th, 12th, 14th, and 15th. Pretty soon the counter will be overflowing and we'll be seeking tomato eaters or adjusting our diet to be more in keeping with the largesse available.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update for Robert

My friend Robert Doumax made the comment to me today in an email: "No news of your weedless garden since June 21: absolutely scandalous!" so this update is for you Robert. Of course all my hydroponics friends can tell that this year the garden is of the "dirt" variety. I've explained but I'm trying to do well by it since it's all I have.

If you compare the picture above with the last picture you'll notice there has been appreciable growth. I've been watering it regularly and giving it some Miracle Grow LiquaFeed see picture below. The results seem promising so far. The tomatoes are all "Big Boys" so they still have a way to go. I put a second picture above to capture the ambiance and show the kind of Miracle Grow I'm talking about. I have to say that this is a promising garden so far.

The things that have worked well are 1) rototilling the garden, 2) putting up the tomato cages (the tomatoes were planted in peat pots and then planted in side a plastic cut to help retain water and deter cut-worms [whatever they are]), 3) laying down newspaper and covering it with straw to deter weeds, 4) watering regularly and using the Miracle Grow LiquaFeed — so far I've used 1 and a quarter bottles. Things look like they are coming along well.

Thanks for getting me off top dead center Robert!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yeah, I Know ... I Should Post More

Well this is current status folks. I have not generated a hydroponics garden this year. The reason has already been mentioned I think, but it never hurts to mention it again. I was going to go traveling for about two weeks and didn't want to spend the whole time worrying about an automated hydroponics system losing power or running out of water or any of the other myriad of things that can go wrong. So this year is garden year. Also Jessica (my better half and the 50% tomato consumer) says that I need to plant bigger tomatoes. She's tired of Donas, my favorite, because it is a medium to small sized tomato (4 ounces or so) and she wants "real tomatoes." Now that's really not fair. Donas are beautiful. Round, really red, seamless and totally delicious with that slightly acid taste that I love in tomatoes. I don't like the meaty but mild and chewy ones nearly as much.

So this year is big tomatoes ... all of these puppies are Big Boys. although there might be one or two Better Boys in the mix. There are also a couple of sweet pepper plants but they are still too small to notice. All the tomato plants are caged and today was the day we laid old newspapers down all over the garden and then covered them with some straw to discourage the weeds. I didn't do that last year and the weeds got pretty much out of control. So here it is. The plants are not as big as they might be had I started the seeds earlier but they're coming along nicely and should start flowering any day now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can It Be June Already

Blink ... blink and it's June already. Well I've not put together a hydroponics system. I didn't really have anything new to try and I've been thinking about taking a two week driving trip sometime and none of my systems will work very well, especially later in the season, if they are neglected for two weeks. I suppose I could more fully automate them, but then I'd be worried about things like power outages and other kinds of failures. People are more adaptable then automated systems usually.

So what I did is take the little baby rototiller (should have popped for a real rototiller but this one was cute, but not all that effective) and I rototilled about an 8 foot by 8 foot plot ... maybe a little bigger and put in a whole bunch of large tomato plants (the plants weren't large but the tomatoes they produce are supposed to be (Big Boys and Better Boys) but they were seeds in April so they're not all that huge even now. We'll see how they flourish. Pictures maybe next time. I also planted a couple of sweet pepper plants.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

And So It Begins ...

The beginning of the process: 1) Planting seeds in Rockwool Cubes, 2) waiting for them to germinate, and 3) nurturing them until they are about 3" tall and then 4) Planting them in something, a hydroponics system or an in dirt garden.

I always grow from seed. I just started about 20 Big Boys in pelleted seeds, and 20 or so Better Boys also in pelleted seeds. I bought the seeds today at WalMart and they were Ferry~Morse seed packets at a $1.00 for 20 pelleted seeds in each packet. I also have a packet of Early Girls which I might plant too but I'll have to bring up some more Rockwool Cubes from downstairs.

I operate on the maximum laziness principle. Do as little as possible. In this case I had a lot of Rockwool Cubes from last year which were still languishing on the side screen deck so I used them. They might not be the best choice but since the maximum investment was two bucks, how can I go wrong. We'll know in a few days if the Rockwool Cubes were too salted up with nutrient to be good starter cubes and then we can start again. It's always an adventure.

As for what kind of system will go up this year, I'm distinctly in the air about that. I'd like to try some kind of totally passive system that doesn't require much maintenance or intervention but I don't have any new ideas and I'm not in the mood to do the float system (although it worked quite well last year), so I'll have to mull things over and see if anything comes to mind.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bong! Spring Has Sprung!

One of the sure signs of Spring here in the Shenandoah Valley is the opening of the Green Valley Book Fair which opened today and so I joined the mob at the book fair. I love books and have a zillion of them to the eternal annoyance of my light of love who thinks they are just dust collectors and fill up books shelves which I'm then always in need more of. (Was that a sentence?) Anyway, aside from some science fiction and a slug of audio CDs for driving in the car to while the time away the image above captures the three gardening books I scarfed up. There was only the one hydroponics book, but I figured that container culture was close enough to hydroponics to grab a copy and chug through it as I begin conspiring for a new year.

One of my goals is to try to make a system that is almost zero maintenance but still grows great crops. Actually last year's float system came rather close to that goal. If I had a bigger place I might already be making some kind of shallow float container with a waterfall to generate a hydroponics delight. The central fountain, small as it was last year, gave plenty of oxygenation given the success of the plants. The kiddy pool size was a little constraining, but you can't have everything. The biggest problem was I didn't think it through so I had a plant support problem that was not handled well by the wire cages I got and strung up.

The problem this year is going to be the fact that I want the system to be able to be unattended for significant periods of time. Last year ran fairly well for a week if you had it filled up at the beginning of the season but by the time the season was ended you had to attend to it ever day or so. The kicker though is that in addition to not wanting to have to attend too much to it, I'm also lazy and would like to not have to put too much effort into setting it up. The root of all progress is human laziness they say. If we can find a way for some mechanism or gadget or somebody else to do it, we will. So the challenge is to substitute creativity for work. So it is time to put on the thinking cap and start thinking about Summer 2011.