Monday, March 26, 2012

PLANTING: Garden Starter

I got the Garden Starter kit from AeroGrow. It is essentially a Styrofoam block with 66 holes, that sits in an Aerogarden7 with its regular grow deck removed.

I am starting Romaine lettuce, peppers and tomatoes for my father-in-law.

It was initially planted on the 22nd of Feb. Here is a pic from March 4th:

From left tow right: Romaine, Romaine, peppers, tomatoes. Both peppers and tomatoes are a smaller variety, suited for containers. However, my father-in-law will grow them in a regular garden.

As you can see the fast-growing lettuce is beginning to shade my peppers. I have begun to harden off the lettuce and hope to hand it over on Friday or Saturday.

P+16 Days: The lettuce has got to go!
Its going nuts. I was beginning the hardening off and was expecting to have the lettuce handed off by Sunday evening. However, we have had 2 days of wind, rain and cold. Its the typical last-gasp of winter in central Texas that hits around this time each year. It was fairly calm this evening, even though it was still sprinkling, and it was in the mid 40s. But I decided to put the plants out for a bit anyway. The lettuce and the tomatoes seem to be OK, but the peppers are a bit droopy.

P+21 Days: The Lettuce has Gone!
Plus I moved the peppers over. Its a little lopsided now. Tomatoes still doing well. Peppers have begun to recover.

P+25 Days: Tomatoes Thriving.
And yes, starting to crowd out the peppers.
I'll see how they are in a week. I might start hardening them then.

P+31 Days: Moving Day!
Tomatoes are growing like weeds and significantly impacting the peppers.
Just like the Romaine, earlier, Tomatoes have got to go! Taking them to my father-in-law on the 24th.

P+33 Days: Starter System is Finished
Well, I found out that my F-I-L planted everything from the AG, not just the tomatoes.
Hopefully the peppers will hold up. I was going to hold onto them for another week or two.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

PLANTING: Lettuce, Romaine

P+0 Hours: Let There Be Light

I did not use an Aerogrow seed kit, because I wanted to grow Romaine lettuce first, and the mixed lettuce seed kit I bought was back ordered for a week to 10 days, or so.
No way was I waiting that long to kick things off. I had also ordered a "Grow Whatever You Want" kit that give you the pods, seed sponges, labels and nutrient packets. I went to the local Home Depot and bought some Martha Stewart Organic Romaine lettuce seeds.

Of the 7 pod holes in my unit, I decided to use 3 and put spaces (plugs) on the rest. I want there to be plenty of spreadin' out room for my plants.

So I broke out the GWYW kit and discovered a broken, and thus useless, seed sponge. The others were all bent up. I notice that in the AG seed kits, the sponges are already in the pods, with seeds, and labeled. With the GWYW, I had to do that manually.

I first soaked three sponges while I got everything together. I chose the center front and the 2 rear, outer holes for the pods. The outer holes sit right over some sort of plastic bar that is right under the hole. As a result, the pods, which are 2-3" long, come into contact with those bars and get a little messed up. I have found that some minor pod prong trimming helps.

After I got the pods customized, I inserted the sponges and then put 3 lettuce seeds in each. Other growers put 5-7 seeds in each sponge, with no apparent ill effects. I then ironed, (yes, ironed) the pod "caps" onto the pods. About 10-15 seconds at medium iron heat. It seals the cap to the pod, provides a place to label, and apparently helps with the early stages of the plant growth. The caps have a hole in the center to allow the sprout to come out.

Below is a picture of the unit with lettuce pods, on day "zero".

 Initial Planting. Don't even have the domes on yet.

P+48 hours: Houston, we have a sprout-ish thing!
So, of course, I have been checking my little pretties (apologies to the Wicked Witch of the West), possibly more frequently than I checked on the delivery status of the unit itself! 

At any rate, for about the first 24 hrs, nothing visible took place. 
Around the 24th hour, a bit of white fuzziness showed up where the seeds contacted the sponge.
Around hour 32 or so, it looked like the seeds might have altered their positions in the pod, but again, no other changes were evident.
Around hour 42, it became apparent that something green was coming out of some of the seeds and into the sponges. The seed casings were still on the sponge.
By hour 48, all the seeds I could see had green shoots pushing into their sponges. Several seed casings were now lifted off of the sponges. 
One growth pushed the casing high enough that it was almost higher than the pod cap. 

As a point of reference, the sponge "pocket" that the seeds were placed in, is about 1/3" below the cap.

See the picture below:

 Not an optical illusion. That casing is almost higher than the label.

P+72 hours: Good Growth.
No picture tonight. Of the 9 seeds I set in the three pods, it appears that 7 have sprouted. All of the sprout leaves are now above the labels. The growth is pretty amazing. About 12 hours after the above picture was taken, I had the seven sprouts. The growth seems to be pretty good during the 8 dark (unlit) hours, as well.

The pod in the front center had a sprout with one of its two leaves trying to grow up under the label. I used the pointed part of a plastic thumb tack to coax the leaf up and over the label. Had to do that 3 times over 6 hours but it finally grew enough to remain up and out.

At this point, I'll probably put up a pic every 48 hours. At least for the next 10-14 days.

At 3 days in I am very pleased with how things are going. My backordered salad greens kit is due in on Wednesday. After I get everything out of this bunch, I might try that kit. I also want to try my hand at more demanding plants such as tomatoes and bell peppers, though.

P+4 Days: Chugging Along
I am switching to days now, in my post heading.
I have 8 sprouts from 9 seeds. Not bad. Kudos to the Martha Stewart Organic Lettuce seeds.
I have provided an update pic of the pod up above.
To quote Mr. Bowie, "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes"

If it keeps changing that much every 2 days...Wow!

P+5 Days: All Will Be Revealed
Well, actually, by "revealed", I mean that the leaves were such that by the time I got up in the morning they would likely be in contact with the sides of the domes. So I removed the domes this evening.
I wonder if by removing the domes and thus causing the air around the plant to be much cooler and drier, it promotes plant root growth, to compensate by getting to more water. I honestly don't know. If I find out, I'll let you know.

P+6 Days: Comin' Up.
So here's the first pic of the crop sans domes. The growth is steady but not as dramatic.

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts!

P+8 Days: Little By Little
Same perspective. Still growing. I added a little bit of water last night. No nutrients added.

If I had planted more pods it would look like there was more lettuce.

P+10 Days: We Have Ignition
Well, I just typed up about 4 paragraphs of what I think were some pretty goods comments. I refreshed my Google Photos album and for some reason my Blogger account refreshed my blog edit page, without saving what I have spent about 20 minutes typing. So you'll just have to take my word for it. It was... AWESOME!! ;-)
Anyhoo, the pods are doing well. First up is the usual distance shot. Next two are rare overhead closeups. Going forward I'll be photo-posting every 3rd or 4th day. I may text blog in between.

Everything's Coming Up Lettuce Again!

The center front pod showoff.

Rear Right pod

P+12 Days: Keep On Rollin'
Yeah, I said it would be 3 days until the next photo posting. So sue me.
Next photo posting really will be at P+15 Days.
I have noticed a lot of cool root growth into the solution. I'll have some pics of that soon.
My "replace nutrient" light should be going off in the next day or two. I am going to attempt to siphon off the existing water-nutrient mix and add all new.
I bought some tomato and pepper seeds from Park Seed. Mature plants are supposed to top off at 18-24". Just right for my Extra.
Since last we met, I purchased an AeroGarden3 from QVC on clearance. I also bought a used AeroGarden7. Its like my Extra except the hod only goes up about 8-10 inches and it uses 2 lights.
Anyway, here's tonight's pic:

P+15 Days: Looking Good
So I held out for 3 days.
At almost exactly 14 days, to the hour, the unit began flashing water and nutrient warning lights. So whipped out the siphon and went to work:

I was having marginal success until I realized that I needed to keep the longer tube-end submerged while I pumped the red handle. After I figured that out, it went pretty quickly. I had pre-mixed a gallon of water and nutrients so I just poured the whole thing in.

And here's how the plants look tonight:

And here is a bit of a close-up:

Remember, 15 days ago I planted a seed in a sponge.

P+18 Days: Now Even More Bigger-er.


I still plant to wait until day 25 to take my first harvest. It won't be sooner than that.
Maybe later, depending on size. A leaf will need to generously cover a slice of bread.

P+21 Days: Almost Ready To Eat!

I went ahead and raised the hood to the 2nd notch since some of the rear lettuce leaves were growing beyond the deck and were getting out of the light. By moving the hood up a notch, even though it will be a little less intense, the coverage will be a bit broader and will cover the edge leaves a little better.
I have read that mature Romaine leaves are typically 8-9 inches long. My biggest are about 5-5.5" right now. Once those hit 7-8", I think I'll be ready.

Note that the hood is raised, out of the picture.

A rare close-up!

P+25 Days: What Is THAT on My Leaves?

Anyone have an idea what is causing this, feel free to chime in. Is it some kind of pest, or too rich on the nutrients?

Strange brown edges and spots
More spots. Different leaf.
Most of the leaves look ok. Here's the standard shot:

P+26 Days: Let the Harvest Begin!
I have heard that my spots are probably a sign of mild nutrient burn. I am a couple of days from my water/nute refresh so I'll add about 2/3rds the usual amount. Instead of 8ml, I'll try 5ml and see how it goes.
In other news, I clipped my first leaves, for a turkey/roast beef sandwich I was having later:
I know, they might be an inch long. Who can tell?
My hand is regular sized.
The bigger leaves are about 6.5", the smaller about 5".

P+28 Days: Leaf Burn
Ok, so now the spotting has become pretty extensive. Parts of the ends of some leaves are actually getting dry and "crispy". Forum responses have been pretty uniform in indicating that the nutrient concentration is too high. I completely changed out my water/nute solution. When I refilled I used 5.5ml of nutrients instead of the 8ml I used the previous two fillings. I also trimmed off what I could of the worst leaves. Safely though. Didn't want to scalp too much. That's bad for the plant.

P+31 Days: No Events. Things Are Calm
The lettuce is doing well and the new growth does not yet have spots so hopefully that will remain the case. I also expect the plants to grow a little more slowly. We'll see. I expect to harvest a few more leaves on Sunday evening so I'll check in after that.

P+35 Days: Still Growing But Some Bad Nutrient Burn
The newer growth is still ok, but the burnt leaves are getting worse. I think I will have to get in there and remove as many as I can, without kill the plants.

A Lot of the older leaves look like this.

P+37 Days: Burnt Leaves Have Gotta Go!
I cut off a near double handful's worth of bad leaves, plus enough good ones for a sandwich.

Post cuttage.

Mmm. Turkey, cheese and lettuce sandwich!

P+46 Days: Still Growing
The newer growth, post reduction in nute levels and hood-raising, is definitely somewhat narrower and a bit more spindly. The ratio of length to width is more in favor of length, whereas it used to be more towards width. The main thing tho is that there is pretty much no burn now on the newer leaves.

P+56 Days: Winding Down
As you can see from the picture, while I am still getting some tasty leaves off my plants, they are beginning to resemble lettuce "trees". I think I'll do one more water/nute refresh and then that's it. I need to start my tomato and Bulgarian carrot plants.
Oh, I also had to raise the hood again. The tops of the tallest leaves were starting to dry out from the bulb heat.

P+65 Days: What's Happening to My Pictures?
I am not sure where some of my pictures are going, but I have a hunch. I have been dividing my picture importation and syncing between two different computers. I think they got mixed up and now I have pictures from one set or the other.

Anyway, I did do my final nute and water refresh. The plants are about to get into the lights again.
Check it out:

Now at first glance they plants look like the leaves may be over a foot long! They aren't. The leaf bases start almost halfway up the main plant stalk. The stalks are what's left after various harvestings.

P+70 Days: Still Winding Down
Not much going on. I did raise the hood one last time. Keeping up on the water and waiting for the refresh light to come on.

P+74 Days: This is The End
My only friend, the end.

Well, the deed is done. The "change nutes/water" lights came on, and I performed my last harvest:

As a postscript, here's the final root system:

Next up in this unit: AeroGrow Bell Pepper and Totem Hybrid Tomato from Park Seed Co.
Watch for the new planting post, once the seeds sprout!