Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 45: Houston, We Have Arugula

The arugula is peeking up out of the gutter, woo hoo.

Tomatoes looking pretty sad, although some might make it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 42: Going Greens

Ok, just wanted to keep the cost tally up to date. On Day 25 I mentioned I bought 3 cubic feet of peat moss but didn't mention the price - $10. Also had mentioned on Day 37 I bought a temp/humidity sensor for $15, but I figure I won't count that toward the project. I'll use it elsewhere once things get up and running properly. On Day 41  bought a 10' length of vinyl gutter for growing greens in - $5. Not cheap! I've also purchases a pair of Warm White and a pair of Cool White bulbs. Would have preferred to get Plant Bulbs, but couldn't find the ones I was looking for - $16 for four bulbs. That brings total costs to $226. Boy! Getting up there.

To the right see the setup. I cut the gutter in half (at the store actually, couldn't fit 10' of gutter in the car). Then I cut a couple scrap piece of two by four for the end caps. They didn't quite cover the hole, so I stuffed in some leftover peat pots. then mixed up some soil - a bit light on the vermiculite, I ran out.

Next I spaced the seeds 3" apart. Seed the map of the planting here:

The pictures in the top row represent seeds from a packet of salad greens mix - Beet Bull's Blood, Spinach Bloomsdale Long-Standing, Lettuce Red Salad Bowl, Lettuce Black-Seeded Simpson, and Mustard Tendergreen. I don't know which is which, but I have all five types planted. The letters in the bottom row repesent Arugula (Rocket) and Onion (Evergreen Bunching). The picture above represent the left half of the gutter-planter. The right half is the mirror image of the diagram above (so basically, onions in the center, arugula at the ends). To test the affect of fertilizer on the plants, I'm going to fertilizer the left half lightly and the right half heavily. We'll see what effect that has. With any luck, we'll have plenty of salad greens in 35 days (Day 77 - Nov 1).

I also installed the 2 Warm White and 2 Cool White tubes, lets see if that helps the tomatoes. Also raised the lights another 8". No timer yet, I'll get one today or tomorrow.

UPDATE: Bought a swanky timer power strip, the lights are now scheduled to be on 18 hours a day, that should be fine. Also bought a spray bottle. Misted the leaves with a weak solution of the fertilizer I've been using. The fertilizer box recommends that, it's meant to be used that way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 40: Diversification

This weekend I'm going to do a little work. First I'll raise the lights a bit and then see if I can find my timer switches. I'm going to try switching the lights off for 6 hours a night. Then going to hit the hardware store and get three warm white tubes.

Thinking about trying some other plants. Going to give lettuce a try first, by all accounts it seems to be the easiest to grow, and grows pretty quickly. May also try carrots, peas and parsnips. The lettuce first. Saw a nice idea for growing salad greens in a piece of gutter. I suspect 4' of gutter could keep us pretty well supplied with greens.

Today's sizes:
  1. 39.4 cm
  2. 39.4 cm
  3. 21.6 cm
  4. 33.0 cm
  5. 38.1 cm
  6. 21.0 cm
  7. 36.2 cm
  8. 50.8 cm
  9. 50.8 cm
  10. 30.5 cm

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 39: Continued

Hmmm, I guess you can't edit posts once they get to be a certain age. Anyway, here are the promised pictures.

First a close up of #7. Looking pretty good. Although the pale splotches and the browned leaf tips aren;t too nice. I think they are more lingering wounds from before rather than continuing problems. The new growth looks good.

I like this picture because you can see how things are going. The two on the far left (#1 and #6) are in bad shape, as is #10 (front, far right). The rest seem to be doing ok, although I think nice dark green growth would be better. I wonder how they would look now if I started them in compost instead of the peat-vermiculite-perlite mix. The dangling cable is the sensor from my temp/humidity device. I wanted it right at bushy-growth level.

I'm really thinking about adding a warm white bulb to the mix to see if they like that. Also giving some thought about what to do with the free space if the three sickly ones truly and finally die. I'm thinking this wasn't a fair test of these different types of seeds, since there were such big issues. If they die I'll probably try them again the next round. Maybe I'll plant some other veggies in their place. Peas, beans, carrots and peppers are all possibilities.

Day 39: I just don't know!

Temp 75 degree, humidity 82%.

I wish I could say with confidence that the tomatoes were flourishing or were dying off. But it's hard to say. Plant #8 is tipping over - I'm guessing the root system is underdeveloped and the above-soil part of the plant is too leggy (although it looks stocky enough). On the other hand, the plants seem to be putting on growth, both outward and upward. Even the dying ones. And #1 seems to be turning from pale white to light green. In other words, even the dying ones are doing a terrible job of dying.

I ended up staking #8 with a dowel I had on hand. It's too expensive of an option to do for all of them. At least, doing it right, the way I'd like to is.

Photos later today.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 38: Micro Update

So the temperature was 76 degrees F and the humidity was 76% today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 37: High Tech Monitoring

I went to the local hardware store with a mind toward buying some wood to make some sort of support for the tomatoes. Ended up not buying any wood, but I have some ideas, going to work on some plans. I did buy a digital thermometer / humidity sensor. I won't count that toward the money spent on this project, because I think after monitoring it for a while I won't need it for the basement garden. I did find out that the temperature wasn't as high as I thought, just 74 degrees F with 71% humidity. But after moving the lights up the browning of the leaf tips has stopped, so I do feel like it's a positive move.

My next thought is maybe going with one warm white bulb, one cool white in each shop light. Maybe turn the lights off for 6 hours a day. See if I can find our timers for the lights this week. I watered maybe a liter total over the 10 plants, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 35: Comparisons


Ok, so we're definitely seeing some new growth. I think the changes have worked out well. It may be too late for a few of the plants (#1, #6, and #10 look pretty bad). Above we see overhead views of #5 and #7 on the 17th and the 20th. Definitely bushier, the new growth in each got substantially bigger. Click on the photo above to get the full sized picture with a bit more detail.

And we're definitely seeing the plants put on some more height (see list below). I think I really need to get some support structure in for the plants, they're getting pretty tall. And the other day I watered one of them that's doing very well and it started to list to one side. I'm thinking by watering exclusively around the main stem I'm growing lazy plants. I think when I fertilize today I'll pour it in a circle 3 or four inches from the main stem. Make them work for it! Even so, the growing medium is very loose, so even with a massive root structure they'll undoubtedly need some support.

Ok, so support. I was thinking about hanging a rope from the ceiling over each bucket, off to the side a little, maybe knotted every foot or so, so I could add loops of cloth at will to support the plants. Although I'd really like to give them more structure and keep them in place a bit more. Wire cage could work, but I'd worry it'd make the plants too hot. Maybe a wooden cage. Have to hit Home Depot today and see what I can get in terms of cheap wood. It doesn't have to be pretty, but it should definitely be cheap. Maybe I should take a quick look at our brush pile and see what we have for branches. Although I don't want to introduce bugs, that'd be a no-no!

Sizes today:

  1. 29.2 cm - looks pretty bad
  2. 32.4 cm
  3. 21.0 cm
  4. 26.7 cm
  5. 38.1 cm
  6. 16.5 cm - trimmed dead branch, looks bad
  7. 27.9 cm
  8. 36.8 cm
  9. 41.9 cm - trimmed dead branch
  10. 26.7 cm - trimmed dead branch, looks pretty bad

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 32: Improvement? Growth? *whimper*

On the theory that meddling is always a good thing, I decided to move the lights up a bit more (7" to about 23" total from the main part of most of the tomatoes). Hey, if moving the lights away helps, moving them farther away helps more, right? Right? I need to feel like I'm making positive changes, looking at the poor yellowing plants is a little depressing. On that note, I'm pretty sure there is some new growth on 4 or five of them. See above - the smaller leaves in the middle are new growth (#7 on the left or above - depending on how you view it, #9 on the right or bottom). And the new growth is a bit darker. I'll take some comparison photos in a few days.

Overall, #5, #7 and #9 are doing the best so far. Let me repost the list of varieties...
  1. Mortgage Lifter
  2. Steak Sandwich Hybrid
  3. Burpee's Summer Choice
  4. Big Boy Hybrid
  5. Fourth of July Hybrid
  6. Early Girl Hybrid
  7. San Marzano
  8. Super Sweet 100 Hybrid
  9. Red Cherry, Large Fruited
  10. Super Beefsteak
Early girl, Mortgage Lifter and Super Beefsteak appear not to be doing too well. We'll see if they improve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 31: Hmmm

I wonder if animated gifs work here... The answer is no, doh!
Anyway, you see above comparison photos of day before yesterday (OLD) and yesterday after I made the host of changes (NEW). You can see the light is raised up a bit and the pans of water around the base of the plants. I like to pretend that I see them perking up a little since yesterday. But I suppose I'm just imagining it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 30: Oh no!

Oh, boy, we got problems. Many of the tomatoes are starting to yellow and brown at the leaf tips. Too much water, too little, too much fertilizer, too little, too much light, too little? The ones most affected seem to be the ones near the edge of the light - the ones on the end. So maybe it is light. Spoke with a plant person at work and she suggested increasing the light, maybe tinfoil. So I put tinfoil around the edge where the plants are yellowing the most. Not sure if it will help.

As an experiment I'm also trying to water one of the yellowing ones a lot more and watering another of the yellowing ones a lot less. I still don't think it's too little water or too little. The soil isn't bone dry, it's just lightly damp, which I think should be good. I don't think fertilizer is a problem either, if it was too little, then adding a good dose as I did Sunday would have had them perk up by now, I'd think. And if it was too much, I suspect they would have gone downhill much faster after I added the fertilizer.

So light. Probably not too much, since it's not as bright as sunlight. Maybe the photoperiod is too long, I do leave the lights on 24x7. But turning the lights off didn't seem to help either. Maybe it's too little. It does seem to impact the tomatoes on the outer edges more. I'm not sure there's much I can do beyond buying another fluorescent, but I've already put quite a lump of cash into this project already, so I'd prefer not to. It could conceivably be that the light is too close to the plants and they're getting a little scorched, but I would have thought that would impact them right away. And the temperature under the lights doesn't seem too high, although right up next to the lights there is a little heat. I suppose the next thing to do is raise the lights a little, it would cool things down a bit. but if they are getting too little light, moving the lights further away would give them even less. And since the amount of light reaching the plants drops off as the inverse square of the distance, moving the lights a little will have a big impact. Maybe the combination of the fan and the lights is drying out the leaves. Now that they've gotten a good start with the stems, maybe I can quit using the fan. I can always bring it back if they start getting leggy.

Ok, so action points:

  • Stop using the fan. (CHECK)
  • Move the lights up a little bit. (DONE)
  • Spritz the leaves, wet leaves may make them more prone to disease, but dry is BAD. I need a proper spray bottle. (Doing)
  • Wrap some more aluminum foil around the lights to increase the light they're receiving.
  • Put out a tray of water to increase the humidity. (DONE)
And maybe:

  • Buy another shop light, OUCH!
  • Set up a humidifier. This is probably overkill. (And the Mrs. says, "NO HUMIDIFIER" after reading this)
Finally, I took some new measurements:

  1. 28.6 cm
  2. 20.3 cm
  3. 16.5 cm
  4. 15.2 cm
  5. 28.6 cm
  6. 18.4 cm
  7. 17.8 cm
  8. 31.8 cm
  9. 30.5 cm
  10. 20.3 cm
UPDATE - Raised the lights 6 inches (they were about 10" away, now about 16"). Working with the setup and actually feeling the heat under the lights I think it may have been hotter than I thought down there. There's still plenty of light, so I think I'll hold off on buying another light. I guess we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day 25: All Set

My call for styrofoam peanuts went unanswered. Oh well. Anyway, I refuse to buy packing peanuts! So instead I bought a 3 cubic foot bag of peat moss. Used that in the bottom of the last four buckets. Not by any means an ideal medium for drainage, but good enough. Those last four plants were really begging to be transplanted. And the landlord's basement toilet collection turned out to be great workbenches.

So I discarded the remaining tomato seedlings. We don't really have a good place to put them in the yard, and it's pretty doubtful they'd produce any fruit before the first frost. And it wouldn't even be a very good test comparison as to how well the plants do vs the basement plants since it's starting to get a little chilly outside. Today was brisk. You can see by the roots poking out everywhere that the seedlings were getting kind of cramped in the little peat pots. A lovely addition to the compost heap, at least.

Got a bit bigger picture of the yellow spots on the leaves. A few possibilities as to what it might be from random internet "experts". A nitrogen deficiency. A magnesium deficiency. Too much water. I don't think it's that last one, since the drainage is superb. So I'm thinking it's missing some nutrients. Checked my fertilizer, and it has both nitrogen and magnesium. I did note that last Sunday I gave the plants the recommended dose for indoor potted plants (like a teaspoon of fertilizer per gallon of water). Upon reflection I'm wondering if I shouldn't have given them the recommended dose for outdoor plants (a tablespoonful per gallon of water). Given the huge "pots" and the fact that they're not going to get much from the "dirt" I used, I think a higher dose of fertilizer is warranted. So I gave them another fertilizing ahead of schedule. I'm going to try to stick to Sundays, should be easiest to remember. I'm glad we're out of town this weekend, so I won't be looking at them obsessively to see if they're improving.

Finally, a shot of all the buckets in place. Looking good. 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 21: Inspection

Big day today, the county agricultural inspector (pictured below) dropped by unexpectedly to see the operation. After bribing him with apple juice and Cheerios, he gave in and ok'd our grow room.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 20: Great Eggspectations

Made an omelette this morning. Each plant now has half an eggshell. I wonder if that's enough to fend off blossom end rot. At any rate, the omelette was good.

Put out a call on facebook for styrofoam peanuts. Hopefully someone local has some. I really don't like the idea of buying them. And most of the un-bucketed tomatoes are outgrowing their peat pots fast.

Did another set of measurements, very encouraging. Note that the ones marked with an asterisk show less growth than they should because I potted them in the buckets up to the first set of leaves.
  1. 12.1 cm *
  2. 12.1 cm
  3. 12.1 cm
  4. 11.4 cm
  5. 8.3 cm *
  6. 6.4 cm *
  7. 8.3 cm
  8. 10.2 cm *
  9. 7.6 cm *
  10. 12.1 cm *

A confession. My tape measure is actually in inches, so I measure down to 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch then convert to metric.

Decided to keep a notebook as well for measurements and to record fertilizings and other significant events. The blog is nice, but I want the info at my fingertips, especially when I'm down in the tomatorium.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 19: Settling In

The plants don't seem any the worse for wear from their transplanting. I do see a slight mottling on the leaves of one of the plants. Maybe it's missing something. Hard to see in the photo.

Two things on my mind right now - getting these guys some calcium to prevent blossom end rot and when to start fertilizing. I've opted not to go organic this time around. I have spent too much already, and I already have some inorganic fertilizer on hand. I will surely try organic in the future, though.

The fertilizer box recommends first fertilizing 2 to 3 weeks after planting, which would be right around... now. The recommends fertilizing again every 7 to 14 days. Kind of a wide range! I think I'll try 7 days, as the growing medium I'm using has pretty much nothing for nutrients - it's just there to hold the plants up. I won't fertilize the plants that are still in the peat pots, doing want them growing out of control just yet!

UPDATE: Fertilized! There's no calcium in the fertilizer, so I still need that. Alternatively, I could mash up some eggshells in the pots. I'd have to clean them out very well so as not to have leftover albumin that might attract bugs. Or I could just go get some lime.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 17: Dr. Carlson Performs the Transplant

Today was a big day. The young plants were getting a little crowded in their little peat pots and couldn't afford to wait around until I got some more styrofoam packing peanuts for the remaining pots. So I went ahead and set up 6 of the pots. I already had the styrofoam peanuts in place and the drainage holes at the bottom. Next step was to mix up the soil. So I took an unused bucket and mixed up the soil in that. 1 part peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite. Then I took the heartiest 6 plants and chose the alpha wolf of the pack from each type. I dug a nice hole in the center of each bucket and buried them up to their first leaves - the buried section will develop into root over time. These weren't particularly leggy, so didn't matter as much. Then I watered each.

Also took this opportunity to cull the weaker plant from each pair. Recall I planted two seeds in each pot. To give the stronger one a better chance of survival, the weaker plant is snipped off low on the stem. It's the same process as culling puppies to maintain superior specimens. This gives the plants that have to wait a little longer in the trays a bit more elbow room. The culls will go onto the compost heap. Goodbye little culls, you tried valiantly, but it's for the best. I was just kidding about the puppies, by the way.