A few odds and ends. Photos of the three hydroponic systems I have running. The Lettuce in the Bag-O-Dirt, and a note on edible nearly weeds.
The prior update on the Hydroponic Deep Water raft system is here (and includes links to prior pictures):
Open it in another tab if you want to do A/B compare on this image vs the Others. Yes, I know it has only been 3 days, but this stuff is just growing so darned fast…
Deep Water Raft / Float
Here it is 3 days ago:
So first off, those green onions in the front are doing great. They are greener, growing faster, and generally just better than their mates that were left in the dirt pot (potting soil).
FWIW, I had some “green onions” from the store that had been left too long in the “Vegetable Crisper” drawer and gotten limp, wilted, and with some of the tips shriveling. Normally when that happens, I’d just pitch them. What’s 50 ¢ worth of green onions? This time I decided to use them as an experiment. Put them in a quart jar in a 3 inch net cup, roots just at the bottom of the cup, and filled it with hydroponic solution to about 1/2 inch above the roots. Well, the shriveled bits didn’t recover, but the rest of the onion did. They are now green, full, and growing on my window ledge. Note To Self: Future commercial green onions go in a Kratky System jar, not the fridge, until eaten… It will keep them in perfect condition while awaiting the kitchen.
Notice, too, that the back right 2 lettuces have been harvested, and the one in the second row left is growing back already. The 2 in the front are also starting to grow back, but it’s a bit shocked the first few days after a cutting.
Then there’s all the Chinese Broccoli (Front row) and what I think is a green glaze collards / dinosaur kale cross (2nd row, glossy). I’ve nibbled some of each leaf and it’s nice. They are ready for a “Stir Fry moment”.
So since I’m about to harvest them, and have it with a salad of that last back row lettuce, I think this is the last photo of this grow that I’ll be posting. Essentially we’re well into harvest of the various plants and from here on out it is just “Clip, regrow, and occasionally replant”. At some time I’ll need to replenish the nutrient solution, or just replace it, and that is unclear as to when. I intend to just grow and harvest until things slow down (topping up with water as needed to maintain float height), then deal with it.
I’m absolutely sold on this system as a “greens growing” system. It also looks like “green onions” work well, and while onions and legumes are not good companion plants (so either the peas or the onions need to move to a new system…) it also looks like growing one of these that’s closer spaced and “all peas” would be a winner. (Close enough bush type can mutually support).
I’m ready to move from the “experimental” stage with “throw a lot of things at it and see what survives” to the “production” stage; with a dedicated Salad float, a dedicated “Asian & Stir Fry” cooking greens float, and a Peas float. Onions may also get one, but I’m hoping to work out a slightly different solution for them. Onions spaced at net cup distances are not effectively using the sunlight or grow area, so I need something more “close packed”. For now I’ll just put a couple of cups in the other two “greens” floats.
Kratky Method Bucket & Tub
These have been a bit more problematic. Since the float rests on the water, one plant growing faster than the other doesn’t matter. In the Kratky Method, the height of the cups is fixed and the water drops with use. There’s a race condition of the plants growing roots vs water drop rate. This doesn’t work well if some plants grow very very fast and others are slow. The slow ones have the water fall away from their net-cup, then dry out and die.
So the Bucket has 2 dead cups in it. These were some slow growing thing. Celery or Parsley I think. There is one herb hanging in there (middle left 9 O’clock position, I think it is sage) and 3 of what I think are the Tomatillo seeds I started. They have just taken off like a rocket ride…
So, OK, it proves the bucket Kratky Method works. Got it. Since Tomatillo can take a very long time to fruit, and love hot weather while we are having a cooler than usual summer, these guys may not make it to maturity before it’s too cold for them. I intend to just set this in a sunny spot and let it run as an experiment.
In the future, I’ll set these up with “all the same or very similar things”. I could see it as a sage and oregano herb bucket ;-) As I have three very nicely rooted basil starts in a jar on the shelf in front of me, maybe a bucket just of basil too ;-)
The biggest disappointment so far has been the 17 gallon box / crate run as Kratky Method. Part of the problem is that is big enough that the lack of level of my patio shows up in the water height being different across the box. The bucket doesn’t have that issue. Then, it is in a shadier spot so the plants got less sun (so less growth), but still some of them “dried and died”.
OK, I know I tried setting the rock wool cubes in too early. Things with more roots did better in the Kratky systems. Then some of the replacements, being late to the party, were not well positioned for the race of the root growth…
In the middle are what I think is 2 celery plants. (Might also be parsley or cilantro. I tried starting seeds of all of them, and they have very similar leaves. Ill find out who survived when they are bigger and can spare a leaf for tasting ;-) There’s also a nice sage, some smaller sage and oregano, and a couple of others.
This one has had the most issues from water level and differential growth rates. Starting it with bigger starts, with more roots already below the root cup, and all of one kind of plant; then moving it to level dirt instead of the “drains well” sloped pavers, and not having the last row of it (on the right) under the bench holding the raft (so it would get more even sun); do all that it will likely be fine. As it is, I’ve had to raise the water level to where some “down hill” cubes were overly saturated while others were barely touching the surface.
Large size Kratky Method needs a level planting field / liquid, uniform plants, and reasonably uniform sun.
I’m likely to turn this one into an herb garden, after I move it. (It is also so much heavier than the bucket that it is very hard to move. 17 gallons at 8.25 lbs / gallon is 140 lbs. Call it 70 kg give or take). Not something you just pick up and move. Or even slide much. So I put this where it gets morning sun for a milder start on the little plants just sprouted, then shaded in the afternoon. Now it’s hard to change that for a full sun growout.
OK, lesson learned… Eventually when it weighs less (or I’m feeling more macho and willing to drag it a dozen feet) I’ll move it to a patch of sunnier more level dirt. Then I’ll figure out just what I want in it. One very GOOD thing is that you can just move the plant (net cup and all) to a different place if you like. So I could just move the non-herbs to the raft, and put all the herbs (and maybe onions) in this box once relocated.
So, hard to move the box, easy to move the plants.
So far, I like the raft in a construction tub the most, and this “the usual” Kratky Method box the least. I expected it to be the other way around. The bucket is in the middle, and the Kratky Quart Jars on my window ledge are best for starting things and experimental stuff. (I’ve seen photos of folks with herb gardens in them, and even tomatoes in the gallon sized jars; so they can have broader use).
Bag-O-Dirt in a Tub
This is likely also the final report on the Bag-O-Dirt in a plastic tub on the patio. It’s continuing to work great, but the lettuce has been harvested a few times now, is getting a bit older, and the last harvest had a bit of bitter showing up. While I like bitter, the spouse doesn’t, so this is not ideal for communal salads.
Lower right has some of my Cherokee Trail Of Tears beans in a pot, intruding into this space. The colors in some of these pictures are a bit screwed up. Afternoon with the sun setting, and then this camera isn’t the best at color rendition. Those bean flowers are really a lovely lavender, the tray / tub is an aqua green. The top of the hydroponic box above is really a deep yellow and the pavers behind it are grey, not blue. Oh Well.
It clearly works very well. The plastic tub holds a shallow puddle of water that wicks into the bag, solving one of my biggest problems (as I am in a more or less desert like climate during middle summer with zero rain, very low humidity, and sometimes high temperatures). Things in pots, especially, tend to dry out a lot and fast. My 8-Ball zucchini in a 20″ pot gets a soak watering every day, and still sometimes looks all droopy on a hot afternoon.
As this was just intended to be an experimental thing (to see if the Bag-O-Dirt on a box lid with clear box as cloche would really work for greens in winter, I’m not seeing the need to keep it in “production” when I’d rather have a hydroponic float lettuce bed in summer. The Bag-O-Dirt uses a lot more water than the float system as it has a lot more surface exposed for evaporation (that whole end where the bag doesn’t fill the tub, and then the dirt surface).
I think it is now well proven that it works. So when fall approaches I’ll set up a proper one as in the original video and see how late into winter I can grow lettuce using one as a miniature greenhouse.
So whenever a harvest from this Bag-O-Dirt system shows up too bitter, then it’s all going to the compost pile and that funky tray / tub goes back to the “Misc. Odds & Ends” storage… I expect that lettuce in July & August when it is usually really hot here will have bitterness and bolting issues anyway. (By then I hope to have an all-lettuce hydroponic float tub set up under the shade trees in the back yard ;-)
Edible, Decorative, and Grows Like A Weed
Here’s some Grain Amaranth that has volunteered in some hot dry dirt without me doing anything. Since it showed up, I’ve started giving it occasional water. I had grown some Hopi Red Amaranth about a decade ago. It is a very beautiful deep red plant.
The next year, some of it volunteered in the same pot where it had been grown, along with lots of places around that pot. That year I was trialing a bigger green grain amaranth from seed bought at Whole Foods as food. A very big plant about as tall as a person.
Well, it seems these two got together…
The red stuff is the Amaranth. The green stuff in the block behind it is my bean patch. It is a mix of Crimson Runner (the red flower kinds), a few Cascade Giants (green with purple streaks in the pods) being grown out for fresh seeds, and a couple of pole snow peas also being grown out for seeds. One of my “strings” has come off the fence and is laying on the Amaranth. I’ll need to find out if the squirrels on the fence chewed it, or if it came off the nail. I usually have some Runner Beans on string to the fence as a kind of ersatz arbor.
Sort of a Christmas kind of red / green look to them. Leaves are edible, and almost worth eating when young and not yet full of fiber ;-) The grain is also edible (IF you can get any once the birds know it is there… OTOH, “bird stew” is a good survival food…)
Notice that the dirt under it looks like dead dry grass. That’s because it is dead dry grass. Not even weeds were growing there when up popped the Amaranth. Realize it has been many years since I deliberately planted any of this. It just shows up in the margin areas (those that showed up in the garden squares got turned under). After these got about a foot high I decided to give them some water. Now they are about 5 feet high.
In anything like a real food crisis, where you needed to grow something, anything, to eat, this is your goal. Quoting from the link above:
the Hopi Indians still use this variety to make red corn bread. Have tender baby leaves for salad in 3-21 days. Have flowers in 70 days, and collect seeds (also edible) in about 80 days. Plants get 4-6 feet tall.
Got that? Salad in 3 days? You get many thousands of pin-head sized jet black seeds (probably really just intense red) from these things. (The commercial one was white seeded). Just sprouting them and letting them grow for a week would give you a very large salad nearly instantly. They also have a far collection of protein, vitamins, etc. etc.
I have an envelope of these seeds in my freezer. In any real Aw Shit, I’d sprinkle them over the dead margin areas of my garden, water them in, and have a salad next week.
As a test, I did try some of the older leaves as a pot herb. You CAN eat them, but there’s a LOT of tough fibers. Think “old string beans with lots of string”… Not ideal. OTOH, if you were starving, it is not the kind of plant someone is going to steal from your garden and it will keep you alive, even if not quite happy. It also looks really good in a flower garden ;-)
There are a great many kinds of Amaranth:
And while I’m fond of my Back Yard Creation, there are likely known types more suited to actual survival food needs. In particular, there is a “Vegetable Amaranth” that does not have the “strings in leaves” issue. It is sometimes called “Chinese Spinach”:
Chinese Multicolor Spinach
A heat and drought tolerant green in spectacular splashes of color! Leaf amaranth is popular in Asia, eaten raw, stir fried or steamed. This is by far the most tender and sweet amaranth for edible greens- making for vibrant and delicious salads. The young leaves make a perfect spinach substitute, intricately colored leaves are juicy and succulent. The go to green for mid summer when all others have bolted, harvested in just 30-40 days from sowing.
Full growth in 30 to 40 days. Heat and drought tolerant. Eaten raw or cooked.
I don’t have any of this type yet, but I will ;-)