Posts published on April 2010

Tips for Growing Herbs Indoors

Gardening

I love to consume herbs that I have grown myself.

indoorherbs

Not only do my meals reach a new plateau, but I gain immense satisfaction knowing I grew the regale enhancing ingredients myself. Ah, but alas, autumn signals the end of homegrown herbs, tomatoes and bouquets of blooms. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t continue to grow my prized herbs. I merely have to move the process indoors.

The art of growing herbs indoors eluded me for many an autumn moon, but I eventually defeated the winter weather demons. A heap of persistence and a dash of fortitude paid off and I have since managed to maintain a fair bounty of indoor home grown herbs throughout the winter months.

There are many herbs that can be fooled into thinking that the summer months are still upon us.

For the faint at heart, start out with my tried and true list of indoor friendly herbs. Some of my favorites are scented geranium, mint, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, chives, garlic and oregano. Basil, dill and coriander should be started from seeds and mint, rosemary and bay leaf can be rooted from cuttings.

Basil is fairly difficult to grow indoors because, just like me, it is a lover of sun and heat. It can be done though if you can provide the plants with 16 hours of artificial light and daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F and nighttime temperatures that do not drop below 50 degrees F.

If you are starting with seedlings purchased at a nursery, it is important to acclimate them to the lower light conditions.

New leaves that are accustomed to the lower light conditions must be produced for the plant to survive. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to complete this process. This adjustment period can mean the difference between a healthy herb and one that loses it leaves, becomes leggy or even dries up and dies.

A windowsill with southern exposure is often all you need to grow herbs indoors.

Most herbs require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight and it doesn’t hurt to put them under a grow light. The exceptions to this rule are mint, parsley and rosemary, which can take a little less light. With this mind, place the sun lovers in the center of the windowsill and those that need less light on the outside edges. If you use a grow light, be sure the lights are about six to nine inches above the tops of the plants. Your herbs will prefer temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees F.

It is important that your potted herbs have proper drainage.

I use a mixture of 1 part good quality potting soil, 1 part sand and 1 part humus. Towards the end of winter you may find that the soil in the containers has become compacted. Simply rake the surface with a fork to loosen it up. During the winter, plant growth slows so they don’t require as much water. The rule of thumb is to only water when the soil surface is dry. Herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, oregano and sage should dry out completely between watering while mint, rosemary and scented geranium prefer a little more moisture.

Unlike herbs that grow in the garden, potted herbs need regular feedings. Fertilize with a fish emulsion at half strength about once a month. To help herbs survive the stuffy air typical in our homes during winter mist the plants, especially rosemary, on occasion and increase air circulation around them with a small fan. Keep in mind a fan may cause the soil to dry out faster, requiring you to water more frequently.

Pest are usually much easier to contend with indoors. If you have a problem with pests, I recommend you use an insecticidal soap. Saturate the tops and undersides of leaves. Insecticidal soap is effective and safe. And this is something to keep in mind if you’re planning on using these to spice up some of your favorite recipes.

So now you do not have an excuse for creating bland meals during the colder months of the year. Get growing and bon appetite.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit San Diego Hydroponics & Organics website.

Transplanting Tips

Gardening

transplanting-trees1

Early spring is a great time for transplanting trees and shrubs, but you must do so before they wake up.

Transplanting a plant is a very traumatic experience for the plant if it is awake. It’s like doing surgery on a person while they are awake. Dormancy starts in the fall as soon as you experience a good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the weather warms up in the spring. This is when you should transplant, while the plants are dormant.

You can transplant in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are green and swollen you are usually safe to still transplant, but once the leaf develops, you should wait until fall. When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare root, just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the ground.

Make sure there are no air pockets around the roots when you replant them.

When possible, it is always better to dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them. The rule of thumb is 12” of root ball for every 1” of stem caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2”, then you should dig a root ball 24” in diameter.

Don’t be afraid of cutting a few roots when you transplant.

Just try not to cut them any shorter than the above guidelines allow. Cutting the roots will actually help to reinvigorate the plant. It’s a process simply known as root pruning. When the roots are severed, the plant then develops lateral roots to make up for what is lost. These lateral roots are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up water and nutrients.

Some nurseries drive tractors over the plants in the field with a device that undercuts the roots of the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous roots. This make transplanting the plant the following year much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier plant.

The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the plant is dormant could bring it around. It’s worth the effort.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit San Diego Hydroponics & Organic’s website.

Checking Your Soil Conditions

Gardening

soil-ammendment-550There are ways to test your soil and of course the means to fix your soil if it need be.

Let’s first talk about how you can test your soil.

Here are four methods you can use.

The first is getting your local municipality or state EPA to test your soil conditions.

You simply call them up, ask for a soil test kit, follow their instructions and for a fee they will analyze the soil you send them. Some may even send you recommendations on what steps you need to take in order to fix any problems that you may have. These test, depending on where you are in the country can be pricey and you can wait quite awhile as commercial farmers take precedence over the home vegetable gardener.

The second method is to buy a home soil test and do it yourself. They cost about five to ten dollars and they provide a chart that you match the color of your soil (after you apply the test) to its condition. The result can give you the pH level, the Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium levels and so forth. Most do not include what to do next with those results, but this is a good inexpensive option if you are willing to do research on your results.

A third option is similar to the second option except it does it electronically. You take a soil testing device and stick it in the ground and you will get a pH reading within seconds. You won’t get the nutrient information though and the device can cost up to as much as twenty dollars.

The fourth method, and my favorite, is the easiest out of all of them and the least expensive. Using a shovel, dig a one foot square area, four inches deep and turn it over. Using your hand break up the soil and count the number of worms you find. If you count less than ten your soil needs work, if it is more than ten, you have excellent soil. Worms only go where they will thrive. Worms have two purposes, to eat and make more worms. If worms exist in large numbers in an area that means the nutrients exist for them to thrive.

Here is the best solution in all of these cases.

Simply bury your food scraps eighteen to twenty inches below the top soil. The underlying ecosystem will breakdown the food scraps and turn it into nutrient rich compost. The worms will come there on their own.

Hopefully you will start testing your soil on a yearly basis and adding nutrients to your soil through food waste and other organic material. Doing so will increase your vegetable plants chances for a great harvest.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit <a title=”Visit San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics Online” href=”http://sdhydroponics.com” target=”_blank”>San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics</a> website.

Grow Lights

Gardening

growlights

Incandescent are the cheapest grow lights available. There is a good reason for that.

Incandescent systems simply do not produce much in the way of results. They emit a lot of heat and, therefore, have to be placed at a distance from the actual plant growth. This results in a lot of wasted light that is being produced without affecting the growing plants to any significant degree. Incandescent bulbs do not last very long, further reducing the value of the system. A better option is a fluorescent light system. These are relatively cheap grow lights that can be place inches from the plant growth, maximizing the efficiency of the light generated. Fluorescent bulbs are also available that produce light from different ends of the color spectrum, allowing the gardener to grow different kinds of crops. If you are looking for cheap grow lights, fluorescents are a viable option.

Metal halide (MH) systems are not cheap grow lights to purchase. They can cost more than twice the amount of a fluorescent system.

They are, however, very cost effective to use and excellent results can be obtained with these systems. MH lights cost very little to operate per kilowatt. Your electric bill will be much less for the same number of hours of MH light versus incandescent light. Both these systems produce quantities of light that generates exceptional crop yields. Metal halide bulbs will last several times longer than those in an incandescent system, further reducing the cost to run the system.

High pressure sodium (HPS) lights are some of the most expensive light systems to purchase. They also only produce light in the red spectrum.

The red end of the color spectrum is best utilized for flowering or seeding plants. However, HPS lights have a huge upside in that they are extremely cheap to operate and the bulbs can last for up to two years. HPS systems are not cheap grow lights to purchase, but they are, by far, the cheapest system to operate.

To get the best results from your indoor gardening area, you need an efficient, cost effective light system. Cheap grow lights are usually not the most effective grow light system. Consider the purchase price, the cost of replacement parts such as bulbs and ballasts, and the cost to operate the system. Only when you have factored in all of these costs can you really determine the best value for your gardening dollar.

How to Install a Reverse Osmosis System

Gardening

reverse_osmosis

DIYers: plumb in a household reverse osmosis (RO) water filter system in hours.

How to choose, size, connect and maintain a filter adequate for your needs.

Reverse osmosis home filtration systems provide large volumes of pure, clean, color- and odor-free water for people, pets and plants. A “hard wired” RO hyperfiltration unit is a convenience easily within reach of the average DIYer.

A domestic DIY-ready RO system typically consists of several components, often sold as a kit along with an installation instruction manual:

1. Filter Array—four to six filters mounted on a hangable metal housing. Units with more filters deliver slightly cleaner water. All the filters in the array are pre-connected by the manufacturer, so hookup is a snap. An automatic shutoff valve is usually part of the array.

2. Holding tank—a 3 to 6 gallon capacity pressurized vessel that stores filtered water ready to flow to a sink- or counter-mounted faucet. Until direct flow systems hit the market recently, the RO process has been too slow to instantly provide a gallon or two of filtered water, hence the need for a tank. Tankless direct flow units are pricier.

3. Faucet mounted in a convenient location, usually on the kitchen sink.

4. 1/4″ plastic hoses to connect the filter array to feed water and to the faucet, and for waste water discharge

5. Feed water valve: either self-piercing saddle type, identical to an ice maker supply setup that taps into a water pipe; or a ball valve installed in-line in the riser tube of a sink’s cold water supply.

How RO System Filters Purify Water

Water flows through the filters in the array and is successively cleaned in “stages” as follows:

* Stage 1 Prefilter, 1 – 5 micron—removes sediment, suspended rust and sand.

* Stage 2 Prefilter, granular activated carbon (GAC) 1 to 5 micron—removes most chlorine, organic chemicals, taste, color and odor.

* Stage 3 Prefilter, either a second GAC or an activated carbon block, 1 to 5 micron—further removes chemical entities Stage 2 filter missed.

* Stage 4 Filter, osmotic membrane—the workhorse filter that gives the system its name. Removes 92% to 98% of all remaining chemicals and dissolved solids in tap water.

* Stage 5 Postfilter, deionization (DI)—removes remaining dissolved solids. Premium systems have 2 of these when ultra pure water is needed for aquariums, hydroponics and laboratories.

Selecting a Reverse Osmosis System: How Large?

The EPA estimates that the average adult consumes 2.0 L (about 1/2 gallon) of drinking water per day. Choose an RO system with a filtration capacity sufficient to meet typical family needs and “surges” like parties that require extra water for coffee, drink mixes and the like. A unit that generates 3 GPH (gallons per hour) has about the same capacity as one rated at 75 GPD (gallons per day), and is large enough for most households.

RO System Pre-Installation Considerations

1. Many RO systems require a minimum water pressure of 40 psi. Booster pumps are available if pressure is a problem.

2. Consider a whole-house filter, ahead of the RO unit, if incoming municipal or well water is unusually turbid or rusty.

3. Choose a spot for the filter array (approximately 18” H x 18” W x 8” D) that’s easy to access, since the unit needs to be serviced twice a year. If the undersink area is too small to stand or hang the array, consider a basement, utility room, etc.

4. Select a location for the holding tank (approximately 18” H x 12” W x 12” D). It can be spotted anywhere up to 30 feet away from the filter unit.

5. If there’s no available kitchen sink-top hole to install the added separate purified water faucet, replace the kitchen faucet with a pullout spray head model to free up the sprayer hole. Alternatively, drill a new dedicated hole in the countertop or sink. Careful: porcelain, marble, granite and some composites may shatter or crack unless a specialty drill bit and proper technique are used.

6. Supplies needed: common hand tools and perhaps an electric drill; Teflon thread paste or tape; extra 1/4″ plastic tubing for longer runs and cable ties to dress up the job; a basin wrench to reach up to faucet nuts under the sink; flashlight; wall or cabinet anchor screw hardware.

Step-by-Step: How to Install the RO System

1. First install the faucet (often the most difficult part of the project) on or near the sink. A basin wrench often comes in handy here.

2. Run 1/4″ tubing from the faucet to where the filter array will be spotted.

3. Mount the filter array where desired. Place a drip pan under it to catch inevitable small leaks.

4. Place the storage tank in desired location.

5. Connect the feed water valve to a cold (not hot!) water line and run tubing to the filter array.

6. Run a water discharge line from the filter array to a floor drain or utility sink; or into a sink drainpipe above the trap via a saddle usually supplied in RO “kits.”

7. Connect the storage tank to the filter array.

8. Check all hoses and fittings per the instruction manual. With the faucet open and the valve on the storage tank closed, open the feed water valve. Recheck fittings and eliminate leaks.

9. When water flows from the faucet, close it, open the storage tank valve, and let the system “charge” for several hours. When clean water has filled the tank the system usually shuts off automatically. Charging is complete when water stops flowing from the discharge tube.

10. Purge the system: open the faucet and let the water run down the drain until only a dribble emerges. This step rids the system of any residual debris.

11. Close the faucet and let the system recharge. Enjoy clean water!

How To Maintain the Reverse Osmosis System

Except for the osmotic membrane, which lasts two to three years, change out filters approximately every 6 months or 6,000 gallons. The stage 1 paper prefilter usually fouls faster than the others. To save money, obtain an extra filter and clean the dirty one instead of replacing it with a new one.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit <a title=”Visit San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics Online” href=”http://sdhydroponics.com” target=”_blank”>San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics</a> website.

Growing Hydroponically and In Soil

Gardening

dirt_soil_lg

The advantages of growing in soil indoors

The difference here is similar to the difference between indoor and outdoor cultivation. Soil growing requires less equipment, investment and, generally, less work to control the various factors influencing growth.

The only specialist equipment required for the simplest indoor soil set-up would be seeds, organic nutrients, a light and a timer. The remaining equipment – soil, pots, fans, reflective materials and such should be easily available in most countries.

As an organic compound, soil is less sensitive to changes and small variations than a synthetic medium like rockwool.

It could be called a self-regulating environment. Thus, pH testing equipment is usually not required.

Similarly, organic nutrients are gentler to plants than the concentrated salts and minerals of hydroponic feed mixtures. Therefore, while it is still possible to over-fertilize an organic system, such a mistake is less likely to ‘burn’ or kill plants. An EC meter is not required for soil growing

In short, soil growing is easier and more forgiving of growers’ mistakes.  Therefore it is a highly advisable method for the first time indoor grower.

The advantages of growing hydroponically indoors

Indoor cultivation allows more control over a plant’s life cycle than outdoor. In the same way, hydroponic cultivation allows the grower an even greater level of control.

Since plants in a hydroponic setup are growing in a synthetic, neutral medium the grower is able to dictate exactly which nutrients are given to a plant, and at what levels. Of course, this requires more care than organics and usually necessitates the use of a pH meter (to measure acidity in water) and an EC meter (to measure the level of nutrient in water by means of its Electrical Conductivity).

Hydroponic growing mediums are less bulky and heavy than soil, often easier to handle and possibly easier to dispose.

Pests and fungus are less likely to flourish in rockwool or similar mediums, and are almost never endemic to newly bought synthetic mediums.

Hydroponic nutrients, since they are highly concentrated, take up less space than organics, especially for large crops. They are usually pre-mixed and do not require the grower to supplement them or combine several different formulas. Also, they will often smell less than organic nutrients.

In short, the more in-depth control available with hydroponics, when managed effectively, allows for a bigger, more potent and sometimes even faster crop. While such systems are not recommended for first-time indoor growers, those who have experienced success with soil cultivation indoors may wish to try this as the next step in refining their technique.

The advantages of growing outdoors

Outdoor cultivation requires less equipment, expertise and labour.

For the first few weeks of life, outdoor plants need the same care and attention as indoor ones. However, once a few basics have been well established, outdoor plants may be left (in a good, sunny spot) to take care of themselves. They may need to be regularly watered and fed and, occasionally, pruned but most of their development will be accomplished simply by allowing them to grow over spring and summer.

This feature of outdoor cultivation is what makes ‘guerrilla growing’ possible. Established plants may be placed outside in remote or wild areas and left to their own devices throughout the growing season. The guerrilla grower need only visit them a few times in this period, or even just the once, at harvest time.

Outdoor plants will usually yield more than indoor ones.

This is simply because they are able to grow larger. Few indoor setups are able accommodate plants larger than 180cm. Assuming that detection is not a problem, outdoor plants may comfortably grow to 2 or 3m in height. It is possible for a single plant of this size to produce 500g or more of dried bud.

Germinating seeds early in the growing season (March or April in the Northern hemisphere) will allow your plants a long vegetative period before flowering is triggered by the shorter days of late summer.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit <a title=”Visit San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics Online” href=”http://sdhydroponics.com” target=”_blank”>San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics</a> website.

Indoor Water Gardens

Gardening

hydroponic_chillipeppersIf your space is limited or you just don’t like to make a mess with soil, try growing your garden in water.

It’s also the best solution for anyone who can’t master the art of watering plants properly.

Many foliage plants will grow in water.

This method permits the use of many interesting and unusual containers and allows for flexibility of plant arrangements.  Although growth will be slow, the plants will remain attractive for a long time.  You can use any receptacle that will hold water for the containers for your water garden.  Avoid those made of copper, brass, or lead, however.

Once you have chosen a container,fill it about three-fourths full of a support material such as florist’s foam (your best choice), crumbled styrofoam, gravel, pearl chips, pebbles, coarse sand, marbles, beads, or any other similar materials.  Use your imagination. A small piece of charcoal or a pinch of powdered charcoal added to the support materials will help prevent the water from turning foul.

Next, prepare a dilute water and fertilizer solution using a water-soluble fertilizer at one-fourth the recommended rate.  Add this solution to the support material.

Keep the water-fertilizer solution at the proper level by adding more to the container as needed.  Every four to six weeks, replace the nutrient solution.  If green algae becomes a problem, change the water solution more frequently or use an opaque container.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit San Diego Hydroponics & Organics website.

Vegetable Gardening – The Healthy Hobby

Gardening

vegetable-garden

Vegetable gardening was once thought boring, and only practiced by the poor, or those who lived in rural areas.

Today, all that has changed and vegetable gardening is becoming popular across the country.

Besides the obvious advantage of harvesting fresh food as you want to use it, people are more interested in knowing how their produce has been grown. Awareness of the obesity problem in America, especially in children, reinforces the basic ‘eat your vegetables and fruits’ that our mothers preached. What easier way to get kids’ attention than to involve them in the planning and working of a vegetable garden?

Gardeners today are reclaiming part of their high cost lawns as planned veggie beds and landscaped areas with vegetables growing among the perennials;

blueberries and raspberries as background plants; and floral and vegetable annuals planted alongside herbs. The traditional backyard garden patch is still popular, but not the only way to go.

Many veggie gardeners utilize containers, from pots and tubs on patios, to larger raised beds. These practices provide the extra space that some people need; and also offer the option of growing vegetables in a more perfect soil. The better soil allows for planting closer together, and maximizing space.

If you are new to vegetable gardening, or if you have not had a garden recently, you might ask “What do I do first?” Winter allows us time to peruse seed catalogs, and to develop the all important garden plan. Ask your family – who will do the work? What vegetables will be eaten? How will the produce be used – fresh, canned, frozen? The answers to these questions will provide your garden plan.

Next think about your site. The traditional garden patch should receive 8 or more hours of sun – or a minimum of 6 hours sun per day. The patch should be near a water source, and handy to get to from the kitchen.

The third item to consider is your soil.

Should it be amended? The importance of a soil test – available for sale at the Penn State Extension Office – cannot be overlooked. And the fourth consideration – will you use seeds or transplants or a combination. Many vegetables such as peas and beans do best when planted from seed. Tomato and pepper plants are often purchased as transplants.

Especially useful in planning a garden is to refer to the Journal you kept in the previous year. Notes can be made on a wall calendar throughout the growing season, and compiled on one sheet at the end of the gardening season. It is helpful to include planting dates, rainfall, pest problems, harvest dates, fall planting dates, and how much food was picked and processed, as well as a plot plan showing what was planted where.

For more indoor,outdoor, and hydroponics information, please visit <a title=”Visit San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics Online” href=”http://sdhydroponics.com” target=”_blank”>San Diego Hydroponics &amp; Organics</a> website.