Friday, October 11, 2019

Natural Hydroponics part 2 (Growing)

With the nutrients out of the way, I put together a makeshift hydroponics tank. I didn't want to buy anything, so I used a big plant pot with a sheet-plastic liner and a cover over the top which I drilled four holes in. It fitted down into the tank so the net pots holding my plants were initially touching the water line.

I added ash, powdered eggshell, and my chosen nitrogen source. I also added some vinegar to cancel out the alkalinity of the ash. I put in two cucumbers (one from my own seeds and one purchased) and a seedling tomato, leaving one space open to add water if necessary.

The plants thrived. Then one day, they didn't. It was literally overnight that I saw signs of a nutrient deficiency on my tomato. At the same time the cucumber plants started shriveling and drying up in the sun. They recovered overnight, but it worried me.

I researched and learned that what I was looking at in the tomato was a sulfur deficiency. I put in epsom salt (I'll do more experimentation next summer on a natural source for sulfur) but nothing happened. The cucumbers continued to die. No change on the tomato.

Puzzled, I pulled the top...and found that the water level had sunk so that only about an inch of the tomato plants roots was in the water. Ack! No wonder it couldn't take up the epsom salt!

Once I brought the water level back up, the tomato recovered immediately.

It was almost too late for the cucumbers. For some reason, even though they each had a massive root system, they suffered more than the tomato from the lack of water.

Because of the mid-season emergency, the tomato got blossoms late. The tiny tomatoes were nipped this morning.

The cucumbers recovered to a certain extent, and even got more blossoms, but only a few small cucumbers. Since they were heavy with fruit when the water level dropped, I know the nutrients were working. It was only my own mistake that prevented this season's hydroponics from being a rousing success.

The non-chemical nutrients work. This winter's job is to figure out amounts, percentages, and get a baseline on what different plants need. Right now the hydroponics dry bean in the basement is thriving and has beans on it.

We'll see.

Natural Hydroponics part 1 (The nutrients)

This year I started a new project. Up to this point I have ignored hydroponics.

Traditional hydroponics is an expensive proposition, requiring tanks, flooding, pumps, timers, lights (more or less optional) and chemical nutrients among other things. If these things are not precisely balanced and continuously operational, the system dies.

I am not "traditional" in any sense of the word, and I absolutely refuse to use chemicals on my property. I also have no income at the moment so buying all the STUFF required is beyond me even if I wanted to.

I discovered Kratky hydroponics some time ago, but again it needs chemical nutrients. Kratky hydroponics is a water-air static system, requiring a bucket and a net pot or similar to put the plant in. The water level gradually decreases over time, leaving a space for air roots (roots that grow in the air to capture oxygen) and the main mass of the roots deeper in the water.

This is essentially what happens in the soil, as water is not always available and the plants use the roots to gain oxygen as well as water. Except with Kratky hydroponics the water eventually reaches a static level which the operator has to maintain.

So the technical pieces of the system can be dispensed with, if you're careful. Kratky actually suggests that his system be connected to an automatic float to keep the water at the safe level.

The next part was chemicals. If I'm not buying chemicals, what can be used? In accordance with my own determination to use nothing that can't be sourced naturally and within a reasonable distance of my home, I started researching various easily obtained substances. The two I settled on were ash and eggshell.

Ash contains a lot of nutrients, primarily calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, and sodium. So approximately a 0-2-4 NPK, and holding many of the nutrients needed for plant growth. Not complete yet, though.

Eggshell contains calcium, protein, strontium, fluoride, magnesium, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. It can include other things depending on what the chickens have been eating, but that's the base. So nothing added to our 0-2-4 NPK, but more nutrients that are needed for plant growth.

But still not complete. I was missing, among other things, iron, nickel, and copper. For iron I used an old rusted nail. For nickel and copper I used a penny (US) and a dime.

I later discovered that I didn't have sulfur either, so I'll be doing additional tests next summer to see if I can find a substitute for that.

There are easily acquired sources of nitrogen under most circumstances--take the time to do your own research and figure out that part for yourself if you decide to try this. Many of these sources provide additional nutrients, so keep that in mind. It will not only bring your N up, but also possibly the PK depending on what you use.

Part 2

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Fruit vinegar

Most of the vinegar we get is from grains, primarily corn. And while it can be used for many things (being distilled and essentially colorless) it also has most of the nutrients and yumminess taken out of it.

And since I crave vinegar anyway (see my post about vinegar craving here) I use a lot of it.

A while back I was speaking to a friend on Modern Survival Blog and he started talking about creating his own vinegar. While I'd been vaguely aware that this kind of thing is done "by others," up to that point I hadn't connected the possibility to myself. It was the middle of apple season and I decided to try it.

I took the peels and the cores that didn't have worm yuck, and put them in a wide mouthed gallon jar covered with water.

And I waited. And waited. Two months later they still smelled like apples and there was no sign of fermentation. I was told the temperature in the house was too low and I started consciously trying to keep the bottle warmer and a few weeks later I started seeing bubbles. Then more bubbles!

The vinegar smell when it began was quite distinctive. It still smelled like apples, but also like vinegar. When I got around to testing it, the baking soda bubbled just like it did for the distilled corn vinegar. So the acid level is high.

And I've caught the bug.

I now have apple cider vinegar and apricot vinegar sitting on the kitchen counter, and pear vinegar in the big pickle bottle fermenting.


Pear Vinegar Video

2019 Project Update

Man, it's been a while. Fall of 2018 since I wrote anything here.

Updates first:

The watermelon landrace is meh. Four melons this year, none of which have matured yet. All have the Ali Baba patterning, but two of the four surviving plants have the icebox size melons. The plants that were supposed to be the primary female parent didn't survive the spring. I'll plant them in the greenhouse next year and transplant so I make sure I have the crosses I need.

The commercial variety sweet potatoes appear to be doing exactly what I want. Because of the dry conditions they're sending their roots deep. Most of those roots will not be harvested, but will remain in the soil to provide compost. The sweet potato breeding project is in its first year and I got two well adapted plants that produced flowers. I'll be keeping those two and planting them next year to evaluate.

Dry bean landrace is going to have to be restarted next year. I keep trying to do too many things at once--in this case, inter-planting non-adapted dry beans (to get the start of a landrace) in a dry area that doesn't get much water, where the soil doesn't hold water well, without mulch, and in bad soil. Hm... One thing at a time, Lauren! :)

The dry garden is doing OK. The parkstrips were watered only once this year. Tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and sunchokes all thrived. Still getting too much water, I think, because it's the "dry" stuff like echinacea and irises that are struggling. The main dry garden has thriving tepary beans but again they're just starting to bloom. If I can't get seeds, I can't get my 1st generation and start the adaptation process.

The plum and almond trees didn't get watered at all this year. There was more mid and late season fruit drop, and the fruit on the plum was smaller and less sweet. The almonds had more empty pods and shriveled nuts, but both plum and almond still provided a reasonable harvest. The nectarine was deeply watered once a month and absolutely thrived. While water is available I'll use the once a month watering schedule for all the trees, but with the knowledge that they can still produce if that is not possible.

This spring I again planted my tomatoes in regular garden soil (primarily sand), in bad light, and with little water. The survivors are thriving and most have fruited. Next year I'll do the same, and probably every year after. My eventual goal is tomatoes that thrive in bad soil, with bad water and bad light, and still produce a decent harvest.

The bell peppers are actually producing this year. The seeds are probably (?) first generation, but previous years have produced spindly plants that don't produce before the first frost. Last year they actually started to bloom in October. I started and will start the seeds the same way I did the tomatoes. If they can't thrive here, I don't want them here.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Dry garden update

The dry garden was a qualified success. I watered between 2 weeks and 1 month apart, with the exception of a hard rainstorm in August. Approximately 1 out of 3 of the plants that came up actually flowered—the winners there appear to be zucchini and pumpkin. Only one of the butternut bloomed. Of those that flowered, apx 1 out of 3 got female blossoms and set fruit. This was pretty much expected, since most of these plants are used to a great deal of water. Those that survived and fruited will be more drought tolerant in the next generation.

Sun is much more important with the dry garden than it is with the normal garden. I planted part of the dry garden in partial shade (about 7 hours of sun per day) and only one plant fruited. Blossoms came on a month later than the “sun” dry garden, although the shade dry garden went longer between waterings as well.

I planted zucchini, butternut squash, pumpkins and spaghetti squash. Zucchini was the hands-down winner, probably due to already being acclimated to this area. Most of the zucchini plants came up, and all blossomed, although only one is actively fruiting to this point. I seem to get fruit in “flushes,” apparently based on the watering schedule. When I watered, within a day or two female blossoms popped out, between four and six blossoms each time. This did not happen with the pumpkin or butternut.

The zucchini ripen more quickly and smaller, and the patterns are slightly off from the expected for the variety.

Squash may be a plant better suited to an area with a longer growing period for dry gardening, although I did get a late start. I'll try squash again next year, but in a different area, and protect the seedlings more than I did this year.

The watermelons got "dry" farmed in a sense as well, as the area they're in got watered only once every ten days. They thrived, doing much better under their mulch than the watermelons in the main garden without mulch. The specifically drought tolerant watermelon was actually getting too much water and really struggled until I pulled the watering back to every ten days. I think it will do even better next year, when it's every two weeks.

I think as my soil improves "dry" farming will become a more viable option.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Watermelon landrace update

The watermelon landrace project actually got more interesting as the summer progressed. As the plants started to bloom I discovered that three of them (two landrace and one Hopi Red) were producing perfect flowers. A perfect flower is a flower which contains both male and female parts. It's capable of self pollinating, without the assistance of bees. I have never seen this before on squash or melons.

I wasn't able to find anything about this possibility online, which made me more excited. The idea of a self-pollinating melon had me bouncing off the walls. Since three plants had the same trait, I thought, maybe it's something to do with my soil? With the help of a friend (Joseph Lofthouse) I learned that this is relatively normal for watermelons, which dimmed my enthusiasm not at all but simply turned it in another direction.

If it wasn't in the soil, but inherent in the plant, I can breed for it. Hehehehe.

Most of the watermelons ripening from the landrace plants are icebox size, which isn't what I wanted. I made a mistake last year and bred in the Sugar Baby watermelon, which is slow growing and produces small melons. It appears that the majority of the plants that survived have Sugar Baby ancestry, but I'm trying for medium to large so I need to avoid taking seeds from any of these. Another interesting thing is that many of the melons currently ripening are misshapen, which I've also never seen before. This may be due to under pollination, but the fact that ONLY the landrace plants are doing it suggests that there's some oddity to the way the genes are combining.

Of the surviving plants, 2 have not bloomed at all. This was rather expected, as I deliberately planted in an area with poor soil and little water in order to select for the strongest. Another has produced only male blossoms. Two of my landrace plants have large melons. One of the two had four flowers pollinate, although two aborted later. It was also one of those with perfect flowers. This will be the primary female parent for this year. One of the two remaining melons was pollinated by hand and should include genes from Hopi Red, my landrace (Ali Baba + either traditional or Sugar Baby), and Joseph Lofthouse Landrace.

Most of the surviving landrace plants took after the female parent in shape and color, but after the male parent in size. All but one had the pale green skin of the Ali Baba watermelon and the seed structure of the Ali Baba, but with varying sizes and shapes consistent with the plants used as pollinators last year. The plants also took after the pollen donor, those with the icebox size melons growing much slower on a less robust plant.

All pollinated flowers follow the same general growth pattern, the watermelon being around 3 inches long twenty days after pollination, 6 inches long after thirty days and 9 inches long after 40 days. The watermelon stops growing when it's close to its adult size and gains that last half inch or inch through the rest of its growing period. By the time it reaches its adult size some seeds have already matured. Extending this tendency out, it is likely that any watermelon can mature relatively quickly once it reaches its mature size depending on environmental factors. Removal of water, not enough sun, a cold snap, may all trigger the melon to full maturity quicker than it would normally go. I'll have to test for this in the future and see if it bears out in real life, but based on my observations it's a real possibility.

Next year the primary female parent will be either my "traditional" watermelon or the Jubilee, introducing one more line into the mix. In 2020 or 2021 the lines will start to stabilize and I should start to see the results of the mixing. That's when the real fun begins, choosing for the traits I want.

I started this particular landrace for a couple reasons. I wanted to learn the principles before I started on any of the major food crops, and I had seeds for several different varieties of heirloom melons.

I am desperately concerned about food security. The majority of the population has no idea where their food comes from or how it gets to them. They're perfectly satisfied that THIS WEEK the grocery store has what they need. With more and more farmland being sold off because of taxes and other economic problems, we rely to a large extent on food produced in other areas and trucked in. Often from other countries.

When (not if) that supply chain stops, we must be able to provide for ourselves. In order to do that we must be able to grow the maximum amount in local conditions, and we can't do that with seeds sourced from the Oregon coast or Arkansas. Even seeds from other desert or semi-desert areas wouldn't precisely fit our environment. They have to be produced here, grown here, without fertilizers or soil additives, and to the extent possible without additional water.

The simplest way to do that, and to make sure that those plants will be able to adapt when conditions change, is a local landrace.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bean Notes (ongoing, will add to this in subsequent years)


Hidatsu red--resurrected. Apparently two beans matured and I wasn't aware. They came up this spring and were my largest producer.

Rattlesnake--great grower, not a good producer. I'll include it on a limited basis with the climbing bean landrace

Tepary--great grower in the dry garden but just starting to produce end of September. If I get any beans they'll be my first generation, but at this point it doesn't look likely. Try again next year.

Scarlett Runner--growing OK but just started blooming beginning of September. No beans before the first deep freeze. Only two of the 12 plants even germinated.

I've been trying to work with dry beans for a couple years now. Unfortunately, real life information isn't available for many of the varieties I have, so here goes.

The failures first, taking into consideration that I plant sporadically, sometimes early and sometimes late, in different areas. But I don't eliminate a bean entirely until it's been grown on my property for at least two years in different circumstances.

Calypso--eliminated. A black and white bean, probably bred for appearance rather than production. In my garden only one or two beans per pod, many of them empty, and while there were a lot of pods on the plant, that makes harvest a serious problem. Not too productive in terms of real numbers.

Hidatsu Red--eliminated. Planted by the corn last year and failed to produce. Planted by the bean towers this year and also failed to produce. Right now, in mid September, the first beans are just starting to come on. Chances are good that nothing will ripen before the first frost. NO seeds last year, NO seeds this year, end of experiment.

Hidatsu Shield--Ditto.

Whipple--First year planting these. One plant survived. Supposed to be 70 days, but just starting to produce after over 100 days. I'm guessing they need a little stress in order to ripen. I removed the water and got my first ripe beans a week later.

Monos Negros--First year planting these. One plant survived, a good crop.

Oland Brown--First year planting these. One plant survived, a good crop.

Kidney--Fabulous. Planted these last year with 100% mortality. This year one plant survived, and got more off that one plant than from any of the others so far. It ripened quickly, fully finished by mid-August.

Pinto--Good producer. It did OK last year as a climbing bean but produced little. This year I used last year's seeds and it did well for those plants that survived. From the three plants I already have more than I harvested last year total.

Tepary--Two varieties. Neither has produced this year. The blossoms are just starting to come on. They're supposed to be highly drought tolerant so I don't know whether they're getting too much water, too little, wrong soil, not enough sun, etc. I can't find any information on how these are supposed to grow.

Blue Lake--First year with these. A green bean, seeds out of a box. Good production, good seed production.

Rattlesnake--first year with these. They ran rampant over the corn and strangled it. Good production, but they'll be on the bean towers next year rather than by the corn. This is also supposed to be drought tolerant.

Tendergreen--first year with these, and they produced well. Good seed production as well. Low germination, but that's normal for my yard with seeds I didn't grow.

Black Turtle--3rd year. First two years they produced OK, so this year I thought I would do them as a main crop. Chose the wrong area, with only half a day of sun, lots of bugs, and bad soil. Will try again.

Idaho Pink--Established. This was supposed to be the second half of my main crop. See Black Turtle notes.

Great Northern White--Established, didn't grow it this year. An OK producer, half-runner. Many of the plants had just a few beans in each pod, so I took my seeds from the full pods.

Scarlet Runner--I was just given seeds this year so I have nothing yet. These will be planted the first time next spring

Tiny mystery bean--Foraged from the same area as the Scarlet Runner. I have no idea what these are. The beans are tiny and brown, the pods probably 8 inches long. These will be tested next spring.