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Archive for March, 2014

SproutsBrittan and I both love, love, love Brussels Sprouts. My favorite way to eat them is simply boiled up with a little butter, salt and pepper. Having said that; roasted and drizzled with balsamic vinegar is pretty awesome, too. My mouth is watering, just thinking about it.

While cooking and eating these delicious little cabbage nuggets has been a treat, growing them successfully has eluded me. It seems that every year, my crop has been an epic fail, forcing us to get our supply form the grocery store.

This winter, I finally discovered my problem: I’m putting them out too late.  I should be starting seeds in March, so that they can be planted in April or early May, while I’ve been planting them in September with the cabbage and broccoli. Dunce!

Technically, I’m even starting them a wee bit late this year, but I can bring them into the greenhouse in October, if I need to.

Maybe this year, as they say in cricket, I will break my duck.

On a related note, the world wide web is filled with talk about a new superfood called, BrusselsKale. BK is just what it sounds like, a hybrid of Brussels Sprouts and Kale. It is loaded with nutrients and is all the rage in healthy eating and trendy circles. I guess we’ll find out, because we intend to grow it here in the Edible Suburb Garden.

Now it’s your turn. Do you love Brussels Sprouts as much as we do? What’s your favorite way to cook them? Have you heard of BrusselsKale? Have you eaten it somewhere? Tell us about it.

Remember, all comments this month are being entered into a drawing for a copy of Ed Smith’s awesome book, “Incredible Vegetables From Self Watering Containers”, so please join the conversation and have a chance to win.

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Photo comes from theaquaponicsource.com

Photo comes from theaquaponicsource.com

Two weeks ago, I was at my wit’s end with, and over, the whole Aquaponics thing. I threw up my hands and said, “I’m done. The end. El fin.” And probably a few other things, not ready for prime time.

The first two or two and a half years of my Aquaponics journey had been rather positive.  Sure, I’d had some problems, but I had successfully kept a batch of Tilapia, Bluegill, and Catfish alive, while raising loads of herbs, okra, duckweed and KangKong in the grow beds. Using water from filter changes and routine partial water exchanges, I had successfully grown a number of plants in self watering containers. I had even saved a small naval orange tree and a pineapple plant from the brink of death and watched them bear fruit. Life was good in Aquaponicsville.

Late last summer, though, things just went to…, um, er, well, lets just say they went south.  I had filter problems, pump problems, plumbing problems and even predator problems (it turns out, we have wetlands right behind us, complete with blue herons. You can figure out the rest).  I lost a lot of fish and spent days and days working on my systems.

Just when everything seemed to be gaining traction again, we were visited by the coldest winter in Georgia since 1912. My greenhouse isn’t heated, so I use aquarium heaters in the winter water. During normal winters, that’s not a big deal. This year, though, it was a nightmare. The water heaters just couldn’t keep up, but my electric bill sure did.

The cold kept the beneficial bacteria from growing, so it was very difficult to keep the water clean. In the end, my fish died and I was not happy. I had towel in hand and was ready to toss it into the ring and surrender, when my moment of enlightenment came. I had my priorities all bassackwards and was working too hard towards the wrong goals.

I have been pursuing fish as the end game, which is not my real priority in Aquaponics Gardening. Brittan and I don’t eat that much fish, and our market is fairly limited. The stress of trying to keep fish alive all winter was totally unnecessary.

To a large degree, even the plants we grow in the system, aren’t the end game, either.  They are  important to our operation, but the ones we raise in our growbeds are mostly there to take up some of the excess nutrients created by the beneficial bacteria.  In truth, I’m using Aquaponics to farm nutrient rich water, which in turn, grows the vegetables in both my Aquaponics growbeds and my wicking beds (self watering containers). Yes, the water is the end game, and I don’t need nutrient rich water in the winter time.

The moment the realization hit me, the lights came on in my head again and all the pressure melted away. Until my greenhouse is heated, Aquaponics gardening will be a seasonal venture.  I can raise just enough Tilapia to put in our freezer and sell a few of the excess and use twenty cent goldfish to run all my other systems.  After I harvest the Tilapia in late fall, I can bring the goldfish into the greenhouse, shut down the grow beds and overwinter the goldies in the big tank.  They can handle the cooler water.

I feel so much better now.  I didn’t want to give up on Aquaponics. I’ve never seen okra, basil or kangkong perform better than they do in aquaponics systems. I didn’t want to lose those results. Using the fish water in the wicking beds actually builds the soil rather than creating a toxic salt build up like some commercial nutrients do. On the other hand, I can’t go through another winter like this one, running up an electric bill, only to watch my Tilapia die off one by one in the frigid temps. Now that my priorities are back in focus, I don’t have to. Aquaponics is fun again!  I like fun.

 

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I’ve been wanting to play with hydroponic gardening for a couple years now, and I’ve finally broken down and put together a simple experiment featuring a deep water culture bucket.  The set up was very easy.

Bucket and Bubbler

Bucket and Bubbler

1. I filled a ‘Homer’ bucket with water and removed the chlorine and chloramines with a simple tap water conditioner used for aquariums.

2. I added a bubbler to keep the water oxygenated.  Again, this was a simple aquarium air pump and air stone I had laying around.

3. Because the water pH here is a bit high for plants, I buffered it a little with pH Down.

4. Next step was to mix a half strength solution of liquid seaweed and fish fertilizer. Remember, we try

and do things organically here, so I wanted to use natural nutrients.

Liquid Seaweed

Liquid Seaweed

5. While the nutrient solution bubbled away, I took a hole saw and cut 4 holes (just big enough to fit a 2 inch net cup) in a bucket lid and made sure the water came just barely inside the net cup.

Net Pot6. The last step was to take some Baby Bok Choy seedlings I started in vermiculite a couple weeks ago, and plant them in the net cups, using expanded clay pebbles (hydroton) as support for the seedlings.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Because I’m using liquid seaweed and Fish Emulsion, I’m not going to have to worry about salt build up in the water, so top ups should be pretty easy.Planted

Have you tried to grow plants hydroponically?  If so, what kind of results did you get? I’m curious.

Remember all comments during March are going into a drawing to receive a copy of Ed Smith’s great book, “Incredible Vegetables in Self Watering Containers.” Happy growing, everyone.

 

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PollinationI’ve been following the story of an Australian certified organic canola farmer who recently lost his organic certification because his fields were contaminated by his neighbor’s GMO crop.  You can imagine how devastating it’s been for him.  He works hard to ‘do things right’ and still ends up with nearby fields pollinating his crops.

The story made me think about how difficult it really is to be truly ‘organic’, especially those of us in the suburbs and exurbs. In most neighborhoods, even those where the HOA still allows back yard gardens, the streets are filled with trucks from those companies that spray yards with fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides.  As closely packed as most subdivisions are, is there really any way to prevent contamination of our gardens?

Calling ‘organic’ a ‘myth’ is perhaps hyperbole, but I wanted to emphasize how very difficult it is to achieve and why so many have given up on the idea.

First of all, there’s the wind that blows wherever it wants. The wind understands nothing of property lines or boundaries. As the neighbor’s lawn care or pest removal service sprays for weeds, bugs and to chemically fertilize, is it unreasonable to believe that wind drift could affect the place next door?

What about neighborhoods on hills? The yard at the top of a hill gets treated regularly. The neighbor next door or two doors down, is trying to grow an organic garden. Is it assured that during heavy rains, nothing washes into the organic garden and yard?

Then there are the birds, the bees, the insects and the small mammals who roam freely, carrying pollen and everything else they’ve picked up along the way.  They spread it with their feet, their legs, their beaks, their poop.

Out here on the very edge of suburbia, where we live now (sometimes called, the exurbs), we are smack in the middle of  conventional cotton and bean fields. Some of the farmers alternate with rape seed.  The fields are regularly sprayed.  The area is rather wide open and the breezes blow pretty much all the time.  The same birds, bees and butterflies that buzz the bean fields down the road, play on our blossoms, as well.

All we can do, is practice the best natural farming and gardening methods we can, and leave the rest up to nature.  Chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are not going away anytime soon.  We are surrounded and out numbered. We fight on.

What about you? Do you practice organic growing methods? What challenges do you face? Are you conventional and think the whole organic thing is humbug? We love to hear from readers. Let us know you thoughts.

As a way of saying thanks to all our readers, everyone who comments on the blog during the month of March is being entered into a drawing to win a copy of Ed Smith’s awesome book, “Incredible Vegetables In Self Watering Containers”.

Send us your gardening questions, pics and ideas. We’ll share them with the world.

 

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