Although many of us are still reveling in the wonderful 2013 holiday season, I have already turned my attention to the upcoming year. I have been given the opportunity to test some great new hydroponic fertilizers designed to ensure that our 2014 crops are the biggest and best ever…and I would like to share this opportunity with all of you!
There is one dilemma: There are too many products from which to choose. So I propose you, the readers, pick which products are tested in my experiment. The experiment will be conducted under a 600 watt HID light in a 4′ x 4′ side by side drip to waste hydroponic system. The potential fertilizers for testing are: Mills nutrients bio-mineral fertilizer line (a great Dutch organic/synthetic fertilizer), ROCK nutrients line of chemical fertilizers, Bio Tabs time release biological organic fertilizer line, Xtreme Nutrients line of fertilizers guaranteeing to produce a great grow, and last but not least the well known 3 part (grow, micro, & bloom) line of fertilizers from Humboldt Nutrients.
Vote for what you would like to see tested. Vote early. Vote often. Encourage others to vote. Vote for what you want and I will test, document and share ALL of the results.
Have a Happy New Year and thank you for your readership and participation.
Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Man, I wish there was a place where I could find detailed, easy-to-understand information on a variety of topics related to indoor gardening”? Well, if Atlantis Hydroponics wasn’t already your source for all things hydro knowledge, it certainly will be now!
We’ve teamed up with Just4Growers to provide you with concise, helpful info sheets on everything from Plant Physiology to Indoor Grow Lights to Organic Growing Techniques. These guides feature essential terms, diagrams, and handy tips that will have even a novice gardener growing in no time. Just find the topic you need, click on the image, and a printable PDF will open for easy viewing.
Here’s a sample for your viewing pleasure. For the full range of topics, visit our Hydroponic Quick Guides.
As the very heart of your indoor growing set-up and arguably the most important element of any hydroponic set-up, a grow light is also likely to be the most expensive piece of your indoor garden investment.
Yet with so many variables to take into account, finding the right grow light can be a frustrating process. Often, the most confusing part is understanding how powerful your grow light needs to be.
Understanding the wattage
One of the first things to understand about grow lights is wattage and how it relates to the needs of your plant. Whether you see 180W, 500W, or 600W on the label, what the wattage information is actually referring to is the power at which the light runs and thus the number of lumens it will produce.
A lumen is a unit of measure used to describe the amount of visible light emitted by a source, which in our case is the grow light. Lumens are For Humans but PAR is For Plants is a great article to read to learn more about lumens and PAR (a better measure of light for plants). Essentially the power of your grow light (along with your type of ballast, bulb, and reflector) will determine the amount of light produced and therefore the size of the area it will be able to cover.
Knowing this, you need to determine some basic information before purchasing a grow light. First, take into account the demands of your plants. Do they prefer a lot of light like tomatoes or less light like lettuce? Also consider the size of the grow room they are going into so you can decide how many grow lights you need and of what wattage.
Don’t overpower your plants
As a conscientious hydroponics grower, you do not want to choose too large a light for your grow room, say a 600W grow light in a grow room of just 3 feet (1m) square, as this will waste energy and result in an unnecessarily inflated electricity bill. On the other hand, you do not want under-powered lights for your growing area, such as using a 250W grow light in a 6 foot (2m) square grow room.
It’s important to balance saving electricity and your passion for growing. Ensuring your bulb has the right amount of power for the size of your room will help prevent your plants from overheating and producing a poor yield.
Grow light guidelines
If you are looking to install some grow lights in your growing area (whether it is a room or in a grow tent), use the following chart showing the power to coverage ratio of a few of the more common bulb wattages.
General Grow Light Coverage Guidelines:
· 250W = 3 foot (0.9m) square coverage
· 400W = 4 foot (1.2m) square coverage
· 600W = 5 foot (1.5m) square coverage
· 1000W = 6 foot (1.8m) square coverage
· 1500W = 8 foot (2.4m) square coverage
By sticking to these general guidelines, you should be able to get a good idea of what wattage grow light to buy for your indoor garden. I would also recommend looking at other factors related to the type of plant(s) and the intensity of the bulb, as there are a few different types you can buy. By choosing products that emit lumens efficiently and produce the right color and intensity of light for your plants you should be able to achieve a flourishing crop.
Today’s guest post has been provided by Growell Hydroponics, a leading UK hydroponics supplier.
This seasonal recipe combines the delicate flavor of squash blossoms with all the delicious organic herbs growing in your garden during the summer months. The spice of the herbs and the heat of the crushed red pepper are balanced by the creamy, rich ricotta cheese while the citrus notes play on your tongue. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone looking for a delicious vegetarian treat that screams “summer is here!”
6 fresh organic squash blossoms
1/4 cup fresh organic parsley
1/4 cup fresh organic basil
1/8 cup fresh organic mint
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying
Wash the squash blossoms inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Make sure to remove the pistil from inside the center of the blossom by pinching it off at the base. Rough chop the parsley, basil, and mint and place in a blender. Add the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, 1 tsp lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1 egg white to the blender. Blend until mixture is smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon herb and cheese mixture into pastry bag, then pipe generous amount into the center of each squash blossom. Heat oil in cast iron skillet on medium-high to 350° F. Scramble remaining egg in a shallow dish. Pour breadcrumbs into another shallow dish. One by one, coat stuffed blossoms in egg, then coat in breadcrumbs and place on wax paper until all are prepared. Carefully place the squash blossoms in the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.
Back in February, we started our experiment to test how Heavy 16 fertilizers and APTUS additives performed compared to General Hydroponics’ Flora Duo. We have been growing Trinidad Scorpion peppers using separate drip to waste reservoirs, feeding individual plants in the same 4′ x 4′ Botanicare grow tray. All of the plants are being lit by a single 400 watt High Pressure Sodium Hortilux SUPER HPS bulb. As a refresher, check out Update #1 and Update #2. After a little more than 3 months, we have had to end the experiment a bit early. While both fertilizers performed admirably, the experiment was hijacked by a massive number of aphids.
Due to the fact that the aphids could not be controlled by organic pesticides, I have decided to end the experiment so as not to bias the results. The final results have been tallied, and the total fresh plant weight (weighing the stems, leaves, and flowers) is shown below. Thank you to all who voted for this experiment as well as those who have been following it diligently. If you have other experiments you would like to see performed, please email me at email@example.com.
Most of us live a technology-packed, fast-paced life with push notifications influencing our behavior as we walk down the street, and our pockets constantly buzzing, dinging, and ringing as we sync our ever-busier schedules from phone to tablet to desktop. It is no surprise that we have lost touch with Mother Nature. Whatever the excuse for our lack of connection with the earth, the fact remains that sometimes what we need most is our hands in the dirt as a reminder that all of our scientific innovations and accomplishments still pale in comparison to the magic of a seed sprouting and growing into the very food that sustains our bodies. Gardening is for everyone. It is a reconnection with nature, a time where we can think in peace, pound our frustrations into the soil, and all the while regain a Zen state of being. No matter your schedule or living situation there is a type of garden that will fit your life!
The Backyard Garden – Simple and easy. Find a sunny spot in your yard and dig away. Any size plot will do, just stick your shovel in the ground and start turning the soil. Add plants or seeds and you have a garden!
The Square Foot Garden – For the space challenged, the urban gardener, or the balcony bound, a container or a few 3-5 gallon pots of soil along with a little planning and some organic seeds, and you are on your way to food self-sufficiency.
Urban / Modern Gardening:
The Closet Garden – For anyone with a closet to spare. Protect the floor, reflect the light (more on that in a minute), add a grow light, soil, and some seeds, and you can be a year round farmer.
The Grow Tent Garden – The simplest and fastest way to have a garden that meets your needs, as well as the needs of your plants. A perfect fit for every space (they come in lots of sizes), with all of the forethought already built in, it will make your garden a lush cornucopia in no time.
The Vivarium – This terrarium-style garden can be designed to meet the needs of more exotic plants, but for you “Type A” control freaks out there this might be what you are looking for. These little gardens are designed to be tiny working ecosystems behind glass. Attractive and compact, it is a perfect fit for your high rise apartment overlooking the concrete jungle, adding a bit of nature back to your brick bastion. Check out Orchid Karma for an exciting look at Vivariums.
The “Out of the Box” Garden:
The Trailer Garden – Although not every gardener’s cup of tea, this type of garden is proving to be perfect for dooms day preppers and businessmen alike. It’s essentially a re-purposed shipping container transformed into a cash cow or an end of the world Eden. Check out our friends at Podponics in Georgia for a more in-depth exploration of this contemporary take on farming.
The Cave Garden – I admit this one is a bit of a stretch as most of us do not have a vacant cave in our real estate portfolio, but this is really cool. What can you do when your mine shuts down, and you are left with a maze of tunnels winding inside the earth? Well if you are smart you may turn it into an underground farm. Check out Bird’s Botanicals to see how this gardener made an environment without sunlight into a horticultural oasis.
The Rooftop Garden – With a strong movement towards locally grown produce and a desire to reduce carbon footprint, many gardeners have transformed urban rooftops into productive and profitable farms.
So what do these different gardens have in common? Basic needs. All plants require that five basic needs be met: Light, Air, Water, Fertilizer, and Substrate. Let’s examine how these needs are met by growers using the the various gardening methods above.
Light provides the input of energy for the chemical process of photosynthesis that turns carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. Outdoor gardeners simply utilize the sun as their light source; after all it is free and effective on all but the cloudiest of days. Indoor growers like the closet gardener may employ a variety of light sources to provide energy to their gardens including fluorescent, HID, LED, and plasma lights. All mentioned will work for providing the energy necessary for photosynthesis, but some might be better suited to your needs. Talk to the associate at your garden specialty or local hydroponic store to find the best light for you.
Air is a category that encompasses several factors including carbon dioxide, temperature, and humidity. All of these are critical to plant growth and are all important to account for in any type of garden.
Carbon dioxide naturally occurs in the air we breathe (and ironically by the air we exhale), but the 400+ parts per million (PPM) in the air may not be sufficient if there is not enough air exchange or air movement in the garden. Outdoor gardeners have it pretty easy in that the natural movement of air ensures they always have enough CO2.
Indoor growers who have constructed rooms and grow tent gardeners must actively work to ensure their plants receive adequate CO2. For a grower just starting out a grow tent can be a good option. The grow tent manufacturers built in all of the same universal and necessary features of a grow room, affording a novice grower a well designed grow space without the years of experience necessary to design a grow room on their own.
One of the best things about grow tents are that the manufacturers, knowing that CO2 is necessary, have designed ventilation holes for both the intake and exhaust of air. Exhausting the air with an inline fan creates negative pressure inside the tent, and allows for the passive (or active if a second fan is also used) flow of fresh CO2 rich air from outside via the intake flaps. A gardener can also choose to supercharge their indoor garden by utilizing either bottled CO2 or a CO2 generator to increase the available amount of CO2 in the room to 1500 PPM, but we’ll touch more on methods of adding CO2 to grow rooms in another blog post.
Temperature requirements vary with the plant, and although most plants can survive for a short time outside of their ideal temperature range, longer exposure to extreme temperatures will slow growth and possibly kill them. Some orchids for example, like the Phalaenopsis (2nd most grown potted plant in the world) prefer a minimum of 65°F but prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50°F will cause severe damage or even death. That is why I must tip my hat to the ingenuity of David Bird, the cave gardener. He knew the ambient temperature of the cave in the mid 50s combined with HID lights would increase the temperature by 15+ degrees providing ideal temperatures for his tropical plants. Cooling is accomplished with fans pulling colder air from unheated areas deeper inside of the cave, while simultaneously exhausting the warm grow room air.
Humidity is sometimes overlooked by gardeners, but a necessary factor to be aware of and mitigate. Plants will grow in a wide range of humidity but some are more finicky than others. Humidity being too high can result in an environment that is overly hospitable to mold and bacterial infection, while low levels of humidity can stress a plant as it tries to replace moisture constantly lost to transpiration. The vivarium gardener must keep a watchful eye on their humidity as the small volume of air in the garden allows for rapid swings in humidity with slight increases in temperature. Often both a humidifier (to raise the humidity) and an exhaust fan (to lower humidity) are built into the design of a vivarium.
Water is necessary for all life, and one that all of our gardeners must supply. Fresh water can be provided from any number of sources including streams, reservoirs, ponds, aquifers, and wells. One of the simplest and best sources of water is rainwater. Using a simple rain water collection system and a rain barrel allows our rooftop gardener or square foot gardener to provide fresh water to their garden. When it comes to water, the question isn’t just its source, but how to use it. For plants growing in either soil or soilless mix, the best advice comes from a sage old orchid grower who said, “You can never water too much, only too often.” What he meant by that is if you water a little bit every day the growing medium will stay wet and the roots will rot. Conversely if you water a 1 gallon pot with 20 gallons of water the growing medium will be fully saturated but as long as you wait until the growing medium dries out appropriately your plant will not suffer. In fact heavy watering will help prevent fertilizer build-up in your growing media.
There are 16 elements that plants must have, although some would place that number in the twenties. There are many brands and formulations of fertilizer to choose from, and none of them are “the best.” That is because different plants, growing mediums, and growing environments all necessitate different fertilizer choices. So what do our square foot and back yard gardeners do? Many make their own fertilizer using grass clippings, leaves, and organic kitchen waste, by tossing it into the compost bin. It takes just a few months for free, supercharged, rich compost for their gardens that feeds the plants an organic diet rich in minerals and nutrients, while improving the quality of their soil.
The growing medium can have a significant impact on the success of any garden by determining several factors: moisture, pH, drainage, fertilizer retention (CEC), and oxygen content in the root-zone. There are many growing mediums to choose from: soil, soilless, LECA stone, diatomite, perlite, vermiculite, coconut, redwood fiber, sawdust, recycled glass (Growstone), volcanic rock, gravel, rockwool, and even air. Each of the growing mediums listed above (and by no means is it an exhaustive list) have attributes and differences that will make them more or less effective in a particular application. However, sometimes you just do not have many options, like the two inventive youths from Swaziland who took the limited materials they has access to (sawdust and chicken manure) and used them as the media for a hydroponic science experiment, winning $50,000 and the Scientific American’s inaugural Science in Action award.
Regardless of the type of gardener you are, the style of gardening you practice, or the crops you grow, the five basic needs of plants will always need to be addressed. The better you are at meeting the fundamental needs of your plants, the greater amount of attention you can devote to the details which differentiate a good gardener from a great one. With so many gardeners and innovative methods of farming coming into practice, remember the basics of growing remain the same.
DO NOT REPRINT OR REPOST THIS BLOG POST WITHOUT EXPRESSED WRITTEN PERMISSION. THANK YOU.
After Atlantis visited the 18th annual Southern Brewer’s Fest last August, it was hard to believe that Chattanooga’s love for beer could be topped. But as we walked around the first annual Chattanooga Craft Beer Festival (CCBF), hosted by the Tennessee Pavilion, we realized the Scenic City had outdone itself once again.
This event blew the Southern Brew Fest out of the water. The atmosphere alone was right up our alley considering that for over a year now we’ve been selling brewing supplies, making our own homebrew, and growing a personal enthusiasm for craft beer. Put on by Rhizome Productions, the CCBF was quite possibly the best thing ever for a lover of craft beer.
Instead of setting up a booth and promoting our store, we chose to mingle and sample with other brew-heads, talking about our own love of beer and answering questions about making beer at home. The best thing about this festival, besides the fact that there were over thirty vendors offering two to four types of beer, was the overwhelming attendance and support of local brewers.
One third of the beer makers present were native to Tennessee, while half of those were based right here in the Choo Choo City. Chattanooga’s own Barley Mob brew club, Moccasin Bend, Chattanooga Brewing Co., McHale’s, Terminal, and Big River all made an appearance to represent the true spirit of craft beer we share here in Chatt-town.
The new festival brought great innovations to the benefit of enthusiasts by setting up a one time fee and supplying free drinking water. The cost of your ticket would give you entrance to the event, a sample glass, and endless refills to try every single last one of the beers offered. That’s right, if you could manage to drink two gallons of beer in a matter four hours then you would be more than welcome to sample over sixty different kinds of beer. Unfortunately, we could only put down about ten types, but it was fun nonetheless.
Meeting fellow brewers, talking to the pros, and trying more kinds of beer than ever before made the CCBF a most enjoyable experience. We look forward to the Second Annual Craft Beer Festival and hope that next year there will be even more good beers to choose from. Thanks to Rhizome Productions and all our hometown brewers for making the CCBF such a fun and friendly event!
My mouth watered, my eyes grew large, and my mind drifted off thinking about how amazing it was going to be to bite into that giant red apple- all crisp, sweet, juicy flesh with the surprising flavor of a Concord grape. I salivated all the way home in a state of food induced delirium. While at the grocery store I had stumbled across the Grapple®: four perfect apples packed in plastic with a sign that said “Imagine the sweet distinctive flavor of Concord grapes combined with the crispness of a fresh, juicy Washington Extra Fancy apple.” I am sad to say my excited anticipation was far better than the Grapple®.
In the case of the Grapple®, it turned out that there was little if any actual modification of flavor. The company’s “patented process is complex, and the ingredient mix primarily includes concentrated grape flavor and pure water (USPP #7,824,723)… There is nothing but flavor being infused into the apple. A relaxing bathing process prepares our apples for you…” There was no earnest attempt to genetically alter the flavor. They simply used natural and synthetic flavorings and “infused” them into the apple.
My Grapple® experience left me jaded and disappointed, but my disappointment may soon have reason to subside. Scientists are currently looking at manipulating flavor and aroma (the two are inextricably linked) by means of genetic engineering. This work may lead to better tasting and more nutritious produce and increased pest resistance in plants. It may even have a profound impact on the entire commercial agricultural industry.
Trying to alter or improve the flavor and aroma of fruits, vegetables, and flowers has long been the realm of plant breeders. To begin a breeding program, one first must collect a diverse population of genetic plant material, then carefully select stud plants and make crosses with the singular goal of improving the flavor or aroma of a given fruit, flower, or vegetable.
This type of breeding is called selective breeding. Selective breeding, or artificial selection, is the intentional breeding of a plant with desirable traits in an attempt to produce offspring with similar desirable characteristics or with improved traits. There are several obstacles to this approach. It consumes massive amounts of space and time to grow up a speculative cross and divine if it has been successful at achieving one’s goal(s). Also, plants only breed with other plants of the same familial order, making the resulting possibilities limited, and because we do not yet fully understand the mechanisms that are responsible for flavor and aroma, we have been stumbling around in the proverbial dark.
Before scientists can modify flavor, first they must understand the complex matter of what flavor is. “Human perception of ‘flavor’ involves integration of a massive amount of quantitative information from multiple sensory systems… Chemically, flavor is the total of a large set of primary and secondary metabolites that are measured by the taste and olfactory systems (Klee, 2010).” Taste is the amalgamation of all of the sensory data from the 5 classes of taste receptors in the mouth: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory). Quantifying flavor is a challenge by itself, but as anyone who has ever had a cold will tell you, flavor is inextricably linked to the sense of smell. As mammals, humans rely greatly on the combination of senses (i.e. taste and smell) to form sensory experiences because our senses are not as developed as those of other mammals. Humans have 10 cm2 of olfactory epithelium compared to 169 cm2 of olfactory epithelium in a German Shepherd (which is why they are the preferred drug sniffing dog breed).
The flavor and aroma we experience from a given fruit is determined by complex mixtures of often hundreds of volatile compounds. A strawberry has over 300 compounds that contribute on multiple levels to make up the characteristic flavor we associate with a ripe strawberry (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). A tomato has more than 400 aromatic volatiles which constitute its aroma and flavor, but only 15-20 in sufficient enough quantity to impact flavor. The volatiles are composed of the metabolites of several chemical groups that include: acids, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, esters, sulfur compounds, furans, phenols, terpenes, epoxides, and lactones. Although the individual concentration of these substances vary from tissue sample to tissue sample, their concentration makes up 10-100 parts per million of a fruit’s fresh weight.
The compounds responsible for flavor are generally formed during the ripening stage of flower/fruit development when the metabolism of the plant changes and catabolism of high-molecular weight molecules such as proteins, polysaccharides, and lipids degrade and are converted into volatile metabolites (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn). Catabolism can be thought of as destructive metabolism, or the breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to form simpler ones, along with the release of energy. It is during this stage of ripening that flushing a plant’s growing medium (depriving the plant of nutrition) and forcing it to catabolize its stored metabolites can most impact the final flavor.
Prior investigations of fruit flavors focused on identifying compounds present in various fruit species (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). Along with the classification of flavor compounds researchers often identified the substances that were responsible for the unique scent we attribute to a particular fruit (methoxyfuraneol for strawberries and isoamylacetate for bananas). Current research on fruit flavor is focused on the genes that directly influence fruit flavor formation. Future success at manipulating fruit flavor hinges on the research being carried out today; gathering information about the genes and metabolic pathways that generate fruit flavors. Other avenues of research include experiments that use genes isolated from plants other than fruits, such as the leaves and glandular trichomes of various herbs to modify flavor.
Bio-engineering fruit flavor may seem like a waste of time, but there is a growing consensus among consumers that in recent decades the overall flavor quality of produce has declined. This decline has been attributed to breeders selecting for particular traits such as disease resistance, appearance, firmness, post-harvest shelf life, and yield. This focus on fiscally beneficial traits has resulted in less expensive, year round produce that frankly does not taste good. Genetically modifying flavor is not restricted to introducing “new flavors or enhancing existing ones but also includes the removal of undesirable metabolites that generate ‘off-flavors.’ Since most of the molecules that compose the flavor profiles of fruit may exhibit antifungal or antibacterial bioactivity, it is conceivable that manipulation of fruit flavor will not only influence the flavor profile of fruit but will also confer resistance to pests and pathogens (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn).”
The first genetically modified tomato called the Flavr-Savr (also known as CGN-89564-2) was approved for commercial production in 1994. Using genetic engineering the naturally produced enzyme that generates an “off flavor” and mushy texture was turned off. The result was a vine ripened tomato that could be shipped with minimal bruising and spoilage. Due to poor flavor and mounting costs the crop was pulled from production in 1997.
The prevalent method currently employed to manipulate flavor is called transgenic genetic engineering. The transgenic approach refers to the modification of an organism by transferring a gene or genetic material from one organism to another. A gene is a segment of DNA that codes for the production of a protein; proteins determine particular traits.
For example, the gene for flower color. The arrangement of the nucleic acid compounds on a chromosome in one plant tells the flower cells to produce certain proteins that make the flower blue. On another plant, the nucleic acid compounds are arranged differently, instructing the plant to make pink…Some genes control regions of a chromosome. These regions are like a light switch or a thermostat. They turn the gene on or off, or regulate the amount of protein produced. While cells carry identical DNA codes, different cells have different functions. For example, the gene that makes a flower pink is not needed in the root, so it is turned off in the root cells and turned on in the cells of the flower. (Spears, Klaenhammer, & Petters)
An advantage of transgenic genetic engineering is that precise alterations can be engineered into cultivars that are already proven commercially. Two of the most common GMO crops in production are cotton and corn that have been modified with the addition of a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. The resultant crops are toxic to caterpillars but safe for humans. A major obstacle of utilizing the transgenic approach is that the present regulatory environment makes it very expensive to gain approval for genetically modified organisms. Additionally, even if approval is obtained for a GM (genetically modified) crop, there is a growing social movement that vehemently opposes genetically modified produce.
We recommend if you want a great “old-time” tasting tomato, go visit your local farmers market once the tomatoes hit the stands, or you can pick up some organic heirloom seeds and grow them yourself! The day might be coming however, for better or worse, when commercial greenhouses will be packed with high yielding, disease resistant, flavorful genetically engineered tomatoes; if you choose to eat them will be up to you. To stay apprised of Farm Bill legislation in your state, get involved with a local advocacy group, and always try your best to know your food.
This light and tangy salsa is the perfect treat just as the temperatures start to climb towards summer and fresh organic produce becomes readily available. The combination of the sweet strawberries and organic honey are balanced by the acid of the lime and the heat of the jalapeno. It is as if Mother Nature welcomes you to Spring with every delectable bite. This salsa does not keep well so make sure to make only what you can use immediately; actually no matter how much you make there probably won’t be any left anyway.
2 cups fresh picked strawberries from Twin Oaks Fun Farm, diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 cup organic cucumber, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lime zest
Juice from one lime
2 tablespoons organic Orange Blossom Honey from Hidden Springs Farm, LLC
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced (seeded for a milder flavor, or leave seeds in for extra heat)
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
salt to taste
Chop strawberries into 1 cm cubes (approximately) and place in bowl. Zest the lime and place to the side. Juice the lime into a separate bowl and mix with the organic honey. Pour over the diced strawberries, toss and let mixture stand to macerate. Next, chop the cucumber, avocado and the jalapeno into 1 cm cubes and place into serving bowl. Add the strawberries and about half of the lime juice/honey mixture; too much and the salsa will get runny. Toss with cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Chill for 2-4 hours. Enjoy.
The key to this dish is to make sure all of the ingredients are chopped to the same size; too small and you will lose the various textures, too large and the flavors will not combine as well.
Adapted from a recipe at Better Homes and Gardens.
The idea of planting a garden can be daunting. There is so much information and advice as well as countless products and additives to choose from, it might feel as if you need a PhD to grow a tomato. The fact is that everyone can easily grow an edible garden. Similar to buying real estate, the most important choice a gardener makes is location; you cannot grow sun loving plants (which most vegetables and fruit are) in dense shade. Most vegetables (excluding leafy greens like lettuce and cabbage) require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Most of us can find an area that gets enough sun, but what are you to do if the area with the correct sun exposure does not have healthy rich soil? The answer is simple: build a raised bed garden.
Raised bed gardens have several advantages over traditional in-ground gardens. First, raised bed gardens are constructed above ground, lending themselves to easier planting, tending, and weeding. Raised beds are little more than large container gardens and can be placed anywhere, regardless of the quality of soil underneath. Also, raised bed gardens are ideal for square foot gardening. You can build them out of wood (do not use pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the pressure treated wood can leach into your soil, and your plants), or buy a raised bed garden kit. Another option for someone that wants a raised bed garden but doesn’t have the time or tools to build one is to use a large fabric aeration pot. Aeration pots are fabric containers that come in sizes from 1 gallon all the way to 300 gallons. The benefit of aeration pots is that they prevent the plant’s roots from becoming root bound, while encouraging a more robust root systems with greater surface area in contact with the soil for improved nutrient absorption.
Once you have built your raised bed or purchased an aeration pot, now comes the all important choice of what to fill it with. I prefer a high quality potting soil like Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest which is loaded with organic fertilizers and micro-organisms. However if that does not fit your budget, another less expensive option is topsoil, which is sold by the bag at every hardware store or sold by the truck load. It can be used as base for your garden soil, but topsoil is not ready to use just yet. I recommend when buying topsoil to make sure it has been screened, ensuring that large pieces of organic debris and rocks have been removed. Plan on adding organic matter and organic fertilizer to the top soil; it will guarantee a bountiful harvest of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
The best way to add organic matter to soil is by adding a rich compost. Compost is decayed organic matter, and it is one of the best things you can add to any soil. You may have the notion that a compost pile is a big, ugly, smelly pile of leaves and lawn clippings, but that is not necessarily true. Today people have options of homemade compost piles, well constructed compost bins, and stylish compost tumblers. These provide everyone the option of making their own nutritious organic soil inexpensively. You can also improve the soil structure and improve the moisture retention and/or drainage of your garden soil with the addition of products like perlite, shredded leaves, peat moss, coconut coir, and composted bark sold as “soil conditioner.”
Aside from compost there are several organic fertilizers and additives that can be added to improve your garden soil. One popular option for adding organic matter to soil is to use composted animal manures. There are several kinds to choose from including: seabird guano, bat guano, cow manure, horse manure, and chicken litter. Generally, manures from animals that eat vegetation are preferred to animals that eat meat. Animal manures vary greatly in the nutrition they will provide your garden due to the different diets of the animals that produce the manure. When possible, it is best to use composted manures and guanos in your soil; fresh manure is best placed in your composter to age and breakdown before it is used or you risk burning your plants. An added benefit of animal manures and guanos is that they provide an excellent source of beneficial micro-organisms which add to your soil’s ecology. You also have the option of adding beneficial fungi and bacteria with products like Mykos and Azos.
Other options for amending soil include the following organic fertilizers and additives:
A natural granular source of phosphorous and calcium in addition to several trace minerals. Rock phosphate is an excellent source of phosphorous which promotes cell division, photosynthesis and respiration. Also encourages the growth of earthworms and soil bacteria that enrich and aerate the soil. Slow release so it will not leach away like chemical blossom boosters. Apply 1-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. for gardens.
A slow release organic nitrogen source. Excellent as a top dressing when extra nitrogen is needed. Stimulates bacterial growth. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft or as a top dressing.
Steamed, finely ground bone provides phosphorus, calcium and nitrogen. Promotes strong, vigorous bulbs, healthy root systems and good blooming. Excellent for flowers, roses, garden bulbs, shrubs and trees. Use up to 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.
Contains 22 minerals and helps loosen compacted clay soils. Highly recommended for conditioning pastures, lawns, orchards, fields, and gardens. Apply 2-4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.
A pure all natural plant food produced by earthworms. Helps develop foliage in plants and improves aeration of the soil. Worm castings are also a source of nitrogen. Use in gardens and flower beds at rate of ½ cup per plant every two months. In potting mixes add 1 part earthworm castings to 3 parts soil. For roses mix 4 cups into soil around each plant.
Sulfur is excellent for lowering the pH of soils for growing blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid loving plants. Use according to soil test recommendations – do not over apply. Maximum use ¼ lb. per 100 sq. ft.
Micro Pelletized Gypsum
Pelletized calcium sulfate; supplies calcium and sulfur while loosening clay soils, aiding aeration and water penetration. Use when calcium and sulfur are needed, and pH of the soil is alkaline. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.
A natural liming material which supplies additional calcium and helps maintain a near neutral pH in your soil. Apply 3-5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.
Once you have built your bed, added your soil, and amended it with lots of organic matter and fertilizer, it is time to plant your seeds or seedlings. Starting seeds is easy to do with a Viagrow™ Seed Starting Kit. Another option is to visit your local nursery and buy vegetable seedlings; ask them what varieties will perform best in your area. Water regularly (as needed) and top dress around the base of your plants on a monthly basis to ensure your plants have plenty of food. You will be eating your harvest in no time.