Saturday, April 30, 2011

Growing Peppers in an Simple Hydroponic Bubbler

I've been growing bell peppers, banana peppers, and chili peppers in a cheap and easy hydroponic bubbler system that I built for less than $30.  I really built it more as an experiment than as an example of "how to" grow peppers, but it has actually worked better than I originally expected. The 18 gallon tote, 6 net pots, an inexpensive fish tank pump, some tubing, and four air stone bubblers are all I needed.

18 Gallon Tote from Home Depot

Orange Bell Pepper

Green Bell Pepper
Chili Pepper

Green Bell Pepper

The biggest challenge with growing peppers using a bubbler system is regulating the amount of nutrient being used.  I started out changing the water and nutrient each week.  Then I switched to every 10 days and later to every 2 - 3 weeks.  As the plants have been fruiting more and more now that the plants are maturing, I've used a lot less nutrient and done fewer water changes.

With warmer temperatures this spring, there has been more evaporation of the water from the tote.  The leaves begin to wilt a little when the water level drops, so that tips me off to the need to add more.  I usually just top off the tote with fresh water every 4 or 5 days. 

I'm not sure whether I will continue to use this tote as a bubbler after this growing season, but if I can figure how to better regulate the nutrient flow it would be more likely.  At this point, I've just been alternating 4 TBSP of fish emulsion with one water change to 4 TBSP of Bone Meal with the next water change.  Disclaimer:  I have  no idea if that is too much or too little nutrient, but it has worked o.k. in this experiment.

The Blackberry Saga Continues....

Last night while at Home Depot picking up some more river rock for my aquaponics gardening project, I noticed some blackberry bush transplants in 1 gallon containers and couldn't resist picking up a couple.

My two previous attempts with the smaller blackberry transplants didn't work out well (they all died), but these 1 gallon transplants look much more promising. They are farther along in growth process and should work out much better (fingers crossed).

Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry Bush from Home Depot

Instructions to care for the plant on the back

Blackberry Container #1

Blackberry Container #2
I've tried two other sets of blackberry plants in these same containers.  When I removed the old ones to transplant these larger ones I noticed the roots were dead, which leaves me scratching my head as to what happened.  Hopefully my third try will be a winner!

I hope to grow these plants in containers, although drainage might be an issue.  Blackberries don't like to be "flooded" and won't tolerate "mucky soils".  These will get 6 - 7 hours of full sun each day. I'll just need to be careful about watering.

After these start growing in the pots, I'll fashion some sort of make-shift trellis to train the vines. The planting instructions say that the canes can be removed after fruiting.  I know these berry plants will never be as massive in containers as they would grow in the ground, but I've seen wild black berries take over an entire fence row. In our urban setting, I want to maintain more control over their growth.  Containers also add an element of portability to the bushes.  If I decided I don't like them in the front yard, I can simply move them to the backyard (hopefully) :-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Upside Down Japanese Eggplant

I've been growing eggplant in an upside down hanging planter marketed for tomato plants.  I'm not a fan of tomato unless it's in ketchup, but I'm becoming more fond of eggplant each year.

I am growing the ichiban variety because it is more tolerate of hot weather and although it's still spring time in Florida, we've had several days in the 90's already.  The ichiban have taken the hot weather very well.  We had three of them in the pictures below for last night's supper and all were very good.

I've had bad luck growing classic eggplant in my raised bed garden, but that is primarily due to a lack of cold weather protection in the fall of the year.  I learned that ichiban can take more hot weather, so from now on I'll be growing ichiban eggplant. 

I'm not sure it's plainly visible in the pictures, but about 30% of my eggplant succumbed to the pesky little devil known as the tomato horn worm, which obviously also like to snack on eggplant.  :o)

My Blackberry Failure

I am a Billy Joe Shaver fan, so it is moments like this that his song Try and Try Again rings true. 

I have tried to grow blackberry bushes in containers twice.  I purchased two plants from Lowes and two from Home Depot.  Both were "guaranteed to grow", but none of the bushes have grown to date.

Zip. Nada. Nuthin'.

The instructions for both said to keep the roots moist, which I have done, but none of them have demonstrated any growth to date. I guess I've got to keep trying.

It looks like it's going to be a while before I am enjoying my grandmother's blackberry cobbler recipe with berries I grow myself.  I decided to pass on the $30 bushes from a local nursery that were more established and opted for the $5 variety. It appears to be another case of "you get what you pay for", but I haven't given up just yet.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Aquaponics Project Update

Here is a picture of my aquaponics project in the backyard.  The blue tank is my 210 gallon fish tank from Aquatic Eco-Systems. The grow beds are 100 gallon stock tanks purchased at Tractor Supply.

I plan to use river gravel for my growing bed media and I'm leaning toward bluegill for fish and the nutrient source for my veggies.  I'd love to grow channel catfish, but I think my tank is a little on the small side for them.  An alternative is bull head catfish, but I can't seem to locate a source for them in Florida.

You may notice that my grow beds will not completely drain out all the water. Since I live in a sub-division with neighbors very close-by and I have an irrigation system, I decided not to dig out the 10 inches or so that would be required for the grow beds to drain fully.  As it stands, 10 inches remains in the bed and 15 inches drains back into the fish tank.

I plumbed the PVC through the side of the fish tank so I can attach a lid for shade and to keep out the occasional red shoulder hawk and osprey that might find it easy to feast on my fish.

I'll post more pictures soon as things progress farther.

Build an Aquaponic System

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alzheimer's Disease and Association with Food

I was off work today and after watching the local news.  The Doctor Oz Show came on just before I was going to turn of the TV.  Today's topic was alzheimer's disease.  I ended up watching the entire show. 

One of his guest's, Dr. Suzanne De La Monte from Rhode Island Hospital, discovered that alzheimer's disease might be tied more closely to the foods we eat than previously thought. 

On today's program, four main categories of food were discussed:
  • smoked meats 
  • processed cheese: 
  • white foods
  • beer
Based on the recent research, eating a diet with a lot of foods that contain nitrosomines affects the liver which begins producing some fats that affect the brain.  Here's the video link if you'd like to watch it:  An Alzheimer's Breakthrough.   It boils down to eating healthier foods to help us become more healthy.

It sounds like more good reasons to start growing a backyard garden and to limit the quantities of processed foods that we eat. :)

Read more about nitrosomine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First Cucumber Harvest

You may recall that we planted four organic cucumber seeds in our first Earthbox on January 29th. 

Today, 65 days after planting the seeds, we harvested the first cucumber.  Measuring 8 1/2 inches, the cucumber certainly looks appetizing, but a taste test will need to wait for tomorrow since we had homemade pizza for supper tonight.  (I've tried lots of different of pizza toppings, but never cucumber.)

We're training the cumcumbers to grow vertically instead of horizontally.  We decided to use an inexpensive tomato cage available at Lowes and Home Depot.  It makes mowing and weedeating around them easier and it keeps the cucumbers off the ground.

A closer inspection of the plants revealed 4 other small cucumbers in early development.  I think we'll be rolling in cucumbers in a week or two barring too much bad luck.

A few of the leaves on the cucumber plants have developed some discoloration. :( :(  There aren't any visible bugs or infestations on the top or underside of the leaves.  It's not on all of the leaves, but it's quite visible some of he older ones.  The newest leaves appear to be untouched by whatever it is - so far. 

After a little research, I think I've identified the leaf problems as anthracnose (a fungus).  It's very common in cucumbers, squash, melons, and other cucurbits

The weather in West Central Florida has been pretty wet, humid, and hot.  Apparently those are perfect conditions for anthracnose fungus. Darn the luck.

Monday, April 4, 2011


We're are not currently growing strawberries in our personal garden, but we definitely enjoy eating them!  We plan to add them to our growing plan for next year, but in the meantime we buy them from local growers. The CSA Farm we're members of also has a U-Pick option for hydroponic strawberries.

Here's a picture of a flat of locally grown Florida strawberries that Linda recently purchased.  For those who might know how many strawberries it takes to make a "flat"'s 6 pints.

It's a lot for two people to eat in one or two days, but a few years ago we purchased a vacuum sealer which comes in handy for freezing strawberries. 

I sense an evening treat of vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries in the near future.