Monday, May 30, 2011

Carrot Harvest

I harvested bunches of carrots this afternoon.  The carrots were the last remaining vegetables in our above ground beds for this season. 

I have noticed that carrots can be planted pretty close together without any noticeable side-effects in my above ground beds.  Planting in squares, rather than in traditional rows helps increase yields per square foot and conserves space when space is limited.

I think the natural carrot flavor is quite a bit better when they are harvested in cooler weather, but it's been a dry growing season here in 2010-2011 and the carrots were slow to mature this year. 
Things are really heating up here in West Central Florida, so we'll prepare for solarizing the soil this weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Serrano Peppers for Salsas and Barbecue Sauce

Here's a picture of a serrano pepper growing in my backyard. 

A couple of years ago I started above ground gardening and after several trials and many errors, I've been successful in growing several pepper varieties in a simple, but very effective, hydropinc bubbler constructed from an inexpensive 18 gallon plastic tote.

At my house, we eat lots of green and orange bell peppers, cubanelles, poblanos and even some jalapenos now and then.  But the serrrano is a little out of my league. It's quite a bit higher up the Scoville heat scale than anything I could eat fresh from the garden.  When I purchased the seeds, I didn't pay much attention to the potential mouth scorching qualities of a "hot" pepper, but luckily I did a little research before plopping on in my mouth.

A jalapeno ranges 2,500 - 8,000 Scoville heat units, while a serrano ranges from 10,000 - 25,000 Scoville heat units.

Fortunately for me, one of my co-workers loves to make salsas. She took a batch of the serranos last week and made a batch of very tasty salsa that went well with a bag of Tostitos.

If you like hot bbq sauce, maybe you should consider growing your own hot peppers too. I can help if you're interested in building a cheap and easy hydropnic bubbler, but if you prefer the traditional gardening route, has a nice article you might find helpful.

Funny story....I was making ABT's last year from jalapenos and decided to casually munch on one while I was cleaning up.  Apparently someone put a green serrano pepper in the bin where the jalapenos were being stored at Publix. Ohhhcheewowow!! I grabbed ice cubes, milk, water and any other liquid I could get my hands on quickly.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aquaponics Project Update

I've been cycling my aquaponics system for two weeks now.  I had every intention to do "fish-less" cycling techniques to establish the bacteria in my grow beds before adding fish to the system. 

I don't have access to well water or spring water where I live, so I used tap water to fill my fish tank.  I let it sit for 3 weeks and circulated it for a couple of hours daily.  Three weeks should have been plenty of time to dissipate the chlorine in my tap water, but my water utility also uses chloramine (3 ppm actually).

Then I added 3 TBSP of fish emulsion to the 200 gallon fish tank.  I then started testing for an ammonia spike, but the ammonia spike never arrived. :-(  It took a few days, but after doing some digging around in various aquaponics discussion boards and aquaculture vendor websites, I figured out why.

Although my water testing kit did detect a small amount of nitrites in the system, it registered zero for ammonia.  I am new to aquaponics, but from what I've learned so far it's unlikely to have nitrites without ammonia.  So the issue had to be some type of issue with my water testing.

Tip:  Before you treat your tap water for chloramines, do some research and make sure you have a reliable method of testing the ammonia in your system.  Certain types of bonding agents and treatments that remove the chloramine, do not register well on the well-known water testing kits.

I have identified a water testing kit that should allow my treated water to be reliably tested, but untiil it arrives I definitely won't be adding anymore fish to my system.

Build an Aquaponic System

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cheap Fish for Aquaponics

My home made aquaponics systems is almost finished.  I have everything adjusted so that it will fill two 100 gallon grow beds with river gravel media in 15 minutes.  With that, it's time to get it cycled up so that we can begin growing some veggies and feeding some furtue food (i.e. fish).

Eventually, I plan to raise bluegill or if all else fails - tilapia in the aquaponics system - but for now I've added some "feeder" goldfish.  I think they are perfect for beginners to use (like me).  They are readily available and priced right - 38 cents from the big box store.  That way, if my system gets out of synch, I don't have too much money invested in fish. As the system stabilizes and my experience and comfort levels improve, I'll add some fish for our dinner plates.

To give you an idea ow just how big "feeder" goldfish can grow in an aquaponics system check out this video:

Build an Aquaponic System

Eggplant Recipe with Ramen Noodles

Since we joined the Gamble Creek Farm CSA two seasons ago, my wife has been preparing eggplant as a normal part of our meal planning.  Now that we're also growing Ichiban eggplant in our backyard, we eat eggplant more than ever.  Here's a recipe she found in Everyday Food Magazine, that is one of my favorite ways she prepares a simple, quick, easy, but tasty eggplant meal. She substitutes Ramen Noodles instead of lo mein noodles. (I think the Ramen noodle version is better.)

8 ounces lo mein noodles
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. toasted sesame oil
1 t. light-brown sugar
4 t. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. Japanese or other small eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
5 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 c. fresh basil leaves, torn for serving

Cook noodles according to package instructions; drain noodles and rinse with cold water. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar and stir until sugar dissolves.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high until hot. Add 3 teaspoons vegetable oil and swirl to coat skillet. Add eggplant and stir until golden on both sides (4 minutes total). Push eggplant to side of skillet and add 1 teaspoon oil. Add scallion whites and garlic stir (30 seconds). Add noodles and soy mixture and toss to combine all the ingredients. Top with scallion greens and basil before serving.