I don’t reference the “Donner Party” lightly.  Because prepping and survival are the most serious topics a person can address; even more so than money or mating.

As we laid it out on the Peoplenomics side earlier this year, the ideawas that I would put in a simple “two veggetables” garden and conduct “The Great Tomato Race.”  

There was a “science angle” to it (being a measurement freak and all):  I wanted to see whether deep water culture hydroponics (DWC) would outproduce simple “dirt gardening.”  And how this would compare with “greenhouse potted plants.”

Mistake #1:

Here’s a picture of the dirt garden at 10-minutes before high noon.  Far too much shade.  Remember that solar meter?  It had been telling me for months that I wasn’t getting enough sunshine for effective gardening.  But, I went ahead and watered-away, hoping that there’d be enough light…

There wasn’t.

Mistake #2:

If I had been paying closer attention to the tomatoes (the ones in the dirt), I would have noticed some creatures were getting into the garden at night and munching away leaves…

Mistake #3:

This one should have been obvious:  I over-watered.  And that set in motion a terrible succession of moss/algae blooms and this turned into what?  Tomato leaf wilt…

Since I also over-watered the tomatoes in pots in the greenhouse, they “got the rot” too.

There’s one survivor but it’s not looking good….

Mistake #4:

Back out in the dirt garden, there was a wild fungus eating into the squash…Talked to the county AgLife extension fellow (Truman) and he informed me “You are not alone…”  Hard year for gardening around here.

Useful Insight #1:

After cutting one of the low-lying shade-giving evergreen branches, I “rescued” one squash plant.  I’m hoping to get a few veggies off this guy:

Useful Insight #2:

Mother Nature is prodigious in her programming of survival.  Off to the side of the “loved” (and over-watered, over-fertilized, staked, and nurtured) tomatoes was a plant I totally ignored.  So far, this is the ONLY tomato to come in (the term “so far” indicates my inability to deal with reality):

I’m almost afraid to pick it:  Since it’s the only tomato, ALL gardening (and chemical) costs this year make this little sucker a $265 tomato…

Mistake #5:

Next time around on the hydroponics, I will put in a larger “feeding port.”  Reason?  The plants that I poured fresh nutrient over (even when rinsed) burned causing their early demise.  On the other hand, the plants that didn’t get fertilizer burn grew like hell…

Mistake #6:

Until I got the skylights opened, put the air movement fan on high (instead of low) the HUGE hydroponic tomato plants weren’t setting fruit. Note to self:  When I expand the greenhouse, bring the chiller from the shop up to the greenhouse.

Since figuring out why the airplane is trying to crash is one of my survival skills (!), I have a fair number of dime-sized “tomatolings” again…

Mistakes #7 through (Lot Count):

I got a tremendous number of things “right” but shot myself in the foot in numerous ways.  Starting with an incredibly late start and a very (extremely) wet spring that caused fungus to appear on pine trees…

More (dumb, stupid) mistakes to learn from?

  • If you’re going to start hydroponic plants, do so in starting sponges.  I left a bit of soil on the seedlings and before long, that clogged up the water-change pump.
  • If your water-change pump clogs up, change the water every couple of weeks anyway.  Going without a water change for four weeks probably didn’t help my plants.
  • Do a better job of anticipating “table sink.”  The 300+ pounds of hydroponics gear sank that table out of level which contributed to the die-off of the uphill-most plant.
  • Don’t use “tap water” for hydroponics.  On the agenda here is the install of a permanent 150 GPD reverse osmosis pump.  That will remove the trace algae from the water supply and will end having to use chemmies to push pH around.
  • Install hydroponics systems  on the ground not on tables.  Reason? My roots were getting too hot.  When roots get hot (>75-77F) they stop soaking up as much Oxygen and this, in turn, slows growth.
  • If you do overheat the roots, you can increase O2 uptake by adding food grade hydrogen peroxide to the nutrient.  One tablespoon per gallon. Don’t tell Elaine where all her peroxide went!
  • Put a garbage can in the greenhouse to hide the evidence in.
  • Take the time to calibrate your Water-testing meters.  I still have this on my “Round Tuit” list.  But, when your local water is pH 8.3 and has a TDS (total dissolved solids) north of 800 (all good minerals, but just really hard water), starting from 7.0 off the R/O and a TDS of 50 makes it a lot easier to do DWC systems and using calibrated instruments will keep nutrient levels closer.
  • Witth TDS 800 water, I ran nutrient in the 2600 to 3000 range and called it good, but when the R/O system goes in, that should help results.
  • Buy a $30 (or more) TDS meter.  I have a collection of a half dozen  each of cheapo pH and TDS meters now, and no two will give anything even remotely similar in the way of readings.
  • Try using the plain-jane (no batteries to store) pH test strips.  Cheaper and give you the same results.  Then you only need the TDS meter.
  • Store the nutrients (MaxiGro and MaxiBloom) in the shop or in an air conditioned (low humidity) area.  Left outside in the Texas steam-oven summer, I  have a new daily task of scrapping nutrient off the day’s ration from a 40-pound solidified block of MaxiBloom.  Nice, light Himalayan salt pink, though…
  • Never pour nutrient concentrate onto a growing plant, even if you rinse.  “I thought it might help upper root structure” the plant is another useless over-think.  Until fully diluted nutrient mix is death to plants.
  • Apply  Neem Oil before the insects eat everything, not after.

What are the “next steps?”

Well, gotta bring down some big trees when  Oil Man 2’s forestry-whiz-kid has time (and temps are back into the 80’s  fahrenheit, not centigrade).

The greenhouse will be expanded.  I’ve never had a bad idea I learned from the first time…On all such projects, I aim for twice the size, four times the budget….

Oh,  and with the lack of food from the garden, Zeus the Cat is worried that this whole gardening experience will give us a new appreciation for cultures where eating  cat  is acceptable.  He’s been leaving kashrut and  halal notes laying around the office…

I’d suggest he’s paranoid, but with a cat, how do you tell?

Oh…if TS does HTF and someone invites you over for dinner to talk about gardening problems?  Don’t go!  Or, bring the cat.

Sprout off when you get rich,

george@ure.net

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