Kratky Hydroponic Experiments

I get a kick out of some of the gardening sites and seed catalogues that talk about “winter gardens”. They obviously don’t know anything about winter in Zone 1b. Any winter gardening done here is going to be INDOORS!

In my winter garden, the next step up from sprouts and micro greens is a non-circulating or Kratky hydroponic set up. Essentially it is a bottle of hydroponic nutrient solution with a plant suspended in it so that the roots can reach the solution, but also have some air space above it. This link has some information about the system https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZZO1tYqcwk

Kratky model

The thing I like best about this system is that it requires a minimal amount of equipment. A sunny window isn’t quite enough light in the depths of winter when our northern latitude gets only a few hours of daylight; so I do use a grow light. It is a simple bulb replacement in a desk lamp I already had. The rest of the equipment came out of my recycle bin. A plastic coffee can with a hole cut in the top to fit a snack pudding container with lots of holes in it and a bit of sterile potting mix. I had some success using a purchased hydroponic solution, but I am hoping to experiment with some organic solutions too.

kratkylettuce.png

This is a set-up from my experiments last spring. It’s not the best quality photo but one can see a healthy lettuce plant growing in the coffee can nearest the window. The rest of the plants are my seedling starts for the garden to come.  The white stuff outside the window lets you know what time of year it is!

 

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Potato Pancakes

potato flowers

The fall potato harvest was more than plentiful. It was incredible. We’ve given away as many as we can find anyone to take but there are still more than we need to save for next years seed or we would usually eat in a winter, so I am trying to find some ways to replace some of the other starches we would have consumed with some potato based dishes.

One of the easiest to prepare is potato pancakes.  We had some for brunch this morning and I thought I’d just pop this recipe into the blog for anyone who is wondering about what to do with excess spuds.

A mechanical device makes this a simple dish to prepare. A food processor would work fine, but I use my blender. If you don’t have either a simple grater and mixing bowl will work.

potato pancakes

  •  Break one egg into the blender jar.
  • Peel and dice 3 cups of raw potato, and a bit of raw onion into the jar on top of the egg.
  • Add some salt and pepper, 1 Tbsp. flour, and ¼ tsp of baking powder.
  • Blend using a pulsing action until the mixture is a smooth dough.
  • Pour pancake sized portions onto an oiled fry pan over medium/high heat.
  • Turn when the surface of each pancake starts to look a little dry. When cooked through they will be crispy brown and just a little puffy in the centre.
  • Serve with sour cream or cottage cheese.

 

Today we had them as a side dish to a bacon omelet. Yummy!

What can you actually grow in the house all winter?

I am still on the hunt for indoor, winter growing systems that do not involve any cost or at least very little.  I have a number of Kratky projects on the go and they are developing nicely under a grow light. (More about all that later,) But that involves the cost of purchasing and running the grow light and some chemical fertilizer. That wasn’t much, but it is still something and I am looking for ways to actually produce edible food without accessories. The biggest problem in Zone 1b is winter. I am heating my house anyway so I won’t count that as a cost, but there is a problem with the short days and few hours of sunlight that we get in winter. I have often noticed that it is almost impossible to grow much other than sprouts and micro greens before the solstice (around about December 21st).

multiplier onion

One thing that does grow well indoors in winter is a multiplier onion. I was surprised the first time I took these bulbs to an early spring market that  many of my customers, even some seasoned gardeners, didn’t know what they were.  They are a type of green onion that is planted as a bulb, Separates itself into several new plants each of which eventually grows into another bulb that can be replanted to multiply itself again. The whole process takes all summer, but the mature bulbs can be stored at room temperature and regrown in the winter for a nice bunch of fresh onions in about 2-4 weeks.

I have grown the bulbs out in both hydroponic and soil based set ups. Even tucked in beside a houseplant. Almost all the energy for growing is contained in the bulb, so little else is required to grow them out. However, one cannot have one’s onion and eat it too, so one has to save a few for next year’s planting. I save about 50 and that gives me enough for our own winter plantings and enough for fresh summer use for ourselves and my market, as well as 50 new bulbs to save again.  i grow them out in my garden plot; but I am sure that over the summer a medium flower pot (say the size of a 4L. ice cream pail) could grow about six bulbs which would probably yield about 30 subsequent plantings over the winter.

True, one cannot live on onions alone. It is just a start.

Sunflower Shoots

sunflowee clipOne step up from a sprout garden are micro greens or “shoots”. These are just a little bit older plants than sprouts and grow on some kind of medium they can sink their roots into and get a bit of nutrition from, like perhaps an inch or two of potting soil in a flat tray. The baby plants are then cut off with a scissors and used in salads or stir fries.  They are generally harvested at the two or three leaf stage. Sunflowers being the exception. They are harvested at the cotyledon stage as the true leaves are too tough. I have already written about growing micro greens from small seeds like radish and canola; which have become staples in my indoor garden. So good, so easy. Larger seeded plants are a different story.

There are supposedly many different large seeded plants that are easily grown as shoots; certainly any of the sprouting seed species: peas, sunflower, wheat grass, even popcorn! To be honest I haven’t had a lot of success growing large seeded micro greens and I also haven’t had a lot of success finding any that I much like to eat. Popcorn shoots tastes like raw corn only tougher. Pea shoots do not “taste like fresh garden peas”. They taste like over ripe garden peas. Yuk! The exception again being sunflower shoots which have a nice nutty taste and lovely crunch. Unfortunately for me they also seem to be the most difficult to grow.

So the trials began. (Trials in two meanings of the word: an experiment and also a difficulty!) Researching the internet I found all sorts of sites stating that sunflower shoots are “so easy” to grow. Liars. I have tried with soil. Without soil. In a special kit (which was too expensive). On paper towel. Soaked seed. Sprouted seed. Dry seed. I was not impressed by any of the results.

farmer joeHowever I recently came across this short video from Farmer Joe. Check it out – it’s only 3 minutes.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oifWngdzwCg Well if he can teach kids to do this in a 3 min video, maybe I’ll give it another try.

Equipment: Many sites suggested using 10×20 greenhouse trays; but that makes a larger crop than I need. For my next set of trials with this process I am using three same sized Styrofoam meat trays, well washed. The one holding the soil has holes punched in it for drainage. Another one is placed beneath it to catch the drainage. I needed to create some space between the soil tray and the drain tray, so I put a couple plastic drinking straws in between them.  Reusing stuff means the equipment is essentially free, but sometimes I wonder about the safety of plastics. I was glad to come across this site from David Suzuki about which ones are good to reuse. Just check the number in the recycling triangle on the item. https://studylib.net/doc/7984783/plastics-by-number—david-suzuki-foundation#

seedingFarmer Joe’s recipe is 6 cups soil, 2 cups water, and 1cup DRY sunflower seeds. My little trays were pretty full with only 3cups of soil so I cut the recipe in half. That meant I should have used ½ cup of sunflower seed, but I only had ¼ cup so that’s what it got.

 

weightedThe idea of weighting down seeds which I want to grow UP seems a little counterproductive, but all the experts think it is the thing to do. I put the third tray on top of the seeded soil and put 2 cups of water into it for weight. This water will not come into contact with the seed or the soil. It is just for weight. A brick or heavy board or even a book would have worked but I decided water would spread evenly and is easy to measure. (This is an experiment. I have to measure!)

day 3

Joe says leave the weight on 2 or 3 days. Here is what we got

 

day 6

Unlike the sprout jar, shoots will need some light once they germinate. The cover tray was removed and the seed tray placed where it could get some light.

 

I found 3 Canadian companies selling sunflower seed for sprouting:seed pkg

WestCoast Seeds https://www.westcoastseeds.com/shop/vegetable-seeds/microgreens-seeds/microgreen-sunflower-seeds/

Mumms http://sprouting.com/product/424/Sunflower%2C-Black-Oilseed.html

Microgreens Canada https://microgreenscanada.ca/shop?keywords=sunflower&olsPage=products%2Fblack-oil-sunflower-seeds&page=2

They all have some shipping charges and my local seed house sells Mumms for the same price as their site with no shipping costs so that’s where I’ll buy more.

day 8 harvestThe crop was ready to harvest 8 days from seeding. I clipped the sprouts a bit above the soil. The shoots will keep a few days in a plastic bag or tight glass jar in the fridge. They’ll keep longer not washed, but should be washed before using.  The soil and roots will go into the compost.

 

So what are the findings of the experiment? Well. It is possible to grow sunflower soil sprouts. I won’t worry about trying to make them grow taller as some suggest because the stems are stringy. Using less seed than recommended is a good thing – it makes it easier to clip the shoots at harvest time.
Will I repeat the experiment? Probably, but I am also have some lettuce started under my grow light, and I’m looking into some other leafy greens as well.

Small seed Micro-greens

This is the second in my series on growing food indoors in winter. One of the problems with growing sprouts in a jar is that one has to attend to them quite often. This set up is self-watering. I am not sure if it is really a sprout or a microgreen, but whatever, it’s easy. I used this system a lot last year and have some set-ups started again. It is good for small seeds like radish and brocholi, not so good for larger things like peas and sunflower.

sprouter 1I started with 3 same sized repurposed plastic dishes. Any food grade plastic dishes would do. Rectangular is probably better than round. I filled one about half full of clean water, then I cut the top edges and ends out of another one of the dishes so it would fit upside down in the water.

 

Then I folded a paper towel so that it covered the upside down surface and hung down into the water to serve as a wick and layered another paper towel or a napkin on top folded so that it formed a growing surface right out to the edges. That kept the seed from falling into the water. The paper towel draws water up from the bottom dish to keep the growing surface wet.  Then I sprinkled it with seeds. I think radish was my favorite, but I also grew a lot of canola last winter. It took about a tablespoon of seed.

sprouter 2 sprouter 3

sprouter with lid

I used the third dish as a cover to hold in lots of moisture until the seeds germinated. It only took a couple days.

 

 

 

Then it is just a matter of waiting until the little plants are big enough to harvest and snipping them off with a scissor to add to a salad or sandwich.

growm spouter

To harvest your micro-greens lift the napkin and trim the spouts off with a scissor. After harvest throw away the paper towels and napkins that have formed the grow pad (or add it to your garden compost pile), and wash the plastic pieces as you would your dishes. Use new paper towels and/or napkins for your next crop.

Here are links to another DIYer’s idea for making a self-watering sprout grower out of a plastic clamshell type container. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAFEJPHd8yA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXQKXs4_R6I

Winter Gardening

Sprouts

sprout jar 

In gardening as most other things one should “start small”. A sprout garden is about as small and easy as you can get. Sprouting is more of winter project for me. In summer there are other things to grow and eat. This time of year, in Zone 1b, the only gardening one can do is indoors.

If you’ve never done this, try radishes first – even if you don’t like garden radishes you might enjoy the sprouts which are flavourful but milder. They are also easy and quick to grow. All you need is a glass or plastic jar and some sprouting seeds. Garden seeds may be treated with fungicides so best to buy some labelled “sprouting seed” or save your own.

Start small. A tablespoon of seed might be enough. All you need to do is soak the seed overnight in water then drain it off, rinse twice a day with tap water leaving enough water in the jar to keep the seeds moist until the next rinsing. In about 3 or 4 days you will have some edible sprouts. A canning jar with a piece of screen or cloth to replace the metal lid works well.

For some of the things I sprout that take longer than radishes, I do a little disinfection step at the very beginning and add a couple drops of chlorine bleach to enough water to cover the seeds, let them sit in that for 5-10 minutes and then drain and rinse and then start the overnight soak.

Some of the other things I sprout are sunflower seed, cabbage or broccoli, mung beans and wheat. I’m personally not too fond of alfalfa which is the main staple of most sprouters, but try it. You might like it.

 

 

 

Feeding the Multitude

loaves and fishesI started thinking about this blog on July 11th and it has taken until now for me to get serious about writing it. July 11th was World Population Day and this year it was estimated that the human population on planet Earth was about 7.6 billion people. It occurred to me at the time that probably 7.6 billion people was too many. Too many to feed, house, transport etc. Too many to provide an acceptable quality of life without killing the earth.

The results of this large population are not always good. The World Food Program estimated that “805 million people are suffering from hunger today. …That means one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.” http://cdn.wfp.org/2015/805millionnames/

There were other scary statistics about how many of us are depending on the Earth’s bounty for our daily bread. It got me to thinking about who is actually growing the food we all depend on.

One source I looked at, the World Bank no less, noted that:

Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries.  They make up almost half of the world’s farmers, and over the last few decades, they have broadened their involvement in agriculture.  The number of female-headed households has also increased as more men have migrated to cities.  As the primary caregivers to families and communities, women provide food and nutrition; they are the human link between the farm and the table. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/03/07/women-in-agriculture-the-agents-of-change-for-the-food-system

It occurs to me that most of those women doing the food growing are doing it for the same reasons I grow food. To provide a cost effective way to provide good nutrition for their families and maybe make a little cash as well.

If the climate scientists are right, we may not have much time to do the things we have to in order to survive. Since the biggest problem is there are just too many of us, there are all kinds of things we could do to reduce the population. Some of them would be OK. E.g. education and empowerment for women always decreases the birth rate.  Some of them might not be so OK. I suspect that if we do nothing we will experience population reduction by starvation and disease; just as any over-population of animals is like to do.

I also got thinking about all the urbanization that has occurred in my lifetime even right here in the middle of Saskatchewan, where agriculture remains a major industry. As a result of that, how many people have no access to garden or field space to grow food? As much as I love to garden, I personally cannot do much about global hunger, but each of us might be able to do a little to reduce our dependence on the food industry if there were some easy, economical ways to do that and we had the knowledge of how to do it. In spite of the fact that my home is surrounded by acres of good soil, in the winter I am also without food growing space, so this winter I’m going to try and find some cost effective ways to grow food in my house. This may end up with a series of posts as I use some systems I’ve had success with in the past and experiment with some new ideas. I hope my readers are up for seeing me through these challenges.