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Vertical Growing

Vertical farming has become a hot topic in the last couple years in the Green Industry & is only continuing to grow in interest & popularity.

A big push has been made for Vertical Farming due to a few factors:

  • Decreasing amount of arable land
  • Increasing amount of extreme weather
  • Uses less land to grow more food
  • Uses less water
  • Uses less fertilizer
  • Moves Green Industry closer to technology

Here are a few of the ways you can grow vertically – indoors & outdoors!

Grow Racks

Grow racks are probably the most popular method that is currently out there. Some companies are growing 10-15 levels high, or even higher in some cases! Crops grown in these systems is limited to leafy greens & herbs due to the smaller space they occupy. Commercial crops like Tomatoes & Cucumbers are already “vertical growing” – some grow up to 30 feet tall!

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Zip Towers

Commercialized by Bright Agrotech, these grow towers are essentially like 2 gutters sandwiched together with a foam growing media that you grow the plants in. Unlike a gutter that lays horizontally, these are grown vertically and then you stack towers side-by-side. I have not tested these out, but have had my eye on them since the first time I heard about them! You can grow them outdoors, but I feel like it would be more ideal to do indoors or in a greenhouse to maximize production.

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Grow Towers

There is a wide variety of Grow Towers out there. Some are hydroponic or aeroponic – meaning that the roots are either growing in nutrient-rich water, or the roots hang in the air & is misted with nutrients & water. Typically, those types of towers are also using artificial lighting, but I have seen some growing in greenhouses.

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Other Grow Towers do use soil – some are made by growers themselves, but I am going to be testing this Tower out this summer that holds 250 plants & uses soil – so excited to see how well it works! This is going to save me from building as many Gutter Growing systems & will save a ton of space as well! Instead of 250 heads of lettuce taking up 250 square feet, it will take up 4 square feet – pretty impressive right?!

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Gutter Growing Systems

This has been made popular by In.Genius Farms out of Canada & I’m excited to give this a whirl this season. I think I’ll mainly grow leafy veggies, herbs, green onions, & maybe even strawberries. My concerns are that they will not stay hydrated enough – & will be hard to keep watered when temperatures get in the 90s this summer. Not only the water issue, but the actual heat issue – how will that affect the plants roots, will it bake them? I guess there’s only one way to find out!

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I think that Vertical Farming will only continue to expand, but there are some challenges that need to be tackled:

  • Energy usage from Grow Lights
  • Ease of harvest from higher racks – typically a scissor-lift is used
  • Crops grown – most vertical growers only grow leafy greens, microgreens & herbs
  • High startup costs

Vertical growing has been in theory for nearly 100 years, but companies are just beginning to tackle this growing option with plant factories & new growing systems coming out all the time. There are challenges, but through testing, failing, & innovating, I believe that this will be the future of growing as the population expands & the size of farms continues to shrink.

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3 Tips on How to Care for your Seedlings

You started your seedlings a month ago  – they’re growing like crazy, right?

If so – here’s how to keep them growing strong!

If not – this article will help you get them growing on the right track & help to set you up for gardening success this year!

The moment that you begin to plant seeds is such a revolutionary time. As you fill the seed trays with soil, you feel your soul being filled with the hope of growth; the hope that warm weather & bountiful yields are on the horizon. But first, you need to get these bad boys growing – and then you need to keep them alive & healthy!

Here are the most important things to monitor to grow like a pro!

  1. Light – I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s usually one of the hardest things to adjust for, and in my opinion, the #1 reason for new gardeners believing that they have a “black thumb”. Light is the most important thing for a plant to have – it’s how they transform carbon dioxide & water into food that fuels growth. When you start your seedlings in a window in February-March, there a few things you have to realize. You need a south-facing window. During winter & early spring, the sun will travel low in the sky in the south & a south-facing window has the most light exposure. Also, daylight hours are short, not usually long enough to facilitate proper growth because seedlings need between 10-14 hours of light to reach their full potential. If you see that your seedlings are getting “leggy” & stretching out – you may not have enough light and may need to consider using grow lights to get the results you want.
  2. Water – Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but trusting the plants to take care of themselves is another beginner mistake that just happens – you live & learn after a few seasons of “practice” 🙂 You want to make sure that you’re keeping water at an optimal level. What does that mean? Check on the soil – is it visibly dry? If yes, then water. If no, check later in the day or tomorrow. On the flip side, don’t keep the soil so moist that it never gets a chance to dry out. This will essentially drown the seedlings by not allowing air to get into the growing media – not to mention the potential for algae, disease, or fungus growth.
  3. Fertilizer – This was an area that I was always shaky about when I began gardening. Mainly because you think that the plant already has everything it needs. And also because you hear horror stories of people who over-fertilized & “burned” their plants up. The good news is that there’s this cool thing called a label on the fertilizer. If you read that, it will tell you exactly how much you need – in most cases it will even have a recommended rate for seedlings! As a rule of thumb, I usually look at the recommended rate & cut that in half and then will fertilize every other time I water the seedlings. This isn’t to steroid the plants out, but to keep them happy. If you are inconsistent with fertilization, it will affect the pH of the soil & affect the ability for the nutrients to be delivered through the soil media into the plants (this will have to be its own separate, and highly technical article in the future).

So I’m sure this advice seems basic or elementary, but success is on the other side of executing the fundamentals exceptionally well.

Happy Gardening!

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Growing Microgreens in the Plant Lab

Since we have set-up the Plant Lab I have been focused on growing the plants that will feed my customers for my small CSA I’m running this year – but I also wanted to test out Microgreens & see how well they would grow under the Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights we have.

Microgreens are baby seed sprouts that are harvested early for a robustly-flavored, nutrient-dense additions to everything from salads to sandwiches. Some of the common seeds used for microgreens include: arugula, beets, broccoli, basil, cilantro, dill, kale, carrots, radishes, sunflowers, mustard & more!

There were so many different varieties to choose from, it was hard to pick one to grow. I actually had Mustard seeds left over from last year’s test with Microgreens & I was determined to make it work this time around!

Here’s a link to the video version of this blog!

Before we get growing, here are a few supplies you’ll need:

  1. Seeds – take a packet, any packet! There are almost unlimited options for varieties to grow. I thought about what was typically missing from a salad that I like (spice) and chose my seeds (mustard) from there. I would recommend looking up “microgreen seeds” to get some ideas of options available & to make sure you’re not using a seed that is treated with fungicides, pesticides, etc.
  2. Growing Trays – a standard 10″x20″ tray will work just fine, but you can grow them in pots or anywhere you want.
  3. Growing Media – you can use standard soil mix, but I used Biostrate felt which is designed for growing microgreens (and I was curious how well it would actually work).
  4. Water – microgreens are like any other seed & need moisture to germinate and water to continue growing.
  5. Fertilizer – since we are usually using growing media that doesn’t include nutrients, we will need to add them to feed the microgreens throughout the growing process. I used Seedlingers Plant Fertelixer & had great results! It has an analysis of 3-.6-.6 & contains 3% calcium. The label states it is an all-natural, biological fertilizer & also says “Feed the soil. Feed the microbes. Feed the Plants.” So I’m guessing there may be some mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi) in there, but can’t verify that.
  6. Light – sunlight works great & it’s free! I used TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED lights because I don’t have a greenhouse or a window that will get the amount of light that I need. Fluorescent lights will work too but LED has been proven to produce more nutrient-dense & flavor-rich microgreens.

Steps to Growing Microgreens

  1. Moisten the soil or felt so that seeds will stick in place.
  2. Liberally scatter seeds on the growing media. You want a dense coverage, but you also need to think about airflow through the tray – don’t seed so densely that it chokes out your crop.
  3. Spritz with water from a spray bottle or gently water seedlings in.
  4. Check them every day & keep the media from drying out completely.
  5. Begin a low-dose fertilizer regimen when you see green growing from the seeds.
  6. Harvest in 10-21 days depending on the seeds. The should be about 2 inches tall.

Below is my Mustard Microgreens’ growing journey – from seed to salad!

DAY 0

DAY 1

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DAY 2

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DAY 3 & 4

DAY 5

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DAY 6 & 7

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DAY 8 & 9

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DAY 10

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DAY 12

 

I hope this guide helped you gain an understanding of what Microgreens are & how to grow them. If you have any further questions, concerns, or comments, please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section below or hit me up on any of my Social channels & I’ll be happy to help.

Happy growing! 🍀🤓🍀

 

 

 

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4 Lessons Learned on Seed Starting

A little over one month into our seeds’ journeys & you can see that they have all taken very different paths on their journey from seed to CSA.

Evergreen Green Onions & Starhawk Lettuce were the first seeds we planted on February 12th. Both began with decent germination, but I soon saw the flaws in my methods. As the Onions & Lettuce grew, I noticed that germination was spotty, the seedlings were laying down rather than growing tall & standing and I didn’t really figure it out until I planted my 2nd round of trays – I didn’t dibble deep enough holes for the seeds & they were essentially sprouting on top of the soil. This left the roots exposed & did not provide a strong environment for survival.

Lesson 1!

Kale was another one we seeded early because it too is a cold-weather crop. We started it under fluorescent lights and it was doing okay – a little leggy because it wasn’t getting the proper amount of light distributed amongst the whole tray, but it was a whole different story once we put them under the Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights – mmm, real light! However, the Evergreen Onion seedlings seem to be doing amazing under the fluorescent – I’ll take it!

Lesson 2!

While everything else is thriving, I look at these empty trays and wonder, “what did I ever do to you Starhawk Lettuce, why won’t you grow!?”

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Starhawk grew great for us last year, so I can’t quite figure out the problem. At first I thought it was temperature – but even tomatoes & peppers have germinated and they typically need a warmer environment (especially Ghost Peppers) so it couldn’t be that. Then I thought it was the trays – but here’s how the Starhawk Lettuce looked in the same growing trays last year:

Lettuce sprouts
Lettuce growing in the greenhouse

So it couldn’t be the trays fault. I know I planted the first tray of seeds too shallow, but I corrected it for the second tray – and still having issues. At this point, the only thing I can think is that the leftover seeds from last year’s planting actually did hit their expiration date – I’m going to keep the faith on these bad boys & hope they decide to come around! Moral of the story, always analyze, refine, and attempt to correct issues early or preemptively if possible!

Lesson 3!

The seeds that I am the most surprised & excited about are the Tomatoes & Peppers. We planted 4 types of tomatoes & 6 types of peppers and saw germination of the tomatoes within 7 days & germination of the peppers within 10 days. Since I am growing some hot peppers including Habaneros & Ghost Peppers, I knew that I would have to add some heat to get them off to a strong start. In order to do that I put them under fluorescent lights which give off heat unlike LEDs which usually don’t add much heat to the system. And I also used seedling heat mats under the trays of tomatoes & peppers, which sped up germination like I couldn’t believe! I’ve always thought that it was hard to get Ghost Peppers to sprout, but I saw sprouts in 10 days! Maybe I’ll try another tray of lettuce & use the heat mats 🤔

Lesson 4!

Seedstarting is always a time of excitement with anticipation of spring, but more importantly, it is a time to analyze your challenges and develop a plan to dominate your garden execution. Here are the 4 lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Dibble holes for seeds – AKA plant seeds at the proper depth.
  2. Total Grow Broad Spectrum LED lights over everything! (Except, maybe, for onion seeds).
  3. Be aware of the challenges – analyze, refine, correct & always have an open mind to learn from mistakes rather than punish yourself for them.
  4. Seedling heat mats make life better by jumpstarting germination

Seedstarting is my favorite time of the year because I get to dive into my passion of plants & gardening and because it’s conclusion is spring! I hope this helped with your seed starting questions – leave a comment with any further questions or challenges you have and I’ll be happy to answer in the comments or on my podcast on Anchor called Plant Rant!

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How & Why I Built my Plant Lab

Last year was the first time that I was able to grow from seed to harvest & I credit my success to my “Plant Lab”.

The Plant Lab is located in a closet in the unoccupied bedroom on the 2nd story of my house. When I purchased the house, my first thought after seeing the empty closet racks was to turn it into a vertical growing system – and after I bought the house that is exactly what happened!

The set up for 2017 consisted of a mixture of T5 fluorescent & LED grow lights on 3 different levels. Each level could hold 2 propagation trays of 72 seedlings each.

Level 1 & Level 2 each have one T5 fluorescent light – which is definitely not enough light to distribute evenly along the trays, but we made it work for tomatoes & peppers under these lights last year!

Level 3 had two economical LED lights that I purchased from Amazon – they worked a lot better than expected and the quality of the plants was visibly healthier than the fluorescent-grown seedlings.

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Fast forward to 2018

Yesterday we built additional growing space into the plant lab & more than doubled our production area! We did this by repurposing shelves from the greenhouse in the picture below, setting them up in the Plant Lab under a clothes-hanging bar.

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Since there were no existing light sockets, we got light sockets with 15.5 feet long braided cords, wrapped the cords around the clothes-hanging bar, secured it, and screwed the light bulb in – plugged in the cord, flipped on the switch & voila – let there be TotalGrow Light! Learn more about TotalGrow Broad Spectrum Lights here.

This new set-up will help us to accomplish all of our ambitious goals with our Veggie Subscription Box – so far we have 11 people signed up, so we have a lot of seeds to plant and a tight schedule to adhere to.

One of the first crops that we can plant are onions – so that’ll be the first seeds we will sow! Green onions were a popular pick on the preference sheet, so we need to make sure we have enough for every customer.

Subscribers will be getting their Veggie Box Bi-weekly, so Group A will get their box on June 1 & Group B will get their box on June 8 theoretically. This will hopefully spread our harvests out enough to ensure all members will have a full Veggie Box.

In order to achieve this we will be planting certain seeds – like Green Onions, Lettuces, Cilantro – at least every 2 weeks so that the harvest will continue until the heat forces us to resort to other crops like Tomatoes, Peppers, and other late-season veggies (or fruits).

All-in-all we are looking at having 14 trays in production at one time under this new set-up!

If you’re curious about how I set up my Plant Lab – check out my video on the installation!

I’ll be keeping a strong flow of content on my Podcast, blog, and my YouTube channel – if you’re interested in following my journey and learning about gardening, growing or making gains in life, would love if you followed & subscribed 🌰🌱🙏🌳

 

 

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3 Types of Grow Lights for Seed Starting

leaf growing in a light

Whenever I talk about grow lights, I always get a sideways glance, a suspicious look, or a playful joke – trust me, if I was growing “smelly tomatoes” I definitely wouldn’t be talking about it! 😂

There was a time where grow lights were only used in dank-smelling basements & illicit indoor grow ops, but times have changed!

People want to grow indoors for a number of reasons:

  • Starting seeds
  • Growing plants & food through the winter months
  • Vertical growing

And in order to grow indoors, you’re going to need some light! The 3 most popular types of lights that growers use include:

Fluorescent

Fluorescent lighting used to be the most abundant light source around us (probably still is in some offices!), but most light has been switched to LED due to efficiency, lifespan, and economics.

Your best bet is to go with a High Output T5 light – that will give you the strongest light that you can get from a fluorescent & should be enough to get your seeds rocking & rolling! Here’s how my tomatoes & peppers did under the T5 last year.

These are great lights for seed starting & I also use mine for my abundance of succulents that I have planted in Root Pouches – stop by the shop if you want to help me clear some out 😊 or let me know if you see one in the picture below you like & I’ll get it listed!

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HPS (High Pressure Sodium)

I have no experience growing under HPS lights, but almost every grower that I have worked with over the past 5 years that uses grow lights, uses HPS. And when I say grower, I mean vegetable, annual, perennial, trees, shrubs, not cannabis.

These lights were the industry standard for a long time, but there’s another benefit that is overlooked – the heat they emit. Growers in warmer states may not want this, but this is a huge benefit to northern growers like Ohio, Michigan, or Minnesota. LEDs may save you money on energy costs, but how much more do you have to pay for supplemental heat?

This is why there is no one-size-fits-all solution for lighting. As with everything in life – it depends on a lot of factors.

LED (Light Emitting Diode)

LED lighting seems like it is on a whole other level than other lights. There are about 8 million different configurations of LED grow lights out there ranging from a $20 panel on Amazon to a $2000 set-up from a more sophisticated manufacturer. I don’t have experience with the high-end lights, but here’s what a few of those cheap LEDs did for my Habanero seedlings last year.

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LEDs have a ton of benefits:

  • Uses up to 50% less energy compared to HPS or Fluorescent
  • Can incorporate a wide light spectrum that includes Far-red, Green, and Blue
  • Ability to dial in a “light recipe” – some lights let you select amounts of Red, Blue, etc
  • Don’t give off high amounts of heat like HPS – won’t burn plants
  • Can provide disease suppression

Because there are so many options out there, I decided to go with the TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED bulbs. The initial cost is higher than fluorescent lights, but the energy usage is 24W versus 11W – plus I’ll get a higher quality of light from the LED & my plants will grow exceptionally well!

Fluorescent lights have an inefficient & less powerful spectrum that causes plants to stretch out a little, but that should be completely mitigated with this new light set up – I can’t wait to see the power of Full Spectrum lighting!

Full Spectrum

What does Full Spectrum mean? Different colored light has differing effects on plants. See the chart below from TotalGrow to see what the Broad Spectrum LEDs do for your plants.

TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED specs
Credit: Totalgrowlight.com TotalGrow Broad Spectrum LED Light Recipe

I’ll also be posting updates throughout the growing cycle – from Seed Starting to Supplying our customers with their CSA Veggie Box – so stay tuned to see how these lights perform from Seed to Sale!

As always, feel free to comment any questions, concerns, or drop some knowledge on me with anything I’ve missed!