During the last week, I did alot of replanting and remixing...and a little bit of harvesting. A very significant dilemma that the project faces is my lack of gardening skills. I was hired for this internship mostly for my writing abilitily and familiarity with Microsoft Excel; being able to grow and maintain the plants was not a high priority skill, due to the expectation that the community members themselves would be more engaged in the gardening, and my role as a researcher was to be more of an observer of community groups than an implementer and maintainer of hydroponic systems. Lack of community involvment is due to lack of communication between the community groups and the researchers. We have yet to set up a formal educational or explanatory program, which is essential for people to take part in the project. So, until we organize such an event (which actually may already be planned), I am learning all the necessary skills that I need via Youtube tutorials, or calling known gardeners (mom).
One of the things I have learned is the necessity of picking off flowering buds before herbs "bolt." Maybe common knowledge to gardeners, I failed to do this, so my plants often look very different from the ones on the package. Here (above, right) is a a spinach plant that I expected to be bushy and compact, but as you can see, is more jungle-ish. To the left is an equally neglected parseley plant, which one brave soul at the Houghton-Jones Community Center performed a taste-test on, and said that it was much more bitter than parsely that is harvested at the right size. Even though this plant is beyond the stage in which it can be eaten, I can't bring myself to just kill it, as it is still very healthy, even if it doesn't taste so good to us. So I am leaving it in its hole on Puck to thrive on.
So dilemmas aside, things are going well (ha). I thought I might, in this blog entry, give a small explanation of how we start our plants. The materials for each unit are a piece of rockwool, a 1'' net-pot, about 6 inches of braided nylon rope, and of course, a seed. First, we must soak the rockwool in water for 24 hours. The rockwool is the medium in which we plant our seed. While hydroponics are wonderfully soil-free, dropping a seed in water won't get you very far--you need something to hold it in place and support the plant when it sprouts. Seeds are still genetically wired to grow in soil, so it's necessary to make it feel like it's in soil so it grows right. Hence, rockwool the medium, picutured hear. Rockwool is purchased in sheets of about 100 for a total of $8 or so. It looks like several Carmello-bars placed side by side, except green and scratchy.
After the rockwool is soaked, we run the nylon rope through the bottom of the net-pot to act as a wick, pulling the water that runs along the bottom of the PVC pipes up to the rockwool and to the seed. The nylon rope works very well, and is far superior to strips of cotton towel, because the cotton towel rots after so long, and then you end up with 100 or so dead plants and a bunch of towel-carcass floating in your nutrient resevoir. When we put the wick in the net pot, we wrap about 2 inches around the bottom to get as much surface area as possible toucing the rockwool, and let the rest dangle into the PVC pipe. Then I plop the the rockwool right inside the net-pot on top of the wick. Then, put 2 or 3 seeds in the little hole (pre-drilled hole, very nice) and stick that into the holes on top of the PVC. Eventually, it sprouts, and you get little guys that look like this small basil-squirt. This plant resides at Living Center South SVSU dormitory on the system which I have named "The Godfather." This system is set up slightly differently than the other systems, with florescent lights above each row instead of with halogen, flood-lights mounted on the top row in the center of the system. Don Corleone is pictured here, in the lobby of LCS. We turn the lights on during the night and shut them off at night. Even eight florescent lights uses only about 60% of the energy as having two halogen lights uses, and the florescents put off much less heat. We have yet to see if the florescent lights support growth as well as the halogen lights. Also notice that we have mounted lights above the top row of plants. With the halogen lights, the top rows are neglected, receiving much less light than with this system, but again, the florescent lights may prove to be less supportive of growth than the halogens. Don Corleone receives more sunlight than any of the systems downtown, as it sits right next to a west-facing window, the plants next to the window receive a few hours of direct sunlight each day. I will document carefully any difference in progress between the plants right next to the window and away from the window, and may even remove the lights aboe one row of plants to see if the less frequent sunlight is able to support the plants as well as those subsidized with florescent lighting. After 2 weeks of growth, the basil plants on Don Corleone are doing consistently well. I only had to replant 2 plants that did not sprout successfully from a cohort of 76 plants. I also planted 3 lettuce plants to see how they did with the florescent lights just today, so we will see how that turns out.
Hasta el proximo vez,