Jen’s Greens Grow Op

PATRICIA REMY – For years now, I have been promising myself to grow my own leafy greens. In summer it’s simple. Swiss chard thrives in my garden plot. Larger pots of lettuce grow on the deck. This year I began harvesting carrot greens. Aster stems, Queen Anne’s lace stems and dandelion leaves, which grow on their own, are now part of my summer greens’ diet. In fact, most weeds are edible. Just check out any weed you intend to eat for safe consumption – that’s what cell phones and the internet are for (or see my article, Weed Salad for Beginners, Oct 2023)

Winter is another story. I am not a natural farmer, i.e. I do not want to spend hours nursing my plants along. This winter, though, I have been encouraged by the set-up my friend Jen developed.

Jen bought a couple of sets of shelves. She purchased the silver coloured wire ones with the black plastic plugs. You will also need grow lights. Several businesses in town carry them. If you have space in a basement or a closed verandah which gets some light and where the temperature does not go below freezing, you are on your way. Plant your seeds in little pots on trays on the shelves. With some ingenuity you will be able to figure out how to suspend your grow lights. Then, go for it!

The blessing, of course, lies in the details. Instead of soil, Jen uses a hydroponic solution as her medium for the seedlings. Jen “plants” her seeds in little cups of it. When the seedlings are large enough, she transfers them to rings made of slices of swimming noodle to hold them upright in the solution. Gently.

Jen followed A Guide To Home Hydroponics For Leafy Greens by Ryan Ronzoni and Neil Mattson of Cornell Controlled Environment Agriculture. (I will not even attempt to summarize its 75 technical pages here.) The advantage of this miniature tome is that it has assembled all the necessary information in one Guide. Perhaps you, like me, have become discouraged by scrolling through the thousands of DIY videos online telling how to grow veg indoors.

Among the two basic systems of hydroponics, the non-circulating methods are, for amateurs, the best bet. No pumps and electricity are needed. If you are satisfied to begin simply, with lettuce, and leave other vegetables until you are more experienced, a good reference is Three Non-Circulating Hydroponic Methods For Growing Lettuce, published by B.A. Kratky of the University of Hawaii in Acta Horticulturae, volume 843, pages 65-72. (www.actahort.com). There you will find instructions on how to plant seedlings and how to transfer them to the hydroponic solution. You will need plastic bottles of various sizes, trays with little pots, and containers to mix your solution. Instructions for the composition and mixing of the solution are included.

Jen emphasized that it was important to buy the components from a professional source. The product she obtained locally did not cut it. Jen recommends Holland Industry, e.g. Plant Prod 6-11-13.

If you are serious about hydroponics and want to profit from Jen’s experience, just write the Greenzine and I will refer you directly to her.

Not being so adventurous, I will attempt something much simpler. My spring project, of which I will keep you informed, is to set up a soil table in the basement and see what success I have with it.

Jen is Jennifer Darling, avid skier, paddler, cyclist, and emergency doc at Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC).

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