Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tomato Fruit Set

I have Cherry Tomatoes!

The Cherry Tomato Flower that I  blogged a month ago has produced a tomato (See the little cherry tomato  on the upper part of the picture on the far right).  

Looks like I will have Cherry Tomatoes ready to pick in May!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Drip Irrigation Move - Part 1

I moved my Drip Irrigation System this weekend.

Previously, I had hooked my Drip Irrigation System to the outdoor faucet in my backyard. I only have one faucet in my backyard, so I had installed a 4-way water distributor (see picture to the right) to the faucet. This allowed me to connect the Drip Irrigation System and still get water from the faucet for other purposes.

Unfortunately, the 4-way water distributor started leaking pretty badly. I did not want to buy another one because it was somewhat expensive (over $20) and only lasted 2 years.

However, without the water distributor, I would have to go inside the house to get water everytime I needed it.

There was a sprinkler system installed in part of my backyard that I was not using. Drip Irrigation is much more efficient way to distribute water to plants than sprinklers, so I had deactivated the sprinkler and put in drip irrigation to water in that area of the backyard.

Fortunately, the sprinkler system still worked, so I decided to move my Drip Irrigation system to take adavantage of the sprinkler system.

The backyard sprinkler system only had 2 sprinklers attached to it. One of the sprinklers would be used for the Drip Irrigation System. The other sprinkler had to be capped off so that the water would not come out when when the Drip Irrigation System was activated.

I unscrewed the unneeded sprinkler. There was a short (2") plastic riser that attached the sprinkler to the PVC pipe. I removed riser and replaced it with a longer (6" riser) and put a cap on top of the new riser. I wanted the cap near soil level so that I would always know where the PVC pipe ended, in case I wanted to put the sprinkler back in.

I did the same thing at the other sprinkler. Only this time, I attached a 2' plastic riser at the end of the PVC pipe (see figure at the left). I needed the extra length to provide enough room for the Drip Irrigation system.

The sprinkler system used 1/2" PVC pipe, so I used a 1/2" diameter riser.

The Drip Irrigation System attaches to a faucet, so I had to use a PVC riser to Faucet converter.

The picture to the left shows the converter attached to the plastic riser. The converter has the added benefit of being a right angles to the plastic riser.

I have two Drip Irrigation zones. One zone is for my container plants. The other zone is for my Raised Bed plants.

The plants in the container do not require as much water as the plants in the Raised Bed, so creating seperate zones allows me to tailor the watering for each type.

I use a Y-hose adapter to create two faucet connections. The picture to the left shows the Y-hose adapter connected to the plastic riser to faucet converter. Without the Y-hose adapter, I could only connect one Drip Irrigation zone to the water outlet

Drip Irrigation Move - Part 2

The first part of the Drip Irrigation System is the Backflow Preventer.

The backflow preventer (see picture to the right) makes sure that dirty water does not flow back into the PVC pipes and contaminate the water system.

The picture to the right shows the Backflow Preventer connected to the Y-hose adapter. I need one Backflow Preventer for each Drip Irrigation system.

The timer is used to turn on the Drip Irrigation System at the correct time. It controls the duration, the frequency (how many times during the day), and when to turn on the Drip Irrigation System.

The timer is battery operated using a 9-volt battery. I change the battery once a year.

However, since the Drip Irrigation system is now connected to the my Sprinkler system, I have to also turn on the Sprinkler system in order for water to flow.

The picture to the right shows the Filter and the Pressure Regulator.

The Filter prevents any debris in the water system from getting into the Drip Irrigation system and clogging up the drip emitters.

The Pressure Regulator makes sure the water pressure is low enough so that water does not come out too fast from the drip emitters.

The picture to the right shows the pieces of the Drip Irrigation system connected to together. There is one set for each Drip Irrigation zone.

I set the timers so that the two Drip Irrigation zones run at different times. Otherwise, the water pressure is too low, as the water come from the PVC pipes would have to be divided in half.

The last part of the Drip Irrigation system is the Drip Tubing adapter. This connects the Drip Tubing to the Pressure Regulator.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pinching Strawberry Flowers

Today, I found the first flowers on my Albion Strawberry Plants.

I had planted the plants in my Strawberry Tower almost a month ago and they have been growing wonderfully.

Unfortunately, I had to pinch the flowers off.

I want the Strawberry plants to develop stronger root systems and to concentrate energy on producing more leaves than producing fruit at this time.

Since Albion Strawberry plants are of the day neutral variety, the plants will continue to produce flowers and fruit throughout the year.

I plan to continue to remove flowers for another few weeks, until each plant has grown five sets of leaves, before I let the plant start producing fruit.

If I had Junebearing Strawberry plants, I would be more reluctant to remove flowers, as this would delay harvesting Strawberries for an entire year.

This is one of the advantages of growing day neutral Strawberry plants. I can afford to sacrifice a month of Strawberries for higher yielding and larger Strawberries for the rest of the year.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cherry Tomato Seedling Update

In the three weeks since I had transplanted my first set of 4 Cherry Tomato seedlings, the plants have more than doubled in size.

The picture below shows the seedlings (from left to right: Sugar Snack, Sun Sugar, Sun Cherry Extra Sweet, and Sun Gold) just after I had transplanted them.

The picture below shows how the same 4 Cherry Tomato seedlings look today.  I had to put a garden stake to help keep the plants upright.

We have had great weather in the last week of February and the first two weeks of March.  Hardly any rain and plenty of sunshine.  There are plenty of flowers on each plant.  I am optimistic that some of the fruit have set.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Winter Melon Seedlings in the Ground

I transplanted 5 Winter Melon Seedlings and a Kaboocha Seedling today.

I have two types of Winter Melon Seedlings.  One seedling type is from a Long Melon that I have grown for the past two years (see picture to the right).

The other type of seedling is from a Winter Melon that my mother had bought from an Asian Supermarket.  I have no idea how this melon looks.

The Kaboocha seedling is also from seed that my mother got from a Kabocha that she had bought from an Asian Supermarket.

I planted the two types of melon in different parts of the garden, so that I can tell which kind of plant the melons came from.

The picture below shows the three Long Melon seedlings.  I seperated the seedlings by 2 feet to allow the roots of the plants to have plenty of room to spread out.

The picture below shows the two Winter Melon seedlings from my mother's Asian Supermarket Melon (to the left).  The Kabocha seedling is to the right.

As with the Cherry Tomato seedlings, I put fish bone meal into the planting hole prior to putting the seedling in.  This gives the seedlings plenty of phosphorous to help produce it more melons.

More Cherry Tomato Seedlings in the Ground

Today, I transplanted my last batch of Cherry Tomato Seedlings.   Three weeks ago, I had transplanted a set of four seedlings.  A week later, I planted another Cherry Tomato Seedling.

This last batch of seedlings, consisted of a total of 6 seedlings.

The picture below shows (from left to right), a Sun Sugar, a Sun Cherry Extra Sweet and a Sun Gold seedling.

The picture below shows (from left to right in the foreground), a Sweet Baby Girl, a Sweet Baby Girl and a Sugar Snack Seedling.  In the back corner, is the Super Sweet 100 Seedling that I had planted 2 weeks ago.

In this Raised Bed, I used regular 54" Tomato Cages that I had bought a couple of years ago from Home Depot.  I did not use Texas Tomato Cages because this Raised Bed is too small to fit them.  In addition, the Texas Tomato Cages are very expensive, and I have plenty of these 54" Tomato Cages lying around.  I need to make sure to prune these Cherry Tomato plants so that they do not outgrow the cages too quickly.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Building a Strawberry Tower - Adding Mulch

I found Algae growing in the Strawberry Tower!

You can see the Algae in the green spots in the picture on the right.

The same moist soil that Strawberry plants is also the type of soil that Algae like.

In order to stop the Algae from growing, I could either let the soil dry out or I could block the sunlight from reaching the Algae.

I decided on the latter approach and applied a layer of mulch on top of the soil.

The type of mulch I used was Coconut Coir fiber.

I had brought 4 large bales of Coconut Coir last year, so I had plenty lying around in the garage.

The Coconut Coir is light weight and drains well.

It did not take much to cover the entire Strawberry Tower.

Applying a layer of mulch has the added benefit of keeping the soil moist. This is especially important when Summer comes.

Strawberry Plants are Flourishing

The Albion Strawberry plants that I planted in the Strawberry Tower are flourishing

I ordered Bare Root Strawberry plants from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply.

The plants did not look promising when they arrived (see picture to the left) and I thought I wasted my money.

I had a choice between buying Bare Root plants or fully potted plants. I chose Bare Root plants because they cost a fraction of the cost of fully potted plants.

I had read on the Internet that I would lose some percentage of the plants.

I am happy to say that I did not lose a single plant!

All of the Bare Root Albion Strawberry Plants that I received from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply have taken root.

I have been amazed at how fast the Strawberry plants have grown in the 2 weeks that I have planted them.

Day 2:

The picture on the right shows the top layer of the Strawberry Tower on Day 2 (the day after I planted the Bare Root Strawberry Plants).

The leaves were opening up. When the Bare Root plants arrived, the leaves on the plants had folded up like an accordian and were a yellowish green.

Here on Day 2, the leaves had started to open up and were a nice green color.

Day 6:

By day 6, all of the Albion Strawberry Plants had opened up.

Day 8:

By Day 8, some of the plants had started to grow a second or even a third stalk. The plants had originally come with just a single stalk.

Day 12:

By Day 12, leaves had opened up on all of the second and third stalks from the plants.

Day 16:

The plants had growned to a size that matched the size of fully potted Strawberry plants that I saw at the local nursery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Building a Strawberry Tower - Adding the Drip Irrigation Line

I am using Drip Irrigation to water the Strawberry plants in the Strawberry Tower.

I use 1/4" tubing to bring the water in from my main drip irrigation line. The water tray creates a moat to prevent ants from entering the Strawberry Tower. I did not want the ants to use the 1/4" tubing to bypass the moat, so I wrapped the 1/4" tubing around the base of the 20" container around the water tray. (see picture to the right)

I also created a 1/4" drainage hole near the side bottom of the water tray. This is to prevent water to build up in the water tray and enable mosquitoes to breed. The water would not be able to evaporate quickly enough otherwise and I would have a big mosquito problem later on.

I fed a 1/4" drip irrigation tube through the hole. The other end of tube drains the water into an adjacent fruit tree. Since the tree sits at a lower elevation than the water tray, the water drains via gravity.

After circling the container via the moat of water, I bring the drip irrigation tubing up the outside of the Strawberry Tower.

I chose to go hook up the drip irrigation on the outside of the Strawberry instead of going through the middle via the 1" PVC pipe.

The problem with using the PVC pipe is that there is no easy way to get the 1/4" into the PVC pipe. The bottom of the PVC pipe rests on the water tray. I could try to elevate the 20" container on top of the water tray and slide the 1/4" tubing throught the opening on the bottom. However, elevating the 20" container creates a stability problem and the whole thing could tip over.

At the edge of each pocket in the bucket is a 1/4" hole that is perfect for sliding the drip tubing through (see picture to the right)

I use 6 drip emitters at the top layer of the Strawberry Tower to water the whole thing. Each drip emitter releases 1 gallon per hour.

I arrange 1 drip emmitter for each pocket of the bucket on the top layer (see picture to the right).

I originally planned to put drip emitters at the lower levels, but I found that I did not need to.

The Strawberry Tower does a good job of distributing the water evenly to the lower levels.

The holes at the bottom bucket are spaced evenly and the Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix prevents the water from draining too quickly to the next level.

I water the Strawberry Tower every day for 40 minutes. This is sufficient to keep the potting mix moist. When Summer comes, I will increase the duration of the watering

Building a Strawberry Tower - Anchoring the Tower

The last thing I had to do to finish the Strawberry Tower was to anchor it so it would not fall down in the event of heavy winds.

In Southern California, we get what are called "Santa Ana winds". These are hot dry winds that are most commonly associated with the wildfires that you see on television.

The windy season is usually in the Fall, but occasionally, we get heavy gusts during the rest of the year.

Even though I have a PVC pipe in the center of the Strawberry Tower, the PVC pipe is only held in place by a container full of rocks. A heavy wind could still knock the Strawberry Tower over.

Of course, I could drive a post in the ground and pour cement around it, but I did not want to do something as drastic (or as permanent) as that.

Instead, I used nylon rope to tie the PVC pipe in 5 places. Two of the ropes (the ones in the back) attach to sturdy trees. Another rope (the one to the right) attaches to a steel pole. The final two ropes (the ones in the front) are tied to cement blocks.

I hope these measures keep the Strawberry Tower upright during heavy winds. Otherwise, I will probably need to break the Strawberry Tower into 2 smaller towers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Building a Strawberry Tower - Soilless Potting Mix

I am usually an organic gardener. However for this Strawberry Tower I could not use my normal gardening techniques.

The buckets that make up each layer of the Strawberry Tower are too small (about 3.5 gallons each) to maintain an organic ecosystem.

Instead of using potting soil, I am using a modifed version of Al's Container Mix.

I mix 3 parts Fir Bark - fine grade, 1 part Peat Moss, and 1 part Perlite. Fine Fir Bark decomposes slowly, Perlite is inorganic and peat moss is already decomposed organic matter, so this potting mix will last a long time (several years).

The most important characteristic of this potting mix is that it drains water very well. Strawberry plants do not want to sit in water, so having a well draining potting mix is essential.

I then sprinkle Dynamite Plant Food for Flowers and Vegetables. This is a Controlled Released Fertilizer (CRF) and suppose to last 9 months. I use a CRF because it releases nutrients slowly and will not burn the plants.

I throughly mix the ingredients together and pour the contents into the bucket (see picture to the right)

I leave about an inch between the top of potting mix and the top of the bucket, so that I can put in layer of Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix.

I find that the park-perlite-peat moss potting mix drains water too quickly. Water goes straight down without spreading to the rest of the mix.

I am using drip irrigation to water, so only a small area will get water.

I use the Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix to spread the water evenly across the Potting Mix. Water will not immediatly penetrate through the layer of Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix and will instead distribute itself throughout the Strawberry Tower layer.

Building a Strawberry Tower - Choosing Strawberry Plants

There are three type of Strawberry plants: June Bearing, Everbearing, and Day Neutral.
June Bearing Strawberry Plants have the highest yield and will produce a lot of fruit during a few weeks in spring.
Everbearing Strawberry Plants will produce fruit during two or three periods of the year, in the spring and in the Fall (with a possible small harvest in the middle).
Day neutral Strawberry plants produce strawberries evenly throughout a long growing season. However, Day Neutral Strawberry Plants will have a lower yield than the other types of Strawberries. In addition, Day Neutral Strawberry Plants will not flower if it gets too hot (above 85 F) or too cold (below 35 F)

Since the whole purpose of this exercise is to replace weekly trips to the local Supermarket to buy Strawberries, I decided that the Day Neutral Strawberry Plants were the perfect way to go. I can make up for the lower yield by planting more Strawberry plants. The weather in Southern California is also perfect for Day Neutral Strawberry Plants as it only gets above 90F for a few weeks in August and it never gets below 35F.

Unfortunately, the only way for me to buy Day Neutral Strawberry plants is via the Internet/mail order. I can buy the other types of Strawberry plants in the local garden supply/nursieres around Southern California. Even, Home Depot carries Strawberry plants.
On the Internet, I saw Day Neutral Strawberry plants available from a wide variety of California sources. Buying from a California source is important, because if I order on a Monday or Tuesday, I can get the Strawberry plants by Friday and be able to plant on Saturday. I did not want to have the plants sit in the garage for a week while I waited for the next Saturday.
The best Day Neutral type of Strawberry that I saw available on the Internet was Albion.
Albion is a day neutral everbearing Strawberry variety patented by the University of California at Davis. Albion Strawberry plants produce very large fruit that is suppose to be sweet tasting. It is also popular with Commerical growers in California because it is easy to grow and has built-in tolerance to a variety of Strawberry diseases. In addition, it does not need many chill hours, which makes it a perfect type of Strawberry to grow in our mild Southern California winters.

You can buy Strawberry plants either as Bare Root or already growing in pots. Bare Root plants cost a fraction of the cost of fully potted plants.

I decided to buy Bare Root plants because even if the plants did not take, I was not out very much money and I still would have time to buy fully potted plants.

I got my Albion plants from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply . They had the lowest price and since they were in California, the shipping was very quick.

The picture to the right shows how the Bare Root Strawberry Plants look coming out of the shipping container.

The plants did not look very promising and I thought I had made a mistake, but it was too late to do anything about it.

I bought 1 pound of Bare Root Strawberries. I counted 29 in the batch. There are 36 pockets in the Strawberry Tower, so I will need to buy another set to fill out all of the pockets.

Building a Strawberry Tower - Planting the Strawberry Plants

I put the bare root Albion Strawberry Plants in water for a while to rehydrate them prior to planting.

After sitting in water the roots of the Albion Strawberry plant turned from dull gray to brown.

To plant the Strawberry plant, I created a hole in the pocket on a diagonal line toward the center of the bucket.

The roots of the Strawberry plant are 6 to 8 inches long, so the hole was long but shallow. The roots of the plant want to be within a few inches or so of the topsoil.

I slid the Strawberry plant into the hole, being careful to not bend the roots too much.

I then covered the hole with Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix.

The most important thing when planting Strawberry Plant is where to put the soil line. The soil must cover all of the roots, otherwise they will dry out. Yet, the crown must be exposed so that it does not rot.

After the first watering, the potting mix settled lower in the pocket, so I had to add additional Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix to make sure all of the roots were covered.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Building a Strawberry Tower - Intro

Last weekend, I built a Strawberry Tower.

I wanted to grow Strawberries this season because my kids love to eat Strawberries and it gets expensive to buy Strawberries on a regular basis. Plus, Southern California has the perfect weather for growing Strawberries.

I looked at various ways to grow Strawberries. I thought about converting one of my raised beds to a Strawberry Patch. But, I was concerned about bugs and snails invading the Patch and ruining the fruit. Plus, most of my raised beds have been used to grow Tomatoes and I read that you should not grow Strawberries in the same soil, because Verticillium Wilt could get transfered.

I lalso ooked at the various container methods to grow Strawberries. From just a plain Planter to the "Strawberry Jar".

The biggest problem with growing Strawberries in containers is watering (i.e. keeping the soil around the Strawberry plants moist). I have a drip irrigation system setup to water my Cherry Tomatoes and Winter Melon plants. It would be relatively straight forward to hook up the drip irrigation network to the Strawberry containers. So watering would not be a problem.

The other issue is that I did not want to clutter up my backyard with Strawberry Planters! I much rather have one big giant planter than many smaller planters.

I finally settled on a Strawberry Tower from AgroTower.

A Strawberry Tower is a multi-level planter with pockets to accommodate strawberry plants. Since you can stack layers of strawberry plants on top of each other, the Strawberry Tower maximizes the amount of strawberries you can grow in a small area.

Each layer of pockets is offset from the layer above and below it, enabling each strawberry plant to get sunlight. In addition, the Strawberry Tower is very water efficient, as water from the top level trickles down to water the lower level.

Links to more of my Strawberry Tower Blog Entries:

Building a Strawberry Tower - Gathering the Materials

The Strawberry Tower from AgroTower comes in a small box.

The buckets that make up each layer of the Strawberry Tower came stack on top of each other (see picture to the left).

There are holes all along the bottom of each bucket for water to drip down to the next level. There is also a 1" diameter hole in the middle of the bucket to feed a water tube through.

The pockets slant diagonally toward the center, allowing for water to drain toward the middle of the bucket.

I supplemented the Strawberry Tower with a 5.5 feet long piece of 1" PVC pipe, 2 bags of rocks, a 20" plastic container and a water tray (see picture to the right)

I use PVC pipe to provide stability to the Strawberry Tower and prevent it from falling when it gets windy. I put rocks in the 20" plastic container to anchor the PVC pipe.

I use the water tray to create a moat around the Strawberry Tower to prevent ants from getting access to the Strawberry plants.

Building a Strawberry Tower - Prep Work

I drilled two holes in the center of bottom of the 20" container to allow water from the PVC pipe to drain out. I am leaving the top of the PVC pipe open, so rain water could get in the pipe. The drainage hole allows the rain water a path out.

I put the PVC pipe in the center of the 20" bucket, right over the two holes I drilled out. I then placed rocks all around the PVC pipe. (see picture below).

I then put small pebbles on top of the rocks to create a flat surface for the Strawberry Tower.