Thursday, March 10, 2011

Notes: 3/12

A. Finished are the dark rainy days of winter, bare tree branches, cold gray clouds… Spring is the return of color and light… the return of new growth and daily surprises. I walked with the dogs this morning in warm sunlight with no jacket! Look! My fig tree had buds this morning!

Growth bud on fig tree

B. I have been growing lettuce, green onions, Italian parsley, radishes, and cooking greens in my vertical garden. We have had a regular supply of salad greens all winter because I selected varieties that would withstand frost and low temperatures. Now in mid March it is sad to report that several plants – lettuce, kale, radishes, parsley are all beginning to bolt.

Lettuce bolting - see elongated stem

Plant cells have genes that allow the production of plant hormones that stimulate rapid elongation of the stem. The “trigger” that turns on the genes that allow the hormone to be produced is the length of night darkness. In winter the long nights prevent the hormone and the lettuce grows normally. But once the night length drops in length with the coming of spring, the genes are activated, the hormones released, and the energy of the plant goes into producing a tall stem, and flower and seed production.

Collard greens - bolting - Note elongated stems and flowering

So – I went to my favorite nursery and asked what varieties of lettuce I could grow during the summer without danger of summer bolting. I came home with Forellenschluss, Manoa, and Black Simpson as good candidates.

I use an aluminum turkey baster pan with holes punched in the bottom, filled with potting soil, and plant the seeds. I cover the germinating seeds with saran wrap, and set it in a sunny window After 4 days they looked like this. Once the plants get big enough I will transplant them into the vertical garden.

Seed bed - starting lettuce plants to be transplanted into vertical garden

Now I remove all the bolting plants from my vertical garden –

How to make a vertical garden

1. Go to your hardware store and get enough 5-6 ft (width ) strong wire fence (holes 3-4 inches square) enough to make a cylinder with a diameter of about 40 inches.

Just after completion and the first seedlings have been planted

2. Line the inside of the cylinder with weed guard – or other fabric that will not break down.

3. Place the cylinder where you will get the best sunlight possible.

4. Hold a 4-5 inch plastic pipe vertically in the center of the cylinder while you alternate small layers of top soil, green compost, seasoned compost, manure, sand, if needed to lighten the soil… layer by layer until full to the top edge of the cylinder. Then I add a few garden worms to provide aeration.

Close up detail of first plantings

5. Fill the central pipe with 1-2” gravel … and remove the plastic pipe… This is the watering core … you can add water here and it will travel around the gravel and water the entire cylinder evenly. – Water the system well. In the heat of the summer – one watering will generally last for 4-5 days.

6. Allow to settle for a few days… add more soil/compose/manure if needed to bring it to the top again.

7. Now you are ready to make holes in the fabric on the side of the cylinder and insert small plants through the hole into the soil.

8. You can use small plants that you buy in the nursery or you can easily start them yourself – as I am doing with my aluminum pan.

9. The cylinder does include microclimates – so plant things that do best with full sun on the sun side, and broad leaf green leafy vegetables can generally take a lot more shade and thrive.

10. It took me about 2 hours to set up my complete vertical garden – and I planted it slowly as I had time or as plants became available.

11. This garden can be grown without chemicals - even snails are much less a problem here than in a conventional garden - If I see a snail I just pick it off... Every few weeks I add a bit more steer manure to the top to add nitrogen... In the summer it will need water in the central gravel hole once every 4-5 days depending on the temperature.

Vertical garden in early February

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1. The University of California has created a site called "Life on Earth"... take some time to wander around and see what it there... its amazing:

2. Flexbook is a kind of high quality teacher cooperative - providing a range of materials to support teaching high school math and science courses - for example - click on the Biology text - then open a chapter on Cells - note that it has short video clips, sample student labs and response papers... This is an on going work that accepts high quality materials from volunteers to grow the program