September 15, 2016

Can hardly wait to beekeep in Cali but it's on hold.

Strawberry Blossom
One of the reasons we want to move to SoCal is so that I can garden year round. No worries about frosts or hard freezes (potentially a mere 3 weeks away). No twiddling my thumbs from October to May. We'd planned to be in Cali by now but Life got in the way and we're looking at another winter here in Colorado. Luckily, I have a toy to keep busy with, that'll let me garden indoors over the next seven months.

I have a grow tent.

Click twice for an enlarged view.
I got it last year from Green State Gardener and, yes, this is a sponsored post. The product was given to me but these thoughts are my own.

The grow tent was sent to me as a complete kit which included a height-adjustable grow light, a fan for air circulation, timer/power strip and everything needed to grow organically from seed. There was even a beginner's manual, written for an "herb" that many Coloradans are growing but I just set it aside along with the ventilation system. I only needed to clear about a 4x4' area of my basement near an outlet, and it assembled quickly. I had the freedom to grow anything I wanted, so I started tomatoes, basil and pepper… in December!
First week of December. The heat vent in my bathroom provided bottom heat.
The seed tray worked so well, even decades-old pepper seeds germinated. 
The seedlings grew vigorously in the provided seed-starting mix, and I potted them up using plastic cups and yogurt containers for giving away. In this photo (early January), they are growing under a fluorescent lamp that I've used for many years to grow orchids. 
Tomato seedlings outgrew the fluorescent lamp and were ready to go in the grow tent quickly.
The kit comes with (2) 1-gallon "smart pots" which I could've used instead of plastic cups. But the seed starting tray was SO successful, every seed sprouted and I couldn't pick just two. I have trouble with "thinning." Under the sodium vapor lamp, the seedlings were bushier than I've ever homegrown.
Decision making in general is hard for me. I crammed the tent with tomatoes, peppers, basil, rosemary, and a sunflower to boot. This is late January.
My Valentine's Day sunflower!
You may be wondering, dear beekeepers, how a fruiting plant gets pollinated in the middle of winter, indoors. Well this is how.

For most veg where I need to "be the bee," I keep a small paintbrush handy, to transfer pollen from one flower to another. This method doesn't work with tomatoes. The pollen of tomatoes is hidden inside the flowers, which is why honeybees don't visit them. Instead, tomatoes (and eggplant and potatoes) are pollinated by bumble bees who use vibration to shake the pollen out. Although beans are another buzz-pollinated vegetable, they grow leggy and a bit pale under the grow lamp. Other plants that would be good electric toothbrush-pollinated candidates include blueberries and kiwi. I'm thinking Top Hat or Jelly Bean, a "charming little puffball of a blueberry." And of course, there's always Meyer lemons… every pastry chef's favorite. I have an orange tree that I bought from Gurney's 16 years ago, and while there's much vaguery as to exactly what a 'Venous Orange" is,  I can say for sure that it absolutely loves it in the grow tent. 

The grow tent accommodates two tomato plants easily. It comes with an elastic grid to guide tall plants but I also tried a tomato ladder and a grow bag with integrated tower. The latter was courtesy of Green State Gardener as well. 
Lesson Learned: indeterminate potato-leaved tomatoes probably weren't the wisest choice. They grew right up to and over the lamp. Then down again.
I chose an early season heirloom variety, and from December seed I was harvesting handfuls of tomatoes by March. I learned that Stupice is best when not quite cherry red. The flesh is a little firmer when still slightly orange.
If you want to harvest Stupice "on the vine" don't wait for them to all turn color or some will be overripe. See the glossy green leaves of the pepper plants? They seem to like the high pressure sodium lamp. 
Come June, when frost and snow were no longer threats, the two plants did get moved outside. No hardening off required!
The Tien Tsin peppers got planted in my potager where their once deep-green leaves are now looking jaundiced. BTW chili peppers are another buzz-pollinated crop.

The basil was a bit of a flop. Apparently, basil doesn't do well under a sodium vapor lamp. The tomato plants have been growing in the same 5-gallon smart pots for months with not much more than top-dressing and light fertilization. Colorado has just had one of its hottest, driest summers yet these tomatoes barely blinked. There were a couple of weeks when they didn't set new blossoms due to the heat (53 days in the 90s!!) but fruit on the vine continued to ripen. It's September and these plants just keep on giving!

As cooler nights set in and the tomatoes grow sweeter, I'm tempted to put them back into the grow tent for a continuous winter supply. But I think I've eaten more tomatoes this year than I have my entire life, and I'm ready for a change. What to grow next? The sky's the limit. Well, technically 5 feet is the limit but you get what I mean. For more specs and details on the Dabbler 2x2 Complete Beginners Organic Grow Kit, click here.

What would you grow if you had a grow tent? Tropicals like citrus or avocado? Vines like cucumbers or melons? Tender herbs? Comment below.

The photo of the strawberry blossom at the top is actually from a guest post I wrote for a client. I moved a few gourmet Mara de Bois strawberries from my outdoor garden into the tent during Fall cleanup but there's nothing to show you yet. All I can say for the moment is that buzz pollination doesn't produce berries.


Julie D said...

What a cool idea! My husband and I have been talking about turning our boiler room (which is so cozy warm all winter) into a garden space for 'maters and herbs with some grow lights. But that grow tent is really cool!

Love the toothbrush idea, too. When I was a kid, my chore was hand-pollinating my dad's indoor plants. I had to pick one flower, remove the petals, and push it onto the other flowers. Wish I'd thought of a toothbrush! Thanks for sharing!

HB said...

Wow, a boiler room, @Julie D. How old is your house? Being cozy warm, you might have better luck with basil than I. I suspect that soil temperature played as much a role as incorrect light spectrum in my flop. Basil requires summer-like temperatures, but sitting on my basement's concrete floor, I could never get the soil temperature above 60°F.

That's an interesting pollen transfer method you used. I have a dedicated paintbrush for that purpose but the next time I find myself asking, "Where the heck did I leave my paintbrush?" I'll do it your way.

I appreciate your stopping by and always leaving a comment, Julie. You make me a better writer. I added a paragraph on buzz-pollination to the post and there's more that I should add, but the "known issue" of Blogger creating multiple drafts after editing a post is driving me a little nuts.

Don said...

Who says that legal marijuana isn't good for creativity! Love this idea. I've been toying with hydroponics in my basement, but this sound much easier and less of a moisture problem. Thanks to you and Julie for the pollination tips!

I have a boiler down in my basement for baseboard heat (50 year old house), but I never think of it as a boiler room like when I lived in New England like Julie. Back then it was an oil boiler! Fortunately, mine is now powered by natural gas!

Wow, I'll miss you as a neighbor when you move to Cali, but it is nice for gardening. Great for citrus - lemons are pretty easy, even in northern California. And you can grow bougainvillea and leave it in the ground all year! So many fun new plants to try!

HB said...

@Don Hydroponics, eh? I would totally try that if I was more of a hard core DIYer. @Julie?

My husband asked if I’d miss my garden, and I said without hesitation, “No.” There are so many new plants waiting to be discovered and so many, like the bougainvillea you mentioned, that I’ll finally be able to enjoy.

BTW, I finally succeeded in adding Buddha And The Bees to my blogroll. Now when people stop by here, they’ll have a link to your blog and can read about the things that are happening in your Top Bar Hives.

Don said...

Thanks for the shout out, HB! I'll probably have to start blogging more often like Julie!

I lived in Northern California for a time and got a discount on rent by doing the gardening. So many wonderful plants to try - jasmine, fuschias, bird of paradise, agapanthas. I miss being able to grow some of them here, but don't miss the traffic! But the weather is divine - ski one day, ocean the next!