Monthly Archives: July 2014

Starting new plants

When I started my basement hydroponic system, I built everything at the same time, I started all the seeds at the same time, and (amazingly) all the plants got mature and ready for harvesting (eating!) at the same time.

Having 43 basil plants to eat is not a good thing for your breath. Or your health, probably – if it was, someone would be selling basil juice for $15 a glass in the hipster shop. I don’t know what is in them, but eating a basil salad is a painful way to mimic a laxative. Basil + ranch dressing en mass = poor choice.  I was taught in the South that anything with ranch on it was good.  Read more about ranch on everything here (not my blog).

So, it might be obvious, but you need to space out seed starting to ensure a constant supply of greenery to munch on.  Over the last few months, I have tried a few techniques with limited success.

For this example, I’ll pick on lettuce.

First, I figured out how much we eat. There are two of us, and we eat something lettuce-like about 3 times a week at home.  With the big-box-store buttercrunch lettuce seeds, the plants at maturity would yield two big salads and maybe a little leftover.  But, once it was big/ready-to-eat, the plant was very susceptible to any warm temps (above 71-73f) as it would bolt and taste bitter… Thus, we would find we had 3 lettuce plants ready to eat on a Friday night, just before we went out to dinner… This resulted in throwing some lettuce away; even a day or two could make it change flavors from good to meh.

Here is a buttercrunch that bolted from day 1: huge, but leggy and not compact/dense with leaves:

Leggy Lettuce I have huge man-hands (as intended), so this guy is about 16″ tall.






Grand Rapids lettuce

Here is another juggernaut of lettuce. This is the grand rapids variety.  It is a wonderful lettuce if you want to grow it in Nebraska or somewhere with an acre of land costing the same as a 3×3 area in my basement.  It grows WIDE and fluffy (you’ll want to remember the day you heard fluffy in a blog about gardening, it is today).  My NFT channels have between 5 and 7 inch spacing – and these guys were pushing 12-13″.  Each. Very crowded.

I digress – the reason the huge leafy greens are an issue is because we can’t have 7 of these plants in each NFT channel.  Optimally, we’d have a large plant like this chard next to a younger plant like the grand rapids:

Lettuce vs Chart

Lettuce vs Chard

I think the optimal setup is having adjustable spacing.  This could happen in a similar way freightfarms does their channels – that they have a slit down the middle and you can simply move the rockwool cube with the plant to the spacing desired.  I think this would add some complexity with my setup, as you’re stuck harvesting the entire channel (or adding holes in the middle to get a middle on out, etc).

For the time being, I’ve simply blocked off every other plant hole in the channels with the big kale plants. Their big honkin’ leaves will shadow anything near them.