Hobart Backyard Farmer

Just another garden blog

Category: experiments

Straw Bale Potatoes

Due to the lack of watering and sheer laziness, I suspect my chicken wire potatoes experiment will be a failure (judging by the struggling, thirsty looking plants living in there). I have however inadvertently  performed another experiment with better than expected results. Before I lay claim to this technique, it is not new, and I have heard of people growing potatoes in this way, in fact, I regularly ride past a garden where a whole bunch of spuds are being grown using this method.

What I am talking about is growing potatoes in straw bales. I have read that all sorts of veggies can be grown in this way, and I have experimented with it myself  a while back, but, I believe that my bales were a bit too fresh. Last year though, during potato harvest, I discarded a few scrappy potatoes on top of a straw bale. I have noticed the plants growing vigorously over the past months, and recently dying back. The result, a nice amount of good sized dutch creams, and a harvest, unlike the normal back breaking and dirty affair, that was as easy as pulling straw apart.

I think next season, a change from this years efforts (or lack thereof), it will be straw bale potatoes all the way.

grow straw bale potatoes hobart 1

Grow Straw Bale Potatoes Hobart 2

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Big Melons in Tasmania

How is that for click bait? I am sure you are sorely disappointed, unless you are a gardener in Tasmania and you are getting excited about the prospect of one day being able to post pics online of your own large, sweet, juicy melons… is this the quasi filth that you have signed up for?

The post is really a bit of an update on the hydroponic setup, in particular, the melons which seem to be doing especially well. The variety is “cool times”. These are the melons with which previously I have had the most success, but I never saw the sort of vine growth that I am seeing this year in the hydroponics setup. The fruit are also trending towards being much larger than previous grown.

I am also trialling a few veggies that I have intermittently tried to grow in the ground without much luck, including capsicum and eggplant. Chillies are making another showing, with last years Jalapenos re-shooting for another year. I believe this is not uncommon on the mainland or if brought indoors, but down here, outside, chillies are normally an annual.  Another chilli variety is also being trialled,  I can’t recall the name but I believe it rated the world’s hottest one year in some sort of competition.

Alarmingly, the cucumbers are already starting to show signs of powdery mildew. This seems early, and hopefully will not affect the melons. We did get our 1st cucumbers of the vine though, and, they were perfectly delicious.

Hydroponic vegetables 1

Grow Melons on Hobart Tasmania 1

Grow Melons on Hobart Tasmania 1

Grow Melons on Hobart Tasmania 1

grow hydroponic vegetables 2

grow hydroponic vegetables 3

grow hydroponic vegetables 4

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Green With Envy

After Juz (a reader) showed me up with his well formed broccoli earlier this year…I have been patiently working on getting revenge with an equally well formed green brassica, only this one is a cauliflower. No secret tricks with this one Juz, just mother nature doing her thing. BTW, I tried your trick on another Cauli but I think all I succeeded in doing was to create a great place for slugs to hang out!

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First Coffee Harvest

The pic speaks for itself…

Grow coffee in Tasmania

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Grow Sub Tropical in Tasmania – Coffee

This time it is coffee. I have had this plant for maybe 3 years. Last year it flowered for the 1st time, delicate white flowers with a pleasant aroma which I cannot recall. It began to set green oval fruit, which have stayed that way over winter, and, only in the last week or so, have begun to flush red.

I grow it indoors by a window, year round. While flowering, I placed it outside during the day to assist in pollination, but, to be honest, I don’t know how it is pollinated, but, being outside is sure to help with insect or wind pollination. Maybe I should just google it. I would like to try growing coffee in the glass house, but have yet been able to successfully strike a cutting to be my guinea pig…maybe this year will be my year.

I am also not sure if it will flower again this year, but, even if it does, at the current rate of production, I might be able to experience a cup of coffee from my own tree in, I don’t know… 8-10 years? Just doing my bit for the slow food movement.

If you are interested, here are another couple of posts where I have experimented with growing sub tropical foods in Tassie:

http://www.hobartbackyardfarmer.net/tropical_fruit_experiments/

http://www.hobartbackyardfarmer.net/tropical-tasmania-melons/

http://www.hobartbackyardfarmer.net/mid-winter-tropical-fruit/

http://www.hobartbackyardfarmer.net/ginger-in-tasmania/

Grow Coffee in Tasmania 1

Grow Coffee in Tasmania 2

Grow Coffee in Tasmania 3

Grow Coffee in Tasmania 4

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You Say Potato

You all know I am a lazy blogger, but I have a confession to make… I am a lazy gardener, but this year, I have been way too lazy and I fear that my spring crops will pay the price with smaller yields. I am busy trying to get things tidied up and prepared for the summer crops… I am cutting it very fine though, but I think I should just be able to scrape things in and get a back on track with a good summer crop.

The previous few years I have dedicated new beds to potatoes which has allowed me to plant near the base and layer straw and soil on top as they grow. This technique resembles the “mounding” that “they” say one should do to maximise harvest, and allows me to get a good amount of organic material into the garden bed over the season, to improve the soil structure and quality. This year however, while looking around at my weed covered vegie beds, and cross referencing my calendar, I thought maybe I would not have the room or time to plant the spuds, but, I  was reminded by my pseudo-wife just how delicious home grown, new potatoes are, when the skin just flakes off and they melt in your mouth.  With this in mind, I started thinking of where in the garden I could slot the delicious tubers.

I saw a while ago, I think on Gardening Australia, a technique of growing potatoes in wire mesh “cages” for those with limited space. I remember thinking at the time, with my expansive allotment, that I do not need to worry about the trivial space saving tricks of those more space challenged than myself. Turns out that I am a bit space challenged, as, even as a grown man, I am not allowed to seize the lawn, which I despise mowing, and turn it over to the vegies, therefore, I have resorted to stealing ideas and pockets of space for the spuds.

The cages are pretty easy to build, 4 stakes forming a square in the ground and some hexagon wire mesh (chicken wire?) wrapped around. I then lined with paper. I then chucked some partially decomposed straw on the base, a spud or 2 on top of that, and a bit more straw. The theory is, I will keep adding straw as the potatoes grow, and come harvest time, will remove the wire and feast on my bountiful crop.

A disclaimer… This is the first year that I have tried both, growing in these cages, and growing purely in straw, and therefore, cannot vouch for its effectiveness. I will however, let you know the results. Below are some pics, obviously not of the same cage due to a variety of factors (yes, I forgot to take photos).

Grow potatoes in limited space 1

Grow potatoes in limited space 2

Grow potatoes in limited space 3

Grow potatoes in limited space 4

Grow potatoes in limited space 5

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Ginger in Tasmania

Those of you who have read previous posts, specifically this one, will know that I have been experimenting with growing ginger in cold ol’ Hobart. I have been watching the plant slowly die off, which I am led to believe occurs with ginger in cooler climates, marking harvest time. This of course has prompted me to eagerly get some content for a new blog post.

Pictured are the results of my 1st ginger harvest, not huge, but, still kind of exciting for a 1st try.

And… you are asking yourself, how does freshly harvested Hobart ginger taste??

Terrible!!

I am not sure if I have harvested too late or too early, or, if ginger needs to be dried and cured in order to bring out its flavour and sweetness? I will do some googling, but, would welcome your input. The brief search I did on it uncovered another grower who experienced the same issue. I will update you when I find out more, and let you know if my ginger ever does sweeten up.

Grow Ginger in Tasmania 1

Grow Ginger in Tasmania 2

Grow Ginger in Tasmania 3

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Hydroponics Face-Off – Part 2

I am finally starting to get back in the garden after a few weeks, to get to the weeds and dig over the beds. Although it is often perceived as a quiet time of the year for the garden, it is actually a pretty busy month with plenty that one can do in the garden. My main crops to plant for the month will be broad beans and peas/snow peas.

Don’t be put off by your childhood memories of broad beans (I don’t actually have any, but had been advised based on the memories of others), broad beans are a delicious, plentiful crop if not over cooked like many a vegetable back in the ol’ days.

Anyway, the point of the post is that I am now trialling some winter vegies in hydroponics setup. These are two types of cauliflower (a small white variety, and a green variety), as well as coriander. As per last experiment, I have planted the same seedlings in a soil bed, so…we will keep an eye on the two sets of plants and keep you posted on the progress.

Everything else in the hydroponic setup has been removed, only leaving the Chilli plants. They are sweet and crisp, but do lack the expected heat. I can say that I find getting the heat in chillies in Tasmania to be hit and miss. If anyone has the secret, I would love to hear it. I must admit, that I have not had that much luck growing chillies or capsaisins in the past… but do remember the 1st year that I was in Hobart, probably 10 years ago, growing the best chillies that I have ever grown. I guess I will just keep on trying.

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hydroponic vegetables 2

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hydroponic vegetables 1

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Hydroponic Vegetables 11

Hydroponic Vegetables 12

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Orchid Terrarium

Otherwise known as an Orchidarium (but I think that name might be trademarked or something)

I have had this setup like this for about 10 months I guess. The basic setup is as follows:

  • Lighting:
    • Large CFL from hydroponics shop. These are like those energy saving bulbs that we are kind of forced to use now in Australia, only much larger, I think they are an 80 Watt bulb.
    • Lamp with a 40 Watt halogen bulb, mainly for heat purposes
  • Air movement
    • Old computer power supply and computer fan. The fan is dodgily mounted inside tank (orchidarium)
  • Old 2 foot aquarium/fish tank with sheet of glass for lid
  • metal mesh to raise pots from base of aquarium (these are raised at different heights to for 2 levels, using take away containers, and small plant pots
  • Sphagnum moss underneath mesh to catch excess water and provide humidity
  • Timer for:
    • lights
    • fan (15 mins every hour)

That is about it as far as components. The room that it is located in seems to keep a fairly consistent temperature throughout the day and night, which is why I chose it. It also happens to be a reasonably spare room which we have never quite cleared out after dumping all of our moving boxes in it 3 years ago.

I experimented with heating methods over winter, as, I think, the overnight temps in the tank were just a little too cold… the main issue being the dampness. Some of the plants are in moss, and, I feel compelled to keep it moist most of the time, also, being that the plants are grown under artificial light, they probably do not experience the same semi-dormancy that the their outside cousins experience in Hobart. I note that the orchids in the tank are still actively growing in the winter months.

The only real problems that I have experienced with fungus etc. has been a few patches of a brown type rot, isolated to individual plants over winter (hence my heating experiments). I tend to treat by cutting the infected leaf and sealing with sulpher powder, and moving the plant out of the orchidarium. This issue has been minimal, and has not occurred for 6 months or so. I think, purely due to being cold and damp in winter.

Of course, out of sight, out of mind, I will probably return to fussing over heating during the upcoming winter.

Growth on plants (which are mostly Phalaenopsis) has been great in the orchid terrarium, in fact, I do see die back of older leaves, which I expect is due to lack of fertilising. I am sure if I kept up on that, growth would be even better.

I have had the lighting on for 18 hours a day over summer, and, just recently, with the shortening of the days, dropped it back to 14-15.  This has coincided with a few spikes (flower stems) forming, I assume mostly due the the change in daylight hours, but perhaps partly due to a slightly lower temperature. As an indication though, I have previously only spiked a single spike in the Orchid terrarium.

I monitor the temp and humidity in the orchidarium. Current temps within the orchidarium range from 19-25 (Night and Day temps), and humidity between 65-70%. Humidity can get a fair bit higher at times, depending on watering etc.

What I do intend to do, on top of working out some sort of heating system, is try to automate it a bit more, or at the very least, simplify watering. The monitoring system that I have set up, has the ability to be configured to automate processes such as watering based on sensor feedback, eg. soil moisture meter. I am not quite at that stage yet, although, that is what I am slowly working towards overall in the  garden.

For now, I would like to get a bigger tank to house more orchids, and I could perhaps setup a similar system to the hydroponics setup, with water lines into the pots, and drill an outlet low on the side wall of the terrarium. This would allow me even to somewhat manually, water on demand, and even, easily fertilise on demand, using an aquarium powerhead/pump.

Anyway, enough rabbiting on, here are some pics and please feel free to ask any questions about the set up.

Orchidarium 1

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Orchidarium 1

Orchidarium 4

Orchidarium 6

Orchid Terrarium 4

Orchidarium 7

Orchidarium 8

Orchidarium 9

And, the spikes…

Orchid Terrarium 1

Orchid Terrarium 2

Orchid Terrarium 3

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More Tropical in Tasmania – Melons

Another fruit that most Tasmanians would not think to grow locally is melons. My interest in the possibility was first raised while reading the book “Growing Vegetables South of Australia”, a book which I am led to believe is considered the gardening bible for Tasmanian growers. The book is a comprehensive guide to vegetable growing in Tasmania, and a recommended read for those with an interest. Anyway, I then came across this post from the Hobart Kitchen Gardens blog, the business which I have previous mentioned here. This particular blog post providing details of the grower’s own success at growing melons in Hobart. You can see that post here.

My own experience… I have experimented with growing melons for 3 years now, with mixed results. The 1st year was probably the most successful, I started of with a bed covered in black plastic pulled tightly over the soil, with holes cut in for the plants. The technique was followed from the above mentioned book, in order to create warmer soil temperatures for the melon’s root systems.

The variety that I grew was a hybrid called “cool times”, from a local seed seller,  Southern Harvest. The melon was green, similar to a honey dew, with several small fruit from each vine. I would recommend the variety for anyone experimenting in cooler climates such as Tassie.

The next year, I had minimal success, I think partly due to not using the same corrugated iron style, raised garden bed, and not using the black plastic lining.

This year, I experimented with the hydroponic system, with an open pollinated cantaloupe variety. My theory was that the black pots and smaller amount of grow medium would mean that the root systems would be suitable warm.

The results? It looks like I am trending towards 1 small fruit on each vine, one of which we ate tonight. The taste, melt in your mouth juicy… I used the term “delectable” to describe.

I will continue to experiment, and hopefully one day, I will uncover the secret to large harvests. I hope though, that this post gives others the inspiration to experiment with their own home grown melons.

Grow Melons in Tasmania 1

Grow Melons in Tasmania 2

Grow Melons in Tasmania 3

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Tomato Time

Although we have been getting a sporadic and  I guess sufficient supply of tomatoes for a couple of months, thanks to a few early fruits, it is only just now that they are really starting to ripen. I have not really had a good year with tomatoes this year, perhaps due to funny weather, or perhaps due to a little neglect. That said, some of the self seeded and later planted plants are yet to begin to ripen with haste, so, crop may end up being suitable.

If you have eaten home grown tomatoes, you would know that the stuff that they sell at the shops are tasteless, hard or mushy, pathetic excuses for food. If you have not tasted a home grown tomato.. do yourself a favour and do so, ASAP. Tomatoes are a staple backyard crop in many parts of Australia, and I guess across the world… maybe partly due to the inability to recreate that delicious flavour commercially.

I must admit, in relation to the hydroponic tomatoes, although, according to my partner, still better than store bought, they have failed the taste test. I intentionally planted the same variety in both the hydroponic system and in the ground. The taste test was of the small yellow variety as pictured, I think named “Golden Nugget”.

What is wrong with them?

There is something lacking in the complexity of the taste, I am not sure if I can narrow it down, but I can at least say that they seem to be lacking the acidity and bite of the soil grown plant, making them on the side of  blandish and, although not in texture, sort of watery. Although, not terrible to taste on their own, but in comparison, they are clearly inferior. I guess it might be something to do with the minerals available to the plant, something along those lines. Perhaps some of you may have some experience or ideas as to why this may be the case and how one might improve the flavour outcomes? For now… my dreams of full flavoured tomatoes through the winter months supplied by an indoor hydroponic system, are feeling a little distant.

Anyway, I picked a bowl of tomatoes today, some will hit the plate, the rest I will make into a few jars of relish for the perfect condiment.

For my next post, I will be talking about my favourite tomato variety, one that I believe, once you have tried, it will be hard to think of any other 🙂 I will be also letting you in on another great heirloom vegetable that should be in everybody’s kitchen garden.

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Google Adwords

Some of you will be arriving to the site via my Google Adwords campaign that I am trialling currently. My intention is to drive some traffic to the site, and, hopefully, gain some reoccurring visitors, due to the awesome, informative blog posts 🙂 in all seriousness though, I hope that the stories from my little backyard will be enough to get you back again and again.

Need more to get you back? Let me know. My egotistical journey is nothing without followers (this is not a cult, I promise). Got questions? Feel free to comment on the blog posts, start up a conversation, I would love to engage you, and would love to build a little community of people on the journey towards the good life.

Please enjoy, and do not forget to bookmark us and come again.

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Tropical Fruit Experiments

When one grows orchids, in order to fully satisfy one’s desires, one finds themselves fighting against nature in order to provide the unique conditions that a plant needs, often creating individual micro climates and environments to meet the needs of the plants. Methods such as shade houses, hot houses, terrariums, automated misting, artificial heating and lighting are all used to adapt the the natural environment to our needs.

I promise you, this is not another post about orchids (it is getting hard to tell though). The above was just my attempt at an intro into what is probably not the most exciting post, but, I guess it does provide some optimism for the possibility of growing some edible plants outside of their normal climates, and therefore, the excitement of harvesting your own tropical fruits and vegies.

I will cut to the chase now (too late?). I am trialling growing a couple of plants which are considered more “tropical” and would not be normally grown in Hobart, or, Tasmania for that matter. The two plants in this post (Pineapple and Ginger), I am growing in what I would describe as a glass house. In my case, it is an unheated, poly carbonate structure, bought from a local hardware store, and painfully assembled at home. It has actually been a pretty good space, originally bought to start vegetable spring seedlings a little earlier, but is now beginning to be the home for some orchids, cacti and other oddments. Anyway, the plants…

The 1st is pineapple. I sourced this by planting the top from a store bought pineapple, maybe, two years ago. It seems to be happily growing. I do not know if it will fruit, and honestly, am not that bothered if it does, but, it is a good first experiment into growing more exotic fruits in our cool, temperate climate. Pineapples are a Bromeliad, many of which are epiphytic (growing in trees with little to no growing media). Based on this, the mix for pineapples should be fairly course, loose and most importantly, well draining.

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The next plant is ginger. This one was sourced by purchasing a nice piece of organic ginger and simply, planting. Organic, because I am led to believe that some root crops are treated to prevent sprouting and extend the supermarket shelf life. I did not see any action above the ground for quite some time, but eventually, a plant did arrive. Drainage did seem poor, so I have only just the other day, re-potted in an attempt to get better drainage.  Apparently, one would harvest in Autumn, so I will post an update then, hopefully of a huge mass of fresh ginger root. 🙂

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As a final note, folks in Hobart, Tasmania, or other cool climates may not know that one can grow lemon grass (often used in Thai cooking). It can be seen in pots in the above pics. I grow most of mine in the glasshouse, but do have a pot outside which gets a lot of sun, which seems just as happy.

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Further ventures into hydroponics

Let me take you back to mid spring… As I think I have previously mentioned, I came across the world of Aquaponics, which led me to it’s seemingly easier cousin, hydroponics. Hydroponics seemed like  good starting point anyway. I think one of the biggest challenges in my garden is water. I am currently manually dragging sprinklers around in the evenings to satisfy the needs of my garden, but, to be honest, what often prompts me to do so is thirsty looking plants. Hydroponics resolves this issue, and actually, works out to be very water efficient, as the same water is recycled through the system for a period of time. Watered plants are happy plants! In addition to this, a dose of nutrients is delivered upon each automated watering, meaning that the plants always have the food required for healthy growth.

There are many types of hydroponics systems and you may have already read my post about my deep water hydroponics experiment with lettuce (if not, see here and here). This is obviously leading into my second foray into the world of hydroponics, this time, using the “dutch bucket method”.

Before I go into the details of the system (The tedious bit – I might save that for another post), here is the results so far. I must point out that I really wanted to trial cucumbers in this system, as they are one plant that I have never had much success in growing, I suspect mostly due to watering. As far as I am concerned, and this is not empirical data, the vigour and productivity is speaking for itself. I will point out though that many people would associate hydroponics with growing under lights, however, this system, and many others do not utilise artificial lighting, instead, relying on the natural sunlight.

Tomatoes is another trial plant, I can comment on the fact the fruit seems generally larger as compared to the same varieties grown in ground, and I have not seemed to have had any issues with leaf discolouration/disease which I often see in garden bed grown plants.

Chillies seem to be fruiting and flowering well in the system, but, I planted fairly established plants. My success with Chillies has been hit and miss over the years, normally resulting in very late ripening and mild fruit.

Melons is the final plant being trialled here. Melons are not something people normally try to grow in Tasmania. I had good success the 1st year that I tried to grow melons, with a particular hybrid producing a few tasty, but small melons, but the following year, I only recall a single insignificant fruit. This year, in the hydroponic system, I am trialling what I think may be an open pollinated melon variety (as opposed to hybrid), I will keep everyone updated on the results of all of the plants. For now, here are some pics on current progress.

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No Dig Update

Have you been wondering how the no dig garden bed is going? Probably not, as I am not even sure that anyone reads this blog at the moment! Just in case you are, below are some updated pics. Please ignore the mess, the same laziness that leads to that also means that I cannot be bothered cropping the mess out 🙂

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Lettuce Experiment – 2 Weeks On

I have mixed up some new nutrient solution, as the lettuce in the glass house had used almost half of the liquid, and, the lettuce that I have had outside, appears to have become watered down. While doing so, I also have increased the amount of fertiliser as per directions. Anyway… the results so far after approx 2 weeks (16th Nov). The 1st 2 pics are the lettuces in the ground, the subsequent pics are the hydro lettuces.

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I think the results speak for themselves… There is obviously factors which will be skewing results such as warmer temps in the glass house, watered down nutrient of the hydro bucket outside, and light, moisture etc considerations for those is soil…

I am very impressed with the growth in the hydro buckets so far, I look forward to posting the next update.

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The lettuce experiment (Deep water hydroponics)

I recently have a developed a new found interest in hydroponic gardening. Youtube is a great place for inspiration in the field…one poster that has some great videos is mhpgardener, a link to his channel can be found at the bottom of this post. I have taken the info from some of his videos, am trialling a small outdoor hydroponic setup based on the “dutch bucket” system, which will feature in a future post.

This post however is a about a small experiment  deep water hydroponics… although, i must admit that in this case, the water is not especially deep. the video that inspired this experiment was one of mhpgardener’s about deep water hydroponics, in which he trialled lettuce in an aerated (i guess an aquarium bubbler), vs non-aerated system (basically just a pool of water and nutrients). He reported equally good success with the non-aerated system, so, I thought I would give it a whirl.

The Experiment

I purchased 4 lettuce seedlings of 2 varieties from a fellow at the local farmer’s market. I must give him a quick spruik, as he is producing a great product the he pops out of individual tubes and wraps up in newspaper, then sends you on your way. The root ball is barely disturbed, resulting in little shock during transplanting. Here is a link to his blog: http://hobartkitchengardens.blogspot.com.au/

Moving on, the experiment is not as elaborate as it sounds… in fact, you may even be disappointed with my lackluster scientific investigations.

Step 1

Lets get the easy stuff out of the way. I took 1 of each lettuce variety, and…planted them into the dirt.

Backyard Hydroponics experiment, lettuce seedlings

Step 2

This was as sophisticated as obtaining 2 small buckets with lids, and, cutting holes in the lids… i also cut along the lid so that i could split it it to slot the seedling in.

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Step 3

I prepared the hydroponic fertiliser. I won’t go in to the details of this…but here is a nice pic.

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Step 4

Seedling preparation…a sophisticated process of washing potting mix from the roots. It is actually kind of cool once complete, to see the essence of the plant, fresh and clean after a good wash.

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Step5

I placed the seedlings into the awesome lids with holes in them…placed the lid onto the buckets of fertiliser, and viola..

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 Step 6

Location, location, location…sounds fancy doesn’t it? I have placed one in the glass house, and one outside…currently under the eaves due to the quantity of rain that we have had lately. For future reference, this all took place on the 26th of October. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

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