Sheri Ann Richerson's exotic gardening, elegant cooking, crafty creations, food preservation and animal husbandry... all on two and a half acres in Marion, Indiana!

December 2011 Archives

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Place sealed test tubes filled with seeds inside a glass cloche for an elegant way to start seeds.

Gardeners who start plants from seed know the best way to do it is to pre-germinate the seeds in some type of container such as a bowl, glass dish or test tube. Sometimes finding an elegant way to display those seed starting containers, especially if you have limited space, can be tricky.

Using test tubes placed inside a cloche is a great way to keep the water the seeds are soaking in warmer, germinate a lot of seeds in a limited space and turn a necessary process into an elegant endeavor.

Place multiple test tubes filled with hot water and seeds inside a small ceramic flower pot.

 

Here is how the process works:

Begin with clean test tubes. Sometimes you can find these in the Halloween section of stores.

Place clean, dry seeds in the bottom of the test tubes.

Fill the tubes 3/4 of the way up with hot water.

Place the cork on the top of the test tube.

Place a label towards the top of the test tube so you don’t forget what type of seeds are in the tubes.

Carefully place the test tubes, one at a time, in a ceramic flower pot.

Cover the flower pot with a cloche to help retain the heat.

Change the water once or twice a day until the seeds begin to germinate.

As soon as you see roots begin to emerge, plant the seeds making sure that you don’t break the fragile young roots.

That’s all there is to germinating seeds inside of a test tube.

 

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Plants clean the indoor air and add a touch of elegance to indoor decor. The holidays are a wonderful time to incorporate a few extra plants into your living areas. Plants make ideal centerpieces. They liven up a corner of a room – just make sure you have enough light for the plants you choose – and don’t forget to mist or water them as needed to keep them looking good. It’s so easy to create a festive Christmas terrarium. Even after the holidays are long gone, the terrarium and the plants inside it will continue to bring you joy.

Poinsettia are a typical holiday plant. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. My personal favorite is the rose poinsettia because the bright red flowers – which are really bracts – resemble a rose. Unfortunately the poinsettia is not fragrant, however placing a few scented pinecones throughout the room certainly makes up for that.

 

These days you can find poinsettias in all sizes from miniatures that will grow into full size plants over time to large plants that make a statement on their own. For a terrarium, choose the size that best fits inside the one you own. My terrariums are rather small so a miniature rose poinsettia was the perfect size for it.

A single plant typically isn’t enough to make a grand statement in a terrarium, so you will need to choose a second plant that compliments the first one. I chose the frosted fern, Selaginella krausianna variegatus because I loved the cream and pink “frosting” on the edge of the green leaves. To me, the variegation added a very festive look and complimented the rose poinsettia perfectly.

Once the plants were in the terrarium it seemed something was missing. Holiday decor! That was it! Colorful balls in shades of silver or gold would have worked perfectly. However since I didn’t decorate the house for the holidays this year I did not have any Christmas ornaments to pick and choose from, so I chose the next best thing – a crystal ball from my curio cabinet. The clear color picked up the red and silver from the foil that I used to line the bottom of the terrarium with.

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The "bare bones" of the aquaponic set-up.

The idea behind aquaponics has intrigued me for quite sometime. I held off because I felt like getting large food-grade plastic tanks to contain the fish was beyond my ability, since I had no idea where to find them used. Then I read a post in a magazine that said you could use a 10-gallon fish tank. That got my wheels spinning. After all, when you are as avid of a gardener as I am, everyone wants to give you their used fish tanks. They all suggest you can turn them into terrariums, which is a great idea, but let’s face it, aquariums take up a lot of room.

Of course, I usually accept my friends discarded aquariums, just in case I find a good use for them. I knew I had several empty aquariums sitting around outside in the greenhouse and garage, but had no idea how big they were. As it turned out, I had one twenty-gallon tank and several ten gallon tanks that were not in use. I decided to clean up the twenty-gallon tank that used to hold carnivorous plants. This seemed like a good size to start with, not too small and not too large.

Once the aquarium was clean, I asked Jerry to clean off one of the metal book shelves so I could have a sturdy stand with two shelves on it. We put the aquarium on the bottom shelf. The plants are going on the top shelf so I can hang a grow light over the top of them. The grow light is essential to the operation since we are doing this in a corner of the living room – for now.

Tilipia in their new home.

All I could think of as I was cleaning the tank and getting it set-up was catfish since this is our favorite type of fish. Unfortunately there were none to be had locally, so I had to move on to plan b since I was determined to start my little experiment immediately.

I know, come spring, the traveling fish men will set-up at Tractor Supply. At that point, I intend to get some catfish, but in the meantime, a nice couple sold me a dozen tilapia. This made my Christmas wish come true – after all, the only thing I wanted this year was “two catfish and one aquaponics set-up.” LOL!

We went out and met the couple last night. I was thrilled with their set-up – but it did remind me of how much I missed my greenhouse, which has not been in use since it was damaged last fall by that horrible hail storm. I hope, come spring, we can repair it. I’m not sure I can stand another year without it!

We spent quite a while visiting and talking. We tasted some of the tomatoes they were growing, which were divine! We left with a dozen fingerling fish in a five-gallon bucket.

As soon as we arrive back at home last night, I released the fish into the 20-gallon fish aquarium. I think I could have added more fish to the tank, but sometimes less is better, especially when you are not real sure what you are doing to start with.

As soon as the fish were settled in their new home, I went online to read more about raising tilipia. It seems these fish like warm water. Luckily I had an aquarium heater here, so I set it up in the tank. Today I need to pick up an aquarium thermometer so I can monitor the water temperature. I know sometimes heaters go bad and I have accidently fried fish before. I sure don’t want that to happen this time around.

To complete the set-up, I need pebbles or clay rocks for the plants to grow in. Since there are no hydroponic stores close by, I suspect I will end up with pebbles, which is fine. If I am lucky, I will find a source for free or cheap pebbles, which is good, especially now that I am working on a shoe-string budget.

I also need a pond pump. There is one in our garage somewhere, but then again, there seems to be lots of things in that garage that can’t be found. I hope I can find the pump. If not, there is a local pet store that has a small one for sale at a reasonable price. I will just need to buy hose to go with it, which is not a big deal.

The  next thing I will need is containers to grow the plants in. The containers must allow the water to flow freely. Last night I had an idea to grow the plants in the gallon food grade buckets my friend Shirley gave me a few years ago. They already have large holes in the bottom of them and I am pretty sure they are big enough to support a variety of edible plants including tomatoes. I’m just not sure if the holes are not too large. If they are, I have some plastic flower pots in the greenhouse that will work.

If growing plants using this method works well for me on a small scale, I intend to expand the operation this spring. I believe aquaponics is a great way to grow a lot of food in a little space. I am impressed with what I have seen happening online at other aquaponic operations.

With the economy as bad as it is and so many people needing fresh, non-GMO food, I see this as an opportunity to ramp up the amount of food I am able to grow. This, in turn, means more food for us and more food that I can donate to others in need and the local food pantries.

I am anxious to see how this will turn out and certainly look forward to being able to harvest our own fish to eat. It seems it takes 8 months from start to finish. At that time, I was told each fish will weigh close to a pound.

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The Complete Garden Vegetable Kit from Dollar Seed has enough seeds in it to start a productive vegetable garden.

Now that the fish are settled into their new home, it is time to get a jump-start on seed starting for the aquaponic system. The plants I decided to grow in this system are pole beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. I have heard these plants are harder to grow in an aquaponic system, but since I grow lettuce and other cool weather crops outside all year long, I don’t see the point of growing them indoors.

I had just received the Complete Vegetable Garden Kit from the Dollar Seed. It was sent to me free of charge. The pole bean, tomato and cucumber seeds I selected were from those packets, so I know they are fresh seed. There was even enough seed left over to start another batch of plants with if I choose to do so.

The steadyGROW sample kit was just right size for starting seeds for the 20-gallon aquaponic set-up.

 

I started the seeds in the steadyGROW seed starter sample kit I received earlier in the year. I planted 8 pole bean seeds, 2 tomato seeds and 2 cucumber seeds. This is an ideal number of plants to start with since I am growing indoors. I feel like this is a good number of plants to start with for the 20-gallon system as well. I will monitor the pH, ammonia and nitrates to see if I need to add more plants or more fish to balance the system out.

Simply drop a seed in each hole and put the lid on. Sit the mini-greenhouse under a grow light and wait for germination to occur.

 

The material that makes up the steadyGROW seed starting medium is ideal for use in a hydroponic or aquaponic system because it won’t clog hoses and pumps up the way soil will. Once the seeds sprout, I will cut the seed starting blocks apart and plant them in pebbles where they will continue to grow, flower and fruit.

 

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