Tuesday, September 29, 2015

       Organic, Non Pesticide Dust,  for getting rid of Cabbage Worms, Slugs and Japanese Beetles. 

Looks hopeless, and your tempted to grab the pesticides. DON'T, this works. And with your help, we will                             develop it to work on other kinds of infestations that don't inhabit my area.
 It is difficult to get anything to stick onto the leaf of a cabbage or broccoli, and have it survive the rain.
Notice how the Vertical Eco Garden Dessert Dust becomes remnants of the water spots. It survives the rain. And also notice the new growth that has been abandoned. This is a good type of abandonment. 

Here's the formula and where we are to date.
Diatomaceous  earth ( sharp glassy silica particle) is a long time proven safe standard for getting rid of creepy crawly aunts, crickets and roaches etc. It irritates their joints. And it is easy to sprinkle it on a floor or  around the base of a plant. But how to get it to stick to the leaf of a Brassica ? Not in the picture, use Talc. A generic baby, bath or shower powder will work for small crops. For bigger jobs, talk to the local coatings / paint co. They have one that is used for making flatting paste used to dull  glossy finishes.  They should be able to give you a good price or a resource. The small cup has pea gravel used to keep the ingredients dispersed. 
The formula I used was 45 % talc, 45 % Diatomaceous Earth and only 10 % borax. Borax is also a long time favorite for repelling aunts and worms. But there is a precaution. More is not better.
Even with only 10 % borax, it burned this eggplant leaf. A previous formula having a mixture of all the ingredients at 1/3 each resulted in more severe burns.  The current  formula with borax at 10 % did not damage the brassicas, but because eggplants, tomatoes and beans etc.have a more textured leaf, more Desert Dust was absorbed. So, maybe cut the borax back a bit for those plants, and or use less early on as prevention. To date, the 10% borax got rid of worms, Japanese beetles and slugs.

Here are some precautions and directions for making the duster from a re-purposed can or container..

If you read the safety instructions on the container of Diatomaceous Earth, it will say to not get it into your eyes. I can testify to that. Even a little is irritating. So, after you make your duster per these directions, make sure your back is to the wind when you dust. With all the ingredients combined with the pea gravel, or something comparable, close and tape the lid thoroughly. Remember, the pea gravel has weight and you don't want to be the target of your own dust storm. After the lid is secured, shake the container. After the container is thoroughly shaken up, punch holes in the lid. Now your ready to dust, and taken from an old Irish homily, may the sun be on your face and the wind at your back. And remember, this is a non pesticide w o precautions of over-use.  So, if the bugs come back, wack em again. 
Real simple.   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What is a 'professional' Potting Soil?

What is the most over-looked ingredient in a good potting soil?

            How do I go about making or finding a professional potting soil for professional results?

                         Can I use a professional potting soil approach in a box / bed garden?

        In this Blog I'm going to include some information I've learned from an article on the web site, www.allergyfree-gardening.com, titled 'The Real Dirt on Potting Soil'. written by Tom Ogren who is the author of five published books, has a M.S. in agriculture / horticulture and taught horticulture for twenty years. In addition to this he started growing when he was five years old, 57 when he wrote the article and somewhere between then and more recent times he owned two wholesale - retail nurseries. He mentioned a couple of potting soils he favored but could no longer find them and began to buy less costly potting soils and amending them considerably. I will only draw on the points he made in that part of the article, but I recommend this as a good read in general, especially for amending and or making a professional potting soil. 

        We have put into practice, and have been getting good results by applying Tom's principle approach to amending or making professional potting soil. In a paragraph subtitled Perlite, he points out the pros and cons of high drainage using Perlite. These pros and cons are, better root development via more aeration, but will require more frequent watering. Aeration is key, and air is the over-looked ingredient. 

        Here is how it works:   The main functions of the growing media are to provide nutrients, water, gas exchange and anchorage. Lets first focus on gas exchange because this involves air. The gas is a phosphorus that is the bi-product or production of microbes breaking down organic matter. The microbes also provide root growth hormones. Think of your potting soil as yogurt culture. The bacteria is friendly and it needs air to thrive. Bad bacteria will be killed or kept in check by air. So air is key. In the past, the practice has been to increase drainage with Perlite. This is because Perlite provides air and increase drainage. Air via Perlite also keeps the roots from drowning and keeps the soil from compacting. Both water and compacted soil displace air. However, high drainage results in increased run off or waste of nutrients and water. Also, maintaining moisture is key for sustaining a bio-intensive root zone. So, the down side to high drainage is that run off  of water and nutrients are costly and messy. Air, on the other hand is free (at least for now) and so are the gases that the microbes produce. There are other materials that work better to increase both aeration, moisture and nutrients in a potting soil. Though they are not widely distributed in the major retail stores yet, they are worth the trip to the hydroponic store, and worth the increase cost of shipping if buying on-line. They are less expensive and work better in the long run. These are referred to as sustainable and soil-less mediums.  
        The two most common are boiled rice hulls and Coir (ground coconut shells). Boiled rice hulls replace Perlite, and Coir replaces Peat Moss. All of the plants in the pictures in this article are growing in potting soil that is approx 2/3 Coir and Boiled Rice Hulls.. Coir has safe Ph levels, is more coarse for aeration and absorbs more water and nutrients. Likewise, Rice Hulls also absorb moisture and will hold their shape (see Sink or Swim blog on rice hulls) to trap air. Because they are organic, they will slowly decompose and provide nutrients. As mentioned, Boiled Rice Hulls also absorb moisture and cost about $1.50 per cu ft when purchased on site in small volumes. 

What is a Good Professional Vegetable Potting Soil Mix?

        For making or amending potting soil with medium commonly available, read the article previously mentioned 'The Real Dirt on Potting soil' by Tom Ogren. The 2 cu ft. Vertical Eco Garden potting soil mix, given here, in increments of a classic Norman Rockwell garden shovel, is the mix being used to grow all the plants in these pictures. This mix starts with 4 garden shovels of compost forest material, leaf or plant compost. I used my own forest compost but a good 'off the shelf' substitute is often labeled Garden Soil.  Here is the rest of my soil recipe:                                                                                     
  • 4 shovels of dampened coir, 
  • 4 shovels of dry boiled rice hulls, 
  • 1/2 shovel hardwood ash , optional for middle pH. 
  • 1 shovel top soil, 
  • 8 cups Garden Tone organic vegetable microbial plant food by Espoma, 
  • 1 cup Triple Superphosphate,  or Triple Phosphate, and or 2 cups organic bone meal. 
  • 1 cup organic blood meal for a jump start.
  • 1 cup pelletized lime for pH balance. 

        If you are growing varieties of vegetables, general measurements are fine. You can get more specific when growing one plant type. For this, I would use the recommended soil culture and check the pH. A big advantage of using Boiled  Rice Hulls and Forest compost in a potting soil mix is its longevity.  

        But what about plant anchorage in this loose growing media that doesn't compact or cake up like peat moss?  In the Vertical Eco Garden design, roots grow through a layer of Geotextile material to access the water and nutrients in the vertical rooting chamber, and this anchors the plant. This unique feature allows the use of a very aerated and moist media needed for a rich microbial environment. The Geotextile felt like material also provides air and the roots like it.  For a bed garden, I suggest a layer of straw or other structure for the roots to grow through. 

Concerns with Peat Moss

         I am often asked,  what happened to the Topsy Turby (spell?) upside down hanging tomato thing? Well, I don't know.  But I suspect it was the combination of high drainage (perlite with peat moss) and inexperienced gardeners who forgot to water frequently. You see, Peat moss is hydrophobic. Once it dries out and cakes up, its hard to get water back into it. Coir absorbs water. We will post a quick U tube video demonstrating this by dropping a chunk of each in water so you can see what it does. The Peat moss floats forever like a little raft. The coir absorbs water just like a sponge. Actually, this is the main reason for frequent watering when using  peat moss, and I suspect is probably the main cause of problems contributing to over-watering. Finding the balance between damp and wet is precarious. In the VEG system we use drip irrigation set on low to maintain proper moisture, and this works great with Peat Moss based potting soils.    

          The practical solution for utilizing run off /  drainage in the Vertical Eco Garden design was to give all the plant roots shared access to a continual vertical chamber containing the root growth media. Gravity does the rest. It works. And it looks like I need to make a big organic salad. 

And then of course, since it works so well we decided to expand on that.

        For a bed, box or conventional garden that is a min of 12 inches deep,  you can use the Tom Ogren, Vertical Eco Garden and I am sure there are others, approach to potting soil that utilizes air,  thus a more bio-intensive soil. The differences are in the amount of soil, labor and cost. Your results on the ground will be determined also by Mother Nature. This differs from the Vertical Eco Garden design. It is more resistant to heat, drought, torrential rain and foraging.  In the picture above, there will be a wide variety of 125 high yield plants in a garden space of 15 sq ft using a total of only 28 cu ft of potting soil, or 7 cu ft per each VEG. This soil can be easily removed through the bottom openings and amended for recycling. A 4 ft X 8ft X 12in height box will need 32 cu ft to grow 32 plants.  
        The enviro friendly non toxic, treated Geotextile fabric can last for a very long time, much longer than un-treated lumber that is placed on the ground. And we need to turn that around. In addition to burning less of the carbon based molecule that is ideal for construction and materials, lets save the trees that are better left alive to absorb carbon. OK? There is no weeding or cultivating required with Vertical Eco Gardening.  Evaporation removes heat and heat is not absorbed or stored over night as with ground gardens because the plants provide their own shade. Organic bug control? less pest come from the pavement than the ground. There is less waste as the excess water and nutrients draining from the upper plants feed the plants below.  The Vertical Eco Gardens in the above are mounted on wheels and can be relocated for more or less sun, (note the lettuce or shade tolerant plants face due east for only morning sun). The gardens in this picture can be rolled into a building at night for a longer growing season. 
        The over all cost goes way down each consecutive year they are used. The loose media also facilitates automated soil exchange of the potting soil and should open the door to Commercial Urban Farming as soon as this is viewed as more of a business opportunity rather than an identity. Also, if you like to garden and would like to have more free time on more important things, please visit  us at www.verticalecogarden.com to learn more about The Vertical Eco Garden and maybe it will spark some more ideas. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Rice Hulls... Sink or swim?


Organic Amending bed gardens and  potting soil for aeration

          They sink. The Question is, What is significant about rice hulls sinking as it relates to using them in a growing medium? For these hulls to go from being suspended on the top of the water and then sinking to the bottom, they had to be absorbent. What can also be observed in the bottom photo is, they keep their hull shape after soaking in water for 24 hours. The cellulose make-up of  a boiled rice hull contributes to it's ability to maintain some of its rigid characteristics after it has been exposed to moisture. This facilitates aeration in a soil needed for a microbial rich environment to produce phosphorus and root growth hormones.

          The cellulose makeup and slowely resist decomposition, however,  the hulls are organic and do decompose. Many garden soils, potting soils and top soils, available in bags at retail stores will list compost rice hulls as one of their materials. So, in addition to providing moisture control, and aeration to the soil, we believe boiled rice hulls can be used as a nutrient amendment as well. Please read our previous blogs on boiled rice hulls and join in on the discussion.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Problems with community gardens



 Growing For Growing 1 

           The reason I reference the Oxford guidelines for problems with community gardens was because these guidelines are obviously in response to real experiences. The other reason was most of the articles from a web search using failure in my search word, were big on all the social advantages but short on objectivity. Having had the experience of wanting to start a commune back in the early 70's, and then actually living in one on 73rd and Jeffery in Chicago, I knew these ventures are not always warm and fuzzy. The FBI field office might still have a record of the raid if you want to verify. Nothing serious. Just a rainbow coalition, that when living together under the reign of J Edgar Hoover, were grounds enough. Any way,  I decided, offering a reality check on the matter of community gardens would be my contribution. In addition to the guidelines, an article on the Groundswell community garden, also found under community garden failures (I think U of Tenn.), has helped me realize the difference between community gardening and a community garden. I suggest you read it to help develop your own insights.

           My thoughts are, the difference boils down to intention. That’s a hard one to nail down because there are many different personalities and motives in any community garden, and these can also change in mid season. For one example, some will want vegetables. Regarding this intention, one of the guidelines address those who want organic, and others that may not have a concern with inorganic when broccoli leaves get holes and start to disappear. Others want an experience, or identify with being purveyors of experiences well covered by the heartfelt articulations of philosophical metaphors. When it becomes apparent that Eco Gardening isn't easy, it could be human nature to want to be the teacher. The thoroughness of the Oxford guidelines supports that the hybrid species of these two growth characteristics are probably found in most of our community gardens. Having said this, in addition to hosting a community garden, there are many ways to develop social skills, gain life experiences and mature. Community Gardens look like one option to do this while acquiring vegetables. I suppose the garden has a better chance of succeeding as long as the intention of growing vegetables is not lost in the manure.

          Growing for Growing 2 

           Personally, I have discovered, it takes a significant amount of grief before my eyes open to self awareness of some of my unconscious ambitions. On that, I can only speak from my own experience. With this in mind, I do want to talk about opinions I have formed reading complaints from municipal governments, viewing pictures of community gardens and from exchanges with community gardeners. Evidently, the community gardens that require city involvement usually get their blessings through a commitment of responsibility for many of the problems the guidelines addressed. Water was a key issue understandably. One city manager researched the amount of water needed from agricultural sources and was telling the garden master, ‘more water was not the solution’. Long story short, the city manager was frustrated about the above normal water usage and city payroll covering city workers for weeding and cleaning the garden. The communication was reminding the community garden members of their commitment. Ultimately, the city will be held responsible by the citizens who live there, and what the manager can offer might be limited. Most of the community gardens on Facebook post pictures. Most are conventional gardens and many of them are getting very impressive results. By that I mean, big vegetables and significant yields. There are also gardens in shallow wood frames on the ground.

          The world wide web shows many flavors of sq ft gardens, raised bed gardens, box gardens, straw bale gardens, containers gardens, vertical gardens, perma-culture gardens, buried log garden, etc., if I missed you, my apologies. However, I don’t see many hybrids. For example, making a square garden using straw bales for the walls, and then plant the walls too. Is this kind of thing allowed? There are also many types of gardeners, all very committed to their cause. Victory, sustainable, organic, etc. I can appreciate that. The type of gardening I provide combines aeroponic, hydroponics and geoponic. I have an advantage not being committed to a specific type of gardening. I am free to focus on what gets the best results for a target demographic. It’s called win-win. But again, we have to determine what good results are. So now we're back to intention. My intention was to provide a way to grow the most vegetables with the least amount of cost, labor, materials and space while making a profit. The picture on the left is from The Big Vertical Eco Garden™. The picture on the right are the same peppers growing in the ground.

          The key difference is this. The Vertical Eco Garden occupied only 5 sq ft of garden space and used only 6-7 cu ft of media to grow 25 pepper plants. Only 3 of these plants would work in a the same space in a regular garden and 5 in a sq ft garden. The Vertical Eco Garden™ makes it easy to recycle the amended media. Using more aerated non compacting sustainable and less expensive medium (boiled rice hulls, coir, etc.) will facilitate automated recycling of the media opening the door for competitive commercial urban farming for profit.  This would be a low carbon foot print source for your nutrient dense vegetables. The Vertical Eco Garden™ also folds flat and stores on a shelf.  City managers might be more open to the Vertical Eco Garden if they know of failures. Re; the intention of making a profit, profits are sustainable. I have read some community gardens are funded with grants. That can be yet a third intention. Grants are a type of donation. Someone made a profit somewhere to make that money available. The companies that provided the computer and programs and Internet service you are now using, were all able to provide them from profits. Also consider, that human social science evolved from being social, apart from working together. Learning to grow food instead of foraging, the first agriculture culture of woman heir-loomed us into language, art and expression. 

          Out of respect for this sacred tradition, I would want to do everything I could, to honor it in my gardening practices. There are a few articles written by a few brave objective souls who eventually and tactfully covered what I will diagnose as 'Konfused Intention Syndrome'. Lets not add the last S. Instead, using compassion with the intention of communicating, I will explain using a self disclosure. What that syndrome means to me is when I am leaning on others for whom it is I need to be. I have seen many pictures of shallow beds placed on  flat hard ground with little plants growing out of them. The gardeners standing by appear proud of their accomplishments. After all the work, they are appreciative, I’m sure. The beds that do get higher yields are sitting on aerated ground that has been cultivated. Likewise, the same smiles are seen next to stunted plants in deep boxes filled to the top with compacted humus heavy compost. Let’s do the math. A 4’ x 8’ by 12” square bed is 32 cu ft of soil. And that’s only 12 “ high. It should be at least twice that for growing bigger plants like peppers. That’s 64 cu ft. for one bed. Hopefully, no heavy down poor is forecast.  Yet this is in face of square foot gardens that use layers of straw, leaves, news paper, twigs etc, to prevent compacting and provide root anchorage, aeration and drainage. Is this allowed in the box garden identity? FYI, affordable boiled rice hulls can be used to get aeration, and the accumulation of  these is an environmental concern. Lots of heart and sweat equity, wheel barreled yards upon yards of compost manure with the main motive being to grow vegetables. Honestly? I can relate to the need to feel like I am doing something in these hard times. It is not a bad coping mechanism. 

          Here's another option. Working smart instead of hard (cost effectively) at gardening will provide the freedom to be more proactive. Nutrient dense vegetables don't have to come the hard way. The human spirit behind all this work is admirable and I am moved by it. Especially knowing it all has to be removed and done again every few years. Pine wood frames on wet ground will rot and attract termites. I wouldn't want that near my building or house. If you cant afford cedar, redwood or composite, an affordable treatment Grandpa used to use was boiled linseed oil and charcoal. God forbid, I have seen pictures of treated lumber being used for bed gardens. Yes you can line them with plastic and pray there wont be a heavy rain. Wood skid vegetable gardens are also a health concern because skids are often treated with arsenic to prevent infestation or could have accidentally absorbed concentrated carcinogens.   

            The difference between a community garden and community gardening might be best determined by yield. If getting a bunch of vegetables that look like those at the farmers market is the primary intention of the garden, that is what you will get. That’s what farmers do. They want yield. Using their science, if they can get consistent yield ahead of rising cost, they stay being farmers. It might be more helpful to buy produce from them than to spend resources on making half baked gardens. If Activism is your calling, there are alternatives. Start a farmers market if there isn't one or facilitate distribution from farms to store's located in  food deserts. Or start a co-op to buy produce from a local grower using Vertical Eco Gardens™ (conscious intention). Our commune (40 years ago) used to place our orders with the Urban Farm (40 yrs ago) in the spring so they knew what to plant. If you do want a community garden it might be a good idea to read the Oxford guidelines along with books on gardening and soil amending. If you have second thoughts, let me share my vision of a community garden in full bloom. A bunch of people standing around with cold beverages in one hand and a watering can in the other. Reason being, all you really have to do when gardening with the Vertical Eco Garden™, is water it and yourself. Watering the Vertical Eco Garden™ can be done more efficiently with the drip irrigation provided. On a really hot day, a spray hose works for both garden and gardener. Or, for the romantic, watering cans could be individual artistic expressions. Perhaps holding an annual watering can competition would be fun. I see plenty of big smiles, couple of Frisbee's being flung around, zucchini and sweet Italian peppers on the grill. Acoustic trio kickin' it out, Why not? Whats wrong with this picture? Why not have the Vertical Eco Garden™ do the work for you so being out of doors can be more enjoyable.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pocket Garden Problems And Sustainable Medium

Conventional Potting Soil Test
In order to discuss problems with Pocket Gardening, I first have to briefly talk about potting soil and validate the information. I will use the experiment in this picture. The above picture is of a potting soil test with mixtures of more conventional potting soil. These consist mostly of peat moss with compost manure and or forest products & a little top soil. Each vertical chamber in this Vertical Eco Garden, having 5 pockets on the front, has a different blend of potting soil. The only soil that was significantly different is the middle row. Row 3 started out of the gate strong but finished last. Visually, the soil in the first row looked like what a novice (me) would consider a nice rich earthy looking soil. It was rich, moist and beautiful. However, this produced a smaller compact plant with more secondary growth between the main branches & smaller peppers. The second row received potting soil that was used the previous year, and it was amended with a product called Organic Garden Tone by Espoma. The 2 main Ingredients in Garden Tone is Hydrolyzed Feather Meal and Pasteurized Poultry Manure. Since this was re-used (amended) potting soil I will touch on information on how to do that and then we will get back to the experiment.

I have seen directions for amending potting soil that required heat treatment in a clear plastic bag to be placed in the sun for X time at X temp to kill microbes. Then it said there were good and bad microbes but didn't explain how to discriminate. The short answer, not found in the article is that bad microbes can live in compacted soil with little air because oxygen is of no use or is poisonous (anaerobic) and will inhibit or kill them. The friendly microbes thrive on air and produce stimulating root growth hormones and beneficial trace elements like nitrogen and phosphorous. The article said to add more perlite for aeration & vermiculite for more water retention. Instructions for testing drainage VS water retention said to pour water in the pot and see if it drains and how fast. This information was all after the fact regarding our test. Regardless of this, the second row did good. I think it was because we simply amended (re-mixed) with a bio-intensive plant food, and planted an heirloom that was smart and tuff. The reasoning was, if the potting soil worked the year before, it just needs nutrients and cultivation (loosened- up). The third row was an expensive $40.00 per 2 cu ft bag to be used for growing what used to be a weed, but now is a medicine. The Master Gardener in charge of the experiment thought it looked like the peat moss was too fine and would compact. The fourth & fifth row did the best. The forth row is called All Pro and is a Michigan based company that was purchased from a garden center in Byron Center Mi on sale for about $7.00 / 2 cu ft. It contained a lot of composted forest products. The fifth row was a home -made mix and had a lot of composted leaves with a little top soil. All of the soils used different amounts of perlite for aeration and we added Garden Tone to all of the soils as well. So, all of the soils had the basics of a potting soil described in the following, more or less. The first ingredient I will mention is the main medium, It is the bulk of the potting soil. The functions are to provide the plant roots with a home that will hold a good balance of air, water, food and stability (root anchorage). For this, Peat Moss has been the main source for a long time. However, other medium & sustainable types have come of age. Coir is probably the most used to replace peat moss because it has very similar properties. Some a little better (less compacting) & some a little less, (water / nutrient retention) but this isn't rocket science if growing heirlooms. For a sustainable to replace peat moss go with Coir that is made for growing plants and not for bedding or as feed filler and just add a little more plant food per the same directions on the label.
The next amendment is compost. Compost is decomposing organic matter like manure with bedding of straw or wood shavings, or chicken manure with rice hulls or wood shavings (chicken liter), and forest products (leaves & wood etc).
Ideally, any compost will contain a full range of materials in different stages of decomposition from chunks to what looks a little like muck. This is the humus content, it is the residue from advanced stages of decomposition. Humus will hold 90% of its weight in water and it gives the soil stability for root anchorage, but it has little to no nutritional value. If your compost is too chunky and drainage is too high, vermiculite is added to retain water. If it is too mucky, add rice hulls, perlite and coir or peat moss along with plant food. Most of the compost should be in the middle. Not too fine or muddy and not too chunky. A bag of potting soil / compost should not be heavy and wet. What is desired is organic material that is decomposing (good microbes), not decomposed or not decomposed enough (nitrogen lock up). Chunks of wood for example, should be fingernail size and be able to crumble between your fingers. A few small sticks are OK for resisting compacting. The finer particle (humus) will typically compress and form when pinched between your fingers but a handful of the potting soil should not form or clump together when compressing a handful. This would indicate the humus content is too high. The next amendment is for air or aeration in the soil. Traditionally, this has been perlite. It usually makes up 20% to 25% of the mix. However, we’re about to change that with rice hulls.

For aeration, Rice hulls are the new kid on the block and this is what I want to talk about.You may have heard some bad reports on rice hulls. Well, there's a reason for that. Rice hulls are either boiled or un-boiled. Boiled rice hulls are used by the nursery industry to replace perlite. I think this is preferred by their customers in the big cities who don’t want to deal with floating perlite in managing waste water, treatment and run off. Riceland learned the hard way on how to perfect boiling rice hulls. The problem was this, Sugars & starches are the first to break down in decomposition. When that happens it takes nitrogen from the soil (nitrogen lock up) So, Rice hulls used for aeration took nitrogen from the plants and then it decomposed too fast. I suspect this may have caused them to lose structure and resist compacting. With less nutrients then less aeration, the plants were stunted. The relationship with aeration and nutrients is this. Granted, roots need air, but so do the microbes that have the job of breaking down the organic matter and provide food. So, aeration is key. To fix the problem with the rice hulls was to boil the starch and sugar out of them.
Even this process had a learning curve. It required replacing the water between batches to get rid of all the sugar and starches. What is left behind is a SILICATE like hull shaped material, that now, free of sugar and starch, will not take nitrogen from the soil and will decompose more slowly while holding the hull shape to provide aeration. Here's my thinking and here is how I want to incorporate rice hulls in the Vertical Eco Garden. Granted the boiled rice hulls are free from sugar and starch and are now a silicate structure, but are still organic, and it will eventually decompose. Although it doesn’t have the sugar and starch content that locks up nitrogen, it will still absorb nitrogen (nitrogen Lock-up) in a saturated treatment to initiate decomposition.

Regarding Pocket Gardens, We realize the Vertical Eco Garden resemble a pocket garden. And this is a problem because Pocket Gardening doesn’t work as well, especially for growing vegetables. In fact, we are the opposite in functionality. From ALL the pictures of pocket gardens I have seen, they must be using heavy compacted soils. Because the plants resemble our stunted pepper plants in the heavier, more compacted media in rows 1 & 3. My position is pocket gardening relies on heavier soils in an attempt to get root anchorage so the plants would not blow out in the wind also preventing the soil from drying too fast in their fabric. This is the another pocket garden issue. I won’t go into all the engineering water flow specs for Geo materials because that tends to get a tad boring. However, I will just say they are being misunderstood and are being applied backwards in most cases.

Mechanical Root Anchorage

Basically, in pocket garden materials the water flow specification of a filtering application is being applied to a drain design. So the water runs out too fast. To compensate, they go with either more humus or too much vermiculite. To make matters worse, they have resorted to combining organic (cotton, hemp, etc.) materials in the construction of pocket garden material to absorb or wick water. These won’t last long either, in or out of doors because they will become plant food. The Vertical Eco Garden goes in the opposite direction. Our roots anchor when they grow through the UV resistant geo material from the small pocket into the rooting chamber. This chamber can now use loose aerated mixes of medium. Water is utilized by using only one dripper set on low to feed the 5 growing stations below. This is a drain design application. This, along with root anchorage is the key difference. For example: When bush beans are planted, 15 plants will be watered by one single drip irrigation component.We are focused on our mission to get the biggest yield from the lowest cost, from the smallest volume of growing medium in the least amount of space.Growing vertical is just the natural consequence of that. So, another question that fits this mission statement is, why can't the same amendment for aeration (boiled rice hulls) be used for a portion of the compost as well, increasing both aeration and microbial nutrition. The potting soil test indicates this is the direction to go.

I was looking at a back yard garden composter in a farm supply magazine. It showed a barrel full of what looked like oak leaves. I prefer Maple leaves. The advertisement said it could compost leaves in 15 days and it would contain the odor even with a rich nitrogen additive. So, in the same way as is practiced to decompose leaves we are initiating decomposition of boiled rice hulls. So far, they are decomposing. We think we can control this to the mid way point of decomposition. We don’t have big chunks and we won’t have the sludge (humus) because we are starting with a more uniform material. These little hulls will still work for aeration because so far, they are holding much of their shape. They don't break apart, crumble or turn to mush.

The Vertical Eco Garden is currently getting high yields from 25 to 75 short to mid size heirloom varieties in only 6-7 cubic ft of potting soil, using a garden space of 5 sq ft. However, we're pushing for vegetables from 90 heirlooms. This will be the results from having mechanical root anchorage in a loose non compacting aerated microbial rich potting soil. We've replaced heavier soils for a more aerated medium that provides a more bio-intensive environment. We have combined the best of aeroponic, hydroponics and geoponic in one system. Vertical Eco Garden has found ways to improve this by utilizing the rice hull amendment not only for aeration but also to extend the growth life of the potting soil. Theoretically, this is done by manipulating nitrogen lock up in the boiled rice hulls before it is added to the soil. Then it will provide both aeration and bio-intensity which work hand in hand. It just makes more sense. But let’s not stop there. What about rice hulls for water retention? Visualize this, Peat moss absorbs water like a sponge. In your head, do this little experiment for. Take a sponge and let it absorb as much water as it can and ring it out in a small bowl. Then let that sponge absorb water again and lay it on a dish. Which one will dry up faster? The water in the bowl (rice hull) or the water in the sponge (peat moss)? If you guessed the water in the sponge you are correct. Theorizing rice hulls can do more of the main functions of a potting soil, we are going to do another growing media test.

Mini VEG™ Vertical Eco Garden™

The picture on the right is our Mini VEG 9. It has three vertical rooting chambers. Each chamber will receive different percentages of rice hulls as a growing media. One will have 100%, the middle will have 75% and the third will have 50%. All of the same bush beans will be planted as a control perimeter. We will be sure to keep you posted.

The 2 pictures below are the growing stages and results of the potting soil test pictured at the beginning of this article. It also demonstrates big plants can come from what looks like a small pocket. But make no mistake, this is NOT pocket gardening.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Root Anchorage by Vertical Eco Garden

Root Anchorage in sustainable growing mediums in Vertical Gardening

    Root Anchorage in sustainable growing mediums, in Vertical Gardening are not commonly found together in a web search because this combination has been overlooked for a very long time. Vertical growing of edible vegetables was not established by humans. The plants figured that out long before us. We just learned what plants were safe to eat. Then we learned to grow them. These vegetable and fruit  plants were heir-loomed by the first agriculture culture of women gathering food. Combining these three components to grow food was far safer than taking a risk encountering packs of wolves while foraging away from the safety of their dwellings. We now call that working smart instead of working hard.

    A gatherer’ developing powers of observation, noticed plants growing out of the bones laying on a loose bed of decayed leaves, makes bigger food. VoilĂ ! Fast forward! Root anchorage in a loose aerated sustainable microbial rich potting soil produce higher yield. So, To use an appropriate pun, we need to get back to our roots. Not forgetting that working smart VS working hard are part of those roots. My intuition tells me, Permaculture, as one example is an expression of that consciousness.

    The area of Permaculture I want to draw on is the practice of growing a variety of plants close together in a more natural arrangement. This is in contrast to the directions on the back of a seed packet that instructs this vegetable plant needs full sun / 6-7 hrs /day and X space around it from the other plants. I was always curious how all these different varieties of plants all need exactly the same amount of sun and space. Well, obviously they don’t. Any one who has gardened has observed that some plants, even of the same type will wilt during mid day while others are trying to sun bath, unless they were all thirsty. I had a Vertical Eco Garden planted with a variety of peppers facing due east last year. The sun approached directly from the front and traveled overhead. Some of the peppers were growing snug to the vertical surface utilizing the shade from the plants above during mid day sun. Others, again of the same type were leaning out for more sun at mid day. The point here is, each plant is different and if given a choice it knows, and will decide what is best. This is commonly known as plant Intelligentsia, another lost concept in modern day gardening.

    Plant Intelligentsia is the ability of the plant to find what it needs or to adapt to what it encounters. Plant Intelligentsia directs roots to water, air and nutrient sources. It directs leaves and stems to follow the sun. It tells the  stalk and stems to pump minerals into its leaves when the temperature drops. Unlike humans, a plant will not self destruct over confusion on the concept of enough.  And it tells the roots how far to spread and how deep to dig-in to  stand up to the wind. A plant will not produce more than it can support. What a vegetable plant does have in common with conscious humans is the tendency to propagate VS profligate. 

    Historically, the balance between root anchorage and aeration / drainage is achieved by incorporating the caking properties of Peat Moss for potted plants. Soil with more substance is used in box, raised bed or conventional gardening. This substance usually comes in the form of Humus. Humus is the most decomposed oily waxy substance from the decomposition of organic matter. Humus has no nutrient value and it holds 90% of it’s weight in water. I have read enough articles that raised bed or sq ft gardens do great for a couple of years and then they decline in production. What was once great compost has further decomposed into humus. Water retention of humus will store heat overnight and the roots might be drowning in warm mud that can’t drain. Keep in mind, a raised bed garden that is 4’ X 8’ with x 12”H  will need to have 32 cu ft of soil amended and or replaced every couple of years for maximum yields. This is a lot of work and can be very expensive. My rice hulls cost roughly 1.26 per cu ft. 

The Vertical Eco Garden uses 6-7 cu ft of potting soil. Using the Permaculture approach, will grow 25 to 75 plants in 5 sq ft of garden space and the bottom of the rooting chambers open to facilitated recycling of the amended potting soil. It just falls out into a container.  I imagine container gardeners using containers of all sorts must have to balance this as well. The trend I have observed is, the container determines the size of the plant. How well air, drainage, and nutrients are balanced determines yield. Low yields are commonly accepted in most vertical gardens in the areas of short to mid size plant varieties. The reason is because it is difficult to provide enough soil / substance for root anchorage without compacting or cutting down on aeration. So, smaller types of plants such as lettuce are commonplace with exception to the more complicated and expensive hydroponics approach using climbing plants. Though climbing plants pre-dates us, it wont produce like some of the bush varieties.

Seedlings sending their roots through
    So, what’s the answer? To get root anchorage in a loose aerated non compacting microbial rich growing media. Sounds like a potting soil from alien technology, doesn‘t it? No, it’s probably just that global connectedness / consciousness traveling on electrons from ancient past having spent some time with a woman from pre-history who observed blueberry bushes heavy with blueberries growing out of some ba ba bones. Ok, My apologies. I’ve got a wild imagination and no one said I couldn’t have a little fun with this while educating at the same time. Having said that, quantum Physics is the most proven science known and least understood. The answer is more specifically Rice Hulls, Coco peat, composted leaves or any number of composted sustainable materials. 

The Vertical Eco Garden provides a mechanical means for root anchorage. The roots must grow from the pocket, where the seed or seedling get started, through a thin aerated layer of geo material to share the continual rooting chamber for the nutrients and water. The plant is plenty smart, The roots will find their way and anchor, and the plant will know it’s ok  to  get top heavy with produce without falling over. To provide root anchorage for box, raised bed, sq ft, whatever you want to call it, there are several types of biodegradable sheet materials used for soil or seed stabilization. An example is the burlap bag type material used to hold top soil and grass seed when planted along the newly paved highways. Just use a higher percentage of rice hulls, coco peat and or peat moss with composted materials for your soil. In other words, make a potting soil mix. This media can be amended and re-used for a very long time. Fill the box half way, Lay the loose burlap out and fill it the rest of the way. I suppose you could even suspend / support this layer with some wooden stakes. Regarding wood stakes to support those giant plants, you will have to make holes in the burlap in order to drive the stakes through before filling to the top.  

Sprouts in seed bed soil
Last but not least, if you are going to use rice hulls, we have to talk about an old technique used by farmers plowing fields. Its called nitrogen lock up. Nitrogen is required to decompose organic matter. Many of us have the memory of the rows of turned sod in the fields in Autumn. Or a memory of that sweet scent of fresh manure spread over the field first. You remember, when the farmer did it right. Then the plow turns the old plant matter or grass under with the manure (nitrogen). The nitrogen decomposes the organic matter at a depth that will be available for the roots of the next crop when the plants want it. The top soil will have less nitrogen to accommodate seed germinating as well as seedling growth. For this same reason seed bed soil doesn’t contain fertilizer. You’ve probably heard the expression the fertilizer feeds the soil, the soil feeds the plants. What does this have to do with Rice Hulls? 

Boat hull
Magnified rice hulls
That’s open for discussion. In the Vertical Eco Garden, the plant starts in a pocket without fertilizer. The rooting chamber with the rice hulls will have a little more nitrogen in the mix for the rice hulls to absorb (lock up) for decomposition. The decomposing rice hulls will be there for the later stages of growth extending the life of the potting soil. It’s like a natural time release plant food. If you were to do this in a box or bed garden, it would make sense to do this in the bottom layer. But take a look at these little rice hulls. That’s a perfect name for them because they look like little boat hulls.  These decomposing inexpensive sustainable little boat hulls will provide water, air, microbial decomposition and will resist compacting.
Decomposing boat hull

Granted, gardening has traditionally required a lot of labor. I have to honestly say, by working smart at gardening, I have more vegetables and more of myself to share. Stay compassionate my friends.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sustainable growing media

Benefits of Vertical Eco Gardening

1.  Beauty abounds and adds visual drama
2.  Takes a fraction of the space that horizontal gardening does.
3.  Easier on knees and back, no bending
4.  Conserves water
5.  Watering takes less effort
6.  Weeds are controlled if not reduced 100%
7.  Reduces CO2 levels and increases oxygen
8.  Acts as natural insulation for hot and cold air
9.  Aeration of plants is more efficient
10.  Covers up views of plain or ugly walls
11.  Fresh produce at your fingertips.
12.  Plants are less accessible to diseases and pests
13.  Live plants decrease stress levels, create peaceful ambiance
14.  Increases value and saleability of your home or office building

You don't have to limit your Vertical Eco Garden to just a few varieties of herbs & lettuce
Broccoli, peppers, beans, greens (collard, mustard, turnip, kale just to name a few) tomatoes, summer squash, semi bush, cucumbers, Bok Choy, Swiss Chared, lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, egg plant,

Herbs: Cilantro, Coriander, basil, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme, cat nip, cat grass, sage, stevia, lemon balm, fennel, spearmint, rosemary

The list goes on...