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Whatever rings Mel's bells

Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

Adventures in gardening

Apparently, spring has come.

I say apparently because winter never really took much of a hold on the Northwest this year.  We had a couple really bad weeks in November and December, but other than that it’s been around or a little above freezing at night, and somewhere between 40 and 60 during the day.  (Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Easterners who refuse to live here because “you want four real seasons.”  Hope you’re enjoying record snow storms!  No really, I do hope you’re enjoying them, because that would really suck to be stuck in if you didn’t like it.)

The weather isn’t really getting any warmer, and in fact it’s been stupid cold lately during the day.  But I’m seeing people on Facebook, starting their plants inside.  So it seems like that time.

This weekend I went out on the porch and weeded my little containers.  Princess and Chickadee did their parts as well, with Princess eating all the grass she could stuff into her fuzzy little face, and Squeaks dragging everything inside to play with.  This, of course, led to bits of dead plant all over my living room as well as a pile of green vomit on my bedroom floor.

Thanks, guys.  I love you, too.

I did finally rescue the lone carrot from my corner pot.  Pretty sure I planted it in the fall of 2013, but I can’t grow carrots in this soil to save my life, so I left one to see if it’d ever get larger than my pinky finger.

Carrot

It did.

From that angle, it looks like 2 carrots, but it’s really one with two legs.  Couldn’t tell you what variety it is, since I planted a couple, but it looks like a Nantes type, possibly a Merida.

Turned out a little on the woody side, which is not unexpected, but not as bad as I’d feared.  Honestly, since I get all my carrots from the grocery store, this guy wasn’t any worse than a decent store bought root.

I just need to double down on soil quality so that I can grow my own.  I just adore sweet, fresh carrots!  Like candy…  *yum*

I’ll be starting a few plants soon, though we buy most of our starts from local farms like Pheasant Farms.  What are you growing this year?

Stuff I learned today

I had a fantastic chat today at the Co-op office with one of our Member-Owners.  Rene and his wife own a business doing aquaponics, and they’re working with the University of Hawaii (!) to experiment with different types of fish in aquaponics systems.  For those of you who don’t know, aquaponics is sort of like hydroponics, in that you grow plants without soil, but instead of using chemical fertilizers, you link a fish tank in and let the fish make the fertilizer.  (It’s actually a complex system that involves several steps and a couple types of bacteria to metabolize everything properly, but that’s the quick version.)

Now, I’ve read a bit about aquaponics online, but never really talked to anybody about it.  And we all know how perfectly reliable the internet is…  Yeah.

So first of all, it turns out that I was looking at the wrong kind of fish.  Some sites recommend using tilapia fish, since they grow pretty quickly and don’t require as strict of temperature controls as some other types of fish.  Unfortunately, Washington State law prevents importation of tilapia.  So that’s pretty much out.  Rene has been using rainbow trout, which are great for temperature in this area, but they require oxygen levels that stay within a pretty tight band.  So they’re getting a special license from the state of WA to work with Chinese catfish, which have a much broader range on both temperature and oxygen levels.  Hell, these fish can gulp air if they have to!

But that wasn’t all I learned talking to Rene.  We also discussed the warehouse growing movement, where in Chicago and many other cities, people are putting UV lights in warehouse space and using aquaponics to grow food year-round.  This is not only cool because it can bring fresh food into urban food deserts, but it allows for complete control over the environment.  Why is that so helpful?  Because it turns out that plants don’t need large amounts of natural sunlight to grow.  In fact, many plants don’t need more than a couple of hours a day under UV to grow.  That much power can be generated easily by rooftop solar panels, keeping costs down while protecting the plants year-round.

Know what else is cool?  Plants also don’t need to be kept on a 24-hour cycle.  You could conceivably run plants on two 12-hour cycles of light and dark, fooling the plant into thinking two days had passed and getting it to grow twice as fast!  Heads of lettuce in a month.  Radishes in 10 days.  Tomatoes YEAR-ROUND!!

Now, of course there are drawbacks.   Of course!  For one thing, what about pollinators?  What about worms?  What about microbes?  Not to mention, plants exist naturally in a world with lots of other bugs.  Some are beneficial, some not so much.  But some of the “bad” bugs are actually good because they feed the good bugs.  Without the “bad” bugs, the good ones would starve and there wouldn’t BE good bugs!  So it’s an incredibly complex thing, to create a whole ecosystem from scratch.  It’ll be somewhat simpler, of course, without soil.  But still, it’s a huge task and there’s a million things that can go wrong, or can get out of balance real fast.

And of course, there might be some consequences to this that we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps after three or four or ten or fifty generations of plants like this, certain genetic traits will come out that aren’t good for us.  Maybe the tomatoes start producing an enzyme that helps them absorb UV light better, but when you eat them it turns your teeth purple.  I don’t know!  That’s why they’re called unforeseen problems.  We don’t know what they’re going to be, but we know they’re going to happen.

Still…  I want to try it!  So as always, I’m adding to the list of stuff I’m going to do when I have a home and land and the ability to put up a 10×20 prefab building in my backyard so I can play Farmer Frank.