12/28/09

E- mail -- basic soil, nutrients,water/feeding schedule

Hi Dr. Myers
One of the most confusing parts (for me) is nutrients, soil and watering.

I'm not a gardening person, I'm not green thumbed so all this fertilizer numbers, ph and moisture is baffling to me. Could you please explain to me in plain terms what basic soil, nutrients, water/feeding schedule I would need?

Thanks for your E-mail.
You are right there is a lot of information to know to be a good grower. The good news is that if you just know a few basics you can be successful, and then build on your success as your knowledge grows.

I wrote a previous paper on nutrients LINK
And on how to water properly LINK
And a previous post on soil LINK
And on what containers are best to use LINK

There is a lot of information in these articles and links to others, so I will try to break things down in simple terms for you here. If any of the more advanced growers can think of easier ways to explain things please leave a comment for me.

Start with a good potting soil. You don’t need to worry about pH or even much about nutrients with a good soil. I always tell people, "Don’t even think about hydroponics or soil-less mediums until you master growing in dirt".

Start you plants in small containers and put them in bigger containers as they grow. Most plants need a minimum of ½ gallon of soil for every foot of growth. Simply put bigger containers are better than smaller but see my container article for more information
It is vital that all containers have a drainage hole. When you water it should come out the bottom of the container so that you know the soil is saturated completely. Watering is important, but usually is done too much. When growing in dirt, you should never water a plant if the top layer of soil is still moist. Containers dry from the top down so if the top is wet the whole container is too. Pick up the plants every time you water. The weight will tell you how much water is needed. Heavy pots need less, light pots are dry and need more.

There is a ton of information on nutrients.  The most basic thing you need to know is that the three numbers on any fertilizer are always describing three nutrients in the same order.  FIRST is always the percentage of nitrogen SECOND is the percentage of phosphorus and THIRD is the percentage of potassium. These (NPK) are the most important nutrients that plants need in large quantities. A general fertilizer with all three numbes the same like 10-10-10 is all you really need if you are growing in potting soil. I like fox farm products but use many others too.
  If you want to try a couple different fertilizers, instead of just a 10-10-10, many growers start off by giving young growing plants a fertilizer with the largest number the first 6-4-4 (NITROGEN). Nitrogen helps plants grow vegetatively. Then some growers switch to a fertilizer that has the highest number the second PHOSPHORUS like 2-8-4. Phosphorus helps plants make flowers and fruits. If you are growing in potting soil you don’t need to worry too much about micronutrients. Compost is one way to make sure you have micronutrients, but there are many fertilizers you can buy as well.

I hope this helps you get going. Let me know if you run into any other problems.

Good Growing,
Dr. E. R. Myers

12/21/09

Winter Solstice Gift For You

Happy winter solstice!
Since this is a time of year most people give gifts, I will give you something. Surprise! It is advice. (Lame I know but read on) I advise you to give yourself a new bulb. This is a great idea for a number of reasons: First, older bulbs put out less light which will slow down plant growth and/or reduce yield. Second, it is a good idea to have a back up incase your current bulb breaks. If you do not have supplemental light and you break a 400, 600 or 1000 watt bulb you may not be able to get a replacement the same day. It may take several days if you need to mail order. You don’t drive a car without a spare tire do you??? Have a back up bulb! If you order a new bulb you can keep the current one as a backup. An old bulb putting out 50% light is better than messing up the light cycle and stressing out the plants (and yourself) waiting for a new bulb to arrive. Did you know that a MH can loose 30-50% of its intensity in the first year? An HPS is much more durable loosing 10-20% over a couple years, but all bulbs loose intensity the more they are used.

On an environmental note, HID bulbs can have mercury or other heavy metals in them, as can florescent, so you should dispose of them properly. An internet search should help you find the nearest recycle center.

Happy Winter Solstice
Dr. E. R. Myers

12/19/09

Speed up Growth Cycle via Light Intensity


As you know, photosynthesis drives plant growth. An easy way to speed up a plants growth cycle is to give it a greater light intensity. The cheapest and maybe simplest way to grow is with T-12 bubs from a hardware store, and many growers including my self started out that way, but they don’t compare with a T-5. If you want big plants or plants for fruit or flower, you will need to use an HID like an MH or my favorite, an HPS. While plants don’t use light the same way we ‘see’ light, lumens are still an ok way to look at light output. The more lumens a bulb has the greater the light intensity. The color of light is also important. An HPS has a superior light output vs. an equal wattage MH, but its yellow light output makes some plants grow lanky. I recommend using a fan and/or tying plants down. You can also use a MH conversion bulb with a HPS ballast for vegetative and then switch to the normal HPS bulb for flowering/fruit. In some cases, these conversion MH bulbs put out more lumens than an actual MH!

I think the fasted way to get plants to maturity is to start them under a T-5 (blue bulbs) in small containers and then pot them up and put them under a HPS when they are big enough to flower. I have a conversion bulb which I use for a couple weeks and then switch to a high output HPS bulb. I usually put a fan blowing on the plants very briskly for the first couple weeks when I switch to the HPS to help counter act the internode stretching that sometimes occurs between plant nodes when plants are grown under HPS. Once most plants have begun to really flower you can cut the fan back to low because plants stop stretching when they have prodcued the hormones for flowering which leads to fruit or seeds.

EXPERIMENT TO COMPARE LIGHT

I started several pumpkin seeds from the same hybrid on a wet paper towel in a plastic bag. The seeds that germinated I put into plastic cups and grew them under a T-12 light for two weeks. All were sitting on a root warmer. After three weeks I potted up eight plants, four I put on a window in my office (winter short days) and the others I put on a shelf with a 400 W HPS with a timer -- on 12 off 12 (mimic short days).  Every day was "sunny"for the HPS, but the window had at best several sunny days and only 1 hour maximum of direct sun on those days.  I apologize that the pictures did not turn out that well but at least you can see that the plants under the HPS are bigger and are flowering. The window plants had the same number of hours of light  but are basically stagnant or growing slowly.  Even the HPS plants are not the best looking plants because they are in small containers.  I kept all plants in the same size pots so that everything would be the same accept the light intensity. I should have transplanted the bigger plants under the HPS into 5 gallon buckets if I really wanted to harvest them.

Good Growing,
Dr. E. R. Myers

12/13/09

Speeding up grow cycle via Breeding

In my previous post about starting a breeding program I mentioned that you should always be ruthless in the plants you select of your breeding program. Don't get mired in meritocracy.  I also said that you should observe your plants through all stages of growth as you make your selection for which plant(s) will be the parent(s) of your breeding line.
Another way to speed up the growth cycle is with your breeding program.  Most people pick the biggest, best tasting crops to put in a breeding program, consider looking at the rate of germination and time until flowering as traits to select for.  Remeber that faster flowering does not always mean increased or good yields.  Decide what is most important for you.


There is some genetic determination in how long it takes a seed to germinate.  What this means is that if you pick the first seeds that germinate as a trait as you breed you will see shorter and shorter germination times. You can speed up  the growth cycle by breeding for other traits: the fastest growing plants, the first to flower, or finish flowering or to produce seeds will have a genetic factor (genes) that gives them this trait.
One characteristic I personally have chosen in a breeding program is early flowering. For several generations I picked the first plants to flower as the pollen donor and recipient as the primary trait I was breeding for. I did this because I wanted my plants to flower before the end of the semester. After a few semesters I had many plants that would be done flowering two weeks before the end of a 16 week semester! The problem was these fast flowering plants were shorter, had smaller flowers and were not as nice as other flowers that took longer to flower. The lesson here is that while choosing plants that flower early will speed up the growth cycle, you may sacrifice other traits like color, smell or even yield. When you are breeding make sure you choose the most important traits to you, but keep in mind things like time to flower, size etc. I have crossed a big beautiful flower with an early flower in order to have big flowers that finish early. I hope to let you know of my success.

Good Breeding,

Dr. E.R. Myers

12/6/09

How to Speed up the Growth Cycle

– The growth cycle as I use it in the next few posts means the time it takes to go from seed to fruit/flower. There are other factors to consider besides time until harvest. Size is the first to come to mind, small plants in general will be ready to harvest before big ones. Many indoor growers have limited space and therefore grow smaller plants in smaller containers or simply change the light cycle to induce flowering/fruit sooner. Yield is also an important agricultural trait to consider. Plants that are smaller tend to be harvested earlier and tend to have lower yields. If you let your plants grow for longer/get bigger in most cases you get greater yields. In many cases my goal is to maximize all factors without harming others, you need to decide if one factor is more important than others and grow your plants in a way that is best for you. Please see my other articles on limiting factors (link) if you want more information to help you speed up and improve your grow cycle.

If you already have plants, see my post on vegetative growth and speeding up the growth cycle.  If and when you are starting new seeds please read below.

Speed up the growth cycle Seeds – Shorter seed germination is the first and one of the best ways you can get a real jump on speeding up the growth cycle! Depending on the variety of plant, Warmer temperatures can take 3-7 DAYS off the growth cycle. I use a heat mat.  I like to start seeds using the starter plugs  and I put the whole seed tray on the heating mat. I also have used hot houses with a plastic cover to keep humidity high and sometimes I use a heat mat with small pots when I start seeds in soil mixtures. Keep in mind if the pots are too big the heat won’t get to the seeds. For example, 16 oz. plastic cups are a bit too big to get the heat to the seeds in the top layer of soil in the cup. I have also put seeds on a wet paper towel in a plastic bag on top of a heat mat which also speeds up germination.

YOU SHOULD KNOW, I did an experiment to test the effect of using a heat mat on growing Coleus. As expected, the seeds germinated on the heating mat emerged 2-5 days earlier and the seedlings were bigger for the first week. THEN, the plants without a heating mat caught up, and passed the heated plants. The non-heated plants remained bigger until I potted them all up and moved them to the display area. I suggest you do a similar experiment: If you have room under your light for seedlings try placing some plants on a heat mat and others not on it. My first thought was that the Coleus did not like the heat mat once they were established. When I looked at notes and pictures I realized that the plants on the heat mat were watered more often. Two times a week I would spot water the plants meaning I picked up each plant and watered it if it was lite but did not water it if it was heavy. The heating mat made the plants dry out faster and after each weekend I noticed the plants with the heat mat were always dry (never wilted though). So, it might have been low soil moisture and not temperature the caused the slower growth rate. The lesson learned is that if you do keep soil warmer with a heat mat make sure you keep the soil moist, but obviously not soaking wet (watering link).

Good Growing
Dr. E.R. Myers

Notice the plants on the right (that did NOT have the root warmer) are taller, even touching the light athough I have the light on an angle to make it higher for the non-warmed plants.  You can see the heat mat under the plants on the left.

12/1/09

Containers - Know which is best for your plants



A while back I wrote about containers and suggested some minimum container sizes for plants that are good to grow indoors – Containers LINK. I would like to build on that and lead into the topic of how to set up a grow room which I will be talking about soon.  Most indoor growers will use several sizes of containers. Typically, plants are germinated or placed into small containers after germination and then transplanted to progressively larger containers until flowering. Starting many plants in small containers allows the grower to pick the best plants and get rid of the weak ones. Good growers cull inferior plants at each transplant. Starting many plants also allows growers to look for traits and attempt to incorporate these traits into a breeding program.

Seeds can be germinated in starter plugs and grown for 1- 3 weeks. If you are not growing in new potting soil, you should add nutrients. Young plants need all nutrients (N-P-K and micronutrients) but for seedlings, like cuttings you should give them a fertilizer with a high phosphorus percentage to promote root growth. No matter what nutrient regime you use, your plant growth will be inhibited if you do not transplant them into a larger container. I like the starter plugs because like rockwool they are easy to move and I think really minimizes any transplant shock. If I don’t use a starter plug I like to start seeds on paper towels and put a seed in a plastic cup with a potting soil mix. I like plastic cups because they are cheap, easy to get and are light and easy to move around. A six ounce cup will hold a plant for 1-2 weeks maximum. I use the 16 or 20 oz. cups for 3-4 weeks respectively. A half gallon container  is good for plants for upto six weeks. For minimum sizes for different plants please see my previous container post .  A good rule of thumb I have heard is that you should give a plant ½ gallon of medium to support 1-2 feet of growth. This rule depends on your use of fertilizer and proper watering. Obviously, plant growth habits differ so if you have a plant that has branching you should grow your plants in larger containers. As you can see in the picture at the bottom of this post, plants grown in containers that are too small are stunted and I can tell you will have lower yields.


While transplanting or ‘potting up’ is important to save space and enable a grower to pick the best plants from many, plants do better if they are NOT transplanted often. You can count on losing 3-4 days of growth after each transplant. However, if you are growing many different plant types, have multiple grow areas, or move your plants around you will need to do some transplanting to be a good grower.

As I have mentioned, my favorite containers are plastic pots. Plastic pots are inert, reusable, lightweight and convenient to use. Metal containers may react with the medium, nutrients or plants. Plastic bags are also convenient with their square bottoms. Fiber containers are also popular and I have used many types myself. They are not too expensive, can be used for more than one growing cycle and are easy to dispose of in a compost pile or in an outdoor garden as organic matter.
I will end with one last piece of advice concerning containers…. When you are transplanting into larger containers, some growers put sand or gravel at the bottom to increase drainage but also to balance the plants so that they do not easily tip over.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

In the picture below, notice the two white meter sticks between the plants.   I have planted 1, 2 and 3 corn plants in identical sized small plastic containers. I assume this means that the plant have 100% 50% and 33% of growth medium from left to right. You can see the size difference with your own eyes. For this little experiment, all plants germinated the exact same day, were grown under the same 600 watt HPS and given the same fertilizer regime. These plants are also a hybrid from the same batch so they are genetically the same. The only difference is due to the lack of container space for the roots. Notice too that the single plant on the left is a darker green. This is a sign of plant health and vigor. I have noticed that plants that are in larger containers and growing rapidly have a greater disease resistance than plants that are stunted in small containers. You may hear people tell you that you can grow plants in small containers if you provide all the right nutrients and water but if you have small containers and your plants roots are not growing this means that overall above ground growth and yield will be lower. Growing roots send out hormones telling the plant that things are ok and that is should continue to grow. If a root is blocked inside a small container it will tell the rest of the plant (via hormones or other molecular signals) not to grow since water and nutrient uptake may be limited.

11/27/09

E-mail - Odor control + fungal spore control in one

Hello Dr. Myers,
 Great web page.  I have a 5ft by 4ft closet what is the best way to control odor.
Thanks,
Sent from my iPhone

Hello and thanks for your question.
I personally use a 4" carbon filter which will control any odor.  It is also awesome in that it cuts down on fungal spores which is the primary reason I use it. I have it sit on top of an upside down 5 gallon bucket so there is good air flow into the filter. This may take up a bit of space under you light, but it will be worth it for disease and odor control. Most other products simply mask any smell and do nothing to actually clean the air. In other words, without a carbon filter you are hiding your problem for a time and not solving your problem.  
To save space under the light and if your grow area is high enough you could build a shelf above the light to sit the filter on.  They are heavy so make sure it is a strong shelf that can support the weight.  A carbon filter should control any plant odors you are worried about.  I started to use it because some semesters my plants are hit by a leaf fungus. I noticed a SIGNIFICANT DECREASE in affected leaves on plants in the grow area with the filter while I had dead plants with yellow/necrotic leaves in another grow area that did not have a filter.


I think the 4" will be good for your room. You can just let it run in the room or do what I do, have a flexible dryer hose attached to the fan and blow the clean air over the tops of the plants directly at my HPS. This air flow keeps the plants from being stressed by the heat of the bulb by blowing/circulating the hot air around the room.  If you have a large wattage bulb and heat is a problem you could vent the hot air out of the room, it will be odorless and clean.


Good Growing,


Dr. E.R. Myers

Pests -- ROOT APHIDS

Hi Dr. Myers,

How do I get rid of these persistent pests(root aphids). I have tried
several organic pesticides including neem oil and potassium salts with no
effect on them.
Thanks,

Some of the same things that work for 'normal' aphids will work on root aphids see my post on aphids

There are several options, none are fool proof. First, there is a fungus that kills insects (Beuveria bassiana) This is sold under two brand names that I know of, (any readers please let me know if you know of others) Botinigard and Naturalis. This fungus is mixed with water and sprayed on the plants making direct contact with the aphids is important. This is one reason root aphids are so hard to control; there are so many nooks and crannies in soil and other mediums that almost any treatment is bound to miss a few pregnant females. In fact, one study I read showed that the number one reason for difficulty controlling root aphids is lack of proper application of the chemical or pathogen. I should mention too that the finer the mist the better. Also, since this fungus gets on the skin of aphids, and aphids that are growing rapidly can shed their skin every 3-5 days you should reapply the fungus every 3-5 days. In Europe they use a fungus Verticillium lecanii with much success. I think this is still in the process of being approved by the EPA, but you could do a search for it.

Second, you can apply chemicals like Neem, pyrethrum etc. to the roots and above ground parts of plants. For root aphids it is recommended you soak the root balls in an insecticide for 5 minutes. There are studies that show soaking in any insecticide for less than 5 min. will result in far less than 100% dead (you don’t fix the problem) so soak longer rather than shorter.

You could also try and not use insecticides by soaking plants for several hours in dish soap as I recommended in my post about general insect care

If you see them in clusters (aphids tend to be gregarious) you have a major infestation and maybe a very serious problem. Large clusters mean you have a chance to have winged aphids, which can fly to new plants anywhere in your grow room, green house, home or garden. The bigger and older the grouping, the greater the chance of winged aphids in your area.

Biological control is possible for these aphids as well. Before you buy predatory insects/organisms look at the shipping routes, release rates and timing. Mail is susceptible to very cold, maybe freezing temperatures. Also, some predators are better than others depending on what species of aphid you have. If you can figure out the species you will have more success.

There is a predatory aphid midge (Aphidoletes aphidimyze) that eats over 60% of all aphid species. The midges are shipped as larvae and 2-3 larvae are put on each plant. This midge likes humid conditions so cutting down on the exhaust fan or putting in a humidifier to increase humidity will increase its success, but watch out for mold.

The last result is to start over with seeds after you sterilize everything with hydrogen peroxide or bleach and a good hot soapy wash. If you can't start from seed you could try cuttings, but they may have aphids on them (root aphids are not always on the roots) So, you must soak any cuttings in insecticidal soap or in dish soap for a long time. This will kill many plants but you need to make sure you are not just starting over with the same problem. As with all insect infestations, prevention is better than a cure, so think about how you go them. I know many people have gotten insects by buying top soil. I try to NEVER buy top soil if it is stored outside for long periods. It is easy for soil gnats or root aphids to get into it and into your garden.

I hope this helps, Let me know if anything works, I’d like to help other readers in the future with specific results.

Good Growing
Dr. E. R. Myers

11/21/09

PESTS -- soil gnats + recommended organic insecticide

Hi Dr. Myers

Thanks for taking my question as always. This time its about some pests I have observed in my indoor garden. I have noticed lots of small flying insects that I suppose are either gnats or fruit flies. I think the culprit must be the soil mix I used as the gnats seem to congregate on the soil.
Second, I noticed some of the leaves on my plants are being eaten up, like by a
leaf cutter. I did find a caterpillar in the dirt but he was so big I didn't think he could be the culprit. ( I took him outside)..
I used good soil ( Miracle grow Organic + perlite). Any suggestions on
soil mix ?
For insecticide, I currently am using Vinegar in a glass with a funnel. This is working but not completely. I was thinking about "Safer Soap" or getting some LadyBugs. What is your opinion? Do you have any other suggestions for a "safe" insecticide?

Hello, thanks for your question.
It sounds like you have soil/fungal gnats. I have bought dirt from the big box stores that had gnats more than a few times. They eat organic matter out of the soil, and should not bother your plants too much. However, if you see small yellow dots on the leaves, you have some other leaf sucking insect.


The gnats can be a real pain, even if they don’t directly feed on your plants. For me they get stuck all over my HPS bulb, and they can get stuck in plant parts too. If they get stuck to your plants they can be a place for mold/fungus to grow which can harm/kill your plants.


If you are growing plants that live years, you may have to use some chemical insecticides. HOWEVER, I would NEVER use a sythetic insecticide in a plant I was going to eat, drink, or otherwise consume. If it is in the plant, it will then be in you. There are a few products under pests at HTGSUpply.com you could use and I have read that soil gnats are susceptible to pyrethrum.


If you want my recomendation on an organic insecticide, try nicotine. Yep, that’s right nicotine is made by tobacco as an insecticide (think of that if you use tobacco products). Nicotine is organic and will break down into non-insecticide molecules in time. Soak the contents from a couple cheap cigars in a gallon of water, I use a five pack of Philly Blunts but any kind will do. I add a couple drops of dish soap to the gallon of water as this will help the tobacco-water coat all soil particles when you water the plants with it. After letting the cigars soak for a day or two I water the plants trying to get the entire surface wet. The gnats live and eat in the top layer so you are not trying to do more than saturate the top few inches/cm of your soil.  Let the soil dry out completly before watering again and water from the bottom if you can.


Another non- insecticidal way to get rid of them, is to let the top layer of your containers dry out. It would also help to water the containers from the bottom if you can. If you water from the top, let the top REALLY dry out to where the plants almost wilt. While doing this, I have also taken perlite and put a 1-3 inch layer of perlite on top of my soil, so that the gnats can't get to their food source (the soil) easily. The perlite also dries out quickly which makes it harder for the gnats to feed and breed. If you are growing an annual, where you can start completely over maybe you can just keep the vinegar/funnel going and keep your soil dry and get through this cycle. You then need to clean everything with hot soapy water and start over with new soil. You could put the soil in an oven set over 400 F for an hour if you want to sterilize it, but if you are using a lot of soil this might be too much of a hassle.

Last, how did that caterpillar get in? If you don't have screens, get them. Caterpillars start out as tiny little eggs layed by moths or butterflies. They can grow at a tremendous rate so there is a chance a butter fly laid an egg on your plants and you just missed seeing the caterpillar until it was large and you happened to be looking around for the gnats…

I hope this helps, let me know if you find any other bugs and what they look like and I may be able to help more.

Good Growing,


Dr. E.R.Myers

Hi Dr. Myers

I had been wanting to let you know that your suggestions completely
eliminated my (gnat/fruit fly?) problems.
I took perlite and covered the top dirt in all my indoor pots. After about 3 to 4 weeks, the little guys just disappeared. No Food !!
Thanks again...... you're the best !!!

11/12/09

Pests -- Aphids



Aphids are usually found on the underside of leaves and stems of plants. They are small usually green insects that are oval, pear or egg shaped. However, aphids can be many colors from light green, yellow, brown to red. They may or may not have wings and are often found in clusters.  All aphids have little tubes that stick out their back end called cornicles. If you have a magnifying lens you may notice that each time they molt, they leave a white case behind. Aphids secrete a waste product called honey dew. This will make leaves shiny or sticky and is a great place for molds to grow that will damage or kill your plants. Older leaves start to curl and young leaves may grow deformed with an infestation. Aphids reproduce at a tremendous rate. They can kill a plant in weeks. They also can help transmit viruses and mold which also can kill your plant. Some aphids reproduce parthenogenetically. This means there are no boys. The girls give birth to other girls that are pregnant with girls etc. This means a single female left behind after you clean the plants can result in thousands of aphids in a few weeks.

Aphids are not too difficult to control if you catch them early. If you see a section of the plant containing aphids galore, snip it off and dispose of it. It doesn’t cure the problem but it will slow the advance. This is true for spider mites and white flies too. Washing the plant with a mixture of one teaspoon dish soap or laundry soap per gallon should wash off the aphids or at least wash off their outer cuticle so that they will then dehydrate. I have read that you can spray your plants with an oil mixture (vegetable oil) this will clog the aphids breathing tubes and kill many of them. I should mention that if you have ants growing in the garden you need to get rid of them because they are “farming’ the aphids and will move them around and help them to survive in your garden. Ants follow a trail of chemicals so you should be able to find their colony and treat it. If they are in your soil you should not use chemical ant sprays since if the chemical is in the growth medium it is in the plants too. If you are not going to eat your plants soon, you could try pyrethrum which is effective on most aphids.

There is of course a non chemical biological solution. Lady bugs and green lacewings are bugs that eat aphids. I have never used the green lace wings but lady bugs are easy to buy and use online. As with the white fly predator wasps the lady bugs will keep the aphids in check but might not control the problem forever. If you can start over after you harvest, you need to sterilize the grow area, sterilize or get new growth medium and start over without aphids.

I have some good informaion that might help under my root aphids post

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


11/7/09

Pests -- Spider Mites

See my other posts on spider mites after reading this one

 Mites are not true insects. As adults the have 8 legs and are actually related to spiders and daddy longlegs. They may be one of the most damaging agricultural pests. One reason is that they're nearly impossible to see so you don’t know you have spider mites until it is a serious problem. In fact, they usually appear as no more than specks of dust the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Spider mites are not only hard to see, they're nearly impossible to get rid of. If you have spider mites you will notice yellow dots on leaves, curled or distorted plant leaves, which is caused by the mites' piercing mouth parts. Sadly, most growers notice the webbing between leaves and other plants. This signals you have a serious infestation.

Like white flies, spider mitess life cycle is temperature dependent. A female lays about 100 eggs, but under 60 F she will do it over two months. At 70F there will be over 10,000 mites after a month, and over 80 F there will be over 10,000,000 mites in your grow area.

How to deal with mites – First, If you lower the temperature even just during the night cycle it will help. You can submerge plants under water as I mentioned in a the general pests post or spray the plant with insecticidal soap. Misting your plants often with just water also helps, since mites thrive in a warm and dry atmosphere. The higher the humidity the slower their metabolism and life cycle. The good thing is mites can’t fly. Look and see if some plants are not infested, or if you can see some that are only lightly infested vs. heavy infestation. (webbing is a heavy infestation). Since mites walk everywhere, you can put double sided tape around the plants to prevent mite migration. You may need to trim your plants so that the mites can’t walk from leaf to leaf, or leaf to wall to leaf etc. Mites can blow in the wind so keep that in mind if you have air flow (Which you should for optimal plant growth).

As with white flies there are predators of spider mites, there are predator mites. Unlike predatory wasps of white flies predator mites are not so efficient, since being mites they can’t fly. It is a non-chemical option, and I know many of you have asked for suggestions for that type of control. The type of mite that infests greenhouses is called the red mite or the two spotted mite Tetranychus urticae . The predator mite Phytoseiulus persimilis feeds on all stages of the two-spotted mites and is the most commonly used predatory mite in greenhouses. It does well under humid conditions so if your plants can tolerate high humidity this may be the choice for you. There are other species of predator mites, each has its own environmental preferences. You want to try and match up your grow environment with the best predator mite

If you are using a chemical you should know many miticides work by coming in direct physical contact with the mite.  This means you need thorough coverage to the underside of the leaves where some spider mites are feeding and most lay their eggs. Often eggs are more tolerant to many miticides so repeated applications are often needed.

Ultimately how you deal with mites depends on your growing situation. If you have prized plants like bonsai you may want to try chemicals several times. If you are growing plants to harvest you may want to keep the humidity as high as possible and the temperature as low as possible until your plants are done, then sterilize everything with alcohol, bleach or peroxide. If you've tried everything and you can’t get rid of the mites, you may have to kill most plants and clean out the grow area and start new. Odds are the older plants are a source of mites spreading to younger plants so you may have to get rid of the oldest plants.   Two years ago when I had a spider mite infestation I finally got rid of them at the end of the semester when I killed most of the plants and only kept a couple plants which I cleaned thoroughly two times with a 10% isopropyl alcohol mixture. Each time I carefully cleaned the plants I moved them to a room that did not have plants in it previously. Two years mite free!

If you or someone you know has mites, keep in mind mites can be spread easily on your hands and clothing (they even blow around with puffs of air). When it comes to spider mites, prevention is far easier than the cure!

Good Growing,

Dr. E.R. Myers

11/3/09

Pests -- White Flies


White flies may be one of the most common greenhouse and indoor pests. This tiny little white insect sucks plant juices for meals and can be seen flying off the plants when they are disturbed. They lay their white eggs on the underside of leaves, and their larva are green and almost invisible to the naked eye. White flies under go several stages of development each called an instar. (Similar to how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly). The larva do damage as they eat the plant too. If white flies are left unchecked indoors they can KILL your plants. I’ve read that some people say white flies can’ kill your plants, don’t believe it. Example, they secrete a substance like aphids which is often called honey dew. (See picture at bottom of post) This shiny sticky substance can be seen and felt on the leaves and is a great environment for molds to grow which also harm your plants. So, if the whiteflies don’t suck your plant to death, they make an environment where mold can harm/kill your plants.
A very important thing to know about white flies is that their life cycle is regulated by temperature.  In general, as the average temperature increases from under 60F to over 85F the number of days in a white flies life (egg to adult) decrease from 100 to 20 days. Below 60 degrees Fahrenheit an adult white fly can live for two months, but over 80F the adult fly will live just over a week. Egg production is also regulated by temperature, at lower temperatures females can lay over 300 eggs in its lifetime. With high temps the number of eggs drops and the average eggs per life cycle is around 30.
If you are into non-chemical cures the interesting thing about white flies is that there are predator wasps which eat the white fly larva. (No, they won’t sting you they are too small). You can find many suppliers if you do a web search for Encarsia formosa, the scientific name of a solitary wasp that preys upon white flies exclusively. Adult wasps eat the eggs and first instars and lay their own eggs in the third instar of whiteflies. This causes the green larva to turn black. In fact whey you buy these predatory wasps they are sold in larval form inside white fly larva that are glued to paper. Encarsia Formosa is also regulated by temperature, perhaps a good example of coevolution. Below 60F degrees it takes almost a month for an egg to reach adulthood. Above 80F it takes 10 days. Below 60F adults live a month above 80 they live just over a week. The number of eggs laid by a female remains at about 30 regardless of temperature, she just lays them faster the hotter it is. Most companies that sell the white flies say you should release them three or more times over a time period. This would allow several generations of white flies to be parasitized. I did not do this, I released them all at once and cleaned out the grow room when the plants were done flowering.

From my experience when I used Encarsia formosa it works to keep the white flies in check, but did not completely get rid of them. For a month, there were almost no white flies. Then they came back, I think because the wasps died of starvation before they found the last few eggs and white fly instars. I could have ordered more wasps but it was the end of the semester so I just harvest/killed all the plants and cleaned out the greenhouse. The ultimate solution to any infestation is you end up killing many plants and hand washing every inch of the plants you keep... A lot of work and not much fun.

Pyrethrum which is sold by HTGSupply.com  works well on white flies, but I am hesitant to use any chemical on plants I consume. If you are growing flowers/plants for show or decoration pyrethrum would be a good choice. You should know the predator wasps are more susceptible to chemical insecticides than white flies so you can’t use them if you have already tried a chemical insecticide. White flies are also attracted to yellow so HTGSupply.com sells yellow sticky tabs that white flies stick to and die. This may help keep down the number of flies but I think is better used for early detection of white flies or to see if they are reoccurring after a treatment.

In my greenhouse the white flies seem to get in every summer since I started working here 6 years ago. I am not sure if some get through the air exchanger/UV filter or if they catch a ride in on cloths. I have seen them flying around my back yard some years so anything is possible. This year I had a new plant and they went for this hibiscus plant almost exclusively. I had to snip off all the leaves and carefully threw them away to get rid of the eggs and larval instars. The bad thing is that a white fly female can fly around and land on any other plant in the room. The other plants I do not eat and are perennial and they will be in the greenhouse every summer. So, I resorted to a systemic chemical insecticide that you water the plants with so it gets into the leaves and keeps insects from completing their life cycle. This is not something you can do with plants you consume. I will never ever reuse the soil in these plants and I will have to wear gloves when I pot up the plants. But, I won’t have to worry about white flies getting into my experimental plants -- I am testing out a LED and 600 W HPS from htgsupply.com.  Also, I am betting next summer will be my first with out a NEW infestation. I’ll let you know.
Good growing,


Dr. E.R. Myers.

If you are interestind in learning more, I have some more information about biological control of insects under my root aphid post

11/1/09

Pests -- Control in General




There is nothing more frustrating than getting a favorite plant from a friend or nursery and later finding out that it’s infested with insect pests or mold. Insects are pretty much everywhere outside, and when there is a lot of one kind of insect, something comes along and starts to eat them. But when you grow indoors, if they get into your grow area they can thrive in a nice controlled environment with no predators. Before bringing in new plants or cuttings into your grow room make sure to quarantine them for a week before mixing them in with other plants.  Most insects can be washed off plants with soapy water or swabbed with alcohol. I have even read that some people use a vacuum to get the pests off their plants.  I’d not try this if you are growing a delicate plant. If your plants are small enough you could try to submerge the plant under water for several hours or even over night if you are dealing with a recurring infestation. This will NOT be good for the plant, but most plants will survive this while the insects and their eggs will suffocate. Simply dip the entire small plant, container and all under water in a bucket or larger container. You may need to weigh the container down a bit with stones or other heavy small objects. I’d also suggest mixing a small amount of a mild diluted soap in the water before submerging the plants. Soap gets in insects breathing parts and suffocates them; it also will encase and kill eggs. When you take the plant out, you need to rinse it with fresh water to get the soap off and maybe any insect eggs that survived. Then you need to put a fan on the plants and try to get all the water out of the soil. If you gently press on the soil a few times much of the water should drain out the bottom.

In my opinion, chemicals should be a last resort and many are unsuitable if you consume what you grow. Pyrethrum is an organic derived pesticide that is made from Chrysanthemums. It is safe to use on agricultural plants i.e. those you consume. Always follow the manufactures instructions with care and caution. Soaps have long been used for control of insects and mites. Several "insecticidal" soaps are sold at nurseries and of course HTGsupply.com. These soaps control a variety of garden pests. In addition, some soft hand soaps and liquid dishwashing detergents can kill insects. In general, soaps tend to kill small, soft-bodied insects and mites, such as aphids, white flies and mealy bugs.

Agricultural  Insecticides Have Their Limitations:

• Plants must be covered thoroughly because insecticides are effective only if they make contact with the insect. This is why it is more effective to dip small plants into soapy water then to wash plants. If you miss cleaning a few eggs off just one leaf, your problems will reoccur

• If there are insects in the room, maybe hanging out on the walls or flying around that aren't killed soon after application, they'll lay eggs and your problem will reoccur.

Some kinds of plants are injured by insecticides. If you're using insecticidal soap, check the label for a list of plants that may be harmed by use. If you are not sure, try putting it on just one leaf the first time you use it and see if the leaf suffers.

• Soaps work best when applied in soft (or softened) water, preferably during cooler periods when drying is slow.

More on specific pests to come, white flies are next. Please send me an E-mail if you want me to write about a specific pest you have.

In closing I will say that the ultimate solution to any bug infestation is you end up killing many plants and hand washing every inch of the plants you keep... A lot of work and not much fun.
Good Growing,
Dr E.R. Myers

Read my post on Root Aphids
Read my post on Aphids

Read my post on spider mites

10/26/09

Containers - size does matter

As an indoor grower you may know you can produce a good amount of food in a small space. To be a good grower you need to use containers that are the right size for your plants. Plants need adequate volume of soil to reach their full above ground potential. Below, I have listed the MINIMUM depth of some common plants you could grow indoors. If you don’t see your plant and are not sure, go with the bigger size you are debating between. To optimize efficiency indoors you want to give you plants enough root volume to maximize growth, but you don’t want to waste valuable space under the light with containers that are too large. There may be an infinite number of possible things to use for containers.  If you want to do it yourself, the first thing you should know that is true for all containers, make sure they have drainage holes.  The second thing is to make sure you have a container to catch the water that drains out.  The easiest thing to do is to order them from HTGSupply.com and have them sent to your house.  The 5 gallon buckets from HTGSupply.com don’t have holes so they can be used in hydroponics. I actually use 5 gallon buckets with soil, you have to drill holes in the bottom and you can use a second bucket as a tray to catch drainage. It is a good idea to put some stones or pellets in the drainage bucket for better drainage. With the 2-3 gallon pots a tray is needed below to catch the overflow of water. The plastic flats that are designed and manufactured specifically for germinating seeds seems to be the best solution for me.

In my greenhouse I REuse the plastic containers, I soak them in a garbage can over night and scrub them with a brush to wash them.  I add bleach if I had any pest problems.   I have also used the grow bags and coconut fiber husk pots sold by HTGsupply.com and would recommend them assuming you understand the limitations of size with the coconut fiber pots and the rigidity of the grow bags. They have there use but the plastic pots are the best all around in my opinion.

Minimum container depths for some vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. I am listing in terms of containers sold by HTGSupply.com

Basil 1 Gallon
Beans 2-3 Gallon some with trellis
Cucumbers 2-3 Gallon with trellis
Chives 2 Gallon
Eggplant 2-3 Gallon
Lettuce 1 Gallon
Marigolds 1 Gallon
Nasturtiums 1-2 Gallon
Oregano 2 Gallon
Parsley 2 Gallon
Peppers 3 -5 Gallon
Radishes 1 gallon
Squash 3-5 gallon with trellis
Strawberries 1 Gallon
Sunflowers - (small)1-2 Gallon
Sunflowers - (large-mammoth) 2-5 Gallon
Tomato’s 3-5 Gallon with trellis

10/22/09

Eating Flowers

We all eat plants. In some of my classes when we talk about herbivores, carnivores and omnivores, people joke and say they are carnivores (eat only meat). The truth is, no human can live on just meat, but we can live healthy lives with out meat. Some of us grow the plants we eat, indoors. For most people, when you think of eating plants you usually think of eating the fruit, seed or leaf. You can also eat the flowers of many plants. This is not really a new idea of course. Fried squash blossoms, rose petal tea and chamomile tea are common in some cultures/locations. Since WWII there has been a push by corporations to have society eat packaged food which is not nearly as healthy as growing your own, nor is it good for the environment. The truth is most processed food you buy is made to make money, not be healthy.

Edible flowers include nasturtium (spicy/hot) Johnny jump up, (wintergreen), borage (cucumbery), and marigold (citrusy). Other edible flowers include clover, dandelion, lavender, lilac, pansy, and sunflowers to name a few. Sunflowers are best when you harvest and use the unopened bud flower. Some people also enjoy eating the flowers of some common herbs, such as my favorite oregano, or other herb flowers like chives, cilantro, mint, sage, and thyme. You can also eat flowers from vegetables like beans, peas, pumpkin and squash. Moreover, cauliflower, broccoli and artichoke are really flower buds.
NOT ALL FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE. Some are POISONOUS. Examples of poisonous flowers are those on tomato, potato, eggplant and pepper plants. Other POISONOUS flowers are azalea, calla lily, daffodil, foxglove, hyacinth, hydrangea, iris, lantana, lobelia, lupine, morning glory, oleander, poinsettia, Ranunculus, rhododendron, sweet pea, and wisteria. This is not an exhaustive list just because you don’t see a plant here does not mean it is safe to eat. Also, I imagine if I had a lawyer they’d advise me to say that you should not eat any flower unless you are sure you are not allergic to it. Also, never eat a flower or plant unless you know the exact species. Also, never eat a plant that you find unless you are certain that no pesticides or other chemicals have been applied. Many parks and other public areas use chemicals to enhance and protect the plants since the plants are not registered for consumption! This is also true for flowers growing along the road side. Flowers that are not grown specifically for agriculture can legally have applied pesticides on them that are not registered for crops. i.e. are known to be toxic to consume.

If any one has any other flowers that they enjoy eating, I’d like to hear about it.

Good growing,

Dr. E.R. Myers

10/17/09

E-mail - Nanotechnology in growth mediums

Dr. Myers,
I'm curious about your opinion on this is:

http://www.greendiary.com/entry/tomato-plants-exposed-to-carbon-nanotubes-for-bigger-and-better-results/

Since the nanotubes are able to penetrate the seed coat, would they also penetrate the root cells and end up in the circulation system of the plant? Wouldn't that make any produce grown such way carcinogenic?
Thanks,
ZB

Hello again,

What an interesting article, this is new to me! What I know about nanotechnology, which is just synthesizing things that are very small* (molecules basically) is that nanotechnology is very diverse. It is a new and exciting field in science which I am sure will branch into many divisions and expand upon many other fields of biology in the future. With something so revolutionary as nanotechnology the problem is that there are pro's and con's. Some of these molecules are so small they can as you suggest get inside cells, which means they could be in any part of the plant. This can be good if they do their designed task but bad if they just mess up things on a sub-cellular level. There does seem to be some carcinogenic properties to these and other nanotechnologies... I don't think scientists know exactly what ALL the consequences of using some nanotechnologies are. If it is in the growth medium it will be in the plants you consume. That’s a piece of karma you should keep in mind.

I hypothesize that how these tubes work is similar to mycorrhizae (beneficial fungus) these tubes are small enough to stick into cells and somehow aid the plants in taking up nutrients and water which means plants will have a more advanced rate of growth in the short term. I can’t predict what long term consequences would be.
With unknown long term consequences, I would NOT suggest using anything with nanotechnology until it has been thoroughly tested by the FDA or some non-corporate sponsored organization. As I said there may be some positive benefits to using nanotechnology in soil to help plant growth, but I think there is a lot of testing to be done until this is a safe and effective technological with wide spread use. Too often today we see products pushed to consumers to increase or make a profit. Prudence and patience are a good thing with something this new and lacking real world field tests.
Thanks for the information!

Dr. E.R. Myers
* Nanotechnology deals with things that are smaller than 100 nanometers. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. {Only 3 countries in the world don’t use the metric system it’d be so much easier if we’d just play nice w/ everyone else} Now you know where the NANO in nanotechnology comes from (-;

10/15/09

E-mail STARTER PLUGS and NUTRIENTS


Hi Doc,
I got my seed starter plugs from HTGSupply.com.  I planted seeds yesterday and am wondering if the material that the plugs are made from (compressed tree bark) will provide adequate nutrients for the seedlings (complementing the seedlings' own energy store already inside them) for the first few weeks and until I transplant into a larger container. I have them under FL lights and am lightly watering with spring water for now.
thanks,

Hello,
I really enjoy the starter plugs, they are more earth friendly than rockwool, but are just as versatile. I highly recommend them. I even put them in my compost after I use them.  I do not like the jump up starter plugs that expand, they are very messy but the one's made of tree bark with the preformed hole (link); I do like.  There may be some nutrients in the plugs, but I'd use a diluted fertilizer. If the plugs are made from coco coir it is usually recommended you use a high magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca) fertilizer like 'Calpex' -see picture.  I have used these 'Organicare' fertilizers with all mediums and seedlings and I have good results.  After I put a seed in each hole, I water the plugs or soil with a diluted 1/3 - 1/2 the recommended amount of fertilizer. I use this fertilizer mix until the plants start to grow rapidly, then I use the regular recommended amount of fertilizer per gallon.

For seedlings and young plants, use a fertilizer that is higher in the first number (nitrogen) like Fox Farm's Grow Big, but you want a good all around fertilizer with NPK and trace minerals too for young plants so that they have all the nutrients they need.  I use the "Nitrex" - see picture - to supliment other fertilizers.  I supliment because, 'Nitrex' only is 6-0-0, and I think you should always give your plants some potassium every time you fertilize.

A good way to tell if your plants need nutrients is to see if the cotyledons (The first leaves you see) stay green or turn yellow. If they turn yellow, you need more nutrients, or light etc. If your fluorescent light is close to the plants, yellowing will be due to lack of nutrients. If your cotyledons stay green, you plant does not need more nutrients.


Good growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

10/12/09

E-mail- Yellow lower leaves

Q. My plants are 30 days old and the lower leaves are starting to yellow. Please help

A. Hi, thanks for your E-mail

There are a couple things that can cause yellowing leaves.  One that I doubt is your problem since your plants are only 30 days old is that when plants start to flower, often the leaves will turn yellow.  The lower leaves will turn yellow as the nutrients in these leaves are used to make flowers. If your plants are flowering, this is normal.

The first thing your problem may be is a lack of light reaching the lower leaves. When leaves do not get enough light, the cells break down and send the chlorophyll (which makes them look green) to the new cells in the upper leaves that are getting the light (at the top of the plant).

To fix this, you can get a brighter light from HTGSupply.com over your plants so the light gets to the lower leaves. If you are using fluorescent lights, switch to a MH or HPS, if you have a MH or HPS, you may want to get a higher wattage to get more light reflected to your grow area. Your second option, something I have done in the past, is mount fluorescent or LED lights horizontally beside the plants a foot or so below the plant tops depending on what type of light penetration you are getting from your over head light.. This side lighting will provide more light to the lower parts of the plants. You should also consider using reflective mylar or white paint to help reflect the light in the grow room.

The second thing that may be your problem is a nitrogen deficiency. Are the leaves at the top of the plant a light green or a dark green? If they are light lime green, I would give your plants more nitrogen. Nitrogen is the first number listed on a fertilizer, so use something like Fox farm grow big  6-4-4 or anything with a high first number. If the leaves are dark green, I think you need more light.

Btw.   If you think the plants are not getting enough light you may want to induce flowering soon, since light is not getting to the lower parts of the plants, you won’t get flowers or fruit on the lower part of the plants so there is no sense growing the plants much bigger, they will just be putting energy into growing tall with thick stems.
Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

10/6/09

Plant Regeneration



In fall, or at the end of a growing season, you could try to clone your plant  to bring it and its characteristics into your indoor grow area. However, many plants don’t clone well during flowering. Another option may be try to regenerate the entire plant into vegetative growth to bring it inside or to get a second flowering inside. Many plants can be regenerated and you can get a second or more harvests. Normally, when a plant reaches the end of the growing season something in the environment tells it that it’s time to stop growing. This could be the change in day length, a lack of water or changing temperatures. In other words when the environment becomes unfriendly the plants die. If you can change the environment you may be able to regenerate you plants.
Some reasons to try to regenerate a plant is that you know its characteristics. For example, if you have a potent pepper plant you may not get the same pepper characteristics in the seeds (LINK to  BREEDING). If you regenerate that plant you can continue to harvest your favorite peppers again and again. Another reason is that a regenerated plant already has a well developed root structure and a main stem. Regenerated plants don’t need to use energy to grow these parts. What this means is you could get 30% more vegetative growth in LESS time with a regenerated plant than if you started from seed. This will not be true for all type of plants.
Being an indoor grower you have this option of regeneration; you can regenerate a special plant that was outside by brining it inside and providing the right environment.* You do this by giving the plants increased light per day and giving the plant a fertilizer high in nitrogen like grow big (6-4-4). After a few days you should see small leaves coming from some of the meristematic tissue** or buds you left on the plant. These leaves may not look ‘normal’ but as the plant grows the new leaves will take on a more normal appearance.




How To Regenerate -- you should try to leave any big leaves that are attached to the main stem if you can. You can leave most of the stem or cut it close to the ground but the more leaf material you leave the faster the regeneration process will go. Also, try lo leave some meristematic tissue/ buds on the nodes of the main stem; this is where new growth will occur. You will need to give the plant supplemental light. A florescent or MH would be your best bet. If anyone has done this with a mostly blue LED I’d like to know (or any LED for that matter). I also think that you should give the plants a few days of 24 hours of light. This will help to “white wash” the molecular signals in the cells that tell a plant to flower. This will reset the plants hormones back to GROW vs. FLOWER. After a week or sooner if the plant starts to put out new growth, switch to 18 hours light 6 dark until the plant is big enough to fruit again. One warning is that while seedlings of most plant species can go a month without turning out the lights, (lights on 24hrs.) this will harm an older plant if done too long. With regeneration give the plants 4- 8 hours of dark after the first few days. I recommend you give the plants a general fertilizer like 10-10-10 for the first watering. Then, until you want the plant to flower or fruit continue to use a high nitrogen fertilizer like grow big (6-4-4)

If you are bringing in an outdoor plant, the 1 ton gorilla in the room is the RISK OF PESTS. I have brought outdoor plants inside a few times; and brought some pests in as well. As I am finding by your E-mail’s many of you are very involved with your hobby. I believe you may find this a more useful technique if the entire process is done indoors: grow, harvest and regenerate all indoors. It is possible to put a regenerated plant outdoors next year. Regeneration, like taking cuttings is not the end but simply one technique in being a good grower, it will only work for so long. After a plant is regenerated a couple times you will have slower growth than if you started from seed. Annual plants older than one year may start to show increased susceptibility to disease and pests.  Like cloning, regeneration will only work so long, then you have to go to plant breeding.
I will write about pests in the coming months unfortunately. I say unfortunately because I am dealing with a white fly infestation in one of my grow rooms.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

* This is an idea to keep in mind for next year, if you put a plant in a container in the ground, its roots will grow out the bottom and it will be as if it was planted in the ground. But you can dig up the plant and a large percentage of roots will still be in the container. This is of course after you have pruned / harvested a large percentage of the green growth above the soil.

** Meristematic tissue is tissue made of growing cells, or cells capable of further division. Most plants have an apical meristem which is where it grows from i.e. at the growing points of roots and stems. The secondary meristems (lateral buds) at the nodes of stems (where branching occurs) also occur in some plants

9/30/09

Fall Composting

   If you have some trees near your home, a lawn and a mower with a bag, fall can be a great time to build up your compost pile. The green grass and fallen leaves make a great mix. I put this mix on top of my compost pile and most of the material will be ready to use next spring.

When my compost bin is almost full I then spread this green grass/leaf mix on my outdoor garden after I've harvested my tomato's and peppers; sort of like a mulch to protect the soil over the winter. Much of this mix will breakdown by spring, what doesn't I work into the soil in the spring. I do not use herbicide's, weed be gone etc. in my lawn. If you do DON"T DO THIS! You could be adding these chemicals to your garden plants i.e. the food you eat.

Please see my first article about composting if you want to learn more.  I have also answered some E-mail questions about composting that good growers might want to read.

Yes, that is a renegade tomato plant I let grow from my compost pile this year. I did not mix the pile around the tomato plant's roots and it seems to be happy, even though it does not get a lot of light. The fruits are free and delicious

Good Growing,
 Dr. E.R. Myers

9/25/09

Herb Storage Wrap Up.

Now that fall is officially here I will have one final post about long-term storage of plants. Once you dry your herbs you want to store them. As I mentioned in my last post, an easy way to determine if your herbs are dry is if you can bend the branch and it ‘snaps’ it is dry. If it bends and does not break, it’s NOT dry enough for storage.

I think it is best to keep the plant as whole as possible so that you don’t break up cells and their contents. Glass mason jars are great for storing herbs. They are easy to clean, you can see what’s inside and the contents are protected from fungal spores. Any container that is airtight will suffice. Once dry you don’t want your plants to come in contact with the oxygen in the air as oxygen speeds up the breakdown of the plant material. No matter what container you use, you should always store herbs in a dark place because light-- especially sunlight will also speed up the break down (decomposition) of plants.

Long term storage is best in a freezer. To save space, you can put herbs in freezer bags if you don’t have room for mason jars in the freezer. I would double bag your herbs and make sure you get most of the air out. If you have a zip lock style bag, a trick I learned is to seal the bag up until there is just enough room for a straw in the bag. You then suck through the straw and suck out the air until the plastic bag pulls in on itself and clings to what is inside the bag. Then, quickly pull out the straw and finish sealing the bag. If it is sealed, the plastic should stay pulled against the contents of the bag. Repeat this with the second bag. If you have limited freezer space you could STACK the freezer bags on a shelf that fits in your freezer. Just measure your freezer and containers before you head to the local hardware store or office supply store. You may want to know that the coldest spot in your freezer is in the middle on the bottom. The worst spot for storage is on the door since you will open it up into the warm room every time you get something out of the freezer. Just like with seed storage  you want to avoid thawing and freezing, keep the stored herbs at a constant cold temperature.

No matter how well you master your drying technique, and even if you have a -20C freezer like most labs use for long term storage your herbs will start to deteriorate over time. Most growers I know get rid of their stored herbs when the new season comes in. Although you could use herbs for years if stored properly, most herbs don’t store well after a year. They are still edible, but they just don’t pack the same vigor and zest.

I am starting my indoor garden now. Some upcoming posts are: How to Speed up Germination, Setting up a Grow Room, Regeneration of Plants and I will talk about various pests like white flies and fungus. You can send any questions or ideas for posts to me at askthedoctor@htgsupply.com.

Indoor growing is so great, it does not matter what the season is you can always grow your favorite plants in the best environment any day of the year. Start with a great light and you will have a great hobby for life.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

9/14/09

Herb Storage Basics

1. Store your dried herbs in air tight containers. Zip lock bags are ok, but a mason jar or air tight tin would be better. Use what you have or what will fit best where you store your plants. You could try two or more methods and see which one works best for the plant you are growing/storing

2. Be sure to label and date your containers. You may think, “How could I forget” Trust me, everyone forgets sometimes. I say just label and don’t worry about it

3. Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves and/or flowers whole. I’ve heard people grind up their plants to store more in less space. This will not give you the best storage especially if you are looking for color and piquancy

4. Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold.  Better safe than sorry, mold will spread so make sure you don't have mold on plants you are storing.

5. Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. A freezer is the best place.

Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.

Seed Storage link
Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

9/7/09

Tips on How to Dry Herbs


You can preserve your favorite herbs and flowers by drying and storing them so that you can enjoy them through the winter. For most plants you can tell when they are dry enough for storage when you can bend the stem and it “Snaps” If the stem is soft and bends let it dry a bit more.

Drying culinary herbs is an easy way to preserve them. If done properly you can maximize the aroma and color of your plants. You can dry plants a number of ways. I look at it as two basic categories, fast/manipulative drying and curing/slow drying. For fast drying you speed up the natural drying process with heat and or air movement so that the plants dry in hours instead of days. With curing you dry your herbs slowly in a manor that will allow the cells to continue to live after the plants are harvested and some of the metabolic processes continue. While some cheeses and other specialty foods have enhanced flavor due to mold/fungus, I would suggest never consuming moldy plant matter no matter how much time and energy you put into it. Fast drying minimizes the chances of mold.

Curing is what separates the best from the rest. The curing technique can be done without mold ruining your plants, but the longer it takes for your plants to dry the greater the chance mold will appear. If you don’t have someone to help you with hands on experience, I’d suggest trying a couple different ways and see which you like the best. Some herbs may be best with a fast dry, others you should use the slow technique.

FAST TECHNIQUES: Using a food dehydrator would probably be the easiest and fasted, but I don’t have one and have never used one. If anyone has ever used this I’d like to know how well it works. Some fast dry techniques I have used would be to put the plants in a gas oven with just the pilot light for awhile. You can use an electric oven on low if you leave the door open a crack. To dry your plants in an oven spread your herbs on a cookie sheet and check them every hour or so to see how they are progressing. If you can bend the stem and it “Snaps” they are dry and ready for storage. The big worry with using any oven is you will forget and ruin (cook/burn) your plants. A real tragedy after spending a growing season nurturing your plants.
Another way to dry plants quickly would be to put the plants parts, leaves, flowers whatever you are drying between two or more air filters or window screens and then place this over a large fan propped up on bricks or blocks. SEE PICTURE BELOW This should dry out the plants in a short time and leave them looking fresh. The lack of heat may help keep plants tasting better and you don’t have to worry about the heat ruining your plants. You can stack several screens on top of each other if you have a lot of plant material to dry (I only have two screens in the picture). As long as air can come out the top screen you are ok. Of course the more screens you have stacked the slower the drying will be.


SLOW TECHNIQUES: Many people may prefer air drying or curring because this is easy to do, it does not need electricity but more importantly, it allows herbs to take on their full flavor if a proper drying environment is provided. You can do this by hanging your plants upside down in bunches in a well ventilated attic or room, this is often called bunch drying.  The best conditions for air drying are a room temperature of 70-80 degrees F or warmer and good ventilation to take the evaporating moisture away from the plants. This is usually not the environment in a garage or basement especially in the fall when the weather is cool and in many areas moist. If you live in an area with cool moist fall weather, you could designate a closet or spare room to drying you herbs and put in a fan to help make a proper environment. HTGSupply.com has a “Dry Net” that will fit in a closet or grow tent and dry plants quite well.  Click on the picture below to see more information on the DRY NET




You could also just spread the herbs out on window screens. Be sure to suspend the screens over sawhorses or the backs of chairs. This allows air to move all around the plant for good drying. I have also spread out the plants on newspapers (the paper absorbs some moisture). If you are going to use newpaper turn the plants/leaves each day to ensure even drying and have a fan in the room blowing over but not on the plants. My favorite drying method for small amounts of plants, because it is easy and works for me is to put the plants in a brown paper bag and let them dry. The paper bag lets some moisture escape so you don’t get mold, but does prevent rapid moisture loss so you get a slow curing quality plant.  I do this for plants  I harvest only small amounts of like rosemary or lavander.

I’d like to hear any other drying techniques that you have tried.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers