Starting Seeds for Dummies – Beginners

By:  Richard Godke

Starting seeds for dummies can be easy, cost-effective, and fun for the whole family. As a gardener you are no longer held hostage by the plant suppliers. Starting seeds at home allows you to choose the vegetables and varieties you prefer, including heirloom and non-genetically modified organisms (GMO) varieties. By starting plants indoors you can get production up to a month earlier than planting seeds directly in the garden. Planting indoors also gives the seedlings protection against the cold, lack of moisture, and pests. My past failures with starting seeds at home have led to a surefire system that allows the beginner to be successful. My starting seeds for dummies system will cover what and when to plant, proper temperatures, correct lighting, choosing the soil and container, fertilizer, watering, and hardening off the plants. Remember, always read and follow the package information. I have also included a list of materials needed, and a step-by-step procedure to help you get started.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: What and When to Plant

If you’re just learning how to start plants indoors I recommend the following cool season vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. They need to be started about seven weeks before the final frost free date in your area.  My recommendations for warm season vegetables include: tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. This group needs to be started about six weeks before the last frost free date in your area. Here is a great website that will help you decide when to plant different crops in your area: http://allthingsplants.com/apps/calendar/.

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Figure 2. Starting seeds for dummies suggests only use a seedling heat mat only during germination. Photo from http://tscpl.org/home/growing-plants-under-artificial-lights.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Environmental Temperatures

Every plant has a preferred germination and growing temperature. For more details on individual vegetables check out http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetable/temperature.html. The serious gardener uses a seedling heat mat that will keep the seeds a constant temperature (see figure 2). The heat mat along with a cover to hold in moisture will result in quicker and more uniform germination with less chance of diseases.  If one does not want to spend the money, find the warmest spot you have in the house. The top of the refrigerator is sometimes a good spot. Here are some general germinating temperatures I use. Tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants sprout best at temperatures between 80 to 85°F (27 to 29°C). Broccoli, cabbage, collards kale, cauliflower and kohlrabi are best germinated between 75 to 80°F (24 to 27°C). After germination, quickly move the seeds to a brightly lit area that is 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). Make sure to remove the plastic cover as soon as the plants start to germinate. This allows the plants get plenty of air movement in keeps the surface dry.

 

Figure 3. Lighting system at the proper height above seedlings. Photo by http://www.whatscookingwithruthie.com/2012/04/30/how-our-garden-grows-week-2/

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Critical Lighting Requirements

Light is the most critical factor that affects starting seedlings indoors.  A south facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight will provide the minimum amount of light needed. I recommend an additional 12 to 16 hours of artificial fluorescent light. An outlet timer will help you manage the on and off cycle of the artificial light. It is critical to keep the lights 1 to 2 inches above the plants. A simple fluorescent shop light (4-footers with two 40-watt bulbs) works great (see figure 3). Light-emitting diode ( LED) lighting is another option for plants that cost about 50% more for the purchase and costs about 60% less to operate.  The big advantage of the LED light units is that with the proper controller you can adjust the color range that the specific plants best preform in. Be aware that the lights will cause the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to dry out quickly. A lack of light results in a tall skinny plant that is very susceptible to dampening off disease.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Soil Media and Containers

My starting seeds for dummies system uses Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets instead of soil.  This compressed sphagnum peat moss held together in a find net bag help prevent soil disease problems. When water is applied to these pellets they swell to little bundles that the roots love to grow in. Watch how they expand when exposed to warm water http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UNNR_gcKzo&feature=youtu.be  . The seedlings can be planted directly into the garden, and the seedlings take off quickly because the roots are not disturbed. Make sure you start the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets in a container big enough to allow them to expand. The containers should also allow for easy watering from the bottom. If you choose to reuse containers, rinse items in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and ten parts water. Let them dry before filling with soil.

My second choice for soil and containers are complete commercial growing kits. These kits include: properly mixed and sterilized soil, plastic growing cells, clear dome cover, and instructions. Some even include the seeds. These kits are more expensive, but the consistent results are worth the money.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Required Fertilization

The Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets contain very small amounts of fertilizer. I recommend using a complete water-soluble fertilizer like (J. R. Petters inc. All Purpose 20-20-20 Water Soluble Fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food 18-18-21). After the first true leaves appear on the seedlings, apply the first dose of fertilizer solution. Use only one-half the recommended label rate for the first application. The fertilizer solution should be applied until the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets will not absorb any more solution. Too much fertilizer will cause the plant to be tall, spindly and susceptible to dampening off disease. Use the fertilizer manufacturers’ label recommended rate; usually 1 tablespoon per gallon. Water with fertilizer every two weeks until the plants are set outdoors.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Important Watering Suggestions

Only water the soil from the bottom of the growing media. Watering from the top encourages the dreaded dampening off disease. The environmental conditions in your home will determine how much and how often you will need to water your seedlings. Try to let the plants get as dry as possible without letting the plants wilt. Add a small amount of water in the base of the container until the media no longer absorbs water. You will soon be able to determine how often and how much your seedlings need to be watered. It is better to keep them to dry, than to keep them to wet.  For more information about raising plants without soil, check out: Easy Hydroponics for Beginners.

Hardening off plants is the process of acclimating your seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment. This process should be started two weeks before planting outdoors. When the temperature is about 45°F or 7°C., the plants should be set outside in a protected area for two hours each day. Gradually increase the length of time the plants are exposed to the outdoor elements of direct sun, cool temperatures, and drying winds. This is a very important step that will prevent the plants from going into shock when they’re transplanted.

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Materials

Waterproof container that can be watered from the bottom, with plastic cover to hold in humidity.

12 compressed Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets

1 South facing window with 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and/or 1 fluorescent shop light

1 outlet timer

1 thermometer

1 4 cup measuring cup

12 labels

1 marking pen

1 packet of seeds

Starting Seeds for Dummies: Planting the Seeds

Figure 4. Starting seeds for dummies with health tomato seedling.
  1. Select a waterproof container large enough to hold Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets when they have fully swollen. The container needs to be small enough so the fully expanded pellets do not tip over when moved.
  2. Select and make labels for the seeds that you will be planting.
  3. Place Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets with the open side up. The container must allow the pellets to be watered from the bottom.
  4. One hour before planting, wet the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to a point where they will not absorb any more water.
  5. With a pencil make three or four holes in the top of each Jiffy-7 plant starter pellet that is about 2 to 3 times the size of the seed.
  6. Put 3 or 4 seeds in each pellet.
  7. Cover the seeds by pushing down the top of the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets.
  8. Put your plastic dome over the tray holding the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets to keep them from drying out.
  9. Place the trays in a warm spot in the house or a seedling mat. Do not place covered containers in direct sunlight.
  10. Remove the plastic dome when the seeds start to sprout.
  11. Move seedling trays to a South facing window that gets 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or move under a fluorescent lights for16 to 20 hours a day.  Light should be placed 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Maintain night temperatures of 60-65°F (15-18°C); Daytime temperatures should be about 10°F higher.
  12. A fan blowing over the seedlings will help them adjust to the outdoors. Harden off the plants
  13. Thin to one plant per Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets by snipping the extra sprouts off with a pair of scissors. Do not pull them out by the roots.
  14. If the plants get too large. they can be moved into larger individual pots.
  15. . Water from the bottom as needed. Allow drying periods between each watering.
  16. Fertilize seedlings every two weeks as recommended above.
  17. Begin to harden off seedlings two weeks before moving the plants outdoors.

You can now easily start seeds at home with my starting seeds for dummies system. You are in control of the varieties and planting times. Here is a very good video from the National Gardening Association that gives you additional ideas for starting seeds at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FGH3MBZ21M&feature=youtu.be. By using the Jiffy-7 plant starter pellets you have a reliable, low cost growing media. The seedlings can be planted directly in the garden without disturbing the soil ball. Light is the most important factor in starting seeds at home. Allow direct light for 16 hours per day with the lights being 2 to 4 inches above the plants. Biweekly fertilization will result in stocky, dark green plants that are disease resistant. Two weeks before transplanting outside you will need to harden off your plants. Slowly introduce your tender seedlings to the harsh outdoor environment over that two-week period. This will prevent plant shock that slows the plant’s growth. My starting seeds for dummies system will allow you to reliably produce healthy vigorous plants for your garden at a reasonable cost.

Resource List

“Starting Seeds Indoors”, Publication HO-14-W, Reviewed 4/2001, Michael N. Dana and B. Rosie Lerner Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

“Starting Plants Indoors From Seeds”, Publication G6570, Revised 6/2010, David H. Trinklein, Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri Extension.

“Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors” Fact sheet FS787, Published 3/1995, Peter J. Nitzsche, Morris County Agricultural Agent & Stephen Reiners, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Vegetable Crops, Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension

Easy Hydroponics for Beginners

By: Richard Godke

Easy hydroponics are a passive system that produces a large amount of flowers or vegetables, very quickly, in a small space. Hydroponics is the process of raising plants without soil. How can this be? The plants are started in a soil-less medium like: rockwool, foam cubes, or compressed peat pellets (Jiffy-7). To start the plants, the roots should just touch the nutrient liquid; some of the roots will grow deep into the solution.  The nutrient solution contains easy to obtain fertilizers and other elements that are found in your local big-box stores, hardware, or garden stores.

Easy hydroponics or soil-less gardening is a perfect utilization of rooftops, patios or yards with poor soil quality. Hydroponic gardening provides essential nutrients quickly to the roots on a very consistent basis resulting in better growth and higher yields. Hydroponics provides a more stable soil fertility, temperature, and moisture than gardening with traditional soil. Because of the ample nutrients available, plantings can be denser. Soil-less gardening greatly reduces the majority of soil born insects and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides. Easy hydroponic gardening uses less water per square foot, compared to gardening with traditional soil. Hydroponic gardening helps to eliminate the back breaking work of carrying bags and bags of soil or the endless job of hoeing weeds. For a good video on easy hydroponic gardening, check this out:Http://Www.Youtube.Com/Watch?V=Odyeffycvky.

This article shares with you three different easy hydroponic systems.  In these passive floating systems, no water circulating pumps, aeration pumps or engineering skills are required.  Pumps are common in commercial systems. The passive floating hydroponic gardening system holds the plants just on top of the nutrient solution in cups with drainage holes, supported by a sheet of Styrofoam™™.  I will first share with you Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions that will help you get started. These instructions include: selecting crops, choosing containers, starting plants indoors, mixing fertilizer solutions, and starting plants in hydroponic solution. I will then describe the materials needed to construct three different systems including: plastic tote, wading pool, and wood frame systems.

Easy Hydroponics: Passive Universal Instructions**

Caution Even a small amount of water can be a possible drowning hazard for children. Please make certain that your hydroponic system is well protected from small children.

Selecting Crops

Cool season plants love this passive hydroponic system.  I recommend a spring and fall planting of leafy green vegetables that include: lettuce (bibb, Boston, leaf, and Romaine), mustard greens, bok choy, mint, chives, and kale. Warm season crops that can be planted after the early spring crop is done include: Swiss chard, basil, cucumbers, watercress, and zinnia, an annual flower.

Choosing Containers

This article guides you through building three different passive floating gardens. The sizes include: a 6.25-gallon tote, a kiddie 4-5′ wading pool, and a 4’ x 8’ plastic lined wooden structure. Any noncorrosive container can be used, including water tanks, buckets, or tubs that hold water and are 4 to 6 inches deep. To hold the plant roots just at the surface of the solution you will need net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups. Net pots can be purchase from a commercial hydroponic supplier.

Cut cup holes in a 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet large enough to allow the net pots or cups to drop 1/8 inch below the bottom. A 3” net pot or a standard Styrofoam™ cup will need a 2½” hole. A 2” net pot will require a 1¾” hole. .  Standard Styrofoam™ cups need to have 1/4″ slits cut in the sides and the bottom to let the roots grow through.

Purchasing Transplants

Purchasing seedling transplants is the easiest way for beginners to get started. It is easy to find a large selection of low cost, green leafy vegetable varieties in any garden center. In most cases the seedlings have been started in a soil-less mixture. It is common for these garden centers to have the plants displayed outside so they are already acclimated to the outdoor environment.

Starting Plants from Seed Indoors

I have had great success starting plants in compressed peat pellets (Jiffy-7). The pellets are very easy to water and show good resistance to dampening off disease. Start the seeds approximately three weeks prior to moving them outside. The plants need to be fully rooted with leaves approximately 1 to 1 and 1/2” inches long before moving them outdoors. It is critical that you harden off your plants before setting them out. Hardening off is the process of slowly acclimating plants to a more sunny, cool, windy outdoor environment. A week before transplanting, place your plants outside in a shaded area for approximately an hour. Then extend the time one hour each day and place in more direct sunlight each day for the remaining part of the week. Hardening off will have a very positive effect on the success rate of your transplants.

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Figure 2. Nutrients Needed For Easy Hydroponics – Floating Garden. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184

Mixing Fertilizer Solutions

Add 1 to 2 level teaspoons of water-soluble 20–20–20 or 18-18 -21 fertilizer with micronutrients to each gallon of water (J. R. Petters inc. All Purpose 20-20-20 Water Soluble Fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Tomato Plant Food 18-18-21) and ½ to 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). See figure 2. Additional calcium may need to be added if you have soft water. Stir until dissolved. In most cases you can grow an entire crop of greens without changing or adding solution. Monitor the water level and add water if it becomes low. If it rains alot you may need to add additional fertilizer and Epsom salts at the same ratio to compensate for the additional volume of water. The pH level of the solution should be checked with a simple pH tester that can be purchased at a pool supply store or garden center. The final pH of the solution should be 5.5 to 6.5. Adjustments can be made upward by adding agricultural line.  By adding aluminum sulfate, you can lower the pH. You can grow two crops of greens in the same solution before the entire solution needs to be changed.

Starting Plants in Passive Hydroponic System

Transplants should be flat bottomed, fully rooted in a soil-less media consisting of: rockwool, foam cubes, or compressed peat pellets. I would not recommend coconut fiber, sand, Perlite, or Vermiculite, because it doesn’t form a ball, which makes it more difficult to transplant. A flat bottom seedling makes good contact with the solution in the bottom of the cup. Do not add, remove, or pack the soil-less mix in the cups. This soil-less root ball should be surrounded by air. By having the roots extend slightly out of the nutrients the plant can absorb needed oxygen through the exposed roots. Use a toothpick can be used to prop the plant so it stays upright in the cup. It is important to remember that the plants roots should not be covered by the solution. Do not place the cup deeper than 1/8” into the solution. If the plant’s roots seem too wet, place the cup on its side to reduce contact of the solution.

Figure 3. Easy Hydroponics – Floating Garden with Growing Lettuce Root System. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184.

Easy Hydroponics: Tote with Styrofoam™
Floating System

This easy hydroponic system is low cost, easy to build and easy to operate. It’s an excellent way to explore soil-less gardening for the beginner. This is a reliable system I used with classroom
4-H clubs to encourage participation in the gardening program. I’m not aware of any of the demonstrations that were not successful. You can build this hydroponic system for less than $10. I have added two larger hydroponic systems below that you may want to try after you have success with this easy hydroponic passive tote system. See figure 3.

Materials Needed:  **

see plant starting instructions in “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.

  • 6.25-gallon (24.38″L x 15.13″W x 6.13″H) dark colored hard sided plastic tote
  • 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet 24″L x 15″W to fit the opening of the tote
  • 4-net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 4-Plants**

Equipment –

permanent marker, sharp knife, hole saw, measuring spoons, water to fill the tote.

Construction Steps

Figure 4. Drilling Holes in Styrofoam for Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184
  1. Place Styrofoam™ on a flat surface, set the bottom (smallest part) of the tote on top of the Styrofoam™ and trace around the bottom of the tote with the permanent marker.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut along the trace line through the Styrofoam™ to form a rectangle. The rectangle must be able to freely float up and down in the tote as the water level changes.
  3. Using a hole saw, drill 4 holes away from the edges from the edge to help prevent breakage according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above. See figure 4.
  4. Place the net pots or Styrofoam™ cups in each hole.
  5. Place the tote in an area that is level and will get 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
  6. Fill tote with thoroughly dissolved fertilizer solution to about 2 inches of the top of the tote. Float the Styrofoam™ sheet on the fertilizer solution in the tote.
  7. Drop the plants into each net or cup making sure that the roots are in contact with some of the solution.
  8. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make certain that they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should see noticeable growth within one week.
  9. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden.

 

Easy Hydroponics: Wading Pool1 with Styrofoam™ Floating System

Figure 5. Passive Easy Hydroponics – Wading Pool Floating Garden. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Publication “Wading Pool Hydroponics”

The easy hydroponics wading pool system is low-cost, easy to construct and can produce plenty of crisp nutritious lettuce for the family. This is a great first time experience producing food in a soil-less garden. You can build this hydroponic system for less than $20. See figure 5. Here is the link to the K-State Research and Extension, 4-H publication that I have adapted these plans used, Wading Pool Hydroponics.

Materials Needed:

**see plant starting instructions in “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.

  • Hard sided plastic wading pool 4-5 ft. in diameter
  • 1½” thick Styrofoam™ sheet to fit the opening of the pool
  • 12-15 net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 1- Packet of seeds and 12 to 15 Jiffy-7 pots or 12-15 started plants **

For hydroponic supplies check out: http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/category/hydroponics.

Equipment –

permanent marker, sharp knife, hole saw, measuring spoons, water to fill the pool (measure how many gallons are needed to fill the pool before you mix the growing solution.

Construction Steps

Figure 6. Easy Hydroponics – Wading Pool: Lettuce Plug Grown In a Compressed Peat Pellet. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, Kansas State University, Publication “Wading Pool Hydroponics”
  1. Place Styrofoam™ on a flat surface, set the bottom (smallest part) of the wading pool on top of the Styrofoam™ and trace around the bottom of the pool with the permanent marker.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut along the trace line through the Styrofoam™ to form a circle. The circle must be able to freely float up and down in the pool as the water level changes.
  3. Using a hole saw, drill 12 to 15 holes that are at least 6 inches from the edge and 12 inches apart inside the circle to help prevent breakage according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.
  4. Place the net pots or Styrofoam™ cups in each hole.
  5. Place pool in an area that is level and will get 6 to eight hours of sun per day.
  6. Fill pool with dissolved fertilizer solution to about 4 inches of the top of the pool. Float the Styrofoam™ sheet in the pool.
  7. Drop the plants into each cup making sure that the roots are in contact with the solution. See figure 6
  8. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make sure that they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should notice notable growth within one week.
  9. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden.

Easy Hydroponics: Wooden Frame with Styrofoam™ Floating System2

Figure 7. Healthy Lettuce Being Grown in a Standard 4×8 Ft Floating Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184

This easy hydroponics system uses a large wooden frame that is big enough to supply nutritious greens for the whole family and neighborhood. See figure 7. This system was designed by the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Florida, but it will work anywhere in the country. You can build this hydroponic system for under $50. The biggest drawback I see with the system is the plastic liner; it could be susceptible to rodent damage. For the beginner, I would recommend starting with leafy green vegetables, concentrating on the spring and fall seasons. Warm season vegetable crops are harder to manage in a passive hydroponic system. For the complete extension publication go to:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs184.

Materials Needed:

  • 3 – 2” X 6” X 8 ft. lengths of treated lumber; cut one of the boards into two 4 ft. lengths
  • 12 – #10 x 4-in Philips-Head Zinc-Plated Interior/Exterior Wood Screws
  • 1 – 4’ x 8’ x 1½” sheet of Styrofoam™ insulation board
  • 1 – 12’ x 6’ six mill polyethylene plastic sheet
  • 3 – 1 x 2 x 8 Spruce-Pine Furring Strip; cut one of the strips into two 4 ft. lengths
  • 24 – 11-Gauge 1¼” galvanized roofing nails to hold down furring strips and plastic
  • 36 net pots or Styrofoam™ coffee cups**
  • Water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer**
  • Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)**
  • 36 started plants **

Equipment –

power drill with head Philips screw attachment, 4” x 1/8” drill bit for screw pilot holes, hole saw or sharp knife, hammer

Construction Steps

Figure 8. Lettuce Transplant in Net Pot for Easy Hydroponics. Photo Courtesy Of Cooperative Extension Service, University Of Florida, Publication HS184
  1. Connect the 4 ft. and 8 ft. lengths of treated lumber to form a rectangle. Make certain corners are square.
  2. Drill three pilot holes in each corner and insert screws.
  3. Check the ground where the frame sit and remove any debris that could puncture the plastic liner.
  4. Place the frame in an area that is level and will get six to eight hours of sun daily.
    Center the 12’ x 6’ six mill polyethylene plastic sheet in the bottom of the rectangle to form a trough.
  5. Put the long edge of the plastic sheet on the long edge of the rectangle. Secure by placing the furring strips over the plastic on the top edge and nail through the furring and the plastic into the wooden frame.
  6. Make sure the plastic sheet is pushed down into the bottom of each corner of the wooden frame. Be careful not to puncture the plastic liner.
  7. Secure the plastic with the furring and nails on the second long sides.
  8. Secure the plastic with the furring and nails on the remaining short sides.
  9. Place the Styrofoam™ sheet in the frame to make sure that the edges clear and that it can move freely up-and-down when the water is added.  Trim if needed.
  10. Drill holes according to directions in the container section in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above.
  11. Mix the nutrient solution thoroughly as recommended above in the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions**” section. It should be at least 5 inches deep. This frame method will take approximately 50 gallons of solution.
  12. Check liner for leaks.
  13. Small punctures in the plastic can be repaired by cleaning and drying the surface and then applying waterproof glue on each side of the plastic.
  14. Place plants in net pots or Styrofoam™ cups making sure the roots are in contact with the solution. See figure 8.
  15. Watch the plants closely for the first couple days to make sure they are not wilting and remain in contact with the fertilizer solution. You should notice notable growth within one week.
  16. Enjoy fresh nutritious crisp greens directly out of your soil-less garden and be prepared to sell or give away some fresh produce.

The easy hydroponic passive floating system, regardless of size, is ideal for the beginning gardener. It is low cost, and gives gardeners with small space a way to produce large amount of quality vegetables. This easy hydroponics requires less work than traditional gardening. There is no need for tilling soil, toting and mixing big bags of soil, and no hoeing weeds in the hot sun. By following the “Passive Hydroponic Universal Instructions” above, you can use any size container and successfully produce great vegetables at home. The three examples of passive floating hydroponic systems give one a choice of a small, medium, or large system that are all low cost. I would encourage any new gardeners to try this easy hydroponics system for growing vegetables.

1Evelyn Neier, “Wading Pool Hydroponics”, Family Nutrition Program/ Junior Master Gardener/, 4-H Youth Development, funded by UDSA SNAP.

2M. Sweat, R. Tyson, and R. Hochmuch, “Building A Floating Hydroponic Garden” By Florida Cooperative Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs184.

https://plus.google.com/104974890596183747499

 

Fall Garden Ideas Help Beginners

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Fall Garden Ideas Includes Lettuce

By Richard Godke

Here are some fall garden ideas that will get the beginning vegetable gardener started without waiting for spring to arrive. August and September are perfect times to start a fall garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4B and higher. The warmth of summer gives the new vegetable plants a quick start and can provide some of the best quality produce of the year. Yes, this is the time for beginning gardeners to get started. The experienced gardeners have been enjoying fall vegetable gardens for years.

Fall Garden Ideas – Which vegetables do I plant?

My favorite quick harvest, cool loving fall crops are frost sensitive. They include: radishes (maturing in as little as 18 to 21 days), kohlrabi, (one of my favorites), leaf lettuce, arugula, and spinach, (maturing around 55 days). A frost blanket row cover can keep the plants 4-6 degrees F. warmer and greatly increases the length of your production. I like the frost tolerant brassica crops that can take some frost like: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. The frost sensitive root crops that I recommend are beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. If they are well covered with straw you can leave them in the ground until the soil starts to freeze, and they will become tastier. However don’t let them get frozen into the soil. I have had good luck with frost resistant crops like evergreen bunch onion, garlic, leeks, and chives wintering over in USDA zone 5A. Many gardeners recommend these risky frost crops including: bush beans, sugar snap peas, and cabbage. However, I would not recommend them for beginners. Any of these vegetables are great fall garden ideas.

 

Fall Garden Ideas – When do I plant?

How does a beginning gardener know the best date to plant a fall garden? First click on Plant Hardiness Zones, then enter your zip code, and click on the zone it provides. It will show you the date of the Average First Fall Frost. Count back from the Average First Fall Frost, the number of days needed for your crop to mature. It will be found on the seed package. This will give you an estimated planting date for that crop. These fall garden ideas are just an estimate; mother nature does not always follow the charts. Areas within a specific zone may be affected by buildings, trees, hills, lakes, etc. creating a micro climate. You can reduce the number of days needed by using a frost blanket, closures, covering plants with straw, or by purchasing vegetable transplant from your garden center.

Fall Garden Ideas – How do I start?

Gardening in a bag, square foot gardening, and straw bale gardening are fall garden ideas that are easy, cost efficient, and productive ways for the beginning gardener to get started. Bag gardening is when you plant your vegetables directly into the bags of soil you purchase from the store. Yes it really works! I had two bags going this summer and they produced sugar snap peas, Swiss chard, and meal after meal of okra. I am now getting ready for my fall crops. Straw bale gardening is a method where one takes a wheat or oat straw bale, tip it on edge, soak it with water, let it set for a week, make a depression in the bale, fill with potting soil, and plant. As the bale slowly decomposes the vegetables will grow into the decomposing bale. Square foot gardening take a little more planning and cost but is well worth the effort. Build a small raised bed 4 feet by 4 feet by 6-12 inches deep and then fill it with quality organic matter. I have had square foot gardens that yield four times as much produce compared with a traditional row garden.
Fall is a great time for beginning gardeners to get started. Fall gardens provide seeds with faster germination in the warm soil. It is very pleasant to work outside in the fall weather and the soil takes less water while many of the common insects are no longer around. Try these fall garden ideas and enjoy the cool loving crops that thrive in the pleasant fall weather. So if you are a new gardener it is time to get started with these great fall garden ideas.