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    Bolting Broccoli

    I knew when I started planting broccoli this season that I would have to brace for the summer. Broccoli is a cold weather crop, and prefers soil temperatures of 65F-75F.

    Any warmer than that, and the broccoli will bolt or go to flower. That’s what happened to mine during the heat wave of last week.

    It's a little disappointing. I removed the flowers early this morning and am looking at ways to keep the soil temperature below 75F. It’s difficult to do when the tote sits in the sun all day. I will move it to the shaded part of the deck and see if there’s any change.


    Rain damage

    After weeks of 100˚+ temperature and predictions of thunderstorms, rain finally came. The fury with which it arrived left a mark on all the plants in the garden. The zucchini and eggplant were flattened, I had to prop them all back up with stakes.

    The worst hit was the swiss chards. The leaves were pulverized. For a moment, I thought it must have been the work of some animals. But since the plants are on an elevated deck, with very little access for animals other than occasional chipmunks, I had to rule out the animals.

    It’s been three days now and the swiss chards are slowly recovering.



    The economics of it all

    I do know it is a hobby. But it is always good to check the return on investment. For one, it is satisfying to know that the hobby is a productive one. Two, it always comes as a good proof point when questioned by skeptics who think what you do is not gardening in any sense of the word.

    The calculations below are for the tote SIPs. The cost was about $22.40 [18 gallon Tote ($4), 2’ PVC (40c, 10’ for $2 cut into 5 pieces), EPS Foam ($2), Organic Potting Mix 2 cu ft ($ 16)]. I built 8 such boxes at a total cost of $179.20 ($22.40 x 8). I also have 3-bucket planters recycled from last year, which I have not included in this calculation. The potting mix can be recycled for up to 5 seasons and the buckets/totes, may last 2-3 seasons as they are not UV resistant plastic.

    Below is the table of harvest so far and the dollar amount based on prices listed at Wegmans for the organic produce (when available):

    Eggplant:                          9.26 lbs            $ 27.68

    Cucumbers:                      7.38 lbs            $ 10.00

    Cherry Tomatoes:              4.50 lbs            $ 15.70

    Zucchini:                         10.30 lbs            $ 20.60

    Green Peppers:                  3.15 lbs            $ 15.71

    Swiss Chards:                    2.64 lbs            $   7.36

    Total                                                        $ 97.05

    We started harvesting in the last week of June and in less than a month the results are here for everyone to see. There is cabbage, basil, pole beans, roma tomatoes all waiting to be harvested. So by the end of July I hope to break even.



    Bugs gatecrash the party!

    It’s been a good season so far. The weather has not affected productivity of the crops. While many traditional gardeners in my area are waiting for rain, I don’t have to worry. Except, fill the 5-10 gallon reservoir in my SIPs every morning. It’s been really hot and the plants have been using up a lot of water.

    But it has not been without events.

    Caterpillars attacked the broccoli, cabbage and mesclun salad mix. First reaction was to cut the infected leaves. But I soon found an organic way to take care of it. I used a biological insecticide called Bacillus Thuringiensis or BT for short.

    The way BT works is simple. The bacterium produces a crystal protein toxin that kills the cells lining the caterpillar’s gut, which in turn causes an infection in the body cavity of the insect.

    The interesting thing about BT, is that only certain insects digest and are affected by the protein toxins. In most insects, as well as people, birds, fish, and other animals, the BT proteins have virtually no measurable effect.

    Just spray on the leaves of the infected plants and when the caterpillar eats the leaves, they die within 20 mins. Now, the garden is virtually caterpillar free.

    But I do have some issues with the roma tomatoes. The tomatoes on one of the plant started to develop brown rings at the bottom. It looked like the tomato had blossom end rotting caused by lack of calcium. But that couldn’t be true because I always add 2 cup of garden lime or dolomite anytime I grow tomatoes. All the tomatoes quickly developed brown rings and the plant withered and died within days. I tried adding garden lime to the root system but that didn’t help.

    The bottom part of the plant and the root system looked very infected. I still have no idea what went wrong. I posting the pictures so if you spot the problem do email me.


    Let the harvesting begin

    It’s my second year experimenting with sub-irrigated planters (SIPs). And it’s been a patient 4 months. In mid-February, I started with planting seeds of swiss chard, celery, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, basil, eggplants, green chilies, and bell pepper.

    I planted them in SIPs created with 2-liter pop bottles. I also used traditional cups. I tried a version of SIP called “the ultimate growing system” sold by Burpee. They all turned out good. I prefer the pop-bottle SIPs (more later).

    By late April, when it was getting warm, I moved them outdoors to harden them. A couple of frosty nights in mid May killed many of the basil and green pepper plants. I quickly moved the whole lot indoors. For a while, it was a sight to see all the SIP planters lined in the kitchen, by the French window, in the safety of 72 degrees indoor temperature.

    By early June the plants were out again. They started to bloom.

    The cherry tomato took the lead, followed by the eggplant and zucchini. Swiss chards were late bloomers. Celery never budged. They grew about a foot tall but never progressed. Have to look into this. If any of you have ideas about growing Celery, please drop me a line.

    Since late June we have been harvesting regularly.

    On June 26th, my deck was open to the West Windsor Garden Tour and people were amazed at how much can be grown with such little space, in such small containers.

    Given the success of the tour, I decided to quickly update my website and add DIY manuals to help many who showed interest.

    Please continue to visit for regular updates to this blog.