Posts Tagged seed starting

Windowfarm update: tiny sprouts!

They’re growing!  After my last failure with seed starting, I was beginning to think I would never succeed as an urban, indoor, landless farmer. Yet, here they are.  Clockwise from the top left: cilantro, shishito peppers, kale and parsley.  The tomatoes, arugula, and basil didn’t make the photo shoot (in truth, the basil may end up a casualty here).  The secret? Grow lights on a timer and the proper amount of nutrition.  It’s that simple.  Except it’s not because I have also become mildly obsessed with their well-being, to the chagrin of our poor cat.  Upon waking, the first thing I used to do was feed her, but now she has to wait while I check the plants.  Do they need more water? How much did they grow? Like any baby, when something is so tiny and fragile, every change is noticeable.  In a few weeks, they will be ready for transfer to the Windowfarm, but I say this with trepidation like I’m sending them to preschool.  The windowsill is cold – what if they don’t survive?

One of the best things about participating in this Windowfarm endeavor is the crowd-sourcing, both for the information provided and the camaraderie.  Once my seeds had sprouted, they grew to a certain point – about 1 inch – and then seemed to stop thriving.  Beside myself, I uploaded their sad photos to the Windowfarm site and asked for help (which came almost immediately).  The answer? Nutrients.  As the grow plugs are not soil, they only supply a support to the seedlings, nothing more.  So, I was advised to add some liquid nutrients to their water supply in the form of  Botanicare Pure Blend Pro which is a hydro-organic vegetative fertilizer custom blended from organic and natural sources of the essential major, secondary, and trace minerals that plants would normally find in good soil.  Within a day of adding a tablespoon of this magical liquid to a gallon of water the seedlings sprang to life! Growing plants from seed has so far been an exercise in wonder – when (and if) the time comes, will I actually be able to eat these plants? I’m only half kidding here.

Speaking of gardening, I came across this amazing article via MNN about the town of Todmorden in the UK that has landscaped its public spaces with edible gardens.  Residents can harvest what they wish on an honor system and…. it seems to be working!  The town of about 15,000 residents has the goal of becoming self-sufficient in communal food production by 2018.  Love.

And last but not least, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a lovely exhibition on….Terrariums! running until February 26th.  The perfect winter outing.  Click on their banner below for details.

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Adventures in Windowfarming

Last May, I took a course at 3rd Ward the title of which I could not resist.  Urban Food Production for the Landless is a workshop taught by Brooklyn Homesteader, Meg Paska.  The course covered all of the things one can grow indoors in a small urban space, including sprouting beans, starting seeds, making edible pea-shoot terrariums, and – most intriguing – growing mushrooms in coffee grounds.  Although I like watching them grow, I’m not much of  a sprout eater, but growing young pea shoots is easy and delicious. The mushrooms are on my list to try.  While the workshop was fun, I wouldn’t say we are “living off the fat of no land” here in Manhattan.

It did, however, give me the momentum to pursue building a Windowfarm, something I’ve been wanting to do since learning about the project created by artist, Britta Riley, in February 2009 and first shown at the Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology.  Windowfarms are indoor, hydroponic gardening systems made out of recycled materials – mostly plastic bottles- designed to operate in low-light urban environments.  Riley, an artist whose work deals with crowd-sourcing solutions to environmental issues, was inspired to design an accessible way to promote  urban food production after reading Michael Pollen’s 2008 New York Times article, “Why Bother?”. Originally, the Windowfarm project consisted of an open source web platform developed by Riley called “Research and Develop it Yourself” that posted instructions on how to build your own kit and created an online forum for early windowfarmers – there are now 22,000 of us online – to share their experiences and innovations on the plans.  Unless you’re MacGyver however, the truth is, building a windowfarm is a somewhat complicated process and the plans were intimidating.  Until I learned that you could purchase a windowfarm kit: all the parts are included, you just have to put it together.  Easy peasy.  Except when the kit arrived, I realized it was a little more involved than spending a few minutes hanging it up. So it took me a good, long while to work up to taking all the pieces out of the box.

Installing a windowfarm is best done with two people.  Luckily, my dad is sort of like MacGyver, so over a visit this fall we (mostly he) put the kit together in the only sunny room in our apartment (not that you could tell by this photo):

When fully installed, an electric pump is attached to the reservoir at the bottom of the bottles, forcing nutrient-enhanced water  to the top of the bottles where it trickles back down in a closed hydroponic system.  Of course, before you get to that stage, one must have plants to grow. Based on the experiences of more experienced window farmers and our light situation, I ordered a variety of seeds to try: basil, arugula, kale, cherry tomatoes, cilantro and parsley.  With the seeds came grow-plugs, a spongy, soil-free, seed-starting medium that my daughter was disappointed to learn were not actually the chocolate brownies they appeared to be. Before planting the seeds in the grow-plugs, I was advised to soak them in a solution of 10% Hydrogen Peroxide which is supposed to help the little seeds break through their casings:

After a few minutes, I planted the seeds in the grow-plugs and placed them in an egg carton to germinate.

The first 24 hours were spent – as directed – in a dark closet.  After that, I set them on the windowsill where my windowfarm is installed.  After the second day, I was thrilled to see the arugula sprouting!  I felt awesome.  Like maybe this will actually work.

But it was only the arugula.  Nothing else.  And it didn’t last long, I think the windowsill environment was too cold for the little seedlings and the next day they were dead.  I’m thinking this indoor agriculture endeavor has a higher learning curve than I previously imagined.  But I still have seeds, and I still have grow-plugs and now I have a new indoor grow-light system to help my next batch of seedlings along.  I don’t want to be deterred, because I think this is one of the coolest ideas to come along in the past decade and I would love to see it catch on.

In the meantime, WindowFarm design has evolved to a new level and has a Kickstarter Campaign for their groovy new high-design models that will make it even easier and more beautiful to install in your apartment.  If you support their cause in the next 4 days, you can have one of your very own!  Click on the image below and they’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, I am starting my second round of seedlings today.

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