All posts by rdubois

Kratky Method of Hydroponics

What is the Kratky Method of Hydroponics?

The Kratky Method of Hydroponics is a way to grow food without the use of water or air pumps. This method allows the grower to be completely off the grid and grow healthy nutritious edibles in areas where electricity is unavailable or even non-existent.

Before I dig into what makes the Kratky method work, let me give a very basic explanation of hydroponics. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using water to deliver the necessary nutrients and minerals for plant growth. Most of these systems rely on air pumps to transport the water and nutrients from a reservoir to the plants.

Flood and Drain vs Deepwater Culture

There are two primary methods of growing hydroponically: Flood and Drain (also called Ebb and Flow) and deep water culture. There are of course variation in these two methods, but all of them rely on either an air pump or a water pump and many rely on both.

The Flood and Drain method requires a pump to lift water into the grow bed where it temporarily immerses the plant’s roots in the nutrient rich water. Once the grow bed is full it triggers a drain and the nutrient solution returns to the reservoir.  This flooding and draining occur at regular intervals to ensure that the roots are never completely dry nor submerged long enough to cause the plant to drown.

Basic Flood and Drain Hydroponic Setup is different from the Kratky Method
Basic Flood and Drain Hydroponic Setup

Deepwater culture, on the other hand, uses a floating raft system which suspends the plants above a reservoir tank filled with nutrient solution. The roots are submerged continuously, but oxygen is pumped into the solution at a sufficient rate to keep the plants healthy.

 

Deepwater Culture Setup is different from the Kratky Method
Deepwater Culture Setup

Both of these systems rely upon heavily electrical power to keep the plants alive. A loss of electrical power with either of these systems could potentially result in disaster for the plants. The Flood and Drain system would die as the roots dry out and the plants starve to death. The Deepwater culture plants would suffocate.

The Kratky Method Solves This Problem

If you want to grow vegetables without relying on electricity for water or air pumps, the Kratky method might be just what you’re looking for.  As you might have guessed the method is named after the man who developed it – B.A. Kratky. I downloaded and read a paper he wrote titled “A Suspended Net-Pot, Non-Circulating Hydroponic Method for Commercial Production of Leafy, Romaine, and Semi-Head Lettuce.”  You can get that here.

My Kratky Experiment

After reading about his work, I had to try it. In a nutshell, the method requires a container that can hold enough nutrient to sustain the plant for its production life. For a determinant tomato plant that would be about 45 gallons. For a head of lettuce, it would be one gallon.  I had several lettuce plants already started in a seed tray and I only had room for 8 of them in the garden. I took the least healthy one and transplanted it into the top of a gallon milk jug. The milk jug was filled with a mixture of 20-20-20 fertilizer and micronutrients. It was not the optimal blend for this method, but it was what I had on hand.

Kratky Method Lettuce

This is a picture of the head of lettuce a couple of weeks after I transplanted it. The milk jug is wrapped with a FedEx shipping bag. This is used to block sunlight from the nutrient solution and the roots.

 

Kratky says a head of lettuce will consume approximately one gallon of nutrient solution in 5 weeks and be at maturity at that point. I left this jug unattended for the entire period. At the end of 5 weeks, I removed the lettuce from the jug.

While it is not the largest head of lettuce, it is quite impressive. The roots are almost pure white and as you can see, well developed.

Kratky Method Lettuce Head
Head of Lettuce Grown using Kratky Method of Hydroponics

The milk jug only had a couple of tablespoons of nutrient solution left in it. So, the timing was spot on as well.

Try It Yourself!

What an amazing discovery.  For the next phase of experimentation, I will use the recommended nutrient solution and plant a full flat of lettuce. I will plant this just before I leave for summer vacation and hope to return to a bountiful harvest.  That post will come along around the middle of July. In the meantime, if you are interested in trying this method yourself I recommend reading the article above and also take a look at this instructable

Mittleider Gardening Watering System

Today I built a Mittleider Gardening Watering System for my new garden. In this post, I’ll show you step by step how I made it. I use this system because of the advantages to watering your garden this way.

The Mittleider Gardening Watering System has several advantages

  1. It provides water directly where it is needed
  2. It conserves water
  3. It waters the garden quickl.y
  4. It reduces weeds
  5. It grows happy plants

Ok enough of that, you are sold on the system and you are probably ready to see how to make your own.

Supplies needed

  1. 3/4 in class 200 PVC – I got mine at Home Depot
  2. End caps, elbows, T-connections depending on your garden configuration
  3. #57 drill bits at amazon.com
  4. and adapter at Amazon.com for
  5. a PVC cutter or hacksaw – at Home Depot for about $10
  6. Measuring tape
  7. electric drill

Step One

The first step to building the Mittleider Gardening Water System is to measure out your garden. Mine consists of two ten foot long 18 inch wide beds and one four foot square bed. Consequently, I purchased four ten-foot 3/4 inch class 200 PVC pipes, Three T-connectors, six elbows, and four end caps.

Step Two

Lay out the PVC and drill three holes every four inches. The reason the holes are drilled in this pattern is to provide water streams directly beneath the pipe and 15 degrees to either side of the pipe. Seems like a lot of drilling, and it is, but this is the magic behind the system.

To make the drilling easier, place a T-connector at the ends of the pipe. Drill one row of holes end to end. Then twist the pipe about 1/4 inch and repeat. Once you have three sets of holes every four inches your work here is done.

Step Three

After all the holes are drilled, it is just a matter of connecting the pipes and then adding a water supply. For mine, I never glue the fittings. You will find that you will eventually want to take the system apart, be it for winter or to clean out the insides. Either way, just pressing these fittings together is sufficient. Make sure you line the pipes up so the three holes are pointing down towards the soil.  The pipes need to be about 3.5 inches above the soil for good water coverage,  I used spare peaces of 2×4 to support the pipe at this elevation.

Step Four

Finally, test the system. It should look something like this:

Hope you found this helpful. Any questions? Use the contact info to  send me an email or comment on this post and I’ll do my best to asnwer.

 

Planning a Garden part 2

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about planning a garden. This is the second part of that series. If you haven’t seen that post, take a look here. I also wrote a post last year about things to consider as you plan your garden. You can see that here.

Planning a Garden Week Two

I built the raised beds and filled them with soil. Earlier this week, I got my seedlings started. There is a post about starting seeds last year so I won’t repeat myself here. You can read that post here.

The bed building project isn’t 100% complete yet. I still need to finish the cross bars for vertical support. The plants won’t be going in the garden until Mid-April though so there is plenty of time to get to that.

Before then I will need to build the watering system. There is an article I wrote about that the system I use and how to make it here.

Planning a Garden
Raised Beds

The two long beds are situated East West. The one in the back, on the North side, will contain the vertical growing plants.  In this bed will be the San Marzano tomatoes, the beef steak tomatoes, cucumber, and a summer squash (Calabacita). I have not grown this plant before, but love the squash it will produce. Unlike regular zucchini, this plant can be grown vertically.

In the Southern row, I will plant bush beans, eggplant, zucchini, and crookneck squash. In the square bed, I’ll plant my sweet potatoes.

These beds get full sun most of the day. The above photo was taken around 4:00 in the afternoon and you can see a shadow working its way across the beds. This won’t be a problem with the summer sun.   I expect to harvest about 400 pounds from this garden. It cost $120 in materials and three hours of my time to build it.

Start Planning a Garden for 2017

Now is a good time to start planning a Garden for 2017. I’ve written about planning a garden before, click here to read that article. This year, I will journal the creation of a new garden from scratch. I recently bought a house in New Mexico and am starting a new backyard garden this year.

In comparison to my main garden, this one will be smaller and a lot easier to get started. It may also be something you could copy in your own yard.

The First Task in Planning a Garden

The first task in planning a garden is deciding what you want to grow. The second task is to find a good location. According to the Mittleider Gardening Method, the ideal location should:
•Be a sunny location, one that gets full sunlight from at least mid-morning throughout the afternoon.
•Stay away from low spots where drainage is poor. Plant side for lack of oxygen where standing water accumulates.
•Avoid large trees and tall hedges, unless they are north of the grow-bed area. Crops growing in shade or shadows do poorly.
•Make sure water is available close by

Here is a picture of the area that I will place the garden. Both of these areas have a southern exposure most of the day, good drainage and are near a water faucet.

Garden Spot 1

There will be three beds in the first area. Two will be 10 feet long and 18 inches wide oriented left to right. The first one will be 5 feet from the fence and will be for vertical growing – three varieties of tomatoes and pickle size cucumber. The next bed will be 3.5 feet from the first and will grow bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash. The third bed will be a 4×4 square for sweet potatoes.

In this second area, next to the fence, I will grow my winter squash – butternut, spaghetti, and acorn.

Garden Spot 2

There are a couple of other areas in the yard conducive to good growing. If I develop them, I’ll do some before during and after pictures of those areas as well.

What’s Next?

In late February I will start the seeds 🙂 After that, I will build the grow boxes and the watering system. In the meantime, if you have any questions about planning your garden, drop me line and I’ll help you out. Better yet pick up a copy of the Mittleider Gardening Course and get started on the road to growing your own delicious vegetables.

You will also want to visit the article I wrote about starting seeds indoors. You can get that article here.

Sign up by clicking the box below and you will get updates from this page so you can follow along as I create an abundance of delicious vegetables in a small space.

Summer Harvest

Summer Harvest

is just around the corner

This summer harvest is going to be a bountiful one for sure!We’ve already harvested several pounds of cucumber, yellow squash, green beans, and eggplant and now the tomatoes are just a few days away from ripe.

Tomatoes

Just look at these tomatoes! The picture on the left is some of the Big Beef variety and the one on the right is a Roma variety. The Big Beef are fantastic for slicing and eating fresh. This variety of Roma’s has thick meaty walls that make them amazing for making tomato sauces. Looks like we’ll be canning quite a lot this summer.

I have two varieties of Cherry tomato too. The golden yellow ones are very sweet and are wonderful just to munch on right off the vine. the more traditional red ones are great on salads. I also like to cook them whole when I make spaghetti.

Armenian Cucumbers

 

Summer Harvest
Armenian-Cucumber

These Armenian Cucumbers are super delicious fresh or pickled. We’re picking them daily now and when miss one they seem to grow five or six inches overnight.

We also have ten vines of traditional pickling cucumbers and have already made more than 20 jars of cucumbers and relishes.

Here’s what we’ll be picking over the next few weeks:

Bell Peppers

Summer Harvest
Bell Peppers

These bell peppers are doing pretty well. we have 20 plants and each one has three or four fruit growing on it. Not only do Bell peppers taste great, but they also have twice the vitamin C of an orange and are a great way to boost your immune system,  Another great thing about bell peppers is they lower inflammation. They’re even better when they come from your back yard ( and don’t cost $2 each like the ones in the grocery store).

Jalapenos

Summer Harvest
Jalapeno

In addition to bell peppers, we’re also growing jalapenos. My mouth waters when I see these Jalapenos. I love them in the relish, sauteed with my morning eggs, or cooked up in chili. But my most favorite way to eat them is stuffed with cream cheese and sausage and wrapped a thick slice of bacon.

Summer Harvest
Jalapeno Poppers

This link will take you to a video showing you how to make these awesome treats. Click here. These bad boys represent all the food groups with dairy, meat, and vegetables all in one delicious bite.

 

Spring Garden 2016

Our Spring Garden

I love the Spring garden. One of the nicest things about gardening with the Mittleider method is consistency.  Year after year we enjoy an abundance of fresh vegetables from a relatively small space. Last year we harvested more than 1,100 pounds from this garden. I suspect this year we will get even more.

IMG_1930[1]

Most of these plants were started in mid-February. You can read about starting seeds indoors here. They were transplanted into the garden the last week of March. Some, the green beans, for example, were started from seed in the garden the last week of March.

Spring Garden

 

We’ve already harvested some yellow squash and the tomato plants are covered in blooms and tiny tomatoes. The cucumbers are also covered in blooms as are the bell peppers. I have one more section to plant and that will get pole beans. This year I will plant the yellow variety.

This year we planted eggplant, bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, cherry tomatoes, big beef tomatoes, Cucumber, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.  We’re looking forward to a bountiful harvest. If you are interested in getting some of our veggies this year, send me an email using the contact tab at the top of this page. I’ll tell you how we’re operating our CSA this year.

Spring Garden

It’s not too late to start your own garden. If you want to see how easy it is to set up a Mittleider garden, take a look at some of my other posts. You could have a Spring Garden in and growing in about a half a day. In fact, I helped a friend put his in yesterday. We planted Jalapeno and Tomatoes in his garden…I think he likes Salsa 🙂

5 to 10 Times the Food Five to Ten Times the Food Is it really possible to grow five to ten times from the same space? Well, that is exactly what we’re doing this year at the Ten Mile Farm. Compared to last year’s garden, this year’s is going to produce much more food. We harvested plenty of …

 

How to Start Seeds Indoors

How to Start Seeds Indoors

You can really get ahead when you start seeds indoors. You will realize several benefits when you start seeds indoors rather than buy seedlings or sew directly into your garden. One of those benefits is healthier, stronger, more vibrant plants. You will also have a garden that yields produce much earlier. I find it very rewarding to start seeds indoors and watch them develop into transplants and finally mature plants yielding produce. Here’s how you can successfully start seeds indoors.

What You Will Need:

Seeds – Soil – Fertilizer – Moisture – Heat mat – Sunlight

start seeds
Mittleider seedlings
Start Seeds
Germination

 

Seeds

First off, you will need to get your hands on good quality seeds. There are three major decisions you need to make. What do you want to plant, do you want heirloom or hybrid seeds, and do you care if you get organic seed stock.

I recommend you choose plants that will yield vegetables that you and your family like to each. Don’t plant broccoli if you don’t like it. Simple enough right. Make a list of the vegetables that you like and then plan your garden around growing those plants. For a quick reference to how much room you will need for each plant, see my article How to Plan Your Spring Garden.

Heirloom or Hybrid is another decision you will need to make when you start seeds indoors. Heirloom seeds come from heirloom plants. What this means, in a nutshell, is that you can save the seeds from the produce for when you start seeds indoors next year. The seeds of an heirloom tomato, for example, will develop into a similar tomato plant that will bear similar fruit. This is important if you plan on saving seeds for future gardens.

Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, come from plants that are combined to provide specific characteristics. Perhaps they are more resistant to disease or drought, perhaps it is the color of the fruit they yield. Hybrid plants are developed to provide characteristics that consumers find beneficial. The problem with hybrids is that their seeds will not reproduce the plant they came from. That’s not to say that a hybrid tomato plant seeds will produce watermelon, rather it may not produce fruit at all. If it does produce fruit, it most likely will not be the same as the fruit it came from. It is more likely to take on the characteristics of one of its contributors.

Soil

There are so many options out there for starting seeds. In fact, it is a large business selling seed trays and special soil mixes, coconut fiber, rock wool, peat pellets, and on and on. The fact of the matter is, it is very easy to make your own seed starting box and all you need to fill it with is sand and sawdust. If you can’t find sawdust, rice hulls or even Perlite work. I recommend you keep it simple. I wrote an article about that expensive “organic” potting soil people buy. You really should read that. You’ll never buy it again. Read that article here.

Mix your sand and sawdust one part sand to two parts sawdust. It’s helpful to keep in mind the five functions of the growing medium. Soil has five functions when it comes to plants: anchorage and protection for the roots, it holds air and water for plant use, holds minerals the plant needs to thrive, regulates temperature, and provides drainage of excess moisture. A mixture of sand and sawdust is more than adequate to meet these five functions.

Fertilizer

Seeds have all the nutrition within them to get them started. The fertilizer that you will add to the sand and sawdust is not meant to help get the seeds started. This is the nutrition the seedlings will need to get them to the next stage of growth and ready for transplanting into your garden. There are two formulas that the Mittleider Gardening Method recommends. The first one is referred to as Pre-Plant. As the name suggests, it is added to the soil prior to planting or transplanting. The second formula is called Weekly Feed and it is applied weekly during the productive cycle of the plant.

These formulas have been tested and tried around the world for the past 50 years and are proven to give you better results than any other combination of nutrients. There are 16 essential plant nutrients and these two formulas provide the right combinations of each to ensure healthy vibrant plant growth and an abundance of produce. You can download the formulas for these two fertilizer mixes here.

Moisture

Seeds need to be kept moist during the germination period. However, there is no need to soak seeds prior to planting. Make sure your sand and sawdust mixture is moist by mixing water with it until it is damp to the touch. Once you have planted your seeds, cover the soil with a damp burlap cloth. The cloth serves two purposes. First, it helps retain moisture in the soil. Secondly, it allows you to apply more water without disturbing the seeds.

Heat Mat

With seedlings, it is also important to keep them warm. that is why I recommend a Hydrofarm MT10006 9-by-19-1/2-Inch Seedling Heat Mat. If you live in a warm climate, this may not be necessary. However, for most places a heat mat will help keep the soil at a constant temperature and encourage germination. I use the heat mat. I purchased from Amazon. You can get these locally as well. Make sure you also get the Jump Start MTPRTC, Digital ETL-Certified Heat Mat Thermostat for Seed Germination. This allows you to set the temperature you want and it will maintain it.

Sun Light

If you have a South facing window place your seed tray where it will benefit from the natural sunlight. If you don’t have space for that, you will want to get some grow lights. Get a light fixture that will provide enough light for your grow box(s). These can be rather expensive to buy off the shelf, but they are easy to make and much less expensive if you have the skills to make your own. You can get a basic two-bulb hanging fixture locally for about $40. Make sure you use “daylight” bulbs. They should have full spectrum light and around 6500 lums. Here’s a YouTube video showing you how to make a very effective stand for less than $20.

If you’d like to get really good at this, I highly recommend you read some more about Mittleider Gardening. Here’s another post I wrote about the method and my experience with it.

Dorper Lamb

Our first Dorper Lamb was born today

If you recall, last month I purchased four Dorper ewes to breed with our Katahdin Ram. One of those ewes was pregnant when I bought her. Today she delivered her dorper lamb.

White Dorper Lamb
Dorper Lamb

Mom and baby are healthy and doing well. We will keep her in this contained area for a couple of days to make sure they are strong enough to join the rest of the flock. The boy is a bit on the small side, but he is healthy and mom is taking good care of him.

White Dorper Lamb
Dorper Lamb and Mom

This birth wraps up the 2016 season with 16 lambs born. We will have these available for sale in the Fall. Most of the Katahdin lambs will be weened from their mammas in the next two weeks. This little boy will stay with mom until the middle of August.

The long-term goal is to sell off all the Katahdins except Andy, our RAM. We will rebuild the flock with a mix of Katahdin and Dorpers starting next Spring. If you’re curious about that plan, you can read more about it here. 

Here are some other posts about our sheep,

Baby Lambs The arrival of baby lambs means it must be Spring Over the last few days, we have been blessed with the arrival of several baby lambs. Two sets of twins and two singles. As I posted the other day, Golda gave us a nice healthy set of twins, one boy and …

Calling the Lambs Calling the Lambs It is always easier to have animals that will come to you when you call them. Have you ever seen a neighbor chasing their dog? I have. Well, trying to catch sheep is even tougher than trying to catch a dog. Dogs and sheep are both trainable though. …

How to Save an Orphan Lamb  An Orphan Lamb Can Be Saved There are many reasons an Ewe might reject her newly born lamb. An Orphan lamb, in my experience, results from the separation of the ewe and her lamb before she has had an opportunity to apply her sent. I’ve seen this several times over the years. The …

Katahdin Dorper Mix

Katahdin Dorper Mix at Ten Mile Farm

 

Why a Katahdin Dorper Mix? I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs. But first, let me tell you about the Dorpers. Today starts a new chapter in the lamb production business of the Ten Mile Farm. I traveled to Siloam Springs today and picked up four Dorper ewes. Three of them are Fall ewes and one of them is a pregnant 3-year old.

These girls will form the foundation of our Katahdin Dorper mixed lambs. Our Katahdin Ram will breed with these girls in November or December depending on how mild the winter is. The first lambs will be born in the Spring of 2017.

 

Dorper Ewes to breed for Katahdin Dorper mix
Dorper Ewes

I purchased these girls from Coyote Creek Farms. At Coyote Creek Farms they raise pure-bred White Dorpers for show. These girls are premium stock and when combined with my prized Ram, will produce the best of both worlds. The three smaller ones were born in October, November, and December. The larger ewe is three year’s old and she is currently pregnant with another Dorper.

The plan is to have five Dorper ewes as the foundation of our flock. If the lambs they produce do as well as expected, we will add more breeding stock next year.

Dorper Ewes to breed for Katahdin Dorper mix
Loving the New Home

Katahdins and Dopers are both hair sheep. Meaning that they do not require shearing. They grow a thick coat of hair in the winter months and shed it in warmer weather. Katahdins are best known for their resistance to illness and the wonderful meat they produce. Dorpers are best known for their ability to pack on a lot of muscle in a very short time.

Katahdin Ram to breed for Katahdin Dorper mix
Our Prized Katahdin Ram, Andy

The ability of the Dorper breed to put grass into weight gain is remarkable. The goal of this Katahdin Dorper mix is to increase the butchered yield of our lambs. On average our Katahdins produce 48lbs of saleable product. We expect the Katahdin Dorper mix to increase the yield to 60lbs per lamb.

Lamb Burgers

How to Make Lamb Burgers

These Lamb burgers are absolutely delicious. They are a wonderful variation of traditional hamburgers. So, whether you’re looking for an alternative use of ground lamb or just want a try a different twist on ground beef burgers, this is a wonderful treat.

Here’s my favorite recipe:

Ten Mile Farm Lamb Burgers

 
Ingredients:
8 oz tomato sauce
2 lbs ground lamb
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup Quaker Oats
8 Toasted sesame buns
8 leaves of Romaine Lettuce
Thinly sliced red onion
Ketchup
 
Makes 8 1/4 lb Burgers
 
Instructions:
Gently mix all ingredients
Shape them into eight 1/2-inch thick patties.
Broil each side 4-5 minutes for Medium well doneness
Add  lettuce, onion slices , ketchup, and a lamb patty to each bun. 
There is no need for cheese with these lamb burgers, but if you absolutely think you must have some, I recommend Feta crumbles melted on the patty.
If you want to make perfectly sized patties every time, I recommend this handy tool I picked up at Amazon for about $10. It works great for making patties from 1/4 to 1/2 lb. They fit the bun perfectly too and put that little dimple in the patty that keeps it from swelling into a ball.
Patty Maker
Patty Maker

 

I’d love to hear your feedback on this recipe. I know I love it and so does my family, and I am sure yours will too. Once you’ve made the recipe post a review. Shoot, post a picture of your creation while you’re at it. And id you make any changes to the recipe, I’d love to hear about them.

 

Ann Burrell, over at the food network, has a variation of these where she includes mint and lemon zest. Mint is a traditional condiment used with lamb and her reviews are pretty good. I will warn you that her recipe is much more complicated than this one. If you want to check it out you can find it here.