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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Growing under lights

One of my most enjoyable fall/winter activities is growing plants under lights.  There is something soothing about watching new green life emerge when so many plants outside are being frozen, withered, and burnt with wind and cold.  I have a home-made set-up of a 3-tier metal shelf unit.  I use the bottom 2 shelves for holding 2 flats each, 10x20", and hang 2 4' fluorescent fixtures from the top and middle shelves.  Evenly spaced each shelf has about 11" of growing height.  I found that 2 1/4" square rose pots fit ideally into the flats, 4 deep and 9 rows long, very little wasted space.  My current starts from a sowing in early October-
Plants on the left are Andrographis paniculata, an Indian herb and flowering plant.

In the center is an alternative to Cilantro, with the same flavor but a more substantial plant which will get bigger leaves and not be bent on going to seed as quickly as possible like most Cilantro plants I have grown.  It is Eryngium foetidum.  Most Eryngium's are spiny, this one included, so I expect it to be quite substantial.  The flavor of the leaves is supposed to be more intense and stand up better to cooking.

On the right is the Butterfly pea, which should have a blue flower that is used to color rice blue in
Asian cooking.

At the other extreme, here is Cilantro delfino that is even more delicate and ferny than regular Cilantro.

It will be interesting to try these out a little later.

Starting plants in the fall or winter gives them a size advantage next spring and makes their bloom season start earlier.  Plants that I just sowed December 2 which have not yet sprouted are 6 varieties of Alpine Strawberries, Fragaria vesca, from The Strawberry Store.  I grew 2 varieties last year, Alexandria and Delicious, from local seed packets, and found that they started blooming and fruiting quite early, and were still blooming and fruiting at the end of the growing season, though the small but tasty berries trickle in slowly, but continuously.

The Strawberry Store
The strawberries are exciting for the grandkids to seek, too.  I will see next spring how well they do their second year, and get to try out the new ones to see what differences there are in growth, size, and taste.  The new ones will be Ali Baba, Baron Solemacher, Reine des Vallees, Ruegen, Mignonette, Yellow Wonder, and the Italian ones- Fragola di Bosco and Fragola Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons), assuming they all grow.

The shelves really come into their own in January to May, though, when I start tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, basil, and other herbs, as well as some annuals and perennials that I want to start early.  I find them an indispensable gardening aid, and very inexpensive to set up.  They can be put in any available space and make little oases of green.

Happy Holidays!