Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aquaponics Update

I'm about 6 months into the aquaponics experiment. My first system, looked great (IMHO) and worked pretty well until it sprung a leak in the grow bed. I'm pretty sure this was in the drain area. I unfortunately placed the drain near a seam in the EPDM, which wasn't in itself a problem except that one side was regular thickness and the other was double thickness where the seem was and I think that caused a tiny leak that ended up making the wood swell and cause a big problem. Lesson learned. I didn't lose any fish, but I had been wanting to try an IBC system anyway. (IBC's are the giant plastic 275 gallon containers that things like bulk pineapple juice and liquid soap are shipped around in). These are a couple of pictures of that system.

I have the fish tank section shaded to prevent too much algae growing in there so it's a bit hard to see in these photos. I cut the 275 gallon container into two sections, an approximately 175 gallon fish tank and a 100 gallon growbed which is filled with hydroton (expanded clay pellets-- very lightweight, easy on the hands). The grow bed is mounted on top of a structure I built for it made out of 4"x4"s and 2"X6"s. It's on casters like the original system. Right now, because the fish need to stay warm I keep it covered in greenhouse plastic. One interesting thing I learned was that, even though the temps in the grow bed get up above 100˚ during the day, the greens don't bolt, presumeably because of the 68˚ water flowing over the roots every half hour. I keep a 250 watt tank heater with a built in thermostat in the fish tank just in cases the water starts to drop at night.

Growing tilapia

conrete reinforcing wire being used as a structure to support the greenhouse plastic

So far I'm impressed with how aquaponics is working out. These plants have no supplements of any kind, they are strictly being fed with fish water.

P.S. Now I'm working on system #3. The 400 gallon pond is nearly complete...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seedlings are started...

75% of them so far...

I started the first round of my seedlings a couple of weeks ago. They won't go into the gardens until mid-late February but I like having a good sturdy plant to get into the ground so we can make the most of our short spring before the blazing summer when most tomatoes either die or stop producing fruit until October. For that reason I like to plant tomatoes that are mostly 75 days or shorter. I'll go as high as 80 if the variety really strikes me, but beyond that there isn't much hope of getting much, if any, fruit out of the plant. Peppers and eggplants, on the other hand, will tolerate the heat much better so I'll go as high as 90 days for them.

Below I've listed my "catalog" of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for the 2011 season. The descriptions are mostly straight from seed catalogs. I'm growing hundreds of plants, but I'll only keep about 40-50. The rest I'll sell for $2.50 or so in the spring to help raise money for improvements to the tiny farm. :)

Rosa Bianca: 70-90 days – A lovely Italian heirloom that bears medium sized, 8 inch, oval fruits.  The pink/lavender colored fruits are occasionally shaded with a cream color.  Always sweet and mild, with no bitterness.

Hungarian Yellow Wax: 70 days- Developed in Hungary, this medium-hot pepper has a beautiful golden waxy color that resembles bees’ wax. The fully mature peppers are a more orange-red color, but the fruit is traditionally picked when fruit is 3”-4” long and still yellow. A favorite for soups and stews, pickling, frying, canning, or roasting, the 5” long and 1.5” wide peppers have thin walls and don’t need to be peeled before cooking.

Italian Relleno Sweet Pepper: 65-75 days- 18-24 in. Delicious roasted, fried, and especially stuffed. Popular variety similar to the Anaheim chile, but slightly earlier maturing. High yielding and well worth growing. Transplant when soils are warm, spacing seedlings 12-18 inches apart. Enrich soil with mature compost. Needs warm conditions day and night to germinate and fruit well. Watering tips, during germination, keep entire seedbed evenly moist. Harvesting tips, pick at peak of color.

Nardello Sweet Pepper: 65-75 days- Delightful fresh or fried, the sweetest non-bell Pepper when ripe. An italian heirloom from the Nadello family. Red when ripe, these 6-8 in. peppers have shiny, wrinkled skins. Almost like candy.

Ordoño (NS/S): 90 days- An ornamental type of chile producing green, yellow, orange, purple and red fruits, which are an inch long and grow upright. Hot and edible. Collected from Batopilas Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico. Good for container gardening.

Pasilla Bajio (chile negro): 80 days- The Pasilla Bajio offers a rich, smoky, mildly hot flavor to many dishes. It is also called 'chilaca' and 'chile negro'. The name, 'Pasilla' means 'little raisin' in Spanish, referring to the dark brown, wrinkled dried pod. It is called 'chilaca' when fresh and adds character to red chile enchilada sauce and salsas. When used as a dried pod or in powder form, it is a very flavorful ingredient in many mole sauces.

Sweet Canary Bell: 80 days- Canary Bell peppers ripen to a beautiful golden yellow that adds a gorgeous golden color to any recipe. We chose this variety of yellow Bell pepper for its exceptional flavor, thick walls, and incredible color. Canary Bell sets its fruit early and continues to produce peppers throughout the summer. You can use these peppers as a vibrant accent in salads, and they are also wonderful when sautéed or grilled. Easy to grow, you can plant them in the garden or grow them in large containers on a patio or deck.

Tabasco: ~90 days- Hot, prolific, and hardy, this is the famous ingredient in Tabasco sauce. Narrow 1" fruits are yellow or orange maturing to red. Good for container gardening.

Yellow Banana (Sweet) 72 days- An AAS Bronze Medal winner for 1941 and still extremely popular. Large, pointed fruits measure 6-7" long and 1½" across. The mild yellow peppers ultimately turn brilliant red. A favorite for pickling.

Tomato and Tomatillo:
Ace: 80 days, indeterminate- This robust tomato has wonderful fresh flavor, but is an old favorite for canning as well. It has clusters of 6-8 ounce fruits, 5”-6” in diameter, growing on bush type plants that do not require staking. Being a low-acid tomato, it may be easier on your digestion if you are sensitive. You will be impressed by the excellent yields these plants have for such a large tomato! Resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt (Race 1)

Black Cherry: 65 days, indeterminate — This is a new variety that is very productive with cherry shaped fruits that have the dark, purplish coloring of 'Cherokee Purple.'  Flavor is wonderful, very rich and sweet. 

Black From Tula: 75-85 days, indeterminate- Deep reddish-brown beefsteak tomato has a rich, sweet flavor that is delicious. Fruit is smooth in texture and weighs from 8 to 12 ozs. This outstanding variety is very productive and seems to set well even when weather turns hot. Russian heirloom.

Bradley: 76 days, semi-determinate- A disease resistant variety released in 1961 by Dr. Joe McFerran of the University of Arkansas. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce compact, bushy, semi-determinate, regular-leaf, tomato plants with heavy foliage that yield copious amounts of 7 to10-ounce. dark-pink tomatoes with a wonderfully, delicious sweetness that is well balanced with just enough acidity to give you that old-fashioned big tomato flavor you love so much. Tomatoes ripen at the same time making it a great variety for canning and freezing. Suitable for Southern regions. An excellent fresh market tomato. Fusarium wilt resistant.

Chadwick’s Cherry: 70 days, indeterminate- Heirloom cherry tomato named after the late master gardener, Alan Chadwick, originator of the biointensive method of gardening. Flavorful, 1-inch, red fruits borne in vigorous clusters of six.  Add these cherry tomato seeds to your collection of cherry tomatoes and taste the difference.

Chico III: 70 days, determinate- Compact plant produces high yields of 3 oz plum shaped red tomatoes. Plants set fruit well during high temperatures. An excellent processing variety used to make sauces and puree. A variety suitable for mechanized harvesting. Great for salads and sandwiches too. Suitable for home gardens and market growers in Texas and the Southwest. Disease Resistant.

Chocolate Cherry: 70 days, indeterminate. Plant produces high yields of 1" diameter chocolate cherry tomatoes. This cherry tomatoes grow in cluster of 8 and are very flavorful. The tomatoes are crack resistant and hold very well on the plant. They can be picked several days before completely mature and allowed to ripen off the vine without sacrificing quality.

Coyote: 50 days, indeterminate — This variety was given to heirloom tomato collector Craig LeHoullier by Maye Clement during a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Harvest Fair show, as a cluster of fruit on the vine. She indicated that it grew wild in her home country of Mexico. It is a tiny cherry tomato that ripens its prolific crop to an ivory, translucent yellow color, shading to darker yellow at the shoulders. Flavor is superb.

Gardener’s Delight: 65 days, indeterminate- Also known as Sugar Lump, these red cherries range from 3/4 to 1-1/2 inch across and are loaded with sugary sweet flavor.

Hong Yuen: 75+ days, indeterminate- This Chinese tomato produces clusters of many red, mostly two-inch, sweet fruits. Hong Yuen is fine tasting for salad or sandwich; this excellent cropper can also be used for sauce or whole-pack canning.

Juane Flamme: 70+ days, Indeterminate- Extremely prolific French heirloom tomato that bears in clusters of 6, beautiful, 1 1/2-inch, round, golf-ball sized tomatoes that are persimmon-orange colored inside and out. A delicious full-bodied tomato flavor that literally bursts in your mouth.  Very decorative. Makes a great flavored sauce.

Nichol’s (NS/S): 75 days, indeterminate- These seeds originated from the Nichols family in Tucson. Volunteer seeds that just kept coming up, they have been maintained by the family patriarch for about 50 years. It is well adapted to the desert; it is heat-tolerant and prefers full sunlight. The tasty, “pink cherry” tomatoes are prolific producers. Halfway between a cherry and a plum tomato.

Principe Borghese: 75 days, DETERMINATE — Italian heirloom variety very popular in Italy and California for splitting in half and sun drying. They maintain color and flavor well. The plants produce heavy yields of small, red plum-shaped fruits. The plants will benefit from support such as caging.

Prize of the Trials: 75-80 days, indeterminate- Best overall cherry tomato for flavor, yield, and crack resistance. Productive vines bear orange, apricot-sized fruits that thrive in hot dry climates.

Punta Banda (NS/S): 75 days, indeterminate- Collected on the Punta Banda Peninsula in Baja California and grown out at our Albuquerque garden. The plants produced hundreds of red meaty, thick skinned fruits despite heat, water stress and poor soil. Great paste tomato.

Red Grape: 60 days, semi-determinate — This variety is modern and currently very popular in the fresh produce market. The fruits are bright red, weigh about an ounce, and are smaller than most cherry tomatoes (½ by ¾ inches). Since they are mouth-sized they are perfect for salads and garnish plates. Twelve to sixteen fruits per cluster.

Rio Grande: 80 days, DETERMINATE- Very large, blocky pear-shaped tomatoes are borne in profusion, making for large harvests to turn into tomato sauce, paste, or juice. Deep red fruit is about 4 inches long. Vigorous plants are well adapted to extremes in temperature.

Roma: 78 days, DETERMINATE- One of the most popular varieties for paste, sauces and canning. Compact vines yield large harvests of 3 inch long, bright red fruit that may be pear-shaped or plum-shaped. Thick walled and solid with few seeds; slightly later than Roma with heavier foliage.

Sugar Sweetie: 65 days, indeterminate- This organic, perfect, cherry tomato has classic sweet flavor. You may eat so many right in the garden, that it will be hard to get them into the house for salads! Large numbers of 3/4" to 1" fruit are produced in grape-like clusters on 2 foot tall plants. Even though the plants are indeterminate, the plants may be grown in containers on a sunny patio, deck, or balcony. As the plants continue to grow until fall frost, they will likely require a stake, small cage, or some sort of support.

Sungold Select II (Open Pollinated): ~75 days, indeterminate, This is a selection from the regular Sungold tomato, sent to us by Reinhard Kraft of Germany. This is one of the tastiest orange cherry tomatoes out there! This variety is not completely stable and a few plants still produced red fruit.

Super Sweet 100 (F-1 hybrid): 65 days, indeterminate- This is a home gardener favorite that has more disease resistance than Sweet 100 while keeping the same fabulous taste. Small round 1 oz. cherry tomatoes are deliciously sweet with a high Vitamin C content. Long clusters of fruit load up on tall, vigorous plants and continue to bear until frost.

Toma Verde Tomatillo: 65 days, indeterminate- YOU MUST PLANT AT LEAST TWO NEXT TO EACH OTHER FOR POLLINATION TO OCCUR. If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow Tomatillos! They can be used in a wide variety of Mexican dishes, and their unique flavor makes an indescribably tasty 'salsa verde', which some say is superior to red salsa. The 'Toma Verde' is a large-fruited variety that has been adapted to grow successfully in a wide variety of climates. Related to tomatoes, tomatillos prefer similar growing conditions, but they will handle a lot more heat and drought. The 3'-6' tall, indeterminate plants grow quickly and produce well in both southern and northern climates. Fruits grow inside a paper shell and keep producing until the first fall frost.

Violet Jasper: ~80 days, indeterminate. When these little Oriental jewels ripen, your eyes will be stunned with color. They have pretty violet-purple fruit with iridescent green streaks! Fruit weigh 1-3 ounces, are smooth and have good tasting (though some have complained it’s grainy), dark purplish-red flesh. This variety will also amaze you with its yield: it’s not only high, but incredibly high, being one of the most productive tomatoes we have grown. A great variety for marketing. Introduced to you from China.

White Currant: 70-75 days, indeterminate. Treat yourself to one of the most unique and sweetest tasting tomato varieties known. The tiny fruit are half the size of a cherry tomato and grow in nice heavy clusters. Creamy-white in color with just a tinge of yellow. Deliciously sweet, a favorite of many.

Yellow Pear: 78 days, indeterminate- These prolific miniature pear-shaped tomatoes are 1-3/4 to 2 inches long and clear yellow in color. They are delightfully sweet considered by many as 'garden candy'. Baskets of these are as pretty as can be. Tall plants bear large and continuous harvests

Yellow Plum: 70 days, indeterminate — A very old variety. The plants are large and open with small oval fruit, 1 by 1¼ inches, that taste mild and sweet. There are typically eight to ten fruits per cluster, some late fruits have slight neck. Very productive.

Zapotec Pleated: 80-85 days, indeterminate- Deeply pleated, pink to dark-red 6-8 oz. fruits originating from the Zapotecs of southern Mexico. Unique appearance with a rich and earthly flavor. Excellent stuffed, baked or sliced.

What varieties are you planting this year?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Deviled Quail Egg recipe!

People are always asking what in the world they can do with quail eggs. My favorite thing to do is to devil them. When the Phoenix New Times asked me for a recipe of something I'm baking right now, it seemed like an obvious choice (even though technically it's not baked :) )

HERE'S a link to my deviled quail egg recipe.