Monday, August 31, 2009

saving tomato seeds

Here are some basic instructions for those wanting to save their own tomato seeds - it's not as hard as you might think!

1. Start with your best fruit - nothing diseased or with blemishes. Encourage the traits you desire (early ripening, sweet taste, etc.)

2. Cut the fruits and scoop the seeds into a bowl.

3. Let stand for a few days at room temperature.

4. It will then be a moldy mixture, but this is good, as the process removes the gelatinous covering on the seeds.

5. Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse, leaving only the seeds.

6. Leave to dry on wax paper (they will stick to paper towel), and remember to label if you're doing several varieties!
7. Store in a paper envelope for use next year.
This process will help develop plants that are specially suited to your garden conditions, resulting in healthier, happier plants!


last week's harvest - potato time!! these are russian red and standard white. Also some yellow zucchini, radishes, and lots more cherry tomatoes

they're baaaaack!!! yes, those pesky aphids have returned and are attacking the broccoli that's supposed to be for next year. a bottle of soap solution has been put in the toolshed with hopes that regular spraying will hold them off (in addition to squishing as many as possible!)

it's good that we have more planted! on the right is the latest batch of broccoli, it's the purple sprouting variety which is specially adapted for our winter climate. on the left are brussel sprouts.

not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the tomatoes have been greatly cleaned up, old yellow leaves removed so the plant can put all it's energy into ripening

and now, a look at the tomato varieties we've grown (mostly from Salt Spring seeds)

this variety is called ciudad victoria. they look nice but the taste wasn't the greatest. not sure if we'll plant again.
cheesmani - VERY productive, nice and sweet. will definitely grow again.

yellow plum, seeds saved from last year. the skin is a bit thick, but has good taste and looks great in a salad.

tasmanian yellow. my favourite of this season for it's sweet taste.

russian rose - big, beautiful, although we did have some issues with blossom end rot.

we're still waiting for the green zebra and orange tomatoes to ripen. a rainbow of tomatoes!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Research Project at SPEC!!

There are new things happening at SPEC!

Four UBC students (L-R):Tara Moreau, Emma Holmes, Kate Menzies (myself), and Melissa Iverson, have come together to explore better ways to grow food in small spaces. We are collaborating with SPEC and West Coast Seeds on a research project we will be working on over the next few months. Our research will investigate the effects of soil amendments
on crop yields.

We have recently set up our experiment on SPEC's rooftop and I will be documenting our experience on this blog! We invite you to follow our progress and learn with us along the way.

Our experiment is designed like this: using a common potting soil (approx. 70% peat and 30% perlite) as our medium we have chosen three different soil amendments to grow our crops. This gives us four soil treatments in total.

#1: potting soil
#2: potting soil + Gaia Green 4-4-4

#3: potting soil + Sea Soil

#4: potting soil + Miracle Grow 24-8-16

We have planted the following four crops individually into each of the four soil treatments.
#1: Lettuce ( C.V Darkeness)
#2: Radish (C.V Altaglobe)
#3: Kale (C.V Red Russian)
#4: Pea (C.V Little Marvel).

Because we have 4 soil types and 4 crops we are provided with 16 soil/crop combinations. We are replicating each combination 15 times so we have a total of 240 containers on the roof!

We will document crop growth and measure the yields after harvest to determine what effect soil amendment choice has on yields.

Our hope is to obtain some interesting results that we can share with growers and improve the success of urban agriculture right here in our backyards (or rooftops for that matter!).
Feel free to stop by SPEC and check out the garden or to post questions or comments for us to answer!

Happy Growing...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Growing, inside and out...

A long awaited project began taking shape this weekend at the SPEC building, as our artistic volunteers Naomi and Jodi took to the brush and began transforming our previously colourless stairwell into the site of a gorgeous, garden-themed mural.

Frank, hard at work getting the space ready for the mural - many thanks!

Jodi painting in the city-skyline silhouette

Detail of one of the (huge) moths

Before vs. After: an incredible transformation, only just begun!

Huge thank you to Jodi and Naomi for what they've accomplished so far. Both are going to continue working on a mural over the next couple of weeks, so feel free to stop in and check out their work as it progresses. If you're interested, you can also take a look at Naomi'sportfolio to see more of her amazing work:

Up in the garden, there has also been some new growth. Chard, onions, lettuce, carrots, beets, and other crops we planted at the last rooftop workparty are starting to germinate - promising an abundant winter harvest this year!

tiny swiss chard

tiny onions

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tomato Troubles...

Some new challenges have presented themselves over the past few days on the rooftop garden. Our heritage tomatoes are starting to ripen, and from above, seem to look great...

A closer look, however, reveals some problems...

Some of our rooftop tomatoes seem to be suffering from blossom end rot, a problem caused by calcium deficiency in the fruit. Sources I found explain that the deficiency is not always the result of low calcium levels in the soil, but more likely linked to erratic watering. Fluctuations in soil moisture levels reportedly reduce uptake and movement of calcium into the plant, resulting in tissue breakdown that leaves the dry, sunken lesions that you see in the tomatoes pictured above. Although we do our best to water regularly and thoroughly on the rooftop, it was especially difficult to maintain sufficient moisture levels in the containers during the heat wave we've just been through, leading me to believe that calcium uptake, rather than level of available calcium is a likely causal factor for the problems we're now seeing.

That said, however, it would be interesting to know what the calcium levels are looking like in the tomato pots, so I would like to do some soil testing at our next rooftop workparty and will report back with my results. pH could also be a contributing factor to the problem - tomatoes are able to absorb the most calcium at a soil pH of 6.5 - so we will look into this as well.

There is a lot to be learned from this experience! In an effory to improve our record keeping, we've created a new "Rooftop Garden Log Book" and labelled every pot on the roof wih a number. We hope to use this to build a document that tracks the successes and failures in our rooftop experiment, so that we can continue to improve our understanding of best practices for growing food in small spaces.

And, lucky for us foodies, these lesions are only skin deep. After cutting away the blemish, these are really a beautiful (and delicious) garden harvest!


For more information on blossom end rot, try some of these sites:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

fun rainy day at city square

yellow zucchinis on the way! this time we'll stay on top of the powdery mildew by spraying with milk
Teomi trimming the hedge - a big job!

Kiana cutting the alyssum which has gone to seed. We will dry it a little more then put it in paper envelopes for next time

many plants, including this blueberry, have leafs that are turning brown, indicating a possible nutrient deficiency

the pumpkin continues to grow!

our broccoli (right), is doing much better than the brussel sprouts

the little cabbages that we transplanted last week, the 4 that survived haven't grown at all. it's a variety called January King, a hint as to when we hope to harvest

Monday, August 3, 2009

the good and the bad

the lushness of summer....

beans! it's that time of year again to just sit back, relax, and chow down! these are purple peacock variety

the wildflowers not only look beautiful, but also aid in attracting our beneficial pollinators to the garden

unfortunately the zucchinis have succumbed to the powdery mildew...we were a bit negligent because the plants can often tolerate some level of mildew, but it was too much for these ones...

we got one ear of corn on each plant, which was amazing! too bad some one or some thing got to half of it before we did!

however we still managed to reap in a pretty good harvest! Mesclun, zucchini, corn, beans, beets, and little red and white strawberries!

not sure if you can tell by the video, but we are also dealing with an infestation of white flies. These too are mostly a problem in the greenhouse, but extreme infestations such as this can have effects on the plant, including irregular ripening of fruit. We will be monitoring the fruit closely as it ripens.