Starting plants under florescent lights

We’re growing many of our transplants under artificial light using primarily fluorescent tubes and they are doing quite well. It’s not as good as growing them in a greenhouse under natural sunlight of course.

When you stop and think about it, it’s really a wonder that florescent bulbs work as well as they do considering they have to produce those little packets of energy called photos in sufficient numbers to grow a plant. The plant uses that photon energy and builds itself right out of thin air using carbon dioxide with help from water and minerals in the soil.

Plants can gather enough photons only when the bulbs are close enough to the plant. Some beginning gardeners make the mistake of trying to grow seedlings under what looks to them to be bright light but is not for the plant. As a result the seedling start to show symptoms of light deprivation such as stretching toward the light source, abnormal color and general overall weakness.

We have our florescent tubes set up so that they are around three or four inches from the top of the plants, not more than six inches for sure. Since florescent bulbs give off so little heat, setting them that close is no problem. You wouldn’t want to do that with incandescent bulbs.

It’s  very important to start out with clean bulbs. Just a little dust collecting on them will reduce the amount light of light reaching the plants enough to weaken them. So make sure you clean your tubes, and the reflector of your tube fixture, for optimum results.

I keep my light bulbs no further than 4 or 5 inches from the seedlings. The gray on the bulbs in this photo is just a glitch from the camera.
I keep my light bulbs no further than 4 or 5 inches from the seedlings. The gray on the bulbs in this photo is just a glitch from the camera.

After a few seasons of growing seedlings under florescent bulbs you may notice you just can’t seem to grow them as well as you used to. It’s nothing that you are doing differently, it’s the bulbs themselves that are at fault. Florescent bulbs have a limited lifespan usually rated by the number of hours in use and that can be in the tens of thousands of hours. In reality however, bulbs will begin fading well before their rated life span, maybe even after just a few thousand hours. You won’t see it with your bare eyes but your plants will sure know the difference. Florescent tubes are on their way out long before the familiar gray deposits show up inside the glass.

A good policy under typical growing conditions would be to change out bulbs every three years. That way you’ll be sure your plants are getting off to a good start.

Bob

Reproduce forest floor soil for new trees

Spring is the best time of year to plant trees. During the winter the dormant buds and roots are in a kind of holding pattern until the right growing conditions happen in the spring. Then they have the entire growing season to establish themselves before next winter.

No doubt you’re aware of the requirements for a proper sized planting hole and the need to water the young tree after planting. Proper planting depth is also very important. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how important it is to remove the wrapping from the root ball, even though it can be a hassle.

I always set aside any sod and never use it to back-fill the planting. Actually, I don’t use the topsoil to back-fill either. I just use the subsoil from the hole for back-fill and save the topsoil for the very top of the hole. That way the original soil profile is maintained.

After I’ve taken great pains to get the tree into the ground, there’s one more thing I like to do to and that is to create an artificial forest floor covering.  It’s something I’ve been doing for decades and I like the results.

It’s really a way of mulching that small trees seem to respond to. I first apply a thin layer of partially decomposed wood chips around the newly planted tree, over the topsoil,  maybe a couple of inches deep. Then I cover that with a layer of chopped leaves. Chopping the leaves prevents them from matting down which can slow down rain water penetration into the soil.

The layering combination of subsoil in the hole, with topsoil over that then covered with the chips and leaves mimics the soil conditions of a forest. I don’t mix the layers, I let the soil microbes do their thing. Eventually as the mulch decomposes, humic acid and related compounds are formed providing an environment for a wide variety of beneficial soil microbes. All of that allows the tree to adapt to its new home and grow to its full potential.

The chopped leaves and wood chips here are applied about four feet in diameter.

Not everyone will want to fuss with their trees like this and some will say it’s overkill and I certainly wouldn’t expect a landscaper to do it. but it’s something I’ve found to work for me.

Bob

Community gardens for those with no place to garden

Just because you are living in an apartment or in a house with no suitable gardening space, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of luck.

All around Michigan groups, work to provide community gardening space for folks who couldn’t otherwise garden due to a lack of space.

There’s a wide spread on the amenities community gardens provide. The most rustic community gardens provide nothing more than a sunny place to garden. At those you’ll have to do your own tilling in the spring. Also, you’ll have to haul your own water from home. Water is critical especially during the first couple of weeks until young plants become established. After that, mulches applied around the plants will drastically reduce the amount of water required compared to bare soil.

The next tier of gardens will have water on site with one or more hose bibs from which to draw water. Sometimes hoses are allowed, sometimes not. But at the very least you won’t have haul jugs of water from home.

Some community gardens loan out tools for the gardeners to use if they don’t have their own. That usually happens in the more permanent gardens where tool sheds or other storage facilities are located right on site.

Permanent raised beds are available at some garden sites. Their configuration can be anything from slightly raised beds to growing tables raised to table top height.

A community garden plot.

The rarest of community gardens are those that provide all the previously mentioned amenities plus garden irrigation. These will often have a garden expert or manager who monitors the irrigation system and is around to help gardeners with problems and to answer questions. Some even provide people to help to those who need it.

Costs ranges from free or a token amount to hundreds of dollars per season in the most desired location. Often organizations use garden fee income to improve the garden or help fund other work. In lieu of a fee, you may be asked to contribute a number of work hours helping around the garden.

If you do decide to join a community garden, be a good member. Always be mindful of the rules. For example: don’t trudge through other people’s garden; never pick produce from other plots unless given permission, even if it appears to be in danger of becoming over-ripe; park in designated areas; keep the garden a peaceful place, don’t act out personal problems at the garden such as shouting arguments. The best policy is try to be a good neighbor.

It’s fairly easy to find garden space these days. Start by contacting city recreation departments, schools, colleges, churches and other civic organizations. Private land owners or farmers may rent out plots as well.

This time of the year, just before planting season kicks off, organizations make a big push to get people to sign up. That means sign-up for garden space is going full speed ahead so don’t wait too long because space often runs out fast in some of the more popular gardens. Before committing to a garden plot, it might be a good idea to visit first so there are no surprises.

There are several community gardens in the Monroe area including the IHM Sisters’ St. Mary Organic Farm, Monroe County Community College, City of Monroe and many others.

Bob