The Grow Op – an urban gardening experiment

“Danvers Half-Long” Carrots
May 25, 2009, 12:30 pm
Filed under: Dirt and Soil, Plants, Prep, Vegetables | Tags: , , , ,


I decided to run two rows of carrots down the center of my SIP container. I chose these carrots mainly because they grow shorter and thicker. This seemed like a better plan in a container, but also for a purely experimental reason.

The day before i grabbed these seeds, my lovely girlfriend produced a container of something called Vermiculite that she had procured at some point in her adventurous work life. Vermiculite is an ore that is very light and holds moisture very well.* In an interesting coincidence, one of the packages of carrot seeds i was perusing the next day had instructions to use vermiculite to germinate them! An easy decision on which variety of carrots to plant, then.

The two rows of light brown material in the picture above is vermiculite, which i spaced some carrot seeds along in, and then loosely covered with a small amount of soil. In some of my previously posted pictures of the SIP you also may notice a piece of burlap. This helps prevent a crust from developing on the soil, and allows the delicate carrot sprouts to more easily break the soil. Carrots in general take about 3 weeks to sprout.

Which, FYI, HAPPENED TODAY!!! I was inspecting the SIP earlier today, and noticed a little sprout coming up through the burlap, and when i pulled the burlap away – there were dozens! I think this is a little on the fast side, which i credit to the vermiculite being lightweight and easy for the sprouts to push out of.

I tell ya, seeing those first sprouts after weeks of waiting is surprisingly exhilarating!

In a note unrelated to carrots, check out the cucumbers in the post below compared to how they look here. This pick was taken the day i transplanted them, while the one below was about 2 weeks later.

*While there are concerns surrounding vermiculite and asbestos (they develop near each other in deposits), it can still be handy in the garden. Do a little research. If there is a lot of dust in your vermiculite, then it is probably not safe to work with. Otherwise it is not in and of itself toxic.


“Everbearing” Strawberries
May 24, 2009, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Dirt and Soil, Fruit, Information, Plants | Tags: , , , ,


I bought this little seedling on a whim when i was walking down Commercial Drive. It was being sold along with some other seedlings in a bodega style fruit and vegetable stand. It already had a few little flowers, and looked pretty healthy.

There is a lot of information out there about strawberries, and it looks like without knowing it I chose a pretty good strain for a small indoor operation. There are 3 basic types of Strawberries: “Spring-” or “June-Bearing”, Ever-Bearing, and Day Neutral. The biggest crops seem to come from Spring-bearing, but there is only one crop per year, they tend to spread more using ‘runners.’ Ever-Bearing concentrate their energy on 2-3 harvests rather than spreading runners and daughter plants. There is a 4th type I saw mentioned, “Alpine,” but I didn’t really dig for info on that one or the Day Neutral.

I think if you are growing in a backyard plot, or commercially you probably want to go with Spring-bearing because they will propagate for you, can produce a big plot for the cost of a handful of plants.

Again, I am not sure how the strawberries will flourish in the SIP, but they definitely seem like a better fit than the Cukes. They tend to like a constant water supply. In fact i read that most large commercial operations tend to irrigate their fields – so I have that going for me.

“Straight Eight” Cucumbers
May 22, 2009, 1:11 pm
Filed under: Dirt and Soil, Plants, Vegetables | Tags: ,


I planted two cucumber plants from seedlings in the SIP. the variety is Straight Eight (make any applicable dirty jokes in the comments). These are apparently good for slicing, salads, and pickles, which were my primary targeted usages – honestly i am not sure what else you would use them for.

After some reading (which i like to do after i make my uninformed decisions on how to plant things) I found out that the cucumbers have rather shallow root systems, which may not make them ideal candidates for the SIP because as mentioned it seemed little dry on top. For now they seem to be doing pretty well.

Self-Irrigating Planter
May 21, 2009, 10:38 am
Filed under: Dirt and Soil, Information, Prep | Tags: , ,


This is a strategy that i learned from via Homegrown Evolution I won’t rehash all the steps here. The instructions were pretty clear, although it was harder than I expected finding non-PVC piping in the heart of the city! I also decided to skip the step where you put a tarp or otherwise cover the top of the planter. This may have been a mistake, however, since the top of the soil seems a little drier than i would like. I may start watering lightly if it seems really dry, but ideally this should not be necessary – you should never have to water this container. Why do this in my indoor garden? No good reason really, other than less water waste and it was fun to try.

For those of you who are too lazy to follow links, these containers have a water reservoir in them, as well as a sieve full of soil in the center of said reservoir that allows water to diffuse up into the rest of the soil. All that’s necessary is keeping the reservoir (somewhat) full.

David Suzuki Speaks! Sort of…
May 20, 2009, 10:28 am
Filed under: David Suzuki | Tags: , ,

I have heard back from The David Suzuki Foundation, and the news is middling. I received two emails:

Hello Gardener,

Some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that we love your video and blog.

The bad news is that we only have three gnomes, and we did not choose your entry as one of the three to receive a gnome. The entries this year were incredible, but it made it extremely difficult to choose.

BUT the good news is that we think your story needs to be told. Would you still like to blog and post videos on our website?

I hope you are still willing to blog about once a week and upload some videos, as we would love to follow your story over the summer. We are putting together a blog space, and asking you and several others to continue videographing and blogging.

Please write back as soon as you know what you plan to do!

If you decide to keep your story going, we’ll give you instructions on how to post your own blog and insert your video clips. Whatever you decide, thanks for gardening pesticide-free!




Will you still join us even without the gnome incentive!?!?!?!? We want to see what happens with your upside-down plants!


The personal touch was nice, though I barely noticed through my tears. Once I collected myself, I responded:

Hi Panos!

I won’t deny that I am disappointed that i wasn’t considered gnome worthy – we put a considerable amount of effort into that video! It does help to have a friend who is a cameraman and another who is an editor…

I am guessing that my lack of need for pesticides may have precluded me from the competition’s focus somewhat. I checked out all the other searchable entries on youtube – who won?

I would love to continue to be involved. As I have mentioned I am already blogging at I also won’t be able to maintain the production value I demonstrated in my first video necessarily (although my friend Shane the cameraman was already over here the other day talking about Episode 2). Please let me know what you guys would like me to contribute.

And I hope you will consider forcing Mr. Suzuki into sweatshop-like gnome painting conditions until all the participants are happy…


So while I guess I will just have to paint my own gnome, I still get to put myself out there through the David Suzuki Foundation.

“Big Early” Red Peppers
May 16, 2009, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Plants, Vegetables | Tags: ,

I decided to plant this the other day, basically because the seedling looked so good at the garden store! look at that thing!! The waxy coating on the leaves, and look how friggin green it is! I couldn’t say no. Plus, the name of the strain was hard to deny. It sound pretty hard to mess up. all i did with this plant was stick it in a pot.

Red Pepper Seedling

May 15, 2009, 10:37 am
Filed under: Herbs, Plants | Tags: , , ,

Ok so I will admit it: Some nights, when the weight of the world is too much to bear, I have some trouble sleeping. And when those dark, dark nights come around, and all my problems are a closin’ in, I like to have a little herbal tea to try and get to sleep. But the good stuff usually doesn’t come cheap. So naturally i am going to grow it myself. ‘They’ – and by they I mean SKYNET aka the Internet – tell me chamomile is easy to grow, and can be pretty continuously harvested by popping off the head of the flowers and drying them. This supposedly actually triggers more growth in the plant, and can also allow you to indulge a little childhood rhyming (“Momma had a baby and her HEAD POPPED OFF”)! I have also planted some catnip (yeah, its nice in tea!) but it isnt sprouting,and I begin to lose hope.

Chamomile is a bit of a slow starter. I planted these seeds what seems like a long time ago, and have these sprouts to show for it:

Chamomile Sprouts