New chili season, 2017

In January, it is again time to sow the seeds for 2017 chili crops. This time, I have a theme: colour ‘yellow’. Well, almost all my chilies this season are yellow, but not quite, as you can notice from below.

Another new concept this year for me is hydroponics. The idea of hydroponic gardening is to use no soil, but rather just expose plants to water, nutrients and sunlight. The plants’ roots will be circulated by a mineral solution, and there is some supportive, non-organic material used to keep the plants growing up in firm position.

I will most likely not develop a full hydroponic system when these chilies move to our greenhouse, but I will try it out in the germinating and seedling growing phases. To make things as easy (and as cost-effective) as possible, I got the entire system from IKEA. They have also some videos about the hydroponic indoor gardening and the techniques and materials they had chosen in their website at: http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/indoor-gardening/.

IKEA shopping
IKEA shopping…

The germination process is handled with a simple tray with holes, some plugs made of stone wool (a fibrous mineral material), a water box below, and protective plastic cover with some air ventilation holes.

IKEA nursery box
IKEA nursery box.

As not all seeds germinate, it is a good idea to put 2-3 seeds per plug.

Chili seeds on stone wool plugs
Chili seeds on stone wool plugs.

The optimal temperature for most chili varieties’ germination is around 27-29 Celsius degrees, so I use an electric warming mat below the nursery to keep the temperature even. There is also a LED light with plants’ wavelengths in the IKEA system, the cultivation insert set for seedling phase is intended to be combined with the pumice stone (volcanic rock from Iceland), which allows roots support and access to hydroponic growing solution, while also allowing airflow to the plant roots.

IKEA cultivation insert set for hydroponics
IKEA cultivation insert set for hydroponics.

This time, the chili varieties I chose for growing are: Pequin Firecracker (c. annuum), a hybrid Tepin x Lemon Drop (c. annuum x baccatum), 7 Pot Brain Strain Yellow (c. chinense), Lemon Drop (c. baccatum), Goat’s Weed (c. annuum), Peito de Moca (c. chinense), Bhut Jolokia (which is now classified as a c. chinense x frutescens hybrid from India?), Aji Cristal (c. baccatum), Aji Fantasy (a commercial Finnish c. baccatum hybrid of Lemon Drop x PI 441551), a non-specified ‘Thai’ chili variety (c. annuum), Habanero Hot Lemon (c. chinense), Fatalii (c. chinense), and my old favourite, yellow Madame Jeanette (c. chinense, a habanero chili from Suriname). Old familiar ones, and new acquaintances. Happy new chili season, all fellow chili-heads!

Chili growing is a multi-form hobby
Chili growing is a multi-form hobby.

PS. Here is also a cheerful video by IKEA about the joys of hydroponics:

Chili harvesting, greenhouse project 

It is late August and the first batch of chillies is getting ready for harvesting. The first ones to produce good yield were Fire Flame and Thai Rawit. Others that also had produced some ripe chillies at this point were: Habanero Hot Lemon, Madame Jeannette, Lemon Drop, Fatalii, Trepadeira da Werner and Moruga Scorpion. There are also Aji Cristal and Aji Fantasy crops coming along, bit later. The giant of them all was Moruga Scorpion, which really flourished in the heat of this summer. Most habaneros and thai chillies remained small in contrast, but still producing nice pods. The only real failure this summer was my excess watering almost killing the sole Trepadeira da Werner. Next summer, the automatic irrigation with the Blumat system is probably in order. This summer it was all manual, since we were close at home  whole summer. 

Greenhouse: Waiting for the harvest

This is the first summer when our greenhouse is in use. So far everything seems to have gone just fine, even while we have been so busy in other areas that we have not really got so much time for the garden or the greenhouse. Even with just minimal care, most greenhouse plants seem to do well – Laura’s tomatoes exceedingly so, they have grown into real giants. My chillies would had profited from earlier change to the greenhouse and to larger pots, but I did not have the electric heater at that time. So my plants are mostly small to medium in size, but on the other hand the idea of this first summer was not so much to maximise the crop, but to test a wide variety of plants, and then see where to specialize in the future. For that purspose, my small but fruit-filled plants suit very well. Here are some photos taken from the greenhouse today.

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Greenhouse: container for growing bags

Today another key element for our greenhouse was completed. Tomatoes will be cultivated in Biolan brand growing bags (“kasvusäkki”), and our DIY version involves preparing containers that include water tanks and soil-filled pipes that connect the growing bags with the water reservoir. The setup is completed with spiral-shaped, aluminium supports of Juliana that help tomatoes to grow upwards.
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Greenhouse: the heater

Yesterday, the heater for our greenhouse finally arrived and we can now actually keep the plants in the greenhouse, around the clock. As you can see from the Netatmo screenshots from below, the morning temperature outside was 1,7°C, but with the help of our heater (BioGreen Palma Digit, including Thermo 1 digital thermostat), the temperature inside greenhouse remained comfortable 12-13 degrees. The safety instructions for the heater say that there should be 40-50 cm empty space between the heater and our wooden plant crates, plus c. 1,5 meters empty space ahead, where the heater directs the hot air flow – this proved to be bit of a challenge in our small Juliana, but putting the heater on top of a metal chair for the night also the safety considerations have now worked out fine, I think. And chillies seem to like the move to outdoors, they get more light and the moist air of greenhouse is good for them, too. (Got an extra sapling from our kid’s school rummage sale – a Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Red; let’s see how that one turns out…)

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Greenhouse: the water pipes

Today  the watering system of our greenhouse took some nice steps towards completion – the photos below pretty much tell the story, but: we installed a (Bauhaus) black plastic water barrel for temperature control purposes as well, a (Gardena) water tube system to deliver the water below greenhouse structures, and drilled couple of holes for the automatic Blumat watering system – This is still in “closed loop” mode, until the temperature is high enough for leaving plants permanently into the greenhouse. We tried to find a suitable electric heater from Tampere  but it seems no-one has such available.

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Greenhouse project, continued.

New summer is approaching, and the greenhouse project of course continues (see the previous parts of the story, starting from Part 1 onwards). The greenhouse itself, and its foundation with its freezing protection structures appear to have survived the first winter just fine, which is a good starting point. The next challenges are related to temperature and water. The dual challenges of temperature control in a small greenhouse connect to it’s small air-mass getting excessively hot in daytime, and the near-freezing temperatures affecting it to the other extreme in the night time, particularly early in the spring (or late in the autumn). The automatic ventilation of our Juliana greenhouse is based on the single roof window being opened by the gas spring when the air at the top part of the greenhouse gets hot enough. In sunny days though one ventilation window is not necessarily enough, so opening the greenhouse door as well might be necessary. Also, the sensitive young plants need to be protected from direct sunlight somehow; our solution now is based on reflective, aluminium shade fabric that mirrors enough radiation from the sun so that the temperature and light conditions are now closer to optimum.

The plans for the watering system involve the use of Blumat automated watering system and a dark plastic water tank – this will both help to keep the moisture levels good, and dark water tank will also store warmth during daytime, and release it at night, helping to balance cold nights. While our chilies will be fed by Blumat system the tomatoes will get their own, handmade plant pot/water tank system. (This is still under construction.) Temperature and hydrometer functions are provided by the outdoor Netatmo unit, which has a nice smartphone app.

Today, there were many spring tasks in the garden, and one involved moving the chilli saplings (which had overgrown their small pots) into larger pots, with some fresh soil. It would be so nice to be able to just leave the chillies into the greenhouse already, but nights in Finland in early May are just too cold – so, since we do not have a petrol or electric heater for nights, the chilli plants need to be carried indoors every night, and back in the morning, as long as the cold nights go on. Let’s see how long it takes for me to go out and get that heater…