Category Archives: Outdoor Gardening

Two dead, 17 sick across 13 states with another Listeria outbreak due to tainted Lettuce from a Bag

Yet another outbreak due to tainted lettuce salad in the first few months of 2022. At latest report, 17 have been sickened across 13 states and two unfortunate deaths in a recent listeria outbreak according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The salads, which were recalled by Dole in December and are currently under an active investigation by the CDC, include a variety of different mixes. They were sold in either bags or plastic clamshell packaging, according to the agency, which said they include Caesar salads, mixed greens, and garden salads.

The salads that were tainted are sold under several different brand names such as Ahold, Dole, HEB, Kroger, Lidl, Little Salad Bar, Marketside, Naturally Better, Nature’s Promise, President’s Choice, and Simply Nature, the alert said.

The recalled salads have “Best if used by” dates between Nov. 30, 2021, and Jan. 9, 2022, the CDC said. They also have lot codes that start with the letters “B,” “N,” “W” or “Y.”

For those who suspect they may have the salad in their refrigerators, the CDC recommends to “throw them away or return them to where you bought them.” The agency further recommends that people clean their refrigerators, surfaces, or items that might have touched the recalled products as listeria can survive “in the refrigerator and can easily spread to other foods and surfaces.” If you suspect you have this in your refrigerator or have consumed this product, please reach out to the CDC immediately.

This is not the only incident. The CDC said that it is also investigating another listeria outbreak connected to Fresh Express packaged salads, which occurred in December of last year and led to 10 hospitalizations and one death. That recall includes use-by dates with the product codes Z324 through Z350. Affected brands include Bowl & Basket, Giant Eagle, Fresh Express, Marketside, O Organics, Little Salad Bar, Signature Farms, Simply Nature, Weis Fresh from the Field, and Wellsley Farms, said the agency.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a “listeria infection is a food borne bacterial illness that can be very serious for pregnant women, people older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems.” And that “healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection, but the disease can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.” Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea, chills, diarrhea, while more serious symptoms can include stiff neck, headache, convulsions, and a loss of balance, the clinic’s website says. “Symptoms might begin a few days after you’ve eaten contaminated food, but it can take 30 days or more before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin.”

A harvest of hydroponic greens grown on a Tower Garden

This is not the first time outbreaks that result in the loss of life have been cause by those eating bagged salad or greens purchased from big box retailers. In the busyness of life, we trade food security and nutrition for convenience.

I didn’t learn until about five years ago, that most of our lettuce comes from Salinas, California. For those of us living on the East Coast, that means our greens have to travel approximately 3,000 miles which takes on average about 10 days to go from field to our table. When you think about nutrients lost for every day post-harvest, we are simply eating old food.

Here’s the thing… it doesn’t need to be this way. With changing a few habits, we can have greens at home in a number of ways, but the easiest by far that I have found is growing greens in my hydroponic / aeroponic growing system, the Tower Garden. I can start seeds for greens every couple of weeks and have a constant supply of greens, right in my home, 365 days a year. And when I harvest the greens, I can simply go from my vertical garden growing system to my table within literally minutes with a quick wash and spin dry if I wanted to do so! (Normally I harvest my greens in the morning when they are at their peak nutrition and the chill them after cleaning the leaves and spinning the leaves dry before fixing a salad.)

Hydroponic Aeroponic Tower Garden
Plate of greens with dandelion

I’ve heard it time and time again when people balk at the price of a hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden. I don’t blame them. I know I did the same thing at first. And then my husband had a heart attack and suddenly the price of that tool to grow food seemed to PALE in comparison to the medical bills that piled up and the new life of treatment we faced post-heart attack.

I remember, one of THE BEST decisions I made following his heart attack was to purchase three Tower Garden vertical garden growing systems (we got the three Family Pack). We opted for the payment plan and paid on them for only a year. We looked at it as if we were paying for insurance but instead investing in the health of our family. Boy were we right! Now, we are going into our fifth year of growing food in these full- paid-for vertical garden growing systems. They have easily paid for themselves over and again; I cannot begin to describe how many fresh greens we have eaten off of these Tower Gardens!

We learned that roots of Swiss chard match the color of the stalk!
We learned in growing our own food hydroponically, that our Rainbow Swiss Chard roots were the same color as the stalks! How cool is that?!
Green Bibb Lettuce growing in a hydroponic aeroponic Tower Garden
Bibb Lettuce greens growing on hydroponic Tower Garden.
Spinach Leaf from spinach plant grown on the Tower Garden vertical garden hydroponic aeroponic growing system,
Growing basil indoors on a hydroponic aeroponic Tower Garden
Basil growing on indoor hydroponic Tower Garden growing system.

If you aren’t willing or able to invest in a growing system like this, at least start with something smaller, like an Aerogarden that can sit on your kitchen counter. There are outdoor options you can cover as well if you prefer that use soil, but I’ve found that using a growing system that circulates the same water and nutrients not only saves water, but it frees me up from having to babysit watering something growing in soil every day. I’m a busy homeschooling mom of five — I need things automated as much as possible. I simply add checking on the Towers 1 – 2x a week to my work flow at home and smile big when I have the food and herbs at my fingertips when it comes time to make dinner. You can learn more here if you’re interested or send us a message and we will reach out to you to answer any questions.

And if you’re buying salad kits…. Stop. Stop trading what seems to be a convenience for what you think is healthy. They are not healthy. You’re eating old food. Unless it says right on the packaging that it was grown locally, do not buy it. Grow it at home. And be careful of anything that had to be processed (ie: cut and assembled). You’re putting a lot of faith into someone else.

Learn how easy it is to grow your own greens at home. Let us help you on that path of discovery. Just ask in the comments below and we will be happy to answer any question or click on the pictures below which will take you to further information.

Both of these systems can grow food indoors. The Flex system on the right can ADD additional sections on top and grow higher (more food per square foot) with the proper pump. Be sure to reach out to us at hello@growyourhealthgardening and we’d be happy to answer any questions about growing food the EASY WAY hydroponically in a vertical garden like the Tower Garden growing system.

Full disclosure: I am a Tower Garden Rep (Erin Castillo). Helping families lead healthier lives using modern tools and hydroponic / aeroponic organic growing methods.

Our 10 Most Productive Slicer Tomato Varieties from Last Season

{We shared this info with our followers via email at the end of December, but wanted to share on Grow Your Health Gardening as well. If you want to get our emails (where we share information first on new releases and other tips first) you can do that here: https://store.growyourhealthgardening.com (page down just a little bit and you’ll see the spot to enter your email.)}

The results are in! Last season (2021) we counted and weighed every tomato that came off the vine and was harvested. Totals reflect equal number of plants per variety. If you’re looking for varieties that produce a multitude of blossoms and tomatoes, then this is YOUR LIST to grab. We will also include links to each tomato variety if you’re interested in getting homegrown seed grown using organic methods. All of this tomatoes were grown hydroponically meaning the tomato plants received the perfect pH level and ideal nutrients throughout the season.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. (But remember, our data is propiertary and we cannot share specific weights.) So here we go… ready? And the top ten biggest producers out of 75+ varieties (by weight) are…

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Green Elf aka: Wagner's Lime Green Salad Tomato: Number 10 most productive variety from 2021

#10 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
GREEN ELF
(AKA: WAGNER’S LIME GREEN SALAD

Green Elf Tomato (also known as Wagner’s Lime Green Salad Tomato) is one of Owner and Lead Grower of Grow Your Health Gardening, “Erin’s Top Tomato Picks” Seed Collection from the 2021 growing season. In fact, Green Elf Tomato was #10 in highest production by weight of ALL slicers varieties in our 2021 trails!

It was originally bred by Tom Wagner and is a determinate variety. It only gets a couple of feet tall and needs only a little support making it ideal for containers and small space gardening. It grows nicely in 5 gallon felt containers or Bato Bucket systems and is a heavy producer — boy does it produce blooms! Wowza! If you plant this variety every two weeks in the first part of the growing season, you will have a bushel load of tomatoes that can be used for slicing, salsa, salad, sandwiches, canning, drying, Fried Green Tomatoes… you name it! This is one I can’t wait to grow again!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Big Rainbow Heirloom Tomato: Number 9 most productive variety from 2021

#9 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
BIG RAINBOW TOMATO

We were drawn to this tomato for it’s beautiful coloration when sliced open! Big Rainbow Tomato is a beautiful bi-color slicer tomato variety with early tomatoes weighing 2+ pounds with very little cat facing or deformities. It has good resistance to foliar disease and is an indeterminate.

Big Rainbow Tomato variety will ripen with color shades showing green on the should, yellow in the center, and red towards the bottom. When cut open, it will have bi-color shading of yellow and red making it a beautiful slice on the plate or sandwich. It has more flesh than seed ratio, so also serves well for using to make sauce.

We have adapted this seed to grow in a hydroponic system using organic methods and so even though it will grow in soil just fine, it is especially suited for hydroponic home growers using a Tower Garden, Bato Bucket system, or the Farmstand.

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Thornburn's Terra Cotta Heirloom Tomato: Number 8 most productive variety from 2021

#8 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
THORNBURNS TERRA COTTA HEIRLOOM TOMATO

Thornburn’s Terra Cotta Heirloom Tomato is a joy to grow! Not only does it taste wonderful, but it’s color looks beautiful mixed in with other sliced standard red tomatoes. It’s outer skin and inside flesh of the tomato has a most unique color — it’s a mix of a chartreuse green and terra cotta — some call it a honey-brown shade, but our trials seemed to be more colorful than that.

If you especially love history, you’ll want to grow this tomato to preserve the seed for future generations because it is now 129 years old! It was originally introduced in Thornburn’s 1893 Seed Catalog. This is one easy slicer you won’t find in the grocery store aisle and will want to try!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Pomodoro Farina Gigante Heirloom Tomato: Number 7 most productive variety from 2021

#7 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
POMODORO FARINA GIGANTE TOMATO

In all fairness to Pomodoro Farina Gigante Tomato, we were pruning this plant to get an exceptionally large tomato, so the overall weight for production may have been affected as it didn’t put out as many blossoms as it would have normally produced. With that said, this cultivar still weighed in making the Top 10 and is definitely a BIG TASTY classically robust Italian tomato!

This line of Pomodoro Farina Gigante Tomato seed DNA comes from the work of Mario Quattrocchi from Cuneo, Italy and originally from Remo Farina, a retired truck driver originally from Bleggio, Italy. Mr. Farina holds the record for the largest tomato in Italy and worked tirelessly for years to acheive his record breaking tomato. Our trials produced a 2 pound, 6 ounce tomato and others that followed ranged from 1.5-2 pounds. If you want to grow a large tomato, then this variety is the one to try!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Paul Robeson Heirloom Tomato: Number 6 most productive variety from 2021

#6 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
PAUL ROBESON HEIRLOOM TOMATO

Paul Robeson Heirloom Tomato is a nice slicer variety with a low seed count making it ideal for BLT sandwiches or it can even be used for making tomato paste. It has less acidity than traditional past varieties and a mild sweetness to it (though not as sweet as Cherokee Purple in our opinion). If you love Cherokee Purple, then you’ll enjoy this very similar, but more productive tomato variety. (At least grow the two varieties side-by-side and decide for yourself which one you like the best and share your opinion in the comments below.) Want to learn more about who Paul Robeson was in history? Click here

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company German Johnson Heirloom Tomato: Number 5 most productive variety from 2021

#5 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
GERMAN JOHNSON HEIRLOOM TOMATO

German Johnson Heirloom Tomato is a highly productive and excellent tasting pink heirloom. It is slightly smaller than a Brandywine and it has a deep acidic classic tomato flavor. It is a gorgeous tomato on and off the vine! This is a regular-leaf strain which can tend to come in earlier and is more productive than the potato-leaf strain. Can be used as a slicer or as a paste tomato. Very versatile and one of our favorites from this past growing season!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Nostrano Grasso Italian Heirloom Tomato: Number 4 most productive variety from 2021

#4 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
NOSTRANO GRASSO ITALIAN HEIRLOOM TOMATO (RARE IN THE U.S.)

Nostrano Grasso Italian Heirloom Tomato is a very rare heirloom from Italy and mainly unheard of in the United States. It produces medium-sized tomatoes and is duo-purposed as a smaller slicer, but also a great sauce tomato. It has superb tomato flavor with a hint of sweetness. It just kept pumping out the tomatoes and didn’t get flower drop even in higher Hotlanta summer temps here in the Southeast. If you’re looking for authentic Italian flavor and a good producer, this is your tomato! Such a pretty tomato on the vine and on the plate!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Costoluto Genovese Italian Heirloom Tomato: Number 3 most productive variety from 2021

#3 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
COSTOLUTO GENOVESE ITALIAN HEIRLOOM TOMATO

This variety pleasantly surprised us as well with it’s consistent production and final weigh-in totals. Costoluto Genovese Italian Heirloom Tomato is popular with chefs and a standard in Italy for both eating and preserving and we can see why! It has beautiful ruffled ribbing, so when it’s sliced, it looks pretty on the plate. Classic intense Italian tomato flavors. It was productive all season long no matter the temp. Definitely a keeper!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Olga's Round Chicken Tomato: Number 2 most productive variety from 2021

#2 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
OLGA’S ROUND CHICKEN TOMATO

Olga’s Round Chicken Tomato is a heavy producer of almost perfectly round globe-shaped tennis-ball sized tomatoes. Not only does this tomato variety have a funny name (which truth be told is what drew us to explore and grow it), but it’s also super tasty and looks great diced in salsa or sliced on a sandwich!

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company Apricot Brandywine Heirloom Tomato: Number 1 most productive variety from 2021

#1 MOST PRODUCTIVE 2021 SLICER TOMATO VARIETY:
APRICOT BRANDYWINE HEIRLOOM TOMATO

I can see why Brandywine cultivars are a favorite among many tomato grower enthusiasts! They consistently produce big slicers through high heat when other cultivars wane. Apricot Brandywine Heirloom Tomato is a wonderful yellow-orange beefsteak type of slicing heirloom tomato. It has a leaf that mimics a potato leaf and produces beautiful apricot-colored tomatoes that weight a pound or so. This variety is perfect for sandwiches and has a fantastic aroma as well! It’s a gorgeous and tasty tomato that produces all season long. Check out what the inside of this tomato looks like in the video below:

If only we could also let you taste it! If you want a lot of big juicy tomatoes, this is one to try!

And that’s how the slicer-type tomato trials went last growing season! We will tuck away this data and refer back to as we continue to grow out and adapt other cultivars in growing seasons to come.

If you like trying unique tomatoes you can’t find in any grocery store or Farmer’s Market, we’ve put together a collection and discounted it for our customers. Be sure to check out “The Tomato Lovers” Collection and as well as “Erin’s Top Picks” in the shop! Which new variety will you choose to grow this coming year?

Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Company's exclusive line of homegrown seed using organic growing methods.
Grab several varieties of heirloom and open source tomato cultivars at a discounted price compared to purchasing individually with our Grow Your Health Gardening Tomato Lover’s Heirloom Seed Collection pack.

Start your journey to health and gardening with this one simple step

KEY TAKEAWAYS AT A GLANCE:

• The key to giving your body better nutrition is to grow your own food.
— You will be able to eat what you grow shortly after harvest, thereby getting the highest level of nutrient that the plant can provide because the plant is allowed to grow to full maturity where nutrients will be at a peak AND you will be able to consume it shortly after harvest.
— You have control over how your food is grown meaning soil health, hydroponics, and anything applied to the plant to control pest pressure or enhance nutrition profile in plant like beneficial biological foliar tea applications.
— You will benefit not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually from being more connected to your food and outdoors.

• If you’ve never grown your own food, taking that first step can feel overwhelming. Begin by just choosing to focus on how to grow a food that you eat already and taking a moment to think about why you are motivated to make the effort.

• A simple and very doable approach to getting started growing your own food is to simply ask one question, “What one new thing can I learn to grow this year?”


The key to moving to better nutrition for your body is to grow your own food. That’s how my journey began. What did I do? I simply became curious and had an attitude to learn — and I picked just one plant to learn about. I deep dove into learning everything I could about that one plant and what it needed to grow. Single focused. One simple step. A willingness to change and grow through gardening.

Step 1: Pick 1 (one) plant to learn more about.
Background Image credit: Kim Kight Moda Fabric Nov 2021 Release

Here’s how you can make a BIG difference this year in your health by just learning to grow one new plant:

Step 1: Consider healthy grown food choices you are already enjoying.

You’re more likely to eat what you grow and if it’s already something you’re familiar. Research has even shown this to be true with children — children are more likely to eat what they have grown. Why would we be any different? 😉

For example, I like to eat Kale. I noticed that Kale was on EWG’s (Environmental Working Group’s) Dirty Dozen List. I didn’t want to give up eating kale simply because it was often sprayed by those growing it and wanted to reduce the amount of chemicals I was putting into my body. I also found that my kids like the cheesy kale chips at the store, but my pocket book felt the pain every time I had to purchase that in bulk. The best solution? Learn to grow it.

Bok Choy and greens growing on hydroponic and aeroponic Tower Garden.
Tower Garden growing hyroponic lettuce, kale and bok choy. To learn more visit: erincastillo.towergarden.com
Spinach growing in a hydroponic Tower Garden vertical garden growing system.
Tip: If you’re new to growing Spinach and gardening altogether, I recommend that you don’t pick spinach as your first plant to try growing from seed. Instead, purchase a start and grow it from that stage or read our article on how to start spinach from seed.
Step 2: Learn everything you can about that plant.
Background Image credit: Kim Kight Moda Fabric Nov 2021 Release

Step 2: Learn everything you can about what the plant needs to grow.

Single-tasking has been proven to be THE BEST way to get something done. Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things. Just choose one thing and learn it well. Focusing on learning one new plant will set you up for success and lead to better nutrition for your body!

We are so blessed to live in an age where we have so much information at our fingertips with a simple search. Take advantage of this and devote at least 15 focused non-distracted minutes a day to look-up details about the plant you’re wanting to learn how to grow. Record what you learn on a sheet a paper and put it in a 3-Ring Binder. This becomes a handy-reference in seasons to come as you add other plants to your ever growing notebook.

You’ll find that after a couple of growing seasons, you’re able to add more than one plant to your ever-growing “new plants I’m curious about” list. And you’ll be able tackle more because once you know a plant, you can grow a different similar variety with ease because you’ve already studied that plant group.


“Take advantage of this and devote at least 15 focused non-distracted minutes a day to look-up details about the plant you’re wanting to learn how to grow. Record what you learn on a sheet a paper and put it in a 3-Ring Binder”
— Erin Castillo, Owner of Grow Your Health Gardening


Tomato Lover’s Heirloom Tomato Seed Collection by Grow Your Health Gardening Seed Co. is our top pics for anyone who wants to grow tomatoes not found in the big box chain or grocery store. A true culinary delight.

Let curiosity guide your research. Ask questions like:

  • What temperature does this plant like to grow in: Cool or Warm? Knowing the temperature preference of a specific plant cultivar will tell you what time of year to start growing that plant. For example, kale likes to grow when it is cooler. Okay. How cool? Is there a certain range of temperature it prefers? Okay. We find that it likes 70ºF-80ºF, but some varieties like Lucinato (Dinosaur Kale), Dwarf Siberian, Vates Blue Scotch, Premier, White Russian, and Red Russian can tolerate SOIL TEMPS as low as 20ºF. I can look up those temperature ranges for the area I live in and look to see about when those temperatures are occurring. Then, when I look at the days to maturity, I can use a calendar calculator and count backwards from that temperature range and I can get my seed start date. Not sure how to quickly find a date? Just do a keyword online search for “count days calculator” or pull out an actual monthly calendar and physically count the days backwards with your finger.
  • What sort of lighting requirements does the plant need? Most vegetables need 8-10 hours of full sun a day. Consider watching where you have a sunny patch for the longest hours in a day. This is going to be your growing area. Don’t have a sunny patch and just a lot of shade? No problem! Invest in an indoor growing system with grow lights where you can control the temperature and grow year round.
  • What is the ideal pH range your plant needs to take up nutrients?
    Your pH level plays a very important role in which nutrients a plant can access and use to fuel it. I’ve provided a chart (below) to illustrate which nutrients a plant can take up when it’s within the ideal pH range. Most plants need somewhere between 5.5 to 6.8. Leafy greens prefer the 6.0 pH to 6.5 pH range whereas tomatoes prefer between 6.0-6.8 pH. Notice how kale, which likes it between 6.0-7.0 pH, when soil or water in a hydroponic or aquaponic system is kept between this range will be able to access nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Boron, Copper and Zinc and Molybdenum. If you’re growing hydroponically, you can quickly and easily test pH levels with a pH meter like this. If you’re growing in soil, you can get a soil test from your local county extension office for around $10. You can also get a device like this that will get you fairly close. Remember, soil takes several months to adjust the pH level. Hydroponics and Aeroponics takes only a few hours with either pH up or pH down.
pH Absorption Chart
pH Absorption Chart shows which nutrients are available to a plant based on pH range.
Grow heirloom beans and enjoy different flavor and texture profiles not found in your grocery store.
Heirloom Beans are a fun way of exploring a healthy and high protein food group. There are so many different types of beans (bush beans, pole beans, runner beans, etc.) that the options are endless in enjoying new types of beans you can’t find in the grocery store. Check out our line of heirloom beans at https://store.growyourhealthgardening.com
  • What sort of nutrients does my plant require?
    If you’re working in soil, it will be helpful to understand your soil food web and how micro-organisms and beneficial bacteria within the soil work together to help replenish nutrients in the soil for the plant to access. If you’re working in hydroponics or aquaponics, you’ll want to purchase a TDS meter and a well-rounded nutrient like this Mineral Blend. When you go to add your nutrients, simply keep your PPM levels within the ideal range the plant prefers. You can find a fantastic hydroponic cheat sheet here that we’ve created for your convenience.
  • How long does it take for my plant to grow?
    Knowing this tidbit of information helps you figure out when to start growing your desired plant and calculating days to ensure you can get your plant to harvest stage. For example, I know that kale takes about two months to go from seed to ready for harvest. Again, you can reference most of this information in a simple chart here.
  • How many should I plant to produce enough food for myself and my family? How does that fit in with the growing space that has enough lighting that I have to work with at home? Learning how big a plant gets and if it continues to grow after a harvest can help you understand what sort of return you’ll get from starting one plant and growing it out.
  • Are there any diseases or pests that may target the plant I intend to grow? Can I take any preventative measures that don’t require chemical applications? For example, kale can get hit by the army worm. The eggs are laid by pretty white butterflies on the underside of the kale leaf where their young can have an instant food source. By simply covering your food crop with a net before these butterflies show up, you can dramatically increase your success rate and achieve your goals in growing healthy food. And know that it’s perfectly fine to learn as you go… don’t feel that you have to have a handle on all of this before you begin. When something shows up, you can look up what it is and how to deal with it. It’s part of the learning process.
Fall Winter Spring Cool Season Lettuce Chicory and other Greens Harvested and grown hydroponic organically grown
  • What can I do with what I grow?
    How can it be preserved? For example, if I have a lot of kale, I can dehydrate it and make cheesy kale chips to store in my pantry (which my kids love). I can freeze it and use it in morning smoothies. I can dehydrate it and use in soups for added nutrition. Thinking how you already use this food will help you anticipate and plan ahead when the plant is ready to harvest.
  • How will growing this benefit me?
    We are such a consumer culture that wants things ready in an instant. We have to break this cycle. We forget that there is joy to be found in the rhythm of being more connected to our food and the process of seeing something from beginning to end — from seed to harvest to table. There are intangible benefits to note, like getting more exercise and being outside in the sunshine and fresh air which produces Vitamin D in your body and (sleep chemical). It relaxes your body which reduces stress and cortisone levels giving your thyroid a break. Then there’s the actual nutritional benefits. What vitamins does the plant you intend to grow give to your body? How will those nutrients help you be healthier and stronger? Sitting down and focusing on these things and having them written down will motivate you to keep going when you encounter any challenges to overcome along the way.
Background Image credit: Kim Kight Moda Fabric Nov 2021 Release

Step 3: Reap the rewards. Bask in the benefits of your time and effort.

I just can’t describe how good it feels to have those you love, enjoy eating something that I grew. It feels good knowing I gave them the very best thing that they could eat and KNOW that it wasn’t sprayed or treated with any chemicals. One of the best feelings ever. I remember when I learned to grow basil and made pesto. My kids loved it! (And I did, too!) I loved that I could easily make it and put in the freezer for a quick week-night meal and that it was immune boosting. It’s the “new elderberry syrup” for improving our health. (Yes, basil is that healthy!)

organically grown hydroponic aeroponic basil in vertical garden growing system called the Tower Garden
Herbs are an easy starting place in learning to grow your own food and you reap the rewards of better flavor in your dishes
Rosemary Lemon Chicken is a tasty dish and the flavors are more pronounced with freshly picked and harvested rosemary. Check your growing zone to see what rosemary varieties are frost-hardy in your area.
Rosemary harvested can be dehydrated and stored to add to any dish later on.

If your plant didn’t grow or produce like you thought it would, that’s okay, too! In our home, we know that not meeting our goal or objective doesn’t equate to failure. Failure is when you don’t even try. If you feel discouraged, pick up your bootstraps and realize you have already succeeded because you took that difficult first step when so many others wouldn’t even attempt it. You are further along than you were before you ever tried. We can learn from everything we do. And as you’ll see in growing plants, every plant has very specific needs that must be met in order for them to grow (which also may make you reconsider the whole antiquated evolution theory and how things just may have “coincidentally happened” … more on that another time… but I think you may discover that plants are more complex than just throwing a seed in the ground. They were designed with a purpose and need specific parameter to grow and thrive.)

Backyard chickens eat from a metal basket hung at pecking height during the winter full of kale.
Even the chickens can enjoy the fruits of our labor. Kale is a FANTASTIC healthy green (or purple in this case) to feed chickens in the winter. Here, we hang a wire basket and share some of the bounty with our girls knowing what they eat will benefit us as well when it comes time to enjoy the eggs they produce.

So remember, there are countless benefits to consider. Think about and write down how learning about that one plant has or will benefit you. When I consider my own journey, growing my own food has been more than just plants though…. I have gotten off the couch and out from behind my desk and computer (except for this moment of course as I write to you) and it gets me actively moving my body which is good for me. I love to wear earbuds and listen to music or Podcasts as I work, so it is a moment where I can step away from my life responsibilities and refuel my mind and spirit while accomplishing a gardening task like pruning, checking on water lines and levels, or checking for pests. Know that you’ll benefit as well in the same way; research tells us that those who garden are happier. I’m also getting a good dose of Vitamin D from that sunshine and producing melatonin which both help your immune system. I have a college degree and could work in any corporate setting, but I have purposely chosen this natural permiculture and hydroponic organic method of growing food, because it is healthier for me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, it is something a can do with my children, teaching them how plants grow and why they should grow them. I am sowing into not only myself, but the next generation.

Background Image credit: Kim Kight Moda Fabric Nov 2021 Release

Step 4: Repeat.

After you’ve finished the growing cycle of your plant and have accessed how it went in your gardening journal, repeat the process the next season. Pick another type of plant you’re interested in learning more about and pursue it. But here’s the cool thing… because you have already learned how to grow that other plant, you can now choose another variety within that same plant group and grow it AND the new plant you’re interested in learning more about. As you repeat this process season after season, before you know it, you’re growing a whole slew of healthy plants and enjoying reaping the benefits!

Let us know which plant you’re curious about and plan on learning more this year in the comments below!

Happy growing,

Erin

Erin Castillo is the owner of Grow Your Health Gardening and Lead Grower of GYHG Seed Co. She is certified in hydroponics and growing food using organic methods. She believes that life is to be lived to the fullest.

Shop seed grown by us GYHG Seed Co using organic methods.

8 Reasons GMOs are not good for our food system (and gardens)

Know that there shouldn’t be GMO seed available to consumers and is sold to producers only at this time, but you need to be aware of what is happening in our food supply chain as it could affect you in what you consume from the grocery store.

With genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we risk transforming our food into a patented commodity controlled by a few multinationals, and stripping farmers and consumers of their rights. GMOs are unreliable from a scientific point of view, inefficient in economic terms and unsustainable in an environmental analysis. Little is known about them from a health perspective and from a technical standpoint they are obsolete.

What are GMOs?

A GMO is an organism in which a gene belonging to one species is transferred to the DNA of another – for example a bacterium to a plant. This process cannot occur in nature through breeding or natural genetic cross over.

What aren’t they?

Supporters of GMOs would like to make consumers believe that they have always existed. In reality, they are intentionally confusing the genetic engineering that produces GMOs with other biotechnologies such as grafting, interbreeding, seed propagation, etc. These techniques, some of which are thousands of years old, actually underlie the fundamental developments made by agriculture and humanity itself. GMOs are born exclusively in laboratories; there is no way in which they can be created in nature.

Some stats on GMOs

  • 14 million agriculturists across 25 nations plant genetically modified seeds on 134 million hectares. (2009 data).
  • Of the crops grown worldwide, GMOs represent 77% of the soya, 49% of cotton, 26% of corn and 21% of rapeseed. This is a clear sign of the great decrease in biodiversity on cultivated land.
  • In the first phase of GMO cultivation, between 1996 and 2005, they were used primarily across the Americas. Since 2006 however, the greatest growth has occurred in Asia and Africa.
  • GMOs have been around for 30 years, with the first GMO plant dating back to 1981. But after a great amount of research, in practice only four GMO plants are being used commercially – soya, cotton, corn and rapeseed – and only two characteristics have been integrated: tolerance to herbicides and resistance to insects.


1. GMOs don’t feed the world

99% of GMO crops are not destined for human food, but rather for animal feed and biofuels. Land dedicated to growing GMOs is being expanded at the expense of food production.

2. It is not true that GMOs are more productive

GMOs have not increased productivity. According to official data from the United States Department of Agriculture, there has been no recorded increase in the soya and corn yield following the introduction of GMOs to American agriculture.

3. GMOs do not reduce the use of chemical products

Genetically modified plants are resistant to specific herbicides. For example, Monsanto sells genetically modified corn seeds and also sells Roundup Ready, an extremely potent herbicide that is the only one able to be used with cultivation of this corn. However, using Roundup on the GMO fields doesn’t eliminate all of the weeds: some resist the herbicide and this resistance is strengthened with each generation. These weeds become problematic and new chemical products must be invented to deal with them.

According to the Environment Working Group (EWG) this is a problem and why they, as a ‘think tank’ to monitor the government’s role in managing this with our food system.

“Nearly all corn and soybeans in the U.S. – totaling more than 150 million acres – are genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. But over-reliance on glyphosate has led to the growth of “super weeds” that are resistant to the weed killer. Today, more than 60 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with weeds resistant to glyphosate.

Because of this super weed problem, farmers are turning  to a chemical cocktail of glyphosate and 2,4-D, a possibly cancer-causing herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease and thyroid problems. The leading cancer researchers at the World Health Organization recently classified glyphosate alone as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.'”

4. GMOs impoverish biodiversity

GMOs require larger areas of land and intensive monoculture cultivation to reduce production costs. This in turn means farmers are displaced from their land and cultures and traditional knowledge are lost. In fact, a team of researchers reviewed 34 years of USDA census data on every recorded crop species grown in U.S. counties and found a “steady decline in diversity in almost every food-growing part of the country.” 

5. GMOs allow multinationals to control food

The multinational companies that patent and produce GMO seeds control the majority of the seed market and often also produce herbicides and fertilizers.

6. GMOs compromise food sovereignty for communities

How can organic, biodynamic and conventional farmers be sure that their crops haven’t been contaminated? The spread, even limited, of GMO cultivation in open fields will change the quality and state of our agriculture, taking away our freedom to choose what we cultivate and eat.

7. GMOs compromise freedom of choice for consumers

At the international level, labeling laws regarding GMO products lack uniformity and are insufficient. In Africa and Asia no legislation exists at all. In America there is no acknowledged difference between products containing GMOs and conventional products, and therefore it is not deemed necessary to inform consumers of the presence of GMOs. In Europe, producers are obliged to declare the presence of GMOs if in a quantity above 0.9%. However, also in Europe the majority of animal feeds commercially available contain genetically modified soya, but it is not obligatory to declare derivative products such as milk or meat on the label.

8. GMOs contribute to problems with bees and birds and an unbalanced ecosystem

In the last several years, numerous scientists have shown that neonicotinoids such as clothianidin are lethal for pollinators at agricultural field concentrations and are the most likely cause of colony collapse disorder in bees. Other studies show correlations between environmental neonics and the loss of birds, especially species that consume aquatic invertebrates.  

Learn more about herbicide use and GMO crops below.

STOP GMOs! 

Know that there shouldn’t be GMO seed available to consumers and is sold to producers only at this time, but you need to be aware of what is happening in our food supply chain as it could affect you in what you consume from the grocery store.

When choosing seed for your garden, always look for seed providers that have made a commitment to biodiversity and preserving seed DNA as seed stewards through non-GMO open-source, non-patented and heirloom seed (like seed grown by Grow Your Health Gardening.) Not only will you play a key role in helping to maintain biodiversity within our food supply, but you’ll also enjoy the nutritional benefit of these fantastic seeds!

Shop seeds adapted to growing in the southeast (hot and humid zone 7B) in hydroponic systems at store.growyourhealthgardening.com 

Sources: 

3 simple steps to help your decorative fresh pumpkins last longer

There are some fantastic faux pumpkins you can find at the craft store these days, but there’s nothing quite like having a fresh pumpkin for the front porch. If you’re heading out to your local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect pumpkin, be sure to pick up three additional items from the store to help preserve your pumpkin (if you don’t have these already): bleach, dish soap and matte paint spray sealer.

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

When you return home with your freshly harvested pumpkin, before placing your treasure on the front porch, do this:

  1. In a large sink or tub, prepare a mixture of bleach, water and dish soap: one (1) gallon of water, 2 tablespoons bleach, and a two drops of dish soap. Soak the pumpkin(s) in the mixture for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Next, rinse the pumpkin(s) with cool water and dry completely.
  3. After the pumpkins have dried all the way around them, take outside and give it a coat of spray matte sealer which will help preserve them even longer!
Pumpkin patch at local farm ready for guests to pick out the "perfect pumpkin" for their front porch.
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Have fun picking out your pumpkins! And be sure to share pics of your pumpkins with us on social media! Tag us at #gyhg or #growyourhealthgardening on Instagram, Gab, Google My Business, or Facebook.

Helpers in the Garden

While harvesting some kale this morning, this little guy hopped off of one of my leaves. If you’re a little squeamish of critters, keep in mind that tree frogs like these help eat aphids and other bugs that want to munch on your plants.

We also have green anoles (a type of small lizard) here in Zone 7 near Atlanta, Georgia. We used to spray 15 years ago and I noticed the anoles disappeared — we took away their food source!

Since then I have come to understand that these critters keep a balance to nature and show a healthy eco system is in place. Plus, my kids love to catch them! What helpers have you found in your garden?

Grow Guide: Growing your own Arugula in a Hydroponic or Aeroponic Tower Garden

Learn how to grow your own arugula at home hydroponically / aeroponically from certified hydroponic grower, Erin Castillo of Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

Quick Links:
• Jump to Starting Arugula from Seed
• Jump to Arugula Hydroponic Growing Guide
• Jump to Arugula Nutritional Information
• Jump to How to Use Arugula
• Or continue to read the article… enjoy!

Why you should be growing your own arugula instead of buying from the grocery store or Big-Box Retailer

You know how you go to a fancy restaurant and they bring you your salad course and before they leave your table they offer fresh pepper for your salad and with your permission proceed to grind cracked pepper onto your salad? Think of arugula as your cracked pepper of the salad world.

Why Grow Arugula and How To Use It

I wanted to feature Arugula, because I just don’t think people understand how versatile this plant truly is and that it is beneficial in so many ways. It is chalk-full of beneficial nutrients (which we will cover later in case you wanted to know) while also being low in calories.

It is ideal for new home gardeners in building confidence of gardening skills as it grows quickly from seed (aptly nicknamed “Salad Rocket” in some countries) and can begun to be harvested off of and tossed into salads with other greens when the leaves are still young and small at 2″-3″ in length. (Note: If you leave the center 3-4 leaves, it will continue to produce as a cut-and-come-again plant.) Arugula is often found in the produce aisle in salad greens mix and called “mesclun”.

Mature Full-Grown Leaves and How to Use Them

I as a mother of five know that life can get busy, so if you fall behind on harvesting leaves when small and the plant gets more mature, that’s okay! It will be “spicier” or “peppery” in taste as a mature plant. Take these 6″-8″ long leaves and slice them from tip to base into 1/4″ or thinner strips and sprinkle over your salad or mix in (think of it like your freshly ground peppercorn). Diced leaves can even be added to dishes that call for cilantro or parsley, or mixed into pastas, side dishes, put on top of sandwiches, in wraps and/or added to soups. Its flavor compliments goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, making it perfect to blend into dips or spreads.

fresh cut vegetable in bowl in kitchen
Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Arugula can also be added to your basil pesto as added flavor or if you like the peppery flavor, you can substitute arugula in place of basil and make an entire pesto out of arugula leaves. We like this happy medium of a pesto recipe in particular over at PCOSbites. It’s great if you are looking for something that isn’t the same ol’ pesto recipe, but full of nutrients while still tasting delicious. We think of it as the new “elderberry syrup” as an immune-boosting meal for our family.

Healthy Pesto in a Mason Jar
Photo by: PCOSbites: Healthy Pesto Recipe


We also love to add arugula baby leaves to our sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, and pine nut mini pizzas! The kids don’t bat an eye-lash at the greens on their personalized pizzas because these taste so good!

Mature leaves can also be cooked or sautéed much like you would cook collards. With a TBSP of sherry, soy sauce, minced garlic, and vegetable oil + 1/2 tsp of salt and granulated sugar you can have a quick healthy side dish to accompany your sun-dried tomato mozzarella chicken. YUM!

faceless man showing appetizing pizza with arugula in restaurant
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com


If you don’t plan on eating a salad and just want to move it out of your system to put something else in, simply clean harvested leaves with water and pat dry with paper towels and spread out on a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 110ºF for 6 hrs until it breaks crisp (no moisture left in leaves.) Do not crush leaves, but place in a glass jar with an oxygen absorber and put in your spice and seasoning cabinet. When a recipe calls for pepper or if you’re making a soup, simply add in your dried arugula. BAM! (As Emeril would say…) or YUMMO! (As Rachel Ray would say…) You will get a hint of that pepper flavor as well as all the amazing nutrients that this little power-packed leaf holds.

Tip: After you dehydrate your arugula, don’t crush the leaves. Store the leaves as one piece as much as possible. When you “crush” or break up the leaves, it releases the flavonoids and other beneficial nutrients. We want those to stay in tack until we are ready to consume it in our cooking, so I always encourage folks to hold off crushing your leaves for this reason. This is also why you may notice your home-grown herbs and spices have so much more flavor than the crushed and processed ones from the grocery store.

—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

Nutritional Benefits You’ll Get from Eating Arugula

So, we’ve covered how to use arugula. Let’s briefly touch on why you should be eating this green. According to the USDA, a half cup (approximately 10 grams) of raw arugula has about:

  • 2.5 calories
  • 0.4 gram carbohydrates
  • 0.3 gram protein
  • 0.1 gram fat
  • 0.2 gram fiber
  • 10.9 micrograms vitamin K (14 percent DV)
  • 237 international units vitamin A (5 percent DV)
  • 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
  • 9.7 micrograms folate (2 percent DV)
  • 16 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)

In addition, this leafy green contains some iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and choline. It also is rich in phytonutrients offering 1,424 mg of Beto-Carotene B

Did you know that one cup of Arugula can meet over a quarter of the daily recommended value of Vitamin K? Vitamin K is essential to blood clot formation and bone formation. Some researchers even believe that vitamin K may be a key factor in bone development, more so than calcium. I want my children to have strong bones as they grow and I encourage them to eat salads daily. One way to help provide their bodies with what they need is to mix in some arugula into their daily salad.

Tip: If you’re having difficulty getting your children to eat greens, involve them in the growing process. Give them a garden that is completely their own area to tend and help them grow plants from seed. As they feel more connected to their food, their natural curiosity will kick-in and they will willingly try the food they have patiently waited for to grow.

—Erin Castillo, Owner Grow Your Health Gardening and GYHG Seed Co.

How to Grow Arugula in a Hydroponic System

In this article, I’ll focus on growing it hydroponically, because that’s my preferred method of growing, but a lot of the same tips can be applied to growing in soil.

You can grow arugula in any hydroponic or aeroponic system. In a vertical garden growing system like the Tower Garden or Farm Stand, you’ll want to place this plant towards the top as you will most likely be harvesting from it continuously and keeping the plant size small.


Starting your arugula from seed:
Choosing your arugula variety

If you’re growing in a hydroponic / aeroponic system, we strongly recommend you opt of seed that has already adapted to these growing conditions. Can seed from soil-grown parent plants grow hydroponically? Absolutely, but plants adapt epigenetically each growing season, so you’ll have a stronger healthier plant if you start out right with seed that has already adapted to the growing conditions you want to match. According to growers at the Seed Savers Exchange, seed DNA can hold 5+ years of growing seasons in which it can tap to survive and thrive. Choosing your seed stock source is more important than most realize.

Our arugula seed has been grown outdoors in the cool season of the Southeast in Zone 7 (not mentioning the zone here because it’s a perennial, but to help you get an idea of where the seed is grown so you can best match it to your own growing conditions.) GYHG Seed Co arugula seed can handle heat and humidity to a point before it bolts, but definitely plan on growing this during the cool season and start your seedlings 2 weeks before your last average frost date with the intention to move it outdoors as a transplant.

How many plants should you plant:

If you are wanting arugula on hand to pick fresh and mix into salads, I recommend planting four plants on a rotation (see below charts.) Place in upper level of Tower Garden or Farm Stand.

This is also a seed that you will want to plant on a continual basis on a four to five week cycle, so if you don’t have a Seed Starting Station set up already, you will want to read up about how to get one set up here. We recommend to plant four plants and keep them in your upper level of your Tower Garden or Farm Stand vertical garden growing system.

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 1 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 3 seeds
Start 2
rockwool
cubes
Transplant
Week 1
Seedlings
into TG
Transplant
Week 3
Seedlings
into TG
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening
Week 6Week 7Week 8Week 9Week 10
Nurture
Week 5 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 7 seeds
Start 2
rockwool cubes
Nurture
Week 9 seeds
Pull Week 1 Plants.
Transplant
Week 5
Seedlings
into TG
Pull Week 3 Plants.
Transplant
Week 7
Seedlings
into TG
Continue
pattern
of pulling
older plants
and
transplanting seedlings
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Harvest
baby
leaves
Copyright 2021 Grow Your Health Gardening

Arugula needs light to germinate. If you’re ever unsure of what a seed may require for germination, we have a handy resource on our Web site that lists out seeds that require special treatment that you may want to download or bookmark the page.

Outdoor planting in a hydroponics system: If planting in the spring, you will want to start your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse so that your seedling start will be about two to three weeks old by the time your last spring frost date rolls around. If planting in the fall, you’ll want to factor in your harvest date range and count backwards 4-6 weeks from your frost date.

Arugula likes to live around 45° to 65°F (10-18°C). Plant arugula so that it comes to harvest in cool weather. It may fail to germinate if it’s too warm. Use a UV light system of some sort to grow your seedlings indoors keeping the light source 8″-12″ if LEDs and 5″-6″ away from seedlings if fluorescent lighting.

LED-vs-Fluorescent1-bigger-1080x410


How many seeds to plant per rock wool: We recommend planting about 3-5 seeds per rock wool cube. Arugula typically germinates within 4-8 days. Be sure to use seed that is packaged for the current growing season as it will aide your ability to germinate the seeds. You can always remove any excess seedlings down to two plants as the plants mature if you are concerned about crowding. Our philosophy is start out with more and thin down as needed (but don’t toss those microgreens you pull — they are healthy for you to eat as micro-greens).

How much nutrients you should give your seedlings:  Keep rockwool moist to the touch but not drenched. When you see a sprout, you can add a tsp of kelp to your water and water the young seedlings while giving them bright light from a grow light.

Thinning out your seedling starts: As the seeds germinate and grow, you will want to pull (or also called “thin out”) the weaker seedlings from the rock wool. (Remember, this is not a wasted plant — you can simply enjoy eating it as a microgreen.)  You will want to leave leave 1-2 plants per rock wool to grow to maturity.

Transplanting your seedlings into your hydroponic system:  Seedlings should be ready to transplant to your Tower Garden or hydroponic system about 2–3 weeks after sprouting. Seedlings plants should be about 1-2 inches tall, with 3-4 true leaves, before they are ready to leave the nest and enter into the hydroponic / aeroponic Tower Garden or other related system.

Finally, remember that arugula plantings should be staggered in roughly 2-3 week intervals in order to ensure a continuous harvest. If doing a spring planting, your growing season will be longer than a fall planting. You can extend your fall outdoor planting season by adding a professional grade heater to your Tower Garden reservoir keeping water temps in the 50-65º F range for the root zone to continue to uptake nutrients — just be sure to cover your Tower Garden outside with a weather protection blanket like this when freeze warnings appear.


delicious pasta bolognese with arugula and pink salt
Photo by ready made on Pexels.com

Nutrient levels for optimal growth throughout the growing season for arugula:

Nutrients:
EC:
 0.8 – 1.2
(We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)

PPM: 560 – 840
(We recommend Tower Tonic Mineral Blend™ for a well-balanced nutrient solution to feed your plants the proper N-K-P and micro-nutrients. You can purchase a 1 gallon set of Part A and Part B here.)

pH:  5.5-6.2
(pH is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients.)

Light: (Amount of sun or light exposure throughout the day)
Hydroponic arugula should get between 10 and 14 hours of light per day.

Arugula Temp Tips:
(Root zone temp is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients)

  • Maximum Temp 75º Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Optimal Day Cycle Temp  65º – 70º Fahrenheit
  • Optimal Night Cycle Temp  60º – 65º Fahrenheit
    (Note: arugula can handle some frost so long as the root zone stays above 50ºF, so use a water heater in your reservoir if you want to try pushing the limits on it growing in the cold.)
  • Seed Storage  40º to 70º degrees Fahrenheit
  • Germination  60º to 75º degrees Fahrenheit

Companion plants:

SOIL Growers: Note — Do not grow in soil with pole beans or strawberries. Good companion plants are bush beans, celery, carrots, nasturtium, mint, dill, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, rosemary, potatoes

HYDROPONIC Growers: See first chart on Cool Season Plants on this page for reference of what grows well at similar PPM ranges and pH ranges in a hydroponic / aeroponic system.


Harvesting your arugula:

Make a note of how many days to maturation on the variety of arugula you are planting and mark your calendar or in your gardening journal. When your plants have reached the baby leaf stage, take a sanitized clean pair of hand trimmers or scissors and cut the outer leaves of your arugula plant, leaving at minimum three center leaves to continue to grow. The plant will continue to produce leaves for you but will become spicier as the plant matures. If you don’t want spicier leaves, simply pull the mature plant at 5-6 weeks of age and replace the plant with a new transplant (see chart above). Ideally, your arugula should be eaten within a few hours of harvest; however, if storage is necessary, the correct conditions to prolong shelf life are rapid cooling down to 34°F (we accomplish this with an ice bath of water) and then spin the leaves dry and place between dry paper towels in a sealed lettuce container with and 95-98% percent humidity.

How to store arugula that is not consumed right away:

If you have more arugula producing faster than you can eat, there are a couple of options: dehydrating or freezing.  To dehydrate your arugula leaves, place on a dehydrator rack at 110º F for 6-24 hours. When the leaves are crunchy (you can break them in half), remove from the dehydrator and place in a tightly sealed pouch or Mason jar with an oxygen absorber. Dehydrated arugula can be used in soups and ground into a powder to add to pestos, soups, or even on meats for additional nutrients.

You can also freeze your crop in an air-tight bag or container and use in smoothies or defrost and use in recipes that may call for herbs.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below and happy growing!


Sources:

7 TIPS FOR THE MAKING OF A GOOD AND USEFUL seed label

The more plants you begin to grow, you’ll begin to realize the importance of staying organized. As the plant begins to mature, knowing when you started the seed and when it should be mature will aid you in gauging when to begin harvesting or even how old a plant may be and if you should pull it and replace it with another.

We grow hundreds of varieties of plants per season on our property and have found that labeling is essential. Even if you are not planting many plants, knowing what you planted and having a quick reference will be essential to knowing and learning more about your plants. Here’s what we include on our labels and some tips that help along the way:

  • Use a label that offers space enough to record data/info
  • Record plant variety and kind
  • Record start of seedling date
  • Record anticipated maturity date for when you should be able to begin harvest
  • Optional: Record any special characteristic that helps to identify it — especially if you have more than one variety growing of the same kind of plant (ie: seed stock source, ppm range)
  • Use a non-fading permanent marker
  • Point the label away from the sun.
  • A best practice to do a back-up label as well

The Foundation: Your Actual Choice of Label Style

We love the look of bamboo labels, which is a recyclable material, so if your budget allows, this is a great option. This is cost-prohibitive on a larger scale for our seed production, so we opt to use plastic labels and recycle them. When we are finished using the label, we give them a quick rinse with soap and water and then place them in a sealed jar of 91%-94% rubbing alcohol to soak and process them (clean them) during the winter months. After a bit of soaking in 91%-94% Rubbing Alcohol, you can strip off the permanent ink pen writing when you rub with a cotton ball or paper towel and apply a little bit of pressure.

For those growing in soil, if you have access to an old white window covering blind (the kind you put in the window to shade your home interior from the sun), many Master Gardeners like to cut these down and use them as plant markers / labels using a permanent marker or wax pencil.

Tip: If you use plastic labels like the ones shown above and a permanent marker and you make a mistake, simply use 91%-94% isopropyl rubbing alcohol to remove marker.

Use rubbing alcohol to remove permanent marker (Sharpie).

Some Tower Garden or Lettuce Grow Farmstand hydroponic / aeroponic home growers will use painter’s tape and write info on that and stick it to the actual vertical garden growing system. We’ve found that if it is outdoors, it can weather and come off if you have a longer season of growth, but it works great if you’re growing indoors. We like this tape and use it for our Grow Order Client Orders that are grown indoors. We like that it is 2″ wide so we can write our client’s name as well as the plant variety, start date, and harvest date all on the same short strip.

Click photo above to find on Amazon

Tip: When placing tape on your vertical garden growing system, try to place ABOVE the port as sometimes water can drip downwards from a leaf. And try to only use tape if growing indoors as weather can cause removable tape to loose it’s adherence to your grow tower.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use duct tape on your hydroponic / aeroponic vertical growing system. It may be difficult to remove and will leave a sticky residue.

We’ve also heard of some people writing directly on their Tower as well. The challenge with using an erasable marker is if the Tower Garden gets bumped in any way, you may lose valuable information. The other challenge is that a vertical garden like the Tower Garden or Lettuce Grow Farmstand will need weekly maintenance of wiping down the exterior so that you don’t get minerals building up in the nooks and crevices. The other factor is if you’re growing outside, you may want to periodically spray down your plants with a shower level of pressure of water to not only rinse off the exterior of your hydroponic growing system. This not only cleans your tower but also helps to knock-off any aphids or bugs that may be hiding underneath leaves or in plant crevices. If you were to have removable ink on your growing system, you would lose valuable information with the introduction of water.

So, when looking at your foundation of the kind of plant tag or plant label you plan to use, consider how the weather (rain and sun) is going to affect it as well as water and routine cleanings around where it will remain.

Record Plant Variety and Kind

We always list variety first and plant kind in caps on the second row. This makes for a quick visual check when grouping similar plants together as seedlings or when placing in a growing area or hydroponic system.

Record Start of Seedling Date

We like to put our seed start date in the left-hand corner of our label and the harvest date on the lower right. The key here is just to be consistent as it speeds up efficiency when you’re in the garden checking on plants. Our eyes scan when they read and having information in the same spot on every plant tag or label will save you time in the long run. Consistency is your friend when your looking to make things efficient in your garden.

Record the Anticipated Days to Maturity Date

Often you will see in seed catalogs or on seed packets “Days to Maturity” noted. This notation is not determined from seed start date, but is intended as what to expect from the date of transplant. To figure out days to maturity, use the following loose formula:

Days to Germination + 2 weeks + Days to Maturity = When you can expect to harvest

To quickly calculate your harvest date, use the formula above and enter that number into this handy date calculator. (Make sure you use the tab for “Add or Subtract Date”. (See blue line under “Add Days” in example screen shot below.) Begin by entering your date of seed starting and calculate days of germination, plus two weeks for seedling growth, plus days to maturity from seed packet or catalog description. This will give you total number of days. Make sure the Add/Subtract drop down has selected “(+) Add” and then enter a numerical value under “Days” and hit “Enter” on your key pad. Below, you will be given the “Result” date. This is what you will write on your label.

https://www.timeanddate.com/date/dateadd.html

Granted, each plant and growing condition is different (i.e.: plant receives more light and more nutrients and may grow faster than standard days to maturity. Note: If you’re growing hydroponically, realize that plants in general grow 30% faster, so don’t be surprised if you check your anticipated maturity date and your plant is already maturing before that date has arrived.

Record Any Special Characteristic that you want to Remember for Future Reference

When I was starting out growing food hydroponically, I would put PPM ranges on my tag to make sure I grouped plants together that liked the same range. Then I sat down one day and did some figuring and came up with these handy charts for reference. Now, I simply refer to the charts to know what plants go best with each other depending on whether it is a cool growing season or warm growing season. I no longer need to put that information on my label and can use that space for other information.

If I am growing a special collection (ie: Tom Wagner Varieties of tomatoes), I may want to grow those plants together so I can observe their growth patterns and development. An indeterminate or determinate tomato would grow differently from one other, so knowing the growing habits of the seedling I’m holding helps me to quickly place it in the best suitable spot in my garden. A micro-dwarf tomato can grow at the top of a vertical garden growing system like the Tower Garden because it is a determinate and will stay a certain small size that doesn’t need support whereas an indeterminate tomato will need to be trellised from the side and grown towards the lower part of the Tower Garden.

Sometimes we grow the same variety using two different seed stock sources. Diversity is good for strengthening seed stock. So sometimes, I will designate the seed stock source so I can compare plants while in the garden to see which line perhaps has more rigor before I do any cross pollination. In these situations, I just use the first letters of the seed stock sources name as a reference (ie: “SSE” would be Seed Savers Exchange).

red flower fields
Photo by Magnus D’Great M on Pexels.com

Think of the Sun with Labeling

You may not realize, but some permanent markers are not very permanent when those UV light waves begin to hit them day after day. My sweet son had gotten me some permanent markers from the dollar store with his own money as a Mother’s Day gift and I used them on a few labels and they faded within months. I had to go over them with another type of permanent marker. Here are some options that should last through the season:

Another easy thing you can do to prolong your tag’s writing is point it away from the sun — at least until the plant has developed leaves to shield it from the sun’s rays.

The other good practice you can do is implement a secondary label. I’ve heard of some gardeners who grow in soil, bury a second label under the soil level near the plant for future reference. I tend to forget where I bury things if they are not marked, so instead I like to use these Tyvek wrist bands to loop around the plant as it gets big enough. This is especially helpful on plants that take a good while to mature like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. You can create a system of your liking using different colors, but I tend to just stick with neon yellow, because it’s quick to find when I need to find it.

As you tackle your seed starting, I hope this has inspired you to consider what information your plant will need to follow it in it’s journey towards harvest. With just a few simple considerations, you can be set up for success and at the end of the growing season have the information you need to make decisions for the next growing season!

Happy Growing!
—Erin

Announcing our 2021 Tomato Seed Line Up

We have been busy seeding tomatoes this week inside in preparation for the 2021 growing season and we look forward to bringing you hydroponic adapted seeds once our trials have completed. I search far and wide for unique varieties that cannot be found at the grocery store or big box gardening centers and even from large seed producers. We even have some rare varieties we are excited to try and share with you if they do well in our trials.

Every season, I feel it’s important to have FUN while you grow food for you and your family, so here are some of my personal FUN goals…

In particular, this year, I think I’m going to try and tackle growing the largest tomato I’ve ever grown. I’m thinking like, state fair size. My seed stock for this challenge comes from a private grower in Italy and we shall see how it adapts to our growing region.

I’m also focusing on more plum varieties this year, so we can make some amazing sauce and preserve it for the winter to feed our family of seven. I did some extra research and selected varieties that were favored by other tomato connoisseurs.

I’m also particularly excited about our new line-up of micro-dwarf tomatoes that don’t require a trellis and have usually one or two flushes of tomatoes before they complete their growing cycle. Because of their compact habit, they are ideal for growing in the vertical Tower Garden and for those who want to grow in small spaces like in the Aerogarden, Farm Stand, or even in a pot on your back patio or deck.

Our seed is adapted to hydroponic growing conditions in Zone 7 just west of Atlanta, Georgia. I share this info not because tomatoes are a perennial (which is typically the reason for looking at growing zones), but instead to help our home growers know where their seed is grown, so they can match it to their own growing conditions for success. Our tomatoes are all grown outdoors in heat and humidity and hand-pollinated with the exception of our micro-dwarfs which are grown indoors to limit cross-pollination.

We give our mature tomatoes a PPM range of 1400-2000 and a pH of 6.0-6.5 for maximum nutrient uptake. We recommend using the Tower Garden Mineral Blend for healthy plants and maximum growth. If you’re wondering what grows well with tomatoes in a hydroponic system, we encourage you to visit this page on our Grow Your Health Gardening Web site for more information.

If you wonder why tomato seeds can cost more than other seeds, know that tomatoes are very time-and-labor intensive to grow and require a lot of personal management with seed starting, pruning, scouting for any pest pressure, or any efforts to boost immune system through foliar application of comfrey tea and molasses tea (which helps to bring out flavor).

15 Slicer Tomato Variaties:

  • Apricot Brandywine Tomato
  • Black Passion Tomato
  • Big Rainbow Tomato
  • Delice De Nevilly Tomato (Rare)
  • Genovese Tomato (Rare)
  • Great White Heirloom Tomato (Low-Acid)
  • Green Elf (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Merveille Des Marches Tomato (Rare)
  • Nostrano Grasso Tomato (Rare)
  • Orange Orangutan Tomato
  • Paul Robeson
  • Pineapple Tomato
  • Pomodoro Gigante Farina Tomato (Rare)
  • Thornburn’s Terra Cotta Tomato (Rare)
  • Wagner Blue Green Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)

8 Paste Tomato Variaties:

  • Black Plum Paste Tomato
  • Cancelmo Family Ox Heart Tomato
  • Cassidy’s Folly Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Cream Sausage Plum Tomato (Tom Wagner Variety)
  • Dwarf Sneaky Sauce Micro-Dwarf Plum Tomato
  • Goatbag Plum Tomato
  • San Marzano Plum Tomato
  • Speckled Roman Plum Tomato

8 Cherry Tomato Variaties:

  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Blue Cream Berries Cherry Tomato
  • Brad’s Atomic Grape Cherry Tomato
  • Green Doctor’s Frosted Tomato
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato
  • Red Pear Cherry Tomato
  • Sweetheart Cherry Tomato
  • Yellow Pear Cherry Tomato (Low Acid)

24 Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomatoes:

  • Annie’s Singapore Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Bonsai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Dwarf Suzy’s Beauty Tomato
  • Gold Pearl Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Fat Frog Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Florida Petite Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Hahms Gelbe Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Hardins Miniature Micro-Dwarf Tomato
  • Inkspot Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Kookaburra Cackle Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Little Red Riding Hood Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Mo Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Monetka Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Olga’s Round Chicken Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Peachy Keen Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Pigmy Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Purple Reign Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Regina Red Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Regina Yellow Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Snegirjok Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Vilma Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Wherokowhai Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato
  • Willa’s Cariboo Rose Micro-Dwarf Tomato
  • Yellow Canary Micro-Dwarf Cherry Tomato

What do you look for in a tomato? What are your tomato aspirations for the upcoming growing season? Drop us a line in the comment section below!

Happy Growing!
— Erin

how red can boost your production by 20% percent + two ways to enhance flavor in your tomatoes

I was listening to a podcast by one of my favorite market growers from Alabama, Noah Sanders, and he had a guest on from Kaleva, (Northern) Michigan, Craig Shaaf, from Golden Rule Farm who mentioned that he put red dye in an empty soda bottle and it helped his tomatoes mature earlier than anyone else’s tomatoes in the area while also sighting a Clemson University Study.

So, being that we drink a lot of sparkling water in our house, I had an empty liter lying around (we typically repurpose these for terrariums in cold hardy annuals but that’s a something to discuss for another day), so I filled it with some water and added several drops of red food coloring to it and sat it on my indoor Tower Garden near some micro dwarf unripened cherry tomatoes I was growing. Low and behold, two days later, the cherry tomatoes closest to the red-colored water began to ripen from the bottom up!

Red reflective Far-Red light encourages tomatoes to ripen.

Studies using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) Show Increased Yields for Certain Plants

Research originally started during the 1980s and led to development of SRM-Red, a selective reflecting mulch that has been available commercially since 1996. Plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer, who retired from the Agricultural Research Service‘s (ARS) Coastal Plains Soil, Water and Plant Research Center at Florence, S.C. found that plastic colored-mulch’s controlling factor is not the colors themselves, but how the colors adjust the amount of blue light and the ratio of far-red (FR) to red light that plants receive reflecting from the ground upwards.

The studies used a red plastic mulch (also referred to as Selective Reflecting Mulch, or SRM for short). It is similar to black plastic mulch used frequently by growers to help warm the soil, prevent erosion, and retains moisture. The red plastic mulch is often thinner than most black weed block and allows more light (and sometimes weeds) through it.

But red plastic mulch’s true strength is in its ability to reflect certain red light waves back onto the growing plant, thereby accelerating fruit production and increasing overall yields. Past ARS work showed that red plastic mulch produced larger tomatoes and produced 20% more than black plastic mulch counterparts and the red plastic mulch also sweeter-smelling, better-tasting strawberries.

Similar results were found on peppers and eggplants as well as with lettuce.

ARS’ also tried the red plastic mulch with cotton, carrots and basil. They found that color of the plastic mulch can affect the roots, stems, leaves and seeds, as well as the fruits, of many other food and crop plants.

Research on cotton showed that cotton fibers grew longer in bolls exposed to increased FR-to-red light ratios. Another study, on carrots, showed that concentrations of nutrients and compounds such as vitamin C and beta carotene in the roots of food crops could be changed by reflecting the right waves of color onto the plants’ leaves.

What’s more, in studies with basil, the amounts of blue, red and FR light reflected onto developing leaves affected their size, aroma and concentration of soluble phenolics. The phenolics are natural compounds, including tannins and pigments that can induce color, some flavors and odors, and antioxidant activity.

Basil leaves developing above red mulches had greater area, succulence and fresh weight than those developing above black mulch. When grown above yellow and green mulches, basil leaves developed significantly higher concentrations of aroma compounds and phenolics than did those of plants grown above white and blue mulches.

The concept of colored mulch sprouted when Kasperbauer wondered whether phytochrome was equally distributed in leaves. He became curious about what would happen if light impinged on the leaf’s lower, rather than upper, surface. “The plant response was the same, no matter which surface received the light,” says Kasperbauer. “Although that experiment seemed somewhat unconventional in 1962, it became highly relevant about 22 years later, when we determined that red and FR reflected from the soil surface could act through the plant’s phytochrome system to enhance yield and quality. That led to our colored-mulch work.”

Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM) helps to Deter Nematodes

What’s more, tests done by USDA’s plant physiologist Michael J. Kasperbauer and Clemson University nematologist Bruce Fornum showed that nematode damage can be lessened by red plastic mulch. They did an interesting study where they planted tomatoes into sterile soil — some rows covered in black plastic mulch and some covered in red plastic mulch. They then inoculated both rows with 0-200,000 nematode eggs. Their findings showed the black mulch produced 8 pounds of tomatoes whereas the red mulch produced 17 pounds! That’s roughly a 113% increase in yield battling the same conditions.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that red plastic mulch suppresses root nematode damage to tomatoes because the light reflection keeps more of the plant’s growth above ground. The plant’s energy goes into developing fruit and foliage, rather than roots. Nematodes feed on roots. The far-red light reflection to the above-ground plant draws away nutrients from the roots – and nutrients away from the nematodes. Fewer roots mean less food for nematodes. Less food = fewer nematodes.

Things to Consider When Using Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch (SRM)

  • Carefully secure red plastic selective reflecting mulch underneath your plants so that there is at least a foot on every side of the plant in it’s mature stage of growth.
  • Do not place the red plastic selective reflecting mulch in walking paths as it is thinner than other weed blocking materials.
  • Consider placing a weed block material underneath your red plastic SRM to help limit weeds from growing underneath.
  • Drip irrigation will be necessary underneath

Two other Bonus Tips for Boosting Flavor in Tomatoes:

  1. Place 1-2 TBSP of pure natural Molasses in a gallon of water and stir well to dilute it down and place into a spray bottle and spray your leaves. This will aid in bringing out flavor in your tomatoes.
  2. When your tomatoes are about 18″ tall, a little bit of stress at times can really boost flavor as well. Spray your plants about every 2 weeks with 1 standard strength 325 mg uncoated aspirin tablet mixed in a gallon of water and mix well until the aspirin is completely dissolved and then spray the tomato leaves with the aspirin solution (Salicylic Acid) to trigger tomato defenses. This will especially really beef up your Beef Steak varieties and boost the flavor profile as well.

Find Red Plastic Selective Reflecting Mulch for your Tomato, Pepper, Eggplant, Basil, Cotton, and Lettuce (and more) Crops

Better Reds Red Mulch for Tomato Growth

4′ x 100′ Roll of Grower’s Solution Red Plastic Mulch
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4′ x 50′ Roll of Grower’s Solution Red Plastic Mulch
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3′ x 24′ Roll of Red Plastic Mulch
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Sources:

• “Colored Mulch Can Help Cotton, Carrots—and Basil, Too” by Luis Pons
September 5, 2003 https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2003/colored-mulch-can-help-cotton-carrots-and-basil-too/
• “Review: Red Plastic Mulch for Tomatoes –Does It Make a Difference?http://www.tomatodirt.com/red-plastic-mulch.html
• “More than Meets the Eye: New Findings on How Mulch Color Can Affect Food PlantsUSDA ARS Online Magazine Vol. 51, No. 9
• “Color of Light Reflected to Leaves Modifies Nutrient Content of Carrot Roots” by George F. Antonious* and Michael J. Kasperbauer USDA
• “Colored Mulch Starves NematodesUSDA agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/ar/archive/1997/oct/mulch1097.pdf