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Ready for the coming frost? Learn 3 ways to extend your Hydroponic Growing Season

Are you ready for cooler temps? We’ve had a long stretch of heat in the Southeast, but cooler breezes have finally arrived! Hooray! 

Now is the time to think about your plants’ needs as the weather cools. We will go over what to do with your plant’s root zone in a future post, but right now it’s time to think about the foliage of your plants and how to protect them from the coming damaging affects of frost.

There are three ways to deal with frost: a) you can roll your TG indoors (like into a garage) when a frost warning occurs, b) you can purchase the lights that affix to the top of your TG and grow indoors 24/7 through the rest of the cooler seasons ahead, or c) get a Tower Garden Weather Protection Blanket. We are going to cover the cheapest option first: The Weather Protection Blanket.

The Tower Garden Weather Protection Blanket is made with metalized HDPE making it light weight and flexible to cover your entire Tower Garden containing all your vegetables and herbs. It will work to protect your plants as long as the temps stay above ~60°F during the day. The Weather Protection Blanket will extend your growing season, but at some point, the cooler temps during the day will impact the plants ability to flourish and your growing season outdoors will come to an end for the year.

Tower Garden by JuicePlus Weather Protection Blanket Erin Castillo

Watch your weather app for updates on any frost warnings and when they occur, put your Weather Protection Blanket over your TG for the night. Remove the Weather Protection blanket in the morning after all frost danger has passed. This extends your growing season. (The Weather Protection Blanket can also protect your crop from the UV rays that come with extreme heat.)

The below photo from NOAA shows anticipated early frost dates for Georgia. The Old Farmer’s Almanac expects November 13 to have a 30% chance of frost this year for the Atlanta region. Each winter, on average, your risk of frost is from October 24 – April 12. Almost certainly, however, you will receive frost from November 7 – March 30. You are almost guaranteed that you will not get frost from April 24 – October 10. Your frost-free growing season is typically around 195 days.

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To order a Weather Protection Blanket, (lighter weight and less likely to damage delicate plant leaves than a regular blanket) visit https://erincastillo.towergarden.com/shop/weather-protection-blanket

TowerGarden by JuicePlus Weather Protection BlanketTo order a rolling base that fits your Tower Garden like a glove, visit https://erincastillo.towergarden.com/shop/dolly

TowerGarden by JuicePlus Rolling DollyTo grow indoors 24/7 through the cooler months (October through April) using a flexible indoor grow light, visit https://erincastillo.towergarden.com/shop/indoor-grow-lights

Tower Garden by JuicePlus UV Indoor Lights

TowerGarden by JuicePlus+ ships quickly and typically delivers with 5 working days.

Recipe: Trio Heirloom Summer Salsa

Serve this refreshing, light salsa with quesadillas or devour with a side of chips! See if you can stop eating it! So so good!

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Growing your own baby spinach in a hydroponic or aeroponic system

Why you should be growing your own spinach instead of buying from the grocery store or big-box retailer:

If you follow EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ report that comes out around March every year, you’ve probably heard that conventionally grown spinach has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested, with three-fourths of samples tested contaminated with a neurotoxic bug killer banned from use on food crops in Europe. It has moved from being ranked 8th on EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list to number two in containing the most pesticides in fruits and vegetables presently being sold in supermarkets and grocery stores around the United States.  The USDA has also detected pesticides on frozen and canned spinach, which suggests that washing and cooking reduces, but does not eliminate pesticide levels. (You can read the full findings on spinach in a press release here.)

As you may already be aware, Spinach is a great source of vitamin A, folate and vitamin C and a good source of vitamin E and potassium. But for your body to receive all these nutritional benefits, it is essential to consume the spinach as quickly as possible following harvest. Baby spinach leaves have a very high respiration rate and studies have shown that the temp these leaves are stored at plays a key role. For example, one Hort Technology study found that Baby spinach leaves (harvested 36 days after planting) experienced significant losses in nutritional benefit. Both total antioxidant activities and Vitamin C content showed a decrease after 6 days when stored at 39.2°F, whereas the total antioxidant activities and vitamin C for leaves stored at 71.6ºF decreased immediately after 2 days.  The concentration of magnesium (Mg), zinc (Zn), and iron (Fe) for example, declined after 8 days of storage at 39.2ºF, while at 71.6ºF they declined after 2 days of storage. Total phenolic compounds gradually decreased in samples stored at 39.2ºF whereas, samples stored at 71.6ºF showed a rapid decrease after 4 days. Results demonstrated that quality of baby spinach deteriorates as storage time and temperature increase. (You can read more about the study here.)

Research shows that nutritional benefits degrade with every hour following harvest, so the sooner you can consume your food after it’s been harvested, the more nutrients your body will receive from the spinach.

Degradation happens not only with temperatures, but you also need to factor how long it takes to move the spinach from harvest, transportation, to the product sitting on the shelf to be purchased at the store. It is estimated that it takes about 10-days for produce to be shipped from where it is grown to get to the consumer’s plate. Ten days!!! And you, the consumer are relying heavily on whether or not that spinach was kept at a constant 39.2ºF or lower in the post-harvest transportation and storage process. Could the reason be it is cheap at the store is it is an inferior product compared to what can be grown in your own home?

With a little know-how, you don’t have to settle for sub-par spinach and greens. You can grow in your own home and harvest when you’re ready to consume your spinach and greens for optimal nutritional benefit.

For the purposes of this article, we are writing it with aeroponic / hydroponic Tower Garden by JuicePlus+™ growers in mind for either indoors or outdoors growing spinach in their own home of on a backyard deck, but the info will also work in related hydroponic systems so long as the environment fits the plant’s needs.

Growing your own baby spinach will offer you the peace of mind and gain self-assurance knowing that your home-grown baby spinach is clean. You will also be able to harvest for maximum nutritional benefit when the plant is at it’s peak nutritionally going directly from your Tower Garden to your dinner table in a matter of minutes!


Growing your own spinach:

To grow your spinach, here are some things to keep in mind with what spinach needs to grow successfully. Depending on the time of year and whether you are growing inside or outside are key factors to consider. Spinach is a COOL SEASON crop, so you’ll want to avoid extreme heat which can cause it to bolt (go to seed and become bitter).

Choosing your spinach variety:

Plant from seed making sure that you have new seed as older seed has a greater difficulty in germinating. Those varieties that are most suitable for the Tower Garden are recommended as follows:


Spinach: Noble Giant
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )Spinach variety Noble Giant for Tower Garden

  • Noble Giant Spinach is heavy, glossy, dark green plant with leaves that are heavily savoyed and crumpled.
    – Extremely delicious and one of the most popular spinach varieties you can grow in your Tower Garden or hydroponic system
    – Very easy to grow.
  • Days to Maturity | 45 days

Spinach: New Zealand
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )Spinach_-_New_Zealand_seeds_main_1024x1024

  • New Zealand Spinach seeds will produce very flavorful medium triangular-shaped green spinach leaves. New Zealand Spinach is a large growing plant.
  • This is one of the few spinach varieties that produces continuously all year, from spring to fall. The more you cut and use the more it will continue to grow.
  • And … Unlike the other spinach varieties, the New Zealand is one that can survive through the hot summers.
  • Days to Maturity | 75 days

Spinach: Bloomsdale
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )

Spinach_-_Bloomsdale_seeds_1024x1024

  • Bloomsdale Spinach will produce heavy, glossy, dark green leaves.
    – Excellent flavor
    – Extremely easy to grow
    – Large, curly dark green leaves
    – Nice sweet taste
  • Days to Maturity | 45 days

Spinach: America
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )

Spinach_-_America_seeds_1024x1024

  • America Spinach will produce a beautiful dark green plant in only 40 days. Smaller plant stature.
    – Excellent flavor.
    – Extremely easy to grow.
    – Grows best during the cooler months.
  • Days to Maturity | 40 days

Spinach: Matador Viking
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )

Spinach_-_Matador_Viking_seeds_main_1024x1024

  • Matador Viking Spinach will produce beautiful large and smooth dark green spinach leaves in only 45 days.
    – Excellent flavor.
    – Full of nutrients.
    – Extremely easy to grow.
    – Grows best during the cooler months.
    – Grows really well in containers and other small spaces.
  • Days to Maturity | 45 days

Spinach: Winter Giant
(100% Heirloom/Non-Hybrid/Non-GMO buy seed )

Spinach_-_Winter_Giant_seeds_1024x1024

  • Winter Giant Spinach seeds will produce very flavorful large green spinach leaves.
  • Winter Giant is a variety of Spinach which is a member of the Spinacia family. It is a Vegetable and is treated mainly as a Annual, this means that it grows best over the course of a single year. source: myfolia
  • Known for growing to a height of appx. 2 feet. 
  • Days to Maturity | 55 days

Choose slow-bolting varieties for later spring plantings. Disease resistance is more important for fall crops. Savoyed (curly) leaves are handsome and keep better. New Zealand spinach and Malabar spinach are warm-season greens similar to spinach, but different species.

Common spinach cannot grow in midsummer. (For a summer harvest, try New Zealand Spinach or Malabar Spinach, two similar leafy greens that are more heat tolerant.) — Old Farmer’s Almanac

If you’re later in the season and have missed your seed start date, you can always purchase spinach starts from an area hydroponic grower. We recommend driving to a local grower to pick-up any seedlings vs. shipping (remember shipping containers can be extremely warm or extremely cold which can damage tender young plants.)

How many plants should you plant:

It is estimated that you will want ideally 15 plants per person. For a family of four, you will want to plant an entire Tower Garden with one extension for 28 plants and keep two spinach plants per rock wool making for 56 plants total.

Starting your spinach from seed:

Cold stratification: One to three-weeks prior to planting some growers will store seeds in the refrigerator. It has the effect of hardening them and may lead to a healthier plant.

If you’re planting outdoors, you’ll want to pay attention to your frost and freeze dates in your area. You can find these dates doing a google search or here. (If planting indoors, you can ignore the next paragraph and skip down to the next paragraph as you can plant spinach any time of the year using the Tower Garden LED Indoor Lights with the assumption that you will keep your home in the temperature range spinach requires.)

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 four to six weeks old by the time your spring frost date rolls around. If planting in the fall, you’ll want to factor in your harvest date range and count backwards from your frost date. Note: in the fall, you will want to expose your seedlings to UV rays without excessive heat. Spinach likes to live around 45º-75º and may fail to germinate if too warm. For example, in the southeast, you will want to select a variety that has a short maturation date for a fall planting and 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.

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How many seeds to plant per rock wool: We recommend planting about 5 seeds per rock wool cube. Spinach typically germinates within 1–2 weeks. Be sure to use seed that is packaged for the current growing season as it will aide your ability to germinate the seeds.

How much nutrients you should give your seedlings:  Water daily with 1/4 strength nutrient solution until the seeds germinate and sprout. After sprouting use 1/2 strength solution.

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 try to replant in soil or simply enjoy eating it as a microgreen.)  You will want to leave leave 1-2 plants per rock wool to mature.

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 2-3 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 spinach 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 70º 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.


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

Nutrients:
EC:
1.5 mS cm-1  (1.2 for warmer temps)
(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: 1260-1610
(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:  5.8-6.2
(pH is essential to help the plant uptake nutrients.)

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

Spinach 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

Seed Storage  40º to 70º degrees Fahrenheit

Germination  60º to 75º degrees Fahrenheit


Harvesting your spinach:

Make a note of how many days to maturation on the variety of spinach you are planting (found on your seed packet) and mark your calendar. When your plants have reached maturation, take a sanitized clean pair of hand trimmers or scissors and cut the outer older leaves of your spinach plant, leaving three center leaves to continue to grow. The plant will continue to produce leaves for you throughout the growing season. Simply return and harvest the outer leaves leaving 3-4 center leaves each time for multiple harvests. Ideally, your spinach 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 and 95-98 per cent humidity (i.e inside a plastic bag).

How to store spinach that is not consumed right away:

If you have more spinach producing faster than you can eat, there are a couple of options: dehydrating or freezing.  To dehydrate your spinach leaves, place on a dehydrator rack at 110º F for 12-24 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 spinach can be used in soups and ground into a powder to add to pestos 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 spinach. The benefit here is that a) you know what is on your spinach (no pesticides!) and b) your ability to harvest and process immediately vastly improves nutritional value of the spinach you’re consuming.

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

Romaine Lettuce E Coli Outbreak April – June 2018 Timeline according to the FDA

Highlights

  • This outbreak appears to be over as of June 28, 2018.
  • CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections.
    • 210 people infected with the outbreak strain were reported from 36 states.
    • 96 people were hospitalized, including 27 people who developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
    • 5 deaths were reported from Arkansas, California, Minnesota (2), and New York.
  • Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicated that romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was the likely source of this outbreak.
  • CDC laboratory testing identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in canal water samples taken from the Yuma growing region. FDA is continuing to investigate the outbreak to learn more about how the E. coli bacteria could have entered the water and ways this water could have contaminated romaine lettuce.
  • According to the FDA, the last shipments of romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region were harvested on April 16, 2018, and the harvest season has ended. Contaminated lettuce that made people sick in this outbreak should no longer be available.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) identified ill people in several Canadian provinces infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coli O157:H7. On June 22, 2018, PHAC reported that the outbreak in Canada appears to be over.
  • Consumers should follow these steps to help keep fruits and vegetables safer to eat.
  • Read more on general ways to prevent E. coli infection. Important steps to take are to cook meat thoroughly, and wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.

What was the Problem and What was Done?

  • On April 4, 2018 FDA learned about a cluster of E. coliO157:H7 infections in two states and on April 5, 2018 a new cluster was reported in multiple states. In the following weeks, the FDA, CDC, and state partners worked together to collect additional information and conduct traceback activities to identify a food item of interest.
  • On April 10, 2018 the FDA publicly communicated about the outbreak, but was unable to identify a food source. The agency recommended that consumers practice safe food handling and preparation and to consult a health care provider if they think they might have symptoms of E. coli infection.
  • Interviews with ill people allowed health partners to identify chopped romaine from the Yuma growing region as the likely source of contamination on April 13, 2018.
  • April 16, 2018 was the final day of romaine harvesting in the Yuma growing region, however at the time chopped romaine had just been identified as the likely source allowing the traceback investigation to begin and at this point, no specific farms in the Yuma region had been identified. FDA did not receive confirmation of the final harvest date until May 2, 2018.
  • On April 19, 2018, Alaska health partners announced that eight persons with E. coli O157:H7 infections from a correctional facility have been confirmed as part of the outbreak. These individuals ate whole-head romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region. Following this announcement, the FDA advised consumers to avoid all romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region. This region generally supplies romaine lettuce to the U.S. during November-March each year. In the following weeks FDA continued its traceback investigation, part of which was able to trace the Alaskan correctional facility back to a single farm, which was released on April 27, 2018.
  • On May 2, 2018 the FDA received confirmation from the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement that romaine lettuce was no longer being produced and distributed from the Yuma growing region, reducing the potential for exposure to contaminated product. At that time, due to the 21-day shelf life, we could not be certain that romaine lettuce from that region was no longer in the supply chain.
  • On May 31, 2018 the FDA released a blog with updated information on our ongoing traceback investigation (for additional information, visit FDA Update on Traceback Related to the E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce).
    • The FDA is working closely with federal, state, and local partners on an ongoing traceback investigation to determine the source of romaine lettuce supplied to ill consumers. In a typical traceback effort, CDC and the FDA identify clusters of people who became ill, especially in different geographical regions and work to trace the food eaten by those made ill to a common source. For this outbreak investigation, we have been able to identify romaine lettuce as the common food source. Romaine products that would have caused illness were no longer available at exposure locations, making it difficult to determine production lots of concern. In addition, we have found that a single production lot may contain romaine from multiple ranches, which makes the traceback more challenging. We are working with federal and state partners and companies as quickly as possible to collect, review and analyze hundreds of records in an attempt to traceback the source of the contaminated romaine lettuce.
    • To date, the available information indicates that romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region is the source of the current outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections, and was supplied to restaurants and retailers through multiple processors, grower/shipper companies, and farms. The information we have collected indicates that the illnesses associated with this outbreak cannot be explained by a single grower, harvester, processor, or distributor. While traceback continues, FDA will focus on trying to identify factors that contributed to contamination of romaine across multiple supply chains. The agency is examining all possibilities, including that contamination may have occurred at any point along the growing, harvesting, packaging, and distribution chain before reaching consumers. (for additional information, visit FDA Update on Traceback Related to the E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Linked to Romaine Lettuce).
    • The traceback investigation is ongoing and additional information will be provided as it becomes available.
  • From June 4 – June 8, 2018 sampling for the environmental assessment was conducted in the Yuma growing region.
  • On June 28, 2018 the CDC announced that the outbreak has ended. In addition, the FDA and CDC announced preliminary sample results from the environmental assessment of the Yuma growing region.

What is E. coli O157:H7?

E.coli O157:H7 is a Shiga-toxin-producing (STEC) E. coli. The symptoms of STEC infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and bloody diarrhea. If there is fever, it is usually not very high (less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit/less than 38.5 degrees Celsius). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Around 5–10 percent of those who are diagnosed with STEC infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor. Most people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die. People who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working (acute renal failure), but they may also develop other serious problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, and neurologic problems.

 

Remember:

• Cut leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, require time/temperature control for safety and should be refrigerated at 41°F or lower.

• Wash all lettuce

June-2018-ecoli-outbreak- map-lettuce

https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-04-18/map.html