The Whole Back Story

The teachings of our parents and grandparents who had massive vegetable gardens during the depression has always been a self motivation to “Grow Your Own” (GYO).


For myself the drive to have a great growing experience has always been there, but the success of our past gardens has not lived up to the gardens of my parents and grandparents.


Every year the ritual of picking out the young plants and seeds always lead to great expectations, but were dashed by rabbits, deer, insects, poor weather and soil.


Who ever said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, was spot on.


A little over a year ago it was determined again we would try something new and different. What ever was settled on, needed to produce good lettuce and good tomatoes. We love our BLTs!


When starting a new endeavor where do you go for help? Of course, Google!  Be ready to be immediately overwhelmed by the tsunami of information when you type “How to grow” anything.


After extensive site surfing it was determined that in order to start germinating seeds in January a good light source would be the first required purchase. The go to online retailer delivered a full spectrum 1200 watt (actual 120w) LED grow light in two short days. Immediately this was setup up in a corner of the basement with a cheap timer and it was time to get growing. This was the origin of "Krack-Pot Corner".


Mid January, after a lot of research we decided the Kratky method of hydroponics would be the simplest and cleanest way to start and grow plants in the basement. (Many good YouTubes on the Kratky method.)


Good light is one of the most important factors in growing seedling.


The second most important item is GOOD WATER! Especially if your going to be using hydroponic techniques.


Based on the extensive internet research, it became painfully clear why past gardening results were so bad. Bad Water! The local municipal tap water had a pH that was way to high. How high is too high? For a growing plant to have a good up take of moisture and nutrients the water and ground should have an average pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Big problem! The municipal tap water pH is about 8.5. For past gardens every time it would get hot and/or dry we would water the garden with municipal water. The soil helps to buffer the PH but it is painfully clear why the plants would get worse instead of improve. The pH of most rain water is in the low 7s and the buffering action of the soil lowers the pH further so it is the perfect solution for growing plants. The high pH municipal water stunned the plants. This problem prompted the purchase of two rain barrels to collect rain water for outside plantings and the starting base for the hydroponic solution, problem solved. (Used melted snow when available).


The next items acquired was a good pH meter, pH down solution, rock wool planting pellets, hydroponic fertilizer and seeds.


The beginning of February romaine lettuce seeds and two varieties of tomatoes were planted.


The lettuce only took about 30 days to mature and we would trim/harvest the bottom most leaves 2 to 3 times a week. This allows the new growth in the center of the plant to continue grow and mature. We were able to continue to harvest romaine lettuce from these first plants for about 3 months. So four plants provided plenty of fresh, crisp, organic lettuce for two people over that time. The first part of this project was a great success.


The first group of tomatoes were a different story, some good, some bad.


The good part was that they grew about twice as fast as any tomato seeds we have ever started. The bad part is that they were ready to transplant about 6 weeks earlier than planned.


The plants were strong, sturdy, and tall, but the Kratky mason jar method did not provide a good way to support them and they would continue to fall over. We cobbled together some supports but that really didn't work that well. We finally decided to transplant them to large buckets of soil and support them with stakes.


The second mistake was planting them in pellet carriers (net pots) that would not allow easy removal of the roots without harm. It was very tedious trying to remove the plant's entangled roots to transplant it. This first group of tomato plants didn't do as well as hoped.


Because of the above problems and 6 weeks until plants could be safely planted outside it was decided to start another group of tomato plant seeds.  This time we came up with a way to easily remove the rock wool starter pellet and plant by eliminating any netting and allowing the carrier to split. After multiple attempts and refinements the Krack-Pot plant carrier evolved.


The second group of tomatoes grew very fast and the timing to transplant them outside was perfect. Splitting the carriers and removing the plants without harm worked as planned. The tomatoes that we grew outside that years were some of the best we have grown.


We are now growing lettuce and kale exclusively indoors all year round and it is better and fresher than you can buy at the store or farmers market. At the price of organically grown lettuce and kale at the farmers market, it really doesn't take long to re-coop the expense to get started with your own indoor hydroponics.


Now the real question. Can tomato plants be grown all winter in the basement under a grow light using the Kratky method.


The answer is Yes! We started and grew two plants of the same variety we transplanted outside last summer. We did not have any problem with them getting too big and unstable because the Krack-Pot carriers were secured to the Kratky jar and support trellises were attached to the Krack-Pot  carriers.


Each plant had over two dozen tomatoes. The size of the tomatoes were smaller than the ones planted in the summer, but the flavor seem to be better. It probably has to do with the cooler temperature of the basement.


To have a BLT in the middle of winter with fresh organic lettuce and tomatoes makes this the best growing experience ever.


Mission accomplished!