It Was A Matter Of Aesthetics

Guest Blog Entry from Cynthia:

Funny how ideas come to fruition…they emerge and evolve, get discussed and evolve, get designed and evolve. And all because Fred and I disagreed on one little, simple idea about wanting to grow our own organic vegetables.

Growing our own vegetables is a really good idea. Panama is a wonderful place to live, but the biggest disappointment, our biggest disappointment really, is food related. The selection of quality produce in our area is limited, and if you don’t shop on the days that the stands obtain their deliveries, well, the selection is really quite limited. That’s because the smart shoppers shop on the delivery days, and because the range of produce that most growers grow is not vast or as varied as we’re accustomed to having. You can reliably get cabbage, and chayote squash and culantro and watercress. But our pallets crave, crave tasty, flavorful, colorful veggies. You know, stuff like assorted varieties of lettuce and nice sweet baby carrots, radishes, bell peppers, green onions, garlic and white onions. Fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, cilantro. Mmmm. Fred (and my cat Harry) especially like butternut squash. And Swiss chard or spinach. I miss fresh strawberries more than life itself sometimes. I’m salivating as I write this, just thinking of these things.

But the thing is, having rows and rows of vegetables adorning or should I say cluttering our lot, was not what I had in mind for yard décor or landscape. And landscape ideas are supposed to be among my contributions to this new house project.

I should admit this here and now, right up front. I don’t like fighting insects or getting dirty slogging through soil to plant a garden. So an idea germinated, kind of like the seeds we want to sow. Why not a greenhouse? Why not a hydroponic greenhouse? It’s enclosed… It’s clean… Hmmm. Why not?

The idea started with a photo I found on Facebook (source):

I thought it would be perfect for an herb garden in the kitchen container #1 (more on this area in a future post). From there, the idea evolved to a greenhouse on the East side of Fred’s shop, and from that idea, evolved the next for a larger, hydroponic greenhouse in the same area. So Fred being Fred, was off to the computer to research the “how to” of hydroponic gardening on YouTube and Google. 

Fresh peas made it to the selection of vegetables we want to grow, and the security bars that we’ll build on the interior of the greenhouse will be perfect for training the runners for easy harvesting. We plan to have a gravel floor and translucent roofing panels for the siding and roof, with a knee height block wall to support everything. And the nice parts about this whole plan? All anyone else will see is a nice neat structure that’s incorporated into the landscape, no clutter of growing crops to obscure my flowers, and no getting my hands dirty in the planting/harvesting process. I’m already planning menus around the organic foods we crave and hope to grow.

It really was just a matter of aesthetics…

Fred adds his two cents worth:

I think that Cynthia found a great solution to an issue that has been dogging us since the get go of this project. I was ready to use the Square Foot Gardening method, but even I saw the problems with traditional in-the-soil gardening here in Panama. Here are some of the hurdles:

  • Our soil is clay-heavy and would need a lot of money for black dirt, rice hulls, and compost thrown at it to make it vege-ready.
  • Our soil is soggy or downright wet nearly all year round. Add a few hundred more dollars for raised beds.
  • Gardening in the rainy season, which is more than half the year, is nearly impossible without some sort of removable cover over the plants, so crops are significantly reduced.
  • Bugs galore! Armando and I picked a bunch of root-munching grubs out of the black dirt that we put in the flower garden. Very hungry caterpillars will gnaw the best leaves, then a battalion of a bazillion leaf cutter ants will pop up when you aren’t looking and decimate the garden over night. Armando planted some yucca on the shoulder of the road across the street from us. The poor plants have been stripped to the stalk in a day at least three times. He isn’t very hopeful for a bumper crop this year.
  • Cynthia thinks that I wouldn’t mind gardening on my hands and knees in the dirt. It might somehow be of benefit to my arthritis. But noooooooo, I would mind. But the fresh veges are a must do, must have.
  • Yes, the aesthetics thing. We have been struggling, looking for a place for the garden but there just wasn’t a good location. The hydroponic greenhouse solves our problem. We will put it on this side of my shop:

At first I thought that hydroponics would be too expensive, what with the necessary chemicals and nutrients. And I have this thing for organic, trying not to give my money to the Mon$anto$ of the world. So as Cynthia said, I checked with my friend Sr. Google. It seems that you can garden hydroponically with nutrients made from compost tea and fish emulsion. I’m continuing to surf the web to see what others are doing, what works and what doesn’t.

This whole development has me smiling. Fresh veges, if not yet on the vine are at least on the horizon. Plus, like retiring to a foreign country or building a house from shipping containers, hydroponic gardening is a non-entrenched idea. I’m not much of a follow-the-crowd type of guy, and hydroponic gardening is still somewhat of an obscure idea.

I’m excited, and like Cynthia, my saliva glands are presently overproducing thinking about picking sugar snap peas just minutes before tossing them into a nice fresh salad.

That’s all for now.

 

9 thoughts on “It Was A Matter Of Aesthetics

  1. My 2 cents. Being in the business…
    1.Do not bring contaminated starts into your greenhouse. Best if you can start with seed.
    2. Remember that all those critters will/can hitch a ride on your clothing and the dog. Sorry.
    Once the bugs are inside you will likely not be able to get rid of them. Clean the GH thoroughly between harvest and planting.
    Good luck and healthy eating.

  2. Wow, thanks Scott. It all sounds like good advice, and we will follow it. I’d thought about the bugs “hitching,” but hadn’t thought of the contaminated starts. Sounds like a clean room air lock is in order!

    Oh, do you think there is any concern in using PVC tubing? I’ve read about the chemicals leeching…

  3. Hello Fred

    Google “self watering rain gutter grow system” and take a look at many videos on You tube. The system was introduced by Larry Hall last year, it is easy to make one or more and vegetables grow like veeds 🙂
    Also check his FB page for great ideas and many variations of the system.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Self-Watering-Rain-Gutter-Grow-System/319446841423065?ref=ts

    I am dreaming of roof top vegetable garden, build on top of containers, (partly covered by green house) and this system is perect!

    BTW Great blog!

    • Hello Spela,

      Thank you for the tips. I’ll check them out. I think we will also have some plants in pots on the container roof. Your idea of a rooftop garden is wonderful, it will make good insulation from the sun. Make sure that you protect the metal well because the it will rust like crazy under dirt. Perhaps a rubber membrane under the dirt and make sure that no water can get under the membrane. Thanks again. Fred

  4. Hey guys!
    I have been reading your blog for quite a while now (being a travel and container architecture aficianado). I work at a retail plant nursery in California where the soil is pretty full of clay. If you have any questions let me know! Also, if you wanted to keep a hydroponics or NFT setup crawling insect free you could put it up on legs and put the legs in a small dish of oil. This way, it could be put underneath a greenhouse or lean-to and still be mobile. Its been great to see this project come to life, keep up the great work!

    -Brandon

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