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Hydroponics ALL THE WAY!

Yes, this time it’s my final decision: I am going to start growing everything hydroponically. That is, everything except the fruit trees, vines and bushes that are already in the ground. Gee, I wish I’d known last spring what I’m about to tell you. I could have built hydroponic set-ups for at least the vines and bushes that went into the ground. Alas, now I fear ‘twould be too late.

But let me get to where I’m going…

The Kratky method

I ran into the Kratky method a couple of times the other day when I first started geeking out on hydroponics videos. But the thumbnails I saw were of lettuce plants floating on Styrofoam® rafts, in containers much bigger than the metal shelves in our bathroom. So, of course I concluded that the Kratky method has to do with floating lettuce on over-sized Styrofoam® rafts.

And I assumed that it used a pump (and therefore electricity) like the typical hydroponics set-up you see.

WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS!

The Kratky method of hydroponics is about growing in water by allowing the roots to stay continuously wet with the nutrient solution while still providing some air space for, well, air. The usual (read: commercial-grade) hydroponics systems you see, even small ones, involve pumps and tubes and possibly airstones. Rather than being constantly wet, the pumps and tubes deliver occasional bursts of nutrient solution to the plants’ roots – oh, and, of course, air. You have to provide some kind of aeration to plants grown hydroponically, right?

NO,  NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO! At least, not the kind of aeration that requires you blowing into the water with a straw every few days or using electricity to pump it through.

With the Kratky method, you don’t need to mess around with any kind of supplemental aeration, because you let the water levels fall as the roots grow. Two birds with one stone: the roots get air, and they get moisture and nutrition! The other cool thing is you never have to totally empty the reservoir and refill it. When the water level appears to be getting dangerously low compared to where the roots are, you add more solution. Done!

But it only works for greens…right?

On one video I watched, the lady said that you could only allow the roots of greens to have constant contact with water. But I was okay with that, because I had already begun to plan to grow the larger plants in a system like one of the two below (isn’t the first one the coolest EVAH?), outside.

Then I watched this video:

And that got me even deeper into the Hydroponics Rabbit Hole. I can’t even remember now what search phrase I used to find the article on the instructables website – something about Kratky – but find it I did, and boy am I glad!

If you’re too lazy busy to click that last link, here’s the brass tacks: you can grow ANY kind of plant using the Kratky method! And the author of this article isn’t blowing smoke – if you read down toward the end, she describes how she’s grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash using the Kratky method.

HELLO!? You can use the method for fruit-bearing plants!!

So, J will no longer have to build a special system – not even the aeroponics tower for the strawberries! We won’t have to use electricity to grow our own food. For the metal shelves – lettuce, spinach, indoor brassicas, and indoor carrots – I’m going to buy under-the-bed storage boxes (yes, they are food-grade, I found out). For everything else, well, take a brief look at this video (and I mean brief; he obviously doesn’t know that he’s making things far more complicated than necessary).

I have been saving up, and can continue to save up, all manner of food containers: milk jugs, almond milk cartons, glass bottles and jars, plastic ketchup bottles, plastic bags. (And have been desperately hoping to figure out a way to reuse these items to keep them out of the garbage!) We don’t have to go out and buy brand new (and completely unsustainable) PVC pipes, or pumps or tubes or large containers for water reservoirs. All we need are some pieces of “garbage,” the ingredients for the Kratky method (hydroponics growing medium and fertilizer, mainly), and voila!

Suffice to say that I’m going to be doing some experimenting this summer. The big one will be seeing how a strawberry does indoors under grow lights, in a ketchup bottle!

I’m excited…and SO glad that growing hydroponically can be much less expensive than I ever thought, and THRILLED that it doesn’t require electricity. 🙂

PS – With that, I have discovered the method of gardening that truly requires no irrigation and no weeding.  *Dances around and jumps for joy*

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Child Labor: Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

Child labor is one of the pricklier issues of our times. Although it’s been around for thousands of years, in the twenty-first century you are unlikely to find many people who will outwardly approve of the practice. Children are not as big as adults, not as strong as adults, not able to make decisions as well as adults, and – until they reach their teens – are not cognizant like adults. This last bit means that they have difficulty making sense of their world, which is why they need adults to provide them with security and guidance until they are in their mid-teens.

Despite the fact that most nations have laws against child labor, some of these nations nevertheless allow – if not encourage – children as young as seven years old to work in places that are dangerous even for adults to work. Who is at fault here? Why is this happening?

In-your-face real life examples of child labor

To answer those question, we need to look at some real-life examples. Here’s something from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net. Recently, in the country of Myanmar a fourteen-year-old boy lost two of his fingers in an accident at the steel factory where he works. Myanmar, in case you don’t know, is just to the west of Thailand and the second country just east of India (the first is Bangladesh). It is also a country in which 25% of people live below the poverty line (in the United States, the statistic is 14.5%), and 20% of children aged ten to seventeen work at a job. Parents are the ones pushing their children to do this, even though in that country it is illegal for anyone under the age of fourteen to hold a job, because they want to have enough to eat and dress in something better than rags.

Let’s move a little to the northwest on the globe up to the country of Afghanistan. From the Voice Of America website… In Afghanistan, experts estimate that during this year of 2017, more than 1,000 children might drop out of school every single day, due in part to the violence and unrest in the nation, as well as the parents needing the children’s help to make ends meet for the family. Children that drop out of school are at higher risk of being pushed into early marriages that could turn out to be abusive, of being forced to work in sweatshops, and of becoming victims of human trafficking. Read: unpaid prostitutes.

Oh, but it gets better!

Are you getting angry yet? If not, let’s talk about the so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. I say “so-called” because I think that in a minute we’ll all be able to agree that the conditions for many children there aren’t at all democratic.

This information comes from http://www.wsws.org. Children as young as seven years work in Congo cobalt mines, and UNICEF estimates the number to be at least 40,000. In a recent investigation, an eight-year-old reported that he doesn’t make enough money to eat, despite working twelve-hour days, and that at the time he was questioned had not eaten for two days. This is not an isolated incident among the children working in the mines. In fact, not only do children not make a living wage, but they are coerced and beaten by their bosses, and often sent into mines that frequently collapse.

The fact that neither children nor adult miners are given any safety equipment to protect them from the hazardous cobalt dust pales in comparison.

What on earth do we need cobalt for, anyway?

You might be wondering why we need more than 40,000 children and who-knows-how-many adults working to extract cobalt from the earth. It just so happens that cobalt is one of the primary materials needed to make the lithium batteries used by laptop computers and smart phones. Ironically, the large corporations that continually source this cobalt deny the glaringly obvious – and documented – truth that any part of their products are sourced from child labor.

But before you blame everything on Big Tech…

The author of this article writes that this treatment of children is not an isolated occurrence, but a “predominant reality inflicted by the capitalist system on workers around the globe.” As you saw by the previous two examples, child labor laws are being ignored in many countries, not just the Congo. Why?

That’s a simple question to which there is no simple answer, because there are several issues going on underneath the whole child labor scenario. First, couples are having children when they can’t afford them. This is part ignorance, part religious beliefs – which you might correctly argue can perpetuate ignorance.

The second issue is that parents don’t seek other options to support their families. You might think, along with those parents, that they do not have any other options. That they are too poor to have options.

The fact is, there is always an option. What if villages, towns, or city neighborhoods came together as true communities? For example, they might begin crafting items that they could sell either locally or to markets farther away, and share the profits according to each adult’s contribution so that each family would earn a high enough income so that they wouldn’t have to commoditize their children.

The third issue at stake is that corporations are greedy. If they can find dirt-cheap labor in another country, they can make a higher profit from their product sales. The fourth issue is that Americans are generally materialistic. They cannot be happy without a lot of stuff, but because they buy houses that are much bigger than what they need and cars that are much more expensive than what is absolutely necessary, they can’t afford to pay $50 for a blouse or $2,000 for a laptop. And so they buy the cheap products put out by greedy corporations, who indirectly use children who are working in dangerous situations as part of the manufacturing process.

So, what are you going to do about it?

As I implied at the beginning, child labor is a complicated issue. And it may seem like an insurmountable one, at that. Although we may never get to the point where children aren’t being used as cheap labor anywhere in the world, there are small steps each of us can take that address one or more of the issues I just mentioned.

First and foremost, don’t buy things you don’t need – and make sure your “needs” aren’t really “wants.” This way, you will save money. And with the money you save, you can afford to purchase fair-trade items; that is, items that are made by people who got paid a living wage and who work in reasonably safe conditions.

Alternatively, purchased gently used items. That way, you do not support the manufacturers and corporations who used children during the production process. Whether you buy fair-trade or used, you vote against child labor with your wallet.

Another step is to support organizations that educate couples in developing countries about birth control. The sticky point here is that many of the citizens of such countries hold religious beliefs, such as that every act of sexual intercourse between a married couple should be open to conception. Or, they may believe that there are special rewards in Paradise for begetting as many children as possible.

In the ideal world, ministers would teach them, first, about the freedom that God has given them to make ethical and loving choices, that He does not condemn and is not displeased with couples who do not bear their own children. Or, who keep their families small. But religious beliefs are about as easy to change as a hyperactive toddler’s diaper. Teaching about birth control and opening up a dialogue about their beliefs is probably our best option.

A bigger step you could take: actually begin your own non-profit that provides education to developing nations, not only about birth control and human ethics, but about food production and other economical matters as well.

There are also a few organizations that help poor families in developing countries to start their own businesses. No, these businesses – such as producing goat milk or eggs – are not necessarily vegan. But this is an imperfect world, and sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. What is less ethical, farming a small herd of goats that have the freedom to roam and are never mistreated, or sending a seven-year-old human into a mine to get crushed by an unfortunate collapse?

Here’s a crazy idea a few people might take me up on: invent a way to run laptops and smart phones that doesn’t require cobalt or any other material that is likely to be obtained by inhumane means. We have the technology to blow up planet Earth many times over, but we can’t find a more ethical way to power our technology? Inventors, get to work!

Finally, do you own an online business? In that case, another step you can take is to hire Virtual Assistants or independent graphic designers, etc., who live overseas. This brings us to another sticky situation, of course, because many people would accuse me of supporting the same kind of behavior that corporations who source their labor from developing nations engage in. They would accuse me of overlooking the man or woman next door who also needs to put food on the table.

To such accusers I would offer up the following thoughts. First of all, in the Western world, the independent tech-related contractors who market themselves well are going to find plenty of work to keep them busy. Those who slack off on the marketing can easily find another way to make an income. For those few who would have trouble, there are food stamps, welfare, and an abundance of help from various religious organizations.

Compare that to a woman in India whose only choices may be to hire herself out as a Virtual Assistant to someone in one of the Western nations,  send her pre-teen children out to work, or to watch her family slowly starve to death.

If you still disagree with me, that’s fine. Then, at the very least support large corporations as little as you can. And when election time comes around, support the candidates who have a track record of pushing legislature that discourages child labor, and that penalizes manufacturing processes that exploit it.

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After publishing this post, I started looking for videos and online plans for DIY aeroponics systems. Turns out that the smallest container you can use is a large plastic tote. But if I’m going to use the metal shelf, that’s way too big!

I suppose you could just have the tote on the floor and buy a stronger pump that could somehow send water to the top shelf, into a smaller reservoir above which the plants sit. However, if you can, nobody was telling me about it and it sounds more complicated and more expensive than I want to deal with.

Well, I don’t need aeroponics per se. I just want a system that won’t use much water. There is a lot more info online about hydroponics than aeroponics, and so I finally searched, “hydroponics versus traditional gardening water usage” or something like that.

Turns out that a hydroponics system uses about the same amount of water as an aeroponics system…ten percent of what a person growing in soil uses!

I can build indoor DIY hydroponics system using shallow plastic bins. Problem solved!

But wait, there’s more!

The more videos I watched on hydroponics, the more I began to salivate. No watering…EVER? No weeding…EVER? And we could build the system so that the plants were no lower than waist level?

Honestly, the only two negatives I could come up with for using hydroponics was having to use electricity to run a pump, and to use artificial fertilizer. Well, the pumps really don’t use that much electricity, and the production we would get with a hydroponics system would more than make up for the cost of the energy.

As for artificial fertilizer, that’s only a problem when you apply it to soil. Sure, it’s an extra cost, but with the native soil we have extra fertilization is necessary, anyway. I either buy some or go through the extra work of creating my own natural fertilizer (such as weed tea).

We were already going to build five aeroponics towers for growing strawberries. Why not build a couple of hydroponics systems for everything else?

Okay, most everything else. I don’t think growing cucumbers and melon would work in front of the house, where we would have the things because an electrical outlet is handy there. But if I’m not killing myself watering tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries all summer long, I think I can handle the other.

This is NOT my final decision

I might change my mind next week. I am for sure going to build a hydroponics set-up for indoors (probably several). I think the aeroponics strawberry towers are a done deal.

As for the rest…we’ll see. Building our own hydroponics garden will not be nearly as much work as making the aeroponics towers, and can be done for around $100.

That, and my husband didn’t groan and roll his eyes when I approached him with the idea. 😉

So I am definitely leaning that way…

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I’m getting serious about growing our own food. Again.

I almost gave up this past fall and winter, thanks to depression. I wanted to sell our property and buy a gently-used camper van along with a small travel trailer and plan our trips so that we would pass by a Whole Foods no less frequent than once a week and never, ever have to endure the chilly humidity of this area again.

Now, I want to figure out how to live here and be fully happy. A big part of that is not having to drive almost two and a half hours away in order to obtain organic food – at least not most of it. So I have to solve three problems:

  • How to garden so as to use the least amount of water.
  • How to grow healthy, nutritious plants despite the pathetic native soil (which doesn’t hold water or nutrients – sand and rocks, only about ten percent clay, hardly any loam).
  • How to maintain a more or less continual harvest of fruits and vegetables, for at least part of the year…and in the case of greens (and perhaps even carrots), year-round.

I’ve got two or three of different ideas for the first two problems. Even though it will take me at least two years to implement them, they will work so I consider those problems solved. More details later.

Back to indoor gardening

As for the third problem, one solution is already in the making: grow plants that produce ripe fruits at different times, and/or whose fruits can be stored long-term at room temperature. The Korean pear is supposed to be able to be stored at room temperature for five or six months, and one of the variety of jujubes we have (picture a small red fruit that tastes similar to apple) is meant to be eaten dried.

The other solution I kinda-sorta tried last fall, but didn’t get very far with it: indoor gardening. I set up the two middle shelves in one of the metal shelf units in the bathroom with fluorescent lights. I even grew some lettuce. But after it got bitter quickly – I didn’t realize I had to top-water it every day for it to be happy – I decided I’d just use the lights for starting seeds for the summer garden.

Until I got inspired. I’ll make a long story short, because I got to the video I’m about to mention via a rabbit hole while researching something else on YouTube (I know you know what I’m talking about!). I found a video of a guy who grows some food indoors, and uses a $20 LED grow light that he found on Amazon.

I knew there were such creatures, but the ones I’d seen were WA-AY more expensive than $20. They were actually a larger panel of LED grow lights intended for greenhouse growers.

The really exciting part for this health nut: the light mimics the sun to the extent that the plants produce the phytonutrients just like they would if they were grown outside. No other grow lights, to my knowledge, do that.

Now I wish I’d waited and not been so hasty in buying the fluorescent lights. Oh, well.

My shelves are waiting

I need to get better at remembering to take “before” pictures when I’m about to make a major household change that I think people might be interested in. Alas, I forgot this time, for the thousandth time.

So, allow me to show the “in between” photos of the metal shelves and explain how they have changed thus far.

The middle shelf is empty because that’s where I had two five-gallon Smart Pots with lettuce. On the top shelf there used to be, on the right, a large cardboard box with a smaller cardboard box on top of it, and a smallish storage box with computer-related paraphernalia at the very top. At the left was a smallish plastic storage box with gift-wrapping bows, with a small cardboard box containing crafty items on top.

In between the two stacks of boxes were miscellaneous items.

In other words, the top shelf was particularly cluttered and ugly. Even if not for the sake of making more room for an indoor garden, I was going to tidy it.

As you can see, that shelf has been emptied. In a couple of months, I’m going to order a few of the LED grow lights, which J will mount to the wooden rafters above. And I’m going to grow greens.

In the next photo, you can see some of the items that came from off that top shelf.

See the shelf with the toilet paper tubes stuck together? That used to have a white plastic storage tub and a larger clear plastic tub (one of those thirty-inch long deals). Those two boxes, along with a couple of the boxes that used to be on the top of the other shelf, are now in one of the two sheds. They contain things that we rarely, if ever, need, and do not require climate control.

Most of the items that are on that middle shelf in the photo came from that top shelf in the other two photos, the one with the lights.

So, I’ve started to make room. Now, I need to make plans. I would like to conserve water as much as possible, so I’m considering building an aeroponics system.

Yes, that would use some electricity, but not much. And if it means not dragging dirt into the bathroom or worrying about how much water I’m using, it will be worth it.

Stay tuned (by clicking the envelope icon at the top of the right sidebar) to follow my saga of growing food!

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