Here at Nourish the Planet we are almost always growing plants for some sort of experiment. We have boxes of various seeds, tomatoes, basil, peppers, lettuce and we are starting seeds generally on a weekly basis. The process we use for planting seeds is extraordinarily simple. First, the seeds are inserted individually into rock wool which is a man-made product of molten stretched rock (think: cotton candy). Rock wool is an advantageous seed-starting medium because it easily retains a lot of water and constant moisture is essential for most seeds to germinate.
The seeds in their rock wool cubes are then watered and placed in an elevated tub out of direct sunlight. They are kept moist and depending on the species will germinate within anywhere from 4 to 30 days. When they are a few inches tall they are ready to be placed in a more permanent home such as one of the Aquaponics systems or an experimental system.
Our practice is to use small slotted plastic cups half-full of gravel to hold the rock wool cubes. This allows for the roots to grow in the large pore spaces between the rocks and easily uptake flowing water. When an experiment is over or a system needs to be adjusted the plants become suddenly homeless! A couple of weeks ago here at Nourish the Planet we found ourselves with an abundance of plants growing hydroponically in cups—we were legitimately running out of room for them.
We obviously couldn’t just discard them after nourishing them for their entire lives so some of the other interns and I took some home. I ended up with broccoli, Italian basil, Vietnamese basil, chamomile, a couple of unidentified peppers, a cucumber and an unidentified cucurbit of some kind. I don’t have an Aquaponics system setup at home yet so I decided to see how well they would grow in my existing raised bed.
It has been about two weeks now and some plants have adjusted spectacularly while others…not so much. The cucumber, basil and pepper plants experienced some wilting the first couple of days but are now thriving. The broccoli plant in particular has seen the most growth. The two chamomile plants had tons of vibrant foliage when they entered the ground but both completely withered up within a week. My suspicion is that chamomile has particularly sensitive roots and that I was perhaps a little too rough with them during transplantation.
This is exciting because there is an opportunity to grow plants cheaply and efficiently and then perhaps distribute them to people in need who do not have hydroponics systems. I will continue to monitor the health of my plants throughout the summer to determine if this would be a viable endeavor to help meet Nourish the Planet’s goal of helping the world to feed itself.
Emily Hanna – 6/25/2014