Here it is, June on the Gulf Coast. After 3 days of storms, the heat and humidity has settled in with a vengeance. It is just steamy and miserable outside and the mosquitoes are rampant. I’m still gardening and we continue to harvest summer squash, chili peppers, sweet peppers, currant tomatoes and blackberries…and tomatillos, hundreds of tomatillos. Our bees have settled in and instead of hitting the herb garden, they have been working the tomatillo bed. Our plants are loaded with fruits in various stages of ripeness. This is the biggest tomatillo harvest we’ve ever had. So, what are we doing with so many tomatillos? Improvising! Last night, I made a simple batch of salsa verde that only took minutes. The recipe is below.
My garden is my passion, but as the summer heats up, it will be harder and harder to work outside. Sunburn and heatstroke are very real worries in areas like this where the temperatures soar over 100°F and we have no shade trees. The only gardening done is early in the morning or late in the evening. Many of our crops stop producing during the hottest part of summer and start up again as the weather cools in the fall. Unfortunately, we still want our fresh produce, particularly salad greens and herbs. To that end, we have begun using a hydroponic system inside the house.
We began researching hydroponics last year. Salad greens are a touchy crop to grow here as our early spring temperatures can cause lettuce and spinach to bolt. It can be 40°F on Tuesday and 80°F on Wednesday. Since we love our fresh mesclun, spinach and lettuce, we decided to find a way to give them more optimal growing conditions. Hydroponics seemed to be an acceptable answer.
My husband used PVC pipe to create a simple flood and drain system for hydroponic growing. He cut 4 tubes approximately 4 feet long and cut 5 holes in each of them. He fitted them with end caps that he had drilled holes in and attached them with rubber tubing. It all connects to a reservoir underneath the system which contains the water/nutrient system and the pump that sends the solution up through the tubing to the plants, and an air pump that keeps the solution oxygenated. We hung a grow light over it. Once the system was built, the experimentation began.
First, we tried peas, but the system was simply too wet for them. They rotted. Next, we tried spinach, but apparently, we had some bad seeds because we couldn’t even get them to germinate. Finally, we tried sweet basil. We hit a homerun with that one. The seeds sprouted and we put the tiny seedlings in the little net cups and inserted them into the holes. The pump was set on a timer to flood the tubes with water periodically throughout the day. We turned on the grow light in the morning and turned it off at night. When we changed the nutrient/water solution, we used that to water our outside gardens and pots. All of our plants, inside and outside, were nice and healthy.
That basil took off. It grew and grew and grew until we had to raise the light because the plants were hitting the bulb. I snipped off whatever I needed for cooking, but of course, that just made the plants even bigger and bushier. Finally, we pulled the plants and harvested them all. We now have plenty of dried basil as well as a few bags of leaves in the freezer.
Since our first success, we have tried several different types of indoor gardening. We have a small countertop greenhouse tray that we use to grow microgreens. We grow different types of sprouts on our kitchen counter. We grow lettuce in our hydroponic system. We experimented with growing catnip in a simple hydroponic system that consists of a bucket filled with the nutrient solution and an air stone. That was a definite success (Our three cats were very happy with that experiment!). Next, we’ll be trying peppers in that bucket system.
While I do love getting barefoot and dirty outside in my gardens, I also love having fresh salad greens available right in my dining room year-round. By creating the optimal growing conditions for certain crops inside, I also have more space outside in my gardens for other crops that I want to try. The hydroponics is a good solution for extending your growing season, regardless of climate. It can be set up in a greenhouse just as easily, and just like the outside garden beds, it can be as small or large as you want. Best of all, the plants seem to grow bigger and faster due to the fact that the nutrients are more readily available for the plants to use, the temperature and lighting are controlled to optimal levels, and they don’t have to fight off pests, poor soil, and weeds. It’s also a great way for those who live in apartments or places without outdoor garden spaces to enjoy growing their own fresh produce.
We will continue our hydroponic experiments and I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in indoor gardening.
Quick Salsa Verde
• approximately 50 large tomatillos
• 3 serrano peppers (more or less, according to taste)
• 1 medium onion
• 10-15 cloves of garlic
• 3-4 sprigs of fresh cilantro
• 3-4 sprigs of fresh oregano
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• Salt to taste
Coarsely chop all of the vegetables. Put everything in the food processor and process on high until puréed. Enjoy!