About a year ago, I became fascinated with the science of plant propagation, hydroponic methods for plant cultivation, and techniques for maximizing the harvest yield from fruiting warm season annuals. With some VERY basic knowledge, the indoor gardener can literally enjoy things like fresh strawberries, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, and even watermelons year round.
If you’re already a gardening enthusiast, and would like to take a stab at indoor growing, then I highly recommend the book Gardening Indoors with Soil & Hydroponics by George F. Van Patten. This book is a staple of grow stores and is available at Amazon, B&N, etc. It is the single best reference guide AND primer that I’ve yet to find on the subject.
If you live in a climate with high year-round sun, I would also suggest you check out The WindowFarms Project. This project is all about using active hydroponics to grow veggies and fruits using the sun.
The engineer side of my brain LOVES hydroponics and artificial lighting, but artificial lighting has a cost and environmental issue attached to it (thus window farming), while soil has a simplicity factor attached to it. If you can do indoor window box gardening, supplemented when necessary by artificial light, that’s probably the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to get started.
There are times when your primary interest in growing a plant is not to create a harvest, per se, but to obtain the seeds from that crop. Most of the time, when attempting to raise just a seed crop, you don’t need a large scale growing environment. When your goal is just seeds, rather than the largest, brightest flowers or the heaviest fruit or vegetable yield, many factors can be significantly cut back, such as lighting requirements.
Here are some primary reasons for growing a seed-only crop:
- Attempt to preserve a particular strain or phenotype
- Desire to have seeds for long term storage or larger-scale planting efforts
- To create seeds of a plant for which you only have cuttings for propagation
- Attempt to cross-breed two strains of a plant in an effort to obtain the desirable characteristics of both
The method I’m about to describe can be used for all these purposes. My particular objective with this experiment is to cross two phenotypes in order to get something new, which is why I’m calling them “Breeder Buckets”, since I’m trying to breed essentially a new strain.
One of my favorite flowers in a garden are lupines. Lupines are tall, spindly flowers that basically bloom along their stalk. They almost look like spears. There are hundreds of different strains and phenotypes, including a bunch of bi-colored varieties. They blossom in all sorts of colors, including blue, pink, purple, white, yellow, orange, red, and all shades thereof. When growing the commonly available Russell Hybrids Mix, it’s pretty common to get a lot of the purple and blue, quite a bit of white, and a smattering of other colors. In the commercial seeds I have, there is a beautiful shade of lavender that I want to cross with the pure white in an attempt to create a bi-color variety. I don’t know if this will actually work, but I’m going to try it and see what happens. Hopefully, it will produce several phenotypes: lavender, white, and lavender-white, and then I can isolate and create more seed of just the lavender-white phenotype. That’s the plan, anyway.
Doing any sort of variety breeding requires an isolated environment. If my lupines pick up pollen from an outside source, such as a neighbor’s garden down the street, then my experiment is completely hosed. This isolation from other pollen sources of the same general species is the biggest requirement when breeding. Since I garden indoors primarily, this is easier to accomplish. However, I can’t have any other lupines growing in my indoor garden, unless I take precautions involving isolated grow tents, HEPA filters, latex gloves, etc. in order to eliminate pollen transfer. It’s simply easier to do this with no other plants of the same species growing in the house. This is obviously NOT how large scale commercial breeders do this, but it’s how to do it for the small household gardener.