High Yield Lettuce Hydroponic Planting Trials

Do not waste the light.

My fellow gardeners know that I love leaf lettuces, arugula, and spinach and I’m a huge fan of the high yield planting methods promoted by John Jeavons like scatter planting in soil on raised beds.  If you want to grow leaf lettuce and arugula and other densely planted varieties in a hydroponic system here are two techniques for efficient planting without investing in really cool high volume planting machine.

Traditional Scatter Planting Works with Lettuce Seeds.

Scatter planting is the method of scattering seeds on the ground, or in this case onto a grow medium, by pinching them free above the soil allowing the seeds to fall to the soil and evenly spread out.   With this method one can fill an entire bed area with seeds allowing plants like leaf lettuce to grow up in contact with each other.  The plants should be as close as a half inch to each other but can be as close right next to each other.

Outside on raised garden beds scatter planting works wonderfully, check out how our lettuce beds look at OTR Homegrown.

leaf lettuce in OTR Cincinnati

Using Scatter Planting Techniques Indoors

When planting onto grow mediums like rockwool, lettuce seeds land where they land on the rockwool. They do not bounce or roll around.  Because of this you can use traditional scatter planting method to properly get a good scatter of lettuce seeds on a rockwood tray without having to place each seed individually. Rockwool seems to be a perfect medium for growing leaf lettuce trays.
High yield indoor lettuce TrialsIMG_20141204_231437690_HDRIMG_20141204_231501596

The plants should be as close as a half inch to each other but can be as close right next to each other.   With this method one can fill an entire bed area with seeds allowing plants like leaf lettuce to grow up in contact with each other.  The plants have each other to lean on supporting the outside leaves and standing them up while no space is wasted in the bed.

IMG_20141214_170427081 IMG_20141213_245254377

Below is a tray of leaf lettuce grown indoors just before the first harvest.  Notice how the neighboring lettuce plant helps keep it’s neighbor upright, the leaf lettuce on the outside of the plant do not fall and lay on the “ground”, or grow medium. The leaf lettuce are densely populated maximizing the amount of plants per square foot.  Ventilation and having a fan directly on your plants is an important part of this method, and with all indoor grow methods.

Seeds like arugula though, Bounce!

When you plant seeds like arugula, which are round, they bounce on the rockwool and jump all over the place.  It is hard to ensure a good scatter of seed on the rockwool. Without a good spread of see we would end up with empty patches on a garden bed or on an indoor growing tray.  Placing each seed on the grow medium one at a time would take way too long

Here is a relatively quick and affordable way to “scatter-plant” arugula seeds for hydroponic systems.

What you will need:

Styrofoam. (The size of your planting medium)

A whole puncher, or screw starter, or Robertson screw driver.

Rockwool or grow medium the size of your tray.

A large tray that your grow medium can fit into.


Step One:  On your flat piece of styrofoam use your whole puncher or Robertson screw driver to make a small indentation on your styrofoam.  Make rows of indentations so that you have an indentation every half inch. The indentation should be deep enough that one or two arugula, kale type seeds can fit into it.  If the indentations are too small it is hard to get all of the seeds in place.  If they are too big you’ll get too many seeds in each indentation.
Step Two: Place your styrofoam into your large tray.  This tray has to be able to catch seeds that roll over off of the styrofoam.

Now place a handfull of arugula seeds onto the styrofoam and use your hands to roll the seeds around.  You can also vibrate the styrofoam gently with your hands to move the seeds around.  The seeds will stay put in the indentations if your indentations are large enough. If they are too large two many seeds will collect in the indentations.

Once you have filled your indentations with seeds use your hand to remove the access seeds into the tray your styrofoam is sitting in.  This tray should collect all unused seed for later use.  Make sure this tray is not wet.

The Flip onto the Rockwool.

Place your rockwool face down onto the seed side of the styrofoam.

Holding the grow medium in place flip over the grow medium and styrofoam tray.  Tap on the top of the styrofoam tray gently to ensure the seeds come out of their indentations.

Check out this scatter of round arugula seeds.  Nice, no?

Lift the styrofoam and you should now have a nice scatter-plant of arugula seeds on your rockwool.



It worked wonderfully.


Hydroponic systems that utilize the high yield methods of people like John Jeavons, who decades ago realized that there should not be space in the garden that is not converting light into food mass, are more likely to make the most of the cost of materials and energy.


Going to Seed with Rainbow Chard

Growing Rainbow Chard to Seed in A Cincinnati Urban Garden

Timeline – Two (2) Seasons

Monday, May 30, 2011  Beginning
Rainbow Chard Sprouts
Rainbow Chard Sprouts 2011 – Upper Right
 The Chard grew thru the 2011 summer season, we were able to cut several harvests.
2  15 foot patches were allowed to live to bolt.  My philosophy to seeding plants is that every plant will go to seed, I let it grow and watch as it does its thing.  Patience and observation.  I got lucky with the Chard and Kale.

The Winter of 2011 – 2012 was very mild in Cincinnati.  Normally green leafy plants die in the frost of the winter s.  But several of our leafy lettuces survived that winter and began growing rapidly in the 2012 Spring.

The mild winter of 2011-2012 enabled the Chard and Kale to survive outdoors through the 2011 Cincinnati Winter.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 Chard Made it through the Winter. (Scat Cat!!!)
Rainbow Chard Year One
Rainbow Chard patch year one, made it through the Winter.
This is an image of the plants that lived through the mild winter as seen in spring of the 2012.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Rainbow Chard got us in trouble with the non-initiated folks in the City who are not used to seeing plants go to seed.  We have to erect a sign, “We are Seed to Seed farmers.  Some of every crop of every planting is allowed to grow so that we can harvest the seeds to plant them again.  I think a lot of people saw overgrown plants and though neglect.  But I can not worry about that.

As the heat of spring progressed the plants bolted and ran.

Rainbow Chard Produces a Huge Bush of a seeding plants 6 Feet Tall!

Rainbow Chard Going to Seed
Rainbow Chard Going to Seed


They grew vertical stocks as shown above, the stocks sprouted pollen sacks and then blooms on the same plants if I remember correctly.

By late Spring this all fell back and small granola like seeds formed, very small at first but they grew on the stocks in number and in size.  I checked on their size, color, dryness, and hardness each week until they were dark, dry, hard, brown, and fell right off.  I could now obviously tell the seeds were done, the plant was telling me as seeds covered the plants and even began to fall to the ground.

I could take my hand and run my fingers down a stalk and the seeds would fill my hands.  The seeds fell off in droves as I collected droves, thousands.  From six plants that seeded I got more than I can take.

Still Missing The Harvest Shots.  These Girls Get Bushy and Huge!  Here are shots throughout three years of The Rainbow Chard Cycle.


Preparing Beds – Cincinnati Spring Planting

OTR Homegrown facing East from Pleasant St.[cincopa AEGAUvqayeGM]
Awaking the OTR Homegrown garden this year was quick compared to previous years; we are begining year three in one place.

Day one was spent picking up the garbage covering the ground as far as could be tossed from the sidewalk. Many a beer bottle and trash.

Day two replace the hay in the front. New mulch to stop weed growth in front walkway.

Day three WEED, WEED, WEEDING – The ground is wet so when they (weeds) come out, get them out!
Mulch, mulch, mulch. Mulch it or you’re “weed weed weeding” next week.

Day Four Cleared the mulch covering the beds.
Hoed the walkways (rows) into the beds.
raked into suitable shape, converse or inverse suitable for water drainage or holding water like a bowl. For lettuce I shape the beds like an arch so the water flows off the sides. Tomatoes and Peppers and others like the water to collect and soak them real well. In that case we shape the bed like a bowl where it comes up on the sides and is low in the middle.


Scatter Plant Greens seeds.

Enjoy the pictures.


OTR Homegrown Hosts Block Party!

Contact: Sarah Saheb, 513-508-4737

“Food, Farming and Funk”

Cincinnati, OH (August 5, 2011)
OTR Homegrown, an urban farm in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, is hosting a block party to celebrate local food, urban farming, and the official launch of our mural completed this summer by local artist John Ford. In response to the recent violence in the neighborhood, the goal of the block party is to work to build community cohesiveness for everyone that lives in the area.

OTR Homegrown is an organic urban farm, which cultivates ecological stewardship through sustainable practice. OTR Homegrown works to provide local access to healthy, local foods for the Greater Cincinnati area. It is our mission to provide education on healthy, sustainable living through community involvement and investment, strengthen the community through partnership, and foster good citizenship and inter-group tolerance. Our members are: Sheila North, Michelle Dillingham, Michael Tucker, Sarah Saheb, Kelly Gillen, Chelsea Powell, Quentin Koopman, Mark Stegman, and Tevis Foreman.

OTR Homegrown Mural on Pleasant and Greene in Over The Rhine

OTR Homegrown originated in 2009 through a collaborative partnership with individuals from Mayor Mallory’s YPKC, the Service Employees International Union Local 1 (SEIU), and the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP Architecture Co-op Program. As part of the City of Cincinnati’s 2009 Urban Gardening Pilot Program, OTR Homegrown transitioned a blighted, vacant parcel of land on Walnut St. into a sustainable urban farm for the residents of Walnut St. and the community of Over-the-Rhine.
In 2010 OTR Homegrown partnered with the Findlay Market: C.H.E.F. Program and established 2 high-producing, for-profit urban farms on Pleasant St where we currently are located.

Please come out and join the celebration!

WHEN: Saturday, August 6 • 4:00pm – 8:00pm

WHERE: OTR Homegrown is on Pleasant Street between Liberty and Green–Just South of Findlay Market


Organic Heirloom Plant Sale

Organic Heirloom Tomato Sale
SATURDAY @Park + Vine
1202 Main Street Cincinnati Ohio 45202

Friends–if you want tomatoes…we got them. We’ve spent countless hours in our OTR grow room watering, pruning, and saying sweet nothings to these fabulous plants. Promised to give you bountiful and delicious tomatoes.
Join us on Saturday to pick yours up and be sure to check out Park+Vine’s awesome garden room.
Tomato Sale Cincinnati OH
Members of OTR Homegrown will be on hand to discuss the glorious modern tomato. Topics will include:
What are Heirloom Varieties and how do they differ from non-heirloom, hybrid, and open-pollinated varieties.
How to Transplant a Tomato.
How to save the seeds of a tomato for next year.
How to Water a tomato.
And tricks to tying up a tomato.

The Cincinnati Inclines

Cincinnati Incline
At the North End of Main St in Over The Rhine you'll see a stairwell

The Cincinnati inclines are alive and well. But now, instead of simply using the ingenious invention of pulleys and counterbalances that were commonly known as “Inclines” to transport ourselves up and out of our river valley, we have to walk the inclines. Our fault for having removed an energy efficient and simple system, but I digress.  The stairwell that is in place of the Main St. Incline is a modern treasure that unlocks an undiscovered opportunity in Cincinnati; that is the possibility of an interconnected walking trail through out CIncinnati. To demonstrate I call upon the modern city, of which so many Cincinnatians are in love with, of Portland, Oregon. A city that has a similar river water shed layout as Cincinnati and has a complete walkable foot path through out the city! Click here to see Portland Oregon’s Walking topographical Map. The open grassy areas along the Cincinnati incline have beautiful natural plants and better, the incline stairwell can work as an intrigal route in an interconnected trail system through Cincinnati for walkers!

What do the Cincinnati inclines have to do with urban gardening, and urban lifestyle?

Grow community gardens on the terraced hillsides while using the incline stairwell, as well as all the other stairwells and trails throughout Cincinnati to create a completely walkable mapped route throughout Cincinnati. Our bodies are very nourished, we can walk these hills easier than drilling for gas. Walking needs to be recognized as a terrific form of transportation.

Again, what does this have to do with Urban lifestyle?

Walking is a treasured time that most intelligent people live their lives just so they can get in nice walks, seriously, think about most vacations, you not storming around an island in a car in traffic listening to public radio and drinking coffee. You are walking.

Walking is my second most treasured form of transportation next to riding a bike. Walking allows for a pace that you can see what is around you, allowing you to inspect the foliage and flowers, or you can not see anything at all safely walking while calming the storm inside your brain from your hectic day at work. Or, preparing your brain for a hectic day at work while walking to your job. At average walking speed humans walk a mile in 12-15 minutes.

Living in the city and near where you work enables you to live without a car. Walking is a powerful tool in the commuter bag of possibilities, which includes a bike, the bus, roller skates or skate board, a scooter, and then your car (booo). Cincinnati, we have pathways throughout our many small towns that connect all of our neighborhoods, we can walk anywhere here. At least in the Summer, Fall, and Spring, which in turns reduces the smog in the valley while strengthening our ability to fight the toxins we are around daily.

“Who are the Cincinnati Inclines”?
I am announcing the formation of the “Cincinnati Inclines”, a group of walkers and runners who walk or run The Main St. Incline every morning (or every other day..). Shall we say 7AM? (Leave a Comment!) Let us conquer the weather of our home. Let us embrace the physical challenge of our hills and enjoy the beauty of our paths, the wild flowers and grasses, the hidden buds in bloom while staying in shape and starting our days off with a metaphorical jump in a lake ( A jump up a hill?).

Transplanting Tomatoes

Hello gardening friends!

Tomato and Ladybug

Here are some helpful hints how to transplant tomatoes successfully in Cincinnati.

1When you are purchasing tomato starts be sure to check the roots structure of the plants.  Any self respecting salesperson of starts will not mind, in fact they encourage, if you turn the tomato upside down to look at the roots.  To do this, press on each side of the pot separating the wwalls of the pot with the soil of the plant.  Cover the surface of the soil with your hand allowing the stem of the tomato to go between your fingers and turn the plant upside down.  Sometimes you have to press on the bottom of the pot as well.  The root ball should slide out and stay intact.  A healthy root system is made up of small micro fibers that move through out the soil holding the soil together.    Unhealthy root production has areas of soil that does not contain roots and might fall apart when you remove it from the pot.  Or, roots reach the edge of the soil and shoot straight to the bottom of the pot.  This happens when you overwater or do not have proper drainage; the roots mainline the water at the bottom of the pot and are never forced to create the micro fibers to go out in search of the water.  Root Rounding is the culmination of problematic root formation happening when you leave a plant in too small a pot too long with improper watering habits.  Root rounding is when the roots come out of the soil and wrap around themselves in circles enclosing the soil in.  Extreme root rounding can stunt your tomatoes growth when it is time to transplant.

This year OTR Homegrown found out that Brandywine and Yellow Pear tomatoes do not appreciate cold nights; above freezing but cold, high 30’s, low 40’s.  Our Brandywines and YP’s are stunted right now and we are not sure if they are going to grow for us even though we have them in the soil.

Of course be sure to check for damaged leaves, bug infestation, and anything else in particular about the start before you purchase it.

Tomato Stems Become Roots
These Bumps will become roots if permitted

Once you have your tomatoes at your garden with your double dug beds and perfect soil, 😉 dig your hole for your tomatoes.  NOW HERE IS A GREAT TRICK for tomatoes.  Tomatoes can be planted very deep leaving only the top leaves exposed and the stem of the tomato becomes a root stem.  Do you know how tomatoes have bumpy stems, well those bumps are roots trying to form and they will form if put into a medium.  Clip off the  lower stems of the tomatoes and plant the tomato as deep as you can.  If you do not have the depth to keep the tomato vertically you can lay the tomato down on its side and bend the top up above the surface.  This helps the tomato form strong developed roots which in turns increases it’s nutrient uptake making for a better plant and better tom.

When you have the tomato in the ground build a bowl shape on the soil around it so it catches the water.

This year OTR Homegrown will be dressing our toms with used coffee grounds, “urban manure”.

We clip the first flowers that bloom when the plant is still relatively small to allow the energy of the plant to go into the vegetation of the plant.