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Green Thumbery: Water, Sunlight, and Data

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Peas in bloom. Photo by KDCosta, 2014 Garden.

All of those concerns I had at the beginning of the season have disappeared. My plants are healthy and flowering—and they’re slowly taking over the backyard, much to my delight. Now, if only I were home more often to enjoy them.

My Flower Power has kept watch these past months and it’s been helpful is showing me the nuances between my plants. I definitely have a better understanding of the plants I’m growing and the conditions that they are growing in. For example, while the Scotch Bonnet peppers and the assorted cherry tomatoes are all planted in the same bed (the result of a companion planting tip that I am sort of skeptical about), the tomatoes don’t seem to be getting sufficient sunlight according to the data from the Flower Power while the peppers are, though fortunately this hasn’t stopped the former from taking root. It’s not that I can’t grasp that they might have different light requirements, and there is some shading from a tree that we can’t remove from the property, I’m struggling to understand what these differences really are.

And this would be my biggest complaint about my Flower Power: I can’t seem to find any information on how to interpret the data beyond the red, yellow, and green indicators that tell me I should take action. I’m a little bothered that I don’t know what the unit of measurement for each of the “plant needs.” For example, temperature is measured in degrees Fahrenheit, but I can’t find any documentation that explains how sunlight is being measured—is it lux? Similarly, how is water content being measured? Saturation?

When you buy plants, the tags they come with indicate low, medium, or high degrees of light, water, and sometimes fertilizer. Flower Power echoes these instructions in the plant database. I was hoping to better understand these criteria. I’m extrapolating information, but but would like to be certain I understand what that data is.

Here’s a look at a week in each of the plants in Bed A. Each section below includes information on plant care from the Flower Power database, and screenshots for each of the areas the Flower Power monitors.

Scotch Bonnet Peppers

Weekly pepper sunlight chart from Flower Power.

Weekly pepper temperature chart from Flower Power.

Weekly fertilizer chart from Flower Power.

Weekly pepper water chart from Flower Power.

Scotch Bonnet plant care info from the Flower Power database.

The Flower Power database suggests moderate sunshine for this plant (three suns—a very precise notation, indeed). On sunny days, the plants consistently register nearly 100 (lux?) and on cloudy days, they seem to range between 20 and 80 (lux, perhaps?). This seems sufficient in accordance with the three suns. On average, the soil has a saturation of 20% – 25%. We had a couple of rainy days this past week that pushed that percentage up to 30%. It’s been a fairly rainy summer so far and I’ve been able to water sufficiently to keep the peppers happy. We’ll see how this changes in August.

The database indicates that these plants suffer is the temperature is higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and will suffer irreparable damage is exposed to more than this temperature for more than 210 days. Given our moderate growing seasons here in Zone 7a, I’m not worried about 210 days of extreme heat, but according to the graphical output it seems the plants have definitely had a few days where our temps have been higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As we head into August, this will be more common, so this will definitely be something I consider as I track it’s growth and production.

Overall I think the pepper plants are a little smaller than I would like, but last year I think they followed a similar growth trajectory reaching a respectable spread near the end of August. However, I wonder if the companion planting and square foot methodologies I employed will have a negative impact in this regard. Time will tell. For now, the first set of flowers are yielding fruit! I am anxious to pick these and blend them into a homemade pepper sauce

Red Pear Tomato

Red pear tomato plants are setting fruit!

Weekly pear tomato sunlight chart from Flower Power.

Weekly pear tomato temperature chart from Flower Power.

Weekly pear tomato fertilizer chart from Flower Power.

Weekly pear tomato water chart from Flower Power.

Pear tomato care info chart from Flower Power.

The database’s closest match to the variation of the pear tomato I’m growing is the yellow pair, so that’s what I’m tracking. It tells me that these tomatoes need four suns to be happy; so while the peppers might be okay with nearly 100 (some unit of measurement), that’s not cutting it for the tomatoes. However, the plants seem otherwise healthy and they’re setting fruit, so perhaps this is relatively sufficient. It’s hard to know how far off the requirement is without more information. I’m hesitant to move these to a new bed next year based on what I’ve read about crop rotations and the nature of Solanums. I’d like to keep them where they are for at least another two years (if we’re here that long).

Chadwick Cherry

Cherry tomatoes are in my future.

Weekly cherry tomato sunlight chart from Flower Power.

Weekly cherry tomato temperature chart from Flower Power.

Weekly cherry tomato fertilizer chart from Flower Power.

Weekly cherry tomato water chart from Flower Power.

Chadwick Cherry care info from Flower Power.

Like most of the plants in this bed, the fertilizer requirements for the Chadwick Cherry tomato plants are low. And they’re all being fertilized on the same schedule (every Sunday). However, this plant consistently registers adequate fertilizer levels when compared with the others in the bed. Again, without more information it’s difficult to really understand how far off the requirements might be from each other. Also, anecdotally, the Chadwick Cherry sits at a bit of a valley in the bed, so it’s possible that the water and fertilizer may be running down into this slight valley and accumulating at minutely larger levels.

Ground Cherry

I can't wait to try these!

Weekly ground cherry sunlight chart from Flower Power.

Weekly ground cherry temperature chart from Flower Power.

Weekly ground cherry fertilizer chart from Flower Power.

Weekly ground cherry water chart from Flower Power.

Ground cherry plant care info from Flower Power.

The Ground Cherry is an experiment for me, and it’s the plant that worries me the most. I planted it to fill a space within the bed—and I admit, I was intrigued by the plant itself. However, it’s pretty demanding. It wants sunlight and fertilizer, which are both things that the plants in this bed struggle with. I’m not going to change the fertilization routine I’m following for now, but if the plant begins to show signs of struggle, I’ll revisit.

Next Steps

I’ll repeat this exercise in August so we have a reading at the height of the growing season and a reading in September, just when we’re nearing the end of the season. My chores this weekend include some general weeding and replanting of the peas.How are your gardens coming? Feel free to share pictures with us on Anthropology in Practice on Facebook.


You might also like:
Green Thumbery: Flower Power
Green Thumbery: A Gardening Series and Winter Sowing
Green Thumbery: The Seedlings are Coming!
Green Thumbery: Death and Destruction

For more on food, check these out:
Burger with a Side of Toys: How is Fast Food Being Marketed to Children?
What’s Stopping Us From Eating Insects?
You are What You Eat: The Truth in Food Records
The Cost of Healthy Eating

Krystal D'Costa About the Author: Krystal D'Costa is an anthropologist working in digital media in New York City. You can follow AiP on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @krystaldcosta.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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