Barnyard BBS

…enemies becoming friends,
…when bitterness ends
RSS 2.0 Feed

Looking for Hydroponics Tuesday?

Hydroponics Tuesday has grown so much that it has a website of its own. Visit www.hydroponicstuesday.com to see it's new home.

Official Debut of HydroponicsTuesday.com
1/1/2008 8:38:00 AM

It's been a long time in development, but I'm proud to announce that Hydroponics Tuesday has finally moved into it's new home.  For those of you that have read the Hydroponics Tuesday column on BarnyardBBS, you'll now find that Hydroponics Tuesday has grown up, and has a dedicate website of it's own... HydroponicsTuesday.com.

The new dedicated website offers new opportunities for the column to grow, and to explore new directions.  For example, the new website features some new sections, like articles and reviews.  I realized a few months ago that with the recent growth in readership, Hydroponics Tuesday needed to expand beyond a weekly column.  The new sections of the website will let us share more detailed writeups on specific topics, which can be more easily navigated.  Many of the topics in the articles have been mentioned previously in the blog, but serve a common interest by being expanded into full articles.

I'm writing more frequently now, and more content will be appearing often. 

This will be the last post that is carried on BarnyardBBS.com.  From now forward, all new material will be posted directly to our new home at HydroponicsTuesday.com.

Ok, now to cover some actual news about my pet projects...

The experimental homemade aeroponic unit has been running "wet" for about two weeks now.  She's perfectly watertight.  We've just waiting on the new eggplants to mature enough to join the party.

At this point, I'm pretty happy with the stage of the new aeroponic unit.  However, only time will tell.

Additionally, we have two new additions to the growing room, they just aren't set up yet.  I gave Jess a new EcoGrower for Christmas, as she wanted to try a drip system.  She also got a drip-ring WaterFarm, which we're thinking about using for a pomegranate tree (don't ask which variety yet, we're still researching).

Actually, I'm looking forward to using the EcoGrower for an experiment.  I'd like to do a head-to-head competition between a drip system and an aeroponic system.  Although I'm quite sure that the aeroponic system produces faster growth, I'd like some objective evidence to support my opinion.  We're growing two "Black Beauty" eggplant seedlings; hopefully they'll be a fair comparison.

Here's a photo of the new batch of strawberries.  They've just emerged as sproutlings.  They're living in the MegaGarden, and they'll remain there for a while.  For those of you not familiar with our growing setup:  We use an Ebb & Flow system called a MegaGarden as our "nursery" for baby plants.  It's lighted by a 125W Compact Fluorescent system, and the nutrient mix is formulated for vegetative-stage plants.  When the plants are mature enough, they're moved out of the MegaGarden, into their final homes. 

Hydro-2008-01-01b.jpg

Also, here's a photo of the baby eggplants that have recently emerged.  They're living in the MegaGarden as well.

Hydro-2008-01-01c.jpg

This week's overview photo:

Hydro-2008-01-01a.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesThis fellow is always partially covered by the eggplant, and is not as large as the other strawberries.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. We're regularly getting fruit and frequently trimming back the leaves in order to give the strawberries more light.
#18Black Beauty Eggplant
Recently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#19Black Beauty EggplantRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#20Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#21Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#22Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#23Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#24Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
#25Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRecently emerged as seedling.  Appears healthy.  Living in the MegaGarden.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Building Your Own Aeroponic System, Attempt #1
12/18/2007 6:33:00 PM

I've been thinking about building an aeroponic system from scratch for a while, and this week I gave it a first attempt. 

The garden has been largely dominated by the massive eggplant lately.  The eggplant itself is quite healthy, but it's a bad neighbor to everything else in the TurboGarden.  It's simultaneously crowding it's neighbors and shading them under it's large canopy.

As far as I've researched, nobody is producing a single-site aeroponic unit.  I thought it was time to make one.

I spend a long time thinking about how to assemble an aeroponic unit from scratch... I came to a few basic parts that would be necessary, then expanded on the idea:

  • A reservoir is needed for the water.  The reservoir should be some type of opaque material, to prevent algae growth.  Ideally, the reservoir should be easy to monitor and service.
  • In order to be an aeroponic system, you need to have sprayers.  These sprayers need to take water from the reservoir and deliver it to the roots of the plant.
  • The plant needs to be supported, and it needs to be kept safe from damage during water changes and maintenance. 

I started looking for my reservoir first.  I considered lots of containers, from the simple Home Depot bucket to more exotic containers.  I ended up choosing a dog-food container.  Take a look at the photo below, and I'll start to explain why I decided on it.

Hydro-2007-12-15j.jpg

I found a 40-pound size Vittles Vault, made by Gamma Plastics.  It's intended to be an air-tight container for pet foods, but I had other ideas in mind.  I liked the large water-tight door, the generous capacity for water, and the flat top of the container.  It's naturally good at holding water, and is not prone to leaks.

You're probably noticing that there's a bucket on top... That's intentional.  I decided to separate the reservoir from the plant's "chamber".  The bucket has been fitted to hold a 6" net pot.  The plant lives entirely in the bucket.  Since the reservoir can be seperated from the bucket easily, I can clean the reservoir without disturbing the delicate roots.

How are they connected?  Well, I wanted to make a system with as few points of failure as possible.  Water likes to obey gravity, so in the chance of total failure, the water can fall safely back into the reservoir.  It's the path of least resistance.

The bucket has a hole drilled through the bottom.  The reservoir has a matching hole drilled through the top.  Take a look, and it will make more sense:

Hydro-2007-12-15k.jpg

That's actually a "through-hull" fitting, it's used in boating.  It's a sealed "pass through" that leads directly down into the reservoir.  This serves as our water-return.  The holes in both the reservoir and the bucket were drawn using a simple compass, and were rough-cut using a Dremel tool.  They were then sanded using a small drum-sander to achieve proper size and roundness.

Once the unit was dry-fit properly, I sealed the "through-hull" fitting with aquarium sealant, to ensure that it was totally water-tight. 

The lid of the bucket has been cut to accommodate a large (6") net pot.  The lid supports the weight of the plant, and the roots are able to hang freely inside the bucket.  Here's a top view of the bucket's lit (and pot) for perspective:

Hydro-2007-12-15l.jpg

Before we continue with construction, let's stop and talk about aeroponics for a moment.  Aeroponics describes a special breed of hydroponics, where the roots of a plant are sprayed with an aerated nutrient solution.  To make a spray, we force water through small jets.  Luckily, these jets are pretty easy to obtain.  I bought a handful of them at my local hydroponics shop.  In case you don't have access quite as readily as I do, here's a link where you can buy them (please note, I have not done business with this merchant, and as such, cannot make any promises).

The small microjets are threaded, and usually screwed directly into PVC fittings of your choosing.  Since nobody online seemed to know quite what size they are, here's the final answer: The microjets are threaded to fit a 10-32 machine thread hole.  It's easy to make them fit into PVC.  Simply drill a hole of appropriate size, then cut the threads with a 10-32 tap.  10-32 is a standard size (it's the fine-thread version of a #10 machine screw).  You should be able to buy a 10-32 tap quite inexpensively at nearly any hardware store.  Personally, I really like the Craftsman TapDriver.  It's a screwdriver-shaped handle that stores taps internally.  It's very convenient.  Sadly, Sears does not have a good photo on the website, so I've got no link to share.

You're able to construct the supply lines for the microjets by simply using 1/2" PVC and fittings.  It's easy to cut and glue PVC, and it doesn't require a lot of special tools.

Now that we know how we intend to supply the water; we need to know how we're going to get it there... We need a pump.

Here's an important advisory for you about pumps.  Don't just think you can buy an off-the-shelf aquarium pump.  I tried that.  It didn't work.

Hydro-2007-12-15e.jpg

Although these pumps look convenient, they lack sufficient power to make the jets work.  A crappy pump will make your jets "dribble".  You'll need a proper pump to get them to the critical pressure.

After some searching and testing, I wholeheartedly recommend an ActiveAqua PU250.  The ActiveAqua brand is represented by Hydrofarm, and their pumps are just what you need.  Shockingly, the ActiveAqua pump actually cost me less than the far-inferior pet-store variety.

Hydro-2007-12-15f.jpg

Speaking of pumps, the ActiveAqua PU 250 (and larger) pumps offer an important and convenient feature.  They have a pipe-thread connection to the pump.  Many brands of pump simply have a tubing "slip fit" connection.  I don't like "slip fit".  It's not strong, and it's not reliable.  Threaded connections are much stronger, and they'll make your life a lot easier.  In this case, the PU250 has a 1/2" pipe thread connection for the "outbound" water.  Here's a photo with the thread visible:

Hydro-2007-12-15g.jpg

Ok... Now we've got all the ingredients together... Let's make it work.

I wanted as simple a connection as possible, so I got an idea early in the project:  If I made the "return hole" in the bucket large enough, I could pass the supply line for the jets through the middle of it (meaning that I only have one hole to worry about instead of two).  This leads me to my sprayer system.

Hydro-2007-12-15h.jpg

It's a very simple setup.  The pump shoots the water straight up a length of PVC pipe.  This pipe is capped at the top, and the only way for the water to escape is through three microjets at the top.  Here's a closeup of the jets at the top of the pipe:

Hydro-2007-12-15i.jpg

The cap is just a regular 1/2" PVC cap.  It's been drilled and threaded for three 10-32 sprayers, which screw into it nicely.  The PVC cap is solvent-wended to the pipe to prevent leaks.

The pump rests inside the reservoir, with the sprayer-pipe extending vertically.  The sprayer-pipe travels through the large "through-hull" fitting that connect the bucket and reservoir, and stops just below the plant's basket.  Here's a photo of the whole thing assembled:

Hydro-2007-12-15a.jpg

Also, just so you can see it from the top, here's another angle:

Hydro-2007-12-15b.jpg

I like this design a lot, as it's pretty simple.  The water shoots out of the sprayers, and is carried back to the reservoir by gravity.  The pump is always sitting in water.  The whole system is designed to be as leak-resistant as possible, while allowing for easy cleaning.

The big "door" on the reservoir allows for easy access when you're testing and adjusting your water.  Additionally, you can completely disconnect the bucket from the reservoir, should you want to do more extensive cleaning.  Since the plant never leaves the bucket, it's always shielded from damage and accidents.

Hydro-2007-12-15c.jpg

The last part of the project was allowing the pump's cord to exit the reservoir.  I put the hole both as high as possible and as far from the the "return" as possible, to minimize leak concerns.  It's pretty simple.  I drilled a 1" hole through the reservoir using a hole-saw, and fitted it with a large electrical grommet for a finished look.

Here's a rough estimate of the costs involved in building this aeroponic system:

  • Small bucket and lid, $4
  • Gamma Vittles Vault, $35
  • ActiveAqua PU250 Pump, $15
  • 1 1/2" through-hull fitting, $7
  • Microjets, $2
  • 6" net pot, $1
  • PVC pipe and fittings, $3

Total materials cost: Roughly $67.  That's not bad, based on the costs of commercial units.  I bought all the parts for this project locally,.  The bucket and PVC were from Home Depot. The through-hull fitting was from a boating store.  The pump, microjets, and net pot came from my local hydroponics shop.  The Vittles Vault came from Petco.

You could certainly lower the cost by replacing the expensive Vittles Vault.  Honestly, I just loved the easy access of the big watertight door, and was willing to incur the expense for a nicer maintenance experience in the future. 

Admittedly, this was an experiment to build a "large plant, single site" unit.  In my next experiment, I'll be looking at building a unit meant for several smaller (strawberry) plants.  If you have comments or questions about how this was constructed, just let me know.  If you have an improvement on the design, make sure to share it with the group.

On to the weekly writeup:

Bambino eggplants are tasty.  I'm planning on growing several plants during the next grow cycle (that's a big part of why I built the new aeroponic system).  The eggplants are appearing regularly.

Additionally, small strawberries are appearing all over the place.  Thus far, we've eaten two of them, but they were early bloomers.  The majority of them are just growing now.

We've started some new seeds.  This time, it's Black Beauty eggplants and more of the Alexandria Alpine strawberries.   Once the existing Bambino eggplant finishes it's lifecycle, I'll replace it (and the remaining sites) with baby strawberry plants.  The new eggplants are destined for the newly constructed aeroponic system (and for Jessawick's secret Christmas present, another hydro system).

This week's overview photo:

Hydro-2007-12-15d.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesThis fellow is always partially covered by the eggplant, and is not as large as the other strawberries.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoRemoved on 11/18/2007.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. The largest fruits have a diameter of 1.75"  We're starting to pick them now, as they finish ripening.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Removed
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#15Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  Removed
#18Black Beauty Eggplant
New addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#19Black Beauty EggplantNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#20Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#21Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#22Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#23Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#24Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
#25Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesNew addition.  Has not yet germinated.  Seed placed into rockwool on 12/16/2007.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Full-Sized Baby Eggplants
12/11/2007 7:33:00 AM

I'd like to start this week by posting a correction regarding some of my previous comments...

Last week, I expressed puzzlement regarding our eggplant fruits, and why they weren't growing any larger.  Now I know better.  The Bambino Baby Eggplant is only expected to grow to a diameter of approximately 1.5".  Our little guys are fully mature, and nothing is wrong.

Actually, I'm very much looking forward to cooking the little Bambinos.  I'm thinking that I can skewer them whole, and grill an entire bunch of them on a kabob.  In theory, if they cook with the skin on, they should retain all their moisture.

Here's a photo of the first (and largest) of the Bambinos.  It's the same one featured in previous posts:

Hydro2-ZM.jpg

We're planning some new experiments in the near future.  I've started to purchase the items to construct an aeroponic unit from scratch.  Thus far, we've acquired a bunch of the Microjet sprayers (the little water sprayers inside an aeroponic unit), some 3" and 6" net pots, and some bulkhead connectors (used for passing a pipe through the wall or floor of a container).  We'd like to build a single-site aeroponic unit, specifically for larger plants, such as the eggplant.  Although our eggplant has been a success, it's really been a bad neighbor to the other plants in the TurboGarden.  I haven't found any other units to our liking, so we'll be building our own.

We've looked into a few types of materials.  At the moment, we're leaning toward making some custom plexi-glass "lids" for some planters.  One of the goals for this projects is to create an aeroponic unit with less expense than a commercially built unit.

This week's overview photo:

Hydro2-ZL.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesThis fellow is always partially covered by the eggplant, and is not as large as the other strawberries.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoRemoved on 11/18/2007.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. The largest fruits have a diameter of 1.75"  We're starting to pick them now, as they finish ripening.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Removed
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#15Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  Removed
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoKilled off as of 11/13/2007.  It wasn't doing well, and we ended its run.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Filtered Water and Slow Progress
12/4/2007 6:54:00 PM

This week we performed our first water change using the new Hydro-Logic Small Boy filter.  All said, it worked out pretty well.  Here are our quick observations on it:

  • It does filter chlorine and chloramine pretty quickly.  It keeps equal output pressure as input pressure, but it does decrease your flow rate.  We fill our hydro systems from a high grade (potable water) hose, which runs at standard household pressure.  We've put the filter in-line with the hose.  The filter uses 1/4" tube for it's inlets and outlets, which is a big reduction compared to the straight hose.  Admittedly, it does decrease flow rate, but I'm unaware of anything that operates any faster.  Secondarily, it's "fast enough" for our needs, so no harm done.
  • We really don't have any way to evaluate it's filtering effectiveness, as we don't have the special tools required.  I'm considering taking a sample to a water place for a proper analysis.
  • Here's an odd item about the Small Boy filter:  It includes a hose-thread to 1/4" tubing adapter.  This adapter is very helpful, and we use it.  The odd part is that they include only one...  I built a second one from plumbing fittings at Home Depot.
  • We've hooked the filter up with a set of our quick connectors, and it's connected in-line with the fill line.  The water comes from the tap, connects (optionally) to the filter, then to the hose.  We can remove the filter from the chain at any time.  Why remove the filter?  Because we empty our tanks in the exact opposite of how we fill them... We use the pumps to pump the water "back out" the fill hose (and down the drain).  We don't want the pump in place when dealing with waste water. 

Things are moving slowly in the aeroponic TurboGarden.  The eggplants are growing, but not as rapidly as before. We've added several more support strings to the eggplant, as the fruits are really weighing down the branches.  I'm glad we have the large and sturdy lightstand.

We've picked our first strawberry, and lots more are forming.  We're getting lots of flowers and lots of baby berries.

This week's overview photo:

Hydro2-ZK.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  First strawberry picked.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly. 
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesThis fellow is always partially covered by the eggplant, and is not as large as the other strawberries.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoRemoved on 11/18/2007.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. The largest fruits have a diameter of 1.75"
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Removed
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#15Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  Removed
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoKilled off as of 11/13/2007.  It wasn't doing well, and we ended its run.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Chlorine
11/27/2007 7:11:00 AM

Another week, another lesson...  We've been learning a lot more about water in recent weeks.  We've just purchased a new water filter for the plants.  Here's why:

Many of the supplements that we frequently use contain beneficial organisms that are helpful to the plants.  Until now, we've always used normal, unfiltered, city water for our hydroponics.  Our results have been pretty good, but we think that there's room for improvement.  Why filter?  Our city water contains chlorine.  It also contains chloramine.  There are a few differences between the two...

Standard "chlorine" isn't really the clean chemical chorline, it's actually HOCl (chloric acid).  It's used all over the place for water treatment.  This will kill biologicals in your water, that's why it's there.  However, there's an upside:  It's got a relatively short "half life" in your water.  It evaporates out in about 48 hours.

Chloramine are a different breed,  It's a more stable compound, and it won't evaporate out of your water at all.  It's formula is NH2Cl, and it's quite tricky to remove from your water.

Hence our new purchase.

We've bought a Hydro-Logic Small Boy filter.  It's capable of running in-line with our fill line for the tanks, it's pretty small, and the price was reasonable.  We did a lot of reading, and it was the best deal for a chloramine-capable filter.

Sadly we haven't used it yet.  We've got a water change next week, so it will see some action.  Note:  It's got attachments to run hose-thread.  That's a plus. 

This week's eggplant photo:

Hydro2-ZJ.jpg

And the overview photo:

Hydro2-ZI.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesWe've cut back the eggplant to give it more light, as it was really under the canopy.  It's obviously not as developed as the others, but it's healthy.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoRemoved on 11/18/2007.  It wasn't doing very well.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. The largest fruits have a diameter of 1.5", and are growing fast.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Removed
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#15Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  Removed
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoKilled off as of 11/13/2007.  It wasn't doing well, and we ended its run.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Advancements
11/20/2007 8:54:00 PM

We've made lots of advancements this week.  Some are technical, some are procedural, and some are just plain practical...

I briefly mentioned our new EC/PPM meter last week.  We'd just gotten it, so I didn't have much to say at the time.  Now that we've had some time with it, I can comment in a more intelligent manner.  On the advice of someone much wiser than ourselves, we bought a BlueLab Truncheon.  Although we haven't had it for a long time yet, we really do love it.  It's very ergonomic, self-calibrating, and very easy to use.  No complaints whatsoever.  It's really a winner.  Not to mention, it's pheonominal for stirring a nutrient solution.

Additionally, we're still quite happy with our relatively new pH meter (an Oakton pHTestr Basic).  It's still great.  It's really nice to have a pH tester that actually works right.

Also, we've kindly been provided a CO2 Boost sample, from the folks at CO2Boost.com.  It's a small carbon dioxide generator for the plants.  I'll freely admit that we don't have a lot of experience regarding CO2 supplementation, but we're considering the implications of adding it permanently.  We're looking into CO2 measurement, so we can have some idea about the condition of our environment.  Initial reactions to the CO2Boost:  It's easy to set up, quiet, simple, and doesn't take up a lot of space.  We've got it venting over top of the aeroponic unit.  Thus far, we like it quite a bit.

Hydro2-ZH.jpg

It's getting cold around here lately, and I was getting tired of using the hose to fill the hydroponic tanks.  We've got a a new solution for our water-filling needs.  It's working quite well for us, and it may be of use to you as well...

We have a detachable shower head that can be used with the hose.  The hose connects to the shower head via plastic pipe thread (1/2").  This is important, as it gives us a lot of options.  Here's a photo of what we did:

Hydro2-ZE.jpg

We found that Home Depot sells Melnor Quick Connectors (for garden hoses).  They are a lot like pneumatic quick-connectors, but built for water.  We adapted the hose to mate with the quick connectors, so our shower head is now easily removable.  Why is this important?  We can remove the shower head, and quickly connect our fill-hose for the tanks.  It's very convenient to fill the tanks this way, and it didn't require us to do any strange modifications to our existing plumbing.  Since we're like most home gardeners, we don't have a dedicated source of water in our growing room; this offers a great alternative.

Ok, time to talk about the plants:

We've ripped out both of the tomato plants, as they just weren't doing well.  Additionally, we've finished off the lettuces.  Lastly, the basil is gone as well.  It was fully mature, and it didn't have anywhere to go but down.

The eggplant is doing very well.  We've got lots of fruit growing now.  There's about the size of golf balls at the moment, and they are growing quickly.   We ran a Clearex cycle during the last water change, so the nutrient uptake should be greatly improved.

Take a look at this eggplant (photo is larger than life, it's actually about 1.25" diameter):

Hydro2-ZG.jpg

Here's the overview photo.  We've done a bunch of trimming this week:

Hydro2-ZF.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall fruit and flowers are appearing regularly.  Some leaf "crinkling" is visible, but I feel it's a holdover from earlier troubles.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesWe've cut back the eggplant to give it more light, as it was really under the canopy.  It's obviously not as developed as the others, but it's healthy.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoRemoved on 11/18/2007.  It wasn't doing very well.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantLots of flowers and fruit. The largest fruits have a diameter of 1.25", and are growing fast.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Removed
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#15Monet's Garden LettuceRemoved
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  Removed
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoKilled off as of 11/13/2007.  It wasn't doing well, and we ended its run.
Hydroponics Tuesday: The Errors of Our Ways
11/13/2007 8:49:00 PM

This week has been a busy one, as far as hydroponics are concerned.  We just got back from vacation in Orlando, FL.  On the last day of our trip, we managed to catch the Maximum Yield Indoor Gardening Expo.  The expo was spectacular.  We got a chance to speak with lots of the manufacturers, and we learned a lot in a short amount of time.

For the record, I would like to restate: We're just writing from our own experiences.  We're not botanists.  Do not take our experiences as fact, as we're always learning ourselves.

We received lots of samples of new products.  Overviews and reviews will be appearing in the the future.  We're obtained samples of many new types of nutrients and supplements.  In fact, we'll be putting together an additional ebb & flow, just so we can do comparative testing.  Here's a preliminary list of some of the new samples we've obtained:

  • Grotek: Bloom (4-9-8), Grow (8-4-11), MM2000 (Stress Reliever), VitaMax Plus (1-1-2)
  • Technaflora: Recipe for Success Kit (BC Grow, BC Bloom, BC Boost, Rootech Cloning Gel, Sugar Daddy, Root 66, Thrive Alive, MagiCal, and Awesome Blossoms)
  • Growth Technology:Orchid Focus (specific nutrition mix for orchids), Root Riot (foam planting medium / rockwool competitor)
  • Liquid Earth: Grow, Bloom, Vigor, Essential Elements, Flourish, and Organic Activator
  • Van Der Zwaan: Aqua Flakes A, Aqua Flakes B, Multi-Enzyme, Drip Clean, Magic Green, Bud XL, and Top Booster
  • STG (Sure to Grow): Numerous Mats & Planting Mediums
  • DNF: Everything but the kitchen sink... Green (3-2-0), Gold (1-2-1), GRO (Seedling & Cutting Formula), Enhance (4-1-1), Clear, Bloom (3-0-3), Organic GRO (8-2-3), Black (Phosphate & Nirtrate), CarboLogic (Sweetener), Veg Fortifier, and Bloom Fortifier
  • New Age Gardening: FytoCell (planting medium)
  • Grodan: AgroWool (rockwool fibers, looks like loose insulation), Cococan Crutons (chunks), Cococan Growing Mix)
Also, we got a chance to preview a lot of new products.  Personally, I'm quite interested in the Indoor Sun line of LED-based lighting.  They didn't have any units that I could obtain at the convention, or I would have purchased one.  I can not yet offer any opinion on whether or not they're any good.  However, I do hold out some hope.  LED lighting has traditionally had many shortcomings; but if they work, I'd be ecstatic.  Here's what I know thus far... They use AC power directly, without the use of a power brick (transformer), so they must have some type of voltage stepping internally.  They offer a very narrow spectrum of light, either in the vegetative or bloom spectrum (they sell two different versions).  Since the spectrum is so limited, the plants look a bit odd to the human eye (we're used to seeing things under fuller-spectrum light).

They've got my contact info, and I plan on purchasing one just as an experiment.  I'll post my results when I'm able to obtain one.  If they work, they could cut power usage dramatically.  I'd love to cut down on the electrical draw (and resultant heat).

Additionally, after returning from our trip, we had a chance to talk to a local hydro-shop owner.  He's given me quite a bit of advice.  We're in the middle of implementing it now, so I'll need to post the results at a later time.  Here are the changes that are in the works at the moment:

  • We've ripped out the smaller tomato (#18).  It just wasn't doing well, and we'll shortly replace it with a strawberry.
  • We've severely cut back the larger tomato (#10), in an attempt to get it to consolidate.
  • We're changing the pH mixture in our main aeroponic system.  We were trying to keep the pH between 6.5 and 7.0.  It turns out that those numbers weren't the right environment for our plants. Our new target is 5.5 - 6.0.  We're lowering the pH slowly, as to avoid a shock to the plants.
  • We'll soon be ripping out the lime basil (#17).  It's gone to seed, and it's reaching the end of it's life cycle.
  • Additionally, we'll soon be eating / killing off the remaining lettuce (in the ebb & flow).  We let some of the lettuce go to seed, as an experiment.  You'd be surprised what lettuce looks like when it gets fully mature.  It grows vertically, almost like the shoots of a small tree.  Eat it before it gets that old, as the taste becomes bitter.  Live and learn.
  • We're also trying out a new idea regarding the aeroponic TurboGarden.  For a while now, I've needed to continually add pH increaser to the water.  We've been told that this may be caused by the presence of an acid producing bacteria.  We've added some 35% hydrogen peroxide to the water.  In theory, this should kill the bacteria, and we shouldn't need to fidget with the pH as often.

We've also made some changes to our gear:

  • We'd been having problems with our 400W HPS light causing burning and curling on our plants.  We think we've isolated the cause, and we're in the transitional period.  We think that the reflector hood that we had was far too small for the powerful 400W bulb.  Our current thinking is that the small hood was focusing the heat directly downward, causing the burn.  The new hood is much larger (almost double the area), and it contains the heat much more than the smaller one.  The new one is just a larger model HydroFarm RD series.  We didn't make any changes to the bulb or ballast, just moved them over.  We're going to start lowering the hood a bit each evening, in an attempt to get more lumens to the plants.  We've been told that our strawberries have taken an excessively long time to flower, possibly due to light limits.
  • Good News: We've finally found a pH meter that works!  I'm proud to announce that we've found a real winner.  It's the Oakton pHTestr Basic.  It's accurate, easy to use, and actually works.  If you're read the previous posts, you already know about our multiple failures with pH meters from Milwaukee.  Don't buy a Milwaukee, buy an Oakton.
  • More Good News:  We've finally obtained a TDS meter as well.  TDS meters are used to measure the amount of Total Dissolved Solids in your water, as a measure of nutrient availability and consumption.  Up until this point, we've run entirely without one; but I think this can help to raise our game to a more scientific level.

We've lowered the main tank to about pH 6.4; and we'll keep dropping a bit longer.

Take a look at the new (much larger) lighting hood.  It's doing a much better job with the heat distribution.

Hydro2-ZD.jpg

Here's the weekly overview photo:

Hydro2-ZC.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall flowers have appeared.  Some "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSome "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.  Otherwise healthy and growing.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall flowers have appeared.  Some "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSome "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.  Otherwise healthy and growing.
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall flowers have appeared.  Some "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSome "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.  Otherwise healthy and growing.
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall flowers have appeared.  Some "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesSmall flowers have appeared.  Some "crinkling" on the leaves, possibly due to pH troubles.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesWe've cut back the eggplant to give it more light, as it was really under the canopy.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoWe've cut it back pretty severly, in an effort to get it more consolidated and strong.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantMonsterously large.  We've cut back numerous leaves to give some of the other plants a chance.  It's got several small eggplants growing now, probably at least ten.  It's the healthiest and strongest thing in the aero.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Regrowing.
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRegrowing.
#15Monet's Garden LettuceIt's gone to seed, and it starting to resemble a small sapling, going almost totally vertical.  We're going to rip it out soon.
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Gone to seed.  It's fully mature, and will soon be removed from the aero.
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoKilled off as of 11/13/2007.  It wasn't doing well, and we ended its run.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Nothing To See Here
11/6/2007 9:00:00 AM

We're on vacation this week, so I'm afraid that I have no new hydroponics information to report...

Our frield Danielle is attending to the plants this week, so they have company while we're away.

For any of you who happen to be visiting the Maximum Yield Indoor Gardening Expo, we'll be there on Saturday the 10th.  If you'd like to meet up, send me an email through the site.

Hydroponics Tuesday will resume normally next week. See you then.

-Ben

Hydroponics Tuesday: Eggplant Flowers by the Pound
10/30/2007 8:42:00 PM

Just as last week, the eggplant is the biggest feature in the garden.  It's sprouted tons of little flowers, probably 30-40 at this point.  If every one of them turns into an eggplant, I'll be my own farmers' market...

Although I make no claims of being a subject expert on the topic of eggplants, here's what I've been doing.  Much like the strawberries from previous batches, I do the pollenation manually.  I keep a paint brush near the plants.  When I see flowers, I brush the inside of them with the paint brush.  Truthfully, I don't know if an eggplant needs this treatment; but I'm doing it anyway.  It's always given good results with the strawberries, and I'm not enough of a botanist to question it.

Although the plants seem pretty happy, I do notice some unexpected downward curling in the leaves of the strawberries, tomatoes, and basil.  I'm not sure the cause, but I'm suspecting that I haven't been adding enough of the Mag Pro supplement.  I have recently changed the water, and I'm thinking that the plants were running low. 

Here's this week's overview photo:

Hydro2-ZB.jpg

Please Note:  I will *not* be writing a Hydroponics Tuesday next week.  I'm going to be on vacation, and I won't be here to tend the plants.  Our pet sitter Danielle will be taking care of the garden for me.  I'll resume the normal schedule when I return from our trip to Orlando.

For any of you who happen to be visiting the Maximum Yield Indoor Gardening Expo, we'll be there on Saturday the 10th.  If you'd like to meet up, send me an email through the site. 

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 13" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 10" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  It's leaves are visibly "reaching" for the light outside the massive "eggplant canopy".  It's not getting as much light as it's relatives, but it's healthy.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoApproximately 4' long (supported by the lightstand).  It's beginning to recover from it's previous rough week.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantMonsterously large.  It's at least 30 inches tall and 30 inches wide.  It's supported by twine anchored to the light stand.  At least 30-40 flowers visible.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Regrowing.
#14Monet's Garden LettuceRegrowing.
#15Monet's Garden LettuceThis fellow has become a bit of an experiment.  Since it was the strongest of the letti, we're attempting to let it go to seed.  It's starting to look more like a lettuce "vine" than a "head".
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Roughly 22" tall.  Several flowers are visible.  Additionally, there seems to be some downward curling in some of the leaves.
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoStill not terribly strong, but looking better than last week.  New leaves are beginning to grow.
Hydroponics Tuesday: Huge Honking Eggplant
10/23/2007 7:03:00 AM

From the title of this post, you can probably realize that the eggplant in the aeroponic system is getting absolutely huge.  To be honest, I'm thinking that I may have to cut back some leaves (or move the neighboring plants to different sites).  It's really starting to shade the adjacent strawberries.  The eggplant has lots of flowers, and seems quite happy.

In related, but unexplainable news... The pH seems to have stabilized more than usual.  Normally, we have rapid fluctuations.  For the first time in a long time, I haven't raised the pH is almost four days.  That's a big deal, as I usually have to raise it daily (in the aeroponic system).

The larger tomato (#10) is getting quite large.  In fact, since you can't see the whole thing in this week's "overview" photo, I decided to give it a photo of its own.  At it's tallest point, it's still about 30 inches from the light source.  No burning is visible, but to be safe, I probably won't let it get much closer.

Strangely, the smaller tomato (#18) is really struggling.  I'm not sure why.  It appears weak, spindly, and has few leaves.  Additionally, it's leaves show curling (but no burning).  I'm not sure if it's going to live.  This is particularly odd, as everything else in the same aeroponic system is looking great.

Here's this week's overview photo:

Hydro2-Z.jpg

Additionally, here's a vertical shot of the larger tomato (#10):

Hydro2-ZA.jpg

PlantTypeStatus
#01Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#02Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#03Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#04Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 0" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#05Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 10" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#06Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#07Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 9" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#08Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 12" long (longest leaf).  No burning.  Looking good.
#09Alexandria Alpine StrawberriesRoughly 11" long (longest leaf).  However, it's obviously being cramped by the enormous eggplant "next door".  It's leaves are visible changing direction, moving towards the areas not shaded by the eggplant.
#10Andrew Rahart's Jumbo Heirloom TomatoApproximately 4' long (supported by the lightstand).  Has some old burning visible, but appears quite strong.  Although it has grown to within about 3' of the light, no burning is visible yet.  I'm pretty sure that the previous burning was due to heat exposure.
#11Delicious Heirloom TomatoPreviously killed through personal stupidity.
#12Bambino Baby EggplantThis fellow is really dominating the TurboGarden.  It's big and wide.  I need to add twine to stabilize.  Flowers are visible, and I'd expect baby fruits soon.
#13Monet's Garden Lettuce
Still alive, starting to regrow.
#14Monet's Garden LettuceStill alive, starting to regrow.
#15Monet's Garden LettuceSurprisingly, it's regrowing quite well.  It's staring to look pretty strong again.  I never know you could get away with harvesting a lettuce and letting it regrow.
#16Monet's Garden LettuceTasty.  Eaten on 09/29/2007.
#17Lime Basil
Roughly 22" tall.  No burning visible anymore.  Very healthy.  Very tasty.
#18Delicious Heirloom TomatoNot looking so good this week.  Appears spindly, and the leaves are curled a bit.  One of the main branches "fell off", and I'm not sure why.  The water and light chemistry should be perfect, and I don't see any kind of physical or pest damage.