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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.
Florida Vacation 2007, Day 8: Convention and Departure
11/10/2007 10:30:00 PM

The final day in Orlando...  Our morning was fairly uneventful.  We checked out of the Caribe Royale around 10:30 AM. We headed out in search of the hydroponics convention, which was only about one mile away.

Although it took a while to get going, the convention was completely worthwhile.  We got to meet lots of different vendors in the industry, and we picked up massive amounts of samples.  I'll post a manifest of everything upon returning home, and hopefully we'll be able to do some reviews of all the new nutrients that we acquired.

Several new items and techniques caught our interest.  Personally, I'm pretty interested in the Indoor Sun line of LED lights.  At this point, I'm thinking that they're too good to be true, but the concept has me very interested.

Orlando-IndoorSun.jpg

The crew at the Grodan booth was great.  I loved the "tomato in rockwool" costume.  Great roots.

Orlando-GrodanTomato.jpg

Also, I'm looking forward to trying out the C02 Boost generator.  It's a natural generator, which works something like fermentation.  It's all natural, and quite self-contained.  I want to give it a shot. 

Orlando-C02Boost.jpg

We've stopped for the night just north of Savannah.  Tomorrow we'll meet up with Sutko and Outta somewhere near Raleigh, NC.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 7: Sea World Encore
11/9/2007 9:09:00 PM

Today, we made an encore trip to SeaWorld.  I had better luck getting high quality photos, as I already knew the course that the shows would follow.  Also, we finally had the chance to get good pictures of the polar bears.  They're not always in a visible area, so we were lucky this time.

Orlando-PolarBear.jpg

Additionally, we got better pictures at a number of different places.  Here are a few of the Orcas:

Orlando-WhaleTail.jpg

The Orca show was different this time.  I managed to catch a double-jump with the camera:

Orlando-DualWhales.jpg

Also, the Orca show included a mother and baby Orca... The baby was just learning, but it made for a great photo:

Orlando-WhaleAndBaby.jpg

Also, I finally managed to get a good picture of a "Leafy Sea Dragon".  It's far-and-away the strangest fish that I've ever seen.  It's in the seahorse family, and it remarkably resembles a plant.  Take a look: 

Orlando-LeafySeaDragon.jpg

Another new trick... I figured out how to shoot photos through the glass of the underwater viewing windows:

Orlando-DolphinFace.jpg

Dinner was at Ming Court.  We heard that the food was good, so we decided to give it a try. Jessawick liked it.  I was pretty indifferent.  It wasn't bad; it just didn't stand out as especially good.  After dinner, we stopped in at the local grocery store.  We wanted to get some "real" food, and try to get back to eating a more normal diet.

Tomorrow is the hydroponics convention.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 6: Assorted Randomness
11/8/2007 11:22:00 PM

Today was a combination of randomness.  Since we had limited items left on our Orlando agenda, we bounced around more than a little.  Our morning started with a trip to "Old Town" Orlando.  "Old Town" was highly recommended to us (incidentally, by the same fellow who recommended Arabian Nights).  Also, it's the location of the Haunted Grimm House.  Here's our joint assessment of "Old Town": It's a hopelessly inept tourist trap.  There is nothing there that offers any type of redeeming value.  It's consists of a few faux "streets" filled with shops and "attractions".  Most of them are peddling junk. The typical stuff mostly... martial arts "supplies" (also known as the "dragons and swords shop"), the discount gift shop (stuff so hideous that you're embarrassed to even consider buying it), the bars and restaurants that serve downright bizarre food, and caricature "artists" by the boatload.

We originally planned on visiting the Grimm House, but on seeing it in person, we thought better of it.  It's pretty lame.

There's a short version of all this:  AVOID OLD TOWN, ORLANDO.

Having met with disappointment in Old Town, we decided to spend a while "finishing out" Universal's Islands of Adventure (the more ride-based of the parks).  Since it was getting on towards lunch time, we called ahead for reservations at Mytho's (the restaurant in the "Lost Continent" section of the park).  Supposedly, it's won a lot of awards for excellent food.  The place is beautiful.  We took pictures both inside and outside.  Additionally, we'd both say that the food was far better than expected.  The food was very well made, and the restaurant was really a cut above "theme park food".  It's reputation is deserved. I'm glad we ate there.

Orlando-Mythos.jpg

We caught a few of the rides for an encore round.  "Poseidon's Fury" really is well planned and executed.  We didn't get any photos during the performance, but we got plenty of the exterior.

After roaming all about the Islands of Adventure, we came back to the hotel for a bit.  We like the hot tub.

We had reservations at Fulton's Crab House this evening.  Yes, the Fulton's in Downtown Disney.  We missed it on the last trip, and figured we'd give it a shot.  I'd heard that it was pricey, but I really had no idea... When we looked at the menu, we found that most entrees were over $45.  I like good food just a much as the next guy, but even Red Square isn't *that* expensive.  I'd estimate that a bill for two people would be near $180.  We decided it was ridiculous, and went to Raglan Road (the Irish Pub) instead.  Raglan Road always has great food, and the house band is always entertaining.  The only negative about our visit this evening was our seating... We were directly in front of a speaker, and they like to run the whole show pretty loudly.  On the whole, we'd always recommend Raglan Road.  They were the highlight of the Disney Dining Plan from our trip last year.  They're reasonably priced on a cash basis as well (like tonight).

I got a few pictures of the Irish dancing this time.

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Ok, it's late now.  I miss Lightroom.  Must get better laptop.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 5: Universal Studios & Blue Man Group
11/7/2007 11:12:00 PM

Today, we spent most of the day at Universal Studios, and the remainder at the adjacent Islands of Adventure (the Universal "ride" park).

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I'd say that the highlight of Universal Studios is the "Mummy's Revenge" ride. It's actually quite unique, as it's partially roller-coaster and partially thrill ride.  In many ways, it's similar to "Expedition Everest" at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Also, the Monster Makeup show is quite good.  It's partially informative, but mostly just very funny.

I rather like the Islands of Adventure.  Admittedly, we haven't been completely through them yet; but thus far, they're pretty good.

Tonight, dinner was at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.  Although I normally don't like to eat at chain restaurants named for fictional characters, tonight was an exception.  We had tickets to the Blue Man Group, and it was decidedly convenient.  In fairness, the food was much better than I expected.  I was pleased.

The final event of the day was the Blue Man Group.  Jessawick got us tickets a few days ago.  The show was absolutely fantastic.  It's really difficult to describe.  It's somewhere between an interactive concert and performance art.  My description is sorely inadequate.  For a comparison... I really like Cirque du Soleil, but Blue Man is better.  Given the choice, I'd see Blue Man.  They didn't allow photos, so I have nothing good to include.  If you ever get the chance to see them, take it.  At this point, Blue Man and Discovery Cove are the best items of the entire vacation.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 4: Time Shares & Sea World
11/6/2007 9:24:00 PM

We should have known better, but our curiosity got the better of us early this morning.  The concierge desk offered us breakfast and $75 cash if we would sit through a presentation about time shares.  Since it started at 07:30 AM, and was only to last 90 minutes, we'd figured that it would be over by the time the SeaW orld opened.  We were clearly mistaken.

Firstly, I'll skip most of the boring details.  Here's the lowdown on what they offered:

The "cheap" version of the time share was about $20k. The one they were pushing hard was about $25k.  Each one had an annual maintenance and association commitment of over $1k.  In exchange, you would get one week per year use of the property.  They offered a decent "exchange" program, where you could obtain use of outside properties.

We just didn't see the value in it.  Secondarily, lots of their business policies were very questionable.  They were pushing a 15.9% interest rate.  They weren't prepared for any difficult questions either, such as "what's the historical rate of maintenance fee increases?"  Eventually, they just got tired of me asking intelligent questions, and became quite unpleasant to be around.  We ended up wasting an extra 40 minutes, but gained the knowledge to never get roped into such a diversion ever again.

Our next stop was Sea World.  Although Sea World is a different park than Discovery Cove, they share common ownership.  Jessawick had a blast feeding the sea lions, dolphins, and sting rays.

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Obviously, we had to go see the Shamu show.  That's one large black-and-white beast.  I was glad that I lugged around the huge 70-200 f/2.8 lens all day.  I miss having Lightroom handy.  My laptop is almost six years old, and it's just not possible to make it work in any practical manner.  I'll need to do lots of photo processing when we get home.

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The walruses (walri?) were amusing.  They're larger than one would expect.

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The Walrus and Sea Lion show is great.  Here's a photo of their stadium:

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Also, Sea World has a section for penguins and polar bears.  Here's a good one of a penguin:

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We had dinner at a carribbean restaurant.  The food was pretty good.  Orlando has this strange obsession with the Anheuser-Busch company.  Although they appears to be a great corporate citizen; I just can't will myself to like their beer.  It's such a shame that it's just so bad.