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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.
Posted By Sean, Sunday, November 18, 2007 11:59:00 AM
Wow Ben. This is exciting stuff. After reading your blog for a while and now finally commenting verses just being a silent reader, I think my wife and I need to get into this Hydroponics thing. We love to grow veggies and herbs but with cooler weather upon us, it makes it hard to do but with your system, we could do it year around. Thanks for posting in such great detail.
Posted By Benji, Sunday, November 18, 2007 11:57:00 PM
There's a lot that you can do with indoor gardening. Let me know if there's anything that I can do to assist.

We'll actually be opening a site dedicated just for hydroponics in the near future. We'll make an announcement as soon as it's finished.
Posted By Luc, Wednesday, March 19, 2008 6:38:00 PM
I hope to catch the show in Montreal this summer, gald to hear it was a fun time from your point of view.