Number 6) The Ebb and Flow System is just
plain cool to a gizmo nut! Controlled flooding and draining provides an
exceptional growth environment while allowing the plants a versatile
and stable growth platform.
Thank you everyone for your interest in hydroponic growing. I suspect we now have many, many more "hydro" gardeners growing their own and enjoying a very productive hobby. I am glad to have contributed to this in even the smallest of ways!!
I'll keep the blog up and running as well as the facebook page. Don't forget to "subscribe" to the Youtube page as well.
The Ebb and Flow system provides a "blast" of
oxygenated nutrients to the roots for short periods allowing the media
to hold and maintain moisture during the ebb cycles. This gives the
roots a larger quantity of fresh air expose and stimulates the plants
natural reaction of expanding the root base.
The Ebb and Flow system allows flexibility in
nutrient temperature because of the separate reservoir. By having the
ability to shade, mechanically cool (chiller), or even partially bury a nutrient reservoir, efficient
temperatures can be maintained in the heat of the summer or the dead of
winter. This keeps the roots from excesses and stress.
Why do I use Silica Stone? 1) Silica stone is
completely reusable after a thorough cleansing and it will not clog
Why do I use Silica Stone? 2)The internal
porosity allows the granules to absorb moisture and to slowly release it
back to the plant as required. As a result of the uniquely shaped
granules, the media achieves an excellent air to water ratio in the pot.
This is particularly important to discouraging root rot while
encouraging oxygen flow and healthy root formation.
Why do I use Silica Stone? 3) It does not
break down like other media, and can used to successfully cultivate
plants from seedling to specimen. Silica stone's composition is
predominantly silicon dioxide, which results in the media slowly
releasing silica to the plant, which is particularly important to cell
Why do I use Silica Stone? 4) When lining the
bottom of a pot with silica stone, the silica stone acts as a reserve
reservoir so plants can get the extra moisture they need in the later
stages of growth. They then slowly add micro-nutrients into the root
zone for further growth and disease resistance.
And finally....Why do I use Silica Stone? 5)
They do not roll around and under things when accidentally (and
inevitably) dropped as does hydroton. Marbles everywhere!!!!
With the inherent ability of hydroponics to grow large plants in a relatively small container, care must be taken in providing support for the plant as it grows.
Lettuce and most greens are easy since they tend to grow "bushy" and fill "out" over the container. Tomatoes and other fruiting plants tend to expand vertically in a bigger proportion than horizontally and considerable force is then exerted on the small container base. Since the roots are "free floating" and provide no real support, the risk of a plant toppling is real and can cause many problems not only to the plant, but to the system itself and other plants in the area.
An easy technique is to find the appropriate size tomato "hoop" as can be found in any box store or garden center. These work well "upside down" because they provide a solid base on the floor. Measure first to insure the bottom hoops will fit over the reservoir and onto a solid, flat surface. Be very careful of the exposed ends since they will now be on top and at eye level. Bending them inwards and curving downward should alleviate this hazard. Square hoops work as well, but again, insure the hoop will fit before purchasing.
But since this is about "frugality", a stick trellis is probably the best method for not only cost, but flexibility in size and strength. Gather three to four 6'-8' sticks or branches of about 1" - 2" diameter. Lay them out in the sun for a few days to dry and expose any bugs that have hitch-hiked to birds or to the sunlight. This is especially true if you will be using them indoors. Trim any remaining branches and bark to aid in tying the plants to the supports.
Once dried and ready, simply build a "teepee" around the base of the reservoir or container and fasten the meeting point with twine or wire. Some bracing may be needed around the base to prevent the legs from sliding, but once there is weight from the plant they tend to stay in place quite well.
As the plant grows, use discarded nylons torn into strips as a means to secure the plant to the legs. Another option is cheap yarn, but the key is to find a material that is flexible and will not cause abrasions to the plant such as would wire, zip-ties, or zero-stretch string.
Use your imagination in suport techniques and allow the plant all the room it needs to grow while preventing the dreaded "tip-over"!!
I thought I would share some things learned over time. Some the hard way.
* When adding nutrients after a complete or partial cleaning, use a milk jug to mix the entire batch of nutrients in one gallon of water. This allows the ability to shake and mix very well without having to stir the entire reservoir which can be quite messy! Add a couple gallons of fresh water and turn the aerator back on. Slowly add the one gallon mix to the reservoir. Fill the remainder of the reservoir with water and slowly stir if needed. This tip can greatly speed up the process as well as insure the nutrients are much more thoroughly mixed.
* If using tap water from a treated source, let it stand for 24 hours with the container lid removed. This will allow chlorine or other sanitizing chemicals to dissipate preventing any reactions with the plants or nutrients.
* Reuse your media by soaking soak in a bath of 1/4 cup bleach to five gallons of water. Rinse well with cool water and let dry before bagging.
* Check your pH at a minimum every other day. Daily after 1/2 the expected use time.
* Record each of your actions in a journal for easy reference. You will be amazed at how often you need to recall a nutrient change, harvest, light change, germination length, or transplanting method. I set up my journal specific to each batch from seed germination through final tear down and cleaning.
How do you keep the light of your nutrient solution?
Nutrient solution is ready and willing to grow some incredible algae (and
the ugly side effects) with just a little artificial or actual sunlight. Since
algae spores are everywhere, a nice bath of highly oxygenated and nutrient rich
liquid is a perfect "swamp" to set up a nice colony. Once algae
gets established, the fight is on and this is a fight that is easily avoided.
Since the solution is below the medium level, it is easy to assume that no
light can penetrate, but in reality, it can and will easily penetrate coir,
hydroton, silica stone, or any other medium. All it needs is a few hours
to establish, so prevention is the key. And it is relatively easy.
Simple light-proof coverings are all that is needed. The nice little
black, neoprene covers are great and can be found in any hydro shop or
catalog. They are made to fit any net pot size and have a convenient slot
of which the stem is tightly surrounded. Since it is neoprene and
can "stretch", it can grow with your plant. It is also durable
and washable as needed.
Another item is Mylar. This is the stuff those crazy balloons and
emergency blankets are made of and with a little research, can be found
cheaply. Since it can also be used as a more efficient solution to aluminum
foil in reflecting lights towards the plants, hydro shops and catalogs sell
rolls of it. It is easy to work with and keeps every one of those
valuable photons working to help your plant grow.
I happened to find some closeout emergency blankets or "space
blankets" as they are commonly called and ended up with the equivalent of
several sheets for just a couple bucks. It cuts easily and can be easily
taped or glued to the surface of a DWC or Ebb and Flow Table. Just cut
some slots for the plant's stem to slide through and you are set. Not
only have you protected your solution from algae's much needed light waves, but
you have added additional reflective properties to your grow area. Use
some of the extra Mylar to drape along the sides of the grow area as
well. Every photon counts!
Do a little research and internet searches for these blankets before
committing to a roll of the full retail stuff. It's always nice to save a
few extra bucks since this is "Frugal Hydroponics"!
Thanks to everyone for the great responses and questions on Youtube. The videos were fun to make and by the responses, informative as well. Frugal Hydroponics "How To" videos.
Some of the requests are in regards to nutrients, pH balancing, root care, and cleaning. I am intending on producing a couple videos with these topics in the near future, so check back. I will also post the update on this blog as well.
It has been a while since I posted as these past couple months have been exhausting on all fronts! I hope everyone's harvest was a full bounty.
I am now faced with much tighter constraints on space. Where to set up an indoor grow in a much smaller home? This will take a bit of thought alongside all the unpacking and reorganizing of an entire household from a 1000 mile move!!
I can see a hoop house in the future. More to follow......
It has been a very productive summer in the traditional raised beds and containers. With all the changes in our lives and the time those changes demanded, I did not attempt an outdoor hydro system. I also powered down the indoor lettuce grow as part of the change involved a complete relocation. So glad to have those changes mostly complete.
I will begin posting very soon with some pieces on preparation, lighting, medium, and some ideas I am pursuing for additional small-space indoor systems.
Well, it's been a busy spring and now summer is in full gear. The outside garden is coming along nicely and since the indoor hydro systems are so low-maintenance, it's needless to say the outdoors is getting all the attention.
I did end the Simpson batch as of this morning which gave us a lettuce life of 99 days. Over 50 of those days were the harvest window with at least 30 - 35 harvests. I made no system changes and it was on autopilot the last few weeks only getting a cap full of H2O2 every 7-10 days. The previous nutrient change lasted through the end.
Here is the newest batch of mesclun mix or "Bon Vivant Mix". This is the same we had last time around and we loved it. I have managed at least 5 separate varieties with 2 being of the red variety. Nice to add some color. These are a couple weeks in the system and approaching 30 days since germination. They are currently on half nutrients with a light cycle of 14 on, 10 off.
I do regret to post that contrary to my earlier plans, I will not be running an outdoor hydro system over the next few months. With so much going on, I really don't think I could have given it an adequate run with appropriate journaling and maintenance.
We do have some big changes in the future though...and are excited about the potential for expanded capabilities!!
Here is my latest video. I conduct a simple pH test and talk through the procedures for raising or lowering pH. I will post a series on pH to the blog over the next couple of weeks and felt that this would be a good intro into how the process works.
I also include "100 days" since that is how old the Mesclun Mix is as of today. I have another batch in the germination process and if my timing is correct, it will be nearing harvest as I tear down the current mix.
Here is another highly informative article on plant nutrition from http://www.hydroponicunlimited.com/. I am not affiliated with that site, but I find the forums to be very educational and another great platform for sharing information and shortening the learning curve.
Nitrogen and your plants.
Nitrogen isn't really used by a plant in it's raw form that you see when you hold some nitrogen sulfate in your hand. Nitrogen is absorbed by a plant and then used in many ways by the plant.
When adequate nitrogen is present, a plant grows fast and has lots of green foliage. It allows plants to grow to maturity instead of stunting the plant due to deprivation of nitrogen which causes plants to remain small and develop slowly as a result of the lack of nitrogen required for structural and genetic materials and processes.
When nitrogen is in amounts insufficient for the plant's total health, often the older leaves will be seen to become necrotic and die. This is because the plant is moving the nitrogen from the older, less important tissues into the younger, more important parts of the plant.
With nitrogen deprivation, a distinctive purple coloration of the undersides of leaves can been seen also. Root growth is restricted and flower and fruit development is delayed.
Many of the processes that a plant uses to survive and grow are accomplished by the use of chemical compounds. Each of those compounds are made up of various chemicals.
The compound that plants use to convert sunlight to produce plant sugars from water and carbon dioxide, "photosynthesis" is just one of the compounds that require nitrogen to function.
Many of the proteins used within plants are made up of amino acids that rely on nitrogen. The proteins that make up the structural components of a plant use nitrogen. Nitrogen is also a component in plant enzymes that are necessary to create the biochemical reactions on which life itself is based.
Many energy-transfer compounds like adenosine triphosphate, (ATP), allow cells to conserve and use the energy produced during metabolism.
Nucleic acids also rely on nitrogen. DNA, the genetic material that make it possible for plants to grow and reproduce, uses nitrogen in it's processes.
Bluntly put, without nitrogen, life as we know it would cease to exist.
In the soil itself, nitrogen is available in three different forms:
1. Organic Nitrogen Compounds
2. Ammonium ions
3. Nitrate ions
Of all the nitrogen in the soil that has the potential of being used by plants, 95 to 99 percent of that nitrogen is in organic forms of plant or animal residues, organic matter or in living organisms like microbes such as bacteria. Nitrogen in it's organic forms is not directly available to the plants to use.
Almost all of the nitrogen that is available for a plant to use is in the form of Ammonium ions (NH4) and as Nitrate ions (NO3). These two forms of nitrogen are usually referred to as "mineral nitrogen", and are what is used in hydroponic plant growth via a water/nutrient solution.
Tap water: Tap water can contain chemicals such as chlorine which can adversely affect your plants. If unsure it is best to let your tap water stand for 24 hours prior to adding to your reservoir or use chlorine remover for aquariums. By letting your water stand, you equalize the temperature of the water to that of the room, thereby making the water less likely to shock the plants' root system.
Note: Chlorine will not kill your plants. Small amounts can actually help them resist mold and mildew build up at the stock base. However most city's water that contain chlorine also contain bromine that will kill your plants, the best way to get rid of this bromine is to fill a barrel (not your reservoir) with cold water. The next day you will notice that the walls of the barrel will be covered in little bubbles. Tap your barrels sides a few times until all of these bubbles float up to the top. This trick is called perking and is a very effective way to expel bromine. It is also much cheaper than using aquarium tablets.
Keep your nutrient solution temperature between 68 - 78°F.
It is a good idea to run 0 strength or 1/4 strength nutrient through the system for a day in between changes, to leach out any fertilizer buildup while you have the opportunity.
Make sure the fertilizer you use in a hydroponics system is complete. Match the solution strength to your plants' needs.
Use a pH meter or at minimum, a pH Test Kit to measure the pH. Use pH Up or pH Down type products to insure you maintain optimum levels for nutrition uptake.
Always use an aquarium air pump and stone rated for the size of your nutrient reservoir. Oxygenation of the nutrient solution is paramount for nutrient uptake. The smaller and higher volume bubbles the better. Avoid large and sporadic bubble flow and discard stones that have become clogged and constricted. Stones are cheap!
Sanitize your reservoir prior to use by pouring boiling water over all areas to be exposed to nutrient solution. This will prevent and pathogens from gaining a foothold and will kill most fungal spores.
Add a capful (5ml) hydrogen peroxide to the reservoir once every 7 days as a preventative and to add additional oxygen to the solution.
Plants will die from over nutrition or over fertilization very quickly; an undernourished plant will last longer than an over nourished plant. Let the condition of the plant be your guide and be prepared to flush nutrients if you suspect a harsh over-feeding. Several websites and forums have sections on identifying both over-nutrition and nutrient deficiency conditions. Post a picture and you will likely get timely expert advice.
By carefully measuring the fertilizer when you mix up the nutrient solution, you can get away without the initial cost of an expensive TDS meter or EC meter as well. The best advice here would be to always top off your nutrient reservoir with 1/2 strength solution whenever it is a little low. Every two weeks, start over with fresh water and nutrients to avoid a nutrient imbalance in your solution. Again, the use of a journal and paying attention to your plant's condition will allow you effective results in no time.
Keep it simple. Follow the manufacturers instructions. Check your system often while learning and observing plant behavior. Ask the experts. Learn from others.
Portions of above content have been pulled from wiki.
I decided to record the simplicity of a Deep Water Culture Hydroponic system nutrient change. From up-potting into the DWC, this batch of Simpson Elite has been on half nutrients. I have found that the 40 day mark is ideal for increasing the nutrients to full strength.
My results have shown this timeline to allow harvests to continue for another 50-60 days without bolting and without the need for additional nutrients. Since the lettuce is designed for full harvest in soil at 42-46 days, we are getting both earlier harvesting (10 days) and extended harvesting (50 days) with the hydroponic efficiency. The harvests are "partial" in taking maximum 40% of each plant every 2-3 days.
Hydroponic nutrient solutions are sold in concentrated form and are added to your indoor garden's water supply at a certain ratio. The number of vendors and varieties can be very intimidating to the novice and expert alike. Keep in mind what plants you are growing (greens / flowers / flowering vegetables), the money you wish to spend (including shipping as necessary), and the lifecycle of your plants (growth / flowering etc.),
How Much Nutrient Solution For My Plants?
Plants require different proportions of nutrients during vegetation and flowering cycles. Modern nutrient products are far more advanced than their earlier counterparts and now allow precise adjustments based on growth stage. Most hydroponic nutrient solutions are sold in a "growth" or "grow" formula for the vegetative growth phase and a "bloom" or "flower" formula for the flowering or phase of the growth cycle. If you are growing plants that will produce flowers or "flower and then produce fruit, you should at least plan to incorporate a "bloom" formula because your yield will increase exponentially if you can max out your plant's capacity during the flowering stage.
For my lettuce varieties, cilantro, and basil plants, I only need the "grow" nutrients as these plants do not require flowering or fruiting phases for production. The "grow" nutrient application rates are increased as the plants mature.
A weak hydroponic nutrient solution should be used for newly rooted cuttings and plants in the process of being transplanted or in transition between growing cycles. I use 1/2 strength nutrients for lettuce until the 3rd or 4th week as using at full strength is generally overkill at the initial stages of growth. It is also ideal for plants in poor growing conditions, such as low light, overheated gardens, and root-bound or crowded plants.
Regular strength liquid hydroponic nutrients are fine for normal, healthy plants in ideal growing conditions. In rare conditions, you may be able to increase the fertilizer strength to capitalize on the efficiency of your garden. This only works if you have high quality lighting, ventilation, and CO2 production that will allow your plants to grow fast enough to handle the extra feedings. Always make sure to increase the fertilizer strength gradually to avoid burning the plant.
In addition to the basic types of hydroponic nutrient solution, there are also various additives you can purchase to boost your plant's growth. Keep good records in your growlog of what additives are used, when they were applied, and the results (good or bad). This will give you a good reference guide on what worked and what didn't work for your future grows. I personally do not use additional additives with one exception; Hydrogen Peroxide. This was a tip from another grower and is used as a preventative to maintain sanitary conditions. If I were growing blooming/fruiting plants, I would likely use additives for flushing between cycles and to capitalize on flower/fruit development.
Most nutrient solution labels are pretty straight forward and allow a measure of error for the novice grower. Flush your hydroponic system immediately if you see any signs of an adverse reaction and don't be afraid to experiment. I will re-emphasize the use of a journal or grow log to evaluate the effects of solution rates and number of days between changing or adding solution.
It is a very simple process once the basics are understood.
Here is the first of a series of posts on plant nutrition. The following is published with permission of Hydroponic Unlimited http://www.hydroponicunlimited.com/ This website and the website owner have been very forethcoming with hydroponic system design and advice, nutrients, maintenance, and all-around hydroponic information.
Plant Nutrients and how they are used
For testing purposes, plants are generally dried before testing. 80 to 90 percent of almost all plants is water.
About 90 percent of the resulting dry matter is made up of only three elements; Carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.
In regards to just these three elements, when you water a plant, it provides the hydrogen and oxygen and more oxygen and carbon come from the carbon dioxide from the planets atmosphere.
What these percentages tell us is that if you break down the wet weight of almost all of the plants on our planet, only 1.5 percent of that plant is made up of the remaining elements that make up a plant.
That 1.5 percent of total plant weight is made up of the 60 elements found in living plants. Of the 60 elements only some are used in each plant or plant type and they are used in varying amounts, depending on the plant type and conditions.
The elements that make up this 1.5 percent of plants have a major impact on the health and harvest of the plants. If only one of all the elements used in a plant is missing, it can quite literally kill the plant. On the other end of the spectrum, if too much of some single elements are used, it can also kill the plant.
This is why feeding a plant in a way that is balanced for that particular plant is so necessary.
Of the 60 elements found in almost all plants on our planet, only 16 of the elements are considered to be essential for growth.
In order of the percentage of each element in the dry weight of most plant matter:
As mentioned earlier, we were very pleased at how well everything grew while we were away. Above are both systems under the lights with the Mesclun Mix on the left and the baby Simpson plants on the right. Two large salads are on the menu tonight!
The above are the Simpson as of 18 April 2011. The lettuce is 20 days from germination and 15 days in the DWC system. I posted in the grow journal, “the Simpson is very small at this stage and a bit “leggy” because of the haste required to get them into the system prior to our trip”. Normally these would have established 2 sets of healthy leaves (8-10 days) before up-potting into the hydro. I believe they will recover nicely by the color and size of the roots.
This photo shows the extensive and dense growth of the Mesclun Mix which will get a solid trimming tonight.These are on full nutrients and are 58 days from germination and 49 days in the system.Looks like the “reds” are getting a bit crowded.This mix will be grown outdoors as well.
And finally, above are the spring starts of tomatoes, peppers, wildflowers, and assorted spices.They were a bit thirsty when we returned, but are very healthy and strong.Keeping a light breeze on them from an oscillating fan develops strong stems and curbs most risk of damping-off.Can’t wait to get them in the beds, containers, and outdoor ebb and flow system.
We took some risk and went on a short vacation right about the time the Simpson seedlings were to go into the DWC. I placed the rockwool into the net pots and surrounded with silica stones. I was concerned with light allowing algae growth as the added silica stone did not fully cover the rockwool to a depth enough to block all light. I decided to use the 6 inch black neoprene covers I had purchased a while back and they worked nicely.
Upon our return, we were pleasantly surprised that the leaf growth was enough to block the light so the covers were removed. The water level had barely changed and the PH remained at around 6.2. No change in over a week! Each plant has solid growth and at least 5 leaves. The stems are a bit longer than normal, but I did not have time bury deeper into the rockwool before our trip.
We left with the lights at about 2 inches above the tallest leaves in order to allow growth without fear of any type of leaf burn. The estimate was good as the leaves were not touching, but within a half inch of the bulbs. This shows that they had strong enough light for the week while we were out.
The Mesclun Blend is doing very well and grew over an inch vertically and at least two inches outwards while we were gone. We titled the light angle to accommodate both the established and new plants. This is the second get-away that the DWC proved to be maintenance free and the peace of mind is a real relief!
This is the Mesclun Bon Vivant Mix growing in DWC 2. This has been a fantastic grow and we are loving this mix. Besides the flavor(s), it looks great and grows replacement leaves VERY quickly. This batch has been harvested several times now and continues to grow back stronger and thicker. We have to keep the red varieties uncovered so they can get some light as their neighbors are trying to crowd them out.
Lesson Learned: I will keep these at 1 plant per pot on the next hydro grow as the leaves are larger than the Simpson Elite and they get crowded very quickly.
I will also add this mix to the outdoor containers this year for additional production.
And here are the new Simpson Elite sprouts ready to backfill the lettuce in DWC 1. These were placed about three days ago and have all germinated in the last 48 hours. Air temp is around 60 degrees and they are kept in the dark during this process. They are germinated in rockwool plugs.
As I discussed in an earlier post, rockwool has quickly become a favorite to germinate and then place into the hydro systems. It wicks well and maintains good aeration. It is very easy to work with and cheap!
These plants will be thinned down to the one strongest plant and will go under the lights in the next few days. They will be placed into a DWC system in the next few weeks.
Here are a couple trays of the early germinating spring "starts" for the raised beds and containers. A couple of these may find their way into an outdoors hydro system as it is developed.
All were germinated on a heating pad under a humidity dome in either rockwool or peat pellets. Those germinated in rockwool are candidates for the hydro system as peat would NOT be a good idea. Once germinated, these were up-potted into coco coir. This is by far the best "starts" media I have used. I will dedicate a later post to coco coir.
In these trays are veggies requiring 8-10 weeks of growth prior to planting outside. Our last frost date in this zone is around May 15th, so we are rolling along well. As a general rule, I germinate the peppers about 10-12 weeks, tomatoes at 8-10 weeks, and cucumbers at about 4 weeks. Beans will go at 2-4 weeks.
I have noticed the hotter the pepper, the longer the lead time required. The Tepins and Caribbean Reds were germinated at nearly 13 weeks to give them a strong jump on the season. It will be a race to fully produce prior to first frost in October. An early frost has destroyed many hot peppers in this zone!
In the photo; Tepin Pepper, Caribbean Red Pepper, Salsa Hybrid Pepper, Early Jalapeno Pepper, Giant Jalapeno Pepper, and Orange Habenero. There are also a few determinate tomatoes needing a little longer head start; Golden Girl Heirloom Better Bush Heirloom.
Since the coco coir is a neutral PH product with no form of nutrition, I will be using a diluted solution of hydroponic nutrients. This mix will be at around 1/4 strength for the first 4 weeks, and then 1/2 strength until planting out. I am curious to see the effects versus last year's starts which were potted in Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I imagine it will be "no contest" and I will be ratcheting up the lights daily. :)
Today was the first small harvest of the mesclun blend in DWC 2. Along with a large harvest of Simpson from DWC 1, this made for a fantastic salad. The blend is crisp, sweet, and colorful. I am most impressed with both the Simpson Elite and the mesclun mix and will keep both varieties growing in a continuous harvest.
With today's harvest I took a look at journal entries for the previous growth times as a nutrient change is drawing near for DWC 2. After sifting through this information, I felt it would be a good idea to post the growth numbers to show the overall growth period in days including nutrient changes and harvest information. Hydroponics provides optimal growing conditions and the growth numbers reinforce that claim. Harvests for the ebb and flow and DWC 1 systems have been every other day from the initial and have provided 2 large salads each at minimum.
The initial nutrient mix for all lettuce is 1/2 strength. "Lettuce Day" = days since germination. "System Day" = days since planted into the hydroponic system.
Here are the system #s.
Ebb and Flow (Simpson Elite):
*Water change and nutrient increase to full strength: Lettuce Day 36, System Day 21
*First harvest from system: Lettuce Day 34, System Day 19
*Harvest day per package recommendation: Lettuce Day 42
*Final Harvest: Lettuce Day 102, System Day 87. Turned bitter following day and destroyed.
1st DWC (Simpson Elite):
*Water change and nutrient increase to full strength: Lettuce Day 59, System Day 42
*First harvest from system: Lettuce Day 53, System Day 36 (harvested late, on vacation)
*Harvest day per package recommendation: Lettuce Day 42
*Current Day: Lettuce Day 90, System Day 73
2nd DWC (Mesclun Blend):
*Water change and nutrient increase to full strength: TBD
*First harvest from system: Lettuce Day 34, System Day 25
*Harvest day per package recommendation: Lettuce Day 48
*Current Day: Lettuce Day 34, System Day 25
Although I see no signs of deficiency or stress, I intend on a nutrient change for DWC 2 in the next few days.
The above picture was taken today of DWC 2. It turns out there were in fact 5 varieties of lettuce in this grow. They are growing well and we should get our first harvest within about 10 days. It looks to be some buttercrunch and red and green deer's tongue, but I am not sure of the other varieties just yet. They look delicious though.
We are rolling along with the spring starts. It is nice to see the additional "green" on all the tables and under the additional lights. We are expanding the outdoor gardens and containers this year, so the starts are taking quite a bit of time. Thankfully the DWC's are on virtual autopilot with only the occasional addition of fresh water and a PH check every few days to insure the nutrient uptake.
I am still working on the outdoor ebb and flow system and will post the details soon. The point of concern is nutrient temperature throughout the heat of the day.
Time for an update to the current lettuce grow in both the 1st and 2nd DWC systems. Journal entries for the past few weeks have been pretty simple; "added a gallon of fresh water", "checked PH", "PH normal", "growth is solid", "roots are expanding well, etc.".
Below are photos of both systems as of 13 March, 2011. I will refer to the mature lettuce system as DWC 1, and the juveniles as DWC 2.
Below is DWC 2. The lettuce in this system is growing quite well and each group has more than three leaves. All pots have roots extending at least six inches into the nutrients and are very healthy. These varieties are part of Totally Tomatoes "Bon Vivant Mesclun Blend". It is described as "a gourmet blend of exotic leaf lettuces of the best flavors, textures, and colors from reds to greens". The seed packet identifies at least seven varieties in the mix and I attempted to germinate and then thin to the 7 varieties. I attempted this by separating 7 different variants of seeds, but it was not easy or precise. I notice at least 5 different varieties as of now, but hopefully further growth will show the additional two as individual differences continue to appear. There are 2 varieties per net pot in this system.
Below is DWC 1. This has been in operation for several weeks and has produced heavily. We have harvested nearly every other day and it rebounds quickly. This system contains a couple net pots with 2 plants each. Since it appeared manageable early on, I decided to proceed with the technique in the 2nd DWC system. I believe that remains feasible. It doesn't necessarily improve the quantity nor does it crowd, but it will allow 2 types of lettuces as I have done with DWC 2. It was a good experiment and I will use the outcome when dealing with "mixes" of different un-separated varieties in a package.
The roots are denser than was shown in the February photo, and the center "baby" leaves are much tighter and faster growing. Those are by far the best leaves for flavor.
I believe I have the timing in place to allow a smooth transition from systems without any delay in lettuce harvests. The DWC method continues to prove itself as trouble free and highly effective in growing solid plants.
The question quickly presented itself….to build or to buy? I began searching those retail websites I had previously disregarded for their products and designs. If they can sell a system for $100, $200, $1000 or more, there must be something to it. I surfed retail sites and visited hydroponic shops for design, size, features, and drawbacks.
I was interested in Ebb and Flow and Deep Water Culture systems, so that is where I focused my searches. There were plenty available in all price ranges, capacities, and durability. The common thread was reservoir and growing tubs and fixtures/connectors.
I copied measurements and capacities from websites and catalogs and set out to the local box stores to buy the pieces of my systems. Virtually all retail hydroponic system parts can be replicated with non-hydroponic specific parts. Reservoir and growing tubs are by far the biggest cost savers from 20% to over 80% of retail systems. Drain fittings and tubing are roughly the same cost as hydro-specific, but money can be saved there as well. Common aquarium and submersible pond pumps are an easy substitute over hydro specific, but these require some shopping around as well. Net pots, grow medium, and nutrients can be substituted, but I left those to hydro dealers as I didn’t see a cost savings over non-specific substitutes and the time required to replicate them. This is especially true for my approach for nutrients.
As I outlined in an earlier post, the cost savings of building my own systems have been substantial. If this were strictly a hobby with an unlimited budget, a retail system would easily be my choice as so many are “plug and play”. There are some proven designs that really influenced my systems and there are several more I am copying for future expansion to include Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and drip systems.
Although building my own systems fit my needs, don’t discount retail systems and retail websites and vendors. Comparing retail systems is an education in itself and it seems I am always stumbling over a new design or way of solving a problem. I will continue to build my own, but with a close eye on the experts.
It doesn’t take long to realize that hydroponic growing is very efficient and easily out produces normal soil growing methods. If all or part of your gardening goals is to reduce family food costs, hydroponic system expenses are of the first things to consider.
I approached “building or buying” with a list of factors that were important to me and those that applied to our current situation (space, production needs, time, etc.). I needed to build a system that would produce heavily, would last for many cycles, would allow “dual-use” of equipment and current lighting, and would provide me a learning platform that I could use for further expansion such as greenhouse / hoophouse production.
The system would also need a certain probability of success to insure I could at least get some of the expense recouped through produce in the event of catastrophe or loss of my own interest. Time has shown the latter to have been a “non-issue” as I thoroughly enjoy it.
With those criteria in place, I began researching and reading everything I could get my hands on. There are hundreds of web sites, books, magazines, and message boards and it can quickly become overwhelming. Once I learned the basic processes (nutrients, method, history, attributes) I began to narrow down the type of systems that met my criteria and current level of experience. Cont’d…………………
After getting several germination questions I decided to create a quick video on some techniques and tips I have learned over time. It is important to point out that nature makes germination a simple process. A warming ground, increasing light, available moisture, and a medium to allow roots to expand and anchor the plant all combine to set the seed in motion to create a new plant.
With that being said, there is no "best" method, but the simple basics will almost always allow success. I present a method and a few products that economically fit my goals and current growing systems. I will "up-pot" the starts destined for outdoors soil in coir as it is sterile and will do well in soil. Those will be germinated in peat pellets or under paper towels. All plants going into hydroponic systems (indoors or outdoors) will be germinated under paper towels or in rockwool. They will then be "up-potted" into silica stone grow media.
The methods I outline allow me to "up-pot" into both soil based raised beds and containers or hydro media with a consistent method and products (peat pellets / rockwool) while using a common lighting system and 1020 trays. My goal of a completely "soiless" environment in my basement start and hydroponic grow room is achieved.
The below is a guest post from a fellow hydroponic gardener sharing some great information on his approach and methods. His website http://hydroponiceconomics.com/ has been a great reference and source of hydroponic techniques and systems. Enjoy.
Why are Hydroponics Systems Considered Frugal?
It's all about efficiency. Don't you want to eat healthy organic food? Have you been watching the GMO Monsanto battle? It doesn't matter if you agree with it or not, you can still choose what you eat.
Hydroponic systems provide a method for square foot gardening that maximizes yield while minimizing environmental impact. Hydroponics are perfect for indoor gardens because there is no natural soil in your house. You can create your own near perfect conditions. Hydroponic systems provide plants with the maximum amount of water and nutrients it can use.
Hydroponics systems are easy to automate. Easy automation means you can manage a lot at a time. If you can grow your own premium quality fresh organics, and practically pay production cost for top shelf freshness why would you pay the stores to ship it? Oh yeah, and you know what's in it.
A lot of people like to recycle by making hydroponic systems out of stuff laying around the house. Yeah, you could create a garden without even going to a gardening store. If you have a fish tank, storage totes, aluminum foil, fluorescent lights, and a fan, you have the basics to build a crude hydroponics set up. Crude, because if you are serious about a nice garden and have money to spend, you can get a really elaborate growing facility.
Don't Forget You Can Get Organic Hydroponic Nutrients
Not all organic nutrients are created equal. Look for OMRI(Organic Materials Review Institute) certified organics. OMRI has set standards on what qualifies for organic. Don't be fooled by nutrients that are marketed as organic but aren't certified. Take the OMRI certification with a grain of salt. If the nutrients don't look reliable, choose something else.
I've been gardening since before I can remember. I started with tomatoes, peppers, and different kinds of flowers. Later on I became interested in efficient indoor gardening. I love engineering new hydroponic systems and grow boxes. I am always available to help you out at HydroponicEconomics.com
We went on a little 7 day vacation and despite my concerns, the DWC again proved to be "hands-free". I double-checked the water level, insured the lights remained on timers and were about 3 inches above the tops of the plants, and off we went. "No worries".
Upon our return, every thing was fine and I only had to add a gallon of water. The system can easily draw-down about 4 gallons before any problems would arise. "Peace of mind" was proven once again.
And check out the roots. Very white and very dense. This system is as efficient as the Ebb and Flow and twice as easy to build and maintain.
I decided to end the ebb and flow lettuce and basil grow as the DWC is coming along very nicely. Actually, the DWC lettuce is now ready for the first small harvest and those leaves look great!
I completely tore down the ebb and flow system as it is generally a good idea to completely sanitize between grows. Any potential root pathogens and algae will be eliminated and it also clears any remaining nutrients and salts from the pumps, net pots, tubing, and media.
I ran clean water through the system for 7 days before the intended shut down date. This helped clear salts and nutrients as well, but I wanted to experiment and see the effects on the leaves. I can say there were no visible signs of plant stress those 7 days, but I am not sure how long that would have lasted.
I cleaned all the parts in a solution of 1/3 cup bleach to each gallon of water. I washed and then soaked the smaller pieces before rinsing, and wiped down and double rinsed the tray and reservoir with lids. After cutting as much plant and root material from the media as I could, I soaked the entire batch of silica stone for a couple hours in the solution. I rinsed it several times as it is porous, and will rinse one final time before the next use. Seperating the smaller pieces of root from the stone is the most tedious part of the process, so I will let it completely dry until the roots crumble and can be rinsed away.
I was really surprised at how little dirt and grime had accumulated. The flow tubes were a little slimy, but no signs of algae or mineral buildup. Again, very low maintenance to operate and very easy to clean and prepare for the next run.
I am anxious to get this into operation with a strong batch of cilantro, basil, thyme and others.
Here is the latest on the ebb and flow system and an update on the deep water culture DWC with the newest crop of lettuce.
I decided to create this video to serve as a closeout of the ebb and flow lettuce and basil grow and the transition into the DWC. I wanted to capture the physical attributes as the lettuce has far outlived expectations for both amount harvested and strength of the crop. As the video shows, the lettuce was still going strong and may have survived several more weeks. The basil presented a head-scracher as I hate to destroy such a fine plant, but I can neither transplant it nor keep it in the system by itself due to the need for cleaning.
The update for the DWC includes a look at the extensive root system being developed. I believe I have another week or so before we can begin harvesting, so the transition of systems is a bit off. I'm pretty happy with the timing as I really had no yardstick to measure at this point.
I have uploaded this along with all the other videos to YOU TUBE under the channel "Misterhalfwaythere1". Feel free to subscribe or leave a comment as I will respond there as well.
The next video will be on germination and the different methods I have tried and continue to use as well as some thoughts on the big springtime "starts" germination process. Can't wait!