Thursday, March 31, 2011

Update 31 March, 2011

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.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring Starts!

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. :)

Bring on Springtime!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First harvest and some #s

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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

?? Lettuce Variety Mix ??

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lettuce and DWC Update 13 March, 2011

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. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

To Build Or To Buy? Part 2

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.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

To Build Or To Buy? Part 1

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…………………