Monday, October 27, 2008

Indoor tomatoes - Florida Petite

Each year since I have been into hydroponic gardening I have grown tomatoes under lights during the winter. This year, for the first time, I will be trying the water farm drip ring system.

Following is a description of the variety I will be growing this year:

FLORIDA PETITE- the University of Florida, "World's Smallest Tomato Plant" very dwarf even by today's standards, HR (rugose foliage, heavy-stem, self supporting) plant. Red 3/4" fruit.

The seeds were obtained a few years ago from Tomato Growers Supply and have been stored in my freezer. For whatever reason, the supplier no longer offers these seeds.

I had grown them the first year I was into hydroponic gardening, and had some success, although I really did not know what I was doing at that time. The fruit I did get tasted more like a homegrown tomato than a cherry tomato, so I elected to grow them again this year.

The plant will be grown under a full spectrum 125 watt fluorescent light with a photoperiod of 16 hours per day. As a mild general purpose nutrient mix is recommended, I used 15 ml each of General Hydroponics three part nutrients to yield a TDS of about 1100 with a pH of 6. I consider 1100 as being a mild strength for tomatoes, as they are heavy feeders. The pump is programmed to run in cycles of a half hour on and an hour off during the photoperiod, and remain off during the time the lights are off.

This variety is a short sturdy plant with deep green foliage. The plant in the photo was started from seed on September 11th. and has buds forming at the tip.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My version of the Aerospring garden - phase II

Well it is not pretty, but it works. I should say it sprays the nutrients around within the reservoir, and it does not leak. As to living up to all the praise I have read over the years; that remains to be seen. In any event, investing fifteen dollars to build one beats the hundred and sixty dollars to buy one.

I thought it best to use 3" net pots, but I would have preferred 4" pots. The cover has a recess in the center for the Rubbermaid trademark, and I wanted avoid any problems with leaks caused by the pots being uneven.

It seems like a big waste of space to grow six plants. In the same area on my grow table I can grow almost three times as many plants in an ebb and flow system.

My main area of concern is clogging of the spray heads. Just the small amount of debris that fell into the PVC tee from tapping the holes for the heads clogged them. That is why the spray pattern in the previous post was not a full 360 degrees.

Another consideration is that it is necessary to run this system 24/7. Although the pump is a small 130 GPH unit and does not use a lot of power, I keep comparing it to the ebb and flow system running only six fifteen minutes cycles per day.

Unfortunately, it will be awhile before I can test grow in this system. It is my plan to grow some super fast growing oriental lettuce, or cabbage, but I want to complete an experiment with nutrients and Swiss chard first. This particular experiment really has my interest piqued.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My version of the Aerospring Garden

In his book, How To Hydroponics, Keith Roberto writes: "If you are looking for the best performance for the least investment, build an Aerospring." Additionally, he promises "Aeroponic basil, from seedling to skyscraper in 45 days."

I have read a great deal, both pro and con, regarding aeroponic systems, and finally, I decided to build one to satisfy my curiosity.

Future Gardens will sell you one for about $125 with pretty close to $40 shipping. Being basically frugal (cheap), I opted to build my own. After all, it is just a pump feeding a tee that has spray heads, confined in a reservoir. I had all the components on hand, except the spray heads, which I purchased for less than a dollar each.

The recommended container is a Rubbermaid Tough Tote, and I found that to be true. That particular unit has a large flat lip on top that makes for a better seal, which is very important. It is necessary to put foam tape along the inside lip of the cover to prevent the fluid from leaking when the system is in use.

Basically, the nutrients spray around inside the reservoir misting the root system providing ultimate growing conditions. So the literature says anyway...

The system was simple to construct, however, preventing leaks was another problem. The photo above shows my system under test, and it required some adjustment to get the spray heads to spray 360 degrees.

Now on to phase two.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

High density growing II

The plants in the bus tub ebb and flow system are still in the root development stage but are doing well also. They are receiving about four hours of direct sunlight each day with indirect light for the remainder of the day.
The TDS is about 1000 with a pH of 6.5, however, I can see by the daily reading that the plants are taking in more water than nutrients. I expect to see more growth when the nutrient level begins to drop. Time will tell...

Hydroponic Swiss Chard II

As of the 17th. the chard is still in the root development stage, but is making progress. I expect to see much faster growth when the roots begin poking out of the container, which should mean that it is entering the vegetative stage.
The TDS has been increased to about 1800, which is a little high, but should still be acceptable. The pH is just slightly under 7 and this should be ideal for chard.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mini herb garden

The above photo shows my hydroponic science project planted with parsley, basil and dill. If you can provide sufficient light to this system you could also grow small flowers like dwarf zinnias or asters.

Hydroponic Science Project

This small system can be assembled in a few hours and would make a great school science project.

It consists of a small storage container the size of a shoe box, an airstone and tubing purchased in the pet section, and six 2" net pots. The 2" net pots can be obtained from a local hydroponic dealer, or purchased online. I use expanded clay pellets and rockwool for the media, but washed pea stone would also work if the stones are large enough not to pass through the net pots.

The container was painted black to prevent algae from growing in the nutrient tank and a circle cutter was used to cut the holes for the net pots. The container holds about a gallon of nutrient mix, which should reach to the top opening in the net pots.

The only other requirement is a small air pump to aerate the nutrient mix. Aerating the mixture provides oxygen to the plants and helps prevent nasty organisms from growing in the nutrient mixture.

Three of these units should fit under a standard 48" fluorescent fixture. I would recommend one warm white and one cool white tube be used in the fixture. The fixture should be suspended three or four inches above the top of the plants.

I have grown leaf lettuce and herbs successfully in this system.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hydroponic swiss chard

Swiss chard is one of my favorite greens and I hope these are a success. Again, I will try to remember to photograph and post a photo each week.
The chard is in a deep water culture system and I am running the TDS about 1600 and the pH at 7. Chard likes the pH slightly higher, and needs lots of nitrogen. It can stand night temperature as low as 29 degrees, but I don't intend to let the temperature get that low. I am venting the greenhouse during the day so the temperature does not get above 80 degrees, and hopefully the warmth will encourage rapid growth.
This variety is Fordhook Giant and I have not grown it before. I have grown rhubarb and early brights under lights, but I wanted to try the giant variety in the greenhouse.

High density growing

Above is my bus tub ebb and flow system and there are fifteen plants under cultivation in this small tub. I will try to remember to photograph the tub weekly and post a photo to track the progress of the plants.
As of today I have not had to use the grow lights at all, as the plants remain in the greenhouse. It was necessary to use a small oil filled electric heater on two nights because of frost, however, I feel I am still way ahead in terms of the cost of running the lamps 14 hours per day.
This is really my first attempt at growing this late in the season in the greenhouse and I am excited to see how it compares to growing under lights. Because the greenhouse is shaded by trees, it does not receive full direct sun until noon or so. The temperature can vary thirty degrees on any given day depending on the nightly low temperature. This afternoon it was a very comfortable 79 degrees with relative humidity about 40%. As I am mostly growing lettuce and herbs, this range should be acceptable.
There are three tomato plants still growing in the AutoPots, and I have been picking a few ripe fruit every few days. It is almost mid-October and tomatoes are selling at $1.79 per pound in the market, and they don't taste as good as my tomatoes, so I consider my tomato growing a success. We picked our first tomato on July 4th., and we are still picking tomatoes in October.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Using hydroponic gardening theraputically

When I first began hydroponic gardening my rationale was why bother to grow it if you can't eat it? Now I find myself spending more time in the flower section of the seed catalogs.
To be honest, probably 95% of what I am growing is edible, however it is still tempting to bend the seasons and grow flowers year round. They add a small amount of cheer during these dismal times when all the news is bad, and getting worse.

In selecting flower seeds I look for a variety that is unusual in shape or color, with a maximum height of 12 inches.
The flower above is calendula officinalis calypso, which I am growing in the greenhouse in an old Folger's coffee container converted to a hydroponic growing container.

I am finding some flower seeds much more difficult to start than vegetable seeds. For instance; calceolaria seeds are so small they are about half the size of a grain of sand. After several tries in rockwool cubes I gave up and sprinkled my few remaining seeds onto a pot containing the coco noir and perlite mixture I use in the AutoPots. To my surprise they germinated in about a week. Unfortunately, I accidentally knocked the pot over and only managed to rescue one seedling. And, I find that the only way I can germinate aster seeds is to place them in a moist paper towel for 24 hours until a tap root begins to form. At that point, I use a chop stick to poke a small hole in a rockwool cube, and place the seedling into the hole using tweezers.

I am still growing in the greenhouse, and I will continue to do so until the weather turns really cold. In the ebb and flow systems I have about forty net pots with Swiss chard, and variety of leaf lettuce and herbs and I am growing asters, calceolaria and candy tufts. Flowers add little more challenge, and there is the anticipation of seeing the first blossom. As an added bonus, the lady of the house loves flowers, so they are proving well worth the effort.