Saturday, October 31, 2009
Unless you have experienced hydroponic gardening personally it is difficult to appreciate the rate of growth that is possible with hydroponics.
As much as I like growing in the greenhouse, I still get a great deal of satisfaction from bending the seasons and growing fresh produce indoors out of season.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The first week's vegetative growth rate using the UFO LED grow light and aeroponic system is pretty impressive. So much so, that I have ordered another UFO LED, and they will replace my compact fluorescent lights. The compact fluorescent lights will be relegated to supplemental lighting duty in the greenhouse. In addition to the energy savings there is a significant savings in bulb replacement, and using the compacts for supplemental lighting will greatly reduce bulb replacement costs.
The new 90 watt UFO light is a full spectrum light and will contain 10 warm white LEDs in addition to the red and blue LEDs. It was pleasing to find that the prices are considerably less than they were last year.
There are still conflicting opinions concerning LED lighting online, but I am now a firm believer. The following are simply presented for informational purposes:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Recent advancements in LEDs have allowed for the production of relatively cheap, bright and long lasting grow lights that emit only the colors of light required for plant growth. These lights are attractive to indoor growers since they do not consume as much power, do not require ballasts, and produce a fraction of the heat of HID lamps. The lamps consist of arrays of many wide-spectrum red and a few narrow-spectrum blue LEDs of specific wavelengths. The arrival of the most recent generation of High Power based LED grow lights makes the application of LED grow lights to a wide range of crop types possible. It should be pointed out that there is no peer reviewed scientific evidence supporting the claims of higher growth rate using LED grow lights versus HID lighting.
However, luminous efficiency is not applicable to plant growth since it is based on what wavelengths humans see best. A plant is, for example very sensitive to far-red, while humans can barely see that wavelength. Therefore, LEDs can be more efficient for plant growth, while their lumnious efficiency is lower compared to other solutions. 
The statement regarding lumnious efficiency caught my attention, as both the local hydro dealer and the the pot forums are comparing 400 and 600 watts to 90 watts, and saying "a watt of power is a watt of power and 90 watts does not produce like 400 watts." Yeah, a lot of the power going into HPS goes into generating heat, and more power must be used to dissipate the heat with ventilation equipment!
I have measured the foot candles at plant level and they are certainly acceptable. Just looking at the lettuce in the photo; you can see that the plants are not leggy at all, which is a sure sign of adequate lighting levels. The lights are so bright that you can not look directly at them, and that should convince anyone that they are not toys.
Using professional nutrients purchased from a greenhouse supply reduced my nutrient costs to less than twenty dollars for the entire summer season. Now, I am reducing my energy costs substantially. It does not get much better than this....
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Although the greenhouse is still operational I decided to begin the indoor gardening season by setting up a small system to grow lettuce.
The system in the photo above has a small pump feeding a central distribution hub with tubes leading to each cup, with the pump cycle being one hour on and two hours off. Additionally, I am running a small air pump to an air stone 24/7.
Two types of romaine lettuce have been placed in the system, Parris Island and Silva, both of which were started from seed on 10/6/09.
The TDS is 890 with a pH of 6.5, and the photoperiod will be 14 hours. The light is a 125 watt compact fluorescent 6500K, which yields about 1500 foot candles at plant level.
Contrary to what my detractor, Doktor, wrote in his comment regarding the Sure To Grow trial; the above information is not intended to teach hydroponic gardening.
The purpose of this blog is primarily a journal for my own reference, and records what has, or has not, worked for me.
Friday, October 23, 2009
The beets in the ebb and flow system are almost ready for harvest, and as I need that system for lettuce I decided to try growing beets using a DWC system. The DWC pots are much deeper than the pots in the ebb and flow system, and I think they will better support the plants.
Initially the TDS level will be 1710 with a pH of 6.5, and over time I have found that maintaining the nutrient level in the reservoir at three inches works best for me.
Currently the temperature in the greenhouse is 65 degrees with the humidity at 55 percent. The outside air temperature is 48 degrees and the sky conditions are hazy, so the greenhouse is definitely doing its thing.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I am trying to extend my outdoor gardening season at least until the first of November this year. Doing so will mean that I have had nine months of continuous gardening out of doors.
In the area that I live in upstate New York the first frost of the season came in September, so I have gone well past what would have been possible without the greenhouse. I am using a small electric heating unit with the thermostat set at 45 degrees, however the heater is seldom on, as the greenhouse retains residual heat even on cloudy days. I really don't know if I can push my luck much past the beginning of November, and it would really not be worth it, as there would not be much growth with the short daylight hours and cool temperatures.
The photos above show my cool weather crops, chard, beets and lettuce growing in ebb and flow systems. I am using very little greenhouse space, however I expect that once I have a rotation going there is going to be enough lettuce for continuous table use. After all, you can only use so much lettuce.
The chard is Fordhook Giant, the beets are Early Wonder, and the lettuce is Burpee Bibb, Merlot and Waldman's Dark Green. Additionally, two varieties of romaine, Parris Island and Silva, have been started, as well as an Italian red lettuce called Antago . I intend to keep the progression going by starting a few lettuce seeds every few days.
The beets really seem to like the cool weather and the lower light levels of autumn. In researching them I found that they were called blood turnips until the late 19th century, and not really cultivated much before the 17th century. Although they were mentioned in some ancient texts, it is not known if they were being eaten at the time. We like them, as you get two vegetables in one plant by using both the beet and the greens.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
So far the trial of the UFO LED grow lamp and homemade aeroponic unit seems to be percolating along nicely. I am quite impressed with the light, and the plants seem to be responding as I hoped they would. If I can remember to do so I will photograph the plants weekly to record the progress.
The temperature in the growing area is running from 70 to 80 degrees, with the humidity averaging 25 to 35 percent. I know that is a little high for lettuce, but I spend a good part of my day in the growing area, and I don't like being cool...
The lettuce varieties I am using, Slo-Bolt and Capitan, are both greenhouse varieties, and both can tolerate extremes of warm and cool temperature.
Capitan Lettuce - Bibb Butterhead
62 days. This Dutch greeníhouse lettuce is adapted equally well to greeníhouse or garden. 'Capitan' was judged the best Boston-type lettuce in the l983 Rodale Research Center variety trials. Excellent heat and cold tolerance plus resistance to lettuce mosaic virus. The 5 oz. loose heads have a light green color, excellent taste, appearance, and yield. Nice buttery flavor.
Slo-Bolt - Looseleaf Lettuce
48 days. [Introduced 1946.] "Grand Rapids" type lettuce with good heat tolerance. Excellent choice for Southern gardens or greenhouse use. Leaves are bright green and ruffled
In the photo above the center plant is the Slo-Bolt, and the plants on either end are Capitan.
My aeroponic unit is working perfectly mechanically, and I am feeling sorry I have not used it before now. I am not sure it will live up to all the hype that has been published concerning them though. If it does, I will not mind being pleasantly surprised.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The above photo shows the UFO LED lamp suspended over the unit, which has been planted with lettuce.
As I have this unit running unattended in a room with carpeting, clamps have been added to the cover to ensure that it does not leak. The photoperiod will be 14 hours, with feeding cycles of one hour on and two hours off.
This will be my first attempt to grow plants to completion using only LED lighting, and I have no idea of how it will turn out. There is a lot being written on the web, both pro and con, concerning LED grow lamps. The local hydro dealer said they may be acceptable for supplemental lighting, but he felt the lumen output was not sufficient to grow plants to completion. That is understandable, as he makes a major portion of his living selling HPS lighting.
My lamp is about a foot above the plants, and I was surprised at how bright it is. At plant level I measured just under 3,000 foot candles, which is a lot more than I measure in the greenhouse on a cloudy bright day! And, theoretically, all the light is concentrated within the most optimum spectrum for plant growth. I can't imagine that it is not bright enough to grow lettuce. The color of the light though is disconcerting, as if you work under it for any length of time, everything appears green when you return to normal light, at least to me anyway.
Listed below are the specifications for the lamp:
1. LED Sources: 90 x 1W LED
2. Size: 270mm (diameter) x 60mm (height)
3. Lighting Area: 25 square meters
4. Optional colors:
4.1 Red (620 - 630nm) or (660nm)
4.2 Blue(430 - 470nm)
5. Input Voltage: 110 - 230V AC
6. Power consumption: 90W
7. Lumen output: 3,800 lumens
8. Height Above Plant: 2.5 and 3.5 meters
9. Lighting time per day: 10 - 16 hours
10. Average lifetime: 50,000 hours
11. No ballasts or reflectors needed!
12. Use only exact spectrum required for plant photosynthesis
7. Flower Exhibition
Additional benefits are: very little heat is given off by the lamp, and the lamp has a cooling fan that is providing a slight amount of additional air circulation directly above the plants, .
At the very least, this should prove interesting. NASA, are you paying attention?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
This week CNN's website featured an article on our food supply and listed salad greens as the leading cause of illness to consumers. Of course the release of this data immediately caused an outcry from growers. As the same applied, to lesser degrees, to cheese, dairy products, berries, and other items, the same outcry arose from the producers of those items. Not surprising in the least.
A few years ago I became very ill after having eaten spring mix salad greens, and I don't think I would ever like to know what was on the greens to make me ill, as most likely it was very disgusting.
For the most part I avoid eating salad greens today, unless I grew the greens myself. If not, when I do have a salad, I prefer head lettuce. My rationale being that whatever they spray on the plants will be peeled off with the outside leaves, except perhaps a smaller amount absorbed by the plant. It may be stupid, but that is my theory...
Salads are high on my favorite menu items being a vegetarian, and I have been looking forward to the cool weather of solar autumn to begin growing salad greens for my table.
To that end I began starting small batches of a variety of lettuce seeds three weeks ago. Each batch consists of three or four cubes which are germinated on a heat mat under low light levels using 24" T12 grow lamps. Following germination the cubes are placed in a small growing tray and I use the AeroGarden lights to progress the seedlings to the point that they have at least one pair of true leaves. At that point the seedlings are moved into the greenhouse where they receive a combination of natural light and fluorescent light to achieve a photoperiod of at least 14 hours. When they have two or more sets of true leaves and roots are protruding from cubes the seedlings are planted into net pots and placed in the ebb and flow system.
Insolation is a term used by meteorologists to define the amount of sunlight that falls on a given location during a given period. In my neck of the woods during this time of year we can expect about 11 hours of light, however we will only forty percent of that. To compensate I am again using T12 48" fluorescent 6500K lighting to achieve a photoperiod of 14 hours. The above photo shows Burpee Bibb lettuce seedlings three weeks from the day the seeds were started. Needless to state that I am well satisfied with the results of my efforts so far.
Rarely has it been necessary for me to use an insecticide, and if I do, I use insecticide soap, which can be applied right up to the day of harvest. Going forward for the next several months I will know exactly what was used on my salad greens.
For my birthday I received two books on greenhouse gardening, and although they concerned gardening with soil, I did glean a good deal of information regarding growing methods and timing from the books. However, I am more than ever convinced that if I had to deal with the problems of gardening with soil, I would not even bother. Both authors recommended natural methods of insect control including using predator insects, and even lizards and snakes in the greenhouse. Like hello, get rid of the dirt, you get rid of the bugs, mostly. I am still of the opinion that the only good bug is a dead bug....
Please pass the salad dressing.