Friday, February 27, 2009

Another heirloom lettuce

This is the decription from the seed company for this plant:

"Sanguine Ameliore or Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce.
This unique 19th century French heirloom was introduced to America by C.C. Morse in 1906 under the name "Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce." The small cabbage or butterhead type plants are quite charming, with green leaves being splashed in scarlet-red as if a red rain fell upon them, glistening and beautiful. Leaves are tender, mild and of a high quality; yummy! "

This plant does quite well when grown hydroponically, and the same is true of all other types of lettuce. Lettuce is, it seems to me, a perfect plant for this type of growing , as it needs and can tolerate lots of water.

I am finding there is a great benefit in maintaining consistency in my growing processes. By having three identical ebb and flow systems the need to measure and take daily readings has been eliminated. The same amount of nutrient can be measured and maintained in each system, and by changing the nutrients every ten or twelve days I can be certain, based on past experience, that the pH levels remain acceptable.

My experiment of growing basil using the old AeroGarden tank and low wattage LED is progressing nicely. So far five out of seven pods have sprouted, and I can see cotyledon leaves being formed in the pods that have not. The closed cell foam works just fine, and I don't think top watering was necessary. As another test I used a regular household sponge in three pods and they sprouted also. So much for buying any supplies from AeroGarden.

As another control I planted the regular AeroGarden with basil also. It will be interesting to compare the growth using the flourescent light to the LED grow lamp. The regular AeroGarden was planted two weeks before the modified version, so it will not really be an apples to apples comparison though.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Growth rate and yield for hydroponically grown lettuce

The plants shown in the photo of my previous post of 2/10/09 have grown so much in one week I have to use two systems to hold them. They are growing so fast I am surprised I can't hear them grow.

The rate of growth with this method of growing never ceases to amaze me, however I do not agree with all the observations this person makes on his site. I do though agree with many of them:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

AeroGarden revisited

While cleaning the basement yesterday I found a box containing an AeroGarden tank. A few years ago AeroGarden replaced our tank thinking that it was the cause of a leak, however I later determined the tank was not leaking.

Rather than throwing out the extra tank I decided to take the AeroGarden technology to the next level.

As I only had a tank, I needed some way to pump nutrients through the system to the growing chambers. That turned out to be more of a project than I expected. There is not a lot of room in the tank, so a small pump is essential. There was a small fountain pump in my supplies that I thought would do the job nicely. To adapt it to the AeroGarden plumbing system I had to cut away most of the central column and cob a revised feed tube to the chambers. Much to my amazement it worked like a charm when I added water and plugged it in...

It was then decided to take their technology to the next level and use the small LED grow lamp and try to grow some basil. Our AeroGarden unit has been sitting idle for months. We were no longer using it until this week when I decided to plant some basil. Why basil?

I just happened to come across hydroponic basil in the produce section of the local supermarket. There is a local grower charging $3.99 for one rockwool cube with one scrawny basil plant. My wife likes basil and cheese sandwiches occasionally, and I can't see her paying $3.99 for enough basil to decorate one sandwich. I had read at one time that basil was a good crop to grow hydroponically to market, but I had no idea it was that costly to purchase.

For the growing medium I am using closed cell foam that I purchased at a craft store for $2.54. The piece is large enough to make dozens of small circles to fit the cups. It was a simple matter to trace and cut them. The top is cut partway through and I apply water soluble school glue and drop the seeds on the glue and squeeze them closed. I am not sure the foam will be absorbent enough, but time will tell. To begin a wicking action I top watered the chambers and will monitor the seeds to check for germination. If the foam does not absorb sufficient nutrients I will replace it with rockwool. I prefer not to use rockwool for processes that are continuously moist, as that lessens the oxygen supply to the roots.

A simple lamp timer is being used to control the LED light and pump. Voila, a free automated herb garden.

I originally planned on just using this in the greenhouse and let mother nature supply the light, but I could not resist trying another hydroponic experiment.

Why don't we use the AeroGarden? It is too small mainly, and the bulbs have to be replaced every six months, at twenty dollars a pair. The plants do not grow anything like they show you on TV. Seed and supply costs are a joke. Anyone with a little ambition can build a system that works much better, for much less than the cost of an AeroGarden.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Getting an early start.

Although winter is very much in evidence in this part New York, the sun is getting higher in the sky. Our December ice storm destroyed a tree on my neighbor's property that shaded my greenhouse until almost noon. At least one good thing resulted from the damn storm!

There is a remote thermometer in the greenhouse, and I could see the temperature is reaching the mid-sixties shortly after noon. Some of the snow had melted in front of the door, and I went in this afternoon to get some trays for seed starting. The greenhouse came through the winter in fine shape. There was not a drop of water to be seen anywhere inside, and the sun sure felt good! In a week or so I should be able to put a lawn chair in there, read a book, and soak up some sun.

Last year, because I was building the greenhouse, I got a late start with my plants. I am just guessing about starting seeds this year, as I don't have a full year's experience with greenhouse growing. I decided to start early and see if I can have tomatoes by June, and there is a small heater in the greenhouse that I can use for a few weeks if the temperatures are too cold in late April or early May.

This year I am only growing determinate tomatoes in the greenhouse, and I will grow indeterminate plants in the soil garden. Tomatoes for the greenhouse will be Best Boy and Bush Beefsteak, with Glory Hybrid being planted for the soil garden.

In addition to the tomatoes I planted Florida Highbush Eggplant and Marconi peppers. I plan on growing the tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant in the AutoPots, and the peppers in the drip ring system. Swiss chard seed was planted last week, and I will grow that in the deep water culture system. Lettuce and flowers will be grown in the ebb and flow systems as soon as the weather permits moving them outside.

The above photo shows the tray containing the rockwool cubes with the tomato seeds. I place a damp cloth under the dome to increase humidity during the germination period. The damp cloth also lessens the need to water the cubes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Making progress

My nutrient test is coming along nicely, and the lettuce seedlings have made progress in the last week.

The TDS in this system is about 1200, and I can see an increased growth rate following the move from the starter stage system with the TDS at 375.

This systems contains: Deer's tongue, Brune D'Hiver, Gentilina and Sanguine Ameliore, all of which are heirloom varieties. The plants are entering the vegetative stage and growth should continue rapidly from this point on.

Heirloom Lettuce

This plant is Brune D'Hiver - a heirloom French variety introduced in 1855. It has both romaine and butterhead qualities. I will be growing more heirloom varieties, and allowing some to go to seed to save the seeds. This one looks promising.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Let there be light, and plenty of it!

For quite sometime I have been thinking of adding a light meter to measure the intensity of the light my plant's are receiving. This meter cost a little over twenty dollars, but I think it will be money well spent.

As an example, tomatoes need a medium light level with minimum of 1,000 to 2,000 foot candles to produce fruit. Both of my fluorescent fixtures measure slightly over 2,000 foot candles at leaf level. So, with a photoperiod of 16 hours under my fluorescent lighting, tomatoes will receive in excess of 32,000 foot candle hours.

With a level less than 20,000 they would most likely not produce fruit, and a level in excess of 50,000 would be a waste of energy. Interesting indeed.

My nutrient test has only been in progress for three days, however, the nutrient level is still in the 380 TDS range. Lettuce should be between 560-800. Although I can not see any problem with the plants, I intend to use more than the recommend amount for the next batch I mix. These nutrients, though economical, are not as economical as I was lead to believe.

I doubt that I will be buying more nutrients from the person who sold me these nutrients on ebay though. I found a commercial manufacturer who will sell me small batches of nutrients for a reasonable price. This company provides the hydroponic nutrients for the Epcot Center, and has been providing hydroponic nutrients for more than forty years.

I had a nice chat with the owner and he agrees that liquid nutrients are a rip off. Also, liquid nutrients have a shelf life of one year, and I have found that to be true. Dry nutrients kept in a cool dry location will last indefinitely. It is much more convenient to store a small bag than several gallon jugs. Well, that's what the learning process is all about.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nutrient test

The above photo shows the lettuce seedlings from my previous post after spending about a week in the ebb and flow system. Once they have developed a decent root system vegetative grow will really become rapid.

Since I began growing hydroponically I have been using General Hydroponic's Flora series nutrients. The last time I purchased them the price had increased about 25%. The dealer told me the increase was due to the cost of oil being so high. How many times have we heard that? Seems that this is the second time I have heard that story in three years.

A recent article I read said that these increases become "sticky". Once the price increase is in effect, the cause can go away, but the increase will remain. It happened with photographic materials when the price of silver went crazy, but the prices did not return after the price of silver dropped.

Having spent my career in purchasing, price increases have always been an issue with me. I was determined to find a lower cost alternative to offset the nutrient price increase.

The reason for this post is that I am testing dry nutrients that are supposed to be super economical. They are really a no name brand I bought online, and are purported to contain all the essential nutrients and trace elements for any crop.
Here is where I stick in my tag line: "time will tell".

Two pounds of dry mix is supposed to yield 450 gallons of nutrients, so if they work, they will be economical indeed, as the price was under ten dollars.

Today I mixed them according to the directions, which state to use really hot water. Using slightly less than the recommended amount I only have a TDS reading of 380. Considering my water straight from the tap has a TDS of 80, I may be in trouble with this purchase. With these lettuce seedlings a TDS of 380 will be fine, as lettuce prefers a range of 560-840 for the vegetative state, and these are just going into the root development stage.

Hope springs eternal, as I am hoping that the TDS will increase as the temperature in the reservoir goes down, and the nutrient mix has a chance to dissolve completely. I am running two airstones full time to agitate the system to facilitate mixing. I will monitor the TDS, and if the lettuce seems stressed I will toss in a few tablespoons of Miracid to bring the levels more in line.

In case of total failure it is nice to have plan B in place, and I have. Doing a web search for commercial hydroponic nutrients I found a dealer that supplies commercial growers. This dealer will also make small quantity sales to hobby greenhouses. For about eighty dollars I can buy enough commercial quality nutrients to make 5,000 gallons! That should last me quite sometime and is very cost effective.

Somehow shipping and storing premixed nutrients, which contain mostly water, never did seem practical from my point of view. In any event, the above photo should serve as a reference, along with the previous photo, to compare the health of the seedlings using these nutrients.

In any case, it is unlikely I will be spending 25% more on General Hydoponic's Flora series anytime soon.

If these nutrients are a success, I will provide information on this blog as to where they can be obtained.