Saturday, April 26, 2008

Comparison Hydroponic vs. Soil

The tomato plants in the above photo were started from seed on the same day, and on April 17, 2008, the plant on the left was placed into the AutoPot, and the plant on the right was planted into a commercial soil mix with slow release fertilizer. Both plants have been almost side by side in the greenhouse, and the plant in the hydroponic environment is growing much faster than the plant in the soil mix. The more I use the AutoPot, the more impressed I am. And, I am not intentionally making a pitch for AutoPots. A hydroponic dealer, who does not sell AutoPots, told me that constant bottom feeding would cause a nutrient buildup. My response was that I thought that could be overcome by periodically turning off the nutrients, removing the container, and pouring dilute nutrient solution through the pot to prevent build up. That is one of the reasons I installed the airline gang valve.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Latest Project

As our swimming pool was in place for almost twenty years, and almost in need of replacement, I decided to replace it with something more useful. After all, who needs a swimming pool in upstate New York? You can use a pool about eight days a season, and it needs maintenance every day. My thinking was that we could use a greenhouse for ten months a year , compared to the very few days a year we were using the pool. Factor in the power to run the pump, the cost of chemicals, not to mention the labor, and it seems like a wise decision indeed.
I was going to buy a Rion hobby greenhouse for about two thousand dollars when a friend told me there was a store in Albany having a sale on greenhouses the size I wanted for, get this, $299. I thought it would prove to be a piece of junk for that price.
Today I finished the assembly and it seems to be fine, however, I have to admit it was a chore. The best comparison I can make is like a gigantic erector set and final exams all rolled into one session with the expectation of a perfect grade.
All that remains to complete the project is to install patio block on the floor, and I am thinking red, to absorb heat during the day and release it at night. There is also a thermal activated arm to open the windows automatically, but I am not that lazy yet, so I will open them myself for a few days.
The tomatoes in the AutoPots appear to be growing faster than the soil grown plants started the same day. So I am very very very pleased with the AutoPot experiment, and will do a comparison post in the next few days. Presently I have hydroponic and soil grown plants in the same environment, and I want to separate them ASAP. I have never had any pests in my hydro environment, and I really don't want to push my luck.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

AutoPot Feed System

It may be a little early, however I put some tomato plants into the temporary greenhouse and will grow them using the AutoPot system. The one modification I made to the system was to purchase an aquarium airline gang valve. I tried the inexpensive plastic valve and it leaked, so if you intend to use one, buy the metal valve. I am using one outlet of the valve to a tee that feeds both systems. My rationale is that it may be necessary to bring the plants indoors, as frost is a definite possibility until late May in upstate New York. Turning off the outlet will allow me to remove the pots and bring them indoors if frost is eminent. With the valve turned off the float valve in the trays will not release nutrient into the trays. When the pots are returned, the nutrient level will be the same as when the pots were removed.
At first I balked at using coca noir and perlite, as I thought it would prove messy. My thinking has really changed after I prepared the medium and began using it. I am using about 70 percent agricultural perlite to 30 percent coco noir and the medium is light and fluffy. The seeds were started in rockwool cubes and transplanted into small pots containing the perlite and coco noir. Within less than a week the roots had grown to the bottom of the temporary pot. I was going to top feed them for the first week but I am thinking that will not be necessary.
The plants I am growing in the greenhouse are Rutgers and Wayahead and I hope to have fruit by early July. For the soil garden I have started some Ugly Heirloom, Cream and Sausage, Black Cherry and Brandywine tomatos. The comparison should be interesting as I have never grown any of these tomatos.
This weekend I will start some Burpee compact Picklebush cucumber seeds and I will grow them in AutoPots also. The AutoPot trays are pre-drilled for supports and I will be using a tee pee of bamboo shoots to support the cukes and tomatoes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Economical Ebb and Flow System

I am gearing up for using the greenhouse, and when possible I move some plants into the portable greenhouse to save on lighting. In need of a large tray for an ebb and flow system I purchased a mixing tub from Tractor Supply. The tray is practically indestructible and large enough to hold a lot of net pots. A large heavy duty storage container rescued from recycle serves as a base and reservoir. A few old fittings and a seven dollar pump from Harbor Freight complete this ebb and flow system. The total cost of this system was about twenty dollars. I expect it to last many years and produce a lot of veggies.
Being a vegetarian I eat a lot of veggies, and hydroponics provides year round fresh greens. Additionally, I can enjoy gourmet varieties that are not found in your local supermarket. As a matter of fact, some of them I have never seen locally at all. Right now I am growing a variety of lettuce called Antigo which is from Italy and candy apple red. In fact, it looks more like a house plant than lettuce. With prices rising the way they are, hydroponics becomes even more cost effective. After all, a pack of 200 or more seeds costs less than three dollars.