The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

Email Fixed. I Think. 26 May, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 6:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Okay, for those following along at home you may remember that there was a recent shall we say “profound frustration” regarding the issue of an email address specific for this site.

I’d originally gone with Yahoo, only to discover that they charge $20 for the honor of using POP3 to access your email without a browser.  So that was clearly ridiculous and had to go.

Next up I subscribed to Gmail, which would’ve worked beautifully except that my wife had the computer I used logged into her Blogger account.  This meant that no sooner than I’d created the new gmail account it was linked with iron-clad finality to my wife’s Blogger account.  For privacy reasons, she and I maintain unconnected online identities.  In fact, on several forums we frequent no one is aware that we even know each other in real life.  (Also because people tend to discount one person’s opinion if it’s the same as their spouse’s, and that’s not really fair.)

Point being, it wouldn’t be wise to have the two accounts linked in any tangible way.

But since Google simply creates the illusion of customer service through some labyrinthine Help pages packed with everything except the problem you’re having and links that promise some kind of form you can fill out and send to a real person – neither of which (form or person) actually exist and you simply end up back at the beginning of the process… because of all that, it isn’t possible to fix a problem of this nature (or any other, really) with a Google account.

And thus Google was no longer viable since I have my heart set on “encyclopediahydroponica@something dot com”.  The only way to remove that Gmail address from my wife’s Blogger account was to delete the Gmail account.  Which, of course, is permanent, irreversible, and locks out anyone from re-registering that
name for the next 10,000 years or so.

At this point I was livid, to put it mildly.  This was due more than anything else to the “neener, neener, neener, you can’t find suh-poor-ooort” attitude of Google’s help pages, but also the fact that I, a self-proclaimed geek of moderate power, would have trouble with something as trivial as setting up a web email account that I could check with POP3.

Rather than allowing myself to get angry enough to do something counter-productive like proving scientifically that my laptop has precisely the same flight characteristics of any other laptop, I simply walked away from the problem to let myself cool off.

After, of course, doing what any reasonably tech-savvy geek would do: b!tching about it in their blog.

So what should I find in my Yahoo account when I check today?  A nice email from a reader suggesting I check out GMX.  So I do.  I can’t say a whole lot about it because I just signed up today, but it seems to be a perfectly good email service that even comes with POP3 access already enabled.  (No searching through the settings looking for where to click it “on”.)

And that, as they say, is that.  I’ve got a new email address at gmx, with the name I wanted: “encyclopediahydroponica”.  Yes, I realize that it’s really long.  At least I got a really short dot-com name, right?

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DIY Upside Down Tomato Planter

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:36 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Updated Method:

If you pop down to the comments you’ll find that Amber made a brilliant suggestion on another way to build the planter. I’m going to go ahead and leave this set of instructions the way it is for people that want to do it this way, but her method is actually much superior. I have written a 2.0 post on this topic using her idea and photographs of how to do it.

Okay, once again I am not claiming ownership of this idea. I saw it on This Instructable and decided to try it myself. I have loads of 2L bottles on hand all the time so I wanted to put them to use. After a bit of trial and error I’ve come up with some tips and tricks that might help some people interested in doing the same thing themselves, and – to be brutally honest – I like my “How To” articles better than most other people’s. But hey, I’m biased. (About this)

Supplies you need:

A 2L bottle

Potting soil or other kind of dirt appropriate for growing things in

Enough decently thick cloth to cover a 2L entirely

Some twine or similarly hefty string

Some gravel or similar rocky material (optional)

Coffee filter or paper (optional)

Tools you need:

Hairdryer or heat gun

Pliers (optional)

Hotpad (optional)

Knife

Scissors (optional)

Steps:

First, clean your bottle inside and out, and get the label off. Set the cap aside – you won’t need it when you’re done, but you’ll want it for one step later on.

Okay, start off by sitting on the floor. Yeah, I’m serious. It’s just easier – you’ll see why in a bit. Take your hairdryer, set it for as hot as it goes, and low fan speed. (You may need to make adjustments since hairdryers can vary a bit. My wife’s hairdryer works best on those settings.) If your fingers aren’t fireproof you may want to use a pair of pliers to grip the nozzle as shown here. Begin heating the bottle and turning it slowly, watching for the plastic to deform as you heat it. You want to heat the entire “cone” – the curved part between the nozzle and the straight sides. It will cave in slightly as you go. (See below.)

Note: I haven’t used a heat gun to do this, as I don’t have one. The hairdryer works fine. If you use a heat gun just be careful and start slow at a low heat. Don’t melt it.

Here you can see the dent on the right side caused by heating the plastic. The goal is to get it pliable, and to begin to invert the curve. Be careful not to heat the nozzle itself, as if you deform this the cap won’t form an airtight seal later. Everything between the straight sides and the nozzle needs to be heated enough that it deforms slightly. Once you’ve done that, try to get as much of the cone warm as you can at once, then begin pressing down on the nozzle.

Here you can see the cone being gently forced downward and some creases beginning to form. Once you reach this point, set the hairdryer aside for a moment and begin pinching the crease all the way around. You want to create as neat and straight a fold as possible all the way around the point where the cone and the straight side meet. Due to the bottle being clear, this is hard to really show in a photograph, but you can see basically what I’m talking about below.

The planter is beginning to take shape here, but we’ve got a bit more refining to do. First up, we want to force the nozzle down as much as possible so that the cone is elongated. You’ve made one fold at the point where the sides and cone meet, but we want the reverse fold to happen right at the bottom of the nozzle, not partway up the cone like it is here. To do that, put the cap on (so that the nozzle will keep its shape) and start heating the area around the nozzle as hot as you can get it without melting anything. If your fingers aren’t fireproof, grab the hotpad and quickly press down on the cap as hard as you can without smashing the whole thing in. I usually have to do this in a series of steps, squeezing the bottle to pop things back out, re-creasing the outer fold, and working the shape until I’ve got it where I want it.

Above you can see it nearly through that process. The cap is nearly flush with the outer fold and the cone has been almost completely reversed. This is good enough the way it is (and I actually stopped at this point with this one – my later efforts are a bit more refined.) Now we want to “mushroom” the top. The space inside the bottle between the sides and the cone is where water will collect and keep the soil from drying out too much. We invert the cone partly to give the roots something to work into and hold onto for later when the plant gets heavy, and partly to keep all the water from running right out the nozzle. This way the water can only run out when it’s deeper than the inverted cone. A little gets caught and keeps the plant happier for longer.

We want to maximize that area by expanding the cone as close to the cap as possible. Luckily this is pretty easy. First, remove the cap and make sure the bottle is as inflated as you can get it. Then put the cap back on the bottle.

This is why you’re sitting on the floor. Put the bottle between your knees or thighs, cross your ankles, and get ready to squeeze the bottle like you’re a wrestler. Point the hairdryer straight down and start heating.

This does two things: makes the plastic pliable, and heats the air inside. Air expands when heated, which tries to further inflate the bottle. Of course 2L bottles don’t exactly “inflate” nicely, but the pliable part will tend to expand inward toward the nozzle. Squeeze the bottle with your legs as necessary to help this process. It may be helpful to periodically remove the cap to allow more air into the bottle, but keep in mind it will probably be very hot. Continue until you’ve created a nice mushroom effect all around the outer fold. It will no longer resemble a “fold”.

See how the fold has been expanded into a billowy, pillowy “mushroom” that surrounds the nozzle? If you managed to fully invert the cone – which this example is a bit short of doing – your nozzle will actually be so buried in this mushroom it may be hard to even grip the cap to remove it. If so, use the pliers to get it started. Once you’ve got about a quarter turn loosened it should come off easily.

Simply chop the bottom off, punch 4 evenly-spaced holes around the edges, and string up some twine to hang it from.

Now it’s time to prepare you plant. Use a small one. The one here is a bit too big, but I managed. Wash all the dirt off the roots (or at least as much as you can). Do at least as well as I have.

Now this isn’t a full-sized dinner plate. This is a standard Corelle desert plate. I washed the roots by simply using running water to gradually work the dirt loose as I basically “massaged” the root ball. It takes time. It’s worth taking the time to reduce the overall damage done to the roots. You’re going to hurt them a little just by doing this, but you don’t want to do more damage than absolutely necessary.

Now start threading the rootball through the nozzle. It may seem possible to go the other way (sticking the plant through from the inside) but you’re guaranteed to do a lot more damage that way unless it’s a seedling. (In fact, I plan to experiment with actually growing a seedling in a Jiffy starter, then putting it in the planter right-side up until it’s bigger, then inverting and hanging the whole thing.) The key word here is “gentle”. Be gentle, go slow, and try not to harm the roots.

Here’s another view of the process. If you haven’t roughed up the interior of the nozzle with the pliers when you were heating the bottle, you can use a bit of a twisting motion to work things along. If you did rough it up, you’ll want to avoid that since it will do extra damage to the roots.

Whatever the case, it’s far easier to do this with a smaller plant than is pictured here.

This behemoth is almost there…

Top view…

Finished! I got the entire rootball through the nozzle with very little damage. It did, however, take many minutes to accomplish that.

It was the smallest Roma plant I could find at the store, though. And I was really set on getting a Roma.

I have a lot more hydroton than I need, so I decided to use some here as the “gravel” bits for the bottom of the planter. Cradling the stalk and holding the bottom of the planter with one hand, carefully feed your rocky stuff into the top and make sure it gets past the roots and into the bottom. Fill it up to just past the nozzle.

Note: if you want to use the planter indoors, it’s highly advisable to put a coffee filter in first. Cut a slit in it and then slip the filter past the roots and work the slit around the stalk. Then put your rocky stuff in, trapping the filter between the bottle and the rocks and making it much, much harder for dirt to get out the nozzle. Outdoor planters can still benefit from this, but dirt loss is minor.

Fill up the planter with dirt, leaving a bit of room at the top. (You’ll water from the top, so you want some room for water to gather while it soaks in without spilling dirt and water over the top.) Be careful with this step, as you’re still messing with delicate roots. You want to try to keep the roots away from the sides, since they don’t like light, and get the dirt as firm as you can without actually hurting the roots. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but there’s a middle ground to be had. Once you’re done the plant should be reasonably secure. If it feels like it could fall out, try again.

After the roots have started growing again, it will latch onto the rocks and dirt quite securely.

A quick “test hang” shows everything nicely in place. Now for the “decorative” part. If the planter will be inside this is less important, but UV light from the sun will still change the plastic and make it more brittle. We need to protect it against that, since our plant depends on this planter. We need a cover.

I had recently turned a pair of cargo pants into shorts, and because I save everything I’d saved the extra bit of cloth. A pants leg is perfect for this application. (If you’ve got old pants you may want to chop the legs up and make many planters. They’re awesome gifts.)

Pants leg and twine. Stab some holes in the top and bottom with whatever stabby thing is handy. You want to be able to thread the twine through the holes as shown below.

Basically we’ve made a drawstring here. If you look closely at the middle you can see that both ends come out of holes right next to each other, and when pulled on will cinch the bottom up tight.

Now for the top. This part is kind of cool – put one arm through the pant leg from top to bottom. Then, with that hand, pick up the planter by the top. With your other hand, pull the pant leg down off your arm and onto the planter. In one, easy motion you’ve wrapped the planter without molesting the plant.

Here I just did a very simple process of looping the twine through the holes and wrapping it around the twine used to hang the planter. Here I have the planter hanging from a handy nail to make this easy to do. Looking closely you can see that this planter uses a rather small hole cut into the bottom. This design is less than ideal; the small hole is harder to hit while watering, and prevents you from reaching in from the top when getting the plant into the bottle and filling it with rocks and dirt. My recent designs chop the entire bottom off as close to the bottom as possible. Those bottoms, incidentally, make excellent water trays for Jiffy starters.

This is a shot of the process finished up and tied off. I also have an improvement for this. Instead of tying the cloth to the twine hangers, I suggest doing the next step (cinching the bottom) first. Then pull the cloth snug (basically lift the planter by the cloth) and fold it over the top of the plastic. Pierce through both layers of cloth and the plastic between it as far down as you think is safe (perhaps half an inch or more) and then string the twine through that hole to hang the planter. That way you use the combined strength of the plastic and the cloth to support the planter. If one fails the other should hold long enough for you to notice.

Here’s a shot of the bottom cinched up around the stem of the plant. It’s not important to get this tight, just to make it look nice and make sure the cloth is too narrow for the bottle to fall through. (So the bottle won’t fall if the twine it’s hanging from tears through the plastic. That shouldn’t happen, but it’s better safe than sorry.)

The completed planter with plant.

Obviously this works with more than just tomatoes, but that’s the most popular plant for this application. I’m also planning to do this with a green pepper plant and a cherry tomato plant. Unfortunately for me, my pants have only two legs so I’ll have to scrounge up some fabric from somewhere else. I’ve got an idea for a DIY armored laptop bag, so I may use scraps from that.

It’s interesting to watch the plant adapt to suddenly being upside down. Mine is currently twisty and curved and looks kind of like a bonsai tree. New growth will most certainly be adapted to the new orientation. Keep in mind when you start this that you need somewhere to hang it from as soon as you’re done. It won’t sit on a table or something while you go figure out where to hang it.

Also, don’t hang it higher than you can easily reach to water it.

Accessories:

If you’re using a larger fruit-bearing plant – basically anything heavier than cherry tomatoes, you may want to give it something to support its weight on. A macramé chain or net can be a handy thing not only to hang the planter from, but serve as a support for the branches. If your planter is likely to experience high wind, a ground-based trellis may work better, since the plant could anchor itself more securely that way.

Stay tuned, as I develop these new ideas and test them I’ll post updates.

 

More Mystery Seed… ling. 25 May, 2008

To relieve the earlier tension, I’ve been trying to avoid my computer.  I was doing pretty well up ’till now, but I just wanted to come in and punch out a quick blog to let the 3 interested people know what’s going on in my garden.

Yesterday (or was it the day before?) I planted the bottom part of a red onion.  I read somewhere that you could cut off the root part, plant it, and grow a new onion.  I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’m about to find out.  As an attempt to multiply my success, I cut the bottom off and then cut the root “nub” in half.  Maybe I’ll get two onions, maybe I’ll get no onions.  We’ll have to wait and see.

The upside-down tomato planter I did is doing pretty well for a plant that was honestly a bit too big to have its roots crammed through the spout of a 2L bottle.  It’s turning and twisting its leaves right side up and not really pouting or wilting at all.  I took a bunch of pictures, so the DIY on that will be forthcoming.

I’m now actually hydroponic-ing.  I put the Jiffy starters with the seedlings I’m happiest with into my pots and filled in the gaps with hydroton.  I’ll get pictures later.  I sprayed the extra Jiffys with water till they were nice and wet and put them along the lid between the cups so they can get some light and grow bigger before they’re transplanted outside.  At the moment I’m just running straight water in the reservoir, since I figure the Jiffy starters have plenty of food in them for the plants for at least a week or two more, and I don’t want to risk burning the little guys.

The Mystery Seed is definitely not a seed anymore.  It’s weird, it looks absolutely identical to the Georgia Collard I have, but about double the size.  Both seedlings have almost identical development and the first true leaves are different only in size.  I tried looking for pictures online, but didn’t have much success.  I’m thinking, though, that my mystery seed is most likely some kind of Collard, perhaps some freakishly large variety.  That’d make it two of my favorite things:  bragging rights huge, and edible.  (The only thing better than food you grew yourself is food you grew yourself that people are astonished by.)

I’m torn between putting it into the DWC and growing it outside.  One of my spinach plants is still hiding inside its Jiffy starter, but I know it popped the root before I put it in there so I’m still optimistic that it will appear.  On the other hand, the Mystery (Collard?) would definitely be fun to grow in hydroponics, if that is what it is.  Of course if it’s half the freak it seems to be in size, it might actually be too big for my current equipment.

I think I’ll give that spinach seed a few more days.  If it doesn’t poke through by then I’ll put the Mystery Seedling in its place, and put the spinach outside to either grow or not.

Gardening is a nice de-stresser.  I think I may be ready to tackle that email issue calmly tomorrow.

 

I’m not a violent man, really… 24 May, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:26 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

… but Google really sucks sometimes.

I decide that I didn’t like the Yahoo email that I have been using for this blog because, well, I don’t want to pay them just so I can use POP to get the mail with a real (aka not web-based) email program. So I decided to switch it to Gmail instead.

Unbeknownst to me the computer I used was still logged into my wife’s Blogger account.

Which meant that the instant I created a Gmail account I also irrevocably linked it to my wife’s Blogger account. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is our privacy, this was profoundly unacceptable. And as I’ve said, once these two accounts had been linked they could not be separated.

Why? Because Google has no customer service. Now let me be clear. When I say they have no customer service I’m not using hyperbole. They literally do not have customer service. What they do have is an incredibly infuriating series of “pick your problem from this list” kind of help pages – which don’t include this problem, and a whole lot of talk about the ability to (if you jump through the right hoops) send a message to their imaginary support staff that they’ll (allegedly) absolutely read but may or may not respond to.

This is a lie. There is no magic form at the end of the rainbow. Every link you click that claims to lead to such a form simply restarts the parade of “pick your problem from the list” help pages. It’s a run-around. They have no email support, no one will read anything because they’ve literally made it impossible to email anything to them. I tried “support@” and every combination I could think of, and everything bounced back undeliverable.

So what did I have to do? Delete my new Gmail account. Well that certainly fixed the problem of there being any connection between my wife’s Blogger account and my blog’s email address. But here’s another fun quirk: Gmail won’t ever make deleted account names available. So encyclopediahydroponica@gmail.com is toast – forever deleted and unavailable. No problem, thinks I, I’ll just put a period between the words and use that. No dice, someone’s already registered that. WTF? Who’d do that?

So I decide to reverse it, and create hydroponicaencyclopedia. Well that works, but now for some reason I can’t make WordPress change my email to that. It’s just stuck on Yahoo. Who wants to charge me for the “privilege” of not using my web browser to read my mail.

And of course all this comes after I tracked down and changed every email address on this blog. So now I’ve got everything pointing to a deleted Gmail address and I’m so infuriated that my laptop is looking entirely too easy to throw. And I’m not the kind of guy that throws things when he’s angry.

So there you have it. I don’t know what email address I’m going to have, and at the moment I’m trying very hard not to care because I can’t really afford another new laptop. In the meantime just use the Yahoo address, I guess. I’ll get it straightened out sooner or later, and probably at a completely different webmail site. I don’t even want to see a hyperlink labeled “Help” right now.

It’s time to close the lid, walk away from the laptop, and crack open a nice cold beer. Too bad the Klaster isn’t cold. Ah well, Warsteiner it is. (Which, just for the record, is still my favorite beer. I’m just in kind of a Klaster mood.)

This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with being the biggest kid on the block.

You start to get the attitude that being nice to your customers is unimportant.

 

My Quick and Dirty DIY DWC 23 May, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 12:25 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Okay, the basic concept of DWC (Deep Water Culture) hydroponics is pretty simple.  You have a container of water with nutrients dissolved in it, plants suspended above with their roots down in the water, and a nice vigorous amount of air bubbling up from the bottom.  Roots get water, food, and air, just like they need.

To this (as with any hydroponics or other indoor growing situation) you need to add light and air.  Air you say?  Why your house is just full of the stuff isn’t it?  Sure, but plants like a breeze, so you need to provide it.  ESPECIALLY if you’re growing indoors since the lights involved are of the “ohmigawd my eyes it burns it burns my eyes” variety.  You’re going to want something opaque between you and that kind of light, which means that air doesn’t go through it either.  (Things that stop light stop air.)  So there’s got to be some way to get fresh air into this enclosed space.  Plants need to breathe too.

Let’s take a look at my “finished” product.  I put finished in quotation marks because I’m a tinkerer.  Things I build myself are only as finished as my next idea for a modification.

DO NOT USE HIDs WITH THIS DESIGN.

You’ll melt the tubs and probably start a fire or something.

Now if you remember the DIY Earth Box I made for my mom you’ll remember I had a left-over part – about 2/3rds of the top of a gray rubbermaid bin.  You can see it in the middle of the structure here.  (It’s upside down and jammed into the top of the blue bin.)  It’s also glowing.  That’s because there’s a 500w equivalent CFL in there.  Lightbulb the size of a football.  The cool part (no pun intended – yeah right) is that you can actually handle this bulb while it’s on without screaming like a little girl.  Show off to your friends who don’t know better.

Quick tour:  The bottom gray part is full of water (reservoir).  Full.  Of.  Water.  If you thought the Earth Box was heavy…

Let’s do the math.  It’s an 18 gallon bin with about 16.5 gallons of water in it.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon we have 137 pounds.  Now I see that number and like you (probably) I think “hell, I can lift 137 pound easy”.  And like most adult males I’m correct in that it’s not that hard to lift 137 pounds.

Of a solid.

One of two things will happen trying to lift a rubbermaid bin with 137 pounds of water in it.  1 – you really, really hurt yourself.  2 – you dump all the water out of the bin.  Or perhaps even 3 – both #1 and #2.

I’m not kidding, don’t pick up on this thing.  If you absolutely do have to move it, grab the sides with both hands at the corners, squat down, lean back and drag it using a combination of your weight and legs.  Go slow, go smart, and keep in mind that the water is going to slosh.  The lid?  Ornamental in the face of a wave with 137 pounds of water behind it.  It can and will pop off if you slosh enough.

This is one thing I was not required to learn the hard way, btw.

Next up (going up) is the thin black stripe around the middle.  That’s the lid to the reservoir.  It’s painted black with Krylon paint to block the light from getting to the water.  Light + water = slimey yuckiness.  Light + water + hydroponic nutrients = the most vile slime mold you can imagine.  Light is great for plants, bad for water and roots.

Above that is the “enclosure” assembly.  The gray and blue are connected and hollow all the way to the top, giving us a lot of vertical room to grow in.  Inside it hangs our light.  Up top we’ve got a thermometer with a remote probe to the inside, a pair of PC fans (powered by a hotwired PS seen at the left) and the hooks that hold the chain that supports the light.  On the floor in front is the power strip everything runs off.

Let’s look at the parts in greater detail:

Here we have the reservoir.  And my foot again.  ‘Cause I’m a rebel.  (Note, this would be supremely stupid if I were inclined to grow things I ought not be growing.  Not that the cops have a major foot database or anything, but you just don’t do anything “The Man” can use against you.)

Inside we can see the two air stones that aerate the water.  You’ll notice that there’s already a hole in the handle of this bin (compare top and bottom).  I just drilled another one for my second airline.  Since my pump has dual outlets, I ran separate air lines to each stone.  You could just as easily split the line with a T connector inside the tank.

Oh, and always use check valves.  They prevent the water from being able to flow back up the hose and into your pump (which ruins it) when it’s not running.

That’s what it looks like when it’s running.  If you don’t get a vigorous “boiling water” effect, you need a more powerful pump and/or bigger/more air stones.

Here’s the top.  Spray painted black because let’s be honest – no rubbermaid bin is light-tight off the shelf.  (If you don’t believe me, put a bulb in one and shut the room lights off.  Or better, yet, put a 500+w in there and admire the glow.)  Measure out and cut holes in the top (trusty thumb-stabber to the rescue – no thumbs or anything else stabbed in this venture) and pop in your net pots.  You don’t need big ones, it’s not about how much medium you can hold.

You can see I’m not actually growing anything hydroponically here – I’ve still got seedlings in Jiffy starters.  I just put them on top so I can assemble and run everything until the seedlings are big enough to move into their new home below.  (Most are going outside, actually.)

Seedlings are, starting in the right tray, two basil plants on the far right side.  One for hydro, one for outside.  Next row to the left is lettuce and collard greens (two lettuce, collard at the bottom, all for hydro), 3rd row is garlic that doesn’t seem to want to grow, 2 spinach (for hydro), and the Mystery Seed.  Last row is onions, 2 per starter, for outside.

The other tray has 3 more collard greens for outside, spinach at the bottom, and then a 3 starter row with 2 carrots each for outside.  The last two starters are the pepper plant (the one I thought might be my cherry tomato, and an actual cherry tomato.  The white thing is a paper towel growing some left over lettuce seedlings to be eaten as sprouts.  I had more germinate than I needed, they wouldn’t take the heat outside, and it seemed a shame to waste them entirely.  (I had one already.  Tiny sprout an inch long, more flavor than anything that size has any right to have.  Lovely.)

Here’s another shot of the whole rig, except this time with no flash.  You can really see the glow I was talking about.  I can’t stress this enough.  Rubbermaids are NOT LIGHT TIGHT.  If you don’t paint them you’ll grow nasty stuff.  In fact, you can see the glow inside the reservoir (cool effect with the bubbles, but not what you want).  That’s coming through the net pots, which as you can see in the previous picture weren’t filled up because they’re waiting for the seedlings to get big enough to transplant.  Since taking this I’ve put a thick sheet of cardboard between the seedling trays and the lid.  It’s now appropriately light-tight.

Note that the computer fans up top are not the LED variety that light up.  That’s a bit of light leaking out the top, but it’s about as bright as a normal LED fan, so I’m not going to worry about building a light trap for that.  (I had ideas but tossed them since they weren’t needed.)

Top view.  Here you can see the fans and the thermometer.  The wiring is properly spliced (use solder, it’s worth the effort to be safe), wrapped in electrical tape, and so forth so that the two fans are run off a single connector.  The duct tape (don’t DIY without it) is just there to keep the wires from getting pulled.  If you look closely you can see small holes on the outsides of the fans.  Through these come the chains that hold the light fixture up, and they hook on the little golden hooks sticking up.  This means I can easily raise or lower the light.

You can see it more clearly here.

I like this shot because it shows a lot more than it seems to at first…

The white wire is the remote sensor for the thermometer, it goes into the cut-out handle, and is duct taped to the inside – the dark square right under the Sterilite sticker is the tape.  Also, if you look up to the demonstration of the bubbling you can see the tops of the handles there – where the air lines go through.  On this part I’ve sliced them off to make a nice long, narrow opening.  Those fans blowing out the top mean air has to come in from somewhere – this is where it gets in.

The blue bin’s handle makes a convenient place to store the excess wiring.

This is just a spare computer power supply (PS) I had laying around.  As you can see from the tangle of wires on the right, I’ve butchered it pretty soundly.  This was done to make it so that it would come on without being attached to a computer.  This is not something you should DIY unless you’re reasonably familiar with electronics.  You can and will zap yourself pretty badly if you don’t know what you’re doing (and it could potentially kill you).  This is an ugly looking thing, but it’s safe as long as you don’t let kids play with it.

As you can see I’ve labeled this PS as “OK, Crappy”.  That’s because it is.  It works, but for running a computer it sucks the big one.  That’s why it’s doing this instead of running a computer.

If you want to do something like this, first read this How to Convert a Computer ATX Power Supply…

If you don’t understand that, please don’t mess with a power supply.  Those who understand all that will see I didn’t follow those instructions – I skipped a lot of steps and basically just “hotwired” my power supply because I didn’t need the versatility.  Mine’s kind of a “one trick pony” but that’s all I needed.

Here you can see the wiring running up the back to the fan connector.  This means I can easily reach back and disconnect the fans (thereby the top) from the power supply to move it around.

And speaking of the fans, here’s how I mounted them.  I took a sheet of paper, pushed it down on the back of a fan, and then rubbed it with my fingers (which left darker marks on the paper in the shape of the fan – my hands weren’t terribly clean).  I then cut out the inside shape of the fan from the paper, and used that pattern to mark the bin with a pen.  Cut out those holes, drilled the holes to screw it in, and used normal fan screws (they should come with a set of four).  Just drill the holes smaller than you think you need.

Also, the white wire isn’t needed – it’s a speed controller thing that doesn’t work when you’re running it straight off the PS.  Mine are just cut off.

This was a tough shot to get.  You’re looking down into the bin through a fan.  You can see the chain going down to one side of the light fixture.  The “white” is the light around the edges of the fixture.  Not a very great picture, I realize, but I like it.

This is a picture straight up the top part.  You can see the light fixture pretty much takes up the whole thing.  It’s nothing more than a 18×24 sheet of aluminum screwed into a thin bit of wood about 17×5.  I just bent the sides by pushing the wood down on the middle and lifting the edges.  Once I had the shape I wanted, I drilled holes and screwed it to the wood (wood on the back or “top”).  I then hung the light with a couple bent pieces of a wire hanger.  They go through holes drilled all the way through, and then are bent on top to keep them from coming out.

Not elegant or even ideal, but it works.  I was impatient.  BTW, this fixture cost all of about $14.  Ten for the metal and 3.50 for the socket with 15′ cord.

You can see the temp probe here.  It reads hot due to proximity with the light, but I’d rather that than have the plants hotter than I think they are.

That’s where the power cord for the light goes.  You can also feed it up between the gray and blue bins, but I had trouble with it messing with the fixture’s balance that way, which is unfortunately hard to correct with this design.  When the light is higher up, this will be a better option.

Here’s the finished product again.

The reason the half gray bin and blue bin assembly isn’t actually glued together is simple.  When I first started kicking around the idea of using an inverted bin as a mini-enclosure I realized that with my low-level leafy vegetables (lettuce) I would probably have trouble getting the top on without trapping leaves between it and the top of the tank.

But this way I can remove the gray from the blue, then put the gray one on top alone, making sure all the leaves are nicely contained within.  Then the blue – with light – can be lowered on top of that and not trap/crush any foliage.

If I left anything out or you have an questions about how I did something, let me know.

Unfortunately, I was just too excited to get this done to properly document the fabrication process.

 

Again, Gardening Instead of Encyclopedia-ing 22 May, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 3:56 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Let’s see, things that have happened that I didn’t do…

Turns out the plant that sprouted I was hoping was a cherry tomato plant isn’t. I’m 99% sure it’s a green pepper. But after thinking about it I decided I’ll go ahead and put it in an upside-down planter. I want to try an idea I had on how to get it in there but it’ll have to wait awhile. For the immediate future I got a Roma tomato plant to thread into an upside-down planter the classic way. Growing gigantic tomatoes can be fun, but I really like the small ones best for flavor and salads.

The Mystery Seed

It’s funny, I’ve got it right next to a seedling collard green that sprouted around the same time, and the two are virtually identical – except the mystery seedling is at least double the size. I don’t mean it’s grown to double the size – it started out that much bigger. Plus, it came from a seed that looks nothing like a collard green seed. Still no true leaves, so I’m just guessing in the dark at this point.

Things I did do:

Found an old Earth Box – the “real” version – at a garage sale for a couple bucks. Then I grossly underestimated the amount of potting soil I’d need to fill it. Bought more potting soil when I got the Roma tomato plant, but haven’t finished it yet. Not completely sure what I’m going to plant in it. I don’t have any covers for it, so I’m planning to just use a trash bag.

I also set up the hydroponic system I’ve been waiting on. I’m letting it bubble away for now since my sprouts aren’t quite ready to step up to the big leagues. This way the system can work out the chlorine in the tap water and I can start to get an idea of how the pH behaves and so forth. I’ll try to get some pictures up, but unfortunately they won’t be step-by-step. I just got too impatient and couldn’t stop working on it to take pictures. Got a lot of good stuff there: tons of DIY ideas assembled into one uniform machine that (while not yet proven) looks to be pretty nice.

But I’m tired now and my basement’s a mess.

So no new Encyclopedia stuff.

 

Gardening, Hydroponics, and neglecting the Encyclopedia 20 May, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 7:05 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Well I haven’t gotten much done that’s visible to the Internet today.

I went over to my mom’s house with a gallon of water mixed with hydrated lime for the tomato plants I got for her. It’s kind of sweet – she still treats them like they’re in a regular planter. I’ve explained a few times that the water reservoir allows it to go for a really long time between watering, but she just doesn’t feel comfortable leaving it alone that long. Oh well, no harm done.

In case you’re thinking of building one like I explained before, here’s a nice plug: My mom filled it yesterday and when I went to put the hydrated lime water in today it took less than a cup of water to top it off. Granted, these plants aren’t very big just yet, but that’s a single cup of water used in one day in a planter that holds 18 gallons of water/soil. Not as efficient as hydroponics, but that’s phenomenal for soil.

Oh, and another thing – there’s been ZERO sign of transplant shock. I could try to guess what I did to accomplish that, but it’d be speculation. I’m just going to call it luck.

Coming up soon (I hope) will be a short piece on building an upside-down planter from discarded 2L bottles. If you’re in a hurry you can look it up online – there’s a number of explanations out there on how to do it. As usual I’ve got some ideas for modifying what I’ve seen that ought to make things a bit easier.

I mentioned all this to the guy (Tim) who writes Gabriola Garden and he told me that apparently the people who make the commercial upside-down planters so drastically underestimated the demand for them that they’re all back-ordered for a month or more. He had a suggestion for building one out of a bucket that sounds pretty cool too, so I might try that. Maybe he’ll do the “How To” on his blog. If not, maybe I’ll get a chance to do one here.

Other than that I’ve just been fretting over my seedlings and cackling with glee at the signs of success. Looks like once my new hydroponics equipment is ready I’ll have exactly the plants I want, ready to go. I have a couple Jiffy starters inside 2L bottles that I’d given up on (I have tones of empty 2L’s so I use them for everything just to keep them out of landfill). But just in case they were slow I left them sitting next to the heater. This morning I noticed one of them poking up through the soil, but I forgot to label which was which. It’s either a cherry tomato plant or a green pepper plant. I’m hoping it’s the tomato, since that’ll keep my upside-down planter project perfectly on track.

OH! And my mystery seed sprouted and is looking mighty vigorous. It’s got the fattest stem and biggest starter leaves of anything that’s come up so far. With any luck I’ll have some true leaves in a few days and I can start trying to figure out what it is. Which reminds me… I need to get a pot for that one.