The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

Mystery Plant – The Finale? 26 June, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 12:40 am
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Well the Mystery Plant is no more. No tragedy befell it, but instead I decided that it had lived long enough. Since most plants of this type tend to get a bit woody and unpleasant if they get too big, and I was curious as to what it might be, I pulled it up a couple days ago and went about the business of trying to figure out what it was. Unfortunately the jury is still out.

As you can see here it’s continued to get bigger and lighter colored. Also, there’s been more of those nasty little green caterpillars gnawing on it, but it’s just too vigorous a plant for them to accomplish much.

The foliage it sports is classic rutabaga, perhaps turnip. The stalks of the leaves and the major vein undersides are bristling with sharp spines hefty enough to be almost thorny.

An unpleasant plant to handle bare-handed for sure.

It wasn’t very difficult to uproot since there was very little root mass below the dirt compared to the total size of the plant.

Also worth noting is a neighborhood bunny rabbit has been spotted in the vicinity of this plant on several occasions, but the rabbit doesn’t seem to consider it worth eating.

Can’t really say as I blame him.

You can see the depth of the main root and in the picture to the left, and the piled up leaves to the right, ready for washing.

Nothing wasted.

Here we have the washed root posing next to an ordinary clothespin for size comparison. Note the smaller “hairy” bits at the top. These are incredibly thick fibers that extend into the larger leaf stalks which made them very difficult to remove. The rest of the stalk would easily break off clean, but those fibers would hold fast and require a lot of effort to finally snap off.

The widest point of the root was at ground level, so you can see the vast majority of it was above ground.

Most of the upper part (darker color) was tough, woody, and inedible.

Here’s my most prolific garden pest. These nasty buggers are trying to eat most of the plants in my garden, but luckily they don’t have enough numbers to do any major damage.

Still, I have to look for them every day or two and squish all that I find or they’ll soon get out of hand.

This guy was hiding in the foliage I got off the Mystery Plant and was washed down the drain shortly after this photograph. Evolution has failed to properly adapt this insect to cope with a 1/3rd horsepower home garbage disposal, but this is not surprising as it can’t even cope with my thumb.

The greener parts (upper right, left side picture) are just below the foliage in the neck. This were presumed inedible. The smaller pieces in that picture are from the root end and the larger ones are obviously from the middle. Also shown is a close-up of the largest slice to show a nice picture of the cross-section.

The Cooking and Tasting

I had been thinking that this would be what finally put the questions to rest. I was wrong.

The greens: Raw these had an interesting wild flavor, similar to dandelion greens but tamer with an almost minty element that lurked in the background of the overall taste. They’d likely make a decent addition to a salad, but we didn’t eat much of these. Cooked they had very little flavor at all, but were most like a mild spinach.

The root: This thing was essentially inedible raw. It was half turnip, half radish, and dialed up so high on flavor that it was just impossible to eat. Consistency was like a turnip – solid but soft. Know how a really strong radish can make your mouth react similarly to a hot pepper? Yeah, like that only in a disgusting “where can I spit this out and what’s the number for poison control” kind of way. Bunnies are smart.

Cooked it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. It was rather bland with the faintest hint of the “poison control flavoring” that seemed stronger in the outer skin. Vaguely reminiscent of mashed potatoes but with more of a tap-root vegetable taste rather than a spud taste. Definitely a food, but not something I’ll ever crave.

If these descriptions and pictures help you identify this vegetable, please let me know what it was. I also plan to print some of these pictures out and show them to my grandfather, who’s probably grown every kind of garden vegetable even remotely possible in this area.

I will solve this mystery somehow…


Upside Down Tomato Planter 2.0 23 June, 2008

Well I’ve promised this awhile ago and I’m finally getting around to it. The second version of the How To Build an Upside Down Tomato Planter using a method described by Amber.

What you Need:

A 2 liter bottle


The ability to heat water

A sharp knife

A plant

Potting soil


coffee filter

Jiffy starter

So we start off with your run-of-the-mill 2-liter bottle that’s been cleaned out.  I’m using an old Dr Thunder bottle because I’m a caffeine addict to such an extent that the savings over the “good stuff” is significant.

Hot water.  If you have children and set your water heater accordingly, your water may not be hot enough.  The water at my house is set pretty much as high as can be done with any semblance of sanity.  If you find your tap water isn’t hot enough, just pour a bit of heated water into the bottle with hot tap water in it to make it warmer.

This is about as full as you want it to be.  A little less than this would probably work better for you.

Turn the bottle upside down and let it “cook” like that for a little while.  You want the plastic to heat up to the same temperature as the water so that it’s more pliable.  Once it’s hot to the touch (not scalding or anything, just hot) you’re ready to start working.

As much as possible, do your work in or next to the bathtub so that if you have a water leak you don’t drench the wife’s favorite rug or something.

You can see we’ve jammed the nozzle in a bit.  This is accomplished by simply pushing down on the bottle while it’s upside down.  Don’t do this on the edge of the tub, I just have it sitting there for the picture.  (If you try it on a slippery surface you’ll probably just hurt yourself.  I pushed it on the carpet.)  If you have any trouble getting the collapse started, try whacking it down on the floor.  Be careful here, it’s certainly not easy to rupture a 2-liter bottle but don’t get carried away.  Just a good thump is all you need, once it starts to bend you can work it with just a push.

Here we’ve got near-full compression.  To get to this point you have to turn the bottle upright, loosen the cap to let some air out, re-tighten it and then flip it over and push some more.  Repeat that procedure several times until you’ve got what’s normally the top of the cap even with the rest of the plastic as seen here.

Now go around the rim and pinch the plastic to crease it as shown here.  This is to produce a more even, consistent bottom all the way around.

Like this.  You can see there’s plenty of room around the cap here.  We actually want to get rid of all that room because that’s space that roots and dirt could be, but mostly because that’s potential water storage area when the planter is turned over.  To fill that out, flip the bottle over once more, push it solidly down against the floor, and then crush the sides inward with all your might.  (Squeezing between your knees is a good way to put the larger muscles of your body to work.)

Basically you want to puff that part of the bottle out like a balloon.

Puffy!  There’s a drawback to this – it’s now a royal pain in the backside to get the cap off if you did this right.  I use a pair of pliers because I’m not patient enough to twist and twist with my fingers until it comes loose.

Finally, empty the bottle of as much water as you can (it won’t empty completely) and then chop the bottom off with a knife (don’t stab yourself).  Once you’ve got a bit of a cut opened you can get the rest of the water out.

Finished product.  You can see how the plastic bubble at the bottom looks like it’s “sucked in” against the nozzle.  This maximizes the area at the bottom that can hold water – something a tomato plant can gulp down at an astonishing pace.

That’s it!  Now for the optional stuff and installation of the plant.

For the standard plant installation (ie. a plant you bought at the store or have grown in a pot) see the Original Upside Down Tomato Post.

What’s this, a tiny seedling actually started in the planter?  Yes!

What we have is an ordinary Jiffy starter with a tomato seed germinated in it until it was big enough to reach through the nozzle of the planter.  We use the chopped off bottom of the planter as a water tray for the Jiffy starter before and after this step.  Cut a coffee filter down to size and then cut a slit from the side to the middle and fit it around your plant like a Christmas tree skirt.

Now, holding the planter upside down (as pictured here) with one hand, carefully feed the JIffy starter, plant, and coffee filter upward until the plant is poking out the top.  Holding them thusly, flip your hands over so that it’s right-side up (the plant is upside down).  Put the water tray in, follow it with a cup (as shown here) or other object stable enough to support the whole thing, and flip it back over.

We want to grow the tomato right side up a bit longer, so that it can easily see around the planter to get delicious sunshine when it’s hanging.  The step shown above lets us grow the tomato by carefully watering it through the nozzle.

NOTE:  in these pictures you can see a distinct purple tint to the stem and underside of the leaves.  This is a Phosphorus deficiency.  I corrected this by feeding the seedling with water from my DWC hydroponic system.

Here’s a view of the whole thing.  Now we’ll fast-forward to the final construction step.

We flip the planter “right-side up” and remove the water tray.  This has the advantage of dumping the water into the planter and wetting the coffee filter.  With it weighed down by the water, just flatten it out so it nicely blocks anything from getting through the nozzle.  Note that the seedling still has a slight purple tint at the tips of the leaves but the stem is nice and green.  The deficiency is clearing up.

Dump in a little soil to anchor everything in place.

Another shot, you can really see the fading purple of the phosphorus deficiency here.

Finish filling up the planter with your soil.  I highly recommend using some good fertilizer for tomato plants if that’s what you’re putting in the planter.  Tomatoes eat more than pretty much any other plant.

Not a great shot of the staple, but you can get the idea.  Instead of tying it in place like the previous example, this time I just stapled the cloth cover to the rim of the planter.  I folded it over the top and stapled through it and the plastic to form a good strong connection.

I also went a different route with the hanging of the planter.  I took six strands of twine, tied them together at one end, and then knotted them to make a tight-fitting net.  I used an unopened 2-liter as a form for this process so that it would fit properly – not too tight and not too loose.  Be careful sliding the planter into this so as to not damage the small plant.

Here you can see the bottom.  I used a prepared upside-down planter to measure out the length of the net, and then tied the opening much narrower so that the planter couldn’t slip out the bottom.  It takes a little working to get the cloth cover straightened out and tucked in at the bottom, but it’s easily done.  The extra length of netting can be used later as support for the vine, though if you start from a very small plant like this you’ll probably find it turns the corner and grows pretty much straight up the side of the planter.  Which means you can carefully tie it to the netting there.

The finished product.

In case you’re curious, this is a Large Red Cherry tomato plant.


Mystery Plant Revisited 22 June, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 10:59 pm
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Okay, I know that I’d dubbed the Mystery Plant a turnip, but I’m starting to question that.  Again.

Turnips are supposed to grow below ground and this plant doesn’t seem interested in doing so.  Instead, it seems to producing most (if not all) of its veggie part above ground.  Which, as I understand, is typical of rutabagas.  In fact, that seems to be one of the primary distinctions between the two.  As you can see below, it has gotten significantly larger since my last photographs.

I’ve also had some damage done to the leaves by some green garden looper caterpillars that are trying to eat pretty much everything in sight.  They’ve chomped holes in several different leaves on several different plants, and many of them have ended up squished on the pavement to feed the local ants.

As I said, the Mystery Plant has gotten much bigger.  I haven’t really dug around it, but as near as I can tell by feeling around the base it isn’t bulging out underground.  There’s no indication that there’s a lot more to it under the surface, but I can’t be sure.  What is visible is, as you can see, substantial.  The black fill spout to the lower right is (if you’re not familiar with the commercial Earth Box) large enough to easily admit a standard garden hose inside.  The Mystery Plant “stalk” is at least three inches across now.

Not shown here, since this picture is from yesterday, the bottom third of the “stalk” seems to be bulging slightly.

The leaves are visually identical to several photos I’ve seen of Rutabaga leaves, and distinctly different than turnip leaves in that the edges are much smoother.  It also lacks the distinctive red coloring found in radishes.  I would expect a radish to develop underground, and the leaf stalks and veins should transition from a deep red to green as you get away from the root.

Thus I’m currently vetoing my ruling of “turnip” and proposing “rutabaga” as the identity of this plant.

Any thoughts?


Another Harvest – Pics This Time 20 June, 2008

The hydroponic garden is just growing out of control.  Ideally it would be good to space the plants out some more, but realistically that’s just way more work than I want to get into at the moment.  So instead the wife and I have the delicious burden of having to eat fresh salads frequently enough that we keep the growth in check.

Here’s a nice before picture:

Above you can see starting at the top left and going clockwise, spinach, spinach (both are Bloomsdale Savoy), Sweet Basil, Grand Rapids Lettuce, Simpsons Curled Lettuce (hiding under the…), and Georgia Collard.

Those with sharp eyes may spot some tell-tale nute burn on the lettuce near the center.  It’s mild and I just added about a gallon of water so it should be fine.  Also, the Simpsons Curled lettuce in the bottom middle is not actually that yellow.  The camera makes everything look less green and more yellow than it is.  Yes, that means the spinach is frighteningly green.  It’s so succulent that the leaves will literally make your fingers wet.

Here’s a better shot of the Georgia Collard.  I don’t think I’ll be growing it ever again in a DWC like this.  It’s just WAY too big for this system.  I’m eating Collard greens every couple days just so the other plants can get some light.

Here’s the two spinach plants.  Most of the leaves are the left one, since it’s a few weeks older.  The leaves curl a hell of a lot, but seem obscenely healthy.  Not sure if that much curling is normal, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to matter.  It’s growing fast and seems happy.

This is mostly the Grand Rapids lettuce.  The Simpsons is slightly yellower, so it’s easy to tell them apart.

Here’s a decent shot of the Simpsons Curled which, as I said above, is not actually that yellow.  You can also see in this shot some of the stalks I’ve pinched off on the Collard to harvest leaves.  I just pinch in with my thumbnails, which I keep long-ish for this kind of thing, to sever the stems.  These plants are so vibrant and turgid they crisply snap off cleanly.

Here’s the basil.  You can see here that it too is curling under a lot.  Also, the chlorosis that appears in this picture is nothing remotely that pronounced.  It’s more like a variation between healthy green and really healthy green.

This is the biggest leaf that I harvested off the Collard with a Penguin mint tin as a size comparison.

Considering how much Collard I’m going to be eating I’m going to have to find more recipes for this plant.  I’m already getting tired of it steamed.

Here’s the whole harvest laid out.  This was 3 salads and a double portion of collards.

And finally we have an “after” shot of the DWC.  In 2-3 days we’ll be right back where we were, but this time I think that second spinach plant may be contributing to the harvest.  Good thing, I love spinach.  (Thus the reason I planted two.

I’m thinking about maybe just taking the Georgia Collard out altogether in a week or two, moving the Simpsons over one spot and moving the smaller spinach down.  That’d leave me an open spot in the back for a bell pepper plant I’ve started.  Not sure on that, but I’m toying with the idea.

If you’ve got an ideas about the leaf curl on the spinach and/or basil, or favorite recipes for Collard greens, let me know.


The Fruits of My Labors 14 June, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 8:49 pm
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I had a little harvest a few days ago because my Georgia Collard was getting too big and was blocking the light to its neighbors.  I cooked them up in a pan with some crushed garlic and butter – it was delicious.

Today I checked and my Grand Rapids lettuce was in the same situation – blocking light to the Simpson’s Curled and threatening to overtake the basil.  So I harvested about half of the leaves on the lettuce plant (the oldest ones) and a few leaves from one spinach plant along with another leaf from the Georgia Collard.  (This leaf, a few days ago, was the size of a 3×5 card.  Today it was the size of half a sheet of paper.)

Altogether the leaves filled up a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Everything but the collard got torn up into salad sized pieces and made two large salads.  My wife took one to work for lunch and I ate the other right then.  I also steamed the collard leaf and ate that.  It was rather strong flavored, so I’m thinking I probably undercooked it slightly.  Generally I like my vegetables fresh or only slightly cooked, but I think with the collard a little more cooking time might be best.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures because I was just having too much fun.

Fresh greens are nice.  Fresh greens which were picked minutes before eating are just a completely different food.


The X-Rated Mystery Plant

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 8:01 pm
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Well this will probably be the final edition of the Mystery Plant updates.  I say that not because there’s anything wrong with the plant, but because I doubt there will be much mystery after this.  One of the things I enjoy most about growing things is the way they just start growing at an absolutely astounding rate once they reach a certain size.

As you can see, it’s gotten a lot bigger…

One of the things I like the best about growing indoors is the lack of bugs.  You can see a couple of the leaves have gotten nibbled on, but  overall the plant seems to be so healthy that the bugs just can’t do much damage.  I found one giant green caterpillar on the underside of the upper right leaf, but it paid for that trespass with its life and that seems to have scared the others off.

Here’s a close-up of the new growth.  Each new leaf has more of those little fringe leaves along the stem.  Look at where the stem comes through the cover of the Earth Box… that hole is the size of a Jiffy starter.  It’s starting to stretch that hole bigger.  If this is a radish it’s turning into the biggest radish I’ve ever seen.

I took this picture of the stem only to find out after I uploaded the memory card that it seemed a bit… suggestive.  I never realized the Mystery Plant had such a naughty side.

Anyway, I’m declaring this a turnip, unless someone has a better idea.

This was enough fun I’m going to have to do it again… I wonder where I can find unknown vegetable seeds?


My Friend Vicodin 11 June, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:02 pm
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Well technically it’s Hydrocodone that I’m taking, but that’s just the generic name for the brand-name of Vicodin.  (Also known as Lortabs, or any of a dozen or so other names).

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really see the big deal with it.  I’m a big fan of the show “House, M.D.” in which the main character is a Vicodin addict.  I’m also an ex-smoker, so I’m no stranger to addiction.  Hell, I’m a huge caffeine addict as well.  So far I don’t see the addictive quality of Vicodin.  I’m not saying it’s not there – I just don’t see it.  But I’m definitely glad for the prescription.  It definitely helps with the pain, but beyond that I can’t imagine how the addictive side works.  Asprin helps with pain, but I don’t feel motivated to take it.

I just had some pretty major oral surgery – well I’m not sure if it would be considered major to a dentist, but it’s definitely the most major thing I’ve had done.  I’ll spare you all the details, but I was awake for it so I guess it wouldn’t technically be all that major.  Unfortunately this is just part 1 of 5-6 episodes to repair the damage caused by a hereditary condition (in the same way buying a new car “fixes” the old one).

I got a little work done on the Encyclopedia, but mostly I’ve just been napping.  The Hydrocodone helps a lot with the pain but I can’t accurately gage exactly how much it helps.  For one thing I’ve been in pretty much constant pain to some degree for a long time, which distorts your perceptions of what “hurts”.  For another, I hadn’t bothered to let the medication wear off until today.  A little achy but not bad.

One thing no one told me, which I’ll share with you just in case it helps, is that if the dentist does any kind of serious work on your lower teeth there’s a good chance your whole jaw will be sore for a few days.  If you’ve ever taken a good shot to the jaw in a fist-fight you know the kind of soreness I’m talking about.  If they’ve got to strong arm around the molars in particular they’ll put enough strain on the joints (right in front of your ears) that it feels like they’re trying to yank it off.  Right now that’s what hurts more than anything else.

In other news…

The Mystery Plant is threatening to become the Mystery Shrub.  It’s looking more and more like a turnip.  If it’s a radish I may have to call the EPA or something – a radish that big could be a prelude to some vegetable-based invasion.

The assault-victim basil has died, though the cat is not a suspect.  I moved it outside, we had a windy day, and it appears to have gotten stem rot around the same time.  Too many problems at once, I think.  The basil in my dwc is growing so fast I’ve topped it once and it doesn’t seem to have cared – within days it was just as big as before.  I think I may borrow some ideas from the other side of the legality fence and tie it down.  (They call it LST – Low Stress Training.)

The hydroponics plants are exploding.  I’m going to have to raise the light soon, and a cabinet will probably be required within a couple weeks.


I’m planning to get more work done on the Encyclopedia soon, as well as some photographic updates on how the hydroponics plants are doing as well as the Mystery Plant/Shrug/Invader.  I’m starting to feel more energetic so I ought to be back to normal by tomorrow.