The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

If You Don’t Know Ronald Jenkees… 29 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:28 pm
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… well you ought to.

This isn’t going to be a long post (for once).  I recently came across the YouTube video of Ronald Jenkees playing a song, I don’t remember which one.  He’s awesome, to put not too fine a point on it.  Seriously.

His YouTube Channel

His Website

Check him out, he rocks.

His music is fantastic, but I always find myself enjoying the videos the most.  It’s just that he is so obviously loving every second of it, it’s just fun to watch.

– E.H.

 

The Name’s Bond, James Bond

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:51 am
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Okay, well I’ve gotten tired of my name as you may have noticed.

When I first created this WordPress blog my intention was not so much to make a blog, but rather to create as comprehensive listing of information related to hydroponics as I possibly could.  However, I quickly found that the blogging was far more fun.  I still intend to work on the Encyclopedia, but that’s more like work so it just doesn’t make me want to log in nearly as much as showing off my latest project does.

This only matters because, as I said, I didn’t intend to actually blog much so the name I gave myself didn’t really matter that much.  So I simply adopted the same name as the blog itself, since I wasn’t in a particularly creative mood at the time.  That wouldn’t be so bad except that the name “Hydroponica” has a decidedly feminine ring to it.  Which isn’t to say I have anything against challenging gender preconceptions or anything, it’s just not a name I’d pick for myself.  An encyclopedia, sure.  Me, not so much.

And “Encyclopedia” is just a bit weird and pretentious, so I can’t really go with that either.

So I’ve decided to go with my initials, E.H., which as Bentley the Compost Guy pointed out when I was spitballing the idea with him, also happens to be the initials of our mutual friends the European Nightcrawler (Eisenia hortensis).  Thus, the “cool factor” is improved.  Granted, it’s also the letters used to create a decidedly inarticulate word, “eh”, but we can’t win them all, can we?

I also briefly considered Bentley’s title, “MacGyver of the Worms”, but I’m actually more of a hydroponics guy first, worm guy second, and besides, I can always use that as an honorific.

So that’s the point of this post – to inform you the (what, 3?) people that read my blog that I’ve edited my profile so that “Hydroponica” has become “E.H.”  Same guy, more masculine name.

E.H.

“MacGyver of the Worms”

PS.  Speaking of MacGyver, I recently had the opportunity to test my “Spider Catcher” MacGyver gadget.  No pictures because it’s ridiculously simple, but it works perfectly.  Take a strip of duct tape, loop it sticky-side out, and then stick it to one end of a long dowel rod or similar “stick-like” tool.  Then, next time you see an errant spider where it ought not be, you simply pin it using the sticky tape.  Fold the remaining tape over the spider to ensure eternal entombment, and discard the tape/spider.  Replace tape and the “Spider Catcher” is ready for action again!

PPS.  Spiders aren’t bad.  I only execute those spiders that criminally trespass in a manner which alarms my wife (a Class-A felony in my home, punishable by death).

 

Reader Requests 25 July, 2008

I’ve recently had some requests for a few pictures and updates so of course I’m happy to oblige.

So here’s a picture of the “cherry tomato tree” that’s been growing in my yard. Now I’m sure that there are those who’ll say it’s not as impressive as plants they’ve grown, or whatever, but for me a plant that rivals my own (considerable) height is pretty impressive – especially when we consider that this thing isn’t remotely close to being done growing.

Also, this guy has a bunch of extra branches all over the place and has already started a little more than a hundred fruit and will probably triple that or more by fall.

I took five ripe tomatoes off it today, which were exceptionally delicious, but I didn’t get any pictures of them. (They’re not really anything special to look at, they just look like ordinary cherry tomatoes.)

I will definitely be saving some seeds for next year.

At left here you can see a shot of the ground the plant is growing out of, complete with ashes and barbecue briquettes.

Virtually nothing has been done in any real organized fashion to improve the soil. It, like the plant, is purely accidental.

At right you can see a picture of the largest bunch (so far) of tomatoes. It’ll probably have 30-40 fruit once it’s done.

What you can’t easily see in any pictures is the heavy twine I have tied to the gutter above, that I’ve been wrapping the main stem around for support.

I also decided to take a quick picture of one of the clones of this large plant, that is currently flourishing in my Earth Box. It’s just started bearing fruit, but the limited space it has for roots (comparatively) will most likely limit its growth.

While I was out with the camera I also went ahead and snapped a picture of one of the two female flowers my pumpkin plant has produced.

You can tell the females because they’ve got the big pregnant-looking bulge just below the flower. I’ll be hand-pollinating this one when it gets big enough.

I haven’t yet decided how many pumpkins I’m going to try for. The guys who grow the huge ones only allow one pumpkin per plant, which forces the plant to devote all its effort to that one gourd. I’m considering this because my pumpkin plant is growing in a pot, so it has cramped roots.

And finally, we have a picture of the Micro Tom’s first true leaves. I apologize for the blurry image, but I’m not all that adept at getting extreme close-up pics clearly.

To get an idea of the scale here, the white circle is the upper rim of a yogurt cup and the brown in the middle is an ordinary Jiffy starter. I tried one picture with my pinky finger next to the plant, but it was also blurry and besides, different people have differently-sized fingers.

If you look closely, however, you can see that the first true leaves are far more developed than typical for the first leaves of a tomato plant. (Typically, you get a single lobed leaf first, and as the plant gains size and maturity the more complex leaves appear.) Furthermore, the leaves are incredibly small, being barely larger than the cotyledons. Everything about this plant is just much more miniaturized.

Since this plant is scheduled to be a gift to the dental clinic that’s been doing my reconstructive work, I also started another Micro Tom in a small pot. This one seems to be a genetic freak, as it’s put out three cotyledons. I’m cautiously optimistic that it may be triploid or tetraploid (having an extra set or two of chromosomes). Plants with this trait tend to grow bushier and bear more fruit. Wheat, for example, is a common example of a plant in which polyploid traits are sought after. Many field crops actually have 6 sets of chromosomes per cell rather than the normal two, as this makes them grow stronger, healthier and produce much higher yields.

 

Foosh Mints Review 24 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 9:55 pm
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Borrowing a page from both Red-Icculus and Max’s Weblog, I decided to do a little review of one of my favorite caffeine sources.  I’m also planning to see if I can’t get my greedly little caffeinated hands on the Buzz Bites they reviewed, but I haven’t gotten around to tracking down the email address of the super-cool person I dealt with at Vroom Foods a few weeks back to send a begging email.

Besides, I figure this review will shamelessly serve my goals of getting them to send me some complimentary Buzz Bites to review as well.  (Right Sarah?  Please?)

Anyway, rather than go around looking for any of the specific marketing imagry for Foosh, I just picked up one of the (many) tins I have about and took a couple quick snaps.  I like the tins a lot because they’re a bit smaller than the more typical Penguin Mint or Altoids tins.  Those bigger tins do have some good uses (I built a cool little carrying case for my wife’s Zen out of one) but for most things I find the smaller tins to be more versatile.

One of my favorite uses is to line them with some paper towel, lay down a few seeds, and spray with water until it’s nice and damp.  Close up and in short order you’ll have germinated seeds.

Anyway, the important thing is that these mints kick ass.  Like the tin so proudly proclaims, one mint equals one cup of coffee, or 100mg of caffeine.  This isn’t just a bit more than the closest competitor, it’s a huge leap ahead.  No one else even comes close.  And of course you’ve also got B vitamins, ginseng, and taurine to enhance and stabilize the energy boost.

When I first purchased these mints (found them on Thinkgeek.com, btw) I was a bit skeptical, but ultimately decided to get some solely because of the amount of caffeine they had.  I figured even if the mints didn’t taste good, they’d have enough kick to be worth it.

Another concern I had was the quantities – 12 per tin.  Up till then I’d just had Penguin mints, which come in much larger numbers.

After I had the first Foosh all my doubts were gone.  They’ve got a good minty taste all the way through and they have a strong without being overpowering energy boost to them.  Keep in mind I’m a pretty hard-core caffeine fiend (I frequently drink a pot of coffee and a liter of Dr. Pepper in a day).  So when I say it’s got the juice, it’s got the juice.

Both Max and Matt (linked above) mentioned the taste of Taurine being present in the Buzz Bites.  Personally, I don’t know what Taurine tastes like, so I’m not entirely sure what part of the overall flavor that might be.  Whatever the case, I don’t find anything unpleasant in the taste of Foosh mints.

I’ve been eating them for a couple years now, and I’ve even got a good story to tell about the last time I ordered them.  See, this time I decided to go straight to the source and get them from Vroom Foods themselves (makers of Foosh and Buzz Bites).  I bought 5 tins and they arrived quickly with only one strange problem:  one of the tins had 5 mints in it instead of 12.

Now when a mint is as kick ass as Vroom mints are, you don’t simply let seven of them go without a word.  So I fired off an email to Vroom letting them know what had happened, making it clear that I wasn’t mad or cranky or anything.  I get an answer back quickly, letting me know that of course they’ll be sending out replacement mints as fast as they can.

Within a few days I get another delivery, a brand-new 12 mint tin and a 6 mint bubble-pack.  Practically a whole tin worth of mints free for my trouble!

So there you have it.  They make the strongest energy mint on the market, it’s tasty, and they have excellent customer service.

Need I say more?

 

Laid out, Laid back; To-may-to, To-mah-to 22 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 8:53 pm
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Well it’s Tuesday. Not just any Tuesday – one of those Tuesdays.

Not that anyone but my immediate family is keeping track, but the ongoing saga that is my reconstructive dental work is a series of alternating Tuesdays that see me laid out on the living room couch (where I can more easily snag passers-by to come over, read what I’ve typed on my laptop screen so that a new ice pack or whatever can be brought to me.) My blood pressure is naturally just low enough that it’s a little too easy for me to get dizzy for awhile after having work done.

In fact, the dentists very quickly learned that if it’s the sort of thing that’s going to leave me with a mouthful of gauze for a few hours, I shouldn’t even try to stand up out of the dental chair until my BP is on the north side of “has a pulse”. Those free blood pressure things at local supermarkets have – more than a few times – told me I didn’t have any. Blood pressure, that is.

So here I am, stuck on the couch, with my Season 4 of MacGyver and the Internet to keep me occupied. I suppose I could work (since I telecommute), but no, that’d just be silly, wouldn’t it? (Honestly though, I’m not slacking – I schedule time off for this and besides, I don’t charge anyone anything for thinking I do while popping a Vicodin every 4 hours.)

In a weird kind of way, it’s nice. We self-employed don’t really get vacation time, paid sick leave, or really very many weekends. So as far as I’m concerned, being “laid out” is a nice way to be “laid back” for a change. I figured I’d take this opportunity to muse for a bit, mention some things I’ve been meaning to update, and so forth. In a word, ramble.

Why? Because I can. It’s my blog, I can ramble if I want to. Besides, since I’m chemically-enhanced at the moment I can just blame the Vicodin if I sound stupid, right?

Let’s see… updates…

The garden in general is doing pretty well. I had some red onions from the supermarket that sprouted way back and I planted them. They grew, went to seed, and I tried to collect some seeds. No idea yet if I got anything viable out of that, but the plants are dying back. I score that one as a big “shrug”.

Got some white bunching type onions that are doing well in the commercial Earth Box I have, and not as well in the garden (but not terrible). I’m probably going to yank the big one and dice it up nice and fine and cook it in my obscenely good secret recipe broccoli cream soup with cheese and ham and such. Since I’m on a no-solid-food diet for the next two weeks at least, I’ve been eating a lot of that. It’s the sort of soup that, if served with a sandwich, results in a left-over sandwich. One bowl will stuff you to the gills. Love it.

The tomatoes are just insane. The giant cherry tomato tree thing growing next to my A/C unit in the barbecue ash pile is doing a fair impersonation of the magic beanstalk, and will have it’s first bunch of tomatoes ripe any day now. This will fall into the category of “Things I’ll Eat No Matter How Much It Might Hurt”. One of the clusters it has higher up has something like 25 growing green fruit on it. Honestly, the plant is a little scary. Score this one as “smile nice and never turn your back on it”.

I have a new basil plant, growing outside in a pot. My Roma tomato has put on a second wind, but still hasn’t set any fruit. The upside-down tomato from my “version 2.0” post is ticking me off. It’s just not growing that much and it’s looking weak. I’m scoring that as a “shrug and glare”. The garlic on the front porch in containers is doing okay, but not impressing me. I didn’t really plant it at the right time, so I’m not worried.

A lot of what I do, like the Compost Guy, Bentley, is done “wrong” either because I’m still learning a lot or because I don’t really care that much. I started some tomatoes late. I planted garlic in late spring. That kind of stuff. A lot of it’s just because I could, and didn’t care so much whether I got great results or not.

In Hydroponics I’ve got a new salad crop started in my DWC. When I did that my drain valve started leaking, so I had to kind of do an emergency replacement of the entire reservoir. I quickly installed a water level indicator in the old reservoir and drilled it for 4 airlines (instead of the 2 it had used previously) and pulled the fancier one out of duty until I can seal the leak. Basically, it’ll go back into use at the next reservoir change. That DWC is now growing Grand Rapids lettuce, Romaine lettuce, and spinach.

I also have a sweet bell pepper plant that’s just about to go crazy-bushy on me and two teeny little tomato seedlings. I’ve got a Brandywine and a Giant Valentine growing the first true leaves. Oh, and I’ve got an oregano seedling peeking out the top of its Jiffy starter… I need to remember to get a pot for it soon.

Indoor dirt plants include a Micro Tom and a strawberry plant that should be appearing above ground soon. They’ve got humidity tents / cat forcefields that are made from my standard unit of construction: the 2L soda bottle.

That’s about it for now I think.  One of these days I need to figure out how to better format my posts so they don’t look like this (all smooshed together and hard to read), but today is not that day.  Today is more of a nap day.

 

Better than Free Hydroponics 21 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 1:26 am
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Here it is, as promised, my MacGyver-style home hydroponics.

Unfortunately, as I’m prone to do, I built this thing in a obsessive-compulsive rush and didn’t pause to document the process so we have to make due with photos of the finished product and my descriptions of how it was built. Let’s begin with an overview.

Let’s say we want to grow a small tomato plant (or something similar) with a minimum of fuss and using only items of little or no value that are laying about. Now a wick system would probably be the easiest way to do this, so of course I dismissed that out of hand. No sense in making the problem too easy to solve, right? Instead let’s take it a step up – DWC. This requires some kind of air pump, and barring some MacGyver’ed version of an air pump we’ll have to actually get one of those, but we’ll dismiss that for the moment. (Besides, a basic Wal-Mart air pump only runs about $10.)

Parts List:

2L bottle

Empty yogurt cup (style with an outward upper lip and narrow bottom than top)

Spare airline tubing

A bit of aluminum foil (perhaps 1 square foot)

Duct Tape (can’t MacGyver without it)

Super glue or silicone sealant

Some kind of hydroponic medium

A plant

Tools:

a knife (preferably a Swiss Army knife like MacGyver’s, but as long as it’s sharp any knife will do.)

a drill (preferably with a drill bit slightly smaller than your airline

a pair of pliers

a needle or pin

a source of fire

Assembly:

So the first order of business is to create a substitute for the airstone. If you’ve got a lot of extra airline laying around (say a couple feet or so) skip down a bit and see what I suggest you do instead of what I did.

Anyway, you can make a decent amount of bubbles with just the airline sticking into the bottom of the reservoir, but we can do better. Get your airline, fire, pliers, and the needle/pin. Now you want to heat up one end of the airline a bit without really burning it or melting it too much. Just get it soft. Then mash down on that end with the pliers, sealing the end completely. Then stab that end over and over with the pin around the last inch or so.

This makes our “air stone” by allowing a few dozen little sites for the air to escape as small bubbles.

You can kind of see the “airstone” at the bottom of the bottle, at right.

Fill up your bottle with hot water to soften the glue on the label, and strip the label off. I like to pull down on it like I’m trying to peel off a sock, but it doesn’t really matter how it gets done as long as it gets done. Empty the bottle afterwards.

Next, drill a hole in the side of the bottom of the bottle using a drill bit that’s slightly smaller than the airline so you get a nice, tight fit. It may fight tight enough that you don’t need to seal it, but you ought to anyway. (Especially if, like me, you get a couple small radial cracks in the plastic as you drill through.) To make drilling easier, I recommend leaving the cap on so the bottle is firmer.

If you have extra airline, as I mentioned above, drill your hole before you crimp the end shut. Then feed the airline through the hole and out the top of the bottle, then do your crimping and stabbing full of holes stuff that way. You can then draw the line back out, pulling the “airstone” into the bottom of the bottle.

If you don’t have extra airline (like me) it won’t matter how neatly you drill the hole since you’re going to have to cut a slit out from the hole to let the crimped end fit through. (You can’t feed it through from inside since your hand won’t fit down into the bottle.)

Once you have the “airstone” roughly centered at the bottom of the bottle, glue all the cracks/gaps/edges with superglue and/or silicon sealant so you won’t have any leaks. I recommend filling the bottle once that’s done and dry to make sure it’s water-tight. Keep in mind that water will seep into the airline and drip out that way, so keep the outer end elevated to prevent that. (You can see in my pictures below that I have it taped up for this very reason.)

Now the reservoir is built, we need to create some way for a plant to be installed. We could simply make a collar for the plant to fit into the neck of the bottle (a little piece of sponge would work decently well, cut a groove in one side, slide the crown in, then “cork” the bottle with the whole thing. That will work, but be harder to refill.

Instead, take your empty yogurt cup, turn it upside down, and fit it over the nozzle of the bottle as straight as you can. Then mark the bottle around the cup where the bottle and cup meet. Use the knife to cut along that line, just below it so the hole is slightly bigger than the cup. It should now fit down into the top of the bottle and be supported by the lip of the cup.

Next, drill a bunch of holes in your yogurt cup, sides, bottom, etc. You don’t need to turn it into complete swiss-cheese, but you want plenty of holes for roots. Now we’re almost done.

The final step of construction is to make the bottle light-tight. Light + hydroponic solution = bad microbes (fungus, algea, and other crud). So we don’t want light getting in. If you have metal tape that works best, but most people don’t have that just laying around. Duct-tape and aluminum foil, however, are commonplace. First tear your aluminum foil into narrow strips as long as the bottle and about an inch narrower than the tape. To do this I took a ruler, pressed it down hard on top of the foil, and then pulled the foil upward in a smooth motion to tear it neatly in a straight line. This doesn’t have to be perfect, but the neater the better.

Tear yourself some strips of tape a bit longer than you need, and affix the foil carefully down the center of the tape. Then cut one end off flush with the end of the foil (this end will match cleanly with the top edge of the bottle that way) and apply it as smoothly and cleanly to the bottle as you can. Repeat this with just enough overlap to ensure the entire bottle is encased not only in tape, but aluminum foil as well. Duct tape doesn’t block light, foil does. If you like, leave a narrow gap in the tape in one spot so you can see the water level inside. If you want to do that, the spot where the airline is installed is a good place to do it.

Now you can fill your cup with the hydroponic media, put in your plant, and hook up your air pump.

My system has a Micro Tom hybrid tomato plant started in it. It’s a type of tomato plant specially bred to remain very, very small. This system is much too small for most any other kind of tomato plant. If you’re interested, I got my tomato seeds from Totally Tomatoes, and here’s a link to the Micro Tom. I haven’t grown one before, but it’s supposed to grow to be only 6-8″ tall, which means it should be the perfect size for our 2L DWC.

So far my little seedling hasn’t gotten its roots past the cup, so I haven’t had the airline attached (it’s basically just a wick system right now with water in it.) It will need aeration soon, though.

 

Coolest. Post. Ever. 20 July, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 10:21 pm
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At least as far as I’m concerned.

Okay, so in my last post I showcased some modifications I’d made to my worm bin to keep my new Euros more calm and serene (and on the task of munching garbage into castings). I mentioned that I had followed the design laid out by Bentley, a guy I’ve gotten to know a bit by bugging him with (long-winded) emails full of questions about worms. I linked to one of his blogs (Red Worm Composting, which I’ll link here in a bit) and said some nice stuff about him, every word of it true. (He also writes the Compost Guy site which you should immediately bookmark, read, and love – just as soon as you’ve finished reading my post here.)

I sent him a link to my last post hoping he’d like it and maybe mention it in his blog – some nice little “Oh and by the way, if you have some trouble with rowdy European Nightcrawlers, check out how this guy dealt with them” blurb and that’d be it. But no, Bentley is far too cool a guy to do that. Instead, he wrote a post that is quite possibly one of the more flattering things anyone has ever done for me since my wife agreed to marry me.

“MacGyver of the Worms”. Me. How friggin’ cool is that?

Undoubtedly there are those among you who, like my wife, fail to see the pure unmitigated awesome that is Angus MacGyver. This is okay. You can tell yourself I’m a gargantuan nerd to idolize a fictional character who uses ingenuity to solve problems using nothing more than his brilliance and a few ordinary items at hand. You wouldn’t be the first, and I’m sure you won’t be the last.

You’d be wrong, but that’s okay, I still like you. Even when you laugh at me for owning all 7 seasons of MacGyver on DVD, I’ll still smile and know that it’s just because you don’t understand, and that it’s okay for not everyone to understand.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not just some nutty fan. I can’t rattle off episode names and numbers or tell you all the various contraptions he built using a gum wrapper and some duct tape. I’m just a huge slobbery fan of the spirit behind the show – that of using what’s at hand rather than throwing something away and replacing it with something new. I’ve always had a hunger to know how and why things work (or don’t work) and every time something around me broke the first question I asked as a kid was “can I have it?” I disassembled a toaster before I mastered indoor plumbing.

So yeah, I kind of am MacGyver. I’d almost always rather build something myself than buy it off the shelf, especially if I can build it cheaper but often even when it would cost more to DIY. My favorite phases are “I built that” and “I fixed that”. I drive a early 80’s Honda and I’ve never called AAA. My first car had a functional smoke screen. The laptop I bought a couple months ago for work was the first computer I owned since my Commodore 64 that I didn’t build myself.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t put me on cloud nine each and every time someone makes the comparison.

So Bentley, thank you. That was probably the coolest thing you could’ve done in my book. You rock.

Oh, and everyone stay tuned. I’m going to show off some of the other MacGyver’ed stuff I’ve done recently.

Want to grow a hydroponic tomato plant using nothing but a couple leftover odds-and-ends that most people would probably throw away? I did. I’ll show you how shortly.