The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

If a Butterfly Flaps it’s Wings Online… 21 August, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 12:19 am

I had a nice visitor in my garden today, but the story of how I was there to greet her is a bit of a long one so get a drink or something if you want to hear it.

Still there? Good. So I don’t need to say that I haven’t been around here much though I must point out the sneakiness of saying it by saying you don’t need to. Look out Machiavelli! Anyway, I’m going to go with the “I’ve been really busy” excuse. It’s old, but a classic, and in this case applicable enough to not be completely useless. Even though I know that studies show that most people with office jobs are woefully inefficient with their time I can’t seem to mentally reset my work timer whenever my mind wanders for a moment so what ought to be an 8 hour day (and one easily more productive than the average office day since I’ve got no chatty cube-mate or office gossip to distract me) usually turns into 10 or 12 because I never feel I’ve done “enough”.

If I’m done for the day there’s usually more than enough other things to keep me busy, standard housecleaning, gardening, and the new pet project of building a table. Nothing fancy, I’m not a carpenter, but I do know my way around a variety of saws and other power tools so it’ll be good. I’ll probably put up some pictures of it when it’s done. Our small apartment really doesn’t have a good place for a table so I’m making a custom piece to fit the available space – 2 feet by 6 feet and 39″ tall so we can use bar stools that fit nicely underneath when not in use. So really more of a free-standing breakfast bar than table.

That whole project is going a little slow since something about the vibrations of power tools likes to aggravate my dormant RSI, which makes working dicey so I have to be careful not to “hobby” myself out of gainful employment. I’ve been touting the whole thing with the wife as a sort of project we can “do together” but I’m not exactly Tom Sawyer when it comes to getting that fence whitewashed.

But recently the biggest time-waster keeping me from posting has to be Facebook. What a seething maw of hell that is.

I hate Facebook, Myspace, all those “social networking” sites. Always have, most likely always will. Mostly because there proportion of computer using idiot to computer using human swings daily further in favor of the people easily outwitted by potted plants. Social networking sites function largely to reinforce the self-image of the people who qualify for the title “dangerously stupid”, making them believe they’re actually capable of making good decisions more frequently than random chance would dictate. Furthermore, it gives them a public forum in which to radically multiply the odds and repercussions of their stupidity. “ZOMG! Can you believe my employer looked at my Myspace and saw that last weekend when I told them I couldn’t come in because my grandma died I was actually getting so drunk in TJ I volunteered for the donkey show?!?! That’s like totally infringing on my freedom of speech and stuff!”

The first amendment protects you from the government infringing with your freedom to say things it doesn’t agree with. Zero amendments protect you from your boss firing you because you publicize your less than stellar decision-making abilities.

Of course none of this applies to you, dear readers. We all know the group of which I speak took one look at this blog and said “wow, that’s a lot of words” and moved on to something with more pictures of Paris Hilton (including Paris Hilton, if she somehow wandered to this page looking for something idiotic and vapid).

So why would I be wasting time on Facebook if I’m inclined to segue into such a long and condescending rant about it? FarmVille. I’m ashamed to admit I’m avidly playing it. I’ve got a nice field 16×16 with Tomatoes right now.

For the elite few of you who haven’t gotten lost in all the twists and turns of my train of thought, you’re probably wondering how all this has anything to do with me meeting a butterfly. Well FarmVille crapped out on most of the players earlier today, leaving (by my estimate) a few million people wondering if they were going to lose their crops because they couldn’t login. (Many undoubtedly did, I was lucky and didn’t.) But on the upside, I decided that before my frustration reached the “cussing and blaming the cat” stage I’d just walk away from the computer and do a little 3D farming of my own. While I was out and checking the progress of my butternut squash I noticed this beautiful Eastern tiger swallowtail (dark form female).  I dashed inside, grabbed the camera, and took a few pictures for all of you.  The white flowers she’s snacking on are Pentas, which are some of my wife’s favorites.  They’re hard to see in the picture because they’re so stunningly white that any light makes the camera want to bleach them out.

So the Rube Goldberg machine of fate brings you a new post on this blog by way of driving me off Facebook and into the garden at just the right time to receive a beautiful visiting butterfly.


You Know You’re a Gardener When… 13 June, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 5:08 pm
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I thought of a few things that fit this when I was weeding the other day but the best of them are:

1. You try to get your work at your “real job” done early so you can get more weeding done.

2. Your retired neighbor who also loves gardening asks if you could perhaps weed her garden (because you’re better at it).

Of course I did say yes to her. Good neighbors are hard to find and she just finished a round of chemo a few weeks back so I’m happy to help out. I’m sure there’s more ways to know you’re a gardener, but I’m not quite an authority on it myself. There is one other one I’ll share with you – You know you’re a gardener when you weigh the pros and cons of not treating an infection because the antibiotics come with severe sun sensitivity.

Things have been hectic around here (or as I call it “business as usual”). Between work, wife and garden (not necessarily in that order) I haven’t had a lot of time to write here. I’d have some nice pictures of the garden but I’m spending every minute I can in sunlight just trying to keep up with the weeds. I’ve got some older pictures but they just don’t do it justice. For one I’ve added a bunch of plants since then and they’ve all grown by leaps and bounds. Well except for the ones that decided to die on me. Jerks.

I’ve been doing decently well with the weeds, trying to make use of the “magic time” when the building casts a shadow over the garden but it’s still bright enough out to tell foliar friend from foliar foe. I considered one of those helmet lights like you see miners and sewer workers wear, but I ultimately decided that this would be a silly investment since the antibiotics run out in a few days, and not even weeds can make me dress like that kind of weirdo.

I’ve got some tomatoes forming so I should see some red ones in a few weeks – really looking forward to that. And the swiss chard I started as a “might as well, I’m sure I can squeeze them in somewhere” afterthought are getting pretty big. We’re going to have to start eating them soon or they’ll take over. The zucchini and butternut squash are doing well, and I’ve seen the first flowers from them already. My potato bin is full of dirt and the plants are massive, onions all over the place are doing nicely and my garlic looks more like some kind of short corn. All in all I’m reasonably happy for a first season garden that I (once again) didn’t plan out very carefully.

Once I’m confident I won’t burst into flames with more than a half hour of sunlight I’ll drag the camera out and get everyone some nice pictures of everything.


Bitsy Battle: Part Deux – Sequel of the Small 25 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 3:15 pm
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Well it looks as though this shall be the final chapter in the Bitsy Battle. While the growing is still going, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve learned everything I’m going to learn at this point. So here we go…
100_1014100_1015As you may have guessed by now, I like to set my pictures up to display, left, right, left, right, etc. So if your screen formating moves things around just keep that in mind so you can tell what I’m talking about.
To the left here we have a nice shot of the Micro Tom with some green, ripening, and ripe tomatoes on it. As you can see this is an extremely low-growing cultivar.
To the right is the Florida Petite. It is about twice as tall (at a whopping 6-8 inches) but has similar total mass. The reason they both look a little sickly is because I’m lazy and wasn’t paying good attention to the state of the air stones, which clogged up.

I’m guessing this hurt yield a bit, but it seemed to have affected both plants pretty equally so I’m considering the contest to still be “fair enough”.
On the left here we have a closer shot of the prettiest fruit cluster on the Micro Tom. I’m not certain why some of them display folded shoulders like that, and it doesn’t really alter the flavor at all, so it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. Many of the Micro Tom’s fruit seem to be irregularly shaped, and they’re all smaller on average than the Florida Petite.

To the right is a cluster on the Petite, which as you can see here matured more slowly than the Tom.

At this point I was ready to declare the Micro Tom the winner, since it seemed both faster to mature and more prolific, but I was withholding final judgment until I could taste-test the difference between the two.
For better size comparison I provide the picture on the left, holding fruit from the Micro Tom that I picked (you can see them in the previous Tom pictures).

The fruit from the Micro Tom are a little tougher than most cherry tomatoes, mainly because the smaller fruit have the same skin as a larger tomato, making it comparatively thicker for the smaller fruit. It’s a good-tasting tomato, but nothing that’s going to win an award or get people especially excited. However, it’s a really nice tomato for salads since it’s small enough to pop several in your mouth at once and unlike a full-sized cherry tomato, you don’t have to carefully balance it on a fork or chase it around the bowl trying to spear it. They’re small enough to sit quite happily atop a fork (particularly if you use some dressing to make them a bit stickier.)

The fruit of the Florida Petite, however, are more the size you’d expect from a cherry tomato, ripen to a redder color, and have a brighter, juicier flavor. While the Petite seems to produce fewer fruit (at least in this limited experiment) it does grow a similar total weight of tomatoes. I don’t have exact figures because I tend to eat as I pick, but it’s close enough for my satisfaction.

My final verdict is that the Micro Tom is ideal for extremely cramped growing locations, or anytime you want a fast-bearing carpet-style tomato plant, but it is in my opinion more novelty than salad contributor. The Florida Petite better balances size, yield, and quality. It may take a 2-3 weeks longer to mature, but it’s worth the wait. Of course both plants are still going, so if anything new develops I’ll let you know.

The final picture above to the right is a recent snap of both plants in the closet. As you can see I’ve been neglecting them more recently because I’m kind of anxious for them to finish up so I can start my next project.

Below I have pictures of the three fish I caught awhile back and talked about in the Fishing – Doctor’s Orders post. They’re kind of Goldilocks-style: small, medium, and large. Though really none of them were “big”, they were quite tasty. The final picture is post-cleaning. Yes, I left the tail on one of them. Call it gross, call it whatever, I learned from my grandfather that fried catfish tails were good to eat and so any fish I decide to cook whole (instead of filleted) I leave the tail on.

You can also see me demonstrating here the best way to hold a catfish. Press the palm of your hand on the top of the fish, forcing the spiny dorsal fin back, flat against the body. With your thumb on one side and your middle finger on the other, hook in behind the spiny side fins, push them forward, and grab the bony protrusions there. Grip firmly and you’ve got ahold of your catfish in a way it can’t really get out of or scratch you with its fins. Simple!

This is another way you can hold onto a catfish, but it’s less recommended. Catfish small enough for this method are better held over the top, and catfish too big for the over the top method… well try using two hands over the top or simply beating it to death with a large wooden club or something. I don’t know, I haven’t caught one of those yet so it hasn’t come up. But sticking your thumb in the mouth of a catfish this big or bigger is a good way to get scratched up because their “teeth” are basically just like really rough sandpaper and they will bite down on you. Most fishermen simply don’t care (as you can see here, I’m in that group) but if don’t want to look like someone attacked you with a metal file just stick with the over the top grip, and bring along a fisherman for handling the big ones.


Bitsy Battle: Chapter 1 – The Teen Years 22 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:24 pm
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100_1007As promised I’ve got another update on the Bitsy Battle.
This one covers the “mid-way” point right around the time when I mentioned it earlier in the blog.

To the left here you can see a nice full shot of the plant and growing unit, the airline is disconnected at the one-way valve on the left. These pictures were all taken in the bathtub while I was changing the nutrient solution and cleaning the bucket.

To the right is a close-up of the stem and the support system. You can see that the plant is growing fine in this system and that everything is nicely secure.

When I moved things around there was no slack or “floppiness” and I’d guesstimate this method would be secure for much larger plants. I’d have no worries growing full-sized indeterminates in this rig,
100_1009given the top support you always need for that kind of growing.

We have a nice root shot to the left here. Personally I like to see more robust root systems on my plants just because they’re pretty and all the usual male “bigger is always better” stuff. But the truth of the matter is that hydroponics just doesn’t demand that kind of massive root system. (It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not as important.)

You can also see the lower side of the support system, and that my earlier decision to cut larger holes in the netting wasn’t really necessary.

To the right is the other tomato plant (the Micro Tom – the previous picture is of the Florida Petite). You can see that the Micro Tom is much shorter, denser, and has a lot more flowers/fruit so far. But the Micro Tom doesn’t know the tide will turn…
On the left I’ve got another shot of the Micro Tom, closer and with a
100_10121better view of some of the fruit bunches. The slightly asymmetrical shaping of these tomatoes doesn’t change as they mature and grow. I’m not certain to what extent that might be genetic or possibly caused by me, but I’ve still got plenty of seeds for these two phenotypes so I’ll figure that out later. For the time being, my observation is that in my non-laboratory conditions, these two plants grown under pretty much identical conditions results in the Florida Petite growing fewer, larger and rounder fruit.

At the same time I was taking these pictures, I also thinned the herd in the salad machine by harvesting a whole plant (Grand Rapids lettuce). That machine holds 6 net pots, but doesn’t have the surface area necessary for 6 mature lettuce plants so I would periodically pull a plant out to make room for the others. As you can see with my bodywash bottle as a size comparison, this was no tiny plant. Good root development, and plenty of salad/sandwich making potential.

Useful Tip: If you, like me, harvest more lettuce than you can comfortably eat immediately, I’ve found a great storage method. First off, rinse it clean if you need to (I don’t, since it grows inside away from stuff I’d need to wash off) and then dry it as fully as possible. Water is the enemy to storing lettuce, ironically. I then take some paper towels (2 per gallon ziploc bag), fold them so they fit inside the bag as flat as possible, and then carefully stack the lettuce on top of that. Once the bag is full or you run out of lettuce, zip the bag all but 1 inch shut, push as much air out as you can without crushing the lettuce, and then seal the bag fully.

The paper towels absorb excess moisture that would cause your lettuce to wilt prematurely, and limiting the amount of air inside the bag also helps keep the humidity under control. Using this method I’ve had lettuce stay good for a very long time – much longer than my wife believes anything stays good in a fridge. Oh, and if you really want to get all the mileage you can out of your greens, you can even bounce them back after wilting a little by soaking them in a bowl of cool water for 15-20 minutes. They’ll soak it up and be nice and crisp again, just like new. As long as it’s green, doesn’t smell sour, or have something suspicious growing on it, I consider it good to eat.

But let your conscious be your guide.


Bitsy Battle: The Beginning 20 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 1:15 pm
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I have finally emerged victorious over the technical difficulties that plagued my ability to upload pictures. (translation: I finally got off my backside and fixed it.)

Here we see the very beginning – two stacked 5 gallon bucket lids that have been covered in aluminum duct tape for light-proofing. I’ve drilled small holes in the center of each lid, large enough to admit plant stems but small enough to prevent a jiffy starter (also shown here with the Micro Tom seedling started in it) from passing through.

Most importantly, note the brown net-like structure. This is made from common, everyday shelf lining (or whatever it’s called). You can buy it at W-Mart or wherever, it costs practically nothing for a roll that will last you forever, and you can even use it to line your kitchen drawers/shelves. As you can see here I cut a narrow strip (slightly wider than I needed it to support). I then found the middle and carefully clipped out larger holes, also clearly seen here. I wasn’t sure if it would be helpful to do so, but I figured a little extra access for roots wouldn’t hurt, and this stuff is much stronger than it looks so I wasn’t really weakening it. (That narrow strip would likely support at least 75lbs.)

Next up I poked the middle of the strip through the hole like so.

Keep going until you’ve got enough of a loop to slip your Jiffy starter (or whatever you’re using) into place without harming your seedling, then carefully pull the ends back out until it’s snugly in place and the seedling is through the top and flush against the lid (see below).
Now the tricky part is finding a way to hold the ends tightly apart so that the plant won’t fall back down. Astute late-night television viewers will recognize the “Hercules Hook” employed in this task here. I also considered the ever-popular duct tape, but felt something more easily adjustable and more permanent would be the better choice.

This completes assembly of the upper portion of the system, solidly securing plant to lid.
Please note that nearly any single item used in the construction thus far can be easily exchanged for something similar. This is primarily an example of construction using “at hand” materials. Take the spirit from this rather than a specific shopping list.
So, on to the bucket.

At left we see how the exterior is drilled for the airline, which you can see installed with the one-way valve here.

To the right you can see inside the bucket. I glued the air stones down with silicone sealant. The one you see here is a super cheap air stone you can get anywhere (and it didn’t even last through the whole grow, so I don’t recommend that style.)
Thoughts on this design…

The airline would benefit from being more effectively secured to the side of the bucket. Each time it was necessary to clean the buckets the roots would be wrapped around the air line a little. Not a big deal. Mostly I didn’t see a simple way to do that without complicating something else.

As I mentioned, the air stone should be upgraded. Cheap air stones clog up and stop bubbling entirely, which of course kills plants.
To the right you can see a shot of the “salad machine” just set up and ready to go. It was coordinated to go with the Bitsy Battle. On the left you can see how the closet was set with both buckets and the salad machine. On the left is the 150w HPS I wrote about before, and on the right is the 105w (500w equivalent) CFL I’ve been using all along.

As plants in the salad machine matured and got crowded, I removed one at a time until three were left. Those were harvested at full maturity a couple weeks ago.

The Bitsy Battle continues and I’ll post another update in a day or two to cover the mid-way point, and then the final conclusions and photos a little bit after that.


Death and/by Taxes? 13 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 5:24 pm
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Sometimes self-employment is a royal pain in the backside. Sure, I can show up to work (as I did today) wearing naught but what I slept in and looking more that a little unkempt. I could, should I feel the need, drink a beer (or two) while working. I can pretty much do whatever I like so long as I deliver the results the client likes. Everyone stays happy, everyone gets what they want, and so on.

Until our lovely government steps in.

See, this is my first fiscal year of self-employment. I am not a filing cabinet kind of guy. I’m more the “horizontal surface filing” kind of guy. Paperwork is filed by gravity. Where it stops falling towards the earth is where it’s filed. There’s a method to the madness, not unlike geology the deeper layers represent more distant past eras. But say you’re looking for all paid invoices or expense receipts or something… then this filing system is not so well-suited to your needs. My brain works strangely, so I actually somehow have a pretty decent idea where everything is, but you can only take apart and reassemble a stack of papers so many times before the organizational method degrades. Layers get mixed. Suddenly you’ve got your Paleolithic data in the Neolithic era.

I’ve actually got all my paperwork searching done now, but it was not pretty. Now I’m about to embark on the crusade of actually getting “what I’ve earned” and “what it cost me to earn it” converted into “how much the government feels entitled to”. Can this be done by a mere citizen like myself? Of course not. There’s no free online tax filing for self-employed people. No form 10-40 EZ. Hell, I get to file extra “bonus” paperwork because some of the billing I sent out this last year went to people who sing funny-sounding national anthems. (Apparently you have to submit a 5 pound stack of forms if you get paid by someone in a different country. I think the video of your original interpretive dance explaining the forms is optional. Good thing… I don’t look good in leotards.)

Instead I will employ someone else to convert my records into the holy sacrifice to the vengeful tax gods. I get to pay money to an expert to interpret the signs, read the entrails, etc.

Oh, and on the way back I’m going to buy some kind of filing thing.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.


Fishing – Doctor’s Orders 1 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:02 pm
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Well, maybe not actually my doctor’s orders, but it is a good excuse.

I had a routine doctor’s appointment a couple weeks back, the first in awhile. (First since I left the military and I’ll just say that the year wasn’t an “oh something” number.) I’m not old quite yet, though some days I feel older than others, but I’m at that magical age when a man starts to realize he can’t simply leap before he looks and expect, should something go wrong, to bounce back from an injury quickly. Of course I’m not in the kind of shape I was in my youth, which makes a big difference on how quickly you can recover from sprains and strains and such, but I was pass due for a check-up to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.

Despite being far too inactive and eating based solely on “oh, that looks good” I’m not overweight and my blood work came back all in the green zones. All they had to say was that my HDL numbers, while good, could use some improvement. The best way to raise them is exercise – something I’ve been trying to force myself to do for a couple years now. The next best way to improve your HDL numbers is diet. Fish in particular is a good source of the “good” cholesterol, thus my decision to take this to mean “you need to go fishing more”.

Last night I had my first successes, catching a trio of channel catfish just after sunset at a local park. Only after I got them home did it become apparent that in the years since I last did a lot of fishing I’ve lost a bit of my touch when it comes to cleaning them. I butchered the meat a bit, but I did get them all cleaned, cooked one for supper, and I’ve got four nice fillets in the freezer. Plus I’ve verified a nice little fishing hole just a few minutes from my place. Now I just need a good spot for panfish and bass…

That nasty winter storm that came through last week looks to have killed two of my tomato plants outside, and as luck would have it, it looks like the two that died are two I’ve got “backup seedlings” of. I’m going to give the weather another week or so to be sure it’s not going to freak out again on us and then I’ll transplant the replacements outside. Plus, I could use a couple days rest after cleaning those fish. The problem with being tall is that nothing is built to the right height, which means that if I want to wash dishes (or fish or anything else) in the sink, I’ve got to bend over slightly to do it.

Add wrestling a slippery fish out of its own skin to that equation and you come out the other side very sore.

Particularly if your body is growing increasingly fond of reminding you that you not 16 anymore. How humbling is that? Clean three catfish in the sink and you’re sore the next day. I used to run five miles to get to the place I was going to work out for two hours and feel like a million bucks all day.