The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

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”.
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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.
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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.
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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!





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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.

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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.
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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.

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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…
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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.)


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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.)


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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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.

 

My Cat’s Breath Smells Like… Basil? – Part Deux 24 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:49 pm
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Some of you might remember this post.


Well I’ve got a bunch of seedlings in a windowsill that’s surrounded by some curtains in order to maintain privacy and thwart my wife’s plant-violating cat. Well as any self-respecting villain is likely to do, she found a way in despite my efforts. Two Swiss chard plants met an early and violent end at her (allegedly) carnivorous teeth. Several other plants were mutilated, harassed, or trod upon. Fur and fuzz were strewn about and other unknown nefarious deeds were undoubtedly committed.


Uncorroborated reports suggest she may have been trying to contact the Dark Forces with some sort of ritual.


I have tightened security and, against my better judgment, procured a supply of cat grass to provide this ne’er do well with an legal outlet for her vegetative vengeance. It just don’t seem right to appease a criminal like that, but until some form of learning ability is found within that furry mind there is little else to do.



What’s most interesting in all of this is that within this window area are two very healthy basil seedlings which were, strangely, the only plants that were wholly untouched. This feline felon munched marigolds of all things, in favor of a truly tasty herb. Clearly not this mastermind’s finest hour… like all cats her goal is clearly world domination, but her personality deficiencies are her greatest enemy.



In other news the outdoor tomatoes appear to be doing well, I’ve got some very nice-looking garlic coming up and my first tulip has broken ground. Inside the lettuce is nearly out of control (it’s massive) and the Micro Tom’s tomatoes are starting to ripen. So there’s home-grown salad on the near future menu.


We went fishing last weekend with no luck, but it was still nice to get out and spend some time together relaxing. And it’s always good to get the tackle out and put it through its paces to see what you need to replace and whatnot. We wanted to try again today but the wind here was fierce. I can cast in wind, I grew up where “windy” means “it can knock you down”, but it was also just chilly enough to cut through you pretty good. Add in a little wet and it’d get downright unpleasant real quick and I don’t fish because I’m hungry. If I’m not having any fun, I’ll go home.


Plus there’s the little point that there are very few things that are less pleasant than the mildest annoyance to one’s spouse.

 

Short HID Update 19 December, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 5:52 am
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Well I got the replacement fixture last Friday and it worked perfectly. I modified it to a remote ballast configuration and have been running it this week for my tomatoes. It seems to be doing great.

I read that this particular model draws a lot of current because it lacks the typical capacitor of most ballast configurations, so I ordered a capacitor that ought to do the job and bring it up to a nice high efficiency. That arrived today and, thanks to the difficulty of determining size in an online picture, is much larger than I’d anticipated (about the size of a juice can). I’m not entirely sure how well that will work with my current rig, but I’ll figure something out.

Once I do I’ll whip up a complete “How To DIY” based on this fixture, including where I got all my stuff. HPS on a budget.

 

HID Problem 10 December, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:07 pm
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Okay, so I get my new HPS fixture and lamp yesterday and I’m excited. Because I’m the frugal type (if you haven’t noticed from all the DIY here) I didn’t get one of those expensive grow lights, I got an el cheapo security light that I could modify for my needs.

I drag the boxes inside (it’s a heavy beast) and unpack it. Then I leave it sitting in the office for an hour or so until it’s warm enough to handle without the liquid nitrogen protective gear. (The backs of UPS trucks are not remotely heated. In fact, I think this one had additional refrigeration gear installed.)

I start tearing the thing down, wire it up, put it back together and hesitantly, tentatively plug it in. (Half expecting that despite the fact that I know what I’m doing, I’m about to black-out the neighborhood.) Nada.

“Double-ya tee eff?” I say, literally.

Have I mentioned I spend too much time on computers? Well I do.

So I take it all apart, recheck the wiring, and find what might have been a bad connection. I fix that, put it all back together and again, plug it in using that wincing, cringing expression as I turn away (never look directly at a light source you don’t know the intensity of, or anything that might remotely explode when plugged in. Lesson previously learned, method: “hard way”.) In a somewhat unrelated topic, applying 120v directly to the coils of a broken blender is not a wise thing, and does not in point of fact make a “bitchin’ fast RC car”.

It does, however, make a lot of heat, a blinding flash of light, and trips every breaker in the box. Oh, and it ticks off your mom. It may also electrocute you if you don’t get lucky. Learn this lesson the easy way – by not doing what I did.

So, back to the HID story. I went over and over this thing. I even checked the factory wiring job, it was correct. I had my wife plug it in while I fiddled with the connections. (Again, this falls very solidly on the “do not try this at home” side of the line. I actually do know what I’m doing when I play with electricity and previous sundry personal electrocutions to the contrary, the 120v in the wall socket is enough to kill anyone including myself. I use safety equipment but that doesn’t make it safe.)

In frustration I gave up and called the toll-free number on the paltry instructions only to hear a recording about office hours. Grrr. Irked, I push all the stuff into a pile in the corner and pointedly ignore it. Like the “I’m not paying attention to you” game cats play.

So just a little bit ago I’m puttering around the house waiting for one of our two “duelling exterminators” to arrive and resume the ongoing cockroach genocide that passes for recreation around here. I finish up some dishes and I think to myself, “Self, why don’t you call that company you bought the light from and see what they want to do about it?”

So I do. I often take my own advice because I’ve found it to be vastly superior to most sources of advice, with the obvious exception of my wife. Even in the rare instances where she’s wrong, I’ve found it still vastly more wise to follow her advice. But I digress.

I call the company, explain the problem, and get transferred to someone else – I forget whether it was returns or tech support or something like that. Basically it was “the people who can get a new light sent to you”. So while I’m on hold I’m thinking about the whole return process, and how I really don’t want to mess with this hassle.

I decide that regardless of what they say, I’m not paying the return shipping up front. I mean this thing weighs quite a bit for its size. It’s about the size of a football and probably over 20 lbs. Certainly not the sort of thing you need a spotter to lift, but you really wouldn’t want someone to toss it to you. No, I decide that if they want to do a return they’re going to have to mail me the sticker for the box to have it sent. I’m going to take the hard line and drive a hard bargain. I’m steeled and ready!

So when the lady picks up the call and confirms all the information I gave the first lady (and subsequently figures that it’s probably a bad ignitor) she, kind of thinking out loud, runs through the available options. For some of their fixtures they’d just send me out a new ignitor or ballast, but no, this fixture they don’t have extra parts for. So the only option is to replace the whole fixture. “Here it comes,” I’m thinking, flexing my mental muscles.

“You can just throw the one you’ve got away or keep it for more parts, whatever you want to do. The new one will ship today and should arrive Friday or Monday.”

Huh? Wait, what? They’re going to ship me a new, complete light fixture without first making sure I’m not pulling their leg about this one being broken?

Stay tuned, I’ll be doing the DIY of the conversion from this thing’s intended use to a grow light as soon as I get a working unit, and I’ll reveal all the specifics about the light and where I got it from at that time. I don’t want to pass judgment, positive or negative, until the jury is in.

But it looks like this just might be another case of “above and beyond” customer service.

 

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.