The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

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.


The Actual Gardening Update 12 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:07 am
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For those interested in why there are no garden pictures in this update, read the previous blog entry.

Let’s see… what all have I been up to?

Well I previously documented some tomatoes I was growing “Hempy” style, which is a type of hydroponic system developed by some people who grow “that plant”. I don’t, but I do study whatever techniques I can find that my apply to legitimate gardening. That one didn’t work for me. It probably works fine, I just did it wrong somehow. I say that because my next project was essentially the same thing, but in dirt. I had the exact same problem. There’s a few working theories as to what went wrong both times, but that’s not really important.

The new tomatoes are doing great.

I got some tomato seeds from a great guy who runs the Hydroponic Workshop blog. I read his blog a lot and noticed he mentioned in one post a few months back that the tomato plant he was growing, called a “Florida Petite”, was super-small. He said that he’d been told it was the smallest variety of tomato plant. Well it just so happened I’d bought some Micro Tom seeds from Totally Tomatoes that said the same thing – that this was the smallest variety. Thus the idea of a side-by-side grow was born and I got sent some Florida Petite seeds.

Micro Tom vs. Florida Petite – The Bitsy Battle!

I do have pictures, but not on my computer yet, so look for those to come. In the meantime I can award trophies in a few categories and you can just use your imagination. Both plants are growing in standard 5 gallon buckets DWC under a 150w HPS and a 105w CFL (6500K).

Shortest: With nothing taller than 3″, this goes hands down to the Micro Tom. At under 6″ the Florida Petite is still a very short plant.
Least “volume”: Hard to say, but the Petite looks a little smaller overall.
Earliest fruit: Micro Tom by 2 weeks.
Most fruit: Micro Tom by double, currently.
Prettiest: I’d have to go with the Petite here. It’s got a more classic tomato leaf shape and a richer color to its leaves.

Observations: The Micro Tom seem healthier, having lost fewer leaves. Its leaves are considerably darker green than the Petite’s, and curl a bit more and are otherwise less symmetrical. It also spreads out more horizontally which is a big part of the reason I prefer the overall “look” of the Petite. The Petite is just a prettier plant. On the other hand, the Micro Tom has quite literally over 2 dozen tomatoes growing on it and is smaller in diameter than the lid of the bucket, so that’s a pretty heavy-fruiting plant there. The Petite may catch up in total crop, but it’s lagging behind a few weeks so it’s hard to say. My instinct says it just won’t bear as many tomatoes as the Tom.

Of course we have to wait for a taste test for any kind of final score, and I haven’t gotten any ripe ones yet. My plan is to wait until both plants have ripe fruit for a proper side-by-side taste test.

The “salad machine” as I’ve dubbed the DWC I’ve shown here previously is nearing the end of it’s latest lettuce crop. As usual I’m getting monstrous plants out of that thing but I’ve decided I’m going to retire it, at least temporarily, after this crop. It may come back later, but probably not growing lettuce. I need a shorter, wider system that’s more modular for my salad needs. Younger plants and more of them should work better. I’m still in the planning and design phase of that, and with the donation of some lights by my uncle I should be able to actually convert a significant part of my grow closet back to storage and still multiply my lettuce harvest. More as that develops.

Beyond that I’ve started preparation for my outdoor crops by making a little window grow area. I’ve currently got 4 types of tomatoes (different than the mini versions above) started there, some swiss chard, marigolds (for companion planting with the tomatoes), basil, oregano, and this cool giant flower bushy thing I took seeds from at our old place but forgot the name of. Hopefully I got a mix of the pink and white ones of those because I couldn’t tell which were which after the flowers turned into seed pods. Oh, and I’ve got a snaggled mess of strawberry crowns all in the same peat pot in the window with some vague plan to sort them out eventually. Mainly I just want a runner I can put into hydroponics.

All that remains to mention is the garlic I planted last fall that hasn’t come up yet and the tulips I planted this winter that also haven’t come up yet despite the neighbors all having theirs up already. I’m not terribly worried just yet, but I’d prefer more than just bare dirt.


Hydroponics Upgrade 2 July, 2008

I think I mentioned earlier that my plants were starting to seriously outgrow the enclosure I had them in, but in case I neglected to say so, my plants were starting to seriously outgrow the enclosure I had them in. So I got a big cabinet thing off of Craigslist.

I’m pretty sure it started life as one of those generic pressed-wood armoir things with shelves and a center divider and so forth, and then somewhere along the line someone modified it into a large portable closet, but the important thing is that it fit my needs perfectly. Heck, it was even white already. I’d been meaning to modify the reservoir on my DWC to include a drain valve and a solution level indicator (neither of which you can do while the reservoir is full). What better way to do everything than to combine a relocation, upgrade, and reservoir change all at once?

To get started I went out and bought another Sterelite bin just like the one I used to make my DWC. Why mess with trying to modify the existing DWC when I can swap parts?

As you can see I simply drilled holes top and bottom, making sure they were just barely big enough to jam a bit of aquarium air line through (I used a 3/16 bit). Then I simply forced the airline in and taped the bottom, both to keep it tucked in neatly and to cut down slightly on the amount of light that gets in. The airline fits tight enough that it seals itself without any help from me.

The idea is that once the new reservoir is complete it gets put into the new grow cabinet, filled, stabilized, and then the lid with plants from the old reservoir gets moved in.  Then the old reservoir can be drained manually (solution scooped out with a big pitcher and fed to the backyard garden).  Then it can be cleaned out and used as an ordinary storage tote or whatever I want, since the only modification to it was an extra hole for an airline in the inside of the handle.

Next I installed a drain valve I bought from Stealth Hydroponics. This probably isn’t the cheapest way to do it, but it works and works easily. I cut the hole by hand, after tracing around the inside of the rubber washers that come with it, but I’d recommend using a drill as the instructions suggest. (It worked for me, but it’s easy to mess up with a knife.)

You can just make out the valve in the bottom of the picture to the right, which was taken mainly to show how the water level indicator works. The level of water in the tube is exactly the same as the level of water in the tank. Note that in order for this to work the tube must be free of obstruction all the way through (water goes in the bottom, air comes out the top). Simple laws of physics dictate that the water levels must match.

I kicked around a lot of ideas on how to check the water level without opening the reservoir, but this is just the simplest and least likely to break down.

Here’s a shot of the completed system. Note that since this picture was taken I’ve resolved the rat’s nest of wiring on the left by mounting the power strip to the left wall (power strips generally come with screw mounts molded into the back), added a second air pump and two more air stones in the reservoir, and some extra 100w equivalent CFLs.

Mounting a power strip is easy. Just grab a scrap piece of paper about the size of the strip, lay it on the back, and poke holes through where the holes for the screws are on the back. Then put that paper (don’t flip it over! the side that was facing you faces the wall!) against what you want to

mount the power strip to, mark the holes, drill some pilot holes for the screws, and then mount your screws. Leave them sticking out a bit and the power strip should fit onto them perfectly and then slide down snugly.

Another advantage of the drain plug is it makes testing the pH and TDS of your solution easier. You can’t see it in these pictures but there’s a 2.5″ hole cut into the lid just behind the collard plant in the bottom left position. The hole is covered by an ordinary 3″ bathtub drain plug to keep light out, and is what I use to add solution to the tank and take temperature readings. (I have a floating aquarium thermometer with some fishing line tied to it. The line sticks

out of the hole and is trapped by the rubber plug. So I can fish it out easily anytime I want to take readings, but the hole is small enough to make it annoying to try to stick a tester down in there to get a reading. (I use the top of a 2L bottle as a funnel for filling.)

Solution? Simple – you just get a little tray (I use the bottom of a 2L bottle, I told you I use them for everything) and just fill it partway from the drain valve. I can take my readings from that and then dump it back in through the fill hole. Keep in mind, if you use a similar system, that your readings can be thrown off if your collection tray isn’t clean (and even then it’s still not quite as reliable as testing directly in the reservoir.)

In the picture to the left you can see how I hung the light. It’s hanging from a chain attached to a hook attached to some twine, which is tied to some kind of cedar hanger-thing that came with the closet. The chain/hook combination gives me height adjustment during growing.

Here you can see the clip fan that blows air around in there.

I relocated the cord for the light so that it goes up over the bar and then across it before dropping down along the wall. Less chance for tangling = better. The lights I added after this picture are tied by the power cord to the bar so that they hang even on each end of the big light, and all three lights are plugged into the timer with a splitter. (Since they’re CFLs they don’t pull enough watts to exceed the timer’s safety rating. Fire bad.)

It’s mildly ironic that I accomplish all this near the end of this crop’s life. These plants could go on producing for quite some time, but they’re just not filling the gaps in our diet they way we want. For example, the basil absolutely explodes. I can hardly trim it back fast enough, so I’ve got new plants started in soil where they will (hopefully) grow slower and smaller. We just don’t need that much basil. One of the spinach plants is going into flower, but hasn’t become bitter just yet. Also, the collard just isn’t a big winner in our culinary opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I like collard greens. Just not every few days.

By the way, if you want to eat collard, I finally nailed down a good recipe. First, boil it for 5-6 minutes. You’ve gotta really cook them hard to make them taste good. Then, I like to pan fry them with some bacon or ham or something (chopped up into small bites so it mixes up with the greens nicely). Use some oil or (my favorite) butter to lubricate the frying and season to taste. I can’t explain why, but collard and ham are a perfect match.

But anyway, the point is that we’re not going to be growing these specific plants much longer because we want to optimize our crop to our individual needs. So I’ve started new seeds germinating and when they get big enough they’ll usurp the current plants in the DWC who’ll submit to one final, complete harvest. We’re going to have the Grand Rapids lettuce again since it was such a prolific producer and the spinach (because you can never have too much spinach) but we’re adding in Romaine lettuce as well. Two of each plant with mirrored front and back rows.

The extra room in the closet? Well I’ll probably end up needing more lights but the plan in progress is to add some tomatoes and bell peppers. The one problem with this closet is that it builds heat if the doors are closed (I keep one propped open a few inches right now) so I’m working on getting a small exhaust fan for waste heat first. More lights is more heat, so if I can’t get rid of what I’ve got so far adding more lights will just cook the plants before I’m hungry.


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.