Surprisingly long, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
Had a little problem last week. Temperatures in Utah have been reaching triple digits with sunny clear blue skies all day long. I had gotten used to the water requirements of the hydroponic garden being about a loss of 4 gallons every two days or so. However with the days getting hotter and the plants getting larger (more surface area and breathable surfaces), the water requirements have been getting bigger.
The problem was that I let the plants go 3 days without topping off the water supply.
I knew that with the smaller nutrient reservoir watering would be more frequent and even thought I might setup a second reservoir with a siphon of something to double the usable volume. Unfortunately this all came to a head when I checked my plants and they had been basically dry for most of the day.
Everything was extremely wilted looking and a few leaves on the cucumbers had dried up (they feel rough and dry even when healthy so it’s hard to tell). I immediately refilled the water and turned the pump on to wet the plants again. By evening everything was looking better but it was obvious the cucumbers hadn’t weathered the dry spell as well as the peppers.
The cucumbers on the far ends lost the tips of some of the leaves but bounced back really well besides that.
The peppers looked just fine afterward. I can only figure this is because their roots are thicker than the cucumbers which have fine roots. Enough moisture is retained in the plant that the cells didn’t die and when water was brought back they revived like putting a dry sponge in water.
But the cucumbers nearest the drain didn’t do so well. While enough survived that I could probably have kept them alive they weren’t likely to produce much fruit and what they did would likely be at the end of the season. Better to just chuck them and star anew with a late season plant.
So when the weekend came round I got the tallest pre-planted cucumber at the farmers market and swapped it into place.
The first evening was a bit rough, the above picture was taken about 30 minutes after transplant in the middle of the 100F afternoon. In just 30 minutes the plant went from looking normal to looking faint. Obviously the shock of going from soil to liquid + heat + a root system not adapted to the hydro system was a bit of a shock. But although the leaves looked and felt flimsy they were still soft with moisture and not dry like the plants that had been left without water; by the next day they looked vibrant and were already perking up.
Here’s the wilty peppers from the same time. Obviously it’s hard on plants dealing with 100 degree heat just like it is with humans. It’s no wonder they’re going through about 4 gallons a day right now. Luckily I don’t need to re-do the nutrient each day. The plants take what they need from the nutrient and leave the rest, so as the water level goes down it’s mostly H2O being used and the nutrient solution becomes more condensed. Adding water brings the nutrient back to the normal PPM. Although for that reason it’s good not to let the water get too low and the nutrient solution too condensed.
Here’s the cucumber that needed to be removed. A shame to lose it, it was the largest and had already produced 3 cucumbers this year. As you can see one plant was still very green and could have pulled through, however since they’re both in the pot together there is no easy way to separated them and just replace one.
Also notice how dense the root mat had gotten, it actually continued to the right just as far but because of the peppers next door I couldn’t separate the roots and had to cut them off to get the plant out. The ½ to 1 inch thick mat at the bottom of the planter retains a lot of moisture due to wicking action once the pumps go off (or water runs out) which probably helped them survive going a day without water. It would also explain why the plant closest the drain fared the worst, since it drained off quicker than the cucumbers at the other end of the planter.
Here the root cup after the plants had been cut and tossed to the compost. You can see how much the roots come out of the cup in every direction, the cup is held above the bottom root mat so most of these roots are held above the nutrient with the sprayers spraying the sides. But the plant still branches out in every direction to soak up every drop it can.
Jump started my plants a week ahead.
Something I noticed today. The cucumbers that I planted about two weeks ago in the beans place is just starting to adapt and start growing. But the cucumbers that I planted just a couple days ago have already caught up and might be passing them.
The different was when I planted the first set I just let the roots sit at the bottom of the net pot and put “dirt” on top. With the new ones I cut a small hole in the bottom and threaded some of the roots through.
The result is that the new plants have roots on the bottom of the planter where they can soak up fresh nutrient. The older plants needed to slowly absorb it from the “dirt” and grow their own roots to the bottom; then once on the bottom they started growing quicker.
First the older plant:
When planted they had the two seed leaves (Cotyledon) and one true leaf. During the transition I noticed that the first true leaf (that was grown while in soil) seems to be burned and suffers a bit. Then the second true leaf (grown while in nutrient solution) has adapted and there is less or no damage to it.
Second the 2 week younger plants. These guys replaced the cucumber that was crushed and torn out in the wind storm.
I planted more than what was needed so I can thin the two weaker plants later. As you can see having roots go to the bottom of the planter has given them a good headstart. They were transplanted the same as the others, with the two dicot leaves and one true leaf. They already have a second leaf and their first true leaf didn’t look as poorly as the other plant.
I’ve been really lagging in posting updates on the hydroponic garden so I’ll post the last few weeks this week. Just pretend you’re speeding forward through the last month in the next 3 days. However here’s the main points learned this year:
-The system NEEDS an air bubbler to airate the water.
-There is about a 1 week adjustment process from transplanting for the roots to start growing in nutrients.
-Many plants die at freezing point.
-Unstable homemade trellises need to be able to hold up to the wind or they’ll smash your plants.
Now the full story, Planting day!
Today the whole setup is going live. I actually purchased the plants about a weeks ago but between work and lazyness didn’t plant them.
First I needed the official place that I could plant everything that was out of the way, had good sunlight, didn’t interfere with the normal garden. The cool thing with hydroponics is all you need is the floor space and you’re good to go, the actual ground can be poor quality, contaminated, or solid asphalt.
South side of the house is where the garbage cans are stored and naturally becomes a storage area for garbage and mostly green trash that is waiting to be fed into the garbage and hauled off. Currently is was about 2 feet deep of bags of landscaping sand covered in 3 feet of dead branches. Once cleared and all the spiders were scared off it left a perfect longs narrow strip just under the garage window so I could feed a power line out to the system.
Next I had to get the plants ready to plant.
Ideally I would be germinating my own seeds straight into hydroponic ready growing media, but that is an experiment for next year. This year is to try to make it as easily accessible to the average person as possible so I’m taking normal potted starter plants and moving them into hydroponic media.
The process isn’t really that hard but it seems weird to people used to normal gardening. Instead of taking a plant out of a plastic tray and moving to the ground we’re going to wash all the dirt off and transfer the bare plant & roots to our own medium.
From right to left the first two buckets are full of water. The third is full of coconut coir and water giving it the consistency of wet potting soil. A few unused but rinsed off plants are on the ground.
1. Start with the plants of choice.
2. Take out of the pot or plastic tray and rinse most of the dirt out of the roots.
Just soak the root ball in the water and alternate between gently massaging the roots and swirling it in the water. All the soil will rinse without needing to be manhandled.
!!!Remember that the roots are the life of the plant, try to keep and protect them as much as possible!!!
3. In the second bucket you can rinse the last of the potting soil off with ease.
4. Then take a plastic 3” net pot and hold the plant in the center with the roots at the bottom.
5. Fill the netpot up with coconut coir, gently packing it down with your fingers till it’s full to the rim. Try to position it so the roots start at .5” to 1” below the rim.
6. Set aside and you’re done. It’s important the roots stay moist so I put them in a container with an inch of water in the bottom. Plus I found it’s good to keep the tags with the plants so you don’t forget what is what later on.
Now the setup need to be put together and filled with fresh nutrient. I found a nice little nylon filter bag at the pet store that I could put on the end of the drain tubes. I rightly figure that for the first few days a lot of coir would wash out of the netpots into the reservoir. Hopefully keeping as little from getting into the pump will limit the lines getting clogged even though the pump has it’s own filter as well.
You can see a little bit of the leftover solid nutrient at the bottom of the reservoir. No matter how hard I try to mix it in some of it never dissolves. Liquid nutrient would obviously not have that problem.
The plug for the pump is outdoors and exposed so I wrapped it with a few overlapping layers of “Stretch and Seal” Tape and a couple layers of electrical tape. Pull the electrical tape tight as you wrap, overlap each row, and make sure your last layer goes from bottom to top to shed water better.
And here is everything planted and running, kind of small and unassuming at this point. I still have on planter empty for something else in the future. Hopefully pole beans.