It’s good to regularly check that the pH balance of the nutrient solution feeding your plants is correct. Plants have an optimal growth range of about 6-6.5.
First you need something to test with. Electric testers are cool but expensive. pH testing solution takes a bit more work but not much, it simply consists of a dropper of solution and a small vial to test with.
Fill the vial half way with the water you want to test. Add 4-5 drops of testing fluid and shake it up.
Compare it to the diagram on the side. This looks to be about 7.5-8 pH, it’s going to have to come down at least a full point.
To actually adjust the pH you need pH adjuster, one up and one down. They come printed with the measurements to adjust the pH, in this case 1 tsp adjusts 4 gallons.
I found using an medicinal dropper is the easiest way to get the right amount, you don’t want to spill and get this stuff on you.
At 10 gallons for the nutrient reservoir it’s 2 tsp to adjust down (better too little than too much). Now another measurement is showing much closer to the ideal 6.5 range.
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.
Well weather doesn’t always want to play fair. We were past the final freeze of the spring when I planted the hydroponic system and temperatures were in the 60’s. Then the increasingly unstable weather decided to get cold again and for 2 weeks we had overcast late winter weather.
It never got down to freezing but it did get within a few degrees of freezing; now I know that Beans and Cucumbers hate the cold. The beans (nearly) died and I haven’t found replacements. Luckily cucumbers are plentiful so I just dumped the dead ones, rinsed out their net pots and put in new cucumbers.
The peppers grew slow but they showed new roots growing out of the pots so I knew they would pull through. The Snow peas lived up to their name and did really well in the cold weather and are now in need of support they’ve gotten so big.
I’ve been debating how to create an overhead support for the plants. I’m trying to emulate being on an apartment balcony where they is usually another overhead balcony or cover. In that case it’s a simple matter of screwing a few heavy duty hooks into the above floor and suspending a pole three inches from the top using wire or something.
The south side of the house has no overhead and I don’t want to punch holes in the siding. I need to create something that stands on the ground, is about 7.5 feet tall, will support the weight of the plants hanging off it, and won’t tip or blow over in the wind.
First the plants as they are now. As you can see the peas are looking for something to grow up. The peppers are getting bigger with a blossom here and there (I’m actually clipping them off since I want all energy to grow large plants right now). The 2 new cucumbers are about 7 days old, have gotten over the shock of transplanting out of soil and are starting to get bigger. The poor bean plant that seemed dead actually struggled out a few new leaves but its so far gone I don’t want to wait for it to come back, it will be replaced in a few days.
As it’s been about 3 or so weeks since the last nutrient solution went in. It probably doesn’t need it but since over half of the system got overhauled with new plants I decided to refresh it by dumping the old and mixing a new batch. I found that if I dissolve the solid nutrients by hand in about 4 cups of water then filling up the rest of the water it get much more of it to dissolve (I actually learned it from mixing cornstarch in to foods while cooking).
You can see all the Ph balancing stuff still out from getting the nutrient ready.
I decided an A-Frame setup holding a rod of electrical conduit above the plants is the way to go. It’s very stable front to back but from side to side a baby could knock it over. I had some ideas to stabilize it but figured they could wait till next weekend.
A very costly mistake.
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.
Infrastructurist linked a story about how Detroit is trying to figure out what to do with the masses of abandoned space they have in the wake of the auto industry collapse.
The story follows John Hantz and his idea that piques my interest in two different ways.
In fact, Hantz’s operation will bear little resemblance to a traditional farm. Mike Score, who recently left Michigan State’s agricultural extension program to join Hantz Farms as president, has written a business plan that calls for the deployment of the latest in farm technology, from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings.
Did somebody say Hydroponic?
“Ah, now the ball’s in Farnsworth’s court!”
Even before reading this I was thinking of urban hydroponic farms. Here in SLC there is a huge parking lot taking up a full city block that is never used by more than 5-6 cars. They had to tear down a bunch of longstanding and popular bars, venues, and hangouts plus demolishing a hotel to turn it into an unused parking lot that spends all day doing nothing but heating up under the summer sun. With a moderate initial investment the same area could likely feed hundreds with fresh local produce using no more water than what we get in natural rainfall.
There is another quote in the article I’d like to point out:
This is possibly not as crazy as it sounds. Granted, the notion of devoting valuable city land to agriculture would be unfathomable in New York, London, or Tokyo. But Detroit is a special case.
Unfathomable my ass, I actually just watched a TV program from Japan that was touting urban farming in Tokyo as a modern way of making use of land in a country that has little land to spare. They referred to it more as a food factory where everything was grown under lights inside a building that for all intents and purposes from the outside looked like a 4 story factory. The idea of greenhouses in Detroit actually makes more sense, no electricity issues with lighting unless you want to extend the growing season even more than the greenhouses provide.
Detroit makes more sense for urban hydroponics, more land is going to waste and the city is desperate finding ways to make it more productive. Ideally it would be more profitable to fill the land with high density office space; but when what you have is blight, upgrading to clean farming is still a much better option.
However Hantz is a little misguided.
Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in.
I agree with everything there but the tourist attraction, this is a farm not Disneyland. Don’t factor tourist income into this investment in any way. But all the other benefits are spot on. Hydroponics requires an initial upfront investment which Hantz is apparently willing to pay in cash. Then it’s just a matter of monitoring the crops, harvesting, and shipping to where they’re needed. The system is incredibly low maintenance, and the land can be tied up in a productive way until the city starts growing again.
There is a second reason this article is interesting to me.
Houses in Detroit are selling for an average of $15,000.
That sounds like a buying opportunity, and in fact Detroit looks pretty good right now to a young artist or entrepreneur who can’t afford anyplace else — but not yet to an investor.
Damn straight $15,000 looks pretty good right now. I was looking at getting a condo downtown here and they wanted $250,000 for a loft! A quarter of a million dollars and you don’t even get a separate bedroom!
Hey, Mr. Hantz! You need a guy to help with your farms? I’ll start tomorrow and using the “first time home buyer” clause of the 401k I can even afford a home TODAY!
I mean Holy Cow, I can’t believe that I could be owning a car and home free and clear right now along with a steady job. All I need is enough money to buy food and utilities, anything else is icing on the cake.
The economy and the world itself are in a serious state of flux right now. That means this is the perfect time to change the status quo when it comes to our infrastructure. There is a possibility for failure but this is also the time when you can get in on the ground floor. And when it comes to investing and development there are two constants.
1. People need food to eat.
2. People need a place to live.
The situation in Detroit create a lack easily accessable #1 and an over abundance (read: cheap) of #2.