Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nutrient Note

Here's a little extract from my article "Summer 7 The Year the Star Fell" about nutrient.
The nutrient is just a mixture of simple salts. I use a formulation based on the early 1960's work of Abram Steiner in Europe. It is a very well balanced solution for growing tomatoes and works fairly well for a wide variety of other plants. I've personally grown basil, several varieties of lettuce, bok choy, cucumbers, peppers, especially jalapeno peppers, tomatoes and as a lark I've grown some egg plant, squash, and corn all with this nutrient. In addition to being very efficient in the use of water and fertilizer ( hydroponics is also weedless and more critter-less than most growing methods.
I personally use Total-Gro 8-5-16 Hydroponic Special Steiner Formula compounded by SDT Industries Inc. of Winnsboro, LA. They have a great Grower's Guide to Plant Nutrition in a pdf file on-line. The Steiner 8-5-16 is on page 39. This is great stuff.

It comes as a two part mix. I take the mix and mix two concentrates, blue and white named for their color. The concentrate is a pound of each mixed into a gallon of water. Then to make working strength nutrient, mix an ounce of concentrate (an ounce of blue and an ounce of white) per gallon of target solution. You will want to use a conductivity meter to get the strength exactly where you want it — but that's a good starting position for tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Lettuce and basil want to run very much weaker.

Unless you want to compound your own, that's about as much as you need to know about nutrient. If you want to maximize yield and quality for a specific crop you'll want to look for taylored nutrients perhaps, but Steiner is a great all around nutrient, especially for getting started.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Books .. books .. books

There is hardly a cheaper way in the world to get started on something than to just read a book about it, or maybe two or three. When I was in high school I got in a chess tournament. I thought I was hot stuff, but on the first day I got my clock cleaned thoroughly by almost everyone in sight. That was an eye opening moment.

After school I went to the library and took out five books on the game of chess and for a while chess was a consuming passion and pretty soon I was the best player in the school. What that taught me was that having a passion for something counted big time.

When I started in hydroponics I jumped in with both feet following my tried and true technique of booking up on the subject. I think I've already mentioned my first book. It was Howard Resh's Hydroponic Food Production. That was a great start although it was a bit heavy going. Since I have a degree in science (Physics) it wasn't too tough and to give Howard credit, I think he wrote a very readable book there.

My next book was a hoot, because I found it on the internet. I was surfing the net and ran across this book that sounded terrific at a site. This was before Amazon and Barnes and Noble were net presences. I sent email to the site address and asked about the book and if they took credit cards. The guy replyed — "You do know we're in Australia?" That was so cool I bought the book and it came in a week or so by mail. It was Dr. Struan Sutherland & Jennifer Sutherland's Hydroponics for Everyone. It's a great book with oodles of color pictures. And even coming from Australia it was priced very reasonably.

There are now many books on my hydroponics bookshelf, but one I want to mention is Lon Dalton and Rob Smith's Hydroponic Gardening. It's a great book, compact, stuffed with great information and beautiful color pictures. I met Rob Smith on the West Coast at a Hydroponics Conference some years back and he's a regular on The Growing Edge, my favorite Hydroponics Magazine. I write for them, and they're a terrific bunch.

So the punch-line — "Before making a big investment, make a wise investment and read some good books on hydroponics." I suppose you could also watch this blog and I'll try to talk about all the mistakes I've made over the years. That'll lower the number you're likely to make.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another cool system ...

Here's another cool system. I called it "Over and Under" because it had two high channels, the "over" channels and two low channels, the "under" channels. The idea was to see if I could train the plants to grow down. I could but it put stress on the plants. So I need to find a better support system.

What's a System Look Like?

I thought I'd explain what a system looks like and at the same time experiment with this blog's image capabilities. I have some images over at Flickr and I'm going to try to embed one of them. So here's the image of an NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) system I built a few years ago. I did it to experiment with growing leafy crops like lettuce. Up until then I'd only done tomatoes.

hydroponics NFT systemSo here's the example. It's shown while it was being built. The frame is just PVC with flat channels. The trash cans (one of them) will be used as a nutrient tank (water + nutrients) with a pump in it which pump the nutrient to the ends of the channels. You can see the main feed tube (black) that feeds a PVC pipe and each of the channels if fed by a little 1/4 inch tube from the PVC pipe. The nutrient rums through the channels by gravity and is collected by the return and runs back into the tank. This little circulation goes on all the time.

As long as the electricity holds out and you don't let the tank go dry (plants use a lot of nutrient and water as they grow) that's the whole deal except for a few picky details like making sure that the nutrient is at the right strength to feed the plants. Simple and fun! Also pretty trouble free.

Monday, July 28, 2008

How to get started ...

I saw a video by an Oxford professor one time which talked about the Oxford way -- which was "Start at the beginning. Go on to the end. Then stop!" On the whole that's good advice if you're going somewhere.

In the case of hydroponics the key question that arises in "newbie's" minds is: "What is this? It sounds weird." "You're going to WHAT? grow vegetables in water?" "Give me a break. Is this science fiction?"

Hydroponics means something like "water works." The hanging gardens of Babylon are thought by some people to be an early example of hydroponics. Broken down to simplest terms it's just growing plants without dirt in a solution of water and nutrients. Last time I mentioned that reading a good book is a great way to get started. Another way is just to start experimenting with a sense of adventure. All you need is 1) a container, 2) some water, 3) some fertilizer, and 4) a plant -- at least to get started. Later, when you get interested in doing it right or getting the most out of your plants, you'll want to get a little more systematic.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Got Me Interesested?

Gardening is one of those things that you either love or hate. I always sort of hated it. It was too frustrating and way too much work. On the other hand, I really liked to see things growing and it was pretty cool when the things were things I'd planted and nurtured.

Still there were weeds to be done away with and critters to defend against that liked to come and nibble on things, even birds sometimes would come down and peck a tomato leaving a puncture.

I've always read science fiction and occasionally I'd read that hydroponics was the way that they would grow food on the space ship or the space station. Of course I envisioned all kinds of glass tubes and strangely colored mixtures of goop, having no idea about the real thing. Then I read somewhere that hydroponics as a great way to grow tomatoes. I've always loved tomatoes so that was the beginning of my adventure. If you could grow great tomatoes with hydroponics then I was all for it.

The first thing to do was to find out more, so I purchased Howard Resh's textbook, "Hydroponic Food Production." It turned out to be a pretty heavy duty book, pretty heavy in the weight category too. But it was clear and authoritative and I ate it up and decided to experiment on the side of the house with hydroponics. That was the Winter of 1995 I think.

Getting Started

I thought I'd start blogging on hydroponics. I've been doing it now since around 1995 with great satisfaction. I thought it would be fun to create a Blog and theWeedlessGarden is a title I've used on my website forever. My objectives are just to have a place to chat about Hydroponics from my point of view.