Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Starting to Think About Winter ...

Winter is design time. It's not Winter yet, but it's after Thanksgiving and people are starting to say Merry Christmas and that's a sure sign Winter is on the way. In the Wintertime I start thinking about what I'm going to do come the Spring. I just moved about 40 miles North from Harrisonburg, Virginia to Woodstock, Virginia. I have a little more property and a little less house not that I'm retired and have more time to putter around I'm discovering that I have way too many things to do.

I'm doing NaNoWriMo and finished by 50,000 words on the 25th but as usual the characters are not cooperating and the story still has a lot to go. So I'm still working on it. I'm hoping to finish it up so I'll actually have a novel to edit and trim up. Since this is a combination of the 50,000 + words I wrote in 2009 and the 50,000 + words I've written in 2012, I actually have the length of a pretty respectable novel. If the characters will cooperate I might be able to actually finish it in a few more days.

I'm also working to develop materials for Home Schooling parents. That's fun too. Then of course the wife, otherwise known as "She Who Must Be Obeyed" (SWMBO) is lobbying for me to actually arrange all the books and empty all the boxes that were moved a few months ago. They're all down in the basement not bothering anyone except her.

Then of course we're selling the other house.

Never a dull moment. But what about design time?

I'm actually thinking about building a nice compact little four hole system. The one tuber I was planning for 2012 never materialized due to the move and I tossed all the paraphernalia for the large stars, just too much work and too many tomatoes now that I'm retired. You might think it would go the other way and it probably would if I wanted to go into business, but I just want enough good tomatoes to make great sandwiches all Summer long.

Jessica (SWMBO)wants only big tomatoes. Her definition is when you cut a slice it covers a hamburger bun. So I have this system in mind. I'll just describe it, a drawing will come later when I'm in a drawing mood.

Trash can for a tank. On top of the tank a rectangular piece of something or other that is about 3' on the diagonal squarish with a plant site in each corner. The nutrient feed would come from a vertical manifold coming up from the tank and distributing the nutrient to each corner. Then the supports would be four vertical thin walled conduit verticals with crossed bracing at the top and strings dropped down. It would be compact and produce quite a few juicy tomatoes. It actually would not be too difficult to create a version with a few more plant sites.

I'll see how it looks when I get around to drawing it up. It's been wandering around in my imagination for a few weeks now. I guess I'll get more serious when Winter really gets here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Vertical Farming In The Urban Maze

Growing plants in crowded environments requires real planning but it can be fun and productive. HERE's MORE

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Crowded Stunted Tomatoes of 2012

I suppose this is what happens when your plans are messed up and the tomatoes just keep growing in the original container in one inch rockwool cubes. I've been keeping these twenty-one plants in this container since sometime in May I think and this is what happens to tomato plants that are crowded and fed hydroponics nutrients.
You do get tomatoes of course. Here are three and they are all about 3/4 of an ounce apiece. I've taken a whole five of these guys off the plants and there are more coming of course. Sliced up they actually look pretty good.
But of course they are tiny. You might be interested in what the roots look like. I've been putting nutrient onto the rockwool about once a day. The plants are healthy enough given their crowded conditions but the bottom line is that the tomatoes are very stunted. These were supposed to be three varieties of large tomatoes but the crowding clearly stunts their growth.
I'm going to keep them going. It's interesting just seeing what happens. Hydroponics is always an adventure and it's a great way to explore what happens with plants under various controlled conditions. This started out as a plan to grow big tomatoes but since we're moving it turned into an experiment in crowded conditions. The sliced tomatoes still tasted good with my morning omelet.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Float System Production of Lettuce

Float systems are really cool, but tend to be limited to low growing plants. I've grown a few herbs in float systems and using the small kiddie pool I did tomatoes a couple of years ago but I didn't solve the support problem very well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wicking Baskets: Pretty Cool!

This is a fun little video about building a kind of a wick system. It would not be difficult to transform this into a true hydroponics system by replacing the soil and the wicking material with passive medium and watering with hydroponics nutrients in the water. I'll have to try a design like this. It looks like it would likely beat the kind of wicking system I've used in the past.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Mini Jungle Saga Continues — Tiny Tomatoes

Not sure what to do with this little mini-jungle that's been developing.  One problem is that it has now reached the point where it might be unsustainable since it's gobbling up nutrient at about a gallon a day, well maybe a smidge less.  If you forget to check the plants can get droopy really fast.  This afternoon I went to check that the rockwool was getting fairly dry (I must have forgotten to put nutrient on them yesterday) so I filled the tray and after a couple of hours they were back.  But I imagine that that kind of stress is not good for them.

Now they have little tomatoes on a lot of them, which makes them all that much more difficult to just sacrifice.  See picture.  Jessica found a bunch of pots and is lobbying to put them into pots.  That might work but the shock from separating the plants might be a problem.

I'm currently thinking of it as an experiment in plant crowding.  How's that for a rationale for screwing up?  It's also an experiment in just adding nutrient to rockwool without any flow.  The oxygenation doesn't seem as if it ought to be very good, but the plants don't look all that bad given the crowding and the sporadic watering.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Price of Delay

Back on April 8th I posted a picture of the original 1 inch rockwool cubes that I seeded with about four different kinds of tomato plants.  SEE HERE Well a small problem developed.  We decided to move and bought a house about 40 miles North and that made it difficult to decide how to proceed with the Summer 2012 Hydroponics adventure.  The short term solution was procrastinate but keep the plants going with nutrient.  So there they are as of today ... a dense clump of tomato plants, the smallest "jungle" I've created to date.  They are healthy but now thoroughly intertwined so that if I separate them I'll destroy a lot of developed roots.

The bottom line is that we bought a house and are very busy transferring stuff from this one to that one and this clump is living on our back screen porch just outside the door on a railing overlooking the backyard.  It's pretty cool but it is now absorbing about half a gallon of nutrient a day and will likely increase and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.  You get attached to your plants and don't like sacrificing them.  So I'm currently trying to figure out what to do with a mini-jungle of about twenty-four tomato plants all growing in less than one square foot of 1 inch rockwool cubes mounted in a shallow plastic container.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lights and Reflectors

Grow lights are a great way to grow indoors. I've not done a lot of it although I have a couple of security lights which can double as grow lights. When I first did some of this I was amazed to discover how little light fluorescent lights put out. They have to be just a few inches from the plants and then they only provide enough light for deep shade. High pressure sodium (HPS) puts out a lot more light and so does metal halide (MH). I've fooled around with both a little, mostly to start seeds before it is warm enough to put the plants in the back yard. Nate Lipton from sent me a link to a piece on reflectors. For the technically inclined this is great fun. For others it might just be important to know that if you're using an expensive high-powered light you really don't want it going all over the place, just on your plants. So the efficiency of reflectors is important. Check out their site for other stuff if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Feeding 16 was never so easy!

SEE HERE I've always liked the idea of geodesic domes as greenhouses. This is an interesting aquaponics system that uses a geodesic dome.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April Musings ... Rockwool Cubes and All That

Well here we are on Easter Sunday, April 8th, 2012.  Around April 3rd I finally got off my duff and planted some seeds in rockwool cubes.  First I soaked the rockwool cubes in water for a day pouring off one charge of water and adding another.  This is good practice to make sure the pH of the rockwool cubes isn't too high.

Then I seeded them with three kinds of seeds: Abe Lincolns, Better Boy hybrids, and Best Boy hybrids, eight each for a total of 24 rockwool cubes in a matrix 4x6.  Here's what they look like now. (see below)

They are currently in a plastic container which I cover and sit near a Southern exposure window since I'm too lazy to keep track of what nights it is going to be cold.  I made up a gallon of weak nutrient, about one-sixth standard growing strength (a teaspoon of concentrate of the blue and the white instead of an ounce) and here's a picture of the nutrient and the container when it is closed.

Then I was walking around my hydroponics design stores (Home Depot and Lowes) and was looking for a "greenhouse".  Of course nothing is as it seems.  A "greenhouse" is something that can be used as a baby greenhouse.  There are lots of clear plastic containers that seem to fit the bill and then I saw a cute thing, an inexpensive radio thermometer which will radio in your outside temperature to display inside.  Wow, I thought.  That's a neat way to create a baby greenhouse and monitor.  So here's a picture of the sensor.  (I already have one on my screen porch so I thought if I put the baby greenhouse out there and the extra temperature monitor then I'll be able to see the difference between the temperature in the screenroom and the temperature in the baby green house on the screen porch.  So here's picture of the sensor (about $25)
And this is the baby greenhouse.  Right now the sensor it out on the screen porch inside the baby greenhouse while the plants are in the house still.  I'll wait until they get a little bigger before putting them out. Here's the greenhouse.  It's just one of those clear plastic containers which you can put outside upside down.  We'll soon see how this works.
Since my camera has a macro capability here is a close up of the two tomato plants best expressing their baby leaves.  So far things are going well.  I'll keep you abreast of the adventure of the baby green house.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thinking ... It's Winter!

Winter is the time between systems.  This past year without a hydroponics system reminded me in spades why I went over to hydroponics in the first place.  No weeds, fewer bugs, I've yet to have a slug climb up to the plants in the NFT systems.  The result is much better and uniform fruit and higher yields.  What's not to like about that?  But you do get more tomatoes than you can comfortably eat yourself.  The secret (well not so secret) is that beautiful tomatoes are a cinch to give away.  The only problem is people keep coming back for more and are disappointed when they're all gone.  This year Jessica (the better half, often referred to as "The Boss" or "She who must be obeyed") has informed me that I'm to build at least a one tube system because that produces as many tomatoes as she wants and make sure that you plant big ones, not those French Dona's you're so fond of.  Nothing opinionated about that right?  Well a one tube system or even a half tube system is a cinch.  I'll make a little figure to show what the minimum one tube system looks like.  There it is at the top of the post.  Simple really.