Archive for the ‘hydroponic’ Category

Someone browsing my FlickR stream commented on this picture of one of last year’s hydroponic fence planters and asked, “what are the steps involved in starting an eggplant hydroponic growth system?” I wrote a quick answer, and then realized that there are probably readers of this blog who’d like to know, too!

Get yourself a pot with a water reservoir (or make your own), some substrate material (I use perlite), and figure out what you will use for nutrient solution.

I use a commercial mix from the local hydroponic store (ignore all the mixes about “Big Buds”, sigh– they are not for veggies, and they are high-nitrogen anyway so you would get more leaves than fruit). Dry mixes are best, followed by concentrated liquid mixes that you dilute. Don’t bother with a premixed solution, you are paying a lot for water!

You might be able to use a combination of conventional minerals, like dusting greensand into the medium, and some bone meal, and then using an off the shelf fertilizer like VF-111 or a concentrated fish emulsion (Alaska, Atlas). I haven’t really tried that yet, since the little container of the dry hydroponic mix I have has lasted 3 years already for me, with only a few 4-foot long planters a year and a teaspoon of mix into each weekly. As you can see, it grew some nice eggplants for me! Thai Lavender (long) and Fairy Tale (short, variegated)

I recommend reading up a bit on the net on hydroponics. It’s really pretty simple if you are doing it at home, rather than trying to automate it in a commercial greenhouse to produce bumper crops at timed intervals. Sure, if you get the mix too weak, your peppers might take an extra week or two to ripen. No big deal at home, a real big deal if you have a quarter-acre of them in hoop-row greenhouses and a contract to deliver them to some restaurant chain. 😉


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Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers. Doesn’t that look scrumptious? A crisp, shiny rosette of tsa tsoi, a tangy Chinese green that makes excellent stir fry material.

The best part is that I’m getting these delicious winter greens with almost no work, and I won’t be composting them or digging out the planters to refill them with dirt for a second crop. I also don’t have to worry about scrubbing dirt out of my sink; a post-harvest rinse and I’m done. How can all this be? I’m growing them hydroponically!

A colorful head of forenschluss speckled lettuce, plus more tsa tsoi; I’d better start my next batch of seedlings, and harvest these beauties soon.

About a month ago I had an ‘aha!’ moment while cleaning up in the back yard. In an untidy pile were a bunch of 3-foot long self-watering planters, the long window-box type, sitting empty. They’re very shallow, so they’re only good for things with shallow roots. Another item that needed putting away for winter was a giant 2 cubic yard bag of perlite. It was purchased by accident when I wrote “perlite” instead of “vermiculite” on a shopping list for someone else. Wups. Perlite, though, is one of the better mediums for hydroponics. I knew that I still had a good-sized container of dry mix for hydroponics solution in my garden storage bench. A plan was born!

My favorite red mustard seedlings, about 2 weeks along, with assorted lettuces and some ruby chard. The brown is harmless algae– my fault for watering the seedlings directly from the top once. Note the handy little water level gauge built into this planter.

Now why did I have hydroponic fertilizer mix around? Some long-time readers may recall that when I lived in San Jose in 2003 and 2004, I had very little usable yard space for gardening– our rental’s sunny space was white pebble landscaping. Undaunted, and because I’d always been meaning to learn this stuff, I went out and got some hydroponic units and grew marvelous cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, and peppers hydroponically. I’d started out buying gallon jugs of nutrient solution to dilute, but soon realized I was paying a lot for what was mostly water, and that buying dry mix would be better. A tiny bit goes a LONG way, so I still had plenty left over.

My San Jose hydroponic garden in late April 2004. Imagine everything tripled in size about 6 weeks later!

The main cloud around this hydroponics silver lining is that I don’t like using artificial nutrient mix. I want to try doing hydroponics on filtered compost tea– it should work just as well as the mix, as long as I dust some greensand into the perlite for extra minerals. I’ll try that in the spring, or next fall, now that I have a baseline to work from and compare.

Self-watering planters are a really excellent choice for lettuce and greens, as so much of the plant is dependent on abundant water to grow crisp and strong. Even if you don’t try hydroponics, it’s worth putting some lettuce or stir-fry greens into a self-watering planter and letting them party on. You’ll usually see a noticeable improvment in growth vs typical ground soil conditions.

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