May 27, 2010

The Grow Op

Hi all!

My hubby, as I call him on my blog, does a lot of baking and gardening at our home too. He often does the things I'm not so interested in, which works out for me! So, I asked him to write up a blogpost. I thought it would interest some of you and give a different flavor on my blog to have him post once in a while about it. Here he writes about growing hydroponic tomatoes in our basement.

Please welcome my hubby, Klaus!

...

The Vegetable Grow-Op

It started off as a way to start seeds indoors since our growing season leaves much to be desired. The first time I planted my first tomatoes, at the beginning of March, it turns out that it was way too early. The plants were about 2 feet tall and starting to get small tomatoes by the time I was able to move them outside.

The following year I got bolder. I built a rack, got various size pots for transplanting, started them a bit later, and also started peas, chard, onions and squash. I hung up a fluorescent light fixture, and everything mostly thrived. Until the aphid infestation and a slow-start to the growing season. Oh well, live and learn. The most curious thing that year was the spontaneous appearance of a massive bumble bee. Did I forget to mention, this setup is in the basement, in a closed-off furnace room?

This year I started down a similar path, cleaned all my pots, and used fresh soil. But I bumped the lighting and tweaked the spectrum. Turns out cool white lamps are good for leafy growth, warm/soft lights are good for flowering. Last year I only had soft/warm, and my tomatoes were a bit spindly.

Now, with the new lighting, the growth is pretty amazing and the roots quickly started growing out the bottom of the pots, and these were already my bigger pots. I had considered hydroponics in the past, but always rejected the idea because it seemed like too much work: testing pH, checking chemicals, etc. But I took the plunge. The irony is, hydroponics turned out to be less work than soil based, and the results are unbelievable!

My setup is kind of a hybrid system as I didn't want to disturb the roots of my plants. I basically suspended the pots just above a hydroponic solution and put Air Stones (for fish tanks) under the roots. This makes the solution bubble up to the bottom of the pots and the roots.

A second setup is more true hydroponics, where i knocked the soil off the roots of smaller plants, and embedded them in rock wool insulation (similar to fiber glass insulation). Then I suspended that in a tub and used an old, small pond pump to occasionally spray the solution onto the pots from the side. A better approach would probably be to set up drip irrigation, i.e. pump solution to top of plants, but I just used what I had around the house. I also set up a fan on the same timer as pump to encourage strong stems and wind pollination.

The reason it's so low maintenance is because you only change the solution once every 2 weeks, and in the meantime you do pretty much nothing but watch 'em grow! Here are some pictures of the tomatoes that have grown.

Hydroponically Grown Tomatoes


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