Yesterday Growers’ Gizmos attended its first Small Business Saturday in Enfield, NH. We met lots of great people, and enjoyed talking about the product. We hope to see more people at our next event!
With everything going on with the #NoDAPL movement (Sunday’s treatment was appalling. To help or donate supplies, click here.), it is very important for humanity to really look at the value of water in our world. We have a drought in California, with 102 million trees dead within the last 3 months, due largely to the 5 year drought. Yet, we have a President Elect who refuses to acknowledge any of this. If the people cannot rely on their government to give them solutions to global problems, then it is up to innovative businesses to do so (I’m looking at you, Elon Musk).
So much new technology is arriving daily, and I feel lucky to live in an area of the country where businesses are focused on being socially and environmentally just. In my previous post on designing ecologically, I state that one of the precepts of ecological design is to use renewable energy. It is now more important than ever for consumers in the United States to pay attention to how their energy is produced. If we the people choose to support businesses who produce this clean energy technology, then there will be a continued market trend toward that technology (supply and demand, right?), and we will not need our government to make this trend happen. Another extremely important piece of the conversation is the conservation of water. Right now, many households in the US have the luxury of having this incredibly valuable resource available to their sink, for free. We often take our water for granted when we have it, but the moment we no longer have it, we realize its value. On the other side of that, there are also many households without water, or without drinkable water. The #NoDAPL movement is but a shadow of things to come if we do not both focus on renewable energy models, and if we don’t reevaluate how we view our water.
“But Rebecca, your blog is about growing plants, homesteading, why is this relevant?”
As a gardener and a homesteader and a hydroponic grower, water and power are things I think about constantly. Living in New England occasionally means that I am without power, sometimes even when it is 86 degrees and sunny. In situations like that, I wonder how I would water my animals, when I can’t use my well. How will I water my hydroponic plants when I have no power? Would I be able to offset some of my expenses by installing a solar array, panels, or purchasing solar credits from an offsite producer? How do I conserve my water in times of drought (which, believe it or not, does happen even in wet Vermont)?
Low water use and the ability to run on clean energy is on of the things I really love about growing hydroponically. In addition to not contributing to agricultural runoff, and worrying about nutrient overload in my pond, I can also grow using solar panels for my ebb and flow system, harnessing the energy of the sun not just in the PAR cycle. This summer, I intend to grow hydroponically directly out of my pond using solar panels, my Growers’ Gizmo, and built raised beds. I want to design and build a simulated flood plain, and research the best edible plants for that project. More to come on designing that, in a future post.
If you’re a soil-gardener, you know that the best way to grow strong produce is to make sure that your soil has the elements it needs. The three essentials are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. There are also a host of other micro nutrients needed, and a vast market of fertilizers. It is no different for hydroponics, except for the name.
Instead of being called a fertilizer, in hydroponics, we have nutrient solutions. These can be purchased from a manufacturer or you can use “Do It Yourself” concoctions, such as compost tea. The nutrient should be for hydroponic systems, and be safe for consumption. The type of nutrient is up to you and your desire to experiment. There are two types of nutrient solutions; synthetic and organic. Synthetic nutrients are fast acting and can be drawn into the plant immediately. This leads to a common mistake of overfeeding the plant. Organic nutrients typically have a lower amount of fertilizer than synthetics but feed plants for a much longer period of time. Because of this, the impact of organic fertilization is usually more subtle, meaning that it can take longer to get results.
In our first hydroponic experiment, described in a previous post, we used a synthetic fertilizer starter kit from Technaflora in our Grower’s Gizmo. However, in a very beginner kind of mistake, we were not using pure water. We used water from our pond in the back yard, which was full of organic nutrients. We still had success in vegetative growth, and even managed to get flowers, using the “wrong” solution, and natural light only. That’s one of the great things about hydroponics. We made mistakes, we didn’t follow the rules, but we still were successful in our endeavors.
It all started with John Todd’s class, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. I had such fun making an ecomachine with my classmates. We created a design that used plant life to purify water, specifically from cow-manure. As I explored the different ways to use plants to purify water, I began to realize the power of using only water to grow plants. Suddenly, I found myself with healthy plants that were not vulnerable to soil diseases, that could produce food and feed fish, and they grew faster. I began reading up on the subject, but I was always too cash short, or too space constrained to begin experimenting in my own home. A few years later, I became involved with designing and testing the Grower’s Gizmo. I was by no means an expert at hydroponics, and am still a far cry from one today. In fact, I knew more of the opposite; removing fertilizers from water, not adding them!
Today, I have grown tomatoes, peppers, licorice mint, jade plants, and even a pineapple in my Gizmo.
I started with Green Zebra tomato seeds High Mowing Organic. These seeds are heirloom and yield indeterminate plants. The fruit produced is green and yellow striped, and has a unique zing to the taste. It is an early cultivar. Also within the my first hydroponic machine was licorice mint seedlings. Licorice mint, a perennial herb, was chosen due to its sensitivity to being over-watered. It is a plant that prefers well-drained soils and full sunlight. For this plant to do well,the “drain” system of the machine must be sufficient.
The seeds of both plants were planted in early April and were grown in a small scale greenhouse under standard conditions for 8 weeks. On May 9th, plants were transferred to the Gizmo. On May 16th, the first dose of nutrient solution was added to the system. The Technaflora Starter Kit was used, and a vegetative solution was added.
The 6 tomato plants responded well to the solutions in the vegetative state with no supplemental light requirements, despite this being the most light intensive phase in the life of the plant, requiring 18 hours of light to just 6 hours of darkness. The licorice mint also performed well during this time, with large amounts of vegetative growth. The vegetative solution was added once to twice weekly from May 16th to July 5th. The choice to use one dose of solution or two doses of solution was based on the pH and turbidity of the water as measured once weekly. Turbidity was tested because the water in the system came from a small outdoor pond. After July 5th, the solution was changed from a vegetative solution to a flowering solution, from the Technaflora starter kit.
Flowers appeared on the control tomato plants on July 16th, but did not form fruit, because it turns out that tomatoes when grown indoors must be hand pollinated! Learn from my lesson, everyone, and make sure you do your research.