Hydro-what? Or How I Learned to Love Growing Soil-free

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!

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My first eco-machine and foray into hydroponics

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.

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Flowering Licorice mint

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.

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Tomato plant flower

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.

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