Oatmeal-tell us more about growong plants hydroponically. - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 05-28-2003, 01:55 AM
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Oatmeal,

I am really interested to hear how you grow your plants hydroponocally and I'm sure others are too. If you could explain a little bit, that would be wonderful.
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#2 Old 05-28-2003, 01:59 AM
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Yeah, but what kind of plants are you wanting to grow?
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#3 Old 05-28-2003, 02:07 AM
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I'm not really sure. I was more interested in knowing what it is and how it works. No specific plants in mind.
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#4 Old 05-28-2003, 03:15 AM
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Heh, I think Robert has one very special kind of "herb" in mind - one which is often associated with hydroponics. YAY for Canada, headquarters of the "homegrown world" this side of the Atlantic!



Wow. This will be cool thread! I will post some info shortly, probably stretched out over several posts and days, with pics, websites and all... Stay tuned!
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#5 Old 05-28-2003, 05:07 AM
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cool! Looking forward to it!

Nec Aspera Terrent
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#6 Old 05-28-2003, 08:59 PM
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Here's what I'm going to do.



First, I'll talk a bit about hydroponics in general, the kinds of systems mostly in use today, pros-cons, costs, etc.



Then I will give you a tour of my latest outdoor garden - which is almost dysfunctional at the moment (see below), but it should still be sufficient to demonstrate hydroponics.



Finally, the most enjoyable part. The reason my outdoor garden is ripped apart is that I'm in the process of extending/rebuilding it. I will document the progress in this thread with pics and descriptions. I estimate that it will take about a week to 10 days until The New and Extended Garden is up and running. So you'll get a kind of hands on feeling for building a hydroponic system. Sounds good?



---

I have not found any satistactory newbie material about hydroponics on the web. So I was thinking of putting something together and maybe putting it out on the web anyway. This will be a good start for me to get started. And who knows? Maybe I even could publish it as a huge bestseller!
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#7 Old 05-29-2003, 02:12 AM
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WHAT IS HYDROPONICS:



When plants are grown naturally, the soil serves two purposes:



1. provide support for the plant

2. provide the plant with water and nutrients.



Besides water, there are 16 nutrient elements plants need to take up from the soil through their roots. These can come either from organic sources and organic fertilizers (such as compost, animal manure) or anorganic fertilizers (MiracleGro, "no brand" N-P-K fertilizer etc).



In hydroponics (HP), the plants are suspended in some kind of support system, and their roots are constantly or periodically sprayed with or immersed in a water / nutrient mixture.



One of the most popular HP systems both among hobbyists and commercial growers is NFT (Nutrient Film Technique). I'll concentrate on NFT here.



This image will show you the schematics of an NFT system.



http://www.simplyhydro.com/images/nft.gif



The plants are grown in a trough or pipe. A thin film of water/nutrient mixture is kept flowing constantly at the bottom of the tray. The nutrient solution is held by the reservoir, and is recirculated by a small water pump. (The airpump+airstone are optional items)



The roots of the plants grow down, into the nutrient mix, and eventually build a thick "carpet" on the bottom of the tray.





ADVANTAGES OF HYDROPONICS:



* water usage is minimum. (there is no runoff and only little evaporation)



* fertilizer usage is minimum. In a dirt garden, you have apply a lot of water/fertilizer mix to reach the roots of the plant -> a lot of it is wasted.



( For example, MiracleGro recommends 1 tablespoon fertilizer per each gallon of water to fertilize your plants in a dirt garden. In contrast, when using MiracleGro as a hydroponic nutrient (which is possible with some caveats), 1/4 of a teaspoon per gal is sufficient for some impressive vegetative growth in the system. )



* HP plants are generally larger and faster growing than dirt plants, because the root zone and nutrient conditions are optimal, and the plants never suffer "famine" or "drought". They are always well fed and can develop at a fast speed.



* Because you grow without soil, the chance of soil-born diseases is at a minimum.



* You can grow hydroponically pretty much everywhere. I know that the researchers at the north pole have a small hydroponic garden to grow some greens - the only fresh food they eat. There is quite an acreage of hydro tomato growers in the cooler regions of Canada. There's eggplant growing in New Zealand in the winter. HP can be an interesting niche to get into, making possible to grow unusual, out-of-season, or impossible to grow crops in the given region and to sell it at premium prices.



Reasons Oatmeal likes HP include further:



* I have no dirt garden.



* I like to plan and build things.



* I dig the Cyborg theme. (building "green machines" out of man-made materials such as plastic and metal).



* Also, because I don't have a house and am not settled down, it's seems very practical that I can disassemble my gardens and take them with me wherever I may go and live. I can get back to growing quickly and easily, even in an apartment, if only to grow a few herbs.





DISADVANTAGES OF HYDROPONICS:



* Cost & complexity. Obviously, getting into HP requires some learning and and some investment. How much, depends on your abilities, goals and $$$ (see below).



* Some systems (such as the NFT we're discussing) are very sensitive to power outages. If no precautions are taken, it's possible for the whole garden to die within a few hours, if power goes out (or the system breaks down otherwise) on a hot summer day. (However, not all HP systems suffer from this problem, and even NFT's tolerance for system failure can be improved).



* Sometimes the nutrient solution can transmit diseases. This happens very fast and all plants could be infected in only a matter of hours.





HYDROPONIC FERTILIZERS:



They are different from dirt fertilizers, in that they are of higher quality (=high purity, high accuracy of nutrient amount measurement). Store-bought HP fertilizers usually contain a good mix of nutrients, suitable for most any plant and situation.





GETTING STARTED IN HYDROPONICS:



It all depends on your financial situation, your interest in planning and building things, and the time you are willing to invest in your new hobby.



The endpoints of the spectrum are:



* build your own systems, mix your own nutrient solution, start your own plants from seed / cuttings -> cheapest, however most time consuming, requires good knowledge of HP, building things, seed starting, etc.



* buy systems, buy seedlings and buy the nutrient solution -> most expensive, but fastest - gets you growing immediately.



Currently I am (and most other hobbyists are) building my own and starting my own, but I use a store-bought nutrient. This keeps the costs low, and the fun factor high.





STORE BOUGHT SYSTEMS



These are a great way to get growing fast (although I never had one).



Unfortunately, the large number of yuppie pot growers drives the price of hobby hydroponic systems high. The systems are quite posh, and the sellers have large profit margins. (Blame the war on drugs for that one as well...)



But no question, these systems are nice, look good and work very well, and can get you up and growing instantly.



This system...



http://homeharvest.com/americanhydronft.htm



... costs $400, but could be built for less than $100, including pump and reservoir.





HOME-BUILT SYSTEMS



If you go the this route, you'll need some tools, but not many. I do all my hobbyprojects with hand tools and a Dremel. Occasionally I'd rent a larger power tool).



Parts you'll need include plumbing supplies, PVC pipes/gutters, drip irrigation components, pumps, hoses, and plastic boxes / trash cans / totes suitable as reservoir. Your local Home Depot or O.S.H. should have all of these.





-------------------



Coming up..... One of Oatmeal's gardens.
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#8 Old 05-29-2003, 11:21 AM
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Thank you for spending the time to tell us. It seems like such an interesting thing to start. maybe you should write a book.....money for what you would write anyway.hmmm..why not?
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#9 Old 05-30-2003, 01:22 AM
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Oatmeal, can you please tell more on building your own systems? Where did you learn how to build them? Do you have any recommended reading sources for more information? I hope you don't mind the questions, but you have my curiosity.
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#10 Old 05-30-2003, 01:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Oatmeal

Heh, I think Robert has one very special kind of "herb" in mind - one which is often associated with hydroponics. YAY for Canada, headquarters of the "homegrown world" this side of the Atlantic!



Actually... I don't enjoy the "herb" myself... well not in many years anyway



But I'd guess-timate that 40 to 60% of every veg* I know smokes it. I know several here locally. Interestingly, Canada was about to "legalize" marijuana usage here (remove it from the criminal code), but there was a huge outcry from reps in the US and so they never completely legalized it. At least not yet anyway. Ahhh, but this is off-topic and I digress... carry on.
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#11 Old 05-30-2003, 04:52 AM
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sunshinemelissa (love that username! )



Quote:
Originally posted by sunshinemelissa

Thank you for spending the time to tell us. It seems like such an interesting thing to start. maybe you should write a book.....money for what you would write anyway.hmmm..why not?



You're welcome . Indeed, hydroponics is a very interesting thing. I could go on about it indefinitely, I think. LOL about the book! Who knows how popular it would be. Personally I'd like every house and apartment to have a hydro garden (or grow room) for veggies. Maybe then there would be a real market for hydroponics books for newbies...







Apple (love that username too! )



Quote:
Originally posted by Apple

Oatmeal, can you please tell more on building your own systems? Where did you learn how to build them? Do you have any recommended reading sources for more information? I hope you don't mind the questions, but you have my curiosity.



I sure can and will, see my next post. You'll see that building a hydroponic system is not really difficult. You CAN make elaborate structures and control systems, but in its basics, HP is a simple thing. I learned how to build HP systems by looking at other gardens, visiting shops, talking to people and figuring out my "own" solutions for different problems. There are a few hobby growers who have posted pics of their systems on the web.



And I of course read a lot about hydroponics (as well as greenhouse growing and farming in general). It's a good point you raise - I will make a post here with some pointers (books, magazines, URLs) for further reading in a few days.





Robert



Quote:
Originally posted by Robert

Actually... I don't enjoy the "herb" myself... well not in many years anyway



But I'd guess-timate that 40 to 60% of every veg* I know smokes it. I know several here locally.



LOL - I won't tell anyone if you don't ask in which category I belong...



I'm always up for a good war on drugs bashing, but you're right - maybe not here...
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#12 Old 05-30-2003, 05:03 AM
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OATMEAL'S OUTDOOR GARDEN



(well - what's left of it currently, anyway...)



I decided to put up a webpage, instead of posting a lot of pics here, and make Michael's and Robert's lives difficult.



So... click the link below to take a tour of my own little hydro system!



http://hq.tingo.com:8080/~barna/hydro/



I hope you'll find it enjoyable - I'm not a photo pro as you'll see.



Post any remarks, questions or requests you might have here.





I will now (that is tomorrow or the day after) begin to build the new components. I will continue to post to this thread as I make progress to keep any interested VBers up to date. This will hopefully give you a feel for building hydroponic systems.



Stay tuned!
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#13 Old 05-30-2003, 07:12 PM
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That is SPECTACULAR!!! The lettuce roots are amazing . Where did you get the sewage pipe?
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#14 Old 05-30-2003, 07:14 PM
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P.S. One later thought. Thanks for going so in-depth. That's pretty amazing. Oh, and you have a pretty cool username too!!
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#15 Old 06-01-2003, 12:33 AM
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robert, just so ya know. CANADA IS NOT GOING FOR LEGALIZATION ITS GOING FOR DECRIMINALIZATION. wich is the wrong way, legalization is the right way. to me at least. any your never to old to toke herb, why not make that years and years ago a " yesterday" .
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#16 Old 06-11-2003, 03:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by V3gan

robert, just so ya know. CANADA IS NOT GOING FOR LEGALIZATION ITS GOING FOR DECRIMINALIZATION. wich is the wrong way, legalization is the right way. to me at least. any your never to old to toke herb, why not make that years and years ago a " yesterday" .



Ahhhh, you are right... I stand corrected on the legalization/de-criminalization thing.



Age is not the reason I stopped smoking it years ago... the way it (personally) made me tired and lazy was the big thing.



Oatmeal... let me ask you... have you any plans to build a website how-to guide sort of thing for Hydroponic growing? I would suspect there's enough people interested you could produce a downloadable (paid) e-book or a CD or even a membership based site.



Certainly I am interested in learning more about it, especially with our climate which gives us an actual winter season (IE, ground is frozen solid).
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#17 Old 06-11-2003, 09:50 PM
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That was an AWESOME tour Oatmeal, thanks for sharing with us!
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#18 Old 06-12-2003, 12:31 AM
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What kind of fertilizer? Did you say maricle grow? I have like all the supplies but the fertilizer/food...
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#19 Old 06-12-2003, 07:05 PM
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Robert said you could have a paid site. I think that's great except for I get it for free
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#20 Old 06-12-2003, 09:53 PM
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Thank you all!



I actually have finished the rebuild a few days ago. I've also taken pictures, so the only thing to do is to write some text and put them out on the web. Keep checking back on this thread, I will post the new stuff soon.





Quote:
Originally posted by Robert

Oatmeal... let me ask you... have you any plans to build a website how-to guide sort of thing for Hydroponic growing? I would suspect there's enough people interested you could produce a downloadable (paid) e-book or a CD or even a membership based site.



Certainly I am interested in learning more about it, especially with our climate which gives us an actual winter season (IE, ground is frozen solid).



Actually, I've been thinking for quite some time now about writing something together. There simply is not one canonical resource for beginners and for discussing hydroponics online.



I think a website would be great, starting out with step-by-step instructions for building hydroponic systems.



An vBulletin-like online community would be awesome. I know that there are many hydro growers out there, but they are scattered around on small mailing lists and crappy online boards. I wonder how much traffic such a "professional" board would generate.



The interest here sure gets me excited! I will think about how to get this project going. Alas I can only proceed slowly because I only have limited time right now for hobbies (VB keeps me busy - jk ), but I definitely think this is a good idea and worth to spend some time on. Hydroponics is a cool hobby and deserves to get a good online place.



I know that my next project will be building a "huge" lettuce system (50 plants to start with, but planned are at least 100). I could document that process in detail and use it as the basis for the website.



I think the site would be free (not only for sunshinemelissa ). I could maybe rely on donations to pay the bills (should the site be successful at all), and maybe affiliations with and advertisement from selected merchants. Should it ever come this far, I will know I can ask you VB wizards for expertise... Let's see!
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#21 Old 06-13-2003, 09:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Keegan

What kind of fertilizer? Did you say maricle grow? I have like all the supplies but the fertilizer/food...



Hydroponics requires special fertilizers, which are very pure and finely balanced. Since there is no soil, the fertilizer solution will provide ALL the nutrients for the plant.



It is wise to start out with a premixed nutrient, like General Hydroponics' Flora series. This one is widely used and acknowledged to be one of the best all around nutrient systems. It is a 3 component fertilizer system, you have to mix the three together to get the nutrient solution (the proportions vary according to the growth stage of the plants). It's very easy to use and works great. You can purchase fertlizers like this in hydroponic shops. One set of Flora Nutrients will cost you around $35 and it will be enough for at least half a year. It's cheap and you don't have worry about the involved task of mixing your own fertilizer.



For heavy (or commercial) growers, however, buying premixed fertilizers can be expensive. Also hobby chemists might enjoy to mix their own.



There are many "homemade" formulas out there, several of them use dirt fertilizers like MiracleGro or Pete's as their base. MiracleGro, for instance, has almost all of the nutrients in good proportions. You only need to add some epsom salt and calcium nitrate. This drastically reduces your fertilizer costs. I've never tried this though (yet).



To beginners, I remommend using commercial, premixed fertilizers.
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#22 Old 06-14-2003, 07:19 AM
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I'm reading this with interest.



By the way I think Craquante D'Avignon (spelling) is the same variety of lettuce that my seed catalog calls Winter Density, and is one of my favorites. It is romaine except the inner leaves kind of form a semi-head better than romaine does, and it is one of the best tasting romaine types there is. I find it grows faster and more vigorously than the other romaine types.



It doesn't grow as tall as regular large-head romaines, but more than makes up for it by growing bigger around -- it seems like there is no end to the layers and layers of leaves.



This also means you have lots more of self-blanched inner leaves and about the same number of darker outer leaves. Plus it's more self-blanching -- you don't have to tie it up to blanch the inner leaves.
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#23 Old 06-14-2003, 07:51 AM
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Oatmeal writes:

===============

Besides water, there are 16 nutrient elements plants need to take up from the soil through their roots.

===================



Yup. There are 16 known plant nutrients: 9 macronutrients and 7 micronutrients.



However 2 of the macronutrients, carbon, and oxygen, are obtained thru the air, thru the plants' leaves, rather than thru the soil, and rather than thru the plants' roots. A third macronutrient, hydrogen -- I'm not sure but I think it comes thru the plants' roots, from water in the soil.



The 6 soil macronutrients are broken down into 3 primary and 3 secondary soil macronutrients.



3 primary soil macronutrients: N, P, and K (nitrogen, phosphorous and kalium, more commonly called potassium -- the nutrients that are widely available in generic commercial plant food.



The key element, the primary element of of the primary elements, the one that runs out first and requires the most effort, energy, or cost to replace -- is nitrogen. Nitrogen atoms are what distinguishes substances that are used for the matter, the substance, of plants and animals, from substances that are used only for energy. Every amino acid has a nitrogen atom -- building blocks of living matter. So does each nucleotide of a chromosomes -- the blueprints for the building blocks. Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and fats do not need nitrogen atoms.



3 secondary soil macronutrients: calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Some soil is rich in these, so you don't have to add much, nor worry about the balance too much. I'm not sure how they are supplied hydroponically. I don't hink anyone ever needs to add sulfur to the soil where I live, because it never runs out of enough sulfur. In other areas sulfur may be needed. My local soil can sometimes need calcium and magnesium



The 7 micronutrients, all from the soil, are: boron, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and chlorine.



In my area you may need to replenish boron after a few years, but iron seems to be impossible to deplete. To get an idea of how little boron is needed, 1 or 2 pounds of laundry borax is all that one needs to spread over an acre of land to supply an acre of corn plants growing on it, with all the boron they will need during one growing season. Those boxes of borax you see on supermarket shelves are 4-pound boxes.



The 16 known nutrients are enough for plants to thrive, to grow big. But it is not enough for people whose diet consists of the plants, to thrive. And it may not be enough for plants to acquire the kind of character of flavor that makes them appealing to people.



I don't know all the details, but people need iodine, and plants don't. However plants will take up iodine in the soil, and then they become a source of iodine for people who eat them. That is why, in my opinion, good food-plant husbandry requires more knowledge than the knowledge needed to produce abundant yields of marketable plants. However the competitive capitalist system focuses on abundant yields of marketable plants. If that can happen without iodine, what incentive is there for commercial growers to make sure their soil has enough iodine?



The same may apply to other soil consituents. There may be more such people-nutrients than we know about. And I am sure that there are more substances that influence flavor, than we know about. It seems common for plants to be very flavorful when planted in virgin soil, and while high yield can be maintained by simply adding the nutrients that are known to be needed, year after year, to the same soil, reproducing the same good flavor year after year, seems to be a bit of a mystery.



There is also the issue of toxic things in the soil that people need to avoid but that don't harm the plants. That is where I my concern about using "humanure" comes from, and my concern about animal feces, especially feces from carnivorous animals, which concentrates heavy metals, and my concern about sewage sludge. This is less of a problem with hydroponic growing, where you tend to use purer materials with less extraneous matter. Where the problem with hydroponics may be, however, is if you rely on it for a large portion of your diet, it is conceivable that there may be "mysterious" substances that we require, and that plants normally provide us with, that they easily get from abundant supplies in the soil, but which hydroponic growers are unaware of. This is just speculation tho. It seems plausible, but it awaits proof.
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#24 Old 06-14-2003, 02:29 PM
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wow soilman, thanks for that in depth lesson. You really know your stuff.
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#25 Old 06-14-2003, 05:32 PM
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Just to impress you with the fact that 16 known nutrients doesn't mean that there may not be more "mysterious" nutrients, I found one source of info that insists that plants need all the 16 nutrients I listed above, and they also mentioned nickel. Another site provided the same 16 nutrient, and mentioned cobalt, but said nothing about nickel. Neither site distinguished these "extra" nutrients as being known with any less certainty than the 16. They just included them in the their list, along with info about what purpose they served.
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#26 Old 06-14-2003, 05:55 PM
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Cobalt: need by plants recently established. However little is known about deficiency symtoms or symtoms of excess.



In other words, just a few years ago, plants needed cobalt, but people didn't know that plants needed cobalt. So there may well be more things that plants need, right now, that people still don't know they need, and won't know, if they ever know at all, until some time in the future. It seems reasonable to assume there more things than we know about. The same goes for people. And the same goes for things that people get from plants, but plants don't, themselves, need. And the same goes for things that affect flavor, but don't affect plant size, or plant protein percent, or oil or starch percent, etcetera.
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#27 Old 06-15-2003, 11:16 PM
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I want to have agerminator, but, my question is, should I do this inside in soil? Or should I do this in a container of water/plant food combo? Oh, and another question, all I have here is maricle grow, will that be suitable if I add epsom salt and calcium nitrate (where do you get that)? Thanks Oatmeal!
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#28 Old 06-17-2003, 05:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by soilman

By the way I think Craquante D'Avignon (spelling) is the same variety of lettuce that my seed catalog calls Winter Density, and is one of my favorites.



Yeah it's a great variety. The last one I harvested actually had three heads in one plant. Really amazing! (and tasty )
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#29 Old 06-17-2003, 05:54 AM
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Thanks soilman for your great input!



You are right of course, hydroponic nutrients provide 13 of the 16 nutrients. I also agree with you that we may not know all the nutrients plants need. Great posts.



Also, one important thing that was not mentioned yet is the pH of the nutrient solution (or soil). In hydroponics the pH has to be measured and controlled very carefully. Commercial hydroponic nutrients have buffering capabilities, so that they are able to maintain a pH of 6.0-6.5 (which is suitable for most plants) for quite a long time.



If you mix your own nutrient solution, however, you will have to adjust the pH quite often, sometimes even daily.
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#30 Old 06-17-2003, 06:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Keegan

I want to have agerminator, but, my question is, should I do this inside in soil? Or should I do this in a container of water/plant food combo? Oh, and another question, all I have here is maricle grow, will that be suitable if I add epsom salt and calcium nitrate (where do you get that)? Thanks Oatmeal!



You mean you want to grow the plants in containers and soil, or hydroponically?



There are simple hydroponic setups, that you should take a look at before you start out. I can post the links but need more input from you regarding what you want to do.



If you want to do hydroponics, I would recommend to get a commercial premixed hydroponic fertilizer for starting out (you can order them online), because if you mixing your own is rather an involved subject and you will have to have a feel for it, i.e. look at the plants and see if they are deficient in something. I'm not sure I have enough knowledge to do this right now. Also, you would have to check and control the pH daily (see above).



But calc. nitrate you can get in gardening shops, and I think that epsom salts is usually used when taking baths? (i.e. you should find it in the cosmetics section of a health food store or drug store).



If you have no way of getting a hydroponic fertilizer, then it might be wise to start a soil container garden. You can grow superb veggies in containers filled with a potting soil and using MiracleGrow as sole fertilizer (or any other fertilizer mix).
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