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which system for basement kitchen garden, and spring seed starting?


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Old 04-19-2016, 10:11 AM
twd000 twd000 is offline
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Default which system for basement kitchen garden, and spring seed starting?

I live in New Hampshire and garden outdoors during the six months of warm weather. I'm looking at setting up a hydroponic system for the six cold months. I mainly want to grow leafy greens and herbs for a family of four. I would also like to use the same system in the spring for starting seeds for the outdoor garden. I currently have a T5 grow light for the seedlings and I hand-water. The system will live in my finished basement and I would empty it each spring and restart it each fall when the cold weather halts work in the outdoor garden.

In addition to the grow light, I have a plastic shelf : http://www.lowes.com/pd_339949-230-3...lue+hawk+shelf
automatic timers, etc that I would re-use for the hydro system.
I have a Milwaukee pH meter and air pump from homebrewing beer.
I am an engineer and fairly handy at DIY.

Would an NFT or DWC hydro system be more appropriate for these purposes?

Conventional or organic nutrients? I also run a red worm composting bin - can I use the leachate in a hydroponic system?

I would be interested in growing leafy green stuff, not really fruiting and blooming (although strawberries would be nice one day)

Lettuce (romaine, Bibb, arugula, mesclun)
Napa cabbage
Kale
Basil
Rosemary
Parsley
Cilantro

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  #2  
Old 04-19-2016, 11:55 PM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Hello twd000,
First even though you have a pH meter, you'll want to get some pH drops. Electronic meters can give false results, even when taken care of and calibrated. pH drops will never give you false readings. Even if you mostly use the meter, you still need pH drops to double check your readings if there is any question about the readings.

Quote:
Would an NFT or DWC hydro system be more appropriate for these purposes?
You mean systems.... Your much better off growing your crops in multiple systems, rather than one system. Going by your list of plants I would break them into at least two groups. Herbs and lettuce. Then it depends on how many plants of each you'll be growing as to whether I would break them into more systems. The best type of system would depend on the amount of plants, size, and the space you have to work with.

Before you design and build a hydroponic system, you need to know what your designing it for. First you need to do some math deciding on how many plants of each you will be needing to feed your family. As an example, if you wanted/needed to harvest 3 heads of romaine each week, and seed to harvest time is 50-55 days, (8 weeks depending on variety), you'll need to be growing 24 romaine plants at any given time to accomplish that goal of harvesting 3 a week. Since they will be spending about half their life cycle in a prorogation system, the main system will need to have at least 12 spots for romaine lettuce alone. While the prorogation system has another 12 seedlings. Each week you start 3 new ones to replace the harvested ones, and rotate the oldest ones in the prorogation system into the main system after that weeks harvest.

So the first step in designing and building a hydroponic system is deciding on your harvesting goals for each plant you want to grow. Once you know your goals, you can design the system/systems to meet those goals. The second part is knowing how big the plants will be at harvest, and how long it will take to go from seed to harvest. Once you know how big they will get, and how long they will need to be in the system, you can begin to decide what type of system will fit those needs best, and designing it to fit your needs and space you have to work with.

Quote:
Conventional or organic nutrients?
I know there will be a lot of debate about this statement because there are many diehard believers in everything organic. But when it comes to hydroponics, trying to grow with organic nutrients is not only a waste of time, but much harder to get right. Don't get me wrong, growing organically in soil is very beneficial. But there is one major difference between growing in soil and growing hydroponically. Their is no soil in hydroponics, the very definition of hydroponics is "growing without soil."

Since plants cant absorb the nutrients until the mineral salts are broken down into their raw chemical element anyway, it doesn't mater whether this process is done synthetically, or by microbes, fungi, bacteria, and acids organically. The plant can't tell the difference in how it was broken down. All the plant cares about is that it is broken down into the raw chemical element it can absorb. How it got that way doesn't mater, nor will it make a difference in taste. Since you can't control how fast, or in what amounts the chemical elements are broken down by the microbes, fungi, bacteria, and acids, it just makes it harder to create a balanced nutrient solution, and all for no benefit. So like I said, when it comes to hydroponics growing with organic nutrients is a waste of time, and much harder to get right.

There's still no difference in how the plant absorbs nutrients in soil, or even how they will taste when growing organically in soil. But organic methods are far better for the environment and ecosystem of the ground/soil. A well balanced soil ecosystem can be beneficial for taste as well because it provides a better balance of nutrients (broken down to the raw chemical elements) for the plant to absorb. Any difference in taste isn't due to a difference in the way the plants absorb the nutrients, or how they were broken down, but due to a better balance of available nutrients. Which isn't an issue in hydroponics because a synthetically made nutrient solution already provides a balanced variety of nutrients.

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I also run a red worm composting bin - can I use the leachate in a hydroponic system?
Yes, in hydroponics this is known as a compost tea. Which is basically like it sounds, it's a tea brewed using the worm castings (and often other materials) to create a nutrient rich brew of nutrients and beneficial microbes. Compost teas aren't brewed using hot water, that would kill the beneficial microbes, their brewed in a container with an air bubble. The worm castings are typically put in cheesecloth like a tea bag, or straight in and strained out later. Compost teas aren't meant to replace the nutrient solution (though some people try to), but typically used as an additive you add to the nutrient solution. I can post more information about compost teas if your interested.
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Old 04-20-2016, 10:20 AM
twd000 twd000 is offline
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Thanks for the reply

What is the reason for placing different crops in different systems? Are the nutrient solutions that different? I assumed since I was planning to grow leafy green things, not fruiting things, that they could be grown in the same system?
I can setup a series of kitty litter buckets if necessary, but a single tote would be much simpler to manage.

Reading elsewhere online, it sounds like people are able to get nearly continual harvest (cut-and-come-again) from leafy greens, so there is little need to stagger planting at different growth stages. If I only harvest outer leaves for each night's salad, can the main plant survive and thrive?

Your comments on organic vs. conventional nutrients make sense to me. If that is the case, what is the benefit of the worm tea, if the plants get 100% of nutrition from the conventional nutrients?
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Old 04-21-2016, 12:31 AM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Hello twd000,
This is part 1 of the reply, I had to break it into two posts because it was too long to fit in one post.


Quote:
What is the reason for placing different crops in different systems? Are the nutrient solutions that different? I assumed since I was planning to grow leafy green things, not fruiting things, that they could be grown in the same system?
While nutrient differences are one reason, there are many other reasons. You can physically grow anything together with anything, in any type of solution you want. But it's inevitable that some plants will suffer, and you may be wasting a lot of useful space because of it. I'm not saying it's impossible to grow them all in one system, just that if you want healthy plants not only is doing so not practical, but can waste a lot of useful space because it's designed for some plants, but not all of them. While the main thing that specifically defines a specific hydroponic system is the reservoir, there is a lot more to a hydroponic system than a reservoir to consider. There are also 6 types of hydroponic systems, and some systems are better choices for some plants than others, especially when you consider the number of plants. That's why I said I would split what you plan to grow into at least two systems, and depending on how many plants of each possibly more.

So often new growers try to do things backwards. They pick a hydroponic system that they think would be easy to build, build it, and start growing plants in it. Only to find out shortly later that they made the wrong choice in type of systems, designing it, and/or the plants outgrew the system before they can even harvest anything from it. Bottom line they tried to do to much, and skimped the planning because there were either things they didn't know about to consider, or just didn't think it was necessary. So having to go back to the drawing board and start over becomes their first lesson they learn the hard way.

For me my first lesson I learned the hard way was the importance of the water temperature. Because I didn't know it was important to consider the water temps, and the time of year, that ended my growing season for the summer. I sent that summer researching economical ways to to keep the nutrient solution temps down. One of the biggest drawbacks to trying to grow everything in the same system that new growers don't consider is that their all connected. In other words if you have a problem with pathogens or disease affecting one plant, that will also affect all of your plants. You can wipe out all your crops in one fail swoop, because you didn't separate them. Its all about the benefits and compromise. I'm currently in the middle of writing an article (more like handbook) on the subject I've titled "Comprehensive Guide to building your own hydroponic systems and getting the most out of your space and budget" that's already over 7,000 words and 13 standard printed pages, and I still have a lot more to do.

Quote:
Reading elsewhere online, it sounds like people are able to get nearly continual harvest (cut-and-come-again) from leafy greens, so there is little need to stagger planting at different growth stages. If I only harvest outer leaves for each night's salad, can the main plant survive and thrive?
Yes, with some pants you can just cut off what you need right now, and leave the plant to grow more. I have even done that exact thing because I didn't need a whole head of lettuce. I just needed enough for dinner that night, and I'm only one person (not a family of four). But just cutting off what you need at the moment, doesn't reduce how much you need to harvest/eat. It also wont increase how fast the plants grow the foliage, or reduce the number of plants you need to grow to get that foliage.

In fact there is a reason that the lettuce you buy at the store is the center head, and not the outer leaves. That's because the outer leaves are tougher, and usually more bitter. The center leaves (head) is more tender and sweeter. So again just cutting and eating the outer leaves will affect the quality of product you wind up eating. The older the plant gets, the tougher it will get. I'm not saying that you cant just cut off what you need, and leave the plant to continue growing. Just that considering that your trying to feed a family of four, doing so has little if any benefit.

Now there are some crops that you don't typically harvest the whole plant, and just cut off what you need and leave the plant. Like Spinach, micro greens, herbs, etc. etc. Even so you do want to rotate these plants on occasion because the older the plant gets, the tougher it will get. These type you may want to rotate every 6 months rather than harvesting from the same plant for years. Again just another reason to separate the plants into different systems (long term plats and short term plants).

Just to clarify using different systems has nothing to do with "stagger planting at different growth stages" except for the prorogation system, and the prorogation system has a much more important function. That is saving space and nutrients, thus money and allowing you to be much more productive in the same amount of space. As an example. if you eat and consume 3 heads worth of Romain lettuce each week. You would still need to be growing 24 plants. But if you only harvest the outer leaves, you need 24 full grown Romain lettuce. If you harvested the full heads, and rotated seedlings in to replace the heads you harvested. The main system would only need to hold 12 full plants, and you have the other 12 plants in the prorogation system. Essentially cutting the size of the main system in 1/2. The prorogation system takes up far less space, and can be used to raise all your crop seedlings. In short making you about twice as productive in the same space.

Quote:
Your comments on organic vs. conventional nutrients make sense to me. If that is the case, what is the benefit of the worm tea, if the plants get 100% of nutrition from the conventional nutrients?
The point of compost teas is beneficial microbes, fungi, bacteria, and acids. The compost tea brewer takes these beneficial microbes, fungi, bacteria found in abundance in the quality compost and multiplies them by the millions. It's an absolute great insouciant for soil grown plants as well. While some water soluble nutrients are extracted from the compost, the oxygen rich environment provides a great environment for the beneficial microbes, fungi, bacteria to breed and multiply. In soil these "beneficials" turn the organic material into raw chemical elements/nutrients the plants absorb.

Now there is no soil in hydroponics, so your asking what does that have to do with hydroponics. These "beneficials" have another very important function. To combat pathogens. They are important for combating pathogens in soil as well. As for hydroponics, no mater how sterile your hydroponic system is, or how you take care of your nutrient solution, there is always the a possibility of pathogens. Pathogens can enter your system from any number of ways, including from the air, and given the right conditions can take over. I found that out when they were doing some sewer maintenance on our street and were kicking up a lot of dust. That dust got into my hydroponic system and introduced soil born pathogens to my hydroponic system.

Think of it like a war (beneficials are the good side, and pathogens are the bad side), the side with the most troops typically wins. If the pathogens get a foothold they can bread and multiply uncontrollably. When they out number the beneficials, the pathogens take over and cause damage and disease to the plants. The point to inoculating the hydroponic system with beneficials is to keep it a one sided fight, but favoring the good side. Along with combating pathogens, some of the beneficial fungi and bacteria also help the plant absorb and use the nutrients, as well as can have other benefits to the plants roots.

Now beneficials can't live floating around in water very long, so they need some kind of bio-filter to attach to to live and breed (basically takes the place of soil in nature). In hydroponics, the growing media becomes the bio filter. Naturally some growing medias are better as a bio filter than others, and the more of it the more space there is for the beneficial to perpetuate breading and multiplying. The beneficials feed on pathogens, sugars, and some of the nutrients in the water. Beneficial microbes is a fairly complicated subject, but there is a lot of information on it.
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Old 04-21-2016, 12:37 AM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Hello twd000,
This is part 2 of the reply, I had to break it into two posts because it was too long to fit in one post.

Quote:
I can setup a series of kitty litter buckets if necessary, but a single tote would be much simpler to manage.
Again before even trying to think about designing the hydroponic system/s, you need to figure out and identify the specific goals first. A generic goal results in generic results. I devoted an entire section of the article I told you about to this one specific thing (figuring out your goals) because so many people don't understand the scope of what that means or entails.

Also before skipping past planning to building and designing a hydroponic system, it's very important to know the needs of plants you plan to grow. That's part of planning. How can you design a system to grow the plants when your unaware of what the needs are. And again I wrote a section on "knowing your plants" because when I talk about the plants needs, most people think that's only referring nutrient needs. But there are a lot more aspects about plant needs to consider. Would you pour a foundation for a house before you planed out what kind of house would be going on it? It really only takes a few minutes to define your goals, and research anything you don't already know about the size and needs of a plant you don't already know. But that information is the difference between to success or failure (learning the hard way and starting over).


I would break up your list into two main groups.

Lettice group
romaine (short term)
Bibb (?)
arugula (?)
mesclun (?)
Napa cabbage (short term)
Kale (?)

Herbs group
Basil (long term)
Rosemary (long term)
Parsley (long term)
Cilantro (short term)

But I would break these down even further based on type of plant, plant needs, harvesting method, harvesting goals, seed to harvest times, water consumption, temp requirements, long term and short term plants etc. etc.. Once again it all depends on your specific goals for each plant first. Once you know the specific goals, and done the research so you know the plants needs, like light requirements (full sun/part shade etc.), size of full grown plants, how long the plant will be in the system, seed to harvest times, if your going to harvest full plants and rotate, or just trim what you want at the time, temperature needs, etc. etc.

After you know the plant needs and your goals, you can start grouping them together based on those plant needs, harvesting methods, number of plants, and your harvesting goals. Once you have the groups and plant numbers, you can start thinking about the best system to put them in, Deciding what plants to put together based on similar needs and goals, then start thinking about designing it to make the most out of your space and budget. Even knowing what you can realistically accomplish with your space and budget before you spend a penny, or start building a thing. If you have to rethink things and/or cut back on lofty goals because of space or budget, you want to find out before you spend all your money and have to start over because you didn't take the time to do some planing first.

So far you've given me a list of plants, but I still don't have any Idea how much of each of them you plan to consume weekly. I'm also unfamiliar with some of those, so I'm not sure how big they will get, therefor room they will take up, root space needed, etc.. I think some of them (arugula, and mesclun) are micro greens, thus you would only harvest leaves, not heads. But I still don't have any information on seed to harvest times, plant longevity (seasonal, short term, long term), temp requirements, growth rates etc.. I can research them, but your the one who wants to grow them, so I leave it to you to research. You can find out everything you need to know from seed manufactures and online pictures of the specific plants growing. If your not sure about the information needed, just give me links to the exact seeds you plan to use, and I can help you see where to get what you need to know.

But you haven't given me any information on the plants and harvesting needs I need to make decisions on the best way to grow them and make the most of space and budget. Ive got plenty of ideas on systems and designs, but I cant give specific advice based on generic information. That would be like me taking the time to explain everything about a specific alternator for a Toyota, it's specifications, it's capability's and limitations, how to install it, how to wire it up, then selling it to you to take home all excised and ready to install it, only to find out it won't fit your car. It may fit a Toyota, but not all makes, models, and years. Doing things backwards and/or trial and error that way would only be a waste of both our time, and a waste of your money. That's why I stress planning first. If you give me specifics, I can run some numbers and come up with a plan. But without specifics, a successful plan would only be a shot in the dark.
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Last edited by GpsFrontier; 04-21-2016 at 04:56 AM.
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Old 04-21-2016, 10:31 AM
twd000 twd000 is offline
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Thanks for your insights. I'll start putting together a plan for the various crops. I'll probably start small and build out a modular system over time.

When you say "propagation system" are you talking about a 1020 seed flat with a humidity dome? Do you plant seeds directly in a 2" net cup?

On the compost tea biofilter, what is the best planting medium to encourage that growth? Rockwool in a net cup? Perlite?
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Old 04-22-2016, 01:39 AM
GpsFrontier GpsFrontier is offline
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Hello twd000,

Every hydroponic system can be designed to be modular. though the reservoir water volume always needs to be able to support the amount of plants it's feeding, otherwise you will have nothing but problems. So when you increase the amount of plants, you need to increase the water volume accordingly. There are hundreds of ways to design a hydroponic system regardless of what type of system it is. As an example: I would probably use either a drip system or aeroponic system to grow micro greens. Drip system for long term micro greens, and aeroponic for short term ones. But if I only need a few plants, a water culture system would probably fit my needs and space better.

Designing Any system can be done hundreds of different ways. It's not a mater of which type of system would they grow best in, they'll grow in any system. It's a mater of how you design the system/s for them to grow and be most productive in with less space and maintenance. In other words, it's not the system, it's how you design it. What works great for one plant doesn't necessarily work as good for another. The key is to design it to fit the needs of the plants, to make best use of the space available, as well as for ease of maintenance.

Quote:
When you say "propagation system" are you talking about a 1020 seed flat with a humidity dome? Do you plant seeds directly in a 2" net cup?
A prorogation system can be as easy as a simple seed tray filled with growing media instead of potting soil placed in a place that gets enough light that you hand water daily. To a mini aeroponic system with a bank of florescent lights for lighting, often called a cloner. In any case depending on the room humidity already, it would probably include a clear dome lid to hold in humidity, at least for the first couple weeks. As for planting them directly in 2 inch baskets, you can. It just depends on the plants and what's more important space or time.

One of the benefits of starting seeds in a prorogation system is being able to pack them in closely together to save space, as well as reduce the amount of area that needs artificial lighting. Some seedling need less space than others. As an example: lettuce sprouts need far less space in-between than tomato seed sprouts would. So the spacing would depend on the sprouts. If you planted butter lettuce seeds directly in 2 inch baskets, it would save you labor transplanting them later, but you can get far more sprouts in the same space using seed trays. So the trade off is, is the extra space needed more important than the time saved in labor transplanting them? Another consideration is electricity. If your prorogation area is twice as big because of your spacing, you also need twice as much lighting. If your only starting a few seedlings, space and light may not mater much, but if you have 30-40+ seedlings of different sizes going at any given time, space and adequate lighting could be more valuable.

Soon I plan to build a automated prorogation system out of seed trays to show how to build one. Kind of like a mini flood and drain system. I also plan to build a cloner type prorogation system just for the fun of it as well. I will post the design plans for both on my website after I do and write up the directions. But currently I have a couple of articles to finish before I can even think about it. I often start seedlings even simpler just using a couple of short Tupperware tubs, some coco fiber, and hand watering them as needed. I attached some pictures of how I do it. It's not hot outside right now, so I don't need artificial lighting.

Quote:
On the compost tea biofilter, what is the best planting medium to encourage that growth? Rockwool in a net cup? Perlite?
As for a bio-filter, if you already have enough growing media the plants are planted in, you don't need a secondary bio-filter. NFT systems, some water culture systems, and aeroponic systems generally don't use a lot of growing media and could benefit from a secondary bio-filter. But drip systems and flood and drain systems generally use enough growing media already that you wouldn't have any need for a secondary bio-filter. Again it's all in how you design it, and planing to meet your goals.

A good medium for a bio-filter is porous and has a lot of surface area for microorganisms to attach to. Coco fiber/chips, Perlite, crushed lava rock, Pine shavings, Rice Hulls, etc.. A secondary Bio-filter can be floating in the main reservoir, or inline with the return line back to the reservoir. It should be able to get air/oxygen to promote microbial growth. I wouldn't use rockwool as a secondary bio-filter because it becomes water logged so easily, but it would be better than nothing. Again, I can post more about compost teas, and bio-filters if you are interested in them.

P.S.
I don't want to confuse you, but just to let you know, while hydroponic nutrient manufactures design their nutrients to provide all of the essential mineral elements for plant growth, there are other beneficial elements as well. While not necessary for healthy plant growth, the beneficial elements can enhance growth, development and other functions. Compost teas can contain some of these beneficial elements. though there is no way of knowing which ones or in what quantities without lab testing. PPM/EC/TDS meters can't tell you what is in the water, just the total combined volume of everything together. But some compost tea recipes can be higher in them than others.

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